Tag Archives: Wandering

Wandering around Japan Part 4… Matsumoto, Yudonaka & Hakone

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Nakasendo Way

The next part of the trip was through the Japanese Alps and heading towards Tokyo.  We started the day getting the train from Takayama and heading to Tsumago. Tsumago is a designated protected area preserving the traditional buildings by keeping out modern disruptions. We walked along the Nakasendo way, which is one of the five highways from the Edo period between Tokyo and Kyoto. We only experienced a small part of this path, but it was beautiful and peaceful. It’s full of trinket shops and we tried gohei mochi, which is rice ball cake covered in a peanut sauce. It was very nice and tasted like rice in a satay sauce.

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Nakasendo Way

Then we carried on to Matsumoto. Matsumoto is  surrounded by the mountains of the Alps in a valley only 20km wide. It is a lovely city and is a favourite of tourists and residents. We got there in the evening and with only one night in the town we headed straight out to explore and find food. We went straight to see the Matsumoto-jo, which is Japan’s oldest wooden castle. It was a great chance to practice my night photography and as I had decided to carry my borrowed tripod on this overnight stay I improvised with a beanbag to take this beautiful image. Lit in green it stood out throughout the park that surrounds it.

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Matsumoto Castle

We found some great food in a local favourite. Full of business people ending their day with freshly cooked food. It was very much tapas style where we order a section fo meat and vegetables and each came freshly prepared and cooked. We were sat at the bar area and the chef handed over our dishes on a long wooden paddle.

Dinner in Matsumoto

The next morning we headed back to the Matsumoto-jo to go inside and experience it fully. It was extremely busy even though it was off-season and first thing. I captured this great picture of a koi. They see you walking along by the shadows you cast over the water and must be so used to be being fed they come straight up expecting food.

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Koi at Matsumoto Castle

Inside the castle is an experience. It is made up of multiple floors with varying degrees of stairs, which basically become ladders at the top. There are boards explaining the history of the castle and the samurai while you look through the small windows of each level. We queued round the whole castle, where you also have to take your shoes off and carry them round in a bag (great system!) , and finally you make it to the top for stunning views of the city. I would recommend a visit here as this was completely different from the temples and shrines we had seen.

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Matsumoto Castle

As we wandered around Matsumoto we explored several little shopping streets and stumbled across an organic vegetarian market, where we bought this wonderful sushi for our lunch on the train. It was lovely to wander freely around the city after the rush of the castle.

Vegetarian Sushi from Matsumoto

Our next destination was Obuse which is famous for chestnuts and art history including woodblock printing artist Hokusai. It was extremely busy with Japanese Tourists and at this point my mum and I decided to avoid the crowds and find a little coffee shop to relax. I would have liked more time on the places at this point in the trip as it felt rushed as we were fitting in so much. I will definitely return to the Japanese Alps if I return to Japan.

We then headed on the train to Yudanaka for another night in a ryokan. This time it was a huge hotel version, which would be wonderful in the winter for skiing, but just felt a little wrong for the time of year. It has two large onsens which changed over at 10pm switching from male to female. This time the group decided to go altogether and there were may more locals there using the amenities. It is a very odd experience being fully naked with other people in a spa like setting, but then having the shower facilities around the edge. It’s a body positive experience (I see a separate post on this coming) as all the Japanese women had no issues with stripping down, at least it did not seem that way. However when a couple of younger ladies got in they were trying to be modest like ourselves. It’s definitely an experience!

The next day we headed to the Snow Monkey Park just outside Yudanaka. It is another experience that is hard to explain. The park has been there since 1964, but unlike the interpretation of natural onsen ponds, the area is man-made. Without any snow you can see all the thermal pipes and debris from the operations. Also the monkey’s stay for the food they are given, as in reality they would migrate away from the area when it snows. Apart from this the monkey’s were free to come and go and although we were warned they would try to take things we had no problem with any of them.  I also managed to take some great photos I am really happy with.

