Sunday, June 11, 2017

Allie Goes to Japan, Part 2: Kyoto

(We're just gonna pretend that I didn't fall off the face of the earth for eight months and continue on where we left off, cool?)

After leaving Osaka, my boss and I hopped on a train for the hourlong train ride up to Kyoto! We had booked a bus tour to take us to three sight-seeing stops: Nijo-jo Castle, the Golden Pavilion and Kinkaku-ji Temple, and the Kyoto Imperial Palace. (Japan has both an emperor and a shogun; it was described to me like how England has both a prime minister and a queen.)

Everything is very cute in Japan! There was a construction project going on where we were supposed to meet our bus, and all the barricades and alert markers were little pink people or happy green frogs that looked kind of like Keroppi from the Sanrio/Hello Kitty store we used to visit when I was a kid.

The first stop was the shogun's palace, Nijo-jo Castle, which was originally built in 1603 for Japan's first shogun! It takes up six buildings now, with elaborate tiles on the ceilings, which are different in every room and hallway, and gold leaf artwork of tigers and trees and peacocks to separate the rooms. Photos weren't allowed inside, so I took a lot of photos of the perimeter, with these intricate archways leading to the inside of the castle (where we had to take off our shoes before going in).

My favorite fun fact about the palace was that it was built so that the floors would intentionally creak whenever someone walked across the floor. This was to prevent assassins from sneaking up on the shogun's family!

We had a really great tour guide who knew lots of fun facts about the places the bus dropped us off, and about things we passed while the bus moved from place to place.

It wasn't a very bright day, but the grounds were lovely.

Then we took a short ride over to our next stop ... the Golden Temple!

The First Gate

I was really excited about this stop, because I'd never seen a temple before. I wish we'd gotten to go inside the actual Golden Temple, but it contains a lot of Buddhist relics, so we only got to tour the grounds.

See how this tree is kind of propped up on this wooden grid? Our tour guide said that it is like a sailboat that goes back and forth to paradise in the afterlife!

The actual pavilion ... covered in gold foil, with a phoenix at the very top, kind of like a weathervane.

It looks very peaceful, but along the fence I took this picture from, there were TONS of tourists.

This place was so beautiful. There were hidden staircases, and all these little pots where you could make a wish and try to toss your yen coin into it.

Behind this incense was another arch in which a statue of the Buddhist god Fudo-myo-o lived, but we didn't get to see the statue, just the arch and more decorative pieces. Instead, you could toss more coins towards him, and you could waft the burning incense towards yourself in order to heal what ails you.

I also got to ring this giant gong! This one is for requesting a wish from god.

When we left, we were given a thin slip of paper that was a talisman/charm; our guide said it indicated security for your family and prosperity for your business, and that you should hang it in a high place in the entrance hall of your home. But you have to have a frame ... don't put a pin in it, or it's bad luck! She told us, "god will say 'ouch!' and send you demon instead!" And that we needed to come back Japan every year to get a new one. :)

Finally, we came to our last stop, the Old Imperial Palace. The first emperor to live here was crowned in 1331!!! Unfortunately, they had a lot of fires over the years, and the palace kept being reconstructed, so the palace I saw was only about 160 years old.

The Emperor officially lives in Tokyo now, not Kyoto, but (if I'm remembering correctly) dignitaries and royalty still can stay at this palace. 

There are multiple places for your carriages to rest when you visit! 

And there are multiple houses within, of varying levels of fanciness and function.

This is the Shishiden building, where they held important ceremonies.

They really know how to do impressive gates in Japan!

Finally, our tour bus took us back to the train station. We had to get back to Tokyo for our flight back to the U.S., but not before trying ... conveyer-belt sushi!!!

That was a really fun experience, and we tried lots of different things! Miso soup, green tea, and lots of different little plates of various fishies. You just pull down whatever you want to eat as it passes you, and then the waitresses look at the patterns on your plates to figure out what you owe!

Then it was time to leave Kyoto, and hop on a bullet train for the capitol...

Monday, November 7, 2016

Allie Goes to Japan, Part 1!

