Archive | January 2016

To Move or not to move – that was the question?

Back when the New Year dawned my husband and I decided that 2015 would be the year we moved. I was personally very happy in the house we had; a 1897 2 bed terrace on the aptly named road of Station Road, but he worried that if we didn’t move now then we might lose our opportunity. We began looking to get an idea of what was out there in our budget and were repeatedly disappointed when our offers were rejected as our house wasn’t on the market; so we went through the process sprucing up the house before getting valuations and photos taken.


Now everyone had told me how stressful moving can be and how it’s second only to divorce but initially our experience totally contradicted that. The day before our property was even released online we had a viewing and an offer for the asking price from a landlord. Then not more than a week or so later, we found what we thought was our perfect house; a 1930’s 3 bedroom semi on the very desirable road in Rainham, with a big garden but albeit no garage. We had to offer £10,000 over the asking price to secure it but that seems to be the way of things at the moment. So this was March and we were feeling pretty smug having sold our house and found our dream home inside of a month. I can report this was only the beginning and little did we know but much horror was to follow.

Come summer, the people in the house we were purchasing were still no nearer to finding a property for themselves and it began to dawn on us that these people weren’t really serious about moving so we decided that we should start to look again. We viewed numerous houses but none met our requirements or felt right and a few that did, we were outbid on. One of the worst properties we saw was a so called chalet bungalow that was in fact a bungalow with a loft conversion. As we took in the strange elevation of the garden the owner commented that she hoped she had picked up all the dogs mess from the lawn! The living room came complete with her slob of an ex-husband watching reruns of formula one! Definitely a firm no. I was beginning to doubt if there was the perfect house for us out there, perhaps we were looking for something that didn’t exist, and we were both of the opinion that we would just go along with things until we either lost our buyer or the sellers pulled out of theirs.

I can’t explain why but one day out of the blue, I found myself back on the Right Move site and there it was; a house even more perfect than the original one we had found that actually ticked all our boxes. It was a 1908 built, Victorian/Edwardian style house, detached, with 3 bedrooms, a huge garden and a garage. We got a viewing as soon as we could. As soon as we went in, it just felt right, I could see us living there and knew I wanted it. So we went in with an offer £10,000 over the asking price but still only the same offer as we had put on the semi and to our amazement it was accepted. The couple there were older and one was moving to Wales and the other a smaller property in the area.

Would you believe that as soon as we pulled out of the semi – it was back on the market for some £20,000 more and I have since heard that they have moved so maybe it was a ploy all along to get more money – who knows, but they did us a favour in the end as it turned out.

The problems didn’t stop there however. Our buyer was moving incredibly slow and it turned out struggling to get his buy to let mortgage. The estate agents advised us to go back on the market and assured us we would get another buyer in no time. Unfortunately they didn’t bother to inform the agents we were purchasing from and when they saw our house back online, the vendors panicked and put theirs back on too. We got another buyer that same day and she offered the full new asking price (£10,000 more than originally) but the agent would hear nothing of it and said viewings were already booked on our dream home. I was distraught. I don’t know how I got through work that day. I was in tears at one point, so I wrote a letter begging the vendors to reconsider and we put it through their door. It was an evening of nail biting but thankfully the following morning the agents rang to say the vendors had been in with our letter and they didn’t want to sell to anyone else.

Happy days you would think, but there was one final nasty surprise for us. The new buyer of ours pulled out about a week later. This time we were in direct contact with the vendors however and informed them straight away. They said they didn’t want to overreact like last time and would see how things went and they then rang and said they themselves would like to view our house. They offered straight away, albeit £2000 less than what the woman had offered but we were more than happy to accept as now it was a private sale and we would have no estate agents fees to pay. Would you believe both the landlord and the woman tried to win it back though – not that we were stupid enough to go there.

