“Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time deid” – old Scottish proverb

beeeeeer“It’s a bit odd isn’t it?”

I looked up from my Kindle to see the old man across the table eying me. He’s hunkered over a pint of some sort of Scottish ale. He’s obviously had a few though cause his left eye keeps blinking, as if I’m not entirely in focus.

“Excuse me?” I say, wanting to get back to my own pint and food before heading to one of the shows that night in Edinburgh.

“It’s a bit odd to see a young lass in a pub alone. Are you waiting for your boyfriend?”

Though he can’t see it, a shiver of fire runs up my spine. But because my mother taught me manners and I’ve learned to control my temper, I simply give him a small smile and shake my head. “Oh no, it’s just me. I’m heading to a play tonight.”

He still doesn’t seem to understand. And until I pay my bill, in between talking to his friend, he continues to shoot me glances. It’s like a puzzle that he doesn’t comprehend. It’s as if I’m some mystical creature that has never existed before – a young woman who did what she wanted all on her own. Without a husband. Without a boyfriend. Without anyone but herself.

And I hate that days later, it was that same question that constantly repeated in my head. Was it what everyone was thinking? Was I truly odd? Sure, it has been an adjustment to be totally on my own in all these foreign settings. And there were plenty who questioned my choice.

edinburghedinburgh2

Some who said I was irresponsible (to do what I wanted isn’t responsible? Wasn’t this my own life?)

Couldn’t I wait on someone to go with me (because I should depend on someone else’s whims to see the world?)

It’s not safe (would you say this to me if I were a man?)

But if there’s one thing that I have learned through all my loss. If you want to do something, if you want to see a place, then you use your own two feet. There are excuses that people will want you to subscribe to but, at the end of the day, if you want to do the thing, than you DO THE THING.

So, if that makes me odd in the eyes of judgmental people than I guess I am odd. I’m odd that I wanted to see the Scottish Highlands. I’m strange that I would walk 30 minutes to the city center in Edinburgh because I like the architecture – that I completely understand how this town inspired JK Rowling to create Harry Potter. I’m weird that I want to sit in a pub, reading a book and drinking a local ale.

scottish fuzzy cowhighlands

I guess that’s the magic of Scotland. It reinforces what I already know. That there are very few things that I would give up my individuality and independence for and there’s no such place as Edinburgh to live that ideal. I’ve already decided that I want to come back because there’s something magical about this part of the world – the mist itself seems to conjure up fairy tales and folklore. It deserves more of my time. Honestly, it deserves a little of all our time. Because everyone needs a little magic. (But next time, I’ll remember a rain jacket and some boots.)

loch ness

 

 

I now have the desire to drink tea every afternoon. My UK ancestry has been unlocked.

seagull thamesLondon is grimy. And I mean that positively. London is practically filthy with history, culture and charm. Everywhere I look, I find something to love about this city. There are markets filled with locals selling everything from vintage clothes to multicolored lanterns to truffle oil. There are street performers of all kinds – guitarists, bongo players, puppeteers. There are pianos in the train stations that exist for anyone to play. The history of every building is staggering. And so much to do and see! I have barely had time or energy to sit down and write because I tend to fall sleep not long after hitting my pillow.

When the days are as long as there are out here – the sun sets currently around 10 PM! – you don’t really stop often for a breather. It really wasn’t until we got to Dublin that it became a necessity to simply relax. But that’s kind of the thing about London. You want to keep going because there is just so much. There’s food everywhere (don’t let someone tell you that English food is horrible because I’ve definitely had some tasty dishes while here). There are pubs and gardens and palaces, gates and fountains…the list goes on. London is downright magical at times. Walking through the underground at night and hearing the echo of a guitarist made me feel like I was starring in some sort of movie.

