Arboretum du Vallon de l’Aubonne – Gentle Walk With Scenic Surprises in Morges

This vast park houses a beautiful collection of trees and plants from all over the world, including a unique and beautiful Japanese garden. There’s also a river that rushes by as you walk, a large pond with bridges to cross it and many landscapes from fields, to forests and flowerbeds. 

When you arrive at the Arboretum there’s a free parking area off the road to the right where you can leave the car. From here, you then follow the path and will quickly come across a route map of the Arboretum where you can choose from four different loops around the nature reserve, depending on how far you want to walk and what you wish to see. For our first visit we chose the Chemin Du Lac route which is around 3KM so a very short walk, however it was our second outing of the day and we also had a three month old with us so we wanted to avoid being out with her in the baby carrier for too long stretches at a time. The great thing about the Arboretum is that you can combine many of the different trails they propose for a longer walk where you get too see more of the variety of trees and plants in the nature park.

Along the walk there’s various signs highlighting the different tree species you see, as well as great sculptures – look out for the giant bugs as you start the path! 

It doesn’t take long at all to complete the Chemin Du Lac route, around an hour, and at the start and end you have public toilets, as well as a shop, restaurant and the Wood Museum. We would have loved to enter the museum but it was closed during our walk. It’s definitely somewhere we will be returning to though in the near future so I will make sure to update this post with what we find and our thoughts after we head back.

There’s plenty of picnic places on your route if you want to extend your stay and enjoy some lunch or dinner while you are relaxing in the tranquil forest or by the pond. 

We found that a lot of the route was shaded, which is good with small children, but obviously on a hot day there’s parts where the sun can’t be avoided and it definitely can get warm on the exposed longer paths. 

Overall, a visit to the Arboretum makes for a peaceful half a day excursion, and has plenty to entertain all the family as they explore this well-kept nature reserve. 

Top Tips for the Walk:

  1. Check online to ensure it is open as it depends on the season
  2. It’s probably not a great place to visit in bad weather, and even in good weather make sure you dress accordingly
  3. Bug protection is a good idea, put on some deet or a gentle repellent before arriving
  4. Pack a picnic and enjoy a rest mid walk on one of the many picnic spots
  5. Combine two of the routes to see a good variety of landscapes. But if you have little ones who can’t walk too far or limited time, the orange route is a great way to visit a lot on offer in a short space of time.
  6. Combine this with a visit to the nearby Signal De Bougy if you have young kids – there’s a free play park, mini petting zoo and facilities here to entertain everyone. We even loved it as adults with a three-month old!

Download the friendly PDF guide for more details on this hike

Lac Du Vernex Hike and Picnic Spot – Hikes in Vaud

❖ Length – 4km loop

❖ 1.5 hours needed at least

❖ Toilets at start and end

❖ Picnic spots around the lake on the banks.

❖ Family friendly and stroller friendly for 90% of the route which is gravel / paved but babies best in carriers.

You’d be hard pressed to find a calmer or gentler walking route for a beautiful Sunday hike than the looped trail from the quiet mountain town of Rossinière to Lac du Vernex.

It is an easy 4km walk suitable for adults, families and those with babies if they are in a suitable carrier. We did it with a three week old baby and it was really enjoyable and a great walk for some gentle exercise.

It should take just a little more than an hour to complete the loop, longer if your hiking group has little ones who prefer a slower pace. 

We started our walk at Rossinière train station, where we also parked our car to return to later thanks to the looped route. If you turn right with your back to the station, you begin the walk on the better paved side but then after around 40 minutes arrive at a beautiful grassy bank on the left where I would recommend you stop for a picnic. It is just past a house, and the slope eases down to the lakefront making it the perfect place to stop and refresh. 

The water is very cold, even in the summer months, so take a dip if you are brave enough (we were not!) but I would advise testing the water temperature first so you are not in for a nasty surprise when you jump in!

Continue the loop around after your lunch, ending right back where you started.

I love this walk as it is so peaceful, there’s great spots to pull out a blanket and read under the sun for a quiet afternoon, and it’s super accessible for all levels of hikers. 

All in all, you can easily spend half a day here if you walk, eat and spend some time on the lake. It’s a beautiful place to explore and especially nice on a warm Spring day.

