Japan 2015

A video from a while back when Hannah and I ran away to Japan and South Korea for the winter holidays. Unfortunately my GoPro decided to pack it in and die after the third day so this video is only a very short snippet of our adventure. Still brings a tear to my eyes though.

Barcelona Baby

After a long, bumpy and uncomfortable journey home, I am finally attempting to break my habit of always forgetting to write the last blog post of my holidays. I think it is a psychological thing of not wanting to accept the holiday is over. Or just me being lazy. Probably that, actually. But Barcelona was too wonderful to not write about. So here goes.

We spent the most time in Barcelona than anywhere else on the trip, which turned out to be a lucky thing as we ended up wasting essentially an entire day. That’s bound to happen by the end of a holiday though. So instead of writing what I did each day, I am going to simplify it and just talk about the highlights and must-dos of Barcelona.

La Boqueria Food Market
Staying at St Christopher’s Inn near La Ramblas we were super close to one of the largest and undoubtedly most spectacular food markets in Europe. Hands down one of the most GoPro-able experiences of the trip, I could easily spend hours in this place. Delicious fresh fruit juices of all different colours and flavours for just 1, cups of fresh mango for 2, sweet and savoury pasty for 2.5, seafood, meats, cheese, lollies, and everything and anything else your heart could imagine. So cheap, so fresh, so fun, and a definite must-do in Barcelona. I would argue this one experience alone is worthy of a trip to Spain. And if you are a foodie like me, I recommend you bring a paper bag because you will hyperventilate.

10612863_10153574226714497_7364783973829025241_n 11169168_10153574226399497_3963870979135436531_n 11745787_10153574226244497_5629461805687555044_nBrunch
We discovered a street filled with the most adorable and hipster ‘brunch’ cafes that reminded me of home. We settled on one called Brunch & Cake and were not disappointed. In retrospect I’m glad we had to wait for ten minutes to be seated because it took me about that long to decide what I wanted on the very attractive menu. And of course we had to finish up with cake because the name of the place is Brunch & Cake after all. Find it here: http://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Restaurant_Review-g187497-d3163747-Reviews-Brunch_Cake-Barcelona_Catalonia.html

11750643_10153574224849497_667266251151645362_nSagrada Família
Hands down one of my favourite cathedrals of the trip and we didn’t even go inside because we are stingy backpackers. This incredible church designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí looks like something out of a Dr Seuss novel. Although it remains to this day unfinished, the exterior is an absolute spectacle and arguably advocates for the use of hallucinogenic substances. There are also a few other Gaudí buildings in Barcelona that are worth checking out. We went to visit Casa Batlló which was awesome, as well as La Pedrera. Park Güell is also one of the most famous of Gaudí’s work in Barcelona and after trekking there one morning we worked out that you need to buy a ticket and they sell out fast so we missed out. Learn from my mistakes and save yourself disappointment and buy a ticket – definitely worth it. If I had just one more day in Barcelona I would have gone back. But at least now I know for sure that I will be returning to Barcelona in my lifetime to see it as well as some of Gaudí’s other work: http://www.globotreks.com/destinations/10-gaudi-buildings-barcelona/
11745821_10153574225094497_6937562951992903035_n11800325_10153574224939497_5781834071195007610_nBarceloneta Beach
Coming from Australia, I have a high standard of beaches and I honestly would not rate Barceloneta Beach high on my list. Regardless of there being absolutely no space on the “sand” even at 8pm at night, and the water being filthy it is still a must-do European experience. Embrace the lack of personal space, the incredibly tanned Europeans that make you feel like a vampire, and the hundreds of people treading on you as they try and sell you something useless. 11754878_10153574227029497_7440106860701977246_oMonjuïc Cable Car
There are two cable cars in Barcelona: one that goes across the port, and the other that goes up the mountain to Montjuïc Castle. We did the Montjuïc one, and pre-booked tickets at our hostel after the previous disappointment at Park Güell. You access it from the Montjuïc funicular (tell me that doesn’t sound fun!) which takes you halfway up the mountain. From there you jump on the cable car and get incredible views of the city on the seven-minute journey to top of the hill. Relaxing, fun, and beautiful.