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Snow Monkey Park
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Snow Monkey Park
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Snow Monkey Park
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Snow Monkey Park
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Snow Monkey Park

We then headed on to Tokyo, but before we explored the city we made the most of the extra day on the rail pass and tried to see Mt Fuji by going on travel day to the area of Hakone. It is a full day of travel, all by different modes, but there is very little time to stop and appreciate the surroundings you find yourself in. Again if I came back to Japan I would spend more time in this area as it was so beautiful.

Hakone Travel Plan

The day started with getting the Bullet train to Odwara, then catching a local train to Hakone-Yomoto. We then transferred to a switch back train to start the journey up the mountain to Gara. We then transferred to a funicular to got straight up the mountain to Souzan to catch a cable car. The cable car took us to the volcanic springs at Owakudoni. Here they have a speciality of cooking eggs in sulphur water so they turn black, you can then buy a bag of 5 to eat. We had one each and they were very nice. Being hard boiled they give you some salt to add and it’s a very nice protein snack surrounded by volcanic activity!

Owakudoni Black Eggs

We then got back on the cable car and headed down to Togendai-ko. Here we got on a pirate ship (yes you read the correctly) to Hakon-Machi-ko.

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Togendai-ko

We then stopped for lunch and walked through the cedar trees to Moto-Hakone-ko to get back on the pirate ship (correct again) to Togendai-ko. We then got on a bus to go walk through the silver grass.  It was a beautiful, but cloudy day and we did not get to see Mt Fuji, apart from the glimpse I got on the train in the morning. We then got back on the bus to get back to where we can catch the bullet train back to Tokyo.

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Silver Grass

That night we stayed close to the hotel for dinner and found a wonderful basement restaurant and tried some new things such as dumplings and this wonderful mochi strawberry dessert. Desserts aren’t big in Japan and there were only 3 on offer in this restaurant and it was very good.

Dessert in Tokyo

Next up the big bright lights of Tokyo!

Top Tips for Matsumoto, Yudonaka & Hakone:

  • Make the most of your time by having breakfasts and lunches on the train
  • Get to tourist attractions early to have minimal crowds
  • If you can have more time in places I would recommend it, but this trip lets you see everything
  • Don’t be afraid to go down or up to find good restaurants

Wandering around Japan Part 2… Kyoto and Nara

 

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Njo Castle

I arrived in Kyoto by flying to Osaka on the evening of 8th October. This was a really good thing and I would recommend checking what time your flight arrives as this meant we could go straight to bed on arrival at the hotel and be ready to start properly the next day. From the Sunday it was non stop for the next two weeks and I loved it! The tour i was on started with a city tour and our guide, Tats, took us to several of the top sights in Kyoto.

Firstly we went to Njo Castle was the place where the miliatry and shoguns of Japan and it dominates a large part of the north west of the city. It is palace built in 1603 with glorious gardens (photos were not allowed inside) and our first glimpse of some autumn colour. It was still 23/24 degrees celcuis when we arrived and so most of the trees were still fully green. The gardens were very peaceful and the palace within the space gave an insight into the traditional arhitecture using paper sliding doors and tatami mats.

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Njo Castle

Before our next place to visit we went to a family restaurant with a sushi train! This was so much fun and the touch screen made it easy to find something my mum would eat. Anything you ordered would come a long on the top conveyor and stop directly by your table. The bottom conveyor was the normal things going round and round for a period of time for everyone to choose from. It was a great introduction for a lot of the group who had not been to a sushi restaurant before.

Sushi Train

The next place our tour was the Kinkaku-ji or the Golden Pavilion. It is one of Japan’s best known places due to the top of the building being completely covered in gold leaf. It was originally built in 1397 as a retirement villa for the shogun and then was later converted into a temple. It was burnt down in 1950 and reconstructed with the gold leaf extended further than before. There is a designated path that takes you to all the viewing points, but be warned it was busy when we went and it can be even busier in the full tourist season.

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Kinkakuji Temple

Next we went to the Ryoan-ji, which is another well known sight form Kyoto due to the rock garden. The photo below does not do it justice as you cannot see all the racked lines in the gravel. I imagine it would be a very peaceful place if there wasn’t anyone else around, but where I was stood taking this photo was a viewing platform full of people. I would love to have a small version of this in my future garden. It has 15 rocks located within the gravel, but you can only every see 14 at one time (we tested this and it seems to be true).

