A Travellerspoint blog

Japan - Hiroshima and Okinawa

sunny 28 °C

We arrived in Hiroshima (HiROshima!) at around 7am and following their instructions, made our way to our hostel.
K’s House has many hostels throughout Japan and just like Kyoto, we thought the Hiroshima branch was just as good. Comfy beds with great storage space, kitchen, common area and laundry room, plus it’s only a 5 minute walk from the train station.

We decided to go straight out to the Atomic Bomb Dime and Peace Memorial Park with our sightseeing bus passes I ordered with our overnight bus tickets.
We walked around the whole park admiring how well and how beautifully the people of Hiroshima had preserved the past destruction of the town whilst creating a beautiful community area. Of course, the physical damage, aside from the A Bomb Dome, has been gone for many decades now, but there is something about the whole place that still stings of an attack long passed.

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We went back to the hostel for a nap I so desperately needed before getting dressed and heading out to the restaurants and bars area for dinner.
We went to Kanak Indian Restaurant for a delicious meal that Ricky was salivating at the very thought of before going to Mambas, a Latin Salsa Bar.
We watched Japanese Salsa dancers for as long as we could before going downstairs to Barcos or some foo music and incredibly entertaining Japanese youths!

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We checked out the following morning, but left our luggage at the hostel and got the JR Local Train to Miyajima and then a ferry to the island where a whole horde of deer were freely roaming around, trying to eat people’s jackets!

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After walking around the island, enjoying the sights, we took the ropeway to the top of the mountain where I only wished the sky had been clear, but even so, the views were truly spectacular.

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Ricky returned from his solo adventure to the summit as I knew I wouldn’t make it in time to get the last trip ropeway carriage back down the mountain and walked back to the pier to get the boat back to the mainland.

We took the train back to Hiroshima Station and went back to the hostel to eat a quick dinner before walking back near the station to get the overnight bus back to Tokyo. Luckily, it was similar bus to the first one we’d taken so it as more comfortable!

12 hours and several bathroom breaks later, we arrived at Shinjuku station in Tokyo, got the metro to Asakusa and left our stuff at the hostel we stayed at before.
We booked our Mt. Fuji bus tickets with them then made our way to Harajuku for more shopping….!

I met up with an old friend from China who had moved to Tokyo over a year ago and then we went to find Ricky who I’d left in one of his newly acquired stores, then we went to get a drink before walking to Shibuya to find another shop Ricky wanted to go to.
This store was in Shibuya 109 shopping heaven, specifically, the men’s shopping centre where Japanese fashion knows no bounds!
After spending an inordinate amount of money on clothes, we went back to the hostel and my friend went home. We organised our stuff, charged our various electronic devices and then went to the metro to get the long ass train to Narita airport!

We arrived at Narita around 21:15 and were desperate for some food, only to discover that the food court closed at 9pm! Boo!
We found a comfy set of chairs near our check in desk and made our nest for the night, as our flight didn’t leave until 6:15am. Thank god for airport wifi! And books!

I woke up around 4:30am, brushed my teeth and made myself semi-presentable and then woke up Ricky so we could check in for our flight with the other large mass of passengers!

We went for a quick smoke before going through security where once again, I should have had at least a drink bought for me given the touching-up I experienced from airport security! I either looked like a criminal or a think person trying to smuggle stuff in a fat person suit!

Our flight didn’t leave until 7m but Ricky was asleep the moment he sat down – I followed suit shortly after take-off and didn’t really wake up until half an hour or so before we landed. Unfortunately for us, rain had followed us from Tokyo and Okinawa greeted us with swelling clouds.
We remained undeterred however as we watched the US Marines collecting their luggage… silver linings!

~ Okinawa ~

We got the monorail from the airport to Miebashi and found our hostel to be told that check in was at 3pm and we couldn’t sit in the common area until we’d checked in. So no sooner had we arrived, we were turfed out again without so much as a map or suggestion of where to pass 5 hours!

We wandered around in search of food, finding a little café somewhere, ate, found a bathroom elsewhere as they didn’t have one and the walked by the pier for a little while.

Disheartened at only having used an hour and a half of our waiting time we decided to embrace the gambling culture of Japan and went into a Pachinko (gambling, slot machines etc).
Thanks to the lovely woman who worked there and her helping me to understand the games, I paid 1000 yen and came out with 6000 yen! Yay! Pachinkos! ^_^

We walked past the hostel in the opposite direction and discovered a whole host of stores and restaurants, even a Starbucks and were more than slightly annoyed to not have been directed this way in the first place!
We looked around the multi-story tax free shop before heading back to the hostel to check in and shower before napping for a few hours and heading back out for dinner.

We decided to go to Sam’s Maui, which although expensive, turned out to be great food, cooked in front of us and being provided with lovely sailor hats by the jovial owner! Very nice indeed!

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We went to Starbucks to steal their wifi so Ricky could continue chatting to the homosexual marines via Grindr before heading back to the hostel to look at a map of the area.
The hostel wifi was pants so we couldn’t really find a lot of information and all of the hostel maps were in Japanese – not the greatest hostel…
They closed the common room at midnight so I went to bed and Ricky went to a bar as he doesn’t go to bed usually until at least 2am.

The next day I woke up late, Ricky was still asleep so I left him to it!
It wasn’t until around 12:30pm when I messaged Ricky to see if he was up that I discovered we’d both been awake the whole time – this is the problem with staying in separate dorms!

We went back to Kokusai Street with all the shops and restaurants and found the only place open and relatively cheap (1500 yen) was an “Italian” buffet. To be fair, it was filling and not that bad in regards of taste but not really Italian and not Japanese – for some reason, people in Okinawa, and in fact, most of Japan, don’t seem to eat between 12 and 5pm…!

Ricky had drunk 3 coffees so was wired, but my caffeine-free body required a nap so he did his own thing whilst I grabbed 40 winks!

We went out around 8:30pm for dinner and to hunt down the gay bars which we found, eventually, and were, having spent 2 weeks in Japan already, not surprised by the tiny bars we found.

We first went to the Banana Café, which we found purely by chance, despite looking for it, because I spotted a small sign with a banana on it, to which I shouted, “I FOUND A BANANA!”

We had a drink and enjoyed some mash-ups of current musical hits, all the while looking at the videos asking “who are these people?” as we’re a bit out of the loop in China with peoples’ faces. More often than not, we know the songs, but can’t put a face to the singer!

We went to DQ after that, run by an effeminate, petite Japanese man, who informed me that my name means flower in Japanese! ^_^
I went home around midnight and left Ricky to his hunt for boys and made my back to the hostel.

The following morning, I got up at 8am for a shower and to organise my luggage, realising around 8:45am that Ricky was nowhere to be seen… I went to his room to find him fast asleep so I had to rather violently shake him to wake up as we had to leave at 9am!

He eventually resurrected and came downstairs, suitcases banging out a discord down the stairs as he went, we checked out and then walked round the corner to the ferry port.

We bought our tickets to Zamami (2,120 yen one way), had a cigarette, then climbed aboard where Ricky promptly found a spot on the floor and went back to sleep.

I went out on the deck to enjoy the open water and the sun just in time to see a whale shoot water into the air in the distance!

Just over 2 hours after leaving Okinawa, we arrived at Zamami Island and it was beautiful!

~ Zamami Island~

I gently woke Ricky up and we got off the ferry.

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I had the address of where we were staying, but no idea how to get there. Now, I know the island was small but…! I asked at the information office by the ferry if they could tell me how to get to our accommodation; the guy showed me a map and we were about 50m away…!
The whole village was right in front of us, with its 3 or 4 small restaurants, 2 shops/grocery stores, a few diving and fishing places and that was pretty much it!
A dirt track on the street was a road on the map so within less than 3 minutes, we arrived at our home for 3 days and checked in!

The owner was great, amazing English, super helpful, he talked us through the map and told us what was good, where to go etc. We were staying in a traditional style room which was empty when we walked in, apart from a small square table and 2 legless chairs.
Our “beds” were in the cupboard – a roll out futon, no thicker than a cushion, a pillow and a duvet.

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Japanese island life!
The owner knew we were western and luckily for me, he’d put extra futons in our room in case it was a little too hard to sleep on, which was really considerate of him.

He told us where we could rent bikes from and snorkelling gear, so Ricky and I got changed and I put my bathing suit on under my clothes and off we went to get a bicycle from just round the corner.

I think for a few seconds at least, I forgot how to ride a bike…!
I was so wobbly and kept darting from one side of the road to the other. Eventually, I got the hand of it, just as we started going up a steep hill to get to the beach.
Well I quickly gave up trying to cycle up it as my bike had no gears so I slipped off and pushed it up over the top.
Down was easy and really fun!

We got to the beach in no time at all and headed straight down to the waters’ edge – not the warmest water we’d been in, but definitely not the coldest!
We were soon all ready to go in, mask and snorkel on, flippers tied up tight – in we went!
Ricky had never been snorkelling before and did an amazing job – so proud of him!
We swam around in small increments so he could acclimatise to not being close to the floor, and after a while he was loving it!
I saw a jelly fish, nothing too scary but I didn’t go after it, and lots of other fish swimming in and out of the coral. I particularly enjoyed the tiny, electric blue fish that were dancing around beneath us.

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It was quite late in the day when we eventually went in the sea and Ricky was pretty cold after 45 minutes to an hour, so we decided to call it a day and went back for a nice warm shower!

We cycled to the shop and bought some bread and cheese and juice and put them in our bicycle baskets before reaching the guesthouse, then dropped off the bikes and had a nap before going to one of the only restaurants that did dinner, to eat!

By the time we went for dinner, the island had been plunged into a beautiful darkness, still and silent, like it forgot it was a place with living people on it!
Island life!

The following day we got the bikes and snorkels gain and headed out to a different beach to try to catch a glimpse of sea turtles – the clouds were rolling in and the wind was getting the waves all flustered but I was determined to swim with sea turtles, so we pushed on. Snorkelling on a wavy sea is always interesting, but without the sun to warm it, the water was colder than before. I saw another jellyfish but not much else so headed back to shore. Ricky had said he wouldn’t go in if there were no sea turtles!

I saw some divers a little way up the shore so headed towards them, only for one of the guys to tell me there was a sea turtle there! Yay!
Well, I basically ran across the beach, put everything back on and as in without a second thought!
I powered through the now even bigger waves as they crashed into me until I saw it.
Exquisite.

Luckily, Ricky and I had stopped at several diving shops until we’d found an underwater camera so I was even privileged enough to document this elegant creature.
My favourite animal, and somewhat of a spirit guide was gliding through the tumultuous waters effortlessly, not minding in the slightest, mine or anyone else’s presence.
Wonderful!

Shortly after that, we felt the rain in the air and know we didn’t have a lot of time. We went back to the guesthouse to get out of our wet things then cycled to a different restaurant for lunch and only then did the heavens open.

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My, my, my, what a downpour – no wonder this island is so green!
It only lasted maybe 10 minutes or so but the wind hadn’t died down as we returned the bikes and snorkels and set up shop in our room with cards and hairpins for poker chips and made sandwiches later to tide us over until dinner.
I had an unwarranted nap for an hour or so before we went for dinner in the same restaurant as before, different food choices that time, then came back to our room for poker and reading – very civilised!

The next day I had a shower and did some laundry whilst Ricky went snorkelling to use up the rest of his pictures on his underwater camera. He went off on his own little adventure to a peace memorial at the top of the island and I finished reading the last book I bought with me.
After a quick nap, we went for dinner in the same place, but once again, ate something different.
We made sure everything was packed so we didn’t have to worry about it in the morning and then went to sleep.

The following day, we travelled the 3 minutes walk from the guesthouse to the port to get the fast boat back to Okinawa but had 6 hours to kill.
We went to Starbucks to get some lunch, Pachinkos to win some money, then decided to just go to the airport on the monorail and do nothing for 4 hours.

Our flight was pretty standard and we arrived in Narita Airport, Tokyo around 8:40pm. We went to get our train tickets, knowing we had time to buy them rather than being ushered onto the last train by screaming Japanese workers again. We bought the right ticket but “thanks” to the women “helping” people, we ended up on the Ueno Skyliner and ha to pay again for the privilege!
Bitch!

We finally arrived at the best hostel ever, Khaosan Kabuki and checked in to the fancy private room again.
I love this place and the amazing staff who are super helpful and just lovely to hang out with ^_^

We set our alarms to get up super early for Mt. Fuji but when my alarm went off I checked the live webcams from Lake Kawaguchi, there were so many clouds, you couldn’t even see the bottom of Fuji san, let alone its peak! With this information in mind, I turned off my alarm and went back to sleep! Whoops!
In my defence, everyone told me that visibility is key for Fiji as it gets covered in a blanket of clouds and becomes invisible.

We got up eventually around 1pm and had some lunch then did even more shopping before going to Don Quixote (tax-free, 4-floored mega store) to buy new suitcases… because of all the shopping…!

If you’re considering coming to Japan, bring a half-full suitcase because you will definitely take advantage of the incredible fashion!

I went to meet from friend from China again for dinner in Ikebukuro in a beer buffet place where you pay 2000 yen for 2 hours of whatever you want to drink and whatever you want to eat. We had a Russian Roulette Octopus Ball Dish where one of the 8 or so balls is laden with spice and you take one each at a time and eat it, hoping you don’t get the spicy one!
Luckily, I didn’t get it!

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I made my way back to the hostel and re-packed my suitcases then went downstairs with Ricky to sit with some guys and hang out.

