Travel Tuesday Takeover: Japan Prelude

Today I have some exciting news to share with you guys! Since I started the blog, Tuesdays have been all about my traveling experiences, specifically my experiences in Europe this past summer. Since I want to keep sharing traveling adventures, I decided to begin “Travel Tuesday Takeover” – guest posts from other people sharing their travel stories. So I asked my good friend Rebekah to guest post for the next few weeks. She recently returned from Japan and will be sharing her experiences every Tuesday on the blog. If you have any questions or comments for Rebekah, be sure to leave a comment (as always)! Enjoy!

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Adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun: Prelude

My boyfriend and I moderately enjoy Anthony Bourdain. We watch his shows, read his books, lust after his trips, adore his arid brand of sarcasm, and we’d like to spend a night at a bar with him. Ok, fanboys really.

Perhaps subconsciously inspired by his jet-setting life and autumn Sundays spent watching him on the tube, we decided we wanted to travel out of the country. But the proverbial trip to Europe didn’t seem to strike a chord with my other half—myself either to be honest. I have been lucky enough to visit a good number of beautiful countries in Europe, and while “been there, done that” is far from my feelings on mainland Europe, the thought of going again didn’t tickle me. Ideas were tossed around, nothing stuck.

One night, likely after a few too many beers and far too many episodes of “No Reservations,” I received an off-the-cuff text message from my boyfriend: “Let’s go to Japan.” It was half suggestion, half question—but across town I squealed and immediately began looking up flights.

He should know better.

Because with that we were off to Japan. Everyone asked, “Why Japan?” We answered, “Why not?”

Not long after, we stopped calling the trip a vacation. It became clear that we were embarking on something of an adventure—12 days, 3 cities, countless things to do and see.

For the next few Travel Tuesdays, I’ll be walking willing readers through my time (read: adventures) in Japan. What I expected, what I did not expect, what I learned, and what I got myself into.

-Rebekah

Weekend in Review: Photo Edition

Happy Monday everyone! I hope everyone had a great Easter/Passover weekend! I spent this weekend doing many things including running for the first time since I injured my foot (so far, so good!), celebrating Steph’s 24th birthday, Easter at Bernie’s parents’ house, and putting a few unwanted holes in walls. Here’s some pictures from the weekend to catch you up a bit.

Photos of Easter in New York via my sister. Missed them!

My Easter in MA with Bernie:

 

How did you spend this weekend? Do anything fun? Share!

Friday Link Love

Happy Friday everyone!

Work has been busy, busy, busy and blogging has taken a back seat over the last 24 hours – so today, I leave you a couple of links that I’m loving/have come across lately for your Friday enjoyment.

1. This weekend I’m FINALLY going out! It’s my roommate’s birthday, so we’re getting gussied up and hitting the bars. It’s the first time I’ve gone out like this since January (?) and I can’t wait.

I hope it involves a lot of arm raises like this:

This gif from #whatshouldwecallme sums it up.

“When I start getting ready to go out”

2. Did you know Titanic is out in theaters in 3D?!

Did you know Titanic had an alternate ending?!?!?! WHAT?!?!

I’m so glad James Cameron didn’t use this. Talk about a horrible way to end the movie! Bernie and I always catch Titanic on TBS every now and again, and he always says, “I hate Rose! I can’t believe she threw the diamond in the water. It’s the worst movie ending ever.” But after showing this to him, I’m pretty sure he thinks the real ending is the best ending ever. Yikes – so bad.

3. Speaking of Titanic, check out this hilarious writer from Jezebel who summarizes the movie for you – so you don’t have to see it.

Happy weekend! Any fun plans for the weekend?

Homeward Bound

Usually on a Saturday morning, there is NO reason for me to wake up at 6am – aka: death hour. Even while training, my morning runs usually happened around 9am.

Well, I’m up at death hour today for a reason. Can you guess? It involves…

and….

and finally…

 

Have a wonderful weekend!

Link Love

Happy Thursday everyone – only one more day to go!!

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that everyday there’s some new viral video or something funny on the internets. I just can’t seem to keep up!

Something that I noticed a couple other bloggers mention is the tumblr site #whatweshouldcallme. Have you guys seen this!? So funny!! My favorite that made me laugh this week was this one:

“Getting out of bed on a Monday”

and…“When you realize your friends are taking a group photo without you.”

I do this a lot….

and here…more subtle this time.

…and here…..

COME ON SARAH! GET IT TOGETHER!

Anyway.

Bernie also sends me/shows me hilarious gifs all the time. This one is my favorite.

I like to imagine that this is how the T and bus drivers feel in Boston.

Now for a more serious one – to all of you running the Boston Marathon!!

I found a link to a really awesome article all about each mile of the Boston Marathon and what to expect during each one. I thought it was pretty accurate. I can only speak for miles 21-26.2 because I live within those miles, but either way, it’s worth a read. Check it out here!

