Koekohe Beach, Otago Coast
South Island, New Zealand
Entries in Travel (606)
Koekohe Beach, Otago Coast
At the end of August I was back in Japan for a business trip. At the end of a long work week I was looking forward to a fun weekend of sightseeing before heading home Sunday afternoon.
I wanted to visit Sado Island on Saturday so I planned to stay in the city of Niigata (新潟) on Friday night to be able to grab the first ferry to the island in the morning. After arriving in Niigata and checking into my hotel I decided to venture out a bit since the night was still young. In doing a little research on Niigata I had read about Ponshukan (ぽんしゅ館), which offered sake tasting. Niigata prefecture is famous for its rice and sake so it seemed like a great way to enjoy the evening.
In Japan there is a vending machine for just about everything so I wasn't too surprised to learn upon arriving that the sake tasting was done by vending machine. For ¥500 (about 4 USD) I got five tokens and a little tasting cup with each tasting costing one token.
After paying my money and receiving my sake cup and tokens I was ready to start but with over a hundred types of sake from Niigata prefecture to choose from it was hard to know where to begin. Each sake had a number assigned to it for easy identification. After walking around a bit I randomly decided to try number 50 (越後長岡藩, Echigo Nagaoka-han).
Pouring the sake was quite easy. First you place the cup so that it sits in the hole in the metal grate. After you deposit your gold token you press and hold the yellow button until the sake finishes pouring.
After my first tasting I noticed two huge chalkboards off to the side. The left side had staff recommendations and the right side had the top ten rankings from the previous month. I decided that this might be a better guide for my tasting and decided to try the top three ranked sakes, number 25 (越後鶴亀 Echigo Tsurukame), 103(地上の星, Chijonohoshi) and 55 (越の寒中梅, Koshi no Kanchubai). For my last sake tasting I skiped the fourth ranking sake and tried the fifth, number 92, purely because it was called Cowboy and I couldn't resist the name.
One of the neatest things about Ponshukan was that each sake vending station had a tiny purple map of Niigata prefecture on its label with a red star showing the location of the sake brewery. If the sake was a staff selection or one of the top ranked it also had a white label by it. I also thought it was cool that they had a large map of Niigata prefecture on one of the walls with all of the types of sake shown by location so that if you wanted to try something from a particular region you could identify it.
After I finished my sake tasting I wandered around the store. There was a huge selection of sake that you could purchase so I picked up a bottle of my favorite from the tasting, Echigo Tsurukame, to bring home. It was only ¥1296 (less than 11 USD) so I couldn't resist.
In addition to sake, the Ponshukan was full of foodstuffs made in Niigata Prefecture. They had a bunch of soy sauces that you could try and I ended up loving and buying a bottle of garlic soy sauce for ¥540 (about 4.50 USD) that was fantastic.
Tucked in the back were some fun t-shirts. There was a black one with a map of Niigata prefecture made out of white silhouettes of famous foods from Niigata that was just too awesome for me not to buy.
I had a great time sake tasting at Ponshukan plus I was able to bring home some fun souvenirs. It is a good half hour stop when traveling in Niigata City and I recommend it especially if you are a sake or food lover.
Ponshukan is located on the third floor of the CoCoLo Niigata West building which is just southwest of the Niigata train station. At the time of this writing the store is open from 9:00-21:00, however the sake tasting is only available from 9:30-20:30.
One of the best things that Frank and I did while we were in Luxor was to go for a sunrise hot air balloon ride. Having arrived the night before on an evening flight from Cairo the aerial view was a fantastic first introduction to the area before we started exploring the sights.
We were picked up from our hotel a little after four am and shuttled to a dock on the Nile. On board we enjoyed tea while we were ferried to the West Bank.
After arriving on the West Bank we were driven to a large field where the hot air balloons were being inflated. It was a beautiful and fascinating process to watch.
Once our balloon was ready we climbed into the basket and got safety instructions from the balloon pilot. We did a little practice of how to crouch and hold the basket straps for the landing and then we were off. The lift off was so gentle that it was hard to even notice until we saw the ground receding away from us.
We started by floating over the ancient ruins on the West Bank. We had fabulous views of the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut and the Ramessuem.
We continued floating over the West Bank enjoying views of the fields and town.
