I’m probably procrastinating, and also a bit presumptuous, especially when we can’t be sure that the MotoGP will even get to Australia this year. But I’ve been route planning for my ride to the MotoGP this October. Probably the fact I just purchased my camping gear is part of the motivation.
It has been a bit of a revelation, when I release myself from dropping in on family or family friends (how many more options open up for route and places to stay. Being able to go about 100km further on a tank (Ninja compared to the Daytona) will mean I can be a little more relaxed about where to get fuel. And, of course, camping opens up options as well.
I decided to plan on about 6 hours of riding per day. With breaks and fuel stops etc, that’s probably getting closer to 7-8 hours a day. I think that’s probably a comfortable pace for me. With camping an option now, I can conceivably decide to go a little further (or less) on a day. October is low/shoulder season, so I would expect that most parks would have a powered or unpowered site available for drop ins.
This time I thought about roads I wanted to travel. So things to tick off.
Kangaroo Valley (it would be nice to go up this)
Princes Highway, south along the coast
Alpine Way (upwards)
Whitfield to Mansfield
That piece south of Lake Eildon that drove me crazy last time.
The road up from Merimbula to Cooma, that was fun in the car even.
It did take me several attempts, because I kept trying to wind my route back to people I could stay with. So I tried a different approach. I put together a long list of various places and times between them. Then I could just plug them together in different ways and see what happened. I will bring with this with me and if I want to make changes I already have the details.
And a plan has come together. I’ve gone from a rough idea of maybe camping one night, to camping probably 3 nights. I have planned to stay in a hotel/motel when I am in Melbourne. This gives me somewhere I can rest, relax, recover. It also means I can store my gear (or spread out and dry/air) safely while I’m at the race.
Day One – Leave Sydney, down the freeway a little, then veer off and down Kangaroo Valley. Once on the coast, follow the Princes Highway down to Marulan. Camp here at the same park we stayed as the family.
Day Two – From Merimbula, up across the mountains to Cooma. Then north to Adaminby and across the Snowy’s down to Colac Colac. This won’t be over the Alpine Way, but one of the alternatives.
Day Three – Colac Colac to Omeo, then over the Alps to Sale and eventually about Dandenong. I’ll stay in a hotel/motel here for the two nights.
Day 3a – If I leave a day earlier, I can spend a day in Melbourne, or have a rest day, or go to practice/qualifying
Day Four – Race day.
Day Five – Head north for Healesville and the Black Spur. Out the other side and up to Eildon. From Eildon I’ll head to Mansfield around the south and east of Lake Eildon and defeat the demon I faced last trip. From there I will probably head back to Colac Colac for the night. Alternatively Wodonga.
Day Six – Over the Snowy Mountains along the Alpine Way. And then on to Canberra.
Day Seven – Home. Probably by my favourite route over the back through to Tarago and Marulan, then freeway home. I suppose I could go down to the coast, then up Kangaroo Valley…. hmm…
About 5 or 6 hours per day. The longest planned is 8 and I’m a little worried about that. Though the next day is short (only 5 hours) so I might stop earlier and even them out. Or I might be travelling really well and be ahead. See, now I’m flexible….
Whenever I have travelled further than a day’s ride, I have either stayed at friends, stayed in accommodation provided by work, or in a hotel. I’ve been thinking about the next trip to the MotoGP. I’m assuming that it will be on this year. And I thought that maybe I might try camping this year.
Now, I’m not a stranger to camping, though it has been many years. I’ve done some hiking, and even with work have stayed out in the bush sometimes. And in this case, I’m not thinking about the kind of camping where I’m away from civilisation for long periods. I’m just talking about bedding down somewhere along the way. Say at a caravan park or something.
Staying at a park means I’ll have amenities, which saves a lot of hassle. Possibly even access to power outlets. Cooking if I want to go that far (I doubt I will).
I have a pretty good sleeping bag. It’s not tiny, but neither is it huge. I figure to about 6C it should be fine. I don’t expect that it should be any colder than that getting to Melbourne, but the bag is rated a little lower if needed. If it is looking bad at the time, I have a bigger, but better rated bag I could pack instead.
I don’t have a tent. Sales are on at the moment, so I picked a quite small single person. It packs down very small. No cover for the bike, but I’m not too worried about that. I’ll take a “foot” for the side stand in case the ground is soft, but I’d be taking that anyway.
