Travel by Air

Getting to know Japan’s tallest peak: Mount Fuji

While we are definitely not traveling and not making travel plans since we don’t know exactly what the next few months will have in store, I’ve found comfort looking back at some of my favorite memories. While you may not be planning trips now, I hope this gives you inspiration for the future.

I keep going back to Japan in my mind, so I wanted to reflect on one of the many highlights: hiking Japan’s tallest mountain and enjoying a couple comfy nights in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) style hotel.

There is something so captivating about Mt. Fuji. Perhaps it’s how its reputation precedes itself. I’ve seen various artwork featuring Fuji before I ever saw a photograph, and then finally, the real thing. It’s the picture-book mountain – one lone peak with a perfectly sloped outline high into the sky. When I found out the trek to the top wasn’t technical and could be done in one day, I knew I wanted to experience the top of Japan!

I spent quite a bit of time researching how to get there and what to plan for, so wanted to share my experience!

Timing: We climbed Fuji via Yoshida trail at the very end of September. We chose this timing because it was off-season, so less crowded, but well before the first snow fall. The season is July 1-Sept. 10, so huts were closed but we still felt very safe on the mountain and saw a few other hikers. We completed this as a day hike over nine hours, though many chose to stay in one of the huts and complete the trek over two days.

Travel from Tokyo to Fuji: We flew into Tokyo from the U.S. and then immediately began the journey to a town called Fujikawaguchiko at the base of Fuji. We purchased Japan Rail passes in advance and found them to be well worth it throughout our travels in Japan. Here you can find details on getting to the Fuji area from Tokyo. For me, this journey was a jet-lagged blur! I was so grateful that our hotel picked us up from the Kawaguchiko train station even though we arrived after the usual shuttle time.

To get to the trail head (5th Station) of Fuji, our hotel helped us schedule a taxi, and it was about an hour ride. There is also a bus available which is more cost effective, but we wanted to leave early for a head start on the trail. We chose to do this during our first full day in Japan, so we were completely jet-lagged with a strange eating schedule. I would definitely not recommend doing that, but we were trying to squeeze the most out of the time we had in Japan.

The hike

As you can see above, this hike from 5th Station to the peak via Yoshida trail is quite the elevation gain over almost nine miles. In fact, this was the steepest hike in terms of elevation gain per mile that I’ve ever done. This hike was no joke.

The trails are nicely maintained and very clear. Yet, somehow we did manage to hike up the trail meant for vehicles which was incredibly steep. I’m blaming it on the jet lag and lack of breakfast. So please pay attention to the trail. If you are an experienced hiker in good shape and start early, you can definitely get this done in a one day without staying in the hut. The attitude got to me as we got closer to the peak, so please take your time, breath, eat and stay hydrated! I’ve been fine in higher altitudes, so I keep wondering if it’s related to how I was treating my body that day (jet-lagged, tired, eating snacks and not meals). Don’t do what i did!

It was a long day, but we made it to the peak and had enough energy left for a smiling photo opp!

We were lucky to hike on a clear day with amazing views of the blue sky and surrounding terrain. I’m glad we started early because clouds rolled in and erased that view on the descent. There is a separate ascending trail and descending trail which is great for hiker traffic (though the trail was not crowded at this time).

When we returned to the 5th Station, the shops and restaurants were now open and it was quite busy with tourists waiting for the clouds to show the view of Fuji’s perfect flat peak. We grabbed a bus ticket to return to Kawaguchiko station and then a shuttle back to our comfy hotel!

Matcha and strawberry soft serve at 5th Station

What to bring on the hike:

  • Day pack (mine is 30L, perfect size)
  • Hiking poles (these were SO helpful coming down the steep descent trail)
  • Sunscreen
  • Plenty of water, I had three liters
  • Snacks for energy (trail mix, protein bars, packed lunch, etc.)
  • Rain jacket, rain cover for pack
  • Warm gear (jacket, gloves, hat)
  • Good hiking boots and hiking socks

Mizno Hotel: Knowing we’d go for affordable Airbnbs or hotels the rest of our trip, I really wanted to splurge for a nice, but reasonable, place with a view of Fuji, and I was so thrilled by Mizno Hotel. The hotel itself is beautiful, service was lovely and we had so much fun trying fancy Japanese food at their restaurant for both dinner and breakfast. The Japanese breakfast with views of Fuji on the patio were extra special. We also took advantage of the private onsen (hot bath) which came with a bottle of sparkling wine. A very special treat!

