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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Osaka, Japan

Osaka, Day 1

Today was our trek from Tokyo to Osaka. We checked out of our hotel in Tokyo hotel and walked to the train station to hop a few lines over to Tokyo Station and grab a bite to eat at a market. I had this delicious sandwich with cheese and a coffee. Once we filled up, we headed to the train. We had spent a little too much time at the station and were in quite a rush to get to the correct platform. Thankfully, we reserved seats on the JR Line to Osaka in advance to ensure we were able to sit together, so that reduced some of the stress, but navigating the thousands of people in the station  with our luggage during rush hour to catch a train was crazy!

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Finally, we made it to the platform with a few minutes to spare. Ryan decided to grab “train beers” for the 9:03 AM train ride to to relax and my sister and I had one as well. It definitely did the relax-trick! We were able to see Mt. Fuji from the other side of the train’s windows for about 15 minutes as we sped by at 200+ MPH! I spent the rest of the 2 hour ride journaling. I have to say, the train rides in Japan seem to go by quickly!

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Once we hit Osaka, we hopped off the train and navigated the streets to the Candeo Hotel. It was centrally located in the Namba District which was filled with restaurants and bars. We could not check upon arrival, so we dropped of our luggage and took of to head towards to Castle Park. There were some restaurants at the park entrance and we stopped for lunch at R Baker Osaka-jo. It had a bunch of baked goods and Ryan and I shared 4 pastries: a potato pizza, Japanese curry fried pocket, sweet rolls, and a hot dog looking thing. They were delicious and it was so nice to sit in some green space while enjoying lunch after being in the busy cities for so long.

After lunch, we continued our walk through the park. It was a beautiful day and the first one warm enough to leave our jackets at home. Once we got through the giant stone walls to the center of the park, the main castle was visible and totally stunning. It was totally massive and we sat for a while taking in the view on some jade looking rocks. There was a Spanish performer playing loud music starting his act right in front of the palace and we were so curious how his life could have led him to performing street art in Osaka.

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We continued our walk through the gardens, passing some shrines and statues of Shogun and then it was back to the hotel to check in. The room was small and view was lousy, but the hotel was so central to the main areas it worked perfectly. The Dotonbori district with tons of shopping and restaurants was only a few blocks from us and we took of to explore and find something to eat.

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Being so close to Kobe, Yakiniku is very popular in Osaka so we found a restaurant with good reviews to try it out. We sat at a table with a grill pot in the middle of us and, for $29 per person, we had 1 hour and 30 minutes to cook and eat as much as we wanted.

The meat quality was excellent and we used a table next to the table to order plate upon plate of different meats, seafood, and veggies. It was delicious, though picking who was going to cook what was a little stressful as people like different cooks of meat. We opted to each cook our own food to our desired doneness which helped with the stress. The clock countdown also made out meal tricky. If you had too much food left over, you would get charged extra for wasting. Ryan was super hungry and took down at least a pound of steak and pork belly within the last 7 minutes to finish everything off.

My parents never really understood why Ryan thought sushi was not enough food until tonight when they saw how much he can eat! What can I say, he is a growing boy (man haha).

After dinner, we walked through the crowded streets of Namba, checking out all of the food vendors and shops along the way. The number of lights and signs were overwhelming but so cool; nothing like we have seen before. There were all of these fake food displays outside of the restaurants too that looks so realistic! It was pretty incredible but we were so stuffed we couldn’t even think about more food!  After about an hour walking off all of the meat we had eaten, we headed back to the hotel for much needed sleep.

Overall, Japan has been a bit stressful so far. I think it is a combination of the sheer number of people in the city, unlimited number of options for things to do, and how many opinions there are with the 5 of us. It makes it tough to make everyone happy for everything unfortunately. I think getting out of the hustle and bustle of the cities for a few days will do us some good. I am just very glad we have the technology we do because trying to navigate Japan without GPS and our phones would be next to impossible.

Continue on this adventure….

 


Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Day 1

Getting to Tokyo:

In 2015, we treated my dad to a trip to Peru for his 65th birthday. That trip was so amazing that my mom wanted to fast-forward her b-day trip to her 60th (typical mom!) and she wanted to go to Japan. After 7 months of researching and planning, our late March / early April cherry-blossom-season Japan trip was in full swing. My mom, dad, and sister flew in to Tokyo Friday night and Ryan and I arrived Saturday afternoon to start our two week journey.

