Sweet, sweet Shoalhaven

You know when you find that place, that place where time stops and preferably phone reception does too. The sort of place where you’re happy to lose track of time and where you left your shoes.

Where a walk along the beach can be the entire plan for the day, but there is still plenty of time for spontaneous decisions. It’s the sort of place where the simplest of things become magical; the sand feels softer, the waves clearer and the sun hitting your skin like a hug.

It’s the sort of place where as soon as you get there your body seems to switch. All you need is a weekend to feel completely refreshed. You find yourself retelling your stories and realising how little you actually did and how relaxed you were.

A place where you can find the most beautiful shells lining the waves as they lap up on the shore, and sting rays coasting the shallow bays. Where twisting your toes into the sand finds pipis, and throwing a line into the lake can provide dinner for six.

Everyone needs hidden secrets like this, so this one I’ll keep hidden. But jump in your car and head south to Shoalhaven and see what you can find.

E x

Dayyymn Amsterdam

I am just going to get it out of the way: I went to Amsterdam and didn’t get high. I must admit I had my hesitations before coming to this city due to the expectation that often accompanies it, but once again I was reminded of how the best thing that travel teaches you is to throw all preconceptions out the window.

I did get high on Amsterdam, though. How can you not? The energy is contagious. It’s uber-stylish sprinkled with a touch of grunge that just gives it character. And when you’re staying in the boutique district on Haarlemmerdijk, in a studio that looks like it’s from a page in a magazine I’d normally have to wipe my dribble off, how could I not fall in love.

He’d been to Amsterdam before with the boys, so instantly I knew I had to shake things up to make sure it was completely different to his last trip. I think the mere fact that it took us until the third night to visit the infamous Red Light District cleared that up though. And that we got up early each morning and went for brunch at places like TOKI and The Breakfast Club. Surprisingly though, the best coffee we found was from the cafe inside Urban Outfitters, served by a guy from Manchester that was up for a chat. Shame we couldn’t understand a word he was saying. Apparently it’s still considered English?

Apart from the free walking tour we did on the first day to get the gist of the city, Amsterdam was the city we just lived in the most. We walked the boutiques for hours, got snacks from Stach to keep us going through the day, wandered from one side of town to the other to get lunch at the Foodhallen, dodged through the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum and their teems of tourists, and scoured vintage markets we found dotted around the city. All things I do in Sydney, but it just felt so much cooler over there.

With absolutely no itinerary, we just did exactly what we wanted to each day, even if that wasn’t a lot. Subsequently days rolled into one another and before long I felt like I lived there, or at least that I really wanted to. I’m pretty sure one afternoon was spent looking into both of our ancestry to see whether or not he’d have to pop a particular question for a visa. All I can say is: damn you, Brexit.

With this being my last blog of the trip, I’m going to cut to the chase and just give you the good stuff you actually want to read about. Without further ado, I present to you: Amsterdam.

Where to eat //
We had dinner on the first night at Pizzabakkers which was awesome, recommended by our host and just down the road from where we were staying. I had a margherita with burrata (because I promised myself a while back that if burrata is on the menu I have to order it) and because it was delicious. We sat near the kitchen and enjoyed the staff playfully switching their conversations between Dutch, English and Italian and felt very…inadequate. As the man at one of the markets told me “come on, even a three year old can speak Dutch!”

Another one down the road was Le Sud, a cheeseboards heaven, with the best falafel wraps I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. And trust me, it was pleasurable.

If you’re into burgers, you must try Cannibale Royale. Stacked burgers in a stacked restaurant, I’d recommend booking if you can. Oh, and the elderflower gin and tonic. Served in a glass a goldfish wouldn’t mind swimming around in. Yes, please.

To finish off we treated ourselves to a fancy night out at Bak. We got lost at first, but found it at the top floor of a massive and empty warehouse in a very quiet area of Amsterdam. The food was unreal – think hare-blood sauce and a dessert made from carrot. Worthy every and all the pennies it cost.

Where to look //
I’d honestly couldn’t recommend the area we stayed in more – Haarlemmerdijk, located in the Jordaan district. The street was lined with boutiques like Restored, Six and Sons, Store Without A Home, Sukha, and so many more I would have to rent six apartments to be able to fit all the things I could have bought. Plus the street was lined with vintage shops that sent me spiraling back to when I had time to thrift.

