Tag Archives: children

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

Kanazawa, 2016

The next day, we caught the fast train to the ‘small town’ of Kanazawa, which had less than 500,000 people. How is that considered a small town? Small by Japanese standards I guess.

We whizzed past canola fields, mountainous forests and the sea. We were greeted at Kanazawa train station by a huge gate and a waterfall. There was also a robot that gave directions from an iPad and looked up at you when you spoke.

In Kanazawa, we stayed in a great traditional Japanese house in Katamachi that was made of dark wooden slats and paper windows- thankfully also with glass on the outside. It had a communal sleeping room and cushions to sit on the floor in the living room. Why do people sleep and sit on the floor in Japan?

The town had its own busy Shibuya-like crossing, albeit smaller and with more pushbikes than cars. We found the pretty Saigawa River that ran through the town and that every block had a temple. There were some cute little houses and creative signage adorning bars and buildings.

For our daugther, we found a small kids play park nearby, stone statue children outside one of the large shopping centres to pose with and a character dressed up promoting a restaurant roaming the streets to meet and greet.

The mascot of the Kanazawa looks like a fat Russian nest doll, but it has a moustache and the town is known for its Samurai and Geisha districts. We were told that the Japanese came here to relax and buy kimonos.

For dinner we went to an authentic restaurant that served pork cutlets and Oden- meat and vegetables served in soup broth. Our daughter liked the complimentary cabbage leaves that you could dip in special sauce.

Our first day exploring Kanazawa started with the Omi-Cho market. It was filled with seafood and delicious croquettes. We found an apple for our daughter to eat that was half the size of her head.

We were stopped by a group of school children on assignment to practice their English who asked a series of questions and then gave us a paper crane as a thank you. One of the questions was- where would we prefer to live: Kanazawa or Tokyo? It was only the start of our first day here, but we already knew that with its slower pace and smaller size, Kanazawa would be our choice.

Related posts: Tokyo, 2016: MiraikanTokyo, 2016: Shinjuku, Tsukiji Market and YanakaTokyo, 2016: Imperial Palace and ShibuyaTokyo, 2016: Ueno and HarajukuJapan, 2016

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

Versailles, 2013

One of the main things I had wanted to do on my previous trips to Paris was to go to Versailles, but I had had never quite made it out of the city. When I watched the film Marie Antoinette, it inspired me further and I could not wait to see it for myself.

This time, my husband, daughter and I made the time to catch a train to the palace and take in the château. Despite it’s enormity and the cold weather, it was crowded. But from the moment we passed the statue of King Louis and entered the gold encrusted gates it was worth it.

There was a whole chapel inside the palace, long hallways with sculptures carved into the walls and winding staircases. The rooms all had ceiling frescos and detailed wallpaper. It was definitely decadent now, so I can only imagine what it was like before revolutionaries ransacked it.

There were enormous fireplaces, but small beds; elaborate candlesticks and chandeliers, but threadbare tapestries. Of course we went to the famous Hall of Mirrors, which had beautiful views over the gardens.

My tip would be to go to the Jardins de Versailles first as they would be less crowded in this order, and as nice as the house was, the gardens were much more impressive to me and more vast.

The hedges with statues on the North Parterre was so long and the lake-like fountain on the Water Parterre was so huge. But the most spectacular for me was the view of the patterned Orangery from the Latona Parterre.

Of course, I was also amazed by the famous Grand Canal. I couldn’t believe that there was such a big body of water in a garden. The fountain-obsessive in me also liked Water Ave punctuated with a fountain every few steps and culminating in the lovely dragon fountain.

And of course I loved the idea of the little hidden Three Fountains Grove and the large Neptune’s Fountain. I only wish that I had been here when all the fountains were flowing. How impressive a sight that must be.

I also wish that I had more time to explore the gardens. I could just imagine the parties that the kings and queens had out here. It would have been great to have had more time to see Marie Antoinette’s Estate too and imagine her there with her children.

But alas, my unhappy child would have none of it, so I suppose I will have to leave that fantasy for another day.

