Monday, December 26, 2016

Kyoto, Japan


I'd always wanted to visit Japan. From what I'd read and seen, there was quite an intriguing culture there, and one that would be markedly different from the one I've grown up in. It can be challenging to truly 'get away from it all' in the globalized world of the modern age; everything is connected, you are never far from news of home, and the comforts of home seem to find you all over, from a Starbucks in Sao Paulo to a Dunkin Donuts in Bangkok and the 24-7 connectivity of the internet.
But Japan has a life of its own, and I wanted to see what it was all about. I was not disappointed and in fact, would love to return to see more of the country. I had started off in Tokyo but with such a fantastic high speed rail system, I was going to check out more of the country. Kyoto was chosen as a second stop. 


Above, the famous Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji, officially named Rokuon-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto. Of course I had to visit this. Sadly I missed othe popular Kyoto attractions. I was somewhat limited by traveling circumstances, so I'll have to see some of those places another time. 
but first, we had to get there.


I'd gotten a rail pass, an amazing deal and restricted to tourists. Going to Japan? Get one. I ordered it online and picked it up at the airport after arrival. Above, one of the trains similar to one we rode.
Below, some views from the ride.



We got to Kyoto and had a fiasco where we couldn't find our hotel. This is a common problem. I have learned over the years that when going to a totally new place, it's good to to look at all the things that make this unknown destination easier to navigate.. I've purchased maps in advance, locating my hotel/hostel and knowing where I need to go. I also look at Google street view to get a sense of where to walk. On the maps I consult, I note landmarks and remember them - as in, after I leave the train station, walk towards the McDonalds (if I a Hilton, I'm walking in the wrong direction) - that stuff has been very helpful, and many times when I have failed to do this preparation, I'm lost.

In this case, after getting really frustrated I went back to the train station and explained where we were going to a cabbie (who spoke no english) and the place was seriously like 3 blocks away. 








The subway entrance, above, and inside, below...







There is a lot of interesting food.. and a ton of cool snacks.. in Japan.


Kyoto is a very peaceful city with temples scattered around the city, and many chances for a lovely stroll through nature. We weren't planing on coming to this park, but after we left the subway to walk to the Golden Pavilion, we passed this complex and took a look around.



There was a multitude of structures here, along with walking paths and manicured trees.



It was time to get back to the street to continue to our destination, and even the streets are nice..


Finally, we were there, and we walked around the pavilion.. It was quite crowded but I managed w few snaps without too many people.







This is not a large site. My traveling companion was pretty worn out from all the walking though, and we still had to get back to the train station. The Silver Pavilion would have to wait for another trip..

We were hungry so we stopped in a local eatery before getting on the train.
I hadn't seen many vegetarian spots (and supposedly they are all over Kyoto) but this place had tofu on offer. We were definitely lunching here. It turned out to be awesome.


The proprietor was so friendly, and adorable. When he walked us out he was bowing graciously. 
He is picture in the photo below. He was a wonderful man.


Kyoto was so charming. 
There were lots of cute little touches. I loved this little lane, below. with that slim little house.



Through our hostel window, you can see the slippers lined up and ready
and below, a cute mailbox.


But this is Japan, after all, so you get weird stuff like whatever is happening below.
As they drove by with those plastic monstrosities, music blared.



Yeah, just part of the train station (!)
The stations are clean and full of places to shop. Many were like malls. 
And there was always tons of food to buy for take-away.



We were going on to Hiroshima, but I was a little sad to leave Kyoto so soon.
I'd love to return one day.





Monday, December 19, 2016

Patagonia - Road Trip - Part V - (More) Torres del Paine National Park

We saw so many amazing things on our long day in Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia. Lousy weather had closed the trail to the Towers so on our drive around we got to do several short hikes. Our experience that day made me glad that we had not relied on other transportation or tour buses to get us to the park. We were free to go where we wanted and it was a day I'll never forget.



The glacial lakes are stunning, a color I don't think I've seen since New Zealand.


The weather was cold and windy, as well as unpredictable. But the clouds made for dramatic effect; every view seemed unforgettably stunning.




We wrapped up our short hike and went back to the car. Hitting the road again, there seemed to be one last good place for a hike that would include a great view of a lake. On the far side was a glacier. My husband recalled the ranger telling us we might see the glacier in good weather... 
it looked far away on the map though...



From the parking lot, we traversed a little bridge to get to the trail. The weather was declining but what did it matter? We weren't sure if we'd ever make it back to this spectacular place.



On the other side of the bridge, we made our way through brush and trees. I could see a sort of beach off in the distance, and there was the surface of the lake, covered in little icebergs.


There was a group of people making there way from a ferry stop that was about 1.5 kilometers away.


Then we were alone in this incredible place.



The weather made for some interesting lighting effects.
The bergs truly were a cerulean blue.




Some of them were about the size of a big bus..



They broke into bits as they got close to shore.




Far away in the distance is the glacier that calved these chunks.



A better view of Grey Glacier, below.



It began to snow again, while the sun was coming out. Patagonia!!







Watching the clouds blow up the side of the mountains, above and below, was mesmerizing.




We took a lot of pictures here... but it was getting late, and time to move on.


We'd made the most of this fabulous day. We set off back to town, and while we'd have some driving to do in darkness, we were able to exit the park near our last hike without having to make a long and challenging ride back through in darkness.




There were a few last viewpoints to take in on the drive back.




We had another good dinner at our Puerto Natales pizza spot, Mesita Grande. The next morning it was time to head back to Punta Arenas.



On the way, we got a few snaps of the roadside memorial structures I've mentioned in previous posts.. and I'm unfortunately still unable to say exactly what's happening here.


I loved the road signs in Patagonia, and in Chile the signage was pretty good. We didn't ever get lost. And who wouldn't love the title at the top - Ruta del Fin del Mundo - Route of the End of the World.



Hamming it up in the car, we were both in pretty good moods. We were on our way back after such a nice trip, that met all my expectations, and without any problems. Gratitude.


Have I mentioned that there are apparently flamingos in Patagonia?! I was shocked.



And if you look closely, above, you'll see rhea, a flightless bird like an ostrich..
Below, it's more obvious.. I don't think it likes to be photographed.



We continued through the town of Punta Arenas.. 


Some places the road gets pretty close to the sea.. made me wonder what will happen down here as things start to heat up in the Antarctic neighborhood.

No time to think for long, there's a road block.


The road down here isn't finished, but we were going to el fin.



And here it was. Apparently, we were also at the bottom of the American continent, according the sign indicating such; this is where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet.


The end of the road.

Check out the rest of our trip here:

Patagonia Trip Report


Part IIIIIIIV, V

= center