The Circle Of Life

Once again, I’ve found myself back in Japan – I just can’t seem to stay away! A couple of months ago, I managed to find cheap tickets on Jetstar – only $300 for the Cairns to Tokyo flight. But… wait for it… this was for business class. Done! Flight was booked, I just had to survive exams and find a return flight! Exams were survived, finding a rerun flight was not so easy -the limiting factor was that I had to return for the family Christmas, pushing flights up to over $1500 one way from Japan. And so a plan was born – Melbourne – Cairns – Tokyo – Fukuoka – Osaka – Taipei – Singapore (bus) KL – Melbourne!

The short amount of time that I spent at a Cairns hostel reminded me why I love backpacking in other countries, but not so much in Australia. It certainly was very bare bones, but couldn’t be bet for the location. I had a wonderful short stay in Cairns regardless, spending all my time on the reef – cruise out there, a play at scuba diving, snorkeling and then a helicopter flight back to Cairns. Highly recommended.

Over the years, I’ve been to Tokyo twice – the first time although I had a great night out on the town, I spent the rest of my time hung over, and the second time the airlines had lost my luggage and I was stuck in Tokyo with just the clothes on my back in the middle of a humid, hot summer. Not great memories.

This time, I had a trump card – The Lion King was playing, and I was going. I rocked up to my hostel late at night to find my pre-order SIM card had already arrived. After a few teething issues, I managed to get it going, and the next morning I borrowed a bike and set out for theatre. And went completely the wrong way, ending up near the Emporers Palace and in amongst the embassy’s. What should have taken 1 hour managed to take me closer to 4 hours!  And having not ridden a bike for over 3 years, I’m really feeling it now!  The Lion King was just as good as it was in Melbourne – truly amazing.  The costumes, the set, the singing, all of it was すばらしい.  I managed to sit next to a small girl, who was quite impressed with (or at least not upset by) my humming and the small amount of Japanese songs I was able to partially sing!

Over 10 years ago, Asako came to Australia as an exchange student and stayed with us for some time.  One of my aims on this visit to Japan was to catch up with her – not only has she gotten married, she’s also had a baby!  So we planned to do a day of sightseeing around Tokyo with her husband Hirosuke and baby Seigo.  First stop was the newly restored Tokyo Station.  I arrived before Asako, and was suprised by the amount of Japanese people milling around taking photos of the admittedly beautiful station.  It wasn’t until Asako & Hirosuke arrived and explained that it had only recently been completed that it made sense!

After Tokyo station we headed to Asakusa Sensouji (Asakusa Temple – often referred to as “jinja”, but this isn’t right!).  Hirosuke explained to me that even amongst Japanese people, it can be difficult to differentiate between shrine (Shinto – Jinja) and temple (Buddhist – Otera).  One way of telling is the presence of a smoking barrel (temple) or purifying water (shrine).  He also explained thati red “tori” (gates) are found at shrines, but pagodas are found at temples.  And at shrines you often clap before praying, whilst prayers are silent in temples.  All so confusing!  Basically, when in Japan (or any other country!) I look to see what the locals are doing, and follow their lead!

The road to the temple is lined with lots of little shops selling a wide range of souvineers.  We stopped for some fresh zaiten manju – red been paste inside a small cake, yum!  Seigo is still not sure of me!

After our temple visit, it was time to take a glance at the skyline.  Here is Asako, Hirosuke and Seigo in front of the Asahi beer buildings.  Notice the golden coloured building in the background, with the grey “frothy head” on top?  We so need one of the buildings in Melbourne!  Also pictured is the Asahi flame, said to represent the “burning heart of Asahi beer”, but colloquially referred to as “the golden turd” by many locals.  Hmmm.

Lunch was the famous Asakusa tendons for us, and udon noodles for Seigo – who really got into it!

As it started raining, we jumped in a taxi and headed to the Tokyo Edo Museum.  Perfect for a rainy day (or even for a super hot day I would imagine), the museum is well laid out and quiet.  Plenty to see and learn – so much information about the history of the people and samurai of Japan.  Here are Hirosuke and Seigo doing their best to carry me in the traditional viewing box.

Next stop was a Tokyo cruise, on the Himiko ship.  Designed by Leiji Matsumoto, one of the best renowned Japanese cartoonists (think anime), it’s futuristic and a bit out of this world.  From here we were able to see much of Tokyo from the waterways, including the Tsukiji Fish markets and Rainbow Bridge.  We also saw the theatre that I rode my bike to the day before.  I  also managed to wear Seigo down, and get a bit of a cuddle!

After getting off the boat, we ended up at a shopping centre created mainly for “yummy mummies” and young people.  This is the front of ANA’s “kidzania” – a kids play centre (think Crocs or Lollypops).  It’s a little different however, kids that enter this world will be enrolled into “careers” – they will become firefighters, nurses, shop keepers and more.  It’s basically role play for kids, where kids will even earn a salary that can in turn be used to buy small presents for mum.  Can’t wait till Seigo is old enough to go here and I can tag along!

