I am one blog entry away from catching up with my travel writing. I have only the trip to Tasmania, which was earlier this year, left to write about. First though our trip up north from Melbourne to the middle of the NSW coastline, and back again. It’s now July 2014.

My capacity for creative thought has been compromised. Why or how, I do not know. I have creative thought but it rarely manifests itself into any form. Maybe I am just being lazy.

2013 was an odd year. I was bored a lot at work, my health has been compromised, and the health of my wife Rebecca who at this moment is recovering from surgery continues to be a concern.

We have had some good news so far this year. There has been a request for Rebecca to have Osseo Integration surgery, which should enable her to walk much more freely. Fingers crossed the surgery is approved and all goes well so that our next adventure reflects the type of trip Rebecca and I used to have before her accident five years ago. In the mean time….

I was required to take twelve of my twenty allocated annual leave days at the Christmas break. We did not want to waste those days sitting around Melbourne, so we decided to drive north.

We departed on the thirtieth of December, first heading to Yea for two nights. On the way to Yea we stopped at our friends Angelo and Catharine’s newly acquired property in Taggerty. We had lunch, and Angelo took me for a tour of the property. Along the way we discussed his plans for the land and future building projects. We also discussed energy. They are ‘off the grid’ and are totally reliant on renewable energy supplied by a wind turbine and solar panels, with batteries for storage. A fine example of how you can survive without being plugged into the national electricity grid.

Ang and CJ's in Taggerty

Ang and CJ’s in Taggerty

It’s a beautiful location and has a splendid view of the Cathedral Ranges. With some hard work the land has some great potential. I personally would not be able to endure the two hours travel into and out of work four days a week. It is a sacrifice Angelo has made so they can bring their daughter Audrey up in the environment they also enjoyed as children. A sacrifice I admire. I would not mind waking up to that view every day.

That evening we spent at our accommodation in Yea, only leaving to have a decent although a little underwhelming meal at the local pub on the Yea high street. I would not recommend it.

Abekye, our accommodation in Yea was fantastic. A wonderful view of the surrounding hills and everything you could need. The kitchen was very well equip, the shower room large, and the bed and couches comfy. The only problem is the location. There is nothing happening in Yea other than the wonderful countryside.

After having a good sleep in, we met meeting our friends Jason and Melinda with their two children for lunch in Alexandra. I had been to the Commercial Hotel once before. Earlier that month in fact, during a Christmas work outing, so I knew that the food was good, and once again they did not disappoint. We spent the afternoon eating, shopping and playing with the kids in the park. It was a great way to spend New Year’s Eve. Yes I am getting old.

New Year’s Eve night I cooked a tasty meal, and sat down for beers, but not before taking some shots as the sun was descending, attempting to catch Yea as it was drenched in orange and red. It was a placid way to end another eventful year.

Yea Sunset

Yea Sunset

New Years day we drove to Australia’s capital, Canberra. It was my first visit. I made it before I turned forty.

The drive to Canberra was around six hours, during which we stopped in Gundagai for lunch. We had stopped at this cafe previously, when it used to be a fish and chip shop. It was good last time we were there four years ago, a little disappointing this time. One thing that did not change was their negative attitude towards non locals, whom you would think they needed for the business to survive. Next time I am stopping elsewhere.

Our host in Canberra at the Rosebud Cottage was Maureen. We could not have asked for a nicer welcome. The cottage is situated on the last working farm in Canberra, which abuts the leafy, winding Canberra suburbs. We once again did not want for anything, and even had fresh bread and jam created by our host.

Cottage in Canberra

Cottage in Canberra

That night we had a little trouble finding a place to eat. Attempting to find somewhere local and inexpensive proved to be a little daunting. It was New Year’s Day after all. We remained calm, and sat in the car using modern mobile technology to find and ring every place suitable, finally locating a Turkish restaurant not too far from our location. The Turkish Pidehouse purposed to be the best Turkish in Canberra. Most of the staff are Italian, and it would not surprise me if they owned the place as well. The meal was good and the staff friendly. We had an interesting chat with our waitress post meal, who kindly informed us a little about Canberra and its clientele.

It was still early so I decided to drive past Parliament House. It was a waste of time really, as you have to drive up the hill, and I drove around instead. We did not see very much, and then proceeded to get lost. Thanks to satellite navigation, we found our way back to the cottage.

Next morning after chef Adrian cooked breakfast we headed to the National Gallery. We had tickets for the Gold and the Incas exhibition. It was remarkable. The skill and precision that went into creating these artifacts is astounding, considering when they were made. It was quite amazing to see. The gallery itself is worth a visit, with many fine pieces and interesting installations.

National Gallery Canberra

National Gallery Canberra

A great stop off after a hard day of pushing your wife around in a wheelchair is the Wig & Pen. It boasted real English Ale from traditional taps. And it did not disappoint. It was great to have real ale at room temperature. Absolutely delicious. We had dinner there also, killing the two with the one, and retired for the night.

At the pub I did overhear some interesting conversations. I suppose that in a capital city one should expect to overhear political, social and economic discussion. I had to refrain from interrupting. Luckily the beer was great distraction.

We departed the next morning. Before leaving our capital city we had one remaining engagement. The National Library was hosting an exhibition of maps from around the world entitled Mapping Our World. Although cramped, we managed to wrangle our way into seeing all the maps. We achieved this by starting at the end, working backwards, and when the crowd caught up, going back to the start again. Rebecca’s view from the wheelchair was not the best, but she managed. Of particular note and a crowd favorite was Fra Mauro’s Map of the World. North is south, and vice versa. It was also very interesting to see Australia form as you moved from the earliest maps of the northern tip to the present century.

National Library Canberra

National Library Canberra

A snack and a few photographs later we were hurling up the highway to Sydney. This is another town where you thank god for the GPS. We found the apartment with only one wrong turn, and after a few trips up and down the elevator I was able to relax in a hot, but soon to be air conditioned apartment. I was exhausted but hungry, and Rebecca’s leg was giving her grief. We looked for somewhere close by to have dinner. Something take away or delivered. After an hour searching with the tablet and phone, ringing places to find they were closed, we finally found Curry on the Rocks, delivery Indian food that you can order over the internet. If you are in central Sydney and cannot be bothered leaving your room, I highly recommend it. Good food, delivered promptly, and at reasonable prices.

Next morning after a breakfast of toast and mini cereal, we were back in the car with the GPS on, attempting a drive over Sydney Harbour Bridge to see our friends Jackie and Tomm. Yes with two m’s. We managed to arrive there with only one wrong turn, again.

We had a great day with our old friends, meeting their new son Sterling, who is right now sapping them both of their remaining life-force. For the first time I can remember, an infant took to me, trusting me unconditionally. Usually babies are very wary, but he thought I was the ant’s pants. I played ball with the little guy, giving mum and dad some welcome relief. I was offered the position of au pair, but it does not pay as well as my current position, so I reluctantly had to turn it down.

Tree and hills

Tree and hills

Navigating our way out of Sydney the following day, we were having a nice cruise up the Pacific Motorway when the traffic came to a screeching halt. After half an hour of crawling along we were reminded why we should be vigilant when driving during the holiday season. All too easy to have an accident, and Rebecca and I have had enough accidents for one lifetime, thank you very much.

We made it to Koorainghat in one piece, and after a long drive down dirt roads, arrived at Kiwarrak Country Retreat. Greeted kindly by our host Meg, we squeezed the car into the carport, unpacked, and watched the remaining cricket test match between Australia and England, enjoying a moment for the Australian cricket team who for the third time in history had beaten the English in the Ashes series five to zero.

View from the Spa

View from the Spa

We had dinner that night at what we thought was the only decent place in Taree, The Sicilian Restaurant. A few schnitzels and some schooners of Peroni later, I was back at the retreat having a nice warm bubbly spa to finish off the day.

The following morning we indulged in a couple’s massage and a spa. The afternoon consisted of a drive to Forster for fresh fish and chips for lunch. Moving onto Black Head we sat on a bench by the beach, and I wet my feet in the salty sea water while Beck waited in the shade, reading. We visited Old Bar beach momentarily, before finding out the venue where we had hoped to have dinner in Old Bar, was closed.

Heading into Taree Rebecca and I finally broke down and had a tiff. Hungry and running out of options, we decided on a fish and chip shop. During our drive to said fish and chip shop in the north of town when we came across another fish and chip shop that also sold Thai food called Ticky Thai and Tucker. There was a brewing shop attached to the fish and chip shop. The owner ran both, and he and his Thai wife did the cooking. Some of the best Thai food we have had in Australia. And there are a lot of Thai places in Melbourne. This place is not on Google maps. So make sure you click the link of you want to go. I was thinking about asking him to sell me a few beers of whatever he had just brewed, but decided against it. Seemed very defensive when I asked him what his latest batch was. It was a Pilsner, which I am not a big fan of anyhow, so no loss.

I had another spa that night; use it while you got it I say, which is what I did the next morning as well. I was a little wrinkled from prolonged water submergence, not my age ok?!

After soaking for a sufficient amount of time, we drove north to Port Macquarie. Not intending to do much at all. We stumbled across the Sea Acres Rainforest Centre. Heading into the cafe we missed lunch service by one minute. Yes, ONE minute, and settled on cake and coffee before we borrowed a wheelchair and rolled along the walkway. The weather had been a little cooler that day, and moist. It was the perfect day for a stroll through a rainforest.

Rainforest Port Macquarie

Rainforest Port Macquarie

Returning to Old Bar to the Sai Thai Table and Tea we had a nice dinner and some take away frozen ice cream.

Leaving early the next morning we bid Meg farewell and headed to Orange. This was going to be the longest drive so far on our road trip. Yet by the time we reached Orange nearly eight hours later I was not tired. After we left the motorway, there was hardly a straight road along the journey, keeping me alert and aware.

From Newcastle we headed west down the Golden Highway, taking the only road off the highway between the Goulburn River and Wollemi National Parks down to Bathurst and over to Orange. We had some spectacular views along the way but unfortunately I was limited in the places that were safe to stop and take photographs.

It was great to see there were a lot of signs up opposing CSG and the use of fracking along the road. Only once we saw drilling for CSG. I hope for the locals and the lands future they succeed in their fight against the mining companies. The mining companies are also trying to dig underneath their land to extract coal. Several signs against the practice were also visible. As we past Branxton we saw several open cut mines. Very unsightly, unless you are making money from it I suppose. Also along this stretch of highway it was the only place we experienced reckless driving. Go figure.

Hills of central NSW

Hills of central NSW

Our accommodation in Orange was right in the middle of town on the high street at No.52. The building is very beautiful, old and has a great soft bed and large clean bathroom. I really enjoyed the shower after the long drive. Dinner was had at a local wood fire pizza restaurant which was ok, but nothing to write home about.

Our only day in Orange was rained out. The rain came and stayed around until late afternoon. Regardless of the wet we went for a wander in Cook Park which was a short walk from our accommodation, where we purchased a toilet roll holder in the local craft shop. Yes we did. It was a nice toilet roll holder ok, and we needed one.

That night we had one of the best Japanese meals we have had in Australia at Mr. Sushi King. Which is a very cheesy name but very good meal. Some sake and beers later we retired back to No.52.

I was supposed to drive eight hours home to Melbourne the following day, but decided against it. While looking for accommodation in Beechworth, we came across a cheap cottage in Yackandandah.

Victorian country

Victorian country

We drove out of the rain of NSW back into Victoria stopping at the National Museum of Australian Pottery in Holbrook at Rebecca’s request. I found it mildly interesting even though I am not a huge fan of pottery. We had a very average lunch at the Holbrook bakery. Nothing else was open. The milk shake was good though.

Making our way down more dirt roads we found our cottage and were very warmly greeted by Ali, her husband and daughter. Twisted Willow Cottage is on a working farm, with horses, sheep, chickens and plenty of birds around. I fed and pet the horse, something I have not done for twenty years.

That night we dined well at Graces place, No.13 High Street in Yackandandah. I had one of the biggest t-bone steaks I have ever had for $25. Not to mention the softest. We highly recommend this place. I recommend booking as although it was not busy, they need to know you are coming. They only just re-opened and are getting back on their feet, so the menu is whatever is in the fridge that night.

Pottery View

Pottery View

After a long conversation with Ali at Twisted Willow Cottage and dining on her chooks eggs we drove home to Melbourne in some very oppressive heat. It was a nice uneventful drive home, stopping in Beechworth for lunch, and at Kirby Flat Pottery for a look at some pieces from a master potter, and purchasing some plates, bowls and ramekins. I had a good chat to John at the master potter about the dangers of fire in the country areas. He agreed they should shut the power off on high wind, high heat days. Seems logical considering that power lines cause more fires than anything else.

