Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Kamakura, Japan

Grab a cup of coffee. Put your feet up. And get ready for the long haul cause today I'm talking about my favorite place that I visited in Japan, Kamakura. Kamakura is a small-ish (pop: 175,0000) seaside city south of Tokyo and Yokohama located on the Bay of Sagami. Known for surfing, and a popular day trip for Tokyoans (Tokyoites?), Kamakura has a laid-back feel. Easily reached by public transportation, we visited Kamakura on a pretty, and fairly crowded, Saturday.

We left Shinagawa station in Tokyo on the JR Yokosuka line and transferred in Ofuna to arrive in Kamakura. Once we arrived at our final destination, we followed the crowds to the right and through a pedestrian tunnel to a bus that was headed to our first stop, The Big Buddha. Officially known as the Kotoku-in Temple's Great Buddha, we just referred to it as The Big Buddha. The bus cost around $1 (you pay when you exit) and it dropped us directly at the temple. Approximately 42 feet tall and made of bronze, this Buddha is probably the thing Kamakura is known for the most.

Admission to the temple costs 200 yen, or around $1.75. The Big Buddha is the second tallest bronze Buddha in Japan, second only to the one in Nara. You may pay an additional 20 cents to enter inside the Buddha which allows you to see how it was constructed, and which we did. There are restrooms on site and a small area to buy some items associated with the Buddha. Our visit didn't take very long and then we were off to see Kamakura itself.
(Funny aside: One of the souvenir stores we went in had a photo of President Obama on the wall and the lady working there said he came to visit The Big Buddha and she shook his hand!)

Looking for a place for lunch we spotted a storefront selling octopus crackers. My girls wanted to try them - and I suppose I would have, too - but the line was long. Really long. I guess that Mackinac Island is known for fudge and Kamakura is known for octopus crackers.

We popped into a small cafe for lunch. It had a bit of a surfer vibe with Hawaii and California tourism posters for art. Fortified after some shrimp pasta, we were on our way.

Hasedera Temple sits on top of a hill in Kamakura and includes the temple, its grounds, a cave and a large statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. She is portrayed in all her glory with her eleven heads, each representing a characteristic of the goddess.

The grounds are stunning with beautiful gardens and a view of the sea. There is also a small bamboo forest which I was thrilled about as I was hoping to see one on my visit to Japan. I spent a little time just sitting on a bench by the entrance to the forest while my girls wandered on the path and took in the view.

My youngest noticed that the construction worker is bowing!

Sailboats in February!

It was getting  late and we needed to catch our train back to Tokyo but we stopped at the tiniest sweet shop in town for a snack. I don't remember what everyone had but I know mine was chocolate!

And we were off on the train! Such a great day in Kamakura. My favorite day in Japan - a Big Buddha, a beautiful temple and it's grounds, a town by the sea, a delicious lunch and chocolate! What more could one ask for?

I'm linking up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox,Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and A Southerner!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Mystic Pizza

The quaint New England town of Mystic, Connecticut is well-known for several things. Mystic Seaport, the Museum of America and the Sea, is the largest living history museum in the world and depicts coastal life in NewEngland in the 19th Century. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Hollywood A-listers from the 1940's, spent their honeymoon at The Inn at Mystic. And the Mystic River Bridge is a drawbridge with counterweights, also known as a Bascule bridge, that engineers around the world would love to see in action. But my visit to Mystic had pizza at the top of my list - Mystic Pizza.

Mystic Pizza is a coming-of-age film from the 1980's that starred Julia Roberts in her breakthrough role. Also starring Vincent Donofrio and Annabeth Gish, the movie tells the story of 3 waitresses working at Mystic Pizza. And there actually is a Mystic Pizza - and there has been since the early 1970's. Hollywood legend has it that screenwriter Amy Jones was summering in the area and when she visited Mystic Pizza she decided to base her latest screenplay around the pizza shop.

