Backyard Discoveries: Travel Tips for a Jaunt in Jerome, AZ

Greetings, travelers! Knowing our love for ghost towns, it was just a matter of time before we made it to one of Arizona’s most popular historic mining towns, Jerome.

Even though mining in Jerome ended in 1953 (after 77 years!), the town is still a thriving tourist destination and artistic community with plenty of fun things to do and see.

Traveling Tips

The drive: The charming hillside spot is only about a two hour drive up north from Phoenix. There are spots to fuel up and stop along the way, but because the I-17 reduces to two lanes as you head toward Flagstaff (and unfortunately, as you head back) traffic can get kind of hairy, with REALLY long delays depending on what’s happening (holidays, ski/snowboarding season, etc.), so I would recommend filling up to a full tank of gas before you go.

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When to visit: Because it’s hopping tourist destination, Jerome stays pretty busy year-round. It helps that even during the hot summer months, it’s a few degrees cooler being farther up north. I know that we always stress getting somewhere in the early a.m., but it’s really true if you want to avoid the crowds and have the run of the town for yourself! Holidays are often the busiest, as well, but I think we lucked out because we got to Jerome just a bit after 10 a.m. – by the time we left around 2 p.m., the place was poppin’.

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If you like to hike: We recommend Dead Horse Ranch, a state park just 20 minutes away from Jerome. Don’t let the name throw you off, it’s a pleasant and expansive state park with a lot to offer. There are sites for campers, lagoons for fishing, areas for picnicking, and even a small river with a river walk. There are also, of course, hiking trails – I think we ended up hiking about 3 miles along their Lime Kiln trail. I would say this trail is easy to moderate, depending on your hiking experience – nothing too steep and no climbing required. Just always make sure that you a) have enough water (it doesn’t hurt to bring snacks for energy, either), b) know what trail you’re on and stay on it and c) know your limits.

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What to see: This is really traveler’s choice! We basically just walked around the town with no set agenda, but other travelers recommend the Douglas Mansion or Gold King Mine. Just remember that this is a hillside town, so you will be doing a LOT of walking upwards (and then blessedly, downwards).

Notable places we found on our stroll –

Jerome Grand Hotel

It wouldn’t be a ghost town without the ghosts. The Jerome Grand Hotel has a history of haunts – it was originally a hospital during the town’s mining days.

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Also fascinating, the hotel still has steam-powered heating and an OTIS elevator from 1926.

Holy Family Catholic Church

This church has been standing for more than 100 years. Visitors are welcome, and though it’s no longer an active parish, they do hold mass every third Saturday of the month.

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La Victoria Studio

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Even if you’re visiting and the studio isn’t open, it’s still housed in a very cool structure.

From what we could tell and from what I’d heard from a family member, this is a pottery and glassblowing studio. Open hours seem… flexible. If you do manage to catch them when they’re open to the public, apparently they do pottery and glassblowing demos.

Getting your grub on: We ate at the Haunted Hamburger, and no, the burgers aren’t haunted, but the building supposedly is. Also, their outside patio offers a great view of the town below. There are plenty of other food stops to choose from, but they fill up FAST once they open (another reason to get there earlier rather than later).

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Anyone who knows us would not be surprised that Rickeldoris Candy and Popcorn Company was our very first stop in Jerome. It’s just as much of a treat for the eyes with a colorful selection of candies in jars, bins, boxes and an old-fashioned feel.
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We followed the delicious smell of kettle corn. I bought too much taffy, but I regret nothing.

Certainly, there’s plenty more to explore, but hopefully this will be a good starter guide for you.

Y’all come back now, ya hear?

With much affection,
The Nightborn Travel Team

 

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Do’s and Don’ts for Travelers to Japan

How to Respectfully Experience Japanese Shrines and Temples

Nikko shrine (c) RDB 2017
  1. There are wells (purification fountains) on the way into shrines and temples, and if you rinse your hands, try to avoid touching the ladle anywhere but the handle, and pour used water into the gutter. You can also pour some water into your hand to rinse your mouth (don’t drink).
  2. If you want to worship at a Shinto shrine, when you get to the offering hall toss some coinage into the offering box. If there is a bell, ring it, bow two times, clap your hands twice, and then bow one more time.
  3. Don’t eat or drink anything other than water in the shrine or temple.
  4. Be quiet and respectful; these are holy places.

