Taking an Amtrak train

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Since moving to Northern Virginia, we have maintained our one car lifestyle. The big difference is that in South Korea, Tim had the car most of the time to get to work and Clarissa and I took public transportation. Here, Tim takes the bus to work and Clarissa and I keep the car during the day.

Clarissa and I went to Virginia Beach this week to visit my family. We didn’t want Tim to be stranded without a car all week so we took the train. It was pretty easy to go online and book tickets. The train is pretty cheap too. It only cost $138 total round trip for the two of us.

If you are taking the train from Alexandria, there is hardly any parking. There are a few spots you can pay for and two spots for 30 minute parking. The station does have a bathroom but there isn’t a screen to tell you where to go. You can sit inside or outside. A few minutes before the train arrives there will be an announcement on the loudspeaker that tells you the train number and where the train is going.

There are not assigned seats. You simply pay for a reserved seat in either business class or coach. Then when the train comes, you find an open seat and sit there. You are responsible for your luggage. But the conductor did carry mine up the steps for me. There are racks at the front of each car or above your seats to place your luggage or carry on. Once the train starts moving, the conductor will come by and scan your electronic ticket and put a piece of paper above your seat so that they know when you are supposed to get off the train.

Apparently there is something called a quiet car on an Amtrak train. Often it is the train right behind business class but it can be located anywhere on the train. If you choose to sit in the quiet car, you have to be quiet the whole time. No talking on your cell phone and no using electronic devices without headphones. I didn’t see any signs about this when we sat down but we were informed by another passenger that we were sitting in the quiet car and so we had a quieter trip than I anticipated. There are small blue signs on the ceiling as you enter and exit the car but I didn’t see them until later when I was actually looking for them.

There is a cafe car on the train that sells food. You can buy things like personal pan cheese pizza ($7), hotdogs ($3.50), chips ($2.50), candy ($3), and drinks. The prices are not awful but definitely more than you would pay at the grocery store. You are allowed to bring your own food and drink on the train but they cannot refrigerate or heat up food for you that is not bought in the cafe car.

There is also a restroom in each train car. They are a decent size and fairly clean as well. Our train starts in Boston and goes all the way to Norfolk. We got on in Alexandria so someone must clean the train as they go because I thought it was clean for our entire trip.

Not all of the train doors open at each stop. You have to listen to the announcement to figure out which car to go to. There is also an announcement at each stop that will tell you the current stop, the next stop, and how many minutes until you arrive at the next stop.

Will we ride Amtrak again? Absolutely. You can eat, chat, and go to the bathroom whenever you want and it doesn’t add time to your trip. We will just make sure we do not sit in the quiet car. Though I will say that Clarissa did very well. The same passenger that was upset with us in the beginning walked by as he exited the train and said, “Your daughter is very well behaved.”

What a PCS really looks like for a civilian

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Monday was our third move in four years. This is pretty normal for an active duty military family, but we are civilians. Some of the process is the same, but other things are very different, so I thought I would share some of our experiences.

In the military, they often tell you where you are going and how long you will be there. This can change, but at least you have an idea of how long you will be in a place before the military moves you again. The military will pay for you, your family, your personal belongings, and a vehicle to get to your next duty station. You are usually authorized a week or so in a hotel before you leave your current duty station and when you arrive at your next duty station.

Government civilian life is very different. First, if you land a federal job in the United States, it is usually permanent. So you can do that job (unless they decide your position is no longer necessary) as long as you want. Theoretically, you could do the same job or at least move up in the same organization your entire career in the same location. However, there are rules about moving overseas. Most jobs are two or three year contracts and you can extend after that for a total of five years overseas before you have to return to the United States. At which time, you must complete two years in the United States before returning overseas.

