Waddling off the night bus with swollen ankles and undoubtedly a bit of body odour we walked through the humid streets of Sakata to Ben’s place. After much needed food and showers we took Tom off to the highlights of Sakata… the supermarket, HardOff (second hand shop that is just amazing) and the 100Yen shop! After such a busy and strenuous morning we naturally felt the need to unwind and relax by heading out to the sea.
Training to Fukura we spent the afternoon (and a fair portion of the evening) drinking beers in the sun, eating snacks, climbing over the Buddhas (carved into the rocks) and jumping off the rocks and swimming.
As tended to be the pattern of our days in Sakata we started slowly… In the afternoon Tom and I went into Ben’s school to speak to one of the classes. Our chat to them covered everything from where Tom lived in the states, to my travels, to the teacher insisting that Tom tell all his friends to vote for Hillary Clinton as Japan did not want Donald Trump to be President… quite a lot of pressure on Tom I thought!
That evening we went to Kappa Sushi… undoubtedly one of my favourite restaurants in Japan. The novelty of sushi coming via spaceship or race car has not worn off! After many, many plates of sushi and quite possibly the same number of beers we were asked to leave (as they were closing not because we were being rude or annoying) and off we went on an adventure through the park next to Ben’s apartment that provides an excellent adventureland for the slightly inebriated.
The highlights of our remaining days in Sakata were undoubtedly dinner at Ben’s friend’s restaurant and the trip to the aquarium.
Returning to Kakochan and Kochan’s for dinner I was greeted by a warm cry of “PIPICHAN” as I walked through the door (Pipi because I pi, pi, pi like a bird the whole time aka talk non-stop!). Much like the time before, dinner at Kakochan’s and Kochan’s was a wonderful evening, endless food, drink and excellent company always makes for a good time. To my slight dismay, the food this time was more red meat based and included liver and tongue – which it turns out I don’t have a stomach for.
Satochan, Ben’s friend took Tom and me to the Kamo Aquarium on one particularly wet afternoon. This is an aquarium that centres around jellyfish which was quite unexpectedly far more interesting than I had anticipated. Jellyfish are seriously aesthetically pleasing creatures…
The aquarium also had a sea lion show on while we were there. Turns out sea lions are quite athletic animals and also quite intelligent. The sea lion was able to perform handstands, jump through hoops, balance a rugby ball on it’s nose and catch rings around it’s head…. I cannot do one of those tasks. Full points to the sea lions.
For Tom’s final night we went out for dinner with Umetsu, Satochan and Tokochan. We went out for okonomiyaki where Satochan and Umetsu cooked up more food than I thought humanly possible. Okonomiyaki is brought from the kitchen as a collection of raw ingredients that the guests cook themselves on a teppanyaki.
I left Sakata the next morning – after breakfast with Ben, he and his friend saw me off at the train station. Making it to Tokyo I went for a run and some soba noodles and then had a final sort through of my belongings before my flight the next day. Waking up at the crack of dawn in Tokyo I was restless and ready to get on a plane to NZ – waiting to catch a plan is perhaps my least favourite activity.
To try and burn some of my perhaps nervous energy I went running in the park near my hostel – after doing some stair repeats for a while I went to leave the park only to be stopped by a Japanese guy in his hands he held three drinks, a water, a green tea and a sports drink. He gifted them all to me as he was unsure which I would wanted but thought I might need a drink. It was an act that would never happen in NZ, yet here in Japan I wasn’t remotely surprised. I have grown somewhat accustomed to this innate kindness and generosity that the Japanese consistently exhibit.
Boarding the plane in Tokyo and approaching my final destination of Christchurch I was excited at the thought of abandoning my backpack and having access to other items of clothing. I also had a moment of being absolutely stunned and gutted that my five months of insane fun had come to a close so much more quickly than I anticipated and sort of wishing that my flight from Tokyo was bound for somewhere else new and exciting in the world as opposed to little old NZ.
Since arriving home and being reunited with friends, family and dogs I have to say I am pretty happy to be back… There’s something about home comforts that just can’t be beat sometimes!
Early next morning, fresh off the night bus Ben joined us in Tokyo. He and Tom hadn’t seen each other since 2012 (not that you could tell) so the morning was spent shooting the shit. As we ventured out into the streets of Tokyo the first order of business was taking Ben (the hipster…) to get good coffee – Fuglen cafe in Ebisu was just the spot for that. Not only were we supplied with good coffee but also delicious pastries and granola as well. Moving slowly on we ambled through the chaotic main street of Harajuku where we found useful items such as…
From Harajuku to Ueno we continued to meander through the streets/metros of Tokyo with no real purpose to our day.
In Ueno we went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum where we tried to go into a gallery and were told we had to pay… bailing on the idea (as the gallery didn’t look terribly exciting) we turned to leave when an old man came up to us and handed us two postcards explaining that if we signed them we could go into the gallery for free… Not your typical gallery entry but hey it worked for us!
Our day concluded with a trip to the supermarket to buy snacks and water for Fuji and having dinner with my friend Shigeki who helped organise our whole Mt Fuji mission. Dinner with Shigeki was slightly more of a brief food tour of Nishi-Ogikubo.
We started with Taiyaki – a fish shaped pastry (bread.. unsure) filled with red bean paste. We then moved on to sampling some green tea. Stopped in at an izakaya (Japanese pub.. where salarymen go after work) for some yakatori. The yakatori was probably my least favourite of all the Japanese food I have tried – these are skewers (kebabs) of liver, tongue, cartilage, chicken skin, minced chicken…. not really any food I like to eat! While the boys did a good job of eating most of the food, Fi and I did an equally good job of shifting food around the plates to make it seem like we had tried everything! Finally, after our brief stint in the izakaya we finally went to the restaurant where we were having dinner. It turned out Fi and I hadn’t done such a good job disguising our dislike of the yakatori as Shigeki’s ordering this time contained nearly exclusively fish and vegetable based dishes!! Our dinner was spent discussing the impending trip up Fujisan and Shigeki’s plans for us for the next day – 6:00am collection to start driving to Mt Fuji… we discovered the next day Shigeki had perhaps anticipated we might be slower walkers than we were!
6:00am rolled around quickly and we 4 giant humans (by Japan’s standards) clambered into Shigeki’s brother’s people mover (he decided his car despite being a 5 seater was not big enough for us). After an hour and a half of driving and a 20 minute bus ride we reached 2000 metres and the 5th station of the Subashiri Route. After a few photos and our first “pay per poo” loo stop (I just mean you have to pay to use the loo… not anything weirder) we were on our way just after 9:00am.
Shigeki estimated that it would take us 5 hours to reach the 8th station where we would be staying… that was not the case! Our walk started through forest with a volcanic rock floor and as the forest fell away endless volcanic rock continued (it did lead me to question the intelligence of those who carried bear bells as there was just no way a bear’s life could be sustained on Mt Fuji!).
Within 45 minutes we made it to the 6th station and began to cotton on that perhaps the Japanese time estimates were quite generous. We continued parambulating up the side of the mountain, stopping at all the rest stations for a snack and drink… and sometimes just to put a bit of space between us and the very annoying American Army guys who were exceptionally loud and obnoxious.
By 12:30 we had reached the 8th station where we would be spending the night. Dinner wasn’t till 5pm so we had a lot of time up our sleeves. After more snacking and taking advantage of the free wifi (yes Japan has free wifi 3,500m up a mountain!) we decided to go up to the summit and walk around the crater rim. (When we arrived at the 8th station, both Ben and I were feeling a wee bit light headed but after an hours rest we were right as rain).
The walk to the summit took about 45 minutes and was relatively uncrowded (not what we would experience in the morning).
When we reached the summit we were greeted by even more volcanic rock and absolutely no snow (despite not seeing any snow the whole way up I was still somewhat surprised). As we circled the crater rim we were treated to spectacular views of the inners of the crater that was coloured by beautiful reds and greens.
The quiet of the Fuji summit that afternoon certainly gave us no indication of just how busy it would be the next morning.
After circling the crater we descended at pace (thanks to the deep pebbles that allowed us to run down without injuring ourselves) to the hut. Dinner was Japanese curry, rice, hamburger meat and essence of salad. We considered this quite a small meal and also ate the breakfast we were given, much to the horror and amusement of the Japanese watching us. After a “shower” facilitated by wet wipes and a repack of our belongings we sat around watching the sunset until lights out at 8:30pm!
