Category Archives: Misc.

Adventures With Flat-Pack Furniture

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To quote Sufjan Stevens, “it’s Christmas in July”. Man I love Christmas, and I miss the Christmas season whenever I see a set of twinkly lights and it is not December.

As a couple we really made out like bandits this Christmas, but the big ticket item was a brand new TV from my mum that we got as a joint present. I also got a Nintendo 64 from the hub and have found solace in a bit of Pokémon Snap.

Still, with this new TV and the ever expanding collection of Lego Dimensions figurines and Amiibos it was time for a new TV stand and an actual bookshelf in the living room.

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It was only a few hours after deciding on new furniture before we had two flat-packs from Argos delivered to our flat. Same day delivery between Christmas and New Year? Man I love Argos.

Now I am a master of the flat-pack. Most of the bedroom furniture that I had growing up were flat-packs from Ikea or Argos. Sometimes I end up building it upside down and then having to rebuild it, but the screws are just that easier to put back in once you’ve widened the holes.

This was one of the first times I made some flat-pack with the hub apart from some white Ikea bookshelves of little consequence. Because hammers and screwdrivers come out (and because we’re competitivr with each other) these builds weren’t always the most chilled.

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List Item: Put up a bookshelf
Progress: Completed

Still though, it was fun and we ended up with a nice new bit of storage. Also my Porygon Lego sculpture now has a place to perch. Probably a lot more that we could do with the place, but there’s no rush.

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London at New Year’s 2016

List Item: Attend a New Year’s Celebration
Progress: Completed

Many people know this about me, but I am not the biggest fan of New Year’s Eve. So many people put way too much importance to something that just leaves me cold… so I tend to prefer spending New Year’s at home watching a movie.

I never did things for New Year’s before meeting the hub since it’s actually a big deal for his family. After a few times of being over in the Netherlands we are finally doing New Year’s in London to try it out in the big city.

Right so I was not too happy about doing this. I actually contemplated feigning illness instead of going up to London and dealing with all the ‘merriment’ and waiting in the cold. Still, I couldn’t be that selfish now could I.

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We actually booked tickets to see the fireworks from the balcony of Somerset House. Sure, it’s a bit more expensive than the tickets to see it in the street, but it was sure done up pretty. Apparently we were meant to get a quarter bottle of champagne with every ticket… but that never materialised.

Still, we were there having gorged ourselves on Korean food at Asadal near Holborn Tube Station and waited for the fireworks to begin. We had to be subjected to a lot of music that sounded the same (at 27 I am already feeling that old apparently) and bore witness to a trio of guys sneaking onto the balcony by jumping from the roof of a neighbouring building. There was good will all around and I did a bit of chair dancing when the DJ started playing ‘When Doves Cry’.

Then the fireworks started…

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I know these wouldn’t have been as big as those in Sydney. I still stood there with goosebumps and my eyes wide at the bright and smokey spectacle. There was a bit where, in the music mix, the mayor of London saying ‘London is open’ and I teared up. I may not be proud to be a Brit or an Englishman at the moment, but hot damn am I proud to be a Londoner.

Despite my protestation and my feelings of the contrary, I had a great time. It’s one of those things that people should try to experience even if they are big ol’ cynics about New Year’s Eve. Wouldn’t quite say that I am a convert to this odd ritual, bu I feel as if I understand the sentiment that little bit more.

I🖤NY – Day 5: High Line and Michelin Stars

One thing that everyone should do when they come to New York is explore some of the neighbourhoods on foot. It’s really great to visit all the museums (and honestly I wish I could have fitted in the Cloisters museum… maybe next time), but sometimes you want to spend a day completely outdoors.

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It was a light breakfast of an everything bagel with cream cheese and peach Snapple before we made for the High Line. Now, this attraction was not open when I was last in New York. I missed it by a few months, but would have likely not heard of it anyway. Still, I was keen to visit this since this has become increasingly popular.

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This is something I cannot see happening in London. What you have on the High Line is a disused raised railway line that has been re-purposed into a nearly 2 mile long garden/walkway over the streets of Manhattan. At times it felt almost peaceful (not always since the High Line was spurred on a lot of property redevelopment), but this is a place where wildflowers can grow and you can actually hear birds singing above 26th Street.

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It also functions as a space for art. Some of them are a bit odd (think a concrete ball shaped like a watermelon hidden in the grass) and others were weird in a fun way (like this realistic sculpture of a sleepwalker in his underwear.

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When we descended back onto solid ground we walked through our first neighbourhood of the day: Greenwich Village aka the home of TV’s Friends. When you go through the village it becomes incredibly obvious that this is very much a lived in city. I made sure we walked down Bleecker because, you know, it’s one of those well known streets.

img_3761List Item: Eat in a Michelin starred restaurant
Progress: Completed

A bit of a diverted walking route later and we arrived at our destination for lunch. The idea of eating at Michelin starred restaurant was a very early thing to be included on my bucket list. It has taken a few years for me to get around to crossing this off because these restaurants are on the pricier side. Enter 15 East.