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Ryoanji-Temple

We used public transport to get everywhere on this tour and it was a great experience to use the subway, trains, trams and buses as one of the locals.  We headed to the east of the city to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove next. It was super busy and I was not able to get any photos like what you see online, but I gave it go. The bamboo is harvested and sold as a resource. If you look past the line of bamboo that marks the path you can see the cut stalks behind. It is an amazing place and I wish I could have gone once it had gone dark as I imagine it would be magical when all lit up.

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Arahiyarma Bamboo Grove

Our first proper night in Kyoto the group went to the Gion area and Shabbu Shabbu for dinner. This is when you have a pot of water that you can control the temperature from the table and then to this you add vegetables and meat and then once cooked place in your bowls with sauce from the jugs. We got a bit confused and added the noodles too soon as you are supposed to have them at the end of the meal. The instructions were not great, but it was all you can eat and was very tasty.

Shabbu Shabbu

We then wandered through the Gion area which is famous for entertainment and the geishas. It was a very beautiful area and is well worth wandering through later in the evening when it a bit quieter. A lot of people head there to spot geishas around 6pm, so heading there around 9pm gives it chance to settle down.

Gion Gesha District
Gion

We also wandered through the park called Maruyama-koen, which is home to some beautiful shrines and Kyoto’s most famous cherry tree.

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Gion

The first day was full of beautiful sights and that continued on the second day of the tour with a trip to Nara. Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital city and contains 8 World Heritage Sites. There are wild deer wandering around the whole city and can buy biscuits to feed to them. They were quite friendly, but would try to steal any food you had to hand, which made having lunch in the park fun!

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Nara

The main sight to see in Nara can be found within the Todai-ji – the Daibutsu or Great Buddha is amazing! It is a bronze Buddha and is contained in one of the largest wooden buildings in the world, orginally built between 710 and 784.

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Todai-ji

Several parts of the Buddha have been recast due to fires that have burnt the wooden build down and melted the metal.  It is almost 15 metres tall and weighs 500 tonnes. It was an awesome presense and it felt very peaceful wandering around inside. I feel quite connect to Buddhism and it is something I keep thinking I need to spend some time really understanding what is it about.

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Great Buddha

As I said the deer were quite inquizitive and kept trying to make friends with my mum throughout this holiday!

My Mum making friends with a Nara Deer

Next in Nara we wandered behind the home of the Great Buddha and up a very beautiful stone paved street where we has lovely views above the rooftops. We climbed the hill to the Nigatsu-do and Sangatsu-do, which are sub temples of the Todai-ji.

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Nigatsu-do & Sangatsu-do

I took quite a few photos of deer as I loved that they were just wandering around without a care in the world. These three young deer were right next to the path and I loved the pose they struck as I came up to take a closer photo.

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Nara

We then headed to Kasua Taisha which is a sprawling shrine in the woods. The paths around it are lined with hundreds, maybe thousands of lanterns. It was founded in the 8th century and there are twice yearly lantern festivals, which I think would be amazing to experience. Maybe when I go back one day!

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Kasuga Taisha

That night we were back in Kyoto and I made my mum walk quite a bit to find recommended ramen restaurant. It was amazing, but my mum was not so keen (because of the fat on the meat, even though it melted in the hot water as was so thinly cut!). It was so tasty and I must learn how to make these types of stocks as soup bases as I think I could live off ramen this good!

Miso Ramen

The third day of the tour was another full day exploring Kyoto. The first place we went to was Fushimi-Irani Taisha which is a mountain full of torii gate paths. It is a sprawling shrine and is probably the place in any photos of the shrines of Kyoto. You can walk all the way up tot top of mountain, but we only went about a third of the way due to time contraints. if i went again I would like to walk the whole thing as the further you went the less people you encoutnered.

