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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456 Hot Air Balloons

I’m always searching for something interesting to see or do, to broaden my horizons or purely satisfy my curiosity. 

Luckily for me, I’m living about a 30 minute drive away from the annual Mondial Air Balloons held at Aérodrome de Chambley in Hagéville, France. 

It’s an annual week long international Hot Air Balloon Festival held at the end of July. Several countries participate with, weather depending, morning and evening flights.  People can come watch and peruse local vendors with outdoor activities for the kids. And best of all it’s free.

This year was particularly special because they were planning for what’s called “La Grande Ligne”. This was a plan in hopes for the most hot air balloons to take off at once, to set a world record. The days for take off kept shifting due to storms and wind but finally was set for a 6:30am on Friday July 28. I didn’t want to miss it!

I woke up at 4:30am and drove the half hour to claim a front row view. Then I waited. I wasn’t alone with some other brave early risers but the weather was cool and damp, with no indoor waiting area, and nothing to look at. We were staring out to empty runways and I think most of us were hoping we were in the right area. We waited some more as 6:30am came and went with no action. But around 6:45am we started to see cars with trailers, what seemed like thousands, driving out to line up on the runways. This went on for a good 45 minutes. Then the pilots and crew started setting up by laying the ballons on the ground, attaching baskets or single seats to the balloons, checking the ignitions of the fire and then started to blow the balloons up. What seemed to take forever and seemed like thousands of balloons, was actually 456 balloons that anti-climatically lifted off around 8am. With a suttle wind, the balloons were seemingly all in flight and began quickly drifting north all within minutes. 

I grabbed as many photos as I could and ran to catch a great action shot. I watched them raise higher and drift more north as I made it back to the car and started to drive home (which was north). So surprisingly for me, I got a great view of them as I headed back home.

Are we in the right place?

Starting to see some action

And it’s take off


Such a cool experience. I highly suggest catching a festival, maybe next year I’ll make friends with a pilot and be on one!

Sweet Oporto

What an amazing week I’ve had! Not only did I begin training for my 10th marathon for Berlin in September and adapted my nutrition to start following a ketogenic meal plan (high “good” fat and low carb), more to come on these on later posts, but I also spent a long weekend visiting Porto, Portugal. 

Visiting the 2nd largest city in Portugal started as a trip to visit a couple of American friends traveling through. However, a friends flight got cancelled twice, due to strikes, cutting 4 days out of her trip so she decided to stay back, meaning I was venturing on my own. I took a 2 and a half hour direct flight late Thursday afternoon from Luxembourg to Porto. From the airport I was able to get a metro ticket for less that 2€ to get me towards Trindade stop in the historic portion of the city, and also where my airbnb was located. After a quick check-in and shower I took to Google trips to get myself acquainted with sights to see nearby. Here’s a recount of what I did daily:

Thursday:

Livraria Lello

Famous Bookshop

Famous Bookshop

Red Staircase

Red Staircase

 

The Historic District

Town Hall

Town Hall

Ingreja da Santíssima Trindade

Ingreja da Santíssima Trindade

Typical tiled buildings

Typical tiled buildings

Praça de Carlos Alberto

Praça de Carlos Alberto

Igreja do Carmo

Igreja do Carmo

French inspired architecture

French inspired architecture



Street Art 

Street art is legal with a permit. It brings bright colors to the already lively city.

17th Restaurant & Bar

Views of Porto

Views of Porto

Rosé on steroids

Rosé on steroids

 

Dinner at O Buraco

Fresh and inexpensive traditional Portuguese restaurant

Fresh and inexpensive traditional Portuguese restaurant


Porto Walkers Pub Crawl
I signed up for a pub crawl for 12€ which started at 11pm going til 5am, if you could make it that long. With 5-6 stops visiting bars mostly on Galeria de Paris, a drink special was included at each stop. I’m glad I went because I met a bunch of English speaking backpackers from US, Canada, and Australia. Albeit, I was the oldest by 10+ years, but was able to dance the night away (or at least until 2:30am, I admit I couldn’t quite hang as long).

