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Hindsight is 20/20, they say. I didn't know it then, but it seems I was extremely lucky that I decided to travel to Japan at the tail end of 2019. It was my first time visiting, so I'm glad I took my time (21 days) on that trip. Who would have guessed that the following year, the travel situation would change so much, and my plans to visit Japan every year thereafter would be postponed indefinetly.
Here's to visiting Japan again someday.
11.16.19 - I'm flying to Japan today! Taking off from JFK at 10:55 a.m., on a flight that should take about 14 hours and 30 minutes. Yikes! Unfortunately, I was unable to sleep much the night before (nerves/excitement I guess) so I'm feeling quite tired this morning.
On the plus side, I should easily fall asleep while in flight.
11.17.19 - After a 14 hour flight, I arrive at Narita airport at around 3:25 p.m. the next day (that time difference between the US and Japan is a doozie). After that, it was a typical custom procedure, I guess. Making my way through the process, I'm trying to hurry, since I still have to get to Tokyo, and then board a Shinkansen to Osaka before it gets too late.
After about 5 hours later, I'm finally at my Osaka rental. This will be my homebase for the duration of my stay here in Japan!
11.18.19 - Last night, I had my first experience sleeping on the floor with a futon. Not as rough as I feared. I have a few plans today, so after a quick breaksfast, I'll first go explore nearby places, in order to get somewhat used to the area.
After a few hours of walking around and eating lunch (I was intending to try something new, but chickened out and got some KFC), I head over to a Ramen cooking class I had scheduled. Should be fun!
11.19.19 - Another day of exploring around Osaka. I'm trying to stick to the less obvious tourist paths, just so that I'm able to experience a more calm and authentic sightseeing. Have to say, it's interesting to see so many side streets without sidewalks in Japan.
Sometimes I feel like I'm doing something wrong by walking on the street. Plus that nagging feeling you could get hit by a car any minute takes a while to go away!
11.20.19 - Went to the Osaka Zoo today. It's been forever since I've visited a zoo in general, plus this one had a lot of animals that you would only see in Asia, which made it a very neat experience.
And just like I expected (because of anime), I did see school children with those yellow hats all over the zoo!
11.21.19 - I'm still exploring Osaka, and steadily spreading out more and more. This city is surprisingly big - so I've started to take public transportation to get around (the Osaka loop is so convinient!).
Today, I've been focusing on visiting the nearby temples, like Shintennoji. Can't get enough of their beautiful architecture!
11.22.19 - Last night I had a bad fall. Tripped and fell on my wrist pretty hard trying to save my phone (safe!). This morning, it's looking awful, and hurting if moved too much. Definitely have to go to a doctor.
My Japanese is not nearly advanced enough to know medical terms, but was able to communicate with the doctor as to what happened. After an x-ray, the doctor suggested I might have a small hairline fracture, so I was given a brace, along with antibiotics and painkillers. He suggested that once I return to the US, that I visit a doctor to get my wrist looked at again.
11.23.19 - After yesterday's misadventure, I continue exploring Osaka. This time, I'm heading to Osaka castle. Even from a distance, it's certainly an imposing structure. The outside of the castle is breathtaking!
The inside of it has a really well planned out tour - I was specially impresssed by mini-hologram theathers that showed historical scene recreations as we moved along the floors. Unfortunately, pictures or videos inside the castle were not allowed. Alas, I guess this will just have to be live in my memories.
11.24.19 - Going to Kyoto today. The plan is to spend two days exploring all the temples there. Since I'm going via Shinkansen, it's a fairly short trip. Upon arrival, I was surprised at the sheer amount of people walking that paths - the area seems to be extremely popular with tourists!
One of the best things about traveling to Japan during this time of year is the autumn folliage! Nowhere was it more evident, than in the trees surrounding the amazing temples in Kyoto.
11.25.19 - Day two of my stay at Kyoto. It's quite the zen experience, walking through winding forest paths, making my way from temple to temple. For convinience, along the way you have these food courts - inside some smaller temples - where you can buy traditional Japanese food, and then continue on.
Overall, Kyoto really was a special experience, and probably the favorite part of my trip to Japan!
11.26.19 - Heading back to Osaka today. I plan to do some light exploring in the morning, since I'm meeting with a group later in the day to get some food and drinks (visiting local places).
The night ended up being quite fun. Got to see quite a few local food places that I would not have normally known about, and visited some great drinking spots. I'm a lightweight when it comes to drinking nowadays though!
11.27.19 - Today I'm heading to Kobe - probably not the most touristy spot, but I'm a lover of steaks and have been dying to get authentic Kobe beef!
Kobe is located on the water's edge, so it was only fitting that on the first day, I get on a boat. It was a nice cruise around the Kobe harbor, allowing you to see the city from a unique point of view. Even the slightly overcast skies didn't put a hamper on the beautiful views.
11.28.19 - Day two in Kobe was spent mainly walking around the city, randomly. Like I said, Kobe is not necessarily a tourist spot, so it's basically a city experience, where you discover nice little spots/shops to peruse as you walk around.
Still, it was worth coming here. The food was amazing! Pricey, sure, but I got to eat what I came for, and it was cool seeing the Chef prepare it right in front of me.
11.29.19 - Back in Osaka today. I plan to visit the Osaka Aquarium - heard good things about it, plus I can't remember the last time I visited an aquarium, period.
The Aquarium ended up being quite big and impressive. The variety and arrangement of the areas was pretty smart - I spent nearly 4 hours just following the path, as it took you from one section to the next - it felt like it told a cohesive story about marine life just from the arrangement.