The sleeping arrangements in the hut were intimate… and not in the way that anyone desires. Between the four of us we had two futons… Ben and Tom sharing one and Fi and I sharing another.
I estimate there were 50-60 people in our room.. all very squished. Sleep wasn’t something that any of us had a lot of, while Fi was mashed against the wall, I kept been knocked on the head by the woman sleeping near me, Ben was constantly caught between Tom and myself and Tom kept waking up uncomfortably close to the Japanese man next to him! While people started to get up at 12:30 to start their ascent… absolute madness in my books given that the sun doesn’t rise till 5:19am! We held out until 3:15am to start our very chilly and slow ascent(despite Shigeki’s recommendation that we start at midnight). The temperature itself wasn’t that chilly but there was a horribly bitter wind and the slow pace due to the sheer number of people climbing made it quite a cold walk.
We started with great gusto covering the first 100m at serious pace this was however short lived. We quickly found ourselves wedged within a cast of thousands walking to the summit for sunrise. The pace slowed to a standstill in many places and in a very unjapanese manner we cut the queues where ever possible shooting up the side of the line and scrambling over rocks! Thanks to our queue cutting skills we managed to make it to the summit with a bit of time to spare before sunrise.
Perching on the side of the mountain we watch the sun rise up over a blanket of clouds… as cliched and corny as it may sound (and be) it was SPECTACULAR!
Despite the amazing view the wind had a real bite to it, so given our adventures round the summit the previous day, once we had confirmed that the sun had yet again made it safely into the sky we opted for a rapid descent.
Descending Mt Fuji is a lot of fun for the first 10 minutes as you are able to run down the scree without losing control. However after the novelty wears off the skidding and flying rocks becomes mildly frustrating.
Walking down the many switchbacks we eventually came down to the green plateau that marked more or less the conclusion of the descent… it was only 8:00am!! (Thankfully we had changed our bus booking back to Tokyo from 3:00pm to the earliest of 10:00am otherwise it would be a very long wait). Stopping at the first cafe we saw that had a sign saying coffee we stopped there for food and coffee and sat in a zombie-like state for 2 hours until we could board the bus.
When we made it back to Tokyo we were all zonked, a lot of climbing and not a lot of sleep suddenly took quite a heavy toll. After about 4 hours of napping we finally pulled finger and left the AirBnB for what ended up being a lot of beers around Tokyo… Quite a few of which were consumed at tables so small they looked more like they were designed for one Japanese person… not 4 westerners!
Forced out of bed due to check out a bit groggy we were up at nine tidying up the AirBnB. Once we had fulfilled our obligations we all agreed we wanted the most western brunch we could find… A cafe next to Fuglen called Bondi delivered on the western brunch… it just took about 3 hours from the moment we requested a table to the moment that we left the restaurant (something which had I not felt quite so tired might have generated serious annoyance on my part). We then enjoyed a bizarre day with a serious range of activities.
We first came across something called Shibuya Bosai which turned out to be an earthquake drill to help citizens learn how to cope with earthquakes. We watched the police, army and some other group (I can’t remember who) go head to head in a race to rescue people from earthquake stricken buildings. We then walked to Meiji Shrine where we got to see a couple of Japanese wedding parades as well as hilarious votive tablets and beautiful sake containers..
Our next adventure in Tokyo found us watching a “band” of Japanese people play a variety of “instruments” (including a recorder piano that was played while wearing a cat puppet).. The music was very catchy (we were humming for the rest of the afternoon) and the band paraded down the street that had been covered by a patchwork quilt!
Continuing to wind our way through the streets of Tokyo we eventually came across a jazz festival that Tom had found out about – turns out the Japanese have quite the love of jazz. While having never been an appreciator of jazz in the past it was a very relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
We completed our day in Tokyo with a trip up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to see just how dense and endless the city was!
Finally we parted ways with Fi – Tom, Ben and I took the night bus to Sakata, where Ben lives, and Fi had one more day in Tokyo before she returned to NZ.
After a decent amount of flying (turns out Brazil to Japan isn’t a direct route) I made it to Tokyo.. A place where I felt so immediately comfortable and like I knew what I was doing it was almost, almost like coming home! I managed to get myself to my hostel, to a sushi bar and showered in fairly quick succession and then, despite having spent 24 hours flying and generally not exerting myself I was exhausted and went to bed!
I met Fichan early next morning (fresh of a plane from London with less sleep than any human should be allowed to have) and we went off to Nikko. Our “limited express” train seemed to be more limited than express, stopping what felt like every 10 minutes it suddenly became clear why the train was so cheap. Despite the train’s slowness it still fulfilled it’s purpose and took us to Nikko. By a stroke of luck we reached our hostel and deposited our bags just moments before the office closed for two hours, then as heavy rain set in we settled into a restaurant for two hours, eating soba noodles and passing time before we were let back into our hostel and Fi could finally have the shower and sleep she was longing for. The rest of our day was spent in bed, two slightly jaded travellers really not making the most of the day!
Our original plan for day 2 in Nikko was to head out to the national park where there was meant to be a lot of good walks. Sadly for us there was a serious typhoon forecast which really slowed our progress. It was originally forecast to hit at midday and pass through rapidly… Thinking that wasn’t so bad we spent the morning in a big shrine complex (while it rained.. But didn’t typhoon) that was in close proximity to our hostel so if the typhoon did hit we could easily get back. The shrine complex was nice but not as amazing as we had hoped. When we were last in Japan we went to an amazing shrine complex in Yamagata surrounded by trees and built up a hill, this one therefore was slightly underwhelming (for us at least).
Midday came and went and still there was no typhoon. It turned out the forecast had changed and it was now meant to hit at 3pm. So yet again we postponed our plans… The Japanese were very concerned about this typhoon and insisted that it was unwise for us to go to the national park. We were told about a hill nearby that we could walk up and get a view over Nikko… I can report we never found that hill. Instead, we found a road that went uphill for a while and then just disappeared into what looked like someone’s private farmland.
Meanwhile, the sun shone and no typhoon came. By the time we returned to our hostel the forecast had been changed yet again… The typhoon was not going to hit where we were and was in fact much weaker than they had originally predicted. By this stage the day had somewhat become a write off. Knowing that we were leaving Nikko the next day back to Tokyo we were determined that our third day here would NOT be a waste so we hatched what we thought was a foolproof plan… Getting up early and bussing to the national park, hopping off the bus at the start of a ropeway which would take us straight to the start of a five hour walk then jumping back on a bus to Nikko that stopped at the train station to jump on the train to Tokyo… We’d even make it to Tokyo by 5pm.
Well, even the best laid plans fall through. While we made the early bus and hopped off at the ropeway that was about the only real success of the day. Once we arrived at the ropeway we found our first issue. The ropeway was 100% closed and not opening till 9am (it was 7:30am). After speaking to two Japanese men who spoke very little/no English we managed to establish that we shouldn’t just walk up the road (a very unjapanese thing to do)… While both men drove off, up the hill, with spare seats (we had really hoped they would offer us a lift), Fi and I remained somewhat stuck with the next bus not coming for an hour. Then we had a stroke of luck… 5 young Japanese boys and 1 girl pulled up in a people mover. They were loud, chatty and very keen to be helpful! After a conversation in English/via Google translate we had conned our way into a lift up the hill in their car. Before the car was started the boys had a couple of important issues they wanted to address with us…
Did we know who Justin Beiber was?
Did we like his music?
Clearly very important questions (and answers) when you are giving a lift to two strangers, easily the best way to establish they aren’t serial killers. Sure enough the music was plugged in and some of Beiber’s greatest hits were pumped through the car stereo (all the while Fi and I tried very hard not to outwardly laugh). Thanks to the Google maps blue dot we managed to gain our bearings and after about 5 minutes we told the boys just to drop us on the side of the road (they were off to an outlet store somewhere in the mountains… We were slightly confused)! While we were still not where we had originally planned we could see we were close to both a lake and some waterfalls so we figured we couldn’t really go too far wrong.
