Japan 2015: Kobe Re-Visited

Totally unplanned but ended up re-visiting Kobe (for myself that is, sis has not been to Kobe before) for a day trip on Day 7 of our trip. It was a last minute tweak to our itinerary as we had originally planned to visit Ise (from Nagoya) – only to abandon it due to the longer journey it would take if we were to cover it using the JR Pass all the way.

Originally, the initial plan was to stay in Kobe for 2 days, and from Kobe, do day trips to Osaka/Kyoto/Himeji. However due to difficulty in securing accommodation for Kobe on weekend dates, we ended up in Takayama instead. The journey took about 1 and a half hours, via shinkansen to Shin-Osaka, then direct rapid service all the way to Sannomiya Station – the main hub of Kobe City …… and all covered by the JR Pass.

Started off our Kobe daytrip with a visit to Ikuta Shrine, located right in the heart of Sannomiya.

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Ikuta Shrine is a Shinto Shrine that is one of the oldest in Japan, with a history of over 1800 years. Apart from protecting the deity of Ikuta (Ikuta means the place with vibrant energy), there is another interesting piece of history surrounding the shrine. In AD 80, 44 kambe (神戸) or court officials (fuko) who served shrines, were sent by the court to serve at this shrine. Thus gradually the area around the shrine became what is known as Kobe (神戸) city today. The shrine is also of great significance to the people of Kobe – as a symbol of resurrection …… as it has survived many wars and natural disasters over the years, with the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 being the latest.

Sources: Ikuta Shrine Official Website, Japan Experience

Thus it was also the place to offer some prayers right at the mid-point of our trip as well.

After visiting the shrine, crossed the road opposite to the huge Tokyu Hands – a building by itself about 5 stories high, with another basement floor. Looked around a bit before deciding to head off for lunch.

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Quaint looking European style shop/building in a corner of Sannomiya. Walked in to take a look and the shop sells exclusively Baumkuchen cakes.

We decided to get lunch in Sannomiya area itself. As sis does not eat beef, as such Kobe Beef is not an option , and eating at Wakkoqu was a no go! Did some googling and decided we could check out Nishimura Coffee for lunch – as they have an outlet right along the stretch beside Hankyu Sannomiya Station. Nishimura Coffee was also the same cafe where I packed a strawberry shortcake back to my hotel room during my last trip back in November 2013.

(Note: We did not manage to locate their iconic red brick outlet at Kitanozaka, which is around the corner from Ikuta Shrine)

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The cafe itself has a very 1960s vibe. And to our surprise, they allow smoking inside the cafe! So it was not that comfortable eating in a smoky cafe of sorts ……

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The dessert counter. Spoilt with choice with so many different varieties of cakes and pies to choose from.

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My lunch set! A little disappointed not to see any Kobe Beef on the menu ….. so opted for one of their set lunches instead. Can’t remember the exact name of this main course. Basically it is baked balls – one with bacon and cheese, another with an assortment of seafood ….. accompanied by a salmon & ham (within a jelly) ….. and minestrone soup. I must say the way they baked the balls is very creative & igneous …. retaining the western influence while incorporating some Japanese sensibility and creativity.

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Sis had a more traditional ham sandwich accompanied with salad and minestrone soup.

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Kobe – as a major port city, is also a gateway to western culture and influences. As such, they are well-known for their bakeries and pastries.  So having a dessert is a must! Got a baked cheese cake to share as it is not so rich/heavy as we were to take a fruit tart / mount blanc / cream-based cake ……

Off to Kobe Harborland after lunch ……

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The iconic ferris wheel right beside the Anpanman Museum ….. with the Old Kobe Harbor Signal Tower in the distance @ the end of the harbour.

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Takahama Quay that is right below the Mosaic shopping area ….. which overlooks Meriken Park and the iconic buildings that flank it – from left to right …… Kobe Port Tower, Hotel Okura, Kawasaki Good Times World (Maritime Museum) and the Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel (that I stayed in during my last trip).

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As you can see, it is also a cloudy and pretty ‘grey’ day, ready to rain anytime. Still feel the million-dollar night views that I experienced back in year 2013 were way superior …….

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Flowerbed at the other end of the quay.

