Hakone Reminisce #1 – Gora to Souzan to Owakudani

This gallery contains 15 photos.

Hakone was great  – one of the best in this trip in fact. Got the Hakone 2-day pass from Shinjuku station and enjoyed unlimited use of Odakyu-affiliated transport and discounted admission to some tourist attractions in the Hakone area. Worth … Continue reading

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From Tokyo Imperial Palace to Yasukuni Shrine

On 30 March when I was still in Tokyo and when memories of Day 5 was fresher, this was what I posted when I shared pictures on Instagram @ilovelongvacation : Wet, cold day. Did not managed to get a ticket to visit the Tokyo Imperial Palace so can only visit the garden – Very big with many Sakura trees of course. Walked the Chidorigafuchi – no boats spotted – en route to the Yasukuni shrine.

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Although it can be a hassle to carry an umbrella around on a rainy day, it can add an interesting touch to a picture.
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Another side of the cherry blossoms with the raindrops. IMG_9195

Saw white cherry blossoms when I walked to Chidorigafuchi. A walk that was longer than I thought it would be. But glad I walked as I saw many Sakura trees along the way.IMG_9198  IMG_9203IMG_9205

Chidorigafuchi was quite deserted. Guess I would not have been able to capture this serene scene if it was not a wet day. 
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Yasukuni Shrine was less serene though.IMG_9221IMG_9222  IMG_9226

The tree that helps the Meteorological Agency to declare the start of the cherry blossom season. I only just learnt about this interesting fact!IMG_9228

So this sums up Day 5 in Tokyo. A wet day. Not a good one for walking. But walk I did.

#ilovelongvacationjp #travel #tokyoimperialpalace #chidorigafuchi #yasukunishrine #japan #tokyo

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A stroll in the (Ueno) park

I will always remember Ueno Park. Because of the many firsts I experienced here.

My first close encounter with the cherry blossoms in Tokyo. Was amused to see so many Sakura fans taking pictures under the trees. It was not as splendid as I imagined. But still pretty.

The first time I saw Hanami parties. Not like anything I imagined. Was amazed by the many Japanese having picnics under the Sakura trees everywhere in the park. Could not resist the Sakura Party and had a mini solo one with a flask of hot green tea and a pack of Calbee chips! 🙂

My first visit to a museum in Tokyo. Have always like visiting museums (and yes, Ueno Park reminds me of Europe) and Tokyo National Museum was a good introduction to the Japanese history and art. A pity I had only an hour to spend here.

Will definitely visit Ueno Park again when I am in Tokyo. There are several museums and a zoo to explore. There’s a huge Star Bucks too. Having a coffee and reading a book in the park would be nice, ya? 🙂

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Meiji Shrine near dusk

Made it to Meiji Shrine only in the late afternoon on Day 3, about an hour before it closes for the day. Love how the setting sun added a glow to the shrine, sparking sun rays and casting shadows. Definitely glad I ended here near dusk after quite a walk from Omotesando.

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That was a sunny day started with a free gorgeous day view of the city from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, followed by a sumptuous lunch at Maisen Tonkatsu (a famous Tonkatsu restaurant – I like it and glad I only waited a while for a seat – a pro of travelling solo) at Omotesando and a fruitless search for the infamous Omotesando Coffee (I couldn’t find it LOL) as I wondered through the quaint streets of boutique shops, cafes and dwellings. The walk continued down (or up) Omotesando hills before I reached Meiji Shrine. Checked out Harujuku before hitting Shibuya – all by foot! 🙂

To end, just wanted to share that one of the best things about pressing again is re-reading the ‘relevant’ presses that WordPress called to my attention. Not sure how ‘I can still see the sky of Old Uppsala‘ and ‘Day1onAlishan‘ are relevant but they definitely brought back good memories…

#ilovelongvacationjp #travel #meijishrine #omotesando #harujuku #shibuya #japan #tokyo

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Night out at Tokyo Sky Tree

As Sensoji Temple and Tokyo Sky Tree are in the same area (at least according to the train line), I had planned to check out both on the same day. But nearer the end of my trip because I wanted to get the Tokyo Banana Tree – Choco Banana flavour only available at Tokyo Sky Tree! But I changed my plan (the beauty of solo, free & easy travel) upon arrival and decided to visit Senjoji Temple – read more about my first day in Tokyo.

I got lost trying to get from the former to the latter. Did I tell you that this trip was planned in a week – flight bought 7 days ahead, accommodation booked 3 days before and itinerary put together over 1 weekend?

Being my first trip to Tokyo, I didn’t know that the Asakusa train station nearer Sensoji Temple did not have a train to Tokyo Sky Tree (note to fellow first-time traveller to Tokyo). I had to walk to another station by the same name and I could not find it. In the end I landed in another station where I was advised to take a bus instead. Well, on the positive side, I maximised my Tokyo travel 2 day pass (highly recommended too).

The tower was beckoning at me throughout the day – I could see it while exploring Sensoji Temple. And it did not disappoint. The night view was one of the best I have seen in my life  – Tokyo is so beautiful from the top! I was feeling on top of the world up there in the tower!

Would have been nice to spend more time in the shopping precinct – I enjoyed browsing the shops, having dinner at Rokurinsha and deciding what to buy at the Tokyo Banana shop! 🙂 Another reason to return to Tokyo.

