5 days in Tokyo

5 Days in Tokyo

In October we spent five days in Tokyo. I already told you about how I fell in love with Japan on the first day; now let me tell you the rest of our love story.

Let me introduce my Tokyo top tourist activities

Tsujiki Fish Market

I have a dual relationship with Tsujiki Fish Market. According to our Lonely Planet guide, Tripadvisor and other tourist reviews this place is a must-see. True. They also suggest visiting the tuna auction. That one appeared to be a big mistake.

The first time we went to Tsujiki Fish Market we got up at 2 A.M. (yes, at two o’clock in the MORNING). We hauled a cab and arrived at the site at approximately 3.30 A.M. With great ambition we walked toward the Fish Information Centre where you need to apply for the auction. Sadly, a guard told us the auction was sold out: ‘Sold out, come back tomorrow, 3 P.M.’

Sooo… the next day we got up at 1 A.M., grabbed a cab and arrived at about 2 A.M. Great news: we were the fourth and fifth to join the queue. After waiting for about another 3 and a half hours we got to see the tuna auction at 5.45 A.M.

So on a beautiful October morning I found myself looking at dead endangered fish and felt kind of sorry (and maybe also a bit guilty). This guilt trip only intensified when the majority of people in our group started taking selfies. With the dead tuna. To this day I still wonder about how many households have framed photographs of family members and dead tuna.

Luckily the sushi breakfast was awesome.


Selfies at tsujiki fish market

Selfies at Tsujiki Fish Market – tuna auction


Sushi Breakfast

Sushi breakfast near Tsujiki Fish Market


Kabuki

Let me be brief about this one: get food and drinks before attending a kabuki performance. Yes, every written guide recommends getting food, every reviewer tells you so… so listen! Don’t be as stupid as we were and grab yourself some food and drinks and bring them into the theatre. All the Japanese do it; only tourists seem to starve themselves to death during a four hour kabuki performance.

We watched kabuki in the Kabuki-za Theatre and rented an English audio guide. This theatre is highly recommended: friendly staff, great performances and a pretty good English translation.

A kabuki play lasts for about three-four hours. You can also opt for just one act, this will keep you entertained for about an hour.


Kabuki-za Theatre

Kabuki-za Theatre


Kabuki Dance featuring Bando Kotji with live music at Japan Society

Nishizaki Sakurako and Bando Kotji in “Yoshino Mountain”. Photo from Tokyo Times


Robot Restaurant

Only tourists here: best guilty pleasure I’ve ever had. We grabbed some food before heading to this joint since their food reviews appeared to be quite horrible. The show however was everything you can expect: weird robots dancing to weird music.

Afterwards you can dive into Shinjuku neighbourhood; nightlife is supposed to be great here. I shouldn’t know though since I was too busy trying to get into some tuna auction.


Robot Restaurant

Robot Restaurant


Meiji-Jingu

This is where I fell in love with Japan: beautiful traditional temple in the heart of one of the world’s biggest cities. We saw several traditional wedding processions and were absolutely in awe.


Traditional wedding at Meiji-Jingu

Traditional wedding at Meiji-Jingu


Senso-ji

Another place of worship and tradition in the big city. We watched a traditional procession of musicians. Or at least we thinks this is what we saw. We only just arrived in Japan and were too pussy to ask. There was also a priest involved if I’m not mistaken. Anyone who can give further detail on what his happening in the pic below: please enlighten me in the comment section of this blog.


Traditional musicians near Senso-ji

Traditional musicians near Senso-ji


Tokyo Sky Tree

The walk towards Tokyo Sky Tree was truly movie-esque. We walked on an empty street, straight to the tower. Before entering the Sky Tree we decided to eat at an icecream parlour. Just a normal activity, made slightly less normal when the personnel started singing a song to us. One song for each icecream ordered. Just a normal day in Japan.


View from Tokyo Sky Tree

View from Tokyo Sky Tree


Shibuya Crossing

Must see. I still wonder why this can work in Japan, but when shopping on Regent Street in London people keep walking into each other. I truly still wonder.


Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing


Ghibli Museum

I love Studio Ghibli movies and visiting the museum was one of my highlights. Walking into the museum is like walking into a Ghibli movie. The museum has a movie theatre playing different short movies. A must if you’re a Ghibli fan. Book in advance. WAAAAY in advance.