Being Polite In While Traveling by Train in Japan

The shinkansen (c) ABR 2015
  1. When waiting to get on the train, pay attention to the lines painted on the sidewalk, and be sure to stand in line.
  2. Don’t talk on your phone; if chatting with a pal, try to be quiet.
  3. If it gets crowded, take your bag off and hold it in front.
  4. If you have an assigned seat, make sure that is where you sit.
  5. Don’t be pushy, and make sure that you leave room for other people to get on and off the train.

How to Avoid Annoying Japanese People

Crowds in Japan (c) RDB 2017
  1. Read ALL the signs, especially when you are in a shrine or temple. Many will tell you where you can and cannot go, and what you need to do while in any area (e.g. take off your shoes, etc).
  2. Stand in line. This goes for lots of different places that you might not expect depending on where you are from. We even stood in line while hiking, and while that ad hoc happens in the US sometimes, it was not ok to move up in the line in Japan.
  3. Learn and use please (“sumimasen,” which really means excuse me) and thank you (“arigato”) in Japanese. When you are in a restaurant, it is not impolite to hail your waiter by saying “sumimasen.”
  4. Be quiet if you are in an Airbnb, because people live very close to one another, and the Japanese work day/week is very long.
  5. Be quiet and respectful in Onsens and follow all rules while bathing.
  6. Watch other people, and take note of their behavior. This can serve as your guide for how to act when you are uncertain.

Other Japanese Customs You Might Want to Know About (But Which Visitors Aren’t Expected to Understand)

Tokyo (c) RDB 2017
  1. Bowing. In Japan, there’s a complexity to bowing in which people of different standings bow to different depths. Bowing can also be casual or formal. Luckily, visitors aren’t expected to know how this all works.
  2. Gift-giving is another important but complicated aspect of Japanese culture. Generally speaking, people don’t open their gifts in front of the gift-giver, and whenever you receive a gift, you are supposed to return the favor. Again, however, travelers aren’t expected to do this all properly.

The National Parks of Japan Have It All

Map of Japan’s national parks from https://www.env.go.jp/en/nature/nps/park/

Japan has a total of 33 national parks, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Spread out across its major islands, they showcase the vast variety of ecosystems and unique landscapes that characterize the natural world of Japan. These parks are also home to many important historic and cultural attractions, making them the perfect places to experience the multifaceted wonders of Nippon. I’ve only seen a small fraction of these special places, but they deserve a post highlighting how amazing they are.

Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

As you may be able to tell from the name of this park, Fuji-Hakone-Izu has three distinct sections, one of which is home to Mt. Fuji (the highest mountain in the country), one is for Hakone, and one for the Izu islands south of Tokyo. Of these, I have visited Hakone and Mt. Fuji.

That’s boiling hot water running down those steps in the geothermal area of Hakone (c) ABR 2017.

When I went to Hakone, it was my first time in Japan, and I wanted to have the chance to see Mt. Fuji, since we wouldn’t be able to actually visit the mountain. We heard that the journey through this part of the park would give us the best chance for a glimpse of the crown of Japan (although we didn’t actually get to see it that time due to cloud cover), so we bought a transportation value pass (for details click here). This takes you from Toyko via multiple different modes of transportation (train, funicular, cable car, boat, and bus) through the Hakone area. This includes a stop in a geothermal area where you can see some hot springs and buy special black eggs cooked in the searing hot waters of the mountain. You will also get to ride an oddly pirate-esque boat across Lake Ashinoko. Not included in the pass, but well worth the extra cost, is the Old Hakone Check Point, which was used during the Edo period to monitor people moving through Japan.

Old Hakone Checkpoint on a cloudy day (c) ABR 2017.

On our second trip to Japan, I did summit Mt. Fuji, which was a just-as-memorable-as-you-would-think two-day experience that I will devote an entire post to later this month. I will say that this mountain is busy, but makes up for the crowds with unimaginably beautiful views and a uniquely spiritual experience.

Torii gate near the summit of Mt Fuji (c) ABR 2017.