I will have to test them out sometime. Firstly just to make sure I know how the tent goes up, then to check the sleeping bag is warm enough. I’ll probably just put them up on my back deck at first, not sure when I could get an actual away trip to experiment with.
These two should fit nicely in my top box. I plan to use my top box and my Kriega backpack (which I would strap to the pillion seat for most of the trip rather than wear). I think that will be enough. Perhaps I can throw in my 30L Kriega tailpack if needed? That should be plenty of space.
I also realised that because I’m no longer studying, I don’t need to bring my iPad and other study stuff. I can keep my electronics down to my phone and the GoPro. This makes it easier to secure, easier to manage charge levels and just less, well, stuff. Ooh… and a torch.
Of course, this all hinges on the MotoGP actually happening and me actually getting away. However, having the bag and the tent available of the future isn’t a bad thing anyway.
I made it. The bike made it. I was pretty tired out and happy to make it back just as the weather started to warm up. I was in my touring gear, so 26C was warm. Later it made 30-35C so it would have been mighty uncomfortable.
In summary, it was a really good trip. I enjoyed almost the whole trip. I made several changes to my route that I had planned, I know I missed a couple of good roads, but I think the long day I had planned would have been a terribly long day.
The Daytona with the Kriega bags did well. It all fitted, though I stashed a backpack on top to carry my water bottle and some snacks. It also meant I had something for race day. I took too much stuff, a couple too many t-shirts and a hoodie I should have left behind.
Day One – Sydney to Canberra.
I headed out from home after the kids left for school so we had a proper goodbye. I left the house unlocked. Oops. First I wound my way through the city and out to Stanwell Tops. I totally missed the RNP turn offs.
After that I headed along the coast, but I should have gone straight back to the highway. It would have saved a lot of time as I dragged along behind lots of sloooooww traffic along the coast. Eventually I was onto the highway again and headed for Mac Pass.
The Pass was pretty quiet and I enjoyed the ride up to the top. Here I found light drizzle, which in the end was the only weather worse than cloudy I had for the whole trip. As you’ll see, it was mostly blue skies for the rest of the week ahead.
After the pass I intercepted the Highland Way which travels from Bowral to Marulan, paralleling the interstate, but much more fun. This is the way I used to travel to Canberra, so it was fuel at Marulan and then on to Bungonia and eventually Canberra.
I reached Canberra mid afternoon before heading to my friend’s for the night. I also met the guy I was picking my tickets up from. At this stage I reckon I’m now about a day behind most riders as even the Canberra riders will have mostly headed south already.
Day Two – Canberra to Bowna
The guy who I had picked the tickets from had recommended an alternate route over the Snowies, and I decided to try it. It’s the same distance (almost to the km) as the Alpine Way (the normal way up through Thredbo), but is further north through Cabramurra.
This road turned out to be pretty quiet, but very enjoyable. So, stash that away for future use. Apparently there is an option even further north, Elliots Way. By this time I realised that it was probably best that I was on my own. I was taking it very easy so my pace would have likely held most people up, but it also meant I could stop and rest or take photos whenever I felt like it.
After an enjoyable ride, I reached the other side and turned back towards Khancoban to fuel up. I probably stopped for fuel way more often than I needed throughout this trip, but for several legs I was unsure of fuel and the Daytona at about 200km doesn’t have the longest range. Anyway at Khancoban, the only bike talk was several had been booked coming the other way (Alpine Way) but by this point I had not seen a single Highway Patrol.
From here I headed along River Rd towards the Wymah Ferry. This was another nice road, though the plague of bugs in the Murray Valley that I remember from 10 years ago was in full force, giving the bike and me a lovely covering! I reached my accommodations in Bowna without any troubles.
Day Three – Bowna to Melbourne.
First up, I changed my original plan of the epic ride south across the Alps and Gippsland. I figured that would be too much in one day and I would eventually get to Melbourne exhausted. I planned a route southwest, almost the same as my plans for the return trip. I needed fuel so I headed in to Albury and together with a bit of stuffing about in town I was a little behind schedule. I decided to run down the Interstate to Wangaratta, then turn left (east) and headed for some wiggly lines that seemed to start at Whitfield.
And wiggly they were. The Whitfield-Mansfield road turns out to be a popular ride. And I certainly enjoyed it. I reached Mansfield and fuelled up. At this point it was about midday and I was considering having lunch, as I hadn’t really eaten since breakfast at about 0700. I was trying to decide the next leg as I had been given a tip about a road south of Mansfield, but wasn’t clear which it was. I noticed only 2 bikes head south from Mansfield and the rest (about 10 at this stage) all headed west, but the south bikes were a S1000RR and a ZX10R. I didn’t expect they would be looking from gravel, so I followed.
