Tokyo (and Nikko)

•April 2, 2014 • 1 Comment

Konichiwa friends,

As I visited Tokyo in two trips, both at the start and end of my journey, this is your last blog update, although a lot of my adventures there happened a few weeks ago now (and much of this was written then too, hence a lot of comments on my impressions of Japan overall!).

As expected, I really like Tokyo, but it came with the expected culture surprises. It is one of the few places I have visited where I felt like a total tourist, largely due to the use of Kanji / Katakana and not the western alphabet! I’m sure it makes even the most mundane of signs interesting to me.

The hostel I stayed in to start was one of the nicest I have visited – the K’s House chain are in several locations in Japan now, and all that I have stayed at have been impressive. The facilities were excellent, I had some great roommates, the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful, and the location, Asakusa was perfect for an initial introduction to the city. Once making friends there, I changed my plans for the second part of my trip, and returned (but to a hotel this time).

The city is a fascinating mixture of new and old, with skyscrapers and modern architecture laid out right next to old shrines revealing the Japanese past. The one thing I instantly noticed was how clean the streets are, and how conscientious the street cleaners are – have you ever seen someone in London scraping the chewing gum off the road in front of their shop?? This attitude is the same all over Japan, everyone works very hard, and as a consequence things like the service in shops is by far the best I have ever received.

The hostel was only a few moments walk from Sensoji Temple, so I spent my first evening strolling around, grazing on some amazing food from the market. The temple is stunning by day and by night, but there were so many people around I don’t have photos by day.

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I visited Ueno Park the following day to visit the zoo and see the giant pandas. I should have thought this through before paying the entry fee though, as it is mating season so they weren’t on display. The panda excitement is HUGE here though, and there was the most hilarious booth next to the enclosure where people were dressing up as pandas to pay for their photo to be taken. The rest of the zoo was okay, but I was a sad panda (lol).

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I thought this bird was a statue… turns out it was real :)

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The park itself is beautiful, but it’s a shame I was a tiny bit early for cherry blossom here. The walkways are all covered by cherry trees, so the colours here must be incredible when it is in bloom. As expected in Japan, there are several shrines in this park alone, one of which contains a sealed Hiroshima flame (supposedly a fire that was found in the wreckage of the bombing, and has never been allowed to go out).

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Update; I visited Ueno again this afternoon and it was GLORIOUS! Now I understand the full vision of Sakura and the Hanami party, I’m so glad I got to experience it while I was in Japan. The Hanami Party is essentially an opportunity to picnic and drink with friends beneath the cherry blossom… the number of people out today was insane, and such an amazing vibrant atmosphere.

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I spent my afternoon in Akihabara with some friends learning about Japanese culture, and discovering every gadget that you could possibly imagine with a USB connection, and obviously a lot of manga and anime. Before eating my first truly authentic dinner, on recommendation alone. My finishing paragraph will be on food, so all I will say for now is that it was aaaaaaamazing.

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My visit to the Imperial Palace East Gardens was another pretty day out, and a perfect example of the proximity between old and new contrasting. I’m also pretty sure I saw the Emperor that day… I was stopped outside the palace by the police while a convoy of horse drawn carriages, guards on horseback and shiny black cars was passing. In typical Japanese style I figured it was worth taking photos, even though I had no idea who it was until I asked someone a few days later.

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I also checked out the International Forum building while in the area. The architecture is beautiful, but lunch was pricey.

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That evening I watched the sunset from the top of the Sky Tree, a new viewing tower that has two viewing platforms and is over 600m tall. It was one of those experiences that made me realise how vast Tokyo is – all you can see, all directions is life (and if the weather is good, maybe some mountains). The various districts are pretty easily identifiable – Shibuya and Shinjuku stand high above the rest of the city, and Akihabara doesn’t do a bad job either. It’s pretty expensive, but I’m not sure I would have appreciated Tokyo in the same way without it (and I didn’t bother going all the way to the top).