Piscina Municipal de Montjuïc
Across the road from the cable car station is the Piscina Municipal de Montjuïc, a pool originally constructed for the 1992 summer Olympics diving and waterpolo events but now open to the public. We found out about this from two girls staying in our hostel room and once we got there discovered it was something of a hidden gem, only known about by locals. But may I just say, OH MY GOD. The pool is stunning and has the most magnificent panoramic view out across the city. Screw the beach, here you’ve got plenty of space, crystal clear water, and stunning views out to the city. Plus as it is not a tourist attraction as such, you can feel much more comfortable leaving your bags and going swimming together (something that is an absolute NO NO at the beach). Less than 5 to get in, it closes at 6.30pm but they don’t let anyone in after 5.30pm, so don’t miss out! It’s in my top three experiences of my whole trip. Best afternoon and the perfect compliment to climbing the hill on the cable car. Find it here: http://www.timeout.es/barcelona/es/espacios-deportivos/piscina-municipal-de-montjuic 11224573_10153574224714497_2198913154788289075_n 11698688_10153574224624497_8782864824491427411_n11705530_10153574229134497_1029367634419693921_oOther than that we did another free walking tour, the perfect way to introduce yourself to the history and sights of any city, and as a result I think I will be moving to Barcelona at some point in my life in order to explore all the incredible back alleys, food haunts, and churches (which FYI most of are free after 5pm but cost money during the day).

Jemima joined us for our last few days in Barcelona and finally Sarah got the mad clubbing experience she had been dying for. Can’t thank the girls enough for their awesome company on another fantastic adventure. Time to start planning the next trip!

Until next time, folks!

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Greetings from Granada

One of my most anticipated stops, Granada definitely delivered. After an interesting train ride there, where halfway we all got kicked off the train and instructed in Spanish to a load a buses out the door, around the corner, and across the car park (mind you this was in the middle of absolute nowhere), we arrived in Granada alive. A positive was that we bonded with a fellow traveller called Lyndon, whom was also completely and utterly confused by the process, and ended up going for dinner and drinks with her for both nights we were in Granada.

Settled in at Granada Inn Backpackers, and filled with fresh grilled calamari, we headed for the hills, and got quite lost in the Albayzín district that strangely resembled images I’ve seen of the backstreets in Greece. Two for the price of one, awesome! After what seemed like hours of walking up, we reached the Mirador San Nicolás look out, and could not be distracted from the incredible view across the valley to the Alhambra (although the young teenage couple making out in front of where everyone was taking photos gave it a good shot).  11707525_10153568852654497_7612906513413538825_n 11041037_10153568852779497_2771318323950389130_n

That night we met up with our new mate Lyndon, at a tapas bar recommended by the cute guy from the hostel called Bar La Riviera. It was here that we discovered the concept of free tapas. With every drink you order, you can choose two tapas options from the menu and they bring a plate enough for everyone at the table to eat. For free. Therefore it is economical to drink. Did I mention I like Granada?11240093_10153568851184497_7611325041498055511_n

Next morning Catherine went on a guided tour of the Alhambra, and in an attempt to ensure our day was better, we headed out early to catch a free walking tour. Eric was fantastic, even though he was a bit nervous as he informed us as his parents were part of the tour that day, and we learnt a lot about the history of Granada. He still owes me tapas though as I stunned both him, the group and myself when I perfectly guessed the height of the bell tower (57m). I think the gypsy ladies flicking rosemary around the church must have blessed me, or I’m just a genius. (Free walking tour: http://www.panchotours.com/tours-granada/tour/free-walking-tour-granada).11737973_10153568852389497_798061113727190250_n11217804_10153568851939497_5198379978072410465_n 11264858_10153568851639497_8771039461239411131_n

