Joined September 2015
  • Jan26

    Copenhagan

    January 26 in Denmark ⋅ ☁️ 4 °C

    The first trip of the new decade was a three hour flight to Copenhagen with Ryanair with Elaine. When we landed, we had a 15 minute train journey (kr36/€4.80) to the Central Station, where we were staying close by in the lovely and highly recommended Steel House hostel. It was one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in in a long time. It was situated in an ideal location, and was very clean and had a great vibe.

    That evening we went for dinner at Falernum restaurant, as recommended by the hostel. This little wine bar restaurant had lovely had a great choice of tapas style dishes and delicious chocolate desserts to finish it off!

    Next morning, we got up and went for breakfast in Sunny restaurant, situated just off the New Square in the city. This cute little restaurant served salmon and egg dishes and large bowls of granola, which set us up for a great start of the day. We joined the free walking tour which started at the City Hall Square. The local guide Allan brought us around the city and gave us lots of tips for places to visit in Copenhagen and even taught us some local language.

    We visited walked up the 1.1km Strøget Street which is Europe’s longest shopping street. Then we visited Magstræde which is the oldest street in Copenhagen, which had buildings that survived the city fires in 1728 and 1795. Next, we stopped outside the Government buildings and the Royal Stables before going to Nyhavn Harbour which has transformed from being a red light district to a beautiful harbour with lots of nice restaurants and boats. We finished the tour at the Amalienborg Palace which is the main residence of the Danish Queen Margrethe II. The guards were outside and the Danish flag was flying high above the Palace so we kept and eagle eye out to try to spot the Queen but unfortunately we didn’t get to see her.

    After the tour, we walked across the water to Christianshavn. We stopped at a lovely restaurant for some lunch. This was our first experience of some local cuisine where we had a smørrebrød, which is an open sandwich made of rye bread. After lunch we went to Freetown Christiania, which is an autonomous hippie district in the city with its own laws of the sale of cannabis and other drugs. The buildings were painted with colourful graffiti art with various stalls and markets. It was nice to walk around but had a very weird vibe so we didn’t hang around too long.

    We walked back into the city centre and we went to Christiansborg Palace where the Danish Parliament is held. We went up the Tower above the Palace for a nice free view across the city. Next we headed to the
    Tivoli Gardens which was one of the main things I wanted to do in Copenhagen. Unfortunately it was closed due to preparations for the winter festival which is starting next week. However we managed to walk around the outskirts of the Gardens and saw the lovely lights inside. This just gives us a reason to come back again!

    Next morning after checking out, we decided to embrace the local culture and hired some bikes from the hostel for 6 hours (kr75/€10). 40% of commuters in Copenhagen travel by bike every day. There are designated cycle lanes all over the city so we just followed the crowd and tried to stay upright. Our first stop was some breakfast at Lagkagehuset, for some Danish Pastries. There was lots of different flavours and types that we were spoilt for choice.

    We then cycled up the coast to the Little Mermaid statue perched on the rocks. When it started to rain we cycled to the Rosberg Castle to walk around the gardens. Unfortunately the main buildings were closed. We then went across the road to the Botanical Gardens for a stroll around. We found that we were getting cold with the walking and cycling so we went back to Lagkagehuset for some hot chocolates and more pastries!

    We then made the compulsory stop at the Lego store, especially as Denmark is the home of LEGO! Before we returned our bikes to the hostel, we cycled to the Nørrebro District which is a cool suburb with lots of colourful buildings and play areas.

    That evening before heading to the airport we went for dinner in the Tivoli Gardens Food Hall which had a wide variety of cuisines in the little pop up style restaurants. We got to sit near the glass windows and got a view of the nice lights within the gardens, ending a lovely trip to Copenhagen!
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  • Day28

    Tokyo (Part II)

    November 2, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    We finished our trip back in Tokyo where we stayed in the Henn na Hotel at Hamamatsucho, which is also known as the Robot Hotel. We arrived at the reception where we were met by two robots behind the desk. We had to use the machines to check in however the machines wouldn’t read our passports properly. After several attempts we had to call the staff for help. Eventually the lady came and like with all malfunctioning technology, she turned the machine off and on again to get working. In a process that took a lot longer than if there was a human receptionist, we finally got our room key from the machine and dropped our bags to the room.

    We then headed north to Akihabara and walked around the Electric City. This area was made up of lots of multi story electrical shops and game arcades. There was a huge Pokemon shop selling toys, cards and games. We also came across a shop with seven floors of old computer games and toys. There was even an area where we could play some of the old Gameboy and PlayStation games. We finished by having a drink in Gundam Cafe, which is dedicated to the Japanese anime series.

    That evening we went to Tokyo Tower and did the audio tour of the top deck (Y3000/€25). It was nice to get a good view of the city’s night lights.