I am not going to say this was a cheap meal. Heavens no. We ended up having 9 pieces of sushi each (so 18 in total) and the bill came to almost exactly $100 for two people. For the experience and the sheer “hell yea I can be fancy” it was worth it. Also for the forced and restrained politeness from the server. She was very much looking down on us… and I don’t think it helped when I asked for a replacement ice water because the one she poured had a fly in it.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
img_3762Food item: Seki Aji

We started out with a sushi omakase (1 piece not pictured as it was eaten) and this chefs choice plate was absolutely gorgeous. Both the sweet prawn (whose tail cut my lip) and the citrus scallop were especially delicious. It was only after finishing these, and checking out the a la carte menu, that I realised that there was a list fish on this plate. Just a shame that I didn’t know until it was too late and was not able to note down anything.

Progress: 567/751img_3763Food item: Kanpachi and Arctic Char

Since the omakase didn’t fill us we ordered some more off of the a la carte menu. This meant we were able to cross two more fish off the list. The first we tried (the white one) was the kanpachi – a type of amberjack. It had a very subtle flavour and reminded me a bit of the kingfish that I had back in Hiroshima. The texture and freshness of the fish felt like the most important thing here.

The second one here was the Arctic char. It is a fatty salmon (fattiness makes sense seeing how it swims in arctic waters) that looked beautifully striped when sat on the plate. The fatty nature of the salmon gave this fish a richer taste than I am used to with salmon.

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The remaining daylight hours were spent wandering through Little Italy and Chinatown before being chased into the subway and lack to the hotel by a bout of rain that the Weather Channel didn’t predict. Honestly, There isn’t too much to write about this aside from my glee when hearing Italian Americans talking just like they do on TV.

The evening was, once again, spent at the UCB Theatre in Chelsea. This time it was a double bill of shows (about 20-30 minutes each I think) put on by members of the Upright Citizens Brigade. The first wasn’t all that, but the second half (a weird adult mash-up of Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues) had me in stitches.

I… actually cannot believe that this is my final evening in New York. After spending six months looking forward to being back here and it is over already. I guess I just need to plan my next New York trip.

And So I Started A Podcast

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List item: Start a podcast
Status: Completed

So for a long time my hub and I have been wanting to try out making a podcast. By a long time I mean YEARS. The virtue of writing these posts about 5 months in advance (see how my lead is being eroded) is that by the time this is published not only will there be a number of episodes, but also we will have gotten better used to it.

That is until we cancelled it at the end of December. We ended up making 19 episodes and had minimal listeners. I mean if you struggle with getting your friends to give your podcast a go then clearly you are doing something wrong.

As you will get from the graphic – the idea was that we would podcast our way through the 1001 TV Shows list. We started off with Breaking Bad and now that I listen to it months later and knowing how much easier this became… it’s not a good episode.

But I have to say that later episodes have been really fun and we actually work well being more loosey goosey and less rigid like we started. Something that I think we started doing better a few episodes in, which culminated in my not being able to stop laughing whilst making an episode centred on The Prisoner.

We are still available on iTunes if you search for Just Watch It. Or you can go to the website www.justwatchit.uk if you want to give it a go.

Crossing Off Crosswords

List Item: Finish a crossword
Progress: Completed

Okay, so not all of the items on this bucket list are things that should take ages or are completely life changing. I know that completing a crossword isn’t high on the list of priorities for most people, but it’s something that I have never done before – at least not a crossword from a newspaper.

So for months I have been trying to do crosswords from the London Evening Standard on the way home from work. I then started getting frustrated and, like some crazy hoarder, started piling up old newspapers on our dining table. After being annoyed by the sheer volume of accumulating newspapers I made a vow (about a month later) to rip out all the crosswords and just tick off this item once and for all.

Luckily for me, it was the first one I found. Yes, it was from a newspaper that was OVER a month old. Yes, it was a crossword I had mostly completed on the train. And yes, I am absurdly surprised that not only did I know the word ‘lurid’, but I could also use it in a sentence.

Huzzah!

Lost In Japan: Day 16 – Tokyo to London

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

At midnight I received an email from British Airways informing me that our flight was going to be delayed by two hours. It was 5am when I saw this message, in two hours the pre-booked bus would I be arriving at the hotel giving us four hours at the airport.

No matter, I just reasoned that it would mean more time in Japan. Plus, I had seen what the Japanese have done with turning buildings into ridiculously cool malls, I was sure that Narita Airport would follow the same pattern. Thankfully I was right.

