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

A library of London

I don’t believe there is ever not a good time to travel, and leaving a Sydney summer for a European winter is no exception. Plus, for a girl who finds herself as entranced with fairy lights as I do, London leading into Christmas is a fairytale. Too busy staring up at the strings of lights floating above to navigate the streams of people falling out of buildings, cafes, and tube stations below. But ever so happy.

The first glimmer of the trip sparked from the idea to surprise his younger brother who had been living abroad for the year by turning up at the local derby at Wembley Stadium, creating a memory that floods warmth through your body – “no f#@king way” – and didn’t take much convincing from there.

So with four days in London, and an excited and unexpected tour guide, what do you do?

The first twenty-four hours were a whirlwind. Filled with surprises, station-hopping, and sub-par temperatures, we rode the high until we collapsed back in our perfectly positioned London pad. At 7.30pm – thank you, jetlag.  Wandering around Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland we wasted our first few pounds on carnival games we knew we couldn’t win, and warmed our weary fingers with Bailey’s hot chocolate and good old German beer. With Mariah already filling the air, it really was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, and with his brother back by his side I could tell he already had all he wanted.

One of the things that excites me about travel is having an excuse to eat out for as many meals as you just can’t seem to justify back home. And when we eat, we do it well. Warned about the state of coffee in the UK, our first breakfast at The Modern Pantry was very well received. The savory waffles drizzled in maple syrup and pulled pork eggs benedict definitely didn’t disappoint either. And apparently, without realising, we’d brought a taste of home back to Henry. Coffee. We even stopped for a second cuppa at Prufrock on the walk home.

A stroll through the Camden Markets, where a bubble-machine from the circus shop almost had me in tears thinking it was snowing already, was followed by a proper stuffing at Southwark Tavern with a bunch of Breislin’s who we worked out, I hadn’t seen for almost ten years. Many jokes were made about putting the ‘convicts’ back in their cells (the tavern used to be a prison), and it just felt like home. Funny thing about family.

A walk along South Bank and across Millennium Bridge, we ended up watching the the setting sun trickle through the city’s shades of grey from the top story of a boutique shopping center across from St Paul’s. It pays to know people who know the city inside out. Looking at you, Viv.

Anyway, that’s enough words for now. But don’t worry, there are more to come. A whole load more. For now, have some pictures.

E x

Hack: what to pack

Have you ever arrived late at your hostel and had to creep into your dorm in the dark and wished you’d packed a torch? Or found yourself draping the clothes you’ve just washed in the sink over every dusty corner you can find in your hotel room and teared up over your washing line at home?

Every time I travel, I learn new hacks on things to pack to make my life easier on the road. But come the next trip, I never seem to remember them, so I thought it was about time I wrote them down.

The list doesn’t contain the essentials (ie. passport, duh), but possibly a few things to add to your letter to Santa.

1. Powercube

Say goodbye to scrambling around that dusty drawer of international adapters looking for enough plugs to charge all your devices. Forget organising a schedule stricter than school camp to make sure your phone, GoPro, laptop and camera are all fully charged for the next day. A powercube has four plugs and two USB ports in one nifty little device. Say hello to filling all your devices with power, in the time it takes you to shower. (That is not an ad, but it should be).

2. Pegless washing line

A lot of places in Europe won’t let you hang your washing out on your balcony, and there is nothing worse than losing your limited stock of underwear after it flies off the precarious perch you hung it over to dry. A pegless washing line not only looks cool, but ensures the delicates you quickly washed in the bathroom sink the night before are actually dry before you stuff them in your bag and hop on the train the next morning.

3. Flexlible travel lock

This is a tip I got before my first backpacking adventure around South East Asia. Locks become much more than just security on long-haul flights. Particularly when you’re backpacking, locks are your life. Passport, money, that scarf you really love. Lock ’em up. But what happens if your lock doesn’t fit into the latch that’s been dented and deformed from years of abuse. Get a flexy lock. With bendy arms, it’ll hug any catch. Nawwwww.

