Emerald Inn: Auckland NZ

We were up in Auckland for a weekend to watch A New World: Final Fantasy concert. Taylor Swift was also in town but we skipped her banging performance and opted to nerd out instead. Haha.

We normally just stay with friends whenever we fly up to the big city, but for this trip I suggested we book a room instead to make it feel like a “mini getaway”.

We chose to stay at the Emerald Inn as it looked quite good on the photos and it was just a 2 min walk from Bruce Mason Centre, where the concert was being held.

What we loved about this place:

  • Very near to Bruce Mason Centre where the concert was being held.
  • Very near to all the shops and restaurants in Takapuna
  • Just right beside Takapuna Beach
  • Own parking space
  • Well maintained room
  • Room had a small kitchen area (if you chose not to eat out)
  • Comfortable bed and pillows and soft sheets
  • Iron and ironing board included in the room (because it’s so much nicer when your clothes are not all wrinkled when you go out)
  • The overall tropical resort feel of the place — still felt pretty secluded and peaceful despite its very central location

House made soba on a rainy day in Kyoto at SOBANOMI YOSHIMURA 🇯🇵

It was the 29th of October and it was my birthday. To celebrate I wanted to go sightseeing in Kyoto wearing a kimono, so first order of the day was to go to Yumeyukata to rent one.

It was lunch time by the time Jan and I finished getting dressed up and we were hungry. Jan said he thought he saw a Yoshinoya chain store just down the road on our way to the rental shop so we were going to head there next.

Unfortunately, it was pouring with rain by the time we got out of Yumeyukata. We ended up finding shelter at the very first food place we came across while walking and it was this — SOBANOMI YOSHIMURA.

The inside of the restaurant had a traditional yet elegant feel to it and the thought that we might have gone somewhere that’ll blow our budget did cross my mind… my worries would be put to rest later on.

The staff greeted us warmly and brought us to the second floor to be seated.

I’ve just recently read that there can be a wait time of up to 15 minutes to eat here, but maybe because it was raining that day there weren’t as many customers so we were accommodated straight away despite us not having a reservation.

I ordered the shrimp soba (Y1,204) and Jan ordered the tempura rice bowl (Y1,343). Although not exactly cheap, we found the price to be okay. Converted to New Zealand Dollars, it’s about 16-18 NZD per meal. Considering that we normally spend at least 20 NZD (mostly even more) when eating out in Wellington, this wasn’t really bad in comparison.

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The soba noodles are made from scratch — On the first floor of the restaurant, you can see them being made by the soba chefs through a clear glass window. The whole process is pretty interesting to watch.

I made the mistake of ordering cold soba noodles instead of having something warm — not exactly the best choice on a rainy autumn day, but the whole dish was pretty tasty so nothing to complain about really. Still, I think I would enjoy this even more on a hot and sunny summer day. As for Jan, he was well pleased with his order.

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The quintissential old-Japan look of the place was also something we delighted in. Dining here felt like being transported back in time… and with us dressed the way we were, it just made the whole experience more enjoyable and memorable.

To Summarize:

  • Did we like the food? ✔
  • Was the overall ambience of the place good? ✔
  • Was the price worth it for the food that we had? ✔
  • Were the staff friendly? ✔
  • Did we have a good time? ✔
  • English speaking staff and english menu available? ✔
  • Will we recommend this place to other people? ✔
  • Are we eating here again? Most definitely 👍

The Scramble: Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo 🇯🇵

It’s considered to be the busiest crossing in the world… reportedly having up to 2,500 people crossing every time the signal changes.

I’m unsure as to how accurate the above statistics is, but I was able to witness first hand the bustling vibe in this world renowned intersection.

We were there on our second day in Japan. We had just spent the entire day ticking away as many places as we could on our “Tokyo to do” list (we we were leaving for Kyoto the next day) and this was our last stop.

We were already a bit worn out after walking around the whole day and our phone and portable wifi batteries were already running very low.

We briefly contemplated on whether we would carry on and check out the crossing or call it a night and go back to our hotel instead. We now know what we decided in the end, don’t we?

It was already 8pm but the area still looked very busy.

