Miyajima Island, Japan

We met around 8:15 AM for our morning breakfast hunt. Since the tea at the café the night before was so good, we went back for some ham and egg sandwiches and coffee. It was so yummy!

My parents wanted to go back to the hotel and brush their teeth so Ryan and I split to go find some Advil and decongestant since my mom and Ryan were feeling under the weather. Ryan downloaded this insanely great app called Payke to help ID products at the drug store. He just scanned the bar code of each box and the app gave him a detailed description in English of the uses of the product and reviews from people who tired it. SO HELPFUL! We were able to find just what we needed outside of cough drops. I typed “do you have cough candies for sore throats” into my Google translate app and showed the Japanese text to the shop clerk. She quickly nodded and brought me to the cough drop area! It was so easy to communicate! With our meds in hand, we walked back to the hotel, met up with my family, and headed off to the ferry for Miyajama island.


We got a bit of a late start to the island and it took about an hour to get there via train and then ferry. Thankfully, all of that transport was covered by our JR Pass. While the 14 day pass cost us roughly $450 each, it was totally worth it. We were able to travel so easily and so far!

Miyajama Island is known for its giant Torii gate in the middle of the ocean. At high tide, it floats above the water. At low tide, you can walk out to it on the sand and get a full view of how massive it is. The locals believe that God resides in the island itself.

There is also a floating temple to walk through on the island. While slightly crowded with tourists, it was all very beautiful and serene. There were even a bunch of deer walking around and unabashedly taking food from all of the tourists – even digging through their bags when unsupervised!

It was pretty cold and about time for lunch so we found a little spot up on a side street and devoured some very tasty food. There are a ton of oyster farms all around the island so mom and Ryan both tired fried oysters in various forms that were scrumptious! I had beef udon with eel rice – again, so good and warming.

After lunch, it was time to hike up to the top peek. There was a 2 hour each way hike to the top of the mountain, but we opted to take the cable car up and then do the 30 minute hike from there. The views from the cable car were great…But just a preview of the views from the top!

The hike was pretty strenuous, especially since were were moving at a fast pace to ensure we made the last cable car back down the mountain.

About half way up, there are a few shines. One that had a flame, called the “Eternal Flame”, that has been going for over 1,200 years! It also used to light the Flame of Peace in the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima City. There were also some very cute little figures around the temple.

We continued upwards and got to this amazing rocky area. The views of Hiroshima from the peak were just unbelievable. The city is so huge!

The decent back down was much easier than up and we were back in 15 minutes. It took some time to get through the lines for the cable car since the number of people that can ride at a time is somewhat limited.

We finally got back down the mountain, walked to the ferry, got across the channel and to the train station, rode back to Hiroshima and then had to wait 20 minutes for the bus back to our hotel area. We finally arrived around 6:30 PM! What a long, but totally worth it, journey!

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Since it was relatively cold and only going to get colder throughout the rest of this trip, Ryan wanted to grab a matching puffer jacket to the one I got from Uniqlo in Tokyo. My mom had been wanting to shop for the past 1.5 days in Hiroshima and wasn’t too impressed that Ryan got to shop first! Ha!

After grabbing a jacket, we met my parents and sister at a sushi place for dinner. My parents had discovered it the night before and couldn’t stop raving about how delicious it was. We waited about 30 minutes (just enough time to run to Starbucks for a potty break) before being seated.

We tried somewhat successfully to order a bunch of sushi and tempura and boy, were my parents right about how good it was! The Unagi just melted in our mouths and the raw crab and tuna was the freshest I have ever had. It was the best sushi of my life and we just kept ordering more and more! What a dinner for the books.

Our waiter was in his early 20s and studying English. He was so helpful and nice! I tried to thank him by writing “thank you so much” on my napkin in Japanese letters based on Google’s translation. He said I did a pretty good job!

After dinner, Ryan and Julia wanted another crepe but, since it was a Sunday night and past 9PM, everything was closed. Instead, we opted to go to Don Quijote, the most overwhelming store I’ve ever been in, and get a bunch of snacks. There were some really odd snacks in there too, (like dried bugs and sea creatures), but we kept it safe with chocolates and gummy candy.