That brings us to the end of our road trip. Not a spectacular trip but enjoyable none the less. I have grown up with the rolling hills flowing into dense bush backing onto sandy beaches. So I suppose to me it’s nothing new and not that interesting. I suppose you could say I am a little spoilt. Maybe my images tell a different story.

Let me get my holidays in order. Just finished writing about the Japan 2012/13 Christmas New year’s trip and I should write about our break to Thailand before I post the January 2014 drive up north. I have left so writing to do for so long.

Rebecca and I needed a break. Usually a break is taken on a tropical island with the beach meters from your resort, or something of the like. Not having that option we searched from something that was going to be peaceful but somewhere that Rebecca could swim in private. Finding a reasonably priced resort, where you have your own pool, and is peaceful was not easy. Our persistence paid off and we found exactly what we needed.

Villa Zolitude view from reception.

Villa Zolitude view from reception.

Villa Zolitude had a special on and we took full advantage. Rebecca had to venture downstairs to get to the pool, but it was better than nothing.

Reading the reviews we decided that the negative reviewers were just being picky. One complained about noise from the crickets. The resort is in the mountains on Phuket. What do you expect? It’s not called Villa Quiet as a Mouse. Idiots! I quite liked the crickets. The noise is not constant and it sweeps through the resort. If anything it’s fascinating.

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View from the pool are at in our viIla at Villa Zolitude

We took Malaysian airlines and arrived in Kuala Lumpur late afternoon. We booked a night at D’Boutique hotel which was as close to the airport as was possible. There were a few restaurants just outside the hotel, which was all we needed. The hotel was great for a single nights stay.

All rested and relaxed the next morning we flew to Phuket. It was raining quite heavily when we arrived. The locals were happy as they had not seen rain for a while. The wet season was not as wet as they had hoped.

We took a taxi to the villa where we were welcomed in the usual resort style with a lovely warm face washer and a cool drink.

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View from the window in out villa at Villa Zolitude

We had requested upon booking a villa that was tucked away, and our wish was granted being given the last villa at the very top of the resort. We had a wonderful view and a lot of cover from the trees. The bed was big and comfortable, villa was very clean and spacious and we did not need for anything. If we had something missing or needed anything it was just a phone call away.

The whole first day was spent hanging around the resort, drinking, swimming and eating. The next day we ventured out to do a little bit of shopping at a local shopping centre. I was not thrilled, but you resign yourself sometimes. This is a partnership after all.

Stairs down to the pool at Villa Zolitude

Stairs down to the pool at Villa Zolitude

Rebecca had been getting ill due to the infection in her leg. We knew that might happen in Thailand, and it did. We spent the next four days at the resort. I ventured out once to get some medication for Rebecca and some beer and snacks. It was getting expensive eating in at the resort every day.

If you were going to get sick, you could not ask for a better place to be. Rebecca was confined to the upper level and we did not leave the villa, even to eat, getting our food delivered. I spent most of my time swimming, reading, drinking and watching movies. Beck did the same minus the swimming and drinking.

After a few days rest Rebecca felt well enough to venture down the ten steps to the pool, and out to eat at the villa restaurant.

Bugs for sale in Phuket night market.

Bugs for sale in Phuket night market.

When Rebecca felt well enough again we ventured out to the Phuket Town night market. We did not buy much, mainly went there to have an authentic meal and get out of the resort. We wandered around taking in all the sights and smells of the food area. While we were standing around waiting for fishcakes on a stick, we just happened to be right next to the most interesting thing at the market, the bug stand. The store holder was very entrepreneurial. Knowing lots of tourists would find his stall interesting, he charged for photos. I paid. He was smart enough to make it very cheap. Finally we settled on a place to eat, sitting on our little plastic stools and had a lovely cheap meal. Getting a taxi back was a mean feat. The taxi drivers were trying to rip us off, so we called the resort to send one. Cheaper! Go figure. They could have made it easy for us and could have made a fare for themselves if they were not so greedy. He I would not pay. If more tourists refused his greed maybe he would stop trying it on. Come on people, get travel smart!

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Phuket old Town.

The following day we spent the whole day out and about. We hired a driver for the day, whom was very nice and he picked us up in one of the cars from the Fast and the Furious movie. Not literally, but you get the picture.

First stop was Phuket old town. It was not as nice as some old towns I have seen, but quaint and quiet. We jumped out and wandered around for a little while, taking photos and what not. We were hoping to find somewhere for lunch in the old town but we had no such luck.

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Graffiti in Phuket old town.

We requested our driver take us somewhere reasonably priced, with good authentic Thai food. Learning from our previous mistake in India, we made sure he got the message loud and clear. It worked. He took us to an out of the way restaurant on a muddy beach that specialised in crab. Awesome. Soft shell crab it was with some beautiful curries. Not a bad location to eat lunch either.

You cannot leave any Asian country without stopping by a temple. So after lunch we visited Wat Chalong. There are multiple beautiful shrines to visit. Beck stayed in the car (her leg was sore) and our driver showed me around the shrines. He asked for a few baht to make an offering for our trip. I gave him a few baht and he wandered off. Upon return he had with him a large, long string of firecrackers. We made a wish and went over to a cone shaped structure. I lit the end, and covered my ears. He then gave me coin with a ribbon and told me keep it in my wallet for prosperity. I have not won lotto, but we are doing OK.

Temple Wat Chalong

Temple Wat Chalong

We traveled to the south west of the island to visit a few lookouts so that I could take a few photographs. After which we returned to the resort. We booked our driver in the next night to take us back to that side of the island to take some photos at sundown, and have dinner.

Next night I brought the tripod and filters taking my time creating some nice images. Then we had dinner with a lovely view of the sunset. There was only one problem with this location. The Wasps. We ordered a few cocktails, which were served in open pineapples. Who loves sweet stuff? We were attacked by wasps. They would not leave us, even when we changed tables. Figuring it was the cocktails we drank them quickly and asked they be taken away. That sort of solved the problem. They did not leave us alone until the sun went down. Other than nearly being bitten, it was quite nice.

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South East coast Phuket.

For our last whole day in Phuket we stayed at the villa and made good use of the pool. We had a special dinner that night in the villa restaurant and said goodbye, giving hugs and some tips to the exceptionally good staff, wishing them all the best.

Next day we returned to Kuala Lumpur. We had two nights in the Park royal KL. It was a nice place to stay. Very reasonable priced with very good staff. The main reason we chose this hotel, was that just two doors down was Taps Beer Bar. We had dinner both nights here. Very good beer and the food were not bad either. The next day I left Rebecca to rest her leg, and I went for a walk to take some photos.

That was about it for our trip. We flew home the next day. It was supposed to be restful recuperating holiday. I needed it. I love it. More of that please.

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South East coast Sunset Phuket.

Japan Christmas 2012. It’s now Easter 2014. Yes, it’s been a while. Yes, I have been lazy and unmotivated creatively. How does the saying go? Better late than never.

After a long year of all work and no play, Rebecca and I were very much looking forward to getting away. We decided to go back to Japan. This time we would spend Christmas in Kyoto and New Years with my cousin’s wife Risa and her family. We spent Christmas with them last time and missed the New Year Day celebrations, which is more important to the Japanese than Christmas.

Rebecca found cheap business class flights on Garuda Airlines. We stopped off in Indonesia for eight hours. It turned into nine. We found out why the tickets were so cheap. The lounge was small, and not well equip. Needless to say we went a little bat shit crazy sitting around for nine hours.

Streets of Kinshicho

Streets of Kinshicho

This time, upon arrival at Narita airport, we validated our Japan Rail pass right away. The Japan Rail office is located at the airport exit, right across from a Starbucks. Rebecca sat and had a coffee while I withdrew some cash when she spotted the office. Last visit to Japan we trundled through Tokyo’s main train station trying to find the validation office. No fun at all. So there is a big tip. Validate before you leave the airport.

The train to Kinshicho was boarded ‘with Becks crutches’ this time. We arrived to an empty apartment, had a shower and rested. We had dinner at a restaurant around the corner from the apartment. Being jetlagged and not in the mood to search for the perfect place to eat, that was English language friendly, we settled on the closest place.

Japanese Restaurant

Japanese Restaurant

We go in, sit down, and realise there is no English anywhere. Not even a menu to point at. Kindly a Japanese lady sitting next to us realised our plight and came to the rescue. We had a great authentic Japanese meal that night, not to forget the awesome sake. A great start to our second Japanese trip.

For the first time ever we did absolutely nothing on the first day. We visited Tommy’s to have his special pancake and coffee, I bought us groceries from Queen’s Isetan (or Queen Satan as I like to call it) and after a walk around with the camera I took alone, retreated to the apartment. After Tommy’s Beck did not leave the apartment until dinner that night. The Korean BBQ Ty took us to last time, did not disappoint this time either. Rebecca enjoyed it so much she gave her bib a meal of its own.

Sky Tree from the Train Station

Sky Tree from the Train Station

On the way home, we dropped into Yeast. It is a microbrew bar that opened just around the corner from Tyron and Risa’s apartment. It had the best English ale I have tasted outside of England.

The following day we took a short taxi trip up the road to the Edo Tokyo Museum. I enjoyed following the story of Tokyo. Rebecca especially loved all the old costumes. It is worth a visit.

Next day we bid sayonara to Tyron and Risa catching the Shinkansen to Kyoto. We stayed in the same hotel as last time, the Kyoto Royal Hotel and Spa. Rebecca found a great deal and it was around the corner from Jack’s bar, who we had promised to visit should we would return to Kyoto.

We checked in and went out for an early dinner. As we wandered past Jack’s bar (which was closed) we saw someone inside on a ladder hanging things from the ceiling. I kept walking. Rebecca stopped and stared. It was Jack. He spotted us and ran out with his trademark huge smile. I was amazed he recognised us. We made arrangements to return after dinner. They were booked out until late. It was Christmas day and the bar specialises in fried chicken wings. There is a thing with the Japanese and fried chicken on Christmas. Do not ask me why. Mainly because I do not know and have not been able to get an answer.

We wandered a fair way down the street finally deciding upon an Okonomiyaki restaurant. After a good feed, we returned to Jack’s bar to find a welcome note at our table, and a list of special beers for us to consume. Only a few drinks and pleasantries later we called it a night. We would be back. We did not want to spoil our first day in Kyoto with a hangover.

Note from Jack

Note from Jack

There was a flea market on the next morning at the Tenjin-san Shrine. They have many antiques and general bric-a-brac to choose from, as well as food stalls. We left with a nice little vase and soya sauce dispenser. We wandered around for quite a few hours. It was busy and there was plenty to see.

Market at Tenjin-san Shrine

Market at Tenjin-san Shrine

A taxi was taken to the Shimogamo Shrine after. The shrine is small and one you could pass on, but the grounds are large and lush, and open to the public. We stopped for red bean wagashi and tea. Not to mention to warm our hands up. It was getting dark and cold, and being out all day had numbed the fingers.

Red bean wagashi and tea at the Shimogamo Shrine

Red bean wagashi and tea at the Shimogamo Shrine

After hours of walking Rebecca had arrived at breaking point, and just as we asked, the universe delivered a taxi. We return to our room, freshened up and headed back to Jack’s to have dinner and drinks. This time we spent quite a few hours eating fish,Tebasaki (fried chicken wings), squid, and a variety of other Japanese dishes. I think we nearly had everything on the menu. Calm down the menu is not that large. This is not the US of A.

We were a little hung-over the next morning, but the visiting of shrines must go on. After having a breakfast of sandwiches and good coffee at a little cafe I had spotted the night before, we taxied to the Nanzen-ji Temple.

We spent most of the morning and a bit of the afternoon here. It is a large complex with gates, shrines and houses up and down the hillside. Great for a slow wander amongst the ancient trees and structures.

House at Nanzen-ji Temple

House at Nanzen-ji Temple

When you arrive and exit the taxi the Sanmon Gate greets you in all it’s enormity. You can climb up it for a price and take in the view of Kyoto. Be prepared to take off your shoes and crawl up the very steep stairs. Needless to say, Rebecca could not join me. Due to frostbitten toes my visit was short lived.

