NY 2017: Hamilton

Yes, I am now part of a group that can proudly declare “oh I’ve seen Hamilton!”

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The story of my Hamilton exposure: I had heard about it through podcasts (Dan Savage mentioned it, The Read mentioned it) but never bothered to listen to the album. I finally heard the album when I joined Frances and Rex on a drive down to socal, and was more or less forced to listen to it when Rex played the soundtrack the entire drive down. He had already become a Hamilton obsessive, so he was able to interject explanatory remarks between the songs, which I really think improved my listening experience. Upon arriving in Arcadia though, my life was unchanged. But two days later, Rex again played the soundtrack the entire drive up, only THIS TIME, both Rex AND Frances were singing along to the soundtrack.

The following day at work I ended up listening to the album at work from start to finish … and became OBSESSED. During the ride, Rex, who preferred the rap songs, kept skipping the female-centered songs and these ended up being my favorite ones. Also, he preferred Act One, and there were quite a few songs I loved in Act Two, so it was like I was discovering the album anew.

My thoughts on the show: I really dislike the live verson of Burn and wish they would perform it the way that it’s done on the album. By the time we caught this performance, the only original cast member was King George (Brian d’Arcy James) though it was Jonathan Groff on the album. I think the original cast member I would have most wanted to see would’ve been Leslie Odom Jr. Followed by Renee Elis Goldsbury and Philippa Soo. My favorite album songs have been: Who Lives Who Dies Who Tells Your Story, Satisfied, and Burn (there is an obvious link there). The songs that were amazing to see live were Satisfied, Your Obedient Servant and The Room Where It’s Happening. Even though I know the album track list by heart, the ending still seemed very abrupt, leaving me with a “oh no, that’s it?!” feeling. The theater was larger than I expected, perhaps because everyone comments on the intimateness of the Richard Rodgers theater, so I guess I envisioned a 100 person space.

I used the restroom before the show started and the line monitor kept saying to everyone who balked at the length of the line “it’s MUCH WORSE at intermission.” I thought I could stay in my seat through the end of the show, but intermission came around and I jumped out of my seat because I had to use the bathroom again. This is the FASTEST bathroom line I have ever been in, which is necessary as the line snaked all the way down from the stairs, back into the theater seats and back out into the lobby. We had hesitated maybe one minute before heading to the line, and we were probably at the first third of the line. We managed to get back with plenty of time, but when they start the second half, there is very little notification. It just GOES.

Foodwise for the trip, my favorite restaurant was Rosso Pomodoro, an Italian restaurant that started as an Eataly outpost. I got a ragu bolognese and our table shared a chocolate lava cake and panna cotta which were just ok. I wish I could get pasta as perfectly cooked as it was here but I haven’t found it in the Bay Area. Another fun place we went to was Urban Square Vanderbilt, essentially a big food hall adjacent to Grand Central Station. Though I made a poor choice in my food purchase with the Chinese food stall Bing, it was fun just to walk around. I also partook in Dough and had the toasted coconut (fave), hibiscus (my second time getting this) and mocha almond crunch donuts (I mayyyy have gotten this before too, but I get it confused with the cafe au lait). I have eaten a LOT of doughnuts in my life, but Dough is honestly my favorite donut store ever.

We stayed in The Muse, a Kimpton hotel located just two blocks from the RIchard Rodgers theater and a block from Times Square. We were always in the hotel by 11pm, so I am slightly bummed that we didn’t make use of the perfect summer night weather and venture out for a walk. However, I am also the first person to look away when someone goes “does anyone want to stay out? go for a drink?” so it’s not like I’m the party pusher in a group. I just want to walk around a city at night!!! Not spend money! Also, I’m fascinated with watching the ads in Times Square, which I can understand does not appeal to everyone, especially people who lived/worked in NYC for years. So no one took me up on my “it’s 12am, anyone want to go out to Times Square?!”

Additionally, this trip involved staying at Robyn’s mom’s place in Warwick. We ended up going to Storm King, an outdoor sculpture garden, which was featured in the second season of Master of None!!! ALSO, there is a scene in a Thai restaurant called Thai Villa which we had ALSO gone to! Unintentional Master of None tour! Sidenote: Thai Villa was delicious though the portions were not as fantastically huge as you’d find at cheaper restaurants.

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The most delightful thing I ate though, which was right before we got into the theater for Hamilton, was a black sesame cream puff!!!!!!! They also have a matcha cream puff and an earl grey cream puff. Sitting here, I am now bummed I didn’t find a way to bring back four dozen with me.

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I honestly don’t understand how I’m supposed to post portrait photos onto wordpress. How can it be that a blogsite doesn’t appropriately size portrait photos?! I’ve essentially resigned myself to just posting landscape photos from here on out, but the cream puff one is necessary.

2016 Recap

Well I still need to post some days on Japan and also repost all my Japan pictures to my posts because I deleted them in annoyance. But it’s January 1st so I might as well do this 2016 best ofs post!!!

I think the biggest change in my life for 2016 was that I’ve become REALLY obsessed with podcasts. I was listening to a handful before but this is the year that it has gotten a little out of control. As of right now, I’m subscribed to 29 podcasts (although I haven’t listened to any of the episodes for 9 of them). I just get into a podcast craze every few months and fear that I will run out of podcasts and will go on a subscription rampage to stock up. It’s at the point where I’m realizing that my constant podcast listening is harming me because I can never concentrate on anything, I have very little quiet time to myself and I’m probably destroying my hearing because I turn the volume way up when I’m on public transit  (naturally, my greatest pet peeve of 2016 was mumbling podcasters). Most people use podcasts as a way to pass their free time but I feel like I’m starting to prioritize sitting and listening to podcasts over doing things that require mental concentration.

