…and I’m back! We’ve been in the states for 2 months and yes- we are pregnant! We are thrilled, despite my cavalier facebook announcement that Natalie is knocked up.
A little note on that: I’m sorry if I offended any of my wholesome facebook friends! Travis and I sat on the couch for about 10 minutes trying to figure out how to say our ‘what’. Having no cutesy photos or clever words put me in a snarky mood, and these were the only words that could come out. Occasionally… I do not take myself too seriously 🙂
All of that to say, this was not an accident, and we are over-the-moon excited about our baby-to-be coming this November. We’ve had an interesting journey on the decision to have kids, and I’ll share more on that later, but I must tell you about the highlights of our grand tour of Japan and our last hurrah before making babies.
Travis had left on an expected deployment to Kuwait right before Christmas, and was gone for about 2 months. Our friend Will was planning a visit around the time of his return, and we had hoped to go to Thailand this week, followed by the Snow Fest in Sapporo, but naturally- things got delayed and I wasn’t sure exactly when he’d be home. Meanwhile, Will got here and I stopped trying to plan anything. Thankfully, no planes broke on their multi-day journey back, and Travis finally made it home!
At this point, it was too late to try to make a Thailand trip, so we decided to stay in Japan which ironically, was not the cheaper option, but more convenient. Travis really needed a vaca and it was a huge blessing that he made home in time to explore Japan with me and his buddy Will before having to go the states for Instructor Pilot school.
As if this day could not get any better, Florence and the Machine was live in Tokyo on the night of his return. I almost overdosed on joy.
We learned something new on this night. When they say Florence and the Machine at 7pm, they mean 7pm. No opening acts!! We took our sweet time getting there, so we missed the beginning, but WOW- what a spellbinding show in that small venue.
We spent the next couple of days living it up in Tokyo, doing a repeat of Lost-in-Translation night (New York Bar and Karaoke Kan- both seen in the movie).
After Tokyo, we took our first shinkansen bullet train to Osaka! Osaka is known as the food capital of Japan, and it didn’t disappoint.
The culture and vibe of Osaka was strikingly different than Tokyo. Osakans are more laid back, less hurried, and a lot friendlier. For the first time we’ve lived in Japan, we were actually spontaneously approached by locals at a bar who were eager to practice their English. Funny thing though, when we went to Hokkaido the next week, we asked a few Japanese what they thought about Osaka and their response was, “uggggghhh…..stinky!”
I wouldn’t call it stinky, but the city is grungier in a good way. But the most remarkable thing about Osaka was the men’s hair styles. WHOAH! There was one area at the main train station that we called “the bridge” that filled up with Japanese hipsters every night who were clearly there to be seen. Their hair was all some variation of David Bowie in The Labyrinth. Like most American 80s movies, Travis (who spent his childhood in Europe), had never seen it, so I made him watch it with me. Since I didn’t have the gall to get any real good shots of these haircuts, how about Dave and his magic dance? How can you watch this and not sing along?
After Osaka we made a quick trip to Kyoto. I had hoped to see a geisha, which I did not, but we did see just enough historical sites to not get shrine fatigue.
We took the shinkansen back to Tokyo just in time to dump our bags, wash, repack, and sleep about 4 hours before leaving to catch a flight to the northern island of Hokkaido. The only thing that could possibly improve a 6am flight is a Pokemon plane!
We flew into Sapporo and then took a lengthy shuttle to Niseko for a 3 day ski adventure at the Hilton Niseko Village Resort.
I’m not really a snow sports or snowy weather kind of girl (skiing is still new to me), but the scenery was amazing and I’ve never seen that much snow in my life. Hokkaido got record breaking amounts this year, so much that our slopes were partially closed due to blizzards.
And my favorite part of this trip was getting to soak in the onsen at our hotel at the end of each day. A onsen is a Japanese hot springs spa. They’re segregated by gender because you have to shower and enter naked. It’s feels funny at first, but so relaxing and paralyzing to thaw my bones in that steaming hot water. They have a beautiful outdoor area where you can get the perfect balance of hot on your body cold on your face. I felt like a perfect apple pie ala mode. This was the only picture I could take without getting any naked butts in the shot:
We finished our trip in Sapporo for the 63rd annual Sapporo Snow Festival. During the coldest week of each year, countries from all over the world submit beautiful snow sculptures and ice statues, competing for best design.
We ate lots of ramen in Sapporo on their famous ramen alley (as seen on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations). What makes the Hokkaido ramen special and oh-so-delish is the addition of corn and butter, which doesn’t seem very Japanese, but what-may I ask- can corn and butter not make better?
The grand finale of our trip to Sapporo was a fabulous dinner at the Sapporo Bier Garten at the Sapporo Brewery. All you can eat, all you can drink- everything from grilled lamb, stir fry, scallops on the half shell, sushi, roasted corn, crab legs, garlic toasts- and all SO good. With our crew, there’s no doubt they definitely lost money on us that night!
This is my longest blog post yet- I’ll try not to wait so long next time. If you’re still reading, thanks 🙂
This grand trip through Japan made us realize even more how blessed we are to live in such an awesome and diverse country, and I’m so thankful that Travis made it back in time for it to happen!