End of an Empire

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In the era of discount domestic flights, travellers to England (even on very short trips) now have few excuses for venturing outside of London.

On our recent trip to Europe we had a few days in London, so I dragged my partner to England's very north. Northumberland County (which borders Scotland) happens to be where my grandfather was born and raised, and also home to Hadrian's Wall.

(Housetead’s Fort – particularly isolated)

Spanning 118 kilometres across some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside, Hadrian’s Wall once represented the Roman Empire's power in Britain. 2000 years and a UNESCO World Heritage listing later, Hadrian's Wall continues to serve as a brilliant monument to one of the world’s greatest civilisations.

Sadly, we didn't have enough time to walk the length of the wall (there were many other things on my Northumberland to do list), so we headed straight to Houseteads. We ventured here because it is the best preserved of all the outposts along the wall, and provides the best insight into how the Romans lived.

Of course, England turned on its best weather as we were approaching – drizzling rain and a strong wind made it bitterly cold out on the fort. Not that the weather was going to deter me. I was thankful for my waterproof pants and shoes and gortex jacket that the Romans certainly never had.

The museum at the site provides a short historical over-view, which helps put what you are about to see into context. Using some imagination and the help of signs posted around the fort, it is possible to imagine how the Romans lived during their time in Britain (Houseteads is believed to have been built around AD124).

(Signs help explain what you are looking at. This was a particularly impressive piece of engineering).

Sadly, it was far too cold to let the mind wander for too long. Within half an hour we were frozen to the core and it was time for the 10 minute walk back to the car to defrost in that wonderful invention – air-conditioning.

My Bad...

Well well well... haven't I been a bad little blogger.

Nearly a year between posts. No wonder it took several attempts to recall my password.

In the coming weeks get ready to be WOWED by new travel posts. More from Japan, lots from Australia and some great ideas for Europe.

Accommodation Deals in Japan!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

When I was telling people I was off on a 3-week trip to Japan the most common response was, 'Japan, won't that be expensive?'

While that is a commonly held opinion in Australia, it seems that with a few things now in our favour (like a strong Aussie Dollar) and some careful planning a trip to Japan should be no more expensive than a visit to any other developed nation.

I will detail in another post money saving advice, but for now I just want to touch on accommodation.

In Japan, it is expected that you will book accommodation in advance, which can be difficult for a 'see where the moment takes you' traveller like myself.

As a result of this I came to love Wotif and Expedia where I could book my accommodation in the morning before moving on to the next town.

It also meant I was able to score some fabulous deals on rooms, and stay in places I wouldn't have been able to consider otherwise.

Take the fabulous Hotel Granvia in Kyoto:-

The Hotel Granvia, Kyoto. Yes, that really was the view from our room.

By Japanese standards, the bathroom was ENORMOUS!

I managed to secure a rate of under $200 AUD per night for two people in the above room via the expedia site.

When I contacted reception the next morning to enquire about staying an additional night, I was offered a smaller room, and a rate more than double what I had found on-line.

Polish Fun in Melbournes Chappel Street

On a recent trip to Melbourne I had a fabulous afternoon in a Polish themed bar called Borsch, Vodka and Tears.

A nice move away from the over-abundant Irish themed pubs and bars, this place has an extensive vodka menu (shots and cocktails), as well as European beers, absinthe and wine.

There is a lunch menu but we just wanted something simple to line the stomach as it was the cocktails that we were interested in! (Unfortunately pickled herring and excessive alcohol consumption don't blend too well in my stomach.)

The cocktails, were sensational and two turned rapidly into five, and before we knew it the afternoon had disappeared and it was time to start thinking about dinner!

RAMBLE COCKTAIL this featuring Vodka, Gin and Blueberry Liquer is potent!

Located at the Prahan end of Chappel St (173 Chappel St), this bar is definitely worth a look next time you're in town.

Dreams come true at Tokyo Disneyland

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

While in Tokyo I managed to convince the B-Man to take me to Disneyland.

I’ve wanted to go since I was a child, and needless to say I was very excited the day it came to fruition.

The Disneyland in Tokyo was the first to be built outside the USA and is a replica of the Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

The Japanese of course make it extremely easy to get to and from the park.

We were staying in Shinjuku so we took the JR Yamanote line to Tokyo station, which took about 30 minutes. Here we transferred to the JR Keio line and hopped off at Maihama, which was covered by our JR Pass.

At Maihama your Disneyland experience begins as your board the Disney Monorail complete with Mickey Mouse windows. A single trip is Y250 (adult) y 130 (child) or a day pass can be purchase Y650 (adult) Y330 (child) which is a good idea if your are staying at the Resort or visiting both Disneyland and Disneysea.

Something I foolishly hadn’t considered before visiting Tokyo Disneyland, was that the rides would be in Japanese.

It was quite an experience traveling through the Pirates of the Caribbean ride with the narrator speaking another language. Interestingly though the character re-enactments were in English.

Being in Japan, the park was well organized and visitors waited patiently in line to visit rides, meet characters, and to purchase merchandise.

