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2014: Best Travel Memories

2014 has been an incredibly busy year, but we’ve had the opportunity to go on many wonderful adventures! Here are some of our favorite moments:

Visiting the Taj Mahal-taj

“Monkeying” around in Jaipur-

monkeysRoad Trip Across the US-

roadtripBeatles’ pilgrimage to Liverpool-

liverpool2Eating at La Boqueria in Barcelona-

boqueriaExploring the Isle of Skye-

skye3Snow day in the Red Square-

snowdayShopping the European Christmas Markets-

marketsChristmas Lunch at Edinburgh Castle-

xmas

2015 certainly has a lot to live up to! What are your favorite memories from 2014?

© Destination Duo, 2015

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Our Ryokan Experience

Looking back on our trip to Japan, staying in a ryokan was by far one of the most memorable and unique experiences. I still look back fondly on our stay, because I had the chance to really experience the “traditional” side of Japan.

We chose to stay in a ryokan while in the resort town of Hakone. For those of you who don’t know, a ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, where the rooms are lined with tatami mats, and you sleep on futons. While still very traditional, our ryokan had all of the modern amenities we wanted, including a computer center and in-room TVs.

Getting to the ryokan was a bit of a hassle, but not difficult. We took a public bus from the train station in Hakone to the ryokan’s stop. From the bus stop, we were only about a minute’s walk away. It was easy to find, because there was a large sign near the bus stop, pointing to the direction of the inn. The ryokan was beautiful when we arrived. The building was large and the exterior was set up like a traditional hotel, with a lobby and exterior corridors.

*Note: *I would highly recommend not bringing a large luggage during your time in Hakone. We shipped our bags from Tokyo to Kyoto through the Takkyubin service, and only had one large carry-on with us. Putting a large suitcase on a public bus would have been impossible.**

DSC05536Our Ryokan

DSC05482Hotel Room Exteriors

The room itself was fabulous! When you walk in, there is a place to take off your shoes and put on slippers. There is also a toilet and washbasin at the entrance.

DSC05486Sandals

DSC05487Sink

DSC05488Toilet

In the main room, we laid out our futons, and tried on the yukatas which were supplied to us.

DSC05489Main Room in the Ryokan

DSC05495Alternative view of the room

DSC05501Me in a yukata…how do I look?

In the main room, we had a seating table called a “kotatsu”. This isn’t any old table…it’s a heated table, with a heated pit in the floor below. Honestly, I loved this thing, and I don’t know why it isn’t more popular in colder parts of the world.

DSC05491Kotatsu table

DSC05527Heated Pit

DSC05529Warming Our Feet

Alex and I spent most of the night sitting at the kotatsu watching TV and drinking tea.

DSC05521The Channels Were Mostly in Japanese

DSC05530Tea Time!

DSC05518Tea Setup 

The ryokan also offers “Kaiseki”, which is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. The price of the room included the meal, and was offered in a communal dining room at a specified time.

DSC05523The Dining Hall

DSC05525Dinner

A word about our dinner: the food was very good, but also very authentic. The truth is that everyone’s English was very limited, and we did not know what we were eating half of the time. Sure, we had beef, mushrooms, rice, etc., but there were also many sushi dishes that were completely unidentifiable to me, even now. I also learned (after the fact) that one of our dishes was a turtle soup. This was a great meal for the adventurous, but I would be vary wary to eat here if you are a picky-eater. It would be VERY rude to come here and not eat your meal, so don’t bother going to a traditional dinner at a ryokan if you know you will not try everything that is presented to you.

After dinner, we went back to our room to relax in our open-air bath. Yes, you heard me right! We hot springs water on our outside balcony. The water was SEARING HOT. You may also have noticed that the room doesn’t come with a bathroom, but only a toilet. This is because the shower is outside. I didn’t even bother taking one until we got to Kyoto because it was so cold outside.

DSC05494Open-air bath. Notice the blinds for privacy!

