As we all have had to adjust and navigate a very different summer, travel and vacation has been put on hold for many. I had several large scale trips planned for this year that have all been cancelled. So instead, I decided to do a couple of quick localized (in state) road trips on vacation in 2020. The first road trip was a drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway, from Asheville, NC to Blowing Rock, NC, and absolutely beautiful drive. Here are the photos.
I decided that for this vacation, as I was on my own, I wouldn’t bother with making every day an early day. I intended on sleeping in and then taking a more leisurely pace doing whatever I wanted. So on Monday morning I woke up around noon-ish, took my time getting ready, and headed for a very late breakfast at the closest Tim Hortons I could find. This was finally my first Tim Horton’s experience. And it was good.
Admittedly it was a little later in the day than I’d have liked to be getting started, but I needed to sleep in. I headed towards the first thing I’d always wanted to do in Toronto, the CN Tower. Getting in to the city and finding parking near CN Tower was easy enough. Once I was parked I headed out with my back pack and walked to the tower. As I was heading through security I noticed that some of my things had fallen out of the front pocket of my nap sack. I put it back in and was getting ready to go through security when an employee pointed out that the nose spray I’d just put back in the front pocket had fallen out. That’s when I realized I had a hole in my front pocket. Then a sudden wave of worry fell over me, as that was where I tended to keep my wallet and passport. After taking inventory on all of my items, the only thing that I lost without knowing where it was is an extra battery for my camera, but thankfully I had 3 more.
After making my way through security and getting my ticket I headed towards the elevator up the tower. I was the only non-employee on the elevator which, much to my horror, had a glass bottom. I don’t like glass bottoms on tall buildings, usually doing all I can to avoid them. But that wasn’t an option this time. I was glad to step off of the elevator near the top.
Saturday morning came as early as ever as we got everything together and headed downstairs to check out and buy a gift for my mom, then walk to the station one last time to take our last couple of trains to Narita airport, about 90 minutes away. The morning actually flew by. We got to the airport, dropped our luggage off at the baggage check, checked in for our flight, grabbed some snacks, had a chair massage, and made it to our gate with plenty of time. We even did some last minute shopping at the store across from the gate.
Eventually it was time to board. This time we would be heading straight in to night instead of chasing daylight. The flight back wasn’t so bad either. It was slightly shorter, though our crew wasn’t nearly as good. I slept a little during the first three hours. This time Isaac and I were sharing a row of only 2 seats, so I was able to not wear the shoes I’d brought which were too tight in the toe section, to give my toes a nice rest and the ability to stretch out. I did watch a movie and type up several large sections of this report on the flight back.
We landed in Dallas around 7-8 AM Texas Time. We got our luggage and went though customs first, which didn’t take long as we were one of the first international flights that morning. Our first order of business after getting through security and re-checking our luggage was to get an American sized burger at TGIFridays. The burger was good, though the kitchen was slow. Our 2 hour flight back to CLT was noisy and annoying. The woman beside me needed 2 seats, but only had one, and decided to put her small son by the window as she sat in the middle beside me, taking up a large portion of my space. Yay.
The morning came early, and we had decisions to make. Unfortunately, it was raining. This was because of the typhoon that was currently hitting the island, which was supposed to head north to Tokyo after hitting the middle part of the island where we were. This was our last day in Kyoto, and our Japan Rail pass was running out on Sunday, and we wouldn’t be getting back down this way, but had planned on going to Nagashima Spa Land today, one of the few parks that I felt was a must visit. But I didn’t want to go with a typhoon literally right over us and torrential downpours. I’d have liked to have spent some time on the Ryokan grounds as well, but the rain wasn’t conducive to that either.
So instead we had a traditional Japanese breakfast at the inn and decided to head to Mount Inari in Kyoto, where the Fushimi Inari shrine is. If you’ve ever seen any photos from Japan of people walking through what seems like endless paths of red tori gates, this is where probably it was taken. It was pouring rain by the time we arrived but we’d stored our luggage again in Kyoto Station. We got in line to walk thru the gates and once we got to the first level, we headed off on a smaller, less traveled path up the mountain.
The rain came and went as we made our way up. First, we found a small shrine with sitting areas where we sat along with a young Japanese woman and a German couple. Then when the rain let up we headed up and through a bamboo forest and found an old shrine with cat statues (and a very large spider that I was not fond of meeting). We got a little turned around having gone down behind the cat shrine and found a random high school and street, and after a few rest breaks, decided to head back up to the cat shrine and finish the original path down the mountain. The typhoon was messing with our plans so we had to wing it with our plans.
The next morning we woke up and had a really amazing breakfast at the hotel, which almost made up for the problem the nite before, then walked to the nearest station to catch a train. I can’t remember the entire transit pattern, but I believe we headed to Osaka station, stored our bags, then headed to one of the must do and truly remarkable sites in all of Japan, south of Osaka, Himeji Castle. We arrived in the late morning at Himeji Station and the castle was visible at the end of the street. And it looked amazing. This was the Japan I wanted. An ancient castle at the end of a metropolitan city’s main thoroughfare.
And what an amazing sight it was. Himeji Castle is considered one of the best examples of the surviving original 12 Japanese castles that haven’t been rebuilt or are replicas. Across the street from the castle was a shopping area for food and souvenirs, but before we headed there to eat, we walked down to a viewing spot of the castle at Shiromidai Park. Once we arrived we took photos. There was a newly married couple there also taking photos, dressed in traditional Japanese kimono, and it was beautiful. So was the castle. They realized I was trying to (respectfully) sneak photos of them, and they started posing. I think they wanted to take pictures with us, but we were heading back to the shopping area.
There was a small amusement park & zoo by here, but we decided to forgo a visit and head to the castle. As we made our way back we stumbled upon another random shrine, the Gokoku Shrine, so we went in to check it out and take some photos, then headed to the castle area. At the shopping center across the street I had my first taste of matcha ice cream. It was great.
I slept pretty well from about 8 PM to about 5 AM Tokyo time. Once I woke up I cleaned up, and made a video to record my thoughts on our arrival. I got ready and went out the door to go up a couple floors to get some decent shots of the Tokyo SkyTree from the top floor of the hotel, but as I was going out the door, Isaac, who also woke up around the same time, was coming out with his stuff to walk to a nearby park. Neither of us wanted to wake each other up, but when he heard me open my door, he rushed out to see where I was going. I made my way up to the top floor to take some photos, then headed back down while he was getting ready before we headed out to Sumida Park park a few blocks away.
The city was so quiet early in the morning. At this point, it was after 6 am. At some point I finally found a vending machine with Pocari Sweat, a drink I’d wanted to try for many years. It was good. We walked along the riverwalk area, which is beautiful, and arrived at the park after a few minutes walk. It was very nice. There was a beautiful pond that we walked around, and even explored the Ushijima Shrine located in the park. There were plenty of views of the surrounding city, as well as Tokyo SkyTree, as the morning woke the city up for the day. Since it was so early, it was mostly just a few older people walking around.
Then at about 6:30, they all started doing exercises around the shrine in the garden. There were a good 100 people all doing exercise in unison. It was really great to see. Everyone was so friendly walking around. Many had dogs. Walking back to the river walk was beautiful, with one side filled with the buildings of the area’s business district. We ventured to find some food, but that turned into a walk to the Senso-ji Temple complex that we stumbled upon, a Buddhist temple established in the 1500s, making it Tokyo’s oldest. We walked around and took pictures of the buildings and Koi pond for quite a while as some locals came to pray and worship.