And finally it was time for yakiniku (Japanese style Korean barbeque) for dinner.  We had a wide range of meats and vegetables, all grilled on the table in front of us.  Poor Asako didn’t get much at all – she was too busy keeping Seigo fed.

After saying goodbye to Asako, Hirosuke and Seigo, I realised that I was only a few stops from “Gyoza World” – a mysterious and magical place said to contain thousands of styles of gyoza (dumplings).  So even though I was absolutely full from our delicious yakiniku dinner, I stopped by to see what it was about.  And I wasn’t disappointed – dumpling shop upon dumpling shop for as far as you can see.  I managed to nibble on some cheese dumplings (yum!) – next time I need to head back with a few people and an empty stomach!!

And that’s the end of my time in Tokyo.  I’m currently sitting in the airport, awaiting my flight to Fukuoka, to visit with my host families from when I was a high school exchange student (12 years ago!!)

Nimotsu-less in Tokyo

Asia ~ Japan ~ Osaka & Tokyo

And once again I’ve made it back to Japan.  Although not without a few tiny weeny little incidents.  These last couple of months have been so hectic that planning for this trip was left to the very last minute – literally.  I finalised accommodation details for my first couple of nights only 1 night before I left!  Problems for the trip began when, two days before my flight, I received a phone call from Jetstar.  “Eeek”, I though, “at least I have travel insurance”…  Turns out they had canceled my first part of my flight – the Melbourne to Sydney section – and so had booked me on an earlier flight.  As I’m not known for my awareness early morning, I begged them to put me on a later flight, which they agreed to.  Little did I know…

Wednesday morning saw dad and I at Tullamarine Airport awaiting my (first) flight.  When they began announcing that there were technical faults, I knew straight away I was to miss my connecting flight in Sydney to Japan.  Several hours later I finally got on a (new) plane, getting into Sydney waaay too late for my connection.  Qantas (it was a Qantas domestic flight) put me up at an airport hotel, which was fine by me, meant I got another nights sleep…  Bags hadn’t arrived yet, as they didn’t want to delay our flight any longer (so they said), they would come in on the 2pm flight we were told.  So we toddled off to the airport hotel with just our carry on bags.

Needless to say, the bags didn’t arrive that night.  When I went to check in the next day, my bags still hadn’t arrived, so I checked in, then went to the Qantas counter to beg for some vouchers to get essentials.  The guy at the counter asked if I’d checked the ‘baggage room’ – not one person had mentioned this in the numerous times I was on the phone the night before.  So off I went to the ‘baggage room’, where you have to knock on a blank wall three times, wait three minutes and knock two more times to be allowed entrance…  Wasn’t expecting to find anything – after all, I had been chasing the bag for nearly 24 hours, and assumed it hadn’t left Melbourne yet – however, sitting right on top was my familiar backpack.  “It’s mine!” I shouted with joy to the staff.  As I had already checked in, they promised to get it on my flight for me.

On the way to the boarding gate, I grabbed some deoderant and earplugs, because I had forgotten to grab some out of my backpack.  Although I had spent half the night thinking about what clothing I would buy at the airport, I bought none, as my bag had been found, or so I thought.  How wrong I was.  Flight was uneventful, I had 3 seats to myself, so I got a decent rest.  Arrival in Japan bought an unpleasant surprise – my backpack wasn’t on the flight.  About then is when I went into panick mode.  No change of underwear?   No pajamas?  I’m in Japan, where the average size is toothpick.  Eeek!

Much of the next couple of days were spent attempting to find clothing – although I did ok with some tops (surprisingly!) underwear and skirts eluded me.  In any case, I was sure that my bag was going to arrive “tomorrow”, and didn’t want to over-buy, just in case.  In Australia, mum was spending almost every waking moment attempting to locate my bags, screaming her head off at incompetent Qantas staff.  Amongst trying to find clothing, I have also spent a good amount of time trying to buy a mobile phone in Tokyo, a near impossible task.

Crazy Shibuya at night

Crazy Shibuya at night

Never fear, my luggage did arrive, but not without dramas.  On my fourth day in Japan, I headed off to Hachijo jima, a hippy island an hour south of Tokyo.  After being assured by Qantas staff in Australia that my bag would be at Haneda airport, I spent an hour and a half trying to communicate with staff there, only to find the bag hadnt even left Australia yet.  But I was over it, I was heading to a tropical island…


