Trains, Trains, TRAINSπŸš†

Japan planning (cont’d)

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Hey there. Been a while. The last time I wrote a post I still had 5 months until my trip to Japan. Now I’m down to 5 weeks. Time is flying by. Still not fast enough though, because I’ve been ready for this trip since 5 yesterdays ago (I have no idea what that means, but you get my point, right?). Well the holidays took up a lot of my energy since Christmas season is literally the most wonderful time of the year for me. Once the holiday season rolls around, all else goes out the window for me and I am dead-set focused on decorating and shopping lol. But anyway, it’s over and my focus has reverted back to planning for Japan.

So, with the majority of essential planning taken care of a few months ago (i.e. lodging, flights, location planning), my main focus has been on understanding transportation and scoping out general sightseeing locations. Transportation in Japan seems to be heavily reliant on the train system. There are local trains (metro system) and trains that travel between the prefectures (shinkansen a.k.a. bullet trains). Local travel doesn’t seem like it’ll be too difficult a task. I’d expect it to be pretty similar to the metro systems here in the States. The language barrier will probably be the trickiest part, but, luckily, Japan seems to be relatively English-friendly with a lot of its public amenities.Β I did want to get a better handle on how to manage my inter-prefecture travels though, since the shinkansen are slightly different, and the cost is significantly more than tickets for the metro, which appears to run an average of no more than Β₯1000 (~$10). And that estimate would be for longer distance metro rides. A train ride from Tokyo to Kyoto can run about Β₯18000 (~$180). So, you can see the obvious difference there. I did some research and came across a very valuable resource for someone who is looking to travel from prefecture to prefecture, as I am. It’s called the JR Pass. JR is a railway company in Japan (the most prominent one, from my understanding). They own not only shinkansen, but they also run some of the local lines in Japan. The rail pass is something that’s available exclusively to foreigners to help cut the costs of train travel. The pass allots you unlimited train travel on the JR owned trains for a set price of about $250 (it fluctuates slightly depending on where you purchase it from and, I believe, the currency exchange rate). So, instead of having to pay ~$360 for round trip travel between Tokyo and Kyoto (~$180 each way), I’ll pay $250 for the rail pass and still be able to use it again for any other trips I take using the JR train system, without any additional costs. Sounds like a great deal to me. The pass can be bought for either a 7, 14, or 21 consecutive day interval. The $250 estimate is for the 7-day pass, which I finally purchased last week for my boyfriend and me. There are different travel agencies that the pass can be purchased from. This site lists some of those agencies. I was originally going to purchase my passes from the Japan Experience site, but I ended up finding a Japan based travel agency called HIS International Tours that sold the pass for a couple bucks less ($247 each), and, since we could pick up the passes from their office (same day, might I add), I was also able to dodge the shipping fee πŸ‘πŸΎ. With this purchase out of the way, I’m about 75% ready for the trip.

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*Sidenote:Β What the agencies sell are actually vouchers for the JR Pass. Once you get to Japan, you can then exchange the voucher at a midori-no-madoguchi (essentially an office for JR) for the actual pass that will be used for travel within Β the country. Click here for more info on the process.

My next focus will be on purchasing Yen and packing. I have been keeping tabs on the exchange rates through XE.com, and I’m just trying to get the best deal I can. The rates were really good around the end of last year, but, unfortunately, I hadn’t done any research until January since, you know, Christmas had taken over my every thought. I’m paying for it now, because I don’t really see the rates being as good as they were at that time. What can you do? So, for about the next 2 weeks, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled to see when my bank hits a pretty decent exchange rate so I can jump on it. I hear that you don’t want to wait too late to to purchase foreign money because it does take some time to process and ship to you since large amounts are not usually carried at the bank branch stores. I had bought Β₯1000 for my boyfriend as a little gift for Christmas in anticipation for our trip, and, at that time, I was informed that they only had about Β₯8000 (~$80) on hand. So, not very much at all.

In my next post, I’ll be looking to do an update on when/at what rate I ended up doing the currency exchange, as well as a look at how/what we packed. So, be looking to hear from me in the next few weeks. Until then… ✌🏾.

