With bated breath, the waiting was over, and we’d finally experienced what everyone was talking about. To me, it felt a lil’ like opening your birthday present or Christmas present. I love to discover the surprises and to experience the reward of my patience, do you?
What’s the fuss about the famous Horseshoe Bend? This bend in the Colorado River is part of the Grand Circle, and from here you can get up close and personal with the Grand Canyon. Do you know that the Horseshoe Bend is approximately 140 miles from both the South Rim and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon but only 5 miles from the beginning of Grand Canyon National Park?
By now, you must have already experienced its resplendent beauty, especially if it’s contantly featured all over the Arizona tourism brochures and on the social media (my Instagram gallery included)? Don’t like to follow the school of fish? This one is a must see!! My second fav Arizona tourist attraction, the first prize goes to The Grand Canyon for sure?!
I’ll recommend you to spend at least two days in the desert town of Page (Arizona) and start discovering the Wahweap Overlook scenic point, the Horseshoe Bend, the Lake Powell and the Antelope Canyon for yourselves. Arizona is too beautiful for words or photos. Craft your own special Arizona moments and make them your moments to remember.
As we stepped out of the car at the dusty gravel parking lots, it was certainly heaving with activities! We’d previously visited the Wahweap Overlook. Are you ready to chase sunsets? From the parking lot, you can’t really see the Horseshoe Bend yet. Carry some water with you and apply protective sunscreen in this exposed desert environment. Aim to spend at least 2 hours at the Horseshoe Bend. Do wear sensible shoes as the grounds can be challenging at times. Were we in the right place? It’s certainly heaving with activities, let’s go and check it out! Don’t wanna miss out, haha… 😉
Walk 0.6 miles to the overlook. Thankfully there are strategically placed benches at hand to catch one’s breath. Some of the uphill climbers had a rather sombre mood, concentrating on conserving energy perhaps? A few chirpy ones will say hello, whilst rhythmically huffing and puffing at the same time. Enjoy the beautiful walk downhill, stopping occasionally to admire the desert plants and the red rocks and sands.
The overlook, the accessible cliff above the bend, is 4,200 feet (1,300 m) above sea level. The drop to the Colorado river is 1,000-foot (300 m) and there is no guard rails! The braver ones were spotted having a picnic or taking selfies at the edge of the Horseshoe Bend. Totally immerse yourself in the majestic splendour. Loss for words moments are 100% guaranteed. There’s certainly lots of photo opportunities and hopefully you will enjoy some of my efforts. Thanks to the professional photographer who had strategically placed some stones, I caught a perfect sunset capture.
Most enjoyable and romantic iconic moments to wrap up our first day in Arizona. Did we enjoy the present, yes we most definitely did 🙂 Now, since it’s nearly impossible to wipe the smile off our faces, we’d better check in at the Hampton Inn and Suites Page – Lake Powell and then off to dinner we go. Feeling fairly famished…It’s no better time than burger time! After all those uphill climb, we’d definitely earned our juicy burger, don’t you think so? 😉 Did I tell you that the Arizona sunsets are awesome? Are the sunsets always better when you are on vacation?
Till we meet again, happy wanderlusting. What’s your next travel destination? Do share your fav moments and especially your local secrets. Where did we go next? Stay tuned for more from beautiful Arizona.
Do you usually get a preview of what you’re about to see from the car? I was utterly mesmerised by the beautiful reflections of Wahweap Overlook as we were cruising along Hwy 89. My fruitless attempts to capture those reflections from a moving car had totally silenced my “Are we there yets”. Miles difference from Downtown Vegas! Though, it is fair to note that the previous 4 hours and 11 min driving from Vegas had been a most rewarding experience of a lifetime. Turn by turn, a wide open country calling our names as we cruise from Nevada and criss-crossing along the borders of Utah and Arizona. An Arizona driving holiday gets my thumbs up! Be there or be square 😉
What’s not to like about this beautiful gem? Wash off the dusts of the daily grind, relax and unwind … Prized by photographers and wanderlusters in the know, the Wahweap Overlook scenic point is located just off Hwy 89, just over the Arizona border and only 12 min’s drive from downtown Page. Leave your car at the gravel parking lot and start exclaiming WOW the moment you step out of the car as you feast your eyes on the scenery that greets your heart.
From the top of the Wahweap Overlook, you will see a few white-colored boats exploring the gorgeous deep blue tones of the Wahweap Bay and some resting at its marina, breathtaking Navajo mountain to the northeast and its coal-fire powerplant by the Antelope Canyon to the east and the surrounding waters of Lake Powell. Do you know that the mighty Colorado river and its tributaries flow into a reservoir called Lake Powell? How about exploring the waterways of Lake Powell? On a fine day, you can even have a romantic picnic for two entertained by the scenic reflections of the towering cliffs. For fans of camping, you would be pleased to know that there is a Wahweap RV and Campground nearby. I bet its sunrises and sunsets are out of this world too.
Early December seems a decent time to visit. Hampton Inn and Suites Page – Lake Powell is an excellent hotel to stay over for the night. You can never go wrong with a Hampton Inn and I’m not paid to say it too. Have you been to Wahweap Overlook before? What’s your fav memory? So, where did we go next? Time is of essence and we were trying to get some sight-seeing in, prior to sundown. Let’s go chasing sunsets, shall we? Do follow our next adventures as we introduce you to beautiful Arizona. Do you know that Arizona became a territory on Feb 24, 1863? 49 years later, Arizona became a state on Feb 14, 1912. Happy belated 106th birthday to the super cheerful Grand Canyon State, where the sun shines even in the midst of winter! You’ve definitely captured our hearts! And you’ll soon understand why … Till we meet again, take care dear wanderlusters. Keep exploring for life is indeed beautiful 😉
MDI, as it’s locally known, stands for Mount Desert Island in the state of Maine, U.S. With a population of approximately 10,000, its wonderful nothingness is fashionable enough for the likes of Martha Stewart and Rockefeller heirs to invest in summer cottages. When the French explorer, Samuel de Champlain’s gaze fell on the bare mountain summits devoid of trees, his first utterances were probably along the lines of “Ile de Monts Deserts” and the name stuck! Mount Desert Island, the 6th largest island in the contiguous U.S., is also home to the Cadillac Mountains. At an elevation of 466 m, the Cadillac Mountains is the first place to greet sunrise in the continental U.S. Most tourists will remember MDI for its famous Acadia National Park. Isn’t that a fascinating taster of MDI? Let’s go and explore MDI!
