I’ve Moved…

I have a new site! You can find all my old content and lots of new stuff at Where Joely Goes. I’m still traveling, exploring, eating, and loving living on this amazing planet. And stilling writing and sharing my experiences (as I can) with whoever wants to read about them. 😊 Follow me and my journey on wordpress or Bloglovin.

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Joely

Tokyo Christmas Market

Nothing gets me more into the spirit of the holidays than Christmas Markets. I spent several years in Europe, and now Christmas just isn’t Christmas without the taste of warm, spiced glühwein and marzipan filled stöllen. Luckily, you can get both, and festive, Yuletide cheer, in Tokyo!

There are several Christmas markets scattered throughout the city, but my absolute favorite is the Tokyo Christmas Market in Hibiya Park. I visit every year on Christmas Eve. My friends and I meet at Hibiya Park donning our most cheery Christmas sweaters to sample every flavor of glühwein available (there are many), browse and buy handmade crafts, and eat way too much.

The market surrounds the fountain of Hibiya Park. More than a dozen traditional wooden huts offer visitors a variety of tempting German fare and one-of-a-kind ornaments. Christmas music plays in the background. A stunning 14-meter Christmas Pyramid brought in from Germany twirls slowly. And musical guests entertain the crowds inside a large-ish tent. All together, it creates a perfect holiday vibe. 🎄♥️🎅🏼✨

The mulled wine and hot cocoa are served in little mugs with the market’s logo on them. You have to pay a deposit for the drinks (¥1000) because of them. You get your money back when you return the cup, but I like to keep them. They come in different shapes and colors and have the year on the design.

Admission to Tokyo Christmas Market is free. It started December 14th and opens daily from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm every day through Christmas day. To get there, take the metro to Hibiya Station and leave the station through Exit A14. Just make sure you dress warmly; it gets cold. 🥶

11 Must-see Winter Illuminations in Tokyo

Winter is almost here, but in Tokyo, the lights are already shining brightly. It’s one of the things I love most about the city. And the season. Every year in late November and early December, millions of tiny, glittering bulbs illuminate parks, plazas and shopping districts throughout Tokyo. Some displays last for quite a while after the new year. Others dim their lights at the end of December. While it’s not exactly like Christmas back home, the sparkle makes it feel like I’m not so far away.

Midtown Christmas Illumination

One of Tokyo’s most dazzling displays is the Midtown Christmas Illumination. Tokyo Midtown is complex of shops, restaurants, hotels, offices and even apartments located in Roppongi. It’s kind of fancy and completely beautiful. And every year in late November it lights up the nights with a stunning show of twinkling lights throughout its gardens.

If the line to see the glow of this wondrous winter wonderland is any indication, you won’t be disappointed. I like to grab a hot cocoa from the Starbucks at the corner where the queue normally starts to keep me warm and bring a few friends. That makes the wait feel a little less long. And once you get to the lights, you’ll hardly remember the delay. 😊

Rows of trees are covered in brilliant LEDs that lead to the Starlight Garden. There, you’ll witness a gorgeous display of animated lights and music. I’ve been to this illumination several times, and every time I’ve been this area has always been extremely crowded. There’s not a lot of shoving or anything, but be prepared to wait for people to leave to get a closer view of the display. The line is in the shape of a letter U. If you go toward the end of the of the U it gets easier to get a spot up close. 😉

Rows of trees are covered in brilliant LEDs that lead to the Starlight Garden. There, you’ll witness a gorgeous display of animated lights and music. I’ve been to this illumination several times, and every time I’ve been this area has always been extremely crowded. There’s not a lot of shoving or anything, but be prepared to wait for people to leave to get a closer view of the display. The line is in the shape of a letter U. If you go toward the end of the of the U it gets easier to get a spot up close. 😉

This year (2018), the illumination started on November 13th, and it goes on until Christmas Day. The lights starting shining at 5:00 pm and dim at 11:00 pm every night. For an extra whimsical experience, visit by December 16th! The creators have added bubbles for a limited time in 2018. Admission to Midtown Christmas Illumination is also free!

You can get to the show by taking one of several metro lines that go to Roppongi station. You want to get out through Exit 8. From there follow the signs to Tokyo Midtown. There will be signs for the illumination once you exit the station. 

