Posted on July 1st, 2012 at 9:37 PM by admin

Shinkansen (train)

Shinkansen! That’s what the Japanese call their fast trains. They also have special names denoting how fast they go. The fastest”bullet train” is called nazomi but we took a slower one for our trip to Hiroshima. From Toyota it took about 2.5 hours because the slower train’s max speed was “only” around 240 km/hr and made several stops in the smaller cities. I was pretty happy about this down time as I was finally able to update this blog for you! After arriving we went on a hunt for the city’s specialty–Okonomiyaki. It took a while to find it though because I asked three different people at the hotel where to find Okonomiyoki. Note to self (and future tourists): one vowel wrong and you have made yourself completely incomprehensible! Finally someone realized what I was trying to say and we got a map and were on our way. That was not the end of our hunt though. It was dificult to figure out just which building this restaurant was in and since the name was not written in English characters I had to match up the Kanji to make sure we were walking in the right restaurant.


Okonomiyaki for those of you who don’t know is the Japanese version of pizza. It is made of rice tortillas with a variety of  topings along with noodles if you like and then topped with a Japanese sauce. They are cooked in the kitchen but then served on a stove top in the middle of the table which is at 120 degrees during the entire meal. Might I also add that the middle of the table starts about 4 inches from the end. No elbows in this table while eating!!! Luckily the menu at Goemon was in English but the servers had difficulty understanding us to say the least. We ordered two Okonomiyaki and a beer each to start for four of us. They were so delicious that we attempted to order two more but ended up receiving four. We tried our best to finish them and felt terrible wasting what we couldn’t finish since that is clearly against their culture to do so, but we just couldn’t quite eat the last one! Oh well!

Ringing the bell for the Hiroshima victims


The next day we set out for a tour of Hiroshima including the Museum which details the Atomic bombing that devistated this city at the end of World War II. It was an emotional tour very much reminding me of the tours I had done in the past at concentration camps. We even got to here the story of a “Hibakusa” (survivor) of the A-bombing which was pretty amazing and miraculous. 140,000 people died within 6 months of the bombing. I know it’s history at this point but I was less than proud to be an American on this day. So many innocent people died and so many more were permanently damaged by the radiation. The suffering they must have experienced due to the hate waves is unimaginable to me. I hope that no country ever drops one of these bombs again. I believe humans are capable of less destructive solutions to their conflicts. Let’s hope I’m right!

Hiroshima memorial

Before the A-Bomb...

...and the only remains after the A-Bomb.

To pull us out of our Hiroshima History depression we got a boxed lunch on the box and promptly headed to a happy place –the island of Miyajima. Miyajima was absolutely beautiful. There is a gate there that actually lies in the ocean water. The island also is very picturesque with many temples and shrines scattered throughout nature. We were also able to find a shot glass and a Sake set with Miyajima written in Japanese. There was also had the biggest, freshest and most delicious grilled oysters I’ve ever had in my life and the dark Karin beer we had along side the oysters was pretty darn good too. We also got to try maple shaped Japanese cakes filled with many different flavors of paste.

On the way to Miyajima

Sake barrels!

The friendly deer of Miyajima

Naomi and I at the top of the Daishon Temple

Gate in the ocean on Miyajima. Too bad it was low tide!

Beautiful Pagoda on Miyajima

The streets of Miyajima

That night we were craving Udon noodles and went to a place recommended by our guide although she was uncertain they had any menus in English. Fortunately the did have English menus and we each got the Udon soup of our liking. Delicious. Afterwards we explored the city a bit to see the castle (Japanese temple style of course) that was lit up. Our cameras didn’t do this view justice but we took some pictures anyways and then headed back to the hotel for a drink. We first tried to go to the top of our hotel (the 33rd floor) but never made it past the menu which displayed alcohols ranging from about $50 a bottle to around $4000. We ended up in the 1st floor restaurant sipping some sweet and more reasonably priced Sake to end the night. What a great day it was!

Our last time in Hiroshima was spent in the Calbee factory where the make Japan’s most popular snacks – shrimp crackers. We were told that “Cal” stands for calcium and “bee” stands for vitamin B1, but most of us weren’t convinced that the snacks were really healthy. Although the do back the crackers and then spray the fat on rather than deep frying them so we will give them SOME credit. This was definitely an interesting tour as I had never seen a food production facility in person. Many of the conveyor belt systems were, however, familiar to me from my family’s business. The best part of this tour was tasting the fresh snacks right as they came off the line. Once bagged I was less impressed by them though. The company’s success was remarkable. They started from nothing a few years after the bombing and now they are very successful just recently having entered the public stock exchange.

