The Historic Villages of Shirakawa-gō

Posted on June 13, 2017

I wanted to greet 2017 overseas so I decided to fly to Japan (a.k.a. my happy place). The trip was sadly a short one because I was heading to Korea and Philippines as well, but I managed to visit some really awesome places and squeezed in some fun adventures that I’m happily sharing with you, right about now.

Anyway, after a couple of email exchanges with my beautiful Japanese friend Satomi, we decided that from Tokyo we’ll be visiting Kanazawa en route to Shirakawa-gō. I will be writing a separate post about Kanazawa because both of these places deserve a post of their own.

Now a little background of this UNESCO World Heritage site. Shirakawa-gō is renowned for their gasshō-zukuri (合掌造り) architectural style farmhouses. These farmhouses are super strong and were designed to easily shed snow from their roofs, to withstand the heavy snowfall during winter time.  The village is located in the mountain regions and get heavy snowfall during the colder months and transforms into a winter wonderland. Alas, when we got there, there were hardly any snow, instead we were greeted by rain, so I didn’t get to see Shirakawa-gō in its full winter wonderland glory, but this hidden, I mean historic village still took my breath away.

Most of these farmhouses are over a hundred years old, but they’re still very much functional.  They easily adapted/incorporated the modern amenities to let the younger generation (and tourist like me) enjoy and experience the blending/fusion of the old and new traditions that is uniquely Japanese.

Satomi after a long day of travel.

After tea and some much needed (short) rest, Satomi and I headed to the lookout point to get the best views of the village.

 

The hidden leaf village (joke), overlooking Shirakawa-gō.

I tell ya, it almost felt like I’m in the Hidden Leaf Village.  It has this shinobi village vibe and if it wasn’t raining, I would have pulled a ninja run just for the hell of it. As always, we regret the things we didn’t do, lol. After taking gazillion selfies and pictures (of the same view), we slowly headed back to our lovely farmhouse to have dinner, and by dinner, I meant feast. Our host family prepared the yummiest dinner that I still dream of to this day.

Itadakimasu!

Look at that big smile plastered on my face.

Our host family also prepared some entertainment for us and introduced as to the village mascot.

After dinner, we went to another farmhouse that had an Onsen. Remember my post “16 Travel Tips I live by” where I said you must always carry some cash when traveling? Well I don’t always practice what I preach and almost missed out, but luckily Satomi lent me some coins and I was able to enjoy a soothing hot spring bath (arigatuo Satomi).

Resting bi*ch face = My sleepy af face after onsen.

The following day, we were also served the most delightful breakfast. I swear it was better than the ones I’ve had at 5 star hotels. The daughter of our host family also performed for us, a traditional dance and made us play some instruments.

And then one last tour of the village before heading back to Kanazawa.

You can stay under my umbrella.

Singing in the rain. Chos!

Shirakawa-gō is beautiful all year round.  Despite the lack of snow, I still really enjoyed our short stay. Maybe next time I’ll go during spring or summer time so I can do my shinobi/ninja run. Until then…

Love and light,

Geri

P.S. Pardon my Naruto references, I couldn’t resist.

 

 

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SELIGMAN [ARIZONA]

Posted on April 20, 2017

On our way to see the Grand Canyon a few years ago, we passed a little sleepy town called Seligman in Arizona. Now I could easily talk about the majestic Grand Canyon but I thought I’d write about Seligman instead because its history really fascinated me.

Yes, I do wear flats… once in a blue moon.

Hoover Dam, Arizona side

Before reaching Seligman, we passed by Hoover Dam.

Now if you’ve seen the Pixar movie Cars, the town of Radiator Springs is loosely based on Seligman. It’s said that Seligman used to be a popular stopover along the old U.S. Route 66 but literally vanished from the map with the construction of Interstate 40 bypassing it.

Do these “Cars” look familiar?

I did the mannequin challenge (with real mannequins) way before it was even a thing, lol!

Seligman’s story reminds me of those famous silent film actors that got tossed aside or whose star waned when the talkies came (oh hey, that plot was turned into a movie too!), but am glad Pixar thought Seligman’s backstory was pretty cool that they came up with this amazing movie that helped put the place back on the map.

