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A day in the life of ...





Updated: 2017-12-14T09:25:02.471+08:00

 



Playing around with B&W in Lightroom ...

2017-11-20T09:43:34.635+08:00

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Lion's Head Mountain near Hsinchu, Taiwan

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The trail leading up to Jade Mountain ... Taiwan's highest peak

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The old mining building near Ruifeng District, Taiwan

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Hiking around Zhiben National Forest Park in Taitung, Taiwan




Playing around with B&W in Lightroom ...

2017-11-20T09:38:08.190+08:00

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Along the #102 near Ruifang District in northern Taiwan

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Hiking the challenging and quite dangerous Yuanzui Mountain near Taichung, Taiwan

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The Sanmin Bat Cave near Fuxing District, Taiwan

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Hiking the crags in Pingxi, Taiwan




Saturday October 28th, 2017

2017-11-13T08:25:38.178+08:00

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Took eight Taipei Hikers to Yilan to hike the Taoyuan Valley Trail (15KM)

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It was extremely windy up on the ridge ... I had an earache and a headache at the end of the hike

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Perhaps doing a ridge hike while a typhoon was passing the island wasn't the best idea!

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Still one of my favorite day hikes just outside of the city




October 7th-8th Hiking Weekend ...

2017-11-13T07:59:59.674+08:00

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Took thirteen Taipei Hikers on a rainy 10KM city hike ...  the only image I took during Saturday's hike

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Led four Taipei Hikers on a 10KM hike in my backyard ... made it  home minutes before the downpour

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Enjoying the little things during today's hike ... we also ran into a bamboo viper

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Levi basking in the sun in her box ... it's been a very rainy October




Saturday September 23rd, 2017

2017-11-08T08:36:06.451+08:00

Our leader, Francis (aka Pineapple)Entering the Lujiaokeng Ecological Protected Area on Yangmingshan was exciting! We had to apply for permits a few weeks before the set hiking date. Upon arrival, the gate was locked but the permit approval letter had the code on it! The hike itself wasn't too difficult though finding the trailhead at the start was tricky. We didn't realize where it was until we came back down to the start of the trail. The trail markers were stacked rocks like this for the entire trail up and were hard to spot at timesMore trail markers along a very bouldery trailThe Fenglin Waterfall (楓林瀑布) on Yangmingshan: the second highest waterfall on YMS (25M)[...]



Hualien Road Trip (September 16th-17th, 2017)

2017-11-03T11:00:03.887+08:00

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Day Lillies for miles at Sixty Stone Mountain (六十石山)


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A quick stop at Shitiping (石梯坪) along the #11

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The Hualien crew on our rental scooters




Hualien Road Trip (September 16th-17th, 2017)

2017-11-03T11:00:11.864+08:00

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Our route over the two days

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Taking a break along the #11

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Day Lillies at Sixty Stone Mountain (十六石山)





Saturday, September 9th, 2017

2017-11-02T09:20:13.902+08:00

The Sandiaoling trail leading to the fallsWith all the rain we'd been having, I thought a 10KM from Sandiaoling to Shifen waterfall would be a good idea. The trails were muddy but there was very little water at the falls.I led nine Taipei Hikers (all women, which never happens) on the hike! We had a lot of laughs and it seemed that everyone enjoyed the hike!One of the falls at Sandiaoling with very little water flowingThe #106 road to Shifen Waterfall with Wufenshan in the distanceThe Shifen Waterfall is always flowing and it's now free of charge[...]



Japan: Day 24 — Hakone to Tokyo ...

2017-10-31T09:09:13.408+08:00

The Odakyu Limited Express "Romancecar" trainI was up early for one last onsen before packing up and making my way back to Tokyo. The commute was straightforward. I hopped on the Hakone Tozan Train to the Hakone-Yumoto station. From there, I was able to reserve an observation deck ticket for the Odakyu Limited Express "Romancecar"  to Shinjuku. I wasn't sure exactly what the 'observation deck' meant but I read that you can sit at the very front or back of the train for wonderful views. There was very little difference in the ticket prices so I purchased one.I had the entire car to myself for the ride down to Odawara. I sat at the very front of the train. It was quite special with the big open windows. There were some nice views but the day wasn't clear enough for one final glance of Mt. Fuji as we whizzed on past.I was back at Shinjuku station in less than two hours and set out in search of a capsule hotel that wasn't too far from the station. I opted to go outside and walk around the station rather than go through it as the stations in Tokyo were extremely busy and huge and it was easy to get lost.The Booth Net Cafe & Capsule Hotel (girl's room)I followed my GPS to the hotel. Check-in time was twelve noon, which was wonderful. I could get into my bed immediately ... not that there was much to get into to.I was staying at a place called the Booth Net Cafe & Capsule. It had very cool decor and the check-in was quick and easy. The place was spotless and there was an all girl's floor. While searching for capsule hotels online, I found that many don't allow women. Overall, it was a neat experience and one I thought I should have in case I never make it back to Japan.I didn't spend much time in the capsule as there was very little space. I found a nice restaurant in the area for lunch and then ventured over to a park with a temple that I had missed during my first week in Japan. It rained a lot the first few days, so I didn't make it to a few places on my list. When I got to the park, I was too exhausted to enjoy it. I knew in my heart that I was done with touring around and ready to go home. I went back to the capsule hotel and set out to a pub for a beer or two and some dinner.Shinjuku at nightAfter dark, it was apparent that Shinjuku was the heart of the red light district. Bars with pictures of barely dressed women on the doors were everywhere and men were coming up to me and aggressively pushing me to go to their restaurants. I had seen a sign warning tourists that people would do exactly that and once you got to their restaurant they would give you very strong drinks and scam or steal from you.I opted for a small British Pub that was packed and smokey. I had a quick bite to eat before setting back out to the comforts of my tiny capsule. I had an early morning bus booked back to the Narita airport and the time couldn't quite pass quickly enough. I absolutely loved my time in Japan but was very looking forward to getting home! Thank you, Japan! What an amazing trip![...]



