Skyhigh: Hong Kong

Did you know that Hong Kong has the most skyscrapers (classified as buildings with over 14 floors) in the world?

After the Golden Week holidays in Japan, I went to Hong Kong for a few days. I was really impressed with what seemed to be an infinite number of skyscrapers.

 

The island of Hong Kong is made up of 70% rural mountains, islands and national parks. It is considered one of the most densely populated places in the world. Hong Kong is technically part of China. However, it has its own currency and laws amongst other things. It is by definition the place where the West meets the East.

Lantau island

There are over 200 islands in Hong Kong. I visited Lantau island which is the largest island to see the statute of Tian Tan Buddha (aka. Big Buddha).

Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery

Tian Tan Buddha was constructed in 1993 and was the biggest outdoor sitting bronze Buddha statue in the world at the time. It is now the second largest at 34 meters high (the  current largest one is in Taiwan). The statue sits atop a hill and faces north, overlooking China.

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The statute took 12 years to be completed.

To get to Tian Tan Buddha, I took the Ngong Ping cable car up to the mountain where the statue resides.

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This was the longest cable car ride in my life. It was so long that I conquered my fear of heights while on board (It was actually only 20 minutes but it felt like a really long time).

P1050076 Once I made it to Ngong Ping village, I went to Po Lin Monastery before climbing the 268 steps for an up close look at the statue.

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Ngong Ping village

I circled around the Buddha statute in a 360 angle once I made it up the steps, taking in the mountains and valley of Lantau.

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The climb
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Had to stop for a little rest

Po Lin Monastery is a Buddhist temple which is also another attraction situated across the Big Buddha statute. You cannot visit Tian Tan Buddha without taking a stroll around the temple grounds to take in the aesthetic of the monastery.

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Tai O Fishing Village

I also visited Tai O Fishing village to see a different side of Hong Kong.

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I spent a couple of hours walking around the market in Tai O. I also went on a boat ride for an up close view of the harbour and stilt houses. The village was very picturesque.

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Symphony of Lights

Hong Kong really comes alive at night. To capture the energy of the city, I went to see the Symphony of lights show. This is a nightly laser and sound show which celebrates the energy, spirit and diversity of Hong Kong. The show is listed in the Guinness book of records as the world’s largest permanent light and sound show. It is spectacular and a must see when in Hong Kong; it is free.

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Victoria Peak

For a panoramic view of Hong Kong, I went to the highest point; Victoria Peak which is 428 meters above sea level. The view from this point was incredibly stunning. I took the peak tram to get to the top. The ride was also scenic.

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The peak tram
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The view from the Sky Terrace 428

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I thoroughly enjoyed my short stay in Hong Kong.

I believe a lot can be done in a short trip; there is no time to waste. Short trips are the way forward if you are like me and want to see everything and do so much in a short space of time.

Hong Kong is a must visit. Its an incredibly beautiful island. Let me know if you ever visit, I would love to hear about your experience.

Recommendations

I would recommend the following on a visit to Hong Kong:

  • Visit Tai O fishing village on the way to see the Big Buddha statute. It is a 15 minutes bus ride from Ngong Ping village. Alternatively, you can get a fast track ticket from the cable car station on the way to see the statue like I did which includes a tour of Tai O and a boat ride.
  • Get an octopus card. This is a rechargeable contactless card. You can get one from the airport as soon as you land or at various places within the city. You will need to pay a deposit of HK $50 to loan a card during your stay (you get this back less a HK $9 handling fee when you return the card which can be done at any train station or at the airport when leaving). If you want to keep the card as a souvenir however, you can buy it for HK$39. The card can be used on all Hong Kong public transports and ferries. It can also be used at convenience stores, some fast food restaurants and supermarkets. It is one of the world’s leading smart card payment systems.
  • Go and see the symphony of lights show. You can get the star ferry from Hong Kong island. The best spot for the show is Avenue of Stars, Tsim Sha Tsui. It starts at 8pm every single day. You should aim to arrive at around 7.30pm if not earlier to get a good spot. Don’t miss it, it’s free!
  • Get a Peak Tram Sky Pass if you go to Victoria Peak to be able to visit The Sky Terrace 428 which is the highest 360 degrees viewing terrace in Hong Kong.
  • Go on a tram ride (also known as the “Ding Ding”). It is described as the best way to experience Hong Kong. The iconic trams have been riding in Hong Kong for 110 years. I had a lovely time riding the tram. I even had a cheeky nap while on board.
  • If you have time, go to Macau. It can be done in a day’s trip. I didn’t have enough time to go. Let me know if you visit.

Check out below slide show for the rest of the pictures I took in Hong Kong.