We wandered past the Hado Hall and made our way up to the Kuri building. Shoes off again, I wheeled Rebecca around to take in the splendour of the gardens and house. We wandered up the hill under the Sousi aquifer to see the one of the twelve quaint sub-temples on the complex. There was a trail you could follow up a hill to others, but after a quick run up the hill, I decided we would head back down and visit one of the other sub temples.

Temple at Nanzen-ji Temple

Temple at Nanzen-ji Temple

Next, I think it was the Nanzen-in (not 1005 on that). This has a lovely garden and pond that are reflective of a dragon (supposedly). Down the hill again and the Ten juan Temple has a nice little garden that is supposed to be spectacular at night with a light show (only in Autumn). There are little paths through the edge of the forest and stepping stones over the ponds to stroll though. It was so peaceful we decided to sit and relax.

You templed out yet? Not by a long shot. Beck and I were a little worn out, so we stopped by the gift shop and I purchased some coffee in a can, but only after Rebecca made her gift shop purchases. After some directions from the friendly staff, we made our last stop on the tour of Nanzen-ji to the Konchi-in temple. We again find a small but very beautiful and peaceful garden. All was very quiet when suddenly the peace was broken by an American family strolling into earshot. We were patient and they soon departed to let us enjoy the atmosphere.

Konchi-in

Konchi-in

Having finished the Nanzen-ji complex, we had enough time to have lunch and visit the Murin-an. The little restaurant had decor that had not changed since the seventies, and neither has the cook or your host I think. The old man and lady were happy to have us in even though they were just about to close, and cooked us lovely Ramen and Udon noodle soups, which really hit the spot after spending hours outside in the cold.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention I left my hat in the taxi, so I was getting frostbitten ears, at one stage wrapping my scarf around my head to keep them from freezing up and falling off.

Revived and warmed we stopped by the Murin-in. It was OK. Let me say after all the beautiful immaculately kept gardens I saw that day, it was a little disappointing.

We decided to have dinner down Pontocho lane that night. We found a place where there was no English menu displayed and took a chance. Nobody spoke any English, but they did have a make shift English menu to point at. We had some refreshing warm soups of some kind and splendid little entree’s, washing it down with a beer and sake.

Entrace to the Heian Shrine

Entrace to the Heian Shrine

Next morning we visited the Heian Shrine. You enter through a large gate into a very large courtyard, from which you can enter many gardens. The gardens were large, intricate and quite spectacular. We spent many hours wandering about snapping away.

Lake in Heian Shrine, No.2

Lake in Heian Shrine, No.2

Next temple complex on the tour was up on the hills. Kōdai-ji is made up of many small complexes. Rebecca found it a little difficult but we managed to see everything there was to see. It is a great area and very popular with the tourists, for good reason.

Garden at Kōdai-ji No.2

Garden at Kōdai-ji No.2

For lunch we took a chance and headed down a lane, and found what we were looking for, a restaurant in someone’s house. I requested to attend the little boy’s room, and passed the grandmother and mother in the kitchen cooking for us. It is always the best food, and they are ever so helpful and welcoming.

Lunch at Mum and Nans

Lunch at Mum and Nans

We headed back to the hotel, rested and later found that a lot of restaurants were closed. We lucked upon a restaurant where chicken was the specialty, once again hoping some English would be spoken. No such luck, but there was an English menu to point at once again. We were the only ones in the place, which felt a little odd, until another couple came in just before we left. The meal was delicious, and meticulously prepared. We sat at the bar in which our chef was behind, preparing our meal for us. There is nothing quite like watching your meal being formed in front of your eyes.

We had booked a table at Jack’s quite late. We had some spare time so headed upstairs to a bar for a cocktail, again being the sole couple in the place. That was odd also. Nice cocktail though.

Jack and the Crew

Jack and the Crew

We headed to Jack’s after and had a little more to eat and a lot more to drink. It was our last night in Kyoto and we were making the most of it. It was sad to say goodbye to Jack and his staff, but not before a goodbye photo.

We took the Shinkansen to Kanazawa the next day. By the time we arrived at our hotel room at the Kanazawa Excel Hotel Tokyu, Rebecca was very tired. I left her to rest and walked in the rain down to the Samurai area, dropping in to the Samurai House. Supposedly it has many nooks and crannies that you can crawl up into to escape, and there are strategically placed creaking floorboards you walk on. I only got to walk on the creaking boards.

On the Streets of Kanazawa, Samurai area

On the Streets of Kanazawa, Samurai area

We did not want to wander far for a meal that night, so settled on an izakaya across from the hotel. We had enough food to fill us up, and enough drink to satisfy. It was not the best meal on the trip, but good enough to recharge our batteries for the next day of wandering around the Kenrokuen Gardens.

Kenrokuen Gardens No.1

Kenrokuen Gardens No.1

Before the gardens we had breakfast in a little cafe. No English once again. Coffee is universal, but food is not. So while sitting there hungry drinking my coffee I had a revelation. Symbols! Symbols are universal. I brought out a pen and paper, and proceeded to draw a slice of bread, an egg, and a pig. Showing it to the owner, he proceeded to make us some of the best omelette sandwiches I have ever tasted. After a bit of creativity we were prepared for the day.

The gardens sit right up on top of the hill in Kanazawa, just across from the Kanazawa Castle. The Castle we visited after the gardens, and were a huge disappointment after the large elaborate gardens. We did spend most of that day wandering slowly through the gardens, and rushed though the castle, only stopping for a soup lunch. It is very touristy, but putting that aside, the gardens are well worth a visit.

Kenrokuen Gardens No.2

Kenrokuen Gardens No.2

We had a special dinner that night, in one of the many specialised restaurants in Kanazawa. I do not recall the name. We were sat at the bar, and unfortunately for Rebecca, she was sat next to a disgruntled woman, sitting alone, probably for good reason. She eventually left and Rebecca and I were left to enjoy the elaborate food and beautiful sake. The most interesting thing we had all night was a sea snail, compliments of the head chef. I think it was a test to see if we would like it. I loved it. The texture was unlike anything I had previously eaten. From that point on he loved us.

On our way back to the hotel, we ran into an American man, and his Japanese partner. We were invited for a drink at a jazz bar a few shops down, but Rebecca was tired and we headed back upstairs. I decided to go meet the man, thinking I would have some interesting conversation. I was wrong. He decided to judge me. After taking off my jacket revealing a chequered shirt, he commented upon how that was something a redneck wears, asking if I was the equivalent but of the Australian kind. I found myself trying to prove otherwise, proceeding to ask about life in Japan and his time there. Shortly after he avoided the questions and started playing some stupid game in order to help his partner learn English. They departed before I had even finished my beer. I was left at the bar feeling very angry after being judged, and hating myself for bothering to make an effort. Why ask a stranger to have a drink if you are just going to judge and be an arrogant asshole? Just because you live in a country other than your own, does not make a person a non judgmental prick. Lesson learnt.

The next day we left Kanazawa and headed back to Ty and Risa in Tokyo. If my memory serves, that night for dinner was in a little bar. After leaving, we believe was closed when we walked in. Being the stupid gaijin that we are, we just walked in and sat down. The door was open? The owner was happy enough to accommodate us. We had a few beers and he fixed us something to eat, which was very cheap and very nice. Rebecca and I had walked past this place several times but never gone in. It was always full of old Japanese men. But this time it was only us, with the old Japanese men peering in, wondering why the hell gaijin are eating and drinking in their bar, when they are outside in the cold. Rather amusing.

Tokyo suburbia

Tokyo suburbia

The next day was New Years Eve. We were to travel to the outskirts of Tokyo to spend NYE with Risa’s family. After squashing Tyron and I into the back on the smallest car I have ever had the displeasure of riding in, and after an hour of back breaking hard bench seat usually used to hold pachinko balls, we arrived.

We were shown our rooms and came down for beers, sake and plenty of food. Why do all grandmothers seem the same, no matter what nationality? Risa’s grandmother was so cute. We sat down to spend NYE in front of the television, watching a traditional Japanese NYE show. No, it’s not what you think, or maybe it is.

They have five comedians, place them in hilarious situations, and tell them they are not allowed to laugh. If they do, they have to bend over, after which a ninja will come out and bash them on the ass with a thick large rubber stick. By the reactions of the comedians, it looked like it hurt. And for extra punishment, a kick boxer would kick them in the bottom. Rather amusing, even if we could not understand a word or it.

The next day was for lounging around and eating. We had a wonderful meal and plenty of good conversation with the family. I went for a wander to take some photos at one point to get out of the house, and have a break from all the food and drink.

That night on the way home in the pachinko car, Ty insisted on stopping for McDonalds, informing us that McDonalds in Japan was better than anywhere else. He was wrong.

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Next day we ventured to Akihabara Electric Town where we found all the people who are hip to be square. Beck purchased an old Nintendo Donkey Kong, and I was approached by a hostess as I stood and waited, snapping photos of the surrounding madness. We left the manic search for the future and swapped it for the peaceful surrounds of the Kiyosumi Gardens. We strolled around; Beck was pushed around, for a long time lapping up some nature in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Risa took us to a special okonomiyaki style dinner that night. You sit in front of a hot grill, where your meal is cooked. None of us were very good at it, so the lovely waitress kindly assisted us.

Kiyosumi Gardens No.1

Kiyosumi Gardens No.1

Next day we drove to the outskirts of Tokyo in the pachinko car to Kawagoe. A lovely little town that contains a few very old roads preserved from way back when. It is very picturesque with lots of shopping to be done. There is a street dedicated to sweets and there was a microbrewery to visit. I also purchased what is now my favourite coffee cup. We also had a wonderful traditional Japanese lunch, with a little help from Risa.

Cat Cafe Tokyo

Cat Cafe Tokyo

The next day Rebecca wanted to rest her leg. We slept in and I purchased lunch from Queen Satan. We did want to do one thing that day, which was to visit a cat cafe. I looked up Google maps and found one not too far from us. Luckily we ran the website past Risa, as it was actually a place for single ladies to get together. Cats Cafe. Fair enough. Lucky we checked first. She did find one for us only a few streets away. Rebecca and I spent an hour that evening with some very interesting cats. It was a lot of fun, and very relaxing. Not to mention busy.

Bar Yeast was finally open after closing for the NYE break. We got very drunk that night, on some very delicious beer. Yum.

Tokyo National Museum

Tokyo National Museum

The following day was spent wheeling around the Tokyo National Museum. The building itself was something to behold, let alone the works inside. After we went into town for a spot of shopping, and then off to meet Risa’s family for her birthday dinner. We had another wonderful meal and plenty of drinks. But no birthday is complete without a spot of karaoke. A private room was booked and the four of us belted out the tunes. I was surprised to find Iron Maidens ‘Run to the Hills’. One of only a few songs I knew the words to. We had a lot of fun, although I do not think my MC’ing between songs was appreciated by those a little more serious about their karaoke.

Ginza shopping district, Tokyo

Ginza shopping district, Tokyo

Our last two days not much happened. Beck was very tired and her leg was sore. The cat cafe was visited once more, and a trip to the Sky Tree that did not eventuate to anything (buy your tickets before going is a good tip) but a little bit of shopping. More of Tommy’s pancakes were eaten and some shabu shabu one night for dinner.

Another long and wonderful trip to Japan ends. Rebecca managed to tough it out, and no crutches were lost this time. Second time around it was much better than the first. That being said it was Rebecca’s first trip after the accident last time around. We have been to Macau, Hong Kong and India in the mean time. We also knew some tricks from our previous trip and learnt a few more. Should bode well for us next time we go. It will happen. Beck would live there if she could.

Sky Tree from the Roof

Sky Tree from the Roof

We stumbled across this bar returning to our hotel from dinner in Kyoto. We were staying at the Kyoto Royal Hotel and Spa. If you leave the hotel lobby turn left, then left again onto the main street, then left at the first street next to the hotel. The bar is on the left just before you cross the creek/river.

It’s furnished with wooden benches and seats. There are several booths with cloths for privacy. The music is light and relaxing and the atmosphere very welcoming.

There is food, and there is a menu in English. We had several dishes, all which we enjoyed. The speciality is fried chicken wings.

The beers are not varied. There is a German, English and Japanese beer.

If you are a fan of Belgian beer, this place is a must. The beer is displayed in the window, but not on the menu. The trick is, you have to ask.

We assumed the gentleman helping us with our selections and discussing with passion Belgium beers was the owner, going by the name of Jack. If you ask for Belgium beer you are bound to meet him. We have not had a more accommodating host.

