~ Japan 2017 - Osaka ~

on
Thursday, September 7, 2017
      I was only able to squeeze in 2 days in Osaka which was definitely not enough to explore the city. I liked the slower hustle and bustle of the city which in comparison with Tokyo, is snails pace. I used to love the rush of Tokyo when I was younger but now I enjoy life at a slower pace and Osaka gave me the big city vibe but at the perfect relaxed tempo.

      I stayed at Red Roof Plus+ Inn Namba and I loved it! The location was perfect, right by Dotonburi and by Shinsaibashi. From what I understand the hotel just underwent renovations and thus the rooms are clean and up to date. A complete set of toiletries were given and while I read some complaints about the "beady" pillows, they didn't bother me at all. The hotel is also within walking distance to large department stores such as Takashimaya, where I loved checking out the food basements!



It rained quite a bit when I was there so I appreciated how stores have the plastic bag machines for your umbrellas so the floor doesn't get wet and slippery, plus your umbrella won't get your pants wet when it accidentally hits you!

It was really interesting to see the difference in atmosphere between night and day at Dotonburi. While there are still quite a bit of people during the day, most stalls are closed besides restaurants, and the vibrant energy that you see at night seemed to be resting patiently for the sun to set.



Signage in Japan is the best! All the restaurants seem to be fighting for your attention with the biggest, brightest, most unique signs.



This bridge tying Dotonburi with Shinsaibashi is always crowded due to the great view of the canal and of course, the Glico man! You can take canal rides which I think would be a fun way to see Dotonburi.

One thing I miss terribly about Japan are the convenience stores. They had a plethora of drinks and snacks to choose from and I always had such a fun time picking one. Needless to say I drank a lot of beverages during my trip. I didn't try the Starbucks coffee but I was tempted to grab the s'mores one until I heard that it was really sweet.

The day we visited Osaka castle was overcast and all I wanted was for it to not rain! I don't recall it raining but it was really WINDY! My camera lens was dirty for the first half of the trip but I guess it added some nice effects to my photos.

This was the view from the line up to get the tickets. Tickets to many attractions are often done by machines, most have an English options so there's no need to worry about language barriers. You choose how many you want, insert the money, and out pops your tickets. So while the line may seem long it actually moves fairly quickly. It's similar to the food machines you will mostly likely run into on your trip. Sometimes you must enter your money first before any options show up.

Osaka castle was a great way to learn some history of Japan. I recommend for you start at the very top (viewpoint) and then make your way down to each floor. 

Dotonburi was really busy at night but there was still room to breathe. There's much less people walking by the water versus the main streets.

The entrance leading into Shinsaibashi. Most of these stores opened around 10 or 11 so don't come too early. They do close relatively late though and the street really does go on for a LONG time. I walked many many blocks. The further down you walk the less touristy it gets and you'll see more locals as well as local shops.

There's a 24hr Ichiran so we went here for lunch which is a better idea than queuing for dinner however if you can only make it for dinner do not fret as the line moves quite quickly. I got their "C" combo which, from memory, is their cheapest and most basic ramen. When I say basic I don't mean plain- it still came with a large helping of mushroom, green onions, seaweed, and pork. 

Ichiran only sells tonkotsu ramen and have basically 3 options to chose from. The only difference between them are how many toppings you want. When you enter the establishment you are asked to fill out a sheet consisting of questions regarding the way you like your ramen. Firm or soft noodles? Spicy or no spicy? Then you pay at a machine, receive a ticket which you give to your attendant when you sit down.

One of the biggest novelty about eating here is that you are seated in a solitary-like booth. You don't interact with your server and also don't even have to see anyone around you. Ichiran says this allows you to solely focus on your ramen. If you want the dividers can actually be folded away so you can see you companion if you want to. Each both has a small water station so you can have water at your leisure.

The cha sui here was divine!! It wasn't dry but juicy and flavourful. I really enjoyed the ramen and had it a second time in Tokyo. It can be quite spicy, I actually removed most of the spicy sauce.


      I think it was a good idea to start the trip in Osaka and end in Tokyo. It's a good way to get your bearings of how things work such as the metro system. If you're into collecting stamps then make sure you bring along a notebook as most major historical spots in Japan has a stamps. Most train stations do too but you'll have to hunt it down as some larger stations have many entrances and the stamp may be at only one entrance.If I come back to Osaka I definitely want to explore the bay area and Kobe as well!