Yebisu Garden Place

Next on the list is the Baccarat Eternal Lights exhibit at Yebisu Garden place. This illumination is located in one of my favorite neighborhoods in Tokyo–Ebisu. These lights are splendid, and the ornate Baccarat chandelier never disappoints. But what I really love about it is that it has a real Christmasy vibe.

Most visitors come to see the Baccarat. Each year, a new, amazing fixture gleams from the center of Yebisu Garden Place. The exquisite crystal creation is five meters in size and is encased in a large glass box. And if you’re in the mood to be fancy, or just like champagne, you can enjoy some in a special baccarat glass at the champagne bar (open now through December 25th only). 

My favorite part is the huge Christmas tree surrounded by a small Christmas market on the other side of the red carpet (yes, there’s really a red carpet 😊). There are about a dozen little kiosks selling food, drinks, and trinkets. It reminds me of the Christmases I spent in Germany.

The lights at Yebisu Garden Place are on display every day until February 28, 2019, from 4:00 pm until midnight. The market ends on Christmas day. Admission for the lights is free here is also free (champagne sold separately).

To get to the festivities, simply take the metro or JR line to Ebisu station. Leave the station through the East Exit and follow the signs to Yebisu Garden Place. 

Showa Park

It’s not exactly in central Tokyo, but the sparkle of Showa Park’s Winter Vista Illumination is worth the trip. Showa Park is located in Tachikawa, which is a 40ish minute train ride from Shinjuku. The park has several gardens, playgrounds, picnic areas, and even paddle boats for visitors to enjoy during the day. And for a few short weeks in December, it opens its gates at night so guests can take in thousands of shimmering lights carefully hung on trees, fountains, and fields.

I’ve been enchanted by the Winter Vista Illumination the last four years. The champagne glass fountain makes an appearance every year, but the theme for the rest of the park changes. This year’s theme is Night Picnic. A variety of food vendors set up stands with outdoor seating, and the park cafe stays open during the illumination so you can enjoy a hot cup of coffee (or a cold beer) while enjoying the lights.

Showa Park’s lights don’t last quite as long as some of the other illuminations in Tokyo. Winter Vista begins December 8, 2018, and ends on December 21, 2018. The gates open at 5:00pm and close at 9:00 pm, with the last admission at 8:50 pm. Admission is ¥450 for adults, ¥210 for seniors (65 and older), and free for children in junior high and younger (bring proof of age).

To get to Showa Park, take the Chuo JR Line to Tachikawa station. From there it’s a short walk. The Nishi Tachikawa station takes you right to the park, but that entrance isn’t open for the illumination.

Odaiba Illumination Yakei

The view of the Rainbow Bridge is a great reason to visit Odaiba any time of year, but the festive lights and fireworks in the month of December make Odaiba Illumination Yakei a must-see. Odaiba has a few pretty big shopping centers, a wax museum, an indoor amusement park and a small beach with cruises that take guests on tours around the bay. And in the winter, when the sun goes down, more than 200,000 tiny bulbs glisten brilliantly.  

The illumination here isn’t as elaborate as some of the other ones in and around Tokyo, but it’s still amazing. More than 20 trees across from the Decks shopping center in front of the beach brighten the night and lead to an enormous Christmas tree made up entirely of lights. The Tokyo Skyline and Rainbow Bridge shine in the background. The view is incredible. 😍

Every Saturday in December at 7:00 pm, the view gets even more astonishing. Explosions of color illuminate the sky for about ten minutes over the Rainbow Bridge. About 2,000 fireworks are launched each week. If you can’t make it to Odaiba in December, you can still enjoy the lights in January. Odaiba Illumination Yakei gleams until January 31, 2019, and it’s completely free.

There are a few ways to get to Odaiba. Taking the Yurikamome Line to Odaiba Kaihin Koen Station gets you closest to the beach and the illumination. 

Roppongi Hills Winter Illumination

Roppongi Hills Winter Illumination is another favorite of mine. It’s not a show or a presentation. But it’s so pretty. Roppongi Hills another shopping and entertainment complex in Roppongi. It’s where Mori Tower and the very famous spider sculpture are located. 