    Next day we decided to relive our youth and headed to DisneySea theme park which is about a 40 minute train journey from the city. We purchased a Day Pass (Y7500/€62.20) and spent the day exploring the different rides and shows. Unfortunately we struggled with the shows because they were in Japanese! Even Mickey Mouse sang in Japanese! But we had a great day and finished it off with a spectacular night light show on the lake, where they played all the old Disney songs. After the show there was due to fireworks which we had been looking forward to. However as we were waiting, there was an announcement that they were cancelled due to the weather. We were a bit confused as it had been a lovely sunny day and it was really calm and dry that night, the perfect conditions for fireworks in my opinion. Maybe finally the Japanese got something wrong!

    The following day, after a busy day in Disney, we had a lie in and a nice chilled out morning. We headed for a stroll around Ueno Park. There were lots of different street performers, all over the park. Some better than others.

    That evening it was time for our second rugby match. So we put on our Japanese headbands and went back to Tokyo stadium to watch New Zealand beat Wales (40:17). There were lots of different nationalities at the match so there was a great party atmosphere. The match was quite an open one with lots of tries which was great and added to the atmosphere. We got to see some of the great Kiwi and Welsh players’ last match such as Kieran Reid, Ryan Crotty, Ben Smith, Sonny Bill Williams and Alun Wyn Jones. Even the Japanese Emperor and Empress made an appearance at the match to see them off. The rugby results may not have gone to plan from an Irish point of view but it was still amazing to be there and met lots of rugby fans from all over the world.

    Our final day in Japan started with a delicious breakfast in Le Pain Quotidian, just up the road from the hotel. It was a busy bakery with a small restaurant at the back. It was definitely worth the wait for a table. Next, we walked to the Zojo-ji Temple. It is only a small temple but it was one of the nicer ones we visited in Japan. Inside there were lots of gold buddhas and a very shiny floor. Outside there were children buddhas made out of stone with red hats and scarves. Then we went back to Tokyo tower to visit the One Piece Museum. It was made up of games and historical information about the animation show.

    We came across a rugby festival in Shiba Park where there were various dance performers, drummers and brass bands on the stage. There was lots of children playing rugby in the park and participating in rugby skill games. There was also a big screen where they were showing the World Cup Rugby Final.

    We went for dinner in a restaurant in the World Trade Centre Building beside our hotel. In keeping with the Japanese rigidly sticking to the rules, we were given the snacks menu as the full menu was only available from 5pm, despite it being 4.45! So we ordered food anyways and just as the food came out...the waiter gave us the full dinner menu! This sums up the Japanese culture.

    After dinner we went to the Irish pub ‘Craic’ under the hotel to watch the Rugby World Cup Final between South Africa and England (32:12). Before we took the one hour 20 minute direct train to Narita airport, on our way back home to Ireland.
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  • Day24

    Himeji and Kobe

    October 29, 2019 in Japan ⋅ 🌧 16 °C

    We decided to do a day trip from Kyoto to the cities of Himeji and Kobe as recommended by so many people here. We took the Shinkansen JR train to Himeji which only took about 55 minutes, to complete the 130 kilometre journey.

    Firstly, we visited the beautiful Himeji Castle. We had to take off our shoes to go inside the main keep and walked through the six floors to the top with great views across the city. Then we went into the Nishi-no-maru Bailey where we walked through the long corridor and learned about the history of how the castle was built. Next door to the castle were the Koko-en gardens, which was made up of lots a little gardens with various different themes.

    After lunch in Himeji we got a ‘super rapid express’ train to Kobe city, which took only 15 minutes, to cover the 60 kilometres. In the lovely afternoon sunshine, we walked up the steep hill to see the Nunobiki Waterfalls. We then took a metro train across the city to Fukuju Sake Brewery. Kobe is famous for having lots of sake breweries in a small area. Sake is a Japanese rice wine, usually 15% alcohol. In this little brewery, we learned about how sake is brewed and how the more rice that is used, the more expensive the sake is. We then got to taste different strengths and types of sake wine.

    The most famous thing Kobe is known for, is its beef steak. So we booked into Ishidaya restaurant for some Kobe beef. This was a Teppanyaki style restaurant where we had our own personal chef. We ordered a set menu of sirloin and tenderloin beef. The starter of roasted Kobe beef and crab was served first, before we had mushroom soup. Our chef then came out to start his spectacle. He first laid out the various vegetables including potato jelly, Chinese cabbage, Japanese vegetables and stuffed mushrooms. He then poured out the various salts and sauces onto our plates and explained the best way to eat them with the steak. We also got a serving of boiled and fried rice. The meat was lovely and tender but a little salty for my liking. We finished off dinner with apple pie and ice cream for dessert.

    It was a lovely day and great to see another side of Japanese and experience some local culture and cuisine. It was one of my favourite days of the trip.
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  • Day23

    Kyoto

    October 28, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 0 °C

    Our next stop after Tokyo was due to be Kanazawa and the surrounding countryside, however, unfortunately due to Typhoon Hagibis, the train lines were damaged and we were unable to get there. So we changed our plans and decided to go to Kyoto a few days earlier. This was our first chance to experience the Shinkansen (bullet train), which covered the 370km journey in just over two hours. As with all the public transport here in Japan, it arrived exactly at the time it was scheduled to. The journey was really smooth and it didn’t seem like we were travelling at the high speeds we were going. It was a really clear day so we got a great view of Mount Fuji along the way, which was an added treat.