The following morning I got up around 9:30am and showered then went down to get my life in order!
We went to the metro to get the airport train to Haneda airport, checked in, spent the last of our money after we exchanged the large notes we had left (between 30-40 thousand yen each!) and made our way to our gate!

Our flight was delayed by 30 minutes so we didn’t arrive in Shanghai until 5:20pm and had to collect our bags and go to a different terminal to get our connecting flight to Beijing. We got to the check in desk at 6:15pm and our flight left at 6:50pm.

~ Airport Ninjas! ~

We got to Beijing at 9pm and got a taxi to the same hostel we stayed at 3 weeks before and had some dinner then went to bed, ready to get up and go in the morning.
We went to the foreign bookstore at Wangfujin where I spent almost £70 or more on books before getting our luggage from the hostel and went to Beijing West Train Station to get the fast train back home.

We were sat on our sofa feeling depressed by 7:30pm

I already miss Japan and want to go back!

We really didn’t spend as much money as I thought we would.
I took £2000 and came home with just under a thousand, even after buying clothes (in abundance) and splurging on fancy dinners every now and again.
If you’re sensible with your budget and pay for flights/buses in advance, Japan really isn’t that expensive.

Posted by Lady Mantle 22:59 Archived in Japan Tagged okinawa hiroshima sea_turtles a_bomb peace_memorial zamami_island Comments (0)

Japan - Tokyo continued, Kyoto and Osaka

semi-overcast 18 °C

When we got back to the hostel, I was pretty tired so didn’t stay up late, but Ricky started playing drinking games with some of the other people in our hostel so I left him to it and went to bed!
The following morning we were supposed to get up super early to go to the Fish Market and to watch Sumo wrestling practise but Ricky didn’t go to bed until 3am and when my alarm went off at 6am, I didn’t want to wake up!

I eventually got up around 11am, had a shower and sat in the common room reading my book.
When Ricky appeared, we decided to go to the Imperial Palace only to discover that you couldn’t actually go inside and there wasn’t much to see around it so we gave up and went to Shinjuku to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building observatory to get a good view of Tokyo at night.

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We grabbed a quick bite to eat from a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant, selected our meal from a small machine, paid, received a ticket, and then gave that ticket to the chef to make our food.
Katsu Chicken and rice with a huge bowl of udon noodles for about £2.

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We’re savvy diners!

We came back to the hostel and chilled out for the evening as we were both pretty knackered.
Ricky went to meet a special friend for the night and for some reason, I woke up at around 4:30am and couldn’t get back to sleep so I packed up my suitcase and got dressed, and then went to the Tsujiki Fish Market but I didn’t arrive until around 8am and a lot of the stalls were closing down and all the big fish had already been cut up :(

Check out from the hostel was at 11am so we put our luggage in the hostel’s storage room and had a nap on the futons in the common area.
We went to get some more money out as we could only get 50,000 yen a day (around £280) which was annoying because my bank was charging me between £13-15 per transaction!!

We decided we were a little hungry so we walked down a few small side streets and found a restaurant full of locals so we followed suit and joined them.
Delicious!

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As my father always says, if the locals eat there, it’s usually cheap and always tasty!

We went back to the hostel via a tiny kimono shop and somehow, I came out having bought one…!
Whoops!
However, it was only 5,000 yen and beautiful (£30).

We collected our luggage and got on the subway just after 8pm and headed to Shinjuku station to walk to the Willer Express Bus waiting area, annoyingly, nowhere near all of the other buses!
We arrived early (which is always better than late in my opinion!) but eventually got told it was time to board.
It wasn’t the best overnight bus we’ve been on but it was comfortable and I particularly enjoyed the head covers that were like a strange mix of a hairdresser-style-hairdryer and one of those slide back dome bin lids!

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Either way, it blocked out the rest of the world visually, and with my music soothing me through my headphones, I was audibly detached from everyone else as well and managed a relatively good night’s sleep.

~ ~ ~ Kyoto ~ ~ ~

We arrived in Kyoto around 6:30am and had quite a trek to K’s House Hostel, but found it with the help of an old Japanese man on a bicycle who accompanied us to the main road and then told us to walk 3 streets over and continued on with his life!
So cute!

We put our luggage in storage as check-in wasn’t open until 3pm and napped on the sofas until 1pm!
We just sat and chilled in the common area until 3pm and then checked into our room.
A spacious 6 bed dorm with big soft beds – hostels might be expensive in Japan, but you get a lot for your money.

We showered and got dressed before heading out to Gion in search of Geishas.
We grabbed some dinner and through the windows we could see a few tourist/fake Geishas (without makeup) walking around.
When we went outside we found a real Geisha waiting for a car to pick her up so snapped a few pics with her before she was driven off into the night.

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Amazing.

We walked down to Poncho To and walked down the thin passageway under hundreds of lanterns lining the street.
I felt like Chihiro in Spirited Away, expecting to see spirits walking through sliding doors; magical!

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It had been snowing for a while and with the wind picking up it was bitterly cold so we headed back to the hostel to relax in the warmth!
The next day we took advantage of the hostel breakfast buffet before getting the metro to Fushimi-Inari Shrine and walking up Mount Inari – There are hundreds of archways next to each other which form these amazing tunnels, broken up by shrine plateaux every so often.

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Toward the top of the mountain was a bit of a struggle for an unfit, overweight woman like myself as there were lots of steps but not as bad as the mountain in Thailand! I gave up and began my decent as Ricky continued to the top – only to tell me when we eventually met each other again at the bottom that I was one staircase away from the top when I gave up! Perseverance was never my strong suit…!

We walked to the train station afterwards and bought our train tickets to Osaka (560 yen each) for Tuesday then went back to the hostel for a well-deserved nap!
Ricky wanted to go to some bars so he went out, but I stayed in the hostel as I had a bit of a headache.

The next day we went to a flea market held on Sundays at the Chion-ji Temple but by the time the bus got us there, some of the stalls were closing up for the day.
It wasn’t so much a flea market, but rather a boutique, handicrafts, not-so-cheap market so if you want to go and check out the things for sale (which are very nice) be prepared to pay more than average for them! I bought some cute earrings and Ricky bought some pieces he liked then we went to one of the only open restaurants at the time and had curry to fill our bellies.
Be aware wherever you are in Japan, there are appropriate times to locate and eat food, trying to find Japanese places to eat at random times like between 2-5pm is nearly impossible. If the Japanese don’t eat at that time, neither do you!

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Monday reared its beautiful head, so we got up, had breakfast in the hostel again, and then went to the train station to buy 2 tickets to Saga Arashiyama (240 yen each).

When we arrived, we went to the bamboo forest and Tenryu-ji temple, plus a lovely stroll through Okochi Denjiro’s Zen garden (an actor in samurai movies) before heading to Fufu No Yu onsen (hot springs) across the Togetsu-kyo Bridge, only to be told that we couldn’t go in because of our tattoos and the links to the Yakusa (Japanese Mafia)!

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We sombrely made our way back to the train station but decided to top in the adorable café, Coffee Shop Hirose, with an old man so lovely I wanted to adopt him and call him Grandpa! His place was tiny, I felt like an Amazonian woman when we walked in and sat amongst the locals.
He had an old telephone which I adored and teeny tiny dream jugs for peoples’ coffee. I could have sat and watched him pottering away for hours.

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If I ever move to Japan, I want that to be my local café; ADORABLE!

Kyoto is so relaxed that I felt like we barely did anything. People in Japan are so lovely and polite and are eager to help us bewildered foreigners with nothing more than a thank you in return!

~ ~ ~ Osaka ~ ~ ~

The next day, we packed up our stuff, had breakfast once more, and then made our way to the train station to head south to Osaka.
28 minutes later we arrived, got on the local loop line train and walked the short distance to our accommodation – not quite what I expected but we’ve stayed in worse! The beds were comfortable and the room was big enough to open our suitcase, what more do you need!?

Ricky wanted to go on the Tempozan Ferris Wheel and I wanted to go to the aquarium (naturally) so we took the subway to Osakako station, had a very late lunch then went our separate ways.
As I sat staring into the Pacific Ocean tank, admiring the graceful flight of the resident Whale shark, I was suddenly awash with sadness; these beautiful creatures made me want to go diving I the oceans every day, but these animals in particular will never experience the open ocean waters again.

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I left shortly after that, feeling like the power aquariums held over me had somewhat diminished and took the subway back to our hotel.
Ricky returned just after me, had a nap, and then went out on the town but an upset stomach prevented me from going farther than the bathroom and back but I didn’t mind, as I soon got lost in one of the many books I brought with me!

The following day, we woke up late and went to Osaka Castle which didn’t look like a European Castle, but more like an Asian Pagoda or shrine. It was inclement weather so we didn’t stay long and walked through the decorative gardens to the metro station.

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We stopped at Mos Burger, a supposed must-have of cuisine in Japan.
We were not impressed…!

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Expensive and not very tasty or nourishing.

We went back to the hostel for a nap and a shower before heading out to Shinsaibashi and the shopping district.

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We took in all the lights and the interesting people watching, then sat in Starbucks admiring to deaf guys conversing.
I find sign-language so fascinating and love watching people speak to each other that way.

Apparently, Osaka is better at the weekends and the general consensus appeared to be staying in Osaka and just doing day trips to Nara and Kyoto which are both more peaceful areas.

The next day we’d run out of things we desperately wanted to see so we went to the Sky Tower and took some photos. We both bought heart-shaped padlocks and had our names and the date engraved on them so we could lock them on the available railings on the roof terrace forever.

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I love the padlock craze, I think it’s a fantastic way to leave a part of you in the places you’ve visited without damaging property by carving your name into walls! (Sorry, Great Wall of China…!)

We went to find some food in the west tower and then saw there was a cinema so we decided to waste some time by watching not one, but two films (‘Begin Again’ with Keira Knightly, and ‘Love, Rosie’ with Lily Collins) as we couldn’t decide which one we wanted to watch. Both were very enjoyable and not so much of a waste of time after all!

We made the journey back to our hostel around 9pm, grabbed a quick bite, I reinforced the straps on my backpack with my trusty sewing kit then we went back to the Sky Tower as that was where our bus to Hiroshima left from!
We were both disappointed with this bus as the seats were smaller than the first bus we’d taken and the heating was unbearable – I barely slept and had to get off the bus every time it stopped just to bring my body temperature back down!

...

Posted by Lady Mantle 00:20 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo kyoto osaka Comments (1)

Japan - Tokyo

sunny 20 °C

I discovered, when booking our flights to Narita airport in Tokyo that it would be easier, quicker and a lot less hassle it we departed from Beijing rather than the airport closest to us.
So we sped along the track on the high-speed train to Beijing West from Xinxiang East train station, checked into our hostel for the night and had a beer... or two!

We stayed at the Dragon King Hostel in the Dongcheng district and would highly recommend it, as not only is it close to a subway station, but the staff are exceptional and the atmosphere is both friendly and homely.
We checked out in the morning, wolfed down an 'American Breakfast' and walked the 200m or so to the subway.
A few stops later and a 25 yuan Airport Express ticket and we were on our way to Beijing Terminal 2.

We checked in for our flight, went through passport control where Ricky's portable charger was taken from him and I was felt up by airport security so much that I thought it only fair to be bough dinner, or at least a drink by the offer 'searching' me, given her closeness and forceful caress of my inside thigh!

The beginning of a soft porno aside, we went to our gate, only to discover there wasn't so much as a vending machine, let alone a smoking room, so proceeded to take out our books (one each of many) and passed the time by engrossing ourselves in our respective good books.
We boarded our flight an hour after it was due to depart (oh China...!) apparently destined for Shanghai, as a 'technical stop' to arrive at Shanghai airport, disembark, go through the 'exit-to-international-flights' border control and left to figure out where to go next.
This in itself was such an ordeal that a cigarette was desperately required and dutifully achieved by half walking/half jogging through the airport to a smoking room, inhaling pretty much the whole cigarette in one drag and then scrambled back to gate 16 tore-board the plane we'd just got off!
3 hours later, another bag of peanuts and an odd combination of pork curry and sushi later, and we arrived in Tokyo, but not before sitting on the tarmac in Shanghai for 45 minutes and flying over Tokyo for an extra 15 minutes before landing because of the 'danger bok' or something to that effect, as outlined by our inaudible flight attendant.

Now, I was somewhat aware that the trains in Tokyo stopped around midnight and as we were then 2 hours late to Narita, we were pushed for time to get money out and figure out which train to get.
This farce wasn't helped by my bank capping the amount I could withdraw each day, confusing me and putting added pressure on out time schedule.
Eventually, I realised there was a cap, got out what I could and we made our way down the escalator to the trains.

We were walking towards the ticket machine to purchase our tickets but were greeted by several members of staff screaming "GO! GO! GO! The last train of the night is almost here! Buy your tickets on the train" GO! GO! GO!"
We heeded this advice, practically threw our luggage down another set of escalators, launched the through the open doors of the train, and sat down just as the doors were closing.
Now, having never been to Japan before, trying to navigate a subway system with a thousand stations and not even knowing which line you're travelling on presents obvious problems.
The instructions from the hostel would have made perfect sense, had we been on the train they'd advised, however, we were not, we were heading in the wrong direction, not knowing how to rectify the situation but knowing that if we got off the train, we'd be sleeping outside.
Ricky decided that he wanted to get off, but with my last ounce of sanity, I asked the only foreigner in our car, who happened to be sat only a seat away, if he could help us.
We told him were we wanted to go and after subtly correcting our pronunciation, said the train would get us there or at least pretty close which was calming.