I made a call to turn right just before Jamieson, now about 1230. I headed up this road, Jamieson to Eildon that seemed to be the one described to me. Sealed but it was about 50km of tight (usually 30km/h) turns seemingly all downwards right hand turns without any relief.
By part way I was hating this road. And it was my own fault. I was exhausted as I had decided to skip eating at Mansfield. The tight road worked me hard and I was low on energy and high on fatigue. I must have stopped three or four times to eat some M&Ms (all I had with me, another error) and drink and rest (and rage against the road). I still wasn’t even sure if this was the correct one.
About 90 mins later, almost 2pm, I reached Eildon. I fuelled up, rested and munched on a sausage roll. I gave up my rough plan to head through the Black Spur, simply typing the hotel’s address into the GPS and letting it navigate. It took two more hours but eventually I made it. Time for dinner and a rest. The following day was related to other stuff, mostly study.
OMG the ride from Melbourne to the Island was long, uncomfortable and boring. After 1400km to get here, I almost gave up on the hour and a bit to the Island, it was such a drag.
But I got there and I figured I must be a bit early as there wasn’t really a huge number of bikes.
The racing was excellent. Moto 3 was epic, and Jack Miller (#43 from Australia) even led the MotoGP for a little bit. That had the crowd going. MotoGP was an excellent race as well with lots going on. The pic at the top is the view from my seat. Zarco’s epic crash was straight in front in the big gravel patch.
Heading home from the Island I really felt that the bike numbers were massively down from previous visits. Instead of 4 queues of bikes taking up two lanes for as far as you could see, there was 1 line filtering down beside two lines of cars. Others I’ve talked to have commented noticed as well.
Day umm Six – back to Bowna.
Again I decided not to do the epic over the Alps ride. I think I will do that on another trip and stay somewhere closer. So I thought to head out through the Black Spur and find my way to Mansfield (I was still scarred by the Jamieson-Eildon rd, so ignored that option). From there it was up to Litchfield, then back roads to Bowna. In the end, I used the Interstate from Albury as it’s only about 20mins from there to Bowna.
Day Seven – Bowna to Canberra
Ok, today I had a choice to make. Back the way I came over the new (to me) road via Cabramurra or the Alpine Way from Khancoban. The Khancoban way I had come down about 10 years ago, thinking this would be awesome to come up. But there was likely to be cops, though I still hadn’t seen a single one (not including those on traffic control at Phillip Island of course).
But that was later. I got on the road, back across the Wymah Ferry and along the River Rd, as I had on the way down. Fun road all the way to Khancoban. This was a fuel stop and decision point.
It really wasn’t until I was rolling out of the petrol station that I decided. 10 years was long enough, I would head up Alpine Way. Wasn’t a huge number of bikes about either, again I think was a day behind most by now.
Alpine was a nice piece of road, long at about 90kms to Thredbo, but in great shape. I’m certainly glad I did it from Khancoban upwards, rather than Thredbo down. I was also glad to have bought some lunch at Khancoban that I stashed in my bag. It made for a nice picnic up in the mountains, giving me a chance to relax. I wasn’t going to repeat my earlier stuff up.
Out of Thredbo, it was basically a run to Cooma and eventually Canberra which I made in good time.
Day Eight – Home.
This was a rush. So I headed out through my usual back roads to Marulan and took the Interstate from there. I was home before the heat hit and before lunch. I was somewhat tired out by it all though. But home.
NOT A SINGLE COPPER. That was weird. People went on and on about the cops in Victoria, but I literally didn’t see a single one.
Almost no wildlife troubles. All the roos and wombats I saw were dead. Almost collected a small bird that decided to cross the road but he swerved at the VERY last moment. Saw enchindas twice, that was cool.
The bike got too warm after stopping twice, involving it rejecting all its excess coolant. The level never dropped to concerning level, but it is annoying. I wonder if the cooling system is not performing as well as it used to, because this is a common occurrence in my commuting and I don’t remember it happening previous summers.
If I do this again, I will use a bike with a top box, and/or panniers.