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I had to get a photo of me jumping on the 340m high, glass floor too. :)

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Without a doubt, my best day in the Tokyo area was spent in Mitaka, at the Studio Ghibli Museum. If you don’t know what I’m talking about… I’m not sure we can be friends anymore. It is the craziest, quirkiest and most enchanting building, and the experience from walking through the door to leaving reverts you to childhood and the grin didn’t leave my face. Door ways less than a metre high to crawl through, spiral stair ways encased in metal bars spanning three floors, the most beautiful old projectors and hands down the best animation exhibits I have ever seen. Just wow. That’s before I even mention the full size furry cat bus for children to play on – magical. Obviously you’re not allowed to take photos inside, so you only get a few of the exterior and the rain.

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And I think maybe I spent too much money in the gift shop…

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Next to the museum is a beautiful park, and another temple! :) It’s a pretty nice walk from here to the next station along on the train line though, and there are some nice restaurants if you need to cower from the rain.

By my 3rd night in Tokyo, I was a regular in my friends bar, and was even trusted to supervise while he went out briefly! Welcome to A.S.A.B, one of the few Japanese bars in which you can find Guinness on tap. :P

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On my return to the city I did make a point of visiting Shibuya and people watching from the Starbucks that overlooks the road crossing – where Lost in Translation was filmed. It’s a pretty crazy place, and I am infinitely glad I didn’t choose to stay in this district in the end. It’s just a bit too busy and touristy for me, but it was a must see while I was in town. The Starbucks is something else as well… apparently it is one of their busiest branches in the world, extremely efficient, but hideous to find a seat.

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My final proper day in Tokyo was spent out of town in Nikko, one of the most beautiful places I have visited in Japan. The shrines there were incredible, in particular Tosho-gu. Part of it is currently under renovation, but you are able to walk through and the restoration work is explained. It was fascinating to learn the traditional Japanese building techniques.

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Most importantly, as I said it would have it’s own paragraph… Japanese food. Wow. Just wow. I have eaten anything put in front of me, in a whole host of different establishments. Ramen, sushi, sashimi, katsuya (and every variation of it!) / tonkatsu, tempura / tendon, yakitori, kobe beef, nabe, yakiniku, okonomiyaki, soba / udon, izakaya… and all the bento, miso, and pickles you would expect. I am sure I have eaten more than this, but off the top of my head, that’s as many as I can think of. I have only eaten non-Japanese food twice in my entire time here, and I’m eating at least 2 epic meals a day because it is so damn good.

The only thing I haven’t particularly enjoyed was sea urchin (uni), but oh well!

I am going to miss using chopsticks all the time, and having such a wealth of incredible food at such reasonable prices on my doorstep. I have a long list of things to learn how to cook now!

Unfortunately I am so bad at taking photos of food before I eat it, that you are lacking in photos (or they are half eaten… NOM).

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I also started buying sweets with pandas on… just because I could. Any country with this much panda merchandise is good in my eyes!

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As always when travelling, I found that meeting locals was the best way to experience the area. If I hadn’t, I don’t think I would have enjoyed Tokyo to the same extent. Seeing the real side of the city, the local bars and restaurants and some real personality adds much more depth than staying in amongst the expensive tourist haunts.

Thanks to everyone I met on my travels, particularly Yu and Katayama. どうもありがとう! :)
I’ll see you guys soon!

Claire x

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Mt Fuji, Kawaguchiko

•March 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Hiya folks,

I arrived in Kawaguchiko to the most stunning view of Mt Fuji. It was the picture perfect view of a postcard, with a perfectly blue sky and not a cloud in sight. Thankfully I took the a photo on my phone as I was walking to my hostel from the station (bags in tow), as I arrived right before sunset, the following day was overcast, and my final day was extremely foggy! You can’t always beat the weather.