Generally, if you have a job overseas, the government will pay for your move, just like they would an active duty service member. You receive a document called “orders” that tells you what you are authorized. Generally, the government will pay for the employee, spouse, and dependents under age 21 to travel to the new duty station as well as to ship one personal vehicle, household goods, and unaccompanied baggage. You can even use nontemporary storage at the government’s expense. There are also allowances for hotels before you leave your home of record as well as temporary lodging in your new location. There is a transportation agreement so that if you leave this position before a full year, you have to repay the government for the cost of your move. They did change the rules recently so now you will be taxed on the move however.

The process that went the most smoothly was the first move from Norfolk to Daegu. I really think the reason is that the Human Resource people in charge of the move were in Korea and so they are used to dealing with this PCS (Permanent Change of Station- Move) process. Tim received a tentative offer and a list of things to do like paperwork and a drug test. Then about a month later, he received an official offer with a travel date about six weeks after that. I don’t remember how quickly the orders came, but we had plenty of time to get flights and movers scheduled. Other than it being my first overseas move and our first big move as a family of three, it wasn’t a mad dash to get everything done on time (unless you count the snow…).

The other two moves, from Daegu to Pyeongtaek and Pyeongtaek to Arlington have been more stressful. I really think that part of it is that Human Resources is in America and they don’t deal with PCS as often. They don’t understand that the government won’t book your flights or movers until you have orders and so you really do need them quickly if your start date is less than 30 days away. Either that or they don’t care. I’ve never met them in person, so I can’t speak to that.

A government PCS is really a lot of hurry up and wait. Tim has been applying and interviewing for jobs since June. For the job he starts next week, he interviewed around Thanksgiving. The tentative offer was at the end of February (on our four year anniversary of landing in Korea) and the official offer came April 4. At which point HR gave us two options for start dates, April 28 and May 12. We chose May 12.

When applying for a government job (usually through usajobs), there is a section that talks about relocation. Overseas jobs and some stateside jobs say that relocation can be authorized. Many jobs say relocation is not authorized, so if you want to take that job, you will need to move yourself there. Tim was only applying for jobs that said relocation was authorized.

We were told that when you move from overseas to a stateside job, the receiving agency is supposed to pay for certain moving expenses, like hotels when you arrive back in the United States. This job said relocation expenses were authorized so we weren’t worried about it. After accepting the offer, Tim immediately asked about how long it would take to receive orders and how long we would be authorized a hotel in the US. It took a week for HR to respond and say that they would not be paying for the move itself. So of the four weeks we had, one week was wasted.

Tim completed his full contract with this job overseas, so they owe us a pcs as described in our travel agreement. This means that Tim’s Korea job will pay for flights, shipping, household goods, and a personal vehicle back to our home of record which is Norfolk. They will also pay for hotels before we leave Korea. But that is where the money was supposed to stop. The gaining agency was supposed to pay for the PCS from Norfolk to Arlington as well as some hotel time in Arlington. Our Korea HR ladies were pretty confident that the new job would pay for this, as it is the common course of action.

Two weeks into the process, the new job said no. We still expect you to be here, but we’re not paying for anything. The posting says “may pay for relocation” so we’re not going to…Lesson learned. Before you accept a job offer, ask if they are paying for moving expenses. Just because it is listed in the job posting doesn’t mean they will actually pay for anything.

It got pretty stressful at the end of our time in Korea. Our lease was up on our Korean apartment on April 30 so we needed to move out before then, but we couldn’t schedule movers until we had the orders. The week before, Tim asked someone in HR about expediting his orders and the response was, “We process them in the order we receive them and it’s not fair to people who have travel dates before yours.” I was curious how many people were ten days out like we were.

April 30 was a Tuesday. Tim had unsigned orders the Friday before which let him tentatively schedule movers but the guy in charge wasn’t happy about it and wanted him to come back with the signed orders on Monday morning. He did have signed orders on Monday morning but they were incorrect because they said we were moving from Daegu to Arlington instead of Pyeongtaek to Arlington. But we were able to move out on time. The corrected orders came on Wednesday so we could book our flights. That gave Tim three days to run around on base getting all of the out processing done and sell the car. I had to take multiple taxis Friday to get all of the paperwork done for Mittens to fly with us (I will post more about that process next week).

