Japan Photo Diary, Day 10-12: The Lost in Translation One & Museum Hopping in Hakone

Koya-San

I put so much effort into planning our route FROM Koyasan, that I seem to believe getting TO Koyasan sure cannot be that difficult. All I know is that we need to take three trains.

Of course, taking rural countryside trains are a bit more of a hassle than the metro that run every 5-or-so minutes with clear signs even foreign eyes can comprehend.
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After catching the first two departures alright, I seem to have a flick on the third and get us off one station too early. We end up seemingly in the Middle of Nowhere, or at least that is what I imagine this train stop would translate to in English. Getting off a station too early is not a big deal. Unless the next train will not arrive for another hour.

This one event seems to be the first in a long row of domino bricks of mistakes. To make a long story short: We leave Kyoto around 7am and arrive on top of Koyasan just after 4pm…
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Getting to Koyasan is a bit of an adventure on its own. (Like, without the extra detour to Nowhereland). For the final bits the train winds its way up the mountain, with its wall on one side and steep valleys on the other. At the final station, you catch a cable car to reach all the way to the top.
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Most people visiting Koyasan will stay in shukubo (aka temple lodgings).
As a) I do everything last minute and b) this is high season, we however spend the night at a capsule style backpackers called Koyasan Guest House Kokuu.

It has a design that brings chapels slash stables to mind along with the best English spoken staff encountered the entire trip. (One has even studied in Scotland and gets muy excited when hearing about me arriving from Granite City!)
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The biggest attraction is undoubtedly Oku-no-in — where the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi resides surrounded by circa 200’000 tombstones and monuments. Kobo Daishi was the founder of the Shingon Buddhism that Koyasan is a pilgrammage for; he was last seen in year 835 and according to legend he is to this day sat in meditation inside his mausoleum awaiting the arrival of Miroku (the Future Buddha).

It is a really atmospheric, almost eerie feel walking about the cemetery as the sun begins to descend. Despite knowing we are most certainly not alone as visitors of the mountain, it sure feels like it as you vanish into the large grounds.

You can also watch the monks do their morning chanting in the early am’s over at Okunoin, as we did the following morning. Brings me back to my week at Doi Suthep in 2014.
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Koyasan has recently gotten a new supermarket that stays open until late, but other than that everything closes early (like 5pm max). Which in this case means I did not have time to try out Shojin-Ryori — a traditional buddhist veggie (vegan actually) cuisine — typical for the region. Alas, the more reason to visit again!

On the bright side, it brings people inside and together — we spend the evening drinking copious amounts of tea at the hostel, chatting to fellow travellers about our Japan feels.

Hakone

DSC_0114DSC_0081Fresh out of the chanting, we hurry off to catch the cable car back down to the train station. With the disastrous logistic failures of the day past, we were on a roll. The perkiest bit was when I realised we could get off the shinkansen already in Odawara, instead of travelling all the way back to Tokyo to swap trains. Ha-le-lu!

It is still quite the bus trip to reach the top of the mountain though. Once we are checked in at our hotel Mount View, we head straight out and into Museum of the Little Prince just up the road. Which must be the most unpredictable of locations to find a museum dedicated to a French childrens tale?
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Apparently the founder was so fond of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book that she felt a museum was in order. It is a full on experience, with a French style townscape and gallery of St Exupéry’s life doings. (Most of the accompaning captions with the works found in the latter are in either Japanese or French though… Of course I do not really mind just watching photos).
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Back at the hotel (it is so alien to me staying in a hotel that my fingers automatically add an extra s in there) we change into our yukatas to get into the groove. We head downstairs for dinner, then spend the remains of the evening in the public outdoors onsen.

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The following morning I dress up in my most museumy outfit and we take the bus to Hakone Open Air Museum. It is a very hot morning and thus the sun creates some really harsh shadows over the works unfortunately.
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Hakone turns out to be a right mekka for art museums – there seems to be something for every taste, at every other bus stop.

This makes me completely forget what we really came there for – to catch a glimpse of infamous Mount Fuji…
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Unfortunately the installation I am most keen to watch, The Symphonic Sculpture, is having maintenance work made on this very day (what are the odds?!) so there is no entry.

