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Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

One year ago today, we boarded a plane and set off to make our dream of traveling around the world a reality. We are happy to report that we are still alive and well. Today we are wondering, how did this year go by so quickly?! But in all reality, when we revisit the past year in detail, we realize just how much we have experienced.

Our ‘Year in Review’ includes two photos from every country we have visited in the past year. One selected by Mike and one selected by Amy.  This was an insanely difficult task, since we have over 12,000 photos now! Some photos are memories of a favorite place we visited, while others symbolize our mindset at that point in time, and a few are just pictures that we really love. We hope you enjoy and thanks for reading our ramblings for the past year; there is still more to come!

Spain

Mike's Photo - Spain

Mike’s Pick – La Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

This place is unlike any other church in the world. Our visit to el Templo de la Sagrada Familia took place on the first full day of our journey and really started things off with a bang! I can’t wait to return to Barcelona to see it again when construction is completed after 2026.

Amy's Pick - The Alhambra - Granada, Spain

Amy’s Pick – La Alhambra – Granada, Spain

When we stepped off the train in Granada, we were shocked with an unexpected bitter cold. Despite the below freezing temperatures we had an incredible day exploring La Alhambra, one of the most stunning palaces I have ever visited.

Portugal

Mike's Pick - Porto, Portugal

Mike’s Pick – Port Wine Boats on the Douro River – Oporto, Portugal

We try not to talk about work too much on our trip, but when you work in hospitality and tourism, a RTW trip is filled with very relevant learning opportunities. I have an all new appreciation for port wine after visiting several cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Amy's Pick - Lagos, Portugal

Amy’s Pick – Lagos, Portugal

Lagos was the first of many improvised stops of our trip. To be honest we had never heard of it before, but it was along our bus route from Spain to Lisboa, so we stopped through for a few days. I will always remember Lagos with special sentiment because in my mind it symbolizes spontaneity.

Morocco

Mike's Pick - Our Riad - Marrakech, Morocco

Mike’s Pick – Our Riad – Marrakech, Morocco

Sipping mint tea in the refuge of our riad was one of the most relaxing experiences of our trip. I loved starting and ending our days sitting right here!

Amy's Pick - Colorful Tiles - Marrakech, Morocco

Amy’s Pick – Bahia Palace – Marrakech, Morocco

The colorful and intricate tiles in Morocco are unbelievably eye-catching. I would love to use tiles like these to decorate our house someday.

Denmark

Mike's Pick - Mike & Nils - Osted, Denmark

Mike’s Pick – Mike & Nils – Osted, Denmark

Nils (Amy’s host dad from her study abroad experience in 2006) was about as excited for our trip as we were. He and I took many trips “around the world” using these fun shot glasses printed with a world maps.

Amy's Pick - Candles - Osted, Denmark

Amy’s Pick – Candles – Osted, Denmark

These candles represent Danish hygge to me; it is a difficult word to translate into English, but generally embodies spending quality time with family & friends while being cozy, content and relaxed. There was plenty of hygge to go around during our visit with my host family.

Czech Republic

Mike's Pick - Hockey Game - České Budějovice, Czech Republic

Mike’s Pick – Hockey Game – České Budějovice, Czech Republic

During our time in České Budějovice, I had a high fever and terrible case of the flu. I spent three whole days  in bed and even considered going to the hospital, but still but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a Czech hockey play-off game.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Amy’s Pick – View from Castle – Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Český Krumlov is one of those magical places that makes you feel like you’re living in a fairytale. I love this photo because it captures the European-style architecture and lazy river that winds through the town.

Austria

Mike's Pick - Naschmark - Vienna, Austria

Mike’s Pick – Naschmarkt – Vienna, Austria

A major theme of our blog over the past year has been food. In Vienna, the Naschmarkt is one of the best places to take a stroll, grab a bite, have a beer, and see some really great artisan food and crafts.  We were in Vienna for less than 48 hours, but made two trips to the Naschmarkt during our time there.

