15 tips for traveling in Seattle, Washington

25 05 2014

I recently traveled to Seattle for the American Alliance of Museums Annual Conference, and in my downtime I made the effort to get to know this ‘Emerald City’ on the sound. Seattle itself has a population a little over 600,000, but its metropolitan area comes in at over 3 million. It feels similar to both Portland, Oregon and Denver, Colorado in both size and attitude. It’s casual with a touch of urban, and boasts great food, music, and beer. What’s not to like?

10374070_10154175521310068_2266983958889457939_n Read the rest of this entry »





15 Tips for Traveling in Japan

15 02 2013

I was fortunate to travel to Japan in 2012. My husband and I opted to explore Japan the first two weeks of April, during hanami. I learned a few things and thought someone out there might benefit from them.

15 Tips for Traveling in Japan - Overtly Optimistic

  1. Traveling to Japan during hanami is definitely worth it! The whole country revels in the fleeting beauty of the sakura (cherry blossoms). You come across families and groups of friends sitting under the blossoming trees at all hours of the day and night. Take a good camera, and take a cue from the Japanese – slow down and enjoy the beauty around you.
  2. It is still a bit chilly at this time of year, especially if you decide to travel to higher elevations like Koyasan or Nagano so be sure to pack a couple sweaters and a wind breaker. And you’ll be happy to have gloves too.
  3. You will feel under-dressed. I did. As a traveler I like to travel light, so I didn’t think about outfits so much as ease of packing when I selected what clothing to take. That’s not to say that I look like a slob when I travel: I am anti-sweatpants, anti-sweatshirts, anti sneakers, and generally look pretty good for living out of a suitcase. However, the Japanese people like to look great, and they do. All the time. Within a couple of days I felt compelled to stop in at the H&M in Osaka to pick up a suit coat to throw over my outfits. I felt better after that.
  4. You will need an umbrella. Do not pack one. Pick up a super tiny umbrella once you get to Japan – they are the most well designed and effective umbrellas I’ve ever seen.
  5. Eat street food. All kinds. Japan has this thing about restaurants having plastic displays of the food they serve so you’ll always know what you’re ordering, and many restaurants have English menus posted outside the entrance. I didn’t have a bad meal the entire time we were there. Try ramen in each city, it varies by region!
  6. Explore the big cities. Get a little lost wandering the side streets. You’ll discover delightful little shops, eateries, cafes, etc. Yes, you’ll read about ‘sketchy’ areas of Tokyo – avoid them if you want but they’re still safer than most US cities. I never felt unsafe in any of the cities. I can’t say the same about most other country’s major cities.
  7. Get out of the big cities. Seriously. We made a day trip to Iga (my husband insisted we see the Ninja Museum there) and it’s a completely different experience. People may not speak English, the pace of life is slower (the trains run once an hour), and the countryside is amazingly beautiful. We saw the most incredible sunset on the train from Iga to Nagoya, it was brilliant red setting over fields of rice. I will never forget it – and I would never have seen it in the city.
  8. Stay at a variety of types of accommodations. We stayed at a businessman’s hotel in Osaka, a historic ryokan outside of Osaka, another traditional ryokan in Nagano, and we rented an apartment one block from Takashita Dori (the main street in the Harajuku area) in Tokyo. We had equally great but very different experiences at each. If nothing else, spend at least one night at a traditional ryokan. You’ll be glad you did.
  9. Take a shinkansen. Go south, go north, go west, just do it. In fact, you should probably get a JR pass – but be careful to plan to use it most effectively. The Trip-Advisor Japan forum is a great resource to help you with planning you rail travel.
  10. Go to onsen! Go to as many as you can. It’s a deeply rich part of Japanese culture, partake! And don’t be ashamed, nudity is not a big deal. That said, you may find small children staring at you but it’s just because you look different than they do.
  11. You will get “temple fatigue” at some point. Your eyes will cross, you’ll get light-headed, and your feet will feel like they weigh a ton of bricks. Don’t give up on all the other historic sites on your list, just take a break from temples, shrines, and castles for an afternoon. Try a pachinko parlor, an arcade, or a shopping district as an escape from all of the temples.
  12. Look down. Every Japanese city we visited had different designs for their manhole covers. It’s so cool! Also, Japanese streets are the cleanest you will ever see. No joke.
  13. Speaking of clean: Japanese bathrooms are unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. I would never consider using a public bathroom on a train platform in any other country, but Japanese public bathrooms are immaculate. Ladies, you will encounter traditional Japanese toilets in many public restrooms: they require you to squat. Don’t be afraid,  it’s not as weird as you think it is. You should try it at least once. You should also try some of options on the high-tech toilets you’ll encounter; the heated seats and sound effects will amaze you! Most bathrooms do not have paper towels to dry your hands. You can use the blowers or you can buy a hand towel to carry with you like the Japanese do. I did, and I still carry it in my purse – it comes in handy all the time!
  14. Make peace with the reality that you CANNOT see everything, and enjoy what you CAN see during your time there.
  15. Try to immerse yourself in the culture – you’ll take more away from your travels if you can immerse yourself rather than viewing the culture as an outsider. Pay attention to where the locals eat, and eat there. Shop where the locals shop. Ask the locals for tips, you’ll be glad you did.15 Tips for Traveling in Japan - Overtly Optimistic




21 Days and Counting!

24 02 2012

Today’s inspiration is brought to you by the delightful delicacies of traditional kaiseki cuisine, as pictured here by Amami Onsen Nanten-en. Kaiseki has its roots in the Japanese tea ceremony, and typically uses only the freshest seasonal ingredients presented in an artful balance of color, texture, and flavor. Yum! I found this article from The Atlantic describing the history and significance of kaiseki absolutely mountwatering!

And I’m thrilled that we’ll be visiting Nanten-en for a night after we visit Koyasan!





How early is too early?

3 02 2012

6 weeks from today we leave for Japan! Is it too early to start a countdown?

The only thing I have left to do is order our rail passes. Easy.

Rail travel in Japan sounds like a breeze, and I’m really looking forward to it. One of my favorite memories of a trip to central Europe was taking the train through the Czech countryside on our way to Prague. The train meandered through small towns that we would never have seen any other way.

While traveling by rail in Japan I’m especially looking forward to the train ride from Nagoya to Nagano, through the picturesque Japanese Alps. And I won’t lie, I’m giddy like a child just thinking about riding a Shinkansen (bullet train)!








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