Since I’ve been job searching this summer, I’ve been watching my pennies a little more carefully than normal. Luckily, that doesn’t mean I miss out on all the fun, either. I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on free and cheap things to do […]
Best Brunch Heritage Tavern – My go to for a proper brunch. They have a variety of Benedict’s, breakfast cocktails, and really good sides so there’s something for everyone. Where I take my parents and out-of-towners when they come to visit. Get the Heritage Tavern […]
In the midst of all of the craziness of moving and coming back to Chicago, I treated myself to a little vacation time. I spent a long weekend in San Francisco with some of my oldest friends, Haley and Megan, and we did a whole lot of eating, drinking, touristing, and sitting around watching choreography YouTube videos. It was awesome.
Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to travel quite a bit, but I’ve done most of it with either my family or significant others. Ever since planning this trip to SF, though, my friends and I have been asking ourselves more and more: why don’t we travel with each other? Schedules can be challenging and money can be tight since we’re all young women working a bunch, but this trip reinforced for me how fun and revitalizing it is to make friends a priority when it comes to travel.
Now that we’re all over the place and we don’t have the same regular breaks from school to see each other we have to carve out time to spend with each other. I’m so glad we’re getting into the habit of it now because these girls are so important to me – when you’ve been friends for 15 years you hang on to them. I can always be myself with them no matter where I’m at in life and I never laugh harder or often than when I’m with them. Here’s to another 15 (and beyond) of travel, adventure, and long life talks over wine.
I put together a little recap of things we did and (mostly) where we ate since I always like to have that stuff for reference. Haley and her boyfriend, Miller, took us to such good spots and had great recommendations that we were stuffed and happy basically the entire time. Here’s my list and some photos, if you’re heading out there sometime soon:
Where We Ate
- Sessions at the Presidio: Great burgers, French fries, and interesting beers
- Gracias Madre: Actually delicious vegan Mexican
- Ragazza: Fresh and light pizza and salad, casual and zagat rated
- Vinyl Coffee and Wine Bar: Big ass breakfast sandwiches and coffee, not too hipster
- Powder Shaved Snow: Ultra light ice cream in very California flavors
- Blue Mermaid: Touristy, but lovely outdoor space to rest your feet
- Souvla: Busy but delish Greek SF-chain, big portions (thanks for taking us here, Meg!)
- The Mill: Toast-centric coffee joint, very hip
Where We Drank
- Napa Valley:
- Emporium SF: Arcade bar in an old converted Theater. Yes, it’s the same one as in Chicago.
- Etcetera Wine Bar: Chill spot for drinks in the Mission. (Another Meg recommendation!)
Sights We Saw
- Clarion Alley Mural Project: Political art by the gallon, very grammable
- Napa Valley Wine Tastings: Definitely a day trip, but worth it if you’re looking for a more relaxed, bougie vibe. Bonus points if you know someone who’s a member at a winery.
- Lands End: My favorite thing we did! Amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge, pretty laid back “hike”, and can’t beat listening to the ocean for an afternoon.
- The Painted Ladies: Cute and grammable, not really much else to do but walk around though.
- Fisherman’s Wharf: Enjoyed some seafood and beer after our hike in this area. Touristy and cute.
- SFMOMA: Great rainy day activity. I’m a sucker for a great modern art museum and they have a great permanent collection.
- Shopping at Westfield Centre: Right near MOMA and another great spot to stakeout on a rainy day. Is it a vacation if I don’t go to a mall?
- Golden Gate Park: I ran through here one morning and it was gorgeous change of pace from my treadmill.
- Lots of hanging out, watching YouTube videos, eating takeout, and drinking wine.
Day Four – Kyoto, Heian Shrine, and Teramachi Street
My first full day with Betsy started out with a serious hangover and an incredible lunch. After a night of drinking a boat load of mugi the night before – a potent Japanese liquor – and still being very jet lagged, I was not in great shape. But we dragged our asses off our mats and went to grab yakiniku with Betsy’s friends from the night before. They seem somehow unfazed by the entire ordeal or maybe I just couldn’t tell in the flurry of Japanese. Hangover or not, though, yakiniku was by far the best thing I ate in Japan, which really surprised me. I’ve been a die hard sushi fan my entire life and the sushi in Japan was delicious, but I was blown away by how incredible this lunch was.
