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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The Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Day 3

Another Tully’s breakfast morning in the books. We have loved eating all of the traditional Japanese food for lunch and dinner but it is kind of nice to have some more “Americanized” food in the mix too. After we loaded up on our regular toasted ham and egg sandwich, pancakes with a butter patty that looked like banana, coffee, and toffee almond cookie, we were off to start our day.

The plan for today was to see the Imperial Palace in the morning and then we would split off so my parents and sister could check out the Edo Museum (while it was open) and Ryan and I could see the Tsukiji Market and Harajuku areas. The train ride to get to the Imperial Palace was quite easy and we emerged from the station into this beautifully modern office building for Mitsui. Mitsui is a retail store that started selling Kimonos in the 1673. Before then, rich families would have the kimono makers come to their houses to make custom kimonos that were not very affordable. Mitsui opened the kimono market to be accessible for the everyday buyer but opening a department store for one-stop shopping and bulk creation.

We exited the Mitsui building to this massive park in the middle of a modern city. Sitting on 1.15 square kilometers and surrounded by trees, the Imperial Palace is almost impossible to see from the outside. The Place is only officially open 2 days a year and can only be seen by limited numbers in tours during the rest of the year. We did not have an official tour scheduled so we opted for the free version to go tour the East Garden. While we could not see the main palace, the gates, walls, and guard towers were pretty amazing to see.

Apparently, the gardens used to be filled with houses and various buildings. The buildings were mainly made of paper and wood and had a tendency to burn down due to cooking fires. The buildings were always rebuild after time and time again of fires until the 1800’s when they decided not to continue the restoration. You can still see some guard houses and structures made from rock, but the rest of the view is mainly of the garden and cherry blossoms that started to pop while we were there.

Ryan downloaded a tour app and talked us through the different points of interest while we wandered. We were there for about 1.5 hours before heading to Tokyo station to try and find Ramen Street for launch. The malls / shops / restaurants in the subway and train stations are insane. They are all clean and look just like any nice place you would go in the States, only they are underground at the station! We entered this long row filled with shops that had all kinds of cartoon characters and cherry blossom decantations adorning the store fronts. Eventually, we found the Ramen area and opted for one restaurant with a little smaller of a line. We ordered at the machine and were quickly sat at the bar area. Ryan and I both got versions of “dipping” noodles where you dip the noodles into the broth cup. It was insanely good and Ryan declared it was the best thing he has eaten in Japan so far hands down! While the slurping and noodle to chopstick experience was a bit messy, it was delicious.

After lunch, we agreed to meet back at the hotel once we were done with our activities and split off. Ryan and I excited the station and headed to the fish market. While the main part of the market that did the famous Tuna actions was closed, the outer ring of the market is still a highly recommended tourist spot filled with different vendors and food types. Along our walk, we saw a drip coffee place and decided to get some coffee for the long day ahead. While we sat, I Googled the market and, to our chagrin, it said the that market hours went until 2ish and it was already 1:30. With that in mind, the 20 minute walk definitely didn’t seem worth it. I was pretty disappointed but we decided to pivot to Harajuku instead.

The train station at Harajuku was packed. The main road for Harajuku, Takeshita Street, was also packed. It was a mob scene and the people-watching was amazing. There are so many people in Japan that wear brown trench coats and super thick (like 3-4 inches) platform shoes or boots. We also saw some traditional Harajuku outfits which were so weird (in a great way) and colorful. The shops were full with crazy colors, patterns, and kitchy cartoon animals. There were also crepe places that smelt amazing along with other weird food vendors like rainbow cheese sticks, fried potato unicorn horns, and 2 foot tall cotton candy rainbow pyramids.

We ventured through this wild costume store and I wanted to buy pretty much everything inside. It was so cool!

We also happened upon a owl café and, to the recommendation of at least 4 people I’ve talked to, we went down the steps to check it out. It was about $10 a person to walk through this room lined with fake trees and cherry blossoms. Each turn took you to a different owl breed. They were chained up which was sad, but they were beautiful. There are animal cafes of all types in Japan. You can see everything from cats and puppies to hedgehogs, owls, capybaras, otters, and meerkats. While I would have loved to see more, I don’t feel great about supporting places like that financially since most of them  do not provide adequate environments for the animals. Buyer beware if you decide to go.

