Listing off London

You will never believe the following occurred in just over twenty-four hours. But it did. Because if you’re going to do it, do it right. And do it all.

Day one / we rose and walked all of three meters to The Watch House, a cafe-come-bar that I’d been ogling through the windows the night before, as it was closed on the weekends. Not amazing, but warmed our fingers while it lasted. With a bit of pep in our step, we headed for the Tate Modern. We may have been up and at it early that morning, but a little research would have warned us that London doesn’t actually wake up til 10am. So save yourselves our wait and stay in bed until things open.

A visit to the Crying Room installation let out some of the tears that I’m sure wanted to at the reunion a few nights prior, and the new viewing deck at the top dropped jaws all round. Some eyebrow-raising art and some powerful pieces. Whether you’re a lover or not, the building is impressive enough to warrant a visit. And don’t get me started on the gift shop. Sorry for the wait, boys.

A wander through the Borough Markets on the way back to the tube, we ended up showing Henry something he’d never heard of (when the guide becomes the guided), and he outdid all of our lunches with a loaded pie that I can still taste on the tip of my tongue. Plus I recognised chips with beef dripping from dad’s stories.

Next stop the National History Museum, which he’d hyped up quite a lot. While the dinosaur bones that originally hung in the main hall appeared to have wandered off, they had replaced them with a whopping blue whale that swam through the monumental pillars of the museum. Not sure which part to take a photo of first, I could see how you could get lost in this place for days. And considering entry was free, why not? But if museums aren’t your thing, they also had an ice rink out the front where we watched two girls nail the perfect ‘gram, so there is that too.

It was Harrod’s for a juice (that’s all we could afford), and then off to find  the fairy lights I’d been dreaming of since I was a little girl. Yes, we walked it, and I’ll leave you and Google Maps to work out the distance. Coincidentally, or not, at both Regent and Carnaby Street there were also football shops. I know right! Ehh, everyone’s happy.

A beer at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese where it took longer to find a seat in one of the nooks and crannies of the pub than it did to drink it, and a lot of talk about ordering the three-week old scotch egg sitting at the back of the fridge, but luckily no action taken there. And like the ending to a fairytale, we feasted like kings on beers and burgers at the joint across the road from our apartment until I was hot enough that I was sitting at the bar in my thermals.

Day two – yes, that was all one day / we headed to Angel as I’d been told it would transport me to the ‘101 Dalmatians’ world that my seven year old self would have probably cried over. Row upon row of neat white terraces, I looked in eat window for a puppies face to pop out as we walked to Brother Marcus for breakfast. While we didn’t spot a puppy in the window, he did spot a fancy coffee machine so we stopped for another one, and with a neat thumbs up to the barista we were on our way again.

Covent Garden ticked another off Henry’s London List, and with another hundred photos taken of Christmas decorations, we were on the move again as we had somewhere to be at 3pm. Sketch. Yes, I’m still excited about it. The weirdest and most fabulous afternoon tea I’ve ever had, we were wined and dined by a waiter in a boilersuit, a caviar man in a panama hat, and waitresses that look like the stewardess of a flight to Mars. Pink walls, velvet chairs and toilets that looked like the eggs of the dinosaur who has gone walkabout from the National History Museum, it was an experience that will be relived through stories for a long time. And with a cake wishing ‘Sydney’ a happy birthday at the end, it’s endless thanks to Jane and Peter.

Grabbing Henry again, we headed to Ye Olde Mitre for one last beer in a place where Queen Elizabeth is rumored to have danced around a cherry tree. With sore feet and heads full of fresh memories, we hugged and separated once again, this time knowing only for a month. Not giving ourselves time to think, we raced off to a late night showing of The Book of Mormon and laughed until we collapsed back in bed.

So to London, the city where there always seems to be masses of people walking somewhere on the street, where there are no bins anywhere, and the subway conductors sing Christmas carols to the commuters on the platform as they remind you to watch the gap, thanks for helping me get my steps up this week. I’ll be seeing you again soon. No doubt. Definitely.

