Posts in Category: personal

Japan 2015: Tokyo :( means home time

And so the final days of our trip would be spent in Tokyo, the metropolis to end all metropolises, a shopping heaven, and an hectic place of noise, lights, and people. We didn’t do much sight-seeing considering we only had two and a half days there, we were pretty pooped from all the sight-seeing that we’d already done, we considered Asakusa and Meiji shrine/Harajuku, but after visiting Asakusa on our first full day, decided that our time would be better spent shopping :D, we’d already visited Meiji Shrine and Harajuku last time any way.

  • Uniqlo Mothershop
    Uniqlo Mothershop
  • Kaminarmon
  • Shopping street near Kaminarimon
    Shopping street near Kaminarimon
  • Senso-ji and Tokyo Sky Tree
    Senso-ji and Tokyo Sky Tree
  • Lantern at Senso-ji
    Lantern at Senso-ji
  • Pagoda at Senso-ji
    Pagoda at Senso-ji
  • Tokyo Sky Tree
    Tokyo Sky Tree
  • Street Lights near Kaminarimon
    Street Lights near Kaminarimon
  • Air conditioner repair man
    Air conditioner repair man
  • Shinjuku night lights
    Shinjuku night lights
  • Sushi Train
    Sushi Train
  • Moon and the tower
    Moon and the tower

Staying at City Hotel Lonestar in Shinjuju (near Shunjuku sanchome station) we were very close to the Shinjuku shopping district which was very handy. The hotel itself was pretty so-so, the continental breakfast consisted of croissants, herb bread, toast, and some other rolls, all of which needed to be toasted in the old fashioned small grill type oven, which if you leave the croissant in there for one second too long, it’s charcoal. The air conditioner in the room was weird, but did the job, sort of, it was a pretty small hotel with stairs at the front, so you have to carry your luggage in, it’s not too bad (about ten steps) but something to be aware of.

On to Asakusa, at least we did one touristy thing in Tokyo, although we will all admit that it was a bit of a letdown, the gate is nice, and the shopping street has some nice shops selling some cool stuff like prints, and yukatas, delicious red bean cakes, etc. The temple of Senso-ji is not what you expect from a Japanese temple, it’s loud, busy, and full of incense, it’s very busy and very un-zen, it’s much more like a Chinese temple. And so, we cut our visit to Asakusa shorter than we planned and headed back to Shinjuku for some more shopping, which is probably what we really wanted to do :D. But not before we saw a caricature drawing business, and got a picture drawn of little Oscar to go with our Kyoto picture we had drawn last time at Nishiki Market.

With only one and a half days of actual usable time, we spent all of our shopping time in Shinjuku so as to minimise travel time, and it still wasn’t enough, I hardly got anything :`(. This is a note for emmy for next time, don’t bother with Odakyu, Lumine 1 or 2, or any other shopping malls, just stick with Lumine EST and be done with. I was a bit disappointed with the range of shoes they had at ABC Mart, we went to all of them (at least all the ones we could find) and not one of them had a decent pair of Adidas Superstars for a reasonable price (I ended up getting a pair from Eastbay which I may or may not post about late, hopefully I do). We even found the sushi train restaurant that we went to last time, with it’s super cheap reasonable but not great sushi (something like 108 yen for the cheap plate, and 250 yen for the expensive plate), we’ll take that. We also went to Tokyu Hands which is like an upper class Daiso and spent a bunch of money there (probably my favourite shop along with Uniqlo/BIC Camera), although I didn’t get my umbrella despite it being one of the four things that I listed as must-buys :(.

And that was it for our latest sojourn to Japan, we got a return ticket on the NEX train when we arrived so we just needed to reserve our seats and wait for the train to take us to Narita, all very easy, not quite as good as going to Haneda but beggars can’t be choosers. Not sure if I mentioned it in the original Japan post, but Jetstar uses terminal 3 at Narita which has only a small selection of shops which have a very limited selection of goods, there’s a good book/magazine shop though, which is one of the negatives of flying direct with Jetstar. ANA and Japan Airlines both have direct flights from Sydney to Tokyo and possibly even arriving in Haneda, so that may be the option to go with next time. So with that, we say good bye to Japan again, and now we sit at home and wait until December when we next head to Vietnam, but don’t fret, I’ll try to keep this blog updated with great content :D.

