Some observations from travels

Posts tagged “nature

Travel Theme: Stone

Having been back home meant back to the usual grind of life – work, friends, coffees, food, sights, sounds, smells and of course the beach.  Ailsa’s Travel Theme last week was Stone.  A couple of the beaches I enjoy visiting on the Gold Coast has a good collection of stones, both big and small.

A bird's view of Burleigh Heads and Surfer's Paradise

A bird’s view of Burleigh Heads and Surfer’s Paradise

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Fishing and boating on the Spit

Fishing and boating on the Spit

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Don’t forget to visit Where’s My Backpack for more Travel Theme.  Have a great week everyone.


A Quick Stop to…Honolulu

As promised this post was meant to start on my return to the Gold Coast.  Along the way let’s visit Honolulu for a quick stop.

I was fortunate enough to join a company trip to one of the islands of Hawaii.  This was my first time to visit the islands and it was a nice experience.  Hawaii is made up of six major islands – Kaua’i, Oahu, Moloka’i, Lana’i, Maui, and the big island of Hawai’i.  Each island boasts its own distinct feature.  Honolulu is on the island of Oahu, and our hotel was smack bang on the beach of Waikiki, where the majority of the hotels and touristy spots are found.

From the moment we touched ground, dropped out luggage and off we went to have lunch at the Veranda at the Beachhouse in one of Waikiki beach’s iconic buildings – Moana Surfrider.  Then is was a matter of settling our stuff and taking in the views.

The following day we promised to get up early for a dip on the (protected area) beach across the road from our hotel.  Then more sightseeing and exploring Waikiki.  Later in the day we gathered out appetite for an evening of cultural immersion – Luau.  We chose to join the Paradise Cove Luau, and was happy to learn that they were the preferred choice amongst the many options available.  We got picked up near our hotel along with 51 other bus members to a secluded area along the beach of Ko Olina Resort.  The main man of the night would have to be our tour guide – Rich.  For those of you who have not been to a Luau I highly recommend you join one next time.  It is packed with entertainment from the different villages or islands such as joining a traditional Hawaiian games, making flower leis, boys learning to dance the hukilau and of course partaking in the buffet of delicacies from the time-honoured cooking at the Imu Ceremony.

The next day it was a day of double deck bus city tour.  You gotta have a double-decker bus tour! It’s just fun.  Luckily, there were only my friend and I during the first half of the tour, so we had the tour guide to ourselves on the top of the bus.  Although I was disappointed that it wasn’t a hop-on hop-off bus.  The city of Honolulu has many historical buildings and interesting places.  Firstly, we were picked up in from of the statue of Duke Kahanamoku along the beach then driven around the city to our main stop at Chinatown.  Then after a couple of hours walking around downtown Chinatown we hopped on back on the bus to finish the second half of the city tour.

So, it was our last day in Honolulu and we haven’t even ticked half of our wish list.  Unfortunately, it was school holidays when we went and interacting with dolphins seemed to be the number one activity tourists want to do in Hawaii.  Who wouldn’t! It is such an experience.  Then looming in the historical background was Pearl Harbour! What to do!

We opted to give Pearl Harbour a miss and went for the next best thing to be closer to dolphins.  Fortunately for us there was still space for a boat ride to snorkel and swim with wild dolphins!  I highly recommend this tour option – Ko Olina Ocean Adventures.  The speed boat was smaller (than a catamaran) and able to take us closer to where the dolphins are.  We had many chances to snorkel to swim and feed fish, turtles and dolphins!  It was such a great experience.

I would love to visit the other islands when the chance comes up.  But, I must admit, the beaches of the Gold Coast awaits and it’s so much better.  See you soon.


Memoirs of Kyoto

This is my second visit to the old capital city of Kyoto, Japan.  Previously I visited the city for a day and did not seem to finish what I had on my wish list of places to see.  It was not possible!  There is so much to see around Kyoto!  So I went for another visit and this time I managed to visit the Nijo Castle, the Kyoto Imperial Palace, visited the Golden Pavilion once again, then last but not the least the Fushimi Inari Shrine.  So come along for a walk through my photo gallery of my second visit to Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan.

Nijo Castle.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site was built in 1603 as a residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu.  The castle was finished around 1626.  Some parts of the castle was damaged by fires on 1788, remained closed and empty until it was donated to the city of Kyoto in 1939 then opened to the public the following year.