Once we dogged through the crowd to the end of Takeshita street, we decided to go find one of Harajuku’s weirdest cafes – the Monster Café. It was one the 4th floor of a high-rise and we were immediately excited about the strangeness to come when we were greeted by a giant moving eyeball at the front door.

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The waitstaff were dressed in doll-like costumes and we were lead past a cake-themed carousel, through the mushroom table forest, into the “milk bar” for our table. I got a strawberry milkshake and Ryan got this weird red and blue sugar mixture to put in his gin base. The milkshake was good but everything else we got was just pure sugar! Ryan got this cute Pikachu looking lemon tart and I got a bunny doughnut topped with a strawberry jam centered white cream ball. I couldn’t eat even close to all of it.

About half way through our time there, the lights shut off and all of a sudden a rave broke out by the cake carousel. This big purple monster started dancing with the waitresses and it was a mix of chaos and high pitched yelling. This was exactly the side of Japan we were looking for haha!

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We left pretty quickly after that and couldn’t put into words how to describe the experience overall. About 5 minutes into the walk back to the train, Ryan realized he left his backpack at the table. We hurried back and it was right where we had left it. Phew! I have to say, Japan feels very safe and is so respectful. People don’t even use bike locks here for their bikes because people don’t steal them. It is a very trusting and nice environment to be a part of.

The trek back to the hotel was easy and it felt great to take our shoes off and relax for an hour. We met my parents back at the rooftop bar for another drink around 6. Ryan wasn’t too hungry so he opted to stay at the hotel while we went to find a place for dinner. My dad wanted Sukiyaki for dinner – kind of like a hot put but slightly different. My sister found a tiny place only a few blocks from the hotel. It had 3 tables and 3 private rooms and we were welcomed in by a English speaking owner. His father opened the restaurant 20 years ago and now this kind gentleman owns it. He sat us down, gave us an English menu, and walked through the options. There were two flights of courses and 3 grades of meat. Since I was already pretty full, we went for the smaller course option, the medium grade meat, and sake all around. The sake was much better than the $1 sake I had with sake bombs in college!

We all got a bowl with a cracked egg in it and were instructed to scramble the egg. Our waitress started to cook the food on the grill in front of us, using a chunk of pork fat as the grease for the pan. Boy did it make things flavorful!

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She started cooking the meat with sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce, and, once browned, put it into our raw egg bowl. The egg was so fresh and added this intense flavor to the meat. I am not usually an egg gal, but this was eggsalent! (Excuse my pun haha).

She then added the veggies to the pot and, once cooked, in they went to the egg mix. This meat then veggie pattern went on for like 4 courses and we were getting so full! It was all so delicious! After the final round of veggies, the cooked noodles for us as the last main dish. We were stuffed, but still had slight room for the cherry blossom ice cream and strawberries for desert. What an amazing meal!

We asked about the price on the menu when initially ordering to make sure it was a group and not individual. The owner confirmed the price but, we got lost in translation. What we thought was going to be a 4K Yen dinner ($40 USD) ended up being 37K Yen or roughly $340. OOPS! It was so worth it though.

We walked back to the hotel and told Ryan the story of our dinner. We were going to check out the Golden Gia district for bar hopping and drinks, but it was already 9 PM (on jet-lag time) and we had an early morning so we called it a night and fell quickly to sleep.

Continue on our journey through Japan…


Alpacas atop Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

After a 1.5 hour train ride from the Sacred Valley, through snow-capped mountains, past rushing rivers and lush valleys, we rode to a rainforest covered train station. We walked through a tent-market of trinkets to a wooden bridge that led us over a waterfall to our hotel’s entrance. Talk about an Eden!

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We checked into the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pubelo Hotel and walked through the resort’s rainforest grounds to our villa. Our room was on the second floor with floor-to-ceiling windows looking into the forest. It was so beautiful and relaxing!