Amy's Pick - Coin exchange at hostel - Vienna, Austria

Amy’s Pick – Coin exchange at hostel – Vienna, Austria

We only spent two days in Austria, using Vienna as a stopover for a train connection, however we found this clever coin exchange at our hostel. This photo reminds me of a game we play – whenever we leave a country, we try to use up all of the bills and coins that we have on hand, whether it be buying a piece of candy at a shop or giving it to a fellow traveler.

Hungary

Mike's Pick - Széchenyi Fürdő - Budapest, Hungary

Mike’s Pick – Széchenyi Fürdő – Budapest, Hungary

Whenever I arrive in a new city and hear about hot springs, thermal baths, or the like I get really excited. Who doesn’t like a nice soak? After a few months of backpacking under our belts, a day relaxing in these amazing public baths was just what the doctor ordered.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Budapest, Hungary

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is one of my favorite European cities. I love how the river splits it into the Buda side and the Pest side. This day we walked almost 14 miles, exploring both sides of the city and growing our appreciation for how massive, yet accessible, it is.

Croatia

Mike's Pick - Old Town - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Mike’s Pick – Old Town – Dubrovnik, Croatia

After the Bed Bug fiasco was behind us, we really enjoyed the gorgeous walled city of Dubrovnik. I felt like I had been transported back in time.

Amy's Pick - Hvar Island, Croatia

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Hvar Island, Croatia

This is my favorite self-photo of our entire trip. Somehow it captured Mike at the split second he was sneezing!

Bosnia

Mike's Pick - Stari Most - Mostar, Bosnia

Mike’s Pick – Stari Most – Mostar, Bosnia

When most people think of Bosnia, they think of the war. Few realize what an beautiful place it really is. The iconic bridge of Mostar was destroyed by bombs, but it has since been rebuilt and serves as a symbol of a country trying to heal.

Amy's Pick - War Tunnel Tour - Sarajevo, Bosnia

Amy’s Pick – War Tunnel Tour – Sarajevo, Bosnia

The Bosnian War is the first war I remember as a child, so visiting Sarajevo was very emotional. We took a tour with this man who lived through the war, and it was one of the most inspirational and educational things I did in the past year of traveling.

Turkey

Mike's Pick - Cave Church - Cappadocia, Turkey

Mike’s Pick – Cave Church – Cappadocia, Turkey

Our first day of exploring in Cappadocia included the Göreme Open Air Museum and its ancient churches and dwellings. Built by early Christians fleeing persecution, it is arguably the “birthplace” of the entire religion. Visiting was a very spiritual experience for me.

Amy's Pick - Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

Amy’s Pick – Blue Mosque – Istanbul, Turkey

The mosques of Istanbul are a sight to behold. Spending a few weeks in Istanbul taught me so much about Islam. Visiting Istanbul helped me to understand that it is possible for traditionalists, modernists, and everyone in between to coexist without surrendering their cultural identity.

China

Mike's Pick - Food Stand - Shanghai, China

Mike’s Pick – Food Stand – Shanghai, China

For me, one of the coolest parts of traveling is snacking my way through a city. We ate these rice dumplings almost every morning in Shanghai. Some cities in the US have food carts/trucks, but nothing quite compares to the street food scene in Asia. Forget what the State Department tells you; my advice, when you travel abroad EAT STREET FOOD!!!

Amy's Pick - Rice Terraces - Dazhai, China

Amy’s Pick – Rice Terraces – Dazhai, China

In the midst of China’s traffic jams, overpopulation, pollution, and noise, the rice terraces of Dazhai were the perfect escape for a few days of peace. I love this picture because we spent nearly an hour getting this shot with both of us in the air.

Hong Kong

Mike's Pick - View from Victoria Peak - Hong Kong

Mike’s Pick – View from Victoria Peak – Hong Kong

It may seem like a concrete jungle, but Hong Kong actually has some really great hikes, beaches, and islands. I really enjoyed our hike around Victoria Peak which ended with this panoramic view of the city.