Enjoy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Matane

*bows*

Cherry blossom and GW

Did you know that the cherry blossom capital of the world is actually Macon, Georgia-USA with around 300,000 – 350,000 cherry trees?

Cherry blossom

The spring season is a really important time for Japanese people. Spring symbolises new beginnings hence why the Japanese academic year starts in April after the spring holidays as opposed to September after the summer holidays.

Spring in Japan means cherry blossom time. Cherry blossom is the unofficial national flower of Japan. It is known in Japanese as “Sakura”. It is a very symbolic part of Japanese tradition dating back hundreds of years, representing the fragility and beauty of life.

The exquisite beauty of cherry blossom can be seen from late March to mid April. The cherry trees start to bloom in Okinawa, the far south of Japan in February and works its way to the North of Japan, finishing in Hokkaido by May.

Tokyo usually sees its first bloom at the end of March, with full bloom taking place in April.

I happened to be in Tokyo in time to see the full bloom. It was truly beautiful.

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Hanami parties

During the cherry blossom season, people go to parks, gardens, castle grounds and riverbanks for hanami “flower viewing”. Hanami involves picnic parties under cherry trees. Japanese people are at their most relaxed during this period of time and it is a great time to meet new people.

I headed to Yoyogi park in Tokyo to join in the hanami fun one weekend. The atmosphere was incredible. People were drinking, dancing and singing all over the park. I met some really cool people there.

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Cherry blossom at night

 Golden Week

Another exciting spring occasion which takes place every year in Japan is Golden Week (GW). This refers to a collection of national holidays, namely; Showa, Constitution, Greenery and Children’s day.

GW is one of Japan’s busiest holiday season. During GW, I spent most of the time resting and exploring Yokohama. On the last day of GW before I went to Hong Kong, I visited Tokyo Sea Life. It was extremely busy but I managed to get in before it closed for the day. I had a lovely time there.

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The cherry blossom season or anytime in spring is a magical time in Japan. It is the best time to visit to capture the spirit of Japan. The weather is also perfect around this time for sightseeing.

I would recommend visiting Japan around this time if you are interested.

Matane

*bows*

Seoul survivor: South Korea

Did you know that there are more Starbucks coffee shops in Korea than anywhere else in the world?

Continuing on from my previous post, one of the most interesting things I noticed in Seoul was the amount of coffee shops there were in the city. Everywhere I turned, there was one. At one point, I saw about five coffee shops in a row. How does one decide where to go for coffee in such a situation? There are more Starbucks in Seoul than in New York City. How odd is that?

Seoul Food

While in Seoul, I sampled a few of their street food and tried the traditional Korean dish, kimichi which is made of fermented cabbage. There are a wide variety of kimichi, apparently about 250 different types. It came as a side dish to everything I had in Korea. It was a bit too strong and spicy for me but I tried it nonetheless.

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Bibimbap

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Arts and crafts

As well as trying out Korean food, I went to Insadong, a place which represents a focal point in Korean traditional culture and crafts. I saw some cool art exhibitions and some crafts there.

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Street performers at Insadong

 National Museum of Korea and Gangnam

I also went to the National musem of Korea which is a huge marble lined building with some impressive Korean treasures. Amongst other things, I saw the ten-story pagoda masterpiece below which is said to represent Buddhist doctrine and faith and is also a national Korean treasure.

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Ten-story Pagoda

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Spotted just before I went inside the museum

Before I left Seoul, I briefly visited Gangnam, the place referred to in the 2012 hit song, Gangnam style. P1040417

I was pressed for time and so didn’t get much of a feel for Gangnam.

One of the most suprising things I noticed in Seoul was the amount of plastic surgery adverts around the city. There was a nip and tuck advert everywhere.

Seoul was definitely riveting. Did I mentioned that I walked everywhere besides the National museum of Korea and Gangnam? I was on a walking mission. All the attractions were relatively close to each other saving me time and money.

Seoul is an extremely vibrant and modern city. It is definitely a must see!

Matane

*bows*

Seoul searching: South Korea

Did you know that South Korea has the world’s fastest internet connection speed?

I visited South Korea for the first time in March before moving to Yokohama. The capital of South Korea, Seoul is about an hour and a half away from Osaka by plane.

On the way to where I was staying with my travel buddy, we got lost and resorted to asking a few locals for directions.We asked a lady for directions who in turn directed us to two police men who happened to be in the area. They told us to get into the police car. We looked at each other like, “we are getting arrested in Seoul”. They dropped us off at our hostel which was up on a hill overlooking the Seoul Tower. It’s a shame I didn’t ask them for a picture.

Once we checked in, we ventured out onto the streets of Meyondong to sample its street food and to get some dinner. I will write about Seoul food in the next post.

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Streets of Meyondong

Palace visit

I went to the Gyeongbokgung palace the next day. This palace was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty, built in 1395.

