Browsing Tag

Asia

The Adventure

Hong Kong

My heart was heavy as we departed Japan. It is one of my favourite places in the world, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the 3 week stay.

Our flight to Hong Kong aboard Cathay Pacific was absolutely fantastic. The crew were faultless during the 4 hour flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong. Teddy and Harriet slept most of the way and Abi watched movies quietly on her ipad.

IMG_3251

IMG_3292

IMG_3252

IMG_3293

IMG_3294

James and I chatted in my “pod” seat, in disbelief at how quickly the trip is moving along and that our time in Asia was almost complete.

IMG_3271

Hello Hong Kong. Land of the skyscrapers, neon lights, chaotic traffic, narrow streets, expensive shopping, markets, food, and people. My lord, the people!

Our 1 week stay in Hong Kong was never intended to be one of sight-seeing and a busy schedule. Instead, we chose to have some down time before trekking to Europe. My mother-in-law flew up from Sydney to visit us. We surprised the kids with her arrival and they were thrilled to see her, to see someone from home. I was so grateful to have a night off, while my mother-in-law generously minded the kids in our apartment. James and I walked down to Elgin Street and dined in a cute little Mexican cantina with oversized margaritas and pulled pork burritos.

IMG_3341

Our 2 bedroom apartment on Caine Road in the Mid-Levels was absolutely brilliant. It was our first property we rented using Air BnB and we definitely scored the jackpot first time around. The views of the city were dynamic and changed every hour with the several light shows that rotate around the island and harbour. The kids shared a double bedroom and laid in bed every night, watching the lights twinkle and flash, something I hope they don’t forget too soon.

IMG_3529

IMG_3190

I made several meals for the kids, who were craving home cooked cuisine like the classic beef tacos and spaghetti bolognese. The supermarkets had most items we needed yet priced quite ridiculously.

James and the kids ventured for a swim one morning at the Four Seasons with my mother-in-law while I minded Harriet in her room at the hotel.

IMG_3308

IMG_3317

Even though we had visited both of the Disney parks in Japan, we decided to visit Disneyland Hong Kong as well. My mother-in-law was very excited by this, a thrill seeker at heart she is. It was stinking hot, the humidity was through the roof and the crowds were considerable. The park is much smaller than California and Japan but the kids enjoyed the day nonetheless. A separate post will have more details of our day.

We caught the Star Ferry most days, to and from Kowloon to explore the promenade and goliath malls that sit atop. You wouldn’t believe the crowds we experienced on the weekends, and quite pushy tourists at that.

IMG_3455

One morning, James and my mother-in-law took Abi and Teddy over to Stanley and Repulse Bay for some browsing of the markets and sightseeing along the boardwalk. James commented that they endured quite the taxi ride there which lasted 30 minutes along windy, narrow streets which often are only wide enough for 1 car to pass. Sounds like I picked a good morning to stay home and catch up on the washing!

IMG_3233 IMG_3244 IMG_3248

I decided to colour my hair like a mermaid, as Abi said. My green hair sure stood out amongst the Chinese locals. Some smiled, others looked on in horror.

IMG_3510

James attended a Venture Capital Summit for a day and enjoyed being submersed in the local professional community. We had planned to give Hong Kong a test run to see if it could be a suitable place for expatriation but James and I are unsure it would be a good fit for our family.

Our generous host let us occupy the apartment until 8pm at night when our driver collected us for a transfer to the airport. We had a short wait in the new Qantas lounge while we tried to tire out the children before the 12 hour flight to London Heathrow. The staff were fantastic and kept the kids entertained while James and I sat nervously, hoping the flight would go quickly with no hiccups.

IMG_3537

We finally boarded our flight BA26 bound for Heathrow at 11:00pm local time and settled into our pods. The cabin was only 1/2 full which was fantastic but we really lucked out with a lazy and uninspiring crew. Ted had an almighty tantrum as we were taxing down the runway but finally fell asleep upon take-off and did not wake until 1 hour before landing in London. I seriously could not have planned it better myself, what a champion little traveller. Harriet slept almost as long, Abi struggled to sleep. I guess she is like me, who struggles to sleep on planes, even in the nicest of surroundings. We had several bouts of heavy turbulence which kept my heart racing for a few hours.

IMG_3540

As we landed in London at 4:15am local time, the sun shone through the airport windows and I was so excited to be in Europe again. As one door closes, another one opens.

IMG_3569

The Adventure

Tokyo Disneyland

A huge day for each and every one of us. We packed our bags and said our farewells to Kyoto. Boarding our final bullet train in Japan, we decided to spend our last day in Japan at Disneyland. The kids were so excited, it was hard to keep them quiet for the entire morning.

