12.09.2014

New site!!!


Without a License has moved to a new location. Please check out the new site at: http://withoutlicense.com
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8.04.2014

Gujo Hachiman (Day 1 of 2014 Japan Trip)

Oh my god! I finally have time to blog about my Japanese trip. I think the worst thing about going back to work after 3 weeks of vacation is..well, going back to work. It feels like I'm a new employee again. I had so much to catch up on, so much work to figure out, and on top of that, I have to fight jet lag!  So please be forgiving a little on my delay from posting. (Puppy dog eyes). I'm here now!!!

Okay! My Japan trip revolved mostly around central Japan.  My mom booked us on one of those tour groups where you sit in a bus, get carted off to pre-designated area for food/shelter/recreation (or some combo of the three), and follow a loud Asian tour guide with a long flag/stick. It's how my mom prefers to travel, especially to places she's never been to and doesn't speak the language. I've gotten quite accustomed to it over the years.

Anyways, we landed in Nagoya Airport and we immediately got on the bus and made our way to Gujo Hachiman, which is known for cultural dancing and making fake plastic food for displays.


Seriously, how is this not edible?!


Or this?!

"Magical floating chopsticks, make your way into my mouth" is what I'd say if this was real food but it's not. Dang it.


The founder/creator of these plastic foods is said to be from Gujo-hachiman and to this day, there are a lot of factories in the Gujo district that are responsible for the food displays around Japan. The food displays are referred to as sampuru (サンプル) in Japan, which is actually derived from the English word "Sample" because it's a sample of what the food will look like in the restaurant.

Another great thing about Gujo-hachiman is that it's filled with stores...


And a lot of stores around central Japan sell a dairy and beef products from the Hida district, which is also in central Japan. The cattle are specifically raised in the Gifu Prefecture in Hida for at least 14 months and are certified as Grade A beef. The milk is fresh, creamy, and surprisingly light. It didn't coat my mouth as much as I thought it would, like heavy cream.


Our hotel, that we stayed for that night, was called Hotel Gujo Hachiman, which was quite confusing to me at first. There were no signs (well at least signs in English or Chinese) outside the hotel.


I tried to get the name of it but the conversation would just go as follows:
Me: What is the name of this hotel?
Front Desk: Gujo-Hachiman (smiles politely)
Me: No, I know where we are...but what is the name of the hotel?
Front Desk: Gujo-Hachiman (smiles politely)

Keep in mind that Gujo-Hachiman is pretty far away from city-life (2.5 hr drive away from Kyoto and 4.5 hrs from Tokyo) so I didn't expect them to speak that well of English. I definitely did not give them the benefit of the doubt, which was my bad.


Anyways, Hotel Gujo-Hachiman is also a hot springs hotel. It's separated between genders (no unisex baths here) and it was very traditional. You go into the lockers, strip down to birthday suit, go into the bath house with nothing but a small towel, wash yourself in the provided shower areas with the provided shampoo, conditioner, and soap, and then soak into the hot springs. No photos were allowed for obvious reasons.

The hotel was also traditional through-out, from it's architecture (the lobby)...


to the design (outside the hotel room)...
...to the food!

This was our dinner. It's individually portioned on individual tables and chairs. There were so many different dishes from sashimi to tempura but the best dish was definitely the hida beef that they heated up in the black bowl on the top right corner. A lady, dressed in a kimono (natch), came around and helped light the fire underneath the bowls to cook the beef.


My brother, me, and my mom
The hotel also provided yukata's (Japanese robes) for you to wear around the hotel and to the hot springs. They give out standard size unisex robes in your room and if yours does not fit, you can ask for another size at the front desk so definitely try on the yukatas when you first check into your room.

Speaking of the rooms...

The rooms are a traditional Japanese tatami-style room. There's a small coffee table and mats for you to sit/kneel on during the day. During dinner time, while you are out of your room, the staff comes in and moves the furniture to the side, and then lays out the blankets and pillows. How's that for turn-down service?

The views here are not that bad either. I mean, you are up in the mountains (somewhat) and in a natural hot-spring area...

