Venturing to Kangaroo Valley

Growing up sometimes means awful things like annual leave. But saying no to a summer in Europe doesn’t mean you’re sentenced to home detention. And if you’re clever enough to pick a keeper like I did, a surprise weekend away might even be on the cards.

The clue: eggs and meringue.

The answer: unyoked.

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In words I wish I’d written myself, it was boring in the most exquisite of ways. Located in the unused paddock of a farm in the Kangaroo Valley, the solar-powered, out-of-signal cabin is the perfect excuse to switch your emails to out-of-office. There’s nothing to do and it’s perfect. Hours spent staring at the fire that will later cook your dinner, flicking pages of your book like the light through the trees around you.

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It had everything you needed and not a thing more. Luxurious linen, stunning scenery, torches to spot the wombats at night, and windows to reach the stars. You and me.

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Waking up to a frost that sparkled in the morning light and stumbling my way through a yoga flow as the steam rose from the sloping valley around us. Utter nothingness.

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A holiday where photos speak a thousand words, but those words could never quite capture it.

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Thank you for the most magical escape.

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E x

 

Melbourne Musts

“Do you know anywhere good to eat in Melbourne?”

This message has been popping up in my inbox more and more frequently over the last few years. Maybe it has something to do with millions of pictures of meals that consume my mobile memory, or the somewhat mad ramblings of my love-affair with the not so distant city, but I thought it about time that I officially share my list of musts for Melbourne.

Up until this point, with everyone I have shared the list I have done so with one condition attached: if you go anywhere new, add it to the list.

The same remains for you, whoever you may be. If you have a favourite place to dine or sip, shop or see, please share it with me.

To caffeinate //

Everyone knows Melbourne is no place for mochas, hazelnut lattes or things adorned with cream. It’s about coffee.

So you’ve got Dukes Coffee Roasters, Axil Flinders Lane, Brother Buba Budan, Market Lane and Patricia’s to start with. You get the idea? There are heaps.

Industry Beans is an institution, and also serves food that looks as good as it tastes. Kettle Black, Higher Ground, Top Paddock are all owned by the same people and trust me, those people know what they are doing. I’ve ordered the coconut-set chia from Kettle Black the last four times I’ve been, which is unusual for someone with the level of #FOMO I have, but it’s the only chia I’ve ever liked. It’s that good.

St Ali is an awesome space that makes you want to go home and expose the beams in your ceiling and strip the paint off your walls. It also has perfected the ‘green bowl’. And Proud Mary’s will always be special to me because of that time I was craving hot cakes and they happened to have a hot cake special on that day.

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To eat //

You can’t talk about dinner in Melbourne without dropping Chin Chin. I’ve never actually been though. It was too obvious for me. Instead I found Rice Paper Scissors, an Asian-tapas restaurant with no reservations and no regrets.

Still not sure what I did in a past-life to deserve it, but I was treated to a meal at Lûmé on one trip to Melbourne. A multi-sensory dining experience where the food looks more like artworks. Google ‘Pearl on the Ocean Floor’. Oh my god, I know right. How amazing is it.

If you’re looking for something quick and easy, you can’t go past Pellegrini’s. We did a quick google search before we went last time, which prepared us for the service, or lack there of. Unsure of whether we were meant to sit down or be seated, an understanding regular informed us it’s different every time, depending on the mood of the waiters. Lots of yelling, lots of attitude, no menus, and goddamn delicious pasta. Ask for the watermelon frappé when you go.

Oh and then there is Belleville, Gingerboy, Seamstress, and Easey’s – the most Melbourne of all meals; loaded burgers served in a graffiti-covered tram on top of a warehouse in Collingwood. It just tastes better that way.

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To drink //

Espresso by day, espresso martini by night. A lovely waiter once told me that the best bars in Melbourne are found either underground or on rooftops. These are my favourite stairways to find.

Berlin Bar is located, you guessed it, upstairs. Knock on the door and be met with the eyes of your waiter through a peep-hole, requesting the password to enter. Once you’re in, you have the choice between East and West, and with it the choice of capitalist opulence or communist austerity.

