Thursday, 12 March 2015

Baby Travel Tips: Our first trips with baby

Good morning, good day, and good evening world!

So this is our first official post that finally falls in line with the blog’s original intent: travelling with baby. So far in our daughter’s first year of life, we managed to take Adelynne (Addy for short) to Vancouver, Victoria, and Whistler British Columbia (when she was 4 months old) and Orlando, Florida (when she was 8 months old).  
Adelynne's first airplane ride at 4 months
Here are some tips we discovered based on our two trips:
  1. Book direct flights during nap or bed time
Napping on the plane
For both trips we booked direct flights, which meant less time waiting around in airports, less time getting in and out of airplanes and, most importantly, arriving at our destination faster. We also found that booking a flight during the baby’s nap time or bed time made the trip a lot easier on Adelynne, the other passengers, and on. From our experience, it was slightly easier flying with a 4 month old because at that time she wasn’t very mobile and was content just cuddling in our laps or nursing. On our flight to Orlando, at 8 months, she was a lot more active and it took more time than usual to calm her down and fall asleep. Fortunately (or unfortunately), our baby never took the bottle, so during take-off, and landing I would nurse her. This was also a useful tactic when she got nervous on the plane (from the noises, air pressure, etc.) as it would calm her down, lulling her to sleep with little-to-no problem. Unfortunately, Addy would wake up after landing, staying awake during our commute to our hotel (despite the late hour of our arrival), but after we settled in our hotel room, she fell asleep fairly quickly with the help of a white noise app on our iPhones (another MUST HAVE- you can find a free app in App Store). 

2. Give the baby options: Bring a stroller and a baby carrier

Yo ho yo ho a pirate's life for me! 
On our first trip to British Columbia, we brought our heavy duty stroller, Bumbleride Indie and our Ergo 360 baby carrier. The stroller was a pretty inconvenient as it took up a lot of space and wasn’t as easy to collapse. However, it was useful when it came to nap time as we could recline the back parallel to the ground and have it act like a portable bassinet. Another important asset was our stroller rain cover, which came in very handy during the rainy Vancouver days. However, Adelynne would get sick of the stroller very quickly and preferred to be worn in a baby carrier. So wherever we went, we brought the Ergo 360 with us and used the front-outward facing option when she was awake. This gave her the opportunity to look around at all the exciting new sights and sounds. We would also use the front-inward facing option during nap times, and, depending on the environment, sometimes accompanied by baby earmuffs to cancel out the loud noises. If your baby is used to baby wearing, we definitely recommend bringing at least one baby carrier with you.

Strolling around Canada Pavilion at Disney's Epcot

By the time our Florida trip came along, Adelynne could sit up in an umbrella stroller (6 months and up), so we brought along a MacLaren Globetrotter, a lightweight umbrella stroller that reclines. The Globetrotter was really easy to collapse, carry when not in use and maneuver through crowds. Although it has a reclining back, this stroller didn’t recline as much as our Bumbleride Indie could. Adelynne still managed to nap in the stroller but we had less success than with our heavy duty Bumbleride as the naps didn’t last nearly as long. As usual after being in the stroller for a while, she would get sick of it and we’d transfer her into the baby carrier. We brought both our Ergo 360 and carrier wherever we went, using the stroller for storage when it wasn’t in use. The most useful thing about the stroller was that it worked well as a high chair while we were out and about in Disney World or places that didn’t offer high chairs. With the brakes on (of course) and the back fully upright, Adelynne was pretty content eating her snacks and lunch in the stroller. Both a stroller and baby carrier are essential options for your trips. 

3. Have a flexible schedule/try to stick to baby’s routine 

Addy napping during the tour of BC Parliament Buildings
During our travels, pre-baby, we would jam pack our days with activities and sightseeing. We would walk for kilometres without rest or snacks, I still vividly remember one day when we walked for over 20 km in Kyoto, Japan (my feet hated me by the end of that day). This is definitely NOT an option with a baby in tow. So our biggest piece of advice would be to make your schedule as flexible as possible and try to space out activities over a few days instead of trying to do everything in one day. Envision that you will be taking a lot more breaks (feeding, diaper changes, naps, etc) during sightseeing and mix up your day with only one planned major activity and maybe a few low intensity (sit-down) ones. When Adelynne was 4 months old, she didn’t really have any sort of schedule yet, so it was a lot easier to have naps on the go since she could fall asleep basically anywhere at any time. We went whale watching in Victoria, British Columbia and she slept the whole 3 hours we were out to sea. She really missed out  as were amazed by the huge orcas and humpback whales. 