Of course, breakfast is served as individual portions as well, with some pickled vegetables, miso soup, tofu, and dumplings (in the bamboo basket on the top left).

Overall, it was not a bad way to spend my first day in Central Japan, especially since we just missed the typhoon that passed by Japan by a day. The first day had so much rain, which is why I didn't have that many outdoor pictures of Gujo-Hachiman, but hey! That's what my vlog is for right?!


Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel for new vlogs every Monday :)

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7.08.2014

Foot Rub a Dub Dub


One of the best ways to relax in Taiwan is to get a foot massage. Foot and leg massages are really popular in Taiwnese culture. There are a variety of parlors you can go to, from the seedy ones where happy endings are definitely part of the menu (I swear I've never been to those) to the more upscale ones, which are the ones I go to.



As far as upscale foot massage parlors go, it doesn't get as good as 6 Star Foot Massage Center in Taipei (6星集足體養身會館). They have 3 different locations around Taipei in Tianmu, Bade, and Nanjing East Road. I usually go to the one in Nanjing East Road, which is close to the Xinyi district and a short 10 min cab ride from Taipei 101. They also have villas and retreats outside of Taipei City (in Hsinchu 新竹)

The 6 Star Foot Massage Center - Nanjing Branch

Did I mention it's 24 hours? So if you're out late dancing and those heels are just not cooperating with your toes, those little piggies can come here to get some TLC!

Before you get started on your massage, you leave your shoes and belongings in their locked cubbies. It's 100% safe and monitored by the staff. If you are also wearing tight pants or a skirt, they can provide you with comfy pants that you can wear. You need to be able to show your leg up to your knees cuz thats how far they massage up to. They also offer you a wide selection of different teas.


As soon as you are ready, you soak your feet in a tub of hot water filled with oils and herbs while they give you a nice shoulder rub. They put hot towels on your shoulder while doing so to help relax your muscles. You soak your feet for 10 minutes or so before you are led to a massage chair.


The chairs are huge with cup holders and a personalized TV screen. Usually I fall asleep though so those TV screens are hardly used.

The massaging area is in the 2nd and 3rd floor of the building. It's sectioned off so you do get some privacy. It's also dimly lit and people talk in hush tones so you don't need to worry about being bothered. You can also arrange to get a VIP suite if you want 100% privacy, with an extra fee of course.

Speaking of fees, the rates at 6 Star are amazing! 40 min foot massage + foot soak and shoulder rub = 900 NTD (around $30 USD). This includes tax and gratuity as Taiwan does not have the habit of tipping and tax is always included in the price so if you see a soft drink for 35 NTD (around $1 USD), you pay exactly 35 NTD. Very straight forward. Very simple. Very convenient.

They also offer gift vouchers so you can definitely buy a pack of it to give to friends or to use yourself. Besides foot massages, you can also get full body massages, acupressure/shiatsu, or just the foot soak and 10 min shoulder massage for 250 NTD (around $8.36 USD).

The massages are a little discomforting because they use a method based on acupressure. Let them know if you need them to use a little less force or if it tickles (which it sometimes does). I always assumed it was going to be discomforting so I went home once with a bunch of bruises. I got yelled at by the masseuse for not telling him how much pain I was in. Don't make the same mistake as I did.



Sidenote: My video recap and tips on New York Comic Con was nominated for a Trippy Award! Category: LOL Award: Funniest Video. Please check out my video and vote for me if you enjoyed it.

You can find the full list of nominees with links to watch the videos here on the bloghttp://blog.tripfilms.com/?p=561
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7.07.2014

Restaurant Review: Carthay Circle



During my Disneyland adventure, I ate at Carthay Circle for dinner. This fancy restaurant (average $30 - $60 per adult) was a much needed break from the day of magical childlike fun. Carthay Circle is located in California Adventure and you'll need either a ticket to California Adventure or a Park Hopper pass to get in. They accept reservations and since it's so schmancy, you'll need to put a credit card on file when you make the reservation. You can reserve up to 60 days in advance and they do charge you a cancellation fee if you cancel less than 24 hrs until your dining time.

