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Kyoto

Kyoto wasn’t quite what I had expected it to be.

Mt Fuji, JapanAdmittedly, part of it had to do with the fact that, right after new year, everything is closed in Japan for a few days. We were just unlucky.

The other part had to do with the fact that I had unrealistic expectations, and the reality didn’t quite live up to them. As the former capital of Japan, I’d grown up hearing about all the ancient temples and shrines there, and how it was so steeped in ancient culture and architecture. That’s definitely still true, there are temples and shrines absolutely everywhere.

Gion, Kyoto, JapanThat’s not, however, quite what you see when you come out of the station, and on the whole Kyoto isn’t the most beautiful city I’ve been to. The unfortunate timing of our trip also meant that all the restaurants that were recommended to us – all fifteen – were closed. So we probably didn’t experience the best food that Kyoto had to offer, either.

Looking back on our trip, we did have a lovely time there, despite our initial frustrations. For one thing, it’s a fantastic city to cycle in. You’re allowed to cycle on the pavements, which are large enough for several bikes, and the drivers there really respect cyclists, so you feel safe on the road, too. It was really fun going from temple to temple, and exploring the city on two wheels (thanks, AirBnB rental!)

We also saw some stunning sights – I’ve listed some of my favourites below.

Gion

Gion, Kyoto, JapanGion, Kyoto, JapanWe headed toward Gion to see the famous Yasaka Shrine, and check out the nightlife. Gion is the famous geisha district, so you’ll find a lot of tourists there, but there’s lots to see and do – you can get some great coffee around there, too.

Gion, Kyoto, JapanKinkakuji 

Kinkaku-Ji, Kyoto, JapanKinkakuji temple was one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve seen in the entire world – it just looked like something out of a painting. It was stunning. I was in total awe, and the surrounding gardens were also idyllic.

Kinkaku-Ji, Kyoto, JapanKinkaku-Ji, Kyoto, JapanKinkaku-Ji, Kyoto, JapanA top tip for tourists – if you don’t want sleep deprived, hungry and grumpy half-Japanese ladies to scream and chase after you in near hysterics, it’s best to avoid dumping several unwanted receipts from your bag in front of something as beautiful as this. Some people are just unbelievable. Unfortunately the tourists in question sheepishly ran away, meaning I had to carry around other people’s trash for a while. I also shot daggers at the people in question, so I hope I ruined their tour by being totally insane. However, I still have no remorse about my behaviour that day. NO REGRETS.

Kinkaku-Ji, Kyoto, JapanLuckily, matcha tea and a traditional Japanese sweet was the perfect way to blow off all that pent up, trash-related anger – it was really peaceful and tranquil in the shade.

Kinkaku-Ji, Kyoto, JapanFushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine is famous for its thousands of torii gates – thousands and thousands of bright orange structures, which line the mountain trails.

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Kyoto, JapanFushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Kyoto, JapanIt’s very impressive, and it has a great atmosphere – unsurprisingly, it’s a lot nicer the further up you go, as the other tourists drop off earlier once they’ve taken their selfies.

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Kyoto, JapanJust walk a little further up to get a better view (and you can take yours up there, too).

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Kyoto, JapanKyotoThere are also some great street food vendors just outside, too – I recommend the chicken skewers and the fish-shaped cakes with custard cream filling in particular. Absolutely delicious!

While our trip didn’t quite live up to my expectations, I did think there were some stunning sights to see in Kyoto.

Have you ever been to Kyoto? What did you think? Be sure to comment below, or let me know on  TwitterFacebook or Instagram!

A Day Out in Tokyo

A lot of my time in Japan was spent running around like a headless chicken – it was new year, so a lot of things are closed, and I spent most of my time hanging out with family and friends. I did spend some time doing some touristy things, though, and here is my list of what to do for a day out in Tokyo:

Harajuku

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The fashion in Harajuku is as bizarre and wacky as you imagine, and is excellent for clothes shopping. We went along just after new year, which was a bit of a mistake as all the sales were on, and it was totally rammed. Crepes are an absolute must – they’re really famous, and Marion Crepes are definitely the best.

Harajuku, TokyoHarajuku, TokyoHarajuku, TokyoThe main street in Harajuku is Takeshita Dori, which is just across the road from the station, and is filled with clothing and accessory stores mostly. It’s brilliant for people watching, as you see people wearing totally different styles of clothing – from Lolitas to punks, and everything in between.

