Airport Delays: 7 Ways to Cope

Nothing throws a wrench into your travel plans quite like a big, hairy airport delay. And there’s no shortage of reasons why your flight might be late: unpredictable weather, technical glitches, airport security problems, congested airways … even UFOs. According to ABC News, an unidentified flying object that appeared above China’s Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport disrupted a total of 18 flights in July 2010. The UFO hovered in the air above Hangzhou, causing all inbound and outbound flights to be delayed for several hours.

airport delay frustrated passenger

Whether flying saucers or snowstorms are keeping you grounded, it’s important to know how to protect yourself in the event of a flight delay. First, you need a backup plan. Make sure you have options, like a hotel reservation or an alternative flight, in case you’re stranded. Second, you need to know your rights as a passenger. Airlines aren’t required by U.S. law to compensate passengers for delayed or canceled flights, and each carrier has its own policy on this. Read (or at least have access to) your airline’s contract of carriage in case of emergency.

For more on what rights you have as a flier, check out Passenger Rights.

Below are a few tips to help you cope in the event of software switches, storms or other causes of airport delays.

When it comes to the weather, you don’t need to be Al Roker to know when a storm might affect your travel. If you are flying in winter, there’s no excuse not to know at least a couple days ahead of time that your flight could be threatened. Particularly in the case of a winter storm, weather forecasting is pretty reliable 48 – 72 hours out. Summer storms can be less predictable, as thundercloud formation can occur fairly quickly. But forewarned is forearmed, and it’s not like you need to look for red skies in the morning of your travel these days to know that you might have a problem.

Foul Weather Travel

Some hotels don’t charge your card until you show up at the front desk, so it’s usually safe to book a room and cancel if your flight does take off reasonably on time. Make sure to ask about cancellation policies to be on the safe side when you call. (Many hotels will charge you if you don’t cancel at least 24 hours in advance.)

Look for airport hotels that offer shuttle service so you can ditch your rental car or otherwise count on a ride to the airport without too much trouble or expense.

You don’t need an elephant’s memory to be able to call a reservation site, a hotel, your airline or any travel service outfit; you just need to program these numbers into your cell phone before your trip starts. Save the contact number for your airline (use the frequent flier program phone number if you have elite status of any kind, as the service is better), reservation sites, car rental companies that permit drop-offs near you, and your travel agent if you have ever used one — even if the agent didn’t book you into your current jam, he or she might be able to get you out of it.

9 Ways to Make the Most of Your Layover

If it looks like things might get ugly, make sure you know some of the alternative flights on other airlines; if this is too much to remember, just try to remember on which airlines the best flights are available. This way, when 100,000 people are on hold to the United 800 number, you’re on the phone with another airline figuring out whether they will honor your tickets and can book you onto the next flight. If you know a few flights on a couple of airlines within a few hours of your original flight, you’re way ahead of the game when you try to transfer your ticket to another airline. Ultimately you’ll have to get your original airline to sign off on the transfer, but at least you’ll get to the airline desk armed with information and maybe even a tentative reservation on the other airline.

A good way to do these searches is to use one of the aggregator sites, such as Kayak.com or Mobissimo.com. The best of these allow you to adjust several parameters on the fly, including airlines displayed (in case your original airline will grant exchanges only on select airlines), flight times (so you can see flights close to your original departure time first, then expand from there) and alternate airports (perhaps you can get within a reasonable drive of your original airport). You can also filter results by the duration of your itinerary, in case you are looking at absurd routes, connections or layovers on some of your results. These sites can offer a very fluid and customizable view of what is available to you airline by airline, hour by hour, airport by airport.

airline ticket app smartphone

In the past, airline call centers have been utterly crippled by the high call volume that happens when there are masses of flight delays. Now you’ll usually get text or email alerts sent straight to your phone when something goes wrong, and you can use the airline’s website or app to check flight status.

When winter storms or other major weather events happen, many airlines allow travelers to rebook without penalty, especially if they know they’ll have to delay or even cancel their scheduled flights. In these cases you’ll want to call as early as possible so you get your pick of alternative itineraries.

