One Month in Europe: Part 1, Paris

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Chris and I were fortunate enough to be able to spend one month in Europe for our honeymoon back in September-October of 2017. We both work corporate 9-5 jobs, so it took a bit of strategizing to be able to get away with it, which I will cover in a separate post. 

Instead of a relaxing beach vacation, we were more interested in exploring as much of Europe as possible without making it seem like too much work. Our itinerary went like this: Paris, Beaune, French Riviera (Nice, Eze, Monaco), Florence, Rome, Amalfi Coast, Athens, Santorini. Did we map out our entire itinerary? We did not. The trip was planned in the beginning and the end - leaving the middle with a little improv work to do (which, in hindsight, I would not do again). We flew Icelandair and due to some intel and smart seat selecting through seatguru, we sat first class but only paid for business class. More on that trick later.

Our first stop was Paris on September 26, which ended up lasting a bit longer than we had planned because we were enjoying it so much. I'd been to Paris in the past, but it was a vague memory and I was so young that the things I enjoyed then are much different than the things I like to do now. We stayed in a few different places while we were there, the first being Hotel Providence located in the Marais district and later on an Airbnb close by. It was a great central location and aside from the room being itty bitty, the hotel was beautifully designed and we had a blast with the bartender, who we lovingly called George Pooney. Well, we told him he looked like George Clooney, he called himself George Pooney (the George Clooney of Paris? It's blurry), and we all laughed. Cocktails are fun.

During our time in Paris we did a quick trip to the Louvre because Chris had never been. This photo of Mona Lisa is one of my most interesting captures from Paris. The reflection of everyone holding up their iPhones in the painting is such an oxymoron it's almost painful to look at. My experiences in Europe in 2006 vs. 2017 were so vastly different due to social media and technology in general. It's painstaking in a lot of ways because the sacredness that I held so dear felt a bit lost on me in 2017. 

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We also strolled through Luxembourg gardens on a beautiful afternoon and took the time to relax from traveling. We quickly grabbed a ham and cheese baguette from a street vendor and sat in the park. Truth be told I've always wanted to eat a ham and cheese sandwich in Luxembourg gardens and live the afternoon Parisian life. I have a vivid memory of this day, sitting in the park behind an older lady and her friend. The way the light hit her and the way they were talking was one of the most peaceful things I've ever witnessed. It was simple and beautiful and made me fall in love with Paris.

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Chris had never seen the Eiffel Tower, so we put our tourist pants on and made our way over. While I wasn't that into climbing to the top, Chris being the explorer that he is had a different idea in mind. So we got to it. Me, a little apprehensive. Chris, very eager.

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One of our favorite places for dinner was L'Avant Comptoir, which is a tiny tapas place with recipe cards hanging from the ceiling. We bellied up to the bar and ordered as much as possible (we couldn't help it, everything was SO good). All you have to do is point to a card hanging from the ceiling and voila! It appears before you. Chris particularly loved the foie gras burger. In fact, we came back a second time to eat it again. That's 4 foie gras burgers in 24 hours, nbd. The environment was fun, easy and casual - highly recommend when in Paris.

We also traveled to see Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre, which is North of central Paris. Every single thing about this area is charming. Everywhere I looked someone was playing an accordian, people were falling in love, birds were chirping. The area of Montmartre is filled with little shops and cobblestone streets that feels like a nice escape from central Paris. in fact, I purchased one of my favorite souvenirs from a boutique store - an enormous, gorgeous scarf that was difficult to fit in my suitcase but well worth the hassle. Another store I really loved in that area was Lekker, another concept store with some pretty unique items.

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Just north of Montmartre, we decided to visit Marché Aux Puces - a flea market to die for. This market stands out in my memory of one of my favorite things in all our travels and also one of my biggest regrets. Chris and I found a blanket there that we adored, but knew it would be impossible to travel around with (especially since it was white). In hindsight I wish I would have purchased it and shipped it back to the US! Ah well, can't have everything.

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Another spot we really loved was Merci, a concept store connected to a coffee shop close to our Airbnb. People watching was exceptionally interesting because we happened to be in Paris during fashion week and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the coffee shop guests were famous fashion week artists, models, or designers judging by their style. The store itself has some very cool apparel that we had fun looking at and not buying. 