Slowly it is becoming more definite that I will actually get a chance to ride to the MotoGP round at Phillip Is. It’s been more than ten years since I’ve made it too the Island and I am quietly, extremely excited. I am also excited about the actual journey, which is probably more than half of the excitement. Mrs Mab, who normally puts a big wet blanket on this kind of idea, has tasked me with a couple of things while in Melbourne and she’s taken leave. These are positive factors that increase the chances.
I’ve started early planning. I have a rough idea of timings and routes. I’m currently trying to figure out how much to take, and how to carry it. Gear wise, it’s pretty sorted. Helmet, gloves, Dianese touring pants and jacket, touring boots. Comfortable, warm and not too bad in heat, along with waterproof, it will work in all weathers. And previous experience, a week travelling across the Alps and into Victoria and the Island, the weather could do all of those. I will take my neck sock, probably my winter/waterproof gloves and don’t think I will take the quilted liners. Instead I will use layers of regular clothing as then I can use that when not on the bike.
Gear depends so much on the expected weather, and while it is changeable, it’s unlikely to be super cold, so liners and winter gloves are the first to be eliminated. And I won’t put too much trust in the forecasts, it will give me a ballpark. The better the weather, the lighter I can travel.
Today, I put together a pile of clothes, a rough idea of other gear (tools, lube, electronics) in order to get some idea of what I might be taking. It works out to about 20-30L. Currently I have a 10-15L tank bag and a 10-15L tail pack. I WILL NOT take a heavy backpack, I may take a light one, but all of the baggage options also have shoulder straps etc, so an actual backpack is probably overkill. I don’t want to even take the tank bag if I can help it. So one option I can try is strapping a backpack to the backseat. Not the best option.
I’m considering getting a Kreiga tailpack. That was part of the reason to sort out the approximate size. Looks like a US30 will work. I’ve heard good things about them and being waterproof that will be an advantage. But I could also grab a smaller US10 (or 2) as well. I could use this on race day instead of dragging the whole pack there. Another advantage is that I can use this set up on other bikes in the future. As much as I would hope to have a VFR with topbox by the Island trip, that would need a Lotto win or something to happen.
The route I have pretty much decided. Sydney to Canberra one day via my old commuting route through Bungonia and Queenbeyan. Next day over Thredbo and down to Khancoban. The last day will be from Wodonga over the alps and to Melbourne. Coming back the same way. Staying with friends up and back, except Melbourne I don’t have any that I think would be willing to put me up for a few days, so likely stay in a hotel then.
So the planning continues, the excitement builds, but is kept in check by past history of disappointment. We’ll see and I’ll keep you posted.
With Japanese rules about prepaid SIM cards and phone numbers meaning that only Japanese residents can get one, the main way to get internet on your phone when out and about seems to be the Mobile Internet Wifi Hotspot type device. This is a small phone sized gadget that has a SIM card inside and you and your travel buddies all connect their phones to. This is the basic default method for tourists and can be organised prior or once you’re there quite easily.
Of course, I couldn’t see this working for us. The main reason – Mrs Mab and I often move about on holidays separately. Usually, it is her off in one part of the shop (or a different shop) and me in another. So using a wifi gadget would never work.
I eventually decided upon two data only SIMs from Roaming Abroad. This would mean we could message each other, but also FaceTime or Messenger video (or Skype etc) each other, even when far apart. Even though these guys were a bit more expensive, they offered two things I liked. Unlimited data (and it seemed pretty much unlimited) and delivery to our home in Australia before we left.
Service was quick. And upon arrival the SIMs were swapped over. And this is where I should have read the instructions before I left. While it tells you quite clearly not to insert the SIM, I do suggest that you at least head to the website listed in the instructions to get the SIM profile required.
And this is probably the other area of caution. I’m not 100% comfortable with this profile as it seems to be a copy, not provided by the Japanese telephone company and there are several warnings that come up when accessing it. You need to install this profile, then reboot the phone. On your return you need to delete the profile so you go back to your normal provider and reboot your phone again.
However it did work fine. And so far there is no evidence of anything dodgy.
Japan Rail Pass
This caused us a fair bit of should we / shouldn’t we. It’s quite expensive and comes in fixed lengths. After about 2 Shinkansen rides, it’s paid for itself and we had 3 planned. But it came in 7 or 14 day lengths. Our trips were 8 days apart and the whole holiday was 16 days. So didn’t quite fit. That is something to keep in mind in your own planning. In the end we decided upon the standard 14 day pass. Yes it expired before we departed, but by that time we had returned to Tokyo and could use other means to get around.