Christmas trees and decorations adorn a good part of Roppongi Hills, but the main illumination is on Keyakizaka Street. Dozens of trees covered in effervescent LEDs that change colors line the street for about a quarter mile. Tokyo Tower stands tall in the distance. It’s lovely. And romantic. The German-style Christmas market (and the glühwein 🍷) makes it that much better.

The festivities at Roppongi Hills have already started and last through Christmas day. The street lights up at 5:00 pm every day until 11:00 pm. The market opens every day at 11:00 am and closes at 9:00 pm, but go early because the food sells out! Admission to both is free.

The easiest way to get to Roppongi Hills is by metro (Roppongi Station). Leave the station through exit C1, and follow the signs to Roppongi Hills.

Omotesando Illumination

Harajuku a really fun district to visit without any lights. It’s a great place to shop, eat and people watch. Going in December is just more beautiful. Omotesando Street is full of gorgeous champagne-colored lights that are strung on more than a hundred Zelkova trees.

There isn’t a show that accompanies these lights. It’s just a festive atmosphere in a fun part of town. There are two pedestrian bridges along Omotesando Street that allow you to get a good view of the lights. There are also plenty of shops and eateries along the one-kilometer illumination for you to do some Christmas shopping while enjoying the view. There’s also a smaller, but brilliant, light display of icicles and a Christmas Tree inside the Omotesando Hills shopping mall.

The last day to catch both events in Harajuku is December 25, 2018. The street illumination starts every day at sunset and ends at 10:00 pm. The one in the mall starts at 11:00 am and ends at 11:00 pm every night. Admission to both is free.

The lights are just a short walk from Omotesando, Meijijingu, and Harajuku stations. Just exit toward Omotesando Street and you will see them!

Tokyo Dome City Winter Illumination

Tokyo Dome City also has a fantastic winter-lights spectacular. This illumination is one of the biggest I’ve been to; it spreads out through the entire Tokyo Dome City entertainment complex. And I’ve heard that it has the flicker of over two million lights. 😲

My favorite parts of the illumination are the sparkling, detailed dome and the tunnel of vivid, chromatic light panels. But there’s a lot more to see than just that. There’s a beautifully decorated fountain, a path of arches that resemble a kaleidoscope and a Christmas tree made of origami cranes. The amusement park stays open at night, too so you can take in the brilliance from the roller coaster or the swings.

This illumination lasts until February 17, 2019, so you have plenty of time to check it out. The lights switch on at 4:00 pm and go out at midnight every night. Admission to Toyko Dome City is free.

You can get to Tokyo Dome City by train on the JR Chuo Line (the yellow one, not the orange) via Suidobashi Station, or by metro on the Marunouchi and Namboku Subway Lines through Korakuen Station or on the Oedo and Mita Subway Lines via Kasuga station.

Shibuya Ao no Dokutsu

Shibuya Ao no Dokutsu, also known as The Blue Cave, is another one of Tokyo’s most popular illuminations. It might be because it’s located in one of Tokyo’s most frequented neighborhoods, but even if it weren’t it’d be worth the visit. 

Trees along an 800 meter stretch of Koen Dori Street are wrapped in vibrant blue LEDs, creating a magical canopy of glittering lights. The glow radiates throughout the space, turning everything indigo. The lights don’t change or move or flicker; they just shine. And while this display is simple, it’s still very magical. 

The Blue Cave is open to visitors every day until New Year’s Eve from 5:00 pm until 10:00 pm. Admission is free.

Caretta Shiodome

Caretta Shiodome is one of my absolute favorite illuminations in Tokyo. Each year they create a magical world of lights with a Disney movie theme. Last year (2017-2018), it was Beauty and the Beast. This year, the creators feature two beloved fairytales in two separate shows: Tangled and Frozen. The illuminations rotate each week so you will have to visit twice to catch them both.

The display at the Shiodome is more of a performance. It’s not just a static presentation (which can also be very beautiful) of glimmering LEDs. It has music and motion. It tells the princess stories magnificently, in a quick 10 or so minutes. Maybe it’s because I’m a huge Disney fan, or because I love the magic of fairytales, but, in my opinion, the enchanting lights at Caretta Shiodome are a can’t-miss!

The Frozen/Tangled illumination started November 15, 2018, and goes through February 14, 2019. Shows start daily at 5:00 pm in December and 6:00 pm in January and February (they’re closed on January 1 & 2) and play in 15-minute intervals. AND… if you show up for the first show, you’ll also experience a special, dynamic Incredibles 2 performance. 😁 Admission to Caretta Shiodome is free and the presentation ends every night at 11:00 pm. 

