April 16th 2015 - Travel from Kyoto to Hanoi, Vietnam - Day 245

Big Pete's POV

Travel days are always a challenge.  There is so much to do and the stress of making sure you don’t forget something combined with making sure you are in the right place at the right time, figuring out transportation, finding money in a new country and on and on, makes us all a little crazy.  We have a rule on the trip that everyone has to be EXTRA considerate of others on travel days.  We all have to relax and make sure we keep it all in perspective.  This usually helps (unless we are flying from Chamonix to Auckland).  

The morning went really well and we were packed up and out the door right on time at 8:45.  But before we get into the story, here are some pictures of our house in Kyoto.

Peter and Leas room - no beds!

The "Master"

Our Garden

The living room - look closely, can you find Lea?

The kitchen

The table we spent most days working around

 We had a 12:25 flight from Osaka to Seoul, South Korea.  When I had researched how to get from our house to the Osaka airport Google had laid out a pretty easy path: a 15 minute walk followed by two 30 minute trains.  As we were walking to the train station, I was suddenly gripped with fear. The memory of showing up at the Sydney Airport on the wrong day hit me like a ton of bricks and I was compelled to double check our reservation details again, even though I had just done this a couple hours prior.  As I was walking I pulled up the reservation on my phone and was relieved to see all the right things April 16th, 12:25PM instead of AM and so on.  However, one little thing caught my attention.  The reservation was from an airport with the code KIX.  It did not say Osaka International Airport, just KIX.  When I had planned our route I had entered Osaka International Airport and Google pulled it right up, so I never even thought to check to see if Osaka had TWO international airports!  I quickly entered KIX into Google and found that KIX was the Kansai International Airport in Osaka.  My heart fell back into my stomach.  However, we had left early and they could not be that far apart right?  I went back to Google maps and entered in our new destination and was further terrified when it came up as a two hour journey instead of the 1:15 I had planned for.  Full on panic was now upon me.  We were going to miss our flight, which would result in us missing the cruise we had booked for tomorrow in Vietnam and it was all because I made a stupid mistake.  

I sheepishly said “hey guys - hold up” and filled in the rest of the family on my error.  Now if this would have happened early in the trip I am afraid to say the reaction would have been ugly.  However, the three of them just rolled with it as if this happens every day and started to work on solutions.  It was awesome.  I did not feel guilty anymore, I felt like part of a team with a problem to solve.  I got back on the Google and started playing with different options.  We quickly figured out that if we could get a taxi to Kyoto Train station there was a direct train to Kansai that only took 1:15.  We would be there a little later than I had hoped, but we would still have plenty of time.  We hailed a cab and within 5 minutes we were in the station trying to buy the right ticket - it was 9:08 at the time.  I found the right train and when the schedule came on the screen I saw there was a 9:15 and then a 9:45, we needed to get tickets, find the train and be on it in 7 minutes - in Japan trains are not late.  I went through the process and bought 3 tickets (the max you can buy at one time), but when I went to buy the 4th the 9:15 was not an option anymore.  We ran to the turnstiles and pleaded with the guard to just let us through.  He saw we were in a panic, handed me a special ticket and pointed us in the right direction.  We sprinted down the hall and found our track with 2 minutes to spare.  We jumped on board and settled into our seats proud to have avoided disaster.  

We were the only people in our car when the train left the station so we were really at ease.  A few minutes later the conductor came in to check tickets.  He walked to the front of the car, turned around took off his hat, put it under his arm and gave us the most dignified bow we had seen to date.  This bow was not special for us, it was what he did in every car after every stop, every day of his career, but he did it with pride and with dignity that was inspiring.  Now, remember we were the only people on the car at this time, and we could not tell a good bow from a bad one and also had no expectation of a bow, he did it because it was his job and he wanted to do it the best he possibly could - it may sound weird, but it was inspiring.  Funny that inspiration can come in the most ordinary circumstances.  

The conductor helped me to buy my ticket and finally we were free to relax for the next hour.  We made it to the station quickly and easily and right on time at 10:30, just 5 minutes after we had originally planned on being at the OTHER Osaka airport.  However, once we went to leave the station we found out I had underpaid our fare and needed to make up the difference.  Unfortunately I did not have enough cash on me to pay the entire fare and like everywhere else in Japan - they did not take credit.  So I ran to an ATM to refill, but alas the ATM did not like my card and said “no soup for you”!  I ran back to the counter and said - “I can’t get any more cash”.  The nice woman who was helping us, came out of her booth, and walked me over to the ticket machine and after pressing about 83 buttons had me feed my credit card into the machine.  A moment later 4 tickets for the balance of our fare spit out of the machine and my family was released from purgatory to carry on with our butter smooth journey to Vietnam.  