Anyway, even though Seligman is not as popular like it was back in its heyday. I’m really hoping that this quirky little town (apparently it’s called census-designated place or CDP) won’t be forgotten again.

A sneak peak of the Grand Canyon that I’ll be posting some other time.

See ya later,
Geri

SEOUL SEARCHING

Posted on February 8, 2017

Happy 2017 my friends! Hoping this year will bring us all good health, luck, love and more travels.

I kickstarted the year in Japan but will talk about that amazing trip another time, for this blog post will be about its equally exciting neighbour, South Korea.

When people mention South Korea, a few things come to mind; beef bbq, kimchi, kpop, korean drama and amazing skincare/make up etc. It was my first time visiting the country last month and I was so excited I almost forgot I went during winter time and me and cold weather don’t mix. Even with layers and layers of thick clothing my imaginary balls were still freezing haha. It was so cold my nose was dripping non stop. I would say South Korea is even colder than Japan but I didn’t want the cold to bother me (see what I did there?), and decided to embrace the country the only way I know how. Explore and wander without prejudice.

I stayed in Dongdaemun area of Seoul while waiting for my mom to join me. I didn’t want to go to major attractions I will be checking with her again but I also didn’t want to just stay idle for four days.

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When in Korea, do as Koreans do.

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Korean inspired makeup! Fake it till you make it? Lol

I decided to check out Insadong first, I asked the hotel staff for directions and he tried his best to explain to me in English but I must have looked really confused because he said “Fighting!” like straight out of a Korean soap opera, it was so adorable.  Unfortunately his directions got me lost for about two hours (note to self, use Google maps instead), but the good thing about getting lost is that you force yourself to talk to people, and South Koreans I find are very accommodating and helpful so I was confident I’ll find my way.

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Lost in Translations

So I found this restaurant purely by accident, I was tired and starving after walking for two hours. I actually wanted to eat at this fried chicken and beer restaurant but it doesn’t open until late. I went inside and was ushered to sit on a tiny table set for two and ordered bibimbap.  While waiting for my food, I noticed some celebrity pictures and signatures on the walls and a high rating from Trip Advisor and that’s when I realised that the little restaurant I stumbled upon was pretty special.  I found out later that Yookssam Naengmyeon is the original naengmyeon house to offer meat along with naengmyeon, that became uber popular in Korea. Winning!

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Probably the best beef I’ve had in South Korea

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A few blocks from the restaurant is Insadong or Insa-dong, a popular shopping neighbourhood selling traditional Korean crafts (i.e. Hanbok, ceramic) as well as modern goods (i.e. makeup, skincare).

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After Insadong, I took a taxi to head to another shopping destination, Myeongdong.

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Myeongdong or Myeong-dong is a shopping mecca slash street food stalls haven, with some shops open until 5 AM.  That my friends, is taking shopping to a whole new level.

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The following day, I decided to check out Ihwa-Dong Mural Village.  I wanted to see the famous mosaic tiled outdoor staircase mural but unfortunately it was painted over with gray paint by some angry residents who complain that tourists are way too noisy.

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Start of Ihwa-dong

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The koi fish painting was painted over with plain gray paint. I’m so sad.

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Planning to do a mural soon and the Ihwa-dong was providing me with so many inspirations.

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I was craving for fried chicken but all the popular restaurants selling them seem to be closed on certain times, so when I passed by this fried chicken joint in Jongno-3ga, I went in even when I knew I was going to stick out like a sore thumb, as most patrons were Korean men over the age of 50, drinking soju and beer. I didn’t care. I was effing hungry.  The fried chicken at this place was crispy, not too salty and tender juicy inside. The best part is, one whole chicken only cost 4000 won (less than 5 AUD).  I loved their fried chicken so much, I went back and brought my mom with me.

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The best (cheap) fried chicken at Hankook Tongdak

I also visited a few fish markets and one thing I noticed about Koreans is just like Filipinos, they also have a penchant for dried fish/seafood.

