7 Days In Tokyo: Day 6 – Pokemon Center Mega

This was our last full day in Tokyo. Tear! There are so many things we didn’t get a chance to see yet – the Tokyo Tower, the Tsukiji Fish Market, Ginza, and on and on – but instead of seeing brand new parts of town, we decided to return to the Akihabara area, one of our favorite places on the trip. We wanted to pick up extra gifts and see a few things we didn’t have time for the first time around including a visit to the Pokemon Center in the Sunshine City Mall! 

The place was decked out for Halloween with loads of specialty items. This place is like Candyland for Pokemon fanatics, so of course I picked up a haul of plushies, socks, hats, cards and other gifts for my Pokemon-crazed family back home. Love this place!

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Pikachu’s Halloween costume!

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7 Days in Tokyo: Day 4 – Imperial Palace & Diver City

IMPERIAL PALACE

The grounds of the Imperial Palace are stately and vast. So vast, in fact, we actually got lost looking for the palace itself, and I’m not entirely sure that we ever found it. The grounds that we did see, however, were impressive and perfectly manicured. The Imperial Palace is the residence of Japan’s Imperial family. TOURIST TIP: The east grounds are open to the public, but a guided tour of the inner grounds require a reservation ahead of time, which we didn’t have.

After leaving the grounds, it’s worth taking a short walk to view the facade of Tokyo Station (if you haven’t passed through already). It’s one of Japan’s busiest railway stations. We walked through the business district and stopped for lunch at a yakitori restaurant  where we slipped into the culture by slipping off our shoes.  The restaurant catered to the working crowd and the staff spoke little English. We fumbled our way through as humbly, and politely, as we could, pointing at something on the menu and hoping for the best. Luckily, we were in Tokyo and every meal was amazing, this one included. We walked away completely happy and grateful for the experience of  being totally out of our element. It gave me a new perspective on the challenges facing foreigners to my country.

Imperial Palace Guardhouse
Imperial Palace Grounds

DIVER CITY

For the most part, Diver City is your run of the mill shopping center with one notable (and larger-than-life-size) difference: a giant-ass statue of the robot Gundam. The mall is located on the man-made island of Odaiba. If shopping and robots aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other tourist attractions including a ferris wheel, a statue of liberty replica, and a beach.

7 Days in Tokyo: Day 3 – Shibuya

This was one of my favorite days in Tokyo. Clothes, cosmetics and souvenir shopping in Shibuya! We walked across the district’s famous pedestrian scramble, which is known as one of the busiest crosswalks in the world (pictured above). It was a totally shameless,  grin-inducing tourist moment. I think we went back and fourth 2 or 3 times and then – just like they tell you to do in the travel books – we went up to the second floor of a nearby Starbucks to get a timelapse video of the insane, walking-every-which-way mob of people.

HACHIKO STATUE

Before the shopping spree began, we made a stop at the statue I have been so desperate to pay my respects to: the Akita Hachiko. He’s remembered for his steadfast loyalty, and the story goes that for nine years after his owner’s death, Hachiko would go to Shibuya station every day to wait for his beloved master, just as he had done when his owner was alive. It was an emotional moment for me, and I’m so grateful that I finally got the chance to see the statue in person.

SHIBUYA 109

If you’re into fashion or clothes, you have to make a stop at Shibuya 109 in Shibuya. It’s one of the trendiest places to shop in Tokyo. It’s like a mall for boutique shops. Makeup, shoes, clothing, and accessory stores spiral around inside the tower. It’s eye candy for the fashionista. There’s also a separate tower just for men’s clothing. Some other stores I’d recommend include Uniqlo (for clothing) and Loft (for beautiful stationary and souvenir home goods like  chopsticks and sake cups).

SUSHI NOVA

This was an awesome sushi spot for lunch. You can order on a touch screen at your table (in English) and, like magic, your sushi appears in front of you on a conveyor belt. It was our favorite sushi spot in all of Tokyo!

7 Days in Tokyo: Day 2 -Akihabara & Asakusa

DAY 2

From ultra-modern electronics to ancient temples, we covered a lot of ground – and many centuries – on our second day in Tokyo.

