KYOTO – Japan’s Oldest Capital

October 1st 2019 and another train trip – this time to Kyoto.  We were getting very confident riding the Shinkansen and now that all signs are in Japanese as well as English it is much easier to find where you have to be and at what time.  We had booked an ‘apartment hotel’ and found it on one of the main streets of Kyoto and within walking distance to the Gion district.


A small hotel with very friendly and accommodating staff, we found our apartment which, in reality, was a small double room with bathroom.  A tiny kitchen was squeezed in and in order to make a sitting room, the bed folded up into the wall.  It is ingenious how space is used in Japan!

Kyoto is known as old Japan – with quiet temples, peaceful gardens, shinto shrines and wooden houses.  As well there are geishas in the Gion – or entertainment district – and today they are also very much a tourist attraction.  We had a pre dinner drink by the river one evening and a young geisha introduced herself and sat with us for a photo before moving on to the next table!


Nevertheless it is lovely to see traditional dress and the colours are vibrant although how the poor women walk in the traditional shoes I will forever wonder.  I am told they have to have one size too small – maybe that is why the steps are so mincing.

A highlight for us was walking the Path of Philosophy.  We caught a bus to  Nyakuoji-bashi where the Path starts.  The walk itself only takes about half an hour and is named for one of its most famous strollers – a 20th century philosopher called  Nishida Kitaro who is said to have meandered lost in thought along the path.


The path runs along a canal lined with cherry trees and colourful plants and tiny shops selling traditional paper, handicrafts, tea and porcelain are along the way. Beautiful houses with stunning gardens line one side of the canal and on the other are bench seats where people were sitting having their lunch or just meditating.  It was all so peaceful.


Another highlight was a visit to the Nishiki Market which is covered and has a lot of weird and wonderful foods such as pickled vegetables, Japanese sweets, yakitori skewers, and tofu as well as knives and kitchenware. Souvenirs to take home from here include pickles, tea, sake, rice crackers – and if we were allowed, dried fish snacks.  Sadly we cannot take those home but we enjoyed them whilst there!

The narrow pedestrian streets and wooden houses, colourful lanterns and elite restaurants and bars make the Ponto-cho area a pleasant place to walk in the evening.


Kyoto has something for everyone and there is so much to see and do that a return visit is very definitely required!



September 26th 2019 and we had a two and a half hour journey to Tokyo from Kanazawa aboard the Shinkansen Hokuriku line.  Knowing we were travelling during a meal time, we decided to buy bento boxes from the well stocked shop at the railway station.  These lunch boxes came elaborately packed and with a variety of foods inside.  I opted for a smart red and black box with matching chopsticks and inside were tasty morsels of rice, pickles seaweed salad and a couple of other things I didn’t recognise but which were delicious!



Richard’s box was called “The Samurai” and was larger but what was in it was anyone’s guess.  I think I made the right choice!


The train – a super high speed Shinkansen was comfortable – we were in the Green Car – and scenery flashed past almost too quickly!  My only comment overall about these high speed trains after travelling on them for almost 5 weeks, is that there are far too many tunnels!


Stations are clean and very well organised – with hostesses for the Deluxe and Green cars. On board snacks and drinks are sold from a trolley and cool towels are handed out at the start of your journey – which is a lovely touch.


Tokyo is easy to get around.  The sprawling city can be accessed readily by public transport which runs very regularly and efficiently.  We were staying in Shinjuku but managed to get around with our Suica transport cards allowing us to travel on buses and trains merely by swiping the card – and topping it up when credit ran low.

A modern city in many respects, I love how the old blends with the new.


There are a lot of parks and gardens and iconic structures such as the Tokyo Tower and the Skytree Tower.





Everywhere we went there were reminders of the World Cup Rugby being played all over Japan – that is why we were there after all.


And even at the Fish market – where we had THE most delicious lunch, we were promoting the rugby!


We attended an Australian Rugby Union function at Tokyo Bay – which was quite a long way from Shinjuku but we took the train and found that, the world over, people are the same and obsessed with their devices!


Tokyo Bay is close to Haneda airport – the old International Airport – with lovely views from the park close to the cruise terminal.



The function was prior to the game Australia v. Wales and was an opportunity to meet up with old friends, hear about the team and meet some new people along with delicious food and wine/beer.  An ingenious way to refill beer glasses was a roving waiter with Heineken beer on tap…..



We were given a bag containing memorabilia and cheer aids – including these rather fetching “Happy Coats”


Then it was off to the Tokyo Stadium for the game – with a capacity crowd, of which around 40,000 were apparently Australians, the atmosphere was electric.