The Kegon Falls were pretty cool, while you couldn’t get much closer than the viewing deck (that you could only access by elevator) it was still rather spectacular. From the waterfalls we wandered through a small town (only slightly confused as to where we wanted to go) and found Lake Chuzenji.
The similarities between this lake and Lake Rotoiti near Nelson were unreal… A huge body of water, surrounded by lush green hills, you could almost fool yourself into thinking you were home…. Were it not for the fact that the lakes banks were surrounded by Goose shaped pedal boats..
We wandered around the lake and eventually found a way to join up with a walking path up into the hills. The path was more or less deserted and poorly maintained. We were stoked.
Wandering through the trees, up and downhills we eventually came across what we assumed was the equivalent of Japanese DOC workers.. They stood, at a junction ringing their bear bells. Fi and I became slightly apprehensive but after an exchange of indecipherable cheers and OK signals we ventured on. About 15 minutes later we heard a noise that Fi described as the sound of a large animal exhaling. Suddenly our cheery exchange and ok signals became slightly less reassuring. When we heard the sound a second time we lost our nerve and became adamant that we had in fact heard a bear. Spinning around and charging back in the direction we came we both agreed while it probably wasn’t a bear it would be really sad if we didn’t get to climb Fuji because we were mauled to death by a bear!
Given that our walk was cut short we grabbed a coffee before jumping back on the bus to Nikko and then on the train to Tokyo.
Back in Tokyo we met the only unknown member of Team Fuji, Tom. Tom went to Yale with Ben and had just been at the Olympics with the US Men’s Rowing team. Arriving at the Airbnb while he was out running we realised we were meeting a giant when his shoes were nearly the same width as the doorway. Sure enough Tom returned and fulfilled our predictions of being a very tall human.
As it was Tom’s first trip to Japan, and Fi and I were old hand’s at this stage we took him off to our favourite stand up sushi bar (yes we are such locals we have favourites).
With our bellies full of sushi and beer we quickly deflated in terms of energy levels and turned in early at the Airbnb eagerly awaiting Ben’s arrival in Tokyo the next morning and the commencement of Mission Fuji in 36 hours time!
Leaving the sunny shores of Europe and returning to England I spent an enjoyable few days in London seeing friends and detoxing from Florence. I enjoyed activities like the viewing deck of the Tate Modern where you get a view straight into the living rooms of an apartment building where despite the signs saying please respect our neighbours privacy we all spent 30 minutes staring straight into their flats critiquing their decor and hoping someone would do something scandalous!!
I was also able to catch up with friends who I spent a lot of time drinking with when I lived in England on my gap year… This was a very strange experience as we realised that many of us met for the very first time nearly 6 years to the day prior as we started our Contiki tour of Europe. The strangest thing was that it really did feel like out Contiki tour had only started six months ago…
I also snuck in a few more snuggles with one of my best friends Steph’s newborn boy Austin – while he has made a bit of a habit of throwing up on me he is adorable and I can’t wait till they are back in NZ!
After a few days mooching round London we headed as a family down to Somerset to celebrate Alice’s 30th birthday… This was a seriously fun weekend! We stayed in a house in Bruton that was connected to an art gallery and The Roth Bar and Grill. The house was incredible, an old English house with a very “shabby, chic” look to it was beautiful (although one we all agreed we probably wouldn’t want to live in).
The weekend of Alice’s 30th birthday was an absolute cracker!! An enormously fun weekend was had by all filled with a lot of eating and drinking involved… So much so that first up on Alice’s agenda as a 30 year old was a big old vomit from being hungover!!! With a number of family friends coming down to Somerset for Alice’s birthday I had a lot of fun. It was also to finally see where Alice lives and meet all her friends who have made her life here so much fun!
Leaving Somerset behind we returned to London where I had about of week to be a tourist/lead a normal life with homemade meals, naps, consistent access to a washing machine… You get the idea! I filled most of my days in London with trips to art galleries, seeing west end shows, a lot of walking and catching up with friends in cafes across London. Because I am trying to recall all this and haven’t made notes yet I am going to write this in bullet point form… Sorry for the laziness!
Yayoi Kusama – Out in Shoreditch, not the most convenient location for where I was staying, I went to a very popular and free exhibition of a Japanese artist! Given that most of her works of art were light and mirror based you spent a fair amount of time queueing and eventually got let into a box (of sorts) where you and one other person were allowed about 30 seconds to appreciate the art and then you were booted out!
Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy – The Summer Exhibition shows over 1,000 pieces of art from up and coming artists. It really is an exhibition where there is something for everyone. The 10+ rooms of the Royal Academy are all curated by different artists with different themes. The works cover a full spectrum of artistic styles from sculpture to printmaking to photography, there is everything and anything in there! It is hard to pick just one favourite piece of work from such a wide ranging exhibition but if I had to it would be this…
Exhibitionism – Growing up in a house where The Rolling Stones were regularly played on road trips (at volume!!) the Exhibitionism exhibition detailing the life and times of The Rolling Stones was a very interesting exhibition. While any exhibition about The Rolling Stones would be interesting the calibre of this exhibition was NEXT LEVEL, it was superbly laid out, interactive and struck the perfect balance between disseminating knowledge and just being entertaining! If anyone is going to make it to London before September 4th and likes The Rolling Stones (even a little bit) you MUST go to this exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery (Sloane Square tube station)!
Austentacious – As part of the Udder Belly festival in London, Austentacious was an improvised show in the style of Jane Austen. This was absolutely hilarious, the title that the cast were given was ‘Bridge of Flowers’ and from that alone they performed an hour long show that adhered to the traditional hamburger method of story telling and presented an entirely coherent story! DP, Annabel and I laughed our way through the show and all left completely awe struck by the talent of those performing.
Matilda – This was quite possibly one of my most favourite activities on this trip to London. An absolutely AMAZING show with seriously talented kids and adults, Roald Dahl’s story was brought to life (this time with music). While not wanting to give away any of the amazingness of the show all I will say is anyone going to London get to this show, you won’t regret it!
Kinky Boots – While this show had flashes of brilliance (primarily the OK GO! like dance scene) it took a while to get going… I think my disappointment in the show could partly be attributed to the fact that the male lead was meant to be a drippy character… The guy played this role to perfection.. In turn it made some of the show feel like quite laboured viewing!
Les Miserables – The only other time I saw Les Mis live was as a 13 year old watching a Rangi-Christ’s College production… I remember being completely astounded at the quality of the show and thinking it was one of the best things I had (and would) ever see(n). In comparison I watched the West End version of Les Mis and was impressed but didn’t leave with the same awestruck feeling I had as a 13 year old. While I do not think that the high school version of the show would have been better than the West End version I think I had just set very high standards for a West End show, particularly one that had been running for 30 years! The singing was incredible and the revolving stage was very clever but outside of that it sort of just felt like another show… It really does pain me to say that as I really wanted Les Mis to give me that same feeling I had 11 years ago!
Outside of the shows and exhibitions, I enjoyed numerous cups of coffee (from A Wanted Man in Chelsea), far too many cheese straws (from Gail’s) and countless other culinary delights from all over London (honourable mention to Wokit in the Borough Market (and just the Borough Market in general)). Seeing friends from high school and generally reacquainting myself with the city of London the time flew by.
With just over a week left in the UK and with Mum and Dad with a week left in the UK we had plans to visit family friends in Suffolk and then all go our separate ways. Unfortunately my sister, Alice had a very bad horse riding accident that left her with a broken femur, crushed pelvis, both collar bones broken, broken ribs and a punctured lung (and despite that rather horrifying list thankfully no brain or nerve damage). All plans were promptly put on hold with Alice’s health becoming the centre of attention – Mum and Dad were not getting back to NZ anytime soon!
Airlifted to Coventry Hospital she received some of the best orthopaedic care in the UK… While we were all thrilled she was receiving such wonderful medical attention our thrill at the location stopped there. Coventry is a city about 1 hour from Birmingham that is one of the most depressing places I have been to in the UK. Littered with off-licences, ladbrokes and betfreds the city is not one that is thriving in the 21st century, rather it appears to be one that is a Mecca for those on the dole.
