Tokyo – Lost in Translation

Since I was on a MAJOR budget as I had just moved to London and had spent the previous four months dossing around Asia, I booked an economy class ticket to Japan (saving money by NOT going obviously wasn’t an option)!

The two other thirds of the travelling threesome had purchased economy plus, which actually does made a huge difference. When boarding the flight, I tried to swing an upgrade using my Avios points – of which I have thousands – but the BA staff could not have been less helpful (and some rude). Apparently, if you want something done, you just have to do it yourself – so that’s exactly what I did. I upgraded myself, and no one noticed! Free mini bottles of champagne to kick the journey off – yes please. WE WERE ON OUR WAY!

Our first stop was Tokyo for four days. We were super wrecked getting off that flight but we were too early to check in so we decided to stroll around the neighbourhood.  We were staying in Shinjuku, Tokyo’s largest neighbourhood which includes Asia’s largest red light district.

We strolled to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which is the headquarters of the governor and assembly of Tokyo. The large complex actually occupies 3 city blocks and is split into 3 sections. The Tokyo Metropolitan Main Building 1 is the most prominent of the three, and it’s also the 2nd tallest building within the city. Building 1 has two observatories (one for each tower) which are open free of charge to the public. It offers a viewing of the city from the 45th floors.

After checking out the Tokyo skyline, we visited Shinjuku Gyoen, one of Tokyo’s largest and most popular parks. Located just a short walk from Shinjuku Station, the paid park’s spacious lawns, meandering walking paths and tranquil scenery provide a relaxing escape from the busy urban center around it. In spring Shinjuku Gyoen is one of the best places in the city to see cherry blossoms. We fell asleep for an hour under the sun then headed back to the hotel to check in.

Our hotel was really nice but like a lot of hotels in Japan, a little pokey! One of the beds was basically a shelf! It was in the hotel I had my first experience with the Japanese toilets. I sat down and felt the warm seat which completely grossed me out as it felt like someone had just been sitting on it for a while. After 10 days in Japan however, I was wondering how I would ever get used to the awful cold seats we use here!

We had a quick nap – checked out the tinder situation in Japan for the lols 😉 and then made our way to the Tokyo night food tour we had booked.

During the tour we strolled through the city and visited several popular eateries, starting in Yakitori Alley near Yurakucho. This area is full of casual bar-style restaurants that serve up appetizers such as yakitori (grilled chicken skewers). We tried chicken hearts and liver among other things! Next, we headed to Tsukishima to visit Monja Street for monjayaki, a pan-fried treat that’s similar to an Osaka-style okonomiyaki pancake. The food sizzles on the grill, then a small metal spatula is used to cut it into pieces and you pluck it right from the grates with chopsticks. We finish our food tastings with a sweet treat of taiyaki, a popular crispy cake stuffed with sweetened red beans. We all loved the tour and would totally recommend it to anyone who is visiting the city!

We stayed in that night as we were all fit for bed and had an 8 hour tour to Mount Fuji the following day. For such a big fucking mountain it did an AMAZING job of hiding itself. If it wasn’t for our hilarious tour guide the day would have been a total dud…

“BUS TWO BUS TWO”

We also got to see some lovely Japanese countryside so I suppose it wasn’t all bad!

That night we went for dinner in a famous tempura restaurant where they cook live eels at the tempura bar and then drinks on our lovely rooftop bar. Then it was time for our big first big night out…only apparently NOTHING is open in Japan on a Monday night…ugh! We decided to chance Vowz bar, which was also closed but were hosting a private party for the Japanese army…who kindly let us join! Although while in Vietnam I would never have dared drink that homemade snake wine from a jar of dead snakes, a few hours of boozing with the Japs and I was downing shots of the stuff!

The snake wine was actually delish compared to our next drink which was made from “something of wolf, deer and fur seal”… It tasted how I always imaged the snake wine too – horrific! There was only one English menu, which I really wanted to keep since there was prob no way I would ever see that on a cocktail list again. Linds was worried we would go to hell for stealing from Buddhist monks – but I figured we were probs going there anyway so what harm! At least we would have the ingredients for some exotic drinks when we joined the party!