Regardless, here are my top five favorite podcasts:

  1. NPR Politics: Just as there are certain shows that people once HAD to watch live, or HAVE to watch the day it is available online, this is the podcast I will immediately stop everything for when a new episode is available. I will actually use my data plan to stream this podcast on my phone, if I’m not yet at work. The downside of this podcast is that I’ve become informed about our nation’s politics, and I now wish I could return to my pre-2015 levels of obliviousness.
    Suggestion: It pains me to listen to this episode now (or really, any episode pre-election) but one of my favorite episodes was this one, Trump On Tape, primarily for the long pause and quote “can we just have a moment of silence for our democracy” after they played the Access Hollywood tapes.
  2. StarTalk: I do not really know how to sell a podcast about space and science. All I can say is this podcast is far more interesting than the general public would presume. Neil DeGrasse Tyson hosts, and on every episode he has a comedian (or two) on hand to either comment on an interview Neil has conducted, participate in a “cosmic queries” session where Neil answers submitted questions on a particular topic, or take part in a live talk.
    Suggestion: This episode had nothing to do with space, but was one of my favorite discussions. Also, since I listened to this episode when it came out, I felt super cool actually knowing who Alexis Ohanian is when I read Serena Williams’ engagement news – Unraveling Reddit with Alexis Ohanian
  3. What’s The Point: Towards the end of the year, they changed the format of this podcast to be more of a book review, since the host Jody Avirgan, is moving onto something else. I don’t really enjoy the book reviews, but the other episodes are interesting perspectives with a data lens. So much of the world is influenced by algorithms.
    Suggestion: An episode on the history of data collection in politics
  4. Show Your Work: This podcast is ostensibly about celebrity gossip but it is truly about SO MUCH MORE. The host, Elaine Lui of Lainey Gossip, writes the only celebrity gossip site I check regularly. As she says, celebrity gossip is not meaningless. It’s insight into our culture, perspective, biases, assumptions and more.
    Well I meant to link to her episode on the Brangelina breakup but the podcast link has broken, I think a little suspiciously. That episode was JUICY. But the others are still great!
  5. Code Switch: Discussion of pop culture with a focus on race/identity. I feel like there’s always a few extremely insightful quotes in each episode. The range of topics is so diverse yet each one is relatable.
    Suggestion: the episodes right before and right after the election results provide great perspective.

Naturally the next entertainment list has to be my top movies of 2016. This is also the year that I discovered the pure joy of going to watch a movie alone. Here are all the benefits if you have never done this before: you can watch a movie completely on your own schedule, it’s much easier to find seating, it honestly feels like a more immersive experience, and you can watch ANYTHING YOU WANT! No more “I actually heard the reviews for that movie are terrible” or “I think you’d like it, really!” I do what I want! The real impetus for watching movies solo is that there is a small theater less than a mile from where I work, and they only show two movies at any time, and they are always small independent films. And at some point of the year, there is always going to be a handful of indie films I want to watch but can’t really find anyone else to watch with, so why wouldn’t I spend my Friday afternoon, after a week of work, having some silent rejuvenating fun?! I also LOVE going to theaters alone and getting the early bird showing. It seems like it would be such a drag to find someone willing to watch a movie at 9am, no matter how much I proclaim, BUT YOU CAN WATCH A MOVIE FOR LESS THAN TEN DOLLARS!!!

  1. Carol: This movie actually came out so early in the year that I nearly forgot about it (and it might have actually come out in December 2015 – oh well). But this was the first movie I saw by myself in a theater, so I have this movie to thank for opening my eyes to the wonderful world of solo movie watching.
  2. Arrival: I watched this recently (also alone) and there was a brief moment where I thought, OMG I NEED TO ASK SOMEONE QUESTIONS AND I HAVE NO ONE NEXT TO ME! I love Amy Adams. My only gripe is the terrible soundtrack. It’s to the point that you’re taken out of a suspenseful moment because of the jarring instrumental music loudly announcing “THIS IS A DRAMATIC MOMENT”
  3. Moonlight: I also watched this alone along with a handful of other people in the Palo Alto indie movie theater. I totally saw another girl race out the theater alone when the movie ended too. I wanted to say to her, ME TOO!!! I felt like everyone was holding their breath during certain scenes because of the restrained emotion behind the actors. I would recommend listening to this Code Switch interview with the director Barry Jenkins.
  4. Avengers Civil War: I do not know where I fall on the Captain America vs Iron Man spectrum, but I do appreciate a movie with amazing visuals, fight scenes and sound effects, and I will happily wait in line for — oh just kidding I will ONLY EVER go to the Mountain View Cinemark with leather reclining chairs and reserved seating for these types of movies. I will NEVER WAIT in a line ever again for a major blockbuster.
  5. Queen of Katwe: Disney did not do a very good an awful job of marketing this movie, but it was extremely engrossing for a movie about competitive chess, had amazing on location shots, and showed realistic and thoughtful character development. One day soon you’ll probably be able to watch this movie on Netflix and I highly recommend that you do.

And then books … I was really disappointed to find out that I have not read very much this year after going through my GoodReads list. I consider podcasts as my new alternative to reading. I mean, I’m still learning!!!

