Travel leads to travel

After being back in the United States for almost half a year, we jumped at the opportunity for almost free flights to Europe and a chance to visit good friends. Two stops for me, Mallorca and Berlin, and three stops for Haley, Mallorca, Nimes, and Berlin.


In Mallorca this trail goes though this hole.


In Berlin this maze is very hard to get lost in.


After returning from our big trip in November, neither of us were ready to dust off the resumes and start looking for jobs like the ones we used to have. Fortunately, both of us have been able to avoid a cubicle or office of any kind for the time being. Haley found a set-up where she flies to Europe or Canada or Mexico for 10 days at a time, 5 or 6 times a year, and I have started my own engineering and design business (Empirical Design LLC working with tech companies in the Bay Area.

Because of this, Haley was able to turn 2 10-day work trips to Europe into a month-long business/pleasure European extravaganza, and I was able to join her using the ticket she didn’t use to come home in between. It’s a little convoluted, but it just means that we got 2 weeks of play in Europe together for not much money.

Our first stop was Alcudia, a small walled town on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, Spain. Neither of us had been and we probably never would have if we had not met honeymooners Tolo and Laura on a train in the north of Vietnam less than a year ago. You can imagine how many things had to go just right for us to end up buying train tickets (which were our second choice – we had tried to get a different time) from a nice lady at just the right time to get us in the same train car with two of the sweetest people you could ever meet. If I believed in a god or astrology or fate, or karma or any of that, I’d say that they must have all been on our side at the time. Instead I chalk it up to extremely good luck. Haley thinks maybe it could be parallel universes or something.

Because we knew we would be hosted by experts, we didn’t bother doing any research and had almost no idea what to expect. It turns out that Mallorca was an enchanting place for us – so much so that we agreed afterwards that we could be very happy living there for a very long time. Of course, the fact that we were being hosted and guided by our new(ish) great friends (NGFs) was a huge part of the rapid enchantment.




View on the way to the gran can~on.

We packed in the adventure and activities with only the (extremely) minimal amount of downtime required to re-energize mixed in. Tolo, on the other hand, is superhuman and seems to need zero downtime. Two days after we arrived he competed in an Iron Man triathlon (2km swim, 90km bike through BIG mountains, and a half marathon) and beat his goal of 5.5 hours. The night before the race he was too nervous to sleep. After the race and a few hours of sleep we were right back at it, with late dinners, big hikes, etc. Not to mention Tolo works full time as a physical education teacher, so while we were sleeping in, he wasn’t.


Wetsuits on, shower caps in place… and go!


Still smiling after swim. Increible.

There were many highlights and I know this is cliché, but the ONLY downside of the whole visit was that we did not have enough time. Fortunately, they’re not going anywhere (why would they?) and we will come back for a month? year? life? next time.

Some of the highlights:

Tolo’s aforementioned race: This was no rinky-dink 5K, this was a real deal triathlon with 3000 competitors from 67 countries giving it their all. We really enjoyed all 5.5 hours of it. We got to spot Tolo on multiple occasions and I even got to run with him a few times. The last time was in the last 3 minutes, when I snuck on to the course and got to run with Tolo almost until the finish line where I ducked out avoiding any penalties. That might have been my “best” if someone were asking (Jarod).


Tolo in red hat, competing. Gabe in blue shirt, sneaking around.











Hike to the cannon with Laura: About 10 minutes from their house is a protected area where you can hike and see this:


It turns out that can~on sounds like canyon, but really means canon in Spanish. The whole time I was trying to figure out how there was going to be a canyon on the top of a hill. That’s how.


This view is from the highest canon in Mallorca probably.

Hike to Deia with NGFs:

We took a beautiful winding drive up over the mountains to the other side of the island to hike a portion of what could be a 4-day hike. We were in search of a place that Laura wanted to take us for a rest stop. And we found it. It was a 400+ year old ‘house’ where they make multiple delicious flavors of cake that you get to enjoy while taking in views of the mountains and out over to the Mediterranean.   It was total bliss. A few more highlights to this day….


This is one of those spots that a picture cannot capture. Words don’t work too well either. Just go.


A typical town and backdrop in Mallorca

-you end up at a picturesque cove where you can take a swim in the Mediterranean in case you may have perspired during the walk





Luckydog’s house.



Nice street

– we had a fun lunch break and practiced pitching.

– a race against the bus to recover my sunglasses. I left my sunglasses (same ones that spent a night on the bottom of the sea in Indonesian Borneo) on a rock on the beach and made the choice to race back down hill 10 minutes and then back up hill 20 minutes in an effort to recover them and not miss the last bus back to our car. I found the glasses and we made the bus.

A 30K bike ride to Pollenza and St. Vincente:





















– Haley and I ventured out on our own one morning while Tolo and Laura worked. We winded through gorgeous scenery, olive trees, green pastures, sheep, mountains, crazy-colored ocean waters, and then charming little mallorcan towns with orange stone buildings changing with the sun, and the same green shutters as every other mallorcan town. All of our navigation was done with an iPhone and our poor senses of direction. We were proud and happy.


No photoshopping required.


One of the beautiful calas (caves) that we stumbled across.


This is where I would like to live if I were a sheep.


A view on the bike ride.

Sailing:  Lara, a dear friend of Laura and Tolo – who also did the Iron Man, by the way – works with the family business which is boat tours around the island. We got lucky and got to go out on the Catamaran – it was its first day out of the season and it was great. We got to lie out on the net and watch the crystal water go by as the catamaran hugged the perimeter of the island. We swam in the Mediterranean, didn’t get stung by medusas (jelly fish), drank wine, ate some Spanish BBQ , and napped. I even kayaked while we were moored in a beautiful cove. The wind picked up in the afternoon which meant we were happy we had brought our jackets. But it also meant sails up. I got to help pull up the sails and we went halfway home under the power of the wind. It was an awesome day.