A moving date was set for early November and the packing began in earnest with much help from both our parents. It’s hard to believe just how much stuff we had between us and part of the process was going through and chucking stuff out. It’s just so hard when you find something you have kept for 20 years and somehow it seems wrong to throw it away when you have had it so long but the time had come to be ruthless. I still felt it could all fall through at any time and still wasn’t convinced even when we exchanged.

Moving day came around quickly and we still had much to do when we got the call saying we had completed at around 10am. Now it really was happening – I finally dared to believe it. We had decided not to use removal firms, partly due to cost but mainly as I didn’t want strangers knocking my possessions about. Dad hired a van and we were fortunate enough to have lots of family and friends muck in to help. Inevitably though it took as longer than the guy moving out of our new home; after all my large collection of shoes took time to pack up! He not only had removals but his wife had gone to Wales the day before so there was far less stuff to move.   He then turned up at Station Road and had invited a Talk Talk engineer to fit his broadband. This added to the stress of rushing to get out. Then I came downstairs to find a strange woman in our dining room, who later turned out to be the new owners cleaner. That was it; I just lost it – it felt like our home was being invaded, even though it technically wasn’t ours anymore. My husband sent them away to leave us in peace and eventually the lorry was loaded. I didn’t even get a chance to say my good buys to the house as the new owner was knocking on the door. I realise I acted irrationally and hope that the new owner doesn’t hold it against me but I think all my emotions just suddenly flowed over.

As we drove off I felt a great deal of sadness. All my recent memories had been made in that house. It was the first house I had lived in other than the one I grew up in. We arrived at the new house and had the obligatory picture with the sold sign.

new home

We set about the important task of finding the kettle and then broke for some lunch before unloading the van. We were still unloading as darkness fell. The last items to come in were the sofas and they were the most challenging as they only just fitted through the front door.

We really had done it. We all went out for a meal to celebrate. The first night was strange and felt like staying in a hotel. Although the house was in reasonable condition it wasn’t as good as we had thought it was when we viewed it. The décor was also not to our taste. I know many of you will disagree with me as now apparently grey is in fashion but we found the abundance of grey walls rather depressing; as my husband aptly put it, it was like living in a black and white movie. Suddenly I think we both realised the magnitude of what we had done. We had gone from a house where everything was how we wanted it to a new project and it felt just a little overwhelming listing out all the changes we wanted to make.

Without a doubt it was the right decision to move and I will get used to it. The possibilities with this house are vast and I look forward to getting stuck into the projects. Check back to look at my renovations.

In conclusion I now realise why people say moving is stressful – I don’t know about it only being second to divorce but I know there were times when we were so stressed, we took it out on each other and we could have very easily have ended up experiencing both. Thankfully we are now out the other side and whilst I advise everyone to go for their dream home, I certainly will never be moving again, they can take me out of there in my box!

An Eastern Journey – Part 2

Leaving Japan, I felt a bit sad, despite having seen all we aimed to apart from an Onsen, which is a traditional bath and a Geisha show.   It had certainly been a whistle stop tour, as you can read in part 1 of this blog and I would dearly love to return.

Initial impressions of Hong Kong were not that favourable as it is such a stark contrast to Japan. Whereas Japan is ordered and exceptionally clean – Hong Kong is more like London with much hustle and bustle; after all it is the most densely populated metropolis in the world. I was however excited at the prospect of meeting up with our friends Pelham and Karina who had invited us here to celebrate their wedding – the away fixture as they called it – see previous blog of their English wedding

Hong Kong was under British rule for almost 155 years, until July 1997 when it was handed back to China (with the exception of about 4 years during WW11 when Japan occupied it).   Hong Kong is on China’s South Coast and is split into three main regions – Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and the New Territories.

The name Hong Kong is believed to have its origins in a Cantonese phrase meaning ‘Fragrant Harbour’. This may be due to the fact that incense factories were all around the north coast of Kowloon and the produce was stored in Aberdeen Harbour for export, before Victoria Harbour had been developed. It is also nicknamed the Pearl of the Orient due to the way the skyscrapers in Victoria Harbour light up the night sky. Hong Kong has a kind of fusion culture which is a combination of both Chinese and British culture; however since its independence, their own unique culture is developing and people will proudly refer to themselves as Hongkongers. The official languages are both Cantonese and English.

