Moving right along, we didn’t really plan much for this day, it was the day before Emmy’s birthday and my original plan was to head north to Sanzen-in and Enkoji for the day as the weather was good. But we decided to take it somewhat easy and just head to Kyoto station in the morning before spending the afternoon at Himeji Castle. I planned Himeji Castle to be a whole day trip but under advice from Emmy we decided it was only a half day site. We didn’t visit Himeji on our first trip because it was still being renovated at the time.
We gave ourselves about three hours to spend at the castle (plus one hour each way on the shinkansen) which we hoped would be enough to also visit the garden, but it turned out that we only had time to visit the main keep and the west bailey. The garden was closed by the time we finished wandering the main keep so we just had a stroll through the west bailey instead. It’s a nice castle but having now seen three of the national treasure castles of Japan (Hikone and Matsumoto) I think I can safely say that I’m over visiting castles. I really think Matsumoto is a more pleasant experience and is more photogenic with it’s large moat. The inside of the castle is largely the same and only the views are different, perhaps the castle might have looked nicer from the garden, we’ll probably never know.
We didn’t get a chance to see anything else in Himeji aside from the station and the wide boulevard from the station, it seems like a nice town and even has quite a few shops to keep the ladies interested. Don’t quote me but I’m pretty certain that this was the last castle that we’ll ever visit (as in buy the ticket and go up to the top of the main keep), but it was a nice one to go out on. You never know we might stop by in cherry blossom season or something but all the views would definitely be from the outside. It was also a bit unfortunate that the weather was so clear because some dramatic clouds would definitely have spruced up the pictures.
That’s it, it was a pretty easy day, next up, Emmy’s birthday which I’ll split into a couple posts because we did some cool things that need their own articles, really fun stuff.
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After arriving at our Kyoto airbnb at about 6.30pm on a Saturday evening we were pretty tired and just wanted to settle in a bit, so we didn’t do anything but plan the next day. Having checked the weather forecast and our own plans for Kyoto we decided to head to Arashiyama for the morning/day trying to take it at a slower pace. One of the places that we didn’t visit our first time around in Kyoto, the bamboo forest of Arashiyama has been on my wishlist ever since.
Originally, the plan was to visit Arashiyama and Koko Dera which are both on the western side of Kyoto, but we visited Tenryuji in Arashiyama and that took up quite a bit of time, so we left it at that for the west. I’m not really sure if we saw all of the bamboo forest as it didn’t seem to be that big (just a few lanes) before we came across Tenryuji and decided to visit for some temple goodness.
This was a very popular temple and it was easy to see why, it had a beautiful pond with viewing area, and a nice easy strolling garden. The koyo was starting to show around the pond giving some amazing photo opportunities, which everyone was lapping up.
The garden was full of colourful flowers and some very well maintained trees, I like to call them giant bonsai for lack of a better term (I am not well versed enough to know what to google to find the actual tree type), and also some mossy areas. But certainly the highlight was the pond with zen garden and viewing platform.
We decided that that was enough sightseeing in this area and headed back to central Kyoto, grabbing some treats along the way (the hot red bean cakey things are always a winner) before deciding to head to Kiyomizu Dera and sannenzaka/ninenzaka for the afternoon rush.
I don’t know if it was because it was Sunday or not, but Kiyomizu Dera was absolutely jam packed to the rafters, making the whole experience a little bit less than ideal. We’ve been to Kiyomizu Dera three times now and only once it wasn’t bursting with visitors (and that was due to it pouring rain and basically causing a new river to flow through Kyoto), so maybe it’s like that everyday when the weather is good.
To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Kiyomizu Dera, it has the beautiful view of Kyoto as well as the tree cover (still green when we visited, again…) but the temple and grounds themselves aren’t that impressive. I guess sometimes you just need that one thing that trumps all others, and at Kiyomizu Dera the view is quite spectacular despite the lack of Autumn colours. We also left before the sun set so we had a pretty high in the sky sun making it hard to take the best of pictures.
We headed back down the narrow road toward home (bustling as always, which can make for a nice people motion blur shot), but as always, took the detour down these antique streets which genuinely are quite charming. Full of shops selling souvenirs and other goods, as well as services like pottery classes and restaurants it’s definitely a must-visit for its looks as well as what is behinds its doors. We got to the end of the street and walked out on to the main road and realised that it was very near the supermarket that our airbnb host had showed us the previous day, making it very close to where we were staying. So we were staying super close (15 minutes or so walking) to Kiyomizu Dera, Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka, and Gion, I’ll have more on our accommodation later.
