Cruising… to Fukuoka, Japan and the Kushida Shrine

After an awesome day in South Korea, I was excited to return to Japan, a country that I absolutely loved when I visited 2 years ago. Japan is surprisingly clean and compact, basically the complete opposite of China. I was once again fascinated by this contrast during our short time in Fukuoka, the capital city of Japan’s most southernmost island.

japan3

We waited for the Chinese tour groups before going through the mandatory immigration process to leave the ship. We walked to the bus station with many of the crew members and exchanged some money into yen before boarding a public bus into the city. Despite some confusion over the bus tickets, we got off at the correct stop and began to walk to Kushida Shrine. Of course we got lost, accidentally walking through Canal City, the shopping are we so desperately wanted to avoid, before finally arriving at the shrine.

japan5

Only once we found the canal did we find the shrine, hidden away down an unassuming side street. As soon as we walked up the stairs we came upon a gigantic structure that can only be described as… EPIC. Inside a tall white building was a 3D representation of some sort of story told in glittering details and life-size Japanese characters. I believe this is the float from last years Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival, a 750 year old Japanese festival that centers on the Kushida Shrine. This festival draws over a million spectators to Fukuoka each year!

japan42japan43

We walked around exploring the many layers of the Kushida Shrine including the various torii, prayer cards and other symbols of the sacred. The torii are one of my favorite visual aspects of Shinto shrines.

japan10japan11 japan15 japan14japan16

japan19japan17japan21japan22

My other favorite aspect of Shinto shrines is the o-mikuji, or fortunes written on pieces of paper and tied to string. I think they are beautiful.

japan24japan25japan27

japan29japan28japan30japan31

One of my favorite parts of Japan is the random vending machines dispersed every where. They always have such a wide variety of beverages, including plenty of coffee based drinks. It is heaven!

japan33japan34japan35japan36japan37

We rubbed this bull’s backside for good luck. Because why not?

japan38japan41

We left the shrine on the look out for some shopping and some authentic ramen. I was determined to actually eat Japanese food in Japan. Last time we were forced to eat at a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo... and of course I got sick. This time I would have my ramen and eat it too!

japan45japan46

Well we found a nice ramen shop and I had the most delicious curry ramen of my life. Oh boy was it good. No photos were taken because I was too busy eating. Sorry. We shopped around for a little bit longer, admiring the amazing amount of junk being sold in shops, including a ton of Halloween decorations. I love Halloween! We also admired the poor little squids swimming around in preparation for somebody’s dinner. Sad.

japan48japan50

We bought a few Japanese sweets before catching the bus back to the ship.  It was a short but sweet trip to Japan and a lovely contrast to the craziness of China. If only I could stay a bit longer…

But no, our cruising days were over.

 

Cruising… to Jeju Island, South Korea

Well it’s Golden Week in Shanghai and do you know what that means?? Everybody is gone! Well not really. But a large percentage of the city has gone back home to other parts of China for the week-long holiday. So the streets are less crowded, the pollution is minimal and there is a cool breeze in the air. It is a beautiful thing! I love this time of year!

Last week we went on a holiday of our own, a 4 day cruise to South Korea and Japan! We did a similar cruise 2 years ago to different places in Japan like Tokyo, Hososhima and Wakayama. However, this cruise was a little different. This time we were on an incredible Royal Caribbean boat and we were one out of only 3 American couples on board!! The rest of the guests were Chinese which made the cruising experience unique, like always.

shanghaicruise

We left Shanghai last Saturday and set sail for South Korea with our friends Randy and Jenny and their daughter Sammie. The next day we arrived in Jeju, a volcanic island in South Korea. While the rest of the boat set off on Chinese bus tours, we took a taxi to Seongsan Ilchulbong or “Sunrise Peak”, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After a 40 minute ride through open fields and orange groves, we saw a chunk of rock rising from the sea. Seongsan Ilchulbong is a tuff cone formed by hydrovolcanic eruptions that created a bowl-like crater surrounded by steep cliffs. It basically looks like a giant stone fortress in the sea. Cool.