We purchased an Octopus card which is by far the best thing to get on arrival in Hong Kong and is similar to the London Oyster card, in function but the similarities end there – the travel using it is incredibly cheap and the small initial outlay lasted us for our entire trip.

On our first night, the guys from England headed out drinking with Pelham whilst the girls visited ATUM; a dessert restaurant, with Karina. The restaurant was located in Causeway Bay and we boarded a tram to travel there from our friend’s hotel. The tram is an icon of Hong Kong, running since 1904 and the largest fleet in the world to be exclusively double decker trams. Once inside the restaurant we were bought an appetiser drink in a test tube. Then began the business of having a dessert designed in front of us. It was an absolutely amazing experience to watch the art works being created, especially when they made ice-cream with liquid nitrogen. Eating it all was even more enjoyable. We then joined the boys in a roof top bar on the IFC mall, overlooking the harbour.




The following day, Karina’s uncle had arranged a busy day of sightseeing. It was fantastic to have a local to show us the highlights of the city and he certainly was a character. First stop was Nan Lian gardens in Kowloon. These were stunning gardens with koi ponds and I was able to capture the picture that had been used to illustrate the Hong Kong Lonely Planet guide – a golden pagoda! We then had lunch in the Chi Lin Vegetarian restaurant there that had a beautiful waterfall cascading down the outside of the building.

Golden Pagoda



We boarded the private mini bus, he had arranged and headed to the New Territories and Lam Tsuen wishing tree. The wishing tree is where you tie your wish to an orange and throw the orange into the tree – if it stays in the tree, your wish will come true. The old tree is now too unstable after a branch fell down in 2005, so there is a new tree and only plastic oranges are used, which can be bought from sellers on site. You can also buy a plastic lily pad with a candle, attach a wish and float it on a pond. There were statues of all the twelve Chinese zodiac animals nearby the tree, which was a great photo opportunity.




Next we visited Che Kung temple. The temple is dedicated to Che Kung, a military commander whom legend has it, ridded Sha Tin of the plague. There is a golden windmill by the giant golden statue of Che Kung which people believe spinning the sails of, brings good luck. I had my fortune read there, from a piece of paper selected by which stick falls out of the pot when you shake it, whilst telling Che Kung your wish and one of Karina’s friends kindly translated for me. I felt much better about the impending move after this when he said it would be a safe and secure home but wouldn’t bring us great fortune.





Our final stop was Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island, at 552m – what a view from the viewing stations and even better from the Peak Tower. Sadly we didn’t have time to ride the 125 year old funicular railway, so were taken up and down by mini bus.



Dinner that night was a marvellous experience that I will never forget. The Jumbo Kingdom restaurant is a floating restaurant, moored in Aberdeen Harbour which you travel the short ride to by boat from Aberdeen Promenade. There was an opportunity to dress up as a Chinese Emperor and his wife and have your photos taken which was great fun. The banquet meal was delicious although I declined to sample the thousand year old egg! This is a Chinese delicacy and whilst not literally a thousand years old, it is a chicken, duck or quail egg, preserved for several weeks or months in a mixture of either ash, salt, quicklime, clay and rice hulls depending on the method used. It certainly looks rotten as it is a dark brown colour.



The next day we had a much needed lazy day in the hotel before leisurely getting ready to catch a taxi over to the W Hotel for Pelham and Karina’s wedding banquet. I had selected my Oasis dress in V&A Appleby print as I felt that it had a sort of oriental feel and accessorized with gold sandals and a gold clutch.

Outfit at wedding

On arrival at the hotel, we were greeted by life sized cardboard cut-outs of Karina and Pelham. We were also able to peruse the album of their English wedding.