I was pretty sleep deprived at this point (weird dreams about being best friends with a history teacher followed by one where I was Lisa Simpson tend to do that) so I was pretty much wafting around the pre-security area checking out the many shops and restaurants. Hubby said he wanted to try a more traditional Japanese one (unlike McDonalds, which was offering a surprisingly large number of breakfast items). Since the first place we came used natto in their breakfast (blech) we just went next door.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood items: Turnip greens and Tamari shoyru

Whilst he went for the ‘Japanese Breakfast’ I went for the cheaper option of tempura and hot soba noodles. I had written today off as being one where there would be no food items, and here were two at once. I am pretty sure that I have done the tamari shoyru previously in the holiday, but this was he first time that I heard the waitress specify it as such. It also gave me my first taste of turnip greens, which went well with the broth that the noodles came in.

Progress: 775/933

In order to speed along the time we had a proper explore of the airport, including the observation area and the airports Pokemon Centre store. We managed to whittle away our extra yen through extra souvenirs (including an adorable plushie of Narita airport’s mascot) and some extra sweets to bring home.

The flight itself (twelve and a half hours long) reminded me of how good the food was in a Japan and just how long 12 and a half hours can be. I know that in-flight meals are not typically gourmet (although Qantas was particularly nice), but this was a real comedown.

Still, it afforded me time to do quite a bit of drafting for Tripadvisor reviews, de-weed by Animal Crossing town, remind myself of how much I loce Juno and stare out at some spectacular scenery (pictured: a Siberian plain). It also allowed me to get incredibly annoyed at a Japanese woman in front of me who not only tilted her seat all the way back, but also managed to twitch so much that I got repeatedly winded by the fold-out tray.

A hour and half car trip later (curse you M25!) and we were home.

List item: Stay up for 24 hours
Status: Completed

Yes, this was not how I had wished to complete this list item, but seeing how I woke up at 5am it just ended up working out this way.

Still, when there is half price Domino’s Pizza knocking at the front door I guess staying up for that long isn’t too bad. Plus, thanks to this we were both able to minimize the post-Japan jetlag. We woke up the next day at 4:30 in the morning… but as long as we are able to stay up until 9:30 tonight we should be fine.

We spent the morning sticking on the laundry and unpacking all of the souvenirs we bought… it was a lot more than I think either of us expected. The last minute addition of a Narita Airport mascot plushie (the plane-bird thing on the far left) really rounded it off for me.


List item: Have and maintain a collection
Status: Ongoing/Completed

During our trip to Sicily I decided that I really wanted to resurrect my childhood keychain collection. I also got a really nice one in Luxembourg. I feel that now that I have bought a whole lot of these from different amazing areas in Japan I can now definitively say that this collection is back up and running. Now I just need to find a place to display my favourite ones in a way that makes me not look like a Boy Scout.

And… that’s it. That’s the end of my Japan trip and honeymoon. Truly, it has been the best time I have ever spent on holiday (second is a three-city trip to Australia back in 2010, a trip I never thought could be topped). A time so amazing that I have started working out the itinerary for our next visit in a few years (Sendai, Osaka and the tropical island of Yakushima are candidates).

Lost in Japan: Day 12 – Pandas and Sunshine City

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Identity. It’s one of those really interesting things in Japan. Being out in rush hour means you see a sea of black-suited men (with the very occasional dark grey or navy blue) on their way to work. Then you have the cosplayers and members of groups such as the gothic lolitas who strive to look as different from the crowd as possible (within rules).

I got to thinking about this because of a trip to Shibuya.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 53/100 Sight: Shibuya Crossing
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Position: #157

At this huge sprawl-style crossing it becomes easy to see the homogeny in clothing and hair styles versus the lesser number who choose not to. I can imagine at the peak of rush hour that this crossing would be utterly hypnotic to watch. However, neither of us wish to play sardines on the Tokyo subway.Today was also the first time that I saw a mascot. The mascot for Shibuya, in fact, standing with a group advocating child abuse awareness as they posed for a picture with a famous statue of Hachiko.

Also, on the subject of identity, each subway station has its theme music (which explains a lot about a feature of Animal Crossing). They are all over-elaborate too. Some sound quite sweet/magical/welcoming, others (like our nearest stop sounds like it was composed by a baroque musician who has just been lobotomised.

Anyway, more about today.

One of the big things we planned for today was a trip to Ueno Zoo. Why? Not only because I love zoos (and wanted to scrub the memory of Himeji City Zoo from my brain), but because they have pandas. We got into the spirit of things by having panda bread for breakfast!

When we entered the zoo (600¥ each! What a bargain) at about 11 we went straight for the panda enclosure. I may have been so excited at the thought of seeing a panda that I found it hard to nod off last night.

List item: See a panda
Status: Completed

Of course, when we got to see the panda, he was doing what all pandas do best – napping. Impressive actually considering all the noisy children who were standing outside his enclosure.