Trying to give Addy a break from the sounds of Magic Kingdom
However, at 8 months, it was a whole different story. At home, she was on a strict schedule with two naps a day (morning and afternoon). We spent the first two days of our Florida trip in Disney World and we tried to stick to her schedule as much as possible. However, no matter how we tried, her naps were never as long as they would be if we were at home. She napped more often on the go, for short periods of time, but it was mostly light sleep. As we mentioned earlier, we brought some baby earmuffs (Banz) to block out the loud ambient sounds of Disney World which helped. When she was fussy, we would try to find a quiet spot somewhere and I would nurse her or let her stretch out. We would recommend having picnic lunches in a park so your baby can stretch out and rolling around for a bit before you hit the road again. Towards the evening, when it was around her bedtime, you could tell that she had had enough and just wanted to crawl on the floor or sleep in the play pen. That’s when we would call it a night, so  there were no late nights for us (missing the famous Disney fireworks show) and we either had to grab dinner on the go or bring food back to our hotel room. 

During the rest of our trip in Florida, we stayed with Mike’s parents who were wintering in New Smyrna. This gave us the flexibility to be able to stick to Addy’s schedule, with her two regular naps per day in the play pen. Although we did find it strange that her naps lasted a lot longer in Florida then back home, with one clocking in at over 2 hours long (this NEVER happens). We think the fresh ocean air, daily swimming and strolls on the beach may have completely exhausted her. Fortunately for us, these long naps have carried over back home in Ottawa.

This kid loves water and splashing!
Relaxing in New Smyrna Beach
4. Trial runs with travel bed before trip

Nap time in her pack n' play
A great piece of advice we’ve found on was the idea of “trial runs.” Prior to leaving on your trip, have your baby sleep in the play pen/portable travel bed that you plan to use for a few nights. This will familiarize your baby with the idea of sleeping in something other than their regular crib. 

One of the big travel challenges we found was the adjustment period for Adelynne to get used sleeping in her pack 'n play (Graco Pack 'n Play Playard) rather than her crib. She either just didn’t like change or it may not be as comfortable as her crib so getting her used to this change at home might reduce the number of night waking on our trips going forward. 

We hope these baby travel tips will help you guys on any future trips you are planning with your babies and please feel free to provide any tips you may have. Remember, travelling with baby isn’t impossible, it’s just slightly more challenging ;)

Here is hoping we will have as good of luck on Adelynne’s first international trip to Turkey and Switzerland (to visit her grandparents in Geneva) this April!



Graham Family at Whistler, British Columbia 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

A Hop Across the Pond with a 16 Month Old

Special guest post by Claude Normandin-Banks offering travel advice learned on her recent trip to England with her 16 month old son Tommy and family!

We did it! We had a successful international trip with a 16 month old!!! It can be done!

Now, the above said, a fair amount of preparation, research, flexibility and forgiveness was involved! Let me tell you about our trip to England from Ottawa (Canada).

One of my very good lifelong friends got married to a man from England that she met while in University there, I was asked to be a bridesmaid and was thrilled, so off to England we went! We booked plane tickets to London from Ottawa direct, this was a little more expensive than other options, but with a toddler, we thought the direct option was worth the extra money (and boy were we right!). I suggest avoiding connections and layovers as much as possible. We spent a day and a half in London then rented a car to head to the wedding venue where we stayed for two days and then came back to London and spent four days exploring the city. We saw pretty much what we wanted to see and I think our toddler (Tommy) had just as much fun as we did!

So, here are our experiences and lessons learnt divided in nifty categories for your reading pleasure (and skipping pleasure if not relevant to you!!)