In the mid-afternoon heat, we began the steady climb up the cliff, maneuvering through the throngs of Chinese tourists. It was a beautiful day and I was excited to be in South Korea for the first time!

korea2korea4

It was going to be fun!

korea5korea7

We love stairs. Look, so happy!

korea8korea9

We passed by several of these funny little stone men, said to be protectors of the mountain. Locally they are called “dol hareubang” or “stone-grandfathers”.

korea30korea11

With our friend Jenny. Why am I so tall.

korea14korea15

After 30 minutes of intense stair climbing, we made it to the top of the crater! It was quite amazing to see.

korea16korea17korea18

Looking awesome (and tired).

korea21korea23

Thankfully there was a legit staircase back down the cliff, which was a lot easier than the stone staircase on the way up. We had an amazing view of Jeju Island!

korea25korea27korea26korea28korea29

With little time to spare, Jenny and I ran down to the ocean to take a few photos before finding our taxi driver again.

korea31korea43korea35

After only 10 minutes or so we had to run back up the stairs! I was ready.

korea39korea40korea41

On the way back, we saw a lot of people walking around with these oddly shaped snacks that looked cream-filled? Oh dear. Sammie bought one and found out that it was ice cream! The design is actually genius because it prevents the ice cream from melting onto your hand. But it just looks totally inappropriate. Hahaha.

korea44korea45

We didn’t have any time to shop for souvenirs so we piled back into the taxi all nice and sweaty for the long drive back to the boat. It was perfect timing because we arrived back early enough to quickly board the boat before all the Chinese tours. We even had time to go for a swim and we had the pool deck all to ourselves!! It was glorious. Almost like a real vacation!

That night we enjoyed a nice dinner and went to bed early. We were exhausted from all those stairs and we had to rest up for Japan the next day.

We love cruising!

London Day 4: Tower of London, Borough Market, Tate and Street Feast

Well we are leaving for a cruise to Japan and South Korea in a few hours for Chinese national holiday so here is the final London post! :-)

After failing to visit the Tower of London the first time when my neck seized up, we were determined to go on our last day! For the longest time I thought the Tower of London was literally a big tower where they kept prisoners. But oh boy was I wrong. Let’s take a look!

toweroflondon1

Ready to rumble.

toweroflondon2

First we walked up the walkway along the stone gates, visiting various dungeons along the way and learning about its famous prisoners. It was eerie to see the messages scratched into the wall by prisoners years and years ago. It must have sucked to be locked up in a cold stone room like that. Eek.

toweroflondon5 toweroflondon3 toweroflondon7

We went into the White Tower which was the strongest structure in the medieval castle. Up each floor we followed the well-designed museum through places like the armory, lodgings for the lords, and chapel. It was a really awesome display and was well worth the high entrance fee to the Tower.

toweroflondon4toweroflondon8 toweroflondon9

Then it was time to visit the dungeons!! The line to enter was long and we were excited…. until we walked inside. The “dungeon” was literally a single room with one torture device on display. We almost walked out on accident, thinking there was more! Oh well.

toweroflondon10

But we saw a polar bear and were appeased. Bowdoin represent!

toweroflondon12

Some “well-equipped” armor made us giggle because we are children.

toweroflondon17

And then we waited in line with a large tour group of Japenese tourists to see the crown jewels. Even though they filter you through quite quickly, the whole display was great and the jewels were just unreal.

toweroflondon14

We left the Tower of London and headed straight for Tower Bridge to cross the River Thames.

towerbridge1 towerbridge2 towerbridge4

We were on a mission to find some refreshments at Borough Market, one of the oldest markets in London. It is located under an overpass, making it feel like you are underground.

boroughmarket1 boroughmarket2

Unfortunately the market had just closed, so we got some gelato the size of my head to make ourselves feel better. It worked.

boroughmarket3

Then we walked on to the Tate Gallery, which definitely looks as modern as the art it houses. The museum was absolutely enormous on the inside and we saw a few cool displays. However, I was exhausted and more than ready to sit down for a while.

tate2 tate1tate3 tate5

Once we left the museum we sat by the water to chill for a while before making our way over Millennium Bridge. It was the perfect time of day as the remaining light shown down on St. Peter’s and the London skyline.

tate6 tate7

Finally we took the tube back to the flat and met up with Val and her friends at Street Feast! Street Feast is a cool outdoor area that fills with permanent food vendors on the weekends, selling everything from BBQ to Thai food. I had the shrimp and grits which were DIVINE. It was a really cool atmosphere and we enjoyed a few drinks with all our new friends.

streetfeast2

 

Later that evening we went out to a weird reggae bar called Passing Clouds where we danced to a hiphop latin fusion band. We ended up back at a friend’s apartment under the bright moon and watched the sunrise on her rooftop patio. It was the perfect end to a wonderful time in London.

