And finally, Tokyo

Wow, this was a long time in coming. I apologize for the lack of posts lately and for this one being so late. Work in December and January has been insane and has only just started to normalize. I have another busy weekend coming up, so I wanted to share this post before things get too hectic.

I only spent a couple of days and nights in Tokyo this trip. The photos below are from a few places. I walked through Yoyogi park and checked out Meiji Shrine. I also spent some time in the Harajuku area. I walked through Takeshita street and found a quiet shrine a few minutes away. I wandered through the Omotesando area and through various neighbourhoods. I also walked around near Shibuya station to see Hachiko and the famous Shibuya scramble crossing. There are also quite a few pictures from the Asakusa area, my favourite go-to place!

I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week and a great weekend!! I’ll try to be posting on a more regular schedule once this weekend is over.

What is your favourite place to travel to?

Kyoto bound!

15The next morning dawned bright and early. I packed up my small, wheeled carry-on, slung on my backpack, and walked ten minutes to the train station. One transfer and twenty minutes later and I was walking downstairs into Tokyo station. I had planned to meet my friend at the Shinkansen (bullet train) office to pick up our tickets to Kyoto. I would have preferred to take the three hour journey alone. But she didn’t feel confident in figuring out the ticket system, so I agreed to meet her at 10 AM. Unfortunately, everything that could go wrong for her, did. In the end she didn’t make it there until almost noon.

Once we arrived in Kyoto, we split up and checked in at our separate hostels. She suggested meeting up but I wanted to wander around by myself so I politely declined. We each had different things we wanted to see while in Kyoto. And though we met up a couple of times, I was on my own for the most part and it was amazing. In the days that followed, I used the train system, and a few buses, to travel around Kyoto. Revisiting favourite places and discovering new ones. On the day we arrived, I spent most of my time in the Gion area. I visited Kennin-ji Temple. It was founded in 1202 and claims to be the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto. I also checked out Yasaka Shrine that evening. It’s also called Gion Shrine and is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto.

My first full day in Kyoto was full of travel! The bamboo grove in Arashiyama was my first stop. It’s one of my favourite places in Kyoto. But to avoid the throngs of tourists, you need to go early. I revisited Okochi Sanso and enjoyed a cup of green tea prepared the traditional way. I also took time to explore Tenryu-ji Temple, the most important temple in the Arashiyama area and a world heritage site. I recommend it and it’s well worth the price of admission to see both the temple and gardens. I took a much-needed stop at Tenzan no Yu onsen to rest up and soak my sore and tired body. It’s an amazing onsen and spa complex in the Arashiyama area.

The next day was just as full! I woke up early and headed to Fushimi Inari. Fushimi Inari is the most important shrine dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. To avoid the crowds you can either go early or late at night. I spent an hour or so climbing up the steps to the top. Then took a brief rest and enjoyed a Japanese snack of strawberry daifuku from a vendor at the bottom. Then it was time to take the train to Kinkaku-ji. Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion, is a Zen temple whose top two floors are covered in gold leaf. It was beautiful! I spent the rest of the day traveling to and exploring Kiyomizudera. It was founded in 780 and was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in 1994. Part of it was under construction while I was there. But it was still very impressive. The views you can see from the main building are incredible!

I also had the chance to make an afternoon visit to Nara. It’s a 30 minute trip by Limited Express train from Kyoto (it normally takes an hour). The deer park was beautiful and it was neat to see deer roaming around among the tourists. You can buy special crackers to feed the deer if you’re interested. I also got to see Kofuku-ji Temple which was established in 710. Another highlight was Todai-ji Temple, a famous Nara landmark, constructed in 752. As I was heading out, I discovered Yoshiki-en Garden. It’s named after the Yoshikigawa River. Any foreign tourists gain entrance free of charge. But it’s so beautiful that I’d happily pay admission.

The next day was my final day in Kyoto. I woke up early and took the bus to the Tetsugaku no Michi, or the Philosopher’s Path. It’s a beautiful path that follows a tree-lined canal. It’s a well-known tourist area, so go early to avoid the crowds. When I was there I only saw two other people! It’s perfect for a quiet, reflective walk. I also walked to Honen-in Temple which is nearby. It was established in 1680 and is especially beautiful in the spring and fall. It was one of my favourite temples. While I was in the area, I also visited Ginkaku-ji Temple. It’s also known as the Silver Pavilion and was modeled after Kinkaku-ji.