Friday:

Early Morning Run

Free Walking Tour
I can’t recommend enough taking this free 4 hour walking tour with a passionate local from Porto Walkers (Do this!) I learned a lot and felt it was necessary to share a few important points…

1. Porto’s tourism is relatively new (think 15-20 years new). Thanks to UNESCO and budget flights like RyanAir, the city has seen an influx in visitors and most of the locals are appreciative for the economic boost but…

2. In the poorer sections of town, where the buildings create narrow, quaint winding, colorful, clothes-lined drying alleyways, some families monthly wage is 500€. There used to be laws to protect them, where monthly rent was grandfathered over to keep prices low to protect them from losing their homes. Due to greed and a change in law, rents have skyrocketed from 50€ per month to 800€ per month, to create Airbnb’s for tourists like myself. This results in families getting kicked out of Porto or ultimately leaving them homeless.

3. Here’s what we can do to help: Don’t rent Airbnb’s within the Riberia district or support the overpriced, tourist restaurants and shops along the river front. Do eat at local Portuguese restaurants and shop off the typical tourist beaten paths. You’ll know the difference immediately because there will probably be a wait to get in because they are small and the prices will be extraordinarily less expensive.

Ponte Luís I

Ponte Luís I

Ribeira District

Ribeira District

Ribeira District

Ribeira District

Ribeira District

Ribeira District

View of Douro

View of Douro

Old Tram

Old Tram

Igreja paroquial de Santo Ildefonso

Igreja paroquial de Santo Ildefonso

Inside São Bento Train Station

Inside São Bento Train Station

 

Port Wine in Vila Nova de Gaia

I did a self tour visiting several wineries of the sweet port wine.

Ramos Pinto

Ramos Pinto

Croft

Croft

Inside Taylor's

Inside Taylor’s

Taylor's Courtyard

Taylor’s Courtyard

Taylor's

Taylor’s Port Wine

 

Saturday:

Praia do Molhe
I got up early and took the old Tram line 1 along the river to where it meets the Atlantic Ocean and spent most of the day at the beach. 

Dinner at Tapabento
Ranked #1 Restaurant in Porto, there are advantages to eating solo. I didn’t need a reservation! Fine dining in a quaint restaurant, you’d never know from the outside. 

Seated Tuna

Seared Tuna

Red Mullet

Red Mullet

Pistachio Sufflé

Pistachio Sufflé

 

Sunday:

Last day in Porto and started it with another early morning run. Expecting to find the streets deserted I was actually weaving in and out of the drunks making their way home at 6:30am.

Breakfast at Zenith
Best Brunch Ever

Detox Smoothie bowl (I also got 2 eggs with avocado not pictured)

Detox Smoothie bowl (I also got 2 eggs with avocado not pictured)

Armazém
Vintage Flea Market and bar. Cute, artsy and unique.

Portobello Rooftop Bar

Finished the trip with a couple cocktails at Base

I hope you all get a chance to visit and take into account the need to respect their culture, heritage, and people. And drink all the port wine 🍷. If you’re waiting for a reason to go, the weekend of June 23rd is a huge street party for Saint John (Sao Joao) with plastic hammers, drinking, dancing, and fireworks. A celebration not to be missed 🎉

Don’t Become Complacent

When I moved to France, I entered into a newlywed ideology that this move would be like a honeymoon. I was in a foreign place, new to the customs and language, but felt free to explore and be adventurous.  I’m sure this can be relatable for many in any form of life change like moving anywhere, starting a new job, actually getting married, or having kids.

Within a year of having accessibility to travel within Europe, I visited 8 countries and luckily for me it was overwhelmingly for leisure including snowboarding, running, rest and relaxation along with tourism. Even where I have established my new home, I would ride my bike, take a bus or train to neighboring villages or cities. This curiousness and willingness to take in new sights and sounds even surprised my boyfriend, Julien, the native French national who has expressed I probably have seen and know more about France or Luxembourg than him.

Although I love traveling and consider myself an interested wanderer, I was fearing that I was becoming a bit too comfortable and not having a need to travel. I mean, I was starting to make a life for myself here with a part time job and having started French classes (yesterday), I was starting to get into a routine of doing everyday tasks. The excitement of travel seemed to be taking a backseat as I was starting to get accustomed to the architecture and history surrounding me and all of it was starting to feel less novel to me. So even on my days off, when I should still want to be out touring new towns, I occasionally slacked because I felt, “Hey, what’s one more building to see?”