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Japan 2015: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

The scenic highlight of the trip had finally arrived, we were going to the mountains, where all of our landscape photography dreams would come true, or at least we’d see some nice scenery with mountains. I didn’t realise beforehand how long it took to cover the entire route and it was fortunate that we actually researched it a bit more thoroughly the night before. We ended up waking up at about 6am so that we could get ourselves prepared to leave the hotel and get to the Dentetsu Toyama train station by about 7.20am so that we could get that train to start the route. The plan was basically to get to Murodo as early as possible which would give ourselves almost two hours to spend there before moving on to Kurobe Dam and and returning to Toyama. The timetable was very helpful as was japan guide and the alpen-route web site in general. The three stops before Murodo, Bijodaira, Midagahara, and Tengudaira, all have attractions such as hikes, forests, and waterfalls (Shomyo Falls), but we definitely didn’t have time for those, so we opted to maximise our time at the two easiest stops (we wouldn’t need to reserve spots on transport, etc, etc). We also had to be back in Toyama by approximately 5.30-6pm to have dinner to make sure that the little tyrant wouldn’t get too upset. This is why my recommendation for the route would be to stay for one or two nights in Midagahara or Murodo so that you could spend some time at those earlier stops as well, the nature walks looked really interesting, as well as the hike to the summit of Mount Tateyama from Murodo.

So from Dentetsu Station (right next to Toyama main station) you get a regular old train to Tateyama (which takes approximately an hour) before going on all the other different modes of transport, bus, cable car, trolley bus (through the mountains), rope way, another cable car, and then either returning on the same things, or carrying on to Ogizawa on another trolley bus and rail line. With the number of people there were, you better work out where the front of the lines are if you’re on a tight schedule like we were, we could not afford to miss one mode and be stuck waiting half an hour (or whatever it was) for the next one to come along. Everything was full, there were practically no views (unless you were squished to the window) on the cable cars because they were packed in so tight.

  • Toyama evening
    Toyama evening
  • Murodo
  • Murodo
  • Alpine flora, Murodo
    Alpine flora, Murodo
  • View from Daikanbo
    View from Daikanbo
  • Kurobe Dam
    Kurobe Dam
  • Kurobe Dam
    Kurobe Dam
  • Tateyama Range from the train to Toyama
    Tateyama Range from the train to Toyama

We arrived at Murodo at 10.45 (sharp, amazing thing this Japanese timetabling system), and the weather was very clear, blue skies and fresh, not too warm under the sun (at altitude) and not particularly cool (shorts weather when you’re walking around). The easiest thing to Mikurigaike, there are a few paths around the pond that will give great views of the surrounding mountains with reflections in the pond, alpine flora, and views of other tourists wandering around the area as well. We only had an hour and a half more or less so that’s all we did before heading back to queue up for the transport to Kurobe Dam, we just got in too, actually we missed the first bus, but then they had another bus which we were let on to so we didn’t screw up the schedule.

After going through Daikanbo and then down the rope way to Kurobe Dam, we had about a half hour to walk across the dam wall, have a look and then head back on our way to Toyama. We didn’t have enough time to go to the higher observation point, but did there was enough time to venture to the lower observation deck which had some good views of the flowing water so it wasn’t a total waste, before heading back.

After all that rushing about, thanks to the efficient Japanese transport system, we arrived back in Toyama at exactly the scheduled time and happily had dinner and were back in the hotel to put Oscar down to sleep at a normal time. Once that was all sorted we were able to get his baby sitter (grandma) in and then head back to Toyama station for some sushi at sushidama (sushi train) as a reward, good stuff, nothing wrong with a bit of fatty tuna.

We stayed at the Toyama Manten Hotel which I think I mentioned was a bit of a walk from the station, but not too bad, a bit on the business side, but again quite reasonable, the breakfast buffet was definitely the best one we had on our entire trip, it was also the second most expensive hotel that we stayed at, but apart from the odd shape of the room (which only affected us because of the stroller) everything was nice and dandy like sour candy!

Next, final stop, Tokyo, Shinjuku and Asakusa to be exact, and shopping till we dropped, actually, we didn’t have enough time for that, so we’ll just have to go back and do some more shopping!

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Japan 2015: Toyama, Kanazawa and Kenrokuen

Our next stop was Toyama, which according to my research was the gateway city to the northern Alps of Japan, Kurobe Gorge and the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. Unfortunately for us, my research wasn’t in-depth enough and a short train ride away (25 minutes by shinkansen), Kanazawa awaited with its beautiful garden and many and varied shopping malls. Toyama had a couple of shopping malls but they were not of the same quality as Kanazawa and overall the city was pretty dull (not that we ventured out too far), although the sushi train at Sushidama near the train station was very nice. If we had our time again, we definitely would’ve stayed in Kanazawa rather than Toyama though, especially since we ended up only going on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine route and not the Kurobe Gorge train. Oh well, live and learn.

So the topic of this post will be Kanazawa with the very well designed and laid out Kenrokuen which was great during the brightest time of the day in the middle of Summer, so I will only be able to imagine what it must be like during the golden hour (or blue hour) in the middle of Autumn, or cherry blossom season. You can only enjoy what’s put in front of you, so that we did as we strolled around the lovely garden finding shade wherever we could. There is a fountain that does not use any mechanical aids, only water pressure, of course the ubiquitous mossy rocks, and ponds with koi swimming around, everything you’d expect from a Japanese garden, all in one big, well thought out place. We spent about two hours there, but it could’ve easily been three or four hours especially if the weather was a bit more forgiving, there just weren’t enough shady spots to sit and relax (and also the little emperor woke up halfway through :D). It’s only a short bus ride from the station (ten minutes or so on the shuttle, 200 yen on weekdays, 100 yen on weekends or public holidays), entry was something like 600 yen.

