Monday, September 15, 2014

Yokohama and Kayaking Tokyo Bay

This weekend was characterized by not traveling!  Hooray!  I am a little tired of being jet lagged and it was great to hang out locally. On Saturday, SMS and I went up to Yokohama with a large group of friends to go to the International Breakfast Festival.  What an awesome idea for a festival, right?  Well, unfortunately, a lot of other people thought so too because the lines were crazy!  Not only were the lines for the food trucks long, but the line for the tickets to trade in for the food was also insane.  Since some of the food trucks were already selling out of the best looking options, we decided to go elsewhere.
Yokohama, Cosmo World
We walked by the Yokohama Convention Center.  Something was going on and there were a few great outfits/costumes but I only took mental snapshots.  We decided to go to World Porters for breakfast. Initially, I thought Hawaiian Town would be a good choice but one of the cafes was closed so we headed to a pancake and waffle shop, which was perfect.  Lots of seating and our food didn't take too long to arrive.

After brunch, we walked through the Red Brick Warehouse.  Then we went to Yodobashi Camera for SMS before heading home.  That night, we decided to see Lucy, which was entertaining.  I love how inexpensive the movies are here- $2/each for an almost brand new movie!  I should clarify and say that the movies are cheap on base, since out in town they are expensive and confusing since you pick your seat and there's tiered pricing even though the movie theaters are small and there really isn't that big a difference in locations.
Ricotta pancakes, yum!
Sunday, I made ricotta pancakes based on bills recipe.  They were great.  I like them a lot better than the Farmhouse Cafe recipe since it results in a fluffier pancake.  I highly recommend!  Then, we went kayaking to Monkey Island and back.  We had fun and I'm glad we did it although I don't think I'll become a professional paddle sportsperson.  I get sort of bored after about 45 minutes, which is tough since I can't exactly get up and leave.  *Splash*

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Whirlwind US Tour!

Radio silence on the blog!  Hey, hey, I'm back from a whirlwind tour of the US where I crammed so much into 5 days, it sort of boggles my mind.  The main purpose for the trip was two more fellowship interviews: one on Friday, 9/5 and the other on Monday, 9/8.  Also, sorry, bad blogger.  I really didn't take any pictures so if too much text is too boring to get through, I completely understand.
Oh, Japan and your Starbucks specialty drinks.  Yes, American readers, this is a
banana pudding cake frappucchino.  It just makes delicious sense.
I left on Thursday afternoon from Japan and flew into Pittsburgh, connecting through Dulles.  I arrived in Dulles 15 minutes before I left Japan!  Then I made my connection to Pitt where I was picked up at the airport by Karen, one of my college friends.  Yes!  I got to see a friend on this trip!  It was awesome to see her and we both thought it was great that we've seen each other more in the last three weeks than in the last 12 years since we saw each other at the wedding too.

We had a mellow evening where we ate big salads and studied.  Then it was off to bed and apart from the standard waking up at 3 a.m. (hello my other good friend, Mr. Jet Lag!), I felt pretty good.  I had my interview and really liked the place.  That was a pleasant surprise since I wasn't feeling good about the interview before arriving since the welcome emails kept stressing how many candidates were being interviewed.  Sniff, sniff, why don't they know that they should only want me?!?!?!?  (This is totally a joke!).

Friday night was a little more lively.  I went for a run then we headed out to Redfin Blues for dinner.  It was a beautiful night and we sat along the river.  The restaurant is more about its location than its food, but we still had a  nice dinner.  Then we headed to Salud in Karen's neighborhood, followed by a nightcap at a nearby bar.

The next morning, I woke up late after waking up in the middle of the night again.  Karen and I went to Cafe Mona for breakfast/brunch where I had a pierogi crepe.  It was so tasty!  A little on the heavy side but I was so hungry after waiting for breakfast and walking up the hill to the restaurant that I was totally fine with it, as evidenced by the fact I left nothing behind!