Related posts: Paris, 2013France 1997, Part 1: Paris,It’s a French ThingEurope, 2003 

Belgium, 2013: The Place

Our week of nights in Belgium had filled up quickly; so one afternoon my husband, daughter and I went to our friends house- Corrine and Ben- for a traditional French style lunch: our favourite. Corrine and Ben had a multi story home in the village of Tilff which was bright with all the autumn colours on the tress outside. They had two older kids of their own and I still remember how sweet Corrine was as I was distraught when our daughter fell off the couch. She was fine of course.

We walked around Dolembreux one morning, to the war memorial, the school and the fields behind the farmhouse. It was such a pretty little village and I could see why it would be a nice place to raise kids.

Another day we headed into Liege where we all enjoyed some authentic waffles and a walk around the city. We went to H&M and Mango of course and visited one of Steve’s friends who worked in a shoe shop in town.

Finding a car seat of the right age was easy with so many kids around. Although she did mange to wriggle out of it that morning as we were driving back from the city that day. Bit scary, but I think she was just trying to look out of the window rather than open the door.

We went to visit Yves in his nice house on the hill and he gave us a book of Liege photos that he had published. One lunchtime we went to the restaurant that Ben’s partner owned in Tilff. It was bright and airy and served the best baguettes.

Bill took the day off work to take us to Durbuy- reportably the most beautiful village in Belgium and a place where neither my husband or I had been before. It was ridiculously picturesque, even in the cold weather, with small cobbled streets lined with stone houses covered with red and green vines. There was an actual castle, a fort and a spa and the small town was encircled by rocks, fountains, water wheels and the river.

Our  daughter fell asleep easily in the pram as we trundled along and we kept warm by eating Chokotoffs– hard carmel treats covered in Cote d’Or chocolate. We stopped for lunch in a nice traditional French restaurant and drove home munching on sour gummies. All in all it was a day of beauty and eating.

With so many adoptive aunts and uncles, our daughter received lots of presents and hand me down clothing that necessitated a big rethink of packing the bag when we left. It was great for her to receive French speaking toys and good quality warm winter clothing, so it was an easy choice to pass on some of her clothes that we had brought that she was outgrowing anyway and we knew that they would go to a good home here.

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Belgium, 2013: The People

My husband, daughter and I flew from Hong Kong to Brussels via Helsinki. It was a cheap flight and the worst flight we have ever had with our daughter. At one year old, she was at that in between stage where she didn’t just eat and sleep and wouldn’t just sit and watch TV, so all she wanted to do was walk up and down the aisles. She didn’t sleep the whole way, so neither did we. Lesson learned- sometimes it’s worth paying a bit more for a shorter flight with a little one.

After a 3 hour stopover in Helsinki, she finally lost it on the internal European flight to Brussels and just screamed. We were all tired and over it so I can understand her reaction and I now know what its like to be those parents that everyone tuts as at, but there was simply nothing we could do.

She finally fell asleep when we landed and slept in my arms in the brightly lit Brussels airport while we waited for our bags. Our friend Bill picked us up to take us back to the converted farmhouse that we had stayed in before and were to do so again. We hadn’t seen the family since our wedding in Thailand and it was the first time they had met our daughter.

Between them and their partners, Bill, Isabelle and Ben now had 8 children- 5 boys and 3 girls- almost all older than our daughter, so she had plenty of kids to dote over her and keep her entertained. Being a social child, she very much enjoyed being part of such a huge family. The girls were very gentle with our daughter which was lovely to see and the grandparents had a room set up especially for the grandkids with lots of toys and a cot.

The mornings were dark until 8:30am, which didn’t help with the jetlag when our daughter still got up at 4am. She gradually got later everyday, but never slept past her usual waking time of 6am, so had already been up for at least two hours by the time everyone else rose for breakfast.

Our friend Flo visited from France one evening with presents for our daughter. It was so nice to see her. Another night we went to Bill’s house for dinner. The house was lovely and interior decorated to perfection.

The next night we went to Isabelle’s for dinner where they lived above her husbands personal training business. On another night we went to visit Guislane and George- another family that my husband had stayed with when he had been living here on exchange. I ate the biggest piece of foie gras I have ever seen.