Japan: Day 23 — Hakone ...

2017-10-30T09:47:43.234+08:00

Hiking up to Mt. Kintoko (1,212m)My last day in Hakone and my last hike in Japan! This picture here is certainly one of my favorites. The forests in Hakone were absolutely magical!There was a constant rushing fog from the volcano (which most likely was not the best to hike in) but it gave the forests a sense of eerieness.I was up early and took a morning onsen. The plan was to hike Mt. Kintoki. I missed the first bus to the trailhead and the second bus wasn't scheduled to arrive until after 9am.Taxis were parked near the bus stop so I decided to hop in one. It was ¥2300. The driver spoke a bit of English and dropped me off right at the trailhead. He even got out of the car to show me the map and gave me a suggested route!One of the signs at the top of Mt. KintokiIt was early and it seemed I was the only one around. I set off on my own and hoped to run into a few others along the trails. The hike itself wasn't too challenging. It was another steep climb but the trail let up in parts.It took me about one hour to reach the top without any breaks. The breeze was wonderful up top but there were zero views. On a nice clear day, Mt. Fuji is in the backdrop but I had no such luck. I took a rest and had a small bite to eat before heading back down a different route.I hardly ran into anyone on the way down. I was planning on hiking to the trails I was on two days prior but the day was hot and the sun was beating down. The trails had zero shade, so I opted to take another route down the mountain and hoped I would be able to find my way back to the hostel.I found the main road and a bus that led me right back to where I needed to be! Perfect! I took the afternoon to do some laundry and relax in the onsen. I was scheduled on a train back to Tokyo the following morning. My time in Japan was quickly coming to an end but to be honest, I was ready!On the way down from Mt. Kintoki via the Sengokuhara trail[...]



Japan: Day 22 — Hakone ...

2017-10-14T11:04:00.959+08:00

One of the pathways around Lake Ashi (eastern side)My last journal entry for Japan was on Day 21, so these words are coming from memory two months later! I was tiring from three weeks of non-stop activity but there was more to see in Hakone. Zoe had moved on and I was alone.I used my Hakone Free Pass and took the cable car up the mountain to the Hakone Ropeway. One must get off at the Owakudani Volcano so I stopped for another quick visit. It's a spectacular sight and it didn't hurt my feelings to be there again.After a quick look, I made my way to the second ropeway that heads to Lake Ashi. I walked more than halfway around the eastern side of the lake. There weren't too many views along the way and I ran into very few people, mostly locals walking their dogs.I was making my way over to the Komagatake Ropeway. (¥1300) This ropeway is not included in the Hakone Free Pass but pass holders are offered a discount.The Komagatake Ropeway car with Lake Ashi in the backgroundThe day was cloudy and I knew there wasn't going to be a view of Mt. Fuji (there is on clear days) but who doesn't love a good cable car ride (7 minutes) taking you up to 1,300m above sea level?! The view of the lake below was stunning! Once at the top, there are trails to follow and a small shrine. The clouds were rushing by making it eerie at times.The Tamadareno FallsI stayed at the top for some time before taking the ropeway down. I found a bus to the Hakone Ropeway. I went back via the volcano and the Hakone cable car. I then took the train to another waterfall that was on the tourist map. The place was called the Tamadareno Falls. They, unfortunately, were not too exciting.The falls were behind a touristy hotel. The place was a zoo. There were ducks everywhere along with people. Loud music was playing and there were people dressed up in stuffed animals costumes. They were parading around and dancing. I was hoping to be in a quiet forest.I was too exhausted for all the commotion and took off quite quickly back to my hostel and went straight to the onsen. The water was almost too hot to get in. The water in the onsens came directly from the Owakudani volcano and the temperature couldn't be controled. There was a sign saying that the water temperatures depend on the 'mood' of the volcano! I thought that was quite cute. You are able to add cold water into the pool but even then it was too hot! I was only able to get in for a few short minutes and hoped the volcano's mood would be a bit cooler for the following day![...]



Japan: Day 21 — Hakone ...

2017-10-11T07:51:01.067+08:00

Cedar Avenue in HakoneI was up early and treated myself to a coffee and an onsen. Zoe and I were heading out together to explore Hakone. I purchased a Hakone Freepass that was valid for three days and cost ¥4,500. This free pass would allow me to use most of the transport in the area for free. I could also get into the attractions for free or for a discounted price. The free pass saves tourists a ton of money and is highly recommended!Zoe and I were on the first cable car up the mountain at 7:41am. There were very few others with us and we didn’t figure out why until we got to the top. The Hakone Ropeway doesn't start running until 9am. The people at the guesthouse neglected to offer this information. No problem. We opted to take the bus. It came at 8:24am but the driver wouldn’t let us on as the Owakudani Volcano doesn’t open until 9am. The driver told usto wait for the 9am bus. Why on earth is there a 7:41am cable car?!?!Dropping into the Owakudani volcano on the RopewayI felt bad for getting Zoe up so early but we had a lot to talk about and knew this was just the way things went when traveling. In the end, we decided to take the ropeway since we had to wait until 9am for the bus. We figured the ropeway would be more fun and more interesting.We were in the first car for the eight-minute ride up to the volcano. It was fun being on a ropeway but the best part was going up over a mountain peak and then down into the Owakudani volcano. The entire car ‘ooh’ed and ‘aah’ed. It was a spectacular sight! The volcano immediately reminded me of my time at the Ijen Crater in Indonesia. Owakudani was spewing out smoke and it was very clear why the trails in the area were closed.Our first stop was at a small food trailer near the volcano that was offering fried food. I ordered the fried potato and bacon balls. The dish had three balls on a stick with small pieces of bacon in between the balls. There was also a massive slab of butter on the side of the plate. At ¥380, they were tasty enough and hit the spot!We enjoyed the views of the volcano but there wasn’t much else to do in the area. We had a look around the gift shop and then made our way to the next and final stop along the Hakone Ropeway, Lake Ashinoko. The ropeway offered gorgeous views on the way down! We made our way over to the waiting area for the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise. It is a pirate ship with pirates on board! The ride over was comical with the performers playing around with the passengers.The lake is stunning though there was no view of Mt. Fuji because of the cloud cover. On the other side of the lake, there is a cedar forest. The pathway is beside the road but it is easy to forget that while wandering along the path. The trees were so tall and gorgeous! It took about a half an hour to complete the trail. It popped us out near some restaurants and we decided to stop for lunch. I had Udon noodles and tempura for lunch. Lunch was ¥1,200 but only OK.The Torii Gate near the Hakone ShrineAfter a small lunch, we made our way over to the Hakone Shrine. We were both very interested to see the torii gate near the lake. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji from this spot which must be stunning. We had no view but it was pretty. The area was busy and we had to be patient to get a shot without any people or paddle boats in the image.The Chisuji FallsAfter the shrine, we caught a bus to a waterfall that was a short hike off the main road. There were very no signs so we followed GPS and were a little unsure that we were going the right way. We finally found a sign that led us into a beautiful lush forest. The Chisuji Falls were longer than they were high. We had the place to ourselves which was wonderful. I guess we were a bit off the[...]