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Jungbu Eight Gate was another amazing restaurant I discovered in Dongdaemun Market.  Again, it’s not a fancy place, but their grilled beef dish was to die for. The place is run by two aunties and one of them even mixed my bowl because I was apparently doing it wrong.

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After picking up my mom from the airport and changing hotel, I took her to Myeongdong to do some late night shopping.

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So happy I got to explore Seoul with my mom.

Even when it was freezing, I still wanted to try the famous 32cm ice cream and while I struggle to finish it because it was so fucking cold, it was worth it, the things I do (for the love of ice cream).

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Moms first Korean dinner at Sawol-e Juggumi in Lotte Fitin

It was a full day of sightseeing around Seoul the following day. First stop was Gwanghwamun Square.

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King Sejong and I

Was also lucky that mom and I made it on time for the bell-ringing ceremony at Bosingak and the guards happily took our pictures.

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20170110_090856Obsessed with this coffee. I wish they will sell it here in Australia.

After lunch we went back to Gwanghwamun Square to check out Gyeongbokgung Palace or Gyeongbok Palace, but alas the palace is closed on Mondays.

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From the palace, I dragged my Mom to go to Bukchon Traditional Korean Village. She was not impressed but I liked it there.

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After Bukchon we went to Gangnam as per Moms request haha.

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Meet my new friend Ryan (Kakao Friends).

Our last day in Seoul was spent in beautiful Nami Island and romantic Petite France.

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Thanks to Mr. Lee of Funtastic Korea for this picture.

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Behind me are pictures of some famous Korean Soap Operas that were filmed in Nami Island. My mom saw almost all of them!

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After  Nami Island, our last stop was the romantic and magical place that is Petite France.  Many Korean soap operas were shot here, in particular Episode 15 of my fave My Love from the Star.

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How cute is my Mama?

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I promised my mom I will take her to Paris one day to see my fave Eiffel tower, but this would have to suffice for now hehe.

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Mom and I really enjoyed our stay and we can’t wait to go back (but definitely not during winter), so until then…

Saranghae 사랑해 Seoul,

Geri

 

 

JAPAN CHRONICLES: Kyoto Chapter

Posted on July 21, 2016

This Kyoto post will be the last of  my Japan 2016 chronicles.  I will not be including our travel adventures in Nara, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Osaka.  I feel that I’m starting to overkill my Japan blog entries already  so I’ll write about another country next post, promise.

But I cannot NOT (yay double negative) include Kyoto because there are just so many cool things going on in that place.  Actually, I had this image of Kyoto being all historic and just shrines and temples everywhere,  so I was surprised that it’s actually a big city and quite cosmopolitan at that.  It’s a contradiction of both the old and modern blending together seamlessly. In other words, Kyoto is DOPE.

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Since there are so many things to do/see, you really need to plan ahead especially if you don’t have a lot of time.  Again, a little research and some extensive interrogation (annoying questions you ask locals) will help you a lot.  A few things you need to remember before you go temple/shrine hopping.

  1. The more popular the temple/shrine, the bigger the crowd (obviously) so expect long queues at the entrance and expect to compete photo op space with other tourists (i.e. families, tour groups) as well as locals that go with their friends and families.  Some locals go to these temples/shrines to pray or to give offering.  It is a holy place and many tourists/visitors like myself tend to forget that sometimes, so it is polite to observe courtesy at all times.
  2. Have some spare change/cash with you.  Some temples/shrines have an entrance fee.  They also sell some merchandise inside and there are many food stalls, souvenir shops at the entrance/exit of these temples. I can tell you now, the green tea ice cream and pork siomai I ate at  the Arashimaya station were amazing. I almost cried when I didn’t have enough change to buy another one.
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3. Think of the season you’re going.  We went during the cherry blossom or sakura season, and that’s another reason for attracting large crowds.  Make sure to have a warm jacket or coat even during springtime or a light cardigan just in case it gets chilly.  If you don’t have issues bringing an umbrella, even better.

4. Once you’ve decided on the places you want to check out, then start mapping out your route.  Again research on how to best get there, some of these temples are within walking distance from each other so you want to avoid zigzagging and or missing out on another temple that’s just beside the temple you visited (even if it’s not on your list).  Believe me, after 4-5 temples, they all start to look the same lol.

