My Most Embarrassing Travel Mistake

When you travel, you’re eventually going to make a mistake. It could be as simple as forgetting to pack your toothbrush or leaving your credit card at home. People who travel for a living will always have the story of how they’ve shown up at the wrong airport or hotel, or even booked a trip for the wrong day.

This is the story of my most embarrassing mistake.
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Sharon’s Most Embarrassing (And Pretty Gross) Travel Mistake (a.k.a. “Never Assume”)

A while ago, Joe wrote about his most embarrassing travel mistake. I never paid back the favor with my own embarrassing travel story but hey, why not? Just as his embarrassing trip had to do with Japan, so is mine, albeit a different situation, and in fact, an entirely different trip.

Continue reading “Sharon’s Most Embarrassing (And Pretty Gross) Travel Mistake (a.k.a. “Never Assume”)”

TBT: Japan April 2005: Hakone – Our Hotel, Sulfur Eggs & A Pirate Ship

We had a 7:30am wake-up call (the front desk called our room and said, “Ohayo gozaimasu! Mawnang carr desu!” which translates into, “Good morning to you! This is your morning call!”) Got ready within the hour and one of the ryokan staff served us breakfast in our room. We had requested Western-style breakfasts, which included bacon, sunny side up eggs, an assortment of rolls with jams and spreads, orange juice, coffee and, of course, soup and salad.

Our room, after they put away our futons but before they served breakfast

The breakfast spread

Orange juice, soup, salad, eggs, undercooked bacon and hot tea

People who know me know that I like a LOT of milk in my coffee. As in, 2/3 cup coffee, 1/3 cup milk. Our servers gave me a whopping 2 creams, the total of which was probably about 1 teaspoon. Not nearly enough. So when the server came back into the room to see how we were doing, I politely smiled, pointed to the 2 creamers and said, in my best Japanese accent, “Miru-ku, kudasai?” (“Milk please?” “Milk” is one of the few words I could remember from my “Japanese in 10 Minutes a Day” book, which I had studied for about 2 weeks, 6 months before my first trip to Japan in 1994. The only reason why I remembered it was because it’s based in English. “Egg” is “Eg-gu.” “Bacon” is “Bay-kon.” And you eat at a “taybu-ru,” unless you’re impolite and then you eat while you’re sitting on your so-fa. Imagine that.) So anyway, I ask for more milk and she says, “Hai!! (Japanese for “yes”) Yes! Miru-ku!” And then she leaves, so I figure she’s off to get me more milk. Nope. She never came back. I guess she thought I just was CONFIRMING if that was milk. And by Jove, I was right…yes, it was milk! Damn…another day of canned coffee (ko-hee) for me.

Joe and Steve spent some time trying to get the dial-up connection to work again and after some frustrations, they decided it would work much better if the phone cord was plugged into the modem line, not the DSL input (wink). So after finally getting connected and a quick check of email, we were ready to start our day.

Our original plan was to go to the bath theme park today but the temperature outside called for zippered jackets. Deciding it was too cold for what was essentially a water park, we decided to go sightseeing instead.

Our first choice of things to see was the property of the Hotel Taiseikan. We had heard the waterfall when we arrived last night and it appeared to be within a garden but WOW, what a garden it was!

A distant view of “our” garden from our room. This picture was the clincher that we had wound up with “THE” room…the one that they have on the brochures, to promote how beautiful the place was. We don’t know if they were doing it to “honor” us because we were from the U.S. (we were the ONLY non-Japanese at this place and nothing we saw, either on the internet or at the place suggested that Americans were frequent visitors…it was much moreso a weekend getaway place for Tokyo-based businessmen), or of we just happened to luck out. Either way, cool, huh?

A view out the windows on our porch

Some visitors enjoying the garden

A small Torii gate on property, to signify holy ground. There was a Shinto shrine up those steps, too.

Our room, as seen from the garden

Some of the other rooms, which faced the river, instead of the garden

After we looked at the ground of our hotel, we went to the train station (maybe a block away) and got our canned ko-hee. Steve made a friend here too, in the form of the cat by his legs, who would NOT stop following him (grin).

We took the train to the last exit (Gora Station). From there, we took the uphill Hakone Tozan Cable Car (think San Francisco cable car, but enclosed) to the Hakone Ropeway (think Disney’s MK’s Sky Ride, but holding 18 people per car).