~ Iphone Photos- Japan 2017 ~

on
Thursday, May 18, 2017
      Most of my Iphone photos from April were from Japan. I tried my best to make sure there isn't a lot of recap from my Japan posts and this one. My April was pretty good, work was easy and of course Japan was great! I find that I take less photos as I get older and it's probably due to the fact that I tend to enjoy things more "in person" versus having to record everything down with a photograph. However this means I don't get a visual reminder of my memories which I sometimes miss.


I've always loved stationary it's only lately that I've been on a buying binge. Japan is THE place for stationary and it took everything in me to not over shop. Do I have regrets? Of course but at least my bank account is still floating. My top three loves are stamps, washi tape, and stickers. I also really like ephemera and embellishments although those are a bit harder to find. 

While I was planning my few days in Kyoto I decided to give up renting a kimono since I thought I would waste too much time but when I arrived and saw everyone else wearing one...guess what I did. That's right I ended up making a reservation and renting a kimono.

It's better to do research beforehand and make an appointment online because they give good discounts online! Try to get there early as the early bird gets the best kimono selection. I chose the kind with the longer sleeve and boy was the kimono tight! I don't know if the girl thought I was smaller than I was or what but it definitely wasn't the most comfortable thing. I had afternoon tea in my kimono and couldn't tell whether I was full or not...
I also opted for a hair up-do because honestly it would've looked silly if I hadn't and just let my hair flow. The up do was an additional 1500 yen and the kimono rental was about 6500-7000 yen. It depends on the type of kimono you choose. You also get the slippers, socks, and a small handbag for the day. 

My muscat flavoured sorbet from Basket Robins! It was really good! I love all things muscat flavoured.

I had these hot and yummy steamed buns often for breakfast which are available at most convenience stores. My favourite was the meat one and the most interesting was a pizza/cheesy one and a curry one.


Another sandwich like bun from the convenience store. As you can see they only put mayo on the outer half other bun so it looks like there's mayo all over! I thought it was hilarious although I know some people might be taken back. The sauce on the meat was flavourful enough so I didn't care there wasn't a lot of mayo.

I loved the vending machines in Japan, especially since hey dispense HOT drinks! I had this hot Boss coffee a lot when I was there. It's available where I live too but having it hot from the machine was another experience. It was still quite chilly and cold in April.

I saw this gorgeous cookie inside the basement of a major department store. Make sure you hit up the food basements inside them such as Takashimaya or Isetan etc. It's huge and there are plenty of things to see and eat! It's also a great place to pick up souvenirs as everything is beautifully packaged.

One of two afternoon teas I had in Japan. The first one was impromptu and this one I managed to make reservations via email before arriving. This was at the Palace Hotel Tokyo and you can check their afternoon tea menu here

I can't remember the name of this restaurant but it was like Yoshinoya which is a place for cheap eats and are often open 24hrs. They use a ticket system where you order through a machine that dispenses your ticket. You then proceed to take a seat, hand the chef your ticket and they'll make your meal according to your selection. At this specific one we ate at, there was an English menu and it was a great place to have a cheap but filling breakfast.


   
I love Doraemon as I grew up with his movies so I was really excited and lucky that there was a pop-up Doraemon cafe at Tokyo Solamachi ,which is the shopping area right by the Tokyo Sky Tree. The food wasn't great so don't come with great expectations but their decor is adorable.

The cherry pie frappucino came out when I was there so of course I had to try it. It was actually pretty good! I had 2 of them although it was tricky to eat the pie crust.

We ran into our first Donguri store in Kyoto. The Donguri is a chain of stores that sell official Studio Ghibli merchandise and can be found throughout Japan. I went to this one in Kyoto and two in Tokyo. Everything was also decently priced. From memory the largest Totoro plush was about 5500 yen and the smallest ones about 1000 yen.

This one in Kyoto is a bit hidden and we were lucky to have run into it! It's located right by the Hello Kitty store, there is a small sign and shelf with some Ghibli items by it. It's on a street leading up and from Kiyomizu-Dera temple. 

One of the hot lemon drinks I fell in love with! It's by 7-11 so I had to hunt for one if I wanted to drink it.

I really like this candy brand, I saw some in Kyoto and then in Tokyo. I bought some as souvenirs and wanted to buy another bag for myself! I loved the way it melted in your mouth and how the air pockets created a "fluffy" texture.