Next up we hopped on a bus and headed up the mountain to the Alhambra. We didn’t buy tickets because we are tight-asses, but still got to see enough of it for free. Apparently 30% of the Alhambra is free. Just make sure you get off at the Puerta de la Justicia stop before the last stop on the mountain to save yourself the walk. Although it is a good excuse to get an ice cream on a hot day. We even ended up bumping into Catherine on her tour, looking like a goof with her headphones in.11742860_10153568851289497_1302923126655887860_n 11743007_10153568851354497_6354907144267095234_n

After a quick flick through our Lonely Planet guide we decided to explore the Alcaiceria markets more, which were the old Moorish silk markets, to find one of the many tea houses or teterías that lined the Calderería Nueva. With a five page list of teas, we each selected one and relaxed in the candle-lit, bohemian teahouse. A definite hidden treasure of Granada.11755917_10153568851244497_1394163094950679448_n

When we finally returned to our accommodation to find Catherine, we also found three new roommates: two awesome girls from Australia (small world), and Tobias, our favorite costa-rican weed-loving larrikin. We got on with the girls like a house on fire and couldn’t wait to introduce them to the world of free tapas so brought them to dinner with Lyndon that night. God knows how we made it, but by 3am we were dancing up a storm in a tiny hall/nightclub in some random backstreet that was completely empty when we arrived at 1am. We still claim that we brought the party that night, but with a mixture of Beyoncé, Elvis and Spanish pop, who could resist. And nothing quite tops a night off like a gigantic plate of churros to share! I only wished I had eaten them before and not after my zumba-like dance sesh in the club.

10406771_10153568852259497_2214409896790608648_nAfter bidding our new friends goodbye, and planning a reunion once we all returned to Sydney, we hopped on a bus to the airport for a quick flight to Barcelona, baby! It was a whirlwind stop in Granada but a definite highlight of the trip. I’ll be back.

Adios!
P.s. No memory will ever surpass the one of me drunkenly ninja-kicking the bathroom cubical door at the club after Emma locked herself in there. I don’t know what possessed me to do it, maybe I did pick up some ninja moves in Japan afterall. All I know for sure though, is that it was fricken awesome. 11143417_10153568852204497_8259950756164554506_n11781664_10153568852454497_3083840934899123005_n 11760334_10153568852489497_6499775249252137034_n 10410707_10153568852559497_4360289396272756774_n 10394036_10153568852589497_7033414956053805214_n

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Sightseeing Sevilla

I am currently sitting on a plane, jet-setting to Barcelona, our final destination. Emails have already started arriving from home, as reality starts to set in. I’m a city behind on blogs and I don’t know how time has managed to escape me so quickly.

We stayed in Seville for three nights at the Cathedral Terrace apartments (http://terrazas-de-la-catedral.sevilla-hotels-spain.com/en/), with a great central location near the Bull Fighting Museum. With Sarah on board now, and also picking up (another) Emma, a friend of Sarah’s from her time in England, we planned to find the nightlife most of us by now were so desperately craving. With high hopes we were met with a (in retrospect) relatively expensive tapas bar that tried to keep my €20 as a tip, and a rather quiet night-scene. Don’t let me turn you off Seville though, we honestly didn’t look very hard because we ended up most nights on the private rooftop of our apartment, overlooking the Cathedral, with a bottle or two of Tinto de Verano until the wee hours. An attempt for class with a bottle of wine was met with quite the struggle as we realized we didn’t have a corkscrew. Difficult but proved not impossible.

As usual we started our time in the city with a free walking tour with Feel the City tours (http://www.feelthecitytours.com/en/tour/free-tour-sevilla/). A bit of a bigger group we were not as impressed as with the other tours we’d been taken on in other cities. That or maybe it was just the fact that the other English-speaking group got the hot guide. Yes, it was most likely that. We were taken around the Cathedral and shown the inscriptions that were painted on the walls in bulls’ blood to advertise an honor student, which were discovered, still intact, after the walls were cleaned recently. I incorrectly guessed that they were written in red wine, but still maintain it was a reasonable assumption for Spain.