Harajuku, Tokyo
As you turn onto Takeshita Dori, on the right you might see a little sign pointing down to a basement that says ‘Purikura’. DO IT. Purikura photo booths are unbelievably popular, and they are actually quite addictive – they automatically make your legs look longer and skinnier, and your eyes a lot bigger, in an attempt to give you a more ‘desirable’ look. The actual end result is that you look positively terrifying, and you can edit the pictures after with nonsensical stamps and messages. It is so much fun, and for 200 yen it’s a great keepsake (that you can share with your friends on Facebook, too).

Purikura in Tokyo
Asakusa

Asakusa is really famous for the Sensoji Temple, but it’s got a nice promenade and some interesting architecture, making it well worthwhile. There’s also some pretty great street food there, too – and although I didn’t go up the Sky Tree skyscraper close by, my boyfriend did, and got some incredible views of Tokyo.

Asakusa, TokyoAsakusa, TokyoAsakusa, Tokyo
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend picking up any souvenirs here, as it’s really expensive, but it’s got a great vibe, and the temple itself is beautiful.

Asakusa, TokyoAsakusa, TokyoAsakusa, TokyoAsakusa
Shibuya

It would be a crying shame to go to Tokyo and not swing by the famous Shibuya crossing. It’s pretty manic, but Shibuya has some great bars, and is where I usually go out drinking with my friends when I go back. Bic Camera is also a great place to get great deals on cameras and electronics – I had to really behave myself as I was really tempted by the white and beige Olympus Pen!

Shibuya, TokyoShibuya, Tokyo
Honorable mentions: Akihabara, or ‘the Electric Town’ for electronics and maid cafes; the Owl Cafe; Tsukiji Fish Market (go before it changes location!); and Karaoke.

Have you ever been to Tokyo? What are your favourite things to do there? Be sure to comment below, or let me on TwitterFacebook or Instagram!

#TravelexTourist: Sketch Afternoon Tea & Icebar, London

I had been back in London for about a week, and I had the post-holiday blues bad – particularly as I’d managed to get a month off over Christmas and New Year to travel around Cambodia and Japan. So when the Travelex team got in touch to see if I wanted to play tourist in London, I was over the moon – particularly as they’d given me some dosh to spend, too.

#TravelexTouristThis was no ordinary dosh – I got my US dollars loaded onto my fancy new Travelex cash passport – a multi-currency, pre-paid Mastercard that I could top up online, and use like a regular bank card. The best part about it is that I can order different currencies on it, so when I go back to Japan, or on a European adventure, I only have to take one card with me (and not have to worry about mine getting lost or stolen!)

Liberty, #TravelexTourist#TravelexTourist#TravelexTouristSo, Cash Passport in hand, we decided to start the day off doing the most touristy thing we could think of to do in London – afternoon tea.

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristI’ve been desperate to go to Sketch for ages. Not only do they apparently do one of the best gluten-free afternoon teas in London, it’s also the gallery of David Shrigley – one of my favourite artists.

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristI wouldn’t be surprised if this is the most instagrammed room in London – it was absolutely beautiful.

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristThere was so much attention to detail – everything from the menus, to the crockery – even the uniforms for the waitstaff (which I would wear in a heartbeat).

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristAs for cost, it’s a little on the steep side, but for the location, and the wow factor of the venue alone – combined with the sheer amount of food, I do believe it’s worth it. Not something I’d do every day, but definitely worth popping in for a special occasion.

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristYou get a lot of food – unlimited refills of tea, sandwiches, cakes and scones, the latter being the best part of the gluten free menu.

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristEven the bathrooms were outstanding (to the point where I was slightly concerned that they were toilets at all, instead of part of the artwork).

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristWe didn’t manage to finish our tea completely, but the lovely waitstaff packed the last of our cakes for us, which we got to enjoy later that weekend. I was given a pin with my Cash Passport card, and it worked seamlessly (which is always slightly nerve-wracking with a new card!)

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristWe were so stuffed by the end of it that we were tempted to go home and have a nap. Somehow we managed to roll ourselves out of there and made our way to Covent Garden for a little window shopping, and enjoy some of the uncharacteristically good January weather.

#TravelexTouristPiccadilly Circus, London, #TravelexTouristCovent Garden, London, #TravelexTouristWe slowly walked off our food babies and made our way to Heddon Street for an appointment at the Icebar.

