Tag Archives: Market

Travel Guide: Kyoto and Around

April is cherry blossom season in Japan and it’s as beautiful as everyone says. April is also early spring, which means the weather is highly variable. Umbrellas and layers were key to feeling comfortable wandering around Kyoto, Japan’s Imperial capital beginning in the 8th century. It remained the seat of power in Japan for over a thousand years and historic monuments, shrines, and temples abound. Renting a kimono for the day is a common activity in Kyoto and it was fun to see people dressed up – almost like going back in time!

This was my first trip in Asia with both parents and it was a fully immersive experience. (Dad and I went to Thailand and Vietnam a few years ago when I first moved to Singapore.) We took the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto immediately after we landed and that made for a long day of travel; we were glad to finally be there!

We settled in and then went to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, which was beautiful in the rain. The sound of the trees and smell of the earth was a lovely change from urban life in Singapore.

The next morning was sunny and we started early at Fushimi-Inari, a Shinto shrine known for its red torii gates. Fushimi-Inari is guarded by foxes and statues of them are located around the mountain. It was a beautiful walk and felt other worldly, as though passing through each set of gates was a doorway to somewhere else.

The view on the way up was stunning, too.

My dad wanted to visit Tofukuji Temple because he’d read that it has beautiful gardens, which I’m sure it does once spring actually blooms. But trees were budding and the ground was covered in moss and that was good enough for me.

From there, we went to Nishiki Market, a covered arcade of streets selling all sorts of food products, clothing, and souvenirs. I was mostly interested in the food stalls and we returned a couple days later to explore further. It was so enjoyable to smell new smells, taste new tastes, and just look around. Markets are always a travel highlight for me because they bring so much life there in so many different forms.

We ended the day wandering through some lovely streets with little shops and visiting Kodaiji Temple. The gardens around the temple included a bamboo forest and an exquisite cherry tree in full bloom, which was definitely the main attraction.

I really appreciate how Japanese gardens are sculpted and landscaped but not manicured. It makes them lovely in a very believable way.

Among the many nice elements of traveling in Japan is the convenience of trains. The Japan Rail pass allows foreign tourists access to most of Japan’s trains (like the Euro Rail Pass) and trains don’t require reservations. They are also very clean and extremely timely and comfortable!

Kyoto is an easy base for day trips and we took one out to Himeji Castle, Japan’s largest castle and one of very few that have remained intact. I was really glad that we opted for the guided tour. The tour guide was knowledgeable and friendly and more than made up for the lack of signage.

From there, despite the chilling rain that had begun to fall, we got back on the train to visit Osaka where we hoped to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening. Mum and I walked around the moat of Osaka Castle (Dad got a little lost or left behind – long story), occasionally putting up our umbrellas for the rain that alternated with patches of bright sunshine.

When it began to hail, however, we realized we needed another plan. After battling the driving rain and wind to get to the train station we returned to Kyoto and sheltered indoors to dry off. Not all plans work out and travel is an adventure, right?

Our last day in Kyoto was the nicest we’d had and I’m especially glad it was sunny because we went to Kinkaku-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple, and it was utterly stunning.

We walked to a pretty shrine surrounded by a garden of cherry blossoms and food stalls on our way back to the center of town . . .

. . . and then spent the rest of the morning in Nishiki Market where I took most of the photos above. From there, we visited the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, which was informative as well as free! It was useful in explaining much of the handiwork we’d seen and some of Kyoto’s history, particularly in terms of the geisha culture that still exists in a much smaller form.

After dinner in Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, it was time for one more sleep before boarding an early train to Hiroshima.

We had experienced all kinds of weather, tried new food, visited beautiful places, and were excited for something new. Stay tuned!

Celebrating Lunar New Year

Singapore does’t shut down often, but it shuts down good over Lunar New Year. Unlike China, where new year celebrations last for weeks and schools and businesses are closed during the busiest travel season of the year, Singapore grants two days of public holiday for the celebration. Many restaurants and businesses also shut their doors for two days or more, which only otherwise happens around Christmas. And even then, it’s not hard to find places that are open.

Lunar New Year, though, is different. The roads are quiet, public transportation is quiet, and there’s little activity around town. I headed to Chinatown one morning to look at the decorations and see what was going on; it was slightly busier than I expected but not busy at all.

The exception was at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple where I opted not to wait in line for admission.

There is also a really beautiful Hindu temple in Chinatown and its well-wishing puts into perspective one of the aspects of Singapore that I really love.

The following day I headed to Little India early in the morning and watched the neighborhood wake up. The sights and sounds of Little India are like nowhere else in Singapore and it feels like a different world entirely.

