Posts Tagged ‘ Travels ’

Japan 1 Week Itinerary

Michael and I were on a two week trip between China and Japan. We had an amazing time in China and were pretty sure Japan would be even more awesome!

Touchdown Japan!
We flew to Osaka from Shanghai as it was cheaper than other city combination. We found the plane ticket expensive at £175 each – whereas our return flight to London was around £550. It was already the cheapest one when we were canvassing for prices. Fortunately, it was a very comfortable flight with a meal served. The plane was only half-filled too!

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We flew with Anitea Air from Shanghai Pudong International Airport

We flew in to Kansai (KIX) Airport. I seriously don’t understand how for the life of me, I thought that meant flying in at Osaka Airport! I researched on how to get to the ryokan we’re staying at from there NOT Kansai. It meant an additional hour of travelling for us. No biggie. He wouldn’t stop teasing me for messing up the locations though. He kept saying at least it was in the same country! Pfft!!! hahaha (I’ll get even. ^_^)

Our super kind host took this picture of us after we saw our room for the first time :)

Our super kind host took this picture of us after we saw our room for the first time :)

Whenever we travel, we like trying out new things. Since we’re in the heart of Japanese culture, staying in a traditional Japanese accommodation was a must do for us! To my horror, most ryokan I checked were fully booked on the dates of our visit. I was ecstatic upon receiving a positive response from one that met our wants (a garden view and private toilet). Yoshimizu Inn was a lovely accommodation located at the top of Maruyama Park. Gion, the famed Geisha district, is just at the foot of the park. We’d pass by geishas/ maikos at night on our way back/to the ryokan. I couldn’t be happier with the location really!

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Day 1 Kyoto
Temple hopping
Even if I wanted to squeeze in as much as possible for every trip – the two of us just can’t be bothered to be rushed from one place to the other. Sticking to a detailed schedule is only a dream. He needs his sleep. I like to take lots of pictures my time in a place I love. After getting some much needed sleep (and breakfast), we head out to enjoy sunny Kyoto! We walked around the park where our ryokan is located as well as saw the temples there. Then walked towards the direction of Kiyomizu-dera while stopping several times for snacks and drinks along the way.

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Kiyomizu-dera aka Pure Water Temple

We spent the afternoon in Fushimi Inari Taisha. The shrine was made more famous by the film Memoirs of a Geisha. It was pretty crowded at the base of the mountain but there were relatively less people as you go up the steps. I was quite keen on wearing a kimono while walking around Kyoto. That trek up the mountain made me thankful I did not get to do it. :D

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Fushimi Inari Taisha

For dinner, I made reservations with Gion Nanba. I was excited for us to try a multi-course traditional Japanese cuisine known as kaiseki. It was a pretty expensive meal at 75GBP each. But since we already flew (almost) halfway ’round the world for our love of Japanese food (and culture), might as well splurge for this instance and budget on the others!. :)

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Standing at the left is the owner/ (head) chef of Gion Nanba

Day 2  Arashiyama Day Trip
When we were planning for our trip, we allotted 3 days for Kyoto and 4 days for Tokyo. Eventhough that was the case, I was still keen to go to Nara plus I wanted to visit Osaka and not to forget of course a must trip to Arashiyama! He had to remind me again and again that we will have no time for Kyoto at that rate.  He said I should choose just one – Arashiyama IT IS! :D

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Beautiful bamboo groves

First stop was the beautiful Tenryu-ji Zen Temple and its Sogenchi Garden. I enjoy visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites so that was a pretty cool plus! Yeah, almost all of Kyoto is a Heritage Site but that didn’t make me any less excited! I realise there are some people who scoff the at the thought of visiting Heritage Sites but they were made so for good reason and I, for one, am happy to see for myself why! Every person’s travelling style/ taste is different and that’s what makes this world interesting. We headed for the north gate exit of the temple which led us straight in the middle of the bamboo groves (pictured above).