  1. Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery: I did not know very much about octopuses and through this book, I found out they are fascinating creatures.
  2. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren: this book has an even split of 50% learn crazy botany facts and 50% memoir and I couldn’t decide which parts I liked more, they were both written so well! Whenever someone in academia publishes a well-written memoir, I feel like they have reaped a little too much in life. How can you be so smart AND write in such a compelling way?
  3. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: a rare fiction read for me. I read it based on a recommendation from LaineyGossip. This is the kind of read where the plot just effortlessly pulls you along. I read this in just over a day, it was so engrossing. And it’s a pretty heavy read too – sometimes I’d finish a chapter and just think geez this is a bit much but it’s such an addicting read you keep going. You do come away from it thinking, humanity is awful.

I’ve really slipped in terms of TV watching. As a combination of the “Golden Age of Television” and my increased expectations/pickiness, I now have a very narrow band of shows that I’m willing to watch. I have no interests in the acclaimed dramas that leave little room for levity (ex. Game of Thrones, Westworld).  There aren’t any reality shows (competition or otherwise) that I get sucked into watching. The shows must be accessible on either Netflix, Hulu, HBO, SHO, Amazon or any otherwise a free platform (which basically left out Horace and Pete). I pretty much require a diverse cast to hold my interest, a strong female lead and preferably a character who is gay or at least SOME gay subtext. THIS IS THE NEW WORLD, PEOPLE!

  1. OJ Simpson the Sarah Paulson one: does anyone really know the OJ Simpson show by its real name The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story? I hate that name. The American Crime Story part is completely unnecessary and seems like it was just thrown on to associate with American Horror Story. I mean, why not just make the title The People vs OJ Simpson: Popular American Glee/Horror Nip/Tuck Story if you’re that far up Ryan Murphy’s ass. Wait I guess I was supposed to say why I loved this show so much. In short, THE HAIR/MAKEUP! SARAH PAULSON! Ryan Murphy can come off my shit list now.
  2. Full Frontal with Samantha Bee: Sometimes it’s nice to watch a show where someone is expressing the appropriate reaction to current events which is not always going to be measured, calm analysis, but RAGE.


Don’t cry.

3. Insecure: I feel like I’ve fallen into a black culture whirlpool. I started listening to The Read then following Roxane Gay then watching Black-ish, then watching this show. I would be insulted if you called either of those shows “black shows” though. Insecure is at its core, a show about 30 somethings living in LA, with occasional black references that I sometimes get and sometimes do not.

4. Black-ish: Sitcoms keep the world turning. I adore Tracee Ellis Ross and Yara Shahidi. They have great Instagram accounts because they both have amazing fashion style.

5. Broad City: I have no idea why I find this show so humorous, but I find this show way more hilarious than I think most people do.


Don’t cry.

5. Jane the Virgin(?): I don’t actually know, since CW doesn’t put their shows on Hulu anymore. How am I supposed to watch your shows, CW?!?! I’m just waiting for the third season to pop up on Netflix, but I’m putting this here preemptively, because I’ve heard the quality has stayed on par with the first two seasons, which means it is EXCELLENT, THE BEST, NEEDS RECOGNITION viewing. This entire cast seems genuinely adorable.

NOT: The Night Of or Atlanta. When having the privilege of telling a story over the visual medium that is television, I really DO NOT need to have a storyline on foot eczema, THANKS The Night Of. At the end of the first episode, which Robyn forced me to watch, I went “WTF HOW DID THAT TAKE AN ENTIRE HOUR?!” I had this same comment for three subsequent episodes, until I told her to watch the show alone. As for Atlanta, I guess I’m not smart enough to get the show because I only found two episodes funny enough where I was not left thinking “ugh when does this 10 episode show get good?” I have found that I generally hate aimless shows like this and Girls. I need to know this show is going somewhere! Just like my life!

If I were a better person: Veep, The Americans. Veep, I also want to laugh out loud at, but I can’t because I DON’T GET IT!!! The Americans, I recognize is an amazing show but I only got through 1.5 seasons and I don’t remember where I left off in the second season and apparently that’s been enough of a barrier for my lazy ass.

Gay Honorable Mentions: Black Mirror‘s San Junipero episode (which might be my favorite hour of television this entire year), select Youtube clips of The 100 (I love when I can watch all the youtube videos some considerate lesbian has strung together of all the scenes between some couple and I don’t have to know ANYTHING about the show’s general plotline), Orange is the New Black

I don’t know why television, the medium I probably interacted with the least this year, has so much wordspace on this post. I guess I didn’t watch as little TV as I thought I did?

Top songs of 2016… ok well I’m going to just narrow down my favorite Hamilton songs to a select few, otherwise I’d just be making a list of my top 10 favorite Hamilton songs. I think anyone who has enjoyed the Hamilton soundtrack will find that they have different favorite songs fluctuate over time, back and forth.

  1. Hamilton: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story: I used to seriously tear up if this song came up while I was at work. I’d just be sitting at my desk, crying, doing nothing but listening to music. This is a song that I have put on my “RESTRICTED LISTENING” list, meaning that it cannot just come up on shuffle. This song is not meant to be listened to when you’re rushing out the door or as background noise. This song is meant to be FELT!
  2. Hamilton: Burn: I also prefer to hear this song ONLY AFTER I play The Reynolds Pamphlet, which is not a favorite song, but serves as a perfect primer. On the Hamilton podcast, The Room Where It’s Happening, people call in and state their favorite song and why. My favorite has been “Burn, because I like to sit in the dark and bawl my eyes out.”
  3. Hamilton: Satisfied: OK THIS IS THE LAST HAMILTON SONG. I think it’s not a coincidence that my top songs are all female-led. This was my very first favorite song of Hamilton, and was probably the only reason I continued listening to the album (I didn’t immediately take to it). This song was the hook that led me to hours and hours and hours of endless Hamilton playing. I truly have listened to VERY LITTLE music outside of Hamilton in 2016.
  4. Know My Love by Matt Nash: EDM. I mean, there were times at work when I couldn’t listen to Hamilton for the 5th hour.
  5. Hometown Girl by Zhu: If this is the direction EDM is going in, I like it.