The castle ground area is vast 275,000sq metres of two main palaces – The Ninomaru Palace as well as the Honmaru Palace surrounded by traditional Japanese gardens, moats, inner and outer gates.  The palace buildings are mainly built in timber and beautifully made.  Unfortunately, as with any World Heritage Sites, photo taking is strictly prohibited inside the palaces.

Kyoto Imperial Palace.  Formerly the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family until 1868 when the capital city was moved to Tokyo in 1869.  The current structure had been reconstructed around 1855 after the original palace was burnt and moved around the capital over the centuries.  The palace grounds are elongated and filled with beautiful tree groves and broad gravel path where tourists can walk through.

The Imperial Palace is open to the public and private tours are held frequently throughout the day.  I have indicated ‘private tours’ as the gates are not open to just anyone who walks in.  If you wanted to join a private tour it is best to go with a tour group.  Otherwise you have to make reservations, be prepared to bring your passport and fill out security forms prior to being allowed in.  Once inside the group is accompanied by security at the front as well as the end of the group.  It is discouraged to walk away from your group or venture out on your own.  The inner buildings are private and not available for viewing.

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion).  Formally called Rokuon-ji, which literally translates to The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, dates back to 1397 is a Zen temple formerly the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.  The present structure was rebuilt in 1955 having been burnt numerous times in the past.  The impressive structure covered in gold leaf is what’s left of the shogun’s villa.  It overlooks a big pond and the complex is surrounded by a classical Japanese garden design.  Each of the three floors represent different architectural design to reflect the extravagant and wealthy aristocratic circles of the Kitayama culture of Kyoto.

This was my second visit to the pavilion and it was not boring to see it once again.  This time around I had a beautiful sunny day for my photos as oppose to the cloudy and rainy day during my first visit.

And last…but not least The Fushimi Inari Shrine, which I had been beating myself for missing out since my last visit.  For those of you of have read the book and seen the movie – “Memoirs of a Geisha”, this shrine would, hopefully, bring back a sweet memory.  This was one of my favourite books and the movie was just an ‘icing on the cake’ as they say.  Fushimi Inari was one of the places where they filmed the movie.  Remember the scene when Chiyo as a young girl, after she met the Chairman and got given the change from her sweet treat, ran through a series of torii gates to make her wish to one day meet him again.  Well, call me a romantic, but it was here at Fushimi Inari Shrine where she ran through, and I wanted to do the same…

Fushimi Inari Taisha.  The shrine is the head shrine of several thousands of shrines (32,000 sub shrines) around Japan dedicated to Inari, the shinto god of rice.  Also famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates donated (paid by) Japanese business.  If you are keen, follow the trail of these torii gates that takes you up the wooded forest towards the sacred Mount Inari.  The whole trail could take you up to three hours to go up and back.  At the summit of the mountain one can enjoy a view of Kyoto.

When my hubby and I went it was such a hot day and I forgot to spray myself with insect spray.  We went up to, I believe, level 2-where the track splits into a circular route.  We were exhausted and decided to go back as my legs already resembled a polka-dot legging.  But, I still have to admit, it was very much worth the visit.  It was an experience walking through these torii gates.

And that, I’m afraid, was my farewell for Japan (for now.)  I have enjoyed my stay exploring and learning about the country, a little bit of its history, the people and the food!  I would love to have the chance to learn more, see more and experience more of Japan.  I hope you all will get the chance yourself.

Stay tuned for more adventures around this weird and wonderful world of ours.  Up next…Gold Coast, Australia!


The Seaside Resort City of Gamagori

Gamagori is in the middle of Japan and easily accessible by a 30-minute train ride from Nagoya.  It is known for its boat racing, one of the three kinds of gambling in Japan – Horse, Bike and Boat Racing.  It is also known for its numerous marine museums and onsen (hot spring) spas.  But the most important attraction I was interested in was the Takeshima Island, which can be reached from the main land through a 387 metre long bridge.  On the island are a collection of different plant species considered a Japanese national treasure as well as a buddhist temple.

This day trip was one of the last few trips I did before leaving Nagoya.  Once you step out of the train station you will be welcomed by an imposing tall yacht in the middle of the roundabout as an indication that you have landed on Gamamori – The Seaside Resort City.

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Then off I went to find my way through towards the island I was after.  From here a couple of blocks towards the port area another impressive timber building meets visitors – The Natural History Museum – Sea of Life.