E x

Diving into the Maldives

The lap around the island took us a whole two minutes to walk. It was beautiful from every angle. Water the colour of blue jelly and a sprinkling of icing sugar sand. Only accessible by seaplane, fish swam just inches from the beach and there was the most soothing silence all around.

The day was shaped, not by time, but by the strength of the sun, the service of food, and the occasional shower that did nothing but delay the drying of your bikini by a minute or two.

Days started just as they ended; swimming off the back deck among fields of coral and fish. Floating in the saltiest sea water required little effort, and thus was enjoyed until the salt dried on the tips of our noses. The sun hitting the soft teal-blue ripples caused diamond-like sparkles. You could call it something like Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The view above the water, though, is almost rivaled by the view beneath. Sinking to fifteen metres, him a little more, we danced with turtles and drifted by glittering fish.

If you ever find yourself in the sinking state, we’d recommend drifting to Drift.

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Kandy is good for you

Let me see, where did I leave this?

We’ve gone a few days with little to no WiFi, and equally little to no downtime to write blogs. It’s nice in a way to disconnect, but after a while makes reconnecting a little exhausting. So let me recap.

On the sixth day, we headed to Kandy, the cultural cooking pot of the country. On the way we stopped off at the Dambulla Cave Temple, following yet another steep winding stairway lined by monkeys to up above the clouds. In five separate caves, a series of sculptures sat forged into the stone, dressed in colourful paint and dust from the two thousand years since their creation. With our wrists wrapped in yet another prayer band from the temple, we stood before the forty-seven foot Buddha statue in absolute awe.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetFor lunch we stopped off at Ranweli Spice Garden where we found all of our favourite spices – vanilla, ginger, turmeric, pineapples, cocoa, lemongrass, sandalwood, and more – hanging from vines or growing in bushes in a neat little demonstration garden. We were then taken through how each is turned into oils for ayurvedic practice…while getting a neck massage. Oh, and lunch was thrown in too. So cool.

Arriving in Kandy that afternoon definitely picked up the pace. Bustling dusty streets, people hanging out of buses, and the constant tune of beeping tuk-tuks playing on repeat. Quickly, we were ushered through the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha by a short, beetle-leaf chewing guide. With another group to see shortly after us, he swiftly picked our jaws up off the ground in front of the elaborately designed temple, and directed us out.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetFor dinner that night we found our first opportunity to venture out alone, into the wilderness that is Kandy, for dinner. After perusing TripAdvisor, to ensure our first handpicked meal was a winner, we settled on the Muslim Hotel. Chicken and cheese paratha fry and chicken kottu (like a stir fry but using cut up roti) to share. Oh, and with a side of mango lassi. All for a whopping $11. A+ from us.

The next morning we took a mosey around the Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya, world class throughout Asia, where some of my highlights included the four puppies I found running through the bamboo garden, who I named and sat for a good half an hour thinking about how I could smuggle home; the lawn collection, yes it is exactly what it sounds like; the cactus garden, obviously; and the seventeen couples we saw having their wedding pictures taken, as it was an auspicious day in Sri Lankan culture.

On we went to a gem museum where we saw the incredible traditional process of gem mining, that hasn’t changed since it was first established. I ogled over a Sri Lankan blue sapphire ring resembling Kate Middleton’s, while he claimed to have misplaced his wallet conveniently. While in the frame of mind for learning, we headed to a batik studio and saw a group of ladies, laden in wax-coated aprons, drawing and dying strips of cotton cloth into wicked works of art.

With a rumble in our tummies again, we went rogue and ventured off on our own for lunch. We settled up in the hillside at a place called Slightly Chilled. Sounded like a pretty good sales pitch to us. Run by an British ex-pat, who had two of the most well-fed dogs we’ve seen in Sri Lanka so far, we headed there in hopes of something that didn’t resemble rice and curry. We ended up sharing noodles, clay-pot braised eggplant and a sizzling beef and vegetable plate.

That night we were entertained by a traditional Kandian dance performance, followed by some spiritual fire walking. The dance was a laugh and a half, and the fire walking sent us running for air-con. Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetWe dined that night at The Empire Cafe, where we’d enjoyed smoothies earlier that day. Him, a chai and jaggery smoothie and me, a passionfruit and kitul juice; we’d both decided to pick a flavour where we didn’t recognise one ingredient. Both turned out to be different forms of sugar syrup. For dinner we feasted under the colonial arches of the flamboyant pink restaurant on a mezze plate to start and swordfish served with a mango salad to finish. Just what the doctor ordered.