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Gyeongbokgung palace was destroyed by fire during the Japanese invasion and was later restored.

I got to the palace just in time to see the daily parade. The guards were so colourful.

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I even managed to get a picture with one. I was feeling a bit brave!

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I spotted some lovely Korean ladies in their traditional Hanbok just as I was getting my ticket to go in.

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The grounds of Gyeongbokgung was nice but was not as impressive as the second palace I visited.

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The interior of the palace

P1040174Next stop, I went to Changdeokgung palace which is a world heritage site with a secret garden. The palace was recognised in 1992 as a world heritage site for its outstanding architecture and garden design.

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My favourite shot from this palaceP1040261

I went on a tour of the secret garden to learn a bit about Korean history and culture.

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The secret garden

Hanok villages

One thing I loved about my trip to Seoul was the opportunity to see Korea as it used to be without leaving the city. I went to two Hanok villages which are traditional Korean homes made of soil, timber and rock with distinctive curvy edge roofs. The first village I went to Buckchon Hanok village, was about 30 minutes walk from Changdeokgung palace.

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Map of the walking tour

This village is a bit of a small cluster of narrow twisting lanes with great traditional Korean architecture. I enjoyed my stroll around and even saw some cool art galleries. It was nice to know that people still live there.

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I also went to Namsangol Hanok village which was actually really close to where I was staying. This place looked like a real village.

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How the village looks before entering

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There was a traditional Hanok wearing and photoshoot going on. I managed to sneak a shot of this lovely couple.
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Churches

I was surprised by the number of churches and cathedrals I saw in Seoul. For a nation which has been dominated by Confucianism and Buddhism for hundreds of years, I found this really interesting. I lost count as to the amount of churches I saw. I briefly went into Myeongdong cathedral. There was a service going on. I sat in for a few minutes before proceeding with my tour.

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Markets

I visited two markets in Seoul; Namdaemun market which is one of the oldest markets in Seoul and Gwangjang market, a really old fabric and textiles market. The city is known for its flea markets. Most tourists actually travel to Seoul just to shop.

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Namdaemun market
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Gwangjang market

I saw far too much in Seoul to fit into one post. Stay tuned for the next post on Seoul.

Matane

*bows*

Sapporo: Winter wonderland

Did you know that you can travel from Japan to Russia by ferry? 

It takes about 5 hours to travel by ferry to Russia. The city of Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido which is the largest island in Japan. It is situated in the Northern part of the country. The northernmost point of Hokkaido is about 40km from Sakhalin, Russia.

In February, I went to a snow festival in Sapporo. The festival is one of the most popular winter events in Japan.

Odori Park

Odori park is the main site where the snow festival is held every year. The festival first took place in 1950 with snow statues made by local high school students. The park stretches from east to west over 1.5km through the heart of downtown Sapporo.

I walked across the stretch with two other friends from Osaka taking in all the exquisite state of the art snow sculptures. P1030466They were all sculptured with pure white snow and clear ice. Below were my favourite sculptures.

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Attack on Titan
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Ruins of St Paul’s church in Macau

P1030560P1030535During the evening, they had performances at the park which were spectacular. P1030570

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A gospel choir sang on the Ruins of St Paul`s church stage.

Susukino Ice World

I also visited the Susukino site to see the ice sculptures below and the illuminated streets. It wasn’t as impressive as the snow sculptures at Odori park but was still cool. P1030628P1030624I later went to the Sapporo JR Tower with my friends for a bird’s eye view of the city.

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The Hokkaido crew
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Sapporo at night

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The next day, a visit was made to the Former Hokkaido Government Building and Otaru to see the famous canal.

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Former government building
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My battery died at this point so this was my best shot of the canal

Food

Hokkaido is known for having the best seafood, potatoes and ramen in Japan amongst other things. While at Odori Park, I tried a few street food. I also had miso ramen at a halal restaurant in Susukino which has been serving the miso ramen below as a regular since 1957. It was by far the best ramen I have ever tasted!

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Miso ramen

Sushi in Hokkaido was superb! It was also the best sushi ever!

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I had a truly epic time in Hokkaido. It is definitely up there on my list of favourite places so far. I’d go again just for some more miso ramen.

I will upload the rest of the pictures I took in Hokkaido on facebook.

 

Matane

*bows*

 

 

 

 

Tokyo Drift

Did you know that Tokyo is the most populated city in the world? The city has remained the world’s most populated since 1990 and it is expected to remain so until 2030 eventhough a decline in its population has been predicted by the UN.

In October last year, I went to Tokyo for the very first time. I was invited by my church in Osaka to attend a conference. As soon as I heard Tokyo, I was on board. I mentally packed and made a list of places I wanted to visit. We left Osaka on a Friday night.

