Jul 27, 2014

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Kamakura – City of Temples and Cherry Blossoms

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Kamakura, a beach town only 50 miles from Tokyo, was the capital of Japan from 1185 to 1333. This left a laid back feeling city with a rich cultural legacy of ancient temples and shrines, making it a popular day trip for locals and tourists, alike.

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One of the most popular times to visit is during cherry blossom season, as almost all of the temples and shrines have carefully tended cherry trees that make the area particularly picturesque. Other good times to visit include the first week of April when the Kanagawa Matsuri Festival is held, celebrating the city’s history, or during the fall to see the fall colors.

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There are actually too many temples and shrines in Kamakura to see them in all in one day, especially if you want to make it to the beach at some point. Hikers will be happy to know there are several trails that wind through the mountains surrounding the city, which either start or end at several of the more famous temples.

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The city is surrounded on three sides by mountains and on the fourth by the sea, which in ancient times made it a natural fortress. The Shogunate constructed seven manmade passes through the mountains, three of which are virtually unchanged, and two more are still somewhat recognizable. There are still hiking routes to and through these passes, as well as roads to an eighth, the impressive Shakado Pass.

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Other attractions include the Daibutsu, a giant copper Buddha statue at Kotokuin Temple. Uniquely to Japan, the statue is in the open air, as the wooden building originally built to house it was washed away in tsunamis during the 1300s. Remarkably, the statute itself has only undergone minor repairs since the 1250s when it was constructed, meaning it is more or less in it’s original condition, making it an important artifact of Japanese artistic and cultural history.

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Other famous sites include the Zeniarai Benten Shrine, which has a money washing ceremony said to double any amount washed, and Tokeiji, a nunnery that in ancient times sheltered abused women, as staying there for three years would enable them to get a divorce.

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If you get a bit templed out, nearby is Enoshima Island, just 10 kilometers away on the vintage Enoden Streetcar train line. The island has a collection of buildings known as Enoshima shrine, which are dedicated to the goddess Benten, who legend has it defeated a fearsome dragon terrorizing the area. The island as a result has a fun dragon theme expressed from everything from kitschy souvenirs to the lampposts.

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Enoshima has a botanical garden with a lookout tower, caves to explore, and abundant restaurants perched above the sea cliffs. Crabs and sea hawks are abundant, and if you stay after dark you will realize how fond the locals are of the island’s cat population. During the winter Enoshima provides beautiful views of Mount Fuji, provided the clouds cooperate.

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If you’re looking for a fun day trip outside of Tokyo, or just like temples or beaches, a trip out to Kamakura is definitely worth it. Both Japan Railways and the Odakyu train companies provide round trip day passes from Tokyo with unlimited stops in the surrounding area.

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Jul 25, 2014

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Tokyo

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Graffiti along Meguro River

Tokyo is the most populous city in the world, which is no surprise if you look at exactly how much flat land exists in Japan. It has 23 wards, which are cities in themselves with their own governmental jurisdictions and laws. From central Tokyo you can hop on a train and ride for an hour, or in some directions, two, before seeing a landscape that is recognizably suburban or rural.

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Plum Blossoms and Gameboys

The character of the city changes as you move between wards, or even neighborhoods within wards. Akihabara is famous for it’s geeky high tech and anime subculture, which is reflected in the neon lit anime characters adorning the main street. Harajuku has both the teen candy colored fashionistas and a more stately shopping district where the back streets hide upscale homes, shops, and European style cafes. Shinjuku has the business skyscraper district that shuts down shortly after dark just a short walk away from the entertainment district that does not shut down, as well as the seedier red light district of Kabukicho.

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Shinjuku after the rain

I’ve lived in Tokyo for eight months and one of my favorite things to do is to is people watch in one of the large parks or have tea and a book at one of the cafes in the city. I haven’t yet had the chance to see all of the neighborhoods in the city, and I’m not convinced that the frenetic pace of my Japanese class is the real reason. There’s simply far too much to see and do here, and the upcoming summer festival season is going to make the overwhelming feeling of living in such a huge and happening city even worse.