We kept her in her nightly dinnertime and bath routine that has always been useful for sleep time no matter where we were. Her adoptive grandfather sometimes read her books and she always had a bed or cot to be put to sleep on wherever we were visiting for dinner. Then when we were ready to leave, we just picked her up and drove home while she kept sleeping. It was awesome.

Related posts: Europe, 2006, Belgium, 1997, Destination ThailandPeople vs Place, Belgium: On Exchange

Hong Kong, 2013: Part 2

One afternoon, my husband, daughter and I caught one of the double decker trams to Soho. For a toddler, the journey is often better than the destination and for my husband he very much enjoyed revisiting one of the Soho bars that he went to last time he was here for work.

I liked that the bar was cool and had an indoor fountain as well as tasty cocktails. We also took a ride on the longest escalator in the world and saw some local market stalls in the area.

On the way back to the hotel we stumbled upon some modern art installations inside a train station. There were mural of rainforests, kites and a Chinese dragon.

The next day we took the iconic Star Ferry to Kowloon. The colourful ferry was striking and the old wooden boat was lovely.

On the other side, we were greeted by the tall stone clock tower and the views back to Hong Kong were great. The buildings on this side were older, apart from the modern museum, and had flashing neon signs.

We stumbled upon a children’s fun run sponsored by Kinder and took a walk along the strange Avenue of Stars that had bronze statures of film makers, Bruce Lee and the handprints of Jackie Chan.

The Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade was a bit of a disappointment, but it did have a cool modern dragon fountain. They sure do love a fountain in Hong Kong as we were to discover even further with a visit to Kowloon Park which was basically a park of fountains, lakes and even a waterfall. Plus the cartoon art installation featuring Dragon Ball-Z and a big Panda that we found.

Lunch was had in an modern air conditioned café near the ferry terminal where high chairs were not a problem, before we caught the ferry back to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong was not as overwhelmingly busy as I expected and there was more to see than I had thought. It was an easy and cheap stopover with a one year old and I could see why so many expats enjoyed living here.

Related posts: Hong Kong, 2013: Part 1, It’s an Asia Thing

Hong Kong, 2013: Part 1

Before it was time for me to return to work, my husband and I decided to take a trip to Europe with our one-year-old daughter.

Qantas Club in departures was great with a little one. Comfortable seats, fancier toilets and all the food and drink you could want. I was glad that my husband had to travel so much for work so that we were able to make use of the benefit of that.

We stopped at Hong Kong on the way and stayed in a cute little apartment in Wan Chai in the city. It was too small for a bath, but fortunately our daughter fitted in the kitchen sink.

The old surrounding buildings were multi coloured and we could see the modern HSBC building in the distance.

Our first stop was the famous red Peak Tram which we rode to the top for a view of Hong Kong. We went early enough to avoid the smog clouding the view. The lookout building was a modern Chinese style structure and there was Halloween themed paraphernalia on the roof.

A nicer view was seen from the grounds of a nearby temple structure with stone Chinese dragons on the balconies.

After we caught the tram back down the hill, we went to the beautiful oasis of Hong Kong Park. There were waterfalls, lakes and an aviary. I loved Fountain Plaza with its various water features and a fountain that you could even stand inside.

More importantly, our daughter loved to kids playground. She was a bit of a novelty with the young nannies on duty in the park as the only blonde blue-eyed child. A theme which was to continue during our stay in Hong Kong.

We went to a new dumpling restaurant in one of the many large shopping centres for lunch and a break from the humid environment. Booster seats were no problem and our daughter loved the variety of food.

Take away dinners were easy to find near our hotel and not expensive. Breakfasts were even easier with the many available local eateries offering the works for cheap.

Related posts: It’s an Asia Thing

Singapore, 2013: Part 2

My favourite sightseeing part of the trip to Singapore with my daughter was Gardens by the Bay. Due to smog from fires in Indonesia it was advised that my friend Cynthia and I stay inside with our daughters, but seeing as Gardens by the Bay is an indoor Botanical Gardens, this was not a problem.