Ice Bar Cocktails, London, #TravelexTouristUnlike Sketch, Icebar is pretty much what it says on the tin – a bar made of ice. Cold, -5°C Swedish ice, to be precise.

Ice Bar Cocktails, London, #TravelexTouristIce Bar, London, #TravelexTouristWe got kitted out in thermal capes and gloves, and were served cocktails served in glasses made entirely of ice – it was awesome.

Ice Bar, London, #TravelexTouristIce Bar Cocktails, London, #TravelexTouristIce Bar Cocktails, London, #TravelexTouristThe walls, the chairs, the bar – everything was ice, and had been carved beautifully. My favourite part was the skull, which had a brain carved into it and everything!

Ice Bar Cocktails, London, #TravelexTouristnFor the price of a ticket, you get given a cocktail and can stay in the room for 45 minutes before you have to leave. Is it gimmicky? Yes, absolutely – but it is really fun, and you do feel surprisingly toasty in your thermal cape.

The entire day made me appreciate the fun and interesting things to do that London has to offer, and definitely helped to keep the January Blues at bay! I can’t thank Travelex enough for the opportunity to play tourist for the day – I had a brillliant time.

Where is your favourite place to have afternoon tea? Have you been  to the Icebar before? Be sure to comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook or Instagram!

I was given a preloaded Travelex Cash Passport for the purposes of review – all opinions are my own, and I wouldn’t blog about it if I didn’t love the service!

sketch Gallery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Disneyland Tokyo

I freaking love Disneyland.

Tokyo Disneyland
I love it so much that I’ve been to Tokyo Disneyland over 20 times, and I’ve been to almost every Disneyland in the world except Hong Kong and Paris. I want to go there so badly, but unsurprisingly no one seems to want to go with me.

I can’t really put my finger on what I like about it so much. I mean, I like all of the movies, but if you asked me if I wanted to go somewhere that was like one big commercial, where they would play the same music over and over again, AND is full of kids, I would probably run away screaming.

Except for Disneyland.

Tokyo Disneyland
My boyfriend even managed to get a video of me almost crying from happiness as we went to Tokyo Disneyland this trip – it is just total escapism, and I cannot get enough.

I get that it’s not for everyone, but Tokyo Disneyland is even more magical than any other Disneyland in the world. I know that makes me so ‘basic’ or ‘lame’ or whatever the kids are calling it these days, but I DON’T CARE. That’s how much I adore the place.

Tokyo Disneyland
Tokyo Disneyland
Part of the appeal is the attention to detail everything has. From the gates to the rubbish bins, everything is so on-theme. The other thing about Tokyo Disneyland is that absolutely everyone gets involved – even the guys. Where else can you see grown men with mouse ears on? Where else can you find awkward teen goths inexplicably in a sugary-sweet theme park wonderland? NOWHERE ELSE.

Tokyo Disneyland

Even the eggs have been genetically engineered to be on theme.*

Tokyo Disneyland
Tokyo Disneyland
I really couldn’t write about going to Tokyo without including Disneyland in the list – it’s always been a massive part of my trips there, and I always have such a good time. I also wanted to put together a list of what rides to go on, and what to avoid – and most importantly, what order to do them in.

Disneyland have this FastPass system, which is great for the most popular rides – you’ll get a ticket for a set period of time, and won’t have to stand in the queue for two hours waiting to get onto Big Thunder Mountain, or whatever.

Splash Mountain is the most popular ride by far, so I’d recommend going to get the Fast Pass ticket for that immediately (or being one of the first ones on, if you can). Make sure you try and get in there as the Fast Passes for that get taken up pretty quickly, and queueing is long.

Tokyo Disneyland
After two hours pass, you can get another Fast Pass for Big Thunder Mountain or Space Mountain, which are two of my favourite rides and well worth getting in there for.

Tokyo Disneyland
Tokyo Disneyland
The tamer rides include the ToonTown ones – Roger Rabbits Car Toon Spin and Gadget’s Go Coaster are the only ones worth going on there.

The only rides worth going on in Tomorrowland are Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, which is a StarWars themed ride. The queues are never big for this, so don’t waste getting a Fast Pass for it. Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters is a good laugh – you are playing against your partner to get the most points – although not good enough to waste a Fast Pass on, or queue for ages for.