Japan: Day 20 — Hakone ...

2017-09-30T07:10:48.227+08:00

At the Hakone Open-Air MuseumI was the first one awake in my dorm room. I had a morning coffee in the kitchen and then took my first onsen, which is a Japanese hot spring. There were two private onsens in the hostel and they were open 24 hours. One pool was bigger than the other and I opted to try the room with the big onsen first. It was wonderful! I floated for some time before showering and heading upstairs to see if anyone else was awake.Jess and I had talked about going to the Hakone Open-Air Museum together. The place opened at 9am and we wanted to be the first ones in. The museum was a 15-minute walk up the road and what an amazing place it was! It exceeded my expectations!The grounds were huge! It took us almost three hours to get through the entire museum. Besides the outdoor art, there was a Picasso room that never seemed to end. Most of the work was stuff that was Picasso inspired but there were some awesome pieces of work in there!And just when we thought the tour was over, we found ourselves in another room with interactive art. One could stand on a box and move their body which would be mimicked by different figures on a huge screen in front of you. When one stepped off the box and got back on, the figure would change. They had six different figures and Jess and I were in stitches trying them all out!The Hakone Open-Air MuseumAnother fun thing was a screen that changed colors and shapes as you changed your voice. Jess started beatboxing! Ha! It made the screen look very cool! We had a good laugh and spent quite a bit of time in that room.After buying a few things in the souvenir shop, we made our way back to the hostel. Jess had a train to catch early that afternoon. The dorm room was empty when I returned and I wondered who would show up that day.The skies were blue and after having a bite to eat and a beer at the hostel, I headed out to do some hiking. I wanted to climb the mountain I could see from my room as it was within walking distance from the guesthouse. It was a three-hour hike, reaching the peak at 924m and an extremely steep climb.The map of the character 大 (dà)On the 16th of August, there was a festival in Japan where they burned different characters into the mountains. This particular mountain, Mt. Myojogatake, had the character 大 (dà) burned into the mountain. I reached the character and thought it was neat that there was a map showing the exact measurements of the character and how to walk around it.The sun was scorching hot and there was no escape so I continued on up to the peak. There was no sign to celebrate your success, nor was there much of view. The trail was muddy and slippery on the way up and I was worried about sliding my way back down the mountain. The trail was also dense with greenery so it was dark and there were a lot of mosquitoes. Most of my images were blurry because of the darkness. The air had a lot of smoke in it which must have been the volcanic gases coming from the nearby volcano. I wondered if it was safe breathing it in. The trails near the volcano had been closed due to too much volcanic activity.I returned to the hostel covered in mud and sweat. Thankfully they had a hose so I could clean myself off. I grabbed a towel and headed directly for the onsen. I had bought enough food for lunch and dinner on the way home from the museum so I didn’t need to go anywhere else for the day.During my lunch, I had met a girl in the kitchen named Zoe who had just finished bullet climbing Mt. Fuji. She was exhausted and wasn’t able to get into her room until 3pm. She was in my room and we fast became friends. She was from Ontario but lived in Vancouver for 12 years before moving to the  UAE for three years to teach English[...]



Japan: Day 19 — Osaka to Hakone ...