By the time we knew we were moving, the hotel at Camp Humphreys was full. It was really hard to find a pet friendly hotel near Camp Humphreys so we ended up staying at Osan for the rest of that week before we left. It was kind of fitting to end our time in Korea there because Tim was actually stationed on Osan Air Force Base from 2005-2007, so that is where his Korea dream began. Tim had his favorite Thai, Sawatdee, three days in a row before we left.

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Pictured is Tim standing where is old dorm room was when he lived on Osan.

Then we had to figure out how to get to the airport. There is a bus that will take you from Osan to Incheon, but it doesn’t allow pets. I tried hiring a pet taxi, but he wasn’t sure that he could fit the three of us, Mittens, our suitcases, and her crate into his van. Plus he didn’t have base access so we were going to have to take multiple taxis to the main gate to meet him anyway. So the day before we left, we found a friend with a van (who actually used to work with Tim in Daegu but is at Humphreys now) who took us from Osan to our hotel near the airport. It was a little tricky because hotel check out at Osan was at 11, but check in at Incheon wasn’t until 2 so we spent a while moving our six suitcases, three carry ons, the car seat, Mittens, and her big crate from where we were staying to the hotel lobby so that we could be in air conditioning while we waited for our friend to come.

I was glad that we went to a hotel near the airport the day before. We had a morning flight so we wanted to be closer. Plus I didn’t want Mittens in her crate longer than she needed to be since it was already a 14 hour flight. We arrived to our hotel with all of our stuff, and they didn’t have a record of our reservation. Thankfully I had my reservation email from hotels.com. The hotel was actually pretty bad. The air conditioning was not turned on in the hotel yet even though it was over 80 degrees “because it’s not summer yet.” So we were really hot and the beds were Korea hard.

The hotel advertised that they had a shuttle to the airport. That was only half correct. There is a bus stop across the street that will take you to Terminal 1 of the airport. So we had to get our six suitcases, three carry ons, Mittens, her crate, and the car seat across 6 lanes of traffic…Thankfully it was 6 AM so it wasn’t super busy and there was a median. But it wasn’t an easy experience.

Once on the bus, someone took interest and said he would help us. He helped us cart our luggage from this bus to the next bus stop that took us to the bus for Terminal 2. He then helped us bring it into the building and then we parted ways. We found out he was actually former Korean Air Force and was a pilot for an airline now. I was so thankful for him. I don’t know how we would have gotten everything there on our own. It took 3 luggage carts and Clarissa had a hard time pushing it.

I was really stressing about Mittens being rejected for the flight, but she was fine. At check in someone came to get her and put her on the plane. We were allowed in the priority line through security because of Clarissa. The flight itself was pretty uneventful, just really long.

Once we landed at Dulles, I was concerned about how we were going to get everything where we needed to go. But the immigration line was really short and they had Mittens ready for us when we got there. She seemed pretty terrified but she was in one piece. One of the managers was like, “Do you need a big luggage cart?” and told one of the workers to help us. He carted all of our luggage to the rental car shuttles and helped us get on the rental car bus.

By this point, Mittens was crying because he wanted out of her crate. The ladies on the bus thought she was funny. Tim went in to pick up the rental car and Clarissa and I stayed outside with all of our stuff. I was able to move Mittens from the massive hard crate she hates into the smaller carrier and she calmed down.

We went to my aunt’s house to pick up some mail and sim cards for our phones. Tim’s worked fine but mine didn’t. Clarissa wanted McDonald’s so I went in to order her a happy meal. Happy Meals have different options here than they do in Korea and I had been awake for almost 24 hours at that point. The lady spoke excellent English but had an accent so I really didn’t understand her and had to keep asking her to repeat herself so I could order Clarissa’s food. I was so embarrassed. Tim and I had Chickfila for lunch and then we headed to the hotel.