A red envelope was given to us which custom has it you place money in for the bride and groom. The red symbolises good luck. Opinion on the amount of money to be placed inside is divided; some say it should be digits that end in an even number as odd numbers are seen as bad luck whilst others suggest amounts ending in odd numbers are more favourable because they are harder to divide, hence meaning the marriage should be stronger. The figure should also not include the number 4 as this number is seen as unlucky due to it sounding similar to the word for death; interestingly lots of buildings don’t have a fourth floor because of this. When the bride and groom arrived in Chinese dress – they performed a tea ceremony welcoming their respective in laws.


Following the ceremony we all found our seats for the banquet. In each place was a square purple box with a photo of their English wedding on the front. The colour theme for both weddings was purple.  There was much debate about what the contents of the box was, with many people suggesting that it might be soap, but it was in fact tea.




There was a lovely slide show of Karina and Pelham growing up, followed by photos of them together. Karina and Pelham both changed into their outfits from the English wedding. Karina sang a beautiful song to her parents, as well as singing with her Mum when she had changed into a cerise pink gown. There was an opportunity for karaoke and we all went up and ‘helped’ Pelham with a song. The banquet was delicious and seemingly never ending – course after course, after course was brought out. Karina had a final outfit change into a beautiful layered pinky peach taffeta dress.


The banquet ended at 11 so I, my husband, Pelham, Karina and other guests from the UK made our way to nearby Ozone Bar. This is the highest bar in the world at 484 metres on top of the International Commerce Centre.  Inside is very futuristic with refractive glass.


On Wednesday following a walk in Kowloon park where we saw turtles and flamingos along with people practising taichi, we decided to add another country to our list and took a boat trip over to Macau. This is a peninsula of China, to the west of Hong Kong and is often referred to as Asian Las Vegas as it is the only legal place which the Chinese can go to in order to gamble. The country has Portuguese roots as it was a colony of theirs from mid-16th century until 1999 and it is the most densely populated region in the world. It has its own currency of Pataca but Hong Kong dollars can also be spent there. I was most upset that immigration in general appears to have dispensed with the rubber stamp method on entering the country. For Japan, Hong Kong and Macau I simply received a tiny piece of paper (called a landing slip) like a receipt placed loose in my passport. I like my passport to document where I have been and having googled it since, I see no reason why I cannot staple these into my passport as a souvenir.

A local speciality associated with Macau is a Portuguese egg tart; naturally I had to try one from one of the many food stalls. This is an egg custard filled pastry case and I really liked it.

Egg tart

The main site to see in Macau aside from the neon lit casinos is the ruins of St Paul’s cathedral. Only the façade of the 17th century church remains following a fire in 1835.


After exploring this and Monte Fort which ironically has a cannon pointing at Grand Lisboa Cascino as if it disapproves; we checked out Na Tcha Temple, built in 1888 and a tiny temple behind the ruins of St Paul’s; before indulging in some shopping. My husband bought my Christmas present which was a Pandora bracelet which although it is readily available in the UK came with a charm that is exclusive to Asia. We finished our trip with noodles at Cheong Kei, which is Michelin recommended.




Our return journey from Macau was far from plain sailing. We had to give up on finding the bus back to the port and get a taxi. Little known to us, we had been booked on a set ferry back and we struggled with the language barrier to explain our predicament to the officials. In the end we were forced to pay for a full price first class ticket if we wanted travel when we did. We did get a free meal out of it though.

We rose early the next day to travel on the metro to Tung Chung where we picked up the first departure of the day on Ngong Ping cable car over to Lantau Island. The cable car was officially opened in November 2006 but there was a soft opening that preceded this on 18th September where only 1688 tickets, each priced at HK$88 were sold as the numbers were considered lucky in Feng Shui tradition. It is a 5.7km long bi-cable ropeway, the first of its kind in Hong Kong and offers 360 degree views of Lantau Island on its 25 minute journey.