They do host an enchanting photography exhibition by Kishin Shinoyama – a series of portraits of fellow artists, including Yoko Ono, in their right element. That along with the vegan friendly sushi bar down the road makes it a pretty decent excursion anyway.


This was part 6/7 of my Japan Photo Diary, the previous entries can be found below:

Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.
Livin la vida Ryokan & the 1st glimpse of Kyoto.
Bamboo groves, trendy coffees & hidden gems.
Neon lights & deers of might.
A historical hike & a last, lazy day in Kyoto.

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Japan Photo Diary, Day 8-9: A historical hike & a last, lazy day in Kyoto.

Magome – Tsumago

DSC_0840DSC_0841DSC_0847Saturday morning we take the train northbound once again, from Kyoto to Magome via Nagoya. Our aim is the 7.8 kilometre hike between Magome and Tsumago.
DSC_0849DSC_0852DSC_0858The hike is part of the old Nakasendo route. Nakasendo in turn used to be one of five highways during the Edo period, this particular one connecting Edo (present day Tokyo) to Kyoto.

Plenty of restoration work has been made to give the hike as an authentic feel as possible, with Magome and Tsumago being some of the most picturesque villages along the route.
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Although loads (like, literally) and loads of buses full of tourists are found at our Magome starting point we quickly descend from them.

Throughout the hike we only meet a dozen of other hikers, and an equal amount of warning bells ↓ to ring in order for the bears living in the surrounding areas to stray elsewhere at the sound.
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Passing waterfalls, tiny villages, a dog or two, bamboo groves, cemeteries and (lucikly) no bears- it is a really beautiful hike, and a perfect day trip away from the big cities.


Kyoto

Come Sunday, I am completely knackered from acting constant tour guide. The cold that had been harassing me with seemingly new symptoms ever since our long flight, seems to have finally given in and left. Possibly he felt I was not paying him enough attention.

(But what conditions for a cold though; subway stations with cross drafts, slushy snow, hours of hiking in damp socks, sun and clouds overlapping one another — I am so lucky it did not completely knock me off my feet, forcing me to spend the holiday in horizontal mode munching on penicillin rather than onigiris!)
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So we make our way into town after a little lie in, go for coffee at % arabica before the queues hit the shop and then sit outside the narrow alleyways of Gion, people watching under the sun, sipping our liquid joy.

Side note: let me just point out that the latte acting model in this photo above is mum’s dairy one; their soy drinks looked no better than what comes out of caffè nero.
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As the afternoon nears, we decide to go see a Geisha-performance at Kyo Odori. At this venue the shows are held annualy between the 1st and 3rd Sunday throughout April, luckily our visit coincides with the very first.

The show lasts circa an hour and we are not allowed to photograph. We are sat on the balcony in the very stuffy theatre. In combination with the loud music and my aching menstrual belly, it all feels a bit claustrophobic.
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For a late lunch we go to Kamisa — a little cafe and shop within a yoga studio. They offer set lunches from circa ¥1’000; the translations only say “brown rice lunch” or similar, but it does not really matter when the entire cafe is profiled vegan. It comes with soup, salads and soy meat.

From the café, we bring some freshly baked orange flavour muffin and coffee to enjoy down at the river along with fellow worshippers of the sun. Truth be told, the winds are way too cold for such activities but who ever learns.
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For our final Kyoto activity, we walk up to Ginkaku-ji (the silver pavillion) which is crowded now just before sunset. We skip the ¥400 entry fee because of this; as you can see an equally beautiful sunset from Kyoto Station free of charge.

As the spring is yet cold, we are all watching the cherry trees with great anticipation, hoping they will bloom soonest. So when you stumble over what is seemingly the town’s one early bloomer, expect a camera fest galore.
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Then we argue over sushi, go back to the airbnb to pack and check train time tables… Yet unknowing of the horrendous amount of mix ups I am to do regarding said time tables the following morning. Until then!


This was part 5/7 of my Japan Photo diary; the previous entries can be found below:

± Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.
± Livin la vida Ryokan & the 1st glimpse of Kyoto.
± Bamboo groves, trendy coffees & hidden gems.
± Neon lights & deers of might.