We checked in and made our way quickly through security and immigration.  We got a quick bite to eat and headed to our gate with plenty of time to spare.  The flight from Kansai to Seoul was easy until we started our decent.  We had to fly right through a thunderstorm and at one point lightning lit up the cabin and freaked Lea out pretty good.  Despite the lightning and a few bumps we landed safely and started our 4:30 layover.  Time went by quickly and about an hour before takeoff we decided to grab a bite to eat.  We went up to the food court and Peter, Lea and I got some curry and Stacie got some ramen.  Peter and I opted for the spicy curry and we got what we asked for.  I love spicy food and can handle most levels of heat and this was pretty hot for me.  Peter has been getting into spicy on this trip, but this was a level above what he had tried before and it showed pretty quickly.  You know those shows someone eats something spicy and starts sweating profusely and drinking water as if they have been wandering in the desert for days - that was Peter.  However, he did not want to stop - he kept saying “it’s really hot, but its so good!”.  He finished the dish, and all of our water, and then quickly got some ice cream to cool off.  

South Korean Food Court

After dinner, we boarded the plane and had an easy 5 hour flight to Hanoi.  By the time we landed Peter was not feeling all that great.  His stomach was working through the curry / ice cream mix and he was not enjoying the process.  We made it through immigration quickly and then waited for our bags.  As soon as we had our bags we strolled through customs and were free.  The process was much easier than I had anticipated.  I just needed to get some money and we would be off.  In fact I needed a lot of money because I had to pay for the cruise the next day in cash.  I quickly found out that you can only take out roughly $93 a time at the ATM’s in Vietnam, which is 2,000,000 Dong.  In order to pay for the cruise I needed 27 million Dong, so it was going to take a while.  After 5 withdraws my card got shut down.  I was too tired to try to do something about it that night and decided to just get to the hotel and deal with it in the morning.  

We jumped into a cab and met our weird and wonderful cab driver.

Him - “Where to?”

My brain - “Oh thank god - you speak english!"

My mouth - "Intercontinental Hotel - Westlake"

Him, one eyebrow up and one down with a questioning tone - “Incom?"

My brain - “Slow down Pete, you need to speak more clearly so he understands"

My mouth - “IN - TER - CON - TI - NEN - TAL - Hotel"

Him, one eyebrow up and one down with a questioning tone - “Incom?"

My brain - “Were F*&^#d"

My Mouth - “IN - TER - CON - TI - NEN - TAL - Hotel"

This went on for about 5 minutes before I grabbed his phone and pulled it up on Google Maps.  Then we were all good, until he then told us what we would be paying for the trip.  He told us we would pay 500,000 dong for the trip there (even though the meter was running and did not correspond).    I said - “What?”.  He just smiled and said “ok 400”.  I said “What?”  He said “400”.  Had not been able to get comfortable with the conversion rate in the 20minutes we had been in to country, so I figured we were being ripped off.  I said “no” - he just smiled and kept driving.  I said “no way”.  He just smiled and kept driving.  I said “take us back to the airport” He just smiled and kept driving.    I said “TAKE US BACK TO THE AIRPORT”, he just smiled and kept driving.  Peter told us later he figured we were being kidnapped on our first hour in Vietnam.  I finally grabbed his phone again and did the conversion of 400,000 dong to USD and found out it was $18.  I said “ok 400”, he just smiled and kept driving.  A couple minutes later he said “Where are you from my friend" with a big smile on his face.   We chatted for a little bit, but I wanted him to focus on the road and talking was clearly not helping.  It was clear to me he was protesting the fact that the government has painted lines on HIS streets by making sure he had the lines right under the middle of his car at all times, rather than being in an actual lane.  And he had a strange habit of both talking on a cell phone AND texting on another cell phone at the same time.  Fortunately he only drove about 20 miles an hour so we were not in any real danger, until of course we arrived in the parking lot of the hotel at which time he accelerated as if the spirit of Jason Bourne had entered his body.  He nearly took out the group of tourists in the circle next to reception before slamming to a halt with a big smile on his face and the words - “incom - we here!”.

We were there, safe and sound after a long perfect day of travel.  Well fell into our wonderful beds and were fast asleep within seconds. 

April 15th, 2015 - Kyoto, Japan - Day 244

Big Pete's POV

Today was our last full day in Kyoto and fortunately it turned out to be a nice one.  The forecast was for rain, but when we woke up the sun was shining and it stayed that way for most of the day.  unfortunately we had a lot we needed to get done before hitting the road the next day, so we were stuck inside for a good portion of the day.  The morning and into the afternoon was filled with some deep and somewhat exhausting conversations on a range of subjects.  These conversations are hard at the time, but are one of the biggest blessings of this trip.  This time we have spent together as a family has been so incredible in that it has allowed us the undistracted time to really get to know one another and to explore some really difficult questions.  We have all had our moments on this trip where we have grown.  Sometimes that growth is easy and feels like enlightenment, but most of the time that growth is ugly and hard work, but in the end we all agree these times are what has made the trip so special.  

