As part of my last week in Japan, my partner and I rented an apartment in Machida, Tokyo. I had poured hours into research, determining all the different things we could do. One thing that came to mind was the Yokohama ferris wheel. It's one of the sights people think of when they think of Japan. (Actually, the main reason I thought about it was due to a windows theme that featured photos of Japan.) Anyway, I looked it up and discovered there was an entire amusement park surrounding the ferris wheel. That makes sense of course, silly me.
So I invited my friend to come to Cosmo World with us, and found the fastest route. Apparently, we were really lucky with the apartment location since the trains only took 40 minutes. Believe me, 40 minutes and under is a fast commute.
Of course, since we had all just gotten up, we wanted to eat first - there were a few restaurants nearby. We ended up eating at a T.G.I.F. for the simple fact that it was open (and it wasn't soup). The food was great, and we had a fantastic view of Cosmo Clock 21.
Then we marched onwards! What shall we find? What shall we do?
We arrived at Sakuragichou, but we could have also gone to Mintaomirai. From there it was a simple task of heading towards the enormous ferris wheel. The walk was really beautiful, since we had to cross over a re-purposed bridge that was fully decked out with perfectly trimmed trees, lights and speakers playing soft jazz. Then (due to horsing around) I tripped over my own feet, ripped my capris, and skinned my knee on the ground.
It was a minor injury. I didn't even notice it.
The closer we got, the more excited I became! I love amusement parks! I really, really do! Any opportunity I have, I take it! I'm not sure what I like most about them. I pretty much like it all, honestly. Although, I've never been crazy about carnival games. They're okay but you know they're a total rip-off.
Cosmo World has 3 different zones, each targeted towards a specific age group, but each area has something for everyone. There's the Kids Carnival Zone (children), Burano Street Zone (adolescents), and the Wonder Amuse Zone (adults). We spent most of our time in the Wonder Amuse Zone, but we also ventured over to the Burano Street Zone. I wanted to go on more rides, including one particular carnival classic. This ride may or may not include intricately decorated show ponies...
This park doesn't have day passes, oddly enough. They only sell "tickets". You can see how much each ride costs and purchase tickets marked with that amount. When you hand the ticket over, they scan it and remove the cost of the ride. Pretty smart.
The very first ride we got on was the Flume Ride: Cliff Drop ~Zekkyo-GP~. At the time, we had no idea what the scoreboard meant. We got on the ride and since I'm a bundle of nerves, I was screaming frequently. The worst part was the final fall. It's an 18m drop of 46 degrees. It doesn't sound that steep, but trust me, it is.
My sister visited me in March and my first suggestion was to see Tokyo Disneyland. My friend lives in Chiba, and was only 30 minutes away. Unfortunately, my sister and I had to travel from Utsunomiya - about two hours with the Shinkansen. Still, a really nice ride if you're willing to spend the money.
We were both super psyched since neither of us had been to Disneyland before. After speaking with my friend, and doing a little research, we discovered that Disney Sea was the better alternative. You see, there is Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea. Disneyland is the more classic theme park and features rides designed for children, while Disney Sea features more adult rides. Obviously, Disney Sea is the better alternative.
The first step in visiting Disneyland is getting there. You need to catch a train to Maihama station, and before you wonder how you'll know which stop is the right one, let me just say that you'll recognize it when you see it. That's exactly what my friend said to me and it was very true. You could see the resort sprawled out beside the station, and more importantly, elaborately decorated with Mickey Mouse. If you don't notice all of that, then you'll definitely notice the throngs of people with Disney merchandise.
Now, if you want to get to Disney Sea, that means taking the Disney train. You purchase a ticket (or use your suica card) like anywhere else. The train is adorned with Mickey's iconic silhouette. (I do indeed have more photos of things like the gate, and the train, but I'm respecting the privacy of my friend and sister.)
Disney Sea is split into 7 sections and each section is clearly delineated with a particular theme.
Lost River Delta
For full details and a cost breakdown, read on!
We were immediately blown away by the simple beauty of the room. Wonderful tatami floors, accompanied by a traditional kneeling table and chairs, and adorned with a beautiful tea set. We were given a quick tour before we had a moment alone to admire our room. A set of chairs looked out onto the outdoor patio, right next to the stocked bar. Outside our glass sliding doors was an outdoor shower, and an open air hot springs bath. Our own, private hot spring! Lucky for us, there was a tall fence and walls surrounding the private patio, but still a noticeable view of the mountains and trees. Soon enough, the attendant returned and asked us to sit down. She served us green tea and gave us a delicious mochi snack. She left us alone and we delighted in our situation.
