Monthly Archives: April 2013

A Hiking we shall go

It’s Golden Week here in Japan. Basically, that means there are abunch of public holidays all around the same date, so pretty much everyone in Japan picks up and travels.

I am really trying to save money, so have avoided travelling out of town for this Golden Week, and have instead decided to expore a bunch of the hiking trails in my local area. Today we explored a trail behind Arima Onsen, a resort town near to where I live.

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Due to it being a resort town, and Golden Week, it was really crowded in Arima Onsen itself (well, its really crowded about 80% of the time). The trails, however, weren’t too bad. There were a few tour groups in super fancy hiking outfits, and the odd family, but everyone was really friendly.

We arrived at the station and headed toward the hike. Unfortunately my memory of how to get there served me slightly wrong, meaning we were lucky to see all sorts of non-touristy parts of Arima Onsen on the way. Unfortunately in this case, non-touristy means more streets of houses, car parks and backs of hotels, as opposed to wonderful, tucked away experiences and places off the beaten path.

Eventually, after following our instinct around the town, we finally found the entrance to the trail (and the road we should have gone down to get there) directly and easily. The trail started behind a shrine up a mountain. We got to the base of the mountain, and saw the steps up to the shrine. It didn’t look too bad.

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Where we thought the stairs ended. Sigh.

Except that, unfortunately, the landing where we thought the shrine was turned out to be wrong. Quite wrong. We were probably only about 1/3 of the way there.

So we trudged on up, feeling very, very sorry for ourselves. Thankfully the temple at the top, whilst small and understated, was really pretty and had a great view.

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The start of the official hiking trail.

We started along the trail, full of optimism. This soon dissipated. The trail was much harder than we anticipated – steep, with a lot of dirt and giant tree roots. After scrambling up it for about 15 minutes (which felt much, much longer), we eventually came to another trail. This was a much wider and smoother trail – the kind found more commonly in Japan.

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Celebrating the wide, easy trail 😀

We carried on for while, but decided not to go all the way to the top, because it was getting late in the day, and I’m not one for being stranded on Japanese mountainsides.Image

View from the (almost) top.

We turned around, and somehow merged with a group of engineering students from Osaka who spoke excellent English on the way down. We reached the bottom, left our new friends, and decided to actually go to the onsen, being that the entire town revolves around it (super logical, desu!)Image

These guys were waiting at the bottom. I’m rather fond.

We ended up having a very short bath in the onsen, as it was just too hot. We did enjoy the massage chairs afterward though. We went to the gold onsen. There are minerals in the water that turn the water a rusty golden colour. It’s so thick that the water is completely opaque.

We stumbled out of the onsen hungry and found ourselves in 7-11, where we bought amazing, soft, gooey chocolate-man buns.

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Ridiculously good. Seriously.

And then, it was time to head home. But thankfully it’s only the beginning of Golden Week – there are many more adventures to come 🙂

Taiwan day 3: Taroko Gorge!

Taroko Gorge is the one reason I was determined to visit Taiwan again. We didn’t get to do it the first time round (mid 2011) and have been itching to go back and see it ever since.

Amanda and I got up early, and bought tickets for the hop-on hop-off bus through the park. It was much cheaper than any of the tours we saw, and allowed us to go at hour own pace,, so completely worth it.

Our first stop was the Visitor Information Center. We figured we’d stop here, get our bearings and walk to the first trail. The area around the Visitos Center was extremely beautiful. Unfortunately, we soon discovered the most of the road to the first train was a never ending tunnel!

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You know you’re going somewhere beautiful when it’s this beautiful before you even start. This area actually reminded me a lot of Arthur’s Pass in New Zealand.

We soon arrived at the first trail, the Shakadang Trail. It was a pretty walk. Most of the trail was paved – something Amanda and I found quite hard to deal with when we set out on a day’s hiking! Eventually, however, the trail turns into one that is indigenously owned. They we happy to let us continue down the unpaved part of the trail, and it was so much nicer to actually feel a part of things, and not just walk alongside on a paved trail. The walk lasted maybe 1 1/2 hours?

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After walking the trail, we headed to the end of the gorge for lunch. The area was stunning.

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There were monkeys. Chilling.

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Minecraft inoshishi!

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Finally, we went for a short walk through Swallow Grotto. It was nice, and there were amazing rock formations, and small holes in marble where swallows rested, but it was overrun with tour groups, and again we had barely any room to move.