Hakone Ropeway gondola

Locals really use the Hakone Ropeway as a form of everyday travel, like we would use a train or a bus.

At the top of the Ropeway was our first destination, the Hakone Sulfur Fields.

According to their literature, the sulphur fields has been around since before the birth of Christ and was caused by a volcanic eruption. We walked around the fields (fields my @$$…they were hills! Lots and lots of hills!) for a while, admiring the scent of sulfur.

Joe and Sharon in the sulfur field. We didn’t even ask for this picture to be taken. A young couple asked Joe to take THEIR picture and after he complied, they offered to take ours. It would’ve been impolite to say no.

This picture reminded me of the last part of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

The Japanese Engrish on the signs here were pretty hysterical:

Not off limits. Off limit.

I guess that area is off limit too

Lots of things use to grow here but now the only things that grow here are things that can grow here.

I don’t think my bronchus are dedicate; are yours?

At the top of the hills was an area where one could buy hard boiled eggs that had been cooked in the sulphur. This is apparently THE thing to do at the sulphur fields, so Steve bought a bag of 6 eggs for ¥500 and we peeled off the shells (which had turned black) and ate them.

The sulphur pool they cooked the eggs in

Bag o’ Eggs

Lots of people, eating their hard-boiled eggs.

Joe and Sharon eating their eggs. They tasted like ordinary, normal hard boiled eggs.

We next took a Ropeway gondola to Ubano Togendai, to see Lake Ashi and take a ride on a reproduction of an 18th century pirate ship.

Ship ahoy!

Note the anatomically correct masthead

Captain Japanese pirate dude


During clear days, you can apparently see Mt. Fuji from the lake but ours was not a clear day. Wouldn’t have mattered to Steve and I though…we both fell fast asleep as soon a the boat started moving (grin).

That’s where Mt. Fuji WOULD have been. We think.

After the boat ride, we decided we were bushed and took a bus back to our hotel. We got back to our room around 3:30pm and were scheduled for a 6:30pm dinner.

Arriving at our hotel is no small feat, by the way. First we have to take a 7-minute cable car ride from the street level, down into the gorge where the hotel is located.

Going up (or down?) the hill…you can see how steep the ravine is.

The cable cars worked on something of a pulley system…there were only 2 cars, evenly distributed on the route, so as one went up, the other went down.

And a passing area in the center

Joe on the cable car

Then we have to follow a path, over a 75′ bridge (to cross a small river), up another path, over a 50′ bridge, and up a too-much-uphill-for-this-tired-woman, just to get to the main lobby. The cable car operators must contact the front desk when we’re on the car, because they would have our slippers all ready (we can’t wear shoes inside the hotel…just their disposable slippers, while they hold our shoes for us). Then we go down the lobby to our room…and take the slippers off in the entry room because you can only wear socks on the tatami mats. Unless you use the toilet, and then you have to put on the special toilet-only slippers. It’s not so much confusing as it is a PITA to keep switching footwear…plus with just tatami mats under our feet, especially on a day where I doubt we saw 65 degrees, we’ve got some cold tootsies! (grin) Our butts are warm though…every place we’ve visited have had toilets with heated seats. Some also have built-in bidets, courtesy flushes, scents, and, if you press a button, a recording of a flush goes on so no one hears you while you’re doing your business .

Anyway, with about 2 or 3 hours before dinner, Steve decided to go into the Men’s Bath and Joe and I stayed in the room and watched our DVD of Princess Mononoke.

Steve’s discussion of the Men’s Bath: “You go in and leave your clothes in a basket. Then you shampoo and shower and wash completely. When you’re fully clean and removed of all suds, you go into really hot, volcanic rock-laden hot spring and just sit there for a while. Then if you want, you can and go into the other hot bath they have. You can watch the people crossing the bridge. And all of this while you’re butt nekkid. They give you a green towel that you can use for modesty, but most men put it on top of their heads to avoid heat stroke. It’s really like going to a swimming pool but you have to be cleaner and everyone’s naked.”

Dinner was served at 6:30pm and again, it was a feast fit for a king, with Shabu Shabu (beef and vegetables that you put into a pot of boiling water, sorta like Melting Pot), vegetables, soup, rice with what looked like little tiny worms (eyes still attached…we did’t eat much of that at all), sticky rice, sake, fish morsels (I didn’t eat that either…too fishy) and I forget what else…again, a good 8 or 10 courses.

