Thursday, June 23, 2016

Exploring Central Tokyo: Tokyo Tower and the Imperial Palace

After spending the better part of the morning at the Tsukiji Fish Market, we headed to the Tokyo Tower, one of the city's most iconic landmarks. On the walk there, we passed this alley that reminded me a bit of the laneways in Melbourne, although I couldn't tell if the shops down this road were restaurants and boutiques or something else entirely. In hindsight, we should have wandered down that way to check it out, but we were on a mission! I was hoping Google Translate could help me retroactively identify this alley, but all I got was the address and the word 'mall'. BTW, if you are ever traveling, especially to a country that uses a different alphabet, the Google Translate app is an absolute must. Its most useful feature on this trip was the photo translation tool. We could take a picture of a menu at a restaurant, highlight the characters we wanted translated, and see the English equivalent. It wasn't perfect, but helped us identify key words and we felt confident we knew what we were least most of the time.

Zojoji Temple

Just in front of the Tokyo Tower sits Zojoji Temple, which is the main temple of the Jodo-Buddhist sect. According to the sign (which we photographed for future reference- brilliant idea by Peter) the temple was built in 1393 and relocated to the current site in 1598. Most of the present-day buildings were rebuilt in the 1970s, so this temple was relatively new construction compared to most of what we saw in Japan!

Tokyo Tower

After visiting the temple, we walked over to the base of the Tokyo Tower, which you might recognize as modeled after the Eiffel Tower. We considered buying admission up to one of the two observation points, but held off in favor of the newer and taller Tokyo Skytree, which we planned to visit later in our trip. In hindsight, we should have just taken advantage of the clear skies while we were at the Tokyo Tower because it was too overcast the rest of the trip to go up the Skytree.

Imperial Palace

Next, we hopped on the nearest subway and made our way over to the Imperial Palace, home of Japan's emperor and family. The palace, open to the public twice a year, sits in the middle of a large public park and is guarded by a moat and stone walls. Peter and I were both more than ready for lunch at this point, and turns out it's hard to find food in the middle of a large park, so we really only stayed long enough to snap a couple of pictures. 
I finally took a turn with the camera!
Intense gate protected by an equally intense guard.
A shot of the beautiful park that surrounded the Imperial Palace.
After viewing the palace, we walked to the edge of the park, where we took a quick look at this statue of Kusunoki Masashige, a 14th-century samurai who is remembered as a symbol of samurai loyalty. Honestly, there were about 500 adorably fashionable babies in this park so I was a bit more focused on them than the statue. I swear 100% of the children in Japan were more fashionable than I am, which is faint praise, but you get the point.

Check out previous posts from our trip to Japan below!

Arriving in Tokyo/First Impressions 

Exploring Central Tokyo:

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

My Trip Home to Minnesota

I'm taking a quick break from recapping our Japan vacation to share a few pictures from my recent trip home. I hadn't been back to Minnesota in exactly a year, and have since decided that was far too long between visits. Hopefully that'll be the longest I'm ever away! Unfortunately, Peter wasn't able to join me due to work commitments, so I was somewhat dreading the actual travel portion of this trip. Thankfully, the flights were relatively painless, especially when I realized I was eligible for an upgrade to United's Economy Plus seating on the way back to Melbourne. I was actually a bit bummed because it looked like I was going to have an entire row to myself until about five minutes before we took off, when a couple of standby passengers rushed on and claimed the seats next to me. Of course they did. I felt like I couldn't complain too much, though, because I was still in an upgraded seat, until about two hours into the 15 hour flight when someone in a row behind me vomited on the floor. So that was terrible.

Anyway, this was a really fun and exciting visit home because 1) I got to meet my newborn niece and 2) one of my best friends got married and I got to be in the wedding! Last year, I was only home for about six days, which was an absolutely crazy thing to do, so this time I made sure my trip was a good two and a half weeks, which allowed for lots of time with family and friends.

I took this picture of my mom's backyard on my first day home. I got really lucky in that I didn't really experience jet lag on this trip, so I was up bright and early the morning after I arrived and got to enjoy some nature from the porch. It's a nice change from stepping out onto our balcony here in Melbourne, in the middle of the city. It's funny because there's actually a major highway on the other side of the pond and the international airport is only a few miles away, but for whatever reason, my mom's house isn't impacted much by the noise.
The Bachelorette started on Monday, so my sisters and I gathered to watch, of course. I'm obsessed with JoJo. Obsessed. The next morning, we hit up this cute cafe called Yum for some breakfast and coffee. 
My brother's girlfriend just had a baby, Hadley, and she is absolutely adorable. She's a month old and I'm so glad I got to meet her while she's still so tiny. It occurred to me that the next time I see her, she may be on the verge of walking, which is so crazy. I definitely made the most of my time with her!
My dad's house sits on a pond at the end of a cul-de-sac and they get a surprising amount of wildlife for the suburbs. On this trip, I saw a large turtle and a couple of really pretty birds. The bird below appeared at my window at the crack of dawn nearly every morning, tapped aggressively enough to wake me up, and then flew off. 
I was home over Memorial Day weekend, which is the unofficial start to summer, so Kathryn and I decided to assemble her hammock in the backyard and enjoy the weather.  Unfortunately, we only lasted a few minutes before we were virtually eaten alive by bugs. Minnesota summer: 1 us: 0. 
I got to see both sets of grandparents on this trip, which was really fun! My grandpa is holding Hadley here:
We went to South Dakota for a couple days to visit my other grandpa, where we went to one of our family's favorite restaurants ever, Lunkers. Honestly, this walleye is unreal.

And now for the wedding festivities! So, there's a back story to this picture. My roommates and I, and a bunch of other friends, went on a spring break trip to Panama City Beach, Florida in college. Classy, I know. So we took a really cute picture on the beach while we were there, and we decided to recreate it now that all four of us in the original picture were in one spot.

Here's the original:
And our first attempt...huge fail.
 That's better :).
 Friends at the rehearsal dinner:
The beautiful Lake Minnetonka...I do miss those Minnesota lakes!
 Wedding day! Here is Erica getting her bridal makeup and hair done:
These hair and makeup people were legit. And Erica gave us adorable robes to wear while we got ready.
 The flowers were beautiful.
 Pictures before heading to the ceremony!
All six of the bridesmaids had different dresses, but they were all in the same blush/champagne color family, which turned out super pretty. 
The whole bridal party:
Right before the ceremony, I took this picture with Erica (who looked absolutely stunning!) and then it started pouring. The ceremony was supposed to be held outside, and guests were already starting to arrive when the rain hit. Everyone quickly moved to the chapel just a few hundred feet away, and although our shoes were a bit muddy, the chapel was beautiful! Plus, rain on your wedding day is good luck, right?!
As always, I wish I would have had more time to catch up with everyone so I'm going to keep harassing people via blog, text, etc. to come visit us. Our couch is really comfortable :). 


Welcome! I started Laura and Peter Down Under in July 2014 when my husband and I moved from the States to Melbourne, Australia for his job. I blog about expat life, our travels, food, and whatever else comes to mind. Follow along on our adventures Down Under!



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