I walked past Eau de Vie three times on my first visit. Down a nondescript laneway furnished with overflowing bins and coats of graffiti. Not until a couple emerged from an unmarked door and jazz momentarily filled the air, did I believe I was in the right place. A prohibition-themed bar with a twelve page cocktail menu, and whiskeys in the hundreds, it’s a must. Simple as that.

If the best bars are found up high, then Rooftop Bar must be a good one. A local haunt for the hipsters, it’s got amazing views, cheap drinks and an open air cinema in summer. Plus, if you don’t make it up the seven stories it takes to get there, each one on the way is home to an equally cool venue – like Cookie, with it’s 600+ heavy wine list. Yeah. Not a typo.

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This is just a tasting plate of what Melbourne has to offer the senses. A tasting plate that over the years will undoubtedly turn into a banquet. So now back to the rules, because everyone knows I’m a stickler for rules; if you have a ‘Melbourne Must’ that isn’t on my list, drop it in the comments below.

E x

Up and a(way with words)

Writing and traveling have become somewhat synonymous for me these days. I’m not sure whether I travel to travel or travel to write anymore, but what I am sure of is that whichever it is, I bloody love it. You could only imagine my excitement then, that seemingly monotonous day, when I read that from writing twenty-five words or less I’d won an all expenses paid trip for two to the destination of my choosing thanks to Lonely Planet and World Expeditions.

Cue inaudible screams and a cheek-straining smile for the next nine hours straight.

The chosen trip: a Sri Lankan Adventure with World Expeditions. Fourteen days of trekking through tea plantations, canoeing down the Kalu Ganga, visiting a Buddhist monastery, climbing mountains, staying at elephant sanctuaries and the likes. All the hard stuff, you know. Plus, considering the first two weeks are free we decided to add a few nights in a water villa in the Maldives to the end of the trip…semi-justifiable, right?

So get ready to tune in or tune out, depending on how high your FOMO-tolerance is because this one is going to be a good one.

Pass me my passport.

E x

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I’m a Traveller

To be able to write for the Traveller…yeah, that’s pretty up there on my list. So when a competition was released with the chance of winning a Gecko Tour Adventure around either Central America, Africa or South East Asia, as well as the opportunity to write for Traveller, I got writing.

Here goes nothing:

On the first day we didn’t make it. Some friendly, (and much more experienced) climbers found us lost halfway up a mountain, covered in sweat and scars. We didn’t know we were lost though. “Lagoon? No, there is no lagoon here” they told us. 

The best part of this holiday was that the water was never more than 50metres away, and when we made it down the mountain, we were quite literally dropped straight into the waves. Floating inches above the soft sand in crystal clear water, it was evident that any disappointment from not finding our lagoon that day had simply washed away. How could you be upset in Paradise?

Railay Beach, an island accessible only by long-tail boat, is located not far from the infamous Phi Phi Islands of Southern Thailand. The pristine beaches that line each side of the island are wrapped with overhanging limestone cliffs, that are often dotted with experienced climbers. You can kayak through caves, hike through forests, and borrow long-tail boats to go island hopping for the day. There is also, as we were informed by a local, a beautiful lagoon known as The Princess Lagoon, hidden somewhere on the island. 

With ten days there we were determined to find it, and it wasn’t until our second last day that we happened to stumble upon a track. At least I think it was a track. Around a bend, down a path, take a left and then a right, we arrived at the side of a mountain. There was a small clearing in the trees and the ground was slightly worn. After pausing to look at it for a few seconds we started to realise that the exposed roots lined up the bank resembled somewhat of a staircase. Not quite structurally sound, the fraying ropes that dangled down from the occasional root, however, made us slightly more convinced that this was indeed the way to our lagoon. 

Slow and steady we made it up the bank, and if the humidity wasn’t enough, the concentration it took made it impossible not to break a sweat from every inch of your body. Did you know it was possible to sweat from your elbows? This was the furthest we’d been from the water this entire holiday, and we could feel it. 

Reaching the top we were faced with a choice – left or right. We took left and were taken to a lookout. Not the sort of lookout you’d find at home, though. This lookout had no railing, no fence, no ‘Unstable Cliff Edge” or “Risk of Falling” warning signs. This lookout was as if someone had simply taken a machete to a tree, revealing a coast-to-coast 180° view out across Railay Beach. I reiterate, Paradise. 

