Berlin, Germany

Backpacking through Europe has been such a beautiful journey, I still can’t believe that I was able to see so many things and meet so many incredible people. Because I was trying to experience as much as possible in my short time in each country, I unfortunately did not have time to vlog/blog my experiences. However because my flight back to America is 9 hours long, I was able to mostly catch up on everything, starting with Germany! The following Youtube videos and blog posts from the next countries will follow (hopefully) soon.

Sculptures from the Altes MuseumMy first day in Berlin, Germany was spent wandering the old streets. I visited Museum Island and bought the student ticket for all the museums (though I ended up only going to the Altes Museum and Neues Museum). I found that at all the museums I visited in Europe, they had student discounts – a great thing to remember! I really enjoyed the Altes Museum for its incredible sculptures and the Neues Museum for its bust of Nefertiti. Unfortunately, pictures of Nefertiti were not allowed but let me just say, it was breathtaking.

Next to the Altes Museum is the Berlin Cathedral and while I wanted to go inside, it seemed that tickets were not being sold. The day was cold and snowy and it gave the enormous building a striking appearance.

After spending considerable time in the different museums, I trekked to the Brandenburg Gate. There were many tourists, me included, and after a while, I found to

Brandenburg Gate

I may be smiling but on the inside, I was FREEZING! It definitely felt like winter this day.

be a bit too crowded. Since I had energy and lots of time, I decided to walk to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. It was a quick walk, something I was grateful for since I had walked a considerable distance between my hostel and Museum Island. My pictures do not do the memorial justice, though that could be said about everything I saw in Europe. It’s a quiet place and at first, I thought that the different boxed-shaped monuments were all one size but soon realized that the ground dips low and pillars actually vary in height. In the lowest parts, the pillars are so tall, they can block out light. It’s a strange feeling and I spent a lot of time just wandering through the pillars.

Of course, you cannot go to Germany without eating the currywurst! I ate a (really) late lunch at Curry61, a quite famous shop online with many tourists claiming that this place is a must for anyone in Germany. I must agree! Because I went around 4pm to eat, there were hardly any people and I was able to find a spot inside the small shop to stand and eat my currywurst. I got my currywurst sausage with the skin, I didn’t realize I would be given the choice of skin or sans-skin so when asked, I panicked and quickly went with the first option. I ordered my currywurst with a side of fries, ketchup and some mayo. I learned that you will be charged a tiny amount for the condiments so keep that in mind when you order! I didn’t know that and wasted far too much time counting out my coins when it was my time to pay…

Afterwards, I wandered around Alexanderplatz. I went window-shopping for hours because it was time to meet my dear friend Sophie for dinner and drinks. Have I mentioned that I love being able to legally drink alcohol? Because I love it. We ate at a Mexican restaurant near Tiergarten and spent hours chatting. I met her during my time in Switzerland and already we have become quite close. I am so touched by the incredible kindness everyone in Europe has shown me and I know that it is because of them that I was able to enjoy my time in Europe so much.

My next day was spent a little more slowly than the previous day. I got a late start and decided to take Sophie’s suggestion and go to the German Spy Museum. Best decision I have made! The museum was incredibly informative and made great use of interactive stations to give visitors a chance to use real spy gear!

The Kiss

The ~Kiss~

From the Spy Museum, I shopped in the nearby shopping mall before deciding to walk 3 long miles to the East Side Gallery, the open art gallery made up of murals painted directly onto the remains of the Berlin Wall. Each painting is so different from the next that you accidentally spend hours staring at each mural! The most recognizable mural is probably The Socialist Fraternal Kiss, a painting of the infamous kiss between Leonid Brezhnev (Soviet leader) and Erich Honecker (the president of East Germany). Under the image is the phrase, “My God, Help Me to Survive this Deadly Love” in Russian.

Check out my Germany vlog here! Next stop, Prague, Czechia!

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Switzerland Days 2 & 3

I am currently writing this post on the train from Chur to Zürich!

Alas, my time in Switzerland has come to an end and I am now heading off to Berlin, Germany! I do have another vlog up here where you can watch my finals days in Switzerland. 

My last 2 days in Switzerland have been a dream, I visited the Rätisches Museum in Chur with my dear friend and his girlfriend. We watched the Laterna Magica show and since it is an art show projected onto the walls, I didn’t need a translator. However, I am not entirely sure of its history and significance, I did understand that this was a show to accompany the section in the museum about the evolution of film and art and the technology that accompanied it. We visited the rest of the museum and looked at the historical artifacts such as, old coins used long ago and the types of clothing worn throughout the ages. Overall, it was a great, small museum and I enjoyed the Laterna Magica show immensely. 

Zürich with a Friend

After all this time, we were finally able to meet again in Switzerland!

