Wouldn’t it be nice if after all this Corona story, fear, pandemic, isolation, they attributed travel as therapy? After five months in four walls, the trip to Genoa and Portofino was a cure for the soul. “Lavita è bella” in all it’s glory.
Driving by car from Rijeka to Genoa takes about seven hours, if you don’t have two dogs like me in the car. The highway from Monfalcone to Genoa costs €38. A better solution is a train from Trieste with one change in Venice coasts 102 € since you really don’t need a car in Genoa. It is difficult or almost impossible to drive in narrow streets, parking is difficult to find, and the space in parking garage is approximately 25€ a day.
As everywhere in the world, the effects of the pandemic are also present here. Some of the restaurant and shop remained closed and masks are required in all enclosed spaces. At each entrance to the restaurant they measure your temperature and you are free to take off the mask only when you sit at the table. What surprised me was that the Italians accepted it as the new normal and even wore it on the walks. They say it’s easier than taking them off and putting them on all the time.
Genoa is definitely underrated. It’s the second largest port in the Mediterranean, the birth place (not proven) of Christopher Columbus, inscribed on UNESCO-v list of world heritage sites in Europe, preserved a large part of the medieval city walls (more than any other city in Italy). This all gives it the right to be classified as the very top tourist places of Italy. And the food; pesto that is traditionally served with trenette pasta, sea specialties, smell of foccacia at every turn….paradise for gourmets.
The historic core is large and it’s easy to get lost in the narrow streets (italians call them caruggi) but that’s where you will find real little pearls; specialized pasta shops, bars where you’ll also be served with small pizzas or small snacks when ordering drinks. The real pearl we came across is Trattoria delle Grazie. Restaurant serves traditional Genoa dishes. There are only a dozen tables and you need to book a seat if you don’t want to stand in line, but even so it’s worth every second. The prices are quite decent and the portions are large and the owner himself will serve you and present each dish. Genoa can also be called a melting pot. The variety of cultures here offers you to try Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Mexican, Brazilian, German, Colombian, Peruvian, Polish cuisine.
The rich history of the city offers many sights and most can be seen on foot if you are located in the center. Via Garibaldi or “Golden Street” is perhaps the most famous and paradise for photographers. Beautiful Renaissance buildings from the 16th century attract the rich and depending on the color of the façade you will come across Palazzo Rosso (museum), Palazzo Bianco, then Palazzo Grimaldi and many others.
Porto Antico (old port) has become the “city stage” and the main gathering place for young people. They hold concerts here and restored buildings offer numerous shops, restaurants and bars. One of the curiosities here is the “Biosphere” which was built according to the plan of the famous architect Renzo Piano. The 20-foot glass ball is home (go home and let sleeping dogs lie) to many tropical animals and plants. Here is an example of an old pirate ship, and an aquarium with the largest biodiversity exhibition with as many as 600 different species of animals and 200 species of plants.
Piazza de Ferrari is the central and largest square and the intersection of the modern financial part and the historic center.
Not far from the square is Saint Lorenzo Chatedral (Cattedrale di San Lorenzo) built between 12th and 14th century. The façade is dotted with black and white stone like many cathedrals in the province of Liguria, and the interior hides numerous Christian relics such as the “Sacro Catino”which many believe is the Holy Grail.
The house of Christopher Columbus is located at the entrance to the old part of the city through the medieval gate of Porto Soprano and if you do not know where to look you could very easily miss it. There is no evidence that Columbus was born in Genoa, but we can safely say that he spent his childhood here.
Take shopping on Via XX Settembre and if you’re looking for more exclusive shops, take a stroll through Via Roma.
Take the train. The price of the ticket is about 4€, takes an hour and stops in every small town and the ride itself offers a beautiful view of the Italian Riviera. It is impossible not to fall in love (apple of eye meaning) with colorful houses, small boats and cobblestone streets..
Portofino isn’t big and has only 500 inhabitants, but descending the cobbled streets and looking at beautiful yachts and luxury shops like Louis Vuitton and Gucci it will make you feel glamorous. Parking ticket in the garage (if you drive) from 10€ per hour will quickly bring you back to reality. On the waterfront there are pastel-colored houses that make the entire Italian Riviera famous. At every step you can come across a celebrity, and with one silk scarf you will fit in perfectly.
We chose a bar called “Sottocoperta” looking into the entire harbor. Prices are affordable and bruschetta with salty anchovies tasted amazing. Just a few steps further there are high end restaurants where you’ll leave your entire salary and if you don’t have a hat on or a thin cigarette in your hands, even that scarf won’t help you to fit in. The whole Portofino actually looks like some kind of a movie set.
You should not miss visiting Castello Brown, a castle built by the ancient Romans and today turned into a museum and a place of numerous cultural events. The 12th-century Church of San Girgio is situated on a hill with a beautiful view of the harbour. If you feel like walking (about 2 hours), or if you don’t take a boat to Abbazia di San Fruttuoso from the 11th century located among the pines and olive groves. In its vicinity there is adistinctive landmark, a bronze statue of Christ. It is believed to protect sailors and divers. Italy and its relaxing atmosphere, “Dolce vita,” are ideal for enjoying all the senses. After a holiday like this, we are ready to face all the uncertainties that await us.
There are so many reasons why you should visit (idioms dictionary) Italy; food, wine, culture, natural beauty, people and my favourite ; history. Nothing can beat Italian history. So a must-see is definitely Pompeii. One of the reasons why a love (apple of eye meaning) to travel and explore is that feeling of being humble, smitten, amazed and changed forever. Pompeii changes you.
Nature can be savage, and standing on the main square Foro and looking up at Mount Vesuvio you realise its power. Its most famous eruption took place in the year 79 A.D., when the volcano buried the ancient Roman city of Pompeii under a thick carpet of volcanic ash. In one afternoon in August two thousand people died of heat, collapsing roofs or choked to death on thickening ash and clouds of sulfurous gas.
When a group of explorers rediscovered the site (idiom site) in 1748, they were surprised to find that underneath a thick layer of dust and debris Pompeii was mostly INTACT. Buildings were intact, skeletons were frozen right where they’d fallen ! That is so fascinating that approximately 2.5 million tourist visit this place every year and it is one of the most popular tourist attraction in Italy.
If you are planning to explore it by yourself do the research because it can be confusing to walk the streets and understand the way they lived and perished.
The second time (killing time synonym) we were lucky (first
was last year in San Marino). It was Cultural Heritage Week and the entrance
was free otherwise it’s 15 € per person .
There are also guided tours available at the Information desk at Porta Marina or in Piazza Esedra. You can also download App Discover Pompeii – Pompei audio tour for free ( „A self-guided walking tour, with more than 6 hours of audio guides and a map that works offline“) and Pompeii Touch App („ This app gives people possibility to make a comparison between how Pompeii is and how it was before eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD „ – around (find a way around) 2€).
Map of the Pompeii excavations, water
and good walking shoes are the most important thing you should have with you. Don’t
worry about food or drinks. There is a nice café and restaurant in the
excavation area, just (definition just in case) north of the Forum. There you can find soft drinks, cafe,
pizza, good italian sandwiches… Keep your empty bottles for refilling as there
are occasional water taps around the site.
The city of Pompeii is divided into nine districts called Regiones. Each one is divided into various blocks called insuale. A plaque is located at the corner of every block which shows The Regio and the insula in which you are standing.
There are some itineraries on the
back of the map (depending on how much time you have) that you can follow; it can be from two to
seven hours of walking.