Cave hike:

Just for the heck of it, after the day on the boat, since we had not had nearly enough activities or exercise that day (not to mention the past week), we hiked to a cave with an entrance, say, directly above the Mediterranean – perfect for rock jumping. We headed out around 7pm because you can do that in Mallorcan summer. Sadly, the sea was too rough for rock jumping but Tolo and I thought about it. Tolo led us through lots of rooms in the cave and Haley sang two songs with the lights out which gave us goosebumps. Then we hiked out. We didn’t see one other person on the whole hike.



Dinner at the bull ring:

Still on the boat-ride, cave-hike day, Lara’s dad invited us to a home-cooked meal he was making for all his buddies in the town’s bull ring bar. He made a seafood extravaganza – with industrial-size pots of seafood broth and yellow rice and all kinds of fresh grilled fish that had been swimming in the Mediterranean that very morning. Plus homemade, local wine. I ate an entire bowl of seafood rice soup and didn’t get any allergic reaction. They really were intrigued to have Americans at their guys’ dinner so we had a great time chatting with all of Lara’s dad’s friends even though we could hardly understand a word their Catalan-speaking selves were saying.





Race to the top:

Laura and I made a wager as to who could win against the other on the course of an annual race in Alcudia. There was a lot of shit-talking and negotiating about what was fair leading up to the big race on our last night in Mallorca. Laura is competitive and reallllly wanted it to be fair so we calculated a handicap based on Tolo’s and Lara’s IronMan times. She got a 4 minute headstart and beat me by 2 minutes. I had to call her Senora Martinez and wait on her hand and foot for our last evening in Alcudia. So I lost to a girl but it was great. And Haley cooked up a great salmon dinner for the four of us plus Lara which we of course did not eat until 11pm like every other dinner that week.


High hopes


can you tell who won?

NGF’s Friends:

If you have lived in a small town your whole life and you are very fun to be around, you will probably have lots of friends who live in that same town. We benefited from being instantly included in our NGFs close circle of friends. We were a bit jealous even that we didn’t live in a small town where you could run into a good friend on the street and invite them to walk the 3 minutes over to your house for dinner.


haley makes a mean salmon


mallorca makes a mean coastline

Mallorca was amazing.

When our time ran out in paradise, Haley and I parted ways temporarily. She made her way to visit her host family in Nimes where she lived 18 years ago via a day of sight-seeing in Barcelona. She had a great day visiting La Sagrada Familia and walking the old town and even found the restaurant we ate romantic dinners in every night when we were visiting Barcelona 13 years ago. Then she took the TGV to Nimes and had three great days with the Thibaud Family, eating fabulous meals, and catching up with old friends in Nimes during a very rainy and soggy Feria de Pentecote. She and her sister Anne even got home at 5:30am one night – just like old times. It was a great visit.


Haley and her host sister partying like they’re 16.

I headed straight for Berlin from Mallorca to see our good friends Ben, Ania and their daughter Natalia in their home town. Haley joined me three days later.


this is a fun and funny game we invented where you blow a light-weight ball through a goal.

It was my first time and Haley’s second time in Berlin and it was fun to see our good friends living in a place that embraces their artistic souls. Ben explained to me that although Germans do live up to the stereotype of adhering to and strongly respecting rules (see other note about bike rental for evidence), they also mind their own business as long as you are not doing anything dangerous or setting a bad example. You’ll get some evil stares if you jaywalk in front of a kid, but you might not even get a second look for walking down the street in your underwear ( I didn’t try either, but it might be fun next time).

Berlin is super bike friendly and for the most part the weather also cooperated allowing for lots of riding around. Our main reason for visiting Berlin was to spend some quality time with our friends on their home turf and that was definitely the highlight for us.

Other than enjoying each other’s company, we:

-cooked lots of delicious and healthy meals together in their huge apartment

-got to see a couple of radical performances in the gallery below the apartment.

-played with sweet Natalia

-saw a little bit of the touristy parts of Berlin

–checked out the fairly new berlin wall monument, lots of very cool parks, gates, sculptures, blooming rhododendrons,

spooky cemeteries, beautiful cemeteries, crazy buildings


There all kinds of crazy contraptions to enjoy in the parks in Berlin.


Berlin is built for bikes. You can go everywhere and there are bike lanes and pretty flowers.

-ate at lots of cafes and drank record numbers of cappuccinos


She’s pro. A real Russian making real Russian art and selling it in the Wall park in Berlin. And she’s our friend.

-Visited Ania as she was selling her wool dolls and mobiles at the huge Mauer Park market – they were obviously flying off the shelves.

-saw lots of cool street performers – one night was especially cool when haley, ben and I were out for a night bike ride. We happened upon a guitar and accordion duo performing in a beautiful outdoor corridor apparently for no one but themselves and their pure love of music. Major highlight for sure.













Other notes:


go warriors!

The Warriors were in the playoffs while we were in Europe and obviously I had to watch all the games so there were a lot of late nights staying up watching or early morning wake-up calls when tipoff was at 4am our time. I didn’t miss a game and I was pretty sad when the Warriors finally lost.

I rented a bike my first day in Berlin and ended up keeping it for the whole week. I didn’t tell the guy I rented it from I was going to do that though. Mistake. Let me tell you, Germans take their rental agreements very seriously. He came and hunted me down and yelled at me and Ben for 10 minutes – he was shaking he was so mad – before he pocketed my 25 Euro deposit and biked off in a huff.


Not returning your bike on time – 25 euros and an angry German. Bike days with Benji in Berlin – Priceless








Also, it’s pretty awesome to be home too.  Beach days with wet, sandy Dom, delicious dinners with great friends, and the cutest breakfast date around (Zoe loves her some strawberries).



