Category: Travel

Nanjing or why not to travel in China during National Holidays

Nanjing or why not to travel in China during National Holidays

Today is Labor Day in China. As May 1 falls on a Tuesday this year, the office was closed Monday which meant that Saturday was an official working day. I have to say I’m not a fan of the 6 day work week … but definitely a fan of the 3 day weekend πŸ™‚

To take advantage of the extra day we’d planned to spend 2 days in Nanjing and then relax at home (read: do laundry) on the holiday. The fastest train was sold out but we managed to get there in less than 1 1/2 hours. Gotta love train travel in China.

We didn’t do as much as I had wanted to because it was a little too hot, too crowded and the air was quite polluted. This is what we managed:

Nanjing Massacre Museum

Sunday morning we headed to the Nanjing Massacre Museum, or the “Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders” as it is officially called. Just walking inside and seeing the sculptures is really depressing but I’d still recommend going. The exhibition inside is very well done, with lots of pictures, artifacts, information and videos.

Fuzimiao or Confucius Temple area

Next, we headed to Fuzimiao, the pretty area around the Confucius Temple. There are lots of shops, mostly tourist traps, and because of the holiday it was really busy. From the pictures I saw it looks beautiful at night all lit up but we didn’t manage to go back when it was dark.

1912

For dinner we headed to 1912, a little walking district with lots and lots of bars and restaurants. There are many western places but we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant and tried a local specialty: Nanjing Salted Duck.

Purple Mountains

Trying to avoid the crowds a little we got up early on Monday and went straight to the Purple Mountains. Looks like everyone else had the same idea and when we got to the Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum a little after 9 it was already very very busy.

Thorben said that when he went to the Purple Mountains during a business trip a few years ago it was a really nice peaceful place. To get some room to breathe and escape the picture taking (not many foreigners in Nanjing), we decided to skip the main sights and exlore the smaller walking trails. This worked pretty well and we didn’t see too many people after that.

After a quick shower at the hotel we decided not to head back into town for the afternoon but take an earlier train home. The heat and bad air quality combined with the huge crowds and long queues everywhere kind of killed our sightseeing mood. And our air conditioned and air filtered apartment just sounded way better πŸ™‚

Overall, Nanjing is a nice place with lots of great things to see – but like many people said, it’s best to avoid public holidays. From now on I’ll just keep doing what we did before – leave China when there’s a public holiday (or hide at home).

Tokyo: The Food Edition

Tokyo: The Food Edition

Here is the run down on all our Tokyo food experiences:

Sushi

We started and ended our trip with sushi. On our first day we headed over to “Umegaoka Sushi No Midori”, which was highly recommended online. The place was really popular, even on a Thursday at 2:30 pm we had to wait for 45 minutes to get a table. The sushi was very pretty and yummy though πŸ™‚

On our last day we went to Sushizanmai, a big, popular chain. At 10:30 am we already had the first sushi in front of us, no wait on a Monday morning πŸ™‚ The place was pretty empty, so we sat at the counter and watched the masters work.

Making our own Sushi

Another Airbnb experience: a sushi class with a Japanese sushi master. We met Nori and 2 other participants at a grocery store where he showed us all the necessary stuff to make sushi. We then went to his apartment and made nigiri and maki sushi. He was really strict about the technique – a real sushi master has to train for 8 years after all – and made us practice on playdough first πŸ™‚ I didn’t take many pictures because of fishy hands but thankfully our host was on it πŸ™‚

Tsukiji Fish Market Food Tour

The Tsukiji Fish Market will be relocated in October so we were lucky we still got the see the old building and craziness happening inside. I booked a tour through Ninja Food Tours that included lots of tastings and it was really fun! First we had a chicken, egg and rice dish and then really started the tour. The market also has a big wholesale vegetable and fruit portion and we had some yummy strawberries there. Pretty fruit is considered a nice gift but we passed on the 50 USD cherry box and 60 USD mango πŸ˜‰

We also checked out all the crazy fish and sea food of the inner market and then had ate at the outer market. The place is huge and busy so I’m really glad we went with a guide who knew what he was doing. We had sweet omelette on a stick as a palate cleanser, then an amazing tuna bowls, pork dumplings, some matcha drinks, tried some dried fish candies and finally had a mochi strawberry dessert.

