Category Archives: Travel

Queenstown revisited.

 

This little township is somewhere to come back to.  It is always re-inventing itself but the main drawcard is the spectacular lakeside scenery.

Make sure you stay downtown as the roadway into Queenstown, along the lake is very busy all of the time.  Any hotels along this route are way too noisy.  Air conditioning in summer is also a necessity.

The road from Queenstown to Glenorchy is spectacular with lots of picnic spots and photo opportunities.  Many walks commence from Glenorchy.

 

Try the Earnslaw day trip and BBQ lunch – it was a great day out despite being a very touristy experience.  The steamboat trip in the sunny weather was enjoyable with the horn sounded when we arrived at the sheep farm.  The shearing display was littered with kiwi jokes and the skilful sheepdog display was interesting.  Lunch was full of magnificent kiwi produce and consumed on the lakeside patio.

Lots to do, plenty to see, just take lots of money!

 

Day 15 – To infinity and beyond

Where to next?  It was a hard choice but the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route beckoned.

We purchased a special Alpine Route ticket which cost 1500 yen each.  This ticket covered travel using ten travel segments and covered the use of the Toyama Chiho railroad, Tateyama Cablecar and the Tateyama Highland bus and could be used over five days.  As we travelled in autumn the famous ice wall was not there but the experience was a highlight and was a different Japanese experience.

We left Kanazawa and travelled to Toyama using our JR pass.  We then had to change to the Toyama Chiho railway at Dentetsu station.  Again this whole journey seemed so complicated and despite the knowledge of how organised and reliable the transport system is in Japan, it did cause some consternation… totally unnecessarily so.

This was a fantastic two day experience.  Accommodation at Murodo seems expensive however it covers a gourmet dinner, guided walks if interested, star gazzinf and presentation, use of a private onsen and breakfast.

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We had a magical day for our ascent of the Tateyama Alps and plenty of time to walk around and view the trails, tarns and even volcanic steam outlets.

If you have plenty of time and good weather plan to stop along the way and use the five days for your visit.

 

 

Day 14 -Wandering through time

Despite the light rain our day in Kanazawa was a delight.  From our homestay we ventured through the local streets, visiting Ochaya Shima, a National Important Cultural Asset.  These preserved buildings were once a high-class eastern pleasure quarter, established in 1820.  This is where geishas performed and entertained.

Using the JR bus we returned to the tourist information office at Kanazawa station and they assist us to book a tour at the Myoryui Temple, nick named ninja temple because of the many hidden staircases and traps.  This tour required pre-booking and was totally in Japanese however they did have a folder with an English translation of features. A very unique building and worth seeing.  We visited this in the afternoon.

Next we visited the famous Kenroken Garden and Kanazawa Castle Park.  There were so many beautiful garden settings and vistas.  There was a tea ceremony underway in the gardens.

Kanazawa is a modern city with strong and proud ties to the past. The market stalls, shopping malls, Halloween fun and modern trains clearly provide this contrast.

 

 

 

Day 13 – Thunderbirds away!

 

A really early start… an experience strangely reminiscent of the Korean Beauty Parlour scene from “Seinfield” .. with prayers said in Japanese and our miso soup consumed we were off to explore the rest of Koyasan and then journey on to Kanazawa.

Koyasan has a range of temples and museums to visit all set amongst beautiful trees… perhaps we should have planned to stay longer.  We encountered a few pilgrims on their way.

Our day was full of train travel.  The bus, cable car and train journey back to Osaka.  With our JR Pass, we travelled back to Kyoto on the Shinkansen Hikari.  At 3.40pm we then caught the Limited Express Thurnderbird 29 to Kanazawa.

On arrival in Kanazawa, we were able to use our JR pass to catch the local bus to our homestay in the old geisha district of Higashiyama.  This took some locating with the tourist information telling us to look out for the special heritage tree just outside the home.  This was a fantastic home stay experience and I was awoken at night to the sounds of the wooden shoes of geisha’s strolling past our window… pretty special.