Not far from the Natural History Museum is the Takeshima Aquarium but as it was a very warm day I gave that a miss and proceeded to more interesting views ahead of me.  By this time I could already smell salt water and feel a light breeze on my face.  Then I caught a glimpse of Takeshima Island looming in the not too far a distance.

I had to contain myself from running off towards the island and wander around the Mikawa Bay National Park.  A small park with a shrine and the Seaside Literary Memorial, just across from the island.

Then it was on to the bridge to take me to the Takeshima Island.  The view across the bridge was beautiful.  Maybe it was just being within close proximity to water, which I haven’t been near for a while, but it was just the cleanliness and simplicity of the island that lifted my spirits that day.

When I got to the other end of the bridge I was quite excited to climb up the long stretch of stairs up the to Yaotomi Shrine, known for its gods who bring luck for marriage and giving birth.  There are many ways to reach the shrine, but if you’re not very interested, you can just wander around the whole island.  It is quite easy to walk through even on a high tide such as that day I was there.  When the tides are low visitors can walk to the island by strolling through the waters.  Apparently there are treasures to be found on and around the island.

Then it was time to say farewell to this beautiful island of Takeshima and the resort city of Gamagori.

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Tokugawa Ieyasu looking over the island where he once prayed before going to battle

It was a good day.


A word a Week Challenge – Boat

boat on ha long

A lone boat along Ha Long Bay in Vietnam is the one photo that came to mind when this week’s A Word a Week Challenge came up.  This was such a memorable photo for me…a boat amongst the giant limestone formations of Ha Long Bay.  Don’t forget to pop by for a visit at A Word in Your Ear for more contributions to this week’s challenge.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting

I’m late for the other week’s challenge, but I couldn’t help myself.  Here’s my addition to the Fleeting challenge.  I hope you all had fun browsing through what everyone has contributed to this challenge.

Sakura, or the cherry blossoms, are revered flowers here in Japan.  It is said that the transience of these flowers symbolises a Japanese cultural tradition, for its blooming en masse as extreme beauty followed by a quick death.  It had been associated with mortality as the ephemeral nature of life.  These beauties have to be enjoyed really quickly as they will suddenly go as quickly as they blossomed.

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The Ancient Capital of Kyoto

Kyoto was the former capital of Japan for over 1000 years yet even until today it remains as the country’s cultural centre and very much loved by visitors both locally and from around the world.  It truly is a magical place.  Unfortunately for me, I only had a short day to visit, but definitely not the last one – I will be back for more.

Following the weekend at Tateyama Alpine Route, next on my agenda was the ancient capital of Kyoto!  It is a super express ride from Nagoya and quite easy to get around.  From the time I stepped out of the train, the atmosphere around the Kyoto Station was welcoming.  With the Kyoto city tourism right within a few steps from the central exit I felt comfortable tackling the day tour already.  The ladies at the counter were helpful, spoke very good english and knew what was going on as we spoke.

As it was the golden week many places were closed due to the many public holidays happening that week.  So I thought I will start with some world heritage sites.  First up was Sanjusangen-do Temple.  This was second top on my list of places to see (first on the list was the Imperial Palace) for its collection of 1001 Sanju-Kannon statues of buddhist deity.  What I failed to read even at the back of my entry ticket was there was a very strict rule on ‘no photos’ inside the hall.  I was speechless! as this was the main reason I visited this place! But, I moved on and enjoyed the Kannons and planted them in my memory.  There are photos on-line and books about them as well.  Nevertheless, outside the temple was as beautiful as the ancient Kannons.

The original temple was built around 1164 but lost in fire then reconstructed in 1266 and has remained unchanged for 700 years.  It has since had four great renovations since.  It is also known for its 120 metres long temple hall made in the Wayo or Japanese style architecture.  The name Sanjusangen-do derived from its famous thirty-three spaces between the columns.

 

There are literally over a thousand temples and shrines in Kyoto.  I managed to visit a couple smaller once within the vicinity of Sanjusangen-do temple before I made it to another UNESCO world cultural heritage listed building – Kiyomizu-dera.  This temple was more tourist friendly which allowed photos, except from the private garden, where you can sit down and enjoy with only your memory.

Kiyomizu Temple is set atop a hill along the Otowa Mountain.  Built in 778 which, unfortunately, was also burnt down by fires then rebuilt during the Edo Period between 1631-33.  The temple is beautiful with the Kiyomizu stage built high on 12 metre pillars and boasts a great view of the city.  The landscaped garden all around the temple is so pleasant to walk around (even when crowded) as there are splashes of colour everywhere.

