Czech-ing Out Prague

Leave a comment Standard

Our three night stay in Prague felt like the right amount of time to visit the city. Enough to do what we wanted to do but not rush it. In hindsight I would have extended my stay if possible, but only to visit other parts of the country that we didn’t make time for.

We were hoping for some nice, sunny weather. Had we gone this week, we would have been in shorts and tee-shirts. Instead, we went last week, when the weather was the same as back home – pouring with rain mostly and very overcast. This didn’t ruin the trip though and we just put our waterproof jackets on and made the most of it. Luckily the final day brightened up nicely!

We stayed at the Caesar Hotel which was in a great location – a ten minute walk to the centre and right next to the river with some cracking views of the bridges and Prague Castle. It was just lovely to take the longer route into town along the river to soak up those views day and night. I was dubious as there were some quite mixed reviews of the hotel online, but our room was amazing (spacious, clean and a great shower) and breakfast was good.

Top Things to Do

  • A Walking Tour

We went with Sandman’s Free Walking Tour – currently ranked the best on TripAdvisor. The tours do fill up though, so get there early to get your name on the list. They do have multiple groups each time, so it isn’t too crowded. Our group had about 25 in it. I learned so much I would not have read about in a travel guide and we saw parts of the city to orientate ourselves with for the rest of the trip. Tijo was a great guide, mixing in interesting facts and info about Prague and the Czech Republic with a good amount of sarcasm and jokes to compliment. It was four hours with about one hour as a refreshments break and sit down which was quite appreciated.

  • Visit the Jewish Museum

During the tour, we were taken to the Jewish area of the city and had a peek at the Old-New Synagogue, the Ceremonial Hall and Cemetery but it really is worth buying an admission ticket to have access to all the sites. I will do a separate blog post on this as there is so much to talk about. It was definitely a highlight of the trip!

20265043_10158939586480447_3005991994739791372_n

 

  • Prague Castle

Set aside a morning/afternoon/all-day to do this. It is the largest castle complex in the world and yep, there is a lot to see! I recommend choosing the type of ticket you want before going in as they do not have this information easily visible when you are queuing and try to arrive early to beat the crowds. We paid a bit extra to climb the tower of the cathedral – it was so worth it for the fantastic views over the city, You can see the mass of tourists walking along the Charles Bridge too, which is a horrific sight to behold…

20264603_10158939586850447_2667783623213139515_n

  • Charles Bridge

You have to go here, it is so symbolic of Prague. Early morning or late evening is the best time as in the day it is packed solid of tourists and everyone is stressing over getting a spot for that perfect photo. One guy told a woman to move as she was in his shot, while she was just enjoying the views of the river. Rude.

20294094_10158939586775447_8388624475794017987_n

Prague is a beautiful city, but I could not stop comparing it to my experiences in other parts of Eastern Europe – especially Poland. I fell head over heels in love with Wroclaw and Kraków, that even three years on I am still raving about it! Prague just cannot compare in my eyes. Still, it was a lovely break – great to explore somewhere new, walk 25,000 steps a day (my FitBit and my legs were loving life) and learn about a different city and it’s rich history. I would love to go back to see other parts of the country.

Can you recommend anywhere else in the Czech Republic for me to visit? Let me know in the comments…

Advertisements

Japan Series: Japanese food you HAVE to eat

Comments 4 Standard

Welcome back to the Japan Series. This is the final installment of my travels in Japan. It’s saddening that this chapter in my travels is coming to a close but I hope you have enjoyed the weekly blogs.

___________________________________________________________________

Not only am I a picky eater, but I also don’t eat pork or seafood for religious reasons. Visiting Japan with these dietary requirements was a worry not only for me, but for my friend who knew just how much pork and seafood is used in Japanese cuisine. And so commenced the challenge to find Japanese food that I could actually eat. Hmm.

However, after 9 days in Japan, the food was hands down one of the absolute best parts of my trip and so varied as well. I was spoiled for choice for what I could have.

Today I am going to share some of the best meals I ate on my Japanese journey to gastronomic enlightenment.