We woke up the next day with a massive hangover but we only had a short time left in Tokyo so we made our way to the famous fish market –Tsukiji Market . Here was ate EVERYTHING – most of which can be found here – http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/feature/7946/Top-15-Tsukiji-street-snacks . The Daisada was our fav! We then strolled to the palace and around the garden, and made our way to Tokyo’s iconic 1960s Hotel Okura Tokyo for a beef curry.

We ended the day on a mini pub crawl around the Golden Gai for sake and peach wine. The Golden Gai consists of six tiny alleys – much too narrow to get even a small car down – lined by almost two hundred tiny bars. The buildings are rundown, and the alleys dimly lit. Each building is only a few feet wide, and built almost touching the one next door. The bars advertise themselves with a mix of artwork and logos – ranging from cats and acoustic guitars to painted lips and nudes. Each bar caters to a slightly different clientele. Some bars are so small that only five or six customers can fit in at one time.

The following day when the others took the train to Nikko for the night, I decided to stay in Tokyo on my own and do some more exploring. I moved to a hostel in Asakusa, a district in Tokyo famous for the Senso-JI, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon. I checked in to Khaosan hostel where I was sharing a room with a Canadian girl and an Irish guy living in Dalston! We spent the day exploring the temple and markets and then went for a big sushi feed.

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Seoul Sister

After the worst day ever in a very unorganised port town in Japan, I decided I wasn’t wasting anymore time travelling between places, not spending enough time anywhere and too much time on trains/planes. I was happy enough to sacrifice Busan – I hadn’t done that much research in to it and there was nothing I particularly wanted to see, so I left the travelling threesome for the second time and booked a flight to Seoul.

By the time I arrived to the Chingu’s guesthouse at 10 pm, I was hot, sweaty and in a serious mood. I was planning on going straight to bed, but my roomies were chilling in the common room drinking Coffee Soju (the best drink on the entire planet). They convinced me to have one – and next thing I know it’s 5 am and I’m in a karaoke bar in the middle of Hongdae.

The next day I woke up and headed straight for the cat cafe! I was very eager and was the first person there so I had all the kitty’s to myself. I ordered an iced peach tea and chilled with my feline friends for the morning. Asian cats look different than western cats, and they had the kitties shaved but with furry tails and heads, they were hilarious looking!

I was going to spend the rest of the day in the spa, but on route I spotted an all you can eat sushi buffet. They did not see me and my hangover coming. I spend about an hour there, stuffing my face. Unfortunately, I overestimated myself- and I ate myself into a state- I literally couldn’t stand up straight and had to hobble back to the hostel and go to bed to the day. Epic fail. When I finally got back out of bed, I went to yoga to counteract the days earlier damage.

The next day myself and my Danish roomie Mila went sight seeing. We picked a great day for it as it was Culture day in Korea so everything was free entry. We decided to take full advantage and went to see everything, also meaning I had the rest of my time in Seoul to just chill and hangout in the various cool neighbourhoods. We went to mural alley, Gyeongbokgung temple, Deoksugung temple, the man made Cheonggyecheon river with the lantern display, city hall, the memorial exhibition for the ferry accident and the gallery under the bridge. I can now safely say

I am templed out of it

Which is good timing too since I probs won’t be back in Asia for a while!

That night we all went for dinner for bibimbap – I had cold bibimbap with raw white fish and sides – delish!

The following day I spend strolling around Hongdae. I had the best breakfast – galbi for two for one (with sides). I had sweet pumpkin doboki, and when it came out it looked like cheap frozen sausages, and I was very disappointed. The disappointment soon passed once they were cooked – they were amazing, one of my fav things I had tasted on the trip! 😋😋

I did some shopping in the street markets in Hongdae, went to Yoga and checked into the apartment we were staying in for the rest of the trip. The apartment was lovely, and only 4 mins from the hostel.

