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.