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Japan – Mount Aso, Kurokawa, and Kumamoto

January 11, 2013 4 comments

Japan so far:

This post is a photo tour of Kyushu, Japan’s southern island, including the national park around the active volcano Mount Aso, as well as the spa town of Kurokawa and finishing up in the Kumamoto, dominated by an infamous samurai castle.

NOTE If you are reading this in a news reader such as Google Reader, or inside Facebook on a tablet, you might want to open this in a dedicated browser window as the photo layout may work better. And there are more photos from these locations available on Flickr

MOUNT ASO
We hopped an early morning train from Fukuoka south along Kyushu’s west coast and changed to a rental car. After getting our heads around Japanese road signs, and puzzling out the sat-nav system (in which you enter phone numbers, not addresses, to locate your destination) we headed through Kumamoto’s suburban sprawl, which could be mistaken for Anywhere, USA, east into the hills of central Kyushu. We were headed for the national park around Mount Aso, a set of active peaks and a boiling sulphur lake in a crater, all of which sit in one of the largest calderas on Earth. It makes for a dramatic landscape, and one that you have to take care with – the viewpoint over the crater is regularly shut down when the sulphur emissions get too strong, and there are bunkers in which visitors can shelter in the case of any violent eruptions. But it’s worth visiting as the turquoise sulphur water bubbling away, and the columns of steam shooting a hundred feet in the air, are a sight to behold…. and the rolling grasslands in the plains around the caldera made for a very enjoyable drive.

 

KUROKAWA
After a lovely outing to Mount Aso, we headed down through the mountain passes into the forested valleys south of the caldera region, ending up in Kurokawa, an onsen town built around a pretty bend in the river, hosting scores of ryokans catering mainly to more mature Japanese tourists whose idea of a fun day is to lounge around in a yukata robe and flit around from one outdoor hot spring bath (rotemburo) to another, and retire in the evening to be pampered in traditional Japanese ryokan style. We were keen on this, as it happened, and we chose an excellent inn just outside the main town, the Sanga Ryokan, because it had its own pretty stretch of river, seemed smart, and boasted no less than five separate rotemburo. Aside from all this, it had incredibly pretty traditional rooms and the food was edging onto what you would get in a high-end kaiseki restaurant. We could have stayed there longer. Sadly, we had only the one night.

 

KUMAMOTO
In the morning, after another lovely rotemburo at another ryokan set beside a river with a waterfall, we took our time driving back to Kumamoto, as the weather turned sour. We felt very lucky to have gotten a lovely sunny day to see Mount Aso, and so we arrived in Kumamoto fairly happy with our lot. We (just) had time to pop over to Kumamoto’s samurai castle, infamously besieged and burnt down during the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877, which was the loose basis for the film The Last Samurai. Sunset arrived and we were ushered out (politely, of course)

 

That’s all from Kyushu. The next instalment will bring us back onto the main island of Japan and will feature Hiroshima and its monuments, the idyllic island of Miyajima, and then we will head off into the mountains to stay in a Buddhist temple and visit Japan’s most prestigious…. cemetery.

Visiting the Dordogne and Limousin, June 2012 – Photo Report


As part of the same trip that started with a few days in beautiful Paris, we travelled south to the Dordogne / Limousin area for a few more days of exploration, relaxation, and degustation before joining up with some friends in the region for a three-day wedding extravaganza.

Our route took us from Limoges down to the Dordogne river itself, which is festooned with medieval villages and chateaux hewn out of hillsides and perched atop cliffs. Many of the villages and chateaux were variously at odds with each other during the Hundred Years War, with the French hunkered down in one redoubt while just a kilometer away, on the other side of the river, Richard the Lionheart might have been planning his next conquest. We were able to variously visit or canoe past many of these during our first couple of days.

Click on any of the photos below to view larger versions on Flickr – and click them again once you’re there if you want to see full screen!

Castelnaud-la-Chappelle
Castelnaud-la-Chappelle

Beynac-et-Cazenac
Beynac-et-Cazenac

Panorama of the Dordogne from Chateau Beynac-et-Cazenac
Panorama of the Dordogne from Chateau Beynac-et-Cazenac

Roses of Beynac-et-Cazenac
Roses of Beynac-et-Cazenac

Interior staircase of Chateau Beynac-et-Cazenac
Interior staircase of Chateau Beynac-et-Cazenac

Over the course of our visit we moved North, away from the Dordogne river, and visited many quaint (and quiet) villages en route, including Bourdeilles and the very picturesque Brantôme, “the Venice of the Dordogne”.

Roses of Bourdeilles
Roses of Bourdeilles

Brantome Panorama
Brantôme Panorama

Canalside door, Brantome
Canalside door, Brantôme

Hungry Ducks of Brantome
Hungry Ducks of Brantôme

No Parking, Brantome
No Parking, Brantôme

More images can be found in my Flickr set “The Dordogne and Limousin – June 2012“.