The Wild Atlantic Way is an Atlantic route through the coast of Ireland, also the longest coastal touristic route in the world. The reason why it’s called “Wild” is because this rote wasn’t planned to be touristic, nor was changed in any way for that. It is literally a real and unchanged experience through the coast of Ireland. Since I bought my car, I already visit most of the south part of Ireland through this route, most of West Cork, Beara peninsula, the Ring of Kerry, Dingle peninsula and part of the route to Galway, and Connemara area. I visited quite a lot already, and I can only say this route is amazing!
Directions and Information
The route is clearly signed, the majority of plates have the Wild Atlantic Way symbol point North or South of the route, and I highlight the fact that is North or South of the route and not the geographic directions, at some point it gets a bit confusing for those following the geographic coordinates as a reference 🙂 The route starts (or ends) in the beautiful town of Kinsale, near Cork, and ends (or starts) in Derry, the border with Northern Ireland, in Donegal county. In some parts of the route you also have alternative sections and detouring to capes or other highlights outside the main route. The first detour is the Old Head of Kinsale. The Republic of Ireland’s government made a huge investment to replace the signposts, but the responsibility for the roads maintenance is still for the local and regional entities.
Since I found out about the Wild Atlantic Way, I always try to learn something more about this amazing route, and Ireland can be really proud about the tourism information one can find about this route. A simple internet query by “Wild Atlantic Way”, and you can find a lot of information, it gets really easy to plan a trip and know exactly where to stay. The official page has a companion app, for Android and iOS (I’ll also review the iOS app one day), and this app not only shows the route in detail, but also gives recommendations about “hidden gems”, where to eat and stay, activities, itineraries for sections of the route so you can do it in several days in an organized way, or for those that just want to do the route by sections (like myself).
So basically, this route is the ideal option for someone who loves road trips and is coming to visit Ireland. If you have time and you want to avoid the traditional tourism, through this route you’ll get to see some of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in Ireland, as some of the major highlights like the Cliffs of Moher. And obviously, here they/we drive in the “wrong” side of the road 🙂
If you’ve done this route, or part of it, what did you like the most? Please leave a comment with your experience.
Unfortunately the blog has been quite inactive, against what I planned last year, but surely I can’t postpone this post! Every year I write the previous’ year review and a few goals for the following year, I’ve been doing this for a few years and here I am again!
A heads up, I foresee that I failed a lot this year, regarding last year’s goals. A lot happened worth mentioning, but also a lot wasn’t done either…, but let’s see.
So, here we go!
Writing and speaking English is not an issue for me, but I want to take this travel writer thing really serious, and for that I decided to attend for some Advanced English classes which I’ll pay a bit for… but I see it as an investment.
Well, I did this indeed and I didn’t get much out of that. It is the second time I go for the wrong course, I want to improve my writing and the course I attended didn’t give me much of what I was looking for. Well, I won’t add that for 2015 goals either, as a few things will change.
I plan to visit another continent, I postponed Africa so or I’ll go to North America or Oceania, I might pick North America first…
Well, this one was a fail… This year, technically, I left the Euroasian plate when I went to Madeira island, but that’s part of Portugal. So, not sure if I could count that as going to a new continent…, maybe I did 😀
Due to this, I’ll change slightly my original plan, in 2015 I want to visit at least three new countries!
By the end of 2014 I plan to be away from Ireland or being preparing my move. I learned to like this country, though I feel that I need another life changing event soon.
This one was also a fail, but for a good reason. My personal life changed a lot, so I postponed this for later. I won’t say for when, but it is something that eventually I’ll do.
Still about Ireland, I am going to buy a car soon which I intend to use almost every weekend to discover new places in Ireland and share with you all my experiences!
Well, I did this and in fairness not because I had this goal, I actually forgot about it. I bought the car just because my personal life changed and this was a big plus!
I drove a lot, but I haven’t visit that much as expected either, but surely the car helped to get to visit a few places that were unknown to me 🙂
As for the blog, I want to post at least once a week and avoid long posts (like this one).
And fail…, I started quite well, but the lack of visits to the blog, and comments, affected my motivation. Recently I found out that Google isn’t targeting my blog to the right audience (my fault, I’ll change a few about that). Hopefully 2015 will be better 🙂
Bring it on 2014, I challenge you to become better than 2013, like 2013 did with 2012 😀
Well, it wasn’t better than 2013, but it was a really damn good year! I am happy to write and acknowledge that the last three years of my life were amazing! A few less good things, but in overall I can consider myself as a lucky person!