Home(s) Away From Home

Japan planning (cont’d)

This one’s just a quick update on how the planning for Japan is going. And…lodging βœ”οΈ. I have officially completed my quest for adequate lodging for the duration of the trip. I literally started losing sleep over this. I was staying up ’til the wee hours of the morning (on a work-night) stressing over finalizing the broad overview of our itinerary. I needed to figure out where we were going, the duration of our stay in each city, and try to understand the structure of the prefectures so that I could locate the best areas for us to stay based on our plans. On top of all this, I was juggling between hotel sites and Airbnb trying to make reservations. What really added the stress was when I realized how quickly things were getting booked. It seemed as though almost as soon as I’d find a place that caught my eye and saved it, I’d look at my wish list within a few hours and it’d be gone. I realized the seriousness of deciding to travel at such a popular time of the year. I had to start jumping on things and quit my second-guessing. Within a matter of three days, I had our itinerary set and the places we’ll be staying at booked. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off now that I’ve gotten this taken care of. So, our itinerary looks a little something like this:

  • Tokyo
    • Shibuya- 2 days
    • Minato- 2 days
  • Kyoto
    • Shimogoyo Ward- 1 day
    • Nakagyo Ward- 1 day
  • Osaka
    • Chūō- 2 days
  • Kanagawa
    • Hakone- day trip
  • Tokyo
    • Shinagawa- 2 days

So, now that that’s out of the way…let me go cry in a corner over the depletion of my savings fund 😭 #moneyproblems (all worth it for the #lifedream).

Take 2

Let’s try this again…

Hisashiburi desu! Where have I been?! lol. To be completely honest, the answer is nowhere. I haven’t done a darn thing in the past couple months. The Australia/ New Zealand trip that I alluded to in my last post never happened (on account of me and my often complicated personal life 😢). Even though I haven’t had the opportunity to get out and around much, that doesn’t mean that I’ve put a stop to my daydreams. I’ve been determined for the past year on getting to Japan, and I mean business.

So, I’ve been busy mentally outlining an itinerary for my Japan travels for the past month or so, and, as of this weekend, I’ve finalized a generalized plan of when/how I’d like the trip to go. My boyfriend will be tagging along, so I consulted with him about a few things to make sure that everything jives for both of us, and now I’m off! First step was making sure that I had the free time to go abroad. I’ve pretty much always known that I wanted to go to Japan in the springtime so as to revel in the beauty of the blossoming sakura 🌸. So with my ideal dates in mind, I marched into my supervisor’s office on Monday morning and demanded the time off. Ok, so that is not the way it happened at all lol. I fearfully walked in with a look of guilt on my face, readying myself for a negative response. (January-June is a very busy time for my department, and it’s pretty taboo for someone to take time off during those months. Once July rolls around, you quickly see everyone scurrying off to week-long vacations to recuperate from the stress of the previous six months). I made my case, assuring my supervisor that the week I was requesting off is in the small window of “down time” that we get between projects, and that I’ve kept my workload pretty reasonable by managing my tasks appropriately. I wanted him to know that my being gone for a period of time will not result in chaos *fingers crossed*. Surprisingly, he approved my request and wished me luck in my travels. Phew…that took about 10 lbs. of weight off my shoulders. Now I just have to worry about the other 90 lbs. that comes with planning my first ever international trip! 😨

So, I now had my dates planned out and my schedule cleared. But things didn’t get real until last night. Last night…I put on my big girl panties…and made moves. Last night…I was determined to put my fears behind me and take a leap forward. Last night…I booked our flight. Soooo scary thinking about it. I woke up with a knot in my stomach just thinking about what I’d done. Did I make the right move? Should I really take this trip? Did I pick the best dates? All these thoughts came rushing in. I have only 24 hours to reconsider things. After that, these tickets become nonrefundable and it’s a done deal. As I type this post, I have one hour left to decide before my purchase becomes completely final. I had to take a deep breath after that last sentence. My boyfriend has been reassuring me all day that I made the right decision in making the moves toward making this trip a reality. His words helped significantly in allowing me to feel at peace with my decision. So, with one hour left to take back what I’ve done, I can say that I’m feeling pretty confident in going forward with everything. Step 2, booking flights βœ”οΈ.