___________________________________________________________________

Tokyo

A great place to get food near Shinjuku is Tori ki zoku, a chicken kebab place which had delicious chicken with a range of flavours. What was great is everything is ordered on a tablet at your table, so you can order as much or as little as you want at a time, and it is in English as well.

Okonomeyaki

okonomiyaki

We went to a place near Harajuku, which was very friendly and open to travellers with menus and instructions in English. Basically, to make onkonomeyaki, you cook your own food and choose the ingredients. We chose chicken teriyaki for one and beef, onion and picked ginger for the second one. There was so much food, and it is great because you are the one in charge, so you know exactly what is going into your meal.

okonomiyaki2

Onigiri

These rice snacks wrapped in seaweed usually have something in the center – it can be salmon, pork, tuna etc. but I really liked the ones with fried chicken! Absolutely delicious for a quick snack, and I just wish we had them in convenience stores back at home. Cheap, quick, easy and satisfying.

Sushi

We went to a sushi restaurant in Tokyo and I was surprised at how cheap sushi is in Japan (70p/plate). For a salmon nigiri, you are looking at roughly £3 in the UK! Sushi is such an expensive meal at home so I was shocked at how affordable the real deal is. As I don’t eat seafood, not much sushi is available to me except the salmon (I despise tuna as well), but there was so much choice with duck and beef as well which I have never seen in the UK before. I loved the automated ordering service, like what I have seen in other restaurants in Japan, it is just so efficient and easy to keep track of what you have ordered.

___________________________________________________________________

Kyoto: Ayam-ya – the best chicken ramen you will ever have

So I love chicken ramen, a dish I often have in the UK. However, in Japan, the real deal is usually made with pork, not chicken. It seemed as though eating an authentic chicken ramen would be impossible in Japan; however, TripAdvisor came to the rescue as there was one place near the station – a Halal restaurant – which served delicious chicken ramen. I did get a food coma but it was the best ramen ever and it’s great that there is a place in Kyoto for those of us who want our ramen fix chicken-style!

Sukiyaki

Before our night bus back to Tokyo, we wanted something substantial for dinner, and we found it. This was by far the BEST meal I had in Japan. Find it upstairs in the Isetan department store in Kyoto.

Sukiyaki is a Japanese dish which I had never heard of before, but after this experience I will never forget. It consists of thinly sliced beef, which is slowly cooked at the table in a nabemono pot (yes another meal where you need to cook it yourself!), alongside vegetables and other ingredients, with soy sauce, sugar and mirin.

18010981_10158408077960447_2788880863308852589_n

Harrie loving the sukiyaki life

The sukiyaki consisted of all-you-can-eat beef, vegetables AND bottomless soft drinks AND dessert. We had 90 minutes for the table and of course, we made the most of the time. We got through two plates of beef and so many vegetables: cabbage, Japanese mushrooms, leek, onion, tofu, salad greens, etc. so it was healthy to a certain extent…It was magical but I definitely ate too much and was in a food coma on the coach back to Tokyo. Do I regret it? No, not really.

___________________________________________________________________

On the whole, experiencing Japan’s amazing food culture was so accessible to me, there was so much choice and I was never left hungry or without options. I loved the restaurants where we could cook ourselves because it became an experience and I knew exactly what was on my plate. I’m sure Japan has so much more food for me to discover and I can’t wait to get back to sink my teeth into more.

What’s your favourite Japanese dish? Let me know in the comments,

Robyn

Save

Japan Series: Fushimi Inari

Comment 1 Standard

Upon arrival there is a rush of people drawn to get to the Inari Shrine. We have all come to see the thousands of famous red torii gates. We start walking, selfie sticks everywhere, in a sea of people. I think to myself that at this rate, there is no way I am going to get a decent picture, let alone actually enjoy it.

We keep walking. We hear the group next to us agree to each other, ‘let’s turn back, we have seen enough, it’s all the same.’ The rest of us continue. We keep going, turning off here and there to see the odd shrine on an adjacent path. This place is huge!

It turns out there are 10,000 of these wooden torii gates on the Inari mountain. That is a lot and I should have read about this place a bit better beforehand – I am usually much better than this! Then I am reminded that if you want to do the entire route, it’s about a 2 hour walk to get up and down the mountain. We decide to ‘see how we feel’ but I didn’t bring any water and it’s starting to get pretty warm.