First thing that will blow your mind are the streets and the way they were built. There are stone blocks for pedestrians to step onto to cross them . Since they had water and waste flowing through them, the sidewalks are very high comparing to modern ones. Remember ? Comfortable shoes !!
Look for small tiles called „Cat’s
eyes“. Candle light reflects off these tiles and gave light, so people could
see where they were walking at night.
Another thing you should look for (like the visiting sailors of those days) are the stone phalluses that serve as arrows and if you follow the arrows, you’ll wind up at one of the city’s many brothles. Some historians say that is not true and they were just good luck signs and symbols meant to ward off the Evil Eye. I prefer the first version.
Around 35 bakeries have been found In Pompeii and you can’t miss them. The bakeries’ ovens look similar to the old brick stone ovens. The bars had counters with three or four holes in them in which they had water or other beverages.
What to see :
1.The amphitheatre – was used for gladiator battles. It was completed in 80BC and could hold about 20,000 people. It is the earliest surviving permanent amphitheatre in Italy and one of the best preserved anywhere.
2. The Great Palaestra (Gymnasium) – The central area was used for sporting activities and there was also a pool in the middle.
3. House of the Vettii – contains many frescoes and illustrations. It was a home (go home and let sleeping dogs lie) of two brothers who were ones slaves and then freed and became very affluent. This house has been closed to the general public for the last 10 years but at least the atrium of the house is open.
4. Large Theatre – It seated 5,000 people.
5. Lupanar – Prostitutes were called ‘lupae’, and the word ‘lupanare’ indicated a brothel. It has small rooms and stone beds that were then covered with matrasses. Erotic design paintings have been found, very well preserved, and probably used as a sort of catalogue. In ancient Rome prostitution was accepted. Clients were mainly merchants and foreign sailors. Prostitutes were slaves and their earnings went entirely to their owner. The average price was the price of a glass of wine.
6. Baths – There are several baths you should see:
Stabian Baths were named after their location on the crossing of Pompeii’s two main streets – Via Stabiana and Via dell’Abbondanza – and are the oldest public baths in Pompeii and the oldest preserved public baths from anywhere in the Roman Empire. They were built during the 2nd century B.C.
Forum Baths were built during 80 B.C. and are smallest public baths in Pompeii and the most elaborately decorated.
Central Baths are located in the center of Pompeii They were unfinished when Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.
7. The Basilica – The most important public building of the city. It was the Courthouse and the center of the economic life.
8. Temple of Apollo – It has the oldest remains discovered, dating back to 5th century BC, although the layout we see now was later than that.
9.Forum (The main square) – center of public life. It was surrounded by many important government, business and religious buildings.
10.Forum Granary – was designes to be the public market but was not finished before the eruption. Today 9000 artifacts like amphoraes, pots and pans for cooking, jugs and bottles, large containers used to transport oil, wine and fish are stored in this building.
It is a very active volcano that has
erupted several times. Last eruption happened at 1944 and it’s only a matter of
when, not if, it will erupt again. Vesuvius National Park was established in
the mid-1990s and allows visitors to access the volcano.
For visiting Mount Vesuvius you
need a beautiful, sunny day. The hike will be more pleasant and the view from
the top is breathtaking on a clear day. It overlooks the Bay and city of
Naples. I would say those are two main things to see: the crater and the view. It
was overcast the day we visited. Bummer.
Not very understandable is a
ticket office which is 200 m below the entrance on the middle of the winding
road. There is a sign on the road, but you kinda miss it thinking oh well we
will buy it at the entrance. The road is not that wide, there is no parking lot,
so people just park on the side of it. Do not make the same mistake and come to
the top, park the car, walk to the entrance ….and then realise that you need to
walk back to buy the tickets (10€).
There is a bar and a small souvenir
shop at the entrance. No toilets and you can use the one at the bar only if you
buy something. You can take a walking stick for the hike to the crater (a tip
is required). It only takes 30 min to get to the top, but believe me, It is not
an easy one and it is pretty steep. Wear comfortable hiking shoes or sneakers,
but not white ones. Trust me !
I would highly recommend to take
a scarf or a hat. The wind is sometimes very strong.
The crater looks like something out
of this world, lunar-like. It has a diameter of about 500 metres and a depth of
230 metres. You would expect something huge , at least I did. Steaming vents reminds
you of the calm before the storm. It looks and sounds peaceful now, but you can
only imagine how scary it was looking at the mushroom cloud of ash, dust, and
rocks that went 21 miles into the sky….. and the avalanche of hot rock racing down
That was enough for me. Saw it….imagined for couple of minutes….and then rushed back down. It was one of those places that you want to see, but not stick around.
This was the first time (killing time synonym) I didn’t do any research on a place I’m going to visit. It was just (definition just in case) a place that we wanted to check out on our way to Itri, so we booked a hotel, sat in the car and drove almost 7 hours to this amazing place, charming and romantic town.
There are 8 parking lots around (find a way around) the city of which 3 are close to the town gates , just a few minutes from the key monuments of Assisi. The prices are around 12 € a day. Also check with your hotel because some of them do provide parking or have deals with city parking. Do not try to park inside of the city (it is only for residents).
The first thing you will notice is a lot of holy souvenir shops, I mean a LOT, or even pictures on the wall, and then, you realize, you are in the town of Saint Francis. I must say probably one of the best examples on how to promote the towns history and its strong religious heritage. Even if you are not Catholic, non-religious, you will feel connected to the humble St. Francis.
It’s such a peaceful town. There is something about those stone roads and those medieval walls, and flowers on each doorstep that will make you fall in love.
Our hotel Sorella Luna ( http://www.hotelsorellaluna.it/en/home-2/ ) is located right above the most photographed house in Assisi and just just a few minutes away from The Basilica of St. Francis. I would highly recommend this hotel for its great location, the beautiful rooms and décor, and a staff that would go above and beyond to make your stay more pleasant.
You are in Italy so know that a lot of shops, restaurants and bars will be closed during lunch time which is between 1pm-7pm. I don’t like it but I do respect the Italian way of living.
So as we walked around to be able to see as much as we can in a day, Mr. G. stumbled upon this osteria called Osteria Piazzetta dell’ Erba (http://www.osterialapiazzetta.it/en/ ) and they were just prepping the restaurant for dinner time. Since he is more familiar of the Italian life he made a reservation for 7pm and he was soooo right, as the place was packed already at 7.30. The food was to die for, every detail in all of the chef’s meals were amazing and the price was very affordable. A wonderful staff, creative cooking and one of the best meals we had during our stay.
Things to see
Basilica di SanFrancesco is composed of two churches built one above the other. The lower one has the St. Francis tomb and The Upper Basilica frescos show his life. Stained glass windows are amazing, but you are not allowed to take pictures.
Basilica di Santa Chiara, Italian Gothic church
Rocca Maggiore ; a medieval castle from 12th century with a beautiful panoramic view. The majority of the sites are free, but not this one, and I have to be honest and say that the price does not match the offer. The castle offered nothing as far as exhibits, but it is worth it for the breathtaking views of the city.
Piazza del Comune
Planning this trip:
Wear comfortable shoes . It’s not easy to walk those stone roads so be prepared to climb a lot of steps and hills.
Since you will visiting a lot of churches dress accordingly; use good taste.
Plan your lunch or dinner knowing that the restaurants and bars are closed between 1pm-7pm, not all but most.
Majority of the sites are free , Rocca Maggiore is 6 €
I fell in love (apple of eye meaning) again. Honey, I love you… but it surprised me, swept me off my feet, I wasn’t expecting it …I have to be honest and tell you the truth ! It’s Firenze!!
