While browsing for interesting stops on a recent trip to North Carolina, I saw this Atlas Obscura article on the abandoned Henry River Mill Village, and I immediately made it a priority!
The company town was built around a mill in the early 1900s, and looks to have been abandoned not long after the mill closed in the 1960s. There are 20 remaining structures in various states of decay– a playground for connoisseurs of abandoned buildings. But the reason why so many people flock to the site probably has more to do with its more recent history as a filming location for District 12 in The Hunger Games.
Recognize this row of houses from the Hunger Games? It appears that repairs were made to some homes for the film, most noticeably to the back porches, some of which are far sturdier than they ought to be (or simply not collapsed like all the others).
The old company store served as Peeta Mellark’s family bakery:
Even if you’re not into The Hunger Games, it’s a pretty cool place to visit!
I loved this house, as it was so much more colorful inside than the others!
Many of the houses have rotting floorboards, and I’m certain that you’re not supposed to enter any of them. (seriously, please be careful if you visit!) I might have disregarded that rule to take more photos of this particular home. However, it’s not difficult to lean in and snap photos, as the glass is completely broken out of many of the windows.
Houses on the opposite side of the road. What’s not immediately obvious from the photos is just how close they are to the road. The village is only a couple minutes drive from the highway, and there’s no way you can miss it.
An old root cellar carved into the hill in front of one of the homes. I’m quick to note anytime I think something belongs in a horror movie, but this really does seem like a the perfect setup.
If you prefer a guided tour, there’s a local company that works with the owner to offer Hunger Games themed tours that give you a little more access and let you dress up and act out some of your favorite scenes!
On their website and elsewhere I’ve seen statements that the village is closed to the public, which doesn’t seem to be true at this time. When we showed up on a Sunday afternoon, the sheriff was sitting in the parking lot near the company store. He was very nice, and said we were welcome to explore, just to stay away from the mill down by the river as it’s dangerous. We had the place to ourselves for about 15 minutes, when several other groups showed up to poke around and take photos.
There’s no street address for the village, but getting there is easy, as your Google Maps app won’t have any problem finding the location if you just put in “Henry River Mill Village.”
While in Cincinnati over the weekend, we discovered the fantastic American Sign Museum! Set in a former factory building in an crumbling industrial area of the city, the museum displays vintage neon and other signage from across the US.
The rotating Shopland Satellite is one of the wow pieces–and a personal favorite. It originally adorned an Anaheim shopping center.
The faux main street is crammed full of vintage signs. I love the eyeglasses below!
Leading with the glowy things was obviously a no-brainer, so now we’re moving backwards to the museum entrance, where you’re greeted by a 20 foot tall fiberglass genie. He originally welcomed customers at a Los Angeles carpet cleaning company.
It’s partially obscured, but the hammer shaped “Gross Hardware” sign came from Columbus, where it was a minor landmark, frequently figuring into directions given to out-of-towners.
The parking lot is also littered with signs awaiting their turn to shine:
On a dreary, drizzling day in Kyoto, we hopped on the train down to the Fushimi ward–one of the oldest sake producing districts of the city–in search of the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum.
Housed in former Gekkeikan sake brewery buildings that date back to the early 1900s, the museum isn’t large, but ably introduces you to the history and process of sake production. Your 300 yen entrance fee includes a mini bottle of sake to take home (which they sell for 300 yen in the gift shop), and a tasting at the end of tour. Very worth it!
As is so often the case at breweries and distilleries, the quality of the water is credited with producing a superior product, and visitors are invited to give it a taste.
Gekkeikan is the worlds largest producer of sake, and most of their brew comes out of thoroughly modern facilities in Osaka. But here you’ll see the traditional methods and implements of sake making.
Old woodcut seals that were used for branding casks of sake.
Up until this point, I didn’t think I liked sake. I was ready to swig quickly and move on– but this was actually delicious. Of the three samples, I gravitated towards the sweeter variety, though all were very drinkable.
Just past the tasting is the gift shop, with a great range of sakes and sake infused sweets to take back home. You can see why they don’t charge much for the museum; they correctly assume they’ll make it back at the gift shop.
Having passed boats tied up on the canal during our walk to the museum, we investigated further on the way back, and opted for a boat ride down the Takasegawa Canal, along the backyards of many historic sake breweries. Built in the 1500s to transport goods to and from Osaka, nowadays the canal is used only for pleasure.