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Sakura

 

If you have the cash, you can see and do literally anything here. There are samba studios, martial arts dojos of every stripe, ikebana (traditional flower arranging) classes, and even equestrian clubs. There are hiking courses around the fringes of the metropolis, and even a tropical island chain that is technically part of Tokyo prefecture, despite being 1000km  from Tokyo Bay.

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Traditional Shinto weddings are often seen at Meiji Shrine

 

Tokyo has it’s share of problems. Homelessness, while less visible than it has been in the past, is still a noticeable problem. Considering the sky-high cost of housing and the nearly complete lack of mental health services, I suppose it is unsurprising. But it is still and incredibly safe city, where if you forget your wallet in a restaurant or other public space you have a better than even chance of getting it back, cash unmolested. I accidentally left my bag full of schoolbooks on the train one night, and got it back the next day, contents unmolested. I can’t imagine I would have ever seen that bag again if I had left it on the New York subway.

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View from Hama Rikkyu Gardens

 

Tokyo will once again be host to the Summer Olympics in 2020. The city has already hosted the Olympics once, in 1967, and will be the first Asian city to host the games twice. As the city feels like it is bursting at the seams already, I suspect that Tokyo during the 2020 games will be quite the experience. That said, the planned upgrades to the transportation system to the airports will be very welcome. Flying in and out of Tokyo through either Narita or Haneda airport is incredibly time consuming simply because getting to the airport takes an hour or so from central Tokyo. At least the security lines move quickly.

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Sensoji Temple with bonus view of the Skytree at night

I’ll be doing more in depth neighborhood articles as I slowly explore the city, but for tourists with a limited time frame I highly recommend Meiji Shrine, Tokyo Skytree, and if you have the cash, one of the fancier hotel bars in the city at sunset. The Park Hyatt was made famous by the movie Lost in Translation, but to be honest the views are just incredible. The Conrad also has a beautiful view of the bay, and I hear the Ritz Carlton’s bar also dazzles, though I have not had a chance to go. If you are visiting Japan and have at least two weeks in the country, try to spend at least five days in Tokyo. You won;t run out of things to see.

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Tokyo from the Sunshine 60 building in Ikebukuro

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Back alley in the Nakano Broadway shopping complex

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Shinjuku at night

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Sushi at Daiwa Sushi

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Sunset from my train stop

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Asakusa at night

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Flirting in Umegaoka

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Sakura

 

 

 

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Jul 22, 2014

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Bringing your Cat or Dog to Japan

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This information is valid as of March 2014, and applies to people bringing their pet dog or cat to Japan from everywhere except Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, or Guam.

When I was planning on moving to Japan to study, I knew I wouldn’t be able to leave my elderly cat with relatives for two years. Not only was there no guarantee she would still be around when I got back two years later, but due to her being an older cat I have had since high school, I was worried about health or behavioral problems becoming an issue with a new home environment and caretaker, burdening whomever I asked to watch her.

So, naturally, I turned to the internet to figure out what it would take to bring her with me. It did not take long for me to realize that there were very few English language resources to turn to, outside of the official Japanese government websites. Anyone who has spent time on Japanese government websites knows the overly cluttered web design and awkward translations often make finding the information you need difficult. I couldn’t find any articles or blog posts from people who had done it.

So I decided to ask about the process on a few expat forums. Word to the wise: Don’t. This may only be true of expat forums involving Japan, but the overall attitude of every major expat forum about living in Japan is something akin to the most cynical and negative places on Reddit. You will not get an answer, you will just be told it is impossible and you should light your dreams on on fire and stomp on them (no matter how reasonable they are). No help there, but plenty of people telling me it could not be done, as in; this is impossible, give up now.

There’s this thing, though: I’m really stubborn. So I decided to email the Japanese Quarantine Service. And what do you know, they were helpful, prompt, and courteous. It was a bit shocking to me, I was used to the customer service at certain American governmental offices. Don’t misunderstand me – many US Government employees are awesome, it’s just that often websites and phone numbers seem designed to avoid getting you to a real live person, and sometimes the person you get just isn’t having a good day. I’m honestly still a little bit nonplussed at how positive my overall experience with the Japanese Quarantine Service was throughout this process. I hopeful that I will have just as good an experience when I return to the States with my cats.

