Friday, April 20, 2018

Watching, Reading, Wearing, Eating

It’s been a crazy week with kids coughing all night and therefore not much sleep, plus entertaining them when they are just sick enough to stay home, so I haven’t written as much as I would have liked.  So I thought this was the perfect time to share a bullet point post about a lot of random things in order to catch you up on what I’m loving. As I was writing it, I decided to turn it into a more structured post series that I plan to do once a month (also, this way there will be at least one post a month!  Haha!), because there is a lot of good out there! Let’s talk about good stufff more, right?




Watching: given that I have a gaggle of children, it should come as no surprise that we watch a lot of kids’ movies. The movie lines we quote the most are from kids’ movies. So the two most recent movies I’ve watched are Ferdinand and Paddington 2. Both were such a sweet stories. Ferdinand, based on the book, is about a very large bull living in Spain who has the heart of a lamb — and doesn’t want to be a fighting bull. It was funny and had a good point, and having lived in Spain for three years, I loved seeing the scenery (animated, but still very familiar!).  The soundtrack is also enjoyable and kid-friendly.



I was kind of surprised by how much I enjoyed Paddington 2.  I don’t remember loving the first one as much, but this was everything a kids’ movie should be, plus seeing Hugh Grant play a villain was very fun.


Also, less talked about and not a kids’ movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas. Matt took me to see this a few months ago even though I was kind of, “Ummm... I don’t know...” and I ended up really enjoying it!  I wish I could write fiction the way Charles Dickens did! For now, though, it seems like God has given me enough craziness to fill a few non-fiction books. But anyway, it’s available for rent or purchase at home now, and I highly recommend this movie!


Reading: my reading for the year got off to kind of a slower start than I’d hoped, but then I saw a blog post (that I can’t find now) recommending The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Why didn’t I read this book sooner?! I absolutely loved it!!  It was funny and poignant, an historical fiction piece about World War II and just after, which I love reading about because the tenacity and ingenuity of people who lived through it always inspires me. I just read that it’s a soon-to-be-released movie, and I’m not sure how I feel about that… It feels like one of those things that shouldn’t be done.


After that, my reading picked up, and I’ve already completed eight books and read-aloud six(-and-a-half) to my younger kids, so I’m feeling confident about one of the goals I set for the year.  I started a few books that I didn’t finish, but I do not feel bad about that after reading this post Modern Mrs. Darcy. And I have not forgotten about my "expat experience” project and have a couple upcoming posts to that end.  I’ve read some fantastic books recently that I canNOT WAIT to tell you more about!  There’s just a lot of reading to do for it, and then deciding which books to talk about per post.  


But on that note, may I recommend Jon Acuff’s Finish?  This was a sort of “self-help” book, but even if you’re one of those people who has all your stuff together and you finish every goal you set, there’s something in it for you.  Acuff is so funny and honest and the advice so good, I’m sure everyone could benefit from reading it.



Wearing: most notably, I’m NOT wearing everything I talked about in this post. Winter is finally, maybe, gone. *all fingers and toes crossed*  I know we haven’t gotten snowstorms this week like some in the States (though much of Korea still got snow in March), but when you have winds that blow down from Siberia all winter… trust me, you’re very glad to see it go. I’ve worn jeans that actually showed a little of my ankle with the sneakers I wore (rather than the tights and boots I’d been wearing them with). Can you believe it?!

Also, speaking of these jeans.... Funny story, I ordered these from Old Navy a year ago, and I just wasn’t completely sure I loved them. So I asked Matt to send them back for me (*insert long, convoluted story about the sad state of affairs that is our mail system here*). Anyway. Last fall, I was complaining to Matt about how we apparently couldn’t even return things by mail here because I’d never been refunded, when he got a sheepish look on his face and said, “Oh.... ummm... that might have something to do with me.” Apparently he forgot to ever stick them in the mail! So they were way past the return period. I decided to try them again since the only other thing would be to donate, and I realized it was true love. They are “eco-friendly” made out of partially recycled materials and while I wasn’t sure about them because they have a lot of stretch and I can pull them off without undoing them even though they technically “fit”. But that made them great for layering this winter! And with a belt, it’s not a problem. 

