Monday, April 15, 2013

Takayama and Shirakawa-go - our last destinations

As we mentioned, while we expected Takayama to be a whole in the ground, it's really quite charming and we really love it. On the evening that we arrived, we didn't really go out - we just went to the Family Mart to get some dinner and milk for Sophie and turned in fairly early.

On our first full day, we decided to take it easy and tour the town, a decision that we are really happy we made. We ran into a really sweet couple a few minutes after we started and they were looking for some specialty needlepoint shop that her sister had recommended. It seemed that we were going the same way, so we walked into the shop when we found it, and that was just a gem! We ended up getting a few gifts there, but it was really hard to choose, because the place was so great!

The whole town is just picturesque, at least the parts of the old town. Our hostel is really close to the old city, so it was a lot of fun and not too far away, though we ended up literally walking around the whole town!

We walked into virtually every store we saw, bought a few more souvenirs, and tasted loads of local foods (the stores had a bunch of samples of, like, everything, which was a smart decision since we ended up buying some).

We literally walked around town all day, had lunch, walked some more, saw some more cute shops, and watched Sophie play with every dog that she saw.

We turned in really  early (like 8:30 early) because we were exhausted, and we knew we had a very long day ahead of us.

This morning, our alarm clock (Sophie) only went off at 7:45 - late wake up!! But of course, it meant we got a later start than we had intended.

We walked to the old city again where the famous Takayama Festival had begun. During the day, there were tons of cute stands selling everything you could possibly think of. At 11 there was a puppet show, which they have been doing for hundreds of years, and while it was cute, it was really long, so we broke off and had a snack.

We then walked over to the river where all of the floats that would be in the parade later were displayed. It's a really good thing that we had gone to see the floats in the morning, because they were harder to see at night!

Anyway, we grabbed a bite to eat for lunch and got on a bus for Shirakawa-go, an old town about 50 minutes away whose houses are protected world heritage sites. The town is gorgeous!

But a moment about the bus ride. We took a tour(ish) because it was about $10 per person cheaper than going on the regular bus, and the bonus is we got a really awesome tour guide. He was so funny. He kept explaining what we were looking at, but he was hilarious, making jokes and just explaining everything in a really funny way. He even went by each couple/family and took pictures of them for them on the bus!

They took us to a really gorgeous lookout (that we wouldn't have been able to get to without a car), and then we parked and were left to our own devices (with a map).

A world heritage site, the houses in Shirakawa-go are built in a very special manner. Many of the houses are open to the public (at a fee), and have been converted into museums. Some of the houses were stunning! If we ever get rich and built our own home, we will definitely be borrowing some of the Japanese architectural styles.

A few minutes after we arrived, Sophie fell asleep, which was great because it was really late and she hadn't napped, and we would have all suffered if she hadn't napped. Luckily we took the back carrier so we didn't have to deal with stroller in very tight (or impossible) situations.

We reluctantly got back to the bus and went back to Takayama, but the day wasn't over yet, because the highlight of the Takayama Festival is the parade at night!

The parade was really pretty, which you can't tell by the pictures, so we didn't take too many. Sophie had a great time and waved at a lot of people. She also started saying "chien" today, which means dog. So that's her fourth word (First - this in Hebrew (and English), second - thank you (in Hebrew), third - sit! (in French)).

We left the parade before it ended, not because it was boring, but because we knew we needed to get Sophie to bed, and it was fairly repetitive at that point. Sophie fell asleep pretty quickly, so we sat down in the room with two beers to celebrate the end of our trip. I mean, they threw us a parade and everything!

Pictures from Takayama (two links, the second is from the Kyoto and Takayama album): https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152728287190364.1073741838.906005363&type=3 and https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152725771680364.1073741837.906005363&type=3

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Back to Kyoto - for 24 hours, that is

Our last day in Tokyo was laid back, we really needed some rest, and wanted to just do some shopping. We spent some time in the hotel room just goofing around, and it was a blast! We are really going to miss spending so much time with Sophie when we get home, which is the hardest part of leaving.

While traveling with a toddler is great, it is much more tiring than our last trip, even though we saw three times as much last time. We thought we hadn't stopped moving for a second, but now we see that we had - each time we had a train ride, be it 2 hours or 6 - we rested.

