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. It takes a lot to have your brain accept “yes, let’s take the bus over everything else.” We arrived at Odawara, the main station that connects to the rest of Japan, and got our train tickets which would depart in an hour.

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Delicious cake

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 food sets which all looked so beautiful that I ended up not being able to decide which to get and consequentially purchased none. Robyn got some sort of little pound cake that looked kind of gross (picture a cake with melted cheese) but ended up being so delicious.

 

Then we went up one level to another food court. Here they had a Gindaco, which I didn’t realize was a chain. It sells the fried octopus balls, aka takoyaki, that we had had in Harajuku. I absolutely must order another one of these before I leave. (Note: I didn’t *CRIES*) 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.

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So simple yet so clever

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 lost us ¥170 per person! I wanted to ride the subway around the city 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 about the place 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! I’ve never seen such a thing but it makes so much sense, especially in smaller hotel rooms.

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

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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. Robyn got a little upset at me because I made us take public transit to the shrine, and it required about 20 minutes of walking. Unfortunately, the walk was pretty boring and not at all scenic, unless you wanted to experience walking around the countryside. I realized later we could’ve used our JR pass for the local train, but we had left it in the hotel, so that was an additional layer of bummer.

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I think to walk the entire shrine 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. It was getting pretty dark, and while I don’t feel like Japan is the place to be scared of walking around in the dark, we were essentially climbing a mountain in the dark, and I didn’t want to risk any sprained ankles. Plus, after a few steps, you really get the gist of the whole shrine: you’re walking through hundreds upon hundreds of orange wooden posts. 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 food stalls lining the shrine’s entrance, my favorite was a green tea filled taiyaki, the fish shaped sweets.

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Then we headed to Gion, the main shopping area which is essentially where our hotel is located. 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 walked past Chion-in which is essentially half the park. We didn’t go in though because I didn’t want to get temple fatigue (and it would cost money). 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. So we stopped a little too soon. We didn’t bother looking in the alley that night, but the next day we went back, walked half of it, and then I said to turn around because it was all expensive food and the only people around us were tourists. (I kind of suspect the truly amazing restaurants do not have any signage and are not on the ground level, which is why we tourists are relegated to tourist food).

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Apparently I walked by this three times and each time I said to Robyn “wow, is that a train station?”

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 9:30 haha By this time, our feet were incredibly sore and the hotel bed felt like perfection.

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Day Five: Hakone

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I woke up yesterday around 4am and took two hours to write my blog post then went for a hot tub dip before starting my day. That naturally resulted in my falling asleep immediately after dinner around 840pm. A very long day! We started with our hotel’s Japanese style breakfast, which I was not a huge fan of. I would’ve preferred cute donuts but oh well. Then we took a little too long getting out of the hotel as we were trying to figure out our route, which ended up being very easy because our hotel could shuttle us to the nearest train stop rather than us trying to walk on a narrow, winding mountain street.

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First: Take the cable car

The point of Hakone, I feel, is to ride several different modes of transportation,  all to end up taking a bus back to your hotel. Thankfully being in Japan, all these modes of transportation run seamlessly and only because of this were we able to see everything (in America,  I think we would’ve up ended stranded with no way to get home along the middle of the trip)

First we got on the Hakone Tozan Cable Car and rode one stop to see the Hakone Open Air Museum, which is a large, mostly outdoor modern art museum. This is the kind of stuff Robyn likes that I normally hate but am ok with if she’s with me. Lots of random art pieces.

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Hakone Open Air Museum

It had snowed here a few days ago but luckily wasn’t too cold after I put on two layers of jackets.

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Why don’t these modern art pieces ever have descriptions with them?

The museum included a free foot bath where you could just soak your feet in hot springs water,  which is ingenious! I couldn’t imagine ever doing this in America as I’m sure it would end up becoming disgusting, but it was very cool here.

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My favorite thing was a tower with stained glass.  I almost didn’t walk up it because it looked very boring from the outside. There was also a decent sized, permanent Picasso exhibit that had several pottery pieces, sketches, and other mediums. Sometimes with his drawings and sketches,  I just picture a crazy child drawing the same thing and people thinking it’s hideous but with Picasso it’s ~amazing~

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Tower to look out from above

By the time we finished, we were getting hungry but there’s not too much near the museum. Hakone seems very tourist run. We took the cable car to Gora Park, and I asked a nice old Japanese woman where there would be restaurants,  and then we started walking up a hill toward the Gora park entrance. Right outside we found a Japanese restaurant we both liked. It had a very cozy,  super clean interior.  Robyn got a katsu don which she’d never had before and I got an oyako don which I pretty much eat every other Friday with my coworkers in Los Gatos. Priced at ¥1300, even though I suspect that is expensive for Japan,  that’s cheaper than America after including tip and tax and it was delicious!!!

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Eating a quick snack at the Gora Park cable car station

Then we went through Gora Park, which was pretty and tranquil even though it’s winter and not as much in bloom. Normally I think they are famous for hydrangeas, but again, not much was out.

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Then we walked over to the funicular stop. Here we realized that literally everything, shops and modes of transportation, would stop running around 500pm and it was already 300pm!!! We were about 1/3 done with our journey at that point. We got on the funicular, which goes up and down the mountainside and only goes one direction at a time. Then we got off and transferred onto the Hakone Ropeway aka gondola.  The gondola has I think three stops but everyone gets out at the first, Owakudani, which is a crater left from a volcanic eruption and there’s steam vents everywhere.  I’m bummed I didn’t get great pictures in the gondola,  even though the windows probably would’ve made them less crisp anyway.