Initially the plan was for us to grab a drink at Starbucks and take photos from the shop’s window overlooking the crossing,however, we still needed to find where exactly Starbucks was located; and with our phones and portable wifi having low batteries, we didn’t want to keep on using them for GPS and risk them completely turning off before we can find our way back to our hotel.

So instead, we opted to watch the organized chaos that is “The Scramble” from the sidelines.

It started with everyone waiting for the pedestrian lights to turn green.

When it did, the intersection was then flooded by a sea of people.

As time ticked by the crowd started to slowly thin out until there was only a couple of people left rushing to cross while there was still a bit of time.

Then the lights turned red and the vehicles started moving in and people were back to waiting idly by until the next change of lights signalled another round of bustling activity.

I stood at the sides fascinated with what I was seeing — so many people crossing from different directions (all at the same time) without hitting or jostling each other… quite impressive, really.

Also, people watching has always been one of my favorite past times and this was a perfect time to do just that. Not in a creepy-psycho-stalker sense okay?

Just a little harmless and quiet observation of people walking past, thinking of made up stories about them in my head.

‘Where are they going?’ ‘What are they thinking?’ — ‘This one’s off to have a drink after a long day at work.’, These two are friends but the girl is in love with the boy’, ‘These two lovebirds are on a date’… But I digress.

All in all this was a pretty good experience. I know it’s nothing grand like seeing the Eiffel tower all lit up at night or looking at the breathtaking view of the sea at the Amalfi coast on a bright summer day, but it was good all the same.

I’ve always been a bit curious about “the scramble” so it was nice ticking it off the Japan bucketlist among many other things during this trip.

Kiddy Land at Harajuku, Tokyo 🇯🇵

kawaii (kəˈwʌɪ/)
the quality of being cute, or items that are cute.

I have always had a tendency to be drawn to anything kawaii. Yes, I’m a thirty year old grown woman but I still love my pinks, bright colors and sparkles and still have a soft spot for pretty looking knick knacks. My childish disposition has never really gone away despite me growing up… so imagine my delight when we visited this shop during our Japan trip.

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Kiddy Land is a toy store in Japan that mostly sells Japanese character toys and goods,although you can find some well known western brands here as well like My Little Pony, Disney and Marvel. They have around 80 branches all over the country — the one we went to was their flagship store in Harajuku. It was awesome! Five floors of kawaii toys and goods!

“KIDDY LAND helps keep your mind, body and soul youthful, now and forever”

This is what they’re saying in their website, and having been there, I can definitely say I felt very young again surrounded by all the cuteness. It is without a doubt, a paradise for kids and kids at heart (like me!).

Here’s a couple of photos of the things that can be found inside the store.

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The photos above are just a little sample of what can be found in-store… If you happen to visit Harajuku on your Japan trip, definitely try dropping by to check out all the other items they have for sale.

They change their displays and floor layouts periodically as well so there’s always something new and unique in every visit.

Meiji-Jingu Shrine, Tokyo 🇯🇵

We visited quite a number of shrines when we were in Japan. I remember Jan saying “again?!” when I mentioned to him that we were going to check out another shrine when we were already in the middle of our trip. Haha! Meiji Jingu, however, holds a bit of a special place, as it was the very first shrine we visited during our trip. Our very first shrine experience in Japan! 

There are two ways to get into Meiji-Jingu shrine — the Northern entrance near Yoyogi station (photo below) or from the Southern entrance near Harajuku station (photo above). A towering torrii gate (about 40 ft. high) marks each entrance.

We entered from the southern entrance as it was closer to where we were at the time (Takeshita Dori). It was hard to miss due to the towering torrii gate that marked it. From there, we then walked the forested walkway leading to the main shrine which took us about 10 minutes.

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“when you pass through (under), you are symbolically entering a sacred place and leaving behind the everyday.” – japanvisitor.com (About passing through the torii gate entrance.)

As soon as we entered the shrine grounds, the hustle and bustle of city life faded away. Despite there being other visitors present, our walk still felt pretty calm and pleasant and the area still gave an aura of peace and tranquility.