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A few other interesting tid bits about our travels to Paris: really loved Berthillon ice cream, Pierre Hermé Macarons (seriously, wow) and we experienced real-deal hookers very close to our Airbnb - they were out of the movies hookers, guys. It was actually jaw dropping to see, I didn't know they made them like that in real life. We spied them on our way to get pizza close by our airbnb, at a place called Rossi's pizza. They were on that street, whatever street that is, workin' in. And I'll leave you with that.

That's Paris! We absolutely loved it and definitely extended our time there by 2 days (that's the beauty of having an open schedule). Our next destination was Beaune, wine country in France.

Have you been to Paris? Tell me me about your experience in the comments below!

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4 Days in Palm Springs

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Hello all! It's been a while since I've captured one of our journeys, so I thought I'd report back on our trip to Palm Springs back in February 2018. Living in Chicago is particularly challenging in December, January, and February - so a short escape to warmer climates was in order. Since architecture and design is our jam, we thought we'd go to Palm Springs during Modernism Week to take advantage of some home tours. It also happened to land on Valentines day, so it was a perfect time for a break.

We stayed at the Ace Hotel which was a great place to chill out at the pool and eat really delicious brunches at King's Highway. Also, just something we noticed - the line chefs at King's highway are really something. We sat at the counter during rush time and have to say they are one hell of a team.

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We lucked out and were in the midst of perfect temperature - between 72 and 77 degrees the entire time we were there. It definitely cooled down at night and I had to wear a jacket, but the sun was strong during the day so no complaints from me. On our second day, we decided to do an early hike. One of our Uber driver's recommended Tahquitz Canyon - which was about an hour long and to be honest, almost a little too short and easy. It was near the downtown area, so simple to get to as well. Later on, another Uber driver told us that was a good hike for families with young kids, so we definitely didn't really challenge ourselves. Needless to say it was really nice just to get out in the early sun and get some fresh air in the early morning. The other hike mentioned to us during our stay was Indian Canyons. In hindsight, that probably would have been a better fit for us.

Palm Springs Hike

 

Prior to arriving, I purchased three tickets for Modernism Week: Two home tours (Moroccan Modern House and Steel & Glass) as well as a bike door tour. We didn't want to overdo it, but definitely wanted to check out some of the mid-century modern architecture. The Moroccan Modern House was first and possibly my favorite of the three. Bright Textures, interesting patterns, and thoughtful design encapsulated this beauty.

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We also visited Steel and Glass, and while it was cool to see, we were definitely a bit underwhelmed. It lacked the character and wow factor of the Moroccan Modern House. Our last tour of the trip was the Palm Springs Bike tour, which was another really fun tour filled with my obsession, DOORS! (Check out my Instagram account for proof, @adorabledoorways). We were given a map of some of the best front doors in the Palm Springs area and sped off on our bikes to see them. 

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During our stay we also checked out Counter Reformation for tapas and wine at The Parker Hotel. This hotel is a must visit when you are in Palm Springs, as the design and grounds are breathtaking. They have 3 different restaurants - Norma's for brunch, Mister Parker's for dinner, and Counter Reformation for small plates and wine. While I loved Counter Reformation, it was pretty small so get there early to secure a seat. We also went at night which was fun, but I do wish I was able to see the hotel and the lush pathways during the light of day! 

Four Saints at the top of the Kimpton hotel in downtown Palm Springs was also fantastic, Farm for brunch was charming as well as El Jefe for a casual taco night. I had The Pantry on my list for brunch (at a new boutique hotel, Holiday House) but we weren't able to squeeze it in. 

Overall absolutely loved Palm Springs and would recommend it to anyone for a low-key, sun drenched weekend.

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Our Two Week Japan Itinerary | Part 5: Hakone

After spending 5 nights in Kyoto, Chris and I made our way to Hakone for a relaxing 2 nights before venturing back to Tokyo prior to our departure. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa and it was one of the highlights of our trip. 

Day 22: Wednesday, May 24

We arrived in Hakone and the Hyatt picked us up from the train station, which was really awesome considering Hakone isn't the easiest to navigate. I cannot recommend the Hyatt enough, honestly. Free drinks in the late afternoon, amazing dining experiences inside the hotel, everyone wearing yakatas around the hotel all day every day, an incredible spa and the best service I've ever had. It was the perfect relaxation oasis we needed after all of our travels. We spent our first day in Hakone indulging in all the hotel had to offer, adorned in yakatas, refusing an itinerary that required exerting energy. We ate at the sushi restaurant that night and I've been dreaming of the marbled tuna nigiri ever since. There's really something to say for winding down in the final days of a very travel heavy trip.