70 minutes later, we got off at the station 5 stops away from Asakusa before the train went in a different direction and made our way to the exit.
Now, during that 70 minute journey, not one person came to sell us a ticket so when we were faced with the arduous task of leaving the train station and in our delirious travel-raped fatigue, the only viable option we could think of was to tail-gate someone through the exit gate, hauling our luggage through the closing barricades and making a run for it.

...

After successfully evading any immediate castigation and enjoying a victory cigarette, we got in a taxi for the last leg of our ridiculous journey and checked into out hostel for the night just in time!
We stayed at Tokyo Original Hostel and were glad to leave in the morning for the hostel we'd booked for the next 3 nights as our room was so small we could barely get our suitcases in... upright!
The only plus side was that the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful and they gave us a thank you note and origami Pikachu they'd made themselves when we left in the morning!

We walked around the corner and up the road to our longer stay hostel, Khaosan Kabuki and were much more impressed with out surroundings.
We were upgraded to a swanky private suite at no extra cost for a reason I'm still unsure of and concluded that for the rest of our trip we would pretend we were a soon-to-be-married couple travelling before the wedding to hopefully get more free-upgrades... when in Rome, so to speak!

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Before we came to Japan, I'd booked tickets to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, a short train journey away, to see the collection of Ghibli paraphernalia, and today was the day I needed to go.
I asked at the hostel reception how to get to Mitaka and the lovely receptionist gave me a pre-printed slip with directions to the museum and I got ready to go.
Ricky didn't want to come so ventured around on his own whilst I went to the subway station.
I enjoy travelling with someone who doesn't need constant molly-coddling and can just do their own thing; it means that both parties get the most out of their trip without anyone feeling left out.

I went down to the Ginza line, paid the 170 yen to get to Kanda station and got on the train.
The subway ticket machines are off because rather than selecting a station, you select the amount of yen it'll cost to get there, according to the map overhead on the wall.
I arrived at Kanda and had to get a new ticket for the JR Chuo line but the map was only in Japanese so I had to guess the value and get on the train.
25 minutes later, I arrived at Mitake station and went to the south exit as instructed by my print out.
When I put my tiny rectangular ticket in the exit gate, it advised me my fare needed to be adjusted so I went to the machine a stone’s throw away and it told me the difference that I needed to pay; very useful, and civilised!

As I walked out of the south exit, I immediately saw a sign for the Ghibli Museum which confirmed the route I'd already commuted to memory and happily began the 10-15 minute ramble to the second small bridge over the narrow river that accompanied me down the road.

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I took a right turn and then after a little more walking, I saw the sign on my left.

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I exchanged my paper ticket for my real ticket, a real film piece from one of my favourite Ghibli films (Howl's Moving Castle) and went inside.

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Annoyingly, but also understandably, you're forbidden from taking pictures inside the museum, only outside, which was still beautiful and equally magical.

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Inside was beautiful, wooden floors and staircases with random little doors and cast iron bannisters - I felt like I was in a Ghibli movie!
I looked at all the artwork displays, the extensive heaps of books and sketches plastered across the walls and the beautifully specific way the desk was arranged to suggest Miyazaki had only just stepped away for a moment.
I obviously bought some souvenirs from the gift shop before traversing the iron staircase to the giant metal guardian from Castle in the Sky on the roof of the museum.

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I didn't stay for long and was back on the train to Asakusa before I knew it.
I particularly enjoyed the 'real' Catbus from My Neighbour Totoro full of 'real' dust mites from Howl's Moving Castle that the children could play on.
You can see pictures inside the museum on their website: http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/

I walked back along the river to the station, had a cigarette in the designated smoking area (you are not allowed to walk on the street smoking!) then got back on the train to Asakusa via Kanda station and met Ricky.

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We went to Starbucks for a drink then went to Freshness Burger for dinner before walking around looking for Byron Bay Café which Ricky had found earlier in the day for a Baileys and Chocolate Milk, then went back to the hostel where I wrote this and Ricky played Bomberman on the Nintendo until 3am!

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I think I use hostels incorrectly, given that I much prefer the common areas when there’s no one else in them…!

We woke up around 10am and headed out to Harajuku; the Fashion District.
I’ve never seen so many beautiful, ordinary (as in, not famous!) people in amazing clothes before!
Amazing.
Ricky and I bought several items and for the first time ever in our time together, I spent more money on clothes than him!
Beautiful clothes!
We walked around for a while, following cool people to see where they were going, looking into kitsch little shops to see what they were selling, and genuinely just loving our environment.

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Posted by Lady Mantle 04:18 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo fashion smoking harajuku delays spring_festival khason_kabuki ghibli_museum chinese_airlines dust_mites mitaka tokyo_metro Comments (2)

Yosemite National Park and San Francisco

overcast 25 °C

I left LA around midday and got to the Yosemite Rustic Bug Resort around 5:30/6pm.
It was exactly what I was looking for:
quaint wooden cabins adorned the hillside, trees as far as the eye could see and nothing but the sounds of nature surrounded me
- perfection!

Just before I drove up to the reception area, a hobbling woman stopped me and asked for a lift as she'd hurt herself hiking and had already walked so far on a busted knee.
Naturally, I picked her up because I'm a decent human being and drove her to reception.

After I'd checked in, I went to the dorm room cabin and discovered my injured passenger was also my roommate which was nice.
She was German and there were 2 other German girls who were travelling together and we became a little unit for a night and a day!
We had some dinner together and chatted about the different hikes to do in Yosemite.

Now as many of you who know me or have read my Thailand blog will know, I am not a hiker and in fact any up-hill motion makes my physical inadequacies all the more ubiquitous.
So, I asked my new German friends about the easiest hikes and where I could drive to...

The next day, I drove to Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park and on the way I saw a bear.
A bear!!
I've never felt so incredibly in awe as I did at that moment.
I saw the bear trundling along the edge of a mountain slope so I quickly pulled in off the road, got my iPad and got out of the car.
I was taking some picture of this beautiful creature, when it stopped walking and looked straight at me.

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We both just stood there for a while, staring at one another, like there was nothing and no one else in the world at that moment in time but the two of us.
It was almost like for those few seconds, we were one and the same, until a noise away from us both startled the bear and it ran into a nearby hedge.
Not knowing entirely where the bear had gone, nor how tasty a treat I would be, I hurried back into the car and continued driving through the park.
My day was pretty much tops after that!

I arrived at Glacier Point and took some photos of the incredible views and noticed all the families and couples setting off on the various trails available from there. I walked around for a little, but I knew I wouldn't be able to do any of the hikes from there so got back in my car and began to drive down to the village. I stopped on the side of the road by a barren looking mountain top that looked higher than Glacier Point, got my camera and climbed up to the top to A) see the views and B) see if I could see any mountain lions...!

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I got some supplies from the village store when I'd parked the car and mentally prepared myself for the exercise ahead!
A comfortable bag, a souvenir and some water, then I headed out to what was left of Mirror Lake.
The hike had a little elevation but it was totally doable, and overall, really quite pleasant.

The Mirror Lake, at that time of year, was nothing more than a glorified pond surrounded by sand and gravel, like a misplaced beach.
It was however, very pretty there and the mountains carved mercilessly into the skyline with such precision, it was truly breath-taking.

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I walked back through the forest a bit more in order to enjoy nature without other people getting in my way!
It was incredibly peaceful hearing nothing but the sounds of birds singing, the flow of water from the rivers and trees bending in the gentle breeze as I looked at the beautiful surroundings and looking out for mountain lions... of which I saw none!

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After a total of 8-10 miles as I had gone full Red Riding Hood and had ignored the path all together, I eventually found my way back to the car and drove back to the hostel resort for some dinner and some much needed spa time!
After a hot tub and sauna session and a cheeky hour long deep tissue massage, I felt like I'd had a super productive day!
The next morning, I had some breakfast and began my shortest drive to my final destination; San Francisco.

Now I have to say, I either did it wrong, or San Francisco really isn't all it's cracked up to be...

I went to see the Golden Gate Bridge, which took forever on various busses and by the time I eventually got there the fog had begun rolling in which both ruined and momentarily enhanced my pictures. I was not dressed appropriately for the cold that the fog brought in so was frozen to the bone, tired and a damp and had to make the long journey back to the more central part of the city.

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I went to Alcatraz Prison, and again, was not all that impressed.

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The views from Alcatraz Island of the bay were quite good but it all just seemed somewhat anti-climactic and a little over-hyped.
I didn't even get through the audio tour without being bored senseless, admitting defeat and bailing out of there.
My most enjoyable experiences in San Francisco was probably standing on the side of the cable car as it went downhill toward the marina but even that wasn't mind-blowing.
I went to China town, but having been living in China for over 2 and half years now, it was actually a little sad seeing how Chinese culture had been bastardised for Western means.
I did enjoy walking around the bay and I even met Elmo, but apart from that, I wasn't all that taken in by San Francisco and my heart definitely came home with me...

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I had more fun in Oakland (which is where I was staying courtesy of my wonderful AirBnB host Cassandra!) and could have happily just stayed in Oakland, ignoring SF all together, but that's the annoyance of hindsight, you never get it in advance!
I think my most interesting experience was waking up to an earthquake, not really knowing it was an earthquake at first, acknowledging it was an earthquake, assessing the severity to not be that high and then going back to sleep!
Ahh California!

Posted by Lady Mantle 19:44 Archived in USA Tagged mountains hiking california spa san_francisco golden_gate_bridge duck yosemite national_park alcatraz cable_car bear china_town earthquake elmo oakland fishermans_wharf airbnb hot_tub the_bay mirror_lake glacier_point port_of_san_francisco rustic_bug_resort deep_tissue_massage Comments (0)

Los Angeles

sunny 31 °C

I drove to Los Angeles with a few stops along the way as it’s a long-ass drive!
It didn’t help that a lorry had overturned so I had to sit in a long line of traffic for a while.
Roads in the US are so long and everything is so much further apart than you realise!

I eventually got to my hostel in L.A. around 5:30/6pm and went to meet Steve from the hostel in New Orleans for a drink on Hollywood Boulevard before he left for his flight back to Australia.
I walked along the Walk of Fame then headed back to my hostel for an early night.

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  • RIP Robin Williams *

Apparently my early night was a little too early as I was awake at 4am and bored, so I got up as quietly as possible (not the easiest thing to do when you’re on the top bunk in a room of 6…!) and drove up to the Griffith Observatory to watch the sun rise.

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It is truly amazing what you can see when you’re awake 4 in the morning in Los Angeles. I saw something being filmed, a movie or TV programme, in a gas station, I got to see the beauty of Griffith Park from the observatory and the pure, silent, unpolluted view of Los Angeles as all her lights twinkled in the early morning darkness.

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I saw a guy propose to his girlfriend, she clearly had no idea it was happening, and as the sun rose over the nearby mountains, the mysticism of Los Angeles faded away in the astounding beauty and power of the morning glow.

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I particularly enjoyed an old Chinese man, ignoring the sunrise and staring, full-bodied at the moon as her light begin to diminish. There was something traumatic about the whole thing. It was almost as if he was contemplating his own life and how much or little time he might have before his own light fades…

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I took lots of pictures of the sun rising over the hills and after the initial beam of sunlight had hit the high rises and the city was bathed in the morning light, I got back in the car to get away from the hordes of people that had suddenly arrived and drove to Venice beach to enjoy some sea air and a casual walk on the beach and over the little bridges along the canals.

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I only got a short amount of time for parking so I had to cut my walk short and made my way back to the hostel to catch up on my missed sleep before driving to Newport to go whale watching.
Now, in order to get to the port to get on the boat to go whale watching, I had to drive to Balboa Island: the weirdest place I’ve ever seen. It was almost like none of it was real. Like the Truman Show meets Pleasantville, but so much more expensive. People were doing water sports and lounging on their private boats whilst I sat in my car on a 3 car ferry to get across the water to the dock, just like the car ferry in Jaws! So weird.

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The boat trip was pleasant enough, I saw a whale, from a distance and some dolphins, yet it wasn’t as enchanting as I’d hoped for, but pleasant enough. I got back onto the 3 car ferry, being the first car is the scariest thing of all as you stare bewildered at the minimal chain supposedly preventing you from diving engine first into the water, drove back to my hostel and had another relatively early night.
The next day I went to Universal Studios and I have to say, as good as it is, it’s ridiculously overpriced for what’s on offer and you have to pay for parking,
even after the extortionate entry prices! $16 for basic, general parking!
I packed some food and a big bottle of water as I wasn’t paying their prices for food and drink but luckily everything else was included in the exorbitant ticket price!
Plus, on the rides in the lower lot, they have a single rider entrance so if you’re travelling alone like I was or you don’t mind getting separated from your group/friends then you basically walk to the front of the queue to fill up empty seats on the rides. I walked straight past the 30 minutes wait like for the Jurassic Park Water ride and literally stepped straight on! Winner!

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Jurassic Park and the Transformers ride (also with a single rider line) were by far the best, and the Waterworld show was great but the Mummy ride was a cheap, poor-man’s ghost house. It was boring and a total waste of time. The only thrill was the accelerated start, it was downhill from there, both figuratively and literally.

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The Studio Tour was pretty interesting and definitely worth doing, but the queue was crazy long after 11am, so my advice would be to do that first. The Shrek 4D experience was pretty good too!