Amy's Pick - Cheung Chau Island, Hong Kong

Amy’s Pick – Cheung Chau Island – Hong Kong

The stark contrast between landscapes in Hong Kong surprised me: a mega city that also has remote wilderness islands. We spent the day at the beach and hiking the perimeter of Cheung Chau island.

South Korea

Mike's Pick - Haeundae Sand Festival - Busan, South Korea

Mike’s Pick – Haeundae Sand Festival – Busan, South Korea

There aren’t a lot of beaches in Colorado; so it’s not big surprise that I had never seen sand art like this before. These artists are ridiculously good.

Amy's Pick - Sushi Dinner - Busan, South Korea

Amy’s Pick – Sushi Dinner – Busan, South Korea

We had a hard time fitting this sushi dinner into one photograph! It included everything from raw sea squirt to mud eel. Even though we shared no common language with the couple sitting next to us, they walked us through each dish and how to eat it properly.

Japan

Mike's Pick - Restaurant - Tokyo, Japan

Mike’s Pick – Restaurant – Tokyo, Japan

When we sat down and ordered, we had no idea what we were about to eat. We just got what everyone else was having. I like this picture because it reminds me of how the cooks complimented us on our chopstick skills and Japanese table manners.

Amy's Pick - Fushimi Inari Shrine - Kyoto, Japan

Amy’s Pick – Fushimi Inari Shrine – Kyoto, Japan

I love this photo because of the sheer color!

Vietnam

Mike's Pick - Bowl of Phở - Hanoi, Vietnam

Mike’s Pick – Bowl of Phở – Hanoi, Vietnam

Phở. #enoughsaid

Amy's Pick - Madonna Rock Dive Site - Nha Trang, Vietnam

Amy’s Pick – Madonna Rock Dive Site – Nha Trang, Vietnam

SCUBA diving is one of the coolest things I have ever learned to do. This was our very first day of diving – we didn’t have the hang of buoyancy yet, so the fact that our dive master captured this photo was something of a miracle.

Cambodia

Mike's Pick - Banteay Srei Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Mike’s Pick – Banteay Srei Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

What can I say about Angkor Wat? This place is just sooooo cool. Cambodia may not have delicious food like Vietnam or dreamy beaches like Thailand, but Angkor Wat is more than a good enough reason to visit.

Amy's Pick - Ta Prohm Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Amy’s Pick – Ta Prohm Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I love this picture because it allows you to actually see the thousands of years of history that has taken place at Angkor Wat. The sheer size of this tree’s roots growing into the temple walls helps you to appreciate its place in the past and present.

Thailand

Mike's Pick - Elephant Reserve - Chiang Mai, Thailand

Mike’s Pick – Elephant Reserve – Chiang Mai, Thailand

We spent a lot of quality time with animals in Thailand: riding on elephants – cuddling with tigers – fending off monkeys.

Amy's Pick - Pad Thai - Bangkok, Thailand

Amy’s Pick – Pad Thai – Bangkok, Thailand

Pad Thai with tofu is my absolute favorite Thai dish and I miss eating it every day for breakfast! Surprisingly, considering all of the times we ate it, I can’t believe this is the only photo we took.

Laos

Mike's Pick - Mekong River - Vientiane, Laos

Mike’s Pick – Mekong River – Vientiane, Laos

This amazing sunset over the Mekong in Vientiane was one of my favorite from the entire year. You wouldn’t know it from this picture, but it seemed like the entire city came out to the river that evening to watch the sun slowly disappear.

Amy's Pick - Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane - Laos

Amy’s Pick – Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane – Laos

After the most horrifying bus ride ever from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, we decided to fly back to Vientiane instead of enduring another death-trap bus. This was the most beautiful flight of my entire life – the mud brown Mekong twisting through deep green jungle.

Singapore

Mike's Pick - View of Downtown - Singapore

Mike’s Pick – View of Downtown – Singapore

It may be a small country, but I was really impressed by Singapore’s modern architecture.