After brunch, I killed time (and my wallet, ha ha) shopping while Karen was the picture of max efficiency and studied more.  Then we headed out to the airport.  I offered to take the bus but Karen was awesomely kind and drove me.   I was off to DC for a stopover to see my parents and Brady before heading to Minnesota.  My plane was delayed and the metro was super slow since it was only running on one track.  I wish I had known before I got on the train because by the time I was ready to get off and just pay for a taxi, I was in between stations which is a very tenuous exit location.  So, I arrived about 2 hours later than I wanted which I was a little sad about since I had less than a day to spend with my family.  But the second I walked into Mom and Dad's apartment, sadness be gone!  We had such a nice time hanging out and catching up in person.
Total paparazzi picture of Brady trying to sort out the driveway/car situation
back in her Boston apartment.  She is blue, ba-da-dee-ba-da-bah.

After cocktail hour, we headed out to Gironmo, an Italian place in Old Town Alexandria.  We shared delicious calamari and Mom, Brady and I all had lobster risotto.  So delicious.  Then we walked to the metro and headed back.  Brady and I stayed at a nearby hotel and talked quite awhile before heading to bed.  I woke up around 4 (boo!) and finished The Circle by Dave Eggers.  I also went to the Java Shack, a coffee shack/high school haunt.  The tables looked a little worse for wear but nothing had really changed.

I went back to bed for a couple of hours and then headed out to brunch at The Rhodeside Cafe.  We hung out for a bit and headed to the airport.  I stopped by Pentagon City and bought a pair of flip-flops which were the best purchase of the trip!

I got to Minneapolis on the later side and checked into the hotel.  I crashed and then woke up to my alarm clock.  I set three alarms because I was worried I would oversleep since I wasn't running on too much sleep.  I had my interview, which went really well and then I went to the airport.  I got a mani/pedi, which resulted in cutting it really close with my flight (priorities).

On the trip back, I got to hang out in two USOs (Denver and LAX).  Yay, my favorite travel lounges!  I even took a shower in LAX.  Then it was time for my flight back home.

On the way back, I was upgraded to Economy Plus.  It was perfect and I am hooked.  I did have one weird experience.  I went to the bathroom at one point and when I came back, something very familiar was around the neck of my next-door neighbor.  It was my neck pillow.  Unfortunately, I never learned "Excuse me, Sir, I believe you stole my neck pillow" in my Japanese class.  I managed to get it back at the end of the flight when I pointed out the difference between "airplane pillow" and my (amazing) "neck pillow" that was not his!  I think he was pretty embarrassed but really sir, we were only in Economy Plus- no way would a pillow that awesome be complimentary!
I'm back!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day weekend was a lot of fun. SMS and I went to two places that I've wanted to check out- Monkey Island and Enoshima. I was on call but apart from a busy Friday night/Saturday morning, things were quiet and we made the most of it!

Monkey Island is about 1/2 mile off the coast in Yokosuka, within Tokyo Bay.  We met up with friends and took the ferry out (Y1300/person). We hiked around the island. "Hike" might be slightly strong since the island is small and most of the trails are wooden decks. But it was nice to explore and we were ready for lunch by the time we got back to the small, but crowded, beach area. SMS and I bought food there- I had curry bread and shave ice. Lunch of champions!  SMS had the curry and rice, which was pretty standard brown curry. Our friends bought their food and an impressive beach picnic set-up, complete with a tent.  Next time, we'll bring our picnic game, complete with camping chairs!

On Monday, we took our friend's advice and went to Bill's near Enoshima. It is an awesome brunch place with crazy lines on the weekend. The tip we received was to go on an American holiday. It worked!  There was no wait!

I got awesome corn fritters with avocado salsa. It's not what I'd usually order since I'm an Eggs Benedict or Ricotta Pancakes type, but it sounded good and was delicious!  SMS got a dish that was basically Eggs Benedict without an English muffin- poached eggs, gravlax, greens. It was also tasty. We were very happy we went. 

Since we were so close, we decided to check out Enoshima. We walked along the Main Street with its shops and restaurants. We walked up the stairs to the temple complex that contains 3 temples within it. It started to rain heavily so we skipped the caves but it would be worth it to go back. We were also given an umbrella by a Japanese man, which was very kind of him. We had left ours in the car. Always thinking!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mt. Fuji, Accomplished!