Peter and I did get out around 10 for a walk around our neighborhood.  We strolled around and finally ended up in a coffee shop called Arabica up the street.  We had walked by this shop a handful of times and the roasting coffee smell coming out of it has been incredible.  We went in a both order lattes.  When we got our drinks they were the most beautiful lattes I have ever seen and the great thing was, they tasted better than they looked!  We had a great conversation over our coffee and then headed back home.  Stacie and Lea were still cranking on Science and after a while Peter and I decided to go get some lunch.  We hit another local spot and had a great lunch while discussing the lessons we have learned and how we hope we don’t forget them when we get back home.  

The rest of the afternoon was spent packing and preparing for travel.  Then once Lea was done with her Science exam (2 tests in 2 days!) we headed out to do a little shopping.  Lea really wanted a dress for the boat we are going on in Vietnam and I wanted some new shorts.  Peter, Stacie and I were all still hunting for chopsticks as well.  It took us a couple of hours, but in the end we got everything completed, just in time to get ready for our farewell to Japan dinner.  We had planned on eating sushi for our final meal, but as usual fate intervened and we ended up eating at a yakatori and tempura restaurant because our sushi joint was full.  

It worked out great in the end.  We had a room all to ourselves with Japanese style seating (on the floor) overlooking the river.  The food was good, but the service was slow and we had to find ways to entertain ourselves between the courses.  

By the time we were done with dinner we were all tired and still a little hungry (because they had forgotten to bring us two dishes we ordered).  So we hunted for some food on the way home.  We ended up settling for a little cereal and toast in our house before rushing off to bed in hopes of getting a good nights sleep before our travel day.  

April 14th, 2105 - Kyoto, Japan - Day 243

Big Pete's POV

Yesterday was another work day for the family, mostly out of necessity.  First off it was raining all day - Kyoto gets a lot of rain in the spring.  Secondly Lea had an exam and we had some work to do in order to get ready.  

So we cranked away all morning in our little space.  Lea completed her DBA (discussion based assessment) with her teacher and then took her test and did really well.  After lunch we all laid down for a rainy day nap.  Stacie and I spent most of it just talking and enjoying the sound of the rain coming down on out tiny little balcony.  

After our nap the rain was letting up for a bit and we decided to go for a walk around the old town as things were winding down.  Once the tour buses leave the area it becomes really peaceful and we really needed some fresh air.

 We are all on the hunt for a pair of chop sticks to bring home with us.  We all love eating with chop sticks and figure they are a good way to remember Japan,and they are light!  Lea found hers really quickly - a nice dark pair with some inlaid mother of pearl with a little bunny painted on each stick.  The rest of us found some nice ones, but decided to wait.  The rest of the stroll was peaceful and beautiful.  The rain was gone and everything appeared fresh and new.  I love the way the Japanese use light at night to continue to make things beautiful so I tried to take some shots to capture the essence of it, but without a tripod it was not easy.  

We were out for about an hour and a half and on the way home we decided to just stop at the grocery store and grab some prepared food for dinner.  After dinner we played Euchre for a while and then went to bed.  Tomorrow is our last full day in Kyoto and we are all a little sad to go.  

April 13th, 2015 - Kyoto, Japan - Day 242

Big Pete's POV

Today it rained ALL day without any breaks.  We all had a bunch of stuff to catch up on, so we sat in our little house around our little kitchen table and worked from first thing in the morning until about 5:30 at night.  It was one of those days where you don't get out of your PJ's and by the end of the day you feel like you need fresh air more than anything else in the world.  Fortunately we had a good reason to get out of the house for the evening - steak!

We have not had many fancy dinners on the trip, but we knew we had to go to a Japanese steak house to try some of their world famous steak.  We had made a reservation for Hafuu Honten a couple of days prior and we were all excited about the meal.  They serve Wagyu beef at Hafuu.  Now a little about Wagyu and Kobe.    All Kobe is Wagyu, however, not all Wagyu is Kobe.  Kobe is a region in Japan and it is the most famous of all the beef growing regions.  Steaks from this region regularly cost $200 a piece in the U.S.  Wagyu broken down means Japanese Cow - Wa = Japanese or Japanese Style and Gyu is Cow.  So to say we were eating Kobe would not be correct (we are not crazy), we were just going to eat some great Wagyu.  This restaurant is well known for the quality of its beef and is ranked as the #3 restaurant out of 7606 in Kyoto so we had high expectations.