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Taroko Gorge is definately a highlight of Taiwan. I would go again, given the opportunity!

Thirsty?

Never has paying double for a bottle of water been so worth it…

NOA2!

Kyle and I are in the application process for a fiance visa. It’s a long process. Too long. But on Wednesday it finally arrived. The second piece of paperwork – only 8 months after we submitted the first! That means exciting months ahead of filling out forms, having medical tests done, and a trip to Tokyo to visit the embassy. Yay!

The intention is that, if things happen in the timeframe we hope, I’ll have a short holiday in New Zealand in August, before heading off to the USA. I seem to be about equal parts excitement and nerves, which I think is normal.

Anyway, on Wednesday, 3 friends and went out to celebrate!

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Blue cheese burger = best ever!

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We went to the free footbath they have in Kobe. It’s just randomly in the middle of a street.

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There was a man in the spa who was trained in relflexology. He gave us all free foot massages.

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Baskin Robbins. 😀

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This taiko game is really fun. Even if I am the worst of my friends 😉

Overall, it was a really fun night, and a good way to get excited about my future!

Taiwan – day two: Ticket to Ride

Day two had us up early, due to a minor time difference and our body clocks being on work time. I consider this a good thing, as it enabled us to make the most of our days. Our day began with a visit to the Longshan temple. This is the most famous temple in Taiwan, and is bright, noisy and electric. The temple itself is ornate – a direct contrast to Japanese temples, which tend to have a very contemplative and reflective feel to them. There were extra decorations up, celebrating the year of the snake. While we were there, there was some sort of service going on, with a number of black robe adorned women chanting. There were also a number of tour groups milling around, so it was quite crowded. These tour groups were a lot more polite than those we had encountered the previous day.

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Outside the temple

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I loved this guy!

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After the temple, we stumbled across a bakery. Amanda was much smarter than me, and stocked up on a range of delicious looking breads, meaning she had something to nibble on whenever we found ourselves hungry and without easy access to food. I instead decided just to get one egg tart. The tart itself was delicious; rich, creamy egg custard in flakey pastry. We found a small park nearby to enjoy breakfast then set off toward our next destination – the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial.

We made our way to the memorial grounds, where we were impressed with the grandeur of the National Theater and National Concert Hall. As we neared the memorial, we were disappointed to find that it was closed. Reading the notice posted, we found that it was closed until the day after we flew back to Japan! With mild frustration we wandered for a few minutes, but soon became bored. We went to the edge of the square to see what else was in the vicinity. It turned out the botanic gardens were a short walk away – score!

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The (closed) memorial

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The National Theater and National Concert Hall…. And Amanda!

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We wandered a few blocks to the entrance of the gardens. They were small and compact, but provided a nice green space, contrasted with the bustle of the city outside. They weren’t very crowded – a handful of people using this oasis to exercise. There were a lot of squirrels, too. Being from New Zealand, I never grew up around squirrels, and therefore get far too excited whenever I stumble across them. This instance was no exception. I spent a good ten minutes taking blurry photographs of half-hidden squirrels. Soon they became over confident and started too seem a little less cute, and a little more scary, plus Amanda was being patient as ever, considering she’d flown across the ocean to find herself staring at squirrels – something not so uncommon around her native Philadelphia, so I decided we should move on. The fact we had a train to catch was probably Amanda’s true saving grace – I’m sure the squirrels would have been perfectly safe to keep watching from a metre or so back.

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Greatest. Creature. Ever.

Soon it was time to depart Taipei for Hualien. Sadly, the time we took finding the correct platform meant I couldn’t grab a proper bento for the train, so grabbed bread from the 7-11. It was ok.

The scenery from the train was stunning. Tall mountains, densely covered in thick forest to our right, and the ocean to pur left, where jagged rocks jutted out silver sea, with the occasional isolated fisherman balancing one one of these rocks. We passed through a number of charming and not so charming villages, eventually cleaning into green checkered rice fields.

After three hours we arrived in Hualien. We found our hostel, Sleeping Boot, and stumbled out in the rain to find a beef noodle soup that had been recommended to us by the hostel staff, then headed back and retired to bed fairly early.

 

Taiwan – day one: Attack of the Tour Groups.