All roads lead to Rome

Europe ~ Italy ~ Pisa, Florence & Rome

I don’t think I have ever been as exhausted as I was when we were standing there looking at the leaning tower of Pisa. Keen to save money on accommodation, we arrived in Italy after spending the night at the Girona Airport and the night before that on a bus from Madrid to Barcelona. Finding a hotel in Pisa turned out to be a little harder than expected, for some reason most of the hotels were full, mid week. We spent the morning seeing everything in Pisa – i.e. the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which was another great thing to see. What was even better was watching all the tourists standing on the lawn (right next to the sign saying ‘keep off the lawn’), with their hands in the air, trying to get the perfect photo of themselves ‘holding up the tower’. Of course I had to get out there and do it myself! After 19 hours of sleep we headed off for Florence…

Bobbi holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Bobbi holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Florence provided the first (but not the last) opportunity for us to indulge in gelati and pizza. Yum… We spent our time wandering about town, went to the Academy Gallery and spent over two hours in line to see David – it was worth it. I think. Very impressive statue, he stands over 4 metres tall. We considered going to see some other galleries, but decided we couldn’t hack any more lines. We instead spent our time wandering about town, getting lost down narrow alleyways and doing some general people watching.

Rome came with a shock – people. We thought we’d been clever, leaving the big city to the end, tourist season was supposed to end in September, but no, there were people EVERYWHERE!!! We visited all the big tourist sights, including the Colosseum, the Cappaccini Monk Crypt and St. Peter’s. For me, the Colosseum was the best of the lot – its so amazing to think that the structure has survived so much and is still surviving the latest test – tourists. We waited in line for absolutely ages (seems to be the norm for all tourist attractions in Italy), eventually got in and spent our time tagging along to different tour groups, so that we could hear about the Colosseum. One invention that we have noticed and not enjoyed on our recent travels is the tour group radio set. Nowadays, instead of the tour leader holding a microphone and shouting out to everyone in their group, they now talk into a mouthpiece, and the rest of the tour listens via headphones. Makes it really hard to overhear what they’re talking about!

Tash hanging out in the Colosseum

Tash hanging out in the Colosseum

They say all roads lead to Rome, and perhaps it is true, as Rome was the last stop for our travels in Continental Europe. Indeed, if you don’t count our last week in London, it was the last place that Tash and I will be traveling together. Next week we split up – Tash goes back to Edinburgh to make the most of her work visa, whilst I head home via Japan… It’s been a great trip together, but I guess it’s time to move on…
xoxo Bobs

Seeing the forest from the trees

Europe ~ Germany ~ Cologne, Bonn & Freiburg

Germany is a really green country. I don’t know if that surprises you, but it sure surprised me. Of all the images I had concocted of Germany, green forests and luscious fields wasn’t one of them. We were happy with our flight over here from France – on Thai Airways when you finish a flight, they pin an orchid (their symbol) onto your shirt. German Wings gives you a bottle of neon orange Schwarzkopf hair dye. Woohoo!

We’ve been enjoying ourselves the German way, spending a lot of our time and precious money hanging around beer gardens. So many varieties of beer to sample – only so much time to do it in! My friend Andy took us out for a night on the town, German style. When he told us he was taking us to a ‘rock club’, I never expected that the German word for rock translates roughly into the Australian word for heavy metal!!! Inside we found guys with long hair head-banging along to Rammstein and the like. A completely different experience – very different from Brass Monkey back home!!! Typically, we ended up stranded before the night was out, but eventually caught the 4.30am train home…

Tash and I decided to take a weekend off – from world travel – to Black Forrest travel. We headed out towards the Black Forrest via the train system, leaving our big packs at the hostel in Cologne, along with our common sense and our Lonely Planet. After missing trains and getting off at the wrong stops, we ended up in a little town on the edge of the Black Forrest 8 hours later. We spent 2 and a half hours wandering around the tiny town of Baden-Baden, attempting to find a hostel. Eventually I gave up and wandered into a fancy hostel and asked if they knew of a hostel in the area. The guy behind the desk wrinkled his nose in disgust at my traveling cloths and informed me that there were no hostels, and furthermore (if we even had the money) every hotel in town was booked. There was some kind of festival for the rich and well-to-do folks on. Ahh, that would explain all the Mercedes and BMWs whizzing past us. We gave up and headed to a bigger town and fell into the last two beds available late at night. We spent the next day exploring Freiburg, a town in the middle of the Black Forrest. Didn’t find any trees, but did have some lovely Black Forrest Ice-cream. Still traveling first and foremost for food!

Tash and I, on our train trip

Tash and I, on our train trip

Cologne has been heaps of fun to explore, it has a HUGE Dom (cathedral) that overlooks you right as you come out of the station. It really looks like some-one has painted over the landscape and just plonked the Dom right there. Impossible to get a good photo – you just can’t fit the damn thing in one picture. We’ve also gone and explored the chocolate factory (YUM!!!) and the eau de Cologne store. Bonn (where Andy lives) is an interesting town too. It boasts that it is the birthplace of Beethoven, and has every single thought-of Beethoven attraction dotted about the town. Now we’re busy planning our next travels – watch out, people of Amsterdam!
xo me