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Cuba 3 Day Travel Guide

Hi!

For those you looking to take a trip to Cuba, here is some information from my trip there with my husband. If you’re not already aware Cuba is quite small, with many adventures to take part in.  This guide will tell you how to explore Cuba (mostly Havana) in three days, with room for a beach day as well. Please feel free to ask any questions in if you have any!

Colorful Buildings Havana Cuba
Colorful buildings along the Málecon in Old Havana

The Spontaneous Backstory

After dinner, on the later side of Friday night, Bryant told us he was going to Cuba at 8AM the following morning. He told us that we should come. We woke up Saturday morning with a text from him saying “you can buy your visa for Cuba at the airport—you have to come, no excuses”.

At 5PM on Saturday Daniel and I booked a direct flight from LAX to Havana on Alaska Airlines (for the record you can’t book with miles, I don’t completely understand why). Shortly after that we booked an Airbnb.

 

Day 1: Night Out in Havana

We woke up at 5am and got to the airport at 5:45. Normally we wouldn’t have shown up this early for an 8:50 AM flight, but we were told we needed to be at the airport three hours before our flight to sort out our visas. After checking in at Alaska we walked up to the visa counter paid $100 USD each and were each given a visa slip to fill out. We were also given instructions and told if we didn’t fill them out perfectly, we would have to purchase new ones. This process took all but five minutes

We sat in the airport forever and waited to board our flight. After boarding we had to wait for a number of reasons and only ended up taking off at 10:30 AM. The flight is just about 4.5 hours and luckily the plane was virtually empty.

Landed at 6PM to humid weather. Went though customs and then security inside the airport. Daniels first impression was that it was TSA but with hotter employees. I went to the bathroom and it was as though Michigan appeared in Cuba (see below).

Havana Airport Bathroom
The airport bathroom in Havana (aka University of Michigan)

We walked out of the airport (though automatic doors that you have to push open) and were greeted by a driver named David dressed in monochromatic maroon. David took us to the Meliá Cuba Hotel to exchange money. The front desk said we could not use exchange because we are not staying here but we could use the exchange center. He also told us we couldn’t use the wifi but could go to the business center to do so. We walked past the lobby to learn both the business center and exchange center were closed. The guy finally let us exchange 30 Euros for CUC. We spent 10 of them on an internet card that would last an hour so we could find out where to meet Bryant. When Daniel finally logged connected, he saw a text from Bryant that said dinner was at 7:00 at Doña Eutima (at the time it was already 7:15).

Meliá Cuba Hotel
Meliá Cuba Hotel Lobby where the wifi is $10/hour.

David drove us another ten minutes to our Airbnb in Havana, we ran inside, checked in, exchanged money, changed and got back into the car to meet everyone at dinner. David dropped us off in an old plaza and told us how to walk to the restaurant. We walked in at 7:45 and met Bryant and eight of his friends. We ordered mojitos, chickpeas and veggies, rice and eggs-as the restaurant was out of fish.

Doña Eutima Havana
Paladar Doña Eutima

After dinner we bar hopped around Havana Vieja. We started at a bar called El Floridita, known for both its daiquiris and Ernst Hemingway. It felt pretty touristy but the live music made it fun. After one drink we we moved to another bar with what they claimed was live Cuban music, but it ended up being 3 people playing an interesting version of Enrique Iglesias’ Bilando.

El Floridita Havana
Outside of El Floridita
Bar at El Floridita
The Bar at El Floridita: Home of the daiquiri
El Floridita Bar
Bronze statue of Ernest Hemingway at the bar with friend.
El Floridita Bar
A bit of a tourist trap, but drinks are $2/$3

We bought beers in the street and walked to another bar where there was good live music. We spent the remainder of the night there before walking back towards El Floridita and catching a 10 CUC cab back to our Airbnb. As we got out of the cab we asked someone where to get food and he told us to go to La Concordia, the restaurant above our Airbnb.

Bar in Havana Cuba
Star of the night
Bar in Havana Cuba
Live music in a random Havana bar

We got upstairs around 1:00AM and ordered some rice and beans. Just as we were finishing the owner of the restaurant, his wife, and his father in law (also the landlord) came to sit and chat. They were extremely hospitable and didn’t want us to go to bed. They ordered us drinks and gave Daniel a cigar. Eventually we went down to bed around 2:30AM.

Day 2: Santa María del Mar Beach

We woke up at 7:30 so that we could eat breakfast at 8:00PM and meet the gang at their Airbnb in Vedado at 8:30AM. Breakfast was not yet available for us, so when we arrived at Bryant’s place, we joined them for a breakfast of eggs and bread.

Homes in Vedado
Homes in Vedado
Living Room in an Airbnb
The living room in their Airbnb

We were met by some of their Cuban friends who drove us in tiny tiny cars to Santa María del Mar beach about 40 minutes away. The beach was absolutely magical! Some of us whet in the water but got a little beat up because of the rip tide. Nonetheless the water was super warm (compared to the Pacific Ocean). We spent the rest of the afternoon drinking coconuts and rum on the beach and eventually got lunch (rice, vegetables, and yuca chips) delivered to us on the sand.

Cars in Cuba
Our tiny car in Cuba
Santa María del Mar Beach
Santa María del Mar Beach setup
Santa María del Mar Beach
Santa María del Mar Beach
Santa María del Mar Beach
Lounge Chairs
Santa María del Mar Beach
Coconuts and rum on the beach
Santa María del Mar Beach
So glad for whoever brought this partially deflated flamingo float
Santa María del Mar Beach
Lunch

Around 3:30PM the guy who drove us there, Leo, drove Daniel and I back to our Airbnb. I closed my eyes at several points in the ride for fear of A) running into cars B) running into people C) running into bikes and D) running into horse drawn carriages. We listened to reggaeton music on volume level 50. We were only too excited to get out of the car.

Cars in Cuba
Bry’s car on the drive home.
Cars in Cuba
Leo dropping us off after Mr. Toads wild ride from hell

We came back to the Airbnb and napped  before walking a 7:00 dinner with everyone at La Guarida (literally one block away from our Airbnb). La Guarida is one of Cuba’s most famous restaurants—the Obamas and Beyoncé have come, Usher even got married in the building—and the location of Cuba’s famous movie Fresa y Chocolate. Anyway we had a amazing dinner. We ordered the first fish on the menu and shared some appetizers. It was also the location of everyone’s favorite piña colada. Once we’d finished our meal we went up to the roof top bar and drank and danced until we decided to change scenery.

La Guarida Restaurant
In the entryway of La Guarida
La Guarida Restaurant
Inside of La Guarida Restaurant
La Guarida
Partial group shot at La Guarida
La Guarida Restaurant Kitchen
The kitchen
La Guarida Rooftop Bar
Group Shot at La Guarida rooftop bar

We went to The Concordia, the rooftop restaurant/bar above our Airbnb before getting in cars and driving to a cool outdoor bar in Vedado called Espacios. We stayed and drank for an hour before returning to or Airbnb.

Day 3: Havana All Day

We woke up this morning (or rather I was woken up by someone’s extraordinarily loud pet parrot)  and went to the roof to eat breakfast. Little did we know breakfast consisted of sliced ham, chicken croquetas, and friend shrimp along with bread and jam. After eating a bit we had our host team call us a taxi which took forever. When it eventually came we had to barter with the driver to get the driver down to the usual “getting ripped off price of 10 CUC”.

The taxi took us into Vedado,to what was supposed to be Centro Hebreo Sefaradi, the Sephardic synagogue, on 17th and E but he ended dropping us off on 17th and I instead. So after some confusion we visited Beth Shalom, the Ashkenazi synagogue, before heading over to the Sephardic synagogue. We looked for Daniel’s relatives who lived in Cuba way back when but couldn’t find them. After a short stint of synagogue hopping we went back to Bryant and crews on Avendia Paseo.

Vedado
Streets of Vedado
Vedado
Fixing classic cars
Cars in Cuba
The cars in Cuba

We said goodbye to everyone but Bryant and Colbi, who joined us for a day adventure. We walked to the Hotel Nacional and stumbled upon some historical trenches, bunkers and history. After we walked around the corner to a place called California Cafe that had California—Cuban fare and “a vibe” according to Daniel. They had great vegetarian food and wonderful service. After lunch Daniel bought some hot sauce for them to bring home (which he ended up dropping on the floor 30 minutes later).

Hotel Nacional De Cuba
Hotel Nacional De Cuba
Hotel Nacional De Cuba
A cannon and bunker in front of the hotel
Hotel Nacional De Cuba
Barbie’s dream car in Havana
California Cafe Havana
California Cafe

After lunch we walked the Málecon into Havana Viejo. Then we wandered the streets, found Bodeguita Del Medio (a mojito/ Ernest Hemingway bar that was too touristy to enter), and took photos in Plaza de la Catedral. We also wandered into Taller Experimental de Grafíca, a print making workshop, until Bryant and Colbi had to leave to go to the airport.

Pink car on the Málecon
Pink car on the Málecon
La Bodeguita Havana
The wall outside La Bodeguita
Artist's Studio in Old Havana
Artist’s Studio in Old Havana

After they left Daniel and I went to Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes to see Cuban art. It was interesting to see both the Spanish and African influences over the years. After the museum we walked back into the old city and went to Café El Dandy for piña coladas and a quesadilla. Then we explored Clandestina (a cool graphic design shop) before walking back to our Airbnb in Havana Centro. All in all we walked 12.5 miles.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes atrium
Graffiti in Old Havana
Street Art in Old Havana
Café El Dandy
The art in Café El Dandy

Upon arriving at the Airbnb we showered (from sweating due to walking, sunshine and humidity) and went back to La Guarida for drinks and appetizers (pins coladas and tuna ceviche). Then we walked back to La Concordia (the restaurant above our Airbnb) to eat dinner. Daniel ordered the fish with green sauce, I ordered fish with herbs and we split arroz congri. We also ordered more mojitos and pina coladas. Everything was delicious.

Rooftop at La Guarida
Rooftop at La Guarida

Just as we were finishing our meal, Alejandro and Lady (the owner and his wife who we met the other night) invited us to come out with them to two new clubs that had just reopened—oh also it was their 5 year wedding anniversary.  Considering it was only 9PM when they asked and it was only at 12PM when we left, we had to keep ourselves up for the next few hours when all we had planned on was sleep. Not so easy.

At 11:30PM we met Alejandro and Lady upstairs for a drink—we also briefly met another large crew of Americans. Eventually we got in Alejandro’s car to go to a club in Miramar called (the stork La Cinguena). This club used to be called Sangri La but for some odd reasons it had to be closed and was only reopened tonight under its new name. It’s hours of operation were strictly 12AM —3PM.  As an opening night special they had Leoni Torres perform—apparently muy famoso in Cuba and other Latin countries. All the girls in the klurb were going crazy. Alejandro and Lady got bottle service and then began our wild night in Cuba at a club  that apparently foreigners don’t go to.

Sangri La
Sangri La aka La Cinguena Cuba
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The famed Leoni Torres

At 3:00AM the show ended and we walked out of the club. At that point we were told it’s time for club number two, a place called Fantasy. So in the spirit of doing everything we got in the car and went. When we arrived Ale ordered pizza at the pizza bar/outdoor patio of the club and then we went inside. It was impressive how many people were still going strong for a Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. After another hour of dancing and eating and trying not to fall asleep, Ale took us back to the start of Vedado so we could get a cab. Extremely nice considering they live in the opposite direction. We arrived back at our Airbnb at 4:30AM. Definitely not the night we imagined was in store for us while we were eating dinner that night.

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Fantasy Club in Havana
Known for the best pizza

Day 3.5: Streets of Old Havana

I woke up to the street sounds of Cuba around 9:45 AM and waited for Daniel until 11:15 AM to do the same. We went to the rooftop of La Concordia for a more American style breakfast than the day before (omelettes with arroz congri).

Rooftop at La Concordia
Rooftop at La Concordia

We walked along the Málecon to Old Havana and went to Museo de la Revolución. It was more artifacts with statements rather than history (e.g. this is the shirt Fidel wore when he plotted his first attack, these are the glasses a revolutionary wore when he committed a crime, this is the doll that was used to smuggle notes, etc).

I would recommend getting a tour guide if you really want to know about the history, but that’s just me.