Even if all we did was write blog posts or read, we had quiet time. We have no quiet time now, and Sophie always needs to be in movement and entertained, so we are finding ourselves a lot more tired than we ever were last time. In retrospect, 3 weeks is enough, the last couple of days have been exhausting.

Anyway, the train to Kyoto isn't very long, about 2 hours, however when we arrived at the station to get tickets, the next 2 trains were sold out, so we had to wait an hour and a half for a train, which got us to Kyoto later than we had planned. This isn't the first time this has happened to us on this trip, and it hadn't even happened once on the last one, which just shows that there are tons more tourists now than the last time, and you must get tickets ahead of time, if possible.

Luckily for us, Sophie slept most of the way. She is so cute when she's awake, but boy is she adorable when she's asleep! We bought some bentos on the train, and they were delish! When we arrived in Kyoto, it was cold and raining, and even though we technically arrived pretty early, around 3 in the afternoon, we couldn't do anything because of the weather. This was very depressing for us because 1) After a long train ride, you want to walk, 2) Finding a way to entertain Sophie for 3 hours was going to be a problem, and 3) We only had 24 hours in Kyoto.

So we went to the only place we could go in that weather - Nishiki food market! Talia had been there last time, but Rony hadn't, and the market has such interesting booths, that it was great going there a second time. We didn't take pictures this time because it was exactly the same, but you can see the pictures from our last trip to the Nishiki market starting here.

We only spent one night in Kyoto, but it was the same hostel we were in last time, and the Japanese guy who speaks Hebrew was still there! He totally remembered our friend, Maya, who came with us last time because she had recommended tons of Hebrew music to him. He talked to Sophie in Hebrew and she was just floored. It was the most comfortable bed we had on the entire trip. K's House, in case anyone was wondering.

The following morning, we tried to get up early because we wanted to make sure we get tickets early enough to avoid any problems. After grabbing a bite to eat, we took a bus to the Golden Pavilion. The bus was soooo slow,  we felt like we were back in Israel. However, the bus was very clear in what the next stops were, and whenever we passed a tourist spot, a recording came on letting us know where we are and the history of the area, which was great. Fortunately, Sophie slept for part of this ride, which was helpful because there was no way to entertain her there.

The Golden Pavilion, which Rony had visited last time (but Talia hadn't), is stunning. The area surrounding it is also gorgeous, and Sophie had a great time walking around. At this point, she already understands that if we put the shoes on, it means she will get to walk, and she gets so excited that she can't stop screaming with glee and flinging her arms!

By the time we were done, it was too late to go to the castle we had intended on going to, but we are already used to it. So, you know, next time. ;-)

We got back to the train station with enough time left to calmly get our bags, which we had left in lockers in a station, and find our train. We had a short train ride and then we switched to a longer ride (about 2.5 hours) to Takayama. This train was actually hilarious - unlike other trains, this one had some kind of a tour guide that kept telling us to look to our right and left, accompanied by countless stories about what we are looking at! It was actually really awesome, especially since Sophie was asleep the whole way.

Takayama is a small town that is basically traveled to only twice a year during the festivals, one of which takes place in a couple of days. While we originally thought it was a hole in the ground, it is actually quite charming and we are really enjoying our time here!

When we arrived, it was really cold - so cold that it started to snow an hour later. Sophie's first snow! She, of course, was unphased. We basically only went to get some milk for her and dinner for us and came back.

Pictures from Kyoto (and a few from Takayama, but the post is already really long): https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152725771680364.1073741837.906005363&type=1&comment_id=39492097&offset=0&total_comments=1&notif_t=photo_album_comment

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Tokyo, Kamakura, and Yokohama (again)

We're sorry it's taking us longer than before to post, traveling with a toddler is fun, but exhausting!

Our time in Tokyo was really only meant to be a base for the day trips we wanted to take outside of Tokyo. Our next stop was Kamakura, a town famous for the second-largest Buddha in Japan. We hadn't made it to Kamakura last time, so we were very happy to make it this time.

While Kamakura has a very famous festival, we missed it by a week - it starts the day before we leave. Oh, well, next time. :-) However, Kamakura is far from boring, and it was probably the place where we saw the largest amount of tourists since we had arrived (other than the penis festival, that is).

