Country #101 - Japan Day 3

The Tokyo Drizzle

Well, it was quite the first day of the trip! We got a relatively early start to the day and, after having spent plenty of time researching the metro and trains last night, I was ready to start the day and take on Tokyo’s transit. Our hotel was just a short walk from the nearest metro station. After finding the correct entrance we ran into a bit of an issue (the machines don’t take foreign cards) but it was actually pretty entertaining because a little peephole opened up and an actual person handed me my card back. It was pretty cool, honestly! We found an ATM, bought a 1-day card that covers all of the trains in the city, and were on our way. Now that we had everything figured out the transit was a breeze for the rest of the day!

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Our first stop of the day was the Asuka neighborhood which is home to the Sensō-ji Temple and other historic and significant buildings. It was a great first stop as it was about as traditional of a Japanese sight as we would see all day. It was so interesting to see my first Buddhist temple (of many to come) and to begin to learn about the different practices. I also really enjoyed walking around the Asuka area and looking in the cool little stalls. Our next stop was to grab a quick bite to eat. We headed to Ichiran Asakusa which served ramen and other small dishes. You ordered out of a vending machine (which was super cool) and then received a ticket. The food was then brought to the table! We shared one large bowl with a few sides. I have to say, for my first real ramen, it was pretty tasty!

The next area that we visited was Ueno Onshi Park. Unfortunately, by this time, it had started to rain, and our supposedly beautiful walk through the park was quite wet and dreary. But I could see that it was a very nice park when the weather is nice! After wandering around Uneo Oshi Park, we took the metro to our next destination, Akihabara, where Edward really wanted to make a stop. The area is basically one huge shopping area for all things associated with anime, manga, and video games. He wanted to buy his friends a few small presents, and I also enjoyed taking in the overstimulation of the area. It was crazy but really cool, too! We went to a few different stores and the number of figurines of different characters was truly amazing. They had everything!

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After Uneo Oshi Park and Akihabara we realized two things: that we needed to get out of the rain, and that I needed a new rain jacket. I got a new coat for this trip but realized once it started to pour that the hood basically did not work at all. So we hit two birds with one stone and made our way to the Ginza area, which is basically the High Street of Tokyo. We decided to visit Uniqlo in Ginza as it is home to their flagship store, which is actually one of the ten largest flagship stores of any brand in the world. And I could definitely tell! Once inside it was ten floors of clothes. And it was quite a cool store as well! I found an inexpensive, lightweight jacket, and we also bought a few inexpensive t-shirts. They had Shanghai Disney t-shirts which I figured would be much better to buy inexpensively now than to actually buy at Disney. So it was quite the productive little stop! And by the time we left the rain had let up as well. It was a win-win!

Our next stop was just a short walk down the road to the Kabukiza Theater. I’ve heard the story from my grandmother many times of her visit to the Kabukiza Theater over 30 years ago, so it was cool to see it for myself! We bought a ticket to a short 30-minute act of the play that was ongoing. I really appreciated the ticket setup where you can just see a short snippet to get a glimpse of the theater and the shows. It was a traditional Japanese show (completely in Japanese) but we were able to follow along with the English pamphlet. After the show, we visited the Tsukji Market which is famous for its fish market, though it was mostly closed up by mid-day when we visited.

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From the market, we headed to the metro to make our way across town to Chidorigafuchi Park to attempt to see the cherry blossoms. We were, unfortunately, quite disappointed as they were not yet in bloom. We must have missed them by just a few days as it is technically the beginning of the season. We then tried to visit the National Garden which unfortunately was closed earlier than it had listed online. After two failed stops our next stop was thankfully just barely still open. The guard was very nice and let us and another few tourists in right before he closed the gate to visit Meiji Jingu Shrine! It was quite an eerie walk up the long pathway to the shrine as the sun was going down and it was starting to rain again, but it was cool all the same. The shrine itself was very interesting to see and was a highlight of the day. I’m very thankful to the guard for allowing us to visit! It was a rushed visit but we were able to see the entirety of the shrine and take pictures as well.

While our walk up to the shrine had been eerie, our walk back out was downright creepy. There were no other people in sight, it was getting quite dark, and, all of the sudden, sirens started to blare in the distance. Given our current location in the world I could think of two things: either there was an earthquake or North Korea had done something. But after searching online for any explanation we still have no idea what that was about. Anyways, creepy sirens aside, we then made our way back to the metro to visit Takeshita Street, a pedestrian street lined with cute stores and unique foods. We were determined to try two different delicacies: the giant rainbow cotton candy and the creme brulee crepe!

