japan in short

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Japan. A mythical land far away that came to life for us over the two weeks we were there.

Before I go into any detail posts I thought I would just share some summary thoughts and layout our itinerary that we followed.

japan-itinerary-map

We spent 14 nights in Japan which went a little like this:

  • We arrived in Tokyo at 6 am on a Monday morning. We spent four nights in the big city in the Ikebukuro neighbourhood. Ikebukuro is the second busiest station in Tokyo but we stayed about 15 minutes walk from the station in what seemed like a quiet suburban area.
  • We then took the train to Takayama which is much calmer and has an old town which is has been preserved and was really beautiful. We spent two nights in a traditional hotel for our anniversary. As a bonus, the train ride to Takayama is absolutely beautiful through the mountains.
  • Next up was Hiroshima for 1 night. This was a very interesting place to visit and I quite liked the town. In retrospect I would have spent 2 nights to do a daytrip to another nearby town which we missed. Also I would have gone to Kyoto first as the travel times would have made more sense.
  • Then we were in Kyoto for 5 nights. I LOVED Kyoto. It is a much more ‘human sized’ city than Tokyo and we stayed in a convenient neighbourhood for sight-seeing and exploring and just living.
  • Finally we spent two nights in Osaka (as we were flying out of Osaka). In my opinion Osaka felt more like a town that you live in than you go to on holiday.

The Japanese Rail Pass is really worth it and easy to use. We got a 7 days pass that we used from leaving Tokyo. We then only had to buy a single ticket from Kyoto to Osaka at the end of our trip. You have to order the Pass in advance but it was couriered to us and when we were ready to start using it we just went to the station and it took about 25 minutes to exchange.

Some other short thoughts:

  • Japanese people are really the most polite, helpful and friendly people.
  • June/July (also known as the rainy season) is probably not the best time to visit. It is HUMID!
  • As you can see from the pictures above the landscape is pretty varied from urban jungles to mountains and a lot of rice paddies in between.
  • Getting up a little early means you miss the crowds. We rarely felt like we were shuffling along with the tourist crowds which was quite refreshing.
  • I could have spent a fortune. Be warned! Japan is full of beautiful, well made and lovely things.
  • Matcha might be a trendy item at the moment but you can keep your matcha lattes and matcha cakes for yourself.
  • Maybe it was because we hadn’t done enough research but it was quite hard eating out (or even shopping) as a vegetarian. It was just difficult to tell what was totally vegetarian and we did have a couple incidents of meat in our salad or fish sauce in our noodles. We eventually just stuck to eating the same things from a very prolific supermarket. Happy Cow is useful but if you are staying in Tokyo for instance which is massive (I mean MAAASive) the restaurants are really spread out and without them all being mapped it is hard to tell where convenient places are. Food, particularly fruit, is also surprisingly expensive.

I’ll be back soon with more photos and details of places we visited.

travel | rovinj

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Our destination on Friday after stopping in Buje, was the beautiful Istrian coastal town of Rovinj. I can’t believe it has taken us so long to go because it is absolutely gorgeous. Helped of course by the spring sunshine and some good company.

The city is lovely to wander around along it’s cobbled streets (which are warn smooth and actually rather slippy – I wouldn’t want to be dealing with them in the rain). There are plenty of art galleries and shops with things marketed at the tourists, ranging from standard tatt to things with a bit more quality. There are also a few vintage shops which I browsed around in longingly. I was tempted to pick up a beach basket but avoided the urge and just got some postcards instead.

For lunch we headed away from the touristy restaurants along the harbour and into the alleys on the hill. We found the perfect spot in a little courtyard where the sun was shining, Restoran Santa Croce. Highly recommended if you find yourself in this part of the woods. There weren’t any other diners, but we arrived for a late lunch. Despite holding the staff up, they were very friendly and helpful and changed dishes to make them vegetarian friendly.

I look forward to heading back in the summer maybe and lounging in the sea, enjoying a drink on one of the bars that are situated on a rocky seaside area. Dreamy!

on a hill in croatia

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Somewhere in Croatia there is a little hill town village which is the perfect place to stop on your road trip for a quick coffee.

Here there are women who talk to the people they know who pass under their windows, there are picturesque church yards which have tomb-stones that honour donne forti (strong women) and locked church doors that you can peak through the keyhole and see a beautiful pieta.

If you find yourself in Istria you might want to stop in Buje. It is a nice diversion.

an unplanned kind of surrealist photo

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I took this photo yesterday while in Rovinj, Croatia. It seemed to me to be almost surrealist, like a Dali painting. The cloud makes it but the repetition of the stairs, the separation from the background, the lines, the colours.

What do you think?