Now about the blog itself
Regarding travel journal, I wrote 14 posts for the Japan Series, about the trip I did the year before. Two posts about the Romania Series (I still have a lot to do about this one), one post about Stockholm and one post about Eastbourne.
I also wrote two app reviews and a Tips and Tricks post about planning versus preparing for a trip.
As I mentioned before, I also noticed that the stats decreased significantly. In the last weeks I have tried to figure out what’s the reason behind that, and when this happened. I think I finally figured out what’s going on, but I’m not so sure yet how to fix it.
For a few years I follow Chris Guillebeau‘s blog, and honestly I think I got inspired to write these reviews after reading one of his earliest ones. I love traveling, and Chris is like the travel guru for me, I have learned a lot from his posts so I looked at it from a different perspective this time. What do I like there and why I keep following him after he finished his quest to visit all the countries in the world. Shame on me, I realized that for the last years I only looked at his posts and I saw the letters he strategically placed to form words, I never read it.
I spend a few hours re-reading one of his manifestos (279 Days To Overnight Success), and that kind of hit me in the face. My stats dropped because I changed this blog for me and not for my followers, I used to write in Portuguese (my native language) when my target audience were Portuguese native speakers. I wanted to improve my English (which I did, a lot) so I totally disrespected my followers and I disregarded my geo-stats.
I don’t seek Chris’ success, but it would be great to become meaningful and inspire other people like he does to me. My stats tell me that my followers are from Portugal and Brazil, therefore in 2015 I’ll write for them, in Portuguese, and occasionally in English (or maybe duo-lingual posts).
Visit at least three new countries in 2015
Become more active with the blog (for real)
Paying attention to the stats and to my followers
Three things, it should be enough 🙂
For 2015 I also have a stretching goal, this one will be tough but hopefully I’ll do at least half of it! Ireland has an amazing tourism trail of 2500km, the Wild Atlantic Way. I plan to do this by bike in several different stages, maybe one weekend a month which would be about 200km a weekend… Yep, that’s just a stretching goal 🙂
And Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year for you 🙂
A few months ago I went to England to visit some friends that were living there. London is definitely the most visited place in England, even all UK, but this time my destination was the south. Less crowded, more country side, more “me”.
My friends were living in Eastbourne, a seaside resort city in the South of England. Tourism is one of the strongest industries in Eastbourne, the pier, the beach and the cliff walks are the most known.
I was lucky with the weather, we went for a walk through the cliff at Beachy Head and the weather was just amazing. Mid-March, and three sunny days welcomed me to England, it was just perfect for the cliff walk.
The highest chalk cliff in Britain is in Eastbourne, the Beachy Head. The name has nothing to do with beach, in fact it is a corruption of two French words meaning “beautiful head(land)”. And it is beautiful indeed, the erosion is what keeps the white color constant. In some parts of the cliff, the erosion destroys up to a meter every year.
Beachy Head was also the scene of two major naval battles in the 17th century. It was also a strategic point during WW2 for radio communications. To reach London, the enemy aircraft had to pass near Beachy Head which would be detected with reasonable time.
The Eastbourne Pier, another iconic landmark, opened almost 150 years ago it is now one of the most popular attractions in the UK. On the pier stands an amusement arcade and several shops and food kiosks, and a tower that contains one of the first camera obscura ever made. Unfortunately it isn’t open all year…
Not always traveling is for business or tourism, people travel for all unimaginable reasons and one can’t expect the return of such experience. I went to Sweden to visit a close friend, I wasn’t expecting to do much tourism, my goals were set to have a good time with a good friend and everything else would be a bonus. This said, there isn’t much I can share, on a tourist perspective, about Stockholm.
Tiago was living in Norrtälje, a small cozy town north of Stockholm, where some of the student residencies are, at the Roslagen Campus. It is about one hour away from Stockholm and Arlanda Airport, but the transportation is reliable and good. As far as I can tell, there isn’t much in Norrtälje to see, though it is perfect for a relaxing afternoon or even a full day. One can chill out at the lake Lommarn, a lake near the campus, I was there last February and it was still partially frozen.
About the weather, I chose to go in February because I wanted to experience some “real winter” and to see everything frozen. Happens that this year wasn’t that cold, in February the temperatures were surprisingly high. Not what I was expecting, but still a great experience nonetheless.
My first stop was Gamla Stan, the Old Town, an island in the heart of Stockholm. Cozy area that reminded me of some old districts in Lisbon, I felt like I was at home. I think I lost the track of how long I walked around, passing through the same streets more than once, just enjoying my time.
The capital of Sweden’s inner city has 14 islands connected by over 50 bridges. During winter the water can totally freeze and people can walk from one island to the other through thick ice. And of course, also ice skating!
