Mt. Rokko

Mt. Rokko was another fun trip, one that I definitely suggest you do on a sunny day! When I went, I experienced all sorts of weather, everything from sunny with clear blue skies, to rain, to snow. If you go in the spring, definitely be ready for colder air on top and sudden changes in weather. You can either drive up there, take a cable car or public transportation.

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When you get to the top of the mountain, you can see all of Kobe and Osaka under you. It is absolutely amazing! Hopefully the air will be clear enough so you can see how far the two cities span, because only from the top can you see how huge the area is.

There are several things you should stop by and see when you are up on Mt. Rokko. First, there is a Music Box Museum. There you can see music boxes of all shapes and sizes and even buy one or make your own. You can also sit down in their cafe and if it is warm enough outside, you can take your coffee out by the lake.

Another stop you can make is the Botanical Garden. Sadly, I couldn’t go there because it was closed. But I heard it is amazing, so I recommend you visit, and let me know how it is :)

IMG_8172The last stop we made was by the observatory. It’s at the top of the mountain with the most stunning view. There even is a small tower you can climb to get the best view. There is also a little gift shop, selling lots of different Japanese sweets! An added plus of stopping by the observatory is the food. You can either go for the buffet or the Japanese BBQ (Yakiniku). We went for the Yakiniku, because it is absolutely delicious (and gluten-free)!

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From the observatory, Arima Onsen, a hot springs town, is about 3 km, so I suggest stopping by there after Mt. Rokko, because it is an adorable little town!

If you are in Osaka/Kobe, Mt. Rokko is definitely worth the trip, whether you drive or take the cable car!


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Himeji


Himeji

My trip to Himeji was another one of my half-day trips, but this time I rode on the train for the first time! Luckily, JR (Japanese Rail) has signs in English, making the whole journey slightly easier. Google was still needed, but we managed!DSC_4308

When we got to Himeji, we took a cab from the train station to the castle. It is definitely walking distance from the station, but since we wanted to make sure we saw everything, we thought the cab would be faster.

View from Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is beautiful and huge. Very impressive, especially since it was built in the 14th century. Just be aware of the fact that when you are walking through, there are a lot of very narrow stairs. You also need to take your shoes off, so my little tip for you is: wear pretty socks 😉 At the entrance into the castle, you get a plastic bag for you to carry your shoes in and slippers . And then the climbing begins. The combination of the narrow stairs, low ceilings, and the one size fits all slippers can be deadly, so just watch out when you are there! Five flights of stairs later, you are at the top, rewarded with a view of the city. The only thing that was, in my opinion, was missing from the castle is at least one furnished room. Being from a completely different culture, I cannot imagine what the castle looked like when it was furnished and decorated, so I wish I could see that. But other than that, it’s definitely a need-to-see landmark.

If you go to Himeji castle, definitely buy the combo tickets to go to the Koko-en gardens next to the castle. Those gardens with ponds and waterfalls are truly magical, even before spring really started.  Also, there is a tea room, where you can experience a real tea ceremony. I recommend you try it out, you get the matcha tea and a Japanese sweets made from soy beans. You get a little cheat sheet for the ceremony, so you know what to do. This is important since you have to bow at the beginning, eat the sweet, pick up the tea, turn the cup, drink, turn the cup back and then set it down. At the end, you have to bow again. It was a great experience.

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When we finally found our way out of the intricate gardens, it was time for lunch. At this point we had to test out how helpful Japanese people are, because we found a restaurant online, but couldn’t find it in the real world. We found out that Japanese people are very willing to help you out, even if they don’t speak the same language. Thank god for google translate, because through it, a woman pointed us in a direction of several restaurants.

 

ShinkansenAfter lunch, we headed back to Kobe. To make the trip back more special, we took the Shinkanzen, or the bullet train. So, instead of spending almost an hour on a train, we spent 12 minutes. It is a nice train, probably very comfortable for longer rides, something that I will definitely have to try out at one point!

Himeji is a place you should visit, if you are in the Kansai region. The castle and the gardens are beautiful. You could also just walk through the city for hours, discovering new things.


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Kyoto


Easter in the Czech Republic

Even though the Czech Republic is mostly an atheist country, we’re pretty big on certain holidays that originate in Christianity. Just like Christmas, Easter is a big thing. So, we’re going to take a break from Pav’s Japan coverage and tell you a bit about it.

Easter markets

In bigger towns, such as Prague, they have Easter markets, similar to the ones at Christmas. Everything is decorated in spring themes and people can walk around various booths, buying Easter decorations and food.

The traditions

An important aspect of Easter traditions are the decorations. People usually decorate their homes in a spring theme – branches, flowers, Easter eggs (which can be quite elaborate), bows in vibrant colors. Yellows and reds are very prominent.

Food is a big part of the celebrations. People bake lamb, usually instead of meat they make a pastry.