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Day 23: Thursday, May 25

Since we had a pretty cloudy day, we scrapped the Mount Fuji ropeline/boat tour and opted for the Hakone Open Air museum. I have to say I'm really glad we did, because I've never been to a museum that I love more.

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After the museum, we repeated the same glorious itinerary that we did upon our arrival: free drinks, hotel restaurant (this time the French restaurant) + onsen and massage. Money worth spent for a relaxing state of mind. For all my foodie friends, the Hyatt recently launched Berce - which is limited seating and requires reservations well in advance.

The next morning, we worked our way back to Tokyo for one final night at the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi. While the hotel was lovely, I wouldn't recommend Roppongi as an area to stay as a first time visitor. It felt a little too contrived and commercialized. Shinjiku or Shibuya is where its at for the real deal cultural experience. 

That's a wrap, folks. The best trip I've had to date. Japan will forever be in my heart and mind as I continue on this life journey. While this trip was seemingly expensive, Chris and I strategized most of the costs together - meaning 80% of our hotels were free (as well as our flights). How did we do it? Email info@athingortwoblog.com for details, and I can help you achieve the same experiences we've had on any budget. Thanks for reading, and please explore my posts from Tokyo, Takayama, Kanazawa, and Kyoto!

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Our Two Week Japan Itinerary | Part 4: Kyoto

After an incedible journey through Tokyo and the Alps, Chis and I finally nestled into Kyoto - the part of our itinerary that I was very anxiously awaiting. Kyoto is a much slower pace than Tokyo, but definitely lively and modern as well. I'd read that it's comparable to Seattle, but I can't confirm that since I've never been to Seattle!

We stayed in the central downtown area of Kyoto, close to the Kamo River which was the perfect location for exploring. We were on the west side of the river and also incredibly close to the Gion area (east side of the Kamo River) which is known for it's geisha district. Kyoto's main attractions are very spread out around the city so it's good to be close to public transportation.

 Kamo River

Kamo River

Day 8: Friday, May 19

Upon our arrival, we immediately checked out Nishiki Market, which was a block away from where we were staying. I had my heart set on an animal donut from Floresta (near the market), but unfortunately the shop was closed when we were there *sigh.*

 Floresta: Photo cred from tourdelust.com

Floresta: Photo cred from tourdelust.com

After exploring for a bit we head over to Gyogo Ramen, which is really close to the market. Unfortunately it was closed when we stopped by (around 2pm) so we waited until it reopened and opted for an early dinner. The restaurant is really beautifully designed - clean typography, dark wood surfaces, and a beautiful garden that you can view from the main dining room. We both ordered the burnt miso ramen, which is what they are famous for, and it's quite obvious as to why! The ramen is so flavorful and so were the other apps and drinks we ordered. I also ordered Mio, sparkling sake, to really kick it up a notch. After, we randomly stopped in Forum Kyoto on our late night stroll, which was a really awesome space to chill out and get caffeinated at the specialty coffee house. 

Day 9: Saturday, May 20

We woke up really early as temps were high and we wanted to do as much as possible before the sun hit it's peak. We took an early bus to Arashiyama (about a half hour from where we were staying), which is on the far west side of Kyoto. Our first stop was Bamboo forest. I'd heard from many travelers on our journey that it was underwhelming, but to me it was magical. Maybe it was because we basically had the forest to ourselves at such an early hour and the sunlight was pouring in through the trees - but I was in awe. I will admit that it's a brief excursion, but worth it in my opinion. And when in Arashiyama, it's something you must do.

 Bamboo Grove early in the morning

Bamboo Grove early in the morning

 Bamboo Grove from the outside

Bamboo Grove from the outside

After Bamboo forest, we were due for a morning coffee and snack. We stopped at 100% Arabica and I have to say I love their branding almost as much as their coffee. We ordered two cappuccinos and a croissant, and sat outside enjoying the river views and early morning calmness. The interior is simple with bright white and wood accents, and we noticed that every customer was obsessively snapping insta pics.

We strolled a bit and after admiring the boats on the water, decided it was necessary to go for a ride. The 30 minute cruise ended up being one of my favorite memories from our trip – we were able to relax and soak in all of the beautiful views, breathing in the fresh morning air. After, we attempted to go to Shorain for lunch, but for reasons unknown to us the restaurant was closed (Argh, strike 3 in Kyoto!)  so we stopped in for a quick bite at Yojiya cafe.