The sights of the green mountains are truly beautiful but by far the best sight is of the Tian Tan or big Buddha, emerging from the trees and standing tall, watching over the Island. Upon disembarking the cable car, we took the short walk to the bottom of the 268 steps and climbed part of the way up to the Buddha which is a bronze statue, completed in 1993, weighing 202 tonne and the largest seated bronze Buddha in the world. It really is an impressive sight.


On our return to the cable car we stopped into some of the shops in Ngong Ping cultural village and I couldn’t resist this beautiful dress.

Chinese dress

Our next stop was one of the highlights of our time in Hong Kong as I am still a big kid at heart. We visited Disneyland. The park is small in comparison to Euro Disney but there is a lot of magic packed into a very small area. Even the MTR train that takes you there is decorated with Mickey.


We began by taking the little train around the perimeter of the park before having lunch and I couldn’t resist Mickey themed waffles for afters.



Next I purchased a pair of mini mouse ears before we assembled on Main Street for the parade.




We tried a few gentle rides as my husband is not big on scary rides. We both really liked the Buzz Lightyear ride where you competed against each other to score points for shooting Zurg (which I won) and afterwards had our picture taken with Buzz himself.


disney castle

We watched the Lion King show which was fantastic. Before we left we checked out the gift stores and watched the evening light parade on Main Street.



After briefly stopping off at hotel we made our way to the nearby Temple Street night market. This bustling street bazaar sells all manner of trinkets, clothes and other wares and has often featured as a backdrop in movies. There are often impromptu opera performances and fortune tellers however we arrived too late to enjoy those. I did purchase a lovely set of chop sticks and a fake Jade bangle as well as a very cheap fake bag of a very sought after make. Jade is considered by the people of Hong Kong to have mystical qualities. What was even more fun was the haggling with the vendors. When we had had our fill of the pushing and shoving, we ducked into one of the many noodle bars and enjoyed a large meal, washed down with a local beer.


Our final day in Hong Kong had dawned. We headed out to see 10000 Buddha Monastery on Po Fook Hill in the New Territories. It was a very hot day and the hike from the nearest station up 431 steps which are lined with 500 life-size gilded Arhan statues was a very tiring one. Eventually we reached the temple which is decorated with some 13000 gold miniature Buddha’s. There are several other temples and a nine storey pagoda. On our descent from the Monastery we were met by two monks who put bracelets and necklaces on us and blessed us before asking for money; we declined and gave them back the things they had adorned us with.




We travelled back to check out and leave our cases before making our way down to the Victoria Harbour area, named after Queen Victoria. We decided to sample the famous afternoon tea at the Lobby of the Peninsula Hotel. We had to queue for about an hour to be seated and were lucky that they decided we met the dress code as we were casually dressed in preparation for the night flight home that evening. The Peninsula Hotel opened its doors in 1928 and is a bit like Hong Kong’s version of The Ritz. It is a mix of oriental glamour and traditional colonial Britain with beautiful white pillars, embellished with gold. The tea was called Peninsula in Pink and raises awareness of breast cancer and donates to local breast cancer charities for the month of October. There were some pink cakes and we also received a pin badge commemorating it. Whilst we ate we were serenaded by a string quartet.


Our bellies suitably full, we looked for the Avenue of the Stars but unfortunately it was closed. We walked past the Former KCR Clock Tower, a 44m clock tower which was once part of the Southern Railway terminus and onto the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry concourse where we decided to take a cruise on the Star Ferry.



The boat tours all the harbour’s stops and means you get a great view of the Hong Kong skyline, with the Bank of China Tower and the huge HSBC building being two of the sites.  The HSBC building is a British designed building which was finished in 1985 and was at the time one of the worlds most expensive buildings. The original star ferry which takes passengers between Kowloon to Hong Kong Island which started passenger services in mid-late 1870’s, still runs and is still a very cheap way of seeing the Harbour.


