All posts by roshan

Snorkel Safari, 2017

The next day I decided to treat myself to a manicure and pedicure at the hotel spa. The beautician was from Jamaica and entertained me with stories of her life on the islands.

After pampering, we had a little more beach time and took in all the water sports on offer out front of the hotel. There were jet boots, parasailing, beach volleyball, two person sailing boats, paddleboards, water skiing and banana boating.

We decided on a snorkel safari that included riding on Jet Ski’s to two different snorkelling locations.

Having never been on a Jet Ski before, I was quite happy for my husband to drive. After donning life jackets, packing our snorkelling gear and a few short instructions on how to drive, we were ready to head off.

We went slowly at first, but found this was too rocky. So we sped up and were soon sailing past our South African tour guide.

At the first snorkelling site, I was lucky enough to see a small black stingray trawling the bottom of the ocean.

The second snorkel site, near the cruise ships anchored in Georgetown harbour, was much deeper and better.

We saw large schools of blue fish swimming in between the crevices of the rocky reef, bright green parrotfish and even bigger schools of silver fish that swam right up to the surface and past your face.

Then we had another Jet Ski race back to the beach, just in time to get ready for dinner back at the hotel.

There were tables were set up by the pool for dinner. The pay-as-you-go family sized canvas lounging chairs were finally free as daytime was over, so we settled in for some pre-dinner drinks.

A DJ set up near the pool, which was deep blue in the moonlight. The night ended with much dancing here, fireworks on the beach and a nightcap at the hotel bar.

Related posts: Rum Point, 2017Crystal Caves and Stingray City, 2017Caribbean rum, 2017Grand Cayman, 2017,  Isla Mujeres and Cancun, 2011

Rum Point, 2017

After our close encounter with the stingrays, we hopped back on the boat and sailed to Rum Point.

The sun came out and shone on the water, making it sparkle. Then, like a mirage, Rum Point emerged over the horizon. A low beach with pine trees jutting out into the endless ocean with a long wharf to access it.

Even though we were still on Grand Cayman, it felt like Rum Point was a new stand alone island to explore.

We hopped off the boat and walked down the wharf to the signpost telling us how far away we were from other places like Sri Lanka or home. There were silly questions not to ask listed such as: Where is the best place to swim? Try the water; and Do you guys sell rum? Welcome to Rum Point.

There were also signs showing the various hurricanes which have narrowly missed Rum Point, the Wreck Bar and of course, a gift shop selling soft toy string rays and other related stingray paraphernalia.

Our stretch of semi-private beach had deck chairs set up on the sand and dining tables  under paper lanterns for lunch. There were large hammocks and most importantly The Dak Shack, which funnily enough, served strawberry daiquiris and the signature drink of Rum Point- mudslides.

They were both delicious, especially when consumed whilst knee deep in clear blue water. Some, more energetic, people could be found snorkelling and playing volleyball, but I preferred bobbing around in the shallows.

After a most relaxing afternoon, we jumped back on the boat and headed back to the hotel where we dined on pig on a spit while taking in another gorgeous Seven Mile Beach sunset.

It had been a long, eventful, but also relaxing day. Now we could say we sailed the Caribbean and didn’t get looted by pirates or stung by stingrays.

Related posts: Crystal Caves and Stingray City, 2017Caribbean rum, 2017Grand Cayman, 2017,  Isla Mujeres and Cancun, 2011

Crystal Caves and Stingray City, 2017

The next day, we spent the morning by the pool before hopping on a bus to drive to the Crystal Caves on the other side of the island. On the way we passed the port where the Disney cruise ship was in harbour and Bodden town where the locals live.

Crystal Caves is a new tourist attraction having only been open for about a year. Our tour guide used to explore the caves as a child before they were excavated and lit up. He told us stories of crawling through small crevices and knew what all the plants in the surrounding countryside could be used for.