The first day was the hardest. We lasted until almost 6 PM and then were up before 1 AM on Tuesday morning. We headed to Denny’s for breakfast about 2 and then were at Walmart by 3. People aren’t as judgmental about bringing a little kid out in the middle of the night as you might think. At least I didn’t see any dirty looks and no one said anything, even if they were thinking it.

We looked at a house on Tuesday that we really liked but decided that the commute would be too far for Tim. Wednesday we bought a car. It was actually going to be difficult because we don’t have a permanent address yet, but since we used USAA for our loan, it was fine. We saw two houses Thursday and applied for one of them. The rental application is tricky though because online applications want a bunch of information that doesn’t work if you’ve spent the last four years overseas. First of all, Korea isn’t an option for location and I don’t know how they would follow up with my Korean landlord anyway.

There are a few areas that we have been to multiple times and decided that we like to hang out there. There is so much to see and do. Tim finally started to get answers from the new job about how to report. You can’t just walk in to the pentagon…We’ve been asking questions for weeks and now that we’re here they just decided to call him to answer some of his questions.

Clarissa’s first girls weekend 

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Recently a friend of mine was telling me about an appointment that she had in Seoul.  She would have to stay in a hotel overnight and her husband would not be able to go with her.  I thought it might be fun to have a girls trip.  So I invited myself and Clarissa to go with her.

We had to reschedule because William got sick.  But it worked out better because we added a day to the trip and ended up being there for the Thanksgiving price instead of normal price. Score.

We left a little later than expected Thursday.  But traffic wasn’t bad until we got to Seoul. The kids had so many snacks on the way that I was surprised that they were hungry when we got to Dragon Hill Lodge. We unpacked a little and then headed to Itaewon for dinner.

We ate at Vatos Tacos. The server asked if we wanted high chairs and I initially said no. But the chairs were bar stools, so we ended up needing them anyway. They brought out five massive hard tortillas and some salsa. Clarissa said she wanted chips, so I thought she would be happy with that. But she was hungry so we ordered french fries. William had a quesadilla, but they browned the top and Clarissa thought it was pizza, so she helped herself to that as well. I had the chimmichurro chicken tacos. It wasn’t listed as spicy, but I thought it was. I prefer hard tacos, so it wasn’t my favorite meal.

Then, we jumped on the subway to Insadong. Insadong is fun because once you round the corner and turn right, you get to a long line of carts selling artsy and Korean things. So it was a great place to find Christmas presents. Clarissa also found an apron she “needed” for making cookies.

I thought there was an ice cream shop on the way back to the subway. But I was wrong. So William got a donut at Dunkin Donuts and Clarissa was still adamant that she wanted ice cream. We headed back to Itaweon for Baskin Robins. On the way back to base, April stopped at Lush. They have some really cool bath things in there. She bought playdoh bath soap for the kids.

Friday morning was her appointment. We had breakfast at the buffet downstairs, which was excellent. It was only $10.95 for adults and the kids were free. I had never eaten at Greenstreet for breakfast, so I as plesantly surprised.

The kids and I headed to the playground while April went to her appointment. They had a great time. There are two playgrounds at the hotel. One is supposed to be for toddlers and the other for big kids. They ended up using both. I didn’t know that the dinosaurs could move. But during the course of our visit, they were hungry, ate grass, and moved to the little house so they could eat lunch at the table.

After a quick snack from the Shopette, we headed to Children’s Grand Park. Clarissa was very excited to see a “real” Tayo bus. We got to climb into and “drive” Gani and Lani. I may or may not have been more excited than she was to drive the bus…

Children’s Grand Park is huge! We passed a playground on the way to the zoo but convinced the kids that it would have to wait. The zoo was pretty good once you get over the size of the cages. I have never seen as many species of cat in one zoo in my life. They seriously had ten different cages for cats. The poor elephant lives by himself. But there are plenty of monkeys. The kids loved it. They even fed the deer. 