The next morning, I took a train to Zürich to meet one of my friends from high school, Leonie. We were in the same physics class four (4!) years ago during her exchange year in America and after all this time, we were finally able to meet again. It’s a surreal feeling seeing an old friend in a foreign county after such a long time, it was hard getting over the giddy excitement! For the first time ever, I tried fondue! We ate outside a cute restaurant and, because we were worried we wouldn’t have enough food, we ordered a salad to share, though we soon realized

Fondue

I finally got to eat fondue!

that the fondue alone would be more than enough for the both of us. I was shocked to taste the wine in the fondue, I never knew that the dish used wine. Leonie joked
that Swiss people put wine into everything and, honestly, I am starting to understand that.   They also gave us a neat bag full of potatoes! I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I opened the bag but it definitely wasn’t potatoes. It’s a wonderful feeling, eating delicious food with a good friend in a country that I don’t fully understand. 

We ended our meal and grabbed hot chocolate at a beautiful cafe. Leonie said she loves grabbing a hot drink here and now I can say the same as well. According to her, it’s an old cafe but despite its age and popularity, it is closing down soon. I’m grateful that I was able to drink such good hot coco before I lost the opportunity forever! 

Zürich and Switzerland as a country are absolutely stunning and I would highly recommend visiting. However, in the meantime, you can watch my vlog to see the beautiful county through my eyes! 

Traveling Once Again

Hello and happy New Year! 

Typically, I don’t like make New Years resolutions just because it means reflecting on myself and let’s be honest, who likes doing that?! Not I!

Haha, in all honesty however, after spending 3 whole months living in, traveling, and all around enjoying Japan, I realized that I truly love traveling and seeing the world. My life in Japan helped me realize that there is so much to see beyond the tiny life that I know of in the U.S. so I decided that I would try my best to save money in order to leave the country at least once a year. 

I seemed to have completed this resolution quite early in 2019 as I currently am

Chur, Switzerland

Wandering the town!

writing this blog post (and editing my vlog!) from my friend’s gorgeous house in Chur, Switzerland’s oldest city. I arrived in Chur around 1:30am and after spending a wonderfully restful night in bed, he took me to explore the town. It had been snowing nonstop since I arrived earlier and according to my friend, the incredible snow combined with my bubbly drink Rivella make for the perfect Swiss experience. 

A Night Out

On my way home from the bar!

After exploring the town, my friend took me to his friend’s apéro, a kind of social gathering that occurs before dinner, around 6pm where everyone eats a small snack and drinks together. After chatting with some of the locals, we went off to the convenience store where I bought a beer, my very first time legally drinking alcohol! I can’t lie, there’s a certain adult feeling that comes with finally being able to legally drink. Then we headed off to Kultur Bar, a smaller sized bar that was flooded with people by the time they closed their doors around 1am.

Overall, my initial welcome to Switzerland has been absolutely wonderful! And if you want to get a glimpse of the unbelievable Switzerland winter and more, check out my vlog!

The Ultimate Guide to Budget Traveling

Jet Set Eden

Recently, I’ve been getting some questions about how I travel so often. For one, it probably seems like I travel more than I actually do, but I do have some tips that I’ve discovered about the cheapest ways to travel.

Last summer, I traveled to four countries in Europe and Asia. This year, I flew to New York, backpacked in Colorado, toured with my orchestra in Peru on scholarship, and went on a family trip to Costa Rica. I want to make it clear that I am NOT wealthy– I managed to pay for all these trips with a very, VERY tight budget and lots of work. Also, I am not sharing this to brag, but to help others see that they, too, can travel without breaking the bank. If I can do it, you can too.

Each of these points could have their own blog posts, but this is…

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Obon Festival

A typhoon is rolling in and you can see hints of it in my new vlog here!

OBON SEASON:

Obon (or just “Bon”) is a special time during the year, typically around August 15, that people come together to celebrate their ancestors’ spirits. Nowadays, it is a time for families in Japan to hold family reunions and despite it not being an official holiday in the country, many people are still given the time off from work. Most of the country celebrates this festival.

This year, Bon will start on August 13 and end on August 15 (however, some parts of Japan celebrate it in July, depending on the calendar they use). It is believed that the spirits of the deceased ancestors will return to earth to visit their relatives. It is tradition to leave lanterns outside the house, perform Obon dances (bon odori), and visit graves. On the final day of Bon, families hang lanterns outside which are meant to guide the spirits back to their final resting place (this is called okuri-bon).

Kinkakuji

A yukata.

Since this festival is celebrated during the summer, in the middle of the oppressive heat and humidity, people wear yukatas, the cooler, cotton version of the kimono.