Also on our list was Monkey Park. I'd pictured myself in the midst of monkeys for weeks leading up to our trip, laughing and holding them with a big fat smile stretched from ear to ear. Monkey Park isn't as simple to get to as I thought it might be - it requires a decent hike through a dense forest until you reach the top of the park. You're then greeted with a clan of monkeys - but there are rules. Don't look at them directly in the eyes. Don't squat down to take photos of them. Don't touch them. Chris and I navigated around them carefully, snapping pics when and where we could. 

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As the day progressed, the temps got higher and higher. Kyoto was definitely the hottest part of our trip, with temps reaching 90 degrees. Which only meant one thing to keep us cool – matcha green tea ice cream before heading to Tenryu-ji Temple for our final stop in Arashiyama. Matcha green tea flavored everything is everywhere in Japan, and this was definitely not our first taste of it.

Tenryu-ji Temple had really beautiful garden grounds and an impressive facade. With the crowds multiplying and feeling exhausted from all of our excursions, we opted to quickly tour the inside and peer out into the garden. We sat inside the temple for a long time and relaxed before heading back.

 I spy two kimonos

I spy two kimonos

 Gardens at Tenryu-ji temple

Gardens at Tenryu-ji temple

We took a bus home and chilled out at our place before heading to dinner at Giro Giro Hitoshina – one of my favorite dinners of the entire trip. Surprisingly inexpensive, Giro Giro serves kaiseki - around 8 courses all for approximately $50/per person. Each dish was thoughtfully plated with florals, interesting colorful ingredients and flavors –  and the place setting was just so adorable! Highly recommend for at least one of your dining experiences in Kyoto. It overlooks the Takase-gawa canal, so I would imagine lunch would also be a great choice for this restaurant. Chris and I still talk about how much we loved this meal, but for the life of us we can't tell you exactly what we ate.

Day 10: Sunday, May 21

We woke early and made our way to the very famous Fushimi Inari Shrine that's south of the train station and the downtown area. I was familiar with this shrine but hadn't really extensively researched it, and it ended up being hours of amazing hiking, souvenir shopping and exploring. The shrine is massive and you are given the choice to hike all the way up (which you should do!). We made it about 3/4 of the way and headed back down, knowing we had a train to catch to Nara. I do regret not hiking the entire shrine, but I also kind of don't (my hangover from sake at Giro Giro was real, guys).

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We made our way back to the train to head to Nara (about a 45 min ride), which is very close to Fushimi Inari Shrine, so it's a great idea to do both in one day. When we arrived, we walked towards Nara park where free roaming deer bow to you in order to get snacks. They are considered to be messengers of the gods, a treasure of Nara, and they're the cutest things ever. Some of them, however, can be pretty aggressive if you have snacks in your hands, so be prepared to feed them! There are multiple vendors at the park that sell the snacks for around 2 yen. 

There are multiple temples around Nara, and I highly recommend going to the Tōdai-ji temple that has an enormous Buddha statue. Unfortunately, and my only regret other than not hiking the entire Fushimi-Inari shrine, was not making it to Tōdai-ji. Again, I blame the sake from the night before ...oops. On our way out, however, we were graced by the presence of Starduck Tony, one of the craziest and most entertaining street performers I've ever seen. When we arrived home, we ate at a nearby yakatori place that reminded us of the Japanese version of Buffalo Wild Wings. I don't remember the name of the place we ate, but it was very casual and very delicious.

Starduck Tony in Nara

Day 11: Monday, May 22

We decided to have a lazy morning – slept in and relaxed a bit before heading into Gion. We did a lot of souvenir shopping in Shinkyogoku near where we were staying, as well as in Gion. There was one particular antique store that had so many unique finds - great spot to buy sake cups and authentic antiques (still trying to remember the name!). Around 3pm we had a reservation at En, a small Japanese tea house, to witness tea ceremony. I wanted to go because I practiced tea ceremonies in college, and I remembered it to be a very special experience. After, we headed deeper into Gion and explored Ninen-zaka and San'nen-zaka streets, which are lined with souvenir shops and women dressed in colorful kimonos everywhere you look. Ninen-zaka means "slope of two years" and San'nen-zaka means "slope of three years". Apparently, you're supposed to die in two years if you fall down on Ninen-zaka and within three years if you fall down on San'nen-zaka. The big risk takers that we are, we strutted through the streets - no problem. I will admit that I was a bit panicky the entire time, walking at an extra slow pace. The streets lead toward Kiyomizu-dera temple, one of the greatest temples in Kyoto that overlooks the city. We were running low on time, though - and skipped it before our dinner at Hafuu Honten. Wagyu beef was calling, and momma was hungry.