The final torii gate, steps from the top
If you're stationed in Japan, many conversations at some point will bring up Mt. Fuji.  "So, have you climbed Mt. Fuji?""Are you going to climb Mt. Fuji?"  It's symbolic of Japan and only 2ish hours away from Yokosuka.  SMS has already been up it twice this Summer but I hadn't been and I really wanted to go.  As I told people, "I don't want to come back to Japan a third time!"  Although I like my job and enjoy Japan, there are some challenges here and besides, I like to move to new places!

I was starting to get worried that I wouldn't make it though, schedule-wise.  But I called in a favor (like, my 500th one.  I'm way behind on the favors owed column of my life spreadsheet) and SMS and I were signed up to lead a MWR day trip to Mt. Fuji.
I'm so glad you're heeeeeerrrreeeeeee!
We woke up at 12:45 a.m. (ooof!) and headed over to Outdoor Rec.  I borrowed a pair of hiking boots and gaiters.  We hopped on the bus and picked up our group.  They were 16 deep sea divers from a visiting ship and they were pretty hilarious.  SMS and I mostly kept to ourselves but some of their conversations were pretty funny to overhear.  We stopped at a rest stop on the way.  There was a huge banner sign of an older woman wearing a lemon hat on her head.  For some reason (sleep deprivation?), I thought this sign was hilarious!  So, it's photo-documented. 
Different trail conditions
We arrived to the Fuji Subaru 5th Station around 4:45.  SMS, Jeff and I were the three guides and went to a back room to hang out for a bit before starting off.  A worker walked in and gave us breakfast sushi, which was really nice.  He said his name was Yasushi, which he found hilarious when I repeated it.  I strongly suspect that his name was not Yasushi.  But the sushi was good and it was nice to get an unexpected treat.  
Crater panorama
SMS and I headed out around 5:30 and got to the top by 10:20.  It was drizzly and slightly cold so I didn't feel the need to hang out at the various stations.  The trail conditions were sort of in thirds.  The first third was packed dirt and occasional broken pavement, the second was lava rock that had some easy scrambles and third was gravelly switchbacks to the top.  
SMS and I had several clothes talks on the way up.  He thinks that Americans can be very
judge-y about outdoor clothing and proper apparel.  In contrast, it is perfectly acceptable
in Japan to wear a one-piece bright yellow rain suit emblazoned with "Yellow Corn."
There was the trade-off that we had to wait up top until 1:00 because the other group had some slow hikers and slow movers when it came to re-starting the trail.  SMS and I wished that our group was the only one because those guys were up and out by 12.  SMS said they were the most organized, cohesive group by far that he's seen on his trips.  
The trail wasn't too crowded but there were a few large groups of older Japanese
hiking the trail.  I can only hope I'll be that active!
The 8th Station, seen from the descent trail
After 1, we headed down and met up with Josh.  We went ahead and once Josh and the group were off the mountain, our group headed back to Yokosuka.  SMS promised the bus that we were going to stop at the world's best rest stop but unfortunately, the driver had other plans.  We stopped at a pretty good rest stop but apparently, not the world's greatest.  It did have McDonald's though so the divers were happy.  SMS promised to take me to the world's best rest stop another time.  Sounds romantic!
The hillside was beautiful with blue-tinted rock and vibrant green plants

We got back around 7:30 and I think I was asleep within the hour.  It was a long day and totally worth it.  I don't have to do the hike again, but it was challenging and enjoyable.  I recommend it!

Short Work Week

Well, I'm back from vacation and slowly easing my way back into work.  First up, a 1 day workweek!  I'm on call for the next two weeks after some scheduling flipping but we had a nice first weekend back.  On Saturday, we relaxed and unpacked during the day.  In the mid-afternoon, we headed over to Zushi for a party celebrating the end of Joint Commission. It was a really great group of people and there was a raucous game of Words with Friends.  Afterwards, we went to the yakitori place by Horinouchi with two new friends who may be moving close to us!