11755779_10153561310884497_951371435819314573_n11745312_10153561312959497_6904426399193305093_n 11036413_10153561312814497_5575392429526175222_nWe were shown the Giralda Tower adjacent to the Cathedral that was originally built by Muslims with Roman ruins and then added to by Christians, which we climbed the next day. I think its safe to say we all seriously reconsidered our love of heights after we hiked the thirty-five story’s of ramps to the top – ramps because there used to be stables located at the top of the tower.

11694943_10153561310744497_4185498749461083701_n 11760235_10153561310589497_4209421192313231757_nWe walked by the Palace, which we later returned to and discovered for the first time ever that someone considered Sarah disabled. She got free entry as a result though, so she is most definitely going to whip that one out next time we have to pay €10 to get into a church.

11223806_10153561310519497_2783527510272176571_n 11755259_10153561310464497_4260189575692511816_nWe finished up in the stunning Plaza de España where we found out parts of Star Wars was filmed. Connected to the Plaza was a luscious green park and some much needed shade. We enjoyed it so much that we came back the next day and hired a quadracycle and rode around the park looking like morons. Much fun was had.

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Adios chicas.

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Kyoto

It’s quarter past two in the afternoon and I’m lying on the couch in my hostel wearing my pyjamas. Before you judge me, Hannah is on the couch next to me passed out. So I’m doing okay. The last couple of days in Kyoto have been a whirlwind, and this trip shows no signs of slowing down. Apart from today. Today has been a very slow day. But a very deserved day.

We started the week by packing our bags, farewelling our host Mark, and hitting the subway for the next leg of our adventure. Settling into our seats on the Shinkansen, for what we expected to be a lengthy ride to the next city, ended up being a short 15 minute trip to Kyoto. Sydney should really invest in trains that travel at 220km/hr. And in trains that leave precisely when they are scheduled. It’s too easy.

Arriving in Kyoto we had no idea what to do. We had planned to read our Lonely Planet on the train ride but clearly had our reading time cut short. Nonetheless we went wandering and found the local Nishiki Markets full of fresh fruit, vegetables and meats. Freezing and hungry we found a bustling little corner and sat down for some delicious fresh ramen and soba noodles. My face was so cold I couldn’t feel that I was burning my tongue until afterwards. Worth it though. On our walk towards Kyoto Tower we walked by a Cat Cafe, and I thought of my crazy cat lady at home. For those unaware, a cat cafe is just a cafe with heaps of cats walking around. We poked our heads in the window and it looked hilarious. Oh Japan, you continue to entertain me. On we walked, past liquor stores where we checked what the damage would be for the nights that would undoubtedly be to come. $12 for a bottle of Vodka and $16 for Baileys. That was very doable.
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After following two good looking chaps from our hostel who had #swag we navigated our way to Kyoto Tower where, for what feels like the 100th time, we climbed to see an amazing 360 degree view of the city. We can’t help that we enjoy getting high! Apart from the amazing view watching the sun set and the lights come on all over the city, the tower was also great for organising the rest of our time in Kyoto, as we were able to spot the temples and districts we wanted to visit in the following days from the one convenient spot. After taking a photo with a group of random guys from Korea (the third group to ask for our photo so far!) we left and headed to the Gion district. We managed to find the district eventually but weren’t so lucky with finding any Geisha. We did however find some delicious gyozas for next to nothing, although I’m pretty sure Hannah enjoyed the condiments more than the meal – helping herself to pretty much all of what looked to me like rice bubbles. Clearly she was deprived of good old ‘Snap, Crackle and Pop’ as a child.
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Literally running home to avoid frostbite, we warmed up by sitting on the heated toilet seats and entertained ourselves by watching the Clown fish in the common room of our hostel. YES! I found Nemo! Definitely not at 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney.