That is the perfect description how this city makes you feel, in love. Butterflies and all. Everything you see; architecture, art, cathedrals, museums, streets, brings you back to Florence’s medieval and Renaissance age. It overwhelms you. If you can see only one place in all of Italy choose Florence! Not Rome, Venice, Napoli….it has to be Florence. Actually you should see it more than once (Mr.G. hint, hint ).
Choosing the right time (killing time synonym) of year to see it is unnecessary. Every time is a perfect time. Or maybe if you are trying to save some money keep your eyes open for that one week of the year (usually some time in spring) when admission to state museums is free of charge. It changes every year so it is hard a plan a trip. One date that does not change is 18 February (in honour of the last of the Medici family, day that Anna Maria Louisa died). On that day all state museums are free.
I would also recommend getting a Firenze Card (www.firenzecard.it €50). It’s valid for 72 hours, it covers admission to 33 museums, villas and gardens, and unlimited use of public transport (which you will not need because you’ll walk and feel the city). One thing about this card that I didn’t like is the fact that it only allows one admission per museum. Some of the places are just (definition just in case) impossible to see in one visit, like Uffizi Gallery. Or you can see it in a day but then you only have 48 hours to see everything else and there is sooooooo much. There is also Friends of the Uffizi Card (www.amicidegliuffizi.it ; adult €60 or for a family of 4 €100) which is valid for a year, and it covers 22 museums and unlimited entries. You might say; why should I get a card, I’m not going to see all the museums, gardens or cathedrals. Entrance for Il Grande Museo del Duomo is €15, Boboli gardens €10, Uffizi gallery €12.50, Santa Croce €8, Santa Maria Novella €7.5 ….so you do the math. Depending on what you want to see, choose your card and save some money.
Firenze is small and best way to see it is on foot. All the major sights are within walking distance. Avoid using a car because Italians are crazy drivers (don’t get mad but you are) and parking is an impossible mission. There is some private parking garages (€20/day), and check with your hotel if they offer a parking spot. Santa Maria Novella train station is in the city centre, 10 min walk to Duomo!
I researched what to see and where to stay weeks before our trip and I would change my mind daily because I didn’t want to miss anything.
We stayed at Hotel Croce di Malta(www.crocedimaltaflorence.com ). We choose it because its decorated like works of art from the 15th and 16th century, for its location (between Arno river and Santa Maria Novella railway station) and a beautiful panoramic rooftop terrace (open in spring and summer). Before you book any hotel based on a terrace check if its open. This was a second time I didn’t do that and of course we again kissed the closed door. But it didn’t ruin our stay because everything else was immaculate, service, breakfast table, cleanliness. It also has a swimming pool, free wi-fi, restaurant… Prices for a room are around (find a way around) 100 €/day.
When it comes to places to see we decided on :
Uffizi Gallery – be prepared to wait in the line for tickets, sometimes for hours (we did 2) and take an audioguide. Four hours of cruising through amazing art collection arranged in 45 rooms. Yep, a lot of masterpieces. Botticelli Room, Leonardo Room, Michelangelo…..Don’t miss the view of the river Arno and Ponte Vecchio from the short glassed-in corridor on the second floor.
Duomo – the city’s most iconic landmark. Gothic cathedral with green, white and pink marble. It took 150 years to complete and just the architectural beauty of it and the colours ….wow! Climb the spiral steep staircase if you are not claustrophobic or in flip flops. I mean that! You will have to make a reservation when buying tickets to climb Dome because they only let few people at the time. When you start climbing you’ll understand why. Even I got nervous at one point and a guy in front of was panicking. When you reach balustrade at the base of the Dome pause and look at the amazing seven round stained-glass windows. At the top of the climb you will be rewarded with breathtaking 360-degree panoramic view. Take some time to admire the one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Also at the Piazza del Duomo check the oldest building in the square, Baptistery of San Giovani (octagonal form). Three sets of bronze doors illustrate Biblical stories. Santa Reparata, Giotto’s Bell tower and Opera del Duomo Museum are also a must.
Basilica di Santa Maria Novella and its Museum has some amazing masterpieces. Cloister of the Dead is very impressive.
Ponte Vecchio – first documentation of a stone bridge here dates from 972 ! Floods swept it away in 1177 and 1333 so the bridge that you see now was built in 1345. Lots of jeweller shops which reminds of Venice and Rialto bridge.
Giardino di Boboli – behind Palazzo Pitti there is this lovely example of Tuscan garden. Great place to have a picnic or get lost in beautiful alleys.
We wanted to see the Basilica di Santa Croce, burial place of many famous Florentines like Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli… Unfortunately it was closed do to some unfortunate circumstances (as we found out a Spanish tourist was killed when a piece of the ceiling fell on his head).
Piazzale Michelangelo has spectacular city panorama view. After 15 min of uphill walk through serpentine paths from Arno, you’ll reach a square with copy of David statue and full of souvenir stalls. To me, it wasn’t a very nice or well maintained square, but it was worth it for the view.
Where to eat
First thing I say to everyone asking me where to eat is; AVOID TOURISTY PLACES !! Yes, I know they might be cheaper or convenient but the food really usually sucks! Try something local, something that says Firenze, you can have pizza or a sandwich at home. Here you have to try Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak). It’s not cheep but biting into a huge 1.5 inches of soft, tender, full of flavour beef is just heaven. We tried it at Ristorante Buca Poldo near Piazza della Signoria.
I also recommend Trattoria Mario; historical restaurant that follows the tradition, no advanced reservations and no credit cards.
If you are in the mood for fresh homemade pasta try Le Fonticine. As equally attractive option as many restaurants is enoteca – wine bars serving tasting platters of cheese, cold meats, salads and desserts. We found a great one La prosciutteria, near Uffizi Gallery. It’s like being invited to a locals house for lunch; lot of people having fun, yelling, eating great food and having a glass of good wine.
As they say, for Italian ice cream is an art, so find Amorino. Not only it looks amazing, it tastes amazing.
I’m still in love with Firenze. I think about it every day. I count the days to see her again. Oh my love…..
If you want to see what Japan is all about, go to Kyoto! One city that has is all, I loved it from the first time (killing time synonym) I read about it. Everything you associate with Japan like temples, shrines, gardens, neon lights, crowds, shopping, fine dining, great food, inspirational walks, kabuki performances, geishas… you will find it here. It´s full of Japanese tradition and history and it´s amazing! This is the one city that has to be on your list, a must see when you visit (idioms dictionary) Japan.
We stayed in Kyoto for five days, I wish it had been more. It was just (definition just in case) impossible to see all of 1600 Buddhist temples and more than 400 shrines. Each one is so special, colorful, rich in history… I would say Kyoto was the peak of our Japan trip.
We stayed at APA VILLA HOTEL (http://apahotel.com), Kyoto-Ekimae, near the Kyoto station. APA HOTEL is a hotel chain in Japan. You can find them all over and they have great service. Rooms are equipped with everything you will possibly need (iron, kimonos, toiletry bags, hairdryer) but again, they are very small. Best way to explain how small is to say that there is no closet just hanger and we had to move our luggage behind the door so we could turn around. When we had to leave we would move our luggage on to the bed. That is the only downfall to any hotel accommodation in Japan (except the 4* or 5* hotels). I will always remember this hotel because this was the first place we experienced an earthquake in Japan. Our room was at the 10th floor, (last one) and after a long day of walking we were relaxing and planning our next day, when the ground started to shake. Building was swinging and Mr.G was already calculating our jump to the next building and our way out. Thank our Lord Jesus or Buddha or whomever of the many Buddhist gods, it was a short and not so strong one. BTW that whistle and flashlight I had was buried somewhere in the luggage on the door! That was another thing I checked on my list: “When in Japan!” Everything else at this hotel I would give the highest score. Great location, 5 min walk north from the Kyoto station, so it was very convenient to walk to some of the closer tourist sites. City is huge and you´ll have to plan an advance. I would recommend choosing a part of city you want to see on that day. Take the metro or JR to the farthest site (idiom site) on each area and then walk your way back.