After navigating the busy Tokyo Airport, grabbing our (very worth it) Rail Pass, hopping a few trains and walking through markets with our luggage, we arrived at the Shinjuku Granbell Hotel. Since there were 5 of us, my sister Julia was bouncing between staying with my parents and bunking with Ryan and I. The Shinjuku had this really cool loft suite so we started the trip off with a sleepover!

We unpacked and took a quick shower before hitting the streets to find some food. We ended up at a sushi train place with melt-in-your-mouth sushi! All 5 of us got our fill of so many types of seafood for only $50 total. It was a very impressive start to our culinary part of the trip.

After we filled up, we walked back through the crowded streets to our hotel for some much needed sleep.

Day 1:

Thank goodness for Melatonin. If you don’t know what that is, it is a natural sleep aid that tells your body when it is time for bed. When you are traveling and in a place with a totally different time zone, like Tokyo which is 14 hours ahead of Dallas, it helps you reset your body clock. My sister, Ryan, and I all had a gummy version of it before bed, slept like logs, and woke up ready for an 8 hour tour day!

We met my parents in the lobby of the Shinjuku Granbell hotel at 8:15 AM to grab breakfast before our tour guide arrived. It was only 40 degrees outside and it took one step out the door for me to start patrolling for a heavier jacket when we passes markets and shops. We walked about 5 minutes down to road to a more Americanized breakfast place for coffee called Tully’s. Ryan had half a ham and egg sandwich and pancakes to load up for the day and I had a coffee. This is going to sound really strange, but my sister and I both opted instead to go to 7-Eleven for breakfast. 7-Elevens in Japan look similar to those in the US but are much different. They have a wider variety of fresh food and are much cleaner / nicer. I had heard the rumors about them and read tons of info online so my sister and I decided to Japanese foods from there instead of the American place. I grabbed a pork version of the triangular shaped rice balls stuffed with meats, veggies, or fish, a steamed pork bun, and Korean rice ball. All three were really different but tasty! I don’t know how I feel yet about seaweed for breakfast though, according to our guide, traditional Japanese breakfasts consist of rice, veggies, fish, and always, always miso soup.

After our 7-Eleven stop, we went back to the hotel to chow down and wait for Misa, our 8 hour, private tour guide. She showed up right at 9:30 in a sun hat, fur-lined hooded jacket, and boots. Her face was bright and personality brighter, and we all hit it off with her immediately. She gave us an overview of the customized tour for the day and we headed off to tour gardens.

Our hotel was located in the middle of the Shinjuku district. While it is a modern, 4-star variety hotel, it is surrounded but all of these other themed hotels which were really interesting looking and strange. A lot of them had pictures of the various rooms in front of the hotels and private entrances. Misa told us that they were all “love” hotels that can be rented by the hour. Apparently, most of the houses in Tokyo are very small and people live in very close proximity with paper thin walls. To get privacy, most people in the city, from young lovers to parents, go to these “love hotels” and it is a widely accepted but secretive process. That conversation definitely brought a new perspective to our ideas of our neighborhood!

It was about a 20-minute walk to the garden and the sun was finally starting to poke out. For the sake of time, we decided to walk the Japanese portion of the garden only, about 1/3 of the full experience. There were some large and beautiful white flowering trees and the cheery blossoms were starting to bud as well!

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My mom was ecstatic when she saw her first blossom. After all, the blooming of the trees was the reason we booked our trip at the end of March! The cherry blossoms bloom from mid-March-May all over Tokyo and are so beautiful.

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After about 45 minutes of taking in the garden, we took off to our first temple. Along the way, Misa had us try these fried red bean and sweet potato fish snacks. They were so hot they burnt by tongue, but were delicious and so cute!

Misa reloaded our Suica cards and we hopped on the train. I have to say, public transit in Tokyo is so well signed and easy once you get the hang of it!

We walked to the Meiji Shrine entrance and bowed in respect. We saw a lot of girls dressed up in kimonos while we walked. Misa told us that the end of March was graduation season and that was the traditional dress for the graduation ceremony. It was super cool to see so many in their traditional garb and hear about the cultural traditions. We opted to grab some Sakura (cherry blossom) tea so we could rest for a few minutes and people-watch before heading into the temple.