4. A shampoo bar

I’ve never actually used one before but I saw a video on Facebook recently (pretty much how I learn about everything these days), and it looks pretty cool. Save yourself the room big bottles take up and the risk of everything exploding over your limited wardrobe and grab yourself a shampoo bar. Just like soap, only shampoo. Plus, any excuse to head into Lush is one I’ll take.

5. Rechargeable phone case

Forget carrying around heavy power batteries and just slip your phone into a rechargeable phone case. Practical, powerful and yep, you guessed it, packed.

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So what do you never leave without?

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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Stepping into Sri Lanka

It hit us like a tuk-tuk driving 100km per hour around a blind corner as we stepped through the doors of Colombo Airport. That smell. The one that took him straight back to the dusty streets of Kathmandu, and me to the back roads of Bangkok. Don’t get me wrong, though; we both love that smell. It was like a hit of adrenaline. We’re back.

With jetlag on our side, we woke early and headed to the beach outside our room at Rani Beach Resort, which had been veiled in darkness when we arrived the night before. Greeted with a game of beach cricket, wooden catamarans covered in colourful sails, and some “very good salesmen” trawling the beach, we already felt accomplished. And it wasn’t even 9am.

Buffet breakfast. Tick. First shower of the day. Tick. Ready for more action. Tick.

After meeting the guide for our World Expeditions tour that would start that afternoon, we headed off to the main fish markets via a tuk-tuk that was nicely haggled down in price by him. Thank god he’s here, I’m hopeless at that stuff.

We could smell it before we arrived. A stark contrast to the fish markets we’d visited in Tokyo; while store owners lined the road, spruiking their offerings, the beach was covered in meters of hessian topped with neatly arranged fish. I wondered how they stopped the birds from eating it until I saw a bird swoop down and score a small fish. The answer to my question: they don’t.

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After a friendly toothless man excitedly told me that I could watch the markets from my television, thanks to a visit from Rick Stein a few years back, we wandered through the fruit and vegetable markets. The only way to describe it was colourful, which coincidentally happens to be a pretty good summation of Sri Lanka overall so far.

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After meeting up with our group, which turned out to be just one other couple who’d traveled all the way from…Sydney, Australia, we headed to the Dutch Canal, spanning a whopping 240km for a boat ride with a bit of wildlife spotting. Monitor lizards, kingfishers, herons, owls and the occasional bit of rubbish. It was as if our guide had arranged a meeting place with each bird, as he was able to spot things our amateur eyes simply couldn’t.

The banks of the canal were littered with tin shacks sheltering small smiling children, next to large concrete complexes containing the very apparent disproportion of wealth. Breaking into more open water, we headed across the lagoon to the Muthurajawela Nature Reserve, a tropical wetland known to home crocodiles, sea eagles, monkeys, and all manner of birds. While we unfortunately (or fortunately?) didn’t see any crocodiles, we did manage to be boarded by some pirates who liked the look of our afternoon tea.

On the ride home across the lagoon, the wind whipping through my hair, I watched on as birds darted in and out of the sunset as if tiptoeing on time.

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Jumping back in the car the next morning, we headed off to the rural mountain town of Salgala, to the monastic complex housing nineteen Buddhist monks. Leaving the comfort of touristed Negombo, we finally got a glimpse of the real Sri Lanka, in all it’s nitty-gritty-ness. Streets littered with dogs, the brightest bunches of bananas hanging from the awnings of crumbling straw huts, colourful buses charging down thin streets, and fields of rice bordered by the tallest coconut trees. As the roads got bumpier, the excitement only grew.

Once we made it to the monastery, an eighty-eight year old gentleman, sari-wrapped and thong clad, with only a few teeth and not a word of English, led us around the complex and up through the forest. He explained to our guide, who translated, that there were eighteen caves in the forest that the monks reside in, but that they were originally built for the King when he fled to the mountains to avoid Indian invasions in the second century. The monks now use the caves for meditation, of which they perform from 1pm each day until the following sunrise. We walked barefoot and admired temples hidden in stone and stupas entangled in vines, but not so much as our utter admiration for the elderly gentleman who led us, using nothing but the end of an old broom as a walking stick to take him all the way up to the lookout at the top, which swept across from Colombo Harbour all the way out to Adam’s Peak and beyond. I was a sweaty mess by the top but I swear I still saw a spring in his step up there. Age is just a number, folks.