Having travelled from New Hampshire, all over New England, New York state and even Niagara Falls on our 2-week vacation, Maine in our eyes on the first week of November was a clear and definite change of scene, a ‘Winter Wonderland’. We certainly did not expect to experience so much snow?! Now, the complimentary Avis car hire upgrade to an SUV at Boston Logan International Airport, was very gratefully received. We grabbed a bite of a thoroughly enjoyable lunch at the iconic Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro before arriving at the cozy and homely Bar Harbor Grand Hotel by about dinnertime. My husband’s Timberland boat shoes, was certainly well-built to take on the snow but definitely not my dainty ballerina shoes. Naught chances for high-heeled shoes too! 😉 My feet sank right through the six inches deep snow. Alas, we had to wave goodbye to the romantic notion of a snow flurries fairy dustings stroll to the nearby restaurants for dinner. A word of caution : Not many restaurants are open in the off-peak season but there’s always a Hannaford supermarket and pharmacy should you wish to stock up on grocery.
Have you ever experienced an unexpected weather turn during your travels? What did you do? Pulling on the layers and stiffling the yawns, we’d decided to set off early and make the best of everything at hand. Thinking about it now, we were very brave to be so gungho about our Maine exploration even when the cell phone had naught percent coverage in Maine?! We waved hello to the Acadia National Park, admiring trees from the comforts of the car, the trees still proudly standing tall and wearing their late autumn colours. Winter had started to descend and from the looks of its clear firm grip on MDI, it was here to stay. We met a snow plough every couple of minutes. Snow was efficiently cleared from the major roads, but less evidently so as we drove a little deeper into the heart of MDI. By about lunchtime, it was clearly not a wise decision to continue the journey as the roads were heavily laden with deep snow and our visibility was being severely challenged by the ferocious snow storm.
We turned around for the hotel, stopping by the Bar Harbor’s waterfront to admire the boats battered by the snowstorm along the way. It was really cold that day! Bar Harbor was certainly a hive of sun and seafood activities in the summer but now a ghost town. Having returned to the hotel room, we immediately tucked into the warmth of a cup of piping hot coffee and chocolate chip cookies. Blissfully enjoying the comforts of the room, we peered out of the many windows and watched as the snowfall got heavier. The locals went about their daily activities, several children were snow sledding and the colourful snow ploughs were zipping past left, right and centre, proudly doing their jobs to ensure the safety of road users.
The next day, at about 9.30 am, we had arrived at Beal’s lobster pier, a working fishing and lobster pier since 1932. We’d missed out on the restaurant opening season (Jun – Oct 15) and could only imagine eating the fresh and juicy lobsters. However, it was most fascinating to see beautiful white fishing boats gracefully resting on the icy blue waters. What amazed me the most was the lobster traps, in the colours of traffic light.
How do you bait a lobster? The functional and basic design of the lobster trap has not changed much since the 1800s, the only difference being made of metal or plastic frame construction instead of mere wood. The lobster will swim into the trap to take the bait of fresh or salted fish, neatly packed into a pouch, from the ‘kitchen’. Once the lobster takes the bait, when it realise that something is wrong, it will try to exit by swimming to a presumedly safer opening and is welcomed into the ‘parlour’ within the lobster trap. The design of the funnel shaped doors ensures easy entry but a difficult exit for lobsters of the right size. Undersized lobsters can exit via small vents in the ‘parlour’ section. The baited lobster traps will ride on lobster boats and lowered into depths of 20 – 100 feet, marked by colourful floating buoys. The fishermen will check the lobster traps every 3 days in season. I’m sure you’d remember how these critters are caught the next time you taste a lobster. I love lobsters, do you love lobsters too? Don’t miss the Maine Lobster Festival, held each August in Rockland, Maine.
From the South West Harbor, we drove along the Maine Route 102A, stopping occasionally to take in the scenic beauty of nothingness. Even the wooded swamps dotted with an occasional red wooden house looked really lovely on a winter’s day.
Next up, we visited the majestic Bass Harbor Head Light House. The Bass Harbor Head Light House, constructed with bricks on a stone foundation in 1858, is located in the Acadia National Park, well-positioned at the entrance point of the Blue Hill Bay and Bass Harbor. It was a most magical moment, to catch a glimpse of this magnificent cliffside lighthouse. Do you love lighthouses?
From Bass Harbor Head Light House, we drove around to check out another fishing and lobster pier at Bass Harbor. Bass Harbor forms a large portion of the Acadia National Park. The grounds were an icy muddy slush, so we went sight-seeing from the comforts of the car. Again, there was only a handful of people at Bass Harbor.