Osaka was really the main destination for my trip to Japan. It was just added bonus (/convenience) that I got to go to Kyoto and Tokyo as well.

After a verrrryyyy long day (two days?) of travel, I touched down in Osaka in the early evening and met up with my boss, who had already been in Japan (Tokyo) for a few days. We checked into the hotel, and because it was already kind of late in the evening and neither of us were familiar with Osaka, we decided to get sushi at the hotel's restaurant. My first taste of real, non-American sushi! (Not my last, either.)

I already ate at least one before I remembered to take a picture.

Did you know that in Japan, they put the wasabi on the sushi before you get it? When Matt and I go out for sushi, I generally avoid the wasabi and ginger (it just ain't my thang), but there was no avoiding that sinus-clearing spice here! Thankfully they used a reasonable hand with the stuff, and the sushi was really good. I realize that I've never lived in a place super near an ocean, but the sushi was just so much ... gentler, I guess is the word, on the palate than it is in the U.S. It's fresher, and doesn't taste fishy, and is just really nice and light to eat. The plate I got had I think nine different types of fish, and my favorites were the salmon and the scallop!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Classy Traveling

When Matt and I went on our honeymoon cruise, he booked us a room with a balcony over the ocean. We didn't realize it when we planned the trip, but having the upgraded room entitled us to another perk: we got to board the boat earlier than the people with interior rooms, and that meant way less waiting in line. Our passports got checked, our luggage loaded up to dispatch to our room, and we were literally walking onto the ship in like, less than 20 minutes. It was amazing.

And I remember Matt looking at me with a little smile and going, "We're never going to be able to go on a cruise without a balcony room again are we?" And I laughed, "NOPE!"

Suffice it to say, we haven't gone on another cruise since then, nor are we generally upgrade-type people. (Okay, I'll say it. We're cheap!)

But when my boss said that I was going to Japan for a meeting (I work for an American subsidiary of a Japanese company), and he suggested upgrading to business class for the 12-hour flight, I wasn't going to say no. A seat that reclines all the way back, and a footrest that motorizes itself up to be level with the seat? Okay!

And look at all that legroom!

I'm used to flying in the back of the plane, getting no leg room and tiny packets of bland pretzels and being able to get comfy not at all, so it was weird, getting warm towels, and real fabric napkins for meal times, and glass cups, and a little kit of toiletries that you might need for the flight (and it included socks?!). It was kind of fun, but also felt pretty over the top.

It was also funny/sad when they put this delicious-looking plate of sushi in front of me, and then the flight attendant was like, "Oh wait! We've got a special meal for you" — pre-flight I had requested a vegetarian meal, because pescatarian wasn't listed as an option for plane food — and they took the sushi away and gave me a big plate of ... lentils. Even the guy next to me was like, "I would have tried to keep the sushi!" I'm thankful that airlines are willing to accommodate dietary preferences but I wouldn't have minded if they'd forgotten about me just this once! :)

Not including travel to get to the other side of the world and back — I left suuuuuuper early on a Wednesday and didn't arrive until Thursday night! — I was in Japan for only about three and a half days, but I did manage to do some sight seeing while I was there, so I'll be hopefully sharing some of that next time!

What's the best travel perk you've experienced?

Monday, October 31, 2016

San Diego

Note: I originally wrote this post in April. This trip happened in January, and I just found the post mostly completed in my drafts folder. So I'm hitting "publish" as is, and maybe sometime before next January I'll get around to writing its sister post about my trip to Los Angeles that same week?)

I wanted to talk about California before too much time has passed and I decide it's not worth going back to share. (A lot of things have ended up like that lately, but I was listening to an episode of the Robcast with the woman who founded Momastery, and she was talking about how she made a point to have certain times for writing, where she typed the things she needed to say and hit "publish" when time was up, and I realized that kind of focus is kind of what I need right now, so I'm making a better effort to write regularly and actually send it out into the world.) (October Edit: HAAAAAAA.)

