Sunday, 20 February 2011

Perth, WA

G’day!  Well, we have spent our first six days in Australia successfully doing nothing.  Well, not quite nothing, but there has been a lot of lying on the beach and swimming involved.
We arrived in Perth on Tuesday morning after a scary flight (lots of turbulence) and stepped off the plane into 30 degrees heat at 6am! We made it to our backpacker’s hostel in a seaside suburb of the city, Cottesloe. It is really beautiful here with lots of white sandy beaches and turquoise waters. There isn’t much in Cottesloe, just a few restaurants and bars and sun seekers. We spent the first few days relaxing and enjoying the sun, but soon got bored, so on Thursday we went into Perth CBD.
Perth is a stunning city. It is surrounded by water (the Swan River) and hills which contrast nicely with the few glittering sky scrapers in the city centre. Our first stop was the Museum of Western Australia, which had some really interesting exhibitions on. We learnt a lot about Australia’s involvement in WW1, the aboriginal culture and animals to be spotted in various states. The museum was also air-conditioned....a huge bonus! Afterwards, we walked down towards the waterfront and by the boats towards Kings Park. We climbed a (what felt like a mountain in the heat but was probably a hill) to reach the park. The climb was worth it. The views from the top were incredible. We could see the whole city beneath us and the gardens in the park were pretty and interesting, with a variety of botanical plants. 
After an evening stroll through Kings Park, we headed down towards the city in search for something to eat. Now is probably a good time to mention how expensive it is here. We are really hoping that the high prices in Perth are not indicative of the whole of Australia, because if they are, we might be home next month! To give you an idea: a pint of larger is $10 (Australian dollars) which is around £7!!! Needles to say we have been buying food from the supermarket to eat in our room, because a few meals in Perth would probably bankrupt us. Anyway, we managed to find a reasonably priced pizza place for our meal in Perth, before we headed back to Cottesloe.
Friday saw more lolling on the beach and playing on body boards. Yesterday though, we caught the train to Freemantle, which is a small town to the South of Perth. We wandered around the town centre and market stalls, and we were able to do some useful things there, like swap reading material and withdraw some much needed dollar! We went to a ‘shipwreck museum’, which Dad would have found fascinating but it wasn’t my sort of thing, so we headed for a local brewery. The brewery ‘little creatures’ was housed in an old boat shed by the water and it was huge! It was packed with locals enjoying a Saturday afternoon treat, and we joined them in drinking a glass of local stuff. It was delicious and the atmosphere was great. A must for people watching!
Today we are having an ‘organising’ day in anticipation of the next few weeks ahead. Tomorrow we pick our campervan up and head south towards Margaret River (a world famous surfing and wine making spot). We will probably spend 3 nights around Margaret River and then go east to the Karri forests near Pemberton. Next Monday (28th), we will embark on our first WWOOFing placement. WWOOF stands for ‘Willing Workers On Organic Farms’. We are members of the scheme and have contacted host families to stay with between Perth and Sydney. So we will be joining the Herriott family at the vineyard, Herriott Wines, near Pemberton for a week. In exchange for 4 hours work a day, we receive free accommodation and food. Hopefully it will be a great way to meet new people and learn differing skills.
On the 8th March we are going to the Ullara Wildlife Sanctuary near Mt.Barker, which is a sanctuary for injured and orphaned kangaroos. After a week there, we have a very long drive to Adelaide, where we will drop the campervan off on the 26t March. The distance from Perth to Adelaide is the same distance as London to wish us luck!!
Right, time to get washing, packing and organising! I have outlined our plans for the coming month above as I am not sure when we will next get access to the internet. Living in a campervan for the next five weeks suggests that it may be some time, so sorry if you don’t hear from us for a while. Hopefully the host families will have an internet connection though, so we will try to update you with our WWOOFing stories before the end of March.
Sorry for the essay! Thank you for all your lovely comments. It is so nice to hear from people at home. Please keep them coming!
 Love to all at home.
H xx

Monday, 14 February 2011

Memoirs of a trip in Japan

As I always like to have the final word, I thought I would add my comments here on Japan to wrap it up. We have had a really good 11 days here, met some fantastic people and seen some wonderful and bizarre things. Not only have we conquered the underground, trekked up a mountain and immersed ourselves into dark caves, but we have made memories that will last a lifetime....the experience of heated toilet seats stand out as the most prominent for me!!

Despite that, and although Japan was a great country to have as our first stop, it has failed to 'wow' me. I'm not sure why...maybe reflecting on it during the flight tonight will help me to realise what it is about the place that really failed to impress me. The people are so lovely and helpful, the public transport is impressive and the temples are great...but there is something missing.

So, I would give Japan 7 out of 10.

Best bits - wonderful people, heated toilet seats, transport, the green tea experience in Tokyo, the Nara deer.

Worst bits - the food, lack of beautiful landscape, crowds, noisy Australians in hostels (doesn't bode well for the next leg of the trip!)