  • Kenrokuen natural fountain
    Kenrokuen natural fountain
  • Kenrokuen
  • Kenrokuen
  • Kenrokuen
  • Kenrokuen
  • Kenrokuen
  • Kenrokuen
  • Kenrokuen
  • Kenrokuen
  • Kenrokuen
  • Kanazawa Castle Park
    Kanazawa Castle Park
  • Omicho Market
    Omicho Market

We thought about crossing the road and visiting Kanazawa Castle Park, but got to one of the entrances that the sign said was free to go in but couldn’t find any way in, so we just carried on towards Omicho Market, a fresh food market near the Kanazawa Station. It was hot and sunny, and by the time we arrived at the market, we were famished, and very thirsty, a perfect combination for such a place, as there was plenty of fresh seafood to be had, as well as cheap drinks to go with it. Afterwards we headed back toward the station where there were at least two big shopping malls (and a nice big sculpture/structure out the front), we visited one of the malls which was definitely very nice and we could’ve spent more time there, we did have dinner as well before heading back to Toyama for the night.

As I’ve mentioned several times before, Kanazawa definitely would have been a better place to stay, especially after I found out that Kenrokuen is open after hours (or before hours) from 5am until opening time for free (but you have to leave before opening time obviously) which would’ve been good to get some pictures in better light with no other people, and also much cooler (maybe). But we won’t dwell on that, on to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route next, lots of pictures. P.S. Another great reason to go to Kanazawa, there were at least two Mister Donuts there, and they still sell those magnificent custard donuts, make me drool just thinking about them!

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Japan 2015: Takayama and around

Continuing on from our Japanese Summer trip, we took one last stroll around the magnificent Matsumoto Castle before catching a bus to Takayama in Gifu prefecture. This is a very mountainous area of Japan and so a train ride would have been very circuitous and expensive, the cheapest and fastest option was to travel by bus, the bus station in Matsumoto was very conveniently located across the road from the train station with buses running pretty much every hour to Takayama (two hours or so). Travelling by bus in Japan is almost as easy as travelling by train, not as comfortable, but certainly not horrible, not bad.

We stayed at K’s House Takayama which is a hostel style accommodation but booked private rooms with private bathrooms so that we were basically staying in a low-end hotel. We stayed at K’s House Kawaguchi-ko last time which was nice but maybe was easier considering that it was just the two of us. This time with a little bundle of joy it wasn’t as easy, but the room was big (the bathroom was small though, even by Japanese standards) with plenty of space to throw all of our junk. No breakfast (and no convenient bar fridge) but a convenient kitchen to prepare any meals and common area/small dining room makes up some for that. The room was reasonably priced and it’s very close to the station as well as the attractions in town. We had two nights in Takayama but weren’t too sure about what to do other than visit the antique street, and the temple walking course (unfortunately cut short by the little baby not feeling it). We also decided to head to Shirakawa-go on a half day trip (small, remote village that use traditional housing).

  • Sculpture near the market
    Sculpture near the market
  • Sannomachi at night
    Sannomachi at night
  • Temple on Higashiyama walking course
    Temple on Higashiyama walking course
  • Temple on Higashiyama walking course
    Temple on Higashiyama walking course
  • Gassho house in Shirakawa-go
    Gassho house in Shirakawa-go
  • Attic of Gassho house
    Attic of Gassho house
  • Support beam of Gassho house
    Support beam of Gassho house
  • Museum pieces at Gassho house
    Museum pieces at Gassho house
  • Old fire pit in gassho house
    Old fire pit in gassho house
  • Pond in Shirakawa-go
    Pond in Shirakawa-go
  • Shirakawa-go lookout
    Shirakawa-go lookout
  • Sannomachi
  • Sannomachi
  • Lantern

Sannomachi street is only a few blocks away from our accommodation, ten minutes walk or so just past the river/canal and is full of souvenir shops, sake shops, and other food and beverage establishments. It’s very pretty with the old antique buildings and all the usual Japanese adornments, we didn’t buy much other than a couple of souvenirs but I would have like to pick up some sake, but then we’d be carrying it with us for ages.