What else //
Yes, I feel like Amsterdam is the sort of place that will always have little hidden secrets waiting to be discovered. One of them for us was The Movies, also located on the same street (yes I know, it’s starting to sound like a plug now), which was the oldest cinema in Amsterdam, and where we escaped the drizzle on our last afternoon to see Bohemian Rhapsody.

To be completely honest, I couldn’t have planned our Amsterdam trip more perfectly than it happened. It’s just the beauty of travel. And I can’t wait to do it again.

Where would you recommend?

E x


Listing off London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E x

Diving into the Maldives

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

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

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

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

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

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Kandy is good for you

Let me see, where did I leave this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E x

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I’m a Traveller

To be able to write for the Traveller…yeah, that’s pretty up there on my list. So when a competition was released with the chance of winning a Gecko Tour Adventure around either Central America, Africa or South East Asia, as well as the opportunity to write for Traveller, I got writing.

Here goes nothing:

On the first day we didn’t make it. Some friendly, (and much more experienced) climbers found us lost halfway up a mountain, covered in sweat and scars. We didn’t know we were lost though. “Lagoon? No, there is no lagoon here” they told us. 

The best part of this holiday was that the water was never more than 50metres away, and when we made it down the mountain, we were quite literally dropped straight into the waves. Floating inches above the soft sand in crystal clear water, it was evident that any disappointment from not finding our lagoon that day had simply washed away. How could you be upset in Paradise?

Railay Beach, an island accessible only by long-tail boat, is located not far from the infamous Phi Phi Islands of Southern Thailand. The pristine beaches that line each side of the island are wrapped with overhanging limestone cliffs, that are often dotted with experienced climbers. You can kayak through caves, hike through forests, and borrow long-tail boats to go island hopping for the day. There is also, as we were informed by a local, a beautiful lagoon known as The Princess Lagoon, hidden somewhere on the island. 

With ten days there we were determined to find it, and it wasn’t until our second last day that we happened to stumble upon a track. At least I think it was a track. Around a bend, down a path, take a left and then a right, we arrived at the side of a mountain. There was a small clearing in the trees and the ground was slightly worn. After pausing to look at it for a few seconds we started to realise that the exposed roots lined up the bank resembled somewhat of a staircase. Not quite structurally sound, the fraying ropes that dangled down from the occasional root, however, made us slightly more convinced that this was indeed the way to our lagoon. 

Slow and steady we made it up the bank, and if the humidity wasn’t enough, the concentration it took made it impossible not to break a sweat from every inch of your body. Did you know it was possible to sweat from your elbows? This was the furthest we’d been from the water this entire holiday, and we could feel it. 

Reaching the top we were faced with a choice – left or right. We took left and were taken to a lookout. Not the sort of lookout you’d find at home, though. This lookout had no railing, no fence, no ‘Unstable Cliff Edge” or “Risk of Falling” warning signs. This lookout was as if someone had simply taken a machete to a tree, revealing a coast-to-coast 180° view out across Railay Beach. I reiterate, Paradise. 

Pulling ourselves away, the sweat dripping down our bodies reminded us of our lagoon. Walking back passed our previous climb, the thought flicked through my head of how we would get down, but any concern was completely stifled by what we found next. Getting to the lagoon required climbing down three almost vertical cliff faces, using nothing but a fraying rope to lower ourselves down against the slippery clay. From Paradise I’d found myself in the middle of an assault course through the jungle. 

By the time we reached the bottom we were covered in streaks of mud that not even our sweat could budge. The tread of my shoes was so caked in clay that I all but slid to the edge of the lagoon. What we found, however, was stunning. A large body of water, completely enclosed by overarching limestone cliffs, entangled with shrubs and vines that trickled down into the lagoon. The subdued light that flowed through them danced on the top of the sparkling water. The mud underfoot was no deterrent and rather only acted as an incentive to remain there floating for hours. 

If you go to Railay Beach, find the lagoon.

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To be a World Nomad

Recently I took a leap of faith and did something I don’t normally like to do – put my writing up for judgement. I’ve applied for a Travel Writing Scholarship through World Nomads with the chance of winning an all-expenses paid trip around the Balkans while being mentored by Tim Neville, a professional travel writer and contributor to the New York Times. I know right, WOAH.

Even if I don’t get it, (there were pages and pages of entries), you have to be in it to win it! Plus, it was a real learning experience – learning to write for someone else, with restrictions, and under pressure. Still not sure if I completely like what I produced (I am my own worst critic), but I thought I’d share it anyway…along with a few low-quality photos I managed to scramble together from the experience.