Will we do this again? Most definitely a yes we will, but this time we will meet Maine in the summer! Mount Desert Island had been utterly amazing! If any travel hotspot can look so mesmerising in the winter, surely its shades of summer would have been literally out of this world. Until we meet again on another adventure, happy wanderlusting! Thank you so much for your time, hopefully you will love beautiful Maine as much as we do. Much love and warmest regards from enchanting Maine and I, your storyteller 😉
This time, I’m sharing our favourite Big Sur vantage points. I can hear the gentle whispers of Big Sur, a 90-mile world reknowned breathtaking stretch of dramatic coastlines between the Hearst Castle and Carmel-by-the-Sea, calling me to return to its embrace every time we are apart. Surely Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac can’t be deluded too, as we all sang of how the amazing Big Sur had become the fabric of our lives. Navigating the hairpin turns of Highway 1 felt like an exploration into the untouched wilderness, mesmerising blue sea tucked behind giant redwoods and dramatic cliffs.
NOTE: Highway 1–Full Closure Continues 17 Miles North of San Simeon at Ragged Point due to the Failure of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. The earliest reopening is currently projected to be June 2018. Check Official CA Central Coast alert website prior to your travels.
First on the list is the mountainous area of our Highway 1 coastal drive, a secret of only those who are in the know, our beloved vantage point at Ragged Point Inn and Resort. It’s only a short 13 min’s drive from Piedras Blancas. Park up and let’s go! If you are not afraid of heights, you can actually walk down a flight of stairs to catch a closer shot of the Ragged Point. Alternatively, make use of the wooden sculpture at this vantage point to frame the Ragged Point and create a photo composition just like my featured image for this post.
If you are patient enough and observe really closely, you may be able to catch sight of whales spouting water or even dolphins. We were so thrilled to spot a few whales!
Not far from this vantage point, and only if it is safe to do so, there are multiple spots to pullover for glimpses of the spectacular Big Sur.
Next up, it’s time for lunch at the idyllic Nepenthe restaurant perched atop the cliffs of Big Sur. Catch another million dollar view for the price of a burger and a beer. A romantic walk with sea views always sets the ambience for lunch. Do you agree that food always tastes better with beautiful views? How about these breathtaking views for starters?
Last but not least, don’t miss the famous Bixby Creek Bridge or otherwise known as Bixby Bridge. To jog your memory, you may remember this concrete bridge from the cover shots of Californian tourism brochures. Built in 1932 for only $200,000, this bridge spans a height of 280 feet (85 m) above a steep canyon carved by Bixby Creek.
Other famous Big Sur sights worth exploring are the River Inn and Big Sur Roadhouse. Dip your toes into the purple sands as you watch the ferocious waves rush through the square opening of the gigantic rock formation at the off the beaten path Pfeiffer Beach! If you are in the mood of a 0.64 mile hike, catch the migrating whales and the refreshing sounds of McWay Falls. For hikers and campers, you would enjoy Jade Cove Beach trails, watch in awe and admire rocky coves, go treasure hunting for jades accompanied by the song of the sea.
That’s it folks! Hope you’re inspired to visit breathtaking Big Sur. We hope to reunite with our beloved Big Sur one day. Until we meet again on another Californian adventure, take care and happy wanderlusting! Fly me a Dream!
Moonstone Beach will forever have a place in our hearts. However, the call of the dramatic famous Big Sur coastlines were far too strong and realistically we were scheduled to spend the night at the Holiday Inn Express Monterey-Cannery Row. Indeed time to move on! If this is your first time joining us on our California Dreaming adventures, do catch up on our Moonstone Beach adventures and day trips to the Paso Robles wineries and Morro Bay. A flock of pelicans were flying happily above our heads, creating our most memorable farewell to Moonstone Beach.
If you love to watch the northern elephant seals from just a few feet away, do read on. It is fairly easy to spot the rookery from the car. Barely 15 min’s drive away from Moonstone Beach, we had arrived at the dirt parking lot of the Elephant Seals Rookery at Piedras Blancas, San Simeon. If you wish to find your bearing, this California State Beach is located between Cambria and Monterey on California Highway 1. The nearest point of interest is the majestic Hearst Castle. Bring a jacket as the winds can be rather chilly. Sunscreen and flat shoes are advisable too for your boardwalks and trails adventure. Do be aware that there are no restrooms available. It’s also illegal to use drones and model aircrafts at the rookery. The viewing areas are open daily with free admission. For a more in-depth tour, the Friends of the Elephant Seals, a not-for-profit organisation, offers free presentations and guided tours of the rookery at certain times of the year. For the full calendar of events scheduled for 2017, do visit this Exploratorys link.
Why did the elephant seals choose this spot? Since the 1990, the northern elephant seals had frequented Piedras Blancas. They enjoy large sandy beaches with no significant human presence. The pups can learn to swim in the shallow waters and the rocks will protect these young ones from the breakers. The shallowness of the sea bed also means that shark attacks will be relatively uncommon. Sometimes baby seals can be found sleeping on a bed of kelp. The kelp forests are not far off shore.
At the end of May, there were at least two hundred adult female and juvenile northern elephant seals (Mirounga Augustirostris) sunbathing on the beach. Its name is derived from its size and the male’s large trunk-like nose (proboscis). Males also has a chest shield, an area of thickened scarred skin on its neck, chest and shoulders. Males can grow up to 4 – 5m in length and 1400 -2300 kg in weight whereas the females are much smaller in size by comparison at 2.5 – 4m in length and 400 – 800 kg in weight. What about the pups? The pups are 1 m in length at birth and weighs about 32 kg. With the help of GPS signals, we now know that the northern elephant seals can travel as far as 4800 km from the rookery.
These northern elephant seals will spend eight to ten months each year in the open sea and make two round trips ashore for pupping and mating season (winter), and to molt and grow new fur (in the late spring and early summer). Juveniles who are too young for the pupping and mating season can be seen returning to the rookery between Sept- Dec. Do visit a very informative ‘What’s Happening Now’ Calendar with beautiful pictures on the Friends of the Elephant Seals website.