Now I’ve just got to get down to business planning out our time there. Hotels, activities, cities to visit, landmarks to see πŸ—ΌπŸ—»πŸ―β›©. I’ve got to get all of these things planned out. I’m slowly making progress with these as well. I am planning our trip around visiting the prefectures of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Today, I booked where we will be staying in Osaka via Airbnb. So there’s another thing checked off the list. Even though we have 5 months until departure, I’ve got to get the ball rolling on reservations. Because of the time of year that we are going, things are getting booked up fast. Spring is a VERY popular time for tourists and nationals alike due to the hype of getting a chance to witness the cherry blossom trees in full bloom. The pressure is definitely on πŸ”₯.

I’ll do my best to give updates leading up to our departure from the States. In the meantime, wish me luck with all these planning shenanigans. Japan, here I come!βœˆοΈπŸ—ΎπŸ‡―πŸ‡΅

Venture #4

becoming “water safe”

I partook in my very first official swim lesson this morning. Just a quick 35 minute lesson, but it’s a start. I’ve been wanting to learn how to swim for years, but to no avail. I just don’t have enough trust in those who haven’t been certified to teach a novice how to swim (a.k.a. my friends and family). So I looked up where swimming lessons were available that also catered to adults, and lucked up in finding that private lessons were being offered at the aquatic center in town. Albeit, private only means that the instructor is one-on-one with you, because when I showed up for my appointment there was a line in the parking lot to get in and the pool was already filled with people just coming to enjoy themselves for the day. So, my instructor, who looked to just be barely out of high school (if that) looked for some space in the water where we’d have some sort of space for me to learn. It was interesting though. The water was extremely choppy because of all the movement from people swimming and there were some close calls of running into people during the lesson. All in all, we managed to do what we could with the space we could find. My instructor was very calm and patient with me, as I informed her that we would be starting from complete scratch with me. She started me with a board and noodle to help keep me afloat while she helped me try to kick my way from one end of the pool to the other. I have no idea what my body was doing because I felt like I was kicking all over the place. Next, she wanted to see how comfortable I would be with having my head under water. First, she started by placing a ring at the bottom of the pool and having me go under to grab it. That worked out pretty well. I’ve held my head under water before, so that wasn’t too big of a deal. Now she had me practice trying to swim from one end to the other with my face in the water and turning my head side to side anytime I needed to come up for air. That’s when things got tricky for me. Too many things to focus on at once. I was trying to focus on my kicking, staying afloat, holding my breath, and how to come up for air all at the same time. I was only able to make it about halfway before I started dropping or taking in water. But it still wasn’t too bad for my first attempts. After that, came floating. First, on my back, then, on my front. Floating on my back wasn’t too bad, but I had trouble keeping my hips up. The front was a different story because it involved holding my breath and doing some arm motions to stay up. After floating was, the last event for the day, bobbing. She took me to a deeper end where I would need to stand on my tip-toes to keep my head above water. I wasn’t too thrilled with going to a deeper end on my first day, but I tried it anyway (especially when I saw there were little kids learning how to swim over in that end lol). It took me a minute to get myself relaxed enough to get off my toes and allow myself to go under and push back up, but I managed to do it a couple times and that was enough. And that was it. Lesson over. I must say, I gained a little more confidence in my ability to learn after this lesson. It helped that I had someone who could better help me to understand the dynamics of what needs to be done in order to do something in the water. Most people just say “let go and your body just naturally floats”, but my instructor helped me to understand what parts of my body I needed to manipulate. For instance, she noted that floating requires me to keep my hips up and use some abdominal strength and that kicking is more so motion of the hips and thighs than the knees. Understanding this helped me greatly. I do look forward to taking more lessons in the future. I feel like swimming is an essential skill set to anyone looking to do a lot of travel. Traveling and exploring isn’t limitedΒ to dry land only. There is so much aquatic venturing out there, I’d be doing myself a disservice to restrict myself from the experience. So, that was that and on to the next…