Carthay Circle was modeled after the Carthay Circle Theater.  It was one of the most famous movie theaters of Hollywood's Golden Age (open from 1926 to 1969) and was where Snow White and the Seven Dwarves first premiered.


Besides cooking with only fresh and seasonal California ingredients, I chose to dine at Carthay Circle for their World of Color dining package. By doing so, you get a prix fixe 3 course meal and then a guaranteed premiere spot to watch the World of Color, the water show at 9:30pm in California Adventure. Regardless of your dining time, whether lunch or dinner, you can opt for the World of Color dining package so be sure to let your server know if you are interested. For dinner, it's $59 per person not including tax and gratuity.

Complimentary sour dough bread for the table. It was so warm and the butter was also heated up so it was soft and spreadable.

I ordered their seasonal pomegranate iced tea which had a bit of seltzer in it. It gave it a nice fizz to the fruity drink.

My 1st Course (part of the World of Color Package): Carthay Summer Salad - Garden Peas, Green Beans, French Radish, Shaved Fennel, Frisee, Radicchio tossed lightly in a Lemon Champagne Vinaigrette

Appetizer (not part of World of Color package): Carthay Circle's House - Stuffed with White cheddar, Bacon, and Jalapeno. Served with apricot honey. Divine!!!

My Main Course (part of World of Color package): Chicken & Spinach Ravioli - in Summer Corn Broth, Crimini Mushrooms, and Corn

My Boyfriend's Main Course (World of Color Package): Lamb Porterhouse - with Parmesan Gnocchi, Lamb Shoulder, Asparagus, and Preserved Lemon. (Boyfriend's note: It's the best lamb he's ever had before.)

 Dessert (World of Color Package) served with Coffee: Valrhona Milk Chocolate Creme Brullee Tart w/ Fresh Raspberries and Chocolate Tart

Soft drinks, coffee, or iced tea are included in the World of Color package. My pomegranate iced tea was seasonal and I ordered that a la carte so that was an additional cost (as well as the house biscuits). 


Like I said, the World of Color package enables you to get a ticket (much like a Fast Pass) to a blocked off area near Paradise Pier. It's reserved just for people who dined at Carthay Circle. The spot is just close enough so you can see everything clearly but far away enough that you don't get a little wet from the splashes. I mean, it is a water show, after all.

Carthay Circle also offer kid menus so don't think just because you're traveling with your kids that you don't get to have a little adult time too. I definitely recommend going to Carthay Circle for either lunch or dinner. The food is excellent and it definitely gives you a little mental break from all the rides, children, and intensity at Disney amusement parks.
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7.04.2014

2 Parks in 1 Day (Disney)


I went to Disneyland this past Sunday and only had one day. Instead of picking between California Adventure and Disneyland, I decided that I had enough organizational skills and a fast enough walker to not have to choose. I could do both...and I did!

I started off the morning at California Adventure, because I've never been there before. I went at 7:30am. It was 30 min before the park opens and I only had one purpose that morning: to get a fast pass at Radiator Springs Racers  (in Carsland, which just opened up in 2012).

If you don't know what Fast Pass is, here's a quick breakdown. It's sort of like reserving a seat on a ride. Only a select few have Fast Pass available but it's the rides that draw in huge numbers, like Space Mountain and California Screamin', so the Fast Pass is something I swear by to survive Disney parks. You go to the designated fast pass area (which is always close to the ride itself) and you put in your park ticket. Each ticket gets you one Fast Pass at a time. The fast pass will give you a time slot on when you can come back to redeem your seat (example below).

Disneyland

The later the time slot is depended on how many people get the Fast Pass so sometimes hot ticket rides like Radiator Springs Racers run out of Fast Passes by 11am in the morning because everyone beelines for it. The Fast Pass ticket you receive will also tell you what time you can get another Fast Pass. There's usually 1 or 2 hours between when you get a Fast Pass and when you can get a new one.  Time management skills definitely comes into play here.

(By the way, are you loving my Minnie Mouse inspired nail art as much as I am?!)

