When we were planning our trip, I read in several places that a trip to Japan should at least include Tokyo and Kyoto, as Tokyo is a modern megatropolis and Kyoto is more of the old, traditional Japan. After visiting each city, I’d say this is largely accurate, though Kyoto still feels very modern, too. I loved Kyoto – any first-time trip to Japan would be incomplete without Kyoto on the itinerary!
We stayed at the Aranvert Hotel – I was just going to add a link to their website and found that, unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they have closed permanently. How sad. I really enjoyed our stay there – it was affordable, clean, and comfortable, and the women’s onsen was lovely, with a beautiful view over the city. The location was ideal too – we were able to walk there from the train station pretty easily, even with our luggage after first arriving in Japan, and it was easy to access the subway and bus lines too. We spent much of our travel time in and near Kyoto on a train or subway – we got a multi-day subway pass that made it easy to hop on and off without fumbling for new tickets each time. The subways were clean and organized, and like all transportation in Japan, they were always on time. Using our pocket wifi, we were able to easily find routes from sight to sight, and navigating Kyoto was never a problem!
We flew into Tokyo when we arrived in Japan, but our itinerary started in Kyoto. I had wondered about how this extra travel would impact us after a long international flight, but it was more cost-effective, and I would definitely recommend it as an easy option. Getting on a clean, comfortable, quiet train from Tokyo to Kyoto felt like an upgrade from the airplane, and we were able to relax for a couple of hours before we arrived in Kyoto. We even glimpsed Mount Fuji from the train! One perk of traveling to Asia from America is that when you arrive, it’s night! I am always miserable when I don’t get any sleep on a plane, and slogging through the first day of international travel when you go east instead of west is always brutal, but in Japan, we got to check into our hotel and go straight to bed – perfect.
Three years ago, Jeremy and I went on one of our best adventures to date: we spent two weeks exploring Japan, just the two of us, a “one last hurrah before baby” sort of trip. I had wanted to write about it on this blog, but then our son was born and time melted away as it does in the land of new parenthood, and suddenly now three years have passed.
I’ve decided to come back to this blog after two years of silence for a couple of reasons. One, my dear friend Kristen has been encouraging me to go back to writing, even if I’m writing about things that happened a long time ago, and two, this blog is a great way to keep me connected to the “old me” – the pre-parenthood, pre-thirty version of myself that taught high school and loved to travel. Don’t get me wrong, I love my new life too. I love my beautiful boy (about to turn TWO, ohmygosh!) and I love that I’m able to be home with him every day. But being a full-time parent is emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausting. You can start to feel so disconnected from the adult you were before you were that full-time parent, no matter how much you love caring for your little one. As I’ve struggled with this transition at times, I’ve realized how important it is to take the time for myself, to find outlets and hobbies and activities I can do that are simple but let me remember who I am as an individual and that give me a chance to think, plan, reflect, and, well, write like I used to love to do.
So here we go! Yes, I’m writing about trips that happened a long time ago. No, I don’t remember everything. But like my friend Kristen has said about her own travels, sometimes it’s nice to look back and have some space and time to figure out what exactly your takeaways were after your big experiences. What has stuck with me over the past few years? What would I still recommend and what would I change? What parts of that trip became a deeper part of me? Because that’s the thing about travel – everywhere you go gets buried under your skin a little bit. That’s the best part, along with the pictures and stories and new foods you’ve tried and misadventures you laugh about later.
Let me begin by stating the obvious: it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Like… years? Whoops. A lot has happened since then – Jeremy and I bought a house and began an endless stream of DIY projects and remodels, I taught high school English for a couple more years, and we are now about to have our first baby. I’ve decided to stay at home with my little one this year, and before baby comes, I wanted to try to catch up on a little blogging. I still hope to post here more regularly someday, whether that be about our home, our travels, or our family.
So in today’s long and detailed travel-focused post, I’ll be looking back on a trip that was truly a bucket list experience for me. In August of 2016, my friend and fellow English department member, Heathyr, told me that she was interested in arranging a trip abroad with some of our students. This was something that I had always desperately wanted to do, but I’d never really looked into myself. Heathyr kindly asked me to join her as a trip leader and chaperone (technically, she was the official leader, but I helped!). She had already selected a tour from the educational travel company EF (Education First) – a nine-day journey around England and Scotland. As a true anglophile, I thought it sounded great – and, since we were both young teachers and this would be our first experience taking students abroad, it would be more manageable to travel to a familiar English-speaking country that we would explore at length than to do too much globe-trotting or fast-paced touring.