And I guess this will be my last thing … my top five pictures of the year!!! Man, when looking through the thousands of photos I took over the year for the TOP FIVE, I really realized how much time has been wasted taking pictures of things I don’t truly care about.

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Japan. My favorite picture of myself this year because I look thin.
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Chicago. Found on solo walk around Wicker Park
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Seattle. The wedding budget was clearly in put into the venue.
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Oregon Coast. Dinosaur Park!
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New York. Manhattan at sunset from Brooklyn.

Day Ten: Tokyo

It’s our last full day! We woke up to eat our hotel’s breakfast which I didn’t have high expectations for and didn’t even bother to bring my phone to take pictures. It ended up being AMAZING! They had a good selection of breads including a green tea bread, eggs and bacon, yogurt and fruit for western style. Then they had a huge selection for Japanese breakfast – rice, curry, soba with several toppings, vermicelli noodles, salads, miso soup, and more! What a delight. Now I’m bummed we missed the breakfast on our Naoshima adventure day haha

Then we set off for Tokyo via bullet train. It is a 2.5hr ride during which I napped and edited draft blog posts. I got as far as writing “Day Two: Tokyo” before deciding I’ll just write that post and Day Three when I return.

I’m currently writing this in the lounge room of our capsule hotel. I got up at 640, mainly because I had had to pee since 4am but didn’t want to get out of the very creaky bed. Extremely uncomfortable sleep although the rest of the hotel is amazing!

This is a female only capsule hotel which I’m really glad we got. The vibe is very nice and cozy, and there are features I suspect are only because we are female only. The easiest way to describe it is living in a spa. The carpet in the room is very soft and everywhere smells nice. The bathroom is shared and open and has three tubs of varying sizes. I got up and it seemed like I was the first one up and I immediately jumped into the tubs after a quick shower.

 

The only complaint I have is the mattress is very thin and feels like I’m sleeping on a packing crate. The wood also creaks whenever you move so once you wake up at night, you can’t help but hear everyone shifting around, trying not to make noise. Otherwise, it’s actually quite roomy to me. There are lights and electrical outlets for each capsule.

 

You get a locker but it’s basically big enough for two backpacks, I imagine because these are meant for business travelers with light luggage but have become traveler favorites. I actually have no idea what the history of capsule hotels are. They give a lock chain to tie your luggage to a rail so no one can make off with it, though if you don’t have a lock, that won’t stop anyone from just opening your luggage. They have a lounge area that I’m sitting in with two computers, a basket of snacks and hot tea.

You wear wooden slippers around the hotel when moving between rooms but no shoes in the room. They provided robes that other people wear but I do not. What else can I say… this hotel happens to be 13 min walk from the nearest JR Yamanote line station, Shibuya, which is a major shopping area. But on our walk there, we discovered alllllll these super cute restaurants that were off the crazy crowded area. It felt like being in Nob Hill with a very nice neighborhood vibe.

So we arrived in our hotel, locked up our stuff, then walked to Shibuya to browse the stores and eat and eventually meet with Robyn’s friend Melanie. My main place I wanted to go was Tokyu Hands which is like a nice hybrid department store and Target, where it sells everything. I bought one thing for myself this trip that was not a souvenir. Coasters. Wooden coasters. For $40!!!!!! I don’t know what came over me at the time. I’m trying not to think about how much I spent on these beautiful coasters shaped like a hamburger.

We had three dinners today. First was a ramen place that I suspect is a chain and it was YUM.

Then we met up with Melanie in a giant Muji and headed back to the cool street toward our hotel. On the way to Shibuya, we had seen a really cool sushi restaurant. At the time, all of these restaurants were closed and you could see all the employees just prepping for dinner, which was really cool to witness. Robyn checked it on tripadvisor and found out it was the #2 restaurant in Shibuya!!! We walked back and were told there was no seating if we didn’t have reservations.  Major bummer. Then they said to check with the smoking section of the restaurant. We went to check how smoky and crowded it was and somehow struck up a rapport with one of the employees and he told us to come back at 9pm and we could get a seat at the non smoking section. Score! It was only 8pm at the time so not that bad. We asked if we could just sit outside and drink and he looked very uncomfortable with this idea but was so bent on accommodating us, he went back inside to check then said we could have either beer or hot tea. We asked if there was a place he’d recommend to drink and he said, yes! A standing bar on the left side of the street!

We walked down, not very far, and found a super cute Italian place. We went in, people were sooo nice and friendly here, and got wine for Melanie, a lemon cider for me and a beer for Robyn. Then we realized their pizzas were ¥500 aka $5!!!! So we got one with lemon and cheese, though he had recommended the best one was with tuna which I really wanted to try but no one else was feeling adventurous.

Then it was 9 and we walked back to the fish restaurant and the guy immediately had a table for us!!!! Very exciting. Sadly Melanie didn’t really want any seafood and Robyn just wanted a sashimi platter, which did look amazing, but I also wanted to try like eight different things on the menu because it seemed like this was a Japanese tapas place. I ended up getting a whole white fish hahah the second most expensive thing on the menu after a sashimi platter with 6 servings haha.