No problem.


No problem.


No Problem.

Posted in Best | 5 Comments

5 Responses to Travel leads to travel

  1. joannecohn says:

    I did see the blog and I think that this is the best posting yet! You guys are overachievers at vacations!!!!! Can’t wait to see where you go next!

    Jo Anne

  2. joannecohn says:

    Oh…I forgot to mention…I like the title of this post too!

  3. kumeeks says:

    amazing. trying hard to make it to Indo for another trip with H&G.

    Love that you were all about multiple activities in Mallorca – that’s what I was aiming for in Thailand :)

  4. KikCaro says:

    Hermoso viaje y muy lindas historias! Greetings from Buenos Aires!

  5. roywcohn says:

    Que fantastico!

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Sorry that this is a bit after the fact, but it just shows that there is lots to do around here even without a job.

After 13 months and 13 days away from home, we returned to SFO international airport on November 18th. One of the things we most looked forward to towards the end of our travels was coming home to see our friends and family that we missed while we were gone. Lucky for us we weren’t coming home to jobs or much responsibility of any kind so it wasn’t too hard to make reunions happen upon our return.

Even before we made it to California we planned a 22 hour lay-over in Seattle to see our good friend Rob in his town. Rob showed us Seattle from a local’s perspective starting with another thing that was hard to come by outside of the US – a big tasty breakfast- smoked salmon eggs Benedict with organic salad. In Argentina good luck getting more than toast with jam for breakfast. In Asia, how does chicken noodle soup sound? If we get one thing right in the states, breakfast might be it. We had a good time with Rob even if we were only half-awake most of the time. After that, it was back to good old 366 (where I grew up in Tam Valley, CA).


hot breakfast on a cold morning with a good friend

It was a little strange to be back, mostly because nothing had changed. Everything and everyone looked just the way we had left them, almost like we had never left. Other than that weird sensation, it was great to be back seeing all of the people we had missed. Brunches, dinners, hikes, baby meeting, road trips, birthdays, holidays and a big homecoming party have filled up our time at home. It’s been spectacular. Here are lots of pictures from our time home:

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bolinas ridge with a baby


fasih flying at sunset on sarah’s birthday knoll


ken showing one of his parenting techniques

P1000117  P1000133 P1000155 P1000245 P1000315 P1000383 P1040237 P1040290 P1000421 P1000423 P1000430 P1000458 P1000512 P1000519 P1000525 P1000540 P1000552 P1000573 P1000583 P1000593 P1000602 P1000624 P1000691P1000649 P1000674  P1000730P1000717  P1000759 P1000773P1000760

Also, we wanted to say thank you to everyone for following us around on our big trip. It was fun to have a place to share our experiences with our good friends. We’ll probably continue to write in here from time to time, but of course feel free to unsubscribe or never look again as it may not be so interesting when it’s Lake Tahoe instead of Sangalaki or Muang Ngoi. And please please please please feel free to contact us with questions when you get ready for your big adventure.


Some numbers from our trip:

days away from home: 414

babies born by close friends while we were gone: 8

countries: 13

beds slept in: 96 + 5 plane nights + 9 bus nights + 6 train nights + 1 night on the ground in the Jakarta Airport parking lot

plane rides: 25

train rides (not including subway-type trains):  10

boat rides: 63

bus rides: more than 300

islands: 22

most consecutive days with no internet: 23

hospital visits: 3 (2 for Haley 1 for Gabe)

consecutive days with no more than 3 hours apart from each other during any given day: 301

post cards sent: 5

cheapest room: $3.25 (Muang Ngoi, Laos)

blog posts: 63 (including this one)

Posted in Best | 5 Comments

5 Responses to Home

  1. bobcohn366 says:

    Congratulations on an amazing adventure – welcome home!

  2. Dante says:

    Welcome home kids!

  3. kumeeks says:

    i read this with mixed emotions – because I so wish I was back in SF to welcome you guys back home, and because selfishly, I am missing your travel entries already. Glad to see that you’ve been settling back in – post more pics of the beautiful bay area for me! xoxo

  4. Paula says:

    Hello!!! Congratulations on the trip!!!!!! …. It´s a very nice feeling coming home… Home Sweet Home!!!
    Regards from Paula, Diego, Lidia, Carmen and Pilo (from Mataderos, Bs As, Argentina)

  5. gabe says:

    Thanks everyone for all the nice things you said. You guys are the best

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Shibuya Madness

Haley & Gabe did good their first week in Japan, getting out on their own and experiencing a lot of different things.  The pressure was on for our last night together to come up with something they hadn’t done and give them an experience they’d never forget.

So naturally, I chose Shibuya.  It’s one of the major hubs in central Tokyo (also the one I’m most familiar with) and it’s got everything you could ever think of.

1. Popular meeting spot, Hachiko the dog.  It’s so popular that one of the five exits of the Shibuya station is even named after it. What, you’ve never heard of it? I can’t believe you haven’t seen the remake of the Japanese classic movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale with Richard Gere.  Get on it.


in a nutshell: 100 or so years ago this dog used to walk it’s owner to the train station and then wait in this plaza until the guy came back after work. One day, the guy died at work, and the dog stayed in the plaza waiting for him for 9 years. everybody loved the dog, so they made a statue and a movie too i guess.

2. Quintessential Tokyo nightscape and scramble crossing.  You step out of the station, and BOOM – you are immediately confronted with tall buildings, neon lights, people, cars, noise, everything, everywhere. It’s sensory overload in the most orderly way possible.  The scramble crossing is a 5 way intersection and is apparently one of the most heavily used intersections in the world. When people are crossing, it’s a sight unto itself – it’s like the human version of the Great Migration in the Serengeti…every 3 min.

