Japan, A Winter Delight

Tuesday 16 March 2010 | By Zoe Bruce |

A Taste of Everything

At long last, I have now experienced the beauty that is Japan. After studying the language and the culture of this country for 7 years, I have finally had the chance to visit three of its main attractions. Starting with the more traditional and temple laden Kyoto, then moving onto the amazing snow offered in Niseko and finishing up with Tokyo city. Spanning three weeks, it was a holiday and a culture that I am unlikely to forget.

Kyoto

I would have to say that the traditional Watazen Ryokan was my favourite accommodation of the trip. The room featured bedding on tatami matts, rice paper walls, a green tea set, kimono robes, slippers and a highly relaxing, communal bath. Watazen Ryokan was centrally located and is just a short walk from Shijo station and was also close to the famous Nishiki Food Markets. Just outside my doorstep was bike hire, which allowed me to easily cruise around to some of the best temples in the area. Navigating the main street can be difficult with all the pedestrian traffic, but once on the outskirts of the city, the small, beautiful lane-ways by the hills were far less populated. Riding along the hillside lead to some beautiful temples, my favourite of which was Kiyomizu Dera. Another easy way to see the city and in particular Nijo-jo Castle and Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion is via the bus system. The one day pass costs approximately $6 and proves to be a highly economical and easy way to see the area. 

Niseko, Hokkaido

A short flight North of Osaka is the island of Hokkaido and during the winters it is known for receiving some of the best snowfall in the world. When I arrived in Niseko Village, it was even more beautiful than I imagined. The beautiful town featured buildings with snow hanging like mushrooms from atop each of the roofs, while walls of snow, up to 3 metres high lined the streets. As for the snowboarding, the early morning powder at Hanozono mountain was hard to beat, with a particular run known as Strawberry Fields, a favourite amongst visitors. As a side note, Strawberry Fields is a double black run and should something go wrong you will not be covered by travel insurance... in other words; enter at your own risk.

Accommodation in this area is abundant, with styles to suit everyone. I stayed at the Woody Note Inn, a beautiful log cabin run by Toshi and his wife. Toshi personally drives guests to the lifts of a morning in his own bus and the couple work hard to ensure your stay is as comfortable as possible. Included in the price was a daily buffet style breakfast, which provided a great start to the long day of boarding ahead. After bashing the slopes for a while, I recommend you head to Abucha Bakery, which sits on the corner, right near the Seiko Mart and the only traffic lights in town. They serve reasonably priced, absolutely delicious patisserie food and even better than that are their oreo hot chocolates - or on a particularly well deserved day, you may prefer to opt for the hot Baileys. Once I discovered this place, I became a devout, daily visitor!

Tokyo  

Tokyo is an amazing city; the shopping, people, food and transport system are unforgettable. I stayed in Tokyo for 6 nights, which I happen to feel is perhaps a little too long, however if you are hoping to visit Mt Fuji, this would be ideal. Staying in Shinjuku at the Sunroute Plaza, I was a mere 4 minutes walk from the train station and Times Square. Some of the highlights of Tokyo included the shopping in Harajuku and wandering through the breathtaking Yoyogi Park, visiting the famous Shibuya crossing, looking out across the city from Tokyo Tower and playing arcade games at Sega World in Akihabara (Electric City).

The nightlife in Tokyo left me somewhat underwhelmed, with Roppongi clubs proving to be not all that much different from a night out in Surfers Paradise. Another thing to watch in Tokyo is drinking alcohol while dining out. Whilst meals are relatively inexpensive, a beer can set you back around 700 Yen or AU$8.50.  All in all I feel Tokyo is an essential part of a Japanese holiday experience. But then again I may be biased.... it is after all an ideal place for shopping, shopping and more shopping!

For a complete culture shock, a taste of history, thigh high powder and extraordinary shopping, Japan really has it all. Getting around as a non-speaking Westerner is a breeze, with low airfares and fantastic snow packages making Japan more appealing than ever before. 

For more information on any of the areas featured in this blog, contact World Travel Professionals to speak with one of our consultants. We encourage and welcome all user comments and aim to use our blog to interact with our interested readers! 

Winter In Europe

Tuesday 23 December 2008 | By Ros Bulat |

Exploring Europe during the winter is one of the best-kept secrets in travel!

Winter is such an enchanting time to visit Europe; in fact it should be mandatory that at least once in your lifetime you experience the magic of a White Christmas in this part of the world.

If you are worried about going to Europe during winter – don’t be! You will find the weather is often surprisingly mild, the city streets and attractions less crowded than during the summer, and the local shops filled with incredible winter bargains. Not to mention the great deals you can get on airfares and tours before you leave.

How about a visit to the Christmas Markets in Rothenburg, where you are plunged back into the 16th century as you enter through medieval walls and follow the narrow cobblestones streets to the market square with its town clock, or what about the sparkling festival lights of Prague and Budapest? Or a Mozart and Strauss concert in Vienna. 

Winter offers you a chance to see Europe in a whole different-albeit dimmer-light. The season presents you with a chance to put on your woollies and hike snow covered peaks, or squeeze into a tux and go to an opera gala.

Winter has charms of its own. Instead of a seat at an outdoor cafe, think of wandering through Venice's wintry fog, peering into the city's steamed-up windows in search of a cosy café or, better yet, think of eating rich, winter foods beside a roaring fire beneath the intricately carved timber-beams of an historic guild hall restaurant in Basel, Switzerland. 

In winter, European cuisine changes dramatically. Southern Mediterranean dwellers wouldn't think of eating heavy cream sauces in summer. But once the leaves fall off the trees, European kitchens burst into winter mode. Creamy, long-cooking sauces, preserved duck and goose, root vegetables, and the roasting of wild game all contributing to aromas that will leave you wishing you could stay in Europe forever. 

Of course some places are indeed quite chilly. But the south of Italy, Spain, Portugal and most of Greece are pretty balmy in winter. Winter is a great time to visit Spain's Andalucian trio of Seville, Cordoba and Granada. Or perhaps you'd rather take a winter visit to almost deserted Pompeii with a stopover in Naples in order to eat some of the best food in Italy. So Why not travel in winter? Hotels and airfares are cheap, and sweaty summer crowds are a dim memory!

For more information on any of the areas featured in this blog, contact World Travel Professionals to speak with one of our consultants. We encourage and welcome all user comments and aim to use our blog to interact with our interested readers!