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

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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Be Mine, Melbourne

You know you’ve got it good when you find someone who is equally as prepared, and even happier, to spend their every last cent on good food and wine. Well, that’s what I’ve got in him. So a post-exam trip to Melbourne for some serious eating, drinking and then a bit more eating, is always on the cards.

It began as any good trip to Melbourne should: $7.80 dumplings in Chinatown. We had arrived in the afternoon, and with only our two new leather weekender-bags we’d been dying to have an excuse to use, we made it to our Airbnb apartment with ease. It did help that our apartment was located right in the middle of Chinatown and no further than a block from almost every establishment on our ‘must go’ list.

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What’s on that list, you might ask? Well it’s a funny story really. We went down with no real plan of what were going to do. I say that knowing though that he definitely had places he wanted to go, and I was just happy to be, well, easy breezy.

But on our first night, he took me to Lûmé, the most incredible restaurant with a blind, experimental ten-course menu. There we met Orlando Marzo, barman extraordinaire and the man responsible with providing some of the best liquids either of our taste buds had ever had the pleasure of. As it was, he also happened to have just competed in the World Class competition for Bartender of the Year, along with our friend Christian Blair, and as if that little surprise wasn’t enough, he, along with all the staff of Lûmé, including head chef Shaun Quade, composed a list of ‘must-go’ venues especially for us. Speechless.

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I’d recommend the restaurant based on that alone. The service was second to none. They all knew our story and cared. They were fun and professional, and didn’t make me feel embarrassed when I slipped on basic etiquette of “fancy” restaurants. I’m sure we all know the story there. They pushed your chairs in whenever you sat down, and escorted you to the bathroom each time. Speaking of the bathrooms, the ladies’ was stocked up with perfume, bobby pins, and makeup wipes, and I’m informed the men’s had aftershave and beard wax.

All this, and I haven’t even mentioned the food. Each course could only be described as absolutely beautiful, if not the definition of sexy. We ate in total over twelve different meats, none being the classic beef, chicken or lamb. We tried scampi roe, and emu bone broth. We enjoyed apple-fed duck, and artichoke bread with cured eel butter. We even got to dine on a meal that looked like my dream succulent garden. Each meal inducing a jaw-drop; each meal a work of art.

I’ve attached the full menu that we were sent afterwards here.

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The next morning we jumped out of bed, only to get straight back in once we realised how cold it was. Whether we mustered the courage on the second attempt or our stomachs were starting to rumble, we made it to Higher Ground for breakfast, the sister of infamous Kettle Black café. A minced lamb fry up for him, and a roasted quince bircher for me. YUM.

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A quick stop off at Patricia‘s (because #duh), on the way to the Queen Victoria Markets to pick up ingredients for my best cheese board yet that was to come later that night. We took a stroll through the streets of Melbourne as the weather starting turning it up and the jackets started melting off. I’d introduced him to the television show Rake this holiday, and that had quickly become the go-to activity while digesting food between meals. But just around the corner, like most things, was Belleville, a place serious about their seriously-good chicken, and our next meal of the day. Think Philly cheesestick spring rolls, three cheese mac n cheese, and chargrilled watermelon salad. Mad.

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More Rake, more coffee (courtesy of Brother Baba Budan), and more feasting that night. There is nothing quite like sharing a bottle of red wine in bed to make you ditch your plans to go out in a heartbeat.

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Saturday we headed South to St Ali where, after asking for advice from the waiter on which meal to choose, I decided I wished I’d picked the buttermilk griddlecakes instead. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I may not be the best at picking meals, but I know I’ve picked a good partner. Knowing of my regret, he managed to order the griddlecakes without me knowing and even offered to finish my meal for me, knowing I’d need the space for my second breakfast. Find yourself someone who would do that for you.

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By chance, the Swans were playing at the MCG that afternoon, so we met up with his cousin and her husband to see the game. The stadium was insanely big and the game was insanely awesome. Go the Swaaaaannnnnniieeesss! A few drinks at the Boilermaker House and Heartbreaker Bar that night topped it all off.

The next morning we ventured out of the free-tram zone, requiring us to top up our MyKi cards for the first time. First stop was Industry Beans, in Fitzroy – my future post code. He had the truffle eggs with pea panna cotta, and I had cinnamon dusted brioche. We wandered the streets for a bit, while I took photos of every bit of street art and googled every ‘for sale’ sign we walked past. Needless to say, we were there for a while. We did end up at Proud Mary though, where he got a $10 long black that was “worth every cent” apparently, and there is a lot of cents in $10. To finish off our Fitzroy adventure we meandered through the Rose St Artists’ Market and dreamed of things we’d love fill our homes with. If we ever have a home in Sydney’s real estate market.

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That afternoon we met up with Sarah, a friend of his from his time back in London. Always good company, she told us stories of her latest adventures and once again put forward a great argument for me switching my allegiance from the Swans to Carlton. Looking at you, Marc Murphy.

We had coffee at Top Paddock, and then a walk along the Yarra River. Considering the stunning weather, she drove us to Bridge Street where we walked some more and talked for hours. When dropping us home, she mentioned a raffle system that the theater show The Book of Mormon does, where two hours before the performance you can enter to win $40 tickets. It would have been the most incredible way to finish the trip, but we will know for next time. Thank you so much for your hospitality, Sarah!

We visited an institution for dinner: Pellegrini’s, and what an experience that was. An Italian diner with no menu, and a ‘no-f#@k’s-given’ attitude. We weren’t sure how to get the waiters attention until a lovely couple next to us just told us that they’d come over eventually. I don’t really think there is a fixed system though, the staff seem to just yell orders back to the kitchen and then drop massive bowls of pasta in front of people. When going to pay, we told the waitress what we’d had and she stared back at us blankly for a second before responding with “ahh, just make it $55.” We handed the cash over and she threw it on the bench behind her before continuing to clean dishes. It was amazing.

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That night we went to Berlin Bar, which to get in to you have to climb a flight of stairs and ring a doorbell – an obstacle that he hadn’t managed to pass the last time he’d come on his own. The bar is styled around Berlin, split into an East side and a West side, and is pretty cool.

The next day was the last. We explored the streets one more time and talked about how much we wanted to come back already. We walked through alleyways and got a coffee at Dukes. And finally, we finished the trip the same way we had started; with dumplings. It really was the most incredible week. We did so much but felt so relaxed and rejuvenated at the same time. It was the best way to celebrate finishing exams for the semester.

Now to start planning the next trip.

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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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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