Honeymoon in Japan: Kyoto

The city of Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the residence of its emperor for over 1000 years. Many shines, temples and other historical sites from this era still remain, so there were a lot of things we wanted to see and do! We split our days by geographic region of the city to make it easier for us to see as much as possible. We were fortunate to stay in the Gion area of the Kyoto which made several of the sites walkable.

What We Did

East Kyoto

Our first day was spent in the Eastern part of the Kyoto. The initial sites were within walking distance of our Airbnb in Gion.

Kiyomizu-dera

This temple, the name meaning Pure Water Temple, was built on the site of the Otowa Waterfall. The waterfall still flows here but it has been divided into three separate streams. Each stream is supposed to bring a different benefit to your life: one for longevity, one for success at school, and the final for a fortunate love life. The lines were incredibly long when we visited, so we decided to skip the traditional sipping from the streams. We felt OK about it because we had already eaten our black eggs in Hakone (for long life), have already graduated from school, and were feeling pretty lucky in our love life already (yay honeymoon!)

img_4655

The temple’s most impressive feature was a large wooden platform which extended from the main hall. It was high above the hillside below and offered fantastic views of the city of Kyoto.

Another part of the temple we enjoyed was the Tainai-Meguri, a small attraction underneath one of the main temples near the entrance. We had to pay a small extra fee which allowed us to go down the stairs into a pitch black area. The only way you knew where to go was by holding onto a banister shaped like prayer beads. At the end of the tunnel, you reached an amazing spinning stone, which you could spin to grant yourself a wish. It was a somewhat mysterious and really fun experience!

Finally, we also liked the Jishu Shrine which was dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking. We read about two stones in front of the shrine which are placed 18 meters apart. It was said that if you could walk from one to the other with your eyes closed, it would you bring you luck in love. It was so crowded, we skipped that one too. We thought about buying a good luck charm, but settled on just taking a picture of it instead!

Streets of Higayashima

img_4623

Heading down from Kiyomizu-dera temple toward Higayashima

On our way out of the Kiyomizu-dera temple, we made sure to follow the Lonely Planet walking tour of Higayashima which is one of Kyoto’s well-preserved historic districts. It is full of small restaurants and shops. We did a bit of shopping while we enjoyed the traditional narrow lanes and wooden buildings.

We also particularly enjoyed watching many of the people strolling around in traditional kimonos. Throughout the city, there are many kimono rental shops and it seemed as if many people took advantage of it to make the most of the photo opportunities in these historic streets!

Kodai-ji Zen

We continued our walk to the Kodai-ji Zen Buddhist Temple. We were particularly impressed by the amazing rock gardens. At this temple, they consisted of raked gravel which looked like rivers and hills.

img_4682

We also loved heading up the hill behind the temple, enjoying the beautiful buildings, lovely gardens, quaint teahouses, and finally an expansive view over the city.

Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion

After returning to our Airbnb for a quick break from the heat, we took the 100 bus out to the Ginkaku-ji. We thought they had a fun system at the bus stop to let passengers know when the next buses were approaching. A little picture of a bus would appear in consecutive circles as it got closer to your stop.

img_4704

Despite being called the Silver Pavilion, Ginkaku-ji actually has no silver coloring. It was named this way to differentiate it from the Golden Pavilion in which it was modeled after. The structures of the Silver Pavilion were quite nice, but what really struck us was the beauty of the gardens.

img_4736

We visited at the end of the day which made for some very nice late afternoon sun. The shadows made viewing the gravel decorations a more interesting experience.

Also, the gardens were amazingly lush and green.  Our favorite were the moss gardens which looked so springy and light that we could almost imagine laying down for a nice nap. Della kept thinking she was going to see fauns or nymphs emerging from the shadowy groves. It was so lovely, we didn’t really want to leave!

 

West Kyoto

We spent one full day in Western Kyoto. We walked to Gion intersection near our Airbnb and caught the 12 bus all the way to Kinkaku-ji. The ride was about 50 minutes, so we were quite pleased that we were able to get seats on the bus (many others had been standing room only)!

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)

This time, the name really meant something! The main attraction here is the Zen temple whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf.

img_4766

The temple sits overlooking a large pond which makes for some lovely photo opportunities.

Unfortunately, most people are thinking the same thing which means it was quite crowded and we had to jostle for position to get the good shots.

img_9519_fotor

However, the path does lead the crowd around the temple so that you are able to view it in its beauty from all sides.

While the main attraction was quite amazing, the rest of the grounds were a little disappointing, especially compared to the gardens of Ginkaku-ji. We had expected to spend at least a couple of hours here, but were actually quite finished after only one.

Ryoan-ji

We walked to our next stop, a Temple which is home to Japan’s most famous rock garden, Ryoan-ji. We enjoyed seeing the rock garden as well as the Hojo, the head priest’s former residence. However, we were a little underwhelmed. Perhaps it was the fantastic heat, the large crowd, and/or the starkness of the rock garden, but we didn’t have a super Zen experience and were anxious to move on. This was another spot where we spent considerable less time than we had budgeted.

Bamboo Grove

Next we headed to Arayashima, excited to see one of the things we had been most looking forward to in our trip! In order to get there we caught the Randen Trolley cars and had only one (free) transfer. The Arayashima train station was hopping and had a beer garden! We decided to try a beer mixed with lychee juice!

Afterwards, we walked towards the Bamboo Grove. Every time we have looked at pictures of things to do in Japan, this was one of the top of the things on the list! As expected, the path lined with huge bamboo stalks was quite crowded. We were a little disappointed at first because the bamboo wasn’t as dense and it wasn’t creating the mystic atmosphere we were expecting.

img_9536

It turned out that we were just getting started. As we continued to meander on the path, the bamboo forest got denser and taller. The light flickering down between the swaying stalks created a shimmering, otherworldly feel.

At one point, we were surprised as a taxi drove by us down the narrow lane. We had been under the impression that it was pedestrian only.

img_4817_fotor

Despite the crowds of people, we were still able to truly enjoy the atmosphere!

img_9571_fotor

Okochi Sanso Villa

We had read that we needed to visit this villa of a former actor which was right behind the bamboo groves. The large grounds are full of beautiful gardens with flowers, Japanese maples, and moss.

There is also a small teahouse where you can enjoy tea and sweets as part of the entrance price.

img_4827

It was here that the weather first failed us a bit. Just as we were entering the villa, a heavy rainstorm came through. At first we were disappointed, but then we were able to enjoy the special beauty created by the rain! Especially when the sun began to peek through the clouds at the same time!