The next day we woke to find tiny snowflakes falling from the sky outside our window. And after putting on two pairs of socks, three thermals tops, a jumper, a jacket, two scarves and a beanie, I was ready to step outside. After flashing our JR train passes at the station like celebrities, we hopped on a train bound for Nara – a town which is hard to say whether there are more tourists or deer. Like an obstacle course, we managed to dodge the cold, the camera lenses, and the crazy deer ramming at your legs for food, and arrived at the Todai-ji temple – the home of a 15 metre high Buddha. The temple itself was pretty incredible, and no photo could accurately depict the size of the room and Buddha. Regardless, it didn’t stop most tourists, and the continuous camera shutter sound was harsh against the peacefulness of the Buddha. After watching a group of tourists holding biscuits be attacked by a mob of deer we pop back on the train headed for Kobe. However, we didn’t last there long. Our frozen fingers and rumbling bellies won over and we headed home for dinner which we cooked ourselves! Anyone know how to use a rice cooker? Because I don’t.
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The next day was a big one, and also the cause of the state I am sitting in now, on the couch, with Hannah passed out next to me. It started with a challenge. We took our map to reception to ask the best way to get to where we wanted to that day. The girl looked at us and laughed, saying that it was a lot to achieve in a day. Challenge accepted.

First stop was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, which happens to feature on the cover of our Lonely Planet guide. Hannah and I have had a growing obsession with bamboo ever since we started recording the various ways it was used through out South-East Asia, and it was great to see it in such abundance and so green. Big shoutout to the kind man at the station who was laughing at us trying to work out where we were for helping us, and for telling us all about tofu for some reason.
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Next stop was to the Kinkakuji Temple, or the Golden Pavilion. After a fairly solid walk we reached the pavilion – a beautiful gold temple sitting on a stunning serene pond. A truest Japanese looking setting. No filter required. After getting lost in conversation we managed to find the exit and set off back to the station, but not before being interviewed by a small group of Japanese students on an English excursion. KAWAII!!!!
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The last stop of the day was on the other side of the city and we were in a race against the sun. Making a vital mistake and not reading the guidebook properly we decided to walk instead of train to the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine. Not a particularly pretty walk, we found ourselves out if the tourist zone, and lost. Thankfully a very kind old man pointed us in the right direction before wishing us a happy day, and we with sore feet we made it to the shrine. Which is located a few metres from the station. Good one Emma. Walking through the food stalls we gave into temptation – Hannah got some okonomiyaki and I helped myself to a pork and shallot skewer dripping in teriyaki sauce. Gone in one bite, we then had to carry our rubbish for miles. Japan is immaculate and you never see any rubbish on the floor anywhere. But they have NO bins anywhere in the streets. How do they do it!?!?
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Getting the the shrine was amazing. 228 metres of bright orange torii dedicated to Inari, glowing in the fading light around them. A really really cool shrine. One of my favs to date. And we arrived at the right time because it wasn’t too crowded later in the evening.

Getting back to the hostel we treated ourselves to some Baileys at the bar…while wearing slippers. Classy. At this point the hostel had been taken over by some 50 odd American a College students who were on a Semester at Sea program which sounds incredible. Over 100 days, 12 countries, 4 continents. I was jealous to say the least. One Baileys turned into two, which turned into four, which turned into us dashing down the block in our slippers to the closest corner store to buy more drinks, which turned into two Aussies and a whole heap of Americans roaming the streets, which turned into a karaoke bar, which turned into joining random Japanese peoples karaoke rooms, which turned into a lot of Katy Perry, One Direction and random Japanese pop music. Waking up with a whole heap of new friend requests, a pretty sore head, and a rough throat, I farewelled our new friends, and got comfy on the couch. Which is where I still find myself….six hours later. Hannah eventually made it up to join me, but has been unconscious for most of the day. Our new room mates have just arrived though so I should probably go shower and make myself approachable.

I’m pretty hungover, but pretty goddamn happy right now. How about you?

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