We were there on a summer Saturday and it was crowded. The restaurant takes up two storefronts in town including the upstairs and it was packed.( Be forewarned that parking is difficult to come by) But we were able to get a table rather quickly. Pizza is my favorite food and rarely have I met on that I didn't like. And it's good pizza. Is it extraordinary? No. But it's good, fun film tourism at it's best. The movie plays on a loop while you eat and when you're done you can shop for all kinds of Mystic Pizza items with the logo " A Slice of Heaven".

After lunch, we took a walk down the main street of Mystic. It's a quintessential New England town - there are lots of little touristy shops, the above mentioned bridge, little cafe's if you don't want pizza and the sea air to enjoy. If none of that is appealing, I've heard that Drawbridge Ice Cream is to die for - we were just too stuffed to partake.

We drove down the coast to the tiny town of Stonington and endured the whipping winds so we could see the ocean. After taking a few photos we ran to the car and drove back through Mystic. Wouldn't you know that the bridge was up-and we couldn't see it from our line in traffic. Mr. UR had missed seeing this engineering marvel in action!

Next time we'll have to visit Mystic Seaport and stop off at The Mystic Inn and see the bridge in action.For now we had run out of time and we were heading back to our cottage - and a viewing of Mystic Pizza!

Have you been to Mystic? Seen the movie? Had the pizza?

I'm linking up with Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and A Southerner, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond, Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute and Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox! Go visit them for some travel inspiration!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Lake Powell

Have you ever seen a photo of someplace and just had to go there?  That's how we went to the Na Pali Cliffs in Kauai. Mr UR saw a picture in a book and said "That's where I want to go!" We spent 2 years planning and saving miles and points  -  and we went. And when we saw the Na Pali Coast, it was so much prettier than I even imagined! 

Years ago, I saw a picture of Lake Powell and put that on my travel wish list. Water surrounded by picturesque desert cliffs? Count me in! So when we headed to Southwestern Utah I put Lake Powell on the itinerary. 

Lake Powell sits on the border of Utah and Arizona with the closest town being Page, Arizona. Approximately 2 million people visit and boat here each year. Known as a houseboating heaven, many people rent houseboats for a weekend or week. We had a 2 1/2 hour drive through beautiful desert cliffs and mesas  from Utah to Lake Powell. Mr. UR had reserved a pontoon boat for a couple hours at Antelope Point Marina. 

There is a severe drought in the western US and the lake is down by about 100 feet. (You can see the usual lake levels in the photos.) And unfortunately, our day was very cloudy, windy and was spitting rain at times. Not to worry -  no chance of getting sunburnt!

When you arrive at Antelope Point Marina, you park your car in the lot and the staff picks you and your things up by golf cart. They then deposit you down at the boat docks where you fill out your paperwork and you go!

The marina staff handed us a map and with Mr. UR as the captain we headed out to the big water.  Part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Lake Powell is huge!

We had a picnic lunch, cruised around and tried to make the most of our 2 hours on the lake despite the ominous clouds that were threatening storms. The funny part of it all is that I brought a swim suit to get in the lake - why not? It's May in Arizona, right? Little did I know that I would need a windbreaker tied as tightly as possible!

We were one of the few boats I saw out that day - it was a weekday in May - but I imagine that it gets extremely crowded in the summer. It was really cool to have the whole lake to ourselves.

Towards the end of our time on the lake, Mr. UR decided to head down Navajo Canyon. I was still dealing with the drawstring on my windbreaker and not paying attention to where we were. But when I looked up - oh my! The pictures don't do it justice but this is a narrow portion of the lake with towering walls that is just gorgeous. I'm sure my mouth dropped in awe when I saw the scenery. I just couldn't believe the beauty. 

Too soon, our time at Lake Powell was over. And even through the clouds and spitting rain, it was beautiful. Almost magical. I'm envious of those that get to go there all the time. But I'm so glad that I was able to go there - if only once.And with that, we took our golf cart ride back up to the parking lot and it was on to another adventure!

How about you? Have you been to Lake Powell? Houseboated there ( is that a word or did I just make a new one up?) ?

I'm linking up with: Weekend Travel Inspiration at Malaysian Meanders, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and A Southerner. Go check em out!