You can get this spectacular by train through various JR Lines (Shimbashi Station) or metro lines (Shiodome Station).

Yomiuri Land Jewellumination

This winter lights extravaganza is super impressive. Like Showa Park, it’s not in central Tokyo, so a little travel is required. But it’s only a short drive away. The millions of jewel-toned LEDs carefully hung throughout Tokyo’s largest amusement park make the trip worth it.

The entire park is covered in lights and a few areas that have unique musical exhibits. All of the rides are open at night. My favorite is the gondola, but the Ferris wheel is fun, too. The radiance of the lights from up there is truly amazing.

The Jewellumination lasts until February 17, 2019. The lights turn on at 4:00 pm and the park stays open until 8:30 pm. The park opens at 10:00 am and you can buy tickets for the entire day for ¥5400 for adults, ¥4300 for high
and middle school students, ¥3800 for kids 3 years old to elementary school age, and ¥4500 for seniors. They also have night passes for a reduced cost, and a night entrance (which only includes entrance to the park without access to the rides) for an even lower price. Click here for more details price information.

I drove here; I think it’s easier. But you can take the train. The Keio Line toward Hashimoto gets you pretty close. But you still have to walk a mile from the Keio-Yomiuri-Land Station.

Address: 4015-1 Yanokuchi, Inagi 206-8725

Tokyo Tower

The last illumination on my list is the one at Tokyo Tower. Tokyo Tower is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. There are several special exhibits and illuminations here throughout the year. The winter illumination is kind of a two-parter.

Tokyo Tower Winter Fantasy is a small display at the base of Tokyo Tower. It features a large 60-year old Christmas tree and several smaller ones decorated in orange (the symbolic color of Tokyo Tower). Twice an hour between 4:00 pm and 10:00 pm, at the hour and 30-minute mark, there’s a ten-minute light and music show that plays.

In the tower, you can catch Tokyo Tower City Lights Fantasia White Night Story. It’s a projection mapping display that will make you feel like you’re watching the city through the snow. It’s on the second floor of the main observatory. 

The Tokyo Tower Winter Fantasy display is available until February 28, 2019. The lights come one every day at 4:00 pm and turn off at 11:00 pm. Tokyo Tower City Lights Fantasia White Night Story runs only until February 3, 2019. It’s available daily from 6:00 pm to 10:50 pm. 

You can get to Tokyo Tower by taking the metro (Toei Oedo Line) to Akabanebashi Station. It’s a quick five-minute walk from there.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Tokyo

ONE OF MY FAVORITE THINGS about Tokyo is that there’s always something new to see and do. This summer, TeamLab Borderless launched a new way to spend an afternoon in Tokyo that made me feel like I was on another planet. The Mori Building Digital Art Museum features works displayed through projection mapping and lights, and it’s designed in such a way that all the artwork moves in and out of spaces freely, forming a completely borderless world. One full of color, curiosity, and wonder.

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The exhibit has several spaces with different themes that are constantly shifting and evolving. A lot of the pieces interact with one another, so it sort of feels like one fluid work of art. It’s really cool because many of them look different each time you visit. So it always feels new. And it’s always thrilling to see the lights and images dance around the rooms. Also, many of the pieces are interactive, which is super fun. 😁

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One of my favorite areas is the Athletics Forest. This world is full of spaces and exhibits that you can play in. It really brings out your inner child, or in my case, my outer big kid. 😜 I really enjoyed bouldering the light forest, climbing through a display of vivid, moving birds and playing with colorful balloons. This part of the museum really makes you feel like you’re one with the art, or at the very least a part of it. You get to be in the middle of the artwork, touching and moving in it, and in some case creating it yourself.