We arrived at JR Tokyo Station and transferred lines to the local subway bound for Disneyland. We were blessed with great weather, a cool breeze with a little sun and low humidity. I was a happy girl!

IMG_3150

Rides were ridden. Chocolate ice-cream sandwiches were shared. Churros were devoured. And we smiled and laughed all afternoon. Sure, it’s a little over the top, and expensive, but you only have a few times in your life to enjoy days like these, so we relished in every moment. The kids loved the parade that weaves around the park. Ted waved furiously at his favourite characters while Abi was a little more timid. She was thrilled to see Mary Poppins make an appearance though.

IMG_3239

I had previously been warned by a local Japanese friend to avoid Disneyland on the weekend and she wasn’t wrong with her advice. I have never seen a crowd like we witnessed that day. Most rides had a 60-90 minute wait, even the not so great rides. Fastpasses for the better rides were long sold out by the time we arrived. We made the most of it and managed to ride on the favourites like Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s a Small World, the spinning teacups, Autotopia and the mini rocket ships.

IMG_3173

IMG_3238

We had many people ask for photos with the kids and at one point as Pluto was posing with Abi, we were swarmed by locals, taking more pictures of us than of Pluto. It was quite surreal.

IMG_3242

We bought huge oversized character hats and wore them with pride. A quick walk home to our hotel meant the kids were tucked into bed at a reasonable hour before our transfer to Haneda Airport the next morning at 7am.

IMG_3146

Sayonara Japan, Ni Hao Hong Kong!

 

The Adventure

Kyoto Part II

My favourite day in Kyoto started like every other morning in Japan. A collective, family sleep in followed by a slow walk to the buffet breakfast. The children loved eating fruits, blueberry yoghurt, eggs and fresh croissants. Early in the afternoon, we took a cab to the southern part of the city to visit the most amazing shrine I have ever seen.

Fushimi Inari Shrine is an important shinto shrine, famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.

We were not prepared for the absolute beauty of this place. We were spoiled too in that it was completely deserted for our entire visit, a rarity in Japan! We passed only a handful of tourists along the walk, but for the most part, the only sounds we heard were the animals in the bushland, a stream running through the track and the sounds of bodies, breathing heavily as we climbed the steps through the torii gates.

IMG_3024

IMG_3057

IMG_3047

IMG_2956

IMG_2921

Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion is a zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Formally known as Rokuonji, the temple was the retirement villa of a shogun. Kinkakuji is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond. It has burned down numerous times throughout its history including twice during the Onin War, a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto; and once again more recently in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.

IMG_3131  IMG_2976

IMG_3117

On our last night in Kyoto, we visited the Yasaka Shrine. Also known as Gion Shrine, this is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. Founded over 1350 years ago, the shrine is located between the popular Gion District and Higashiyama District and is often visited by tourists walking between the two districts.

IMG_3146

The shrine’s main hall combines the honden (inner sanctuary) and haiden (offering hall) into a single building. In front of it stands a dance stage with hundreds of lanterns that get lit in the evenings. Each lantern bears the name of a local business in return for a donation.

IMG_3017

IMG_3042

IMG_3027

IMG_3070

6 days just seemed to fly past. Our visit was short but enjoyed immensely by the entire family. I will have to visit Kyoto again, I was so drawn to the senses of this city. Next time, I want to rent a house and ride bikes around the flat streets and get lost in the back alleys that zig zag this amazing little part of Japan.

The most important part of our time in Kyoto was that Harriet officially mastered walking. She finally had the courage to let go of the walls and just do it. We are all so proud of her and ever since, she is seeing the world from a much higher prospective on 2 legs instead of all fours.

More to come from our last day in Japan, spent at none other than Disneyland!

xo

 

The Adventure

Kyoto Part 1

I don’t think my heart was prepared for all the beauty of Kyoto. I really connected with the city, and felt at ease during our visit there.

After a quick trip on the bullet train from Hiroshima, we arrived at our hotel and unpacked in our suite. We were really spoiled with our accommodation at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto. I know sometimes a room is just a room, but when you are travelling with 3 small kids, it’s nice to have some of the extras included that a 5 star hotel offers.

IMG_2960

IMG_2962

The children slept in a separate tatami room in the suite, and every night the staff would come in and prepare the futons and doonas on the beautiful straw room floor. The smell of the straw tatami was sublime. James and I had a double bed each which was a welcome change after we had tiny, single beds for over a week in Tokyo.

The city is famous for its impressive list of shrines and temples, over 2000 in total. On our 1st night, we decided to have an early dinner in the hotel and the kids enjoyed fresh wood fired pizza while I relished in a plain salad, something I had been craving for weeks after eating rice and noodles.

