Traveling

Aric and I like traveling and in the past twenty years we have visited many countries. In this blog post I have collected all the trips we have made between 2002 and 2019. Most of these trips I have documented in reports, in which case I give the link with a short description and a few pictures.

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Europe, May 2002

Aric’s first trip in Europe. I had planned an ambitious itinerary, including Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France ūüėČ . In those days I didn’t keep a blog, so details have become vague. We traveled by car, stayed mostly in hotels, camping occasionally. We did Venice as a daytrip from Padua and took a train from Florence to Rome, because Aric absolutely wanted to see the Colosseum!

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Bali, February 2003

We visited Bali only a few months after the Kuta bombings, tourism had come to an almost complete standstill. I kept a diary and published four picture reports about various aspects of the trip: Nature, Culture, Sawah and Personal.

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Sydney, October 2003

In 2003 I didn’t have a MM2H visa yet, therefore I had to leave Malaysia every three months.. Originally we had planned a trip to Beijing, but finally we decided for a short holidays Down Under. Sydney is a very pleasant town and we could easily have spent a much longer time there. Even with the sometimes winter-like cold weather, so we have hardly visited any of the famous surf beaches!. Here is a pictorial report Sydney 2003. The captions of each picture link to separate sub-reports.

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Beijing, June 2004

When my three-months visa expired, we decided to visit China this time. Beijing was our destination, but we also visited the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs etc. Here is a report with the Highlights of our trip. Detailed reports can be found in Beijing 2004.

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Cambodia, January 2005

Of course Angkor Wat was the main destination of our Cambodia trip. But we started in Phnom Penh and visited the Killing Fields. By boat to Siem Reap and after three days of Angkor Wat, we continued to Battambang. I created a kind of travelogue this time: A Pictorial Travel Report of a Trip to Cambodia.

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Sabah, May 2007

An adventurous trip, well organised by a friend of Aric. First we went snorkeling on Manukan island, next there was wild water rafting on the Padas river and the culmination was climbing Mount Kianabalu. I stopped at Laban Ratah, Aric made it to the top. After a relaxing time at the Poring Hot Springs we went back to KL. Here is the travelogue: Sabah Trip.

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Vietnam, July 2007

Air Asia had a promotion with free tickets to Hanoi, we could not resist the temptation and went to Vietnam. First we stayed a few days in Hanoi, a very pleasant town, although it was very hot. We made a trip to Halong Bay, very worthwhile. Instead of visiting Hue (too hot), we took the train to Sapa in the mountains. Finally a few more days in Hanoi. Here is the travelogue Vietnam, July 12-21, 2007.

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Sarawak, December 2007

A short trip to Sarawak to attend the wedding of a Dutch friend with a Bidayu lady. Of course we managed to include a few waterfalls and also an Orang Hutan rehabilitation center. More details in Sarawak, (14-17)-12-2007.

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Thailand, November 2008

A friend of ours, Dick Sandler, has a resort near the Khao Sok National Park in Thailand and Marcia, another friend, has a house at Railay Beach, near Krabi. We took a flight to Krabi, spent some time there, then took a boat to Railay , where we celebrated Loy Krathong on the beach. In Khao Sok we stayed in a romantic tree house and visited a waterfall. More pictures in Thailand (Krabi & Khao Sok) 2008

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China, July 2009

In July 2009 we went back to China for a very special reason, to see for the first time in our lives a solar eclipse! Solar eclipses are only visible from narrow regions on Earth, in this case a part of China. We decided to start our trip in Hangzhou and watch the eclipse there. Then to continue our trip to Suzhou and finally Tong Li. All three places famous tourist attractions. Our trip resulted in three albums, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Tong Li.

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Melbourne, October 2009

A few months later we visited our friends Pat and Roger in Melbourne. I had visited them before, so I could guide Aric around in Melbourne. Our hosts took us on a very nice trip along the Great Ocean Road. We also saw kangaroos and had delicious food. Here is the travelogue Melbourne, October 2009.

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Sarawak , March 2010

Our friend Keong invited us to join him on a trip to Semban. This village in the Bungo range south of Kuching, is famous for its “ring ladies”. High up in the hills, it is called the “Village above the Clouds”. We stayed a few days in the village, enjoying the hospitality of the Bidayu people and hiking to impressive waterfalls. Here is the report, Village above the clouds, February 2010.