    We stayed in a studio apartment at Kyoto Artstay Nishijunsutematsu, in a quiet area in the north of the city. After checking in we got the bus to the city centre and walked around the Gion and Pontocho area. This part of the city is famous for spotting Geishas, wearing the traditional Japanese dress. There are also lots for lovely little restaurants and bars to visit. We went for dinner in a restaurant called Teppanyaki Manryu. This popular restaurant only holds 14 people with 4 members of staff, two chefs, one cleaning the dishes and one waiter. We were lucky to get a place at the table, as then next people who arrived were turned away. We soon found out why this restaurant was so popular as the food was delicious and we ended up ordering eight dishes between the two of us! We knew that night that Kyoto was going to be an enjoyable place for us.

    Next day, we visited Nijo Castle and the beautiful gardens. Unfortunately it was a very wet day so to escape the rain we went into the Ninomaru-goten Palace (Y1,030/€8.50) on the grounds of the castle. Inside the palace, there were various rooms where the walls are painted with lovely murals of animals and flowers. It was a nice way to stay dry for an hour. We then walked to the Imperial Palace just in time for the one hour English tour. Unfortunately some of the main buildings were being refurbished so we missed out on some of the main buildings. But we got great information about the history of Kyoto and the Palace from the guide.

    That evening we went to the Samurai and Ninja museum (Y3,000/€24.90), where we learned about the history of samurai and ninjas in the ancient Japanese society. We then got to put on the samurai suits and helmets and pose for pictures with the swords. We finished with having a competition where we got to throw shuriken against the wall and blew arrows to hit a target, just like the ninjas would when they were fighting. We ended the day by having dinner in Pontocho alley with Kevin and Shauna.

    The following day was another rainy day so we decided to have a chill out day and went to play pool in Round One. This consisted of five floors of arcade games, pool tables and bowling alleys. Even in the middle of the day it was really busy with students and workers having some fun. We went for a lovely dinner in Salvatore Cuomo, where we sat along the waterfront, watching everyone walking by. After dinner we walked to the Yasaka Shrine which was lovely all lit up in the night lights.

    Day four in Kyoto, meant we moved to our original hotel we had booked which was situated close to Kyoto station. This was great for being able to get the bus to temples on the outskirts of the city. We bought ourselves a bus day pass which cost us Y600 (€5) allowing us unlimited travel for the day around the city. First stop was Toji Temple (Y600/€5), made up of a huge five story pagoda and two buildings with large Buddha statues inside the darkened room. The room was so dark that one of the security guard was falling asleep while standing upright!

    Next we got a bus across the city to Sanjusangen-do Temple (Y500/€4.15), which had a 120 metre long room with 1001 golden statues. There were beautiful gardens outside which we walked around in the sunshine. We then decided to get some lunch before continuing on with our day. The nearest restaurant turned out to be ‘The Grill’ at Hyatt Regency Hotel. So we treated ourselves to a lovely steak sandwich and apple crumble. It was nice to take a break from Asian food and have some Western for a change, even if it was very fancy and we felt undressed in our casual travelling clothes. In fact, at one point when I went to the bathroom, the waiter came over to escort me to the door.

    After lunch, we hopped on the bus to the beautiful Ginkakiyi Temple (Silver Pavilion), where we walked through the lovely gardens while the sun was setting. Then we walked down the Path of Philosophy from the Silver Pavilion to Nyakuoji-jinja Shrine.

    The journey back to town was an interesting one. When we followed Google Maps directions to the first bus stop, the stop didn’t exist. The second one we went to wasn’t in operation on Saturdays. As we were going to the third stop, we saw the bus coming so we ran to it before realising it was full. However as with all the public transport system in Japan, we didn’t have to wait too long for the next one.

    We meet Elaine in Man in the Moon pub where we watched the England v New Zealand (19:7) semi final. When we arrived, I realised that I had got the time of the match wrong and arrived an hour late! But at least we got to see a good second half.

    After the match we wandered around to find a place for dinner. We came across a Japanese restaurant down an alleyway behind some sliding doors. We had to take shoes off before being seated upstairs. After consulting the limited English menu, we ordered a variety of local dishes including beef rolls and chicken sukiyaki hotpot. We also decided to order a bottle of sake (Japanese rice wine) between us. The sake arrived with the starters and to our surprise the waiter brought one huge bottle of sake with one small glass. We realised we should have ordered four glasses so instead we just took a four drinks from the glass to the amusement of the waiter. After a short wait the main course hotpot dish arrived, with a bowl of four eggs. The waiter told us to crack a raw egg into our service bowl first before dishing the hot stew into the bowl and mixing it together. We were all very unsure about it but it actually turned out quite nice! The whole meal including drinks worked out at about €30 each which was very reasonable for the amount of food we got. Before leaving I went to the bathroom where I had to put on a pair of clogs to wear on the tiles in the toilet. More evidence of how hygiene was so important and respected in Japan.