The gardens took us up into the hills which made for some lovely views over the city.

img_4863

Gion

Geisha Spotting by Night

As we mentioned before, we were quite fortunate to be staying in Gion, the famous geisha district of Kyoto. This meant that every evening we could go out and explore the area, enjoying the lovely cobbled streets and traditional wooden buildings and teahouses. We even caught a few glimpses of Geisha at work!

Kimono Rental

Della had been really curious about the beautiful kimonos she saw everywhere. In addition to noticing how lovely they were, we had both been reading “Memoirs of a Geisha” which had some interesting description of the parts that make up a kimono and how complicated they were to put on. For that reason, Della was really tempted when she saw some of the kimono rental shops that lined the streets of Kyoto. However, the idea of renting one for the day and trying to wear it and the awkward sandals for a day of hot sightseeing was not appealing at all.

So, when we saw that some of the places offered a slightly cheaper “photo” rate, we decided to do it. This allowed Della to be dressed in a traditional kimono and then pose for photos for awhile.

img_4979

While the photos were fun, the most interesting part was seeing how many pieces went into wearing a kimono. First there was an under-robe or shawl which included the white collar. That was tied tight around the waist with stretchy fabric. Next, there was padding added around the waist in the form of rolled up towels. This was also tied on. On top of the padding, a hard belt-like piece was added and tied on. Only then could we actually put on the kimono. The kimono itself has to be wrapped, tied, and clipped in order for it to hang just perfect at the right length. Finally, the obi belt was wrapped around and tied in a bow in the back which was a work of art itself. The look was finished with socks with a separate big toe and high wooden sandals. She also got to pose with a lovely umbrella and small bag.

Hassaku

We came upon this completely by accident, but we are so incredibly happy that we did. It was August 1, and we had planned to do a day trip from Kyoto to Nara. On our way to the subway, we made our way through the lovely geisha district of Gion. We had explored this area by night already, but definitely enjoyed the wood-slatted buildings by day.

img_4886_fotor

Right as we were about to hit the main street, we noticed a huge gaggle of tourist photographers sitting outside a teahouse. We were confused, wondering what they were waiting to see. We paused, knowing that if they were waiting, there must be something interesting or photogenic about to happen.

We waited, and we waited… The heat was starting to really get to us and we finally decided to head out. But right as we turned to leave, we ran into a kindly Japanese man. He attempted to start a conversation with us, though his English was very limited. What we did understand was that he was expecting to see maiko. We had recently learned that this was the word for apprentice geisha. Now, we really wanted to stay. We thought he told us that they were going to dance…

So, we waited… and waited some more. We were eventually rewarded by seeing several small groups of maiko walking up and down the street.

Later, we did a bit more research and learned that Aug 1 is a special day in Gion called Hassaku. Apparently, the geisha and maiko make their rounds of all the teahouses in the district in order to to thank them for their patronage throughout the year. We were so thrilled we could to witness this!

Gion Corner

As we were walking around Gion, we kept seeing flyers for a show at Gion Corner. Despite the fact that it may be a bit overpriced, we decided to go for it. The show was an hour long and made an attempt to introduce many aspects of traditional Japanese culture to the viewers.

We saw a traditional tea ceremony accompanied by Koto music and flower arrangement,

img_9678

Gagaku (traditional Court music and dance),

img_9681

Kyogen, an ancient comic play, which was silly but fun since they had translated the story in the program,

Kyomai (geisha maiko dances),

and Bunraku (a puppet play excerpt). 

img_5111

It was definitely a full hour!

What We Ate

While we didn’t eat a lot of sushi (Della doesn’t love fish), we certainly ate a lot of noodles!

We ate Ramen in Gion, Eric getting the “specialty” and Della getting Gion black ramen with sesame seeds. We also enjoyed a lot of delicious Sake. 

We enjoyed a street food type meal at the Arayashima Station which included  some takoyaki balls and a fried corn and edamame mixture.

img_4804

On another evening, we ate dinner at a place that specialized in udon. Both of us got curry udon with sweet tofu – Della added tempura chicken and Eric a special cheese that was like cream cheese. We each got a highball which is plum wine mixed with soda.

Basically – you can never have too many noodles!

img_9688

 

Getting There (the hard way)

As we mentioned in our post about the Hanshin Tigers Baseball Game, we had a bit of an experience arriving in Kyoto. Sometimes, when traveling, small things just compound to add up to a mess!  The trip started fine: we caught the shinkansen from Odawara and had a pleasant 2 hour ride to Kyoto Station. We knew we had only a few hours before we needed to be back at the station to head to Osaka for the baseball game. But, we thought we would have plenty of time.

Our Airbnb had indicated that we needed to take the 206 bus toward the Kitaoji Bus Terminal. We headed out of the train station and immediately saw a 206 bus waiting that listed Kitaoji as a final destination. We ran and got on just as the doors were closing, thinking how lucky we were that we weren’t going to have to wait! The bus was crowded and we knew we needed to head about 9 stops to Gion. The 9 stops came, relatively slowly as we were in the midst of terrible afternoon traffic, but we didn’t see the sign for Gion. We were getting really hot and tired standing with our big bags. Finally, at one point, Della was able to maneuver in front of the city map displayed on the bus. We could tell we were on the right bus, headed north… But, all of a sudden, we realized that the bus went in a looped route. We were indeed headed towards Kitaoji Bus Terminal, we just had gotten on the bus that went on the west side of the loop instead of the east. This would seem fine, except that we realized in the approximately 35 minutes we had already been on the bus, we had only traveled a little less than a quarter of the loop. Based on that, we estimated we wouldn’t reach the Gion stop for over an hour. Oops!

All we can say is thank goodness for transit directions on Google Maps and our T-Mobile international data plan! We were able to recalculate and take a different bus which took us across town. We did have to wait quite a long time and then the bus took forever as it too had to fight through traffic. We finally arrived at Gion, but had to walk close to 10 blocks in the heat with our bags (instead of the 2 we would have had to walk if we had taken the right bus in the first place).

All in all, what should have taken us about 20 minutes took us about 1.5 hours instead. When we arrived at the apartment, we threw our stuff down, turned around and headed back to the bus so we could make it back to the train station in order to get to the baseball game on time! Frustrating!

Della’s family has always had a rule related to travel: When you buy a train ticket, always make sure to ask which train station it leaves from… We found out the hard way that there may be secret train stations in cities that you don’t know about. The two of us now have another rule to add: Always make sure to double check if the bus you’re taking goes in a loop, and make sure you check the intermediate stops on the bus sign!