We went back to the hotel and enjoyed our haul while getting ready for bed.

Ridgway & Santa Fe Travel

Ridgway, CO & Santa Fe, NM

Trip to Ridgway, CO

The drive to Ridgway was about five hours from Colorado Springs and we left at 9 AM right after a quick walk with the dogs to soak up the last view of the Garden Of The Gods. On the road, we grabbed some Starbucks and were quite surprised! For the first time in months (since quarantine started), we was able to go to Starbucks without a line of 40 people wrapped around the corner of the building. We were in and out within 10 minutes! Maybe Coloradans are just not as into Starbucks as Texans willing to wait an hour for a cup of coffee?

The drive to Ridgway was beautiful and filled awesome views, deer, and bison. I almost hit a deer as three crossed the road right in front of my Jeep. Thankfully, I was able to stop in time!

The view from Ridgway, Colorado

Ridgway is nestled in between a whole bunch of mountains and we were very excited to call Ridgway home for the week. We ended up checking into our VRBO right on time at 3 PM. We were staying in the bottom half of a house that looked over the mountains in a tiny little neighborhood. The population of Ridgeway is just over a thousand and the town was very quite and quaint.

Since she can’t go on long, long walks, we left Dakota (our 13 year old pup) at the house with a bone and drove to the Ridgway reservoir area to walk some trails. Dixie was having fun playing in the streams and got super muddy but it was definitely worth the beautiful walk along the river side.

Ridgway Reservoir in Colorado

We walked for about an hour and then dropped Dixie back off at the house so we could grab groceries for the week. With masks on, we went to this tiny little market on the main road in town and it had everything we needed to make a southwestern veggie bake and pasta. We also grabbed some things for breakfast and for lunch. After that we headed back to the house and I made my southwestern bake with sweet potato, bell and poblano peppers, ground beef, diced tomatoes, cilantro, and cheese. It turned out really great! We ate dinner, watched the sunset over the mountains, and enjoyed dessert port out of some coffee mugs (wine glasses were MIA).

We ended up talking “up” to the couple that owned the house from their balcony and they were very nice! A few hours later, we got a knock on the door and our host came down and gave us freshly baked cookies. That was so nice! We had a great sleep and we’re ready to work in the morning.

Ridgway, Day 2:

I brought my monitor from home and set it up on the kitchen table to look out over the mountains while I worked. The dogs hung out in the house and Ryan worked in the bedroom with another beautiful view of the mountains. The Wi-Fi worked so we didn’t have any issues with attending meetings or anything like that (thank goodness)! Day one of working from the house went really well and we took the dogs a nice long walk after work.

There were a bunch of kids playing in the park area with Nerf guns right next to our fence. Ridgway is a very family friendly area. Our hosts told us that we would hear “howling” around 8 PM. Apparently, the town passed an ordinance prohibiting dogs from howling and so, in protest, every night at 8 PM the kids and parents howl from their balconies for about a minute! It was really funny, kind of strange, and we liked it!

Ridgway, Day 3 –

We woke up the next morning to a text from our hosts saying that there was construction on the transformer to the house and we may not have power or internet for two hours! When the whole point of our trip was to “work from someone else’s home” and we had to be on video conference calls, not having Internet for two hours was a huge deal! We were stressing like crazy. Thankfully, we were able to acquire the neighbors Wi-Fi password and we had enough charge on our batteries to last us. The two hour outage turned into 4 1/2! Talk about a bit of a stressful morning. Fortunately, our work was not impacted and we got everything done using the resources we had.

Our backyard in Ridgway, CO

After a bit of a stressful day we decided that we would take a walk into town with the dogs. It was only about a mile and there’s a beautiful park in the town. We opted to try Gnar Tacos for dinner and ordered at the window. We took the tacos over to the park and ate while our dogs chewed on grass (apparently they are cows, not dogs). The tacos were absolutely delicious! We tried the bulgogi, Phuket (like Thailand!), and Ahi tuna tacos. They were all really interesting with bursts of flavor. It was a great way to end our last night in Ridgeway. We walked back and enjoyed the views mountains and then relaxed and watch some Netflix the rest of the evening.