Our first stop was one of the famous shrines in Kamakura, Hase-dera, and it was gorgeous. Sophie got to use her new shoes again, though she still isn't that used to them. She loved the rocks. We go and show her beautiful gardens with wonderful flowers and plants and shrines, and she only wants to play in the rocks. :-)

Walking through Kamakura was fun to begin with, the streets lined with many cute shops and boutiques, and of course the 100 Yen shop that Talia wanted to go to was closed. Oh, well. 

Our next stop was the famous Amida Buddha statue at Kotoku-in. Apparently this Buddha had been in a structure that was destroyed by a Tsunami in the late 15th century, but the Buddha remained standing, and the building around it was never rebuilt.

Sophie had, blessedly, fallen asleep while we were visiting the great Buddha, that's why she isn't in the picture - we didn't forget about her. ;-) A really nice Australian family took the picture for us, and the daughter gave Sophie a game that they got in a Happy Meal from McDonald's (bringing our tally of McDonald's Happy Meal games to 2 out of 0 meals that we had ordered).

We chatted for a while about our travels and then went to have lunch, where something very odd was on the menu. We have yet to figure out what those are...




We have to mention the subway in Kamakura - it is a very old-fashioned train, and we loved it! It was just very quaint, and even though surely that wasn't the purpose, it was fun feeling like we were going backwards in time.

After lunch, we headed back to the train station and walked over to nearby Danzakura, which leads up to a temple, to see the sakura, but we had missed it by a few days, and while beautiful, the trees were barren. So we turned back, after hunting for yet another lost pacifier. May it rest in peace in the mouth of a Japanese baby, amen.

The train station in Kamakura is really funny. While it's great that they have so many elevators and escalators, especially for such a small town, some of them are quite ridiculous, covering only 7 stairs!

Our final stop for the day, on the way back to Tokyo, was Yokohama again to visit the local China Town. The area was very pretty and they had a lot of interesting items on sale, however they do not know how to be a proper China Town and their prices were sky high! We did, however, buy Sophie a costume for next year, so yey!

The highlight of China Town was running into the shooting of a really weird sci-fi movie. While Talia comes from the industry, it was still tons of fun to watch, especially since it was basically a kung fu movie without any sound. :-)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tokyo and the Penis Festival in Kawasaki

Since we had already seen the great view of Mount Fuji, we decided to forego our original plans (another view of the mountain) due to the weather. We ended up being really lucky that we arrived so early the afternoon before - we could barely even see the mountain that morning (there was a view from the hostel). We felt bad for all the others there who weren't going to be able to see it properly - it's a very long way to come and not see Mount Fuji.

Anyway, we left around noon and had lunch at one of the train stations where we switched trains. There was this great, tiny ramen shop, exactly the type we love: You put your money in a machine, select what you want, get a ticket, and come to the counter. Within 4 minutes you have your food, and it is way healthier than any fast food we can get back home!

We arrived in Tokyo fairly early, but we were pretty beat from the long way there. Our hotel is really nice, but it just confirms our opinions that hostels are a million times better than hotels. They are just so much homier, it's great fun getting to know other people and hear about their travels, and there is loads of advice plastered all over the walls, not to mention the great staff that is really knowledgeable about the area.

Our hotel is located in a great place, just two stops from Tokyo Station (think Grand Central Station, but tons bigger and way more confusing, and not because of the Japanese). As it turns out, this area is the #1 spot in Tokyo for books, and the Klein Perez family loves books, so we just walked a bit among the shops and just had a lot of calm fun. It was raining and too late to really see anything, plus we had spent a lot of time in Tokyo on our last trip, so there wasn't anything major we still wanted to see.

The next morning, it was supposed to rain, so we split up to keep Sophie dry: Rony took her to this amazing indoor playground for kids, called Children's Palace) where she had an amazing time. Ordinarily, Talia would have given up the camera so that Rony could take pics of Sophie playing, however she went to the Penis Festival in Kawasaki, and if you don't have a pictures, it didn't happen.

You read right. The Festival of the Steel Phallus, to be precise. It's one of the last remaining fertility festivals in Japan. It's located in Kawasaki, about 25 minutes outside of Tokyo. The festival is actually a lot smaller than we expected it to be, but it was definitely worth the trip for Talia (and definitely not for Rony and Sophie).