Many travel insurance policies include coverage that will help you pay for a hotel room, meals or other expenses associated with a delay. Of course, you’ll need to purchase this well before your trip in order to be covered; any storm system that develops before you buy a policy will likely be excluded from coverage. Learn more about travel insurance.

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

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11 Reasons Why You Should Travel Alone at Least Once

Traveling with family and friends can be incredibly rewarding, offering experiences and laughs that can bind us for a lifetime. So it might seem that traveling alone would be a less enriching experience; without our favorite people to share it with, how could it compare?

And yet many veteran travelers have memories of extraordinary, eye-opening solo trips, of glorious days when they set out alone and found and saw and noticed things they might never have done otherwise.

Why travel alone? Consider finding out for yourself. Here are 11 reasons why you should travel alone at least once in your life.

When traveling alone, the lack of familiar people to interact with forces you to engage much more directly with your surroundings — on where you are rather than who you’re with. This is probably why many travelers report more vivid memories from solo trips; their attention is absolutely focused on their surroundings.

Unable to rely on your traveling partners to buy breakfast, or use their better language skills to get things done, or distract you during a boring train ride, you’ll have to turn to the locals, whether you’re looking for human interaction or not.

A solo traveler can also seem more approachable. If you’re with a partner or friend, it’s tempting to talk mostly with each other, and outsiders might not want to impose. But if you’re by yourself, it’s often easier for someone else to strike up a conversation with you (or vice versa).

When traveling with others, we are often selective about suggesting activities that we hope everyone will enjoy and find a good use of precious vacation time. If one of these activities doesn’t work out, it can be a source of guilt and conflict.

If you make the wrong choice on a solo trip, there’s no one to worry about other than yourself, and you won’t feel guilty for ruining someone else’s travel day. Plus, it’s easier to ditch your itinerary and move on, which brings us to…

When traveling in a group, changing plans can be rife with interpersonal, financial and other concerns. When traveling alone, you can simply make a decision and move on. This can apply to decisions both small and large, from deciding where to eat to choosing whether to rent a car and leave town.

Want to blow a ton of money on a waterfront room? Go for it. Want to spend next to nothing on food? Fine. Want to go only to free museums, events and attractions? Keep your money. As a solo traveler, you have the last (and only) word on every dollar you spend.

When we are with friends and family, much of our experience is a shared one, which can offer rich rewards but can also create a buffer between us and the world around us. Traveling alone makes remaining in the bubble of your own comfort zone nigh on impossible — which can lead to more intense travel experiences.

Perhaps the most striking thing about traveling alone is that your schedule is entirely yours to decide. Our everyday lives can be a tyrannical grind of accommodating other people’s schedules, and this can easily carry over to leisure time as we try to pace our vacation days to adapt to the preferences of the group.

Traveling alone, you can walk out of a movie you don’t like, stay for hours in a museum no one else you know would care about, ride an elevated subway to the last stop just for the sights, read a book in your hotel room or whatever you can come up with that would seem a waste of time to almost anyone else. Following your own rhythm without compromise might not be possible in daily life, but it’s great, indulgent fun on a solo vacation.

IndependentTraveler.com senior editor Sarah Schlichter notes that her first solo trip, originally a source of trepidation, ultimately offered a well-spring of confidence.

“I remember how scared I was the first time I traveled by myself — and sometimes I still am,” she says. “It can be lonely and unsettling not to have anyone else around for backup. But being able to get yourself out of a jam or figure out where you are when you’re lost can give you a new sense of confidence and faith in your own resourcefulness. For me this carried into not only other trips but also into my life at home.”

Schlichter found her newfound abilities liberating, especially when deciding if and where to travel.

“When I was younger I thought that if I couldn’t find someone who wanted to visit a place with me, I couldn’t go,” she says. “Now, if no one else is interested or available, I just shrug and go anyway, knowing that traveling by myself isn’t a big deal.”

Solo travelers often report instances of mundane happenstance offering up strong and memorable emotions. Imagine waking up in an empty hotel, where nearly no one knows you are there, with the hours ahead lying entirely unscripted and your sense of possibilities is nearly exploding. As Freya Stark once noted, “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” It is a unique and heady experience.