Posted on June 29th, 2012 at 2:04 AM by admin
The second stop of our Japan-in-10 days-trip was Toyota. What better place to see daily life in a smaller city than the automobile capital of Japan. On our way to Toyota we stopped at a beautiful hotel to eat lunch. The lunch was delicious and the description of it was even better (see picture below). As soon as we arrived in Toyota we did a fairly extensive tour of the plant which was certainly cleaner and more efficient than the US plants I’ve seen. Afterwards we hit the Toyota museum as well. I was disappointed that they didn’t have a Celica (my car) but the Japanese were very appreciative when they heard that I own a Toyota Celica and a Suzuki motorcycle. During my short stay in Japan thus far I’ve noticed that the cost of living is very high but it is interesting to note that the Japanese cars here are still cheaper than the ones in the US. Hmmmm…

Some very entertaining grammar mistakes on the lunch menu...

We were admittedly all a little scared of what staying with a host family was going to be like but we were pleasantly surprised. Both my and Naomi’s host family were very friendly, funny and hospitable. They were friends with each other and members of an international group that enjoys doing international exchanges via home-stays in order to learn other languages. How perfect I thought!! There were two 30-year old daughters in my family and both of them had done exchanges in the US in their teenage years. My host mom and I exchanged words in at least 3 different languages albeit mostly greetings and expressions relating to food. She also liked to laugh especially at herself–a characteristic to which I am always drawn.


The next day we spent the entire day visiting schools again. It was interesting to see some subtle differences between Tokyo schools and Toyota schools but I was pretty schooled out well before the day was over. I also set a personal oolong tea drinking record as it was the only beverage we were offered all day. That night I went to Naomi’s host family’s house as we were to have a barbeque together that night. The first thing her mom offered me was oolong tea and I promptly refused with explanation. We hung out a while, playing some card games with Naomi’s 13 year-old host brother Yushi until the guests arrived. In the end there were many people who came to this party and we were of course a main attraction. Communication was labored at times but still possible and even enjoyable!

Naomi and her host mom

Me and my host mom

The next day our host families met again and we all went to a look out point of Toyota city together. Afterwards we grabbed lunch and headed to meet our group again. My host mom gave Naomi and I gift (even though she had already given me some neat Japanese coasters that morning) and we said our goodbyes. The two days that we were all somewhat dreading turned out to go by much too fast. I was very impressed with the Japanese culture and hope some day I will be able to be a host to them as they have been to me.

Saying good bye to our host families

 

Posted on June 27th, 2012 at 12:01 AM by admin
After an unfortunately long hiatus I have finally had the opportunity to travel again. This time I was lucky to be able to accompany my girlfriend on a business exchange to Japan. I long thought I would never make it to this distant island of a country but I am so glad the opportunity presented itself because I am really enjoying this beautiful and clean country as well as it’s polite and super friendly culture. And I’ll be honest–I don’t mind the sushi either!


Our first stop was the country’s capital–Tokyo. The evening we arrived was pretty much lost as most of us had hardly slept on the 13-hour flight over and the 13 hour time difference had our bodies thoroughly confused. I was so exhausted and dizzy upon arrival that I left my suitcase in the hotel lobby and had to have my girlfriend get it for me as I passed out around 8pm local time.


After a good night’s sleep we were slightly less exhausted and became very energized by the amazing hotel breakfast buffet. The hotel served the biggest selection I’ve ever seen including Japanese-, European- and American-style buffet all in one. We gorged ourselves with several plates of food and then headed to our program orientation. Afterwards we went on a city tour of Tokyo. Still tired we were glad to be hauled around from site to site on a bus and then after we had our own time to explore the various Shinto temples in Asakusa. Once night time hit we wandered the streets in search of a unique yet delicious dinners. Many places looked empty but then we saw a group of Japanese people headed to a very tall building called “Cheers!” It was a building that had a different cuisine on every floor. The food of each floor was highlighted at the bottom of the building and we promptly decided to head to the floor with Korean food. They had no English menu so we pointed to what we recognized and/or what looked edible. Alongside some beers of unknown brand we thoroughly enjoyed the Korean food and authentic atmosphere.

Wine rack at the breakfast buffet at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel

On day 2 I visited an elementary school and my girlfriend visited a combo junior high-high school. I observed several lessons in Japanese ranging from writing Kanji to table manners. I was even able to teach an ESL lesson myself to a group of 5th and a group of 6th graders. Although the Japanese are typically not at the level of many countries in Europe, I was impressed with how much English they knew already at such a young age. This group of children was the most enthusiastic group of learners I’ve ever seen, especially when it  came to learning English. Culturally, it was interesting to note that the classrooms were much louder than is typical in the US but they weren’t misbehaving. Also the students carried out nearly all of their routines without any guidance from the teacher. They even solved disputes on their own with the use of “paper, rock scissors.” Perhaps most interesting was their sense of ownership of their community’s school. By this I am referring to the fact that there is no need in Japan for school janitors as the kids–yes the kids–clean the schools themselves. Wow, wow and wow! We Americans could certainly learn a thing or two from this culture.