Right when you arrive at the shrine (yeah, the festival takes place at a place of worship, which, by the way, also has a kindergarden), you are greeted by this nice guy:

 They have all kinds of stands there, selling penis whistles and bandanas with reproductive organs on them, and also carving competitions:
Best of all, tons of candy! Really expensive candy, which originally I wanted to buy for work, but it was way too expensive.
 Then the parade began, and Talia had a great spot. This was her favorite float, because it's lead by some really awesome and really creepy-looking ladies.
After the festival, Talia returned to the hotel to find Sophie and Rony trying to sleep. 15 minutes later, having given up, we all went to the Imperial Palace gardens, located fairly close to our hotel.

The palace itself is not only closed to the public, but can't be viewed, but the park itself is gorgeous, and this is a famous bridge:
We saw Israelis there, so we pretended not to understand, as usual. Someone overheard us talking, though, and she apparently spied on us, but we did not surrender any information!

Exhausted from so much activity that day, we made our way back to the hotel and decided to splurge on some nice, homemade McDonald's! As Rony and Sophie waited for Talia to arrive, Sophie received yet another gift - one of the McDonald's Happy Meals toys! Boy, have we been getting a lot of gifts!

We all fainted into bed, and the following morning, Talia took Sophie to the Children's (petting) Zoo and Rony went book shopping for himself. Or, at least, the plan was to go to the Children's Zoo, but as know on this trip, any correlation between our plans and what happens is purely coincidental.

Sophie fell asleep literally after we got off the Subway, so we sat in the park outside the zoo to let her sleep (a tired baby is an annoying baby, you can quote us on that one). Outside the zoo was a really great playground, and when Sophie woke up, her eyes shot open in so many directions so quickly that Talia thought they would seriously come out of their sockets.



As it turns out, the Children's Zoo was closed that day, but the playground itself was really fun, and Sophie was just going crazy on all the different contraptions. "This! This!" So Talia would take her there after literally three seconds, she would shriek and then point in a different direction, "This! This!" It was tons of fun, but incredibly exhausting.

After the playground, we went shopping! We went to the famous 100 Yen Store, Daiso, near Harajuku station, which is 3 floors of awesome, and then walked up and down Omotesando searching for awesome presents for our families, of which we found none. However, we did make it to Kiddie Town, a 6 (!!!) floor toy store that had an AnPanMan doll, which Sophie loves, and that alone made it worth it. She plays with it all the time! There is an entire floor dedicated to Hello Kitty and one for Snoopy, and boy, is that place incredible.

Our next and final stop that afternoon was a kids store where we bought Sophie her first pair of shoes. She's been wanting to walk a lot here, and the leather soft-sole shoes weren't cutting it anymore. We also replaced a couple items that we lost along the way. :-)

Here are the pictures from our first couple of days in Tokyo: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152718156235364.1073741836.906005363&type=1#!/media/set/?set=a.10152716081785364.1073741835.906005363&type=3

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Ramen Museum in Yokohama and Mount Fuji!

We left Osaka and our amazing hostel behind to finally see Mount Fuji! We only saw it on the train last time, and Talia didn't even get to see THAT because she had fallen asleep! Sophie spent the rest of the time flirting with everyone on the train. Of course, pictures were taken, and an older couple on one of the trains gave her cookies, as well.

Since it is a very long way (about 6 hours all together), we decided to stop halfway through in Yokohama and go to the Ramen Museum! The museum tells the history of ramen in a language we don't understand (Japanese, yo), but downstairs is where the action REALLY happens.

The bottom 2 floors are a reconstruction of Tokyo in 1958, which is when instant ramen was invented. The streets are narrow, there are games that were played on the street back then, and there are so many tiny touches there that made it so much fun. And, of course, the place is FILLED with ramen restaurants, which we ate at.

DELICIOUS.

We then took a few more trains to get to our town by Mount Fuji, and mercilessly, Sophie slept almost the entire way. SCORE!

We arrived easily at our hostel, and Talia saw a gorgeous postcard of Mount Fuji at the reception, and it turned out that the exact spot is only a 20 minute walk from our hostel!

Luckily, the girl working at the hostel told us that there are steps to go up, so Rony loaded Sophie up on the carrier and off we went. What she DIDN'T tell us is that it was a 20 minute walk to get there, but a 400-stair climb to get up after that!

It was exhausting and we seriously don't know how we made it, especially Rony with Sophie on his back, but we did, and boy, was it worth it!



Pictures from Yokohama and Mount Fuji: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152705771380364.1073741833.906005363