I am here again in Kyoto, two years later. We walked past the bar hoping it would still be there. It was, and we saw a man setting up through the window. It was Jack. He recognised us, and rushed out to greet us. We booked a table and returned last night to also find he had remembered our names.

What more can I say? Pay it a visit.

Jack and Co.

Jack and Co.

If you are serious about your beer and you live in or are visiting Tokyo then dropping into Yeast is a must. Get off at Kinshicho train station and head out the north exit. It is a very short walk. It is a microbrew bar that opened recently that is around the corner from my cousin’s apartment, luckily for us.

It had the best English ale I have tasted outside of England (or dare I say ever?), as well as a great selection of microbrews form around Japan and the world (and wine if you want it). You can get caged up in the room atop of the bar (where we were smoked out) as there is not a lot of room in this place, but that’s Japan for you. They are still smoking.

There is food if you want it. Snacks and the like. And good soft white cheese as there should be in all good microbrew bars.

Highly recommend it. Very highly.

Top of the Menu

Top of the Menu

English Ale

English Ale

My friend Hardeep invited Rebecca and I to India to attend his wedding in Kota. Hardeep is a good friend that I met while working in London. I was looking forward to seeing many friends from the UK, but unfortunately, only Eddie could attend.

India was not high on our go to list. We did want to visit. It was definitely on the bucket list. Having heard so many wonderful things, I was very interested to see the place for myself. You see so much of India on television. You see a lot of the wild beautiful countryside and the rich beautiful history, they tend to skip over the abject poverty.

Some people come away from India with a spiritual awakening; an urge to return. Others will never want to go back. I fall somewhere in-between. Next time I think we will head to the south.

There are many Indians around the world. They have left to make a lives in England, South Africa, Canada, Australia, Italy and many other places on earth. They leave for a reason and I can see why. There is a lot of poverty and the place is run on a dime. Anything goes, which can be quite exciting. For a foreigner it can be frustrating, especially when your wife walks at snail pace. Being male, I am the target of harassment. The holder of the cash. I learnt very quickly not to make eye contact, and if they persist, to wave my hand dismissively.

That said, it was the first time I have not been on a guided tour through a third world country. In Egypt, we were on a tour. The guide would shoo people away, or they knew who he was and stayed away. In Sri Lanka, our personal guide did the same.

This time we were flying solo, and one of us was disabled! By the end of the day you become a little frustrated. Walking out the hotel door the negotiations begin and only end when you walk back in. We were nearly hijacked at one point but I will come back to that later.

Outside Bnineteen, Delhi

Outside Bnineteen, Delhi

The wedding was so much fun. As soon as we met Hardeep and the crew, I made the transfer of power. I was able to sit back, relax and let Hardeep do the organising. Cheers Hardeep. Sorry we did not get to spend more time with you guys.

We flew into Delhi at midday where a driver, arranged by our accommodation, was waiting. My welcome to Delhi was less than inviting. At the very first set of traffic lights, I received the piercing sound of metal hitting glass, directly into my left ear. A lady, standing with her baby, is bashing her wedding ring against the window repetitively. I looked over at my driver who did nothing. Thankfully, that never happened again, but it was not the nicest introduction to a country.

Please allow me to sidebar here. We have just returned from a trip to Japan. Upon arrival to Melbourne airport, I encountered a person trying to push into the line to go through customs. We call this person here in Australia an Aussie yob. I gave him the evil eye so he did not push in front of me. He did push in behind us and rammed his baggage trolley into the back of my legs. Rude, racist, asshole. That is what you get here. No country is perfect and without its pests.

After a long journey, we were glad to arrive at Bnineteen, our accommodation in Delhi. We sat down immediately for some very good chicken curry and dhal. We had a rest and around sunset, we visited Humayun’s Tomb.

Bnineteen is situated in a residential area of Delhi right next to Humayun’s Tomb. It’s quiet, and there is a lovely little park just across the road where old people would do laps, either walking or jogging. We ate dinner there every night which never disappointed.

Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi

Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi

I had a great relaxing time here at the Tomb. It was not crowded and there were no hagglers outside. The Tomb itself is very beautiful, especially at sunset. The camera loved it. Rebecca and I stayed until the sun was almost set. Out of all the sites we visited, it was by far the most tranquil.

We arranged a driver the next day. We had to purchase a salwar kameez for Rebecca to wear at the wedding. The driver was instructed to take us to the Central Market, a shopping district where we could find a tailor and material. We arrived at 9:30am to find most stores were closed until 10am. We found a store that was just opening and went in. The material was not cheap. I suppose they are not taking us to the cheapest area being westerners. Only a little price haggling was to be done. We eventually found a material, the tailor measured Rebecca. We then paid and left our hotel address with strict instructions that we needed it done before we left for Jaipur. The dress did arrive in time and fitted Rebecca perfectly. Thank you to Bombay Selections New Delhi.

We asked the driver to recommend somewhere to have lunch which was not too pricey but authentic. We got neither. By the time we discovered this our driver had already departed (no parking out front!). The restaurant was upmarket. So I had a cocktail and something to eat and learned another lesson. Upon returning to the car, I let our driver know that we were not impressed with his selection.

Red Fort, Delhi

Red Fort, Delhi

After lunch, it was off to the Red Fort. Do not be fooled by the old ruins, the new Fort is right next door, and is quite a magnificent structure. I have not seen anything quite like it. It is hard to believe that anything could penetrate the larger than life walls, which were hiding many rather humble internal pavilions and residences. You proceed down the main corridor, lined with shops, to the open park area where the various smaller structures lie. We had a little wander, and after tipping the toilet guy to let us use the not cleaned toilet, we departed. Trying to find our driver and a place to stand among the throng of taxis, bikes and auto rickshaws was amusing, but I found a spot, our man found us and we were off.

An observation: It’s funny how a country that seems to have no laws on it’s roads seems altogether ridiculous and highly amusing at the same time. Driving in India gave us an insight to why the taxi services in Melbourne can be a little left of centre. I am thanking god they actually adjust to the laws of the road in comparison to the chaos that is Indian roads.

The following morning Rebecca wanted to shop. We drove to the Dilli Haat Market. You pay to enter and it is very touristy. Not genuine India, but with Beck walking slowly we could at least take our time in a uncongested relaxed atmosphere. Also located inside the market are outdoor restaurants, which were cheap and more authentic than lunch the previous day. We ate before heading off to the see the Qutur Minar (note the many ways to spell this) in the Qutur complex.

Qutur Minar, Delhi

Qutur Minar, Delhi

The minaret is made of red sandstone and marble and is the equivalent of an eight story building. You can walk up it, but after exploring the complex and trying to stay cool in a place with hardly any shade, I would not have bothered. In addition to the fact, Rebecca would have had to wait for me. We wandered around enjoying the complex, taking photos, people watching and generally relaxing. I felt peaceful there. It is the type of place one would bring a picnic basket to.

Out the front of the complex Rebecca and I were sitting waiting for our driver. Behind us were school children waiting patiently to enter. Rebecca and I sat along a fence the children were behind. They were eager to say hello and some of the boys were fascinated with my hair, which is long. Some even tried to touch it while I was not looking. I assume it was a dare of some sort as the others teased the culprit. When we waved goodbye there was quite a ruckus.

Sidebar: I can be mistaken for a light skinned Indian. I am of Italian decent. I have Indian friends that look like my Italian relatives. There must have been some interbreeding at one stage in history. Rebecca was asked by several people at the wedding if I was Indian.

The next day was a busy one, and a day in which I shall never forget.

It began with a ride in the back of a mid-sized Toto hurtling down the road from Delhi to Agra. We knew what to expect on Indian roads pre-warned by Hardeep, but nothing can prepare you. Rebecca could not watch, and I could not take my eyes off the road. Our driver was a young man in his twenties. He drove like he just got his licence. With no fear.

When booking the ride we were given the option of a guide. We declined. On our way to the Taj, we were again given the option by our driver, we declined. Then a phone was handed to me and we were again pushed to have the guide. After I was told we would not be paying any extra, we accepted, if a little begrudgingly.

In the end, he came in handy. We arrived at the Taj Mahal early. It was quite a walk from the drop off point to the entrance, so our guide arranged a lift for a pittance. He arranged our rapid entry and besides hijacking Rebeccas camera for a while, he was not overbearing or annoying.

If you want to see the Taj Mahal get there early. When we were leaving it was getting rather full, and standing room was becoming scarce. It is a majestic building, although I would beg to differ on the wonder status. Maybe I had too high expectations. After a cheap average lunch, our guide attempted to make us shop, which we declined. I gave him a little extra in tip to avoid the forced shopping experience, which he graciously accepted.

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

After dropping off our guide, we proceeded to Fatehpur Sikri. Now I come to our almost high jacked experience.

I decided to close my eyes and have a little nap on the way to the old city. I had just awoken to see our driver being pulled over by a random man standing on the road. A different man comes over and talks to our driver. Our driver again asks if we want a guide. We decline. An argument breaks out between the two men during which our driver exits the car and both men walk away. At this point I lock my door. A moment later another man enters via the front door, sticks his head between the two front seats and proceeds to inform us that we must get out here to get to our destination. He informs us he is an official guide (he flashes some laminated paper at us) and will take us by rickshaw and guide us. I tell him no. He then becomes very insistent.

On advice from my internet research, I proceed to tell him this was not arranged by our hotel and that I will call them to complain. According to the internet source, these people are more afraid of the tourist police than the actual police, who they usually pay off. He exited for a moment and the driver returned to his seat. Once again, the man enters the car, insisting that we need to come with them or we will not be able to enter. The driver at this point has his head on the steering wheel and I can see he is frustrated but powerless. I finally have enough. I awake from my half slumber and look the gentleman in the eye, and ask him to leave. It is then he starts to plead with me that he needs this money to feed his wife and children. This may be true but this is not the way you go about earning money. I apologise but insist that he leave us alone, politely, very assertively, and repeatedly. He eventually leaves the car, and we drive off. I ask our driver (who has limited English) ‘bad men?’, he says yes and thanks me for getting rid of them. So be warned. I had read about these happenings. They are criminals. They may only take money as payment for a service they are not qualified or officially supposed to do, or they may rob and dump you.

Fatehpur Sikr, outside Agra

Fatehpur Sikr, outside Agra

So after the scare we make it to the car park, from which we did not know how to get to the entrance. It was very badly signposted. We walk briefly past some shops and find a bus with what looks to be tourists inside. We wander over but there is no-one to help. Eventually a man walks over, and asks if he can help. He tells us to board the bus which will take us to the entrance. Nothing for nothing in India he insists I visit his shop on the way back.

We make it to the gates and enter the red-stone walls. We sat for a while in the shade of a tree to enjoy the peace and quiet and to reflect on what just happened. Compared to the Taj, this place was uncrowded and after our road trip, was serenely peaceful. We took our time wandering around the ancient city, not wanting to leave.

Upon exiting, the hassling begins. Thankfully, we were able to watch others being harassed this time. Upon arrival at the car park, our friend was waiting to lead me to his shop. I offered a small donation instead of a visit to the shop, but he was insistent. It was not his store but I look regardless as I was sure he received something just for bringing me in. I found a jewellery box I liked, they said $50au, I offered $5. After an insistent no no on the price, I thanked them and left. Once again I get the ‘I need to feed my kids story’ as I walked away. I apologised but kept walking. He then accepted my offer. I went back and purchased the box, but not after being asked again if I would pay more. I indicated I would leave and he fell silent.

Finally, back in the car and back onto the crazy roads, our very competent driver gets us back to Delhi in one piece and in time for dinner. We thanked him for allowing our innards to remain internally with a substantial tip. There is no way I could have made that drive myself. Many times I saw my head outlined on the front of a truck, only for it to be flashed away with some brilliant driving.

We had a train booked to Jaipur the next morning. With some time to kill we packed our bags into a little car, (which was supposed to be a medium car) and drove to the Jama Masjid located in close proximity to the train station.

At the entrance, Rebecca could not take her shoes off, so they were not going to permit us entry. Thankfully, they allow her in after getting her some shoe covers. We paid and entered, only to be kicked out not long after. It was nice to have a break from the car and to see a Mosque of such grandeur. It is guarded with gusto. The boys shooing people out could have done so a little more politely. With such a large population, crowd control is a must in India I suppose.

Jama Masjid, Delhi

Jama Masjid, Delhi

We were dropped off into the hustle and bustle of the old Delhi train station. What I thought was going to be a nightmare was relatively smooth. We had security scanners to go through, which always creates the sense of peace and relaxation (not). I sent Rebecca through first, and dealt with the bags myself. People were pushing in everywhere, but nobody tried to push in front of me. Maybe I had a look in my eye?