Museo de la Revolución
Political statement wall at Museo de la Revolución
Museo de la Revolución
View from the Museum
Cars in Cuba
Literally looks like a movie set

We left the museum and walked around a few more blocks in old Havana before taking a drive in an old school purple Chevrolet convertible down the Málecon for 30 minutes. After our drive, Esteban, the driver dropped us off at our Airbnb and took some glamour shots of us in his car.

Old Cars in Havana
Glamour Shots

We packed up our stuff, ordered one last meal of rice and beans for the airport, and said goodbye to our incredible hosts and their staff. We took a private cab back to the airport only to learn that where we were dropped off at was a 5 minute drive away from the terminal we were supposed to be at. When we asked one of the taxis outside to take us they wanted to charge each of us 5 CUC to get there. After the taxi driver accidentally started to shut his trunk onto Daniels head, he forwent the 10 CUC—Daniel always taking one for the team. When we arrived at the correct airport we saw the group of Americans we met the night before and learned that they too had been dropped at the wrong terminal and had to pay to get to the right one. Clearly a scam!

Dan and I checked in through security and sat in the tiny airport for two and a half hours until we boarded our flight. The airport was the first place we’ve had wifi during the trip.

All in all, spontaneity made this happen and I’m so glad it did.

Airbnb Havana Cuba
Living Room in our Airbnb

Observations:

*10 CUC cabs: This is pretty much the average amount cabs charge to get around Havana, which is still way more than you should pay.

*Euros are the only currency to bring so you can exchange for CUC

*No credit cards

*No internet (with some very minor exceptions)

Sunsets in Santorini

Monday morning we watched the sun rise and drove for an hour to Herakilon Port to take a ferry to Thira Port in Santorini. We sat in nice seats at a table across from these fabulous people (below). Tip: Daniel read on a few travel sites to buy the top deck seats on the ferry for view purposes. I personally don’t think it made much of a difference, especially since we slept most of the time anyway.

"<yoastmark

Sunrise
Sunrise
the lovely people we sat across from
the happy couple we sat across from
Early ferry rides and googly eyes
Early ferry rides and googly eyes
Daniel enjoying the view
Daniel enjoying the view
Cosmote Ferry
Cosmote Ferry

We arrived in Thira at eleven and sprinted to get one of the illusive taxis. However, wherever we sprinted had no taxis at all. Instead, we found mini busses—lots and lots of mini busses, which meant lots and lots of mini bus drivers (all of whom are looking to haggle you until you give in to riding in their vehicle). These guys told us it would take an hour for a taxi to arrive (which a blog we read confirmed).

So, Daniel negotiated with one man who wouldn’t leave us alone. The deal was we would go with him if he would leave the port immediately and not wait for any more passengers.  Shockingly, the deal was for real.  He drove us into the town of Fira (even though we were staying in Firostefani) and told us ‘this’ was where we were staying, pointing vaguely to the long area ahead. Daniel asked him to go to location our Airbnb host had given us and he told us we were there….obviously we were not there, we were about half a mile down a steep winding hill from “there”. Thus,  we pushed our suitcases up the street behind his mini bus, until we could no longer see it. What a delight!

Our wheelin' dealin' mini bus driver pointing to "there"
Our wheelin’ dealin’ mini bus driver pointing to “there”

At the top of the hill we were met by the man who ran the operations for our Airbnb. Thankfully, he was a doll and rolled our luggage down a narrow cobblestone path way until we reached a flat roof with a “VIP rope” —”private parking” he said. Next we descended the stairs to a private infinity pool flanked by two beach chairs on either side. Such stunning views!

The Airbnb unit we booked (he had another unit adjacent to ours that shared the pool) was still being cleaned. The man showed us both units, each with the Santorini white vibe, but one with a down stairs. We opted for the one we hadn’t booked as it had better views and it was already clean. Settling into our Airbnb, we unloaded our stuff and walked through Firostefani. It’s exactly what you would expect it to look like from all the postcards. We found the church that the Canadians we met at Glossites in Chania had told us to look for and went to the tiny blue and white restaurant Aktaion directly across for lunch. The food was delicious, especially the rolled eggplant. The owner Danny was fabulous. We ended up making dinner reservations there for Tuesday night also.

The pool and the view from our Airbnb
The pool and the view from our Airbnb
The living room
The living room/kitchen in our Airbnb
The bedroom in our Airbnb
The bedroom in our Airbnb
The full monte
The full monte
The church with the phallic imagery we were told to look for
The church with the phallic imagery we were told to look for by the Canadians we met at Glossites in Chania
We found Aktaion!
We found Aktaion!

Aktaion in Santorini

Aktaion in Santorini
Lunch at Aktaion

After lunch we swam and laid out. Daniel rented an ATV down the street (everyone on this island gets around on them or motorbikes) and around six we left to drive to Oia for the much anticipated  of Santorini sunsets. We rushed through the crowds hoping to find a solid spot to watch sun go down. At the top of a view point we climbed over a wall to sit on a roof and waited until the sun went down so we could take 900 photos. It was beautiful! After the sunset we walked through the crowded and very touristy streets until we got back to our ATV. We drove down to Fira proper to check out their touristy scene. If you haven’t gathered by now, Santorini is much more touristy than Crete.

Enjoying the view
Enjoying the view
Santorini
Oia, Santorini
One of Dan's 20-minute process shots
One of Dan’s 20-minute process shots (head detached from body)
Watching the sunset from Oia
Watching the sunset from Oia
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Shot 760 of 900
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Shot 889 of 900

Sunset from Oia

Sunset in Oia

We were craving Italian for dinner so we went to a restaurant called Da Vinci. We had a Ukranian waiter, serving Italian food in Greece. Kinda funny. Food was delicious. Ordered a pizza and a pasta and then headed home to go to sleep.

Tuesday morning we woke up to howling wind. The sky was gray and damp and the island looked pretty abandoned. We drove the ATV to some area to get breakfast. Many of the places we wanted to go were closing up cause of the wind so we settled on a really average place. Afterwards we decided to go back to our Airbnb and read. The wind on this island doesn’t leave for too much to do, so we decided to make cocktails and enjoy our porch until the sun eventually came out.

Processed with Snapseed. Processed with VSCO with s3 preset
Walking around Santorini
Santorini
Santorini vibes

Considering the wind, we decided to go somewhere closer than Oia for sunset so we drove to the same areas where we had breakfast. We saw a great bar at the top of the cliff called La Maltese and decided to go there for Aperol Spritzes and the sunset. The sunset was beautiful but the wind was ridiculous. Freezing cold we went back to our side of town to get warmer clothes before dinner.

Sunset and hair blowing in the wind
Sunset and hair blowing in the wind at La Maltese
Smooches
Smooches

We left for Aktaion for dinner, a five minute walk down the street. When we got there we were told our reservation was for 9 and not 9:30, honest mistake on our part. Danny told us it would be another 5-10 minutes so we walked around until they were ready for us. We eventually sat down and ordered, the food was ridiculous. We ordered a twist on tzaziki, the eggplant rolls, feta skewers, and a Greek pasta. When the pasta was being delivered, presumably by Danny’s father, he made some comment to us along the lines of , “Are you ready to realize/let us know that your reservation was at 9 and not 9:30—you’re lucky you still got a table”. I was shocked by his lack of hospitality!  Anyway, the food was great but we left right after to go home. No ouzo shots this night.

Wednesday was a perfectly clear and sunny day! We got on the ATV and rode to Oia for breakfast and to take some photos. We walked through the the narrow passages and down the winding stair cases that almost inevitably led to a roped off private area, until I was satisfied. Then we rode back to Firostefani and picked up lunch from a restaurant called Why Not? Souvlaki, to eat on our patio.

Found Barbie's dream house in Santorini
Found Barbie’s dream house in Santorini
Periwinkle persuasions
Periwinkle persuasions
Churches
Santorini
Bells

 

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Gates
Dog on a step
Dog on a step
Blue door
Blue door

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Dog in a Store Front
Dog in a Store Front
The little pink church
The little pink church

"<yoastmark

At 1:45 we went to meet the driver from Santorini Yachting Club who would take us to our afternoon/sunset boat cruise. We’d expected a mini bus, instead we were squeezed into a hatchback coup with Patricia and Kevin from the UK and drove for 45 minutes—so cute. She’s basically the Ramona Singer of wherever she’s from.

Our hatchback driver
Our hatchback driver—shaking hands and kissing babies

We arrived at a marina at the bottom of the island, and boarded a boat called the Lagoon 52. There were about 20 of us onboard and we cruised for 5 hours to the red beach, the white beach, and the black beach. The boat served drinks and dinner. We cruised all the way to Oia where we watched the sunset. It was magnificent! Then we got off and road a mini bus back to our Airbnb with Patricia, Kevin and everyone else on our boat.

The white beach
The white beach
"The red beach, because it's red"
“The red beach, because it’s red”

Sailing in Santorini

Hi!
Hi!
Boating Expert
Boating Expert

Yachting in Santorini

Cliffside views of Fira
Cliffside views of Fira
Sunset Clouds
Sunset Clouds
Sunset from the boat
Sunset from the boat
:)
🙂

"<yoastmark

Tip: The black beach— it contains hot springs which were warm, but looked like a muddy river amid clear blue water. Because i’m a genius I packed only white bathing suits, but after going in the hot sulphur hot spring waters I now have a clay-brown bathing suit. Note to anyone planning to do this, bring a dark colored bathing suit!

Thursday morning, on our last day in Greece, we decided we’d get a little exercise after a week plus of competitive eating. Not knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we set out to climb up and down the stairs from Fira to the Old Market down by the ocean. Although we could smell donkey shit as we started our decent, we didn’t piece together the number of donkeys that would appear towards the middle of the top and the middle of the bottom of the stairs.

As we descended into the third bend of the stairs, I immediately regretted our decision to take this hike but followed Daniel anyway. When we reached the bottom we took a photo and climbed back up the stairs faster than we climbed down (for fear of having to spend any more time near rouge donkeys climbing the steps and tourists on donkeys asking us if we could take their photos at every curve). By the time we reached the top we were both beet red.

Donkey city
Donkey city
Hi from the bottom of donkey hell
Hi from the bottom of donkey hell
Oh yeah, this was our ATV
Oh yeah, this was our ATV

Profusely sweating, we rushed back to our Airbnb to jump in the pool, pack up, and shower before we had to check out. Thankfully, Daniel rented a car for 35 Euros for the rest of the day so that we had somewhere to store our bags (also it was 40 Euro taxi to the airport).

We took the car and drove out of Firostefani to a restaurant called Metaxi Mas (across the street from a random goat herder and behind a beautiful cathedral). The restaurant was so cute and served some of the best food we’ve had in Greece. We ordered a pomegranate salad (I’m still dreaming about this), a baked feta cheese in phyllo dough, sesame seeds and honey, as well as a a baked eggplant dish. I was so hungry I forgot to take photos of the food. Everything was UNBELIEVABLE—honestly one of my top 3 meals of the trip.

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The big beautiful cathedral
Metaxi Mas is behind this
Metaxi Mas is behind this
Cutie little door
Cutie little door
Metaxi Mas
Metaxi Mas
He was in a "good" mood when we got to the restaurant
He was in a “good” mood when we got to the restaurant
Restaurant with a view
Restaurant with a view
Great decor
Great decor

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Daniel taking one of his photos
Daniel taking one of his photos

After lunch we got back into the car and drove down to a little beach town where we walked around until we decided to get beach chairs. We spent the try of the day on the beach and only got back in the car to drive up to some winery (with a ridiculous view) for the sunset. It was epic, even better than the one in Oia.

"<yoastmark

Interrupted my reading to let Daniel take this
Interrupted my reading to let Daniel take this
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Our last sunset in Greece
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The most ridiculous sunset

We had a 9:00 flight on Aegean Airlines to Athens so we were told to get to the airport at 7:30, to drop off the car. Exchanging the car took no time at all, but then we proceeded to wait in a 45 minute line to check bags. I won’t go into it too much, but the Santorini airport is a joke. It’s kind of like a cave in the middle of nowhere with no service, and where no one knows what’s going on. The flight to Athens was very delayed, which was fine.

The end ...
The end …

Once we got to Athens we took another Aegean Airline flight to Israel. This flight was also very delayed and quite miserable. I think they told everyone to get ready for landing (tray tables up, chairs up, ear buds out, electronics off) twenty minutes into the two hour flight. Uggggh. We landed in Tel Aviv at three AM.