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Tenryu-ji Zen Temple and its Sogenchi Garden

I know I just said that kaiseki is expensive but I just couldn’t pass up another one – lunch this time around! – when it’s relatively cheap AND with amazing reviews! Our ryokan arranged for us to have lunch in Nishiki restaurant. It was impossible for me to do so since there was no English translation at their website. It was a more relaxed experience from the night before I guess that’s why we loved it even more plus it was cheaper too!

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A wonderful lunch at Nishiki!

A friend suggested- thanks Sucelle!- that we ride the romantic train of Sagano. Intrigued by the name of the ride, I read more about it. Also known as Sagano Scenic Railway, it is a 25 minute train ride from Torokko Saga Station to Torokko Kameoka Station (and vv).  It runs along Hozugawa river. We enjoyed the view immensely!

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Riding the Sagano scenic train ride was his must do for Arashiyama :)

Day 3 Bullet train-bound to Tokyo
Originally, I was planning for us to pass by Kawaguchiko to see Mt. Fuji enroute to Tokyo so as to prevent us from backtracking. After some research and having a plan in place, we had to abandon it due to force majeur – there was a typhoon that day. It literally started pouring rain after we got to the foot of Maruyama Park from our ryokan. We headed to Kyoto Station and bought our shinkansen (bullet train) tickets straight for Tokyo instead!

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Arriving in Tokyo late that afternoon, we headed to our hotel. Got ready. Headed out. Our destination: Akihabara, a district in Tokyo that is famously known as electric town. Having just arrived from Kyoto where it was all temples and shrines, this place provided such a contrast and was the quintessential hi-tech Japan we had in mind. We spent the night in arcades and in a maid cafe that was pretty interesting. I can see that the bf was very quite happy to be there! haha

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Konichiwa from Akihabara!

Day 4 Tokyo
The game of baseball seem to be popular in only 2 country – the USA and Japan. Since we can’t get any bus to take us to Mt.Fuji this day, Mike announced that we can watch a match instead! He was hoping to squeeze it in and he got his chance! I wasn’t sold to the idea as I had my heart set to seeing Fuji on that particular day so was pretty bummed out about it. To get me even partially interested, he said that the team playing is one of, if not the, most popular team in the country. Plus he said that the interior of the stadium is pretty awesome. Alright, I guess let’s give it a go then! After visiting Meiji Shrine of course. :D (I did enjoy watching the game – it was such a low scoring one though.)

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Day 5 Sumo Wrestling
Peak tourist season in Japan is during cherry blossom season. Our trip was booked 2 weeks after it. </3 Why? Because he we opted to time our trip while it’s sumo tournament. I figured, since he let me decide most of the trip, I can I think concede the “when” part of our trip. Sumo is the Japanese style of wrestling and is the national sport of Japan. Being a traditional sport, it is filled with religious rituals (eg the symbolic purification of ring with salt) and only men practice it professionally. We spent a whole day inside the Kokugikan Stadium. To not get bored, I got busy eating the various food sold inside plus I’d go outside every now and then to check out what’s happening outside the ring. Fan-girling the sumo wrestlers if you’ll ask the bf what I was doing. Sheesh! ^_^

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After dinner, I suggested we go to Asakusa to see a few more sights before we call it a night. :)

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Day 6 Daytrip to Mt. Fuji
The main reason I agreed to skip the cherry blossom season is because it’d be the Shibazakura season. Ahhh… Japan and its beautiful blooms! <3

Fuji, Japan

Fuji, Japan

Returning back to Shinjuku after our daytrip to Kawaguchiko, we decided to stay in the area and explore. This district is crazy fun. WE LOVE IT! From bargain shopping to robot restaurants and nonstop karaoke, we all gave them a go! It was such a fun night! This was also the night that Mike and I realised that we both love karaoke. :D

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Day 7 Tokyo
For our last day in Japan, we wanted to take it easy, visit a few sites and go back to our favourites. We left our luggage in Tokyo Station then walked to the Imperial Palace. Upon seeing how huge the place is was enough to tire me out even before we got started. We did manage an hour of walking before we called it quits and ate lunch. I was almost falling asleep by then. I wasn’t so sure how we ended up in an Irish pub/ resto. I ordered a burger but was served a burger patty on top of some green salad and with rice on the side. I knew we should’ve just stuck with local food! ;) It was probably the downcast weather that was making me feel sluggish. Thankfully, the sun shone shortly afterwards, well, at least it stopped raining. We headed back to Shibuya to while away the time before it was time for us to head back to the airport. The crossing really amazed us. Seeing huge crowd of people moving in an organized chaos while we’re just chillin’ – we liked it! Sang our hearts out in another karaoke session and then gorged on kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi. Mmmm. <3

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Mmmm...Sushi galore at affordable prices!