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Robyn really wanted to eat one of the famous black eggs here, and when we got out the gondola, the shop was open. However, in the three minutes she stood outside taking pictures, they closed shop !!! It was only 346pm so that was frustrating.  I distinctly remember all these times because we had to catch the last ship at 420pm!!!!!! And we still had two gondola stops to go!!! Timing was CRITICAL!!!!!! While walking through the line to get back on the gondola, Robyn spotted a statue of a black egg and made the decision to run down, get a picture with it, and risk missing our ship! It was a decent substitute for a black egg I guess (they’re black because of the sulfur in the water)

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Riding the Hakone Ropeway aka Gondola with Lake Ashi in the background

Back onto the gondola, where we then got to the last stop which drops us right at the last mode of fun transportation, pirate ships to take us around lake Ashi! The ships make two stops but the first has the most to see (views of Mt Fiji which were already obscured, shrines and a cedar grove we didn’t go to), and from there you can take a bus back to the hotel, which is what we did.

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Our sunset cruise

The port we got off was Moto Hakone and there were several grand looking buildings clearly for tourists. Tons of coffee shops. We walked to the Hakone shrine and even though it was dark, the path was lit with lantern lights so it was cool.

Walked back, went to a 7/11 while waiting for our bus, got home, went in hot tub,  napped, got up, ate dinner, fell asleep, woke up, went in hot tub and went to sleep for real at 1030pm!

Dinner was hot pot, soba, and four other appetizer plates including the best sashimi I’ve had this far on the trip. YUM. This was one of my favorite meals because we could just take our time with it. And maybe because I bookended our meal with naps and hot tubbing.

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Day Four: Ginza, Hakone

Ok I had completely forgotten about my intent to blog every day until yesterday. Like, not even “oh I’m too tired to blog” but a “OH I forgot about this platform!”

It’s 5am in Japan right now so sure, ok time to blog! I have been waking up every morning around 330am Japan time aka 1030am CA time, but normally I’m able to fall back asleep (after checking all of the social media activity in the darkness of night).  We’re staying at a hot springs hotel in Hakone where our room has our own private hot springs tub fed by the running brook next to us. Maybe it’s supposed to be a quiet bumbling brook but as it’s fall and it just recently snowed here, I think it’s become a very loud river.

We are provided breakfast and dinner at this place. Last night, our first dinner here was an eight course meal including a giant vegetable platter where we dipped raw tomatoes, leaves, root vegetables (aka radishes, potatoes, carrots) into an anchovy and olive oil sauce.  Also had some grilled sablefish, snapper carpaccio, a delicious beef thing and more! We have one Japanese style breakfast at 830, another Japanese style dinner then a western style breakfast when we check out.

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We are also given these robes to wear around the hotel

I’ve already taken a sit in our private hot springs tub which felt fantastic after several days of Tokyo exploration. I’m normally not a hot tub kind of person.  I’m sure people know in Japan you must be naked for hot springs. I kind of want to go into our hotel’s public one to see what it’s like, but then probably leave immediately and run back to the comfort of sitting in my own private hot tub.

Our fourth day started with our Tokyo hotel’s free breakfast which I have loved going to and will miss dearly. We get toast , paninis, fresh vegetable and fruit smoothies,  and some pastries. Oh and a matcha latte from the coffee machine which is delicious!!! For our last morning in Tokyo before heading to Hakone, we had a lighter meal and then went to the Tsujiki Fish Market. I had not researched it at all, other than knowing that 1) people go very early to see it in its full fishy glory aka 5 or 6am, and 2) we were not going to wake up that early. I think if I traveled alone or with my mom I would have made it, but I don’t feel like I missed out on that much. Because according to the site I read, you have to get there early enough to be the first 120 people to get in, and after that you’re only allowed to stand in a designated viewing area. It makes sense since it is a serious place of business, but I imagine I’d have difficulty getting a good shot, being timid and not having a professional camera.

So instead we went to Tsujiki around 845am and walked there from our hotel which was a fifteen minute walk. This fish market is probably the closest major tourist attraction from our hotel. It’s within a business area (or maybe all hotels in central Tokyo are considered to be with in a business area) and there were tons of people walking to work. I stuck out because this was the day I decided to wear my bright yellow Uniqlo jacket and literally everyone was wearing black or navy blue. I’m bummed now that I didn’t get a picture of myself with the crowd, a little yellow thing in a sea of business people.

My thoughts on the fish market: I love walking around food markets so it was a lot of fun.  I wonder how crowded it would have been at 6am. I always presume for every major attraction, that every tourist wants to be the first ones there,  and when I arrive bright and early,  I’m always surprised to find people prefer to wake up at a normal hour and have relaxing vacations. There were definitely some cool food stalls with food I’ve never seen, Robyn got a 1000¥ grilled scallop with sea urchin,  which is about $10. But many of the things, I thought, I am pretty sure I could find that in 99 ranch and if not, Mitsuwa definitely. I am pretty sure I had read somewhere that the sushi here is a tourist trap and not the greatest quality, even though they’re a stone’s throw from the wholesale area. We sat in a stall and shared a sushi rice bowl, and, while the sushi was at least better quality than what we had at the Robot Restaurant which tasted like airport quality,  it definitely wasn’t anything stellar. The market was crowded but not terribly so.

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Tsujiki Fish Market

Then we went back to the hotel, had some time to relax and packed our things.

Side note: This new phone of mine is killing me! It does not auto capitalize my first words of sentences even though that option is ON. And it does not space correctly!!! ARGHHHHHHH It also doesn’t auto predict that well. It ALSO doesn’t capitalize i and that annoys me. i should just wow a sentence wiring ecru singing ira woes from what i meant. (I should just write a sentence without ever changing its words from what I meant)

I don’t think anyone in Japan uses Samsung phones because none of the cases for sale are Samsung, they are alllll for iPhones!

Ok I still have half a day to blog about!!!!!!!

We checked out, left our luggage with them, then went to walk around Ginza. Ginza was described to us as the Rodeo Drive of Tokyo but it really just seems like a giant sprawling shopping area with nice dessert shops nearby. We first went to Hakuhinkan, a giant 8 floor toy store first established in 1899. Robyn found a 1000 piece puzzle of a Sanrio egg character she’s seen and taken a liking to. (Note from the future: it remains half completed six months later on her dining table).