Ridgway, Day 4 –

Our last day in Ridgeway consisted of a dog walk in the morning, working from our VRBO until about 4 PM, and then the drive to Santa Fe. The drive was about five hours at the most beautiful views we have ever seen. We drove through Ouray, this town nestled in these mountains that was absolutely astonishing. It was probably the most beautiful town we’ve ever seen in our entire lives. We almost stayed in Ouray too but they didn’t have any dog friendly Airbnbs. We will definitely be returning there as the town was incredible.

The rest of the drive was mainly uphill, past mountains with waterfalls gushing down their sides as the snow melt ran down. It was, again, absolutely fabulous to watch. The views continued as the mountains turned into desert land with mesas as we drove from Colorado into New Mexico. It was starting to get dark and rainy. All of a sudden, huge rainbows appeared! It made me so happy to see the giant rainbows with such vibrant bursts of color. It was a really cool thing to behold as we went into the darkness of the night and drove into Santa Fe.

Double rainbow on the way to Santa Fe

Our Airbnb in Santa Fe was pretty cute. It was off of the main area, but it was still centrally located to all the things I wanted to do. We got in around 10 PM, quickly unpacked the bags and dogs, and called it a night. We almost died of heat, as the Airbnb didn’t have air-conditioning or a fan, but I guess Texas has trained us well!

Santa Fe, NM

We only had one day to enjoy Santa Fe. Thankfully, we had been to Santa Fe many times before to ski. This time, we were headed back to the Ski Santa Fe area, but to hike! We drove up, up, and up for 30 minutes or so to the ski area to the trail head for Nambe Lake. Dixie was all ready with her backpack and we headed up the trail. It was so, so steep! The higher we got, the more snow we saw. Towards the very top, there was so much snow that my leg fell through some parts all the way up to my leg! It was pretty fun to hike through that though. Dixie had no idea what was going on but could not have been happier.

Dixie on the hike to Nambe Lake in Santa Fe, NM

The hike was 7 miles and basically all uphill for a total of a 2K elevation gain! We were huffing and puffing but the view from the lake was 100% worth it. We had some snacks while enjoying the view of the lake and rested for about 20 minutes before going back down.

Nambe Lake in Santa Fe, NM

The downhill part of the hike was SO MUCH easier! Once we got back to the car, we drove back to the AirBNB to change and go out for lunch. We got some take out Mexican food and enjoyed our lunch on a park bench in the middle of the Santa Fe square.

After that, we took off to Canyon Road to visit the galleries. There are over one hundred galleries around Canyon Road and, lucky for us, they had just reopened days before we got to Santa Fe. We bought our first real piece of art on Canyon Road on our first ski trip there years ago. We had some serious nostalgia and were basically the only ones walking around with the galleries to ourselves.  We didn’t buy anything this time.

After Canyon Road, we were exhausted. We grabbed some gyros from a Mediterranean place and popped a bottle of wine to enjoy the rest of our night at the AirBnb.

The next morning, we were up early to drive back to Dallas. Not being able to travel during Covid-19 has been very stressful so having our little get-away week made a huge difference for our mental health and created some wonderful memories.

Dakota and Dixie napping on our road trip back to Dallas

Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs

Social Distancing Road Trip

The Journey to Colorado Springs –

We had been working from home for two months due to COVID-19 and had to cancel five trips including one to Spain and Portugal. With that, the stress of work, and everything else going on, we decided we need a change of scenery.  If we had to work from home, why not work from somebody else’s home?

Deciding where to go took a little bit. We had to find an area drivable to Texas within a week that was dog friendly and had a lot of outdoor activities since many typical tourist destinations were closed (including many national and state parks). After quite a bit of research, we ended up picking Colorado as our destination as parks had just opened up and it wasn’t too far. Memorial Day weened just happened to be very next weekend so we decided to use the long weekend, meaning we only had five days to plan!