We wanted to go to the children’s museum next but it was already 4:00 and they close at 5 on the other side of the park. So we walked by Snow White’s Castle. It was a restaurant. We didn’t eat there because we heard “Let it go” while we were still outside and Clarissa had to dance.

Clarissa and William really wanted pizza and ice cream for dinner so we decided to leave then and go back to Itaewon to beat the dinner rush. We had to walk by that playground on the way out and ended up staying for another hour. The kids loved the playground but I really don’t recommend it for preschoolers. It would be great for elementary aged kids though. And it was an accessible playground so you could go up the play structure in a wheelchair, they had special swings, etc. At one point, Clarissa and William left the playground (we followed them) to wander around the park themselves. Clarissa kept telling me that she wanted to be “alone with William.”

They both fell asleep on the subway back to Itaewon. April and I were pretty excited about this so that we could have a quiet dinner. But then we realized that all of the restaurants were on the second or third floor and required stairs while the kids were asleep in the strollers. Plus it was raining. We just decided to go back to Dragon Hill for dinner.

Clarissa woke up during the walk and remembered the promise of pizza and ice cream.  We ended up at Pizza Hut for dinner. By the time our pizza was ready, she decided that she just wanted ice cream but I told her she had to have at least one slice of pizza first. She remembers everything. So after her first slice of pizza she decided that she was ready for her ice cream, which she only ate half of.

Back in the room, I brought purple nail polish for Clarissa’s first girls weekend. I thought it would be fun to introduce her to something girly. She sat kind of patiently while I painted both of her hands. Then when she realized that she needed to be still even longer for her nails to dry, she demanded that I take the nail polish off. It was pretty for two minutes anyway. William woke up during the nail polish so they got to play a little while before bed.

On Saturday, the kids slept way later than I expected them to. But April and I really enjoyed sitting in bed chatting. We drove to Osan for lunch. I wanted to introduce her to Sawatdee, but there was construction and it had moved. It took a while to find it, but this guy passing out flyers for his Indian restaurant helped us find it. Clarissa and William enjoyed the fish tank. William loved the spring rolls. Clarissa was all about the rice. April and I enjoyed our yummy Thai dishes as well.

We then headed to the PX for some shopping. I found the baby gloves that I like for Clarissa and she insisted on a pink pair of mittens. April and I both found several clothing items we liked. Clarissa and William stayed in the cart together and did various things like hang shirts off the side for “Christmas” and “shoot the lights” with their clothes hangers. When April tried on her boots, Clarissa wanted to get out of the cart. She kept trying on adult boots and saying “I’m a cowboy.”

After our shopping adventure, they had earned a trip to the playplace. And we of course got ice cream before we headed home. Both kids fell asleep rather quickly on the car ride home so April and I enjoyed some girl time on the way back where there was random heavy traffic. Who knew Dajeon was popular at 8pm on a Saturday night?

Disney Sea and Dinosaurs 

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We thought Thursday would be the least crowded day to head to Disney Sea.  So we took two different trains to the resort.  Then,  there is a special Disney train that takes you the rest of the way (you do have to pay,  but it’s only 260 yen and you can even use your subway card).

We stayed up late Wednesday so we slept in on Thursday and didn’t arrive until lunchtime.  We ate in Mediterranean Harbor.  We ordered the tomato and mozzarella pizza for Clarissa,  chicken and olive pizza for me,  and Tim ordered both kinds of pasta.  I should not have ordered anything for Clarissa.  Though delicious,  she refused to try her pizza.  Three year olds… Also I was pleasantly surprised by the prices of the park food.  Everything was reasonably priced and tasted great.

Over lunch,  we planned our route. Clarissa did not seem cooperative but we decided to start walking and figured she would get excited as we passed things.

She did like the Ariel things in Mermaids Lagoon.  Not enough to ride anything.  But she did enjoy looking at the different rides and statues.

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In Arabia,  there was a camel statue that you could sit on to take pictures.  She wanted to do that.  But when you sit on the camel,  apparently it makes noises so she got scared.