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China, family visit, May 2010

For our third trip to China we visited the Teochew region, where Aric’s family originally came from. For a long time already it had been Aric’s wish to organise a trip for his parents and his favourite uncle and auntie to their roots. It was a very successful and rewarding trip, resulting in three albums, Shantou, Chaozhou and Chenghai

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Thailand, August 2011

We were invited to attend the wedding of my former student Raoul with his Thai boyfriend Aunn and decided to combine this event with a visit to some world heritage sites and waterfalls. We took a flight to Bangkok and rented a car there. We visited Ayutthaya, Kamphaeng Phet and the Khlong Lan waterfall. After the wedding party we drove back to Bangkok where we stayed a few more days. Here is the travelogue Thailand (16-24)-8-2011

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Greece, September 2011

If I had to make a list of our most fascinating holidays, our trip to Greece would probably be number 1. We did a lot during 16 days, starting with Athens, followed by Delphi, Meteora, the Sporadic Islands and Santorini. I compiled four albums, one about Athens, one about Delphi & Meteora, the third one about the islands Skopelos & Skiathos and the last one about Santorini. A magical world.

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Singapore, November 2011

The reason that we visited Singapore again was to attend a concert of the MozART GROUP, classical music with a humorous twist. The concert took place in the concert hall, nicknamed the Durian, We stayed in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and of course enjoyed the infinity swimming pool. We also visited the Haw Par gardens. Report is here: Singapore, November 2011.

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Europe, September 2013

Our second Europe holiday, two weeks this time. Again a full program, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein (!), Switzerland and France. Many highlights, the most spectacular one was the Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe. Four albums about this trip, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France.

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Barcelona, September 2013

Back in Amsterdam we still had some time before Aric went back to Malaysia. So we booked a flight to Barcelona , one of my favourite towns. The town of Gaudi, for me it was the first time to visit the Sagrada Familia cathedral, still unfinished. We liked the tapas, the paella and the sangria. But, like Amsterdam, overcrowded with tourists (like ourselves, I know).

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Taiwan, March 2014

For quite some time Taiwan has been on our list of countries to visit and this year we finally booked an Air Asia flight to Taipei for a 12-day trip. One reason was to try the Taiwanese food, but of course there was also the culture and the nature. We got addicted to onsen, the hot baths. Below pictures of the iconic 101 tower, the Chang Kai-shek memorial, the Shifen waterfall and the Yehliu Geopark. Many more pictures in the album Taiwan Trip.

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Norway, June 2014

Several times we have chosen a holiday destination because of a specific tourist attraction. We had never considered Norway until we saw a picture of the Pulpit Rock, rising 600 meter above the water of the Lysefjord. We discovered that it was a doable hike, access from Stavanger. We booked a 10-day trip combining it with Bergen and Oslo. A very nice holiday, more pictures in the album Norway June 2014.

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Japan, October 2014

For many years we have been thinking about a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. Would there be a language problem? We booked a 9-day trip, booked a flight to Osaka, where we stayed a few days. Then Kyoto and finally Wakayama. Osaka and Kyoto are well known, Wakayama not really, we went there especially because of our addiction to onsen, the Japanes hot baths. Three reports: Osaka, Kyoto and Wakayama. A country to visit again.

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Melbourne, January 2015

Another visit to our friends Pat and Roger in Melbourne We explored the town and enjoyed their hospitality. They took us on a trip to Bendigo (goldmines) and Echuca (paddle boats). Two albums, one about our stay with them, Melbourne, and a separate album about our trip, Victoria

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China, September 2015

Our fourth trip to China, this time with our friends Pat and Roger. For them it was their first visit, Aric had organised the trip and was also our guide and translator. We started in Xi’an with its famous terracotta army. Next we went to Suzhou, where Aric and I had been before and after that to the water village of Zhouzhuang. Then they returned to Australia and we stayed a few more days in Shanghai. I created four albums about these holidays, Xi’an, Suzhou, Zhouzhuang and Shanghai.

