Friday 29 August 2014


Home at last. After two weeks of travel and exploration I've stumbled home; a bit on the tired side from jetlag and preparing for "normal" to resume.

I really really enjoyed Japan. We visited Tokyo and Osaka and both were exciting, vibrant and full of contrasts.

I got used to being spoken to all the time in a language I don't understand. I made a real effort to learn some basic Japanese before we left, which was vital to us eating on a couple of occasions, but most of the time I didn't understand a word. Unlike other languages which you can pare down to key words (e.g. "You want bag?" or "Tray wait here"), the people we met usually stuck to their usual phrases which they merrily repeated. When these needed a response from me, then mime or switching to English often occurred. The result was me smiling blankly until they had finished talking. In any other place I've visited I think I would panic at facing not knowing what was being said so much.

What I'm most enjoying about being home:
- real tea! I've entirely given up on finding a decent cuppa abroad so have enjoyed my first couple of cups
- not having to walk so far in underground stations. In all seriousness we once found ourselfs walking 850m from out platform to the correct station exit. There were stairs, escalators, walking along another platform, etc all with suitcases!

So far I'm missing:
- shop assistants/train staff/etc all bowing at me
- chopsticks. I was actually slightly miffed that they have me noodles with a fork on the plane!
- saying "hai" (yes/I agree/that's everything/I'm content) all the time.
- being away! I love travelling and visiting new places! ✈️

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Adventures in Tokyo

More customs:
- no one talks on the train, well almost no one - mothers with young children and maybe a group of teenagers, but still very quietly
- don't sit on the floor (crouching is ok if you're desperate)

Things that have made me giggle:
- random translations on menus. In general, the English on display is very good, but we have come across some great ones: squid lever, octopus fried without a coat, one pot of guts possibly selecting, shoestring potatoes, deep fried chicken of knee cartilage, etc...
- accidentally choosing an Italian restaurant for lunch - spaghetti and prawns eaten with chopsticks anyone?
- watching my husband negotiate eating a poached egg on top of spaghetti using chopsticks 
- the fact that the tempura restaurant will batter and deep fry everything including the sheet of seaweed

Another scary thing I did:
- stood on glass platform 350m up on the Skytree (cue picture of my feet!)

Best things we've eaten and drunk:
- sushi meal made of a million courses, including beautiful sashimi
- fresh prawn tempura
- homemade gyoza
- chicken and spring onion yakatori
- sake (particularly one named Joan)
- miso soup, served with almost every meal and often containing clams (which are great fun to deal with using chopsticks!)

Monday 18 August 2014

24 hours in Tokyo

Customs I've learnt:
- never put your bag on the floor: use a table, chair, hook or specially provided basket
- place money on the dish provided, not into the vendor's hand
- stand on the left on the escalator
- a nodding bow is good, but if you bow more then you might end up in a over-bowing situation where people keep bowing lower and lower
- you generally stand by the door of a restaurant (don't walk in the door unless you can't get the waiter's attention), then end up sat in a queue on a chair or stool outside until there is a table ready for you
- don't eat or drink outside/on the move (including on the train), it is acceptable if you are sat on a bench

Other observations:
- people who speak English can be found in the oddest of places: a chef who named every type of fish in English (more than 20 types) and the American girl working in a Japanese cafe with amazing cakes
- the pedestrian crossings and train stations often play jingles or even whole songs to signify different events (e.g. train approaching)
- instructions are very clear (which door to use, which side of the stairs to walk, cycle lanes on pavements, etc) and are often laminated sheets stuck up
- due to the no eating whilst walking "rule" there are almost no litter bins on the streets
- most people seem to be really quiet most of the time, unless their job requires them to be noisy (e.g. greeting customers at a restaurant)

Things I have done that were scary or unusual:
- rode on a roller coaster (my first big roller coaster - can't say it's my favourite activity, but I did it!)
- eaten abalone, roe, sea urchin (two types!) and eel. The eel was quite tasty!

Friday 1 August 2014

Summer relaxing Part 1

It has finally got to that part of the summer where work stops and relaxing starts, and I am loving it!

So far my favourite moment was swimming in a pond. I've been meaning to give outdoor swimming a go for a while now, but never quite got round to it, so you can imagine my excitement when I had an invitation to visit a "ladies pond".

The Hampstead Heath Ladies' Pond (also called the Kenwood Ladies' Pond) is a beautiful stretch of water surrounded by trees and small grassy areas for sitting and reading/chatting/sunbathing. It is "manned" by lifeguards and is generally idyllic. Swimming is one of my favourite activities, and swimming with a couple of friends and some Canada geese was pretty much perfect. 

It's not the sort of place to take photos, so this is the only one I have:

I hope you can imagine how glorious it was!