Anaheim

California Adventure is literally right across from Disneyland so it was easy for me to plan out my day and go from ride to ride even though they span through different parks.

Anaheim

Here was my Disney Day in a nutshell including the return times we got on the Fast Pass:

  1. Park Opens (California Adventure)
  2. Get Fast Pass to Radiator Springs Racers (California Adventure) - 10:20 - 11:20am
  3. Luck out because the Fast Pass system was down at Radiator Springs so they handwrote us a Fast Pass, thus I didn't have to wait to get my next Fast Pass.
  4. Get Fast Pass to Soarin' (California Adventure) - 9:30 - 10:30am
  5. Go on Toy Story Mania without Fast Pass, around 20-25 min wait (California Adventure)
  6. Get Fast Pass to California Screamin' (California Adventure) - 10:20am - 11:20am
  7. Ride Soarin' using Fast Pass (California Adventure) 
  8. Get Fast Pass at Grizzly River Rapids (California Adventure) - 11:30am - 12:30pm
  9. Ride California Screamin' using Fast Pass (California Adventure) 
  10. Ride Carsland using Fast Pass (California Adventure) 
  11. Eat lunch at Flo's V8 (Carsland, California Adventure)
  12. Ride Grizzly River Rapids (California Adventure) 

  13. Grizzly River California Adventure
    Grizzly River Rapids

    Soarin over California
    Soarin'

    Carsland
    Lunch at Flo's 

  14. Get Fast Pass at Indiana Jones (Disneyland) - 3:00pm - 4:00pm
  15. Go back to California Adventure for Vidcon Group Picture (1:15pm)
  16. Disney Day, Vidcon
    Lost among the Vidcon Crowd
  17. Go back to Disneyland
  18. Get Fast Pass at Splash Mountain - 4:30pm - 5:30pm
  19. Charge phone near Splash Mountain while eating a snack
  20. Get Fast Pass at Big Thunder Railroad - 5:30pm - 6:30pm
  21. Try to redeem Indiana Jones but find out ride is temporarily down but we can come back later to redeem our Fast Pass.
  22. Go on Jungle Cruise without Fast Pass, around a 25 min wait (Disneyland)
  23. Go on Astro Blasters without Fast Pass, around a 15 min wait (Disneyland)
  24. Go on Indiana Jones, as it is now running, using Fast Pass (Disneyland)
  25. Go on Splash Mountain using Fast Pass (Disneyland)
  26. Find out Big Thunder Railroad is down but we can come back later to redeem our Fast Pass.



  27. Disneyland Main Street USA

  28. Go to dinner at Carthay Circle (California Adventure) and get the World of Color package so we can get prime viewing of the water show
  29. Get a Fast Pass to Soarin' (California Adventure) - 8:00pm - 9:00pm
  30. Go on Big Thunder Railroad because it's now back up (Disneyland) 
  31. Get a Fast Pass to Splash Mountain - 9:20pm - 10:20pm
  32. Go watch the World of Color (California Adventure) - Showtime: 9:30pm
  33. California Adventure closes and go to Disneyland (which closes at midnight)
  34. Go on Splash Mountain using Fast Pass (Disneyland)
  35. Go on the Matterhorn without Fast Pass, around a 40 min wait (Disneyland)
  36. Go on Pirates of the Caribbean without Fast Pass, around a 10 min wait (Disneyland
  37. Go home and rest feet. 
**Sidenote: Splash Mountain was down for maintenance that day so I was unable to ride it, with or without a Fast Pass.


World of Color, California Adventure
World of Color (California Adventure)
World of Color

Here's a quick tip for you smart phone users. There's an outlet at the pay phone area near Splash Mountain. It's right outside the women's bathroom. Definitely had to rejuice my phone by 3pm in the afternoon.



My favorite part at Disney Parks is the night scene. Everything is lit up like it's the holidays and it just makes you feel wonderful. I mean, even the balloons light up.

Disneyland Night Main Street





Alright. Time to catch my flight to Taiwan now. Bye for now!
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