Nikko National Park

Nikko National Park includes a huge complex of shrines among a wildly beautiful, mountainous countryside. This is one of the most spiritual places that I have ever been in my life, but it is also very popular. So, the real moments of still and introspection are those that you can steal in a crowd, or find on a quiet trail among the trees. This National Park is also home to Mt. Nantai, Kegon Falls, and Lake Chuzenji. After Mt. Fuji, Mt Nantai is one of the best places for a visitor to get a challenging hike in, but you will need to plan ahead if you are going to make it up the steep trails of this mountain to the summit.

The crowds in Nikko make it hard to find that spiritual moment, but you will find it in this national park (c) ABR 2017.

Setonaikai National Park

I visited this park while staying on Miyajima island of Hiroshima Bay, which is home to the ocean-side Itsukushima-jinga and Mt. Misan, in the western side of the park. For anyone like me, that isn’t super fond of snorkeling, the island is your best destination for this part of the national park, because the rest of Setonaikai is marine, complete with finless porpoises and beautiful forests of ocean plant-life.

Man-made, anti-erosion waterfalls on Miyajima (c) ABR 2017.

Backyard Discoveries: S.O.S. (or Seeking Out Superior)

What I meant to do: Drive out to Superior (about an hour and 20-minute drive out of Phoenix, southeasterly toward Globe) to spend at their annual Prickly Pear Festival. Spend a couple hours sampling jellies, candies, ice creams and more until my body is 90% prickly pear.

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Superior, Ariz.- come for the annual Prickly Pear Festival, stay for their small-town, old-school charm.

What really happened: Buy some prickly pear jellies and taffy and spend the rest of FOUR hours running around the town starry-eyed and snap-happy because, oh my god, the buildings, y’all.

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I don’t know if this was built as a market or when it stopped being one. Looks like most recently it was an antique shop, but now it’s empty. Either way, I love it.

It’s not my fault that the houses, the shops, the walls, etc. in the town of Superior have so much CHARACTER.

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Some excellent art to be found on the walls along Main St.

Lemme give you a little background on Superior. This little engine that could started as a mining town in about the mid-1870s thanks to the Silver King and Silver Queen mines. Although it was one of the richest silver mines in AZ, the Silver King shut down in the 1880s due to a decline in silver prices coupled with high costs in operation. However, the Silver Queen mine kept chugging along because of hella copper production. If you can believe it, copper mining in Superior didn’t end until 1995 – that’s 120 years, folks, give or take a few.

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Hotel Magma’s been out of commission for a while (it first opened around 1912), but restoration efforts were taking place last year with plans to re-open soon. Keep hope alive!

Even though mining has died out (though Resolution Copper has plans to start it up again in nearby Oak Flat), the town is still alive and kicking. I’ve curated a list of things to do and see below:

Notable Attractions

For people who enjoy history (especially mining history):

Magma Mine Copper Smelter

This is a huge smelting stack you can see from the road as you’re driving into town. It was operational from about 1914 to 1981.

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Smelter no smelting! (Because you’re full of dangerous chemicals – whoops.)

A resident told me that there was a good chance that the smelter would have to come down because it had become unsafe over the years and that the repairs were too extensive for the town or Resolution Copper to consider. So, visit Superior soon, because I’m not sure how long this stack will be around. The only caveat is that the road is 100% blocked to the smelter, so you’ll have to admire from afar or check in with Resolution Copper (they have an office on Main St.) to see if they give tours that allow you to get a little bit closer (not too close, because there may be arsenic and other fun mining chemicals in the stack??).

Bob Jones Museum

This is the small house-turned-museum of former early AZ governor, Bob Jones. Admission is free (though donations are accepted and encouraged) and it’s chock full of historical town artifacts and town residents who are more than happy to talk history and give you recommendations of places to visit, both historical and current.

Various Buildings Throughout the Town

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I’m preeeetty sure this bar is still open.
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But this high school is not. One of the Bob Jones museum docents said that this building was about 100 years old and no longer in use.
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This little church was tucked into a neighborhood amongst three houses. I probably wouldn’t have even seen it if I hadn’t take a wrong turn.

Seriously, do yourself a favor and set aside time to just walk and drive around town. There are some great buildings along main street, but others are hidden gems throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. Just remember to treat the areas with respect – because it’s a small town a lot what seems like public property blends with residential and public streets will suddenly turn into private drives. No trespassing means no trespassing, don’t be that guy.