It would have been better if we had planned around those times, as most SIM cards seemed to come in about the same length
Baggage on the Shinkansen
Another area that I did a lot of research to try to understand was baggage on the Shinkansen. I knew that no matter how much I cajoled and argued, my dream of the four of us using small carry on sized bags only was never going to happen. On the last trip we had 4 medium/large suitcases.
The Shinkansen doesn’t have a luggage area. The main place to store bags is in some spare space at the back of each carriage. First come, first served and fits about 6-8 bags with the rest of the passengers having to keep them with them or on the overhead racks.
Other than that these were an AWESOME way to travel and our main regret is that we always expected them to take longer!
Oh and the seats have power too.
There are some other IC cards that can be purchased as well. These are the ones we had after a friend let me borrow theirs. Basically (for Sydney folks, Opal Cards) are swipe cards that can be used on all public transport, as well as many shops and vending machines (this was neat at the airport as I tried to use them up).
They’re also easy to load, at machines around the stations as well as in Convenience Stores. So highly recommended. There is another card Pasco, I think, which is the same, just a different company (Suico I think is JR).
Child is, I think, below 12 years old and you can only get these in the same JR Pass Offices where you get your Japan Rail Pass (I am not 100% sure about the Office at Haneda though). This is worthwhile as child is 50% of the travel of an adult.
Are the most confusing things in Japan. They are spread out, across several hundred metres, with platforms up to 800m apart even. The platforms are not all nicely grouped together that you might see in Sydney or Melbourne, and I think this is related to them all being different companies.
Tip 1 – Google will sometime tell you the platform. This is usually correct, but occasionally there are more than one train route stopping on a particular platform.
Tip 2 – Many stations have large yellow signs on the platforms, this list common destinations from that station and tells you the exit number you need to get out. THIS WILL HELP A LOT!
Tip 3 – Ask the staff, their English is usually okay and they will likely know some of the common tourist destinations anyway.
Take your time in the station and you should be okay. Worst case, hit the nearest exit and let Google GPS you on your way.
There was one main goal for the return to Tokyo. To get safely on the plane without any hassle…..
No, it was to get back to Disneyland!
And this time it wasn’t the school holidays, spring vacation finished. We were really hoping that it would be pretty empty.
And we were not disappointed. At least compared to the first visit. There were actually a lot of people, but many were lining up to get in the front for the parade. It was 10am and the parade was at 3pm. AND THEY WERE ALREADY LINING UP! But at least if they’re waiting for the parade they aren’t on the rides.
I had also worked out how Fastpass works in Disney. A good system I think. You swipe your ticket at a booth near the ride and it gives you a hour window during the day to return and get your ride. You can’t swipe your ticket again until this one has expired but you can do it as many times as you like, on the same or another ride.
The girls were again tall enough to ride on everything, alone if they had wanted. So we hit up the rides – “Big Thunder Mountain”, “Space Mountain”, “Star Tours” and over the day we hit up about 15 rides. A lot more than the 2-3 we managed at the other park visits. Mrs Mab got her dream ride… about 3 rides on “It’s a small world”, and they were with her as the only rider!
The next day we headed to Odiba, which is a fairly newish development area, I think reclaimed from the bay. They have two tallish things. The Statue of Liberty.
And a life-size Gundam.
It was a bit strange as we got off the tram and ended up in a new, but mostly empty shopping centre. After wandering along the beach for a bit, we stopped someone to ask directions. He said “Oh are you looking for the Gundam?” We were like “No, but what?” And we headed that way.
It was located outside the foodcourt of another mall (basically across the road from the other mall) and this one was packed. So we discovered where all the people were!
After this it was back to the hotel.
The following day was the trip home. With all of our baggage, we ended up taking a large taxi to the airport and arrived really, really early, so we were stuck with our bags for a couple of hours. On the plus side, we were first in line for the check in!
The return home was uneventful, arriving home on Thursday at about 10am. I hated the flight home, and was over the flight by about 3 hours in. There wasn’t anything wrong, the seat etc was fine. I was probably just exhausted, but I’ve flown a lot in my life and never felt as uncomfortable and impatient to get off the plane. I spent most of the flight wishing I was sitting in these seats (which I have also spent many hours in) which shows just how annoyed I was. I still don’t know why.
We bought a few souvenirs and a pile of different snacks, but that was about it. I didn’t look at electronics, clothes seemed the same price (and I couldn’t find anything my size) as here, so our usual purchases didn’t happen (and the bags didn’t grow too much!).