Tokyo is about 7 hours drive from Osaka. We arrived on Saturday morning and had breakfast in Roppongi Hills. After freshening up, we set off to an all day conference, which was also taking place in Roppongi. The conference was refreshing. I met so many people.

After the conference, I had dinner with some friends. I was then dropped off with my friend to where we were staying for the night. We stayed in Nakano with a lovely Japanese family. Their home was 13 minutes by train from the famous Shinjuku station; the busiest station in the world.

The Nakano family was incredibly welcoming! After our brief introductions, we were asked about our plans for the next day. I pull out the list of places I had written down to visit. Our host took my list and re-arranged the order to save us time and money.

We were up and ready for our tour at around 8am the next day. Our host offered to drop us at the nearest train station and advised us to get a one-day metro pass. We bowed and thanked him.

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After purchasing a one pay metro pass, we boarded the metro train to Shinjuku Gyoen, a Japanese national garden. This was the first stop on the revised list. It was raining when we got there but we still went in. We walked around for a bit, taking in the landscape. The garden blends three distinct styles, French formal garden, English landscape garden and Japanese traditional garden. It is also considered one of the most important gardens from the Meiji era.

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From here, we went to Meiji shrine which is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji was the first emperor of modern Japan. At the entrance to the shrine, I saw a massive wooden torri gate. A torri gate is always a sign to let you know that you are entering a shrine.

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Meiji shrine is the perfect place to go if you want to escape the sounds of the busy city.

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Meiji shrine is one of Japan’s most popular shrines. I was told that during the first few days of New Year, over 2 million visitors come to the shrine for new year prayers; more than any other shrine or temple in the country.

The shrine also holds traditional Shinto weddings. We happened to be there when a ceremony was taking place.

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A shinto wedding

Next stop, we went to Harajuku, which is a 5 minutes walk from Meiji shrine. Harajuku is the center of Japan’s teenage culture and fashion style. I saw quiet a few interestingly dressed teenagers parading around the streets.

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From here, we headed to Asakusa to see the famous Buddhist temple, Senso-ji. The metro ride to Asakusa was extremely long. On approach, we saw a shopping street serving a variety of local snacks and tourist souvenirs. We walked through observing the various items on display.

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Nakamise shopping street

We reached the temple in no time. Senso-ji was extremely busy.

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Everyone was taking a picture here. The symbol of Asakusa

Senso-ji is Tokyo’s most popular temple.

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After that, we went to Tokyo skytree, which is a 20 minute walk across the Sumida River from Asakusa. The walk was long but worth it. Luckily, the sun was setting around this time blessing us with a lovely view of the skytree. I took a lot of pictures of the skytree during our walk.

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First sighting of the skytree

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My best shot

When we were almost at the Tokyo skytree, we came across a group of Buddhists. They stopped us to have a chat. I told them I didn’t understand Japanese but they still wanted to chat. The gesture game began…They invited us in to see their place of worship. We went in for a few minutes. They asked us about our religion and told us about theirs. We had an interesting discussion about the similarities and difference between Christianity and Buddhism (one of the members spoke English). We took below picture with the group.

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New friends

By the time we left the group, it was dark outside. I took these stunning photos of the skytree.

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A few minutes afterwards, we finally made it to Tokyo skytree.

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We joined an incredibly long queue for tickets to the first observation deck. At 634 meters tall, Tokyo skytree is the tallest structure in Japan and a landmark of Tokyo. At the first observation deck known as Tembo deck, we saw a panoramic view of the whole Kanto area. The night view from this point was stunning.

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These pictures don’t do it justice

Last stop, we went to Shibuya which is one of Tokyo’s most colourful and busy districts.

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We stopped here to see the famous intersection known as Shibuya crossing. This area of Tokyo is heavily decorated with neon lights and massive video screens.

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When the pedestrian lights turn green, thousands of pedestrians cross at the same time from five different directions. This happens every two minutes. I kid you not when I say this is a top attraction. The interesting part of the intersection is the complete mayhem you witness when people meet in the middle. You essentially have two minutes to make it across before the lights turn red. With hundreds of people in front of you and even thousands during rush hour, it’s not easy dodging people coming in the opposite direction. In addition, this is all done in an extremely calm and synchronised Japanese manner.

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To get a proper view of the intersection, we went up to a Starbucks by the metro station. I could have sat there all day sipping matcha latte and watching the organised chaos. Mind you, this was a Sunday evening and so not a busy day nor time.

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My best shot

I attempted to cross the road a few times too, going nowhere in particular.

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Who would have thought that an intersection could be so interesting? Only in Japan!

At around 9pm, we finished our tour. We met up with the others and came back to Osaka that same night.