We continued walk to Itoya, a nine floor stationary store. Though there is another building with the name Itoya adjacent to it with seemingly just as many floors that was never mentioned in the tourist book description. I came close to buying nice notepads but I’m glad I didn’t because I do love writing in free notepads with company logos on them. Key word, free.

We went back to the hotel, got our luggage then off we went around 345pm to Hakone via our JR pass.

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View from the Tokyo Park Hotel lobby

My JR Pass side story:
The JR pass is only for visitors of Japan and it allows you to take the JR trains for free, unlimited usage,  for 7, 14 or maybe 21 days.  I forget the options,  I just know I have the 7 day pass. It is pricey, a $250 pass per person,  but would save about $100 with our itinerary. You would only want it if you travel between different cities, as it does not cover local lines in cities. Though there is a JR line, Yamanote, that does a circle around Tokyo, you could purchase a one day pass rather than having a JR pass to use this line.

You must buy this pass outside Japan and they will mail it to your address. This is generally very unlike me, but when I received the passes months ago, I put them aside on my kitchen counter and never even looked at them. I had ordered a free JR train book along with the passes, and I had read through that one day, but otherwise I never even looked at the vouchers. This was a huge mistake, because I never thought about the vouchers and off I went to the airport without them.

I didn’t realize this until we were sitting in the Vancouver airport on our layover and I looked at the JR train book and loudly gasped and went “OH NO.” Robyn immediately guessed what had happened. Luckily I had discovered this in the Vancouver airport and we still had two hours before boarding, and I had time to email customer support ask them what to do, and per their advice, order another one that would be mailed to our Tokyo hotel.

The question was whether it would arrive before we had to depart for Hakone and specifically, arrive in time for us to leave Tokyo and arrive at our Hakone hotel before the 7pm cutoff time in order to eat dinner.  To cut to the end of the story, we MADE IT!!! But it was incredibly stressful the entire day and involved a ton of confusion and I had written a giant paragraph describing all the things that went wrong that I will now delete because who needs to relive that.

A learning point was that I was very wary of taking the bus in Japan because, as an American, I have associated buses with lateness and confusion. Surprisingly, the bus we took was was clean, not crowded, and displayed the next station stop on a giant electronic screen in both English and Japanese. So, a complete 180 from the American bus system in that it made sense and made an effort to help its travelers.

Ok I’ve been standing trying to finish this post before going into the hot tub for a 630am soak. That’s all!!!!

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The view from our Hakone hotel room

Day Two: Tokyo, Harajuku

 

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Hoot hoot

So I’m almost six months late to the day, but I’m going to attempt to write blog posts for the second and third days in Japan. I failed to do this on the trip because I kept putting it off, and now here we are in May. I also have on my list of to dos to write blog entries for my Oregon Coast Trip … which actually did take place in May … 2015. WE SHALL SEE!!!

Another thing I’ve tried to do was repost my blogs with more appropriately sized photos. Apparently they get completely out of whack if I upload photos via my camera phone. I once attempted to repost … ended up deleting all the photos … and am now in process of editing those November entries with new photos.

For the second day in Tokyo, our first full day in Japan, we went to Harajuku, Shinjuku, then Yakitori Alley. I happen to have a cousin living here in Tokyo, and I felt like it’d be super rude if I didn’t attempt to meet up with her. I did fly across the globe after all. My mom had first suggested it, but later, she seemed to express genuine surprise that I actually met up with my cousin. I guess my cousin and I are both known to be the quietest two on my mom’s side of the family, so everyone (including my cousin’s mom) thought it was insane that we’d have anything to talk about.

I had not seen this cousin for years. Robyn asked me what my cousin’s name was and I went, um … I’m not sure… I mean I know what her Chinese name is, but I wasn’t sure what her chosen English name was. I told Robyn, I’m pretty sure we’ve exchanged e-mails before and that her name is Miriam. I asked my mom and she went “who is Miriam? I’ve never heard of that name. Her name is Mei.”

By the way: Mei, in Chinese, is short for sister. I said to my mom “are you sure her English name is Mei? That’s not just a nickname?” My mom said, it’s Mei! I told Robyn, “I thought her name is Miriam. Maybe it’s Mei. I don’t know. We can ask when we meet her.”

Robyn also asked, does she speak English? I said, um I don’t think so… you don’t have to talk very much, don’t worry.

It turned out completely fine! Actually quite fun! We ended up hanging out for at least four hours which shocked my mom when I told her. We met at Harajuku station. Before leaving our hotel’s wifi, I sent her a picture of me and Robyn … she didn’t send one back. I also sent her a text  “I won’t have internet so I hope you can find us!” I told myself I probably could identify her, someone I hadn’t seen in years, in a crowd of Asians. Amazingly, we stepped out of the Harajuku station, headed to the Gap as instructed, which was right across the station, and after a minute of thinking “this was probably not enough preparation,” I found her!

Side note, I know there is this perception that wifi is available everywhere in Japan for free, but I don’t think this is true. Otherwise maybe I was just too lazy to figure it out. In certain areas, yes, it’s free like a few metro stations, but we are constantly on the move and it didn’t seem like there was internet in the subways either (just at the subway station). I lived my vacation as though I essentially had no access to internet outside of hotels.

