Tag Archives: family

Onsen in Nantan, 2016

One of the main things my husband wanted to do in Japan was visit an onsen. Most of the best spas are in the snow, single sex and naked. Seeing as we had our daughter with us we had to find a family onsen near Kyoto that allowed swimwear.

Our journey to Rurikei Onsen in Nantan began with a local train through plunging rivers and mountain tunnels. It seemed like the spa was in the middle of nowhere already, but the best was yet to come.

When we arrived at the closest train station, we found out that we had missed one of only a couple of buses that go to the spa in the morning, so we had to catch a taxi. As the cab climbed further into the mountains and the meter ticked over, I feared that we were lost.

Eventually, we pulled up to the Rurikei Eco Resort Village and there was not a tourist to be seen. The functional spa had pools, hot spas, cold spas, reading rooms, relaxing rooms and a foot tub where fish ate the skin off your feet.

The prettiest was the traditional looking outdoor spa with bamboo decorations and I liked the indoor waterfalls. The weirdest room was the mysterious room that had coloured rocks on the roof that could be seen glinting in the dark room.

The resort also had a hotel and healthy eating restaurant attached to it where we had a tasty light lunch. It also had the only beer vending machine we saw the whole time we were in Japan. I was beginning to think they were a myth.

With time to kill before the free afternoon bus back to the train station, we wandered around the surrounding gardens. The backdrop of mountains was beautiful and they were building a little tent area for future campers. Lots of autumn leaves up here, a cute little friendship pavilion, a water wheel and real waterfalls.

They were setting up the gardens for Christmas with lots of colourful lights, a few Christmas trees, reindeer, angels and even Santa’s sleigh that you could sit in. There was also a strange kids playground that consisted only of stone animals, like Narnia. There were kangaroos, tigers, giraffes and duck statues mixed in with real cranes in the river.

While we were waiting for the bus back at the spa entry with the old folks, I felt the ground roll underneath me. One of the older ladies started freaking out and we realised it must have been an earthquake. Small, but still shaky, it was a very odd feeling.

We caught the train back to Kyoto, happy in the fact that we had been somewhere only locals go and had our last dinner in a neighbourhood restaurant serving Kyoto specialities like mackerel, fried chicken and sake.

Related posts: Markets 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, 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

New Caledonia, 2014

In the approaching winter of 2014, my husband’s family including assorted partners and children, flew to Noumea for a week. We stayed at the Hilton Hotel where our balcony overlooked the pool, Anse Vata beach and Canary Island.

The weather was not the beach weather we had hoped for, being rain with sunny periods. Definitely not swimming weather. Although that didn’t stop me trying, resulting in a very short lived dip in the cold pool, before it started raining again.

We made the most of it anyway and the holiday became all about eating instead. And what a great place for this to occur- in French food heaven. There were the decadent coffee shops, the fantastic French bakeries with sticks of bread and fancy cakes; and our favourite, the French supermarkets with Cote D Or, French wine and yummy carbonara chips. All delicious.

My husband and I also managed to escape for a date night in a French restaurant called Astrolabe in the next bay for a lovely traditional three course dinner. And I had the best Carbonara pasta with raw egg that I have ever had in an Italian restaurant in the hotel complex.

On our first day, we caught the bus to the city market. The bus trip was entertainment enough for our one a half-year-old daughter, but she was very excited by the local musicians playing when we got there too and danced up a storm.

The market overlooked the boats of Port Moselle and had lots of fruit and vegetables for the locals, plus colourful souvenirs for the tourists.

The following day, we caught the bus all the way into town to Coconut Trees square, which funnily enough had lots of coconut trees; and a gazebo. I found a Mango shop amongst all the expensive French clothing shops and we found some French children’s books for our daughter. We also saw the old coach house, Moselle Bay and many colourful murals.

We took a walk along Promenade Roger Laroque to Lemon beach- the beach next to ours. The promenade also had a train running along it that my daughter enjoyed along with the statue of Marilyn Monroe outside the Rock café once we go to the beach.

One day, we dragged the whole family to the Aquarium of the Lagoons to see the coral, fish and related sea creatures. My daughter liked the hands on kid’s section and I liked the porthole windows that you could see luminescent jellyfish through.

