I am just back from a relaxing Easter break in Kalmar, my beautiful birth town in South East of Sweden. Below are some images from walks around Stensö, Svinö, Djurängsskogen and Skällby (the latter a recreational area with greenery, animals and a café). One day it was even possible to do some sunbathing in my dad´s garden. Not particular the norm for this time of the year but for sure a pleasant surprise.
Kalmar is a very popular holiday destination for nature lovers. Many of them coming from Germany and the Netherlands. And for people seeking to cross the bridge over to the island Öland (where in fact the king & queen of Sweden has their summer palace). Kalmar has a rich history and probably the most famous landmark is the old castle on above picture.
Before I caught my train back me and my father made a little detour and discovered some lovely cherry blossoms. And I also managed to capture some typical small colorful Kalmar houses, found downtown. There are so many interesting things to discover in Kalmar. I never used to see them when I lived there, but now I do :-)
Fukuoka! I just love the name of this laid back city where I spent one evening and one full day exploring. It is a charming and easy to navigate city with amazingly friendly people. Since Fukuoka is very close to South Korea I was desperately looking for a Korean place to eat the first night. It was not that easy as I would have thought. But finally I ended up in a funky K-pop eatery where I enjoyed some spicy dishes. After that I walked along the river to explore the famous night food stalls Yatai before walking all the way back to my cosy but far away hidden hostel. Many hostels in Japan looks like on below picture. Tatami floor and just a thin mattress, called Futon, to roll out as it time to go to sleep. Even if I like hard beds this is quite something to get used to. But very cosy!
I started the next day by visiting the Ohori park. The sky was blue and the temperature perfect for strolling around. Trying to get back into the main center of Fukuoka I quite quick got lost which I am very thankful for since it made me find a nice lookout point and cosy small back streets. And just by accident I also ran into what I long wanted to discover in Japan – a cat café (neko=cat). I am not even fond of cats (I am a dog person) but I wanted to experience this phenomenon. So happily I payed for one hour cat encounter (and cat lover encounter) before moving on to try out yet another for me new thing. The Perikura photo machines. Wow, that was tricky. I choose one machine and managed to get some pictures taken but to edit them afterwards with just instructions in Japanese made me a bit stressed. But boy I had fun ;-)
Before heading back to the hostel for another hard but good nights sleep I needed to try the dish that Fukuoka is most famous for – the Ramen soup. I found a food court in a shopping mall where one place clearly seemed to be specialized in very spicy Ramen soup. Since I am a chili addict this was my choice. In Japan you will come across many ways of purchasing you food, for example through a machine like the one on below pictures. Every day in Japan is a mind blowing experience. Just how I love it!
Finally I can start blogging about Japan again :-) Since I have limited time spending on this blog and since new trips takes up most of my attention, it is hard for me to catch up with the past. I still have so many trips to cover! In my last post about Japan I wrote about my amazing day trip to Miyajima, an island close to Hiroshima. After I came back in the evening I strolled around Hiroshima and had their famous Okonomiyaki. A great dish that you can see more about on below pictures. That evening I also saw the A-bomb Dome for the first time, lit up in the dark. This former Hall was just 160 meters from the hypo center of the bomb. Somehow it did not collapse and today it is on the world heritage list as a world peace monument. It was a very emotional moment to see this building. In fact when choosing the pictures for this post I had to cry. Japan is such a beautiful place filled with amazing people and it is hard to accept what the atomic bombing of Hiroshima led to. But before we go over to more sad history I have to say that Hiroshima surprised me. It was a very pleasant city with wonderful people. And the Okonomiyaki – wow!!! I cannot really describe this dish, I think the pictures below will better show both the dish and the nice way you watch it being prepared and eat it :-P
After seeing the A-bomb dome at night the first time it was nice to come back and see it in daylight. The Peace Park in Hiroshima is a beautiful place to stroll around with lots of memorial monuments to watch and educational reading to go with it. The most famous is the Children´s Peace monument. Further down in one of my pictures there is some more background reading about this monument and the thousands of origami cranes surrounding the actual monument. At the end of the Peace Park lies the Peace Memorial Museum. It was a touching moment to walk around in the museum and learn about the tragedy the atomic bomb led too. The survivors of the so called A-bomb are called “Perifpheral Hibakusha” and there are today about 66000 of them still living in Hiroshima. With this I let you view some of the pictures from the park and the museum….