Our first cave was the open ceiling cave, with funnily enough, a hole in the ceiling. A huge fig tree crowded the entrance and there were bats grouped together sleeping. The next cave was the roots cave where the roots of trees could be seen breaking through the stalactites and stalagmites.

The final cave, the lake cave, was the highlight of the tour as it actually had a blue lake inside the cave. There have been tales of pirates burying treasure here. The caves sparkled like crystal gems and the cool temperatures were a welcome change from the heat of the beach.

After the tour, we headed back to the hotel for a fancy dinner at The Beachhouse. The scallops benedict were delicious and the desserts almost looked better than they tasted. We went to bed early, as we knew the next day was going to be a big one as we were off for a day of sailing to Stingray City.

The morning dawned sunny and we boarded the boat with expectations for a great day out. The catamaran was wide with equipment for sailing and several places that you could sit to get your feet wet. The water was so clear and many different shades of blue and aqua. Once the sails went up, it was so beautifully quiet and peaceful.

Stingray City is a sandbar where stingrays gather out of a habit that started a few years ago when fisherman started to feed them. Now, Stingray City is a haven for cruise ship day-trippers as they all crowd around seeking a spot for that perfect photo opportunity.

Nevertheless, our boat crew seemed to be responsible for the animal’s welfare, gently handling the animals and giving us all an opportunity to hug and kiss a stingray one by one.

I was apprehensive at first; being an Aussie I had heard all the reports about Steve Irwin getting killed by a stingray, but these sting rays were smoother than I thought and not at all aggressive.

It was a crazy cool experience and I am glad that we had the opportunity to do something so lovely and unusual.

Related posts: Caribbean rum, 2017Grand Cayman, 2017Solo trip to Hawaii, 2014Isla Mujeres and Cancun, 2011

Caribbean rum, 2017

On our second day on Grand Cayman Island, we went into Georgetown and found a pretty town square with a white washed library, a peace memorial and a large open plaza. I was particularly taken with a statue commemorating the steps women have taken to gain equality.

We headed down to the port and found the place where all the cruise ships come in. There were lots of touristy shops to be found here, including a Margarittaville. We searched for the local market, only to discover that we had arrived too late and there were only two stalls left selling scotch bonnet chillies and fresh coconut.

On the walk to the Cayman Spirits Distillery, we struck gold when I spotted Smokies BBQ, which sold tasty brisket bread rolls and mac and cheese bites. We also found the Tortuga factory- famous for its rum cake and also apparently its statues of pirates.

The Cayman Spirits Distillery offered 7 different types of rum including one that is aged in barrels seven fathoms under the Caribbean Sea. They also served a vodka and flavoured liqueurs. The set up of the cellar door was suitable nautically themed with an old style dive suit and model ships.

As we waited for the next distillery tour to start, we chatted to the exceedingly friendly staff who let us sample some of the wares. The tour itself was quite interesting to learn how the rum is made from fermenters to the liquor tank and the bottling machine.

After the tour we were treated to free pouring fun and photo opportunities with a suitable soundtrack by the very generous proprietor. It was definitely value for money and a great experience. We left with two bottles of genuine Caribbean rum- coconut and dark.

Next we returned to the hotel pool bar for some rum cocktails, before we went to dinner on the beach. Tables were set up so we could eat with our feet in the sand while we watched the beautiful Seven Mile Beach sunset.

More rum drinking ensued as we listened to the authentic sound of kettledrums. For desert we roasted marshmallows and smores on a beach bonfire paired with more rum cocktails. When in the Caribbean, what else can you do, but drink rum? It would be rude not to.

Related posts: Grand Cayman, 2017Solo trip to Hawaii, 2014Isla Mujeres and Cancun, 2011, New Year’s Eve on the Island, 2007

Grand Cayman, 2017

After a long flight through Los Angeles and Miami, we finally arrived on Grand Cayman Island in the British West Indies at night. Exhausted, we checked into The Westin and crashed.