Even though the weather was warmer than expected, it was still possible for some ice skating, long time since I did it and I loved it! There I also met two Swedish friends of mine, what a great way to travel, visit new places and see old faces 🙂
Besides Gamla Stan, we walked around a bit to the Parliament and the Palace, just for some sightseeing. The only museum we got inside was the Fotografiska, the Photography Museum. I loved it, and totally recommend it!
Sweden is a place to go back some day, I felt like I could live in Stockholm some day. Maybe a bit pricy but I wages are also higher comparing with Ireland.
This year I was still undecided where to go next, I gave it a though and the decision was easy to make. I owed some friends of mine a visit for more than a year, this was the right opportunity to pay my debt. That’s how I decided to add another European country to my list of visited countries, Romania.
Planning this trip was easy, I told Paul that I wouldn’t make any plans, he is the local so he knows better. When in Portugal I am the one that plans my friends’ trips, so it seems fair to ask for the same, no one better than a local to show you around. Preparing the trip was a total different matter, but I’ve explained that on a previous post.
How to get there
Several airlines serve Romania, besides the local ones, but from Ireland I had three choices. Ryanair, that I swore not flying with them ever again; Blue Air, a Romanian low-cost style company; and KLM, with indirect flights.
I have preference to fly with KLM because of the air miles, but the option of having a cheaper and direct flight sounded more appealing. A 3 hours and a half flight is already a bit, but despite that I gave it a go and I decide to book with Blue Air.
Blue Air doesn’t seem to be picky about the luggage size as other low-cost airlines are, at least I didn’t see them complaining with people. Though, one must only carry one hand luggage, and a woman’s purse should go inside the carry-on luggage.
I can’t judge an airline for a single experience, but it was obvious that it was a low-cost company. The seats weren’t much comfortable, and there was a mold-like smell in the air – this wasn’t that nice for a 3:30 hours flight…
I started to pay close attention to different cultural habits since my last long trip. And one thing I noticed this time was the orders inside the plane. Not the typical snacks and sandwiches, instead cherries and baked rolls. This was the first time I see cherries on sale in a flight, and yes, the amount of requests really had an impact on me so that I had to share with you.
Landed in Romania for the first time, I had Paul there to pick me up by taxi. The first impact of Bucharest was the mixture of old and renewed, the communist architecture still present. Some old and grey buildings, some renewed but with the same concrete blocks architecture.
Driving in Bucharest seems to be a nightmare, though everything seems to work. I had the same experience in Greece, and it wasn’t such a big deal when you get used to a different driving style. Though, I still found it amusing the way the taxis cross in front of old trams to just invert their way instead of going to the next roundabout.
Almost at Paul’s, we stop to buy some flowers, and then we went to his’. He told me to knock the door myself and wait. Irina didn’t know I was going to Romania and it was a surprise for her, just he face and surprise made my trip worth every cent!
I’m going to start a new kind of posts, posts where I’ll share how I packed for a trip and how wise or not I’ve been. Romania was my last trip, I arrived back home last Wednesday, and I think I learned a few things with that trip and how to pack.
So, organizing items by category, here they are.
Nikon DF5100 + kit lens + 70-300mm lens
All of this was important to take, thankfully I didn’t forget any nor while packing, nor when coming back. I was in doubt about the 70-300mm lens, with all the stuff I had to pack and the fact that I only had carry on luggage, I almost left it home. I used it a few times, I’m still not sure if it was wise or not, but considering that I used it a few times maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.
Clothing and Hygiene
Personal hygiene stuff
Underwear for 5 days
1 short sleeve shirt
1 long sleeve t-shirt
1 pair of jeans
1 swimming shorts
1 bath towel
1 beach towel
*1 long sleeve t-shirt
*1 pair of hiking shoes
*clothing I was wearing on the departure day
Ok, this time I had some thought about what to pack, but it wasn’t enough. I had to think for 9 days, counting with departure and returning days. I also knew that the chances to have a weekend away were quite high, that was part of the drafted plan. So, I packed enough until Sunday (the returning day), and I could do laundry to have exactly what I needed until the departure. This was perfect, nothing failed with this part! But almost did, due to hot weather I could actually have an extra shower every now and then 😛
About the swimming wear, this ended up not being necessary due to the bad weather. It failed, but not the packing. I was prepared, just the weather screw our plans.
About the towels…, this was unnecessary. On vacations one should not be picky. Why would I have a bath and a beach towel? This wasn’t a good idea…
The long sleeve t-shirts, I was wearing one on the departure day and I had an extra one that I didn’t even unfolded… Too much. And considering that I also had a hoodie, that was indeed not a wise thing to pack.