Pulling ourselves away, the sweat dripping down our bodies reminded us of our lagoon. Walking back passed our previous climb, the thought flicked through my head of how we would get down, but any concern was completely stifled by what we found next. Getting to the lagoon required climbing down three almost vertical cliff faces, using nothing but a fraying rope to lower ourselves down against the slippery clay. From Paradise I’d found myself in the middle of an assault course through the jungle. 

By the time we reached the bottom we were covered in streaks of mud that not even our sweat could budge. The tread of my shoes was so caked in clay that I all but slid to the edge of the lagoon. What we found, however, was stunning. A large body of water, completely enclosed by overarching limestone cliffs, entangled with shrubs and vines that trickled down into the lagoon. The subdued light that flowed through them danced on the top of the sparkling water. The mud underfoot was no deterrent and rather only acted as an incentive to remain there floating for hours. 

If you go to Railay Beach, find the lagoon.

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To be a World Nomad

Recently I took a leap of faith and did something I don’t normally like to do – put my writing up for judgement. I’ve applied for a Travel Writing Scholarship through World Nomads with the chance of winning an all-expenses paid trip around the Balkans while being mentored by Tim Neville, a professional travel writer and contributor to the New York Times. I know right, WOAH.

Even if I don’t get it, (there were pages and pages of entries), you have to be in it to win it! Plus, it was a real learning experience – learning to write for someone else, with restrictions, and under pressure. Still not sure if I completely like what I produced (I am my own worst critic), but I thought I’d share it anyway…along with a few low-quality photos I managed to scramble together from the experience.

Not being a massive hiker – too many involuntary hikes along abandoned railways in Yorkshire when I was a child – I’ll admit I flinched when my friends suggested a multi-day trek to a hill tribe in upper-Thailand. Not that you would have noticed, in fact I was probably the first to agree to it. I’m not good at missing out on things.

We rose before the sun, shoved some clothes in our backpacks and were hustled into the tray of a ute. We created makeshift seats out of petrol cans and attempted to steal a few extra moments of rest as we were bumped and tossed around on our twenty-minute trip up the mountain.

Reaching out first peak, we looked out across a blanket of clouds, the mountaintops only just in view, and a slight glimmer of the sun peaking over the horizon. The trees in the foreground made for the perfect silhouettes, and distracted us for long enough that we didn’t notice the clouds rolling out of the breathtaking valley below. It took the rising sun flickering in our eyes to remind us of where we were.

And that was just the start. We spent the next two days trudging through rice paddies, picking fresh passionfruit from trees that lined the riverbeds, using machetes to hack through dense forest, and all to find ourselves in a place that could only be described as the middle of nowhere.

No reception, no rescue, it was just us and our bamboo-whittling guide.

Debilitated by a bout of food poisoning, it felt like I had the biggest mountain to climb, until, all of a sudden, I did. But our guide promised us our home for the night was on the other side. Little did he tell us that our home was the stuff of fairytales. Atop a hill, in a clearing of dense shrubs, lit by the brilliant orange sunset, emerged a rural village of the Lahu people – a remote and barely-touched hill tribe originally from Tibet and China.

Reaching the village we stepped into another world. We washed in the stream, and ate chicken curry cooked over the fire. It was the first food I’d eaten in days and it reminded me of home though I was as far from it as I’d ever been. We couldn’t speak a word to each other but the children were eager to play with us, and while the buffalo were highly susceptible to letting out less than pleasant gases, I doubt I would have caught a wink of sleep in my raised bamboo hut had they not been so cleverly herded underneath as ‘natural insulation’.

Watching the sun set that night; surrounded by my Lahu family can only be described as a place I’ll never forget.

Off to Osaka

It’s interesting how this trip has ended where my last trip to Japan began – Osaka, Tokyo’s odd little brother. Slightly grungier, slightly sleazier, love hotels dotted on every street corner and the first sighting of any litter scattered in the streets. I can’t remember what I found quite so magical about this city last time. Perhaps it was just that it was my first taste of the country? The first time is always special. We struggled to fill our three days here with activities that rivaled those of the previous cities. If anyone has any idea of what I missed out on, please fill me in. Or maybe don’t. #FOMO

We arrived in the middle of day, a short trip from Kyoto, and spent the afternoon walking the streets of Dotonburi, the district I remembered most clearly from my last trip as being the very essence of what you expect, and want, from Japan. Bright lights, bustling streets, loud noises. We couldn’t wait to come back at night.

