Throwback to Japan

Facebook is great at remembering dates that happened, “On This Day”. Eight years ago this month, I made my way to Tokyo while a friend worked abroad there. Memories made, some remembered vaguely, and the experience of a lifetime ensued next. 

After 20 hours of flying leaving Boston on a Friday at 10:30am, I arrived to Tokyo on Saturday at 5:20pm with a 13 hour time difference. Meeting up with my friend Katie, we made it to our hotel in the Shinagawa ward of Tokyo after an hour train ride from the airport to the city. Having dinner and several Kirins, we ended up meeting an Australian couple at the hotel bar who was in town for breeding horses. I end up doing a couple of tourist attractions with the couple later in the week as well. 

The next day we made our way over to the ward of Asakusa with open air markets and several shrines. Japan has two primary religions: Shinto and Buddhism, which co-exist and are complementary to each other. Here we could participate in a few rituals such as wafting smoke to inhale from burning incense, collecting water from a fountain with a cup but then drinking it from your hand to then spit back out, paying to write prayers on piece of paper to attach to an outside post to the shrine, or participating in yoga like prayer while tossing coins into a tin collection. We also experienced a customary lunch that day which required your shoes to be taken off and sitting crossed legged on pillows as you cooked your meats and vegetables in a hot broth being boiled on your table. 

Asakusa with Katie

Asakusa with Katie

Buddhist ritual

Buddhist Ritual

Park in Asakusa

Park in Asakusa

That evening we took the subway to Shibuya, with an equivalency comparable to NYC Times Square. An immediate difference, however, is the cleanliness of the city and the politeness and friendliness of the natives to foreigners. The area hosts thousands upon thousands of people shopping, eating, and walking about. Great entertainment if you enjoy people watching. While having dinner that evening at a restaurant called 603, we felt our first earthquake and learned the experience was somewhat common and experienced several more throughout the week. This happened to be a year and half before the terrible earthquake and tsunami hit Japan 2011.
Shibuya

Shibuya

“Franklin”

Famous Shibuya Crossing

Famous Shibuya Crossing

The next day I ventured solo, south of Tokyo by train, to Kamakura. I ventured to Engaku-ji Temple which houses monks and an 8 foot bell at the top of a hill which requires you to take several flights stairs to access. I made my way around the small city center to do a bit of shopping and to tour the Great Buddha, otherwise known as Diabutsu, within the Buddhist temple of Kōtoku-in. It is a bronze statue that stands 37 feet tall. It was massively impressive. Making my way back to the train I visited Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū, one of the most important Shinto shrines in Kamakura and where one of my favorite photos of Sake Barrels was taken.

Engaku-ji Temple

Engaku-ji Temple

Komyogi Temple Bell

Komyogi Temple Bell

Diabutsu

Diabutsu

Kōtoku-in Temple

Kōtoku-in Temple

Giant Buddha

Giant Buddha

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū

Sake Barrels

Sake Barrels

The weather in August is hot, humid, and some days full of rain. This day happened to be one of them, as were most of the days of my trip.

The next morning we were awoken to our 16th floor hotel room shaking at 5:02am. We were experiencing our 2nd earthquake. Unsure of what to do for the 30 seconds that seemed forever, I vaguely remember hoping into the tub. Unsure of our rational back then, it seemed like the most logical solution. By the way, Japan’s technology seemed to be quite ahead of Americans, that even the toilets and showers light up, heat up, and self clean. But I digress. Eventually the shaking stopped but we were pretty rattled ourselves so decided it was a good time to head over to the famous Tsujiki Fish Market in Shimbashi district.

Tsujiki is the largest fish market in the world. We probably saw every type of fish imaginable, along with whole Tunas that was claimed to be the most expensive in the world. The workers were quite disgruntled with having to work around the tourists and it being already close to 100 degrees by 6am, I can understand why they would be annoyed. 

Tsujiki Fish Market

Tsujiki Fish Market

Tsujiki Fish Market

Tsujiki Fish Market

Making our way back after an incredibly hot and humid trip, I showered up again and then took a bus tour from the hotel to Mt. Fuji and the town of Hakone. After a 2 1/2 hour bus ride, we made our way to the 5th station (out of 12) and also the highest point cars can drive up to Mt. Fuji. We were given some time to explore, shop, and walk around. I hiked a bit of a trail but unfortunate you could not see the peak due to the clouds. 

Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji

Hiking up Mt. Fuji

Hiking up Mt. Fuji

Hikers at the 5th station

Hikers at the 5th Station

View from 5th Station

View from 5th Station

Views from Mt. Fuji

Views from Mt. Fuji

2,305m up from sea level at 5th Station

2,305m from sea level at 5th Station

We then continued to drive on to Hakone, which houses sulfur hot springs and Lake Ashi. Upon arrival, we took a cable car up to the hot springs. Unfortunately, The cloudy weather stuck with us and made it difficult to see anything. However, you could certainly smell the sulfur. Here you could participate in a ritual where one is supposed to eat a boiled egg from the sulfur water that turns the egg black, claiming to add 7 years to your life.