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All in all, it wasn’t a bad way to spend the day but it is an expensive outing, especially for families without a well-stocked picnic basket and an inability to say no to the excessive souvenir shops and tack sellers!

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Now it sounds like I had a horrible time, which just isn’t the case, at one point some street cleaners started performing the most incredible dance routine, I just don’t understand why places with such high footfall need to be so expensive! Grinds my gears!

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I went for a walk down Fairfax Avenue after parking my car in the hostel’s minimal underground parking so as to not lose the space! I got falafel and hummus for dinner and some sushi for the following day and then chilled out.
The next day I did a Hollywood tour, they took you to famous people’s houses, not that you could see anything, but it was relatively informative and fun, if somewhat pricey for the gift of looking to famous people’s very high gates and fences.

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I then drove to the La Brea Tar Pits to see some fossils before going back to the hostel for a late lunch of sushi; some writing and a little TV before free BBQ and drinks in the Tiki Lounge!

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The next day I packed up and checked out of the Banana Bungalows and went to meet the girls for breakfast I had eggs benedict and it was crazy delicious! We went to the Blu Jam Café and clearly made an excellent choice as there was a queue down the street about 10 minutes after we arrived.

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After that, I said goodbye to the girls for the last time and began my drive to Yosemite.

Posted by Lady Mantle 19:36 Archived in USA Tagged sunrise expensive universal_studios walk_of_fame rodeo_drive sushi whale_watching l.a. solo_traveller la_brea_tar_pits hollywood_boulevard griffith_park_observatory balboa_island single_rider fortune_cookie it's_so_fluffy jurassic_park_ride waterworld_show Comments (0)

The Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas

And the joys of renting a car in a foreign country!

sunny 34 °C

My flight from New Orleans to Atlanta didn't take very long, but after the 3 hour flight to Phoenix and the 4 hour drive to Flagstaff, I was knackered!
I picked up my rental car at Phoenix airport - sounds simple enough but I'd had to cancel a previous rental agreement because the US Customs decided that my international drivers permit was not important enough to actually deliver and even now, after 6 months, it still hasn't been delivered! But my friends in NOLA advised me that rental companies barely ask for it, so I took the risk by booking with another company that wasn't asking for an IDP and I was away!

Now in Britain, we drive on the right side of the car. In China and in America, on the left side. Now I've driven a car in China, but having sat in taxis and friends cars, I was familiar with the right hand drive, automatic gear box stuff, plus Michelle had been kind enough to let me drive a little in New York so I was confident that I wasn't going to die!

Oh my god, how I had missed driving! Being on the wrong side of the car meant nothing, I was driving again and I had forgotten just how much I enjoy driving! Then I realised just how long roads in America are and just how far away everything is and well, my newly rekindled love of driving soon died out! So as soon as I reached Flagstaff, I checked into an over-priced and totally not worth the money or my time motel, but salvaged the experience by having the scrummiest Greek food at Alpha and Omega on Route 66 for dinner before having an early night, ready for the Grand Canyon in the morning and the big old drive to Vegas!

I got up around 6 am, showered, had a little breakfast, checked out of my room and head out towards the Grand Canyon.
The roads in the US are so long and wide and seemingly never-ending!
I eventually got to the Grand Canyon, paid my $25 car fee and parked up near the visitors centre.
I followed signs towards Mathers Point and was subconsciously picturing what I was about to see.
I was wrong.
My mind could not produce the sheer magnitude and vastness of the chasm before me.
I was literally speechless, I don't even think a 'wow' uttered forth from my parted lips, more of a squeak peeped out.
It is truly an incredible sight to behold. I felt so insignificant against that backdrop, and oddly serene.
There's something comforting and calming about looking at the Grand Canyon that even I have difficulty describing.

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I walked along the trail for a while before getting on a free shuttle bus that takes you to other points along the rim, all equally stunning.
I nice Korean lady offered to take a picture of me on my phone standing precariously close to the edge but feeling unafraid of the abyss below me.

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I felt nothing bad could happen at the Grand Canyon, with so much beauty surrounding me.
I stayed and walked around for about an hour and a half, then in true me-as-a-tourist fashion, got in my car and drove away as hordes of cars desperately tried to find parking spaces.
My advice to anyone visiting the Grand Canyon would be to arrive early, that way you will be blessed as I was with minimal people and maximum parking options!

~ ~ ~

I began driving to Vegas and it wasn’t until I saw a sign for it that I realised the Hoover Dam was on route, so I stopped there for 20 minutes ($10 for the privilege to park!), took a few snaps and then left as there were no more tours that day.

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I think one man was hoping to recreate the dam at home, at least I can only imagine as such given the number of photos he was taking of roughly the same area!
By the time I reached Vegas I was almost out of gas and had been driving on and off for about 8 hours!
Things are not as close as they look on maps!
I found my hotel and had a much needed early night.

The next day I didn’t really do much; I went to a 50’s Diner for pancakes at 1pm and then chilled out in my room watching T.V. I obviously needed the sleep because another early night later and it was Tuesday!

I’d booked tickets for Cirque du Soleil on livingsocial.com - a great website for discounted tickets and needed to collect them from the box office at Treasure Island so I got in the car and made my way down the strip.

Vegas is like Disneyland on crack.

For adults.

With hookers.

It’s bright and gaudy and you forget that you’re in the middle of the desert until you acknowledge how thirsty you are!
I parked (for free!) in the Treasure Island carpark, got my ticket, and then went for a walk.

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It is hot in the desert!

I went into Paris to get the monorail and was accosted by various people trying to sell me above and beyond expensive skin care products before eventually finding the monorail.

They’re very sneaky in Vegas, putting the thing you need miles away through a vast array of things you might want in shiny glass cabinets and brightly dressed window displays….!
I resisted temptation however, paid for my $5 one-ride monorail ticket and went back to Treasure Island.

I went back to my hotel for a 2 hour nap then headed out again to watch Cirque du Soleil.

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It was INCREDIBLE!
Everyone should go and see at least one of their many shows.
I was totally blown away. The physical endurance and ability those performers had is nothing like I’ve ever seen before; simply breath-taking.
I was going to walk around for a bit after the show, but the streets were heaving and I wasn’t in the mood for hen and stag do drunkenness so I headed back to my hotel!

The next day I went to Denny’s for brunch then did some laundry, called my bank who had once again blocked my bank card and the chilled out in my room.

Vegas as a solo traveller is a little boring but I suppose it’s what you make of it.
Meeting friends tomorrow so hopefully my opinion of Vegas will be improved…

I went for a late breakfast before going to the airport to pick up the girls and dropped them off at the Paris Hotel and Casino, gave them some time to wind down and get settled then met them in their hotel room to decide what to do.
We went casino hopping and had quite a bit of luck!

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We saw the fountain show at the Bellagio and walked up the strip for a while, admiring all the varying types of people and groups before admitting defeat and needing sleep so I said bye to the girls at the MGM Grand and went back to my hotel, ready for the next league of my journey!

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Posted by Lady Mantle 20:57 Archived in USA Tagged desert las_vegas bellagio rental_car pancakes treasure_island winning gambling monorail route_66 cirque_du_soleil the_strip the_grand_canyon the_hoover_dam paris_casino mgm_grand mystere fountain_show caeser's_palace the_hangover right_hand_drive left_hand_drive alpha_and_omega mathers_point stunning_views wonder_of_the_world transformers denny's livingsocial.com disneyland_on_crack hookers gaudy skin_care Comments (0)

New Orleans

And Jacksonville, NC

sunny 40 °C

I arrived in Jacksonville, NC and waited for my friend to pick me up from the tiniest airport I’ve ever been to!
When the plane touched down on the tarmac, and everyone started to leave the plane, I hadn’t even realised that we were not connected to the airport (you know how there is usually a tube-walkway thing from the plane door to the airport?).
I stepped off the plane and watched as everyone who knew what they were doing just began walking across the tarmac to the terminal building that looked no bigger than a large community centre.
I wasn’t really sure what the protocol was, so without any personnel that I could see to guide me, I followed suit and walked to the terminal building.
It looked almost like an office building inside; one floor, one bathroom, and at the end of the building, there was a single, maybe 10ft conveyer belt slowly bringing in the luggage.
After successfully collecting my baggage, I went outside (only a few feet away from the conveyer belt!) and waited for my friend who eventually arrived looking fashionable as usual and off we went.

To go from New York to Jacksonville, NC was quite a change in not only pace but environment as well.
I was surrounded by green and big open fields, just what I needed after a busy 2 weeks in NYC.

My friend took me for Carolina BBQ and hush puppies which is basically shredded chicken, vinegar and coleslaw in a bun and deep-fried corn cake things.
Anyway, it was yummy!
It rained for the next 2 days so we basically just ate tasty food and I bought some much needed additions to my wardrobe…!
The hotel I stayed in (Extended Stay America) was actually really good and the staff were great, would definitely recommend.

My flight to New Orleans wasn’t until 12:45 so I checked out at 11 and my friend took me to the airport. Standard security, standard flights, although at one point, I felt like Sandra Bullock in the Proposal when she goes to Sitka in the tiny plane - it felt like I was in a glider, not a real plane at all! I had to change at Charlotte and luckily the next plane was bigger!

~ New Orleans ~

My hostel was in the Garden District, about 15 blocks west of the French Quarter, and full of beautiful, typically southern country homes.

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To be completely honest, the hostel (the Atlas House) didn’t look massively fancy from the outside, but the inside was lovely and clean and the staff were really welcoming. I stayed in a 6-bed dorm which was spacious and even had a little balcony off the back.
Very cute, and cool too thanks to the giant fan and air conditioning!

I didn’t arrive in New Orleans until the evening so after making my bed and organising my things, I made the 30-45 minute walk to the French Quarter for dinner.

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After sweating off about 40lbs(!) I started talking to a guy on Bourbon Street who suggested that I got a Po-Boy… I was intrigued so went up some stairs to a little restaurant and ordered a Shrimp Po-Boy and an iced tea.

Best. Shrimp. Ever.

I was presented with a toasted sandwich stuffed with lots of fat shrimp, lettuce and tomato, some fries and my own little pot of lemon mayonnaise – perfection!
I thought it would be strange eating alone, but I actually sort of enjoyed the quiet reflection time… and people watching, naturally.

Bourbon Street really is bar central and if your trip to New Orleans doesn’t require a street of neon signs and drunken gargoyles staggering around, it’s probably not somewhere you want to be at night…!

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I walked up and down different streets, but the French Quarter is basically a massive grid and after a while I felt like a pawn in a game of chess!
Eventually I got to Jackson Square and saw all the horse-drawn buggies and Café du Monde – home of the beignets!

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One of my missions for New Orleans was to enjoy the French pastry-doughnut that is the beignet and as good luck would have it, I stumbled upon the most famous place to get them from!
3 beignets for $2.25 and a kilogram of powdered sugar later and I scuttled to a dark corner to avoid onlookers observing my ritualistic devouring of those powdered treats only to discover that my chosen scoffing-place was generally use as a beignets eating area, given the copious amounts of powdered sugar dusting all over the floor..!
YUM!

For some reason, I couldn’t sleep (probably all that sugar!) so I was chatting to my students for a while before eventually admitting defeat around 2am.
I then woke up at 8am for no reason at all, so decided to head to Lafayette Cemetery to take some photos.
It was so peaceful and beautiful.

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A little light rain meant a quick lunch stop was necessary and then I went back to the hostel for a nap!
I woke up around 5pm and headed to the French Quarter again, had scrummy Creole Rabbit at Oliviers then walked around the French Quarter, stopping at Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo to satiate my mystique ways!

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To continue the theme, I sat with a lady near Jackson Square who did a tarot reading for me.
She told me I’m going through a solitary phase and doing more things for myself than constantly doing things to help others, she said all of my cards point to education, knowledge and wisdom and that I’d be an excellent teacher…
I’m taking that as a high five from the universe.
She also said that there would be a change this time next year that would see me venturing out on my own again which coincides with my new job next school year.
She was lovely and very down to earth, we had a great chat and I really enjoyed listening to her.
When in New Orleans!

I took the advice of my lonely planet guide and did my own walking tour of the French Quarter – before my tour could begin however, I stopped to appreciate the musical stylings of a jazz band who had set up in Jackson Square.

Whilst listening to their amazing music, I got chatting to a local guy which was nice – you forget what it’s like to talk to other people when you travel alone.
I like my own company but even so, the occasional conversation is welcomed.
I grabbed a quick bite before heading out into the 80% humidity and began my walk around the French Quarter.
Some of the buildings are really quite exquisite and I half expected people in 1920’s outfits to be exiting through the double doors under the looming balconies above.
Alas, this never came to pass but there was a cute trio of acapella singers in matching suits, complete with bow ties and wicker hats.
Very dapper!

I ended up in an old pharmacy with bottles and potions for everyday ailments and an interesting birthing suite, needless to say, I’m glad for the feats of modern medicine!

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I had a relatively early night, not for sleep, but for relaxing at the hostel.
I just chilled out in the courtyard with a cute Canadian-French couple for a while then watched a movie with one of the guys who worked in the hostel (Freddie).
Some girls from the UK moved into my dorm and we got chatting and decided to go for a drink just up the road.
I left them to get some food as I was starving but only managed a salad and a quarter Philly cheesesteak sandwich which found a new home in the fridge.
I also bought a homeless guy a shrimp sandwich and a bottle of water before heading back to the hostel;
everybody deserves food.

