Tokyo, 2016: Miraikan

On our last day in Tokyo, it was our daughter’s choice of what to do. She decided on the robot museum, also known as Miraikan- the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. Although definitely not my husband’s or my first choice of what to do in Tokyo, it actually ended up being one of the best days we had in the city.

It’s true that half the fun of Miraikan was getting there. After surviving the rush hour train and getting pushed on by a man in white gloves (why is everyone so polite and friendly, except when you are getting pushed onto the rush hour train?), we took the futuristic elevated driverless train to Odaiba- Tokyo Bay.

We passed tall office buildings, went over Rainbow Bridge, past a strange clock with feet and a replica Statue of Liberty, to a world of artificial islands where nobody seemed to live. Some buildings were square arches, some were round balls, but they were all glassily glinting in the sunlight.

The Miraikan museum itself was very interesting. My favourite thing was the enormous globe that hung from the ceiling. Visible from all levels, it changed colour as images were projected onto it.

As promised, they had many different kinds of robots, from small pet robots, to Asimo the walking talking robot who also used sign language and an android who I actually thought was a real person the first three times we walked by it.

At the end of the Asimo demonstration, they asked the kids what kind of robot do they want to live with? and encouraged them to find museum staff and tell them. What a great way to harness the imagination of children and get them involved.

There was also a large hands-on kids activity area where they could create, play and learn. Even here, the kids were all so quiet and well behaved. How are the kids so quiet in Japan?

They had interesting displays depicting what happens to infrastructure when a volcano erupts, a great demonstration showing how the Internet works using coloured balls and a short 3D planetarium movie about the universe.

There was a dance lighting area and my daughter’s favourite of course- a stamping activity- also incorporating a digital game this time. We ended up staying the whole day and were thoroughly entertained the whole time.

That night, we tested the theory of the best food being near the train stations and went near the local metro for karajuku gyoza and ramen. The ramen water was boiled in chip fryers and a thin crust attached the gyoza’s.

They were definitely the best of either item that we had ever eaten. An older lady, perhaps a regular, seemed to agree as she came in, ordered quickly and happily slurped her noodles in appreciation.

Related posts: Tokyo, 2016: Shinjuku, Tsukiji Market and Yanaka, Tokyo, 2016: Imperial Palace and Shibuya, Tokyo, 2016: Ueno and Harajuku, Japan, 2016

Tokyo, 2016: Shinjuku, Tsukiji Market and Yanaka

When night came, we headed to Shinjuku where all the neon lights are. Outside of one of the many Sanrio Hello Kitty shops that they have in Japan, I found the biggest Hello Kitty statue I have ever seen.

We also found the infamous Robot Restaurant and climbed a stepladder for a photo with one of the robots. The area was lively and we stopped in a restaurant that served whale bacon and made soft serve ice cream instantly. We declined the former, but my daughter enjoyed the whole process of the later.

Most of the locals were playing a betting game where they betted on rolled dice for free beer. I think my husband wished he knew how to play.

The next day we woke later, exhausted from all the walking and almost overloaded with sight seeing.

We went to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, part of which is set to close in early 2017. There were enormous slabs of tuna everywhere prepared in any fashion you desired. My husband had raw fish and sea urchin for breakfast, followed by eel skewers for a snack. I couldn’t quite stomach it and had omelette instead.

I liked the huge mushrooms of many shapes, the paper-thin sheets of Nori seaweed and the lollies that were made to look like a tray of sushi. One question we never had answered was where is the inner market and how do you get there?

Next we went to Yanaka old city. It was small and hard to imagine that this was once the centre of Tokyo. The main street had tiny shops. My daughter enjoyed reading the Japanese manga fairy tale books and we liked looking at the houses, both small and grand.

We went back to Shinjuku in search of one of the Alice in Wonderland restaurants. Finding one of these themed places was a little bit of an obsession for me. After a lot of searching, I thought, why is an Alice restaurant so hard to find? But I suppose that’s the whole point.

Eventually we found it, down the rabbit hole elevator in the basement of a non-descript building. It was closed.

Instead, we went to Omide Yoko Cho memory lane for a tasty traditional lunch with Japanese beer and went shopping in one of the many Uniqlo’s- the Japanese brand that has now taken the world by storm.