We drove our way back down to the Lake, where we got on a large Pirate looking ship and took a cruise. Our tour ended with taking the Bullet train back to Tokyo. The ride was incredibly fast, lasting 30 minutes. I was also on the tour with the Australian couple we met earlier in the week, in which I found out the husband, Kerry O’Brien, had participated in the ’68 & ’72 Olympics for the Steeplechase. The world is so interesting!

Kerry O'Brien, Australian Olympic Athlete. Photo from: Racing Past

Kerry O’Brien (2), Australian Olympic Athlete. Photo from: Racing Past

That evening we had dinner with them, a couple of their associates, and I ended up going to a traditional Japanese Karaoke Bar late night. However, word of advice, don’t leave your friends overnight, in a foreign city, without a working cell phone.

The next morning I toured parts of Tokyo. When I got off the subway a Japanese University student named Takashi, wanting to practice his English, offered to help show me around. We went to the Imperial Gardens where the emperor lives. We went to Ginza, which reminds me of 5th Avenue or Newbury Street. We then made our way over to Roppongi and viewed the Tokyo Tower. 

Nakagin Capsule Tower

Nakagin Capsule Tower

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower

After several days of jet lag, I finally slept through the night and got an early morning start the next day to visit Harajuku and Ueno. Harajuku is famous with the Japanese youths for shopping including American/British style clothing and some girls that dress up like baby dolls. A colorful area for sure. After, I made my way to Ueno park and visited the zoo and Tokyo National Museum of Western Art.

Harajuku

Harajuku

Harajuku

Harajuku

Ueno Park

Ueno Park

The city is vibrant with culture and history but also modern with advanced technology. I’m lucky and happy to have made it to that side of the world. 

Hachikō, the loyal dog and a couple of other Huskies

Hachikō, the loyal Akita dog and a couple of other Huskies

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Luxembourg and Beyond

My final destination in my August travels led me to Luxembourg. Now this may come as a surprise to you but Luxembourg is indeed a separate country North of France between Belgium and Germany. It’s not a town in France. This fact is for the vast majority that ask me, “Where is Luxembourg?” 

You are now informed. In fact, Luxembourg is the European Capital with a booming finance industry. It’s a lovely country, mostly made up of hills and farmlands but the City is alive with culture, restaurants, shopping, and sights and actually quite manageable to tour on foot or by bus. So I was able to log some miles and get some hill workouts throughout my stay. Don’t they say the best way to learn a city is to walk it? Then I should be a friggin expert! 

I also booked a 3 hour bike tour in Northern Luxembourg with Greg at Biketours. We mountain biked some intermediate terrain and saw beautiful nature created millions of years ago, superior views of the land, and the Beaufort Castle. Highly recommended!

   
   
The main purpose for my trip was to interview for a job. Being a physical therapist over seas proves to be just as difficult as one to come to the US. Because the job is regulated and legislated by the government, one must submit: certified copies of passport, diplomas, transcripts, professional conduct standing and shipped to the governing board (Ministry of Health). I did this in May, I received a letter in July stating they received the paperwork and now crickets. I wait. Reminder all of Europe is on Holidays for pretty much the month of August, so I’ll continue to be patient. In the meantime, I’ve been applying to everything: secretarial jobs, fitness instruction, insurance reviewers, customer service, masseuse, etc. I’m hoping to continue to blog (and maybe get paid for that as well). But in reality, I’m open to be flexible with a position to get me within the borders and to cover basic bills I still have remaining (mostly student loans, CC, and a cell phone bill). The Internet is only so helpful and my resume is pretty niche, so I’ve only had 2 interview opportunities. However, I nailed the masseuse and fitness instructor position! Now the final movement to make this transition relies on applying for a resident visa. Now I’ll be initially living in North East France in a town called Metz where Julien owns his flat and commuting to Luxembourg anywhere between 45 min-2 hour drive depending on traffic, or there is a train from Metz as well. This is pretty common practice as it’s cheaper to live outside of Luxembourg which is quite chichi, but our ultimate goal is to get a place in Luxembourg eventually. Now applying for a residency is different per country and working is a whole other matter. And I’m here to tell you some steps, and I don’t know if I’ve gotten it all down but I’m hoping!