Around six o´clock in the evening the 20st of July 2013 me and Louise reached Los Angeles after a very tough shopping day in the Camarillo Premium Outlets :-P. Just as we entered LA our GPS decided to just die and for the first time I got to use the ordinary map to guide us down to Santa Monica and the Hostel International where we would spend our two last days of an amazing one month South Western US rd trip. After the luggage was dropped of we returned the car and took the bus back from the airport to Santa Monica.
We had just two days in LA. The first day we had decided to rent bikes and see some of the coast. It was a great day however a bit gray and chilly. We had hoped for a first and last Californian swim but that did not happen. Instead we got a few drops of rain on us (something very unusual for July in LA according to the locals…) We did a lot of fun people watching in Venice beach, had a great Italian wine lunch and biked around the marina area. Maybe the biggest surprise was the channel area in Venice with amazing villas to watch.
On our last day we had booked a city tour. Our flight was at night and the travel company had ensured us that the full tour would be a perfect option and that it would include a drop of at the airport. But something went wrong in the communication between the tour operator and the driver and we almost missed our flight….Good learning – never do a tour on your last day ;-) Anyhow, the tour was quick and dirty but gave a good overview of LA. A city that I would love to come back to, for a party evening in Hollywood and a visit to the less touristic parts. Everything comes to an end and so did this intense tour which has taken rather some time to document. Now I will try to focus Japan again which I never got to finalize. My next trip isn’t until May when I will visit Rome and the Amalfi coast in Italy. So I have some time to work on the past again :-)
The stretch of Highway 1 from Morro Bay to Santa Barbara was a fun day full of surprises. I had insisted to Louise that we try to spot some sights from the fantastic movie “Sideways” which is made around the Santa Barbara wine country. One of those stops was Ostrichland which was great fun. Louise actually chose to not enter, (there you missed something Louise), but I had never seen Ostriches close up and was eager to meet them eye to eye. I had such a good laugh watching those beasts, a real energy boost ;-) However I was a bit afraid of feeding them since they are not exactly the friendlies animals on earth.
After Ostrichland it was time to stop by the Danish village Solvang. My pre feeling was that this was going to be a real tourist trap that we would quickly rush through and leave with a disappointing feeling. But it actually turned out very different. Sure, Solvang is very touristic but it has a natural Danish feel. It is a pretty place full of greenery, great architecture and cosy cafés. :-)
As we continued towards our stop for the night, Santa Barbara, we took the opportunity to take a detour around the beautiful wine country of Santa Barbara. Most tourists, including myself, immediately associate Napa Valley with California wine. But I found Santa Barbara (where “Sideways” was shot) much more pretty. It was a well worth detour :-)
Once we had checked into our motel for the night we took a stroll through central Santa Barbara. What a pretty place! Palm lined streets and lots of great people watching. And a beautiful Courthouse from where you had amazing views. In the evening they had an open air movie/picknick event. We would have loved to stay but as the sun sunk it became really cold and we instead opted for an early evening at the motel.
The part of Highway 1 stretching from Monterey to Morro Bay is absolutely stunning. On the map this part is not so far in distance but due to all the beauty which will make you want to stop all the time, two full days is really to recommend. Part of this stretch is called the “Big Sur”, a very dramatic drive along open ocean. I had read in a couple of forums that the Big Sur was so scary that if you drove from north to south (meaning having only ocean on your right) you would sometimes, as passenger, have to close your eyes out of anxiety. Now, this is really not true at all ;-)
As we were approaching Cambria, where we were going to spend the night before continuing to Morro Bay, we suddenly saw lots and lots of car parked further ahead and immediately understood there must be something of big interest. And yes it was! A whole beach packed with lazy, chubby Elephant Seals resting close together. Was I in love! They are so funny and charming to watch and I had a hard time leaving them…
The next day we continued towards Morro Bay. Before going there we visited the lovely little town San Luis Obispo (also called simply SLO). Somehow I hardly got any pictures from there but it was a cosy town highly recommended to stroll around a few hours. However if we would have know just how wonderful Morro Bay was I think we would have rushed a bit more. Our hotel for the night was really funky and overlooking the picturesque harbor where we strolled around in the evening. There we also had the possibility to share a bottle of wine, that we had bought in Napa Valley, since everything was withing walking distance. The lady running this cute little place gave us whine glasses and together with some complimentary snacks and a big bunch of yellow ducks we finally had a moment to reflect.
