Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Chasing Cherry Blossoms in Japan - Fujisan

Golden rule. Must not start a new trip without writing about the old one. It has been over three months and we have not been anywhere! Very rare for us. But with some major changes coming up, it has been kinda hard to plan anything. We put our foot down at the fourth month though. :) So, July has a good trek lined up. Treks are more up S' alley, so she is counting days while I am hoping we don't have to camp in snow. Anyway. I thought I should finish the Japan posts before we start packing our backpacks.

Kawaguchiko is a small sleepy town at the base of Mt. Fuji. The reason we wanted to see Mt. Fuji was simple. S had made a scrapbook about Japan in third grade. And she clearly remembered putting a pic of Fujisan there (while she doesn't remember names of people she met yesterday!). :D Kawaguchiko looked like our kind of a town - small, less people and very picturesque. The journey from Kyoto to Kawaguchiko just took forever! From Kyoto to Osaka, then Yokohama, Hachioji, Otsuki and finally Kawaguchiko. We have become such seasoned sleepers, that we managed a shuteye through the multiple change overs!
Last leg of travel to Kawaguchiko

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Chasing Cherry Blossoms in Japan - Hiroshima

Hiroshima shook me up. The peace memorial museum has this big picture of a pocket watch which shows the time of the bomb drop and these words  -

A dragonfly flitted in front of me
and stopped on a fence.
I stood up, took my cap in my hands,
and was about to catch the dragonfly
when.....

And you are standing right in front of it, reading these lines. I remember there was a hum in my ears drowning out thoughts and people around me. I spent about an hour there. An hour that felt like an eternity. An hour after which I had goosebumps in the sun. An hour after which I had to run to catch a breath. Photos after photos of such magnitude of tragedy that your life would seem royal. There was a stone wall kept on display which had the imprint of a man who was burned in the bombing. Heart rending stories about kids who never saw another day. Burnt clothes, burnt hair and memoirs of people who survived. Barely. This was my birthday eve. There was no party. No music. Just one single realization. That I must count my blessings. Every single day. That I must live without a complain or a regret. They say travel teaches you many life's lessons in the simplest of ways. This was one of those days.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Guest Post: Naren's Cross Country Road Trip

I've always been a fan of road trips. Well, ever since I learnt how to drive. And in America, road trips are a way of life. A cross-country road trip from coast to coast was always on the cards, and when I had two weeks for the Christmas vacation, I knew it was the best chance to strike it off the bucket list.

The planning started around 2 months before the trip. I wanted to travel from California on the west coast all the way to Florida on the east, taking a route along the southern coast. This would help avoid the cold weather that almost all of the USA was grappling with. Thus the route I planned was:

Sacramento - Bakersfield - Lake Havasu City - Phoenix - Tucson - El Paso - Austin - Houston - New Orleans - Pensacola - Clearwater - Daytona - Miami - Key West

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Chasing Cherry Blossoms in Japan - Kyoto

After Osaka, we moved to Kyoto. It takes about thirty minutes by train. This was the day we started using the JR Pass. We missed out on getting the pass stamped at the Kansai airport, so had to run around a bit for it. For ignoramus, the rail pass needs to be stamped before you start travel and that can be done only at select locations in Japan. So, we reached Kyoto in the afternoon sometime and checked in to the Khao San hostel, very close to the Gion area. All the hostels we stayed in Japan were awesome. Extremely well equipped, comfy and warmth inducing. Almost at par, if not better, than European hostels.
Awesome hostel!
Oh S read the first post and quoting her in as many words - 'Your post sucked. No wit.' :D So, now there is an added pressure to be witty while writing about a city, which is kinda difficult. While the first para is clearly bordering on boring, I hope to throw in a joke or two somewhere down the line. Bear with me please.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Chasing Cherry Blossoms in Japan - Osaka

Cherry Blossoms or Sakura season in Japan. Put it down on your list right away. Japan is a beautiful country in every season, but this one particular season is spectacular. Not just how pretty and pink everything is around this time, but there is an infectious happy vibe that catches on real quick.

Thanks to Air Asia, return tickets from Chennai to Osaka was about 26k INR. Most of my travel plans start with an impulsive ticket purchase at a weird hour of the night. The impulsive bit is mostly S, and not me. But then, I get convinced easy. :) Cheap tickets were available only in the last week of March, and not first week of April (peak cherry blossom season). We booked any which way and did regret a little bit, the first few days. On hindsight, I think it was a good trade-off.

Our itinerary - Osaka -> Nara -> Kyoto -> Hiroshima -> Mt. Fuji -> Tokyo -> Osaka

Japanese visa is easy peasy. Took about 3 days, not many documents and the cost of visa was 600 INR. I always end up judging a place by its visa procedures. And Japan was already on my good side. The only other thing which you must do before entering Japan is book the Japan Rail Pass. You cannot order it once you are in Japan and it is an absolute essential as a tourist there. The Shinkansen bullet trains make long distance travel ridiculously easy. The train maps are super tough to read. We used to just go to the JR Pass counters and ask the officers to write down the train timing and platform. By far, the easiest way to figure your way around. Oh remember to reserve a seat during peak travel seasons. Doesn't cost a dime and makes life much simpler. All trains run with a few non-reserved coaches, just in case you miss reservations.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Istanbul - Love at First Sight!

If you ever had to fall head over heels in love with a city, that too the moment you set your eyes on it, it is definitely Istanbul. Even Bombay takes its own sweet time to woo you. But Istanbul is a heady affair right from the very beginning. The domes, the minarets, the cafes, the skyline, the people. The city has a vibe like no other city.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Turkey - Connecting the Dots

The transit time in Turkey was well used, writing posts. And there was quite a bit of transit time. But we got to start at the beginning right? We had thought about Turkey quite a few times, but we wanted it to be a Christmas-y plan. Then, someone mentioned it snows around that time and we threw the December plan out of the window. We like warm places. As is evident by my extremely long stay in Chennai. So, one of those nights when S and I were randomly checking ticket prices for random dates, October and Turkey clicked and we booked. Just like that.

Itinerary

Istanbul -> Cappadocia -> Antalya -> Kas -> Fethiye/Oludeniz -> Pamukkale -> Ephesus -> Izmir -> Istanbul

Monday, January 6, 2014

Kasol - India's Amsterdam

If you know Kasol, you probably know what I mean. You know the phrase grass is greener on the other side? Kasol is the other side. It is greener and happier. Oh well, it is the mother of all happy places.
Parvati River - Kasol