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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

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 Tag: Nara

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

 

10 Travel Pictures from My Past, Vol 3

Paula Gaston

Every once in a while you can see some travel picture blog challenges going around. I have done it twice and showed you some pictures from my trips around the world. It is always fun to see people's travel photos, and it is even more fun to find some from your own albums. So many memories! 

So here it comes! Travel Pictures from My Past, Vol 3. The first photos you can find from here:

10 Travel Pictures from My Past
10 Travel Pictures from My Past, Vol 2

 

MY ALL TIME FAVORITE SHOT

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This photo quickly became one of my favorites. My family! And now we also have one more tiny traveller, but when the photo was taken, we were only three people. This picture was taken in Nara, Japan. We visited Todaiji Temple to see the world's biggest Buddha. The temple is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and it truly was worth going to. 

A SURPRISING SITUATION

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When we travelled to Japan, I was dreaming about seeing a geisha. Then I found out, that it is actually pretty difficult to find them, and there is only 200 of them left. One night we were strolling around the Gion Geisha District when we heard this jingling noise. Suddenly a geisha walked by us. That night, we ended up seeing several geishas on their way to work. I will never forget it!

A GEM FOUND NEARBY

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On our Christmas trip last year, we stopped in Solvang, here in California. Even though I had been there shortly before, I was surprised how much I liked visiting this Danish style town. We walked around downtown, stopped in little shops and ate some danishes. Perfect! 

WHITE SAND AND TURQUOISE WATER

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In California, when in need of paradise, it's time to head to Hawaii. There you can lay on the sand and snorkel in the turquoise water. I would really love to go snorkeling again. All those colorful fish and corals are so beautiful! This picture is from Big Island.

WHEN I THINK ABOUT THE WORD FREEDOM

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We have driven through Nevada several times, and it looks like this at it's best and worst. The total freedom to do what ever you want and go where ever you want! It is both exciting and a little bit scary to drive through the open desert. On this trip we drove through an Indian reservation, saw some Joshua Trees and wild horses, and got stuck in a snow storm. Anything can happen in Nevada!

IDYLLIC LIFE

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It is pretty cozy to stuff yourself inside the smallest pub in England with a bunch of other people for a pint. And I can tell you, the pub is really tiny! But it was fun to visit there. 

LUXURY IS...

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It is absolutely a luxury to fly in business class sometimes, especially when flying with All Nippon Airlines. The service was spotless, and the food was way better than that served in many restaurants with lots of stars. If I could always fly like this, I wonder if I would always arrive as happy and without jet lag to my destination.

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ARHITECTURE 

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The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen. Many pictures from Japan could have also been used here, but I decided to go with this one from Saint Petersburg, Russia. The whole city is full of beautiful buildings on the inside and outside. 

A BITTERSWEET MEMORY

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I am still a little bitter about the way my trip to Israel and Jordan went. I was picked up by the border control at both borders for a special check up. In Jordan, a whole bus load of people had to wait for me to get through border control. In the end, everything went well, and my trip was a success, but I still remember sitting in the back room of customs. Although, now it seems like one big adventure.

IT HAS TAKEN TOO LONG TO GO VISIT THIS PLACE AGAIN

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There are so many pictures that I could have used on this topic. Since we just had a baby six months ago, I haven't been able to visit Finland in a very long time. This is actually the longest, I have ever been without visiting my home country. I chose this picture from the Snow Castle of Kemi, since it has been several years that I have been there. We rarely travel to Finland during the winter, and every year I think how cool it would be to visit the Snow Castle again. Well, maybe next year...

 

In case you are interested in participating in this challenge, you can copy the list of the topics from here. Originally this was started by a Finnish blog Journey diary. If you do write a post about it, I would love to read it. Please link it to my comments, and also link my blog on your post so we can find each other's posts easily.

1. My all time favorite shot
2. A surprising situation
3. A gem found nearby
4. White sand and turqoise water
5. When I think about the word freedom
6. Idyllic life
7. Luxury is... 
8. The most beautiful arhitecture
9. A bittersweet memory
10. It has taken too long to go visit this place again

 

10 Travel Pictures from My Past, Vol 2

Paula Gaston

Last spring I posted 10 Travel Pictures from My Past. It was fun to look at pictures from my past trips and try to find ones that would fit into the post. Now this blog challenge is back again, and here are my new photos for it:
 

WING FROM THE WINDOW

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This photo is from our return trip from Utah to California with a beautiful sunset. On this trip we visited Arches National Park, Salt Lake City and we were able to swim in a hot crater at Homestead Resort


BEST PHOTO YOU ACCIDENTALLY NAILED

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Everyone knows that San Francisco can get pretty foggy sometimes. And when that happens, it happens very quickly and often hides the whole of the Golden Gate Bridge. While taking this picture we were trying to get some souvenir pictures with our guests from Finland. We were not quite fast enough, but instead of ruining the picture, the fog actually made it look pretty cool.