Having spent four days in Coventry, the only really exciting activity I did there was spending a day sitting alongside a judge of the family court, getting an insight into the private realm of family law hearings. This was a very cool experience (especially as I got to sit at the bench, next to the Judge) and gave me a far greater insight into how a court case operates outside of District Court 1 in Christchurch. Hearing four cases, all of which concerned the welfare of a child or group of children I became enormously grateful for my upbringing in Christchurch and the sanity of both my parents!
As Alice’s drugs were pulled back her sense of humour began to return and we began to receive many more smiles. While she is still a long way from being up and running it is enormously reassuring to have moments where she acts like her normal self! Alice has also managed to give the nurses and doctors quite a lot of entertainment (not always in a good way)… Day one in the general ward (not trauma ward) Alice declared she wanted to sit in the chair, despite being told by Mum and the nurses that she couldn’t when left alone for 10 minutes Alice managed to manouvere herself from bed (with railing up!!!) to chair! Much to the astonishment of the staff… All this really confirmed to her family was that she has a very high pain threshold and is very stubborn!! She also performed a terrifying fainting routine when the physio had her out of bed. Just after saying she thought she should sit down for a bit she collapsed forward over her walked and onto the physio and nurse…. It was a lot of limbs falling! The physio declared she was relieved that for someone who was 6 foot tall she was so light, otherwise we could have been in real trouble!
Prior to going to Coventry, in the limbo phase between Alice’s fall and her operations I skipped off to Suffolk to stay with some of my favourite Poms Lucinda and Crispin (and their children Oscar and Claudia)… While only there for two nights they were superbly hospitable (as always) and entertained me with kayaking, swimming, biking, croquet and ping pong.
I now get to escape off to Budpest for a few days before returning to England to hang out with Mum, Dad and Alice a bit more!
Leaving my freeloading lifestyle (and not so coincidentally my parents) behind I departed Salzburg and headed north to Munich. One downside to the lack of parents was the lack of motor vehicle, so my backpack and I were delighted to discover that the hostel was only 3 minutes walk away from Munich’s central train station. This delight was however short-lived when I realised the area surrounding the train station appeared to be possibly the scungiest area of Munich… Filled with strip clubs, shisha bars and casinos it was not an area that I planned to spend anytime in barring resting my head! The hostel I was staying in was awful… Not particularly clean, very uncomfortable beds and full of gap students – it turns out, unless you are an 18 year old gap student and enjoy. (Despite the fact I used to be one and loved it, I have since discovered that to everyone else in the hostel gap students are an absolute pain in the ass!!)
Wandering through the streets of Munich with no real purpose I found the hippest of all hipster Cafes where a cup of tea is served not with tea leaves or a bag but instead with an actual twig of whatever tea you are having e.g. I had a Thyme tea… And was given a twig of thyme to hang in my tea!!!
Avoiding the hostel at all costs I wandered through much of the old city of Munich that evening, finally finding a delicious vegetarian restaurant for dinner where I splashed out on a fancy and delicious meal (for one)! Before walking back to the hostel and locking myself in my room for the evening with my headphones quite firmly planted in my ears.
With only one full day in Munich I was pretty set on learning about the city and seeing a fair bit… My day started with the best intentions… I ran round the English Gardens which were very nice and even saw some locals surfing on the river that runs through the gardens. I managed to talk to one of them and asked him if this was allowed and he said no, but the police and park rangers specifically avoid the area so they don’t have to tell them off so in that respect it kind of is allowed! Watching them surf on a river with a very strong current was very cool… Although as there were two concrete walls on either side of them I suspected that if I ever tried it I would end up unconscious and at the bottom of the river.
Leaving the hostel and walking through Munich’s Old City I attempted to join a free walking tour of Munich… Turns out you had to make a reservation, that I did not have, and therefore couldn’t get on the tour till the afternoon.
I therefore spent the morning walking around the city shopping and eating punnets of raspberries! The walking tour was great (and free!!) I learnt about both Munich’s medieval history and it’s role in WWII which was fascinating as I had never quite connected the dots that Munich was where Hitler rose to power from! My favourite stop on the walking tour was one of Munich’s WWII memorials of bronze cobbles on a street.
To explain the significance of this we will briefly diverge into WWII story time (feel free to skip this if you aren’t interested!)…
So, Hitler’s first attempt at taking control of the German Government occurred when he attempted the Beer Hall Putsch. Following Mussolini’s example in Italy (the March on Rome), Hitler decided to march from Munich to Berlin, gathering support as they went, with the intention of overthrowing the government when they got there by demonstrating that it was the will of the people that he be in charge. Things however didn’t go to plan… Hitler’s march on Berlin only covered about 1km through Munich before it was stopped by a police barricade. Shots were exchanged with 14 Nazis killed and 4 police. While Hitler had committed an act of treason which still carried the death penalty he was instead sentenced to 7 years in prison and only served 9 months of those (imagine how different history would be if his judge hadn’t been a Nazi sympathiser). Hitler then eventually rose to power through legal means (of elections) and once in power he erected a monument to the Nazis who died in the Putsch where the police barricade had been and two Nazi soldiers were stationed there. Every time someone walked past they had to perform the Nazi salute to the soldiers and if they failed to they could be shot, beaten up, imprisoned etc. Despite Hitler being the majority party only 32% of the German population had voted for him meaning that the majority of the country didn’t actually want him in power… This meant many people did not want to perform the Nazi salute. The cunning residents of Munich found a street which cut behind this monument and thus avoided performing the Nazi salute. These bronze cobblestones represent the silent resistance of many citizens of Munich to the Nazi party. (Note, the Nazis did eventually cotton on to this and ended up stationing a Nazi guard on this street as well who would punish people who repeatedly walked through here or who walked through here without a good enough excuse!
STORY TIME IS OVER!
Another very cool part of the tour was the daily markets in Munich (except Sunday), here you can buy fresh produce, meat, cheeses, olives etc basically everything you need for a Bavarian diet! There are also beer gardens within the markets. The end of the walking tour also signalled the end of my energy for wandering around and therefore the remainder of my evening in Munich was spent sitting in a park reading until I caught the overnight train to Rome.
Sleeper trains are great… As long as you don’t mind confined spaces! The ability to lie flat with a duvet etc is just wondrous when travelling for over 12 hours. Unfortunately my train ended up being nearly 2 hours late meaning I spent nearly 14 hours on the train, 2 of which were spent stuck in a tunnel at which point the fun really started to wear off (however anyone following me on snapchat will know that I still managed to make my own fun)!
When we finally arrived in Rome I ditched my bags at the hostel and began wandering. My lack of a sense of direction, or a plan meant that I walked a very long and roundabout route to everywhere that I went!
I stumbled upon this church on my walk… Despite the plain exterior the Catholics have spared no expense on the interior!! I revisited the Pantheon and the Colosseum which I definitely appreciated more the second time around… When I first went on my gap year it was more just box ticking than actually appreciating these places!
The architecture of the Romans is unbelievably sophisticated and considerate on many occasions e.g. In the Colosseum the steps are very steep as they wanted even the slaves to be able to see the arena and they had a pulley system which meant they could put up shade cloths for hot days… Seriously advance thinking for a society that considered slavery to be all good!
I also went to two museum exhibitions… Because when it’s 39 degrees museums and the AC they provide have SERIOUS appeal. The first exhibition I found by mistake was a Banksy exhibition. This was fantastic, over 150 pieces of his work and not at all crowded I wandered through enjoying the art and many quotes from Banksy…
As someone who has always considered his artwork to be cool but never really thought about it I came to appreciate the level of social commentary that his work provides and his ability to generate much needed conversations through street art.
In almost a complete reverse to Banksy the next exhibition I attended was a Barbie exhibition. This was also much more interesting that I anticipated, mainly because it intertwined history with the evolution of Barbie and explained how specific moments in time impacted on the creative direction of Barbie.
While all of this was fantastic, undoubtedly the best part of my day in Rome was meeting up with Mark, Tom, Josie, Charlie and Marc in the evening and going for dinner/drinks/sightseeing with tour guide Mark! Wandering through the streets of Rome in the evening with friends both new and old was amazing. We visited the Trevi Fountain where we saw a couple get engaged, we went to see the Colosseum lit up at night, and ate gelato from San Crispinos (the best gelato in the world).
While I do love travelling alone and the autonomy it gives me over what I do, being able to be with friends on the other side of the world appreciating pieces of art/architecture that are significantly older than the country we come from is probably one of the best things you can do!