Ghibli Museum

Ghibli Museum


Mt Fuji

I opened with a love/hate relation and I end this list with one. Mt Fuji: so beautiful on all those postcards. The icon of a nation. I guess we made the mistake of joining a tourist tour that just wasn’t quite to our taste.

We arrived at Mt Fuji 5th station and looked at the mountain. Let me tell you a basic fact: the iconic mountain doesn’t always have snow on top. This seems logical, this IS logical, but before arriving I seemed to have forgotten about basic scientific principles. So yes, I truly was disappointed when the mountain was as brown as… well, you get the picture. What annoyed me even more were the busloads of tourists. You couldn’t walk 5 feet without running into someone.

Our tour continued to Mt Fuji 5 lakes. Whoa, things got even more out of hand. You couldn’t walk 3 feet without running into someone.

Don’t get me wrong: the lakes were gorgeous and apparently everyone had found out about this. We ended the day taking a look at the truly beautiful Shiraito Falls.


Red bean cakes - Fuji 5 Lakes

Red bean cakes – Fuji 5 Lakes


Mt Fuji

Mt Fuji – wooden prayer plaques

Why I fell in love with Japan

Why I Love Japan

Let me tell you the story about how I fell in love with Japan… twice.

I first fell in love with this Asian nation when I was about thirteen years old. As a teenager I was quite the movie buff. I had only one goal: watch the entire 250 IMDB top rated movies (spoiler alert: I failed). So on a seemingly ordinary day I rented Spirited Away and fell head over heels in love. Only years later I would discover that director Miyazaki had been inspired by Taiwan. I loved the story, the characters, the magic and the stunning visual landscapes I had never encountered before.


Spirited Away movie still

Still from Spirited Away


After watching a sh*tload of other Ghibli films I made a promise to myself: One day I would travel to Japan and live my own Ghibli movie.

The second time I fell in love with Japan was October 2015. After waiting for about fourteen years I finally made it to my dream destination. I would lie if I told you I immediately fell in love with the country. Narita airport was like any other airport, maybe even a bit outdated. I still don’t know what I expected of my first touchdown on Japanese soil but is was just… normal.

I did fall in love on my first day there though. I remember being grouchy and giving my boyfriend a really hard time after landing in Tokyo. After the twelve hour flight I only wanted to shower, shower and probably shower some more. This is one of my worst character traits: I always want/need to shower. Since our hotel room wasn’t yet ready we waited in a nearby restaurant (which disappointingly only served ‘western’ food). My mood grew darker and darker until our room was ready and my beloved bathroom awaited.

And then it happened: still not feeling 100% happy we went on to explore Tokyo. Our first stop: Meiji-Jingu. At Tokyo’s largest shinto shrine I forgot all my worries, all my first world problems, all my nagging and fell in love. Fell in love with this acient place in the midst of a modern metropolis.


Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine

Wooden prayer plaques at Meiji Jingu


Traditional wedding Meiji Jingu

Traditional wedding at Meiji Jingu


During the next weeks I will highlight all the different places we went and why they were so great. I believe many people have a certain image of Japan that doesn’t necessarily reflect the true nature of the country. Japan isn’t only about big cities and weird KitKat. It has stunning mountain ranges, beautiful temples and hot water springs other countries can only dream about.

Up next: All things Tokyo.


Shibuya crossing

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo


Top places to find street art in London

One of my favourite things to do (and see) in London is its street art. London has amazing street artists and a great artistic vibe. If you’re looking for a great experience and you want to go off the beaten track, make sure to include street art in your London schedule.

We took two great street art tours in London:

  • London Alternative Tour: We took the walking tour (in English) and had a great guide. The tour lasted about two hours and took us to all the highlights.
  • London Street Art Tour: We also opted for the English walking tour. This tour ended after about four hours (including a lunch break). The pace was a bit slower, we saw all the same highlights as in the London Alternative Tour and some other streets we hadn’t visited yet.

Both tours are a great option, depending on how much time you have to spare.

Not into tours? All tours booked up? Want to explore on your own?