We keep climbing, the steps are getting steeper now. Then we come to a clearing and we can see across the entire city. It’s a magnificent view and worth the climb. At this point there is a rest stop where you may purchase beverages and snacks, turn around or carry on. We kept going, somehow 35 minutes and a lot of sweat later, made it to the top!

17861692_10158397889785447_1873212194571142671_n

That view!

The route is very clear to follow, and even has timers to estimate how much longer it takes to climb the next sections. There are vending machines up the mountain but the further up you get, the more expensive they become! There are signs about wild bears in the area to be careful about, but maybe that is more at night.

The further we climbed, we noticed that the crowds became smaller and it got to a point where it was just us around each corner. Photo time! If you want to get some good shots, just keep on walking. It’s a shame for people with mobility issues as this is not an accessible attraction. However, I did see some ladies in high heels near the top which was absolutely shocking. What are they trying to prove?!

The Inari Shrine is open 24/7, you can go day or night. I would have loved to experience it in the evening – not to go all the way to the top as it looks so isolated, but to see it in a different light.

IMG_3864.JPG

At the top, there is no ‘well done, you made it’ but there is a vending machine to quench your thirst which is still pretty good. We had wobbly legs the entire way down but were proud to have done the circuit.

My Fitbit was pleased with me that day: 100 flights of stairs climbed or 1000m of ascent!

The low-down:

Cost: Absolutely free!

What to bring: sensible footwear (I do not condone the high heels!), a bottle of water, a camera to take some amazing photos

How long: Up to 2 hours

 

Japan Series: Rainy Kyoto

Leave a comment Standard

Welcome back to the Japan Series! After a few days in Tokyo and a day trip to Kamakura, it was time for a weekend trip to Kyoto…

During our trip to Kyoto we rented an Airbnb, staying in a traditional Japanese house near Toji Station. This was a great location and amazing to stay in a beautiful Japanese home.

We arrived Friday night after a long coach journey, and had only 2 full days to make the most of this city, which I must admit, is not long enough to see everything. Pressure!

In Kyoto, there is a lot of tourism. So much so, that it can get to the point were there are just too many tourists at sites. Still, we found that by being smart with our itinerary, there are ways to avoid a lot of the stress of the crowded temples and shrines. It was also coming to the end of sakura season, so the main bulk of tourists had fizzled out. Nevertheless, for some places, the overcrowding is just inevitable and you have to suck it up and go with the flow (of the crowd).

The weather forecast was not looking promising for Saturday morning, so we changed our plans up a bit to take into account the rainy weather.

Our first stop was to the nearby Toji Temple. Now, this is not one of the ‘top sites’ as such, but with it being a short walk away it would have been a shame not to see it. In all honesty though, this was one of my favourite places that I visited in Kyoto. Maybe because it was quite empty, maybe because it was just so beautiful, I don’t know, but I loved it! The 5-storey pagoda is really something, and has been even earthquake-proof for a few centuries! It was really interesting reading about how they managed that.

IMG_3826

Toji

 

IMG_3820

Toji

IMG_3808

Toji

The rain still beating down, we made our way to Tofukuji Temple. We caught the bus right outside Toji which took us straight there – handy! It was a short walk to the Temple. This one is interesting as it has two very different gardens which you have to pay to enter. We decided we may as well do both while we were there. These gardens are actually made to be appreciated in rainy weather, and there are plenty of walkways to keep dry if necessary.

The first garden, you can walk around and explore away from the sheltered areas and really get into nature. It was so tranquil and the colours around were mesmerising.

IMG_3833IMG_3840IMG_3846

The second was a ‘zen garden’ which was also beautiful in its own way but with a lot more structure and perfectionism to it.

IMG_3851IMG_3854

IMG_3857

It wasn’t long after until the sun reappeared and it became sunny and humid again, just in time for our next stop, Fushimi-Inari Shrine, which I will talk about in next week’s post…

Robyn

Japan Series: Kamakura

Comments 2 Standard

Welcome to the fourth edition of the Japan Series blog posts. If you are starting here, you may like to read Welcome to the Japan Series.