Final Thoughts

There is so much to see in Kyoto that we are definitely glad we budgeted as much time as we did – and we could have spent even more time! It was crowded and hot though, so we really appreciated having a place to stay that was both easy to get to for a mid-afternoon break and was a good base for exploring at night when it was cooler and calmer. Kyoto provides a great look at historical Japanese culture, so any visit to Japan should include a stop here.

 

 

 

Honeymoon in Japan: A Home Run Experience at the Hanshin Tigers Baseball Game

Eric is a big sports fan, so on our round-the-world trip he was able to seek out a few local sporting events. He was excited to check out a baseball game while we visited Japan on our honeymoon, since baseball is one of the most popular sports in the country.

The way our itinerary worked out, the best chance for us to see a game was to go to a Hanshin Tigers game – they were playing at their stadium outside Osaka while we were in Kyoto. Koshien Stadium is one of the most historic baseball stadiums in Japan (built in 1924, and visited by Babe Ruth in 1934), so Eric was excited to be able to check it out.

img_9423

Ivy covers the outside walls of the stadium, reminiscent of Wrigley Field

We purchased seats in the cheap outfield section (see below for details). As an added bonus, they were running a promotion for the game we went to, and we each got a free replica jersey as we went into the game!

cam01241

The game experience was just as exciting as we had been hoping for! Even though it was just a regular season game between two teams with mediocre records, the stadium was packed, and then fans are very into the game.

The biggest difference in attending a Japanese baseball game is how the fans interact while watching a game. While their team is at bat, the fans are constantly singing/chanting. The songs they sing are specific to the player up to bat as well.

The singing is coordinated by leaders at the bottom of each section (similar to the yell leaders at Texas A&M).

One of the most unique songs was for Mauro Gómez, the first baseman for the Tigers. Japanese teams are only allowed four foreign players on a game-day roster, and Gómez was the main one we noticed for the Tigers. He is known for hitting home runs, and we could hear the word “home run” in the song (we didn’t quite capture it in the video). The fans definitely seemed excited about the foreign players – they had special fans with their pictures. Eric was told by a fan that he looked like a famous Tigers foreign player Matt Murton.

The visiting team, the Chunichi Dragons (from Nagoya), had their own designated fan section near where we were sitting. While the Dragons were up to bat, the Tigers fans would sit quietly and the Dragons fans would start up their own cheers. They were pretty loud as well!

We were able to find some ballpark food that felt like something you wouldn’t get at a US game. Eric got yakitori skewers – two of chicken and one of squid. Della got udon noodles! There are tons of beer sellers (all female) wandering the stands, but we ordered beer from the counter since we weren’t sure we would be able to communicate well from our seats in the middle of the row.

Our seats gave us a nice panoramic view over the action and the mountains behind the stadium, especially as the sun set.

We thought it was fun that they use carts to smooth the dirt infield, and that they use a bullpen car to bring in relief pitchers.

The most impressive fan activity by far was the seventh-inning stretch. During the top of the seventh inning, the Tigers fans all started blowing up these long, skinny balloons with a plastic piece on the end. We hadn’t known to buy these balloons, but another fan was kind enough to give us one each.

Then, during the seventh inning stretch, a song was played, and at the end everyone released their balloons. The sky was filled with balloons, each of which let off a whistling sound as the air rushed through the plastic piece. A really fun communal experience!

img_9464

It was a close game throughout. The Dragons took an early lead on a big home run. The Tigers threatened multiple times but never could put together enough hits, and ended up losing 3-1. We were bummed not to get to see a win, but still were very glad that we took the time to experience this!

img_9471

Buying Tickets

There are third-party services that will buy tickets for you, but we found instructions on the Tigers website that were quite easy to follow, found here. You have to use a site that is only in Japanese, but that page will tell you which buttons to click. We chose the cheap outfield seats. The end result was a QR code that we took to a booth at the stadium on game day to get the actual tickets.

Getting There and Away

The game we chose was on the evening of the day we arrived in Kyoto. We were running a bit late getting into Kyoto (more on that in the Kyoto post), so we had to rush to get down to the game. It required a few transfers but ultimately wasn’t too hard. The steps to get to Koshien Stadium (the Tigers’ home stadium) were:

  • Bus from our Airbnb to Kyoto station
  • Local express train to Osaka station. On a JR (Japan Railways) line, so we could use our JR pass. It was quite crowded with commuters. Local express trains are faster than local trains because they make less stops.
  • Navigate through underground tunnels connecting the JR Osaka Station to the station for the private Hanshin line (the team is named after the Hanshin Railways company that owns them). We had been warned this might be difficult, but it was well-signed, and we started to see other people in Tigers yellow so we knew we were on the right track
  • Buy a round trip ticket to the Koshien station (since this private railway is not included with the JR pass). This is better than buying a single ticket because then you don’t have to wait in line to buy after the game. They had big signs for people heading to the game letting us know exactly what buttons to press to get the right tickets.
  • Ride the Hanshin Railways train for about 15 minutes to Koshien station. This was standing-room only since it was almost game time.

From the station, it is just a few minutes walk to the stadium.

Getting back to Kyoto from Koshien Stadium just required doing the above steps in reverse. The biggest hangup was that basically everyone in the stadium takes the train to get there, so there was a huge crush of people to get into Koshien Station – we probably had to wait at least 30 minutes before getting onto the platform. Both that train and the train from Osaka to Kyoto were standing room only.

 

Honeymoon in Japan: Hakone

We were excited to head to the Mt. Fuji area after spending some time in Tokyo. We had decided early on that we probably weren’t interested in climbing Mt. Fuji during this trip, but Della was pretty adamant that she wanted to at least view it. We decided to head to the Hakone area which has several small towns that are known for their hot springs resorts (onsens) as well as views of the iconic Fuji.

Getting There

We used our Japan rail passes, which were incredibly easy and useful, to catch a train from the Okachimachi station near our Airbnb in Ueno to Tokyo Station. From there, we were able to take shinkansen (or bullet train) to Odawara which was only about a 30 minute ride. We had originally planned to just grab lunch in Odawara before switching to a bus to bring us to Hakone, but we realized that we were running considerably earlier than we had planned. We couldn’t check in to our accommodation until later in the afternoon, so we did a quick search of the lonely planet and realized the Odawara castle was in walking distance of the train station.

As we noticed in many train stations (and bus stations, and almost any transit stop), lockers were readily available to store bags. They weren’t necessarily cheap (about $5) and it took us a little while before we found a locker that was big enough for us to stuff both our large backpacks into, but we figured it was worth it!