A TRAVEL PICTURE THAT MAKES YOU SMILE

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When we visited Disneyland in Anaheim, California, all my daughter wanted was to see Minnie Mouse. So all I can say about this picture is that it makes me very happy!


NATURE PICTURE

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Some years ago, I stayed in Iceland for a month. The most memorable thing was the varied beautiful nature. I have heard that since then, the tourism there have exploded, but I was able to enjoy everything without too much hassle. The picture is from Skogafoss waterfall. 


UP AND HIGH

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This picture is from Basel Switzerland, where we climbed up 242 steps to the bell tower of the Basel Minster. The view from up there was amazing!


A POSTCARD IMAGE

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Kyoto, Japan has been one of the most amazing places I have visited. There is so much to see in the town, that I could easily do another trip there. The Golden Pavillion, where this picture is from, was extremely crowded.

TRAVEL BUDDIES

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During the years I have traveled with many kinds of people. When I was a kid, we of course traveled with my mom and dad, and then later with friends. Today, I mostly travel with my own family, who are in the picture; all but our 2 month old who missing from it. This picture is from Nara, Japan, where we visited the Giant Buddha in Todai-ji Temple.


CHILLIN UNDER A PALM TREE

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For some reason it was hard for me to find a picture where I'm under a palm tree. So maybe I don't do that very often, even though we live in California. Coming from Scandinavia, I can't ever get used to the palm trees and seeing them always makes me feel good. This picture was taken some years ago in Los Angeles. 

By the way, did you know that palm trees are not native to California, and they were all planted?


"GOOD MORNING" PICTURE

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One of the best breakfasts I have ever had! We had long waited to visit Hawaii's Big Island again, and we finally went back last year. Since we were jet lagged in the beginning of our trip, we were always up early enough to be the first ones at breakfast. And because of that, we always got to choose the best table of the house and enjoy the sunrise.


FAVORITE CITY

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As my favorite city, I chose San Francisco, since we live right next to it and I love it! Even though there are many other awesome cities in the world that I really like too. But I will never get bored with San Francisco!

 

In case you are interested in participating in this challenge, you can copy the list of the topics from here. Originally this was started by a Finnish blog Journey diary. If you do write a post about it, I would love to read it. Please link it to my comments, and also link my blog on your post so we can find each other's posts easily.

1. Wing from the Window
2. Best photo you accidentally nailed
3. Travel Photo that Makes You Smile
4. Nature Picture
5. Up and High
6. A Postcard Image
7. Travel Buddies
8. Chillin Under a Palm Tree
9. "Good morning" Picture
10. Favorite city

Nara, Japan - Home to Tame Deer and a Giant Buddha

Paula Gaston

If you are visiting Kyoto, Japan, or close by, do not skip the town of Nara. It is full of history, old buildings and interesting things to see. We spent a day in Nara and fell in love with this unique and compact town. We originally planned to drop it off from our travel list if we get too busy, but luckily we didn't. It ended up being one of the best days on our trip to Japan.

Nara was established at the same time as buddhism started to take root in Japan. Because of that, a huge amount of cultural history was born in Nara, like temples and statues. Nara has seven temples listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, most of them are close to Nara Park. Nara was Japan's first permanent capital from 710 to 784.

We arrived in Nara by train, and walked to Nara Park to visit the temples over there. There is a bus going from the railway station to the sights, but we like to walk and see some local life. Right when we got to the park area, we saw some of Nara's famous tame deer. They are sacred to the Kasuga Shrine. There are over 1000 deer roaming freely in Nara, and they are very friendly. You can pet them and feed them and take pictures with them. I was surprised at how calm they were. Only a couple of them followed us around and tried to poke my husband in hopes of getting some food. Other than that, even our 4 year old was able to pet the deer. If visiting here, bring some small change since they sell deer crackers in the park so you can feed them. 

We have tons of pictures of the deer, and the fall colours were beautiful in Nara Park. The park is huge and you can easily spend hours just walking around there.  

We have tons of pictures of the deer, and the fall colours were beautiful in Nara Park. The park is huge and you can easily spend hours just walking around there.  

KOHFUKU-JI TEMPLE

The area of temples in Nara Park is impressive. At first, we arrived at Kohfuku-ji Temple and the five storey pagoda next to it. They are both on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Kohfuku-ji was originally built in 669 but it was transferred to it's current location in 710. Inside the temple is a museum of national treasures. 

