The Studio Ghibli Museum, a Magical Journey

First off, let us tell you that getting tickets to the Ghibli museum is hard, so when we snagged some for our visit in April 2017, we were over-the-moon excited! We have wanted to visit the Ghibli Museum in Japan since our first trip to Tokyo in 2014 and as we arrived at the front gate of the museum the wave of happiness washed over us. It was a long time coming and now we have arrived.

Let’s bring it back to the question of “how” to get a ticket for the Ghibli Museum. Tickets are by reservation only and must be purchased ahead of time. No tickets are sold at the museum in person. There are three main ways to get tickets ahead of time.  

1. Lawson’s official online ticket store (english version) – At 10am, Japan time, on the 10th of the month, tickets for the the following month go on sale (i.e. on March 10th, tickets go on sale for April 1st – April 30th). These tickets are limited in number and sell out very quickly. We made sure we were up and online to secure our tickets. There was a lot of frustration as the website could not handle the volume of people who were trying to attain tickets. However, after 20 stressful minutes, we finally secured our tickets. COST: 1,000 JPY each ($9 USD)

2. Sales by the JTB sales offices located overseas – A limited number of tickets go on sale through these locations at the first of every month for the following 4 months. (i.e. on January 1st, tickets go on sale for the entire months of January, February, March, and April). We never had luck with this because the tickets were always sold out due to the limited number available through JTB.

3. When in Japan only, you can buy them at the Lawson convenient stores through a machine. We tried this back in 2014 and it was funny trying to figure it out. When we did figure it out, we realized they were sold out. Our advise is to buy them WAY ahead of time using method 1 or 2.  

There is one strict rule you MUST know before entering the museum. The person who purchased the tickets is required to be present with a print out of the ticket and a passport proving your identity. It MUST be a passport, because they match up your passport number with the number you provided to them when purchasing the tickets.   

With our passports in hand and our print outs checked, we could start entering the museum. As we entered, we were greeted by the nicest people at the front counter. They gave us our official tickets, which were cuts of film strips from a Studio Ghibli film, and reminded us that no photos were allowed once inside the museum, however photos could be taken in outside areas. The reason no photos are allowed inside is because they believe that the museum should be about transporting you into the magical world of Ghibli without distractions to yourself and to others.

Following the rules, we packed up our cameras after a quick photos of our tickets and transported ourselves into the wonderful world of Ghibli. Good thing there was no time limit to our visit, because we would spend the next few hours taking our time to immerse ourselves in the experience.

Stepping into the main atrium was magical. Everywhere you looked was made to put a smile on everyone’s face. From the stained-glass windows, donning characters from various Ghibli movies, to the bridge spanning across the second floor, the attention to detail was spectacular.

The first room on our tour was all about motion in films. The highlight in the room for us both was the live stop motion display where clay figured were posed on a wheel that spun very quickly while strobe lights flashed at a fast pace giving the figured that appearance of movement. Everything has already exceeded our wildest expectations.Stepping into the main atrium was magical. Everywhere you looked was made to put a smile on everyone’s face. From the stained-glass windows, donning characters from various Ghibli movies, to the bridge spanning across the second floor, the attention to detail was spectacular.

Included in the Ghibli museum ticket is admission to the museums animated short film. These shorts have been produced for and shown only at the museum. These films are rotated between throughout the year so there is always a good reason to come back and watch more. We were lucky enough to see “Water Spider Monmon.” We were oohing and aweing just like the all of the other kids and adults.

After the movie, we decided to head up to the rooftop to get whatever sunshine was left for the day since the rain was supposed to roll in soon. The way to the roof is via the third floor up an outdoor spiral staircase. The rooftop is one of the few places where photography is allowed and good thing because who wouldn’t want to take a photo with the Robot from “Castle in the Sky”.

After our fun on the roof we headed back to the second floor to continue looking through more of the most amazing permanent and special exhibitions. The special exhibition when we were there was “All Aboard! The Cat Bus to the Ghibli Forest.” It was incredible. We entered into the room and realized we were inside of the famous Cat Bus from “My Neighbor Totoro”. Other amazing features in the room was an eight-foot tall model of the mechanical castle from “Hal’s Movie Castle.” You could even peek right in the windows a see Calcifer burning in the chimney. 