Not being a massive hiker – too many involuntary hikes along abandoned railways in Yorkshire when I was a child – I’ll admit I flinched when my friends suggested a multi-day trek to a hill tribe in upper-Thailand. Not that you would have noticed, in fact I was probably the first to agree to it. I’m not good at missing out on things.

We rose before the sun, shoved some clothes in our backpacks and were hustled into the tray of a ute. We created makeshift seats out of petrol cans and attempted to steal a few extra moments of rest as we were bumped and tossed around on our twenty-minute trip up the mountain.

Reaching out first peak, we looked out across a blanket of clouds, the mountaintops only just in view, and a slight glimmer of the sun peaking over the horizon. The trees in the foreground made for the perfect silhouettes, and distracted us for long enough that we didn’t notice the clouds rolling out of the breathtaking valley below. It took the rising sun flickering in our eyes to remind us of where we were.

And that was just the start. We spent the next two days trudging through rice paddies, picking fresh passionfruit from trees that lined the riverbeds, using machetes to hack through dense forest, and all to find ourselves in a place that could only be described as the middle of nowhere.

No reception, no rescue, it was just us and our bamboo-whittling guide.

Debilitated by a bout of food poisoning, it felt like I had the biggest mountain to climb, until, all of a sudden, I did. But our guide promised us our home for the night was on the other side. Little did he tell us that our home was the stuff of fairytales. Atop a hill, in a clearing of dense shrubs, lit by the brilliant orange sunset, emerged a rural village of the Lahu people – a remote and barely-touched hill tribe originally from Tibet and China.

Reaching the village we stepped into another world. We washed in the stream, and ate chicken curry cooked over the fire. It was the first food I’d eaten in days and it reminded me of home though I was as far from it as I’d ever been. We couldn’t speak a word to each other but the children were eager to play with us, and while the buffalo were highly susceptible to letting out less than pleasant gases, I doubt I would have caught a wink of sleep in my raised bamboo hut had they not been so cleverly herded underneath as ‘natural insulation’.

Watching the sun set that night; surrounded by my Lahu family can only be described as a place I’ll never forget.

Getting Kultured in Kyoto

They may be spelt using the same letters, but Tokyo and Kyoto are very different places. From the second we stepped out of the station, we noticed the change in pace. More space, less people. This was looking good.

After a long day of traveling, and having had our first chance to flash our flashy new JR Rail Passes and ride the Shinkansen, we arrived at the food capital of Japan, ready to get ‘kultured’ (trademarked by Dan). Ever the man with the plan, he had already researched what Kyoto was good for, and off we headed to find burnt miso ramen – a specialty in Kyoto. With a thick caramelized teriyaki taste, it was one of the best meals I’ve had this trip. And that’s saying something because I’ve had a few best meals. But just ask Romy, she thought it was so good she decided to pour it all down her front just to make sure she smelt like burnt miso ramen for the rest of the trip. #dedicated

We opted for an early night that night as our next day was going to be as full as our stomachs were as we stumbled home.

First up, we hit the subway and headed out to Aryashiyama to the Bamboo Forest. Hundreds of meters of thick bamboo groves towering over the path, it was the perfect place to take your photo, or someone else’s if you’re Brandon. I can’t blame tourists coming up to us and asking up to take their photo though. Out of the seven of us, five of us are walking around with enormous SLR cameras around our necks.

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After a singalong led by DJ Michelle to the likes of Chris Brown, Kendrick Lamar and some random Japanese boy band while walking the backstreets of Aryashiyama, we made our way out to the temple of the Golden Pavilion. When it comes to popular tourist destinations like this one, we’ve come to really start to appreciate our height difference. Apart from selfie-sticks, there isn’t much that interrupts our view of the landmarks. And I’ve never considered myself tall before.

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Chasing the sun, we headed off to the Fushimi Inari-taisha, one of my favourite shrines from the last trip. Considering my favourite colour is orange, it shouldn’t really be a surprise. The shrine is made up of long rows of orange torii, and running through it is something of a spectacle. Even better is watching the sun set over it. And playing with a little kitten we found running around.

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But with such a successful day, and with so much achieved, we couldn’t possibly let it end there. Sponsored by 7 Eleven, our night ended with Suntory Highballs, Smirnoff Ice, cup noodles, nuts recommended by a friendly stranger, and a nightclub called Butterfly.With odds lost, the boys faces were caked in makeup – a sight I can’t wait to forget. But the worst thing we lost that night was Ed (or more appropriately DEdward), who hit the road while the rest of us hit the dance floor, and ended up walking an hour and a half in the wrong direction. Good one, DEdward.