2017-09-26T06:49:13.248+08:00

I was up early, of course, and went to the ATM to get prepared for Hakone. It seemed there wasn't going to be much in the way of convenience stores up there and the hostel’s website said they only accept cash as a form of payment.Checkout at the Airbnb in Osaka wasn’t until noon but I wanted to get on my way. Something told me it was going to be a long trip with all the transfers I needed to make. I set off around 9:30am so that I could dawdle along the way, which I did. I took my time and carefully looked where I needed to go and if I wasn’t sure, I asked.About to hop on the bullet train, Shinkansen I took a pink train line from Nippombashi station to Namba station. From there, I transferred trains again for Shin-Osaka station. When I got off the train, the sign for the bullet train, the Shinkansen, was right there. I bought a ticket for ¥12,000. This train stopped at most stations and would take three hours. I wasn’t too bothered as I couldn’t get into my room at the hostel until 3pm.Upon arrival in Odawara, Google Maps suggested I take a bus. I noticed a Hakone tourist information center so I went there to find out. The lady spoke perfect English, gave me some maps and suggested taking the train. The ride would be one hour with one easy transfer.The Hakone Tozan TrainThe train ride up was awesome! I went via the Hakone Tozan Railway, which is the oldest mountain railway in Japan! The train zigzags its way up the mountain. It was a bit confusing at first as the train was moving forward and then after making a stop, we were moving backward and heading back to where we came from. The train makes a series of switchbacks to get up and down the mountain.I arrived at the guesthouse, Hakone Tent, around 4pm and was shown around and taken to my room immediately. It was a nice looking place and kept quite clean. When I got to the futon style dorm room that slept six girls, there was an Aussie girl sprawled out on the floor. She had just come back from bullet climbing Mt. Fuji and was exhausted. Her name was Jess. She was a riot and we hit it off immediately. She was fresh out of high school and had been doing an internship in Japan for six months. She was on her way back home to start university.One of two private onsens (hot spring) at Hakone Tent which I used at least twice each day!After discussing Mt. Fuji and our time in Japan, I left her and went downstairs to inquire about the area. I needed food! This is when I met another Aussie girl named Demi who worked at the hostel. It was her day off. When I said I was going to look for a store to buy some cold beer and snacks, she asked if she could come with. She showed me around on the way to Lawson’s and gave me some great tips for Hakone! I stocked up on beer and snacks. I was going to treat myself and eat at the hostel that night. I hadn’t had much to eat and was ready for a proper meal.I ordered an avocado and smoked salmon pizza and a Caesar salad from the guesthouse for ¥1,600. Both were delicious and I had half the pizza leftover for the next day! Demi, Jess, myself and another girl from Denmark sat around in the common room and drank beer, ate and shared stories. It was a very fun night and it was nice to finally meet some folk. We were in bed somewhat earlyish after too many laughs and beers![...]



Japan: Day 18 — Osaka ...

2017-09-21T08:14:33.104+08:00

I had a relaxing morning before making my way to the Osaka Castle. It opened at 9am. I wanted to get there early to beat the crowds but no such luck. There was a huge line waiting to get into the place. The castle was extremely disappointing, especially after my visit to the Himeji Castle the day before. Not good planning on my part.There wasn’t a great view of the castle. They don’t let you get up close and personal like you can at the Himeji castle. The route basically puts you inside the castle, herds you up a bunch of stairs with a gazillion others to the top floor where you get a view of the city below. Each floor has some history about the castle but overall, it wasn't that interesting.The waterfall pathway at Minoh ParkI stayed at the castle for 45 minutes before heading on my way. There were gardens next to the castle that I was excited about. I was hoping they would be half as good as the gardens I was at the day before. I took a quick glance before going to the ticket gate and could see it was a big open field with a guest house. I took a miss. I wanted to head to a waterfall outside of the city, so I made my way there instead.It took 45 minutes by train to get to Minoh Park where there is a 33-meter high waterfall. The area was gorgeous. It was quiet and cooler up in the mountains. There were a bunch of trails but nothing was mapped out. It was hard to know where to go and if the trails would loop around so I stuck to the main trail.The waterfall at Minoh ParkThe waterfall was beautiful and the area was not terribly busy. The walk worked out to be almost ten kilometers. It felt so good to get in some exercise! There was a small bakery beside the train station where I grabbed some fried chicken and a slice of pizza. I brought them home for lunch and enjoyed them with a beer.I got home around 2:30 and took a nap after my lunch. I was exhausted! I had one more thing on my list that I wanted to see. At 5pm, I got up and wandered over to Dotonbori. It was within walking distance from the apartment I was staying at. I thought the place I went to yesterday, Shinsekai, was busy but this place was ten times busier. The number of people was overwhelming. I got to the canal about one hour before sunset and as it came closer to the sun setting, the streets became more crowded.I wandered around snapping a ton of pictures. There were so many illuminated signs. My tummy was grumbling and I knew it was time to find something to eat. Most places had long lineups. I walked around for what felt like ages and was getting hangry when I noticed an Indian guy holding up a sign for his restaurant. Perfect! The food was quite good and the restaurant was quiet which was a nice break from what was going on outside!The Dotonbori Canal at sunsetIt was my last night in Osaka so I stayed out a bit later and enjoyed the busy lanes of Dotonbori. It was quite an exciting place after sunset. I giggled my way through the tiny alleys and took a bunch more photos. It was time to head back though. There were too many people and I had a half a bottle of wine in my fridge that needed drinking!I stayed up a bit later than normal enjoying my last evening in my own space as it would be back to life in a hostel for the remainder of my stay in Japan![...]



Japan: Day 17 — Himeji and Osaka ...

2017-09-19T20:54:51.298+08:00

The amazing Himeji CastleI awoke to OK weather so I decided to make the trip out to the Himeji Castle. This is said to be one the best castles in Japan. It opened at 9am and was two hours away by train from Osaka.Finding my way there was fairly easy. I arrived at 8:30am and noticed hoards of people also making their way to the castle entrance. It’s a one-kilometer walk from the train station and the castle is in clear view. With each passing step, I could feel my excitement rising!I got to the gates just as they were opening. I bought a ticket (¥1000 + ¥40 for the gardens) and went inside. The path leads you through the gates and into the castle. Himeji has wonderful old wooden floors. You must remove your shoes before entering. The floors were perfect for sliding around on! Good fun!The inside of the castle was packed and it felt like we were being herded through which took away from the experience. I felt myself rushing through the castle, mostly to escape the crowds and the noise. After the indoor tour, the path takes you outside beside the castle. What a sight it was! It is massive! I sat on a nearby bench for a while just staring in awe. It was even better than I had imagined and definitely a highlight of the trip.The Kokoen Gardens in HimejiAfter staring in awe for ages, I made my way to the Kokoen Garden that belonged to the castle. The gardens were absolutely stunning! Best gardens I saw during my time in Japan. Those gardens will be forever etched in my mind!After my tour of the gardens, my tummy was grumbling. There was a sign for gourmet food under the train station so I went in search of something to eat. It was at B1 level and the floor offered plenty of ready-made food. It was hard to choose something with all the choices, but I settled on some fresh sushi rolls. I got a sashimi tuna roll and a cucumber roll. They cost next to nothing and were ridiculously good and fresh!I got back to the apartment around 2pm. I wanted to rest but I had four or five things on my to-do list with only one full day left in Osaka. It seemed I didn't give myself enough time for this stop!The tallest skyscraper in Japan, the Abeno HarukasI set off at 4pm making my way to the tallest skyscraper in Japan, the Abeno Harukas. It was only ten minutes away by train. It's a magnificent structure in the heart of the city center. It cost ¥1700 to go to the observatory at 288m. The views were stunning as was the design. Can you say eye candy?! The bathrooms were awesome and to think I almost left without visiting them.After the Abeno Harukas, I walked over to an area called Shinsekai. There were people everywhere! The place had big lit signs, lots of cheap places to eat and a huge casino where people were gambling. It was an interesting area and I wandered around for some time enjoying the signs and the fake food displays that Japan is famous for.This area is known for their kushikatsu, which is basically breaded and fried food on a stick! You could order just about anything on a skewer starting at ¥100/stick. I grabbed a cold beer and tried the onion and Chinese yam on sticks. I also ordered some udon noodles. The kushikatsu was delicious!After dinner, I wandered around. The signs were lit, the place was loud and it was packed with people. It became a bit much so I left the area and walked back to the apartment. I relaxed for the rest of the night and went to bed early a bit unsure of what to do in the morning. The day was calling for rain, again![...]