They pass my test of being able to run after kids and sit crisscross-applesauce with flying colors, plus are super comfortable and the perfect shade. I could write a whole post on the perfect color of jeans, but long story short, I’ve realized that both light and very dark washes on jeans are problematic. Medium like these are ideal.


Eating: okay, let’s talk sloppy joes: do you love them or do they conjure up images of smelly school cafeterias and “mystery meat”? I wasn’t sure how I felt, but I kept seeing this recipe from Minimalist Baker using lentils instead of meat pop up on my Pinterest suggestions. I finally decided to try, despite some misgivings voiced (loudly) by my husband. And guess what? We all loved it!  I’ve had to double the recipe so that there are leftovers (yes, sometimes I love leftovers!) They are super flavorful and healthy; I highly recommend!!




So, your turn now!  Please share what you are watching, reading, wearing, and eating — basically, anything you’re loving right now!


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Hell, High Water, and Home

I know this isn’t technically a great picture.  It’s a little blurry and shows the backs of two of my kids, and you can’t even see Annalee.  

To me, though, it’s a sort of Norman Rockwell painting.  Yes, I stand by that, my out-of-focus mirror selfie being a masterpiece for what it conveys.  See how the doors are still opening?  See the number 13 on the floor indicator?  See, most importantly, that piece of Lilly’s wide smile?  I would call this “Home At Last.”

If Smell-o-vision existed, you would be getting a heady aroma of slightly soured grape juice mixed with a cereal bar and a piece of chocolate muffin, plus this weird cream cheese thing I’d bought at the supermarket the night before.  I was wearing this blend all over but with a particularly heavy concentration of it in my lap.  It was… intoxicating… in a knock-you-over, shivery kind of way.   

Our spring break trip to Fukuoka was almost perfect. (parts 1, 2, and 3 in case you missed them) A couple toddler tantrums, a few moments of “What are we eating?”, a definite feeling of exhaustion by our last day aside, we had a great time.  On the bus to the ferry terminal early the morning of our departure, I felt pangs of regret about all I hadn’t gotten to see.  I wished our trip could have been longer.  But at least it was Friday, and we could look forward to a weekend with Matt.

Check-in and boarding went smoothly, and before we knew it, we were pulling out of the harbor.  I passed out the food I’d purchased the night before to the kids and hooked up to the boat’s WiFi so that I could text Matt that we were safely on our way.  

The seats on the ferry come equipped with seat belts.  On the way over, I thought it was a little strange because the movement really wasn’t that significant, comparable to that of a train.  Today, though, I was grateful for them.  The waves were much rougher, forming sharp, tall peaks and valleys that we crashed over, being slammed side to side as if we were in a wild amusement park ride.  I texted Matt, “Waves are really rough, kinda scary.”

After a few minutes, a ferry attendant (let's just call her a ferry fairy) came around with plastic bags that contained sick bags.  I was a little puzzled because I’d noticed The Bags tucked into the seat pockets on the way over, just like on a plane.  Why was she passing out more?

The woman spoke to me in Japanese, but thanks to my expertise in Charades and interpretive dance, I indicated we would be fine with The Bags we already had.  She said something that apparently meant, “Well, I’ll leave one for you just in case” and dropped it in my lap with a smile.

I heard a baby further up from us coughing then crying, then saw two ferry fairies stumble-race to help.  They had lots of The Bags, and had also produced lots of wipes.  As the baby wailed, they cleaned and scrubbed with smiles on their faces that rivaled Snow White and Cinderella.  I was amazed… and also starting to feel queasy myself.  