I hope that gives you some idea of my thoughts and feelings regarding Japan: great time, good memories, awful food, no 'wow' factor. In a nutshell.

We are going down under now...hope to update you soon.

Lots of valentines love,
H xx

Off to Oz

Well I'm a bit more of a fan of Kyoto than Hana but I have to admit that it wasn't quite what I expected. Still, we had a great time there but it's safe to say we were all temple'd out and ready to head back to Tokyo.

Another rapid 2 hours at over 100mph via Bullet Train and we were back at our Hostel in Tokyo (after getting mildly lost on the underground). That evening we actually managed to make it to Electric Town. It's an awesome sight to behold: lights towering up buildings wherever you turn, loud electronic noises and hoards of people - it truly is an assault on your senses until you get used to it. We ventured into "Club Sega" (one of the many gaming centres there) and had a go on some of the games in there. What was more interesting to see was the Japanese kids playing those games... it's as though they have extra arms they move that fast!

The following day we ventured to Shibuya and came out of the underground right next to the famous Shibuya crossing (Lost in Translation anyone?). We spent a good 10mins just watching the crossing and the sea of people rushing across the tarmac as soon as the lights turned green. After our Shibuya experience we headed on to Shinjuku and to the government buildings there. We went up to the top of the observation deck of the highest building we could find and got a great view across Tokyo and to the mountains beyond. In the evening we finally found some vegetarian Japanese food! Vegetable tempura, it was very nice and great to have some Japanese food that Hana could eat on our last evening in Tokyo.

Today we are having a last look around Tokyo, grabbing some lunch and then getting the train to the airport.

We fly to Perth at 8:30pm local time!

- Phil

Friday, 11 February 2011


After our great experiences in Tokyo and Mt.Fuji, we were ready to try the cultural heart of Japan, Kyoto. People have been telling us what an 'immensely beautiful' city it is and how it compares to Rome and Paris, so needless to say, we were excited when leaving the Mt.Fuji area on Tuesday. It was quite a journey to get here which included a ride on the bullet train (very fast!), but we finally arrived on Tuesday evening. Our optimism was dashed as we stepped out of the huge train station and found ourselves surrounded by a concrete jungle...not quite the vision of traditional Japan that we had in mind! After checking in at the hostel, we walked into downtown Kyoto, which again was a disappointment.

On Wednesday we set out to find the amazing Kyoto that we had heard people talking about. We took the train to the West of the city to a place called Arashiyama.We saw a cool temple there which had some really lovely gardens and the famous bamboo grove. We walked through the bamboo trees and explored the surrounding area, and things started to look up! That area of the city was prettier for sure. After lunch however, we made a mistake! The scale of our map (or our map-reading skills) must be wrong as the golden pavilion (a recognisable landmark of Japan) looked as if it was close to the area we were in, so we started walking towards it. An hour and a half later, we were only halfway there and lost! We somehow ended up in a suburban area of the city. Back on track, we finally found the temple a mere 3 hours after we had set out on our walk....and it was closed! Good times!

Yesterday was a far more successful day. We caught the train to nearby Nara, which was the first capital of Japan. There were loads of temples and shrines to see there so we spent the morning ambling around the park and admiring the wooden Buddhist sites. We saw a giant bronze Buddha housed in the largest wooden structure in the World (thanks for the recommendation Grandad!) My favourite thing about Nara though, was that there were wild deer roaming around the park! They were very friendly and liked to be stroked and fed deer biscuits, which you could buy at stalls around the area. They were everywhere! So Thursday was the best day in Kyoto.

Today (Friday) we got a bus to Higashiyama, which was pretty. There are cobbled streets and traditional Japanese shops framing the paths up to the main temple sites. We followed a walking tour suggested in our guide book and managed to catch a quick glimpse of two geisha's! It was very impressive to see them entertaining behind the glass doors of a posh restaurant. Another great experience was touching the 'womb stone' inside a dark basement in a temple. We paid 100 yen to walk in the pitch darkness towards a lit up stone in the centre of the temples 'womb'. Once we reached it we spun it 180 degrees and made a wish. God only knows what the Japanese think it does, but it was fun! We spent the rest of today walking around the main sightseeing area and admiring yet more temples and shrines.

So, to sum it up, Kyoto has been an interesting experience. I personally think it is a bit of an insult to Paris and Rome but it has offered an insight into Japanese culture and history. We have had some fun experiences and some very annoying ones, but our boundaries have been tested and that can only be seen as a positive! I am looking forward to returning to Tokyo tomorrow and onwards to Australia on Monday.

We will post some more photos and another update soon. Please keep in touch and comment on here if you are reading it.....Mum I know you are my dedicated follower!!

Lots of love to you all

Monday, 7 February 2011

Tokyo is big, Mt. Fuji is bigger!

We've had a bit of down time this afternoon so as you can see I've put up a few photo's taken over the last few days. I'm sure we'll put the rest up on facebook at some point.

Since our last post we have been to the Tokyo fish market, visited the imperial palace and are now in Mt. Fuji.

