Japan 2015

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

Barcelona Baby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, folks!

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Sightseeing Sevilla

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

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

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

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

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

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

22022_10153561311519497_8568065405022600097_n 11755721_10153561312249497_5883584642912163251_n 11753719_10153561311919497_249230356878425996_n 11665433_10153561311839497_6940822148704546396_n 11264885_10153561311594497_1644021995709581185_nBut 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.

Adios chicas.

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Chase me around Córdoba

Okay, okay, so I’ve been getting lazy. Or what I should really admit is that I’ve been having too much fun and haven’t had a chance to sit down and write my blog. Not really something worth apologising for is it. Soz not soz.

So remind me what I was up to. Ahhhh Córdoba. By far my favourite destination of the trip so far, Córdoba is an interesting mix of activities and downtime. Due to a lack of hostels in the area, we treated ourselves to a few nights in the Hotel Macia Alfaros – the main draw-card; the pool. Arriving by train at around the hottest part of the day, we dragged our bags through what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. A huge change of pace to the lively Madrid with its busy roads, crowded plazas and bustling backstreets. Whether it was just due to the fact that we had arrived mid-siesta time or that Córdoba is just a less populated area, we instantly began to relax. So much so that after we stuffed ourselves at the first restaurant we could find with Spanish omelette and calamari boccadillo went spent the rest of the afternoon, or should I say night considering it was 8pm before we left, sitting by the pool. At first I was concerned about how white my skin was, and how bloated I’d be after our huge lunch but any insecurities were soon washed away when we saw the group of very confident and very…bootilicious European ladies that joined us by the pool.

11048741_10153552601404497_7117023523192437727_nThe next morning we rose and feasted on what we thought at the time was a complimentary buffet breakfast. With a few minutes to spare we raced off to the Plaza de Tendillas, the lively center of Córdoba, to meet our guide for a free tour. While the city is not that big, it is packed full of history. We got to see Roman ruins and modern day design. By far the most interesting part of the city is its diversity of religious influence. Originally a Muslim community, the city is scattered with incredible mosques each intricately decorated with a distinct arabic style. Probably the most famous part of Córdoba is what was originally a mosque, constructed between the years of 785 and 985 and spanning 23.400 square meters, but was converted into a Christian Cathedral in 1236. While the layout and design of the Mosque still exists, a Catholic Cathedral was designed within the buildings. Absolutely incredible and a symbol of the religious harmony that existed in Córdoba for years between the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities. The world should take note.

11742818_10153552601674497_6987987621422190945_n11695958_10153552604454497_3487990268046706739_n11752048_10153552604619497_7039441486808001222_nCrawling through the backstreets that seem to have no order, we learned that this was actually done on purpose in order to create shadows and thus shade from the boiling hot sun. Which, might I add, was much appreciated. We learned that Córdoba is the only town in Spain that has two clock towers that chime a flamenco chord of a Spanish guitar to mark the hour, and that Plaza de la Corredera, a beautiful old square, used to host gruesome bullfights and that the men involved were considered by the community to be rockstars. Further on we visited the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos and learned all about the history of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, who resided in the Palace. Married, the couple had two children together, but Ferdinand obviously had other ideas as he had a mistress on the side with whom he had eleven children with. As a result, Isabella had the mistress and all the children killed. Very “Game-of-Thrones-esque” explained our tour guide.

11146189_10153552602099497_6098492859558624878_n11703110_10153552604284497_5891193698265780699_nOverall the tour was fantastic, free tours are an absolutely perfect way of orienting yourself in a new city and learning stories and secrets a guidebook could not show you. After tipping our guide, we raced back to a few monuments to have a look inside before they closed for siesta. (Free Tour: http://www.freetourcordoba.com/en/free-tour-m-cordoba/)

With a rumble in our stomachs, we sourced a side-street off Plaza de Tendillas to find the best Tapas – around €2.50 for a tapas and drink. If my memory does not escape me, I believe we went back at least three times. It was delicious and so #instagramable. Plus I discovered my new favourite summer drink called Tinto de Verano (part red wine, part lemonade). Don’t judge until you try it. I was skeptical at first but am always eager to try new things and this one definitely paid off.

11667431_10153552604084497_7940745941933552980_nAfter a late afternoon shopping spree my bag is now filled with beautiful mementos that I have no idea where I am going to fit in my room but I will make it work! Next, a quick train ride to Seville where we are meeting Sarah’s friend from England. This trip is starting to slip through my fingers, and my University email is starting to beep at me. Better start planning my next trip before I go insane.

Adios until then.

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The Real Madrid

A hop, skip and a jump and we found ourselves flung 2000km across Europe to Madrid, Spain (more like a 40min Terravision bus ride and a Ryanair flight that managed to leave late but arrive early?). We found Sarah amongst the crowds of yelling Spaniards and jetted off in a taxi (splurge, I know) to our hostel, TOC.