Dogs on the road trip to Colorado Springs

We quickly picked some Airbnb’s and got ready for our trip. It was very easy to pack because I was only going to wear activewear for the full week. With that, my hiking boots, and our dog’s stuff, we hopped into my Jeep on Thursday night after work and took off to Amarillo. We broke up the 11 hour drive to Colorado Springs with a 5-6 hour overnight in Amarillo and then a Friday morning to Colorado Springs. The drive to Amarillo is pretty boring we got some Chick-fil-A for dinner and arrived in one piece around 11 PM. We stayed at the Hilton Home2 Suites hotel on the way back from New Mexico one New Years Eve after driving through a blizzard. We knew the Home2 Suites was brand new, clean, cheap, and dog friendly, so we felt comfortable staying there one night. It was so weird seeing so many people at the hotel after not seeing very many at all for quite a while. We wore masks, dumped our stuff in the room, and passed out.

We tried to let our puppy, Dixie, sleep in the king bed with us since she’s usually in her crate at night. That did not go very well as every time we would move over the bed she would get on and off the bed. She also tried to protect us from some Chihuahuas that we’re making noise in the hallway and woke us up nice and early. We brought bagels  for quick breakfast and took off to Colorado Springs.

The drive was absolutely beautiful and there weren’t very many people on the road so we were able to get to Colorado Springs pretty quickly. The problem though was that we couldn’t check into our B&B until 4 PM and we got there around 2 PM. Little did we know that our Airbnb was right next to the Garden Of The Gods!

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The Garden Of The Gods is a beautiful park in Colorado Springs that has these massive red mountains of rock coming up out of the ground. We parked our car and were glad to stretch our legs after such a long drive. We got the puppies all suited up and took off on a hike around the Garden. It was stunning day and the dogs are loving every minute of it. We found a shady spot under a massive rock overhang and watched some rock climbers scurry up this huge portion of rock and hang out at the top of the rock.

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It was really cool to see and a great way to spend some time before checking into our AirBnb.

We packed up the dogs and drove to Airbnb which was just a few minutes away from the Garden Of The Gods. I was actually just across the street from the parking lot and so we had some perfect spots for a dog walks in the morning. Airbnb was really nice and was two stories. Dixie was running up and down the stairway from the basement to the main floor over and over and over again and it was so funny. We were pretty tired so we grabbed some pizza, paired it with some celebratory wine, and watched Selling Sunset on Netflix before calling it a night.

Colorado Springs – Day 2

Day two in Colorado Springs was hiking day and we were bringing Dixie for her first hike ever! We got her backpack all ready so she could carry her poop bags and her water bowl and drove to the park. We drove into Cheyenne Canyon and it was already getting crowded around 9 AM! Thankfully, we found a parking spot higher up on the mountain side about 1/2 a mile away from the trail head. We tried not to get hit by cars as we walked on the side of the road to the trailhead and then embarked on a beautiful hike.

The views were stunning and the trail was nice and wide. There were so many other dogs and people out walking. Dixie was in absolute heaven! We had a little trouble finding the Seven Bridges Trail because it wasn’t very well marked, but after some back-and-forth and a few conversations with fellow hikers, we finally found it. We followed a river up the mountain and passed many waterfalls along the way. We ended up going over seven different bridges, hence the trail name, to get to the top spot where the biggest waterfall was. It was wonderful and Dixie played in the stream as we went. She pounced on some rapids and hopped over rocks like a little mountain goat. It was adorable. Thankfully, she didn’t pull me down the mountain either!

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The hike took about three hours total and we were starving by the time we go back to our car. We drove back to AirBnb for some leftover pizza. Ryan took a nap and I decided to explore the ranch and park area across from our AirBnb.

The Rock Ledge Ranch historic site had some beautiful grass in front of an old house and I laid down in for a good while on a comfy patch to just enjoy the weather. Dixie was having a blast rolling around in the grass. It was really cute!