    The next morning we got up and got the JR train to the Fushumi Inari Shrine, which has the famous orange arches. It was really busy with tourists at the bottom taking pictures, however as we walked further up the mountain it was a lot quieter and easier to take photographs without having other people in them. We walked around the 40 minute loop of Mount Inari, getting to see all the beautiful gates.

    Next we walked to Tokukiyi Temple, which was another temple with lovely buildings, however unfortunately half of the gardens were closed for restorations. Then we decided to get the bus to Kiyomizu-deru Temple (Y400/€3.30) but this was again was under restoration, so it was difficult to get a good view of the main buildings.

    We went for lunch at Smile Burger where we got delicious burgers with crisps instead of chips as a side! This kept us fuelled for the rest of the afternoon. We then got the bus back into town to the Manga museum in Kyoto university. Afterwards we walked to Nishiki Market to view the stalls. We finished the day by going back to the Man in the Moon pub to watch the semi final between South Africa v Wales (16:9).

    For our final day in Kyoto, we first went to Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) (Y400/€3.30), where we walked around the beautiful surroundings. On our way out we were stopped by local school children who wanted to ask us some questions in English. As a thank you gift they gave us a postcard and information leaflet about their town.

    Next we went to the Ryoan-ji temple (Y500/€4.15), which was made up of a gravel stone garden and various ponds and gardens. While we were waiting for the bus a group of older school children stopped to practice their English and asked us about our favourite Japanese food. They were also very interested in finding out about Ireland and what it was like. We finished by going to the Bamboo forest and kimono forest in Arashiyama.

    We ended our time in Kyoto by going back to Teppanyaki Manryu for another lovely dinner. Kyoto has been an amazing part of the trip. Lots of cultural things to do and it’s been nice to get away from the madness of Tokyo!
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  • Day17

    Yokohama

    October 22, 2019 in Japan ⋅ 🌧 16 °C

    We decided to do a day trip to Yokohama from Tokyo which is only about a 30 minute journey on the JR train. We arrived in Yokohama station, and like many of the stations in Japan, we found it difficult to find a way out, as they are built inside a huge shopping centre. It kinda of felt like it was a trap to keep us inside! Eventually we found an escape route and made our way to the Landmark Tower, in the lashing rain! The lift to the 69th floor is the second fastest lift in the world, reaching speeds of 45kph or 12.5m/sec! Unfortunately due to the weather, the views at the top were limited but it was still nice to be inside staying dry!

    Next stop was the Yokohama Trick Art Cruise which was made up of loads different art painted on the walls to make 3D imagines. It was a fun way to pass about an hour on a rainy day!

    When the weather cleared we headed outside and walked to the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse which was made up of lots of little shops, stalls and restaurants. Then we walked through Yamashita Park along coast before heading to the Chinatown, which is the largest Chinatown in Japan. Before coming to Yokohama we had marked the Chinatown Chocolate Museum as a good place to visit. So we headed there and were disappointed when we got there! The ‘so called’ museum, consisted of two walls with the history of chocolate, all in Japanese. There was also a viewing area to see the workings of the kitchen, however everyone must have been on their break when we got there, as all we could see were the machines doing their work. Luckily we hadn’t come to Yokohama just to visit this ‘museum’ alone.

    On our way back to the train station we decided to go into Starbucks for hot chocolate. We walked in to find people had left their phones, iPads and bags on the tables while they went up to the counter to order. I found it crazy to think that this is such a safe country that people have so much trust in others not to take their stuff. It’s definitely something that is missing at home these days.

    Yokohama was a lovely city despite having such a wet day visiting it but it was still good fun and it’s nice to see another city in Japan.
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  • Day16

    Tokyo

    October 21, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    Time for a new country and a two hour flight with Air Busan to Tokyo Narita airport. After a quick transition through passport check and customs, we headed to exchange our JR Passes which we had preordered and would save us money on the J lines and Shinkansens (bullet trains). Obviously most other tourists thought the same thing as the queue was long! This was the first time I got a sense that the Rugby World Cup was going on here, as most people in the queue were from nations competing in the quarterfinals at the weekend. There were also lots of posters and banners with information on how to use the trains and advice on what’s places to visit in Japan. It took us about an hour to complete the process, before we finally got on the Narita Express into the city to Hotel Gracery Tamachi, where we were staying for the next few days. On arrival we were handed some hot towels which was a nice touch after our travels!