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Fushimi Inari Taisha

I was lucky and managed to get some lovely photos without any people in the way. It was very atmospheric and I really enjoyed wandering and I could very much understand why people come to worship here.

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Fushimi-Inari Taisha

It was just non-stop in a good way. Up and down the mountain with each torii gate deicated to someone or a family.

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Fushimi-Inari Taisha

I did let my mum be in some of the photos!

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Fushimi-Inari Taisha

After a morning in the ancient aspects of the city we headed back to the modern and explored Kyoto Station. It’s an impressive building made of steel and glass and includes a glass corridor across the top of the station. Also it has light up stairs that were fun to watch!

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Kyoto Station

We then headed to Kyoto Tower as I like being able to get up high and get a sense of the city and it’s scale. It is nothing special inside, but the views are amazing , although it could do with having a few more seats up the top, but it does have a shrine!

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Kyoto Tower

We then walked to the Higashi Hongan-ji, or the Eastern Temple of the True Vow. It is said to the secnd largest wooden structure in Japan. This was the first place where we had to take off our shoes and put them in a plastic bag to carry around and it made total sense. I really loved the whole taking off your shoes thing as it kept places clean and the wooden floors were so smooth (which only turned into a problem when it came to steep steps and there will be more on that in a later post!).

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Higashi Hongan-ji

We then walked to the Nishiki Market, which is arcade full of market type shops. It is full or weird and wonderful foods and is right in the centre of the city. We didn’t end up buying anything in the market, but we did have fun guessing what some of the things were as most signs were only in Japanese, but many of the shop keepers are happy to tell you about what they were selling.

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Nishiki Market

The third day was super busy as we also then went to a shortened tea ceremony. It was less than an hour long and they show you the movements required and let you make a bowl of tea. I really enjoyed it and would like to learn more about the whole tradition and maybe one day go to a full ceremony, which I believe can be up to 4 hours long. We went to En in Gion which was recommended by our tour guide as they conduct it in English.

Tea ceremony

I found it very interesting and the traditions behind it we glimpsed sound fascinating.

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Tea ceremony

We then wandered through the Gion area on our way to fidn some food and spotted a real geisha on her way to an appointment. My photo came out blurry as she was moving quickly and I didn’t have my camera ready or on the right settings. However I love this photo as you are warned not to try and stop them and rather take photos as they pass and this photo captures for me the sense of urgency and importance they have about them.

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Gion

We did get distracted again on our way to find food as we found a tiny bar where they offered a sake taster. The bartender was super nice and instead of just 3 tasters each he gave us 6 different ones to try between us. I liked the sweeter sakes better and did not like the cloudy one at all as it had a gritty texture. We has a lovely evening and ended up getting another full glass of a different sake the bartender recommended. We also got talking to couple who came into the bar later and were doing the opposite from us as they had started  their trip in Tokyo.

Sake Tasting

Finally we got to the food and randomly found a tempura restaurant. The process was to fill out a form stating all the different tempura pieces you wanted. As we didn’t know how much we would get we chose to get one of each of almost all the veggies and then come fishcake and a couple of hug prawns. It was amazing and we even had a whole medium boiled egg, which I have never had as tempura before! The batter is definitely lighter than what we get at home and it was amazingly crisp and tasty!

Tempura (including a whole egg!)

My tips for Kyoto and Nara:

  • If you have the time walk everywhere to explore more than the tourist spots
  • Go early to the main tourist sites to avoid the crowds
  • Have cash (general tip for visiting Japan)

Overall an amazing first 3 days of my trip. This pos turned out a lot longer than I thought so I am adding an extra post to my to cover everything I want to cover.

Trip Packing: Japan Edition

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I’m off to Japan tomorrow and I am so excited! This trip has been planned for over a year, which also means I’ve been in my current job a year, so I can’t keep calling it my new job! This past weekend I started packing and only now have my everyday things to pack tomorrow morning. My cat sitter is all set up and they will be spoilt while I’m away I’m sure.

I decided to go for the autumn ancient and modern Japan trip with Exodus because I thought it would be cooler, but I juts looked at the weather and it’s hot!