At first we were told it would be about half an hour for the next boat, but they quickly realized they could squeeze us in with a group of very drunk Japanese businessmen.
My limited Japanese ran out pretty quickly, so for the remainder of the boat ride, the drunkest of the group kept repeating the same conversation: “Miss!, Miss!” (then something incomprehensible to me in Japanese). My “Sumimasen, wakarimasen” (sorry, I don’t understand), only got me off the hook for a minute or so before he tried again…and again.
The boat turns around at the gate to Uji River, where we had a chance to get off, take a look at the tiny canal museum, and the river. And then back on the boat with our inebriated companions.
Last week, we took a quick jaunt up to Traverse City, Michigan for some autumnal goodness. We were a little early for the full glory of autumn leaves, but did find some fantastic food and drink!
Philips Cider Mill was a perfect roadside stop on the way up, with fresh apple cider and scrumptious cider doughnuts!
My little sis has lived in Michigan for years, and recommended Tandem Ciders. Though we tried a couple other hard cider spots, it was without a question the best. It’s a short drive outside of Traverse City, with a small bar, and picnic tables outside. Some of their ciders are available in bottles, while others- like the varieties we chose to take home– are growler-only.
In addition to their food truck, Harvest has a downtown location where we sampled some street food favorites. I loved the Flash Fried Beets!
Vineyard visits could have kept me there for another couple of days, but I settled for a golden hour drive among them.
Don’t even think about taking a swim this time of the year (in fact, bundle up for the beach), but isn’t it beautiful?
And last, but possibly the best is Patisserie Amie, the memories of which were half the reason I planned this trip. The little French cafe was just as good as a remembered, and I insisted on breakfast there two days in a row.
Billed as the world’s only museum focused solely on parasites, the Meguro Parasitological Museum in Tokyo is the brainchild of a Japanese doctor who saw a huge uptick in parasite infected patients due to poor sanitation in the wake of World War II. It aims to promote research and educate the public on parasites; however I have a feeling most of its visitors come for the gross out factor. We made sure to fit in a visit for just that reason!
The museum is located on two narrow floors of an unassuming office building– not enough room to display all 60,000 specimens in their collection, but there’s still plenty to look at.
This horror movie prop parasite specimen is, so far as I can gather, a whale’s kidney infected by the nematode Crassicauda giliakiana.
Another type of nematode, Ascaris lumbricoides, is estimated to have infected 70% of the Japanese population due to poor sanitation and scarcity of safe food as the country struggled to rebuild after World War II. While infection symptoms are often minor, I don’t recommend Googling for photos. Or maybe that’s your thing.
My darling boyfriend–who has a background in biology–helped out with the research, then proceeded to Google every disgusting parasite he could think of (not the ones I asked about, but thanks honey) in order to show me the horror-movie photos.
Below, a display showing the life cycle of some of the preserved specimens.
What you’re looking at in the left jar is Schistosoma japonicum in the blood vessels that connect the liver to the small intestine.
This parasite matures in the liver before laying eggs that continue through the intestines or urinary tract to be either passed (and thus potentially infect another host), or circulated back to the liver. Schistosoma worms infect individuals who come into contact with unclean water.
The resulting disease, Schistosomiasis, kills somewhere between 12,000-200,000 people a year, underscoring the need for clean water in developing countries. S. japonicum was largely eradicated in Japan after the government encouraged a move away from using water oxen for farming, as they can pass on the parasite.
Below, a creepy 1971 Japanese educational poster for Schistosomiasis. The characteristic distended stomach is caused by liver damage from the Schistosoma eggs, which then results in abdominal swelling.
It’s a wonder this poor bird is still standing (dammit, where’s an ex-parrot joke when I need one?), as he appears to be completely riddled with parasites. Really, they’re showing parasites and the organs they can infect.
If you’re already afraid of what’s in your food, don’t head up to the second floor, which explores human parasites:
A nearly 30 foot tapeworm! If you need a clearer illustration of just how long this is, grab the end of the ribbon hanging next to it and stroll across the room. This particular tapeworm is the Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense, which unsurprisingly infects humans who munch on raw or undercooked fish.