We also shared a scoop of cherry blossom Gelato and a green tea cheesecake, which reminds me, I need to eat a LOT of ice cream before I leave today because one of my goals was to eat a ton of cool asian flavored ice cream!

I loved the menu which had really cool illustrations

And even an illustration of the staff!

We kept staring at all the amazing dishes the table next to us was ordering and Melanie leaned over to ask what certain things were, which led to us going “we’re from California” and the guys at the table throwing the “west side” hand symbol at us and all of us laughing so hard the entire restaurant including the staff was looking over at us. Even the wait staff was super nice and we felt so taken care of despite the language barrier.

By the time we left, it was 11pm. I was satisfied but could’ve had a dinner #4, if mainly just for the story of having four amazing dinners, but unfortunately everything in the neighborhood was closed.

And that was our night! Robyn and I went to shower and there was one girl sitting in the hot tub which was a little awkward because she wore a bathing suit while we were butt naked.

Day Nine: Naoshima

I’m on the bullet train back from Naoshima now. It is about a 3.5 hr journey from Osaka to Naoshima. I wouldn’t have done it with anyone other than Robyn but I would not recommend this day trip. I feel bad saying that because Naoshima is a small island, with very few people, and it has three modern art museums and outdoor sculptures scattered around the island, as well as other artful things. I don’t know how much of the island is sustained by tourism and our museum admission prices, but as someone who doesn’t care about modern art, this didn’t inspire me very much.

There are three museums, and the prices range from $11-21 per person. Which is not that bad except there’s maybe only 7-10 pieces of art in each and you’re not allowed to take pictures inside! I did abide by these rules, except once, and it wasn’t even the most amazing thing I saw.

My favorite is the Chichu art museum, because it had the most interesting architecture and five Monet paintings that connected very well with the room and entrance. This was the first museum I’ve been to where I really noticed how the architecture affects the entrance to exhibits which affects your first introduction to them. After standing in the room for a while though, I’m still left with, ok what? It also had a room with a square hole as a view to the sky that was very soothing to sit in, and represented an exhibit but I imagine could have also been the entryway to a rich person’s house. The second best, in my opinion, was the Benesse Art Museum, which had stuff more like the MoMA (ie. Weird random modern stuff mixed with technology). It is bigger so at least you get a longer walk out of it. My least favorite was Lee Ufan which displayed giant rocks as exhibits and was very small. The longest I looked at something in there was a video projection onto a rock which normally I would pass over. I went to open the door leading to what I assumed was the next exhibit but it was locked and was probably a supply closet because the attendant told us to return the way we had came.

We had arrived at 940am. The last ferry leaving the island is around 7pm, a ferry that coincides better with the trains is around 540pm, but thankfully we were ready to leave at 3pm. We woke up at 6am to catch the three trains, one ferry,  and one bus to get us to the first museum, and each way is about a 3.5hr journey, so it’s been a long travel day.
I had been worried that we would not finish Naoshima in time, because it recommends you stay one night. Now, I can’t imagine what people do for over a day there. We had been planning on renting bikes but I’m glad we didn’t because they have shuttles running frequently between all the stops you’d ever want, and it was a pretty warm day on the island.

I’m glad we got to eat more of the snacks we brought with us from America. There was very little food to get on the island, once you leave the port area. We have cookies and fig bars and kind bars that just keep getting more crumbly as they sit in our backpack, passed over. There are just so many snacks to eat here! If you don’t like red bean though, I don’t know what you’d eat here for dessert.

It’s 6pm now, the train arrives in Osaka around 640pm. Supposedly Osaka is the food capital of Japan which puts pressure on us to eat really well tonight. But I find it hard to know where to go, and yesterday we had difficulty finding the restaurant we had researched. Part of me wants to splurge and have a very expensive meal. The other part is wary of getting suckered into a tourist trap and would rather have another $10 meal. Well, we bought food from a grocery store in the station to hold us over, so we’re not starving. If anything,  I feel a little ill because I just ate a giant platter of food slathered in mayonnaise.

Update: after arriving back in Okayama, we picked up food at the grocery store within the station then continued to our hotel. I wonder if it was the extra sun  exposure from the island, but both Robyn and I were beyond exhausted even though the day felt less stressful and less go go go to me than other days. While we did wake up much earlier than usual, the segments of transit were long enough to allow some napping and our walking was much more leisurely. Maybe the vacation is just wearing my energy down. So we took a nap at 7pm. I woke up earlier and  researched places for our one splurge meal which we wanted to be beef. I’ve been really wary of sushi restaurants here because I don’t want to order a ton and realize the sushi is lower quality than I hoped. Plus I just have such high expectations for fish here and I also think I could get really good sushi for just as expensive in America. Fancy Japanese beef, however, I can’t get in America. So it seems more special!

We went out to eat around 9pm, though walking to the place really meant a 945pm dinnertime after meandering and taking photos. The restaurant is some long name I’ll have to look up later, but it was a bit hard to find though once we found it, it was kind of like a grand sign that just appeared on the corner of a street. It’s also another branch of the same restaurant we had gone to the night before for the sake tasting and marbled beef. I’m glad we tried a new location, which seemed like the main one. We didn’t need reservations at all, probably because it was so late already. You take your shoes off in the restaurant and sit in those booths where your feet are lower than the floor and there’s a grill in front of you. We opted for a medium meal, as in not lean meat and not premium, fatty meat which I’m thankful for because the fattest cut we had was way too fatty for me.