 

Akihabara Electric Town

AKIHABARA

One of the biggest goals of this trip was to track down elusive video games in Akihabara Electric Town, the “nerd capitol” of Tokyo. This district of the city is famous for its stores dedicated to  video games, gadgets,  anime, j-pop, k-pop, and – for some reason – a whole lot of claw game arcades. The cramped shops run for blocks and they’re stacked several stories high. After some intense hunting and exploring my huz finally struck gold and found the game he came for.

 

We struck gold at this game store
Akihabara
Inside “Super Potato”
They’re crazy about Star Wars in Tokyo too
One of many Ramen dishes I consumed

ASAKUSA

After making our contribution at the temple of modern gadgets, we traveled west – and back in time – to the Sensō-ji Buddhist Temple in the beautiful Asakusa district. It’s the oldest temple in Tokyo, pre-dating the modern city. From the oldest temple in Tokyo to the tallest tower in the world, we hoofed it across the river to take in the enormity of the Tokyo Skytree. I regret not making the trip up, but between the lines and our aching feet, we decided to leave it for the next trip.

Senso-ji Temple

Statue in Asakusa
Tokyo Skytree

7 Days in Tokyo: Day One – Shinjuku & Harijuku (Part Two)

Meiji Jingu Shrine

They talk about beginners luck, but we experienced some serious travelers luck right off the bat in Tokyo. On our first full day, we walked from our hotel to the the Meiji Shrine early in the morning on a Saturday, which happened to be the perfect time to see a traditional wedding ceremony pass by.

Wedding Ceremony
Meiji Shrine Grounds
Prayers at the shrine
Sake barrels, gifts to the shrine

Harijuku: Takeshita Street

Cue the Gwen Stefani. Hey Harijuku girls, hey! The neighborhood’s famous fashion district is just a short walk from the Meiji Shrine, and a stroll down the teen pop rue was high on my Tokyo bucket list. Keep your head on a swivel to take in all the colorful shops, eateries, clothing, and billboards. And for heaven’s sake, get yourself a crepe while you’re there.

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Robot Restaurant


Nothing quite prepared me for the funhouse I was about to enter at the Robot Restaurant. From the moment you step foot into the labyrinth, you encounter a dizzying hall of wall-to-wall lights, mirrors and colors. Think Willie Wonka meets Liberace on acid. It’s everything you imagine Tokyo will be. The show itself, featuring dueling animatronic robots, gave me a perma-smile. It was an hour of pure joy. But perhaps my favorite part was the pre-show room where there was a robot playing pop hits on a guitar. Day One Mission: Accomplished.

7 Days in Tokyo: Day One – Shinjuku & Harijuku (Part One)

Headspinning neon, to-die-for fashion, orgasmic food, offbeat entertainment, zen tranquility, time travel (I’ll explain), and lots… and lots of people.

The stories about Tokyo are all true. My husband and I just returned from a week-long vacation to the most populous metropolis in the world. Having missed the summer tourist crowds in the last week of September, we felt very much like strangers in a strange (and intimidatingly large) land, but at the same time, it was a land packed with welcoming, gentle, kind, and patient locals.

We debated taking a day trip during the week to escape the throngs of people, but we quickly discovered that there is so much to experience in Tokyo itself, including surprisingly expansive quiet spaces. Seven days wouldn’t be enough to see it all. So we decided to give ourselves plenty of time to get lost exploring the vast Blade Runner-esque city, starting with our home base on Day One: Shinjuku and Harijuku. First, some nitty gritty (and hopefully helpful) details about our arrival.

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The bustling alley outside our hotel in Shinjuku

ARRIVAL

We took a direct ANA flight from Seattle to Narita airport, located about 40 miles outside Tokyo. It’s about a 9.5 hour flight. We left on a Thursday at 2pm (Seattle time) and arrived at 4pm on Friday (Tokyo Time). The mind-blowing part was on the flight home when we literally traveled back in time, leaving at 6pm Friday (Tokyo time) and arriving at 11 am Friday (Seattle time). International date line: you so crazy.