We had massages scheduled upon our arrival, so we all changed into our robes, put on our slippers, and walked to the spa. We dipped our toes into the pools while we waited and then had our hiking induced knots kneaded out via hot stones. After such a fast paced vacation so far, it was nice to be able to take the load off our feet!

After our massage, we gathered by the fire in the hotel lodge for a pre-dinner pisco sour. The restaurant was just a few flights of stairs away and I enjoyed a delicious meal of quinoa stuffed pepper, passion fruit sweet potatoes, and white fish.

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Since we were only hours away from reaching Machu Picchu, the pinnacle of our trip and the reason we gifted this trip to my dad for his birthday, we celebrated with birthday cake and were all in an amazing mood. It is days like this that I feel so lucky to have such a close-knit family and the ability to travel the world with them!

Only a few hours of sleep later at 4:30 AM, our alarm woke us to get ready for our 5:30 AM bus up to Machu Picchu! I turned the bathroom light on and was startled into alertness by a giant spider in our sink – who knew that would be a better engery booster than coffee!

We met our unenthusiastic guide and walked to the bus station. There was already a huge line at the crack of dawn before the busses even started, so we had to wait about 35 minutes to hop on one of the 38 busses that raced up the switchbacks to the top of the mountain. I was starting to feel a little strange on the drive up, but I was much better off than the hikers trying to catch a ride half-way up the trail! The busses were specifically instructed not to pick hikers up and the stairway to Machu Picchu was a very, very steep one.

We finally made it up to the top and toured the bottom half of Machu Picchu first. There were huge block steps up and down the terraced mountain side and the views were incredible as we learned all about the history of the world wonder.

About 15 minutes into walking around, my stomach started cramping to the point that I had to sit down. Ryan would carry my purse when we walked around and then I had to sit wherever we went. A word of advice, bring a backpack or satchel, not a big purse, when traveling / hiking. I was getting really light-headed and we decided to sit at the top of the ruins for a bit in the shade. Unlike the 40 degree weather in Cusco, it was in the 80’s on top of Machu Picchu!

It was getting more and more crowded as the day went on and we quickly learned that personal space was a luxury. While there was at least 5 feet of space, this woman sat right next to me, literally so close we were touching hips, and this other woman sat on my other side in a space that was more like a crevase than a seat, and spit right next to my shoe! Ugh! Then, this guide stood on the rock my sister was sitting on and his group crowded around us.

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One of the women in the tour group asked if she could take a photo of me with her 60 something year old brother, while Ryan was right there. Again, very odd and I said “No”….


We decided to get out of there and hike up to Inti Punku, the Sun Door, once the main entrance to Machu Picchu. Both Ryan and my dad were wearing jeans which were not very conducive to an hour-long, all up-hill / stairs hike in the sun and heat! My mom sprinted ahead with my sister, so I walked with the guys since I was still feeling pretty awful. About half way up, Ryan lifted up his jean cuffs and steam came out. We couldn’t believe it so he lifted the other leg and, not kidding, there was a poof of steam. Crazy!

We finally made it up to the top and the view made every minute of the hike worth it! The shade felt amazing and the outcropping was the perfect vantage point to take in the whole experience and absorb how amazing whole trip had been so far.
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The hike down was much quicker and easier but, by this point, I had serious stomach pain and was very nauseous. It was time for lunch so I thought some food and water would help me out. For some reason, the only restaurant atop Machu Picchu had our reservation under the wrong name and it was for 7 people, not just the 5 in our group. We were let into the buffet regardless and we sat down but I couldn’t eat so I just drank water. The manager came over to us and told us we had to pay $50 USD per person for the lunch that was included in our tour for the day. Since I couldn’t eat anyway, I left the table to call our tour service and get everything straightened out. Thankfully, we got everything sorted quickly, but I almost passed out while waiting. While I wanted to explore more, my body couldn’t take it, so Ryan and I took the bus back down the mountain to relax at the resort while my family did the Inca Bridge hike. I was sad to miss out on the few hours we had left at Machu Picchu but, honestly, I was glad that I was the one to get sick so everyone else could get the most out of the trip. Ryan was happy to go back with me as he couldn’t walk much more in his skinny jeans!

