08th Dec 2010

Christmas Cookie Baking Blitz 2010

Tonight it begins. Christmas cookies. Lots of them. In my tiny little Japanese oven. Photos and ranting to follow. Maybe.

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03rd May 2010

No excuses

Now that I am home, jobless and really only busy planning the wedding, I have no excuses to not keep up with my blog.

I will hopefully, at some point, go back and actually write down some thoughts about my seven months of traveling in Asia and two months in England. But for now, I can promise short snippets of wedding planning and boring chatter about chair types, linens, shoes and food selection. Oh and updates on any changes to the volcano in Iceland, which may or may not prevent my future-in-laws and future husband from attending the wedding. The jury is still out on whether a skype wedding would be legal in the state of Texas.

Today I’m off to the exciting world of Hobby Lobby. The name makes it sound like fun. We shall see.

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08th Jan 2010

Bangkok vacation

Tony and I are in Bangkok enjoying a bit of a holiday from the Indian leg of our trip. We’d planned on coming here for job fairs, but then signed contracts for a school in Japan before the fair started. So, since the tickets and hotel were already booked we decided to come visit and hang out with the many friends we had who were also coming to Bangkok.

We’ve both been reminded of how much we love Bangkok, its food, its shopping, Khao San Road, the sky train and the people. My Delhi induced bronchitis is finally clearing up. We’ve been to a couple tailors and loads of street food stalls.

Today we’re going to explore our current neighborhood before moving to Khao San Road tomorrow. That is as soon as the Longhorns championship attempt finishes. Eeek. Hook ’em Horns! I’m off to find some spring rolls, mmm.

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18th Dec 2009

Name change and a general assessment

After speaking to my mom about how I’m the world’s worst blogger and never update my site, I basically summed up the last six months of travel with one phrase “lots of people, good food”.

Tomorrow we leave for Rajasthan. It is supposed to be one of the main tourist destinations of India, so I assume my new tag line will ring true.

I’ll try to update more soon and tell you about the various places we’ve been over these previous months.

For now here’s a sneak preview:
China: obscene numbers of people; ridiculously good food
Tibet: lovely (though not massive numbers of) people; lovely (though little variety in the) food
Kathmandu: thousands of tourists and locals; really delicious food
Everest/Annapurna treks: not too many people; not very good food
India:obscene numbers of people; ridiculously good food

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12th Nov 2009

Exploring Delhi, both old and new

Yeah, I know, I’ve skipped a country. Maybe someday I’ll write about waking up at 5am to spend 8 hours of everyday walking, then going to sleep at 7pm, not eating meat nor drinking coffee or alcohol for 21 days and liking it, but not today.

We’ve been in India for almost a week. We arrived in Delhi last Friday and have been staying with a friend from South America and MSU in the lovely and quiet embassy district of New Delhi. You can get almost anything here: clothes, food, English-language books, dengue. We’ve spent a bit of our time exploring the city and much of it enjoying the quiet existence that is life in Chanakapuri (the embassy area). Stacy took us into the American Community Center, which is run by the US embassy, last Friday for happy hour. At the embassy you can get $2 beers, good coffee, an American style breakfast, and drinkable tap water. Though I don’t know that I’d go for those all at once. Of course, not just anyone can go into the center, you have to be a member, of which we are not. This is probably good news or we’d never see any of Delhi other than what lies between Stacy’s house and the embassy. It’s only two blocks, but to be fair you can see monkeys, huge birds and wild dogs along the way, so there is something.

We’ve also seen a few of the actual tourist attractions around the city. We hired a car for half a day and drove around to some of the older sights in the city. Yesterday, we ventured into Old Delhi to see the Red Fort and a few other places in the area. Being in New Delhi, Tony and I both felt like things were so much more relaxed. The traffic is nothing in comparison to the madness that exists on Chinese roads, and while you do see a fair amount of begging and poverty I hadn’t yet been overwhelmed. If you’re looking to be overwhelmed, just head to Old Delhi.