Morro Bay has a big population of sea otters. Really charming creatures. We had decided to find them the next morning before setting of. Unfortunately they were rather far from shore that morning so it was hard to catch them on picture. But I got a few and also a girl on her way to find a good surf sport :-)
Full of expectations on the legendary Highway 1 of we took from San Francisco towards our first stop, the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, where we also were going to spend the first night. I have to say this stay was one of my highlights on this route. The lighthouse is very remote and has a kind of spooky feel about it. It was so peaceful to just stroll around the lighthouse area and feel the fresh (chilly) coastal winds. The hostel itself was really quiet and super cheap. Not the cleanest perhaps but for sure very memorable.
For dinner we went to the excellent Duarte´s Tavern in the small village Pescadero, famous for their Artichokes. This place was only a short drive from from Pigeon Point Lighthouse. We had an excellent dinner there followed by a American pie for desert. Walnut and a berry flavors! Still today I get a watering mouth from thinking about this amazing cake. Good timing since it was actually my birthday this day ;-) And my birthday ended with 30 minutes hot tub with a view. Who would have expected a lighthouse with a hot tub?
We left our hostel early in the morning the following day, to drive down to Monterey where our day was going to start with a whale watching tour. This is something I had been looking forward to very much and I have to say it did not at all live up to my expectations. Even though I had taken a pill against sea sickness I had constant nausea and the boat was too crowded with eager people. Besides this I just could not get excited by just seeing a small part of the back of a whale from a really far distance. Zooming out as much as I could below whale shot is the best I got. My highlight of that tour was instead when a big bunch of dolphins came swimming past. That was really cool. But the best part was once we approached the shore again and the happy sea lions, that are all over the town, greeted us in their playful manner.
Our day ended by a brief visit to the picturesque town Carmel, next to Monterey, where we also had a wonderful dinner. And after that a sunset drive along the Monterey shore. I loved little Carmel but Monterey to me was not so special. However I know they have a great aquarium which we unfortunately had no time to visit! The best part of Monterey were for sure the sea lions. They are so charming and literally everywhere!! :-)
San Francisco is just as cool as everyone tells you. If not cooler. It is a funky city with funky inhabitants. And lots of dogs! But there are two reasons why I would not like to live in this city. It is freezing cold winds most days of the year (I asked a local and she said September and October were a bit better but for the rest it is cold and most of the time a bit grayish sky). The second reasons is the hills. They are fun for a first timer but I am sure I would not find them as intriguing after a while…
Above picture is taken from the opposite side of San Francisco, in Sausalito. A cute community that we, coming from the north, passed by before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. In Sausalito the sun was shining but as we hit the bridge we were caught in that gray San Francisco cloud. You can see it “hanging” over SF on above picture as well.
After checking in at Hostel International Fisherman´s Wharf we strolled along the shore. I must say that Fisherman’s Wharf is what impressed med least in San Francisco and please don´t bother trying the famous Clamchower. It was not appetizing at all (picture below). Pier 39, famous for seal watching, was somehow empty this day. Not the best start :-(
The first encounter with SF took a turn at night when we heard there was a local Friday food market just around the corner. “Off the Grid” as this recurrent event is called was a tasty surprise. And even though we were cold as ice we enjoyed enjoyed an even colder beer and some street food.
Our first full San Francisco day was discovered mostly by foot. After managing the first obligatory photo shoot of the local tram (which is by the way just used by tourists, why I will come back to…), we started of with the “must see” Lombard street”. This quirky road is fun to watch. But imagine to live there ;-)
The hills took us up and down and I soon discovered how fun it was to never know what was behind the next hill. A game of baseball or a friendly Italian man with his very old dog in the Italian quarters…
When it was time to eat the natural choice was the Saturday “Ferry Plaza Farmer´s market”. There the healthy local population enjoyed their weekend lunch and did their ecological groceries.
