Wednesday, 18 February 2015

New adventures... new blog!

I started this blog in August 2011 just a few days before embarking on 6 months of travel to Bali and beyond. I loved writing the blog almost as much as I loved the trip.

Here we are, at the start of 2015 and about to do it all over again - only bigger and better!!

I'll be travelling with my favourite travel companion, Phil (aka grumpy old man Phil, husband extraordinaire) for the rest of the year. Yup, the rest of the year - woo-hoo!!!!!!!!

Gloriously unemployed and hungry for new experiences, we've bought one way tickets to Germany... and that's it.

I've created a new blog to records our adventures. Since we didn't get around to actually planning anything for this trip, we're going to ask you guys to help us out by voting on what we should do. It could be anything and everything... from what train to catch, which apartment to rent, which cities to visit and importantly, what sort of idiot gives up Melbourne summer for freezing German winter??

Check it out at

Friday, 31 January 2014

Last of Kyoto and Uji

Our last day in Kyoto was surprisingly packed. After more fantastic coffee at the old school, smoke filled Decoy coffee shop, we walked right across town to see a few temples in the south side of the city. And they did not disappoint.

The Higashimaya temples were walking distance from our hotel and from each other. One temple was more beautiful than then next - especially the gardens covered in cherry blossoms and the zen gardens. We also took a look at a photo exhibition of the work of Henri Cartier Bresson.

The next stop on the Japan itinerary was Uji. Uji is a smallish city about 45 mins by train from Kyoto which is famous for being the home of green tea and for hosting the Byodoin Temple.

We chose to spend a couple of nights in Uji because it had a gorgeous ryokan and my sis had very generously arranged two nights there for us.

I had expected a sleepy, quaint looking town. And the very central streets clearly had preserved the older street frontages, but Uji was generally a modern looking city.

Our ryokan, Koryuen Seizanso did not disappoint. A huge room with balcony over the river, tatami mats and a futon rolled out in the evening. Dinner on the first night was course after course of tiny, beautiful meals.

Our second day in Uji was also Phil's 35th birthday. We started the day with an in-house breakfast of miso, egg, pickles, green tea porridge.

It was quite the foodie day. We sampled green tea at a tea house and tried sencha and matcha teas. We walked all over town, stopping at an amazing sushi train for lunch - including a sausage sushi, which looked dubious... The sushi train had plumbed in water to all the boothes surrounding the train and provided powdered matcha tea so you could make your own green tea at the table.

The walk along the river in Uji is gorgeous. Surrounded by mountains dotted with temples - there looked to be some amazing walks. We walked to one temple in the mountains. It was so beautiful and virtually deserted.

I had found a bottle of Bowmore Islay whiskey in a seven eleven a few days before, bought it on the qt and brought it out for an afternoon bday drink on our huge balcony while overlooking the river lines with more flowering cherry blossom trees.

Another incredible dinner at the ryokan - this night it was a sukiyaki feast. An older, but gorgeous and elegant Japanese lady who spoke no English showed us how to cook the beef in the sukiyaki broth and use vegetables and egg to round it out - absolutely amazing.

This was our last night in Uji. In the morning, we stopped by the Byodoin temple, which was under construction but had a fantastic museum housing some of the temples treasures before jumping on a train to Nara.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Kyoto Mach 2

So the last Kyoto post recalled the temple/ imperial palace parts of our Kyoto trip - which were awesome, but the more touristy aspects.

The other part of our time in Kyoto was dedicated to wandering the streets for hours at a time, taking it all in! To the north of our hotel, towards the imperial palace, there were cool cafes, shops (including one very genteel antique shop that was playing uncensored ghetto rap on the radio - I was almost blushing) and our favourite coffee shop where a 70+ male owner made us siphoned black coffee amidst a group of middle aged men (exclusively) and clouds of cigarette smoke. Not to forget the French style bake house with some of the best bread rolls stuffed with nuts could be found.