So, on the the information you came here for. I will be dealing with the importation of dogs and cats here, since they are the most common pets. If you have another kind of pet, shoot me an email, I also brought my ferrets, so I may have some useful information for you. The Japanese agency that deals with importing animals is the Animal Quarantine Service. If you do not want your pet to languish in a government quarantine kennel for up to six months, you need to begin preparing to bring them over around eight months in advance of your trip. If you complete the following requirements before coming to Japan, your pet’s quarantine period will be less than twelve hours, which in practice is usually only an hour or so.

The requirements are as follows:

  1. Download and print out the Certification Forms provided by the Japanese Animal Quarantine Service (AQS). Here and here are the current required forms. Please make sure and check that the linked PDFs are still the valid certification forms on this website before using these forms. Countries can change their requirements with no warning, so double check everything.
  2. Microchip your pet with an ISO compliant (11784 / 11785) microchip.
  3. Vaccinate your pet against rabies with an inactivated or recombinant vaccine. This can be done on the same day you microchip your pet. Ask your vet to fill out the forms as you go, because they require detailed information about the batch number and brand of the vaccines used. I would strongly suggest you keep the originals and give your vet a copy to keep in their file at this point in the process. Your vet has to certify these vaccination details, so I find it best they fill the certification forms out as you go instead of you filling them out at a later date. If your pet is less than 91 days old you must wait until they are at least that old before vaccinating them, as the Japanese government does not accept vaccinations before your pet is 91 days old.
  4. Wait 31 days.
  5. Vaccinate your pet against rabies again. Same procedure, same type of vaccine. Get your vet to record the second vaccination on the certification forms.
  6. Ask your vet to pull a blood sample for a titer test. You can do this step the same day you give your pet their second vaccination. A titer test checks what level of rabies antibodies your pet has in their bloodstream. In order to be allowed into Japan your pet must have antibody levels equal to or greater than 0.5 IU/ml. Your vet must send the blood sample to a lab designated by the Japanese Government. If you live in the US, that lab is the Kansas State University Rabies Laboratory, unless you are a US service member. Your vet will know how to send the sample to this lab. When you receive the test results be very careful with the form you are sent, the Japanese AQS only accepts originals for this document. Getting a second original sent from the lab is a pain, so don’t lose it!
  7. Wait 180 days. This period is considered “home quarantine” by the Japanese government.
  8. During your 180 day quarantine period you should send the Japanese AQS station at the port you will enter Japan your Import Application and Advance Notification forms. Both of these forms are available at the bottom of the page here, and the forms are different for dogs and cats. You must give the correct Japanese AQS station 40 days advance notice before you will be allowed to import your animal, so send these forms during your 180 day home quarantine period. I strongly suggest you send them your partially filled out Certification Forms during this period and ask them to check and see if there are any problems with the way the forms have been filled out so far, so you have time to correct any errors with your vet.
  9. After your 180 days are up, you need to get your Certification Forms endorsed by your veterinarian if you have not yet done so, and then they need to be endorsed by whichever governmental agency handles animal exports in your home country. In the US this is the USDA-APHIS, and you must have your forms endorsed by your Area-Veterinarian-in-Charge. Here is the USDA website, and here is the address list for the Area-Veterinarians-in-Charge by state. The USDA-APHIS charges a fee for this service, which to me was a bit exorbitant, but you must have this endorsement to export your pet. The USDA endorsement is good for 10 days.
  10. Scan and send all of your endorsed documents to the AQS station you will be using. They will let you know if any changes need to be made or if the documents are in order. Don’t fly without their confirmation the documents are ok, and print out and bring the email confirming they are acceptable with you, just in case. These are the people who have final say over whether or not your pet gets to come into the country, so if they pre-confirm your documents are in order you basically have as close to a guarantee they will be allowed in as you are going to get.
  11. Get on a plane and go!