Thank you Val for being an amazing host! We had the best time!

streetfeast1

 

Sadly, it was time to catch a train to Southend Airport and head to the final country on our Eurotrip 2014…

FRANCE!

London Day 3: Getting touristy with Big Ben, Picadilly Circus and some One Direction

When in London for the first time, there are a few things that you just need to do. First things first, you must sleep in till noon (again), because hey you are on vacation and deserve some rest. Next you must take the tube, because a true Londoner is a pro at public transportation. Then you must accept the fact that you are a tourist and are destined to take silly photos with famous landmarks.

Well at least that’s what we did on our third day in London. On this overcast and humid day, we started at Big Ben.

bigben1

It really was just a big clock tower, a pretty big and immovable clock tower as such.

bigben3

We then walked to Westminister Abbey across the street and gazed up in wonder at this massive church. The entrance fee was way too expensive so we admired the exterior architecture before going on our merry way.

westminister1westminister2

Past Big Ben again. WOAHHH.

bigben6

Then over to Parliament which thoroughly impressed us with its intricate architecture and terrifying guards with guns. Yikes!

parliament1

 

The afternoon became a little less terrifying once we entered St. James Park and found plenty of ducks and homey cottages on the grounds.

stjamespark1stjamespark2

Across the park, we walked through the massive Horse Guards Parade and through the entryway where we found the Household Cavalry on duty. Apparently they are actually on duty guards and not just for show, which explains why they just stood there, looking bored amongst tourists waiting for a show. Silly tourists.

calvalry1 calvalry2

Next up was the National Gallery where we got our free museum time in with some art before heading back to Picadilly Circus. I honestly was expecting something much better than the equivalent of Times Square, but I didn’t really care. Because I was on a mission. A 1D mission to be exact.

picadilly1picadilly2picadilly3

Yes, I dragged Carina to at least four different tourist shops on the hunt for some Once Direction souvenirs to add to my non-existent collection. I ended up buying a goofy keychain and poster from the latest album, but also managed to sneak a few photos with their extra special t-shirts.

Oh hey lads.

picadilly4

With my favorite, Louis.

picadilly5

And with this baby deer in headlights, Harry Styles.

picadilly6

When in London right? Right?? Haha, don’t answer that.

After satiating my need for 1D, we finished our day off at Covent Gardens, which was absolutely lovely. There was even a quirky little marching band playing old-school tunes in the lower gallery. They had a tuba player which automatically makes any band sound awesome.

coventgardens1coventgardens2

And then we took the most touristy photo of all in a red telephone booth that smelled faintly of piss. And it was epic.

coventgardens4coventgardens5

Overall our ulta-touristy day was a great success!

Back at the flat we lounged around and accidentally missed the England World Cup game. We heard a lot of yelling outside but were too engrossed in OITNB to care. Whoops. They lost anyways so everybody was sad when we met Val and her friends for dinner at an Indian restaurant. I was too happy slurping curry to notice. We finished off the night at a weird basement club that played awkward techno and boogie music.

What a day!

London Day 2: The Hunt for Street Art in Shoreditch

Woohooo we’re in London!!! Well actually we were in London in June which seems so long ago! But it is good that I am finally getting around to posting all these photos. However things are picking up here in China, I have joined a couple of choirs and recently started boxing lessons! Yup, I am a badass. Also on Sunday we are taking a cruise to South Korea and Japan during national holiday so there’s that. OH and there is typhoon headed our way which means lots of rain and gusts of wind. I kind of like it.