3. Consumerism at its best. There is very little that you won’t find here.  Eye lash salon? check. Whale restaurant? check. Tokyu Hands, the best hardware store in the world? check. Tobacco and Salt Museum? check. Seriously people, try me.

4. Best. People. Watching. Ever. You see everyone from black-suited salary men to girls with crazy fake tans going on, to guys you mistake for being in KPOP bands to high school girls in – well, what else?- school girl uniforms.  It gets better as the night progresses, however. On our way home, we witnessed a group of guys – they were WASTED – standing around a tree as two of them were folded over and throwing up their liquid dinners.  Oh, did I mention that this was a Monday night? Stay classy, Tokyo.

5. Love Hotels. One of Japan’s lasting contributions to the world (apparently, they have them in Argentina too!), love hotels have been around for centuries and some have now evolved to resemble castles, modern mansions, etc.  They are short-stay hotels that charge an hourly rate, and cater to couples looking for privacy to, say, read to each other, study together, watch TV, whatever it is that people do with their significant others :) There is a known area in Shibuya that has a cluster of love hotels, so Gabe made us, err, we decided to check one out.


two thumbs up for Tokyo sex….errr love hotels.

The “lobby” has a touch screen panel of all the rooms, and those in use are blocked off. You can also buy food and contraception by taking cards that indicate what you’re looking for, bringing them to the un-manned desk, and you’re all set.

While Gabe was eager to look into the rooms (joke), our hunger drove us out of there.

To get to most places in Shibuya, you walk through at least one/all of the above.  I managed to cram all this in on our way to a much more quiet part of Shibuya for some Okonomiyaki dinner.

Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake with veggies and meat, often shared between people, and in some restaurants, you can make your very own at your table. Unfortunately, this place didn’t offer that, but Gabe and I  got to try some deer meat for an amuse-bouche, so that made up for it.

Okonomiyaki is named as such because Okonomi means “what you like/want” and you can choose what goes in it.  The challenge was to find a combo that satisfied both Haley, who doesn’t eat meat  and Gabe, who is allergic to shellfish. Talk about high maintenance friends :) And to think that they were teasing me about how long I took to order…(editorial note from haley:  I have a 6.5 minute video of her ordering from the waitress – I didn’t start filming right away and that was the second round of ordering).


you should have seen this dish. the flakes were moving like they were alive. it was crazy.

didn’t believe me?


it literally took kumiko 6 minutes to order dinner, but it would have taken us about 3 hours and a lot of google translate. it probably didn’t help that she was instagramming at the same time.

The night was still young after our delicious meal, and to my delight, Haley was still standing at 930 pm.  So, that meant another activity – yay! And the one thing that they had yet to do was….KARAOKE!!

I was surprised to find that Haley, who loves to sing and has such an amazing voice, had actually never experienced karaoke in a private room, which is the ONLY way to go.   While it is SUCH a cliche, I was certain there were going to have a blast, so off we went.

After deciding to say for an hour (you can always extend), we picked up two tambourines (obvi) as I thought about how to kick off their first experience. See, there is an art to Karaoke – the first song sets the mood for the evening, so it has to be just right. In this case, I needed a song to get these newbies going and to shed any inhibition they might have had.  Thank goodness they drank at dinner :)

As we settled into our room, took the plastic covers off of the mics (they are sanitized after each use), and started looking through the book of songs, I was desperate for a good song – and voila, it came to me.

Rah, rah, ah, ah, ah

Roma, roma, ma

Gaga, ooh la la

Want your bad romance

Lady Gaga FTW! From then on, it’s all a blur.  There *may* have been a killer Kumaley duet of A Whole New World complete with harmonization (that’s all Haley btw), there *may* have been a great Gabe solo of Jimi Hendrix or Axel Rose, and an amazeballs Haley solo of Celine Dion’s Titanic song, interspersed with a slew of terrible, horrible, renditions of Adele, Queen, Alanis Morisette, Guns N’ Roses, and many, many, more.


“…you are the wind beneath…”


“ooooo ooo, just a little patience…”

What I will say is that when we got our reminder of our time limit, we obviously extended it. TWICE.   We sang our hearts out until we could no more, missed our last train by 3 minutes, and cabbed it home. #winning

When we got home, Haley and Gabe went straight to bed.  I had to wake up early the next morning to head to work while they were still in bed before their Kyoto trip.  While it made me sad to end our second trip of the year (!) together, I walked out of my front door quietly humming some Gaga and feeling grateful for our friendship and time together.

Posted in Best | 2 Comments

2 Responses to Shibuya Madness

  1. roywcohn says:

    Kumeeks, that’s a great blog. Uncle Roy

  2. jholtz says:

    Fantastic. Fantastic. Fantastic. Have you considered a career in touring, Kumiko?!

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Same Same but Different

It’s Thanksgiving weekend, and I am writing this blog from my temporary but comfortable apartment in Tokyo, about a week after Haley and Gabe left Tokyo/Japan/Asia to make it home in time for Thanksgiving.

What is wrong with this picture? Well, for one, this blog entry is overdue. Two, Haley and Gabe aren’t here.  Three, I’m not in California.



But no matter – what a treat it was to be able to travel and spend time with them again, this time in Japan! Often times, I find that Life throws these wonderful, serendipitous opportunities our way – Kumiko goes to Japan on a work assignment for 6 months before Haley & Gabe head home from Asia – and we are lucky enough to seize and make the most out of them.

So, here we were, together again. Doing the same things. But different. You know, because this is Japan, not Thailand, and it’s November, not May.  And thus the title (and structure) of the blog post. Also, I’m pretty sure it’s the name of the restaurant where we ate on our last night in Ko Lanta.

To pick up where Haley left off in the blog before the last one, we decided to get out of Tokyo for the one full weekend they had in Japan.