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That afternoon we headed to our hotel for the night: Elephant Bay Hotel in Pinnawala. Okay, picture this. With a grand colonial style entrance, we stepped over the sleeping guard dog and through the doors. The view directly across the lobby opened onto a magnificent river, dotted with rocks in a way that the water sparkled as it trickled over its obstacles. If you take a look over the balcony you notice a bright blue infinity pool, overlooking the gushing river. Now look a bit closer and you notice one, no two, no make that a herd of elephants bathing in the river.

The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was just across the road, and a few times a day they walk the elephants across the road, down the small side streets, and into the river for a release from the heat. They eat 300kg of foliage a day, and need 250 litres of water. Needless to say, we watched them all night: from our balcony, our bed, the pool and over the dinner table. That was until we met Malou, at the end of her four-month trip traveling solo from Holland, who showed an interest in our card game. As they say, the rest was history. Remember to come visit, Malou!

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I thought I’d wait a few more days before I wrote my first blog, considering I’m here for two weeks, but there has been too much excitement to write about.

I promise the next one will be shorter.

E x

 

Up and a(way with words)

Writing and traveling have become somewhat synonymous for me these days. I’m not sure whether I travel to travel or travel to write anymore, but what I am sure of is that whichever it is, I bloody love it. You could only imagine my excitement then, that seemingly monotonous day, when I read that from writing twenty-five words or less I’d won an all expenses paid trip for two to the destination of my choosing thanks to Lonely Planet and World Expeditions.

Cue inaudible screams and a cheek-straining smile for the next nine hours straight.

The chosen trip: a Sri Lankan Adventure with World Expeditions. Fourteen days of trekking through tea plantations, canoeing down the Kalu Ganga, visiting a Buddhist monastery, climbing mountains, staying at elephant sanctuaries and the likes. All the hard stuff, you know. Plus, considering the first two weeks are free we decided to add a few nights in a water villa in the Maldives to the end of the trip…semi-justifiable, right?

So get ready to tune in or tune out, depending on how high your FOMO-tolerance is because this one is going to be a good one.

Pass me my passport.

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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Off to Osaka

It’s interesting how this trip has ended where my last trip to Japan began – Osaka, Tokyo’s odd little brother. Slightly grungier, slightly sleazier, love hotels dotted on every street corner and the first sighting of any litter scattered in the streets. I can’t remember what I found quite so magical about this city last time. Perhaps it was just that it was my first taste of the country? The first time is always special. We struggled to fill our three days here with activities that rivaled those of the previous cities. If anyone has any idea of what I missed out on, please fill me in. Or maybe don’t. #FOMO

We arrived in the middle of day, a short trip from Kyoto, and spent the afternoon walking the streets of Dotonburi, the district I remembered most clearly from my last trip as being the very essence of what you expect, and want, from Japan. Bright lights, bustling streets, loud noises. We couldn’t wait to come back at night.

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After extensive research the next morning, we made our way to the Osaka Castle, which looked pretty cool compared to what else was on offer. Tall, white and clear, the Castle shone against the beautiful blue sky we were greeted with. The detail used in the roofs of Japanese buildings continues to astonish me. And he seems to always love capturing beautiful photos of it too – every time I look over and see him leaning all the way back with his camera pointing straight up in the sky I know we’re all in for a treat. We went into the Castle Museum and to the viewpoint at the top, but to be completely honest it wasn’t really worth it. And yes I know how bad that sounds, but we’ve been spoiled.

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With afternoon plans to rent bikes and ride around Tennoji Park, the fact that it was the end of a full on trip hit us and instead all the energy we could muster was put towards an afternoon nap. A well deserved one though. Having tried puffer fish (or fugu) for lunch, a local delicacy that if not prepared perfectly becomes lethal, I was convinced that that nap was going to be my last and just let the ‘toxins’ take over.