But don’t put down your sushi! Infection from sushi is relatively rare because the risk stems mainly from freshwater fish which are rarely used in sushi. This may be why the museum booklet describes D. nihonkaiense as stemming from the consumption of raw trout.
Raw salmon is easily my favorite, and has a fascinating history. Because of the possibility of parasites in a fish which migrates between fresh and salt water, salmon has only recently become a sushi bar staple in Japan.
When Japanese overfishing created a potential market for Norwegian fish in Japan, Norway took advantage of the opportunity by launching a concerted PR campaign on behalf of Norwegian salmon in the 1980s. While the Norwegian article doesn’t address how the parasite concerns were resolved, apparently Japan’s indigenous Ainu population had long been freezing salmon to kill parasites, and this same basic technique of deep freezing is employed in much of Japan and the US today to ensure the fish is safe to eat.
“Important Parasites of Humans”, showing the organs they infect. Amongst the creepy crawlies are our friends Ascaris lumbricoides, Schistosoma japonicum, a Chinese liver fluke, and beef and pork tapeworms.
Above, wax casts of parasite eggs 1,000 times the actual size. These were created as a teaching tool by Jinkichi Numata, a technician at the Institute for Infectious Disease.
The beautifully detailed sketches below are just one of the books on display from Dr. Stayu Yamaguti, who contributed substantially to parasite research. These sketches and notes were not entirely his own observations, rather they were his way of compiling current research and theories.
The small gift shop on the second floor. They offer postcards, tote bags, t-shirts and some smaller items, but I can’t help feel that they’re missing out on the market for over-the-top merchandise many tourists would buy. Still, there’s a couple pretty gross postcards if you’d like to horrify your friends back home.
After all this, you’d think food would be the last thing on our minds, but we were starving and headed across the street for some excellent takoyaki.
Visiting the Meguro Parasitological Museum:
-Admission is free and the museum is open Tuesday through Sunday 10-5
-The museum is approx 15 minute walk from Meguro station, check out their website for detailed directions, or use Google maps–which served us quite well for most of our city destinations in Japan.
More than just a path to this amazing temple, Omote-Sando Road in Narita City, Japan is an attraction in itself. With buildings dating back to the Edo period and shops frequented by locals and tourists alike, we had a blast shopping, gawking and eating our way down the street.
You’ll find plenty of specialty food shops, as well as local crafts. We really could have done almost all of our souvenir shopping here (well, here and the Cup Noodle Museum) and saved the trouble earlier in our trip.
Ok, so not everything is approriate as a souvenir (and good luck getting these through customs), but fun browsing nonetheless.
Not sure what these are. But I really like their packaging design.
There’s even a grocery, if you’re like me and have just as much fun at the grocery store as the tourist spots when you visit a new country.
Some shops clearly cater to tourists, though the overall area has a much less touristy vibe than the streets surrounding temples in Kyoto.
I just like this little guy. He’s a tanuki statue, based on folklore surrounding the Japanese raccoon dog. These statues are common in Japan, symbolizing luck and prosperity.
Narita City is famous for its local specialty, unagi, which is barbequed eel. There’s no shortage of restaurants offering the dish, and we lingered over all the window displays before finally choosing one.
If you’ve never had unagi before, eel might not sound very appetizing. It’s actually really fantastic and one of the more accessible dishes to even picky palates. The fish itself is mild in flavor, with a touch of sweetness from the sauce, and done right, it nearly melts in your mouth!
I opted for the unagi lunch set with cold dipping noodles, divine in hot weather (and much pined for now that I’m back in the US).
Before this trip, I didn’t know that I like sake! Whatever swill I’d been fed previously turned me off of it until I sampled good Japanese sake. Luckily there’s plenty available to bring home at the sake shop, and you can even pick up a gift set with the Narita City airplane logo.
If you’re thinking of visiting, Narita City has resources for planning your stay here.
(this post sponsored by Narita City. as always, all opinions are my own)
Cat cafes have made the news rounds, so you might have seen the photos of cuddly, contented cats in the laps of happy patrons. Of course, cat owners ought to know this is highly unlikely. I…didn’t really think that far ahead.
Snuggles or not, this was hardly something that could be bypassed on a trip to Japan, so we stopped by Neko Maru Cafe in Ueno one afternoon. A short walk from the station, they’re located on the 8th floor of a small office building.