 

 

 

Day 12 – Serenity now

On paper the plans for our full day of travel seemed possible however it was with much trepidation that we set off from our comfy base that had been Kyoto.

On the agenda was a trip to Himeji Castle and then uncertainty of travel to Mount Koya to stay with Buddhist monks in their retreat Kumagaiji.  Could we fit this long day in and still have time to enjoy the sights and savour the experiences along the way?  Would we be really frazzled by the time we got to the mountain top and the UNESCO World Hertiage area Koyasan?  Would we even get there?  …. All needless worry as it turned out.

We departed Kyoto at 8.23am on the Shinkansen Hikari 495 bags and all and arrived at Himeji at 9.18am.  At the station we stowed our cases in a locker and stepped outside for a taxi.  We were met with a fantastic blue sky, perfect for viewing the resplendent World Cultural Hertiage gem that is Himeji Castle.  Our driver quickly delivered us to the front entrance of the castle grounds.

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This beautifully restored castle was being used as a film set for a super fast action movie with a full cast of Japanese warriors.  This gave us a unique chance for some special photographs with cast members.

We were able to extensively tour the mighty castle, which included a climb of the timber stairways up to the sixth floor, opportunity to gaze out of various shooting holes or Sama in the castle walls and to view the city and surrounding countryside.  Magnificent.

The walk back to the train station was easy with the movie making action proving a distraction along the way.  This was definitely worth the three hour detour.  If only there had been enough time to also visit the beautiful gardens next to the castle grounds.

Just as well the stop was so enjoyable because the next segment of our day had me a bit nervous.  Armed with maps and information flyers we headed off to the Koya Peninsular.image

Our onward journey then took us from Himeji at 11.57am to Osaka by 12.58pm on the JR Special Rapid Service.  We then caught the Osaka Loop Line (inner loop) to Shin-Imaymiya.  This journey was a quick seventeen minute trip after which we had to locate the Nanki Electric Railway ticket office to purchase our Koyasan World Heritage Ticket.  This section of our travel was not covered by the JR Pass. The Nankai Electric Ticket covered return train fare on the Nainkai Koya line, the cable car to Koyasan and a two day bus pass.  This cost ¥3,400 each but covered the rest of our rather complicated journey.

At 1.30pm we were sitting comfortably on the Limited Express Koya 7 truely ready for the serenity awaiting at Kumagaiji.  The journey through the countryside and into the treetops and mountainside was very special.  The trees were resplendent in the fall foliage.

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We arrived at the Buddist Temple, Kumagaiji alighting from the bus at around 5.15pm.  After a warm greeting, we were shown to our two-roomed accomodation and our host monk who poured us green tea, gave us bean cookies and a snug welcome at our heated table.  He also explained that we were expected to attend prayers the next morning at 5.00 am!   We walked in the afternoon to Okunoin and wandered along the cedar lined pathway to the mausoleum of Kobo Dashi.  This was a very serene and peaceful place and it was with interest that we located a monument to Australian soldiers from World War II.

Our evening meal was provided by the temple and was a very tasty vegetarian selection, served to us in our private dining room.  After an  eerie night time stroll back through Okunoin which allowed us to further enjoy this unique and sacred Japanese setting, we had an onsen and then retired for the night, warm and comfy as our futons and magically appeared in our room.  The pillows were pretty sad… A bit like sandbags.

Well the day had been a true adventure!

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Day 5 – Have roller bag… Will travel

With our tiny roller bags packed we were on our way to explore the Japanese countryside.

Many people visit Nikko on a day trip from Tokyo but we decided to stay two nights and spend time absorbing the local village life and viewing a range of very special temples and buildings.

Before leaving the Park Hotel the tour director kindly phoned our host in Nikko to organise a pick up from the Nikko JR station.

Today we used our JR passes for the first time.  Remember to always go past the ticket office and show your pass, when entering or leaving train stations.

From Shimbashi station we used the Yamanote Line to return to Tokyo station.  We then found the Shinkansen platforms for our first bullet train ride.