From the second floor we made our way out to the Straw Hat Cafe for a snack. As with any museum, the prices were slightly higher than eating at a cafe elsewhere, but we couldn’t say no to a chance to get the full Ghibli experience. The “Porco Rosso” sign outside let us know the menu for the day, good thing there was an english menu inside. We each ordered a coffee and a shared a piece of cake. The late had a super adorable hat sprinkled on it in cocoa and the cake was topped with a Totoro flag, sheer perfection! 

Our final room in the museum was Miyazaki Hayao’s studio, he is the director of the Studio Ghibli films. Every surface of these few rooms were filled to the brim with sketches, painted layers of favorite characters, fully realized designs, and much, much more. We were kids in a candy store. Our appreciation for the magic that is created by Studio Ghibli has grown so much. It is absolutely amazing how kids and adults can be transported into wonderful stories that teach us about ourselves and the world around. 

Before leaving the museum, we made our way up to the gift shop on the third floor to look around. We ended up buying a few little things we had not seen for sale anywhere else to commemorate our journey into the magical world of Studio Ghibli. This is an experience we will cherish forever. 

We are two en route for more magical moments.

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Angkor Wat in Detail

The Angkor temple complex is massive. To be exact, it is the largest religious complex in the world. When we first thought of Angkor, we only thought of the quintessential image of Angkor Wat, but to our surprise, there was so much more. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest religious monument in the world and easily provides 2-3 days of exploring!

We wanted to share some of our favorite spots from our couple of days exploring the Ancient City of Angkor.

1. Angkor Wat

This is the quintessential image when you think of Angkor Wat, which makes sense because this is the temple named Angkor. We got up at 4am in order to get the the temple for the sunrise. We were so excited to get a front row seat to see such a wonderful site. 

 Angkor at sunrise was picturesque.
Angkor at sunrise was picturesque.
 A lot of people show up to sunrise! We were so glad we got there early.
A lot of people show up to sunrise! We were so glad we got there early.
 We came back later in the afternoon. It was the perfect selfie lighting in front of the lake. 
We came back later in the afternoon. It was the perfect selfie lighting in front of the lake. 
 Beautiful details. 
Beautiful details. 
 We could look at the bas reliefs for hours.
We could look at the bas reliefs for hours.

2. Bayon

We call this the temple of faces. There are 54 towers around this temple, all with  4-sided bodhisattva faces as the tower top, representing the divine observation of Cambodia’s four directions. It was for sure a temple that got even more interesting as we took a closer look.

 From afar it's hard to tell there are 216 bodhisattva faces. 
From afar it’s hard to tell there are 216 bodhisattva faces. 
 Up close bodhisattva
Up close bodhisattva
 No matter where you stand, someone is looking at you.
No matter where you stand, someone is looking at you.

3. Ta Prohm

The ruins of Ta Prohm was one of our favorites. It is known as the “tree temple” because it is covered in Knia trees which have overtaken the temple ruins. This is what was so attractive to us. Everywhere we looked was a photo op we did not want to miss. We can see why parts of Tomb Raider was filmed here. 

 Knia tree growing over the temple.
Knia tree growing over the temple.
 Kevin between the Knia tree roots.
Kevin between the Knia tree roots.
 Is this a stegosaurus?  
Is this a stegosaurus?  
 This Knia tree was insane! 
This Knia tree was insane! 

4. East Mebon

Our tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Chee, called this the Elephant Temple. We loved it because #elephants! This temple is not very big, but the guardian elephants scattered throughout the temple are impressive and make it worth a look. Additionally, we noticed the stairs were huge and found out this is because ceremonies with elephants would happen here and elephants have a big step. 

 Khmer style symmetrical architecture.
Khmer style symmetrical architecture.
 Very large steps!
Very large steps!
 One of the guardian elephants.
One of the guardian elephants.

5. Neak Poan

Neak Poan was fascinating! First, we took a stroll across a huge lake to get to the Buddhist temple. The mirror lake was perfectly still and you could see every reflection. The clouds felt like there were all around us. Once you get across the lake, you get to see a quaint Buddhist temple sitting in the middle of a smaller mirror lake. Scerene indeed.