Here are some of the temples/shrines we visited in Kyoto.

Fushimi Inari Shrine or Fushimi Inari Taisha, probably one of the most iconic shrines in Kyoto and maybe the whole of Japan. It’s world famous  for its thousands of vermilion torii gates but to get a decent solo picture with these gates as backdrop is a challenge so I will be posting all the decent ones we’ve managed to take, considering the effort that we put into it. Oh, and Inari is said to be the God of Rice, so just another reason why I love love this shrine.

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Not sure what these are but they look pretty.

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Kinkakuji (Golden Pavillion) officially Rokuon-ji Temple.  This beautiful Buddhist temple manages to stay minimalistic even when it’s coated in gold.

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Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, you may skip this spot if you’re not interested in bamboos but amidst the soaring stalks of the largest member of the grass family and you’d think you’re being transported in another time.  It’s like being on a set film and some ninja’s are gonna start flying from one bamboo to another and start throwing shuriken at each other.  Yeah I watch too many movies/animes.

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Tenryu-ji Temple or Tenryū Shiseizen-ji, the great thing is, the bamboo grove is just opposite to this beautiful Buddhist temple.  We spent some time admiring the garden and again took gazillion photos of the cherry blossoms because you can never have enough.

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This cute little birdy was showing off.

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Honen-in Temple, this would have to be one of my favourite temples because out of the many we’ve visited, it’s by far the simplest and the least popular.  It’s quite hard to explain. It’s walking distance from another popular temple Ginkakuji which we decided to skip.  It’s quite secluded and because it’s not as popular, there are less crowds and you have more time to appreciate the temple.

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Philosopher’s Walk or Philosopher’s Path – This two kilometre’s path is prettiest in April when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.  It’s almost like a fairytale.  The path begins around Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion).

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There are still plenty of places I want to explore in Kyoto but that will have to wait until I make my way back.  Here’s wishing that will happen soon.

Love lots,

Geri

 

 

 

JAPAN CHRONICLES: Mt. Fuji Chapter

Posted on June 10, 2016

I may have fallen in love with Tokyo but the most memorable leg of my Japan trip was our short visit to the Mt. Fuji area.

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The trip that almost didn’t happen because:

1.) The Mt. Fuji area is not covered by Japan Rail Pass

2.) We didn’t have enough time.

I was being ambitious trying to cover as many places as I can in a short period but I am glad I followed my guts because Mt. Fuji was ah-maze-ball.

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Bye bye Tokyo!

The plan was to leave Tokyo early in the morning but our stomachs got in the way (note: grumpy when hungry) and we ended up  missing the latest morning bus and reached Yamanaka late in the afternoon (3-4 hours travel).  We also had to wait for our hotel service bus to pick us up from the station. While waiting to be picked up in the cold it also started to rain. Luckily, the service bus arrived before we got drenched. From the station it took another 15-20 minutes to reach the hotel which was situated up the hill/mountain.  I originally planned to go sight seeing once we’ve checked in but the rain got stronger and since we were all worn out, we decided to stay in.  The hotel had prepared some yukata’s (kimono)  for us to use and I even got my mom to try one on.

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Turning Japanese

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After dinner, I heard my cousin screaming from the balcony. I was like what’s going on? Turned out it just started snowing.  You see, it was my mom and cousin’s first time to see/experience snow so they were so excited. My cousin wished to see snow but I told her that since it’s already spring in Japan it won’t snow anymore but her pure simple wish was granted and I was so happy for her.

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Once the snow excitement settled down, we decided to try the hotel’s onsen or rotten-buro (outdoor hot springs).  Mom did not come with us, she didn’t like the idea of being naked in front of other people even if they’re all women.  You can tell I got that prudish trait from her. I love that my first onsen experience was in this beautiful outdoor hot spring in the middle of the night and it was snowing at the same time.  The contrast of the snow falling on my skin with the warmth of the hot spring was such a relaxing almost ethereal feeling.  Quite the opposite of my hammam experience in Morocco, although they have similar bathing concept, hammam was more invasive.  We tried other onsens afterwards but the one in Hotel Mt. Fuji was still the best.

