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Travelblog Gone with the Wine Blog

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Category: Japan

Japan in Photos

Paula Gaston

Have you ever been thinking what is the furthest destination you have been to? Seven years ago I was thinking that when I vacation in California or when I move there, I will be quite far away from my home. I was living in Finland at the time. Even the flight to California was so long, that I really felt like I was going to the other side of the world. And I was. If you look at thing from Finland, the furthest place I have visited is Hawaiian Islands. If I look at the same thing from California, it would be Dubai in United Arab Emirates. But I have actually traveled to those places from shorter distances.

But being far from home can also be measured as a feeling as well, not just by the miles or kilometres. Being in a totally different culture what you are use to definitely makes you feel like you are far far away. We got this feeling in Japan. Japan is physically far away from both California and Finland, but even more it really feels like far away. Everything there was different! After figuring out how things work there we absolutely fell in love with this country! It was both exciting and awesome, and somehow tiring as well. But we feel like it is definitely a country far away that we want to return someday.

These are the things we wont forget:

BUILDINGS

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Japan is a mixture of both history and modern building. From the skyscraper’s Tokyo you can take a bullet train and within an hours be walking around the traditional, old Japan. The picture on the left is from Todaiji Temple which is said to be the biggest wooden building in the world. On the right is the Himeji Castle, one of the national treasures of Japan.

DIFFERENT KIND OF PEOPLE

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The amount of people in Tokyo feels surreal. But even though the metro is full of busy people, they will never pump into you or be rude. In different prefectures of Tokyo you can meet different people with different styles, and you might run into a wedding couple if you visit a temple. We even saw few geishas in Kyoto even though seeing them is quite rare.

RELIGIONS

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Different religions are strongly visible and present in Japanese life. Anywhere you go, you will see temples and shrines. Visiting them is interesting and there are many rituals and traditions that takes place at the temples. Even though these places are open for tourists as well, they are mainly calm places designated for praying.

FOOD

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Exploring the Japanese food was one the highlight on our trip to Japan. We got to try many new foods that we had never tried, and some local treats. There is some international chain restaurants there but they are very expensive compared to the local food places. And who wouldn’t like Japanese food?!

GOOFYNESS

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We were surprised how often so serious and quiet Japanese people seemed to love everything goofy and silly. It was awesome! We visited several theme cafes, and at the Trick Art Museum where the photo on left was taken at. People in Japan truly knows how to have fun!

OPPOSITES

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From the city life to the calmness and quietness. From modern into a middle of the history. Japan was truly a country of opposites where you can meet the modern future and the old traditions in one day. The picture at left is from Nara where you can pet some tame deer, and the one at right is from Hiroshima. Hiroshima is a big modern city with a piece of sad and touching history in a middle of it.

All these pictures are from my Instagram account. You can follow me @paulagaston

 

Vacation in a City - My Top 10 Cities in the World

Paula Gaston

The Internet has made booking trips so much easier that most people book their trips by themselves rather than use tour operators. More and more trips are also made to metropolitan cities. Here are my favorite cities to visit. It was impossible to put them into any specific order since they all are so different from each other. 

1. SAN FRANCISCO

Well, it is almost a must for me to start with the city that I love, and which is very close to my home. San Francisco is colorful, trendy and a little bit crazy too, and it offers something for everyone. When visiting, you definitely need more than just a one day, since there is so much to see and do in the city, and not to mention all the areas surrounding it. You must of course see the Golden Gate Bridge, ride the Cable Cars and visit Pier 39. And don't forget the world's biggest Chinatown outside of China. This is a city where you can walk in a business district one minute and hike on the beach the next. Or you can do a cruise to famous Alcatraz Island. There is nothing that people here haven't seen, so no matter what you look like, they wont be staring at you. No wonder they call it the most European city of the United States. 

Pros: Open minded and colorful city which you will never get bored with!
Cons: Expensive to stay in. Often chilly winds blow from the ocean. Increasing problem with drugs and homeless people can be seen almost everywhere today.

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2. TOKYO

Tokyo is definitely different than any place you have ever been to. Even different sections of the city can be totally different from each others. Tokyo is very hectic and crazy, but they also have beautiful parks where you can go enjoy the silence. The first days were quite confusing to us since the train and metro network is huge and most signs are in Japanese. But at the end we managed to learn how to get around, and even our 4 year old fell in love with Japan. There is tons to do with kids, and for young at heart adults. And we have never felt this safe on any of our travels before. 

Pros: The safest and most different city we have ever been to.
Cons: Hotels are quite expensive and people don’t often speak English.