She walked us through Omotesando, the major street in Harajuku. The main stores I remember stepping into were B-Side, a sticker store that was incredibly crowded and seemed like the latest trend in Japan, and a watch store, where Robyn seriously contemplated buying a watch that looked like it was made in the 80s and had a calculator on it. My cousin approved. Another store was the Line store, literally, a store with merchandise from all the Line characters (a messaging app primarily used in Taiwan and is MY preferred messaging app). We asked her whether or not to go to an owl cafe (she said we should find a hedgehog cafe instead, but wasn’t able to remember where she had gone). We compared the cost of living in Tokyo vs. Bay Area (she gets paid far less in money, but I spend a much higher percentage of my income on my mortgage). I also asked what the latest food trend in Japan was, because I suspect anything in Japan will make its way to America a year later. She said pancakes. I clarified, like for breakfast? She said, no, we can eat pancakes any time! Six months later, I can’t say pancakes have made their way over yet.

She also took us to perhaps one of my favorite restaurants we went to in Japan, called Maisen. It’s famous for the tonkatsu. It was a wait, but an efficient line that snaked through the sizable restaurant. There were options with cuts that could be $40+. All three of us chose the $10 cut HAHA I asked if this was embarrassing and she said it wasn’t.

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Tonkatsu. The menu had dozens of types

I eventually asked her whether her English name was Mei. She said “what? no!” I said “is it Miriam?” and once again she said “no! what?!” I then went “WHAT?!?! What’s your English name then?!” and she said “I don’t have an English name!” I insisted that at some point in her life, she had signed off on an e-mail as Miriam and after some thought she said “oh yeah … I guess I did once call myself Miriam … I don’t anymore though.” HA

This was back in the end of November, so she asked us about Trump. I told her that my mom had almost voted for him, only to follow my dad’s idiocy, before my brother and I stopped her. She expressed shock that my mom would have voted for him, and that he was our president.

Robyn really wanted to go into a store called BAPE, where their mascot is a big ape, but the line for the store was out the door! It was a huge line of people in line … and nearly all of them were men. Hilariously they had a separate women’s and baby’s clothing store, and there was not a single person in there. We went in to look around, but they really do cater to men, so Robyn didn’t get anything.

We walked down to a cafe and Robyn got some delicious, never again to be found sesame latte. It was SOOO GOOD, but I’ve never seen this served elsewhere which is a huge bummer. Also, while walking all around Harajuku, we came across the greatest sight of all the trip:

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Just an old Japanese man out to sit in the sun with his stroller of cats

We kept walking and walking from Harajuku all the way to Shibuya, stopping here and there. She said she’d be meeting up with her boyfriend, and we said we’d walk her to the station. Her boyfriend only spoke Japanese, so it was a very quick introduction limited to hellos and smiling, and then he took out of his backpacks some food gifts for us! Which was SO nice and only made me even more embarrassed because I throughout this entire day I had continually apologized for not bringing my cousin a gift from America, which I to this day continue to find very shameful of me. I even said “I was going to bring you wine but my mom said it was unlikely that you’d drink wine” and she went “oh I love wine!” Then I went “I was also going to bring you some coffee grounds from a place in San Francisco, but do you even drink coffee? I assumed you drink tea” and she went “oh, coffee is very popular here now, I love coffee.” MAJOR FAIL.

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My cousin’s gifts: the most delicious powdered sugar cookies and really well packaged seasoned nuts

After this, it is a true blur for me. I don’t know what happened but we ended up walking back to where we started, so we could walk through Omotesando again, this time at night, and go to the owl forest. Which was NOT an owl cafe. We decided we didn’t have time to actually seek out a cafe for the trip, which I’m slightly bummed about, but the forest was just as great in terms of photos with owls, but incredibly disheartening because I felt awful for the owls who were chained to their perches. Most were sleeping, or I imagine, feigning sleep. Although very cute and unique to Japan, I still feel terrible for giving money to this place that is no doubt cruel to these owls. I’m sorry, owls!!!

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This Owl Forest may have been the place we took the most pictures

I have a vague memory that we left the owl forest around 6pm or so. I think we ended up killing time in a cafe so that we could use the internet to research our next move. It was a place called Island Vintage Cafe, which I instantly recognized as a chain that I had frequented before in Hawaii. I didn’t tell Robyn this though, until we were sitting inside, and I think she was a little bummed we weren’t in an independent store. However, I mainly just wanted to be able to sit out from the 2nd level and stare down below.

We decided on heading to Shinjuku for Yakitori Alley aka Piss Alley? Before leaving, we ate my FAVORITE THING EVER here, takoyaki, which is essentially octopus balls. We ate at Gindako, a place that is pretty famous for them, which set a high precedent. Throughout the trip, we’d try other takoyaki to incredibly disappointing results. I wish I could savor that first takoyaki forever.

Yakitori Alley was super cool. In the past, businessmen would come here to eat after working, so it’s a very narrow alley filled with even narrower stalls. In order to get in and get out, it’s likely the entire restaurant has to get out of their seats, hustle out of the restaurant, and allow you to sit on an empty seat. I didn’t realize it until the end of the meal, but many of the stalls even have second stories though I didn’t see any of the stairs. Robyn suspects we got charged the tourist rate, because we were mandated to order drinks and a side of edamame, which we didn’t see on other people’s counters. Oh well. We only ate at one, and I realized that the owner spoke Mandarin. Just a day in a foreign country, and I was like “OMG, KINSHIP, A LANGUAGE I KNOW!”

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Example of a tiny yakitori booth

There are surprisingly bathrooms in the Alley but they are very cramped. Although not technically disgusting, the crampedness of it and the oldness of it made it feel really gross. Actually, maybe it’s just selective memory – it’s possible that the bathrooms were the type you had to squat on. I’m actually now almost positive it was a squatting toilet.

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Shinjuku at night

We ended our day there, back to our glorious hotel. I loved that hotel. The room was actually normal sized. But we paid a lot for it.

Ok I need to add this tiny bit in which is that before we met up with my cousin at the Gap in front of Harajuku Station, Robyn and I got there a bit early and ended up walking around the Meiji Shrine, a nearby temple. It was nice but a bit of it was under construction (for some reason, out of a giant list of temples to go to in Tokyo, the only one we went to was the one Robyn had noted ‘under construction, do not go!’). But there was a wedding taking place, so it was fun to watch the procession. But also we kept getting told to not stand where we were standing because I guess it was sacred temple ground.