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Laos, November 2015

A few months later we made a short trip to Laos. Writing this report I discovered that I had written several albums about details of our trip, but never a comprehensive report. Here is a summary with links to the detailed reports. We took a flight to Vientiane and from there a bus to Luang Prabang, where we stayed a few days. We attended the (touristic) Alms Giving ceremony and visited many temples. We made two trips, one to the Pak Ou caves and one to the impressive Kuang Si waterfalls. On our way back to Vientiane we stayed two nights in Vang Vieng, where we visited another cave, the Tham CHang caves and made an interesting excursion in a Hot Air Balloon. Back in Vientiane we visited the Buddha Park.

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Portugal, September 2016

When Aric and I visit the Netherlands , we try to include a short trip to another part of Europe. This time we decided to visit Portugal. I had visited Lisbon in the past, now we also visited Porto and a few other towns. A very pleasant and friendly country. Two albums, Part 1 about Lisbon, Sintra , Obidos and Porto. Part 2 about Aveiro, Monsanto and Evora

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Taiwan, August 2017

Our second visit to Taiwan (for Aric even his third). This time we wanted to explore the whole island, so we rented a car. But first we visited the Penghu islands, off Taiwan’s West Coast,. to see the Twin Hearts. A beautiful country, full of nature, culture, food and onsen. Better read the report for the details Taiwan, August 2017. .

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Singapore, January 2018

A short trip to Singapore, to visit our friend ST Lee, explore the Gardens by the Bay, visit the Botanical Gardens and the National Museum. Here is a report Singapore 2018. I was so impressed by the museum that I created a separate album about it: National Museum, Singapore.

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Japan, March 2018

We timed our second Japan visit so that we could attend the famous HŇćnensai fertility festival on 15 March. We were hoping to see the Fuji mountain, expecting lots of sakura blossom and planning to visit as many onsen as we could find. We were very fortunate to achieve all these goals. I wrote a report about the highlights, Japan 2018, in which I announced more detailed albums, but that never materialised.

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Bhutan, April 2018

One reason that I didn’t write detailed reports about our Japan trip was that one month later we visited Bhutan. You can not travel on your own in this isolated country, we booked a tour for the two of us and were very lucky with our guides, who became friends almost immediately. There were many highlights on this 10-day trip, culminating in our climb to the Tiger’s Nest. Here is a travelogue with many more photos: Bhutan 2018.

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France, August 2018

My former principal is living in Southern France, we are friends and he invited us to visit him. We took a flight to Montpellier and rented a car. There are many historical places in that part of France, we visited quite a few of them. We enjoyed a few days the hospitality of my friend and his wife. Two reports about these holidays. France 2018, part I about N√ģmes, Arles, Avignon and Pont du Gard. Part 2 about Robiac, Millau, Albi, Carcassonne and Cap d’Agde.

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Guilin , March 2019

There is so much to see in China. This time we visited Guilin in Southern China, famous for its limestone karst hills. We explored the town and its surroundings. the weather was not very favourable, cold and grey. We stayed two nights in Longji with its terraced rice fields. Next we visited Yangshuo, the main tourist center of the Guilin region. In my report Guilin, March 2019 I announced three more albums, another promise I never kept.

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Paris, April 2019

When Aric’s sister visited us in Amsterdam, we still found time to spend a few days in Paris. We managed to see quite a few of the Paris highlights, one of then, the Notre Dame, sadly destroyed by fire just one week before we arrived. More photos in Paris, 2019 .

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Italy, May 2019

During our stay in the Netherlands, after visiting Paris with Aric’s sister, we made a short trip to the Cinque Terre in Italy. We stayed in La Spezia and made daytrips to the various fishing villages, sometimes walking from one village to another. Here is the travelogue: Cinque Terre, May 2019

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Singapore, December 2019

A social Singapore visit to meet friends and to see the Christmas decorations. In Orchard Road they were disappointing, but in the Gardens by the Bay quite spectacular. We also visited the new airport at Changi and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. And our friend ST Lee invited us for a ballet performance of the Swan Lake. Here is the report: Singapore 2019

That was our last traveling trip abroad. Of course we had plans for 2020, another China trip with Aric’s family and in summer a visit to Iceland with its waterfalls, glaciers and hot springs. But then came Covid-19, the borders were closed in March 2020 and still are.