Air travel

I am a strong believer that a child is just as important as an adult and therefore am totally against lap babies. I know that “legally” a child under two does not “need” his or her own seat and can be held by a parent on a plane, but really, this is not safe at all nor is it comfortable for either baby or parent on longer flights. Experts recommends infants to be in their car seats in planes, but big business does not want to lose business from new families who would choose other means of travel when faced with having to buy a ticket for their child. Pretzels and drinks are secured during take-off, landing and in turbulence and your child should be too; one, for the safety of your child, and two, for the safety for people around you in the plane. A baby hurtling through the cabin will not only injure him or herself, they will injure whoever they hit. Really, it’s important to have any child properly restrained in a plane, and that means using an aircraft approved car seat (almost all car seats are aircraft approved, you can check yours, either in the manual or on a sticker on the car seat.) Clear-Air Turbulence kills or injures a number of people each year, those injuries are preventable and the reason everyone is urged to use seat belts in aircraft regardless of whether the seatbelt sign is on or not. To install our car seat in the plane, a Britax Marathon 65, we had to use the belt extension to make sure the buckle wasn’t in the belt path of the seat (and under Tommy’s bum, which would not have been comfortable). It was a little tricky but not at all insurmountable!

When I booked our tickets I asked for bulkhead seats for the extra room. Turns out this was probably not necessary on the plane we were on but you never know, and having the extra room was very much appreciated! On a flight with meals, you can also order kids and infant meals at no extra cost! I also signed Tommy up for an Aeroplan card (we flew Air Canada) so he could start collecting miles! Why not??!

We had a few looks on the way to England from the flight attendants but coming back two of them commented about how a car seat was the smart thing to do when traveling with children, it seems like the more experienced attendants, the ones who have been through either a runway emergency or severe turbulence we very pro car seat! We had the manual for our car seat and the printout of the laws regarding the use of car seats in aircraft with us just in case, but we didn’t need them in the end,  although I’ve heard some people having to actually show the flight attendants the actual law before being allowed to install their car seats.
Also, there is no way I could have kept Tommy on me for seven hours!! Neither one of us would have slept and he would have screamed the entire time! This way, he was in his own car seat, familiar with the rules when strapped in!

Airport Security and transportation of all the baby gear (and the baby!!)

Going to England, we had no problem with two bottles of milk and two icepacks. Coming back, Heathrow confiscated the icepacks. This seems to be rather random as the regulations seem to always be in flux and subject to interpretation by the individuals doing the screening. Suffice it to say, we had normal sized bottles of milk and no problems. I also had diaper cream and baby Advil and had no problems with either.

To get around in the airport, and then to our apartment in the London using the Underground, this is how we arranged all the gear!!

Stroller (umbrella kind); car seat on stroller with a bungee cord, diaper bag and daddy’s carry on in car seat. Tommy in child backpack (the hiking, rigid frame kind designed to carry children) on Daddy’s back. Mommy carrying a backpack as her carry on and dragging two rolling suit cases (tied together to make a baggage train). This allowed us to be able to carry everything we needed with no baggage cart and no help, this was very important as we are thrifty and knew we didn’t want to pay for a cab to get to our Hotel in London. We were able to take the Tube! In hindsight, when going to London I would recommend planning your Tube trips using the online tool and selecting a route that has platform accessibility in mind. Many of the older stations do not have elevators and are not wheelchair (i.e. stroller) accessible without the help of good Samaritans to help with the stairs. Luckily for us there were plenty of strangers willing to help, thank you random Londoners!

The two rolling suitcases were checked and the baby backpack and the stroller were gate checked so we could use them right up to the door of the airplane.


We were in a first world country so really, had no issues although I had to put my foot down when they tried to give me a badly broken play pen for Tommy to sleep in though. I just refused to take it and made the person call a manager and a non-broken playpen-cum-makeshift-crib showed up eventually, so if any problems arise, just keep emphasizing the safety aspects, no one in charge wants to take risks with children.

For us, we wanted a place with a kitchenette so that we could do breakfasts and certain meals in house. This is why we chose short rental apartments instead of a hotel (also much cheaper!!). This way we could grab something to heat up in the apartment for dinner on our way home and Tommy didn’t have to sit through too many restaurant meals.

Since we also cloth diaper, it was very nice to have a washer/dryer in the apartment as I could do laundry whenever needed, I did clothes and diapers on alternating days. This also means that when we came back, I didn’t have a huge pile of dirty clothes to wash! I brought detergent pods in my checked baggage so I wouldn’t have to buy some there and to make sure I knew what I was doing and not using unknown to me detergent. (Maybe not important for clothes, but for diapers, next to little bums, it’s important to not have residue or use something that is irritating!)

Going out day-to-day and daily schedules

Going with the flow and being flexible here proved essential, not only because of babies and jet lag but also because you never know what that toddler will suddenly find fascinating!!