11.30.19 - Today is going to be a two-for-one. The plan is to head to Nara in the morning, and in the evening, make my way to Fukuoka. Even though Shinkansens are fast, I'm still going to be spending quite a bit of time on them today!
The reason I wanted to see Nara - the famous Nara park. This place is crazy - basically, deer live here and are so used to people that you see them everywhere. Don't be surprised if one walks up to you looking for food, or if you see a bunch crossing the street as cars patiently wait for them to pass by.
12.1.19 - I got to Fukuoka late last night, and decided to go to a business hotel (basically, last minute, super cheap hotels often used by salarymen in Japan). It was interesting - small, clean, but not what I would call fancy by any means.
As for Fukuoka itself - it's nice. It's a city (the sixth largest city in Japan, in fact) so I didn't really do a lot, other than walk around, and look at anything that seemed interesting. Being used to NYC, visiting big cities is not often that exciting for me. Next time I visit here, I'll make a point to find out beforehand which attractions in Fukuoka are great to see.
12.2.19 - Traveled to Tokyo, and immediately headed to the onsen town nearby - Kusatsu machi. The plan is to spend the whole day there relaxing in one of their hotsprings. I hope I'm ready to get over any gaijin shyness about having to go in there (in the nude).
What a wonderful experience. The town itself was breathtaking. Plus, all around the town, there are these mini-onsens where you can take off your shoes and dip your legs in those amazingly warm waters, for free!
12.3.19 - I'm dedicating this whole day to exploring Tokyo. While it does feel like a typical big city in some ways, it does have quite a few areas I want to visit, such as Aikhabara, Shinjuku, etc.
After lunch, I decide to catch a play at the Kabuki theather. It's a bit hard for me to follow - not sure if it's because the Japanese being used is more classical - but at least I'm able to follow the main narrative of what is going on (I think?)
12.4.19 - Spent the early morning in Tokyo, before heading back to Osaka. The owner of my Osaka rental has offered to buy me dinner tonight, so I need to get back with ample time. I also want to tidy up the place before tomorrow.
The dinner was nice. He took me to a local place (not typically known by tourists), and we had a nice conversation. His english was almost nil, so it gave me a last chance to practice my Japanese. Very nice guy - also ended up giving me a men's yukata as a gift to take with me.
12.5.19 - Today I'm mostly going to spend it traveling. After settling my Osaka rental, I'll take the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. The plan is to have lunch in Tokyo, and then make my way to Narita airport, as my flight leaves at around 7:40 p.m., and I want to give myself a lot of time to deal with customs, etc.
The thought of leaving is a little bitter sweet. I'll miss Japan for sure, but I was starting to feel a little homesick.
12.5.19 - The flight was shorter on the way back, only taking 12 hours. Thanks to the time difference, I actually landed an hour earlier (of the same day that I took off!). Arriving at JFK roughly around 6:30 p.m., it felt a little like I time traveled!
I'll miss Japan, and can't wait to visit again, but man, I was sure glad to be home. Now, I guess I'll go get ready for the monster jetlag I'll be sure to feel for the next few days.
Typically, I'm not one to attend weddings in general, much less destination weddings, but considering this was the wedding of one of my oldest friends, I couldn't say no. Plus, the chance to visit Colombia sounded like a fun experience.
3.16.18 - My flight leaves around 11 a.m. Since it's only about a 5 hour flight, I should get there in time to check-in at the hotel around late afternoon.
After settling in at the hotel, I go out to take a quick walk around the venue - it's quite pretty.
3.17.18 (Getting Ready) - Woke up early, after a good night's sleep. The reason - I have to go pick-up my tuxedo at a rental place nearby. Convinient! Thank goodness I converted enough currency, since it was a bit more than I had anticipated.
After putting on everything, I'm beginning to feel like James Bond.
3.17.18 (Ceremony) - The ceremony takes place early afternoon, on a historic(?) Catholic church. A bunch of us decided to share a car ride to get to there - I'm surprised Uber is already in this country. On arrival, I must say, I'm impressed with the look of this church. I can't say I've been inside many, but the architectural design of this one is pretty cool.
The wedding ceremony is nice. A bit long, but then again, I'm not used to going to weddings.
3.17.18 (Wedding reception) - After the wedding, everyone once again rides over to another venue, where the wedding ceremony will be held. The best man does his toast, the bride and groom have their first dance, etc.
I would say that it's a typical latin party, all and all. As you can imagine there was lots of dancing.
3.17.18 (After party) - For the brave of heart, after the main ceremony the after party takes over. If you thought there was a lot of dancing before, you haven't seen anything yet.
Alas, I'm not as young as I used to be, and I call it a night at around 2 a.m. I've probably danced enough to hold me over for a decade, after all.
3.18.18 - The day after the wedding, I spend the day exploring the nearby area (after returning the rental!). I'm not familiar enough with Colombia, and I didn't really plan anything specific besides coming to the wedding, so I stick relatively close by. Still, it's nice to see new places and the area is pretty enough.
On the plus side, I get to sample the local cuisine (yum!). Thank god I can speak Spanish - makes traveling to places like here that much easier.
3.19.18 - Check out is around noon today. I have to hurry, as I need to make sure I'm not late taking the taxi over to the airport. Clearing customs shouldn't be a problem, since I packed light, but better safe than sorry.
The flight is uneventful and on time. All and all, a fun little trip.