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!!


  1. Great photos as a result of great courage! Way to go making memories for your children!

    1. Thank you! Just trying to follow in the footsteps of two great memory-makers! ;-)


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