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3. PARIS

Paris is Paris, what can you say? It has its own atmosphere and you really feel like you are in Europe. Paris feels compact since you can easily see all the sights in one day by using the metro. Beautiful buildings and history is everywhere, not to mention the River Seine. Paris is great for those who love good food and shopping. 

Pros: A mecca for those who love good food. A lot to see and lots of history.
Cons: Hotels are expensive. In many place they don’t speak English. To break the ice it would be good to know a couple words of French. 

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4. LONDON

At the same time modern and old fashioned London needs no introduction. So much to see there, and if you don’t want to tour in a double decker bus around the city, you can always take the Underground (metro). London was my hometown for one summer and there was never a boring day while I was there. You can see and feel the long history of the country all around London. 

Pros: Amazing amount of culture and lots of history. Everyone speaks English. 
Cons: The weather can change quickly so don't go anywhere without an umbrella. 

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5. ST. PETERSBURG

We went to St. Petersburg and I felt like I didn't see quite everything yet. I would like to go back and explore more. There are so many beautiful buildings and museums, good food and many things to see in this city. It would be even better if there was a local guide to show you around. Even though everything on our trip went well, occasionally we felt like people didn't like us. This might not be the best destination with kids since most sights are museums and churches. 

Pros: So much culture, museums and architecture.
Cons: Safety can be a concern. Requires a visa if you want to stay more than 72 hours. 

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6. TALLINN

Tallinn has fast become a very trendy city. People don't go there anymore just because of the cheap shopping, they go there to eat in fine dining restaurants and see the night life. And of course, there is a lot to see in Tallinn, like the best preserved medieval walled old town.

Pros: Still relatively cheap. Lot of historical places.  
Cons: Far away from rest of the Europe. 

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7. STOCKHOLM

Visit the rustic Old Town in Stockholm. I will never get bored of the awesome cafes there. Stockholm is great for shopping, but there is also a lot to do there. It is great with kids and you don't have to leave far from the city center to find cool stuff.  

Pros: A lot to do for both single people and families with kids
Cons:
Staying downtown is quite expensive. Cold and dark during the winter months. 

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8. CHICAGO

Chicago has always been one of my favorites in the U.S. From the downtown with high-rises you can easily get to the beach of Lake Michigan. Also the Chicago River that runs through the city makes it a very unique place. Chicago has some kind of old movie feel, and I even got a closer look at that while I stayed in the Tokyo Hotel which used to be popular among gangsters. During the winter Chicago is cold and it might snow, so summer months are better for vacationing. In recent years the crime rate has increased in Chicago so make sure to stay in safer areas. 

Pros: There is both a lake and a river right by downtown. 
Cons: During the winter it can be cold. Chicago is not called the Windy City for nothing; the flights are often delayed or cancelled due to weather and storms. Some parts of the city are not safe. 

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9. DUBAI

There are many kinds of opinions of Dubai, but I added it to my list since they have most everything there that you could want. They have sun, beach, food and some culture. The local culture is mixed up with this new and fast built city where everything must be bigger and better. It might not feel real but at least it makes Dubai different. Beaches are close by to the city.

Pros: Both beach and city life combined with arab culture. For sure a different sort of place unlike any other.
Cons: Dubai has been questioned for its respect of human rights and for destroying the ocean by building artificial islands. 

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10. REYKJAVIK

Yes I know, it is not exactly a metropolitan city, but at least it is a capital! I really liked Reykjavik. It is known for it's colorful nightlife and many cafes. It is small enough that you can just walk or bike from one place to another while admiring beautiful wall murals. And you can't feel any more safe than you will here!

Pros: Small but full of life. Very safe. People speak English almost everywhere.
Con: The service culture in Iceland is often very stiff and serious. 

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What are your favorite cities?

Legoland Discovery Center Tokyo

Paula Gaston

On our last trip to Japan, we also visited the local Legoland. Legoland Discovery Center is located on the island of Odaiba, at the Tokyo Beach Island Mall where we also visited the Trick Art Museum. Both of the places were quite small, so it was possible to visit them in the same day. Getting to Odaiba is easy when you take the local train, and there is so much to do for families with kids.

I was surprised that the Legoland seemed to be very small. I have never been to the original Legoland in Denmark, or the one in San Diego, California, but I always thought that these were big outside parks. The one in Tokyo was indoors and it didn't take long to walk through. It wasn't until later that I realised, that Legoland and Legoland Discovery Center are two different things. There actually was a "real" Legoland in Japan too, in the city of Nagoya.

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So the Legoland Discovery Center was indoors. The tour started in a "Miniland" where we saw all the cool sites we had just seen on our visit to Tokyo. After Miniland there was a movie running, but we decided to skip it since we wanted stay active. We continued to a factory tour where we learned how legos are made. We also did a couple rides which were fun. Unfortunately they were the only rides they had! The rest of our visit we dedicated to playing. Our daughter enjoyed the play area, and there were several areas to built legos too. She tried the karaoke and made some friends while playing. 