After about 30 minutes, we walked around and found horses, geese, sheep, pigs, and other farm animals. It was really cute introducing Dixie to all the animals and ended up being a really nice little walk. When I came back, we rested for a little while and then decided to get some to-go Greek food for dinner! It was absolutely delicious and was a nice cap to a long day. (Even though they forgot my pita bread).

Colorado Springs – Day 3

Today was white water rafting day! It was pretty cold in the morning compared to the other days that we had been in Colorado Springs as the clouds were out in the sun was hiding. It was about an hour drive to get to the rafting place and we waited in our cars for social distancing reasons until the leader came by and grabbed our info for wetsuits. We got suited up and we’re ready to roll. Being only their second day after reopening with the new Covid-19 protocols, it took an extra hour to get ready and onto the bus.

It took about half an hour to get to the rafting launch site. We were put into a group of 4 plus our guide, Ethan. Ethan had a great personality and was a fantastic lead for our level three and four rapids! The views were absolute beautiful and we started off with some pretty intense rapids. We floated for about 2 1/2 hours with a good number of rapids spread out in between themselves. It definitely made for a very minimal amount of downtime and a lot of fun time! Ryan almost fell out of the boat was going down the first set of rapids but, thankfully, he caught himself. You had to have really good core strength to stay in as you’re getting bounced around. It even started to rain and thunder and lightning in the canyon and was absolutely terrifying but really cool to watch the giant droplets of water river in front of us going through the rapids.

The only downside was I was absolutely freezing! There was no sun and the river water was from melted snow so it was literally just above freezing. Being in the front of the boat, I got completely drenched, so it was hard to enjoy the rapids when I was shivering it 100 miles an hour!

Overall it was a very worthwhile start to the day. When we got out of the rapids and back to base, they told us that they didn’t get any photos at all so this is the only one I have. Got to love memories!

We were starving after the rapids and the only thing between us and our our drive back to the Airbnb it was a Dairy Queen. We spent $30 at said Dairy Queen on chicken nuggets and blizzards. It wasn’t as good as I thought it would be but I guess you can’t have expectations for fast food! However, a cookie dough Blast was just what the doctor ordered.

We drove back to the Airbnb and changed and got ready for the rest of the day. We had quite a few plans but I got a phone call from VRBO canceling our reservation for the very next day in Ridgeway! We had a total freak out moment because we had two dogs were thousands of miles from home and may not have had a place to go within 12 hours.  They didn’t even have a back up plan for us and told us that it was a glitch in their system which is why we hadn’t been notified prior. I did call quite a few times prior to the trip just to triple check that all of our reservations were in order, but somehow, this slipped by. What a disaster! Fortunately I had already been texting our posts about a later check out I called them and explain the situation and they said there was a few other guess it’s the same thing that happened to you. They told us to come on down! What a relief!

Spending so much time and effort on the AirBnb situation resulted in a stressful afternoon. All of a sudden it was time for dinner. We wanted to go to a brewery somewhere and hang out on a patio but, unfortunately, everything was still shut down.

On the bright side, we had to make a quick stop to Walgreens to get something for Ryan and I ended up getting 5 free Walgreens hand sanitizer bottles from the checkout guys! It was really nice of them to give those to us. We ended up finding this really cute little restaurant with healthier food, after the Dairy Queen disaster, and picked-up to go salads to eat in a beautiful park. There’s actually quite a nice evening and I really enjoyed spending time with my hubs a the park bench eating dinner. It was a wonderful way to top off our relaxing time in Colorado Springs

Hiroshima

We had a 5:45 AM wake up time this morning to go watch the monks during their morning prayer at Koyasan Onsen Fuchin. We were taken into the main hall and sat Indian style in lines behind this very ornate, golden wall. We faced the central area where the monks worked. There were 4 of them that vocalized a mix of chant-singing for about 50 minutes. It was so cold in the temple that we could see our breath as we sat and watched, but it was immensely tranquil. I tried to meditate a little as I listened to their soothing voices. Again, our stay in Mt. Koya was very unique and special experience that won’t be found anywhere else.

