THE SEVEN BATHS, Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉), Hyōgo (兵庫), Japan
After putting on our yukata (浴衣), white tabi socks (足袋) and wooden getas (下駄), we were all set to go to experience the famous baths of Kinosaki Onsen. With no cameras or backpacks but only towels in the eco bag provided by the ryokan, we already felt light and refreshing even before we touched the hot spring. Since we were staying only for one night, which meant we only had an evening and a morning to try out the bathhouses, we didn’t expect to visit all seven of them. Each bathhouse has its unique scheduled days of closure, and we already knew beforehand that we would miss out Mandara-yu (まんだらの湯). Thanks to the central location of our ryokan, it was only a short walk to any of the seven baths in town. Though walking with the traditional wooden sandals, getas, was not as easy as we thought. It took us a while to get used to walking without slipping our feet out of the getas.
Goshonoyu Onsen (御所の湯)
We carefully walked over to Yunosato Dori (湯の里通り) or Lane of Hot Spring towards Goshonoyu Onsen (御所の湯), a splendid bath complex inspired by the Imperial Palace of Kyoto. Known as the “Water of Beauty”, Goshonoyu Onsen is probably the most popular bathhouse in Kinosaki. Two aspects of Goshonoyu impressed us. First, it was the atmospheric outdoor bathing area made of natural boulders that sits against a backdrop of lush greenery and small waterfalls. Soaking in the hot spring while listening to the falling water and admiring the views of a lush green hillside was a gorgeous experience. Second, we were amazed by the beautiful paintings on the ceiling and wall screens in the foyer, prompting us to sit down in the foyer for a short while after bathing.
Kono-yu Onsen (鴻の湯)
After Goshonoyu, we still had time to go further to the town’s far end for another hot spring visit before dinner. Tucked away at the town’s western end near the Kinosaki Onsen Ropeway, Kono-yu has the oldest bathhouse building in town. Legend has it that about 1,300 years ago, Kono-yu Onsen was discovered when an Oriental White Stork was seen soaking its injured leg in the hot spring. Thus, Kono-yu is known as “the hot spring of the Oriental White Stork.” While we didn’t see any white stork (except statues in the forecourt), we still appreciated the lush green setting of the outdoor bath. Being furthest away from the train station, Kono-yu seemed to be the most tranquil among the seven bathhouses.
Yanagi-yu Onsen (柳湯)
After a satisfying crab meal, we headed out again for one final onsen dip. We chose Yanagi-yu (柳湯) that was right in front of our ryokan. Being the smallest bathhouse in town, Yanagi-yu seemed to be the coziest onsen we visited. Legend has it that water appeared from the base of a willow tree after it was transplanted to Kinosaki from Lake Seiko (West Lake) in China. Or perhaps it was named after the willow trees lined in front of the complex. Anyhow, Yanagi-yu literally means “Bath of the weeping willows.” Soaking in hot spring at a cozy Japanese bathhouse was such a great way to end a long day!
Ichino-Yu Onsen (一の湯)
Resembling a kabuki theatre, Ichino-Yu Onsen is a popular icon of Kinosaki Onsen. In the Edo Period, doctor Shutoku Kagawa identified the onsen as the best in Japan. Henceforth, the onsen was named Ichino-yu, or the Number One Onsen. Ichino-Yu was closed on the day of our arrival, but we managed to visit it in the next morning. Apart from its beautiful building facade, the most remarkable thing about Ichino-yu is the cave-like setting of its bathing area.
Jizo-yu Onsen (地蔵湯)
Inspired by a Japanese lantern, Jizo has a rather interesting outlook. Jizo is a protective bodhisattva that lingers between the real and spiritual worlds. A small shrine dedicated to Jizo stands adjacent to the entrance. We didn’t spend long at the bathhouse, as we wanted to spend more time to visit other areas in Kinosaki. Jizo-yu was the fifth and last hot spring we visited in Kinosaki.