What is this???

I’ve had to rethink everything I was planning to take as jeans and t-shirts and jackets are not going to work. I’ve had to find some last minute summer clothes in the sale, which was super lucky as everywhere now has winter stuff only!

So what I am taking for a 16 day trip to Japan?

Clothes:

  • Linen trousers
  • Jeans
  • T-shirts
  • Lightweight cardigans
  • Smart top
  • Long sleeve tops
  • Hoodie (wearing)
  • Underwears (bras/socks/knickers)
  • Pyjamas
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Swimsuit
  • Walking Trainers (wearing)
  • Lounge pants (wearing)
  • Lightwight trainers
  • Slip on trainers
  • Ankle supports

Toiletries:

  • Deodarant
  • Shampoo/Condition
  • Dry Shampoo
  • Makeup (minimal)
  • Hairspray
  • Facewash
  • Moisturiser
  • Suncream
  • Face cloth
  • First aid kit essentials
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Hairbrush
  • Makeup sponges & cleaner
  • Pain tablets & gel

Other Stuff:

  • Passport
  • Insurance
  • Wallet – cash/cards
  • iPhone, headphones & charger
  • Kindle & cable
  • Camera, lens & charger
  • Notebook & pens
  • Guidebook
  • Lightweight handbag
  • Backpack
  • Suitcase
  • Golf ball (for heel pain)
  • Waterproof inner bag

I’ve pretty much packed everything and I am surprised at how light my suitcase is. I’ve put some clothes in my hand luggage in case my suitcase goes missing. I still have plenty of room for souvenirs and I already have a few ideas of what I want to look out for.

Wandering around The Burren

This last week I was lucky enough to go on a work trip to The Burren in County Clare, Ireland. It was a wonderful trip full of beauty and learning. I’m not going into any details  about my work, but do want to share some of the wonderful photos of the landscape I was able to explore. I also want to share a bit of the history of the place and recommend it as a place to visit.

Meadow
Meadow

The Burren means ‘great rock’ or ‘rocky place’ in Irish and it definitely suited the name. It is a beautiful historic landscape much changed by human habitation, especially through farming. It is a cultural landscape full of archaeological features, some of which are still used today.

Handmade Stone Wall
Handmade Stone Wall

The area is around 250 km squared and is enclosed within the circle made by the villages of Ballyvaughan (visited), Kinvara, Tubber, Corofin (visited), Kilfenora and Lisdoonvarna. There many fantastic finds within the villages such as the The Perfumery and The Larder Deli.

Working in the Field
Working in the Field

It is an area of Ireland I was unaware of until it became a subject of fascination at work. Once we arrived we stayed in Ennis and were pleasantly surprised by the amount of tourists, especially from America. It was a honeypot of activity in the evenings with every bar full and musical entertainment a plenty. We foudn Knox’s and The Old Ground Hotel.

Posing Dog
Posing Dog

I was lucky to spend two full days talking and exploring with local people who look after their land with great care and understanding. This hasn’t always been the case, but in the last 15 years there has been a drive to rediscover how the land is kept in it’s best condition and going back to farming practices that support that and make sense economically for the local farms.

Making Friends
Making Friends

There is a lovely sense of place here and this is supported by the pride of the people I was able to meet. They have an identity here and love the land and the history in the places they live. There is a desire to keep this sense of identity for the future and in recent times many gates have been upgraded to the The Burren Gate, which is made locally.

Burren Gate
Burren Gate

I was able to take some time to practice my photography skills and focus on landscapes and flowers. I’m really happy with how lots of them came out even though I had to take quite a few reference shots for work purposes.

White Irish Orchid
White Irish Orchid

I learnt a lot from my work colleagues on this trip. It was mainly about habitats and flora and fauna found in The Burren compared to home. However my memory is rubbish and so the only ones I can remember are the Irish Orchids. Please shout if you know any of the other flowers I found!

Purple Flower
Purple Flower

Many flowers I took because I found them colourful and stood out against the green and stone backdrops.