Elounda and Plaka

The drive from Chania to Elounda was beautiful. Part of the drive was through the woods, which reminded me a lot of Lake Arrowhead, and part of the drive (at the edge of the island) was bright blue and green ocean everywhere! We stopped at Piato for lunch in Agiou Nikolaou and ordered a delicious mezze platter before driving 20 minutes to our hotel in Elounda /Placka.

The drive from Chania to Elounda
The drive from Chania to Elounda

"<yoastmark

The mezze plannter at Piato in Agiou Nikolaou
The mezze plannter at Piato in Agiou Nikolaou
Daniel putting together one of his 20-minute process photos
Daniel putting together one of his 20-minute process photos
The water in Agiou Nikolaou
The water in Agiou Nikolaou

We arrived at the Blue Palace Resort, on the hillside overlooking Spinalonga—the former leper colony—and checked into our room before taking the gondola down to the beach. The beach had no sand, but rather massive rocks all over the ground. The hotel had a a floating dock for easy water entrance. We jumped in the water about thirty minutes after we got there— it seemed to be warmer than it was up in Chania.

Our room at Blue Palace Resort
Our room at Blue Palace Resort

We got an umbrella and chairs next to a couple around our age from somewhere in London. She was topless and at a volume level of 11. Her significant other kept telling her she was shouting, but I’m pretty sure his volume level was at a 14. It made for some fabulous entertainment. After a few hours we went up to our room to shower and change and walked over to Placka (10 minutes up the road).

Views of Spinalonga from the Blue Palace Beach
Views of Spinalonga from the Blue Palace Beach
Daniel enjoying the beach
Daniel enjoying the beach and taking feet photos
Elounda Crete Greece
Our first day in Elounda

We walked  through the village of Plaka, which took about 37 seconds before sitting down at a restaurant called Captain Nicolas, on the water. After ordering wine we sat down and enjoyed the sunset and the moon rise before heading back to the hotel to have dinner at the Greek restaurant, Blue Door. The food was kind of a modern take on Greek food. I thought it was great, Daniel didn’t seem to love it. We ordered tzatziki with avocado, pita and dolmadas. After dinner we passed out.

Sunset
Sunset in Plaka at Captain Nicolas
Wine with a view
Wine with a view
Just after sunset looking at Spinalonga
Just after sunset over Spinalonga
Moon rise over Spinalonga
Moon rise over Spinalonga
Our dinner at Blue Door
Our dinner at Blue Door
I sort of passed out at dinner
I sort of passed out at dinner

I was awoken by Daniel’s not so silent attempt to watch the sunrise on our balcony, so I decided I might as well join him. It was obviously beautiful.

Sunrise from our balcony
Sunrise from our balcony

We went upstairs for the most elaborate breakfast spread I’ve ever seen and then when we were completely stuffed we rolled down to the beach. After we found chairs, our ‘quiet’ friends from the UK found us and decided to sit directly behind us. Score! Entertainment two days in a row! We spent he morning in and out of the water with our floats that we purchased in Elafonisi. Everyone else in the water seemed quite jealous of our water toys.

The most elaborate breakfast spread
The most elaborate breakfast spread
Rock beach, no sand in site
Beach set up
Rocky Beach
Rocky Beach

 

We walked back to Plaka for lunch and ate at the cutest restaurant called Thalassa. Obviously, we ordered the mezze platter and it was delicious. Eventually, we realized we’d rather be lying down in the sun than sitting on the outdoor patio, so we headed back to the hotel.

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Lunch at Thalassa
Lunch at Thalassa —complete with a boat in the window

Thalassa in Plaka

Our table at Thalassa
Our table at Thalassa
Lunch at Thalassa
Lunch at Thalassa

Daniel arranged for us to take a boat around the small island in front of us (driven by yours truly). We stopped in a few beach coves to swim and came back to the hotel about two hours later. It was mucho fun! Possibly my favorite beach activity.

Anchoring — Daniel's favorite activity
Anchoring — Daniel’s favorite activity
Boating into different coves around Elounda
Boating into different coves around Elounda

That night, we walked to the furthest end of Plaka (49 seconds from the start of the town) for dinner. We ate at a restaurant called Ostria on the water. The food was good. The service was hilarious. The bill came in Greek (obviously) so we had no idea why the bill looked like more than normal. Daniel asked the waitor a question about one line item and the guy told us it was for bread… when he remembered we didn’t order bread, he changed his mind and told us it was for tax. It was quite funny. After dinner we walked back to the hotel, packed and passed out.

Dinner at Ostria in Plaka
Dinner at Ostria in Plaka

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Picture Perfect Chania

We landed in Crete and were driven by a really sweet taxi driver to the town of Chania. The town looks like a movie set/postcard. When we arrived in Chania, we got out of the taxi and onto a small golf cart to get down the narrow street to our hotel, Casa Delfino. We checked in with reception and went to the beautiful touristy area on the water for breakfast while our room was being cleaned.

Chania Greece
Chania: postcard city
Casa Delfino Boutique Hotel
The courtyard at Casa Delfino Boutique Hotel
Casa Delfino Boutique Hotel Room
Our room at Casa Delfino Boutique Hotel

We ate at Café Remezzo—the food was not good at all, but the view made up for it. I ordered an omelet which was basically one enormous deep fried egg with cheese on top. I decided not to eat it and went for bread and a salad instead.

Cafe Remezzo Chania
Cafe Remezzo at the port in Chania
Cafe Remezzo
A deep fried egg with cheese on top —aka omelette
Eating at Cafe Remezzo (not the omelette)
Eating at Cafe Remezzo (not the omelette)

After brunch we walked around the small town, which is like stepping back in time. The streets are cobblestone, and the people are ancient—not all of them, but a lot of them… the rest are tourists.  Needless to say, people watching is unbelievable!

People watching in Chania
People watching in Chania
The port in Chania
The port in Chania

Chania Greece

Old Venetian Harbor Chania
Views of the Old Venetian Harbor

We walked about 10 minutes from our hotel and ended up at Nea Hora Beach with a lot of not so cute topless older people. Everyone was quite leathery and really strutting their stuff. I was very amused. We paid 5 Euros for two beach chairs and an umbrella set up, that came with fresh fruit and WIFI—all the necessities for a day at the beach!

Nea Hora Beach
Nea Hora Beach
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Nea Hora Beach
Nea Hora Beach: chairs, fresh fruit, and WIFI
Nea Hora Beach: chairs, fresh fruit, and WIFI

After the beach we went back to the room. Daniel napped for what felt like 7 hours, and then we went up to the hotel rooftop for drinks before dinner. We went to dinner at the Pallas Bar Restaurant, which was on a beautiful rooftop overlooking the Old Venetian Harbor. Apparently the building was built in 1830. We ordered the deconstructed Greek salad, the Porcini mushroom risotto, and the grilled salmon pave with a green salad with fresh onions and sesame seeds. The food was delicious and the view was unbelievable. The service was not worthy of writing about. About an hour after we finished dinner we finally payed before wandering back to the hotel.

Pallas Bar Restaurant Chania
Deconstructed Greek Salad at Pallas Bar Restaurant
Pallas Bar Restaurant Food
Porcini mushroom risotto and grilled salmon pave with a green salad with fresh onions and sesame seeds
Couldn't help myself
Couldn’t help myself
Walking along the port in Chania
Walking along the port in Chania

The next day we woke up and had breakfast in the hotel courtyard. The food was amazing—they served us basically ever dish they’ve ever decided to wrap in phyllo dough. Completely stuffed we decided to spend the day beach hopping so we got in the car and drove about thirty minutes east to Marathi Beach—it was unreal! The water was beautiful and clear, but definitely not warm… I’d describe it as refreshing. We rented two beach chairs and an umbrella and spent the morning there until we decided to walk to one of the local waterside restaurants (recommended by our hotel) for lunch. The restaurant was called Patrelantonis Fish Taverna, and it had to be one of my favorite meals of the trip. We ordered a panzanella greek salad and the salmon linguini and ate lunch on the water. I’d highly recommend going here.

Breakfast at Casa Delfino
Part one of breakfast at Casa Delfino
Marathi Beach
Shaggy Umbrellas at Marathi Beach

Marathi Beach

Patrelantonis Fish Taverna
Patrelantonis Fish Taverna
Patrelantonis Fish Taverna
Our meal at Patrelantonis Fish Taverna
My favorite meal :)
Couldn’t get enough

We got back in the car and drove to Tersanas Beach, but somewhere away from the main area, because I’m pretty sure we were lost. We entered the beach through a small bar, had a beer and then laid out on the sand, which was more of a tiny pebble or rock beach. We swam for a bit and then decided to drive to Kou Kou Vaya, a little caffe (known for their desserts) with an excellent view of Chania. We grabbed coffees and checked the view before heading back to the hotel for showers, and sunset Aperol Spritzes on the rooftop.

Found a few mailboxes along the drive
Found a few mailboxes along the drive
The little beach bar at Tersanas Beach
The little beach bar at Tersanas Beach
Some very frosty bears
Some very frosty bears
Tersanas Beach
Tersanas Beach
Our setup
Our setup
The "sand" texture at Tersanas Beach
The “sand” texture at Tersanas Beach
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The view from Kou Kou Vaya
Casa Delfino Sunset View
Casa Delfino Sunset View
Enjoying a Aperol Spritz's from the roof of our hotel
Enjoying a Aperol Spritz’s from the roof of our hotel (sorry for the blur)
Casa Delfino Aperol Spritz
Sundowners

That night we went to a Cretan restaurant called Portes for dinner. I was so tired I don’t remember exactly what we ordered because we were deliriously tired, but I’m positive it was delicious. This restaurant seemed to attract more of the island’s street cats than normal, and we ended up with one sitting under our table the entire meal and one sitting on our spare chair (on top of Daniel’s jacket).

Portes restaurant is like a hallway
Portes restaurant is like a hallway
Dan passing out at dinner (cat's not yet present)
Dan passing out at dinner (cat’s not yet present)

Friday morning I woke up super early and decided to go up to the rooftop to watch the sun rise. It was about as scenic as a sun rise gets! Then I walked down to the room woke Daniel up and we went down to the courtyard for breakfast. I ordered a hard boiled egg but I’m pretty sure they just accidentally put a fresh egg in the egg dish because when I cracked it a raw egg exploded on the table. That was cute.

Sunset views
Sunset views
Enjoying breakfast (or rather posing with my egg surprise)
Enjoying breakfast (or rather posing with my egg surprise)

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Considering our early start time, we decided to take advantage of the day and drive for an hour and thirty minutes to Elafonisi Beach. The drive was on a tiny, narrow, and at times one-lane road that hugged the edge of various cliffs. Semi-frightening, but also quite stunning. During the time we weren’t driving on the edges of cliffs we went through olive tree orchards. Around ten in the morning we arrived at Elafonisi Beach—one of the most stunning beaches on the planet, turquoise clear water, white sand, huge rock structures and mountain views. On our way in we purchased two water floats, a dolphin and a sting ray—very important.

The trailers just above
The trailers just above Elafonisi Beach (not a bad view)
Elafonisi Beach
Elafonisi Beach
Before the chairs filled up
Before the chairs filled up

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The pool toys we purchased :)
The pool toys we purchased 🙂
Elafonisi Beach
Pano of Elafonisi Beach
“To train ze dolphin you must zink like ze dolphin! You must be getting inside ze dolphin’s head. I am saying, “Akay!… Akay Akay Akay?” und he is saying “AKay Akay!” und he is up on ze tail “Eeeeeeeeee!” und you can quote him!”
Manray
Never not a photo opp
Never not a photo opp

 

Elafonisi Beach
Sponsored by Beer

It was clearly a popular destination for locals and tourists because about two hours after we arrived the beach was full—of large men in tiny speedos, selfie sticks, and people taking modeling photos. We felt like we were back on Ko Phangan island in Thailand where the Israelis at our hotel created the Israeli Modeling Competition. People Safari was amazing.  We got lunch at one of the Kantinas on the beach—nothing fabulous.

