Sunday, February 1, 2015

Autumn in Japan!

My last overseas trip in 2014 was to Japan. I admit I went crazy last year in terms of travels but in my defence, most of the trips were unexpected (I got the tickets for Japan prior to Europe!). Anyway, it was probably a good thing as I changed job end of last year so I would be grounded mostly this year. Thanks to the trips last year, I am still fairly contended this year, especially since I have just returned from a week work trip to Sydney. It was a fairly busy work trip but I managed to catch up with some friends, so there were good food (yay!) but the calories have probably make themselves comfortably down at my hips (shudder!).

N=night, M=morning, A=afternoon, E=evening
Our flight out of Melbourne was on a Friday night (yup, I'm all about maximising my annual leave, 20 days a year are not enough!). So, 3 full days in Tokyo, followed by 2D1N in Hakone, 2D2N in Nikko, then back to Tokyo before departing. Very short one week in Japan.

There were five of us this round. Little P's cousin and friends joined us in Tokyo and Hakone then went on to Osaka and Kyoto. Little P and I went up north to Nikko then  back to Tokyo.

Given the short 7 days, we didn't want to travel too far from Tokyo especially since our ticket was Melbourne - Narita.

31/10, Day 00 - On flight
01/11, Day 01 - Tokyo* (Khaosan World Asakusa Ryokan)
02/11, Day 02 - Tokyo*
03/11, Day 03 - Tokyo*
04/11, Day 04 - Hakone* (Fujimien)
05/11, Day 05 - Hakone, train to Nikko* in the evening (Nikko Tokanso)
06/11, Day 06 - Nikko*
07/11, Day 07 - Nikko, train to Tokyo* in the afternoon (Kimi Ryokan)
08/11, Day 08 - Tokyo, flight out of Narita in the afternoon.
*referring to where we overnight

All hotels were booked upfront before departing, as well as tickets to Ghibli Studio and Fujiko F Fujio's Museum (courtesy of Little P). Kudos to Little P and her cousin for planning the trip :)

Side note: Despite that popular sakura season in Japan, spring is the only season I have not been to Japan. Ha! Speaking of ironic huh. ;)

Friday, January 30, 2015

Ph(f)oto Friday: "I'm not a psychopath...

Of course, the back of the shirt reads, "I'm a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research."

Side note: Ok, I jumped on the bandwagon of Sherlock a little late but it is so good! Beats me why didn't I watch it earlier but I've fixed that!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sydney: The Rocks

Short walk from Marriott
The Rocks is a historic area of Sydney's city centre. I feel this is the more touristic area in Sydney. Even though I used to stay in Sydney, The Rocks is not somewhere I ventured to very often, except to probably take some photos, after all here's where Harbour Bridge and Opera House are found.

Friend's wedding venue was in The Rocks and just so happened that Sydney Harbour Marriott is just about 10 minutes' walk away, so I find myself in this pocket of the city. I only had about an hour or so to spare before tracking back to re-pack to check out, have brunch and depart to airport. Generally I could have just roll on the bed but I thought I should make use of the time and have a little stroll to enjoy the day. Sunday a hot day, even warmer than Friday and Saturday.

Walking straight on, I passed Museum of Contemporary Art and the Cadmans Cottage next to it.

Friend's wedding was in Italian Village, housed in one of these quaint sandstone building.

Inside Italian Village

View taken from inside of Italian Village
Around the bend is the strategically positioned Park Hyatt Sydney.

I turned back from here and walked The Rocks weekends market. No photos here because I am aware that many stall owners doesn't like their product to be photographed.

Oh... and one of the most beautiful train station - Circular Quay.

Closed up!

Side note: Missing some gelato!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sydney Harbour Marriott

Keep calm, it was not my wedding
I found myself back to Sydney again after three months, to attend a friend's wedding. For some unknown reason, the reasonably priced hotels were all booked out. As I would be attending a wedding, I am not thrilled to stay in a dorm and get ready in shared bathroom. I had my share of experience hostels in Australia (albeit not much) and they are not the nicest hostels. In my humble opinion, Australia's hostels need to buck up on keeping the area clean. Anyway, that explained the title of this post - Sydney Harbour Marriott. Marriott turned out to the one of the most economical priced hotel of what little choice leftover, bearing in mind I shared a room with two other friend. Even Airbnb was no luck.

Christmas tree in the lobby
Water provided for guests in the lobby near check-in counter. 

Wedding day was on a Saturday and I was lucky to score a day off on the Friday before. I have requested for an early check-in if possible when I made my reservation. The room was not yet ready but I was given an access to the Early Arrival room.

My initial intention was only to change out of my jeans into a more comfortable shorts as Sydney was much warmer on the said week. However I was distracted with the yummy butter cookies on offered and stayed longer. It was partly true but my friends were scheduled to land in about an hour so I decided to linger a little, read some papers, charged my phone while waiting for them to have lunch together. Otherwise I would've gone out and have some morning tea before lunch!

Those were yummy cookies!
Anyway, I was alone in the Early Arrival room. There were a few partitions to each lounge area, I think it was designed in a way that one could enjoy the facilities (including sleeping and showering) with a little more privacy.

Unfortunately I do not have any photos of the room we were in as I was out when my friends went up to the room first. As they were already made themselves comfortable in the room, I didn't want to go around taking photos of the room.