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I loved the fullness of these trees at Meiji Shrine

Day One: Tokyo

I’m on the bullet train to Kyoto from Hakone right now. It’s a two hour ride and maybe I’ll fall asleep while writing this back dated post. Our trip is already at its half way point which feels way too soon!!!

Day One was a very very very long travel day. We got up at 3am, I think I had gone to bed at 11pm, and got ready for the airport. Robyn had scheduled an uber to pick us up around 330am, which I had not realized was a feature. As one would expect,  there was zero traffic on the way to the airport and we were at SFO within fifteen minutes. What I failed to realize was that the ticket counters aren’t open 24/7 and the airport was completely dead! It turns out they don’t open until 430am, at least Air Canada doesn’t,  so we spent the next 40min watching a Mainland Chinese man play a video outloud on his phone, do nothing for his daughter when she fell off the chair and onto the floor, and shave himself with a wireless razor while sitting in his chair. So. Weird.

We got our bags checked, and then went through security pretty quickly. After roaming around the few stores that were open, we sat down and fell asleep waiting to board.

Touched down in Vancouver for a FIVE hour layover. Thankfully their Internet is free. To connect to an international flight as a non Canadian resident,  you have to find the most obscure door ever in an airport. An airport employee stopped us and for the longest time, we didn’t believe that she knew what she was talking about. We walked around the airport which was probably interesting for 3 hours (and that’s really stretching it), before we sat down so Robyn could read through her Japan tourist books, which I’d never realized was her habit. I think I’d be insanely stressed if I hadn’t begun my research months before departure.

I had never had Church’s Chicken before but we got a wrap and it was delicious! We also got a burger and poutine fries from A&W but that wasn’t anything special. The only other really interesting thing at the airport is a giant aquarium tank.

Our flight was, I think, ten hours long? I watched Blue Valentine with Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling,  Central Intelligence with The Rock and Kevin Hart, and episodes of Jane the Virgin. Nothing mind blowing.

I thought the flight food was decent though I always ordered the wrong thing. Luckily I had Robyn’s food to eat as well. I first ordered the beef dish for dinner and was sad to see Robyn’s chicken dish had rice, which is what I prefer over potatoes. For breakfast I then ordered the beef dish and was really sad to see Robyn’s dish was chicken karaage! I was a little wary of taking Air Canada but I actually liked their plane quite a bit. The flight wasn’t full and we were able to have a row all to ourselves. It was a pretty quiet plane too. From now on I know for international flights I want to sit in the first section before the restrooms and towards the sides of the plane, not the inner middle seats.

Upon arriving in Tokyo at 440pm, we got on the Keisei Skyliner and set off for our hotel. I had initially planned on getting a pass that would include 3 days of using the Tokyo Metro along with the trip to and from Narita airport, but I’m glad we didn’t because we only used that metro company one day,  and the other days we used the JR instead. Tokyo public transit is very reliable and fast, but very confusing because of how many companies there are.

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It was quite expensive but surprisingly roomy for a Japanese hotel room

The hotel was wonderful – Park Hotel Tokyo. Its lobby is on the 25th floor of a news company building. Robyn had gotten an “art studio” room meaning every room on the 31st floor was decorated by a different artist. We looked through a pamphlet of the other rooms and I felt like ours was the cutest! The hotel is closest to Shiodome station, a Toei subway line that we never used, and is about an eight min walk from the Shimbashi JR and Tokyo Metro stations which we used for everything. Our hotel is connected to these stations and many other buildings via an above ground pedestrian walkway which was really nice. I could never remember exactly how to get back to our hotel entrance from the subway but luckily Robyn actually has a sense of direction.

The hotel also provided free breakfast which was delicious. On top of toast and pastries,  we could have paninis and fresh vegetable and fruit smoothies. Their coffee machine also had delicious matcha lattes which I will really miss when we’re back in America. I ate myself full, but I know that I would have eaten FAR more, if it wasn’t SO quiet in there, and there wasn’t an employee manning the smoothie and panini station. I imagine they judge everyone and think to themselves “I bet SHE’S going to be stuff herself, typical American!”

That first night we walked around our hotel area, Ginza, which is a big shopping district. All the stores were closed at that point but there are many good restaurants nearby, the type in SF that would be $$ on yelp and have an hour plus wait but no wait in Tokyo. We ended up going to Ippudo, getting delicious ramen, and then walking back to our hotel. I stopped in a grocery store to get various KitKat flavors, but as I continue to see so many cute sweets being sold, I may save my money for other desserts instead. (Note from the future: it turned out that I never stopped to buy more KitKats toward the end of the trip, so I’m really glad I bought what I did on the first night, and now wish I had bought MUCH MORE).

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Lesson learned: buy your souvenir desserts early and often!

Ok time to nap! One hour left on the bullet train!

Day 10: Banff, the last day

LAST DAY! Our flight out was at like 6pm or something, so we had a few hours of Banff exploration which was nice. We checked out after another self-made breakfast of leftovers in our hotel room. Then we drove to Bow River, walked around the park near it, explored the nearby Cascade Gardens then walked down Bow River and reached Bow River Falls. The main thing of the day that I had not planned on going to (but had read about!) was Cascade Gardens. It didn’t sound impressive in my research but when I saw it I was like OMG BEAUTIFUL!

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It’s a big garden for the Banff Park Administration (or maybe it’s the Canada Park Administration?) and was realllyyyy beautifully landscaped. And importantly, free. We spent a LOT of time here and took A TON of pictures. Everyone was very happy.

