Monday, December 31, 2012

Photo A Day {Dec}

I'm convinced this will be the 1st photo a day project I stick to for a whole year.  I started back in March so only 2 more months to go to complete 365 days!  This is something that's on my bucket list but I didn't start this out expecting it to be the time I stuck to it.  I love that more and more people are joining in each month and seeing how different people interpret the prompts!

Here are my photos from December.


According to Facebook, here are the top 20 moments of my year!

1. I changed my profile picture

2. We traveled to China

3. We traveled to Bali

 4. I went to Ishinomaki

5. Jason and I attended the MI Ball 

6.  My brother-in-law married this beautiful lady 

7.  I turned 30.

8.  I celebrated my birthday with a girls night out.

9.  We climbed Mt Fuji

10.  We paid off all our debt!

11.  We attended Bon Odori.

12.  I went to Ishinomaki for the 1st time.

13 + 14  I checked in at Cheesecake Factory...TWICE 

16.  I ran the Warrior Dash

17.  The husband and I went for a bike ride.

19.  I went to a fertility festival.

20.  My friend Beth got married {technically in Dec 2011 but photos were posted in 2012}

I can't imagine a better year.  Next year has some very drastic changes in store for us.  I'm excited and very nervous but determined to make 2013 my best year yet!


Saturday, December 29, 2012

China {Shanghai}

Since we booked tours everyday, I didn't bother to do much research on China until about 2 days before we left.  In the small amount of research I did, I stumbled across the fact that there are quite a few Papa John's locations in China.  Papa John's is one of the things we miss the very most over here {somehow Japan missed the memo that Papa John's is superior to Domino's and Pizza Hut}. 

When we arrived in Shanghai, pizza was at the top of our to do list.  We'd barely checked into our hotel before we ordered a ridiculous amount of food.  The company made it super easy for us, they provide a toll free number and an option for an English speaking representative.  The quality was exactly what we are accustomed to in America. 

We both agreed that it was just as good as we'd hoped it would be and consumed an absurd amount of food.  I proceeded to eat left overs for the duration of our stay in Shanghai.  If there had been any left, I'd have found a way to bring it back to Japan.

After we gorged ourselves, we headed out in search of some nightlife.  We'd been told that there was a street lined with bars very near to our hotel.  3 hours of walking later, we finally found the bars 2 blocks from our hotel.  By that point I was tired an had no interest in a drink so we went back to our hotel with plans to go out the following night.  Unfortunately the following night when we went by, they were all Shanghai night life for us!

While out walking, we did stop for some delicious HOT drinks at a little shop called Happy Lemon
I had a hot chocolate and Jason had some cranberry apple tea.  It made up for the lack of vending machines we've become accustomed to seeing on every corner in Japan.

The next day we visited the Jade Buddah Temple,

 the Old Town which wasn't actually old but quite new,

The Yu Gardens which we gorgeous, 

and the Bund area.

I had really high hopes of getting a nice shot of the Shanghai skyline but the horrible air quality prevented that {and has also resulted in an awful sinus infection for me}.

That day there were many couples out having wedding photos taken so I had to discretely snap a few of my own.

We also stopped at a pearl shop where we learned the difference between fresh water and ocean pearls and how to tell a fake from the real deal.

We spent a few hours at a museum

Then finished the day walking around the city.

 This night we were searching for a specific type of restaurant but couldn't find it so we just randomly walked into a place.  They had a picture menu at the front counter but the images were very small and we really had no clue what we were going to be served.  It ended up being a GIANT bowl of broth and a plate of raw seafood and veggies that you added to the broth to cook.  {we also ordered fried rice as a back up}

The plates were all lined up along the wall ready to be served which made me a tad nervous but neither on of us became ill so we consider it a successful meal!

Shanghai was very similar to Tokyo with lots of tall buildings and lights at night. 

Overall we enjoyed ourselves in China but it wasn't our favorite {it's going to be VERY hard to top Bali}.  The language there baffles me.  Everyone was constantly yelling other and their words kind of slur together so it was like being in a city full of drunks.  They barter for EVERYTHING there and that just isn't our thing.  There is no part of it that we enjoy.  We always walk away feeling like either we got ripped off or we ripped off someone trying to make a living.