For people who like plants (and other neat nature-y things):

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Established in 1923, the arboretum is about three miles just outside of Superior. It boasts more than 6000 plant species from every continent, and also refuge for 150 kinds of birds and 40 other wildlife species. I didn’t get chance to visit this time, but I have plans to drive back out and wander around there in the near future (once we’re past 100-degree temps).

Miscellany:

Shops

There were a few different little shops along Main St. – a couple antique shops, an art gallery, the Save Money Market (if you need to stock up on snacks, water, etc. this is a good place to go, plus it still has that 50s market feel) and others.

Eats

There are multiple places to eat around town, most of them on Main St. and very easy to find. The Philly Cheesesteak I got at De Marco’s Italian had homemade bread and it was GREAT.

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If going to the the World’s Smallest Museum is on your bucket list, you know where to go.

Fuel/When Nature Calls

There’s also Circle K gas station and rest stop right as you drive into Superior, so you’re good for bathroom breaks and fuel.

Believe me, I could go on, in the words of that one farmer guy from Babe, “That’ll do pig, that’ll do.” Join us next time for another Arizona find!

Explore more,
Katie

superior redux

 

 

Whirlwind Tour of Japan (Part 2)

For Part 1 click here.

Day 11: Pit Stop in Nara

Giant Buddha in Todai-ji temple (c) ABR 2017

It’s quite a journey from Miyajima to Nara (around 4 hours if you catch the right trains; could be a bit longer if you end up on a local train from Kyoto), but there are some special sites here that make the travel time worth it.

Todai-ji is one of my favorite shrines/temples in Japan (which is really saying something, because I have been to a lot of them). It houses a massive, beautiful Buddha statue, and hosts a healthy population of Nara deer as well (the town’s mascot). I have three pieces of advice for this area. (1) Make a point to visit the temple; it is a work of art. (2) Stop by Buddha’s “nostril,” a little hole in a giant, wooden support beam of the temple, and see if anyone tries to climb through. The experience is said to grant a bit of enlightenment, but it looked far too small for me to try (and most other people). But a few kids went through and it was adorable. (3) Please DON’T feed the deer, for your safety. The first time I visited, I bought some food for them at a shop and they bit my legs as soon as they saw I had something. Not worth it.

A Nara deer (c) ABR 2017

Yagyu Kaido is also accessible from Nara, and although I have not gone myself, it looks to be a great place to hike through one of the older forests on Japan. I would suggest staying an extra day if you’d like to give this a sufficient amount of time, however, because the trip from Nara to Nikko is considerable and the temple deserves at least an afternoon/morning to explore, if not more.

Day 12: Survive the Train to Nikko

Today shall be a day of trains, so I’ll add a few tips on finding food and keeping your sanity during train travel days in Japan.

First, when it comes to seating, I would highly suggest that you reserve yourself a seat on the shinkansens. This may mean that you have to wait a bit, but the non-reserved cars tend to be more crowded. Reserving a seat is free with a JR pass, is done the day-of at the JR station, and may allow you to sit next to your travel partner(s) if you have them.

For food, there is no lack of snacks inside the train terminals, but if you aren’t a fan of cold bento boxes and convenience store food (or just get tired of them), your best bet for a good meal is outside of the ticket booths. In the big cities, like Kyoto and Tokyo, you are likely to be near a department store, with lots of options, and many of the smaller stations with shinkansen stops have somewhere to get a hot meal.

The red bridge in Nikko (c) ABR 2017

Anyway, in order to make it from Nara to Nikko, you will need to take a train back to Kyoto, and then take a Shinkansen to Tokyo, and another from Tokyo to Utsunomiya, and finally the special train from there to Nikko. All of this in included on the JR pass.

Suggestion for accommodations: Minshuku Narusawa Lodge – the owner will pick you up from the train station and help get you oriented. There is also a nightly trip to an onsen (for extra cost, but very enjoyable).

Day 13: Temples, Temples, Temples, Oh My!

Some crowds among the temples (c) ABR 2017

            Today is the day to explore Nikko’s many temples! According to UNESCO, there are 103 religious buildings in Nikko, and when you get there, you won’t doubt that number. From the lodge (if that’s where you stay), it is about a 30 minute walk up to the area, but I would suggest getting two-day bus pass down at the JR train station. This will be handy today and tomorrow, and get you all around town; there is a ton to see, so you don’t want to waste too much time walking between sites.