A THOUSAND-YEAR-OLD RESORT, Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉), Hyōgo (兵庫), Japan
Not many resort towns in Japan have a recorded founding date, but it is well documented that Kinosaki Onsen was found in 720 AD by a traveling monk who discovered a hot spring with healing power. 1300 years later, Kinosaki Onsen is still going strong with seven unique bathhouses, attracting visitors from far and wide. Mainly open-air hot springs in traditional setting, the bathhouses in Kinosaki offer visitors a natural and nostalgic ambience, and a moment of sublime relaxation that makes one to forget about the outside world. 74 ryokan (family run traditional inns) of different sizes and prices welcome visitors in all seasons. But it is between November and March, that Kinosaki Onsen truly enters its peak season. It is the only time when Matsuba-gani (松葉蟹), or snow crab from the Sea of Japan is available as a local delicacy. In fact, sitting at less than 5km from where Maruyama River enters the Sea of Japan, Kinosaki is blessed with an abundant catches of the day. Washing down Matsuba-gani (松葉蟹) and Tajima wagyu (但馬牛) with a bottle of cold local sake is as good as it gets for a fancy meal in this part of Japan. Outside the ryokans and bathhouses, it is the lovely aesthetics of traditional houses, peaceful river setting and over a thousand years of history that separate Kinosaki Onsen from other resort towns,. Our Kinosaki experience can be defined by four fundamental aspects of the town: onsen (温泉), ryokan (旅館), crab (カニ) and beauty (美しさ).
CLEOPATRA’S SPRING, Siwa Oasis, Egypt
With a constant temperature of 29 degrees Celsius, the Ain Juba or Cleopatra’s Spring is a popular tourist attraction near Siwa Oasis. While some say Cleopatra swam in the pool during her visit to the oasis, many other historians dispute about this legend and insist that the spring has nothing to do with the famous Queen of Egypt. The spring is nonetheless ancient and well known in times of antiquity. Referred as the Fountain of the Sun by Herodotus, legend has it that Alexander the Great followed a group of birds in the desert and reached the famous spring during his conquest of Persia. From history to the present, the spring remains as a reliable treat of a cool refreshing dip for tired travellers.
Many tourists reach the pool as part of a local tour going out to the Great Sand Sea, it can also be reached by cycling on the road to the Temple of the Oracle. For me, I have done both, first as part of a local tour on the way to stay a night in the desert, and second time by bicycle on my way to the ruined temple. On my first time, I spent most of my time chatting with the friendly pool caretaker in the pool hut. I didn’t notice any bather during my two visits. Given the fact that swimmers were advised to bath with a t-shirt on in respect to local customs, I didn’t get into the famous water myself given I didn’t have an extra t-shirt with me on both occasions.
HIERAPOLIS, Pamukkale, Turkey
Communal baths and gymnasiums were essential components in the ancient Roman society. Records show that 952 baths of different sizes could be found in Rome in 354 AD. Apart from building up the body and engaging on social gossip, a bath and gymnasium complex might also house a library, a theatre, food shops and reading rooms. Erected right at the hot spring of Pamukkale, Hierapolis was a prominent Roman spa resort. Other than the usual bathing rituals, bathing in Hierapolis was also a form of medical treatment. Founded in the 2nd century BC as a thermal spa town, where doctors used the hot springs to treat patients. In its heyday, Hierapolis had bath houses, gymnasiums, temples, fountains, theatre. Thousands would come to visit the hot spring, including the Roman emperors. The city of 100,000 became a wealthy city prominent for art, philosophy and trade. Outside the city wall, the enormous necropolis suggests that many ancient Romans who came to Hierapolis for medical treatment actually died in the spa city. The recently discovered Tomb of Philip the Apostle and a number of historical sites in Hierapolis suggest Christianity had taken a strong hold in the city from Late Antiquity to the Byzantine era.
Many tourists come to Hierapolis to take a dip in a pool among ruined marble columns. The pool is, in fact, doing a disservice to the archaeological conservation. We just spent time wandering around the ruins leisurely and aimlessly.
Red poppy and yellow wild flowers covered large parts of the ground among the ruins of Hierapolis.
Built in 2nd century AD under Emperor Hadrian, the theatre at Hierapolis has 45 rows of seats that could accommodate about 15,000 spectators.
Tombs and sarcophagus of different sizes could be found in the necropolis. Some sarcophagus were elevated by a post and beam structure.
The extensive necropolis stretches kilometers and contains thousands of tombs from different era.
We once again passed by the travertine terraces of Pamukkale as we left Hierapolis.
Instead of walking down the travertine terraces in barefoot once again, we opted for another winding path to descend. The path is not for people who scares of height.
