October 28-30, 2019 Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Despite flying out of Montreal a few times over the last couple years, I hadn’t actually seen the city so we took an early train to Montreal and left our bags in storage at the airport. Next we purchased a day pass for $10 for the transit system and took a bus into the city. The driver asked us where we were going. I said “I don’t know. We just want to see something” After chatting a bit, he said if we’re willing to wait a bit, he’d show us how to get around. No problem. We had nothing but time. So after the last passenger got off, the kindly driver stopped at the subway station, parked the bus and took us into the station where he got us a map, showed us where to go, what to see and how to get there. Wow! How’s that for service?!
So we spent the day being tourists. We ended the day in Little Italy where we ate dinner then rode the subway to the bus and back to the airport. There we found our bags and a comfy chair to “sleep” for a couple hours. Haha. That didn’t happen.
Arriving in Japan!
The flights were on time and uneventful. The Japan airlines flight from Chicago to Tokyo was pretty luxurious for us. The seat was decent with a good amount of leg room and they fed us VERY well. We arrived at Narita early and had no trouble getting a sim card, cash from an ATM and even sorting out come details on a commuter flight for later in the trip. We’d arranged a self guided tour with Inside Japan tours and their detailed instructions helped us get on the right train into the city. Which we managed to do despite being seriously sleep deprived and even managed to walk to our hotel without getting lost. Our lofty plans of settling in then going for a walk flew out the window once we sat down. It may be only 7 pm but more than 40 hours without sleep caught up to us and we crashed.
The B Asukasu breakfast buffet is an interesting combination of Japanese and Western food and I tried a bit of everything. I finished off with some Miso soup as that’s supposed to be really good for you as I was still feeling the effects of sleep deprivation.
TK met us at the lobby at 8:45 am and took us on an introductory tour of the city. He helped us navigate the subways and showed us how to load up our IC cards to use on public transit all over Japan. We visited a Japanese garden which is a peaceful haven in a busy city. Next was a Hukagawa Hudo, a fascinating sect of Buddhist temple where we witnessed an odd ceremony where they purify things with fire. Many people brought forward wallets, purses and bags they had purified. Interesting! TK introduced us to Electric town which is where the geeks go for all the gaming stuff and you can get ANYTHING related to electronics and toys.
We got our JR (Japan Rail) pass validated so we can now use that for the trains all over Japan.
The afternoon was spent wandering around the shopping streets of Asukasa, visiting Senjoi temple, having a ramen for dinner and watching the sky tree light up at night. We bought a snack at Don quixotes and headed back to the hotel to get off our feet
Friday, November 1
After breakfast we braved the subway again and headed for Ginza and the fish market. After wandering for a bit we tried to find the restaurant where our self guided tour had pre purchased breakfast. That was interesting. We were warmly welcomed in the one we THOUGHT was right, sat down, were served green tea and showed him our voucher. There was much confusion. Yep. Wrong place. They kindly pointed us in the right direction and we headed off again. The correct place was in the middle of the market and again we were warmly welcomed and served an amazing assortment of sushi. 4 or 5 chefs were busily preparing sushi and every time someone can in, a waiter greeted them, called out something and all the staff hollered something that could have been “WELCOME”. It was funny as no one really noticed. The same happened when a customer left. Very entertaining.
After wandering some more we again tackled the subway and headed to Shibuya for a walking tour we’d booked. Good thing we had lots of time as getting OUT of the subway was a treat. A new mall was opening that day. Like they don’t have enough?! Wow. The line ups were crazy and there were staff directing traffic and having folks line up correctly. Again, entertaining, but all the confusion made it even more difficult. Sue asked some young men who really wanted to help but were as confused themselves. We all laughed when they pointed “that way” as none of us could figure out how to GET “that way”. So we carried on. She asked another young couple who understood our confusion as they too were confused. They offered to TAKE us there! So we followed them. I don’t know how out of the way it was for them but it took a good 15 minutes to find the famous “scramble”.
After finding the starting point we wandered around for a while, took pictures from the ground, the starbucks and the top of the Hitarie mall where you can see the scramble from above.
The night tour was a Japan localised free walking tour and was really good. We learned a lot about Shibuya and Tokyo in general. Fascinating city!
The subway home was anticlimactic. The only issue was getting turned around in Asukasa as emerging from the ground, you never really know WHERE you are.
Saturday November 2
Today’s adventure was another free walking tour in Meiji Jingu & Harajuku. We left Asukasa a good half hour earlier than we needed to in order to make sure we got there. Good thing. Navigating the subways is fine. Getting out of the station and figuring out where you are is hard.
The 3 hour tour was interesting and left us in Ueno park. It’s a really nice park but was packed with people as it was a gorgeous Saturday in November. Why would anyone stay indoors?
Back in Asukasa we wandered some more, had tempura for a late lunch and decided on a river cruise as we were tired and sick of walking. I know that sounds weird coming from me. Walking 20,000 + steps a day at home isn’t a problem. I think it’s all the pavement that’s making my feet hurt.
The cruise was nice but kind of lame. We found it really hard to hear the commentary over the noise of all the young people on board. Oh well.
And then . . . . More of Kyushu, Japan. Kumamoto and Kagoshima
Then off the beaten trail . . . Getting off the beaten track in Japan; Yakushima!
Finally Fuji . . . Finally seeing the iconic Mount Fuji. Kawaguchi-ko Japan
Then back to Tokyo
Monday, December 2.
The free local hotel shuttle bus in Kawaguchiko nicely waited for us to run out in the rain to board. The bus trip to Haneda was uneventful and we easily found the train, then walked to the Relief Haneda airport hotel. We were early for check in and it was pouring rain so we enjoyed their generous offer of a latte while we studied our options. We met a nice lady from Texas and exchanged stories for a bit, settled into our room and when the rain let up a bit, borrowed an umbrella and wandered the surrounding area. There’s not much to see but local shops are always fun. Dinner was a local ramen shop with McDonald’s ice cream for dessert. We picked up yogurt and bananas for breakfast along with some sake and liqueurs to try before we leave.
For our final day in Tokyo we headed off on the mono rail where we actually had a view of Mount Fuji, to TeamLabs Borderless. TeamLabs Planets was sold out so that solved the issue of which to choose. That was an interesting experience and well worth the 3,200 yen. We spent about 4 hours there and were starving so thoroughly enjoyed a meal at Wendy’s, right outside the museum.
Next we rode the highest ferris wheel in the world. I watched it for a bit first. It goes nice and slow so not hard on the stomach like some. Since it was a beautiful, clear day, the views were really nice.
After wandering that neighbourhood for a while we headed back to our hotel. Our last dinner was Korean barbecue. Tasty and very reasonable.
Our flight out of Haneda wasn’t until 11 so I took a leisurely shower before packing up and heading to the airport.
I’m going to miss the comfortable toilets and the bowing culture. Before the crew boarded the plane, they turned towards the people waiting in the seats and bowed. As our flight departed, the flag men waved and bowed. It’s just so respectful.
New York city
New York city
December 4th, 2019
Back in Montreal and too late for the last train, we again purchased a bus ticket and headed to the city. We spent the night at the Auberge Alternative, a nice hostel right in the Old City. After a really nice breakfast at the hostel, we walked around town and up to Mount Royal. I wore pretty much everything in my suitcase as it was cold but so worth the beautiful views.