 Kevin in front of the mirror lake.
Kevin in front of the mirror lake.
 Stump and cloud reflections.
Stump and cloud reflections.
 Buddhist temple in the central pond.
Buddhist temple in the central pond.

6. Preah Khan

Because Preah Khan is located at the far end of the Angkor complex there were almost no tourists when we were there. This nearly forgotten temple is tucked away in the jungle and reminded us a lot of Ta Prohm. We took our time and got up close and personal with this temple.

 Overgrown knia tree
Overgrown knia tree
 Brad through the window.
Brad through the window.
 Kevin exploring the small corridors. 
Kevin exploring the small corridors. 

7. Terrace of the Elephants & Leper King

When the Khmer armies came back from battle victorious, the terrace of the elephants was where the celebration would happen. The large scale carvings of elephants were unreal. Just past the elephant terrace we came to the Terrace of the Leper King. It is said this is where the king’s concubines lived. What was impressive to us was the entire structure, both inside and out, donned intricate carvings, mostly of women. 

 Terrace of the Elephants.
Terrace of the Elephants.
 Terrace of the Leper King
Terrace of the Leper King
 Terrace of the Leper King carvings.
Terrace of the Leper King carvings.

8. Ta Som

The far end of Ta Som was the East gate. From the front it looks like a normal ruined gate, but one we passed through to the other side, we noticed it was completely covered in a knia tree. Tucked underneath the tree roots was such a wonderful carving. 

 Run-down looking gate.
Run-down looking gate.
 Carvings hiding under the knia tree.
Carvings hiding under the knia tree.
 Knia covering the entire gate. 
Knia covering the entire gate. 

9. Royal Palace of Phimeanakas

The Royal Palace was another part of Angkor that seems to be overlooked by most tourists. It was the perfect spot for a rest. The palace is not overly impressive compared to many of the other more notable spots in Angkor, but once we made it to the top and looked down, we appreciated what the Royal Palace was in its hay-day. 

 The doorways at the top.
The doorways at the top.
 Column remnants.
Column remnants.
 Corridors around the Royal Palace.
Corridors around the Royal Palace.

There were so many more structures, temples, and ruins around the Angkor temple complex than shown in this post. It would be nearly impossible to write one post covering every nook and cranny. Angkor was full of surprises at every turn and we are so happy to have encountered this ancient Khmer civilization up close. 

We are two en route for more detailed travel encounters.

 At the end of days of exploring, our feet were rightfully filthy! 
At the end of days of exploring, our feet were rightfully filthy! 

The Faces of Holi

Holi is a vibrant festival of colour celebrating the victory of good over evil. It is a time to lift up love and mend broken relationships. This Hindu religious festival is celebrated all over the world but no location is known better than India for observing the colorful festivities. Attending Holi was on our must-do list when we left home to experience the world and when we arrived in New Delhi we could not have been more excited!  

We had been looking forward to Holi for months and hit the jackpot with our Airbnb host. He was hosting a Holi party on his rooftop where a group of his friends and their guests came over for a good time. As soon as his friends started to show up, the color came out and we began to play Holi by rubbing color on each other’s hair and face saying “Happy Holi.”

After about an hour, Brad and I decided to leave the safety of our rooftop and venture out into the neighborhood. It immediately felt like we were in the movie Purge Anarchy. We were constantly looking over our shoulders for people who were throwing water balloons at us and shooting super soakers full of colored water. It got our blood pumping. After only two blocks we already had so much more color on us.

We continued to explore the neighborhood, quickly becoming the target of everyone. It turns out that the locals love to bombard foreigners even more then each other. It is definitely a game for them, but we didn’t mind because it meant more color. At one point one guy basically attached Kevin’s face with green color, turning him into the jolly green giant.

When we got back to the roof, the dyes were still flying and everyone was drinking bhang, an intoxicating drink consumed during Holi. Everyone was in a good mood and it was, full-on, Holi magic.

Our next stop was at our host’s brother’s home. As we arrived, more Holi was played, adding shades of pink to the mix of other color. It was great to have some much-needed snacks and moments of uncontrollable laughter.

Our final stop of the day was to the Holi Moo (formally Holi Cow) festival. The festival is where locals and foreigners alike get together for food, song, dance, and playing Holi. With four music stages, we were would not get bored.