When the two arrived and reminded me that I needed my passport for the DMZ tour the following day, panic struck! I had not seen my passport since Monday and there was a high possibility it was in some karaoke bar in the middle of Seoul. I emptied my bad and search the hostel, then made my way to the police station 😩 On my way, I met an English boy who was in the same situation. He was living in Seoul and lost his wallet/ID etc. the police didn’t have my passport (freaked) so I decided to give the hostel one more search- thankfully, my tall Swedish friend came to the rescue and spotted my passport on a shelf that I was too short to see!

Wuhoo I am not stranded in SK!!

We celebrated with beers and Korean BBQ!

On Friday we got the rainbow disco bus to the DMZ, a much more successful trip than our last bus tour 🙂 The DMZ is very creepy, we could look out to North Korea and walk through the tunnels! On the way back we stopped at Vatos Tacos for Tacos and margaritas 💛 That night we invited our new English buddy and his friends over for coffee soju and a night out Gangnam style.

Let’s just say:

this did not end well.

On Saturday we nursed our hangovers at the Hello Kitty cafe, and went strolling through Isadong. As Buddhas bday was coming up, Jogyesa Temple was decorated with thousands of lanterns, it was beautiful. We went for tea at a traditional tea house and got some egg bread street food.

Chingu’s were having a BBQ and party that night which we attended with our new English friend, who surprisingly still wanted to hangout with us after the night before! We played drinking games and ate BBQ – I was particularly delighted when someone put an omelette in front of me 😋😋 We went boozing in the park and then on to a bar and clubbing in FF. They night would have been perfect if the owner of the hostel hadn’t taken a very creepy shine to me and literally stalked my life all night, starting fights with anyone who looked sideways at me and threatening everyone, saying he was from North Korea and would kill them – fun times! The icing on the cake was when I logged onto FB the next day and my face was the cover photo for the hostel page😱 Luckily, JT took it down for me right away!

On Sunday, Lindsay didn’t surface all day, so Teo and I went to Nature Cafe – where they had real life sheep in the cafe! I got Honey Bread, since I’d been eyeing it up for a week by then! That night we went on an epic food tour – 3 hours of face stuffing, starting with Korean BBQ, galbi, fried mackerel, OMLETTES, Korea pancake – and of course Soju and rice wine – heaven! On the way back we took a small detour to Gangnam for coffee and desert! A great end to the trip!

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Ice Ice Baby

I flew to Iceland on the best airline ever, WOW AIR , to meet the girls. The girls went out a few weeks earlier to complete a very challenging hike – I decided to join them at the end for the spa time 🙂

First stop – Blue Lagoon ! We were staying in the two hotels beside the lagoon and spent the entire first day in the pool.

The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulphur and the mud can be used as a face mask. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 37-39 °C. Beside the pool there are also little caves converted into saunas and steam rooms.

Bitta background for you :

  • The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The steamy waters are part of a lava formation.
  • The lagoon is fed by the water output of Svartsengi, the nearby geothermal power plant built in 1976, and is renewed every 2 days. Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. Below 600 meters, the reservoir temperature is almost uniform at 240°C, and the geothermal fluid is brine with salinity approximately 2/3 of seawater.
  • Sometimes it is possible to see people in a white mud mask. The Silica mud is the Blue Lagoon’s signature element. The pure white geothermal mud deep cleanses and exfoliates. 

That night we ate, and drank “blue Lagoons“, in the Lava Restaurant  at the resort.

I don’t think you would need more than a full day at the resort. We only stayed the day and then moved on to Reykavik. Here, we stayed in an adorable apartment the girls found on AirBnB . We spent the first day strolling around the tiny town. We visited the famous Church and Graffiti park and drank hot chocolates in one of the cute little cafes. We had a very good but very expensive (everything in Iceland is crazy expensive), Mexican dinner at Tabasco’s Mexican Bar .

