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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

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

Markets and Manga in Kyoto, 2016

After breakfast at our regular café, we headed to Nishiki Market. The market roof was stained glass of many colours and beautifully illustrated banners showed which section of the market we were in.

We saw tofu being made in barrels, washi paper, Kyoto gift boxes and all the usual vegetables and seafood. There was a great arts and crafts shop that was selling kimono dolls, hair clips and fans- one of which cost 21,600 yen!

There was also a pretty little temple hidden behind white lanterns at the end of the market. It had chains made of paper cranes and some dragon statues, including one in a box that moved.

The rest of the day was our daughter’s choice so we went to the International Manga Museum. A friend of ours who spent three days there had recommended it to us. We soon found out why, as the museum was also a library of four floors of manga books.

Unfortunately, the main display was in the process of being changed, but there was an interesting display in the regular area showing a timeline of manga and the differences between it and normal animation.

Our daughter loved the big bright yellow mascot of the museum and the life-size placards that she could pose for photos with. She was also happy, as there was a television in the library showing moving manga films.

My favourite part was seeing the manga comics from the year I was born and buying Sailor Moon comic book number one for our daughter.

We saw an entertaining picture show called Kami-shibai. This is what they used to have before television and consists of a box with comic placards that are moved by the storyteller as the story unfolds. They used to be very popular and I could see why as the narrator was very interactive with the audience.

Our daughter’s choice for lunch was sushi train, so we went to one of the better-known ones in the area and we all ate our fill. Then we went back to the play park in the Imperial Palace Gardens.

After she had tired herself out, we went to a local restaurant for dinner and planned the next day- a journey into the unknown to find a family onsen in the mountains outside of Kyoto.

Related posts: Gion, 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 Harajuku, Japan, 2016

Gion, Kyoto, 2016

Again on the search for Geisha, we spent the day in Gion.

First we went to the outskirts of Maruyama-koen Gardens. There were long pathways leading up to mountains flanked by tall pine trees. There were lakes with bridges, stepping-stones and weeping willow trees. There were locals taking pictures next to the big gingko tree.

We saw a crane on a rock, but no Geisha.

Next we went down the main street of Gion. There were buses, streetlights and a big red temple. There were alleyways, houses that hid private gardens and a colourful flower shop with blue orchids. There was a Hello Kitty shop dressed with autumn leaves and one with Japanese style hair ties, fans and kimonos for both little girls and boys.

We saw places with fans hanging over doorways, but no Geisha.

For lunch we went to a traditional Japanese restaurant that served delicate tempura served fifteen different ways. There was a family gathering enjoying a banquet. There was green tea ice cream for desert.

We saw pictures of geisha on the walls, but no Geisha.

Instead, we decided to look for Ishibei-koji- the most beautiful street in Kyoto. The street was long, narrow and wooden with a hook at the end. It was indeed beautiful. Around the corner there was a rabbit curtain over a doorway.

And so it was, when we were searching for something else, that we found Geisha.

There were two ladies, painted in white, with high wooden shoes, even higher hair and strange structured bags, who emerged from the doorway of a garden. There they stood, just like that, framed by the wooden gateway with the hills in the background posing with tourists for photos.

Lovely ladies that they were, they didn’t seem to mind that they got stopped every step they took. They waved to our daughter as they shuffled along slowly and I feared that it might take them all day to get where they were going.

I later learned that they were probably geisha in training, but this did not take away from the thrill.

We had found our Geisha girls at last and they had definitely made my day amazing.

Related posts: Food 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

Mirissa, 2015

Mirissa was the required beach rest stop that my husband requested for our Sri Lankan trip. We stayed at the Paradise Beach Club on the recommendation of a relative whip worked in the travel industry and it did not disappoint.

Our room had a view of palm trees and the quiet end of the beach from the balcony and was air conditioned. The hotel also had a pool, bar and reastaurant that served good food, not too expensively.

The beach itself was gorgeous and we spent most days strolling one way and then the other, especially at sunset. The tides rose high in the evenings and occasionally took out one of the resatuarants on the beach that served fresh seafood.