After a wonderful trip to Kyoto, it was time to take the train back to Tokyo. I had a few things I still wanted to see in Tokyo before we flew back to Canada.

Next stop: Tokyo!

Starting in Asakusa

20181007_203719The day started early as we flew out of Clark, Philippines at 2 AM. We stopped in Seoul for a few hours. It was enough time to find our next gate, grab a bite to eat, and board the large airliner bound for Tokyo. After a very long day of travel, we finally arrived at Narita International Airport around noon. We cleared customs and immigration quickly. Then headed to the bank to exchange our money into Japanese yen.

As I was learning, things rarely go smoothly or quickly with my traveling companion. We were at the bank for a long time while she got organized. We then headed downstairs to pick up our JR passes and a PASMO card. We discovered a Starbucks along the way and ordered the first of many caffeinated beverages. I wanted to get going as soon as possible. But she wanted to sit in the Starbucks for a little. I couldn’t argue because we weren’t allowed to bring open drinks on the train. Unfortunately that turned into almost an hour before I could convince her to leave.

At this point I was done. I was exhausted from the flight (I don’t sleep well on planes). I had wanted to leave far earlier than we had. I was hungry (I couldn’t find any gluten-free food options in Seoul airport). And I was getting tired of my travel-mate’s passive-aggressive comments. I knew she was as tired as I was. But it didn’t make it any easier to take (don’t worry, the rest of the trip went a lot better).

As soon as we stepped onto the train and claimed seats, I popped in my headphones and shut out the world. We arrived at Asakusa station after an hour-long train ride. Fortunately my hostel was north of the station and hers was south so we parted ways here. I made it to my hostel, checked in, did some exploring, and got dinner.

Asakusa is one of my favourite areas of Japan. It’s located in the northeast part of central Tokyo and has a more traditional atmosphere. If you find yourself in Asakusa, there are a few interesting things you can check out.

Kaminarimon – the first of two large gates leading to Sensoji Temple.
Sensoji Temple – the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo.
Asakusa Shrine – one of the most famous Shinto Shrines.
Nakamise shopping street – a great place for food vendors and souvenirs.
Shin-Nakamise shopping street – a covered shopping arcade with shops and restaurants.
Kappabashi shopping street – a shopping street full of kitchen-related items such as tableware, utensils, appliances, sample food, etc.
Rox department store – a shopping and entertainment complex. You can find pretty much anything you need here and there’s a supermarket in the basement.
Sumida Park – a park with walking paths that stretches along the Sumida river. It’s especially beautiful during cherry blossom season.
Hanayashiki amusement park – a miniature amusement park with numerous attractions and a few rides.

Next up: Kyoto!

Adventures in the Philippines

20180930_152535This year I was able to visit yet another part of the Philippines. I flew into Clark airport to avoid traffic in Manila. I stayed at a nice hostel in Angeles City and met up with a few friends there. Three of us then drove to Baguio City, a trip that takes 3-4 hours depending on traffic.

A few days before my flight, Typhoon Mangkhut lashed the northern part of the Philippines. There had been landslides in Baguio that affected roads and homes. But by the time we drove through, the roads were clear. We still experienced a lot of rain as we drove up the narrow, winding, mountain roads. But conditions were extremely favorable despite the weather.

Baguio City is a beautiful mountain resort town. It’s located in northern Luzon (the largest island in the Philippines) and is called the City of Pines. On average it’s 1540 meters above sea level and has a cooler climate. While I was there the temperatures ranged from 22 to 26 degrees Celsius (70-80 degrees Farenheit). Whereas Angeles City sat at a steady 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Farenheit) the few days we were there.

I met up with the rest of my friends once I arrived in Baguio. We spent our time exploring nearby attractions and venturing into Baguio City. Camp John Hay offers treetop adventures, hiking paths, trail rides, a butterfly sanctuary, the cemetery of negativism, Bell House, a secret garden, and plenty of restaurants on site.