Back in our neighbourhood, my daughter played in the block courtyard park before we went to dinner at one of my husband’s friends places. The local lady of the house served Daiwa Sushi (make your own) and the thinnest and tastiest slices of Kobe beef that we had ever eaten.

Related posts: Tokyo, 2016: Imperial Palace and Shibuya, Tokyo, 2016: Ueno and Harajuku, Japan, 2016

Tokyo, 2016: Imperial Palace and Shibuya

In the morning we went to the Imperial Palace, surrounded by a great moat with a swan in the water. While we waited for it to open, we breakfasted on takeaway squares of fried rice from the 7-Eleven. It was much better than any food you can get in the chain back home.

When opening time struck, not a moment before or after, we went through the outer gates, past the dolphin statue and in through the inner gates. We found the last blooming cherry blossom tree, but half of the flowers had already fallen off.

We walked through some large stonewalls, past various traditional guardhouses to a field of green where my daughter enjoyed running around. There were tall topiary trees, tea bushes and bamboo stalks. From the top of one bastion we spied the beautifully mosaicked music hall.

The best part was the water garden where we saw our first koi fish in Japan, a waterfall and a large pond. It was another beautiful oasis of green in the busy city.

For a change of pace, we then went to the busiest intersection at Shibuya Crossing. There were lots of tall buildings, many cars and people trying to cross multiple roads. Why do they play that funny tune when people cross the road? I guess it’s better than a beep. The most expensive real estate overlooking the crossing was a Starbucks.

I took my daughter into a cat café. I had heard about these strange places and thought it would be a quirky experience that she would like. Why cats and hedgehogs? There were many rules inside. We had to wash and sterilise our hands, wear special slippers and not touch the cats unless they came to you.

Being cats, of course they didn’t come to us, until we bought a small jar of cat pellets and then one bossy cat was all over us before any of the others could get in. After that, my daughter decided she needed to buy some cat ears in one of the nearby costume shops.

On the way back, we saw people closing off one of the roads in Shibuya and putting down flooring for an event. The efficiency with which this took place was amazing to watch. It turned out to be a Paralympics demonstration of wheelchair rugby and trampolining which my husband was very happy to watch.

After the display, we had one of our best meals in a local restaurant down an alleyway where you had to put coins in a machine and press the button for which Tsu Rutonton Udon noodle soup that you wanted. Sometimes the simplest meals are the best.

For a treat, we took our daughter to Kiddyland, which had every kind of kids toy you could want, from Hello Kitty to Disney, on four levels of fun. There were some very strange characters in there, including the latest toy which was a chicken that was born out of an egg. My ulterior motive was that there was also a Desingual in the area for me to peruse.

Related posts: Tokyo, 2016: Ueno and Harajuku, Japan, 2016

Tokyo, 2016: Ueno and Harajuku

It was raining, so we decided to go to the Tokyo National Museum. A museum is always a good wet weather plan and this one was top of the list as it has a collection of samurai swords and armour, which I knew my husband, would be keen to see.

The metro system was fast, efficient and we figured it out fairly quickly. The only downside was we sometimes had to walk a long way to transfer between lines. I amused myself by looking at the manga style advertisement posters on the walls and the practiced power nappers in the trains.

There was a highly organised stand outside the museum for all the umbrellas. Inside, I was drawn to the beautiful kimonos, room divider screens that told a story with pictures and the unusual tea sets. My daughter loved the kids stamping section and couldn’t get enough of it.

Outside the museum, we discovered that it was set in Ueno-Koen Park with the famous Ueno craft market that had been recommended to us. There were teapots of all shapes and sizes, colourful wooden chopsticks and other cooking pots and implements.

Next we went to Harajuku as I thought my daughter would enjoy the teenage haven. Takeshita-dori was packed and had lots of cute shops with novelty items for kids like the Paris Kids shop where my daughter got an umbrella with a rabbit head, some hairclips of fruit and sunglasses with rabbit ears.

Locals come to Harajuku for crepes and rainbow fairy floss, but we came to see the teenagers dressed up. However, not many were, just a few girls dressed in short skirts and high shoes. Which led to the question- where have all the Harajuku girls gone? Probably elsewhere to escape the tourists. The store staff at the lolly shop were dressed up the most with their cat ears for Halloween.