Amy's Pick - The Helix Bridge - Singapore

Amy’s Pick – The Helix Bridge – Singapore

The truth is that Mike stole the photo I wanted to choose for Singapore, so I picked this one instead. This photo is of the ground of a DNA helix-shaped bridge in Singapore. My nerdy science-loving side really loved this bridge:-) The A and the T represent the nucleotides adenine and thymine.

Malaysia

Mike's Pick - Salang - Tioman Island, Malaysia

Mike’s Pick – Salang – Tioman Island, Malaysia

SCUBA diving and beach-time pretty much sum up our month in Malaysia. 15 tanks each in less than 30 days. In retrospect, I think we should have stayed longer.

Amy's Pick - Long Beach - Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Amy’s Pick – Long Beach – Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

This is a place where two days turned into four, and four into six, and six days into two weeks. I loved living on the beach, relaxing, diving and having a blank mind.

Australia

Mike's Pick - Gnaraloo Station - Gnaraloo, Australia

Mike’s Pick – Gnaraloo Station – Gnaraloo, Australia

If you’ve been reading our blog since the beginning, then you may recognize our friends here.  It was our first time in Australia, but they really made us feel at home.  Juan wasn’t very pleased with the fishing that week, but the Coral Trout I caught is enough to keep me enthusiastic about giving it another go.

Amy's Pick - Fishing - Gnaraloo, Australia

Amy’s Pick – Fishing – Gnaraloo Reef, Australia

A memory of the first fish I ever caught in the open water!

New Zealand

Mike's Pick - Kaikoura, New Zealand

Mike’s Pick – Kaikoura, New Zealand

We almost left Kaikoiura the day before this picture was taken. I am glad that we decided to stay another night, because we would have missed out on a great hike and some unforgettable views.

Amy's Pick - Lake Wakatipu - Queenstown, New Zealand

Amy’s Pick – Lake Wakatipu – Queenstown, New Zealand

This is only one of the hundreds of beautiful scenic photos from our month in New Zealand. This road into Queenstown from the south is one of the most spectacular drives I have ever taken.

Chile

Mike's Pick - Laguna Tebenquiche - San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Mike’s Pick – Laguna Tebenquiche – San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

The water in this lake was so salty that it felt thick when I walked through it. The natural wonders of San Pedro de Atacama left me in awe day after day.

Amy's Pick - Pan de Azucar National Park - Chile

Amy’s Pick – Pan de Azucar National Park – Chile

After a week of camping at Pan de Azucar, one of the most tranquilo and beautiful places that I saw in Chile, we hitchhiked back into town to catch our bus. Our ride was from a local fisherman, and I had the luck of riding in the back of his truck along with his day’s catch. During that ride I remember thinking to myself “now this is traveling!”

Argentina

Mike's Pick - Christmas Parrillada - Escobar, Argentina

Mike’s Pick – Christmas Asado – Escobar, Argentina

I’m really going to miss this. But I always have Tio Francis in Denver, so I guess I’ll survive 🙂

Amy's Pick - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Amy’s Pick – Iguazu Falls – Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

During our second day visiting Iguazu Falls, we were graced with perfectly blue skies and a rainbow across the falls!

Uruguay

Mike's Pick - Practice for Carnival - Montevideo, Uruguay

Mike’s Pick – Practice for Carnaval – Montevideo, Uruguay

Hopefully this was just a small taste of things to come during Carnaval in Cartagena.

Amy's Pick - The Hand Sculpture - Punta del Este, Uruguay

Amy’s Pick – The Hand Sculpture – Punta del Este, Uruguay

This sculpture is just plain fun. It makes you feel like there is a giant living underneath the sand, waiting to grab you off your towel while you’re sunbathing.

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While sometimes it may seem that we are obsessed with food, eating isn’t the only thing we do when traveling. We swear. Yes, Part I of this blog series was all about food, but we actually did a lot of non-food related sightseeing in Tokyo as well. In between meals, our favorite way to explore a city is to simply walk around and see where the day takes us. Many travelers we meet spend all day zipping around in taxis, trying to see everything. That’s not our style. Sometimes we take off in the morning with a specific destination in mind, but more often than not we just head out with a map in our pocket and wing it.