Kevin jumped head first into the crowd of dancers, feeling the music, and had a great time. The energy of the festival was rich and full of life. Everyone got involved and no one was left out. It was awesome to see a man in a wheel chair getting the opportunity to crowd surf!

After a few hours of up-beat, heart-pounding music, we decided to find the stage with the jazz and funk music and chill out. 

As the sun started to go down, we left the festival and headed home for the night. Looking back through our photos, it’s so fun to see how our faces changed throughout the day like the horse of many colors from The Wizard of Oz. 

Getting in touch with Indian culture was fantastic and we will never forget our Holi experience.

We are two en route for a more colorful life.

25 of Our Favorite Great Barrier Reef Photos

One of the natural wonders of the world is the Great Barrier Reef. This 2400-kilometer (1400 mile) beauty stretched from Australia’s east coast to the southern coast of Papua New Guinea. It has some of the most diverse and unique sea life in the world. It comes as no surprise that feasting our eyes on this natural wonder was on our “must see list” before we took off on our world tour. Armed with our GoPro Hero+ (classic), we dove in and explored the reef. Here are 25 of our favorite photos.   

 Us starting our snorkel adventures!
Us starting our snorkel adventures!
 All the beautiful color of the corals
All the beautiful color of the corals
 We found Nemo! 
We found Nemo! 
 Kevin with a Jelly 
Kevin with a Jelly 
 Loving all the unique corals
Loving all the unique corals
 One of our fish friends
One of our fish friends
 Loved this guy. He was so cool. Reminds us of Little Shop of Horrors. 
Loved this guy. He was so cool. Reminds us of Little Shop of Horrors. 
 Our Sea Turtle buddy.
Our Sea Turtle buddy.
 Exploring the reef with fish 
Exploring the reef with fish 
 Great textures all around
Great textures all around
 I really cool long yellow fish
I really cool long yellow fish
 These coral moved with the currents. So memorizing!
These coral moved with the currents. So memorizing!
 Going to school with the fish.
Going to school with the fish.
 Free diving through these big caves in the reef was super cool
Free diving through these big caves in the reef was super cool
 More amazing textures under the sea
More amazing textures under the sea
 Another great school of fish in one of the reef caverns
Another great school of fish in one of the reef caverns
 The colors were WOW
The colors were WOW
 The lone fish who caught out eye
The lone fish who caught out eye
 Brad found a Jelly!
Brad found a Jelly!
 Quinessential coral
Quinessential coral
 Cool fish hanging out over the coral
Cool fish hanging out over the coral
 The reef went on forever!
The reef went on forever!
 Moody Blues on this coral
Moody Blues on this coral
 Kevin down in the reef. Thumbs up!
Kevin down in the reef. Thumbs up!
 The boat, the Ocean, the Great Barrier Reef... we couldn't have asked for anything else.
The boat, the Ocean, the Great Barrier Reef… we couldn’t have asked for anything else.

We are two en route for more photo fun

Discovering the Ancient Ruins of Polonnaruwa

Sri Lanka has been full of surprises. It was never on our “must visit” list of countries. However, when taking a gap year to see the world we knew we would have to be open to going where the cheap flights, busses, boats, trains or cars would take us. We are so glad that one of those flights landed us on this special tear-drop shaped island off the Southern coast of India. 

One of the major highlights of our trip to Sri Lanka was getting to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Polonnaruwa, we know, it’s a mouth full to try and say. Polonnaruwa is a city in the North Center Province of Sri Lanka. At one point, like many other cities in Sri Lanka, it was the capital of the country. In fact, it is the second most ancient capital. Today it is a mass of ruins crawling with cute little monkeys and travelers like us exploring the past. 

We decided the best way to explore this city was by our favorite means of transportation, the bicycle. We would recommend this. For only 300 lkr per person (about $2 USD) we set off to explore the ruins…or so we thought. At the entrance we were turned away because we did not have a ticket. It turns out that you have the by the tickets from the Archeological Museum 1km back into town. After shelling out 3750 lkr ($25 USD) each, we biked back to the entrance and started to discover the 5 areas of this wonderful ancient site. 