One of the most fascinating things was to watch the farmers at work in their fields in the early morning before the day became too hot. While we were in Egypt it was sugar cane harvest season and we saw smoke plumes rising from fires in the fields below. To make harvesting easier the sugar cane fields are set on fire to burn off the leaves while leaving the stalks intact.
We continued floating along over the Nile to the East Bank. The sunrise was lovely and we had great views over the town as well as Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple.
After about an hour in the air it was time to land. When the pilot directed us we got into our crouched landing position. We lightly bounced off the ground once before finally coming to a stop in a field that had recently been harvested.
The last thing I would ever be accused of is being a morning person, but getting up before the crack of dawn was completely worth the experience of the balloon ride. It was my first time in a hot air balloon and I would love to do it again.
Things have been a bit of a blur for me lately. In a six week span I visited four countries, four states and had been on seventeen flights. Add some very long work days and a lot of spring yard work into the mix after I finally got home and needless to say things have been a little crazy. I have so much to share and plan to start posting again soon with life settling down a bit. In the meantime I thought I would share collages of my Instagram pictures from my recent travels.
New York, London, Madaba, Jordan's Rift Valley...
Kerak, Petra, Saqqara, Mephis, Giza, Cairo...
Luxor, Valley of the Kings, Esna, Cruising on the Nile, El Kab, Edfou...
More Cruising on the Nile, Djebel Silsileh, Kom Ombo, Aswan, Rome...
More Rome, Vatican City, Los Angeles...
More Los Angeles, Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Seattle...
Seattle, Phoenix, Tonto National Forest...
On a recent trip to Japan at the end of February I decided I wanted to visit the famous hot springs town Kusatsu Onsen on the weekend. After I finished work on Friday evening I took the train to Karuizawa (軽井沢) to spend the night since it was too late to continue on to Kusatsu Onsen that evening. As long as I was in Karuizawa I decided to do a little exploring the next morning before catching my bus to Kusatsu Onsen.
Karuizawa is known for being a tranquil place in the mountains to escape the summer heat in Japan and it seemed to be fairly quiet in the winter while I was there. As I set out walking in the morning it was really lovely strolling along the tree lined streets with remnants of a recent snow fall.
My first stop was Kumoba Pond (雲場池), which is known for its beautiful views in the autumn reflecting the colored leaves on the still water. The name Kumoba means "Cloud Place" and refers to the frequent mists that linger over the pond but while I was there the sky was bright and clear.
As lovely as the pond was, I found the little stream that ran beside the pond to be even more enchanting with its moss lined banks dusted with snow.
From Kumoba Pond I headed through more tree lined streets toward Kyu-Karuizawa (旧軽井沢), the old part of town. The main street through the area, Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza (旧軽井沢銀座), was fairly deserted with most shops indicating an eleven am opening time but I could imagine quite a bustling scene in the summer.
I turned off Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza to visit St. Paul's Catholic Church (聖パウロカトリック教会). Built in 1935 the rustic wood church was designed by Czech-American architect, Antonin Raymond, who had also designed a summer house for himself in Karuizawa a few years prior.
I returned back to Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza and stopped for breakfast at French Bakery (フランスベーカリー). John Lennon used to frequent the bakery when he and Yoko Ono stayed in Karuizawa and the bakery proudly displays a poster of him with their baguettes. As is typical in a bakery in Japan you pick up a tray and tongs as you enter and use the tongs to select the baked goods you would like to buy. I ate an edamame and cheese bun which I don't think is very French but was very delicious. I also couldn't resist buying an apple pastry and a bacon and cheese bun to take with me for later.
Continuing up Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza out into the countryside there was a monument to the famous poet Matsuo Basho (松尾 芭蕉) erected in 1843. It displays a haiku that Basho wrote while in the Karuizawa area that reads "馬をさへながむる雪のあした哉". Through looking at a few sources I found that while literally it means something like "even a horse gazing out on a morning of snow" the haiku conveys that on a snowy morning even a horse appears elegant.
I continued along a little farther up the road to the Alexander Croft Shaw House and Memorial Chapel. Shaw was a Canadian Angliclan minister who founded St. Andrew's Church in Tokyo. He has been credited with popularizing Karuizawa as a summer resort when he visited in 1886 and subsequently built a summer home in 1888. Although the buildings were closed when I visited I enjoyed wandering around outside in the lovely setting among the forest.