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  Shibuya Crossing  which we saw just few days before. 

Shibuya Crossing which we saw just few days before. 

 The lit building in the front is  Nijo Castle  which we visited in Kyoto. 

The lit building in the front is Nijo Castle which we visited in Kyoto. 

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After a while we moved down stairs to "City Train World". We saw many warning signs saying that once down stairs, we would not be able to return. This was a little confusing since we didn't know how big the downstairs area would be. Did we spend enough time up stairs or should we stay longer? We had no idea, but we decided to see what was downstairs, since we were starting to get a little tired. "City Train World" was a room with different kinds of train related legos, and it didn't take us long to move on. The tour ended at the souvenir shop. 

Overall I think that the Legoland Discovery Center was a little bit disappointing. Or maybe I was just expecting too much, as I thought I was in an actual Legoland. If you are planning to visit this place, you should consider getting tickets beforehand online, since they are cheaper that way. There is a cafeteria inside the discovery center, however we ate at the mall where they had more to choose from. There is so much to do for kids and families at this mall. 

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Legoland Discovery Center can be found from: Odaiba 1-6-1 Decks Tokyo Beach Island Mall 3F, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 135-0091, Japan.

 

10 Things to Know Before Traveling to Japan

Paula Gaston

We were in Japan for the first time last November, and it was one of the best trips we have ever done. Japan is a beautiful country, and it was interesting to see this totally different kind of culture. I noticed a few things during our trip that are good to know if you are planning to travel to Japan, and what I wished I would have known before our trip. Here are some of them:

1. THE JAPANESE LOVE THE SILENCE

As coming from Finland where we also are used to the silence, this is actually not a problem, but I did have to ask my husband to speak quieter a few times during our trip. You especially notice the silence on the trains. People speak very quietly and mute their phones and tablets. There were also signs about this in the hotel rooms and AirBnB rooms.  

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2. REMOVE YOUR SHOES WHEN INSIDE

Japanese people don't wear shoes inside, so it is usually expected that you remove your shoes in hotel rooms and many other places. Also in some restaurants it is polite to remove your shoes. Many places offer some slippers that you can wear and sometimes even keep for yourself. Even the old castles that we visited required people to leave their shoes by the door or carry them in a plastic bag during the tour. 

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3. MANY PEOPLE WEAR FACE MASKS. WHY?

You will see people with paper face masks everywhere but don't worry, it doesn't mean that every one of them is sick. Some people wear masks to protect themselves from germs and some wear them during the allergy season to prevent pollen getting into their nose. The Japanese also think that it is polite to protect other people when you get sick by using a mask.

4. DON'T TAKE PICTURES OF JAPANESE PEOPLE

People in Japan are not happy about tourists photographing them and especially without asking permission first. And it is not very polite anyway. However, in many places, especially at famous sites, it is impossible to take pictures without having some strange people in it. At those places people know there is a chance they will end up in someone's home album, so you don't worry too much about it. 

If you visit Kyoto and it's famous Geisha district in Gion, you should know that photographing geishas with their customers is a big NO NO!

5. THE JAPAN RAIL PASS CAN SAVE YOU A LOT OF MONEY

If you are planning to travel from one city to another, you should consider buying a Japan Rail Pass. Train tickets are not very cheap, and already the price of a couple tickets will make the JR Pass worthwhile. With the pass, you can travel as much as you want, and you can even use JR trains in Tokyo instead of the metro. Just don't forget that you have to purchase the pass before entering the country. You can read more about the JR Pass from here.  

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6. THE GHIBLI MUSEUM IS ALWAYS SOLD OUT

In case you are interested in anime and are dreaming about a visit to the famous Ghibli museum, you should buy the tickets early. They only sell a certain amount of tickets for each day and they have to be purchased beforehand. There are no ticket sales at the museum. The tickets usually sell out months before. We tried to get ours two months ahead and they were already all gone. You can always ask for last minute tickets from the local convenient store Lawson, which seems to have also opened an online sales site since we were there. 

7. THE FAMOUS JAPANESE TOILETS

We had some Japanese toilets at work, and there were all kinds of features in them from integrated bidet to warming seat. One interesting feature was the noise button; either music or water sounds that will make sure other people won't hear you on the toilet. And you don't really need toilet paper for these toilets, since there are many different bidet options on them.

When we travelled to Japan, I was thinking that all the "Japanese toilets" were that sophisticated, but there were also "western toilets" which we are used to in the US. But then there were also the traditional squat toilets known as an "Asian toilet". So when going to the restroom, you might have several choices to choose from. 