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We finally set off and left Banff though, all with the intention of eating Costco lunch, filling up on Costco gas, and then going to the airport. I found the Costco, turned in and … CLOSED. LABOR DAY. AHHH!! Pandemonium since my mom was at this point bursting to use the restroom and had entered panic mode. We drove to a gas station, she jumped out to pee … GAS STATION CLOSED!!!!! MORE PANDEMONIUM!!!!! We drove to a KFC/Taco Bell and she went to pee. So did my dad. While waiting, I looked out the window and saw a Nando’s and decided though we had peed here, we would eat there.

We drove the car over to Nando’s and … GIANT LINE! We decided to get take out as at this point, our flights seemed to be getting closer and closer to being missed. Unfortunately it took FOREVER to get our take out food. We got our food, ate it in the car, and set off for the airport. At first I was bummed I hadn’t ordered more so that we could eat in the airport. However, I didn’t realize they’d put us through immigration before security, so I’m glad I wasn’t carrying a giant bag of chicken while we were waiting in the long line.

Then … flight home. VACATION OVER! $30 Uber ride home, ridiculous.

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Day Nine: Yoho National Park

I’m really blasting through these. I’ve written three posts so far and reposted the prior entries with better quality pictures. Apparently when I uploaded pics during my trip they were terrible quality! Ugh wordpress.

Anyway, close to done! This day was originally planned to be my Lake Louise Everything Left To Do day. But my mom seemed like she really enjoyed Yoho National Park when she went a few years ago, and it seemed like a pretty good day trip option. It’s only about half an hour away from Lake Louise, and there are a manageable number of stops that would make the trip worth it.

First we stopped at the Spiral Tunnels, where you see tunnels built into a mountain for trains to travel through. Theoretically very cool, but from that particular viewpoint you couldn’t quite see anything.

We then continued onto Takakkaw Falls, which was a very high waterfall. Lots of visitors. You could walk straight up to it but we didn’t go all the way up close. It was a nice, easy walk from the (very full) parking lot up to the waterfall, so it was a good start to the morning.

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Then we went toward Emerald Lake but stopped in the small town of Field beforehand. I bought some tacos from a bbq place in that town, which were VERY heavy on the sauce which was a little gross. It was a nice excuse to sit outside on their picnic tables and eat our food though. We even walked around the town because the houses there were pretty cute. A great stop! One of those things you can do when you’re not short on time.

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On we went, stopping at the Natural Bridge first, which was pretty cool. Then Emerald Lake! Of all the things from her Banff trip, my mom thought this was the prettiest lake that I just had to see. I wasn’t terribly impressed to be honest. My favorite body of water this trip was Mistaya Canyon, but my favorite lake was the one below the Valley of Ten Peaks. Well, we walked all along Emerald Lake Lodge which is quite extensive. I then opted to do a full loop around Emerald Lake, despite the slight drizzle. Unfortunately, my mom’s iphone battery died before I could get to the side of the lake that wasn’t in shadow, and my camera doesn’t take pictures that well 😦

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After that, on we went back to Banff! The thing we didn’t do was Wapta Falls, which was considerably farther away though still in the park. Oh well.

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We arrived in Banff at a good time, I think around 5pm, since Lake Louise is only about half an hour from Banff. The lodging for our last night in Canada was farther from the center of Banff than our first three nights in Banff, but still less than a mile away which was the perfect amount of walking for us, since we hadn’t done much walking this day. We walked to a restaurant I had yelped, a Southern place, but once we got there, I saw that there was a Subway just across the street, and we ended up eating there. Oh well, sometimes it’s actually easier on everyone to just eat simpler food where my parents are more comfortable. Everyone’s spirits are noticeably lifted when my parents are eating sandwiches and not awkwardly sitting in a sit-down restaurant.

My dad then walked back to the hotel by himself, but not before my mom and I drilled him on how to get back because neither of us fully trusted that he had any sense of where he was. “Which hotel is it?” “What room are we?” “Do you ever cross the street?” Luckily he was in the room when we got back. My mom and I decided to walk around Banff at night which really meant just going from souvenir shop to souvenir shop. There was one market, like a gourmet market, that we went into and I bought a chocolate milk because the glass container was SOOO CUTE. I drank the milk the following morning, the first time in a long time I’ve had chocolate milk, and it was DELISH.

ONE MORE DAY!

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Day Eight: Glaciers and Icefields Parkway

We left Jasper the next morning, and decided to walk around Jasper and get Subway for the road before leaving, as we now knew there would be very little to eat in Lake Louise and on the road back south. I’m glad we did this second Jasper walking tour, because we saw more stores than the night before, and it was nice to take more pictures with the sun out. We also stopped in a grocery store and picked up some delicious pastries. Had we known what our lodging would be this night, we probably would’ve gotten more stuff, but oh well.

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We then set off for the Edith Cavell Meadows hike. I had really debated whether or not to do this, because it was supposed to rain, and I didn’t want to be caught out in the rain while on a hike. I’m really glad I opted to do this though, because my parents seemed to love the glacier views, and it didn’t rain much, and now I feel like I won’t need to make the drive up to Jasper again if I decide to explore Banff a second time because this was my #1 place I wanted to hike in Jasper

For this hike, you do the Path of the Glacier hike, which puts you along Glacier Pond and right smack dab in front of a giant glacier. We heard ice crack and fall down which sounds like fireworks/thunder and makes you realize how small you are in the grand scheme of things. It kind of makes me want to go out to the poles and hear the ice cracking there too.

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My dad ended up turning around after we walked past the Glacier Pond because he was getting tired of the switchbacks. I’m glad he did this, and my mom and I continued onto the meadows part of the hike. My mom once again was in fear of bears, as well as the rocky footing, but she continued on and sounded very happy with her choice thereafter.

This is one of my favorite shots of the hike but I do kind of wish I had tried a few more shots. I was perched on a pile of rocks and I kept thinking to myself “I’m not actually certain what this pile of rocks is sitting on and whether it will cave and fall down into the giant glacier pond below…” so I chickened out and got back on the trail pretty quickly.