Download the free PDF version of the guide today

Arnensee Hike and Boat Trip

There are many beautiful lakes in Switzerland, but the Arnensee easily makes it into my top five due to it’s incredible backdrop of mountains and forests, and the icey turquoise of the lake which shimmers in the midday sun at just over 1500m elevation.

It is easily accessed by either car or foot, both taking a trail through the forest and alongside a river until you emerge at the rewarding mountain lake. We drove there from Gstaad until we reached the town of Feutersoey and followed signposts to the lake. From Feutersoey it is around a ten minute drive, or an hour and a half (6KM) walk. With a newborn in the car, we chose the driving option, although one day would like to return for the hike as it was a beautiful path, albeit it mainly uphill. 

If you do drive, be mindful that you need to pay five francs entry in order to open the barrier and access the route to the lake. The machine at the barrier also only accepts coins, so make sure you’re prepared in advance. 

When you reach the lake you have several options after taking in the beautiful scenic view. We chose to first hire a row boat and head out on to the lake before it got too warm from the direct sun. These are easily hired from the restaurant ‘Huus am Arnensee’ on your left of the lake. We paid 15 francs to hire a rowboat for one hour, and you can pay by cash or card, but they also have stand up paddle boards and pedalos. The staff are really friendly and happy to help.

After your lake excursion, you can then walk the path around the water’s perimeter which takes around an hour and has some beautiful picnic spots, fire pits and places to enter the lake for a cold but refreshing swim if you wish to. It is an easy walk but only stroller friendly on the right hand side, so babies are best in carriers. 

Finally, round off your day with a refreshing drink and the delicious spicy tomato soup at the Huus am Arnensee restaurant. The prices are really reasonable and the terrace has great views for a midday or end of hike stop before heading home.

All in all, you can easily spend half a day here if you walk, eat and spend some time on the lake. It’s a beautiful place to explore and especially nice on a warm Spring day where you can row out without worrying about too much sun exposure.

Top Tips for the Walk:

  1. Get there early to avoid crowds and secure a boat. We arrived at 9:30am and it was perfect.
  2. You need 5 francs in coins if you want to drive up to the lake to pass the barrier 
  3. Parking is free at the top however
  4. If you want to swim, remember it’s a high altitude mountain lake and therefore a bit cold!
  5. Only a paved path on one side of the lake

Download the free PDF version of the guide today

Gorges De La Jogne Hike – Scenic River Trail in Gruyeres

This tranquil and scenic hike follows the river over bridges and along carefully carved out footpaths until you reach the impressive Montsalvans Dam and Lac de Montsalvans. 

It’s easy to follow the walk, and takes around an hour and a half to reach the final stop at the Montsalvans Dam where you can pause for a picnic or continue on to Charmey for lunch at one of the towns’ restaurants. We always choose the picnic option as it’s so nice to sit by the blue of Montsalvans lake and refresh before walking the same path back to the car (so it’s 7km in total, taking around 3 hours without a stop).

It is family friendly, and great for kids to explore, however it isn’t stroller suitable and if you have a baby who has yet to find or only recently discovered their feet you will want to take them in a suitable carrier instead. 

If you put the destination ‘Gorges De La Jonge’ into your Sat Nav or phone maps, you will be taken to the start where you can park the car before beginning the walk. The turn off the main road to the entrance of the walk is just around a bend and can be easy to miss so try and take it slow as you approach. 

Begin the walk at the car park, and follow the path along the river until you hit a little cave, just after the waterfall, where you pass through on to a wooden bridge curving around the rock face. Then just keep following the trail until you get to the dam at the end. It’s very easy to find your way and there are places to stop and picnic places along the trail if you want a break or get a little hungry. 

We really love the walk as it’s always so serene and we rarely pass other people when doing it. We have also experienced it in all seasons, such as when we were met with some unseasonal May snow which made for a very different type of walk and views along the way. 

Be warned that they don’t open the gates to the start of the walk until April at the earliest, and it closes again for winter. I would recommend checking out their website online to see if they are open before heading there – https://www.la-gruyere.ch/en/Z10968/gorges-jogne 

Once we didn’t as it was mid-summer and our path was blocked by a fallen tree that had broken one of the bridges crossing the river, so now we always quickly check. 