Mmmm…Sushi galore at affordable prices!

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Spot the bf! :D

Happy to head back home but sad to leave Japan - we'll definitely come back! :D

Happy to head back home but sad to leave Japan – we’ll definitely come back! :D

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Spain’s La Tomatina Festival!

Have you ever joined a food fight? Or at least, wanted to be in one? Well then, pack up your bags and go to Spain coz this is where the world’s biggest food fight is held annually during their La Tomatina Festival.

Goin' loco over tomato!

Goin’ loco over tomato!

First things first, what is that festival all about you may ask? Held annually every last Wednesday of August in Buñol, Valencia, people throw tomatoes at each other for an hour of crazy fun!

It started the last Wednesday of August in 1945 when some young people spent the time in the town square to attend the Giants and Big-Heads figures parade. The young boys decided to have a place among the retinue of a parade with musician, Giants and Big-Heads figures.

The energy of these young people made that one participant fell off. The participant flew into a fit of rage, started to hit everything in his path. There was a market stall of vegetable that fell victim of the furious crowd: people started to pelt each other with tomatoes until the local forces ended that vegetable battle…

…Since then, the number of participants increased year after year as well as the excitement about La Tomatina Festival. In 2002, La Tomatina of Buñol was declared Festivity of International Tourist Interest by the Secretary Deparment of Tourism due to its success. – La Tomatina

Early morning bus ride to Buñol

Early morning bus ride to Buñol

It was only in 2013 – the year we attended – that the Spanish government started selling tickets for the festival. Tickets are sold for 10euros each. From Valencia, we rode a bus to take us to Buñol early in the morning. It was a 40minute drive. Still quite sleepy really. Upon arrival, we had to queue for our luggage to be stored. We then exchanged our tickets for bracelets. And then headed over to the entrance of the festivities all the while basking in the high energy of the people around us. There were groups of people wearing colourful wigs. Some girls wore flamenco dresses. Quite a few wore tomato outfits too! Foreign visitors wore their flag on their shirts or dressed in national costumes (ie kimono for the Japanese). It was pretty exciting! We got ourselves some drinks. And we’re ready! :D

The tomato fight begins after someone is able to successfully climb a greased pole to get the ham tied to the top of it. When this happens, water is fired into the air which signals the entrance of the trucks carrying tons of tomatoes and the start of the tomato fight. It is interesting to note that the town is preparing for this festival by covering the front of their houses with tarpaulins to keep it safe from all of those tomato juices!

Buildings are protected by tarps and other covers!

There are a few rules that everyone must follow:
Throwing tomatoes begin after the first water signal.
Tomatoes have to be squished first so as to avoid injuries.
Only tomatoes should be thrown around. No other projectiles allowed.
No tomotoes should be thrown once the signal to stop is given.

Still able to smile and go on with the tomato fight after being hit in the eye!

Some tips:
Wear clothes you wouldn’t mind throwing after as the stain is difficult to remove.
If you’re keen to take pictures, use a waterproof camera.
Wear goggles!!! Jess and I can’t emphasize this one more than enough. We were surrounded by Spanish guys who were taking most of the hit when she got hit in the eye. I looked at her. Told her it looked alright then we got back down to business. hehe Less than 5mins after, I got hit in my right eye! I ended up crouching coz of the pain so she looked at it. There were some bits of tomato that got stuck she said. That’s why she led me to a fountain to wash it off. I was only able to open my right eye after! Phew! I had taken my goggles off a minute before getting hit as it was covered with tomato juice! While I was recovering from my tomato injury, my travel buddy is chatting away to a cute Frenchman (her description not mine) who saw her sorting me out by the fountain. hehe :))