1. The Royal Palace Grounds

This part of the city contains the Royal Palace, Council Chamber and the Kumara Pakuna (bathing pool). They say first impressions are all you get and we were wowed. 

The Royal Palace was thought to have been a 7-story high palace in it’s time but now only stands as a three story ruin. Records saw there use to be up to 1000 rooms in this grand palace. A fantastic way to start our exploring.

The Council Chamber was where the King’s throne use to be. As you walk the few flights of stairs you are greeted by two stunning carved lions.  

We would not suggest taking a dip in the stagnant bathing pool, however, it was awesome to see the remnants of how this civilization would gather in communal bathing. 

2. Quadrangle 

The Quadrangle was one of our favorites. The entire area is sacred ground so we had to remove our shoes and hats. Shoulders and knees are not supposed to be shown either, so out of respect, people will wrap a scarf around their waist or throw a shawl over their shoulders. Sri Lanka is a hot country and the ground you are walking on is stone and gravel, so at times we would need to find a shaded spot to cool our feet off. 

The vatadage in the Quadrangle is an 18 meter round relic house. Their are four entrances that lead to the central chamber which houses four Buddha statues. At the base of the northern entrance is a moonstone that is the best in all of Polonnaruwa.

The Thuparama Image House is one of the few buildings where you can see a roof still intact. This building has survived for over 900 years and takes some maintenance to keep up appearances. 

Atadage Dalada Maligaya is where the Tooth Relic of the Buddha was kept in Polonnaruwa. This would have been a very sacred place where people would have come to worship and meditate. The Velikkara pillar of inscription tells the story of protection of the Relic of the Tooth. 

Sathmahal Prasadaya is the most popular square shaped stupa in all of Sri Lanka. It’s seven-stories high and is a defining structure in the Quadrangle. 

Nissanka Latha Mandapaya is a building featuring fine stone carved pillars shaped like a stork topped with a lotus flower. They are a fun and unique feature in Polonnaruwa. 

Gal Potha is the “Stone Book” which tells of King Nissanka Malla (1187-1196). It describes his life as the ruling king and why he was eligible to be king of Sri Lanka. The stone is 26’10” x 4’7″ and weighs around 25 tons. Pictures is the side showing a beautiful carving of two elephants showering the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. 

3. The Outskirts

These few sites were a little off the beaten path but we had bikes so it was not a problem hitting all the spots. 

Shiva Devale No. 2 is the oldest structure in Polonnaruwa and is virtually unchanged from when it was constructed.

Manik Vehera is one of the oldest stupas (a domed shaped structure erected as a Buddhist shrine) in the ancient city. It is small compared to the other stupas in Polonnaruwa but still packs a punch. 

The Pabalu Vehera stupa is one of mystery. It is unknown when and who built this unique shaped building. Traditionally stupas have only four image houses surrounding them, however, Pabalu has nine.

4. Northern City

The largest area in Polonnaruwa is the Northern City. Here is where you will find notable sites such as Rankoth Vehera, Kiri Vehara, Alahana Pirivena, and Lankatilaka temple.

Ronkoth Vehera is huge. It’s a 54 meter high stupa whos name translates to “Golden Pinnacle Stupa.” It is one of the most iconic stupas in Polonnaruwa.

Lankatilake temple houses a colossus size carving of the buddha. The power of it’s grand scale is matched by the remaining walls surrounding the sacred ground. Across are the monastic ruins of Alahana Pirivena where the monks would have lived.

Kiri Vehera, or “the milk stupa,” is only 30 meters tall but is hundreds of years older than the more recognized Rankoth Vehera. It is estimated to be from the 6th century BC. 

5. Gal Vihara

The final area of the ancient royal ruins of Polonnaruwa was a site to be seen.

Gal Vihara is a buddhist rock temple with four buddhas carved from a single piece of granite rock. It is considered the best example of carvings from it’s time. 

Not knowing what to expect as we rode the bus from Dambulla to Polonnaruwa turned out to be an awe inspiring experience. Even though the day was scalding hot and at times we felt exhausted by the sun, we had a fantastic time in Polonnaruwa. 