About this time my friend Rhiannon joined us for time at the zoo. One of those cool coincidences where a friend is on a short term contract where you have chosen to go on honeymoon. We just went around looking at the animals whilst chatting and catching up. It was really nice.

Lunch time at the zoo apparently meant hot dogs with luminous melon soda (a huge gust of wind almost sweeping everything off the table at one point). Strange how the snack food in the zoo resorted to hot dogs, burgers and fried chicken. It was only in the more formal looking restaurants that you found more ‘traditional’ looking food.

Penguins, the reptile house and a repeat visit to the pandas later (where we saw one of them eating bamboo, but by the time we got within photo-taking distance they had already fallen back asleep) and it was the end of our time at the zoo.

Truly, it was a good time at the zoo.


We bid my friend farewell at the subway station and made our way to our final destination of the day: Sunshine City. This is one of the more famous shopping malls in Japan, mostly because it has it’s own aquarium, 60th floor observation tower and a number of theme areas with rides.Now, obviously the Pokémon Center was our first major stop. Hubby would not have had it any other way.

If you are a Pokemon fan, this is an impressive place to be. Cool life-size displays of Pokemon can be found in the store and of course…

… a whole lot of Pokemon merchandise. Plushies, chopsticks, glasses cases, file dividers, instant noodles – there was a who lot of Pikachu to be found. Sadly, there was nothing with either my favourite (Wiggytuff) or hubby’s favourite (Porygon) Pokemon on it. We got ourselves some merchandise, but I do wish that we could have got something with our favourites on.With a bag of Pokemon merchandise in hand, we went into Namjatown – a themed area created by Namco with a number of attraction inside. All of it in Japanese, so for the most part we were completely lost.

Some of the attractions were very accessible to us. There was a cool one where you fire targets by using a ball gun that you operate with a crank. I got so into it that by the end of it my right arm was pretty much a limp noodle and I now have a blister on the inside of my thumb.

Aside from the funfair-style attractions and the gorgeous way that they have decked out the place there is one Huge reason to visit Namjatown.

Ice Cream World. This stall contains 51 flavours from all over Japan form the more normal vanilla to the more unusual such as beef tongue, eel and coal. This was a place that we heard quite a bit about, so we bought 2 trays of 6 20cc tasters. So between us we tried 12 different flavours:

In order (clockwise from top left): Indian curry, Double mango, Tulip, Vanilla and honey, Basil, Benihoppe (Japanese strawberry)

IMG_2822In order (clockwise from top left): Salt, Hyuganatsu (a Japanese citrus fruit), Haskap (a Japanese berry) with white chocolate, Whisky, Grilled aubergine and Rum-Raisin

Aside from the grilled aubergine (which tasted a bit like charcoal) they were all really delicious. I can just imagine serving the basil ice cream on top of some freshly chopped tomatoes or having the curry ice cream whilst sat on a beach somewhere. Being the boring/traditional person I am my favourite flavour was the Imperial vanilla with honey. I do wonder what the beef tongue flavour would have been like though…

Before heading out of Sunshine City we swung by one of the many restaurants to grab dinner. Hubby had been wanting a second round of okonomiyaki after having it in Hiroshima over a week ago, so we found a place that did them. What we didn’t know, is that we would have to cook it ourselves.

Luckily for us the waitress got us started, but I let hubby do the flipping and timing (it’s a pancake and he’s Dutch… do the math) whilst I made it pretty with sauces etc. Together we made a good okonomiyaki team.

Lost In Japan: Day 11 – Tsukiji to Akihabara via Odaiba

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Our first full day exploring Japan and the first half hour is spent getting lost in Shinjuku station. For the busiest station in the world (3 million+ use it every day) it is a labyrinth. The trouble being that you have multiple companies operating multiple lines and not all of Shinjuku station actually links up underground. If, like us, you are not entirely sure which entrance to use for a particular line it can be a nightmare.

We eventually find the right part of the station and make it to our first destination just before 10.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 52/100Sight: Tsukiji Market
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Position: #141

It’s a Saturday at the biggest wholesale market in the world. Even though all the bluefin tuna auctions have finished hours ago and a number of fish have already been shipped out, it is still a hub of activity.

When you arrive to Tsukiji Market the first section you come across will either be the fruit and vegetable markets or the many restaurants (mostly sushi) that surround the main market. In order to see any fish you need to follow your nose and delve deeper so you get closer to the port itself.

It means having to duck and weave around pick up trucks and motorised trolleys, but it’s worth it when you make it inside.

Never have I ever seen so many varieties of fish and shellfish in one place before. I may have seen whale meat, but I am not so sure.

Being a follower of the 1001 Foods book, I was spotting a lot of list food including red snapper, razor clams and geoducks (pictured). So many cases of the “if only” and “what ifs” were going through my mind.

After being nearly run over for the seventh time we made an exit from the market, passing a lot of buckets containing fish remnants. This is truly not a place to go if you are squeamish about dead fish.

