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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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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Osaka

They say the best way to see a city is to get lost. But when you’re such skilled explorers like Hannah and myself, it’s hard to get lost, so walking is our next best option. While both a means of staying warm, and saving money, walking takes you to secret parts of the city a guidebook never will. The real city.

We stayed in bed a bit longer than expected the second morning. In our defense, we had been taken to a comedy show (rorcomedy.com) and drinks by our airbnb host Mark the night before and were still blaming jetlag at this stage! Nonetheless we packed our day to the brim.

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Night out with Mark.

First stop we navigated the subways and made our way to Tempozan for a fun day of activities. This little seaside village was home to one of the biggest Ferris wheels in the world – at 112 metres high. Being the daredevils we are, we opted for a clear-bottomed pod to maximise our views over Osaka and beyond! And we were not disappointed. Although we managed to break almost every rule – Hannah seemed keen on proving the strength of the structure by shaking the pod while floating at 112m above the ground – we survived unscathed.

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View from the top of the Giant Ferris Wheel.

As we’d made the effort to get to Tempozan, we thought we thought a visit to the Aquarium would be worthwhile, as it is marketed as one of the best in the world. We got to pat stingrays, and get very very close to a whale shark. Hannah was smitten with the sloth, and I was impressed with the Great Barrier Reef exhibit which I’m pretty sure looks better than the real deal these days!

A quick train trip back into the centre of town, we revisited Dotombori, the area we’d been in the night before, and got to see a different side of it in the light. If the streams of people flowing out of each department store entrance wasn’t enough, I couldn’t believe the size of the Starbucks – which appear on every block (literally)! The one we went into was three stories and doubled as a library. It appeared to be where students went to study, as finding a seat was impossible! Move over libraries, Starbucks is taking over the world!

As we watched the sun go down and the lights come on, Dotombori emerged from behind the shadows, assaulting the eyes, ears and nose in true Japanese style. In the throngs of it all, however, we managed to tick off the first item on our food wish list: taco-yaki (grilled octopus dumplings).
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Doing Dotombori
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Taco-yaki (grilled octopus dumplings)

Escaping the hustle and bustle of the centre of town, we wandered to the outskirts to find the best ramen in Osaka (proved by a pretty solid line outside)! Without being able to speak Japanese, or the waiters English, we managed to navigate waiting for, ordering, and eating our desired ramen. Hannah was highly impressed by the assortment of condiments available and instantly thought back to Anna in South-East Asia. Meanwhile, after exposing where we were from, the waiter tried to explain that the store has a branch in Sydney, before giving us each a business card. So readers I’m Sydney, head to Shop 211 Dixon Street, Haymarket for some pretty serious ramen!

The next morning was particularly cold, making it quite a challenge to rip ourselves from bed. Mark had asked whether I wanted to join him for yoga but I was so cold I though my limbs might snap if I tried to bend them! Even more of a challenge though was trying to get ready around Mark who had then decided to start meditating right outside our room!

But today was our first ride on the Shinkansen (bullet trains) and once we worked out where we were allowed/supposed to sit we were under way! The world whizzed past us and before we knew it we were in Hiroshima. Remembering back to the books I’d studied in year 12, the city began to come alive. We managed to stumble upon a sightseeing loop bus that wad covered by our train passes, and from there ventured across the city – the Atomic Bomb Dome, the Peace Memorial Park, the Flame of Peace, Children’s Peace Monument, and Peace Memorial Museum. The museum was particularly evocative and brought to life the stories I’d read at school. The atrocities of war and the evils of mankind.
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The Atomic Bomb Dome

Hannah was keen to find some okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) for lunch and Mark had told us that Hiroshima had a distinctive style that we should try. We managed to locate a three-storey building that contained 25 stalls all selling the pancakes, and had ours cooked on a hot plate right in front of us! It was one pimped out pancake! And another tick on our food list.

With the sun quickly descending we decided to make a quick dash out to Miyajima – a small island off Hiroshisma, home of the vermillion torii (shrine gate) of Itsukushima-jinja. Racing the sun and clock, we stopped to ask some local deer for directions before reaching the torii for sunset. The deer were everywhere and watching them stick their heads into prams and wheelchairs reminded me of the monkeys in Bali. We found one very resourceful deer, however, who had decided eating his own poop was the most economical approach. Anyway! After gawking at all the girls walking around in heels and mini skirts, we trudged our way out to the torii. The tide was out so it didn’t appear to be floating like often photographed but it meant we were able to go and touch it! Even cooler!
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Oh deer! I’m lost!
2015/01/img_0153.jpg Vermillion Torii of Itsukushima-jinja

Back to the train, we used our JR pass to its maximum advantage, going in and out of the station to ensure we found the shop with the cheapest chocolate. Dragging our tired eyes and feet, we both collapsed in bed and drifted into a solid sleep.

Our last day in Osaka was bittersweet! It had started to rain and to make matters worse, it was Australia Day back home. While keeping our portable wifi close on hand and our phones tuned to the Triple J Top 100, we explored Amerika-Mura – a hip and happening district full of trendily-dressed youths in cafés. With street art covering the walls and street lamps brightly painted, we explored secondhand clothing stores and cheap dumpling restaurants ($2 for 6! That’s Cambodian prices!) in the afternoon we explored Kuromon Ichiba, the local fresh food market, where we gawked at live crabs and lobsters, fresh fruits, and pufferfish! Although we were too scared to try. Next time though! I swear!

For dinner we visited our little Pork man around the corner from us to say good bye and have one last meal. I was a piggy and asked for a big serve and then couldn’t finish, but Mr Pork just laughed at me and put it in a takeaway container. You’re the best, Mr Pork! There’s breakfast sorted.

Off to Kyoto tomorrow morning! More adventure to come!

Check out @emmabreislin on Instagram for more pictures.

E x

P.s. Congrats Chet Faker on beating Tay Tay in the top 100!