We found a roti and hopper stand in town, the former proving quite popular with my daughter when paired with a cold ginger beer. She also enjoyed swimming in the pool everyday, and probably just being out of the van for a few days.

One day we walked all the way to the island at the northern end of the beach. The island was connected to the mainland at low tide and you could climb up a staircase for a view back to the beach. On the way we passed bars, fresh coconut stalls and whale watching cruise sellers.

On our last night we had a sunset dinner while we watched surfers take to the waves and finished off with stage dancing with the little one, before it was bedtime. It was lovely falling asleep listening to the waves and I was glad that we had taken the time to slow down and enjoy some relaxing luxury on the beach.

Related posts: Galle, 2015Cooler Colombo, 2015Old Colombo, 2015It’s a Sri Lankan Thing

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

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 

Holidays are…

Preparing and researching

Booking and planning

Packing

Excitement

Waiting impatiently

Airports and QANTAS club

Arriving in your new temporary home

Unpacking

New places and new things to see

First experiences

Navigating a new city

Temples and churches

Old towns

Landmarks and lookout points

Road trips

Landscapes

Having fun

Swimming

Walking

Enjoying the sunshine

Not letting the rain stop you

Watching shows

New food to try

Markets

Bars and restaurants

Having the time to enjoy a meal

Not cooking or washing up

Meeting new people

Sitting and people watching

Quality time with the little one

Catching up with friends

Cocktail hour

Uninterrupted conversations

Laughing

Pampering

Having the time to shop

New clothes from your new favorite shop

Souvenirs to take home

Photos and memories to keep

Not worrying

Thinking

Having the time to notice rainbows

Watching old movies

Card games

Finishing a book

Sitting and doing nothing

Napping

Drifting

Not wanting it to end

Booking the next holiday.

Related posts: Happy Holidays, Random Public Holiday Ramblings,  Kid at Heart

Javea, 2013

My husband, daughter and I left Barcelona the next day for a road trip down south to Javea. Our Belgian friend Bill owned a holiday house there are we were to meet up with his parents and brother Ben with his partner and baby son.

The house was an authentic white washed villa on the hill of Balcon al Mar and was a great place to call home for the week.

We hit the beach straight away and went to Granadella beach. The white rocks contrasted beautifully with the blue water and it was everything a Spanish beach should be. The weather was nice, the sea sparkled and there was a sailing boat moored in the bay.

When we had had enough fun in the water and of sitting under the blue and white stripped umbrella on the beach, we went to the restaurant overlooking the beach for a tasty seafood lunch.

Unfortunately, my husband got an ear infection from swimming that day, so the rest our time in Javea was not to be the active beach holiday we envisioned, but was still a restful time.

I woke with my daughter most mornings with only the dog Coco and the BBC news channel for company. Sunrises were colourful, but late here. French lunches with the family were had on the outdoor balcony and afternoon drinks on the terrace by the pool.

My daughter liked the hammock in the garden and Baby Bjorn walks around the neighbourhood. We also tagged along on a few of the shorter dog walks into cactus laden plains.

My husband got enough energy together to head into Javea old town with us all one day. The streets were lined with balconied houses, old wooden doors and wall murals. The fort/church in the middle of the town was huge and there was both an indoor and outdoor market with colourful red Spanish dresses for little girls.

One day we also managed a driving tour of the surrounding area. The most beautiful sight was the lookout point at Cap de la Nau. It was ocean as far as the eye could see, punctuated by rugged cliffs and islands. We also saw the white washed lighthouse and went to the rock shelves of Calla Barraca Beach.

We visited the main beach at L’Arenal where the sandy beach was lined with palm trees and restaurants. We had a nice lunch and bought our daughter her first pair of sunglasses. On our last day we returned to a glass fronted restaurant for paella.

It was a fitting end to our Spanish beach holiday, before we drove back to Madrid for an overnight stay near the airport. The hotel was hard to find with all the surrounding ring roads around, but after a few double paid tolls, we made it in the end.

Related posts: Barcelona, 2013, It’s a Spanish Thing, Spain, 1997, Part 2: Beyond Barcelona