Same same: 

3 indecisive people going over each option again and again the day before we leave.  We were originally deciding between Kyoto, Hakone, and Nikko, but chose Nikko because we couldn’t find any accommodations for Kyoto (fall is the most popular season to visit Kyoto along with spring), and while Hakone offers amazing hot springs and views of Mt. Fuji, Nikko is a World Heritage site with beautiful architecture (I’m a sucker for those), offers great hiking nearby, and close to Tokyo.

But different:

Used 2 laptops, and instead of arriving at a locale then checking out our accommodation options in person, actually called ahead to check availability and book rooms. We did good.

Fun fact:

SCOUT. We’ll get to that.


Same same:

Gabe urging us girls to hurry up with our prep. Unlike Thailand, we are upheld to a much higher standard of put-togetherness here in Japan. Fact.

But different:

Unlike Thailand where there are sometimes 1 or 2 boats a day, in Tokyo there are trains every 2 minutes, so Gabe had a hard time putting the pressure on.

Fun fact:

Since we left almost an hour later than we had originally intended and got to Asakusa only to find out the train we wanted to take was already full, we had an hour to kill until our next train.  We decided to bask in the sun by the Sumida River, enjoy the view of the Tokyo Sky Tree, and debate what the enormous golden objet d’art represents on top of Asahi Breweries’ Asahi Beer Hall.


turd or sperm? either way none of my beers ever looked like that

Turns out, it’s the Asahi Flame, designed by Philippe Starck no less, and is supposed to represent both the burning heart of Asahi beer and a frothy head. And to think that all these years, I was referring to it as Asahi’s Golden Sperm to visitors…sigh.  For the record, Haley and Gabe thought it looked like poop, which is the more common association/mistake and in line with its colloquial nickname, the golden turd.

With that hour of fun, and 90 min of a nice train ride, we finally arrived in Nikko.


Same same:

Tourist spots are a shit show. Tons of people there to see the fall foliage.


kumaley joining in on the touristing


standing on a very old street light under a tree in nikko

 But different:

Haley was surprised at the # of Japanese tourists who come from all over Japan vs. in Thailand where the tourism industry is heavily supported by foreigners.

Fun fact:

Alongside about 100 tourists, Haley got to paparazzi a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony procession over the Shinkyo bridge, which is visible, but not open to the public for a stroll.


if you don’t want to get haley fall colors for christmas, get her a pretty bride on a bridge


Same same:

Breathtaking natural scenery. Bossy photographers.

But different:

Thailand = beach, sand, emerald, blue.

Nikko = mountain, wood, red, coral, orange, yellow.

Fun fact:

My skill as H&G’s portrait photographer has vastly improved, and I was able to capture some holiday card-worthy pics of the two this time around.

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Of the 103 buildings, structures, gardens, and natural setting that makes up the Nikko World Heritage Site, and all the great moments experienced there, here are some of our highlights:

– Three wise monkeys: it is said that proverbial maxim was popularized by the wood carvings found here


really? that’s it?


so exciting


– Our favorite of all the temples was the Rinnoji Temple, specifically the grounds of the temple, that houses the mausoleum of Tokugawa Iemitsu, who is the grandson of the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate.


kugaley on the stairs at our favorite spot in nikko


small shrine with big trees

– Haley & Gabe jumping through a huge circular rope for good luck. Japanese people are very superstitious and happily participate in gimmicks like these :)


this was the third time through for extra good luck


Same same:

When we find something we like, we keep eating it throughout the trip.

But different:

In Thailand, it was fruit shakes. In Nikko, it was dango, a round Japanese dumpling made from mochi (rice), often served in threes on a skewer.


need more christmas presents for haley? these are easy to find in japan.

With the mochi and a stop at a restaurant for dinner, we were off to a completely different adventure – our accommodation for the next two nights!

Haley and I knew something was special when we called ahead to make a reservation.  It was a place run by an American guy named Scout, and when we got through to him on speaker phone, we immediately noticed that he was a talker. I mean, a real talker that talks for minutes with no way of cutting him short type of talker. And then we realized that he never directly answered any of our questions, but we somehow managed to confirm our reservation.

When he picked us up at the station (the place was a short train ride from central Nikko) – it all made sense. He is that guy, whose mind is racing at 100mph.  He hopped from topic to topic, but was very sweet, offered to make pizza for dinner the following night, and had a lovely old ryokan next to the river with defunct baths.

We met a sweet American couple with a baby, two Taiwanese girls who went immediately to bed upon arrival, and a British girl who was writing a novel about Nikko.  We socialized a bit, planned our 2nd day, and turned in early as we were pooped from the day.


Same same:

Always in one room together.  Gabe continues to rally to watch Breaking Bad before bed, while I subtly decline.

But different: 

In Tokyo, we shared a (King size) bed.  In Nikko, we each had our own futon.  Now, Haley goes to bed by 9 pm, blaming it on “jet lag.”

Fun fact:

On the second night, we got the annex room all to ourselves, which had two nooks/elevated sleeping area: one large nook with two futons, and one small nook with one futon. I was convinced until the very moment we went to bed that I was going to sleep in the small nook because there was A futon there. But Haley and Gabe thought that nook was made for them because it was a “double” futon, while Scout prepared the larger nook with TWO futons for me.  In the end, they slept in the smaller nook but it doesn’t make sense to me to this very day – what do you all think?


kumiko was confused about the beds and so was scout. He thought there was no couple so the big bed was for gabe. in the end we had an extra bed, but kumiko was too shy to bring home the waiter from the noodle place.

We woke up early the next day to get an early start to day. Scout made delicious home made pancakes, which made up for the fact that he didn’t bring his extra tank of gas knowing that the car wasn’t going to make it to Nikko, wasn’t sure if the gas station that he intended to stop by on the way would even be open that early on a Sunday (it wasn’t), which required back tracking to his house by our lodge to fill up with the extra gas he had.  It just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to Haley and Kumiko, lovers of all things efficient.