Leaving Rome after only 24 hours (but a very busy 24 hours if you don’t mind me saying) we all headed to Florence where 19 of us were meeting for 3 nights of fun. Travel caused us a few headaches that day, with trains being missed, buses being impossible to find, taxi companies hanging up on us… It was a relief when we conned a maxi taxi driver into driving 8 of us the 20km out of town to Bivaglia meaning we not only made it to our destination but also had brief respite from the heat (we were all very sweaty from our failed attempts to leave the city).
Arriving in Bivaglia I quickly realised that there was very little chance of me actually going into Florence to do sightseeing over the course of the next few days. Settled in amongst the Tuscan hills, it is a small village with nothing to do except lie in the sun and, thanks to Josie’s good booking swim in the pool attached to one of the houses we had rented! While 15 people stayed in one location (the house with the pool), Jamo, Mark, Tom and I were 2km uphill in a separate AirBnB. While in the afternoon sun the walk at times seemed somewhat unbearable it was a completely manageable walk after a few too many wines at night when the sun had stopped harassing us for the day!
Our time in Bivaglia followed a happy pattern of slow starts in the mornings, with equally slow (but very hot) walks down to the other house where we would then spend the day lying by the pool eating fruit and chips with sporadic bursts of energy where we would all crowd into the pool either simply to cool off or play games ranging from shoulder wars to volleyball.
Our evenings involved revolved around two of Italy’s greatest contributions to the world… Wine and food. While two of the evenings we had a sort of pot luck at the main house the other night we went out for dinner in the town and more or less took over the entire restaurant (probably to the disappointment of other patrons) and turned it into our personal nightclub! Tearing through the town and returning to the main house we all jumped into the pool at 1am and had shoulder wars for about an hour before we finally felt cold and withdrew inside. (It’s at this point I should also mention that there were other people staying at this place… like the other restaurant patrons they probably considered our presence to be a bit of a deal breaker for their relaxing holiday).
My day of departure from Florence we headed into the city early as Mark and Tom had a train to catch. This gave me roughly 2 hours of sightseeing/eating in the big smoke! I straight to the Catterdrale de Santa Maria del Fiore which I instantly regretted not booking to go and see the inside of… It is a truly remarkable building with absolutely no expense spared on its exterior…
My hopes of going in were quickly dashed when I saw the line snaked nearly halfway around the cathedral… Which is an achievement given it took me over 5 minutes to wander around!! From there I strolled the streets and alleyways in search of what I was told was the best sandwich place ever… I was not disappointed. All’Antico Vinaio makes one hell of a sandwich, with ingredients so fresh the tomato is chopped as you order, I quite happily tucked into what is undoubtedly the best sandwich I have ever had (I was also surprised because normally I don’t like sandwiches that much but this was next level!)
Despite feeling a twinge of regret as I walked around Florence at my lack of city exploration over my time there I actually had some of the best four days of this whole trip. It was a bit of a luxury for me to not feel obliged to get up and go sightseeing early in the morning and “make the most of the day”… I feel like I really did make the most of this holiday by not doing a hell of a lot except making new friends (given that I only really knew 4/15 people before the trip). It was a hell of a good time and while my liver was certainly surprised by my wine consumption it stood up to the test very well!
Making it out of Florence by the skin of my teeth (due to a few disagreements between Google Maps and me) I made it back to England where I will spend the next few weeks!
Arriving late afternoon in Bad Ragaz, Switzerland, Mum and I were greeted by Dad, Alice and Miranda (while John was off caddying) at the train station and embarked on a somewhat tense and terrifying drive back to the hotel – Dad was still adjusting to driving on the right hand side of the road!! Bad Ragaz where we are staying is a very small town that appears to have two main tourist focuses… Golf, or spa/wellness retreats. As someone who is not a huge fan of either activity I was somewhat sceptical of what this trip would be like! I was however pleasantly surprised to find that the area is where the book Heidi is set and has plenty of beautiful walks and vistas to enjoy.
After an afternoon spent lying by the pool and generally enjoying the bliss that was our hotel we met John and Miranda for what I can only describe to be one of the best eating experiences of my life. The restaurant below John and Miranda’s hotel is incredible and we were treated to a three course meal of DELICIOUSNESS!! The set menu allowed for some individual discretion, we were able to select from a range of dishes what three we wanted.My entree was kingfisher sashimi with avocado (my descriptions will fail to describe the intricacies of the dishes as I did not write down what each involved)… Had I known just how good this was I would probably have just ordered it for all three courses! (The alternatives were a burratta (mozzarella cheese based entree with fresh fruit) or homemade noodles with mushrooms in a broth – I can confirm all were amazing (just not as good as mine).
For the main we had pan seared sea bass with artichokes and potatoes (again an unworthy written description). Yet again my tastebuds rejoiced as each mouthful reached their greedy little bud-like hands.
The alternative for the red meat eaters among us was venison with cherries and a celery purée/mash. I despise celery, the smell of it generally makes me gag a little but it turns out if you can purée/mash it to a mashed potato like consistency and make it as light as air I will love it! Seriously, more people need to start doing this with the vegetable!
The meal was concluded with either a cheese board (of very strong smelling cheeses) or, panna cotta with strawberries and a fresh baked almond cake. Although prior to the dessert arriving I thought I might be full, as soon as I had one mouthful of the dessert I realised I undoubtedly had room for the whole thing… The perfect amount of sweetness and richness combined in one dish!
The next morning, feeling the need to undo some of last night’s indulgences we all dutifully set off up a hill to Old Bad Pfäfers where the taminaschlucht or tamina gorge is. Bad Ragaz, where we are staying is really only a town that came into being because of a thermal gorge that is situated above it. While there is now a pipeline that brings water down to the spa resorts within Bad Ragaz in earlier years the sick used to be dragged up the hill to the bath and then lowered into the water where they would stay for 10 days. The water in the gorge is a constant 36.5 degrees and the belief was that the warm, moving water, would constantly wash over their bodies and rid them of toxins. Belief in the healing powers of this water continues to this day with many ill or injured persons making a sort of pilgrimage to the area for soak in the healing water e.g. Roger Federer. The walk follows a river that is nestled below towering cliffs and winds its way up to the tamina.
At the top, after paying our 5 Swiss Francs we walked a further 500m through quite a spooky gorge where the rocks hang directly over your head making you feel a little like you are walking into a horror movie set. Inside the gorge we were able to feel the water than people bath in but sadly couldn’t just climb into the bath (I think that costs a little more than 5 Swiss Francs).
Trying to exit the gorge Alice and I saw a big green casing around a red button which I assumed you pushed to get out the gate… No. After pushing it six times Miranda came running up behind us to tell us that was the emergency button… Whoops! Thankfully Miranda speaks German and was able to tell an appropriate person that there was no emergency just two stupid NZers.
After our walk the real excitement began… Miranda, Mum, Alice and I were off to Salzburg for a few nights, to pretend we were in the Sound of Music and sing our way through town! We we dropped at the Bad Ragaz train station where we were told we had to buy our ticket to Salzburg from the next town over Sargans which was conveniently only 4 minutes by train. After running for the train to Sargans we made it to the town only to be told it would be 350 Swiss Francs, one way for the four of us to go! We immediately ruled the trip out as extortionately expensive. Abandoning Salzburg and feeling a bit peckish we took our bags for a walk into the Mecca of Sargans for lunch and a look around. 600m from the train station we found a restaurant that had quite a few full tables of locals (although there would be nothing other than locals as I don’t think any overseas tourists have EVER visited that town before) so obviously it would have good Swiss food. Clearly all those locals are lacking in tastebuds, the food we served was almost exclusively yellow (hints of brown in my case due to mushrooms and for Alice due to her bolognaise) and not very exciting. Nevertheless we were determined to have a good time! Conning the restaurant into letting us keep our bags there we set off to see the sights of Sargans. It turns out Sargans has one sight to see, it’s Schloss or castle, and if you ever find yourself in the town I can tell you now, it’s not really worth seeing!
Our final stop in the tourist hub of Sargans was a lovely little chocolate and ice cream shop with a delightful outdoor seating area that looked at a road, was beside a rubbish bin and a dead bush and had a particularly smelly rubbish bin! Collecting our bags we took them for a final walk through town before boarding the 4 minute train back to Bad Ragaz where we then got to walk our bags in the rain… BLISS!
