Travel blog: Japan part 2

Welcome to part 2 of my travel blog to Japan. For the first part, you can click here.

Day 4. Kanazawa

Today we took the train to Kanazawa. It was the first time we used the bullet train (Shinkansen) to go to another city (the JR ticket train is for tourists only and a must have if you want to travel in Japan). On the platform, it said  ‘reserved’, which we found weird. Was this the right train or not? We took it anyway hoping for the best. Apparently, we should have taken the next train, because this one had reserved seats only. My friend had looked it up before online but she hadn’t read anything about it. Anyway, the train conductor asked us to follow him (through a mostly empty train) to take other seats, which I assume were not reserved. Again, we literally don’t speak the same language so I’m just guessing here. We did not get a fine for sitting at the wrong place or kicked out of the train, so that was a win.

In Kanazawa, it was our lucky day because they had their 66th annual festival called the Hyakumangoku Festival. It had a parade, people dancing on the streets etc.

Had the greatest sweet/bun thing called daifuku with chestnuts and beans at the fish market. If you see it, try it. Really delicious. As I said, there was a festival so there were stands everywhere and I wanted to taste about everything. Had anko, which is a red bean paste dessert, ate pickled cucumber with a hot sauce and much more. Really, I could visit Japan again just to sample more food.

Daifuku. A must try! You can find it at a stand at the fish market.

They really have the most amazing things in Japan. This guy sat before me when I was watching the festival. Notice the pin on his hat to keep it from floating away with a breeze? I got one for free when I bought a hat at the market 🙂 (no, I didn’t use it because it seems weird, still it’s amazing someone actually thought of it).

 

Day 5: Kanazawa.

We visited Kenrokuen garden which is considered to be one of the most beautiful 3 gardens in Japan. Here you can find the oldest fountain in Japan.

Because of the festival, they held a special Tea ceremony in the park. It was a 30 minutes ceremony of which you sit for 20 minutes (I did some bowing and maybe prayed to a tea god, not sure-again, nobody spoke English). Got only 1 cup of matcha tea-which I did not like. Too bitter for my taste. This was not at all what I expected from a Japanese tea ceremony, but I read that a real ceremony could literally take all day. All. Day. The tea ceremony lady was very friendly though and directed us with gestures as what to do.

Yup, I had ice made of gold. They had a theme here of gold in food. Btw, it was nice and you don’t actually taste gold.

We also went to the ninja temple Myouryuji aka Ninja-dera, where they had a harakiri/seppuku room. It’s called the ninja temple but no actual ninjas lived there, samurai did. Worth the visit.

 

Day 6/7/8/9. Kyoto.

My favorite city during this trip; Kyoto! Our hotel was a walking distance from the Higashi Honganji temple. Worth the visit, also it’s almost impossible not to spot it, being close to the station.

Tip: as soon as you leave the train, go to tourist information at the station. That’s where we found folders on the Geisha tour and bamboo forest.

At night we had a Gion (geisha) tour with Yuki in the suburbs.

Did you know? 

  • Japanese don’t use the word ‘geisha’.
  • A Maiko = a geisha in training.
  • A Gaiko = a professional geisha.
  • Geisha prostitution is forbidden by law (it’s NOT like in “Memoirs of a Geisha”).
  • No tea is being served at a Geisha tea house (who knew?).
  • The hourly rate of a geisha is about 1,000 dollars. The more popular they are, the higher the rate.
  • Geishas have their own rock, paper, scissors. It’s called samurai, tiger, old lady.
  • Maikos are aged between 15 and 20. Despite the drinking age of 20, maikos are allowed to drink, since it is part of their services entertaining guests.
  • Maikos are not allowed to have cell phones.
  • The 100% silk costumes of geishas weigh about 10 kilos!
  • People walking around in kimonos are tourists, not Japanese people in traditional clothing. They just rent the costumes. The exception on this is geishas with white painted faces (if you are lucky enough to spot one) or without paint on their faces. Couldn’t spot one, but our guide could tell. They are a rare species by the way.

We had a really great guide and I would highly recommend taking his tour. I also learned from him to NOT visit ground floor restaurants but eat at restaurants that are on upper and lower floors. According to him, if a-for example 4th floor restaurant-can still make it despite being not so visible, it’s because the food is good.

The sign “don’t touch the geisha” came to life after a tourist ripped the kimono off a maiko.

We visited Gion again to see it during the day. Had the best Indian food for lunch ever. Also visited Nijo-jo castle. Went to the Kiyomuzu-dera shrine which was crowded with people. Kiyomuzu Zaka street is a street in old Japanese style and packed with tourists, but certainly worth the visit.