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Regardless of the absence of Fuji-san’s peak I still visited the observatory (a viewing platform on an opposite peak, not in the astronomical sense) and took some pretty dramatic photos of the moody skies that day.

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It also ensured I had plenty of time to mosey around in Kawaguchiko, and enjoy the peace and quiet of the Japanese countryside. After so long spent in the cities, it was a wonderful way to recuperate and a very welcome change of scene.

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A friend and I hired bikes one day and cycled around Lake Kawaguchiko, stopping off at the only restaurant we found on the way to get pizza! It was the very last thing I expected to find, but the owner was extremely friendly, spoke good English and the place had real charm and character. The walls were decorated with a mixture of violins, old cameras and a selection of chainsaws!

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I finished off my final evening in a restaurant recommended by the hostel, eating Katsudon (pork / egg / rice / miso soup etc) it was excellent. I think the owner was a little shocked to see two Westerners in there though as their menu was solely Japanese (no pictures) and we had some fun trying to order what we had been told was their speciality!

That night it was the 7th anniversary party of the hostel I was staying in, so they put on a night of Japanese entertainment. The offered free food and sushi rolling classes (although I didn’t take part in this after eating so much earlier!), lots of sake, and ended with a Japanese harp performance. It’s been amazing to see so many sides of such a diverse culture. Japan is one really interesting county.

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Clearly no evening would be complete without a few drinks in the hostel bar, and a karaoke session until the early hours. I’m pretty sure we were dreadful, but I really don’t care, and we all had a great night!

Hopefully I get my Tokyo update done before I fly tonight… we’ll see! :)
Claire x

Osaka, Himeji, Nara and Kobe.

•March 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Hi friends,

This is a long one…

I didn’t spend that much time in Osaka itself in the end, although it was a good location to base myself from for the day trips I managed to fit in elsewhere.

The only thing that was really on my list for the city was to see the city from the “Sky Garden Observatory” near Umeda station. The building itself is pretty spectacular by day (and was voted one of the top 10 most interesting buildings in the world at some point), and it looks like it should belong in Mordor at night…

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I visited late evening, and ended up spending a few hours up there waiting for sunset. It was a wonderfully clear day, and the view was incredible. My photos aren’t bad for once… but even they don’t do it justice. It’s the only sunset I have ever watched with an audience that gave a sigh of disappointment when the sun dipped behind the mountains for the last time that day. :)

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I also managed to get tickets to see the Sumo wrestling at the Prefectural Gymnasium. Like everything else in Japan, it was pretty different, but by early afternoon I was well into the swing of it and cheering along with the rest of the crowd. The competition takes place all day, but starts with the junior fighters in the morning, and ends with the most successful. I still don’t know much about how sumo works, but I am most impressed at the agility of some of the fighters based on their size! I should also add here, that it seems to be the more muscular fighters that were winning most of the time, not the heaviest. (I am trying desperately hard not to add captions to these photos).

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My first Osaka day trip was down to Himeji, as I had heard that Himeji Castle is more interesting than the one in Osaka. Unfortunately they are doing restoration work to the main castle keep for the next year, so it’s all hidden behind scaffolding, but the rest of it was very interesting. The castle itself is the best example of surviving Japanese castle architecture from the feudal period, and was originally built in 1333, although the most recent expansion (to the size it is today) was in the 1600’s.

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The gardens beside the castle itself are the most beautiful I have visited so far though. I spent several hours strolling here, and really enjoyed whiling a day away with this backdrop.

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I also participated in a tea ceremony here, which was a little daunting (as I had no knowledge of the etiquette), but they were extremely welcoming and very helpful. This is the tea house building and a section of the gardens, but I didn’t want to take any photos inside. It felt like I’d be disturbing the serenity!