People safari at Elafonisi Beach
People safari at Elafonisi Beach
Elafonisi Beach
The sand was pink
Daniel pretending he was on the playa (kinda was...)
Daniel pretending he was on the playa (kinda was…)

When Daniel ordered his slushy he made sure to ask for "LEWON" flavor
When Daniel ordered his slushy he made sure to ask for “LEWON” flavor

We left the beach around 4:30 and drove back to the hotel to shower before running into town to buy ferry tickets for when we went to Santorini. We were told we wouldn’t be able to get them in Elounda (our next destination) without having someone come deliver them to us. So we walked into one of the “travel agencies” somewhere in the town of Chania and seemed to disturb the man staring into space at the counter when we asked him to buy tickets. On a scale of not helpful to extremely helpful, he never even qualified. It was quite entertaining.

Found a this bougainvillea wall on the drive
Found a this bougainvillea wall on the drive
... and some cactus
… and some cactus

We went back to the hotel for our last sunset drinks on the roof. We met a couple on the rooftop who told us a bit about Elounda (our next stop on Crete). Then we went to dinner at Glossitses just at the end of the Old Venetian Harbor. This place was tiny, and looked almost no different from the surrounding restaurants, but the food was beyond—it had to be our favorite dinner we’ve had in Crete. Per usual, we ordered tzatziki, pita, baked feta, tomatoes, pepper, and fresh vegetarian dolmas. The dolmas were homemade and unbelievable!!!! We met some Canadians at the table next to us who told us to find a tiny restaurant on Santorini across from a church with “phallic imagery” as they described it.

Last sunset in Chania
Last sunset in Chania
Aperol Sundowners
Aperol Sundowners
Menu Funnies: "Cheece Pie", "Marinate" "Octapus"
Menu Funnies: “Cheece Pie”, “Marinate” “Octapus”
Dinner at Glossitses in Chania—one of our top meals of the entire trip!
Dinner at Glossitses in Chania—one of our top meals of the entire trip!
Phallic church imagery we were told to look for in Santorini (to locate a restaurant)
Phallic church imagery we were told to look for in Santorini (to locate a restaurant)
Cutie boat
Cutie boat

Saturday morning we woke up at a normal hour went down to the courtyard for breakfast. Today my egg came hard boiled! After breakfast we packed up, got in the car and started our three hour drive to Elounda.

One of Daniel's 20-minute process photos of the Casa Delfino courtyard
One of Daniel’s 20-minute process photos of the Casa Delfino courtyard
The narrow streets of Chania
The narrow streets of Chania

More Observations:

  • Every time you sit at a restaurant they bring you table bread, they also charge you for the table bread, so if you don’t plan to eat it, you may want to ask them not to bring it to you.
  • Most dolmades are not freshly made, the restaurants buy them from the market because the process to make them is rather time consuming.
  • The bills are in Greek 🙂

 

Athens: The Land of Cheese and Pastries

We just got back from our honeymoon trip to Greece, and we wanted to share ALL of the details with you! While I wrote down everything as it happened during the trip on my phone, a combination of bad internet access and not wanting Daniel to kill me resulted in this series of posts happening now.  We hope you enjoy!

Disclosure—I had pretty much nothing to do with planning this trip, so pretty much all credit goes to Daniel (and everyone who gave us recommendations)!

The beginning of the trip!
The beginning of the trip!

We left Los Angeles on Sunday, September 11th and flew Alitalia to Rome. As far as international planes go, this one was less than average—the seats more uncomfortable than Spirit Air, the flight attendants hated people, the vegetarian food had secret ham inside, and Daniel’s TV didn’t work. Daniel never mentioned how much he didn’t enjoy this flight either.

We eventually landed in Rome and went through passport control where Daniel spent the entire time yelling at a T-Mobile representative for deceiving him about his unlimited international data plan. (Apparently he checked both at the store, and with a T-Mobile representative in America before we took off that the plan he bought guaranteed said unlimited international data.) [Note: Don’t use T-Mobile for international data plans.] When Daniel was finally done shouting at the T-Mobile representative, we booked it to our next Alitalia flight to Athens. We both tried to sleep on this flight, but my anxiety levels peaked upon decent when it sounded as if the plane was going to separate from the roof into two large chunks—surprisingly it did not.

Using internet Wi-Fi, Daniel realized that Uber exists in Athens! Our driver, Giorgos—a ‘trendy,’ macho Greek man covered in interesting black tattoos, wearing a floral shirt and some type of pin-stripe pants—drove us to the St.  George Lycabettus Hotel all while twirling/playing with purple and white skull beads. The room was decent, nothing to write home about. But the view from our balcony was awesome. You could see the city with an excellent view of the Acropolis.

Our Uber driver
Our Uber driver
Giorgos twirling his skull beads
Giorgos twirling his skull beads

Our room was decent, nothing to write home about, except that the bed had plastic sheets. But the view from our balcony was awesome. You could see the city with an excellent view of the Acropolis.

Our room at St. George Lycabettus Hotel
Our room at St. George Lycabettus Hotel
Our view from the balcony
Our balcony with a view of the Acropolis
From our balcony we could see the coolest house in Athens (or so we thought)
From our balcony we could see the coolest house in Athens (or so we thought)

Extremely exhausted, we headed out for dinner at a really charming restaurant called Oikeio.  It looked like it belonged in a hillside village in Tuscany. We sat on the sidewalk and watched a man and woman fight with the hostess for what seemed like half of our meal. We ordered a Greek salad, a Halloumi cheese and mint ravioli, a sesame fried feta cheese with honey, and tzatziki. The food looked better than it tasted but the atmosphere was awesome. After dinner we walked around the neighborhood of Kolonaki before returning to the hotel to pass out.

Oikeio: the cutest restaurant
Oikeio: the cutest restaurant
Parts of dinner at Oikeio
Parts of dinner at Oikeio

Tuesday morning we went to a cute coffee shop called Carpo and then to Caffé Da Capo to grab a light breakfast. Daniel was not pleased to discover that Athens is not an ‘egg and toast’ culture. They prefer a croissant or a pastry for breakfast. So after a little nosh we decided to explore the city.

Inside of Carpo, a cute coffee bar that also sells nuts and dried fruits.
Inside of Carpo, a cute coffee bar that also sells nuts and dried fruits.

On our way towards the Acropolis we walked past Parliament, and some ruins. We read that it might be smart to head to the New Acropolis Museum and learn a little bit before heading up to the Acropolis itself. The museum was pretty cool, and the layout was such that as you learned about aspects of the Parthenon, you could actually see it through different vantage points at the museum. After a quick refresher course about ancient Greece and Greek mythology we hiked up the Acropolis and saw the Parthenon. It was incredible, and insane that it only took 9 years to build.

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Just being a super tourist
New Acropolis Museum
The New Acropolis Museum
Views climbing up the Acropolis
Views climbing up the Acropolis
Parthenon Ruins
Parthenon Ruins
Another angle (incase you weren't aware that we were viewing the Parthenon)
Another angle (incase you weren’t aware that we were viewing the Parthenon)
Parthenon Greece Acropolis
Here’s a Jumping Jaxy for posterity

Later we climbed down, and learned that the line to get up to the Acropolis resembled the line for the Matterhorn at Disneyland during the last week of summer vacation—I’m so glad we went early. Tip: We bought our tickets for the Acropolis early in the morning before we went to the museum, we’d recommend you do the same.

Anyway, Daniel had researched a cool restaurant in a non-touristy part of town, so we decided to walk there (at the time I was not aware of how far away it was). We stopped for a quick Greek frozen yogurt with honey along the way—way better than whatever we have in America, and at Central Market (basically a massive outdoor butchery) which was not my cup of tea….

Central Market
Central Market: Smelly, fleshy, and very real.
Central Market
Central Market: these are not rubber chickens.

Forty five minutes later we arrived in a desolate area, with a street full of cute restaurants. We went to one called Gazi College where they introduced some menu items with quotes like Grilled Cheese, “the famous American dish”. The ambiance and decor was awesome. The food was average at best.

Food at Gazi College
Food at Gazi College
The inside of Gazi College
The inside of Gazi College
Gazi College interior
Gazi College decor
The solar system mobile
The solar system mobile
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Bathroom Signs: Female
Gazi College Bathroom Signs
Bathroom Signs: Male
This is us at Gazi College
This is us at Gazi College

After the meal we walked through Plaka before returning to the hotel. Turns out we had walked a total of 13 miles by the time we were back—thanks Daniel. Exhausted, we went to the pool to lay out. I couldn’t help but overhear the woman next to me have a few interesting conversations on her phone. The first conversation was presumably with her boyfriend, where she explained to him that it was her birthday and he would be taking her out for dinner in her party dress. The second one was with her mother where she explained to her that it was rude she hadn’t written a message like “You Are the Sun” on her Facebook wall for her birthday. (It looks like I was taking a video of the view, but turn up your audio).

Lounging by the pool in Athens
Lounging by the pool in Athens

We watched the sunset from our hotel roof top, which has to be one of the highest view points in the city. Then we walked to Cosmote, a local cell phone carrier location, and purchased SIM cards for the rest of our trip before heading to dinner at Malconi—a trendy and absolutely delicious Italian restaurant. Highly recommended. We went to bed early cause we had to wake up at 5:45 AM to go to the airport. Tip: If you’re looking to avoid serious international phone plan costs, we’d highly recommend buying a SIM and plan at Cosmote—very affordable.

Sunset in Athens from our hotel rooftop with views of the Acropolis
Sunset in Athens from our hotel rooftop with views of the Acropolis
Night views of the Acropolis
Night views of the Acropolis
Italian dinner at Malconi's
Italian dinner at Malconi’s

Wednesday morning we woke up when it was still dark out. We got into an Uber and headed to the airport. We flew RyanAir this time. Fortunately for us, Daniel read the carryon policy ahead of time and learned that RyanAir has a smaller bag size allowed than any other airline. So we bought tickets to check in our extra bags for $20 each. Thank goodness we did this, because when we arrived at the airport, anyone who had a bag that was too large (aka everyone) had to pay an $80 bag check-in fee for their carryon. Tip: If you have a normal size rolling bag, you should look into buying extra bags ahead of time.

We went through security and waited quite some time for our bags to come through the other side of the scanner since the man in front of us had to have his switchblade and a shiv removed from his man purse before anyone could do anything (not joking).

We boarded the plane and I was sat next to a woman who made me look like I had no awareness of flight anxiety. She had white knuckles the entire flight from squeezing the arm rest, my arm, and my leg. She also seemed to be praying quite a bit. Very confidence instilling. After a quick 45 minute flight, we landed in Crete!

 

Observations about Athens:

  • All Taxis are yellow Mercedes
  • Not a breakfast culture (no eggs)
  • Uber works well here
  • Lots of Jants
  • Couldn’t seem to figure out how to get the light in the bathroom stalls to turn on. So I was always peeing in the dark.

Tokyo from Tsukiji Fish Market to the Robot Restaurant

We’ve been moving non-stop since we’ve been here.

Tuesday morning we slept in and decided to have a more relaxing day, but in the same areas as the day before). We started off the day going back to Bagel Bagel for breakfast, and to The Roastery for coffee. Then we wandered into a few of Tokyo’s many sock shops (these shops, dedicated to the sale of socks and socks only, exist on every corner in this city—who knew how popular socks were here?). When we were near Harajuku we went to a store called 6% Doki Doki and I bought a cartoon tooth ring (so appropriate for my family). Such a cool store!

Bagel Bagel Ebisu Tokyo
Bagel Bagel for breakfast.
Tokyo Sock Shop
One of Tokyo’s many sock shops (these shops, dedicated to the sale of socks and socks only, exist on every corner in this city—who knew how popular socks were here?).
 6% Doki Doki
When we were near Harajuku we went to a store called 6% Doki Doki and I bought a cartoon tooth ring (so appropriate for my family). Such a cool store!
 6% Doki Doki
Welcome to 6% Dokidoki! A sensational “Kawaii” shop in HARAJUKU which is recognized as the most avant guard representation of Japanese pop-culture. According to the store their concept is “sensational-cute”, “shocking cute”, “cute beyond the time”, “cute too mono-things”.
 6% Doki Doki Ring
Dr. Tooth Ring from 6% Doki Doki

For lunch we went to Bill’s Omotesando a new restaurant by Bill Granger (Anthony Bourdain’s friend). The food was ridiculously good! I think I had one of the most delicious salads of my life with grilled halloumi cheese and vegetables. Daniel got an amazing sandwich with sage and mozzarella cheese as well as ricotta filled pancakes with banana. We would both highly recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting Tokyo so long as you’re up for an hour wait—but we promise the food is really that good!

