1 September 2014

the most tranquil view of all - Iya Onsen, Japan

sit, look, think, drink, write
verses we make together
honeymoon happy :)

View from our room - Iya Onsen, Japan
the view from our room - Iya Onsen, Japan

While in Japan earlier this year, hubby and I made a beeline for Shikoku - the smallest of the four main islands of Japan, and in my opinion the most tranquil, natural, traditional and beautiful.

Every time we visit Japan Shikoku is always on our itinerary, and every visit I seem to fall head over heels for this little spot in the world all over again. The pace of life in Shikoku is slower, and there are definitely far less tourists. It's the one place in Japan where the locals really don't know any English at all, and it's up to me to use my limited Japanese to communicate. But oh, the reward.

This visit (on our belated honeymoon) we decided to splash out and stay at the famous Iya Onsen, nestled deep in the dramatic Iya Valley 祖谷渓. The view from our room was just amazing - with floor to ceiling windows that opened right out onto Iya Valley itself...

Iya Valley - Shikoku, Japan
the view from our room - Iya Valley - Shikoku, Japan

... and we spent several relaxing, romantic days here, sunning ourselves in the light and writing haiku poems while looking out over the vivid green, misty hills.

steep emerald hills rise
to meet a misty sky, pop!
honeymoon nector

Iya Onsen - amazing views - Japan

What better way to enjoy a view so stunning than with chocolate covered crisps? (I heart Japan and it's imaginative junk food.)

Chocolate covered crisps - Japan

As well as the breathtaking views of the valley, the best part about staying at Iya Onsen was of course the onsen themselves (Japanese hot springs) - situated at the bottom of Iya Gorge.

Yukata - Iya Onsen, Shikoku Japan
 our 'his and hers' yukata for wearing to and from the onsen

To get to the onsen we took a cable car (attached to the hotel) on a five minute, 170 metre decent to the bottom of the valley, and were spoilt with even more panoramic views of the valley - and the odd monkey spotting!

Many of the green trees you see here are Japanese Maples - so in Autumn the whole valley is awash in red.

Waiting for the cable car - Iya Onsen, Japan
waiting for the cable car

Looking down into Iya Valley from the cable car as we descended
looking down into Iya Valley from the cable car as we descended

The open-air baths (one for men and one for women as there's a 'no clothing policy' in Japanese onsens) sit alongside the Iya River, flowing with natural hot spring water. The perfect way to relax.

Iya Onsen - Shikoku, Japan
Iya Onsen

In the evenings we enjoyed our meals with the same breathtaking view of the valley...

dinner with a view - Iya Onsen
dinner with a view - Iya Onsen

Dinner with a view - Iya Onsen Japan
dessert - jelly spaghetti served with molasses sugar to taste

...and then settled back to take in the night-time views from our room.

Iya Valley early evening - Japan
Iya Valley early evening

And in the mornings we awoke to our beautiful room and, well did it all again - tea, breakfast, onsen, sleep, poetry, view, wine, food, onsen, wine...

View from Iya Onsen, Shikoku Japan

at the crack of dawn
onsen, breakfast, back to bed
way to start the day

Breakfast - Iya Onsen Japan
Japanese breakfast

We weren't the only ones enjoying the view. Just a short stroll from Iya Onsen is the statue of a boy standing on the edge of a cliff posed as if he is peeing off the ledge into the valley below. According to local folklore passing travellers used to climb out to pee off the same rock as a testament to their bravery. Needless to say hubby wasn't given the option!

Peeing boy statue - Iya Valley, Shikoku Japan

Thanks to Emma and friends for this fine 'room with a view' travel blog link up.

28 August 2014

the sky is falling! Laguna de Apoyo - Nicaragua

In the centre of the Nicaraguan Pacific coast, and in the middle of a long volcanic chain that runs lengthways through the country is one of the most beautiful lagoons in the world - Laguna de Apoyo.

This photo is a 'blast from the past' for me. I snapped it while backpacking through Nicaragua almost exactly five years ago today. And even now thinking back I still feel breathless by the sheer beauty and 'quiet' of this place...

Laguna de Apoyo - Nicaragua
Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua - 2009

If you want to experience nature without disturbance Nicaragua is your country. For a fraction of the price we saw so much more in Nicaragua than we did in neighbouring Costa Rica, which is overrun by noisy, wealthy tourists.

Can you imagine sky so blue, and as far as the eye can see... and only sharing it with three other people?

No doubt eco-tourism will boom in Nicaragua soon so get in quick.

25 August 2014

three seasons in one weekend - the English seaside

Sometimes you just need an extra day to recover from a busy week at work, and for me this Bank Holiday weekend was very well timed. I'm feeling pretty relaxed this evening.

Hubby and I rented a seaside house in Hastings for the weekend. It was lovely. A whole cupboard full of tea, a fridge full of New Zealand wine, and a view I could wake up to every day and never tire of. (More to come on our seaside adventure soon.)