 street of gion, Ninen-zaka

street of gion, Ninen-zaka

Day 21: Tuesday, May 23

Originally, we'd planned to do a day trip to Osaka, but we were feeling a bit traveled out and stayed in Kyoto instead. We made our way to Kinkaku-ji Shrine (the golden temple) and admired it from every angle in all of its glory.

 Ticket to get into Kinkaku-ji

Ticket to get into Kinkaku-ji

Without a checklist and now feeling a little bit more at home in Kyoto, we made our way back and popped into a few stores along the way. I definitely found one of my favorite souvenirs at a convenience store - face masks in the form of otters, tigers, opera masks, pigs, and more. Yes, you look like a tiger (or whichever one you choose) when you apply the mask. They're also really great masks, my skin felt amazing afterwards!

Without any dinner plans, I was craving those Japanese pancakes again...so I did a little Tripadvisor research and found a place that seemed pretty good in Gion. Unfortunately, when we arrived, it was closed due to reconstruction (Strike 4!). I was starting to get hangry so we ducked into a casual place along the Kamo river that happened to be open. Nothing is open between 2-5, so we got lucky.

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As we were eating, Chris had the brilliant idea to ask the owner where to get some good okonomiyaki. Luck was on our side because he knew of a place next door that was hidden away and completely authentic aka you can't find it anywhere on Tripadvisor. We were greeted by the cutest old lady who took us into a back room where she made delicious pancakes right in front of us. It was truly one of my favorite experiences because it felt so natural and true to Kyoto. There wasn't even a sign outside, just a hidden away pancake spot and the sweetest little woman ever.

Okonomiyaki

After we ate, we decided it was time to hunt for geishas. They are known to come out at dusk, but are rarely ever seen in person. We walked along leisurely, and after a good amount of time and no sightings, we decided to give up. We then strolled along the Kamo river, and out of nowhere at 8:22pm Chris said, "Katie, I see one. Wait, I see a whole group of geishas!" Being the overly observant husband that he is, Chris was peering up onto the balconies that overlook the river. It was there that we found gold. Geisha after geisha on balconies! We stopped in awe and admired them from below. I actually got goosebumps watching them in a real setting, it was really something special and a great way to end our stay in Kyoto. 

Overall we absolutely loved the city and would go back in a heart beat. It's filled with beauty that's impossible to fully capture in this post.

Have you ever been to Kyoto? Let us know what we missed for next time!


General Japan Tips: 

• Always carry yen. Chris constantly had a pocket full of yen because we'd always encounter a souvenir shop, vending machine or anything else that only accepted yen. If you take a bus, they ask for exact change (even though it isn't necessary) so it's nice to have it on hand.

• Taxi doors close themselves. Do not try to close a taxi door, they are automatic and the driver will be confused if you close them yourself.

• Do not tip!  You will only confuse your driver, waiter or whoever else that you believe is tip worthy and you might find someone chasing after you to give you your money back.

•  Drinking and eating on the go is not a part of the culture. In Japan, you won't see anyone walking around with a Starbucks coffee and a donut. Everyone takes the time to sit down and consume their meal or drink.

•  Chopsticks. Never leave your chopsticks sticking straight up in your rice bowl. We avoided chopsticks sticking straight up in general, in any meal.

• Public transportation > taxi. The trains in Tokyo are your best mode of transportation. They are faster than taxis and cost effective. When choosing a hotel, I'd recommend staying in one near a train station. That way, you can zip around easily. If you will be traveling around Japan and not staying in one location, consider getting a Japan Rail Pass.

• Give and receive with two hands. In Japan, everyone hands things to you with two hands. You should accept what they hand you with two hands, and offer with two hands.

• Choose your shoes wisely. My trusty Fit Bit informed me that I was walking around 20k steps a day, which is around 10 miles. I brought a pair of New Balance and Adidas sneakers, as well as Cole Haan loafers for dressier occasions. In my opinion, heels are a huge waste of luggage space.