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The following day I headed to Nara after being told it was a must-see by one of the friends I made in Tokyo. He wasn’t wrong. The Todaiji temple is absolutely stunning, and another that will stand out for me in my Japan memories. It was founded in the 8th century, and contains the worlds largest bronze Buddah Vairocana statue. They are in the process of restoration work on the temple as well, and I was so blown away by it’s beauty, that I donated a new tile for the roof (complete with my name and a wish). :)

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You really can’t appreciate the scale of the Buddah from my photos.

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Nara Park is scattered with even more shrines and a selection of beautiful gardens and ponds too.

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To finish off my day, and because I could (this JR rail pass is by far the best purchase I have made here) I went to Kobe for dinner. After conversation with a few travelling friends, it had been pointed out to me that a trip to Japan just wouldn’t be complete without sampling the finest of Wagyu, the Kobe beef – and there seemed like nowhere better than in Kobe itself.

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It was incredible, and the experience is something I will remember for a very very long time. I went to Wakkoku, a very upmarket restaurant just a short walk from the train station (another recommendation). They don’t have tables in the typical sense, but all guests are seated around the hot plates, and have their own personal chef cooking their dinner in front of them. It is a lesson, and definite art. Everything is presented to you before they begin to cook, and then each part of the beef is cooked in a slightly different way to ensure it is all cooked perfectly. Once cooked (little by little – hence no real photos of that), you are instructed on which of the sauces each part should be eaten with.

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The beef itself was the softest (almost mousse like texture) I have ever eaten, but incredibly incredibly rich. You couldn’t eat a bigger steak than they give you – I could almost feel my arteries clogging as I ate it… As a once in a blue moon opportunity though, it was worth every penny I paid for it – and I really hope I get to experience it again some day! If you find yourself in Kobe, don’t hesitate to go here!

The rest of the food was excellent too. <3

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Also as I’m posting this on the 26th… HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD! :)

Cx

Kyoto

•March 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Hi everyone,

I was going to roll a few more updates into one post, but it appears I have started visiting too many places to think about writing in a short period of time to make that a manageable update. These next few updates should be short and sweet! :)

Kyoto is the most varied Japanese city I have visited so far. I arrived in the Kawaramachi area to find brand name shops and chain stores… not the Kyoto that I was hoping for after so many people had raved about it.

I spent my first day in Arashiyama, a short train journey out of town, as I wanted to see the Bamboo forest. It was beautiful, but I was a little disappointed by the size of it. It takes approximately 5 minutes to walk from one side to the other. I was expecting something very different.

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That said, the rest of the town is really pretty. I did a short hike off the tourist trail up to a zen temple with an incredible view of Kyoto, and spent the afternoon grazing on yummy market food and green tea ice cream.

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After my initial impressions of Kyoto, a day in the old town – the Gion / Higashiyama districts, made me understand how people can fall in love with this place. It’s like stepping back in time. Walking down the narrow streets, with traditional Japanese houses and shrines nestled next to each other is an incredible experience. It is also the first place I’ve been in Japan where there are as many women in kimonos as “normal” western clothing walking down the street (Gion is also the Geisha district).

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It was a freezing cold day though, and removing my shoes to walk around some of the shrines wasn’t great fun. That said, I saw some beautiful things. I have the names of the shrines noted down somewhere, but I’m not sure I can remember which is which right now!

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I am totally in love with these zen gardens…

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I also managed to squeeze in a trip to the Golden Pavillion (Kinkakuji Temple), which was magical. After seeing so many shrines in the last few weeks, it’s particularly amazing when you see something so startlingly different from the others. They are all beautiful, but there are a few I have seen that stand out above the rest.

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Obviously while in town, I had to visit the International Museum of Manga. I loved it, particularly the current “Hand to Hand” exhibition featuring work from Manga artists in support of the Fukushima disaster of 2011. The diversity of work on display was amazing throughout the museum, and the history of manga exhibit was fascinating too.

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It is also located conveniently close to the Imperial Gardens, so I spent yet another afternoon moseying around outside in the spring sunshine.