We decided we would walk to the restaurant to at least get a little exercise and fresh air.  I am proud to say that the only Taxi we have taken in Japan is the one from the train station to our house in Kyoto - other than that we have been on foot and trains.  It was still raining when we left, but we all just grabbed umbrellas and hit the road.  

Soon after we left we spotted a real life Geisha walking just ahead of us.  She was not in full regalia yet, but had her face painted and was on her way somewhere.  

Geisha on her way to work

This was our first sighting of a real Geisha, which was pretty exciting given that there are only 250 of them in Kyoto, which has the most Geisha anywhere in Japan. 

We were able to snap a quick photo of her back, but she was moving quick and ducked down an ally. 

On the way to dinner we wandered through the covered market area and stopped in a couple of shops to kill a little time.  

We made it to the restaurant just after 6:30 and were seated at the bar overlooking the kitchen.  Being seated at the bar was not optimal because it was hard to have a conversation with all four of us, but we wanted to see the chefs in action so we had decided when making the reservation to specify bar seating.  

We settled in and ordered relatively quickly.  Stacie went for the filet, while the rest of us went for sirloin.  We all ordered salads.  The first thing that came out was a little amuse bouche which was a scallop with a couple of pieces of lettuce - it was delicious.  This was quickly followed by our salads, which were beautiful:

Since we have been in Japan we have not been eating many salads, so this was a welcome treat.  The salad was amazing!  We were all getting excited because we saw the chefs put our steaks on the grill in front of us and if the first two courses were any indication of what was coming we were in for a real treat.  

We finished our salads quickly and without much of a break between courses our steaks were placed in front of us.  

Peter's steak served Medium - mine was medium rare 

After one bite we all knew we were ruined.  There is a good chance none of us will ever have a steak this good again in our lives.  It literally changed my perception of what good meat is and how it should be prepared.  I can't even describe how good this steak was, and it wasn't just me - we all said it was one of the, if not the, best thing we have ever eaten.  It literally melted in your mouth and you barely had to chew.  Peter declared he is not going to eat anything but Wagyu beef -ever. 

We all slowed down and tried not to finish our meals because we did not want the experience to be over, but in all good things must come to an end and this did as well.

So sad!

When we were done we sat back and relished the experience we just had.  

I would highly recommend people come to Kyoto just to have this meal.  

Walking home Stacie noticed a different restaurant that seemed to have a little buzz going on.  She mentioned that on the way to our meal she had seen a few nice cars outside and thought something might be happening and then on the way back we decided to investigate a bit.  She ducked into the entryway and found a bunch of dress shoes neatly lined up.

Then a few seconds later a real Geisha came out in full regalia.  It was dark and she was only in the street for a second, but Stacie was able to get a paparazzi photo of her.  

So what seemed to be a very dull day turned out to be an exciting evening full of incredible food, laughter and a celebrity sighting!

April 12th, 2015 - Kyoto, Japan - Day 241

Peter's POV

Today was like most of our days in Kyoto, work in the morning and go and see some gardens in the afternoon. Today we left around one, we walked to Kyoto station and got on a train to our first garden. When we got to the first garden we discovered that the so called "temple" was a big complex of what seemed like 15 temples. We walked to what seemed like the main area and asked the person working at the ticket booth for the gardens. She grabbed a map and drew to us where we needed to go. When we made it to the first (of four) gardens we discovered that it was closed.

Monks gardening  - they are tending to the moss - incredible attention to detail

We moved on and started to walk to the next one. While we were walking there it felt like we were walking through an ancient neighborhood.

Always something new to discover

When we got to the second garden we found it deserted, we walked through the garden in silence which is very rare for a garden in Kyoto this time of year. 

We decided to get our Zen on at the empty garden and meditate a bit

After the second garden we made our way to the third garden. This garden was the polar opposite of the second garden, it was packed. It had a lot more cherry blossoms and was very well done.  However, after the serenity of the first garden this one was not nearly as relaxing.  One thing we have had to deal with is everyone wanting a picture with a cherry blossom in the background or in their hair or completely surrounding them.  It makes walking around difficult, but it has become pretty funny.  

Two dry gardens are on opposite sides of the entry - one with white stones

The other with black.  Those are cherry flowers that look like snow in the cracks of the stone

This water feature was stunning

Catching a quick break from museum walking

After the we left the packed garden we walked to our final garden in our first stop. The entrance fee of this garden was 700 yen (6.50$) per person included tea. We decided that my mom would go in and see the garden while me and my dad waited outside. When she got out of the garden she told us that we didn't miss anything too special. 