We were up early to go and see the largest fish market in the world. Arriving at 8am, we found the market was still in full flow (despite having started at 5am!) and it was insane! The whole place was a sea of people and hundreds of little carts driving boxes of fish or ice to and fro, almost running us over in the process! The main hall is a large temperature controlled warehouse where fish that had just been landed is sold of to anyone who wants to buy them. They had every type of fish imaginable from tiger prawns to tiger sharks, it was the real business end of the fishing industry and there was no escaping getting a few splatters of guts on the way through. After our fishy experience we decided we needed some refreshment and so had some green tea in a traditional Japanese tea house.

After the fish market we took a trip up to the imperial palace via Ginza. Ginza is described as Tokyo's answer to 5th Avenue and they're not wrong. The whole area is littered with designer makes including Mont Blanc, Prada, Burberry, Cartier, Jimmy Choo and many more. We decided it was way out of our price range and pushed on to the imperial palace. The palace grounds were very impressive but unfortunately the palace itself was closed to the public so we headed back to the hostel.

On Sunday we began our journey to Mt. Fuji, specifically the town of Kawagutchiko which is in the foothills of Mt. Fuji. The journey was quite straight forward in the end and only took a couple of hours, although the main station in Tokyo was huge and full of people. Thankfully the station staff were very helpful and made sure we knew where we were going. Having arrived in Kawagutchiko we were promptly picked up and taken to our hostel. The room we have is incredible! Picture the most Japanese room you can and you're halfway there. We have paper walls, sleep on the floor, the works.

This morning (MY BIRTHDAY!) we got up at a reasonable time and climbed Mt. Tenjo to get a truly breathtaking view of Mt. Fuji. Having worn ourselves out from our climb we are having some down time and then off to the local bar tonight and then on to a traditional Japanese restaurant for birthday celebrations. As it says on the beer cans here, "Brewed for good times!"

- Phil

A few photos of Tokyo and Mt. Fuji

Friday, 4 February 2011

Big in Japan

Well... not quite. Everyone is taller than I expected, shame. Yeah it's quite tricky for Hana being a veggie here but I had some fish noodle soup which was pretty good, although a bit unnerving as we we're the only people in the restaurant and they were all watching me eat it. Plenty of slurping was involved but gochiso-sama deshita (it was a real feast).

It's a good job the city is laid out in a grid system, otherwise we would have no clue where were going as most of the signs are written using Japanese symbols rather than words and so very difficult to translate.

Everyone is very friendly and respectful here. Just getting the bus from the airport with Heisa (aka "the kind lady") we found that every time the bus stopped someone from the bus company would get on, bow and announce where we were before bowing again and jumping off.

From the temples I've seen so far I am very impressed, even lighting my own incense stick and "washing" the smoke over me. It's quite an odd sensation but very calming and serene. The city itself is a really interesting mix of old and new but many of the traditions are still very much in place.

Anyway, I've written a good essay here (the result of not being able to sleep!) so I'll round it up. Off to the fish market tomorrow, one of the largest in the world - they have 300kg tuna for sale, might bag me a fresh one! Hope everyone is well, please email or comment on here to stay in touch - mobile doesn't work.

- Phil x

Jet-lag and fishy noodles...

We have arrived in Japan!! After a very long 11.30 hour flight on Wednesday, we are now in Tokyo. The trip started well as I met a kind lady on the flight who gave us a lift from the airport to our hostel. Good start! We are staying in a backpackers hostel called K's house. It's fairly basic but clean and there are lots of other travellers here.
The first thing we did upon arrival was to walk around the area (Kuramae) and find our bearings. Tokyo is much quieter and cleaner than I expected. The roads are laid out like the American grid system, however the weird symbols remind you which country you are in! It also feels very safe and it is a great place to just walk around and take in the sights and smells. Yesterday we went to Senso-ji temple and the surrounding area of Asakusa which was cool. There were lots of incense sticks burning and people have to wash the smoke over their body as a symbol of good luck. On entering the temple, we struck a large bong and saw the Buddhist monks throwing beans to people beneath them. In our jet-lagged daze it was all a little surreal!
After a well deserved but unfortunately repeatedly disturbed (jet-lag) nap, we walked to Ueno today. There is a large park there with beautiful big ponds and lots of temples and shrines. We checked them out and then went to the National Museum of Japan, which was interesting. I think I know a little more about Buddhism now! We are now back at the hostel to get 40 winks before heading off to electric town tonight.
My first impression of Japan is that the people are extremely friendly and respectful, the streets are clean and the atmosphere is peaceful...but it is almost impossible to be a vegetarian here! I will let you know if and when I find a meal that does not consist of fish. Yuck!
That is all for now. We have tomorrow (Saturday) in Tokyo and then we are off to Mt.Fuji for 2 nights to celebrate Philip's birthday. I will update you upon arrival in Kyoto next week.
Lots of love to everyone. Keep in touch (although phone does not work so email etc) xxxxx