Shirakawa-go is about 50 minutes by bus from Takayama, we decided to just get a guided tour which would be a little rushed but then we’d learn a bit about the place and where we could go, there is not much English spoken/written in the area. We went in the morning when you would hope that it would be a bit clearer, but it was a rainy day and nothing was going to clear up for us so we made do with what we had, a moody, misty morning. It is a very windy trip through mountains (mostly through tunnels though) which cuts the journey time down considerably, but also takes away from the scenery a bit too (I guess). There is a lookout point which provides a good view of the whole village (would be especially good at sunrise/sunset I would imagine) where the tour bus makes it first stop before dropping us off across the bridge from town. A short walk across the bridge and we were free to wander around the village and its assorted museums, souvenir shops, and miscellaneous other curios.

The tour guide recommended we visit Kanda house (神田家) as the main museum/house to get a feel for how the locals live (and lived) as well as a sake shop which we unfortunately didn’t have time to meander around. We only had an hour and a half or so in the village so didn’t really have time for much other than strolling around admiring the village architecture before having to wander back to the car park. The village is very picturesque and would make for some amazing photos with the right light and season, an overnight stay would perhaps be most worthwhile if you have the time, if not just so that you could sample some of the special local sake!

Afterwards we went back to Takayama for a little rest before attempting to visit some temples along the Higashiyama walking course, but unfortunately it’s not very pram friendly and the weather was against us, as well as a certain little cranky bum. We did see a couple of nice temples, or at least the exterior of a couple which included the ubiquitous moss and pond.

One of the local specialties is hida beef, a fatty, marbled beef like wagyu, and somewhat comparable to kobe beef (but not really), we enquired at the hostel about where we could taste some of this delicacy and found out about Maruaki, which is a restaurant where you cook your own food basically (similar to Korean BBQ but not quite). We arrived at about 6.30pm only to be told that it would be a fifty minute wait, which we agreed to (before wandering off to run some errands), we returned to see that we hadn’t lost our place in the line but that fifty minute wait eventually turned into almost two hours before we finally got a seat. It was a little frustrating for all the people waiting, a bunch of tourists mostly, and their frustrations were in turn frustrating my emmy.

  • Takayama local pale ale
    Takayama local pale ale
  • Hida beef
    Hida beef
  • Hida beef cooking
    Hida beef cooking

Anyway, we got in finally, and ordered a reasonably priced set meat and veg, rice, salad, miso soup along with some Korean style rib cuts (because emmy was afraid the set wouldn’t be enough) as well as some locally brewed beer. I’m a sucker for wagyu, fatty, marbled beef, and this was no different, the fat was cooking, and dripping, and the flavour, texture, and tenderness were all melting into my (and emmy’s) salivating mouth. The beer was pretty nice too, a good match for this fatty beef (maybe some hot green tea would’ve been better afterwards though), and in the end, it was just too much meat, let’s just say that it didn’t end well for me, I had to take the full brunt of the extra meat after all. I’ll just say that my tummy didn’t get to enjoy all that fatty goodness for too long, eww.

Fancy chopsticks

Fancy chopsticks

Our final morning in Takayama was spent at one of the daily morning markets, Miyagawa morning market which is along the Miyagawa River in the old town (apparently this is the bigger one). It’s not very big and mostly the stalls are just selling local produce, and maybe some trinkets, there was one stall selling custom yukatas so that was something, but they weren’t cheap. Apart from the stalls there are other souvenir shops and what not along the street, among them was this chopsticks shop, we were definitely on the hunt for some good chopsticks as the set we bought last time we were in Japan were such high quality that we’re still using them with only the slightest hint of deterioration, meanwhile we’ve had several sets of lower quality chopsticks wilt and fall by the way side.

The chopsticks in this shop were a bit more expensive than similar ones that could be purchased elsewhere (Tokyu Hands hello!) but they also provided a free engraving service on selected items. We picked out a pair each (including one for wormie) and got them engraved with our English names as well the katakana versions. They can also do kanji as well as hiragana, but we just left it at that, but if you get four-edge (as opposed to round) chopsticks, it’s definitely an option. I don’t remember the name or have any cards or anything from that shop but it would be pretty easy to find, it’s the only chopstick shop along that street, some very nice chopsticks indeed.

And with that we were on to our next destination, the relative highlight (or so I thought) of the trip, Toyama, near the northern Alps of Japan, we’d finally be seeing some real mountain scenery, my favourite kind! I’ll be back in a couple days to recap that one, should be a long one.

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Hanabishi: Happy Anniversary!

I interrupt the Japan review posts with a restaurant review, I’ve been wanting to try out Hanabishi for a very long time, and finally decided that our (emmy and my) fourth anniversary dinner was as good a time as any. Hanabishi is a fine dining Japanese restaurant that has been around for 30 years or so (I think) and has achieved many awards. So even though we’d been eating real, authentic  Japanese food for two weeks, emmy needed a hotpot fix, and turns out the Japanese do hotpot as well. There are two options (as far as I’m aware) when it comes to Japanese hotpot, sukiyaki – which is a pot of sweet saucy soup that you don’t actually drink, or shabu shabu – which is more along the lines of a traditional hotpot whereby you do drink the soup, it’s a dashi broth, we went with sukiyaki (because I didn’t know which was which beforehand). I’m pretty sure I would go with shabu shabu every time, I didn’t realise how sweet the sukiyaki sauce is.