 

Japan Photo Diary, Day 7: Neon lights & deers of might.

Remember my post the other week from a rain covered Osaka? Well, here is the prologue leading up to that evening. Welcome to Friday and day seven of our Japan trip, an intense day travelling from temple sites to urban jungles.

Nara

DSC_0701DSC_0703We start off the morning touring Nara – Japan’s first ever permanent capital; today renowned for housing one of the world’s largest bronze statues and about 1200 deers who roam around the town as they please.
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The Bronze Statue in question is the near 15 metre tall Daibutsu (‘giant Buddha’). To give you an idea just how giant it is, one nostril measures about 50 centimetres(!). While we are on a number dropping spree, the statue is also kept in one of the world’s largest scale wooden buildings. Pretty impressive, hey?

Originally the creation was completely covered in gold leaf, making it a construction that brought Japan close to bankruptcy back in the 8th century.
DSC_0733DSC_0759The deer on the other hand were in pre-buddhist times believed to be messengers of the gods; a reputation they are still enjoying the benefits of as they wander around town; slowing down cars and chasing (particularly the children of) tourists that are unfortunate enough to carry food around.
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Nara is a fairly compact town, so we manage to do a loop around its main sights before the rain does so.

We have lunch at Kinatei; enjoying our warm meal with the dusky weather hovering outside, then place the first ever pins for “Umeå” on the owner’s map over her guests.

Osaka

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On impulse, we catch a train to Osaka rather than returning to Kyoto for the afternoon. I really had no expectations for this 3rd largest city of Japan (rather than it being a massive urban jungle), but boy am I glad that we went!
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After spending some time lost in one of the city’s many stylish-enormous-shopping complexes, we reluctantly head out to the rain and winds outside, trying to catch some sights of the town.
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We followed Lonely Planet’s “Sights of Minami”-city walk, covering about 2.2 kilometres of the city. First on the hit list was the Amerika-mura neighbourhood, which (as you may have guess from both name and photographs) translates to American Village. The name derives from shops that started to appear in the area after the second world war.

The general vibe is sort of futuristic and hip (I feel SO OLD whenever I attempt using the word hip?!), with many things to rest eyes upon; from murals to peculiar street lights and not to forget the miniature Statue of Liberty surveying it all from the rooftops.
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Continuing on, the map takes us down the Shinsaibashi-suji arcade – a market street that routes all the way down to the Dotombori-gawa canal and where you will encounter the bridge Ebisu-bashi.

Take a moment to stop on the bridge for photos of the glittering neon signs reflecting in the canal (well, on a clear day I imagine so) and look back at the crowds making their way down the market arcade.
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Finally, as we were walking down the infamous and buzzing Dotombori Street, I thought to myself

All that glitters is not gold.
Sometimes it is NEON
and that is a heck of a lot better!”

As mentioned, we end the evening at Le Coccole – the cherry atop this pleasant surprise-afternoon, before taking the train back to Kyoto; with drenched socks but with eyes and bellies very well-fed.


This was part 4/7 of my Japan Photo Diary, if you enjoyed this post you can find the previous parts below:

Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.
Livin la vida Ryokan & the 1st glimpse of Kyoto.
Bamboo groves, trendy coffees & hidden gems.

Sa Pa (or ‘the Never-ending mountains’)

This post has been laying unpublised along my blog post drafts since just about the beginning of forever, so I thought now would be a good time to post it. Little bits of a trip to northern Vietnam.

After Hanoi, we wave Emily good bye after 3 months of constant companionship and off on the bus to the rice terraces of Sa Pa we go. The night bus – a splendid way to save a night’s accommodation whilst being transported to a new city, ey?

Sleep is unfortunately deprived this night, as it is tricky to meet Mr Sandman whilst being thrown from one side to another of the seat. Us farangs get the top bunks of this three-row sleeping bus. (Never have I seen such a bus layout in my life!!)
vscocam280Literally as soon as we get off the bus to have a walk around the town and look for decent accommodation, we are stalked (yes, stalked! I know of no better word to describe it) by two teeny tiny Vietnamese ladies. They want to take us to tour their village later on the same day, or eventually the day after. Having not slept a wink, we politely mumble some “we will see later” and “maybe”‘s.