A lot can be achieved, sightseeing wise in a day. You simply need to make a list, set off early and make sure you follow through. Time yourself at various places if you have to. After all, time is money! I was extremely tired the next day but it was worth it. I’d do it all again.

Matane

*bows*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

24 hours in Istanbul

Did you know that Japanese and Turkish stem from the same language family; the altaic languages?

I left London again for Osaka on 3rd January 2016 after the Christmas break. I was due to transit in Istanbul for 2 hours. After going through security at Heathrow, I found out that my flight was delayed by an hour. I knew I wouldn’t make it onto my Osaka bound flight even before we landed in Istanbul. I was however hopeful. As suspected, my connecting flight had left by the time we landed. Again! (see previous post: 24 hours in Dubai) I joined the queue to reschedule my flight.

After 2 hours of queuing, I approached the front desk. My passport was taken and I was booked onto the next flight, leaving at 1:00am the next day, Turkish time. I was told to proceed to the visa desk to acquire a visa. I hadn’t even thought about a visa. I was surprised and annoyed that I needed a visa. Of course, visa and airlines matters are separate. I was told to take the matter up with Turkish airlines once I reached my destination (I am still waiting for them to respond to my complaint). To make matters worst, payment for the visa was required in cash. Who asks for cash from stranded passengers? I was not impressed with the customer service at the airport to say the least. I called home, vented some more as did other passengers in the same situation. Luckily, I found some cash in my hand luggage to pay for the visa. I then joined another queue to go through security.

After about 1 more hour of queuing, I made it through security. To my annoyance, I then had to join a group waiting for details of where we were to be placed for the night. That was another 2 hours of waiting. Eventually, I got the details I needed and boarded the airport shuttle bound for the hotel where I was staying till my flight to Osaka.

At around 6.20 am Turkish time, I checked in at Raddison blu. The hotel was rather nice.

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The lobby

 

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This time round, I was determined not to miss breakfast. I made myself comfortable; I helped myself to some snacks and a drink from the mini bar in the room (big mistake- I had to pay for what I had on checking out)

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I had one too many snacks

I then waited till breakfast started at 7am. Once I finished eating, I had a shower and set 2 alarms this time, to wake up in time for lunch and then to go on my sightseeing adventures. I woke up in time, thank goodness!

I set off at 3.30pm after having some lunch. I asked for directions to the bus station and after exchanging some money, I headed for the bus going into town. I should add here that it seemed everyone was staring at me. Now, having been in Japan for a while, I didn’t expect this in Turkey. They didn’t even bother to look away when I looked directly back at them. After about 40 minutes on the bus, I changed onto the metro. Armed with a map, I was navigating the Turkish public transport like I lived there.

Upon arriving at the City center, Sultana Ahmed, I made enquiries about the hop on, hop off sightseeing bus. I was told there was only one bus left to leave for the day. I asked for one of their route maps and off I went to see a few of of the sights myself. I should add that it had snowed in Istanbul. Sultana Ahmed square was surrounded by snow and palm trees, something which looked odd but pretty.

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Palm trees in snow

First stop, I visited the Aya Sofia museum (Hagia Sophia) which is apparently the only building in the world that served to three religions in order; Pagan, Orthodox Christian and Sunni Islam. This building is also referred to in Dan Brown’s historical fiction, ‘Inferno’. It was almost closing by the time I got there and so I merely managed a brief look around.

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Aya Sofia musem

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From there, I went to Sulthana Ahmed Mosque which is popularly known as the “Blue Mosque” because of the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior.

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On my way to the Blue Mosque, I was stopped by 3 people who wanted to take pictures with me. The first two were polite and friendly. They even recommended a few places for me to visit. My third encounter however, was rude! He just grabbed me in the direction of his camera as I was leaving following the second photo. No excuse me. Nothing. I looked at him, shook my head to express my disapproval and walked off. I slipped thereafter (the snow was melting and my boots didn’t have grip at the sole). I quickly looked over my shoulder to check if he was still there. He wasn’t, thank God, it would have been really embarrassing…

Anyway, the Blue mosque was huge. I was told the mosque contains a tomb of its founder. Apparently the design of the mosque incorporates some Christian elements from the Hagia Sophia, the first museum I visited with traditional Islamic architecture. The blue mosque is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period.

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The Blue Mosque
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Ignore my shadow in the picture

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When leaving, I met this random guy who asked if I wanted a Turkish boyfriend. “I’m alright, thanks”!, I replied. He was actually been serious…

Since the fountains were lit once I walked back to the square, I hanged around for a little while. The fountain looked so beautiful.

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I hop on the metro again trying to follow the map route. Within 10 minutes of the metro leaving, we were on a bridge. I saw a boat which seemed to be transporting people from one end to the other.