Venture #3

Yosemite 🏞

A bit of a last minute trip, but I went to Yosemite. It was a quick getaway for my travel partner’s birthday. It was a 5.5 hour drive each way,and we made the mistake of not sticking to our planned schedule, resulting in our afternoon arrival when the intent was to make it mid-morning. Oh well. It was our first time and we didn’t quite know what we were looking forward to. We chalked it all up to a learning experience to be better prepared for a future visit. We took the “back way” to get there. Heading up through the 395 to the 120. We started up in the Tioga Pass, but didn’t get too far before we realized we were in need of gas. The map provided to us at the entrance showed a gas station about 5-6 miles down the road. So we headed down the road, only to find that there was no gas station. We drove down to the visitor center to inquire as to where the gas station was and were told that it was no longer there. The next one was 40 miles away! Well, we needed gas so…we made our way hoping that we’d make it on the quarter tank we had left. We had initially intended to only drive through the park a couple miles, sightsee, then settle in for the evening (we had lodging reserved back down in Mammoth – a 45 minute ride south of Yosemite). We figured we could start anew in the morning Β and catch an earlier start and do a couple hikes at the west end of the park. Once again, our plans were altered due to poor planning on our part. Next time we know to fill up whenever we get the chance lol. So now we were going further into the park than we had initially planned. But we made the most of the drive. It took us about an hour to finally get to the gas station, and, once we did, we made our trek back to where we started. The drive down allowed us to see what spots we wanted stop at on the way back, so that was a plus. We hit up the lookouts that caught our attention, got these lovely pictures that are shared below, and left. We were pretty beat from the drive and looking forward to dinner and resting up for what we had planned for the next day. We stayed atΒ the Mammoth Mountain Inn, which was just steps from the lifts that take you up the mountain. The accommodation were nice. You could tell it was an older facility from the rooms, but the lobby area was more updated and exactly what you’d expect for cabin-style lodging. I’d love to come back during snow season to really take in and enjoy the true mountain cabin vibe. It was little difficult at the time, being that it’s June and 85Β°F outside. But I digress. We grabbed pizza in the village and made our way back to our room. We ate and fell out lol. Before we knew it, it was morning and, once again, we were off to a bad start. We, lazily, decided to stay until check out time at 11a.m. We didn’t make it back to Yosemite until around 12:30p after getting gas and a bite to eat.

Sidenote: we ended up at a nice little spot called Stellar Cafe down on Main Street, next to the Chevron station. A good spot for those who are a little more health conscious. We both ended up getting açai bowls (very good, I might add). Sorry for the digression. Back to Yosemite.

Back we were at Tioga Pass. Since we had made all the pitstops we wanted on the east end the previous day, we headed straight for the west end toward Yosemite Village. So we drove and drove for another 1.5 hours. By the time we had made it to the other end it was already 2:30 and we knew we had another 6 hour drive to get us back home. There was no way we were going to be able to do any hikes and make it back at a decent enough time to get ready for work in the morning. So we decided to quit. We accepted our loss and took it as a teaching moment. Now, we know we mustΒ get as early a start as possible. Start at the west end of the park, as that is where most of the hiking trails are. And, if we’re going to do an overnight trip, plan to stay in the park. So we made our way back to LA.

The trip wasn’t a complete loss though. I enjoyed the drive (we didn’t hit any traffic there or back), got to spend quality time with someone I hold dear to my heart, went somewhere I had never gone before, was able to revel in the majestic beauty of nature and God’s great creations, and got some great pics to share and look back on. All in all, I had a great time and can’t wait to do it again (the right way, haha).

 

Making MovesπŸ‘£πŸ‘£πŸ‘£

Step One

So, to be honest, there hasn’t been much “venturing” going on lol. BUT there is major intention. As of now, there is a trip to Australia and New Zealand in the works and I’m really excited about it 😁. Still in the early planning stages, but it’s coming along. I’m looking to post updates about milestones reached in the planning process up to the trip, and, of course, hopefully have plenty to post about during my travels.

I guess this post will be the first update.