We had lunch at a local restaurant and then went over Harajuku Bridge to Meiji-jingu- Tokyo’s grandest shrine. The old wooden gate popped out of the oasis of green trees. It got a wow out of me- this was what I had come to Japan to see. The walk to the shrine was one of welcoming cool in the busy city.

There were lots of families in kimonos and their Sunday best, clapping when they pray. There was the massive wishing tree and the marriage trees tied together by a rope with lightning bolts. We also stumbled upon a wedding procession. The bride was still in white, but had a strangely shaped hat.

For dinner we went to the closest neighbourhood restaurant for Hantei skewers of pork. The chef of the restaurant was also our waiter. He thought we tipped too much, but it was so delicious, that it made me wonder, why is it bad manners to tip in Japan?

Related posts: Japan, 2016

Japan, 2016

I thought Japan would be more different, more like the other and difficult to converse in- a challenge.

However, it seems that Japanese culture is somewhat familiar and the locals are used to tourists, perhaps because so many Australians now go to Japan to ski. Even in the smaller places, everyone spoke enough English for us to get by.

Despite the lack of anticipated culture shock, it was still a wonderful trip with lots to see, do and experience. The people were polite, friendly and helpful and the place was incredibly safe. The thought of getting pick pocketed never crossed my mind.

Tokyo was a crazy mish-mash of so many different things in so many different areas that I could not say that I have a clear picture of the city. There were lots of people too of course.

The ‘smaller town’ of Kanazawa felt more traditional and there were some beautiful places and moments to be experienced there. From here, our day trip to Takeyama took us through lovely countryside.

Kyoto was full of temples and the top sights, but was also the place where we felt the most at home, perhaps due to our friendly daily coffee shop lady and the local supermarket close by. We also went to an onsen in nearby Nantan where there were no other tourists.

Osaka seemed like the most liveable city with a great atmosphere and our day trip to Nara from here was a surprising highlight.

Finally, the other world of Tokyo Disneyland and Disneysea, transported us to the happiest place on earth and did it so well that we almost forgot we were in Japan.

Then of course, there is the culinary journey that is Japan. Rather than trying specific restaurants, we sampled the cuisine known in each area, as everywhere had good food. I discovered that it is true that the best food we found was near the train stations and I did get a bit rice and noodled out.

Through it all, many questions came to mind that made me want to read and learn more about Japanese culture. The mixture of tradition and modernity, Asian and Western, was intriguing. Even though Japan may not be the other, I think we still only scratched the surface and there is much more exploring needed to unlock the secrets of this interesting country.

Next time: we start the journey in Tokyo.

10 things to do in the Gold Coast

Like Las Vegas, I never thought I would like the Gold Coast. But then my bestie moved there, we started making annual trips to visit and now I love it!

My favorite place in the Gold Coast is Sea World. The dolphin show, the seal show and the Jet Ski show for the boys. Dolphins, polar bears, penguins and more. My bestie and I even went on a swimming with dolphins experience there and I highly recommend it if you love dolphins as much as I do.

My daughter’s favorite place is Movie World. Last time we were there we met Daffy Duck, danced in the Looney Toons dance party, bought a superman cape and even went on the Wild West Falls (she got a bit scared on that one).

And if you haven’t had enough of theme parks by then, there is also Wet and Wild where you can get caught in a Tornado or drift round a river and Dream World where you can see the tigers and be dropped from the highest vertical drop ride in the Southern Hemisphere- I still haven’t recovered.

My next favorite place is Dracula’s– a comedy cabaret show that is to die for. I love vampires, so this is of course the best show ever. All highly themed with dressed up waiters, entertaining and the cocktails are pretty cool too.

Another good place to catch a show is Jupiter’s Casino. My bestie and I have seen a couple of musicals here and it’s always been lots of fun.

When we go to the Gold Coast, we usually stay at my bestie’s holiday apartment on Main Beach– the quieter end of the Gold Coast- conveniently located near Sea World. It’s a great apartment overlooking the Southport Life Saving Club and the beach with some funky bars and restaurants behind in Tedder Ave.

The beachfront on Main Beach also provides an excellent track for walking along the beach front in the morning, there’s a park for kids during the day and it’s always lovely to fall asleep to the sound of ocean waves crashing on the shore at night.