The five storey pagoda is a symbol of Nara, and is right next to the Kohfuku-ji Temple. It was rebuilt in 1426 after it burned down several times. 

The five storey pagoda is a symbol of Nara, and is right next to the Kohfuku-ji Temple. It was rebuilt in 1426 after it burned down several times. 

TODAI-JI AND THE GREAT BUDDHA

One of the most memorable places we visited on our trip to Japan was the Todai-ji Temple, and the Great Buddha inside it. The current temple is from the year 1709 and is only two thirds of it's original size. But it still is the biggest wooden building in the world. Two temples before this one were destroyed in fires. Over 2 million people helped with the re-construction of the giant buddha and the temple, 350, 000 were actually building the temple. All the bronze in Japan was used in the Great Buddha, and the government of Japan nearly bankrupted the country due to this project. The buddha itself (Daibutsu) was ready in the year 751, and after that it has been repaired after some earthquakes and other damage.

It is hard to describe my feelings when I first saw the temple and the Great Buddha. For some reason I wasn't expecting anything this beautiful. The temple looked magnificent against the blue, sunny sky, and the Buddha was really huge. Pictures don't really do justice to this place. Next to the Great Buddha, there were two Boddhisatva statues, and a small souvenir shop. 

What a lovely day, and a great city! I truly recommend everyone travelling in Japan to visit Nara!

 

Taking a Train around Japan

Paula Gaston

The most convenient way to travel around Japan is by train. It is both easy and fun. We travelled by train daily inside Tokyo, but we also took a train to multiple different cities in Japan. Someday, I would love to do a longer trip around Japan by train, but on our first visit to the country, we also wanted to spend a lot of time in Tokyo. From Shinjuku, Tokyo we travelled to Kyoto, and from there we did a day trip to Nara. Then we took a train to Himeji and from there to Hiroshima. At last, we returned to Akihabara in Tokyo. We sat in many kinds of trains, and even stood one time when the train was totally full. 

WHY THE TRAIN?

When travelling by train, you can relax and enjoy the views, or even write your blog. You don't need to think about navigating, parking or road tolls. My husband is from the USA where people are used travelling mostly by car, so he asked right away, why aren't we renting one. After a little bit of research, I found out that going around the country by train is the easiest way in Japan. They sell a separate train pass, called Japan Rail Pass for travellers from foreign countries, which makes riding a train quite affordable. When travelling by train you don't have to worry about driving on the left side of traffic, or learning new traffic rules. It can also be quite expensive to park in the larger cities, and I figured that we would probably get lost quite often. Tokyo is huge!  Or we would get stuck in the traffic. The word "traffic jam" makes every Californian sweat since we fight against the traffic every day. So in the end, it was pretty a clear choice to travel by train in Japan. 

Sometimes we were wondering about the tiny parking spots in Japan. I´m so glad I didn´t have to try backing up a car over here!

Sometimes we were wondering about the tiny parking spots in Japan. I´m so glad I didn´t have to try backing up a car over here!

The bad side of travelling by train is that you will have to drag along all your luggage, but that can be overcome by bringing slightly smaller bags. I had read somewhere, that there is not much space to store your luggage in Japanese trains, so we made an effort to be among the first passengers when boarding. That was unnecessary. Our backpacks and umbrella stroller for our daughter fit just fine in every train. The only time we had problems with trains, was when we took a bullet train from Hiroshima to Tokyo on Friday morning. The faster train was fully booked, so we were directed to a slower train in which the Japan Rail Pass didn't entitle us to reserved seats, and then had to switch to the bullet train in the city of Kobe. The slower train was over it's capacity, and there were only two cars reserved for people without reserved seats. We survived by standing in the hallway by the doors, and in an hour we were able to change to the Hikari Shinkansen bullet train. If possible, I would recommend avoiding trains on Fridays and Sundays since they do get very crowded on those days, or at least make sure you get a reserved seat. 

HOW?

We used Google Maps to see what routes we should use, and what kind of trains are going to our destination. Google usually got the route correct, but it didn´t tell us what kind of train would take us there the fastest. And of course, it didn´t know that we had the JR Pass, so it often suggested other train lines first. We tried out a couple other train apps, but ended up using mostly only Google Maps. And we quickly noticed that visiting the JR office before travelling was worth it. They told us when the next available train leaves, and wether we can reserve seats with the JR pass or not. They also told us how to find the platform for the train we were taking. Some of the stations were huge, and it took some time to walk through the whole station to find the correct platform. The staff didn´t always speak much English, but they were very friendly and helpful. 