• Don't do too much in one day. When you're in Tokyo, you want to do it all. I get it. You've traveled far and you've got a solid itinerary to get through. Spoiler alert: Tokyo is huge and everyone who's ever been there undoubtedly has a list of things they didn't get to do. I urge you to not do too much in one day. It's draining and instead of focusing on a few things, you're just running to get to the next without appreciating the moment. We ran into so many travelers who were just exhausted and you could tell they were in checklist mode. Plan enough so that you have the things you really want to do, but leave room for flexibility and down time so that you are experiencing local life instead of tourist life.

• Get up early for touristy attractions. Crowds are real and if it's hot, the heat is not something you're going to want to face at midday. Early mornings  = fewer crowds, pleasant weather, better photo opps, and more time in the day for other things. 

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Our 2 Week Japan Itinerary | Part 3: Kanazawa

Hello everyone! Thank you for following our journey through our two week Japan itinerary. Chris and I started our adventure in Tokyo (which you can read about here), then journeyed to Takayama and Shirakawa-go, then north to Kanazawa, followed by Kyoto, Hakone and back to Tokyo (you can also find some really great ideas for Tokyo here.) In this post, I will cover our time in Kanazawa.

I'd read that Kanazawa was a very crafty and artistic city with the beautiful Kenrokuen gardens - so of course I was interested. Chris had suggested eliminating it from our itinerary in the beginning, but I stuck to my guns! I was also interested in Kanazawa from a historical standpoint, as it was the second largest city in Japan to escape destruction by air raids during World War II. We had a short amount of time here, but we spent it well!

Day 6: Wednesday, May 17

We arrived in Kanazawa late afternoon after traversing through Shirakawa-go. It was a really easy bus ride, just one hour away. Upon our arrival, we settled in to our hotel in the middle of the downtown area and relaxed. We decided it was time to have an American meal, and after perusing Tripadvisor, Oriental Pizza Brewery had our taste buds dancing in anticipation of bread, cheese, and fried food. Yep, we were not above pizza. It was happening. We sat at the bar and watched the server greet, make, and serve every dish. He was truly a one man show and we watched in admiration of his efficiencies. We were also happy to just sit back, have a beer and laugh. It was a really nice pause moment that helped us recollect our energy and reflect on the trip.

After dinner, Chris recommended going to a bar he'd read about online where the owner had been to over 70 countries. It was close to our hotel, so we popped in for a beer and it ended up being one of my favorite nights. Working with a small space, we cozied up to the bar and began asking the owner a ton of questions in awe of his journeys. He spoke English and we connected right away. Sitting next to us was a young Japanese girl named Ayano who had books spread out in front of her. She was working on learning English, so Chris and I decided to help her out. She expressed gratitude for our kindness and taught us a few fun things about the Japanese culture. For example, we were introduced to Anpanman and the Snow app, which is very similar to Snapchat. Here's one of our glorious Snow debuts. 

We walked back to our hotel through the Higashi Chaya District, which had an old world feeling filled with teahouses and tiny bars, and then quickly collapsed into bed.

Day 7: Thursday, May 18

Rise and Shine! Time to hit up Kanazawa in one day. We awoke early and got the breakfast buffet at our hotel (Chris is obsessed with breakfast buffets) and then headed towards the Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen gardens. In order to avoid crowds, we tried to get there early but we got lost (this is what happens when I navigate) and arrived a little past our ideal time frame. Ah well! It was a beautiful day, perfect for gardens and castles. (If only I could say that every day). We arrived at Kanazawa Castle through a large, open park and lounged for a bit admiring the landscape and bright blue sky.

 Japan garden child

Japan garden child

 Not posing but actually posing

Not posing but actually posing

As we followed the path toward the castle, we began to take in the beauty that is the Kanazawa castle. The architecture and detail is truly mind-blowing.

 Detailed castle doors

Detailed castle doors

After our stroll through the castle grounds, the path naturally leads to the gardens. While the gardens were absolutely gorgeous, we were battling tourist crowds on steroids. After our late departure and time spent at the castle, the garden grounds were not the quiet, meditative experience we were hoping for. Regardless, they were a site to see and worth weaving in and out of human clusters. 

 Picture perfect Kenrokuen

Picture perfect Kenrokuen

 Japenese Gardener 

Japenese Gardener 

After departing the gardens we decided to visit the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and get lunch. The museum was beautiful and bright white with pops of color. The first open exhibit was a large pool - I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

 I'm inside a pool, yo! And my outfit blends in perfectly.

