The gorgeous weather has continued during the two weeks that we have been home from Japan and we have been loving it! I have tried to get the kids outside for some sort of play every single day. As my mom reminded me upon my return home, summer is a blessing in Washington. It only lasts about eight weeks and so our new house and the million projects we want to work on can wait until the rains return in the fall. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy the sun and the water with my kiddos. Although I only took my camera to a few of our outings, we have done a lot....the wading pool at the library park, sprinkler parties in our backyard, family bike rides, swimming up at Lake Samm, and afternoons playing at both Kandle and Stewart Heights Water Parks in Tacoma. We have spent some wonderful time with friends and family! Here's to another month or so of this kind of fun!
This was Logan's first time in the baby seat on the back of Ron's bike. He was totally unphased by it and just seemed to soak it all in.
Logan and Ron taking a trial spin out on the street before we ventured out on our bike ride.
The bike riding thing has really seemed to click for Lia this spring and she did a great job riding her bike all the way to her future elementary school. We have done this same route three times in the past two weeks and I'm super proud of her....especially since she has always been on the timid side when it comes to riding a bike. Here she is getting ready to take off!
Lia riding on the basketball courts behind her school.
We always take a break on our bike ride to play on Lia's future playground! It's hard to believe that she will be playing here on a daily basis in a matter of weeks! Yikes.
Logan LOVES the slides and practically throws himself down them. It nearly gives Ron and me a heart attack each time!
While my parents were out of town, I made two different trips to Lake Samm--one day with Megan and her kiddos and another day with Wendy and hers. Here is Lia with Kaylee and Emma, all buckled up and ready to make the trek up to Issy.
Lia swimming like a mermaid.
Logan working hard on the sidelines.
Lia and Kaylee enjoying the floatee.
The cutest water baby ever.
Besides returning to Kandle Water Park again this summer, we tried out another one in Tacoma called Stewart Heights. We loved it so much that we took Ron back with us two days later. This park has a lazy river and a water slide. I was amazed that Lia was brave enough to try out the slide. She loved it and went down it over and over again!
Look at that happy face!
Getting out for another go at it!
We took Lia's friend, Brian, with us the first time. He was a great, little swimming buddy for her which I really appreciated as I was busy chasing Logan around 99% if the time!
Logan preferred climbing the stairs on the play structure more than swimming in the water or floating on the lazy river.
On July 11th, we took a short, 40-minute train ride to Kyoto where we stayed in a ryokan for the next four nights. A ryokan is a traditional, Japanese-style hotel, but we made the mistake of staying in a ryokan-on-a-budget hotel which apparently is not the way to go. As a result, our room and bathroom were tiny and our futon beds on the floor were extremely uncomfortable. Oh well. You live and learn. Here is Ron sitting in the bedroom area of our ryokan (the futons come out of a closet only for sleeping time).
The bathroom was seriously as tiny as one that you would find on a small boat. The shower was so little and the ceiling so low that our heads almost touched the ceiling when we were in it. Here is a picture of Ron to prove that I am not exaggerating! :-)
After checking in to our hotel, we braved the heat yet again and walked back to the amazing, Kyoto Train Station to explore it for awhile. It is huge (15 floors) and has some beautiful architecture. Here I am on the sky bridge that spans the train station below and connects both sides of the 11th floor.
Ron in the train station.
We then walked a ways to explore two temples--Higashi Hongan-Ji and Nishi Hongan-Ji. They were both very large, wooden structures and quite impressive.
After our daily nap, we went back out to spend the evening in the cooler air. We first walked through the Nishiki Market--an open-air market full of stands selling all kinds of food items. Here is Ron standing at the entrance of one of the long, aisles in the market.
A local vendor selling seafood.
We then headed over to the Ponto-Cho district for a very pleasant, evening stroll This district ended up being my favorite area that we visited in all of Japan as it consists of narrow alleys full of quaint, wooden shops and restaurants lit with hanging, Japanese lanterns. It has a wonderful atmosphere at night. This picture really doesn't do it justice, but we loved this place! We found a fun restaurant to eat dinner in before walking out to the river's edge to watch a fire dancer perform.
We left our hotel room bright and early on the morning of July 12th to spend the next six hours touring three different temples/tourist attractions. After catching a bus at the Kyoto Train Station, we arrived at one of the most popular tourist sites in all of Japan--the Kinkaku-ji or golden temple. We got there before it opened, so we were one of the first tourists in that morning. This temple sits at the edge of a pond and is absolutely stunning!
Ron and me with the temple in the background.
We enjoyed wandering through the beautiful grounds before hopping on a bus and heading to our second destination.
Our second stop was at the Daitoku-ji--a compound of twenty or so Zen temples. After arriving, we learned that we had to pay to enter each temple, so we decided not to do this and instead spent an hour wandering the lovely grounds. Here I am standing on one of the many paths that led us through the gardens and woods.
Ron on a walkway leading to a temple behind him.
A pretty, little courtyard outside another temple.
We caught another bus to visit our third spot of the day: the Kiyomizu-dera temple. This temple is nestled in the hills and has stunning views of the surrounding hills and Kyoto below. We had to hike up a very long road in insane heat to get to this temple. Here we are walking up the road.
We made it! Ron and I at the top of the hill in front of the main entrance of the temple.
A picture of the beautiful, orange pagoda we could see off to the side of the temple once we reached the top.
Ron and I overlooking the view from the veranda outside the temple.