Same same:

Kumiko ambitiously aims for 5 activities in a day.  Part of it always (and rightly) gets vetoed.

Also, it always ends up including unanticipated yet extensive monkey sightings.


monkey preening. so cute, yet so nasty at the same time.

But different:

Koh Phi Phi = hike, kayak, beach

Nikko = check out water fall amidst fall foliage, hike, hot springs

Fun fact:

We met the cutest couple ever during our first activity: mini hike to Kirifuri falls. You can’t actually get to the fall itself, but there is a path to a deck that offers a stunning view of the fall.


happy us

The super friendly Japanese couple kept talking to us, when I realized that the man had a can of beer in his hand at 900 am and was already a bit tipsy. This is the beauty of Japan – you can buy booze from a  vending machine and drink it on the streets, and it’s totally fine.


this guy was so nonchalant about his beer that haley didn’t even notice. this guy also told us to be careful taking pictures because his friend had recently died after he fell off a cliff trying to get the right shot. he was also smiling when he told us this story (which only kumiko understood) and we smiled back.

We also had another dango moment here. Even after our filling meal, there’s always room for dango.

Because the bus down to town was not yet running, we decided to walk down the hill when Gabe got the idea to hitch hike down.  It’s not commonplace to do so in Japan, and many cars zoomed past us while we continued down.  After our detour with the troop of monkeys, a nice couple in a van stopped to give us a lift. When they opened the back door, a little girl was sitting in the back seat, but upon seeing Haley started crying so loud, the dad got out of the passenger seat to sit next to his girl and give me shotgun as Haley and Gabe got in.  In the 5 min ride into town, however, the girl completely recovered, and when we got out at the station, she even waved and said good bye….and tapped Gabe playfully (?) with a baseball bat :)


Same same:

We always get our hike on wherever we are.

But different:

This hike was relatively flat – unlike the hilly hikes in Thailand.  We filled our stomachs with – what else – dango next to the trail head, the fall of Ryuzu. That means Dragon’s Head – can you see why?


yeah, me neither

The first part was through a bamboo field – so serene and so different in color and season from Nikko, which is at a lower elevation.


spooky trail near nikko

Then, the second part was walking through the Senjogahara moor on wooden planks. The scenery was pretty in a much more severe way than Nikko or even the bamboo field, and made us wonder how different it would look like in spring.


kumaley modeling


on this trail we kept seeing signs saying how pretty it was at different times of year. cherry blossoms, green fields, snow, etc. we just got the dead grass, which we enjoyed.

The trail ends at Yudaki Falls, where we briefly stopped for another round of dango, then headed to Yumoto to soak in a hot spring bath in the Onsenji Temple.

Fun Fact:

– Gabe, the ever so conscientious one, tried to get the one piece of trash – a plastic bottle – we saw on the entire trail from the stream.  What looked like a easy task ended up taking a bit more work.


if you look closely you can see the plastic snapple bottle ruining this picture. don’t worry, all clear now.

– Most hot springs, including the one we went to, have separate baths for men and women.  We were chilled from the hike and eagerly went into our separate baths when I realized that I hadn’t shared the bathing etiquette with Gabe. You see, in common baths, it’s important to clean your body before you get into the bath that others also enjoy.  As a result, he ended up getting a weird look from a fellow bather, but he thinks it was for another reason.

As we left the temple and headed back to our lodge, it started to rain and didn’t stop for most of the night.  Felt pretty lucky and grateful for the nice weather for the past two days.  That evening, we got to eat Scout’s home made pizza, which was pretty yummy – I even got lucky and got a piece of anchovy!

After sorting out next day’s departures with Scout, which ended up taking way longer than you would expect, we retreated to our annex for some Breaking Bad (Gabe FTW!).

The next morning, we headed back to Tokyo…after a fun two days that felt much longer than that, and knowing that we only had 1 more night together in Tokyo before I bailed on my guests for their last couple of days.

And I’m saving that night for an entry of its own :)

Posted in Best | 1 Comment

One Response to Same Same but Different

  1. joannecohn says:

    What a great post!!!!! How lucky you were to see them twice on their adventure!!!!!!

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Almost home…

Don’t worry folks.  Famous guest blogger Kumiko is still coming.  She’s such a big shot that she had to dash across the world and back for work and so her blog-writing time got usurped.  I’ll fill you in on our sad Kumiko-less adventures in the meantime.

As I write this we are on a flight from Tokyo to Seattle.  Just 7 hours left before we are officially back on American soil.  And/but we still have one more day of our trip and are getting ready to party with Rob in Seattle.  More to come on that particular transition but first more adventures from Japan!

Since we last posted we have done and seen so many amazing things, I hardly know where to begin.  Japan – mostly Kumiko – has treated us so well and we are so grateful that Kumiko’s transfer to Tokyo coincided with the end of our trip.  What a gift.  And unbeknownst to us (because our not-very-effective M.O. for this trip has been to do precisely no planning at all ahead of walking off the airplane at each destination), our timing was absolutely impeccable for the famous fall colors in Japan.  When we left off last we were about to head to the mountainous area of Nikko to check out some temples and fall colors and do a bit of hiking.  Which did not disappoint.  Kumiko will tell you all about that.  After returning to Tokyo from Nikko we had one last day with Kumiko and she showed us another impressive evening in Tokyo.  We met her in Shibuya – where we finally found the Tokyo you see on T.V. and did the ridiculous things you hear of visitors doing in Japan.  Again, the story-telling on that one is all Kumiko but for now suffice it to say it was super fun and most of the video evidence of the evening will not be released to the public.


