Rocking it in METEORA

I must admit that till the moment I began to plan my trip to Greece, to me, Meteora was the name of my favorite CD by one of my favorite bands – Linkin Park.

Holy Trinity Monastery at Meteora, Greece
The Holy Trinity Monastery is not the largest of the six remaining cloisters, however, the most picturesquely positioned one.

Since last Christmas, I know better; much better: Meteora is a rock formation in central Greece, about 350 kilometers north of Athens. It is famous for one of the largest complexes of monasteries.

So my initial rock-band reference was not that mistaken, after all: Meteora is rocking – big time!

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ATHENS for First-Timers – Beyond the Acropolis

Yes, I’ve travelled the seven seas – at least metaphorically – yet never made it to Greece. Which is ironic since basically all of Greece is located on the seaside: with 13,676 kilometers of coastline – that’s roughly the little something of 8,498 miles – and 3054 islands and islets, Poseidon definitely is boss.

Not the only amazing facts: Next to Golgota and the Capitol, the Acropolis in Athens is one of the hills on which Europe was founded. Therefore, there is no excuse for having not yet visited the cradle of our civilization.

Cat at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Although Greece is basically sea-girt, besides lots of water, there are many rocks. As well as cats.

So as we got nearer to Christmas and the holy days became holidays, the question of where to spend them was quickly answered: Athens – for the first time.

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JAPAN for First Timers: An Adjustable Guide

Are you planning on going to Japan for the first time?
Being all excited?
Wondering what to expect?
Having a million questions?
Well, I recently came back from my first big Japan-adventure and let me tell you: It was just overwhelming; in a good way!

Geisha with phone in Kyoto
Beautifully dressed up for Japan.

As I had the chance to travel for three weeks, I know that not everybody has the opportunity to leave for so long. Therefore, based on my itinerary, I put together a travel guide that can be individually adjusted to your personal trip – for one, two, or three weeks in the Land of the Rising Sun.

日本へようこそ – Nihon e yōkoso – Welcome to Japan!

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TOKYO – introduction to 10 extraordinary neighborhoods

Tokyo – my first encounter with Japanese everyday life and culture – left a good impression and prepared me for more to come.

Students at Tokyo in Japan
A warm and fun welcome to Tokyo by these sweet ambassadors.

Tokyo – the first cut is the deepest, but this one didn’t hurt at all – so let me introduce you to 10 extraordinary neighborhoods.

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KAWAGUCHI-KO – taking a shot at Mount Fuji

I’ve heard that there are people travelling periodically to the region west of Tokyo just to take a good shot of Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji seen from Kawaguchiko in Japan
This is the picture I wanted to shoot. I didn’t. The person credited below did. (Photo: Kpravin2, Mount Fuji Japan with Snow, Lakes and Surrounding Mountains, CC BY-SA 4.0)

This majestic, perfectly shaped volcano – that erupted lastly in 1707 – seems to be hiding behind clouds most of the time so that it can be a challenge – or a hobby – hunting the best view. Or at least a glimpse.

No, I won’t spend my leisure time travelling periodically to the region west of Tokyo. However, after my trip to Hakone had been Fuji-wise a wash-out – literally, I decided to take another shot – and this time hopefully not only at, but also of the mountain.

 

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NAGOYA – enjoy the ordinary

Tourist attraction wise, Nagoya has by far less to offer than Tokyo or let alone Kyoto.

bye:myself at Nagoya Castle in Japan
Shogun for a day.

I would say that brands like Mitsubishi, Toyota, and even Shinkansen – all settled in Nagoya – sound more familiar than the city’s own name.

I guess that’s the reason why most foreign visitors just skip Japan’s fourth-largest city located on the Pacific coast in favor of the more glamorous metropolis.

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TAKAYAMA – a travel back in time; and a side trip to SHIRAKAWAGO

Ready for a trip back in time? For narrow alleys lined with old wooden merchants’ houses dating to the Edo Period? For a dozen fascinating museums? For platters of Hida Beef that just melts in your mouth?
If so, Takayama, nestled between the mountains of the Gifu prefecture, is the perfect place for you.

Shirakawago view of the village and bye:myself
Once in Shirakawago, you absolutely have to walk up to the Ogimachi observation deck. There is already a photographer with a couple of props waiting for you – say cheese!

And although it might be already challenging enough to fit all the landmarks downtown Takayama into your itinerary, you should, nonetheless, by no means miss a little side trip to Shirakawago village – which even made it to the World Heritage Site list in 1995.

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KYOTO – Japan’s Treasure Box; and a side trip to NARA

Oh my God, I’m such a tourist: Visiting Japan, I had all these iconic motives in my head that I wanted to ban on….well, there is no celluloid anymore, so on a storage chip.

Geishas at Kyoto
Yes, this is such a stunning sight. However, according to my experience, every Geisha under the age of 55 is prone to be a Chinese tourist in disguise. Sometimes stunning just the same.

Interestingly, quite a few of them are to be found in the former capital Kyoto, practically Japan’s Treasure Box.

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OSAKA – the commercial metropole; and a side trip to HIMEJI

Osaka has always been Japan’s economic hub – and keeps its status as the country’s major commercial center to this date: Major players like Sharp, Sanyo, and Panasonic have their headquarters in Osaka.

View of Osaka from the Umeda Building
One of the many options to see Osaka from above: At the gift shop of the Umeda Sky Building.

This busy metropole was not only briefly the imperial capital in the 7th and 8th centuries, it even outnumbered Tokyo in being Japan’s largest city in the 1930s.

Therefore, a visit to Osaka is rather about the cool’n’contemporary than the ancient’n’inherited and pulls its visitors into a whirlwind of skyscrapers, shopping malls, art exhibitions, and food….lots of food.

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HIROSHIMA – risen up from the ashes; and a side trip to MIYAJIMA

Hiroshima – one of the names inextricably connected to the first atomic attack in human history.

Dove in front of the Atomic Dome in Hiroshima Japan
A Dove of Peace spreading its wings in front of the Atom Bomb Dome.

Visiting Hiroshima, I wasn’t able to imagine an average Japanese city with a little over a million inhabitants plying their trades as if their city never had been practically erased and went down in history as one of the biggest humanitarian disasters.

What I found was a charming city – risen up from the atomic ashes of 1945.

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