We also visited the botanical gardens, Burnham Park, SM City Baguio (a huge shopping mall), and the wet market. Since I was traveling with people who spoke Tagalog, we usually took public transport. It was my first time riding in a jeepney and it was a neat experience. They were originally created from leftover US military jeeps from WWII. We also took a lot of taxis and GRAB rides (like UBER). We found that most drivers spoke a bit of English and we avoided getting too lost.

One thing I noticed about the city was the air quality. When you were near Camp John Hay or out hiking, the air was clear and fresh. But the pollution was more evident when you ventured downtown. If I were to go back, I’d likely pick up a disposable mask. It was one thing I wasn’t used to experiencing in Canada.

Despite many food sensitivities, I was able to try lots of different Filipino dishes. I tried Taho (made with silken tofu, arnibal, and sago pearl) for the first time from a vendor and it was quite good. Traveling with people who spoke Tagalog and Ilocano (the language used in Baguio) was so helpful. They were able to tell me what was in the food and ask questions for me. I went hungry more often than I would have liked. But I avoided getting sick.

I brought easy-to-prepare foods like rice noodles and oatmeal for quick meals in my room. I also brought a lot of protein and snack bars wherever I went. That way I always had something to eat if I couldn’t find something safe nearby. The “Healthy Options” store (found in most SM Malls) has a sizable array of allergen-friendly foods. I stocked up while there.

One of my favourite things about the Philippines is the abundance and variety of fruits. Our hotel had a lovely buffet with freshly-squeezed juices and local fruits. I loved the green mango and calamansi juices best. I also enjoyed fresh rambutan, lanzones, pakwan, buko, and papaya. They were delicious!

I had an amazing time in the Philippines and I wanted to stay for longer. If I make it back again, I’d love to visit Palawan, Ilo Ilo, Corregidor, Davao, and a few more places. If you have any suggestions, let me know 🙂 But soon enough it was time for our flight to Tokyo where another adventure awaited.

Where is your favourite place?

Adventures & 7 travel tips

japan-1432144_1280This time last year I was preparing for my first foray into Asia. You can check out my posts on the Philippines and Japan part 1, 2, and 3 if you’re interested. I loved both of these places so much that I’m going back again later this month. This time I’ll be traveling to a new part of the Philippines instead of staying in the Clark/Angeles City area. I’ll be there for two weeks. Then I’m heading back to Japan for a week but spending most of my time in Kyoto with a short trip to Nara.

I’ll be traveling with a friend which will create a different dynamic than last time. We’ll likely stick close in the Philippines as we’re spending time with mutual friends. But I’m hoping she’ll branch out on her own once we reach Japan. On the plus side we’ve rented separate accommodations so I can get the quiet I need each day.

Here’s a short list of things I need to remember for this trip. Hopefully it can be helpful to others as well.

1. Seek quiet
Schedule in quiet time throughout the day. For me it’s in the morning and evening. I also keep a pretty early bed time so I’m feeling my best in the morning. I search for parks, gardens, and temples to explore if I need a break. I also leave open places in my schedule. This allows me to head back to my room if I need to. Or to randomly explore if the desire arises.

2. Observe
I love people watching. To soak in and absorb the unique sounds, scents, chatter, colors, and culture. You can learn so much by observing, picking up local customs simply by watching. And while I love taking photographs. I always make sure to put the camera down and just enjoy the experience.

3. Unwind and reflect
At the end of each day I pull out my travel journal and write for a while. By writing out my thoughts, feelings, and experiences, I can process them. It helps me wrap up and package the day’s events so I can look forward to what tomorrow brings.

4. Come prepared
I bring a few things to make my life easier. This includes a good book, headphones, an eye mask, and a portable battery charger. If you have any food allergies/sensitivities make sure you research safe things/places to eat. Also look up things to do, tours, local customs, etc. I find being mentally prepared ahead of time helps reduce the amount of stress I feel once I’m there.

5. Prioritize your needs
Getting the quiet time you need is super important. But so is taking care of yourself physically. Stay hydrated and get enough to eat. I bring lots of snacks because it’s not always easy to find gluten-free options. Ensure you get enough sleep so you can enjoy your trip and avoid getting sick. Check in with yourself throughout the day to assess how you’re feeling and make adjustments as necessary.