We have been very fortunate that we were able to visit so many beautiful places. Those times may never come back..

Japan 2018

A first impression of our trip to Japan, 6-22 March 2018. I took more than 1500 photos, it will take time to condense them into reports. Here is a travelogue with some highlights.

On 6 Match we took a JAL nightflight to Tokyo, where we arrived early the next morning. A connecting flight brought us to Osaka. We had (on purpose)booked seats on  the right side of the plane and were rewarded by a spectacular aerial view of Mount Fuji

From Osaka we took a train to Tanabe in the Wakayama prefecture, where we stayed overnight. It was cold!

8 March

In the morning we visited the Tokei-jinja Shrine in Tanabe.

After our visit we took a bus to Yunomine Onsen, where we stayed two nights. It is a quaint rural village with the smallest onsen of Japan. This Tsubo-Yu onsen, the wooden shed in the center of the image, has actually been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

We stayed in a small guesthouse,where we also had our (delicious) dinner and breakfast

9 March

The reason that we wanted to visit this part of Japan, was not only because of the many onsen , but also because there are numerous pilgrimage trails in this region, the Kumano KodŇć. You can hike here for weeks, we only walked one trail, through beautiful forest, from Yunomine to the¬†Kumano HongŇę Taisha shrine

Kumano HongŇę Taisha, one of the three main Shinto shrines¬† of the Kumano KodŇć

After our hike, we relaxed in the Tsubo-Yu onsen. You must book for it, maximum two people, maximum 30 minutes. A unique experience…:-)

10 March

With bus and train to Kushimoto, the southernmost point of¬†HonshŇę., Japan’s main island. The tourist attraction here are the¬†Hashigui-Iwa rocks, a natural “work of art”

We had an elaborate sushi dinner here and, back in our hotel, a big, crowded onsen, with both an inside and an outside bath.

The next morning we enjoyed the sunrise from our hotel room.

11 March

This day we visited another of the¬†Kumano KodŇć shrines, the¬†¬†Nachi Taisha shrine¬†with the Nachi waterfall, the tallest fall of Japan. We stayed in a small hotel, with a view of the waterfall from our room..:-). And an exquisite dinner prepared by the kitchen staff

Left the impressive Nachi fall (130 m tall), in the middle a part of the shrine and right the iconic image of the three-tiered pagoda with the fall in the background

The sakura season had not yet started, spring was late and it was colder than we had expected. But here and there we could enjoy already nice cherry blossom trees.

12 March

Our next stop was Toba, on the coast, the center of the  pearl fishery and famous for its seafood. Here we had our most exotic seafood dinner. Left abalone sashimi !

In the past the pearl oysters were caught by ama’s, the diving ladies. Now they still do it for show, but the production process has become high-tech.

13 March

For the next night, Aric had booked accommodation in a Buddhist temple (!) in Agui, a small town south of Nagoya. The easiest way to go there, would have been to go first by train to Nagoya and from there to Agui. We took a more adventurous route, first a ferry from Toba to Irako, from there a bus to Toyohashi, then by train to Agui. We were lucky with the timing and reached Agui station around 4 pm, where the wife of the Master of the temple was waiting for us.

The temple practises Jodo Buddhism, the most common branch of Buddhism in Japan.

Left our rooms and right the temple, at the other side of the corridor. Food was served in our room, we shared the bathroom with the family, it was a very special experience

14 March

After breakfast and a short exploration of the village, we took a train to Nagoya, where we had booked a hotel for two nights. In the afternoon we visited the castle. Completely destroyed in 1945 by US army air raids, it has been rebuilt. Not as impressive as the Kyoto and Osaka castles. The sakura was just starting to blossom.

15 March

Nagoya is not particularly interesting, so why did we stay two days there? And why didn’t we make our trip a few weeks later. so the sakura would be in full bloom everywhere?¬†The reason was that we wanted to attend the¬† HŇćnen Matsuri festival¬†, held on 15 March each year in Komaki, just north of Nagoya. This fertility festival is more popularly known as the Penis Festival. Highlight of the festival is a procession where a giant wooden penis is carried around

During the procession pretty ladies carry penises around, which you are encouraged to touch. There is a free flow of sake and everywhere are penises for sale as sweets, lollipops or ice cream. I took many pictures, will write a separate blog about the festival. It was an enjoyable experience.