… Yet they follow us all the way to, and even inside, our hostel.

… Going for lunch at the local food market a few hours later, they find us within minutes.

It seems we cannot rid ourselves of these two until we have said the magic words, and so we agree to meet them again the following morning.
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Now, Sa Pa has the most beautiful of scenery, but it is also (or perhaps because of that) a very touristic place. It really makes you feel like a wandering dollar-sign and that is part of why I have a hard time to fully enjoy my time in these blue mountains.
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But the scenery encountered was pretty spectacular.
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Mae shows off her indigo hands.IMG_9305IMG_9306vscocam284We crossed this tiny village school and went inside as the kids were on their break. It was so interesting to see – and a really beautifully decorated place too! image_5363a9f1e087c31bf0fe2ac5image_5363aa04ddf2b35f2b702c82And these amazing buffalos(?). It does not matter how many times I google their rightful name, it literally vanishes from my mind a few seconds later.
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Northern Vietnam was much colder than the tropical climates we had gotten accustomed to to, so we bunkered up in all of our clothes. Here Heidi mannequins how fabulous it looked.

PLUS we had a canopy bed!!! Childhood dream come true!


More things Vietnam:

> Good morning, Vietnam! (or ‘Hell of a Ride’)
> Quick vegan Phở-inspired soup.

City Crushes/Things to do in Melbourne.

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A few days ago I had my melbournniversary. Meaning, it was on the day 3 years since I flew into Melbourne to commence my WH visa. — 3 years that feels equally like yesterday, yet as a bunh of life times ago. To pay tribute to this marvelous city on the south east corner of Australia I figured it called for a dedication in the shape of a blog post extraordinaire.

What you will find is a mix of notebook scribbles from my first time there, along with some photos from the phone, 35mm + my favourite hangouts. Now, brace yourselves for a long read aka put on your reading glasses and let’s get started ↓

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Notebook scribbles

—— Five minutes prior to take off – what the heck have I gotten myself into? I mean, did it occur to me just how far away Australia is? If Stockholm and Bangkok are separated by 9 hours then this distance, of 7, is just about as brutal! — No job, no money, two wee contacts whereof one returns back to Europe within days.
But if it succeeds, if plan A works, then this would be freaking cool.

—— Still haven’t realized I am now in a developed country — so I keep forgetting one can actually flush paper down the toilet and am having freak outs each time someone drinks water from the tap.

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—— Germany ought to be empty, as all of them seem to be in my hostel.
(Anyone backpacking Australia knows this to be true; bloomin invasion of German + French!!)

—— Two weeks in, I’m starting to get the drill. Melbourne has no problems at all with changing from rainfall to a sizzling 36° overnight.
(Ha, I should only have known. A meteorologist actually told me that four weather zones meet in Melbourne which is why the weather changes so rapidly. As a punchline he added “Best thing about Melbourne is, if you don’t like the weather – just wait five minutes!”)

2img_44873Best pastimes in Melbourne

St Kilda Night Market
Thursdays throughout the summer, 5pm-10pm, O’Donnell Gardens (next to Luna Park)

Melbournetourism gives the following description: “The St Kilda Beach Night Market is a locally produced and independently run event that brings together a community of artists, crafters, designers and buyers…” — Take the tram out to St Kilda to drink beer in the grass packed inbetween strangers, watching pyroshows and energetic salsa dancers. Every Thursday for 10 subsequent weeks throughout the summer.

ACMI Australian Centre for the Moving Image
Open daily from 10am, Federation Square

Spend an afternoon wandering around these plural floors of great exhibitions. Enjoyed just as art should be — free of charge.

Queen Victoria Market
513 Victoria Street, Open daily except Tuesdays + Thursdays

According to its very own website the QVM “has been the heart and soul of Melbourne for more than a century.” I used to live just a stone’s throw away, and thus got all my fresh fruit and veg from it. Go late in the afternoon when the vendors are wanting to head home and you might get some marvelous deals. — Alike in St Kilda, they also host a night market throughout the summer. Wednesday night the venue will be filled with live music, steam from the food stalls and independent vendors.