When you venture out into the world on your own, you eventually need to face who you are, what you care about and what you want to do with your time. Certainly the literature of our species bears this out, with a journey at the center of many of our greatest and most significant myths, novels and memoirs. Traveling with others you will find great friendship, diversion and fun; but traveling alone you might find yourself.

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

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Top 25 Ways to Save on Europe Travel

Europe is one of the world’s most expensive travel destinations. Hotel rates are sky-high in major capitals like London, Paris and Moscow, and the hefty cost of living (particularly in Scandinavian countries) makes everyday purchases such as meals and public transportation tickets a pricey proposition for travelers.

colmar alsace france flowers

But that doesn’t mean you can’t see Europe on a budget. We’ve gathered 25 tips to help you save your pennies (or pounds!) on your next trip to Europe.

1. Get rate quotes in your home currency. Long before you travel, when you are booking your hotel, car rental and other non-flight essentials, try to get quotes in U.S. dollars (or your home currency) and pay in that currency whenever possible. This way there are no surprises when your credit card statement arrives and you find out you paid a lot more than your quick back-of-the-envelope estimate when calculating the exchange rate.

2. Find your focus. When planning your European itinerary, consider exploring one region or country in depth rather than bouncing around from place to place. For example, spend a week sightseeing in Florence and taking day trips to nearby towns in Tuscany rather than trying to squeeze Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome into seven or eight days. You’ll not only spare yourself hours of sitting in transit, but you’ll also save big on transportation expenses such as airfare or pricey train tickets. Learn more about slow travel.

3. Save on museum entrance fees. Many museums offer free admission on certain days or nights of the week or at certain times of the month. (For example, the Louvre is free on the first Sunday of each month between October and March.) Check ahead of time for free admission at the museums you’re interested in, and schedule your visit accordingly.

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4. Find free entertainment. Similarly, keep an eye out for free concerts or performances going on in local parks, churches and other public venues. The best place to find these is in the local newspapers or entertainment listings, by asking at your hotel — or simply by stumbling upon them.

5. Purchase a pass. Most major cities offer special cards that include discounts or free admission for museums, attractions, tours and public transportation. These can be a great value if the card covers many of the attractions you were already planning to visit, but be sure to evaluate whether it’s really worth it. If the card costs $40 and you’re only going to use it at one or two museums, it may be better to pay a la carte.

6. Get cash from ATMs — at a bank. An ATM is your best option for a combination of a fair exchange rate and low surcharges and fees. At an ATM, you’ll likely pay a transaction fee from your bank (typically 1 – 2 percent or a few dollars), but you’ll also get the favorable interbank exchange rate rather than the higher rates you’ll find at typical exchange bureaus. To avoid excessive fees, take out large amounts of cash at a time and store the excess in a money belt or hotel safe. For more tips, see our feature on money safety.

You’ll do well to avoid stand-alone, off-brand ATMs of the kind you often find in the back of convenience stores. These typically have the highest transaction fees; use an ATM from a reputable bank instead. (If possible, use your own bank to avoid fees from other institutions. Check your bank’s website for ATM and branch locations.)

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7. Use your credit card. Many of the benefits of using an ATM card also apply to your credit card, particularly the strong exchange rates. However, keep in mind that many credit card companies charge fees for purchases made in foreign currencies, usually 1 – 3 percent. Choose the right card and you can avoid these fees. Capital One, for example, is a major credit card company that levies no surcharges on foreign transactions for its U.S. card holders. Check with your credit card companies to figure out which of your cards has the lowest fees for foreign purchases, and then use that one for your overseas purchases.

Out on the road, also check the fine print to make sure that your hotel, restaurant or other outfit does not tack on a percentage fee on all credit card transactions to cover authorization fees.

euros credit card

8. Choose your counter wisely. If you absolutely must use a currency exchange counter, skip the airport or train station kiosks where you are almost guaranteed to get the worst rate available. Instead, choose a bank if you can find one. Wherever you are, exchange only enough money to get the job of the moment done (whether it be a cab ride, emergency rations or the purchase of a souvnenir), and then get thee to an ATM as soon as you can.

9. Fly cash (and coin) light. Wait until you reach your destination before exchanging currency, and spend the bulk of your foreign currency at your destination before you go home. This way, you won’t have to pick up and then dump a lot of money at an exchange booth while taking losses both coming and going.