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The giant cotton candy was our first stop at a store called Totti Candy Factory. It was truly giant! It was so crazy and very fun to attempt to eat. We were both quite the mess afterwards! We then stopped in a few adorable shops (where I bought some cute socks and a little Monsters Inc. outfit for one of my dogs… I am such a sucker for cute things) and then found the crepe shop that serves creme brulee crepes! Unfortunately, we were almost out of cash for the day so we decided to just split one. It was so good I could have eaten many by myself - I definitely recommend them! We had them at a place called Com Crepe Sibuya.

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By this point in the day we were both struggling to even walk. My feet were killing me and we still had plans to go to the Samurai Museum. I somehow convinced Edward that our feet (and sanity) were more important to maintain since we still had a whole week ahead of us, so we then made our way to the Shibuya Crossing Intersection instead. It was so cool! I had, of course, seen the crossing before, but I couldn’t believe how crazy it actually was, especially with the unfortunate weather bearing down. There were people, and cars, everywhere, and the district itself was very cool and filled with shopping and tons of light up signage. Edward had picked out a spot for dinner but we unfortunately could not find it anywhere until we finally found a sign saying it had closed. We were now reaching peak exhaustion and just wandered into the restaurant next door. We had been searching for somewhere serving Japanese food but somehow ended up in an Italian restaurant (the signage outside was very deceiving). I offered to leave if Edward wanted to find another spot, but he was so tired he had no desire to try and find somewhere else. So, we had Italian food. It was okay but the best part was definitely just being able to get off of our feet.

After quite the busy day in Tokyo we then took one final metro ride back to our hotel. We are exhausted and have to wake up relatively early to fly to South Korea in the morning. It was definitely a short visit to Japan, and there is so much more that I want to see in the future, but the good news is that we both are seriously planning on being back for the Olympics in 2020. So, despite the lingering rain all day, thanks to Tokyo for a great day: we can’t wait to be back soon!

101 countries down, 94 to go

Read about my second day in Japan here.

Country #101 - Japan Day 2

The Actual Trip to Japan

Today I boarded yet another direct flight from the United States to Tokyo, and this time I plan to stay for a bit! It is my brother, Edward’s, spring break from university so he is going to be joining me for the first ten days of this trip in Japan, South Korea, and China. After he leaves I will have about five more weeks on my own where I will be travelling to every country in Asia. I’m so excited for this trip as I have said since the very beginning that the region of the world that I’m most excited for is Asia as I have never been anywhere like it before. I’m so glad that it is finally here!

Edward flew in from Nashville last night and we had a hectic evening of packing and repacking. A six week trip in two tiny carry-on bags will be no easy feat! This morning was very busy as well with lots still left for me to do before our 11am flight. We were definitely running late but ended up having enough time once we got to the airport. We flew on American Airlines family passes and when we checked in the nice man at the counter actually remembered working with our grandmother who retired over twenty years ago. I definitely have a pretty unique last name so I guess that is how he remembered, but it was still a super cool coincidence.

We ended up getting great seats in economy for the long flight. We had the first row and there was no one next to Edward and I was seated in the aisle. It was more than enough room for the 13 hours! We each watched quite a few movies and slept for a bit as well. The flight went by relatively quickly (well, after about four movies I guess) and before I knew it I was back in the same airport I had to rush through only two weeks ago. But this time I was here to stay!

I had been telling Edward about how easy immigration had been on my last trip when we ran into a giant mess of a line. It was literally the antithesis of the line I had to wait in last time. Instead of being non-existent it was massive and very unorganized! It took us over an hour (the beginning of which was very uncomfortable as people were pushing and shoving) to finally make it into Japan. Once we did we had our next challenge at hand: figuring out the trains.

Here’s a little tip - if you are visiting Japan for the first time, be prepared to be very, very confused by the rail system. There are like three different companies that run rail and metro lines in the city and it was very confusing to understand at first. I might give it the honor of being the least intuitive public transit that I have ever used, even. And I have used quite a lot of it. Once we got the hang of it it was very easy but in the beginning, it was just so overwhelming.

We wanted to take the slower, cheaper train into the city but it was very difficult to tell which one that was. We just barely missed the first train (as we weren’t sure it was ours and didn’t want to hop on the wrong train) so we had to wait about an hour for the next one. Which I spent trying to figure out the trains so at least it wasn’t an hour wasted. The train ride in was about another hour which we both spent trying, and failing, to keep from nodding off. I eventually just let Edward sleep until we arrived at Tokyo station.