I booked a haunted tour with Witches Brews Tours for Wednesday evening so I knew I didn’t want to do a lot of walking during the day.
I got on a bus near the hostel to Canal St then hopped on the tram up to St Louis Cemetery No. 1 to visit Marie Laveau!

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I met a lovely guy in Cambodia in January this year who told me to look him up in New Orleans so when I stumbled across his gallery, it seemed fated for us to meet up.
We had a good chat and arranged dinner and drinks for the following evening as I was walking with the spirits that evening!

So after chilling out with my little hostel family, I jumped on a bus into the French Quarter and arrived early enough to grab a quick bowl of gumbo at an Oyster bar on Royal Street where upon I informed my waiter/bar tender that I’d never had an oyster before when one ceremoniously appeared before me with crackers and hot sauce.
Now, I’d sat at the bar (as advised by my friends for travelling solo!) so I was surrounded by other people, all somewhat more accustomed to oyster-eating and yet upon receiving instructions on how to eat my (free) oyster and doing so successfully, I received a round of applause from my bar constituents!
I wish every ‘first’ in my life was applauded!

After my oyster experience (which far outdid my first gumbo experience!) I walked across the street to meet with my tour group for the Voodoo, Witches, Vampires and Ghosts tour around the French Quarter.
It was really interesting and definitely worth doing, even if I was sweating buckets by the end of it.
Even between 8 – 10pm it is crazy humid.

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Even got to see the Delphine LaLaurie house...!

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Our guide was great, the right amount of funny and knowledgeable - a definite must for anyone visiting New Orleans and wanting a more in depth lesson on the darker history.

When I got back to the hostel, everyone was outside having drinks for Inci’s leaving do (a girl who worked at the hostel) so I joined the festivities including flip-cup and charades until I thought it best to go to bed, given that I had to be up at 8am the following day.

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I really loved my stay at the Atlas House hostel and would 100% recommend it to anyone who wants a real family of travellers and the guys who run the hostel are the best, great to just chill and talk to about anything.

The following morning, I was up and ready to go around 8.30am, went to buy cheap (for the USA) cigarettes and waited at the hostel for my tour bus to arrive.
Around a 30 minutes drive later, we arrived at the Louisiana Swamps and climbed aboard our airboats for the next 2 hours.
Today was alligator day :D

The journey out to ‘gator territory was relatively slow until we hit open water and then our ‘captain’ cranked up the speed and I instantly understood why they’re called airboats – we barely touched the water!

We quickly got to the renowned Bayou and within seconds of turning off the motor, 3 or 4 crocs began sashaying towards the boat.
Thankfully, they weren’t people-eaters!
This happened pretty much every time we stopped, and our driver enticed them to the boat so we could get a closer look, and we even got to hold a baby gator!

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I was the only person on the boat without noise-cancelling headphones so by the time I got back to the hostel, my ears were so sensitive I could hear my eyes blinking!

I had a nap and then went into town to meet Kirt (from Cambodia) and his lovely friend Gabriel for dinner and drinks which was an absolute blast!
I do love good company for dinner!
A theme which continued the following day with lunch and dinner with the girls from the hostel with a quick tour in between.

We went to listen to some live music on Frenchman Street and Andy and Dave from the hostel met us at the Spotted Cat Music Club.

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My flight to Phoenix was at 5am the next day so I went back to the hostel at 9pm but got chatting to Freddie and then had to organise my life so I didn’t sleep until 11pm anyway!

Ah, New Orleans - you complete me.

Posted by Lady Mantle 20:04 Archived in USA Tagged food jazz ghost new_orleans jacksonville alligators shrimp witches bayou galleries oysters voodoo swamps garden_district french_quarter solo_traveller vampires beignets cafe_du_monde jackson_square po_boys marie_laveau delphine_lalaurie atlas_house_hostel lafayette_cemetery st_louis_cemetery Comments (0)

Summer in the USA

New York and Washington D.C.

sunny 30 °C

As my taxi barrelled down the highway to the airport, I couldn't help but think how incredibly lucky I am.
I was leaving on another holiday, having completed my second year of teaching in China and I was going to America for the first time ever!
So far, in the last 2 years, I've travelled around China where I'm inordinately lucky to live, I've been to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and America, and over the next year I'm going to Japan and India!

The first flight from Zhengzhou to Seoul was ok, Korean Air is comfortable enough and even though the trip was only 2 hours, I got a pretty good meal.
The issues began once I reached South Korea...

I had no money, so I asked where I could find an ATM and was informed that I had to go outside - on the plus side, I now have a south Korea stamp in my passport ^_^

After several attempts to withdraw some money, without success, I realised that once again, my bank had frozen my account.
Normally, this happens when I already have some money to pay for the international call to my bank, however on this occasion, I only had 50 yuan which, when converted, wasn't enough to even buy a phone card!

I painfully inserted coin after coin into the pay phone, got connected to my bank for a whole 10 seconds before the money ran out.
This happened a further 3 or 4 times before the cashier refused to give me any more coins.
I used what little change I had left to buy a pretzel and a bottle of water before giving up entirely.

I did get a free foot massage though which was nice!

5 hours later, I got onto my connecting flight and began my trip the wrong way around the world to the USA.

After a tediously long 13 hour flight with very little sleep and poorly edited films done and dusted, I topped up my UK phone online which now had signal and called my bank.
They unfroze my card while I was on the tarmac at JFK and by the time I'd discussed how short my little fingers are in comparison to my other fingers with the nice immigration officers, I found an ATM, hailed a cab and began my USA trip!

Now those of you who now me well enough will know, probably from personal experience, that I'm a natural mimic, especially of other people's accents... needless to say, when I asked where the ATM was, the NYC accent seeped into my brain, so much so, that when I told the taxi driver where I was going he said, "welcome back"...

Hanna Mantle: Citizen of the World!

I finally arrived at Shelly's house in Queens (after a somewhat uncomfortable conversation with my Bangledeshian driver about how much he hates his wife) to Shelly's mum, a hot shower and an air-conditioned room.

Over 24 hours later and 3 different time zones, I had arrived in New York! Boom!

I stayed awake until 1am to see Shelly when she got in from work and we had a little catch-up before going to bed.

By the time I'd woken up, Shelly had already left for work again and I had a hair appointment to get to!
I ordered a taxi and made my way to "Touch of Brazil" where another Michelle was waiting for me!
She was lovely and really looked after me.
I got highlights and a cut and it felt nice being able to actually discuss my hair with the person cutting it, unlike in China!

I desperately needed to buy some new clothes so I went down Steinway to the street of shops...
Oh my!
With my hair cut and that damn street, I must have spent at least $300!

I made my way back to Shelly's to await the arrival of Matt who arrived safe and sound around 3.30pm.
We had a brief catch-up, got ready and headed into Manhattan on the subway to meet Shelly at work.
We went to Pier 81 and got on the restaurant boat where Shelly works, went for a 30 minute cruise and had some dinner before heading to Union Square to meet Tanya for drinks.

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Union Square is a strange, eclectic mix of types of people - hipsters and street performers, students and working people enjoying a break in the setting sun, and people eagerly awaiting an opponent for their chess game, set up with crates and stools and even office chairs to sit on and enjoy a game.

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We went to the oldest pub in NYC where they only sold light and dark ales and I managed to go to the toilet in the men’s...!

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We walked around a little more until we went into a seemingly innocuous hot-dog shop until Mish stepped inside a phone booth in the shop, picked up the receiver and pressed a button when all of a sudden, the back of the phone booth opened, revealing a speak-easy from the prohibition era!
Very cool.
We waited for a few minutes before being seated in a booth in the living-room sized bar, hidden away from the rest of society.
The drinks were so strong we could only sip them and then moved on to the next place.
We stopped at the Sin Palace to check out the decor, only to be accosted by a drunk man who insisted he was from Liverpool and liked kissing strangers on the neck apparently...!
(I can still feel his stubble!)

We ended up in a Dominican and Mexican restaurant, Matt and I being the only Caucasians in there and had midnight nachos before clambouring into a cab and heading home.

The next day we woke up late but early enough to enjoy pancakes, crispy bacon and eggs over easy for breakfast and then went to Metro PCS to get me an American phone for my travels.
We bought some snacks and then made our way to Chinatown to get the bus to Washington D.C.

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After 5 or 6 hours we arrived in D.C, went to our hotel, and then made our way to the White House.

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D.C. is so different to New York, a third of the people and so clean it was almost like nobody went outside.
We walked around the lit up monuments surrounding the White House until pangs of hunger overwhelmed us, so we made our way to Adams Morgan to get some food and drinks.
We went to a soul food bar called Madam's Organ and it was amazing.
The decor looked like the inside of my wildest imagination; dark reds and blacks, random items handing from the ceiling and the walls, dark, shadowy corners with little tea-lights providing minimal light and crooked staircases leading to tiny balconies.
We order dinner and enjoyed cocktail and the live band before admitting defeat and heading back to our comfy hotel beds for some much needed rest.

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The next day, we checked out of our swanky apartment and headed for the open-top bus tour. My bag was so heavy, still not sure why, so the bus was a welcome break from carrying it around.

We travelled around D.C. learning interesting information and hopping off and back on again whenever we felt like exploring things a bit closer.
We even got a free ticket to Madam Tussauds with our bus ticket, so we went to have a look and took some pictures with our new friends.

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We stopped for a bagel and to see Mr. Lincoln before heading to Chinatown for sushi and Chinese food (of which I ate only Sushi as Chinese food is my normal food every day!)

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We waited for the bus back to NYC and all 3 of us pretty much passed out until the bus got to Philadelphia and we perked up a bit until reaching NYC.

On Sunday, Michelle had to work a double so Matt and I ventured our alone.
We stopped at a cafe on 52nd st near the subway and had Philly Cheesesteaks for lunch - oh my yummy!
We then hopped on the subway into Manhattan and up to the National History Museum.
We got a little confused with the express trains but eventually got to the museum 2.5 hours before it closed.
The most confusing layout of a museum, ever!
We gave up trying to use the map and just walked around until we found something of interest.

When we left the museum, we were opposite Central Park, so we grabbed a hot-dog and a giant pretzel and entered the most beautiful inner-city park I've ever seen.
Green and water as far as the eye could see, the tops of building only just visible overhead.
We found the Angel fountain and the Home Alone bridge and Matt got selected to participate in a street performance act - so good!

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After walking around Central Park for hours, we got on the nearest subway and headed to Times Square.
Holy moly, that was a busy area!

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We bought some postcards and souvenirs, including some very fetching "I love NYC" jammies for me before attempting dinner at the Olive Garden.
It was so busy that we gave up and decided instead to try and get to Little Italy, which also proved too difficult without Michelle to guide us, so we stopped in "Hoomoos" and had a quick bite for dinner before heading back to Queens.

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I had the most mouth-watering falafel and humus pita, I can't even describe how tasty it was!
Everyone deserves to eat this food at some point in their lives.
Amazing.

Monday came and went without much to report.
We had a lie-in, then Mish went to work so Matt and I had bagels and cannolies then chilled out.
We all went for pizza at an Italian place near Mish's house and had an early night.

The next day we ventured out to the Bronx to visit the zoo - it is truly incredible that there is so much green and land not occupied by buildings in New York.
The zoo was great, quite a trek as you walk around the whole place (and it's huge!).
All of the enclosures are big, green and open and the animals look healthy and well-cared for.
As zoos go, I was really impressed with the treatment of the animals, less so with the prices of food and drink, but it's to be expected.
Overall, a definite trip for all ages.

In the evening, we met up with Shelly's friend Gallie at Caracas in Williamsburg and had the best plantains I've ever eaten and these amazing arepas which were like goodness stuffed corn bread pouches! mmmmmmm! So good.

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We then went to a rooftop bar in the Wythe Hotel and took in the fantastic views of Manhattan at night, before walking around Williamsburg, taking in the hipster collective that has gentrified Williamsburg and created a hipster ghetto!
We went to a gay bar with barely anyone in it before heading back to the main street to enjoy our first ever tacos from a taco truck and a disgracefully chocolaty milkshake (which I later regurgitated..... stupid lactose intolerance!)
We had a sleepy taxi ride home and crawled into bed.
Good times!

We’d pre-booked tickets to the Statue of Liberty online, so after a quick breakfast, we jumped on the 7 train to Times Square, transferred to the 1 train to South Ferry and walked the short distance to the cruise ships.
We passed through security with ease and made our way onto the top deck of the boat.

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As we approached Liberty Island we snapped away, taking in the glory of Lady Liberty before docking and collecting our free audio tours for a closer, more in-depth experience.
I love audio tours, you can do everything at your own pace, skip things and choose extra options to listen to.
I found it particularly interesting that women were not allowed to attend the unveiling ceremony of this magnificent structure, despite the fact that this 93 metre high statue signified freedom and liberty and is of course, a woman…

After admiring Lady Liberty, we got back on the ferry and headed to Ellis Island to try and find any ancestors who came to America – I found a potential family member, but it probably isn’t!

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I enjoy the idea that we could have relatives all over the world and none of us know about each other; keeps things interesting!
We stopped for food before getting on the ferry one last time to go back to Manhattan.

We hopped back on the 1 train and went to the 9/11 memorial, Wall Street and the Stock Exchange.
I like to think that the giant, perpetually revolving water of the 9/11 memorial signifies the constant movement but ultimate reincarnation of life and that people can never truly be gone or forgotten as they are reborn and re-join our lives over and over again.
That might just be me, but I take comfort in that notion.