Breakfast was, of course, sushi! Places right next to the market fill up obscenely fast, but don’t worry there will be another bunch around the next corner. Most of these are small, so you are able to sit at the counter and watch the chef expertly slice and dice you fish.

The sushi we had will probably forever remain the freshest that I have ever had. The maki rolls (not pictured) and the tuna were exceptional.

The next place we went to, Odaiba, was a choice of the husband. I think the main reason he wanted to go was so he could ride the futuristic looking Yurikamome Line there and back.

Compared to the crowds and the closely packed tall buildings of Shunjuku, Odaiba present a very very different side of Toyko. Everything is a lot more spread out and, in the case of the Dream Bridge leading to Ariake, quiet.

Of course there are a lot of big malls on this island. Having been in Japan for nearly two weeks I continue to be amazed by the number of huge department stores and malls they have. During our time in Odaiba we went to two of them. The second one, Palette Town, was not particularly interesting other than the large Ferris wheel they had.

More interesting was Decks. In here there are major attractions such as Madame Tussaud’s, a Lego Discovery Centre and a Sega Joypolis (which we did not go to since we will be going to a different one later). However I was more interested in…

The Takoyaki (fried octopus ball) Museum! Which isn’t an actual museum, more a place to take cute pictures, buy Takoyaki based souvenirs and to eat a variety of Takoyaki.

List item: Play on a pinball machine
Status: Completed

One of the cooler features of Decks is how a lot of it is set up like the souvenir stalls you would find by the sea. They also had areas filled with games such as whack-a-mole and a number of old pinball machines. How could we not give the Super Mario Pinball machine a whirl? Hubby even turned out to be pretty good at it!

By the time we left Odaiba and got to Akihibara it was getting close to 3:30 and, once again, we forgot to have lunch. So we got ourselves a snack:

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Acai

Yes, I know. Burger King again. But these acai drinks aren’t exactly something you would find in the UK! Also, it made me notice that a lot of Japanese people seem to eat alone in these kind of establishments, which is rather different to the UK.

Now, if there is one word to describe Akihibara that word would be “chaos”. It is, frankly, a nuts place filled with shops selling any sort of technology you can think of.

 One of the places we went to, Yodobashi, had seven huge floors filled to the brim with pieces of tech whether it be rice cookers, player pianos, earphones or self-righting scooters. Then there was the glorious toy department!

It was the beginning of us walking around a lot of stores looking at games from any console you could think of, whilst trying to avoid the more adult games on offer (I have seen too many cartoon vulvas for one day/the rest of my life).

The last store we hit up was a quite well-known one called Super Potato. Since hubby bought me a Sega Mega Drive for my birthday (which was so sweet of him since he had to reveal to me via photos on his phone) I was on the look out for a Japanese game to go play on it.

However, we were not the only people on the look out there. There was a camera crew for a local Tokyo TV station who asked if they could interview us on camera about why we came to Akihibara. We never did see the broadcast, so I wonder if they used it at all. Still, if they did, how cool is it to say I might have been on Japanese TV.

By the time we were done in Akihibara (side note: there were so many girls in costume advertising maid cafes… all the affected higher voices got a bit disturbing) it was getting really late. So it was a trip to dump stuff at the hotel and go for dinner.


Food item: Akita Hinai-jidori Chicken

After the weirdness at the restaurant yesterday I was on a bunch of websites looking for another, hopefully more friendly, place that did this chicken. Would you know it, there was one right here in Shinjuku.

The restaurant was pretty well hidden. It didn’t help that I knew it by the romaji name instead of the characters. We were the only ones in there and the staff looked very relieved to have customers between us we ordered the 6 piece set with two extra skewers with vegetables since hubby doesn’t really like chicken.

Would you know, that this was probably the best chicken I have ever had. There was no seasoning on it apart from a bit of salt. It was just so juicy and full of flavour. Hell, even hubby really liked it! Now, one of the ways you can have this chicken is as sashimi (ie raw), but the English menu didn’t offer this.

I think that having the set of skewers actually worked out better though as I was able to sample 5 different parts. As well as the more usual breast and thigh meat here was also skin, liver and (I think) tail. The breast and tail having the best meat of the 5. How can I go back to normal chicken now!

Progress: 768/933

So, to round up the day, it was back to the hotel with today’s weird snack food. Avocado cheese crackers… I mean why not I suppose?

Lost In Japan: Day 6 – First Day in Kyoto

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Red. I have seen more of this colour in the last few days than I think I have in the rest of the year. It’s obviously a very important colour here in Japan, but today it’s something that really struck me.

Anyway, starting at the beginning.

Nishiki Market! Since our hotel is just off of Shijo Road (a major road for shopping) we are remarkable close to the most famous market in Kyoto. With so many sights and smells and wonderful things to buy I was in my element really early on today. Once again the problem arose – what to eat for breakfast!