The next day, we awoke to the beautiful aqua blue waters of Seven Mile Beach. After breakfast and a short stroll along the beach out the back of the hotel, we caught the complimentary bus to the Cayman Turtle Centre.

Our driver, Benny, was at a bit of a loose end on a not so busy Sunday morning, so he gave us a personal tour of the centre. There was the main pool and egg-laying beach that had 300 massive adult size turtles; the smaller tanks with younger turtles and a lonely Cayman crocodile.

Benny pointed out the silver thatch palm- the national tree of the Cayman Islands- and a few iguana’s, which are everywhere on the island. He showed us the replica local houses that survive hurricanes and the hatchery, which had no eggs, but a turtle shell showing its spine and a turtle skull.

The highlight was paddling knee deep in the pools of turtles that were less than a year old and being able to hold them, flapping around as they objected to being out of the water. We crossed the road outside the centre that dropped off into the sea- deep blue as far as the eye could see.

On the way back to the hotel, Benny took us to Hell- a dark rocky limestone formation, hence the name. We posed for the requisite devil and angel photos and then hopped back in the van and passed some traditional houses in West Bay, all with porch swing seats out the front.

Back at the hotel, I had my first cocktail- a Cayman Lemonade- with my lunch of proper American hot wings. We bypassed the comfy cane chairs and hammocks to claim some umbrella deck chairs on the beach and settle in for some more cocktails with table side service.

After a few Cayman Island Ice Teas, I jumped in the water and swam out to the furthest buoy I could see. The water was so clear, deep and refreshing. Next on the agenda was a few Capiroska’s at the bar in the pool, before we decided it might be time to think about dinner.

The most recommended place for BBQ by the hotel staff was Peppers BBQ. Dubious at first, we saw locals arriving for take away as we waited for our meals so I thought it must be good.

The jerk chicken was tasty, but the BBQ pork ribs were definitely the star. We walked it off back to the hotel along a street lined with lamps. A great start to what promised to be a great holiday.

Related posts: Solo trip to Hawaii, 2014New Caledonia, 2014, Malaysia, 2012, Isla Mujeres and Cancun, 2011, New Year’s Eve on the Island, 2007It’s a South Pacific Thing, It’s a Sri Lankan Thing

Tokyo Disneysea, 2016

On our last day in Japan we went to Tokyo Disneysea. It was slightly smaller than Disneyland, so we had plenty of time in the day to go on all the rides that our daughter wanted to, and some that my husband and I wanted to go on too.

We walked through the entry gates where there was a big globe fountain and Mickey and Minnie Mouse were putting on a welcome show. There was also a golden ship to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Disneysea.

In front of us was the Mediterranean Harbour and it really did look like Europe. There was the Ponte Vecchio, a fortification tower, Venetian palace buildings and cobblestoned alleyways. Our first ride was in a submarine into the middle of the volcano- 20,000 leagues under the sea.

My favourite Disney princess was Ariel so we headed straight for Mermaid Lagoon after that. A tunnel led from the outside to an indoor cave that was dark and glowing with lights and several themed rides for smaller children- we went on them all- and found a few Ariel’s posing in Ariel’s playground.

The highlight was sitting in the front row of King Triton’s Concert starring Ariel the mermaid on acrobatic strings, Flounder and Sebastian as puppets, Triton as a huge moving statue and Ariel’s sisters as holograms videos. It was very entertaining.

Next we went to the Arabian Coast where Princess Jasmine lives and it really looked like an Arabian town, with a walled city, marketplace, archways and a replica of the Lion fountain usually found in the Spanish Alhambra. Some Jasmine’s could be found taking photos here.

Our daughter went on the double storey Carousel and we all went on the flying carpets and into the Genie’s 3D show, which was very good. We also stopped in the Casbah food court for a curry lunch- very tasty.

From here we walked passed the Mexican temples and caught the steamboat through old American looking towns to the American Waterfront and it really looked like America. There was a big ship, a San Francisco tram, a town square and a New York City street.

Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale were putting on a show at the ship and we saw the special Halloween show in the harbour on boats with evil characters such as Ursula, Captain Hook and Jaffar. It was very clever, but very loud.

In Port Discovery we met Goofy and Mrs Incredible and went on the Aquatopia water ride, which was a lot of fun. We ended the day inside the castle where the adults shared an adult drink and an oversized turkey leg.

We left just as it was getting dark to catch our plane back to Sydney. Japan had been a great holiday. Good food, nice people, easy with kids and plenty to see and do from cultural to technological activities. We would definitely be back again.

Related posts: Tokyo Disneyland, 2016The Great Buddha, Nara, 2016Nara, 2016Castle and shopping in Osaka, 2016Osaka, 2016Onsen in Nantan, 2016Markets and Manga in Kyoto, 2016Gion, Kyoto, 2016Food and Fervour in Kyoto, 2016Kyoto, 2016Takeyama, 2016Samurai and Shidax in Kanazawa, 2016Seeking Geisha and Gardens in Kanazawa, 2016Kanazawa, 2016Tokyo, 2016: MiraikanTokyo, 2016: Shinjuku, Tsukiji Market and YanakaTokyo, 2016: Imperial Palace and ShibuyaTokyo, 2016: Ueno and HarajukuJapan, 2016

Tokyo Disneyland, 2016

We arrived at the Sheraton- one of the Disneyland resorts- and were upgraded to a penguin room. The penguin is the mascot of the hotel and they devote a whole floor to him including games, carpet, doors, bedspreads and furniture. Our daughter loved it.

The hotel also had a kids soft play area following a similar theme, electronic games, a miniature golf course and even an area where you can dress up as your favourite Disney character for a personalised photo shoot. Our daughter’s favourite game was the Sofia the First one where a hologram dressed her like the princess.

I was more impressed with the rest of the hotel including waterfall, two swimming pools, ocean views and even a fancy dessert bar with a fairy floss machine. My husband was most impressed with the fact that we could see the Disneyland castle and Disneysea volcano from our balcony and all we had to do was take a short monorail trip to get there.

We went to bed early- it was going to be a big two days.

I was so excited for our daughter’s first trip to Disneyland that I woke up before her. She dressed up in her Rapunzel dress that we had bought in Osaka with matching crown and princess doll that we had brought on our trip to Japan.

When we arrived at the Disneyland gates, we discovered that all the adults were dressed up too as this is allowed only for the week before Halloween. It made the day even better, the atmosphere was amazing and our daughter got to meet all the princesses.

There was another Rapunzel, Snow Whites, many Elsa’s, Jasmine, some Anna’s, Sleeping Beauty, a few Cinderella’s, Ariel, and even a Sophia, Amber and Princess Ivy. And of course there were many other Disney characters too, from Alice in Wonderland to Judy Hopps from Zootopia.

Our first ride was the Star Jets on the way to Toontown. Then we lined up for an hour to meet Mickey Mouse. It was worth it of course and while we waited, we took turns on the rides there with our daughter- Gadgets Go Coaster, Goofy’s House, Daisy’s Boat and Chip and Dale’s House.

We also met Pluto, bought a refillable Dumbo popcorn holder and saw the special Halloween parade with all the classic Disney characters- Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, Donald, Goofy and Pluto.

Fantasyland was exactly how I remembered it being in Los Angeles, but even better. There was the classic cups ride, the carousel, the flying Dumbo ride and you could actually go inside Cinderella’s castle to try on her glass slipper.

We went on a couple more rides in Tomorrowland, like the Monster’s Inc ride, and hit Adventureland when darkness hit. I love the New Orleans quarter here so we ate dinner in a café before riding Pirates of the Caribbean, another classic.

After a few more rides, it was time to call it on a very long day, put a happy little girl to sleep and watch the fireworks from our balcony.