1. Set up appointment with country consulate in states in major city nearest to your home (French) – can be made online but the application process must be done in person

2. Determine which visa you are applying for – work, short stay, long, visitor, student, etc.

3. Obtain all proper documentation including: (most but may be different per visa) for my long stay visitor VISA I specifically need –

application, passport photos, passport and copy of passport info page, proof of financial support, letter and proof of host, proof of medical insurance – I got mine through World Nomads, state criminal record, certified letter pledging to not work in the country, OFII form and processing fee

Now because I’m applying for a long stay visa, I’m not allowed to work in France. This is the difference between a short stay visa (only 90 days), student visa (means you’re studying abroad), and work visa in which a company gets your visa because they hired you as the most qualified for the position, commonly done in the corporate or financial world and particularly with someone who can speak the native language. Considering I do not fall into any of those categories, the long stay visa is my best chance. I followed up and called the Lux consulate and they said once I have the resident visa I can work in Europe (except France). I will be considered self-employed to be a masseur and no license is required in this trade (compared to being a physio). However I will still need to apply for social security in the foreign country and still pay taxes in the U.S. as well, so I also need to hire a CPA experienced with filing taxes for expats. Completely and utterly confused yet? Welcome to my world. 

The plan is to move December 1st. Keep your fingers and toes crossed for me!

My heart belongs in France

So the second part of my 2.5 week vacation brought me to the South of France and Luxembourg (for interviews and my move overseas, more on that in the next blog) to be with my boyfriend who is French and lives in France.

me and Julien

You may think having an international relationship is so romantic, but it’s not all wine, roses, and French kisses! Here are some realities and hardships about having a long distance relationship, especially international.

Difficulty 1 of international dating: time difference. I’m getting up when he’s having lunch, I’m working out when he’s having dinner, he’s sleeping when I’m having dinner, I’m sleeping when he’s getting up. It’s a game of catch to get each other on the phone.

Difficulty 2: FaceTime and iMessage. Luckily we both have iPhones which when we both have wifi our texts and talking via FaceTime are free, but say for instance my wifi is crappy, as it happens to be sometimes, you could go 2-3 days without talking AND you can only FaceTime. So say you are cooking or walking or, ahem, in the bathroom, you literally have no privacy to be able to communicate with using the most cost efficient means.

Difficulty 3: communication. Thankfully he’s fluent in English (with that sexy accent) or else my high school level of beginner French wouldn’t take us very far. But even though we can talk, we still get lost in translation in regards to jokes, sarcasm, and just cultural differences.

Difficulty 4: you see each other, hopefully, every 2 months. That means you aren’t having sex for 2 months at a time.

Difficulty 5: it’s expensive. I don’t think this requires much more explanation, but when either of you has to buy RT international flights 2-3x a year, one can expect a credit card bill that can cause a little anxiety.

Difficult 6: when you are together you’re on vacation. So when you do see each other, you literally have to take time off from work and typically we’re somewhere wonderful. We don’t have to deal with the everyday grind of work, getting groceries or errands, deciding who’s going to do housechores, bills, etc. However awesome that may be, it’s not real life.

End rant.


  
 My trip overseas was a mixed blessing. I was going to see my man, his and now my friends with their established families (so this included 9 children as well) in the southern vineyard Provence of Valreas. It’s breathtaking countryside, think Tour de France, and a hour and half drive from the French Coast. The house is set in a mountainous valley sitting on an actual vineyard with an inground pool. Heavenly. The house is old without air conditioning but spascious and comfortable enough with wide open windows to allow fresh air to come in and out. Now mind you, I had just flown from Beckley, WV to Charolette, NC to Boston, MA to Frankfurt, Germany to Marseilles, France and then the hour and half drive to Valreas, France all in about 21 hours and having lost 6 hours from time transition. You could at this point say I was deliriously tired.

So showing up the the house full of people with about 3 hours of sleep when it’s 4am my time and 10am theirs with the rest of the day just starting, you can say I was at a little of a disadvantage. However, I was excited to be there and to be away from work, so you just roll with it and start with an aperitif at 11am next to the pool. The weather was good for 85% of the week, the food and wine were amazing, I got a 6 mile run in to see the nearby landscape and sights, the boys rode bikes up Mont Ventoux, we played guess the band every night, saved money by not going out, made new friends and did a lot of nothing.

However, this vacation resulted in our first real fight. Not something you hope for on vacation or while with others but the reality is it happens. Sometimes there is boredom or lack of displays of affection, sometimes you need a good kick in the butt to bring back passion. Relationships can be hard, somewhat scary but love can be so powerful and encouraging. A silver lining about everything not being peachy and dreamy is that you figure out together how to deal with challenges, communicate, and learn how each will deal with hard times going forward together. It’s kind of a weight off our shoulders really. You need to be shooken up a bit to see how tough you are but how forgiving you must be for the sake of each other. Especially if we are going to pursue a future together. I’m willing to uproot my career,  home, city, and family because of love, all it’s good, bad and ugly and I couldn’t be happier, scared and more excited. Is it tough? Sometimes. Does the good outweigh the bad? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

excited to see what the future holds!