tower bridgeshakespeare fountainlondon undergroundwindsor castle

As mentioned, I am currently in Dublin right now and loving it. It reminds me somewhat of London however it has a different sort of spirit. London has a much more refined air to it naturally due to its immense history. Dublin, while certainly isn’t lacking in history, is much more raucous and loud. Amble into any pub and you will see what I mean. All is takes it to hear an Irishman belt out a drinking song in a pub and suddenly you’ve taken up your pint and joined in singing. Everywhere is music and laughter in Dublin. As its currently (and unusually) sunny, the city is awash with flowers. So it’s downright beautiful. It’s amazing just how similar and yet different Dublin is from London. You have two cultures of people who are so proud of their heritage and so willing to share it that they all but shout at the top of their lungs. (And to be fair, the Irish will shout.) The pride I feel emanating from the peoples here makes this such a great place to visit. I will certainly be back to both. (And actually I’ll be heading to Scotland in August so I’ll probably check out some other parts of England and Wales).

brazen headcliffs of moher flowersguinnessdublin castle

Until next time! Cheers and Slainte!

You can yell Opa in pretty much any scenario in Greece.

parthenonThis was actually quite a difficult post to write. The biggest part of travel for me is understanding another place’s culture and the people that live there. But Greece was proving to be harder to write about. What can I really say about this place? Greece is so many things and you really only begin to grasp that once you get the heck out of Athens.

Don’t get me wrong. Athens has a lovely sense of history and the ruins there are very impressive. But, like many other major cities, Athens is dirty and crowded. It feels overly tourist directed so you get so real sense of culture there. But, once you begin to venture into the Greek islands, it’s like Greece comes alive.

oia santorinidelos

The water and the sky here are the same color so its hard to even tell where one ends and the other begins. The buildings on the islands tend to be this brilliant white with blue roofs (domes on the churches). I can’t emphasize enough the COLOR that exists here. And its not just the buildings, it’s the people, it’s the food, it’s the history. The Greeks are proud of their heritage and they are proud of what they can offer anyone who comes their way. Seriously the hospitality is superb. Often, you get a free shot of local liquer (ouzo, mastika for example) when you get the check. And sometimes you might even get a free dessert. Just because that just how it rolls around here.

mykonos churchmykonos view

This is going to end up being a shorter post because there really aren’t words to describe this place. You truly have to be here, breathing the same air to really understand. You have to smell air, sea salt mixed with roasting gyro or octopus. You have to walk the winding alleyways of Mykonos Chora or Oia in Santorini preferably with a gelato in hand. You have to listen to the accordion play or the loud laughter of the shopkeepers or locals drinking their frappes. And above all, you need to just open your eyes to all the wonders in this land – from mighty temple ruins to the majestic caldera.

red sand beach santoriniacropolis

I head home in a couple days. But I’m going to miss being in Greece and the freedom that you experience in this country. Until next time, Opa!

agean seamykonos chora

 

Santa lives in Finland. True facts.

Traveling is exhausting. helsinki fountain

(I know that seems a bit like a “well duh” sort of statement. But stay with me here.)

Currently I’m sitting in a hotel room in Athens, Greece. The sun is shining outside, there are mountains in the distance. However, I’m okay with relaxing for a few stolen moments before venturing. Anyone who knows me knows that I consistently have issues with sleeping so if I am able to sit still and not really do anything…well…it’s a chance I take.

And early on in my traveling journey, it was something I would feel guilty about. But it was during my trip to Japan where I decided that my guilt was misplaced. I was lying in my bed in Hiroshima, still sick from a cold I had caught in California. I knew that there were things to do and plenty of sights to see. But all I wanted to do was sit still for even a few moments. And that taught me something about these trips. It is OKAY to not necessarily be constantly moving about and doing things. Pushing myself without reprieve was only going to make me remember being sick and tired rather than the sites themselves. So when I need to relax – take a page out the Hawaiian’s playbook and just chill, bro.