With a new city, new country AND new companion, we took the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets, adjusting to the new language, smells, sights and most importantly food! We meandered into an incredible looking deli that turned out to have three levels to it and pointed at the picture of a seafood platter, a grilled cheese and jamon salad and a bottle of moscato. The English is not as good in Spain as in Italy, so we just crossed our fingers and hoped. It sort of adds to the excitement though, not being 100% sure of what you are going to get. We almost ordered two bottles of moscato “accidentally”. With a quick look around the shops near our hostel we finished the night off with a €12 bottle of Sangria. Free pour, baby!

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Supposed to wake up for a 9am free walking tour the next morning, we were lucky to make it to the 10am. Meeting our tour guide Juliana from ‘Sandemans New Madrid’ in the famous Plaza Mayor, she sent us around the corner to a supermarket to grab something for breakfast before we met the rest of the group. Oh My God. She sent us to heaven. This place put the SUPER in market. What turned out to be the shell of a church which was turned into an open market and then enclosed with glass panes, the San Miguel markets are beyond words. Like a gourmet tapas market, it was filled with a range of stores selling everything you could imagine in tapas style, so you could run around and fill try something from each shop. Needless to say we went back from dinner and breakfast the next morning.

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Once we reunited with the tour we were taken to the Worlds Oldest Restaurant, where we got the chance to look into the kitchen and see them preparing the most amazing looking suckling pig, as well as into the cellar which boasted bottles of wine from 1702. Legend has it that a girl once broke a bottle while in the cellar and her ghost is still seen in the kitchen cleaning dishes to pay for the damage. Eek!

We were treated to beautiful plazas and gardens surrounding the Royal Palace, churches, cafes, and fountains. We were shown the spot where an attempt was made to assassinate King Alfonso XIII on his wedding day by throwing a bouquet of flowers covering a bomb onto his bridal carriage. Unfortunately, while the bomb missed the King, it did kill 28 people and injured over 100. There is now a monument on the street and a bouquet of flowers placed on the balcony in which he stood to commemorate those lost.

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One of my favourite sites was the street with all the big banks. They were all such grand and beautiful buildings. In the middle of a large intersection sat a gorgeous fountain which Juliana told us could be drained through an underground passageway that linked the the bank’s gold vault as to drown anyone attempting to steal the gold. How James Bond is that!

After bidding Juliana farewell and tipping her appropriately, we headed to a supermarket, made some sandwiches (saving money!), tried to fit the rest of our ingredients in the overflowing hostel fridge, went for a shop on Gran Via (the main shopping street), and headed back to our beloved San Miguel Market for some paella among many other delicious treats.

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Around 10.30pm, when one would expect to be calling it a night if you weren’t already out, we headed to Puetra del Sol to meet Idoya, a local and friend of Sarah’s that she met on a train to Vienna a few years ago. Idoya kindly took us for the real Madrid experience, starting at a proper Spanish bar that she explained was easily identifiable by the florescent lights and €3 gin & tonics. After that we headed to a much trendier establishment called 1862 Dry Bar where I enjoyed at Singapore Sling, a type of cocktail that happens to be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, made by a bartender called Jesus. We starred in a short film that happened to be being filmed there, before heading off to the final bar where we struggled to finish one of the biggest gin & tonics I have ever seen (for only €5 of course) where we met some lovely people who had been having a bet about where we were from for ten minutes before building up the courage to ask us. Sarah ended up adding one of them on Facebook as she is moving to Sydney later in the year – what a social butterfly.

Groggy morning but made it to the station and on to the train headed for Cordoba. More on that later, loving Spain so far.

Adios!

N.B. This is a link to the free tour we did, as there are lots of different groups that meet in Plaza Mayor: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187514-d1913235-Reviews-SANDEMANs_NEW_Madrid_Tours-Madrid.html

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How to relive your holiday

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.

Sapporo to Otaru: the frozen cities

Well I wanted snow, and boy oh boy did I get it. One day and four trains later, we emerged on the top island, Hokkaido, to a white wash. The trees were all sprinkled with a bright white powder, the houses looked squashed under big puffy piles of white, and the large expansive lakes were frozen still.
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We were met at Sapporo Station by an icy cool wind, and streets piled high with snow. Caught up in the excitement of it all, and chasing to keep up with Hannah while also taking pictures and dragging my suitcase, I got my first real hands on taste of snow. Face first on the ground. After laughing it off as a very kind and concerned man helped me up, I decided to just focus on walking until we got to our accommodation. Had I not been laughing so much at my own misfortune, Hannah may not have even realised I’d fallen, as she was already colder than she’d planned to be and as a result on a mission to get inside. At least I gave her a reason to smile in what she believed to be the beginning of her idea of a nightmare!