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Spot Tokyo Sky Tree Tower in the background? Took this picture of an alley from Sensoji Temple. Kind of like the composition in this picture – selfie, photo bombers, sign-boards, girls in kimonos. man on bike, shop houses, tower – they combined to form a real moment in time.

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It was good to spot the all-surrond Tokyo Sky Tree on my way to it. Although I was lost, I did not feel lost. The kind of lost-but-not-lost feeling if you know what I mean.

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Up-close and personal with Tokyo Sky Tree Tower at sunset. So bright and light before the night fall.

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Decide to go for an early dinner and tried Rokurinsha. This is the first time I ate ramen dipped in thick soup. I like the strong flavours. For those who prefer ramen in light broth, this might not be to your liking.  It was a good decision – the queue was not as long as I thought it would be because this ramen is quite popular, and I did not have to go hungry in the almost 1-hour queue to go up the tower.

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I was wowed by the gorgeous night view of the city from the tower. This picture does not do it justice at all. Spot the other famous tower?

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Selfie while sharing the view with many others 🙂 Looking a bit sheepish towards the end of Day 1 in Tokyo.

#ilovelongvacationjp #travel #tokyoskytree #Rokurinsha #japan #tokyo

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Sensoji aka Asakusa Temple – First stop of first trip to Tokyo

It has been a few years since my last solo trip to Scandinavia and definitely glad to have done it again in March. This time, it was to Tokyo, also my very first trip to this part of Japan – like finally. Wished I had spent more time exploring this vibrant city and experienced the full blooms of the cherry blossoms. But well, the short-but-not-too-short trip gave me a reason to return to the land of the rising sun some day – in late March, early April again.

Back to reality for over 2 months and finally pressing about this trip. The wait (and well, better late than never) was partly due to procrastination and partly due to the hassle of selecting photos from both my iPhone and camera. Gave up in the end and chose the latter for press. I guess the former is more suited for the world of more instant social media like Instagram (by the way, mine is @ilovelongvacation).

So my first stop of this first trip to Tokyo was to the Sensoji Temple. Initially wanted to check out the sakuras in one of the gardens near Shinjuku after checking into the hotel. Was advised by the tourist centre to give them some time to bloom – good advice. That’s why the tourist centre is one of the first places I try to visit in a foreign land.

For me, snacking, shopping, people-watching my way to Sensoji Temple was really more memorable than visiting Tokyo’s oldest temple. Guess many touch points make up the Asakusa experience. Check out some of my favorite below. What’s yours?

#ilovelongvacation #ilovelongvacationjp #travel #japan #tokyo #sensojitemple #asakusatemple

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Hoi An, Wuxi and Suzhou l Old Towns

I love old towns. I love the idea of how these quaint towns have stayed alive, evolved with times and yet stayed charming and touched hearts over the centuries. Gamla Stan ( #throwback to Old Town Again), Tallin (#throwback to Tallin on coach and Tallin on foot) and Old Uppsala (#throwback to I can still see the sky of Old Uppsala) are some of my favorite old towns – you guess right, Scandinavia was where this romance started. And #throwback on Christmas Day brings back fond memories of white old towns.

Lately, I have started to appreciate old towns nearer home. When I visit Asia, I have always gone right into the heart of the cities – gigantic architecture/museums, dazzling promenade, shopping districts, theme parks, Michelin restaurants are  flashing in my head as I press – and overlooked the old towns.

So it was quite cool to chill in the ancient town in Hoi An when we visited Danang, Central Vietnam in April in spite of the hot weather! One can easily spend a day getting lost in the streets lined with shop houses with Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese influences. Today, most are restaurants and shops with a few key landmarks that tell the Hoi An story.

Hoi An

Hoi An Bridge was one of the first sights that greeted us when we entered the old town. Spot any Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese influences? On it is a temple. Crossing it brought us to a street that sells art work, mainly paintings, in shops that feel like galleries – spacious, neat, quiet till you decide to get one. That’s when the chatter and bargaining start.

Had a good time in Hoi An – beyond the old town, we went on a food tour and visited My Son Sanctuary. Shall live to press about these another day. Now off to the old towns in Wuxi and Suzhou!

Travelling with the family to China in June was memorable – it has been years since we traveled so long, so far together. For me, it has also been like a decade since my last guided tour. While I still prefer to travel free & easy, it feels good to follow an itinerary  for a change.

Heard about water towns in China liken to Venice in the east? I took it with a pinch of salt but having seen them for myself , the old towns in Wuxi (Nanchang Street) and Suzhou (Shantang Street) are quite charming. While Venice is more blue, chic (#throwback to Italy – Venice – D10 – Grand Canal), Nanchang Street and Shantang Street are more green, rustic.

We spotted Haagen Dazs and Starbucks along the canal on Nanchang Street. You would find restaurants and shops on Shantang Street too. It’s surreal. Because they fitted right in – a sign of old towns moving with changing times. Wish I had more time to explore them but well, had to leave on the dot of an hour whilst on a guided tour 😛

Glad I chose to press on Christmas Day this year, reminiscing about my travels. Cannot remember what I did last year! But I remember that all I want for Christmas last year was a white Christmas – that didn’t come true this year. It’s been a sunny-turned-raining day in Singapore today. This year, all I want for Christmas is to travel more and make more presses on them. What is your wish? Hope it comes true. Merry Christmas! 🙂

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