We went to ride on Puffing Billy last month for Oscar’s birthday and forgot about it until yesterday, it wasn’t unforgettable haha, but it wasn’t forgettable either, a nice time was had by all. We booked the 10.30am departure which turned out to be a bit of a rush (since they tell you to be 30 minutes early or something), we didn’t get there by 10am (more like 10.20am) but it didn’t matter, they didn’t leave till about 10.35am anyway. A lot of late comers strolling on so we certainly didn’t feel too bad about not being early.
We left from the starting point of Belgrave and headed for Lakeside, which is the main stop as there are picninc grounds and a small lake to spend time at (and some nearby play grounds). It takes about an hour with a couple of stops along the way, there is a nice view toward the city near the top around 45 minutes in and a fun atmosphere the whole time. The train meanders across Mount Dandenong and stops traffic at many junctions where people seem to enjoy the spectacle of a passing steam train.
We arrived at Lakeside at about 11.30am and quickly got out and ate our packed sandwiches by the lake. We had a short walk around and discovered that the next train back to Belgrave (after the 12.30pm train) was not until after 2pm, which we were not prepared for. So in a rush we headed back to the train station and boarded before setting off back to Belgrave.
So unfortunately we didn’t get to spend a relaxing time up at the lake but at least we had a peaceful ride on the train back. As the weather was quite cool (but sunny) it wasn’t so busy so we got to sit comfortably and also dangle our legs out the window whenever we liked. We got to Belgrave and were pretty hungry so we had a quick look in the gift shop before checking out what food was on offer along the main street.
It’s a good experience but we definitely could have done better by being more prepared, being May it also wasn’t the best time to spend outdoors in the crisp air of Mount Dandenong hungry. Next time maybe we’ll go when it’s a bit warmer so that we can enjoy the lakeside activities a bit and spend more time up there (and also prepare more food!). All in all it’s a fun trip and the trains are pretty cool to see, puffing out all that steam makes for some interesting pictures, there’s also that part where the train goes over an elevated section of track that would look pretty cool from down on the side of the road. It’s not cheap (54$ per adult) so definitely worth it to prepare and plan out the trip better than we did.
As I said before, we didn’t do too much in terms of touristic things in Tokyo, shopping and eating is sort of touristy but you can do that anywhere. We attended a tea ceremony lesson (thanks to Emmy’s friend), decided to have a quick look at the Rainbow Bridge from Odaiba Marine Park one night, and I took Oscar to Shinjuku Gyoen our last afternoon in Japan to try and chill out before going home. And even that isn’t really that touristy since a stroll through the park is a normal thing anywhere.
The tea ceremony is an interesting thing, and the tea ceremony lesson is possibly even more interesting. We were invited (I think) to attend the lesson as guests so we didn’t have to do anything except drink tea and eat sweets, although we did have to stir our own tea one time. I was sitting there observing it all, and while it didn’t look like much, I am pretty sure pretty much everything the teacher was doing was following a very specific routine, e.g. which hand to use to place a hanky down, and which hand to lift a bowl, and when to move this or that.
It had to be very precise, I’m sure of it, I’m not making it more than it was, the Japanese are very OCD like that, it would seem to be very easy to mess up while learning, but after enough practice it would become a habit to follow all the steps precisely I would think. We got to eat some yummy sweets and learn how to stir the green tea (not in a round motion, but back and forth) before heading out for dinner (more on that in a later post).
One evening we were at home, I think it was the Tuesday, the weather was clear and we were just going to go shopping, but I thought it might be a good idea to visit Odaiba Marine Park and get a view of the Rainbow Bridge from across the bay. The train ride was an interesting one as it is on a newer train line that runs on different tracks (or something), and even goes over the Rainbow Bridge. Turns out that we were far too late as the nightly light show had already finished and it was pretty dark with nothing much to see. We walked along the path and headed toward one of the boardwalk piers, the bridge was still illuminated so there was at least that to look at. It did look nice, though it probably would have been worth spending a half day in Odaiba and finishing with the night view of the bridge.
Our final full day in Tokyo (and Japan) we did some shopping in the morning (yay for me! I got some stuff), and then after lunch Emmy carried on with that while I took Oscar to Shinjuku Gyoen for a good wander. It closes quite early 4.00pm (gates close 4.30pm) and having only arrived at around 3pm I didn’t have as much time as I ended needing, as I had to rush about before I even got to enjoy the Japanese Garden portion properly.
I think next time I’ll definitely try to arrive at around 1.30pm or so, then I can take my time and enjoy it more peacefully. Even so, we were able to follow the route and see several areas of the park, including a few ponds, bridges, and maple trees, and with the NTT Docomo Building poking its head in. There was a chrysanthemum flower festival or something as there were many displays with all different kinds of chrysanthemums, some growing at very peculiar angles, they were quite nice, although I’m sure Emmy would not approve. I was really impressed by the park and will definitely make it a higher priority next time I’m in Tokyo.
That’s pretty much it, the tour is finished, but, I will regale you with more details on some of the food we ate as well as the places we stayed in the next couple of posts. Kaiseki in Kyoto wasn’t the only delight we lavished on ourselves, in Japan, there is always something delectable around the corner, and the same can be said of dtraCorp :D.
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.