Having spent most of the trip so far in the safety of our tour van, we shook things up a bit the next day with a train trip from Peradeniya Station to Nawalapitya. R25 for a ticket (that’s a whole whooping twenty-five cents) for a one hour train ride, we piled on the loaded carriage, and made friends with the strangers we were sardined against. He even managed to be invited to hang his legs out the door of the train for some fresh air just as the hawker came by spruiking his pungent dried fish delicacies for the third time. Lucky.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetAfter reuniting with our driver at the station (I’m sure he was never so glad to see us), we headed to the Kalani River, which flows from Adam’s Peak to Colomobo, for some white water rafting. The perfect GoPro fodder, we bumped and thumped our way through some pretty decent rapids until we reached relaxed water…where our guide then flipped the boat. All of a sudden I was much happier about the lack of crocodiles I’d managed to spot on the banks of the river.

Waking at 1am the next morning in the sleepy town of Delhousie, we chased the sun up Adam’s Peak, but that’s a story for the next blog.

E x

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Stepping into Sri Lanka

It hit us like a tuk-tuk driving 100km per hour around a blind corner as we stepped through the doors of Colombo Airport. That smell. The one that took him straight back to the dusty streets of Kathmandu, and me to the back roads of Bangkok. Don’t get me wrong, though; we both love that smell. It was like a hit of adrenaline. We’re back.

With jetlag on our side, we woke early and headed to the beach outside our room at Rani Beach Resort, which had been veiled in darkness when we arrived the night before. Greeted with a game of beach cricket, wooden catamarans covered in colourful sails, and some “very good salesmen” trawling the beach, we already felt accomplished. And it wasn’t even 9am.

Buffet breakfast. Tick. First shower of the day. Tick. Ready for more action. Tick.

After meeting the guide for our World Expeditions tour that would start that afternoon, we headed off to the main fish markets via a tuk-tuk that was nicely haggled down in price by him. Thank god he’s here, I’m hopeless at that stuff.

We could smell it before we arrived. A stark contrast to the fish markets we’d visited in Tokyo; while store owners lined the road, spruiking their offerings, the beach was covered in meters of hessian topped with neatly arranged fish. I wondered how they stopped the birds from eating it until I saw a bird swoop down and score a small fish. The answer to my question: they don’t.

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After a friendly toothless man excitedly told me that I could watch the markets from my television, thanks to a visit from Rick Stein a few years back, we wandered through the fruit and vegetable markets. The only way to describe it was colourful, which coincidentally happens to be a pretty good summation of Sri Lanka overall so far.

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After meeting up with our group, which turned out to be just one other couple who’d traveled all the way from…Sydney, Australia, we headed to the Dutch Canal, spanning a whopping 240km for a boat ride with a bit of wildlife spotting. Monitor lizards, kingfishers, herons, owls and the occasional bit of rubbish. It was as if our guide had arranged a meeting place with each bird, as he was able to spot things our amateur eyes simply couldn’t.

The banks of the canal were littered with tin shacks sheltering small smiling children, next to large concrete complexes containing the very apparent disproportion of wealth. Breaking into more open water, we headed across the lagoon to the Muthurajawela Nature Reserve, a tropical wetland known to home crocodiles, sea eagles, monkeys, and all manner of birds. While we unfortunately (or fortunately?) didn’t see any crocodiles, we did manage to be boarded by some pirates who liked the look of our afternoon tea.

On the ride home across the lagoon, the wind whipping through my hair, I watched on as birds darted in and out of the sunset as if tiptoeing on time.

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Jumping back in the car the next morning, we headed off to the rural mountain town of Salgala, to the monastic complex housing nineteen Buddhist monks. Leaving the comfort of touristed Negombo, we finally got a glimpse of the real Sri Lanka, in all it’s nitty-gritty-ness. Streets littered with dogs, the brightest bunches of bananas hanging from the awnings of crumbling straw huts, colourful buses charging down thin streets, and fields of rice bordered by the tallest coconut trees. As the roads got bumpier, the excitement only grew.

