Category Archives: Travel

The era of the “Gaijin Bump” is coming to a close

One of the prize games in Japanese arcades is a variation of the quarter games you sometimes find in American carnivals. The concept is to push a stack of goodies over a ledge into a bin that you open during play. Like many well-designed, profitable, and therefore infuriating prize games, the game provides an illusion of progress early on and becomes deceptively difficult the closer you get to success. Those carnival quarter games achieve these gravity-defying antics with a magnet. However, the nature of this particular game’s deception lies in the way prizes are stacked and the domed shape of the machine. Once the Jenga-style stack of candy or whatever starts moving over the ledge, the plexiglass dome provides another point of contact and support, keeping it from falling in and you walking away with an obscene amount of treats. Continue reading The era of the “Gaijin Bump” is coming to a close

Ejected from Meerkat and Friends

Cat cafes are nothing new in Tokyo and have existed since at least the turn of the century. We’ve visited a couple of them. The concept has also grown popular in a number of other large East Asian cities. In terms of uniqueness as a business model, it’s possible that cat cafes have become a bit passé. In Tokyo at the moment, owl cafes and hedgehog cafes are a thing. It’s a workable model for probably any cute animal that doesn’t smell awful or attack your patrons. Prior to our short visit to Seoul on this trip, we were excited to learn about a “Meerkat Cafe” there. Not just Meerkat… “Meerkat & Friends”. Some small fox and other adorable animals seemed to be in the mix. Our niece Emma is obsessed with cats in the way that a six-year-old can be obsessed. A brief visit to a cat cafe last year made a lasting impression. We held back on this find, the meerkat cafe, as a “surprise” once we got to Seoul. Continue reading Ejected from Meerkat and Friends

Tokyo For The Kindergarten Set

Once again, catching up on the last trip, right before we head out on another. This is a picture gallery from a family trip to Tokyo last fall. After touring Taipei for a few days, we spent about a week in Tokyo. As usual… long aimless days and no time to post any updates. The love affair really hasn’t waned. Like Taipei, this visit included our 5-year-old niece, so a few elements were different. 

One thing we noticed that was new for us is the way rules get broken or amended with a small child in tow. Especially a cute and well behaved one. Continue reading Tokyo For The Kindergarten Set

The Hottest Collectible Balls of Early 2017

Ok look… better late than never on this post. We’re about to start on a new trip, so, you know, now is the time to finish posting from the last one. Seriously though, I’ve said it before, and it’s still true: Every time we visit Japan we end up staying in smaller and smaller areas to visit. I mean, this time we had a reservation to go inside the Imperial Palace grounds and we didn’t even remember until the flight home. That’s the spell that Tokyo casts over us. Let me summarize our week in Tokyo: Ramen, Sushi, Curry, Arcade games, Shopping. There, done. Continue reading The Hottest Collectible Balls of Early 2017

Some Of Our Most Favorite Places In Akihabara

On the last couple of visits to Japan, our exploration has narrowed in on a few specific stomping grounds. A week in Tokyo can blast by fast… As you’re getting ready to go, bags stuffed beyond capacity, you realize you have taken very few pictures, slept very little, and had an absolutely amazing time. You just don’t want to leave. With very little time elapsed, a place you’ve been many times feels new again. I think that is how we can keep returning and enjoying it, even when we hit up some of the same places. For us, our absolute favorite place has been the Akihabara district in Tokyo. Continue reading Some Of Our Most Favorite Places In Akihabara