Right, back to London!  

tower4After a deliciously low-key first day in the city, we were determined to see more of London. So of course we slept all morning (YES) and walked to the Tower of London after a lazy noon-time breakfast of yogurt and coffee. Randomly in the middle of our walk, my neck seized up and I was paralyzed by a shooting pains running from my neck to my shoulder. Sitting me down a bench, Carina rushed off to buy an ice cream cone which tasted delicious and helped soothe the (emotional) pain while I comically kept my neck completely still. Awkward. We did however get a few photos in front of Tower Bridge. Again with the awkward, “I can’t move my neck and I’m gritting my teeth because this hurts” pose, but it works.

tower3Although I wanted nothing more than to go back to the flat and wallow in self-pity, we had already signed up for an Alternative London Walking Tour. This tour of street art in Shoreditch had come highly recommended from Tasha so we had to go. At 3pm we met our guide beneath the goat statue and away we went like hipster detectives on the hunt for street art gold.

artwalk1.1 artwalk3

artwalk1

As we walked around Brick Lane and other areas around Shoreditch, we learned about the history of the area and about the signature style of various street artists. It was fun to try and figure out which artist had done what based on their own style.

artwalk19artwalk5artwalk4

artwalk6artwalk7Some of the street art was very loud and commanding. This mural of the crane was even commissioned for the Olympics. Check out that detail, amazing.

artwalk8artwalk9

Other street art was very subtle. My favorite were the artists who placed stickers over street signs, like the photo below. Do you see it?

artwalk10artwalk11artwalk13

Bowdoin polar bears! Represent!

artwalk14artwalk15Do you spot the small statue below?

artwalk16Honestly the details of each piece escape me and I am sure Carina took much more thorough notes on the subject. I just enjoyed finding beautiful murals or figurines hidden in alleyways or on top of lampposts. It was like a fun game of hide-and-seek and our tour guide was obviously passionate about each piece.

artwalk17artwalk18

The story behind the Star Wars piece below was that the artist dressed up like a construction worker while he illegally put it up in broad daylight. Awesome.

artwalk20artwalk21

The artist created the face below by covering the wall in plaster then drilling away sections piece by piece… till viola! A face! Absolutely incredible. I literally cannot comprehend artists like my girl Carina and how they can create beauty out of nothing. It is an amazing talent.

artwalk22It was a lovely tour, but really long. By the time it was over, the sun was setting and the wind was picking up… it was COLD. Huddled in our thin coats, we rushed back to the flat to get all fancy for our friend Val’s school conference. It was part of her master degree graduation presentation where really smart people talked about really smart things. So Carina and I flocked to the open bar and I ate a few bugs (no joke, they had baked good made from crickets and they were actually good!). Then we joined all the graduates at a place called Canal Bar, hidden away in the middle of a quiet residential area. It was too cool for school.

artwalk23It was very LONDON evening and I have never felt less posh. But no matter, we had a good day despite the pain in my neck. The next day promised to be a full out touristy day complete with embarrassing photos with One Direction merchandise and I was EXCITED.

YES, BRING ON THE 1D MERCHANDISE.

London Day 1: Buckingham Palace, Westminister Cathedral, and Billy Elliot the Musical

Welcome to London! 

Our second destination on Eurotrip 2014 and my first ever visit to England! Hooray!

london1

Exhausted from our action-packed escapades around Ireland, we spent our first day in London sleeping in and doing some much needed laundry. It honestly felt amazing to have nowhere to be with nothing to do. AHHHH. But we figured we should probably do SOMETHING so we purchased some spur-of-the-moment tickets to Billy Elliot the Musical that evening and dragged ourselves out of our sweet flat in Shoreditch for some pre-show sightseeing.

Somehow we made it to Buckingham Palace which like…. BAM. You know. Buckingham Palace. So surreal. I finally had the realization that oh wow I am actually in London.

london2london3 london4 london6 london7

The sun was out, the weather was fine and we were feeling GOOD, probably due to the fact that we had finally had enough sleep the night before. Sleep is good.

london9

We left Buckingham Palace and walked towards Victoria Theatre, running into Westminister Cathedral on the way. What a nice surprise! Although I am sure if we had actually studied a map we would have realized that the Cathedral is literally across the street from Victoria Palace. However our attitude towards this leg of our travels was to relax and and enjoy ourselves without planning too much in advance. Oh and to sleep. We needed sleep!

london16 london15 london10

The Cathedral was absolutely majestic and wonderful contrast to the busy street outside. I love visiting churches around the world, they are just so beautiful and calming.

london11london21

We were stoked to find the Chapel of St. Patrick and of the Saints of Ireland. I went in to say a little prayer to St. Patrick to thank him for keeping us safe and letting us see his beautiful country. I also said a prayers to my grandpas to say hello and thank them for watching over me on this life-changing journey.

london18london12 london14london20

Soon it was time to head over to the theatre for Billy Elliot! I have actually seen the musical before so I knew we were in for a treat. After a quick dinner at Pret a Manger, we picked up our tickets and walked inside the grand Victoria Palace.

london22

Since we had purchased our tickets that same day, our seats were at the very top row of the theater. However, it didn’t really matter since the top section was relatively empty and we could move around to better seats. Our plush velvets chairs offered us a bird-eye-view down onto the stage which came to life with the charming and hilarious story of Billy Elliot.