For the first few days we let Tommy sleep in and went out mid-morning. We would have lunch out and then we would come back to the apartment mid-afternoon where Tommy would have a nap and then we would go out again for a short jaunt just around the neighbourhood to get food. We would eat in the apartment and go to bed whenever the sleep cues showed up. This routine mostly stayed the same except that Tommy started getting up earlier, closer to his normal wake-up time and we would go out earlier in the day after breakfast. Tommy would typically fall asleep in the stroller for about half an hour mid-morning.

On our explorations, we would inevitably get side tracked by a park, a fountain, some random thing like a tractor in Green Park! So not having to be anywhere at any particular time was a great way for us to explore London with no stress. I highly suggest not over-booking yourself, having a toddler mid-tantrum somewhere you paid to get into is not fun!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Travelling with Baby : Zoe's first trip to Jamaica

 Our original intention when we first started the Baby's Got Backpack blog was to recount our travel challenges and advice as new parents. While its taken longer than expected, we finally have our own little one on the way! In what we hope will now be the blog's ongoing theme, we offer the following spectacular guest post by Josée Hunter, who was kind enough to provide her best travel advice learned on her recent trip to Jamaica with her 14 month old daughter Zoe and family! Enjoy!

Our first day at the resort. Enjoying the view of Sunset Cove at the Grand Palladium Jamaica in Lucea.
We travelled to Lucea, Jamaica from January 7th to the 14th. Travelling with us were my in-laws, including my husband's sister. I must admit that we were not able to relax and unwind as much as we would have had my husband, Cory, and I been travelling by ourselves, but we knew what we had signed ourselves up for. This was meant to be a family trip - as well as our 14 month old daughter, Zoe's first trip down south - so our goal was to have as much fun in the sun as possible. I think it's important to have that mind set when you are travelling with a one year old. Don't expect to be worshipping the sun for hours on end and reading a novel from cover to cover because your toddler will likely have a different agenda. That being said, we had a great time and Zoe seemed to really enjoy herself. It also helped that we had brought our own personal babysitters along for the trip, so Cory and I were able to sneak away for a few hours at a time and even enjoy a romantic evening by ourselves.

Here are some tips that I can share based on our experience.

Air travel

As you may recall from the news reports, January 7th was not the greatest day for travel to and from Canada as the weather caused a lot of flight delays and cancellations. Thankfully our flight from Montreal was not cancelled, however we did experience a 6 and a half hour delay. This meant spending the majority of the day in an airport terminal with a baby that had been up since 5:00 am. What saved us was having packed enough meals for Zoe to get her through the day, including lots of snacks, as well as a good travel stroller for her to nap in while we waited to board our flight (more on this later). 
Our little traveller lounging in her stroller at the Montreal airport as we wait to board our flight.
Our 4.5 hour WestJet flight finally departed around 6:00 pm, an hour before Zoe's usual bedtime (you can imagine where I'm going with this). As Zoe is under two, we were not required to purchase a separate seat for her. We opted to have her sit on our lap for the duration of the flight. The 6 of us were seated in row 8, which is approximately half way down the aisle. The first few hours of the flight went smoothly: we fed Zoe her dinner, read her some books, coloured with crayons, walked up and down the aisle and visited grandma and grampa across the aisle. Once the tiredness set in, she got fussy and no longer wanted to be sitting still on our lap. She just wanted to crawl around and be free - and who could blame her! Needless to say there were many tears and we got some looks from fellow passengers, although most of them were sympathetic. Eventually we gave in and let her crawl around at our feet on a blanket that we layed out on the floor. She was happy doing that for the most part, but eventually grew tired of that too. She did fall asleep in Cory's arms after protesting some more, just in time for our descent into Jamaica (sigh).

Lesson learned. For the return flight we splurged and paid the extra $45 per seat to sit in the first row of the airplane. The extra leg room alone made it worth the cost, however we were not aware that the price would also include complimentary meals, snacks and alcohol (bonus!). Zoe was happy to play on a blanket on the floor with her toys scattered around her for the entire duration of the flight with the exception of takeoff and landing, of course, when she was required to be on our lap. This made the return flight much more enjoyable for the whole family and the other passengers on the flight.

Flying with WestJet, we were allowed to check in our car seat and stroller free of charge in addition to our alloted one piece of luggage each. We were also able to bring a diaper bag on board the flight in addition to our carry on luggage.