Looking at the menu, I always wanted to try one of the set menus (which are quite varied and cover everything), but emmy was craving hotpot, so that’s what we went with, plus some sashimi and dessert as well.

  • Fresh Tasmanian Sea Urchin
    Fresh Tasmanian Sea Urchin
  • Chef's selection sashimi
    Chef's selection sashimi
  • Sukiyaki
  • Dessert platter
    Dessert platter

There was a Tasmanian sea urchin sashimi special, so we thought we’d give it a go since we’re both really starting to enjoy the texture of this strange seafood. Well, it was really fresh and very smooth, no fishy smell or taste (as you’d expect from a restaurant with such a reputation), I don’t know how people in the know would eat this, but for me, definitely needs wasabi and a good lathering of soy sauce to get the most out of it.

On to the sashi set (entree) which has kingfish, tuna, salmon, and salmon tartare, it’s always great to eat really nice, fresh sashimi, the salmon was a bit ridiculous, they were sliced quite thickly but the samon was just falling apart (flaking?) when picked up, great stuff, I love sashimi, I’ll leave it at that.

Now for the main, sukiyaki with wagyu beef slices, spinach, and udon on the side, as well as wombok, mushroom and onions in the broth. The beef was great, I really don’t think you even need the premium grade stuff (says the person that didn’t want to pay for it), it is so rich, the broth is probably a little too sweet for my taste, but then you’re not meant to drink it, still, if I had my time over again, I’d go with the shabu shabu, I like udon in broth.

Finally, we have the dessert platter (small one for two) which contains a little bit of everything (except for the three other dishes you get in the larger selection). We got some chocolate cake, egg tart, coconut sorbet, anmitsu (fruit and jelly), green tea creme brulee, and a green tea mousse. Each dessert by itself cost about $15 dollars (I’m guessing that they’d be larger portions), and the platter cost $33 by itself so we got try a bit of everything for the price of two desserts (we usually only ever share one dessert). How do you pick a favourite, creme brulee I guess, I’m a big flan/creme brulee fan now, and it’s one of my favourites (along with iced cream), the chocolate cake covert in chocolate sauce was a bit soggy or wet for my liking, I liked the anmitsu second best along with the coconut sorbet I would say.

Just for a piece of high judgement, I would like to mention the couple that were sitting on the table next to us, it was quite entertaining for us, as they ordered a lot of food, shabu shabu (premium wagyu), a dozen oysters, sea urchin, grilled fish with rice. Now I am the type that will ignore people at the table and play on my phone occasionally, but if these two weren’t arguing about something or another, or eating, they were staring at their phones (maybe they were instant messaging each other, I don’t know), and to top it off, they had udon and spinach left over, which they requested to take away! Udon, maybe you could make a case (not really), but spinach?!?! Really? I guess it’s better than throwing the food in the rubbish bin, but maybe don’t over order next time.

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Japan 2015: Matsumoto, oh what a castle

Welcome to the second instalment of this series of blog posts about our trip through central Japan (with a 14-month old baby no less). After making our way from O-Tsumago to Nagiso by bus, we got on a train for Matsumoto, partially as a transit stop, but also to see the castle. This train was really busy and I’m not sure if they had reserved seats or not, but we only got non-reserved seats, and with all our luggage we only managed to scramble a few empty seats right at the back of the train after pulling luggage through several carriages (as we weren’t sure where the non-reserved carriages were).

It was a pretty smooth ride as most train rides in Japan are, and we arrived in Matsumoto a little after 1pm I believe (about two hours or so), we stayed at Hotel Matsumoto Yorozuya which was again a bit of a business hotel (I guess they’re cheaper than normal hotels), it was pretty close to the train station, and pretty close to the castle, halfway in between each I would say. Convenient and efficient, otherwise a pretty forgettable experience (in terms of I can’t remember it or the breakfast at all) but a perfectly fine hotel since I can’t remember anything bad about it.

  • Beautiful Matsumoto Castle
    Beautiful Matsumoto Castle
  • The Keep Tower
    The Keep Tower
  • Roof decorations
    Roof decorations

On to the castle, what a marvel, we weren’t able to see Himeji last time because it was being renovated (we didn’t want to see it in those conditions) and had to settle for Hikone Castle (which is also a national treasure and an impressive castle but not on the same scale), I’ve seen pictures of Matsumoto Castle before and was really looking forward to this, it was the main reason I wanted to come through Matsumoto. I can honestly say that it didn’t disappoint, what a magnificent castle and in such great condition, never having been attacked certainly helped protect its beautiful façade and surrounds. There was even a free English tour guide (the program apparently runs from April to November) which was a very nice addition. Unfortunately with a young baby we did not have the opportunity to visit the castle at night (nor did we get a chance to visit the museum, there’s also a woodblock print museum which I would recommend having bought some prints but not having actually seen the museum, the prints were very nice), so maybe if we ever come back this way (skiing? Probably not) we can see it in all its illuminated glory at night.