I have two favorite places to visit in the complex itself. Tosho-gu is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the major Japanese historical figure, Tokugawa Ieyasu. It was VERY busy when we went there the last time, but the intricacy and vibrant paintings/carvings of this shrine are well worth the hordes of children and tour groups that you may need to brave.

After the swarms of people, my personal favorite spot in this area is a short hike north of the main complex to a set of three small shrines along a creek. There aren’t many people that come here (due to the walk and its relatively small size), so I have found this place to be extremely peaceful and more spiritual than almost anywhere else that I have been. I’m not going to just throw the name at you though, because I’d hate to see people crowd this area. If you are really interested, you will be able to find it on a map of the complex. The hike is only 15 minutes or so from Tosho-go, to the north.

The many Jizo along the river (c) ABR 2017

After you’ve had your fill of temples and shrines for the day, walk over to Kamangafuchi gorge to take in the powerful beauty of the river as well as the watchful eyes of the 70 Jizo statues that are lovingly clothed with caps and aprons here.

If you’re staying at the lodge, I would highly recommend taking a trip to the onsen tonight. It is affordable, friendly to foreigners, and a must-do, cultural experience for Japan. (But you will be bathing naked with strangers, so be mentally prepared and go with an open mind).

Day 14: Up Into the Clouds at Mt. Nantai

The steep trail up Mt. Nantai (c) ABR 2017

If you are a hiker, I would suggest that you wake up early today and take the bus up to Mt. Nantai. This is a serious, uphill trek, and if you want to hit this, get as much of a mountaineering start as you can. This also is not as developed as Mt Fuji, so expect more along the lines of US trails in terms of bathrooms (ie there aren’t many). Also, please be aware that this trail is pretty undeveloped and rugged; I would only suggest this if you are in shape and have experience on the mountain. Even if you don’t have time for the hike or don’t want to risk it, be sure to visit the shrine at the bottom of the mountain and send up good thoughts/prayers to the mountain spirits.

Kegon falls (c) ABR 2017

Mt Nantai is also near a lovely lake, a waterfall, and plenty of food. So, we made a day of it when we went up here. Afterwards, we tuckered ourselves out by taking the train all the way over to Sendai (Nikko-Utsunomiya-Sendai).

Day 15: Restful Urban-cation in Sendai

Zuihoden (c) ABR 2017

After all that you have done, take a day in Sendai to get some rest. There are a few little things to do here, but we’ll get to the best attraction tomorrow. If you get antsy, go check out the giant statue of Sendai Daikannon. It is the 6th largest statue in the world, and absolutely beautiful. There is also Zuihoden Mausoleum, but I would prioritize the statue, because it is unlike anything else you have done so far in the Japan (if you follow this itinerary).

Day 16: Temple of the Mountains in Yama-dera

Temples in the mountains at Yama-dera (c) ABR 2017

Yama-dera is the best attraction in the area near Sendai, and if you ask anyone about what to see while you are there, this is the place that will pop up. It is about 1.5 hours on a JR train over to Yama-dera. Once you arrive, you will take a stroll through the small village at the base of the mountain. If you are going to need some energy in order to climb up 1,015 steps, stop by one of the restaurants here and grab some grub.

Otherwise, follow the signs to the base of the staircase, and purchase your ticket for the temple, then get huffing up the hundreds of steps. Luckily, the struggle is worth it for the beautiful views of the valley, and opportunity to visit some of amazing shrines that are perched on the edge of the mountain cliffs. There’s no better reward for making up a steep incline than all this Japanese beauty (except ice cream, which you can get when you get back down).

After this, take the afternoon to get back to Tokyo. That will involve taking the train back to Sendai, and then a shinkansen back to Japan’s capital.

Day 17+: Exploring the Urban Jungle of Tokyo

Rainy day in Tokyo (c) ABR 2017

Depending on how much you love cities, gauge how many more days you’d like to spend in Tokyo. If you haven’t see Akihabara, Shinjuku, or Harajuku yet, check them out. Otherwise, you may want to catch a train to one of the surrounding cities. Yokohama has a really cool Chinatown, and Kawasaki is home to one of the most special arcades you will ever see which has a couple floors modeled after Kowloon the Walled City.