Claire x

Hiroshima, Miyajima and Hashima

•March 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Hiya Folks,

I am skipping my first Tokyo update for now, as I head back for a few days at the end of my trip and I don’t want to duplicate posts. :P

I have found Hiroshima a fascinating place to visit. The peace park and A-dome were the first things on my agenda (although truth be told I had to reorganise my plan slightly after drinking a little too much with some new friends and losing the motivation to arrive at Miyajima as early as I wanted on my first proper day).

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The A-bomb dome is surreal in a way I can’t describe. I guess it’s something about the contrast between the high rise ultra modern, typical Japanese city towering above this single desolate but eternally (at least that is the plan) preserved building. I won’t get too into the detail of the event, you know it, or can look it up – but the dome is still standing because the hypocentre of the bomb was above it. It was one of the only buildings within over 2km radius that wasn’t flattened. When you look at the city today, it’s difficult to imagine that it ever happened, but the dedication and commitment that the city have placed in creating and maintaining the memorial and peace park, and promoting peace as a consequence is inspirational.

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The memorials in the park are designed beautifully, and from the bottom of the park, the major monuments are aligned so it is possible to see through the arch, to the dome, with the eternal flame burning in the middle. Clearly the museum is an emotional experience, where the upper floor highlights a series of items found in the wreckage, and explains who they belonged to, and their story (mostly children). The personal level made me see the story in a deeper light. The thing that really got to me here though, were the protest letters from the Mayor of Hiroshima to the leader of the country responsible, every single time a nuclear weapon has been detonated, since 1968. That is 606 letters to date. I don’t want to get involved in the politics of this here, but this just doesn’t make sense to me. To see such destruction, and for us to still be toying with these devices…. anyway. Each letter is attached to a replica of the a-dome (til they ran out of room), but to see and read them on this scale, was more upsetting to me than the rest of the museum. I guess it’s the point where past and and present collide.

I also did some of the Shrine hike up to the Hiroshima memorial / statue on the hill. I don’t even know the proper name for this. It isn’t something people seem to do, it is a difficult uphill walk, and it isn’t well signposted (and the maps available are cartoon style only, and all in Japanese). That aside, the view from the top made it entirely worth doing, and some of the shrines along the way were just incredible (in particular, the opportunity to walk through over 100 torii gates), and to walk through a graveyard set into an almost vertical hill.

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My other main motivation for the visit here was to see Miyajima (Itsukushima), an island just off the coast of Hiroshima. It is supposed to be one of the three most beautiful islands in Japan, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. The island is sacred, and features the typical Japanese red torii gate at the entrance. This is like no other I have seen at the temples I have visited so far though. My motivation for arriving so early was to see the torii and Itsukushima shrine at high tide (and while the island was quiet!). The shrine is built above the water, so the torii and temple both appear to float.

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I then decided to hike the long way to the top of Mount Misen, through the Omoto Park. They do warn you that this route is challenging… they are right. After nearly 2 hours of walking up almost vertical stairs I reached the observatory at the top, but it is definitely worth the hike (and clearly it felt a lot more rewarding taking the peaceful route, than taking the ropeway / cable car like the rest of the tourists there).

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And you know…. when in Rome ;)

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I had intentionally timed the hike so when I next saw the torii it would be low tide. Obviously I knew it was going to happen… but I still wasn’t prepared for new view. The contrast in the pictures tell it better than I can!

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My final day in Hiroshima, wasn’t spent in Hiroshima (and shouldn’t really be included in this post, but it is). I made the (somewhat crazy) decision to visit Nagasaki for the day (over 800km round trip – THANK YOU SHINKANSEN!), although Nagasaki itself wasn’t the purpose of my visit, and I didn’t even have time to visit the peace park / memorials. I did walk through the “Seaside Park” though, which was beautiful.