Our first few hours in Tokyo began as a quest towards the Sensō-ji Temple Complex, which we heard is the temple to visit if you time in Tokyo is short. It was a nice temple, but surrounded by hordes of tourists and neighbored by a small amusement park. It definitely was not the highlight of our trek through the Asakusa neighborhood.

Offerings at a Buddhist altar within the Sensō-ji Temple Complex

The Pagoda of Sensō-ji

Incense smoke engulfing Sensō-ji Temple

Along the way to Sensō-ji we caught our first glimpse of the brand new Tokyo Skytree. This building is all the rage in Japan at the moment; you can’t possibly walk one block without seeing a corny Skytree souvenir stand. The Skytree opened in May 2012 and is now the tallest structure in the country and the second tallest in the world. People sign up months in advance to go the top. We of course had not planned that far in advance, but had a photo shoot along the Sumida River.

The Skytree is so tall that it didn’t fit in the frame.

The Skytree in its evening-ware

When we had finished admiring the Skytree, we didn’t really know what to do next. So we just picked a direction and started walking. Fortunately, our choice was a good one, and we stumbled upon a fascinating shopping district. We are not talking about a cutesy outdoor mall with clothing boutiques. You see, we have come to realize that most cities in the world have entire streets, sometimes even whole neighborhoods dedicated to selling a specific grouping of products or services. We don’t know how so many competitors manage to survive in such a small geographic space, but somehow they do. Often we find ourselves walking down the street saying something along the lines of, “Oh, this must be the diapers and toilet paper section of Hanoi” or “Here is the power tools block in Istanbul” or “Man, this wedding invitation street runs half way across Prague.” Well, this particular shopping area of Tokyo was solely dedicated to selling kitchen gadgets and restaurant supplies.

We spent hours exploring this part of town. We know it sounds strange and you are probably thinking, “They went all the way to Tokyo to visit a Williams-Sonoma?” After reading-up on it when we got back to our hostel, we learned this area of town is called Kappabashi, and Kappabashi is a crazy place. In this neighborhood, you will find entire shops that sell only plastic food for restaurant window displays. Others manufacture and sell hundreds of the most incredible chef’s knifes we’ve ever seen. There are stores that sell only antique items, while their neighbor specializes in the most cutting edge culinary equipment.

Even though it looks real, these are actually made of plastic. All of which can be purchased at Kappabashi

Amazed and over stimulated from our thorough exploration of Kappabashi, we journeyed off to find some…yes, you guessed it…food. Lucky for us, we happened upon a parade that led us straight to a festival where tasty street food was being served. After a few minutes on this street, we noticed that all of the men were wearing waist length robes, many of which exposed areas where the sun doesn’t shine. We still aren’t sure what the festival was all about, but snapped a short video of it that you can watch here or by clicking on the image below.

On our second day in Tokyo, we took a tip from our hostel and hopped on the subway towards the Imperial Palace. We were forewarned that many tourists do not find the palace interesting since you cannot enter the gates, but we went anyway. Determined to get a good view over the palace walls, we began to circumnavigate it in hopes of finding a good vantage point, but after 30 minutes it just didn’t seem possible. That’s when we pulled out a wild card and went with a move that has worked well for us in the past. Other budget travelers will want to write this one down as many places (the Skytree for instance) charge a pretty penny for a nice view. We hate paying for views. We located a tall hotel that bordered the palace, walked confidently into the lobby, found the elevator and pushed the button for “club level.” Once at the top, we put on our best smiles and talked our way into the club member lounge on the top floor of the Imperial Palace Hotel. There we found the view we were looking for!

Excited to be seeing it from the top

View down on the Imperial Palace and Gardens

Next, we hopped on a subway and got off at a random stop called Shibuya. This is where we found the stereotypical Tokyo that we were looking for: crowded streets, flashing lights, crazy fashion, and surprises around every corner. Respect and honor may mean a lot in Japan, but they still have their seedy parts of town.