All of the works are impressive. They’re enchanting and delightful, making it easy to spend a few hours marveling at the transformation of the exhibits and feeling like you’re in a whole different, light-filled galaxy. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Getting tickets is quite difficult. Don’t expect to get in by showing up and buying a ticket on site. They’re often sold out. I bought my ticket two weeks in advance ( I went shortly after it opened; it might be less busy now). To make sure you get in the day you want, I recommend you buy your tickets online here. Tickets cost ¥3200 (about $30) for adults 15 and older and ¥1000 ($9) for children 14 and under. It’s a little expensive but completely worth it. The museum is open weeknights and Sundays from 1000 to 1900 and on Fridays and Saturdays from 1000 to 2100. Last entry is one hour prior to closing, but I recommend you go with enough time to spend about three hours. This way you have enough time to really see and enjoy the art.

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Getting There

Getting to the Mori Building Digital Art Museum is pretty easy. Take the subway to Shirokanedai station (I took the Namboku line), and leave the station through exit one. That’s the closest exit to the museum. From there it’s a short five-minute walk. Look for the Ferris wheel and walk toward it. You’ll have to walk through Toyota Mega Web, a car theme park; the museum is on the other side. If you’ve bought your tickets in advance, you just have to scan your QR code from your phone or your printed ticket when you go in.

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Capsule Hotels… Yes or No?

Capsule hotels (also called pod hotels) are very popular in Japan. You see them in most cities, and a lot of people really like them for overnight stays because they are relatively cheap (¥3000 – ¥4000). I’m claustrophobic and never really had any interest in staying in a tiny space only big enough for a bed. Also, I’m not really a fan of communal bathrooms. But I just couldn’t leave Japan without experiencing it at least once. It’d be like visiting Japan and never eating sushi or ramen. So on a recent trip to Kyoto, I decided to try one out.

I did my research before selecting my capsule. I’m picky about hotels. I’m very particular about cleanliness, and I really like to make sure the location meets my travel goals. So I checked all the hotel travel sites (Hotels.com, Agoda, Kayak, Booking, Trivago, etc.), Trip Advisor and Google. I read reviews, mapped the locations, and looked into amenities for each capsule hotel available. After several hours, I decided on the First Cabin Capsule Hotel in Kawaramachi Sanjo.

Capsule Hotels vary. A lot. They’re like hostels in that you share all facilities except the bed. However, the pod itself and types of common areas differ from hotel to hotel. Some are more like fabric-covered bunk beds while others are like stacked cubby holes with mattresses in them. The pods at First Cabin are not stacked, so you have more room than a lot of the other capsule hotels I saw online. The one I stayed in was as wide as a twin bed (the walls of the pod surrounded the mattress on all sides) and maybe six feet tall. I could sit up completely in my bed and even stand on the mattress with only having to duck just a tiny bit (I’m only 5’2″). The room also includes a TV, temperature control, two plugs, and a secure compartment to store your valuables while you’re out. The pod doesn’t have a door, but it has a shade that slides all the way down for privacy. This hotel also offers mini-suites (they refer to them as first-class cabins), which are slightly bigger spaces that offer more than just a bed but don’t have private bathrooms. All capsules provide guests with disposable slippers, pajamas, and a towel and washcloth.

The two major concerns I had about staying in this kind of hotel were safety and noise. Neither was an issue here. Rooms and floors are separated by gender for safety reasons at First Cabin. This isn’t the case at all capsule hotels, though, so if it’s something you’re interested in, ask before booking. Japan is a relatively safe country, but I prefer staying in all-women dorms when traveling alone (as a peace of mind thing). At this hotel, the sleeping areas are accessed with key cards so not just anyone can get to the pods. And it’s a completely noise-free zone. Guests are not allowed to listen to music or watch television without headphones. They’re not supposed to talk on the phone and, honestly, I didn’t even hear travelers talk to each other in the capsule space.

The shared spaces at First Cabin exceeded ALL  my expectations. The lobby features a few sofas, a big table for travelers to sit around and socialize, and a bar with a variety of beers and cocktails available for purchase. The hotel also hosts special events in the lobby on some nights that offer guests free food or drinks. The bathroom situation is also quite good. Each floor has sinks, toilets, and vanities, and there’s a shower area for each gender on one of the floors. The spa (shower area) has several private shower rooms, one or two secluded bathtubs (complete with body wash, shampoo, and conditioner), and a few vanities stocked with everything you could need, to include curling irons, facial care products, and even toothbrushes. There are also irons, steamers, and humidifiers in the dormitories and a spot to store your luggage.