😃Seal 1 – ‘I’ll trade my lunch for your spot!’ 🤓Seal 2 – ‘Ohhh…just come around next to me, let’s share… Unless you’re too lazy to move? 😆…Ahem… Bring your lunch too! 😉’
Now try to spot the fundamental flaw in my Instagram seals Chit Chat post, inspired by the featured image! The seals actually fast for that entire period spent ashore (apart from the nursing pups of course?!) and when resting, they do not breathe much of the time. All in the name of conserving water and energy.
Whilst at the open sea, the long webbed feet of this graceful swimmer will aid propulsion through the water. Another amazing feat worth noting is that these elephant seals can also expertly dive 300 – 900 m under water. These enchanting creatures are capable of remaining in the deep sea for an average of 25 min before coming up to the surface to breathe for 2 -3 min. When feeding, these seals employ a grab and swallow method, feasting on hake, dogfish, rays, octopus and crabs. The females love to eat small bio-luminiscent creatures such as squid and lanternfish. The natural predators of male seals are orcas who frequent the deeper waters. If you are still curious about these adorable creatures, do check out the FAQ section on The Friends of the Seals website.
Hope you’ve also learnt to fall in love with these beautiful elephant seals. We love every second of our half an hour at this rookery. Thank you for reading my ‘Message in a Bottle’, and I hope you are inspired to visit the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. Until we meet again on another Californian adventure, do take care and have a wonderful day!
After breakfast at Kyoto Century Hotel, we took a 1hr 12 min train journey to Nara. Nara is famous for its World Heritage Sites such as Kasuga Shrine, Horyu-ji Temple, and the Great Buddha Hall in Todai-ji Temple. You will love Nara for its small city charm. We love wandering around and people watching on its streets, reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s animations. The purpose of our visit to Nara is to taste its wagashi and sake, foodie inspirations made from rice.
If there’s one photo that will make me visit Nara again and again, it’s got to be the famous wagashi called Yomogi Daifuku 蓬大福 from Nakatanidou (中谷堂). Wagashi are Japanese confections, usually served with green tea. The main ingredient for Yomogi Daifuku 蓬大福 is mochiko, a sweet rice flour. The Japanese mugwort herb (Artemesia princeps), a fast-growing weed, gives this mochi its unique flavour and its natural forest green color. Without the red beans paste filling, this springtime dessert will be known as Kusa Mochi 草餅. Yomogi Daifuku 蓬大福 and Kusa Mochi 草餅 are equally delicious.
Don’t have to wait for Japanese New Year to watch mochitsuki (餅つき) or mochi pounding. Catch the dramatic mochi pounding on Youtube for tasters! Hear lots of oohs and aahs from the crowds that had gathered around to the rhythmic shouting from the chefs and watch in amazement that nobody’s lost any fingers yet. It’s rather exciting to watch live mochitsuki (餅つき) !! Do try it one day! You’ll not be disappointed!! For lunch, we tasted the Yomogi Daifuku and its rice crackers. We also brought some Yomogi Daifuku back to Hong Kong as souvenirs. If you’d decided to buy them as souvenirs, it will last up to 2 days without refrigeration.
Next up, let’s go sake 酒 tasting at Harushika Sake Brewery. Sake is a Japanese rice wine and an undiluted sake is around 18%–20% ABV. The starch from the polished rice is converted into sugars which ferments into alcohol.
Taste 5 different sakes for the price of 500 Yen. You’ll get to keep the tasting glass as a souvenir.
We had tasted the sake in this order; the flagship extra dry Junmai Cho Karakuchi sake, the unpasteurised Junmai Ginjo Namazake (highly polished rice to create a smooth aftertaste), the easy-drinking Honjozo “Gokumi” (best served slightly warm at 40°C) and another flagship super dry Junmai Ginjo Cho-Karakuchi and last but not least our favourite fizzy sake, the Daiginjo Siromiki.
We love the rich and creamy flavour of the fizzy Daiginjo Siromiki, a Nigorizake (cloudy sake), that had passed through a coarse sieve during its pressing stage and its tangy flavour is derived from the second fermentation in the bottle. Delicious on its own or paired with desserts! Also, thumbs up to the Junmai Ginjo Cho-Karakuchi too!
That’s all folks! How do you feel about a Nara foodie adventure? Take care, much love from Nara and I, your storyteller 😉
Our hearts were filled with excitement. We were about to discover Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. Arriving in Kyoto station in style at about 7.30 pm, we’d vacated the luxurious Green seats on the Shinkansen Hikari, and walked just around the corner to taste the genteel elegance of Kyoto Century Hotel. We’d left our luggages at the reception at about 11 am that morning, before catching a glimpse of Nagoya and Osaka. Powered by the super efficient Shinkansen a.k.a. bullet trains, experiencing 3 cities in one day is indeed possible! There was really no room for dinner that evening as we’d had tebasaki (手羽先) and beer for lunch at Nagoya station and then participated in a Kuidaore 食い倒れ (Eat Till You Drop) challenge in Dotonbori (道頓堀), the famous street food paradise of Osaka (大阪市).
Our luxe Grand Comfort Deluxe room, where we’d stay for 4 nights, was really inviting and was every bit as advertised. I could vividly remember the softness of its organic towel, Organic Imabari Towel, “Ikeuchi Organic”. As coffee snobs, we were eager to try its Bird Friendly® organic drip coffee from Ogawa Coffee the next morning. Let’s relax on the sofa. How about sipping on the nutritious and refreshing green tea in our fine bone china cups, and we’d have a chat about Japan travel tips. Aaahhh … Taste the quality in every sip! Kyoto is near Uji, the home of Japanese green tea.
If you’re a Japan first-timer and wish to travel around Japan without joining a tour, I’d recommend the following:
I’d highly recommend the Green class Japan Rail Pass. Use the Hyperdia website to plan your train journeys. Get a pre-paid rechargeable PASMO or Suica card for your public transport and shopping needs. If you’d visited Hong Kong or London before, these cards are akin to the Octopus or Oyster card respectively. We had a Suica card as we had started our journey from Tokyo.