We then walked back to our hotel via the Rosary Church, the oldest Catholic Church in Kowloon which was consecrated in 1905 and remained in tack during WW11. Since 2010 it has been a grade 1 historic building. Although the mass was all in Cantonese, you could still work out what bit of the service they were performing.


We killed some time over coffee in Starbucks before getting our transport to the airport. I will never fly the late flight again as the airport was so boring with all the shops closing up. As on the way out – I slept for most of the flight home.

I really enjoyed our stay in Hong Kong, despite initial first impressions, but feel I have probably seen most of what I wanted to see there – except for the pink dolphins. It has however aroused my interest further in a trip to mainland China. I really felt blessed to be able to celebrate Pelham and Karina’s marriage with them and wish them many happy years together. Karina’s family couldn’t have made us more welcome and her uncle was a fabulous tour guide. It was also lovely to meet their other friends and family from the UK who were able to make the journey too and I look forward to a reunion with them in London at the end of January.

An Eastern Journey

Continuing with my bucket list of countries I want to see, this year in October our travels took us to Japan and Hong Kong. The long flight was not something I was particularly looking forward to, however a couple of films and a meal and I slept most of the remaining time to Hong Kong, where we were to transfer; much to my husband’s disgust as he was too uncomfortable to sleep!

The first part of this blog will describe Japan whilst the second will deal with Hong Kong.
We arrived late in Tokyo; so on arrival at our hotel, spent the evening pawing over the maps having extensively devoured the Lonely Planet guide on the connecting flight from Hong Kong. Japan is somewhat of an enigmatic destination that many people desire to investigate. It is a paradoxical country with the latest in gadgets juxtaposed with centuries of culture and tradition. As is usual we found ourselves wanting to do far more than our 5 full days allowed and so ensued many long days of rushing from sight to sight, wanting to experience each of the wonderful attractions.

We feared that food may be a problem and we weren’t far wrong. Neither of us fancied the idea of raw fish and my husband is quite particular about what he will and won’t eat. We were however saved, due to the arms of globalisation reaching right around the world – there was a TGI Fridays, McDonalds and many a Starbucks! My idea of being forced to lose weight clearly faltered despite the desire for the perfect body being all the more great, seeing the beautiful, skinny Japanese women.

The first day we began with what may seem to some as a rather strange; we visited a cat café. I had read in the Evening Standard that one was soon to be opened in London and knew that the idea, which originated in Taiwan, had blossomed in Japan. The popularity is due to cramped living conditions in Japan which often makes owning pets difficult. You pay an hourly charge to sit and enjoy the company of cats. Drinks are extra as is food to feed the cats. It was a very pleasant and relaxing experience and I was really impressed with the hygiene standards of the place. All I can say is don’t knock it until you have tried it.


Continuing with the gentle start to the day we then visited the Shinjuku-gyoen, a park where there was a beautiful pagoda and a greenhouse full of traditional plants. The autumn colours were truly beautiful – with the green leaves slowly turning a rich golden colour.  We were lucky enough to get a sighting of the cherry blossom – a rarity in this season but an icon of Japan.



DSC_0729We then spent most of the afternoon, trekking halfway across the city looking for the designated pick-up point for the tour we had booked the next day without success; however we did go up the Metropolitan Government Offices building for some views of the Tokyo skyline over some much needed refreshments.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe ended up returning to our hotel room and changing the pick up to somewhere more recognisable.

Shibuya was our next stop. Coming out of the metro, it reminded me very much of Piccadilly Circus with its lit up billboards. Two must see sights are the famous Hachiko dog statue outside the station and the well-known crossing.

Hachiko was owned by a professor who commuted to and from Shibuya station. Every evening the dog would wait at the station for his master. One day his master didn’t return as he had died. The dog however continued to return each day to meet what had been the master’s train until his own death some 9 years later. If you ever needed proof of what loyal animals dogs are, there you have it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe crossing is an intersection of pedestrian crossings that has to be seen to be believed; you have never seen so many people and yet none collide with each other. The best place to observe this crossing was from a Starbucks that overlooked it.