What you see here is the majority of the cafe space, with lockers behind you to store purses and shoes (Though the attendant had us leave our shoes in the small entrance area. Not sure what’s up with that. Are gaijin shoes dirtier? Too big for lockers?)
With the exception of this playful kitten, the kitties were mostly just happy to hang out and sleep.
The cats might tolerate a tentative petting here and there (or disdainfully get up and walk away), but no cuddles were forthcoming.
But he looks so soft, I just want to pick him up and cuddle him! (Don’t even think about it, the instruction sheet is in Japanese, but has an illustration that very clearly indicates NO CAT HUGGING).
Even if you’re not a cat owner, the apathy makes sense when you think about it. People parade in and out of their home all day. And they’re cats. They really don’t give a shit.
Except for the one in the box. Don’t touch him. He’ll fuck you up. Seriously. They warned us twice, just to make sure we understood. Kitty is not pleased by all his house guests. And possibly drugged to prevent a massacre.
Still, if you’d just like to relax in the presence of cats, it’s a pretty peaceful place to be.
The Cup Noodle Museum was our first stop on the day trip to Yokohama that included the Raumen Museum (see that post here). Both were fantastic in their own right, but if I had to pick just one, the Cup Noodle Museum offers far more to do. Read on to see the museum, dining, and make your own ramen experience!
From the beginning, the Cup Noodle museum has a gorgeous, clean, modern aesthetic. My favorite display was the room of all their flavors and brands, arranged in chronological order.
Befitting a museum created to promote a brand, they lay it on pretty thick, fawning over founder Momofuku Ando. Fortunately, it’s exaggerated and stylistic enough that it simply becomes good, goofy fun.
Ramen art or Flying Spaghetti Monster origin myth?
Below, a recreation of the little shed in which Ando invented instant ramen.
After you’ve made your way through the museum (or before, if you’re hungry), the Noodle Bazaar awaits! Choose from 8 stands representing noodle dishes around the world.
You’ll order through the familiar ticket machines, then hand your ticket to the staff at the window. Don’t worry, there are English titles on the buttons, so you shouldn’t have any trouble ordering.
Make Your Own Chicken Ramen Factory
The museum offers a hands-on “Chicken Ramen Factory” experience for 500 yen a person. We had Japanese friends call ahead to make a reservation, but you can sign up on the day of at the ticket office as well, just keep in mind they’re likely to be busier on weekends and holidays.
There’s a bandanna (which you get to take home), and an apron waiting for you at the orientation tables.
You’re separated into small groups and assigned a staff member who will guide you through the process, from mixing and kneading your dough, all the way to cutting the noodles. Ours spoke limited English, but he was very sweet and patient with me when I was snapping photos instead of assisting my partner! There’s an English instruction sheet, and you’ll do fine with a little miming.
The cute elderly couple in our group…possibly the only other adults that weren’t accompanying children. Don’t feel self conscious about going, though! No one minds, and I’m sure there’s often groups with a larger concentration of adults.
The staff never stop moving! Above, rushing to clean up while we’re decorating our packaging and waiting for our noodles to be fried.
The staff handles the more dangerous process of deep frying the noodles to dry them in a glassed in kitchen. All baskets are numbered, so the noodles you take home are the exact noodles you hand kneaded, and you can watch your ramen going through the process.
They aren’t only holding out the noodles for my photo; everyone is welcome to crowd around the glass and the staff member who was assisting at your table happily shows you your ramen as it’s processed.
After all our hard work, the finished product!
Before you leave, you’ll want to stop by the gift shop, which has all kinds of fun Cup Noodle souvenirs.
They sell Cup Noodle gift sets, candles, pretty much everything that can be branded, and these fantastic Cup Noodle shaped cakes, a fun twist on a traditional Japanese sweet with azuki bean filling. Lots of these came back with me for gifts!
We arrived in Narita City after a long day of traveling, train transfers (and re-transfers, once we realized we were at the wrong station….oh, and a very necessary stop at the Kit Kat boutique in Ikebukuro). Having spent the first portion of our trip in Tokyo, and come directly from Kyoto, with crowds of tourists quite literally everywhere, I was delighted find myself wandering streets far less congested.
And this was more or less my expectation for Narita-san Shinshoji Temple. Small. Quaint. Free of the pressing crowds that dominated most of our trip. Well, I was correct on that last count. The temple complex has been slowly growing since its establishment over 1,000 years ago, and now includes amongst its structures five buildings designated important cultural properties.