Our hostess that evening was the same woman who I had the “milk” discussion with, that morning. Since all 3 of us had the deer-in-the-headlights look of “none of us have ever eaten Shabu Shabu before,” she demonstrated how you put the veggies into the big pot of hot broth, then use chopsticks to swish your thinly-sliced beef in the broth…at which time you say “Shabu Shabu!”, until it’s cooked. To this day, if we go to a “real” Japanese restaurant and order Shabu Shabu, we ALWAYS say “Shabu Shabu!” while we’re swishing (grin).

The shabu shabu set-up…meat, spices and “stuff that we don’t know what it is”. The shabu shabu pot is on the left. Shabu Shabu!

The shabu shabu pot, with shabu shabu noodles, mushrooms, tofu and veggies. Shabu Shabu!

Shabu Shabu!

I think there’s EYEBALLS in this thing! (Note from Joe: upon confirmation with a friend who had lived in Japan for a while, it turned out those were EYEBALLS – apparently I was eating little worms)

Yeah, my shrimp has eyeballs too. And antennae!

After dinner, Joey filled our soaking tub to prepare to take a private bath and that bring us to about where we are now. I don’t foresee anything really interesting happening for the rest of the night, so I think I’ll sign out for now.

Tomorrow we plan on going to that Baths Theme Park and then it’s off to Tokyo Disneyland.


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#TBT: Japan April 2005: Laundry in Nagoya, Travel to Hakone, Hakone Ryokan

Laundry Day!

We woke up at 7am and packed everything except our week’s worth of dirty laundry. Went down to the front desk and got directions to the coin laundromat (this place is way too fancy-shmancy to have its own laundry facilities on site). The girl at the desk said it was about a 20 min walk and, after I valiantly (and stubbornly) tried to carry my share of the clothes we needed to wash, we decided to take a taxi. The girl in the main lobby would not let me hold my own bag, which turned out to be a good thing because the taxi driver had NO idea of what we were talking about or where this place was, even with a map. And even with the main lobby girl’s help, he still had to ask for directions as we got closer.

The washing machines in Japan are decidedly smaller than in the US and with that, along with Joe wearing clothes that are significantly larger than the average Japanese (and mine only slightly smaller), we wound up having to do 9 days’ worth of clothes in 4 loads (grin). Took about 2 hours, give or take. Prices were ¥400 (“big” washer…yeahright), ¥300 (medium) and ¥200 (small), and ¥100 per 10 minutes of gas dryer time.

“How to use the washing machine,” with cute little mermaid character to help you follow the precautions

“How to use the dryer” too.

At one point, I think the 3 of us were using every machine in the room

Proof that it’s REAL gas in the gas dryer…see the flame?

After our laundry was done, we went back to our hotel and did our final packing. Japan has a system where you can mail big packages, including luggage, to another destination. So for our next leg of the trip, which was only for 2 days, we packed our carry-on luggage and sent our “big” luggage on to Tokyo Disneyland, which was our destination for Sunday. It was less than $25 per bag and saved us the hassle of shlepping our big pieces with us (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Japan still offers luggage transportation services and let me tell you, it is WONDERFUL and SO convenient! We used Takkyubin, which is the company that Japan Rail Pass recommends. Because their logo is a mother cat holding a kitten, we started referring to it at the pussycat service).

After finally checking out, we had bell services hold our carry-ons (which still weighed a ton…Joe’s backpack was a good 35 pounds and his overnight bag was probably well over 40 pounds) while we had lunch at the hotel’s Chinese restaurant. The food was OK, although part of the meal was somewhat unidentifiable (grin).

Picked up our luggage and made our way to the train station. Spent quite a bit of time looking for postcards as well as for the place where we could make our Shinkansen reservations. Finally got that done and went on the Shinkansen for our 2-hour train ride to the Odawara station of Hakone.

We had misjudged the amount of time it would take to get to our next hotel (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Joe wrote about the issue in his post called “My Most Embarrassing Travel Mistake“), which was actually a ryokan (Japanese-style bed & breakfast) called “Hotel Taiseikan,” that also served us dinner. So we bought some bento boxes (pre-made meals in a box) in case we got there after the 6:30pm “last serving” deadline (and since I’m typing this at 6:55pm on the train from Odawara, I don’t think we’re gonna make it (wink).

Later on…

Well, it’s now 9:05pm and no, we didn’t make it anywhere near 6:30pm, but after our arrival at 7:50pm, they said they would serve us in our room at 8pm. After Joe called to let them know we would be late, they kept their ONE employee who (kinda, sorta) spoke English, so she could serve us. And what a dinner it was – I think there were 10 courses all together! 2 or 3 kinds of soup, and rice and Japanese noodles and vegetables and meats and fish and geez, I don’t remember what else. Oh yeah…cooked baby squid. I’m proud to say that I did TRY the baby squid…and hated it (wink). We specifically asked ahead of time for meals without sashimi for me…so at least I didn’t have to worry about anything raw(MODERN-DAY NOTE: my culinary tastes have broadened TREMENDOUSLY since 2005 and, short of raw horse and whale, there is very little I will not eat in Japan nowadays). Steve has gone to Morimoto in Philly (the place run by The Iron Chef) and he says a meal like that would have cost about $200 each at a restaurant. Usually they would serve us course by course, but since we had gotten there so late, they gave us everything at once. Here’s an idea of the spread they gave us:

I have no idea what I was holding in my chopsticks but, even if it was not raw, there was NO WAY I was gonna eat it.

Our “room” (more like a freakin’ condo!) is HUGE:

As you enter, there’s a 4’x11′ entry foyer where we leave our slippers (we already left our shoes near the front desk…the amazing thing was that when we’d leave our room and go to the hotel lobby, our shoes [and ONLY our shoes, no one else’s shoes] were already out, waiting for us! Anyway, you have to walk either barefoot or just in socks in the rooms…Japanese tradition, plus shoes or even slippers would ruin the delicate tatami floors)

There is a 8’x8′ entry room that we used for our luggage (sorry it’s blurry)

This is our 15’x18′ bedroom/eating room

The beds are Japanese-style futon mattresses on the floor, by the way. Not nearly as uncomfortable as you’d think. Either that or we were just too exhausted to care, by the end of the day.

This was a 6’x21′ porch that overlooked a garden and waterfall (we didn’t get to actually SEE the garden & waterfall until the next morning…but we heard the waterfall all night long. Made you have to pee. And the toilet was 20′ down the hall, in the parts of the room/condo that weren’t heated. With overnight temps in the 40’s. Oh joy.)

and a 15′ hallway that led to 2 of the 4 double closets on the right and a water closet (with a heated seat on the toilet) on the left (from this picture…I’m at the far end of the hallway…the entry foyer is the opening on the left side and 8′ x 8′ “luggage” room is directly in front of me, at the end of the hall). By the way, you see where the archways of the rooms are? Joe and (especially) Steve hit their heads on those ALL the time…..

Water closet with the weirdest toilet tank water-refill system we ever saw…the water was fed through a pipe to be OVER the tank and then poured in, like a water fountain.

Nearly all of this (except the water closet) has tatami mat flooring. The only thing we haven’t found yet is a shower

Tomorrow is Saturday and I believe we’re going to visit the Japanese-style baths. Joe found something like a Japanese-style “bath theme park,” where you can wear a bathing suit instead of the normal nude bathing. Good thing, huh?

Joe is trying to set up the computer for dial-up here in Hakone so I can get this note out. If you can read this, it worked (grin). More when I can…

Saturday morning…well, the good new is that we found our room with the tub. We just didn’t know how to use the doorknob (grin):

This hallway has closets on the right side, with extra blankets and pillows. At the end was what we thought was just a wall with wooden slats for decoration.

But nope! Turned out one of the slats was actually the “latch” to open what was not a wall, but a door that lead you into:

A modern-day sink setup. And if you walked through that tiny room, you discovered this:

A Japanese-style bath, made out of rocks! You sit on the little wooden stool, wash yourself and rinse with the bamboo buckets that are next to the tub (there are separate faucets, outside of the tub, to get the water from), and then sit and soak and contemplate in the rock tub, which is fed by the hot spring water.

The bad news is that Joe still can’t get the dialup to work, so I’m not sure when y’all will be able to read this.

Update…he got it to work! Yippee!