Renting electric bikes in Bad Ragaz we went exploring through surrounding villages (and even a country… Liechtenstein). Despite my initial resistance to renting electric bikes it is fair to say that they made everybody’s day far more enjoyable! We were able to bike uphill to a small town for coffee and then traverse the hillside to Leichtenstein and then bike back along the Rhine River to Bad Ragaz.
The day however was not without it’s navigational mishaps… We took quite a few wrong turns, including one that led us onto rather soft sand which the bikes were certainly NOT designed for. This momentarily brought our cycle tour to a halt!! We found a delicious restaurant called Restaurant Adler in Fläsch. where we ate prawns (somewhat concerning considering the landlocked nature of Switzerland), stinging nettle soup, asparagus soup, homemade pasta with chanterelle mushrooms and homemade chocolates/sweets.
We spent a day in the very beautiful capital city of Zurich. With intermittent downpours we spent the day eating, drinking coffee and roaming the streets. Zurich was having some sort of festival that day and the streets were littered with food stalls as well as events like dragon boating occurring and a waterslide running down one of the streets! The people of Zurich were clearly not letting the rain stop them from having a good time!
Mum, Miranda and I also took the telecabin up Pizol, one of the ski fields in the area. Taking the chairlift all the way to the top of the mountain we found we were possibly slightly under-prepared. While others put their crampons on and pulled out their walking sticks we fumbled around on the loose rocks and snow and quickly decided that perhaps we should go back down to the lower level and go walking there!
We ended up walking the Heidi Trail which was very beautiful and very clearly targeted at kids! All around the trail were playgrounds and activities for children like sack racing! As the clouds cleared the views were beautiful, looking down over the valley to towns like SARGANS, Bad Ragaz and Fläsh.
We stopped for lunch at a cafe with a woman playing the accordion, and were treated to the “traditional” Swiss way of singing happy birthday… First in English, then German, then in a very racially offensive “Chinese” which involved them all pulling at the corners of their eyes and singing, to the tune of happy birthday, “Ching Chong Ching Chong”. Mum and I could not believe what we were seeing!!!
Leaving Bad Ragaz we headed to Salzburg, which may well be my favourite city to date. The drive to Salzburg was spectacular, mostly through mountains and ski fields we were treated to what I assume is some of the best of the Swiss/German/Austrian/Leichtensteinian countryside! Stopping in the very sleepy ski town of Sankt Anton for lunch (so sleepy nearly everything was closed) we enjoyed our first truly Barvarian/Austrian meal… A menu heavy with meat and sauerkraut there was somewhat limited (but tasty) pickings for a pescatarian (vegeaquarium)! We made it to Salzburg with next to no confusion, barring one closed road… Ahhh the beauty of GPS! Salzburg is a beautiful city that is easy to navigate and has very efficient public transport, Mum, Miranda and I had a glorious time roaming the streets while Dad and John played golf. The centre of the old city is nearly exclusively a pedestrian area, making it a lovely place to walk. Moreover, there are very strict limitations on how shops can advertise themselves meaning you could walk past a McDonalds or Zara and not realise what it was because their signs blend so perfectly with the architecture of the city!
The two highlights of the trip to Salzburg were undoubtedly going to the Red Bull Hangar and the Fräulein Maria Sound of Music bike tour! The Red Bull Hangar has a seriously impressive array of planes, cars, motorbikes and other motorised inventions that would be a petrol head’s wet dream.
On top of this it has one of the coolest bars/restaurants I have been to, on a scorching hot evening we sat outside under shade drinking and eating delicious food! The menu is simple as is the mode of ordering and I am certain that regardless of the group there would be something on the menu for everyone.
Despite inclement weather the Sound of Music biking tour was a lot of fun… With singing, sightseeing and a tour guide who enjoyed re-enacting scenes from the Sound of Music I was in heaven! Especially when I was given the speaker and phone so I could play the soundtrack which we biked (and obviously sing-a-long)!
As well as being a sing-a-long we were given lots of great fun facts about the film itself such as…
Christopher Plumber was quite regularly a bit drunk on set and that he gained a lot of weight during filming and his costume had to be refitted.
That Marta (the youngest child) also gained a lot of weight during filming, this was because during filming to placate her they would feed her a lot of chocolate and pretzels, therefore in the final scene where they are escaping over the alps there is a body double used who is lighter than the actress.
There were also a lot of examples of Julie Andrews being very clumsy!
For anyone heading to Salzburg I would 100% recommend both of these activities as a way to see parts of Salzburg you may otherwise miss.. And have a thoroughly good time doing it!
Yet again arriving on the Amalfi Coast was like being transported to another completely different world. Mum and I have gone to the Amalfi Coast for 8 days of unguided walking – this means we are given the maps and route instructions but don’t have to deal with any group activities or guides, our hotels are also all organised and our big bags are transported for us (talk about living the high life!).
We started our 8 days on the coast in Ravello, high up on a hill overlooking the sea and seaside towns like Maiori and Minori. Our late arrival into Ravello on Sunday night/Monday morning meant that we took day one very easy. Wandering into the town we found a local sight to see called Villa Rufolo while the villa used to house a wealthy Italian family from the thirteenth century it is now open to the public and has a maze of beautiful gardens and courtyards. Of particular interest to us was the erection of rather a large stage overlooking the sea – it turns out that every year an orchestra plays at the villa as part of the Rufolo Festival.
After debating how to spend our day we decided to start one of our walks. This walk went from Ravello through Atrani to Amalfi. Knowing that between us we had no natural homing pigeon sense of direction or the ability to read a map, we favoured the written directions and hoped they would be sufficient to get us by (well that and asking people where to go). The walk to Atrani and Amalfi followed the coastline and involved us walking down a lot of steps alongside lemon and olive groves. It was the perfect day for it, not particularly hot but with a lot of sunshine so the sea was sparkling! The walk took us all of an hour and a half (with a stop for a cappuccino along the way). Once in Amalfi we were immediately amongst hordes of tourists and beach goers – we quickly realised that not being by the beach made a big difference to how busy a location is.
We stayed in Amalfi for lunch and returned to Ravello by bus in the afternoon. Enjoying the quiet of our town we chose to spend the afternoon lazing by the pool. Venturing into the town for dinner we had an enjoyable evening watching the locals and tourists go by and eating pizza!
The next day we unwittingly ended up on a guided tour of Pompeii… We thought we were just sharing transportation there! While our guide had a grating voice that assaulted our ear drums on the bus and through Pompeii via individual radios with earpieces, she was very knowledgable and was able to shortcut the queue to get us tickets… So it wasn’t all bad. Pompeii really is amazing, as a town that has been completely preserved thanks to volcanic ash meaning that where frescoes and mosaics haven’t been uplifted to museums you can see them as they would have been in 79AD.
The city remains themselves are marvellous and do exemplify Roman intelligence when you see things like how they heated public baths or dealt with their lack of sewage system (through stepping stones). Mum also thought that the plaster casts of humans and animals alike would be an excellent way to preserve your family if you were that way inclined!
We were also fortunate that presently there is a sculpture exhibition on inside Pompeii by the deceased Igor Mitoraj. 30 large-scale sculptures depicting imposing mythological characters sit beautifully within the Roman remains and in my opinion enhance the experience of Pompeii.
The one downside to our trip to Pompeii however was undoubtedly the heaving mass of humans that were there with us – we were informed by our guide that Tuesday is a bad day to go as the cruise ships come in on that day. Due to the business of Pompeii we didn’t get back to Ravello until 2:30 at which point exhausted by our guide we chose to repeat the previous day’s afternoon and evening routine of lazing by the pool before venturing into the town to watch the world go by over dinner!
Stealing rolls, fruit and hard boiled eggs from breakfast we left Ravello behind ready for what we were told was 4.5-5 hours of walking. Departing Ravello and bound for Amalfi our guide told us we were to go via Pontone, Torro Dello Ziro, and Valle dei Mullini to Amalfi. Despite some discrepancies between the directions we were given and the actual route we successfully navigated our way to all these places. The walk to Pontone was just a lot of stairs and views of the sea. We then walked down to Torro Dello Ziro this gave us an excellent view of the coastline and the ability to see Atrani and Amalfi from above.