We boarded with ease into the first class cabin and took our seats. We were joined by an Indian businessman, and an elderly Indian woman. They were very quiet and polite, and we all kept to ourselves. I was taking photos, the ladies were reading, some polite talking on the phone, snacking and napping all the way to Jaipur. It was a pleasant ride.

One thing that you can be sure to see when catching the train is abject poverty. The slums line the tracks. It looks like the shacks would not withstand a stiff breeze. The people I saw looked happy enough. I suppose there is an acceptance of your location in life. There is a caste system that is inherent in Indian society which is starting to break down but with so many people, this will take time. I can see why people try hard to leave India, start anew and climb out of whatever caste they were born into.

Let me sidebar again. We went to purchase alcohol last night in Melbourne. At the register ahead of us were Indian gents making their purchase, rather sheepishly. I guess they are from a province where it is forbidden to sell or drink alcohol. So for them, they are breaking what they have always been taught is the law. Probably in addition to disobeying their parents. It is hard to break with what you have been taught your whole life. I was proud of them for stepping out of their comfort zone. Although I hope someone teaches them about moderation.

We pull into Jaipur station, and as we depart the train the tallest Indian man I have ever seen, offers to help with our bags. I agree after a small negotiation. We tell him taxi, but he leads us to the car park, to a man who has a fan club of giggling morons and the tall man walks us to this gents car. We negotiate with giggling fan club man as we follow tall guy who has our bags hostage on his head. I pay the large man and he leaves us to be extorted. I have enough and start to walk off with our bags. The driver drops his price to a reasonable amount and we accept. He was pleasant enough. He gives us his card and makes a good offer to taxi us around the next day, but with a large crack in the windscreen I was not feeling too safe in that car.

We had two nights at the Samode Haveli. They were booked out for the three nights we were in Jaipur. So we spent the last night in the Alsisar Haveli.

Samode was high class. A lot of strong ‘I was born into money’ English accents and the like were to be heard when dining. The Haveli was immaculately kept and very beautiful. The room was comfortable the shower one of the best I had in India.

We booked a car the next morning, which was not cheap but of a very good quality. Our driver drove right up to the front door of the Amer Fort, which is not usual practice, but our driver used Rebecca’s disability to get us up there. And glad we were. It would have been hard for Rebecca to climb, especially in the heat.

Amer Palace, Jaipur

Amer Fort, Jaipur

I enjoyed the fort. It was not over crowded, although there were people everywhere, and there was so much to explore. You could easily get lost within its many tunnelled walls and myriad of stair cases. I did so while Rebecca sat and rested, at which time I was approached by a young man who was sweeping. He offered to show me a good place for photos. I accepted and followed. After many steps and a stop or two on the way to take more photos, we arrive at a high location where you could look down into the valley below and a different fort above. I tipped him and made my way back to Rebecca.

We wandered around slowly, and managed to get around rather easily. There were many ways of getting up and down with gently sloping ramps. We had a coffee at the cafe after which Rebecca spotted a shop she had read about that was fair trade. So, after the purchase of a few scarves, we left, but not without the purchase of some non fair trade puppets on the way to the car.

 Jaipur City Palace, Jaipur

Jaipur City Palace, Jaipur

We asked the driver to take us to lunch somewhere traditional, and not expensive. I was a little more assertive in this request, and it was granted. On the way to lunch we stopped by Man Sagar Lake for a few photo’s of the Jal Mahal.

After a lovely lunch, we made our way to Jaipur City Palace. One of the things the camera loves about India is the colour. As dirty and dusty as Rajasthan is, the use of colour is extraordinary. The City Palaces pink, orange, browns and sometimes greens, exemplifies this.

Before retiring for the night, we had just enough time to visit the Jantar Mantar, just next door to the Palace. The Jantar Mantar is a collection of architectural astronomical instrument. We only had an hour or so, but it was well worth the entry fee.

Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

The following day we were to change hotels, which was a little bit of a disaster. The previous day the driver and car were exceptional. Now that we were leaving, for the same price we received a crap car and average driver. Not even in a fancy hotel are they to be trusted. In addition to this it was a public holiday. On Republic day, most things are closed. The sights we wanted to see were closed, or we were not permitted entry. Eventually we were taken to a garden on the outskirts of town, the location and name escape me, as by this time Rebecca and I were rather frustrated. It was a nice small garden. We had wasted enough time and went to the Alsisar Haveli.

Upon arrival, we were given a sub standard room. I suspect they were just trying to be nice to Rebecca as the room was on the ground floor. But with no running hot water, a damp smell, and considering we already paid for a superior room, I requested we get what we paid for. They tell me it’s a few stair flights up and I tell them this is no bother. After a length of time, our wish was granted, and although several flights of steps had to be negotiated, the room was far superior.

Alsisar Haveli, Jaipur

Alsisar Haveli, Jaipur

We had lunch and hung around the hotel relaxing before dinner. At one point Rebecca returns to our room in a bad mood. She tells me a man had approached and was asking about her disability. She had lectured him abruptly about asking such things and retreated. I came across the same fellow, and after a chat, found that he was the resident masseur. He apologises regarding his question. After telling Rebecca, we end up inviting him to give us both a deep tissue massage. It was painful but very relaxing. He was very observant about Rebecca’s condition and her posture or lack thereof. Just by doing your feet, he could tell your ailments. We had a great chat about cricket during which h tells me he had massaged the Australian cricket team. He liked Glen McGrath and Jason Gillespie though he was not a fan of Sachin Tendulkar. He said he was rude, and did not do enough with his wealth for the Indian people.

We had dinner and rested as the next day we were meeting up with Hardeep.

Next morning we had a little trouble but eventually found Hardeep and boarded a bus Hardeep had hired for our journey to Kota. Then we were treated to several laps of Jaipur, trying to find Hardeep’s sister’s hotel. Evidently, like the Japanese, Indians do not like to say no, so they will send you in any old direction even if they have no idea. We found the hotel, had breakfast there and boarded the bus headed for Kota. It was a bumpy trip, but we sat down the back of the bus like we were back at high school and caught up with Hardeep and Eddie over a few whiskies.

We made it to Kota in time for dinner, where all the men gathered and went out for a drink. In a dry town, it was not easy. We found a place that would permit drink for a price. There was not much to eat, but we managed a drink. The Indian boys got fed up with management and we left. The ladies got a good feed in the hotel, which made my stomach jealous.

Next morning we had breakfast in the hotel, and the pampering of Hardeep began, much to his disappointment. I enjoyed watching. Shortly after we suited up, crossed the busy road, went under the smelly bridge to the temple. The temple was on the second floor of a standard city building which again was to my surprise. We sat on the floor and waited. The bride arrives and the ceremony began. It went much quicker than I anticipated and next thing we know we are back over the road to have reception number one. There was a lot of banging of drums on the way to and back from the temple, and before entering the reception, there was more music.

Our MC, the Kamahl lookalike.

Our MC, the Kamahl lookalike.

Inside we sit for introductions and entertainment headed by a Kamahl lookalike.  Intelligently all the Indian people sat as far away as possible from the stage, where the westerners had no choice but to locate themselves. We joined in the fun and frolics with the band and dancers. Why the hell not. No one really knew whom we were and it was unlikely they would ever see us again. Eddie was having the most fun. He knows why.

We ate a vegetarian meal, drank soft drink and chatted. The couple cut the cake, danced, and called it a afternoon, for that night, meat and alcohol was to be had at reception number two. We had a little sleep and a shower, and boarded the bus to the second reception.

Sidebar. I have damaged my hearing over the years. My ears pop with pain when the music is too loud. At a large concert it might happen once or twice, which is tolerable. But unfortunately, for me, the music was so loud, even when sat as far away as we could from the speakers I had to plug my ears to stop the pop, and the pain. These Indians like to party! I was told not be a party pooper. The music was eventually turned down to a level that did not give me too much trouble thanks to Hardeeps request.

We had a great night drinking Indian whiskey. This has to be mixed with cola. We chatted, laughed, and got very drunk. Rebecca asked for beer, which was a mistake she later regretted, and so did I. The night ended and we boarded the bus home. Hardeep’s new wife found out what a drunk husband is like and we heard she had to nurse him till morning. I also found that it was only the second time they had met in person. I was astounded as this was not an arranged marriage. I later found out they had been Skyping for over two years before meeting, which is where they fell in love. Romance over the internet. They are still together, both very entrepreneurial, and maintain a relationship over the distance from India to the UK. Quite astounding.

The bus ride home was fun. We got lost again, but found our way back. During this time, the beer had set in and Beck was no fun to be around. It was a few hours before we also got to have any sleep. The next morning we were both hung over and Beck was rather sheepish.

The holiday must go on! A car was arranged for Eddie, Beck and I and a smooth ride was had to Udaipur. We found our hotels, and met Eddie for dinner. Dinner was had at our hotel. We stayed at the Jagat Niwas Palace which is right on the lake. We dined on the roof taking in the view over the lake. The meal was of a high quality and we had a cocktail or two over some great conversation.

City Palace Udaipur

City Palace Udaipur

I awoke early the next day and wandered the narrow streets. It was a beautiful morning. The weather pleasant and the sun just starting to poke up over the horizon. We found a little place to have a cup of tea and breakfast after which we made our way very slowly to the City Palace Udaipur.

Once inside the palace grounds the gardens are very peaceful, so we sat and let Rebecca rest for a while before entering. Once inside you follow a proscribed path. It was one of the better sights we visited. Many internal views were on display and the palace has a style I had not seen before. I read it was a fusion of the Rajasthani and Mughal architectural styles. A must see if you are in town. It was not crowded and Rebecca made her way round rather easily. We did stop off and take a break now and again. That evening Rebecca returned to the room to rest and I went out to photograph Udaipur at sunset.

Bridge in Udaipur

Bridge in Udaipur

That night we had dinner with Hardeep’s family over the lake at Ambrai restaurant which was of a high standard. Once back at the hotel the ladies and gents split. We had a few whiskeys in one of our hotel rooms and the ladies had some tea in the reception hall. Ed and I had a good chat with Hardeep’s brother in law and his father. I had a good time and the boys were great company.

Next day was a slow one as Rebecca’s leg was playing up. We had to make our way through the palace to catch a boat ride round the lake and over to the Taj Lake Palace. I enjoyed the boat ride. I could have forgone the Lake Palace. It was nothing special. I gather it is very nice if you can afford to stay and see the internals of the building.

We dined in the hotel again that night, as we were leaving the next day.

Streets of Udaipur

Streets of Udaipur

Rebecca awoke to sickness. We were to leave our bags at reception and explore until it was time to catch the overnight train back to Delhi. We ended up hiring a room for Rebecca to rest in while I went to explore with my camera, getting myself lost and found in the process.

The train ride to Delhi was OK. We had some good company, and ate the on-train meal for dinner. We should have noticed that our fellow passengers passed on this offer. The meal was lukewarm and Rebecca did not eat much, which was good as I was the next to fall to illness. I had thought myself invincible. If I was thinking straight, I would have not eaten the train meal as it was obviously not cooked properly. I awoke in the night feeling rather ill, and to a bad smell. (more on the smell later) Upon arrival in Delhi we took a taxi back to Bnineteen for our last night in India. I was in need of a lie down, but our room was not ready, and we had to wait downstairs where the smell of fresh paint was evident.

Needless to say, our last day in India was a sad one. I was very ill and I received a message that my grandfather had passed. So sick or not I was determined to return home. We requested some medication from the hotel staff and they obliged. The first pills temporarily rid me of nausea. The second lot (which after looking up on the internet are given to cancer patients for nausea after chemotherapy) did the trick and we left for home. I had a pill before we left the hotel, and another shortly after the plane departed. I had a good nap all the way to Kuala Lumpur airport, after feeling a little trippy.

Once in the lounge at KL airport I was feeling better, and was in need of a shower. I could have a shower. But with no hot water? Why did I need a shower? I smelt. A change of shirt helped. I thought it was just me but when we arrived back in Melbourne and opened the bags, we found where the smell was coming from. Everything in the bags smelt like diesel. I suspect in the overnight train back to Delhi our cabin filled with diesel smell. Rebecca was already sick and I was getting sick so we did not notice. It must have permeated into the bags. Most of the smells came out in the wash, but some things were bound with the rubbish bin, and others needed a bake in the hot Melbourne sun. India followed us home, like a bad smell.