The following morning, we had yet another wonderful surprise.  I was aware that the hotel had some rooms that have views of Mount Fuji and we realised that we actually got one of those rooms.  We didn’t see Mt. Fuji summit the day before because the fog covered the view.  It was all dark and gloomy the previous afternoon but it was blindingly bright white the morning after.

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Go big or go home right? I am a certified glutton.

After our buffet breakfast, we set out to the hotel gardens where you get an even better view of Mt. Fuji and yes it was truly majestic and beautiful.

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Our Mt. Fuji adventure was definitely short and sweet.  Both my cousin and I are planning to go back soon and stay longer. It was so bitin, we were not ready to leave yet but our next destination was calling.

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Next stop: Kyoto.

 

 

 

 

JAPAN CHRONICLES: Tokyo Chapter

Posted on April 20, 2016

So late last month, I finally got around to visiting one of my must see places to travel before I die.

The land of the rising sun.

Japan.

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Now I kinda regret why I waited this long. I mean, I have always been a fan of anything Japanese. I think I had this notion that Japan is super expensive and that I won’t be able to afford going there, but I’m so glad that I made the jump. It’s worth every cent. What made this trip even more special was that I got to share this amazing experience with my mom and my cousin.

Our first stop was Tokyo.

We were supposed to meet my cousin at Haneda airport the same day.   She was flying from the Philippines, but unfortunately got illegally detained in South Korea airport due to some lost in translation problems with the immigration officer. To make the long story short, we ended up having to buy another flight from Korea to Japan just so they’d release her and give her passport back. All this was happening while we’re still at the airport and I was thinking that this was not a good way to start our trip. For some reason I was totally zen like. I think because I was with my mom and if I show her that I’m worried or panicking, she’ll probably lose the plot. Then again, deep inside that was just me refusing to let anything ruin our trip.

We ended up arriving at our hotel past midnight already. I wanted to try all the quirky accommodations in Japan so I booked this capsule hotel. I didn’t tell my mom we were staying at this kind of place, so her reaction was kinda funny when she found out. At first she didn’t like it but once she saw the bathroom she changed her mind. I have to say, it was definitely a fun experience.

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Works for lil people like me, but might not work for people who are claustrophobic.

We stayed in Shinjuku area and our hotel was just walking distance from the main train station so going from one place to another was pretty easy. Actually when you look at Tokyo’s subway/railway map, it looks really crazy and overwhelming but it’s actually one of the easiest to navigate. I only ever got lost once (but I won’t be sharing that story here).

I didn’t want to do major sightseeing without my cousin and luckily I scheduled our first day in Tokyo to mostly just checking out popular shopping areas. Mom and I ended up going to Ginza and Shibuya and decided to start our food and shopping trip.

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My fake attempt at cooking okonomiyaki

 

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I scheduled to meet with one of my Japanese friends in Shibuya and I don’t know how we found each other from amongst the crazy crowd but I’m glad we did because I had no idea where to find this ramen place that I researched.

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That infamous Shibuya crossing.

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If you can’t beat them, join them right?

Here’s the deal. I have a strange relationship with noodles. I only ever eat instant noodles, and even when it is instant, it has to be a particular kind of noodle and I have to cook it myself or I won’t eat it because I’m weird like that. But ever since I got hooked to watching Naruto, I’ve developed this craving to eat ramen, like a proper ramen, and not just in any place, it has to be in Japan. So I ended up researching this hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Kiraku Ramen Noodle Place, that’s been serving ramen for over five decades apparently.

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Anyway,  I’m so glad I got to share my first ramen experience with Satomi and my mom.  I didn’t like the noodle because it was too thick for my liking but the broth was delicious and the pork was really tender and tasty. It was a massive serving though and well worth the price.

Satomi took us to a couple of shops in Shibuya afterwards and I was basically restraining myself from buying all the cute stuff that was staring back at me, pleading for me to buy them.

The struggle was definitely real.

Later on that night, after saying our goodbyes to Satomi, Mom and I went back to the airport to pick up my cousin. Her eyes were still pretty swollen from all the crying but all the stress disappeared when we got reunited. I knew in my heart that things will just work out in Japan, and it did.