Once we made it to the monastery, an eighty-eight year old gentleman, sari-wrapped and thong clad, with only a few teeth and not a word of English, led us around the complex and up through the forest. He explained to our guide, who translated, that there were eighteen caves in the forest that the monks reside in, but that they were originally built for the King when he fled to the mountains to avoid Indian invasions in the second century. The monks now use the caves for meditation, of which they perform from 1pm each day until the following sunrise. We walked barefoot and admired temples hidden in stone and stupas entangled in vines, but not so much as our utter admiration for the elderly gentleman who led us, using nothing but the end of an old broom as a walking stick to take him all the way up to the lookout at the top, which swept across from Colombo Harbour all the way out to Adam’s Peak and beyond. I was a sweaty mess by the top but I swear I still saw a spring in his step up there. Age is just a number, folks.

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That afternoon we headed to our hotel for the night: Elephant Bay Hotel in Pinnawala. Okay, picture this. With a grand colonial style entrance, we stepped over the sleeping guard dog and through the doors. The view directly across the lobby opened onto a magnificent river, dotted with rocks in a way that the water sparkled as it trickled over its obstacles. If you take a look over the balcony you notice a bright blue infinity pool, overlooking the gushing river. Now look a bit closer and you notice one, no two, no make that a herd of elephants bathing in the river.

The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was just across the road, and a few times a day they walk the elephants across the road, down the small side streets, and into the river for a release from the heat. They eat 300kg of foliage a day, and need 250 litres of water. Needless to say, we watched them all night: from our balcony, our bed, the pool and over the dinner table. That was until we met Malou, at the end of her four-month trip traveling solo from Holland, who showed an interest in our card game. As they say, the rest was history. Remember to come visit, Malou!

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I thought I’d wait a few more days before I wrote my first blog, considering I’m here for two weeks, but there has been too much excitement to write about.

I promise the next one will be shorter.

E x

 

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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Jetting off to Japan (again)

With Sydney cracking 47 degrees and more heatwaves looming, I made the impulsive decision (albeit six months prior) to jet off to Japan, and with it the depths of winter. Although I’ve been to Japan before, and am going to many of the same places, I’m excited to use this trip as a way of making or breaking my theory that it’s the people you’re with that make the trip, not necessarily where it is in the world that you are. This time the team is almost ten people strong, and by the time I arrived I was already a week behind. And you know what they say about playing catch-ups…

It’s an odd feeling to feel familiar in an foreign environment, but that’s exactly how I felt when I stepped out of the Shibuya Train Station in Tokyo and back into his arms again. We’ve all seen pictures of the famous Scramble Crossing and the bright lights of Tokyo, but it was more than that – I remembered the smell of the 7-Eleven’s on every corner, the rush of people on the streets, the vending machine restaurants, the tiny square cars, the lack of bins anywhere, and how much I absolutely loved this city.

First day back and I felt like I was in Melbourne more than in Tokyo. Lucky enough to have our own personal barista on hand, we could be sure that the city had been scoured and all the best coffee spots noted. Starting the day at About Life Coffee Brewers is not a bad way. So, you’re welcome.

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Once the crew was assembled, and matching outfits were planned for the following day as is apparently the fashion in Tokyo, we headed off for our first and arguably most important adventure. Not only does it sound like a level in Candy Crush, but Sunshine City is also the home to the Pokémon Mega Center. Within twenty minutes Romy had spent most of her remaining budget on Pokémon merch, he had bought more cards than he could hold, and Ed, Dan, John and Brandon were battling on the Pokémon arcade machines outside – both against each other and with the machine, I think.

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A quick refuel at our first lucky-dip restaurant – lucky-dip in that the menu had absolutely no English, and neither did the staff. But nonetheless always a fun experience, and there was even enough room for all of us which is about as rare as John’s shining legendary Pokémon card.