One of the most stressful decisions we had to make was how to get from the airport to our hotel. The rail lines are direct, but complex, and it wasn’t something we wanted to figure out after a long, exhausting flight. We opted to bus it. The Airport Limousine Bus Service took a little more time (about 2 hours) due to rush hour traffic, but the ticket counter is easy to find at the airport, the buses run regularly and they’re prompt. Expect to pay about $60 for two people.

The bus dropped us off at Shinjuku Station, and from there it was a relatively easy walk to our hotel, the Tokyo Stay Shinjuku. Probably our biggest tip to you future Tokyo travelers is this: Google Maps is your best friend. We would have been lost in the maze of neon alleys, but my husband used Google Maps to expertly direct us through the twinkling concrete jungle. The app was also incredibly useful in navigating the tangle of train routes. We just input where we wanted to go and it told us exactly which stations to enter and which lines to take. Stay sharp though, we still got confused and frustrated several times along the way.

We’re here, we’re finally here! But first… sleep. Click here for a look at our first full day exploring Tokyo: Shinjuku and Harijuku.

5 Days In Iceland (Without a Hair Straightener)

It’s been my dream to travel to Iceland for the last five years,  and this year – for my husband’s 30th birthday (and my 34th!) – we finally made it happen.

Once it sank in that this was not going to be a “dress to impress” type of vacation but rather a “put your hair up everyday and don your best waterproof Eddie Bauer gear” adventure,  my hair straightening addiction subsided. I left my most beloved electric device at home and embraced the whole reason I wanted to take this trip in the first place: get lost exploring an otherworldly place that feels a million miles from home. That I did!


DAY 1: Arrive in Reykjavik

In the seconds before we landed at the remote Keflavik airport,  surrounded by absolute nothingness, I simultaneously thought to myself “Here we go! Let’s do it!” and “What did I get us into?” We were greeted by an alien-like jagged lava field,  spurts of rain,  and what had to be hurricane-force winds as we picked up our rental car. My fears quickly ebbed as we arrived at our home base,  the CenterHotel Arnarhvoll along the waterfront in Reykjavik (4 stars on yelp for THE BEST continental breakfast I’ve ever had!)

We arrived bright and early at 9 am, wracked with jet lag. After a 5 hour nap, we set out to get the lay of the land in the world’s northernmost capital city: a trip to the iconic Hallgrimskirkja church, a stroll down the touristy Laugavegur Street,  and our first of what would be many stops for a famous Icelandic hot dog.


DAY 2: The Golden Circle

Iceland’s most popular road trip is comprised of three main destinations: Thingvellir (the rift of two tectonic plates and the site of the first Icelandic parliament), Geysir (the geyser for which all others are named), and Gullfoss (Iceland’s most popular waterfall, which cascades down two spectacular drops). Save your appetite for the famous lamb stew inside the Gullfoss gift shop.

 DAY 3: The Blue Lagoon

I can’t find the words to describe the experience of soaking in a florescent blue, mineral-rich, geothermal lagoon (with sparkling wine in hand and a silica mud mask on my face) other than these: complete and utter zen. We spent six hours melting away the stress of home and work, and we definitely could have stayed longer. You can soak all day if you wish.

(Pro tip: be sure to book your trip ahead of time, and pick up a bottle of the silica mud mask in the gift shop. It’s pricey but your skin will thank you!)

Day 4: The South Coast

Cue the TLC, cuz we went chasing waterfalls today along the Iceland’s south coast. Have you seen that American Express Gold commercial where she talks about visiting the ‘seventh waterfall of the day’? It’s no joke. The waterfalls here are surrounded by other waterfalls.

There’s a ridge just off the Ring Road where a string of waterfalls cascade off the cliff. The largest is Seljalandsfoss. You can walk behind the falls for a spectacular 360 degree view.


The most breathtaking, in my opinion, is the farthest waterfall down the ridge. A sliver in the rock formation reveals a glimpse of the hidden waterfall known as Gljúfrafoss. Play Indiana Jones and enter the cave for a spine-tingling front row seat to this astonishing marvel.

We ended our day trip at the mammoth, post-card ready Skogafoss. How close will you dare to get to this thunderous waterfall?