DSC05492Open-air Shower

We went to bed early that night, after spending some time in the open-air bath and relaxing in front of the TV. The room itself was not heated, so we definitely relied on our futons to keep us warm. It was a bit difficult to get comfortable, though. While I actually enjoy a hard sleeping surface, I woke up in a sweat from the futon’s insulation several times throughout the night. Each time I threw the comforter off, I was freezing almost instantaneously. Needless to say, I did not get a lot of sleep that night.

Either way, I can’t complain about our experience at the ryokan. I would do it all over again, even with the cold room and the strange food! It was a once in a lifetime experience, and really one of my favorite memories on our trip.

Hakone Round Trip

In order to see Mt. Fuji, Alex and I decided to spend one night in the resort town of Hakone. It’s a small little town located in the Japanese countryside. Hakone is well-known for its hot springs and ryokans.

Getting around Hakone is both easy and scenic. We decided to spend a day touring Hakone on their public transportation system. You can purchase a Hakone Free Pass, which will give you unlimited access to the different modes of transport around the area. Most people use this pass to do the “circuit route”, which is what we did.

After taking the train to Hakone-Yumoto from Tokyo, we checked our bags into lockers at the station so that we could have the afternoon free to explore. DSC05373At the station

From the platform that we arrived on, we crossed to the other side of the same platform to jump on the Hakone Tozan Railway. Of course, we had to make a stop at the vending machines in the middle of the platform before crossing over to the red railway train.

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DSC05377Waiting to leave the station

The train took us through a hilly region before we stopped and transferred to the Hakone Tozan Cablecar. The cablecar took us to the top of hill, which then connects to the ropeway.

DSC05385Hakone Cablecar

DSC05384At the top of the hill

After getting off of the cablecar, we jumped on the ropeway, which takes you to Owakudani hot springs. On a clear day, the ropeway offers stunning views of Mt. Fuji. We were not so lucky.

DSC05386Ropeway

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DSC05394“View” of Mt. Fuji and Owakudani station 

The ropeway ends at Owakudani station, where you can walk around the hot springs, have some lunch, and even try black eggs!

DSC05402Owakudani

DSC05421Hiking

DSC05431Hot Springs Steam

You can’t go to Owakudani without trying the black eggs. These eggs are boiled and the sulfur from the hot springs turns the egg black. Legend has it that eating one will extend your life by seven years, and you can eat 2 1/2 eggs if you really wanted. I can’t tell you if it really works or not, but Japanese people can live very long lives, so I will try whatever they tell me to!

DSC05426Making Black Eggs

DSC05401Try them, they’re good!

DSC05412Don’t be deceived by his reaction, it tastes like a regular hard-boiled egg!

DSC05417Peeling the shell from the egg

We also grabbed some lunch at the restaurant in Owakudani. While it’s not five star cuisine, I would recommend stopping here for food. There aren’t many other places to find food along the circuit, and this is a good “halfway” point anyway.

There is another ropeway which heads from Owakudani down to Lake Ashi, where you will take a pirate ship cruise. I’m not joking!

DSC05433Ropeway Number 2

DSC05435Pirate Ship

DSC05441Alex getting on the pirate ship

The “cruise” takes about 30 or 45 minutes, and can offer stunning views of Mt. Fuji during good weather. Nonetheless, it’s nice to just sit and relax on the lake for a bit.

The cruise let us off on the other side of the lake, where we hopped a bus back to the Hakone station and picked up our luggage from the storage lockers. We grabbed a bus to spend the evening at our Ryokan.

DSC05459Right off the boat in Moto-Hakone

DSC05462Red torii gate in Moto-Hakone

Don’t forget, this can all be achieved easily by purchasing a Hakone Free Pass. While taking five different modes of transportation may seem intimidating, it really is foolproof. The connections will be waiting right in front of you to transfer you to the next stop along the route. You don’t have to worry about using maps or getting lost.

I also want to note that we were able to do this in one day, starting in Tokyo! We left before 9am, and were able to complete the journey and check-in at our ryokan by 5:00pm. Of course, you could always stay a few nights in Hakone and spend an entire day enjoying the circuit at a more leisurely pace, but Hakone is still very do-able if you don’t have much time!

Tokyo Day Tour: Japanese Gardens and Tea Ceremony

The first part of our Tokyo Day Tour with Viator included a visit to the Tokyo Tower. We had a great time there, but it was a very rainy and cloudy day, so the views were not as great as they could have been!