Japan: Day 16 — Kyoto to Osaka ...

2017-09-19T06:28:05.751+08:00

My Airbnb apartment in OsakaIt was a holiday in Japan as part of the Obon festival and a lot of places weren’t open. I was going to try a restaurant around the corner from my guest house in Kyoto before setting off for a western style breakfast but they weren’t open. Veg Out was on the way to the train station, so I figured I'd stop there for some breakfast but they too were closed.I set off on the train a tad hungry. Thankfully, Osaka was less than an hour away. Check out in Kyoto was 11am and I wasn’t allowed into the next place until 3pm. I had booked an Airbnb apartment and the lady allowed me to do a self-check-in and drop off my big backpack.I found the new place easily, got the key from the mailbox and took my pack up to the room. It hadn't been cleaned yet but it was cute. I left my bag in a corner of the suite and went back out into the heat of the day realizing I never really made a solid plan for the afternoon.I quickly checked my to-do list for Osaka and decided to head to the first thing on the list. It was about a half hour away by train. I didn't realize the place I had picked was in the heart of Osaka nor did I know that Osaka is the second biggest metropolitan area in Japan. Coming from (somewhat) quiet Kyoto, I was overwhelmed at the number of people rushing around. Wow!Very cool escalators up to the observatory at the Umeda Sky BuildingThe place I went to see was called the Umeda Sky Building. The architecture was awesome and for ¥1000, you could go to an outdoor observatory on the top of the building. The skies were gray and threatening rain but I went up anyway! There was a cool breeze up there and it was nice to get a complete 360-degree view of Osaka.Overlooking Osaka from the outdoor observatoryI still had yet to eat and was starving! I looked at a number of menus but nothing was calling to me to stop for a bite. I ended up settling for an Italian place that was quite busy and reasonably priced. I ordered a four cheese pizza which wasn’t that good.During my late lunch, I got a note from the lady at the Airbnb stating that her place was ready and I was welcome to go back! I headed back to the apartment to unpack. There were a few supermarkets nearby so I went to do a bit of shopping. The place had an extremely tiny kitchen so I didn’t use it for cooking. She had very little in the way of pots, utensils and spices.I bought some fruit, yogurt and veggies and treated myself to a bottle of red wine! I had some leftover pizza, so dinner was taken care of for the night. I watched some TV and tried making a plan for the next day. The weather forecast for the next few days wasn’t looking promising. I went to bed early and decided to make a decision in the morning based on the weather.[...]



Japan: Day 15 — Kyoto ...

2017-09-15T08:03:43.360+08:00

A resting point with stunning views on Mt. HieiMy last day in Kyoto! I spent it hiking in a mountain northeast of the city called Mt. Hiei. Unfortunately, the skies were threatening rain ... again. It took two trains to reach the base of the mountain and since the weather was a bit wet, I took the cable car part way up the mountain. After that, one could hop on a ropeway to the top but the rain had let up so I decided to walk the remainder of the way. It was a steep hike up.Mt. Hiei has the second highest peak in Kyoto at 848m. There is a sign at the peak with no view. It was a nice hike up and it was very quiet in the early morning. I had the place to myself!At the Garden Museum overlooking Lake BiwaNear the top of the mountain, there is a gorgeous Garden Museum with tons of flowers and Monet style art. (¥1030)  I wasn't sure about going in but decided to do it as it looked like they had some very unusual flowers. It offered wonderful views of the largest lake in Japan, Lake Biwa, and the art was quite impressive as were the flowers.After that, I hiked a few kilometers through a wonderful forest, making my way over to another cable car called the Sakamoto Cable Car, which is the longest cable car ride in Japan at 2,025m. I thought it would be a nice way to end my hike.One of many gorgeous flowers at the Garden MuseumI dawdled through the forest, taking in the stunning views. There were a bunch of temples to visit along the way but they all had entrance fees. The closer I got to the Sakamoto cable car, the busier the pathways were.The cable car was going to drop me down the mountain at a very different place from where I started. There was a JR Line which would take me directly back to Kyoto station in 22 minutes! Perfect!My tummy was grumbling upon my arrival so I stopped at the Hub for some fish and chips and a pint of beer on my way back to the guest house. The day was getting on and I needed to do some laundry as everything I had with me was dirty.The guesthouse didn't have in-house laundry but there was a coin operated place a few minutes up the road. It was ¥300 for laundry with soap included and ¥100 for every ten minutes in the dryer.While waiting for my laundry, I went to a 7-11 to stock up on food for the night and for the next morning. I hung around the hostel in the evening and started making a game plan for my next stop, Osaka![...]