We headed out and followed our phones (and a few signs) to Odawara Castle. The castle itself was lovely, very typical of castles throughout Japan. It was originally constructed in the mid-15th century but, like most castles in Japan, was destroyed by an earthquake. It was reconstructed in 1960, so it was in really great shape. We paid to enter the castle and climb to the observation deck on the top. Each floor had some museum displays, but much of it was only Japanese. The view from the top was quite beautiful though!

img_4453

After returning from the castle to the train station, we had a quick udon meal and headed outside to catch the H-Line train all the way to the town of Ashinoyu where we were staying for the night. We were quite pleased we had managed to successfully add a couple hours of sightseeing to our day!

img_9417-2

What We Did

Stay in a Ryokan

One of the things that we were quite excited about when planning our trip to Japan was to stay in a traditional ryokan. A ryokan is a Japanese style inn. We were intrigued by the possibility of diving a little deeper into Japanese culture. Ryokan are known for incorporating tatami floors, futon beds, and Japanese style baths. They are especially popular in hot springs regions like Hakone. They range in price, but we planned to live it up a little on our honeymoon and picked one that was on the fancier side: Kinokuniya Ryokan. We were especially excited because we knew that it would provide Japanese style private hot springs (onsen) baths.

We enjoyed the traditional and large room full of tatami mats and Japanese art. The ryokan provides special robes called yukata which you wear pretty much throughout your entire stay. We enjoyed putting them on and learning how to tie the obi belt.

One of the first things we did was to take advantage of our free 30 min private bath experience. We were lead outside to a separate small structure where we enjoyed the option of two lovely, warm hotsprings baths.

After heading back to our rooms, we got ourselves prepared for the provided dinner at the ryokan. Luckily, we didn’t have to do much as we were going to go in our yukata robes! Somehow we forgot to take our cameras or phones, but the meal was amazing. It was about 15 courses which included everything from soup to noodles to sushi. We did save the menu:

img002

While guests are at dinner, workers from the ryokan enter the rooms and set up the traditional Japanese futons for sleeping. We spent the evening reading, researching, and generally enjoying our accommodation.

img_9349

We took a trip to the public onsen as well. Japanese public baths are quite fascinating. You enter a large bathing room (one per gender) which includes one large (in this case hot spring water) pool. Around the outside of the room are individual shower stations. Traditionally, you wet yourself with water from the pool, cleaning your body, before you take a short soak in the pool. You then use the small stools in each shower station to wash. Shampoo, conditioner, and soap were provided. After you are clean, you can take another soak in the hot pool. We were a little nervous about trying this as it was traditional to be naked. But, we were fortunate in our first public bath experience that were both alone in our baths.

cam01230

There was one scare for us that evening though: at about 11:30 PM, right as we were getting ready for bed, we were both shocked to feel the ground shake. We were both terrified for a moment as we realized we were experiencing another earthquake. There seemed to be no commotion inside the hotel, no emergency actions of any sort, and everything seemed to be fine. We did a quick bit of research and found that there had been a 5.3 magnitude quite a ways north of us. We did find out that there had been very slight damage in Tokyo, but no one said a word about it at any point. It was clear that these are normal occurrences in Japan.

We enjoyed the included buffet breakfast at the ryokan before heading out the next morning.

Travel the Hakone Loop

There seemed to be a typical tourist loop of sights to see in the Hakone region. We had purchased the Hakone Free Pass the day before which allowed to ride all of the buses, cable cars, and boats in this loop for no additional charge. We had stayed in the very small town of Ashinoyu which was on the east side of the loop. We headed back north to the town of Gora where we dropped our bags off at Ryokan Oyado Hakone Hachirinoyu. This was another, considerably less fancy, more western, ryokan. We walked to our first stop, a short but humid trip.

Hakone Open Air Museum

This is a large park like area which houses hundreds of statues and other kinds of outdoor art. We were intrigued by many of the sculptures as well as the Picasso building which is home to many of Picasso’s works. We spent several hours wandering around and still felt like we could have seen more.

In one area, there were hundreds of spiders weaving webs in the foliage. Della, in particular, was fascinated with watching them work building absolutely perfect webs.

img_9361

Near the end of our time at the Open Air Museum, we were excited to find a free hot springs foot bath. It was a great pick me up for our “museum legs.”

cam01235

Ropeway and Owakudani

After leaving the Open Air Museum, we got on a short cable car railway which took us back to the main station of Gora. From here we transferred to the Ropeway. We enjoyed the scenic ride up to Owakudani volcano. We were quite excited because up to about 2 days before we arrived Owakudani was closed. Owakudani is the area around the crater from the last eruption of Mount Hakone. It had been spewing a lot of sulfuric gas, so much that it had been closed to the public. While it was now safe enough to visit, there was still a lot of gas in the air so they gave everyone a wet towel to breathe through if needed.

We enjoyed viewing the crater, though it was difficult through the clouds and gas.

img_4531

The most exciting part however was eating black eggs. Owakudani is known for hard boiling eggs in the naturally hot water of the crater. The shells are blackened by the sulfur. Eating one is supposed to prolong your life by seven years. We purchased and ate 5!

 

On a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji from Owakudani, but this was not a clear day.

We got back on the ropeway and proceeded to the next stop.

Lake Ashinoku

The ropeway deposits tourists at a small town called Togendai where you transfer to a sightseeing boat across the lake. We actually just missed a boat so spent some time reading in the station while waiting for the next one. The sightseeing boat is decked out like a pirate ship which seemed a little odd to us.

img_9400

We enjoyed the ride across the lake, though it was too cloudy to see the iconic view of Fuji across the lake which we had been hoping for.

We got off the boat at Hakone-Machi hoping to visit the Hakone Checkpoint, but it seemed to be closed for the day so we headed on.

Old Tokaido

We walked along the ancient highway to Edo (Tokyo). There is a short section of beautiful cedar lined path. It was lovely to walk along and imagine the shoguns passing along this same highway.

img_4559_fotor

After walking along for awhile, we were able to get back to the main road and take a bus along the final part of the loop back to our ryokan.

Final Thoughts

We quite enjoyed our time in Hakone. Primarily, we enjoyed the honeymoon experience of staying in the ryokan. We wish the weather would have cooperated a little bit more during the rest of our sightseeing experience!

 

 

 

 

.

 

Honeymoon in Japan: Day Trip to Nikko

During our time in Tokyo, we took a day trip to the nearby town of Nikko. Just outside the town are the mausoleums of some of the oldest of the Tokugawa shoguns, the rulers of Japan from 1603 to 1867. These tombs can be visited as part of elaborate shrines tucked into the wooded foothills of Nikko National Park.

To get there, we used our Japan Rail Passes to ride the shinkansen (bullet train)  to Utsinomoya, where we transferred to a local train that took us into Nikko itself (also covered by the pass). This transfer was quite easy to find and make.