Old Delhi is loud, chaotic and crowded. As it is the old center of Delhi there are still some amazing buildings from the Mughal empire and more. Of course, in order to see these you have to get past the trash, the groping men, the cars, bikes and motorcycles and the smells. My game for the day was “Name that smell.” Tony didn’t want to play and came up with his own game “Find the woman in Old Delhi”. There were a surprisingly small number of women in the city. I wasn’t so excited with Old Delhi after yesterday and still feel a bit too stressed when we are there. Though today we did go back to go on a walking tour with a guide from Salaam Baalak Trust. More on them next.

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21st Oct 2009


Tibet proved to be as impressive and confusing as I had thought that it might be. Because of this, I have found it really difficult to express my feelings about the area, other than to say that it is beautiful and the people are lovely. But here goes . . .

Arranging travel to Tibet is difficult. China doesn’t really want foreigners to go, but if we insist on it they are more than willing to allow us to pay loads of money for the opportunity to travel through this isolated region. As of August 2009, there were only two methods of travel into Tibet for foreigners: the train or a plane. Considering Lhasa is at 3600 meters (11,800 feet), which is way above the altitude where most people start to feel altitude sickness, we felt that the safest and more interesting way to travel into Tibet was by train. The train into Tibet is proudly celebrated by the Chinese government as the highest train in the world. On the journey it travels over a pass at 5100 meters. Oxygen is piped into the cars above each sleeping berth. It’s the newest and cleanest train I’d seen in all of China.

We left Chengdu (finally) with our newly formed group of 12 people. Three couples (including Tony and me), and six singles; six males and six females; four Dutch people, two Danish guys, one each from France, Ireland, England, Spain, Japan and the US. A very diverse, but surprisingly compatible group. We’d tried to get a group (divisible by four for the Land Cruisers we had to rent) and it just kept growing.

As we road the train into Tibet, past amazing expanses of untouched high plateaus, grasslands, mountains and lakes, I was reading the book “Riding the Iron Rooster” by Paul Theroux. The book was written in 1988, before Tiananmen Square and before it was truly easy to travel in China. When he went to Lhasa, in the last chapter of the book, the train reached only as far as Golmud, a stop that went unnoticed on our 48 hour train journey. Upon reaching Lhasa, after a train journey and a life-threatening car ride, Theroux finds the city and Tibetans to be an incredibly gracious and welcoming people despite the rapid changes being implemented by the Han Chinese and the government. He also expresses his relief that Lhasa will remain isolated as there’s no way (so he believed) that anyone would ever be able to build a railroad across the mountains all the way to Lhasa. I read this as we were passing over the mountains that he was so convinced would stop any train. I felt a bit bummed.

Lhasa is a strange city. The old Tibetan section of town is lively, with thousands of pilgrims prostrating and walking around the numerous temples and shrines throughout the city. The level of devotion to their religion is something we, westerners, only read about in histories of medieval Europe. The people are friendly. Most of the people in and around the temples of Lhasa are also visitors to the city and they seem genuinely happy that foreigners are there to experience the culture and see the impressive structures that have lasted there. I suppose to some extent they are happy because we are not Han Chinese. The Han Chinese presence in Lhasa is very apparent; particularly obvious is the military presence. Along the main pilgrimage circuits, uniformed and fully armed military personnel sit under umbrellas in the middle of the streets. They also march against the flow of the pilgrim traffic, machine guns at their sides, and sit perched on the tops of buildings watching the vendors, pilgrims and tourists as the move around. It’s an uncomfortably tense place and the fact that these police are most prevalent around the holiest sites in the city makes it all seem very disrespectful.

The Han Chinese residents of Lhasa live in the western section of town. The buildings are the same concrete buildings that exist in every other Chinese city and there are hundreds of them. The stark contrast between the characterless Han Chinese section and the unique architecture of the vibrant (and surprisingly clean) Tibetan section of town is dramatic. Supposedly, the government has given loads of incentives to people to move to Tibet. However, much like other cities, many of the new buildings still appear to be vacant.