Our first introduction to Kyoto was Kyoto station – futuristic building with tremendous space above you as you enter the main concourse. There are 15 levels, and a glass corridor on the 11th-floor ! It was completed in 1997 and totally opposite to traditional Japan. Lots of shops, several food courts, shopping area called The Cube, Kyoto tourist information center…. Great hotel called Hotel Granvia Kyoto if you want something classy and it´s right in the station.
We decided to walk the city as much as we could so after the Station we went south to see To-ji Temple (15 min walk) which has been the headquarters of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. Its five story pagoda is one of the symbols of Kyoto and is the highest pagoda in Japan (55m). Present one was built in 1644, but the first one was built in the 9th century. Since then, the pagodas burned down four times. The inside is normally closed to the public, except for special openings. Once again we were lucky enough to see it from the inside. You can see many statues, carvings, artworks in these temple buildings.
Opening hours are:
Mar.20-Sep.19 8:30 am to 5 pm
Sep.20-Mar.19 8:30 am to 4 pm
Five story Pagoda at To-ji Temple
Kyoto Railway Museum was Mr.G’s choice. Like a kid in a candy shop, I loved the look in his eyes when he saw a vintage steam locomotive built in Pittsburgh, PA and brought here for service and eventually as a museum piece. And his smile while operating the simulator of driving the model railroad trains or watching a railway of how city moves was just pure joy! You can also take a 10 minute ride on one of the smoke-spewing “choo-choos” or see how the Shinkansen bullet train was built. Entrance is 1200¥ and they are open from 10 am-5:30pm or winter time till 5pm.
When in this area don´t miss Nishi-Hongan-ji Temple and Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple. Admission is free and both are close to the Station.
If you want to try the most known specialty food in Japan you have to try the Kobe Beef. It is known as the best beef in the world. You have to splurge, it might be expensive but, it´s unique and delicious. It’s a flavorful meat that is well marbled with fat. Only highest grades of meat with high levels of fat earn the Kobe Beef label. So walking towards Gion district we came across “Nikuya Ginjiro” restaurant. They offer Kobe beef so we decided to try it and it just melts in your mouth. Sorry honey, but your steaks on the BBQ just became second on my list. Gion district is also known as an exclusive entertainment area and it´s almost the same as it was 300 years ago. Here you are most likely to spot a Geisha especially at dawn.
Also on the south side of Kyoto is Fushimi Inari Shrine. With the Bamboo forest in Arashiyama it´s the most photographed place in Kyoto. It´s dedicated to Inari the goddess of rice and business and 10,000 torii gates were donated by local businesses. Paths lead up to smaller shrines and some of them are dedicated to foxes. They are the messenger of Inari. For me this was one of the most memorable site in all of Kyoto.
You will have to take JR Nara line to Inari or Keihan line to Fushimi-Inari. Highly recommend to go as early as possible so you can skip the crowds if you want to take nice photographs of the torii or, climb to the highest point of Mt.Inari (if I remember correctly around (find a way around) 3 Hours). Going uphill there will be less people and you will have plenty opportunity for nice pictures, also you will have some very nice views of the city itself. Admission is free.
Nishiki Market, also called “Kyoto´s Kitchen” is a place where you can find all the weird and crazy food Japanese eat, such as fu (wheat gluten), yuba (soy milk skin), wide selection of pickles ….It´s in the center and best to check out on a rainy day because it´s covered.
The intersection of Kawaramachi street (Kyoto main street) and Shijo, is the heart of downtown shopping district. During the day it´s packed with shoppers and tourists. We found a great hostel place called LEN Kyoto Kawaramachi (http://backpackersjapan.co.jp/kyotohostel). They have a great bar, café, and dining. The prices for rooms are between 2600¥ and 8800¥ depending if you want a mixed dorm or a double room. If you prefer that kind of accommodation you should check their site.
Take a walk along the Kamo river which is also a perfect path for a run or bike. As you get closer to Pontocho district you´ll find crowds of people sitting on the riverside, having a picnic, watching street entertainers, talking, and just having fun.
Best time to check the Pontocho Alley is after dusk. It is a narrow charming pedestrian-only walkway that is filled with bars and restaurants. It became huge as the entertainment district, but it still has traditional wooden ochaya (type of teahouse where geisha entertain the clients). I loved the lanterns on the street and some restaurants have platforms (yuka) where you can have a nice dinner overlooking the river, we chose “Mimasuya.” It is the type of place where you have to take your shoes off and sit on the floor. There is also a part of the restaurant with tables and chairs on the first floor with a nice river view (sooo romantic). The variety of real Japanese dishes that simply tasted amazing. They also served Italian food.
At Ponto-cho and Gion you will also find plenty of bars, clubs and live music.
With so much to see in Kyoto we decided to skip Nijo Castle. I am sure it was not a great idea, but a necessary one.
You´ve probably heard about Golden Pavilion of Golden Temple (Kinkaku-ji). If you are following any Travel blogs or Instagram accounts and love (apple of eye meaning) travel photography, you must have stumbled upon a photograph of a spectacular reflection of golden temple on the pond. It is the most famous Japanese attraction and the most photogenic temple in the world. You can´t say if it´s more beautiful during the winter time covered in snow or spring time. It´s going to be packed so go early as possible or just before closing (9am-5pm, admission fee 400¥). Take the Kyoto city bus 205 from Kyoto Station to Kinkakuji-michi.
It was built in 1397 as a retirement villa for shogun Ashikaga Yozhimitsu. The main hall is coated in pure gold leaf. In 1950 it was burnt to the ground by a 22 year old schizophrenic monk, but it was fully reconstructed in 1955 and the gold-foil covering was extended to the lower floors. Put it on your bucket list!
Ginkakuji Temple or also called Silver Pavilion is a masterpiece of garden design. You have to admire the way the sand mound was designed to look like flattened Mount Fuji. And the way the hedge at the main entrance to the courtyard is made is so beautiful. Stones, bamboo, camellias….It was the mountain retreat of shogun Yoshimasa and it was supposed to be covered in silver as a tribute to his grandfather who covered Kinkaku-ji in gold leaf, but unfortunately it never happened. Opening hours are from 8:30am-5pm and admission is 500¥.
We took City Bus 5 from Kyoto Station to get there. If I remember correctly the price for the Bus was 140¥ per person for a ride. I loved the way they are organized. If you don’t have exact change there is a changing machine on the bus and a screen that is shows the route of the bus. Also they announce the next stop and what´s there to see if you choose that stop. Very hard to get lost, yet another confirmation of their efficiency and organization.
After Ginkakuji Temple head south and follow the signs for the Philosopher´s Walk. A beautiful 2 km walk. It follows the Shishigatani canal and it´s breathtaking during the cherry and maple season. It got its’ name by a philosophy professor, Nishida Kitaro, who used it daily. The path is romantic, peaceful, with untouched nature. You can find a lot of small coffee and craft shops along the route.