To the south, we checked out Teramachi arcade, the charms of the beautiful cherry blossom lined river and Gion, where we for the briefest of moments, caught sight of a geisha hurrying down the street. We also checked out the Daimaru and other shopping malls, but we were much more interested in just wandering around the streets.


Our stay in Kyoto was far too short at three nights. I absolutely loved the city and will definitely return. I knew Kyoto had been Japan's capital for a long time and I wasn't sure what to expect.
Before I get to Kyoto, a few notes about the journey there. We'd bought Japan rail passes before we left because we'd heard it was cheaper than buying tickets on the Shinkansen (bullet train). And like Europasses, you need to validate it in Japan before using it.
The validation process turned out to be straightforward but time consuming as there was a decent queue at Tokyo station. We were barred from taking the very fastest Shinkansen but the one we took was still pretty fast. A bit less schmancy than the really nice European trains, but it did the job and we had some great scenery on the way which only made me want to spend months trawling up and down the coastline visiting little towns.
The accommodation in Kyoto was all pricey so we ended up in a reasonable business hotel (Hotel Gimmond) for close to $300 a night. On the upside, everything else in Kyoto was inexpensive.
We spent the first afternoon wandering the streets in the centre of town and quickly noticed that it had the feel of a university town. Lots of young people, lots of people on bikes. Lots of cafes, restaurants and cool little shops.
It's a really easy city to explore on foot so we walked everywhere, getting slightly lost on our first night. Fortunately, a lovely Japanese woman overheard us trying to get directions and offered to walk us home. She was a former Miss Nara (?) contestant who lived near our hotel and she was a lifesaver!!
The cherry blossoms on Kyoto were, if anything, even more picturesque than in Tokyo. There is a street in Kyoto famous for the beauty of the cherry blossoms overhanging the river. It's safe to say it was not a secret. In fact, everywhere beautiful (cherry blossoms, temples) were full of people - mostly Japanese tourists it seemed.
Kyoto is famous for beautiful temples so we visited a few, as well as the Kyoto royal palace. The Kinkaku-ji temple (aka golden pavilion) was a longish bus ride from near the hotel, but definitely worth the visit. Like Tokyo Museum, the entry fees were incredibly reasonable at every attraction we visited.
Kinkaku-ji was beautiful - the temple itself was gleaming gold, surrounded by a lake and beautiful gardens. Definitely worth seeing.
After the golden pavilion, we walked to Ryoan-ji - maybe a 20 minute walk? Ryoan-ji is famous for its zen garden which we sat and looked at for a long time. The gardens were spectacular! We took the bus back into town - I love a local bus - it's always an interesting experience. I found it strange that no one seemed to stand up for the older passengers on trains but the buses seemed a bit more polite in that respect.
Other awesome memories of Kyoto to come...

Kyoto imperial palace (above and below)

On the banks of the river, Kyoto

Thursday, 9 May 2013

More Ueno

Because this was my first visit to Japan, the first couple of days were full of discovery. Ueno was where I discovered the best convenience store food in the world and started the practice of eating breakfast onigiri from 7 eleven or equivalent every day. Must be one of the best $1.50 breakfasts available anywhere! Oh and hot coffee in a can from vending machines.

I also found that Japan was a lot less difficult to get around than I had imagined it might be in some respects. Despite a complete lack of Japanese, we managed to navigate our way around and communicate with people as much as we needed to.

But it was also hard to interact with some of the more uniquely Japanese culture - like the maid cafes. On our first full day in Japan we wandered into Akihabara, the electronics district of Tokyo where huge multi level video gaming centers dot the streets and where young (looking) girls line the footpaths handgun out flyers for cafes where you pay an hourly fee for some coffee and conversation. I would have loved to hear what kind of conversation $10 an hour buys you, but sadly I think it's all conducted exclusively in Japanese. Probably would have felt a bit creepy to pay someone to talk to you...

It's intriguing to look around Akihabara at all the images of women on billboards, posters, even life sized 3D dolls who look nothing like any of the Japanese women I saw. Not one woman looked like those images... I wonder how Japanese women feel about it.