Matsumoto is also apparently well-known for having very fresh wasabi and they also eat horse meat sushi (basashi) as a delicacy. Well, when in Rome, we went to a soba restaurant just a couple blocks south east of the castle (they had English menus) and tried the basashi set as with some fresh cold soba. The soba was great, the wasabi was a real fresh thing that you grate onto your food that isn’t anywhere near as tear-inducing as the packaged product, the horse meat sushi was okay, but nothing special (a bit tougher than beef) give me fatty tuna or salmon any day.

Other than that we didn’t spend much time in this place, a pretty small city, I planned to use it as a transit to Takayama as the bus from Matsumoto only takes a couple hours, and the castle was a bonus (which I totally recommend 100%). Next stop, Takayama.

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Japan 2015: Nagoya, then the Kiso Valley

I took a lot of pictures so I’m going to have to separate these posts into a bunch for the places we visited so as not to overwhelm with pictures. We planned our trip so that we would leave Tokyo until the end of the trip (so that we could shop like crazy), which meant going from Narita Airport to Nagoya on the same day. But we also had to meet emmy’s friend in Tokyo because she wouldn’t be there when we got back, so we stopped at Tokyo station for lunch and then were on our way to Nagoya for our first night.

  • More running water near the minshuku
    More running water near the minshuku
  • Running water near Minshuku Tsutamuraya
    Running water near Minshuku Tsutamuraya
  • Moss covered logs on the Nakasen-do
    Moss covered logs on the Nakasen-do
  • Running water on the Nakasen-do
    Running water on the Nakasen-do
  • A dainty shrine or grave on the Nakasen-do
    A dainty shrine or grave on the Nakasen-do
  • Trees along the Nakasen-do
    Trees along the Nakasen-do
  • Nakasen-do path near Tsumago
    Nakasen-do path near Tsumago
  • Minshuku Tsutamuraya
    Minshuku Tsutamuraya
  • Lavender garden with a bee
    Lavender garden with a bee

From everything that we had heard, there wasn’t much to do or see in Nagoya, so it was really a rest/transit stop for us before heading to the Kiso Valley. We stayed at the Sanco Inn Nishiki which is near the Sakae district which is where all the shops and night life are, a small room (of course) but it was nice enough and had a breakfast option. We didn’t do anything there, just had a look around the shops but nothing else really, rested and waited until our train/bus ride to OTsumago.

  • Water mill at Tsumago
    Water mill at Tsumago
  • Old kettle in Minshuku Tsutamuraya
    Old kettle in Minshuku Tsutamuraya

After travelling by train to Nagiso, and then finding a local bus to take us to Minshuku Koshinzuka (which has it’s own bus stop) we were informed by the inn-keeper that due to a funeral service we would not be able to stay there, but that they’d arranged for us to stay at a different minshuku for the two nights that we were scheduled for, Minshuku Tsutamuraya, just down the road. It was no skin off our back as the little old lady running Minshuku Tsutamuraya was very nice as well, although we can only guess how nice Koshinzuka must be since it is the top rated minshuku on tripadvisor. It’s really not easy to reserve a room at these places since the contact details are really hard to find, and they speak little to no English, but here is a page with telephone contact details under the Accommodation in Tsumago and Magome section, and here is a page with reservation options. Our minshuku actually had wifi amazingly whereas Koshinzuka apparently does not, make of that what you will.

It was a charming place, very old building (about 130 years old), they had a pretty shiba inu, and the little river running right outside, the lady was very nice, and had a great time playing with our little monkey. The food (breakfast and dinner) we had was of a very good quality and served with some kind of special osake which was very different to what we are used to. Wholly recommended, maybe Koshinzuka would be a little more authentic, I’m not sure, but sometimes you can’t completely withdraw yourself from the outside world.

In terms of things to do here, basically there is the nakasen-do between Tsumago and Magome, and obviously the two towns themselves. Be very careful though, there is only an ATM in Nagiso (which may or may not be open, maybe only on weekdays) and one in Nakatsugawa (need a bus from Magome) so make sure you have cash to pay the minshuku. Getting this out of the way early (maybe I mentioned it in my previous post already?), having a baby with us meant that we pretty much had to do everything during the middle (hottest/sunniest part) of the day which was a bit painful, but the scenery is still beautiful during the day. Tsumago has been kept in a much more authentic manner than Magome, both towns have souvenir shops aplenty and quaint old buildings and museums (not that we visited any of them). We wandered up and down the main streets, but due to unforeseen circumstances (very cranky baby), only one of us was able to walk the nakasen-do from Magome to Tsumago. We planned to do it that way because it is mostly downhill (the first two kilometres or so including Magome) are pretty much uphill then the rest of the way is smooth sailing