Book a hotel next to the train station, it’s surely the path of least resistance! Try to avoid the language barriers of a taxi ride. Hauling heavy luggages over many streets whilst navigating to the hotel is not a nice experience. Trust me, we’d done it for many years and now know better to avoid this if possible! Also, from the train station, you’d be assured of excellent public transport links to the city’s attractions.
If you’re on a 2-week vacation in Japan, time your stay at some hotels with self-service laundry facilities. Travel luxuriously but smartly always! 😉
Pre-paid Sim card
To find your way around Japan, buy a pre-paid Sim card for your smartphone. Both the So-Net and the IIJmio worked well for us. Buy it on arrival to Japan. Easy peasy as 1, 2, 3 !
Having slept really well, we had an incredibly delicious Japanese breakfast in the Kyoto Century Hotel’s Rantei restaurant. After breakfast, we’d experienced a Fushimi day trip, mainly to see Fushimi Inari Taisha and sake tasting, returning just in time to watch sunset from the rooftop of Kyoto Station. Kyoto Station’s staircase is lighted up in the evening, it was really beautiful! After the romantic sunset experience, we’d headed for a spot of bargain hunting at the depachika of JR Kyoto Isetan.
Starting from about 7 pm each day, the bento will progressively be reduced to clear. These tastefully presented bento 🍱 are commonly purchased as shinkansen meals. If you are not afraid of the crowds, do try it as I think it’s fun. Don’t immediately make a purchase. I would not recommend the seafood sushi or the sashimi! We’d had some reduced to clear sashimi bento on a winter’s day in Sapporo and it was definitely on its last legs! We’d think twice now?! You’ve been forewarned!!! Just look around first, to see what’s on offer. Get use to the idea of demystifying the ‘reduced price stickers’ written only in Japanese. The ladies behind the counters will bang on metal trays to catch your attention, the closer you get to the 8 pm shop closing time. If you seriously don’t mind what you’d have for dinner, be patient and the bento prices will fall with time. Enjoy the frenzy! We paid really silly prices for tasty Cameron Kyoto Gokomachi Restaurant‘s wagyu beef bento and Inari Sushi いなり寿司.
The following day, we’d took the bus from Kyoto Station (take your pick from bus 100 or 206) to visit the Kiyomizudera temple.
A sea of tourists had descended on the temple, mostly dressed in kimonos and school children on field trips. As you enter the Kiyomizudera temple, be greeted by the Nio-mon gate, a magnificent vermilion temple entrance gate, burnt down during the civil war (1467-1477) but rebuilt in the early 16th century. Do you love the eye-catching vermillion colors too? The stage of the Kiyomizudera temple, often captured in Kyoto tourism brochures, is built using the Kake-zukuri methodwithout using nails. Several features well-worth looking out for include testing your strength and learning about teamwork by trying to lift heavy poles (believed to bring good luck) and drinking pure water from the Otowa Waterfall (believed to grant wishes).
After visiting the Kiyomizudera temple, we’d had a pleasant 11 min stroll to the narrow ancient streets of Higashiyama district, located on the lower slopes of Kyoto’s Eastern mountains. Higashiyama is one of Kyoto’s best preserved historic street. I love Higashiyama, for it’s the truest taste of Kyoto.
Whilst busy entertaining my day dreaming about Kyoto lifestyle centuries ago, tourists adorned in beautiful kimonos and rickshaws were helping me to set the scene. My eyes caught the varying colorful souvenirs on display. Unfortunately the famous green tea shop called Tsujiri Tea House, wasn’t open during our visit. I love matcha desserts. If you love Studio Ghibli, pop by the Studio Ghibli shop. Which Studio Ghibli’s animation do you love best? My Neighbor Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle are definitely my favourite. We may have spotted a geisha too. If you love lanterns, don’t miss Hanatoro, a romantic flower and light illumination display in March each year. Charming Kyoto is best discovered on foot, do you agree?
For lunch, let’s walk to the Nishiki market. We were inspired by John Daub’s ONLY In JAPAN Youtube travel blog. Do catch John in action! John is really talented; funny and inspiring! I love street foods.
I believe in discovering a country through its food. That’s why I prefer to visit the local markets on our vacations. Whatever catches your fancy, why not try them … Just point and pay! Hmm… failing that you’d have to draw food pics! Or google the pics now that you’re Wi-Fi connected!! 😉 For the adventurous, taste the delicious matcha warabimochi, jelly cubes made of bracken starch covered in matcha powder. I love warabimochi! I don’t think I can stomach the red-coloured octopus stuffed with a quail egg into its head. I’d give this 👽 a miss!! If your tastebuds are particularly adventurous, there’s eels and tiny fishes skewered on sticks too! We’d munched hungrily on some fried fish cakes. I was really tempted to buy the pickled vegetables. We tasted the Nara zuke, a pickled uri gourd, in sake lees, that we missed out on at Nishiki Market, later on our Nara’s sake tasting trip. Nishiki Market is a treasure trove for foodies.
After lunch, we’d visited the Daimaru Kyoto to window shop for a Japanese briefcase. We also popped by the ¥100 Daiso shop. This Japan’s ‘dollar-store’, is truly interesting if you love bargain hunting! If you love inventive household curiosities, do check out Daiso! You might end up with a cheap gadget you’d treasure forever or another holiday curiosity laid to sleep after it’s first use. Shop wisely!
We took the bus to the famous golden Kinkakuji temple. The sun was shining fiercely on that day. I love Kinkakuji’s garden. Luckily, the lake was perfectly reflecting the Japanese garden.