Our second stop included a trip to a Japanese Garden, where we got to participate in a Tea Ceremony. The gardens were beautiful despite the weather:

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We walked through the gardens into the Tea House, where we participated in a traditional tea ceremony:

DSC05014Outside the Tea House

DSC05018Being Greeted at the Entrance

Once we were inside the Tea House, we began the ceremony. The woman who performs the ceremony has learned to master this skill after years of practice and education.

DSC05019Tea Table

DSC05020Our Guide and the Tea Master

DSC05022Interior of the Tea House

We were given sweets before drinking our tea, called Higashi, to balance out the bitterness of it.

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The Tea is made:

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The green tea we drink back in the States is not the same thing that is served during the tea ceremony. We are used to the thin, watered down Arizona Green Teas, however this stuff is totally different. It’s actually called Matcha, which is powdered green tea. It has a bitter taste to it, and is combined with hot water.

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Interestingly, there is a special way to drink the tea. You must hold the cup in a certain way, and rotate it before drinking. You should also finish the tea within a few sips.

DSC05034With the Tea Master after the Ceremony

Tivoli Gardens

While visiting Copenhagen, I came upon Tivoli Gardens, which is an old amusement park. It’s a very well known amusement park, and is located in the middle of the city. We didn’t know anything about it beforehand, and decided to visit on a whim.

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It’s actually a very small amusement park, but it’s in the middle of the city so I can’t complain about the size too much. Right inside the park we found a pantomime theatre, but didn’t get to see any shows:

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We also came upon a beautiful palace, which is actually a hotel inside the park! It’s called Hotel Nimb. Hotel Nimb has a few restaurants which you can eat at.

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I have to post, on a side note, that the bathrooms here are ADORABLE. I know, that’s weird to say. But the bathrooms near the entrance were themed like a “chicken coop”, with painted floors and stalls that were made to look like outhouses. Very cute.

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RIDES

The Mine: This is a boat ride/log flume…similar to Disney’s Pirates of the Carribbean in function.

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Rutschbanen: Really cool ride. While it isn’t a very tall or fast coaster, it’s awesome because it’s very old and the speed has to be controlled by a guy who sits on the ride and pulls a giant hand brake. What a job! I don’t know about you, but I think it would be awesome to be paid to ride roller coasters all day.

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The Flying Trunk: Similar to Snow White’s Journey at Disney World. You basically sit in a slow moving treasure trunk, which takes you past famous Hans Christian Andersen stories…The Ugly Duckling, The Snow Queen, Princess and The Pea, etc.

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Dæmomon: Red looping coaster. This was their most “intense” and largest coaster. This picture is a view from the lake

DSC03883DSC03890Chinese themed “town” underneath the ride

Vertigo: I did not go on this one, and quite frankly you must have a death wish if you do. This is a constantly looping plane ride. It doesn’t look very intimidating in photos, but the speed and the roar of those planes swooshing above just made me nauseous. Seriously, the thing goes 60 mph. Don’t get me wrong, I love looping and fast rides, but this was too much for me. And I have a feeling it might have been too much for the riders who were all tinted a shade of green at the end.

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Food

For lunch, we ate at a Danish restaurant called Paafuglen. Beautiful restaurant with indoor/outdoor seating. They do have menus in both English and Danish, although the service was almost nonexistent on the day we were there. This was my first experience with Danish food, and everything we ordered came as “small plates”. I ordered two salads, including a potato/beet salad. My favorite foods of course, were the bread and pickles!!

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I hope you enjoyed my short introduction of Tivoli Gardens. We were only there for a few hours, but it was worth stopping in to see the park at least once. This would be a great park for people with children, because there are a ton of kid-friendly rides. They say that Disney was inspired by Tivoli Gardens, and I can see where that might be true. Don’t come to the park expecting thrill rides, because truthfully there aren’t many. But it’s a beautiful place to visit, nonetheless! By the way, don’t forget to stay long enough to see Tivoli at night. The entire park lights up at night, and everything is just really beautiful to see:

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