haley in orange shrine tunnel in kyoto


gabe in orange shrine tunnel in kyoto, but our readers are so smart that i bet i didn’t even have to write that

 On Tuesday, we said a sad goodbye to our amazing hostess and headed to Kyoto and Nara for temples, fall colors, gardens, food stealing deer, the largest wooden building in the world (at least it was until 1998 but they are holding on for dear life to their title), and a giant ass bronze Buddha.  The pictures don’t do the colors and scenery any justice (AT ALL) but they do a much better job than I will be able to do to show how truly stunning all of the changing Japanese maples were and the architecture of Japan was.  Kyoto was really a cool city with so much beauty on the edges and felt much more Japanese than Tokyo.  The buildings, the food, the people, the temples, the scenery, the tourists (omg, the tourists).  We walked miles and miles each day wandering our way to and from and through gardens and temples and bamboo groves and shrines and tiny streets lined with the cutest restaurants you ever did see (most of which we couldn’t eat at – again that darn Kangi illiteracy thing – Kumiko we needed you!).  We also stayed at an adorable little Ryokan and did the whole sleeping on futons on tatami mats, sitting on the floor chairs drinking green tea before bed, wearing kimonos to and from the shower, and generally feeling Japanese and cool.

Nara was a day trip from Kyoto and we had read about the giant Buddha in the huge wooden building which sounded nice and all, but really we just went for the deer.  Around the Unesco World Heritage sites of Nara there are hundreds of tame deer that you can pat, feed, hang out with….or more accurately, push away and try to make it look like patting when they have their face in your backpack, throw food at them so they stop butting you with their heads, and do your best not to trip over them because every time you turn around there is one with its head in your pocket.  It was really fun to be that close to deer and fun to watch them chase around and steal from unsuspecting, and sometimes terrified, children with a snack in their hand.  And the big wooden building and Buddha and gardens we saw were also nice.


this was our favorite zen garden


drinking green tea, sitting on those japanese mat things, in a japanese hotel (ryokan) in japan. How japanese can you get?


in case you are looking for a christmas present for haley, she loves fall colors.


i like the sleepy one on the right.


kyoto creek


in japan they like things to be just right: No ugly fruits at the supermarket, no stains on your shirt and this dog is a perfect golden retriever specimen. I’m still not sure it wasn’t a robot.




nice deer

Panorama 1

our second favorite zen garden


i would guess that sign says: next stop kyoto, but kumiko could tell you what it really says.


i think it would be funny if the trains looked like this and didn’t go fast.

By the way, to get to Kyoto, we (read: I) REALLY wanted to take the bullet train while we were in Japan – it just seemed like an experience not to be missed while here even though it is extremely expensive.  And we were so glad (read:  I was so glad; Gabe was underwhelmed) we did.  A fellow traveler who had spent a lot of time told us she thought it was the ultimate convenience.  She was dead-on.  First of all, you never ever need to book ahead. The thing leaves at least every 10 minutes, sometimes every four.  You walk up to an electronic kiosk, touch the screen and after you insert obscene amounts of money (especially for a 2 hour and 15 minute train ride), it spits out a flimsy little card that gets fed into a couple automatic gates along your way.  Then you make your way through the sea of people that is your choice of Tokyo hubs, up to the platform, and wait a nano-second to board your train.  Pick a seat, sit down, read a magazine at 300km an hour (that’s 187 mph people!), and you’re there.  What you don’t have to deal with:  reservations, change fees, planning ahead (our biggest stressor and failure on this trip), security, getting to the airport hours before you actually start going anywhere, waiting, no leg room, and the mother of them all:  no stupid, annoying, loud, interruptive, nobody-is-listening-and-nobody-cares announcements!  It’s beautiful.  The only announcement is what stops are coming up (which are very few – it’s the bullet train after all) and please turn your cell phone to silent (which people actually DO – and they don’t talk on them either!).  There’s a power plug in every row, a hook to hang your jacket, a tray table, the train is smooth as silk, and no one is harassing you about your seat belt or tray table or seat back every five minutes. In fact, not only do the conductor ladies and gentlemen not tell you what to do constantly, they smile as they check your ticket (just once and ever so politely) and each time they enter your car and before the leave your car they actually BOW!!!  I’m sorry but when was the last time a flight attendant was civil to you, much less bowed (ok, a slight exaggeration and I might be a bit jaded from some unusually bad experiences on U-bite-it airlines – this flight not included as the flight attendant just went up to first class to get Gabe some chamomile tea….but still)?!  So me and the bullet train are real good friends now.  S.F. to L.A. could realllllly use one.

While we are on the topic of things of Japan and efficiency, I also wanted to touch on a few things that don’t make sense (to me, anyway) in this blog.  The first one has to do with cleanliness.  Everything is clean.  Like over-the-top clean.  People are always cleaning everywhere you go.  There are seemingly thousands of government employees sweeping, hosing, pruning, mowing, leaf-blowing, wiping, scrubbing, collecting recycling, etc.  What?  You hear something missing in this fairly comprehensive list of cleaning activities?  Picking up trash, for instance?  I am certain trash gets produced in a nation of 126 million (especially a nation that rivals any I have ever seen in the amount of packaging, single-use beverage containers, and plastic bags used – it’s INSANE) .  And you would think that every once in a while one of those 126 million people wants to throw something away or, God forbid, litters (by accident, of course). So trash gets picked up, right?  The answer is I really can’t be sure.  The only thing I know is that the only thing harder to find than a trash can in Japan is, well, nothing.  Gabe thinks it’s because Japanese people don’t like to eat and walk.  You will be hard pressed to find a Japanese person eating not seated at a table in a home or appropriate public or private establishment.  And if you get take-out from a market, good luck finding a place to eat it.  In any case, if you produce any trash while in Japan, maybe just plan on packing it in your suitcase and taking it back to your own country because that’s probably the next trash can you’re going to find.  I really never got over how my pockets and our backpack were always full of trash in the cleanest place I have ever been in my life.