18 things to eat, see & do in New Orleans

Can you believe it’s been five years since my first blog post about a road trip to New Orleans? Since then, I’ve been back twice. I wanted to update the blog with some of my favorite stops in one of my favorite cities in the world. 

St. Charles Street Car: ride the oldest continuously operated street car in the world and see views of historic New Orleans homes as you ride from St. Charles to Bourbon & Canal! 

Frozen Irish Coffee at Erin Rose: it’s as tasty as it sounds and I never miss this when visiting NOLA. If you get a large, it comes in a souvenir cup you can take home. 

Elizabeth’s: this is a cool spot in the Bywater neighborhood, and EVERYTHING on the brunch menu is delicious. Think Bloody Mary, chicken and waffles, French toast burrito, praline bacon and more!

Dr. Bob’s Art: after your stuff yourself at Elizabeth’s, walk down the street to find Dr. Bob’s for some cool local pieces large and small. I’ve taken one home and love it!

Cafe du Monde: seat yourself and enjoy iconic beignets and cafe au lait in the French Quarter. Cash only!

Walk along the Mississippi: after chowing down on French donuts, take a walk with views of North America’s second longest river.

Charbroiled Oysters at Drago’s: they taste like butter – yum! Great introduction to oysters for the newbies, too.

Pimm’s Cup at the Carousel Bar: head to the bar at Hotel Monteleone and wait to snag a spot at the carousel – it’s worth it! There are tons of fresh cocktail options, but I love the Pimm’s Cup because, when in NOLA…!

Hand grenade on Bourbon St: gotta try it at least once.

Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s: it tastes like punch and you get a pretty glass to take home.

Pool day at Ace Hotel: go during happy hour to enjoy discounted cocktails from the rooftop pool.

Jazz Brunch at Court of Two Sisters: make a reservation, and try to go earlier in the day to beat the crowd and spend less time in the buffet line and more time drinking mimosas.

Johnny’s Po Boys: you won’t regret chowing down on seafood gumbo and a fried shrimp po boy! Cash only if I remember correctly.

Swamp Tour: get out of the city and up close and personal with some ‘gators!

Umbrella Girl: see if you can find this famous street art by the mysterious Banksy.

Italian on Frenchmen at Adolfo’s: class it up and stuff your face with delicious pasta. Plenty of jazz bars down the road for after-dinner entertainment.

Eat a Praline: seriously, do it. And remember that Louisianians pronounce it with a soft “a” like prah-leene.

Willie Mae’s: I’ve never been here but have heard from a trusted source that this is the best fried chicken you will ever eat. Plus, I wanted to make this list an even number.

Germany Road Trip: Munich to Berlin and everywhere in between

After Spain, the next European country I had my eye on was Germany. I had dreams of biergartens, pretzels as big as my face and friendly locals. Last fall, that all came true, and then some, including moments of learning and self reflection about our world’s past and my first view of the Alps – stoic, icy mountains warmed by September’s fall foliage. I got some stormy and dreamy photographs that I wasn’t expecting – see below!

We traveled in planes, trains and automobiles from Munich to Berlin and back through charming Bavaria. For once, I wasn’t involved much in the planning and went along for the ride. I’ll briefly list our stops and share some photos in hopes of inspiring your adventure to Deutschland.

Munich

We purposely planned our trip around Oktoberfest (usually the last two weeks of September). If you’re into German beer and don’t mind a crowd – I highly recommend this experience. We came on a Thursday and started early so we a chance to walk through all the tents and sit down in a few to enjoy steins of beer. By 4-5 p.m. the tents were filled and it was hard to find a seat. While more than 7 million people visit Oktoberfest every year, this was hands down the best and quickest service we had in Germany. We ate the 1/2 roasted chicken and apple strudel which was fantastic, not to mention the liters and liters of German beer (Augustine was our favorite)!

The next day, we locked up our luggage at the train station as we enjoyed our last day in Munich. We stopped by the park where you can watch surfers. That’s right. There’s no beaches in Munich, but stop by the Englischer Garten where you can watch people expertly surf on the Eisbach river below the bridge!

Then, we took a train and bus to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. While the sobering experience is difficult to communicate here, it’s important to see and learn. Maintaining memorials and museums like this will help humankind avoid making the same terrible mistakes in the future.