Upon arrival at Nikko Station, we made our plans for the day. The main area of shrines is about two kilometers from the station, so we had to plan how to get there. We could have paid for a bus to take us, but we decided to walk there ourselves. It was slightly uphill so a little tiring, but not too hard.

img_9267

We stopped to admire the Shinkyo Bridge at the entrance to the park. This beautiful red bridge over a crystal clear stream was built in 1636. It cost a fee to walk over it, so we just viewed it from a distance.

img_4278_fotor

We decided to visit the main shrines/temples as part of a rough loop. The first stop was Rinnoji Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the Nikko area. However, as we approached the area where it was supposed to be, all we could see was a large ugly building that looked like it belonged in a generic industrial plant. We were confused, but then we noticed that it had a picture of the temple painted on it! As it turned out, this was an elaborate building built around the temple while it was undergoing major renovations.

The covered building is Sanbutsado Hall, the main building of the temple. Even though it is under renovation, you can still go inside for a fee. Inside the main level we were able to view three large gold statues of the buddha figures Amida, Senju-Kannon (Kannon with a thousand arms) and Batu-Kannon (Kannon with a horse head). Pictures were not allowed.

This was interesting, but even more fascinating was that the entrance fee also allowed you to get a cool view of the renovation works. If you look at the exterior picture of the building above, you will see that towards the top there is a projection with windows that wraps around the entire building. This is a walkway that offers views down onto the exposed old roof. We watched as workers meticulously shaped pieces of wood to be fit into the roof, replacing old rotting wood. We also watched another group pounding dowels into holes in large beams and then cutting them off.

For lunch, we walked back into town and found a place offering the local specialty, soba noodles with yuba (tofu skin). We got seated in the traditional section, so we sat on the ground with our shoes off. The noodles were quite good!

img_9278

It’s hard to see in the lighting, but the yuba was rolled into a cylinder shape

Refreshed, we headed back to sightseeing. The next stop was the main attraction: Toshogu Shrine, the complex surrounding the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. This attraction was much more crowded than the Rinnoji, with many school groups visiting on field trips (identified by uniquely colored hats or kerchiefs). The main gate was covered over for renovation, but we were able to find some of the other famous carvings that make up the elaborate decoration of the shrine. We also hiked up a large flight of stairs to the actual tomb itself, which is much more austere.

Our final stop on the main shrine loop was at Taiyuinbyo, the shrine/mausoleum for Iemitsu, the grandson of Ieyasu and the third Tokugawa shogun. This one was much less crowded, with no school groups, so it was a lot easier to take in the architecture and enjoy the serene setting in the green woods.

We then left the main area of shrines and visited the Kanmangafuchi Abyss, a small gorge on the outside of town. Here a short path follows along a clear river rushing through narrow rock walls. The main attraction though is the dozens of Jizo statues lines up in a row along the trail. Each has been provided a red cap and scarf, lending the whole thing a mystical air.

After this, we felt like we had seen what we had intended to while in Nikko. We walked all the way back to the station and caught the trains back to Tokyo. We are glad we visited – it provided us a nice opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and see some unique and historic shrines and temples!

Honeymoon in Japan: Tokyo

It was quite a busy summer for us – we got married! We figured after traveling around the world together for a year, married life would be a piece of cake. The wedding and associated festivities were amazing, but we were also really looking forward to our honeymoon.

We had a bit of a hard time choosing a destination. We wanted to go someplace that was a little bit more expensive than other places, since we figured on our honeymoon we wouldn’t feel guilty about breaking our $100/day budget. Our top choices were:

  • Scandinavia – Eric has always wanted to go explore the natural wonders there
  • Italy – we have both traveled there, but not together. Plus great food and wine!
  • Japan-this was where we were supposed to end our RTW trip before we decided to cut it short after the earthquake in Nepal

Ultimately, we decided on Japan! We were able to squeeze in two-and-a-half weeks of adventure in between the wedding and heading back to work. Our first stop: Tokyo!

Getting There

If you’ve read other blog posts of ours, you can guess that we used miles to book our flights to and from Japan. For the flight there, we were able to find seats on the direct Denver to Tokyo flight on the 787 Dreamliner, purchased for just $5.60 per person in fees (using 35,000 United miles each, accumulated from signing up for United Mileage Plus Explorer and Chase Sapphire cards).

Another benefit of the Mileage Plus Explorer card is that is comes with free United lounge passes. We took advantage of the lounge in Denver and grabbed a quick snack before our flight.

img_4066

The flight itself took about 12 hours. The Dreamliner has a nice personal entertainment screen at each seat with a good selection of movies that we used to pass the time.

We arrived in Tokyo at 3 in the afternoon the next day. Narita Airport is far outside of town, so after landing we went to figure out how to get into the city. First though,we were randomly interviewed by a Japanese journalist about why were were coming to Japan. Hope our jet-lagged answers didn’t get edited out!

We were staying in the Ueno neighborhood, so we bought tickets on the Keisei Skyliner train which heads directly there. We also picked up our Japanese Rail passes for use on the rest of the trip (they are not valid on the private Keisei line). Train travel in Japan is very convenient, but you do have to pay attention to which company is operating the lines, as there are many private lines that the JR pass is not valid on. In retrospect, we should have just used the Japan Railways line which would have been included with our pass, and would have only required one transfer to get to Ueno.

img_9210

Our first experience on a train in Japan definitely impressed us – the interior was very comfortable and the train arrived exactly on time.

Where We Stayed

It is hard to find good, cheap accommodation in Japan. As intriguing as a capsule hotel sounded, we didn’t think that would be the most romantic for our honeymoon! Instead, we decided to book an apartment on Airbnb. There were a good number of choices, but we settled on a reasonably-priced one in the Ueno neighborhood.

It was a little small but quite cozy. It had a main living area with a futon which doubled as a couch and a bed, a small kitchen, a bathroom and a separate shower room (having these last two separate turned out to be the standard in all the apartments we stayed in). We enjoyed our first introduction to the fancy Japanese toilets as well!

Ueno was a convenient neighborhood to be based in: near a big park and multiple museums, plenty of restaurants, and easy transportation to other parts of the city.

What We Did

We had three full days to see as much as we could of Tokyo!

Ueno Park

This large park was located right by our accommodations. The southernmost pond was full of blooming lotus plants. We also explored a few different small shrines throughout the park.