I'm inside a pool, yo! And my outfit blends in perfectly.

At the time of our visit, the featured artist was Ikeda Manibu, a master of pen and ink, whose art truly blew us away. We had the privilege of perusing the galleries dedicated to his work, and sitting in on a documentary interview that was playing in the museum. This mastermind creates everything with a pen. A PEN. My god the talent! *Jealous*

After the museum, we went back to our hotel to regain some energy and then paid a quick visit to the Samarai House which I'd read mixed reviews on but ended up loving. The outdoor space looks out upon a beautiful garden and flowing water – the perfect place for reflection and meditation. 

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That night, we ended up grabbing a quick Sushi dinner at Sushi Ippei which I had mixed feeings about. Chris really liked it, but I wasn't the biggest fan. I do think it had a lot to do with my neglect to order what I know I like, and instead took the mystery route. I tried to get reservations at Otomezushi a month in advance, which is supposed to blow all other sushi restaurants away, but no dice – so we ended up winging it. We also thought about Fuwari, but chose a simpler dinner instead because we were exhausted and not in the mood for a big production. However, I'd read great things so I do reco based on my research.

And that's a wrap for Kanazawa! One of the things we thought about doing but didn't get to was the Omi-cho market (we were marketed out so we chose to skip it), but otherwise we felt pretty good about how we chose to spend our time.

In my next post I'll cover our time in Kyoto (I'm so excited to share as I absolutely LOVED Kyoto). Feel free to check out our Tokyo and Takayama itineraries as well! Thanks for reading!


Kanazawa Tips: 

• Get up early for the gardens. Getting up early for touristy attractions is generally a good idea, but we really wished we'd been able to navigate Kenrokuen gardens without the distraction of fanny packs and selfie sticks. 

• Purchase a souvenir. Kanazawa is full of craft stores, it's a great place to pick up an authentic Japanese handicraft. We also haphazardly ran into an adorable furniture store where Chris bonded with the owner over wood working techniques and design ideas.


General Japan Tips: 

• Always carry yen. Chris constantly had a pocket full of yen because we'd always encounter a souvenir shop, vending machine or anything else that only accepted yen. If you take a bus, they ask for exact change (even though it isn't necessary) so it's nice to have it on hand.

• Taxi doors close themselves. Do not try to close a taxi door, they are automatic and the driver will be confused if you close them yourself.

• Do not tip!  You will only confuse your driver, waiter or whoever else that you believe is tip worthy and you might find someone chasing after you to give you your money back.

•  Drinking and eating on the go is not a part of the culture. In Japan, you won't see anyone walking around with a Starbucks coffee and a donut. Everyone takes the time to sit down and consume their meal or drink.

•  Chopsticks. Never leave your chopsticks sticking straight up in your rice bowl. We avoided chopsticks sticking straight up in general, in any meal.

• Public transportation > taxi. The trains in Tokyo are your best mode of transportation. They are faster than taxis and cost effective. When choosing a hotel, I'd recommend staying in one near a train station. That way, you can zip around easily. If you will be traveling around Japan and not staying in one location, consider getting a Japan Rail Pass.

• Give and receive with two hands. In Japan, everyone hands things to you with two hands. You should accept what they hand you with two hands, and offer with two hands.

• Choose your shoes wisely. My trusty Fit Bit informed me that I was walking around 20k steps a day, which is around 10 miles. I brought a pair of New Balance and Adidas sneakers, as well as Cole Haan loafers for dressier occasions. In my opinion, heels are a huge waste of luggage space.

• Don't do too much in one day. When you're in Tokyo, you want to do it all. I get it. You've traveled far and you've got a solid itinerary to get through. Spoiler alert: Tokyo is huge and everyone who's ever been there undoubtedly has a list of things they didn't get to do. I urge you to not do too much in one day. It's draining and instead of focusing on a few things, you're just running to get to the next without appreciating the moment. We ran into so many travelers who were just exhausted and you could tell they were in checklist mode. Plan enough so that you have the things you really want to do, but leave room for flexibility and down time so that you are experiencing local life instead of tourist life.

• Get up early for touristy attractions. Crowds are real and if it's hot, the heat is not something you're going to want to face at midday. Early mornings  = fewer crowds, pleasant weather, better photo opps, and more time in the day for other things.