Bill’s Omotesando Tokyo
Lunch at Bill’s Omotesando I think I had one of the most delicious salads of my life with grilled halloumi cheese and vegetables. Daniel got an amazing sandwich with sage and mozzarella cheese.
Bill’s Omotesando Tokyo
The most amazing ricotta filled pancakes with banana.

In the afternoon Daniel and I split up, he wanted to do some work and I wanted to explore more of Shibuya. So I had a good few hours of getting lost in the shopping streets and malls of the area (but was too overwhelmed to buy anything) before reconvening back in Ebisu. We had a few drinks in the room (beer and sake) and then returned to SpaJiro for dinner at 11:00 PM (we had to convince them to let us in as they said the had already closed the kitchen—but when we told them we had came back a second night in a row, they miraculously let us in). Once again the food was delicious!

JR in Tokyo
This is what everyone looks like on the JR—even thought they are the only public transit system I have ever been on that explicitly states no cell phone usage.
SpaJiro Japanese Pasta Ebisu
Creatures of habit—got the same thing.
SpaJiro Japanese Pasta Ebisu
Same same—not different.

From 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM we bar-hopped and walked the streets to keep ourselves awake as we decided to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market with hopes of making it to the famous tuna auction. We took a cab at 3:15 in the morning and were the 64th and 65th people (we made the second group) to arrive out of a maximum of 120 people. We were given blue jerseys to put on over our clothes to identify us and sat in a “waiting room” until 5:50 AM when we were finally called into the auction.—If you want to see the Tsukiji tuna auction, here’s how it works. When you arrive at the fish market you must “apply” at the Osakana Fukyu Center (Fish Information Center) at the Kachidoki Gate, starting from 3:00AM on a first-come, first-serve basis. A first group of 60 visitors will be admitted to the auction between 5:25 and 5:50, while a second group of 60 visitors will be admitted between 5:50 and 6:15. If you don’t make it early enough, they will turn you away.

Tsukiji Fish Market Map
A basic map of the Tsukiji Fish Market.
Tsukiji Fish Market
The “waiting room” at the Tsukiji Fish Market looks like two teams waiting to play each other in something —even though most people are sleeping.

 

Tsukiji Fish Market Waiting Room
“It’s 4 AM and we couldn’t be more excited to be waiting to get into the tuna auction at the Tsujiki Fish Market—just look at our faces.”
Tsukiji Fish Market Waiting Room
And now it’s 5 AM and we still have to wait another 50 minutes.

When we walked into the auction room we a bunch of sushi chefs standing over a couple hundred massive flash frozen tunas rubbing, poking and prodding them with some type of a hook on a stick . Moments later a man jumped on a box crate and started the auction; he was shouting so passionately he was basically singing. The auction was super quick and within a matter of minutes some of these men had spent the equivalent of a couple thousand dollars up to ten thousand dollars per tuna. Crazy!

Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction
One of the many auction area’s in this massive building where tuna auctions take place.
Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction
“We didn’t sleep last night because we wanted to make it to the Tsukiji tuna auction at the largest wholesale fish market in the world. We showed up at 3:15 AM to get 2 of the coveted 120 spots for the day. Finally at 5:50 AM the fish police (yes they exist) escorted us into a warehouse where we watched the most badass fish auction (with a single tuna selling for up to 10k) of all time. Now we’re waiting in another hour and a half line to eat it.”
Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction
Fish inspection.

Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction
Us with the fishes.
Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction
Dragging out the tuna he just paid for.

At 6:30 AM we walked out of the tuna auction and into the outdoor fish market where we immediately got into another line to wait for fresh sushi for breakfast. After an hour and a half later we finally made it to the front of the line for Daiwa Sushi, Tsukiji’s most famous sushi bar, after which you’ll be expected to eat and run,   restaurant with 11 seats at the bar. The chef made us the most delicious sushi of all time (I know I’ve said that before, but this was really the winning meal of the trip) and when we left we were absolutely exhausted. We somehow managed to make it back to our hotel without falling asleep on public transit and spent the most of the day sleeping.

Daiwa Sushi  Tsukiji Fish Market
Waiting in line for Daiwa Sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market at 7 AM.
Daiwa Sushi Tsukiji Fish Market
The line for Daiwa Sushi Tsukiji Fish Market.
Daiwa Sushi Tsukiji Fish Market
Inside of the amazing Daiwa Sushi where you’re expected to eat and run.
Daiwa Sushi Tsukiji Fish Market
Us post eating the best sushi meal of all time!

We woke up at 4:00 PM Wednesday afternoon and went straight to Shinjuku to check in for the Robot Restaurant. For a show that’s all about modernity, their check in process is extremely antiquated. They don’t let you do much online ahead of time and when you walk in the door they make you stand in random lines for no reason—but this is beside the point. At 5:30 PM we walked down the most amazing staircase (I can’t even describe it so just look at the photos) and walked into what felt like a game show. We sat down in our pre-assigned seats and soon watched the most incredible hour and a half of entertainment. Part girly show and part hilarity there isn’t anything, anywhere more amazing than the robot show. Featuring incredible and ridiculous lifelike giant robots manned by sequined and sparkly bikini-clad women with rainbow wigs, there’s enough neon and lights in the small space to light all of Shinjuku and then some…

Robot Restaurant Robot Show
During the show the forrest people fought against the real robots using robotic animals and mystical creatures. So Cool!

Robot Restaurant Tokyo Japan
Daniel entering the Robot Restaurant down 3 flights of psychedelic stairs.
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Rainbow ladies on the drums.

Robot Restaurant Bathroom
The most incredible bathroom at the Robot Restaurant.

Robot Restaurant Tokyo
The bar at the robot restaurant.

Post show we walked to dinner at an Italian restaurant (it was the only restaurant without a line in the area) called Italian Market, but really should have been called, “We’re Learning to Make What We Think is Italian Food”. Needless to say, the food was nothing special. After dinner we walked to Don Quijote—a random four-story souvenir shop, and left almost immediately after to go back and pack.

Don Quijote Market Shinjuku
“Pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap gets taken to the extreme at the Shinjuku branch of Don Qujote. The aisles and shelves are cluttered, disorganised and disorientating, but you’ll find everything from snacks to washing machines – if you look hard enough, at least.”
Don Quijote Market Shinjuku
Weirdly, there is an entire isle devoted to transgender costumes at Don Quijote Market.
Don Quijote Market Shinjuku
I thought about getting these for Halloween this year…. not quite sure what they are supposed to be.

Today was the last day of our trip. We woke up early to go back to Ueno Park to check out the cherry blossom trees during the day, which was more magnificent than the other night. It was crazy to see how many people were out so early at the park considering how dead the city feels at this time of day. After a bunch of photos we left and took the train to Harajuku station. We walked to The Roastry by Nozy Coffee for one last session with Riku (he’s the greatest) and went back to the hotel to get our bags. We took a 30-minute JR train to Noppori Station and another 30-minute Skytrain to Narita International Airport.

Ueno Park Cherry Blossoms
Blossoms during the day time
Ueno Park Cherry Blossoms
Last poses with the Sakura Blossoms.
Ueno Park Cherry Blossoms
Found this little wierdo being forced to pose by his mother in front of something near the cherry blossoms, but not the main attractions themselves.
Ueno Park Cherry Blossoms
Jumping Jaxy at Ueno Park Cherry Blossom festival

The Roastry by Nozy Coffee
One last stop at The Roastry by Nozy Coffee with Riku.
"Peace out Asia. From Sawadika to Ni-How to Konichiwa (to backpacks and suitcases) its been real. Thanks for the hospitality, the eccentricities, and all the other amazingly weird stuff. We'll keep the memories for years. Back to reality—onwards and upwards"
“Peace out Asia. From Sawadika to Ni-How to Konichiwa (to backpacks and suitcases) its been real. Thanks for the hospitality, the eccentricities, and all the other amazingly weird stuff. We’ll keep the memories for years. Back to reality—onwards and upwards”

At the airport we happened to bump into a friend I met abroad in Argentina named Ben. Ben joined Daniel and I for sushi at Gate 33 (recommended by Tessa) for our last meal at Narita Airport—sometimes the world feels so small. Now were sitting on the plane on the way back to Los Angeles.

Narita International Airport Japan
Outside of Gate 33 sushi restaurant at Narita International Airport with Ben.

I can’t believe it’s been two months since we left. It’s been a wonderful adventure filled with amazing experiences and memories that we won’t soon forget.

Flight to America
“After an amazing 4 months of traveling we are heading back to LA to start our new lives up in a new city”

Stay tuned as we’ll continue to post some other amazing things about the trip that we didn’t have time to do on the go.

Thanks so much for following our journey—we hope you enjoyed it!

Xx

LJ + DS

Timelapse in Tokyo During Cherry Blossom Season

We’re back in Tokyo!

Our hotel here, The Hotel Excellent Ebisu (such a silly name) is a two minute walk from the Ebisu subway station. After checking into our room (which is just large enough to fit a double bed and a desk plus a small bathroom), and unpacking—aka rearranging the room completely so we could sort of fit our stuff—we decided to have some whisky.

Hotel Excellent Ebisu bed
This is basically the room minus the hallway with the two peg’s (aka the closet). —This is clearly not our photo, please note the handheld video camera next to the telephone.
The Hotel Excellent Ebisu
the hallway aka. the closet in our room.

Around 9:30 PM we left to find a vegetarian ramen restaurant which, after roaming the streets and consulting multiple people, we found out no longer exists. However, in the process of trying to find this place we made three new Japanese friends who spoke very (and I mean very) limited English—they also filmed our entire twenty-minute interaction. After some communication with Google Translate, they ended up walking us down the street to a place called Afuri Ramen, which turned out to be one of the best ramen restaurants in the area. We ordered our vegetarian ramen via vending machine (with the help of one of the waitresses because we are useless without English)—so cool. Within five minutes of sitting down we were eating delicious ramen (I’d say “slurping delicious ramen” because that’s actually how you’re supposed to enjoy ramen here—slurping, making noise, and not chewing— but I detest slurping and noisy eaters with all of my being so I won’t say that)—great way to start the night.

Ebisu Tokyo
New friends via ramen hunting. The doctor on the right is the one who filmed the majority of our interaction.
Afuri Ramen Ebisu Tokyo
Unbelievable ramen! #nomnomnom
Afuri Ramen Ebisu Japan
Afuri Ramen (I went back in the daytime to take this, just in case anyone ends up here and wants to find this place.)

Completely full we left dinner and went to meet up with Brandon and Patty at Shamrock by Abbot’s Choice bar in Roppongi. We had a few drinks together before going our separate ways. Daniel and I caught a second wind and decided we’d explore Golden Gai—wall-to-wall izakaya (bars) in Shinjuku. The area of Golden Gai is smaller than an average city block with about six tiny streets populated by various closet-sized bars (each bar fits about five to eight people including the bartender). We found one bar where, according to the bartender, the theme was “nostalgic Japanese toys and candy.” We stayed for a few drinks until we decided to call it a night. We only realized how late we’d managed to stay out when we tried to take the subway back to our hotel and learned it was closed because it was 4:30 AM.

Golden Gai at night Shinjuku-
Ariel view of Golden Gai— smaller than an average city block with about six tiny streets populated by various closet-sized bars
Golden Gai shinjuku at night
One of the many narrow streets of Golden Gai.
Golden Gai Shinjuku
One of the tiny doors to a Golden Gai bar.
Golden Gai izakaya Shinjuku
According to the bartender, the theme was “nostalgic Japanese toys and candy.”
Golden Gai izakaya Shinjuku
Bar tender in a suit.

Sunday was the first morning we woke up on our own (without an alarm clock since Thailand). We grabbed croissants at the café next door and chose to spend our first morning in Tokyo at a laundry matt doing some domestic chores. While we were waiting for our laundry to cycle we walked to Shibuya and watched hundreds of people crisscrossing the streets at Shibuya Crossing or “scramble crossing”—it was pretty cool. Starving, we headed to L’OCCITANE Café (who knew they sold things other than body products) for lunch and ended up with a window spot on the third floor overlooking the cross walk. Then we went back to the laundry matt to dry our clothes just as it started to rain outside (not so fun). On our freezing-cold walk back to Hotel Excellent we popped into a place called Liquidroom, which is a live venue for punk music—we had no idea what was going on inside as no one spoke English and most people were dressed up in bizarre costumes with masks and weird fake fur accessories.