The only problem with crowd control measures is that, even if your legs are tired from walking, you’d have to walk till the bitter end. There is one way in and only one way out! No ifs, no buts, no shortcuts!!! Time to reward ourselves with some matcha ice cream. We’d eyed this ice cream store on the way to the temple. Life is always better with a taste of ice cream, with our tiredness relieved! Do you agree?
For dinner, we’d be back to JR Kyoto Isetan now that we’re experts in depachika bargain hunting. Are you coming along? 😉 La vie est belle. Let’s enjoy the simple things and the little things in life. Kyoto is one of those unforgettable cities, just like a great book, I’ll read it again and again and be forever mesmerised by its charms. Create your own Kyoto chapter or more in your wanderlust traveller’s notebook. I am sure you will fall in love with Kyoto too. Take care, until we meet again on our Nara and Uji day trip from Kyoto. Much love from enchanting Kyoto and I, your storyteller 😉
Wine, sea and seafood, what more can I ask for? Let’s sit back, relax and enjoy a day trip from Moonstone Beach. If you are not allergic to shellfish, let’s go on the veritable rite of wining and dining like a true Californian. Dear wanderlusters, be inspired by a day packed with delicious adventure!
We were awestruck by the untouched nature paradise of the Paso Robles’s Adelaida district. How about visiting a pristine and tranquil farm and country store, Linn’s Original Farm Store, famous for its freshly baked fruit pies? Sitting down on the patio table, right underneath the shade of the orange trees indulging in piping hot Marionberry pie with a dollop of creamy vanilla ice cream, we watched the world go by countryside style. As we looked up, we can see dozens of juicy ripe oranges above our heads. The fresh air of the countryside felt soothing and inviting on our sun-tanned cheeks, awaking our senses to explore its beauty. Are you relaxed yet?
After having had our fill of country store vibes, we indulged in luxe wine tasting above the clouds at DAOU Vineyards and Winery. If you are a fellow oenophile, I’d recommend a visit to the Tablas Creek Vineyard. I’d tasted at least 10 different types of wine in the space of half an hour, but only one wine had captivated my tastebuds. Love its 2013 Esprit de Tablas blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah and Counoise. Oozing with tremendous potential to improve with age, I will keep this friendly and approachable candidate in our wine cellar. Tablas Creek Vineyard is the joint venture between Robert Haas, a wine importer, and Château de Beaucastel (Rhône Valley). Congrats on winning second place in the The Daily Meal 101 Best Wineries in America 2017, a well-deserved accolade!
After Tablas Creek Vineyard, we headed 45 min’s drive away to Morro Bay for lunch. Along the way, I saw avocado trees for the first time in my life. I love avocados too much! Do you love avocados? On the Old Creek Road, the next scenic beauty that had passed before my eyes was the Whale Rock Reservoir. Wild grasses with its fluffy heads were dancing in the warm summer’s breeze.
It was fairly easy to find parking in front of the eye-catching Salt Water Taffy store. Have you had salt water taffy before? We were hungry when we sat down for lunch at the Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant. The enterprising commercial fishing family of Bonnie and Captain Mark Tognazzini owns 3 restaurants, a fish market. Captain Mark still sells whole salmon and albacore straight off his boat when he lands at Morro Bay. I always made a point to eat only local seafood, and seafood restauranteurs who catch what they serve are few and far between. The freshest seafood also tastes the sweetest. Whilst waiting for our order, we looked out of the windows, curiously observing the hustle and bustle of a working fishing port. A puddle of water, possibly from melted ice, was reflecting the machineries and fork lift trucks in action. The workers were busy loading up the Santa Monica Seafood truck.
Btw, have you tried a BBQ oysters picnic? Make your own BBQ oysters and then shuck them like a pro at the Hog Island Oyster Farm? I think it’s a marvellous idea for entertaining families or a fun inspiration for a weekend getaway with friends. It’s quite a way up north from Morro Bay but definitely another Californian foodie secret! Failing that, you can buy the BBQ oysters for $1.95 each at Tognazzini’s fish market.
We had root beer to accompany our meal, yup, just like Snoopy would! For appetizers, we shared 6 raw oysters on the half shell, decorated with lemon wedges and purple flowering kale. The huge oysters were served with cocktail sauce and horseradish. Would have loved to try its oyster chowder one day! Oysters always made my day. For main course, both of us ordered the same must-have dish, Captain’s Combo Platter & chips; a plate of deliciousness generously filled with fresh lightly breaded and deep fried shrimp, scallops, pacific cod, calamari, oyster strips, coleslaw, tartar sauce, ketchup and french fries. When we did not speak during the mealtime, it usually means that the food was really tasty. Nobody spoke a word until we’d polished off the plates. It was that tasty! I’ve let my secret out 😉 Don’t miss out on dining like a King and Queen on Californian seafood for a princely sum.
We walked off our meal by visiting the delights of Morro Bay. Many fishing boats and yachts were docked on its waterfront. My eyes were drawn to a yacht leaving the harbour, flanked against the landmark Morro Rock, and occasionally interrupted by the noise of the hungry cackling seagulls. The Morro Bay sceneries were quite the sight to behold.
Joining us on the beautiful summer’s day, a family of Californian ground squirrels were sunbathing on the rocks. I love photographing wild animals. I will start with Californian ground squirrels as they are simply the easiest and cutest targets, commonly found in the Californian coast. I was attracted to a particularly adorable squirrel. He had this facial expression of ‘What are you looking at??’ He’s so cute!!! What do you think? Is he a cutie? Chasing squirrels for photoshoot is one of my fav pastime on our American road trips.