The temple was huge and there were two wedding ceremonies going on while we were there. The bride’s white wedding kimonos were gorgeous and they wore these large round hats. Apparently, most kimonos are passed down from generation to generation and cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars. There were also some 100-day old babies celebrating their first 100 days of living with their parents and grand parents. Again, the mothers and grandmothers were wearing family kimonos with their family crests embroidered on them. It was a treat to see the traditional wear and ceremonies of the people.

We walked up to the shrine and threw a lucky 5 yen into the entrance to make a wish for our futures. The word 5 in Japanese, “Go”, is also the word for destiny, so throwing 5 yen helps ensure your wish for your destiny.

Our stomaches were starting to rumble and we hopped back on the subway to go to a lake teppanyaki lunch. We arrived at this random building and I would never have found the restaurant, up this tiny elevator to the the 7th floor.

We sat around massive grill and Misa taught us how to make these seafood and pork grilled pancakes. We got a big bowl consisting of tons of veggies, egg, and meat with butter on top. We put the butter on the grill and then added the meat and seafood to cook first. Then, we stirred the egg and veggies together into a doughy mix and put that on the grill. Once the meat was semi-cooked, we put it on top of the cake and then flipped it around halfway through the cook. Once done, we added bbq sauce, Japanese mayo, and fish flakes. THE END RESULT WAS SO GOOD! Misa also made us veggies and noodles.

If you go to Japan, you must try teppanyaki out after a long day of walking.

It was such a treat to have Misa show us how to make lunch. She was such a great guide for our day. After we filed up, we took off through the market streets back to the subway to make our way to our next stop, the Ueno Park. The park was quite crowded and the blossoms were also starting to appear.

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This garden is massive and surrounded by museums. Misa told us that all of the museums and buildings over 5 stories in Tokyo are on rollers so that they can withstand earthquakes! Really inventive.

Then we headed to our last stop, the Asakusa Shrine. At the forefront of the Shrine was a gate with a massive lantern. There was a very long street with vendors lining it on both sides from the 1st massive lantern all the way to the 2nd that was right in front of the main building.

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We were getting a bit overwhelmed with all of the people so we took a side street the rest of the way down to the temple. We walked down the market and Misa bought us some various treats to try like sweet rice balls and savory rice cakes with sake.

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By this point, we had been walking for 7+ hours and we were all starting to get weary. By the main gate, there were these shaker cups with numbered sticks. We shook the cup and got a random numbers that indicated which box to open to select our fortune. The fortunes were these long pieces of paper and all of them were positive, except Ryan’s, so he had to tie his to this rack so his bad fortune would “blow away in the wind’. Poor Ryan!

We were already feeling pretty low energy, so we found a vending machine and grabbed some espresso. It came out piping hot from the machine and Misa explained that drinks with red prices are hot and blue prices are cold in the same machine! Such cool technology and such a good idea to have some caffeine which helped us get home.

Misa took us back to our hotel and we said our goodbyes. She was such an excellent guide for our day. We decided to take a 1.5 hour nap / recharge break and met back up at 7 PM to decide on plans for the next day. My parents wanted to go back to the “Robot Sushi” aka sushi conveyer belt place again, so Ryan and I broke off to try a Ramen place. What a good idea that was! It was delicious. We split a thick wavy noodle, pork belly Ramen with gyoza and fried chicken for like $12 total including drinks. It was so good and warmed us up on the cold evening.

After dinner, we decided to check out our hotels Sky Bar. We texted my family to meet us and sat at a table under the space heaters. The staff even gave us warm, fuzzy blankets so we could enjoy the view comfortably. We had a glass of wine and discussed our itinerary for the rest of our time in Tokyo before calling it an night.

Continue on our journey through Japan…


Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier

I opened up my computer one day in July and read the best email I had ever received. It was from my sister, Julia, who requested a long-weekend sister trip to one of three national parks! I couldn’t be happier to respond “YESSSS!!!” We decided to take a long weekend in October to hike around Mt. Rainier which is outside of Seattle, Washington.

Thursday  –

We flew in from different cities but landed within minutes of each other and had quite the exciting, hug-filled reunion in the Seattle airport. We gabbed as we walked to the Uber pick-up area and got lucky that we did not have to split our Uber-Pool Prius with another 3 people – that would have been so cramped!