Although we had so much fun during our tours, we saw the most amazing things when we went to explore to city on our own. Are you planning a visit to London? Visit Shoreditch / Hackney Wick to make the most of your visit. Make sure these streets are on your list:

  • Brick Lane
  • Redchurch Street
  • Hackney Road
  • Fashion Street
  • Rivington Street

Want to get to know some of the most famous street artists you can spot in London? Here are some of my favs:

  • ROA: Belgium’s first, graffiti artist from Ghent. Can be spotted in Hanbury Street, Chance street,…
  • Mobstr: Always funny or thoughtful. Can be spotted in Hanbury Street, Tabernacle street,…
  • Ben Wilson: Genius who turns chewing gum into little pieces of art. Can be spotted on Millenium Bridge and throughout London.
  • C215: France’s answer to Bansky. Can be spotted in Brick Lane, Blackall Street,…
  • CityZen Kane: 3D pieces which can be spotted in Brick Lane, Redchurch Street,…
  • Eine: His iconic font can be found in Middlesex Street, Old Street,…
  • Jimmy C: Make sure to spot his iconic pieces in Whitby Street.
  • Obey: Nowadays known as a clothing designer but also a great street artist. Can be spotted in Batemans Row.
  • Borondo: True art. Can be found alongside Regent’s Canal.
  • Phlegm: So pretty. Can be found in Rivington Street.
  • Pure Evil: Can be found throughout London and has his own gallery in Leonard Street.
  • Space Invaders: 80s back, in Brick Lane, City Road,…
  • Stik: KISS, Whitecross Street, Redchurch Street,…
  • and lots more

If you want to spot a Banksy, you can track his work on Google Maps. It tells you in which condition his street art is. Some of his work is preserved behind plexi glass, such as two pieces in a beer garden in Rivington Street. Always a save shot.

Interested in free (street) art galleries?

10 Reasons I look forward to travelling to Japan

While all of my family and friends are spending their summer holiday abroad, I’m sitting in my sofa dreaming about my own vacation this fall. I’ll be visiting Japan, a dream I’ve had for over ten years.

Many of my friends are surprised at my curiosity for Japan. Nothing to be surprised about, let me show you why I want to go to Japan so desperately.

  1. Studio Ghibli Museum: I’ve been a huge Ghibli fan since my childhood so I really really REALLY want to go to the museum. Even though some fans told me it wasn’t _that_ great, it’s still number one on my to-do-list. I want to see shorts I’ve never seen before, I want to be in a fairytale I don’t comprehend one word of and I assume I’ll want to buy everything in the gift shop. My sincere apologies to the customers after me.
  2. Kyoto: Look at all the World Heritage in Kyoto. Look at the tiny streets and great restaurants. Look at the culture, the geisha and the kabuki. And look at the…
  3. ... Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. One of the most photographed sights of Kyoto (and possibly Japan). I’m going to take an endless number of photos there and I won’t feel a tiny bit of shame.
  4. Onsen: Alright, I must admit I’m a bit scared for this one, but it’s a healthy anticipation kind of fear. Onsen are natural hot springs spread across Japan. We’ll be visiting at least one (in the countryside). I hope I don’t make a fool of myself since I’m usually not a ‘spa kind of person’. Fingers crossed!
  5. Mount Koya (Koyasan): A place out of dreams (or Ghibli movies). A sacred place. I hope to find a natural peace here, even though I’ll have to share my moment with other tourists.
  6. Nikko: Again a sacred place in Japan, with one of the most decorated shrines.
  7. Mount Fuji: Unfortunately we won’t have enough time to climb this mountain, but we will be travelling to one of the nearby villages to gaze and wonder.
  8. Tokyo: Also a bit nervous for this one, since I’m used to living in a tiny city. I’ll probably never forget Shibuya Crossing (one of the busiest crossings on earth). I suspect other highlights will be Tsukiji Fish Market and the manga/anime overload.
  9. Ryokan: We’ll be staying at some ryokan, a traditional Japanese guesthouse. One of them has its own onsen. Yikes! Unfortunately we were too late booking some of our preferred design or capsule hotels (even though we booked a year in advance!) but we still got the ryokan we wanted.
  10. Sushi: I’ll be honest. I’m going to bore everyone I know with sushi pictures and quotes. “Yes, this sushi place is great but it’s nothing like the one I visited in Kyoto/Tokyo/…”. Yes, I will be annoying once I’m back and my friends and family will have to endure. Sorry not sorry.

Now everyone’s sharing their holiday pictures and stories, I can’t wait to go. I’ll have to be patient for a few more months and then this dream can finally come true.

Still looking for some travelling tips so if you have anything you’d like to add, please feel free! 