An afternoon challenge against time-restraints and the Japanese rail system, we made it to Studio Ghibli, which was like being transported into another world. The building itself reminded me of Gaudí, and seeing the work that goes into making the films, plus Romy’s intense obsession made me eager for some Netflix ‘n’ Ghibli when I get home. And to top it all off, we went to the coolest sushi train in the world: sushi served by robots. Need I say more?

We woke up the next morning to Roman’s birthday, *insert something about Taylor Swift and being 22*, and headed off to Yoyogi Park where we found out that most of Japan was celebrating too (for Japanese Federation Day or Roman’s birthday, you pick). Escaping the crowds we ducked into the Meiji Shrine, where he tried his hand at picking up a new bird and the rest of us swapped catching Pokémon for catching coy in the massive pond that surrounded the gardens.

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Opting out of the Hedgehog cafe, him and I opted in for the Ramen House with the line out the door and down the street, and were not left disappointed. Feeling full enough that I’d never need to eat again, walking the length of Takeshita Street in Harajuku proved otherwise. Filled with shops of everything you never knew you needed (or wanted) and more, it wasn’t long before my tummy was groaning more than Ed does about me stealing his personal time with him, but boy oh boy did we have something incredible planned for dinner. To celebrate the man of the moment, we headed to Han no Daidokoro Dogenzaka, a Japanese-BBQ where we were served wagyu beef in every way possible and even got to cook it ourselves, not that it really needed cooking. My favourite was the wagyu beef sashimi sushi. Yeah, you heard me right. After that is was a Vape and some VB’s for the birthday boy; the recipe for the very best night.

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And that was just two days. I have two more days to catch you up on but don’t have the time to write about them now. What did I tell you about playing catch-ups…it’s a dangerous game.

E x

P.s. All photos are taken by him because I’m too busy GoPro-ing

Hey from Railay Bay

Railay, Railei, Raylay, Rayliy – the beach with a million different spellings, and even more cases of severe sunburn. But not me, I’ve been living it up with massages under the trees, a massive sunhat and so much aloe vera from Santa. It’s my little slice of paradise. Whoever said you can’t have the cake and eat it too clearly hasn’t been here.*

But it hasn’t just been a process of relocating from the sand to the water and then back again. We’ve been quite adventurous to say how relaxed we all are. After spending too much time floating on top of it, we decided to check out what it was like under the water, so headed to the Phi Phi Islands to scuba dive. Being my first time I must admit I was a little nervous. But with a severe case of #FOMO and a promise that I would find Nemo, how could I say no. Not only did I get to live the plot of both Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, but also saw the shorts for the third part of the franchise, Finding Crush – the story of a turtle that falls out of the EAC and ends up in Phi Phi. Call me for info, Disney.

Surviving a gnarly storm on the ride home, we were greeted by the most incredible sunset I have ever laid eyes on that night. Such is the way in paradise.

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Next on the to-do list was venturing to a cave we had spotted on the side of one of the encroaching cliffs of the bay, in which we had decided there was a lagoon. “An easy walk” we reminded ourselves as we trekked through bushes and vines and up steep rocky tracks. At points I felt like we were trekking Everest, but I was quickly put straight. Dripping with sweat out of places I never knew sweat could come, and informed by climbers that we were definitely lost, we descended the cliff to the beckoning beach below. No lagoon but plenty of opportunities to practice our power poses, so all was not lost.

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Dolled up with a fresh $8 manicure that resembled a time when I used to paint my nails with whiteout in primary school, we headed to somewhere nice on the other side of Railay – a bamboo bar overlooking, and at some points overhanging the water. Intoxicated by reggae music, we ate, drank and reached a new level of relaxation as the afternoon disappeared beneath us.

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Keen to catch another sunset, we jumped on some kayaks and explored the cliffs from another angle. No cave was left undiscovered, no matter how small it may have looked from the outside…and unsurprisingly turned out to be on the inside. Pulling up on shore for a quickie to check out the Penis Caves, and watching some real-life David Attenborough shit as a water lizard caught and devoured a crab, it was fair to say we’d reached our peak enlightenment for one day.

A chef-cooked meal for us at home, plus some fresh juices from down the beach that we’d spiked with tequila. Does life get any better?

E x

 

*pre-quantum physics.**

**Don’t worry if you don’t understand – this is an in-joke.

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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.