What I could have packed?
I knew that the weather wouldn’t be too cold, at least not as cold as Ireland. And I packed a pair of jeans. I wore it, a few times. It was useful, but not wise. We ended up going to the mountains as an alternative plan, and hiking pants there would be way more handy. Even better if hiking pants that can be turned into shorts. That would actually use less space than jeans.
I didn’t miss anything else besides this, so, overall I think my packing wasn’t that bad 🙂
Nothing much to say about my last day in Tokyo, just that hangover can be a big mess! I had some plans for the day, and it isn’t pleasant to wake up with no will to do whatsoever when you are 9 hours timezone-away. But well, party is also part of the fun and vacations, nothing to regret!
By the end of the day I went back to Akahabara to the camera shop, though my goal wasn’t that huge shop but the one next to it… a 7 floor sex shop! What an experience!! Yep, sounds strange, but an experience worth to live! A few curious people like me, a few people actually there to buy toys, and… a few creeps too! Well…, nothing too surprising about that place, expect some of the toys that I really don’t even want to imagine how people use them!
And with this, my day was pretty much over! I went back to pack and prepare for the long day I would have ahead, about 23 hours traveling!
Going back to Europe!
The hellish next day started at 4am! I was so afraid I couldn’t wake up, that I set a few alarms, though I woke up with the first one! Got ready, and walked to the train station on an empty street! Strange to leave a place and knowing that your vacations are over…
Getting at the train station I get an email from KLM informing that there are disrupts at AMS airport due heavy wind! This can’t be good… But before I need to get to Osaka, let’s not over think this yet!
Getting to Haneda Airport it is pretty easy, transportation in Tokyo look a bit scary, but if you know where you wanna go, you easily get there. At the airport, I got to find out that the flight to Osaka wasn’t a connection flight, so basically I had to check-out and check-in again. The luggage would still be a hassle, which I thought I wouldn’t have to care about it until Cork. Nipon Airlines doesn’t work directly with KLM, this is the reason.
Kansai International (Osaka), picking up my luggage was really fast, maybe because it was a national flight. But then, having to check it in again…, the guys at the check-in desk warned me that the tripod could be an issue, it was too big, but I managed to convince them to pass with it, after all I didn’t have any problem anywhere else with that same tripod. Though, just in case they would hold my luggage for a while.
As they predicted, I had issues with the tripod… The securities didn’t let me pass, and apparently it was just a matter of two or three centimeters! This was really odd for me, I really never had problems with my tripod before! But this wasn’t as simple as it sounds here, during those two weeks I spent in Japan I experienced that very few people have good knowledge of English, which is totally fine for me, I am the foreigner I should adapt to them not the other way around. Though, as a tourist I expect some places to have someone who can understand me and communicate with me, one of those places is definitely an international airport. That was not the case in KIX airport. I knew exactly what the problem was and how to solve it, but instead they tried to check if I could pass with it, and the tripod passed from one person to the other, and another one and my time to catch the flight was getting shorter as probably my luggage was up to be finally sent to the cargo. I got really stressed, and unfortunately I ended up yelling at the security asking if they had anyone there that could actually speak english! Things got sorted out, I added my tripod to my luggage and I was ready to go to the departure gate!
KIX airport is quite cool, they even have a monorail between gates! Fast and efficient! I got to the gate, and I had to wait…, and wait…, and wait! At the check-in area I thought I was getting tight with time, at the departure gate I had to wait a long time! But I boarded at last! One of the first to get inside the plane, and I still got to sit at the wrong place! I wonder how I got confused between a 34 and 35… But at my new place I was luckier! 3 seats just for me!! Yeahhhh A lot of hours flying and I could lay down! Until…, a couple asked to sit there, because they were placed apart 🙁 Damn them! And double damn them because they were really nice during the whole trip, I couldn’t even feel angry at them!
Arriving in Amsterdam, last stop! I was up to meet with a friend of mine that lives there, but…, the bad weather blocked our meeting! All the trains were canceled, I couldn’t leave the airport, he couldn’t get there either! 5 hours there, alone, waiting for the next and last flight…, but soon all would be over! Got to Cork and went straight to bed! What a long day!
Lazy day, nothing much to tell unfortunately. After the late night awake, I let myself sleep a bit longer. I left the house and I went to Shinjuku area to buy a new action camera for me, a new toy bought in Japan 😀 I’ve been in Shinjuku before, on my first days in Japan, but I used my time alone to enjoy the area by myself as well. When I decided to buy the camera, I was already expecting a duty-free discount, though it was really good to know that I also got another discount because I paid with VISA card! A discount on the top of another discount! Jackpot of purchases! 😀
Nothing much more to do, I just went back to Elma’s place, and I got ready for the Halloween party that would happen later that night! What’s scarier than me wearing a costume? Me wearing a Bavarian german costume 😀 Ridiculous and funny! Loved it!
