It had finally come – our family vacation to Taiwan! We had originally been planning a trip to Thailand, but the flights went up in price before John had his leave approved. So Taiwan it was! It was Chaucer who wrote that spring is when folks long to go on pilgrimage, and I can’t deny that’s what we were feeling. It was time to go. After moving every year for 6 years in a row, we were feeling the need to go somewhere. This is the longest we’ve lived in one place since having children (mind you, it’s only been a year and 4 months). John had visited China in 2015 before the kids and I were able to move out here to Okinawa with him, but when we found out the Visas to get into China were over $200 we realized we wouldn’t be able to take the whole family. So for that reason I was really excited to see Taiwan. It was about as Chinese as you could get without actually going to China. The main culture we witnessed was Chinese, as the language spoken is Mandarin, but there is also a lot of influence from Japan and other Asian countries. India even has a pretty big influence on this large island. They call Taiwan the “The heart of Asia”. (more…)
Over the past two months or so I have been on a journey to detox our home. To purge it from all the unnecessary stuff that fills my mind and clutters our space. It started with a few podcasts I’d been listening to, a book I’d been reading with a few friends, and then what sealed it was finally getting around to listening to the book called The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up. Friends. Can I just ask you, please read this book! It was a game changer for me. Seriously.
After listening to the book I proceeded to work through our house, starting with my own clothing, and working through the different categories such as books, papers, and kimono (miscellany categories such as bathroom, makeup, jewelry, cleaning supplies, toys, kitchen, etc.). The goal is to only keep the things that “spark joy” and to rid yourself of all the rest. It took about 8 weeks to get to a stopping point. (more…)
The last day of our trip was finally here. We only had one day in Otaru, so we really packed everything in as best we could. We went to a fish market for breakfast, which was such a fun experience.
If you haven’t read about our first two days in Hokkaido, you can do that here and here. On Tuesday, we took the subway from Sapporo Station to another area of the Snow Festival, the Tsudome site. It was an adventure just using the subway system. Growing up in Texas, neither John nor I were that savvy with subways to begin with. But we thankfully managed to figure it out without any English words to help us along! (more…)
I had never heard of the annual Sapporo Snow Festival, until John came home telling me about it at the end of January. Surprisingly, in 2016 we really didn’t go anywhere. We did take a couple nights trip up the coast to the beach at Okuma when Grams was visiting in November, but other than that we had stayed put. Between adjusting to life with three little ones, and John’s 60-70 hour work weeks, we were happy just keeping our heads above water. We had planned to venture off our tiny island of Okinawa for several trips in 2017, and one of the trips we’d been planning had recently been scratched. So we decided to jump online, do some quick research, and see if we could find good lodging and cheap tickets. Sure enough, Peach was offering great prices on their last minute flights to Hokkaido and we booked some of the last hotels in Sapporo and Otaru. Cheap flights are a must when you’re a family of five. We’d already saved up money for the trip that hadn’t worked out, so our budget was happy.
Hokkaido is actually an island, all the way above the northern part of the bigger island of mainland Japan. The city of Sapporo is similar in climate to Chicago or Boston. The Japanese seemed very proud of Hokkaido, and we got to know the shape very well, as it was on everything from coffee drinks in the vending machines to t-shirts and ice cream shops. It reminded us of the pride Texans have and the way you can find the shape of our state everywhere. I found this map at worldatlas.com – you can see Okinawa at the very bottom of the image, and Sapporo is near the top on the island of Hokkaido.
Map of Japan from worldatlas.com
The next challenge was gathering warm enough clothing for all of us. After living for a year in Okinawa, where the coldest temperatures we’d seen were in the high 40’s, we’d all but forgotten about cold weather.
The middle of November in Okinawa…no warm clothes necessary!
Thankfully we have awesome friends here who were willing to loan us some of the gear we were missing. The last few things we were able to secure on clearance from the bunny store out in town and the PX.