Tsukiji Fish Market

We aren’t huge fish fans, but we had read that this giant seafood wholesale market was a must-see in Tokyo, and also was going to be moving soon so we needed to catch it now. We didn’t arrive until after 11 (no way were we going to get there at 5 AM for the tuna auction), and by that point everyone seemed to be packed up for the day already. We only poked our head in, but we were impressed by the scale of the structure. We can only imagine what a hive of activity it must be when the market is in full swing!

Free Walking Tour

One of our favorite things to do when visiting a city is to go on a free walking tour, since they offer an overview of the city at a reasonable rate, so we we were pretty excited when we saw the website for the Tokyo Free Walking Tour. As luck would have it, our first full day in Tokyo was on a Saturday, which is the only day of the week that the regular tours are offered.

The tour met up outside the iconic Tokyo Station (which feels like it belongs in Europe) and then headed to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace. The emperor still lives in a different part of the Imperial Palace grounds, so we had to stick to the public gardens area. Our tour was lead by a team of two guides, who did a good job of pointing out the highlights of the gardens and filling us in on some of the history of the city and the palace.

An added bonus at the end was that they had “30-second kimonos” that were quick to tie on, making for an excellent photo opportunity.

Yanaka Neighborhood Walk

We followed a recommended Lonely Planet walking tour through the Yanaka neighborhood, the main attraction of which is a pedestrian street lined with all different types of shops. Of course our favorite was the 100 yen store! We also walked through the Yanaka Cemetery, which has thousands of tombstones of all ages.

Senso-ji

On the start of our second day of sightseeing, we visited the Senso-ji, a large Buddhist temple located in the Asakusa neighborhood. This was our first exposure to some of the classic Japanese temple elements: elaborate entrance gate, incense urn, fountain to cleanse your hands, booths to buy lucky charms, and so on.

.

Edo-Tokyo Museum

The city of “Tokyo” has actually only existed since 1869, when the newly-established Emperor moved the capital to the city (Tokyo means “eastern capital”). Prior to that period, the city had been known as Edo. It started out as a small fishing village but rose to prominence as the base of the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. This museum, housed in an interesting modern building, describes the history and culture of the city from its founding to present day. There was a lot of information to be read, so we had to rush a little at the end.

National Museum

The Tokyo National Museum, located in Ueno Park, is actually a collection of buildings housing a multitude of artifacts and exhibitions. Our “museum legs” were really kicking in, so we only visited two collections: the “Honkan” building which highlights Japanese art throughout the different periods of history, and the newly-renovated Gallery of Horyuin Treasures, which displays artifacts from an ancient temple in Nara.

Meiji Shrine

Emperor Meiji was the aforementioned emperor who established Tokyo as the capital of Japan and seat of the Empire. This Shinto shrine nestled in a wooded park in the middle of the city honor him and his Empress. Parts of the shrine were under renovation, so we didn’t see everything we could have, but it was still a pleasant respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Harajuku

Just outside the shrine is the Harajuku neighborhood, known as the epicenter for Japanese youth culture. We walked down the main street, Takeshita Dori, and took in the atmosphere. Our most exciting find was Daiso: a mega 100 yen store, with FIVE floors of items. We spent a long time marveling at all of the different things you could get for the equivalent of a dollar. We also bought a crepe at one of the many stands along the street.

Shibuya

We couldn’t come to Tokyo and not come to the famous crossing located just outside of Shibuya Station. This intersection of multiple roads is stopped for just pedestrian traffic, and a flood of people from all directions crosses the street. We crossed ourselves a few times to experience it.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

The name sounds a little dry, but this is a great tourist destination. You can ride an elevator for free to an observation deck with great views of Tokyo in every direction. Unfortunately, we were there on a cloudy day, so we couldn’t see everything, but we still were able to spot many of the landmarks we had visited as part of the three whirlwind days!

Where We Ate

Keisuke Ramen

On our first night in Tokyo, we wanted something simple and close for our first meal. Luckily, our apartment in Ueno was close to quite a few places. In the guide for the Airbnb, the host recommended the Tabelog website for finding a place that locals like to eat. We used this to find a ramen place that had good reviews. It was a little hard to find- restaurants in Japan are pretty small! We actually walked by the door the first time before realizing it was the right place.

We also got a crash course in another common feature in small Japanese restaurants: ordering from a machine. Before we even sat down, we had to pick out our items from the kiosk by the front door that looked like a vending machine. This one was especially tough because it had no English or pictures on the buttons! The waitress motioned that there were pictures around the machine that were in English, but we were having a hard time correlating them to the buttons. We finally just guessed based on the prices. We ended up getting two types of ramen, an order of gyoza, and a beer each. A delicious introduction to eating in Japan!

Ramen Street

The next day, we were meeting up with the walking tour at Tokyo Station just after lunch time, so we decided to grab a quick lunch at one of the restaurants on “Ramen Street,” a collection of well-known ramen shops on along one small hallway on the lower level of the station. We were running a little behind so we chose one with no line (most are very small so you have to wait for a spot to sit). We again ordered from a machine, and both ended up with a tasty bowl of ramen.

img_9233-2

Shinsuke

Located just next door to our apartment building was an izakaya named Shinsuke. An izakaya is a Japanese pub that serves sake and other drinks in addition to small plates of food (kind of like tapas). We went one evening and sampled two types of sake and a good number of the dishes (although sticking mostly to non-fish dishes). We tried the potato salad, fried chicken, simmered vegetables and the house specialty, tofu raclette (fried tofu stuffed with raclette cheese).

img_9246

Cafe by Ryogoku Station

After visiting the Edo-Tokyo museum, our plan had been to go to the nearby sumo district and dine at one of the restaurants serving sumo-style soup. Unfortunately, we didn’t take into account that it was the middle of the afternoon, and the place we wanted to go was closed. Instead, we found this small cafe by the JR station. It turned out to be quite good. We were again confused by the vending machine, but someone helped us figure out how to order. We had the choice of soba or udon noodles, and we both chose udon. This was our first udon meal of the trip and definitely wouldn’t be the last – we decided it was our favorite type of noodle!

img_9261

Siam

We ran into a similar issue that evening, as it seemed like many of the places in the neighborhood were closed on Sunday night. We just decided to eat at Siam, a Thai place that was open. It was enjoyable although a lot more expensive than actually eating in Thailand.

img_4274

Takeout meal place

After a long day of sightseeing, we decided to just get some food to go from a place we had seen in our neighborhood that seemed to serve ready-made meals. We perused the trays of items already prepared but ultimately both ordered something from the short-order menu (again kind of guessing based on pictures). Della got stir-fried veggies and Eric a fried meat dish (tonkatsu?).

img_9309

Piss Alley yakitori

Yes, the name sounds weird, but bear with us. While in the Shinjuke district, we decided to find this small side street, which they try to call “Memory Lane” – but it keeps its other nickname because back in the day it was a popular place to go get drunk. The street is very narrow, and has very tiny restaurants all along. We found one with some open stools and were surprised to see that the restaurant was just wide enough for our seats and the grill. We ordered some skewers of different meats and veggies, watched the proprietor grill them right in front of us, and then enjoyed!