16 March

We had three main targets for this Japan trip, the¬†Kumano KodŇć, the Penis Festival and the Fuji Mountain.¬† From Nagoya we took a bullet train north and changed to a smaller train for¬†Kawaguchiko, at the foot of the Fuji Mountain. The mountain is often hidden in clouds, we had decided to stay here three days ,hoping that at least one day we would have a clear view. The start was not promising, when we arrived in our guesthouse, it was clouded and later it started to rain. Again a very Japanese style room. We had dinner in a tempura restaurant.

17 March

The next morning the rain had stopped and there was some blue sky! There is a famous viewpoint in Chureito, a short train ride from¬†Kawaguchiko. I took already a “safety” shot from the station and that was a good idea, because when we arrived in Chureito and had climbed up to the pagoda, the mountain had disappeared in the clouds. Pity.

Back to our guesthouse, a bit disappointed. In the late afternoon, the sky cleared, the mountain became visible again. Near the village there was also a viewpoint, although without a pagoda. Before climbing up another safety shot, and again the mountain had disappeared when we reached the viewpoint. Frustrating.

The next morning we woke up at 6 am, the sky was now blue, but for how long? We walked up to the same viewpoint and this time we were rewarded. What a spectacular view. We were so happy.

Back in the village, we decided to take the bus up halfway the mountain. Because there was still a lot of snow, the Fifth Station was not yet accessible, the bus stopped at the Fourth Station. From the 5th station hikers climb the mountain in the summer season

But the view from the Fourth Station was also fascinating, especially the surrounding mountains, still covered with snow. We really were lucky.

The last night in¬†Kawaguchiko we moved to another hotel, the most expensive hotel we have ever stayed..:-) . Not a room, but a suite. An onsen with a view of the mountain. A culinary nine course dinner. A once in a lifetime experience…:-)

View from the onsen

Dining in style, with a cup of sake.

Our dinner, I forgot to take pictures of some dishes. Left the Assorted Appetizers, in the middle Four kinds of Assorted Sashimi. Never before had lobster sashimi…

What an extraordinary day.

19 March

The hotel shuttle service dropped us at the station, from where we took the train to Tokyo. What a contrast to be suddenly in a major metropolis. Here the view from our hotel room, with left the Tokyo Skytree, the tallest building of Japan

In the afternoon we visited the¬†SensŇć-ji temple, the oldest temple of¬† Tokyo and a major tourist attraction. I was surprised to see many girls in traditional Japanese dress, apparently most of them are actually tourists who have rented this clothing!

For our dinner we took the metro to the entertainment district. In the picture to the right, you can see me at the end of the bar, eating my noodles.

20 March

One of Aric’s friends is living in Chiba, 40 km from Tokyo, married to a Japanese dentist. We spent an enjoyable day with them and their two adorable daughters. We visited the¬†Nihon-ji temple complex, high up in the hills. It was cold, windy and rainy, but we had great fun. The picture to the right shows the Kannon statue, quite recently created in 1966.

The Arhat sculptures (right picture) are much older, constructed in 1774

The main attraction is an impressive 31 meter high Buddha statue, the  Nihon-ji Daibutsu, the largest rock-carved Buddha of Japan (1783)

After our visit Kimberley and Kubo invited us to a seafood lunch in a restaurant nearby.

On our way back we crossed the Tokyo Bay on the Aqua Line , an expressway consisting of a bridge-tunnel combination. Where the bridge becomes a tunnel, an island has been built (left picture). In the middle you see part of the machine used to dig the tunnel. After crossing over the bay, we had a final stop in Yokohama for a visit of the Ramen Museum, where you can try all varieties of ramen, the famous Japanese noodle dish (right picture). A rewarding, full day. Hopefully we can return their hospitality soon.