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After extensive research the next morning, we made our way to the Osaka Castle, which looked pretty cool compared to what else was on offer. Tall, white and clear, the Castle shone against the beautiful blue sky we were greeted with. The detail used in the roofs of Japanese buildings continues to astonish me. And he seems to always love capturing beautiful photos of it too – every time I look over and see him leaning all the way back with his camera pointing straight up in the sky I know we’re all in for a treat. We went into the Castle Museum and to the viewpoint at the top, but to be completely honest it wasn’t really worth it. And yes I know how bad that sounds, but we’ve been spoiled.

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With afternoon plans to rent bikes and ride around Tennoji Park, the fact that it was the end of a full on trip hit us and instead all the energy we could muster was put towards an afternoon nap. A well deserved one though. Having tried puffer fish (or fugu) for lunch, a local delicacy that if not prepared perfectly becomes lethal, I was convinced that that nap was going to be my last and just let the ‘toxins’ take over.

Overjoyed to have woken up at the other end of it, we all celebrated by taking ourselves to Mizuno, a Michelin starred okonomiyaki restaurant. Huddled around our hotplate, we watched on as our chefs prepared the top three voted okonomiyaki that we had coincidentally ordered. No cameras allowed, but I assure you it was worth the wait.

Fried chicken and giant soft serves for dessert before an early night in, as we were headed for Hiroshima the next day.

A massive change of pace from the weird and wackiness of Japan, my second trip to Hiroshima still felt chilling. And that’s not just because it was the first time we’d been caught in the rain on this trip. Walking out of the station, it all came flowing back to me. Even the city bus we’d taken to get to the main historical sites came back to me. I don’t know whether studying Hiroshima quite extensively at school helped or not, in that I had some idea of what to expect, but I don’t really think anything can prepare you to see and feel what you do when you walk through the Hiroshima Peace Museum. Not even seeing and feeling it before.

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To lighten the mood, we made a hop skip and a jump over to the island of Miyajima. Last time I’d only stumbled upon this gem last minute, and so was very limited with my time to explore. Not this time. This time we had time to slurp up some lunch, buy more souvenirs, throw coins at the world’s largest rice spoon, pat the cutest Shiba, watch Miyajima’s famous maple biscuits be made and try some, pat some deer, pat some more deer, and of course visit Itsukushima Shrine – Miyajima’s floating torii. When I was here last, the tide was out and so it wasn’t really floating, but this time the water was lapping up at its base and it was clothed in a fine mist. It felt like exploring a new place.

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As our last night in Japan, we knew we had to take it out with a bang. While the party started in our apartment, it went next level with a run through Dotonburi to find an awesome looking ramen shop that was always busy, day and night. I wish I could tell you the name, but I was in no state to remember.

Luckily, considering our condition, we didn’t have to try to order with a person that night, and instead Japan had the answer with their vending machine ordering system. All we had to do was either press the ‘Noodles in Soup’ button, or the ‘Noodles in Soup with extra pork” button. Simple enough, right? I was pretty happy, Michelle was playing catch ups, and Ed couldn’t stop staring at the chef. All was well.

We bought soft serve for dessert, and Romy bought some fried chicken for a stray cat on the street, who promptly ran away before she could feed it. Yes, it was one of those nights. A quick stop off in a photo booth where we produced some truly terrifying images, before a 7Eleven fridge-to-fridge on our way to find a bar. This is where things got interesting. We’d seen a bar close to home that morning that was offering ¥200 drinks, but when we turned up turnt that night, not surprising at all by this point in the trip, we didn’t all fit in the bar. Wait just there, our host told us, as he went back inside to grab his flip phone and a suspicious unmarked bottle of coke. We then proceeded to follow him along the street to another bar that had already rejected us that night, so it was no surprise when they did so again. Never you mind, however, with a quick call on his flip phone, we were off again, this time down the street, over the river, around a corner, across some lights, up an escalator that wasn’t on, down a dark corridor and through a tiny door. With pages and pages of weird and wacky cocktails, all costing ¥200 each, we decided to order for each other. I got Dan ‘Old Pal’ because we were celebrating our one year Facebook friend anniversary that day, Brandon and Michelle both got Romy an ‘Angry Cat’ because…well, she loves cats. He got me ‘The One’ because he is adorable, and anyone who got Ed a drink got him one with milk because DEdward.