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We got back to the end and surprisingly, my dad said he had just gotten to the same spot not very long ago. He had taken his time on his walk back and did a little more exploration near the parking lot which my mom and I didn’t do. Again, I’m kind of relieved that we could all go to the same place, and occasionally go off in separate directions but still do our own thing happily.

With that, we continued on back to Lake Louise. This was essentially the “let’s do everything we didn’t have a chance to do!” drive back. Selfishly, I planned things so that we could skip certain hikes closer to Lake Louise, because there’d be more of a chance of me doing those if I came back again. We stopped at Athabasca Falls, which is a much bigger tourist spot than I expected. Though it was all white tourists, not Asians, I think because this was a farther destination than most Asian tours go to.

It was very pretty, but my main memory of this place was unfortunately being caught behind an European tourist who smoked and if you know me I am filled with RAGE whenever anyone near me smokes. I made a not very subtle move of burrowing my face into my jacket sleeve to breathe.

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We had just about reached the end of the Athabasca Falls area (there is a main area everyone stops at but you can continue on and explore more) when it started pouring. Bummer, I think my family would’ve spent another 45 minutes just taking pictures if it weren’t for the rain. I missed what would’ve been an amazing shot of a couple drenched in water and taking wedding photos.

Then we continued on … the rain stopped … and we stopped at Sunwapta Falls, which was nice but very hard to capture on camera. The only thing I tried but could never find was the the Weeping Wall. See here for a listing of attractions http://icefieldsparkway.com/highlights/points-of-interest

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We did a random stop at Big Bend, which I really liked. I asked a guy to take a picture for our family, then offered to take one of his group which he said yes to and then the three of them took a hilariously gangster wannabe pose, but they were doing it in complete seriousness.

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Because of our late start from Jasper, it was dark and raining when I ended in Lake Louise, which was a little stressful. It also dipped down to 6 degrees celsius while we were driving in the dark, which was crazy and also terrifying because I was picturing us getting into an accident and getting stuck outside in 6 degree weather. WE MADE IT THOUGH!

I had booked one night in Lake Louise Inn, which my mom kept marveling that I had the foresight to book in Lake Louise and not in Banff, which would have been quite a bit farther. The inn gave us a free upgrade upon arrival, from a 2 bedroom to a condo loft! My dad was thrilled and thought this was incredibly luxurious. I personally thought it the loft was a little dingy feeling, but it was still nice. SOOO many beds! We laid out our whole spread of food on the living room table and made a dinner out of a packet of ramen and our bread. I feel like whenever my parents can make tea to go with a meal, everyone is much happier.

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Another very restful night here. I had the whole top floor to myself; my parents took a downstairs bedroom.

Day Seven: Maligne Canyon

Oh lord it’s October 8th, more than a month since this actual vacation day happened, and I still have four days of this Canadian trip to blog about!!! I can’t say I remember much of this vacation anymore… I can probably jog my memory.

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We started out the day eating breakfast (aka our collected food throughout the trip) in our hotel room. I actually really enjoy the fact that our family can happily do this, because it is kind of a drag to have to look for restaurants for every meal. Sometimes it’s relieving to know I could sit in a hotel room while my mom prepares all the assorted food (Costco cinnamon bread… apples…) and my dad will heat water for tea and we can sit in the comfort of our hotel room. Also on the plus side, since this was a business conferencey kind of hotel, we had a very long desk to eat off of. On the down side, our windows faced into the hotel and overlooked the dining area in the center of the hotel. Since the lodge is only so many floors up, we had to keep the curtains closed. And I knew people could look straight into our rooms if we stood too close to the windows because I could see into others.

The plus side of staying here is that we were almost immediately on our way for our day trip to Maligne Lake & Canyon. The Canyon part comes first. There are essentially six bridges throughout the Maligne Canyon, of varying amazingness. You can start at either end but the one furthest from Jasper has a big restaurant and souvenir shop, so I started there. We went pretty far, but my parents turned back before reaching the final sixth bridge because it got super muddy. I had on my hiking boots, so I chose to continue on. Again, listening to my podcasts, though I can’t remember now what I was listening to at the time. I know on my way back I listened to another Bowery Brothers podcast on the Chrysler Building…

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Anyway, I’d say Maligne Canyon was another great spot. I thought the full hike was worth it, but if short on time, the first three bridges are the most stunning. You can do a loop trail, which I did. It was nice to have walked along two different trails, but the trail back was SUPER boring because you weren’t near water at all and the views weren’t terribly impressive.

I found my parents pretty quickly after that, and we decided to eat lunch in our car. I went and bought a wrap from the restaurant though. The guy serving me was SOOO nice. I at first said I wanted a tuna sandwich, then as he was preparing the bread, I went “actually can I change my mind and get the wrap?” and he was like “of course!” He was very nice and subtle and definitely knew I chose to get the wrap because I’d get way more value out of it, because he said “I’ll make you a GIANT wrap! The wrap is better than a sandwich” and proceeded to make me a wrap that puts Chipotle burritos to shame. I was delighted to bring it back to my parents, who were all like WOOWWW!

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After that, I drove onto Maligne Lake. This was quite a drive, and I thought I had missed it because it seemed a lot farther than the directions said. I probably wasn’t paying attention to the odometer though, because we eventually got there. All the postcards you see of Maligne Lake include Spirit Island, but you can’t see Spirit Island unless you pay to get on a boat. We opted out of this, and ended up just walking around the lake. It was pretty, though maybe not the most impressive on our trip. But it was flat, easy, and probably a nice change from the intense hikes I sometimes surprise my parents with.

Oh yes, the drive to the lake is very pretty, one of my favorites because the fall foliage reached here earlier than Icefields Parkway. There was one particularly gorgeous shot of the changing colors, but I couldn’t get it because I was driving.