Expecting the worst, we were very pleased with our APA Hotel experience, and passed the time until dark unpacking, defrosting and dancing around in the yukatas (a casual kimono) they’d provided us. Once the time had come to brace the cold again, we cracked open the heat packs Hiroko had told us about and shoved them in our pockets. As we walked down the street, me still slipping and sliding all over the place, we were surprised to find that the heat packs, which had cost us ¥100 (roughly AUD$1) for a pack of nine did in fact work as advertised! They heat to 40 degrees Celsius and stay hot for 16 hours. By the end of our time in Hokkaido I would have surely lost a finger had I not had them.
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The Sapporo Snow Festival was very close to our hotel, an easy walk apart from all the slippery ice on the footpath. Nonetheless we persevered and were rewarded with the stunning massive ice sculptures that were lit up with brightly coloured lights and music. Although a subzero temperature, the crowds flocked to see the incredible statues and huddled around the food stores that scattered the park (easy to spot from the steam bellowing out of their tents). My favourite of all the sculptures was the Star Wars installation, whereas Hannah’s architectural eye drew her more towards the castles.

Not lasting for long in the freezing cold we headed off to find some food. Being warned off the highly alluring Ramen Street by some of our new friends we made this trip, we instead opted for a little doorway that had heaps of locals lining up outside and a tripadvisor sticker in the window – two very good signs. And I think we hit the jackpot on this one. Once it was our turn, we were given a booth that we shared with three other couples, all sitting across a huge open fire pit. Unsure of whether it was designed for cooking or heating, we attempted to defrost our hands while perusing the menu, much to the entertainment of the couple sitting across from us. We ended up ordering a huge grilled salmon and miso salad and a few chicken skewers to share, and spent most of the night staring obviously at the couple across from us as they cooked their seafood banquet on the open grill. So much so that after a while the man offered us a piece of his grilled squid. Oops! IMG_0253
The next morning I slept in a bit while Hannah got up to do some uni work. I was only just beginning to feel my fall from the day before. Once we were sure the sun was out as much as it was going to be, we headed back to the Snow Festival and saw a whole heap of sculptures we had missed the night before, as well as slides, and a huge jump with professional skiers doing flips off to the sound of some pretty hardcore heavy metal. I love how the Japanese are so innocent to some western music; often we’ve come across supermarkets playing explicit hip hop or heavy metal songs and no one seems to flinch at some of the harsher content.

After doing the whole circuit of Odori Park, while having to run across the road and stand in a heated convenience store every five-seven minutes so that Hannah could defrost, we managed to see all the sculptures. I much preferred them during the day with the blue sky as a backdrop. But do not be fooled, the temperature was well into the negatives at this point. As an added bonus, we managed to spot some pretty interesting people as well as ice sculptures, including a pram with skies on its wheels and a mother dragging her kids around in a taboggine. Clearly the most efficient way of travel in the snow. Those kids have it sorted. The best thing we could do to keep going was to constantly drink coffee, and I tried something called an almond chocolate latte? When in Rome…? IMG_0236IMG_0247IMG_0248IMG_0251IMG_0249IMG_0250
For lunch we stumbled across a popular looking place that served what we think was soup curry or curry soup? A meal that we were told by our new friends Pat and Vince that we “MUST TRY” because it would “CHANGE OUR LIVES”. Not convinced but up for trying something new we ordered one to share. It came with a bowl of rice, some shredded cabbage, and a bowl that was cooked in front of us which included a meatball, pumpkin, broccoli, potato, bacon and curry sauce. While we pretty much finished it, we both couldn’t really get our heads around it and agreed it is not something we’d order again. Sorry boys. IMG_0237
With a new fire in our belly, we walked back to the hotel to grab our bags. By this stage I had just about mastered walking on ice. But not completely. Sliding to the station we hoped on a train bound for Otaru, a more remote town that which made Sapporo out to be a summer holiday. Wearing every layer we owned, and shoving twenty heat packs in every pocked we had, we trudged through ankle-deep snow to see the Otaru Snow Lights Festival. The lanterns, made of ice, that lined the streets and canal were magical though. Some were arranged around snowmen, or in the shape of owls and flowers. Even some stores along the main street had joined in the festivities. IMG_0246IMG_0245IMG_0240IMG_0239IMG_0244IMG_0243
While we were only able to manage the cold for a short time, we headed back to find some food but we kept getting distracted by every magical little installation we ofound around each corner. Finally though Hannah started displaying early symptoms of hyperthermia so we found a quiet little ramen shop and dug into a bowl about the size of my head. YUM. IMG_0241
The next morning was D-Day. We had planned to make it from Sapporo to Osaka in one day; essentially from one side of the country to the other. We had booked tickets for five trains to get us there, but managed to miss the second one due to a severe snow storm that delayed the trains. But I can now confirm we made it to Osaka in one piece and before midnight. Though throughout the day we both had serious doubts we would manage it. I think we deserve a medal though for our achievement. Needless to say a fair few high fives were shared that day.

