Top Pick: Fukuzumiro Ryokan & Onsen, Traditional Culture & Zen Views in Hakone

When in Japan, I suggest that you “go traditional” and stay in a ryokan (traditional inn) for at least 1 night or more.  Featuring tatami-matted rooms, futons for beds, ofuro (communal baths), usually fed by onsens (hot springs), and large entrance halls where guests can relax and socialize, these traditional inns have existed since the 8th century AD. It’s a memorable cultural experience you won’t want to miss.

The Hakone Tonosawa Spa is said to have been discovered by a Buddhist priest in 1604. The Fukuzumiro Ryokan was established in 1890 by Sawamura Takatoshi, a former samurai from Kumamoto province on Kyushu. (It was destroyed by a flood in 1910 and rebuilt shortly after.) The 3-story, wood building is nestled along the Hayakawa river bank and is a 5-10 minute walk from Hakone-Yumoto Station.

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Gorgeous and immaculate entrance. The floor glimmers like gold. First order of business was swapping out my hiking shoes for a pair of slippers at the front door.
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An active koi pond in the downstairs hallway of the inn.
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Sleeping on the futon and tatami mats was quite comfortable. They are laid out for you in the evening.
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Traditional breakfast impeccably served in the comfort of your room – definitely worth trying.

There are 17 rooms. If you have an upstairs room like mine, you will be navigating a short staircase to reach a downstairs shared bathroom…(Not sure if they have rooms with private baths – this is a historic building.)

Ask for a room with a river view. (They have garden view too, but I can’t imagine that they top the river view.)

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The splendid view of the Hayakawa River from my room. The sound of the rushing water below. Ahh, the beauty framed in these 3 windows.

The communal bath has specific hours split between male & female visitors (not the most convenient aspect). It’s pleasant, but indoors. Note: Be sure to follow proper Japanese etiquette when visiting an communal bath house. Wash yourself thoroughly first, using the bucket and the ladle or cup. Once clean, you may proceed to immerse yourself. (Also, it’s not for the shy – it’s nude soaking. No cameras  or cell phones allowed. And, as with all of Japan, be mindful that this is a quiet and respectful culture.)

(Visited an outdoor onsen later in Kurama and enjoyed a hot soak surrounded by green vegetation with the refreshing rain drizzle cooling my face and shoulders.) And no, I don’t have pictures of that – see the no cameras rule above.)

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I highly recommend when in Japan do as the Japanese have done for centuries and go to a Ryokan and Onsen. Immerse yourself in the cultural experience.

Suffice to say that I enjoyed my total immersion at the Fukuzumiro – Ryokan. It’s conveniently close-by (scenic train ride you catch in walking distance from the inn) to the Hakone Open Air Museum – an absolute “must do” if you’re in the area.

 

 

 

Top Pick: Banning House Lodge, Two Harbors, Catalina

Want a wonderful romantic or solo getaway where you can unplug for a couple days, enjoy spectacular views (of the Isthmus on one side and Catalina Harbor on the other), and top off your full day of activity or relaxation with a sunset  wine & cheese social? Look no further than the Banning House Lodge in lovely, remote Two Harbors.

Located at the West End of Catalina Island, Two Harbors is more of a boaters’ and campers’ paradise compared to the Avalon, which I’d classify as a tourist meca…If you’re into nature, beauty  and outdoor and ocean activities, this is the spot. And it’s especially relaxing in   the off season…

Built in 1910 as a summer home for the Banning brothers, this 12 room lodge features 20th century charm and character, while delivering some fine contemporary Two Harbors hospitality.
It feels like a bed a breakfast, but each room has its own private bath.
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And I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to arrive just in time to take a quick shower and enjoy the warm welcome of the wine & cheese social hour.
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If you’re lucky, you might see a Catalina Fox trying to slip by unnoticed while you sip your wine in the sunset on the veranda…

The complimentary continental breakfast was delightful. Fresh fruit, yogurt, pastries, bagels, muffins, etc. A whole bowlful of blueberries, oh my.
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And there are plenty of splendid spots on the patio to enjoy your coffee, expresso, or wine al fresco.
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There’s also a gorgeous Common Room and cozy Sun Room with incredible island and ocean views and fireplaces. They even decked it out for the holidays.
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Did you know, Catalina has a birthday promotion?  The trick is in order to take advantage of the spiffs and discounts, you have to be traveling on your b-day. Unfortunately, I was a day shy of mine, but much to my delight, I found this surprise in my room.
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A gorgeous hand-painted and inked bday card!

What a wonderful stay in a magical setting! Even in the off season, the service, hospitality and accommodations were superb and it was a special treat to have the place nearly all to ourselves. (We met a great couple from the same town we’re from while there.)

Do they have wifi? I don’t even know or care, I came to unplug.

The Lodge offers free shuttle service to and from Two Harbors “village” where you will find Harbor Sands, the 1 restaurant and bar and “activity hub”. The Lodge is located on top of a hill so it requires a mini-hike of less than a half mile to go to & fro or a shuttle ride.
 Contact  Info
(I should mention that getting to Two Harbors can be a bit more challenging than just going to Avalon. Since Avalon is the more popular destination, most ferries go there, not so with Two Harbors. You have to depart from San Pedro to go direct, or take the safari bus from Avalon, or if you’re a bit nuts like me, you can mt. bike from Avalon to Two Harbors…It’s only 21 miles or so, but it’s a bit fierce with all the climbs.)

Tokyo Photo Post and Top Picks Prince Hotel & Hamashiba Sushi, Minato

Had the good fortune to travel to Japan on business and to stay in the luxurious Prince Hotel, Minato, Tokyo. My bathroom and room had tremendous view of Tokyo tower (aka Eiffel Tower knock off). I have never been in such a large or luxurious bathroom – huge walk in shower, deep jacuzzi bathtub and enough room left over for a small dance party. Seriously, the bathroom seemed more spacious and outfitted than the room itself. In case you haven’t heard, the Japanese have a thing for outfitted toilets (heated seats, warm water spritz wash (biddett & hot air dry, etc…) and deep soaking tubs. We Westerners could certainly learn a thing or two from Japan and improve our WC experience…

 

While I was in town for business meetings, I still managed to sneak in a couple strolls and a quick run around the area to take in a few of the nearby scenic highlights.

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As my Japanese grand finale, I indulged in a sushi dinner at Hamashiba restaurant in the hotel. Forget everything you’ve heard about hotel restaurants – this one is superb. The sushi is outstanding, by far the best I’ve had and no doubt, will ever have. The maguro / tuna was absolutely exquisite and it was a treat and once in a lifetime experience to watch the master sushi chefs at work. Was it expensive? Duh. Was it worth it? Absolutely! (The company didn’t pick up this one.)

 

 

 

Sayonara!

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Garden and City views from my room at The Prince

 

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Oh, and it looks like the sole homeless person in all of Japan was sleeping under my window at The Prince.

Stay tuned for adventures in Kyoto and Hakone…Arigato.

From Paradise Loop to a Slice of Heaven: Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood, Oregon

I can be all about roughing it, but I do like to mix in a bit of luxury too (especially as a grand finale). After the hiking the Paradise Loop trail, I found a slice of  heaven at the historic Timberline Lodge.  Constructed of native timber and stone, the exquisitely crafted lodge was built during the depression era as part of the Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) program between 1936 and 1938. Read more