Top Tips for the Walk:

  1. Check online to ensure it is open as it depends on the season and weather conditions
  2. Pack a picnic as there are not any restaurants or stalls where you can get refreshments along the way
  3. The same goes for toilets, you will need to go ‘au natural’ if you need to along the way
  4. It is kid friendly but not stroller friendly
  5. Wear good shoes as the path can be a little uneven at times
  6. Take a camera, it’s truly beautiful!

How You Can Take Over Ten Trips A Year Whilst Working – An Insiders Guide To Travelling With A Full-Time Job

You see so many stories of incredible people handing in their notice, packing up their bags and heading out for an indefinite period to explore the world. Endless countries ticked off the bucket list, an opportunity to forget about long-term plans and the chance to see many countries in such a short space of time.

The reality is that the above takes more than just courage to take the leap. It also requires savings you’re willing to invest (and not see back) on the travel costs, an ability to live out of a back pack for an extended period of time, and the knowledge that unless you’re on a sabbatical, if you ever want to come home you need to start the process of job hunting, accommodation sorting and logistics all over again.

The good news is that this doesn’t mean you have to give up on the dream of regular travel if you can’t or don’t want to give up work. It’s actually incredibly feasible if this is a big priority for you.

Here are my top tips for balancing work and travel, to keep those wanderlust dreams alive whilst rocking a traditional 9-5.

Be flexible with travel dates

If you currently don’t have children, or a role that mandates specific holidays are taken (such as the wonderful teachers among us) then make the most of your calendar freedom and travel when the flights are cheaper and the destinations are quieter.

Use a travel comparison site such as SkyScanner to locate the best prices for your next trip and fly on these days where possible. Cost savings like these mean you can then afford more trips throughout the year.

Prague in Winter is incredible, the cold and snow makes the city feel magical and mystical. Traditional expensive ski resorts become affordable hiking paradises in the summer. It’s all about the dates and the flexibility when it comes to travelling more with a job.

On this, also be flexible with your destination

Unless you have somewhere your heart is set on visiting, try and be flexible with your next destination. We have a huge list of everywhere we hope to see, but it’s not constrained by time. The big Weir bucket list!

 We again use travel comparison sites such as SkyScanner to search from flights from our closest airports to ‘everywhere’ and then find somewhere with a great deal on from our big wish list of destinations.

Obviously this isn’t always achievable as you may have a deep craving for pasta and wine in Tuscany that a trip to Poland just won’t quench, but where you can be flexible, try.

Photo by Michael Block on Pexels.com

Enjoy your work

This may seem like a strange tip, but I really do think it’s important to have a good work life balance and a job you genuinely enjoy doing for this to work well.

If you are forever just looking forward to your next office break, have no enthusiasm for what you are going back to or don’t feel excited or stretched then you may begin to resent your time spent not travelling.

A work life balance is just about liking what you do in work, as well as making sure you get enough time away from it to indulge in your passions and interests.

For me, this kind of approach of working hard and travelling harder works because I put the same amount of energy into both aspects. I think it’s a super key element many people miss when trying to strike up this kind of balance with travelling vs. a full-time backpacking year.

Maximise those bank holidays

Every year, I block out the public holidays where I am living and try and book some extra dates off around these to maximise my vacation time. A week away can easily just require two days leave if you time it right.

Yes prices may be a little inflated, but it’s up to you to weigh up the benefits of longer travel vs. the cost. Plus, you don’t need to fly for these trips. Do the planet a favour and hop on a train to the nearest country, or a short ferry or cruise overseas. Sometimes the best places to discover are on our doorstep.

Long weekends are golden

Again, similar to the above, you can see some incredible cities in just three days. Take a Thursday night flight out, and Sunday night flight back and you have easily squeezed in an exciting long weekend without much stress or missed work!

We love our long weekend escapes. Pack light, pick out a few top sights to see and indulge in some good food and new cultures for three days.

Great weekend city breaks include Paris, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Rome, Prague, Krakow, Berlin, Budapest, Vienna or Edinburgh.

Ignore the comments

One of the strangest things about this kind of lifestyle has to be the frequent comments and observations from others it attracts about how ‘you are always on holiday’ or ‘they’re shocked you ever manage to get any work done’.

The reality is you get just as much vacation as your peers. You are just utilising it in a way that works for you and meets your travel goals. If you choose to spend your weekends in Naples enjoying a pizza rather than a weekend at home it doesn’t matter. You will both be back in the office on Monday.