THE THIRD OTTOMAN CAPITAL, Edirne, Turkey
Close to the border between Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, about 240km northwest of Istanbul stands a small city with a big history. Founded by Roman Emperor Hadrian upon an earlier Thracian settlement, Edirne was known as Hadrianopolis in the Antiquity era. After conquered by the Ottomans, the city was renamed to Edirne, and served as the capital city of the Ottoman Empire from 1369 to 1453, before the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. With Selimiye Mosque, the UNESCO World Heritage site that has been widely considered as the best work of architect Mimar Sinan, and several other impressive mosques and historical complexes, Edirne is one of the most popular excursion destinations for tourists in Istanbul. Taking an early morning bus (2.5 hour) from Istanbul Bus Station, spending a full day at Edirne and returning to Istanbul by a late afternoon bus was exactly how we spent our day.
In the morning, we took the tram and then metro to the main otogar, the main bus terminal of Istanbul where one can catch a bus to any destination in Turkey, and even to neighboring countries. We picked one company (worth the time and effort to check out the options) for Edirne. Bus companies in Turkey come in various prices, comfort and service levels. In general, the buses are clean and pleasant. Our first impression of Edirne, the main gateway city between Europe and Turkey, was pretty laid-back and peaceful. It felt like a completely different world from bustling Istanbul.
Built in 1447, the Üç Şerefeli Mosque is one of the most well known mosque in Central Edirne. With a 24m diameter dome, the Üç Şerefeli Mosque had the largest dome in the Ottoman Empire before the conquest of Constantinople.
Üç Şerefeli Mosque literally means the “Mosque with Three Balconies”, referring to its unique minaret.
Opposite to Üç Şerefeli Mosque, Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Bath was a public bath designed by Mimar Sinan and completed in 1569. Part of the building was demolished to make way for road construction in the 1960’s. The demolition was ultimately stopped but its damage remains visible today, epitomizing the careless urban planning back in the 20th century.
Completed in 1414, the Eski Camii (Old Mosque) is the oldest mosque in Central Edirne.
The most notable features in Eski Camii are the large calligraphy on the walls.
The calligraphy were created at various times by artists from all over the Ottoman Empire.
Most of the interior decorations dated back to the 19th century.
The Eski Camii is covered with nine small domes instead of one large one.
We managed to walk around the city and explored different streets in the heart of Edirne.
On the streets of Edirne, we bumped into several groups of kids wearing football jerseys.
Day 7 – WATAZE ONSEN, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 4 of 4, Japan
It was only a short bus ride from Hongu to Wataze Onsen, the hot spring hotel facility where we stayed the night. Wataze Onsen is famous for its outdoor hot spring bathing facilities, some of the largest in the region. We had another relaxing evening at Watarase Onsen Hotel, a perfect getaway destination in the mountains. No foreign tourists could be seen at the outdoor onsen, however, the large hotel complex was decently filled with local visitors to stay the night and some day-trippers who came for the hot spring only.
The bus passed by Kawayu Onsen, a special thermal spring where visitors can enjoy outdoor onsen by the river.
Bamboo screens were set up along the stream for public use.
After getting off at Wataze Onsen, we found our way down to the main lodging facilities called Watarase Onsen. After crossing a suspended bridge we finally reached the main door of the hot spring hotel.
The main lobby of Watarase Onsen Hotel.
A pilgrim monkey of Kumano Kodo at the hotel lobby.
The rotenburo (outdoor hot spring bath) of Wataze Onsen is one of the largest in West Japan.
The facility includes separate outdoor pools for male and female, as well as several family pools.
After bathing in the hot spring, we enjoyed a decent kaiseki-royori (traditional multi-course Japanese dinner) at the Watarase hotel. This fresh assorted sashimi was served as appetizer.
The Watarase Onsen complex include lodging and bathing facilities along both sides of the river, connected by a suspended bridge.
After the kaiseki dinner, we took a stroll under the starry night.
The cherry trees at Watarase Onsen Hotel were still in full bloom.
It was a peaceful evening with cherry blossoms against the starry sky.
The next morning, we put on our backpacks again and crossed the suspended bridge one last time towards the bus stop.
At Watarase Onsen bus stop we waited for the early morning bus that would take us to Kii Katsuura. We would then store our bags in lockers and switch bus for a visit to Nachisan and the Nachi Taisha, one of the three main Kumano grand shrines after Kumano Hongu Taisha.
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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka