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)

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