After the prayer, we went back to our meal room for our vegetarian, monk-style breakfast. It was… different. Again, we were not a big fan of the gelatin like consistency of some of the food, but the flavors were well put together and it felt good to eat veggies after so many carbs.

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Once we finished up breakfast, grabbed our bags, and headed down the street to hop on the bus, then the rail car, then to the train, pit stopped for lunch in one of the interim stations. We tried to book seat reservations on the next JR train but it was sold out so, instead of trying to rush to the unreserved section and pray for a seat on the 1.5 hour trip, we opted for the later train and took a longer lunch in between to relax. It gave us all a sense of relief since we had plenty of time to enjoy and then get to the front of the unreserved line.

Overall, Ryan, my sister, and I have had plenty of luck getting 3 seats together in the unreserved areas, but my parents bought the upgraded passes and their cars have been harder to get seats together in advance. If you get to the train station 15 to 20 minutes prior to the train, you should not have a problem getting an unreserved seat on the JR lines. Just book in advance if you have the priority train car tickets.

Finally, we arrived at Hiroshima station. Hiroshima was bustling but not nearly as crowded as the other cities we visited. Our JR passes covered the quick bus ride to our hotel stop and we were checked into the Hiroshima Washington Hotel quickly and easily. The hotel was quite nice and my sister Julia had her own room this time since I couldn’t find a 3 person room. Ryan and I got some much needed alone time. It is amazing how valuable alone time gets for decompression when you are traveling in a group for a long period of time!

We decided to spend the day at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. We walked through a very cool shopping area and into the Memorial park. Being in Hiroshima brought on some weird feelings, especially as the sky was full of sunlight but it was raining lightly.

We found our way to the entrance of the Museum and headed in. Watching videos of the Hiroshima nuclear bombing survivors talk about that day and the impacts of the radiation on their bodies or those of their friends was so incredibly sad. For context, after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the US dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 5th 1945 and then another one on Nagasaki three days later in the hopes of ending the war. Japan did surrender, but the impact of those bombs lasted long after the war was over. The bombs wiped out both cities with only a few buildings remaining. One of those buildings is called the Atomic Bomb Dome, and you can see it within the park.

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Outside of the building destruction, the bombs killed hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children. Entire family lineages were gone in an instant. Those who survives were badly hurt and the radiation from the bombs had a whole host of terrible side effects including cancer later on in life. Overall, it was a very humbling museum and greatly reinforced that nuclear war cannot occur moving forward.

Our moods were solemn as we exited the museum and walked through the rest of the park to the Children’s Memorial. While the bombings were done in the name of war to end even more potential loss of life, it was hard to rationalize why two bombs were needed and how they was justified.

It was getting late, so we opted to find some food through the long streets of the shopping area. My sister, Ryan, and I split off from my parents and got Okonomiyaki seafood pancakes. After enjoying them so much in Tokyo with our guide Misa, we wanted to have them one more time before the end of the trip. They were OK at the place we chose but helped us end our craving for them in future.

After dinner, we walked through some shops and then got some crapes for desert. Mine was strawberry ice cream with bananas and strawberries. Sooo good!

Ice cream crepe in Hiroshima, Japan

We met some Marines from the US while we were eating the crapes and they told us they had been turned away from some restaurants that were pretty empty. After seeing what we did at the museums, it makes sense that there would still be some animosity towards Americans in Hiroshima. You really can’t blame them for it.

It was pretty cold out so we found a café over looking the street and had some tea to wind down the night. I got traditional tea, but Julia and Ryan opted for this orange marmalade tea which was scrumptious!

After our tea, it was back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

Mt. Koya

Today marked our travel day from Osaka to Mt. Koya to stay in a Buddhist temple. We decided to visit Mt. Koya at the recommendation of one of my dearest, Japanese culture-loving friends, Lauren. Boy was she spot on with this recommendation!

We met my parents in the hotel lobby for breakfast and walked about a mile to find a place suitable for my mom for breakfast. After poo-pooing on 3 options, she finally settled on Tullys – again. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Tully’s is good, but we need to add some diversity to our breakfast routine. We told my mom it was the last “Tully’s breakfast” of the trip and she said “we will see”. Of course, that means “no”. Haha! If mom’s not happy, no one is happy, right?