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Once again, we headed to the waterfront, this time to get on the Staten Island Ferry as we went to watch the Yankees play baseball!
It seemed fitting that we partake in this American pastime, plus we got a free cap, bobble head, Yankee Stadium figurine, a hot dog and a drink with the ticket AND I got a baseball from the game!
BASEBALL! USA! ETC…!

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About half way through the game, the heavens opened and a killer thunderstorm was unleashed above us, effectively ending the game, and forcing us to wearily make our way back to Shelly’s where we promptly crawled into bed and went to sleep!
The following day, we enjoyed another American pastime – going to the Laundromat! ^_^

Everyone should go to the Laundromat! $3 to do all your washing and drying?
Bargain.
We waited for Mish to get her nails done and then we rented a car for a few hours with Zipcars – you can rent a car from them hourly and it’s not very expensive at all, we went for Greek food and then went to Roosevelt Island between Queens and Manhattan.

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We walked from one end to the other, saw the northern lighthouse and the abandoned smallpox hospital at the southern point.
From Roosevelt Island we could see the PepsiCola sign in the distance and decided to try to get to it.
We found it in Long Island City and walked around there for a while before heading back.

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Mish let me practise driving an automatic on the let (which I’d never done) in preparation for when I would rent a car here later on and it was breeze.
I’ve missed driving!
We gave the car back and then went with Mish’s mum to a Colombian restaurant in Jackson Heights where we all shared 2 plates as they were so huge!

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Portion size here is out of control!
We walked back to Mish’s and say on the front porch for an hour just talking and enjoying the cool night air before bed.

Friday morning, Matt and I put on our walking shoes, grabbed a bagel and got on the 7 train to Manhattan.
We got off at Grand Central to take some photos and then went down to 33rd street to get to the Empire State building.
We knew to get there early and it’s lucky that we did!
We arrived around 10am and it was already quite busy but when we left around 11.30, people were queueing out the door!
We got tickets for both the 86th and 102nd observatories and the views were truly spectacular.
Matt and I are now members of the 102 elite; or so the elevator informed us, not like some weird sex thing.
Unfortunately, there was no King Kong but we later found him chilling in the gift shop.

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After we left the Empire State building, we made the arduous trek up 5th Avenue…!
So. Many. Pretties…!
We had 2 missions – find the Apple Store for Matt and Tiffanys for me!
I bought a beautiful little necklace with the Tiffanys lock on it and squealed like a little girl when she handed me that turquoise gift bag with the turquoise box and white ribbon inside.
I’ve never been very girly, but when I had that gift bag in my and, I felt like Audrey Hepburn!
It was love at first sparkle!

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We went to the Apple Store so Matt could buy an IPad and had to swiftly leave before I did the same!

We grabbed a sandwich in this narrow but amazing coffee shop where I bought a man his coffee as it was cash only and he only had his card, hopefully he paid it forward like he promised!

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We sat in Central Park and ate our lunch then began the trek to Macy’s, past the Plaza hotel and some dandelion fountains until we saw it; Macy’s!
I just wanted something from Macy’s so I bought a scarf in the sale which I got a further 10% off just for being a tourist and some make-up from the Benefit counter before running away from the expensive pretties!

Matt wanted to go to the highline which is a disused railway line that has been converted into a walkway garden.

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So we went there and walked along this natural overpass above the city bustle below, blissfully enjoying the shade that buildings and plants provided before heading back to Shelly’s for a rest.

We chilled at home for a few hours or so before getting ready and heading back into Manhattan to Theatre Row to watch Naked Boys Singing.
We were thoroughly impressed – it was excellent!
7 beautiful guys in all their natural beauty singing a mix of heartfelt ballads and comical gems. Fun was had by all!

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The next day was a chilled day, I went to the shop to buy a hung-over Mish some ice tea and ginger ale and then we had a big BBQ on the porch with Sangria and just relaxed into the evening with a new, furry friend.
In the morning, we met up with Gallie for IHOP breakfast…… oh my pancakes!
They really shouldn’t write the calories for each dish on the menu…!
Your whole daily allowance in one meal!

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After breakfast, we went to the cinema to watch Maleficent – so good!
Mish went to work so Matt and I headed to Bushwick for a free music festival only to arrive and find there was nothing happening. Sad face.

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Monday came around again with Matt and I venturing to Brooklyn to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.
We walked up through Chinatown and into Little Italy for lunch.

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After spaghetti meatballs and cocktails, we ventured uptown a little further to Central Park and stopped into Eve’s Garden to buy some toys unavailable (without embarrassment in China) then went into Central Park to try and find the zoo… which was closing in half and hour…! Boo!
We admitted defeat and headed back to Michel’s, ordered some sushi and vegged out for the evening.

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On Tuesday, we went for breakfast, then got on the subway for the long journey to Coney Island.
Now I know why it took the Warriors from the seminal 1979 movie so long to get home, and we weren’t even being chased by rival gangs!
We arrived in Coney Island and were greeted by the most classic Theme Park I’ve ever seen; Wonderwheel, a ghost train, games to win toys (competed in successfully by us, I might add!) and seconds away from the boardwalk and beach.

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We stayed and played for hours, had Nathan’s famous hot dogs for lunch and continued playing until around 5pm.

We stopped in a cool artsy store and bought some things before getting back on the subway and napping until we got to downtown Brooklyn, changed trains, hopped in a transfer shuttle bus and got back on the train into Queens. Matt and I got off one stop early for Wendy’s (an apparent ‘must-have’ dining experience!) then walked back to Shelly’s to find Gary (Shelly’s now husband, but fiancé at the time!) had arrived safely from Ireland!
Matt left the following day, so Mish, Gary and I went to the Cinema and then I left early the next morning…

Posted by Lady Mantle 20:37 Archived in USA Tagged new_york baseball chinatown nyc manhattan grand_central_station williamsburg lighthouse statue_of_liberty brooklyn little_italy brooklyn_bridge washington_dc ellis_island pancakes sushi queens central_park falafel empire_state_building union_square bagels lincoln_memorial sunnyside macys hipsters the_white_house the_capital 5th_avenue tiffanys the_natural_history_museum speak_easy_nyc ny_yankees staten_island liberty_island coney_island warriors_1979 zoltar bronx_zoo hoomoos zipcars roosevelt_island smallpox_hospital western_food taco_truck ihop philly_cheesesteak touch_of_brazil steinway 7_train i_love_nyc Comments (1)

Vietnamese Cooking... the recipes!

I apologise for the wait....!

As promised, here are the recipes and instructions for the food we learned how to make at cafe 43.

Steamed Chicken in Banana Leaf

1 tsp smashed ginger
1/2 white onion
1/4 red pepper
bunch spring onions
small handful of sesame seeds
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1 tsp garlic
1 x tin foil piece
1 x banana leaf
200g chicken fillet - thin slices, no bones.

1. Add the garlic, pepper, salt and sugar to the chicken and mix together - leave for 3 minutes
2. Slice red pepper into thin slices.
3. Quarter, then halve the onion and peel each slice
3. In 2 tsp oil (coconut or olive), add the ginger and stir for few seconds.
4. Add the chicken and stir for 1 minute.
5. Add the onion slices and red pepper slices and cook for 3 minutes
6. Put mixture into the centre of the banana leaf
7. Add the spring onions and sesame seeds
8. Fold leaf from corner to centre x 4
9. Wrap banana leaf parcel in tin foil
10. Steam it for 5 minutes on top of another banana leaf/in a wicker (duck pancake) steamer.

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Papaya Salad

1 cup of mint
1/2 cup of peanuts
1/2 cup of fried onion bits
1 tsp ginger
1/2 lemon
1/2 green mango
1/4 green papaya
1/2 carrot
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt
3 1/4 tsp sugar
100g minced shrimp (chopped very small)

1. Add garlic, pepper, salt and sugar (1/4) to shrimp
2. 2 tbsp oil in the pan - add the shrimp mixture - stir for 3 minutes
3. Grate carrot and papaya into long slices
4. Wash and drain
5. Add 3 tsp sugar, ginger and lemon juice to carrot and papaya - leave for 3 minutes
6. Peel skin from 1/2 mango and grate like carrot and papaya
7. Squeeze excess liquid from papaya and carrots
8. Add shrimp mixture, mit, onion and peanuts to the remaining ingredients and mix together gently

  • Tip - Use some prawn crackers as bowls and enjoy

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and the main event!

Pork filled fried squid

1 x squid (whole, with innards removed and washed)
1/2 white onion
1/4 carrot
bunch of spring onions
100g minced pork
chopped garlic
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
vegetable oil

1. Add garlic, pepper, salt, and sugar to pork - mix - leave for 4 minutes

  • KEEP THE FOLLOWING SEPARATE*

2. Cut and dice onion into thin slices
3. Cut and dice carrot into thin slices
4. Chop small spring onion

5. 2 tbsp vegetable oil into hot pan
6. Add pork mixture and stir for 1 minute
7. Add white onion and carrot
8. Cook until soft and then add spring onion
9. Stir for 3 minutes on a low heat
10. Using a long-handled teaspoon, spoon pork mixture inside the squid and push down (tight!)

  • The squid is super slippery, so nails help to grip it!*

11. Use 2 toothpicks to close (should look like $ from a birdseye view!)
12. 2 tbsp oil into pan and add squid - medium heat
13. Turns brown on cooking side, turn over to brown other side
14. Serve on bed of lettuce and cut the top of the squid (with scissors) into slices but not all the way through!
15. It should look a little like sushi rolls, as long as it was compacted enough before shallow frying.

  • Tip - make a dipping sauce out of 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp salt, and the juice of a small lime!

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Yummy!

Posted by Lady Mantle 08:08 Archived in Vietnam Tagged food travel vietnam travelling hoi_an foreigners cafe_43 cooking_course stuffed_squid papaya_salad vietnamese_recipes vietnamese_pork_stuffed_squid squid_recipe steamed_chicken banana_leaf_recipe Comments (0)

Vietnam

Mui Ne, Hoi An (and My Son, Hoi An)

semi-overcast 25 °C

It was dark when we arrived at the bus office in Mui Ne, barely any lights were on in nearby buildings and the only people that seemed to be around were those that had been on the bus with us or were waiting to get on.
A little walk down the road was all it took to find our hostel.
The dozing guard soon regained consciousness to open the petite, I suspect merely decorative, waist-high gate and showed us to the reception.
We collected our door and locker keys and were shown to our very crowded 12 bed room, trying to make as little noise as possible to not wake our new roommates.
The next day, nearly everyone had checked out so we got some lunch in a restaurant across the road then headed to the pool, metres away from the beach.

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We stayed there basically all afternoon, indulding in juvenile swimming challenges and just chilling out.
We made friends with two lovely ladies from England, Alison and Becks, and spent the remainder of our time in Mui Ne hanging out with them and one of there friends.

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We had dinner, breakfast and then dinner again with them and didn't do much else!
More hours at the pool were logged than anything else, and then we all left on the same day.
There wasn't masses to do in Mui Ne, at least not where we were, but we appreciated that.

Hoi An

We got on the bus to Hoi An on the Monday at 1pm and arrived Tuesday morning around 6am.
We had a nap midday as we didn't get a lot of sleep on the over-night bus, then we went out for some food.
Our hostel gave us a map and we were off.

The streets of Hoi An reminded me of a place I went to in Beijing, only pretty much every shop was for tailor made clothes or shoes!

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Ricky found some cowboy boots that he wanted made to measure, and I found a beautiful, Chinese style top that I too had tailor-made just for me.
It's quite a novelty having clothes made specifically for you.
It's not the same when you do it yourself!

We booked a tour of My Son for the following day and arranged a cooking course across the road in Cafe 43 for after, and then we met up with a new friend and had dinner together.

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After we were made aware of some issues with Ricky's Chinese visa, it put a dark cloud over our visit, but nevertheless we went to our cooking course anyway and were taught and made Pork Stuffed Squid, Banana Leaf Baked Chicken and Papaya Salad.... yummy!
(Recipe and instructions to follow in another blog!)

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My back was hurting so I went for a massage, and although relaxing, resulted in a massive peeling symptom to occur as I got sunburned pretty badly in Mui Ne :(

Oh well, went to Moe's Tavern for a drink and some pool to top off an overall quite enjoyable day.

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Hoi An may well be my favourite place in Vietnam!

Posted by Lady Mantle 05:51 Archived in Vietnam Tagged temples mui_ne hoi_an my_son tailor_made_clothes moe's_tavern cafe_43 cooking_course stuffed_squid banana_leaf_chicken papaya_salad boat_trips japanese_bridge Comments (0)

Vietnam

(Sorry for the delay!)

sunny 30 °C

We got royally screwed by a taxi driver, paying $7 instead of the $1.50 it should have cost, but we were greeted with smiles and open arms by The Town House 50E hostel, Ho Chi Minh City - very nice after a long journey!

We put our stuff away and showered before we got talking to Johnny (friendliest, most kind and helpful employee I've ever encountered).
He helped us to book an open bus ticket so we could get up Vietnam, getting on and off at our chosen destinations/pre-booked accommodation; he helped us to book a tour to the Cu Chi Vietcong Tunnels which gave us the Vietnamese account of the intrusion of American forces.
We befriended a lovely couple who became our day-trip buddies which was fun.