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Akashi tako (assuming this after hearing the word Akashi being mentioned by the vendor)

So I settled for a whole baby octopus on a stick with a quail’s egg stuffed inside its head. It was so good! Hubby decided not to indulge, something about no baby octopuses for breakfast. I dunno. Men!

At the end of the street was a shrine with a rather lovely bronze pig inside. It’s getting to the point now where I am no longer surprised by the sudden appearance of a shrine. It’s starting to feel a bit normal, although I will still go in there and have a proper tourist noseabout.

Our first port of call today was the Gion District, although we went there in a bit of a roundabout way by walking through the wooden building of Pontocho. I have just been informed by hubby that there was some signage indicating that this street was one of the more gay areas of Kyoto… which now makes for an awkward segue where I talk about the fruit I ate:

Food item:  Hachiya persimmon

Yesterday I got my persimmons mixed around and bought a Fuya persimmon (that is so like me). That was nice enough, but this ripe Hachiya was so much better. When not properly ripe the Hachiya is meant to be firm and highly astringent. This one that I purchased in Nishiki was really soft, so I felt confident as I just bit right into it. It was so sweet and juicy! You could tell that in the past there was some astringency there… but honeyed sweetness overpowered everything.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 47/100Sight: Gion District
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Position: #147

We were here in the late morning so I knew there was no chance of spotting a geisha at work. (anyway, we spotted two of them yesterday being rushed into a car as we walked back to the hotel so I am not going to be greedy) . What we did managed to spot, however, were a lot of shops that allowed people to rent kimonos. So there were a lot of people, mostly women, in gorgeous kimonos being photographed with paper umbrellas and other such props. As funny as it would have been to see hubby in traditional Japanese dress we didn’t feel too up for it

It was after the Gion district that we started racking up the temple and shrines starting with the Yasaka Shrine complex. It just boggles my mind not only how big these shrines can be, but just how many of them are here in Kyoto. Probably why Kyoto is a major spiritual centre within Japan.

They are also a huge money making opportunity. I’m just not talking about the hairy man that was in the complex selling rather large crab legs on a stick, but the number of charms and other such items that are sold in these shrines. At some point I should buy some as a souvenir, also there are times where I need help finding lost things.

The shrine connected to a really beautiful park called Maruyama Park, this connected Yasaka Shrine with the neighbouring Chion-in Temple.

Now, if the entrance is anything to go by, Chion-in Temple must be absolutely massive. Sadly, it was under a serious case of building repairs so I didn’t get s chance to see it in all its glory. We had a look around the grounds and saw a rather lovely looking Buddha… which was outdone rather quickly.

The Ryozen-Kannon is a huge concrete and steel Buddha that acts as the centre of a memorial to the 2 million Japanese soldiers that died in World War Two. When we went in we were given a lit incense stick each to place at the foot of the Buddha to show respect. Considering that this manifestation of Buddha represents compassion this is a truly beautiful way to remember them.

A brief visit to the Hokanji Temple was next. There was a plaque that said how inside this pagoda structure are some bones from the Buddha and that this version of the building is from 1440. All I can say is that it looks amazing despite being nearly being 800 years old.

Now, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple was one of those many places that was on my original list of places to see. Ever since it was a finalist in a New7Wonders vote a few years ago. The building is massive, and the complex is (like with the Yasaka Shrine) huge. One of the many things I have really come to respect about Shintoism and Buddhism is how well they co-exist together. The complexes tend to festive elements of each other’s religions and that’s really how it should be.

The Kiyomizu-dera is best when observed in a way that just enhances the hanging over. The way that it just juts out into the forest looks lame what surreal. Borrowed scenery is a phrase I saw to describe this.


Food item: Gobo

We were now quite a bit after lunchtime and hunger was creeping up on both of us. Seeing how snack food is in great supply whenever you are near a major temple/shrine in Kyoto we agreed to try some of these. The first was on the walk between Kiyomizu-dera and the nearest bus-stop. A ‘special beef’ dumpling flavoured with gobo (dried burdock root) was the first on the menu. Now, apparently it is rude in Japan to eat and walk… and I wish I had  know this as it would have explained some of the looks I was getting.


Food item: Yuba

A 20 minute bus ride later we were on the Philosophers Walk up to Ginkakuji Temple (also known as the Silver Temple). Yuba, or tofu skin, is something I have seen all around Kyoto so I am guessing that this is a regional thing. All I can say is that they made for the perfect wrapper for this fish paste cake on a stick.

The Silver Temple is a misnomer because it is not, nor has it ever been, properly silver. It was meant to be but, you know, wars happen. Going here had another meaning for us since it was the basis of the Silver Pavilion in the Pokémon Gold and Silver games. There is even a bird at the top that looks like Ho-Oh.