I had an early night that night as I was up early for my Golden Circle Tour with Marie. The tour took us to Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir hot spring area and Thingvellir national park, where the two continental plates collide. After our long day, we had an amazing dinner at Sushi Samba (where TomCat supposedly ate their last meal together).

It was time for a night out Iceland style, so we headed to B5 on the main strip. It was so strange to leave the club at 3 am and it still be bright due to the 24 hour sun.

For the cure, we went for the “Dirty Breakfast” at the The Laundromat Cafe and had our last supper at Tapa’s Barinn

All in all, a great little trip with the FCJers! x

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Copenhagen

Once a year the fam usually plans a little trip away together, last year we decided on Copenhagen.

We booked our direct flights from Dublin (success) and our room in the Marriott for three nights. I would actually recommend staying in Nimb or the boat hotel but unfortunately we left it too late to book. In saying that, the Marriott was fab, had a great restaurant and was in the perfect location over looking the river.

On our first day, we strolled to Tivoli gardens, a short walk from the hotel. Unfortunately, we were minus a key player due to her uni/work experience supervisors being complete wankers. However, this didn’t stop us having fun! We picked the perfect time to visit Copenhagen – Halloween!! Halloween is my second fav holiday of the year (after Christmas obvs) and I was delighted to see the whole theme park decorated to the nines in pumpkins (I think about 20,000 in total).

We had our lunch in Tivoli before Nic and I got to work on the rides. I love roller-coasters but after the first 4 Nic started to feel vuuury ill – so it was time for a break. We walked around the gardens, shopping in the little stalls and drinking warm apple cider. That night, we ate at the bar and grill in Nimb, though poor Nic was too sick to enjoy!

We got up early the next day to avail of the lovely breaki at the hotel and then went to explore the city. We went on the canal tour, which I would totally recommend if you have the weather for it. It was an amazing sunny, but freezing day so we had hot chocolates by the river at Nyhavn, while wrapped up in warm blankies.

We then decided to visit the spiral, an old church with amazing views of the city. There are 400 steps inside before you even reach the balcony. Mom and I were the only two to make it to the balcony, where the mother abandoned me due to vertigo. I decided to keep going round the spiral outdoor stairs up the tower. This was going fine when all I could see were the clouds, but when I turned around to take a picture, I almost died. I was so high up, and even though I’m not usually scared of heights, I was frozen in fear. I thought I was either going to have to stay there forever, or sit on my bum and scoot down the stairs. I actually cant remember how I got down in the end, but it was a miracle. To recover from the trauma, we went for a stroll around Christiania (taking some sneaky illegal pics) and through Rosenborg castle park.

That night, we dinned on burgers and cocktails at Cocks and Cows. We reckoned we would be served tiny portions at Noma the next day (we were not expecting the 22 courses that were to come).

We were so lucky to get a table at Noma. Usually you need to book months and months in advance but the day I rang there happened to be a cancellation. If you are trying to book I would ring over trying to book online-much more effective. We arrived for our lunch and were greeted by the best customer service I have ever experienced. We were being served a 22 course lunch, matched with wine (juice for Nic). Our first course, we were told, was already on our table in the form of the floral decorations. The next 21 were equally imaginative/impressive. My favs were the savory doughnuts and cheese bites. The only thing I didn’t try were the live shrimp that were crawling around my plate.

One of our Chefs was Irish, who gave us a tour of the kitchens, cookery school and private dining. He also invited me to a Halloween party that night in his place for the other chefs and staff (about 50 altogether).

The party was fancy dress and very well decorated. They were serving blood red punch with live ants (brought from the restaurant) and “ghoulish goulash”.

