Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N: Oh, the places you'll go!

This is my contribution to the A to Z Blogging Challenge, in which I'm focusing on overseas destinations I've visited.

N is for Niagara Falls, Nara, Naruto, Newmarket, and Nottingham

Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada (1981 and August 2009)

This is an easy one...I wrote about our trip to Niagara Falls in 2009 and excerpted it here:

I first saw Niagara Falls when I was 16 years old, as part of a wonderful cross-country trip I took with my family. All I remember is seeing the Canadian falls (but how could we not have seen the American falls??). I don't remember anything touristy about them at all. When I've asked my mom what she can remember, she recalls seeing a very touristy gift shop. I laughed at that and said "you have no idea." The area around the falls is the single most overtouristed, kitschy, and trashy place I've visited...on a par with Las Vegas. It's very sad to see what this spectacular place has become. Needless to say, the children LOVED it.

We stayed in a great hotel called the Country Inn & Suites--I would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Niagara Falls. We again had a suite, and breakfast was included. It's a short walk from the falls (and the tourist attractions, alas). We plowed through the tourist schlock and were rewarded with these wonderful views--the American Falls:
And the even more spectacular Horseshoe (Canadian) falls:
The first thing we did was get our tickets to the Maid of the Mist, a boat that takes you right up to the falls. They provide passengers with ponchos, because everyone gets soaked. (Mike's parents went to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon in 1962, and Mike's mum still remembers the Maid of the Mist! When we were there in 1981, we did not go on the boat.) It was a spectacular ride! I don't have any photos of the actual ride, because I don't have a waterproof camera...here we are before our journey:

And the kids playing afterward at the viewpoints:

In the evening we drove out to the Falls Manor restaurant, an old-fashioned diner off the beaten track. It got a good review in our Frommer's Niagara Region guidebook, and it was very family friendly. After dinner we went back to the falls to see them illuminated. This web site shows some nice views of the night-time falls. Here are Chris and Kieran in front of the night falls:

The next morning we took another swim and went back down for another look at the falls. Here are some views of tourist hell, Clifton Hill, with its wax museums, haunted houses, and other tourist traps (I counted no less than three wax museums!):

Yuck. Finally at the lookout for one last view:
The maid, once again:

The boat, heading to the falls:

Our one concession at Clifton Hill was a trip on the sky wheel, which offered some wonderful views of the falls:

After leaving Niagara Falls, we drove through the lovely Niagara-on-the-Lake, a ritzy area of wineries, farms, homes, and B&Bs. Mike decided he wants to move there! We stopped at a little park on the water to take in the views:

After we dragged Mike away from Niagara-on-the-Lake kicking and screaming, we headed off to the great metropolis of Toronto!

Nara, Japan (1986-1989)

Nara was another one of my favorite Japanese cities. Another ancient capital of Japan (from 710 to 784), it's even closer to Osaka (39 minutes) than beautiful Kyoto. It was another city where we always took visitors.

The first thing we always did after arriving in Nara was to have okonomiyaki at a great little restaurant near the station. Again, I am finding myself wishing that I took more photos of the food in Japan (and elsewhere)! I loved okonomiyaki (like a Japanese savory pancake)...we often joked about returning home to open an okonomiyaki restaurant. We used to make it at home occasionally, but similar to michilada (a drink we had in Oaxaca, Mexico), when you make it back in the U.S. it never tastes quite as delicious as when you have it in the country of origin.
Okonomiyaki restaurant--not the actual one in Nara
Okonomiyaki restaurants in Japan are great fun, because you choose which ingredients you would like, and they bring you a bowlful, which you fry yourself on the grill right in front of you. Yum--craving one now!!

The finished product
Nara is chock full of temples and shrines...so that's what you do when you go to Nara. Of all Japanese cities, Nara has the largest number of buildings designated National Treasures.
Kofukuji, Nara

These high school boys asked if we'd take a photo with them
My favorite of them all, Todai-ji, is home of the largest Buddha statue in Japan and one of the largest in the world. The Daibutsu-den, the building itself, is thought to be the largest wooden building in the world.

In the snow--gorgeous!
Daibutsu is one of the most awe-inspiring memories I have of Japan. This is what Wikipedia says about it:
"In 743, Emperor Shōmu issued a law in which he stated that the people should become directly involved with the establishment of new Buddha temples throughout Japan. His personal belief was that such piety would inspire Buddha to protect his country from further disaster. Gyōki, with his pupils, traveled the provinces asking for donations. According to records kept by Tōdai-ji, more than 2,600,000 people in total helped construct the Great Buddha and its Hall. The 52-foot-high statue was built through eight castings over three years, the head and neck being cast together as a separate element. The Buddha was finally completed in 751. The project nearly bankrupted Japan's economy, consuming most of the available bronze of the time."
Before you get to the big statue, you pass through a gate ringed by some fierce-looking guards, Nio guardians:

And then you are in the great hall, which is overwhelming. This Buddha is huge, and photos do not do it justice!

