Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Japan

Coming from the United States, there were many small things that surprised me on my work trip to Japan! To help prepare you, here are some random things I wish I knew before heading to Japan:

Bathrooms:

img_7269
Japanese Style Toilet

• Most of the toilets here are bidets aka if you push the wrong button water will start shooting up your butt. Don’t get distracted by the buttons though, I always found a lever to actually flush it.
• Another feature that seems very common in Japan is heated toilet seats. While it sounds like a great idea (who likes a cold toilet seat?), it was a very strange sensation to get used to.
• There are no paper towels or hand dryers in the bathrooms to dry your hands after washing them.
• Occasionally you will come across a “Japanese style toilet”, I only had to use them once during my 2 week trip when visiting the Hachimanyama park in Utsunomiya.

Restaurants:
• The waiter doesn’t really check up on you like they do in the U.S. To get their attention people just yell “sumimasen” or they might have a call button at your table.
• Be prepared to take off your shoes when you enter a restaurant and leave them by the door.
• You’ll find that the portion sizes are much smaller than we’re used to in the U.S.
• Tea is served instead of water in most places.
• Most menus have pictures so you can order fairly easily, even without knowing the language.

Trains/Buses:

  • To use the trains you put your ticket through the machine (where it punches a hole in it) then pick it up after you walk through. On the way out you put it in the machine then instead of spitting it back out, it keeps it. If you are getting reimbursed for your train tickets be sure to take pictures of them before you leave the station!
  •  People wait in lines to board trains and buses. It’s not a free for all as it usually is in the States, the riders form an orderly line and the beginning of the lines are marked on many of the train platforms.

Visiting Shrines:

  • There will be a hand washing station outside of any shrines you visit. Use the cups provided to spoon water on your hands and to rinse your lips before entering the shrine.
  • You also will need to take your shoes off before entering the shrine, typically there are shoe cubbies around but if not look to see where others have put their shoes.

General:

  • In Japan they don’t seem to believe in air conditioning. Buy a fan or bring a wash cloth around with you if you are coming in the summer and be sure to pack extra lightweight clothes as yours will get sweaty really quickly!
  • In Japan they drive on the left side of the road which means they also walk on the left. If you are riding an escalator it is expected that you will stand on the left and pass on the right.

These are some things that took me by surprise when I visited Japan so I thought it might be helpful for others too! Do you have any tips to add to my list?

Tivoli Revisted: Halloween Edition

In honor of Halloween today, it is only fitting that we post about my recent trip to Tivoli! A few years ago on a family vacation we took a cruise around the Baltics with a stop in Copenhagen, Denmark. Even though we only had one day, we knew a stop at Tivoli, the most visited amusement park in the world, was a must! We loved the rides and the atmospheres of all the different parts of the world. This year I got the amazing opportunity to visit Tivoli again, but this time it was completely decked out for Halloween!

img_9284

Tivoli closes down to redecorate twice during the year, once for Halloween and then again for Christmas. Walking down the street, the transformation was obvious. The entrance had a giant pumpkin dangling in it and the walkway inside was lined with jack-o-lanterns high in the air. Walking around, you couldn’t miss the essence of Halloween in the air. There were pumpkins everywhere!

We walked around for a while enjoying the sites and trying to decide what area of the world we wanted food from. Missing the food from my recent Italy trip, we opted for pizza and wine. The food was absolutely delicious!

After dinner we decided to ride a couple rides. First the Flying Trunk, an ode to fairy tale writer Hans Christian Anderson. We had visited the Hans Christian Anderson Museum earlier that day, so it seemed fitting to ride around in a flying trunk seeing scenes from many of his fairy tales! Next we wanted to get a view from above so we decided to ride the ferris wheel. We got night time views of Tivoli and parts of downtown Copenhagen as well!

Although I’ve visited Tivoli before, it felt like an entirely different magical place in October. Tivoli went all out with their decorations, truly transforming Tivoli into a new world. I just hope someday I can visit for Christmas!

A Day Tour Around the Tuscan Countryside

Instead of trying to drive around the Tuscan countryside on our own, we opted to join an all day tour through Discover Tuscany. The tour picked us up in Montecatini, where we were staying, and we joined up with other picked up in Florence and Siena before making our way to our first stop the vineyard Abbadia Ardenga just outside Montalcino. While there we toured their storerooms and learned about the wine making process before having a tasting of four different categories of wine. We learned so much there that it deserved its own post!

Buzzed on wine, we made out way to the city of Montalcino. Montalcino is the highest city in Tuscany, with the Fortress of Montalcino being the highest point in the city. We walked through the cobblestone streets towards the fortress for a quick look around then spent the rest of our time enjoying the fantastic views!

Our next stop was the small town of Pienza. Known as the “ideal city of the Renaissance”, Pienza was the birthplace of Pope Prius II. The Pope had the money and influence to transform his hometown to exemplify the principles and philosophy of the Italian Renaissance. Today, Pienza is known for its production of pecorino, a tasty cheese made from sheep’s milk. We wandered through the shops trying cheeses and buying sandwiches, visiting the Cathedral and taking in more gorgeous views of Tuscany.

The last city we stopped in was Montepulciano to visit Citta Sotteranea or the Underground City. The Underground City is a series of underground cellars and storerooms dating back to the 14th and 15th century. Their temperature naturally ranges from 13-16 degrees Celsius, or 55-60 degrees Fahranheit, year round making it the perfect place to age wine. Currently the cellars are used to age Vino Nobile di Montelpulciano, a locally produced wine, and various cheese products. In the taller chambers they made taller oak barrels to age the wines in each able to hold 4,000 liters of wine! After the tour we had a free tasting of so many local wines and foods that I couldn’t keep them all straight!

After the tour of Citta Sotterranea, we didn’t have time to climb to the top of the city to see the Duomo and other historic sites. Instead we explored the shops nearby and got our daily gelato before getting back on the bus to head home to Montecatini.

Overall the tour was a great way to explore Tuscany so none of us had to drive. After a rough start in our ride being 30 minutes late to pick us up, everything else on the tour went smoothly and our tour guide, Liza, was wonderful. Doing this all day tour allowed us to see parts of Tuscany that we may not have gotten the chance to, plus drink some delicious wine along the way!