March 16, 2016

Tokyo Disney

Ryan and I had a couple of days in Tokyo. Well, Ryan had to work for a couple of days in Tokyo, and I got to explore. I hadn't figured out what I was going to do when Angie (the other wife on the trip) texted me in the morning and told me she was headed to Tokyo Disney. Sounds fun, right? So off we went. It was October, and apparently Mickey's Halloween Party was going on. These people do Disney right. EVERYONE was in costume. And most were a part of a group costume. These were no make it yourself, throw it together kind of deals. Legit. We had more fun watching people and taking their pictures than we did going on rides. We went to Disney Sea, which is connected via monorail, as well. Disney Sea is more like California Adventure or Epcot, although it doesn't mirror nearly as well as Tokyo Disney mirrors Disneyland (almost identical). Disney Sea didn't have many Halloween festivities, and almost no one was dressed up. At both parks adults outnumbered kids. The princesses and characters were all caucasian. And besides the parade, there weren't many around. The characters we did see were odd--like Prince Charming, Jimminy Cricket, and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. The one bummer to the day was that I forgot my Dramamine, and spent more time than I should have looking for some. In the end I bought some ginger and ginger candy. I was amazed at how well it worked--I hardly got sick at all. But later I realized that some of the medicine from my scopolamine patch was still in my system, and was more likely responsible good time.

We stayed until dark and then ate dinner at Ippudo at the equivalent of Downtown Disney. We left tired and happy.













Ryan has a conference each year in Japan, and I've gone with him a couple of times. I wasn't planning on going this year, but when one of the wives was going, I decided to join in on the fun. Ryan and I were able to make it more of a vacation than usual, with Ryan only working a few days.

We spent the first few days in Kyoto. It was lovely. I went back and forth and back and forth on where to stay. Our choices were the Westin which was older but very close to many of the things we wanted to see, and a brand new hotel the Suiran, a ryokan-style hotel built on a historic shrine. It was off the beaten path, and I worried that we would spend all of our time trekking back and forth to the hotel. But we decided to give it a go. It was so great. A small, very Japanese hotel, in a gorgeous setting. The beds were low to the ground, we had beautiful Kimonos, and a small private courtyard with an outdoor bath (kind of like a one person hot tub).
Looking into the dining room

The view from the hotel

We spent our first day with the other couple that came on the trip, the Hammonds. We hired a guide to show us some of the Kyoto sites. One of the fun things was all the students in the town. They had assignments to practice their English, and were so excited to talk to us. They always wanted a picture, and ALWAYS made a peace sign.

At one of the sites we saw an ancient mantra, which reminded me of President Hinckley's 5 Be's. Be honest, be remorseful, be humble, show service, be grateful.

We learned lots of interesting things from our guide Hiroko. I don't remember any of them right now (as I'm blogging 6 months after the fact), but I know at the time I thought it was great!

After our tour the Hammonds headed to Tokyo and Ryan and I went to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. This was one of my favorite things. It is a 4k hike through 40,000 Tori gates--the bright red archways. At the bottom they are small and densely packed, and as you get higher and higher (233 meters high) they are huge and more spread out. At the bottom it is packed with people and we were trying hard to get a shot without people in it. Little did we know that the masses wouldn't make it to the top and there were loads of photo ops.


It was a good day and we worked up quite the appetite. We ate Tonkatsu in downtown Kyoto before making the trek back to our hotel. 

The next day we took to the streets and saw the Golden Pavillion, two rock gardens/shrines, the bamboo forest and a few other shrines. The Golden Pavillion was amazing. We got there early and were able to enjoy it before the throngs of people arrived (only slightly--we were literally steps ahead of huge school groups). 

How's this for zen?

Our hotel was near the bamboo forest, which was cool to walk through. But the best part were the groups of preschoolers making the trek. They were so excited to say "Hello!! Hello!! Hello!!" and wave. Darling.


August 2, 2015


We finished the trip with a tour of the WWII sites in Normandy. Because we were only there for a day, we had a guide show us around. We thought we were getting a private guide, but when he showed up at our hotel he told us that he had double booked himself, and we would be joining a group of 6 other people....hmmmm. But turns out that was fine, because talking one on one for 10 hours would have been a little much. This way we had 6 other people for Jacque to engage. Jacque was around 75 years old. He was a child during the invasion, and was hit with a piece of shrapnel and nearly died. But he didn't--in fact, he told us that he hopes to die during one of his tours. He's certain that the people wouldn't mind--they wouldn't have to pay him for the day! He was quite the character.

It started out a fairly rainy day. But the mood felt about right for the somber German cemetery. 

 We next went to Sainte-Mère-Église, one of the towns involved in the D-Day invasion. One of the paratroopers parachute caught on the spire of the town church. He hung there for two hours, pretending to be dead, before the Germans took him prisoner.

When the church in the town needed a new organ, many years after WWII, they reached out to the American Veterans. They received so many donations they added new stained glass windows and honored those who fought there.

A bullet hole in a fence across from the church

We went to a WWII museum. Jacques offered to take everyone's picture in front of the was easier to oblige than to say no so there are an unprecedented number of pics of Ryan and I together. 

We next went to Utah Beach. It was really beautiful. We ate lunch and then continued onto Pointe du Hoc. I was amazed at how much remained 70 years later. There were still German bunkers, depressions from the bombing and barbed wire. It was odd for the surroundings to be so beautiful and peaceful.

Inside a German bunker, looking out.

These are the cliffs that the Army rangers scaled. I was amazed that they could make it up, let alone under fire. 

We went next to Omaha beach. This was the most meaningful part of the day for me. The sun had come out, and it was gorgeous. It was low tide, similar to conditions on the morning of June 6, 1944. Before the trip we had watched parts of Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, and in my head I had images of what happened on these beaches. It truly felt like sacred ground. 

Our last stop was to the American Cemetery. There is an interesting museum and then the iconic rows of crosses. It overlooks the ocean and is very peaceful and it made me proud to be an American. The most surprising thing about Normandy was the gratitude the people still feel. 70 years later, they still revere Americans. American flags fly all over the place. Jaques told us that if he ever gets pulled over for speeding, he speaks English and tells the officer that he is an American and his grandfather fought in WWII--and it works! Never in all of Europe have I felt so welcome.

June 4, 2015

Mont Saint Michel

After leaving Groombridge we took the Chunnel over to Paris and a train to Bayeux, a small town in Normandy. We found our hotel and settled in for the night. The next morning we headed off to see Mont Saint Michel. Unfortunately, it was raining (it rained on and off for most of the trip) AND it was a French holiday weekend AND it was as Saturday, so conditions were less than ideal. But still, it was really amazing.

For nearly 1000 years, people have been making a pilgrimage here hoping to ensure their salvation. I was fascinated to see people brave the cold and mud and walk barefoot along the sand. The tides had been unusually high  a few months ago, so we were glad to be able to make it to the island without any issues.

We coincidentally timed our visit with Mass in the Abbey. I've never been to Mass so I made us stay. It was nice, although we couldn't stay for the entirety.

Ringing the church bell


We stumbled upon a wedding in Bayeux. Kids will be kids no matter where you are!