Once you are happy with your city experience, head home!

Whirlwind Tour of Japan (Part 1)

Preparation:

Get a 21 day JR pass. You will need to plan ahead to do this, because your paperwork will be sent to you via mail. You won’t want to do this last minute.

Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo

Once you get to Tokyo, pick up your JR pass at the airport. You can then take the monorail and JR trains (subway lines will cost you extra, but when you get tired of walking you will likely end up taking them) to get to your accommodations. Just show your pass to the staff at station entrances when entering JR stations. Google Maps can help you find your way via trains and by foot if you pick up a pocket wifi at the airport as well, or if you have international data.

I would suggest taking a rest today. Walk around near your Tokyo accommodation, and eat some good food. (But avoid scam restaurants like this one!).

 

Day 2: Tokyo DisneySea

Little Mermaid world in Tokyo DisneySea (c) ABR 2017

If you are a Disney fan, take your second day in Tokyo to visit a park that’s only in Japan, Tokyo DisneySea! There are some totally unique park environments here, and some familiar rides as well, including Indian Jones and the Tower of Terror. There are also some interesting food combinations/interpretations here, including Mexican food with a Japanese twist. The park isn’t huge, so it is likely that you will spend around a half day here.

If you end up having some time to explore other parts of Tokyo in the second half of your day, consider shopping in Harajuku, or checking out the anime capital in Akihabara. The JR train will get you everywhere that you need to go.

 

Day 3: Exploring the City

Meiji Shrine entrance (c) ABR 2017

            Spend the day seeing some of the different areas of Tokyo. I have mentioned a couple above, but some other neat locations are Meiji shrine and the park surrounding the temple. There is also a beautiful garden in Shinjuku that is a great place to spend an hour or so, and escape the crowds for a bit.

 

Day 4: Journey to Mt. Fuji

A mountain hut close to the 5th Station (c) ABR 2017

Mt. Fuji’s hiking season is from early July to early September; it is illegal and extremely dangerous to attempt the summit outside of the hiking season. So, if you plan on including this in your trip, make sure you plan accordingly. I would also suggest that you try to get out on the trail during the very first week of the season, as it will only get more and more busy once school lets out.

In order to get there, take a bus from Tokyo to Mt. Fuji’s Fifth Station; note that you should plan on buying your tickets for this ahead of time so that you are guaranteed a seat. You can do this online here. The ride takes around 2.5 hours and is on a mountain road, so take some motion sickness medicine if you struggle with that.

The fifth station is a pretty big tourist stop, so it can be quite busy there, but it is also a great area for resources for those of you trying to travel light. They have rain gear that you can rent, along with some other equipment options if you need trekking poles; never rent hiking boots, as you NEED to hike in shoes that you have already broken in. There are also a bunch of options for a hot meal before you set off.

When we did this hike, we decided to just make it to the hut where we were staying for the night on the first day, and since this was the highest hut on the mountain where you can stay the night (Goraikokan), I think that this worked really well. Although, be aware that this is a popular place to stay, and you will need to be proactive about reserving yourself a spot there. Also, Goraikokan is at a relatively high altitude for most of us, so be sure to plan ahead to prevent altitude sickness one way or another (here are some tips).

 

Day 5: Summit Mt. Fuji and Return to Tokyo

Getting close to the summit! (c) ABR 2017

If you are a strong hiker, summiting from Goraikokan will most likely take longer than you are expecting, because there is a good chance that you will be forced to queue up near the summit. When we went, I think we spent about an hour in line, and we were lucky that it had cleared up a bit when we started down, because there were times that the line was in both directions.

Depending on how early you get to the top, how much energy you have, and when your bus home leaves the 5th station, you may want to walk the trail that circles the summit. Otherwise, enjoy the top and then start the long hike downhill. This part of the trek destroyed my legs, whereas, I was just fine hiking up. Be ready for a long, steep walk down the mountain.

We caught the bus back to Tokyo once we got down, and then we basically just ate dinner and fell asleep (you probably won’t sleep well at the mountain hut, unless you enjoy sleeping shoulder to shoulder with strangers).

Suggestion for accommodations (budget): Khaosan Tokyo Samurai Capsule – This is the first capsule hostel/hotel that I have ever stayed in, and I wish all hostels were like this! You had your own space, and the staff here are great!