Japan: Day 14 — Kyoto ...

2017-09-13T08:06:41.150+08:00

The final steps to reach the 342m peak of at Mount Wakakusa in NaraFinally! Blue skies and the sun! I was up early and decided to head to Nara for the day. It was only 45 minutes away by train and I arrived in Nara just after 8am. There were very few people around.A group of deer escaping the hot sunMinutes away from the train station, I ran into a huge group of deer. They were everywhere! In the parks, on the streets and some even in the stores. You could buy deer crackers for ¥150 from small street stalls to feed the deer but I didn’t bother to do this. I did have fun looking at the deer. As I continued on my walk, I was amazed! It seemed there were no places without deer.My goal for the day was to climb Mount Wakakusayama. (¥150) I hiked up to the peak which was 342m and offered lovely views of the city below with almost a 360-degree view. There was a huge group of deer up at the top resting in the shade. It was a glorious day but a hot walk up in the sun. The weather couldn’t have been better.I took a different route down the hill and when I got to the bottom I had a look on my phone for any restaurants in the area. There was a burger place called Sakura Burger right across from the train station. It had rave reviews on trip advisor so I thought if I could find it easily, it’d be worth a visit.Deer warning signOn the way back to the temple, I stopped at the Todaiji temple. It was extremely busy and I found myself wondering why the deer stayed where they did. Some people seemed to be chasing after the deer even when there were signs that clearly asked people not to do that. People were also pulling on the deer's antlers which I am sure the deer didn’t like. I felt a bit disappointed at people’s stupidity. It would be interesting to learn how many people got bitten, butted or kicked in a day.The Todaiji TempleThe Todaiji temple had an entrance fee to get in and I didn’t want to pay to go into another temple. I took a picture from the outside and made my way towards the train. My tummy was grumbling.The burger joint was easy to find. They had a variety of burgers available or you had the option of building your own! I got a burger with avocado and cheese. It was terribly messy but oh, so good! I enjoyed it with a cold beer and was glad I stopped there for lunch.I made my way back to my neck of the woods and stopped for dinner snacks and cold beer on the way back to the guest house. I rested for the remainder of the day and watched some TV.[...]



Japan: Day 13 — Kyoto ...

2017-09-10T14:51:36.862+08:00

Walking through the Torii Gates at the Fushimi Inari ShrineI was up very early to make my way to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. I read online that the best time to visit was early morning. The shrine was three stops away from the closest train station and it took less than ten minutes to get there. I hopped on a 5:45am train and was surprised at just how quiet it was!A map of the 4KM loop walkThe walk itself is a 4KM loop that took less than two hours to complete. There were a number of stairs and I dawdled my way up and down them while taking a ton of pictures. It really is an amazing place! Apparently, there are over 10,000 Torii gates. Each gate has been donated by an individual or a company to give thanks to the shrine.The hike wasn’t too challenging and I found myself giggling along the way. It was a very exciting place and having it all to myself was wonderful! I made it to the peak of the mountain at 233m and this is when it started to rain lightly. I headed back down to the start of the trail and was shocked to see that it was absolutely packed with people. It was only 7:40am. Boy, was I glad I went as early as I did!At the Sanjusangendo ShrineI got on the train to head back home but since it was so early, I decided to stop at another recommended shrine, Sanjusangendo, that was just up the road from my guest house. (¥600) This place has 1,001 human-sized, golden Buddha statues. It was an amazing sight but unfortunately, photography inside was forbidden.I got back to the hostel around 10am, grabbed a shower and took a rest before heading back out. I wanted to see more of the Kyoto train station.The Kyoto Train StationThe station is massive! There are fifteen floors with open outdoor escalators. There is a big stage where people were playing music. On the very top, there is a rooftop garden with clear windows for viewing the city below. The station was super busy and it was a great place for people watching. Once again, I was blown away by the futuristic architecture that Japan seems to offer!My next stop was for a late lunch/early dinner at an Irish pub called Man in the Moon. It is a tiny restaurant on the south side of the station. The guy working there was Irish and very friendly. I  enjoyed a cold beer and a cheeseburger. The burger was delicious! There was an American couple at the table next to me and we shared some stories and had another beer together before they set off for their train!I spent another hour or so exploring the city before making my way back to the guest house. I had trouble keeping my eyes open that night and gave into sleep early![...]



Japan: Day 12 — Kyoto ...

2017-09-10T09:58:13.585+08:00

Tengu, as seen outside the Kurama train stationIt was a holiday in Japan, as part of the Obon festival. One of my classmates from MCU is studying Japanese in Kyoto and had the day off, so we went on a small trip together. We headed to the northern mountains of Kyoto to a place called Kurama. It took one hour by train to get there.Upon our arrival, it was raining ever so slightly. We opted to take the cable car that went up the mountain for ¥200. At the top, there was a big temple called Kurama-dera. It was quite impressive and offered some nice but cloudy views. After visiting the temple, there was a path that led us through a wonderful lush forest. The hike itself wasn't difficult and it was lovely to be in nature! Thankfully the rained had stopped! The trail popped us out at another temple that was packed with people!One of many restaurants over a fast running streamBesides the temple, this area had a ton of restaurants with tables set up directly over a running stream. It looked like a very cool place to eat but the prices were astronomical. Wayne knew of one place that was reasonably priced but there were about 200 people waiting in line to eat there. Although hungry, we made our way on foot down the mountain road in the direction of the train station.Tree roots along the hiking trailsThe narrow road up to this particular area wasn't wide enough to fit two cars so there was a constant line of cars on the road unable to move. Men in aprons from the restaurants were shouting at drivers to move this way or that. As we neared the bottom of this tiny mountain road, I noticed parking lots full of cars. The restaurants had shuttle buses picking people up from the train station and the parking lots. More men in fine attire were calling out names on lists, trying to find those who had made reservations for the bus and the restaurants. It was a crazy place. Never have I seen anything like it.Wayne and I made our way back to the city and grabbed some lunch at the place where we needed to change trains. There was an Indian food place right across the street from the station! Yes, please! The place was packed which is always a good sign and we were given a small table in the back of the kitchen since the main part of the restaurant was full. The prices were reasonable for the amount of food we got. It wasn’t the best Indian food I’ve had but it was still pretty tasty.After our late lunch, I headed back to the hostel. I stopped at a 7-11 along the way to pick up some things for dinner along with some cold beers. I stayed in for the remainder of the day and made a game plan for the next few days! [...]