My bestie now lives at the other end of the Gold Coast, also a nice quiet area, near the beautiful Currumbin Beach. It also has a great Surf Life Saving Club opposite elephant rock. Dining at surf life saving clubs is a cheap option in Queensland and they usually have the best beach real estate too.

My top pick for shopping is Robina Shopping Centre where you can get anything from manicures to Myer, not just the usual bikinis and summer dresses. In fact, shopping in the Gold Coast is pretty good all around. They used to have the largest Mango and I even bought my wedding dress here.

So whether it is for a Disneyland-like theme park adventure, a relaxing week by the beach or a night out on the town- the Gold Coast has a lot to offer.

Related posts: 10 things to do in Melbourne, 10 things to do in Sydney

Lady with a baby coming through…

Having just come off the back of two maternity leave roles, it gave me pause to reflect on my maternity leave experiences.

I’d had ownership of my job for three successful years when it was time for me to go on maternity leave. I soon realised that I must let go of control and pass on my knowledge as much as possible because once you’re gone, there’s nothing you can do.

Honestly, after I left, I was too busy keeping a small human alive to even think about what was happening back at work, let alone worry who was organising the next conference.

When I came back from maternity leave, I realised that the world had kept spinning without me and my replacement had actually improved some of the processes. My worry about not having a job to go back to was quickly allayed when she went on maternity leave herself.

But then I discovered that I actually didn’t want me old job back anyway. In a strange twist of fate, having a child actually gave me the ambition to have a career, not just a job. I figured that if I was spending time away from my daughter, I better be doing something that was worth it.

And so I made moves towards loftier career goals and took a maternity leave contract role in a company that would expand on the skills in the areas I wanted to work in. I was fortunate enough to meet a lot of other strong career women there who supported me through my learning process and taught me that confidence is not a dirty word.

I learnt that self-belief is not arrogance, but ego can be weak and a sign of insecurity. I was also taught that it’s ok to be selfish and not selfless in order to get where you want to go.

Once my maternity leave contract ended when the mother returned, I took another maternity leave role from someone who had been in her job for over a decade and I think was freaking out, trying to control the only thing she could with the uncertainty of her first child on the horizon- her job.

And we all know better than that now don’t we?

Both the maternity roles I took gave me different opportunities and experiences, but I can honestly say that I am now done with stepping into someone else’s shoes, no matter how shiny they are. I’m ready to have this job of my own again in a new role that is mine for the taking.

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10 things to do in Melbourne

As a Sydneysider, I am conditioned to think that Sydney is better than Melbourne. As much as I love Sydney, I still enjoy visiting Melbourne and can appreciate the city for its differences. Be it for a girls weekend, a wedding, a couples retreat, or to visit cousins- I’ve always had a good time in Melbourne-town.

First of all, the shopping in Melbourne is better than Sydney. It has the flagship H & M store, which is bigger than any that I have seen anywhere else and they have the few remaining Mango shops in Australia. Chapel St also has few more different fashion options.

I love shopping in the little laneways like the Block Arcade and the Royal Arcade with Suga- a shop where you can see them roll out and make yummy lollies. My favourite jewellery shop, The Rose Garden on the Walk Arcade, is where I bought all my wedding jewellery and accessories.

The next best thing about Melbourne is the shows. The theatre district near Chinatown always has a great blockbuster like Chicago or Avenue Q, sometimes before they make it to Sydney.

The beautiful National Gallery of Victoria is my top sight seeing pick. I was lucky enough to catch the Degas exhibit last time I was there- one of my favourite artists. The water-featured entry way always gets me straight away and the modern layout is spacious and light.

The Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium is also fantastic. The wonderful Emperor Penguins make it better than Sydney Aquarium, especially as they still have a shark tunnel.

Another good spot is the huge Fitzroy Gardens complete with Captain Cook’s Cottage. Melbourne loves its English style parks, and this one is my top pick.

Melbourne is known for its great restaurants from world class fine dining, to the Italian precinct on Lygon Street and casual laneway dining experiences like the Meatball and Wine Bar and Touche Hombre. All delicious!