It was a good game but sadly we didn’t win this time.  One win and one loss so far with two more games to go.  Meanwhile we have more exploring to do!








If you would like to step back in time and experience life in rural Japan a century or more ago – then a visit to Shirakawago is the answer. We took a bus from Kanazawa to the World Heritage listed village which was a journey of about an hour and a half. The village is located in the Gifu Prefecture and has a population of just over a thousand people. It is a mountain village with steep forests which drop into the Sho River. A number of tunnels have been built in recent years which makes it easier to reach the village from Kanazawa, Takayama and Gifu.

The village is known primarily for its traditional houses built in the Gassho style. Some of these are more than 250 years old.

These houses are built to withstand heavy snow but are also susceptible to fire at any time of year due to the wooden structure and thatched roofing. They are characterised by the large, steep thatch roof which resembles hands folded in prayer. Today the residents are farmers and rice fields are throughout the village. During our village the farmers were harvesting the rice.

It was amusing to see traditional scarecrows in place – which obviously have some effect.

It is easy to stroll around the village which has a very peaceful air – unhurried and with very little traffic.

It seems to be a village of harmony which welcomes visitors yet maintains a traditional way of life.

From there we hopped onto a local bus to the city of Takayama – about 50 minutes away. The population here is around 88,000 but again it is easy to walk around, especially in the traditional area which is part of the Hida province.

Several streets with old houses which now house many restaurants and craft shops lie parallel to the Main Street of the town. Craft here is mainly carpentry, lacquerware, pottery and the charm dolls known as Sarubobos. These are traditionally passed from grandmothers to grandchildren and mothers to daughters and are now sold as souvenirs. The local foods are mountain vegetables, beef, soba, ramen and sake.The Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine is right in the middle of the town and is a 5th century shrine which is visited by more than 1,500,000 people annually. In 1683 it was officially established for the protection of the town. It is truly an awesome place to visit and a tree in front of the shrine is said to be 1200 years old.

There are many other attractions to visit in Takayama including hikes, a Ropeway, back country skiing, Markets and visits to the Hida Folk Museum. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do it all, so we will just have to return!


I had heard that Kanazawa, located between the western mountain ranges of Honshu and the Sea of Japan, was often referred to as Little Kyoto. I was not disappointed. This is the most charming place and one which I sincerely hope we will visit again.

A Castle town with beautiful gardens, narrow streets, traditional precincts and some intriguing samurai houses, it is easy to walk around and explore several parts of the city in one day.

We stayed in a typical Japanese dwelling in a cute neighbourhood within walking distance of the station.

Familiarising ourselves with the area, we walked first to the Omicho Market which sells everything from fish to clothing.

A short stroll further on and we found the magnificent Kanazawa Castle with its magnificent Kenrokuen Gardens. The gardens have been Heritage listed and are a place of serenity with winding streams, lakes, ponds and landscaping.

Moss was everywhere and many of the trees were centuries old.

Another quaint area is Higashi-Chaya-Gai which is an old area along the river where there are old samurai houses and narrow streets, lots of tiny restaurants and craft shops. We saw some Kimono clad ladies walking slowly along the street and immediately imagined ourselves back in time.

We saw a few ladies wearing kimono and one totally fascinated me and I wondered about the comfort of this type of dress – particularly on a bus one day when one lady was unable to lean back in her seat due to the obi behind!

It is the simple things that make a place memorable – and we will always remember Kanazawa with affection and hope to return one day in not too distant future.


Four days in Sapporo is not nearly enough! The city has a lovely feel to it – unhurried, clean and very friendly. It is easy to walk around and the public transport is very frequent, efficient and cheap. We didn’t get into the mountains but did visit the pretty little town of Otaru.

The local train to the port city runs several times an hour and the journey takes about 40 minutes. Otaru flourished from the Meiji to the Trisha Era and was known as “the entrance of the North”. It is a fun place to walk around and our first encounter was with the fish market, situated next to the station.

This is a popular place for the locals as well as visitors and the variety of seafood on offer is staggering. We found a little restaurant behind one of the stalls and had a wonderful lunch of sashimi and rice with roe – the roe is plentiful and is sold in jars and buckets!

The Otaru Canal is a beautiful attraction and is reminiscent of days gone by. Old warehouses line the canal and are now shops and restaurants. There are other lovely historical buildings nearby which have been preserved and are also banks and offices.