Overjoyed to have woken up at the other end of it, we all celebrated by taking ourselves to Mizuno, a Michelin starred okonomiyaki restaurant. Huddled around our hotplate, we watched on as our chefs prepared the top three voted okonomiyaki that we had coincidentally ordered. No cameras allowed, but I assure you it was worth the wait.

Fried chicken and giant soft serves for dessert before an early night in, as we were headed for Hiroshima the next day.

A massive change of pace from the weird and wackiness of Japan, my second trip to Hiroshima still felt chilling. And that’s not just because it was the first time we’d been caught in the rain on this trip. Walking out of the station, it all came flowing back to me. Even the city bus we’d taken to get to the main historical sites came back to me. I don’t know whether studying Hiroshima quite extensively at school helped or not, in that I had some idea of what to expect, but I don’t really think anything can prepare you to see and feel what you do when you walk through the Hiroshima Peace Museum. Not even seeing and feeling it before.

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To lighten the mood, we made a hop skip and a jump over to the island of Miyajima. Last time I’d only stumbled upon this gem last minute, and so was very limited with my time to explore. Not this time. This time we had time to slurp up some lunch, buy more souvenirs, throw coins at the world’s largest rice spoon, pat the cutest Shiba, watch Miyajima’s famous maple biscuits be made and try some, pat some deer, pat some more deer, and of course visit Itsukushima Shrine – Miyajima’s floating torii. When I was here last, the tide was out and so it wasn’t really floating, but this time the water was lapping up at its base and it was clothed in a fine mist. It felt like exploring a new place.

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As our last night in Japan, we knew we had to take it out with a bang. While the party started in our apartment, it went next level with a run through Dotonburi to find an awesome looking ramen shop that was always busy, day and night. I wish I could tell you the name, but I was in no state to remember.

Luckily, considering our condition, we didn’t have to try to order with a person that night, and instead Japan had the answer with their vending machine ordering system. All we had to do was either press the ‘Noodles in Soup’ button, or the ‘Noodles in Soup with extra pork” button. Simple enough, right? I was pretty happy, Michelle was playing catch ups, and Ed couldn’t stop staring at the chef. All was well.

We bought soft serve for dessert, and Romy bought some fried chicken for a stray cat on the street, who promptly ran away before she could feed it. Yes, it was one of those nights. A quick stop off in a photo booth where we produced some truly terrifying images, before a 7Eleven fridge-to-fridge on our way to find a bar. This is where things got interesting. We’d seen a bar close to home that morning that was offering ¥200 drinks, but when we turned up turnt that night, not surprising at all by this point in the trip, we didn’t all fit in the bar. Wait just there, our host told us, as he went back inside to grab his flip phone and a suspicious unmarked bottle of coke. We then proceeded to follow him along the street to another bar that had already rejected us that night, so it was no surprise when they did so again. Never you mind, however, with a quick call on his flip phone, we were off again, this time down the street, over the river, around a corner, across some lights, up an escalator that wasn’t on, down a dark corridor and through a tiny door. With pages and pages of weird and wacky cocktails, all costing ¥200 each, we decided to order for each other. I got Dan ‘Old Pal’ because we were celebrating our one year Facebook friend anniversary that day, Brandon and Michelle both got Romy an ‘Angry Cat’ because…well, she loves cats. He got me ‘The One’ because he is adorable, and anyone who got Ed a drink got him one with milk because DEdward.

All in all, it was an awesome trip, and very different to my last time in Japan. But that’s good, that’s what I wanted. I learned a lot, I saw a lot, I ate a lot, I laughed, I cried, I shivered and I sweat. It was a good holiday, and not even having our flight cancelled a few hours before we were due to leave, having us wait around at the airport for hours hoping to get on the last flight of that night, running through the airport like a scene from Love Actually, and somehow magically scoring two seats next to each other with an extra seat to curl up on. That just doesn’t happen on normal holidays.

Bye for now, and thanks Japan fam.

E x

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