A few minutes later, Annalee said she needed to go potty.  I inwardly groaned because a) bathrooms on trains, planes, and boats are always just a little gross, and b) it was going to be no joke getting there.  We were in the last row of the cabin, and the bathroom was at the front.  Now, I’ve traveled quite a bit and experienced some strong turbulence on planes. (By the way, is it just me, or does the worst flight turbulence only hit when you’re in the bathroom, usually mid-business?) This was worse.  

In fact, this was more like The Perfect Storm, minus any water actually being in the cabin (though it was pouring down the outside of the windows).  Walking in a straight line was absolutely impossible; we stumbled from side to side, gripping the handles on the backs of the seats.  We somehow made it there in one piece, but Annalee decided she didn’t need to go after all, so we staggered back down the aisle into our seats.  I was just getting re-situated when it happened: my darling toddler turned into a fountain of purple, somewhat chunky fluid.  There was no warning, so I didn’t even have time to whip out The Bag, but I grabbed for it now as there was seemingly no end to this fountain.  A few drops went in, but most of it pooled on my lap.  Had I really given her this much fluid already?  What was I thinking?!

On that note, what was I thinking when I’d purchased a bottled “smoothie” for my own breakfast?!  I don’t love smoothies even when I’m on terra firma, and have never felt particularly good after having one for breakfast.  My stomach likes solid things like oatmeal or peanut butter toast for breakfast, and now I could feel the smoothie sloshing around.  I felt worse and worse.

But just then the ferry fairies reappeared just then and started wiping me, Annalee, the seat, and the aisle down.  I smiled gratefully — even as I gritted my teeth to keep my disgruntled smoothie down.  These women were saints.  How much were they paid? I wondered.  They should really ask for a raise.  Skyler and Lilly were also doing what they could to help, but since I was worried that if they started up, I wouldn’t have a prayer of holding onto my breakfast, I told them to just sit tight and kept asking Wyatt if he felt okay.  

Thankfully, since she was overtired anyway, Annalee soon fell asleep.  Wyatt was a complete champ; not only did he not throw up, he also somehow managed to amuse himself for two-and-a-half hours just by looking out the window at waves.  Skyler and Lilly were sitting in front of me.  I kept asking them if they were okay (and also handed them some of the bags the ferry fairies had given me), and they kept it together even if they were at least as miserable as I was.

One of my big takeaways from college has to do with the Zoroastrians.  They believe in seven levels of heaven and hell.  I can’t remember the hallmarks of highest heaven, but the seventh hell is a place of never-ending vomit.  The cabin of the ferry was at least at level five — maybe not everyone was continuously upchucking, but a lot of people were and the rest of us were almost in tears trying not to.

At one point, the ferry fairies came with Febreeze and sprayed me down with it.  You know you smell bad when people are actually spraying you with room freshener.  Finally, I heard Wyatt say, “There’s Korea!  We’re almost home!”  I was so happy, I wanted to just hug everyone.  We had made it.  

It’s funny how those three hours affected us.  I loved our time in Japan and don’t regret it, but I have zero desire to go anywhere on the water.  There’s a sight-seeing boat that leaves from very close to our apartment building, and every time we watch it heading out, we say, “Those poor, poor people.”  And then we shudder a little.

But to me, it was also a good reminder, which is why I'm sharing this story and picture.  When we look at other people’s lives, it’s easy to only see beauty and perfection and feel like we’re coming up short.  Some people deliberately hide the ugly or “curate” (that word everyone loves these days), but I don't want to do that.  I’ll show you the cherry blossoms and breath-taking views and pieces of a stunning culture, but I’ll also show you the picture where I’m covered in someone else’s partially-digested breakfast.  I want to remember (and remind) that for all the goodness in life, there’s mess and struggles we can’t see and don’t talk about.  

The flip side of that is that it’s sometimes I hone in on the negative and forget all the good that happened.  But our time in Japan was fantastic, and no way will I let three miserable hours change that.  