All in all, it was an awesome trip, and very different to my last time in Japan. But that’s good, that’s what I wanted. I learned a lot, I saw a lot, I ate a lot, I laughed, I cried, I shivered and I sweat. It was a good holiday, and not even having our flight cancelled a few hours before we were due to leave, having us wait around at the airport for hours hoping to get on the last flight of that night, running through the airport like a scene from Love Actually, and somehow magically scoring two seats next to each other with an extra seat to curl up on. That just doesn’t happen on normal holidays.

Bye for now, and thanks Japan fam.

E x

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Getting Kultured in Kyoto

They may be spelt using the same letters, but Tokyo and Kyoto are very different places. From the second we stepped out of the station, we noticed the change in pace. More space, less people. This was looking good.

After a long day of traveling, and having had our first chance to flash our flashy new JR Rail Passes and ride the Shinkansen, we arrived at the food capital of Japan, ready to get ‘kultured’ (trademarked by Dan). Ever the man with the plan, he had already researched what Kyoto was good for, and off we headed to find burnt miso ramen – a specialty in Kyoto. With a thick caramelized teriyaki taste, it was one of the best meals I’ve had this trip. And that’s saying something because I’ve had a few best meals. But just ask Romy, she thought it was so good she decided to pour it all down her front just to make sure she smelt like burnt miso ramen for the rest of the trip. #dedicated

We opted for an early night that night as our next day was going to be as full as our stomachs were as we stumbled home.

First up, we hit the subway and headed out to Aryashiyama to the Bamboo Forest. Hundreds of meters of thick bamboo groves towering over the path, it was the perfect place to take your photo, or someone else’s if you’re Brandon. I can’t blame tourists coming up to us and asking up to take their photo though. Out of the seven of us, five of us are walking around with enormous SLR cameras around our necks.

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After a singalong led by DJ Michelle to the likes of Chris Brown, Kendrick Lamar and some random Japanese boy band while walking the backstreets of Aryashiyama, we made our way out to the temple of the Golden Pavilion. When it comes to popular tourist destinations like this one, we’ve come to really start to appreciate our height difference. Apart from selfie-sticks, there isn’t much that interrupts our view of the landmarks. And I’ve never considered myself tall before.

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Chasing the sun, we headed off to the Fushimi Inari-taisha, one of my favourite shrines from the last trip. Considering my favourite colour is orange, it shouldn’t really be a surprise. The shrine is made up of long rows of orange torii, and running through it is something of a spectacle. Even better is watching the sun set over it. And playing with a little kitten we found running around.

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But with such a successful day, and with so much achieved, we couldn’t possibly let it end there. Sponsored by 7 Eleven, our night ended with Suntory Highballs, Smirnoff Ice, cup noodles, nuts recommended by a friendly stranger, and a nightclub called Butterfly.With odds lost, the boys faces were caked in makeup – a sight I can’t wait to forget. But the worst thing we lost that night was Ed (or more appropriately DEdward), who hit the road while the rest of us hit the dance floor, and ended up walking an hour and a half in the wrong direction. Good one, DEdward.

A late start for some, and an even later start for others, we woke the next morning and headed off to the Nishiki Markets. Anything and everything pickled and the smell of fresh fish would have been welcomed, had we not all be recovering from our previous night. A short stroll over to Gion, where Ed realised he had ended up the night before, we really found the kulture in Kyoto. Beautifully preserved, the streets got smaller, the gardens became more zen, the houses quaint and traditional. Geisha’s packed the streets and shrines hid in every corner. It was so much fun to just walk around, popping into little stores and just waiting to see what we’d run into.