We spent two full days in Lhasa, visiting the Potala Palace, Sera Monastery and the Jokhung Temple in the center of the main Tibetan area. After our days in Lhasa, we traveled to Nam-Tso Lake, the world’s highest saltwater lake and then began our 4 day journey to the border of Nepal.

The trip through Tibet caused a bit of a conflict in many of us. Being in Tibet, it is quite difficult to avoid the knowledge that many Tibetans do not want the Chinese there. Some people told us this directly. Our Tibetan guide’s frequent use of the phrase the “liberation of Tibet” whenever he mentioned the time when the Dalai Lama fled seemed somewhat forced and the fact that we had a Han Chinese driver who clearly understood English but never spoke it made it seem all the more apparent that the government still finds the need to control what is said in the area. I loved Tibet, the people were, as I’ve said over and over again, lovely and the scenery both man-made and natural was stunning. But at the same time, I felt a bit conflicted being there. There’s no doubt that the Chinese government has made improvements to the infrastructure of Tibet, but the whole situation seems so colonial. And I know that all the money we spent on permits is going to strengthen the military presence that makes the place so uncomfortable and at times dangerous.


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20th Oct 2009

catching up is hard to do

Clearly, I’m not quite dedicated to the whole blog idea, as it has been over a month since I wrote anything. I’ve been thinking about it really, but the whole traveling thing is so time consuming. We are in Pokhara for the next week, relaxing after 22 days of trekking (Everest and in the Annapurnas) with only a short break in the middle. One job I have given myself, since I currently have none is to write and tell (the three of you that are reading this) about what we’ve done. So, I’ll finally say something about our time in Tibet and Nepal. Now that it is all almost over. We are planning to head to India in a couple weeks, assuming we can get plane tickets and visas that quickly.

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04th Sep 2009

From the roof of the world

It is our last night in Lhasa and I’m a little bummed. We leave tomorrow to head towards Nepal, which I am excited about, but Lhasa has been really amazing. The people are friendly and polite, the sights are stunning, the landscape is some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. And the food is great.

The train ride was really beautiful, but a bit difficult. On the morning of the last day of the train, we passed the highest point at 5100 meters. I spent most of the last day trying to sleep so that I wouldn’t feel the effects of the altitude. Lhasa, thankfully, is only at 3700 meters so we all felt a bit better once we arrived in the city.

It will take us about three and a half days to get to Nepal. So it will probably be a while before I get good internet access again. Once I do, I’ll write a more thorough account of Tibet and of course finally about Songpan. If I can still remember that trip.

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30th Aug 2009

World’s highest railroad

We are about to head off to the train station to get on the world’s highest rail line. We will arrive in Tibet on Tuesday, spend a few days on a very guided tour and then head for the border of Nepal. More soon and hopefully some great photos.

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25th Aug 2009

Horse-trekking in Songpan

Upon our arrival in Songpan, we were immediately struck with the dramatic contrast between it and most other Chinese cities. The city has a much higher population of both Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Chinese. The town felt like a bizarre blend of Carson City and a Chinese village. It was small and divided by a dramatic city wall that stretched out and over a high hill to the west of the town. Surrounded by mountains, the city sits in a valley and the road is equally filled with pedi-cabs, large trucks with loud horns and horses and sheep. It also, up to that point, contained the friendliest people we’d met in all of China.

Our bus was met outside of the trekking agency, by one of the trekking guides. Knowing that the bus from Chengdu would have most of their clients, he jumped on and told us that this was where we needed to get off. The trekking agency was located directly in front of a lodge, which was owned by the trekking agency and next to a massage parlor and a cafe (Emma’s Kitchen), which was owned by a wonderful English-speaking lady, Emma and her brother David. Randomly, we had met their other brother in Chengdu the night before we took the bus to Songpan.

Our first night in Songpan, we were taken to another “hotel” to sleep since the horse-trekking lodge was full. Our hotel was in the bus station. It kind of felt like we’d been locked in accidentally at night, but it was quiet and had more bathrooms than the regular lodge, so we weren’t too unlucky.