From what I saw, most capsule hotel guests only stay a night or two. I stayed for five, and felt completely at ease and comfortable. The small space didn’t bother me at all. It felt way more private than I thought it would, the amenities were great, and the hotel staff was wonderful. I managed to get a business-class cabin for only $20 per night; a terrific value! I can’t imagine a better accommodation for the price. I would definitely try a capsule hotel again. I highly encourage you to try one too. 😉

Life’s a Beach in Shimoda

When you think of Japan, sparkling, blue-water beaches are probably not what come to mind. I didn’t think that kind of beach existed here. I’m aware that Japan is an island, but up until last week, all the beaches I’d ever seen here were more of a dark green, murky water sort of beach. Continue reading Life’s a Beach in Shimoda

Puppy Travel Diaries: Part One

In the very near future, I will embark on an adventure of a lifetime. I’ll be leaving Japan after almost five years and moving back to the U.S. And to add to the excitement (also known as stress) of quitting my job and starting a new life somewhere brand new, my puppies Hambone and Lulu are coming along for the ride, and it’s a long one. I’ll be driving from Seattle all the way to the East Coast. It’ll take about a week or so (I have a few stops planned); I figure I may as well do a little traveling and see a few great things along the way. The only thing is… I’ve never traveled with my pups before. Or at least I hadn’t before this week.

To prepare for The Great Adventure (that’s what I’m calling it), I decided to take a practice trip. A short, five-day mini vacation to the beach just a few hours away. It’s far enough for me to see how the dogs do in the car for a few hours and the perfect way to find out how they behave and adjust to staying and being in a place that isn’t home, which was (and still is) my biggest concern. I travel a lot for work. But I usually have a friend stay at home with them or drop them off at the kennel. Routine is important, so I really try to make sure they have one. But when you’re traveling that’s not always possible. I tried to keep our schedule as close to normal as I could during this trip. We went for walks each morning and evening like we usually do, but I didn’t walk them at the exact same time (I’m on vacation. I’m sleeping in!). It didn’t seem to make a huge difference, though. I also made sure they ate around the same time they normally would, which I think helped.

Another challenge when you’re traveling with pets is planning. Yes, planning. I’m a bit of a last-minute traveler. I don’t usually book hotels, tours or activities very far in advance because I like to take things as they come. I don’t like to be on a schedule. I like to do things when I’m in the mood for them. But when you’re traveling with dogs, it’s not that simple. I booked this trip the day before I left, which is standard for me. But this also left me with only a handful of places to stay (I only had three options). Hotels that had vacancies didn’t allow animals, so I opted for an Airbnb. What I learned is that places that allow pups charge more (or have a non-refundable pet fee) and you may not find one in the exact area you want to stay. We ended up getting a small studio apartment in a decent location; it was on the second floor, which isn’t ideal (Lulu struggles with stairs), but we made it work. There was a really great park only about a kilometer away, which was a bonus. While it all worked out alright in the end, I’ve already started looking for places to stay for our upcoming voyage. I’d originally planned to drive until we were tired of being in the car. But because there are far fewer places that allow pets, and I don’t want to end up having to sleep in the car, it’s best to start looking now. I’m going to try to plan out how far we drive and where we stay in advance so that that doesn’t happen. But we will see. 😜

I selected Shimoda for our road trip rehearsal because I read it was a pretty dog-friendly town. Many cafes and restaurants welcome pups and a few of the beaches allow them as well. I’d never taken my monsters to either, but they did great. Neither liked the beach all that much (they kept running away from the water), but they didn’t have any accidents or cause any drama. That scene from Marley & Me, when Marley pooped at the beach played over and over in head. I just kept saying, “Please don’t poop. Please. Don’t. Poop.” They didn’t. 😁 They chased tiny waves and laid in the wet sand unimpressed with the whole water thing.

Overall, it was a pretty successful holiday. A lot of what made this trip so easy is that both my dogs are housebroken, they like to socialize, and are pretty laid back. We walked all over town exploring the tiny streets and little shops, visited several parks, went on many long walks and hit the beach a few times all without incident. The drive was successful, and our accommodations worked out well. This trip has definitely eased my concerns about our cross-country voyage.

I’ll be posting all about our adventures during the trip, as I’m able, so stay tuned. If you have any tips, suggestions, recommendations, or anything that you think could help, please let me know in the comments. I’ll take all the help I can get. 😊