Overall, it was a FANTASTIC trip that I would recommend heartily to anyone. Japan is a fascinating, safe, enjoyable place to visit.
Osaka, only 15 mins bullet train away. Didn’t really realise that it was that close until we busied ourselves settling into our seats in Kyoto. Then I looked it up and told everyone that we had to start packing up in order to get off the train again. And then we were there.
We stayed in an area called Dontonburi, a busy restaurant and nightlife area. It also has a busy shopping strip, so it was lively and very handy for us. We had taken a morning train so still had plenty of time that day. Our first destination we decided, was a place called Kids Plaza. This was a giant indoor play area, that included some science activities. It was busy with locals, but there was plenty to do and we stayed until closing. (I spent several hours working on my assignments while the kids enjoyed themselves). Afterwards it was back to the hotel and then out for dinner on the streets nearby.
The goal the next day was Universal. Having learned our lesson about arriving late on a busy day, we aimed for a 7am wakeup and 8am we would be on our way.
When we eventually woke up at 8am we managed to make it to the park by 9:30am, a little behind schedule. Then I picked the slowest ticket queue in history so it was 10am before we actually entered the park. It was busy like Disney in Tokyo as it was still the Japanese spring vacation period. The fastpass worked differently here too. For double the entry fee you could get 1 ride on each of 4 (or 7 for even more money) selected rides on the day.
We spent a couple of hours exploring Harry Potter world before starting on the rest of the park. After almost two hours in the queue at Jurassic World we became quite concerned about how many people were putting plastic coats or ponchos ahead of us. Seriously, they’re not going to get us that wet, its a theme park not a water park.
Uh, no, we got quite wet. It may have been worse as I was seated in the front row and there was another large guy behind me, so the boat may have dug in more at the bottom of the 23m drop, than they usually do when full of much more slight Japanese? The getting wet and the drop did not impress Mrs Mab and she decided she didn’t want anymore ups and downs at theme parks. This is something she has decided before, but I guess we forgot?
The park was starting to empty out by this stage as the day started to end. We managed to ride Spiderman 4D which was well done, though lost a little for us as all the characters spoke Japanese (well duh, obviously). It was also another thrill ride, so Mrs Mab didn’t see much with her eyes closed.
After two days of kids activities, it was back to temples and castles (groaned the kids…). It was a little rainy, and this was the worst weather we would get for the whole trip. But it wasn’t rainy enough that we couldn’t move about town, so off we went to Osaka Castle.
While the site is hundreds of years old, the Castle is basically a museum, built as a replica in the 1930s. Still, as a replica, the original must have been extremely impressive when surrounded by low wooden and bamboo buildings. And again, with the moat! Wow.
The kids did enjoy the playground we found nearby. Even as much that we came back the next day to let them play on it for the afternoon.
That day was really cold. The rain and cloud cleared, but the day didn’t really warm up. We explored the city centre a little, without anything special. In the evening we headed over to Senso-Ji Temple. Unfortunately we did leave it pretty late in the day, so most of the shops were closing up, so we missed out on trying any food :(. Another impressive temple.
After Tokyo, our next destination was Kyoto. We were excited to spend a few hours riding the Shinkansen (Bullet Train). There aren’t any trains this fast in Australia, and since riding on one, I think they would be an AWESOME way to travel around Australia (if only each city also had great public transport…..).
So with all our bags, we set off to Tokyo Station and bought up big on our Bento boxes. The train was like a really spacious airliner, lots of leg room and none of that confined, super air-conditioned recycled pressurised air feeling that drains you when you fly. And things to see out the windows. In all we were quite disappointed to be arriving after only about 2.5 hours in Kyoto.
Again we dragged our bags across the city to our hotel. After check in we took a train over to the Gion district, an old area famous for Geisha and Maiko. I did see a Maiko, but I can’t imagine a full Geisha wandering through the area all dressed up. Eventually we ended up at the Yasaka Shrine to discover the entrance area was full of food stalls. We wandered about munching on the delicious food we found. This turned out to be a common set up near shrines and our taste buds loved it…
The next day we discovered more Cherry blossoms and wandered about the grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. I managed to set off an alarm wandering too close to a wall. We also visited Nijo-jo Castle, which impressed me with its moat. I can’t imagine invading one was easy with these in the way. They also have a Nightengale Floor, which is designed so that no one can sneak up on the Lords. I had read about it and it works well, and is a surprisingly pleasantly creaky floor!