The horse-trekking began the following morning. We met our group, which included Tony and me, three English girls on break from university (Joanna, Ayaka and Sara) and Kevin. Our three guides were an odd mix, though great fun and really nice and helpful. The oldest guide was clearly the boss, the quietest was in charge of the cooking and the loudest was clearly in love with the mountains and seemed quite depressed when we returned to Songpan three days later.

The trekking was great. We saw some amazing sights of the mountains. It was wonderful to get into the fairly untouched countryside and away from the car-horns and “civilization” of the cities. The food was amazing, as was the pain we felt after riding horses (or a mule in my case) for three days.

Songpan and Chengdu

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23rd Aug 2009

Forgoing caution for a car horn: The road to Songpan

We’ve been spending quite a bit of time in Chengdu, while we are trying to arrange travel to and through Tibet. The nice thing is that the hostel here is quite comfortable and full of fellow travelers with lots of tips on cool places to go and see. There are loads of trip possibilities around Sichuan and the owners of the hostel are more than happy to arrange pretty affordable trips for us. So, after hearing over and over how beautiful Songpan, in northern Sichuan, was, we decided to go for it. We’d heard from a group that the bus ride was pretty awful, but totally worth it as the horse trekking in the mountains was a great experience.

So, we left last Monday at 5:30 in the morning to get on a (supposedly) eight hour bus ride to Songpan. We’d booked our trip quite a few days in advance, which meant that we had the lucky privilege of sitting in the front seats behind the driver. This gave us the ability to see every time the driver pulled into oncoming traffic to overtake another driver, to be deafened by the ridiculously loud horn that he used basically every time he saw any living or non-living thing on the road, and to watch him clean his ear with a toothpick. I think I was the only one who had the joy of watching that, but it did explain why the horn didn’t seem to bother him.

The trip took ten hours rather than eight (the return journey was twelve). The extended time was due mainly to massive damage on the road caused by the earthquake that happened last May. Nearly every 100 meters, one lane of the road would be so damaged that the traffic was brought down to one lane. Given the general tendency of Chinese drivers to ignore the concept of yielding, there were quite frequently standoffs. Where two drivers would drive towards each other in one lane and wait for the other one to move. Also, whenever there was a backup of cars, caused by an area in the road with only one lane, smaller cars would try to get to the front of the backup, quite effectively blocking any possibility of the oncoming traffic getting through once the stand off ended.

Despite all that, the ride was fascinating. Besides the damage to the roads, the earthquake had caused major damage to nearly every village, town and city we passed. I know that this may seem obvious after all the news coverage last year, but it was quite startling to see it in person. There were thousands of temporary housing buildings and tents throughout the valley. Cement mixers littered the sides of the roads. In some of the towns, you could basically see everybody working to rebuild the damaged buildings. In most cases, there were some very impressive new homes already built and it seemed that there was always a brand new school finished. Rockslides were also quite common, adding to the hair-raising nature of the drive.

In the end, we obviously did make it to Songpan. And as everyone promised the ride (up and back) was totally worth the experience of horse trekking and visiting Songpan. Plus, we at least didn’t have a longer drive. We heard tales of a six hour bus journey from another area in Sichuan to Chengdu turning into a 30 hour “drive”.

Photos and more on Songpan are coming soon.

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16th Aug 2009

Trekking on horseback

We’re off again. This time we are headed to Songpan, which is north of Chengdu. We’ll be taking a very long bus ride to Songpan and then beginning a three day horse trek into the mountains. Hopefully, we’ll get some good weather and photos. More soon.

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13th Aug 2009

Photo update

Facebook is still blocked in China and so uploading new photos there is just a bit tedious. Here are some of the more recent photos from Chengdu (pandas!) and Leshan and Emei Shan, which I wrote about below.

We are in Chengdu for the weekend and then heading to a town called Songpan, where we will be starting a three-day horse trek to the top of a mountain. We got our visas and now have until September 10th in China, but are still working on getting into Tibet. Keep your fingers crossed.

Travels in China

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12th Aug 2009


Here are photos from the beginning of the trip through Qingdao. I will have to add more later as the internet connection is a bit slow.