Kobe Beef

For Thorben’s Birthday we went to a kobe beef restaurant and indulged in a dinner with 8 courses, 7 of which included beef. We ate it grilled, baked, fried, marinated, raw, inside a dumpling … It was delicious πŸ™‚

Tokyo: Temples, Shrines and Blossoms

Tokyo: Temples, Shrines and Blossoms

Last Thursday was Qingming Festival, or tomb-sweeping day, which meant that on Thursday, Friday and Saturday the office was closed. To make up for the Friday off, Sunday was a working day. Not for us though because we extended the 3 day weekend by two more days and flew to Tokyo for some sightseeing, food and to celebrate Thorben’s birthday πŸ™‚

Comedy and the Golden Turd

On our first night we went to the comedy show “Get a comedian’s take on life in Japan”, the first Airbnb experience I’ve ever booked. It was a pretty funny show about Japan, the way of life, history and culture. Most importantly, Meshida explained the “interesting” golden statue we’d seen on our walk there. Apparently, the building is a brewery, the statue is from a French artist, the plan was to put up three of them upright, and it’s supposed to be a flame. Now it’s known as the golden poo or golden turd. Gotta love Tokyo πŸ™‚

Sensō-ji Temple

After the show we walked over to the Sensoji Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. The temple and the five-story pagoda are lit up beautifully at night.

Free Walking Tour

Friday morning we did a free walking tour. We started in Akihabara, where the Electronic Town (aka a cluster of lots of nerdy shops) is and then went to the Yushima Seido temple with a big statue of Confucius. Next, we went to the Kanda shrine. There, we learned how to make a wish/pray at a shrine: First, you bow once, then you throw a coin into the donation box, clap twice (to wake up the Gods), make your wish and then bow twice. Afterwards, we wandered through Ameyoko shopping street and finished at Ueno Park.

Meiji Shrine & Harajuku Free Walking Tour

After a morning at the fish market (more on that in another post) we did another free walking tour in a different part of Tokyo. We learned a lot about the early history of Tokyo, back when it was called Edo, and the Samurai and Emperor still ruled. Half the tour we spent visiting the Meiji Shrine and even saw a wedding party leaving. Then we went to crazy Takeshita Street which is mostly tailored to kids and teenagers and saw the old Olympic stadium.

Shibuya

We went to Shibuya for 2 things: to see the Hachiko statue and the Shibuya crossing/pedestrian scramble. The guide book called it the Times Square of Tokyo and it’s supposed to be a one of the busiest intersections. It wasn’t as crazy on a Sunday morning but Hachiko was still very cute πŸ™‚

Photography walk

Another Airbnb experience I booked was a photography tour with a local guide. We went to a lot of different scenic places and Thorben and our guide switched cameras a couple times. Maybe Thorben will upload some of of the pictures later but for now it’s just the ones from my iPhone πŸ™‚

We first went to the observation deck at the Tokyo Government building, then to a close by small shrine, Tokyo station, the Imperial Palace East Garden and finally the Nezu Shrine. While 80% of the cherry blossoms were already gone (they were a couple weeks early this year), we caught some of the late bloomers on the way to the Imperial Palace and lots of other pretty flowers. Especially the azalea (a rhododendron species) at the Nezu shrine were beautiful.

In case you’re wondering where all the food pictures are … I’ll discuss that in detail in a separate postΒ  πŸ™‚

King’s Canyon, Uluru and Kata Tjuta: Exploring the Outback

King’s Canyon, Uluru and Kata Tjuta: Exploring the Outback

Our last stop in Australia was the outback. We flew directly from Melbourne to Uluru (Ayers Rock Airport) and rented a car for 4 days.

