Posts Tagged With: Tokyo

Tokyo with Tomo Day 2

Our friend, Tomo, met us at our hotel, Mitsui Garden, to show us more sights in Tokyo on day 2 of our visit. If you missed the first two posts about Tomo and Tokyo, you can find them here and here.

The public transport system in Tokyo is world renowned. I’ve read it’s quite easy to use but for us, it couldn’t have been easier because we had only to follow Tomo as he shepherded us from place to place. These photos in a train station were taken later in the day but they’ll give you an idea of our experience.

Our hotel was located very close to the Gotanda Railway Station and Tomo led Lori, Rick, Jim, and me there to take the train to our first tourist sight at Shibuya Crossing. It was raining so we purchased umbrellas but unfortunately, Jim and I only bought one to share which he immediately commandeered so I was wet and crabby whenever it rained throughout the day.

Reputed to be the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world with as many as 3000 people crossing at once during peak times, Shibuya Scramble Crossing is a well-known tourist attraction in Tokyo. The rain may have kept other tourists away, but it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm one bit. The second floor of the Starbucks which you can see behind Tomo and Jim in the photo below is a popular spot for photos from above.

Nearby Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken was constructed in 1920 and reconstructed in 1958 after it burned during WW2. The 122nd emperor of Japan, Emperor Meiji and his consort reigned from February 3, 1867 until his death on July 30, 1912. He led the modernization of Japan, ending feudalism and 250 years of isolation. The emperor and his wife were prolific poets, having composed over 130,000 waka (traditional Japanese poems of 31 syllables) between them. One of the poems written by the emperor follows:

Were we to neglect

The completion of a task

Because it was hard,

Nothing would be done at all

In this human world of ours.

In order to pay respect when visiting the shrine, one engages in ritual cleansing of the hands and mouth at the Temizuya (font). Fill the dipper with water; rinse your left hand then your right hand; pour water into the palm of your left hand to rinse your mouth; rinse the handle with the remaining water and return the dipper to its original position.

Sake brewers throughout Japan offer barrels of sake wrapped in straw every year to honor Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. In the spirit of world peace and friendship, wineries from the Bourgogne region of France offer barrels of wine to be consecrated at Meiji Jingu.

On our way to the Imperial Palace, Tomo took the photo below of Jim and me, Lori and Rick in front of Tokyo Railway Station.

Jim, Laura, Lori, and Rick at Tokyo Station

The Imperial Palace, a 10 minute walk from Tokyo Station, is located on the former site of Edo Castle and has been the residence for Japan’s imperial family since the emperor moved here from Kyoto following the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Edo Castle was home to the Tokugawa Shoguns who ruled Japan under military government from 1603 until 1867 when the last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, was ousted in a coup which restored imperial rule to Japan.

A popular tourist attraction in Tokyo, free tours of the Imperial Palace grounds are offered twice a day but require a ticket which can be obtained online here or in-person on a first-come first-serve basis. We queued for tickets and then waited in the Visitor House for the guided tour to begin while watching an informational video. The tour is offered in English, takes about 75 minutes, and does not go inside any of the palace buildings. Despite the limitations and the dreary weather, we found it interesting and informative.

Following our tour, we were feeling a little peckish so Tomo led us to Nemuro Hanamaru at Sapporo Station for conveyor belt sushi. A friend who had visited Japan told me about it and I was keen to give it a try. All the foods and drinks circle around the restaurant on a conveyor belt and the patrons reach out and take whatever appeals to them. The plates are color coded and your bill is figured by the number and color of the plates.

Our last stop of the day was a walk thru the Imperial Hotel. The original, designed by famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, was constructed beginning in 1917. In 1968 the hotel was replaced with a new structure but the main lobby was dismantled and moved to Meiji Mura, an open air architectural museum in Aichi Prefecture. Although nothing of the original remained in this location, we were interested in seeing where the original hotel stood because of our connection to it. You see, we were visiting from Mason City, Iowa, the home of the Historic Park Inn, the only remaining Frank Lloyd Wright designed hotel in the world. Although I’m no expert on architecture, my impression was the new Imperial Hotel follows the Prairie School but in a fresher more modern style. Compare my photos below to the original.

Our first full day touring Tokyo was fascinating and I’m sure we couldn’t have accomplished so much on our own. We ended the day excited to see what day 3 with Tomo would bring. Please join us next time.

Based on events from March 2019.

Categories: Japan, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Planning to Cruise Australia

Our visit to Australia in 2017 was cut short (you can read about it here) and I’ve been watching ever since for a repeat offer of that cruise itinerary.  If you look at cruises of Australia, you’ll notice most itineraries include many ports in New Zealand and very few in Australia. Because Australia is such a large country and I wanted to see more than just one city, I always thought a cruise would be an efficient way to maximize our time and see more. Our 19-day cruise in 2017 began in Auckland, New Zealand with a stop in Bay of Islands before heading to Australia with stops in 6 cities along the eastern and northern coasts, followed by stops in Indonesia and Malaysia and ending in Singapore.