Also I think I may be getting my photo mojo back. It just requires getting out and taking some pictures in a beautiful place with the sun shining, sometimes.

budapest | thoughts and things

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I think it is best for me to travel to places of which I have no expectations. Although I enjoyed Budapest, I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. Everyone I know who has been raves about it and I think that built up some unfairly high expectations.

That said I did enjoy the city. I feel the car is given a bit too much priority (for example while walking along the Danube you are sandwiched between the river and busy traffic). However, I did enjoy the contrasts of the city and found it has a vibrancy, creativity and energy that I have found and enjoyed in other prominent cities that I have travelled to in former communist area (admittedly not a very large list but I feel three is enough to make a comparison).

Budapest has gorgeous old buildings, mixed with some hideous retro establishments as well as some interesting modern architecture. You can find local cuisine as well as a variety of international foods (which I was pretty stoked about as my part of Italy does not particularly embrace foreign food). I didn’t really try any local dishes (sadly been vegetarian local cuisines can often be on the meaty side) but we didn’t lack for a variety of food options although we did end up having hummus and falafel every day (there are also a great selection of soup stores and more for the vegetarian visitor). We also made an out of the way trip to a smoothie bar which was really good, although I found a visit to a well regarded ‘modern’ cake shop disappointing.

Also coffee is definitely on the rise here. And there are coffee shops on every corner, from the well established coffee houses (which reminded me of those in Trieste) full of glamour and old world charm to the more hipster hang outs with speciality coffees and cool interiors.

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I really enjoyed the interior of Kiosk which seems to be in an old theatre on the river. And really any place which has The Gentlewoman on the table as reading material is my kind of place.

Unfortunately, Tim and I aren’t … something … enough and we didn’t visit any of the famous ruin bars. Oops.

However, for breakfast for three days in a row we had the most amazing pastry from a French (style?) bakery. A pistachio pain au chocolat. Out of this world!

Also as mentioned the design is quite up my line and I did do a little bit of shopping (literally a necklace but I could have bought a whole bunch more). One of my favourite was Mono where I bought my necklace.

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We didn’t do too many museums and such this trip although we did visit Memento Park, a private open air museum out of town which houses a collection of communist statues. They were really interesting but I think the experience of catching a tram to a giant but not very busy transport terminal and then waiting in what I can only describe as a sort of abandoned and uglier Croydon (sorry Croydon lovers) for a bus that then took us through a rather bleak landscape to the museum was a rather more impactful one.

We also visited the largest synagogue in Europe and went on a mini-tour. I hadn’t realised quite how badly Budapest was impacted by the holocaust (approximately 10% of those killed in the holocaust were Hungarian) and it was a sobering reminder. The synagogue had been at the centre of Jewish life for the city for over a hundred years and was luckily preserved during the war.

And we went on a riverboat cruise which was kind of cheesy as we got a hideous glass of ‘champagne’ but still enjoyable.

So there is a random rambling of thoughts from Budapest. Have you been? What did you think?

rome | tips on eating healthy

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Italy, the land of gelato and carbs. However, because I now live in the country, I don’t necessarily feel the need to indulge in the carb fest that I might have previously ensued on when visiting Rome.  So when I was there a few weeks back I was on the hunt for some slightly more balanced meals. Not that I am saying you shouldn’t eat pasta galore when you visit the eternal city! No, by all means indulge! But if you get to day three of the carbo-loading and want some lighter suggestions here you go!

I don’t know if it was because I was just because I was looking but I feel like the city is definitely expanding on its choice of lighter and healthier eating places. I didn’t get to try them all but there is always next time.

Markets and Grocers

First and foremost visit the markets. Fresh and cheap produce and an insight into how Italians actually eat. Pick up a few bits to snack on through the day rather than getting ‘hangry’ and eating a whole pizza. Warning though: don’t touch the produce. Ask or point to what you want.

Ciao Ceccho

This is a slow food restaurant; a concept I hadn’t heard applied to a restaurant but I thought was intriguing. All of the dishes are Italian. focussed on regional dishes with quality dishes. I had ravioli with a wild greens stuffing and a gorgonzola sauce. Now that might sound less than healthy but I think the difference here was the serving size was actually just right. A smallish dish but satisfying. Tim had a traditional chickpea dish which had a broth and was very tasty and incredibly filling.

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A healthy ‘fast food’ type place with a few seats and a range of smoothies, salads, soups, quiches, sandwiches etc.  We just had a light bite and it was pretty tasty if a little bit pricier than a take away pizza slice. Great to stock up before the train although the vegetarian sandwich options were a bit limited.

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Of course eating all the healthy food means I did get to have a calorific but delicious traditional Roman Jewish treat for breakfast one morning! Head to the Jewish quarter, find the place with the queue (I don’t even know the name but it is on Vicolo della Serpe, oppose the Kosher Bistro Caffe which did some lovely falafel and salads) and ask for the ricotta and cherry pastry. We headed there early in the morning and avoided the queue.