This is especially applicable to the piles of rattling coins you accumulate while traveling. Good luck finding a place back home that accepts a bucket of euro tin and Queen Elizabeth heads in your neighborhood. Spend all your change on the way out, or at least stop at a bank and convert it to bills; you might actually get your money back someday if you do. For more tips, see Foreign Currency.

10. Don’t be afraid to haggle. We wouldn’t recommend trying this at Harrods or other department stores, but there are still plenty of places in Europe where bargaining is acceptable. Outdoor markets and street vendor stalls offer prime opportunities to try your haggling skills.

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11. Cut out the car… Most of us know that a rental car isn’t really necessary (and in fact can be a hindrance) when visiting a major city. But many European nations have such comprehensive networks of trains and local buses that you may not even need a car to visit the countryside. Public transportation is available to many small towns and rural tourist attractions, which will save you not only the price of your rental but also the cost of gas (Europeans pay significantly more than Americans do). If you truly are headed out into the middle of nowhere for a day or two, plan to keep your rental for only as long as you need it rather than for your entire stay.

12. …and the cab. Most European airports are served by trains, buses, shuttles and ridesharing services that will take you downtown and back for a fraction of the cost of a cab. (Make it easier on yourself by packing light since you may have to schlep your own luggage.) Similarly, it’s much cheaper to get around town via public transportation, Uber/Lift or, better yet, by walking from place to place. If you think you’ll be relying heavily on a subway or bus system, a single- or multi-day pass could be a good buy.

13. Consider a rail pass. Whether you’re concentrating on a single country or traveling all over the Continent, there may be a Eurail pass that will save you money. Before purchasing a pass, carefully plan out how many train trips you will take and calculate the total cost of point-to-point tickets at RailEurope.com. Keep in mind that short trips are relatively inexpensive — so if you’re going to be sticking to a very small area, a pass may not be worth the cost.

14. Overnight it. If you’re planning a lengthy train journey, consider traveling on an overnight train. This way you won’t waste valuable daylight hours in transit, and you’ll save on the cost of a night’s lodging as well. See our Europe train tips. Or take a quick flight with one of Europe’s many low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and easyJet. Learn more about international discount airlines.

15. Go grocery shopping. Stock up on bottled water, fruit and snacks at grocery stores rather than tourist shops. You’ll pay what the locals pay and often get a wider selection too.

16. Learn to love lunch. Instead of eating a pricey multi-course dinner, make lunch your big meal of the day. Often you can enjoy similar dishes for half the price.

17. Don’t overtip. Americans are used to tipping 18 – 20 percent in restaurants, but in most European nations, 10 percent is the norm unless the service was truly extraordinary. Check first to see whether a service charge has already been added to your bill; if so, you usually don’t need to leave anything additional. For country-specific tipping information, refer to a good guidebook, do a Google search or ask at the local tourist office. And don’t miss our Tips for Tipping Abroad.

18. Save on breakfast. If breakfast is included in your hotel’s nightly rate, then be sure to take advantage of it. But if it’s not, skip the overpriced room service. You can almost certainly find a much cheaper croissant and cup of coffee at the cafe down the street. Ask your hotel’s concierge or front desk about what’s nearby.

19. Be wise about wine. If you’re dining out, order the house wine; you’ll save money, and in places like France and Italy, you may be surprised at how good it is. Want a drink out on your hotel balcony? Pick up a bottle at the local liquor store and bring it back to your room for an affordable taste of luxury.

20. Choose wisely. To find authentic and affordable food, skip the restaurants with the tourist-friendly English-language menus out front and seek out places where you see plenty of locals. (The Google Translate app can help you make sense of the menu.) Don’t hesitate to ask your hotel concierge to recommend affordable restaurants in the area. For more information, see Finding the Best Restaurants on the Road.

21. Follow the locals’ lead for cheap eats. Eat the plentiful pizza in Italy, grab a quick baguette sandwich in France or nosh on takeaway curry in London.