But she did get this nice picture

After we got out of the temple complex we made our way to the "second" garden. Which is one of the best gardens dry gardens in Kyoto.

On the way to the second garden my mom noticed this evergreen trained over the entrance - pretty cool.

As you can probably imagine, it was crowded. This dry garden is constructed so that from any angle one rock is hidden.

After the dry garden we walked around the stroll garden which had a ton of cherries in full bloom.  My dad and I decided to have some fun and take pictures like the rest of the tourists.

It was a really pretty garden

After we left the second garden we looked at the time and discovered that we didn't have time to see the "third" garden. It was 4:45 and we still had to walk back to the train station, take the train and get to dinner by 6:30. When we got to dinner we were right on time.  We decided to have Indian food tonight and were happy with the result, although it was not the best we have had on the trip. When we got home we were all tired from our long day out in Kyoto.  

April 11th, 2015 - Kyoto, Japan

Stacie's POV

First off, let me just say we LOVE Japan. I was excited to visit, but didn't have high expectations for this stretch of our trip.  Now that we have been here for two weeks I can't find one single negative thing to say about Japan. The people are amazing; so warm and friendly. The food is delicious and healthy; a little unusual at times, but overall very good. The culture is fascinating; so disciplined and pure. 

Today was our second to last nice day for the remainder of our stay, so we decided it was time to explore Kyoto's western area. The temples and gardens are much larger, as the western area is known for its more rural feel. We decided our first stop would be Daikaku-Ji Temple. Now that we have a lot of temples under our belt, we have a certain expectation and, unfortunately, this one did not live up to our standards. It did have an interesting Ikebana (Japanese floral arrangements) exhibition going on, so that was one redeeming factor, but that also meant loads of people. 

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Largest constructed pond in Kyoto

Largest constructed pond in Kyoto

Our next stop was Tenryu-ji Temple. We arrived a little later than we had hoped, and were one of last people allowed to enter for the day. We could instantly tell this is where we should have started the day! Lea and I quickly started snapping photos of everything we saw.  They had rhododendrons, quince, and spirea all in bloom that looked nice with all the flowering cherries dotted around the gardens. 

It takes a 7 year apprenticeship to learn how to stake these trees to bend for a horizontal effect. 

It takes a 7 year apprenticeship to learn how to stake these trees to bend for a horizontal effect. 

After getting kicked out of Tenryu-ji Temple, we headed to our last stop of the day, the Sagano Bamboo forest. This bamboo forest sees thousands of people every day. They come to take in the sights, but also hear the unique rustling of the bamboo. It is one of the Ministry of Environment top 100 Soundscapes of Japan. We were hoping a late day visit would mean less people, which it did! We also got to hear a slight rustling of the beautiful bamboo.

 

After our walk through the bamboo forest, we had dinner on our minds. We quickly learned getting a table in any restaurant on a Saturday night without a reservation is impossible. We must have tried 10-15 restaurants to no avail.  We settled on an easy home cooked meal of pasta and shrimp. 

April 10th, 2015 - Kyoto, Japan - Day 239

Peter's POV 

Today was a rainy day. After our big day yesterday we didn't really want to do anything. 

Around 4 Lea went for a run in the rain. When we got back my parents started getting ready to go out alone. Lea and I were going to stay home alone, have ramen and watch a movie. Around 6 my parents left, we ate dinner and watched our movie. When the movie was over we waited for 10-15 minutes until our parents came home. We played a game of Euchre to cap of the day. Great chill day in Kyoto. 

April 9th, 2015 - Kyoto, Japan - Day 239

Peter's POV 

Today was full of gardens. Around 9 my mom, dad, and I went to see more gardens, my sister was tired so she didn't come with us. Our plan was to go see three gardens then come back to the house for lunch. On our way to the first garden, which was about an hour and a half walk from our house, we saw a big temple and decided to go in. When we got inside we found some gardens and walked around them for a while. The garden was called Yūzen’en Garden.

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Cool maple leaf my and dad and I spotted!

Cool maple leaf my and dad and I spotted!

When we got out we figured out that we could go and see another garden in the temple. 

When we got into the temple we turned a corner and found monks chanting, it was very cool to watch.

 

After the chanting monks we continued on to the garden. In a part of the garden there were rocks with bushes surrounding them. We found a board explaining that the rocks symbolized 25 bodhisattvas, which are watchers that remain on earth to save people, and the big guy in the middle, Amida Nyorai, is the celestial Buddha. I could make out the clouds (Azalea shrubs), but that was about it. It was cool though. Everything means something in this culture!

Here's the scroll that the garden symbolizes.