Panoramic view
The complex has several other statues, including this scary-looking one, which is actually a Buddha of medicine and healing. Touching a part of the Yakushi Nyorai and then the corresponding part of your own body is said to heal you. I'm not sure why he's wearing a hat and bib!

If you walk up the hill to Nigatsu-do and Sangatsu-do, you'll get a beautiful view of the temples below.  

One year we were invited by a teacher friend of Mike's and his wife, who live in Nara, to attend the Wakakusa Yamayaki (you might recognize the term "yaki," which means, to cook). It's an annual festival in which the grass on the hillside of Nara's Mount Wakakusayama is set on fire. This site says, "The Wakakusa Yamayaki has been taking place for hundreds of years and its precise origins are unclear. One theory claims that the burning of the mountainside began during boundary conflicts between Nara's great temples, while another claims the fires were used to drive away wild boars." It was quite an experience!
Mountain on fire

View of the city
One of the most famous things about Nara is its 1,200 deer, which roam freely throughout the large park (on which most temples and shrines are located). According to the legendary history of Kasuga Shrine, a mythological god Takemikazuchi arrived in Nara on a white deer to guard the newly built capital of Heijō-kyō. Since then the deer have been regarded as heavenly animals, protecting the city and the country. You can buy deer crackers (sembei) and if you bow to the deer, most of them will bow back to you. I have lots of photos of me and my friends bowing to and feeding the deer!



Feeding another deer

On another trip, in the winter
Nara is a beautiful city, full of photo ops!

With Debbie, not long after we arrived in Japan
(what the heck was with the ribbon in my hair??)

With my dad, when my parents visited in 1988

Posing in the deer park
Trying on kimono (with that stupid hair ribbon!)

When my sister visited--the most beautiful trip ever, in the snow! (1987)
Yaki-imo (roasted sweet potato) vendor in Nara Park:

One of my favorite shots!
Naruto, Japan (1987)

When my friend Abby and I were visiting Shikoku, we visited the family of one of our students. His friend took us to Naruto, where we saw the recently finished (in 1987) Onaruto Bridge, a beautiful suspension bridge connecting Kobe with Naruto, Tokushima. Its main span is 2,874 feet (876 meters) long, and it's one of the largest bridges in the world...although dwarfed by the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, which is on the same route. It averages 18,600 cars and trucks a day.

Posing in front of the spectacular bridge
Nowadays you can walk on the bridge, and Naruto is known for famous dynamic whirlpools right below the bridge. They can reach up to 20 meters in diameter.

This site has some great, up-close photos of the bridge.

Newmarket, England (1990s)

Newmarket is a market town near Cambridge, considered the birthplace and global center of thoroughbred horse racing. It has over 50 horse training stables, two large racetracks, and one of the most prestigious and extensive horse training grounds in the world, with over 3,000 racehorses.

Mike's Aunty Helen used to live in Newmarket, so we visited her there before she moved to Scotland, where she died a few years ago.

Mike with his Aunty Helen

With baby Kieran, who loved Aunty Helen's "stick" (American usage: cane)

Nottingham, England (2001)

As I mentioned in my B post, we have often visited our friend Keiron and his family in Bourton-on-Trent. I remember one year before we all had kids, we went out in the evening to have drinks at what claims to be the oldest pub in England, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, situated at the base of the cliffs beneath Nottingham Castle. The pub connects to a network of caves that housed the castle’s 12th-century brewhouse. 

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem
On one of our visits, we headed into nearby Nottingham to check out the Tales of Robin Hood, a visitor attraction, which gave some cute photo ops of our cute kids. Sadly, it shut down in 2009 because of conflicts with its landlord, Tesco. It was touristy, but Chris loved it! 

Chris and Ellie

Visit here to read my A-M posts. Tomorrow, it's back to Japan and England.


  1. You have many great photos of your adventures! I visited Niagara last year for the first time, but just from the US side. It was still spectacular.

    Have fun with A to Z!

    Jenny at Choice City Native

  2. ive been to the falls but that was 25 years ago. those other places look DELIGHTFUL! Happy A to Z!

  3. You showed off with this post! I'm glad I visited. Such beautiful pictures.

  4. STUNNING photo's!! Someday I will get to visit Niagara Falls. Your photos made me want to go NOW!!
    A to Z-ing
    Peanut Butter and Whine