21 March

Our last day in Japan. The beginning of spring, but no spring weather. Rain the whole day. We decided to take it easy, had a look at some modern buildings and visited in the afternoon the Ueno park. The sakura season had started officially and there were already lots of flowers, but one or two weeks later it will probably much more impressive. Below, right picture, the famous Tokyo Tower at night, half hidden in the clouds, quite scenic

Flowers in the rain

Back in our hotel, we enjoyed the onsen. Actually this is a sento, an onsen uses natural volcanic spring water, rich in minerals etc, a sento uses heated tap water. For those not familiar with the Japanese onsen culture, before entering the bath, you must wash yourself thoroughly (right picture). You bath nude, nowadays male and female baths are separate. Tattoos are not allowed, and there are more rules and regulations. We are addicted to it, during our trip we had an bath almost daily, often twice a day.

22 March

We took a day-flight back from Tokyo to KL It was a wonderful trip

Japan trip, October 2014: Wakayama

Waka what?  Everybody knows about Osaka and Kyoto, but Wakayama will draw a blank with many visitors of Japan. It is not mentioned at all in the Rough Guide of Japan, for example!

Wakayama is located about 60 km south-west of Osaka and we went there in the first place because of our¬†interest in the Japanese bath culture of the onsen, the hot spring baths. The hotel we had booked, Dormy Inn, has a big onsen which occupies one floor of the hotel. Separate baths for male and female. Because everybody is naked, it is not allowed to take pictures, so I have taken a few pics from the Internet to give an impression.¬†During our two days stay we used¬†this onsen 5-6 times, it is really addictive…:-)

The first evening we were looking for a famous ramen stall, but it was closed. So we tried our luck in a BBQ seafood restaurant, hoping for somebody who could speak a bit of English. That was not the case but one of the waitresses was Chinese, studying Japanese language. With her help we could order quite exotic food…:-). Interesting detail, in the picture to the right I am about to eat the BBQ-ed shell. It was quite tasty. Only after swallowing it I was told that the blackish part should not be eaten as it contained the shit of the critter…:-) ¬†Well, I survived.

The next day was the only day we had rain. Aric had to use his raincoat. We had a snack for breakfast, bread with egg and noodles, a weird combination, but the taste was good.

Rain

Funny food

Our target was the Awashima Shrine in Kada, about one hour by train from Wakayama. Kada is a small seaside town. Walking to the temple we passed another small temple with a nice cemetery.

When we arrived at the shrine the drizzle had changed in a real downpour, so we had to take shelter for a while. The temple hall itself is nothing special, it is famous for the thousands of dolls and statuettes given to the temple by devotees.

Awashima Shrine

An orgy of colours and shapes. You keep taking pictures…:-) Click a picture to enlarge

Near the temple we found another nice restaurant for lunch. Again BBQ shells and seafood. Here they had a menu in English!

After we came back in our hotel, Aric went for another onsen session (he is more addicted than me.. haha) and then we went out again, first to the ramen stall, which was open now. They have won prizes with their ramen and deservedly so. The most delicious ramen I have ever tasted.

Ramen stall

Ramen

After this dinner we went to a public bath, the Hanayama onsen. Special about this onsen is the brownish ¬†teh tarik color of the water. Also here no pictures, here is one from the Internet. Nice experience, people come here for their bath, young and old. But of course we remained outsiders because we could not speak Japanese…:-)

Hanamaya onsen

There are many more beautiful onsen in the countryside, access not always easy, maybe we can come again another time.

For our last night we had booked the Manpa resort, a ryokan resort with its own onsen, overlooking the sea. As we could only check in after 3pm, we had the morning to spend and we decided to visit the Wakayama castle.

That was a good move, because it turned out to be a much nicer place than the touristic and crowded Osaka castle.

On out way back to the hotel, looking for a suitable place for lunch. That can be really a problem in Japan, because local eateries are not always conspicuous. Fortunately often the signs use Chinese characters (with Japanese meaning) so Aric could guess the meaning. Like was the case with this canteen where we had lunch.

As the Manpa resort is a bit remote, we took a taxi. The resort has a nice view of the sea and also here one complete floor is reserved for the onsen. We had a nice room in Japanese style with a sea view.

