Archive | February 2014

Tokyo Day 2 – Imperial Palace Bike Ride, Yoyogi Park, Harajuku and Cat Cafe!

This is a continuation of the Japan Trip Report. You can read more here:
Booking Lufthansa First Class Using United Miles
Lufthansa First Class Denver to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Osaka
Japan Day 1: Nijo Castle and Kinkaku-ji
Westin Osaka Review

Japan Day 2 (Part 1) – Fushimi Inari and Nara
Japan Day 2 (Part 2) – Bullet Train/Nabana no Sato Illumination
Conrad Tokyo Review
Tokyo Day 1 – Tokyo Free Guide, Geisha Show and Meiji Shrine

We started off day two in Tokyo with another amazing breakfast in the Conrad Tokyo before heading out for some cycling! I had read online that the Imperial Palace offered free bicycles on Sundays. We decided to go check it out. We weren’t entirely sure what to do when we arrived, but asked a couple of guards who weren’t sure what we were asking but managed to point us in the right direction.

Once we arrived at the bicycle rental area, we had to fill out a form. We were expecting to leave a deposit or a license or credit card or something that proves you’ll come back with the bicycle. But all we had to do was fill out a form with our name and address. No one even read it, they just handed us bikes. Compared to what we’re used to at home the level of trust was incredible.

The entire road beside the Imperial Palace was closed to traffic and only open for cyclists. It was a short but enjoyable ride. Very pretty with the fall foliage in the area. Probably too warm during the summer as it was almost warm in November!

Free Bicycle Riding Near The Imperial Palace

Free Bicycle Riding Near The Imperial Palace

After our bike ride we decided to head to Yoyogi Park and then Harajuku for some people watching. I had read online that many groups/youths met Sunday afternoons in the park. One group I had heard of was the Rockabilly dancers. We had a chance to see them dance to 50’s style music in Yoyogi Park.

Yoyogi Park Rockabilly Group

Yoyogi Park Rockabilly Group

There were many people hanging out in the park in the afternoon. If you have some time to kill it’s a nice to walk around.

Yoyogi Park

Yoyogi Park

After Yoyogi Park we headed towards Harajuku. Harajuku is known for being a spot where people go to dress up and show off, including Lolitas.  We saw one group as we were walking, but I wasn’t able to get a good picture. The only other thing of interest we saw was this guy:

In Harajuku

In Harajuku

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My Recent Credit Card Applications/Updates

I’ve been busy writing about Japan, but wanted to mention a few things I’ve done recently to earn points. Back in December, I was beginning to finalize the plan for the Australia trip this year. Up until the last minute we were debating about using the points to fly Thai first class. But it turned out I was a little short of the necessary points to fly first class instead of business.

So I had an unscheduled application for the Chase Freedom, as for a limited time it was offering 20,000 Ultimate Rewards as the sign up bonus after spending $500 in three months. Since I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred I can transfer those points to travel partners (such as United – for the Thai Airways flight we were considering). The Chase Freedom card has no annual fee, and rotating 5x points categories. This quarter, it is 5x at gas stations, movie theaters and Starbucks.

Read More…

Tokyo Day 1 – Tokyo Free Guide Tour, Geisha Show and Meiji Shrine

This is a continuation of the Japan Trip Report. You can read more here:
Booking Lufthansa First Class Using United Miles
Lufthansa First Class Denver to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Osaka
Japan Day 1: Nijo Castle and Kinkaku-ji
Westin Osaka Review

Japan Day 2 (Part 1) – Fushimi Inari and Nara
Japan Day 2 (Part 2) – Bullet Train/Nabana no Sato Illumination
Conrad Tokyo Review

We woke up early on our first day in Tokyo to meet up with our tour guide. I had read on The Planet D about a great experience with an organization called Tokyo Free Guide that provides free tour guides in Tokyo, after signing up at their website: tokyofreeguide.com. You are responsible for paying transportation costs, admission fees and a meal for your tour guide, but Tokyo Free Guide provides the guide for free other than that. We signed up a couple weeks ahead of time and were very excited when we received our first email from our guide Ichiro – the same guide that The Planet D mentioned! His email was very friendly. He told us a little about himself and included a picture. We sent back a picture so he’d know who to look for, and then he suggested some places to visit that day. Shortly before our trip, he emailed mentioning a geisha show he had heard about and asking if we’d like to go. He offered to go before meeting with us to get tickets. We were grateful and told him we’d love to go. 

He met us at the Conrad, and we headed out. While we were getting to know each other he told us that he learned English largely from the radio. His English was wonderful, and we were very impressed. We took the train to Shibuya where he first showed us the statue of Hachiko, a dog that waited at the train station for years for his deceased owner.

Hachiko

Hachiko

Next, we saw the famous busy Shibuya pedestrian crossing. He pointed out a great viewing point for pictures that was free. From Shibuya we walked to Yoyogi Park and into Meiji Shrine.

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Meiji Shrine Torii Gate

Meiji Shrine was very neat, and Ichiro was full of information. It was great to hear about the shrine and the culture. We were lucky enough to see a wedding progression while we were there.

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Wedding at Meiji Shrine

We also saw several young children dressed up at the Shrine. Ichiro explained that they were at the shrine for blessings. We looked up a little more information when we got home. It’s called Shichi-go-san and is a rite of passage that occurs once a year for children at certain ages. You can read more here on Wikipedia.

After Meiji Shrine we headed to Takeshita Street and then to Harajuku. We quickly passed through these areas on our way to Asakusa for the geisha performance.  Read More…

Am I crazy for going to Iceland?

I saw a random tweet about a great deal on a package trip to Iceland through Icelandair back in October. I don’t remember who tweeted it or when, but it caught my eye. I mentioned it to a friend, and found out she was actually crazy enough to consider going with me in January! That’s how our adventure began.

Let me preface this with the fact that I live in Florida. I’ve lived in the Midwest and have seen and dealt with snow and cold weather in the past though. My friend who is going with me is from Florida and had never even seen snow. So going to Iceland in January was a big deal! Apparently it’s a big deal to everyone I’ve mentioned it to. The common response seems to be “why?!”.

So here’s why.

1) It’s cheap! It’s the off-season, and our entire trip including hotel, flights from New York, breakfast and two tours was only $700-something for four nights.

2) There was a possibility of seeing the Northern Lights. My friend and I agreed before booking the trip that it’s not a deal breaker. Even if we weren’t able to see them (and there was a chance the weather wouldn’t cooperate and we wouldn’t see them) we would both still want to go. But if we did get to see them, well then it was definitely worth putting up with cold weather!

3) It’s really not all that cold. I mean, I’m from Florida. Typical January weather is about twice the temperature of Iceland. So yes, it was cold for me. But most of our trip the forecast says was between 30 and 40 degrees out. Some snow, but not as bad as you’d think when you hear ICEland. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cold – but New York City on the way there and back was about 10 degrees colder than it will be in Iceland.

4) The geographic features of Iceland look incredible. From glaciers and waterfalls to volcanoes and black sand beaches – I was excited to explore.

Let me tell you though – really hard to buy snow boots in Florida. I went to Gander Mountain where they sell outdoors stuff and the guy there even laughed at me! Amazon saved the day though, and I was able to order gloves, boots and a hat.

I’ve just returned, and it was as incredible. Stay tuned for reports from Iceland in the future! We’ll see if it was as dumb as everyone seems to think or as incredible as I had been expecting.