We chose the train as our form of transport believing that we would experience a more authentic India. We did.

A word of advice, get a driver. Or take your Indian friends recommendation and fly.

I have noticed that this category is a bit empty. I will attempt to start adding a few more.

If you love beer then Belgium is a must.

And if you love Belgium beer then De Garre will be top of the visit list.

Last time I visited you could not purchase the beer outside the bar. You must visit and then they allow you to purchase bottles to take home with you.

But before you do that, have a fresh glass, and have some cheese with it. They will most probably bring it out to you. The beer and the cheese that is.

Not only is the beer good but the atmosphere is relaxed and very quaint, much like Brugge itself.

This beer is in my top 10 beer I have tasted globally.

Fair warning, the beer in around 11%, although it does not taste like it.

De Garre beer and cheese.

De Garre beer and cheese.

I have never attended a wedding overseas. Out of nowhere I had two. The first was in Macau to celebrate the wedding of Terry and Carolina. The second was in India to celebrate with Hardeep and Sonia.  Both in the span of four months.

We flew Premium Economy with Qantas. It was OK. Seats are adequate and the meals good quality. But on the way to Hong Kong we sat next to business men who had friends in business class. One of their friends decidedt four in the morning would be a good time to come and talk loudly, disturbing everybody in premium economy. Inconsiderate? A few hours later I was eating muesli, when a filling popped out. It was one of my front teeth, I was the best man, the wedding was the next day. I was not impressed. I looked like a true Collingwood supporter. (For those foreign to Australian Rules Football, Collingwood fans are depicted all too often with teeth missing)

Houses in Macau

Houses in Macau

As soon as we landed at 6am I rang Terry. Carolina’s mother Sonia then arranged a visit to the dentist. We had to wait for the 10am ferry to Macau, and by the time we had arrived at Sonia’s house it was past midday. We had time for lunch after which Sonia and I left for the dentist.

Sonia and I squeezed onto a full bus. On the way there, with her limited English Sonia tells me ‘dentist very, ummmmm, messy, but good dentist’. OK. I trust you Sonia. We arrived in town and made our way up a few flights of stairs above a shopping street, and enter a lone door.

My surroundings? Let me just say had Sonia not escorted me there, I may have walked out. It was very messy, the walls a little dirty, and the equipment a kickback from the seventies. Sonia left and I was alone with the Dentist. No nurse? Cool. He gave me two options, temporary fill like the one I had, or full root canal and I had to come back tomorrow. I explained I had a wedding to attend the next day, so the filling will do. We chatted about Melbourne. He had relatives there and in Sydney. Doesn’t everyone?

Signage in Macau

Sign in Macau

Sonia was right, he did a great job, with a small amount of pain killer and no nurse. What a dude. I did not have to pay a cent. He told me it was a favor for Sonia. This guy came in on his day off as well! I thanked him and departed.

I had to wait for Terry to come pick me up. I waited and walked around Senado Square for a few hours. Terry had taken the wrong bus and ended up at the Chinese border. He took a taxi from there to make sure he was headed in the right direction. We went to the entrance of a casino to get return taxi. By this time it was getting rather late. We had time to get to the hotel, change, have a shower and go out to dinner.

Our accommodation on Macau was the Pousada De Coloane. The wedding reception was also taking place there. It was reasonably priced, the pool was good, and the room clean and neat. The beds were a little hard but comfortable and the food in the restaurant very tasty and affordable. Looking back it was a great place to stay. It was not too far from central Macau, and it was out of the way enough that we escaped the hustle and bustle of the casinos and we were right next to the beach. We had our own little piece of serenity. Highly recommend it if you are going to Macau. Unless you love casinos in which case forget about it. Not a slot machine or roulette table in sight.

Dinner that night was close by and attended by the immediate family and us. We had a great time drinking and eating. Rebecca and I felt more than welcome. A little too welcome as a matter of fact, as the next morning we had regretted the frivolity.

A couple of pain killers later I am up and dressed and make my way over to give Terry some support. Plus I needed someone to do my tie.

Terry was, to put it bluntly, wetting his trousers. Keep in mind he is already married, in a civil union back in England. But this was different. Terry was not brought up with religion and a church is a foreign and rather daunting place. Terry, I hope I did my job as best man by settling you down. I think we ended up having a laugh of two which always calms the nerves.

The drive to the church was a little squeezed and confused (don’t ask), and after some sweaty armpits we arrived.

A few I do’s and a prayer of two later the wedding was over, and it was photo time. I think the photo session inside and outside the church was longer than the ceremony itself.

Back at the hotel there was some time before the main reception started, so we were able to have a few beers and a shower to freshen up before the main event.

The reception was great. We had a great time and met some new people. Two things surprised me. There were no names on the tables indicating your place to sit. I am not sure if this was a cultural thing or not. What was cultural though, was the karaoke. The band was good, very good. I appreciate a good wedding band. It’s not often you get that. As the night wore on, the perfect pitch of our guests getting up to sing declined. At which such time the western gents retreated to the bar.

We sat up late that night with Debbie, Bel, Terry, Carolina and Adelina. There is nothing quite like being in a foreign place but feeling so welcome and relaxed after such an occasion. I will never forget being there with them. Thanks guys for making me feel a part of your celebration.

For some strange reason I could not sleep very well. Maybe it was from all the excitement, not to mention the alcohol. Who knows? So early morning I got up, grabbed my camera and ventured outside. Carolina’s Uncle Edmundo was out sitting enjoying the morning air, with his cigarette and a coffee. I sat with him over and chatted over a coffee. Edmundo then told me a lot about Macau, its history and how it’s changing. He was also a keen photographer, and noting my SLR offered to take me into a little village close by. I believe the village was called Coloane. Not 100% sure. After a short bus trip, we wandered around town. From the coast you look over the water to China. I learnt a lot about the ever changing Macau that morning, and a little family history as well. It was a rare morning for me. I thank you very much for you time Edmundo. Little things like that will always remain prominent in my memory.

Houses in Macau

Houses in Macau

Not much else happened that day. We went out for dinner later that night with Bel and Debbie after which we ventured  into one of the Casino’s. The Venetian. So garish. A robust discussion was had about casinos that night between Belly and I. It was good to have a discussion where two people on opposing sides are able to discuss and debate without losing respect for one another. Much appreciated Belly.

The Venetian Casino

The Venetian Casino

Terry and Carolina were available the next day. Or should we say not indisposed. They took us around Macau to see some of the more historical sites. A-Ma temple was our first stop. Terry and I climbed the hill and the girls stayed below. Becks leg was giving her a little grief and Carolina was looking after Lavina in the pram. Not the most awe inspiring temple I have been to but worth a stop.

Next we took a taxi, eventually, to the Mandarin House. We spent a lot of time here. I was fascinated by the layout and architecture. Nestled among the taller buildings, tucked away in a little street on the hill. Somehow this place was serene. It was a small, ancient complex. A great place for us to relax, talk and for Lavina to play.

View from the Mandarin House

View from the Mandarin House

It was getting late. The sun was going down. And the best place to see the island from was the ancient Monte Fortress which houses the Macau Museum. It was dark, we could not see much, and it was closing time. We left shortly after an argument with the elevator Nazi who made Beck walk the steep cobble stoned slope, instead of taking the lift.

Upon leaving the fort we wandered down the hill and after some antics on the public gym equipment we went down to see the ruins of St. Pauls, then continued on down the hill into Senado Square where I had spent hours waiting for Terry a few days previous. It’s a nice walk with the old Spanish colonial buildings lining the street, and the ladies loved the shops.

We were to depart for Hong Kong the next day, but before we left we had a final lunch of yum cha with Carolina’s mother and father. The place was packed, and I gave everything a try. As far as I remember I don’t think I passed anything up. That afternoon we boarded a ferry and took a cruise over to Kowloon upon which Terry had some interesting noodles. I passed them up for a sandwich. I would have fallen asleep had I indulged myself.

Rebecca and I splashed out for the few days we were staying on Kowloon in one of the cheaper rooms at Hotel Icon. We arrived by taxi and were well looked after. In our room we relaxed and took a shower before meeting Terry and Carolina for dinner. It was a nice room. I recommend it. A very well designed building with a cavernous entrance containing the reception and bar. A welcome change to the poky entrances to most hotels we have stayed at.

 Kowloon skyscraper

Kowloon skyscraper

Dinner that night was cheap and traditional, and delicious. Noodles were to be had by all, including Lavina. For desert we stopped off for some ice-cream. Some interesting choices with American size servings. We were met by one of Terry’s friends whom Terry informs me is a pop star in Hong Kong. Nice bloke. Forget his name. We left the famous people to lap up the limelight and headed to bed.

The next day there was a lot of walking to be done. Needless to say Rebecca stopped off a few times to rest her leg. After waiting for the arrival of Terry and Carolina during which I got very hungry and ate from a street stall, (I will get back to that later) we wandered down the Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade, down the Avenue of Stars on which we knew only a few of the persons listed in the pavement, except for Jackie Chan and the statue of Bruce Lee.

Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade

Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade

After spending some time at the Kowloon Public Pier, shopping was the call for the rest of the day. First at the Ocean Terminal, and then in Kowloon town, where, by the time Rebecca had finally purchased a few leather bags, my feet were killing me and I was so hungry that anger set in. I think I contained myself quite well considering the last shop she was in for over an hour! One shop! She was still there after going for a wonder looking in shops by myself! We ate dinner in the hotel that night. No way was I going out to find a restaurant! Low and behold all of a sudden Becks leg was killing her. Talk about timing. But I digress.

Kowloon construction

Kowloon construction

We had breakfast the next morning in the hotel with Terry and Carolina as we bid them farewell on their trip to enjoy a beach in Thailand somewhere (if I remember correctly). Mean while Beck and I had booked an apartment on Honk Kong Island.

Having one backpack and a large suitcase with us, eventually took its toll on me. Upon arriving at our apartment on Hong Kong Island my back went out. It was giving me a lot of pain. I ventured out onto Queens Road West to find myself a massage parlour. No, not the kind you’re thinking! After an hour of deep tissue massage and a walk on my back, I was back on my feet, feeling a little better but cautious. After a rest and refresh, we used goggle maps to find a place to dine. Becks leg was hurting and my back tender, so we found the closest place with the best reviews, and like a pair of invalids, slowly wandered up a few streets to dinner at Serenade.

Hong Kong grafiti

Hong Kong graffiti

It specialises in seafood. I was hungry so I had a steak. A very nice soft steak and we had oysters as an entrée. The staff was very friendly and the atmosphere relaxing. Highly recommend it.

That night, I got the sweats, and the toilet became my friend. That sausage I mentioned I had consumed a few days earlier? We could not think of anything else I consumed that Rebecca did not. I gave Rebecca the other half of the sausage, and she gave it back to me. She said it smelt. I put it down to cultural differences. But just maybe it was bad. So the next day I spent in bed and Rebecca rested her leg. Regaining my composure and drugged up a little we left the apartment that evening.

Cat on a rope

Cat on a rope

We wandered over to take a ride on the street escalator. Starting at Cochrane Street we travelled up past Hollywood Road and up into the tourist district where all the western yobs, Bogans and all manner of suited up people could be found. We found a Japanese bar and stopped off for some sake, beer and snacks. We people watched for a bit, contemplated never coming back there ever again and called it a night. We wandered down to Hollywood Road and caught a taxi back to the apartment. Back at the apartment, I paid the taxi driver and got out. As he drove off, looking in my bag for the apartment keys I noticed my wallet missing. Not missing. Gone! It was last seen when retrieving the apartment complex business card out of my wallet to inform the non English speaking driver our destination. Upon entering the taxi, I placed the wallet between my legs, then helped Rebecca to find her seatbelt, which was not able to be located. I must have forgotten to put my wallet away after.

We were duly helped to file a police report for insurance purposes by reception, and that night I either placed a hold or cancelled my cards. I was in hope that the taxi driver was a Good Samaritan. The wallet did have the apartment’s card inside, so hopefully someone would find it and get in contact with reception.

Smoke break

Smoke break

As we were exiting the next morning the receptionist tells us a Hong Kong resident had found the wallet in the taxi, and had waited until the morning to call reception as she was a little intoxicated the previous night. The receptionist lived nearby to this lovely person, would pick the wallet up that night and deliver it to me the next day. So that morning was spent shopping to purchase a little present for the receptionist and a larger present for the Good Samaritan.