Things did not get any less confusing upon our arrival into the city. After attempting to figure out the metro, thinking we had it figured out, and then not being able to find a place to buy tickets, we eventually gave up and headed above ground to take an Uber to our hotel. At this point , our ineptitude largely had more to do with our extreme sleep deprivation than anything else, and we eventually realized that we just needed to get to our hotel and crash as soon as possible.

The unfortunate thing about Uber in Japan is that, at least right now, only premium services are available. Which meant our five minute Uber was about $15. So, until Uber becomes more mainstream, I highly recommend using it only in unique cases (like sleep deprivation). We arrived at our hotel, a tiny spot in the heart of the city, and fell asleep not long after. It was a cramped room but we definitely could not have cared less after such a long day. The day ended on a pretty funny note, though, as it was Edward’s first time seeing one of the crazy Japanese style automatic toilets and he had no idea how to use it. He couldn’t get it to stop flushing and the whole ordeal was pretty entertaining!

While it was a bit of a stressful beginning to out time in Japan I’m willing to chalk most of it up to our tiredness. I’m so excited to be in Japan and really looking forward to what is to come when we explore tomorrow!

101 countries down, 94 to go

Read about my first day in Japan here.

Country #101 - Japan Day 1

The Crazy Round Trip Flight

I’ve reached a point in my travels where, I guess thankfully, I have started to run out of easy countries to visit. But this has also become a bit of a hassle. According to the rules set in place by Guinness, every two weeks I must travel to another country. I’ve hit a time in my trip where I need a little more time to plan things out and raise money, and I unfortunately no longer have any countries that I can easily visit to reset the clock. So today I went to Japan, passed through immigration, found witnesses, had my picture taken, and then got right back on a direct flight home. This sounds absolutely insane; trust me, I am aware. But I really have no other options. Flying to Japan on a cheap round trip same day flight allows me to buy myself two more weeks of planning for my next (very long) trip, and will definitely be worth it in the long run. I also had to make this decision once my original plans fell through. I was supposed to be visiting Venezuela right now but ran into problems securing my visa. As a result I had not choice but to make a last minute visit to Japan.

This was definitely the easiest trip to pack for so far! With just my backpack in tow I headed to DFW (Dallas Fort Worth) Airport and made my way to my gate. I enjoyed checking out the lounge in the international terminal (terminal D) for the first time before my flight. I then boarded and found my place in premium economy. I flew on an American Airlines family pass so I was lucky enough to be seated in a premium economy seat. This was the first time I have ever had premium economy so it was quite interesting to see all of the differences. I really did enjoy it overall but it has its limitations as well.

I had a second row window seat and spent most of the outgoing flight trying to work on my blog and to continue to catch up on things from my last long trip. I watched a few movies as well, and really enjoyed the food in premium economy. It was much more similar to that of business and included free drinks as well. The flight actually went by quite quickly! I tried to use the international in flight wifi but it worked so poorly that I requested (and was granted) a refund. I have found wifi to usually work pretty well on American domestic flights to I thought it was worth a shot! I was still able to get plenty done without it.

When I landed in Japan (approximately 13 hours later) it was now in the wee hours of the morning back home. I called my brother, who was somehow still awake, and talked to him on the very long walk from the plane to immigration. I was so excited to be in Japan, even if just for a few hours, as it is where I will be going on my next actual trip and my brother will be joining then as well! After the very long walk I went through immigration very quickly (they had cool machines that I had never seen before that would scan your fingers and take your picture) and then I headed out to try and find some witnesses to prove that I had visited.

Luckily, they found me! They were two very kind young Japanese men who were actually doing surveys of foreign tourists. I unfortunately was no help to them (they were specifically looking for Europeans) but they were very helpful in being my witnesses. I ran into them a bit later (after I checked in for my flight back and walked around the departures hall for a bit) and had one of them take my picture. They were so very kind and interested in my trip, and I really enjoyed meeting them!

After about an hour outside of the airside area I then went back through immigration and wandered through the duty free shops. I loved all of the cute Japanese products and can already tell that it is going to be so hard to restrain myself from buying tons of souvenirs when I’m back in two weeks. My one purchase on this short trip seemed pretty appropriate, though. A Tokyo 2020 shirt! I am a huge fan of the Olympics and since the winter games are on right now it only seemed fitting. I also am really hoping to visit Japan again in 2020 to go to the Olympics so now I’m prepared!

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After shopping around I then made the long walk back towards my gate. I stopped in a shop that had some crazy Japanese flavored Kit Kats (like green tea!) that I will definitely have to try when I’m back in a few weeks. When I got to my gate I continued to stand and walk around to help keep the blood flowing in my legs. I wanted to help myself out as much as possible before getting on another incredibly long flight! Eventually, it was time to board and I received another premium economy seat. This time I was in the front row of the section, which actually makes a huge difference! The front row has leg rests that actually extend from the chair itself and are super comfortable. I was able to sleep for about six hours and watched a few more movies.