The gardens of Ginkakuji were immaculate. Sand was raked into perfect mounds and waves, there was a huge bamboo growth at the back and it has a number of scenic ponds. So much work has clearly gone into making it look so “natural”.

Now, by the time we were done at Ginkakuji it was about 4 o’clock. Most shrines and temples close at 5, most that is. Thanks to a tip-off on the Something Awful forum we knew there was a good place to be at sunset. We just needed to get to Kyoto Train Station and travel two stops South.

The Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of those places that, now that I have been there, strongly believe should have been in the Lonely Planet guide. To experience it at sunset is something that I will not easily forget. At the foot of Mount Inari, the shrine complex is awash with vermillion and is already incredibly beautiful (interestingly, it has a series of tri-lingual flags indicating how well reviewed it is on TripAdvisor).

The star of the show are the torii. The many thousands of you that form a tunnel on the many paths that wind up the mountain. There are just so many of them in very different states of repair. Some are brand new, others are in need of a fresh coat of paint and then there are those where the wood has begun to rot.

List item: Watch a Sunset
Status: Completed

We quickly made our way up through the first paths to catch sight of the sun as it was setting over Kyoto. The picture doesn’t do justice to it to be perfectly honest, but how do you get a picture of a sunset on an iPhone that isn’t the latest model? Not actually that easy.

In total we must have spent an hour and a half walking up and down parts of this mountain with the torii acting as our guide. We were even doing this on the pitch black of the mountain with only lanterns dotted along the way to provide us with light. The crickets were so loud… and then there were some animals whose noises I couldn’t identify and really did not want to find out what they were (of course my first thought went to a pissed off tengu).

 

Food items: Sake and Maitake

Dinner time in Kyoto! My first pick for a place to eat was shut because it was a Monday (boo!) but I did find us a brilliant sushi place! Sushi as a concept has been ruined for me by visiting Japan. I used to love my very occasional trips to Yo Sushi. That’s going to taste so plain after this holiday. Hubby ordered himself a sake (I got a Sprite) and I tried some for he sake of research. It has been a while since I last had hot alcohol, and this was pretty strong. I just stuck with my Sprite and the free green tea.

The first of three list foods up for grabs was maiitake in tempura form. This went on to become one of our favourites of the night alongside a rather nice eel and fried shrimp roll. For a mushroom it tasted faintly sweet, and the texture was well preserved despite being, essentially, deep fried.

Food items: Bluefin Tuna and Abalone

Now, in Britain these pieces of sushi would be so extremely expensive. I think that together these were 950¥ or £5. It’s pretty damned crazy. The abalone was nice and fresh (nothing much more than nice to be honest), but I was surprised at how hard it was to bite through in places. Them bluefin tuna was a true revelation. No more tuna from a can! This bluefin was so soft, mild and meaty. A bit like the Kobe beef for fish. If I can find it on our next sushi trip I will be going for more.

Progress: 756/933

We are still eating, but approaching full, when I saw something that made me lose my appetite: fish prepared in the ikezukuri style i.e. alive sushi. I could tell it was still alive because the tail would flap occasionally and it looked like the head was gasping for air as it moved from side to side. Not only did I lose my appetite, but I just wanted to be out of there as soon as possible whilst people were taking video of this poor fish not their phones.

Since we were still a bit hungry we grabbed a small burger from the Japanese chain Mosburger on our way home (really nice for a burger chain) and hubby got some radioactive looking melon Fanta.

Wow, it’s been a busy day. A lot of sleep will be needed before we tackle the next one.

Lost In Japan: Day 5 – Hiroshima to Kyoto

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

I was sad to leave Hiroshima. Although I was only there for 3 full days I had really fallend for Japan’s 10th largest city (10th largest yet still has over 1 million residents, as a Brit this astounds me). It’s been the perfect host for the first leg of my honeymoon, as has the Sheraton Hiroshima.

List item: Ride in a high-speed train
Status: Completed

I know that since seeing one of these on Blue Peter many years ago I have always wanted to ride on a Japanese bullet train. By the time I leave Japan I may have been on seven different trains (including two return journeys).

In order to get to Kyoto from Hiroshima (using our JR Pass) we needed to make a change at Osaka. In retrospect, I wish that we had time to spend in Osaka since it does have some gorgeous sites. Looks like I have another reason to return to Japan!

I can not emphasise enough just how luxurious the bullet train between Hiroshima and Osaka felt on the inside (better than Osaka to Kyoto, but that train was still jolly nice). The seating alone feels like British first class. All the seats recline, there are neat foldaway cup holders and coat hooks. Each pair of seats comes with its own power socket. Needless to say, the cumulative two hours between Hiroshima and Kyoto just flew by whilst I stared at the scenery.