I recently spent 5 days in Taiwan with my neighbour/ bridemaid/ amazingly patient friend, Amanda. We woke up bright and early on the day we were to leave. Far too early, actually. 5am – and we were already sleeping at the airport. Both of us were grumpy and tired – Amanda moreso than me, as I had splurged for a booth in a rest station, but she had braved the airport itself, rather unsuccessfully, as there was a fellow passenger who seemed to want to chat and make noise at all fo the inopportune moments possible, like 3am.

We stumbled through check in and immigration, I picked at a bowl of curry udon, then we boarded our cruelly early flight to Taiwan. We flew Peach, the new low-cost airline based out of Japan (Japan’s first). The flight was pretty uneventful. I did notice that they took their name seriously – about half of the foods for sale on board were peach flavoured.

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Breakfast Udon, aka I have lived in Japan too long and feel a compulsion to take photos of bowls of noodles.

We arrived in Taipei at 9am, and hopped on the bus to the metro, then caught it to our hostel. We stayed at Mango53 Inn, and could totally recommend it to anyone visiting Taipei – clean, safe, excellent location and really friendly staff.

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We were greeted by this guy at the airport. Note the cute Taipei 101 he is carrying.

For our first outing, we decided to visit the National Palace Museum. This museum has the largest collection of Chinese art in the world. This was my second visit to Taipei, and I was really excited to visit the National Palace Museum again, as I had a fabulous experience my first time around, and they regularly rotate their collections (the museum has about 600 000 pieces and displays about 3000 at any one time). We bought our ticket and entered, excited to spend a leisurely afternoon wandering through ancient Chinese artifacts. Unfortunately, it was anything but relaxing.

ImageOne of the lions outside the museum. I will upload one of the pictures we took outside the museum once I get it off Amanda!

The exhibits were great – those which we actually got to see. The museum was completely overrun with tour groups. Tours of over 50 people, all crouded around each exhibit. There were points where Amanda was literally pushed out of the way by tour groups, and on more than one occasion we were just swarmed, suddenly caught in a mass of people. A number of the staff were also quite blunt, making the whole experience frustrating. The exception was the Japanese tour groups we came across, who were lovely and polite. I honestly had never seen anything like it. At one point there was a staircase in the museum (a grand, wide staircasethat was unaccessable, due to the crowds of people blocking it. Eventually, we escaped the tour group mahem, and made our way to the tea house on the top floor (rather difficult to even get to, as we had to navigate through the tour groups). Honestly, the museum really is fantastic, but the entire experience was ruined by the tour groups. I haven’t come across anything close in my life – and I live in Japan, where people take tours for EVERYTHING.

The teahouse was lovely. The food really was delicious. We enjoyed a range of dim sum – my favourite was the bamboo shoot and shrimp dumplings. We were so tired from travelling and then having to navigate the tour group that we spent well over an hour just relaxing in the tea house, before braving the last section of the museum.

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Beautiful tea.

After surviving the museum, we headed over to the Shilin Night Market – the largest night market in Taiwan. We enjoyed spending a couple of hours strolling the streets. We bought a few pairs of earrings, and Amanda bought a really cute bag. The vendors were really friendly, and it felt a lot less pushy than a lot fo the night markets I have visited.

We eventually got tired and headed downstairs to the foodcourt. It was hot, smelly, delicious mahem. After wandering around to get our bearings, we sat down to a dinner of oyster omelet and spicy dumplings. It was cheap (a couple of dollars for two of us) and delicious. We grabbed a few more snacks on our way out of the market. Amanda especially enjoyed munching on small, whole fried crabs, while I had the most amazing pepper steak bun – crispy on the outside, and extremely rich and flavourful on the inside. Perfect.

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After dinner we were feeling extremely tired after a long day, so we went back to the hostel and crashed.

Achievement: Unlocked

So, a week ago this happened…

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The next morning, I jumped on the scales. I was the lightest I have been in 6 years.

 

Then this happened…

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And I managed to gain 1.5kg in six glorious days.

I’m back at it now. I’m not running this week because my knee is sore, so I convinced my running buddy to go low impact. She found a  yogalaties video online. The concept sounded great – slow, gentle movement. Sadly, it was more a case of us trying not to kick each other in a space 2 tatami mats wide, whilst an over enthusiastic instructor kept making comments like “doesn’t this stretch feel yummy”. On the plus side, I do have that ‘I worked out’ ache today.

I’ll write about Taiwan soon!