    After a quick shower it was time for some dodgy dealings! When booking tickets for the World Cup last year, we were quite confident that Ireland would win Group A and make it to the 4th Quarterfinal. However things changed when Japan gave great performances to beat ourselves and Scotland in the group stages to finish top of the group. So we finished second and like most Irish people here we wanted to swap our tickets for the 2nd Quarterfinal. In the few days before arriving to Tokyo, I had been trying to hunt down some tickets. Trawling various Facebook pages and groups and I even joined Twitter to tweet in Japanese to find someone who was willing to swap! I eventually came across a local lady named Sae who owned the Seamus O’Hara Irish pub in the south of the city who had someone with four tickets that wanted to swap. We arranged to meet that evening at her pub. We arrived to this tiny pub with a South African family and two Irish lads sitting at the bar, two Japanese men wearing suits with two laptops open on the table in the corner and an Italian man behind the bar. We soon found out that the exchange would be happening with one of the Japanese guys, Koichi. Introductions were made with Sae interpreting, tickets were checked and double checked. There was serious stalking done on Facebook before finally the exchange was made! After having a polite drink with everyone, we said our goodbyes and left with four tickets in hand, not sure how to make of this strange experience and hoping we hadn’t been scammed!

    Next morning, we went to Shibuya Crossing to see the madness of one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in the world. We first viewed it from Shibuya station, before we went down to join in the madness and cross it ourselves. Next we walked down Takeshita Street which is a pedestrian street of a wide array of shops, cafes and boutiques. We had a brief visit to Shinjuku Gyeon National Park before it closed. Then it was time to hit the trains again and make our way to Tokyo Stadium which is about an hour west of the city. The atmosphere on the train was brilliant with renditions of The Fields of Athenry and Ole, Ole, Ole! I don’t think the locals really knew what to make of it all! We were definitely disrupting their normal ‘dead silent’ commute.

    We arrived at the stadium holding our breath as they scanned our tickets, hoping everything was legitimate. I’ve never been so happy to hear the beep of the scanner knowing Koichi and Sae has been good to us. Unfortunately the result didn’t go our way, (New Zealand 46:14 Ireland), where we can up against a great New Zealand team.

    Next day we walked through the International Forum Building to see its beautiful architecture before going to the fans zone bar to watch the Wales v France (20:19) and Japan v South Africa (3:26). The Japanese fans were brilliant and have clearly embraced the rugby fans!

    After a weekend of rugby it was time to do some sightseeing and activities. First stop was the Robot restaurant, which was a weird experience. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but it was all very unusual. We were told to be there an hour before the show started and were brought up to the waiting area, where there was food and drinks available for sale. We were then brought into the main room and shown to our seats where again they were selling more food and drinks, before the show started. The show itself was made up of four 15 minute acts of robots and dancers with different themes and it was actually very good.

    Next we went to Meiji Jingu shrine and walked around Yoyogi Park to get some peace after the crazy show. And then we finished our time in Tokyo with a trip to Konica Minolta Planetarium. After a nice chilled evening.
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  • Day13

    Busan

    October 18, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ 🌧 19 °C

    We started our final leg of South Korea in the coastal city of Busan, after a 50 minute flight with Jeju Air. We stayed in The Stanford Inn which was ideally located for some of the main sites of the city. After checking in, we crossed the road to get some lunch in the Nampodong Street and BIFF Square food stalls. There was a wide variety of local savoury and sweet foods. We definitely got our fill of food for the afternoon ahead.

    We negotiated our way on the bus system and arrived at Gwangalli beach. We walked the length of the beach in the beautiful evening sunshine, forgetting that when we turned around there were big skyscrapers towering along the promenade. Next we walked to Shinsegae Centrum City, which according to the Guinness World Records, it is the largest shopping complex in the world. We wandered through the seven floors of shopping before deciding it was time to hit the foodhall for some dinner. This foodhall was one I had never seen before. Rows and rows of different counters with every cuisine in the world you could think of!

    After dinner we went next door to view the lighted roof of Busan Cinema Centre, which had just finished holding the Busan International Film Festival the day before. Then headed back to Gwangan beach to see the night lights show on Diamond bridge.

    The next day after breakfast in the hotel, we got a two hour bus to Haedong Yonggung Temple which is South Korea’s only temple situated on the coastline. It claims to be the most beautiful temple in South Korea...which is debatable but it was nice to go see a different part of the city away from the craziness.

    When we had finished the tour of the temple, we hopped back on the bus across to the other side of the city and went to the Gamcheon Culture Village. This village is known for its steep streets and colourful roofed buildings on the side of the mountain. The renovation project for this area has nicknamed it, the ‘Machu Picchu of Busan’, however it reminded me of the favelas in Rio de Janerio. The beautiful colours as the sun was setting over the village was amazing and one of my highlights from the city...On our way back to the hotel that evening we wondered through Changseon and Bupysong Kkangtong markets, two of many markets we saw on this trip!

    Day three in Busan started with a trip up Busan Tower with a great view of the city, port and surrounding mountains before walking down through Yongdusan Park where the tower is situated in. Next we got the bus to Taejongdae Park where we hopped on the Danubi Circular Train to see the sites before walking the peninsula and getting a good view of the lighthouse and nearby port.