We freshened up when we arrived back at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pubelo Hotel and lounged by the pool for a few hours. It felt nice to put our worn-out feet in the pool and we recommended it to my family when they finally arrived from their hike. My mom dipped her toes in… and then the rest of her fully-clothed self as she lost balance and fell in! Talk about a hilarious oops!

Unfortunately, we had to go back to Cusco that night, so we repacked our bags and hopped on the train. Talk about a long day! While I tried to sleep most of the ride back, it was a bit tough since there was a fashion show on the train selling all sorts of alpaca wool goods! The stewards played loud music, everyone was clapping, and there was a guy dressed as a tiger making weird purring noises while the models walked the isle “cat-walk”. It would have been quite fun if I hadn’t been basically dying on the inside!

Once we reached Ollantaytambo, we had another 45 minute, bumpy and winding drive through the mountains to get back to Cusco. We were exhausted but fate rewarded us with an upgrade at the Hotel San Agustin to a huge suite with the biggest tub I’ve ever seen. Montezuma might have been waging a terrible revenge, but being sick was worth it for such an amazing day!

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Sacred Valley, Peru

Sacred Valley, Peru

6:30 AM wake up to meet our guides and head through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu! We hopped into our van with our guide, took a treacherous ride with crazy traffic through winding hills and, somehow, didn’t topple off one of the hairpin turns to our death. We were all very relieved when we made it to the various stops along the way!

Our first stop was at the Awana Kancha alpaca & llama farm to see the various types of indigenous animals. Apparently, there is a certain type of llama that gets so frightened when people approach, it is likely to have a heart attack and die! Talk about a poor fear reflex!

There were also native women weaving alpaca wool blankets and clothing in beautifully Peruvian patterns and, of course, all of their items were on sale in the gift shop at the end of our tour.

We then headed to a terraced, ancient city, atop mountains overlooking the Sacred Valley. The views from the city were astonishing and, though the air was thin, we were able to hike up to the top of the city.

Thankfully, we arrived early in the morning and there were only a few other people hiking the city while we were there. As we were leaving, we passed masses of tourist buses and huge groups that were about to climb up. Our driver had quite a time getting back down the narrow road past the big  buses – literally only an inch or two between us on either side! For almost all tours, it is worth getting up early to beat the crowds.

My dad and I looking over the Sacred Valley on the way to Machu Picchu, Peru

Along the drive to the next spot, we saw tons of stray dogs, cows, pigs, and kids running in and out of the streets. There were huge fields of quinoa and tarps lining the side of the road with huge corn kernels laying out to dry.

We were getting hungry on our road trip, so we stopped at a market. There was a silver factory there with a huge fire pit at the back for making empanadas. The store had guinea pig empanadas which I was going to try, but there was a cage with baby and adult guinea pigs right next to the fire pit and we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat one. Instead, we had a delicious chicken empanadas and bought some jewelry in the store.

Our empanadas were not enough to hold us over, so we headed to the Tunupa Sacred Valley  restaurant. There was a beautiful garden entrance with parakeets and other exotic birds. Inside, it was so packed with people through the buffet lines. After we ate, my sister, Ryan, and I went into the back garden to explore and make friends with some testy lamas. They give us the stink eye but I think we got through to them eventually!

Once we were shopped out and our stomaches were fully, we took off to Ollantaytambo, the town home to the train station. The town was surrounded by amazing fortress ruins and a temple for Sun God worship. We walked up 210 large stone steps to the top of ruins where there were 40+ ton rocks used to make the buildings. The crazy thing is, the huge rocks up at the top of the ruins were actually mined from the mountain across the valley. The Inca would mine the boulders from the top of the other mountain, push the boulders so they toppled down the mountain, and then, somehow, lug them back up to the top of other mountains to build their buildings. All of that at an average male height of 5’2!

After admiring the view for about 30 minutes, we had to catch the train. Our guide dropped us off and we almost took off in the wrong direction. Thankfully, she ran after us and pointed us the right way.

The views from the train were amazing, especially because there were windows from our seats to the ceiling and the over the ceiling, and it didn’t take long (1.5 hours) before we arrived at the Machupicchu Pueblo, the town below Machu Picchu!