The least amount of time this process will take from start to finish is around 215 days, so start early. The total amount is will cost depends on your vet and airline, but expect the USDA endorsement to be around $120. I believe I spent around $500 at the vet, and another $150 with United Airlines to get one cat to Japan.

Once I got off the plane and through immigration at Narita Airport, the Animal Quarantine Station was in the same room as baggage claim. The AQS officers check my paperwork, asked me to come to a back room with my cats, shut the door (kudos for smart AQS workers!) and then asked me to take my cats out of their carriers to scan their microchips. They let me hold my cats, which helped make scanning their chips less of a struggle, and then once they had confirmed the cats were the same ones on the paperwork, they let me go on my way. In all it took an hour and a half, and only that long because I was not the only person on my flight with pets.

A note about airlines:

Most of the American carriers will allow you to bring pets, and if they are under a certain size, most allow you to bring them on board as carry on baggage. If your pet is small enough this is the way to go, they don’t leave your sight and cannot be accidentally left out on a tarmac in the heat or cold. You have to carry them through security, outside of the carrier, though, so put a harness on your cat. If you cannot take your pet as carry on due to their size or species, I strongly suggest you fly United Airlines for their cargo service. This is the service I used to transport my ferrets, and although I was terrified the whole trip due to hearing too many horror stories of animals lost or killed in transit, they arrived perfectly fine.

United Airline’s PetSafe program looks like it is the one most US service members and US government employees stationed abroad (USAID, State, etc.) choose to transport their pets, and that appears to be because they have a good safety record. You hear horror stories in the news about pets accidentally killed by airlines, so I don’t blame anyone for being nervous about letting an airline transport their pets as cargo. United Airline’s PetSafe program is how my ferrets came to Japan, and while I was a nervous wreck the entire time, they made it safe and sound. If you happen to know of any statistics that will help people figure out which airline is the safest for their pets to be transported via cargo, let me know!

 

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Jul 20, 2014

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Berlin

Berlin is one of those cities that grew on me unexpectedly. I was jetlagged and overwhelmed when we first arrived in the city, but after a good night’s sleep I was ready to go.

The first thing we did was arrange to join a free walking tour. We took a Sandeman’s tour that began at the Brandenburg Tor led by a wonderful British guide named Rob. The tour gave us a pretty thorough introduction to the Mitte district and its historic sites, and served as a perfect orientation to those areas of the city. Rob did a great job of mixing historical flair with practical advice on what to see and do, and we ended up deciding to book another tour with him, which was not free. I am quite jealous of his public speaking skills.

Brandenburg Tor

Brandenburg Tor

Berlin is a great city to visit because its simultaneously a modern European city, and in living memory has gone through some drastic changes. The tour really brought that home for me. I actually fuzzily remember watching the news when the Berlin Wall fell, remember the adults in my life talk about what has happening in excited tones, and remember generally having no idea what was going on other than something about communists in Germany and that it was important. So it’s pretty cool to walk through Pariser Platz and the Brandenburg Tor and follow the bricks inlaid in the street that mark the boundary of the Wall. Maybe it’s just the American in me, but actually being in those places make everything feel more real. Intellectually you know it wasn’t just something on TV, but the full emotional impact is much more immediate when you visit a historical site.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The next day we went to Museum Island and climbed to the top of the Berliner Dom. There were actually a series of different building and churches built on or near the current site of the Dom, with the current one being built in 1905, and damaged during World War II. The building underwent many renovations from 1975 to 1990. It looks much much older than it actually is, since the architecture is Baroque style high Renaissance. The interior of the Dom is beautiful, and about as over the top as you can get without going Rococo. I’m talking marble everything and gold leaf murals, the kind of ridiculous opulence you don’t see often.

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We also stopped at a lovely little overpriced outdoor cafe, which was right on the river and had a lovely view. I wouldn’t eat there, but the view was worth the pricey ice cream.