Colourful Irish Orchid
Colourful Irish Orchid

If I hadn’t known differently I would have thought many of the fields I was walking through were not farmed in any way, but I would have been wrong. All the fields we went through were used for pasture and some were hay meadows. The quality of the fields are gold star. There was so much variety and colour everywhere we looked it was astounding.

Pink Flower
Pink Flower

It was also a peaceful landscape. There are many roads through the landscape and even less tracks across the farms. Many things are kept very traditional with limited use of machinery across all aspects of the farms. This leaves these beautiful meadows to flourish and benefit from the winterage type farming practices found in the area.

In the long grasses
In the long grasses

The limestone pavement The Burren is located on is a specific landscape. being located on the edge of the Atlantic creates a very specific area and climate that supports it. It’s very mild all year, which means is also very wet all year. It is a mountain climate, without any mountains. We had pretty much all seasons in the two days we were there.

Blue flowers
Blue flowers

I definitely want to go back and explore further than I was able to this time. There is a beautiful coastal road we only got to glimpse as we headed back to the airport. I did not realise how much there was to explore until we arrived. Also the people were so friendly I would like to spend more time sat talking and listening to their stories and music. I totally underestimated this trip and would like to rectify that by visiting again in the future.

Wandering around Snowdonia

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The Location!

A couple of weeks ago I got to go on a trip with work to Snowdonia. A beautiful and extraordinary place in North Wales. I stayed in Betws-y-coed in the Conwy Valley and thought of as the gateway to Snowdonia. I’ve visited here a number of times and fall more in love with the place each and every visit. It’s small, vibrant and peaceful. The locals are friendly and all the visitors I’ve met have been the same.

I stayed a lovely B&B just outside the village called Aberconwy B&B, which was within walking distance of the main area across the stunning Sappers Suspension Bridge built in 1930.

I took the time to practice my photography while I was away as I had time to myself during the evenings. I loved the bridge and the graveyard of St Michael’s Church just beyond and have been using my editing skills to improve the photos. The bridge and the graveyard are my favourite.

As it was out of the main tourist season it was very quiet in the evenings. The pubs and restaurants were busy, but everywhere else was peaceful and calm. The train station was a great photo opportunity as o one else was around.

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The Walking!

My work visit meant I got to go walking in a different area to anywhere I’ve walked before. It was just north of Betws-y-coed, and on land I wouldn’t have been sure was open to access, but I learnt that most areas are and as long as you respect the land it’s okay to explore beyond the paths.

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We stuck to the lower slopes of the area as we were looking at habitats across the land. It was fascinating to learn about this as its central to my work, but I am not a land or farming expert.

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There are some beautiful structures hidden away that suddenly pop in to view as you are walking a long. Farm houses, upland ponds, bridges, across streams, stone walls, views across to Snowdonia, all beautiful and part of the landscape.

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Also lots of sheep who watched us as we passed, but did not come near to say hello. We didn’t see another soul while out walking all day. We stuck to a Nation Trust path in places and wandered off the beaten track on others, but didn’t see anyone else in the area. It made a nice change to walking up Snowdon as that can be super busy that you never get away from people. I loved the peace and details you could pick up by being a  small group in a big landscape. It gave a different perspective on the area and I felt small, but in a good way. A way that tells me the world is an amazing place that will continue on without us if needs be. We impact it in so many ways and when you see nature fighting back or doing things despite our interference it is truly inspiring.

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The Food!

You cannot talk about Wales without talking about the food. It was amazing as always. Much of it locally sourced and even getting a picnic for lunch from the local bakery was a wonderful experience. The B&B served an amazing breakfast and recommended the bakery for my lunch needs.

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I ate at the local pub one night and then found a fairly newly opened pizza place that has a proper wood fired stone oven. Good quality food is becoming so important to me nowadays. I was able to sit and not rush and really enjoy the moment of being away from home and free from normal responsibilities for a couple of days.

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I totally recommend visiting North Wales and I hope to visit many more times to explore different areas. You have to visit Snowdon, but also make sure you get away from the main tourist honeypot areas to explore hidden places that are beautiful in different ways.

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