The car seat debate

One of the biggest debates we were struggling with before our trip was whether or not to bring a car seat for the transfer between the airport and the resort in Jamaica. I've heard from people who said it wasn't worth bringing one, but in the end we decided we had nothing to lose by bringing it as we could check it in at no extra cost. Cory had called the transfer company in advance to confirm that their vehicles would accommodate car seats. In the end we were grateful for having it as the resort was a 45 minute drive from the airport and our flight only landed at 10:30 pm, which meant that Zoe was able to sleep comfortably in her car seat until we arrived at the resort. My advice would be to check the transportation safety regulations for the country you are visiting, and to try to follow Canada's transportation safety regulations as closely as possible regardless of where you are travelling. For the record, children are required to use baby seats in Jamaica too.
Respect, mon.

Although most baby-friendly resorts will provide a crib upon request, depending on their availability, we opted to bring our own Pack-and-Play so that Zoe would have a familiar bed to sleep in, in an otherwise unfamiliar environment. We managed to squeeze the Pack-and-Play into one of our large suitcases with all of the other baby gear. The other suitcase contained all of our clothing. 

We've heard some stories of hotel cribs squeeking from even the slightest movement from the baby, keeping everyone from getting a restful sleep. By having our own crib, we didn't worry about the hotel not having any cribs available for us upon arrival or about the cleanliness or condition of the crib (because you never know where it's been, how many babies have slept in it or how thoroughly it gets cleaned after use).

If you do not want to be stuck in your room during your baby's daytime naps, I recommend investing in a good travel stroller with a large rotating canopy and a reclining seat. We had inherited a second hand umbrella stroller - the basic $13 one that I can probably break in half if I really wanted to - but we decided at the last minute to splurge on a more comfortable one for Zoe. Best decision ever! 

We decided on the Chicco Liteway stroller from Babies R Us after reading some good reviews about it. At $160, it is compact, lightweight but sturdy, and has a fully reclining seat, large rotating canopy and lots of storage. This stroller was a lifesaver during our 6 and a half hour delay at the Montreal airport. We also spent a lot of time walking from one end of the resort to the other while Zoe slept comfortably, shielded from the sun.

If travelling by yourselves with a baby and your baby is used to sleeping in his or her own bedroom at home, I recommend booking a one bedroom suite so that you can have a separate room to hang out in once you put the baby to sleep at night. Because we were travelling with our in-laws, we arranged to have adjoining rooms and brought our baby monitor along so that we could put Zoe to bed in our room and then watch tv, read, have drinks or play cards in the other room until we were ready to turn in.
Zoe sporting her new Jamaican rasta shirt.


Because Zoe is 14 months old, she is now used to eating pretty much everything that we eat at home. This made mealtimes relatively simple as we could simply order something from the adult menu at the restaurant and share with her. We did, however, bring a few of her favorite non-perishable snacks, such as organic fruit bars, Cheerios and a few pouches of organic baby purees, such as the ones made by Baby Gourmet, Ella's Kitchen or President's Choice Organics.

Although we've always made our own baby food since Zoe was old enough to eat solids, the organic baby puree pouches were a practical way to ensure that Zoe was getting enough fruits and veggies in her diet while we were away. The restaurants at the resort also served whole milk, which we filled her sippy cups with. In addition to bringing a few sippy cups, we packed 6 or 7 baby spoons and a sillicon bib that can be easily wiped clean. We also brought a small container of dish soap to clean all of our mealtime supplies in our hotel room every few days.


For entertainment, we brought a few of Zoe's favorite toys and books from home, as well as a few extra toys that doubled as water toys for the beach, pool or bathtub. We also brought crayons for colouring and a few sheets of paper, all of which do not take up much space in a suitcase or carry on bag. We also downloaded a few baby-friendly apps for our Android tablet. Before anyone poses judgement, we do not usually let Zoe play with our smartphones or tablet at home. However this provided some much needed entertainment during the flight when all else failed. Zoe particularly enjoyed the Talking Tom Cat app by Outfit7 and the Baby Phone & Music Games by Penguin Apps. 
Zoe taking a break from swimming to share a snack with mom on the beach.
The resort staff was great for entertaining Zoe. She was very popular wherever we went. There were also tons of activities and things to look at to keep her busy during the day.