Do what works for you, and don’t worry about what others think of it.

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

Live with less to travel more

People quite often comment on how we manage to afford all the travel we do. Sometimes out of intrigued, sometimes I think a little suspicious, and sometimes perhaps not with the best intentions.

Our method is simple. Prioritize what matters to you and invest both your time and money here.

For us, travel matters. As a result, we rarely buy new clothes, we currently are car-free, we live below our means and we don’t tend to buy ‘nice-to-haves’ like decorative items, makeup trends or the latest iPhones / other technology. It’s our choice, and definitely isn’t a choice we think is better than others or right for everyone. But it’s right for us.

By living like this we have freed up money to go away often and make many memories in different places. It’s perfectly possible to have a mix of both, with a few trips a year as well, but our reality of upwards of ten vacations a year wouldn’t be possible without this choice we’ve made.

Work on the go

If you have a job that allows this, or a remote career, then you really have unlocked the next level when it comes to working and travelling. Office hours by day, and exploring at night and weekends. However this isn’t possible for everyone – though definitely something we can all work towards!

These tips all sound obvious, but they all require flexibility and discipline to turn your bi-annual vacation into a true blend of constant work and travel. What are your top tips when it comes to working full time and travelling?

Can You Guess? The Top Searched For Lonely Planet Destinations In 2019 And My Thoughts On Them.

As the weather gets warmer, it’s natural that we start to think about our travel plans and where to venture to this year for some much needed Vitamin D, time out and new experiences.

When looking for where to go to next, I am a big fan of visual searching, social media inspiration and also trying to seek out a destination that suits my needs. Sometimes you want a city break, other times a more adventurous tropical retreat.

To inspire you with your choices for 2019, here’s what the UK has been looking for when it comes to travel guides and destination advice. The top searches for Lonely Planet this year so far are:

  1. London
  2. Sri Lanka
  3. Croatia
  4. Portugal
  5. Japan
  6. Thailand
  7. New York
  8. Rome
  9. Vietnam
  10. Barcelona
  11. Canada
  12. Iceland

If the above looks like an amazing list to help you decide where to visit next, but you’re still a little stumped on which one or where, here’s my thoughts on the one’s I have visited myself.

Dubrovnik Old Town Croatia

Croatia is incredible, and has so much to offer across all the different cities and landscapes of the country. I have written a longer guide to getting the most out of Dubrovnik here, and also have explored the beautiful and historic northern port of Zadar which I can wholly recommend. Go for culture, pristine national parks, delicious fresh seafood and of course, island hopping.

Portugal is a warm, vibrant and welcoming country. Visit Lisbon for aesthetically pleasing buildings, tiled interiors and a lively and exciting atmosphere. Taste the custard tarts, watch the local dancing late at night, and hop from one bar to another to experience all the best tapas the city can offer.

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Japan is easily the best country I have ever visited, and you can read more in detail on this guide here. Go for the hospitality, the incredible juxtaposition of old meets new with the futuristic cities filled with ancient shrines and culture. It’s a real foodie place so stop and savour all the street food at the many local markets, and don’t leave without taking the bullet train to get out of the main hub of Tokyo and everything this incredible country has to offer.

A true land of natural wonder, Iceland was genuinely the best place I ever visited until Japan knocked it off first place this March. It’s a strong second however. A place where you really feel connected with nature, able to explore volcanic landscapes, natural baths and glaciers in the space of a day. The people are friendly, hilarious and incredibly artistically gifted. Read more in my guide here.

Thailand was our first experience of Asia, and it really did not disappoint. From gorgeous islands, to kayaking out in the Andaman Sea, eating all the mouth-wateringly good local dishes and hiking through the mountains it is a country that can offer you so many experiences you just need to choose what’s right for you. There’s endless shrines, golden bays and jungles to hike through, now you just need to decide how to spend your time there!