IMG_1290I then dragged my reluctant husband into some of the shops in the area and found a stunning pair of shoes but unfortunately they were too small despite supposedly being my size. I guess all Japanese people have nice narrow feet, sadly a quality I don’t possess.
Once darkness fell we headed to the Tokyo Tower, which bears a great resemblance to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, from which it took inspiration when built in 1958; however it stands taller than its muse by 13m, at 333m.

The following day was an early start to assemble at the bus station for our pre booked Viator tour pick up. After an extensive bus journey, the first stop was a traditional Japanese lunch. I opted for vegetarian to be safe but my husband didn’t and I was proud of him that he actually tried the raw fish. To be honest I was left with egg on my face as the vegetarian wasn’t that appetising either, tofu anyone? Guess it’s an acquired taste.

Next stop was a ropeway ride up Mt Kachi Kachi. The mountain has been made famous by a Japanese children’s book called Kachi-Kachi Yama in which a rabbit triumphs over a Tanuki in avenging the Tanuki’s past wrong doings. There are statues depicting the story and also rabbit shrines.


IMG_1327After this we began our ascent of Mount Fuji – the main point of the tour. They stopped the coach on the way up to allow us to photograph the brief glimpse of the summit we got as the cloud momentarily cleared. Once we arrived at the 5th station – the cloud or mist never cleared again so this first sighting was the best we got. The temperature up Fuji was markedly cooler than those we had so far experienced in Japan. The trip finished with a short cruise on Lake Ashi as the sun set.


DSC_0820 2

IMG_1353On our return to Tokyo the coach dropped us by the Sanrio store, a mecca for all Hello Kitty fans. I couldn’t resist a photo with the giant statues outside and of course had to purchase a souvenir.  Japan’s obsession with the Hello Kitty character even extends to using them on road work barriers!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur final stop of the day was the Tokyo sky tree which opened in 2012 and has now severely reduced the viability of keeping the Tokyo tower open to the public. We went up to the viewing gallery but not to the highest point you can.


Our final day in Tokyo took in some of the more cultural aspects of the modern city. We rose early to visit the Tsukiji fish market. It was a photographers dream with the fish on display for shops and restaurants to purchase all fresh. I never realised quite how big a tuna was before this visit.


IMG_1477We had read that this market was the best place to eat sushi and so we decided to give it a proper go. I have to say it was nowhere near as bad as I imagined but by the same token, I don’t think I will rush to eat it again.

IMG_1510We visited Senso-ji, one of the most popular temples in Tokyo which has wonderful stalls leading up to it, selling all manor of Japanese crafts and trinkets as well having a five story pagoda in its grounds. At temples and shrines you can get your paper fortune for a small fee. You pay the fee, and then shake the silver box until a stick falls out which has a number on it. You then look for the drawer with your number on it and retrieve your paper fortune. If it is bad, you can tie it to the rack and pray to the Gods for better luck next time. Mine said moving was a very bad idea which was poignant as we were moving less than 2 weeks after returning from holiday.



IMG_1598We quickly visited the Meiji-jingu Shinto shrine, built from Taiwanese Cyprus, which is the grandest shrine in Tokyo.

IMG_1620We then took a taxi to Tokyo central station where we picked up a bullet train to take us to Osaka. We were just congratulating ourselves at how well we had navigated the public transport systems when a guard came along checking tickets and told us that our Japan Rail pass wasn’t valid on this particular high speed train (no we hadn’t read the terms and conditions) and so he put us off at the next stop. Thankfully we didn’t have long to wait for another train that we were allowed on and upon arrival at Osaka found that their subway system was just as easy to navigate as Tokyo’s had been.

IMG_1889Too tired and stressed out to venture far we ate in our hotel that night in a marvellous Teppanyaki restaurant where we had a personal chef who grilled all our food in front of us. We sampled an Osaka delicacy called Okonomiyaki, a type of savoury pancake, garnished with Worcestershire sauce, mayonnaise and dried bonito flakes.