Ebisu Laundry Matt Detergent
Which detergent to choose from at the laundry matt?
Laundry Matt Tokyo
larger than laundry
Shibuya Crossing aka Scramble Crossing
Shibuya Crossing aka Scramble Crossing

Shibuya Crossing or Scramble Crossing
Jumping Jaxy—in Shibuya at the world’s largest pedestrian crossing. Traffic is stopped in all directions, allowing pedestrians to crisscross in what some might call organized chaos. Oh and I look like I have 4 legs.
L’OCCITANE Café  Shibuya
L’OCCITANE Café—delicious meal for lunch with a window spot on the third floor overlooking the cross walk
Liquidroom Tokyo
Liquidroom—a live punk music venue—we had no idea what was going on inside as no one spoke English and most people were dressed up in bizarre costumes with masks and weird fake fur accessories.

Back at the hotel we changed into warmer clothes and took the JR for thirty minutes to Ueno Park to check out the Cherry Blossom “Sakura” festival at night. I have never seen trees so magnificent before. The trunks are a beautiful whitish grey color and the marshmellowy powder pink and white petals are stunning beyond description. It was an awesome experience to be able to walk through a lantern-lit park with a pink floral ceiling. At the end of the trees is a staircase that leads down to a night market selling every type of (non-vegetarian) food you could imagine. It looked delicious, but considering we couldn’t eat anything we walked for twenty minutes towards Akihabara to an Pakistani-Indian restaurant called DELHI, which Daniel really enjoyed and I’d rather not spend another minute writing about.

Ueno Park to check out the Cherry Blossom “Sakura” festival
Cherry blossoms at night.
Ueno Park to check out the Cherry Blossom “Sakura” festival
The row of cherry blossom tress.
Ueno Park to check out the Cherry Blossom “Sakura” festival
Herrrrooo from the sakura festival.
Ueno Park to check out the Cherry Blossom “Sakura” festival food
Food at the festival.
Ueno Park to check out the Cherry Blossom “Sakura” festival food
Salted fish on a spit.
DELHI Pakistani-Indian restaurant in Akihabara
Our meal at Delhi—tomato soup and something else with rice.

After dinner we walked into the heart of Akihabara aka electronic town, which is also known as geek universe as it’s a hub for anime fans and cosplayers. Using Crissy’s map we wandered around the area. We went to Yodobashi, the largest of the many massive electronics mea-malls in the area (Daniel was super happy to shop around here), to Gundam Café, an anime themed café which wasn’t for us, to Anime Plaza (exactly what it sounds like), and to Super Potato Retro-kan a 5-floor vintage arcade shop. It was a totally mind-blowing experience to walk into a neighborhood where people dress up like cartoon/anime characters and take it really seriously.

Akihabara at night
Akihabara at night
Yodobashi Camera
Daniel in the zone.
Yodobashi Camera
Wall of portable chargers.
SUPER POTATO AKIHABARA
Super Potato—Japan’s leading second-hand retro game shop.
Gundam Café,
Gundam Café decor.
Gundam Café,
I think this is a Gundam,

Monday morning we woke up and went to Bagel Bagel for breakfast, before walking from Ebisu to Shibuya (to see Hachiko, the dog statue) and up to Cat Street. On Cat Street we walked in and out of a bunch of the shops until Daniel used Bean Hunter to find the most amazing coffee shop–The Roastery by Nozy Coffee, which reminded us of Four Barrel in San Francisco. We became friendly with one of the baristas named Riku, who took good care of us and helped us order. Then we continued on our walking tour and went to the Oriental Bazaar (a shop filled with Japanese China and Kimonos), to Kiddy Land (a 5 story mall filled with everything that’s every been considered cute/a product of San Rio Hello Kitty), to La Foret Mall (Harajuku fashion mall), and to KINJI (a vintage store). We stumbled into Tokyo Women’s Plaza, a mall with a brand new restaurant called Hands Café, and decided to sit down for lunch, which was delicious.

Bagel Bagel
The best bagles in Tokyo.
Hachiko statue in Shibuya
Hachiko was an Akita dog born on a farm near the city of Ōdate, Akita Prefecture who is remembered for his remarkable loyalty to his owner which continued for many years after his owner’s death.
Cat Street Tokyo
The coolest street in Tokyo!
The Roastery by Nozy Coffee in Tokyo
Riku at The Roastery by Nozy Coffee in Tokyo
Oriental Bazaar Tokyo
Oriental Bazaar floor of Japanese China.
Oriental Bazaar Tokyo
Kimono floor at Oriental Bazaar.
Kiddy Land Tokyo
Caught a mom making her kid pose, so I snuck this shot at Kiddy Land.
Kiddy Land Tokyo
Herroooo Kitty.
La Foret Mall Harajuku
La Foret Mall—the epicenter of Harajuku fashion and strange amazingness.
Kinji 2nd hand Tokyo
Kinji—the largest 2nd Hand street fashion shop in all of Tokyo, I found a cotton candy person here.
Hands Café Tokyo
Brand new restaurant Hands Café,

After lunch we walked to Harajuku (my favorite area) and took a walk down the very crowded and narrow Takeshita Street, where I felt like a salmon swimming upstream amid a crowd of giddy, sparkly girls and boys dressed like an all blond version of One Direction. Walking down this street only confirmed to me that there is one speed in Japan—Geisha-speed aka NO ONE walks quickly, briskly, or swiftly—at times walking through crowds here can feel frustrating as you know you aren’t getting anywhere anytime soon. Halfway down Takeshita Street we stopped at Marion Crepes (which we were told is a must do activity when in Harajuku) for crepes—they were pretty good but not better than milk tea.

Harajuku Tokyo
Harajuku!!!!!!!!!
Marion Crepes
The most well-known crepe place in Harajuku.
Marion Crepes
Plastic crepes
MARION CREPES Harajuku
Enjoying our crepes outside of Marion Crepes.

At the end of this long street (and with all that remained of Daniel’s patience for being in this area) we stumbled on Pikura, a very popular photo-booth area where teenagers come to take photos with their friends. Unlike any photo booth I’ve been to before, these booths enlarge your eyes to make them look like those of an anime character and then let you decorate your photos with stamps and weird expressions before you print them. Obviously I had way to much fun here!

Pikura Photo Harajuku
At the end of this long street (and with all that remained of Daniel’s patience for being in this area) we stumbled on Pikura, a very popular photo-booth area where teenagers come to take photos with their friends. Unlike any photo booth I’ve been to before, these booths enlarge your eyes to make them look like those of an anime character and then let you decorate your photos with stamps and weird expressions before you print them. Obviously I had way to much fun here!
Pikura Photo Harajuku
Pikura—here’s what the photo strip says (not sure what the theme is) “Today is a very very special day!!! Friends makes me happy every day. We will be great friends forever”

With our feet ready to fall off, we decided to take the JR back to Ebisu station to go to our hotel, before going to SpaJiro a Japanese pasta restaurant, for dinner (which was surprisingly delicious).

SpaJiro Japanese Pasta
SpaJiro—Japanese pasta for dinner (which was surprisingly delicious).
SpaJiro Japanese Pasta
More Japanese pasta.

We’re loving Tokyo!

 

Hakone, Hot Springs, and Yukata Robes

From Odawara Station, Daniel and I took the subway to the Hakone-Yumoto Station and walked about five minutes to another hole in the wall sushi-only restaurant for lunch. I’d love to tell you the name of it, but it was in Japanese and I can’t remember it. Anyway, the sushi may have been the best we’ve had! If you can find it, I suggest you go there.

Odawara Station Japan
Odawara Station architecture
Hakone hole in the wall sushi
I’d love to tell you the name of this place, but it was in Japanese and I can’t remember it. Anyway, the sushi may have been the best we’ve had! If you can find it, I suggest you go there.
Hakone hole in the wall sushi
Hakone lunch. This hole in the wall sushi just keeps getting better and better!

We arrived at the beautiful Hakone Tensien Hotel, a traditional onsen ryokan in the afternoon. The moment we entered the hotel we were instructed to take our shoes off and put them in a “shoes box” as shoes are for the outside. We were then given a pair of Japanese socks that look like feet mittens or lobster claws (theres a place for your big toe and another place for your other four toes). After checking in we were handed traditional Japanese robes called yukata (the simple version of a kimono), put our bags in the room, and changed to go up to the gender-specific onsen (aka indoor spa). Thank goodness for the kindness of a Japanese teenager who saw me (probably looking as confused as I felt) when I walked into the changing room. She showed me what things to do (where to put my robe away, how to use the sitting shower, and to carry a small towel with me into every bath)—honestly I would have been completely lost without her. Daniel and I had different experiences, apparently he had to shave his beard off entirely before he could go into the baths (neither of us are sure if he actually had to do this or if there was a miscommunication somewhere) but we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

Hakone Tensien Hotel, a traditional onsen ryokan
A view of Hakone Tensien Hotel through the cherry blossom trees.
Hakone Tensien Hotel, a traditional onsen ryokan
The moment we entered the hotel we were instructed to take our shoes off and out them in a “shoe box” as shoes are for the outside.
Hakone Tensien Hotel, a traditional onsen ryokan
We arrived at the beautiful Hakone Tensien Hotel, a traditional onsen ryokan.

After the baths we explored the beautiful grounds of the hotel in traditional Japanese squishy sandals, surrounded by mountains, koi fish, ducks and waterfalls before heading back upstairs to work on the blog before dinner.

Hakone Tensien Hotel, a traditional onsen ryokan dinner
Traditional Japanese squishy sandals and lobster toe socks.
Hakone Tensien Hotel, a traditional onsen ryokan
There he goes again chasing waterfalls! Oy, he never learns.
Hakone Tensien Hotel, a traditional onsen ryokan
Fish in the pond.

Dinner was the most incredible buffet of Japanese food and Western food (or some interpretation of it). Everyone in the ryokan wears their yukata robes to dinner along with their lobster socks—pretty amazing. Daniel and I tried anything that didn’t contain meat or shellfish, which included everything from nigiri, to french fries, to Japanese vegetables, to white chocolate fondue fountain. The sushi was fabulous and Daniel was loving the white chocolate fondue.

Hakone Tensien Hotel, a traditional onsen ryokan dinner
Dinner buffet smattering of Japanese food and Western cuisine (or some interpretation of it).
Hakone Tensien Hotel, a traditional onsen ryokan dinner
Daniel having a love affair, or a conversation, or some type of moment with this fountain of white chocolate.

Saturday morning we woke up in a freezing cold room (because we’re idiots and we left the window open last night) which made it difficult to get out of bed. We put on our yukata robes and made it down to the breakfast buffet, which was good but nothing compared to dinner. The scrambled eggs, looked and tasted more like porridge (I decided these are not for me) so we ate toast and pancakes.

Breakfast Buffet in Hakone
Breakfast—the scrambled eggs, looked and tasted more like porridge (I decided these are not for me) so we ate toast and pancakes.
Hakone Breakfast
Morning coffee with a side of yukata robe.
Hakone Breakfast
Cool.

Even though we had a 10 AM checkout, we wanted to go back up to the onesen for one last spa hour, so we brought our bags down to the lobby (still dressed in our robes to check out). It turns out this is not standard practice at the hotel—they thought that we thought the robes were a gift and that we were trying to steal them. After some confusion we managed to clarify things and went up to the spa. It was awesome to be there just after cleaning hour ended because the whole onesen was relatively empty!

Hakone Tensien Hotel
The Hakone Tensien Hotel staff thought that we thought the robes were a gift and that we were trying to steal them
Yukata Robes
Once upon a time there were two people who traveled to a ryokan in Hakone and tried to fit in by wearing yukata robes in the garden.—Happy cherry blossom season to you and yours.