The meal came with a meat appetizer which was two thin beef slices soaked in ponzu sauce, a salad, three vegetable dishes, an amazingly yummy garlic rice cooked in a stone pot. The main course was the beef, I think we had five cuts of meat that we got two thick slices each of, and this was concluded with a yuzu sorbet. I thought it was the perfect splurge meal and my only complaint would be that people smoked in the restaurant and toward the end the server was clearly rushing us out even though it wasn’t midnight yet, their closing time.

On our walk to find the restaurant,  we passed by many of the giant signs that are famous in Osaka. Giant sea creatures like octopus and crabs… very cool! Tons of people on the street though walking every which way. It seems hard to know who is a resident and who is traveling through. I didn’t get a chance to eat another snow ice – by the time we even left for the restaurant, it had already closed. In my food research of Osaka, I found out that there are not that many dessert places here (compared to Tokyo where it seemed that that was all they had) and their famous foods are udon, yakonori (the grilled beef we had), oyakinouri (noodles made into a pancake with egg which we had eaten in Kyoto station not knowing it was famous in Osaka), and takoyaki. There is even octopus on skewers with a quail egg stuffed in the head which I would’ve tried but never was hungry when I saw it and it does seem more barbaric than other meats on sticks.

Other than that, I still think there’s not that much to do in Osaka other than shopping eating drinking and smoking on the streets of Dotonburi and Shinsaibashi. And looking at all the cool giant signs.

Day Eight: Kyoto and Osaka 

I’m on the shinkansen (bullet train) from Osaka to Naoshima right now. This is our day trip out of Osaka, since in my research, I didn’t find anything interesting in Osaka. Supposedly Osaka is a good place for nightlife and as we walked around yesterday, we did see a lot of clubs, bars, and restaurants, but we’re not going to go clubbing, I don’t really drink, and there’s only so much you can eat.

I somewhat hate Osaka because everyone smokes here and it’s very bothersome to me. The most disgusting thing was yesterday we went to eat sushi and people smoked in the restaurant. The nigiri was HUGE but we only got four types before I made us leave. Robyn said I looked like I was about to throw up at the sushi bar. I don’t get how anyone can smoke and eat sushi because it completely ruins any flavor. Way more people just stand on the street and smoke here too and I’ve stood next to a lot more people who reek of smoke compared to Tokyo or Kyoto.

Yesterday I woke up early enough to walk to Maruyama Park and try to capture some of the fall foliage in sunlight. It was a 80 minute roundup round trip walk from the hotel and of course I was too cheap to use a taxi which would’ve given me half an hour more of walking. Oh well. I have now walked the main streets of Gion, the shopping area of Kyoto, seven times and each time, various shops were closed because I either went too late or too early. I have tried to go to Nishiki Market twice on my own but both times I was too early.

The park was nice and not crowded though I was a bit rushed.  I listened to my Katie Couric podcasts the whole time which was relaxing. I wasn’t able to reach the two temples in the park, but that’s ok, I have gotten templed out!
I walked back and stopped at the bakery across from our hotel where I had gotten some goods the previous morning. An excellent bakery! My favorite is the egg sandwich, which I want to find more of in Japan.

I got back, packed and we checked out and left our luggage at the hotel. Then took a bus to the Sanjusangen-do temple (so weird that this phone knew how to spell that! Does my dictionary track what I browse on the Internet?). The bus was a 35min ride while the subway would take just as long but require a 20 min walk. So Kyoto is not really as subway friendly as Tokyo and I would not recommend getting one day passes in Kyoto because I felt like we did quite a few things and each time, we had to use different modes of transportation, but it’s unlikely you would go to so many places it would warrant an pass for all modes of transit.

Unfortunately the temple didn’t allow pictures which is a huge bummer. Regardless it was still very interesting to walk through. The temple features 1001 statues, I believe all wood but gold painted with crystals for eyes. Almost all of them look like soldiers, with several hands. Then there are some representing different gods, which are displayed closer to the walkway. And the main one is a giant Buddha, giant like floor to ceiling. It is one of the longest temples built in Japan and has several interesting architectural features to deal with earthquakes. It was once painted very ornately, I guess back in the 13th century, but now is pretty much just black.

They had gardens outside, not the most amazing but a nice walk. We caught a bus back to Gion which dropped us right at Marayuma Park. So then we did our final walk down that main street of Gion, this time going through Nishiki Market which is a covered food stall area similar to La Boqueria in Spain. Despite how beautiful so much of Japanese desserts and meals are, for some reason I don’t find their food markets very photogenic. The fish market is, but I guess Nishiki Market, mainly selling preserved foods and random stuff, was not as colorful. It’s like taking a picture of the packaged goods aisle of a 99 Ranch.

We only got a little take out tuna sashimi, which was pretty is good. We ate it on the side of the street corner. Robyn had also gotten a matcha latte from a green tea store that looked very serious about its green tea. On the walk back toward the hotel, I saw a display case  of various Japanese foods that looked good AND cheap so we decided to get lunch there. Upon sitting down, we realized that it seemed like the Denny’s of Japan – touristy, served all the general foods of Japan, but not amazing. Oh well, the service was nice, the food was ok, and we got very full!
Ready to leave for Osaka, we returned to our hotel, got our stuff then set off for our last city, if you don’t count our return to Tokyo. You can just take a local train there from Kyoto, it is about 30 min. Our hotel was by the main shopping/nightlife area of Osaka, by the station Shinsaibashi.