 

Day 6: Traveling to Kyoto

A beautiful doorway in Gion (c) ABR 2017

After our adventure on Mt. Fuji, and a night’s rest in Tokyo, we hopped right on the Shinkansen (or bullet train) to Kyoto (my favorite city in Japan!!). It takes about 3.5 hours to make it from Tokyo to Kyoto, and that’s not including the city trains you may need to take.

This may be a an all day affair, depending on when you leave, but if you get to Kyoto and have some time, try walking around the Gion area. The architecture and atmosphere in this area is absolutely beautiful, and there are some beautiful canals that you can walk along. Plus, plenty of food.

 

Day 7: Kyoto

The trail up Mt. Inari! (c) ABR 2017

Take the train over to Inari-Jinja (http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3915.html). This shrine here is one of the coolest locations in Kyoto, and will be familiar if you ever watched Memoirs of a Geisha. Here, you can hike through tunnels of torii gates, and if you are so inclined (which I highly recommend), you can hike up Mt Inari to the shrine at the top of the mountain. The trail to the summit is really unique, and it is a great place to experience some Japanese forests (which surprisingly, you don’t get much of on Mt. Fuji).

After Inari, head back over to the Gion area. There are plenty of shrines to explore there, but I would suggest Kennin-ji, the oldest zen shrine in Kyoto, and where you can see a HUGE dragon mural. Afterwards, consider catching a performance at Gion Corner, which has a nice little show with six different traditional Japanese preforming arts, including Geisha dances.

If you didn’t have the chance yet to enjoy the canals in Gion by night, please do so tonight. I absolutely love this area.

 

Day 8: Kyoto

AMAZING dragon mural (c) ABR 2017

            Take today to visit some of the other shrines/sites in Kyoto that you haven’t seen yet.

You may be tempted to visit the Bamboo Forest, which is in a ton of pictures and blogs, but I thought that it was too busy and the forest was so small that it really wasn’t worth visiting. The area surrounding the forest is pretty nice, however, so if you really feel the need to check it out, you can spend some time in the area.

I would suggest that you brave the crowds to check out Kinkaku-ji, or the golden pavilion, however. It is a really unique spot, so I think it is well worth the lines and hordes of people. But if neither of these is on your list, there is plenty to do and see in Kyoto; I think you could spend a full week in this city and still not run out of things to do.

 

Day 9: Hiroshima and Miyajima

Beautiful Miyajima (c) ABR 2017

            Take the shinkansen to Hiroshima; it takes about 2.5 hours, but it is likely that you will need to transfer, so give yourself some time by getting an early start. Once you are in the city, be sure to visit the Atomic Bomb Dome, the Peace Park, and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. This is absolutely one of the most moving places that I have ever been.

After a sobering afternoon, take the train over to the Miyajima ferry terminal. It is a short ride over to the island, and is covered by the JR pass. If you get there before it closes, check out the Itsukushima Shrine, which has a massive torii gate in the ocean. It is a wonderful place to unwind. If you get in too late for that, feel free to stroll around the town in Miyajima. Lots of things will close early, but the views are beautiful, and there are also deer that mingle among humans here, so it is a very cool place. Please don’t feed them anything though, especially things that aren’t edible (like maps… seriously, people feed them maps.).

Suggestion for accommodations: Hotel Sakuraya– this is a small bed and breakfast with traditional Japanese baths and a prime location on the shore.

 

Day 10: Miyajima

View from Mt Misan (c) ABR 2017

            Sleep in, have a nice breakfast in town, and then take the gondola (or trail) up to the top of Mt. Misan. Not only are the views from the mountain absolutely stunning (you can see the ocean in both directions as well as the big island of Japan surrounding the island), but there is a complex of shrines on top of the mountain. These ancient buildings are home to a sacred fire, and are perched in some of the coolest spots just about anywhere. If you enjoy hiking, definitely take the trail down, because it is a great way to see the forest, as well as some famous anti-erosion landscape engineering. Specifically, there are dams and artificial waterfalls meant to prevent flooding and erosion on the island here, and they are all very sensitive to the nature of the surrounding forest.

For Part 2, head over here.

The Un-Planner’s Guide To: New York City (Day 2)

Hello, wonderful person! If you’ve made it here, that means you’ve made it to the second and final part of  Un-Planner’s Guide to New York City.