6. Accept your nature
Plan your itinerary based on your energy. I want adventure but I also need solitude. Choose a few awesome things to do. Then play the rest by ear. Or choose an attraction then explore the area. Wander along alleyways and check out what’s around that next corner. You never know what you may find. And don’t feel guilty if you can’t do everything.

7. Embrace the uncomfortable
Accept you’re in a new and different place. Revel in it, enjoy the differences. Take in the unique smells, tastes, and let the experience flow over and around you. It’s okay to feel out of place. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be terrifying but the rewards are incredible. One way I like to do this is by staying in a hostel (in a private room). I can get the quiet I need. But I can venture into the social spaces when I want to connect with others.

While I’m away I’ll be sharing travel quotes with photos from my trip last year. If there’s anything you’re interested in seeing from the trip (videos, introvert-friendly attractions, suggestions, etc) let me know.

Hope you have a great weekend!

5 travel challenges for an introvert

backlit-1870004_1920I adore traveling solo. I love immersing myself in a completely different culture. It’s such an educational, enjoyable, and addicting experience. But as I learned during my overseas trip last year, there are a lot of challenges too.

1. Lots of people
When traveling to any well-known attraction there will likely be other people who have the same idea. To avoid this, I would go early in the morning (I’d be out the door by 7 AM). This helped to circumvent the massive crowds. It also made for some pretty beautiful photos, sans tourists in the background. Fushimi Inari and the bamboo grove in Arashiyama (both in Kyoto) are enjoyed best in the early hours.

2. Language barrier
Asking for directions becomes more challenging and intimidating when you don’t speak the language. Learning a few phrases and common questions can help you connect with the locals. I memorized the phrase “_______ wa doko desu ka” which means “where is _______?”. Filling in the blank for whatever place/location you’re looking for. It helped a lot and people were pretty happy I was attempting to speak Japanese. Mobile apps for translation and key phrases are also helpful.

3. Unfamiliar streets
Unless it’s a repeat trip, the streets and alleyways will all look unfamiliar. While in Japan I often couldn’t read the street names as they are written in kanji. But thanks to google maps, I was able to navigate to all my destinations even if I couldn’t read the signs. Having access to either a wifi router or SIM card was a huge lifesaver and decreased my stress.

4. So much overwhelm
It’s hard to adapt to an environment full of different languages, personalities, street signs, and customs. It’s easy to shift from feeling okay to burned out in a matter of minutes. This means you have to take extra care of yourself. I go to bed early whenever possible. I schedule in at least two full meals so I’m not running on empty. I always bring water with me to stay hydrated. At the end of the day I like to reflect and write down the day’s events. It helps me unwind and process things.

5. Not enough time
As an introvert I have limited energy. I can’t do it all. It can be disappointing when you have to miss out on things because you’re burned out. But you can create “quiet day” itineraries for when you need them. Or work quiet time into your daily schedule for a quick recharge. Do things at your own pace and don’t blame yourself for not being able to see everything. Create a travel experience that is meaningful to you.

Where would you like to travel?

A grand adventure & 7 travel tips

old-1130731_1920I can’t believe I’m flying out in a few days to embark on one of the most exciting, and terrifying, trips of my life. It’s definitely going to be the farthest out of my comfort zone I’ve ever been. Forget public speaking and dance lessons, this is the real thing haha.

While I’m meeting up with friends once I’m there, I’ll be traveling solo. Fortunately, I enjoy traveling alone. I’ve also done it often enough that airports aren’t nearly as stressful as they used to be. I’m not too worried right now. I’ve already done all the research, planning, and packing. All that’s left is to go. I have a very specific routine when I’m flying and I thought I’d share that with you. Let me know if you have similar, or different habits!

1. Comfort is key.
Regardless of how long my flight is, but especially if it’s a long one, I dress for comfort. I usually wear a maxi skirt, dressy shirt, pullover sweater, scarf, and comfy boots (that slip on and off easily).

2. Pack light.
I limit my luggage to a personal item and small carry-on suitcase so I don’t need to check luggage. This takes time off my check-in and arrival times and it’s less stressful for me. Only downside is that I have to bring my luggage with me everywhere, but I’m willing to do that.