The itinerary now offered by Norwegian Cruise Line has changed somewhat. The cruise no longer begins in New Zealand which we visited during our 2017 cruise so that was fine with us. Malaysia is replaced by Semarang, Indonesia, on the itinerary which was a disappointment to me (and an even bigger disappointment when we saw Semarang but more on that in a future post.) This was the itinerary:

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I booked the cruise on April 27, 2018, when the price was $6352.80 for an ocean view cabin for my husband and me. In 2017, we paid just under $5000 so the price seemed a little high but I knew if the price came down, I could rebook. I checked periodically and finally in August, the price went down to $5834.36. Then September 1, the price went down to $5134.36 and finally toward the end of September it hit $4187.20. Each time I rebooked at the new price keeping the same cabin and our original amenities which included free internet minutes and a $50 credit per person for a shore excursion at each port. If you haven’t done this before, you call the cruise line and say, “I see the price for my cruise has gone down. Can you help me rebook at the new price?” Simple but we saved a lot of $$$.

Fortunately, we saved on our cruise fare because I was sure an open jaw airfare to Sydney and back from Singapore would be expensive. I decided to check on a multi-city fare with a 3 day stop in Tokyo to visit our friend, Tomo. (More on Tomo later, too.) I could hardly believe my good fortune when I found this itinerary on Delta for the rock bottom price of $1246.43 each. Tip: When you see a good price, don’t hesitate; book it because it probably won’t be there long!

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With cruise and airfare booked, it was time to work on accommodations in Sydney, Singapore, and Tokyo.

Sidenote: Many people have asked me whether I use a travel agent for my trips. I research and book everything myself. I enjoy the planning part of my travels nearly as much as the travel and I have a vested interest in finding the best deals.

My brother and his wife visited Sydney in 2018 so I asked them whether they would recommend their Airbnb accommodations. They heartily endorsed the three-bedroom condo located in Miller’s Point in the heart of “The Rocks” but cautioned us there wasn’t aircon. They were there in April in the middle of a heatwave but we thought a heatwave in February was unlikely and the location just couldn’t be beaten. It was pricey but we were traveling with friends and hoped a third couple would join us to share the cost. In the end, it was just the two couples but we were all glad we stayed there in spite of temperatures in the 90s, no screens on the windows with resulting mosquito bites, and a cost of $442 per night.



Jim, Rick, and Lori outside our Airbnb in Sydney

Next, I looked at hotels in Singapore. In 2017 I reserved a room at the Holiday Inn Express but had to cancel it when our trip ended at Sydney. I couldn’t find a better price including breakfast in a better location so, against my better judgment, I booked it again. I usually avoid staying at American chains when traveling abroad, preferring to experience local culture and accommodations instead. This hotel was gorgeous and you’ll see more of it in future posts.


Interior of Holiday Inn Express, Singapore

Finally, I researched Tokyo lodging. Tomo was staying with us in the US at the time so I had his guidance in selecting a hotel. In spite of that, when he looked at the hotel I booked he said the hotel I selected was in the area where Japanese mafia or yakuza could be found. Sure enough, I read reviews indicating the red light district was nearby! He directed me to another area where we enjoyed the Mitsui Garden Hotel immensely.


Mitsui Garden Hotel in Tokyo

In between searches for lodging, Lori and I looked at cruise excursions and quickly decided several were not to be missed–snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, a visit to Komodo Island to see the dragons, and the opportunity to hold a koala. We also scheduled a tour to the Blue Mountains from Sydney. We decided we would schedule any other tours or excursions as we went.

Last but not least, I attacked the challenge of packing for a month in a carry-on suitcase. Fortunately, we had laundry facilities at our condo in Sydney and our platinum status with NCL provided us with laundry service onboard but careful selection was important, nevertheless. When I mentioned my packing issues to Lori, she said, “You did a packing post before this cruise two years ago. Why don’t you just look at that?” You can see that post here. When I looked at it, I discovered I had selected almost the same clothes this time around! But this time, I decided a month-long journey required more than 3 ounces of shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, and sunscreen so I decided to buy those items in Sydney.

We were ready. But of course, any time you plan to travel in Iowa in February, you have weather issues and this trip was no exception. Two days before our departure, we received an email warning us of impending weather issues that could affect our flights. I spent some time researching options and in the end, we decided to travel to Des Moines a day early and let the chips fall where they may. After a nightmarish drive through ice and snow to Des Moines, our flights the following day were unaffected.

Come back next time for our arrival in Sydney.


Based on events in February 2019.







Categories: Australia, cruise, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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