The UK's weather has been a bit changeable recently, and this weekend was no exception. Three seasons in three days I tell you...

Hastings seaside - England
Hastings, day 1

Saturday - day 1 - we arrived at the seaside mid morning and the weather was just okay. Not hot, not cold, rather cloudy. A taste of autumn to come I think. We spent the day strolling along the promenade, exploring Hastings old town and café hopping until dusk.

Hastings seaside - England
Hastings, day 2

Sunday - day 2 - was hot, hot, hot. I'm talking about t-shirts and shorts, ice-cream and sunscreen weather! We went for a hot sweaty run, and then rewarded ourselves with a lie of the beach followed by ice-cream and cold beer.

Hastings seaside - England
Hastings, day 3

Monday - day 3 - we woke up and it was stormy outside! Rain lashing against the windows, waves crashing, wind howling. The few brave people we saw outdoors were struggling with inside out umbrellas and didn't look too happy. We decided to stay indoors with a pot of tea and some reading material. There's nothing like snuggling up inside on a day when you would normally be at work...

How was your bank holiday weekend?

23 August 2014

racing for life to beat cancer

Every year that I've lived in London I've taken part in Race for Life - a charity run for woman that takes place in parks all over the country over a series of weekends to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

Race for Life is in fact the largest woman-only fundraising event in the UK, and every year thousands of woman show their support by donning themselves in 'beautiful pink' and either running or walking a 5km or 10km distance, all in the name of beating cancer.

Race for Life 2013 - Hampstead Heath

In my time in London I've run the 5km events in Regents Park, Hampstead Heath and Hyde Park. And this year I summoned up the courage to complete the 10km Hyde Park event...

... I always love the atmosphere of Race for Life. Everyone that attends, the woman who are racing and their supporters (husbands, family, children, friends, colleagues) are there because they really want to be, and it means something. Pretty much these days I think it's hard to find anyone who's life hasn't been effected by cancer in some way, whether they've been diagnosed themselves or have a family member or friend that has.

You see cancer survivors running the course - how inspiring!

And all in the name of raising money to aid the research we need to one day beat cancer for good.

Race for Life 2014 - Hyde Park

Me? I run for my grandmother, and mother-in-law. And I'll run again next year too.

In fact, you can already sign up for 2015 Race for Life now (and get a early-bird discount I believe), so why not?

Have a great Bank Holiday weekend everyone.

21 August 2014

a fishy morning at Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo

dawn fades as ice melts
nose, eyes and ears filled with fish
sushi for breakfast?

Tsukiji Fish Market (築地市場), better known outside of Japan as Tokyo's Central Wholesale Fish Market has been on my Japan must see list for years. So much to hubby's dismay (he doesn't eat or like seafood) I dragged him out of bed at the crack of dawn while we were in Tokyo to finally see Tsukiji with my very own eyes...

Inside Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo, Japan

... and what I found was seafood as far as the eye could see of the never-ending variety, and a industrious, brisk atmosphere filled with scooters, trucks and people going about their daily business...

Inside Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo, Japan
walking though the narrow lanes of the inner market

Inside Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo, Japan

Tsukiji Market is one of the world's largest fish markets, handling over 2,000 tons of marine products per day. It is made up of a inner market where most of the wholesale business and the famous tuna auctions take place, and a outer market whose retail shops carter to the general public. You can also buy the freshest sushi in the world here.

Inside Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo, Japan
a fish blood bath

Inside Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo, Japan
squid in its own black ink

Sadly, we didn't go to the Tuna Auction - numbers are limited to just 120 tourists a day, and if you want to get a spot this involves arriving at at 4:30am just to register. Needless to say hubby wasn't keen...

Inside Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo, Japan
tuna for sale

Inside Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo, Japan

... we did however wander all around the wholesale area, which was full of hundreds of fish stands, buyers and sellers hurrying along the narrow lanes with their carts and trucks, yelling at any tourists who dared to cross their paths.

Inside Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo, Japan

The smell was incredible - super fresh. And despite the blood I worked up an appetite so we left the inner market in search of food...

Inside Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo, Japan
the busy ring road that circles the inner market - watch out!

Inside Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo, Japan

The outer area of Tsukiji Fish Market consists of several blocks of small retail shops and restaurants along bustling, narrow streets where tourists and locals alike go about their food shopping business.

The outer market - Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo, Japan
the outer market area

And what is the best breakfast of them all? Why sushi of course...

Sushi at the outer market - Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo, Japan

While wandering around I also spotted edamame still on the plant, something I've never seen before.

The outer market - Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo, Japan

All in all, a great morning out and some of the best people watching and sushi I've had in years.

If you're in Tokyo and want to visit Tsukiji Market it's fairly easy to get to on the Oedo Subway Line. If you want to see the Tuna auction make sure you get there early! Or if you only want to explore the inner market like we did aim to arrive at 9am when it opens to tourists so you get some time to really experience the atmosphere before it quietens down.

Early morning sushi = happiness.
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