Walking barefoot along the warm sandy beach of Morro bay, the pastel pretty as a postcard beach felt almost like a dream. Do visit the beautiful home of sand dollars and sand crabs. Watch the surfers ride the waves or just sit down and relax, enjoying every moment of your bespoke beach escapade. The turquoise coloured waters were calling out to swimmers who were just blissfully enjoying the time of their lives. Let’s go for a dip!
Can nature untie the thousand knots in the heart? Time with nature, particularly time with the sea is always a pleasure. What do you think?
These cuties, otherwise known as sea otters, were lounging belly-up and floating playfully, stretched out in a line. The gray fur balls love to eat sea urchins, clams and crabs and are a delightful surprise for visitors to Morro Bay. Sometimes if you are really lucky, you’d see sea otters banging clams on the houseboats, to crack open their meal. A giant sea lion led out several loud barks. What was in your mind dear sea lion? He was probably envious of our attention to the sea otters. Who is watching who? 😉
For further travel inspirations, do consult the official Morro Bay tourism website. It’s time to head home to Pelican Inn and Suites, a mere 29 min’s drive away along the classic and celebrated Californian Highway 1, and enjoy the romantic sunsets of Moonstone Beach.
La Vie est Belle … Fly Me A Dream! Until we meet again on another Californian adventure, do take care. Hope you’ve had fun catching a glimpse of beautiful Central Coast California. Have a nice day! Much love from charming Morro Bay and I, your storyteller. 😉
Nestled majestically at an elevation of 2200 feet, the DAOU vineyards and winery offers breathtaking panoramic views. Above The Clouds, where the wild beauty of the terroir of the Daou mountain meets the visionary science of winemaking, come and savour the melodious nuances of its world-class Cabernet Sauvignon. You’d soon forget that you are only 37 miles from Moonstone Beach …
Growing up in Lebanon and France whereby their lifelong love for the grapes begins at childhood, the Daou brothers had studied at the University of California, San Diego. Prior to their winemaking ventures, Georges Daou’s fortunes struck in his successful Daou Systems Inc. business venture. Creating a computer program for hospitals was such a brilliant idea! Georges’s entrepreneurial ingenuity coupled with help from his brother, Daniel, together the close knitted brotherhood bond had enabled them to garner one of the biggest IPOS of the late-1990s! Retiring at the age of 31, the Daou brothers had dreams of producing quality Californian wines. Their wealth could have enabled them to buy any vineyards in California or France, but they had firmly chosen to hone their viticulture skills and use their business brains to break the frontiers and elevate the bar of the Paso Wine Country. Come and meet the courageous mavericks and visionaries that I admire, whose goal is on reduced yields and concentrated flavours! If you were solely focused on yield (quantity over quality), any winemaker would have chosen flatlands to base their vineyards.
I’m actually not surprised at all by their purchase of the 600-acre ranch to create the highest vineyard in Paso Robles, back in the days of 2007. I was awestruck by the beauty of the nature sanctuary of the Adelaida region on driving to the Daou winery. Aesthetically pleasing at such a high elevation, the wild rugged beauty of the Central Coast terroir would be a definite pluspoint for a winery with tasting room Above The Clouds. I love its glorious purple lavender blooms in the summer too! The Spanish Colonial style winery estate is the labours of love of designer John Jensen. To attract wine enthusiasts and stargazers who would appreciate a romantic luxe vacation with tangible tranquility, there are further rooms for natural progression to include a five star wine hotel. The ranch’s legacy was attractive enough, part of the 1200-acre rolling ranchland that had once belonged to Dr. Stanley Hoffman, a Beverly Hills cardiologist, a visionary who had pioneered Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Paso Robles in the 1960s.
In terms of the scientific and geographical considerations of the site of a vineyard, the constant sea breeze through the Templeton Gap from the Pacific Ocean would moderate the temperature, which is already much lower average temperature than the east Paso Robles. High elevation would offer frost protection, whilst rose bushes are planted for its aesthetic beauty and most importantly as an early detector of mildew. The star of the show, which I believe is the main attraction of the vineyards’s location, is that the roots of the vines would dig deep into the dramatic terrains of ancient calcareous or limestone-rich soils, heavily laden with the goodness of whalebones and other marine fossils. Limestone offers nutrients which is beneficial for the growth and production of grapes with ideal ripeness without losing its natural acidic appeal. Tartaric acid is unnecessary during the winemaking. As the estate receives more rainfall than on any other Paso vineyards, dry farming of the vines are possible in some years. The limestone enriched soils are also water-retentive in the dry and hot weather and offer good drainage in cool weather, an important trait for production of bold wines with character. Do you remember Aube’s champagne, Burgundy’s Chablis, Loire Valley’s Pouilly and Sancerre and Southern Rhone’s Côtes du Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre?
Above all, the success of this winery will depend on the passion and nerves of steel from the two brothers, navigating not only the steep terrains but the steep curve of convincing the world about their dreams of the world’s next benchmark for Bordeaux varietals. Daniel Daou, is not your weekend winemaker, preferring to dedicate 7 days a week, a lifetime dedicated to his winemaking passions. Utterly dependant on his taste buds to determine the ideal ripeness to call a pick, Daniel will observe if the grape’s seeds had turned brown, easily separable from the pulp and whether he can taste the bitterness when biting into the grape. For Cabernet, the velvety textures of the skin would indicate perfect ripeness. Grape over-ripeness, above 15% alcohol, you’d lose out on the varietal characters. In order to achieve their goals of reduced yields for concentrated flavours, each vine is limited to 10 – 12 clusters. So precious are the grapes, that these jewels are hand-harvested at its prime ripeness.
