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.
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.
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
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/
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. Monjuïc 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 Other 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!
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).
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
After 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.
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.
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.
We 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.
We 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.
We 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.
But undoubtedly my favourite part of Seville was Mercado Gourmet Lonja Del Barranco – an open-air gourmet food market much like the one we found in Madrid but better! We went there multiple times throughout our stay, one of the stall owners even asked us if we wanted to come to his reggae gig. The wine was #delish, the food was #amaze, and you could pick and choose a little bit of everything; when I die, this will be the heaven I go to.
I don’t know why I never thought of doing this, but I love editing movies and often film my holidays and this is what I produced from my trip to South East Asia. I visited Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
We are beginning to feel much too much like locals here in Tokyo. We were even stopped in the street today and asked for directions, of which we could provide straight away. Probably better than I could for the Sydney CBD. I think it must be time to leave soon…
After being fortunate enough to spot Mount Fuji from the top of the SkyTree on our first day in Tokyo, we decided to try our luck again and see if we could catch a glimpse of it a little closer up by taking a trip to Hakone, a small village about an hour and half trip out of a Tokyo. Rising earlier than we have generally been getting up on this trip (it has been too cold!), we managed to navigate our way to the station and get on the right Shinkansen, headed out of town. Unfortunately for us, the weather was not looking as clear as the train station signs, helping us seamlessly change lines, and as a result when we arrived at the ticket office in Hakone we noticed the live camera showing Mount Fuji was just a bunch of clouds. Determined not to make the trip a waste, however, we took the opportunity to visit an onsen (traditional Japanese public bath) – an absolute must do on a trip in Japan.
If our nerves weren’t already getting the better of us at the start, we almost accidentally walked into the men’s change room before a very sweet staff member came chasing after us. Once pointed in the right direction, and shown a list of the rules, we very awkwardly giggled our way to the baths. Once submerged in the beautifully hot pools, the awkwardness soon washed away and we were able to enjoy the experience and marvel at the steam rising from the water and ourselves as we chilled outside in nothing but our birthday suits. It felt ridiculous putting all our layers back on while we still felt boiling after the baths, and we quickly understood why onsens are still so popular in Japanese culture today. Plus whatever was in the water managed to clean all our silver jewellery and make it really shiny! Added bonus!
As we headed back into the centre of Hakone with red faces and most of our jackets and jumpers in our hands, we decided to give Mount Fuji a shot. A forty minute bus ride through the mountains later, and we arrived to a view of clouds. I was at least pleased to see snow piled up on the side of the road – a small taster of what is to come in Sapporo and a chance to practice making snowballs and snow sculptures. Bring it on Sapporo Snow Festival! After grabbing some food we reluctantly headed for the bus stop, good thing I looked up as we crossed the road, because Mount Fuji had decided to pop out behind some clouds and we quickly snapped a few pictures before it disappeared again! I left feeling much more satisfied than I think my bowl of noodles alone could have made me. Thanks Fuj!
Once arriving back at our hostel, we were informed by the staff, who know us all too well by now, that we were being upgraded to a private room as a treat, and once we dumped our bags in our new ‘penthouse suite’ we decided to hit Shibuya and Harajuku to celebrate. After getting a bit lost at first, we eventually turned the right corner to be hit by an assault of sights, smells and sounds. We’d found Shibuya. *Shibuya yeah yeah, Shibuya!* Overwhelmed and in awe, we watched the famous crossing, the busiest in the world, from the safety of a second storey Starbucks window with our hazelnut and whipped cream frappa-mappa-crappa-chinos. Hyped on a dangerous mixture of excitement and caffeine we hit the streets to explore Shibuya and all it’s craziness, and even got a chance to cross the intersection along with a few hundred others.
A quick subway stop away and we found the colourful and kawaii-ful Harajuku. Full of young Japanese hipsters and shops selling retro 90s getups and some of the wackiest accessories I’ve seen, Harajuku was definitely a fun area to walk through. Famous for its people-watching (dress ups and cosplay are very popular in this district) I’m afraid the cold weather meant we missed seeing some of the crazier outfits. Just another excuse to come back though I guess!