On Sunday, SMS and I decided we had to get out of the house.  We took a trip out to Kamiooka to the Yuzawaya craft store.  It's in the Fuji store across from Kamiooka station on 3F.  I'm trying to learn how to crochet but I'm stuck on the 4th step (turning the chain into the first row of single crochet stitches if anyone can help!).  So, we went to the craft store so I could buy some thicker yarn to practice with.

In Kamiooka, we also had delicious onigiri from a food court stand.  SMS also bought rice from the food market downstairs.  It's in the bins as brown rice but then they mill the rice for you so it was a big bag of sushi white rice by the end.  It was a fascinating machine.

We went up to Yokohama for Honolulu Coffee company then headed back to Yokosuka.  We went out to Sitar with our upstairs neighbors and really had a good time.

So, in short, somewhat mellow weekend but much needed after all that traveling (and blog post writing!).

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ramona Falls, OR

Ramona Falls, OR
We decided that we wanted to hike in some of the gorgeous areas around Portland while we were there.  Although Multnomah Falls and the Columbia Gorge were strong contenders, we decided to go to Mt Hood Park and hike to Ramona Falls.  It was a 7 mile round-trip hike with only 1000 ft elevation over the first 3.5 miles and we thought we would be ok to handle it.  The pictures of the Falls looked so beautiful that it's where I really wanted to go.

In the spirit of avid hikers, we slept in again although not as late as before.  We stopped at Bowery Bagel for breakfast.  SMS had seen a write-up of the place and the bagels were awesome.  Before heading out, we drove to St. James, a really cute section of NE Portland to explore at Blue Moon Camera, a film camera store that SMS knew about from his Facebook group Film Collective.  The store was pretty cool, although I'm not super interested in the ins and outs of various older film cameras.  But SMS thought it was awesome and I looked at a few other shops while he was looking and we both had a great time.

Then it was off to the East to go hiking.  Except we went West first since I got mixed up at an interchange.  No matter!  We recovered and turned around.  We still did not take the most efficient way there and we were pretty over the car by the time we arrived at the Ranger's Station.  There, we obtained our National Park Pass (free for military!).  SMS made some hilarious deadpan statements about hiking misadventures and by the end, I'm fairly certain the ticket woman thought that if we hiked, our way out would either be by death or LifeFlight. She still gave us our pass and we went to the Zig Zag Inn for lunch.  There I ordered the Sasquatch burger, which was huge- at least 5 inches high.  SMS thought it was funny that I was surprised it was that big given the name but I wasn't expecting two days' worth of meals on my plate.  So, I made a dent in it and that was more than enough.  I hate wasting food but if I had eaten all of it, I probably would have had to be LifeFlight'd out of the restaurant.
Different bridge, later in the trail and clearly not washed out
Can you see me?

We hit the trail at 3:45.  Late for sure, but the sun was up until at least 8 and we felt pretty confident in our abilities.   We hiked in approximately one mile when we came to Sandy River.  The bridge had washed out a week prior so we forded the river.  Well, really, we walked on a log just over the water but we made it!   I had visions of flash flood tsunamis coming down the valley but it didn't happen that day, my friends!  We pressed on and took the left (no horses allowed) branch of the loop.  We walked through beautiful Alpine Meadow-like forests with evergreens and gorgeous mossy ground, which I can never capture on camera well.  There was a stream that hugged the trail and it was so beautiful and serene.  We made it to Ramona Falls which was amazing.  The Falls are quite tall and the rock that it runs over has lots of deep crevices and divisions that really give it a cool, unusual look.  We hung out for a little while and then took the other half of the trail home.  This branch hugged the Spring River and all the felled trees were amazing- it was clear that the waters sometimes rage there.

We headed back to Portland and celebrated with a decadent Seafood Tower at the Woodsman Tavern.  The tower consisted of crab, 18 oysters, smoked mussels and an uni dish.  Apart from the uni dish, the seafood tower was awesome.  I'd always wanted to order one and it seemed like a great time.  Our waiter was very good and we had a really nice time.  To cap it off, we went to Salt & Straw for dessert where I had a split-single scoop of sea salt caramel and almond brittle in a waffle cone.  Delicious!