Today, in the mail, I received my very first passport! I honestly hadn’t even thought about the fact that I needed one until my travel partner happened to talk about how his was set to expire in the next year or so. So glad that topic came up (for whatever reason it did at the time lol). So, the first chance I got, I went to have the photos taken at my neighborhood Walgreens and then made an appointment to turn in my application at the post office. I was informed that it could take up to six weeks before I received the passport, so that’s the timeframe I expected. Amazingly, here it is. One day shy of 3 weeks, and I’ve already got it πŸ‘. The timing is actually perfect because I was hoping to have my passport by the time flights were being booked on the off chance that my passport number was needed for booking (I was told that that can sometimes be the case when booking international flights). So, now I finally have the appropriate identification and documentation for traveling abroad. One step in the right direction πŸ‘£ And on to the next…

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Venture #2

the BIG jump

Honestly, this should probably be “venture 0” since it happened a few days ago, but I was having trouble getting a name for the blog, and therefore couldn’t post about it in time lol. So…forgive me for being a little behind. My bad 😢

Sunday, May 1, 2016. The day I jumped out of a plane. Well, more like was pushed. Tandem, of course. And I actually enjoyed it.Β It’s always been something I’ve considered doing at some point. I just never made a point of doing it. But that all changed due to a young man named Dyar and his crazy antics.

It all started a few months ago when Dyar mentioned going skydiving with his brother and asked if I’d be interested in going (jokingly). I declined, but told him I’d think about it as a possibility in the future. Fast-forward to a few weeks later at a get-together I had for my birthday. Dyar hands me an envelop with my “gift” inside. I open it ,and, low and behold, I find what appears to be a tandem skydive ticket. Purchased and ready to be redeemed. I panicked a little inside, but, after a few hours of taking it in, I came to terms with what was to come. I began to get comfortable with the idea of actually going through with jumping from a plane. I begin to express my newfound excitement to Dyar, and that’s when he responds, “I feel bad. I can’t let this go on any longer. The ticket is fake.” I, surprisingly, was a little saddened. I was looking forward to doing something new and daring, and just like that, it was gone. But soon after the sadness passed and I moved on to relief. I wasn’t going to have to jump out of a plane anymore! Lol. Talk about mixed emotions. Fast-forward again a few months, and I get a text from Dyar saying that he and some co-workers were ACTUALLY going to go skydiving. Would I care to join? My initial response was, “haha. no thanks.” But I found myself questioning my decision and asking myself “why not?” Why was I not taking up this opportunity when I knew good and well that I had an interest in doing it, and the offer doesn’t present itself everyday? The next day I text Dyar saying that I think I had made a mistake in declining the offer. He responded telling me that the offer was still open. So I took it. All I needed to do was buy a Groupon for the discount and he would add me to the list of people going. And that was it. I was officially going skydiving. And I was quite content with the decision.

So here we are. The day of the skydive. Of course, I spent the night before looking at videos on Youtube of people skydiving so that I could have some sort of idea of what to expect. I thought that watching the videos of these other daring souls placing their trust in another human being strapped to their back ,with what you pray are “working” parachutes, would make me stressed and nervous about my own upcoming jump. But it didn’t. I felt more at ease. It looked a lot less nerve-wracking than what I envisioned. And so, I slept well that night. The next morning came, and we were scheduled to begin prepping for our jump at 11 a.m. My mom and I got ready and headed for Oceanside at around 9 a.m. I was the first of our group to arrive. There would be 9 of us total. Gradually the others came and we were all introduced. Most of the others were co-workers and friends of Dyar and their respective spouses. We were all anxious and excited for what was to come. This would be the second skydive for Dyar and two others in the group, but we all appeared to be equally nervous. It was a chilly and cloudy morning so we were informed that there would be a delay until the sky cleared. We were advised that we might want to grab a bite to eat or find something to do around town, as it could be a few hours before the sun came out. If it would come out at all. So we left and got breakfast. About an hour had passed before we got a call informing us that the weather conditions were better and that we could start preparing to head back and get ready for our jump. We returned to the airport at about 1:30 p.m. to find that they were indeed preparing groups to jump. Unfortunately, there were about 5-6 groups ahead of us, and there would be about 20 mins between each jump. So we were left to wait again. So we waited and waited and waited. Finally, 4 o’clock rolls around and the first 5 in our group were called to suit up for their jump. This meant in a short 20 or so minutes it would be my turn. We watched the first 5 get their gear on, climb into the plane, and fly off. About 10 minutes later I hear “Breeann!” It was Joe. The man that I would be entrusting my life to as we fell from the sky. (My name is not Breeann, by the way. It’s Breeawn. But I didn’t feel any particular need correct him. What did it really matter in the scope of things? Plus i’m so used to the incorrect pronunciation that it rarely phases me anymore. Hence why I stick with ‘Bree’. It’s easier on everyone). So, Joe straps on my gear and we’re good to go. We take a few pictures before we depart. I say my I love yous and goodbyes to to my mom and my best friend (and ex-boyfriend πŸ˜…), David, and on the plane we go. Oh yeah! did I forget to mention that I have no conscious experience of what it’s like to be in a plane? Cause, yeah…that’s just another venture to cross off the list today. (My one and only prior plane experience was a flight to New York when I was 3 years old. So, of course, I have NO memory of that.)