We did have a mission though, well at least I did. I’d heard that you could do pottery classes in Gion, and was determined to find one. Thankfully the boys were very patient and persevered until we did. After a quick lesson, we considered ourselves masters and hit the clay. He made a beautiful plate, Ed a sake bottle, and I just let the clay do what it wanted. I ended up with a bowl/vase/cup thing that I really liked. The best part about it is that we all got to choose a colour which they will paint for us, fire, and then send home for us. I can’t wait for that little surprise to arrive in the mail when I’m back in the slug of reality.

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Even better though, we accomplished another mission when Ed darted into a little side store after spotting a beautiful damascus knife, similar to the one that he had bought. Actually, turns out it was exactly the one that he bought. Just #bffl things.

We saved the best ’til last for our final dinner in Kyoto – flaming ramen. More of a show than simply a meal, it was nothing short of a seamless operation. Clad in aprons and led through strict instructions like “don’t run away, your seats are soiled in oil”, we had our cameras collected and connected to a series of purposely positioned selfie-sticks behind the bar. Leaning back, our chef walked along the bar pouring flames into our ramen like some kind of fire chief. It was mad. And very delicious. Within half an hour we had been wowed and then chowed, and were back on the road again.

Controversial I know, but I think Kyoto has been my favourite so far. Osaka tomorrow.

E x

 

 

A Night in Nagano

And we’ve found snow! And not just the pretty snowflake stuff that melts before it touches the ground, but the proper stuff. The kind of snow that piles up on the side of the road, that forms icicles as it falls, that dusts the trees with icing sugar, and that normally results in me falling over. The others weren’t quite as excited, having spent a week in Niseko and all, but I was so excited I couldn’t stop shaking. Maybe that had something to do with the -3 degree temperature, but who knows.

We spent one night in Nagano, in an awesome place called Worldtrek Guesthouse. It looked like a tree-house, with little hidden nooks and crannies hidden everywhere, and a wood fire burning inside. Our room was made up of little bunk-beds hidden behind walls and curtains, which was fun, and the fleeting privacy was well-welcomed after sharing what felt like one mattress between five of us for the previous four nights.

The reason we went to Nagano was to get to the snow monkeys, something that I’d really wanted to do on the last trip but not had time. And as is almost never the case, unbeknownst to us, we happened to stay there the one night of the year that Nagano celebrates a Light Festival at it’s Zenkō-ji Temple. Hundreds of handmade light boxes lined the street leading up to the temple that was lit up in an array of colours. What are the odds?

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But the real show happened the next morning when we rushed to the station to catch a bus to the Snow Monkey Park. Next was a half an hour walk through the snow-covered forest. I was busy focusing on not falling over, but couldn’t help but be taken away by the winter wonderland around me. Every surface was dusted in a thick blanket of fluffy white snow. I didn’t think it could get any prettier, until we reached the monkeys. Not quite pretty, more pretty ugly, but so darn cute. There were babies running around everywhere and we couldn’t believe how close to them you could actually get. Some were munching on snow, some were floating in their 42 degree hot pool, picking fleas from each others fur, or posing for pictures. It was almost alarming how human-like they were. I fell in love with one monkey I named George. He was sitting in the snow with his leg stretched out, and when he caught me smiling at him, he quickly tucked it in and had a look across his face like he’d been caught red-handed. Absolutely gorgeous. Or should I say Georgeous? *sigh*

I was worried it would be an overrated experience, and that we would trek all that way and just see a bunch of monkeys sitting in water from a distance, but I was absolutely wrong. It was worth every cent we spent on it and I could have stayed there for hours. It was one of the things I was so excited about doing this trip and I’m so glad I got the chance to come back and do it after my last holiday.

Soba for lunch and a snooze on the bus back.

Kyoto we’re coming for you.

E x

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Traveling through Tokyo

They say there is no rest for the wicked, so then wicked we must be. It was day three already and with a morning up our sleeves we headed out and stumbled upon the Tokyo Skytree. Actually I’m not sure if stumbled is the right word, the thing is 350m high. But with the day (and the queue) being relatively clear, we thought the likelihood of seeing Mount Fuji were pretty good, and finally odds I’d be happy to pay.

Once we reached the top, we opened up to an incredible 360 degree view of Tokyo, a beautiful blue sky, and a view of Mount Fuji as crystal clear as the water that runs off her. We smiled, we selfied, and we were satisfied.