 

From Kiyomizu temple the walk down beautiful Higashiyama District where you find souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants or just people watching is another experience.

 

There are many interesting sight to see on the eastern side of Kyoto also known as Higashiyama Dirstrict, but it is a vast area to cover.  I missed out on Nijo Castle and the Kyoto Imperial Palace.  Instead I chose to visit Rokuon-ji Temple more famously known as Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion.)  The golden pavilion is a shariden, a buddhist hall containing relics of buddha.  The garden and buildings are believed to represent the pure land of buddha in this world (albeit the crowd) and it was crowded.  The design is quite tourist-efficient, though, as everyone can just walk through a path and see all the important features of the temple, without overcrowding in one area.

The garden around the pavilion is a National Special Historic Site and Special Place of Scenic Beauty where one should enjoy strolling around.  For such a popular tourist attraction, this might be a bit challenging to accomplish, as it seemed always crowded.

 

The rain stopped and the clouds were clearing, but it was also getting late and museums and temples were closing.  Instead of going to Gion District, which I really wanted not only to visit but experience, I chose to make a final dash over to Heian Jingu Shrine.  Considered as the replica of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, Heian Jingu is an important cultural property of Japan.  A young temple, compared to other temples in Kyoto, at only over a hundred years old – 1895, was burned down in 1976 and rebuilt using moneys collected from donations to what is now the current structure.

 

And that concluded my day in Kyoto, but only for now, I will definitely visit Kyoto again especially as I want to experience the culture in Gion District.  I hope you enjoyed the photo tour with me.  Up next is Nara also a former capital of Japan.


Travel Theme: Beaches

I love beaches and I love that Where’s My Backpack chose this for this week’s Travel Theme.

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Spring? Is it?

It was the the start of the golden week here in Japan.  Golden week is named so as there are numerous public holidays that fall within the same week and some workplaces, such as mine, take the whole week off.  Unluckily for my hubby he had the usual work week.  But that didn’t stop us from having fun on his consecutive days off (that I never get) and booked ourselves a (Japanese) tour to Tateyama Alpine Route where we could still enjoy a winter wonderland in the form of the Murodo Snow Wall.

I know some of you real adventurers out there might think, “umm, tour group? maybe not.” But we had no clue how to get there and the trip sounded easy with english guide provided.  This part was a bit hilarious, the tour guide sounded like she was on a bilingual tv channel.  She spoke Japanese on PA, then gestured for our instructions to follow.  The trip started early in the morning and involved a lot of waiting and queuing.

From the Nagoya station where the tour kicked off we drove for a couple hours to our first toilet stop, and this was one thing I loved about the tour – generous toilet stops along the way! (It must have been put up by a lady tour planner)  The first town was Unazuki where we hopped on an old style Kurobe Gorge train.

 

The train was an open type train and the view from the turn-around ride gave us an outlook of what the rest of the trip was about.  Then we went off to Hakuba Onsen Village where we stayed for the night.  Based on the tourism website the village came to life since the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.  The village hosted many of the athletes as it offered a number of winter sports actions.

 

The next morning we started with a Japanese style big breakfast and off to more bus and trolleybus rides to get to walk on the Kurobe Dam.

 

Next stop was a quick visit to Daikanbo Station via a ropeway ride up the mountain.  This was our first touch of the winter wonderland of Tateyama.

 

Then onto our final trolley bus ride for the Murodo Snow Wall.  I must say, after all the rides and waiting to get here…it was worth it all!

 

I couldn’t help myself touching the wall, it was such a amazing experience for me! Growing up in a tropical country where the weather was either sunny or rainy then seeing a snow wall like this was beyond words.  The rest of the trip was just a blur compared to the experience of walking through this wall!

I highly recommend a trip to the Tateyama Alpine Route.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Future Tense

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The other day I stopped by Kosho-ji, a buddhist temple two subway stops away from my work.  This photos shows the initial bloom of cherry trees around the temple – which means Hanami is upon us!  This traditional Japanese custom of viewing cherry blossom (sakura.)  It also indicates that spring has finally arrived and the promise of warmer months and greener trees ahead.

Enjoy your spring! Don’t forget to visit the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge to enjoy more interpretations of this week’s Future Tense theme.