 

Any other fun internet things you read/see/enjoy? Any Tumblr users out there? Have you seen #whatweshouldcallme?

Travel Tuesday: The Contiki Experience

Hello everyone and happy Tuesday! After a few weeks’ hiatus, Travel Tuesday is back! Over the last few months, I’ve chronicled my and Bernie’s trip last summer to Italy, France, and Spain with Contiki, a travel guide for 18-35 year-olds. We did a ton of things during our two week tour around the Mediterranean. We explored the Colosseum and visited where the Pope lives.

We took a bus to a bus, to a boat, to a train, to a bus, to get to our hotel.

We toured the smallest Museum of Natural History ever in France.

And we saw architecture that would make Dr. Seuss happy in Barcelona, Spain.

 

 

We saw a lot of sights in 2 weeks and experienced things we never would have if we didn’t decide to travel together. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I don’t regret a second of it.

When Bernie and I decided to take a trip together, we sat down and brainstormed ideas of where to go. Ever the adventurer, it was Bernie’s idea to go to Europe. At that point, he and I had been together for about 4 months. I didn’t think the relationship was going to end before, but that’s a big commitment to make, to schedule a huge trip together months in advance when you had only been together for a short period of time. I took the leap of faith and said yes to Europe. A few weeks  later, we paid a visit to a AAA travel agent in search of some help. We had both been abroad, but never traveled within Europe before. We didn’t have the faintest idea of what to do. This is where we found out about Contiki, a travel company that plans trips/tours throughout Europe and other countries. After crunching some numbers, we realized that traveling through Contiki would be about the same cost-wise or somewhat cheaper than traveling on our own. Between Euro Rail passes, hotel/hostel stays, and food/activities the trip’s cost added up fast. Contiki takes care of everything for you – hotels, travel between countries, some meals, and many activities. And during the entire trip, you’re lead by a guide who deals with logistics and helps you navigate a foreign country.

After searching through the GIANT Contiki tour book, we settled on “Mediterranean Highlights” which started in Rome and ended in Madrid. A few days later, we booked the trip online and waited!

Overall, there were good things about our experience with Contiki and some not so good things. Here’s a quick rundown of the pro’s and con’s of budget traveling.

Pro’s of Traveling with Contiki

  • Convenience. All of the logistics of traveling in foreign countries is taken care of for you. Your hotels are booked for you, group dinners are scheduled for you, and tours of monuments/attractions are organized for you.
  • Inexpensive (in comparison). While it’s not cheap to travel with them, it is cheaper than traveling on your own. There are many dinners and tours included in the cost of your trip. When we went to visit the Colosseum, we had a two-hour guided tour lead by a local guide. This was included in the overall cost of the trip. The day before, Bernie and I went to the Colosseum and had tours pitched to us for about 25 Euro each – VERY expensive!
  • Hotels>hostels. We got to stay in some pretty nice places (for the price) while traveling. Our hotel in Madrid was beautiful; it even had a pool.
  • Tour guides are live-in teachers. Our tour guide, Giuseppe, was amazing. He was from Italy, so he was fluent in Italian, but was also fluent in Spanish and knew a lot of French. He led us on some great walking tours of all the places we went, and taught us the native language of the country we were in. This proved to be key. It felt good speaking the language and experiencing it with more knowledge than the average tourist who was on their own.
  • Traveling in groups is better than traveling alone. We made a ton of friends while on the tour. Since Contiki caters to 18-35 year-olds, everyone was in a similar age group. We all became very close over the two weeks and had a blast together exploring. I think it also helped me and Bernie not want to kill each other by the end of the trip. Don’t get me wrong – I love my boyfriend and spending as much time with him as I can – but traveling is stressful. Having other people to put your focus on and interact with makes a big difference.

  • Free time. We were given at least a few hours each day for free time to rest, explore, or do whatever. We found these free time hours to be key to enjoying our vacation. While it’s great to go with the group, going off and doing things on our own was sometimes better than group outings.