Driving through the outback

Round trip we drove around 600km from Uluru to King’s Canyon and I was really surprised how green the outback was. I expected lots of rocks and red sand and not so many plants.

King’s Canyon

After arriving in the Red Center we drove to King’s Canyon Resort and spent the night there. It’s the only hotel in the area which explains the prices and low quality. For example, we had a few spidery room mates, I named one of them Adalbert. Sadly, we had to leave him because our air conditioner wasn’t working and the I decided not to get attached to the new room mates ;).

In the morning Thorben got up while it was still dark to take pictures of the sky and do the King’s Canyon Rim Walk (at this point I was pretty sick). After he finished I also wanted to get a glimpse of the Canyon so we did the King’s Creek walk. The Canyon was also much greener than expected, but really pretty.

Fighting flies

While people might be worried about snakes and spiders the worst thing in the outback for me were the flies. They don’t sting but are very very annoying, constantly landing on your face and trying to get into your eyes and nose. This problem is easily fixed with a super stylish fly net, which we bought on our way back from King’s Canyon, so that’s what I looked like 95% of the time πŸ™‚

Segway at Uluru

Instead of walking the 10km around the base of Uluru I signed us up for a segway tour πŸ™‚ I picked the Uluru Sunrise and Segway, so we first had breakfast with a close up view of a beautiful Uluru sunrise before cruising around the base. The rock is really magnificent with so many different looking parts, it’s really worth going all the way around it.

A Night at the Field of Lights

The night at the field of light started with drinks, canapΓ©s and sunset viewing and then we had dinner under the stars or in our case under the full moon. During a star talk we learned about some different formations and finally we headed to the field of lights, a pretty cool art installation. Overall it was really pricey but also a cool experience.

Kata Tjuta

We drove out to Kata Tjuta on our last night to see the sunset. It’s a massive structure, I think even bigger than Uluru. Just as the sun was about to set and transform the colors it got blocked by some clouds. As a compensation we got to see a really cool moon rise on our way back. I’ve never seen the moon so big and bright.

Sunrise at Uluru

On our last morning we managed to get up early enough to see a beautiful sunrise at Uluru, complete with some typical tourist shots πŸ™‚

 

And that’s it! Almost 4 weeks after getting back this was the last of the Australia posts. Next trip: Tokyo πŸ™‚

2 days in Melbourne

2 days in Melbourne

Originally we planned 4 days in Melbourne but because we got sick we only left the hotel for 2 of those 4 days. While we missed out on a few things I wanted to do, we still had some fun times and great food in Melbourne.

Free Walking Tour

The first thing on our Melbourne itinerary was of course a free walking tour. We went with I’m Free Tours again, the same company we used in Sydney. As (almost) always, it was a fun, informative tour with lots of good recommendations.

Lane Ways

Though we only got to check out a few, the lane ways in Melbourne are fantastic. We had some delicious breakfast in Centre Place and also lunch at a different restaurant there.

ArtVo

ArtVo is a really cool museum/art gallery where you get to be part of the exhibits. It’s a really fun place to spend a couple hours and take lots of silly pictures, see below πŸ™‚

Star Observation Wheel

The Melbourne Star is in the same complex as ArtVo, there was almost no one there so we thought why not. We got our own cabin and one spin takes around half an hour. There was a free audio tour playing so we even learned something.

Melbourne Museum

Our guide from the free walking tour highly recommended the Aboriginal Exhibit “Bunjilaka” so we headed over to the Melbourne Museum on the free tram. I’m not a big museum fan but this one was really cool. I really liked the Science & Life Gallery with a blue whale skeleton and the dinosaur walk. The “Bugs Alive!” part was super disgusting (but well done) and gave me shudders.