These are also on facebook, so if you’ve seen the photos on there you might have seen all of these, but there are a few new ones.

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12th Aug 2009


We have just returned to Chengdu after four days in Leshan and Emei, south of Chengdu. Leshan is the home of the Grand Buddha, supposedly the world’s largest. Emei is the home of Emei Shan, unofficially the world’s highest paved mountain. I didn’t read that anywhere, I just hope that no one else has decided to pave an entire mountain face with stairs, because it’s painful.

We spent two days climbing EmeiShan. The first day, we climbed about 20km of stairs and finally stopped at the Chu Temple to stay the night. The second day we climbed about 12km more upstairs and then took the bus down from the top. After two days climbing stairs, Tony knees were not going to allow him to do anymore and the thought of climbing back down 30km of stairs was unappealing to both of us. Thankfully, along with paving the entire route up with a staircase, the Chinese tourism department has also paved a road all the way to the top. So it made it easy for us to get back down. If not a little hair-raising.

We worked out our visa extensions in Leshan and so now have one more month in China. We’ve also decided that we won’t be climbing anymore mountains until Nepal, where we hear they are not covered with stairs. Fingers crossed.

Photos coming soon.

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03rd Aug 2009


We are now in Chengdu, which is located in Sichuan province. This is the land of the pandas and, from what we saw from the train windows, a land of beautiful landscapes. We are here for a couple days to hopefully arrange further travel plans, extend our visas and arrange tickets and travel permits into Lhasa. We shall see. Hopefully, I’ll even get to take a cooking class.

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17th Jul 2009

Nanjing: writing with Johnny Cash

Sitting here in a rooftop restaurant in Nanjing listening to Johnny Cash, working on updating my very neglected blog. I’ll be posting some post-dated blogs from the beginning of the trip. The first two are below.

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14th Jul 2009

Vino, Miho, Sumo and a broken toe

Our last few days in Japan consisted of yakitori (meat on sticks), wagyu (Kobe) beef, the Miho Museum and of course sumo! Todd and Kirsten took us to two of their favorite restaurants on our last Thursday and Friday night. The yakitori was delicious and great with a cold beer. While the Kobe beef and a bit of delicious red wine was phenomenal.

So after being well fed, the four of us woke up on Saturday morning to make a kid-less trip to the Miho Museum located outside of Kyoto. Riley was not too pleased and was trying to convince us that since she is a big girl now, she should be able to go to the museum too. Kirsten and Todd were not swayed by her superior logic. The location was stunning as the museum had been designed by the I.M. Pei and epitomized serenity. The exhibits were also some of the best I’ve ever seen.

Sunday, Tony and I went for something a little less academic and headed to Nagoya for a sumo tournament. We got a fairly early start, but had to head back to Todd and Kirsten’s after I decided, while riding a bike, to ram my foot into a cement pillar and break my toe. It was just the baby one and so, after a bit of ice, we got back on the bikes and made our way to the tournament.

Sumo wrestling is really entertaining. The tournament goes on for about 10 hours a day for two weeks. During the first half of the day, most of the matches are between low-level sumo wrestlers, which is fun because the matches are over quite quickly. There is a bit of ceremony and then no more than 20 seconds of wrestling and then the next two challengers come up. In the afternoons, things start to take a bit longer as the quality of wrestlers improves so does the ceremony preceding each fight. But all in all, the tournament was very cool. The sumo wrestlers were basically like rock stars and some of the guys in the later matches were greeted with huge cheering from the fans.

We left Japan on Tuesday morning. Riley was not too excited. I think she was more upset that Tony was leaving than that I was, but it probably didn’t help that we woke her up to say goodbye. That girl is not a morning person. We found our boat quite easily and boarded for a return trip to China, which proved to be much more choppy and seasickness inducing than the trip to Japan.

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09th Jul 2009

Japan – Week 2

Our first week ended with a trip to the Kobe Club to go swimming with Riley and Tess and then dinner in Osaka at a Mexican restaurant to celebrate engagements, birthdays and a fun trip. Mom and Dan left the next morning and the rest of us went down to the river for another day of swimming (for the girls).

