Once upon a time, I used my winter vacations to escape to places like Thailand, India, New Zealand, and Nepal; places that, while my own home was buried under snow, enjoyed mild temperatures and dependable sunshine.
Now I seek out the snow during winter; I’ve gone full chionophile. Last year, I scrapped a three-week vacation to Laos and Cambodia to head to Hokkaido to snowboard. This year followed suit; going back to Japan to board had always been my plan. (Korea has many, many things going for it….powder is not one of them.) And while I was excited to return to Niseko, the mega-resort in Hokkaido, for a week, I was even more thrilled to go back to Hakkoda, my home mountain while I lived in Aomori. Continue reading Querencia→
I should probably be writing about life in Korea at this point, having lived here for four months at this point. And I will, sooner rather than later. Today, though, my head is firmly in the clouds.
Or at least the memories I made above them. Before I left Japan, there were a few places that I was bound and determined to see. Unkai Terrace in Tomamu in Hokkaido was at the very top of that list. In the winter months, Tomamu is a well-known and popular ski resort, but in the summer, the attraction is all about the clouds. Unkai (雲海) is a nifty Japanese word that translates to “sea of clouds, and it’s a phenomenon best seen from mountaintops, where you’re above the cloud cover. The most famous example of unkai in Japan is most certainly the sunrise view from Mt. Fuji…which I had already sought out and then spectacularly failed at seeing a few years prior.
Unkai Terrace, for all its glory, is not a destination for those who like to sleep in. During the summer months, when the terrace is open to the public (and not, you know, covered with several meters of fine Hokkaido powder), the gondola’s first ride departs at four or five in the morning, with the final ride to the top leaving at seven or eight, depending on the month. There’s a reason for that ungodly hour; once the sun rises, that bright summer light burns off the damp, chilly cloud cover. It’s not exactly the best activity if you’re planning on hitting the snooze alarm a few times, but for the early birds, Unkai Terrace is wonderful, and it remains as one of my favorite spots in Hokkaido. Continue reading My Head’s in the Clouds→
I know that winter doesn’t technically start for another three weeks, but seeing as it’s the first of December today, I started perusing through all the pictures I’d taken in the past few months. My overwhelming reaction: good god, this place is beautiful in the fall.. I’ve always loved autumn. Between the copious amounts of pumpkin (which I maintain that I loved before Starbucks turned pumpkin spice into a total cash cow) and apple foods, the colorful leaves, and the brisk weather, what’s not to love?
Living in Aomori has only strengthened that love. To put it lightly, autumn in Aomori spoils the hell out of me. The pristine mountain snow in winter and the cherry blossoms in spring are gorgeous, to be sure, but for me, nothing beats what autumn offers. After more than three years here, I’m convinced that nowhere does autumn more beautifully than northern Japan. And here’s the proof.
I have seen beautiful places in the world…and then I have seen Pamukkale. I separate those two because Pamukkale, with its stark white travertines and milky blue water, needs to be put in a category all its own. It’s downright otherworldly, one of those places whose beauty is so off-the-wall and unexpected that you think Mother Nature must have been a little tipsy when she dreamed it up.
Make no mistake about it; Pamukkale was a place that had been on my bucket list since the day I put it down on paper, and it was one of the things that put Turkey above a few other places for my summer vacation destination of choice. Even though a few months have passed, the views I took in there remain unbelievably beautiful in my mind, undimmed and undiluted.
Even though I’ve lived here for nearly three full years now, Aomori still manages to surprise me in the best possible ways. There’s always some naturally gorgeous spot to stumble upon for the first time and make me fall in love with Aomori all over again.
See Exhibit A: the cliffs of Hotokegaura (仏ヶ浦), which now reign supreme as my absolute favorite place in Aomori.
As sad as I was to leave behind the elephants and crocodile-infested waters of Chitwan, good things lay ahead in Pokhara. As we sped along roads that would through the foothills of the Annapurna and I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of the swirling aquamarine river below, one thought resonated throughout my mind with the utmost clarity: Nepal freaking rocks. Continue reading The Perfection of Pokhara→
As I’ve written again and again and again since I started this blog, I love spending time outdoors. Give me a mountain and I’ll be itching to climb it. Point me towards a sea and you’ll have to drag me out when I’m as wrinkled as a prune. And when those outdoor excursions involve elephants, crocodiles, and rhinos? It would take an epic natural disaster to wipe the grin off my face.
Because of that, Chitwan National Park was one of my favorite parts of my week in Nepal. One the first day of the New Year, we headed from Lumbini to Chitwan, and as soon as we crossed over into the park itself, my already high spirits skyrocketed. That trend continued when we arrived at our hotel, the Sapana Village Lodge.
If you made me pick, right here and now, my favorite place in Japan, chances are that I’d say Miyajima (宮島), a small island off of the coast of Hiroshima. The Japanese consider the view of Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima as one of the three most beautiful views in all of Japan, and I’m certainly not going to argue with them. (Incidentally, I’m bound and determined to see the other two, which are the sandbar of Amanohashidate and the pine-filled islands of Matsushima, before I leave Japan.)
Nara’s one of those places in Japan that I only visited for one day and then immediately filed it in the “come back here ASAP” category. Unfortunately, that file grows larger and larger with nearly every place I visit, and the rate at which entries get crossed off is far slower. Regardless, I hope I get to make a trip back to Nara before I move away from Japan. Continue reading Throwback Thursday – Nara→
Autumn’s by far my favorite season, and Japan’s version is one of the most beautiful I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. It may be short and fleeting, but autumn in northern Japan still provides you with enough signs to let you know it’s arrived in all of its full-blown, scarlet-leaved glory.