22. Consider a rental. Choosing a vacation rental instead of a standard hotel has several cost advantages. Renting an apartment or house often gives you more space for less money (so it’s a particularly economical option if you’re traveling with a group or family), and having kitchen facilities means you can cook for yourself rather than spending a lot on overpriced restaurant meals.

23. Don’t count out hostels. Many travelers steer clear of hostels, thinking that they’re just for 20-something backpackers who don’t mind sleeping 10 to a room. However, you may not know that many hostels also offer private rooms, some with ensuite bathrooms as well. They may not be luxurious, but if you’re looking for a clean, basic room at a low price, it’s worth checking out the hostel scene.

24. Look at location. To get a lower hotel rate, consider staying outside the city center. As long as you’re located somewhere near a public transit line, it will still be pretty convenient — and you could save big bucks.

25. Get creative. Discover other affordable possibilities — from B&Bs to farmstays — in Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay.

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–written by Ed Hewitt and Sarah Schlichter

Two Weeks in Japan for the First Time

Two Weeks in Japan for the First Time

Author: Nghiep Q
Date of Trip: December 2016

Useful things I did before the trip.

I ordered the Japan Rail (JR) pass about one month ahead. Once it was ordered and paid for online, the Exchange Order was delivered by FedEx to our home address. Be sure to bring it to Japan! The Exchange Order and the passport are needed to obtain the JR pass for each traveler from the JR office at the airport. The pass allows for unlimited rides on trains operated by the Japan Rail company. It served us extremely well. We did not have to figure out the cost of tickets for each time we used the JR train. We just went through the gate monitored by the attendant and showed the pass. Since we took the trains everywhere, it saved us a lot of money. We even used the pass to reserve seats on several occasions while traveling on the high speed trains such as Kansai Airport to Kyoto, Kyoto to Hiroshima, Kyoto to Tokyo, etc. Normally, reserved seating requires an additional fee but it is included with the JR pass. We did have to pay for a few segments of rides since the JR lines do not reach all of the places we wanted to visit.

I also ordered a pocket wi-fi about two weeks before the trip. It was delivered to the post office at the arrival airport–Kansai in our case. The unit I received must have been a little older as the battery meter was not accurate. I ended up having to charge it every night. My estimate is it worked about 98% of the time. I had to reboot it several times over a two-week period. I noticed that the arrival hall had several kiosks offering rentals of those devices. We used it mainly for navigation. Having reliable wi-fi saved us a lot of time and potential headache.

I downloaded the Hyperdia app one week before the trip since it is free to use for 30 days. I used it to check the train schedules in real-time. This app was indispensable. During our two weeks, the app displayed the incorrect track number only once. I always double checked the information with the display board at the station and/or platform.

Our trip

We used Kyoto as a base to explore the western region and Tokyo as the other base. Hence, we flew into Kansai International Airport. Since our flight was scheduled to land in the evening, I booked one night at the Hotel Nikko Kansai. The hotel is just across the sky bridge from the airport. After checking-in, we walked back into the airport to exchange money. My research indicated that the exchange rate at the airport is either the same or better than the rate in the cities. I can confirm that was the case the handful of times I bothered to check while in the cities. We also picked up the JR Pass and reserved seats for next day’s train ride (free service/upgrade with JR Pass). After a light meal of ramen, we even had a chance to do some window shopping before resting up.

The pocket wi-fi was picked up from the post office, located at the northeast end of the second floor, in the morning. The “Limited Express HARUKA” train ride from Kansai Airport to Kyoto Station took 78 minutes. Kyoto Station is massive but due to the ample signage in both Japanese and English, we were able to find our way.

The following is a brief summary of the places we visited from Kyoto.

Kyoto Station: The ground and second levels have numerous restaurants, bakeries, convenient stores, shops, tourist information centers and multiple JR offices. The ninth floor has a “Ramen Street” offering up ramen dishes from different regions of Japan. It was busy both times we went. But everything was organized and done efficiently to minimize the wait time. There is a “Skywalk” up in the rafters, high above the station. Oh, I almost forgot, the tenth floor has more restaurants. We did not eat there though.