Here's the scroll that the garden symbolizes.

Here's the actual garden--can you spot the  Amida Nyorai?  

Here's the actual garden--can you spot the Amida Nyorai? 

After our detour we headed toward the Philosophers Path. This path is a popular destination in Kyoto because of the cheery trees that line the sides of the canal that the path runs next too. The path gets its name from a Japanese philosopher and Kyoto University professor who meditated there daily.  

When we were finished with our side stop we continued on and made it to our first stop, Ginkakuji Temple, which was a little under an hour later. It was 1 by the time that we got to our first stop. At this point we had been on our feet for about 4 hours and were really starting to get tired. The garden was very cool because it was laid out below a hill so that you could walk up the hill and look down at the garden. The temple near the garden houses the oldest tea room in Japan. In the garden there was a big mound of sand that looked like a mountain. It was designed by a gardener named Soami. 

In Japan every job is done with great pride...even raking sand!! 

In Japan every job is done with great pride...even raking sand!! 

When we got to the third garden we learned that it was a garden that was mainly visited during fall because it had a lot of Japanese Maples that bloom in November. 

When we made it to the last garden (Heian Shrine) we learned that it was huge. But we were already there so we got inside and walked with the 200+ other people throughout the garden. When we made it to the exit and bolted home. The walk home took about 30 minutes when we finally made it home it was probably 4:30. After we got home we all made our own dinners headed up to bed after a long day of walking.  

Even the locals like to take pics of the cherry trees!

Even the locals like to take pics of the cherry trees!

BONUS PICS FROM THE DAY!

April 8th, 2015 - Kyoto, Japan - Day 238

Peter's POV 

Today was a work day. Everyone was still pretty tired from our walking tour yesterday so we spent most of the day inside working until about 1. At 1 my mom, dad, and I went out to see some gardens. It was sunny out and it was the first time since we got to Kyoto that I have put my sunglasses on. 

While we were walking to the gardens we saw a little sign that pointed towards another little garden, called Murin-an Gardens. We decided to go in and see what it was. The garden was very cool it was filled with little ponds and mossy garden beds that looked very cool. 

After the little garden we headed to our first garden, which we couldn't find, so we decided to go into a temple and see if the gardens were behind it. We walked through a lot of dry gardens scattered throughout the temple. Dry gardens have been around for centuries, and they are NOT to be walked on! You observe these Zen gardens  from the temple, and they're for meditative purposes. It was believed that this dry landscape would help quiet the mind and make meditating easier. The sand is the ocean, the strategically placed rocks are the mountains, and the raked patterns represent the ripples of the sea. The raking is considered a privilege, because it's not only expressive (you can make it stormy or calm), but it's mediative as well!  The straight lines in the photo below show a calm sea with circular lines around the rocks, which is the tide, gently hitting the rock islands. 

After the dry gardens, my mom went to check out another garden. My mom went in alone because it said that the temple was under construction and we didn't want to buy four passes if it wasn't good. The temples and gardens are so old that they were not designed for people over 5 foot 6. So at every temple I hit my head at least once if I am not paying attention. My mom got a picture of one of the signs. 

After our third garden we found one more garden. A different type of Japanese gardens feature large ponds and islands connected by arched bridges. This garden had a lot of cool water features and some really cool plants.  

After the last garden, it was 4:00 and we decided to walk home. When we got home, my parents went out for a walk while my sister and I stayed home and relaxed. After they got back we had dinner, played a game of Euchre and they went upstairs to watch a movie. Lea and I were going to watch a movie but it didn't download in time.  

One last photo of our adventures today

One last photo of our adventures today

Scroll through the Bonus Pics of the day!

April 7th, 2015 - Kyoto, Japan - Day 237

Big Pete's POV

Today we had scheduled a tour of Kyoto.  We have not been very big on tour while we traveled, but we thought this would be a great way to learn more about the city and the Japanese culture.  We needed to leave the house by 9:00 to get to the tour so we had an early morning with the kids.  Lea has been cranking on school and we actually got a lesson in before we left on the tour.  

We met our guide for the day Miko, at a location which turned out to be about 3 minutes from our house.  There were 5 other people on the tour and after the introductions we set off on foot to head to the Kiyomizu temple, which is another UNESCO world heritage site.  I am not sure how many that makes for us on this trip, but it is a lot.  Our guide took us up a back street to the temple so we could see a Japanese Cemetery.  We learned that in Japan, most people are cremated after they pass, but their ashes are still buried and tombstones erected.  

Japanese cemetary

Small shrine on the way to the temple

After about 5 minuets of walking we arrived at the temple and we realized why she took us the back way - the temple was packed!