A Normal Vacation in Koh Phangan

Beach resorts haven’t been our usual destination, but this wasn’t our first visit to one either. Our trip to Thailand five years ago ran a circuit through Bangkok temples and included a visit to play with tigers in Kanchanaburi. This was our first visit to a Thai beach. The steps to arrive at Koh Phangan make it feel especially remote. A one-hour domestic flight from Bangkok takes you to Koh Samui, a similarly sized island in the south of Thailand that caters to foreign beachgoers. Koh Phangan is a 30-minute ferry ride from one of the piers on Samui. However, the ocean conditions around Koh Phangon typically preclude traveling to the far side of the island by boat. Once you reach Koh Phangan, you’ve got another 45-minute ride through narrow hilly passes that cut straight through the jungle and across the island to the opposite coast. When we finally touched down at our resort, I definitely thought that I wouldn’t be exploring much more than the grounds around the place on foot. Continue reading A Normal Vacation in Koh Phangan

La Goutte d’Or en Paris

We’re not breaking any new ground in this part of our trip. In particular, the tourist circuit in Paris has mostly been a repeat for Martha, bringing me up to speed with her. We stayed in the “Drop of Gold” quarter near Gare du Nord. I would describe the area as a charming and multicultural hub that is brimming with character. The interwebs do at times describe this arrondissement in less flattering terms, calling it dicey and filled with gypsies, pickpockets, runaways, and refugees. In either case, it makes for an interesting transition from the swarms of tourists near all the major Paris attractions. Restaurants specializing in Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and North and West African cuisine offered some interesting alternatives to the typical French bakeries, bistros, and cafes. Our Paris visit spanned five days, so we’ve had enough time to sample a mix of things. I have certainly enjoyed the French pastries, breads, and cheeses. However, I must admit I’m going to leave this place thinking of the assortment of Indian sweets on offer in our neighborhood, particularly the malai chum chum  and gajar halwa mithai (basically a spiced carrot fudge). Continue reading La Goutte d’Or en Paris

Lisbon City Center

Today was our last full day in Portugal and we spent it leisurely touring the downtown area around our apartment. We visited a church in which the roof collapsed, killing everyone inside (Carmo Convent) during the earthquake that practically leveled Lisbon in 1755. Near that church is an elevator where you can reach a viewing platform with a panorama of downtown Lisbon which was pretty cool as well. We also visited a church that was left unrepaired after the 5th time it caught on fire in the 1950s. That was pretty unusual, as it’s still an active church. Apparently it was left in the partially burned state as an act of repentance for the suffering inflicted by the church during the inquisition, as that building was the headquarters. We also met up for a private walking tour that mostly focused on local food, although we got a bit of history on some of the public squares as well. Definitely an informative and relaxed day. Seafood, wines, cheeses, hams… all great. We’ll mostly be heading home thinking of the amazing breads, sweets, and pastries. Until the next trip, which hopefully won’t be long ;-)…… Continue reading Lisbon City Center

Grottos and Castles in Sintra

So we slept in a bit and didn’t get out until late morning… I think we’re reset at this point on our sleep schedule. We went to a different part of the train station for the longer distance trains to head about 45 minutes outside of Lisbon to an historic area called Sintra. The ticket situation was a little confusing as the machines didn’t seem to sell the type of tickets we needed. I asked a security guard (who then face-palmed some local who tried to interrupt), and he leaned in and said softly “listen, off the record, everyone is on strike, the ticket counter has nobody working, today you don’t need a ticket, just go on the the train.” A train promptly arrived and he was telling the truth, so we certainly saved a few Euros. The way back was a different story, while it was also free, it was an hour and a half late and a bit crowded. Continue reading Grottos and Castles in Sintra

A Truly Shameless Passenger

I enjoy passenger shaming as much as anyone. I might even go so far as to say that the process is sometimes one of the enjoyable facets of travel, in particular during group transit periods. The thing is, brazenly snapping pictures of brazenly bad behavior is a risky proposition when you’re trapped in a high-altitude, high-speed aluminum tube with any number of potential lunatics. Not to mention that if anything ever really goes south on an airplane and an “altercation” ensues, you’re both gonna go through a bit of a process upon landing. Maybe I’m just not gutsy enough with the camera, but the guy that occupied the aisle seat with Martha and I on our flight across the pond really would’ve warranted video documentation to do any proper justice. Continue reading A Truly Shameless Passenger