On the third day we were finally starting to overcome the jetlag, but were still waking up about 4:30 in the morning each day. My girlfriend and I decided we would take advantage of this situation and head to the biggest fish market in the world which opens early in the morning. Unfortunately we realized once we got there that they close every other Wednesday and unfortunately it was one of those Wednesdays. We soon forgot about our disappointment though since the day’s excursion was trying on kimonos. First we watched a Japanese woman show us how to put them on and then we watched them again as they put them on us. It is certainly a process that one must spend a lot of time learning and perfecting! I was surprised at how much I liked the kimono I tried on! They really were absolutely stunning. After our kimono experience we walked around town for a bit of shopping, had a tour of a museum of historic Tokyo from a very cute old Japanese man, and walked through a lovely park. For dinner we went to one of many Ramen noodle restaurants near our hotel where we had a unique (at least for an American) ordering experience. We ordered our dinners from a machine and simply handed the waiter the receipt that the machine printed for us. Talk about efficiency!

Pastry hotdog?!?!

 

Japanese Snacks!

Nightlife in Tokyo

It is now day 4 and we are sitting on a spacious train on our way to Toyota. There we will visit Toyota Motor Company and meet our host families where we will be for the next couple of days. Stay tuned!

Kimonos!!!

Posted on August 7th, 2011 at 8:01 PM by admin

Pond in the park

Between living in Austria and moving to Bowling Green I got to have a weekend away with a special person. I had never been to Boston so I was really looking forward to exploring this new city. Unfortunately my allergies had been acting up ever since I got home from Europe and they chose this weekend to turn into pink eye. The weekend therefore went a bit different than planned as I needed to go to a clinic to get medication for my eyes that were nearly swollen shut. BUT I have to say that there were still many good times had. The piers were beautiful and the lobster equally delicious. The park in the middle of Boston was also a very welcoming space with lots of greenery, flowers and a big pond in the middle that had a large section where the public could swim during the day. I went out shopping one day and bought two pairs of jeans. We ate at a wonderful Italian place and a great fish place and I got to meet Naomi’s friend Michelle and her daughter. Every place is better when you can share it with other people! Well Boston it was short lived but i’ll be back and I won’t be there to visit the local clinic again!  (I hope!)

Alone on the pier

Naomi and I on the pier 🙂

Posted on July 13th, 2011 at 8:14 PM by admin
The one day excursion to Quedlinburg and Thale was unfortunately our last and as our luck would have it, it rained AGAIN. Luckily not the whole day though. We had a nice morning and early afternoon in Quedlinburg touring the city and having a lazy lunch. That night we went to Thale and took a chairlift up to see the famous Rosstrappe (hoof print in English). The Rosstrappe itself was less than exciting to me but the view from that spot was pretty spectacular. We ate at a restaurant up top as well and of course we had to have another flaming liquor before returning back to the bus to listen US women’s soccer team kick some butt!!!
Cute couple in a cute lil town!
Sinking ground = crooked house!
New friends from the conference 😛

The view from Rosstrappe!!!

Posted on July 7th, 2011 at 4:46 PM by admin
After 2 years I was finally able to see my “German son” again. I call him that because he lived with me for a  year between 2008 and 2009 while taking part in the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange or CBYX Program. I had taken part in this program in Germany back in 2005- 2006 and wanted to be a part of providing that opportunity for someone else. Now back to the trip. The seminar in Leipzig afforded me the chance to visit Thomas in Koblenz, where he is currently living and studying. I was also excited about meeting his parents for the first time in person. We all spent an entire day together at the Bundesgarten (BUGA), which is a festival of flowers that is held in a different city each year in Germany. We saw so many beautiful flowers and arrangements. It was also a spectacularly sunny yet breezy day. His parents were very generous with me — I felt taken care of that day!

Just some of the flowers at BUGA Koblenz

Thomas and I together again at last 🙂

 

Amazing view of where the Rhein River meets the Mosel River

Posted on July 2nd, 2011 at 4:46 PM by admin
Our first official excursion of the conference was to Dresden and Meißen, Germany. I had been to Dresden before but this cold, rainy, windy summer day made the city seem foreign to me. We had a brief city tour for about as long as we all could take it. The wind rendered my “travel” umbrella broken and useless which led to me buying a new expensive cheap “travel” umbrella that may or may not make it through its next trip. Having said that we still saw some neat sites and had a lovely dinner including a flaming liquor!

This picture doesn't do this building in Dresden justice....