I asked for coffee on the plane ride home and was pleasantly surprised by this cute Doraemon cup saying bye bye to me.

Back at home I got to try a new restaurant called Hatzu. I've seen their lunch plates all over Instagram and had to try it since I love this type of dining. When I went the lunch plates were 50% off making them 13$ instead of 26$ which I thought was a fantastic price for value! The food itself was alright, not bad but nothing spectacular either. 

~ Morocco - Essaouira ~

on
Saturday, May 6, 2017
      Essaouira was the second last destination on my trip and a place I really enjoyed. It was bit more touristy and we mainly stayed in one area of the city. From memory we had plenty of time to explore  and were given an interesting tour shortly after we arrived. As usual the riad we stayed at had no elevators, only stairs and just by luck my roommate and I got a room on the third floor (again).




Beautiful coloured doors again.

I don't know why but I was extremely drawn towards the fish market and harbour area of the city. I went there twice during the time I was there to snap photographs and take in the scene. I also looked fairly out of place with my white lace dress walking around on fish guts and yes, it did smell bad. That didn't stop me though!

Although these look like alleyways they act more like streets that cars can't drive on. They're extremely fun to walk around as you can find lots of interesting stores this way.

We dined at the same cafe twice in a row because the food was so delicious and reasonably priced!


I got Moroccan salad almost everyday, it was delicious and an easy way for me to get my vegetable intake. Also they pour tea from high up to create the foam on the tea. The tea served is mostly mint tea and I'm not a huge fan of that.

There are plenty of cafes to stop at. We picked this one and it had the cutest creamers which the cafe actually used to put their coffee in.




      I remember feeling a bit sad when I was here simply because it meant that my trip was coming to an end. My last destination was Marrakech for a day then it was home time for me. I think Essouira was a great place to be near the end of the trip. It was really relaxing and also a good time to go shopping for souvenirs because there were plenty of stalls and small markets to buy from. I didn't feel like I would get lost the way I would be in a bigger city and there were many tourists around too. I also finally managed to mail my postcards here despite carrying them for at least half the entire trip.

~ Japan planning pt 2. ~

on
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
      The second part of planning my Japan trip was all about finessing the details. This meant in-country travels as well as purchasing tickets that had to be bought beforehand. I had a notebook where I wrote down places that I might want to visit in each city as well as important information such as addresses and telephone numbers of the hotels/airbnb's I was staying at.

DAILY ITINERARIES 


One of the first things I recommend is to simply Google places you want to go to beforehand and create gentle itineraries for each day.

       Everyone travels differently and I actually consider myself a slow traveler. I usually only allocate about 1-3 activities/sights to see per day. It varies from place to place but it's also important to remember how much time it takes to reach each place and if you'll be side tracked often as I was with shopping in Japan!

      Prior to and during my trip I relied heavily on Google maps for directions as well as an estimated time for travel. I allocated nearly double the amount of time recommended because 1.) sometimes the GPS was wonky and I'd be walking a block before it realized "oops sorry wrong way" 2.) I'm a bit slower at navigating in new places and 3.) it allows you to sneak in activities that you hadn't planned for such as breaks in cute coffee shops or some souvenir shopping.

INTERCITY TRAVELS/PUBLIC TRANSIT


      I'm sure anyone that has traveled to or plan to travel to Japan has heard of the Japan Rail Pass. It's essentially a pass that lets you ride the JR lines (including shinkansens) for a fixed price and fixed duration of time. I believe they sell them for 7, 14, and 21 days. You can buy the pass from various places online so take into consideration shipping time, for example folks in Canada can buy it from JTB. It does omit some trains do so please be careful when planning.

      If you are traveling from city to city it is a good idea to look up the estimated price for tickets and time it takes on a site such as Hyperdia  and the compare it to the value of the pass. This is what I did and turns out it was a little cheaper for me to not buy the pass. We ended up taking the subway only once in Osaka and took taxis mainly in Kyoto. We didn't use public transit in Takayama and in Tokyo we used Suica cards that I had left over from my previous trips.

      You may also want to look up special day passes that certain cities may offer. For example Osaka offers the Osaka passes that not only gives you unlimited transit but also offers discounts on entrance fees to certain attractions or even free admission. In Kyoto I believe there's a 500 yen 1-day pass you can buy.