Then we tried Sinbad’s Storybook ride.  It was pretty cool.  You ride a boat and go through some of the stories from the Arabian Nights.  Clarissa covered her eyes for the giant.  Tim was holding her and said she was shaking.  But at the end,  she said it was awesome and wanted to go on more rides.

In the Lost Delta,  there was a place to meet characters.  Clarissa wanted to meet Minnie Mouse.  The sign said it would take 40 minutes.  After we had been there a few minutes,  a cast member came by and changed the sign to 50 minutes.  Need to say,  we were all ready to meet Minnie.  They let you take one photo with your camera or you can buy their pictures.  Minnie hugged and kissed all three of us at the beginning and end.  Clarissa was thrilled.  I took a picture of it at the end and they scolded me because I already had my one picture,  even though it was the staged family picture and not the Minnie mouse is kissing my three year old picture.

After meeting Minnie,  we were on a mission to find Nemo.  We actually found Dory and Hank.  But the Nemo ride isn’t finished yet so we never found Nemo. There was a ride with Crush.  But the kind lady who worked there said it was just talking and all in Japanese so we didn’t bother.

We did however,  find Woody.  But the line for his ride was two hours.  So we just hung out in Toyville and looked at the character toys and statues.  Clarissa took pictures on both Bullseye and Ham.  Apparently,  we cut the line,  but I really didn’t notice there was one.  Oops.

On the way to dinner,  we passed by a show. The speaking was in Japanese so we kept walking.  But the songs were in English and Clarissa liked the costumes so Clarissa wanted to watch it.  We ended up finding a spot and watching the rest of it.

We at dinner in the Cape Cod Cook Off.  We tried their Halloween season special burger which was beef with pumpkin and bacon.  It was actually very good.

We weren’t thrilled with the souvioneers in the shops.  Clarissa was devastated that at the end of the day,  we had still not found Nemo.  But Tim saw Nemo toys at the toy store in Akihabara the night before so he thought we should take her there.  Day made.

She picked out a baby Dory toy.  We also found a used bookstore with an English section.  I didn’t find anything for me,  but Clarissa got three books.

All things considered,  it was a great day.  Tim would like to take Clarissa back to Disney Sea next spring when the Nemo ride opens. The Studio Ghibli museum tickets were sold out for our trip again this time so we may need to do a weekend in Tokyo next year for those two things.

We noticed that Disney Sea was geared towards older kids. Clarissa was afraid of some things.  Next year she may enjoy it more.  But the teens and adults love it.

Friday,  we headed to Ueno for the National Museum of Nature and Science.  There were six floors of exhibits.  Clarissa especially liked the animals and the dinosaur bones.  Those were all labeled in both English and Japanese.

Some of the other floors had interesting interactive exhibits.  Tim’s favorite was a heat sensor. We all had fun playing with that one.

There were video screens you could press for information in English.  The teaching videos were all in Japanese though.

I think most families would enjoy the museum.  The price is very reasonable.  620 yen for adults.  Everyone else is free.  The special exhibit was an additional 980 for adults and 600 for children so we skipped it.

After the museum,  we headed down the road to the Toshogu Shrine.  The rain was starting to pick up so we put on our raincoats.  I am glad we did because after I took the first picture,  it started pouring.

This shrine is the oldest in Tokyo,  built before the Edo period.  The architecture and design reminds me very much of the two castles we visited earlier this week,  especially Nijo jo in Kyoto.

There was one more electronics shop to check out in Shibuya.  Tim was unsuccessful in that area.  But his feet have been bothering him since the monkey park,  so when we passed an Adidas store,  we decided it was time for new sneakers.  Problem solved.

The best English bookstore is in Shinjuku,  so we decided to head there.  Kinokuniya actually had a great selection.  They had mostly hardback books so they were a little expensive.  Their kid’s section was awesome.