Unexpected illness

Sadly, a few days into our trip Zoe came down with a stomach bug that caused her to have diarrhea (I know, TMI. I won't get into the details). This could have been caused by many things - teething, the heat, stress or unfamiliar food. Thankfully she did not show any other symptoms that would indicate that she had a virus or bacterial infection. We had packed a first aid kit that included a thermometer, baby ibuprophen, baby acetaminophen and diaper rash cream, among other things. We also made sure to pack more diapers than we needed for the week but ended up using almost all of them. We never anticipated that Zoe would get sick on our trip, but we were prepared for the unexpected and it paid off in the end. 

All in all we are very happy that we took Zoe along with us for the trip. Some people asked us why we didn't just leave Zoe behind with the grandparents and go by ourselves, but we are a family unit and we want Zoe to grow up experiencing different sights and cultures. Granted that a road trip with a toddler is probably much easier than air travel, but if anything this trip proved that it is totally doable and it is not that scary. I'm proud of Zoe for being such a trooper as we threw her whole routine upside down for a week, and I'm also proud of Cory and I as parents for keeping it together during those tough moments and focusing on making this a positive experience for the whole family. Now we have some great memories of Zoe's first trip and we are looking forward to more travel adventures with her in the future.
Bye bye Jamaica. Family photo taken in the lobby of the resort while we wait to board the shuttle back to the airport on our last day.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Temples, Geishas, Monkeys and Manga : Our Kyoto Top 5

Good morning, good day, and good evening world!

So we have decided to try something a little different for our next post. Instead of giving you a blow-by-blow of all our experiences in lovely Kyoto, we are going to outline our five favourite sights we saw in the city. This is by no means a comprehensive list, we saw and did plenty of things in Kyoto, but if you were to ask us what are the MUST SEE attractions, this top five should be at the top of your list. In no particular order:
This monkey looked like he was none to happy to have his picture taken. "Damn you, paparazzi!"
1) Tour of Arashiyama: Home of the Bamboo Grove and Monkey Park

I think he was only there to check out the ladies
It should come as no surprise to you folks that the area containing a monkey reserve would make this list. Mike’s adoration for all things monkey is bordering on obsessive and this long trek up a winding, steep and picturesque mountain is definitely worth your trouble. The view from the top alone is worth the trip, but in addition, you are also treated with the company of a family of over 200 plus Japanese macaques. You’ll tread lightly as you snap photos of Kyoto from up on high, all the while making sure not to step on any wayward tails, or god forbid, baby monkeys. For a small fee (only 300 yen!) you can also buy a bag of diced fruit which you can feed to the monkeys, from inside a caged cabin of course. Do this and you’ll instantly become the most popular person on monkey mountain.

Yup, that's a lot of bamboo.

Reach for the sky!

If wild animals aren’t your thing (and when it comes to monkeys, god only knows why), you’re in luck because Arashiyama also has one of the most beautiful natural sights we’ve ever seen, the spectacular bamboo grove. This path through a park leads you straight through a bamboo forest with trees reaching up to the sky as far as you can see. Temples and shrines are also nestled in the park and seem to appear out of nowhere as they emerge from the sea of green. At the end of the path, you’ll also have the option of paying 1000 yen (approx. $10 CDN) to enter the Okochi Sanso villa. This spacious property was once owned by one of the most famous Japanese samurai movie star and is quite impressive in and of itself, but at the end of the long walk you’ll also be treated to a cup of matcha tea and cake which definitely helps with the relaxation after having to make your way through hundreds of Chinese tourists (who will no doubt end up in a large portion of your pictures).

2) Ginkaku-ji and the Path of Philosophy
How very philosophical!

In the mood for a bit of enlightenment? Who isn’t, am I right? Well you’ve come to the right place! Kyoto is home to hundreds of temples and shrines and while you may get sick of temple-hopping after experiencing a handful of them, we’ve decided to highlight our favourites to save you the trouble of narrowing it down. First up is the Ginkaku-ji. This temple is located at the end of a long winding path built next to a small canal. The path, called Tetsugaku-no-Michi, or more commonly “The Path of Philosophy,” a fantastically tranquil (albeit long) walk along the canal. It is far enough away from the main roads that you barely hear any of the hustle and bustle of busy Kyoto and is particularly beautiful in the fall as the leaves of all the surrounding trees begin to change.
No, this wasn't taken with a fish-eye lens.
Follow this path to the end and you’ll reach one of Kyoto’s top sights, the Ginkaku-ji.  What sets this temple apart is its immaculately maintained zen garden, complete with groomed white sand. The sand is not merely raked, as with most zen gardens, but is actually built into small sand sculptures. In addition to the sand, the garden itself is full of tiny shrines found in the middle of forest groves, ponds and cave rock that make it even more unique than your typical temple. Finally, if the walk doesn’t turn your crank, there are dozens of rickshaw operators who will eagerly bring you up the hill to your final destination (all for a small/hugely expensive fee of course).
I hope we're going the right way.
3) Gion at Night