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A boat from a distance

I hopped off the metro at this point to find out where the boat was going and the distance to the other side. I was told it was a 20 minutes boat ride to the other side and the fare was fairly reasonable. I got a ticket and boarded the next boat.

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Enroute to get on a boat

The view from the boat was really nice. It was incredibly cold on the boat but worth it.

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Once I got to the other side, I briefly looked around and boarded a returning boat back to where I was; Karakoy.

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This place was really busy for some reason

From there, I walked along the river, people watching. I saw a few men fishing.

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I went back to the nearest metro station to catch the metro and then the bus back to the hotel. I arrived at the hotel at 9pm. I went to get some dinner, got my stuff and then checked out.

I caught the airport shuttle back to the airport and went straight through security again. At 7.30pm on 4th January, I was back in Japan.

Check out these other pictures taken in Istanbul.

The next time you transit or are stuck in another country, get a visa if needed and go and see the city. You won’t regret it. I didn’t see much but I’m glad I attempted. I will definitely go back to Istanbul to complete my tour someday.

Matane

*bows*

Strolling through Kyoto

Did you know that Kyoto was the 2nd imperial capital of Japan? Kyoto is an ancient city situated in the Kansai region, and is about 50 minutes away from Osaka by train. It is known as the cultural center of Japan and the place to go for the finest matcha (green tea) in the country. There are about 17 world heritage sites in this prefecture alone and over 2,000 temples and shrines. It is my favourite place in Japan without a doubt.

Kyoto was the first prefecture that I visited once I started my sightseeing endeavours. I did a two-day Kyoto tour one weekend during silver week last year with a group of other ALTs.

Day 1-  Arashiyama

On the first day of the Kyoto tour, I went to Arashiyama, which is known for being the home of the famous Bamboo grooves as well as the Iwatayama monkey park. I fell in love with Kyoto in Arashiyama.

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Imagine the backdrop in various autumn colours
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Togetsukyo bridge

The day started with a hike up the monkey park, which is on Mt Arashiyama. I wasn’t ready for this. The hike was really steep! I fed some kawaii (cute) monkeys and took in the view of Kyoto from the peak of the mountain.

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Meecha kawaii. Can you see the little baby monkey?
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The view from the monkey park

After our decent, we had some lunch and then proceeded to the Bamboo grooves. Before coming to Japan, I read about this place. Apparently at night, the forest is lit up entirely by the glowing bamboo trunks. Unfortunately though, we went in the afternoon and so I didn’t get a chance to experience this. Maybe one day, I will go back for this glowing experience.

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Bamboo grooves

We wandered around various temples and shrines and then retired to this lovely spot near the river to sip some chu-hai and rest. We watched as the sun set, taking in Arashiyama from this spot. A new friendship was formed.

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Temple and chill

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Day 2 – Eastern Kyoto

The next day, I went back to Kyoto with another group for the eastern Kyoto tour. We started the day visiting Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion), which is a Zen temple and a world heritage site.

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We walked around the temple in a circular route taking in the wooden architecture and the surrounding moss and sand gardens along the route. The interior of the temple is not open to the public.

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A view of the temple from the sand garden known as “Sea of Silver Sand”

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From here, we walked along the Philosopher’s walk, which is a path following a Cherry tree with temples and shrines along the way. It was a very long walk. I think it took about 30 minutes or so to complete the journey. I have to go back to walk the walk again when the cherries blossom in spring. It is meant to be a popular cherry blossom viewing spot. I can just picture it now. I read somewhere that one of the scenes in “Memoirs of a Geisha”, one of my favourite films, was shot there.

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Philosopher’s path

The path led to Nanzeji temple, which is also a Zen temple with an odd large brick aqueduct passing through the temple grounds. This is meant to be some sort of a canal system leading to the surrounding forest.

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Nanzeji temple

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Next stop, we briefly visited Heian shrine. On approach, I saw the biggest torri gate ever. It is meant to be one of the biggest gates in Japan.

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Heian shrine

From here, we went to get some food and called it a day.

One another occasion, I went back to Kyoto to visit Kiyomizu-dera temple, another world heritage site which is one of the most famous temples in Japan.

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My best shot of the temple

To view the grounds of the temple and the city of Kyoto, I went to the Kiyomizu stage, a veranda of the main hall. The view from this spot was breathtaking.

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I was advised to visit again in the autumn or during the spring season to see the cherry blossom. I could see why. From here, I visited Kiyomizu waterfall where water from a spring in the mountain has been falling since its foundation. I was told the three streams represent love, success and longevity. Apparently one isn’t meant to drink from all streams if they want their wish to come true…

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Otowa waterfall. Which stream would you drink from?