Our reservation was for the Bridge view room, with two double beds request. I was offered to pay to $30 to upgrade to the Opera view room for an earlier check-in as well as a view of the Opera House. I decided to wait for our initial Bridge view room. However we were later on upgraded without extra cost as the check-in staff made a little mistake when checking us in. I think he was embarrassed of it therefore he offered the upgrade despite we didn't ask for it. :P

View from Opera view room
The view from the room are the only photos I took. I was actually a little disappointed with the size of the room. I would appreciate if the room is a little more spacious as it certainly was rather snug with two double beds.

I don't usually try out pools in hotels I stayed in, mainly because my itinerary were usually packed to the brim and the fact that I can't swim. Now that I could move in the pool, and thought it would be a good idea to enjoy the pool, I managed to drag my butt to the pool and did a couple of rounds. The pool is not big and level at 1.4 meters. There was also a hydrotherapy spa and sauna next to it but I only tried the pool.

We also tried their room service meal for dinner, simply because we were too tired and lazy to move after attending the wedding ceremony on Saturday. The three of us shared a cajun chicken pizza and club sandwich. Room service has an extra $5 charge on top of the food price.

Note: For once I have not taken any picture of the food for the whole trip! *gasp* Though I wish I did now, grin... all for blogging material, ok ;)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Central Europe: Itinerary for 21 days

Ok, I lied. This is really the last one, I promise. Here's the recap of travel, or rather it serve as an index page for easier tracking.

Here's some Yugoslavia history in small bite to get you into the mood.
And breakdown of travel days and links to accommodation.

Qatar: Doha
Day 0 - transit on the way to Zagreb and back from Warsaw, because I travelled with Qatar Airways.

Croatia: Zagreb
Day 1 - Half day in Zagreb before taking another flight to Sarajevo at night

BiH: Sarajevo
Day 2 - Walk around Sarajevo city
Day 3 - Historical Museum of BiH and Tunnel of Hope

BiH: Mostar
Day 4 - around Mostar

BiH: Blagaj, Pocitelj, Kravice, Hum Hill
Day 5 - Day trip from Mostar

Croatia: Split
Day 6 - A day in Split

Hungary: Budapest
Day 7 - Travel / Rest day
Day 8, 9 and 10 - Things to do in Budapest

Czech Republic: Prague
Day 11 - Travel / Rest day
Day 12, 14 and 15 - Things to do in Prague
Day 13- Day trip to Kutna Hora

Poland: Krakow and Warsaw
Day 16 - Wieliczka Salt Mine
Day 17 - Around Krakow including Kazimierz (Jewish Quarter)
Day 18 - Auschwitz-Birkenau
Day 19 - Wawel Hill

Day 20 and 22 - Around Warsaw
Day 21 - Warsaw Uprising Museum and Centrum Nauki Kopernik

Till then Europe, I shall return!

Side note: Do you feel ticklish when had a massage?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Central Europe: Poland - Polish Food

Polish food is hearty and tasty. There's a lot of meat and cabbages but I kid you not, the Poles make good food! Just as I started on the posts on Poland, I have already googled for Polish food in Australia and shall make my way there soon. :P
Disclaimer: Some of the photos were taken with my old trusty iPhone4, but please be assured Polish food is yummy. In no particular order, here are some of the Polish food I had.

1. Pierogi
Ravioli like dumplings are like Europe's answer to Chinese dumplings. The stuffing is different though, could be meat, sauerkraut, mushrooms, cheese or fruit.

2. Golabki
I've posted this one before in the salt mine post. This is a cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat with rice.

3. Karczek pork polska (Polish pork neck)

4. Zapieczone polskie kielbasy (Polish Grilled Sausage)

5. Chicken croquette
I had these in a 'milk bar'.

6. Kotlet sl. Z sch (pork chop) 

7. Desserts / snack
Cake gibanica
Oscypek - smoked cheese made of salted sheep milk

zlociste racuszki z gruszka (golden donut with pear)

Lody (ice-cream)

Paczek staropolski (Old Polish Donut, wild rose jam filling)

This is my last post on Central Europe (phew!) for all parties. Took me ages to write and the less-than-five person who may or may not read my blog can finally have something different to see.

I half expected the return leg to be a rushed transit again but I even had time to get myself a box of baklava and a fridge magnet from the shop. I  reckon it might be awhile before I actually do a proper visit to the Middle East, so I might as well get a fridge magnet for myself for remembrance. :P

Till then Europe, I shall return! ;)

Side note: Got to check out that Polish cake shop too!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Central Europe: Poland - Warsaw Uprising Museum

Warsaw Uprising is a major WWII operation by the Polish resistance Home Army to liberate Warsaw from Nazi Germans. the Home Army established an extensive network of underground tunnels and sewers. This enabled them to deliver messages and move around the city. These tunnels gave the Home Army the elements of surprise when they launched an attack. However the Nazis regrouped quickly and demolished the city. The Polish resistance was defeated after fought for 63 days, from August 1st until October 2nd 1944. The Warsaw Uprising symbol was an anchor made up of a P atop of W, stands for "Polska Walczaca or "Poland Fighting".

Warsaw Uprising Museum opened in 2004 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Rising in 1944. It is a tribute to those who fought and died for Poland's independence, the museum recreates the atmosphere during those 63 days of military struggle, and also what it was like under Nazi occupation.

Entrance fee to the museum is 14zł and we paid additional 2zł for 'The City of Ruins' 3D film. It showed a digital reconstruction of an aerial view over destroyed and abandoned Warsaw in 1945.

The museum was a little cramped but very informative. The three level museum documents information on Germany's invasions, the uprising's heroes and their stories. On the ground floor, there is an area which honours the Field Postal Service. The area looks a little like children's area. Varsovian kids played a role in the Warsaw Uprising as 'mailmen'.

Side note: It feels like the time passes faster when the day time is longer...