The next day I took it easy, as I was tired from the night before. We strolled along the river outside the hotel, did a bit of shopping and made our own individual s’mores for a treat 🙂20140228-181122.jpg20140228-181135.jpg20140228-181149.jpg20140228-181159.jpg20140228-181232.jpg20140228-181222.jpg20140228-181241.jpg

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Whitsunday’s to Cairns

I flew in to Brisbane and had a five-hour stop over before continuing on to the airport near Airlie beach. Luckily the boys were on my connecting flight so I wasn’t on my own for too long. I hadn’t seen Sparrow yet so it was great to be reunited 🙂

We were all staying in X-base hostel in Airlie beach. I had to go straight for a nap since I was up so early for my flight that morning. When I got up, it was straight to the boy’s room for some pre-drinking. The boy’s also had friends who were joining us so we had a big gang of Irish boozers – naturally we ended up in the Irish pub.

The next day we nursed our sore heads at a bakery and the lagoon before getting down to some serious boat prep i.e. stocking up in the offy for our trip.

We were going on the Atlantic Clipper for two nights to sail around Whitsunday’s islands. Our tour guide was another Irish fella and the boat was full of Irish people. The weather was disappointing but at least there was plenty of food and booze on board to keep us occupied!  I was sharing the world’s smallest cabin with Paddy and Gilbride – I literally couldn’t turn around in my bed, I had to lay perfectly flat.

The next day we woke up to the best surprise ever – the sun was shining!! Wuhoo! Even though it was sunning, it was still mandatory to wear wetsuits (or stinger suits) in the water to prevent getting stung. We went snorkelling first and met the resident Maori Wrasse, Elvis, who is so friendly and loves to be pet like a dog. The tour guides brought fish food with them and we were literally surrounded by fish.

Afterwards, it was time for scuba diving – I was delighted to discover you don’t need a PADI license to dive since I never managed to get it in Vietnam (thank you Typhoon Nari). I was a bit nervous at first but got used to it straight away. It was on my bucket list to scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef so I was thrilled to get that ticked off. FYI – I found Nemo 🙂

That night it was drinking games all round – I feel myself and Gilbride were robbed of first prise for the dance off.

The next day we spent on White Haven Beach, which is the nicest beach I have ever seen, hands down. The snow white sand is made from 98% pure silica and you can brush your teeth and ex-foliate with it. We were recommended to wear stinger suits but it was too sunny so we took the risk in our togs. The water was crystal clear and as warm as a bath.

When we arrived back to Airlie, we met the Galway Med heads at the lagoon. Neil, Gilbride, Sharky and I were planning to drive to Cairns, but we didn’t have enough room in our little rental. The boys offered to cart our stuff up as they had rented a giant hippy shagging waggon for the journey. I was SO jealous of their ride.

Gilbride and Neil took turns driving (3.5 hours each) and we stopped in Townsville for lunch and to visit an Aussie animal sanctuary. Here, we got pics with koalas, wombats and baby crocs and fed kangaroos.

Our hostel in Cairns was fab. It was huge, so clean, had kitchens on every floor, double beds, beach themed pool and the only nightclub in Cairns was attached to it – SUCCESS!

The boys were going skydiving the following day but I was running a bit low on funds so instead I joined John on a sailing trip to the GBR. We booked a trip on a bargain website for a day trip on board The Falla. We had such an amazing day – we could swim sans stinger suits, which made a nice difference, the owner of the boat was a great story-teller, the food was delish (as was the goon) and WE GOT TO SWIM WITH A TURTLE! This was such an amazing experience. “Leroy” was so chilled, exactly like the turtle from Finding Nemo. We also saw sting rays and a reef shark. Scarier than the shark was this very menacing looking barracuda (complete with a fish-hook stuck in his mouth looking like a piercing) that was lurking around. The ship parked about an hour and a half from land by a sand bank so we were able to stand up in the water in the middle of the ocean.

Both days I was in Cairns I ate at this amazing Paleo Café right across the road from the hostel. I was now on a major diet after NZ so this suited me down to the ground.