Take a pick from the premium Estate Collection or the Reserve Collection. The highly prized 2013 Soul of A Lion blend (Bordeaux style blend – Rated 96 Points, Robert Parker; 96 Points Wine Enthusiast; 94 Points, Vinous; 94 Points, Wong) and Micho blend (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon – Rated 94 Points, Robert Parker; 93 Points, Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine; 91 Points, Vinous) are available by Allocation Only. The 2012 Daou Estate Mayote blend (53% Syrah, 37% Cabernet and 10% Petit Verdot) is currently retailing at $130 a bottle. Come and taste the talents of Daniel Daou, a visionary winemaker, guided by the Tasting Menu. We loved the refined moderate acidity yet complex forward fruit, oaky spices of nutmeg, cloves and vanilla and the subtle hints of tobacco of the 2014 Daou Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 20 months in 80% new French oak. Drink it over the next decade and expect enhanced voluptuousness with well-balanced tamed tannins.
I can’t wait to be back to taste the Mayote blend one day. I’d recommend a visit to this stunning hidden gem winery. I truly can’t keep this beautiful secret for ourselves anymore! Let’s continue to dream, explore and discover together! Until our next day trip inspiration from Moonstone Beach, have a happy autumn! Cheers! 🍷
On 25 May 2015, we’d waved goodbye to the luxe California’s famous Orange County (OC), time travelled to grab a bite and relive stagecoach heydays and here we go, hitting the road again on America’s scenic byway Route 154. Dear California, how can I ever forget you, your charm, your every move is in sync with my beating heart. Let’s go and leave some footprints in the sand at Moonstone Beach, relax…
As our car sped past Lake Cachuma, I remembered our Feb 2013 visit. Elevated at 230m, Lake Cachuma is nestled in the midst of wilderness flanked by its majestic neighbours, the Santa Ynez Mountains and San Rafael Mountains. The waters of this artificial lake glistened in the midday sun, adored by campers who enjoy fishing. For wine lovers, how about staying at the Danish-style town of Solvang to explore the Santa Ynez Wine Country.
Since we’d already done all the above in 2013, we continued the journey towards Los Olivos before joining the Highway 101, saying hello briefly to Pismo Beach before turning left at San Luis Obispo onto Highway 1. From Highway 101 onwards, do catch a glimpse of the famous California coast from the comforts of your car. I was happy to see the massive Morro Rock, a 177 m high volcanic plug, where the seafood paradise of Morro Bay makes its home.
In about 2 hour’s drive since we left Cold Spring Tavern, we had arrived at 6pm at the heart of the scenic Cambrian coastlines, to relax and enjoy a dose of vitamin sea for the next 2 nights at The Pelican Inn and Suites. Moonstone Beach Drive is the home of restaurants, inns and windswept trees. It was my first time seeing pelicans, and I took so many photos of these graceful creatures! Choosing to live across the street from the idyllic Moonstone Beach was probably the best decision we’d made, inspired by the Trailfinders’ travel brochures to create our very own bespoke Californian road trip. Our stay was well worth every penny. We were just in time for the complimentary evening reception of local wine, cheese and other appetizers. Unfortunately, it looks like the evening reception had since been discontinued.
After the evening reception, we followed our ears to where the waves were gently repeating its embrace on the shorelines. Entertained by the song of the sea, our hearts were patiently awaiting sunset. I can never get enough of the sea. What about you? Starting the journey from the Moonstone Beach boardwalk that runs parallel to Moonstone Beach Drive, my eyes caught the abundant wildflowers dancing in the warm sea breeze and the mesmerising sea in the distance.
We did not follow the mile long boardwalk, as we were so eager to walk barefoot at the beach. A relaxing treat for the senses …
The beach was a unique mix of beautiful moonstones, sea glass and powdery sand. Other artistic heart imprints were the many driftwoods washed ashore, adding character to the breathtaking beach.
Surfers were riding the big waves and swimmers were having the time of their lives. Here at the beach, happiness abound!
Very soon, the sun had begun to set and the evening fog had rested on Moonstone Beach, creating an unforgettable dramatic mood all around. The enshrouding mist had created a moody yet enchanting moment, one that you’d have to experience it yourself to fully comprehend its magnetic power.
We were lucky as the cloudy day had ended in a riveting sunset sky. Take your pick between romantic chats whilst sitting on a giant rock by the sea, strolling hand in hand on the beach or continue the journey on the boardwalk to share momentarily a secret enclosure of overarching trees at the lil’ wooden bridge. Nature’s our best host of the day! Feel the peace …
Moonstone Beach is the perfect Californian beach paradise. The travel brochures often depict such breathtaking sunset mood (see Featured Image) and we’d finally understood its romantic appeal. If you are still curious for more adventures, do follow the Moonstone Beach hiking trail to discover the treasures of the Hearst San Simeon State Park. Dear wanderlusters, invite yourselves into the home of starfishes, sea anemones, hermit crabs and seals, the tide pools of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary!
For dinner, how about a romantic dinner at the Madeline’s Restaurant? This restaurant, located in downtown Cambria, is also a wine tasting room, should you wish to discover the jewels of the Central Coast boutique wineries. For appetizers, we had the Diver Scallops and Spanish Octopus. We continued dining on main courses of Filet Mignon and the Lamb Tenderloin. It was a delicious end to a beautiful day.
Do visit Moonstone Beach one day! I love my experience, and I’m pretty sure you’d be addicted to Moonstone Beach too. Hope my simple storytelling will inspire you to dream, explore and discover. Keep warm with our Californian adventures. Be enchanted and be enthralled by the beauty of Moonstone Beach! Mesmerising Moonstone Beach, you’d left footprints in our hearts!
Enjoy a glimpse of our lifestyle and what makes our hearts tick… We remember moments not days and not things either. Forever we’re grateful for what we’d been given and thankful for our experiences, discover an aspirational living with a difference! La vie est belle…
Until we meet again on day trips from Moonstone Beach, have a wonderful day and take care! Much love from me, your storyteller 😉 Fly Me A Dream!