It is also renowned for its serious café culture. And I must admit that these Melbourne-ites know how to elevate a café to the next level. My recent top pick is #hash with its signature hot chocolate science experiment served with fairy floss.

My favourite suburb in Melboure is St Kilda. It has the original Luna Park, the famous Esplande Hotel where they filmed The Secret Life of Us, the Beachcomber Café at St Kilda Baths and the weekend markets. I was lucky enough to live and work here for a couple of months and play the local, catching a tram into the office everyday.

With the newly renovated Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and me working on the conference circuit, there was another year that I went to Melbourne a lot. It was good as to discover the adjoining Southbank area with the Crown Casino and Rockpool Bar and Grill, both of which I rate better than their Sydney counterparts.

And of course the DFO is right near the convention centre for any last minute shopping emergencies, like suddenly finding out that you need to attend networking drinks at the Old Melbourne Goal.

And then there’s the tennis. Even this non-sports-lover has to admit that watching the tennis in Melbourne for the weekend was atmospheric; and I didn’t even get bored.

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A life lived vicariously

One thing I really love about having a daughter is doing all the things I love to do, what I loved to do as a kid or what I missed out on doing as a kid. This is definitely what I would call living vicariously.

The weekends become a succession of first time adventures like:

  • First time on the sand in Wamberal
  • First visit to Sydney Aquarium
  • First museum visit
  • First visit to Luna Park
  • First trip to Taronga Zoo
  • First ferry trip
  • First birthday
  • First ride on a Ferris wheel
  • First movie
  • First circus
  • First bushwalk
  • First Halloween
  • First ballet at the Opera House
  • First Chinese New Year
  • First sushi train
  • First award for dancing
  • First big girls ride at Sea World
  • First scooter ride
  • First Vivid night lights
  • First visit to the dentist

The possibilities are almost endless and I honestly don’t know who is enjoying themselves more. Of course there will be less firsts as time goes on and there will be a time when my daughter won’t want me to be a part of her firsts, but I am enjoying the special moments while I can and looking forward to different sorts of first in the future.

What are your favourite firsts with your little ones? What should I add to my list? Would you like to share a story of one of your firsts? Email me on roshan@roshansramblings.com

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10 things to do in Sydney

Here are my favourite places to go in Sydney- a top ten list, if you will. Some of them may seem cliché, but there is a reason that certain places are deemed tourism worthy.

My number one place in Sydney is Taronga Zoo. I love animals and will go to any zoo at any given opportunity. Taronga Zoo is special because you can take a ferry to get there and it has the best views of the city from its grounds. You can even take a gondola from the ferry terminal to the zoo entrance and back again. I also like Sydney Aquarium in Darling Harbour for an animal fix. It has great shark tank viewing tunnels and they have beluga whales too!

The Botanic Gardens is the place to go for its iconic views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. I am lucky because I used to work close enough to the gardens to go for lunch time walks there. I always enjoyed seeing the tourists stopping to take pictures along the way as it reminds me what a lovely city I live in. In summer they have open air theatre shows for kids and they always seem to be setting up for a festival or opera on the harbour side.

The Opera House is the best place to catch a show- pretty much just because you are in the Opera House. My favourite bar, Opera Bar, is also here. It’s often crowded and hard to get a drink, but you can’t beat being under the Opera House looking at the Harbour Bridge while you sip your pre- show cocktail. For a more old skool pub, I also like The London in Balmain. Rustic and sturdy, they have a large selection of beer on tap and decent food. Plus, how can you not love a pub that welcomes dogs?!

One of my favourite restaurants is at The Deck at Luna Park. It has great Spanish style seafood share platters and is not too expensive. It’s also located in my favourite suburb- Kirribilli. I was fortunate enough to live here for a while and there is no place quite like it in Sydney. Lavender Bay is beautiful, the Harbour Bridge is above you and the city is just across the water. You also can’t beat walking to work over the Harbour Bridge.

The European clothing brands have finally landed in Australia! So my new favourite place to shop is the brand new H & M‘s that keep popping up all over Sydney. I must admit that I am a little addicted.

But the best way to see Sydney is to be on the harbour in a boat– preferable at the start of the Sydney to Hobart Race. The harbour is what makes Sydney special, and it is beautiful, so if you ever come here make sure you get out on the water.

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