A late start for some, and an even later start for others, we woke the next morning and headed off to the Nishiki Markets. Anything and everything pickled and the smell of fresh fish would have been welcomed, had we not all be recovering from our previous night. A short stroll over to Gion, where Ed realised he had ended up the night before, we really found the kulture in Kyoto. Beautifully preserved, the streets got smaller, the gardens became more zen, the houses quaint and traditional. Geisha’s packed the streets and shrines hid in every corner. It was so much fun to just walk around, popping into little stores and just waiting to see what we’d run into.

We did have a mission though, well at least I did. I’d heard that you could do pottery classes in Gion, and was determined to find one. Thankfully the boys were very patient and persevered until we did. After a quick lesson, we considered ourselves masters and hit the clay. He made a beautiful plate, Ed a sake bottle, and I just let the clay do what it wanted. I ended up with a bowl/vase/cup thing that I really liked. The best part about it is that we all got to choose a colour which they will paint for us, fire, and then send home for us. I can’t wait for that little surprise to arrive in the mail when I’m back in the slug of reality.

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Even better though, we accomplished another mission when Ed darted into a little side store after spotting a beautiful damascus knife, similar to the one that he had bought. Actually, turns out it was exactly the one that he bought. Just #bffl things.

We saved the best ’til last for our final dinner in Kyoto – flaming ramen. More of a show than simply a meal, it was nothing short of a seamless operation. Clad in aprons and led through strict instructions like “don’t run away, your seats are soiled in oil”, we had our cameras collected and connected to a series of purposely positioned selfie-sticks behind the bar. Leaning back, our chef walked along the bar pouring flames into our ramen like some kind of fire chief. It was mad. And very delicious. Within half an hour we had been wowed and then chowed, and were back on the road again.

Controversial I know, but I think Kyoto has been my favourite so far. Osaka tomorrow.

E x

 

 

A Night in Nagano

And we’ve found snow! And not just the pretty snowflake stuff that melts before it touches the ground, but the proper stuff. The kind of snow that piles up on the side of the road, that forms icicles as it falls, that dusts the trees with icing sugar, and that normally results in me falling over. The others weren’t quite as excited, having spent a week in Niseko and all, but I was so excited I couldn’t stop shaking. Maybe that had something to do with the -3 degree temperature, but who knows.

We spent one night in Nagano, in an awesome place called Worldtrek Guesthouse. It looked like a tree-house, with little hidden nooks and crannies hidden everywhere, and a wood fire burning inside. Our room was made up of little bunk-beds hidden behind walls and curtains, which was fun, and the fleeting privacy was well-welcomed after sharing what felt like one mattress between five of us for the previous four nights.

The reason we went to Nagano was to get to the snow monkeys, something that I’d really wanted to do on the last trip but not had time. And as is almost never the case, unbeknownst to us, we happened to stay there the one night of the year that Nagano celebrates a Light Festival at it’s Zenkō-ji Temple. Hundreds of handmade light boxes lined the street leading up to the temple that was lit up in an array of colours. What are the odds?

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But the real show happened the next morning when we rushed to the station to catch a bus to the Snow Monkey Park. Next was a half an hour walk through the snow-covered forest. I was busy focusing on not falling over, but couldn’t help but be taken away by the winter wonderland around me. Every surface was dusted in a thick blanket of fluffy white snow. I didn’t think it could get any prettier, until we reached the monkeys. Not quite pretty, more pretty ugly, but so darn cute. There were babies running around everywhere and we couldn’t believe how close to them you could actually get. Some were munching on snow, some were floating in their 42 degree hot pool, picking fleas from each others fur, or posing for pictures. It was almost alarming how human-like they were. I fell in love with one monkey I named George. He was sitting in the snow with his leg stretched out, and when he caught me smiling at him, he quickly tucked it in and had a look across his face like he’d been caught red-handed. Absolutely gorgeous. Or should I say Georgeous? *sigh*

I was worried it would be an overrated experience, and that we would trek all that way and just see a bunch of monkeys sitting in water from a distance, but I was absolutely wrong. It was worth every cent we spent on it and I could have stayed there for hours. It was one of the things I was so excited about doing this trip and I’m so glad I got the chance to come back and do it after my last holiday.

Soba for lunch and a snooze on the bus back.

Kyoto we’re coming for you.

E x

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