Top of the agenda after the tomato fight finished was to get a wash to be some sort of decent. Fire trucks parked were hosing down people for an impromptu shower. We then joined the massive queue to get our things back. Got on a bus back to Valencia and to our hotel. I was wearing a pair of sunglasses on the ride back. When we got to the hotel, I asked for a cup of ice at the reception. Too lazy tired to explain, I pulled my glasses off. No further explanations needed. They got me my ice. We were supposed to go out after our warm shower but we ended up falling asleep. Tired from a week’s worth of travel. :D

 

Have you been to La Tomatina? Are you wanting to go? It’d be great to hear of your experience too! :D

DIY: Daytrip to Fuji Shibazakura Festival

I only had one goal for the Tokyo-leg of our Japan trip – to see the pink moss in full bloom with Mt. Fuji in the background!
Disclaimer: probably because the bf made sure we get to watch a sumo match and a baseball game, and visit a robot restaurant amongst others hehehe

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Shibazakura is a flower that grows thickly, covering the ground like a lawn. The shape of its pretty flower petals looks like that of sakura (cherry blossoms) and it comes in a variety of colors including different shades of pink, white, and light purple, with some petals having striped patterns. –Japan MWM

There are few but vital things to consider when going to Kawaguchiko for a daytrip: How do you go there? Do you take a bus or take the train? What’s the weather gonna be like? Will you be able to see Mt. Fuji? Will the flowers be in bloom?

I was originally planning for us to go to Kawaguchiko from Kyoto as a stop over enroute to Tokyo to avoid backtracking. But on the intended day of travel, the weather was bad wasn’t so good.  It was continuously raining in Kyoto and according to the weather report, it’d be raining in Tokyo too. Turns out there was a typhoon that passed by the country while we were there. Since we weren’t too keen on getting soaked with our luggage in tow, we decided to just head straight to Tokyo. We’d save a trip to Mt. Fuji for another day.

I was checking out the weather report on a daily basis after that. Plus, there’s also a website that would show you a live feed from the Shibazakura festival. Pretty handy! The Fuji Shibazakura Festival is an annual event that is held when the flowers are in bloom – mid April until late May.

When I was checking out the route to get there via hyperdia it hit me that there are other alternative public transport to get there. We didn’t get a JR pass and I wasn’t too keen on shelling out 18,000 yen for transport alone. We opted to take the bus because it’s a direct trip – no need to transfer. PLUS, it’s way cheaper (7,000 yen/ return/ 2pax)! The only catch is you have to make (an online) reservation to make sure you’ll have a seat on the day and time that you want to travel. We decided to wing it one clear day and arrived at the bus station around 11am to find out that the next available seats are for the 3pm trip. Oh no! I easily booked a reservation when we got back to the hotel that evening.

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Boarding on time at Shinjuku

Two days after, we were back in Shinjuku. Following the West Exit (or expressway buses) sign we arrived just in time for our scheduled departure. When we got to Kawaguchiko station, there was a booth outside that’s selling ticket for the festival along with discounted return bus trip, it’s another 30-40 minute bus ride away.

We were still 30mins away when we first got a glimpse of Mt. Fuji. We’re just happy that we could see it inspite of a cloudy forecast. It turned out to be a warm, sunny day with a clear view of the beautiful volcano.

Here are some pictures from our daytrip. :)

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Woot! First glimpse of the beautiful Fujisan!

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Looking for an ATM that accepts non-Japanese issued cards – the only one we found was at the post office!

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Taking a picture of the bf taking a selfie! :D

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So colourful and beautiful!

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The full bloom of the flowers had just finished a few days before – still looked amazing!

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Seems like a good choice for nuptial photos too!