On our last day, we took a walk up the hill to Rte Due Ouen Toro for a view over the island and all the beaches we had visited. On the way back we found a large park with lots of swings and dolphin bins. It was heaven for the kids and I’m sure they wished we had found it earlier.

Related posts: Fiji 2008, It’s a South Pacific Thing

A Hawaiian Wedding, 2014

I had never been a bridesmaid before, despite having attended 50 weddings; so it was awesome to be asked by my bestie, have a dress and jewellery bought for me and get my hair and make up done. Most of all, I felt incredibly honoured to be a part of my bestie’s special day and to have the opportunity to feel like a part of her fantastic family.

The day of the wedding, it was raining. There had been talk among the locals of a 50-year storm that had been brewing, but I really hadn’t paid much attention until then. But raining it was, with waves so high, they were crashing over the sea wall onto the area reserved for the ceremony and reception.

Panic ensued, as well as a trip to Walmart to see if we could stock up on umbrellas, gumboots and tarps. With the ground soaked through and the waves and rain showing no sign of abating, the groom put in a call to the bride to postpone the wedding until the next day. My bestie took it quite well all things considered.

Being housebound due to rain, the evening turned into a pre wedding party with much drinking and dancing- Australian style. The groom was an Aussie after all, so there were enough of us around to take control of the tunes.

Wedding day take two went much more according to plan. The beauty team returned to make us all look more beautiful than we already were again and there was pre ceremony photos and champagne for the ladies of the wedding party.

The sun was out and the waves were still curling beautifully, but not too big; except for that one where my bestie, my bestie’s sister Janeen and I were taking sunset photos with our back to the ocean and it sneaked over the wall, making us run!

The ceremony was lovely and the guests were few enough that we could all fit on one long table under chandeliers for the reception. Dinner included gazpacho and lobster with an ice cream station- definitely my kind of desert.

It rained a little on the dance floor, but that didn’t stop anyone. Some of the wedding party ended up jumping in the pool, including the bride and her two bridesmaids. Hair and make up came out unscathed and the party continued – now that’s value for money.

Related posts: Hawaiian Road Trip, 2014, Solo trip to Hawaii, 2014, Canada, 2011, Fiji, 2011, Destination Thailand, 2010, The Seven Year Itch

It’s not how good the music is, it’s who you’re dancing with

I heard this saying the other day and it made me think.

The dance floor could be the coolest one in the country with the hippest people and the best beats. But if you are there by yourself, with people you don’t really know and don’t really like, then its really not that much fun.

The funkiest cocktail bar with the best drinks can end up being a dive in the basement if you go with the wrong people and the music is too loud. The best restaurant in the trendiest suburb can be lack lustre if you go with people who aren’t that fussed with fine food.

Of late I have been catching up with a few friends from various parts of my life and it made me remember that these people are in my life for a reason. No matter what we are going through in our lives, even if it means we can’t catch up as often as we would like, when we do see each other life seems better when shared with these people.

There are the old work friends who I’ve kept in touch with because it’s not just about the job we did together, but I actually really like them as people as well. Their lives are diverse and interesting and they offer different perspectives on life.

There’s the wives of my husbands friends who have been around for over a decade or more and are now my friends in their own right. They make restaurants more fun and Saturday nights a family bonding experience for everyone.

And there are the special friends from near and far who and know my history and me better than I do myself. It is for these friends that I am truly grateful as they have the ability to pull me out of a dark place for a reality check and make me smile no matter how bad life can seem at the time.

Friends remind you that you are not alone, you are not crazy and it’s actually the rest of the planet that has gone mad.

So whether your daily soundtrack is Portishead or Ministry of Sound, it’s the people you are listening with that can make all the difference in the world.

Related posts: Real Friends vs Digital Friends, Friendship: Great Expectations?, People vs Place, By special request 

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

Weymouth, 2011

When I arrived in Weymouth, the Canadian side of the family had already been there for a few days. We all ate at a local pub for dinner and it was good to see my aunt, uncle and cousins Kate and  Glen, even though the circumstances weren’t the best.

Our grandmother’s funeral was scheduled for later that week and in the meantime we were to sort through what remained of her belongings. She had given away most of her valuables while she was alive, but there was still a lot of household items to go through.