After two whole days in Tokyo, enough to shake off the jet lag, we took the train out to Kamakura for a day trip. There are quite a few day trip options from Tokyo which I will look forward to doing on my next trip (I hope), but for this day, we chose Kamakura.

17951754_10158386676155447_7816158307482315352_n

An hour or so south of Tokyo on the train, Kamakura is a small city but a popular destination for travellers looking for temples, shrines and monuments. The most famous landmark is The Great Buddha (鎌倉大仏, Daibutsu), the second largest buddha statue in Japan, and you can even go inside it and marvel at the impressive architecture and design!

17903562_10158386675770447_4184316801717414265_n

It was so good, I ate it too quickly and gave myself indigestion!

During our day trip, we caught the electric train to Hase, the nearest stop for the Great Buddha, and then grabbed some delicious veggie food nearby. There seems to be a lot of that going on! From there, it was a short walk to the impressive Hasedera Temple, which also has stunning views over the city and coastline.

IMG_3784IMG_3795

We caught the train back to Kamakura station to visit Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, the most important shrine in the city. This is a large shrine which has several ponds, which during sakura season were stunning. There, we were able to buy some fish food to feed the many fish, but it seemed like the pigeons were quite determined to get a mouthful!

17884660_10158386674675447_6356623810373669316_n

Attack of the pigeons!

17883503_10158386675450447_7860483956351752348_n

There are a number of other sites of interest in Kamakura, but it was lovely to get out of the big city for a day and experience somewhere quite different.

We caught the train back, rather exhausted after a long day exploring, ready to pack our bags and have an early night before our 9-hour coach journey to Kyoto the following morning!

Where would you go as a day trip from Tokyo?

Let me know in the comments!

Robyn

Japan Series: Tranquility in Tokyo

Comments 2 Standard

How to describe Tokyo in three words? Massive, dazzling, overwhelming. Tranquility ain’t normally one of them!

This was certainly not the case either, when I woke up at 3am on the first night and the room shook for 3 seconds – yes, that was an earthquake! It was only a 2.0 so was not horrific but earthquakes are common in Japan.

As a first-time traveller to the country, Tokyo was really something. I have never been in a city comparable in size to it. The scale of Tokyo only began to unravel when I gazed out through the window in the Government Building tower one night. So. Big. (this is a great way to see the city day or night for free by the way!).

gov building view.jpg

Still, despite the hustle and bustle of city life, stuffed metro carriages and huge zebra crossings, there are pockets of calm in the form of gardens and shrines that slow down the pace.

Meiji Shrine is one of them. It is currently being renovated in time for the 2020 Olympics, so I did not see her in her true glory, but the size and beauty of the surrounding area is so serene, only a stones’ throw away from Harajuku.

Hamarikyu Gardens, a 40-minute ferry-ride away from the beautiful yet touristy Asakusa temple, is such a tranquil spot to appreciate natural beauty surrounded by the cityscape. The gardens do not hide from the skyscrapers and modern buildings, rather they embrace them. The tea rooms here gave me my first experience of Japanese green tea and wagashi (sweets).

asakusa

Asakusa

asakusa2

Asakusa and my first sight of sakura!! (cherry blossom)

17759857_10158385409075447_8918212456594370985_n.jpg

Hamarikyu

 

On my final day, I braced the area of Shinjuku on my own, clutching my phone with the GPS on, using Harrie’s trusty portable wifi, stashed in my bag, to go to the Shinjuki Gyoen (Gardens). These gardens were massive and only 200 yen to enter. It took me a good 2 hours to walk the length and breadth of this place, but it did not feel anywhere near as magical as the last two places. My only guess is that this is just such a huge area and they simply don’t have the means to truly care for every corner of it. It did feel like it wasn’t looking its best, or maybe I just have high expectations. Either way, it is a great way to spend some time away from the faced-paced city, whilst still in the center of it.

This city really threw me in the deep-end as my first stop on my whirlwind trip to Japan. Despite all that, it was exhilarating and totally different to anywhere I have been before.

 

What do you think of Tokyo? Let me know in the comments!

Robyn