We caught the Shinkansen  Yamariko 207 to Utsunomiya.  We then boarded the JR Nikko Line for Nikko.  This was a quaint tourist train that delivered us to the JR station in Nikko.  The journey from Tokyo to Nikko was 150 km and took us 125 minutes.  There was a quicker and more direct train trip available but this was with a private train company not covered by the JR pass- so make sure to use the Hyperdia app to plan your journey on JR services.

On arrival our host from Nikko Akarinoyado Villa Revage was waiting to collect us from the station.  He drove us through the village, pointed out his restaurant recommendations and dropped us the Shinkyo bridge, just outside the World Heritage temple precinct.  He took our bags back to the ryokan.

We enjoyed a lunch at a popular spot called “Eat Asia” was with locals and a range of Japanese hikers.  Lunch was a delicious  ramen and included a mysterious key ingredient called Yuba.  This we later discovered was a local specialty made from the skin that forms when soya beans are curdled to make Tofu.

The afternoon was spent visiting two temples; Rinno- Ji  Treasure House and Temple and the Futarasan Shrine.  So many grand shrines, buildings, view points and steps!

We then followed the main road and located our ryokan.  Villa Revage had three very special private onsen rooms for us to use.  Our host explained the bath house rules and protocol.  Onsens are fun and very relaxing.

Nikko closes down with sunset.  It was quite a walk to find a restaurant open after dark.  We dined at “Zen” where the menu matched the name.  There were only two choices on the menu.  We selected the Yuba rolls- these were like sushi but used Yuba instead of seafood.  The food was delicious especially when accompanied by a local beer.

We walked a fair distance back to the ryokan and passed “Lawson Station” a convenience store.  We found these shops everywhere across Japan, they were great to pick up a simple snack or treat.

The local bus in Nikko also used the Suica card so we could have caught the bus back if we wanted.  We enjoyed the walk, even if there were spots of rain along the way.

 

Day 3 -Gardens, Temples and Shops

Ready for another day of sightseeing in Tokyo we set off on the metro to Tokyo Station.  This time we actually surfaced and saw the beautiful Victorian architecture of the Tokyo Station Marunouchi Building. The Japanese Imperial Palace was for us, a short stroll from the station.

When we arrived at the palace grounds it was somewhat confusing as to which way to walk to find the sights.  There is a huge gravel assembly area and moat.  We firstly walked around the moat in the direction of Hibiya station and we were rewarded with some classic views of the Imperial Palace, bridges, moat and white swans.  This palace is only open for public viewing one or two days per year.

We then walked back along the moat in the direction of Otemachi station.  Entry to the beautiful Imperial Gardens was via the Otemon Gate.  Entry to the gardens was free however number of visitors permitted is limited.  Entry may be rebooked online or do as we did; arrive early before organised tour groups.   The gardens contained a range of traditional buildings , wonderful gardens and interesting vistas of Tokyo from the fortress and moat walls.

After the morning spent in the gardens it was time to have a change of pace; on to Harajuku.

There were lots of laneways full of quirky shops and boutiques, popular with Tokyo youth culture.  People spotting was fun with some very unusual fashions.  It is certainly the place for the cool and hip.

It was then a surprising visit to Meiji Jingu as this tranquil path, surrounded by a green forest and sacred temple was so close to the craziness of Harajuku.

Later in the afternoon we moved on to Ginza for a spot of window shopping.  There were a range of high end stores that have become generic in most major capital cities of the world.  The Japanese seem to love the big brand names and high end fashions.  Of course after watching “Lost in Translation” we had to walk across Sukiyabashi Crossing!

We visited the basements of a couple of department stores where there was a wide variety of freshly cooked foods on offer.  Wandering through the food halls certainly made us hungry.  We dined at a Korean restaurant in one of the underground shopping malls, there was so much choice for dinner.  Deciding which food to try was the hardest decision of the day.

 

Day 2 – Off to a fishy start

As the Park Hotel was close to the Tsukiji Market , first on the list of things to do was an early morning walk down to visit the fish markets.