I finally removed my shoes and slipped on the provided ones, where we were then ushered into a little dining area with a fantastic, panoramic view. A woman, obviously proficient in English, asked when we would like to schedule dinner, and breakfast in our room before whisking us away down the hall. She gave us a little tour of the facilities, pointing out the bathrooms and accompanying segregated male, and female hot spring baths. There were delightful copper sinks in the hall, which gleamed invitingly. I squealed with delight at every turn in the corridor. Every inch of this place felt authentic, and warm. Soon she showed us to the elevator and informed us which floor the room was located. My partner and I squeezed into the little elevator, while the woman in her tabi and sandals, took the stairs and met us on the same floor. Again, the customer service and enthusiasm impressed me to no end. She quickly escorted us to our room and as soon as we entered the little foyer and genkan, I removed the slippers and stepped up onto raised platform. She thanked me, almost profusely, making it obvious that many foreigners didn’t recognize the faux pas.
When we finally reached the Hakone-Yumoto station, we were starting to get really excited. We found the bus heading in the right direction by asking at information – and felt really fortunate when they spoke English – then prepared for our final leg of the journey. Our stop was approximately 20 minutes away, but it took a little longer since there were delays. The road to the ryokan was a long, twisty road up a mountain. The further we travelled, the more we wondered where we were headed. I started to panic a little (as I do) and hoped that we actually caught the right bus. I wanted to make sure we made our check-in time. I would hate to be late. It would be absolutely unseemly.
We crossed the road and as we were admiring the brilliant visage ahead of us, a man in traditional work garb was bouncing down the stairs with a clipboard. My partner and I looked at one another before the man eagerly greeted us, then said the name the reservation was under. We nodded, impressed with the immediate and enthusiastic service. We hadn’t even gotten to the bottom of the stairs leading to the impressive ryokan. We followed him as he led us through the antique sliding doors, and were instantly set upon by a whole team of women in kimonos. They smiled warmly and encouraged us to remove our shoes in the genkan and replace them with slippers. When they saw the size of my partner’s feet, they quickly and quietly switched them out with larger ones. I was struggling to remove my shoes and was leveraging myself on my partner’s shoulder, when one of the women scurried away to bring me a special bamboo stand especially designed for that purpose. I couldn’t believe the already outstanding service.
During my Christmas break, I had the luck and fortune to visit a few great places in the Kanto region. I visited Hakone (world renown for their hot springs), Tokyo, and Nikko (home of many famous temples and shrines). In Tokyo, I had the opportunity to see a few of the major tourist attractions, including: Shibuya, Shinjuku, Asakusa, Roppongi Hills, the Tokyo Skytree, and just outside of Tokyo – Mitaka, where the Studio Ghibli Museum is located. In order to see all of Tokyo, you would honestly need at least a full week. There is so much to see and do. Many things require reservations in advance and can only be done with enough forethought. My significant other and I had been thinking about what sort of things we’d like to do together, since he was going to visiting me during my break. We came up with ideas and made the appropriate arrangements.
The first place we visited was Hakone! We reserved our room weeks in advance (although it would be better to do it even earlier if you want more time). I spent a long time researching different ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) in the area and found out a number of them offer rooms with a private, outdoor hot spring bath. This really appealed to both of us – and it wasn’t long after that we sorted through our top choices and settled on one. A place called, “Mikawaya Ryokan”. It was established in 1883 and is one of the most popular ryokans in Hakone. After our visit, I completely understand why.
I currently reside in Utsunomiya, Tochigi and that’s where our journey first started. We took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Omiya, which is about a 30 minute ride, and then another 30 minute train ride to Shinjuku. From there we wandered around the station for a bit and enjoyed some time at a café while we waited for our Romancecar train to Hakone. We had booked the tickets in advance and discovered that the train name was slightly misleading. While it was a scenic route, I wouldn’t necessarily call it romantic since it carried passengers of every description between Shinjuku and Hakone. Although we did enjoy the 100 minute ride with a few drinks bought from the cart.
What happened next? Well, it didn’t take long to finish a cup of tea and run outside into the brisk air. One hot shower later, we braved the even hotter waters of the hot spring. We quickly discerned that we needed to turn on the cold water faucet positioned above the hot spring. We had been warned prior to using it that it would be necessary to use cold water – boy, she wasn’t kidding. I thought maybe she was just being cautious. No, that was a real hot spring with insanely hot, natural water pouring in to the bath. Thank goodness for the cold water as a method to temper the heat. When we finally reached the ideal temperature, we sat back and enjoyed the chill mountain air, and natural, Earthly heat.