It only took 20 minutes or so get to the Marriott Seattle Waterfront hotel that had the most beautiful view! The check-in guy asked us if we were twins which made my day since I am 5 years older! I am not sure how my sister feels about the mix-up but I think she lets it slide for my sake.

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We got up to the room to clean up before heading out for dinner. We opted for sushi since the seafood in Seattle is so darn fresh and delicious! We opted to try Umi Sake House since it was only a few mintue walk from the hotel. We cheersed to our reunion with some cocktails and split seaweed salad, edamame, and two of the best rolls I’ve ever had in my life! (Unfortunately, I Snapped and didn’t actually save my food-porn worthy photo evidence.. ugh!)

Totally stuffed, we walked back to our room and chatted until late in the night. You’ve got to love an old fashion sister sleepover (except when you get touched by cold feet)!

Friday –

My sister mentioned she had to work a tiny bit when we first planned the trip but the “tiny” turned into 1/2 the day, so I made some solo plans. I had been wanting to try out an out Orange Theory class and there happened to be one about 10 minutes from our hotel! I booked a 10 AM class and my sister and I grabbed a yummy continental breakfast before I started the walk to Orange Theory. The directions had me go up this awesome bridge with a beautiful view of the water way. I then turned into the city for a short tour before arriving at the studio. Unfortunately for my body, it was “National Burpee Day” and the class totally kicked my butt! Maybe wasn’t the best idea with a big hike coming up the next day… (Oh, foreshadowing!)

The day was glorious – 60 degrees and sunny – and I loved walking through the city. Once I got back to the hotel, I freshened up while my sister finished her conference call. Our stomachs were rumbling so we took off to check out Pike Place Market and find a spot for lunch.

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Pike Place Market was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel and we had a great time sampling the different products for sale, like questionable moisturizer, and smelling all of the flowers. It took me back to the last time I was in Seattle for our Alaskan cruise.

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We came across a little cheese and wine shop and sampled some cheeses. We ended up buying two cheeses and a nice bottle of red to take back to the hotel for snacking later. We also found an Italian place and split a scrumptious pasta dish. (Mmm, carbs!)

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Another meeting popped up on my sister’s schedule so we decided to grab some coffee and head down to the wharf. Talk about an amazing view to take a call from, especially since happy hour with wine and oysters at Elliot’s Oyster House was to follow.

Feeling good after our wine, we went back to the Marriott to get ready for our exciting comedic evening. We were going to dinner at Local 360 before seeing Iliza Shlesinger live! I watched her Netflix special, “Elder Millennial”, a few months before our trip and could not believe she was premiering in Seattle the night we were there! I was beyond excited.

Dinner was probably an 7 out of 10. We split a weird goat cheese and beet salad, but a delicious squash soup with so, so, so much bread. My hand-made, pesto pasta dish was very good and my sister had a veggie medley over thick-cut toast.

We were so stuffed that we were glad for the walk to the Moore Theater. We had every intention of finding a bar to hang at before the 10:30 show, however, while passing by we noticed that the theater was really dark. It looked like there was a big metal gate and that the doors were closed. We walked up and, to my completed sock, we saw the below:

The sign for our canceled show - bummer!

I was SO sad that we could not see Iliza. Instead of going to a bar, we decided to go back to the hotel and get an early night’s sleep since we had an early morning to Mt. Rainier the next day.

Saturday:

We woke up bright and early to check out of the hotel and head to Mt. Rainier! Even though it is a 2 hour drive from the city, you could actually see the mountain from the wharf in Seattle. The drive was absolutely beautiful as all of the trees were changing to the most vibrant colors for fall!

The drive to Mt. Rainier in Washington

We took a pit stop at a grocery store on the way to grab some food for our hike. I was looking for something quick, prepackaged, and easy to eat and found the perfect lunch – Pizza Lunchables! My 5 year-old self would have been so proud.

We finally started the accent to Mt. Rainier. The mountain kept getting bigger and bolder as we drew closer and we were in awe. We took a quick stop to take some photos at a lookout point and finally made it to the hike area. The weather was perfect and the trail was up, up, and more up. Oh, my butt was burning from those burpees!