Because it was our honeymoon destination, Rome will always hold a special place in my heart. Go for a city of history. Somewhere where you can really stand in the middle of the Coliseum, Roman Forum or the Vatican and feel the immense scale and power of these grand places. The food is always good, the red wine fantastic, and the location means it’s close to many of Italy’s other golden destinations such as Pompeii, Amalfi and Florence. There’s just something about Italy that captures you when you are there. It delivers many recurring simple pleasures that they have honed and got just right over the years. We have gone back to Italy every year, at least once, for the last seven years now, and there’s a reason for this. It’s the country that just keeps on giving.

apartment architecture balcony barcelona

Barcelona is a city which is just always alive and awake. I have visited the city six times and yet still there’s an endless list of things I have yet to do there, restaurants I want to eat at, or bars I wanted to experience. Honestly, you’d never find yourself bored in this warm and vast city. Come for the historical sites, the breath-taking Sagrada Familia and the green parks surrounding the city, but stay for the award-winning food, local cuisines and of course, the sangria and red wine. Don’t miss the regular festivals held there to really immerse yourself in the city.

I can’t comment on Vietnam, Sri Lanka, or Canada. However watch this space for our New York update after September this year.

If you have any top tips you can share on the big apple, or any of the countries above, please comment below and inspire others with your insider advice and helpful comments.

 

 

 

Exploring Japan: A Capsule Guide To This Historic Country

A country which fuses modern and ancient traditions seamlessly, Japan is a melting pot of culture, tech, art and history. Everything you want to say about Japan can be summarised as a perfect juxtaposition. Chaotic but ordered, futuristic and yet so deeply rooted in tradition, high-rises circling around historic gardens and shrines. This place on paper doesn’t work, but in reality it’s a place which offers you a wealth of different experiences in such a short space of time, and it’s enthralling.

We explored a taste of what Japan has to offer over a ten-day period, but to really immerse yourself in this fantastic country and get a taste of all it has to offer, you need at least two to three weeks, if not more. However I know this isn’t feasible for most people, so I have captured below what we did in our ten days, the must-sees, the top tips and every in-between to help you make the most of your eastern adventure.

First and foremost, wherever you go, the food will never disappoint. You have a choice of seemingness endless award winning and Michelin-starred eateries, upscale restaurants or the more traditional family run establishments who have been honing their craft for hundreds of years. The latter restaurants often specialise in one or two dishes, and have spent years honing the recipes to produce the best taste. Be prepared to eat little and often to really experience all the local delicacies during your visit.

No article about Japan would be complete if it didn’t mention the warmth of the Japanese people. Never have I experienced such a consistently high level of service, friendliness and willingness to talk and share stories. Everywhere could learn a lot from this culture.

If you are after more ‘top-tips’ and less of an itinerary, then scroll to the end of this guide!

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First and Foremost – Tokyo

Tokyo is a huge city where no two neighbourhood are quite the same. From futuristic Shinjuku and Shibawya to the quieter and shrine filled Asakusa and Ueno, Tokyo really does have it all.

We spent our first three days in the Asakusa area, as we found basing ourselves here allowed us to explore some of the top places we wanted to see. The Senso-ji temple is one of the most visited in Japan and it’s not surprising, it’s vast and surrounded by a maze of streets, market stalls and restaurants. I would recommended visiting this place at night or early morning on a weekday. Weekends can be really busy and it takes away some of the magic of the place.

After visiting here, take a short walk to Sometaro restaurant. A traditional eatery, specialising in the Japanese Okonomiyaki (a delicious omelette based dish with fillings of your choice. Here you take off your shoes at the entrance, sit on the floor at your square table with a hot place, and cook yourself an incredible omelette with the fillings of your choice. The atmosphere, friendliness of the staff and freshness of the food is the perfect recipe for a good evening well spent.

Other key places to explore in this area? The Ueno Park is a beautiful and large public park filled with endless shrines, statues and a beautiful pond and boathouse. Start at the Ueno station entrance, walk under the cherry blossoms if you are lucky enough to be there in season, and then explore all the garden has to offer before reaching the fantastic Tokyo National Museum.

When you’ve finished taking in all the museum has to offer, wander back towards Ueno and lose yourself in the market, street stalls and restaurants in the streets directly in front of it.

Lastly, this area is a great gateway to get to the Imperial Palace and Gardens, as well as the famed Tsukiji Market. This is a tightly packed series of small streets with vendors selling incredible local foods, snacks and crafts. Fill yourself on a series of small dishes from the stalls, or grab a seat in one of the bustling sushi or sashimi cafes in the middle of the market and enjoy some of the freshest fish you’ll ever taste.