The temple was very cool and we learned a lot about the culture.  Everything seems to have symbolism and meaning behind it.  The attention to detail is simply amazing.

Even the tickets to get into the temple are beautiful

We made our way through the various sites at the temple and came to one in particular which is called "going to your mothers womb".  You take your shoes off and walk down a set of steps into complete darkness.  You are instructed to hold onto a railing while you are walking and just follow where it goes.  When I say darkness I mean pitch black - eyes wide open and blind.  Then after winding you way through a small maze you come to a glittering stone which you place one hand on and make a wish.  The experience was really interesting and we are all hoping our wishes come true. 

We then made our way over to the main temple and took in the sights.  It is a beautiful location which was a little hard to enjoy because there were 10,000 other people there, but I tried to imagine being there alone and I think it would be amazing.  Here are some pictures from the temple:

Getting artsy

The final thing we did at the temple was to drink some of its famous water.  The name Kiyomizu means pure water.  You could chose which stream to drink from, one was to enhance academics, one was for love and the other for health.  To my extreme happiness both kids chose academics!

After the temple we started heading back down to the district where our house is located - Gion.  The streets leading away from the temple were packed, but they are beautiful cobblestone lanes with cute shops and sweets everywhere.  

Before making it to Gion we had a scheduled stop at another temple - Kennin-ji.  This temple was much quieter and more peaceful than Kiyomizu.  It is well known for its beautiful artwork on its door panels and its dry gardens, but before we entered we had to take note of the special sign they put up just for Lea.  

The ceiling of the main temple - this dragon enforces the buddhist laws

This is the room where the Japanese tea ceremony was invented

We all agreed this temple was a very nice change from the hustle and bustle of the first one we visited.  Once we were done we walked a short distance over to Gion, which is the largest of the 5 geisha districts in Kyoto.  Again I continue to be impressed by the attention to detail and artistry of this country - below is a street sign in the road in Gion.  The fans are an obvious reference to the Geisha lifestyle. 

Our guide told us this was actually a tourist, not a real Geisha

The walk through the Gion was nice and learning about the lifestyle was really interesting, but we were getting really hungry.  We went to a restaurant down a back ally and had a nice sampler meal where we had tempura, udon and Japanese pickled vegetables.  It was nice to sit down and warm up after a long cool morning.

After lunch we visited a couple more shrines right in the downtown area.  We learned the central area of Kyoto once had 1000 shrines all packed together.  Seeing these little oasis's right in the middle of the city was very cool.   

By rubbing the head of the bull you will have good luck in your education.  I made the kids do it twice :-).

After the shrines we headed into the food market.  The market here is a single very long ally that is packed to the gills with food stalls - and people!  It was great to have Miko there because she could explain all the weird and wonderful food we saw.

We wrapped up the day by heading to one more shrine.  This one is the oldest in Kyoto and is dedicated to the art of Japanese flower arrangement.  They were preparing for a big exhibit this weekend so it was a bit under construction, but still quite interesting.

After saying goodbye to Miko and our new friends from Malaysia and New York we started on the 30 minute walk home.  By the time we got there we were all exhausted.  It was about 4:30 so we relaxed for a little bit (except for Lea who got right back to work) and then had an early dinner and a REALLY early bed time of 8:00 - the museum walking killed us again....

April 6th, 2015 - Kyoto, Japan - Day 236

Big Pete's POV

Today was a great day in Kyoto.  The weather has not been great, but we decided we needed to get out and start seeing things anyway.  We decided we would work all morning and then head out later in the afternoon regardless of what the weather looked like.  

Around 2:00 we started on a walk for the Imperial Palace of Kyoto.  Kyoto was the capital of Japan for 1000 years before it moved to Tokyo about 150 years ago.  The palace is usually only open to visitors by reservation, but this week it was free to enter with no reservation necessary and this was the final day so we made it a priority to get there.  

The walk took about 50 minutes and led us through the downtown of Kyoto.  This is such an interesting city with winding back alleys full of restaurants and cute shops but also big streets with department stores, Starbucks and the Gap.  It was sprinkling lightly as we walked but not too bad where we wanted to turn back.  We made it to the palace grounds easily and headed toward the actual palace.  

View of the palace from the outside

We made our way inside and slowly walked around the interior of the palace looking at all of the different buildings and reading the placards to get a sense of what we were looking at.  

Then after seeing the buildings and the throne we were able to see the real treasures of the Palace - the gardens.  I love Japanese gardens and these were just awesome, but unfortunately you could not walk through them, you had to observe them from behind a rope.  Still Stacie was able to get some great pictures:

Then once we were done with the garden we started to head home.  Stacie caught this very cool picture of a Japanese tourist checking out the cherry trees.