Our second week was a bit more laid back than the first. Tony and I stayed a bit closer to Kobe for the most part. Monday, Todd headed to class and Kirsten took Riley in to see the doctor. Tony and I volunteered to watch Tessy. Kirsten and I were both a little nervous that Tess would not be very excited to stay with us and without Riley. When Kirsten told her that she and Riley were going, but Tess was staying, the crying began. However, much to my surprise, Tess threw herself into the arms of . . . me. So, I carried her into the living room and as soon as she saw Dora on television she began giggling and didn’t seem to mind being left at home with Auntie and her new favorite person . . . TO-NEE! That afternoon we headed into Sannomiya to meet Todd and take the girls to the bird park.

The next day, Tony and I stayed on Rokko Island. We took the bikes we’d borrowed and cycled around exploring some of the pretty and not-so-pretty sights of the island. We collected some groceries and headed back to the apartment, where I started cooking dinner for Todd and Kirsten. They had taken their first Japanese driving test (a clearly very stressful activity) so I volunteered to make dinner. Todd made some fresh pasta and Riley helped by passing the pasta to me. Tess helped by eating the pasta dough. Mmmm, pasta dough.

Wednesday, we went back to Osaka to pick up our visas. After that was done we took the train to Nara. We spent the very humid day wandering around seeing the Todai-ji temple and after having our fill of more wild deer (these a bit more wild than those of Miyajima), we got on the train to Kyoto. We stayed in a great hostel (K’s House) and spent the next morning wandering around some of the sights of Kyoto.

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03rd Jul 2009

Japan – Week 1 – catch-up post (way late)

Well, I was going to be a bit more thorough in my description of our time in Japan, but realized that a) I’m slow; b) Kirsten already wrote most of it (see welbes.net for more); c) the wedding planning is taking away from my blog upkeep.

So, our two weeks in Japan were split into two periods: the first with Mom and Dan and Todd full-time, the second after Mom and Dan had left and Todd had started his morning Japanese classes at the Y. During our first week, we traveled to Arashiyama, Miyajima, Hiroshima and Kyoto. Tony and I also had the joy of going into Osaka to organize our tourist visas back into China, which proved much cheaper for the British citizen than the American one. The Chinese consulate in Osaka was actually, compared with most other consulates I’ve been in, a joy. Quick, efficient, generally friendly and with the help of a friend of Todd and Kirsten’s, easy to find.

But talking about the consulate is rather boring. The highlight of my trip was Miyajima. To start with, the island was beautiful, quiet, covered in vegetation and from the ferry on the way in, shrouded in low-lying clouds. All of that natural beauty coupled with dramatic Shinto shrines and a smattering of lovely local residents to help us out made the island a lovely spot to spend the night. The house Kirsten arranged was perfect for our group and we had a great time exploring the island and of course sitting around the tatami rooms playing cards and drinking beer and wine. Dan and Tony’s knees preferred chairs but they made do. Of course the best part of my time in Miyajima was the second day, when Tony and I headed off on our own to explore the natural surroundings of the island. We found a quiet spot with a small waterfall, some wild deer and sat and talked for an hour or so. This was also where Tony asked me to marry him. So, after our peaceful exploration of Miyajima we made our way back to the ferry to meet the rest of the family. We decided to wait until later to tell everyone (why I don’t know), but struggled for the rest of the day to keep our mouths shut.

After Miyajima, we headed by train into Hiroshima and went to the Memorial Museum and Peace Park. This was a bit sobering after our time in Miyajima, but the museum was well-done and quite interesting. The girls played with bubbles in the peace park with Kirsten, while the rest of us went through the museum. After the museum we got back on the super fast, super quiet, super smooth shinkansen and made our way back to Rokko Island.

That night after a great Indian meal and the girls had gone to bed, Tony and I announced our news. We wished that Dad and Tony’s parents could have been there for the announcement as well, but we’ll all get to meet soon.

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