Miyoshi

After determining that udon was our favorite type of noodle, we decided to look for a place near our apartment in Ueno for dinner that had it. The restaurant review site listed Miyoshi as having udon, so we decided to try it. It was a little hard to find, since the small Japanese restaurants often don’t have a sign out front. Also, when we first looked, it was Sunday, and as it turned out it was one of the closed places. Finally, on our last evening we were able to locate this small place. It indeed had udon and soba noodles. There was not an English menu, but through a combination of pictures and hand gestures we were able to order. Della had regular udon and Eric had curry udon which is udon noodle soup with curry flavor added.

img_4444

7-11/Lawson/Family Mart

You may have noticed that we didn’t list any breakfast places above. Since we had our own apartment, we decided to keep it simple and do breakfast ourselves. There was not a big grocery store nearby, but the convenience stores in Japan have an excellent selection of pre-prepared food for takeaway. Every evening, we would go to one of the nearby stores – 7-11, Lawson, or Family Mart (depending on which corner we were closest to) – and would select a few items that looked good. We were often guessing, but were rarely disappointed. We got a lot of different rice balls and sushi rolls that were quite good. We also would often pick up beers and dessert from one of these stores as well for a cheap evening treat!

Final Thoughts

Tokyo was a great place to start our honeymoon trip in Japan. We feel like we barely scratched the surface of things to see and places to eat. We would definitely like to go back again!

Ometepe, Nicaragua

In our first foray back into international travel since our big trip, we met up with our friend Phill in Nicaragua on our spring break week. He is on his yearlong gap year trip and invited us to join him, which is fitting since he joined us for a week in Bali on our trip!

Our first stop was the beautiful Ometepe, an island formed by two volcanoes in the middle of the gigantic Lake Nicaragua.

Getting There

Typically, we have been able to use points to fly internationally for cheap, but we were unable to do so this time. A combination of needing to fly on exact days and it being a popular time to travel meant that there were no redemption options available. So we – gasp– had to pay full price for the tickets!

There is no direct flight to Managua (the only international airport in Nicaragua) from Denver. The best cheap flight combination we found was to leave Denver Friday night, then layover overnight in Houston before flying to Managua the next morning.

The layover was long enough that we decided that we would like to get a hotel room rather than try to sleep on the airport floor. Eric did have some Hilton hotel points for signing up for one of their credit cards, and we were able to book a room in a nearby property for free using these points. Travel hacker status redeemed!

By the time we landed in Houston, it was late enough that the hotel shuttle had stopped running. We took the plunge and used Uber for the first time! We were a little nervous that we wouldn’t figure out how it worked, but it was quite easy. We even figured out how to use a first-time referral code, so the ride was free for us.

Saturday morning we took the hotel shuttle back to IAH and flew to Managua. From Managua, we then needed to figure out how to get to Ometepe. The only way to reach the island is via ferry from the town of San Jorge. This is also where Phill was waiting for us to rendezvous, as he had traveled there the day before from Costa Rica.

There are buses that travel from Managua to a town near San Jorge (Rivas) for very cheap, but on this trip, we were less concerned about money and more about time. So, we opted for the expensive but fast option to take a taxi straight from the airport to San Jorge, a two-hour ride.

Internet research suggested that $50 was the going rate for this trip, but when we went to the taxi area the tout quoted us $80! We were eventually able to negotiate this down to $60. Quite an expensive trip for us, but it was definitely more convenient.

After our rendezvous with Phill, we got on the next ferry to Ometepe. We sat in the lower level to stay in the shade – after coming from Denver, we were already wilting in the Nicaragua heat. The ride over was pleasant and not too choppy. It was a little odd though that the TV on the boat chose to play the movie Titanic during the voyage – the sinking scenes were just concluding when we pulled into the port on the island.

From the port town of Moyogalpa, we still had to figure out how to get down to the small town of Merida on the other part of the island. Phill jumped up and found us a taxi right at the dock. His Spanish is much better than ours – we can speak some, but he can speak it better and had been practicing for a month in other Spanish-speaking countries. Our “taxi” turned out to be a big passenger van! We were expecting that this meant that we would pick up other people but we had the van to ourselves for the whole ride. Phill even sat up front to practice his Spanish with the driver.

A little less than 24 hours after leaving our house in Denver, we were enjoying our first sunset from the dock at Merida.

IMG_8958

Where We Stayed

Ometepe is a big island, so we struggled a little bit to decide which part of the island to stay on. Did we want to stay in one of the larger towns, by the beach, or in a more remote area. Ultimately, after mapping out what we wanted to do, we decided on Hacienda Merida in the town of Merida on the west side of the southernmost volcano (Maderas).

One of the intriguing things about Hacienda Merida is that its proceeds help support a bilingual school that meets on the grounds of the Hacienda itself. Our first evening there we were given a tour of the facilities. They use a pretty ingenious method to construct the school buildings: trash! The “bricks” are made from empty 1 liter water bottles stuffed with trash. They even pay members of the community to provide them the filled bottles, so they are recycling and helping keep the village clean.

For our accommodations, we got a quad private room with attached bathroom. No air conditioning (but there were fans and mosquito nets), and cold water showers, but this was pretty standard for comparable properties. Since our room was pretty small and warm, we spent most of our free time hanging out in the open-air common space / dining room.

Our favorite part of staying at Hacienda Merida was watching the nightly sunset. The Hacienda is on the water, and has a small pier of crumbling concrete (left over from the days when this was a Somoza-sponsored coffee plantation). Each night we would grab a drink and head out to watch the sun descend. We had a great view of the sun over the lake and of the Volcano Concepcion to our north.

What We Did

San Ramon Waterfall Hike

One of the reasons we wanted to stay in Merida was that it seemed to be a good jumping-off point for some interesting nature hikes. A lot of other guests chose to take a guided hike all the way to the summit of Volcan Maderas, but we decided to opt for what sounded like a simpler self-guided hike to a waterfall that was just partway up the volcano.

The guidebook made it sound like this was going to be a relatively simple hike, and no one at the Hacienda disputed this. They did warn us that the waterfall itself was not super impressive, but we still thought the hike up sounded pleasant.