3. Bring snacks.
I always bring a ton of food when I travel. Beef jerky, sliced peppers, baby carrots, dried fruit, homemade protein bites, trail mix, are all favourites of mine. I also check food restrictions for the country I’m flying to, so nothing gets rejected. For someone who is gluten and dairy free, it’s usually easier to bring my own food, otherwise I go hungry.

4. Double check details.
I cross reference my boarding pass information with the large screens in the airport. If they match, awesome. If not, I figure out the easiest way to get to the correct location. I’ll also make sure my phone is set to local time, to remove confusion and avoid missed connections.

5. Get there early.
I always head to the terminal I need and will walk all the way to my gate. That way I know exactly where it is. After that, I’ll wander around, go for a walk, freshen up, grab a coffee, or sit down with a book.

6. Fuel up.
Once I know where my gate is, I’ll find a quiet spot (if possible) to sit down and eat something. I never feel like eating a lot when I fly. But traveling with no energy is brutal for an introvert. So I always remind myself to eat consistently. I’ll also fill up my water bottle so I can stay hydrated.

7. Enjoy.
Flights can be quite draining and overwhelming but I try to enjoy them as much as I can. I’ll listen to my favourite music and audio books while on the plane. I’ll also grab a latte from the airport. These are a couple of ways that make the trip a little more special.

Hope you have a wonderful rest of the week! I’ll be checking in while I’m away, though my replies may be a bit delayed. I’ve scheduled some posts while I’m gone, hope you enjoy those. I will be taking lots of photos and I’m looking forward to sharing those with you once I’m back!

Where is your favourite place to travel?

 

An introvert’s trip

tokyo-290980_1920A couple of months ago, I started planning my trip to the Philippines and Japan. Everything is booked and its beginning to sink in that I’m actually going. My friends are doing the majority of the planning for the Philippines leg of the trip, as they’ve been there before. But I’m on my own in Japan, so I’ve been creating my own itinerary which has been exciting and a bit stressful.

My need to research, plan, and analyze is a huge part of who I am. Being prepared allows me to handle unforeseen circumstances much better than if I have to improvise everything on the fly. Especially when tired, jet-lagged, or hungry. I already know I’m going to get lost, take the wrong train, and end up somewhere random. But by accepting this, it’s less stressful to figure things out when it (inevitably) happens.

Here are a few things I’ve been doing, in advance of my trip, in order to take care of my introverted nature.

1. Plan days based on location.
I’ve broken up each day of my trip according to prefecture. This minimizes the number of trains I need to take, thus reducing the amount of interaction with large groups of people. I can also swap my days around depending on how I feel. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I can choose a quieter itinerary filled with parks and gardens. If I want some more adventure, I’ll choose a busier shopping area.

2. Get back to nature.
Tokyo has a lot of shrines, temples, parks, and gardens. My plan is to include at least one of the above each day, and spend some time sitting quietly outside, in order to restore myself. I can bring a book, listen to music, or just sit and people watch. This will give me the quiet time I need to recharge each day.

3. Keep things simple.
There’s so much I want to see, but if I overdo things, I’m not going to enjoy myself. I’ve limited the number of attractions to 2-3 per day. If I have more energy, I’ll do more. It also opens up plenty of time for exploration and photography. I know that by pacing myself, I’ll have a far more enjoyable time.

4. Make a daily schedule.
I’ve already planned out the basic structure of each day. I want to start my day fairly early and pick up breakfast and water from a convenience store. Then I’ll head for the train station after the morning rush (to avoid the insanity). I’ll then check out various attractions, exploring as much as I can. I’ll schedule in a specific time for lunch, to make sure I’m eating enough. I’ll also check in on my energy level throughout the day and take breaks as I need them. I want to spend my evenings unwinding at an onsen or bathhouse and enjoy a quiet end to each day.

5. Research everything.
As someone with many food sensitivities, I’ve looked up safe places to eat in all the areas I will be traveling to. Rather than wandering around irritably looking for food, I can find what I need right away. I’ve been reading up on how to navigate the city by train, which hopefully proves helpful in the near future. I’ve also been practicing reading hiragana and katakana in order to make reading signs and menus a bit easier.

Obviously, I can’t plan for every possibility. But if I can be well informed beforehand, the entire experience will run more smoothly.

Do you have any travel tips?