We drank local beer, watched the golfers heading out in their buggies and wondered if we could commandeer one, and got to see some northern lights.
After our fantastic Great Bear Lodge adventure we had another night in Port Hardy before driving to Nanaimo so we could catch the ferry from Vancouver Island back to the BC mainland. Nanaimo is famous for a rich creamy chocolaty slice with a sugar kick to boot you into next week. I recommend you try one. Fortuitously, the town also had a good local brewery, White Sails. We tried a couple of brews before eating and then heading home to get a good night’s sleep so we didn’t miss our early ferry departure.
We had one night in Courtenay, at Kingfisher Spa, which turned out to be a beautiful location. M was so disappointed we didn’t have time for any spa treatments, but the cafe/restaurant and view from outside our room was excellent diversion for one night. From the beach and then from the restaurant we could see seals popping up their heads. The mountain backdrop behind was very impressive.
From Victoria we headed up the coast. The first hour out of the city was excruciatingly slow – in an hour we travelled about 15 km. They are repairing the road and there was an accident and a breakdown – luckily we had planned for an easy driving day. We were heading to Courtenay but on the way stopped in at a couple of lookouts, and for lunch checked out Rathtrevor Beach. So far the Canadian beaches we’ve seen in BC are different to most Australian beaches – it seems like there’s a lot of dark sand, and the tide is always out – but the mountainous backdrop is absolutely stunning.
More about Courtenay next.
Cuenca is a lovely town to walk around. One of our guides told us there are 52 churches – one for every week of the year. They wanted to build one for each of the saints and then realised it would be impossible – so they build one called Todos Santos (All Saints) to make sure everyone not already honoured was covered. This is one of my favourite churches that we’ve been to – for $1 you can take a tour up to the tower for great views of the city.
There are also many, many museums, only a few of which we’ve visited. Some I’d recommend. The Municipal Museum of Modern Art is a fantastic old building, with changing exhibitions and some Ecuadorian sculpture. On the day we were there, we met very friendly staff who will happily converse with you even if your Spanish is terrible.
Pumapago is one of the largest, but sadly when we visited most of it was closed for renovations. However, the architectural ‘ruins’ out the back is a great place to walk around, and there’s information on plants. There is also a park next door with a small menagerie of birds.
The Museum of Aboriginal Cultures has an incredible number of pieces, with some information available in English. Nothing about the skull with the gold studs though.
I think my favourite was the Remigio Crespo Toral House Museum. There was an exhibition of historical clothing (reimagined by the textile students of Azuy University), as well as some information about the famous poet who lived there, and other important Cuencans. For example, politician and all round renaissance man Honorato Vasquez, who we thought bore an uncanny resemblance to Bill Bailey. On the bottom floor there is a cafe with a great deck looking out to historic buildings and the river.
Some pics from Sunday’s Shinjuku shoppping – it was wet but we still had a fab day.
Our last couple of days temperature-wise have been cold and wet. On Monday we spent the morning in catching up on some planning (aka staying warm and dry), and in the afternoon headed out to Shimokitazawa. It was six degrees and raining when we left – it didn’t warm up much after that, but at least the rain stopped. And the trains have good heating, as do the shops – and the toilet seats (love it!). This area is great for interesting vintage and new clothes/design shops. There was even a decent craft beer bar.
A week in Tokyo is going so fast! Over the last couple of days we’ve checked out Ueno Park and surrounds, Shinjuku shopping, and a few of the local craft brew bars.
Ueno Park was in full cherry blossom frenzy, even though there was not much blossom actually out yet. People were picnicking and taking photos and having a good time regardless. A wonderful atmosphere. We detoured to Benten Hall, and on the way there was a kind of flea market and various street food stalls which was interesting viewing. We also stopped in at the Toshogu Shrine and Daibatsu before picking up some street food lunch – on the way to the fabulous Tokyo Museum. So much to see at the park and Museum, but we gave it a good try and enjoyed everything we saw. On the way home, we tried out the Irish Pub ‘World End’ and it’s sister venue, Towa. Towa has Japanese craft beer and soba noodles. I liked both places. World End was a trip back in time – punk music playing and the venue smoky and dark. Towa was much more sophisticated – with the added Tokyo element of trains rumbling over head every 5 minutes or so. We finished off the evening with a walk around some of the Ueno sidestreets. Venturing into some pachinko and slot machine venues was an experience – the volume was incredibly loud with music and machine noise, and the venues were busy, with young/old/male/female playing.
I am so excited that after many many years of wanting, I am finally here in Japan. We arrived at Narita Airport and easily caught the Shinjuku Limousine bus into Tokyo (an hour and a bit), then a taxi to our apartment. A quick exploration of the neighbourhood and dinner out at a local ohitzuen diner set us up well for our next day. We decided to take it relatively easy – so started with a late breakfast at a noodle joint (tix paid via machine), then checked out the Japanese Sword Museum. In the afternoon we ventured to Shinjuku Gyoen Park for a walk for our first experience of cherry blossom frenzy, finishing off the day with a craft beer or two at Watering Hole and then Japanese Italian at Buona Vita (established 2016) for dinner. A pretty good day 1.
A few of my favourite Singaporean things: yum cha at Tak Po (newly discovered); wandering around Chinatown; a visit to the Peranakan Museum; checking out some craft brews at Clarke Quay Brewerkz (where that afternoon torrential downpour doesn’t matter); dinner at The Blue Ginger Restaurant (Peranakan menu, good food and great service).
We had a fun-filled couple of days in Bangkok, staying in the Centrepoint Silom hotel in an apartment. Total luxury to have more room than just a hotel room, and a great pool and good location. During our visit we checked out the view from Lebua at State Tower, visited the Chatachuk markets, caught up with friends, and visited a new (for us) area of Bangkok at the Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall and restaurants in a nearby street, Dinso Road. Which will definitely be worth further exploration.
If you’re going to the Skybar for sunset, just be aware that the lovely lift ladies now usher you to a side balcony unless you are very clear that you want to go to the actual bar. The view is still spectacular though, if you’re not too particular. Drinks prices uniformly overpriced – but what a location, location, location!