After lunch we did some Levis shopping around Union Square. Then we had decided to end the day by taking the tram back (downhills) to Fisherman´s Wharf. So though most of the tourists which resulted in a one hour queue. Totally normal said the locals who always seemed to prefer the bus. Anyhow, we got our ride and it was fun :-)
Our second full day started pretty late in the day and the reason for that is that we had a bit too much fun the evening before. Since it was Saturday night we decided to go clubbing. Being in San Francisco checking out the rainbow district Castro seemed like the most fun way to spend the night. It started with a kind of drag show combined charity for illegal Latino gay men and ended in a fun dance bar where we finally got to dance to great house music with a big mix of happy people :-)
The next day we started with a walk through the large China Town of San Francisco. Then further to see the “Painted Ladies” houses followed by a stroll through the hippie quarters in the “The Haight”. On the way home we had some Mexican food in Castro and so another day was gone….
San Francisco is a fun place but we felt our 2 1/2 day was enough to see and feel this city. (If we had one more day we would have added Alcatraz). To be honest, we wanted to get rid of the cold so we were rather happy to leave.
In San Francisco the word “micro” can be found quite often, example micro beer brewery (common). One funny thing we experienced was the micro climates. It could be bearable at the Fisherman´s Wharf and even a little bit sun and actually fine for T-shirt. But a short bus ride “uphill” and a fleece and shelf jacket was necessary.
On our last day we drove past the Golden Gate Bridge lookout and managed to get some great shots. The first one below is natural colors. And the others a bit are more like the way I would have liked it to be ;-)
Sometimes your biggest disappointment can turn out to become a really beautiful memory. I think that is how I best would like to describe my meeting with Point Reyes. Point Reyes is a vast cape just north of San Francisco, a natural seashore sanctuary. Louise and I had decided to take a night in this area before heading to San Francisco. We had read about the amazing views from the Point Reyes shores, big chanses of seeing dolphins and even whales. What met us was ice cold wind and a grey sky. After checking in to the rustic Point Reyes hostel where we were placed in a new built dormitory house which we had all to ourself, we took a windy walk along the coast.
Even if it was grey and cold I slowly started to appreciate the feeling of peace that came with this laidback place. And after a wonderful nights sleep in a super quiet hostel without wifi and other media noise, we had a lovely day discovering parts of Point Reyes before heading to San Fransisco. I had fresh oysters at a cute oyster farm called Drakes Bay which we just by coincidence passed by. We felt the fresh and powerful Pasific winds as we wandered along the Lighthouse area. Cute deers popped out from nowhere and greeted us to their peaceful home. When thinking back I have only good memories from this experience which I felt was a bit fairytalish. A true natural gem.
California really has so much to offer! After two days discovering Yosemite we had booked two nights in the Napa Valley region, famous for its wineries. Apart from Napa Valley there is Sonoma Valley, the latter said to be more relaxed. When doing research we fell for the town Calistoga in the northern part of the Napa Valley, since that particular part is famous not only for wine but also for its thermal activities. Calistoga has lots of hot springs and spas. The speciality for the town is mud bath with volcanic soil from the area. Therefore our first activity upon arrival was a mud bath followed by some soaking in the different temperatured hot springs in “Calistoga Spa hot springs”. It was a wonderful afternoon and for the first time on this trip we had time to actually relax. We ended the day with great Italian, accompanied with excellent red wine ofcourse. Then we slept like babies in our comfortable hotel. Filled with energy for the next day´s activity!
The next day we had booked a self guided tour called “bike & sip”. After being provided bike, helmet and a map with a couple of wineries where we could do wine tasting just by showing our wrist band, of we took. The sun was shining and it was nor desert heat or chilly coastal winds. Just perfect temperature. The instructions we got was to rather bike and spit but we didn´t follow those instructions but enjoyed the great wine throughout the day. At one small winery we decided to have a picknick that we had bought along the way. It was just a lovely day! From the five places we visited I liked “Lava vine” and “Tedeschi” best. That were small, hip places with relaxed tasting atmosphere.