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Posts tagged ‘food’

morning with the monkeys

Kathmandu has a peculiar time zone – coming from Manila, D had to set his watch back two hours and fifteen minutes. It wasn’t enough to cause major jet lag, but the time difference did work in D’s favor when he set his alarm to go off before dawn his second full day in Nepal. After wandering around the heart of the city the previous evening, D wanted to venture farther afield – and see some of the Kathmandu Valley’s seven UNESCO world heritage cultural sites during daylight hours – before his work meetings commenced.

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Kathmandu after dark

Certain countries possess an undeniable mystique, holding sway over one’s imagination long before one has the opportunity to visit. For D, Nepal was high on this list, though his fascination had more to do with the country’s landscape than its reputed spirituality (as one travel guide puts it, “Nepal is a one-stop spiritual destination: every activity here revolves around finding yourself, seeking your roots…”). Ever since D got into mountain climbing during his Peace Corps days in Ecuador – and especially after reading a handful of mountaineering books – he had longed to see the Himalayas.

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strangers in a strange land

Since returning from Japan, we have visited Vietnam and Laos, and D has also traveled to Nepal for work. Those trips did nothing to dispel a notion that began forming in our minds as we made our way from Kyoto to the Japanese Alps and back, and which has solidified with our subsequent travels. Part of Japan’s mystique, and the reason we think Western travelers find the country at once alluring and bewildering, is that it feels uniquely foreign in a way that other foreign countries do not.

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between two decades

We didn’t quite make it to midnight, seeing off the last few hours of the decade without fanfare at a transit hotel outside Noi Bai Airport. We did get an early start to 2020, however, rising before the sun for our return flight to Manila after splitting the last dozen days between Vietnam and Laos.

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tingling tastebuds

Sampling various cuisines is one of our favorite aspects of traveling, though at times the local fare can be disappointing. Given the popularity of sushi, teppanyaki, and udon, we were certain this would not be the case during our recent visit to Japan. In fact, we were practically salivating at the culinary prospects that awaited us.

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castle fever

Unexpectedly, the turning point of our journey around Japan – when the trip ceased being a hellish nightmare of parenting frustration and actually became enjoyable – came on a rainy day in the unassuming city of Matsumoto, located in the foothills of the Japanese Alps.

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the sacred deer of Nara

Much as we loved Kyoto, after a couple of days of jam-packed sightseeing, it was time for a change of scenery. The crowds might have been less oppressive had we planned our stay midweek. Instead, as luck would have it, our visit to Kyoto fell on the first pleasant weekend after a massive typhoon had rocked the country. After two days of battling the crowds and trying to squeeze in a representative number of sights, we realized we needed to take the intensity down a couple of notches. Instead of spending a third day shuttling between temples in Kyoto, we headed south for a day trip to Nara.

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city of emperors

Kyoto, with its overabundance of temples and shrines, fantastic food scene, and a wide array of small artisan shops filled with intricate handcrafted wares, is widely considered Japan’s most tourist-friendly city. Our first 24 hours in Japan felt more stressful than relaxing. It wasn’t until we checked into our AirBnB in Kyoto, took a stroll around our neighborhood, and immediately stumbled on a covered arcade lined with cute shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that we felt like our vacation had truly commenced.

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fools in the rain

The upside of hitting rock bottom at the outset is the knowledge that there is nowhere to go but up. After our many misadventures on arrival in Japan, we hoped that a new day would help us turn the page and make the most of our vacation.

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welcome to Japan

Japan – the land of chatty appliances and heated toilet seats; gas station sushi, seaweed snacks, and breakfast udon bowls; tiny hotel rooms and indoor slippers; inscrutable signs with dubious English and incomprehensible (to us) kana and kanji characters – has long been on our travel bucket list. In fact, before D landed an eleventh hour assignment that forced us into a three-month separation, we had planned to visit Japan during our transfer from Washington to Manila. It was only fitting that we’d make the land of the rising sun the first international destination during our first Asia tour.

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