Naturally we went to a factory place before we got to the Cu Chi Tunnels, to buy a drink or a snack or perhaps an 8ft carving.....?!
As tedious as these planned shopping opportunities were, this place and the skills required to create these beautiful pieces was quite interesting.

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When we first arrived at the Cu Chi Tunnels, we watched a short documentary about the war.
Obviously we were brought up knowing about the Vietnam war, but it was incredibly interesting to hear the other side of the story.
This video spoke about war heroes of Vietnam based on how many American intruders were killed.
It described how these simple villagers used their farming and land knowledge to lay animal traps for the American troops and after the video concluded, we were shown some of these traps!
They are quite brutal (naturally!), but when untrained 'soldiers' were facing highly adept troops, the designs of these traps were truly revolutionary in warfare.

Bamboo was fully utilised providing hidden underground spikes under moving boards; ventilation and airways in man-made anthills for the tunnels they lived in underground; and as crockery to cook and store sticky rice. By using the forest they'd lived in their whole lives, they knew how to survive, protect themselves and avoid getting killed - they even cannabolised the US bombs and shells to make new weapons.

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Ricky bravely went in a hidden hole into the tunnels that I wouldn't have got a leg in and secured the camouflaged roof above him.
We didn't even know it was there until our guide pulled off the top!

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We walked around (on the path, for fear of unrecovered landmines!) lerning more information as we did so. There was an opportunity to fire an M16 or AK47, but neither of us was so inclined as the noise was unsettling enough!

We made our way to the tunnel entrance and descended into the dimly lit chamber preceeding the tunnel itself.
It was small, stupid remark I know, but it was.
I thought we'd have to crawl but we ended up doing weird half stoop/half dog-on-it's-bum shuffling.
I had my knees bent a little and my back was brushing the roof of the tunnel.
I managed to go a whole 20 metres before imagining scenarios of my getting trapped and dying before escaping up top through a side tunnel.
Ricky and our day-trip friends "mmm" and Adrian continued and apparently it got quite squeezy in some places.
I'm still proud of my 20 metres with nothing but the torch I luckily had in my bag, (I probably wouldn't have fit a few years ago!)

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After the full 200 metre tunnel system available to tourist, Ricky, Mmm and Adrian emerged, hot, sweaty and a little dusty, but generally not too worse for wear!

We walked back to the minibus contemplating the lives these people must have lived underground, knowing that in this day and age, we wouldn't be able to.

We got back to Saigon and said goodbye to our day-trip friends before heading back to the hostel to wait for the bus to Mui Ne.
We left around 8.30pm and arrived in Mui Ne at 1.30am......

Posted by Lady Mantle 23:18 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam bamboo ho_chi_minh_city traps cu_chi_tunnels vietcong the_town_house_50e Comments (0)

Siem Reap (Cambodia)

Into the jungle, into the temples of Angkor and into the shoes of Lara Croft....

sunny 35 °C

Oh my night bus!
We booked a sleeper bus from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap (11.5 hrs) from 8pm at $19 each...
After some very poor (but stereotypically Asian) management, we found 2 "beds" together and nestled in for the night.

To describe our arrangement as slave-ship-like was not untoward.
It was like a human-traffickers wet-dream.
2 to a bed, approximately 24 beds (so 48 people) all lying down with an incline of the equivalent of two pillows jutting upwards at the head of the bed; aircon-circle-thingies pointing in every direction except where we wanted them; the smells of the onboard "luxury" toilet (which may as well have been a hole looking down to the erratically passing "tarmac") and peoples' foot odour kept wafting around; the gentlemen in front of me not fully comprehending the "sleep" concept of "sleeping" bus by using a torch to read a book - the type of torch used to find Rose on that door after the Titanic sank, a torch which lit up the bus like the 4th of July; and of course, the moth-eaten, damp and musty smelling blanket that provided less warmth than an ant's fart could provide wind.

However, contrary to popular Cambodian locals' belief, we in fact did not die in a firey, horrendous crash, so our blessings were truly counted.

We arrived in Siem Reap around 7:30am and were slightly perturbed to discover our driver from the Panda Guest House was in fact, not waiting for us, leaving us at the mercy of the piranha-esque shoals of tuk-tuk drivers, thirsty for their next fare.
We arrived in one piece but $6 lighter at our hostel and were pleasantly surprised.
A well-kept building with a healthy white exterior and pleasantly decorated interior, and helpful informative staff who supplied us with everything we could possibly need to get the most from our stay.
We even arrived a day early, and although they had no rooms available, they went out of their way to find us a room for the night nearby.

A lot of travellers complain about hostel-organised tours, but to be honest, it saves a lot of time and effort and you get above and beyond service.
It may be a few dollars above other places or going it alone, but I'd rather pay the extra and have some piece of mind that a jewellery or silk shop bombardment isn't lurking around the corner...!

Anyway, our room for one night was very nice and spacious with a large balcony and good views and only a stones throw away from the Panda Guest House.

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We ventured into town for some lunch, and as Ricky had been craving Mexican food in Sihanoukville, when we saw a Mexican Restaurant, our decision was made for us!

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It wasn't the best in the world but good enough.
We walked around for a while but it was quite hot and my legs hadn't quite recovered so we went into the covered market and spent ages bartering for various things.
Ricky sold me to one of the female stall owners at one point, she hugged me and said I was the best purchase ever and super skinny!
I liked her! haha!
After that, I dropped my dirty clothes off at a local laundry place and had a nap.

We went for dinner at The Sun where I had a Caesar Salad with chicken as my tummy wasn't very happy with me so I didn't want to overload it.
We then made our way round the corner to Pub Street.
Aptly named, given the vast expanse of pubs and drinking holes lining both sides of the street.
We went to the Triangle to enjoy some singing and Linga for a drag show before heading to Temple to enjoy a street party.
It felt like Mardi Gras!!

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I left after that but once again, Ricky danced the night away. I think the 75 cents draft beer may have been having a bad influence on him!

The next day we checked out of our temporary accommodation and went across the road to Angkor Wonder for breakfast and to see Mr. Whynot - ask him anything, his response will probably be "Why not?!"
We had some food and were about to leave with all of our bags when Mr. Whynot asked if we'd like a free tuk-tuk to our other hostel as it was only down the road and we had all our stuff with us.
We asked if he was sure that was ok, and his reply?
Why not!
Such a nice man!

We got to the Panda Guest House (again!) and went up to our room - lovely.
2 large, comfy, twin beds, a desk, a fan, ensuite bathroom with a hot shower and really well decorated.
This place was perfect - quiet during the day and night but only a 10 minute walk to Pub Street and the markets, etc.
Very impressed.

Ricky wanted Indian food, so we set off out again and headed towards the restaurants.
Ricky, having worked in an Indian restaurant for a while, was not overly impressed, but I thought my food was quite nice...!

I'd been having toothache for a few days by this point and I didn't really want to wait until we got home to China to get it looked at, so I asked the hostel if they could recommend a place.
They didn't know anywhere at first, but with some research online and a quick phone call later, they found one and arranged a tuk-tuk to take me there.

You can imagine my fears and ideas about the hole in the wall, back-alley "dentist" I was unknowingly being taken to but actually, I think it was the nicest dentist I'd ever been to in the UK - It was clean and well-presented, the staff spoke English and didn't mind at all that I'd just dropped in without an appointment.
10 minutes or so of waiting and in I went - good sized room, clean, modern equipment, and a dentist (always good!).
Long story short, and only a little wimpering later, I had gained two fillings and lost only $20 for the priviledge.
Much better.
My dentist visit of course left me without my nap so after dinner of crocodile fritters and an unpleasant burger and Amok fish, I went back to the hostel.
Ricky came back around 5am.

The next day we didn't really do a lot, slept in, went for walk, got some lunch then went for drinks in the Triangle as they had double beds hanging from the ceiling with small tables in the middle for drinks and food to go on.
We stayed there for a good few hours before returning to our hostel to go to dinner and an Apsara Dance show.
It was a buffet-style meal and after 2 plates of various worldly cuisine, Ricky and I were both stuffed, so we waited for the show to begin.
It was pretty interesting; traditional clothes and a story or two told through the dances.

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That finished around 8:30pm and we went straight back to the hostel as we had an early start the following day...

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Angkor Wat; the Temples, Flooded Forest and Floating Village

Our day started abruptly at 5am.
We got into the tuk-tuk with our driver for the day and still in the darkness of night, we made our way to Angkor Wat for sunrise.
We had to wait an hour or so and although not mind-blowing, the sun rising over this giant monument of a past civilisation was quite impressive.

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As soon as the sun had risen, we made our way inside and the "don't get anyone in my photos" game began...

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Our tuk-tuk driver dropped us off at each place and told us where he'd be waiting for us.
We explored the various nooks and crannies and even got duped into buying incense for "good luck" (a fact, that would later, become painfully ironic!)
We moved on from temple to temple, each time the temperature climbed higher and higher...

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We arrived at Ta Prohm - The Jungle Temple, and I was suitably pleased with the surroundings;
giant trees rooting themselves into the crumbling ruins, piles of abandoned rubble and delapidated doorways.
It was quite a stunning sight to behold.

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We had a break for lunch, having not been hungry enough for breakfast, and after feeding our driver, we made our long journey to the river boats to go to the Floating Village and Flooded Forest...

The cost for the boat trip alone was $25 each and in all honesty, wasn't worth it - especially considering all the tipping we had to do...
Now I know tipping is not compulsory, but when a very poor person is standing in front of you having just done you a service, you can't really refuse.
We went around the village before docking at a floating platform and changing into a much smaller, hand-paddled boat - our captain and first mate of this smaller vessel being a girl and boy both under the age of 12!

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They dutifully paddled us into the floaded forest and around on a boat no bigger than a tic-tac but I think that was one of the most enjoyable parts.
After tipping the children and exploring the very well constructed jungle canopy walk way, we got into our original boat and continued up the river to a huge lake that looked more like an ocean.
Before long, 2 women on separate long boats pulled up alongside us with cold drinks and snacks.
We enjoyed the novelty so bought some drinks for us and our captain and 3 large multipack bags of snacks for the village children.

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As we sailed back through the village, the children obviously knew what was happening and they started crowding the banks.
We tried to throw individual packets to them but it didn't really work.
In no time there were dozens of kids all around us when one boy ran off the edge and jumped into the water.
Soon half a dozen children were wildly swimming towards us as we showered them with snacks before continuing back to the "dock".

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We were once again asked to tip our captain, furthering our concern as to what exactly our $25 each paid for!?

On the journey back to the hostel, I couldn't help but think about how happy and content those villagers were with their lives, even though they barely had anything by Western standards.
They seemed to appreciate every little thing like it was the best in the world. It was refreshing to see.

It took an hour or so to get back to our hostel, where I showered and climbed into bed! It was only 6pm!

The next day, I was a little perplexed how nearly $500 of mine and Ricky's money had mysteriously escape from our private, locked room...
We spoke to the manager who said they'd had the same cleaner forever etc, etc and that we should have put our stuff in their tiny safe sticking out of a wall in reception...
However, my money was in a ziplock bag, in an inside, zipped-up pocket in my rucksack which was under a desk..... so someone had to have gone snooping around through my bags to find it..... peeved doesn't even cover it.
(So much for "good luck" incense....!)

We walked around for a bit, had some food, then decided to go to the Crocodile Farm...

As far as I could tell, it was a farm to produce leather, and the living conditions of the smaller crocs especially wasn't great - a lot of them had deformed spines due to the cramped conditions which was quite depressing.

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The depression continued however when we asked to buy fish to feed the larger crocodiles with, only to be told there were none - only live ducks and chickens....
Now I know what you're thinking, how cruel is it to feed a live duck or chicken to a group of hungry crocodiles?
Crocodiles need to eat too, and if they didn't eat them, a human being would have eaten them anyway.
I was still mercifully apologising to the duck the entire time I was holding it though.

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We had to wait around for our night bus to Vietnam so we went for an hour massage and drag show (for only $4) then we went to the bus office for 10:30pm and got on the bus around 10:40pm before setting off at 11pm.
We arrived in Phnom Penh around 6am where we waited for 2 hours for the bus to Ho Chi Minh City.
After a ferry crossing, a passport control stop and a different stop to scan our luggage, we entered Vietnam and arrived in HCMC around 3pm...

Posted by Lady Mantle 05:07 Archived in Cambodia Tagged landscapes lakes people children trees animals boats temples food ruins cambodia angkor_wat adventure kids hostel duck asia triangle travelling crocodiles poverty tuk_tuk massage rubble foreigners linga tomb_raider social_etiquette natural_beauty beautiful_buildings drag_queens bamboo_boat ta-prohm lara-croft terrace_lepers terrace_elephants cambodian_dentist panda_guest_house the_sun_restaurant Comments (1)

Sihanoukville (Cambodia)

Heading to the beach...

sunny 34 °C

I personally didn't mind our location in Sihanoukville, (Don't Tell Mama's Hostel, Otres Beach) but I'm less of a nightbird than Ricky and being at the end of the quiet beach, put us 10 minutes away by tuk-tuk to civilisation (and bars).

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Although we initially agree to change hostels closer to the town, we decided that we weren't really staying long enough for it to be an issue so just made do with the distance.

During the first actual day in Sihanoukville (given that we arrived at 6pm the evening before), we went to the beach.
The whole 40 or so steps it took to get there...!