We wanted to proceed to the Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens & Ropeway next ….. but by the time we reach there, it will be around 1630 Hrs. With sunset starting at 1645 Hrs and the Ropeway closing at 1700 Hrs …… and considering that its such a cloudy day with high chance of rain, went back to Sannomiya to do some omiyage shopping to end off the day trip (technically half-day only) to Kobe.

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Japan 2015: Takayama Highlights Part 3

Sanmachi – the old streets that is preserved and the iconic district for sight-seeing in Takayama as well.

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Sanmachi is also nick-named ‘Little Kyoto‘ as it gives off the vibe of a quaint historic district, with the nicely preserved wooden machiyas (townhouses) with various shops selling various stuff (there’s one shop as above that sells various types of sake).

I personally like the ‘small-village’ feel of the place which is a nice slowdown in pace and not as commercialized as Kyoto is …… although that may change in the future once the main JR Takayama station completes its re-development in year 2017 with a brand new station and a shopping mall right beside it (which will result in more tourist inflows).

Walked down the entire stretch before proceeding to the our next destination – Miyagawa Morning Market.

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Unlike Jinya-mae which we went earlier, Miyagawa Morning Market consists of a longer stretch of makeshift stalls set up right alongside the Miyagawa River. There’s more variety of stuff too ….. from food items to small trinklets to fresh produce etc.

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Various types of goods on sale ……

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There’s also a cafe building on the other side of the market.

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More stalls selling various types of items. The apples looked so fresh and crunchy that we wanted to get some to eat …. but decided not to due to the lack of a fridge.

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Some of the more interesting cooked food stalls – one selling tomato-based fried chicken, another organic herb tea stall and another one selling award-winning hot pudding.

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Got a bottle of pudding to try. The pudding is actually a ‘hot’ pudding that is freshly made and then soaked in hot water. By the time I consumed it post lunch back at the hotel lobby, it was more warm than hot. The pudding is actually softer (and sweeter), with a more tofu-like texture when consumed hot/warm.

The surrounding Miyagawa River. Clear day and specks of autumn foliage.

After our tour of Miyagawa Market, we slowly walked back to Sanmachi for an early lunch at Sakaguchiya (separate review as linked). Whilst checking my phone during lunch, saw on Facebook that there’s actually this one thousand year old ginko tree right in Takayama, at the compound of Hida Kokubun-ji Temple just 5 min away from our hotel. And so we walked there to take a look right before heading for our half-day tour to Shirakawa-go next!

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Japan 2015: Takayama Highlights Part 2

More sights of Takayama! Got up early the next morning and the plan for the greater half of the day was to head to Takayama Old Town and the Morning Markets for a walk + Lunch before our 1/2 day tour to Shirakawago in the afternoon.

(Note: Shirakawago was the main reason why we set up base in Takayama)

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The Old Town area was a good 10 to 15 min walk from our hotel. As Takayama lies within the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture, it is also a lot colder than in Yokohama (about 13 to 15 degrees in the daytime …… then drops to 10 degrees at nightime). But still, i it was a bright and sunny day. Also got to see some modern western/french restaurants along the walk (despite Takayama being more of a small quiet town) …… with the streets adorned with colourful autumn trees.

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Unlike in Kansai, Tokyo/Kanto (where I experienced the autumn foliage back in 2013) …… autumn in Takayama/Gifu Prefecture comes a lot earlier in September/October, so the colours are not as nice as it should be given that it is tail end of autumn season in Takayama / Gifu.

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Towards our 1st ‘targeted’ destination – the Jinya-mae Morning Market.

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The plan also was to grab breakfast along the way. Chanced upon this stall and got a Hida Beef bun to start off the day! The shop also sells Hida Beef sushi – which I regret not trying as I write now ……

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The shop next door that sells various types of Hoba miso.

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Came across another stall selling grilled mochi …… and we got that to try as well!

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After our food-stop, continued to make our way towards the Jinya-mae morning market. More sights along the way ……

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The Jinya-Mae Morning Market. This market sells mainly vegetables, fruits and various side dishes and spices. The apples and grapes looked so fresh that we would have loved to buy some to enjoy …… but we did not do as there’s no fridge to store them (due to having to change the room on the day itself).