At the end of the Path of Philosophy (south) another temple that you should check is Nanzen-ji Temple. Grounds are free, but if you want to see Hojo Garden admission is 500¥ and to see San-mon (two story gate which has a nice view over the city) 400¥. There are a lot of subtemples that are open to the public. You would be surprised, but the Nanzen-jis greatest attraction for the Japanese is a red brick aqueduct, a Western structure. It was built in 1890 to bring water and goods into the city from the areas over the mountains to the river and canals of Kyoto.
Arashiyama is definitely a whole day trip. From Kyoto Station take JR Sagano/San-in line to Saga-Arashiyama Station, but take only local trains because the express trains will not stop here. Another famous Kyoto site is Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. As much as you try to capture the beauty of it with your camera, it´s just impossible. You have to see it to understand the magic of this place.
Endless bamboo stalks all around you. South of it you´ll find an amazing wooden bridge, Togetsukyo, and heading north, inside the forest you´ll find lots of temples. We decided to see JojakkojiTemple (admission is 400¥ and opening hours are from 9am-5pm) with its beautiful two story pagoda.
Niomon gate, south entrance at Jojakko-ji Temple
Another thing I have to tell you about is the restaurant, AKA the burger place! The best burger I had not only in Kyoto I mean the whole of Japan and maybe more! We walked for an hour (5,4 km) from our hotel near Kyoto Station to this place called “Grand Burger” at Teramachi Dori, near Kyoto Imperial Palace. It is a small place, just a couple of tables with one waiter who is the chef, bartender and probably the owner. You can have a burger lunch set for 1,180¥ (depending on type of burger) which includes a burger, French fries and a cabbage salad. We had the cheeseburger set and avocado burger set and OMG it tasted sooooo good. The menu is also in English. If you want something tasty, western style I highly recommend you stop here. You will not be disappointed.
This city definitely stole my heart. Everywhere you turn around there was so much beauty that it is overwhelming. This is a place where even Japanese come to learn about their history and culture. Be open to experience everything it has to offer. Try the ritual of tea Ceremony; see the geisha at Miyako Odori….. or spend the night in a traditional Kyoto rykan such as Tawaraya. We will definitely do it next time, right Mr. G? He said, definitely, but next time will be better prepared knowing how the mass transit works, the friendliness of the people and love of the culture.
Being a Croatian (country of a thousand islands) I have huge standards when it comes to beaches and clean sea. We have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. You name it and we have it: sandy, rocky, stone (big or small ones), ones that you can only get to by a boat, secluded …. Even more beautiful is our sea. Transparent, crystal clear and most important clean! So I have to say, on first sight, I wasn’t impressed with Rimini which is known for 15 km long and 200m wide sandy beach. We came late at night after a long 6 hour drive from Rijeka and decided to walk the promenade. At one part of the lido the smell of sewage was so bad that we almost vomited, not kidding you. Thank God we were tired and decided to sleep over it and take a look at it the next day.
We stayed at L´ Hotel, elegant 3 star hotel located 20m from the beach. Large rooms with private balconies and wellness corner (heated pool, Turkish bath and Finnish sauna, massage room). They have 2 parking lots (8€ a day) that you can use and also provide bicycles (first three hours are free, then its 10 € per hour). I was surprised by the way they designed the rooms, actually the shower. First time (killing time synonym) I saw a shower outside of the bathroom. They put it in the room and divide it with a glass door.
Breakfast looked more like a dessert table. I counted ten different types of croissants, pancakes, cakes…it looked compelling, but I enjoyed ham and cheese and a good cup of cappuccino.
Rimini beach is long, wide, sandy and commercialized. It´s divided in to establishments called Lido. Each one is numbered and has a name, like #85 La Playa (special discount for the guests of our hotel). They have to maintain the area and they provide (for a fee) some kind of service and facilities (sun loungers, umbrellas, changing cabins…). Depending on how much you want to pay, you can get a simple lounge or you can have Jacuzzi facilities, gym equipment, a snack, un aperitivo… For the price of 18€ we got two loungers, an umbrella, a snack and a drink.
Some parts of the beach are free, with toilets and lifeguards, where you can put your own beach towel.
So I have to say we did enjoy the beach. It felt nice to relax, have a glass of Mojito, while listening to a DJ jamming. Italians know how to have a good time. No “smell” of sewage, thank God.
There are many small restaurants along the beach that are open not only at day time, but also in the evening . We chose to play it safe and decide on a restaurant that everybody recommended and we loooved it! “Carlos” restaurant and pizzeria is a place I would definitely go again. There fish is to die for, we ate there for three nights in a row. That’s how good it is. Open since 1969 they advertise it as “a sea on your plate”. Make a reservation because the place is booked almost every day. Staff is more then friendly, they go over to fulfill your every request. Our waitress, from Argentina (Alijandra) always had a smile and never once during our three visits did she not make us feel like old friends. We had almost every meal on the menu (be careful because the portions are huge) and loved each one. Spaghetti vongole, mixed grilled fish, caprese salad, shrimp cocktail, lobster…..I can still taste their amazing fish soup !
Just 30 min drive from Rimini there is the old principality, San Marino, capital of Republic of San Marino. It´s third smallest state in Europe, after Vatican and Monaco and world oldest republic. It sits on the mountain (Monte Titano) so the view of the surrounding towns and Adriatic coast is really breathtaking.
Finding a parking spot is not easy. They do have a couple of parking lots, but definitely not enough, especially if you decide to go there on a weekend. We used P11 (8€ for whole day-not bad at all) because it´s close to the cable car (Funivia) which you can use to get to the top. Price for a round trip is 4,50 €, per person or you can just (definition just in case) walk.
You can get 4 types of access card to see some major sites of San Marino:
orange (valid for entry to two museums of your choice – 6,50€)
green (reduced price – for only one museums for groups of more then 25, groups of students, children aged between 6-12 and adults over 65 – 3,50€)
purple – (pass to visit all State Museums and its valid for 10 days – 10,50€)
Free entry is for children under the age of 6, for people with disabilities and their companions, or you can be lucky like us and come to visit on 7 of July which was IX anniversary of San Marino becoming a part of the Unesco World Heritage List so the entrance was free.
Opening hours are from 8am-8pm summer time and 9am-4:30pm winter time.
You can see most of it in one day. Three Towers are a must. First two you can enter. There is no entrance for the third one. You can only see it from the outside. Lot of Museums to check out, like: State Museum, Museum of the Emigrant, Vampire Museum, Waxworks Museum, Museum of Curiosity, Torture Museum, Museum of National History, Ancient Weapons…
Public Palace is the building where official ceremonies take place and it´s also main institutional and administrative seat of San Marino. Guards of the Rock are the one responsible for guarding the Palace and they have very distinctive red and green uniforms.
Beautiful cobblestone streets and will bring you back to medieval times. Winding roads that go up and down the hill connect all the major sites. My advice is wear flats or comfortable shoes. Some parts are walking paths through the woods like the one between Second and Third Tower. Don’t worry about food and drink because you can find food stands, bars, restaurants on every corner.
Try to get there early in the morning to avoid crowds and to find a parking space. Take your time, admire the view from the top and have a homemade ice cream at “L´Alchimista Gelateria”. Live the Italian Way!
When you think about Hiroshima what is the first thing that comes to your mind? First atomic bomb attack, right? Unfortunately that’s the introduction of Hiroshima. Yes, every year millions of visitors from all over the world come here to see the place where so many people were killed in this instant nuclear explosion. Hiroshima is so much more than its atomic legacy. It´s a modern city with lots of museums, parks, bridges, historical places and vibrant nightlife.
Before describing Hiroshima, I’ve written some of the facts about bombing Hiroshima which I found very interested and might help you understand more of its history and recovery.