    That evening we meet Kevin, Donal and Cian for what turned out to be an interesting dining experience. After our initial choice of restaurant was closing (most restaurants are closed by 9), we saw a place that looked busy with locals so thought that was a good sign and went in. With no English menu available, we soon found out that this was going to be a strange encounter. Using one of Rubén’s apps to translate the Korean, we made a wild attempt of ordering a pork dish and a chicken dish between us. The waitress told us that two dishes would be enough between us and that they weren’t spicy dishes either. After only a few minutes of waiting, the two hot plates arrived still sizzling after coming out from the oven. The pork came with a cheese sauce but it turned out to be really spicy! Most of us struggled with it and mainly ate the cheese. The chicken came in a stir fry, but I’m think it may have been chicken offal as it was very chewy! We finished the evening with a trip to a soju bar to try out South Korea’s famous beverage. It is a rice wine brewed locally with an alcohol content from 15-53%, depending on the bottle. It is usually drank neat from a shot glass during spicy meals to ‘enhance the flavour’. It wasn’t my kind of drink but was nice to try it.

    Our final day in Busan was a nice chilled day where we walked around Jagalchi fish market, Korea’s largest fish market. There’s were hundreds of stalls over three floors of a vast range of fish and seafood! Quite amazing to see. We finished our time in South Korea with some Bibimbap for dinner, which is a hot bowl of rice covered with various vegetables and meat of choice. Another different food we tried during our time here.
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  • Day9

    Jeju Island

    October 14, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Next stop was a quick 55 minute flight with Tway Air to Jeju Island off the south coast, where we had a long awaited reunion with Amy and Chris. We stayed in a lovely Airbnb apartment and to top it off we had lovely sunshine for the weekend. For the first afternoon we went to the Samseonghyeal Shrine (W2,500/€1.90), where we learnt about the history of the island and the legend of the three demigods emerging from a hole in the ground becoming the founding fathers of the island and its people. We then went to Folklore and Natural History Museum (W2,000/€1.50) where we saw exhibitions from the various ages of the island.

    That evening we treated ourselves to another Korean BBQ. As in most restaurants in South Korea, they only have chopsticks on the table. I have been finding them quite difficult to use but have been trying them all the same. Here, the waiter’s mother saw my struggle and came over to showed me how to use them. She then proceeded to make the meat parcels as I clearly was doing it wrong. She obviously thought I was a lost cause!

    Next morning we decided it was time to explore the island. We had read that the public transport on the island was unreliable and infrequent so we hired a car for the two days. All the car hire companies in Jeju City were based at the airport so we hopped into a taxi for the 10 minute journey. When we arrived the first two companies said they had nothing available and were unable to check if there was anything available for the next day. At the far end of the counter, the lady at ‘Rent a Car’ was jumping and waving at us to come over to her. She said that she had a car available and in what must have been one of the quickest transactions, we had ourselves a car.

    First stop was Bijarim Forest (W3,000/€2.30) which has over 2,800 nutmeg trees, including the New Millennium Nutmeg tree which is the oldest tree in Jeju. We walked the lovely trails through the forest and got a break from the hot sun. To finish off the day, I drove to Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak (W5,000/€3.80) where we climbed to the top and got amazing views of the crater and eastern coast of the island.

    Next morning we got up and went to the south of the island where we climbed Sanbangsan Mountain to the beautiful Sanbanggulsa Cave Temple with amazing views across the sea. The temple had a large gold Buddha which was surrounded with over 500 different stone Buddhas. We then walked down to the coast and visited the free exhibition on the Hamel Memorial ship. This replica ship remember one of the survivors Hendrick Hamel, of a Dutch shipwreck in 1653 and had to stay in Korea for 13 years before escaping to Japan.

    Next I drove to the beautiful Cheonjeyeon Waterfalls (W2,500/€1.90) which consisted of three different falls of various size and scale. We then walked over the steep Seonimgyo bridge, high above the valley of the waterfalls. Final stop in Jeju was Jungmum Saekdal beach where we got to dip our feet in the warm Pacific Ocean.

    That evening we decided we wanted to have some Western style food so Chris found a pizza restaurant called UPS. This restaurant was in the basement and when we walked in it had the music playing really loud and the heat on full blast! After asking for the air con to be turned on and ordering our pizza, we enjoyed a lovely feast to finish our time on the island!
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  • Day6

    Seoul

    October 11, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    We arrived in Seoul after a long journey with Emirates via Dubai airport. After getting through passport control and customs, we headed to get the train into the city. I had read that the best way to get around is with a T money card which is like the Leap Card at home. Apparently it can even be used to pay for foods in convenience stores too. We had to buy the cards from a vending machine (W4,000/€3) first before topping it up at the ticket machine. This was the first of many vending machine experiences.