The hotel is… not my best pick. It is a 8.2 on travel websites but maybe that is a steeper grading curve than I realized. It does feel like a hotel you would take a prostitute or a second lover to. Very bare bones hotel, with thin walls and poor amenities. Sigh. We are there another night then headed to Tokyo for a night in a capsule hotel although I offered to spring for a better hotel. Sadly they did provide breakfast but because we had to wake up at the crack of dawn to set off for Naoshima, we couldn’t even eat our first breakfast!

 

We walked around Shinsaibashi / Dotonburi after lying around on our springy matteess. On the main street there are shops like Burberry, Fendi, etc and just on the other side it’s a mall mixed with some restaurants and then just a block away it becomes a bunch of tiny one way streets filled with bars, restaurants, clubs on several levels. This is a city where many things seem to be above the first level and I wonder if the best restaurants are above ground and tourist spots are at the first level. This seems opposite of Tokyo, where a lot of the best places are underground, sometimes in subway stations. In Osaka, or maybe just specifically in Shinsaibashi, there are a lot of taxis, a lot of people, no sidewalks, and the taxi drivers are much more aggressive and drive faster here than in Tokyo or Kyoto, despite all of the above. Tons of people are also smoking in the street, whereas in Tokyo they have designated smoking areas so you wouldn’t notice the cigarette smoke as much.
We got sushi first, those few bites in that smoky restaurant. Then we did a sake bar where Robyn did a sake tasting for ¥600 and we each got a marbled beef sushi for ¥580 each. It was good but I just realized we could’ve had two burgers or one decent burger for that price. Then we attempted another takoyashi snack and it was once again HORRIBLE. I need to find out where Gindaco is. Lastly, we went to a dessert cafe where I ordered a black sesame snow ice and it was EVERYTHING. Perfect snow ice texture that wouldn’t melt and wasn’t slushy. Scoop of red bean paste, peanut powder in the middle and black sesame all over the top. This will be the redeeming feature of Osaka for me.

Day Seven: Arashiyama and Kyoto

Ok I’m going to try to crank out another post so I’m not back logged because it’s actually the most annoying to have to go through a whole day’s pictures to post a blog about yesterday’s photos.

I woke up around 6am and instead of blogging I decided to go on a walk in our area which is close to Nishiki Market. It seemed to take no time at all to get there but once I got there I realized a food stall  market is not likely to be open at 7am. In fact just about everything was closed. Oh well. I was listening to Hamilton and the streets were quiet so I was pretty content.

I made my way back to the hotel, partially walking underground between subway stations. I hate how my phone always assumes I’m writing stains not stations.  Actually what I hate MOST is that it thinks I want airways not ALWAYS.

I was in search of a bakery to buy breakfast goods and found a place where I got an egg sandwich, green tea sponge cake and a little katsu chicken roll. Yum!

We then set off for Arashiyama. My take is that Kyoto’s transit is ok but not amazing. There are a lot of places where you have to walk another 10-15 minutes to arrive.  I guess it makes sense they can’t build stations smack on top of all these historic temples.
We had to take the subway then cable car to Arashiyama.

Those poles are meant to represent bamboo. Very cute! They are smart about having riders pay at the end of the ride and for touristy places,  you pay as you exit the station rather than on the car. At first I thought everyone was going to bumrush the door and avoid paying as you do in SF, but everyone was so orderly because there are people waiting with buckets to take your coins.

We hit just about everything on my to dos in Arashiyama. Neither of us were interested in the monkey park. We did the Tenryuji Temple, known for its zen gardens, fall foliage and mountain views. It was ¥500 entrance fee and I thought well worth it due to its giant gardens. My main goals for temples were:

☆ fall foliage

☆ night time illumination

☆ popular

Funny enough, Kiyomizura, which hits all of those, was not my favorite temple but that might be because it felt like fifty tourist buses had dropped off here when we arrived.

We then continued on a journey that took us through the bamboo forest (smaller than I had expected) then through some small streets then to the temple I wanted,  Gio-ji, known as a moss covered temple. Then back out to walk past the Arashiyama station and to Togetsukyo Bridge before heading to the JR station.

I originally thought,  WOW so many geishas! upon arriving in Japan. then after looking at their socks and thinking,  god they’re a little disheveled, I realized they were probably just tourists playing dress up. What a let down.

My favorite was eating ice cream as we walked through the bamboo walk. I got green tea and roasted tea!!! SO GOOD. Even the cone is a perfect amount of crunch and butter

Tons of people here.

I’m starting to think I should invest in a nice camera and learn how to take nicer photos. These photos do not do these trees justice!

We had the worst food on this trip on our walk back toward the station. Very poorly made takoyaki! The fried part was soggy. It makes me more committed to finding a Gindaco before we leave.

Off we went to Kyoto station! A modern transit building in an old world Japan. In my mind we were looking for cheap delicious restaurants but instead we ended up headed toward the department store area that had more modern architecture and naturally that led us to more expensive food. Oh well. We tried something new which was circular patties of noodle and egg and meat like pork or scallop,  octopus and shrimp. It comes cooked but they put it on a low heat grill plate to keep it hot and from becoming soggy.  It was quite rich but a nice turn from the usual meal of… noodles (but in broth).