The path is very well signed (can’t remember if there was much English though) and easy to follow, the terrain is beautiful and apart from the first part out of Magome, mostly covered by trees. There are mossy green forests, running water creeks, and waterfalls all over the place, but in my rush (I wasn’t sure where my companions were) I only took one side-trip to Odaki and Medaki falls near OTsumago which were quite impressive. It only takes about two hours if you walk at a decent pace but probably three hours is good for stopping and taking pictures as well as resting (Tsumago to Magome would probably take longer). I didn’t see any bears but apparently they’re there, and there are bells along the path that you can ring that might scare them away (I did not want to run into any bears so you better believe I rang them).

We spent two nights there because we didn’t want to rush the nakasen-do which was a good idea for us, but with a luggage forwarding service and less cranky babies, you can probably do it with one night, we caught the bus to Nagiso before getting a train to our next destination, Matsumoto, which will be the topic of my next post.

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New Lens: Pentax FA31mm F/1.8

I think I alluded to this in my last post, or at least alluded to something coming up on the horizon, of which we should all be excited about. Well, I got a new lens, and it’s basically the best (or at least most expensive) Pentax (SLR) prime ever made.

Beautiful new lens FA31

Beautiful new lens FA31

Now we all know that a full-frame Pentax DSLR is on its way (end of this year perhaps) but that certainly didn’t factor into my decision to get this lens, even though it is a full frame lens. I’ve just read so much about this lens and its magic pixie dust that it’s always been the next lens on my wish list, I’ve been waiting for our next overseas trip before putting down the hard-earned on this one, and we’re heading to the lens’ motherland again, Japan (although this lens was assembled in Vietnam) in mid-July so the GST will be coming back to me (yay!) :D. We’ll also be heading back to Vietnam at the end of the year so the lens is going back to all of its roots this year.

I have to admit, the camera that took the picture of my camera is a pretty special machine as well (the Fuji X100), I really like its output, but I’m really liking the output of my new lens a lot. I’ve pretty much only been shooting with it wide open, actually I’ve pretty much been doing that for everything lately because I’ve only been taking portrait shots, but this trip to Japan is going to be a real test for this beauty. I will not be taking my DA21 (my usual workhorse) due to space limitations (which is strange considering the DA21 is tiny) so I fully expect the FA31 to be on my camera for most of the time (although I may still change my mind about the DA21). I did read a few posts and points about the FA limited being out of date and such, but remembering that the FA43 actually renders pictures optimally to my preference, this was definitely a no-brainer.

Poor, sick baby, and his mother.

Poor, sick baby, and his mother.

So now I have four limiteds, two DAs (21 and 70), and two FAs (31 and 43), I have not given the 70 much of a workout in the three years that I’ve had it, but I’ve got plenty of time to work on it. We’re going to be travelling to Japan at the end of the rainy season (that’s what we hope anyway) and moving through central Japan around the Kiso Valley and the northern alps, let’s hope that I won’t be so consumed with looking after my son that I won’t be able to take a lot of beautiful photos of some beautiful places (weather permitting of course). I’m excited, we’re all excited, we have three weeks to go, and then we’re off, off to see the Japanese, the beautiful Japanese of Japan; doesn’t quite work does it?

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Road Trip 2014: Adelaide, Naracoorte, The Grampians

After the underwhelming experience that was Kangaroo Island, we were pretty much ready to make our way back to Melbourne, but we had a few stops to get through before that. First was to visit emmy’s friends in Adelaide, the city of churches. Originally we were only going to spend one night there but due to my accident we had to spend three nights there and had no idea what to do. We ended up just trying to catch back up on as much rest as possible, that’s not to say that we did absolutely nothing there, we had a couple of outings, one to Hahndorf, and the other to Glenelg, unfortunately we didn’t have the inclination to venture out to the Barossa Valley or Mount Lofty despite neither being particularly far, just a lot of effort with the baby.

First, we visited Hahndorf on emmy’s advice as she loved it the last time she was there, it is a quaint town on the outskirts of Adelaide, the theme is Germany, well, it’s where the first German settlers settled near Adelaide and now it is a tourist destination. It’s pretty nice, and well established, with a few German restaurants, but the main attraction really is its good looks, with the main road lined with big trees. There’s also the Beerenberg strawberry farm where there are many things – not just strawberries – to dig your teeth into, mostly sauces, jams, and the like. A street full of artisan stores selling all kinds of trinkets and fashions, emmy says Yes Please!

The following day we went to Glenelg for brunch, a visit to the beach and a wander down the main street. This beach kicks arse, a pier where the kids can jump off like crazy teenagers that they are and crystal clear turquoise waters and soft, fine, white sand. A strip of shops with some nice iced creameries along the way (recommend the Danish Andersens one), beats any beach near Melbourne as far as I’m aware. We also paid a visit to the xmas decorations at night (even though it was freezing and smelly as hell) which were quite comical. The next day we left for Naracoorte quite early.