From there we returned to Pontone for our cappuccino in the very small town square. Walking out of the town we came across a few unusual wee walkway decorations… Our favourite was a mini village built into a wall which was about 4 metres long and filled with endless ‘daily life’ scenes!
Walking from Pontone to the Valle dei Mullini was like being transported to into some sort of fairytale set. Surrounded by bush and a river we came across numerous waterfalls and ruins.
Walking into the nature reserve and along a path – that was meant to take us half an hour to reach the end – I was adamant the path couldn’t end when it did as it hadn’t taken us long enough and climbed up and around a waterfall insisting that this was a path. Mum was not so sure and hung back… Sure enough she was right! My path was 100% out of bounds as a local guide who found us informed us!
I slid my way back down the rocks and returned to the beaten path with my tail between my legs. Reaching Amalfi within 3 hours we realised we had a lot more free time than anticipated. Anxious to use it wisely we first lay on our beds using wifi and then went down to the beach where we lay reading and eavesdropping on other people’s conversations all afternoon. Mum also managed to pick our some lovely eligible bachelors for me… However I feel that in her desperation for grandchildren she has really lowered her standards.
Our next walk was up from Amalfi to Scala, Valle Delle Ferriere and Pogerola, returning to Amalfi. While one option was to take the bus to Scala and walk from there, the alternative was to walk up. The instructions said the walk was very steep and had a lot of steps… I can now confirm that walk is very steep and does involve a lot of steps. I convinced Mum that we were being pathetic if we didn’t walk up and more or less bullied her into the walk. While I think she was silently cursing me as we walked up what felt like 1,000 flights of stairs she said she was happy we had done it at the end of the day.
From Scala we walked into the nature reserve of Valle Delle Ferriere, the same place we walked the day before only this time much higher up. Walking along rocky paths below towering cliffs it was hard to believe we were within 5km of the Amalfi coastline, it looked like a mountainous village.
As we walked deeper into the Valley the path’s surroundings became denser and greener, giving us much needed shelter from the beating sun. As this occurred the path became much narrower and more overgrown with some of our navigation being done on a gut feeling as opposed to following a clear path.The “stairs” we were climbing also became more what I would describe as boulders to scramble up!
Despite some guesswork we successfully navigated all the way into the valley and all the way out!
Our descent took us to the village of Pogerola where we stopped for a bite of lunch and a brief rest of the legs before tackling some more stairs. Our final afternoon in Amalfi was once more spent lazing on the beach and our evening spent moving from restaurant to restaurant on the Main Street watching the holidaymakers go by.
A note on holidaymakers:
Holidaymakers are strange humans, who wear very strange clothes. Nearly everyone around us had made an effort to dress for dinner (not a habit I ever intend to indulge in on a regular basis) – their choice of outfit may range from a 60-something year old woman wearing denim short shorts with a strappy singlet and stilletos to some sort of unflattering dress with an horrific floral pattern on it. Alternately girls my age might opt for either the skin tight strapless minidress that shows off their latest tan lines or perhaps a maxi dress and a full face of make up. Turning now to the men, while most of them favour chinos and a shirt and therefore cannot go too far wrong others try to look like the cool dad on holiday and have some ghastly printed t shirt paired with a pair of cargo shorts and travel sandals… A look their dolled up wives certainly have not approved.
While Mum and I have a fabulous time watching these people and guessing how everyone is connected and what their conversations are I am sure they see us go by and think (at least of me, Mum not so much) “oh god how could she leave the house like that, shorts and a t-shirt appalling… And has she even done her hair? What an embarrassment she would be to have as a daughter.”
Anyway… As far as people watching goes Amalfi is a wonderful place.. However not one I would race back to. Ravello, where we were, and Praiano where we are now are much quieter places with equally spectacular views but far less hype!
Between Japan and walking the Amalfi Coast I managed to squeeze in 48 hours in London. A large portion of the weekend was spent around mum’s friend Gina’s kitchen table cuddling her grandson Jaspar and throwing tennis balls for the dog dangermouse.
My visit to London was very well-timed as it coincided with one of my very best friends giving birth to a beautiful baby boy. So, arriving in London on Friday afternoon I quickly went to the hospital to surprise her and give her son the first of many, many cuddles. Being able to surprise Steph at the hospital was awesome, she looked so very confused at my arrival saying “but you’re in Dubai” before coming to terms with the fact that we (her parents, partner and myself) had all pulled the wool over her eyes.
From the hospital I had another wonderful moment, being able to see my Mum. While seeing her had been somewhat overshadowed by the chance to meet Austin and see Steph, as soon as I saw Mum I was very pleased that she was in England too! We then went out to a delicious Japanese restaurant in Chelsea called Kurobuta – this was a sort of modern Japanese restaurant where the food was recognisably Japanese but not how they would serve it in Japan!
The next day I ventured out round Battersea Park early in the morning as an attempt to fill in the time due to my very early wake up!
The rest of the day was filled walking around Chelsea and South Kensington with Mum and her friend and going to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The V&A had an excellent exhibition on about the History of Underwear – there were some extraordinary exhibits, such as the corset for golf, cycling and tennis or the more modern dominatrix style lingerie.
After looking through the exhibition, Mum and I met Gina and her friend for lunch in the V&A restaurant. An amazing restaurant set in three rooms decorated by William Morris, the food was varied and delicious leading to an enjoyable long lunch.
Tiring in the late afternoon, potentially due to jet lag, I convinced Mum to go to Me Before You at the local cinema. We sobbed our way through and went down to the pub for dinner with rather puffy eyes. I made a rookie error at The Pig’s Ear and ordered quinoa for dinner… Not a pub specialty!! Mum and Gina made a much wiser decision ordering fish, something that was actually well cooked as opposed to my quinoa.
My final day in my short visit to London was an endless stream of catch ups over food and coffee. Starting with breakfast at A Wanted Man in Chelsea with Mum and Gina where I had a delicious bowl of porridge, this melted into coffee at the same location with two friends from NZ and then I moved on to lunch at Gail’s in Battersea Square with my sister and mother and some friends who live in England. Good company and good food is an enormously enjoyable way to spend a day!
Mum and I headed to Gatwick in the evening and despite delays did eventually make it to Ravello in Italy where we will spend the next 8 days walking the Amalfi Coast… Ahhhh what a life I lead!!
Of all the places I have been in Japan, I would have to say that Osaka is the only one I wouldn’t race back to. Lacking the excitement of Tokyo and the history, culture and beauty of Hiroshima and Kyoto, it really did just seem like a big city and not much else. In fact, were it not for Universal Studios I may not have even lasted 24 hours in the city. There is however a chance that I am selling the city short, Osaka is the place I did the least research on – so maybe had I been more diligent I would have got a lot more out of my trip.
Arriving at lunch I checked into my hostel (where everything was so low I had to duck to enter and exit every room) and ventured out to Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi. Dotonbori used to be the theatre district of Osaka, while it continues to hold theatres it is also a street alive with food vendors and tourist shops. Walking through here was very fun as there were numerous jingles for the food vendors and people yelling at you trying to entice you into either their restaurant or shop (almost like being back in India).
While here I tucked into some unnecessary but delicious takoyaki (octopus balls) as this is considered to be one of Osaka’s local dishes.
From Dotonbori I walked through Shinsaibashi. This is the main shopping area of Osaka and has an area called Amerika-mura which is similar to Shimakitazawa in Tokyo – full of young people and second hand shops. Not particularly interested in shopping I used the area more as a time filler and from there walked to Umeda where the HEP 5 Ferris Wheel is. I have realised that I really enjoy seeing cities from a height – so given the short amount of time I had in Osaka the Ferris wheel was the perfect solution.
It was at this point that I realised I didn’t really have a lot of interest in Osaka, as I looked out across the city it struck me that it really was just a big city where people go about their daily lives.
Waking up early the next morning I ditched my bags in a locker at the train station and headed to Universal Studios Japan. This was a great time!