Meißen is a small town that I had never heard of before this trip. Unfortunately due to the unceasing poor weather we spent most of the time in a museum, but it was quite a museum. I’ve been to many of them in Germany and Europe in general but this one had a stunning mix of amazing frescoes, unique architecture and elaborate decorations.

What amazing ceilings! Awesome museum 🙂

 

Outstanding architecture and decoration in this historic building of a museum

Posted on June 25th, 2011 at 10:21 AM by admin
After my year abroad in Austria I decided to attend a conference in Germany about foreign language testing practices and standards. Admittedly I really wanted to get home already but since I was selected to participate in this 3 week conference at no cost outside of some meals and transportation to and from, I figured I could handle getting home just a little later.


My host mom in Leipzig was about the same age as my 86 year old grandmother and this woman is still living it up I gotta say. She told Sylvia (another participant from the conference who was also being hosted by super-grandma) and I that she couldn’t understand people who get old and feel lonely because she still has a circle of friends of over 30 people that she’s known for 30-40 years. Although struggling with a slight hearing problem she was otherwise impressively sharp and active.


Our first official conference day consisted of a nice lunch and a tour of Leipzig. Our tour guide reminded me of just how inappropriate eastern German humor is from an American perspective. I certainly had a good laugh along with a lot of memories of my days living in eastern Germany back in 2005-2006. We ate at Auerbach’s Keller which is famous for its supposed part in inspiring Goethe’s Faust, which we read in our German Literature and History class in my first semester in Austria. We were to have 2 full excursion days (one to Dresden and Meissen and the other to Quedlinburg and Thale) during the conference as well as a free weekend, on which I went to visit my “German son” in Koblenz.

One of the rooms at the famous Auerbach's Keller

The National Library in Leipzig is shaped like a book!

Over the 3 weeks I met several like-minded teachers and lovers of German language and culture.  It was refreshing to see that other such people exist! At the end of the conference I realized I would definitely miss these people that I had come to know but I also know that our careers may bring us back together again. But until then…Alles Gute!!

Flowers in the main square

Posted on June 24th, 2011 at 4:34 PM by admin
One whole school year has now gone by and I must bid my home in Salzburg adieu. There were many moments that I felt like the year wasn’t going by fast enough but now that it’s done it seems like it did go by fast after all. I can’t say that I miss living in a shoebox but I had adapted. What used to be a nerve racking 15 minute walk to the doener stand at the train station across the street from my dorm is now no longer possible and therefore my doener cravings will not be fulfilled.


Although it was a tough load I will miss taking so many linguistics and foreign language classes and of course my friends in Salzburg that I barely got a chance to know since I was always so busy studying. I will miss this culture that cares so much about our environment and that puts such high importance and value on friendship especially in comparison to my home land. I will not, however, miss the lack of customer service. I know that it is acceptable for many who are raised within the culture but I must return to my roots for that “the customer is always right” feel that I can only seem to find in the good ole US of A.


In any case the beauty of Salzburg’s landscapes and the comfort of its quaint yet diverse atmosphere did capture my heart and in my last weeks I went out to photograph the city one more time before heading off to Germany for a conference and then moving back to the US for the foreseeable future.

Sundown from Kapuzinerberg

 

Historic downtown just after sunset (Hi Toni!)

Sunset out my window over the main train station

Posted on June 5th, 2011 at 8:46 PM by admin
Since our school program’s trip of the semester this year was Berlin I made my third appearance in this very large, diverse and historically very interesting city. We went on a long weekend during the public holiday of Christi Himmelfahrt (also known as Ascension Day). My religious beliefs are questionable but I sure wish we had this holiday in the US! Anyways, we went to many museums as well as spending nearly 4 hours on a river tour. I definitely could’ve gotten off after 2 but I’m sure it helped my tan to stay the extra 2. It also have me a chance to have a a ginormous glass of beer. As far as musuems go we went to the Alte Nationalgallerie (Old National Gallerie), the Pergamon Museum and the New Museum. I took thousands of pictures of course.

The group in front of the Konzerthaus at Gendarmenmarkt

Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)

Bode Museum - one of the only museums we didn't actually go inside

Awesome paintings at the Alte Nationalgallerie

How real does this painting look?!

Got to say another painting from one of my favorite artists - Monet

I found this picture very interesting - the title was something like Hell Island if i recall correctly

Loving the sculptures with babies 🙂

My favorite part of the Pergamon Museum was the Islamic art collection

 

at the Neues Museum -> walk like an egyptian 🙂

The hostel we stayed in was very close to a lot of the downtown monuments but the wifi had some serious issues. In fact, my number one complaint about Berlin is that there is no Wifi that works like anywhere in the downtown. I walked around for hours one day trying to find it and I ended up a very frustrated Julie to say the least (and I will say the least..lol). Well i’m going to keep it short because I have a lot of pictures to post and I think they speak for themselves for the most part.