I love the colors . . .

. . . the markets and shops . . .

. . . and echoes and signs life being lived.

Singapore is glittery and shiny and other worldly and yes, it looks like whatever you saw in Crazy Rich Asians (or The Bachelor though I haven’t actually seen it). But when you look closely, Singapore looks like this, too.

Travel Guide: San Francisco

This trip to San Francisco was my second time in California and, like the first time, I left wondering why we all don’t live in California. (“Cost of living” likely answers this question for many.)

I landed at SFO Wednesday night and, marvelling all the while at the difference in weather between San Francisco and Singapore, spent most of Thursday just walking around the city to vanquish the jet lag (a failed pursuit) and enjoy time outside in non-humid air. I headed first to the Embarcadero where I took in the sights of the city from one of the many docks. I love water and was happy to be so often in sight of it.

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The Ferry Building was only a short walk away and I enjoyed the indoor upscale food and merchandise stalls . . .

. . . as well as the outdoor farmers’ market. . . .

Jet lag from Singapore had made it a very early day, so it was only late morning when I began my walk along the Embarcadero. I stopped at Pier 39 to admire the boats . . .

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. . . take in the carnival-like atmosphere complete with boardwalk sweets and treats . . .

. . . and get an unexpected peek at some lounging sea lions!

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From there, I was pretty close to Fisherman’s Wharf. I admit that much of the hype and excitement were lost on me because I don’t eat seafood, but I enjoyed looking around and watching people enjoy themselves.

From there I walked to Ghirardelli Square, which I revisited the next day to sample the beer at San Francisco Brewing Company. We have a few microbreweries in Singapore but it’s nothing like what’s in the US.

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After that, I decided it would be fun to walk up a whole lot of hills to Lombard Street. I can’t say the walk itself was what one typically thinks of as fun, but we don’t really have hills in Singapore and the views were well worth it.

Later that afternoon, I went to Alamo Square to see the famous painted ladies. I was very tired and very jet lagged by that point but again, pretty views!

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A very old friend from high school flew up from Long Beach to hang out with me for the rest of the weekend and really I could have been anywhere in the world. Catching up and hanging out was the highlight of my San Francisco experience, but we did some cool things on the side. We started our adventure Friday morning with a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, which I was really excited about. It was so windy up there but the expanse of blue sky was extraordinary.

After walking back along the bridge, we followed the beach, enjoying the sunshine and the breeze. I really love all the flowers in California because they’re different from anything I’m used to seeing. I also really love long walks without sweating!

The beach path took us to the Palace of Fine Arts, which neither of us had known existed. There were young women and their families taking quinceañera pictures and it was easy to see why. The Palace of Fine Arts, originally built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, seemed a strange architectural choice for northern California but is really beautiful.

We decided we’d done enough walking for one day and saved the rest of our energy to celebrate San Francisco Pride in the Castro, San Francisco’s historic gay neighborhood and therefore the perfect place to be! It also had some great street art, which I love.

We returned to the Castro the next day to check out the festivities in Dolores Park . . .

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. . . and join another old friend and his new girlfriend for brunch! They drove up from Palo Alto to hang out with us, which was really special. The longer I’m away from home, the more I appreciate when people make the effort to spend time with me. We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon with some of my friend’s relatives and their adorable dogs. Naturally, we walked them to Kite Hill, a beautiful park with sweeping views of the city. It was very windy up there, too!

After a couple very busy days and much jet lag, we decided it was time to relax. The Palo Alto friends headed home and my Long Beach friend and I stopped at a couple more Castro spots to continue our celebration of SF Pride. He left before the parade the next morning and though the parade was great fun, I couldn’t see over anyone’s heads enough to take a decent picture.

Insert time warp here!

After a week in Berkeley (more on that in my next post) for the conference that prompted the trip to San Francisco in the first place, I spent a final afternoon with a new friend in the Haight-Ashbury district, made famous by the 1967 Summer of Love.

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The whole area was an interesting mix of hippie counterculture and gentrified boutiques, which seems to embody the feel of much of San Francisco. My favorite part was the street art . . . and how it extended to cars and houses!

When I first told my principal that I was going to northern California, he told me I wouldn’t want to leave. He wasn’t wrong, but I was also very excited to go home to Rochester to visit my family. That’s where I am now and it’s taken two days to write this post because I keep getting distracted by the laughter and activities of the people around me. I am so lucky to have them! When I get a quiet moment, I’ll share the photos of my rural and urban hikes around Berkeley.

Delicious food, good friends, and diverse neighborhoods to explore – thanks, San Francisco!