A couple days ago I thought to myself, “Get over yourself”. So I visited Saarbrucken, Germany an hour train ride away. I had been before for a day trip to go shopping before Christmas in 2015 as Germany is known for being notoriously cheaper than it’s neighboring countries. This time I went to Germany to experience the hype of the Karneval or Fasching, which is a long weekend party where everyone gets dressed in costumes and watch parades, and have plenty of booze before Lent comes and you have to behave. Widely celebrated in Colonge but also around most of Germany and Belgium, the Karneval is celebrated but it winds down after the Rosenmontag, the Monday following the festivals. Some cities actually designate it as a holiday but for most it’s not, however most towns recognize it and give acceptance to miss school or work. This is typically the last day of dressing up and drinking, you know, to cure the hangover from the weekend.

Photos on Instagram of the karneval

Photos I found on Instagram to give you an idea of the Karneval


I showed up to Saarbrucken around lunch time not sure what I was expecting. In fact, I was only informed about the Karneval through events on Facebook and not even from anyone who actually celebrates it. I had done most of the research on my own regarding the Karneval on the internet. I got out of the train station to a big pedestrian walk way, lined with shops and restaurants, and immediately saw college age kids in Pokemon and unicorn onesies and I thought to myself, “I’m in the right place”. There were no parades going on specifically here but I had read of a couple of towns nearby that were having them. I decided to stay within Saarbrucken and take in the city a bit more than some shops I had seen last time I was there. There is a river that parallels the pedestrian path and brings you towards the town hall and a couple of churches and open markets. Once I made my way through the quiet alleys and realized most of the shops were indeed closed for the non-official holiday, I decided to make my way over to a couple of bars that were playing loud German 80’s pop music surrounding the Schnokeloch St. Johanner Markt.

Saarbrucken, Germany

Saarbrucken, Germany


Inside came all the glory, color, dancing, and happiness of the perceived Karneval Rosemontag. People were dressed as hippies, clowns, Super Mario characters, cats, military pilots, fitness instructors, and of course there was a Donald Trump. I felt mystified and in awe on this Monday afternoon party. The place was decorated in streamers and balloons. The music was pumping and the people were all in a good mood, despite hangovers, but seemingly possible because they just happened to be drunk all over again. Beers and Champagne were flowing and ridiculously cheap. I made conversations with a few of the locals that spoke English and enjoyed my afternoon, taking in the sights and sounds that I brazenly thought I was too experienced in European culture to venture out to see. I patted myself on the back for being brave enough to leave the comforts of Metz and experience the culture of this bizarre yet awesomely fun party.

My advice is purely to myself…Don’t become complacent.

Rest and Recovery in Trier, Germany

If you follow my Instagram or Facebook page at @TheFitWanderluster you may be aware that I’m training for the Rome Marathon. I’m doing my best to follow my program to safely increase my mileage while hoping to prevent injury; including taking advantages of my rest days.

My marathon program (hybrid Hal Higdon/Asics sub 4 hour) has me running 4 times a week with two of those days including strength training, a cross training day and two rest and recovery days. I also throw in core work daily and yoga 1-2 times a week which also sometimes falls on my rest days that turn into active recovery days. 

But why Rest?

Rest days, along with proper hydration, nutrition, and sleep (due to its ability to produce growth hormone which assists in repairing and rebuilding muscles), will allow your muscles, nerves, bones, and connective tissue time to rebuild.

Rest allows for strength and efficiency gains. When the body is training, one creates microscopic tears to the tissues. The bodies ability to regenerate and repair is as necessary and essential as the actual workouts. If rest and recovery is ignored the body will, in fact, weaken overtime resulting in decreased performance, fatigue, altered hormonal states, poor sleeping patterns, reproductive disorders, decreased immunity, loss of appetite, and mood swings.

If those aren’t good enough reasons rest days will also, plain and simply, give you more time and allow for a mental refresh. 

On my rest days, I like to travel and explore. For instance my rest days typically fall on a Monday (which luckily for me is also my day off from work) so I take advantage to go on a day trip. This past Monday, I made my way to Trier, Germany.

Trier is German’s oldest city. It boasts architectural designs from Roman times dated back to 50 BC. It’s mystical and awe-inspiring to see history whether its the ruin remains or updated infrastructure on facades, this town is quaint, cute, walkable and affordable.

I started my trek by parking centrally near the Hauptmarkt. The entrance to the market is the impressive Porta Nigra, which is a large Roman City Gate that opened in 200 AD. 