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We drove back to Jasper, got a pretty great shot of a moose, and then went for dinner. We decided to park and walk around Jasper, which meant about an hour of my mom stopping in EVERY. SINGLE. SOUVENIR SHOP. We finally got to Subway, my parents’ favorite food destination. I opted to get my elk meatloaf from the Jasper Brewing Co we had gone to the night before, and then we drove back to the hotel to eat it. Another delicious meal.

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Day Six: Icefields Parkway

So I did five of ten days of vacation blogging … which is pretty much an F for effort. HA. The thing I hate about wordpress is, since six years ago when I first started using this site and now, they’ve added a lot of features and I never had the time to figure it out, and now when I post pictures, they’re completely unproportional to my site! Nothing here seems intuitive to me. I don’t have the time to make this visually appealing though, as I barely have time to even post. Maybe ONE DAY.

Anyway, the sixth day involved getting up, leaving Lake Louise and headed toward Jasper along the 93N aka the Icefields Parkway. There are a ton of stops along the way, as well as hikes. The weather also seems to be generally colder and rainier as we go up north, which was the case almost immediately once we set off. What had been beautiful blue skies quickly turned into grey rainy clouds, as if we had stepped through a portal.

Some hikes I wanted to do but did not get to do included Bow Glacier Falls and the Helen Lake/Crowfoot Glacier. We stopped briefly at the Num Ti Jah lodge, but it was pretty much pouring at this point and none of us had proper rain gear, though my parents really shouldn’t be out in the rain regardless of rain gear.

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I drove to Peyto Lake, where there was a short walk to view the Bow Valley/Peyto Lake, and it was still pouring, but at this point I was like, let’s just stop and sit because the weather report said it’d stop raining in about half an hour. So we just sat in the car … and sure enough the rain slowly let up. My mom and I decided to go out, now in the sprinkling rain (my dad refused), and it was just a ten minute walk up to the viewpoint and once we got up there, no more rain! By the time we came back down, my dad had gotten out of the car (though he still wasn’t interested in looking at the viewpoint), and after yet another bathroom break, we set off, now with considerably better weather than an hour before.

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The next major stop was Mistaya Canyon, which might be one of my favorite stops the entire trip. It’s a very narrow but deep canyon, with very interesting ridges along the side. I walked down to the edge (I’m not quittteee sure if you’re supposed to or not, but I don’t remember any railing preventing us from walking out).

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We stopped to do a picnic lunch at a place called the Saskatchewan Crossing which is where … I think people walked along the river back in the day to traverse the lands. Very few people stopped at this spot, so it was wonderfully peaceful to look out and imagine old fur traders walking below.

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A nearby stop, named the Crossing, is one of the few places to get gas along the parkway, though we didn’t need any. It was a huge rest stop looking area, and it was kind of nice to have real bathrooms even though all the bathrooms at all the stops in the park were so clean.

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The main hike of the day was Parker Ridge, which is described as “easy” but has a lot of switchbacks. It had amazing views, though admittedly it’s kind of the same view the entire time. I didn’t think the summit would have anything interesting, but a family we passed said it was well worth it. WRONG. Haha, my parents decided to head back down after reaching the top of the first half, and I told them I’d continue onto the summit just to look out. I remember listening to my Bowery Brothers podcast, it was an episode on the Times Building. We had been told the summit would be an amazing view of the glacier nearby but it wasn’t an amazing view … or maybe I just am not particularly interested in looking at a glacier? The fun thing was that I ended up catching up to my parents on my way back, which is kind of fun to be able to have my own alone time while hiking, but still be on the same schedule.

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As I’m writing this, I kind of can’t believe how much we fit in a single day! We continued onto the next main stop which is the Icefields Center. Here you can pay to go out onto a glacier via a special glacier traversing bus. You get out and walk around and collect glacier water. It is quite expensive for what sounds like a bus that goes out on what will just look like snow, so I declined. In any case, we arrived so late that we wouldn’t have caught a tour anyway. We still walked around the center and took SO many pictures regardless. There was a little more mist in the air and even a rainbow, but visibility of the glaciers was poor. We stopped here a few days later on the way back, and the sky was much clearer that time.

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I don’t think we stopped after that again, and it was actually another 1+ hour to our hotel so I was eager to get to our hotel before it got very dark. VERY few cars on the road at this point. We were staying in Jasper, which was a much bigger town than Lake Louise though I don’t think as big as Banff. Jasper is essentially just a very long drag of town and our hotel was the very last one. I really liked our hotel, though I think it might have been the most expensive. It was the Sawridge Inn at Jasper and seemed to primarily serve as a business conference center. It had hands down the best amenities I’ve ever had from a hotel, meaning their shampoo and conditioner smelled great and their soap was great. Also, it had the best internet I experienced on the trip.

That night we went to eat at a place called Jasper Brewing Company, and the food was AMAZINGGGG. We shared the following (SO DELICIOUS): Toasted Reuben Sandwich, Fried Chicken Sandwich, Classic Burger, with fries, sweet potato fries and a really amazing salad that had much fresher ingredients than I had expected. I also saw an elk meatloaf on the menu which I was tempted to try. We were so stuffed that I was really bummed that my parents were not willing to extend their bellies to try their Apple & Berry Crisp (the menu description is “Vanilla bean ice cream, Rye Whiskey Sauce”). Doesn’t that sound intriguing?! Other things on their menu: Kale Spaghetti, Seared Beetroot & Quinoa Burger, Elk Carpaccio.

We walked briefly around the street, but it was bitterly cold so we got back to our car and drove the one mile back to the hotel… and I think I finally had my first full, restful night of the trip. SUCH COMFORTABLE BEDS! My parents had at this point decided that I would sleep in my own bed and they would share (usually I share with my mom) and I remember being very annoyed about something so I did it this first night. And we all slept so well that this sleeping arrangement continued throughout the trip and worked VERY WELL for all of us.

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