That night, back in Sapporo, we went to Odori Park where the Autumn Festival was in full swing with food and drink stalls and tents in abundance. We wandered through the Park and ate the biggest scallops we have ever seen

Plus other delicacies and ramen noodles – which is a speciality of Sapporo.

The Hokkaido Historic Village is an open air museum of relocated and restored buildings that represent the history of Hokkaido from 1868 to the 1920’s. We reached it by local train from Sapporo and on entering took a short ride around the village in a horse drawn tram. In all there are 52 buildings representing the Town, a Fishing Village, Farm Village and a Mountain Village. Each building shows the lifestyle of the people of that era.

It was easy to imagine life in those days – and wonderful to see local schoolchildren enjoying an excursion to learn about the history of their region.


Hong Kong isn’t just all about shopping and crowds.  It is easy to get away from all of that and find some relatively quiet places whether by the beach or in the hills. This trip I wanted to do just that and revisit places I knew well as a child.  Things have changed, of course, but some things remain the same and then the memories come flooding back.


Far from the madding crowd and mayhem in the city below is a beautiful walk around the top of the Peak.  This is where we lived and today it is exactly as it was – quiet, peaceful and leafy.  It is much cooler than in the city and the views are stunning – but different to our day as the construction of multi storey buildings has filled the landscape below and the vista to the islands beyond is now hazy due to pollution.


A view from above

The Star Ferry has been crossing the harbour for decades and is, to my mind, the best way to go from one side to the other.  The trip takes no more than ten minutes and is a pleasant way to travel.  We did this so often as children – there were no cross harbour tunnels or MTR trains in those days.  A vehicular ferry was available to take cars and passengers and on weekends we would often “drive” to Castle Peak or the New Territories and part of the excitement of the day was taking the car ferry!


Kowloon today is so different from the island – it is a mixture of crowds, smells, hustle and bustle, jewellers, hawkers selling copy watches or handbags, tourists galore and shop after shop.  In spite of all this it was lovely to see a couple of colonial buildings preserved and now used as hotels or for retail.


The Peninsula Hotel was another favourite and although the decor has changed, the lobby is still magnificent and the staircase – which featured in every Ball or formal event – is the same.

Towering skyscrapers dominate the waterfront and reclaimed land is making the harbour even smaller – however, I could still find the old Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club which seems to be dwarfed these days.

A bus ride to Stanley is always a great outing.   This little village was a quiet residential area with a small beach and good swimming.  There was also a market where we bought Christmas gifts and local wares. Today it is a really pleasant place to stroll along the waterfront, visit one of a number of cafes or restaurants and, of course, wander through the market.  There is a lot of history here as a Prisoner of War Camp was located in the village during the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong during the Second World War.


Blake’s Pier, which used to be in the city and where we met to go out on launch picnics, has been relocated here and is used by many pleasure boats each weekend.


The beautiful little temple of Tin Hau, the Goddess of the Sea, features very much in the lives of local residents here.  On entering the temple the smell of joss sticks and the smoke wallowing all around is almost overwhelming.  There is a row of gods and goddesses on each side of Tin Hau and they seem to be watching you. To see the locals pay their respects and bow and pray is humbling and it is obvious that their beliefs are very strong.



And finally there is the food – a plethora of choices, any number of cuisines but always present are noodles – oodles of noodles and it is fascinating to watch them being made!



It has been a busy few months since we returned from our road trip and sadly the blog has been neglected.  However, in a couple of weeks we are travelling to Japan for a month and so blogging will, once again, be on the agenda.  Meanwhile I thought I would reflect on a fabulous little trip I took in July to our beautiful Orpheus Island on the Great Barrier Reef.

July is a wonderful month here in North Queensland.  It is winter and the weather is glorious with days of around 25C and cool nights.  There are many festivals and events planned for this time of year and one of my favourite is the Australian Festival of Chamber Music ( ).  Now in its 29th year this Festival brings musicians from all over the world to perform here in Townsville in a variety of venues ranging from an intimate space at The Ville for Conversations and Music, to full blown concerts at the Civic Theatre as well as performances in Cathedrals, Schools, on Magnetic Island and even in the street.  A firm favourite, though, is the day trip to Orpheus Island, a small, secluded island in the middle of the Palm Island group about two hours from Townsville.  Here a few musicians play on the beach – their ‘stage’ being between large granite rocks, on the sand and shaded by large trees opposite the ocean with fantastic fringing coral all around. The audience can choose to either sit on the beach or the rocks to listen – or even to swim and watch the whole event from the warm waters of the Reef.