Naracoorte is famous for its caves, heritage listed and all that, as well as being relatively close to a bunch of other Limestone coast attractions (mainly wineries), but we didn’t bother leaving our accommodation because it was hot and we were tired, the bed and breakfast we stayed at was quite lovely as well. We left for the Grampians nice and early the next day.

The Grampians are a beautiful place, and there are so many walks to do there, short and long, too bad that it’s too hard (for me) to carry a little one around them all. We settled for those that were really close to car parks and staying inside mostly (again, really hot). I wanted to have a go at one of the easy big hikes, like Mount William or The Pinnacle, but it was just going to be hot and not great light for my photography, so I settled for night shots of The Pinnacle from our accommodation (not bad, I will probably do another post with some HDR shots that I took on the trip).

Stars in the Grampians

Stars in the Grampians

Me at The Balconies

Me at The Balconies

View south from the Balconies lookout

View south from the Balconies lookout

So all in all, we didn’t do much, I got to the Balconies lookout (would’ve been good for sunrise), Mackenzie Falls (just before all the other people arrived) but without enough time to nail the shot that I wanted, and a quick look at Boroka Lookout for a sunrise (it’s not really a sunrise spot). Oh well, another time, maybe I’ll take Oscar camping there and we can do all the things that I missed or stuffed up here.

In Adelaide, we had one home made meal, one bbq, one Vietnamese restaurant meal, traditional German at the Hahndorf Inn (massive portions, for two means, for 3-4), a brunch at Zest Cafe in Glenelg (nice), iced cream at Andersens (yum), we’ll need to try some more places to get a better feel for the quality of Adelaide’s restaurants though.In Naracoorte, we just cooked up our own steaks at the bed and breakfast, it was okay, but I’ve done better.
In the Grampians, we didn’t venture out of Halls Gap for food, we had burgers at Basecamp Eatery (would’ve been good except the burgers were a bit dry, where’s the sauce!?!?!), the Spirit of Punjab, lol, was okay, would’ve been good if we had spoons or even forks (our room had neither), and also at the Livefast cafe, nothing special, neither was Coolas ice creamery, but that might’ve been too dependent on the flavours we chose.

As I said, in Naracoorte we stayed at Carolynn’s Cottages, and they were by far the best accommodation that we stayed at for the whole trip, comfortable bed, nice decor, and comfortable chairs, very accommodating, beautiful property with a serene garden.
We stayed at the Grampians View Motel in Halls Gap, it’s at the southern end of Halls Gap and has a very nice view of the Pinnacle, also, there are a million kangaroos there in the late afternoon. The room though lacks a kitchenette, and is a bit dated, we stayed in the deluxe spa room which is a bit like a love motel with the black and red decor. There is a small swimming pool which we didn’t use, but it looked clean enough

That’s it for the road trip, I’m not sure what comes next, we haven’t been doing much lately and I’m not sure that I can plan much in this daze that I’m in, any way, I’ll have some more pictures from the road trip once I get through processing them.

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Bistro Thierry

Happy Birthday me, 33, just like my number, and multiplying each digit together equals my birthday. Any way, moving on, my better half surprised (as if I didn’t know) me with dinner at a fancy French restaurant, something that we haven’t done before. Bistro Thierry in Prahran is pretty French, from waiters with French accents (mostly) to all the pots and pans, baguettes to escargot, and creme brulee. We each ordered an entree along with a main, and a glass of wine (as chosen by the waiter) and shared the dessert as we usually do. This being a French restaurant, of course we also ordered some traditional French Fries.

I had the steak tartare, while Huyen (her name is not em or emmy) had escargot, I would have to say that the steak tartare was the highlight of the meal for me, beautifully tender and a very flavoursome vinegarette on top. The escargot were yum, but the sauce was probably a bit rich, very buttery, the snails were cleaner (no grit) than the ones we ate in Vietnam, but the sauce was too overpowering.

On to the mains, emmy had one of the fish of the day, pan seared snapper on black rice, she just told me that it was good but did not have any wow factor. Meanwhile, I went with duck confit, it was good except that the skin crackling on top was just too salty. The french fries were good (although we probably should have gone with a salad instead), as were the baguettes on the table.

For dessert we ordered the creme brulee (not pictured) as we tend to do, I liked it, but it wasn’t anything special, I wonder if there is anything that can make it really stand out. That’s it, good service, good atmosphere, food a little pricey, and tending toward being a bit rich (that’s French cuisine I guess), a good meal, but I don’t think that I’d put French food up there in my favourite cuisines.

Steak Tartare

Steak Tartare



Duck Confit

Duck Confit

Pan seared Snapper

Pan seared Snapper

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