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How to pay respect at Meiji-jingu at a torii (shrine archway):

  • Bow once when entering
  • Bow once when leaving

At the time of our visit, the shrine was undergoing some renovations in preparation for it’s 100th anniversary. At the main grounds, they were offering to have people’s names written on the roof pieces in exchange for a donation. It wasn’t very expensive, and Jan was trying to talk to me about it… Unfortunately, at the time I was too busy buying charms at the shrine store that I somewhat ignored what he was trying to say (Waaaaaah) In hindsight, I now think it’s such a shame… renovations finish in 2020 (which is when we’re planning to go visit the country again) and it would have been cool to visit Meiji Shrine again knowing we’ve somehow donated for a part of it.

The shrine is dedicated to the venerated souls of Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken. This is not to be confused for their actual burial sites, which can be found in Kyoto.

Emperor Meiji, real name Mutsuhito, was emperor of Japan from 1867-1912. He is the 122nd ruler of Japan according to traditional order of succession, who ascended to the throne when he was only about 14-15 years old. Under his reign, Japan went through massive political, economic, military and educational modernization which dramatically transformed the country into one of the great powers of the modern world — famously known as the Meiji restoration period of Japan.

Empress Shoken, who adopted the name Haruko upon marrying the emperor, was the first imperial consort to receive the titles nyōgō and kōgō (literally, the emperor’s wife, translated as ‘empress consort’), in several hundred years. She was known during her reign for her support for charity work and was the patron of the Japanese Red Cross.

How to pay respect at the main shrine:

  • You may put some coins in the offertory box
  • Bow twice
  • Clap your hands twice
  • Make a wish
  • Bow again

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To the right of the main shrine is a covered writing area where you can write down your personal wishes to be offered to the shrine deities. Pen, paper, and envelopes are provided free of charge.

I can no longer remember what I wrote down and wished for, but I’m hoping that whatever it was, it would have been heard and granted.

Another option for writing down your wishes or prayers is to buy an ema tablet from the shop. Ema tablets are small wooden plaques in which Shinto Buddhist worshippers write their prayers and wishes. In Meiji shrine, they cost about Y500.

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Past this torrii gate (by the ema tablet shop counter) is another forested pathway, this time leading to the northern entrance of the shrine which is by Yoyogi park. It is by this entrance that you can find the Treasury museum (Homotsuden) and the Dojo (Shiseikan).

When we were there, the treasury museum was closed. As for the dojo, we weren’t even aware that there was one in the first place (yes.. yes.. not enough research)… so we ended up not being able to explore the two. We still, however, walked the pathway all the way up to the northern entrance and once there we debated on whether we would just continue on to explore Yoyogi Park; but it was getting quite later in the day and Jan didn’t think we would have enough time so we just took a couple of photos while there, then backtracked all the way to the Southern entrance where we started.

For reference purposes, the Homotsuden (treasury museum) continues to remain closed as it is undergoing construction for earthquake proofing. For more information about the Shiseikan (martial arts hall/dojo) you can click this link here.

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On the walk back to the Southern entrance, we got to check out these sake barrels on display at a certain area of the walkway. We passed them earlier on, but since we were in a hurry to get to the main shrine, we didn’t really have a proper look at them then.

The sake barrels are called sakedaru and their display as decoration is known as kazaridaru. They have been donated by sake brewers around Japan to be used in ceremonies and festivals.

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Across the display of sake barrels, we saw it’s western counterpart — wooden barrels of french wine. The signage beside the display said that these have been offered by celebrated wineries of Bourgogne France and are to be consecrated in Meiji Jingu with the earnest prayer that France and Japan will enjoy many more fruitful years of friendship. 

Another part of the shrine that we did not get to explore was the inner garden, also known as Meiji Jingu Gyoen. I initially wanted to check it out… but with us running out of time, Jan suggested otherwise. 

Meiji Jingu Gyoen was once part of a family owned land before it was taken under the control of the Japanese government during the Meiji period. It is said that Emperor Meiji designed the garden himself specifically for Empress Shoken. The garden is famous for it’s Iris blooms during the summer season ( specifically in June). Entrance fee to get into the inner garden is 500 yen.

Overall we had a nice time strolling around the huge shrine complex and it was a pretty good experience for our first (of many) shrine visits while in the country. I think it warrants a second visit as there were still a lot we were not able to see when we were there, but maybe we’ll wait until the construction of the treasury museum is done so then we don’t get to miss anything the second time around. 