The next morning, I woke up early for a run along the Willamette River before heading back to shower, change and head to the airport via MDX.  I bought a Bowery Bagel for SMS and we hit the road.  Our short layover was in San Francisco where I went to my favorite airport concession stand, Fraiche.  It's ridiculously overpriced, but I felt very healthy (and maybe slightly obnoxious) by ordering my Greek Yogurt and Green Juice.

On the flight to Tokyo, they were beta-testing having people use their own devices for movies.  This did not work very well since the app was required, which we did not have and there were no plugs to charge the devices.  Since the movies went over WiFi, there was no way our devices would work over the 10+ hour flight.  I wasn't a fan, but no one's asked my opinion yet.  Maybe I'll send in one unsolicited, ha ha.

We made it home after a seemingly interminable train ride.  It was great to be back but I admit, I have a little post-vacation blues after such an amazing trip!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Portland, OR

A few months ago, SMS and I took a quiz on Facebook that was psychic-level accurate in saying that we should live in Portland.  Well, maybe we'll never end up there to live but we both loved the city for our short visit!

Stumptown Coffee and Voodoo
On Monday, we focused on the city itself.  Several of our stops were based off of Laddie's recommendations on her wedding website.  We slept in, which I've found to be the sweet spot for sleeping when coming East from Japan.  5-10 a.m. are the soundest sleeping hours.  This is fine on vacation but a little rough when I'm back for business/interviews.  After getting up, we went to BUNK sandwiches for a late breakfast.  I had an Egg, Bacon and Cheese on a hard roll while SMS had a grilled PB&J.    My sandwich was delicious- kind of heavy but by the time we ate, I was really hungry.  Afterwards, we headed to Stumptown Coffee for some pour-over coffee.  It was a tiny bit too acidic for me but the lighter notes in the coffee were very prominent and sparkly.  (I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.  What does it even mean?!?).  
Petting the wild animals

After coffee, we walked by VooDoo doughnuts although we did not partake after trying them out on Sunday.  They're good, but over-the-top with sugar and since we had just woken up from coma-like sleep, we didn't want a sugar low to send us back!  Actually on this vacation, SMS and I noticed a couple of things seemed really sweet after getting used to food in Japan.  I don't really bake so all of our desserts have mostly been at Japanese restaurants or bakeries where they have a lighter touch with the amount of sugar used.  I think this makes the desserts more delicious since there's other flavors that are highlighted rather than just sugar.
Pioneer Square

Afterwards, we went to take the MDX (train) to Washington Park to see the Rose Garden and Japanese Garden.  The MDX was complimentary on Monday due to the MDX system apologizing to customers for delays the previous weeks.  We were unintended beneficiaries but we gladly accepted the free rides!  We transferred at Pioneer Square where there was a really awesome band providing lunchtime music.  We walked through the Farmer's Market where there were the most beautiful bouquets.  I definitely miss large bouquets of cheap-ish flowers because bouquets are tiny and expensive here.  
Rose Garden and some Randos who wouldn't keep getting out of my pictures...

We took the MDX to Washington Park and walked to the Rose Garden.  It was amazing.  Of course I knew there would be roses there but in person, the number and variety were stunning.  We walked through the general beds, test beds and gold medal winner beds.  We were partial to a few of the purple roses, but I honestly couldn't pick a favorite. Next, we went to the Japanese Garden which may seem silly but we were there and it's a highly regarded garden so we wanted to check it out.  It was very beautiful and we enjoyed walking around, especially in the continuing awesome weather.
Japanese Gardens

We went to the Pearl District after having a late lunch at the Alder Food Truck area between 10th and 11th SW.  I had Ethiopian food, which was awesome since I haven't had any in forever.  SMS had a Greek mezze plate that had several tasty treats.  We went to Powell's Bookstore where I bought a used book (yay) and wrote down several titles that I'm going to try and get from the library.
CW from top L: Food trucks, Powell's Books, Darth Vader on a mechanical unicycle playing
the bagpipes because, of course.

We walked around in the golden hour around the Pearl District.  The architecture is awesome and we walked by Laddie's old workplace.  For dinner, we decided to get cheese, bread and olives from Whole Foods.  It was an awesome day and we both really loved the city.  Next up…Nature Day!