ORIGIN:

The Obon festival originated from the story of one of Buddha’s disciples who learned that his mother had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Buddha told the disciple to leave offerings to other Buddhist monks on the 15th day of the 7th month. Soon, the disciple’s mother was released from her suffering and in his joy, the disciple danced. This dance would soon be called the bon odori (literally translated to: Bon dance).

My Last Days in Kyoto

A late update! Yikes! I was pretty tired from running around all around Kyoto and its surrounding areas so this post and its corresponding video has been delayed for a while. But here it is!!

FUSHIMI INARI TAISHA:

The morning after Miyajima and Himeji castle, I took off to see Fushimi Inari Taisha. It is famous for its thousands of torii that line the path behind the main building. In the sun, the torii glow bright red and its a breathtaking and highly recommended sight to see. I thought it would be most fitting to go in my yukata but did not realize that there would a hike and wore my geta (sandals for yukatas. Not the best thing to wear when hiking). I’d say wear some good shoes and bring lots of water.

 

Fushimi Inari Taisha ToriiI woke up at 5AM in order to get to Fushimi Inari Taisha at 7AM (I took a while to get my yukata on) so I could avoid the massive crowd of tourist that start to flock in around 8AM. Definitely do the same as I did because once more people come, it’s hard getting a photo with just yourself and the torii. The hiking path also starts to fill up with chatter from the crowds and one of the best parts of this hike is the beautiful quiet that comes with it.

It’s only a 5 minute train ride from Kyoto station to Fushimi Inari Taisha so there’s no need to wake up at 5AM like I did! I have also heard that this place is really pretty in the evening and not many people go once the sun starts to sink because being here when it’s getting dark can be a bit creepy. I would have loved to try going at night but, unfortunately, did not have time.

TOGETSUKYO BRIDGE “MOON CROSSING BRIDGE”:

After seeing the gorgeous torii, I went to see the Togetsukyo Bridge. The Katsura River flows under this massive bridge and even though it was packed with people by the time I got there, it was still really pretty. There are boats you can take on the river and, I am told, you can also eat a meal on these boats, but I felt a little hot and opted to eat kakigori (shaved ice) on the other side of the bridge instead.

KINKAKU-JI “GOLDEN PAVILLION”:

KinkakujiThis stunning Zen temple is completely covered in gold and, in the sun, it glows brightly. Entry inside the temple is prohibited but there are pictures outside that show what the inside looks like (all gold!) and what this place looks like during winter. The golden temple really stands out in the white snow! It’s something that I would like to see one day in the future.

It’s 400 yen to enter and there’s a path you follow after seeing the temple that takes you through the forest and out. At the end, you can also purchase fortunes in a machine by the small shrine by the exit. Mine said that I had “Good luck”!

NIJO CASTLE:

Nijo Castle Wall PaintingsWhen I came to see the Nijo Castle, I was a little worried that I would have to walk up several steep flights of stairs again like in Himeji Castle. It turns out, I did not have to worry at all! Nijo Castle was pretty flat and did not have any stairs that needed to be climbed. It was also much prettier than Himeji Castle with massive gardens, spacious rooms, and gorgeous wall paintings that the former castle lacked.

The group inside the castle are a special kind of floor, called a Nightingale floor. Since this castle was building for the first shogun of the Edo Period, the shogun had to worry about assassins trying to kill him. Every step taken on this floor emits a chirping sound to alert others in the area of someone walking around. The sound isn’t obnoxious and its name is quite fitting as the boards sound like a bird singing.

FLEUR:

Looking for some of the fluffiest and most delicious pancakes you’ve ever eaten in your life? Well Fleur has exactly what you’re looking for! It’s a 5 minute walk from Kyoto Station and opens at 11AM but you should get there a bit earlier to put your name on the list. The pancakes also take about 50 minutes to make so don’t come starving!

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetI got the limited edition pancakes and though I forget the name, I know it had to do something with lemons. I would go back in a heartbeat. The pancakes were divine and melted the moment they touched your tongue. This is a popular date spot so if you go alone (like me) the waitresses may give you strange stares at first! It’s definitely worth it for those pancakes though!

The ice cream and cream that came with my pancakes were a bit too sweet (even for my sweet tooth!) but the pancakes were perfect so one of the other, less sugary, options may be the way to.

KURAMA ONSEN:

Kurama OnsenAfter all that traveling and not so much sleeping, I decided to spend my last day relaxing. So, after stuffing myself with pancakes, I headed over to Kurama Village to bask in their onsen. It was a little more complicated getting to Kurama than anywhere else I had gone before just because I had to take 3 trains to get there and 2 of them weren’t covered by my JR Pass so I had to refill my train card several times along the way.