One of the calmest and least bright streets in Shibuya

Shibuya is home to many adult activities – case in point, love hotels. 3 hours seems like enough for a “rest,” don’t you think?

Our visit to Tokyo was full of unexpected twists, and our departure was no different. A typhoon rolled into town on our last night there, which not only made for a soaking and umbrella-breaking journey to dinner that night, but also a deviation from our original flight plan. We can’t say that we were upset about the detour (the airlines can’t control the weather after all), but after 24 hours of travel and one unplanned night in a sketchy hotel in Guangzhou, we were happy to arrive in Hanoi.

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We only had three days in Tokyo, so we had to make the most of this electrifying city. To write the end before the beginning, we can sum it up by saying we left Tokyo with a strong desire to return. In the first part of this series, we will share with you the incredible food scene we experienced in Tokyo. Part II will delve into our exploration of some of the city’s sights and neighborhoods.

From Sea to Table

Do you ever wonder where that little piece of tuna you’re eating came from? While it’s hard to know for certain, there is a pretty good chance it passed through the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, the largest fish market in the world. The action starts early here, with fish auctions for the high-end catches running from 5am to 7am. We arrived around 6:30am and dove right into the chaos that consumes the heart of the market.

Early morning hours at the Tsukiji fish market

This is not your typical neighborhood fish market; Tsukiji is home to fishermen who are selling massive quantities of fish to wholesalers. According to Wikipedia, over 400 types of seafood are sold at Tsukiji on any given day. If it lives in the sea and can be eaten, it’s sold at Tsukiji Fish Market.

Ominously glowing pieces of tuna. Aren’t they stunning?

One of the many species of octopi on sale at Tsukiji

Aside from the extra large bivalves and colorful octopi, we were most impressed by the humongous tuna that we saw. Workers handled these whole frozen tuna with hooks and gloves, maneuvering them from the ground to counter tops. There, they are cut in half using band saws and then into smaller pieces by knives that looked more like swords.

HUGE tuna fish

Tuna handler in action – hopping over his group’s share of tuna and in between table saws

You do not want to get between this guy and his tuna. “Call that a knife?” This is a real knife, Mr. Crocodile Dundee.

Hop on the Sushi Train

Although a novelty in the States, sushi train restaurants are not so uncommon in Japan. Excited to try some of the fish we saw at Tsukiji the day before, we headed out to dinner at a sushi go-round in the Asakusa neighborhood.

Watching our dinner circle round as we waited in line with anticipation, our appetites growing by the second

We enjoyed some of our favorites, such as Hamachi (yellow tail) and Aji (mackerel) and also tried a few new things, including abalone and crab miso soup.

Fatty tuna roll with green onion

Octopus sushi

After the waiter tallied up our tower of plates, which ranged from 180-700 Yen/plate, and added in our sake, the bill came to about $50 USD. Not exactly a cheap meal, but compared to a sushi dinner for two at home, it was a steal. Well worth the dent to our backpackers’ budget!

We did so much damage…

Dinner, Tatami-Style

Many fantastic restaurants in Tokyo are very unassuming. There is little to no signage out front, and you often do not even realize they are there. We were intrigued by a certain restaurant near our hostel. Each day during lunch, we noticed a line of people that stretched down the block, but in the evening it was hard to tell if the place was even open. The front doors were shut, and the building had no windows. After two days of walking past with our curiosity teeming, we finally gave in and slowly opened one of the sliding wooden doors to take a peek.

Amy getting comfortable on the tatami floor

Inside, we found several tables of people sitting on tatami mats and enjoying traditional Japanese cuisine. The menu wasn’t well translated, so we did what we normally do in that type of situation – we smiled and pointed to the dish that everyone else was eating. Turns out the dish is called “Dozeu-nabe” (this website describes the dish pretty well). The dish was composed of small river fish that had first been cooked in sake and then transferred to a shallow metal dish. The fish then simmered over hot coals with green onions and fermented soy sauce on top.