Hiking Mt. Rainier in Washington

The views and the hike got us talking about everything – wanting to move from Texas so I could hike more, previous hikes with our parents (like when we accidentally hiked through a nudist beach *cringe*), quirky family songs that we used to sing when we hiked with family, dating and relationships, and how we were going to make these sister trips an annual tradition. I have to say, I am so incredibly lucky to have Julia as my sister and built-in best friend / travel buddy. We are quite the quirky pair:

The view from the top of the hike made all of the climb worth it. We decided to post up on an out cropping for some relaxation and Lunchables.

Eventually, we had to make the trek down the path back to the car. It was pretty steep with shale rock everywhere. It was a bitter-sweet decent as I could have stayed by the mountain for ages.

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Our spirits were lifted though as we were staying the night in a tiny cabin! It was only 800 or so square feet and the bed was in a lofted area up-stairs. We were so excited!

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We were going to celebrate our day with the wine and cheese we bought in Seattle, but someone left the cheese in the hotel fridge (I finally forgive you Jules) so we “nommed” on some chocolate and went to watch the sunset in the National Park. Unfortunately, the trees were too tall and we couldn’t get a great sunset view. We were starving so we decided to try out the local Sherpa-Himalayan Cuisine at the Wildberry restaurant. It was beyond our expectations and so good!

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With full bellies and very tired bodies, we went back to our little cabin in the woods to sleep.

Sunday:

Another early morning for our last day in Washington. We made some toast for breakfast, packed our bags, and drove the 2 hours to Seattle. We had a few hours before our flights, so we parked the car with our bags hidden and took off around the city. The first stop was a Vietnamese restaurant called Green Leaf with the best vermicelli and pork I’ve ever eaten in my entire life (and I’ve eaten A LOT of vermicelli). I would go back there in a heart beat!

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After lunch, we walked through the park under the Space Needle  to the Museum of Pop Culture. I had been there once before and had to share it with my sister. It has awesome exhibits all about various artists and movie genres. If you are in Seattle, I highly recommend a stop.

The weather was perfect and we spent the rest of our time on the lawn of the Museum watching kids play in giant bubbles being carried by the wind. It was the perfect end to our trip before our journey home.

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Skagway, Alaska

Skagway, Alaska

7 AM marked our arrival into Skagway. We were surrounded by snow-capped mountains in the inlet with beautiful aqua marine water below us. Ryan and I grabbed a quick bite to eat at the breakfast buffet of oatmeal, waffles, sausage, and fruit, and then we headed off the boat. The line to debark was long as there was a hold up with boat member dressed in really old / dirty bear costumes whom you had to take pictures with in order to debark. Seriously, the cruise hustles you for money at every turn!

We sneakily cut back, maneuvered around the bear photo line, and finally made it off the boat and onto shore. It was so windy and there was a low fog that blocked the sun of coming out. Apparently, all of the helicopter tours slated for the morning were canceled due to the weather! Thankfully for us, we had booked a hike and float tour and we were scheduled for pick up at 9:35 AM.

Skagway, Alaska

There is a shuttle from the ship yard into town for about $5, but with about an hour until pick-up, we walked the wharf trail to the town instead. It only took 10 minutes and was definitely worth doing! The town of Skagway is quite quaint, greeting the boat passengers with a big rail road train and statue of the founders in a well-kept garden area. Once passed the train, there are old buildings lining the gravel street dating back to the gold rush. We walked down Broadway (the main drag) and went into a historical salon that had been restored. We decided to save the gift shops for the afternoon, so we wandered the streets for about 30 minutes longer until it was time to turn back to the boat.

The wait for our transport seemed like it took forever as the wind whipped our hair around and made it much colder than inland. Eventually, two wilderness men showed up looking very mountaineer with a mixture of hiking sandals, big beards, and plaid. Sam and Rosco were to be our guides on our hike and float, and they quickly escorted us to “Kylo Ren”, the newest, all black van in their tour fleet. The guys both had quirky and hilarious personalities, telling corny jokes as we made our 40-minute journey through town and then the mountain side to our hiking spot.

The views along our drive to the Chilkoot Trail in Skagway, Alaska

The view along the drive was spectacular. We followed the inlet into the mountain side during low tide and even saw a few bald eagles.

Sam was a funny type of informative, as many of his historical tid-bits got distracted by seeing his girlfriend biking on the side of the road or further improved upon with side stories from his own journeys. While he had a bit of a tough crowd in the 9 of his passengers, he definitely made for an entertaining guide with a great spirit! This continued as we started up the rainforest trail. We would stop to hear stories from travels around the world, or about Sam’s fascination with finding wild mushrooms and how some of his friends are convinced that, in order to find good mushrooms, you must leave “tokens” of important items in the forest for the gnomes and trolls that live there.

