Our Fave Five: Top 5 Countries We Visited

The number one question we get from people we see these days is, “What is the favorite place you have visited?” To us, this is one of the easiest questions to answer! There were so many countries we went to and had such a great time, but there were a handful that made a home in our hearts. Here are the top five countries that left an impression on us we will never forget.

1. Iceland

We have been to Iceland for three consecutive years and we know we will be back. It is one of the most amazing countries because of it’s strong connection to magnificent nature, it’s roots in Norse mythology, and it’s friendly inhabitants. It’s easy to fall in love with the land of fire and ice.

2. Japan

Japan’s culture rushed over us like The Great Wave of Kanagawa. From 1639 to 1853 Japan remained isolated from the outside world and as a result, their cultural identity, which is steep in tradition, is one of the most unique in the world. Every moment in Japan was a true treat.

3. Scotland

Scotland was a real surprise for us. If you had asked us what we knew about Scotland prior to our visit here we would have said, “They have bagpipes, kilts, and red hair.” All three are absolutely true, but what we discovered was there is so much more. The nature, the people, and the overall vibe of Scotland left it’s mark on us and we cannot wait to head back and spend more time drinking in more of this wonderful country.

4. Maldives

We spent nine days in paradise on the island of Thoddoo, an agricultural island with a few guest houses run by the locals. Thoddoo is covered in papaya fields and palm trees and is surrounded by the most pristine white sand beaches and most unbelievably turquoise waters. Right off the shore is a wonderful reef full of life. Every day we snorkeled and saw a family of sea turtles, numerous types of colorful fish, and even an octopus! When we dream beachy dreams, Thoddoo beach is what we see.

5. New Zealand

We have spent nearly a month exploring both the North and South islands of New Zealand and each is absolutely stunning. From challenging great hikes to easy-going great sites, New Zealand did not disappoint. Not to mention, Kevin is a huge Lord of the Rings fan and seeing Hobbiton was a dream come true!

We are two en route to revisit our fave five countries


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.

Hot Spots for Kyoto Cherry Blossom Viewing

We loved how the entire nation of Japan comes together around the beginning of April to celebrate Sakura, the coming of spring. It is the prime time to be in Japan to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom. When we booked our flights to Japan for Kevin’s 30th birthday celebration, we had no idea we would be arriving right in the heart of Sakura. 

Because timing happened to be perfect, we hopped on our bikes and headed out to view the cherry blossoms around Kyoto. Here are some of the hottest spots for viewing the blossoms all around town. 

1. Heian Shrine

A great introduction into seeing Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto is at the Heian Shrine. It has all the quintessential elements of Japan in one; beautiful orange painted wood, green tile roofs, and cherry blossoms welcoming everyone around. This picture perfect Shinto shrine is just the beginning of cherry blossom viewing. What lies beyond the shrine will take your breath away.

2. Gardens of Heian Shrine

For some of the best cherry blossom viewing in all of Kyoto step into the gardens that wrap around Heian Shrine. The entry ticket is 600 yen ($5.25 USD) and is worth every cent. The moment we entered the garden, we were transported into a wonderland of cherry blossoms surrounding us at every turn. Bamboo supports are erected, lifting the branches and allowing the blossoms to float right over our heads. IT was truly magical.

3. Kamo River

Kamo river runs right through the heart of Kyoto making it a central feature of the city. The riverbanks are the perfect place to stroll along the pedestrian path and see the cherry trees that flank both sides of the river. There are many restaurants that overlook the river, so we had to stop and grab a coffee and enjoy people watching with a spectacular view.

4. Philosopher’s Walk

Tree-lined perfection is what we called the Philosopher’s Walk. We spent hours strolling along the pathways, allowing ourselves to get lost in the shades of pink all around. We first heard about this part of Kyoto when watching AbFab’s “Joanna Lumley’s Japan” special on BBC. Thank’s Patsy for this wonderful recommendation! 

5. Maruyama Park behind Yasaka Shrine

We stumbled upon this by complete accident while exploring around the Gion area of Kyoto. After looking at traditional teahouses and geiko (geisha) we saw the beautiful Yasaka Shrine shining in the night sky. We explore inside the temple grounds and noticed a celebration was happening behind the temple in Maruyama Park. Come to find out, this is THE place for cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto by the locals. People pay by the hour for tables just to dine beneath the beautiful trees. The true jewel of the park is the spectacular weeping cherry tree. 

6. Fukushima Shrine

This shrine is known for the thousands of vermilion colored torii gates that span across the hiking trail up Mount Inari. While there are no cherry blossom viewing as we hiked up the trail, there were fantastic blossoms at the shrine located at the base of the mountain. This for sure set a happy tone for a beautiful spring hike. 

7. Kiya-machi Dori Stream

Right in the heart of Kyoto, one block from the Kamo River, is a stream that runs alongside Kiya-machi street. What makes this the perfect place for feasting your eyes on those famous blossoms is the fact it’s accessible and picturesque both day and night!  Additionally, there are many restaurants on the river and bridges spanning the stream, making for some great photo-ops.

8. Kimono Forest

The Kimono forest is located at the Arashiyama train station. What we loved about this area was how the perfectly purple train and kimono wrapped columns complimented the shades of pink seen all around from a sprinkling of cherry blossom trees. This was the jumping-off point for viewing more blossoms around this part of town. 

9. Tenryu-ji

Tenryu-ji is also located in the Arashiyama neighborhood, just a few blocks from the train station. It is a Zen temple that houses a beautiful garden with flowers of all type. We were greeted with a Zen rock garden as we entered and treated to wonderful blossoms thereafter. Once we were done with the flowing buds, you exit right into the famed bamboo forest. Perfection. The entrance fee to see the gardens is 500 yen ($4.30 USD).