Japan: Day 11 — Kyoto ...

2017-09-04T11:29:24.453+08:00

The weather forecast wasn't looking too good. The skies were dark and rain was a definite possibility. The night prior, I had decided to visit a popular shrine in the area but I wasn't motivated for an early morning departure. I decided to visit the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) instead. It opened at 9am.  (¥400)Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)I got to the temple a half hour early in hopes of beating the crowds but there were tons of people hanging around the area waiting for the place to open. As the time neared 9am, a line started to form and thankfully I was near the front. There were easily 300 people in line. So much for having the place to myself.It was a mad rush when the doors opened. People were pushing to buy tickets and then scurrying around to find the temple. I got a few shots in but it became harder to find an open space as time ticked on. Selfie central! Oh my!The gardens surrounding the PavilionThe pavilion is gorgeous as are the gardens surrounding it. I followed the pathway around the lake and before I knew it, I was walking out the exit. It took 20 minutes from start to finish. That included dawdling and a bathroom break. 9:20am ... now what?!The Nijo Castle (¥600) was on the way back and a place I wanted to see. It was also packed with people but a very impressive castle. It took 1.5 hours to go around the outer and inner parts. The gardens surrounding the castle were lovely. I could only imagine what Japan would look in the spring or fall. The gardens are magnificent when they are green! They must be magical in autumn with the fall colors!The Nijo CastleI slowly wandered around the castle and at some point near the end of my visit it started to rain. I made my way back to the train and back to the guesthouse. I stopped at a Family Mart for some cold beer, a bagged salad and some sushi rolls. I had lunch in my room while the rain came down.I hand washed some clothes and took a nap. I slept longer than intended and that didn’t really motivate me to do anything else for the day. There was also the rain. My stomach started rumbling around 5pm so I ran around the corner to the Thai place to try more of their food.At some point during dinner, the rain started pounding down. I had a cold beer to wait it out. The rain let up briefly and I made it back to the hostel just in time. By the time I got up to my room on the second floor, it was absolutely pouring outside. Good timing! Thanks, Mother N, for not soaking me again.After a long hot shower, I played around with some images but the lights went out at 9pm! Zzzzz.[...]



Japan: Day 9 and 10 — Kyoto ...

2017-09-03T12:05:27.798+08:00

Day 9 was spent in transit. I was scheduled on a 10:20am bus from Kawaguchiko to Mishima. The bus ride offered gorgeous scenery and it was a quick trip. I reached the Mishima train station around noon. I purchased a one-way ticket for ¥11,300 (reserved seat) on the high-speed train to Kyoto. It was a comfortable 2.5-hour journey to the Kyoto train station. I managed to catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji as we sped by and in my heart I knew I wasn't done with her yet! She remains on my bucket list.The Kyoto train station is massive and it was a bit overwhelming on where to go upon my arrival. The day was hot and humid so I grabbed a taxi to the guesthouse (Kiyomizu Gojo Guest House) which I had booked via Airbnb. I had my own room for a week (shared showers and bathroom) and was looking forward to it. It was a traditional Japanese style room with tatami mats and a small table with two chairs that sat on the floor. There were futons in a closet and directions on how to make your own bed. It was comfortable for sleeping but the room itself has seen better days. The walls could stand a coat of paint and some fixing up.There was no laundry nor was there a kitchen though they did have a tiny fridge. The hostel offered free cold and hot water along with tea and coffee. The showers are closed from midnight to 8am which is inconvenient if one wants to go out early.Papaya salad and spring rolls at Kinkao I completely unpacked for the first time since arriving in Japan and then set out to check out the area. The guesthouse was in a quiet neighborhood with some very cool looking Japanese houses but there wasn't much in the way of restaurants or convenience stores nearby nor were there any grocery stores. I did find a Thai restaurant (Kinkao) around the corner where I had an early dinner and a cold beer. The food was delicious!Day 10I awoke much earlier than expected (4:30am) and decided to get up and enjoy a morning coffee. I got ready and set off for the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama. I read that going early morning was best otherwise it will be overrun with tourists. I was on a 6am train which took thirty minutes and three transfers to get to Arashiyama.I immediately set out in search of the Bamboo Forest. The first few walkways of the bamboo forest weren’t that impressive and I found myself thinking, really?! This is it? But as I got deeper into the forest, it started to become much more clear what all the fuss was about. I wandered around slowly and pretty much had the place to myself. It was a wonderful way to spend the early morning!The Bamboo ForestThere were a few other attractions (temples, a famous bridge and a monkey park) in Arashiyama but nothing too impressive. What did blow my mind was Owl Forest. It said it was an owl and cat café but it wasn’t a café. It was ¥1,400 to walk through the owl forest and play with Bengal Cats (with one free drink) for thirty minutes. I went in to see the owls first. It was so cool! I mean, how often does one get to see a variety of owls up close and personal?!Love that face!The owls were chained up to perches but there was a note saying they mostly sleep during the day and aren't bothered by this. The owls do (apparently) fly around all night and have regular visits to the vet. I hope they are treated well. You are allowed to pet the owls but I opted not to touch them. They are amazing creatures and I wandered around slowly to enjoy each and every one!What a beauty!The Bengal cats didn[...]