I hope my itinerary, and I use that term VERY loosely, for Day 1 serves you well. Now, let’s get the show on the road for Day 2, we don’t have much time to waste.

Day 2:

Herald Square

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  • Plan to meet up with family for breakfast, but start your day off a little bit earlier so you have time to wander.
  • Realize that you’re a block from Herald Square and its Macy’s of Miracle on 34th Street fame. Use store as a landmark to return to because it’s impossible to miss, considering it takes up an ENTIRE city block.
  • Pick a completely random direction to go in and enjoy strolling at your own leisure while watching sleepy businesses open and traffic buzz by.

Koreatown

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  • Be lucky that Koreatown is close enough to Herald Square that you can stumble upon it by accident.
  • See a street sign for Korea Way. Follow the sign.
  • Decide that Korean food would be an AMAZING breakfast. Meet up with your people and tell them so.
  • Find that there’s an abundance of Korean (surprise, surprise) places to eat that you know nothing about.
    • We interrupt this guide for the Un-Planner’s Mini-Guide to: Selecting a Restaurant (A guide within a guide. Guide-ception.)
      1. Yelp it.
      2. Be indecisive.
      3. Walk up and down the street looking at menus.
      4. Wonder how you ever make any decisions in your life.
      5. Say “to heck with it” and just walk into a random place.
  • Fortune smiles upon you and the restaurant you’ve chosen is New Wonjo, a popular Korean BBQ eatery that also happens to serve a really dope breakfast.
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This beef and kimchi soup was as delicious as it was enormous. Pictured in the background are all our side dishes or banchan, plus some excellent fried veggie dumplings.
  • Be thoroughly stuffed, but it’s fine, because you’ll need all those calories for all the walking you’re about to do.

American Museum of Natural History

  • Take your first subway trip of the day.
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For this iconic blurry subway train picture, I stood just a little too close to the platform edge and got the breath sucked out of me as it went by extremely quickly.  100% DO NOT RECOMMEND. Seriously, take your blurry photo from a distance.
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KNOWLEDGE.
  • Buy the Super Saver pass because you want to do all the things and then realize you may have made a mistake because you have roughly three hours and 5 floors of museum. TRY TO DO IT ALL ANYWAY.
  • Run around from floor to floor ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ at things, but mostly getting lost because seriously, how is this place so large.
  • Pause to watch a planetarium show about the universe. Or more accurately, watch two minutes of the show and fall asleep because the chairs are comfy, the planetarium is just the right amount of dark and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s voice is really soothing.
  • Spend the rest of your time enjoying the dinosaur exhibit the most because they are GREAT.
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SO MAJESTIC.

Central Park

  • Morning has somehow quickly bled into afternoon. Head over to Central Park, which happens to be just across the street.
  • Walk through Central Park while thinking, “I think I’ve seen that in a movie.”
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I can’t tell you what part of Central Park this is, but you’ve probably seen it in a movie.
  • Keep walking a find yourself amidst a lot of hubbub you don’t understand. Tourists are standing in a circle and taking photos of the ground (and of themselves and the ground).
  • Make it to a break in the circle and it suddenly all makes sense. You wandered into Strawberry Fields, an area paying tribute to late Beatles member, John Lennon.
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Imagine all the people… trying to take a photo with this mosaic. It was a lot.

Chelsea Market

  • It’s time to regroup with the rest of the family, so back to the subway you go.
  • Really experience the ride. People watch. Read the poetry that the MTA has put up in the cars, or the other fascinating literature other passengers have left behind.
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Uh, where exactly is this train going, again?
  • Decide on Chelsea Market because your group cannot agree on dinner. Thankfully, the market is a block long and chock full of a variety of restaurants and shops.
  • Let the smell of french fries take you to the Creamline for a burger and fries that you practically inhale. Then for dessert, the mini-donuts that your brilliant father has gotten from the Doughnuttery.
  • Roll out of Chelsea Market.
  • Struggle to find the right train station with machines to refill your metro card.
  • Arrive at correct station.
  • Zombie walk to hotel because you’re full of a combination of sun, food and exhaustion.
  • And finally, sleep.

That’s all she wrote, folks. Thanks for joining me for this brief and devil-may-care tour of NYC!

Happy Un-Planning,

Katie