I will probably get to a Japan wrap up post at some point because I certainly have the pictures to support it. But for now, let’s talk about Finland.

helsinki cathedralcinnamon roll

I decided to do a stopover in Finland on my way to Greece for the very scientific and logical reason called “Why not?” Honestly, Finland is one of those places that never really factored in my brain as a place to visit. Cause when one thinks about Finland what really springs to mind? Snow. And being really cold.

church interiorbaltic sea

But I was pleasantly surprised. Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is a really quirky and lovely city. Not only is it very easy for an English speaker to get around (literally everyone speaks English and they speak it REALLY well) but it had a very beautiful old World elegance to it. The buildings are all gorgeous and I enjoyed simply walking the streets and looking around. Helsinki rarely tears down their buildings in favor of more modern ones. And they don’t cover up much of anything. You can see bullet holes (one area is actually framed in a Burger King) and effects from bomb explosions in several places. It was explained to me that the Finnish people do not want to cover up history no matter how sad or tough it might be. And generally that same attitude is everywhere. Finland is minimalist and straight-to-the-point. And Finnish people do not beat around the bush at all.

They also really love heavy metal music there. Also Donald Duck. Go figure.

tree fortress island

This is what I really love about traveling though. I love discovering more about the countries that I visit and upturning any thoughts I might have had before. Sometimes it rings true (yeah, Hawaii is THAT laid back) but most of the time it broadens my views and shows me just how wide our world is. And while it’s not easy to travel by myself, every time I learn something new, I know that it is worth it in the long run.ice cream

 

 

After a couple days in the far north, I switched gears. Last night I arrived in Athens and later today I will join a tour group. After a couple days in Athens, we’ll travel to Mykonos and Santorini before returning. I’m looking forward to sunshine, ruins and the big blue Mediterranean Sea.

Until next time!

Slipping backwards in time

kanazawa signAs I traveled out of Tokyo on one of the shinkansen (bullet trains), it became to feel as if I was starting to travel back in time. Although watching the countryside and towns streak by did make me a little dizzy (the shinkansen go about 200 mph), I began to notice temple after temple pop up. I began to see more ancient looking streets and infrastructures. And by the time I arrived in Kanazawa, it felt like another world entirely.

Kanazawa (the sister city to Buffalo, New York of all places) is often called “Little Kyoto.” And it definitely set the mood for me before I headed to the former capital of Japan. It was quieter, much more subdued than Tokyo but it offers a lot of see. There are beautiful gardens (Kenroku-en Gardens), castles (Kanazawa Castle), food markets (Omicho Market) and an old geisha district with some of the few still functioning teahouses (Higashi Chaya District.) And there was still plenty more that I didn’t get to – there’s a ninja temple that’s supposed to be pretty entertaining, for instance.

Kenrokuen Gardens plum blossomshigashi chaya districtgeisha performancegeisha

When I had been researching Japan and figuring out my trajectory on this trip, many reviews/blogs/guides said that Kyoto was often a bigger tourist area than Tokyo. And boy, was this accurate. I had thought that Tokyo was a little crazy with their crowds (never ride their trains during rush hour, trust me on this one). But I encountered WAY more people in Kyoto.

inari torii gatesinari shrine cat

Kyoto is rather like what I picture when I think of Japan. It’s this really cool mix of modern and ancient life. And being there during cherry blossom season? It made the city downright magical at times. At some points I would find myself just strolling around with no particular aim because it was so peaceful. A popular tourist activity is renting a kimono and taking pictures beneath the trees. Not to repeat myself but it makes you feel like you’re back in the Edo period of Japan.

kyoto cherry blossomscherry blossoms temple

Don’t mistake the wandering for idleness as there is no shortage of things to do in Kyoto. With over 200 temples to visit, that alone could keep you occupied. As for myself, I ventured to Arashiyama (the western part of Kyoto) to check out the mystical bamboo forest and also to visit some monkeys. (Full disclosure if anyone wants to visit those monkeys, it’s a complete uphill climb so be prepared for that…as I was not). The monkey park is not a bad way to spend an hour as the monkeys roam around this hilltop freely. I was lucky enough to even feed a couple of them. Also, if you want to venture outside of Kyoto – less than an hour outside of Kyoto is a town called Nara. It’s a quaint little place with several temples but it also home to many many tame deer. As deer are seen as envoys of the gods, these critters are protected and fed very well by the many tourists. It’s a little disconcerting to have deer walk straight up to you expecting the deer cookies (which are sold everywhere). But it’s also pretty nifty too. You can walk around feeling like a Disney princess since the deer will also usually let you pet them.