    We got the AREX All-Stop Train into Seoul. Thankfully each stop was also announced in English, which was a relief as we hadn’t managed the language just yet! The main thing that struck me though, was that at every stop the announcement was preceded with a tune that sounded like it came from a cartoon. Much better than the mundane ‘ding dong’ that we have at home. Iarnrod Eireann could maybe learn something from this to make our journeys at little more exciting!

    We arrived at our Airbnb apartment on the 31st floor above Mapo metro station, exhausted and ready for some rest before the next few days of exploring.
    Next morning after breakfast, we headed to the Namsen mountain for views over looking Seoul. We got the cable car (W7,000/€5.30) to the top before going up the N Seoul Tower (W11,000/€8.30) for a panoramic view of the city. We rehydrated with a drink at the top before we decided to walk back down the mountain. First though was a pitstop to the bathroom...I walked into the cubicle and the outside wall was just full length clear glass window with view across the city. Felt a bit weird, hoping nobody had 20:20 vision from the bottom!

    We walked down the mountain through the wooded area and when we reached the bottom, there was an exhibition of small garden displays. We then ventured to Namdaemun market, which is a large area of streets full of stalls and shops selling everything from clothes, accessories, shoes to carpets, electronics and food. It was all a little overwhelming, so when we had seen what wanted to see, we decided to walk the Seoullo 7017 walkway to get a break from the mayhem. It was similar to the Skyline Walkway in New York but on a smaller scale. It was built on an old motorway overpass which now has a kilometre length of gardens, terraces and exhibitions.

    The final stop of the day was to Seoul Plaza where we went into the City Hall and Metropolitan Library. Two contrasting buildings situated beside each other.

    The next day was a day for the main temples in Seoul. Firstly we went to the biggest of them all, Gyeongbokgung Palace (W3,000/€2.20), where we saw the changing of the guard just as we entered the palace. We then did the walking tour, where we learned it was built in 1395 but was destroyed in the 1590s when Korea was under Japanese rule. Remarkably the ruling king at the time of being built requested that everything was documented, so they have now been able to restore 95% of it to its original state. On our way to Changdeokgung Palace(W3,000/€2.20), we made our way through Bukchon Hanok Village, which is a traditional Korean village with lots of little alleys and traditional houses. We then visited the palace used as the royal family resistance. The third palace of the day, and probably my favourite, was Jogyesa temple, which is the head temple in Korean Buddhism. It holds three gold Buddha inside. When we got there, there was a chrysanthemum exhibition going on which made it even more beautiful.

    After seeing enough temples to get us through the trip, we had a nice walk along Cheonggyecheon stream. The 11km long walk passes under 22 bridges and has various areas of stone and tiled displays. We ended our day at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza to see the lights along modern infrastructure.

    For our last day in Seoul we decided to get out of the city and get in some nature at Bukhansan National Park. After an hour journey on the metro and bus, we arrived at the information center and grabbed ourselves a map. We decided to hike up to the top of Baegundae Peak (836m) through the Bukhansanseong trail. It was a difficult hike but when we got to the top, we realized we hadn’t reached the hardest part yet. The last 0.4km consisted of climbing up steep granite rock using ropes and ladders that had been installed. I’m not great with heights and at one point I didn’t think I’d make it to the top, but I hadn’t spent that last two and a half hours getting there not to make it. I’m so glad I pushed myself because the views at the top were incredible! Amazing views across the National Park, Seoul city and suburbs and the Han river. We sat and had some well deserved snacks, taking in the views, before we headed back down the mountain.

    When we got back to the city that evening we finished our time in Seoul at a Korean BBQ called ‘No Pork, No Life’. We ordered pork neck and belly and Iberian pork which was cooked on a charcoal fire in the centre of the table. It was served with various small dishes of vegetables, rice and dips. It was delicious and ended a great time in Seoul.
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  • Day204