Yakiniku, as I understand it, is Japanese grilled meat. They brought a big platter of raw meat to our table and lit a small grill in the center of our table. One of Betsy’s friends graciously grilled for us and obviously knew what he was doing because each piece was perfection – tender and flavorful. Betsy said that yakiniku is terrible to do with Americans because everyone is trying to grab enough for themselves, but with her Japanese friends it’s so pleasant and everyone always gets enough.
After lunch, Betsy, her friend Hinaco, and I set off into Kyoto for a day of exploring. Our first stop was Heian Shrine – a beautiful complex of burnt orange torii gates and unbelievable gardens. We walked the grounds of the temple, watched others do traditional prayers, and even took a stab at a hand washing ritual that I had seen at several other local temples. Even though Heian Shrine was only built in the late 1800s, it still had that ancient feel to it, like it is part of a much longer lineage than that.
I was most impressed by the expansive gardens that surround the shrine. Blankets of moss, blossoming lily pads, twisted branches – I was pretty much in photo heaven. The grounds were glorious even against the clouds and rain and each pond seemed even more ornate than the last. And in true Japanese magic fashion, we got a visit from some pretty spectacular great blue herons, which are one of my favorite birds.
We chatted and laughed our way through the garden – and major shoutout to Betsy for translating between Hinaco and I all freakin’ day. She was exhausted by the end of it, but it honestly felt so amazing to be able to interact and joke with someone who is actually Japanese. She definitely knew more English than I did Japanese (my single vocabulary word being ‘yabai’ which means dangerous and is used in a lot of ways), but there was a lot of back and forth. Needless to say, Betsy is a translating rockstar.
After we tired ourselves out at the gardens, we stopped for some parfait, which I had no idea was a thing in Japan. And they go all out – these things were works of art and absolutely put American ‘parfaits’ to shame. I got a matcha parfait, which seemed like one of the safer choices, and I encountered textures that I didn’t realize food could have. Some were soft and melted in your mouth, others stuck to the roof of it and took some getting used to. Although I don’t think I’m going to jump aboard the matcha moment American culture is having right now, it was better than I expected!
We spent the rest of the day walking around Kyoto, ducking into vintage shops and souvenir depots. I bought the most amazing pair of vintage earrings that I’m sure will make an appearance in an upcoming outfit post and picked up a few Gudetama knick knacks to take home. Gudetama is a cartoon egg characterized by his extreme laziness and is also the cutest thing in the world – just sayin’.
Our last stop before heading home was getting sushi for dinner! I was so excited to try sushi in Japan and it did not disappoint, especially after a long day of walking. I tried a little bit of everything and loved it all, of course. We then hopped on the train back to Ishiyama station and totally crashed. Betsy and I agreed that tomorrow would be a day of relaxation after all of today’s walking and translating – keep your eyes peeled for the next post featuring a pretty unbelievable onsen. Oh and lots of deer – stay tuned!
About 2 weeks ago, I went over to visit my best friend from college, Betsy, who has been living and teaching English in Japan for over 3 years. We were inseparable in college (we sometimes got mistaken for a couple) and I hadn’t seen her since she graduated […]
Hey there! This is the first of a series I’m doing here on TOAST called Biddies Abroad. After having my own experience living abroad, I’ve become really curious about the lives of other young women who are spending time outside of their home country. So, […]
With all this beautiful weather we’ve been having, I had to get outside so I took a long glorious walk down by Lake Monona last weekend. I feel so lucky to live right on the isthmus (the best geographic term, right?) and to be so close to both of Madison’s gorgeous lakes. Winter has been a tough time to move to a new city – everyone is in hibernation and there’s not so much going on – but this little thaw we’ve had has gotten me so excited for Spring. After being away from the Midwest for so long I’ve forgotten how much the cities come alive with the weather!
I didn’t expect my walk to turn into a photography expedition or else I would have brought my big camera but I had to share some snaps I took on my phone while I was out. How crazy is that ice?! I’m such a sucker for that sort of thing so these are only a few of the like billion photos I took of it.
Anyway, I hope you have a wonderful Tuesday and soak up the sun while we have it for a moment. 😎