Daniel and I met in the lobby, went out to the garden and did a little photoshoot in our robes before handing them in. We walked to the Hakone-Yumoto Station and took the train to the Hakone Open Air Museum (recommended to us by Laurie and Washington). The museum was incredible—it had the most amazing sculpture garden ether of us have ever seen, amid the most gorgeous scenery and landscaping (plus the cherry blossom tress are blooming left and right). We spent a few hours walking around and right before we left I accidently stepped into a fountain and got one full soaking wet—so annoying. Then we took a VERY slow train ride back to Hakone station. We grabbed lunch at the same sushi place as the day before (we were the only ones inside) and headed back to hotel to get our bags.

Hakone Open Air Museum Japan
La Pleureuse 1986
Hakone Open Air Museum Japan
I LOVE this sculpture!
Hakone Open Air Museum Japan
Joan Miro piece in front of an awesome structure.
Hakone Open Air Museum Japan
The Picasso museum in the Hakone Open Air Museum Japan
Hakone Open Air Museum Japan
“Sunny side upside down”—The Hakone Open Air Museum has the most spectacular sculpture collection ever—P.S. this is right before I stepped into a fountain and got soaking wet by mistake
Hakone Open Air Museum Japan
The museum was incredible—it had the most amazing sculpture garden ether of us have ever seen, amid the most gorgeous scenery and landscaping (plus the cherry blossom tress are blooming left and right).
Hakone Open Air Museum Japan
A restaurant that only serves hotdogs as a meal.
Hakone Train
A VERY slow train ride back to Hakone station bored the shit outta these two.

We decided to splurge and take a five minute cab right back to the Hakone station and took a subway to Odawara station. Then we took the JR bullet train to Ebisu and finally ended up back in Tokyo! —transportation here is so much more efficient than in Thailand.

We took the JR bullet train—so cool!
We took the JR bullet train—so cool!
JR Train Japan
I don’t know that our bags were supposed to go up here…

Another interesting thing to note—all female bathroom signs here lead you to believe that as a woman, you only have one leg.

Japanese Bathroom Signs
Another interesting thing to note—all female bathroom signs here lead you to believe that as a woman, you only have one leg.
Japanese Bathroom Signs
One leg.

Kyoto is a Japanese Tea Ceremony

Wednesday morning we rented bikes from the hotel and went to a French restaurant, Boulangerie, for croissants and ran into Mats and Robert (our friends from the night before).

Boulangerie Rauk
Boulangerie Sheep pastries—obviously, because it’s the year of the sheep.

Then we continued our search for gloves until we finally found, what I’m convinced they are the last two pairs in Kyoto (they have some serious personality). Then we biked for an hour in thirty-degree weather to Arashiyama. As we were crossing the Togetsu-kyo Bridge near the main street area, it started to rain and hail (so fun). So we parked our bikes and searched for shelter. We found a soba restaurant but when Daniel went inside to ask how long the wait would be, the hostest refused to acknowledge him. So we walked down the road and found a cute Japanese style restaurant (I think it was called Shigetsu), which much nicer service. We ate a very traditional meal, but it was very bland, nonetheless, lunch was an experience.

Biking in Arashiyama Kyoto
Biking in thirty-degree weather to Arashiyama.
Biking in Arashiyama Kyoto
As we were crossing the Togetsu-kyo Bridge in Arashiyama near the main street area, it started to rain and hail (so fun). This is just before that happened.
Shigetsu Restaurant Menu
The menu which we couldn’t understand a word of. Thank goodness for photos that are semi descriptive.
Shigetsu Restaurant Arashiyama
We ate a very traditional meal, but it was very bland, nonetheless, lunch was an experience. This is part 1.
Shigetsu Restaurant Arashiyama
Part 2 of lunch.

As the rain and hail stopped we found our way into the Bamboo Forest— this place was absolutely magical and enchanting! We meandered through the forest until we found Tenryu-ji Temple, which had the most beautiful garden and lots of newly budding cherry tree blossoms.

Bamboo Grove Arashiyama
As the rain and hail stopped we found our way into the Bamboo Forest— this place was absolutely magical and enchanting!
Bamboo Grove Arashiyama
Jumping Jaxy—in the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama.
Bamboo Grove Arashiyama
Team shot in the Bamboo Grove/Forest.
Bamboo Grove Arashiyama
Go pro shot of the bamboo.
Tenryu-ji Temple in the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama
Us in front of Tenryu-ji Temple.
Tenryu-ji Temple in the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama
Jumping Jaxy—in Tenryu-ji Temple.
Tenryu-ji Temple in the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama
Us in front of the koi fish pond.
Tenryu-ji Temple in the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama
The rock garden in front of Tenryu-ji Temple.
Tenryu-ji Temple in the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama
The most magnificent garden filled with budding cherry blossom trees.
Cherry Tree Blossoms
Spring is here apparently—its cherry blossom season.
Tenryu-ji Temple Cherry Blossom Season in the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama
Finally! Cherry Blossom season coming to fruition.

We took lots of photos and then got back on our bikes to go to the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama. We climbed up a hill for a good twenty minutes, learning trivia about monkeys along the way, until we arrived at the top where we could see panoramic views of all of Kyoto. On the hill there are about 200 monkeys roaming freely. The monkeys all have red faces and butts because their blood shows through their skin. They all looked like they were freezing by the way they sat huddling, perched up on various things. There are a few monkey guards who keep the monkeys from charging people (which happens every now and then) by running at them and barking—unique approach. Daniel and I posed for a few photos amid the city views and the monkeys before climbing down the mountain.

Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Monkey see monkey do. But I actually sit like this, so I’m not sure who is copying who.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
This is GRANDMA—the oldest monkey at the park—you can tell she’s old because she is skinnier, less fluffy, and more worn down than the rest—is 35 years old (the average age for this kind of monkey is 30) and appeared to be smarter than the rest because she was sitting at the base of an outdoor heater.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Daniel and I posed for a few photos amid the city views and the monkeys.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Same same, but different.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Unreal Kyoto panoramic views from the monkey park.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Keep reading www.PocketJax.com!

We got on our bikes and started riding as the sun disappeared behind the mountain. About 20 minutes into our ride I hit a curb the wrong way and went flying—next thing I knew I was on the floor with the bike behind me. I freaked myself out and started crying. Daniel came over to hug me, asked if I was okay, and then told me we could fix my jeans. At that point I looked down and realized the fall had shredded my jeans open, this was when I actually started to cry (sad but true). Through my torn jeans we could tell that I was bleeding a bit, but couldn’t really access much of my skin. Daniel found a bike store about three shops away from us (pure luck) and we hobbled over. The two guys running the shop spoke 0 English. They saw I had been crying, saw my shredded jeans, and tried to ask Daniel what happened. They were able to communicate with each other by using Google Translate (so amazing). Eventually Daniel got on the phone with someone’s wife who was translating in English and Japanese for everyone. I called he hotel to see if they could arrange to get the bikes—because we couldn’t fit them into a taxi—and they couldn’t have been sweeter or more helpful. Between the hotel and the bike shop something was worked out. While this was going on, one of they guys at the bike shop ran down the street to bring us hot chocolate because it was freezing. So nice! They called us a cab and we went back to the hotel.

Japanese Bike Shop
Despite not being able to exchange a word in a common language, this man was a complete angle to me. He even ran down the street to bring us hot chocolate because it was freezing out. So nice!

As I was cleaning myself up in the room, the doorbell rang. I opened the door to two very sweet staff members who brought me big Band-Aids, gauze, sterilizing agent, and water as a “sympathy gift”. I was so touched. Before we left for dinner, we went down to the lobby to thank the manager. He handed us a bag, which he told us was “a sympathy gift from the men at the bike shop”. Inside the bag were two bike lights, one that looks like a cat and one that looks like a dog. I was so deeply moved by their kindness. After all, we interrupted them, took time out of their day, and put them out, and yet they managed to give us something yet again. The kindness of people here is something I will never forget.

Animal Bike Lights
A sympathy gift from the bike store guys—cat and dog bike lights.. I was so deeply moved by their kindness.

For dinner we walked to a famous restaurant called Ippudo Ramen and ordered delicious vegetarian ramen. Daniel and I both highly recommend this place! After dinner we wandered around the very empty and very quiet streets for a bit (all of Kyoto at night feels like a tea ceremony because no one speaks) before heading back to the hotel to sleep.

Ippudo Ramen Kyoto
Shotgun restaurant style at Ippudo Ramen.
Ippudo Ramen Kyoto
The most delicious vegetarian ramen. Daniel and I both highly recommend this place!

Thursday we woke up early (even though it was so difficult to get out of bed) and went back to Boulangerie for breakfast. We sat next to Mats and Robert and exchanged stories about the day before. Breakfast was delicious, scrambled eggs with unlimited breads and coffee. Daniel and I took the bus to Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed “Golden Pavilion”. The original building was built in 1397 and was converted into a temple, but then in 1950 a monk consummated his obsession with the temple by burning it to the ground—weird. In 1955 the temple underwent a full reconstruction—the temple and its garden were majestic and ridiculous. On our way out, we tried various types of mochi snacks and green tea (some with gold leaf inside).

Boulangerie Rauk Kyoto
The pastry section of Boulangerie. So yum!
Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed “Golden Pavilion”.
Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed “Golden Pavilion”. The original building was built in 1397 and was converted into a temple, but then in 1950 a monk consummated his obsession with the temple by burning it to the ground—weird. In 1955 the temple underwent a full reconstruction—the temple and its garden were majestic and ridiculous.
Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed “Golden Pavilion”.
I liked the tickets so I took this shot—Daniel told me it was silly…..
Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed “Golden Pavilion”.
…one minute later as we’re taking this photo the woman standing next to us puts her tickets out. Photo jacking.
Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed “Golden Pavilion”.
Us in front of Kinkaku-ji.
Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed “Golden Pavilion”.
We offered to take a group shot of these boys and instead of letting us take it, they asked us to be in it, and still made one of their friends take it.

For lunch we went to Nishiki Market aka Kyoto’s Pantry to check out all of the strange and exciting food. We bought some weird cheese stick but didn’t like it. Then we tried Onigiri, the triangle sushi rice wrapped in seaweed with poppy seeds, and it couldn’t have been more delicious! We spent around forty-five minutes walking up and down the pathway, checking out the different foods at the different stalls. Eventually we ended up at Iyomata, a hole in the wall sushi-only restaurant and had some tasty and authentic sushi.

Nishiki Market aka Kyoto’s Pantry
Nishiki Market has these colorful glass windowed ceilings that are different than every other inclosed outdoor area.
Nishiki Market aka Kyoto’s Pantry
Random foods at Nishiki Market.
Nishiki Market aka Kyoto’s Pantry
Dried, dehydrated, and flattened squid shop.
Nishiki Market aka Kyoto’s Pantry
Sweets shop.
 Iyomata Sushi Nikishi Market Kyoto
Iyomata, a hole in the wall sushi-only restaurant. Tasty sashimi!
Iyomata Sushi Nikishi Market Kyoto
The chef behind the sushi.

In the afternoon we went to Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine to check out the majestic orange gates. We learned that the shrine itself is dedicated to the g-ds of rice and sake (we were big fans from the start) and is populated with dozens of stone foxes; the fox is considered to be the messenger of Inari, the g-d of the rice harvest. We hopped onto the back of some American families tour and learned a bit about the shrines before leaving. This shrine was totally worth all they hype!

Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine Kyoto
It’s a miracle I was able to get this shot so far away with no one in it.
Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine Kyoto
Jumping Jaxy—in the orange gates of the Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine. Kyoto
Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine Kyoto
This shrine itself is dedicated to the g-ds of rice and sake (we were big fans from the start) and is populated with dozens of stone foxes; the fox is considered to be the messenger of Inari, the g-d of the rice harvest. We hopped onto the back of some American families tour and learned a bit about the shrines before leaving. This shrine was totally worth all they hype!

Daniel downloaded an app called Bean Hunter, which tells you about all the best local coffee shops in a city, so on the way out of Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine, we went to a local place known as Café Goo. We ordered a coffee and a green tea (considering how unpleasant the coffee has been for the last month and a half I wasn’t all too excited about taking the risk on ordering another bad cup). Turns out the coffee here was excellent—smooth and strong without any bitterness—and the owner couldn’t have been sweeter.

Cafe Goo Kyoto
How they do coffee at Cafe Goo!
Café Goo Kyoto Coffee Shop
We ordered a coffee and a green tea. The coffee here was excellent—smooth and strong without any bitterness—and the owner couldn’t have been sweeter.
Kyoto
On the walk back to our hotel in Kyoto.