One key learning for our first few days? Have an itinerary but plan in time to just wander. Japan has way more to offer than the big ‘must-see’ hot spots. Don’t miss the true nature of the city by taking the subway to each shrine and back.

Oh, and get lunch at one of the incredible Katsu Curry houses in the Kudanshita station area. We went for one under the railway bridge, in a tiny cafe which seated just ten people. We both chose a Katsu curry from the ticket machine outside, and gave our order slip to the hostess on entry, and then minutes later was served one of the most incredible curries I have ever eaten in my life. These cafes with ticket machines outside served some of the best food I had during my time in Japan. Try them or miss out!\

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Historic Kyoto

For logistical purposes, we left Tokyo and travelled south to Kyoto for the middle leg of our trip with a plan to come back and explore more of Tokyo and be nearer the airport at the end of the ten days.

We took the bullet train to Kyoto and it was an experience in itself. Clean, on-time, with roomy seats and so many different landscapes to see on route, including the incredible Mount Fiji itself, the three hour journey flies by.

Arriving in Kyoto you quickly get the sense that this city is a cultural and spiritual hub of Japan. There’s over 2000 different shrines, temples and statues hidden amongst the modern city centre. Explore traditional Japanese wooden houses in the Gion district, taste local delicacies in the sprawling markets and enjoy traditional tea ceremonies or stay in a local Ryokan to truly immerse yourself in the historic culture of Japan.

We stayed in a beautiful Ryokan, with traditional Japanese floor level futons, Kyomachiya Ryokan Sakura Urushitei 

just moments from the streets of Gion and the incredible river-side restaurants and bars. However there are so many options you may find yourself spoilt for choice when booking.

When here, there are many things you will want to see, do and explore but initially I would recommend just heading into the city centre, and walking from one side of the Nishiki market hall to the other, crossing the bridge into Gion, and taking in the sights, smells and atmosphere of this spiritual hub of Japan. You will pass so many shrines and temples on foot without a plan, the religious and historical air of the city will quickly embrace you.

Our top highlights of places to see in Kyoto included the Enryaku-ji temple, set on the mountains outside of the city with sprawling views and temples as far as the eye can see. Make sure you set aside time to hike up here though, it’s more of a day excursion than a quick visit place.

Kiyomizu-dera buddhist temple is much easier to access. Although less tranquil, it is perched on a  hill and provides incredible views, especially at sunset. Gion district is an area not to be missed, and we found an incredible bar hidden away in the streets here that looks like a house from the outside. It seats only six people, and here you can sample local Sake or beers alongside a tapas platter of three local dishes made by the lady who owns the bar. They’re delicious, especially the spiced cabbage.

After exploring the inner city, take a day to head out of Kyoto centre and visit the Kinkaku-ji

Golden Temple, and the Ryōan-ji rock gardens. Wander around during a morning when it’s emptier to enjoy the peaceful and tranquil vibes this place has to offer. Then hop on a local bus to Arashiyama. Home of the famous Bamboo grove, mountain hikes and Ōkōchi Sansō gardens, make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to wander around the shrines, forest and also the mountains behind the city.

Kyoto has so much to offer and for you to see, it’s hard to prioritise and make choices if you have time constraints, however we found that from the above, mixed with seeing many nearby shrines, eating at local restaurants and staying in a traditional Ryoken, really allowed us to get a sense of what this incredible city had to offer and make the most of our four days here.

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Back to Futuristic Japan

For the final leg of our ten day trip, we took the bullet train back to Japan but this time based ourselves in the futuristic and high-rise district of Shingawa. From here, we were well placed to explore for our final three days and get a taste of the modernity of Japan and all it has to offer.

Our highlights included immersing ourselves in the nightlife of the bustling Shinjuku district, filled with skyscrapers, entertainment and endless LED lights flashing 24/7. Here, we tried VR gaming experiences, taking in the sights from the top floor of our hotel, and trying some of the more modern and upscale eateries Japan is famed for.

Later on, we walked to the notorious Golden Gai area, a series of streets home to many tiny bars, often seating no more than ten people, in old style wooden and metal houses hidden behind the skyscrapers of Shinjuku. Spend the night exploring two or three of these historic institutions and their local cocktails, though be aware, not all accept tourists and some require a cover charge to protect themselves from people who indulge in just one drink and then move on. This was one of my favourite experiences of the trip, made better by taking the time to speak to the people in the tiny bars and discover more about their background and experiences of Japan.