Con’s of Traveling with Contiki

  • This is a tour, not a vacation. While we knew that this trip wouldn’t be all rest and relaxation, I felt like sometimes the go-go-go nature of the trip was overwhelming. There were days where we were so completely exhausted, almost to the point of not even wanting to go out on the tours (which is crazy talk!). Our tour guide said on day one, “This is not a vacation, this is a tour.” He couldn’t have said it better. If you’re looking for a low key adventure vacation, Contiki is not for you.
  • Cost. While the trip was cheaper overall, we ended up spending more money while there than we thought we would. Many of the extra excursions through Contiki were not included in the price – which we did not know. When we got to Europe, our tour guide laid out to us how much each excursion would be over the course of the trip. Before we knew it, we were dropping 250 Euro each for excursions. I wish I had known this beforehand so I could budget accordingly.
  • Hotels are so-so. It was hit or miss with the quality of hotels we stayed in. The hotel in Rome was great, but the hotel in Nice, France was HORRIBLE! A kid in our group was covered in bed bug bites from that hotel. I developed a cold after two days in the hotel. There was visible mold everywhere. I know the trip included budget accommodations, but some of the hotels were even worse than “budget” level in my opinion.
  • The tour group’s dynamic can be hit or miss. Our group had a fabulous dynamic! Our tour guide took us out to enjoy the nightlife, but we didn’t do it every night so it wasn’t overkill. We all bonded well as a group and I stay in touch with many people from the trip. We saw some other Contiki groups along the way, and some of them were wild – going out every single night, never sleeping, drinking until all hours of the night, hung over on all excursions. Apparently Contiki has a reputation to be sort of wild and crazy. This was not the experience I had, but I can imagine that the mindset of your tour guide and the people in your group makes a huge difference. Our group was all about going out and having a good time at night, but we also wanted to be refreshed enough to enjoy the sights during the day.
  • Not enough free time. I wish that we had an extra day in each country to experience things on our own. Unfortunately, we didn’t. Free time was numerous, but it was often short and was spent napping, resting, or getting ready for the night ahead of us.

Overall, I don’t think we would do a Contiki tour again. Not because we had a negative experience, but because we’ve figured out how to travel through Europe and we want to do it on our own. Going our first time with a tour group was the best thing we could have done – we aren’t travel virgins anymore. Also, we weren’t nuts about all the countries in the tour. Italy was phenomenal, Spain was way cool, but France wasn’t great. I wasn’t that much of a fan, and could have done without it. If we were to go back to Europe, we would stick to one or two countries and tour those extensively.

 

Readers: Have you ever traveled through a foreign country? Did you do it through a tour or on your own? Share your experiences!

10 Things

I know, you’re probably thinking, “Where is the Travel Tuesday post?!” Not to worry – it will be back next week. I wanted to do a final write up about mine and Bernie’s experience with Contiki, and I want to make sure it covers everything, so I need another week to finish it. TT will be back next week, promise :).

Spring is all about renewal, new beginnings, and loving life. With the warm weather finally approaching and Spring around the corner, I thought I would share some things that I’ve been loving/am thankful for with Spring around the corner.

1. Red onions. They make EVERYTHING better.

2. Zucchini fries. Just zucchini cut long, dredged in egg white, then coated in breadcrumbs (mixed with parm cheese, salt, pepper, onion powder) and baked at 425 degrees for 20 min, flipping twice. Yum Yum Yum!

3. This weather! Yesterday it hit over 70 degrees in Boston. I rode home from work with the windows down and the sun roof open. This makes me VERY happy!

4. My body/my body’s strength and resilience. I’ve lasted 15 weeks of training for my first half marathon without anything worse than some tight hips and IT band. Injuries have been avoided and I feel stronger, faster, and more sure of myself. I can’t wait to run 13.1 miles on Sunday!

5. Naps. I took a nap Sunday night after a morning filled with an 8 mile long-ish run and grocery shopping. I told Bernie I felt tired, so I went and laid down for a quick power nap. 2 hours later, he woke me up and asked me if I was going to cook dinner. This is a rare occurrence – I never nap. Honestly, Bernie might be onto something with these naps. I felt pretty good afterward.

6. Foam roller. An absolute lifesaver. My life was changed forever when I was told by my orthopedist to try it out. My muscles have changed forever. Thank you, Foamy.

7. Bernie. I know it’s corny to be thankful for your boyfriend, or whatever, but he’s been amazingly supportive during my grueling training (aka: “Pretending you’re a Kenyan” he says). He’s also been my partner in crime with everything. I’m moving in with him come August, and it’s been fun redoing his condo and making it more of a home before I join. I’m getting really excited to live together!

8. My mom’s soda bread. She makes it every March around St. Patrick’s Day and has been sending me a loaf every year since I went away to college. My mom isn’t Irish at all (she’s Dutch and Ukrainian/Polish) but my father is 100% Irish (Southern Ireland – Co. Kerry/Cork). My mom is basically honorary Irish; she made my Irish Nana proud! The soda bread is pretty awesome, and she always send some really good jam to go with it.

9. My Garmin forerunner 405. Again, another item that changed my running game forever. I don’t know how I ran for years without one.

10. French Bulldog puppies. Bernie and I have discussed getting a dog within the next year or so, and we’re leaning toward a Frenchie. If I have a puppy as cute as this one, I will be the happiest girl alive.

[image source]

 

Readers: What are some things you’re thankful for/loving right now? What are some things you’ve been doing to take advantage of the warm weather?