We stayed at a traditional style hotel in Kyoto, which meant it had a public bath. And public bath here means men and women are separated and in the nude. I usually don’t do the nude thing, but we were pondering what do to in the changing room and an old lady saw us with our towels and said “nude!” Which was probably the only English she spoke because she kept repeating it until we were, yeah, nude before we stepped into the bath. When in Rome…

Today we bought a day bus ticket. We should have done that 2 days ago, so learn from my mistake and do this at your arrival in Kyoto. We went to see 2 shrines. First the Golden Pavilion. People were throwing money at the three Buddhas. It was very crowded, even on a rainy day. Not much else to see except for the pavilion. Spent about 15/20 minutes, mostly because it was pouring and I was cold. Then we went to the Silver temple. The temple didn’t have a wow factor, but I did like the beautiful garden.

Since it was still raining we went into Gion and ended up in a department store. Bought something foamy and black paint soap (yeah, I’m a sucker for salespeople). Saw the food market and had Indian food again. After Japanese breakfast and lunch, it’s nice to mix things up.

Also something very Japanese are the restaurant windows that have fake food samples like the ones above. They even sell plastic ones in shops. It’s a great concept actually; this way you see exactly what’s on the menu.

Day 8  was Bamboo forest day I was really looking forward to. Our guide was a lovely lady named Noriko from the Kyoto Sagano Walk. I absolutely recommend them. We were lucky that day because there were only two of us and our guide, so it was practically a private tour.

Note: do not try/ask to tip your guide. She will not accept it and I think it is considered a big no-no in Japanese culture.

After a few days without eating running sushi, we were in the mood again. Noriko recommended Musashi restaurant at the Shinkansen exit (Kyoto station). It was so so good and affordable.

Our last stop was the best shrine ever: Fushimi Inari. You can not leave Kyoto without visiting this shrine, famous for its orange torii gates.

Day 10: Hiroshima.

Went to the memorial museum, saw the A-bomb dome and the Children’s Peace Monument. Chills went down my spine at seeing all the horrific things people can do to each other. It’s a must visit when in Hiroshima.

From here we took the tram to Miyajima island, which is famous for the shrine in the water. It was about a 50-minute tram ride. With the JR line pass, the ferry to the island is free. I loved it here, and it’s pretty cool to see deer walking around.

Day 11/12: Osaka

Our hotel wasn’t far from the famous Dotonbori. We walked through it on our way to Osaka castle and its gardens. The gardens had a 1,50 entrance fee but were a total letdown. It’s like any other European park without the tea house. Not worth paying for.

Had a late breakfast on day 2 in Ishi bashi. It was a huge pile with pancakes and ice. Yes, ice. Didn’t know that, until I saw it. Ice cream is very popular in Japan, You can even have it at breakfast in some hotels or from a vending machine in the middle of the street. Hmm, maybe breakfast at a waffle and pancake place wasn’t the way to go. It was delicious though.
I went to visit Dotonbori and area. I also happened to stumble upon the matcha Kit Kat my niece had requested from Japan. Yay! Also had running sushi, yes again. Looove the scallop sushi.

Went to Hard rock cafe at night. No live music unfortunately but they did have Freddy and MJ.

Day 13: Tokyo

Back to Tokyo and time for souvenir shopping! Not really for myself, mind you, but for the people back home. You know how it goes. I bought sushi socks, a hot-cold mug with toriis and a Kimmi Doll ‘believe’. I chose for the doll with this theme because I’ve sold my first pre-orders for The Amazon and the Beast during this trip. Yay!

As I told before we had made reservations for the Ninja restaurant and tonight was the night. The interior of the restaurant is really great, it’s like an ancient Japanese village from a movie. The food was okay, the service great, it was more of an experience, kind of pricey. I think especially kids will love it though.

Day 14: Tokyo

Our last day. Boo. We had breakfast at a coffee tent. Finally found a place with yogurt and muesli (really, rice balls in the morning get old after day 2). Went to Oyibara souvenir place. Nice crafts but nothing I was looking for.

So after 2 weeks, I had to say goodbye to one of the greatest travel experiences of my life.

I can cross Japan off my bucket-list, but definitely, want to return someday!

So, next up: a road trip to Western USA!

Mythology: my fountain of inspiration

I have always loved a good story. As a kid, I loved fairytales and basically any story with a hero and villain. I remember on my birthday wearing a pink princes dress with a plastic sword around my waist. See, I didn’t want to be just a princes, I also wanted to be a hero. Sadly I never learned to wield a sword or any martial arts, but luckily I have my fictional heroines to draw from.

In my new urban paranormal series, I have strong female characters, which doesn’t always mean they are bad-ass and kick some ass (though most do) but they are strong-willed. A great source of inspiration to me is world mythology. Though the Mythos series takes place in modern times, the battles are ancient. Especially the war of the gods which is one of the subplots in the series. 

If you’ve read The Amazon and the Beast then you know it ended in a happily ever after, but as some readers already pointed out, it’s more of a happy for now. So, what can you expect for the second book in the series?