TICKETS/ADMISSIONS


For the majority of attractions I believe you don't have to worry too much about getting tickets. The only two that I wanted to buy beforehand was for Tokyo Sea and Studio Ghibli Museum. 

      The first one wasn't a big deal because the tickets can still be bought at the park itself as well as in Disney shops. I bought mines at the Disney store in Osaka. Make sure you know which park you want to enter (or both) and which date you will be going on.




      The latter was the trickier one. There are only a few ways you can buy the tickets overseas. The first few is directly from their English website or through Lawson's English website. Another way is to go through a travel agency and the third is through a third party who will try to buy the tickets for you in Japan and deliver them to you or your hotel upon arrival. Fourth is to wing it and try buying from Lawson machines when you're in Japan. 
I found this website very useful: 6 ways to buy tickets for Studio Ghibli


       I decided to use the first option, buying directly from their site. Let me tell you, I sat at my desk ready to buy at their opening time/date and it still took me 40 minutes of agony! I was constantly getting logged out because their server was so busy and each time I managed to get back on more and more dates were being sold out!

     Make SURE you know the dates AND entrance times you want to visit. I managed to buy tickets for the date that I want although not the time I originally preferred but honestly, I was happy to get tickets at all. Here is a link to their English  ticketing site. Good luck. Oh and the tickets were practically sold out after a day on their English site.

POCKET WIFI


      It's popular to rent pocket wifi's in Japan as public wifi is a bit hard to find or even if you find it, you might not be able to connect as in my case. I personally did not rent a pocket wifi as the Airbnb's I stayed in provided them and the times I didn't have it was in Takayama (a small town) and Osaka where I relied on the hotel wifi to plan the day and any available publie wifi (Starbucks). I would recommend it as I relied heavily on wifi's in larger cities or during longer stays.

      From what I read the price of the rental depends mostly on the amount of data you need and the speed. They can be picked up at the airport or delivered to your hotel. At the end of your trip you simply drop it in a mailbox to be shipped back to the company.

CURRENCY

      Personally I like to exchange all my money beforehand so that when I arrive I don't have to worry about it. The only time I haven't is when I went to Morocco because they have a closed currency system, meaning they only sell/use their currency within their country so make sure you change back any money you have left too. 

       In Japan it's super easy to find ATM's to use in nearly all their convenience stores. I used these a few times and I was charged about 2$ CAD to withdraw. Check with your bank if you want to know how much they charge you for overseas withdrawals or fees for using your credit card. It might also be a good idea to give them a call and let them know you're leaving the country so they don't lock up your debit/credit card.



       To round up this post make sure you also remember details such as making sure your passport is valid and that you bought travel insurance. I usually double check my flight times and pick my seats as soon as possible. I photocopy my passport that I leave with my family in case of emergencies. Double check if you have any appointments that you have to change or reschedule.

~ Morocco - Sahara Desert & Camel Ride ~

on
Monday, April 17, 2017
          I will not lie, I was ecstatic about riding a camel but I must say it's not as easy it looked. It's bumpy and rough! I've been told riding a horse (which I have not ridden) is much worse so if you've done that before then you're set. My trek up the mountain on the donkey prepped me for the camel which was much more tame in comparison.

Our accommodation that night was suppose to be out under the stars in the Sahara desert but for the hottest summer months they change it because it gets far too hot to sleep out there. Instead we slept under the stars in this small camp outside the desert.


I was extremely excited when the camels arrived and gleefully watched them as they relaxed. They were all suppose to sit still and be good but these two were feeling rebellious and started eating the plants. Soon a few others came to join them but they were quickly shooed away and went back to sitting pretty.

I know I said I was super excited to see the camels but as I got closer to them I realized how large they really are (and tall!) and I'll admit I got a little scared. 

Again I got my scarf wrapped around my head before embarking on my camel - recommended again. I wish I could've wrapped my feet up though! The sun was beaming on them the entire ride.

We all woke up super early the next day to take 4x4's into the desert to catch the sunrise. It was an unexpectedly bumpy ride





I take this little trooper on all my trips. Climbing up the sand dunes was tougher than it looked!



The sunset was gorgeous and I'll never forget the camel ride and climbing the dunes! If anyone is wondering I don't recall there being a bug problem but I did use some bug repellent when we slept outdoors. Our beds were set out for us and it was warm enough with just a thin blanket. Bathrooms were co-ed with shower stalls so it was never a problem. Oh and just to note, my "shower handle/head" was actually just a hose.