Back on the train, the 30 minute ride from one side of the city to the other flew by as I was busy laughing at the lady sitting next to me whose head kept bouncing around like a bobble-head as she dozed off. Little did I know that would be me the next day, although I wouldn’t be as skilled as her and walk up just before my stop. Thank god I have Hannah.
Another early morning, though not as early as the tuna auctioneers that start at 4.30am, we rose and left for the Tsukiji Fish Markets. Getting off the train it was easy to work out where the markets were – just stepping onto the busy sidewalk was like being picked up by a current and swept away like, well…like a school of fish I guess. How appropriate. Deciding to leave the outer market for later, we hit the serious part, and while a lot was already sold out, we managed to see heaps. Huge tunas being sliced and diced by huge knives or bandsaws, crabs that were still crawling, the biggest prawns I’ve ever seen, sea cucumbers, something I’m not sure what, clams for miles, fish in all shapes, sizes and colours, octopus, squid, and most importantly, some of the freshest, most delicious looking sashimi ever.
Once we couldn’t deny our sashimi craving any longer we hit the outer market where I got a BBQed scallop and Hannah tried a sweet egg roll again (still doesn’t like it, but kudos for trying) before we sat down for some serious sushi. The first for the day but definitely not the last; we ended up having it for breakfast, lunch and dinner that day.
After buying some pretty sick looking handcrafted knives from the fish market, we headed to Roppongi, a district known for it’s partying but also home to 21_21 Design Sight. Paying me back for my mistake at the Imperial Palace, Hannah hadn’t checked to make sure it was open and it wasn’t until we got there that we found out it was closed for three months to set up a new exhibition. She still managed to take some cool photos of the exterior of the building though, so make sure you check her out on Instagram for some awesome spatial designer wank no doubt. Just kidding. Or not. We’ll leave that to the pros, they know who they are. *insert creepy winky face*
After joining the masses and falling asleep on one of the overheated trains, we decided I could probably do with a coffee from our mate Sol. Plus we used the walk there as an opportunity to stock up on some chocolate for the 7-Eleven convenience stores that are on every corner. Literally.
Buzzed and ready for more activities, we headed out to a top secret location where we were put through our ropes in ninja training. With some weird stares and a lot of questions, we basically just ran around a department store in ninja costumes. I can’t tell you much though, or I’ll have to kill you or something ninja like that.
Back at the hostel for our final night we were very generously treated to a hand roll sushi party by the staff. We each got to make our own sushi rolls, eat soba noodles, and drink sake and plum wine. Plus it was a great opportunity to chat to people from all over the world and we got some very helpful insights into both Sapporo (Japan) and Seoul (South Korea) which are our next stops.
I’m very excited about seeing the Snow Festival in Sapporo, and have already promised countless people photos so will try to be on top of that. Hannah is still not convinced about the negative degrees yet, but fingers crossed we survive! If worse comes to worse we might just become ice statues ourselves. Could be worse things!
Bye for now, a long train ride awaits me!
This time a year ago I had just returned from an amazing and unforgettable six week journey around south-east Asia. Over the past few months as I helped countless friends plan their own adventures of south-east Asia (where to go, where to eat, how to beat the scams, how to have the most incredible fun, etcetera etcetera) I soon realised that without my own crazy-fun-filled adventure to plan, I would drive myself insane.
Armed with our lonely planet guide, some pretty massive jumpers, and a whole lot of anticipation – the dynamic travelling duo are headed to the shores of Japan and South Korea.
So dear Facebook friends and fiends, expect selfies, expect sushi, expect havoc, and to hear my stories for months after I return. And more importantly, yes, I will help you plan your winter wonderland adventure to Japan for next year.
Sayonara for now, bitches.
P.s. I have changed the name of the ‘Dare to Try’ food list in the lonely plant to ‘2015 New Years Resolutions’. What’s a little pufferfish, partially fermented soybeans, sea urchins that taste like distilled tidal pools, sea cucumber, or sperm-filled reproductive gland of a fish gonna do to me! Bring it on Japan. My chopsticks are chopping!