London: 10x off the beaten track

London is my absolute favourite European city. I like to visit at least twice a year, just to see what changed. I like to go by train (Eurostar) since I only live across the English channel. Arriving in St. Pancras: it gives me goosebumps every time.

I still have a lot of exploring to do, but I’ll sum up some of my favourite off the beaten track things to do/see. No Big Ben, Madame Tussauds or London Eye in this list.

  1. Alternative Walks London: I cannot stress this one enough. I talk about it with everyone I meet, regardless of their interest. A colleague recommended this tour in 2014 and we did the walking tour straight away. It took us to a less known neighbourhood and gave us the chance to get to know a ‘new’ side of London. We saw really amazing street art, the guide was friendly and entertaining and we discovered new restaurants and shops. We went back to the neighbourhood (near Spitalfields Market) in 2015 and were surprised by how much the neighbourhood (and street art) had already changed. The neighbourhood is definitely being upmarketed so if you’re planning on visiting: be quick. Sooner or later the neighbourhood will be a hipster hangout and the real underground vibe will probably shift to another neighbourhood.
  2. The Book of Mormon:  Okay… Visiting a musical in London isn’t really going off the beaten track, but this isn’t a musical like The Lion King or Mamma Mia. It’s created by the South Park team so you know you’ll be in for a great night. Great show, great actors and voices. Side note: If you do not like South Park humour, you should probably not visit.
  3. Greenwich: Most tourists don’t take the time to visit Greenwich, but you can easily go there by public transport. It’s a great escape from the busy London vibe. If it’s sunny you should jump on the train and go picnic on one of the lawns of Greenwich Park (near the world-famous Observatory).
  4. The O2 Arena: Also in Greenwich, but feel I must make this a new item. This concert hall isn’t only a concert hall but a whole artificial city. It used to house the amazing British Music Experience (which was unfortunately closed in April 2014). Even without the BME the O2 Arena is an experience in itself and chances are there’s a great show on while you’re in London. Not for the fainthearted though, the tribunes are steeeeep.
  5. Anthropologie: I must admit I am a sucker for this chain of clothing stores. Their shop on Regent Street has a beautiful hanging garden. You can dump your more conventional travel friends at Hamleys which is not far away. If you like a less crowded shopping experience there’s always the shop on Kings Road (and other shops I haven’t visited yet).
  6. The Comedy Store: If musicals aren’t your thing you can always catch a nice comedy show in London. We were recommended the Comedy Store and it truly was a great experience. In high season shows can be sold out, but there are lots of other comedy joints.
  7. Just walk: my best London experience was the time we just walked for hours. We didn’t enter any museums, churches or shops… we just walked. We went past all the well-known monuments and enjoyed them from a distance. No long queues, no noisy people and no rip-offs. Do wear appropriate footwear, since you ca easily walk for hours straight in this lovely city. We went past the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Parliament, Piccadilly Circus,… They’re all walking distance so no need for The Underground, just enjoy the view. You can also easily walk along the Thames!
  8. Highgate Cemetery: We visited the East and West Cemetery. You can only visit the West Cemetery by tour (worth it!). We had a really funny tour guide (in an appropriate way, since you’re still visiting a graveyard) and learnt a lot about the history of the cemetery and London in general. Better than Pere Lachaise (Paris) and Kerepesi Cemetery (Budapest).
  9. Huntarian Museum: Weird yet beautiful. A museum full of animals and human body parts, mostly preserved in jars. If you’re not a medical professional it does require some time to get used to seeing some of the abnormalities but in its core the museum just shows how beautiful nature can be.
  10. Kew Gardens: Not necessarily off the beaten track, but often left aside due to time restrictions. If you have time the gardens are worth the visit. If you don’t have time you should make time.

I’ll be visiting London again in July. We’ll probably (hopefully) visit the Sir John Soane’s Museum, but I’d love to hear about some other hidden gems if you know some!

Two (and a half) days in Dublin

In May 2015 we took a short term citytrip to Dublin. We stayed in Ireland’s capital for two and a half days and we truly made the most of it (or so we would like to believe).

When your time is limited you have to make choices. I’ll tell you about the choices we made and the opportunities we let go. Want some snapshots? You can find them on our Facebook page.