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This is the Takayama Jinya – a historical government house that was officially use from 1692 till 1969. Only took pictures from outside (and not pay the 420 JPY admission fee to go in).

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Heading to the Old Private Houses (Sanmachi) next. More autumn foliage along our walk ……

 

Japan 2015: Takayama Highlights Part 1

Going into the 2nd third of our trip as we leave Kanagawa (Yokohama / Kamakura / Enoshima) and head on to Takayama next.

The journey from Yokohama to Takayama (via Nagoya) took up the greater half of the day (left Yokohama after breakfast around 0950 Hrs) as the shinkansen journey to Nagoya from Shin-Yokohama (via Tokaido Shinkansen took 2 hours …. and another 2 hours express train to Takayama (via the Limited Express Wide View Hida) …… Endured a slight hiccup as the JR local train to Shin-Yokohama (from Kannai Station) was delayed due to a track accident, and we had to literally run and change track to take the Yokohama local subway (blue line) to get to our reserved Shinkansen on time.

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Realised that our luggages were rather heavy to lug up the Hida Express train that is a lot more narrow than the Shinkansen (the seating is 2 by 2). It also occured to us a lot more later than we could have stayed in Nagoya for 1 day …… then head to Takayama …… and back to Nagoya for another day, and dropped off the big luggages at Nagoya. Well, hotel room availability didn’t work out that well in our favour, that’s why we ended up with the long long journey to Takayama straight!

Pretty scenic ride from Nagoya to Takayama, but no pictures as the train was pretty rocky. Reached Takayama around 3-plus, and we decided to check-in to our hotel 1st. Thank goodness our hotel – Spa Hotel Alphina Hida Takayama was only 5 min walk right across Takayama Station. Pretty new (opened in year 2009) and with pretty nice (& comfortable beds) ……

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There is also an onsen right at the rooftop of the hotel, but we ended up NOT using it for the 2 nights we were there due to early menses, and the huge crowds in the evening.

The view from our hotel room, facing Takayama old town. You can also see some of the autumn foliage and the mountains.

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After settling in and resting a bit, we walked back out to the train station area for an early dinner. This was also our one and only full meal of the day, as we had bread whilst on the ‘road’ for the entire afternoon. Settled for a small restaurant right at the main road facing the train station (can’t remember the name of the restaurant though, if I recall correctly, the restaurant name is called Kei-Chan as per the restaurant directory provided by the hotel) ……

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We decided to have the ‘Kei-Chan’ for an early dinner as it was something we have never eaten before. Kei-Chan is actually a local chicken dish that orignated from the Gujo district of Gifu Prefecture (where Takayama is located in) …… and mainly just chicken, vegetables with a choice of sauce (either soy sauce or miso taste).

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This was easily one of the BEST meals we had during the trip. Very simple dish (mainly chicken and vegetables) but the ingredients were so fresh and the miso sauce really enhanced the flavours of the ingredients. It could also be that we were REALLY hungry …… and this is our one and only full meal for the day! What made it even better was the fact that the kitchen allowed us to have the set meal despite us ordering our food 10 mins after 5pm (which is when the set meal promotion ends). Having additional appetizers in the form of a cold octopus dish and pickles made the meal even more delicious 🙂

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The food here was so good and to our liking (and not to mention inexpensive as the kei-chan chicken set meal was only 1000 JPY) that we ended going back to the same restaurant for our dinner on our 2nd night in Takayama (Saturday 8 November 2015).

This time round, we tried their other local Gifu specialities – Tomato Ramen & Hida Beef With Hoba Miso. Although this is the famous Hida Beef that is a Gifu speciality ….. somehow or another, I felt if I had it in steak form instead, I would have be able to better enjoy the tenderness, and melt-in-the-mouth sensation ….. as versus to having it in thin slices.

Update:

Finally managed to locate the restaurant on google map. The restaurant is called 鶏ちゃん家 (Keichan-ya).

Tablelog link -http://tabelog.com/en/gifu/A2104/A210401/21001825/

Restaurant Webpage – http://nagomi-takayama.jp/keichan.html

Japan 2015: Enoshima & Kamakura Highlights Part 3

Leaving the Iwaya Caves and going 1 round back to the main streets of Enoshima (where we 1st started the walking trail).