Yanks Jetty.jpg

This part of the island is set apart from the very exclusive resort and the ferry arrives at Yanks Jetty onto the small beach at Hazard Bay. The trip across from Townsville passes several small islands, mostly uninhabited, and it is here that we watch for whales.  The Humpbacks come to this region every year to calve and fatten up the babies before returning to Antarctica in November to spend the summer months there.  This year was no different, we were lucky to see three of these magnificent creatures.


Excitement builds and everyone goes onto the top deck to try and spot the mother and calf – then suddenly she is there, right in front of you!





It is hard to leave the whales but the Captain has to start up the motors and continue on to our destination.  After all, we were all there for the concert (as well as the whales!). Once at the island everyone wanders onto the beach and selects a spot to sit – either in the shade or in the sun and just relax.



Some decide to swim or snorkel  – but for me, having lived in the tropics for a long time, it was a bit chilly this year!


Among the performers was Wu Man – who played an ancient Chinese instrument called the Pipa – note the improvised music stand!


Rachel Clegg played the oboe, Roberto Carillo-Garcia was a dream on the guitar, Sally Walker was on the flute and Martin Kuuskmann played the bassoon. They were all excited about this unusual venue for the concert and loved the informality of it all.






For these musicians, who hailed from the UK, Canary Islands, China/USA and Estonia/USA, the whole experience was one they will never forget.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_9b0.jpgUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_9a2.jpg

Imagine sitting on a rock to listen to world class musicians! Or testing the water before you settle down to sublime music….


Last year even the artists themselves couldn’t resist the water




Finally it is time to board the boat and head back to town – along the way a fabulous dinner is served along with fine wines and small, tasty desserts.


Farewell Orpheus – until next year!




Our last leg before home and quite a few kilometres to put in front of us yet but the roads are straight and there is little traffic compared to the coast road, so it is easier driving. We take breaks very couple of hours and at Coonamble stopped for a picnic by the (dry) river which was one of our favourite meals – sushi and sashimi from a sushi bar in Dubbo.


Country folk are proud of their towns and so many in this area have large, ugly wheat or grain silos by the side of the road.  One way to brighten up the vista is to engage an artist to create “Painted Silos”.  One very good example is at Weethalle where the art beckons you almost from the horizon!


It would be worthwhile doing a road trip just checking out all the painted silos!

On the Queensland border we found a typical outback pub – corrugated iron and hitching rails but with so much character.  This one is at Hebel and there were several old timers contemplating the world problems over the never ending glasses of beer!


Soon it became dark and this always poses a problem whilst driving in the country as the kangaroos, wallabies, goats and sometimes pigs wander onto the sealed road or are attracted by the car lights.  There is always road kill at the side of the road so the message is “don’t drive at night” .  Nevertheless the sunsets in the outback are glorious and this one was no different.


The clouds seemed to set the horizon alight, everything was still and it was total magic watching the colours change quite quickly before the sun dipped over the horizon altogether.


We spent the night in St George and had dinner at the local pub where the message was very clear to all and sundry


The next day we had a short break at Surat – a small rural town on the Balonne river and which has become known for its fishing and its park along the banks of the river.




The area around is scenic and there are vast reserves of oil in the Surat Basin – as the website states: “Hydrocarbons in this part of the Surat Basin are generated in the underlying Bowen Basin Permian sequence and are liquids rich.  Oil is also trapped in the Triassic age Showgrounds Sandstone and in the Jurassic Age Evergreen Formation. It is estimated that the “potential recoverable resources” are between 200,000 and 300,000 barrels.” 


Our final stop just before we reached home was in the historic town of Charters Towers.  Beautiful heritage buildings line the main street and this is where the first stock exchange in Australia was built in 1888 and is indicative of the rise and fall of fortunes in the Charters Towers goldfields.  Today it is an Arcade of shops and cafes and is a perfect spot for a light lunch before resuming one’s journey.



It has been a wonderful trip and an eye opening insight to the vastness of Australia.  We covered 17,500kms in just 7 weeks and yet there is more to see and experience.  What will remain foremost in our minds are the long, straight roads, the vast open country, rolling hills and fertile farmlands, cotton balls by the side of the road in the cotton growing area, the never ending sunsets both on the coast and in the outback, the Nullarbor cliffs and coastline, oysters and seafood, road trains and fabulous Kakadu  as well as all the Aboriginal history throughout the whole country. There are termite mounds by the thousands, millions of sheep and lambs, wallabies and wildlife and, of course, the fabulous little country towns and the welcoming people in every place.  This is Australia!