Around the grounds of Kiyomizu-dera, there are numerous halls and shrines. At one shrine, you are meant to close your eyes and walk about 18 meters or so between a pair of stones to ensure success in love. Don’t ask! If you miss a stone, it’s all over for you. It should be noted however that you can be guided between the stones. If you need assistance to complete this task, it means you will need someone’s help to find bae….

I bought a paper fortune at Kiyomizu-dera as recommended at temples or shrines to find out what the future has in store. It was in Japanese and so I got a friend to translate this to me. My fortune was pretty bad. All I had to say was “Nandeyanen” (Osaka slang which has several meanings depending on the context. Here, I intended for it to mean “that’s ridiculous”). I was advised to tie the paper fortune at the designated area for bad fortunes for the gods to take care of it. I hope they are working on this!

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My paper fortune lol

After spending most of the afternoon at this famous temple, Gion was next on my list. Gion is known as Kyoto’s most famous geisha and entertainment district. The place is filled with bars and restaurants as well as traditional teahouses. This area of the city is the place to be in the evenings when the lanterns are lit and apprentice geisha stroll around the back streets on their way to their appointments. I chose to visit Gion during the early evening in the hopes of spotting a Geisha. Wishful thinking, I know. They are rare to come across but I was on a mission to find one. I didn’t spot any although I was told one of the teahouses we walked pass had a Geisha present. It was exciting being in this district having read about it in a book, “Geisha of Gion”.

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Gion
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A geisha was present at this teahouse

I was too tired after strolling through the streets of Gion hunting for geisha to go any further….

I am yet to complete my Kyoto tour! There is far too much to see. From old wooden houses on narrow stone streets to apprentice geisha and tourists dressed up in kimonos and yukatas, to the sound of gongs at countless temples and shrines; and all against a backdrop of scenic hills and mountains, Kyoto is definitely everything I imagined and more. A trip to Japan is not complete without a visit to Kyoto in my opinion.

Check out below slideshow for more pictures from Kyoto.

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Matane

*bows*

Oh deer: Nara

Did you know that Nara was the first imperial capital of Japan? Nara is an ancient city known for being the home of one of the largest statues of Buddha which can be found in the world heritage site, Todaji temple. Nara is also known for the famous deer park where you can find deer that bow!

Before coming to Japan, I heard about deer that can bow. I didn’t believe this and so when I discovered that the place to find them, Nara park was about an hour from Osaka, I had to visit. After all, seeing is believing. I can confirm that it is true; the deer can indeed bow!

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in October last year, I set off to Nara with one of my friends. She mentioned a possible trip to Nara the day before when we saw each other and I invited myself. We agreed to meet at Tennoji JR station to catch the train to Nara.

At about 2pm, we arrived at Nara. We caught a bus from the JR station to Nara park. We bought the cutest day travel pass ever.

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Mecha kawaii
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The mascot of Nara. Sento-kun is half-deer, half-monk.

We saw a few deer hanging around before we went into the park. Once in the park, we saw a ton of deer and even more tourists. My friend bought some waffle cakes to feed them. I contemplated buying some but after seeing the sign below and witnessing a little boy being chased by a deer, I decided against it.

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The deer are wild!

FB_IMG_1456064943957I didn’t fancy being chased or attacked that day. I watched and took pictures as my friend fed and engaged with them. At one point, one of the deer sensed that she had more waffle cakes in her bag and called for backup. Within seconds, she was surrounded by two deer. Deer #1 was sniffing around her bag while deer #2 was circling around her to stop her from escaping.

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One of them bit her on the butt and even pushed her. They were not playing; they really wanted those waffle cakes.

 

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It was fascinating to see that whenever you gave them a waffle cake, they would bow as if to say “arigato” (thanks). It was definitely one of the most impressive things I have seen so far.

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Taken just before it bowed

After about 40 minutes of hanging with the deer trying to get some good shots, we proceeded to Todaji temple. We made enquiries about going inside the temple to see the statue of Great Buddha but it was expensive. We decided to spend the money on lunch instead and come back another time. Looking back however, I wish I went in then. I haven’t been back to see the statue. I took some more pictures however.

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Todaiji temple, World heritage site

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We then went to Yoroshikien garden. This was a free garden for tourists. The neighbouring garden, Isuien garden which is meant to be absolutely enchanting was too expensive. Who pays to see a garden when there is a free one next door? We played tourists for the day eventhough we have residence permit. Technically, we were/are tourists…

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Maybe one day, I will go back and pay to see it. I love Japanese gardens. Yoshikien garden was amazing considering it was free. We strolled through getting our zen on. It was really relaxing.

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This was my favourite shot from the garden.