That is, apart from we broke open the ekiben! Now, the ekiben are something that hubby really wanted to get whilst we were in a Japan, and boy are there a whole mess of choices. The big one is his, I had some real ekiben-envy when he opened up his official Hiroshima Carp (local baseball team) ekiben up. In the end though, that would have been way too much food. My box, aka the smaller one, really filled me up (it had chicken, rice, red cabbage and something that I assumed was puréed Japanese yam salad). It’s actually quite amazing at how good the quality of the food in the box lunches was.

We arrived at about 14:00. The differences between Kyoto and Hiroshima became evident by the time we got to the hotel room. Firstly, the smell if different. When you are in Hiroshima the air feels just that bit fresher because of all the rivers. Then there is the pace, Kyoto is a lot faster and a bit more impatient than Hiroshima. Where previously I would rarely see someone cross a street without a green man being shown, here I have already seen it a number of times. However, the most profound difference is age – the population of Kyoto feel a lot younger.

We freshen ourselves up at our hotel room, which is done in a more traditional style with tatami flooring, a futon and sliding windows. I mean sure it’s all capped off with a toilet that warms up the seat and a scary looking shower, but the thought was there.

By the time we left the hotel it was nearly 16:30 and I was getting hungry. Luckily, since I have done some research, I had a place in mind. It meant heading back to Kyoto main station (some 30 minutes away from where we were staying in Shijo), so,etching I was more than happy to walk seeing how I’d spent two hours sitting down on trains.

As we got close to the station we suddenly see a massive temple complex come into view – the Higashi Honganji. Sadly a lot of it was under renovation works (which will be done by the time this blog post goes up. According to a sign in the main temple, this is the largest wooden building in the world. It is also one that demands that you take your shows off in order to enter the temple… which is fine if I hadn’t chosen today as a day to wear my pink ‘raveasaurus’ dinosaur socks.

It was pretty spectacular on the inside. I grabbed a few photos and then had a guard rushing towards me gesturing that no photos were allowed. I suddenly became very aware of my pink dinosaur socks and that I had not seen any signs saying not to take photos. We scarpered pretty quickly because I became all British and felt rather embarrassed.

Soon we arrived back at the mammoth building that houses Kyoto railway station. Since we previously went straight to the subway I hadn’t been able to take it all in, but with over 11 floors in some places, it is huge. The restaurant that I wanted to get to was on floor 10, which meant riding up a fleet of escalators and appreciating the cool light up steps on the way.

 List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Kobe beef

There are six main foods that I wanted to get whilst in Japan. This is second one achieved after Hiroshima oysters and Kyoho grapes. A Kobe beef burger. Easily one of the best burgers I have had in my life. When you bite into it a lot of fat just oozes out, something to be expected since Kobe beef is highly marbled. The thing with the beef having such rich marbling is that as you bite into it the burger just seems to melt in your mouth. I don’t think that is a mouthfeel that I had ever quite had before, but I wish we had ordered a second one each. We didn’t order anything with it, so we were still hungry.

Before going on the hunt for more food we roamed the station a bit more and found our way to the Skyway walk which gave us some amazing views of Kyoto being lit up at night. Especially Kyoto Tower, which just dominates the skyline.

We went into the department store located in Kyoto station in order to scout for an extra snack. Since it was getting late a lot of the food was getting discounted and there was a lot of hubbub as differs stalls tried to get rid of their wares. Poor hubby was getting a bit overwhelmed by all the shouting and the choice so we just got three random croquettes (turned out to be one kelp, one shrimp and one that was chicken, ham and cheese) and some other things.

I am trying not to be too western with my food choices out here (Pepsi Ghost is just too good for me to not have), but we both really fancied ice cream after the burger. The Baskin Robbins on the way home was a god send with it’s ‘Trick or Ice Cream’ which was with dark chocolate chips and an orange syrup that I guess is meant to be pumpkin. It’s amazing how much you can get in a store with smiling, pointing, nodding and quantitative hand gestures.
Food item: Shizuoka Melon

Now, this melon is the fourth of the six foods I really wanted to find. In order to get a whole one I have seen prices ranging from 1800¥ to nearly 5500¥. If you ever play a Japanese computer game with a melon featured you will know what it looks like, perfectly round with a neat stem cut to form a capital ‘t’. This is a melon they people gift each other, I’m guessing more as a ‘get well soon’ or housewarming gift rather than at a child’s birthday party.

The fact that we were able to find some pre-cubed that been discounted down to 390¥ just blew my mind. This saved me quite a bit of souvenir money! As we opened the plastic box the smell of the melon just hit us. It has such a strong fragrance of, well, melon. Taste wise… I was hoping to be able to slander it, but it was just too delicious to even start. Think of a regular melon from a supermarket. Now take that essence of melon flavour and remove all the watering down that regular melons have. Slightly honey the flavour and then at is what you have. It made me annoyed that all melons are not like this.

Progress: 748/933

Tomorrow is our first full day in Kyoto. We are not here for long so we are going to make it count.