I can’t wait to go again!



The Road Trip continues with over 14,000kms clocked up so far, we are feeling a little weary but still eager to discover and revisit places in South Australia.  Heritage towns definitely appeal and so we stopped at Burra – a small pastoral town in the mid north. It began as a mining township in 1851 and at one time supplied 5% of the world’s copper for 15 years. People came from Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and Germany  to work in the mines which closed in 1981.  It is a beautifully preserved town and it is here that the Burra Charter was adopted – this outlines the best practice standard for cultural heritage in Australia.


Beautiful autumn colours are everywhere.


The parks and gardens are relaxing and well maintained and tiny old miners’ cottages surround the lake in the middle of town.


As we drove on the farming practices changed from wheat and sheep to vines and olives.  Beautiful trees line the highway and it is hard to believe this is the main thoroughfare to the city of Adelaide.


Another pretty little town is Myponga – a very strange name and not easily forgotten!  Here we have a friend who grows olives and makes the most delicious olive oil and it is always a treat to visit.



This time we had a picnic by the newly named Lake John – in memory of an old friend who loved this farm and is no longer with us.



Delicious fare of cold chicken, salads, cheeses and, of course, olives!

Not far from Myponga is the attractive little town of Victor Harbour which is on the coast and where, from the waterfront, horse drawn trams cross the causeway to Granite Island, home to a wild penguin colony.


The beach is covered in seaweed at this time of year – perhaps another gourmet experience if it could be harvested and marketed for our palates!


However, the parks and beaches are wonderful for recreation and relaxation.



It was time to start heading north again and this time we drove along the Murray River seeing the views from the cliffs rather than on the water as we had done in a houseboat three years ago.



When it came time for a break we stopped at the river’s edge for a picnic and enjoyed the peace of the river and the birds.


As we came closer to the New South Wales border, once again vines appeared and there were acres and acres of them as well as orchards and fruit processing plants.



This area is home to the Murrumbidgee river, a major tributary of the Murray River and the second longest in Australia.  We found another quiet spot for a break here.



Now we are on the last leg of our trip and home beckons – but we have more than 1,350kms to go!








Another long, straight road awaited us for the next leg of the road trip – this time to finish with the Oyster Trail and get on to the vineyards.  A nice combination – oysters and wine!

Last stop on the Oyster road is Cowell – a pretty little town on the eastern side of the Eyre Peninsula and situated on Franklin Harbour. The waters are sheltered and are very popular for fishing – and oysters.  We found a shack close to the jetty which supplies oysters to various outlets in the town.  On entering we found the proprietor busy shucking the oysters which had just come in from the bay – so without further ado we purchased a couple of dozen and together with fresh lemons and in a cardboard box, we found a table in the park and indulged for lunch!  The verdict?  Excellent!


Our overnight stop on the way to the Clare Vallety Vineyards was the port town of Whyalla.  Named Hummock Hill in 1802 by Matthew Flinders, the town’s name officially changed to Whyalla in 1902 which is an Aboriginal name possibly meaning “water place”.  The steel industry here is over 100 years old but fishing is also of primary appeal. We were there just before sunset and went up to Hummocks Hill – a local lookout – to witness the change of colours.





The next day the road was clear and, for a lot of the way, was backed by the beautiful Flinders Ranges.


We drove through many little towns and villages but the one which captured us was Crystal Brook.  This quiet rural service centre is in the heart of South Australia’s most productive sheep and wheat country and has retained its charming historical links.




Beautiful shady peppercorn trees line the main street and there are several art pieces in iron, reminders of the part the camels played in this part of the country in the early years.



The Clare Valley is one of Australia’s oldest wine regions where there are heritage towns, boutique wineries, galleries and beautiful scenery.  We had booked lunch at the Skillogallee Winery where we had been before.  The vineyards here are resting – grapes picked and wine made but the vineyards still looked beautiful.


The road to the boutique winery is shady and winding at the end of which is the restaurant which seats both indoors as well as in the garden.



The menu features local produce with wine suggestions matched with each dish. Unable to resist the sashimi, I had, yet again, fabulous South Australian Kingfish and tuna served in a very artistic way.


Then came the wine tasting and purchasing – thank goodness we had a large car !


Staying in a little apartment in the centre of the town, we were perfectly placed for a choice of restaurants in the evening.  And that is what you do in these regions – eat great food and drink fabulous wine!