We all took something that held special memories for us, be it furniture to be relocated to Kate’s new house, the swallows over the top of the fireplace for my dad or grandma’s fountain pen for me. It was the one she used to write all our letters and birthday cards to send across the seas and I hoped to continue the tradition with it.

Going through her writing desk, we discovered that she had kept every photo, card or letter that we had given her- even a record of my travellers cheques, long since cashed- that I had handwritten for her before my trip to Europe. It was nice to keep a few photos of us as kids home and a I also claimed a tiny book of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

When we needed a break from our sorting and trips to Vinnies in Dorchester, we went on country rambles together to Hardy’s monument, the wishing well and Upwey manor. Past the thatched rooved cottages, the church where our grandfather was buried, through green fields filled with thistles; picking blackberries along the way. We found a random bakery in the middle of the countryside which had the best pasties.

It was nice to spend this time together and gather memories in the area for the last time. Grandma’s house was to be sold, so it was sad to think that someone else would be living in the stone bungalow in which we’d all had so many good times and that we wouldn’t have the same pull to return to Weymouth.

We went into town for a walk along the seafront to the harbour. The blue and white striped deck chairs were already set out for summer, though the weather was cold, and the sand sculpture competition was in full swing. The town was the same as I remembered it, but seemed smaller and not as busy.

In the evenings we reminisced and cooked all our favourite foods that grandma used to make, like treacle tarts, fish and chips and rice pudding.

The day of the funeral was a strange feeling. We were all picked up in two black cars and driven to the funeral parlour where we greeted many family members and old friends.

The wake was held back at grandma’s house where I had the job of cooking all the pastries in the oven. It was a good distraction. The Swindon and Cirencester branches of the family were a positive influence and it was lovely to see Alan and Viv again.

As the week drew to a close, it was time to take our last snap shots in our heads and on our iPhones, then bid each other farewell in the hopes of keeping grandma’s memory alive by seeing each other again soon to reminisce some more.

Related posts: London, 2011, Small town vs Big city, It’s an English Thing, England, 2006, England, 2002, England, 1997

Nebraska, 2011

The morning after  4th July, I awoke in the cabin at Sandhills to see stuffed animals on the walls and a small jetty leading to a lake outside. My bestie took me to meet the hunting dogs, Tank and Boots, and I was taken on a tour of the property by 4WD.

Rolled bales of hay lay scattered on wide plains, filled with buffalo. We saw the windmill, the tepee and flushed a few pheasants out of the trees. My besties dad is a bit of an expert in wildflowers and found a few for us along the way to enjoy. My bestie’s brother Chris kept horses on the neighbouring property and was working on re- building a traditional red barn.

Sandhills was undoubtedly a beautiful place and I could understand why much of the family didn’t leave. My bestie’s dad’s brother Jim lived next door and old Grandpa Hamilton still lived not far in the other direction.

The beauty of the land, was matched only by the great hospitality of the people living on it. My bestie’s dad was skilled in cooking buffalo ribs on a real smoker BBQ and his wife was a master in the kitchen making everything from homemade ice tea to jello pie, which I had never had before.

The next day we went tubing down the river with Jim’s grandchildren and their father Nick. I had never heard of the activity before and was terrible at it, but it was all in good fun.

There was complaining that the water was as cold as the Bering Sea and Chris told me stories about the possibility of getting shot if I didn’t stay on the river. Kind of like the ones Aussies tell about drop bears I think. The water was cold so that night we warmed up with a bonfire near the cabin and I had smores for the first time. Yummo!

On another day, we headed back into Stuart to help set up the town hall for cousin Laura’s wedding. The whole town pulls together for these special occasions and countless hours are spent decorating, creating and making everything just right. Now I understood why my bestie is so good at interior decorating!

Too soon it was time to leave and drive back to Omaha, this time with my bestie and during the daytime so I could see the countryside. Cornfields stretched as far as the eye could see and we saw real reindeers.

We also managed to fit in some shopping along the way of course. I bought a Huskers t-shirt and two semi formal dresses at JC Penny for about a tenth of the price they would be at home. We stayed with Chris for the night and went to a bar with real hot wings for dinner.

I feel incredibly lucky, not only to have met my bestie and be able to see where she came from; but to also have the opportunity to experience such unique part of the world with the lovely people who know it best. Looking forward to visiting you all again one day, hopefully soon.