arashiyama bamboo forestarashiyama monkey park

Kyoto and Kanazawa were a nice antithesis to Tokyo’s lights and glamour. Much quieter but bursting with history and beauty, it was a great place to unwind and simply soak up a different side of Japanese culture.

nara deer traffic light

Inside the pinball machine of Tokyo

cherry blossoms2As I crossed the famous Shibuya crossing, flashing lights all around me, I could barely believe that I was in Tokyo. This is the furthest away from home I had ever been. And Tokyo, for lack of a better word, is INSANE. And I mean that entirely in a good way. It’s almost like being in a pinball machine – all lights and sounds. The last four days have been a blur. Not only from killer jet lag but because there is not stopping in a city like Tokyo. There’s too much to see and too much to do.

In figuring out my itinerary, I read many times that there is no amount of time that you can give to Tokyo and it being enough. I narrowed my focus to just simply exploring the various areas of Tokyo, hitting some of the key sights that I wanted to see. First up was the Studio Ghibli Museum. Designed by the famed animator Hayao Miyazaki, this place was whimsical and beautiful. If you have not seen any of his films and you have any interest in animation, see his work. All of his films are fantastic. And while I could not take pictures inside, it was entirely worth the visit.

ghibli museum

Later that day, I ventured to the Harajuku area where I visited one of the more famous shrines in Tokyo – the Meiji Shrine. This shrine is dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. It is sacred ground and there is an air of reverence as you walk the gravel path that leads to the shrine. There are barrels of sake and wine that have been donated to the shrine and are on display. There are gardens that were designed by the emperor himself for his wife. It’s a truly beautiful and peaceful place. But the best to me, was the wooden votives that were placed around a tree as prayers. In many different languages you could read about well wishes for happiness and world peace. I actually got a little teary-eyed.

After that, I spent time in Takeshita Street which is a cluster of fashion, food and color. I walked up and down it several times just because there was that much to see. There are food stalls that sell cotton candy the size of your head, multicolored drinks in light bulbs, chocolate drizzled French fries. There are clothing stores that sell Lolita-style dresses, crazy socks or full leather ensembles I spent some time at a cat café. I particularly enjoyed the cat with the angriest face I’ve ever seen despite wanting all my love. But that’s cats for you.

Today, I made my way to the hot springs resort town of Hakone which is a nice respite the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. It was nice to rest my bones after the miles of walking that I did in Tokyo. Tomorrow, I begin my journey through the rest of the country. So stay tuned! Arigato gozaimasu! Sayonara!

On Anime Heroines and Japan

japanWhen I was a little girl, like most kids, I loved cartoons. Growing up in the 90s, we were treated to some of the best animated films and shows that have ever been produced. I remember watching all sorts of television shows after school – Rescue Rangers, Duck Tales, Batman, Justice League to name a few. But when I was barely in middle school, I came across a show that came to influence me in many ways.

Sailor Moon.

It might seem silly to some that a dubbed Japanese anime might have an impact on someone’s life. But back then, Sailor Moon was unique. The main character was anything but heroic – not good at school, not athletic, not extraordinary. And yet, she saved lives. She fought and won against the bad guys.  She wasn’t like anything I had seen before. Most of the shows at that time…well…they mostly showed boys being the heroes. To someone who had always felt very ordinary, an awkward 12 year old, it showed me that even an normal girl could kick butt.  For that, she has always had a special place in my heart. But Sailor Moon also introduced something else to me. And that was Japan. It was a place that never in a million years I thought I would be able to see. The culture is something that is endlessly fascinating and beautiful to me. And to know that this time tomorrow, I will be on a plane to Tokyo. Well. Excitement is an understatement.

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For the next 21 days, I will be making my way throughout the land of the rising sun. So stay tuned! Sayonara!

Pictures courtesy of Pixabay