Second thing about cleanliness is germs.  Remember how we marveled at all the face masks in Southeast Asia?  People wore those to protect themselves from everything from air pollution to sunburns.  But always to protect themselves.  In Japan people wear them to protect others from themselves.  If you are sick, you wear a mask so you don’t get your germs on other people.  Darn considerate, right?   There are also other precautions for germs.  Automatic buttons that raise and lower toilet seats, automatic flushing, automatic faucets, hand sanitizer at every store entrance you go through, a little dish to put your money in when conducting a transaction so you don’t have to touch the other person’s hands.  And oh my, the actual “facilities” in Japan are spotless and it is not unusual to find an electronic Japanese toilet in many public restrooms.  If you have never seen one of these, let me fill you in.  This, my friends, is like a full service automatic car wash for your backside (and frontside ladies).  We’re not talking, “Standard Exterior”.  We are talking “The Works”.  Water spouting from all angles, temperature adjustment for water and seats, oscillation, settings of all kinds to suit the pickiest and most sensitive of butts.  It’s amazing.  So where am I going with all this?  It’s basic – like the no trash can thing – but mind boggling nonetheless.  In 99.9% of Japanese restrooms (public or business) – no soap and no paper towels.  Even in the Red Carpet Club at Narita International Airport – no soap!  If someone can come up with an explanation for this craziness, I would like to hear it.

Other baffling issues in an otherwise overly convenience-and-efficiency-oriented country, the only ATM’s a foreigner can use are at 7-11 (I have never been in as many 7-11’s in my life as I have been in during our time in Asia) and the Post Office – when the P.O. is even open.  Good luck.  Cards are not accepted in most places, especially foreign ones.  Hard to fathom as a charge-everything-down-to-a-cup-of-coffee American.  And if you can’t find a “sevy’s”, you are S.O.L.

To wrap up, after Kyoto, we returned to Tokyo for one last day and hit the Tsukiji Fish Market which blew our minds.  We walked through thousands of square feet of cramped stall after cramped stall overflowing with, as far as I can tell, all of the sea creatures that ever were available for purchase.  I don’t mean every KIND – though that too – I mean every one of them, period.  Like there cannot be any fish left in the sea given what was at that market.  The market has an annual sales of $5.5 billion and it looks it.  There were gigantic tunas (so many hundreds of pounds they had to be raised to the chopping block with an elevator-type thing), scallops and mussels the size of your hand, octopi of all shapes and sizes, and many, many creatures of questionable identity.  It also happened to be quite difficult to stay alive as a human (if you were a fish of course, forget it).  That thing I said about Japanese drivers not having homicidal feelings toward pedestrians does not apply to the dudes who drive electric carts through the aisles of the fish market and their feelings toward tourists.  You could seriously get hurt.  Also don’t wear open-toed shoes or pants that drag on the ground.  Trust me.


frozen tunas


bloody octopus


sushi for everyone

So that just about sums up our time in Japan minus Nikko and Shibuya coming soon to a computer near your from Kumiko.  We had a really amazing visit and cannot thank Kumiko enough for inviting us and for showing us such a killer time.  Obviously she is awesome and if any of our blog readers don’t know her personally and want an introduction, let us know.  We just can’t promise she’ll invite you to visit.

See y’all on the flip side (or the U.S. side anyhow).


Haley and Gabe

Other notes:

The stereotype that Japanese people run everywhere is exaggerated.  But not very much.  Also, Kumiko thought I invented this stereotype.  Anyone wanna back me up here?

I have precisely zero blank pages left in my passport and was recently counting and convincing myself (so I could convince the customs agent) I had enough legitimate empty spots to get into Japan and back into the U.S.  I am barely going to make it.

We left Japan at 6pm on November 17th.  We arrive in Seattle at 9 am on November 17th.  Finally getting back that day we lost on the way from Buenos Aires to Bangkok all those months ago.

If you want to chill out in some of the most beautiful and peaceful and colorful gardens you have ever seen in your life, oh and hang out with about a gazillion Japanese tourists in each of them, go to Japan in November for the fall colors.   I am assuming you would be just as fortunate (on all counts) during Cherry Blossom season in March/April.

Japanese kids are the cutest kids I have ever seen.  Along with Thai, Vietnamese, Lao, Cambodian, Malaysian, and Indonesian kids.  Insane.


the stereotype that japanese people like to flash the peace sign while they pose for pictures is not overblown. they usually want you to do it too.

There are over 400,000 vending machines in Tokyo alone.  They dispense cold AND hot drinks. Extremely nice on a cold November day.

Gabe doesn’t like red bean-filled mochi.  I ate dozens of them.

One night we bought dinner at Circle K.

Posted in Best | 5 Comments

5 Responses to Almost home…

  1. kumeeks says:

    I loved reading this, hearing about the other part of your Japan trip :) So bummed I couldn’t be in Tokyo for your last days in Tokyo, but glad to see that you had fun!

    Miss you guys so much already :(

    P.S. I did find my belt. and a box of almond chocolates. and 2 letters. all made me SMILE!

  2. bobcohn366 says:

    very nice bamboo
    welcome home
    happy thanksgiving

  3. Jnol says:

    Dudes – your trip looks like it has been amazing! But you missed us out! Next time you have to come to Oz! We’re dying to catch up. Happy landing back in the US, we look forward to hearing about the next instalment. Lots of love from us all down under. xxxx

    • gabe says:

      dudes. is this nathan and jen? we were really sad we didn’t get to come visit you guys. problem is that you use that darn australian dollar and our american dollar buys way more rupiah and baht than aussie money. come visit please. we miss you.

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