On another occasion when I visited Nara, I went to the Nara University of Education to see a classical music graduation recital. It was simply beautiful. I must admit, I fell asleep during some of the performances. The music was very soothing. I was however awake when the lady of the hour came on to perform. She performed an Italian and a German opera pieces. The choir then sang “Hallejuah” opera style. They had incredible voices. I wish I could include a video of their performance here…

Check out these other pictures taken in Nara.

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Matane

*bows*

 

 

 

Too early for school

Did you know that Japanese school students go to school by themselves? Most Elementary and Junior high school students walk or cycle to and from school. I am yet to see a student being dropped off by their parents. I was suprised to see a little boy who looked around 6 years old going to school on his own during my first month here. I guess that goes to show how safe the country is…

On my first day back from the Christmas break, I woke up with a start thinking I was late. Having slept for three and a half hours, I jumped out of bed, quickly got ready and literally ran out of my apartment. I ran all the way to work. Luckily, I live within walking distance. I used to walk for about twenty minutes to work every day until I decided to follow a group of students I see in the mornings. They always seemed to be walking in the opposite direction to me. This is how I found a shortcut to work. It now takes me about ten minutes every day.

Anyway, I thought it was a bit unusual not seeing any students on my way this particular morning. I usually see a lot of them bowing and saying “ohayo” or “ohayogozaimas” (good morning-greeting used before 10am; Konnichiwa comes to play afterwards) as I walk pass them. It was still a little dark outside compared to other days but, I didn’t put two and two together. I arrived shortly at my school to find the door to the staff room locked. I looked through the windows but couldn’t see anyone around. This was really strange. I started to think maybe I came in on the wrong day or that it was one of the numerous Japanese national holidays I hadn’t noted down. I thought about going back home to sleep, I clearly needed to write the day off. I walked around for a bit looking for somebody, anyone at all. I found one of the P.E teachers! I was really excited to see him. We exchanged greetings. I then asked him where everyone was. He said something in Japanese which I didn’t understand. I responded with the one phrase I have perfected “wakaranai” which translates to “I don’t know”. This is my go to phrase; I use it all the time. I think someone asked for my name once, and I responded with “wakaranai“. In my defence, I didn’t hear the crucial part of the question “namae” (name) or maybe they phrased the question in a different way. All I remember is, they spoke too fast…What I should have said at least was, “sumimasen, no Nihongo” (sorry, no Japanese). I have graduated from this. I now use the correct phrase, “ Nihongo wakaramasen” (I don’t understand Japanese). I should have really answered the P.E teacher with “wakaramasen” but anyway, he understood what I meant. Besides, it was too early in the morning to be trying to string limited Japanese phrases together.

The PE teacher mentioned one English teacher’s name and gestured that they were around. I play an endless game of “gesture” everyday in trying to communicate. *My non-verbal communication game is so strong*. After about five more minutes of looking around, I saw one of the English teachers. She was a bit too excited to see me. She ran towards me with open arms shouting my name. I contemplated ducking and just bowing but she was too cute to not stretch my arms out too for a hug. This was the second time she had given me a hug. The first time was for helping her with some work. It was awkward as Japanese people don’t really hug nor shake hands. Anyway, she hugged me. I guess an exception can be made when a gaijin (foreigner) is involved. Maybe.

She told me I was too early for school and laughed at my confused look (my body clock was all over the place). Considering I had no lessons scheduled for the day, been an hour early was painful. She later told some of the teachers in the staffroom. I heard my name and I knew immediately that she was telling everyone. I may not understand the language but you always just know when you are being spoken about. They found this hilarious. I got a few “gomen” (sorry – level 1 apology) from some of the teachers (I will explain the different levels of apology in another post). The Vice Principal (Kyoto sensei) laughed for about thirty seconds and uttered, “Winnie-san, very funny”. I smiled and bowed as you do when the joke is on you.

At least I wasn’t an hour late, I thought.

I found these lovely new year’s omiyage (presents) and a box of ramen on my desk!

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I ate them all on the same day.
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I won these at the end of year party.

I had ramen for lunch everyday that week.

Speaking of Ramen, check out below pictures from my visit to the Ramen museum in Osaka!

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Photo with the statue of Momofuku Ando, the inventor of Ramen. He invented Instant ramen, Instant noodles and Cup noodles here in Osaka. He is originally from Taiwan. In 1958, he invented Chicken ramen. In 1971 at the age of 61, he invented Cup noodles which is now popular all over the world… The next time you have instant noodles or cup noodles, remember Mr Momofuku Ando.
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This was really cool. I got to see the evolution of instant noodles through the years. This is known as the Instant Ramen Tunnel.

 

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How cute are these?
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I got to design my own cup before heading to the counter to choose the type of noodles I wanted.
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I chose Original noodles which looked like this.

Matane.

*bows*