We decided to tackle the most famous temple first, Kiyomizu-dera, translation, the Pure Water Temple. It is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto and derives its name from the fall’s pure waters. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Buddhism but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO Heritage Sites. 

We hiked 2kms from our hotel to the gates of the shrine which then involved an 800m hill climb up a narrow little street with cars and tourist buses whizzing past. Add the humidity and lack of breeze to the mix and by the top of the hill, we were all covered in sweat but were rewarded with beautiful views over the city.

The shrine was so unbelievable crowded with tourists and school children, it was hard to appreciate the surroundings.

IMG_2987

We were swarmed by local Japanese girls who wanted to look at the children and take photos. After 2 weeks in Japan, this didn’t phase the kids all too much.

IMG_2909

IMG_2895

At the temple, James and I blessed each other and the children and asked for good health and safety for the duration of the trip. It was so beautiful, I really think I could adapt many of the buddhist traditions and beliefs into my life.

Later that afternoon, I ventured downtown to the shopping district and discovered my favourite shop in Japan. An amazing boutique store named ‘Loft’. I bought some really great stationary here and they have reasonably priced make-up, clothing and home wares too.

IMG_2995

IMG_2998

IMG_2997

IMG_3133

One afternoon, I took Abi to the Geisha/Maiko photo studio to be dressed in traditional Japanese threads. She looked absolutely stunning and was so graceful and mature as 3 woman twirled her, draping her in layers of cloth then finally adorning a red kimono with wig and props. I shed tears as she posed quietly for her photos. Once the session was completed, she beamed during the taxi ride home

One night, we walked along Pontocho Alley, a gorgeous narrow street filled with private Geisha houses, bars, clubs and restaurants overlooking the canals. Most had no signage and we assume only the locals knew what was where. Red lanterns swayed in the breeze and lights lit up the darkened side alleys filled with cats and chefs on break.

IMG_3071

IMG_2967

Imagine living here and being spoiled with such beauty and romance. More to come from Kyoto.

xo

The Adventure

Osaka Stopover

We stayed in Osaka for 2 nights because we decided after 8 nights in Tokyo, we only needed 48 hours in another big city before heading to the more traditional areas of Japan like Hiroshima and Kyoto.

I have visited Osaka twice in the past and remember it to be Tokyo’s smaller and quieter sister. But years of development and growth have seen this gorgeous place morph into a cosmopolitan, vibrant and hip place to work and live.

After a 2 and 1/2 hour trip on the Shinkansen (bullet train), we went for a swim in the gorgeous hotel pool and hot tub.

O1

Our 2 bedroom apartment located within the Inter-Continental Osaka was simply amazing. 31 floors in the sky, we were spoilt with views of the river, bridges, buildings, boats and trains passing by in the world below.

O6

We decided to use these 2 days to have some downtime, catch up on sleep, visit the gym, launder clothes and prepare for sightseeing in southern Japan. I think people would be naive to assume that we are sightseeing every day, visiting museums and playing tourist all the time. In reality, we all need a break from that vigorous schedule of trains, tours and exploring.

Our first night, we walked to the mammoth Grand Front Osaka development which was next door to our hotel. The 3 office towers include restaurants, office floors, bars, shops and gardens. We chose dinner carefully from the signboards on the ground floor and cruised up to Level 7 for some dim sum. This stylish Chinese restaurant offered views over Osaka while serving up modern takes on dim sum. The children really enjoyed tomato and buffalo mozzarella dumplings, coloured in red and white. It DID taste different but delicious nonetheless!

The waitstaff seem to love practising their English with us and take time to find out details about our family, the trip, and seek our opinion about Japan and what we think of it.

After an amazing night sleep and buffet breakfast, we headed over to the shops near the main part of town. The children enjoyed dumplings with rice, while James had beef ramen and I indulged in chilli wontons. James took the kids up the Hep 5 wheel which they thoroughly enjoyed. We treated the kids to an hour or so in an arcade, playing video and skill games. I have to remind myself to see the trip from their perspective and give them a break from the sights and shopping combo we so often filled our days with in Tokyo.

We cabbed it over to Dotonbori, a neon signed, chaotic shopping & entertainment area of Osaka. Photos can’t capture the colours, sights, sounds or smells of this place. We kept the kids pretty close here, it was extremely busy with tourists and locals soaking up the experience.

O3 O4 O5

Photos were taken. We watched neon lights blink and flash. The kids were in awe of their surroundings. Once the sun set and the young locals arrive in droves, we hightailed it back to the hotel to pack for our early morning bullet train to Hiroshima.