We absolutely loved the show and found ourselves dancing, laughing and even crying at all the right moments. The little boy playing Billy was marvelous and all the dancing numbers were just wild! And of course the music was amazing and I loved all the big choral numbers. We had so much fun that by the end of the performance we were jumping out of our seats and clapping our hands for an encore.

london23

london24

By the end of the show were so pumped that we ran out of the theater laughing our heads off like maniacs and accidentally ran in the wrong direction! Weirdos. We caught the tube back to Shoreditch with smiles on our faces and visions of Billy Elliot dancing in our heads.

What a great way to start our 5 day adventure in London! Stay tuned for more…

Ireland Day 7: Last Day in Dublin and London Calling

After a week in Ireland, it was time to take our Eurotrip 2014 adventure to London. But like I mentioned in my last post, we were ready to go out with a BANG.

dublin1

Once our bus pulled back into Dublin, we gathered all willing participants from our tour group (mostly the Australians) and made plans for meeting up later that evening. After a filling dinner of fish and chips, we hit the streets of Dublin for some pints and some craic. It was a long and epic night that consisted of swapping American/Australian accents, listening to live Irish music and rambunctiously dancing at a cool nightclub. It was sad to say goodbye to our friends after spending every moment together for the last 5 days but I wouldn’t trade our experience for anything.

The next morning was rough and we almost missed checkout time while sleeping away in our stuffy hostel room. Thankfully Carina was alive enough to drag us out of bed so we could pack our backpacks in the darkness while our bunkmates slept on. That was fun… especially when a new girl checked into our room and spent like an hour hogging the bathroom. Oy, hostels are definitely an experience!

We left our bags with the hostel while we headed outside for our final day in Dublin! Noooooooo….

dublin4

We enjoyed a full Irish breakfast in Temple Bar (to the lovely sounds of construction) before walking to Grafton Street. The shopping street was insanely crowded with tourists, unlike our first day in Dublin when the city was relatively quiet. I guess June 16th is peak tourist season.

dublin2dublin3

 

I was exhausted so we hung out in a small park before walking back to the Temple Bar Area. We mailed Tana a postcard and walked past Cassidy’s, one of the bars we visited the night before. Cassidy’s was a pretty weird and alternative place with bizarre art on the walls and forgotten furniture on the sidewalk. Weird but cool.

dublin5

 

We then took a detour to Trinity College, which we had visited on our first day in the pouring rain. It was much more pleasant on this absolutely beautiful summer day. It was fun to sit next to the quad and act like students… those were the days!

dublin6

 

We finished our day back at Temple Bar and sat around enjoying the sunshine and colorful shops. Oh look there is Carina in front of the actual Temple Bar, which was on the same block as our hostel. The Temple Bar is very touristy but has absolutely phenomenal musicians playing live Irish music each night so it is worth checking out.

dublin7 dublin8 dublin9 dublin10 dublin11

Sadly it was time to catch the shuttle bus to the airport for a late flight into London. Once we landed in London we would take the train to Shoreditch and meet Carina’s friend Val, who had kindly offered to host us for the next 5 days. I was excited to finally visit London but really sad to leave Ireland.

We had such an incredible time touring Ireland with Shamrockers and I am now a huge fan of backpacker bus tours (hello Stray NZ!). Not only did we see the typical tourist sites like the Cliffs of Moher and Giant’s Causeway, but we also did some truly unique activities in places off-the-beaten path. We biked around the Aran Islands, danced to live traditional Irish music in Galway, learned about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and walked for miles through green fields to cross a remote rope bridge in Ballintoy. But more importantly, we had fun making unforgettable memories with new friends from around the world and of course with my bestie and travel partner in crime, Carina <3.

Now wait a second, do you hear that?

*RING RING RING*

coventgardens3

LONDON IS CALLING.