Church Road Winery: Behind The Scenes Tour

On the way back home to Wellington while on a recent roadtrip up north, we passed by the Hawke’s Bay region — known for it’s beaches, warm weather and many wineries. We were there for the wine, as it was already the last few days of autumn and the cold had already set in even if winter hadn’t officially started yet, which meant no beaching and basking in nice balmy weather.

We booked ourselves to do a short wine tour at Church Road winery. We were lucky as we were able to make a last minute booking on the same day we wanted to do the tour… maybe because it was off season and there were lesser visitors. I’m not sure if that would have been possible during the summer time when there would be more people coming into the region.

We started at the cellar door — the wine tasting room where you can sample the winery’s range and discuss the different wines with one of the knowledgeable staff. In Church Road, the cellar door was also where the restaurant was located.

*The oak barrels in the restaurant was a nice touch and added a nice rustic feel to the place.

Our guide, Rebecca, handed each of us a wine glass before we began, then we followed her out the main doors and into the sunshine to commence the tour.

We stood by a wide open grass field just in front of the building, which we were told, was once where the grapes were planted but because the soil wasn’t very good, they were then moved to different locations and the area now serves as a perfect setting for outdoor events and concerts.

In the above photo: My close friend’s Aunt Stella who was visiting NZ all the way from the Philippines.

Rebecca talked about the history of Church Road; about it’s original founder/owner Bartholomew Steinmetz who later on returned to his native Luxembourg to marry, leaving his winery in the hands of the 19 year old Tom McDonald who had been working for him since his early teens and who later on bought the winery and proceeded to make the first quality red wines in NZ. She also talked about the changes in ownership the boutique winery has gone through over the years…the latest owner being Pernot Ricard, producers of well known products such as Absolut vodka and Kahlua.

After the brief history talk, we were then shown around different areas of the winery while Rebecca explained to us the technicalities involved in the wine making process. We also had a sample of two of the wines (one red and one white) straight from the tanks.

*The Cuve Room: Juice from pressed grapes get transferred into the big oak barrels. Yeast is then added and the fermentation process begins.

*Wooden stairs leading to the top of the oak barrels. Maintaining accurate temperature is key during this process and so workers regularly do their checks while the wine is fermenting.

*Cabernet Merlot Sauvignon straight from the tank!

*The wine is put into oak barrels to age. Church Road normally uses French Oak for their chardonnay. They normally cost at least $800/barrel but can go up to $3,000 depending on quality.

We were also brought down to their wine museum (the only one in NZ we were told) located underground in what used to be concrete vats — where wine was fermented in the olden days. The only reminder of it’s past usage is the faint sparkling left behind in the walls from the tartaric acid of the wine and a small hole on top of the ceiling that has now been covered, where the workers used to go in to check the wine while it was fermenting.

We walked around the small space, viewing the exhibit on offer with Rebecca telling us facts and information about wine making in the olden days as well as relating it to the process of making wine today.

Once we were done with the museum tour, we headed back to the Tom Mcdonald cellar for the last part of our tour… food and wine pairing!

We were each given a glass of champagne to start off and then we got to taste six wines in total… three reds and three whites, paired with bite sized food offerings with Rebecca facilitating and providing information in between our sampling.

*Our two favorites were the McDonald series Pinot Gris 2017 and the Grand Reserve Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2014.

*You can buy a bottle (or two) from the wines on display inside the Tom Mcdonald cellar, just to right from the entrance.

All in all a very wonderful experience and we had such a great time! Cannot wait for summer when we can do more winery tastings paired with some nice warm sunny weather!

A Calm Morning In Busy Tokyo: Inside The East Imperial Gardens

It was our second day in Japan. First order of the day was to visit the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. I already knew that the inner palace grounds were not open to the public at the time. Still, I wanted to at least see the outside of it in person.

It was a 16 minute walk from our hotel (Sakura Hotel Jimbucho) to the Kitahane-bashi-mon Gate, which turned out to be the entrance into the East Imperial Gardens and NOT where the Imperial Palace building was located.

* Site Map photo taken from the Imperial Household Agency website here.