For dinner we went to a very cool restaurant, and one thing I noticed while I was there is that there are several restaurants that have private rooms for dinners, not the typical western restaurant where you dine around 30 or 40 people, instead you have a room for you and your friends, you are totally comfortable, silly or even a bit louder and no one will be upset! I loved the place! Also many other people preparing for Halloween, the guys on the room next to ours worn a match-outfit, all alike, on a mix of creepy and funny! About 10 Ronald McDonalds! If one is already creepy enough, imagine a group of them!!!
After the dinner we went out to party, what a night! We went back home with the sun already quite high! Needless to say, that the next day was totally wasted resting…, but party is part of the adventure 🙂
I have a very good bio-rythm, mostly when I am tense or even stressed. It is normal to me waking up a few seconds before the alarm rings, and this time was no exception. I had a train to catch, back to Tokyo!
All the usual stuff, packing, check-out and going to the train station. Since it was raining a lot, I decided to go to Tenma Station. Not the best option, since I had to change twice, but considering that I could avoid a lot of rain through the shopping street, which is under a roof, it wasn’t a hard decision to make.
Osaka Train Station is a nightmare! Huge, crowded and when in stress I took a while to find the correct platform. That was the first change, still in Osaka, I had to do, my goal was Shin-Osaka Station. But being ready and on time, I got to the right place with some time in advance 🙂 I used my trip to write some drafts on my blog, and a bit of relaxing time. The weather was looking really bad outside, perfect day to travel and not feeling bad to be missing great spots outside 😀
After dropping my luggage at Elma’s, I went for some shopping and souvenirs, I spent the afternoon not sightseeing! One thing I realized while in Japan, as a tourist, is that it isn’t easy to find a “souvenir store“, I don’t know why, that was my perception while there! I went to three places that I consider as a nice start for souvenirs, Oriental Baazar, Kiddy Land shop and the Takeshita Street.
The Oriental Baazar was my favorite place, three floors of things to buy, from clay objects to kimonos and yukatas, a lot of traditional Japanese things and not expensive. I bought most of my souvenirs there, the quality there also seems to be quite good, I recommend the place!
About Kiddy Land shop, it is the perfect place to buy toys! Most of them you’ll get the feeling you can buy them everywhere, but that’s not entirely true, some things there I doubt you can find them anywhere outside Japan! I didn’t buy anything there because I didn’t get the japanese thing with the toys there, whoever would get that as a souvenir would not relate that to Japan.
About Takeshita Street, I’ve mentioned that on a post before, it is a narrow street packed with people and stores! A lot to explore over there 🙂 After that I just went back home, I bought my dinner on the way and then I met with my hosts 🙂 Chatting a lot, and going to sleep late, not feeling the jet lag anymore 🙂 Until… Earthquake!!! A small one, but for me was quite strong! Impressive how big brother watches everyone over there, a few seconds later and all tv channels had information about the Earthquake with life-view of the port where they were expecting a tsunami! Nothing happened, but it was an interesting experience! I’ve been in Japan and I felt an earthquake while there 😀
That feeling that things are getting back to normal, when I wake up at 8am and I know that I finally beat jet lag!! I meant to use this day for the waterfalls, but at the hotel they were quite convincing to avoid any where near the mountains, and mostly if traveling alone… Ok, time to improvise! Osaka is a big city, not much of history left due the Second World War, but for sure they have interesting stuff to see.
The day before the Australian guy recommended to visit the Aquarium, not much of what I would expect to visit when traveling to the other side or the world, but why not? I had a nice breakfast, and I went to the Aquarium that opens at 10am. I spent about 2 up to 3 hours inside, and during that time I took about 240 photos! Well, most of them are garbage, but I hope I can get a few good ones… The problem with these kind of places, is that they are also popular for primary schools to take kids there, and that can be a bit of a big spoiler… Though, also there I met a Scottish girl, I was quite proud that I recognized the accent the moment she spoke to me! After a few years in Ireland I already can get some accents even if they are not strong 😀
I am not sure why, but after the Aquarium I got a huge headache, I ate something around and then I went back to the hotel. Since I was on vacations, I couldn’t let the headache destroy my day, like if the typhoon hadn’t done it yet, so I text the Australian guy I met the day before for some food and drinks later that day. I arrived a while before, so I went to Tennouji area to walk around a bit, the area is quite nice but I didn’t have enough time to explore much, but enough time to get lost while trying to find the train station to Shin Imamiya! Another underground city in Tennouji!