And most of all, this picture reminds me that travel is amazing, eye-opening, and invaluable, but really truly?  There’s no place like home.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Spring Break: Fukuoka (part 3)

“Where are you from?” the kindly-faced Japanese woman was asking my kids.


“We’re from America,” Wyatt, my not-shy-at-all son, replied.  “Well, they are anyway,” he added, pointing at his sisters and me.  “I’m from here, Japan.”  


To say we were enjoying our three-day getaway to Fukuoka might be an understatement. Wyatt was ready to move in.  Unfortunately, though, it was our last full day in the country; the next day we were leaving bright and early on the ferry to return to our home in Korea.  


There was so much that I wanted to see and do in and around Fukuoka, but my kids were showing signs of fatigue, especially after staying up too late the previous night and waking at their usual time.  I might have wanted to travel out to the giant reclining wooden Buddha — actually, my wildest idea was to zip up to Nagasaki (a 2 hour train ride each way) for the day.  But I decided to play it safe.  This trip was for the kids.  


“What do you want to do today?” I asked them as we sat at breakfast (yes, McDonald’s again.  Don’t judge.).  


The votes were almost unanimous (except Skyler, who loved my Nagasaki idea) to return to Ohori Park.  Why? So they could ride the swan boats.  “Fine,” I said, hoping that while we were there we could also visit the traditional Japanese garden.  Afterwards I would see how everyone was doing, and once we saw how much time and energy we had left, we could decide from there what we’d do with the rest of the day.  


Truth be told, I love a good park like Ohori Park.  I’ve been to cities like Paris, San Francisco, and New York, and I can tell you for sure there is no better place to soak in the local culture and people-watch.  Give me Central Park any day over the museums.  


We got to the boathouse at Ohori and had to wait about 30 minutes for a swan boat big enough for all of us.  Actually, the one we rode was tied to the dock the whole time, so I’m still a bit puzzled as to why we had to wait — did the swan need rest?!?  But it gave us time to relax and look at the crowds that had flooded the park since it was another perfect spring day.  We finally got out on the water an enjoyed more views, like that of a man walking seven dogs that looked like milky white wolves — and then almost getting pulled into the water by them.

 Afterward, we walked across the little strip of land along the midsection of the water, over bridges and through trees, 

to the traditional garden.  The woman working the ticket booth was very kind and gave our kids origami cranes and fish food with our tickets.  The younger kids loved feeding the koi, though I kept having to remind them that this was supposed to be a tranquil place for quiet reflection. 

 “Tranquil” and “quiet” are not words my kids do particularly well anyway, especially when excited about the beautiful koi.

By the time we were done with the garden and had walked back to the subway, my kids were starving.  We decided to return to Lily Valley because it was only one stop away.  Unfortunately, their selections were more limited that day, maybe because we were on the tail end of the lunch rush.  But what we had was still delicious.  
We then went to Kawabatadori Shopping Street. 


We had walked through the Tenjin Underground Shopping Center several times while transferring subways, but it seemed a little pricey for what we wanted to spend, and also not really good for souvenirs.  Kawabatadori was just what I was looking for.  I found artwork and cards that I liked, and lots of traditional Japanese fabric I wanted, but since I don’t have my sewing machine here, I reluctantly decided against it.


 We walked along the canal again, this time in the other direction.  

By then, it was early evening, so we picked up delicious vegan bento boxes from Evah Dining in Riverain Mall.  The boxes were full of delicious food that everyone loved, and we were completely full by the time we had finished them — in our hotel room. 


Skyler still wanted to do shopping, and I let her head out alone to head to Hakata Station.  

My younger kids were completely done by this point.  Annalee was lying on the floor of the subway station in protest.  But the wonderful thing about Japan is that it feels very safe.  I can’t think of many countries (besides Japan and here, Korea) where I would feel comfortable sending my fifteen-year-old off on a subway by herself.  She showed up at our hotel about an hour later with a scarf she’d picked out.  