We are two en route to more ancient discoveries

Traveling with my “best friend”

Through the perspective of Kevin

 Seesaw fun at Hobbiton in New Zealand, 2016
Seesaw fun at Hobbiton in New Zealand, 2016

Brad and I are traveling to Marrakech, Morocco today and I am a bag of mixed emotions. The fact that we are going to Africa for the first time is a dream of mine. I can not wait to see the markets, mosques, and overall culture for Morocco. The food excites me. The weather excites me. The prospect of riding on a camel in the desert excites me. It’s hard to put into words how much I am looking forward to this so here is a picture to emote my feeling of elation.

 Having a great time in Tokyo, Japan. 2014
Having a great time in Tokyo, Japan. 2014

I can’t help but feel a little saddened that Brad and I will not be traveling as husbands. Starting in Morocco and following us for a lot of the next part of our journey around the world, Brad and I will have to travel as “best friends.” We have had to do this in the past when visiting countries where it was not legal to be gay. In some parts of the world if we traveled as husbands we could be arrested or persecuted because of this. However, we have to respect the laws and customs of the places we visit and adjust ourselves accordingly.

We are not a very PDA (public display of affection) couple to begin with, however, we have had to practice reeling in all of the little things that could be an easy give away. Anything from simply saying a quick “love you,” “hey babe,” or “muah” to gestures like a light touch on the back, talking with my hands, or having a fun moment when playing chess in the park.  

This is a reminder to all of our LGBTQ friends and straight allies that in the world today, we are not all equal. We are still persecuted by people who hate us because of who we love. We are still told by some friends, family, politicians and religion that they do not accept us because of who we love. We are reminded everyday that we have to take precautions and be careful.

 Copenhagen, Denmark. 2016 pride celebration
Copenhagen, Denmark. 2016 pride celebration

I am so thankful that Brad and I are getting to travel and experience the world together even in parts of the world that do not accept parts of who we are. I am lucky enough to have a best friend like Brad to travel the world with. I am hopeful that one day being gay will not have to be something to hide. With that being said, as with anywhere we travel to in the world, we will continue to be safe, respect the laws and customs of the country, and soak in every moment of the journey!

 Iceland 2016
Iceland 2016

5 Ways We Prevent Homesickness

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One of the fears of being abroad for a year is coming down with a bad case of homesickness. Prior to us leaving for our world tour we had not spent much more than 2-weeks away from home at one time, which really isn’t enough time to get homesick. However, when Kevin was 15 he spent a month in Germany visiting family and remembered at about week three he started to miss home. Well, lucky for us we surpassed three weeks and now start our third month homesick free. Here are five things we find ourselves doing often that we believe are preventing us from catching the homesick bug.

1. Texting

Before we left our home in Dallas, we changed our cell phone plans to Google Fi which offers free texting in over 130 countries around the world. It’s great not worrying about being charged every time we want to send a text to loved ones. It is the quickest and easiest way for us to connect. We just have to remember which time zone we are in.

2. Video & Voice Chats

Sometimes texting doesn’t cut it and we turn to Skype. Skype allows us to have voice and video calls for free over WiFi and allows for a good excuse to stop for a cup of coffee when we see a “free WiFi” sign in the window. There is nothing like hearing Mom and Dad’s voice or laughing with a friend. Skype has become essential for scheduling video dates with our friends and family.

3. Social Media

We do not know about you, but sometimes we love taking some time to scroll through social media. Whether it is Facebook stocking our besties or mindlessly reading news articles of what is happening back home, social media has kept home connected to us and us to home, so keep sharing photos of your lunch, we enjoy seeing it.

4. Meeting Friends Along the Way

While texting, talking, and video chatting with friends and family is good prevention for homesickness, there is no better cure than a hug from one of them in person. Being travel bugs ourselves it is only natural that we have other travel loving buddies. Along the way it has been nice to meet up with friends from back home and make new memories together abroad.

5. Each Other  

We decided to take this trip together. Not only is this a trip to see the world, it is a journey of discovery. We will have our moments of happiness and joy, we will have our moments of fear and frustration, and we will have our moments of relaxation and quiet. Whatever those moments may be we must always remember that as long as we have each other we are home. To us, this is the most important prevention to homesickness. Home is where we are when we are together, regardless of where that might be.

We are two en route for a homesick free journey