The preparation method softens the fish so that they can be consumed whole, bones and all.

Mike digging into the dozeu-nabe

When the waitress first brought the dish to our table, our faces must have looked hilarious, as it didn’t look too appetizing. She graciously showed us how to properly prepare it. Halfway through the meal, she stopped by to tell us that one of the cooks was very impressed after observing our chopstick skills and Japanese dining manners. We always try to be culturally conscious travelers, and it was nice to hear that our efforts are appreciated! In the end, we could not have been more satisfied. Dozeu-nabe is delicious, and we were thrilled at the authenticity of dinner that evening.

Hibernating in the Sake Dens

Visiting an izakaya (sake den) was on our must-do list upon arriving in Tokyo. These Japanese style pubs are where the locals relax, loosen their ties after work, and often get helped out the door by a waiter as they stumble with an arm over their friend’s shoulder.

Hanging sake bottles mark the entrance to an izakaya in the Shibuya area

Following our tatami-style dinner, we made our way to a nearby izakaya that served up delicious tapas (for lack of a better word), meat skewers and generous glasses of sake.

The good stuff

The other good stuff

After six large cups of refreshing cold sake, a sampling of pork temple and chicken liver, and some great people watching, we were set for the night and made our walk home with nothing but smiles on our faces.

We call this ‘the sake glow’

The good thing about spending at least three days in a city is that it gives you the opportunity to truly experience the local cuisine by eating  nine solid meals. Between our tatami dinner, visit to the fish market, sake den experience, and many more meals, which we did not include in this post, we felt as though we had a good grip on the Tokyo food scene. As we mentioned, we left Tokyo wanting to see and taste more, and we will certainly be back someday.

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Going Back to Work

Don’t worry, our trip around the world isn’t over yet! We just had some business to take care of in Yokohama, and our return to work was only temporary. It had been six months since we last set foot in a working environment (sob story, we know), but to be honest, we were a little anxious about going back to work. In true business traveler fashion, we took the Shinkansen high-speed train from Kyoto after sightseeing there for a week. You have to have a job to take this train, as the two hour ride costs nearly $150/ticket!

The Shinkansen (a.k.a. bullet train) that we rode from Kyoto to Yokohama reached speeds over 300km/hr!

When we arrived in Yokohama, we traded in our backpacker wardrobe for business attire and prepared ourselves for four days “on the clock.” Spending several hours ironing clothes is not our idea of a fun first night in a new city, but getting dressed up in clean, pressed business attire actually felt quite refreshing. When you’ve been living out of a backpack for months on end, new clothes feel like a new car.

First day back at work!

We were in town for the 10th Annual ISSCR Stem Cell Research Convention, which brought together researchers from around the globe. We were working as private contractors manning the booth for Novus Biologicals, Amy’s former employer in Colorado. Our job was to let researchers know about antibodies and other related products that may be useful to their stem cell studies. Amy has worked numerous such conventions in the past; for Mike it was a brand new experience. He got a crash course in antibodies before arriving in Japan and did a stellar job with his science lingo. Thank you, Novus, for the opportunity to work ISSCR!

Mike helping out a curious researcher

The Novus booth was our home for four days in Yokohama.

The event took place at the PACIFICO Yokohama. This convention center is situated along the water and near some great restaurants and parks in Yokohama. We were lucky enough to have a bit of time to sightsee before and after ISSCR.

The PACIFICO Yokohama on one of the few sunny, rain-free days during ISSCR

This amusement park is situated right next to the convention center, which made it easy for us to take a roller coaster ride before the first day of the show!

View of the skyline from Yamashita Park

Our hotel was located just a few blocks from Chinatown, one of the largest of its kind in the world, which provided for some great people watching and delicious meals, and the hectic vibe actually brought us back to our recent travels in China.