After shopping we wandered down to the tram stop. This particular tram transverses the whole north side of the island. It is a good way to see a lot without walking. We travelled all the way to the end and departed at Shau Kei Wan Terminus. We wandered up the street to see a little temple, which was closed and wandered back to sit outside the Shau Kei Wan metro station to have a snack and rehydrate. While I was off getting snacks, Beck was being abused by some old local man. The locals were not engaging this guy, so we figured him for the town nut job, and just ignored him. I guess Beck was a good target, being the only westerner in the vicinity and sitting alone. He stayed away after I joined her. We took the MTR back into town.

View from the Tram

View from the Tram

Departing the train at Admiralty station, we found it very difficult (as did some others) to get over to Hong Kong park. You could not see the park, but you knew it was close. Not wanting to drag Rebecca and her sore leg too far in the wrong direction we caught a cab. Thankfully there was no argument about the short trip, and if he had taken the long way round we would not have minded. Plenty of people leaving the park to pick up I suppose.

Hong Kong Park is well worth a visit. There are tea rooms and a tea museum. The museum of tea ware was quite intriguing. I spent a lot of time admiring the new and old tea sets. Do not ask me why. I suppose it is just amazing how artistic a utensil can get. After a long day, we had dinner in a Vietnamese restaurant a few doors down from the apartment, which was reasonable, and called it a night.

Hong Kong Park

Hong Kong Park

The next morning my wallet was returned and Beck’s leg was feeling a little better, so we explored locally. I ran up and down a ridiculous amount of stairs taking photos, and Beck did some snapping of her own and some shopping. To avoid a repeat injury to my back we went shopping for another rolling suitcase. Found a nice bargain down what Beck called the Filipino street. Apparently there are a lot of housemaids from the Philippines and we went wandering down their shopping street on their only day off. It was a little congested and off putting for the amputee, but after a little haggling we left happy with our purchase. Not too long after Becks leg was causing her pain so we took it easy for the rest of the day. Dinner was had on Gough Street, but I cannot seem to find the place we ate at. It was OK. It could be one of the restaurants that has changed nine times since its incarnation.

Crossing on Hong Kong Island

Crossing on Hong Kong Island

The hop on, hop off bus tour was the call of the following day. Rebecca needed to stay off her leg, and we needed to see more of Hong Kong. It was a beautiful day so we sat atop the bus, took in a little vitamin D and snapped happily from the elevated position. The bus travels around the West part of the island from North to South. The South part of the Island is filled with beach resorts. It was a very nice day for a wander on the beach but we stayed on the bus and returned to the big smoke up North. We did hop off briefly to take a ride on an overpriced boat ride in Aberdeen Harbour. I say overpriced as we were on the boat maybe 15 minutes at the most, while the next bus was nearly a half hour away.  It was good to get off the bus regardless.

Apartment buildings Hong Kong Island

Apartment buildings Hong Kong Island

That night we had another great meal, this time at Basement. I had another great steak along with a fancy bottle of red. It had great atmosphere. Dark enough that you could enjoys each other’s company without feeling like you’re in a large room filled with people.

Our last day we were up early to get the forty five degree vertical tram up to The Peak. Trust that on our last day it was overcast and windy. We got blown a bit, but worth a look. It was very touristy. On a good clear night I would have loved to be there with my camera and a tripod. The tram ride was good fun.

Perspective Hong Kong Island

Perspective Hong Kong Island

This brings me to the end of our journey. One we may not have had had it not been for Terry and Carolina’s wedding. I find you always get nice surprises when you have no expectations before your journey. It was great to spend a little time with old friends and makes me miss them all the more, and reinforces the importance of travel and living in another country once in your life. All the people I have met have made an impact on me and who I am today. I thank you all for being a part of my life, and I hope to meet many more of you.

Happy travels people.

Cat in a shop window

Cat in a shop window

P.S. – A word on the photography. The images reflect the way I feel in an international city like Hong Kong. Hong Kong for me was like New York. There was form and color, texture and line. I enjoyed it immensely from a photographic sense. But unlike New York, it was very alien, which is reflected by the images of the cats.

Once again it has been too long between writing. Somehow here in Melbourne the motivation to write and take photographs escapes me. But here I sit nonetheless, and I will recall a wonderful trip to Japan as best I can.

My cousin Tyron has been looking forward to our company in Japan for many years. When living in the UK, Japan seemed so far away. Europe is at your door! So we never made the trip. Seeing as we were back in Australia, for our first trip overseas from Melbourne, Japan seemed the logical choice.

Sidenote. From the time of Rebecca’s accident, this was our first overseas trip. We were both nervous and apprehensive. We have travelled together quite extensively. This would be the first time with Rebecca’s disability.

That said we splashed out on business class on Malaysian airlines. We were worried about Rebecca’s stump swelling rendering her unable to walk. To have the room to move about freely to avoid swelling and the ability to elevate her stump was of importance. Malaysian business is one of the cheapest and not the best, but compared to economy class we have forever endured, it was heaven.

Streets of Tokyo

Streets of Tokyo

Arriving at Tokyo airport we were to catch a train to Tokyo city. After buying a ticket and contacting my cousin Ty, we had an hour wait. We finally did board the train. But just as the train doors closed and the train began to move, Rebecca looks at me and yelps ‘my CRUTCHES!!!’.

We had crutches for Rebecca to get around town with. When removing the luggage from the trolley to head downstairs to catch the train, we had left them on the trolley. (It’s not something I am used to grabbing. I usually grab the bags, and we are off). We did sit downstairs for a good ten minutes before the train arrived, neither of us having realised what was missing. First lesson on travelling with a disability – make sure you have all your gear!

Thankfully we were staying with Ty and Risa, who organised some crutches to hire, and in the mean time the physio across the road leant Rebecca a pair free of charge until the hire crutches arrived. We purchased them a few beers as thanks when returning the crutches. On return of the crutches many thanks and pleasantries were exchanged. There was a lot of bowing going on.

We are very lucky to have my cousin in Tokyo who accommodated us in his apartment with his lovely wife Risa. On arrival we had a refreshing shower in the wet room, and relaxed until the pair returned home from work.

Everything seems relatively familiar in Japan, until you enter the wet room. The room contains the bath and shower, sealed off from the rest of the apartment. The room is like a pod where you can wet everything and not have to worry about drying up afterwards. The next oddity, in which most visitors to Japan will mention, is the automated toilet. I was enjoying this so much I would greet the toilet as it opened its mouth for me to do my business. “Hello toilet” I would acknowledge on entry.

Our first day in Japan Tyron and Risa drove us around town. Rebecca’s father had made a request for a souvenir from the Okura hotel where he once stayed on business. So after our first, but not the last, vending machine coffee, we were off. Tyron was not impressed with the Okura Hotel, mainly because it has remained true to the original interior design of the sixties. My camera and Rebecca on the other hand were rather enjoying the surroundings. A bit like the Barbican in London, it has a shape and style that smiles at me, and somehow urges me to relax, all the while getting me completely lost at the same time.

Lunch in the shopping district of Harajuku was next on the list. Rebecca did some present shopping and we had Spanish for lunch, looking down on all the fashionista prancing up and down the shopping high street.

That night, it was Christmas night. Tyron cooked a wonderful meal and we sat with Risa and his friends Phillip and Gladys. We got merry, ate very well, and santa even decided to pay a visit. Risa was very fresh with santa, and Ty had suddenly disappeared!

On the day after Christmas everything is still open in Japan. Ty drove us around again. After the obligatory can of coffee from the vending machine of Georgia Max we were off.

First stop the Venusfort shopping complex. I think Tyron wanted to show us just how cheesy the Japanese could actually get. This is a large shopping complex built in the like of Venice, Italy. Fake sky included. To prove just how cheesy they could be there was an exhibition of clothes. Not just any clothes, clothes worn by some Japanese boy band. The young fashionista were lined up around the corner swooning over dressed up mannequins in their like. Lined up I tell you! We had lunch at a cheesy Italian restaurant to finish off the random cheese.

Venusfort, Tokyo

Inside the Venusfort, Tokyo

The next stop was Ginza shopping district. We wandered down the main street that is at times closed off to traffic enabling you to walk on the road and shop to your heart’s content. The architecture was of most interest to me, while Beck found a paper shop in the base of a building which Tyron tells me is the most expensive piece of real estate in Tokyo. If I was to shop in Tokyo, I would probably go back there. Of all the shopping streets it was the most casual and visually stimulating.

That night we had Korean BBQ. We enjoyed tongue and liver to go with the regular beef. And yes Ty, Risa does drink beer.

Ginza shopping district, Tokyo

Walking down the Ginza shopping district, Tokyo

The following day we let our feet do the walking. The Tokyo underground was our mode of transport. A word of warning for those taking the Tokyo underground; there are two companies that require two separate ticket types. Ty neglected to mention this to us due to the fact that he did not know. How long have you been living in Tokyo Ty?

The Tokyo underground and overall train system is impressive. Not only is it efficient, but it’s clean, warm, and you do not get people with loud music or chatting loudly on their phones. Why? Because it’s rude! You are permitted to do these things, but discreetly. What bliss. Oh and those warm seats on a cold day. Heaven.

Our first of many temple visits was the Sensoji Temple. A small walk from the station, but Rebecca’s leg was playing up, so it was rather a long walk in the end, with a few rest breaks on the way. The temple was crowded as it’s holiday season, but remarkable all the same. The construction of the temple fascinated me most; the huge overhangs and intricate shapes of the timbers.

Sensoji Temple, Tokyo

One of the many structures at the Sensoji Temple, Tokyo

Another source of fascination was the ritual. You pay your money, and you grab a large container which contains several sticks. You shade the container and a stick will find its way out. You read the stick and go to the corresponding drawer where you will find a piece of paper where I gather your fortune is written. Fortune a plenty I suppose.

Lunch was in a little cafe down a side street. A lot of old time locals inside by all accounts. This was the first chance to get Japanese food as Ty does not eat Japanese! While we found it difficult to order, we managed and had a great authentic Japanese meal.

With Rebeccas leg sore, we returned to the apartment. Dinner was had at a little Japanese restaurant down the road. (Which we later were told was featured in a Japanese TV soap). The menu was simple and once again a little difficult to order. The meal was as good as the meal earlier in the day, it was cheap and satisfying. A very homely atmosphere a bit like your grandmother was waiting, and grandfather was in the kitchen, cooking away.

Rebecca and I always like a good garden, so the next day we visited the Rikugien Garden, or ‘the six poems’ garden. In a city of rush and bustle there we found natural beauty and peace. Being winter the colours were not so striking, but a great place for the colours of Autumn.

Rikugien Garden, Tokyo

Inside the Rikugien Garden, Tokyo

We had time that day to venture to the National Museum area just outside of Ueno station. The Museums were closed. I did though admire some architecture.

That night for dinner was shabu shabu with Risa and Tyron. Risa proceeded to stuff herself silly so much so she felt sick. This meal was delicious and fun. Beck, Risa and I had a variety of different parts of the cow again. Big fan of the tongue I am. Dipping and cooking n two broths in a big yin yang pot. Great fun.

Next day we took the train to the Imperial Palace with a view to wander the gardens. It also was closed due to the public holiday. Rebecca’s leg was once again grieving her so we headed home.

Tokyo, Tokyo

Intersection near the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Tokyo

That night we met Risa’s family for dinner. Her mother, father (Ken, not Keng Beck!) and brother treated us in one of Ken’s restaurants, where we had some great conversation, and brilliant food. By the end of the night, Risa was all translated out. Such a great time was had, we were invited to dinner once more before we left Japan which we dually accepted.

Before heading off to Kyoto, our last day in Tokyo, Ty once again drove us around town. His big idea was to visit the fashion central of Tokyo, Shibuya 109. While I am no big fan of Chapel Street in Melbourne or Oxford Street in London, these places must be seen to be believed. And the Japanese, always take it one step further.

In Shibuya , and more of interest to me was the famous scramble intersections. I most remember it from the film Baraka, when time is accelerated. With Beck in tow, it was a little daunting crossing, but we managed. Ty told us the trick is not to look anyone in eye, just walk straight through.

Shabuya, Tokyo

Streets of Shibuya, Tokyo

Driving to Harajuku, we walked through forest like gardens to the Meiji Jingu Shrine. Along the path lines of Sake barrels were in waiting for the coming festival. A peaceful walk and magnificent shrine.

Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo

Inside the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo

The next day was New Years Eve, and Beck and I took off for Hiroshima. Being a public holiday, every person and their cat was in a rush for their train. Surprisingly, for the amount of people that were in the station, we had very little grief. After finding our train and waiting back from the allocated entrance point, people began lining up next to us. We were first to arrive. So polite! This is a first. I am used to people pushing in, not give a rats ass about anyone else. It was not only surprising, but relaxing. How much stress do we apply by not being simply polite? Also, I have never understood people’s impatience to board any form of transport where your seat is allocated. What is your rush? You are going to sit down, and it is not going to leave without you. Calm the f*&k down!

Tokyo Streets

Bike and old store on a Tokyo street

Before boarding the train a brigade of little ladies in their pink uniforms boarded the train, cleaned it, and turned all the seats around into the direction the train was headed. Pure gold. We passed Mount Fuji on the way to Hiroshima, and several towns blanketed in snow, but fortunately for us Hiroshima’s snow had melted. The last thing Rebecca needed was to navigate slippery slushy streets.

Hiroshima had a slow still feeling like the respects were still being given to this once devastated city. It was the holidays but all the same felt rather subdued. I came down with the flu and spent New Years Eve in bed while Beck surfed around on the internet. New Years Day we made our way to Miyajima to see the gate, as many other Japanese would on their day off. It is also known as the Itsukushima Torri Gate.

Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Gate with the mainland in the distance

I almost enjoyed the journey over to the island more than the gate itself. It is rather a grand and interesting structure, but rather pale in comparison to some other structures. That night not much was open but we did finally settle on a great restaurant, after convincing Rebecca she could get down the stairs, we had a great meal with good sake.

The following day was dedicated to the Hiroshima Memorial Museum. The place is a must go. You can not only feel the needless devastation, but wonder why we bother continuing to build these weapons. If you go to Japan, this museum is a must. Spend the time, soak it all in, and get with the program.

Hiroshima Memorial Museum

One half of the Hiroshima Memorial Museum

That night we ate at Hiroshima train station on our way to Kyoto. The station is bustling. It is equipt with shopping and restaurants. Before we left we had the two dishes that Hiroshima is famous for, Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) at one restaurant and oysters at another. Although full from the okomiyaki, the oysters were a must.

The train to Kyoto was superb as usual. We made our way to the hotel, where we were greeted with a room that was not disability friendly. The Japanese are only just coming to terms with catering for the disabled. The next day we were moved into the disabled room, and the last night we got upgraded to a suite as the disabled room was booked. Rebecca had booked the room but the agent had stuffed the booking up. All’s well that ends well in the end. (Rebecca now has a leg she can use in the shower, so thankfully we do not need to book the disabled rooms.

Kyoto is a temple slash university town. Thinking back now I think I enjoyed this city more than the others. Tokyo was all together too big to take in, but Kyoto was just the opposite.

First temple, Kinkaku-ji.The golden temple. It was another day the Japanese had off, and we had to compete with the crowds. With the Japanese crowds are not a problem, there is no aggravation and everyone waits their turn. I managed to get some good shots, even with the crowds surrounding me. It was alluring. One had the urge to jump the fence and get closer and touch the walls, but I feared concrete walls were in my future if I had chosen this path. Green tea and cake was once again delved upon with a little break in the mini forest. Tranquil.

Kinkaku-ji, Tokyo

The gold surface and gardens at Kinkaku-ji, Tokyo

Ryoan-ji Temple was ventured to next. Once we made our way through the gardens and up to the temple, Rebecca had assumed that she could not proceed inside. Large steps and the wearing of shoes not permissible she had given up. But when I came out, and told her of my fondness for the place, she asked permission to wear the grip sock Ty had given Rebbecca earlier. Permission granted, we like many others sat and took in the serenity. In the end she was glad to have made the effort.

That night we headed up someplace in a taxi. Rebecca had a street in mind, a famous lane way with restaurants. We did find the street, but it was dark, cold, very little light and there was not a soul in sight. We found places that had menus displayed, but they all looked closed, as if we were a little too late. We finally went up an alley where Rebecca spotted a street sign, and a light. As hungry as I was and with Rebecca a little frustrated from walking nowhere and having no clue how to get a taxi back to the hotel, I proceeded through the unopened door. A bell chimed. Another door slid open and we were welcomed in.

The dark alley

Taxi drops us off and its dark and empty

After disposing of our shoes, and wandering past a table of people eating dinner, we were ushered into a room opposite. We were seated on the floor at the sunken bar. Over the most authentic Japanese meal we have ever had we discovered that grandma was behind the bar cooking for us, ably assisted by her daughter, in turn assisted by her daughter who would interpret some English and Japanese via the internet. Those persons we passed in the opposite room were her family sitting down to dinner. I cannot think of anywhere I have been on my travels where such an experience could be had, in such a modern city. With all the laws and paperwork that would have to be trawled through and money spent to arrange such a venture here in Australia, no one would bother. But there we were, in somebody’s house, being cooked for by their grandmother, as perfect strangers, hardly understanding a word each other spoke. The night that at one point looked bleak and isolated, to our surprise turned out to be warm, inviting and delicious.

The next day Beck wanted to go shopping. I tolerated this for a limited amount of time before reminding her of why we travel. Enough said.

That days temple was Kiyomizu-dera. This temple was more of a challenge for Rebecca. There was some frustration shown, but in the end we climbed the hills, travelled up and down the stairs and admired the view of Kyoto and the magnificent structure. A little shopping was done down a street Rebecca had initially refused to go down, where we purchased some unique sake cups and container, as opposed to the main street where all the touristy crap was.

Kiyomizu-dura, Kyoto

Up on the hill looking down on Kyoto at Kiyomizu-dera

That night we travelled down Pontocho to find a good traditional restaurant. Upon finding one we lowered our expectations, assuming the meal to not be as authentic as grandma’s version the night before.  That said we had a surprisingly good meal. It was a Kaiseki or kaiseki-ryōri which is a traditional multi-course Japanese meal. Highly recommended. The alley is very aesthetic, which makes a slow stroll for a photographer’s keen eye a must.

Pontocho, Kyoto

Looking down the street of Pontocho, Kyoto

On the walk back to the hotel I spotted some Belgium beer bottles in the window of an izakaya. So in we go. The beer menu had no such beer. As I had already viewed the bottles in the window I asked the girl about the Belgian beers in the window. She indicated for us to wait and disappeared. English was limited in this establishment. A guy appears with a badge sporting the name Jack. I mention the word Belgium and beer and his eyes light up. That night we spoke the universal language of beer. Love for Belgian beer in particular. Low and behold, the Belgian beers appeared. In addition to the Belgian beer we were treated to some of the back room sake straight from the barrel. Thanks Satoshi .

Jack doing his job, Kyoto

Jack doing his job, Kyoto

Our last day in Kyoto we visited the small monastery complex, Daitoku-ji. Getting there can be a little hard. We took a bus, got off at the right stop, but took a while to find the entry. It’s not obvious. The visit was well worth the time. You need half a day to look through all the temples. Because of the time of year some were closed, so we did not stay too long.

Daitoku-ji, Tokyo

Offerings at Daitoku-ji, Tokyo

Along our travels through the complex we did find a little restaurant. It was very traditional and sitting on the floor was required. The staff found Rebecca a seat that was very low, and although she sat awkwardly, Rebecca was able to sit with me and enjoy the meal. Probably our second most traditional meal next to grandma’s cooking. If you can find it, I suggest you drop in for a meal. It was reasonably priced if I remember rightly.

Having some spare time we then took a taxi to Ginkaku-ji. It was getting on but we did not want to waste our last day. We just made it before closing time. Perched up on the side of a hill, there was still a lot of snow, and we were able to follow a little path reaching up in to the forest where a view of Kyoto was to be had.

Ginkaku-ji, Kyoto

Ginkaku-ji, Kyoto

That night we went back to Satoshi’s bar. A little drunk we did get. Very happy to see us he was. Very sad to leave him we were.

Back to Tokyo the next day and spent the last night in the company of Risa’s family at another fine restaurant. Although this time not much translation was going on as Risa was quite tired. It was great to see them again before we left. Big hugs and pleasantries all round. Next time we visit we look forward to spending New Years with the family.

So there you have it. Our first visit to Japan but by no means the last. We are booked to go again this Christmas and New Years Eve. Yes it has taken nearly two years me to write this. Next task will be to write about the trip to Hong Kong and Macau last October and India last January. I have promised myself that these will be done before we set off once more for Japan.

Daitoku-ji, Tokyo

Path formation at Daitoku-ji, Tokyo

From when we visited Sydney, a year has passed. I know this blog gets little attention, but for my own records and the few friends and family that are interested, I will recall.

Up until I was twenty eight I was living in Melbourne. I never did see Sydney in that time. Darwin, Surfers Paradise, most of Victoria, and my mother refreshes my mind of the time I went to Adelaide, when I was two! It took a wedding invitation to get me up there. I was 36!

The drive from the northern suburbs of Melbourne is not a bad one. It can be done in a day, if you leave early. The drive from town to town is approximately eight hours, which included a stop for lunch in Gundagai.

Our stay was at the Intercontinental Sydney. Not cheap by any means, but a very pleasant stay. No complaints at all. I highly recommend it. The location, right next to Circular Quay was superb. From there, I was able to go for several walks around the Quay and the Rocks, while leaving Rebecca to rest her leg and a half at the hotel. We ate in our room the first night, including a lunch on a lazy day. The food was excellent.

Opera House

Opera House – you just have to, you know?

Our first day included a harbour cruise. I highly recommended it. On this cruise you see where Sydney leaves Melbourne for dust. The reason Melbourne has so much culture is because it is basically a boring, rather ugly, unappealing city. You find beauty in Melbourne down individual streets and alleys, and at a few parks. Sydney on the other hand seems to have beauty in abundance. Visually it has more history and natural beauty. The city has a bit of history around every corner and you always feel like the water is a block away.

House in Sydney Harbour

House in Sydney Harbour

That night we met our old London comrades at the Belgium Beer Cafe at the Rocks. Not dissimilar to the one in Melbourne, where the beer is excellent and food is good (not great, just good). A great place to catch up over a few Belgium brews. You can always find a beer that the ladies will like (if they are not into beer already).

Next day was the wedding. The church was very quaint and pretty, the reception in Sydney Zoo very nice with a wonderful view. The boat ride over to the zoo was an excellent idea. The problem was it was around 36°C, with a low of 28! There was no air-conditioning anywhere except in the bus. The air conditioner on the bus only worked if we were moving. In traffic? The only cooling down period was on the boat ride. I cannot stress enough the need for air-conditioning at a wedding reception, in Sydney, in early January.  Otherwise it was a lovely evening. The next day we could not get out of bed suffering heat exhaustion. No, I was not hung over, I did not drink much due to the extreme heat.

City view from Sydney Zoo reception.

City view from Sydney Zoo reception.

The day after the wedding we spent in bed suffering from exhaustion. Thank god we had not booked anything. I went for a wander to the Rocks around sunset to take some shots. For dinner we went to Fish on the Rocks. The meal was superb, the staff friendly and accommodating, and the wine recommendation perfect.  This is one place you get what you pay for. I highly recommend it.

Sydney - the city.

Sydney – the city.

The next day we were booked into the Blue Mountains tour. It was an ok tour. We were treated to a few nice lookouts, although nothing spectacular. It is hard to top glacial views and the volcanic mountains in Iceland. My standards have been raised too high. The history and knowledge about Sydney and the surrounds we learnt along the way was probably the most interesting part of the tour.

Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains

That night, after chasing micro brewed beer on the web, we attended The Lord Nelson. We had a few rather good English style ales, in the English style pub that reminded us of a good day in London. Recommended for any Englishman that is missing home but does not want all the cheese that goes along with a themed establishment. We ate from the bar menu that had a good selection of beer soaking meals. The quality of the food as I remember was fine.

Last day we did the Sydney Aquarium. It is not recommended during a hot day. No air-conditioning again! It’s a wonder how the fish survive. Also, a visit during school holidays is best avoided. Otherwise it might be worth a visit. I find it little odd they sell fish and chips at the entry. Maybe so the kids can see what they just ate!

View from Oyster Cove restaurant

View from Oyster Cove restaurant.

Our last dinner in Sydney we visited the Sydney Cove Oyster Bar. It was not easy to get a table. After some patience we were seated. To our surprise we were given a view over the harbour with the Harbour Bridge in sight. Once again the food was superb, and the staff did remarkably well for a restaurant that was under the strain of fussy, well off tourists and locals. The oysters were fresh! Drop in if you can.

So a quick tour of Sydney! I think we will be back.

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