I managed to get the kids to bed early — they were too exhausted to protest — then ran to the supermarket next door while Skyler kept an eye on the sleepyheads, and picked up breakfast items for the trip home.  


Lying in bed, as tired as I was, I felt a little jittery, doing a mental inventory to make sure I had everything.  Then my mind drifted to the kids — who were honest-to-goodness snoring around me (except Skyler, she would like me to point out!).  Maybe it had been a bit crazy to take on this adventure, but all in all it had been wonderful.  Sure, there had been some protests and, okay, one full-on, kicking-her-shoe-off tantrum when Annalee was overtired.  But I’d gotten to show the kids a little bit more of this great big beautiful world.  The fact that there was more to see and we didn’t think we were ready to go home was a sign of success.  We’d made memories and had some great belly laughs.  I decided, as I dozed off, if that’s what crazy looks like, well, I’ll take it.


If you’re going:

— The swan boats at Ohori Park vary in price slightly depending on the size you get, but the one that fit all five of us was, if I remember correctly (I forgot to write it down) 1200 yen for thirty minutes.


— Kawabatadori Shopping Street is just outside the Nakasu-Kawabata subway station on the Kuko line, one stop from Tenjin station.  Riverain Mall is just across the street.  The shopping street is covered, which would make it a good choice for inclement weather.


— Evah Dining (the one we went to) is on the ground floor of the Riverain Mall.  They had several bento boxes — all vegan — to choose from, very reasonably priced (450-700 yen).  There was a small sitting area and cafe also.  We selected a few of the boxes and loved all of it.  If I’d found it earlier, I think we would have bought a bunch of these to have on hand in our fridge rather than the snacks we kept buying. 


— One really important piece of information I forgot to include on the first post about this trip: there is NO INTERNATIONAL ATM in the Hakata ferry terminal. They do have a currency exchange counter. However, I’d only brought about $50 worth of won, and I wasn’t sure how far that would go. It added a bit of stress, and when I went looking for an international ATM near our hotel, the bank across the street didn’t have one either. I finally found one in a convenience store (which is, I believe, where most are located).  


— Along these lines, I was a little surprised at how few places took credit cards. We do not use our cards to carry balances, but especially when traveling, I prefer them over carrying around wads of cash.  So bear that in mind; I wish someone had told me this before I went.

Spring Break: Fukuoka (part 2)

Enchanting.  That is how I would describe Nokonoshima Island if I had to pick just one word for it.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  

It might have been a little crazy to take four kids by ferry to Fukuoka from Busan alone, but our first day of travel and seeing Ohori Park had gone overall very well.  They were up early the next day, though getting out the door always seems to take longer than it should.  I’d seen a sign for a McDonald’s nearby and while some might judge this choice, I knew the kids could get lots of pancakes and food they loved for not much money, and I really wanted full bellies before we started the day’s excursion.  They were happy.  It got the job done!  (Lesson #1 for traveling with kids: if you keep them well-fed, they’ll be 1000 times easier to deal with.)
Nokonoshima Island was at the top of most lists of things to do in Fukuoka, so after breakfast, I went to the concierge desk of our hotel and was given extensive directions for how to get there.  The good news: there was a bus stop right across the street where we soon caught a bus for the thirty-minute drive to the ferry terminal (different from the Hakata International Ferry Terminal we’d arrived at the day before).  The bad news: we arrived about ten minutes after the ferry left, so we had to wait almost a full hour before the next one departed.  I stopped at the little convenience store in the terminal to buy snacks (see Lesson #1 above) since by this time it was getting close to lunch, and I wasn’t sure what options were available on the island.  

It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, and as we crossed the water, the views alone were worth the price of the ferry ticket. 