We met, and then we went to Namba, were we ate octopus balls! Delicious thing and really hot too! We passed through Doguyasuji Street, another food/shopping street! Maybe a street food paradise! He had an exam the next day, so we didn’t stay longer, we went to Shinsaibashi Area for a small walk, and then we went both our ways, bot not before grabbing another set of octopus balls to take away! One of the most delicious things I ate in Japan!
After finally getting to the hotel and dropping my luggage there, I decided to explore the underground city, Umeda Underground Area, a real city underground where you can find everything! It was raining, so I couldn’t have chosen better, I spent a lot of time walking around, trying unsuccessfully not to get lost and just looking around amazed by the gigantic mall without sunshine. While wandering around I tried to make a plan for the next day, the Akame 48 waterfalls was the initial plan, but because of the typhoon I had to think about other thing, most probably staying in Osaka…
The moment I got back to the streets I tried to figure out where I was, I wasn’t that far from the Umeda Sky Building and it was close to sunset, so I decided to give it a try. Osaka skyline, what does it look like? 🙂 The Umeda Sky Building has an amazing view, and a “Floating Garden Observatory“, a circular path where you can see all Osaka, 360º around! A pity that I was under rain again…, but it’s totally worth it! Those afraid of heights, be aware that the elevator might be a bit scary 🙂
According to the guide, Umeda Sky Building is where you can see one of Japan’s top 100 sunsets, so I ordered a cappuccino and pancakes while I was waiting for it. Pricy food, because of the view, but really low quality… the pancakes weren’t made from scratch, instead they warmed them up in a microwave, I don’t recommend it at all… And about the sunset, well…, rainy day, clouds spoiling the fun. It was nice, but not as nice as I was expecting. Still, the view’s totally worth it and they made it quite romantic with several sightseeing points for couples (2 people sofas next to strategic windows). After the sunset, I went back to the Observatory, at night the view is way more beautiful!
Then I went back to the hotel, to check-in, and for food I decided to go to the food market street that I passed through when I hop off from the train. A never-ending shopping street! I had sushi, I had an ice cream, I walked a lot, I relaxed a bit and that street never ended! Later, when I got back to the hotel, I found out that that “tiny street” it is just no less than the longest shopping street in Japan! 2600 meters long! Its name is Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street, another place that is worth to visit, and have some dinner at 🙂
My initial plan? Wake up really early and go and see the monks praying.
What have I done instead? I woke up really early (for my usual time), and I went to the onsen one last time!
I feel like I haven’t appreciate properly the pleasures of a good onsen, actually, I think I only tried the not so good ones. But waking up early, and having a very nice and long relaxing bath it was really a boost for my day humor. Yes, I was on vacations on a very awesome and special place, it would be strange not to be with a good mood, but that relaxing way to wake up is something we miss in Europe!
And after that relaxing experience, I had an even more intense one when I got to my bedroom, I had already my bedroom ready for the breakfast! I sat and waited for the feast, and what a feast… a superb vegan breakfast! Yes, vegan! And yes, superb! Some things I have no idea what they were, some of them I mixed on my way, but every single combination was like an explosion of flavors! So good! Maybe that paid off on the accommodation’s price…
I had a few hours until I had to go back to “civilization”, initially I meant to stay the full day in Koyasan, but the weather wasn’t much inviting to stay, so I did a walk towards the forest following the very basic map I had. At some point I think I was lost, but I was indeed somewhere inside a forest, though following a national road with several signs saying “be aware of the bears” and “don’t walk alone”. I didn’t care much, I was going through the road so I assumed it wouldn’t be of a big danger anyway, but the rain… It reminded me home, oh Ireland…
I spent a few hours lost, so I decided to go back to town and do a walk before taking the bus to the cable car, and going to Osaka. Again, the same astonishing route through the mountains, until I had to change trains again I think I didn’t even sit just to admire the view.
At some point, maybe near Nara I am not sure now, the train was already a bit packed and a guy sat in front of me, he definitely was a foreigner like me and he smiled at me which I assumed we met before, I said hi and that started a very pleasant conversation. He is an Australian guy that was in Osaka studying Japanese just because, and because he had 3 months on paid vacations that he decided to use as a learning experience which I think it is just an awesome idea! Another travel friend, another random person I met while traveling. I am sure that the chances to meet random people like this are higher when we travel alone, we are more willing to meet people and not closed inside a circle of friends.
Arriving in Osaka, I got into the wrong train. I mean, the wrong direction, but thankfully that was a circular line so I ended up going to the right place without having to chance again. Too early to check-in, just dropped the luggage and I went for a walk.