Disneyland visitors attempt to get up close with Minnie Mouse

Having never visited a Disneyland before I was not familiar with the Fast Pass concept that would have saved us a lot of time.

Fast Passes can be collected at popular rides, and basically reserve you a spot in the line at a given period. We didn’t catch on to the concept until we reached Splash Mountain and its 90 minute queue!

We headed to the Fast Pass machine, and although it was only 1.30pm, the Fast Pass could not get us on the ride until after 6pm that night! Had we known about the system and collected our Fast Pass when we arrived we would have been able to enjoy more rides on the day!

Of the rides we did experience, the Mad Hatters Tea Cups were definitely my highlight. We headed to the ride just after lunch as the line was much shorter, but for those with weak stomachs this is not recommended!

All smiles on the Mad Hatters Tea Cup Ride, even though it was right after lunch!

Another tip for those wishing to limit their time lining up is to head to some of the more popular rides while the parade is on. A large number of visitors (especially those with young children) try to catch a glimpse of the parade and their favourite characters so the lines are generally much shorter during this time.

Crowds gather for the 25th Anniversary parade
Overall the day was thoroughly enjoyable and my childhood dreams were not disappointed.

Some Things You Should Know before heading to Fuji Rock!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last few weeks, I am currently travelling through Japan and have been too busy seeing the sites and enjoying myself to head to an internet cafe!

The initial reason for the trip was to check out Fuji Rock, a 3 day music festival in Naeba, north of Tokyo.

While the festival was fabulous, and considerably better than those at home, there are a couple of things I wish I had known beforehand.

1. Bring Ear Plugs
The campsite is directly behind the stage and the music will pump till 4 or 5am!

2. Campsite Selection is Key
While flat ground is more comfortable and certainly a good place to be if it rains (and trust me, it WILL rain), it also gets really really hot once the sun rises. If you have to comprise some level ground for shade, do it!

3. Don't Laugh at People in Gumboots
Like I said, it will rain, gumboots are a very good option.
The festival is also spread over a large area so comfortable working shoes are a must.

4. Don't Forget the Insect Repellent
At Fuji Rock you will see countless bugs you have never before encountered....Do as the locals do and cover yourself in repellent.

5. BYO Alcohol!
Yes, I know it's hard to believe, but at Fuji Rock you can bring your own booze to the festival and the campsite. No cans or glass can be taken into the festival site but they are happy for you to pour your spirits into a plastic bottle before heading in.
If you can, take an esky - again, no problems!

6. Embrace Your Nudity
The festival is visited by 160,000 people on average each year. Only 5 western showers are available (in addition to a couple of Japanese style bath houses) for each sex. The showers basically involve nuding up in front of others and stepping into an open cubicle which has a divider separating it from the others, while your backside shines to those in line.

7. Vegetarians love your Mushrooms!
Not the hallucinogenic kind.... Fuji doesn't have a lot of meat free people options and I found I was heading stir-fried mushies on rice a couple of times a day... It was tasty, but not after 3 days!

8. If you see a line join it.
The Japanese love lines...if you see one it is probably going somewhere you should be.

9. Bring your own chair.
Again, a change from Festivals at home, if you can bring your own camping chair and mark out a possie early. No seating is available and it is quite possible to go 4 days without seating in a real chair!

10. Sleep whenever and where ever you can!
The locals have the ability to sleep anywhere and everywhere - it makes the waiting in line go faster!

Tasty Delights off the Tourist Trail in Thailand

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I feel like I am giving away a secret that I will come to regret. A place of beauty off the tourist trail, which once named may not remain that way for long. I guess that is the irony of travel writing!

So, here's the big secret.....

In our trip south from Bangkok we decided to visit a number of small towns that were not frequented by tourists. We were hoping to experience the real Thailand, outside of tourist hot spots like Phuket and Bangkok. Which is exactly what we found in Prachuap Kiri Khan.

The town is roughly 280 kms from Bangkok, which equates to about 5.5 hours by train (although most information states between 3 and 4).

A number of chain hotels (think Hilton, Sheraton, Sofitel etc etc) attract tourists in droves to the beach resort of Hua Hin, 100kms north. If fancy pools, western toilets and comforts are your thing than look no further.

Those willing to sacrifice the creature comforts to meet local people and feast on the most amazing Thai food will be rewarded in Prachuap, although it does lack a decent swimming beach.
Prachuap Kiri Khan is a fishing town and it's worth visiting just to taste the cheap and abundant local seafood. A great place to try this is at the north end of town, where there is an amazing nightly food market.

I can recommend the seafood omellette, the mango salad featuring calamari, prawns and mussels and if that's not enough the seafood noodle soup. YUM!

Also at this end of town is Wat Thammikaram, which can be reached by climing a steep mountain to the top. I was keen to make the climb (and it is meant to be quite rewarding) but I was scared away by the monkeys at the bottom! (I'm not very brave!).

I strongly recommend a night or two in this town if you are taking the train south to Phuket. It break up the long and uncomfortable train journey, and you will be rewarded with the most amazing food (the best Thai food I've eaten) and an experience of the real Thailand out of the tourist resorts.