Stopped outside the entrance to the Sea Candle for a short break, as well as to quene for this Jellyfish Rice Cracker / Senbei that is unique to Enoshima!

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Continuing the walk back to the main streets ……

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Finally walked past Tobicco – the famous restaurant that serves the Shirasu-Don (seafood with fresh whitebait) unique to Enoshima and Shonan region.

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The quene outside the restaurant was pretty long, or else we could have taken a late lunch there, or even pack their signature Shirasu Kakigae (Whitebait Fritters – probably good for people who don’t take raw food). The menu on their website looks mouth-watering though 😛

Since their main outlet is located along the main street just after the entrance to the island, we decided to just get back to the long bridge (where we came from) and get back to mainland proper.

As sis wasn’t keen to visit the Enoshima Aquarium and look see at the surrounding beaches (its another 10 min walk from the island entrance), we thus concluded our day trip to Enoshima – which took just half day! Hope to come back to the aquarium one day (should I get a chance to do another day trip to Enoshima) + also enjoy another relaxing/chilled out day in Enoshima!

Googled and came across a famous soba restaurant (can’t remember why I ended up googling for food options in Kamakura) …… and so we decided to stop at Kamakura to hunt down this soba restuarant called Nakamura An (The Soba Shop).

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Managed to locate the place with the help of google maps after a couple of twists and turns from Kamakura Station. It was no longer crowded, as it was a super late lunch for us at 330-4pm.

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Not a very big restaurant, and pretty old school interior as well (considering that they are one of the oldest and most established soba shops founded in Showa 39 Years – which is like in 1964!)

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I ordered a cold soba noodles with tempura (1350 JPY) while sis elected to have a hot Kake Soba (750 JPY). The portions are well worth the price, and the cold soba noodles were really firm, and refreshing! The pretty ‘leaf’ accompanying my lone tempura prawn made my set look aesthetically pretty as well 😛

Happy to have the opportunity to dine at this well-established soba place!

After being done with late lunch, we headed back on the Enoden …… 2 stops to Yuigahama Station to our next destination – Inamuragasaki.

Inamuragasaki was one particular place that I put down as a ‘must-visit’ as Inamuragasaki Park (right at the end of the beach) is well-known to be able to spot Mount Fuji (on a clear day), as well as to enjoy gorgeous sunset views. We reached around 1615 hrs after our late lunch …. some time to spare before the sun starts setting from 1630 hrs onwards.

Nice and blue as we go past the beach to the park.

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Inamuragasaki Park.  You can see a crowd of people gathering at the tip waiting for sunset (with cameras in tow).

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As the sun starts to set …… On the top left photo, we can see Enoshima Island (and the iconic Sea Candle) in the distance, as well as a very faint shot of Mount Fuji (didn’t catch it when I was there, only saw it now as I’m compiling the photos for this blog entry).

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The flare from the setting sun ……

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Finally around 1640Hrs, we come close to the ‘Golden Hour’ ……

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And here’s the beautiful end to our day trip to Enoshima and Kamakura as we make our way back to the train station.

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Japan 2015: Kamakura & Enoshima Highlights Part 2

Leaving Enoshima Shrine and moving on to the next destination on the walking trail – Samuel Cocking Garden.

The light bulbs on the ground are meant for the evening illumination. Wasn’t aware that there was a evening illumination display (for Christmas) at the garden area, it would probably have been a beautiful sight.

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Some of the plants/flowers on the garden grounds. This was part of Samuel Cocking’s holiday villa. An extensive history can be found here.

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The Enoshima Sea Candle in sight! This is the tower/observation deck/lighthouse that is the very symbol of Enoshima itself.

The spirals around the tower are actual stairs you could climb up to get to the Observation Deck. But of course, we took the better option – the lift! Ha!

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There are some photo exhibits (I believe they were winning entries from a photography competition) on display around the observation deck. 360 degree views of Enoshima and the surrounding Sagami Bay.

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There is supposedly a spot where you could spot Mount Fuji in the distance as well …. but despite being a clear day, Mount Fuji felt shy perhaps 😛

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Took the lift up the open air top deck and enjoyed even clearer views!