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Instead, I visited Hashima Island (also known as Gunkanjima / Battleship Island). I’ll be honest, I didn’t actually know the history of the island before visiting. It turns out it was the location of an undersea mine for over 100 years (owned by Mitsubishi for the most part), the miners and their families lived on the island (along with many forced Korean and Chinese labourers). When the coal market was replaced with oil in the 1970’s, the island was left deserted and until 2009 remained unvisited. It is now a total ruin, and tourist access to the island is very restricted for safety reasons.

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When you see this photo, it makes sense that it is nicknamed Battleship Island (apologies for the through wet glass blur….).

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It’s website is pretty amazing, http://www.hashima-island.co.uk/ and it served a inspiration for the villains lair in the Bond movie Skyfall (although they never filmed there).

It wasn’t the most typical place to visit, but I did really enjoy it. Not great if you don’t deal well with sea sickness though, the waters are extremely choppy and I was told that regularly the conditions make docking impossible.

The final thing I really have to note here is Okonomiyaki, the speciality food of Hiroshima. Its basically pancakes, filled with pork, noodles and vegetables and some epic bbq sauce, mixed with a variety of your own additional ingredients (and always better with hot sauce!). I have had it a few different places now (and was taught to cook it on my first night!) and it is most excellent. Pretty different to the rest of the Japanese cuisine I’ve been eating since I arrived, but it’s nice to experience something different. If you’re down here, you can’t avoid it…

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It isn’t until this trip that I have ever considered taking photos of food… and I don’t understand how you instagram people do it. When someone delivers an incredible looking and smelling tray of amazing, the first thing I do is not to pick up my camera – but to eat it! This means that I haven’t remembered to take a photo of food until it is half consumed, and by then, it doesn’t look so great. So my apologies – I will try to do better in the next week! All I can report so far is that it has been amazing!

Hope all is well in England, I hope it is still a decent spring when I return. :)
x

Sydney

•March 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

G’day mates :)

First things first on the Sydney update, I owe Jace and Dave a massive thanks for inviting to stay with them. It was fantastic, and Kings Cross is an excellent base from which to access the city.

On my first day, I scoped out the local bays, Elizabeth and Rushcutters. The parks and marinas down there were stunning, and along with the weather, the perfect way to while away an afternoon.

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Obviously a trip to The Rocks came next to scope out the Opera House and see the Harbour Bridge.

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Before jumping on a harbour ferry across the bay to Manly. I really liked it up here. I was a bit beached out by this point, so went on the suggested tourist hike along the beach and up into the bush area to North Head.

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I didn’t realise it, but this place used to belong to the military and there are still gun towers scattered along the hillside, and there was a quarantine hospital there until the early 1900s. It’s now owned by the wildlife commission, and is a beautiful hike. At the furthest point there is an old cemetery of plague and smallpox victims from the quarantine hospital. Most of the 200 graves belong to children. The view of Sydney from here is incredible, if a little eerie.

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Clearly my travels wouldn’t be complete without a trip to an observatory, especially as Sydney holds the oldest working telescope in Australia, from 1874. Unfortunately it was too cloudy to use on the sky, but we merrily checked out it’s capabilities on a clock somewhere on the horizon (invisible to the naked eye). I also ended up staying behind and spending an hour talking to our retired astrophysicist tour guide about his career!

The forecast predicted rain for the rest of my trip (which never showed up), so I visited the Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Before heading over to the bridge to do my night climb. The view was totally awesome, and my group were fantastic – but it was hideously over priced, and I doubt very much I will ever do it again. The view was definitely enhanced by night though, and I would recommend it to visitors feeling particularly flush (and fond of heights)! Photos of me looking stupid to follow on this one, I need access to a scanner.

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An obligatory trip to Bondi was on the cards the next day, and although it was very beautiful, by that point I was a bit beached out – and was more interested in the fish and chips on offer (Aussie fish and chips really leaves the UK looking crap by the way – battered and cooked to order, and a much larger selection of fish than is usually on offer back home – YUM).