On our way back out of the palace grounds we found a few more nooks that were picture worthy and Peter caught this nice picture.  It seems that everywhere you turn there is something else that captures your eye and makes you want to take a picture.  I think it is because of all the places we have been this culture seems the most foreign to me.  It is highly stimulating and quite wonderful.

We decided to make the long walk back to the house instead of taking the subway in hopes of getting a little more exercise.  By the time we did make it home we were all exhausted.  We have all determined when you walk at a slow pace, like in a museum, it drains the life out of you.  Think about it, when you are done with a museum tour aren't you usually exhausted?  We are not sure why, but we call it museum walking and we try to take it into consideration when we plan our days.  This day was a combination of a long real walk (about two hours) combined with about 2 hours of museum walking and that had everyone beat.  

We stopped at the grocery store on the way home and bought some sushi and other prepared foods for dinner.  The grocery store food here is fantastic and inexpensive.  When you combine that with the fact that we can't read any labels, going the prepared food route it just a lot better for us.  We had our nice easy dinner, hung out for a while and had an early bed time after a great day.

April 5th, 2015 - Kyoto, Japan - Day 232

Peter's POV 

Today was a down day. It was raining for most of the day and because of that we spent most of the day inside working. Around 4:00 my mom and I ran to the grocery store to get things for our Japanese easter meal. In the store we tried to find beef, however, because there are no english labels and pretty much no one speaks a word of english we had to guess. After about 20 minutes in the grocery store we left for home. When we got home we hung out for about 2 hours then my dad, sister, and I went to go and grab some dessert. Our original plan was for us to and grab a cake at one of the bakeries in the area, but because it was 6:00 on a Sunday we figured that pretty much no one would be open so we just went to the grocery store instead. 

On our way to the grocery store

A shrine just up the street from our house.  There are 2000 temples and shrines in Kyoto

After we got back dinner was ready and we started eating. Our easter meal was a big bowl of udon noodles with some beef and vegetables.  Dinner was delicious and after we ate we went down to a canal that had cherry blossoms hanging over the side of it to take some pictures. 

Lea with her new camera getting ready for a photo expedition

My shot of cherry blossoms at night

I also took this long exposure of the traffic at night

My shot of cherries overhanging the canal

My dad caught some Japanese tourists dressed up and taking photos with the cherries

Photo tour

My mom even got into the game with this photo

Buddha on the way home

When we got back we played a game of Euchre and went to bed after a pretty slow easter in Japan.   

April 4th, 2015 - Travel Day - Day 231

Peter's POV 

Today was our first slow morning in Tokyo. My sister and I woke up around 7:45 and tried to call our parents, but no one was there to answer. We tried to get a little more sleep before calling them again about an hour later, thankfully they were there because Lea and I where starving and we had no food. My dad told me that he had two cinnamon scones waiting in his room for us. When we were done with breakfast we packed up and relaxed until 11:30. 

At 11:30 we left the hotel to go and get on the subway. When we got to the station, we still needed to get tickets, food and get to the train and we had about 45 minutes. Our plan was for Lea to sit with the bags while I got us a snack and my parents when to try and get discounted tickets. After about 5 minutes after I got back from getting me and Lea a snack, my parents showed up and told us that they needed to go and get tickets at the counter so we needed to wait. When they finally got us our tickets my mom took us with her to get lunch in a supermarket. We found what we wanted pretty quickly and were off toward the train. When we got to the tracks we found that the train wasn't there yet. We waited for about 10 minutes until it showed up and used that time to drop a sticker on Tokyo:

We found our seats and were off, towards Kyoto on a bullet train.

Cherry blossoms at 200MPH

After a smooth 2 and a half hour journey our train pulled into Kyoto station. We found our way out of the station and found the line to get a taxi. It was probably 20 people long. The system seemed very ineffective because there were just as many taxis waiting to pick people up as people waiting to be picked up.  This was so unusual for Japan as every other thing we have encountered has been so efficient.

When we got our taxi driver he said that he knew were our house was.  However, did not speak a word of english other than ok and thank you so it was a good thing my parents had printed out the directions to the house in Japanese.

We found our house in about 20 minutes, the outside and surrounding area is very cute. When we walked into our house we thought that it was very cool, but VERY SMALL.  We are staying in a historic district in Kyoto in a traditional Japanese home called a Machiya.  My dad says it is about 650 square feet big.  When we found our room we looked around for the beds because our room was just a room.

Our room before the makeover

There was no beds or anything. We looked in the closets and found camping mattress like things and made the room our own. 

Makeover complete

My parents left to go and get groceries while we finished up our room. 

When they got back we made dinner and watched a movie and fell into bed exhausted from another travel day.