Flying with Finnair

When I decided to go to Japan, the biggest concern was getting tickets for the correct dates, price and availability. Seeing as I was buying these tickets less than two days before my intended departure, availability was key and we chose Finnair. It’s also the shortest route from Prague to Osaka, with 2 hours or so from Prague to Helsinki and then 9 hours from Helsinki to Osaka with a brief 3 hour layover.

IMG_6949Pre-Flight

Pre-flight procedures here are pretty standard. You get a reminder e-mail 24 hours ahead of time and you can check in, nothing to remark on. Everything worked as it should have and I was on my way!

Flight

To be honest, it wasn’t one of my favorite flights, the seats are rather small and the place has a cramped feel to it. My return flight was significantly better, as I had two seats to myself and was able to be a little more comfortable. The best part was that the cabin temperature was pretty near perfect and I wasn’t freezing, as is sometimes the case.

Food

Food was decent, although on the way to Japan I didn’t eat much. On the way back, it was significantly better and we even got ice cream half way through the flight! You get a small bottle of water when you walk on the plane, so bonus points for that, even though it’s not enough for the long haul flight. On the short flight, you have a selection of food and drinks that you can purchase. On the other hand, service was great and always helpful.IMG_1193

TIP! Once you’re past security, bring a bottle of water for your long haul flight. I was pretty dehydrated on the way there so I did this when coming back and felt a lot better.

In-flight Entertainment

I was lucky because I travelled there and back in different months, so the movies and tv shows were slightly different. Overall, there’s a decent selection of movies and shows and I wasn’t bored, even though I hardly slept. One tip for you – you get free earphones, but I recommend that you bring your own, along with a converter to the two prong outlet for sound that airplanes have.

Overall, this was a very convenient way to get from A to B with the shortest possible travel time and best departure and arrival times. And for that alone, I would fly with them again. On the way there I was a little surprised, but on the way back I figured out what I need to do to make my flight more comfortable and it definitely was!

Awaji Island

Ferris WheelAwaji Island is across the Akashi Bridge from Kobe and it was the last place I visited in Japan. It is a great day trip, but in a typical fashion, I only had a few hours before I had to pack and leave for the airport.

Just driving around the island was great. The island is made up of rolling hills and mountains, so just driving around is a lot of fun, because you can see a lot. When you first drive over the bridge, you can see the ferris wheel. As you drive on the highway, you pass different towns or just small settlements of the island. You can also see different beaches and even fishermen’s nets set up in the ocean.

 

We drove down to the southern part of the island until we reached the town Sumoto. There we got off the highway and stopped in park for a short walk. Or what we originally thought was going to be a short walk. It ended up being more of a hike that took about two hours. So my tip is bring comfortable shoes! You really never know when you will find yourself on a hike :D!Hiking

The hike was definitely worth it! There were a couple of stops along the way to the top with viewpoints, where we took lots and lots of pictures. When we finally made it to the top, we loved it! Whatever despair or regrets about our choices of shoes we may have felt, it was all worth it when we got to the top. The view was phenomenal! We could see Sumoto on one side and the ocean on the other side of the hill.

IMG_8336So, after taking copious amount of photos, we had to head back down. At this point very thirsty and craving coffee. Since we didn’t really expect a hike, we didn’t bring any water so, my second tip is bring water wherever you go! Again, you just never know when you will want to go on a hike!

Lockers for shoes in RestaurantWe got back down in about 45 minutes and we were starving! Luckily we passed a Yakiniku restaurant on our way there in Sumoto, so all we needed to do was find it. And I’m glad that we did, because we order lots and lots of delicious food, that I still have dreams about! The restaurant is called Tenzankaku, and I really recommend it, because you depending on which set you order, you can eat as much as you want, there is a time limit to what you can eat, rather than the amount of food. Bottomless drinks and ice cream are included! So if you are in that area, definitely go to this restaurant! This is a restaurant where you have to take your shoes off and leave them in little lockers by the door, so just keep that in mind.

On our way back we stopped by the ferris wheel. Obviously, if you are afraid of the heights, don’t go, because it goes very high. But if you aren’t and you love things like this, like I do, the view is so worth it! From the ferris wheel you can see the Akashi Bridge and Kobe/Osaka on the other side of the Akashi Strait. Even if you are afraid of heights, it is a good place to stop. You still get an amazing view of the cities and the bridge from the ground! Also there’s Starbucks right under the ferris wheel, so it is a great spot for a coffee break.Akashi Bridge

Awaji Island was the last place I visited. I wish I could’ve seen more of it, because there are a lot of things to see there, like various Shrines and Castles, beaches and gardens. Definitely go if you get the chance, and let me know what the places I didn’t get to visit are like!


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Arima Onsen


Arima Onsen

Arima Onsen is another place that I visited only briefly, after my trip around Mt. Rokko. It was enough time to just walk through and explore. It is an adorable little hot-springs town, with various different spa places and lots of shops selling sweets and other souvenirs.

When you park in the center of the town, you can walk along the spring to a red bridge, which is one of the local sights to see. You can also go down by the river, when it’s warm enough, and just sit and hang out for a while.

12822645_10153929314523363_803331105_oWhen you walk into the older part of the center, there are public hot springs on the street, where you can just put your feet in the water (with about four strangers) and warm your them in the 42 degrees celsius water. Sharing the water with four strangers might seem gross but since it was freezing cold that day, we didn’t hesitate and warmed our feet.

Tip: bring a small towel with you! We didn’t and then we didn’t know what to do with our wet feet :( they also sell towels by the hot springs!

 

After warming up, we went looking for some of the shrines that are around the town. After walking through the tiny streets, we found a gorgeous Buddhist temple. Sadly, we did not find the second shrine, but maybe next time :)

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In Arima Onsen there are a lot of hotels and spas, some of which offer public baths in the hot springs and some private. I haven’t visited those either, but I heard they are quite amazing, so definitely look into it, if you have the time!
Arima Onsen is a great place to buy souvenirs and to just go for a walk, especially if you go after seeing Mt. Rokko. I suggest you at least go see the town, even if you don’t want to go into the hot springs!


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Kyoto


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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Japan

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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