Related posts: The Great Buddha, Nara, 2016Nara, 2016Castle and shopping in Osaka, 2016Osaka, 2016Onsen in Nantan, 2016Markets and Manga in Kyoto, 2016Gion, Kyoto, 2016Food and Fervour in Kyoto, 2016Kyoto, 2016Takeyama, 2016Samurai and Shidax in Kanazawa, 2016Seeking Geisha and Gardens in Kanazawa, 2016Kanazawa, 2016Tokyo, 2016: MiraikanTokyo, 2016: Shinjuku, Tsukiji Market and YanakaTokyo, 2016: Imperial Palace and ShibuyaTokyo, 2016: Ueno and HarajukuJapan, 2016

The Great Buddha, Nara, 2016

We walked along the path to the one of the oldest gates in Japan. It was tall and made of faded wood. On the steps of the gate a deer stood defiantly as if it dare us to enter.

Inside the walls of the gate were huge wooden guardians on either side of the entryway, casting a watchful eye over all who passed through.

We headed down the steps and were confronted by a wall. Peeking through the slats of the gates, we could see a beautiful ordered green garden leading to an enormous white temple with dark wooden embellishments and golden horns on the roof.

On the other side of the gate was the largest incense holder I had ever seen where people were burning and praying.

We walked around the walls to the side entry gate, paid our fee and entered the garden.

Walking into the temple through the front entrance, I was immediately struck still in awe. Maybe because I wasn’t expecting it, or perhaps because it appeared to be trapped in a building that could barely contain its greatness, I was stumped by the largest Buddha I had ever seen in in my life. It was so overwhelming that not even photos could show just how big and amazing it was.

The main sitting Great Buddha was flanked by two bodhisattva statues in gold and two more guardians, one on each side; this time in stone.

We moved around the statues in an anti clockwise direction, continually being drawn back to the Great Buddha and it’s awesome size.

There was a model of the temple complex towards the back and a hole in one of the temple pylons that was the same size as one of the Great Buddha’s nostrils. Children were lining up to crawl through the hole which is said to guarantee enlightenment if you can fit.

On the way back out of the temple complex, my daughter wanted to burn some incense. I like to think it was to pay her respects to the greatness that we had just seen, but it was more likely because everyone else was doing it.

We left the temple complex, walked back through the park with the now snoozing deer, their bellies full of biscuits; through the small town and caught the train back to Osaka where we dined on traditional Okonomiyaki pancakes and Asahi; hoping that it wouldn’t be so long before we saw our friends again.

No more sight seeing and temples for us, nothing would have been able to top the Great Buddha at that point anyway, so it was off to Disneyland for a different kind of wonder.

Related posts: Nara, 2016Castle and shopping in Osaka, 2016Osaka, 2016Onsen in Nantan, 2016Markets and Manga in Kyoto, 2016Gion, Kyoto, 2016Food and Fervour in Kyoto, 2016Kyoto, 2016Takeyama, 2016Samurai and Shidax in Kanazawa, 2016Seeking Geisha and Gardens in Kanazawa, 2016Kanazawa, 2016Tokyo, 2016: MiraikanTokyo, 2016: Shinjuku, Tsukiji Market and YanakaTokyo, 2016: Imperial Palace and ShibuyaTokyo, 2016: Ueno and HarajukuJapan, 2016

Nara, 2016

One of our most epic days in Japan was our trip to Nara to visit one of my husband’s American friends, Perry, who had lived in a more remote area of Japan with his Japanese wife for a number of years. He was bringing his son who was the same age as my daughter, so we decided on the destination of Nara for our catch up.

Nara is known for its relatively tame deer that used to be looked after by monks and now were open to being hand fed by tourists. We met Perry and his son at Nara train station and went to a nearby restaurant for lunch. Over a few beers, the friends caught up and their kids got acquainted.

After lunch we walked through the little town of Nara, which was made up mostly of eateries, one where I had a strangely flavoured persimmon smoothie, and shops selling deer souvenir’s of any shape or size. There was even an official deer mascot shop, which the kids liked.