After a brief hiccup paying for bus fare, since my partner had never experienced getting change from the machine up front nor recognized all of the currency – we were finally at our stop. The bus pulled away and across the road was our beautiful, Japanese inn. We looked around and saw gorgeous views of the valley below us, since we had climbed the mountain and we were now towering over the little town. We arrived just 5 minutes before check-in, and this made me a little anxious. I was eager to get settled in our room.
When morning finally came, we woke up a bit early to take our final dip in the hot springs. A startling wake-up call from the cold air, followed by an immediate hot shower (and a couple of traditional buckets of water), and we were in the bath enjoying the startling heat and rising steam. We had closed the paper doors between the main room, and the bar room so that if they came early with breakfast, we would be fine. Sure enough, they arrived earlier than anticipated. We could hear the rattling of dishes and movement as we sat in the glory of the morning light. I suddenly realized I wasn’t sure I could get out of the bath, so I sent my partner in to put on his robe and check. The attendant had left but in her absence, sat breakfast – ready and waiting. I scrambled for my yukata, and sat down, eager and hungry for another spectacular meal. I was not disappointed. Rice, miso soup, fried fish, and a couple of dishes I can’t name, but enjoyed.
Their timing was always perfect, it wasn’t long after we finished dessert and were contemplating another session in the hot spring when two men came in and quickly cleaned up the room in the most orderly and efficient fashion. They pushed the table aside and set up the futons as easily, and professionally as a pit crew. Night had finally spilled over the horizon, when we sat in the hot springs sharing sweet plum wine and admiring the night sky.
Hours slipped by, we eventually got out of the bath and put on our yukatas. They were comforting. My partner turned on some Japanese TV while we waited for dinner time. As per Japanese culture, dinner arrived early. Our attendant laid out a few dishes – sushi, sashimi, pickled vegetables, and two burners topped with a metallic bowl of sea inspired soup. We sat in awe of our bubbling soup, and made agreeable sounds when eating the sashimi. There was quite a bit of food, but it didn’t take long for more food to be brought out. Beautiful cuts of fish and steak, more interesting food atop the burner, and of course an assortment of unrecognizable Japanese cuisine. We ate up the delicious food, and was served with yet another dinner course. We continued to marvel at the wonderful dinner and did our best to finish. When she brought the final dinner course, she let us know to call the front desk and ask for dessert. They served a mixture of sweet and unusual dishes, before we finally felt absolutely full.
When we finally finished eating, we realized that we’d have to get ready to leave our dream destination. We prepared for our departure and finally said our goodbyes to the room. My loving and incredibly generous partner took care of the bill while he sent me to the gift shop to check it out. The staff called us a taxi back to the station, and we lamented our leaving. Our trip back down the mountain in the morning light was quiet and unwinding. The views were breathtaking and wondrous. We finally arrived back in town, and bought a few things in a little shop before buying another ticket back to Shinjuku.
Following the consideration of Japan and South Korea, is Belgium. On the tourist website, Visit Belgium, they share this slogan proudly, "A food lover's dream. A beer lover's heaven". Guess what? I love food and beer! I suppose it should be the perfect place to live!
I am considering Korea as a possible destination for teaching ESL. The main reason I've thought about travelling there are the many invitations I've received from Korean women to visit their country. The girls I've known were so eager to share their culture with me. It was their warmth and compassion that instantly made me add Korea to my list of places to go.
At the end of October my city had the pleasure of hosting the Star Wars Identities Exhibition. I had been looking forward to it since last year when I first heard they were coming. Up until today I could only imagine what wonders were in store and my goodness, it was wondrous. I visited the exhibit with my family and partner. I suppose the first thing I should mention is that I had bought tickets online for a specific time, well it turns out they were running an hour behind schedule. Even though we showed up early we didn't have the pleasure of getting into the exhibit for over an hour. What did we do with our time? Browsed the other galleries and mostly waited in line. Despite the long wait I would have to say it was definitely worth it.
When we finally made it to the front of the line we were presented with an ear piece, receiver and wrist band. Then we watched a quick 5 minute video on the quest we had all undertaken to discover the hero inside of each of us. It made me so very excited. I cannot fully explain the excitement that was coursing through my veins. Star Wars has been one of my favourite stories my entire life and here I was about to witness some of the greatest props, costumes and concept art that has ever existed. I got to see Boba Fett, C-3P0, R2-D2, Yoda, Han, Leia, Chewbacca...you name it! They were all there!