I landed back in Dallas only a little over twenty-four hours after leaving. This was, without a doubt, one of the most bizarre days of my travels so far. But thanks to some fun rules that I have to follow it had to be done. I’m just glad that I had a fun time doing it, and that I got a glimpse into how great Japan will be in two weeks. I’m happy to now have a little time to plan before setting out again, and am very excited for my next trip to come. Six weeks in Asia, here I come!

101 countries down, 94 to go

Country #100 - Sweden

The 100th Country!!!!!

I’m excited to be back in Sweden for many reasons, but the most important is that I have finally hit 100 countries!!!! It has been a crazy past eight months and it is honestly hard to believe that I have made it this far, but here we are! I’m now officially been to 100 countries and am more than halfway to visiting them all. It is an exciting milestone for sure, and I can’t wait to keep going!

Sweden seemed like an appropriate country to be number 100 for a few reasons First and most importantly it fit that way on my schedule. But for more sentimental reasons it was a perfect fit. Sweden is actually the first country that I ever visited on my own. Almost two years exactly to the day I flew from London to Gothenburg, spent a day in Gothenburg, and then flew to Stockholm for a few days before heading to Finland. It was an amazing experience and I like to think it helped to spark all of this!

I only had a few hours to enjoy Stockholm this morning. I wish I had more time but it’s unfortunately a Monday so most things would have been closed if I stayed an extra day, and tomorrow I would have to deal with flight connections instead of a direct flight to the US so I made the difficult choice of only one day in Stockholm.

I started my day by getting a great night of sleep and then having a nice breakfast at Hotel Rival. Afterwards I walked just down the street from the hotel to Monteliusvägen, which offers an amazing view out over the entirety of Stockholm. It is a great path to walk along and totally worth it just for the amazing views! I then took the T just two stops to Galma Stan (the Old Town). Gamla Stan is fantastic - it is basically a tiny island in the middle of Stockholm that is home to countless tiny shops and restaurants.

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I had about an hour to spare and I spent it walking around Galma Stan. I really enjoyed just walking along the streets and going to the stores, and also got a hot chocolate from a great spot called Kaffekoppen. I got mine to go but I recommend sitting down as it is a cool place inside. To finish up my visit to Galma Stan I headed in a store that I realized was the store that I bought my current hat in last time I was in Stockholm: it was quite the coincidence!

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I decided to buy myself a new hat since this one has been through the ringer for the past two years, and also to help celebrate country number 100! The brand is Sätila and it’s pretty cool as it is a Swedish brand that has been around since 1896. I also really love that they include a tiny text on the inside of the hat that tells you who actually knitted it. I also bought a cute Swedish ram stuffed animal (yes, it’s for me..) to commemorate my 100th country. I’ve found over my two trips here that Stockholm is basically an endless money pit. I don’t know what it is, maybe all of the cute stores, but money seems to go much quicker in Stockholm than most places I’ve been!

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After my walk around Galma Stan I then headed back to Mariatorget where I stopped in the Sandqvist store. I bought my first Sandqvist backpack two years ago at this store and still absolutely love it. I bought another to use on my trip and it has been great for everything that I have needed. I love the Swedish brand and couldn’t leave without stopping by and looking around. I bought a tiny pouch that matches my backpack that I’m going to use to store my extra foreign money keepsakes in.

I then made my way back to Rival Hotel to grab my bags and then took the T back to the central station. I unfortunately missed the first train to the airport by just a few seconds (I would have made it if the signs in the station had been accurate - they listed that it was running seven minutes late but it definitely was not). The next train left fifteen minutes later. I wasn’t late to the airport but I definitely wasn’t early. The line for security was very short but then the line for passport control was over thirty minutes long. It was not ideal but I eventually made it through! I was totally fine, though, because my flight ended up boarding and departing about thirty minutes late.

I’m flying straight from Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN) to LAX. It’s a long flight but at only around $180 is quite the bargain, as all my transatlantic flights with Norwegian tend to be. I’ll land around 4pm, and then take a flight from LAX to Dallas. Good news is I have a whole row to myself on the ten-hour flight! When I get back I’ll spend the next few weeks in Dallas really working to make the rest of my trip happen. I’ve gotten it all logistically planned, but I still have to get the financial situation figured out. I know that it’s possible, but the next few weeks will be all about making it a reality! After my time in the US I plan on starting the Asian leg of my trip. Asia is the region that I have been most looking forward to since starting my trip, and I am so excited for it!