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Continuing on the walking trail …. this time round going downslope to the other end of Enoshima Island.

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Enoshima’s Love Bell. You can read more about the backstory here.

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Next attraction on the walking trail – The Iwaya Caves! They are located at the southern coastline of Enoshima.

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Inside the cave itself ……

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More pictures of the beautiful coastline as they move towards the other side of the Iwaya Caves ……

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Spotted a turtle stone along the coastline ……

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Clear blue day along the Enoshima coastline ……

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The Legend of Enoshima, which is the story of A Heavenly Maiden and A Dragon With Five Heads. You can read more about it here ….

Japan 2015: Kamakura & Enoshima Highlights Part 1

1st entry for 2016!

We stayed in Yokohama for 3 nights. Apart from going round Yokohama, we also used Yokohama as a base to do a day trip to Enoshima via Kamakura as it is within Kanagawa Prefecture itself.

1st major highlight. Planned a breakfast stop @ Bills in Shichirigahama (in Kamakura) on route to Enoshima.

Some background information on Bills …… Bills originated from Sydney, and is well known to serve ‘the best breakfast in the world’ – particularly their scrambled eggs and hotcakes. Had wanted to eat at their Red Brick Warehouse outlet in Yokohama during my past 2 trips but didn’t manage to get the chance to do so. Thanks to google and various travel websites, I came across pictures of their Shichirigahama outlet in Kamakura. This is even better as the outlet looks out to the gorgeous Sagami Bay.

Little known fact – Bills Shichirigahama was the 1st Bills outlet to open outside of Sydney, and the 1st outlet in Japan as well …… whereas many would have thought their more better known Yokohama and Omotesando outlets were the 1st ones. Unlike the Yokohama and Ometesando outlets, the Shichirigahama outlet, a short 5 min walk from the Shichirigahama Enoden station, was a lot less visible …… but we managed to locate it with the help of google maps there.

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Bills has 2 sections – the family style dining section and the relaxed lounge cum bar section. As we arrived a little after 10, only the family style dining section was open – but still homely and laid back aussie-style, perfect to enjoy a slow and relaxing breakfast (whilst on holiday). Didn’t get to sit right at the balcony looking straight out to Sagami Bay, but still very nice!

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It was 1st cloudy when we sat down ….. but thankfully the skies started to clear up (otherwise our day trip to Enoshima might be ruined big time!).

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Same shot of the same couple looking out to Sagami Bay as the skies start to clear up!

Note: Touched up the photo a bit using VSCOCam before putting it on my Instagram.

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Our breakfast! We made sure to order Bill’s famous Ricotta Hotcakes with fresh banana and honeycomb butter. The hotcakes were thick and fluffy, and go really well with the honeycomb butter. And the portions are definitely bigger than what the pictures indicate 😛  …… The other dish we ordered was the White Polenta with Poached Egg, Wild Green and Smoked Bacon – sis said its a lot more normal/ordinary.

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Also, from the balcony, we could spot our next destination – Enoshima in the distance. All in all, it was a very satisfying breakfast with a gorgeous ocean view to boot! Am glad we checked out this outlet 🙂

Enoden-ed our way to Enoshima!

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The long walk across the bridge to Enoshima Island 江の島 ……

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Fantastic weather. Clear blue skies with nice white fluffy clouds ……

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Getting close to Enoshima itself. The nice building you see is the Enoshima Island Spa (Enospa).

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Enoshima Island proper!

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Shops lining up the main street of Enoshima. This is also the walk that will lead us to the 1st attraction in Enoshima – the Enoshima Shrine.

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Before getting into Enoshima Shrine proper, at the entrance, you have the option of either climbing the stairs all the way up to the Shrine itself (which is located on a forested hill). Do not fancy climbing steep stairs upwards …… so we purchased the Enopass for 1000 JPY. Crucial, the Enopass includes access to the ESCAR – which is the long escalator that will enable us to access the walking course a lot more easily 😛

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Enoshima Shrine consists of 3 separate shrines that are at various parts of the island. There’s a main shrine/building that houses the Benten statue (the patron goddess of Enoshima) but we did not go inside at all.

Some sights along the walking trail ……