10. Katsura River

Another hotspot in the Arashiyama part of town is the Katsura River. We decided to take a breat for the temple scene for the day and sit riverside, listening to the flow of the water and watching the branches of the cherry trees blow in the wind. The entire bank of the river on both sides have some of the most beautiful blossoms that bloomed around us at eye level. A great spot to end of day of sightseeing around Arashiyama.

The one thing we figures out after viewing the cherry blossoms all around Kyoto is that these hot spots are not the only places to see the world famous blooms. Everywhere we looked, weather rain or shine, we saw fantastic buds blossoming as spring swept over the city and that was the cherry on top to an already fabulous time in Japan. 

We are two en route for viewing more global hot spots

10 of our Favorite Meals from Around the Globe

It is no secret that when traveling to new places we are encountering new culinary delights. As part of the journey figuring out a new country we feel it is out duty to try their local cuisine. Now, not ever dish that dances across our taste buds is fantastic, but the ones that were make it all worth while. Here are some of the best local dishes we have tasted to date. 

1. Traditional Maldivian Lunch

While in the Maldives our guest house prepares a group lunch for all of the guests to share together. Our traditional Maldivian lunch consisted of rice, fried leaves of a local plant, tuna, onion, lime juice. You mash it all together with your fingers and eat by hand. It was packed full of flavor! 

2. Conveyor Belt Sushi in Japan

What do you get when you mix Sushi options with a twist of fun? Conveyor belt sushi! In 2013 we made out first trip to Japan and fell in love with all of the fresh sushi and sashimi restaurants, so much so, we knew we had to come back. While the best sashimi of our lives was not at a conveyor belt sushi place, some of the most fun was. So, of course, when we were back in Japan, we made it a point to grab a beer and feast on an array of sushi delights. 

3. Sri Lankan Curry Plate

Sri Lanka is an island nation off the coast of India and is full culture and spice. Almost every direction you look you will see the staple dish,  a curry plate. Pictured is one of our favorite plates we had from a hold in the wall mom and pop shop. It’s fried chicken, green bean curry, lentil curry, spicy gravy, rice, and vegetable filled pastries. Our taste buds were in heaven. Time to go explore the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.  

4. Fondue in Switzerland

Fondue is an essential meal to have when you are in the land of Gruyère cheese. Fribourger Fondue Stübli was a fantastic family run restaurant in Zürich, Switzerland. We dipped thick sliced of bread and potatoes in this Gruyère cheese blend fondue and it was amazing.

5. Pierogies in Poland

When we stepped off the bus in Krakow, Poland, the number one food that came to our mind was Pierogies! A pierogi is a semicircular dumpling filled with different sweet and savory goodies often found in many Eastern European countries. We decided to try a myriad of different types to make sure we got the proper understanding of the dish. 

6. Pad Thai 

Who knew Pad Thai could be so dynamic. We asked the owner of our hostel in Bangkok where do get the best Pad Thai and before we finished the question he gave us directions to a street vendor where is shore the best Pad Thai was in all of Thailand. He was not joking! Pad Thai is made with stir fried rice noodles mixed with egg, firm tofu, fish sauce, dried shrimp, shallots, garlic, red chili peppers, tamarind pulp, palm sugar, roasted peanuts, bean sprouts, and served with lime wedges. We also then topped it with chives and raw banana flower. Our taste buds were in heaven. Click here for more legit Thai street foods.

7. Eggplant Curry in the Maldives 

This was by far our #1 favorite meal since leaving on this journey! Delicious curries are a big part of the middle east and Asia but what makes the Maldivian curry a step above the rest is the fish curry powder only found in the Maldives. Our guest houses’ wife made her special recipe which uses the fish curry powder with eggplant in place of fish. The combination was unlike anything we have ever tasted and we would go back to the Maldives, not only for the beaches, but for this eggplant curry. 

8. South Korean Gangjeong Fired Chicken

Being from the Southern United States, we know fried chicken. Because of this, we were very excited to come to South Korea, another place in the world that knows fried chicken. Many times throughout South Korea we had Gangjeong, the perfect mix of sweet and spicy. This chicken is coated in potato starch and double fried to golden perfection. After which, the chicken is tossed in a sweet and spicy glaze and topped with sesame. The blend of the crispiness, sweet notes, and spicy zing is why this was one of our favorite meals.  

9. Hiroshima’s Okonomiyaki in Japan

Okonomiyaki is found all over Japan and each region put’s their own twist on it. Most notable styles are the Hirosima style with layers and yakisoba noodles and the Osaka style where everything is mixed together with the batter.  While traveling through Japan, we found that Hirosima’s version was, hands down, the winner! Okonomiyaki is the Japanese savory pancake and it is mouth watering. The Hiroshima style we had was layers of batter, yakisoba noddles, seafood (shrimp, scallop, and octopus), a mountain of cabbage, fried egg, okonomiyaki sauce and topped with shallots. You then eat it with a special spatula called hera. 

10. Meat and Potato Meal in the Czech Republic

We do not know exactly what we ate in Prague at this traditional food spot, but we do know it had our taste buds singing and stomach full! We know the potatoes were full of butter and garlic while the meats were salted and fried. Who could say know to comfort food like this? Not us, we dug right in and after we were done we were ready to explore Prague at night!

With months left on this journey we are so excited to taste our way through the world one bite at a time. Up next, we are looking forward to banh mi’s in Vietnam! 

We are two en route for more delicious meals from around the globe.