Perusing Pike Place in Seattle

It was four years ago, almost exactly. I stopped in Washington for a few days to visit family before moving across the globe to Japan. My sister lived near (but not in) Seattle, and during my very short trip, she brought me here. Continue reading Perusing Pike Place in Seattle

Tokyo Goes Green

Tokyo celebrates almost all countries and cultures around the world, and Ireland is no exception. Yesterday, the city revered St. Patrick and the Irish with a parade down Harajuku’s Otomesando Dori. Continue reading Tokyo Goes Green

Under The Maldivian Sea

Swimming with the fish is an incredible experience. I’m not a good swimmer or a fan of being underwater, so, needless to say, I was really hesitant to sign up for this excursion. But I’ve been on this face-your-fears, you-only-live-once kick lately. So I decided to go for it! Besides, I had (and still have) no idea if and when I’d be in the Maldives again.

Our tour guide took this picture of me during our first snorkel adventure. It exceeded my expectations in every way possible. The guides were so friendly and knowledgeable. They knew all about the reefs and sea life and the best places to observe some truly spectacular underwater creatures. On this day we swam with sea turtles, stingrays, countless fish and an abundance of other ocean beings.

It was such a good day. I ❤ the Maldives!

My Five Travel Must-haves

My packing list tends to vary by location and season. If there’s a beach or pool, I pack my bikini. If there are mountains and snow, I bring my gloves and a big coat. But there are a few things I never leave home without. My passport, medicines (headache and cold stuff) and sneakers go without saying, so I’m skipping those. But these five things I absolutely need!

1. Journal

I never travel anywhere without it. Ever. I typically don’t have time while I’m traveling to make full entries. But I use it to jot down notes, the names of places, lessons learned, itineraries, etc. I also tape ticket stubs, receipts and sometimes even napkins on the pages (yes, I’m sentimental like that). It helps me remember my adventures better. And it’s always fun to go back and read it after time has passed.

2. Headphones (and iPhone)

I never leave home without them; it doesn’t matter how far I’m going. Listening to music helps drown out noise during flights, but also I like to create soundtracks for my trips. I know. It’s a little weird. But songs and smells trigger my memory more than anything else, and I really love hearing a song and having it transport me to the places I’ve been and remind me of my adventures.

3. Camera(s)

Duh! The camera I take depends on where I am going, how I’m getting there, and how long my trip is going to be. Sometimes I take my GoPro. Others I take my Nikon. Or sometimes even my Pentax. I always have my phone, though (unless I lose it mid-trip–yes, it’s happened), and the camera on it is pretty decent. having a way to capture my travels is crucial.

4. Skincare (Gotta have it!)

First, sunscreen. I very rarely burn. But I never want to. So I always pack my sunscreen–especially the stuff for my face. I use Kiehl’s Super Fluid Daily UV Defense. It’s lightweight and has SPF 50. And my face stays burn free. Second, moisturizers. I find my skin gets really dry when I travel, especially when I go on long trips. So I always make sure I pack moisturizer for my face and body and eye cream (Keihl’s Rosa Artica face and eye cream and coconut oil for my body). I also pack a few moisture-mask sheets. This stuff keeps down skin irritation for me, and there’s nothing worse than going on vacations and feeling itchy, irritated or uncomfortable.

5. Rosebud Salve

Lastly, I can’t live without my Rosebud. It’s not just a must-have for travel; for me, it’s an everyday essential. It helps with dry skin, soothes burns, and even treats diaper rash. I mostly just use it as a lip balm, but I never leave home without it.

Harajuku’s Neon Lights

Signs illuminate so much of Tokyo. Streets in Shinjuku, Akihabara, Roppongi and pretty much most any other major neighborhood in the city are littered with bright lights, placards, and ads. But I really love the glow of this particular street. The vibrant, gleaming cerulean and fuschia and pretty fonts fit the vibe of this district perfectly. Harajuku is known for being quirky, trendy, artsy and super fun. Takeshita Street is especially popular with the younger crowd, and its shops, style, and atmosphere make that evident. The narrow road is almost always crowded with energetic teens and tourists shopping and eating. I can almost smell the sweet, sugary crepes through the photo.