But we were already there and the entrance into the garden grounds was free… so we decided that we might as well go in and have a look around.

Here are the highlights that we found inside the Imperial Palace East Gardens with a bit of information for each one at the bottom of the photos. Enjoy!

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Tenshu-Dai Base (number 16 in site map): It is the remaining foundation of the former castle tower (known as the tallest castle tower in the history in Japan) where the Tokugawa shogunate ruled the country. It was destroyed by a fire in 1657 and has never been rebuilt.

Toka-gakudo (Concert Hall) (Number 18 in Site Map):

“The Tokagakudo is an octagonal concert hall located within the imperial gardens of Tokyo. In Japanese, “Tokagakudo” means “peach blossom” and the structure is designed to resemble a flower. 

The Tokagakudo was built as a concert hall in 1966 in honor of Empress Kojun. She was the consort of Emperor Hirohito, the longest serving Japanese emperor who became the symbol of modern Japan after World War II. She was a well known patron and lover of classical music. The hall was opened to commemorate the 60th birthday of the empress who died in the year 2000.”

– GPSMYCITY.COM

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Ishi-Muro (Stone Cellar) (Number 6 in Site Map): A 20 sqaure meter stone cellar built as a storage area for important articles in case of emergencies such as fires.

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Site of the Honmaru (Main Compound) (Inner Circle) (Number 7 in Site Map): This used to be the central and innermost part of the castle which included the main tower (Tenshu-Dai) and the residence of the shogun. This area was destroyed several times by fire and in the present day, has been turned into an open space field perfect for picnics on a nice sunny day.

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Fujimi-tamon Defense House (Number 5 in Site Map):

Written on the Info Board:

…is the sole surviving example of the defence houses which, in the period of the Tokugawa Shogunate, together with towers and walls, circled the Honmaru (the main compound) of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s Edo Castle.

*Upon entering, Jan and I were asked to take our shoes off and given a plastic bag each to put our shoes in while inside.

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Site of the Matsu-no-o-roka (Number 4 in Site Map): The actual corridor or structure it was once part of is no longer physically present. The site now just blends in with the rest of the garden with trees and plants growing in the area and there’s this information board that tells a bit of a story.

Written on the Information board:

“Here is the site of the Matsu-no-o-roka, one of the longest and widest corridors of the Tokugawa Shogun’s Edo Castle palace, where in 1701 a daimyo (feudal lord) called Asano Takumi-no-kami abruptly attacked Kira Kozuke-no-suke, a high ranking expert in ceremonies in the Tokugawa Shogunate. While Kira escaped with slight injuries, Asano was ordered by the Shogunate to commit honourable suicide on the same day. The incident became the prologue to the story of the 47 ronins (former subjects of Asano), who, in the following year, would accomplish their master’s wish to kill Kira. A famous story which has been recreated in various forms, such as Bunraku (puppetry), Kabuki, novels and TV dramas, for centuries.”

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Fujimi-Yagura (Fuji-Viewing Tower) (Number 1 on site Map): Once a guard tower built 350 years ago, it replaced the main tower when it burned down in 1657. It is also said that it was used by Edo elites to view Mt. Fuji, hence it’s name which means “Mt. Fuji viewing tower.”

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O-bansho (Gaurdhouse) (Number 11 on Site Map): The guardhouse that protected Edo Castle’s Honmaru or ‘inner circle’ (Number 7 on Site Map).

Doshin-bansho (Gaurdhouse) (Number 13 on Site Map): One of the three remaining guardhouses in the area. It served as a checkpoint for anyone entering through the Ote-mon gate which was the main entrance to the castle grounds. Samurai guardsmen kept watch 24/7.

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Hyakunin-bansho (Gaurdhouse) (Number 14 on Site Map): The biggest guardhouse inside that is situated by the Ote-mon gate. It was the quarters of one hundred samurai guardsmen (closely related to the Tokugawa clan) who worked in alternating shifts 24/7. Visitors who entered the main entrance of the castle (Ote-mon gate) during the Edo Period were screened here.

