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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

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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.

Before we left I had the strange feeling this would not be a smooth, quiet holiday experience.

It started well enough. Beck and I took the British Airways offer of £100 each upgrade to business class one way, from London to Catania. We had a nice lounge to enjoy and a good meal at the airport and plenty of room on the plane.

We land, wait unusually long for the bags, and head off to pick up rental car.

I can drive a manual, but not by instinct. My father would not pay for my license or let me drive the family cars unless I had an automatic license. Cut a long story short, I ‘need’ an automatic car. I found the cheapest car was with Europcar, and booked. So when we get the car it is a manual! No automatico in Italia, they tell me. I had to explain to the gents that if they gave me a manual car, they would get it back broken! Me driving a manual on Italian streets, hills and windy roads with my lack of experience? I do not think so. Eventually the boys found me a automatico. A more expensive luxury Volvo. I had to agree to the extra charge, what choice did I have? At nearly double the price I was not happy. If you hire a car from Europcar check your email for the CODE. That is where they indicate what type of car they have given you and the transmission type. As it says CODE, you would think would be for their purposes. No, it is for you to realise that they gave you the wrong car and there is nothing you can do about it after the fact, as it was hidden in this code. All the other car companies I have hired a car from clearly mark what transmission you will get, but not Europcar. Did I tell you I hate them? Enough about the car I think. Let us get in and drive to Noto.

On arrival to our accommodation we were tired and hungry, and were very pleased to find that the hotel restaurant is not only open, it was in the Michelin Guide. We ate there three out of eight nights and were never disappointed. I told the waiter Giuseppe that my grandmother and father would love the seafood pasta, it was that good. And the chocolate cake with pistachio gelati was to die for. So soft and creamy.

Our accommodation was an agritourismo (accommodation on a working farm) called Masseria degli ulivi. Yes we were surrounded by olive trees, and a working mine in the distance that was very quiet. It was not cheap, but nor expensive. It is just what you need to get away. No cable TV and no internet connection. No cars tearing around and no drunken people outside your window at night. Just peace and quiet with good wine available, if you catch them before they all go home at 10pm.

We had the pleasure of getting to know one of the hotel Managers, Gian. Noto born but a world breed, and now back in the place of birth. He had a strong east coast US accent, which is how we started chatting. Great person to chat to as he has lived in many places, and could tell us a lot about Sicily and its advantages, and disadvantages. Not to mention a few things about the US we did not know. We hope to see him again one day soon.

On our first full day we decided to go somewhere close to test the roads in Sicily. We drove to Sircusa and the Island of Ortigia. It was Sunday and everyone was out enjoying the sun. We parked just outside the Island and wandered over. On the bridge over to the Island, you could stop and watch a game of Canoe Polo. This was a first for me. I did not know that the game existed. We stood around and watched for a while, trying to understand the rules, which was difficult considering I do not know the rules of water Polo either.

Heading off wandering the inner streets of the island, snapping away as we walked, an old man I wandered past twice started talking to me. Between Beck and I we understood what he was saying and had a little conversation. He had some relatives in Canberra, and he told us to start making babies. Typical old Italian, as soon as you are married, your duty is to pop out puppies. Very nice bloke.

That afternoon we had the best meal during our stay in Sicily. With the exception of the last day, when we went back to Ortigia, just to eat at this place once more before we left. My grandmother would have loved it. Click here for the details. It is the first restaurant in the ‘Global Restaurants to visit’ section of my blog.

Leaving Syracuse behind we headed to the beach. The last time we were immersed in salty sea water was in Sri Lanka over a year ago. So a dip in the ocean was very much needed and refreshing to say the least.

Later that night we decided to have dinner in Noto. Dinner was a great disappointment after the great meal we had that afternoon. Not a bad meal, just not special. This place we found in the recommend Noto restaurants in the Lonely Planet guide to Sicily. Needless to say we only bothered with the guide recommendations once more after that, in Ragusa when we were famished and nothing was open!

Sunday night in Italy is always a big night and everyone is out on the town. Noto has a main street where all the locals come to meet, chat, drink, smoke and walk. It is quite a sight. The town is mostly children of school age and older people. Gian tells us that most people move out and look for work or go onto further education in the larger towns and on mainland Italy. It does make for an interesting walk down the ancient street with the buzz of the young and the passionate banter of the old.