Areas around Kyoto Station: To the north, there is the Kyoto Tower. We did not explore it. But we did venture around seven floors of the Yodabashi building. Each level of the department store sold a different category of goods. Underground, there are hundreds of shops and restaurants as part of the Kyoto Porta. To the south, there is an Aeon Mall. We explored the supermarket on the ground floor, many of the stores and ate at a restaurant on the fourth floor and at different stalls in the food court.

Kyoto Imperial Palace, Nishiji Market, Sanjo Dori and other shopping streets in the area: Unfortunately, the Imperial Palace was still closed when we arrived due to the New Year holidays. We ended up walking around the outside and through the park. Nishiji Market was lively though as well as the various shopping streets. We ended up having a couple of good meals in the area.

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavillion), Fushimi Inari-Taisha (with thousands of torii gates), Kiyomizu-dera: We needed to use the buses in addition to the trains for these three sites. A day pass for the buses at a cost of ¥500 was a good value since the cost of a single bus ride was ¥230. The pass was purchased from the Bus Information Center on the north side of Kyoto Station. Each site was well worth the visit. We hiked all the way to the top of the mountain at Fushimi Inari-Taisha. We managed to capture beautiful pictures at Kinkaku-ji and Kiyomizu-dera. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to walk around Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka (historic shopping streets) because the stores were closing by the time we were done at Kiyomizu-dera.

Tennoji Temple in Osaka: This temple is a short walk, less than 15 minutes, from the Tennoji Station. Before entering the temple, rinse your hands and mouth with the water by the gate. This is a ritual at all temples. If you want to climb the five-story pagoda, be sure to take off your shoes, put them in the bags provided at the entrance and carry them with you. On the way back to the train station, we ate at two places filled with locals. The noodles and gyoza were standard fare. The takoyaki, balls made of wheat flour batter with octopus chunks inside, was an interesting eat.

Dotonbori in Osaka: It is a covered shopping street (there are many such streets). It was a lively scene with people everywhere. Hozenji Temple is nearby. We saw locals formed a long line for the opportunity to pay respect to the statue of a deity covered in moss.

Osaka Station City: This is another massive structure. Shops and restaurants were on many floors. We had okonomiyaki, noodle-pancake with various toppings, for dinner there. It was also an interesting meal but we were on carb overload by the end of that day.

Nara: We visited Kofukuji (a temple), Todaiji (a temple with a giant Buddha) and Kasuga Taisha (a shrine). There were countless deer around. Purchase crackers if you want to feed and pet them. Watch your steps though as deer dropping were everywhere. There were ladies with broom and pan trying to clean up but they were vastly outnumbered. We caught the rapid train. The ride from Kyoto took 58 minutes (it would have taken 70 minutes on the local train). The Hyperdia app helped us planned accordingly. There is a branch of Vie de France, an excellent bakery, inside Nara Station. This branch had the sweet rice balls which are crispy on the outside with different fillings such azuki, red bean paste, inside. We tried to find this item again at other branches but had no luck. Since we were there on New Year’s Eve, there were numerous food stalls offering up countless variety of dishes. I sampled as much as I could.

Miyajima and Hiroshima: We used the high speed train from Kyoto to Hiroshima and went on to Miyajima by way of a local train and then a ferry. Since there was a large crowd at Miyajima, by the time we completed our visit and got back to Hiroshima, it was already early evening. My plan was for us to catch the Meipuru-pu sightseeing loop-bus in Hiroshima (no additional cost for JR pass holders). I went into the JR office to ask for directions because I did not see signage for the Granvia Hotel where the bus originates. At that moment, I realized I had not reserved seats back to Kyoto. When I inquired, I was told all of the reserved seats had been taken. Our group decided to skip Hiroshima and take the train back as soon as possible rather risk being stranded in Hiroshima. The train we caught was packed. I had to stand the entire ride back to the transfer station at Shin-Osaka (85 minutes). Lesson learned.

Himeji Castle and Koko-En Garden: The walk from the Himeji Station to the castle took about 15 minutes. Notice we typically opt to walk. I personally find it to be a more immersive experience. The entrance fee was ¥1000 to enter the castle and ¥1040 to enter the adjacent garden also. It was a no brainer to pay the extra ¥40. The castle is as impressive as I expected based on the pictures I have seen. The garden has a very peaceful, zen, feel to it.


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