Day One – Top choices

  • Temple Bar Area in the morning: No noisy/drunken tourists for us, but beautiful street art and nice little streets to wander in.
  • Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Marsh’s Library: I especially loved the little library. Cute and much more quiet than the famous Old Library at Trinity College.
  • Kilmainham Gaol: Even though the most beautiful wing was closed when we were there, it was a really nice tour with a lovely guide and the people working there are some of the nicest people we’ve met in Ireland.
Day Two – Top choices
  • Trinity College: Take a guided tour. It’ll cost you an extra 2 EUR on your entry ticket but it’ll be worth it. Ask for the guide who looks like Harry Potter. After the guided tour you can visit the Old Library (with the Book of Kells) and the Long Room. It was extremely crowded when we were there, so we just glanced at the Book of Kells. The Long Room however was worth the mass hysteria.
  • Take a loooong walk: On our second day in Dublin we went to the outskirts and back by foot. Worth it! We saw teenagers jumping from buildings in the canal, we saw cute little streets and some nice street art.
  • Queen of Tarts: Some sugary go(o)d(d)(n)ess.
 
Day Three – Top Choices
  • The real highlight on this day: Viking Splash Tours! A fun way to explore the city with (adult) children. Become a Viking and roar at passing Kelts. Watch them toss their maps and learn some history of the city at the same time. Plus you get to wear a viking helmet.
  • Dublinia: a nice museum, especially if you have children. If you don’t: just act like one, it’s worthwhile. The museum is connected to Christ Church, you can buy a combi ticket and save some euros.

10 things to do (or not do) in Budapest

I recently visited Budapest on a five day trip with four amazing friends. It was the second time I visited this lovely city and this time I _really_ fell for this sparkling metropolis.

I’ll keep it short(ish) and sum up my personal top ten things to do in Budapest:

1. Visit the Thermal Baths

Oh God, how I love the baths. Usually I am not a ‘spa person’, but in Budapest I don’t seem to mind. If you only have time for one spa I would recommend Széchenyi Baths for their sheer immensity. It has the largest number (and variety) of baths. If numbers mean nothing to you Gellért is also a great choice. It has a limited number of baths but the architecture is overwhelming.

On a side note: during summer some baths organize special events. We went to Sparty (kudos to whoever thought of that name), a late night part at the Széchenyi Baths. Even though I wouldn’t do it again, it was a once in a lifetime experience. If you decide to go however: (1) rent your own cabin, (2) bring your own towel and (3) be prepared for drunken teenagers and lewd behaviour.

2. Eat like you’ve never eaten before

Budapest is a melting pot of different cuisines and when out with a group this is a really great thing. If you visit in spring/summer make sure to go to one of the many kerts (the most famous is Szimpla Kert). These open air venues serve lots of different foods and have a great atmosphere. If you visit in winter/autumn you can always go to Zeller Bistro. A really great Hungarian restaurant serving Hungarian wine and delicious dishes. Make sure to book a table though.

3. Parliament

This will probably shock all my friends (they know how much I love London) but the Parliament in Budapest is the most beautiful one I’ve seen so far. They also have an interesting English tour I would highly recommend.

4. Castle District

Stroll down the castle districts with its Royal Palace, Matthias Church and Fishermen’s Bastion. If you are on a tight schedule: you can skip the interior bits. Enjoy the warm Budapest weather and take your time to breathe in the beauty. If it rains: yes, you can go inside.

5. Take the right cab

Maybe a weird highlight, but taking the right cab can save you loads of money you can later spend on thermal baths, food, clothing or museums. At one point it seemed like at least one in two cabs were a fraud. You can spot them by looking for a logo. Does your taxi bear a logo? Everything’s fine. Is it just yellow? Turn around and grab another one.

6. House of Terror

We didn’t go to House of Terror this time, but I visited over five years ago. The feeling still lingers: the museum is one giant emotional roller coaster (spoiler: with mostly downs). It is done so beautifully, so sincerely I count it as one of the most interesting history/war museums I’ve ever set foot in.

7. Great Synagogue

We took the English tour and our guide – a lovely young lady – really spoke to me. Historically a really significant place in Budapest.

8. Basilica of St Stephen

Lovely atmosphere on the square next to is, beautiful view from the top and a stunning interior: this is one top-notch cathedral.

9. Street art and architecture

Many facades in Budapest streets are gorgeous. Either because they are so old or because they have great street art covering them. Just get lost in the streets and let the beauty of the city lead you.

10. Opera House

Beautiful building, nice interior and an interesting English tour. You cannot ask for more, can you?