Easter Monday

This is actually the biggest day for celebrations and also the hardest to explain to our non-czech friends. Sunday is usually used for preparations for Monday, which is a national holiday and everybody gets the day off. Girls decorate eggs and boys maeaster-1274835_1280ke their pomlazka, which is made of braided twigs and decorated with bows. On Monday, boys walk around their villages or towns, door to door and lightly whip girls with their pomlazka while saying a poem. This is done to symbolica
lly ensure health and youth for the girls for the following year. As a reward, girls give the boy eggs that she decorated the previous day or chocolate (for adults, a shot of alcohol is also acceptable). It may sound odd to outsiders, but it is a part of the culture and history.

What do you think about Czech Easter traditions?


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Japan

5 things I never leave at home


Kyoto

I was only in Kyoto for a couple of hours and I wish I could stay there longer and explore. There is so much to see in the city, so I definitely recommend spending at least one night there, so you can see all sides of the city.

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First, we wanted to see the Imperial Palace, but what we didn’t know was that you have to go on guided tours. And more importantly, that there are only two guided tours of the main palace a day, at 10am and 2pm. We got there at 10:15, so unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go for a tour. We did, however, go on a tour of the Sento Palace gardens.

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TIP: in the summer and in the winter you have to reserve tickets for the tours!

TIP 2: bring your passport everywhere, as they want to see an ID when you go on the tour

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The Sento Palace was amazing to see. I was there in early spring, so the trees were barely budding and only two trees were actually blooming. But I could already tell that the gardens will be magical when everything is in full bloom. The tour guide, I’m sure, was amazing, but I didn’t understand what he was saying, since everything was in Japanese. I also gave up a little on the audio guide, because the monotone voice bored me a little. It was very informative, but it was hard to listen to that, when the stories looked so much more interesting when spoken. So, instead of listening I took lots and lots of pictures, from all angles! It was nice and sunny, which brightened all the colors and made me fall in love with serenity of the place. I imagined how amazing it would be if I could just bring my book and read by the lake.

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After the tour we just drove a little further into the center, parked by the Kamo river and walked around for a little bit. We got lucky and saw a couple of Geishas walking around and even one that just became a Geisha, ceremoniously completing her training. When we saw her, she was surrounded by photographers. So naturally, we joined them and took lots of pictures of her too :)

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We continued walking through the little streets of Kyoto, slowly looking for a place to eat. Finally we found this Yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) place, called Ryū an, that was absolutely amazing. Each table was separated by sliding walls, which made the place really intimate. When we told the waiters that I was allergic to gluten, they were very careful to check that all the food they served me was gluten-free. The food was
so good, so I definitely recommend!

Kyoto was so much fun! Definitely wish I could spend more time there and really explore the city. There are a lot of temples and shrines that I didn’t get to see, so hopefully next time!


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Japan

Universal Studios Japan


Universal Studios Japan

Universal Studio Japan was such a fun experience. We spent the whole day there, going on all the big rides!

IMG_8028First we went on the Hollywood Dream ride, which is a traditional roller coaster, the drop of which is the first thing you see and hear when entering the USJ. It’s a really fun ride and you get five options for songs you want to listen during the ride.  If you want to, you can do the Hollywood Backdrop, which is the same roller coaster, but going backwards. I refused to go backwards…

Next up was the Attack of the Titans, which was a 4D Japanese anime movie. I really don’t recommend going to the movies, because they are all in Japanese with no subtitles. I got pretty lost in the storyline, but if you like anime, then you will enjoy it even without the subtitles.

The Spiderman ride was one of my favorites! A big part of this ride is the virtual reality it is set in. The 3D effects worked so well with the roller coaster leading to several surprises, that I don’t want to spoil for you!

The Terminator was a really cool show, but again, only in Japanese. Since I’ve seen the movie, I understood generally what was happening, but if you don’t know the story then you will probably be a little lost. However, there were some really cool effects, that you will enjoy even if you don’t know the story.IMG_8026

Wonderland/Snoopy Land is great for kids. However, for a 21 year old there wasn’t much to do, so while my brothers went on their first ride completely alone, I enjoyed a cup of coffee and sitting on a solid and static bench.

The Steakhouse we went to for lunch was a really nice place, with good wine, steak and salmon. I definitely recommend it, just don’t eat too much if you get nauseous on rides!

Our last stop was by far my favorite: Harry Potter World. Being able to walk through Hogsmeade and see Hogwarts and the Hogwarts Express was like a dream come true for me! The Forbidden Journey ride was amazing, although I don’t want to spoil any of it for you, but definitely go if you get the chance!

IMG_8103That concludes my trip to Universal Studios Japan! The biggest problem with USJ is that it is very difficult for foreigners to get tickets and free passes online, because everything is in Japanese and then to communicate in the park. Of course the workers try very hard, but communication isn’t what it really should be, I personally wish even the rides were a little more foreigner friendly. Other than that, it is a lot of fun!

Final TIP: Get express passes! USJ gets crowded, especially when the weather is nice, so skip the wait by getting passes!

If you have any questions, leave a comment!


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Japan

5 things I never leave at home