Then we took a bus to Kiyomizura temple, supposedly the most popular temple, famous for its wooden deck. Unfortunately we arrived after sunset so I feel like I didn’t see it in its glory. Along with Maruyama Park, I’ll have to see this again one day…when my days start at 5am! The night illumination started at 530 and we arrived at 520. Everyone was crowded around the deck and we stood there too, pretty much just staring at darkness.  530 came and went,  and seemingly nothing had really happened. Maybe a few lights had come on but nothing grand! We started leaving the wooden deck and realized the view WAS the deck. Even then though, without a nice camera I feel like everything just just looks brown in photos.

The souvenir streets here were a bit lacking. On the way up, Robyn did stop to do a sake tasting on one of the side streets.

Too many tourists here,  the kind that push people to get their photo.

On the souvenir street, we did get a green tea cream puff which is one of my top hits of Japan.

We attempted to find dinner on Pontocho Alley but it didn’t have anything that looked intriguing and seemed overpriced. We ended up deciding we wanted to try mos burger, which appears to be their version of a Burger King. I got their classic bacon and cheese burger.  Robyn got some sort of Tobiki burger. Not sure what that is. I just loved the atmosphere of being in a fast food restaurant after so many actual restaurants and station meals. We also got fries and two drinks.  To me, having a meal at a fast food place and not just a burger is a LUXURY.

I was thrilled to find a McDonald’s just two stores down, which I’ve always wanted to try in Japan. Not that I would’ve ordered it, but they didn’t have the rice buns that I was expecting.  They did have “Kalbi Macs,” presumably better quality beef hamburgers,  and ebi (shrimp) burgers. What I wanted was a green tea mcflurry, which did not seem to be something they served. We did get a shaka shaka chicken, which was just fried chicken,  and the best thing ever…choco pie?!?!??!!

Because I have honestly had pretty much everything we’ve eaten in Japan before, to me, this choco pie was truly novel and AMAZING. I don’t think it’ll come to America, it is delicious but is reminiscent of asian desserts where filling just goos out. This, along with takoyaki, is on my must try again list.

We took a cab back to the hotel, and after a shower I pretty much passed out.

Day Six: Kyoto

We left our Hakone hotel after a western style breakfast. I made sure to take a final dip in the hot springs tub and then we set off via bus. Weirdly in this town, it’s faster to travel by bus than to take the cable car then transfer to the light rail. We arrived at the main station that connects to the rest of Japan, Odawara, and got our JR passes which would depart in an hour.

Many of japan’s stations have shops and restaurants in them. So far,  Odawara has been one of my favorites, but mainly only because we had time to actually explore. There were several levels but of course my favorite was the food levels. One had a lot of packaged sets which all look so beautiful that I end up not being able to decide which to get and consequentially purchase none. Robyn got some sort of little pound cake.

Then we went up one level to another food court. Here they had a  Gindaco, which I didn’t realize was a chain, and it sells fried octopus balls aka takoyako. O absolutely must order another one of these before I leave. We didn’t actually get this though, instead Robyn got three giant pieces of tempura for ¥380 and I got a giant fried noodle for ¥770. Yay for delicious food courts! You make your order at a little vending machine then give the receipt to the chef and she starts making it. They should really do this in America.

Off to the train! We arrived in Kyoto station and I bought a ¥600 one day pass on the Kyoto subway. I thought this would work for both subway companies but it turned out to only work for one so i basically cost us ¥170 per person! I wanted to ride the subway again for no reason but was too tired to by night time.
We arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Monterey Kyoto which is supposed to be styled after Edinburgh. I don’t see it. The room is pretty nice. My favorite thing is a very narrow luggage holder thing that fits right between the bed and the wall.  It allows me to grab stuff from my luggage without getting out of bed!

We set off for Fushimi Inari Shrine. But not until Robyn got a drink from the Starbucks across from the hotel, which just happens to be a Starbucks reserve!

I think the theme for Kyoto is that we arrive at major temples after sunset. I definitely need to come back to Kyoto and redo some of these things. Or learn how to use a camera with night time settings

The ride to Fushimi Inari Shrine involved a 20 min walk,  which was pretty boring at first. I realized later we could’ve used our JR passs for the local train, but we had left it in the hotel, so that was a bummer.

I think to walk the entire place would’ve taken 2-4 hours. I’m not sure because we walked about fifteen minutes and the You Are Here sticker on the map didn’t move at all, so I feel  like the map was lying to us. Since the sun had gone down by that point, we headed back though I do sometimes have fantasies of returning at 5am to do the whole route. Instead I am in bed at 6am writing these posts.

We got two delicious sweet snacks in the stalls near the entrance, my favorite was a green tea filled taiyaki, the fish shaped sweets.

Then we headed to Gion, the main shopping area. There is a huge sprawling shopping area like department stores, then a main street with souvenirs and sweets. We did the latter, and it leads us to Marayuma Park which has two temples that do fall illumination. We only waked past Chion-in which is essentially half the park. We didn’t go in though because I didn’t want to get temple fatigue. So we walked back out to the main street in search of Pontocho Alley, a street lined with restaurants.

We mistakenly thought the area we found was Pontocho Alley and sat down for ramen. The place only sold chicken broth that sat in three giant vats and had tons of workers, which I took as a sign that it’s probably a popular place. I am not a huge fan of chicken based ramen so I don’t know how to compare it but it certainly hit the spot!
We walked down the street and then saw what actually like Pontocho Alley. It was. But the next day we went back, walked half of it then I said to turn around because it was all expensive food and the only people around us were tourists

So we walked back to our hotel, about 1.3mi away. It somehow felt so far! I don’t remember what time we actually arrived back but it might have been like 930 haha