I headed to the outdoor market to look for a pair of pants (to replace my shredded jeans) and Daniel went to the hotel to relax. I found a store called Who’s Who and had the most fun with the cute Japanese sales associate who spoke no English. Every time I would try pants on she would bring out a different top, jacket, and pair of retro athletic shoes to try them on with. I am pleased to report I found a pretty cool pair of trousers. Oh—one random and interesting thing to note, in some of the stores they have “face covers” for people to wear when they try on anything that goes over their head, so as to avoid getting makeup or sweat on the clothing—strange but also not the worst thing I’ve ever heard.

Who's Who Store Kyoto
I found a store called Who’s Who and had the most fun with the cute Japanese sales associate who spoke no English. Every time I would try pants on she would bring out a different top, jacket, and pair of retro athletic shoes to try them on with. She even had me try on this dress, even though I told her I only needed pants. Such fun.

I went back to the hotel, grabbed Daniel and we met up with Brandon and Patty (amazing friends from Los Angeles) in the hotel bar. We had a drink and then Daniel and Brandon had some weird interaction with a woman dressed as a bell-boy who eventually gave them a dinner recommendation. The four of us walked to Italiana Sagra, a highly recommended Italian restaurant. When we walked in we ordered a fabulous bottle of wine and started to go over the menu. As vegetarians there wasn’t much that Daniel and I could eat but we figured we would get the grilled sea bass, and Patty decided on the same. Two minutes after ordering the nice waiter came back to tell us there is no more sea bass. Then we asked for something else and he came back a moment later to tell us that they didn’t have that either. He then informed us that the English menu we were looking at was from the year before and many of the dishes had been changed. So we requested pasta with olive oil and garlic, which they weren’t able to do. Then they told Brandon they couldn’t make the dish he wanted. We made the call to leave here and go somewhere else for dinner, but we felt bad so we ordered a bread basked which our waiter presented to us in extreme detail, before we got the bill. We decided to go back to Kappa Sushi (the restaurant Daniel and I had dinner at two nights before). We were seated at a traditional Japanese style table and ordered more amazing sushi! Then we all went our separate ways and decided to meet up Saturday in Tokyo. Such a fun night!

Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa Bar
In the hotel bar meeting up with Brandon and Patty for a drink before a night out in Kyoto.
Italiana Sarga Menu
The menu at Italiana Sagra, which our waiter waited a good twenty minutes after we had ordered to inform us that the English menu we were looking at was from the year before and many of the dishes had been changed.***They say SOURCE instead of SAUCE****
Kappa Sushi Kyoto
Traditional Japanese style table at Kappa Sushi where we ordered more amazing sushi!
Kappa Sushi Kyoto
Group shot at Kappa Sushi!
Kappa Sushi Kyoto
One more for good luck.
Kyoto Streets
Daniel asked this doctor to take a photo of Brandon, Patty and I (soon to be him too) and the man had no clue how to use the camera. So Daniel took a selfie with him.
Kyoto Streets
After a few miscommunications we found a different doctor to take a photo of us.

Friday morning we woke up early, went to breakfast at Boulangerie, saw Mats and Robert, ate and said goodbye.

Boulangerie Rauk
Last breakfast at Boulangerie in Toyko.

 

We took a cab to the Kyoto Station and met the nicest couple— originally from New York, but living in Los Angeles named Laurie and Washington—on the platform as we were waiting for our train. We chatted with them until our train arrived as we were in separate cars. The bullet train was quick and easy, yet again, and we passed Mount Fuji on the way, which was stunning. We arrived at Odawara Station and ran into Laurie and Washington again. They gave us a box of Pierre Hermé French Macaroons as a gift—sweetest people ever!

Kyoto Station
This is what we look like when we’re rushing through an awesome train station.
Kyoto Station
The JR bullet train kind of looks like a porpoise.
Mount Fuji Japan
We passed by Mount Fuji on the way to Hakone. Insane!
Pierre Hermé French Macaroons
Pierre Hermé French Macaroons—a gift from Laurie and Washington. SO NICE!

Konichiwa Kyoto

We arrived at the amazing Kyoto Station and took a taxi with the sweetest driver ever to the Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa.

Taxi Driver Kyoto
The sweetest Taxi driver I’ve ever met!

When we checked in I spoke with the receptionist for a good 20-minutes and planned out our transportation and itinerary for our three days in Kyoto with the help of Katie’s amazing guide. (THANKS KATIE!) Daniel tested out the toilets (and told me it was an immediate priority that I do the same) and decided that we live like peasants in America.

Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa
Lobby of Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa.
Kyoto Guide
Katie’s AMAZING Kyoto Guide.
Japanese Toilets
Fancy Japanese toilet usage instructions.

We walked across the street to Musashi Sushi, a conveyer belt style restaurant, for lunch. The place was delicious, but carried many things we’d never seen before like, raw horse meat, figure squid, boiled bones of fish, and black throat sea perch. We tried a “cream cheese sesame roll” that was basically a Jewish style bagel (minus the bagel).

Musashi Sushi in Kyoto
Musashi Sushi–a conveyer belt style restaurant.
Musashi Sushi in Kyoto
Daniel posing with round one of our sushi.
Musashi Sushi in Kyoto
Many things we’d never seen before like, raw horse meat.
Musashi Sushi in Kyoto
Boiled bones of fish—any takers?
Musashi Sushi in Kyoto
Another thing we’d never seen before—black throat sea perch.
Musashi Sushi in Kyoto
Cream cheese sesame roll aka the Jewish style bagel roll (minus the bagel).

After lunch we walked through a massive outdoor shopping mall Eirakucho and stopped for some hot milk tea, right as it started to rain. Each place we’ve been since Thailand has gotten progressively colder. We tried to buy gloves at a few stores, but since every store is preparing for spring they no longer carry winter clothes. One employee at Zara told us to try Uniqlo—when we asked her for directions she walked us out of the store and down the road until we were a few stores away (so kind and unnecessary, but we were so grateful and impressed by her kindness).

Outdoor Mall in Kyoto
Awesome and massive outdoor shopping mall in Kyoto. These three religious guys wear shoes made out of rope and follow each other in lines.

We took the subway to Kiyomizu-Gojo station and took a beautiful and very tranquil walk to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, one of the most famous landmarks in Kyoto. The walk up to the temple, called Teapot Lane, is lined with little shops selling snacks, and local handcrafted gifts and knickknacks. Another interesting thing to mention is that the temple was full of tourists that we have been referring to as “rent-a-geishas”—(exactly what it sounds like—tourists who rent geisha costumes and walk around the city in wooden sandals moving at a snails pace for the day). I have could never have done this for two reasons despite my love for dress up—1) There is no way I could ever feel comfortable moving so slowly 2) It was so cold outside (40 degrease Fahrenheit) there was no way I was going to suffer through the day in a silk dress and flip flips.

Cemetery on the way to Kiyomizu-dera Temple
The most massive cemetery on the walk to Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto
At the entrance to the walk up of Kiyomizu-dera Temple with a new Cherry Blossom tree!
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto
Kiyomizu-dera Temple, one of the most famous landmarks in Kyoto.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto
Shrining it up in front of the orange towers.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto
Jumping Jaxy— at Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto
Us taking a photo on a little lookout ledge out in front of Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto
Buddha at the Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto. Looks so different to every other one we’ve seen.
Geisha's in Kyoto
The city is full of tourists that we have been referring to as “rent-a-geishas”—(exactly what it sounds like—tourists who rent geisha costumes and walk around the city in wooden sandals moving at a snails pace for the day).
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto
New friends at Kiyomizu-dera Temple. I think we were all equally excited about being able to be a part of a photo together.

After the temple we went to explore Gion, Kyoto’s well-known entertainment and geisha district. While we saw more than our fair share of “rent-a-geishas” we didn’t see any authentic ones—to be expected as it is considered very rare to find them. After walking the streets for a while we headed over to a green tea ceremony at a place called En. A woman in a kimono, who I’ll refer to as a tea geisha (because I’m not sure what else to call her) explained traditional Japanese manners to us and then told us that a tea ceremony is about four things—1) Peace and Harmony 2) Respect 3) Purity 4) Tranquility. After a lengthy explanation of these things, a younger tea geisha walked into the room and performed the tea ceremony in dead silence (all you could hear was the sound of water boiling in the kettle and being poured). Every movement is so precise and thought out; every action has meaning. Once the tea-geisha was finished with her presentation, we were given a Japanese sweet and the necessary tools to make our own green tea from Matcha powder—this was great! After the ceremony Daniel asked the tea-geisha “Do people actually speak to each other at Japanese tea parties?” and her answer was “Only a little bit—the main guest asks the host about the history of the tea utensils, but that’s all the conversation made”—for the record this is definitely not my kind of tea party.

Gion District Kyoto
Gion District—home of the geisha.
En Green Tea Ceremony Kyoto
A woman in a kimono, who I’ll refer to as a tea geisha (because I’m not sure what else to call her) explained traditional Japanese manners to us and then told us that a tea ceremony is about four things—1) Peace and Harmony 2) Respect 3) Purity 4) Tranquility.
En Green Tea Ceremony Kyoto
Cup of self-made matcha green tea, with a bamboo whisk.
En Green Tea Ceremony Kyoto
Japanese sweet to enjoy with your cup of tea.
En Green Tea Ceremony Kyoto
This younger tea geisha performed the tea ceremony in dead silence (all you could hear was the sound of water boiling in the kettle and being poured). Every movement is so precise and thought out; every action has meaning.

When we got out of the tea ceremony, the weather had dropped into the high thirties. We made friends with a fabulous woman named Deisha from Portland, but then split up because we were turning blue. We returned to our hotel, put on more clothes, and went to a very cool Japanese restaurant called Kappa Sushi. The sushi was insane—best salmon nigiri we’ve ever tried. Towards the end of our meal a good-looking older Japanese woman carrying a white pony fur purse with a taxidermy frog (serious jewels inset for eyes) and wearing a dental hygienist mask sat down next to us—she reminded me of the sassy socialite woman from the movie Harriet the Spy. Anyway, we started talking to her (her name is Sudako) and learned that she lived in the Oakland Hills for twenty years but now lives in Osaka—small world. We asked her why people wear the hygienist mask and she explained that she wears it for allergies because it’s spring time (even though it feels like the dead of winter), but some women think it’s very fashionable to just show their eyes—so they pinch the top of the mask and make it look higher up on their nose to appear more western—so strange. Before we left, she gave us some sage life advice aka she told us about the importance of buying quality products—“I bought a $700 lice-cooker and it’s never failed me”. Fun fact: just like Daniel’s niece, Sudako’s granddaughter is also named “Orivia.” I’m so thankful we had the opportunity to meet her. She was a real gem (just like the eyes on the frog on her purse).

Kappa Sushi Kyoto
Awesome Japanese restaurant called Kappa Sushi. The sushi was insane—best salmon nigiri we’ve ever tried.
Kappa Sushi Kyoto
Round two.
Dental Hygienist Mask Japan
We asked Sudako why people wear the hygienist mask and she explained that she wears it for allergies because it’s spring time (even though it feels like the dead of winter), but some women think it’s very fashionable to just show their eyes—so they pinch the top of the mask and make it look higher up on their nose to appear more western—so strange.

Shivering cold, we walked down the narrow streets in search of a drink (it was now 35 degrease out). A man approached us and asked what we were looking for, we told him a good bar and he pointed us down the narrowest passage of micro restaurants and bars to a place called Concrete Bar. Confused as to exactly where he was pointing, he then walked us towards a brown door (shorter than I am) covered in stickers and slid it open to reveal a two-story closet sized bar—so cool! We sat down and ordered whiskies and were soon joined by two men from Sweden named Mats and Robert. We spent the rest of the night drinking and chatting about all the fun things in life (e.g. travel, great food and drinks, Netflix and HBO television shows).

Concrete Bar Kyoto
A man approached us and asked what we were looking for, we told him a good bar and he pointed us down the narrowest passage of micro restaurants and bars to a place called Concrete Bar.
Concrete Bar Kyoto
A tiny brown door (shorter than I am) covered in stickers reveals a two-story closet sized bar—so cool! HI Daniel!
Concrete Bar Kyoto
Group shot inside of Concrete Bar—me, Daniel, Mats, and Robert.

Kyoto coming in for the win!