Maybe you're wondering what they meant by discovering the hero inside of us, well the wristbands we were given were more special than any of us realized. The exhibition had an interactive feature; inside were 10 stations each with a question designed to develop a personal character. You would press the wristband against an illuminated hexagon and voila! You would make choices in order to pick what kind of Star Wars character you wanted to create. The questions ranged from what species you are, how your parents raised you, what your personality was like to choosing the empire or rejecting the offer.
The best part about creating your own character was the consideration they had put into designing these questions. They actually used a variety of psychological theories that were very familiar to me. I truly appreciated that. What an awesome and brilliant idea! Not only were we able to enjoy the amazing movie props but we each created a unique and memorable character. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Star Wars Identities you should take it! I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was truly a wonderful experience.
The best part of the entire trip was definitely the wine tour. It was something we both wanted to do. So during the week we visited a recommended website online and found a variety of wine tours by a company named Uncorked! Okanagan Wine Tours. We thoughtfully examined each tour then booked one we liked. We picked the "Trilogy Wine Tour" which included 3 wineries, a distillery and a brewery. It appealed to us the most since we wanted to try more than just wine.
The first place we went to was a winery called "Mission Hill". I've seen their bottles in liquor stores before but admittedly never tried it. I'm glad it was the first one because it certainly whet my appetite for seeing more. The winery is like a luxurious plantation, thoughtfully decorated with tasteful art and original historic pieces. I've never seen anything quite like it. It's impressive, it's grand, it's absolutely overwhelming and awe inspiring. It was obvious that the owner was a perfectionist, seeking out every wrinkle and ironing it out.
Everything was impeccable. An impressive feature was the amphitheatre formed into a grassy hill. In its entirety I have never seen such careful planning, such graceful consideration for every little detail. I appreciated the organized beauty to it all. Then came the wine. We tasted our choice of 4 different wines. I tried a Pinot Grigio which was delightful. A very easy and complementary white wine. I also tried a Syrah, a Pinot Noir and what they called Quatrain, which is a mix mostly composed of Merlot. The Syrah was delicious, surprisingly a nice balance of tart and sweet. The Pinot Noir was of course terrific, as always. All in all, a great winery.
The next stop on the wine tour was "Quail's Gate", another large winery albeit not nearly as ostentatious as Mission Hill but beautiful in its simplicity. The building was warm and welcoming, beckoning wine tasters forth with open arms. I eagerly stepped inside, ready to try something new. The best feature about the wine bar was the view. It was truly pleasing to look out into the valley while sipping on some very classy wine. We were lucky enough to taste all the wine they had available due to a deal with the wine tour company, so it certainly made the experience as enjoyable as possible. Afterwards we went for lunch at their restaurant and enjoyed pairing a memorable Foch with a meaty angus burger covered in gouda. It was an unforgettable compilation of flavours.
The last winery we visited was "Little Straw" a boutique winery. I loved being able to compare the different scales of wineries, Mission Hill as the largest, Little Straw as one of the smallest while Quail's Gate is at some point in between. Little Straw might have been my favourite. Sure, it's not money being slapped in your face but it's something a little more down to earth. First of all, I had the chance to meet one of the co-owners serving the wine. I loved that. Their attitude was genuine and modest, aspects I find particularly alluring. Then I tasted their wine. Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. We ended up buying three bottles since it was something we couldn't find back home. Two bottles of Rosé and a bottle of Foch.
Then there was the brewery, "Tree Brewing" in Kelowna. I'm so glad we picked a brewery to visit. The beer was delicious. We tried them all from a crisp lager to a pale ale. It was like a rainbow of beer. To top it off there was a plate of hors d'oeuvres of crackers and pepperettes with cream cheese and a wonderful pepper jelly. It was a treat for the palette. I love variety.
Last, but certainly not least was "Ubran Distilleries". We sat down at what was recognizably a bar while the host presented us with shot glasses. Then he continued to pour us a sample of each spirit. Wow. Deep, intriguing flavours that certainly represented their company well. The greatest of the spirits was the espresso vodka. It's so smooth it actually tastes like coffee without the vodka aftertaste. I don't know how they did it but I love it. Of course we bought a bottle.
After enjoying a wonderful wine tour there is no doubt in my mind I would recommend wine tours to everyone. The guide was amazing, he provided us with all sorts of details, back stories and history, it created a comfortable atmosphere and a truly complete experience. The wineries, brewery and distillery were all class acts, truly serving their customers with the royal treatment. I would purchase liquor from any of these brands. That would mean they were successful.
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