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I’m Free Walking Tour
Daily at 10:30am / 2:30pm, meeting point in front of the Sir Redmond Barry statue in front of the State Libary of Victoria

Tag along with fellow tourists for a fun + informative tour around the city. It takes approx. 2,5 hours but you may head off whenever you feel like it.  It is free of charge but you will be asked for a wee contribution at the end of it.

Lentil As Anything
various venues across town (Abbotsford, St Kilda, Thornbury + Footscray)

LAA is a not for profit restaurant serving vegetarian and vegan food, all run on a pay what you can-agenda.  I used to volunteer at the restaurant located at the Abbotsford Convent two afternoons a week; finding the strangely therapeutic calm of chopping up vegetables. The whole concept is amazing – bringing people the restaurant experience despite what their current financial situation might look like. (Don’t be a cheapskate though!)


11img_0788All in all, Melbourne felt much like the love child of Bristol, Stockholm and perhaps NY too with all its skyscrapers, vibrance and street art. A big city, yet you get that feel of being able to walk wherever.

I tried to date other cities (Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney…)after my four months with Melbourne, but neither of them really compared. Perhaps I didn’t give them a fair chance as I was still stuck on Melbz.


More things Australia:

The WA-road trip.
The WWOOFing Guide + My Experiences.

Skye ⇒ Glenfinnan ⇒ Glencoe ⇒ Aberdeen.

dsc_0414dsc_0415dsc_0423dsc_0425When we woke up on Friday the weather was gloomy. I would almost say FINALLY, because the show we had witnessed the days prior just did not feel like the ~authentic~ Scotland – plus, don’t the landscapes look way cooler with those dark clouds hovering over them? I think YES. The greens greener and the blues bluer.
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It was time to hit the road again, this time driving down to Glencoe. So rather than leaving Skye the same way we arrived, via the bridge i.e., we wanted to take the ferry over to the mainland. We were lucky though, had it not been for a bus that had cancelled its spot on the ferry we would have to wait about 4hrs for the next available slot. So → piece of advice if you want to cross the water by ferry, call to book in advance!
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By mere coincidence, we crossed this church in Glenfinnan, tried the door and it was open. And empty. You could only hear the wind travelling through the stone walls.
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The interiors were really quite stunning.

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What we were really looking for in Glenfinnan was this viaduct though — RECOGNIZE IT ANYONE??
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As it turned out we probably did not choose the best viewpoint viaduct-wise, but nonetheless we chose the one with fewer tourists – and that’s always something!
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Really we were meant to spend one night in Glencoe before driving back home on the Saturday, but after trying just about every road + friendly passer-by’s we simply could NOT find our hostel. Nor did we have any number to call for directions.

J jokingly said “maybe we should just drive back to Aberdeen”.
Me, longing for a cooked meal and a warm shower, took that joke a bit too seriously and we were soon on our way back to Aberdeenshire.


More posts from our road trip: 
→ Aberdeen ⇒ Inverness.
→ Inverness ⇒ Fort Augustus ⇒ Eilean Donan
→ Isle of Skye, Day 1: Fairy pools & Highlanders.
→ Isle of Skye, Day 2: The Old Man of Storr & black sand dunes.

Inverness ⇒ Fort Augustus ⇒ Eilean Donan

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Future dream home, you’re looking at it! ↑DSC_0070DSC_0074DSC_0083
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DSC_0124After a purchase of the largest coffees to be found in Inverness and some arguing over the non-working GPS (aka YOURS TRULY!) we were on our way towards Isle of Skye. 

In order to get there, we drove around Loch Ness the non-touristic route (which was in fact not the fault of the GPS) meaning a really narrow single track road covered in greenery; passing by graveyards, fishing boats and fairy-tale like forests. One had to drive quite slowly, both A) for the sake of passing cars but also B) to imbibe the nature.

Just before reaching the bridge to Skye, we made a stop by Eilean Donan Castle. It is located where three lochs meet, a pretty scenic location i.e, and therefore one of the most photographed castles in the world. Unusually, Scotland was treating us to a real fine day of sun – so I can only imagine how epic that building must look on a gloomy day with heavy clouds and mist surrounding it.