So we’re all jammed into this 15 passenger plane, slowly ascending, and the feeling is amazing. I’m loving every minute of it so far. I look out the window and everything gets smaller and before I know it I see this beautiful, blue, glistening surface below. We’re over the ocean. The view is breathtaking. Thankfully, it helped to put me in such a peaceful mood that I wasn’t even stressing about what was to come in the next few minutes. All I could think about was what I was taking in at that moment. Then the plane turns around and we head back over land. My serenity is gone and reality starts slapping me in the face again because Joe starts tightening my gear and, before I know it, the door opens…

FreezingΒ cold air comes in and hit me like a freight train. The first 2 people make their way out with their pros before I know it. All of a sudden I see the guy ahead of me fall out like it was nothing. Joe starts getting me pumped up and ready to go, and we start making our crawl to the door. Now there was no training or class of any sort prior to this. All I had was Joe’s instruction to lean my head back and arch as much as possible. “You can’t arch enough” is how he put it. So we’re at the door, I put my legs out, lean my head back, arch my back, and, without warning, we’re falling. It took about a good 2-3 seconds before I realized that we were actually free falling and for my body to react. But once it hit me, I was holding onto the straps for dear life. Literally. I wouldn’t let go, even though Joe kept tapping my arm. I was aware of nothing going on around me. I was still trying to make sense of the fact that I was FALLING FROM THE SKY! Haha. Joe finally pulls at my arm and I realize that I needed to let go and put my arms out. But after that, it was nothing. It’s like my body suddenly acclimated to the fact that it was traveling at 120 mph. All I felt was wind pressure. Then my goggles started coming off lol. Just my luck. They were riding up my face slowly, and eventually started pushing into my eyes. Now all I could think about was keeping the goggles from flying off. I eventually resort to just holding them on with one hand so that I could have my full attention on the experience. And it was fun. I had forgotten about the “danger” and was just taking it all in. Before I knew it, Joe pulled the parachute and we were just coasting. It was exactly how I had imagined floating would be. You’re just hovering in the air. Nice and smooth. There were a few times that he did some maneuvers that picked up the speed a bit, but I enjoyed it. We slowly made our descent and landed without a hitch. And that was it. I had experienced my first tandem skydive.

We hitched a ride on the shuttle that came by to bring us back to the main office area, took off our gear, got our videos, filled out comment cards and left tips to our respective skydive professionals, said our goodbyes, and everyone headed home. The thrill had come and gone and just like that, I was right back on to living my life as though nothing had happened. Luckily I have footage to remind me of this major feat. The day I fell from the sky and survived. Well, it wasn’t as serious as I make it sound, but hey, it’s not your everyday thing either. Would I do it again? Yeah, one day. I have to give my body a chance to recover from the trauma hahaha. I’m totally kidding. But, yes, I could see myself taking on the thrill again someday. But I’m glad that I took up the offer this time around. And I’m proud of myself for not letting fear get in the way of me living my life and taking a step in living out my #lifedream. ⭐️

Photo May 01, 5 04 47 PM
After a successful jump. Thanks for taking care of me, Joe!
For anyone in the SoCal area who might be interested in skydiving, here’s the link to company that we jumped with:
GoJump Oceanside
Like I mentioned, there was a Groupon to discount the total price. Not sure how often it’s offered.