Tokyo DisneylandTokyo Disneyland
Then there are the attractions at Fantasylandwhich include Pirates of the Caribbean (a must, in my opinion, although it has gotten pretty naff after they made the Johnny Depp films about it) – It’s a Small World (the stuff of nightmares), Alice’s Tea Party and Snow White’s Adventures. I’d give The Haunted Mansion a miss – it kept on stopping, which is really irritating.

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The Jungle Cruise is my guilty pleasure, as is Peter Pan’s Flight, which was closed when I went last.

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We ended up going home a bit earlier, and missed the fireworks (damn jetlag), but I had such a great time and I can’t wait to be back.

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Have you ever been to Disneyland? What’s your favourite part? Be sure to comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook or Instagram!

*I actually have no idea how they did this. I really hope it isn’t genetic engineering, because I ate that thing.

A Weekend in Kamakura

After three glorious weeks in the Cambodian sun, I had to pack up my suitcase and prepare for a completely different climate all together.

Kamakura Hachimangu ShrineI wasn’t really that prepared, to be honest. After a few weeks of the heat I’d completely forgotten that, you know, I’d probably need my coat, prompting a mad dash back to Phnom Penh half a day earlier than I was supposed to from Kep. Oops.

I also would not recommend flying with Vietnam Airlines – almost every single flight I took with them was delayed (by five hours), and the service was not great. I did get a few rather hilarious stories out of the experience, though, so if you’re at all interested I’ll add that to the end of the post!*.

I finally arrived in Haneda Airport in just about one piece about 30 hours after I had left Phnom Penh. My family in Tokyo live in Shinagawa, which is really convenient to get to from Haneda – only half an hour away by train. The first thing I’d do before coming to Japan is getting the JR Pass – it’s a little pricey, but such good value, and you will save so much money once you are there by getting one. You can only get one outside of Japan, so it’s worth doing before you go. A 7-day pass set me back £154, and it was well worth every penny – I got mine here.

I arrived on the 31st of December, and spent about half an hour in Tokyo picking up my boyfriend (who had landed that morning) before I was on another train – this time, to Kamakura.

Kamakura is one of my favourite places in the entire world. It was the de-facto capital of Japan, years and years ago, and is absolutely beautiful. My grandparents would spend their weeks in Tokyo, where my grandfather would work, and almost every weekend they’d come back to Kamakura, which is around an hour away from Tokyo by train.

As far as cities go, it’s a pretty small one, but is full of some of the most amazing architecture in Japan, in my opinion, as well as being surrounded by natural beauty. It’s close to the sea, but there are several forests – and I can even get a great view of Mt. Fuji from my grandparent’s house in the Highlands.

Mt. Fuji, Kamakura, JapanNew Year’s is a massive deal in Japan – it’s kind of like how Christmas is in the UK – very family-orientated, and everything is shut. I was only in Kamakura for three days this trip, unfortunately, and spent it less on getting out there to look for things to blog, but more on spending time with family (sorry). I do think it’s a stunning place to visit, though, and I know it really well, so I just thought I would share some of my favourite places to go, see, and eat!

What to Do

Kamakura is filled with stunning temples – the biggest and most famous being Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, which is a five minute walk from Kamakura Station. I’m slightly biased towards this temple,  as this is the one I always go to to get my blessings (and my grandfather was a temple elder there when he was alive). Built in 1063, it is absolutely breathtaking. At New Year, around 30,000 people will gather to pay their respects, and it was absolutely rammed when I went. Being Japan, of course, it was the most civilised crowd ever, but if you are claustrophobic I strongly suggest not going there on January 1st!

New Year's Day, Kamakura Hachimangu Shrine, JapanNew Year Plaques, Kamakura Hachimangu Shrine, JapanKamakura Hachimangu Shrine, JapanHachimangu is filled with interesting street food vendors, too – so it’s worth checking them out if you’re a fan of street food – Japanese street food is awesome.

Kamakura, Hachimangu ShrineChoco Bananas, Kamakura, JapanChoco Bananas, Kamakura, JapanAnother place I’d strongly recommend is Hokokuji, a beautiful old temple surrounded by a bamboo forest. It was unfortunately closed at new year, so I didn’t make it this time round, but it is one of the most serene places I’ve ever been.

Going to Kotoku-in to see the Daibutsu (giant Buddha) is definitely one to tick off of your bucket list – there are regular buses going straight there from Kamakura station, and is really worth seeing. It’s hard to believe that the buddha was built in 1252 (and you can go inside it, too).