We grabbed some snacks for the 2 hour train ride to Mt. Koya and hit the train station. We ended up missing the express train but the extra 30-minutes on the regular train was not bad. We had great views, some snacks, and all got time to decompress.

Once we arrived at the station, we hopped onto the cable car which took us up this insanely steep slope to the top of the mountain. It was packed with people and I cannot even begin to fathom how they installed the cable car on just a steep incline.

It took about 10 minutes to get to the top and then we hopped on a short bus ride which dropped us off right in front of the Koyasan Onsen Fuchin. The lodging was part temple, part onsen (Japanese baths), with Japanese style rooms. We were not able to check in yet so layered up in jackets and scarves before heading out to explore. It was pretty darn cold in comparison to the 60 degree weather in Osaka!

We decided to find a spot for lunch and ended up at this little place at a traditional style table where you sit on a high platform, on a pillow, around a short table. Ryan almost wouldn’t fit!

My sister and I split some sushi and I had a delicious tempura udon. The food was so filling and warm on such a cold day!

After paying, we took off to find the temples and renowned cemetery. There is a grouping of temples on one side of town which were all different styles and pretty amazing to look at and explore.

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Photos are not allowed inside the temples but there are a ton of gold ornaments and sculptures very similar to those in Thailand. They were quite stunning.

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We then took off to the other side of the town for the Okunoin Cemetery. You can do cemetery tours at night but we opted to walk it during the day so we could see it more clearly, not freeze completely, and be back to the onsen in time for our 5:30 dinner.

The cemetery was awe inspiring. The faded light coming through the trees, slight fog in the air, moss that covered the monoliths and huge trees that went up 100’s of feet in the air gave the whole place such and ancient, eerie and sacred feeling.

I could have stayed in there taking it all in for hours but my mom was on a mission. She was speed walking ahead of us so fast that we lost her for a good 20 minutes! When we finally caught up, we had arrived at the Okunoin temple. It has over ten thousand lanterns inside and is absolutely magical. We were able to go inside and take it all in and then we went to a side building that had even more yellow lit, golden lanterns. It was well worth taking our shoes on and off to go inside.

The whole walk was well worth the hour or so trek. We spotted a sweets shop on the way back and grabbed a few to sample. A lot of the sweets in Japan have red bean inside and have a gluggy consistency with pastry on the outside. Super good and filling though.

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We got back to the Fuchin and checked in. We had to leave our shoes at the door and wear special red shoes within the buildings. We were brought up to our small room that kind of smelt like straw. There was a small table in the middle and we settled in with some tea. We also had to wear robes around the building and to our meals!

Once 5:30 hit, we went to room 23 for our multi-course Royal dinner. The dinner we had was monks’ cuisine (shojin ryori) and completely vegetarian!

There were so many things to try and they kept bringing in more dishes. Quite a bit of the food had a gelatin consistency which we weren’t too keen on but, overall, the food was delicious. Ryan tried this one piece of spongy white tofu (or something related to it) and , when he bit into it, all of this liquid came out. He flipped and couldn’t stop laughing at how strangely foreign it was! The rest of us tried it but didn’t get very far into it… It barely touched my lips before going straight back into the bowl. Amazing how new food textures can create such a different dining experience.

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After dinner, my sister and I decided to try out the onsen. Japanese baths are separated by men and women because you get completely naked and are not allowed to wear swim suits. We walked down in our robes and took our shoes off to be pleasantly surprised that the floors were heated! Thank goodness because it was only 30 degrees or so in the temple’s halls!

Once disrobed, we had to wash ourselves off in a shower station in the central bath room. There was a big shallow bath pool inside, which was too hot for us, and then a outdoor rock pool. We were the only ones there and chatted for a good 30 minutes before anyone else joined. It seemed like everyone finished their dinner around 7 and had the same idea as us because a huge group came and it was far too crowded to stay in the onsen so we headed back to the room. Totally refreshed, we hopped in our Japanese style beds and passed out.

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