We arrived in the charming little port area, and immediately, all the passengers went over to line up for the buses.  I’d read something about walking, and tend to be deterred by crowds, so we began hiking up the hill. We passed a Buddhist temple with picturesque cherry trees blooming around it,
 and a little further up we found an old kiln from where ceramic pottery used to be made.  We kept walking for about twenty minutes, but my kids were quickly becoming less enthusiastic about my hiking goals.  When we came upon a bus stop, we decided to go that route.  

Within ten minutes a bus arrived, and though we had to stand shoulder-to-shoulder (or more accurately, the awkward rear-end-to-face), I was glad we hadn’t tried to walk because it would have been tough with the younger members of our group.  We passed quaint farms with rustic stone buildings, orange groves nestled against the hills, and of course, blossoming cherry trees everywhere.  My only regret is that I wasn’t able to take any pictures because of how many people were around me.  Every now and then we’d get a glimpse of the hill descending to the ocean.

The bus stopped at Nokonishima Island Flower Park.  I think that there is a small area you can enter without a fee, but we went ahead and bought tickets.  At first I felt like the price was a little steep (2800 yen for all of us, or roughly $26 US), but it was so beautiful once we went in, I quickly changed my mind.  Flowers were EVERYWHERE!!!  
It was like spring had suddenly exploded as I walked through the gate, almost a shock after another bitterly cold Korean winter.  I wanted to skip around barefoot, maybe turn some cartwheels, but decided not to quite so thoroughly humiliate my kids.  We ate the snacks we’d brought (and, sigh, bought more), then started walking through the park.  

There were sweeping vistas of the water and several cherry trees in bloom.  

We found a ground sleds for lack of a better word — wooden sleds that ran down the hill on ropes —but decided to come back to it later because there were so many people already there.  Strolling through the gardens, we feasted our eyes on tulips, pansies of every color, gold and orange poppies, and daffodils.  

Further up the path, there were tall swings that the kids all enjoyed for quite a while.  

We found a petting zoo with bunnies and goats 
and then a little village area with a cafe, udon noodle shop where we ate our lunch (I’m telling you, kids are bottomless pits!), a model of a traditional Japanese home, and a couple small souvenir shops. The younger kids played on the little playground while the older two and I tried walking on stilts. 
By the time we got back to the ground sleds, no one was there (this was around 3:30), so my kids — okay, and me too — enjoyed sliding on them over and over.  
At the bottom, there is a rubber mat to stop the sled, and a net fence to catch you in case the mat fails.  You can smell hot rubber once you stop, but it’s part of the thrill.  I kept thinking, This would not be allowed in the States.  Too many lawsuits have made playgrounds frankly a lot less fun.  Even in Korea, based on my experience sledding this past winter, I couldn’t imagine a free-for-all quite like this — they’d probably at least make you wear a helmet and have someone with a megaphone telling you when you could go.  Here, though, it was a little crazy and a WHOLE LOT of fun.

It seemed that there was so much more of the island that we didn’t see.  Unfortunately, it was time to go because we knew it was quite a trek back to the city.  
The ferry runs twice an hour by that point in the day, so we didn’t have to wait long, but it still took an hour to get back to our hotel.  After a bit of clean-up, we headed to dinner at Milan Indian Restaurant.   (Indian food is almost always vegetarian-friendly, and I LOVE it.) The food was delicious and reasonably priced, and the wait staff was very attentive.  We should probably have gone straight back to the hotel at that point, because it was already almost the younger kids’ bedtime, but instead we headed to Canal City shopping area to see the fountains lit up at night.  The hotel had given us a free phone to use that had a maps feature; unfortunately, it didn’t always give the best directions and I ended up walking in circles for a while before figuring things out.  It was super fun to walk past the same group of expat businessmen three times while my younger kids cried, “MOMMMY!  WE ALREADY WENT THIS WAY!” I’m pretty sure I heard laughter, and it was probably deserved.  But we got a couple cute pictures, at least.  Who wore it better?  ;-)

By the time we made it back to the room, my two youngest were beside themselves from exhaustion.  I managed to get them into bed, hoping and praying they’d sleep late… but unfortunately, their internal alarm clocks went off at the usual ridiculously early hour, and we were up, ready for our last full day in Japan.  (To be continued…)

If you’re going:

— Buses 300, 301, and 302 travel from the Tenjin area to the ferry terminal for Nokonoshima. It was about 430 yen per adult (half that per child) to ride from our hotel at Watanabe-dori to the ferry and took roughly thirty minutes.  