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The queue for the coach back to the train/ bus station

 

Kaiseki at Nishiki

Michael and I love Japanese food! Our first date was in a Japanese restaurant where he treated me out for my birthday dinner. From sushi to ramen to everything in between, what’s not to love about it? I kinda planned the Kyoto leg of our trip around food – I didn’t tell Mike but I’m certain he had an inkling of what was coming.  :D

Inside Tenryū-ji's garden in Arashiyama

Inside Tenryū-ji’s garden in Arashiyama

A must for me for our trip is to have a traditional Japanese meal. Having kaiseki is a great way of going about it! Kaiseki is a multicourse traditional Japanese meal. The menu changes with the season as the meal is a reflection of nature’s bounty. For the Japanese, presentation is very important. Each course that was served to us was beautifully arranged and garnished. It is quite pricey though but since we flew more than 18hrs to get there, we might as well splurge a bit – though not that much (still budget conscious hehe). We had one for lunch and one for dinner.

We had a kaiseki lunch in Nishiki on a daytrip to Arashiyama. The feedback from them were all very positive. Plus, it’s relatively more affordable. We paid 4,800yen per person for an 8-course meal which took almost 2 hours.They have a website but I can’t find any English translation. I wrote a letter to the ryokan we were going to stay at to make a reservation for us which they easily did after I answered their questions: when and what time, how many course, for how many people.

Nishiki restaurant is located very close to Arashiyama Station (Hankyu line). Upon arriving there, we were warmly welcomed and ushered into our own private room. The lady who served us was really, really nice which we happily realised is the norm in the country but she hardly spoke English. It was all good since all we had to do was seat and wait for our food to arrive one by one. We could hardly wait!

That magical tray that will hold beautiful food for the next hour and a half.

That magical tray that will hold beautiful food for the next hour and a half.

First course is a small appetizer. We were served deep-fried tofu with Japanese mustard inside. Accompanied by Japanese wild ginger and soy sauce. This dish is simple but we love it! The mustard gave us a kick. I had to stop everything and hold my nose from the heat. It was gone as soon as it came. The sensation was pretty cool and unexpected! haha

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Second course was sashimi, porgy sashimi and cooked burdock. They were adorned with (from left to right) spirally-cut angelica (celery-like stalk), cucumber made into an image of water drop, seaweed, wasabi and pickled garlic. I’m really not a fan of sashimi and though I was able to finish this plate, it wasn’t in my favourites. Mike thinks otherwise. :)

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Third course, is herring soup with tea-Soba (tea-taste buckwheat noodles) in mild shoyu (soy sauce) soup. It’s garnished with leek and grated radish. Since the radish was made into a round shape, at first glance we thought it was egg yolk.  I really enjoyed the fish! The dish has a rich flavour that try as I might not to, I finished it so fast – Mike wasn’t even halfway with his!

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Fourth course is oshukuzen – assorted dishes in a tiered food box. This has got to be the prettiest course we’ve had for this meal. I just had to ask her to take our pic with this beauty! <3

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Upper tier: trevally sushi inside the Japanese ark, dried halfbeak inside the gabion box. Side dishes (from left to right) include special boiled small fish, pickled carrot in ume-blossom vinegar, eel roll with burdock, leaf bud of Japanese pepper, boiled beans and kashiwamochi (rice cake wrapped with an oak leaf).

Bottom tier included taros boiled in soy sauce and sugar, fried free-range chicken and vegetable.

Somehow, it felt like a crime to tuck into this and “destroy” such a wonderfully prepared dish. But we were hungry and can’t wait to taste it as everything had been really good so far!

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Sixth course, a medium plate. A fried eggplant that served as a pot for miso soup and ginger. We weren’t sure how to go about eating this. Mike’s solution? Just dive into it!

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Seventh course, cereals. Porridge of rice with green beans and pickled vegetables as well as Enoki mushroom. The Japanese serve rice towards the end of the meal. With this in mind, I was a bit sad to be given this dish because it meant that our meal was coming to an end. At the same time, we were already quite stuffed so I was able to accept it more readily. hehe Mike doesn’t understand Asian soup(s). He remarked that they just seem to be water boiled with something in it unlike the Western counterpart were everything is pureed together. This dish wasn’t in his top three. I really like it though – it reminds me of a dish my mom would cook for me. I’m not certain if one can describe a taste as simple and fresh -that’s how I’ll describe this dish. He gave me his soup and I would have finished it if I can but I just can’t – I was close to bursting!