Of course we went a few times to the onsen. There were not many guests, so we had the bath for ourselves, and even could take a few pictures.

The (expensive) Manpa package includes a traditonal Japanese dinner and a breakfast the next morning. The dinner was a delight, although we could not read the menu. But the waitress was very nice

Manpa dinner

Manpa dinner

The departure time for our flight back to KL from Kansai airport was at 11 am, so we had to wake up early for our last onsen and then our breakfast. The breakfast was again very traditional Japanese, very fishy, actually not easy to eat so early in the morning….:-)

Manpa breakfast

Manpa breakfast

It was a remarkable trip. Not always easy, I needed quite a few days to recover. But it will be worthwhile to come back again.

 

Japan trip, October 2014: Kyoto

Our host in Osaka had advised us which train to take to Fushimi,¬†one of the “wards” of Kyoto, where Aric had booked accommodation in¬†the Kuretake Ann-Inn .¬†We arrived early, so ¬†we dropped our luggage and explored Fushimi. A pleasant surprise compared to hectic Osaka.

The main tourist attractions of Fushimi are the Inari shrine (see below) and the Sake museum. The water here has a reputation for being very clear and natural¬†and¬†one of the large Sake distilleries, Gekkeikan, ¬†is ¬†located here. ¬†It is easy to get addicted to this Japanese rice wine…:-)

After our museum visit we went to our guesthouse where we received a warm welcome from our host Adachi san. After retiring as a lawyer, he had developed the family house in a ryokan , a traditional Japanese inn. Our room had tatami flooring, sliding doors, there was a tea set and and kimonos were prepared for us. Recently he had added hot spring baths to the inn, and he was eager to explain how to use these baths in the correct way.

When we asked if we could have breakfast in the inn, he became even more enthusiastic,cooking was his hobby, but we could have it only two days later, because he needed time to prepare! We really felt at home in his inn, adn took a hot bath every evening. Following his suggestion to have a glass of sake while having your bath. Heaven!

The breakfast, in very Japanese style, was a delight, both for our eyes and on our tongue. The last night we movd to another, even more splendid room. Ryokans are not cheap, but it was one of  the highlights of our trip

Kyoto is a town of temples and shrines and visitors run the risk of developing a temple syndrome after a few days. We decided to limit ourselves to a few of the most interesting temples and started with the Kinkaku-ji temple, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

Kinkaku-ji

It is a Zen Buddhist temple and the temple gardens are considered a prime example of Japanese garden design. The weather was beautiful, some of the trees were already in autumn colors. Of course we were not the only visitors..:-) It was nice to see quite a few Jaoanese girls in traditional dress.

 Four our lunch Aric had discovered on the Internet what must be the smallest sushi restaurant in the world! With our data plan enabled it was no problem to find the place. The restaurant has a tiny bar with only five seats. When we arrived, we had to wait until there was free space.
The man was preparing the food, his wife was serving tea and sake, The other customers were two ladies, very shy in the beginning, but after one of them had finished two (!) beers, they became more talkative. The food was delicious. Another highlight of our trip…:-)

In the afternoon we visited another temple, the Fushimi Inari shrine. Characteristic for this huge temple complex are the walkways lined with thousands of torii . A torii is the traditional Japanese gate, and, as Inari is the patron of business, each of these torii has been donated by a Japanese business.

Fushimi InariIt is a photographers delight…:-). The temple complex is located on a hill and it takes a few hours to explore everything. Also here of course many visitors. Here is a collection of pictures. The temple complex contains numerous smaller shrines and visitors carry small torii up, with a prayer written on it, and leave them at these shrines.

Even the sunset was red…:-) We could not reach the top of the hill, it was already dark when we left the temple. When you have only time for one shrine, I would suggest this one..:-)

The following day we visited two more temples. First the Ginkaku-ji temple, another Zen temple, famous for its sand garden. The sand mound symbolises the Fuji mountain.

Ginkaku-ji

Personally I like this kind of quite austere temple design.  Very pleasant garden, nice autumn colours.

In the afternoon we went to the Kiyumiza-dera Buddhist temple. It was a Saturday afternoon. there was a festive crowd, quite a few in traditional dress.