In Kyoto, tourists can pay to dress up like a Geisha and wander around the city. Here is a picture of one posing on the same veranda when we were there.
One of the many traditional buildings in the temple compound to explore.
A beautiful entryway on the grounds leading to the buildings behind it.
A picture of me posing with the actual temple in the background.
We wandered all over the grounds of this large temple compound and passed a fountain that people could drink from to ensure health and longevity.
After catching a bus back to our hotel for our afternoon nap, we ventured out again in the evening to explore our favorite Ponto-cho district and the neighboring district of Gion which is also known for its traditional, Japanese architecture and restaurants. Here is a picture of a crane we found standing in a river next to some beautiful restaurants. So Japanese!
Ron and I standing on the bridge above the river. The really exciting event of the evening was seeing FOUR maikos (geisha-in-training) walking quickly through these little alleyways on their way to appointments. There are less than 1,000 geishas/maikos left in Japan today, so it is very unusual to see one, but our guide book said that the best place in Kyoto to find them is in this Gion district at twilight. So Ron and I were so thrilled to have spotted four of them while wandering around these back alleyways.
Crossing the bridge over the Kamo-gawa River.
We found this tiny restaurant back in Ponto-cho and were able to eat Okonomiaka which is an egg dish that we cooked on a griddle right on our table! It was super fun to do and very delicious!
Eating my okonomiaka!
We caught a train on the morning of July 13th to an area outside of Kyoto called Arashiyama which is a cute, little town nestled in the mountains. We first visited a bamboo grove which I found fascinating as I have never seen one. We followed a paved path through the entire grove and enjoyed looking at the beautiful trees and being in the shade!
The stunning bamboo.
The tops of the bamboo trees.
After visiting the bamboo grove, we continued our walk through the town and over a river that had several of these traditional, Japanese boats on it.
We then entered the "monkey park" and began our 20 minute climb to the top of the hill. Here is Ron at the entrance of the park.
Climbing up some stairs before the trail took us into the woods.
At the top of the mountain, we found monkeys galore! It was so fun to just watch these monkeys interacting with each other--especially the mothers with their babies. These monkeys are so used to people being around them that they basically just ignored us the entire time.
Some monkeys on top of the building.
A monkey jumping off of the lookout binoculars.
A monkey and me.
Ron and me with Kyoto in the background. The view was really stunning up here!
We eventually wandered into the "monkey house" where the humans are behind the cages and the monkeys are on the outside. We bought a bag of peanuts to feed the monkeys and they were not shy!
A mommy-baby combo climbing the bars.
Feeding a monkey!
After visiting the monkeys, we travelled back to our hotel for our afternoon nap which turned out to be a good thing since we avoided a massive storm while we were safely tucked away in our room. The rain and lightening were so loud that it reminded me of a the crazy storms that we see at Priest Lake some times! At about five o'clock we headed back out to take the 30 minute train ride to Osaka. We spent the evening wandering through a main drag of this town called Dotombori. It is like the main strip of Las Vegas, but full of restaurants instead of casinos. The gaudy, obnoxious signs that hang above the restaurants are hilarious! Here is a picture of a sign with a moving crab on it!
Ron and I posing with a stuffed crab outside this restaurant. So funny!
A picture of an octopus above another restaurant.
A giant sushi roll above another restaurant.
And a massive, puffer fish hanging outside another restaurant. You get the idea.
Ron and the bustling Dotombori.
We eventually stopped at a little vendor next to the river to eat some takoyaki--the traditional, Japanese food that Osaka is famous for! It is a type of fried ball full with octopus chunks inside it. Since I am not a fan of the chewy texture of octopus or squid, I didn't love it, but felt that I had to try it while visiting Osaka.
We were lucky to find two, traditional Japanese boats full of boys and teenagers rowing up and down the river after we ate dinner. They were chanting and pounding on drums--so it was really cool to see see AND hear!
We also found some traditional, Japanese dancers performing on a bridge that evening. We stopped and watched them for some time before catching the train back to Kyoto.
July 14th was our final, full day in Japan! After a slow morning, we took the train back to Osaka to explore a district called American Mura where the Japanese teenagers hang out and where the majority of the stores sell American-style clothes. It made for some very entertaining people watching AND shopping as a lot of these stores have an incorrect idea of what American clothes look like. Here is Ron standing outside a t-shirt store full of American-style shirts.
In keeping up with the American theme, we actually stopped at McDonald's for lunch which was the only time we ate American food while on our trip!
I tried to snap a few pictures of some of the teenagers dressed in their outrageous outfits. Here is one dressed like Little Bo Peep.
And another teenage girl dressed like she walked straight out of make-believe land full of fairies and unicorns! I just couldn't get over the hilarious contrast between this girl and her goth friend covered in black!
After returning to our hotel room for our afternoon break and dodging another downpour, we went back out for our final evening in Japan. We took a train to a district in Kyoto called Shijo-Dori that was hosting a pre-party for their big festival (or matsori) that was starting on July 17th. According to Ron, most towns throw a big festival every year and it was a shame that we were missing Kyoto's by just a few days! But at least we were able to go out tonight and experience the pre-party. Some major streets in this district were closed so that people could walk up and down them. Food vendors had lined the streets and several of the floats from many of the districts in Kyoto had already arrived (for the parade a few days later) and were on display. Here is one of the many impressive floats we saw.
A picture showing how crowded the streets were that evening!
Ron and I posing in front of a smaller float on display on a little, side road. It was a fun way to spend our final evening in Japan!