The waterfall in the Cloud Forest Dome was fantastic and such fun to be able to walk up to, behind and above. There were many beautiful orchids, lots of colourful miniature hot air balloons and bridges in the sky to cross.

Marina Bay Sands and the Super Trees were mostly clouded by the smog, but inside the air was clear and the colours of the vegetation were bright. There were Boab trees, turtle statues, old olive trees and even windmills. I borrowed Cynthia’s ergo carrier so my daughter could have a nap while we wandered through the lovely Mediterranean garden.

The gift shop was almost as good as the gardens themselves. I left with a pair of dragonfly earrings and a clever cup that changed colours when you poured hot water in it as a gift from Cynthia.

The next day, the air quality was still bad, so I took my daughter on a quick trip to the indoor MINT toy museum. I think I enjoyed seeing Astro boy, Punch & Judy and Tin Tin paraphernalia more than she did.

That night, Cynthia and I left the girls with her husband Tony and their helper Rosie to hit Little India for a French dinner. After some good wine and great company, I almost forgot that we had kids and it was just like old times.

On our last day we went to the smick and modern Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. There was an indoor skating rink, gorgeous window displays and an indoor canal that you could take a gondola on under a bridge. The highlight was Cynthia’s favourite ice cream/chocolate shop Au Chocolat and the ingenious water fountain that dropped from the ceiling to fill the canal.

Singapore to see a good friend had been the perfect first trip to test the waters of travelling alone with the little one and I was so glad that I had come.

Related posts: Singapore, 2013: Part 1Singapore, 2012: Old vs NewSingapore, 2012: Part 1Indonesia and Singapore, 1994England, Singapore and Malaysia, 1998It’s an Asia Thing

Queenstown to Fox Glacier, 2012

Our first trip with our daughter was to New Zealand when she was 3 months old. I had not left the Sydney suburb in that we lived in since she was born, so I was thrust out of my comfort zone to take the trip, which was very much needed.

My parents were joining my husband, daughter and I on the trip as it was over the Christmas/New Year period and the aim was to reach my aunts place in Wellington for Christmas Day. We had rented two Jucy vans for the driving trip around the South Island and planned to stop at various holiday parks along the way.

Landing in Queenstown, a well-known skiing destination for Aussies who tired of the unpredictable snow in Thredbo, we checked into the holiday park under Bob’s Peak and headed straight for the Skyline cable car to the top.

The view of Queenstown Bay and Lake Wakatipu from the peak was fantastic. We could even see the snow capped Remarkables and our bright green and purple van in the holiday park. We stopped for a baby rest stop at the café at the top and took a tasty local ginger beer with the view.

That night, we went into town for dinner at a great Mexican restaurant. Being a little ski town, Queenstown reminded me of Whistler in Canada.

The next morning, the drive to Lake Wanaka was one of the most beautiful drives of the trip. Driving between the two lakes of Wanaka and Hawea was simply gorgeous and we stopped briefly at the flat Lake Wanaka.

Regular baby feeding led to frequent scenic stops to take in the sights, which was a good thing as it forced us to slow down and appreciate the countryside we were driving through.

We got a tip from a van of German blokes to see the Blue Pools, so we stopped for a midday Baby Bjorn walk in the forest over suspension bridges to pools that really were very blue.

We stayed a couple of nights in the very tiny one pub town of Fox Glacier for an enforced rest day in a very comfy holiday park with a large living area and kitchen for the playing of cards and cooking. The rain had prevented us from seeing the glacier on our first day, but it had been nice to take a break from driving anyway.

We went to the pub for dinner for a change of scenery and my dad’s short order cooking cuisine of garlic and chilli. The next day, it was still raining, but we figured we had come this far, so braved the rain in pairs to walk to see the glacier anyway, leaving my daughter behind in the car.

On the drive up to the glacier, I was amazed by how much the glacier had receded in the last 30, and even 10 years. We passed a few flowing waterfalls on the walk up and it was a lot dirtier and rockier than I thought it would be. It was very foggy at the glacier itself, so much so that I had condensation spots on my camera.

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