Next up, we visit Himeji Castle for a chill Monday.
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We only spent one night in Hiroshima, and one morning in Miyajima but we packed in quite a bit. We arrived at Narita Airport on a Friday morning and immediately proceeded to transport ourselves for six and a half hours across the country, and even this didn’t quite go as planned as there was some kind of delay on the train lines (even Japan is not immune). So arriving at Narita at 9am, we didn’t manage to leave until about 11.30am and didn’t get to Hiroshima until about 6pm, tired, sweaty, and smelly. So it was dinner time and we went out and looked for some grub heading back to plan out the day ahead.
At the station we decided to try Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima style, which is basically Okonomiyaki with noodles fried in. It was okay, not great, probably regular Okonomiyaki is more to my liking. The noodles just end up making the pancake fall apart everywhere. But anyway, that was our take on Hiroshima dining, we didn’t spend enough time to try anything else other than instant noodles.
So the plan we decided on with our very precious time, was to visit the nuclear dome and the peace park in the morning then get down to Miyajima for a wander before jumping on a shinkansen to Kyoto in the afternoon. When we woke up the next morning, some of our party had noticed that a lot of people had been streaming past the building where we were staying all morning. So as we were heading to the station with all of our luggage, we saw the streams and streams of people dressed in red walking the other way. They were supporters of the local baseball team, the Hiroshima Carps, it turns out that Hiroshima is a big baseball town, and they had just won the central league championship, this merited a parade and celebration, and we had arrived just in time to see it, but we decided not to.
Without much time, we put our luggage into a locker at the station and caught the first bus to the nuclear dome, we didn’t plan on visiting the museum as that was most likely going to be depressing and take quite some time. We meandered around the dome building and then made our way across the bridge to the Peace Park (which was quite pleasant). We were a little disappointed that the Autumn colours had not arrived yet, but turns out we got it wrong, and Autumn moves from north to south, so Hiroshima is probably colouring right about now! Little did we know that the baseball parade meant that the bus stops on the park side were not operating and we had to go back to the dome bus stop to get back to the train station to get the train to the ferry station to Miyajima, oops.
The ferry to Miyajima is quite a short ride and once on the island we decided to split up with the rest of the group and meet back in a couple hours.
Oysters are a local specialty on Miyajima so we had to try those, even with pesky deer roaming the streets looking for a free feed. This one was nosing around sleeping Oscar and me even though we didn’t have any food, I had to shoo it away before it woke up the little master. On to Itsukushima shrine and the floating torii, it’s quite a nice place to visit and I do wish we had more time there, in my head I have it planned out for next time when we visit Kyushu only. We’ll go and stay in Miyajima for one night and maybe Hiroshima as well (or just visit the Japanese garden there) so that we can walk around the trails around Mount Misen and get all of the best views of the torii with peak light. There are a lot of tourists there during the day, one would imagine in the later afternoon and evening, even in the early morning there would be much less people and a calmer atmosphere.
This was truly a hectic day and half, and travelling to Kyoto as well meant that this second day was as rushed as the first (albeit with some sight-seeing mixed in). We did a fair bit in Kyoto too, so I’ll probably break that up into several posts (possibly one for each day), see ya next time!
We stayed at an airbnb which was so-so, clean (obviously) and with wifi, but nothing great, weird traditional bathroom. I won’t bother linking to it since it was nothing special and you can find anything that will be the same or better.
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Hello all, and we’re back, back from the wonderful land of Japan, which means that I’ve got a lot more content for the next couple months taking us into the new year, most likely, YAY! I got lots of pictures to sort through, not sure if I got anything that I’m really proud of but we’ll see, and we also spent some time doing some interesting not sight-seeing things which I’ll try to go through in more detail than my usual overview stuff.
So following the route, we arrived at Narita and jumped straight on the train headed for Hiroshima, in hindsight, this was a bad plan (as we only spent one night there) as we weren’t there long enough for the amount of travel to be worth it. I think next time we may visit Kyushu and go to Hiroshima/Miyajima from there spending a bit more time at Miyajima. From there we moved on to Kyoto for a big chunk (five nights) looking for Koyo (Autumn colours), we tried to vary our itinerary in Kyoto to avoid just visiting shrines and temples which I think we did pretty well.
