Friday, June 10, 2011

Come visit, stay awhile...

Nick and I always joke that I live in Japan and he just visits. With 7 "deployments" under his belt in less than a year, it's no wonder we think this way.

Though he is gone a lot, Nick is getting to see other parts of Asia. Checking one country after another off his "must see" list, he's not exactly complaining! (However I'm a bit jealous...ha!) Currently Nick is on an IA (Individual Assignment) in Australia! He promised to take lots of photos of the Land Down Under! (That is if he has the time...the military keeps him pretty busy)

When he's home (and can get away from the squadron) we try to get out and see least locally if nothing else. We were able to squeeze one mini trip in before he left. We spent a couple of days in the area of Hakone.

Hakone is a couple hours away by train, easily a day trip, but we booked a hotel and made a gettaway of it!
Nick and I stayed at the Fujiya Hotel. This famous resort is the oldest in Japan. Constructed in 1891, the historical hotel has been stayed in by many famous people; John Lennon, President Franklin Roosevelt and Helen Keller to name a few.
It was raining the entire time we were in Hakone, therefore we didn't get as many pictures as we would have liked...but, all the more reason to go back another time.

The lush greenery surrounding the Fujiya Hotel was amazing. Gardens, ponds, natural springs, heavy trees and bright bright green was all one would see when looking out any window of the hotel! Love it! So peaceful and relaxing.
There was a wedding being held at the hotel while we were there; which isn't uncommon, given the hotel's stature. (but poor bride...with all the rain) Nick of course wanted to take a photo, even though the bride was wearing what they call "Western-style" wedding attire, and not a traditional Japanese wedding dress. Her attendants however were wearing kimonos so it wasn't completely untraditional (for Japan).
The area of Hakone is known for it's many onsen (hot springs). Onsen were traditionally used as public bathing places, but are still very much a part of the Japanese culture and can be found in most cities. Most onsen don't allow you to wear a swimsuit (again, these are public facilities), which I find highly uncomfortable (of course I do, I am not Asian and wasn't raised that way...not knocking the Japanese, I am just admitting - we are the way we are because of the way we grew up!). Some onsen however are private, and therefore you can go into them by yourselves (or with whomever you choose, the key is there aren't strangers in the room with you). The picture below is of the "private hot spring bath" at our paying for an hour in a hot tub! Ha! ...called the "Mermaid Bath"
The thing to do while in Hakone is to take the cable cars up the mountain/volcano, make a pit stop at Owakundai and eat the famous black eggs, then take a boat ride across Lake Ashi.

The rain really put a damper on our sightseeing, and thus while in the cable car, this was our view:
From this spot, one is supposed to get "one of the best views of Fuji"...clearly we didn't, but it was still fun to go up the mountain anyway! Nick and I just enjoyed getting a weekend away together.

Hakone Volcano is still active, but there has not been an eruption for over 3,000 years. However, the steam still rises from the land surrounding it, and the water under the ground is very warm (hence the many hot springs).
Owakudani is the area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mt. Hakone. It's an active volcanic zone where sulfurous fumes, hot springs and hot rivers can be seen.

Taking the short walking trail (about 10 minutes) away from the cable cars, we were led into the volcanic zone where even through the rain we could see the steam vents and bubbling pools!
On this trail we were able to purchase the legendary black eggs! These unique eggs are cooked in the naturally hot water, where their shells are blackened by the sulfur. The eggs are said to prolong one's life by 7 years, so eat them we did! Ha!
Verdict...a black boiled egg, is still a boiled egg...tastes exactly the same! Luckily for us, they even give you salt when you purchase the eggs to sprinkle on for a bit of flavor.
Didn't see Fuji, did eat the eggs, and made it to the boat...but, we were 5 minutes too late and therefore didn't get to ride across Lake Ashi...again, another reason to go back!

Nick and I arrived via cable car at the boat stop and literally watched the last boat of the day take off! Just our luck...haha! Note to others: the last bus leaves at 5pm, not 5:05!
We did miss the boat ride, but we didn't let it stop us from enjoying Hakone. We took a bus ride through the winding roads that lead back to our hotel, where we enjoyed the scenery locally.

Next time we will make sure it isn't raining so we can fully see and enjoy the area of Hakone, but we were glad we finally experienced one of Japan's gems. Now we know how to get there and get around....come visit us and we will take you there as well!

(Nick you too! I'd love you to visit, maybe stay awhile!)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Time in Texas!

I didn't anticipate a second trip to Texas during our 3 years abroad...One time, for one very good friend of mine's wedding, and that was going to be it! I made that one trip in October, seeing all of my family and as many of my friends as I could fit into 4 weeks. I said my goodbye's to the Great State for what I thought would be at least 2.5 years! Little did I know, I would be back so soon...