DAY 5: Exploring Reykjavik

With our trip coming to an end, it was time to learn more about Iceland’s culture and partake in one of my favorite vacation activities: souvenir shopping! We learned about Iceland’s first inhabitants at The Settlement Exhibition and the country’s viking history at The Saga Museum. Then we toured the Old Harbor restaurants and shops to buy traditional Icelandic wool hats and sweaters. They’re expensive, but it’s the ultimate souvenir.

Our five day adventure came to an end too soon. We left many, many sights unseen, which will only be motivation to go back again someday!

Making Travel Shadowboxes

Each year around our anniversary, I pull out our wedding and honeymoon photo albums to spend a few blissful moments reminiscing. I realized two things: 1. We went crazy with the cameras and took an excessive amount of pictures on our trip to Paris. 2. I’m incredibly grateful that we had the good sense to save every tourist brochure, every ticket stub, and many receipts from our wanderings.

Our pictures are neatly displayed in an album, but the mementos somehow got shoved in the back of a tourist guide book that was practically covered in cob webs inside a basement cabinet. I’m not kidding you guys – there was screaming involved in the recovery mission! As I started thumbing through the pile of museum passes and ticket stubs, it struck me that these mementos are just as beautiful and meaningful as our photos, and they deserve to be presented as such.

I was inspired to organize our souvenirs into a shadowbox after coming across this project picture from Athletes Abroad on Pinterest. Cute, right?

Courtesy: Athletes Abroad
Courtesy: Athletes Abroad

I spent an afternoon assembling my own personalized shadowbox and as I was working, I got a few more ideas for mementos to save when we travel to Iceland next month.

Here’s a list of materials to create a shadowbox:

1. A picture frame that has some depth between the glass and background. I used an 8×8 frame. (Craft stores also call them memory boxes)
2. Scrapbook paper to use as a background
3. Photos that can be cut into letters or shapes
4. Museum passes/ticket stubs
5. Paper restaurant menus (don’t steal the actual menus!)
6. Drink Coasters
7. Wine corks/Beer & Liquor caps from the local bottles and brews
8. Stickers that evoke a memory
9. Gift shop knick-knacks like key chains/magnets/small figurines
10. Hotel note pads
11. Dinner credit card receipts to remember a special meal

I started my project by choosing a nice grey polka-dot background that wouldn’t overwhelm my mementos. Cut your paper to fit the frame by tracing around the cardboard backing.

Use pictures or brochures to cut out the letters for your travel location.

Since I’m not a big crafter I had no idea there was such a thing as glue dots. They are AWESOME! The dots securely hold your mementos in place against the background paper, and it’s super easy to work the dispenser!

Travel Like A Pro: Whole Foods’ Weekender Travel Bag & Giveaway

 Summer is winding down, the clock is ticking closer to the fall grind at work and school – but there is still time to jet off on one last summer getaway before the hustle and bustle of “back to school” season hits.

Whole Foods wants to help you bid farewell to summer. You can Travel Like a Pro with a new limited-edition Weekender Bag. It’s stuffed with chic airplane-friendly travel essentials from toothpaste to shampoo and moisturizer, so you can spend more time making unforgettable end-of-summer memories and less time rounding up all the travel-size products you’ll need to avoid getting pulled aside at the airport.

Valued at $40.00, you can purchase the Weekender Bag for just $6.99 at Whole Foods stores starting August 12th. That’s $6.99! Better hurry though, supplies are limited.

I got a preview of the Weekender Bag; here’s a look inside:

 1. Chico Bag This TSA-Ready bag can hold all of your personal care essentials, and it’s 100% made from recycled plastic bottles.

 2. Juice Beauty Nutrient Moisturizer Hydrating plaint oils and botanicals will keep your skin glowing for all those vacation selfies.

 3. Acure Repairing Shampoo & Conditioner With Moroccan Argan Stem Cell + Argan Oil

 4. Alaffa Authentic African Black Soap No need to get stuck using those hotel soaps that can dry out your skin. This fair trade soap scented with essential oils works as a hand, face and body cleanser all-in-one.

 5. Tom’s of Maine Simply White Toothpaste Spiff up your smile without synthetic bleaching material – you’ll be smiling a lot on your last hurrah of summer.

 6. Mineral Fusion Mini Nail Polish Give your mani and pedi a vacation makeover on the go, but leave the formaldehyde at home!