A really early morning start was required to gain a place in the observation area for the morning tuna auctions.  After our late arrival in Tokyo the previous evening this was not contemplated.  Just last year at Coff’s Harbour wharf in Northern New South Wales, Australia we had witnessed huge Tuna off loaded from fishing boats.  So we skipped the Tuna auction but really wanted to see the huge variety of seafood on sale.

By following the traffic and hustle and bustle we easily found the markets and wandered in.  It took quite some diligence to avoid trucks and forklifts to finally find the seafood sales area.

Strolling around stalls we inspected the goods for sale, ranging from huge chunks of Tuna , sea anemones, live eels, snow crabs, octopus, oysters and a wide variety of fish.

It seemed really strange that there were so few tourists in the markets … until a security guard escorted us out of the markets.  It seems we had slipped in through a side entrance and unknowingly visited out of tourist hours!  No wonder all the tourists were queuing at the local sushi bars when we walked past earlier.

Make sure to visit after 9.00am and be sure to find the main entrance and collect a fact sheet with a map and a list of market rules!

After breakfast at the hotel, we then took to the metro system using our Suica cards.  These were great and gave us total freedom on the Tokyo transport system.

We visited Asakusa walking through the Kaminarimon Gate, strolling along Nakamise Dori which was full of souvenir shops and food vendors.  The splendid Sensoji Temple and grounds was our truely first taste of traditional Japanese culture.  We were thrilled to see couples strolling around in Kimino.  The gardens with their manicured trees and water features were a strong contrast the hustling modern metropolis that is Tokyo.  The Tokyo Skytree provides a great view however the day was a little hazy so we skipped this.

The Sumida River Boat Ride was a cool change and provided the opportunity to view the city from the waterway.  The cruise to Hama Rikyu Gardens took about an hour.  We then spent the afternoon exploring the gardens, lake  and pavilions.

The Shiodome Centre was then a twenty minute walk away, where we discovered a huge array of restaurants and enjoyed our first bowl of Ramen.

Later that evening we visited the Tokyo tower and enjoyed a beer and the sunset.  The lights of Tokyo sparkled all around.  We reflected on our first taste of Japan, exhausting, exhilarating but what adventures!  It was going to be a great holiday!

 

 

Dream hotel In Tokyo?

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interesting…dreaming of a hotel signifies a new state of mind or a shift in personal identity.  Wow!  Does this mean that my trip to Tokyo will really challenge my personal habits and reveal new ways of doing things?  I hope so.

So far possible places for me to stay include;

Richmond Hotel Asakusa provides reasonably priced business style accomodation 3-minute walk to Sensoji Temple and is close to the Tokyo Skytree.  You can get to this hotel easily from Narita airport using the Keisei Skyliner with a pass that can include a subway pass.  The big draw back for me is the distance out of the city centre and the fact I would need to limit my days out on the subway between peak hours.  Not sure I want to do that!

Park Hotel Tokyo is a more expensive but central option that has been recommended by my friend.  The hotel allows me to walk to the Tokyo fish market or make short journeys to lots of key sights in Tokyo.

Toku Stay Higashi Ginza- apartment hotel is close to the fish markets and closer to the action of the city without the big price tag.  It has good reviews on travel sites.

Any ideas or advice?

Great expectations- the dawning of my Japanese dream.

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Paris, London, New York and Tokyo.

These great capital cities conjure up their own original sounds, sights and smells.

I will finally have the opportunity to live briefly in amongst the throngs of Tokyo.

I can’t wait to visit the hustle and bustle of the Tokyo subway, to join in the crowds at Shibuya Crossing, take in the sensory experience that is Tokyo fish market and wander peacefully through the autumn leaves in Tokyo’s famous gardens.

Hopefully there will be a chance to get to a baseball game, visit a Sumo stable ,sing along at Karioki and dine with owls!

I wonder what images and memories Tokyo will etch in my mind and what special moments will touch my heart?

Does anyone have any “must do” suggestions for my five days in Tokyo?