    Tokyo, Japan

    March 25, 2016 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 11 °C

    The final destination on the trip was Japan. I flew from Hanoi to Osaka with China Southern Airlines, with a five hour stopover in Baiyun airport, Guangzhoa, China. In Osaka, I got the Kansai Express airport train to Fukushima. The train system here is like one I've never seen before. Not only are the trains punctual and clean, everyone forms an orderly queue when boarding it and there is no manic rushing or pushing onto the train, unlike in other cities I've been to. I arrived at J-Hoppers Backpackers at about 10.30pm, and bedded in for the night. However, nature called and I headed to the toilet and to my amazement the toilet seat was heated! And then I noticed that the sink was on top of the cistern. Some unusual piece of technology! I knew then that this country was going to constantly surprise and amaze me.
    Next morning I got up to do the walking tour organised by the hostel owner, Mr Yoku. The 70+ year old man with a shuffling gait and an infectious laugh, showed us around the Temma area and teaching us a bit of Japanese along the way. First stop was Tenjimbashiauju Shopping Street which is the longest shopping street in Japan, measuring 2.6km with over 600 shops on it. Mr Yoku pointed out some of the local delicacies and the cheapest places to buy beer. Next we went to the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, and learned about Osaka's Edo period (1830's), with models of the streets and buildings from that time. Then we entered a local restaurant to make the local dish of okonomiyaki. It is a savoury pancake make of cabbage, onion, egg, yam, pickled ginger, water and flour. You fry it on the teppan (hotplate) in the middle of the table and when cooked, the waitress dresses it with Japanese mayonnaise, otofuku sauce (Worcestershire sauce) and aonori (seaweed flakes). This dish was deceptively filling and we struggled to finish two between three of us.
    That evening, I went up the Umeda Sky Building and Floating Garden to watch the beautiful sunset over looking the Hokusetsu mountains. Then I walked to the colourful Ferris Wheel on top of the building HEP FIVE building. I entered my first Japanese style multi story shopping mall with 8-10 levels of various electronics and clothing etc. A vary daunting place!
    Next day, myself and Nadine from Beijing spent a day sightseeing around the city. First stop was Osaka Castle and we went up the main tower for a skyline view of the city. Then we visited some of the city's famous temples including Shitennoji temple and Hozenji temple. That evening the hostel held an International Party with Argentinians, Aussies, Brazilians, Israelis and Italians joining the locals for drinks and Takoyaki (battered balls with various fillings).
    The following day I headed to Miyajima Island and Hiroshima city with Sunrise Tours. We got the Shinkansan (bullet train) from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima Station, taking only 75 mins to do the 330km journey. Here we were met by our guide for the day Mr Teddy and were brought to the ferry to Miyajima Island. We got a beautiful view of O-Toru Gate made from camphor wood which sits on the seabed making it look like it's floating on water. Next Mr. Teddy showed us around Itakushima Shrine and Daisha-In temple. We learned about the meanings of the various symbols and rituals of Buddhism and Shintu religions. After lunch we went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park where we visited the Atomic Bomb Dome which is one of the only few buildings in the city to survive the horrendous attack in 1945. The Park also contains various monuments and peace symbols to remember the 80,000 people who died during the attack. There was a definite sense of calm and tranquillity as you walked around the park. Next we visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial museum and saw some of the photos and items left behind after the devastating World War Two event. We then got the Shinkansan back to Osaka after another enjoyable and educational day.
    Next stop was Kyoto where I stayed in Hostel Mundo Chiquito. First I went to Kyoto Imperial Palace and Park and walked around the beautiful grounds with the gorgeous plum trees in full bloom. In the evening, I walked through the narrow streets of the Gion and Pontocho districts, where the teahouses and restaurants were decorated with lanterns and fairy lights.
    Next day I bought a one day bus ticket and did my own mini bus tour of the popular sights of the city including the Kinkakyi Temple (the Golden Pavilion), Tenryiyi Temple, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Fushimi Inari Shrine. These were one of my favourite sights and temples on the trip and a really enjoyable day.
    That night I got a night bus to Tokyo with Willer Express. I stayed in the Khaosan World Asakusa Hostel in Tokyo. I met Nat (of Shortland Street fame) and we went to @home Cafe. This is a quirky/unusual cafe where the waitresses dress in French maid uniforms and serve the food on cute plates and you have to sing a song together before you eat. All a very unusual and uncomfortable experience!
    Next day I took a two hour bus from Shinjuku station to Kawaguchiko station to see Mount Fuji. I walked around Lake Kawaguchiko and went up Mount Kachi Kachi Ropeway cable car for amazing views of Japan's highest mountain. Such a beautiful sight of the snow capped mountain. When I arrived back in Tokyo, I went up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for an great view of the city skyline.
    I awoke the next morning to a wet and cold Tokyo, so it was time for some indoor activities. I headed to the Miraikan National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. The demonstrations included the latest stem cell research, a model of the International Space Station and a large scale globe. I also took part in a gait analysis research project where they are looking at using a person's walking pattern as an identification tool in investigating crimes and missing persons. They were also looking at how much people can actually concentrate on another task while walking. Such interesting projects. When the weather cleared up, I headed to the famous Shibuya Pedestrian Crossing, the world's busiest crossing, where ten lanes of traffic and five pedestrian crossings converge. I sat and watched the coordinated passing of people and traffic at this mesmerising place. Final stop was the Yoyogi Park and the lovely Meiji Jingu temple built in 1920.
    My final day in Tokyo ran in line with the start of the cherry blossom season, Japan's national flower. So I headed to Ueno Park where there are designated areas to sit and have a picnic under the rows of the blooming trees. Next I went to the beautiful Imperial Palace East Gardens to see more cherry blossoms, spring flowers and fruit. I finished the day visiting the Sensoji Temple, Five Storied Pagoda and Kaminarimon on the Nakamise shopping street.
    That evening it was time to hit the airport one last time as I flew home with Emirates to Dublin. It's hard to believe that this amazing trip is over. I saw some amazing things and did some incredible things. So lucky to have had the opportunity to do it all. But it's back to reality now and try be a proper grownup!!
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