Friday, December 28, 2012

China {Xian}

From Beijing we flew to Xi'an for a day.  While we were waiting to pick up our luggage, we saw one of the most bizarre things we've ever seen in all of our travels.  On the carousel where the baggage arrives there were many boxes coming out before the suitcases.  One of the boxes had come open and hanging out of the side was an animal carcass.  A skinned animal {maybe a goat but it 100% could have been a dog by looking at the tail} not packed in ice or anything, just hanging our of a box going around on the conveyor belt.  Unfortunately I was so stunned that I didn't get a photo!

Our first stop in Xi'an was the Banpo Neolithic Museum.  The museum was built around a site that was discovered while they were attempting to build a power plant at the site.  Jason loved every second of it and definitely got his history nerd on. 

From there we traveled to a terra-cotta factory where they make replicas of the famous Terra-Cotta Warriors

Then on to see the Terra-Cotta Warriors and Horses.  These artifacts date back to around 200 BC.

 Over 7,000 pottery soldiers, horses, chariots, and even weapons have been found over the last few decades.  It was really fascinating to see and learn about them.  

 Apparently ordinary men created these warriors, not artists, so each of them are slightly different and most of them resemble faces that were familiar to their creator, like brothers or fathers.

We ate lunch at a restaurant on site and there were chefs making fresh noodles while we ate.  This guy was using a v shaped knife to shave off noodles from a large log of dough.

This man was shaking a long piece of dough over and over, folding it in half every so often, which created super long skinny noodles {that were served in a delicious soup that we consumed multiple bowls of}.  Apparently when President Bush {or maybe Clinton, I can't remember} visited China, one of the top chefs in the country demonstrated how to make noodles this way and was able to create noodles as thin as a strand of hair.  Impressive!

This was on the back of our car in Xi'an.  It made me chuckle.

After the Terra-Cotta Warriors, we ventured through the Muslim Quarter which is famous for it's street food.

I was trying to be sly but this lady caught me and flashed me a smile...I wish I had been focusing on her and not the food!

I have no idea what they were making or serving here and I think I'm better off not knowing!

Chinese "yakitori" or grilled meat. 

At the end of all the food and shops, we ended at the Great Mosque

This was one of my favorite parts of our trip.  I love seeing local people going about their every day activities.

That night we ventured out in search of a restaurant that our guide recommended for dinner.  Unfortunately we never found the restaurant but we had a great evening none the less.

We walked around for quite a while trying to decide where to eat {this is always the most challenging part of traveling for us.  So many options and we don't like to use guide books because, for the most part, we prefer to eat like locals, not tourists}.  Finally we saw a restaurant that had photos outside and a man that greeted us in English and showed us an English menu.  We were sold!  Our waitress had her own agenda though, every time we tried to order something she'd day "no" and point to something else.  Once she said "beef flavor" and once she told us "chicken flavor".  We decided to just go with what ever it was she wanted to serve us.  

That turned out to be interesting.  The beef dish tasted like a peppery cheese steak without the cheese {I don't eat beef but I picked out a lot of the peppers and onions}.  The chicken dish which I was planning to eat was EXTREMELY spicy and when they said chicken, they meant the WHOLE chicken!  It looked like they had taken an entire chicken and chopped it all up and tossed it in sauce with veggies.  Unlike me, Jason was brave enough to try some of the chicken parts we usually don't eat.
Like I said in my post yesterday, there is no one else I'd rather do this with.  I couldn't be as adventurous as I am without him by my side!

There were a few young girls working at the restaurant who kept peeking around the corner to look at us and giggle.  A few times they would be brave enough to say, "hello" then they would run away.  We appreciated their attempt to interact with us.

After dinner we walked around for a bit before heading back to our hotel.

Some of the things we saw them selling at the street markets were mind blowing.  Bullfrogs!?!?!  They were also selling cicadas for consumption.

When we left Xi'an, our flight was cancelled so we had a few hours to kill before our new flight.  We sat at a small cafe reading which is totally common practice for travelers so I didn't think anything of it but in Xi'an, it was like we were caged zoo animals.  There are still many Chinese who have never seen a Westerner and they had no qualms about staring at us.  One woman almost wrecked her luggage cart because she was gawking at us.