Oh Tejas how I missed you!
Nothing says Texas like cowboy boots and the Lonestar flag!
Or delicious Tex Mex...
The name says it all! If ever in Austin, Texas, do yourself a favor and stop by this famous dive for some of the best breakfast tacos you can put in your stomach! (Of course salsa and guac are to be consumed while there as well!)
Though the food is what my taste-buds miss the most, Texas wouldn't be so dear to me if it weren't for my amazing family that ALL reside there!

There's one family member in particular whom I was the most excited to see…my PRECIOUS niece, Miss Sloane Alyce! (She’s getting so big!)

Here's Miss Sloane in her Japanese pj's from her Auntie Britty (including the Hello Kitty clips I sent as an accessory, a girl needs to look good even when she sleeps, right???), and playing with (chewing) the toys I sent her for her birthday from Japan!
Everybody loves Anpanman! (Anpanman is the most popular fictional character in Japan for children....a man who's head is made out of bread...or Anpan = a bean-jam filled pastry! His face is seen on everything from clothing to snack foods all throughout Japan. Naturally, I just had to send Miss Sloane some Anpanman toys too! Good thing, cause she seems to like them!)
After a few days in Texas, I decided to head North to Oklahoma for a quick visit to my alma mater...OU!

Had to take a snapshot of the "Spoon Holder" where Nick of OU's sentimental traditions and one that my sweet husband made into one of my very favorite memories!
And of course, I stopped by my sorority house...Oh how I love KKG!


While I was in Oklahoma, I stayed with my favorite Norman family....the Bells! Hudson and Garner, the two kids I nannied for during college are growing up so fast!


I made it back to Texas just in time for Easter with the family!
For some strange reason, I only have pictures of Sloane on Easter, and no one else in my family! :)
First Easter egg hunt...she kept wanting to stop and look at what was inside!

It wouldn't be a trip home to Austin without a night out on 6th street with my brother and best friend Sarah!

Most of my time in the States was spent traveling....from Japan to California, Cali to Hawaii, Hawaii to Texas, Texas to Oklahoma, back to Texas and all around The Great State I went!

I took a VERY brief (as in a little over 24 hours) road trip to Houston... love!
While there, I got to see 3 of my very best friends (and bridesmaids) plus 12 members of my might've been a quick trip, but I took care of business!

I just so happened to make it to Houston for my cousin's 1st birthday party! So fun!

Most importantly, I was able to see one of my childhood friend's baby boy! Miss Amber (whom I have known since I was 4) and I have been planning the day we would be moms since around the age of 6. Amber called me right after I moved to Japan to tell me she was pregnant and I was heartbroken because I was certain that I wouldn't get to meet her 1st baby until he was almost 3! However, I got to meet handsome little Luke, making one more reason why my evacuation to the States was well worth it!

While in Houston I got my Southern fried food fix! Mmmm! A yummy little place in Katy called, Texas Traditions....delicious! Chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, fried okra, Texas Toast and of course, sweet Dixie tea!!!! A Southern favorite meal!

After Houston my mom, sister, neice and I took another road trip to Dallas, Fort Worth and then Canton...It was my last weekend in Texas, a full-on girl's trip!

(Sloane actually learned to walk while I was in the States...being so far away means I miss a lot of firsts, but I felt very fortunate to get to witness her learn to walk! Of course, by the time I left Texas, she was a full on speed demon....moving from one end of the house to another! Watch out mamma Shae!)

During our girl trip to North Texas, we got to see my grandparents and more of my cousins....girls, girls, girls!
When people say they are going to "Canton" (in Canton, Texas), it's more than likely for one go shopping at the famous, world's largest flea market! Canton's, First Monday Trade Days, is just that, a wide selection of vendors selling trades on the first monday of every month. It's been around since the 1850's (though the trades have changed, the idea hasn't)!

We ate our fare share of fried foods (because of course, Texas is also known for their fried goodness)....Trade Days had everything from fried pickles (my absolute favorite) to funnel cake!

After Canton it was back to Austin for a few more nights before heading back to Japan....

Movie night with my sister, followed by appetizers and Baby Acapulco's famous "Purple Margaritas" out, their special ingredient makes these frozen favorites delicious but strong!
I fit in as much "dress up" and shopping with Sloane as I could before I left!

It was super sad saying goodbye, especially to my favorite blue eyed girl! But as I have said from the beginning, it was a bonus trip home and therefore, I am nothing but grateful.

I've been back almost 2 months now.... I am so happy to be back in Japan; this is my home, even if it's only temporary. But no matter how much I love Japan, I will always be a Texas girl!