Fair warning, this post is long. But if you’re an educator thinking about traveling abroad with students, with EF or with another organization, I thought it might be helpful to do an in-depth review of our experience, from the initial organization to the last flight home. So let’s get started at the beginning!
Being a teacher means that during the summer months, if you aren’t working a part-time job (and let’s be honest, why would you?), the days can feel a little long and lonely, especially if you’re young and have no children to take care of, like me. To combat this summer loneliness with a little social interaction, my wonderful and dear friend Melanie and I planned to spend a day together working on DIY projects – she dubbed it “crafternoon.” We both poured over projects on Pinterest, and then we made a trip to Hobby Lobby and spent the day crafting.
Being creative and spending time with friends? It’s good for the soul.
Melanie used glittery cardstock and a blank canvas to make an art piece for her niece’s sixth birthday. I wanted to make a wreath for our front door. Since we live in an apartment, personalizing our space is always a challenge, and Jeremy and I are forever dreaming of the DIY projects we’ll do in our home someday. (First step? Modernizing a bathroom to create a spa-like retreat. Again, someday.) For now, we’re stuck with small projects, and making a wreath seemed like a simple way to brighten up our home for the summer season. I wanted to include a monogram letter and make a wreath that was springy, summery, and generally warm and inviting. There are literally a gazillion beautifully crafted wreaths on Etsy (in my opinion, these were the best and gave me great inspiration), and after looking at several examples, I gave it a try. And I have to say – I’m really happy with the results!
Jeremy really loves granola bars, and sometimes he even eats them as part of his lunch. Full of savory-sweet morsels, nuts, oats, and a little something sweet,t what’s not to love, right? Well, recently we’ve both become more aware about how much sugar is in the average American diet, and as we started reading labels, the sugar counts on the store-bought granola bars that we often considered to be “healthy” snack choices were rather surprising. Looking for an alternative, we began to hunt around for a great homemade granola bar recipe, and Jeremy found one on the lovely blog The Minimalist Baker. (We also bought their e-cookbook, which has yummy meal plans and plenty of fun recipes to break the monotony in the kitchen.) Their Five-Ingredient Granola Bar recipe was just what we were looking for!
Continuing in chronological order, my first travel post will be centered on our Hawaiian honeymoon. After my family visited Maui when I was sixteen, I knew that I wanted to come back to Hawaii as soon as possible. Truly, is there anywhere on earth more beautiful? I recently told Jeremy that when I die, if I’m lucky enough to go to Heaven, it will look like Hawaii. Sure, maybe I want to visit other landscapes and places (I would miss bustling American cities and quaint European villages), but Hawaii really is heaven on earth. The weather is always beautiful, and the scenery is just so lush.
When we began planning our honeymoon, we knew a couple of things – first, Hawaii isn’t cheap. Second, we didn’t want to spend a lot of money. We got married right out of college, and while we had some savings to put toward the trip, it certainly wasn’t going to be a deeply luxurious affair. We planned carefully and explored many options, and in the end, we put together a quick but fabulous trip. We didn’t skimp, but we didn’t splurge too much either. We planned a wide variety of activities that kept us busy, but we made time to read and sip a couple of poolside cocktails, too. All in all, it was an ideal honeymoon. A year and a half (wow!) later, here’s my recap:
The purpose of this blog is to document my life, so I suppose it makes sense to begin by documenting the biggest day of my life thus far. Our wedding was on a perfect, late-summer day and we were blessed to share this day with so many of our beloved family and friends. Even though our days as true ‘newlyweds’ are probably numbered, I still find myself thinking about our wedding often – what a happy day it was.
We were married at my husband’s family’s church – Christ Church, in Overland Park, KS – and celebrated with a reception at the Lenexa Conference Center (which has a very nondescript name but is a beautiful event space, both rustic and modern, in a refurbished barn). Our wedding was photographed by Steven Michael Photo, and we will always treasure the beautiful images that day.