Kiyomiza dera

The Kiyumiza temple ¬†was founded in 798, and its present buildings were constructed in 1633 It is is famous for its three “waterfalls”.¬†Visitors can catch and drink the water, which is believed to have wish-granting powers

I found Kiyoto more attractive than Osaka. It still a big town, and the general townscape is ugly, but here and there you can still find nice old buildings, especially in the Gion district. Lively markets and everywhere temples. Here a mix of various scenes.

Talking with our host the night before our departure, he asked us, did you visit the Byodo-in temple in Uji? We had to confess that we had never heard about it. It is nearby, he explained, ¬†and the temple figures on the 10 Yen coin. As we had some time in the morning before going to Wakayama, we decided to add one more temple to our list…:-)

And an attractive temple it was! An old one too. The central hall was built in 1053

Byodo-in

After visiting this temple it was time to leave Kyoto and travel to our last destination Wakayama

Japan trip, October 2014: Osaka

For many years we have been thinking about a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. China and Taiwan are “easy” countries for us (i.e. for Aric). Would the language be a problem in Japan? Finally we decided to give it a try, so we booked an Air Asia flight to Osaka. A 9D8N trip,¬†two nights in Osaka, three in Kyoto and three in Wakamaya.¬†Aric was the organiser, I just followed him…:-)

In Osaka he had booked, via Airbnb , a nice studio, near Dotonbori, the nightlife and entertainment district of Osaka. We walked around and bought snack food at several stalls.

The next morning we visited our first temple, just beside our apartment, the Namba Yasaka shrine . It is a Shinto shrine, old but rebuilt after the war. The enormous lion head-shaped hall is quite spectacular. Religion in Japan is a confusing mixture of (animist) Shinto and Buddhism. Devotees write their prayer on a small plaque, called ema, and hang it in the shrine, where the kami (spirit/god) can read it.

After this quiet start, a hectic morning followed, as we had to solve two problems. First we had to find an ATM machine that accepted¬†my (Dutch) bank card. Surprisingly many ATM do not have ¬†the “Maestro” option. Fortunately we had exchanged already some money in KL. We also needed a data plan, because we use¬†Internet a lot while exploring a town, especially Google Maps. At the airport we could not get it. Using WiFi in our studio Aric had found a Citibank and a big telecom shop near¬†the Umeda Sky Building, so we decided to go there, using the subway. The Osaka subway is not for the faint-hearted, but we managed..:-) . The Citibank accepted my ATM card, later we discovered that most¬†7-Eleven¬†stores also have ATM machines which accept Maestro. We also found the telecom shop where Aric bought a data plan. But we could activate it only in our studio, so that first day, we did not have our Google Map.

Our next destination was the Castle of Osaka,¬†the main, and according¬†to¬†many the only tourist attraction of Osaka…:-). The origins of the castle date back to the 17th century, but also here it was severely damaged in the war and later reconstructed. Located in a park, surrounded by a moat. Quite impressive. Lots of tourists.

Castle Osaka

For lunch Aric had chosen a local restaurant where they served BBQ-ed Kobe Beef. He had the coordinates, but we had no Google map. What do to? We walked a lot, partly underground from one subway station to another, we crossed shopping streets. We even asked policemen. Finally we found it. But it was closed…haha

Instead of Kobe beef we had some snacks and then went to the Harukas 300 building, the tallest skyscraper of Japan, 300 meter high. From the observatory floor we had an impressive view of Osaka. We spent some time there because we wanted to see the sunset (which is early, around 5:30 pm).

Before looking for dinner we first visited the nearby shopping center, where Aric bought a samurai sword! The¬†customs in KL was at first a bit suspicious about it, but this was a ceremonial sword, not sharp, so it was not confiscated…:-). Walking back through the market, we finally found a BBQ restaurant, where we had Kobe beef. Expensive but delicious, almost melting on your tongue.

It was a long day, with many new impressions. The town architecture is not attractive, gray and boring.  Streets are clean, we did not see any graffiti. The Japanese people are friendly, but communication is difficult. And they are very disciplined, when the pedestrian lights are red, nobody will cross. The school children are wearing identical uniforms, quite cute.

We stayed two nights in Osaka and that was enough.