So, I was lucky enough to get to go to California for a work tradeshow! On the day before the first enormous snowstorm hit Virginia in January, I flew to San Diego with two of my co-workers. We had switched flights to avoid being trapped in the bad weather, so we had an extra couple days to hang around and see the area.

There was amazing Mexican food! There were Bees! We were on a boat! There were margaritas the size of my face, and my Japanese coworker bought a sombrero after drinking one!

I don't like tequila, so I got a face-sized sangria instead.

But for real, I got to see and do a few things I'd never tried before. Like, after breakfast one of the days, we stumbled upon this farmer's market in the streets of San Diego, where my co-worker convinced me to try uni (sea urchin), which — believe me — is disgusting and you don't want to eat it. It was all slimy and salty and horrible. (And I LIKE sushi and don't have an issue with textures and all, but it was just. so. bad. Coworker disagreed.)

We also got to visit the San Diego Zoo. My sister-in-law used to live in the San Diego area, and she said it was one of the best zoos in the world, and it did not disappoint! We got to see pandas and elephants and lots of giant turtles, and it was fun.

One of the days, both my coworkers decided they wanted to go to Tijuana, to which I was like, no thanks, I've been to Mexico. So they took off, and instead I headed up the parkway to have brunch with a bee friend, Allison/Mrs. Parasol! We went to a place called Snooze, and I had uhMAZING breakfast tacos. (BREAKFAST TACOS HOW I MISS YOU. Virginia sux.)

That's all she wrote, folks.

Have you been to San Diego? How do you make time to write?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Hypochondriac's Guide to Books: Station Eleven

This is a review of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which was my book club's selection in December. We pick our books in a pretty simple way: at a meeting, a few people will nominate books they'd like to read, and then we vote on the three or four books suggested. I never once voted for this book, and it came up again and again, month after month. Finally, it was selected, and I had to stop pouting about it and read the dang thing.

Symptoms: This was pitched to me as a story about how 99 percent of the world's population gets killed off by the flu. NO THANKS.

Examination: Well sure, there's the flu. There isn't actually much description of the flu. I mean, people are tired, and sick, and they die, but the flu is not the point of the story, and so it isn't played up for dramatic effect or anything. It's so matter-of-fact.

The point of this book is what happens after so much of the population has been killed. The phone lines go down. People try to escape the cities they're in (to go where?) and they run out of gas and abandon their vehicles on the highway. People are stranded with no way to get in touch with loved ones that are not immediately close at hand. TV stations eventually go dead.

The story begins with an actor who has a heart attack on stage while performing King Lear, the night the flu pandemic begins. (No, the heart attack is not described graphically, and other than the fact that it happened; it is an impetus to move the plot forward, and not an event unto itself.) A child actress witnesses the actor's collapse and a man from the audience's attempt to revive him, and suddenly there are so many things happening, different characters affected by this one event, followed by another event that changes everything, and how they get on with their lives now that nothing will ever be the same.

The medical stuff that stuck out to me: There is a group of people that, post-pandemic, find themselves living in an airport after all the flights have been grounded. There is a woman who has some kind of mental health condition (depression? it's been a while since I read it, and this wasn't that important), and asks all the people in the airport if they have the prescription she needs. (It's unsafe to leave the airport, and looters have already done their work in a lot of the towns.) She is unable to find it, and eventually leaves the airport, because she is unable to cope without her medication, choosing instead to see if it's possible to find help out "there." There is also a man who talks about his family, one of whom was an insulin-dependent diabetic, and it is implied that the same thing must have happened — eventually they would have run out of insulin, and would have been out of luck.

Diagnosis: Turns out, this isn't even really about the flu, so stop being a pansy. This caused me to pause and consider the end of the world for a long time after I had finished reading, and I didn't waste a second thought on the flu that caused it. What struck me most about this book was how thought-out it was; regardless of what causes the end of the world (whether disease, or nuclear holocaust, or something else), I could absolutely picture this being how people would react, and what the outcome would look like.

Prognosis: You'll be fine. I loved this book and gave it five stars. (Sorry book club friends!) The post-apocalyptic aspect has really stuck with me, and not a lot of books continue to follow me around once I'm done with them. It was very good.