This past month of travel has been so crazy. It’s been stressful but it has also been fantastic. I have met amazing people all along the way; whether it be on a train in Hungary, the airport in Guinea-Bissau, or a hotel in Algeria, I have really enjoyed getting to meet so many people. I have really enjoyed these countries as well. I won’t miss the indoor smoking in the Balkans but I will miss learning about such a unique region. I’ve officially finished up with Europe so I am of course going to miss it, but I know I will be back someday so it is thankfully not too difficult to say goodbye for now. I also began my time in Africa, and along with doing so my level of worry for that part of my trip has decreased as I have only had incredible experiences so far. It’s been an amazing month, but I’m excited to go home for a bit and take a nice, long nap!

100 countries down, 95 to go.

For more information on Sweden click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Rival Hotel click here.

Country #99 - Armenia

The Sprint Through Yerevan

Today I overslept. It was kind of on purpose but also not really. I was planning on sleeping for four hours, which would have been until 10:30am given my late arrival last night. But I slept about an hour more, which left me with only an hour to see the city when all was said and done. It was unfortunate, because I really wanted to see more of Yerevan, but also necessary because I had no sleep and hadn’t showered in two days. I can’t thank Tufenkian Heritage Hotels for providing such a great room for getting caught up on some much-needed sleep! It was, apparently, a very comfortable bed that was quite the struggle to get up from.

Once I did finally get up there was lots of music that I could hear right outside of my window. It turns out that Tufenkian Heritage Hotels was located right next door to Vernissage, a big open-air market set up. It was a nice first stop on what would be a whirlwind tour of the city. I stopped by the front desk to drop off my luggage where I enjoyed talking with the staff for a bit. They were great! One of the best parts about Tufenkian Heritage Hotels was that I was in a really great location in the Yerevan that would allow me to see as much as possible in about an hour.

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From Vernissage I walked to Republic Square. It’s one of the main areas of the city and when it isn’t freezing outside is home to a really cool fountain show! From what I read it sounded like a smaller version of the fountains in Dubai, so I’m sad to have missed it. I took lots of pictures in Republic Square before heading to my next destination: Charles Aznavour Square. It was another nice square though not as large but was also very busy.

From there I headed to Freedom Square, which is in front of the Opera House and has large statues out front. At this point, I was almost up on time and had to head back to the hotel. I walked back along Northern Avenue which was filled with people and seemed to be the main shopping street. I also stopped to read a bit about the Armenian Genocide. My biggest regret in Yerevan was not having enough time to visit the Armenian Genocide Museum and memorial area. It was interesting to learn a little just by what I was able to read in town, and I definitely recommend that you read more about it on your own as I did. I had heard of it before but had no idea just how large in size or scope that it was.

When I arrived back at the hotel I had a few minutes to spare and walked back through the Vernissage market before calling a taxi and heading back to the airport. I encountered a lot of people who spoke English well but my taxi driver didn’t even understand airport so I think that was a first for me. I had to show him on my phone after my failed attempts to act out an airplane taking off.

I do wish that I had had more time in Armenia, but once again it all came down do flight scheduling and timing. I would love to spend more time exploring the country in the future as well as a few others in the region that I had to rush through, so hopefully, at some point, I can make it back!

The airport had a really nice lounge where I ate lunch and was able to look out and see my gate so I knew exactly when to board. My flight was to Kiev, Ukraine, and from there I would have a two-hour layover before flying to Stockholm, Sweden. I slept on the first flight, ate chicken in a lounge in Kiev for dinner, and then worked on blog posts on the second flight. The second flight thankfully didn’t feel too long, and before I knew it I was landing in Stockholm. I took the Arlanda Express train from the airport to the city, and then took the metro (called the T) from Stockholm Central Station to my hotel, Rival Hotel.

Rival Hotel is in a great area called Mariatorget. I was there in about five minutes by metro, and then a two-minute walk from the metro station. My room was absolutely fantastic! It had a great balcony (though it was a bit too cold to enjoy given that it was snowing) and was all around just so unique while being luxurious as well. I really liked the cool light fixture that gave the room a lot of character. There was also a DVD and CD collection in the room to enjoy, a sound system that worked throughout the room and the bathroom, and an amazing shower and tub. Thank you so much to Rival Hotel for sponsoring this night of my trip. I look forward to getting a great night sleep before having a few hours to explore Stockholm tomorrow!

99 countries down, 96 to go.

For more information on Armenia click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Tufenkian Heritage Hotels click here.

To learn more about Rival Hotel click here.