After a long day of walking, why not end your night with even more walking! That’s just what we did and clocking in at over 20 kilometres, we decided we weren’t quite tapped out (or just refused to admit it to each other) and headed to the entertainment and geisha district of Kyoto, Gion. This area is home to Hanami-koji, which some call the most beautiful street in all of Asia. After experiencing its lantern lit, cobble stoned street, we inclined to agree (although we’ve yet to visit all of Asia, so take our opinion for what it’s worth). This street is full of high-end restaurants and teahouses, and while it ended up costing us a pretty penny, the food and the service at the restaurant we chose, Wabiya Korekido, was well worth the expense. Our seven course meal was made directly in front of us and even required a bit of work on our part too. Nothing too major though, stirring mostly. Even Mike can’t really screw that up!
It's a beautiful walk until you almost get run over by a car. You can even see one poking through the crowds.

Delicious, even if you have to do a bit of work.
They look so sad, even if they're dancing was beautiful.
As mentioned earlier, Gion is the geisha district of Kyoto and wandering around the area, you’ll probably happen to run into one or two walking around, entertaining a group of businessmen. It took a lot of effort on our part not to rudely interrupt and snap a picture of these unique hostesses. Thankfully, Hanami-koji is also home to the Gion Corner, which is found at the end of the street and is comprised of an hour-long show which explains and performs a variety of different Japanese cultural traditions, including our favourite, the geisha dance. This was actually quite inexpensive (for Japan standards) and if you can deal with 50 plus annoying tourists snapping pictures of the presenters during their performances, it is well worth experiencing.

4) Kinkaku-ji Temple

Our final temple on the list is the golden floating pavilion of Kinkaku-ji. As Kyoto is jam-packed with various temples and shrines, it really does take something unique to really stand out. The first temple we saw in Japan was amazing, but when you realize that there are basically hundreds more pretty much like it, visiting each of them becomes quite rote. Thankfully, the Kinkaku-ji temple stands out as not only one of the top sights in Kyoto, but perhaps one of the top in all of Japan. This golden palace is planted on the edge of an amazing pond which, weather permitting, is still as glass and reflects the image of the temple in beautiful, jaw-dropping splendor that can only exist in nature. Unfortunately, this is one of the top sights in Japan and crowds of Japanese elementary school students and busloads of Chinese tourists are pretty much unavoidable. If you can stomach large, pushy crowds and interrupting hundreds of posed photos, than we definitely recommend a visit.
You've got to love how gold shimmers in the sunshine!

4) The Kyoto International Manga Museum

A poster for the museum's special exhibit
If you know anything about Mike, then you know there was no way we were going to turn down the opportunity to visit a museum devoted entirely to the appreciation of the comic book storytelling. This facility, which is a former 18th century Japanese school, is absolutely filled to the brim with every manga series imaginable (over 300,000 copies at last count). For those not in the know, manga is Japan’s version of comic books. The Japanese treat this medium very differently than we do back home though and the fact that they have a museum devoted entirely to the explanation, preservation and appreciated of both the storytelling and the art of manga should illustrate just how seriously Japan takes its comic books. While we couldn’t really grab a book, sit down and read a few chapters like many of the Japanese patrons, we did still enjoy flipping through, enjoying the art and learning about the history of not only manga, but illustrated storytelling in general. Mike particularly appreciated the section devoted to “American Manga” as it was nice to see Superman, Batman and Spider-Man get their artistic due in a museum, even if it was half a world away. The museum even offers workshops for those interested in learning and honing their own manga drawing skills, unfortunately these were only offered on weekends and missed that particular opportunity.

Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures in the museum, so this is the best you'll get. Sorry!
Walking the halls of the museum, we heard the booming voice of one traditionally-dressed Japanese man. As we followed his voice, we found him in front of a crowd of people, standing next to an odd display case which contained sliding pictures. We learned this was called kami-shibai (a humorous traditional Japanese sliding-picture show) and even though we didn’t understand a word this man was saying, his exuberance and knack for story-telling came broke through the language barrier. Mike even won Maja a replacement for her wedding ring by correctly identifying Astro Boy in one of the sliding pictures! Now if only he can talk her into selling the old one and using the plastic replacement, we’ll have an extra few dollars ready for our next trip! And before you ask: Yes, Maja did indeed actually enjoy the Manga Museum so it is well worth the trip even if you are not a comic fan!

We hope you enjoyed our list of our favourite Kyoto sights and we hope they will be useful if you ever plan on visiting the area. We definitely recommend the city as it’s an excellent combination of the quiet peacefulness of a small town like Takayama, with the interesting sights and experiences that are found in a larger city like Tokyo. All of the pluses, none of the minuses!
Dressed up and ready for our Shabu-Shabu dinner at our Kyoto Ryokan.
Let us know if you prefer this new format for our posts, we had a lot of fun putting it together, debating which sights will make it and which will end up on the chopping block. We even had fun trying to desperately to recover this file when we thought it was lost when the laptop unexpectedly shutdown. Okay, so that last part wasn’t so fun, but it was an experience nonetheless.


P.S. As for the Mike/fish situation, check out the following story told via pictures:


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Kyoto In Pictures

Good morning, good day, and good evening world!
We're trying something a little different this time. Since our picture posts seem to be everyone's favourite, and in conjunction with the fact that we are having just way too much fun in Kyoto to spend our evenings writing, we have decided to post yet another picture post for you lovely people!


Mike is searching diligently where to find Kyoto's giant orange Torii in his Lonely Planet Guide book. Where could it possibly be?!?
The impenetrable Nishi Honhan-ji Temple. Seriously, don't even try to break into this place.

Buddhist shrine within the Nishi Honhan-ji. All this gold is the reason for the impenetrable walls
This crane outside the walls of the Nishi Honhan-ji is actually a guard in disguise. See? They take security VERY seriously.
Found in front of a shrine at the Chion-in Temple: The ultra-rare Praying Praying Mantis!
Carefully cultivated sand sculptures inside the Ginkaku-ji Temple. Sadly, minutes after this picture was taken, a bully smashed through this work of art, ruined the sculpture and kicked sand in the eyes of the monks who built it.

Mike and Maja peacefully enjoying the bamboo grove prior to running for their lives from a giant black smoke monster.

"Oh Tintin, you old cad, you!"

Mike absolutely BUTCHERING "Here Comes The Sun" by The Beatles. And we do mean BUTCHERING! Seriously, be glad you weren't there...

A small but colourful shrine at Chion-in Temple. This is where all the Buddhist clowns go to pray.
Mike admiring the aqueduct at Nanzen-ji Temple. Eat it, Romans.
Posing underneath the aqueduct. Aren't we adorable?
Mike looking unnecessarily stressed-out at the Ginkaku-ji zen garden. Seriously man, relax!
What Maja didn't tell Mike is that she realized the meaning of life during her walk down Kyoto's Path of Philosophy. So selfish!

Mike putting his calligraphy skills to the test at the Okochi Sanso house. Little did they know, Mike practices writing kanji during his spare time back home so this was an absolute breeze. 
The jaw dropping beauty of the Kinkaku-ji Temple. No jokes here, this place was just too gorgeous.
 And you knew this was coming. The moment you've all been waiting for : 

A baby macaque just monkeying around on a warning sign at the Arashiyama Monkey Park.
("Monkeying around" hehehe)

Mike feeding the monkeys from the specially designed feeding cage. Don't worry, it was the humans who were caged, not the monkeys.

This guy was pretty intense. I think he was going through banana withdrawal.

These baby macaques are the best of friends. You can tell because they are hugging it out. 

Even monkeys like to take in the spectacular view of Kyoto from the top of the Arashiyama Park (can you blame them?)

Maja really embraced the Buddhist philosophy of meditation. After a only a few minutes of quiet contemplation, she didn't nag Mike for the rest of the day!

P.S. Still no fish for Mike yet!
P.P.S. No monkey poo on Mike this time either! HOORAY!