Of course, we had one more day of walking around the historic gardens and shrines of the region, and sampling even more of the local dishes and market foods!

Finally, we rounded up our trip with a visit to the famous Tokyo Flea Market, held on Saturdays in the city, and came away with some vintage porcelain and fabrics at a really good price. It’s pretty big so if you are after a bargain or a more traditional souvenir, leave yourself a good morning to make the most of your time here.

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Japan Top Tips

  • Japan is a huge country in terms of both area but also cultural and historical experiences and sights. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to immerse yourself in all that the country has to offer, both old and new. We chose to only visit Tokyo and Kyoto in our time as we realised we didn’t have enough time for more. Plus, it gives us an excuse to go back and do the Mount Fiji area and Osaka at a later day!
  • A lot of the signs, information cards and train guides are now in English, so don’t be worried about this or the language barrier, it’s not really a problem any more. However it’s good to learn a few key phrases in Japanese as it’s really appreciated there if you can at least order a drink, and say please and thank you in the local language.
  • Best seasons to visit for weather is end of March to early May, and then during the autumn. If you chose the March option as we did, you may also see the Cherry Blossoms in bloom.
  • Don’t just flock from shrine to temple to market, leave yourself time to walk to these places, take the back roads, and see more of the country than just the tourist filled hot spots. Japan has an awful lot of offer and it’s often not in the main places that you truly get to experience it.
  • The transport network is fantastic. Get yourself a Passmo card (you can buy it from the large underground stations from machines where you will also top it up) to use on the subways to get around for low-cost during your stay. If you plan to travel regularly by trains, then the seven-day pass is a steal. However be warned, you have to buy it before your trip and have it sent to your home address, so give yourself plenty of time to buy one (we didn’t realise this and lucked out!) https://www.japan-rail-pass.com/
  • Tipping isn’t expected or customary. We usually would just round up our bill and leave this.
  • On that note, take cash with you. For a very modern place, most traditional shops, markets and restaurants take cash only.
  • Be polite and respectful. Remember the temples you are visiting are still functioning religious sites, and so consider this before taking photos in religious places or of statues where it’s deemed disrespectful.
  • Wear socks or take a pair with you if wearing sandals. You will regularly need to take off your shoes or change shoes from outdoors to indoors, especially in shrines or traditional restaurants. If you are going barefoot under sandals, pack a pair of socks to make it easier.
  • Don’t eat and walk, it’s considered rude. So when you get your street-food from the markets, stop and properly savour the tastes before walking on again.
  • Get organised. The city can be expensive to explore if not planned properly. Buy your train tickets in advance, use a passmo card for the subway, and eat like a local where possible.

 

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We never ate a bad meal in Japan, and the food was all incredible and reasonably priced. For our highlights (and this was hard to whittle down):

  1. Sometaro – Asakusa – A place where you make traditional Okonomiyaki on your own hot plate
  2. Crown Ace Ueno – Katsu Curry Cafe
  3. Tsukiji Market – for incredible fresh food right from the vendors, and the freshest Sashimi and sushi at the market restaurants I have ever tasted
  4. Muraji Ramen in Kyoto – In the Gion district, this tiny restaurant seats only 15 people and you are at a shared table. The Ramen here was the best I ate during my time, and I would wholly recommend you go for the three dish special which includes Ramen, fried chicken or local Japanese fried rice, and the Matcha Ice-Cream for dessert. We got one light ramen, and then the dark ramen as this meal deal and it was plenty of food for two!
  5. Botejyu Kyoto – Okonomiyaki, but this time served to you by a chef rather than cooking yourself. Both the traditional dish and also the fried noodles are delicious. Arrive early or reserve a table however, or you may be disappointed as there’s always a long wait after 7pm.
  6. L’Escamoteur – This fantastic bar has a hidden door to the bathroom, brilliant cocktails and great staff. Word of warning though, you will pay more for two drinks then you did for dinner at the local restaurants in the city, but it’s worth it.

I hope you get to experience Japan. The country is the best place we’ve ever visited. The warmth of the people, the incredible food and the endless sights, nature and experiences made it the most memorable trip we’ve ever taken. 

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