The trail through the forest was so lush. There was moss at every turn and giant trees that were so dense they blocked out the sun. Occasionally, we would have stumbled upon a little stream, or even bear claw markings on the trees that let other bears know how big and strong they were. One of the bear claw markings must have been 10 feet up on the tree that was marked upon!

Hiking on the Chilkoot Trail in Skagway, Alaska

The hike itself was not super strenuous, but that was mostly because we stopped often to chat. There were quite a few steep climbs up and down rock stairs, but our hike was nothing compared to the 33 mile trail the gold rush passers had to take with 100 lb. packs with all of their belongings with another 500 miles to go after they passed through Canada. Those people looking for gold must have been very determined to make such a trek!

We got to talking to our other guide Rosco and, as it turns out, he is a member of a well-known band called “Etcetera and So On” and he toured on Warped Tour and all over the world. He was in Alaska visiting / working for some friends at Skagway Brewery between tours. It was really interesting talking to him about his life, his travels, and his Shell Silverstine tattoos. You can meet some incredible people if you just put yourself out there and talk to strangers on your travels.

It took about an hour for us to make it to the river. There were wellies waiting for us to change into so that we could get in / out of the raft without getting completely soaked. We had to add a few layers on as well since the open water was much cooler than the hike in the forest. We hopped into the boat and took off. Captain Sam went bare foot and I couldn’t fathom how he wasn’t freezing! I guess you get adjusted to the cold just as you get adjusted to the heat. However, Sam did say that the wind chill in the winter of Skagway can get as cold as -40 degrees and I do not think anyone can get acclimated to that!

Anyways, the float down the river was so peaceful. Rosco took over the paddles and him and Sam traded off telling stories about their adventures going down 4 and 5 level rapids. Apparently, the trees that float down the river can get clumped up in certain areas and become very dangerous for those who fall off boats as they can get stuck easily within their branches and pushed under water. Our river was very calm with no rapids at all so our adrenalin only started pumping when our guide’s stories became intense. We saw a few more eagle nests and learned about the strength of the water and how it’s flow from the mountains changes and completely alters the landscape on a constant basis.

At the end of our very relaxing float, the guides had some snacks of Salmon, cheese, crackers, Oreos, and Capri Suns for us. We felt like we were back in grade school with that assortment of snacks, but it was so fulfilling after our trip!

Sam and Rosco drove us back to town and dropped us off at the Skagway Brewery. We heard so many good things about it, we had to try it! The place was packed but we got a table pretty quickly. Ryan got a flight of their beers and I had the Spruse Tip Ale. It was delicious! I also had some warm chilli and focaccia bread for lunch which warmed me right up after being cold for the better part of the day. It was so satisfying!

After lunch, we walked in and out of the dozens of souvenir shops. There was everything from art to jewelry, soaps to clothes, additional excursions to fun magnets. We opted for some Chia Tea lattes as a walking break and continued on to find something fun to buy for my mom. We had been walking for about ten minutes when I realized my backpack was not on my back – it was on the seat’s back at the coffee shop! Ahh! I sprinted through the hordes of tourists back to the coffee shop and to my relief, my backpack was right where I left it. *Phew!*

After that scare, we walked back past the train and the founder’s garden, and back to the ship. We were just in time for our 5:30 dinner, so we grabbed some wine from our room and met Ryan’s family at the dinner table. They had been on the rail road to White Pass and had nothing but good things to say about their day. For dinner, I had baked goat cheese to start, a lamb tartar, raspberry mint sorbet to cleanse the palate, pork tenderloin with various veggies for a main, spicy penne with mariana and a separate plate of scallops that the waiter brought out extra for us to try, and then we finished with vanilla ice-cream and green tea cookies. Again, so stuffed! The waiter took our empty wine glasses from our room, so I had to smuggle out our water glasses so we could refill our wine and bring it to the comedy show that was next on our agenda!

Carlos Oscar was the comedian for the night. He had a funny story about getting on the cruise. I was not super fond of his delivery as it was a bit all over the place, but he had some good punch lines and I laughed quite a bit. His show lasted about an hour until it was time to watch the sun set and go to bed.