Related posts: Independence Day, 2011, It’s an American Thing, USA Road Trip, 2007: Part 2

Independence Day, 2011

My besties parents picked me up at Omaha airport in the middle of the night and drove me back to their hunting lodge in the Sandhills of Stuart, Nebraska. We arrived in the very early hours of the morning and all of the ‘young ones’ were sleeping off the week of pre Independence Day celebrations in the cabin away from the main house.

The next morning, my bestie and I headed into town to catch the 4th July parade while everyone else surfaced. There were floats, horses with buggies, fire trucks and cars- both old and new. The street was decorated with a huge blue star, welcome banners had been hung and all the locals on the main street were camped outside their white washed houses to watch the action as it unfolded.

Stuart is a small but lovely little place and I have never been anywhere quite like it. Apart from the church, the water tank is the tallest structure in town, and the streets are wide. Everyone seemed to know each other and all the children who had moved away came home for the annual celebrations. My bestie ran into a cousin Brad whose family owned the local bus service and was driving one in the parade; so we hitched a ride to the oval.

Here was where we were meeting my bestie’s sister Janeen with her boyfriend, their brother Chris with his girlfriend, and my bestie’s boyfriend Andrew. We played all the games you play as a kid like leapfrog, sack races and the egg and spoon race. I entered the three legged race with my bestie which was hilarious.

The boys ran the bathtub race along the main street with my bestie as the passenger in an actual bathtub on wheels. This was closely followed by the duck races as the fire truck flooded the main street for the purpose. This was the kids favourite part, and secretly mine too as I collected a bright blue duck for a souvenir to take home.

We went to my bestie’s uncle Don and aunt Gini’s place in town for dinner, along with a whole lot of other family. With my bestie’s dad being one of 4 and her mum being one of 6, there was plenty of aunt’s, uncles and cousins.

Cousin Heather arrived and we all went to the only tiny pub in town, the Central Bar. This I could relate to coming from a small town myself, although we now had two pubs in my hometown. We all got a ride in a borrowed trailer back to the oval for the stock car races and 4th July fireworks once night fell. It was fabulous small town fun at it’s best, and this outsider really enjoyed the view from the inside.

Related posts: It’s an American Thing, USA Road trip, 2007, USA, 1990

Having it all?

The concept of having it all is nothing new. We are all told as young girls that we can have it all- the handsome prince, the massive castle, 2.2 kids and the brilliant career.

But in today’s time poor society, is there room to have it all?

Being in a relationship takes work, having a big house costs money, the kids need a bit of both and the career takes up 8 hours plus a day. Factor in family, friends and finding time for yourself and it all can be a little overwhelming. Most of us, having all these things to juggle will find that one thing or the other suffers at some point.

I recently heard from a wiser woman, that what it really is about is choosing what’s important to you. But that is easier said than done. It takes time to figure out what the highest priority is and this can also change from time to time.

So what do you do?

Realise that you can’t please everyone. Sometimes that work deadline will have to be delayed so that you can pick up the kids from daycare, and the world won’t end if it does. On the flipside, maybe you are lucky enough to have a husband that can pick up the kids so that you can stay late at work if you have to.

It’s about choosing your battles. There are some wars that are not negotiable. Your husband may have to wait for their quality time until the kids go to bed, but that’s ok, as long as you don’t forget about him completely of course. Maybe you will have to take a step back from your career, but make sure you leave your options open in case you ever want to return. The grass is always greener right?

Sometimes an earlier than normal start or a later than normal finish to get in some exercise or spend time on a hobby are a necessity to feed your body and your soul. Yes, it’s time away from the family, but won’t you be happier and more present when you have been able to find this time for yourself?

Me, I’m still figuring it all out. Sometimes, that concept of work life balance and following my dreams seems very far away, but on my more positive days it feels like a distinct possibility. All I can do is make the most of what I have and not regret the decisions I have made that seemed like the best ones at the time.

Oh, and the battle about what’s more important- a big house or travel experiences- that one can wait for another day. When I’m not so busy.

Related posts: Reinvention, New Beginnings, Emotion vs Logic,  Good vs Evil, Pride vs The FallDreams vs Reality