On to Kawaguchi-Ko and Mount Fuji from there where some very clear weather treated us to some great views of the great volcano for our last two days (we stayed three). I don’t think we got 36 views of Mount Fuji, but we certainly covered quite a few angles from around Kawaguchi-Ko. After that it was on to Tokyo for some “relaxing” time, we usually just end up in Tokyo shopping and eating, that’s mostly what we did, I did actually manage to visit Shinjuku Gyoen for some chill out time (although even that was not too relaxing as I arrived late and had to rush around a bit). I don’t have many photos from Tokyo mostly because eating (mostly relatively boring stuff) and shopping aren’t the most photogenic of things. But we’ll get to all of that in the coming weeks with enough pictures to keep things interesting.
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I know, I know, it’s been a long time, well, Oscar was sick for about a month from Anzac Day until his birthday, and we’ve spent the past month recovering from that really. Plus, it’s been really, really cold lately, so getting this post in the darkest, coldest period of Winter, you should consider yourselves very, very lucky. I decided to take a day off and head to this state park northeast of Melbourne, just past the Yarra Ranges National Park, I’d read about it on a bushwalking blog that I occasionally visit, and it looked good, but because this was a “spur of the moment” type deal, I didn’t really check what it was going to be like and just hoped that it was going to be clear and beautiful. Well, it wasn’t, it was misty at the top, and the view was a white-out, when I was up there anyway. It might have cleared up later, but I doubt it. The terrain reminds me a bit of the Grampians, but it’s a bit closer to where I live, but also, the good views here seem probably a bit more challenging to get to.
Driving there takes about two hours from my place, and then it’s ten kilometres (past a lot of curious kangaroos) up to Sugarloaf Saddle Carpark where you can do a number of pretty hairy trails. Considering my lack of experience and preparation, I went with the shortest, yet still quite challenging Canyon Track which is basically from the carpark to the peak of Sugarloaf Peak, 40 minutes one way, and involves some scrambling/climbing (or I just went the wrong way!). I was planning on climbing up to the peak and then walking along the Razorback track for a bit, but the view was completely obscured by cloud/mist so I decided just to head back down and look for a track that might give me some running water shots. Also, the rocks were a bit wet, and considering how dangerous climbing up and down that one little bit seemed, I thought better not risk any more in those conditions.
So I made my way back down to the car and then drove back down to Cooks Mill, where there is a Little River Track, which you would think, would meander along a river side. You can certainly hear the river, as you start the trail, but after only about 50m or so, it veers onto a track that just looks like unsealed road, there is a clearing to the left, and basically a muddy walk for about a kilometre or so before the road joins back to the track. This is a nice track with greenery everywhere and the sound of water running, as well as the occasional kookaburra sighting and constant kookaburra calls.
This track was also meant to be 40 minutes to it’s end point, Ned’s Gully, but after about 50 minutes I didn’t seem to be getting any closer, so I decided to head back, I didn’t have any food or water, it was probably only about five more minutes, as the walk back only took about 35-40 minutes with a brief stop for pictures by the river. I then stopped just past the bridge leading in and out of Cooks Mill to take a couple more pictures of the river before heading home. All in all, it was a worthwhile trip, if for nothing more than scouting, also got to drive through the Yarra Ranges National Park which is a treat in itself (no pictures though unfortunately), but I’m not sure I’ll be taking the little one there for a while, just seems a bit too challenging for him, but maybe I’m being over protective. So maybe I will head back out there in Spring time or something, at least the tracks seem easy to follow, even for me!
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Here’s a bit of a bonus post, which is especially convenient because Oscar’s been sick since Saturday and we haven’t been able to get out of the house pretty much the whole time. So while reviewing my pictures from Vietnam, a couple of panoramas popped up and I had the chance to process them, they’re okay but not the best. Both are panoramas from Da Nang where we probably had the best views the whole trip. First from the hotel, room (Brilliant Hotel) then from the Chessboard Point on Monkey Mountain (Son Tra). The lighting was not perfect in either one, if it was, I guess we’d be looking at a couple of pretty spectacular photos. Let’s hope that I can replicate all of the factors in my most popular flickr photo (Morning Light) soon, cos I haven’t been able to make anything really striking for a while.
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We had a short stop in Da Nang, just one night before heading down to Saigon, it’s really close to Hoi An, only thirty minutes drive, basically along the coast. If we had more time it would definitely have been worth paying a visit to the beach, looked like quite a nice coast line and some nice beaches as we drove past the myriad resorts. We however, were staying on the riverside so no beach for us, and we were too lazy to go to the beach anyway. We did manage to visit a big open air seafood restaurant, for lots of yummy fresh seafood, and also hired a taxi for a ride up Chessboard Point, which is a hill/mountain that provides a really nice view of the city and sea. There are also some rare endangered monkeys (pretty sure they are just macaques but who knows) that live in the mountain forests but you can only see them in the early morning apparently (we were there mid-morning). On the way back down to Da Nang, we also went past the very fancy Intercontinental Hotel (six stars!) and also visited a big Buddhist temple that has a big statue of the Guanyin, but that place wasn’t particularly great.