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We stayed by the beach for about 5 hours, bearing in mind that we didn't go there until 12pm!
We came back to our hut, had a nap, and then went to Serendipity Beach around 9:30/10pm for beach BBQ.
It was scrummy - BBQ Tuna steak, prawns, squid and pork with a gorgeous salad, rice and garlic bread... not bad for $5

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Now in order to go to Vietnam, we needed to get a visa from Cambodia beforehand.
I had photocopies of our passports so was less afraid of leaving our actual passports with the nice man who got our visas for us for $65 each!
Phew! Pricey!
He told us to come back the next day around 5pm to collect our passports with the newly acquired Vietnamese visas in them.
Whilst sitting there getting all of this information, we saw a boat trip; 3 islands, 8 hours, breakfast and lunch included. $15 each.
Well obviously that had to be done.

I liberally applied sun cream to my face, chest and arms but somewhere in between ordering breakfast and passing the sun cream to Ricky, I forgot to apply any cream to my legs...

The first island we went to was for snorkelling, a hobby which, for anyone who knows me, knows I love very much, but sadly my mask leaked so I couldn't get a clean view but I did go for a swim anyway and there were so many fish swimming around me, I felt like a mermaid!
Ricky, given his previous encounter with the ocean on our trip to Thailand, decided he wasn't quite ready to get out of the boat into open (ish) water, so he stayed on the boat.

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We stayed for an hour or so, then went to the next island for lunch.
A beautiful stretch of white sand and tropical water greeted us.
We had an hour before lunch so Ricky and I ventured down the beach where there were no other people at all.
It was like our own slice of paradise.
We had a quick swim, then sat on the beach to dry off.

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We made our way back to the others for lunch; salad, a baguette and the most beautifully succulent barracuda steak.
I'd never had barracuda before, but after that, I'd highly recommend it!

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We got to stay for another 2 hours, so we found some hammocks and chilled out in the shade until our lunch had gone down.

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It wasn't until we moved along the beach in the other direction and sat down for a while that I realised how hot my legs were getting so I went for another dip in the sea to cool down.

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Of course, what I didn't acknowledge was that the damage was already done and by the time we'd gone to the last island for more swimming/snorkelling, my legs were the colour of the setting sun! :(

We got back to our beach and had some Lok Lak Beef (traditional Khmer food) and got accosted by a 12-year old girl (who I agreed to make some bracelets for me, she was quite the little business woman with excellent English), so we had a chat for a while and she gave me a free bracelet for Chinese New Year ^_^

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We went to collect our passports with their new Vietnamese visas in and made our way back to our hut for a much needed cold shower.
Sleeping that night was uncomfortable to say the least.
I felt like I was on fire and my head was spinning - you'd think after nearly 26 years on this earth, I would remember how little the sun and I get on...!
(And mother, if you're reading this, no "I told you so", please!)

Well our plan for our last day was to go to the iBall Adventure Park that we'd read about, only to discover that it no longer exsists :(

So instead, we went to the Casino Fortuna where I spent about $7 in total and I won $35 off a $1 bet! Not bad for someone who's never played Roulette before, and by betting on my birth day! :D

After chilling by the beach until 6pm (in the shade, obviously!) we grabbed a quick dinner and went to collect our bags to get on the night bus to Siem Reap...

Posted by Lady Mantle 02:08 Archived in Cambodia Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises beaches skylines children animals sky boats snorkelling food flowers travel cambodia adventure summer swimming tropical duck asia travelling sihanoukville body dying white_sand foreigners serendipity_beach otres_beach my_future_home rubber_duck natural_beauty 3_islands_tour don't_tell_mama Comments (0)

Cambodia continued.....

The Royal Palace and Central Market

sunny 30 °C

After lunch, we continued our day by going to the Royal Palace.

Gorgeous, elaborate buildings dotted the spotless grounds with large trees and topiaries providing natural beauty to compliment the elegant man-made structures.

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A "few" lighthearted snaps and an unexpected introduction to a group of monkies climbing around a scaffolding site of reconstruction brightened our otherwise reflective day until we returned once again to our hostel, this time for a late afternoon siesta...

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When we woke up around 6/6:30pm, the air was cooler and the night life began to start.
We went to Happy Herb Pizza for dinner; just your regular margherita pizza with cheese, onions and marijuana...!

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That's right folks, "happy" preceeding any kind of food in Cambodia means that the oregano you thought you were enjoying was in fact weed.

And what better way to follow a weed pizza, than with a gay-friendly bar for a drag show?!

Of course, not a normal correlation of events, but after a few Baileys, it seemed to be the perfect combination...
Evidently, beautiful boys do not always make beautiful girls...

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My night ended after that, but as usual, my darling Ricky made a friend and ventured out into Phnom Penh after dark to dance and drink the night away...!

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Central Market

I woke up around 11:30am and had banana pancakes for breakfast, did some writing and then woke Ricky up around 1pm.

We began walking to the Central Market, only to get far too hot and confused trying to read the map, so we jumped in a tuk-tuk and had the nice man take us there instead :)

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I can see why they'd call it Central Market...
Everything you could possibly desire was for sale; beautiful silks and linens, watches, jewellery, sunglasses, shoes, bags, well you get the idea...!

After a good few hours we'd seen most of the market.
Ricky bought some Ray Bans that fold down to practically nothing, a pair of Berkenstocks, a watch and a bag.
I bought some earrings, a bag and some replacement flip flops!

I think after having lived in China for over 18 months now and having visited many places in Asia, Ricky and I have got this bartering thing down!
If they don't like your highest offer, the walk-away will seal the deal if they're really ok with the price! Winning!

Now the original plan was to get some food and then go to the Russian Market afterwards, however, we decided to go to Happy Herb Pizza again...
Instead of sharing a large pizza between us, we order one each and the happiness once again eluded us.... or so we thought...

We went back to our hostel for a drink and a quick nap...
I woke up at 11pm.... we got back to the hostel at 4pm.... I think I found my happy!
Ricky apparently found his too as he'd spent the entire time I was asleep watching videos of people falling over and willing his legs to move.... evidently, they did not!

So, it was 11pm, we both decided we were hungry, and it's only a vague recollection now, but I'm pretty sure we drove around for a while in a tuk-tuk until we found an open restaurant.
I think I had a cheeseburger...

We went to sleep and when we woke up, we checked out and waited for the bus to Sihanoukville.

5 hours and a brief pit-stop later, we arrived in the shabby main-town of Sihanoukville, got into a tuk-tuk and made out way to our hostel...

Posted by Lady Mantle 18:47 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temples food flowers shopping cambodia phnom_penh cheap asia tuk_tuk royal_palace silk pancakes monkies sleepy foreigners central_market evil_monkey rules_of_asia happy_herb_pizza beautiful_buildings Comments (0)

Cambodia

Chinese New Year in Cambodia and Vietnam...

sunny 34 °C

Our journey began in the typical tradition of us, barely getting to the airport on time.
The error this time however not being our oversleeping or going to the wrong airport in the same city, oh no. This error revealed itself in the form of me underestimating the Chinese ability to tell time.
I specifically requested a car to the airport at 11am to allow for adequate travel time and traffic, but when our driver finally arrived just shy of 11:30am, we had no choice but to ‘Home Alone’ run through the airport to our check-in desk!
However, due largely in part to my obsessive positive thinking to resolve all worldly issues, we arrive with 15 minutes to spare for check-in and 15 minutes early for what became a slightly delayed flight anyway!
Thank you, universe!

We arrived in Shanghai starving, but slightly warmer due to its southern placement within the vast land mass that is China!
With food dutifully scoffed and suitable seating acquired for a quick nap, we settled in for a while until our connecting flight to Phnom Penh departed.
It wasn’t until we went for a cigarette near our departure gate (27) that I glanced at the board listing all departures and noticed a flashing sign next to our flight…
Thinking our positive thinking had finally failed us, I read the flashing note:
“Gate changed to 214”
Lady Luck was still with us and we walked (quite a distance) to Gate 214 only to wait for 10 minutes before boarding our flight :)

The flight was nothing special; standard seat, standard food, standard safety instructions. However, the journey was made slightly more intriguing by the 10 deaf Chinese passengers that accompanied us in the occupation of the back of the plane.
The gentlemen sat next to me was so happy, he took a picture with me and Ricky and laughed in a way I can only describe childlike. It was beautiful!
I brought a magnetic travel game of 5 across (thanks to a Christmas present from one of my students!) and without realising, the group of Chinese people were our eager spectators!
It was fascination watching them communicate effortlessly with each other, in a blissfully silent world, all of their own.

The flight arrive 25 minutes later than it should have and with a lack of Bureau de Changes where we live, we didn’t have any US Dollars to pay for our Cambodian Visa! After faffing around losing a massive percentage through airport exchange rates, we got out visas, our US Dollars and our fingerprints scanned….Apparently, this was some form of Cambodian security against roaming foreigners!
Good job that we’re usually good people… most of the time!

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Now our hostel, Me Mates Villa, had agreed to pick us up from the airport (very kind of them, given that we were supposed to arrive at 11:15pm but didn’t actually leave the airport until 12:30am!) and they were still waiting for us with my name emblazoned on a piece of card!
Into the tuk tuk we Dre, our hostel helper, and away to the hostel we went.
They told us to go up to bed and check-in when we woke up as we were obviously tired!

We crept into our 8-bed dorm of 4 bunk beds, spacious and comfy with clean linens and a fresh towel. Not bad for $6 a night.
The bar was lovely with its 75₵ draft beer and incredible food, and the staff learnt our names instantly!

On the way to our hostel from the airport, Dre was telling us about all the tours we could do and what sights to see (not that my anal planning hadn’t already written down what to do in each of our destinations…!).
I was aware of course that planning trips through the hostel tuk-tuks would probably be more expensive than going it alone, but it is comforting to know our driver would be waiting for us wherever we went.
When we woke up the next day, we showered, had breakfast, organised our money and jumped in the tuk tuk with our driver for the day…

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S-21 Prison and the Killing Fields

Our first outing took us to the Killing Fields where Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge movement took thousands of brutally tortured and slaughtered prisoners from S-21 to be disposed of.
On the way, our driver stopped and bought us some medical face masks as the road to the Killing Fields was incredibly dusty and underdeveloped.

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Having lived in China for over 18 months now, Ricky and I have grown accustomed and desensitised to the sights of westernly-deemed, unsanitary food stalls, stray cats and dogs and children roaming the streets. These things would probably provoke a discussion between other western travellers, but to us, that just reminded us of home!

After about 20 minutes or so of driving, we turned down a pleasant enough road through trees and green fields until we pulled up to large, elaborate gates: The Killing Fields.
On first impression, the place was really quite stunning – beautiful greenery and flowers, large open spaces of nature in its purest form…

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Upon receiving our audio guides and headsets, it didn’t take long to realised the genocidal atrocities lurking beneath all of that natural beauty.
As we progressed around the numbered path of this hauntingly beautiful place, we were audibly assaulted by the terrifying ordeals these people suffered.
Large plaques stood in place of the buildings with detailed descriptions of those buildings purposes.

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As we moved around and continued to listen to this reasonably modern horror story, we were introduced to mass graves of nameless men, women and children.
Visitors had begun a tradition of leaving holiday bracelets and Riel (small Cambodian currency) as tribute to those lost souls.

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We listened to survivor stories of dying children, no food, constant gang-raping and beatings.
One man spoke of a female worker who was bludgeoned to death with a hatchet to the neck, finished off with a sewage plunger until she violently convulsed and died – all for supposedly stealing a banana that was actually given to her by one of the guards…
We saw glass containers of rags and clothes, teeth and bones, and countless mass graves of the victims of S-21 Prison.

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We saw the tree where babies were smashed against the trunk until they too died and were discarded in an open grave nearby. Another place of tribute from visitors to this harrowing sight.

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A beautiful tree, named the magic tree, told a tale of loud music playing over the grounds to muffle the sounds of people being tortured and killed.

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Finally we arrived at the sompiah – a tall monument that we saw when we entered the sight built as a memorial to all the lost souls, displaying their bones and skulls as a visual aid to the already destroying aural tales of this place.

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We finished the audio tour and returned the equipment in total silence. We left through the now less elaborate, and more confining gates and stepped back into normality.
We had a cigarette, found our driver, sat down and continued to say nothing.
Eventually Ricky turned to me and said, “I have no words to describe that”.
Nothing truer had ever been said.

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We continued to S-21 - the prison that these poor people were sent to to be destroyed mentally before going to the Killing Fields to be destroyed physically.
Once again, apart from the dated buildings, the natural beauty of the place outside was juxtaposed by the inherent lack of beauty inside.

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Wire beds, solitary in an otherwise empty cell, with only the odd shackles or torture paraphernalia to accompany them. Photographs of those victims hung solemnly on the wall.

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We moved through the grounds into each building only to be greeted by hanging gallows, tiny cells devoid of even a chair and walls and walls of photographs. Nameless masses of victims, their identities gone from their hopeless eyes. Only numbers adorned their chests which provoked flashes of number-engraved Jews and other victims of the Nazi regime springing to mind.

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As the modern world progressed just over the barb wire-topped walls, I couldn’t help but notice that life inside this place appeared frozen, with only birds and stray cats let patrolling the grounds.

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We went back to our hostel to get some lunch before continuing our day by going to the Royal Palace…

Posted by Lady Mantle 19:32 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh travelling tuk_tuk genocide pol_pot chinese_new_year killing_fields khmer_rouge life_lessons s-21_prison late_to_the_airport natural_beauty horrible_history Comments (1)

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