From Alexander Croft Shaw House and Memorial Chapel I headed back to my hotel to pick up my luggage. My route back took me along a pretty little creek and I couldn't resist taking a few last pictures while I was in Karuizawa.
While Karuizawa was definitely sleepy on my winter morning visit it was a lovely place to walk around for a few hours and I'm glad I had a chance to make the short stop.
Karuizawa Train Station is conveniently located on the Nagano Shinkansen line and takes about 70-80 minutes from Tokyo depending on which Asama train you take. Kumoba Pond is about a 20 minute walk northwest of the the station and Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza is about a 25 minute walk north of the station.
This year our Thanksgiving plans fell through at the last minute so instead of staying home Frank and I decided to take a quick trip somewhere. In picking a spot we had two criteria: 1) someplace warm and 2) somewhere that we could get inexpensive flights. I dug around a bit and found a great deal on flights from Detroit to Ft. Lauderdale so off we went for a three day trip.
I found a good deal at the W Hotel so we stayed there for our trip. The hotel was beautiful and modern looking inside and out. Getting mimosas at check-in was a nice touch as well.
Our room was pretty with a clean, streamlined look including a nice little seating area.
The best part of the room by far was our balcony with the amazing views. It was spectacular.
The purpose of this trip was to relax, not sightsee so I decided to book a mani/pedi at Bliss Spa in the hotel. It was a nice way to start our trip.
While in town we enjoyed some great food at restaurants within walking distance of the W. For one of breakfasts we walked south to St. Barts Coffee Company. I enjoyed some delicious croissant french toast while Frank had an omelette. The food was inexpensive and the service was fast making it a good breakfast stop.
Another day we headed to H2O Café for brunch which had a nice outdoor seating area with ocean views. The food (blueberry waffles for me, an omelette for Frank) was good, but the best part was definitely the view.
We had a fabulous lunch at S3, which was conveniently located next door.
For out Thanksgiving dinner we ate at Steak 954, splurging on the amazing seafood platter. The meal was so fantastic I didn't mind not eating a traditional turkey dinner.
The boardwalk and beach along the strip where our hotel was located was really pretty and we enjoyed several lovely strolls. We were lucky to have gorgeous weather and didn't miss the cold back home one bit.
We spent a good bit of time relaxing at the pool, soaking up the sun and reading. The weather was really beautiful.
One of the neat things about the pool was the passageway that lead down a flight of stairs through the pool into the lobby. It was a really cool, unique feature.
We also enjoyed some beautiful sunset views. The beach was to the east, but to the west over the Intracoastal Waterway the sunset was quite lovely.
Our impromptu trip may have been short, but it was very relaxing and it was so nice to escape the cold Ann Arbor weather for a few days. It definitely wasn't a traditional Thanksgiving but it was a nice escape for us.
At the beginning of November my sister and I went on a long weekend getaway to Sedona. She is expecting her first little one in a few months so we wanted to have a trip together before her baby arrives. As part of our relaxing we spent a morning at L'Auberge de Sedona, which is a beautiful resort situated on the banks of the Oak Creek. We started off our visit by getting massages at the spa, L’Apothecary, located in a cute rustic building.
After checking in at the front desk we headed to the women's locker room to change into our robes. I snuck a few pictures with my iPhone when no one else was in there.
From there we headed to the sitting area where we sipped on some tea while waiting for our masseuses.
Our massages, maternity for my sister and deep-tissue for me, were fantastic. After we changed back into our street clothes we headed back to the lobby of the spa. Our masseuses left us notes with the products they had used during our massages in case we wanted to purchase them to take home.
Feeling refreshed from our massages we walked over to the L’Auberge Restaurant on Oak Creek for their Sunday champagne brunch. The setting of the restaurant was fantastic with tiered terraces overlooking the creek. My sister and I got a fantastic table right next to the water.
The bruch buffet was wonderful with a variety of delicious foods. I indulged in a mimosa while my sister enjoyed some sparkling water. I particularly loved the desserts, like the key lime cheesecake and the peanut butter mousse in a chocolate bowl.
One of the cool things about being right on the creek was watching the ducks swim by and wander up on the banks. Pictures just don't do justice to the beauty of it all.
We had a fantastic time relaxing at L'Auberge de Sedona and I would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Sedona who is in the mood for a little pampering.