— The ferry takes ten minutes leaves once an hour (a quarter past) most of the day, except that from 6-8 am, and 5-7 pm, it leaves twice an hour (:15 and :45).  I recommend not getting there too close to the departure time, especially if the weather is good or it’s a weekend or a holiday.  On the day we went, most people were lined up twenty-five minutes before the departure, and the line was quite long by the time we boarded.  I’m not sure that the people at the end of it made it on.  From Nokonoshima, it leaves at the top of the hour, and at :25 during the afore-mentioned periods.

— If you're traveling with children, I recommend taking the bus once you reach the island.  Not only is it quite a hike to the flower park, you will be on a narrow, twisty road that you have to share with vehicles.  If you do not have children with you, there was a bike rental shop, though by the time we reached it, there weren't many options, and none were for kids.  If you do choose to rent bikes, bear in mind that most of the island is quite hilly.  

Monday, April 2, 2018

Spring Break: Fukuoka (part 1)

 I have a tendency to get in over my head before it sinks in what I’m doing.  For instance, I say “Sure!” when my one of my kids asks if she can invite So-and-so to a birthday party, and suddenly I’m hosting a party for 21 kids ages 3-9 while my husband’s out of town for work.  Or, I can’t think of an answer to the question “Why not?” until I’m on the plane flying over the Atlantic with a three-year-old and a newborn.  Or, I so badly want to see my sister that I pack five kids into the car for a 2,500 mile road trip before I can talk myself out of it.

This was sort of the case with our spring break.  I knew Matt would not be able to join me, but I wanted to take the kids somewhere.  Well, Skyler (my eldest-at-home) would not have let me do anything else, I think.  “We’ve lived in Korea for a year-and-a-half!” she said over and over. “And we haven’t even been to China or Japan!  I mean, they're right next door!”  She sort of had a point.  I mean, it wasn’t “neighbors” like I could hop across the border to borrow some eggs.  But, on a clear day, we can see islands that are part of Japan from our apartment.


I started looking into the possibilities back in January.  At first I thought Beijing — but visas were expensive and an added hassle — and then maybe Hong Kong — no visas required but the itineraries weren’t great.  I tried to think about what I would and wouldn’t be able to manage and thought Tokyo would be perfect, especially since we have wonderful friends who live a couple hours from it, but I could not find a hotel; everything was booked.  


“How about the ferry to Fukuoka?” Matt suggested as I complained to him about the situation a month ago.  I started thinking about it.  The ferry is a three-hour trip.  It was less than half the price of flying anywhere.  It was Japan (another country!), and in fact, it looked like there were some good things to see.  In almost no time, I’d booked ferry tickets and a hotel room, and I told the kids: three days in Fukuoka for spring break.  


This didn’t seem too crazy to me — until the day before.  Me and four kids in a city where English is not the first language.  What would we eat (being vegetarians)?  How easy was it to get around?  Panic began to set in.  What had I gotten myself into?


Our ferry left at 8 in the morning and arrived in Fukuoka just after 11.  

After going through customs and figuring out the bus, we got to our hotel at about 12:30 but couldn’t check in till 2.  They were happy to hold our baggage, though, while we went to get lunch.


Lunch.  Hmmm.  I’d looked up vegetarian dining in Fukuoka while planning our trip, but none of the restaurants were that close to the hotel.  The kids ate the breakfast I’d packed while on board the ferry, but now they were starving and in no mood to traipse around the city until they had more food in them.  We perused the menus of several restaurants before deciding to “just go to one and eat whatever.”  