Daibutsu, Kamakura, JapanGiant Buddha, Daibutsu, Kamakura, JapanKamakuraA few honorable mentions, that I didn’t have time for this trip: The beach (in the summer months, of course); Zenarai Benzaiten shrine, where you go to wash your money so you can get rich; taking the Enoden electric railway along the coast for a great view of the sea; the Shakado pass; and the yagura tombs.

Where to Eat

I didn’t go to too many restaurants this time, as I was busy getting osechi ryori (traditional Japanese new year fare) at home. A lot of places were also closed around New Year, so we had to make do with stockpiling amazing fatty tuna sashimi, and doing a lot of cooking for ourselves, too!

Osechi Ryouri, New Year's Meal, JapanOsechi Ryouri, New Year's Meal, Japan4Osechi Ryouri, New Year's Meal, JapanSashimi, Kamakura, JapanKamakura does have some amazing places – and things – to eat. I highly recommend the shops and little izakayas (Japanese pubs) down Komachi-dori, which is just off of your left as you leave Kamakura Station.

They are all pretty great, but that’s where I got this donburi bowl of maguro tuna, natto (fermented soybeans) and raw egg. The way eggs and chickens are reared in Japan is of such a high standard that you can safely eat eggs and chickens raw, unlike the UK. Raw eggs in particular are a big part of Japanese cuisine, and something I miss the most when I’m back in the UK. Natto is an acquired taste. I absolutely love the stuff, and have loads in my freezer, but I’ve yet to meet a non-Japanese person who likes it. If you do, let me know!

Natto, Maguro and Raw Egg Topped Rice, Kamakura, JapanThe absolute best omelette rice IN THE ENTIRE WORLD can be found at Cafe Vivement Dimanche – it’s a must.

If you’re walking along Komachi-dori, it is absolutely imperative that you get ice cream, because I’m under the impression that you can’t get better ice cream anywhere else. Sweet potato ice cream might sound totally crazy, but it is my absolute favourite, and I’ve never seen it anywhere else. You can’t miss it – it’s purple, like sweet potatoes are in Japan – and has the most beautiful, subtle flavour.

Sweet Potato Ice Cream, Kamakura, JapanSweet Potato Ice Cream, Kamakura, JapanSweet Potato Ice Cream, Kamakura, JapanSweet Potato Ice Cream, Kamakura, JapanIf the thought of it freaks you out too much, you can always get matcha ice cream from the same place, or go a few doors down and try a black sesame one, too. It’s pretty great.

Black Sesame Ice Cream, Kamakura, JapanWhere to Shop

Basically, Komachi-dori is where it’s at in terms of shopping – the Ghibli store is a must (one of the first on your right), and the whole street is full of places selling traditional souvenirs. If you’re looking to take back confectionery, the Hatosabure Kamakura Dove Cookies are really iconic, and worth taking back.

It was so wonderful to go for a visit, and I’d totally recommend Kamakura as a place to check out when you’re in Japan. It’s authentic, without being spoiled by tourism – a stunning place that everyone should go to at least once!

Have you ever been to Japan? What were some of your favourite places? Be sure to comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook or Instagram!

*The first story was the rather hilarious, but perhaps only to me. On our first 5 hour delayed flight, I asked the much older gentleman who was also delayed coming in to Phnom Penh whether he wanted to email his son, who was meant to be picking him up from the airport. He didn’t have an email address, so I offered to send his son an email from my own address. I had to take a picture of the old man and attach it to the email, to prove I wasn’t an extremely unimaginative prankster, and I felt like someone that has kidnapped someone for ransom. This same old man, by the way, managed to sneak a ONE LITER BOTTLE of shower gel – not only through HEATHROW SECURITY, but also through Hanoi airport, too. It was only when we were going through security in Ho Chi Minh that anyone called him out on the “no liquids over 100mls” thing. Doesn’t fill me with confidence, really.

The second story was just so bizarre I felt as though I was hallucinating throughout. I was upgraded to premium economy on my flight from Hanoi to Tokyo, and was sat next to an old Vietnamese man. I had been reading a book on my iPad, watching movies with my Bose headphones, and using my own neck pillow. Every time I would get up to use the loo (it was a long flight, so this happened quite a few times) the old man would have taken one of the three from my seat, and would be using it. I guess he thought they came with the plane and I was just hogging it all, but it was so funny and really awkward having to get all my belongings back from him every time!