Drinks only

Drinks only

We also explored the Pergamon. The Pergamon Alter and the Market Gate of Miletus were both very impressive, and the museum obviously built around showcasing them. I have to admit that while the Pergamon had several huge and beautiful displays, I had been expecting something more comprehensive, like the British Museum. It seemed a little empty in comparison. This was a case of me not doing my homework, I didn’t know too much about the Pergamon before I went, so my expectations did not match up to the reality.

Pergamon Exterior

Pergamon Exterior

Pergamon Altar

Pergamon Altar

Market Gate of Miletus

That said, how cool is this?

This is my brother. He's 6'4", so this facade is pretty huge.

This is my brother. He’s 6’4″, so this facade is pretty huge.

It’s called the Mshatta Facade and it’s so intricately carved its almost unbelievable. This piece sparked a new desire in me to research and visit places known for Islamic art in the future.

Because there are only so many museums I can take in a day before I stop being able to properly appreciate them, we decided to visit the East Side Gallery. This is the famous section of the Berlin Wall that still stands as a memorial, with 105 paintings from artists all over the world.

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

I actually really liked this area of Berlin. It’s rather obvious that it was once part of East Germany because of the difference in architecture and upkeep. This part of the city is dirtier and has more graffiti and abandoned buildings. Perhaps as a result, it has a more alternative bohemian vibe. People watching was lots of fun here, and if you like to shop you’d find the more unique stuff here in the East Central District. When I return to Berlin, I’ll be finding a place to sleep in this part of town.

The next day we took a day trip to Potsdam, which frankly deserves a post of its own, so I’ll skip over that for now.

My brother and I were informed before leaving the states that we had to try currywurst in Berlin. And we did. I have to say, the descriptions I was given did not sound like anything tasty, and even looking at the dish I was skeptical. But it was quite good. My brother had some kind of unidentified wurst, which was so disappointing in comparison. We kept a running tally of who “won” picking dishes this trip, which of course required us to choose two different dishes and then “sample” the other one. Sample being code for eat at least half of. It’s a good game to play when travelling.

Currywurst

Currywurst

Unidentified Wurst

Unidentified Wurst

Our last night in Berlin we took a sunset river cruise. It was not really set up to be a touristy sightseeing cruise (though I’m sure those exist), but instead more of a dinner cruise to eat and socialize. We were probably the only tourists on the boat. The views of the city were worth the mediocre food.

Oberbaumbrücke

Oberbaumbrücke

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Reichstag Building

Reichstag Building

Berliner Dom at sunset

Berliner Dom at sunset, with bonus beerhouse

 

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Jul 18, 2014

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Neuschwanstein Castle: A Tourist Trap That’s Worth The Hype

Neuschwanstein Castle from Marienbrücke

Neuschwanstein Castle has an awful reputation. You hear that it is too crowded, too expensive, not enough stuff to see inside for the hassle, and set up in a way meant to make you spend money.

The castle was originally built above the village of Hohenschwangau (which is the location of Hohenschwangau castle, as well) as a residence for King Ludwig II, but he was controversially deposed for mental incapacity shortly before his mysterious death, so the castle interior was never finished. The castle, which was controversial for its extravagance at the time, quickly became a boon to the local economy, as it opened as a tourist destination weeks after his death. The Romanesque Revival architecture is the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland, and is one of the most striking in Europe.

Despite it’s bad reputation, I found Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles to be a highlight of our trip. If you plan ahead you can avoid the most frustrating aspects of the site, and actually enjoy your visit.

First off, we were travelling during shoulder season, in the spring right before the summer travel rush really kicks up. As I have personally never been to the castles during high season, I have no idea how bad it gets, though multiple travel guides and forums seem to paint a very unpleasant picture.

The second thing we did right was stay in Füssen. Apparently most of the tourists who visit the castles bus in from Munich, but I enjoyed the slower pace and the town quite a bit. The town has a touristy main street with shopping and restaurants, and plenty of hiking trails along the periphery of the town.