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Eight and last course, fresh strawberries to end a beautiful meal and a warm cup of oolong tea to wash it all down with.

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So happily full!

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Must See Places in Istanbul (Part 1)

Istanbul is a city that fascinated me since I was young. It’s the only country that straddles two continent – Europe and Asia. It’s been made capital of 4 empires:  Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Latin Empire and the Ottoman Empire. It’s richness in culture and history easily rivals that of Athens in Greece and Rome in Italy!

Just last week, I can happily say that I’ve visited this beautiful city! I was there for 4 days but I would love to come back for more – more of the architecture, of the food, of the history!

Here’s a short list of things you shouldn’t miss if you decide to visit Istanbul:

1. Hagia Sophia (Turkish: Aya Sofya)

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)

Originally built as a Greek Orthodox Church. It was later converted into a mosque. It is now being used as a museum. It used to be the main mosque of Istanbul until the Blue Mosque was built.

Ceramic tile work inside the museum

Ceramic tile work inside the museum

The minbar with a calligraphic pane beside it

The minbar with a calligraphic pane beside it

Posing in front of the Sunu Mosaic that dates back to the 10th century

Posing in front of the Sunu Mosaic that dates back to the 10th century

Entrance fee: 30 TL
Operating hours:
Summer schedule: Apr 15- Oct 1 07:00 – 19:00
Winter schedule:  Oct 1- Apr 15  07:00 – 17:00
***The museum is closed every Tuesday.
Do not miss: the mosaics, the dome, the calligraphy panes, and the tiles amongst others
How to get here: Alight at Sultanahmet tram stop

2. Blue Mosque (Turkish: Sultan Ahmet Camii)

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)

Sultan Ahmed Mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque after it’s blue tiled interior. Built during the early 1600s, it is still used as a mosque to this day.

Visitors are expected to follow their dresscode

Visitors are expected to follow their dresscode

Head and shoulders covered, check!

Head and shoulders covered, check!

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

There is no fee to enter the mosque. However, visitors have to abide by the dresscode since it is a place of worship. Women must wear scarves to cover their hair – or if one’s jacket has a hoodie, that would suffice too. Also, women must be dressed modestly – no exposure of shoulders nor knee. Same goes for the gents, no shorts for them. Everyone is expected to take off their shoes as people who goes in there for worship would kneel on the carpet. You can leave your socks on though. Plastic bags are provided for so that visitors can carry their footwear with them at all times. During times of prayer, no visitors (tourists) allowed inside unless if you’re there to join the prayer.

How to get here: Alight at Sultanahmet tram stop

3. Basilica Cistern  aka Sunken Palace (Turkish: Yerebatan Sarayi)

Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi)

Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi)

Basilica Cistern was built during the reign of the Byzantinian emperor, Justinian 1 during the 16th century. It’s primary purpose is to contain and supply water to the Byzantine Palace. It’s the largest and best preserved ancient cistern that lies beneath the city of Istanbul. This was the place that easily intrigued me most as I happened to read Dan Brown’s Inferno (which was set in Florence, Venice AND Istanbul) which gave information about the popular spots of the city – as well as the meaning of the symbols behind them (yes, I am recommending that book if you happen to plan to visit any of the 3 aforementioned city). ;) With the place bathed in a warm orange glow, cool and damp place with water trickling down from the ceiling and with classical music in the background (not to forget the head of Medusa to boot), I was just entranced with this place!

Entrance to the Basilica Cistern

Entrance to the Basilica Cistern

The lamps that were used to light the path, we used as our spotlight as we couldn't get a nice sho down there - too dark!

The lamps that were used to light the path, we used as our spotlight as we couldn’t get a nice shot down there – too dark!

An upside down head of Medusa was used as a base for one of the column. It is said to be placed that way to negate the power of the Gorgon - turn everything that stares into its eyes to stone.

An upside down head of Medusa was used as a base for one of the columns. It is said to be placed that way to negate the power of the Gorgon – turn everything that stares into its eyes to stone.