On August 6 1945 at 8:15am the US decided to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima and force Japan to surrender. Some 70000-80000 people were killed by the blast and firestorm and between 180000-200000 over the following years as result of after-effects, like burns, radiation sickness and cancer.
The Uranium-based atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima was the equivalent of 20,000 tonnes of TNT and it annihilated about 80% of the cities buildings. The mushroom cloud climbed up to 25,000 feet in the sky.
Nearly everything within 2 km radius was destroyed.
The names for all three atomic bombs were created by Robert Serber, a former student who worked on the Manhattan Project. According to Serber, he chose them based on their design shapes. The “Fat Man” (Nagasaki) was round and fat, and was named after Sydney Greenstreet’s “Kasper Gutman” character in The Maltese Falcon. Little Boy (Hiroshima) came last, and was named after Elisha Cook Jr’s character in the same film, as referred to by Humprey Bogart.
A man named Tsutomu Yamaguchi survived the atomic blast at Hiroshima, dragged himself into an air-raid shelter, spent the night there, in the morning caught a train so he could arrive at his job on time (killing time synonym) in Nagasaki where he survived another atomic blast. He died of stomach cancer at the age of 93. Although at least 69 people are known to have been affected by both bombings, he is the only person to have been officially recognized by the government of Japan as surviving both explosions.
The oleander is the official flower of the city of Hiroshima because it was the first to bloom again after the explosion.
The Gingko Biloba species of tree is 270 million years old. There are known for their tenacity. Six trees growing between 1–2 km from the explosion were among the few living things in the area to survive the blast. The ginkgos, though charred, survived and were soon healthy again.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not radioactive anymore mostly because the bombs didn’t touch the ground, but were detonated in the air.
The creature Godzilla was used as a metaphor for nuclear weapons.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
First place we saw was Peace Memorial Park. It was built in 1950s as a commemorative place and a symbol of peace, covering an area of 122,100 m2. Our starting point was Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It consists of the East Building (which was open) and Main Building (closed for renovations until July of 2018). It opens at 8:30am and closes at 5pm at winter time or 6pm summer time. Admission is 200¥ for adults, high school students 100¥ and children 12 and younger can see it for free. Plan to spend at least two hours here. You will learn about daily lives of the people in Hiroshima before the bombing, about development and dropping of the A-bomb, the consequences of the bomb on the city and its people and effort towards the abolition of nuclear weapons. Special Exhibition Room displays artifacts and donated belongings of the victims like a watch that stopped at 8:15 am, or burnt school uniforms. This exhibition will have a big impact on you . You’ll never forget photographs of woman and children with burns, soldier with purple spots from bleeding under the skin, or stories of victims who survived.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
Phoenix trees (Chinese parasol trees) are located outside of the museum on the right side. They were located 1.5 km from the hypocenter and survived. Still showing scorch marks.
At the center of the Park, at the pond, there is a Cenotaph. It was designed by Tange Kenzo (who also designed the Peace Museum, Flame and National Peace Memorial Hall) and it holds the names of all the known victims of the bomb. The Flame of Peace has burned since 1964 in honor of the victims and will be extinguished only when all nuclear weapons are removed from the world and the Earth is free from nuclear threat. If you look through the Cenotaph it will align with the Flame and the Dome.
The Flame of Peace
New part of the Park is Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. It was established in 2002 to remember and mourn the sacred sacrifice of the atomic bomb victims. You can search and view photos of the deceased and read notes about the experience. The bombed city scape seen from the proximity of the hypocenter is reflected on the wall surface with about 140,000 tiles, the number of victims as of December 1945.
Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall
At the north entrance there is the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound. Ashes of unidentified victims are interred in a vault below. Also you can ring a Peace Bell by yourself.
Something that I will remember forever is a story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who was exposed to the A-bomb at the age of two, but she grew into a strong and healthy girl. Unfortunately nine years later she contracted leukemia. She believed that if she could make 1000 paper cranes she would recover from her illness (paper cranes in Japan are symbol of longevity and happiness). She died before she could finish her goal, but her classmates folded the rest. Her story is known all over the world and children from over the country and world send paper cranes which surround the Children’s Peace Monument.
Perhaps the most significant reminder of the destruction is the Atomic Bomb Dome. It was built by Czech architect in 1915 as a Industrial Promotion Hall. The Bomb exploded almost directly above it, 600m above and 160m southeast of the Hall and it instantlykilled everyone in it. The building was one of very few left standing near the epicenter and it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1996.
Atomic Bomb Dome
On 6 August, the anniversary of the atomic bombing, a memorial service is held in Peace Memorial Park. A moment of silence is observed at 8:15 am and thousands of paper lanterns for the souls of the dead are floated down the Kyuota-gawa River.
Being here, standing on the place of such a huge destruction, where so many people have died was overwhelming. You feel humble, angry, sad… You feel the transience of our existence. The world should be more determined and willing to stop something like this from happening again. The debate over the bomb continues to this day. Let´s all hope that The Flame of Peace in Hiroshima Memorial Park will be extinguished.
After all this very emotional sightseeing we decided to find a nice place to have a drink (me) and watching the Pittsburgh Penguins beating the Ottawa Senators to advance to the Stanley Cup. We didn’t have to look far, “Akushu Café” has a great selection of Japanese wine, smoothies, burgers and sweets. It´s located north from Dome on the ground floor of the Hiroshima Orizuru Tower.
After having a couple of drinks celebrating Penguins victory we headed north to see Hiroshima Castle. As everything else, it was destroyed in 1945 but reconstructed in 1958. Admission fee is 370¥ for adults and 180¥ for senior and high school students. Junior high school students and younger are free of charge. It´s open from 9am till 5pm (winter time ) or 6pm (summer). Lots of ruins, stone walls, couple of trees surviving atomic bomb blast, old stone steps…. Castle tower has some awesome exhibits: Weapon-Armour Exhibits, Castle History, Samurai culture. On the 5th floor there is an Observation Platform.
Beautiful Shukkei-en (garden) was built in 1620. It´s name means “shrink-scenery garden” and it was modeled after West Lake in Hangzhou, China . Miniature bridges, ponds, streams are all connected by a path which you can stroll around (find a way around) the entire garden.
Unfortunately that was all we were able to see in a day. There is so much more: Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Manga Library, Children´s Museum, Mazda Museum…
I was really hoping we could visit (idioms dictionary) Miyajima Island (Itsukushima) which means shrine island. It´s less then hour away from Hiroshima and it´s famous for its giant torii gate which at high tide seems to float on the water. The Itsukushima Shrine and its torii gate are unique for being built over water, so put it on your list.
And don´t forget to try some sake. A short ride east of Hiroshima is the town of Saijo , also known as “The Sake town”, one of Japan’s three great sake-producing areas.
Most sights are accessible on foot or you can use a tram (street car). They will get you almost anywhere for a flat fare of 160. You can also use Hiroshima Sightseeing Loop Bus (200¥ single ride, 400¥ for an all day pass or if you have JR Pass you can ride for free).
Hiroshima is a city with a huge message – that of hope for peace.
Did you know that Yokohama Chinatown is the biggest in Japan and one of the largest in the world? Or, did you know that The Landmark Tower has the fastest elevator in Japan (up to 750m/min)? Or, that Yokohama is Japan´s second-largest city ?
Yes, Yokohama is amazing and I wish we spent more than a day here. To be honest Yokohama wasn´t even on my list to see when in Japan. I was looking to see more of a traditional Japan and I would always associate the name with tires . I was soooo wrong ! I hope I´ll be lucky enough to see it once again and give it the attention it deserves.