Let It Snow in Aomori Spring

As temperatures drop and days get shorter, many find themselves longing for summer… Wishing for warmer conditions, nine o’clock sunsets and hours by the pool (or beach). Enduring snow, ice and below freezing temperatures is not something a lot of people look forward to. But with wintertime comes hot cocoa, snowmen, and, most importantly, the thrill of winter sports.

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While many dread the arrival of winter, I wait for it like a child waits for Christmas or summer vacation–impatiently and excitedly. I watch the forecast and snow reports incessantly, eagerly anticipating the start of ski/snowboarding season. I wouldn’t call myself an expert (or even good) by any stretch of the imagination. But I can’t wait for the mountains to finally have enough snow on them for me to clumsily tumble down the slopes on my snowboard. I look forward to it every year.

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Snowboarding is one of my most favorite activities. I love how it makes me feel. It’s relaxing and exhilarating and freeing all at the same time. I relish feeling the wind on my face as I glide down the mountain. And I always feel ecstatic when I learn to do something that I couldn’t do before. It is physically tiring, and sometimes even a little painful, but totally worth it.

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Snowboarding is awesome, but not all resorts are created equal. Don’t get me wrong, it’s unlikely that I’ll turn down the chance to board, regardless of where. However, there are some locations that far better than others. And then there are those that are just incredible. One of my favorite places to snowboard is in Ajigasawa, Japan. The Aomori Spring Ski Resort isn’t super big, but it’s also not overly crowded (which I love). It features 14 trails, four lifts, and a gondola. About half of the trails are for beginners (perfect for kids and a novice like me), 30% are for intermediate skiers and snowboarders and 20% are for the experts. The quality of snow at this resort is excellent (lots of powder). It was like gliding on clouds, and spending a few days on the slopes at this resort was heaven. The main trail is 3.4 kilometers, and while not extremely steep (the max slope was only 18 degrees) or difficult (it’s a beginner run), the landscape was diverse and beautiful. More advanced skiers and snowboarders may not enjoy this resort as much as I did. But there is plenty terrain to go off-piste and the resort also has a big half-pipe for the more adventurous types.

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I also really enjoyed Aomori Spring because it offers night-skiing and boarding. This was the first resort I ever boarded at night at, and it was really great. I half-expected the snow to be harder or icier, but it wasn’t. It was soft and fluffy, and the courses were very well-lit. However, only two of the lifts are open for night skiing and none of the advanced trails are accessible after 1700.

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The amazing cabin cul-de-sac we stayed at when I visited this resort, though, was what really made this trip for me. At Aomori Spring, you can stay at the very nice and very elegant Rockwell Hotel. It offers comfortable, Western-style rooms with views of the slopes. It has a bar, restaurant, spa, and onsen, and the hotel is situated at the foot of two of the main lifts. But we wanted something a little more private and spacious, so we opted to stay in the little cabin village just a few minutes down the mountain (think fancy camping). The little wooden cottage was fully furnished and featured a kitchen, two full beds, and a loft space. There are only about ten of them, and they are surrounded by thick, snow-covered trees. It’s a wonderful place to start and end your day. Access to the lifts from the cabins is easy, and you’re close enough to the hotel to take advantage of its amenities. However, you’re just far enough away to feel secluded and really appreciate nature. It’s what made this getaway feel that much more relaxing and adventuresome.

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Prices:

The prices at this resort are incredibly reasonable. A full-day (8 am to 5 pm) adult pass cost me 4700 Yen (about $45), and night skiing/boarding is available for only 2800 Yen ($25-ish) from 4:30 pm to 9 pm.

How to get there:

The easiest way to get there is to drive. You can take a couple of trains, but that still doesn’t get you to the resort. You would have to take a taxi to get there from JR Ajigasawa Station. There’s a free shuttle from the station if you stay at the Rockwood Hotel. I drove to the resort and found it to be super simple and way more convenient (note: I almost always opt for convenience, especially when I’m limited on time). Plus, I’ve ridden the Japan Railway enough times to feel confident that I wasn’t going to miss anything. Rental cars are available at the Aomori Aiport (just reserve it in advance); the drive takes about an hour.

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