27 November 2014

Yamagata-ken, Japan - #AtoZtravel

Yamagata-ken (山形県) is a prefecture north of Tokyo that's famous for it's cold winters, fruit production and skiing.

During the year that I lived in Japan some friends and I ventured north to Yamagata for a winter skiing holiday. The trip was amazing, and I have some great memories that include relaxing in steaming outdoor onsens surrounded by snow.

The trip had its challenges too - one of my friends and I were separated from our third companion switching trains in Tokyo, and then ended up sitting in the wrong end of a train that split in two an hour later. All good memories now!

Yamagata-ken, Japan
freezing my butt off in the snow - Yamagata-ken, Japan 2007

My favourite part of Yamagata was visiting the Uesugi Snow Lantern Festival in the city of Yonezawa. Every year, in early February the residents of Yonezawa come together to build 300 yuki-doro (big snow lanterns) and 3000 Yukibonbori (small snow lamps) creating a magical candle-lit snow world that lasts for just two days...

footpath tiles - Yonezawa, Japan
footpath tiles - Yonezawa, Japan

We caught the tail-end of the festival - so many of the snow lanterns were melting, but the few that were left were lovely.

Uesugi Snow Lantern Festival, Yonezawa 2007
Uesugi Snow Lantern Festival, Yonezawa 2007

small snow lamps, Yonezawa 2007
small snow lamps, Yonezawa 2007

In the early mornings I spent some time wandering around by foot, enjoying the quiet snowy streets...

Yamagata-ken, Japan

Yamagata-ken, Japan

Our last stop before heading home was Yamadera temple, aka 'Mountain Temple', located in the mountains north east of Yamagata City. The Yamadera temple grounds and winding footpaths travel high up into the mountains. We climbed for about an hour and didn't reach the top - but were treated to some amazing views of the valley below.

Yamadera temple was founded over a thousand years ago in 860 and near the bottom of the mountain is a wooden building that stores a laughing Buddhist statue and flame that has been burning since Yamadera's beginning!

Budda - Yamadera temple, Japan 2007
Budda - Yamadera temple, Japan 2007

Yamadera is also where Matsuo Bashō wrote this famous haiku in 1689...

ah this silence
sinking into the rocks
voice of cicada

looking out at Yamagata from Yamadera temple, Japan 2007
looking out at Yamagata from Yamadera temple, Japan 2007

This November I'm blogging every day in a A to Z travel challenge, where I'll share some of the amazing but more obscure places I've travelled to in the world as I make my way through the alphabet. 

If you'd like to join me on this travel blogging challenge please do. I'd love to hear about some of your favourite travel destinations. Tweet using #AtoZtravel and I'll retweet you, or just share your posts in my comment feed. Enjoy and Happy #AtoZtravel November!
Also - I'm entered in the travel category of the 2015 UK Blog Awards. If you enjoy reading somewhere... beyond the sea then I would love you to vote for me. It's pretty easy - just click on this link. Happy travels!

26 November 2014

Oaxaca, Mexico - #AtoZtravel

Okay, so I cheated a little bit today because I couldn't think of a travel destination starting with X that I have actually been to. So instead I have settled for the amazing Oaxaca in Mexico, which has a X in the name!

Oaxaca (pronounced wa-hah-kah) is a lovely colonial-style city about 480km south of Mexico City. The city was founded in 1529 and follows a fairly traditional colonial town plan - with a main square (zócalo) in the centre surrounded by the cathedral and government buildings, and lots of lovely traffic-free, tree lined streets.

For those of you who live in London - you might be familiar with the Mexican restaurant chain named after this lovely city :)

Oaxaca celebrates Grito de Dolores - 2009
Oaxaca celebrates Grito de Dolores - 2009

We were in Oaxaca a few days following Grito de Dolores (Mexico's Independence Day) and there were lots of lovely lights decorating the main square, with a constant flow of life music drifting through the air from the central bandstand.

Oaxaca's zócalo was the perfect place to soak up the city atmosphere, particularly on a hot night. We spent several evenings watching the comings and goings of all the people who live there.

Oaxaca's zócalo - Mexico 2009
Oaxaca's zócalo by night - Mexico 2009

No visit to Oaxaca is complete without taking a day trip to the famous Hierve el Agua, also known as 'cascadas petrificadas' - that's petrified waterfalls to you and me. That's right - petrified waterfalls!!

The 'waterfalls' sit on two separate cliffs, fifty and ninty metres above the valley below, and are a majestic site. The white rock waterfall formations are created by fresh water springs, whose water is over-saturated with calcium carbonate. As the water runs down the rock face, it forms large stalactites similar to those found in caves.

When you first arrive you see what looks like a giant waterfall frozen to the side of a cliff. Amazing!

me - with Hierve el Agua in the background, Mexico
me - with a petrified waterfall (Hierve el Agua) in the background, Mexico

The water, with its high mineral content is said to have healing qualities and be good for your health, so a swimming hole at the very top of the smaller petrified waterfall 'cascada chica' is a popular place to bathe.

As well as the health benefits swimmers are treated to panorama views of the valley below and the larger petrified waterfall. What more could one ask for really? We relaxed in the swimming hole and watched the world go by for a good hour...

swimming at the top of cascada chica, Oaxaca - Mexico 2009
swimming at the top of cascada chica, Oaxaca - Mexico 2009

Aside for crazy, petrified waterfalls, Oaxaca is also well renowned for its speciality cuisine, which includes mole - a rich sauce made of ground chillies, a local string cheese called quesillo - which is amazing in burgers by the way, bars of chocolate (mostly used for making hot chocolate) and spicy fried grasshoppers known as chapulines! The chapulines were plentiful at Oaxaca's Central Market, but really weren't my cup of tea.