Füssen

We stayed at House L.A., which was more like a family run Bed and Breakfast than a hostel. The owners were very friendly and helpful, and even suggested some hiking trails for us along the Romantic Road to the castles that turned out to be a great choice.

As per Rick Steve’s guide, we got up very early to catch the first bus from the Füssen train station out to the castles. We did not book our castle tour tickets ahead, which did not negatively affect us very much as we arrived when the ticket counters first opened and there was not much of a line. If I visit again I would book ahead, as the lines began to form behind us and were very long for the rest of the day. We avoided the wait by the skin of our teeth.

When you purchase tickets you have the option of purchasing a ticket for Hohenschwangau, Neuschwanstein, and Eintrittspreise, which is a museum of the Bavarian kings, or any combination of the three. All of these attractions are placed around a small valley housing the village of  Hohenschwangau a short distance from Füssen. The village is very tiny and pure tourist trap, I would be shocked if anyone actually lives there, as it seems to be full of gift shops and restaurants. It’s Disneyworld with old buildings.

The Village and Castle of Hohenschwangau

We chose the Königsticket, or King’s Ticket, which was scheduled tour admission to the two castles, which of course were spaced to leave plenty of time between the two tours to spend money in the village.

I would recommend seeing both castles. Neuschwanstein was unfinished at the time of Ludwig II’s death, so only about a quarter of the interior is finished. This means that if you are interested in decorations and paintings, Hohenschwangau has a bit more to offer. Both Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein have a swan theme, but the murals and historical pieces on that theme in Hohenschwangau are quite striking, and there is simply more of them there. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside the castles, which was a common theme for museums and historical sites during this trip. I would understand no flash photography, as flashes over time can damage paintings, but I am a little grumpy over the outright photography ban.

Hohenschwangau

We took a tour through Hohenschwangau, and had enough time between the tours to walk down the hill from Hohenschwangau and eat a picnic lunch on Alpsee lake, which saved us an overpriced meal. We decided to catch the bus up towards Neuschwanstein, and I’m glad we did because the route the bus took up the mountain looked like it would have been a very steep uphill (upmountain?) walk. What can I say, I’m an American, we don’t walk much. The bus let us out about a ten minute uphill walk away from Neuschwanstein, where you can take a short detour hike to Marienbrücke (Mary’s Bridge). The bridge is over a deep gorge and waterfall, and overlooks the castle and countryside, and that view alone is worth the trip.

Marienbrücke from the Gorge

My favorite parts of Neuschwanstein’s interior were the woodcarvings in Ludwig II’s bedroom, and the Hall of the Singers, which had murals depicting knights and courtly love in the Middle Ages. After our tour we decided to hike down the gorge and back to Füssen along the Romantic Road. It’s a long, but easy walk, with clearly marked signs once you get out of the gorge.

Hiking along the Romantic Road

Overall, this was one of the most scenic spots on our entire trip. If you love mountains, or castles, you should brave this tourist trap. If you reserve your tickets ahead of time, and pack a picnic lunch, you can avoid the more frustrating aspects of such a popular destination.

Neuschwanstein Gatehouse View

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Jul 18, 2014

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Eurail Review, or How Not to Travel With a Eurail Pass.

 

Trains!

This summer my brother finished his Master’s program, and we decided to take an international trip. I have traveled a little bit, and he had never been anywhere outside of the US except for a cruise to the Caribbean, so we decided on a mini backpacking trip through Europe. My work demands limited us to two weeks in Europe. My brother had studied German in college and wanted to visit, and I have a friend living in Vienna, so we decided that two weeks sounded like a good amount of time to visit Germany and Austria. I wish we could have gone for longer, and I think that’s probably a sentiment common to Americans, with our limited vacation days.

We flew into Frankfurt, using my frequent flyer miles to get seats on a Singapore Airlines flight. Worth it, by the way. We then took a train to Berlin, because despite how much more preferable coach in Singapore Airlines is to basically any American airline’s coach, there are limits to how long my 6 foot 4 brother can handle being in a plane. Taking the train to Berlin did not cost us anything extra, due to the Eurail passes, and it gave us a chance to move around a bit and get out of the security nightmare flying always is. So far so good.

