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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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

 

 

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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Kyoto

It’s quarter past two in the afternoon and I’m lying on the couch in my hostel wearing my pyjamas. Before you judge me, Hannah is on the couch next to me passed out. So I’m doing okay. The last couple of days in Kyoto have been a whirlwind, and this trip shows no signs of slowing down. Apart from today. Today has been a very slow day. But a very deserved day.

We started the week by packing our bags, farewelling our host Mark, and hitting the subway for the next leg of our adventure. Settling into our seats on the Shinkansen, for what we expected to be a lengthy ride to the next city, ended up being a short 15 minute trip to Kyoto. Sydney should really invest in trains that travel at 220km/hr. And in trains that leave precisely when they are scheduled. It’s too easy.

Arriving in Kyoto we had no idea what to do. We had planned to read our Lonely Planet on the train ride but clearly had our reading time cut short. Nonetheless we went wandering and found the local Nishiki Markets full of fresh fruit, vegetables and meats. Freezing and hungry we found a bustling little corner and sat down for some delicious fresh ramen and soba noodles. My face was so cold I couldn’t feel that I was burning my tongue until afterwards. Worth it though. On our walk towards Kyoto Tower we walked by a Cat Cafe, and I thought of my crazy cat lady at home. For those unaware, a cat cafe is just a cafe with heaps of cats walking around. We poked our heads in the window and it looked hilarious. Oh Japan, you continue to entertain me. On we walked, past liquor stores where we checked what the damage would be for the nights that would undoubtedly be to come. $12 for a bottle of Vodka and $16 for Baileys. That was very doable.
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After following two good looking chaps from our hostel who had #swag we navigated our way to Kyoto Tower where, for what feels like the 100th time, we climbed to see an amazing 360 degree view of the city. We can’t help that we enjoy getting high! Apart from the amazing view watching the sun set and the lights come on all over the city, the tower was also great for organising the rest of our time in Kyoto, as we were able to spot the temples and districts we wanted to visit in the following days from the one convenient spot. After taking a photo with a group of random guys from Korea (the third group to ask for our photo so far!) we left and headed to the Gion district. We managed to find the district eventually but weren’t so lucky with finding any Geisha. We did however find some delicious gyozas for next to nothing, although I’m pretty sure Hannah enjoyed the condiments more than the meal – helping herself to pretty much all of what looked to me like rice bubbles. Clearly she was deprived of good old ‘Snap, Crackle and Pop’ as a child.
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Literally running home to avoid frostbite, we warmed up by sitting on the heated toilet seats and entertained ourselves by watching the Clown fish in the common room of our hostel. YES! I found Nemo! Definitely not at 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney.

The next day we woke to find tiny snowflakes falling from the sky outside our window. And after putting on two pairs of socks, three thermals tops, a jumper, a jacket, two scarves and a beanie, I was ready to step outside. After flashing our JR train passes at the station like celebrities, we hopped on a train bound for Nara – a town which is hard to say whether there are more tourists or deer. Like an obstacle course, we managed to dodge the cold, the camera lenses, and the crazy deer ramming at your legs for food, and arrived at the Todai-ji temple – the home of a 15 metre high Buddha. The temple itself was pretty incredible, and no photo could accurately depict the size of the room and Buddha. Regardless, it didn’t stop most tourists, and the continuous camera shutter sound was harsh against the peacefulness of the Buddha. After watching a group of tourists holding biscuits be attacked by a mob of deer we pop back on the train headed for Kobe. However, we didn’t last there long. Our frozen fingers and rumbling bellies won over and we headed home for dinner which we cooked ourselves! Anyone know how to use a rice cooker? Because I don’t.
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The next day was a big one, and also the cause of the state I am sitting in now, on the couch, with Hannah passed out next to me. It started with a challenge. We took our map to reception to ask the best way to get to where we wanted to that day. The girl looked at us and laughed, saying that it was a lot to achieve in a day. Challenge accepted.

First stop was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, which happens to feature on the cover of our Lonely Planet guide. Hannah and I have had a growing obsession with bamboo ever since we started recording the various ways it was used through out South-East Asia, and it was great to see it in such abundance and so green. Big shoutout to the kind man at the station who was laughing at us trying to work out where we were for helping us, and for telling us all about tofu for some reason.
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Next stop was to the Kinkakuji Temple, or the Golden Pavilion. After a fairly solid walk we reached the pavilion – a beautiful gold temple sitting on a stunning serene pond. A truest Japanese looking setting. No filter required. After getting lost in conversation we managed to find the exit and set off back to the station, but not before being interviewed by a small group of Japanese students on an English excursion. KAWAII!!!!
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The last stop of the day was on the other side of the city and we were in a race against the sun. Making a vital mistake and not reading the guidebook properly we decided to walk instead of train to the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine. Not a particularly pretty walk, we found ourselves out if the tourist zone, and lost. Thankfully a very kind old man pointed us in the right direction before wishing us a happy day, and we with sore feet we made it to the shrine. Which is located a few metres from the station. Good one Emma. Walking through the food stalls we gave into temptation – Hannah got some okonomiyaki and I helped myself to a pork and shallot skewer dripping in teriyaki sauce. Gone in one bite, we then had to carry our rubbish for miles. Japan is immaculate and you never see any rubbish on the floor anywhere. But they have NO bins anywhere in the streets. How do they do it!?!?
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Getting the the shrine was amazing. 228 metres of bright orange torii dedicated to Inari, glowing in the fading light around them. A really really cool shrine. One of my favs to date. And we arrived at the right time because it wasn’t too crowded later in the evening.

Getting back to the hostel we treated ourselves to some Baileys at the bar…while wearing slippers. Classy. At this point the hostel had been taken over by some 50 odd American a College students who were on a Semester at Sea program which sounds incredible. Over 100 days, 12 countries, 4 continents. I was jealous to say the least. One Baileys turned into two, which turned into four, which turned into us dashing down the block in our slippers to the closest corner store to buy more drinks, which turned into two Aussies and a whole heap of Americans roaming the streets, which turned into a karaoke bar, which turned into joining random Japanese peoples karaoke rooms, which turned into a lot of Katy Perry, One Direction and random Japanese pop music. Waking up with a whole heap of new friend requests, a pretty sore head, and a rough throat, I farewelled our new friends, and got comfy on the couch. Which is where I still find myself….six hours later. Hannah eventually made it up to join me, but has been unconscious for most of the day. Our new room mates have just arrived though so I should probably go shower and make myself approachable.

I’m pretty hungover, but pretty goddamn happy right now. How about you?

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