Though we found very little comfort in Osaka. By the time we were in bed we had to get up again two hours later to race to the airport headed to Seoul, South Korea. A tight call, but I can now say from the safety of my bed that we made it to Seoul. In one piece. There is a great vibe here and I’m so excited for the next few days.

How’s the weather where you are? Remind me what the sun feels like.

Kampai to Tokyo

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!
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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IMG_0229 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!

Kyoto also spells Tokyo

It has hit that point, as it does in every trip, where you suddenly realise how fast the time has gone, and how little you have left. As the cold seems endless, the race through train stations never ending, and the new faces familiar, the days begin to blur into one and you lose track of how long you’ve been traveling for. But if you ask me, these are the greatest days. The days you don’t have internet connection, but don’t even realise. They days you forget about time-wasters like makeup and planned outfits. The days you just want to lose yourself in a city in order to truly find its treasures. The days that challenge you, change you, but stay with you forever.

This week started with an end. On our final morning in Kyoto, we vowed to find the large Buddha we had spotted on the edge of town while we were up the Kyoto Tower. A true test of how well we knew the streets, we managed to find it after going in a few circles (however that was most likely due to us getting lost in conversation). The monument, we learnt on arrival, was called Ryozen Kannon and is a tribute to all the unknown soldiers who bravely fought and died in World War II. The 24 metre high compassionate Buddha is a symbol of peace, both for the state of Japan, and for those who died fighting for it. Not mentioned anywhere in our guidebook, I was particularly pleased with our discovery. It was an interesting and un-touristed little complex with plenty of temples, memorials and shrines – some for luck, marriage, peace and even blessings for miscarried foetus.

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After our walk back to the hostel, the falling snow made it all the easier to jump on the toasty-warm Shinkansen train for three hours, headed to Tokyo! As we laid back in our spacious seats, we watched the world literally fly by – the dense city centres to the sparse rural villages, all looking as though someone had lightly dusted them with a fine icing sugar. All going too perfectly to plan, we were two stops out of Tokyo when the cabin crew realised we were on the wrong train (our JR pass did not cover super express Shinkansen, only the express) and asked us ever so politely to get off at the next stop and get on the next train. While ordinarily this sort of mistake could have been disastrous to a tight schedule, the next train came in a measly 5 minutes. Nice one, Japan!

Once arriving in Tokyo City, we found Hiroko, after a kind gentleman helped us decode a confusing pay phone, much to both ours and his amusement. Hiroko is a friend of my grandmother’s who hosted me when I first visited Japan, some 19 years ago. She had kindly offered to have us stay at her house for the first night we were in Tokyo so we could see her perform in a traditional drum concert to be held the next day. She was more than hospitable while we stayed with her, more than we could ever have asked for or expected. She treated us to the most amazing sushi train experience I have ever had (they filleted the fish before your eyes), the chance to cook our own okonomiyaki, a real crazy Japanese experience at a Ninja restaurant, cakes, cats, and most of all an insight into a side of Japanese culture we could not have got through guidebooks. She even introduced us to her friend Emi who, with her husband, kindly took us up the Tokyo SkyTree to 350metres above Tokyo and treated us to a lovely lunch while Hiroko practiced her drumming.

One of my favourite things I discovered while staying with Hiroko was the technology. Her toilet can be put through a range of strange motions such as spray, heat, dry, mist, etc (you can work out what for), her bath heats and fills itself up and tells you when it is ready, and her washing machine will weigh your load of washing and tell you how much soap to put in and how long it will take. What are we doing in Australia!?

All in all, we could not have thanked Hiroko enough for her immense generosity, and although all she would accept was a bunch of flowers and some chocolates, we are eternally grateful for all that she did for us and can’t wait for her to visit Australia to repay her for her hospitality.

On our second night in Tokyo, after a delicious dinner, Hiroko was kind enough to drop us to our hostel (quite literally to the door, any closer and her car would have been through the front window) where the second half of our Tokyo journey began. But more on that later…

Good night for now. I hope you are all smiling just as much as me.

IMG_0203 Our sushi plate stack – we tried Tuna, Sea Urchin, Salmon, Bloody Clam, Scallop, Red Fish and many more…

IMG_0207 Hiroko and I

IMG_0202 View from the Tokyo SkyTree

IMG_0204 Lunch with Emi and Hero

<a href=”https://emmabreislin.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/img_0205.jpg”>IMG_0205 Hiroko’s traditional drum performance

IMG_0206 Making our own okonomiyaki