» 22.06.2009 05:46 » Day 18-21 - Hong Kong
The next days we experienced Hong Kong from a number of different views:
A highlight certainly was our last night's accommodation, the Island Shangri-La Hotel. Nadine had stayed here plenty of times during here Shenzhen-time in HK and wanted to show me what it's all about... It really was awesome. Magnificent room, great facilities like pool & gym area, outstanding service, excellent breakfast.
Today, after checking out we met up with the VF team here in Hong Kong and had a loooong lunch with them. Thanks for the time, guys, it was great to meet you!
Sadly, our vacation has come to an end now. The flight is already boarding and we should really get going. A Korean guy is sitting next to us at the gate and is getting himself really psyched-up... weirdo! Anyway, it was a fantastic experience! Let's hope for a good return trip now.
» 18.06.2009 15:53 » Day 16-17 - Beach, Naha
Today we decided to hire a car, since it was raining once again. We drove south to Naha, Okinawa's capital, where we stopped at the Ryukyu castle in the Shuri district. Amazing stuff, a UNESCO World Heritage site, it was a very interesting trip into the history and culture of the Okinawans, who were a very peaceful people who lived on trade with China, Japan and Korea. The place is well worth a visit, of particular interest are the artifacts from the 2nd Sho dynasty. Did you know that the G8 summit in 2000 was held here?
For lunch, Nadine followed a Lonely Planet recommendation: we had Okinawa-Soba at Datai-Soba, a tiny place off Kokusai-dori in downtown Naha. This was also one of the things, Sam asked us to try out while here. Shortly before sundown we checked out Cape Manzano, a famous scenic spot on the island.
Okinawa with its tropical climate and landscape has reminded Nadine very much of Mauritius. Even the typically extra punctual Japanese public transport runs on island-time here :). People are friendly, easy going and always ready to help, even though most of them do not speak Engrish. Tonight we even made some new friends at a nearby relaxed burger joint, where the two guys running the place gave us local salt-candy as presents!
This is our last night in Japan. Tomorrow, we travel back to Osaka and directly on to Hong Kong from there. We have had a fantastic time here - the people are so friendly and helpful, the scenery is fantastic, attention to detail is impressive with an extraordinary array of places to visit.
Thank you Nihon! Arrigatou gosaimasu!
» 16.06.2009 14:15 » Day 15 - Okinawa
We've now arrived in Okinawa, our last stop in Japan. Supposedly we came here to do some R&R on the beaches of this tropical island, only today it offered us nothing but rain throughout the day. And not the normal European rain that you cityfolk know. This was tropical rain, raindrops that make you really wet when you get hit :) Luckily in the evening it cleared up, so we were able to enjoy the sunset at the beach, and after Nadine did her secret stick-a-knife-in-a-salt-circle ritual, we shall have good weather from tomorrow on! Basta!
In other news, we now have internet again and I updated the posts from the last days (as you can see below) as well as the pictures. Tomorrow more pictures will come, just need to sort through them first...
» 16.06.2009 13:56 » Day 9-14 - Kyoto
Kyoto once was the capital of Japan before this title moved to Tokyo (which actually means 'east of Kyoto'), and for many of Japan's Buddhist or Shintoist sects, their mother temples / shrines are located in Kyoto. During one of our guided tours, we learned that there are actually more than 1600 temples here (while walking through the Teramachi/Shin-kyogoku shopping arcades, we saw seven...)!
We travelled extensively across Japan's 6th largest city to visit the highlights. Very enjoyable was the afternoon trip to the Arashiyama area, where we met up with Misa and explored the Tenryuji Temple. The temple itself was actually less interesting compared to the beautiful gardens and - especially impressive - the adjacent bamboo grove: Walking through thousands of tall, green bamboo trees make you feel like you're in the middle of 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'! Thanks Misa, for coming up from Osaka, spending the day with us and even treating us to a yummy dinner in Pontocho-dori!
One of the absolute highlights: One morning we were picked up by Michiko-san, a Japanese guide & translater from the Women's Association of Kyoto, and brought to the private residence of a Kyoto tea ceremony sensei of the Suzuki family. After being welcomed and dropping of our 'worldly things' (phone, watch... anything that could distract you or inhibit concentration), we entered the tea room, sliding in on our knees according to detailed instructions. The - suprisingly large - room was bare except for tatami mats, an alcove holding a specially chosen Zen scroll and ikebana flower arrangement and a small ceramic fireplace for the tea water. From our assigned spaces we overlooked a magnificent garden behind the verandah... beautiful and calm. The ceremony itself was impressive, full of rules and respectful behaviour - something that must be experienced. In the end we even prepared a bowl of powdered green tea by ourselves!
Also nice was the Maiko-night (an apprentice to become a Geisha) as well as several trips around Kyoto and Nara. In the latter, I very much enjoyed petting and feeding some of the >1200 tame (and holy) deer roaming the temples. Many of the World Culture Heritage Sites are located in and around Kyoto, and visiting them is a must, even though it may sometimes feel crowded and rushed.
Our accommodation in Kyoto was - for western standards - exotic: we stayed in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese hotel. The place had been active in family hands for almost 120 years! Our room had tatami mats, rice-paper sliding doors and a private little zen-garden; and in the evenings, our lovely hostess brought out the mattresses. Sleeping (almost) on the floor took a bit getting-used-to, but in the end we enjoyed it. Breakfast was Japanese-style, different each day and exceptionally yummy - several pickled vegetables, some form of tamago, a hot miso soup, rice which we wrapped in seaweed strips and soy sauce and brown tea. Even the beautiful ceramic cups and bowls changed every day! If only it wouldn't have been soo early :)
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