The weekend meant Jace, Dave and I went on the most beautiful hike in Ku-ring-gai National Park, even if it did end up being over 18km as the loop we had planned to follow on the map didn’t exist. It was a great day though, and regardless of the sore feet, we all enjoyed ourselves.

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I’ve been in Japan a little while now, so will try and get my next update sorted quickly. We’ll see how much time I manage to make over the next few days.

x

New South Wales, Gold Coast to Sydney by car

•March 5, 2014 • 3 Comments

Hi Folks,

I can’t believe it has been more than a week since my last update. Time flies when you’re having fun I guess.

The last week has been one of the most varied and beautiful of my life… with a few hours of absolute boredom thrown in for good measure.

I started my coastal drive from the Gold Coast (pretty sad to leave, but I knew more adventures were headed my way) and headed straight inland to Mount Warning, which is in Woolowin National Park. I started super early, so was at the top by 10am, and it gave me a quick education into a very different side of Australia. It’s an extinct volcano (named Warning by Cook when he spotted if from the coast while on his mission to circumnavigate the globe), and the climb takes you through a dense forest / jungle landscape. It was beautiful, and a big contrast to the Pacific Coast.

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From here, I headed straight down to Byron Bay, and my first hostel night in Oz. The staff were extremely helpful, and within 10 mins of arriving I’d booked to go microlighting the following morning.

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I got to help us fly… and I definitely challenged my pilot to take us as low as possible over the water. 3m above sea level in a microlight is something I will remember for a VERY long time! Byron was incredible by air, and I even saw dolphins, sharks and rays (both manta and sting) swimming wild just off the coast. Unfortunately for you… I forgot to change the battery in my camera, and it died after the first 5 mins!

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The following evening I stayed in Coffs Harbour, and fortunately enough had booked myself into an “adventure hostel” where all activities were free. Just after arriving, I was watching the sun set while kayaking on the creek. The wildlife was amazing (but thankfully croc free), and the water very warm. It turned into a beautiful evening for star gazing too, and my binoculars had their first outing. (my panoramic shots don’t want to preview very big on here, but clicking enlarges them :P)

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On my drive down to Port Macquarie the next day, I stopped off in Nambucca Heads for a stroll and cup of coffee to ease the driving boredom. I think it was my favourite part of the entire week. I stumbled across a pier of rocks, each painted with a recollection, or memorial. It literally took my breath away, the beauty and serenity of that spot is just incredible. I spent a long while there reflecting on my life and the people that have influenced it. You all know who you are, and I think you’re totally awesome. The photos do not do this place justice.

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Port Macquarie itself was alright, but incredibly rainy so I didn’t stick around long.

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I finished my trip down that part of the coast in Nelson Bay. There is a great lighthouse tea room there that serves devonshire cream teas (lol), with the perfect view to accompany it; AND some totally epic sand dunes.

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On my final few days with the car, I headed south an inland to the Blue Mountains. The weather there was pretty bad (cold, wet and really foggy) but thankfully by lunchtime on my only day of hiking, the mist had cleared. When I headed into the rainforest canopy I couldn’t see more than 15ft in front of me, only a few hours later I could glimpse blue sky and the incredible mountains through the trees. I managed to acquire a leech at one point, and after a bit of girly shrieking managed to remove it successfully (without leaving its little fangs stuck in me – ERGH), but it still bled a lot. While they are sort of fascinating creatures, I think that is on my list as being one of the most disgusting things I’ve head to deal with!

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Hiring the car was an amazing experience, it gave me a freedom and flexibility that I’ve not had in the past while travelling. That said, I’m not sure I would do that distance alone again in that time frame. By the final day, I was chatting with the sat nav lady, and had drunk coffee from what seemed like every little town in New South Wales.

Enjoy :)
x

PS – to those of you that have messaged me, I’ll try and reply in the next few days!