After our day of shopping and exploring,  we realized that we never ate lunch.  So we decided to splurge on Outback for dinner.  My steak was great.  Tim had some pasta.

Kyoto Day 2

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We decided to walk to the Kyoto Railway Museum this morning.  It was supposed to rain but we planned to arrive before the rain started.  We succeeded.

There were several school groups there this morning,  but we really enjoyed it.  There were several different trains to look at and explore.  The museum also had several hands on exhibits with buttons and levers.  Clarissa was able to pretend to drive several different trains.

Clarissa lasted longer than Tim though.  I think it is a great choice for families with young children.  Teenagers might get bored quickly.  The price was great.  Adults pay 1200 yen (about $12). Clarissa is 3 so we had to pay for her as well,  but only 200 yen ($2).

There were 3 floors of exhibits in the main building,  two sections of trains outside,  and two additional smaller buildings.  I enjoyed the ability to go under a train to see what the motor and suspension looks like from below.


The third floor had a great view of the shinkansen train (bullet train)  if you paid attention to the schedule when they were to pass by.


The second floor also had a play area for kids to build train tracks on their own with several small trains as well. There was also a model train set up  for kids to crawl under so that they were eye level with the trains.

We thought about visiting the Kyoto Aquarium as well since it was right next to the railway museum.  But it didn’t get great reviews and was expensive for the size.  It was 2000 yen ($20) for adults.  So we decided to skip it.

We walked to the mall for lunch and then headed across the street to the train station.  We wanted to see Nijo jo (castle).  Honestly,  we were not impressed.  The Osaka castle was more ornate and easier to get to.  Nijo jo was a much larger complex and right off the subway.  However,  it was gravel everywhere which was hard to navigate with a stroller.  Parts also had large steps without ramps so we would take turns going up to take pictures.


We were all tired and cranky and it was starting to rain,  so we decided to head back early.  This time,  we got off at a different train station because Tim wanted to see what we could find on the way back to the hotel.

We had a very relaxing afternoon in the room.  I was able to finish reading my Kindle book so I need to work on a review for that because it was a very encouraging read for me.

We decided to take it easy and eat dinner across the street at Royal Host.  We got Clarissa in to bed pretty close to the normal time this morning.  But I will say that a two year old on vacation was way easier than a three year old on vacation…

Tomorrow we head up to Tokyo by Shinkansen (bullet train).

Just monkeyin’ around in Kyoto 

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It always takes me a few days to get into a groove with the conversion rate.  In Korea,  7,000 won is about $7.  But 7,000 yen is about $70! But three days in,  I have a better idea of what I am actually paying.

We woke up at a better time today which meant we had a better schedule.  Our first destination was Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama.  We had to take three different trains to get there, but it was so worth it! The third train was a single electronic trolley car that went through the countryside. It reminded me of a Studio Ghibli movie.

We arrived at Arashiyama and walked down a street of cute little shops that I decided I needed to check out on the way back.  There was a great pedestrian bridge that led to a mountain and I was thrilled.  This was the side of Japan I had been dying to see last Christmas.  Traditional houses,  boats, countryside.

We followed the signs to the monkey park where it said to park bikes and strollers.  Then we walked up some steps to a shrine and were a little confused. The entrance to the monkey park was off to the left.  Adults pay 1,100 yen (like $11) but 3 year olds and under are free.

The sign said it was a twenty minutes hike to the monkey park.  It was mostly uphill and some of the path was paved.  It wasn’t dangerous,  but Clarissa definitely didn’t walk the entire trail.  I was impressed though because she walked at least half of it.  On this hike,  we decided that we do need to bite the bullet and buy an ergo or something because I know I want to do the Great Wall of China next year and we can’t bring a stroller there either.  It would have made the trip easier to wear Clarissa on my back.

But it was so worth it when we got to the top!  There were a few monkeys hanging out.  Then we went inside a cabin that has cages on the windows. You can pay 100 yen (about $1)  for a small bag of peanuts,  apples,  or bananas to feed the monkeys.