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Ninomaru Garden (Secondary Circle) (Number 25 on Site Map):

Written on the Information Board:

“This area was Ninomaru (the second compund) of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s Edo Castle. Though palaces were built and gardens were created here, repeated fires destroyed the area before the closing of the Shogunate period. This garden was created in 1964 modelling a garden which existed here in the mid-18th century.”

 

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Iris Garden (Number 26 on Site Map): The garden is named “Ninomaru-teien” — the secondary area of the Edo castle before. The garden is based on the original garden designed by Enshu Kobori — a samurai, master of tea ceremony and famous japanese garden designer.

Unfortunately, when we visited the garden the Iris flowers were no longer in bloom as it was already the start of Autumn season. The flowers are best seen during late spring time between the months of May and June. 

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Suwa-no-cha-ya (Number 22 on Site Map): A tea house which was previously located in the Fukiage Garden of the Imperial Palace during the Edo Period. It was reconstructed in 1912 and relocated to its current location when the East Garden was constructed.

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Sannomaru Shozokan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections): We concluded our exploration of the Imperial Palace East Gardens at the Museum of the Imperial Collections (located within the garden grounds) where works of art donated by the Imperial family are displayed. 

“Located in the East Garden of the Imperial Palace, the Museum of the Imperial Collections boasts a collection of about 9,500 works of art and craft, including paintings and calligraphy, that have been passed down through successive generations of the Imperial family.

In 1989, after Emperor Showa passed away, the Imperial family donated 6,500 works of art to the nation and construction of this facility commenced in 1992, to provide a place where they could be managed, stored, and researched, as well as being displayed to the general public. The works went on display in 1993.”

– Japan National Tourism Organization 

More of this here: https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/spot/museum/museum-of-the-imperial-collections.html

Getting from Narita to Jimbocho using the JR Pass.  

NARITA TO TOKYO STATION

… We hurriedly made our way towards the platforms to catch the Narita Express Train to Tokyo. The ride from the airport to Tokyo station was an hour long… the first half of which, we spent quickly looking up how we can get to our hotel in Jimbocho using the JR train lines.

There were no direct JR trains from Tokyo station to Jimbocho as per the staff at the JR East office in Narita. Their suggestion was to take the local subway/metro from Tokyo station to Jimbocho.

In hindsight, I now realize that would have been way easier… but I was stubborn that day, feeling very determined to try to use our JR passes as much as possible even if it meant we didn’t take the shortest route.

The best option we found was to take the Chuo line (rapid service) from Tokyo Station to Ochanomizu station then walk 14 minutes to our hotel.

The second half of the trip was spent mostly gazing out the window.

The nearer we got to Tokyo, the brighter the view became as more and more city lights came into view — such a sharp contrast to night time in New Zealand…so it was a pleasant sight to see. Also, it was making me feel more excited for the next two weeks!

ARRIVING AT TOKYO STATION

When we arrived at Tokyo station, it was initially a bit overwhelming. So. Many. People. I was expecting Tokyo to be crowded… but actually seeing it first hand, that was an experience in itself.

However, the Japanese are well known for being able to keep things in order… so it wasn’t totally chaotic. People always lined up to get into the trains and there were signs to keep left or right so that those who were in a hurry can easily pass through when going up and down the stairs and escalators.

WALKING IN JIMBOCHO

Walking wasn’t such a bad idea. We at least got to see the area a little bit.

It was our first time to walk around Tokyo so we found it very interesting. There were tall buildings all around and huge billboards scattered everywhere. We also passed by a lot of restaurants.

One we remember in particular because it caught our eye as we about took a crosswalk. It didn’t look fancy or anything. It actually looked pretty plain… but we could see lots of people inside (mostly in business attire) having a really good time eating and drinking beer.

Jan and I wondered whether it was a cheap place to eat as it looked like most of the people in there were employees having dinner and drinks after work. We thought about going back after we dropped off our luggage at the hotel but unfortunately, we never really got to back.

There were so many Family Mart konbinis (convenience stores) as well! Not that that’s very interesting… haha! But we just found it a bit amusing as we felt like we saw one every few minutes while walking. Hehe!

It was also nice to know there were many of them in the area as they’re quite handy for buying water and food on the go (onigiri!) and for withdrawing money (in yen) from their ATMs using a foreign credit card.