Since at that time (killing time synonym) we were staying in Yokosuka, we took JR Yokosuka line from Yokosuka station (45 min) to Yokohama. It´s easy to get to Yokohama from pretty much anywhere in Japan (check the picture in my gallery, I took it from Time Out Tokyo 50 things to do in Yokohama). From Tokyo only 27 min train ride.
Our plan was to walk it and see as much sites and landmarks as possible in a day (you can find a great Practical Travel Guide from Japan National Tourism Organization http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/rtg/pdf/pg-306.pdf). David, Mr.G´s old friend, who has been living in Yokohama for almost 30 years, was such a huge help. Without him we wouldn´t been able to see half of it. His tips really helped us to see how amazing this city is. Thanks again and I hope will return the favor and show you the beauty of Croatia!
Yokohama was a fishing village and after Mathew Perry, Commodore of the American fleet in 1853, came to persuade Japan to open to foreign trade, it became the biggest port in Asia by early 1900s. Our first stop was the Minato Mirai 21, area known as a planned city of tomorrow („Minato Mirai“ means „port future“). This area has redeveloped docks into recreation areas, promenades, waterfront park.
The Landmark Tower is its focal point. Its Japan´s tallest building at 296 m (971 ft) with the fastest elevator that will take you from the second floor lobby to the spectacular 360-degree view from Sky Garden observatory on the 69th floor in 40 seconds. There is also Landmark Plaza, most popular shoping complex with 160 shops and restaurants.
An old sailing vessel „Nippon Maru“ is moored right to the Landmark plaza, you can´t miss it. It´s a symbol of Yokohama. It was built in 1930 and trained cadets until 1984. Now it is open to the public.
On Hinomaru you can hop aboard a amphibious DUK (swimming) bus and see the city from the water.
Walking down the Sakura-dori you can see the Cosmo Clock 21, tallest Ferris wheel with a clock. Crossing the Kokusai bridge we ended up at the Cup Noodle Museum. They celebrate the life of Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant noodles. You can design your own Cup Noodles. Have fun coloring your cup, selecting your ingredients and having it air sealed so you can take it home (go home and let sleeping dogs lie) to enjoy it later.
We already spent almost half of day in this area and we wanted to see the lovely Sankei-en Garden (they close at 4.30pm). The garden belonged to a silk trader Tomitaro Hara and was opened to the public in 1906. It has many historical buildings that have been brought here from locations from all over the Japan. Even the 500-year-old three story pagoda was built in Kyoto in and then relocated here . Landscape gardens, walking paths, ponds, several tea-ceremony , bridges, waterfalls, old houses….what a beautiful way to escape the modern architecture of Yokohama.
One thing we definitely didn´t want to miss was Chinatown. Chinese traders settled in the city after Yokohama became big foreign port. It started to grow very quickly so now it has around (find a way around) 600 shops and restaurants . Its more business then residental area. There are four main gates around it and five more within. At its heart there is a Kanteibyo Temple dedicated to ancient Chinese hero Kuanyu, as a god of war. Now it´s popular as a god of business sucess and prosperity. Chinatown is famous for its cuisine. Food stands offer some favorite, like steamed buns called „ manju“, ramen noodles, or you can choose to sit down at a local restaurant and have a szechuan chicken. Walking around these colorful streets was quite an experience.
There is so much more to see. I wish we had more time to explore numerous museums like Tatoo Museum, Kirin Beer factory, Ramen museum , Museum of Art…. Maybe next time I´ll get to see some of its night life. It´s full of quality beer bars, jazz clubs and great offer of international dining.
Yokohama was definitely an eye opener and should be on every „What to see in Japan“ list.
An hour south of Tokyo there is a small ancient city that was Japan´s administrative capital from 1185 until 1333, but it actually became famous for its numerous temples, shrines and wooded hills. I´ve read somewhere that it has 19 Shinto shrines and 65 Buddhist temples, including two of Japan´s oldest Zen monasteries (Kita Kamakura). To me, heaven. Being able to see something that I only saw in documentaries was a dream come true. Is there a better place to experience Zen? Just being surrounded by all this beautiful, peaceful temples makes you want to search your soul, and try to achieve togetherness of your body and mind.
They told me to see Kamakura and Kyoto as last on my list. They were right! After seeing them you won’t be amazed with what other cities have to offer. The temples and shrines just (definition just in case) wont be as stunning as this ones.
Best tourist map I have ever used. It has everything you will need. From access to Kamakura, history,routes, descriptions of temples and shrines, Japanese traditional culture, annual events, rules and manners, tips, restaurant and shops, where to get medical treatment, how to pray , translation of some often used sentences, where to buy tickets for buses and trains… That map is the only one you´ll need.
First thing I would recommend is avoid visiting over weekends. Japanese people work hard during week days so they will use as much free time (killing time synonym) as they have to escape to nature from the madness and bustle of big cities. If you have no choice go as early as you can. I´m only saying this if you want to take nice photographs and avoid the crowd. No matter how crowded it gets there will be no lines. They are a very organized nation.
Before entering the shrines and temples check the proper way of praying, rules and manners (you´ll find them in downloaded tourist map). It takes a couple of minutes but it will mean a lot to Japanese and their culture.
The Great Buddha is known as Kamakuran Daibutsu. It´s 11.4 m tall and made of bronze (121 tones) in 1252. It used to be inside a huge hall but today the statue sits in the open, because the hall has been washed away by a tsunami in 1945. The statue survived and it´s the most visited place in Kamakura . Entrance is 200¥ (age 13 and older) and and 100¥ for children between 6-12. For additional 20¥ you can go inside the statue and see how it was built.
Hase-dera Temple is a Buddhist Temple and home (go home and let sleeping dogs lie) to 11-faced Kannon, bodhisattva of mercy. Beside it is a sutra repository. Rotating them is said to earn as much merit as reading them. Also there is the towns oldest bell from 1264 and hall dedicated to Jizo, guardian of children. You´ll be impressed with countless statues to children who have died or have been aborted. You can buy a wooden tile and write your own prayer or wish and hang it at the marked places. Entrance is 300¥ for adults and 100¥ for a child.
Kencho -ji Temple is the first Zen temple in Japan and oldest Zen monastery (1253) that is still active today. Lots of its buildings and subtemples have been destroyed in fires, but they restored some of them. Entrance adult/child 300¥/100¥
There are so much more shrines and temple, so if you are going there for a day decide which ones do you want to see because seeing them all in one day is impossible. Here I mentioned only couple of them since we didn’t have more time and describing them all I´ll leave to historians and other travelers.
We decided to take Daibutsu Hiking Trail (there are couple of trails that surround Kamakura). It´s a 45 min walk through beautiful forest. At the Kamakura station follow the signs for Daibutsu and after you pass entrance to Daibutsu keep walking towards the road-tunnel in front of you. On the right side of the tunnel you´ll find steep steps. After just a couple of steps there will be a sign to go right for Kamakura . We missed that sign and kept going straight which leads to Daibutsu Kiridoshi Pass. We thought we were lost. Not to many people on the path, actually no one after a while and then suddenly, we were stopped by an American who was there stretching, by himself, asking if we needed help. I must say I wasn’t very comfortable with the situation. Three of us, all alone in the woods and a bit eccentric. We are laughing about it now, but then I was prepared to use my camera as evidence if something happens to us and Mr. G., an ex US Navy guy was prepared and told me to stay back just in case. Would´t it be ironic to be assaulted in the most safest country in the world ? He ended up being just a nice person who wanted to help and eventually lead us back to the right path. If he is reading this: „Thank you (and sorry)!“
On Daibutsu Hiking Trail you´ll pass several small temples and shrines like, Jochi-ji and Zeniaraibenten (cave like entrance) where visitors come to wash their money in natural springs with the hope of bringing financial success (if they are right from all the bathing of my coins I´ll be rich this time next year). Throughout the path you´ll find restrooms and at the Genji-yama Park picnic tables and vending machines. If you go from the Park towards Kewai-zaka you´ll find a statue of Minamoto-no Yoritomo, the samurai founder of the Kamakura Shogunate (1185 A.D.).