Another organised tour the following day took us to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. This was another amazing historical place and I drank the waters that are supposed to support good fortune and good luck in your studies.
Next stop was the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine, with a famous set of orange gates leading up a set of stairs. Again amazing to see things that were so old. After that was the Bamboo Forrest and Arashiyama. Another set lunch here filled our bellies. The last stop on this tour was the Rokuon-Ji Temple, also known as the Golden Temple. Though typical of Japanese historical sites it has burned down at least one, it was a peaceful and impressive site.
The next day we headed back to Arashiyama and Mrs Mab was taken on a small rickshaw ride, having a great chat with the runner. Afterwards it was back to Gion to watch a cultural show, which was interesting, but disappointing in its lack of Geisha/Maiko.
A long planned holiday has finished up about a week ago. We headed to Japan for almost three weeks. Japan is a place that many people have always wanted to go, and I am no different. Mrs Mab initially wasn’t too interested, but was encouraged by her workmates that it was a great place to visit.
We planned 4 days in Tokyo, 4 in Kyoto, 4 in Osaka and 3 more in Tokyo for our return. Big items on the family’s list was Disney and Universal (of course), Mt Fuji, Cherry Blossoms and seeing some cultural stuff. Our timing was dictated by Mrs Mab’s leave from work so we left in the last three weeks of Term 1 here, covering Easter as well. It also was the Japanese school Spring Vacation.
And it was Cherry Blossom time in Tokyo. We struck it very lucky as it was cold for the time before we arrived. About 5 days or so before we arrived it suddenly warmed, starting the blossoms, which meant that as we arrived they were starting to peak. That was a total lucky chance.
We did most of our own planning, simply drawing up a list of things we wanted to see and decided to wing it. Apart from booking a day tour that included Mt Fuji (and included lunch and a visit to an onsen, the Japanese bath house).
We arrived in Tokyo on a pleasant Tuesday morning and eventually we’ve arrived at Shinjuku station. This is where it all became abundantly clear that we were in a different country and that Tokyo was MUCH bigger than Sydney. It took us 15 minutes at least to find an exit to the station that was vaguely in the direction of our hotel. This would prove the only really confusing part of our stay, getting into and out of stations, often with luggage, and in the direction of where we wanted to go (rather than on completely the other side of the station and having to go back through or around it). The trains themselves, thanks to Google’s knowledge of public transport, were easy. Just the stations….
After dropping our bags we headed to the nearby Shinjuku Gyoen gardens to see the cherry blossoms. Many locals were out having picnics and quite a few in kimonos and the male equivalent. Very cool to see. The other sights that surprised us were the convenience stores and the vending machines. Everywhere you turned there was one or both, or many!
After the park, we visited the Meiji Shrine before heading to Shibuya Crossing, the one seen on many pictures and many movies. It wasn’t as busy as expected, though it was early afternoon on a Tuesday. Next up was Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo’s other really tall thing (not the more well known red and white Tokyo Tower).
Mt Fuji was our main destination on the next day. Our first organised tour for the trip, it took us by bus up Fuji, then to a nearby town with a set lunch. After the lunch was the onsen and then the Factory Outlets store. Fuji reminded me a lot of Ruapehu, which I used to live next to. Fuji is a bit larger. The girls saw snow for the very first time, though it was that crappy melted and turned to ice been cleared off the road kind, but still snow.
I did try the onsen, though I was the only one in my family and only about half the bus load were “brave” enough to strip down and enjoy the hot water. Was kind of cool relaxing in the hot water gazing over Fuji.
The next day was Disney Sea. It was SUPER busy, with spring vacation on. We managed 2 rides in about 7 hours at the park, partly because I misunderstood that FastPass was free there. The most unexpected thing was that everyone remained seated on the ground to watch the parade. Made it really easy for all to see. It also turned really cold in the evening. It was an expensive day, though mostly due to the price of food in the park.
The evening parade was pretty cool, with the best scene being where the Magic Mirror (which was a light ring, perhaps 10m tall) was doing something and showed the dragon from Sleeping Beauty. AND THEN THE DRAGON CAME OUT OF THE MIRROR. It was pretty cool transition to the mechanical dragon, before Mickey defeated it and sent it back into the mirror.
And that was Tokyo, the next day was the Shinkansen (bullet train) and Kyoto.