When we arrived in Kyoto, we had a few hours before check-in. We decided then to go to a nearby shogun palace.
This palace was used to be where Japanese samurai lived and reported to. Inside were beautiful golden paintings on the walls, hand drawn centuries before. Photography of them are prohibited so not to damage the artwork, but I took many pictures of the grounds and the courtyard.
In one such room, we witnessed wax statues of a famous samurai meeting. The topic of this meeting was the dissolution of the samurai dynasty during the 1880s. At this time, Western ships were common around Asia, and trade was no longer a rare occurrence but a way of life. And with trade came new weaponry, and no longer where the centuries old armor and swords of the samurai efficient in battle. To prevent from falling any further behind in technology, and for the sake of their country, the samurai decided then to give up their old ways and adopt a new, modern approach. To end it, the samurai sold this palace to the government where it was converted into an office, thus ending the samurai forever.
The temple was a bit disorienting, as it was also built as a fortress (with deliberately creaking floors so to hear intruders) and a couple members of the group were misplaced. As a result, we had to cancel our afternoon tour of the golden pavilion temple.
With this sudden free extra time on our hands, we broke into smaller groups and one group went shopping, while the other went for an authentic tea ceremony. Although I didn't buy much, it was still interesting to walk past the wooden stores in old town Kyoto.
An hour later we switched and my group got to try the tea ceremony. However, being a white, Western male, my abilities to follow the directions were cumbersome and I made several mistakes (such as how to whisk the tea, how to turn the cup before and after drinking it, how to wipe it when done, etc.). Although the ceremony was very unique and peaceful, it wasn't very exciting and I would have much rather spent that time exploring Kyoto some more.
We then wandered the streets of Kyoto into an area with many red lantern. Our guide told us this was the area where we might see a geisha. My knowledge of geisha is very limited but I believe they are a form of upper class escort, but much more sophisticated. We wandered the streets and saw some buildings where there were geisha-in-training, and lodges where they lived. But sadly, we saw no geisha.
We took the train back to the hotel and washed up, although it was to no avail because the humidity stuck to you the moment you walked outside. We went out for supper, and I caved and had a hamburger. This is the first hamburger I had had since arriving in Japan almost a week ago, and it was delicious. I went out for supper with a group of people and we spent several hours at the restaurant until our tour guide came and got us. We needed her help explaining to the server that we wanted to split the bill, and her sudden appearance makes me wonder if somebody didn't text her and ask her for help.
Kyoto is the only stop on our tour where we can do laundry, but while sorting it after supper I closed my eyes and fell asleep. I plan to do it tomorrow night because tomorrow is our first, and very well needed, "free day". And I'm running low on clothes, with more than a week ahead of me.
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.
I was recently asked if I preferred my time in Montreal or Quebec City more, and while Montreal is a gorgeous city, decorated with thousands of green copper spires, hosts incredible festivals, has some of the most fantastic food I have ever tasted, and is spotted with beautiful parks, there was just something about Quebec City that spoke to me. Being over four hundred years old, Quebec City is one of the last remaining "walled cities" in North America, and is the only one north of Mexico. Quebec City was the location of some of the greatest conflicts in Canadian history, including the Siege of Quebec by the British.
Belonging to three very different countries (France, England, and Canada) in its four hundred year existence, Quebec City is a mixing pot of old traditions, new ideas, cobblestone streets and modern architecture. Since there is so much to see in Quebec City, I figured I would narrow it down to a couple and let you discover the rest! Here is "8 Places to Visit in Quebec City".
A few months ago I entered a contest for a trip for two to visit Philadelphia on Two Bad Tourists. Normally contests like this are limited to United States residents so when I saw this one was open to Canadians I jumped at the chance. I've never won something like this before, so I actually forgot about it until I got the emailing saying I had won. Two Bad Tourists then worked alongside Visit Philly to organise the trip for me and my mother to explore Philadelphia for three days. Visit Philly paid for our flights, hotels and gave us a VIP Pass to experience the city to our heart's content. It is thanks to them that this trip is possible.
Several movies and television shows have tried to capture the essence of Philadelphia over the years – from the boxing Blockbuster Rocky, to the paranormal thriller The Sixth Sense, to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and even Boy Meets World – but each described the city differently. There is no easy way to approach a city as dynamic as The City of Brotherly Love. With countless layers of art, history, religion and the paranormal, Philadelphia is a city unlike any other throughout the United States.
One thing that surprised me the most about Philadelphia was the history. The city was founded and designed by William Penn, who is also the state of Pennsylvania's namesake. Born in London, England in 1644 he lived through The Great Fire of 1666 and The Great Plague of London from 1665-1666. Both events shaped Penn's life so he designed the city to be strictly stone buildings (to stop fires from spreading) and to have plenty of space between the buildings (as to prevent illness from spreading). This led to the older areas of the city to have winding corridors between old stone walls.