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8. WHY JAPANESE WOMEN CARRY A TOWEL WITH THEM

There usually aren't any paper towels in Japanese restrooms. So if you don't want to walk out with wet hands, do what Japanese women do; carry a small towel in your purse. In case you forgot to bring one from home, no need to worry, almost every store sells some. 

9. PEOPLE LOVE KIDS IN JAPAN - ALSO IN RESTAURANTS

We were traveling with our 4 year old daughter and got a lot of extra attention because of her. Compared to local people, she is a blond with sandy blond hair and hazel eyes, which might be why people wanted to talk to her, but also in general everyone seemed to like kids. Our daughter got little gifts and origamis from people on the street, and lots of smiles when we were out.

We wondered how we would cope at the local restaurants since our daughter didn't know how to use chopsticks yet. But no need to worry! In almost every restaurant they brought her a kids plastic plate with spoon and fork.

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10. DON'T EXPECT EVERYONE TO SPEAK ENGLISH

Even though you will find most signs and instructions in English, many people don't speak English or do so with difficulty. It is always a good idea to learn some common phrases in Japanese which will be helpful in restaurants and stores. And it is of course polite to know how to say "hello" and "thank you" in the local language. Language was pretty much the only thing giving us trouble on our trip, and especially buying the train tickets in Japanese. But people there are extremely friendly and helpful, and always ready to guide you. 

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Do you have some good tips for people who travel to Japan for the first time?

 

10 Travel Pictures from My Past

Paula Gaston

We just finished a road trip in California, but before sharing those stories, I decided to participate in a blog challenge which I have seen in several Finnish travel blogs. I got the picture themes from Ne Tammelat -blog (which is in Finnish) and anyone who has a blog is welcome to join.

So here are my 10 (and even few extra) travel photos:

A PERFECT MOMENT

I love Filoli Gardens in the San Franciscon Bay Area. You can find many hidden spots in the garden and they have also filmed the television show Dynasty over there. Both spring and summer time are the best times to visit Filoli, and I did write about our visit there about a year ago.

THE TRADITIONAL TOURIST POSE

Is there anything more traditional than this? I think everyone who has ever visited Paris has posed in front of the Eiffel Tower. This picture is from 2008.

FROM AS FAR AWAY AS YOU HAVE BEEN

When looking for this picture I was first trying to figure out if I should use a picture that was taken far away from my home country Finland, or my current home in California. I think Japan is pretty far from both of those places, so I chose a picture from our trip to Kyoto to see Fushimi-Inari-Taisha. 

IN THE HEART OF THE BIG CITY

Even though I have seen several big cities, I think Tokyo is the winner here. It was just so hectic and crowded, but also cool at the same time. 

ZZZ - TIRED OF TRAVELING

You can't get anymore tired than this! I was traveling from Finland via Sweden to Chicago when my flight was delayed over six hours due to thunder storms. Then they added an extra flight on my route so I flew to Philadelphia first. I finally made it to Chicago, but my luggage didn't. Oh well, that happens! 

SUNSET

I can't really use a sunset picture from anywhere else than California. California sunsets are the best! 

TREATS ON TRIPS

I have always liked Mexican food but who ordered all this? Ooops! There is no way two girls can eat all this! 

We like to treat ourselves with some good food and wine on our trips. This picture is from San Diego.

A FAMOUS PLACE WHICH WAS A DISAPPOINTMENT

I had to really think about this since I usually always find something interesting in each place. I chose this picture from Jerusalem since I mostly just remember chaos and queues from this place. We did a day trip from Eilat to Jerusalem and we only had limited time to explore the place. Maybe if I had more time there I would have been able to see all the beautiful places in the city. 

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR A GOOD PHOTO

It seems like I have a lot of these pictures.. ha ha. The two first ones are from Lake Tahoe, California and the last one is from Yosemite National Park.

A PICTURE FROM A ROAD TRIP

On our road trip in Northern California we drove thru this redwood tree. It was such a fun trip! If you want to hear about our newest road trip and where we went... stay tuned! More about it on my blog soon! 

 

If you want to participate in the blog challenge, here is the list of themes for photos. Please link my blog (Gone with the Wine) in your post and I would love to read your stories, so if you have time to leave a link to your on a comment, that would be great. Have fun!

1. A Perfect Moment
2. The Traditional Tourist pose
3. From as Far Away as You Have Been
4. In the Heart of the Big City
5. Zzz – Tired of Traveling
6. Sunset
7. Treats on Trips
8. A Famous Place Which Was a Disappointment
9. I Would Do Anything for a Good Photo
10. A Picture from a Road Trip