We also passed by one street that, for the first 24 hours, I  wrongfully thought was Takeshita Dori (yes, the one in Harajuku. No, I don’t know why I would think that when we were clearly in a different district). I was even cheerfully telling Jan about it.

Of course, it wasn’t and I was completely off. Haha! I could no longer remember the name. All I remember is that it was a bit of a long street with pink street lamps and it had lots of restaurants and shops.

END DESTINATION

We arrived at our hotel, safe and sound.

We checked in and brought our luggage up to our room and then ended up having dinner at the hotel’s 24hour cafe as we were too tired to head out again. We decided it was better to hit the sack early so we could have a good rest and be ready to explore Tokyo bright and early the next day!

Europe 2017 Travel Diary: Arc de Triomphe, Paris France

After spending some time admiring the Eiffel Tower, we then moved on to see another famous structure in Paris — the Arc de Triomphe.

The triumphal arch is in honor of those who fought for France, in particular, those who fought during the Napoleonic Wars. Engraved on the inside and at the top of the arch are all of the names of the generals and wars fought. There are inscriptions in the ground underneath the vault of the arch which include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I where the Memorial Flame burns and have made the Arc de Triomphe Parisa revered patriotic site. -arcdetriompheparis.com

It was a 30-minute walk from the tower to the arch and we needed a little break from all the walking we had done since the morning, so we opted to ride an Uber instead — the fare wasn’t too bad and it was a very convenient way to get to where we wanted.

We got dropped off by the driver right at the side of the arch, but for those walking to the monument it is said that there is an underground tunnel on the Avenue de la Grande Armee side of the roundabout/circle (where the monument stands central). This tunnel can be accessed from the Wagram exit of the Metro.

There was a short barricade surrounding the monument and a queue of people waiting to get inside. The fee to get in is 8€ for adults, 5€ for students and free admission for kids and teens below 17.

Like the Eiffel Tower earlier, we opted not to line up and were content to remain on the outside of the barrier. Then, after spending a bit of time gazing at the arch and taking some photos, we decided to leave and head off to Champs Élysées — Paris’ famous avenue lined with restaurants, shops and bars which was just across to where we were.

I cannot remember how we managed to cross the busy roundabout/circle… but somehow we did! When we got to the other side, we took some more photos of the arch at a distance and while doing so we observed that there were people who were standing (and taking photos) in the median strip of one of the pedestrian crossings of the avenue which was in front of the arch.

We decided to try it out as well to see if we could get some decent photos with the arch as our background. It was a bit scary at first standing in the middle of the street with cars going past to our left and right! But there were other people with us and the cars kept a bit of a safe distance so we were able to get our photos without any untoward accident and crossed back to Champs Élysées all in one piece!

Europe 2017 Travel Diary: River Seine, Paris.

The River Seine — one of Paris’ many important landmarks. It flows right through the heart of Paris and borders 10 of the city’s 20 arrondissements, thus we were able to pass by it a couple of times throughout our day in Paris.

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My first good view of the river was while we were crossing Pont Saint-Michel bridge on our way to the Notre Dame Cathedral. I had just landed in Paris 0700 that morning after a 30-hour flight from New Zealand. I should have been feeling tired…but I was too excited that I didn’t feel the least bit tired at all. Paris! What was once something I used to only see in photos and movies, I was finally seeing with my very own eyes!

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Of course, we couldn’t resist the photo opportunity that presented itself so we quickly snapped some photos when there weren’t a lot of people walking over the bridge.

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We saw a couple of boats leisurely going up and down the river — most of them boat tour cruises allowing tourists a different take in exploring the city.

On our way to the Louvre from the Notre Dame, we went down a set of stairs by Quai des Grands Augustins near Pont Saint-Michel to get closer to the water.

From there, we continued on walking by the riverside… passing under both Pont Neuf and Pont des Arts bridges.

“The Pont Neuf is considered to be the oldest stone bridge in Paris. Henri IV ordered it to be constructed in 1578.” – Parisinfo.com

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“The Pont des Arts, also known as the Arts Bridge, is a work between the Institut de France and the Musée du Louvre. Built between 1801 and 1804, it is the first iron bridge in the capital.”  Parisinfo.com