On the way to the deer parked we passed a lake and then stopped at the impressive Five Storey Pagoda. Here, I discovered that Nara is also known for its many world heritage sites, this being one of them. The pretty red Hokuen- do Hall and large Nanen-do Hall formed a square with the pagoda.

We knew we were getting close to the deer park when they started appearing all over the road. There were cute little fawns with their mums, pregnant deer sitting and mewing and one fawn getting fed at a crossing.

In the park, the deer were everywhere, walking among the humans and not seeming to mind their presence at all. There were groups of deer wading in lakes and hiding in the reeds near streams. There were signs up in the park depicting pictures of what the deer could do and to take care.

Some deer biscuits were purchased and many deer immediately surrounded us, wanting to get in on the action. Some of them were definitely not shy, butting me for more food. We found some smaller deer for the kids to feed and my daughter seemed to enjoy it.

Now that the kids had been amused, it was time for the adults to do a little sight seeing. As we walked on to Todai-ji temple, with deer weaving out of the temple complex completely as ease, I had no idea of the greatness that was about to be unveiled.

 

Related posts: Castle and shopping in Osaka, 2016Osaka, 2016Onsen in Nantan, 2016Markets and Manga in Kyoto, 2016Gion, Kyoto, 2016Food and Fervour in Kyoto, 2016Kyoto, 2016Takeyama, 2016Samurai and Shidax in Kanazawa, 2016Seeking Geisha and Gardens in Kanazawa, 2016Kanazawa, 2016Tokyo, 2016: MiraikanTokyo, 2016: Shinjuku, Tsukiji Market and YanakaTokyo, 2016: Imperial Palace and ShibuyaTokyo, 2016: Ueno and HarajukuJapan, 2016

Castle and shopping in Osaka, 2016

The main thing I wanted to see in Osaka was the castle. My husband, daughter and I passed a museum on the walk from the train station where people were lining up and there was some sort of travelling circus with large lizards and eagles.

As we neared the castle, I could spot a green roof looming above trees and I knew we must be close. We crossed the moat that was lined with willow trees and autumn leaves with a few boats floating by.

Stone walls surrounded the castle grounds from which there was a good view of the city. We walked around Osaka Castle, which turned out to have more white washed storeys than I first saw from afar, and lots of impressive gold embellishment.

There were large topiary trees, a huge rock out front and vending machines around the castle. My daughter asked- where are the king and queen of the castle? And I really didn’t know, so I bought her a Lady Borden ice cream on a stick instead.

We returned to Shinsaibashi-suji by day to shop, as this was our last city stop before going home. My daughter stocked up on Hello Kitty paraphernalia and chose Rapunzel as her first princess dress.

My husband bought souvenirs for his family and a sake set for us in Tokyo Hands; and souvenirs for friends at the Kit Kat shop. I found a gorgeous red jacket in Stradivarius, a funky shop that I had never heard of, and had to have it. And of course we hit Uniqlo and H&M.

After half a day focussed on shopping, I got a bit disconcerted by the chorus of thankyou’s, so we stopped for a nice lunch in a traditional style restaurant below street level. Every little dish had a plate of its own making the presentation very appealing.

We returned to our modern apartment with the many confusing light switches and buttons for a rest, before heading back out to a local restaurant that specialised in tempura for dinner.

Related posts: Osaka, 2016Onsen in Nantan, 2016Markets and Manga in Kyoto, 2016Gion, Kyoto, 2016Food and Fervour in Kyoto, 2016Kyoto, 2016Takeyama, 2016Samurai and Shidax in Kanazawa, 2016Seeking Geisha and Gardens in Kanazawa, 2016Kanazawa, 2016Tokyo, 2016: MiraikanTokyo, 2016: Shinjuku, Tsukiji Market and YanakaTokyo, 2016: Imperial Palace and ShibuyaTokyo, 2016: Ueno and HarajukuJapan, 2016