In contrast to the pop culture of Akihabara, we also visited Tokyo National Museum next to Ueno Park. It's a pretty good museum with lots of historical stuff - and very reasonably priced like all the tourist attractions we visited. But the best part were the gardens at the back - absolutely gorgeous gardens with some traditional buildings, a lake and cherry blossom petals falling like snow. An incredibly peaceful place despite all the other people.

We did also check out a department store in Ueno, the best part being the food hall in the basement, which provided dinner one night - amazingly beautiful sushi platters, fish, meat, sweets. A feast for the eyes!

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Ueno, Tokyo

The first three days of our Japan trip were spent in the Ueno area in Tokyo.
By way of background, this trip was a little undercooked in terms of planning and preparation. In fact, we had no intention of visiting Japan this year until we heard about some very discounted tickets (on Jetfail) from a friend of my mother. They had purchased some tickets they couldn't use, so suddenly we had a trip to Japan!
I think if I'd planned the flights, I would have flown into Tokyo and out of Osaka - but the flights we took over were in and out of Tokyo and frankly I could not be bothered stuffing around with the tickets so we kept them as they were. We did buy a 7 day Tokyo rail pass before leaving Melbourne and had decided on the following itinerary: 3 days in Tokyo to chill out, train to Kyoto and spend 7 days in Kyoto region (including 2 nights in a ryokan in Uji), then train back to Tokyo for 7 more nights.
So the first three days of the trip were intended to be spent in Tokyo chilling out and decompressing to get into the Japan vibe. We chose some no-frills accommodation in Ueno, Tokyo because it was directly on the line from Nakita airport without knowing much about the area.
Turned out we chose very well. Firstly, the Candeo hotel in Ueno was perfect for a three day stay. A small, but well thought out and comfortable room. Amazing vending machine with huge 500ml Asahi cans for $2 (a big hit with Phil) and free English movies on the in-room tv - what more could you want??
But the best aspect of the hotel was its proximity to the glorious Ueno Park, which was a mere 5 min walk away. It turns out, that Ueno Park is one of the best cherry blossom viewing locations in Tokyo. And when we arrived (March 28), the blossoms were not only in full bloom, but blossom petal snow was falling whenever a stiff wind blew through.
It was absolutely gorgeous to walk around the park and see the blossoms. And to see what felt like the whole suburb come out to see them too. People were taking picture after picture of the pink haze in the treetops and hundreds of others were picnicking on tarpaulin's with lots of friends, cute bento boxes and lots and lots of booze.
Beer, sake, spirits lined the edges of countless blue tarps. It was such a fantastic people watching opportunity! The park is absolutely huge and includes a massive lake, a zoo, boulevards of cherry blossom trees and (during our visit) outdoor food stalls and markets - takoyaki - yum!!

Monday, 22 April 2013

Japan 2013; v.1

Japan 2013, v.1 was not a trip that could go by without blogging. I've dubbed this v.1 because I loved it so much, I could seriously imagine going back again this year. May not happen, but you never know...

Anyway, for the first time ever, GOMP aka Phil (who to be fair wasn't very grumpy on this trip) let me take over as chief photographer - or at least photographer in charge of the fancy pants camera (a Nikon D3S named Uma). So I expect the photos may not be quite up to scratch, but we'll see. In typical fashion, we arrived back home on Sunday afternoon and were already back at work on Monday, so apart from some rudimentary unpacking, nothing has been done with photos - or purchasing milk etc...

This trip took in Tokyo (10 days), Kyoto (4 days), Uji (3 days) and Nara (1 night) and luckily was smack bang in the middle of cherry blossom season so we got to walk under canopies of cherry blossom trees and through a shower of cherry blossom petals - like snow but without all the wet, cold parts.

Ueno park

Imperial garden, Kyoto

Despite the first couple of days being all about the cherry blossoms (and I'm thinking you really do have to visit in cherry blossom season) there's so much more, I'd almost forgotten about them by the end of the trip!