This not-so-little temple complex is stunning, and fortunately for us, hasn’t yet caught on as a major tourist attraction!
Situated on Narita mountain, the temple entrance is a 15 minute walk from the train station, up the picturesque Omote-Sando street. While not a taxing walk, you can also opt to take a city bus from the train station. If you’re just in the area on a layover, it’s a cinch to take a train or hotel bus from Narita airport; both will stop at Narita Station, from there you can fill up on real food (omg, non-airplane food, I know you feel me on this), and make the short trek to the temple.
Hot dog? I have no explanation for this…
Narita Shinshoji Temple was established in 940, and dedicated to fire deity Fudo Myoo after fire rituals centered around a statue brought from Kyoto were credited with success in suppressing a samurai rebellion. The Fudo Myoo statue stayed in its new temple home in Narita, where it is now displayed on on special occasions (there does, however, seem to be some question as to whether the piece is as old as the temple claims). Regionally well known today, Narita Shinshoji Temple wasn’t brought to the spotlight until the late 1600s and early 1700s, when it gained the patronage of popular kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro. Danjuro’s portrayal of Fudo Myoo was so powerful that spectators often reacted as though they were in the presence of the actual deity! The actor, who felt that Fudo Myoo had protected his wife and son during childbirth, did much to inspire Edo-ites to travel to Narita Temple, including writing and starring in a play revolving around the temple.
Multiple flights of stairs past the entrance gate, you’re on the main temple level, with the smell of incense in the air and (if you’re lucky), the deep reverberations of taiko drums in the background. We arrived during the daily Goma Fire Ritual, in which the priests offer devotees’ prayers to temple deity Fudo Myoo by burning them in a consecrated fire.
Photographs are prohibited inside the main hall, so this photo is courtesy of the nice people at Narita City Tourism:
What you’re seeing in the photo comes after the burning of the prayers; believers will come forward with their purses and wallets, which priests wave over the consecrated fire to bless them.
Above, ema, wooden prayer cards that are purchased at the temple and hung after writing your wishes on the back. These depict Fudo Myoo with his characteristic sword (did you spot the swords earlier in the post?), rope and flames. They make fun souvenirs, too!
This daito is at the at the peak of the temple complex (the same pagoda in the photo at the top of this post). Its golden spire is often visible peeking out of the tree tops as you travel around Narita city.
From the daito, you descend down into a European style garden, which is the beginning of the large, sublimely tranquil Narita Park.
One last glance back up at the daito, which is even more dramatic from below…and then it’s time for a stroll around the park (and wishing you’d packed a picnic).
Statue decorated with waraji, woven sandals that are traditionally offered to temples and shrines for leg and foot health, as well as safe travel.
This post was sponsored by Narita City Tourism, but as always, all opinions are my own! Narita Shinshoji Temple was just one of the many things we did in the area (stay tuned for more posts!), though I think the temple alone is worth a stop in Narita City.
Our whirlwind southern road trip allowed for just under 24 hours in Charleston, South Carolina. Not nearly enough time for this captivating southern city, but we crammed in as much as we could! Here’s our recommended itinerary for the time crunched:
Start at the historic Charleston Market, which dates back to the 1800s, and today offers a wide array of vendors. Pick up some souvenirs, and grab a sandwich or pastry at Caviar & Bananas to keep up your energy for a little city exploring.
Follow the handy French Quarter self guided walking tour map, which will take you past the city’s wealth of historic architecture, and right up to the harbor (I recommend going a little off course to spend some time by the water!)
Your walking tour will end back downtown, where it’s time to take advantage of Charleston’s wealth of seafood restaurants! We ate at Hyman’s, which was unexceptional, but a welcome rest after the long walk. For a truly epicurean experience, check out Cypress.
Finish out the evening at Edmund’s Oast, a brewpub with nearly 50 beers on tap and an inventive cocktail menu.
For breakfast (or brunch, as there should be few early mornings while on vacation in my book), stop into the retro modern Rarebit for the delicious huevos motuleños or more traditional offerings like french toast.
It might be time to get on the road, but before you leave town, be sure to stop at the lush Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, situated on 70 acres and including a Camellia maze, cypress ringed lake and indoor tropical garden.