The trains usually run on time and there is plenty of them, so most of the time we didn´t even look at the time tables before going to the station. The longest time we waited for a train was 45 minutes, and even that went fast when we had to walk to the other end of the station to find the platform. We often also wanted to buy some snacks from the many stores that they had at the station. For the local trains or metros the wait time was usually only 10 to 20 minutes. A couple times we happened to take the train from its starting station where you had to wait for the train to be cleaned first. The cleaners literally ran through the train while cleaning. The trains in Japan were very clean. 

Japanese people talk very quietly or not at all in the train, since they don´t want to disturb other passengers. I also read from somewhere, that eating in the train is not polite. However, after we saw many of the Japanese opening their lunch boxes in the train, we ended up eating ours too. In the bullet train you can also buy coffee, tea and snacks from a sales trolley going around the train. Conductors were always very polite when talking to them, and they always bowed when leaving the car. 

THE JAPAN RAIL PASS IS WORTH PURCHASING

The JR Pass aka Japan Rail Pass must be ordered before traveling to Japan. If you plan on using the train in Japan, you should do a little bit of math before purchasing train tickets. Train tickets in Japan are not very cheap, so the JR Pass will be worth purchasing already if you plan to take the train a few times among the trips from the airport and back. 

The Japan Rail Pass is only sold for people entering the country with a tourist visa, not for example the citizens of Japan. There are passes with different durations, and you can use them in most trains around Japan, in JR busses and JR ferries. You can also use it on the bullet train (shinkansen). Using the JR Pass is very easy. When you want to activate your pass, you simply go to the nearest JR office and they stamp it. For example, we bought passes valid for two weeks which were activated in the Narita Airport. When activating your rail pass, you must fill out your information on it and show your passport. They also helped us to find a train to our destination and made seat reservations for us. Our 4 year old daughter didn´t need to pay for the pass but she didn´t get reserved seats on the train. In case of a full train, she would have had to sit on our lap but that only happened once. When entering the platform, you must show your rail pass to personnel who then let you in. The same goes when exiting the train. 

You can use the JR Pass in most other trains except for private lines and metros. You can also use it on the Yamanote Line which goes around Tokyo, so it is easy to go from one prefecture to another. When looking for accommodations we chose to get apartments and hotels close to this line, so we didn't have to use the metro so much. JR stations are marked with a big, green JR logo. 

There are two different kinds of passes for sale, and you can choose from several different durations. We purchased the regular pass, but there is also a so called "Green Pass". With the green pass you get to travel in more spacious first class "green cars", but you must remember to make a seat reservation before entering the train.

We got our JR Passes from here, but also some airlines and travel agencies sell them. 

BULLET TRAINS

The bullet train (shinkansen) looks quite futuristic from outside but from inside is like a normal train. Some of them had three seats on one side of the car, and two on the other side. Inside the train you don't really feel the high speed even though they go as fast as 320 kilometres in an hour. The fastest bullet train, Nozomi Shinkansen is excluded from the JR Pass, but Hikari Shinkansen, which we used often, is only a couple minutes slower than Nozomi. And depending where in Japan you are, there are also other types of bullet trains. 

OTHER TRAINS

Other trains in Japan that you might run into, and you can use with the JR Pass are Tokkyū (Limited Express), Kyūkō (Express), Kaisoku (Rapid) and Futsū (Local). We used for example the Rapid train and local trains, but we never quite learned which trains the JR Pass would allow us reserved seats. The local trains work the same way as the metro, so we didn't even ask for the reservations, but there are so many other trains and it got us a little bit confused. And of course, there are more trains that listed here, but at least for these you can use the JR Pass. 

METRO

In the biggest cities we mostly used metros to the places where JR trains didn't go. On the first day, we were a little bit confused how to buy tickets since there are different lines that require different tickets. Most of the ticket machines work in English, and the bigger stations have staff standing next to ticket machines ready to help passengers who are buying tickets. You can buy either a one time ticket, or if you think you will be using the metro often, you can load money on a prepaid metro pass. Surprisingly fast we learned how to read metro maps, and we used the metro in both Tokyo and Kyoto.

The busy hours for the metro seemed to be in the early morning and in the evening after 5 pm. In the middle of the day, we never had problems finding a seat in the train. Most stations had an elevator which we used since our daughter was sitting in a stroller, but otherwise you should prepare yourself for a lot of walking at the stations. 

Good luck purchasing a metro ticket from here! Well, luckily you can switch the language into English, and if you still have trouble, you can press the "help" button. Then that little door on the right upper corner opens, and a staff members head comes out... and Voila, soon you have a ticket in your hand!

Good luck purchasing a metro ticket from here! Well, luckily you can switch the language into English, and if you still have trouble, you can press the "help" button. Then that little door on the right upper corner opens, and a staff members head comes out... and Voila, soon you have a ticket in your hand!

Travelling by train in Japan is both fun and exciting!