It sounds odd when I tell someone I spend a full afternoon at a graveyard taking photos, more strange when I say that I went to a remote place mostly because of that same graveyard, but yeah, that’s what happened!
Not just that it is a graveyard with a few centuries old, but also that is where are buried several Japanese feudal lords, monks and some lesser people. But even more important than all of that, it is in that same graveyard where the Okunoin Temple is, where Kobo Daishi rests, the founder of the Shingon Buddhism. And again, I am really glad I met Katsumi, otherwise I would read most of these information afterwards and I wouldn’t appreciate properly the site.
Note that I said that Kobo Daishi rests, the monks and the other believers believe that he is not dead, he is in eternal meditation waiting for a future Buddha. And to pray there next to the monks, one has to pay a good amount of money, or should just pray a bit further. It is odd that even Buddhist temples charge big amounts of money for these things, until then I wrongly assumed that Buddhism is a very non materialistic religion. The same applies for the accommodation, which was overpriced for what got, I like to think I paid for the experience instead…
Katsumi, the japanese man we met, was the perfect guy and at some point I felt closer to his opinions, he gave us a very detailed tour and with a bit of irony on what regards religion, as an atheist I noticed that and I ended up asking his opinion, he is agnostic and he agrees that over charging the way they do it is almost like a sin. Yes, they need fundings, but Koyasan is a very touristic place and that’s almost pornographic values.
I think we can “divide” the graveyard in two parts, the old and the new. The new part shows a lot about corporate Japanese culture, at first was odd to see several corporative graves, some very well-known companies. In Japan an employee is not just a number for the paycheck, an employee is part of the big family that the company is hence the graves. They are buried as family. Still, I wouldn’t like to see a corporate logo on my grave…
Back to town
When I say that the graveyard is indeed very beautiful, I mean it and not as a creepy way, it is indeed a very mystical place totally worth seeing. Several guides also recommend to do a tour at night, which I also tried… Well, it was time to go back to town, and to say goodbye to Katsumi that was going back home.
We walked a bit trying to find a restaurant and we ended up eating at a very cozy place, since Jorge had to take the last cable car and train back to Osaka, we just went for a small walk around the graveyard after sunset. But the rain didn’t help much, also the typhoon alert for that night was not much encouraging to be there alone, and adding to all of that, several signs warning about bears at night…
I have to say, it was really cool at night, though for night shootings I like to take my time and even if no one rushes me, I always have that awful feeling that someone is getting bored because of me, so we did a not so long walk back to the bus stop. After that I considered going back alone to the graveyard, but the rain was getting stronger, so I decided not to take a chance in forgetting the time and being left outside the temple and I went back.
At the temple / hotel
Checking-in, and the first thing I noticed was that my room was the number four, which is odd considering the japanese superstition for the number four. Probably that’s why the assigned an european to that room… After unpacking some of my stuff, I went for a relaxing bath at the onsen, and again, very disappointed. The name of the temple is advertised as Koyasan Onsen Fukuchiin, I got really disappointed. The onsen is nothing special at all, quite small, smaller than the one I tried in Kurashiki, and I was expecting an exterior onsen, but nope… Well, it was very relaxing after a full day walking, so, I am not complaining (much).
After my relaxing bath, I went back to my bedroom and I found the futon already placed. Another detail about the temple, you can’t close your bedroom’s door from outside… I had to trust no one would take any of my stuff. So, after reading I went to sleep, I had my breakfast scheduled in advance for 7:30, so, another early wake up.
I honestly meant to wake up to see the monks praying, but instead I went to the onsen again and I spent way too long there, I walked a bit through the small gardens, which are really beautiful, and it was time to pack again. They were nice and they kept my stuff for a few hours, so I could go for another walk around Koyasan before going to Osaka, and getting lost somewhere already outside Koyasan (and with a lot of signs warning about the bears…). I really liked that place, a shame I didn’t stay longer…
After a restless night, people snoring, packing during the night, etc, it was my turn to wake up early and even a few minutes before the alarm rang of. I packed everything and I double checked if I hadn’t left anything behind, and back to the train station!
How to get to Koyasan from Nara
Looking to the map, it is normal to think that the best way to get to Koyasan from Nara is a straight line, but it isn’t. Osaka is kind of the hub of the area, the best way to go anywhere around is passing through Osaka. I took the JR train to Osaka Shin-Imamiya, and from there the train to Gokurakubashi (the base that connects to Koyasan). The JR Pass is not valid on this route, you’ll have to buy your ticket, and it’s worth to buy the Koyasan World Heritage Ticket, that covers the train, cable car, bus and several temples and museums. One ticket, less hassle.