Here’s where it becomes not so good. We decided to have only a rough itinerary, and go wherever out interests lead us. I made our skeleton itinerary back in the States, and we left without much of a real plan. This decision was a mistake. We only had two weeks, and due to it being his first time out of the country (and his engineer heart) my brother was uncomfortable with any sudden changes of plan. We had only researched in detail our predetermined destinations, and almost completely ignored researching side destinations.

Can you see those big red flags waving on the horizon?

What I should have done was check out some 10 or 12 day itineraries online, perhaps with some of my favorite group travel companies, and added or removed destinations based on our personal preferences. I should have recognized that two weeks was simply not enough time to be a footloose and fancy free backpacking duo, due to time constraints and adjusting to the local language and culture. This one is all on me – like I said, it was basically my brother’s first time out of the country. Big commercial cruises with pre-organized shore activities don’t really count.

So I, inspired by a diet of RTW and digital nomad travel blogs, tried to get a taste of a travel style completely unsuited to the realities of the situation. There are days I am not very bright.

We ended up using only 2/3rds of the travel days we purchased on our Eurail passes. We traveled from Frankfurt>Berlin>Freiburg>Fussen>Vienna>Frankfurt. We used five out of our 8 travel days. We would have paid well over $1000 more had we booked individual journey tickets, but we could have bought a pass with fewer travel days and saved around $200.

Deutsche Bahn

So. For those of you planning on going to Europe for a shorter trip, I highly suggest you plan out your itinerary and actually calculate the number of travel days you need with a Eurail pass, lest you waste $200. And if you are going travelling through Germany at all during your trip to Europe of any length, you will almost certainly save money on a Eurail pass over booking individual journeys through Germany, as the ticket prices there are among the highest in Europe. If you are travelling in more peripheral countries like Italy the prices can be much cheaper, so if you have a more or less set itinerary double check the individual journey prices against the total cost of your Eurail pass.

The bottom line is that Eurail can save you a lot of money, but you need to do your homework.

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Jul 13, 2014

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Career Breaks, Risk, and Why I Am a Big Fat Cheater

Source: hedviggen via fortheloveofmegan

A Career Break is exactly what it sounds like. People take time off from their careers and do something completely different. They take a round the world trip, write a book, build a homestead. Anything they have dreamed about, but have been forced to sideline due to the time constraints of typical work demands. It’s something that lasts longer than a month, which means its not a glorified vacation, and happens during the period of a person’s life they are “supposed” to be working. It’s not gap year, and it’s not retirement.

There’s an online community of people who believe that taking a career break is worth it, and has many benefits. Websites like Meet, Plan, Go compile first person testimonies about the challenges, benefits, and risks of doing something like this. Some people unexpectedly find a new career while on a career break, and never look back. Other people transition back into work life, realizing they have fundamentally changed.

These people inspire me, but I’m not that brave. I’m cheating. I’m quitting my job to move to Japan for two years to learn the language. It sounds risky, and brave, and so much like all the huge leaps of faith people whom I admire have taken. But it’s not. This isn’t a career break, it’s not a leap of faith. I’m actually making a (hopefully) savvy career move. I’m too chicken to take a leap of faith, at least right now.

I’m currently working as an attorney. I just started a couple of years ago, so I don’t have any specialized skills I can parlay into a job which has a shadow of a chance of paying of my student loans before I retire. I do, however, know some Japanese from high school and college. Turns out, Japanese speaking attorneys are in high demand. What better way to combine my undergraduate studies with my legal career?

Don’t get me wrong, there are many other ways I could build a specialized practice and increase my income. But those sound like, you know, work. I like the Japanese language. I like being in school and working hard to master a new skill. I love living in Tokyo. If it wasn’t a smart career move, if I wasn’t something I would use for work, I would still try to find a way to become fluent through immersion, as it’s been a goal of mine for a long time.

But I wouldn’t do it right now. Because that would actually be a career break. And I am a big fat chicken.

 

 

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