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Aussie Road Trippin’

I was supposed to spend 6 weeks in Aus, but since I added a few spur of the moment trips to NZ, KL and Bali on at the end, I ended up only spending 3.5 weeks there. Since I had seriously cut in to my time there, I had to make it count!

I flew from Melbourne to Sydney and Sean collected me at the airport. Flying Virgin was such a treat after all the questionable airlines in Asia and I was trilled to be offered a wheat and dairy free meal (not that I was sticking to my diet at all).

First stop was Sean’s sisters house in Coogee to visit his baby niece. Then we hit the beach with a picnic of sandwiches and NZ cider. I am not usually a fan of cider but it is so delicious on that side of the world.

I was supposed to stay in MMcGs, but since Sean was heading home the following day, she got stood up (which I am sure she understood)! Instead, we stayed in a beautiful room in the Park Hyatt on the harbour – Sean’s bro in law was so good to let us use his travel points to book. That night we strolled around the harbour and stuffed our faces with Sushi and wine (and desert!).

The next day we decided to get the ferry to Manly Beach. I have since learned that there is an amazing roof top pool overlooking the opera house at the Hyatt which we didn’t realise – ops, guess it’s an excuse to go back! We had pretty bad luck with the ferry, missing two because we were busy eating, but we made it eventually. We spent another great day at the beach, eating froyo and smoothies for lunch.

That evening, I left Sean and ended up back at the GLG office (just visiting tho TG 😉 ). I met MMcG and Cian and we started our mini road trip to kangaroo valley. On the way to our cabin, we stopped for booze in Dan Murphy’s offy and a Thai take out for the road (I was missing the pad thais)!

Our cottage was the cutest little thing and surrounded by fields full of kangaroos. It had a big outdoor bbq area so we spent most of the time eating and boozing there. During the day we went for a swim in the river, had a few bevies in the local and drove up and down the road leading to the cabin about 17 times 😉

When I arrived back in Sydney, I met my friend Conachil (who I hadn’t seen in FOREVER) for lunch. Since it was raining, Cian, MMcG and I went to the aquarium and (more importantly) the Lindt cafe. The following day Shorty Pants and I walked the Bondi to Coogee walk, as it was a scorcher. There was plenty to see as the Sculptures by the Sea Exhibition was in full swing. Ironically, I only saw Shorten for one day while I was in Aus as he was going back to Eire just as I arrived.

As my time in Aus was being interrupted by a 10 day trip to NZ, I had to say goodbye to Sydney since I was retuning straight to Whitsunday’s .

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KL

I arrived in pretty late (2 am) as my flight from Bali had been delayed. I planned to snooze in the taxi on the way to the hostel but my taxi driver was a lunatic, so I was too busy fearing for my life to sleep. An hour later, we arrived at the hostel and as we pulled over we heard a massive bang. Right behind us there was a huge crash and a car had toppled over. The taxi man and security men from the hostel ran to help and together pulled a man out of the car and flipped the car back on its wheels – the guy got back in his car and drove off – no police, no ambulance, nada!

Welcome to KL!!

I was so delighted I had a chance to spend some time in KL before I had to go home. I was also pretty happy to be reunited with Gemma and Char from my Castaways tour! We stayed in the coolest hostel I have ever stayed in, the Reggae Mansion. Individual box beds, free breakie, roof top bar, private cinema – the works.

As I was on a health kick after Bali (and I didn’t want to arrive home a fatty), I joined the girls at the gym the next day. That afternoon we went to Harrods for lunch in the twin tower mall. The mall is so amazing and massive, and it was lovely to be surrounded by Christmas decoration for the first time 🙂  Time totally escaped us and all of a sudden it was dinner time. We made our way back to the hostel and met for drinks on the roof top.

Another Castaways member, DenDen, was also staying at the hostel so we drank with him and a few more guys for the night. We also took a small detour to the Traders Sky Bar overlooking the Twin Towers.

The following day we visited the Batu Caves and then went for a Sushi dinner. It was an early night as I had to be up at 4 am to begin my 36 hour journey home!

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