Universal Studios, much like Disneyland is a place where you would have to actively try to be angry or sad to not have fun there – in part because the rides are awesome, but also because everyone around you is shrieking with joy that it is somewhat contagious! I straight away headed for the roller coasters and to my delight discovered there was a “singles” line for those of us who either didn’t have friends or didn’t care if they went on the ride with their friends. Before 11:30am I was able to get through the three most popular rides with very limited wait times (in comparison to everyone else) – being single was an excellent outcome it turned out!
From there I went to Harry Potter World – this was what I was really excited about!! You enter Hogwarts through Hogsmeade and can go into all the shops and restaurants that the books talk about. Initially I was slightly disappointed… However I then realised that was because I was expecting the magic to be real haha… I really did think that all the amazing creations J.K. Rowling dreamt up would actually exist! Once I lowered my expectations to not expecting real magic I had a much better time!
There were only two rides in Harry Potter world – one which was a 4D experience where you flew through Hogwarts with Harry and played quidditch… Which was AWESOME! And the other where you went on what was really a roller coaster for children called Flight of the Hippogriff (this was average).
Going on a few more rides I left the park and headed to Tokyo at 3pm… Deciding that I would rather get back to Tokyo and do things there than stick around in Osaka.
My last day in Tokyo (and Japan) was spent with me trying to make myself really tired so that I would sleep on the flight home. This started with a run round the Imperial Palace and then stuffing myself full of vegemite toast (lucky I am leaving Japan as I finished my vegemite on the last day). I then went to the National Museum of Nature and Science – this was actually really cool (although much bigger than I anticipated!). They had a 360 degree movie experience that took us through the plate formation of the earth and also the evolution of sea creatures.. While everything was in Japanese it was still awesome to watch. The rest of the museum was very interactive and had some very impressive displays of birds, insects, animal skeletons and technological advances. While I wish I had got an audio guide for the museum (as I would have understood a lot more) even just seeing everything was cool. I spent my last afternoon in Japan in Shibuya, stuffing my face with sushi… I would have to say I don’t think sushi will ever be the same after Japan, something which I may need to seek counselling about.
I was very sad to leave Japan, while India was an experience (and one I immensely enjoyed), Japan was a place where I could actually see myself living. At least leaving I know that I am coming back in August/September to climb Mt Fuji with Ben and have the final two weeks of my trip in an amazing country!!!
Despite some difficulties in getting to Kyoto (due to my own stupidity) I did eventually make it. Two steps out of the train station, laden with bags, downpour commenced. Somewhat demoralised about the prospects of sightseeing in the rain I checked into my capsule for the evening and intended to wait out the rain by reading in my coffin/capsule.
One massive downside to capsule bedding (other than the obvious coffin like feel) is you have absolutely no idea what is going on in the outside world. This only occurred to me when I realised I had been reading for 2 hours and there was a good chance that the rain had subsided. As it was now evening I wandered down the road to the Gion district, this is where all the geishas are. Much to my disappointment I saw only one geisha in full garb and she was practically running through the area – either to escape people like me, or because she was running late. The district used to house geishas, while some buildings continue to do so, most have been converted into restaurants – this really destroys any romance about the area and instead makes it feel like you are in a tourist trap.
From Gion I walked through Yasaka Shrine. The shrine complex was very peaceful at this time as most tourists had departed so I had nearly the whole place to myself.
The Yasaka Shrine didn’t hold any particular interest for me, rather it was a way of filling in the evening.
My second day in Kyoto was far more exciting. I started the day with a run around Kyoto’s Imperial Palace – I have realised not only is running a great way to see a city, it’s also a really good way to work out if something is actually worth visiting. The Palace is only open 2 days a year and the gardens are not particularly exciting so it’s not somewhere I would recommend someone visit unless they are looking for a relatively shady running spot! I then proceeded to dump my belongings at Piece Hostel Sanjo where I would spend the next two nights (I mention the name because it is an awesome hostel – highly recommend) and headed to the aquarium. Now, I am aware the aquarium may seem like a strange choice of tourist attractions in a city steeped with as much history and culture as Kyoto but there was a reason. A friend from NZ, Mikey was in Kyoto and really wanted to go to the aquarium and see the dolphin show. The aquarium was actually a thoroughly good time, despite the fact we were the only adults there without children. There were numerous weird and wonderful sea creatures and the dolphin show was very cool (if you can put concerns about the mammals aside).
Renting bikes from across the road we then headed to Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine – a classic tourist spot in Kyoto it was heaving with humans. One good thing about this shrine however is to appreciate all the Torii that lead to the inner shrine you must walk up a hill – this means that as you walk further and further up the crowds tend to dissipate.
Mikey and I walked to the top… Twice, as the first time we didn’t realise we had reached the top, upon realising this we went back to the top to appreciate what everyone was coming for. I have to say, the top is very poorly sign posted and lacks any view of the city (which you get from lower down), so, it is really easy to miss!
After descending the hill we took off on our bikes again down by the river and spent the remainder of the afternoon just biking round Kyoto and stopping for a bite to eat here and there. Mikey and I parted company and I checked into my hostel. To my delight I discovered
My bunk bed was massive
There was a takoyaki making party on that night!
Takoyaki is a Japanese dish – also known as octopus balls – a personal favourite of mine. They are made from an egg batter and have octopus, shrimp, spices, and herbs in them. The batter is spooned into a hot plate that looks like a golf ball mould and from there you simply add the other ingredients and gradually turn the balls so the cook right through and form a round shape.
The evening slipped by in a blur of cooking and eating alongside a Chilean man and a Kiwi couple.
Rising early I headed to Daimonjiyama, a hill that overlooks Kyoto, to do an activity that would not be quite so full of tourists. Walking to the top took all of about 25 minutes and was relatively steep, however, had you only seen the Japanese people walking up you would have thought it was an expedition similar to reaching the summit of Everest, hiking poles, boots and camelbacks appeared to be standard issue. The view from the top was awesome, and really should have given me fair warning about how big Kyoto was (this was not something I realised when I rented a bike and planned the rest of my day’s activities).
After a quick shower I once more rented a bike and headed across town to the Bamboo Forest… What my map told me was an 8km bike ended up being more like 14km due to my inability to read a map/follow instruction and relentless, unfounded, confidence in my own sense of direction. The Bamboo Forest was beautiful but somewhat underwhelming… You are not given free reign to walk through bamboo as you please, rather you are confined to a path that is filled with other tourists.
From the Bamboo Forest I took yet another scenic route through the burbs of Kyoto (eventually) to Kinkau-Ji (or the Golden Shrine). Yet again, hordes of tourists surrounded me (it’s like I’m one of them or something)… Being a solo adventurer is quite useful sometimes as I was able to slip through the crowds and push my way to the front of the viewing area with ease. The Golden Shrine really is pretty spectacular, set atop a lake that is teeming with life it sparkles pretty ferociously in the sunlight!
A group of school kids from Tokyo approached me while I was at the Shrine and with their teacher standing behind them they dutifully asked me questions about where I was from, where I had been in Kyoto and if I liked Japan. All looking terribly embarrassed to ask me questions they were absolutely mortified when their over-excited teacher asked me to walk around the shrine with them so the students could practice their English. While the teacher’s intention was for the students to translate what their guide was saying about the Temple to me it really ended up with the teacher walking around doing 90% of the translation and quizzing me about NZ along the way.
A short ride downhill and I found the Kyoto Museum for World Peace. This was an amazing museum, despite nearly the entire place being in Japanese I was given a very informative audio guide in English.The museum detailed many of Japan’s war crimes from 1931 – 1945 as well as those of America. It then proceeded to examine the Cold War and modern regional conflicts. Finally, it contained a brief exhibition about ways we can act towards world peace in everyday life. I was most impressed by the balanced account given by the museum and the clearly very conscious decision not to shy away from responsibility for some of the atrocities committed in the past. The Museum was also holding a World Press Photo exhibition at the time – which always makes for good viewing.
En route back to returning my bike I stopped in at my old favourite (from Sakata) Kappa Sushi where I rewarded myself for a busy day of sightseeing and biking by stuffing myself full of sushi. I then promptly returned to my hostel where exhausted and fit to burst from so much sushi I went into a very happy food coma for the night.
My final morning in Kyoto was spent running alongside the river and attempting barefoot running – an activity I am certain would be frowned upon by the Japanese given that they have separate indoor, outdoor and bathroom shoes… I just don’t think barefoot running would be their style!