To reach the trailhead, we walked down the road south from Merida along the shore of the lake. It wasn’t strenuous, but it was very hot, so we already had drunk a lot of our water by the time we reached the gate to the hike.

 

From the trailhead, it was a 3 km walk up to the waterfall. Well really more like a climb – we followed a road and then a trail up, up and up.

SanRamonHikeElevation

Check out the elevation gain – starting at the trailhead by the lake

By the time we reached the top, we were hot, sweaty and exhausted. And, as warned, due to the dry conditions the waterfall was more of a trickle.

There wasn’t any shade at the top, so we only lingered long enough to cool off our feet then headed back down. Luckily, we were able to catch a ride from some other tourists who had their rental car parked at the trailhead.

Back at the Hacienda, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the hammocks with some cold fruit juice!

Ojo de Agua

On the morning of our second full day, we caught the local chicken bus back to the center of the island. We hopped off at the entrance to Ojo de Agua, a complex with two pools filled with crystal-clear spring water. It was a little more developed than we had anticipated, but the water was nice and cold, and we had arrived early enough in the day that there weren’t too many other people around.

 

Playa Santo Domingo

From Ojo de Agua, we took a shortcut shown on Maps.Me (to Eric’s surprise, actually accurate) and took a nice scenic walk to the most popular beach on the island, Playa Santo Domingo.

After a nice lunch (see below), we walked up and down the beach itself. It was a little windy to swim or lounge in the sand, but we did enjoy the nice views of the lake and Volcan Maderas.

Getting back to Merida from Santo Domingo was a bit of an adventure. We waited for over 30 minutes by the road before the chicken bus finally came by. It was so crowded that we just hopped on via the back emergency exit – Eric almost fell off when the bus pulled away while he was still getting on! We had to crowd in and brace ourselves against the ceiling of the bus, which was quite uncomfortable.

Where We Ate

Hacienda Merida had its own restaurant, so due to the convenience we just ate there for all our breakfasts and dinners.

For breakfasts, the two of us had the traditional gallo pinto, which was rice and black beans plus some scrambled eggs.

IMG_8964

The first night for dinner we all had barbecue chicken with potatoes and fried plantains. The second night we had something different: Della and Phill got homemade corn tortillas topped with beans and veggies, while Eric splurged and got a full grilled fish (surprisingly not too bony!). The last night the restaurant offered a full buffet, which included pizza, cannelloni and more traditional fare like rice and beans.

 

Our one meal not at Hacienda Merida was on Playa Santo Domingo at Natural, a vegetarian restaurant right on the beach. Some nice fresh fruit smoothies helped cool us off, then the two of us each got a curry which was quite good. The most interesting part was that they had simmered a full banana in with the curry, so it had soaked up a lot of the flavor for a nice sweet and spicy treat.

Final Thoughts

Ometepe is a beautiful place, and it is very cool to stay on a volcanic island in the middle of a gigantic lake. That being said, we weren’t sure it quite lived up to our expectations. We suspect we might have enjoyed it more if we visited when it wasn’t so hot and dry. Maybe next time!

The sunsets were one of our favorites things of our entire time in Nicaragua though – might have been worth going just for that!

One Year Ago Today

Since we have returned home from our round-the-world trip, on quiet evenings we like to play a game where we try to remember what we were doing on the same day one year ago. For example, on March 25, we remembered that one year ago we had left Ko Lanta in Thailand and flown to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. On October 25, we remembered that one year ago we had been exploring ancient Olympia in Greece.

One year ago today is a milestone that we are not soon to forget.


 

One year ago today, we were in Nepal.

One year ago today, we left the town of Syabru Bensi and started hiking up the Langtang River valley on the first day of our Langtang trek, which we had been looking forward to the entire trip. We chose to take the “low road” path that stayed down in the valley with a more gradual ascent.

IMG_7702

One year ago today, on the trail we leapfrogged a few different groups and individuals, making small talk about the scenic canyon and the arduous nature of the elevation gain.

One year ago today, we debated continuing to hike for another hour to our intended first night’s stop of Rimche, but then decided to take a break for tea and chapati in the village of Bamboo.

IMG_7720

The view from our table at the teahouse

One year ago today, at 11:56 Nepal time, at 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal about 100 km west of the Langtang valley.


 

One year ago today, as we were drinking our tea, we felt the ground shaking beneath our chairs. We turned to each other and asked, almost incredulously, “Is this an earthquake?”

One year ago today, we weren’t quite sure what to do in an earthquake. We thought about running into the teahouse, but changed our mind when the workers ran out of it.

One year ago today, we followed everyone up onto the raised terrace that belonged to the teahouse, and sheltered ourselves under wooden tables while boulders as big as cars crashed down from either side of the canyon.

One year ago today, we saw the teahouse we had considered running into flattened by a falling boulder.

IMG_7724

Looking south at the teahouses immediately after the quake. Compare to the above picture

One year ago today, we followed the other tourists, guides and villagers up just above the village to an area with two huge boulders that had not moved, with a small depression in between.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This photo was taken by fellow trekker Corey: http://www.gofundme.com/tjssd5h9

One year ago today, we huddled against these boulders as further aftershocks and landslides occurred, praying for moments of calm and pleading with the Earth to stay still.

One year ago today, we stretched out for a night of fitful sleep under an orange tarp thoughtfully put up by others in the group.

IMG_7737

One year ago today, our families and friends back in the USA heard the news of an earthquake in Nepal, but did not know exactly where we were or how badly our area had been hit.

One year ago today, we began to make connections with this group that would help us survive until we were rescued five days later.


 

One year ago today, the village of Langtang, two days walk further up the trek (and where we were planning on spending our second or third night), was wiped off the map when a glacier broke off on the mountain above, triggering a massive landslide.

One year ago today, in Kathmandu, the royal palace and many of the historic temples surrounding Durbar Square (which we had visited three days prior) were destroyed.

One year ago today, the building adjoining the hotel that we had stayed in while in Kathmandu collapsed, killing multiple people inside.

IMG_7977

The same view after the quake, with the hotel just beyond in rubble

One year ago today, a villager on the trail just below where we sat was struck in the head and killed by a falling rock.

One year ago today, Or Assaraf, an Israeli trekker who had ridden on the same bus to Syabru Bensi that we did but had started his trek in the direction of the Gosakind Lakes, was killed in a landslide triggered by the earthquakes.

One year ago today, over 8000 people in Nepal lost their lives.


 

One year ago today, we were truly fortunate.

For more information about our experience, you can read our series on the Nepal earthquake. Many of the organizations that we highlighted in our how to help post have continued to do great work in Nepal as the country continues to rebuild, so please consider donating.