If you are looking for a place to eat or shop try at Kamakura Komachi-dori street . It has almost 250 shops, restaurants, fancy cafes, souvenir shops…It started as a market opened in front of the shrine but now its a huge tourist gathering. Try some traditional Japanese sweets, but be careful when eating them. Large hawks (kites) are circling over the town waiting to snatch their next meal.
Speaking of meal, after couple of days eating only Japanese cuisine we really needed something solid. Don´t get me wrong, Japanese food is great, I love (apple of eye meaning) it, but my Croatian stomach needs something to fill me up now and then. Something like a great burger, not McDonald´s, the one after you need a nap. We found it here, J.S. Burgers cafe. It´s located near Kamakura station. Great American style burgers, music and ambience.
There are couple of sand beaches in Kamakura which are popular getaways. People from Tokyo, Yokohama and other cities come here to relax and enjoy some sunbathing and swimming. Most popular are Yuigahama and Zaimokuza. Lots of restaurants, cafe bars…everything you need at the beach. Not impressed with cleanliness of the beach. I did not expect to find dead birds and fish, bottles, paper ….and people would just go around (find a way around) it when going into the water. That surprised me a lot. That was the only time I saw garbage in a public area.
Try to spend two days in Kamakura. One for all the historical sites , and other one for relaxing at the beach (when the clean them) and exploring the hiking trails.
And remember to see it last on your trip if you prefer religious and spiritual places.
If your spouse, better half, friend or member of your family is in US Navy at some point in there career they might end up in Yokosuka. If you have a chance to tag along do it. It´s Japan, that is the first reason ! The second one is; since it´s the headquarters of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet, you won´t feel such a huge cultural or gastronomic shock. Here you will find some Japanese that do speak English. If you walk along the Dobuita street you´ll even feel the American influence on restaurants, bars, shops….
I have to mention that Japanese pronounce Yokosuka as “Yo-ko-ska“ or “Ya-kuu-ska” . Trying to find a way to get to Yokosuka wasn´t successful, but saying Ya-kuu-ska got me places ! It´s a major city in Kanagawa prefecture (Central Honshu), south of Tokyo , lets says 2 hours from Narita airport with a car. You can also use Narita express to Tokyo station (1hour; ¥3000) and then their JR Yokosuka Line, on the lower level, which takes you to JR Yokosuka Station (75 minutes; ¥1050). If you wish to use JR, be sure to take any train bound for Yokosuka or Kurihama (and note that the front 4 cars of the train are removed at Zushi ). If you were smart enough to get JR Rail Pass you will save a lot of money, trust me (read about it on my post http://penguinfootprints.com/travel-tips/planning-a-trip-to-japan/). You can also get a PASMO smart card. You can get it at any train station at the vending machine. In addition to using PASMO card on trains and buses, you can also use PASMO to purchase goods and services from stores. There is a deposit of 500¥ at the first purchase and then you put as much money on it as you want.
This city was my first introduction to Japan. Vau ! Driving (on the left side, be careful) on a highway through green forests , you just (definition just in case) have to notice untouched nature. They refer to it with so much respect that it leaves you silent. I learned that Japanese worship loyalty, integrity, honor, respect, especially elderly, but seing that first hand demontrated real meaning of it. They teach their kids from early ages to be polite, work and study hard, be moral, and never dishonor themselves because it means dishonoring there family, and their country. Something we should all learn!
Because of all the research we did before going to Japan we knew about small hotel rooms so instead of going to Mercure Hotel Yokosuka, Hotel New Yokosuka, Hotel Yokosuka (all in the center) we decided to rent an apartment at Yokosuka Liberty Cove House. It´s a modern and fully furnished American style building with 22 apartmants for rent located only 15 min walk from the center. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, 24 hour concierge service (they speak English, and are very helpful), car parking, bicycle parking , roof top garden. Prices for one bedroom apartmant are around (find a way around) $114 comparing to hotel prices which are around 130$. You get a nice place, privacy, even a washing machine and a dryer for a better price. I highly recommend them.
Right in front of the Liberty Cove house there is Verny Park known for its rose beds. There is a description of each type of rose on a small tile. I´ve noticed that in all Japan, on every tree or type of flower as you walk down the street, not only parks. There is a fountain in the center and monument of Verny dedicated to the French engineer who helped with Japans modernization. They mantain gardens daily, and they look gorgeous. You will find garbage cans only near vending machines (and they are on every corner; coffee, drinks, ice cream). They take garbage sorting very seriously, and expect that you´ll take your trash and throw it in the proper can at your own place. That´s why streets, gardens, parks…. are so clean and well maintained.
Downtown´s „Blue Street“ is the main street in the center of Yokosuka located between the Navy base and Yokosuka-Chuo station . Lots of shops, restaurants, and shoping malls like More´s City and Mikasa Mall. We found a great steak restaurant on this street called Ikinari Steak House. It´s a chain restaurant , they have places all over Japan. Great selection of steaks with their own steak sauce (I bought one because they are sooooo tasty) but not to many side dishes. Their menu is based mainly on steaks. Also a great Fish restaurant (when I asked for a translation of the name they said that it only means Fish restaurant ) right at the end of Blue Street at the Yokosuka Chuo Station (the one with the most neon lights). Love the ambience, food is amazing. Some of the food is served raw so you have to bake it on your own grill. Try their crab cream (soup). They also have an english menu and you order your meal on a tablet which is a huge help.
I would also recommend a new place called Yokosuka Pride , craft beer restaurant and caffe. Great selection of craft beers and local dishes. Grilled tuna jaw is definitely a must. You´ll recognize the place as one of the oldest houses in Yokosuka (at the beginning of Blue street). We´ve been told that Japanese prefer new over old things, so you won´t find a lot of old houses or buildings.
Mikasa Park is one of my favorites and entrance is free. It has a musical fountain show and near the waterfront you will see an 18 meter tall metal arch. It´s also known as the Peace Arch, which changes colors as the sun strikes its metal beams. The park is famous because of the Battleship Mikasa that has been docked here since 1926. It´s one of the three Great Historical Warships of the World. Mikasa was the flagship of Admiral Heihachiro Togo during the Russo-Japanese War. Entry costs 500¥. There is also a ferry leading to Monkey island (Sarushima island). Nope, no monkeys there as the name may refer. People love (apple of eye meaning) to go there for a picnic, barbecue or fishing.
If you like local food, fresh vegetables, fish, fruit, check Yokosuka Port Market. Diversity of fish will astonish you. One thing that I love about Japanese markets is that you can try fresh food at the small family run kiosks right there on the spot. I like to watch sellers early in the morning preparing their booths with homemade, unique products for busy customers.
Since the city is mainly a Naval base for US Navy and Japanese Navy there is also Cruise of Yokosuka Naval port, but it´s only in Japanese language.
We spent 9 days in this city but I would say two is enough to see it all. You wont find a lot of temples or shrines here , not many tourist visit. After that just take the Shinkansen (bullet train), JR lines or local trains and explore places near by like Yokohama, Kamakura, Mount Fuji….