The East Gate to Yokohama’s Chinatown

We seem to be ending all of our posts recently by talking about food, so we may as well keep with the trend. No business trip is complete without a fancy business dinner. We enjoyed an incredible Kyoto-style dinner one night with Amy’s former boss and a Japanese distributor. With ten courses, three types of sake and good conversation, it was a real treat to say the least.

2nd Course: squid, pike and sashimi served on ice.

All in all, going back to work went very smoothly. It was a good reminder of the hard work we did to make our dream of traveling the world come true. So for now, it’s back to life on the road and doing the work that we love, blogging about our travels. Who knows what the future will hold; we are focusing on living life in the present.

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One of the first things that any traveler will notice about Kyoto is that there appears to be a temple or shrine on nearly every block. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but Kyoto’s reputation as the home of traditional Japanese culture is well deserved. Once the Imperial Capital of Japan, Kyoto is now a modern city where the traditions of the past live on. In the midst of crowded, multiple-story malls, you will find a number of women shopping in traditional Japanese Kimonos, and when you exit the mall, you are likely to find monks worshiping at a temple just around the corner.

Kimonos are a common sight in Kyoto.

We spent our week in Kyoto visiting only a handful of the many temples and shrines, but the ones we did visit were magnificent. From the moment we set foot in Japan, we were truly humbled by the kindness and respect that people show one another. Even those who have never traveled abroad would feel safe and welcome in Japan. Nonetheless, it was helpful to have a Japanese-speaking guide to get an insider’s perspective on the culture of Japan. Our friend, Patricia, who lives and works in the Shiga Prefecture, met us in town one day to show us around to Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Temple) and Fushimi Inari Shrine. It made the experience that much more authentic.

Enjoying a tasty tempura and noodle lunch in Kyoto with Patricia. Thanks for a fun day!

Kyoto’s Golden Temple

The temple is coated in gold leaf, similar to the dome on the capital building in Denver.

The gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine wound on and on for miles. Each one varies in size and bears the name of the individual or group that purchased it.

The foremost structure at Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Before walking through the network of orange gates at Fushimi Inari, Patricia convinced us to dress up in traditional garb at a kimono vendor’s stall. We had no intention of purchasing kimonos, but after we got all decked out, the thought crossed our minds. While they would have been fun Halloween costumes, we eventually realized that they would have collected dust 99% of the time.

Dress up time

Another highlight of our visit to Kyoto was our trip to Arashiyama. We learned about this neighborhood of town from our hostel’s “things to do” board. At a first glance, it seemed like nothing more than something to do on a rainy day; however, it turned out to be one of our favorite places in Kyoto. The paths that make their way through the area are canopied by a forest of bamboo.

Seemingly endless grove of bamboo trees.

The trees towered so high that they drooped over the path to create a natural canopy.

Last but not least…the food. A post on The Chamborres Expedition is not a post without writing about the cuisine of a city. We took a suggestion from a friend and sought out a grocery store located in the basement of a department store. We know that doesn’t sound like an exciting culinary adventure, but trust us, some of the best and most affordable sushi in the world can be found in such places. We scoped out our dinner selection early one morning, but lucked out by returning after 6:00PM when much of the sashimi was marked down 20 and 30 percent. No one wants day old sushi.

Sushi, anyone?

Everything in Japan is an art form, even the desserts. We were continually impressed by the presentation of products in the artisan sweet shops. The colors, textures and designs are a treat to the eye.  Having only known the deliciousness of mochi from home, we were amazed by the taste and freshness of the ones in Kyoto. At over 150 yen/piece, they are not cheap, but they are an incredibly delicate and subtle way to end a meal.

Hand-made mochi at Nishiki Market

Funky see-through mochi

Yesterday, we overheard another traveler saying, “I am so happy, it was something I have always wanted to do.” That is exactly how we felt when we arrived in Kyoto. We have always wanted to visit Japan, and exploring Kyoto was the perfect way to start our visit. It allowed us to see the temples of old, experience the food of today, and get a glimpse of the trends of tomorrow that awaited us in Tokyo.

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