The host graciously brought a menu in English, and I ordered what I understood to be cheese pizza, tofu soup, and grilled cheese.  The waitress came back a few minutes later with her phone open to a translation app that said something about the pizza having “viscera.”  Was that okay? she wanted to know.  An image of my kids being served a, er, viscera pizza flashed through my head.  Ah, no.  Instead, I ordered what I hoped was an omelet.  The omelet was interesting, as it was several thin layers of cooked egg wrapped around… cod roe.  Still not exactly what I’d had in mind, but we managed.  

Fortunately, it was then time to check into our hotel, the Hotel New Otani Hakata.  It was very nice and comfortable, and the kids enjoyed their swag bags with slippers, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and towels.  

We rested and plotted our next moves then headed out to Ohori Park and the old Fukuoka Castle.  The cherry blossoms were in full bloom at this point (please note: Busan also has amazing cherry blossoms, perhaps some of the best in the world, but they hadn’t started yet), and we were absolutely taken by the beauty of the simple architecture of the castle ruins surrounded by the glory of the cherry trees.  


It was everything we hoped it would be.  


We stopped for crepes at the street food stall,

 but the kids were still hungry.  (Feeding kids any old time is serious business.  Feeding them when you’re traveling is practically an Olympic sport.). So we decided to find one of the vegetarian restaurants and have dinner.  I’d marked Lily Valley on the map I had, but it took standing outside one of the subway exits staring at the map till someone came over and asked if I needed help (“What ever made you think I needed help?!?”) before I figured out how to get there.  


But we were in for such a pleasant surprise upon our arrival.  The restaurant was small and cozy with minimalist decor, and the food, while simple and unfussy, was absolutely delicious.  The kids ate their fill of smashed avocado and cheese sandwiches, while Skyler and I shared a delicious grilled vegetable sandwich

 drizzled with peanut sauce and a salad of mixed greens, snow peas, avocados, baby potatoes, and sunflower seeds tossed in a light basil dressing. 

It was all just perfect, and the chef was delighted by how much we enjoyed the meal.  

By now the kids were pretty tired, having started the day early, so we headed back to the hotel and turned in for the night.  More adventures were coming the next day. (To be continued...)



If you’re going:


—The ferry we took was the JR Beetle.  We purchased our tickets through AFerry.  IMPORTANT: on the Busan side, our fuel charges (which are not included in the initial online purchase of the tickets) had to be paid in cash.  For our five tickets, the total was 57,000 won (roughly $50).  For the return (March 2018), the surcharge was 1,000 yen per ticket.  I’ve read that this can be paid by credit card, but I completely forgot about that at the time, so I did not test it.  But you need to have at least 500 yen per traveler in cash for the “terminal usage” fee.  I had read that food could be purchased on board, but I took food and am glad I did as I did not see them offering any except coffee on the way to Fukuoka.  The way home… no one wanted food.  That’s a separate post. ;-)


— I highly recommend the Hotel New Otani Hakata.  The staff was very gracious and kind, even though it was more of an upscale hotel than we usually stay in.  It was very kid-friendly, and I love that.  


— We booked through Agoda.  I have used them for rooms we stayed in twice and used them for a reservation I’ve had to cancel one other time.  Cancellations and changes can be made easily through them, so I will use them for future reservations, I think.


— We took public transport everywhere.  This first day, we used only the subway.  We bought one-day passes which were 640 yen per person.  Figuring up how much fares would have been if we’d bought them separately, I think this definitely paid for itself.  


— Lily Valley is a little tricky to find.  From the Akasaka subway station, take exit five.  At the top of the stairs, turn left and cross the street by the Starbucks.  The next street you get to is a narrow, one-way.  Turn left there and walk about a block, and it will be on your right.  Worth it!!