Entrance fee: 10 TL
Operating hours: 09:00 – 18:30
How to get here: Alight at Sultanahmet tram stop

4. Spice Bazaar aka Egyptian Bazaar (Turkish: Mısır Çarşısı)

We know we found our destination upon seeing this plaque upon the entrance of the Spice Bazaar.

We know we found our destination upon seeing this plaque upon the entrance of the Spice Bazaar.

Named as the Egyptian Bazaar since the money used to built this came from the revenue of the Ottoman eyalet (state) of Egypt. The bazaar is centre of spice trade in Istanbul. Also, according to our local guide, it’s cheaper to buy things from here than the Grand Bazaar. This is the second largest covered bazaar in Istanbul.

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I couldn't get enough of their scarves - all so beautiful!

I couldn’t get enough of their scarves – all so beautiful!

Spices everywhere! Lots of dried fruits being sold! Turkish delights to be sampled at every turn!

Spices everywhere! Lots of dried fruits being sold! Turkish delights to be sampled at every turn!

Operating hours: 08:00-19:00, closed every Sunday
How to get here: Eminonu is the nearest tram stop. Alternatively, you can get here via Marmaray, at Sirkeci stop.
Here’s a great read on what to buy when in the Spice Market of Istanbul.

5. Taksim Square (Turkish: Taksim Meydani)

Taksim Square

Taksim Square

Taksim Square is considered to be the centre of modern Istanbul – a transportation hub and a favourite location for social events/ gatherings. Pictured above is the Monument of the Republic. It was built in 1923 by Pietro Canonica to commemorate the 5th year anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. Istanbul’s most popular pedestrian shopping street, Istiklal Caddesi, leads to here.

Waiting for our local guide to arrive in Taksim Square

Waiting for our local guide to arrive in Taksim Square

How to get here: Nearest metro stop is Taksim

Day Trip to Plitvice Lakes

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Plitvice Lakes National Park

Michael, my boyfriend, and I love to travel. According to him, the fact that I’ve been to many European countries makes it difficult for him to decide on where else to go in this part of the world. I informed him I haven’t really travelled on the eastern side. ;) Setting our sights on it then, we chose to go to Croatia. More specifically, its Plitvice Lakes. Yes, we know people normally go there for Dubrovnik – but we kinda had our fill of old towns/ forts/ cities at the moment and would appreciate nature more.

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To get to Plitvice Lakes:

Fly in to Zagreb – capital city. Get on a bus from the main bus terminal bound for Plitvice Lakes – just double check with the driver if they’ll make a stop here. Travel time is 2hrs 20mins.
OR
Fly in to Zadar – city by the coast. Get on a bus bound for Plitvice Lakes. Travel time is 2hrs.
Last bus bound for Zagreb where we stayed at is at 6:30pm. I’ll advice to getting back to the bus stop well ahead of that as some of the buses would either get there ahead of their schedule – or later, but why risk missing your trip back?

I love road trips! Even if it means just sitting on a bus. The promise of an adventure is just so exciting!

I love road trips! Even if it means just sitting on a bus. The promise of an adventure is just so exciting!

Entrance Fees:

110 KN – 1 adult/day
180 KN – 2day ticket
55 KN – child

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Entrance 2’s bus stop

Don’t forget:

Wear comfortable shoes. You will be walking quite a lot. You don’t want your feet to hurt afterwards.
Water/ drinks to keep yourself hydrated.
Snacks if you’re like me who almost always seem to be eating! ;)
Camera to capture those moments – unless you’re not into it.
Shades/ hat for those bright, sunny days.

 

About to start our walking adventure. :)

About to start our walking adventure. :)

Lots of walking!

Lots of walking!

By the information counter near both entrance,  there would be boards which show you options on what route to take and how long it’d take. Pick the one that you’re comfortable with.

Paths are clearly marked with signs like this.

Paths are clearly marked with signs like this.