The world is tiny, and gets smaller when you are a tourist. By chance, I met with Jorge (the CS guy) again at Shin-Imamiya train station, we were really next to each other when I looked to the guy next to me and I recognized him! We immediately start chatting, and after a while a very nice old Japanese man joined our conversation, obviously in English. He traveled to Europe a few times and was really comfortable with speaking in English, a very pleasant surprise in Japan 🙂
On our way there, at some point, we had to change to another part of the train. That was the part where the mountain train starts, next to each station you see the station’s altitude and the ones right before and after. We were lucky because that nice man explained us every thing about our trip to the top, it wasn’t just a regular train ride!
At the arrival we said goodbye to the Japanese guy, his name’s Katsumi, and we went directly to the temple to do the check-in. In a very funny way I got threatened, the doors close at 9pm or I would be left outside. They doors close at 9pm sharp, and most temples are not flexible with it, while some others are. Considering that there was another typhoon alert, it wasn’t the best option to sleep outside, I guess 🙂
The main buildings of the Garan are the Kondo Hall and the Konpon Daito Pagoda, the first one is quite recent since it burned down a few times over the centuries, the last reconstruction dates from early 1930’s. We walked around that area, but we didn’t get inside any temple, though I totally regret not visiting the Pagoda. According to what I read and I’ve been told, it is a must visit place! And it is included within the Koyasan World Heritage Ticket.
Since one of the main attractions is the more than one thousand years old graveyard, and that’s right outside the town, we went for an early lunch on our way to the graveyard, and right after our lunch we met again with Katsumi. I couldn’t ask for a better guide, a very interesting person, passionate about Koyasan and the area and with knowledge about the places we visited.
On our way to the graveyard, Katsumi recommended us to visit this museum about a tragic story (or legend) that happened in Koyasan. Sadly there is very few information in English about the story and the museum. Summarizing it a bit, it is the story about a father that never knew he had a son, until his son looked for him in Koyasan with his mother. Though, by then, Mount Koya was a place restricted from women and she wasn’t authorized to climb the mount and see and recognize her former lover, the son did. There he met his father, whom swore to give up of all his former life when he joined the monastery, and therefore he couldn’t tell his son who he really was, so told him that his father died instead. The son went to the bottom of the mount to tell that to his mother, but when he got he found out that she got really sick and died, so he became an orphan. Without father nor mother, he decided to join the monastery, and so he spent 40 years of his life next to his father unknowing who he really was. I totally recommend a visit to this place, it tells a lot about Koyasan, I am not sure if this is a tale or a real story, but it is a very famous story in Koyasan.
Kofuku-ji is another millenary temple in Nara and one of the eight Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The site of the temple consisted of more than 50 buildings, though today just a few remain, one of them is the Five Story Pagoda that is also the second tallest in Japan and considered as a symbol of Nara.
I walked a bit around for some photos, and honestly, at the moment I didn’t know important that site is just until a few moments later I read the flyer I was given to. At first I thought it was just another temple in Nara, but I think it is important to keep in mind that Nara is the ancient capital, even before Kyoto. So, it shouldn’t be surprising the amount of important sites in that small city.
I few meters below there is a lake with a lot of turtles, I enjoyed a bit of time around that lake, maybe a bit too much because of that I missed other stuff I was planning to visit, but well, vacations 🙂 On my way, I got some stamps and I assured my postcards would reach their destinations 🙂 And then, passing through another temple that unfortunately I arrived just a few minutes after closing, the Gango-ji Temple.
With everything else closed, I went back to the lake where I saw an amazing sunset and a few more photos to remember one day later 🙂 Nothing else left to do, so I went back to the hostel to write the postcards, and I have to say, even though the hostel was quite nice people staying there weren’t much backpackers-alike, a very awkward silence at the common space, we were like 10 people there reading, writing and no one was talking. Very very awkward, something I didn’t expect at all…
That said, I also didn’t bind with anyone for dinner, so I ended up going alone to the local Food Street looking for some nice food, which I decided to go for some sushi. Japanese people might not have the warmth I am used to, they might not be the best communicators either, but for sure they are helpful! I didn’t manage to get myself understood about what I wanted to eat, so, we both went outside and I just had to point to the plate I was craving for. Most of the restaurants have a plastic representation of the dishes they have available, which is really useful when you are trying to decided where to eat, or, how to order your food 🙂
One thing I learned that night, never ever leave your camera behind! I went for a walk, alone, and that night was full moon! I have no record of that view, but I enjoyed it a lot with my moments of solitude and peace.