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Book covers: Before and After

Most people buy books with their eyes. At least, I do, unless I read about a book-or already know the author-and don’t particularly care about the cover. However, for a baby indie such as myself, it’s important to have a great, professional looking cover. For The amazon and the beast I had a cover from fiverr first which was fairly cheap (the more professional looking artists on fiverr were quite expensive which is only normal considering the quality). But then I stumbled upon a great facebook group for indies and saw other covers and was like… umm okay, my original cover just won’t do. At all.

I was lucky to come across Andrew Dobell’s Creative edge studios and had a new cover made. The end result was fantastic and I get a lot of positive feedback. Lesson: save up for a professional cover!

So, how did the cover for The Amazon and the Beast come to life?

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Travelblog: Japan in 14 days (Tokyo)

Hi there, travel lover!

Took me some time to put this blog together, but here it is. I absolutely loved Japan. The views, the people, the food (omg the food!), the temples, the toilets (yeah, nothing beats a Japanese toilet) and the all over hygienic lifestyle over there. This beautiful country is definitely on my “Must visit again” list.

So, after a really really long flight (there’s just no way around that when traveling from Europe) we first had a stop-over in Taiwan.

Tip: keep on walking in the airport until you find the massage chairs. They are free to use. Just get some coins from the store nearby.

Also, I will be covering this trip in two posts, starting with Tokyo, because it’s near impossible to cover everything in just one post.

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Instafreebie excerpt

 

Hi there,

I’m so excited to announce that the editing of the Amazon and the Beast is almost finished. I’m hoping to publish within a few weeks. The first pre-orders were already flying out the door while I was in Japan. A travel blog about this beautiful country will follow later this week.

In the meantime, if you want to enjoy reading some kick-ass paranormal romance, here’s the excerpt on Instafreebie.

Enjoy!

Going to Japan! Tokyo, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Osaka.

In about a week I’m going to Japan. I’m so excited! I’ve been wanting to go there forever and now it’s almost happening. I’m going with the same friend with whom I took the Mongolian express to Russia, Mongolia, China and Tibet (I can’t believe it’s been over 7 months and I haven’t even taken a weekend trip– been busy writing).

So, where are we going and, of course, how did I plan this trip?

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Indie book marketing

The horror of every new indie: how to sell your books also known as book marketing. Now, since I haven’t published my first indie book yet I can’t give you any personal advice. I can, however, tell you that I’ve been doing a lot of research on the matter for the past several months and I wanted to share this with other indies.

There are endless sites about this subject, but here are my favorite sites so far:

1. The Creative penn. A must read. Don’t question it, just read.

2. Creative indie: Lot’s of useful articles on it, (though less search friendly as the Creative penn).

3. Jane Friedman: Great blog, lots of info.

4. Instafreebie: maybe you’ve already heard about it since it seemed like (almost) everybody but me already knew about this site. But, if you’re a newbie like me, then check it out. It’s a great way to gather an e-mail list and put your book out there to a large audience.

5. Just Publishing Advice: great resources about marketing but also about various things like publishing.

6. Facebook groups: I haven’t added a link to a specific facebook group because there are so many of them and you should just search the one that appeals to you most. You have groups for indie authors of urban fantasy, thrillers, romance etc. This is the place I’ve learned the most so far. So, join a facebook group today!

Hope these sites will be of some help to you. Have other useful links? Please drop it in the comments or mail me.

Book cover designers

There are two things as a-first time-indie author I knew I shouldn’t do myself.

  1. Editing. Always, always hire an editor. I have a great one I worked with previously and she finds mistakes I was sure of weren’t there (but of course they were).
  2. Book cover. I know there are writers who are skilled enough to design their own book covers (I’m not one of them).

So, today is about book covers within your budget. Where do you find a good book cover? The first thing I did is simply google ‘indie premade book covers’. I specifically searched the term ‘premade’ as these book covers are usually (not always) cheaper and for every budget.

So, here are a few sites I found very helpful. Of course, it depends on your budget and genre which one suits you.

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Travelblog: Iceland

I am no friend of cold weather by any means. So it takes a lot to get me to take a vacation where I have to wear a thick coat and a fleece hat all the time. Then again, when you go to Iceland you don’t have a lot of choice. October in Mongolia meant that my ass almost froze off, so I was hoping that Iceland in April (2016) would be less bad. Btw, it was, but not by much, and only because in Mongolia I slept in a tent 🙂 (that moment when you wake up in the middle of the night and the fire has gone and it’s -20!).

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10 rules for writing fiction

So, I have these days when I know I have to up my wordcount, but then ‘accidently’ click on some bookmark so I can ‘learn’ more about writing. Ironically enough these writing tips mostly shout to “just start writing!” which also translates into “don’t write a blog post about it, but just finish that first draft”. Well, since I finished the first draft on The Amazon and the Beast I think it is time to share some writing rules with my fellow (aspiring) writers.

The Ten rules for writing fiction was posted in The Guardian, (and inspired by Elmore Leonard). I will just give a highlight of the 10 writing tips.

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