Monday, and we planned a trip to Ragusa. There is only one main road to Ragusa. And everyone is on it. The construction of the new highway for East Sicily ends at Noto. To enter Noto you bypass what looks to be a future toll area. This to me sums up Sicily’s politics. As a result, there is every man, his dog, tractors, trucks, old men and woman in little old Fiats and new shiny cars trying to overtake them. It’s a little hazardous. I am Italian by blood though, so it did not take me long to get in stride, eventually scaring the jesus out of Beck from time to time.

On arrival to Ragusa we found a spot and just stopped once in the main part of town. We parked at the bottom of Corsa Italia, which was a stones throw from the old town, if you have a good arm, on the opposite mountain side. We had a beautiful view of the old town on our wander over to the old town which is perched up on it’s own hill.

We meandered down, snapping away, Beck stopping for the occasional smoke, you know, to help her walk. At the bottom we stopped for a espresso and chinotto at a little café opposite a church. There we chatted to some locals. A guy who loved the Beatles and a girl who used to live in Dublin. We chatted, drank, then headed off to wander up and down the windy streets. At one point, in order to get to the main square, Beck insisted we go one way, while I the other. She won, and I threw a mini tantrum as we went round in circles. Beck got lost, and I had to direct us to the square. Gloating time.

Ragusa is worth a visit. It is not overrun by tourists, although it is soon to be. There are major renovations going on everywhere. Make sure you visit on any other day than Monday. In Sicily, everything is shut on Monday. Even the hotel restaurant was shut! Lunadi. All the Sicilians are afraid of the moon. Maybe they are all descendants of werewolves. It would explain the hair. OK, enough of the bad jokes.

That night, as all the restaurants were closed, we settled for a run of the mill place. Not bad. Average by Sicilan standards. Dinner for hungry people with no other option is always welcome.

The next two days were spent in the Vindicari National Park. We went for a walk and mostly swam, and soaked in a bit of the lovely sun that we had been missing for so long. The London summer this year was a disappointment. It was also Rebecca’s birthday, and her wish was to spend it lazing about. We had wine and dinner at the hotel the night of Becks birthday, having another meal worth every penny.

On this trip there was one task I needed to fulfill.

My grandfather met my grandmother while he was stationed at a lighthouse in his days in the military. The lighthouse is in Punta Secca, so a trip down with the camera was a must. We spent the day driving down and around the south east coast, heading to Punta Secca to take some shots that I can give to Nuna and Nuno. Task achieved, so all I need to do is hope they remember the place, and that it has not changed too much over the years.

Last place on the visit list was Modica. The road to Modica was a little less stressful. A country lane with the occasional tractor and truck. Modica is split into an upper and lower town. We headed to the lower part but ended up somewhere in between, after circling around a few times, getting dizzy and just grabbing the first parking spot we found. It was not easy, and the streets were very thin. Not fun in a big Volvo.

Little did I know but Rebecca had only one thing on her mind at this point, chocolate. Modica is known for its chocolate. I was blissfully unaware, walking down the steep slopes and thin stair passageways heading down to the main street of Modica bassa (lower), snapping away as per usual. We get down and trawl the main street, which is a great place to take in the town. Everyone is out and about, eager to get home for siesta.

We stop at a beautiful church to take some more shots when Beck spots the shop where all her dreams come true. We wander in and as we were tasting chocolates and waiting for our cannoli to be made, we were locked in. We were thanking the gods we made it in time, this being the only time we will get to visit Modica and the only chance to get some of its world famous chocolates and desserts. Nothing worse than going some place and missing out on something you know you will never get the opportunity to do again. So heads up people. Remember that when you sleep in, you have to make it to where ever you want to get to before the Italians go home for lunch.

We had a light snack and an espresso, headed off to take a few more pics and headed up the hill back to the car, the long way round. With a full stomach and plenty of room on the memory card, there was plenty of time to wander up slowly and admire the town. On our way up I was admiring the old ladies, wandering up and down the sides of these hills, shopping in hand. They are most probably fitter and stronger than me!

I could go on but I think you get the drift of our Sicilian holiday. Lots of food, wine, so much espresso we had to stop drinking it after morning, some lovely gelati, some peace and quiet, all wrapped up in a crazy driving experience. And lots of photos of course.

I look forward to returning to Sicily, and visiting the north east, along with my mother and father when they make it over from Australia, which is hopefully next year.

Chin chin.

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