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The next day, after badmouthing Koreans because of what happened to my cousin, we ended up eating at a Korean BBQ in Shinjuku. Lol!

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Oh and I timed this trip for when these pretty flowers are in full bloom.

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Sakura (Cherry blossoms) viewing at the Imperial Palace.

It’s like a typical but not-so-typical scene in Japan.  I find Japanese women so dainty and graceful, especially when they’re wearing yukata (kimono). image-8

Our hotel was also just walking distance to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.  Aside from the sakura’s, I was also enthralled seeing a traditional Japanese garden for the first time.  I’ve always liked bonsai’s (I actually grow one) so to see a bunch of them was quite lovely. I felt very much at peace.

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A trip to Tokyo is not complete without checking Akihabara (well for me anyway).  You see I’m what some people will call an Otaku haha.  I know I’m way too old to still be obsessed with anime’s and manga’s but I don’t give a flying kick.  I will forever be a fan.   So I basically lost my shit when I was checking out the shops in Akihabara. I was so excited I got lost going back to the hotel.

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My happy place.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t buy a lot of stuff because they don’t have any subtitled/dubbed (anime) or english translations (manga) versions.  I bought two magazines as souvenirs though.

I wanted to stay longer in Tokyo but alas, we had to move on to our next destination, and so our Tokyo trip ends and our Mt. Fuji adventure begins next chapter.

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See ya.

Geri xoxo

 

 

POSTCARDS FROM PARIS

Posted on February 17, 2016

 

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Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

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Triple treat: Notre Dame Cathedral, River Seine and the love locks

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Shakespeare and Company

This bookstore has been featured in a lot of popular films that it has become a tourist attraction.

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Guess who I bumped into inside the store? None other than the beautiful Piper Perabo (Covert Affairs)

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So cheesy lol!

Galeries Lafayette

Inside the luxurious Galeries Lafayette

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My French friend took us on top of the store to get amazing views of Paris, trust locals to know these stuff.

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Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche

Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche is the narrowest street in Paris

château de Versailles (Day Trip)

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Best description for Versailles: Over the top!IMG_2200 IMG_2225 IMG_2234 IMG_2237 IMG_2258 IMG_2244  IMG_2248 IMG_2219 IMG_2208 IMG_2231

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Eiffel Tower    

Eiffel Tower

Fun Fact: Been to the Eiffel Tower twice already but still haven’t climbed it because it’s always crazy packed. One of my favourite man made structures though.

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Musee du Louvre

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I swear this guy looked like Justin Timberlake.

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Most of my pictures are taken by this beautiful young lady.

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Can’t thank my friend Damien enough for taking the time to tour us around the city. Unfortunately I forgot the name of this super cute restaurant.

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Update: Damien said the name of the restaurant is La Table du Palais Royal. Merci!

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The kind of stunts I do that embarrass my friends and that I don’t always post (wink).

Forget Paris. Paris Belongs to Us. Paris Blues. Paris Express. Paris Holiday. Paris is Burning. Paris Trout. Midnight in Paris. Paris When it Sizzles. The Last Time I Saw Paris. An American Werewolf in Paris. Paris Hilton (lol!)

Paris is arguably one of the most cliched/used city in literature for very obvious reasons.  The place is truly magnifiqué. Its history is drenched with opulence (with a capital O), romance and tragedy like an overpriced cocktail with a lot going on but it’s so bloody good you keep coming back for more.

Of course, there are some people that feel the opposite.  Most common remark is that Parisians are rude. (I say if you think French people are rude,  go to Hong Kong).

This is obviously not the case for me. I love Paris. So much, I came back.  I also happen to have a lot of French friends and they’re really nice peeps.  Although, to tell you honestly, as much as I love listening to them speak their native language, my ears hurt when some of them try to speak in English (no offence, I have the weirdest accent too).

Sigh, if only I could speak and understand French, I swear my life would be extra perfect. Lol.  Ma soeur a un crayon jaune.

Je t’aime,

Geri

(a.k.a. the honorary Frenchie, well at least my real name is)