The onsen is pretty small but super warm and it had a spectacular view of the mountain next to the village. There’s an indoor and outdoor bath but if you pay 1,000 yen, you can only go into the outdoor bath while it is 2,500 yen for access to both baths, towels, and a yukata. Personally, I think outdoor baths are always going to be more fun so I just paid for the outdoor bath and bought a 400 yen face towel that I was allowed to keep.

 

Wheew, that was a lot! I hope you enjoyed this post, I know that I just briefly covered a lot of topics so if you have any questions or need any clarification, please let me know!

Warning 1: Heat levels are at an all-time high this year and probably will continue to climb in the coming years so please remember to drink water and eat salty things (something Japanese people always say to do, the salt helps your body retain water!).

Warning 2: There are so many bugs!!! The reason I had to leave Kurama Onsen after about an hour was because of the massive bugs that were flying around the bath. Always wear bug repellant because those bites are not fun! I have been eaten alive by all sorts of insects and bug repellant is a life saver.

 

Nara, Miyajima (Again!), and Himeji

I condensed my past 2 days of travel into one video here!

Hi everyone! I hope the summer hasn’t gotten to you all the way it’s gotten to me! For this post, I am going to briefly cover all 3 of the locations I visited in the past 2 days.

NARA:

Deer in Nara

This was the moment that this deer noticed the deer crackers I had bought.

Nara’s deer are famous for a reason! They’re super cute and super comfortable with humans. There are also over a thousand deer that roam the famous Nara Park, making them a pretty common sight, once you get over the shock of seeing this typically timid animal harass tourists for snacks. Buying the 150 yen deer crackers will guarantee a bit of harassment, if not a lot of harassment, from the deer. I was swarmed with several deer who ended up nibbling at my clothes in an attempt to snatch away the snacks. Once you’re out of snacks however, they quickly lose interest in you.

There is also the famous Todai-Ji Temple with the world’s largest golden statue of Buddha right inside the park. Unfortunately, because of the overwhelming crowd of tourists, high temperature (35 degrees C = 96 degrees F) and lack of water, I soon found myself weak and unable to enter the temple. I had to sit in a shaded resting area, surrounded by deer and away from the big crowds until I could gather enough strength to leave. Instead of going to the temple, I instead opted to find the Isuien Garden and spend my time there. If you are looking to get away from the large crowds like I did, I highly suggest Isuien Garden.

Recommended?: I would say to go to Nara Park and Todai-Ji Temple if you have a bit of extra time. Since it is such a popular tourist destination, it’s hard to navigate and move around freely due to the massive crowds wherever you go. Instead of seeing the deer in Nara, I would say go see the deer in Miyajima…

Isuien Garden

Definitely a nice getaway from the more crowded areas.

MIYAJIMA:

Itsukushima Shrine

If you go early enough, you might be able to catch one of the boats that will take you directly under the torii! Only 800 yen (~8 USD).

I didn’t get the chance in my last blog post to talk about how much I love Miyajima so I’m glad I can get the chance now! Miyajima is most definitely one of my top places to go to in Japan. The torii (the entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine) in Miyajima is a gorgeous sight to behold, no matter if the tide is high or not. I’ve seen it once later in the day and today, early in the morning and if I were given the chance, I would go see it again. It is still a popular tourist destination but I found the crowds to be a bit more manageable than Nara’s crowds.

If you decide to skip Nara and feel bad for not seeing the deer, do not fear! There are plenty of kind deer in Miyajima!

Recommended?: Yes, yes, yes! Itsukushima Shrine, the torii, the deer, and the shopping is all 100% worth seeing. Even the ferry ride to the island is fun!

HIMEJI:

Himeji Castle Moat

The castle’s moat! It was so hot, I dreamt of jumping in…

I was able to take a quick detour to Himeji Castle on my way back from Hiroshima to Kyoto. If the weather is not too hot, I would highly recommend going to see this beautiful castle. The castle is visible from Himeji station so finding out how to get there is not a problem at all! Himeji Castle is also called the White Heron Castle due to its magnificent, white appearance. It had 6 stories so be prepared for a long climb.

Himeji Castle View 2

You can see the town and the breathtaking moat from the top!

I paid 1,000 yen to enter (~10 USD). When I got far enough in, I was asked to remove my shoes as to not damage the building. In the past, samurai used to walk barefoot through this castle and it’s great that such traditions are kept alive to this day. The stairs to the top story are steep and I had to take a few rest stops along the way. The day was still hot and I was still feeling sick from the previous day in Nara so I took my time climbing to the top. The wind that blew through the lattice windows was a great relief and probably the one thing that kept me going.

The view from the top was spectacular and I’m so happy that I was able to trudge my way to see it.

Recommended?: If the weather is good, yes. While the view was nice, I started to suffer from the heat and I definitely feel like I could have enjoyed my time much much more had it not been so hot.

Himeji Castle View

Views from the 6(th story).