We stayed at Brilliant Hotel which was quite central and right next to the river, our room had a very good view of the river and several of the bridges that span the river, which light up at night and provide spectacular nightly light shows. There was a bit of a safety concern with the room as the windows could be opened (with the handles also being within reach of small children) and no real protection against such things happening. The hotel has a rooftop bar which has a pretty spectacular view of the city and is open at night for anyone to go up and snap some pictures (without the need to purchase anything). There is also a swimming pool and small gym, the pool is nice (very stuffy though) and the breakfast buffet had a pretty big selection of local and foreign dishes, pretty good all around.
We had some great food at the seafood restaurant, really fresh and tasty, loud and busy place, great atmosphere. I think if we could spend a bit more time in Da Nang we wouldn’t be disappointed. Good food, beaches, and some other touristy things nearby, I think that there were more places nearby that had nice views of the surrounds. There are a lot of pretty spectacular bridges that span the river that flows through Da Nang, and more night views of them would definitely be worth it. That’s it for this time, I won’t do two separate posts for Saigon, so next stop will be Phu Quoc, then I’ll lump all of the Saigon stuff in one post after that.
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Man, it’s been desolate here, and is this long overdue, like three months, I am so lazy, but here I am now, ready to kick start a new year of dtraCorp madness. We started our trip to Vietnam by heading to the north, emmy’s home town and birth place, Hanoi (the capital). We never planned to do much there (I think we had three days there including a night in Vinh to take care of some family business), other than eat some good food. So this post is going to pretty much be food, and some reviews of our accommodation and transport.
We stayed at a hotel called Lucky Hotel in Hanoi, which wasn’t great, and I certainly wouldn’t have picked it if it was my choice, but it wasn’t the worst place I’ve stayed in, that’s for sure. Dark and not particularly clean (not dirty, just not sparkling or anything) with pretty basic amenities, the positive is that it is quite centrally located (near Hoan Kiem Lake). We travelled by train (the north-south train from Hanoi to Saigon) down to Vinh, the train is on time when leaving Hanoi and we also got quite a clean one heading south for the six hour train journey. It went quite smoothly and arrived at a reasonable time I think.
In Vinh, we stayed at the Saigon Kiem Lien Hotel which is actually a four star hotel, so was a reasonable quality, but I don’t think that it’s had any work done since it was opened as it was starting to show it’s age a bit. Still, better than the Lucky Hotel in Hanoi, and very reasonably priced too (not that I paid for anything), we didn’t do anything in Vinh other than drive out to the ancestral cemetery and do some of that stuff, before getting the train (this train was old and creaky and ran late) back to Hanoi the next day.
I don’t have a picture of the wonton noodles that emmy’s cousin took out to eat, but not a big deal, they were yummy, we were out and about a lot, so other than home cooking at emmy’s aunties’ place, we ate a lot of sticky rice (quite good) wrapped in paper while travelling around. And so that’s it for the first of this series, I’ll be back tomorrow (or more probably the day after) with the next in this series, Hoi An and Da Nang.
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Again, long time no post, been very lazy I suppose, watching old TV shows and playing bloody Clash of Clans. Anyway, I’m posting this one which is a bit technical about a photography post-processing technique that I had a go at with a set of pictures I took at Murodo station in Japan. I was actually trying to take a bunch of multi-exposure shots in one shot (Pentax feature), but accidentally forgot to set the multi-exposure setting and ended up taking half a dozen separate stills. So here I was with a bunch of stills and no motion in the clouds as I wanted.
I decided to see if it could be done easily and for free (using open source/free software), turns out that it could, and with pretty reasonable results at that. Hat tip to patdavid.net for the tutorial on how to do this but I did it on mac osx, pretty much exactly the same commands using hugin and imagemagick. I pretty much followed his instructions and got the result that I was looking for, it would’ve been better if I had taken more pictures and used an ND filter, but I was experimenting I guess. You should be able to make out a subtle difference in the sharpness of the clouds, the multi-exposure showing a tiny smidge of motion. It’s definitely a good thing to know, but I’d prefer to do it in camera to reduce the number of files I am working with.
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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.
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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