Our route:

We started our walk in ulaz (entrance) 2. That’s ST2 there. We took the train/bus to ST3. From hereon, we walked downwards to P2 then to P1. In P1, we got on the boat that sailed towards P3. We then walked towards the big waterfall then to ST1 where we again rode the bus towards ST2 to catch our bus back. All in all, it took us around 5 1/2 hours. That’s us stopping for snacks and lots of photo ops or to just plain stop to soak it all in! There’s no need to pay for the bus and the boat as it’s part of the entrance fee. This might be a bit confusing but once you have your ticket in front of you with the general outline of the park, you’ll understand perfectly what we did.

The park's train/ bus. It'd take you from ST1 to ST2 to ST3.

The park’s train/ bus. It’d take you from ST1 to ST2 to ST3

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One of the boats sailing across the still waters of Plitvice

One of the boats sailing across the still waters of Plitvice

Good to know:

The park is open all year round.
There are toilets/ WC in ST1, 2, and 3 as well as in P3.
You can buy some food and drinks in the places mentioned above as well as the 2 entrance to the park.

I loved walking on their wooden pathways. Felt like I was a kid! It was well maintained too.

I loved walking on their  well maintained, wooden pathways. Felt like I was a kid!

We think a day trip is enough to see the whole park. Unless your main objective to travelling there is to take pictures and might wanna be there during sunrise/ sunset – the golden hour of taking photographs. If that’s the case, you might need more then. ;)

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We encountered many kids on a school trip and people on tour groups. Don't let it dampen your trip. We're all there for the same reason :)

We encountered many kids on a school trip and people on tour groups. Don’t let it dampen your trip. We’re all there for the same reason :)

Making sure he doesn't get his shoes wet.

Making sure he doesn’t get his shoes wet. :)

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He says it’s one of the most beautiful place he’s been to in Europe. I have to agree!

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Have you been to Plitvice Lakes? Planning on going there? It would be great if you could share other tips and suggestions! Or ask here if you have questions. :)

Happy travels everyone!!!

Inside: Carnival in Venice

It’s already February and am yet to travel. *gasp*

Where to, to start another year of globetrotting? Back to Italy! Where specifically? To Venice for their carnival! :D

First time in Italy. First time to visit Venice. :)

First time in Italy. First time to visit Venice. :)

The first time I travelled to Italy was 2 years ago. I travelled solo for a week and visited Rome, Florence then Venice. The most popular route. Typical? I guess. But for a reason most definitely! I keep telling my other friends who seem to shun touristy things that touristy places/ things are the way they are for a reason and it’d be a shame to skip them just to avoid the crowd.  Anyways, since I had been couchsurfing my way around bella Italia – and met many wonderful people and got to see places I grew up studying and dreaming of- … I wanted a break from staying at other people’s place and and to just be on my own and to treat myself I guess, so I booked for a room by the Rialto bridge  in Venice. It was perfect!

Sunset in Venice

Sunset in Venice

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I like how Venice is really just any other city except for the fact that it has canals instead of roads. Vaporettos instead of buses. Water ambulance, fire boat, etc. Awesome! I wasn’t really aware of Venice’s masquerades back then but seeing all of the masks by the streets, I figured, buy one and come back to Venice to actually use it in the festival season.

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And that’s what I exactly did last week! :D

With travel buddies, Shalinee and Jessica

With travel buddies, Shalinee and Jessica

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Venetian Carnival is an annual fest held in – as the name suggests – Venice. It is celebrated until before the start of Lent, 40 days before Easter. Here are pictures taken during the last Venice Carnival.

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The cons of visiting a place during a feast is the seriously huge crowd of people!

The downside of visiting a place during a feast is the seriously huge crowd of people!

P1100441Venice. Expensive. Touristy. Crowded. Still, it was a truly fun experience! We’re even thinking of going back to another carnival wearing a full costume. Should be fun! ;)

Best done with friends. If you wanna go there for romantic purposes, better go off season to avoid the throng of visitors – or at least to not have as many of them there.

*If looking for accommodations and you realize that Venice’s hotels are out of your budget range, look for a place to stay at in Venice Mestre. It’s in the mainland and much cheaper. And besides, it’s just 15mins away by bus. :)

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