IMG_1680The following morning we headed back on the bullet train into Kyoto. This was an absolutely stunning city and really made you appreciate the rich culture of Japan; apparently even the Japanese visit here to learn about their culture. I would go as far to say that this was the highlight of the Japan trip for me.

Upon arrival, the station is a marvel of modern architecture, larger than most London stations and spread over numerous floors, which is in direct contrast to the city, which is heaped in tradition and was at one time the capital city. The tourist information centre was a life saver and we were given a local map and purchased a city day bus pass which took us round some of the sites and the rest were reached by local train.

DSC_0007Kinkaku-ji, otherwise known as the golden pavilion was an amazing sight, its gold leaf glistening in the sun and reflecting off the water around it.

IMG_1708Next we travelled to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. The path through is lined continuously with bamboo canes and the sunlight through the canes gives the walk a kind of magical feel which a photo cannot possibly capture.

IMG_1735On the way to the entrance to the grove we passed a place, which dressed me in a traditional kimono and allowed us to take photos for a fee. It was a stunning outfit that proved far more difficult to put on than you might imagine.





DSC_0060Fushimi-Inari Taisha shrine complex was the next site we ticked off. This is a collection of five shrines with the most awe inspired being the corridor of bright orange shrines.

IMG_1831Our final stop was a Japanese tea ceremony at Camellia tea experience. It is really quite amazing to watch the intricacies of the ceremony that are all performed with precision. We then got to do part of the ceremony ourselves and try the tea.


We travelled back to Osaka and went out for dinner locally in Dotombori, a lively nightspot by a canal of the same name, which is lit up by billboards. The most famous of these billboards is the running man, originally installed in 1935, which is an advert for Glico candy. This is the sixth version of the sign, now with LED’s.

IMG_1890The next day we headed on the bullet train to Hiroshima and travelled by tram to the Atomic Dome. This was such a moving experience. The dome of the building, originally built in 1915 stands restored to the condition it was left in directly after the atomic bomb in 1945. It’s very eerie and I of course signed a petition to ban the use of nuclear weapons. We walked through the memorial park to the main feature which is the cenotaph, listing the names of all those killed. At the cenotaph, you can see the dome through the middle. There is a flame of peace that will burn until there are no more nuclear weapons in the world.


IMG_1947Following a train ride and a short boat trip, we arrived on the small island of Miyajima. The island has lots of deer – happy to eat anything – it was really funny to see a man being chased by one. The most photographed site of Japan is here, a shrine gate, which appears as if it is floating at high tide. Unfortunately it was low tide whilst we were there.



The final site of Japan that I wanted to tick off our list, meant paying for a faster bullet train to Himeji to see one of Japan’s finest castles. It is set on a hill and its white plastered walls can be seen for miles. Built in 1580, it is one of the few remaining original castles in Japan.


We had dinner in restaurant near the Umeda area of Osaka that was recommended in the Lonely Planet guide, called Robatayaki Isaribi. You sat on semi circle shared tables with a chef grilling to order and passing dishes to you on a large paddle. It was a lovely evening and on the way back to the hotel we looked at the Umeda Sky building; built by the same architect as Kyoto station and consisting of twin towers, linked by an observation deck. It is supposedly one of the world’s top 20 buildings.


The following morning marked our departure from Japan. It had been a hectic week but a really enjoyable one. Japan is such a vast country with so many wonderful sites and some truly welcoming people. I absolutely love the order of Japan with people neatly queuing to get on the Subway trains.  Before we went everyone said how expensive it was out there but we found it comparable to Britain although that maybe because the pound is strong against the yen at the moment.  I would definitely love to visit again but if I don’t get the opportunity, at least I can say I have seen as much as was humanly possible in the time we had.

Look out for part two of this holiday blog, which will take you through Hong Kong.