Clarissa had a great time!  We ended up doing all three different foods.  Clarissa was able to feed 4 different monkeys,  including a baby monkey.

Since it is on top of  a mountain,  you can look out and see most of Kyoto from up there.

 

I pretty much carried Clarissa the whole way down the mountain.  We ran into a few families with small children and I kept encouraging the moms that it was worth it to go all the way up there.

After our hike,  we went back in to town for some shopping.  I found some fun placemats with a cat that looks like Mittens.  We had awesome sushi for lunch.  We had ice cream too.  Clarissa and I chose vanilla,  but Tim went with green tea.

We took a few trains to Yassaka Jinja Shrine.  Along the street, we bought a small geisha doll for Clarissa and a magnet for me.  We also found Kanji (Japanese)  signature stamps for all three of our names.

The shrine was clean and not super crowded but not spectacular. It was also not very stroller friendly.  There were several sets of steps and no ramps.

Tim was more excited to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine because of the many gates it has.  This shrine was massive and has gates that go all the way up the mountain.  It had a few ramps for the bottom buildings but there was not a place to park the stroller to go up the mountain to see all of the gates.  Clarissa loved the wolf statues though.

It was supposed to rain so we headed to the new Aeon mall which is right across from Kyoto station.  We ate yummy Indian curry and Naan for dinner. Then Clarissa and I went to check out the Steam Locomotive Cafe which had Thomas and some other Japanese model trains set up.  They sold drinks and hamburgers as well as train merchandise. Tim visited a few electronics stores but wasn’t impressed.

Tonight was the first time we made it back early enough to catch the hotel shuttle home.  It was packed!  But it is nice to have Clarissa in bed before 10 for a change.  I think we will have a more cooperative girl tomorrow.  Hopefully the weather man is wrong and it won’t rain the entire day.

Our day in Osaka 

Standard

We slept later than I thought we would this morning.  Tim’s normal weekend alarm went off at 9 AM to wake us all up.

It took a few extra minutes in the morning at the train station because I needed another pass.  But the rapid train to Osaka only took about 30 minutes.

Our first attraction was Osaka jo (Osaka castle).  When we arrived near the park,  it was packed.  There were long lines for something (we eventually figured out they were all there to see Nissy,  a Japanese pop star).  We decided to have a quick sit down lunch.  We ordered from a kiosk and it was very good.

Then,  we headed to the Castle.  The outside was quite ornate.  There was a mote around it and a park with beautiful trees.  We started later than we wanted to today so we gave Clarissa the choice of going inside the castle,  or going to the aquarium later.  She chose the aquarium.  There were plenty of steps,  so getting inside with the stroller wasn’t going to be easy anyway.  (You do have to pay to go inside the castle.)


Our next stop was Den Den town,  an electronics area.  Tim had a list of places he wanted to check out.  He did find something on his wishlist,  a psp go.  They have been discontinued so they are harder to find.  Clarissa found a Japanese fish toy she really likes.  I was excited about the prospect of retro toy stores.  But they were Japanese toys and not the 80s toys I remember.

We had some Burger King for dinner and then headed out to Osaka Aquarium. (Adults pay 2,300 yen which is about $23, 3 year olds and under get in free.)  The aquarium was really nice.

Clarissa especially loved the Finding Dory area.

There was even a fish tank with the same fish as the dentist office in the first movie.

The best part of the aquarium was the touch tank.  I got to touch sting rays and sharks!  Clarissa touched the shark but was afraid of the sting ray because they were so big.  I was surprised because the rays were very smooth,  but the shark felt quite rough.

After the aquarium,  Clarissa lost it because she wanted to “keep touching things”  and didn’t want the shark to miss her.  She was upset until we passed a soft serve ice cream shop on the way back to the subway.  Tim thought it was the best soft serve he had ever tasted. Clarissa and  I enjoyed it as well.

It was another late night of missing the shuttle.  But we decided to walk back today since we knew where to go.