We tried our first meal of Mole while in Oaxaca, and although delicious it didn't quite 'agree with me'. Who knew that chocolate could disguise chilly so well!

Oaxaca, Mexico

This November I'm blogging every day in a A to Z travel challenge, where I'll share some of the amazing but more obscure places I've travelled to in the world as I make my way through the alphabet. 

If you'd like to join me on this travel blogging challenge please do. I'd love to hear about some of your favourite travel destinations. Tweet using #AtoZtravel and I'll retweet you, or just share your posts in my comment feed. Enjoy and Happy #AtoZtravel November!
Also - I'm entered in the travel category of the 2015 UK Blog Awards. If you enjoy reading somewhere... beyond the sea then I would love you to vote for me. It's pretty easy - just click on this link. Happy travels!

25 November 2014

Waihi Beach, New Zealand - #AtoZtravel

If you've ever wondered what the beach is like in New Zealand then read on. Waihi Beach on the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand is a pretty typical example, and one that is close to my heart.

When you visit the beach in New Zealand there's no concrete promenades, arcade games, piers, beach bars or sun loungers that you have to pay to use. Instead, at New Zealand beaches (Waihi Beach included) you'll often find lovely clean white sand and lots of space. Enough space so it feels like you have the whole beach almost all to yourself...

Waihi Beach, New Zealand
Waihi Beach, New Zealand

Hungry? If you're lucky there's normally a dairy (New Zealand corner store) within walking distance back over the sand dunes and off the beach that will sell a healthy selection of meat pies and tip top ice-cream. And if you're extra lucky somewhere within the vicinity you'll find the local fish & chip shop :)

Waihi Beach is where I happily spent many of my beach days growing up in New Zealand, and most recently is the beach where I managed to get my feet sunburnt to a crisp just days before my wedding last year!

view of Waihi Beach
view of Waihi Beach from under a sun umbrella a few days before my wedding

This November I'm blogging every day in a A to Z travel challenge, where I'll share some of the amazing but more obscure places I've travelled to in the world as I make my way through the alphabet. 

If you'd like to join me on this travel blogging challenge please do. I'd love to hear about some of your favourite travel destinations. Tweet using #AtoZtravel and I'll retweet you, or just share your posts in my comment feed. Enjoy and Happy #AtoZtravel November!
Also - I'm entered in the travel category of the 2015 UK Blog Awards. If you enjoy reading somewhere... beyond the sea then I would love you to vote for me. It's pretty easy - just click on this link. Happy travels!

24 November 2014

Vanuatu - #AtoZtravel

The Republic of Vanuatu is a tropical Island Nation in the South Pacific Ocean. Famous for it's beaches, sea life, tropical flora and warm weather Vanuatu is a popular holiday destination for many Aussies and Kiwis.

Personally, I'll grab any opportunity I can to go snorkelling and gaze with wonder at the world under the sea. So when I was in Vanuatu with hubby and his family a few years back you can imagine my excitement to find out that Vanuatu has it's very own underwater Post Office!!

Hideaway Island - Vanuatu, the home of the underwater Post Office
me posing on Hideaway Island - Vanuatu, the home of the underwater Post Office

Yes - it's true. The underwater Post Office in Vanuatu does really exist! And I have personally posted a postcard in the underwater postbox myself.

A short swim from the shore of Hideaway Bay, and approximately three metres deep the underwater Post Office has been accepting post since March 2003. You can buy special waterproof postcards on shore and then swim out to the underwater post office to mail your postcard to your lucky chosen person.

A flag above the water helps post office goers know where to swim, and a Vanuatu postman (aka diver) collects the mail each day. Cool huh!!!

underwater post office - Vanuatu
underwater post office - Vanuatu
{image via PADI blog}

This November I'm blogging every day in a A to Z travel challenge, where I'll share some of the amazing but more obscure places I've travelled to in the world as I make my way through the alphabet. 

If you'd like to join me on this travel blogging challenge please do. I'd love to hear about some of your favourite travel destinations. Tweet using #AtoZtravel and I'll retweet you, or just share your posts in my comment feed. Enjoy and Happy #AtoZtravel November!
Also - I'm entered in the travel category of the 2015 UK Blog Awards. If you enjoy reading somewhere... beyond the sea then I would love you to vote for me. It's pretty easy - just click on this link. Happy travels!

23 November 2014

Udaipur, India - #AtoZtravel

Udaipur was the most relaxed city I visited while travelling in northern India in 2007.

Known as the 'city of lakes', 'most romantic city in India' and ‘Venice of the East’ due to the three lakes that surround this city that are interconnected by canals, forts, palaces, temples, gardens and mountains - this was one spot in India where I actually felt like I was on holiday.

When I think back to my time in Udaipur now it is all a bit of a blur. India sped past so fast that I find it hard to attach some of my memories to specific cities. However, the one thing I do remember about Udaipur were the lovely evenings were my friend and I would sit on the rooftop of our humble hotel and take in the amazing sunsets over the lake with our dinner or a drink.

Udaipur, India
Udaipur, India
{image via Laura Zera}

This November I'm blogging every day in a A to Z travel challenge, where I'll share some of the amazing but more obscure places I've travelled to in the world as I make my way through the alphabet. 

If you'd like to join me on this travel blogging challenge please do. I'd love to hear about some of your favourite travel destinations. Tweet using #AtoZtravel and I'll retweet you, or just share your posts in my comment feed. Enjoy and Happy #AtoZtravel November!
Also - I'm entered in the travel category of the 2015 UK Blog Awards. If you enjoy reading somewhere... beyond the sea then I would love you to vote for me. It's pretty easy - just click on this link. Happy travels!
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