Japan: Day 8 — Mt. Fuji ...

2017-08-29T14:29:06.059+08:00

Mt. Fuji - an amazing shade of red in the morningI got very little sleep after realizing I had a fever. People started getting up as early as midnight to make their way to the summit. The girls beside me left around 1:30am. I was still not feeling well and was desperately trying to get some shut eye. Check out was at 5am and since I was hiking alone, I had a big decision to make. I could feel my frustration building as I was lying there.If I attempted to summit and started feeling worse, it would mean relying on complete strangers for help and perhaps ruining their trip in the process. I knew this was something I could not do. It would be selfish and unsafe. I decided to call it quits at 3,100m.I got out of bed at 4am, packed up my things and headed outside. It was freezing! There was still hope in my heart that I was going to feel great once I got moving. When I got outside, I attempted to eat to see if it would bring my energy levels up but the loss of appetite that happens with altitude sickness had set in. Putting food in front of my mouth only strengthened that feeling of wanting to throw up.There was a clear view down the mountain and I could see the city lights below. I had come up 800m in elevation the day before and still had about 700m to go. Although there were just two kilometers left of the hike, those two kilometers were going to take three hours to complete which gave me a fairly good idea of the intensity of the trail.The entire trail is in the sun (thankfully it was cool)As the sun came up, tears started streaming down my face. I was disappointed and frustrated. The feeling of nausea is not fun. Much to my chagrin, I put on my pack and started my descent. It was a gorgeous sunrise and I tried to think positively on my way down the mountain. I had made it more than half way up Mt. freakin’ Fuji!It only took coming down 200m to feel better, which is so stupid. Part of me wanted to turn around and go right back up. I knew it would take me 30-40 minutes to re-climb that 200m and who knew what I’d feel like along the way. Another 100m down and I started to feel hunger in my belly. At the 2,700m mark, one of the huts was selling Chai tea. I got a big cup for ¥400 and sat down. My mother magically called me on FaceTime during my Chai and I had to fight back tears when I told her I wasn’t able to summit. I am glad she was able to share a moment with me on Mt. Fuji. Bill, her and I enjoyed the views and chatted about altitude sickness. They said all the right things to make me feel proud of where I was and what I had done.It was a lovely hike down and I enjoyed every moment of it. I made it back to the 5th station around 8am. I found the Yamarent return table and gave them back the gear I had rented and then set off in search of the post office and the bus. There was a 9:30am bus back to Kawaguchiko station.A torii gate at one of the mountain hutsWhen I got back to the hostel, I took a long shower! I was hoping to relax for the day and get some laundry done. There was a typhoon in the area and the weather was doing all sorts of crazy stuff. I suppose in the end, the altitude sickness saved me from a very wet and windy climb down Mt. Fuji. I decided to venture out to the store when there seemed to be a break in the rain. The hostel wasn’t near anything which made it difficult when it came time to meals. There was a grocery store about ten minutes away on foot. I went there [...]



Japan: Day 7 — Mt. Fuji ...

2017-08-27T16:55:01.404+08:00

Out of the heat of Tokyo!Mt. Fuji day! I left the guest house just after 6am as I wanted to be on the 6:40am bus to the Fuji Subaru Line 5th station. (2,305m) The weather forecast was showing rain at noon and my goal was to reach the hut (at 3,100m) before it started. There was a clear view of the volcano while I was waiting for the bus and I could hardly contain my excitement! The bus ticket was ¥2,100 for a two-way ticket, valid for two days.The ride up was beautiful and took one hour. When we reached the 5th station, I was surprised how busy the area was. I had a look around before hitting the trails. The first kilometer was a long path that had a slight incline and a slight decline. After that, it was straight up without any breaks in the path. There were endless steep switchbacks on volcanic ash. The ground was loose which made the inclines tougher.The steep switchbacksThe sun came out briefly during my climb and it got super hot super quick. The entire trail is in the sun so I was thankful for the cloud cover though I couldn't see anything down below but gray.The tough switchbacks turned into boulders at which point the hike became a rock scramble. The rocks were sharp and not easy to navigate around.The steep and sharp rocky scrambleFrom the 2,900m mark to the 3,100m mark, I struggled. I was exhausted but making excellent time for my goal. It took me forty minutes to climb the 200m and during the last 100m, I started feeling nauseous and dizzy. It had also started raining at this point but only lightly. So much for beating the rain!I reached my hut, Taishi-kan, just before noon and was the first to check in. The hut was nice as were the people who worked there. I got the first bunk on the floor against a wall, which is what I wanted. I was allowed to have two spaces to give me more space and he put a divider across for privacy. I used one sleeping bag for sleeping and one as a pillow. They did offer pillows but they weren’t terribly comfortable. The hut for the night was ¥8,500. The price included a simple but hot dinner and some breakfast to go. They did ask that you pay ¥100 each time you use the bathroom which I felt should’ve been included in the price of the bed. Note: the bathrooms were ¥200/use (honor system) the whole way up.The sleeping room at the Taishi-kan hut (3,100m)After an introduction of the hut and the rules, I took a rest while I had the place to myself. I fell asleep until the next guests arrived. At that point, I got up and wrote some postcards and then went to have a look outside. The skies had cleared a bit and there were some views of the mountain trails below. I was feeling tired and a bit weird at that point and I assumed it was the lack of oxygen. A lot of people were sucking on cans of oxygen and I wondered if I should’ve purchased a can before the hike.The view before dinner (actual colors on Mt. Fuji)I continued to rest until I got the call for dinner around 4:30pm. It was a simple dinner with rice, Japanese curry, a small piece of fish and two extremely small portions of some kind of pickled vegetables. I don’t know what they were. There was also a very small cake for dessert and a jelly type thing. There wasn’t a lot of food given but for me, it was enough. For the three big men sitting next to me, they looked like they were just getting started. We were given our breakfast for the following morning which consisted [...]