Originally I was going to post a few separate posts of our trip to Japan but having completely lost the motivation, I’m just going to post one overview with the whole gallery of photos selected for this site (photos for Flickr will continue to go up at the normal rate). Tokyo was crazy, just consumerism gone mad, millions of people going everywhere all the time, endless concrete and steel, girls in short skirts/shorts (though not revealing tops), millions of umbrellas (different coloured), shops with absolutely every thing you could ever need (and a million different colour and style options), no rubbish bins, weird and unusual shops, and an amazing train system. We spent most of our time in Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Harajuku, though we did make our way to the Tsukiji fish market for lunch one day where we had some amazing sashimi. We also visited Roppongi Hills to go up the Mori Tower, went to Meiji Jingu, but didn’t see too much else in Tokyo. We decided not to try and climb Mount Fuji and instead just stayed nearby at Kawaguchi-Ko before heading to Hakone for a night in an onsen ryokan (which was bloody great) that included a kaiseki dinner. Hey, we also got some clear views of Mount Fuji so that’s something.
So after two days of country-ish life we headed for Kyoto where we would spend the majority of the next six days, this was certainly a very good decision in hindsight. Kyoto is a reasonably small city with an abundance of world heritage listed sites and a great selection of food options, and is also near many other beautiful and significant tourist sites. We loaded up our JR passes and used them every day we were in Kyoto (except one when we travelled around on the bus), visiting a bunch of temples and shrines including Kinkaku-Ji, Ryoan-Ji, Tofuku-Ji, To-Ji, Kiyomizu-Dera, Fushimi Inari, we spent a day in Nara wandering around the sites there and saw the Daibutsu at Todai-Ji as well as a few others. We also went to Osaka for a day trip as well as Kobe, where we sampled Kobe beef teppanyaki style, which was bloody sublime! Osaka wasn’t particularly interesting, like a smaller Tokyo, while Kobe was at least a bit less frantic. After all that, and some shopping, we headed back to Tokyo for one more day before flying back home (via Singapore where we visited the Gardens by the Bay near Marina Bay).
The weather was as you would expect at the end of Summer, start of Autumn, pretty warm and a bit humid, it seemed like every second day it would rain (even though the rainy season had already passed), but it was at least warm. The bullet train was something else, fast and comfortable to sit in, and exhilarating to watch fly past. The food was amazing, I think we had one bad meal during the whole trip which is a pretty amazing hit rate, the portions weren’t as small as everyone (not sure who, but that seems to be the stereotype) says, and you gotta love the plastic food displays outside the restaurant looking exactly like the meal that was served. Favourites? I don’t know, udon of any kind, sashimi (super fresh), Mister Donut custard donuts, tempura, katsu don, white peach sorbet, they don’t seem to eat any vegies we noticed, next time I think I will try some different stuff, non-traditional stuff like Japanese burgers, pizza and/or pasta, just to see what it’s like there, as we ate (except for one meal where we were tricked into Korean Nabe) Japanese food for every meal. I would be remiss not to mention the amazing people, so polite and so neat and so nice, I have to add strange as well, but I’m sure that comes from living on a remote island, and it’s not like they’re really strange, just a bit peculiar, very funny. Any way, I’m sure I’ve missed a million things here, but let’s let the pictures speak for themselves, I wish I had more pictures of food to post here, but I already put them on facebook.
In Tokyo for our first go-round, we stayed at Hotel Villa Fontaine in Shinjuku, we booked it online before going, I think it was a book early special price, and because we booked for four nights we got a discount for that too, it was ok, had breakfast included (a sandwich delivered by the staff), an awesome bathroom, and a nice enough bed, a cosy room. We stayed at K’s House in Kawaguchi-Ko for just one night, and stayed in a private tatami room which was nice, and had free wifi so that was good, nice enough place and it’s a chain throughout Japan so I think you’ll be safe with them throughout Japan. We stayed at Fujimi-en Lodge (the onsen ryokan) near Hakone for one night, the onsen was hot, but had a view of Mount Fuji (when it was clear), every room had a view of Mount Fuji, no breakfast but I would recommend to book with the kaiseki dinner option as the dinner was absolutely super! In Kyoto we stayed at Capsule Ryokan, pretty close to the train station as well as the two (free admission) big temples (Nishi Hongan-Ji and Higashi Hongan-Ji) near the station, pretty reasonable pricing, with free wifi in the lobby and a nice shower :D. Also had a nice free kimono dress up which is nice for the ladies :). We didn’t stay in any ultra-budget places, and I’m not sure there is anything that is really cheap in Japan, but all the places we stayed were very clean, neat and tidy.
We used the train system in Tokyo solely (as well as walking), and fount it pretty easy to work out after our initial apprehension, although not super cheap to be buying tickets all the time, perhaps the SUICA card might have proved better value. We got a bus from Tokyo to Kawaguchi-Ko, and then a bus from there to Hakone, from Hakone, we got a bus to Gotenba, and then one more bus to Odawara station, before we pulled out our JR passes to use the train for the next week. With a JR pass travel is reasonable between big cities (and fast), and also on the JR services within the cities it is very useful. Transport is super safe and clean in Japan so you never have to worry about any of that, just making sure you get on and off at the right stops/stations and on the right buses/trains of course.And that’s it for my lame Japanese overview, now for the pictures, also remember to keep an eye on my flickr stream as I’ll be uploading (around 70-80 I’m guessing) pictures there over the next few months.