The last difficulty was packing all that bulky clothing and gear for all five of us into a manageable amount of bags. This was especially important considering we planned to take many trains and buses, where we’d be carrying all we brought with us. We managed to fit it all in our large L.L. Bean duffle bag and a smaller L.L. Bean duffle carry-on (seriously, these bags have been great investments!). Between those and a couple backpacks we were set! Unfortunately I have no pictures of us with our luggage – obviously because our hands were always full when we were dragging everyone from point A to point B.
We set out on Sunday morning. It was our first time taking a plane trip with all five of us (besides our move to Okinawa from the states when Violet was 8 weeks old). I was pretty nervous. We were outnumbered, which is a scary thought with all the transfers and details that traveling requires. Ironically, I had packed all of Violet’s socks for the trip, so the morning we left all I could find were two mismatched socks. I guess you could say she’s a christened member of our family’s travels now.
Violet passed out in the hotel in her mismatched socks.
We flew through Tokyo, switched planes, rechecked our bag and baby bed, and boarded our second flight to Sapporo. It was a full day of travel – about 8am to 8pm.
The kids did great on the flights and were so excited when we could finally see snow from our plane.
Once in Sapporo we bought tickets for the train that ran to downtown, near our hotel. It was a little scary taking that train, since the stops were super quick, and we had three kids, our luggage and umbrella stroller to manage. Thankfully, the other tourists as well as the Japanese locals were very friendly and helped Olivia and Cliff climb off the train. It was the most logistically challenging part of our trip.
Near 8:00pm we finally arrived in Sapporo at the Prince Hotel.
View from our hotel room.
It was one of the last rooms available, and all we could get was a room with two twin beds. In Japan, kids under 6 stay free when they use existing beds, so it made it affordable, but we were pretty crowded in that tiny Japanese-sized double twin room! At least Violet had her own bed!
Olivia and Cliff didn’t seem to mind sharing a bed – they slept soundly!
That night we tried in vain to find some good dinner. We were all too tired and cold to think straight, and after a failed attempt at one restaurant that was more like a Japanese pub, we ended up just getting some to-go food from Lawson’s (a Japanese convenience store) next door. They have yummy chicken, onigiri (triangle rice balls wrapped with seaweed), sushi, etc.
The best part about the hotel was how close we were to the festival – just a quick 3 block walk and we were right in the middle of all the excitement. We all went to bed early so we could get a good start the next morning. More to come soon!
After our short stop at Iguazu Falls, we were back on another flight for Rio de Janeiro. This was John’s favorite place he visited when in Brazil last November. It’s amazing how nice and relaxing flights are when you don’t have two toddlers to entertain! Don’t get me wrong, I was missing those sweet kiddos like crazy, but I was not missing flying with them ;).
The first day we had in Rio we visited the iconic Sugar Loaf or Pão de Açúcar in Portuguese. Being in a country that spoke Portuguese was challenging for me. It did help me see how much my Spanish has improved with living in Lima, but I was discouraged at how little I understood of Portuguese! John had been taking lessons for the past year, so his was good enough to get us around, which was a good thing since I was basically useless on that front!
While David and Katelyn were with us in Peru, they offered (or maybe John coerced them into it…) to watch the kids for us so we could make a trip to Brazil together. It was our first time leaving the kids in quite a long time and I was really apprehensive about it. Thankfully, the kids had a wonderful time with their aunt and uncle and everyone did great! John really wanted us to go on this trip – he had already been to Brazil few months earlier for a 2 week trip traveling around the country, but he had loved Rio so much he wanted us to go back together. When it came time to book our tickets, the prices had gone up so much that we didn’t think it was going to work out. I kept looking for options though, and finally realized that if we had a long layover in Iguazu Falls, we could save $100+ per ticket! This almost covered the price of a hotel in Iguazu (like my money-saving logic? 🙂 ). So we flew in around 6pm and got a taxi to the hotel right at the falls edge.
It had been a full five days since we started our Amazon adventure. It was a really nice trip, even though we happened to be there during the rainy season. The zoo had been great fun, as had the manatee rescue center. We all got to hold sloths, pet snakes, and feed monkeys, and Monkey Island was the highlight of the whole trip. We also had finally made it to the real Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm and seen some great animal conservation efforts in progress.