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Next up was meeting the crew at Asakusa, which was actually my hood last time I was in Tokyo. As another blast from the past, it was fun showing everyone where I got my ninja license, where I used to eat, and exploring all the incredible Temples and Shrines that were flowing with people. We got food and fortunes at the market, and then hurried off in search of a knife for him. As a keen cook and after seeing the knife that I brought back from the last trip to Japan, he’d looked up where to go and led us directly to the most stunning damascus steel knife shop. It really is more of an art than an appliance when you see it in this form. Worth every cent. Ed wants one now too.

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Before he tried to shave his arm with his new blade to prove how sharp it was, we headed to Akihabara to be reunited with the gang again. Affectionately known as Electric City, this is the center of the bright lights and the more unconventional novelties. We found Roman and John outside the technology department store having a vape, Brandon on Level 3 professing his love for a $9000 camera lens, and Romy and Michelle on Level 6 checking out BeyBlades and every other gadget and gizmo you didn’t realise you needed.

Once presents were purchased we headed out into the cold to somewhere Akihabara is famous for – the seven story sex shop, where things really started to heat up. Most things I had no idea what they were, most things I never want to know what they were, but an enlightening experience by the city of lights nonetheless.

With a rumbling in our tummies, Roman nailed the dinner choice for the third night in a row. Or was it Brandon? I forget. We went to a Tempura Tsunahachi, and we went hard. Each of us armed with about ten different bowls, some for touching, some for putting, and some for dipping all of the salts and powders and sauces on our tempura. To wash it all down, we headed to Golden Gai – a shanty-town-esque maze of bars big enough to fit up to four people. Some of them were members only, some of them only had the tiniest window to poke your nose through from the alley, and most of them were full. We managed to find one that we all fit in and made it rain cocktails. John trusted Dan’s advice and ordered a Mint Choc-flavoured cocktail, Brandon looked modish with his Margarita, him and I both had Rosemary-infused Gin & Tonics, and Romy was salty with her Salty Bull that didn’t quite hit the spot.

Well watered and surviving the steep staircase out of the place, we headed for Karaoke. Bumping into some fellow Aussie travelers (one of which he remembered from Uni, and the third person he knows that he has bumped into this trip so far), we were recommended the best Karaoke joint, which also happened to provide incredible costumes free of charge. Dressed as a carrot, I saw everyone’s favourite Drunk Dan turn into a Nek Level Drunk Dan who we ended up losing until 7.30am the next morning, I saw Brandon and John serenade each other with screamo, I saw him in a dress, I saw Romy bust a rhyme or two dressed as a microphone, and Michelle shaking it off to Taylor Swift.

The next morning, after being woken up by Dan at 7.30am on his way home from a spontaneous trip with John to the Tsukiji Fish Markets that morning (it was 5am and they were still out, so why not?), there was no surprise that we all woke a little late that morning. Determined to not let a day go to waste, him, Ed and I got up and headed off on an adventure suggested by the Aussie we’d met the night before – to Shim-Kitazawa. Described as the ‘hipster’ part of Tokyo, it lived up to all expectation. Much quieter than Shibuya, every street corner was dotted with Op Shops and second-hand clothing stores. There were murals all over the walls, and the street lamps were playing smooth jazz. We’d been recommended a few cafes, one of which advertised ‘Melbourne-style Coffee’ and spent most of our time wandering around trying to find it. After introducing the boys to the magic that is Muji, and a quick stop off at one of the many games arcades and a game of Luigi’s Haunted House, which involved a lot of me pointing my gun at the screen and screaming, we headed back to Shibuya for an early night.

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An early rise to make the Tsukiji Fish Markets, which we were disappointed to find wouldn’t let us in until 10am, we instead roamed the outer markets and bought jumbo shrimp and freshly grilled scallops, as well as sashimi bowls for breakfast. Disappointing that we didn’t make it far into the actual market before we were stopped by security and escorted out, but understandable with all the trolleys and workers rushing around at full pace.

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This afternoon we are off to Nagano to see the Snow Monkeys and maybe a few onsen before we head off on the rest of the trip. Can’t wait to see the snow.

How’s your heatwave going, Sydney?

E x

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