Berlin

We rode the ICE (high speed train), a long but comfortable ride, from Munich to Berlin. I have family in Berlin that were kind enough to let us stay with them for a couple nights. With one full day in Berlin, it was a whirlwind of walking around the city, taking in the sights, history, people, and of course, stopping by a biergarten. I wish I had more time here to experience the city and really take in the sights.

Learning about the history of Berlin and experiencing what it is today had my head spinning with thoughts of what it must have been like. We visited the Topography of Terror (free museum on the former site of the SS Reich Main Security Office) where we read about the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. Additionally, we saw buildings damaged by bullet and bombs during WWII and walked along parts of the Berlin Wall. Our host lived in West Berlin before, during and after the wall came down. It was fascinating to hear her stories at breakfast and then walk along traces of the wall and the East Side Gallery that same afternoon.

Rothenberg

After a night of rest, we picked up a rental car and headed south for a Bavarian road trip on the autobahn. Our first stop was Rothenberg, a charming town that looks right out of a fairy tale. We walked along the ancient wall and towers that protected the town during medieval times. It almost didn’t seem real, like I was in a fabricated village of Disneyland. You’ll see the Disneyland theme return a few times while in Bavaria.

We spent a quiet morning walking around the town, admiring the adorable architecture and enjoying cappuccinos and schneeballen (snowballs in English). Schneeballen are a local treat of shortbread and covered with powered sugar, chocolate, coconut and various other combinations! Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of shortbread, and think they look better than they taste.

Hohenschwangau (specifically, Nuestchwanstein castle)

Here’s where the magic of Disney returns, but in real life. We drove to Hohenschwangau and hiked up to see Neuschwanstein castle twice – this is said to be the inspiration for Cinderella’s fictional home. I’ll let you read about the history from a different source. It’s a short, up-hill hike to see a view of the castle, and we kept going past the trail as far as we could until the clouds and rain rolled in an we could no longer see beyond the trees. The next morning, we hiked up in the dark to watch the sunrise over the castle. There were only a couple others out there, so I highly recommend going at this time to beat the crowd and take in the magical views.

After watching the sunrise, we strolled over to Alpsee lake where I became fascinated with photographing the reflective water and its feathered inhabitants.

We stayed at the Hotel Muller where we had a lovely suite with views of the castle. I also enjoyed a wine tasting here – I believe it was 30 something Euros for the basic tasting of 4-5 wines.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Hoellentalklamm or Hell Valley Gorge)

If the Neuschwanstein was Cinderella’s Castle, then Hoellentalklamm (Hell Valley Gorge) was Splash Mountain. For a small entrance fee, you can hike through this beautiful gorge, ducking through tunnels in the rock, watching your step over slippery surfaces and getting totally wet! The gorge-ous (get it?) hike was all worth it to be so close to nature. The trail ends at a hostel with views of the Alps.

We were starving after a full day of hiking and made our way to Gasthof Fraundorfer for Bavarian cuisine and what ended up to be our favorite beer of the trip, Konig Ludwig Weiss. 

Kehlsteinhause (The Eagle’s Nest)

View of the Eagle’s Nest from about 1/2 through our hike. See what I mean by a long, uphill walk?

One of our last adventures in Germany was the hike to The Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s mountain retreat which still stands on a peak in the Bavarian Alps. It is now a restaurant, and a tourist destination to take in beautiful views of the mountains. Weather was not great when we went, so I’m afraid I missed out on the view. However, I did not miss out on some exercise. There is a bus that will take you a majority of the way up the hill, and then an elevator that a bus ticket will get you a ride on. We skipped the bus and made the hike from the parking lot. It was a steep, uphill walk, but the path was paved and well maintained. If you like walking/hiking, I would recommend this to really take in the experience (and get it for free!). Just don’t be like me, as I wasn’t expecting a 4 hour hike like this and did not pack any water or snacks. 

Overall

I really enjoyed my time in Germany, and was surprised by all the hiking and views we squeezed in. It was also a great lesson in history regarding the Holocaust, WWII and Cold War.

I would come back for a few days at Oktoberfest for sure! I wish I had more time in the Alps, too, so I suppose I’ll have to return another time. We moved through town to town pretty quickly when I wish I could have slowed down a bit to explore deeper. I didn’t even mention the time we drove over the border to get coffee in Austria or stopped to visit Dirk Nowitzki’s hometown! The only downside was that this wasn’t a foodie destination for me, as I got tired of Bavarian food pretty quickly.

Have you ever been to Germany? What sights would you recommenced? Let me know in the comments!