Porta Nigra

Porta Nigra

A pedestrian plaza with wooden framed buildings filled with shopping and eating, the Hauptmarkt makes you feel like you were dropped into Disney’s Epcot Park. 

Hauptmarkt

Hauptmarkt

Hauptmarkt

Hauptmarkt

A short walk away is the amphitheater built in the 2nd century which hosted animal and gladiator combats, and Imperial Roman baths, later constructed in 4th century. Mostly in ruins, one has to use their imagination to get a clearer picture of once what was. 

Imperial Roman Baths

Imperial Roman Baths

Amphitheater

Amphitheater

Afterword a connecting park and garden will lead you to the Kurfürstliches Palais and Trier Cathedral, known to be the oldest cathedral in the country, which encircles you back to the market. 

Kurfürstliches Palais

Kurfürstliches Palais

Kurfürstliches Palais

Kurfürstliches Palais


Trier Cathedral

Trier Cathedral

Trier Cathedral

Trier Cathedral

Moral of the story, take rest days, travel, explore, follow your dreams all in the name of health 😉.

P.S. Friendly reminder The Fit Wanderluster shop will shut down this Friday, January 20th. Get your last t-shirt orders today!

Staying Motivated to Train while Traveling

I’m back in Boston for the holidays. I miss Boston so much. It will always be home to me, but traveling can interfere with staying in shape. I’m a month into training for Maratona Di Roma and coming home can disrupt routine.

Here are some of my tips to stay motivated to stay active while traveling.

1. Solepack

Solepack are shoe bags that are convenient, functional, and efficient travel accessories to pack your sneaks or trainers. The bags snap around your back pack to easily pack your shoes with your carry on bag and keeps your dirty shoes safely packed away from your clean clothes.


2. Rock My Run

Rock My Run is an app that has premade music playlists to play upbeat songs to improve your cadence. All genres are available and with a monthly subscription you can match the music tempo to adjust to your own pace. I have the free trial and have loved the mixed playlists that keeps me motivated to increase up my pace.


3. Run to Discover

Check out websites or blogs like Run to Discover that help you learn about places you might be visiting from local runners. The posts include a little history, sample runs, and lists free local fitness and running groups you can participate in while you’re in town. I may have had a part in the Boston write up 😉.


4. Sign up for Local Races

Cool Running provides nationwide races and can be searched by date to plan around your trip timeframe. Get some friends and family to sign up with you and make a morning out of it before the big holiday meal!


What are some of your motivating tips to stay healthy while traveling?

Everything and Nothing all at once

Tomorrow (or in 2 hours on my side) marks one year of living in France. Luckily for me, my long stay visa renewal was accepted. So whether Julien likes it or not, he has me for another year 😉.

Some people say it’s living a dream, and some days I feel like that, truly. I’ve had time to adjust to everyday tasks, like taking the bus or train to getting groceries, and establishing new friendships. But other times it’s still completely foreign to me like the size of refrigerators, not being able to find graham crackers and still not being able to follow another language – whether it be French, German, Luxembourgish, Portuguese, or any other one may hear in Europe – of an adult conversation (or child, for that matter).

With a bunch of ups (tons of travel, French wine, champagne and cheese, completing my 8th marathon in Paris, showing family my love of Europe, new job, birthdays and did I mention, so many trips?), a few downs (having difficulty with learning the language, death in the family, homesickness, FOMO with friends at home, missing Pats games mostly because it’s 2:30am my side, and nastiness of the presidential election), and mostly average days, I’ve come to love my new life and my soulmate even more. 

Life often passes quickly. I’m so happy to have made the decision to follow my heart and take a leap of faith. Fears of finanaces and what ifs are bound to happen, but you know what…in the end as long as you have your health, a roof over your head, a job (albeit one that I may work pay check to pay check), minimizing some material needs and choosing to spend my days making memories and exploring, I’ve grown more this year than with any higher education. For all of this, I’ve come to learn to value my blessings and allow myself to experience fear but learning to not let it linger into prolonged worry. 

Bring on 2017: 

  • Back to Boston for Christmas
  • Barcelona, Spain in January
  • Rome Marathon in April
  • ING night half marathon Luxembourg in May
  • Berlin Marathon in September 
  • US Weddings in October
  • And hopefully so much more 😊