hotel hunting in japan

I’m helping out a friend who will be travelling to Japan for 2-3 weeks. Tokyo–>Hakone–>Kyoto–>Osaka. Her first time in Japan so I’m sharing my notes of places to visit, things to do, food, markets, transportation. I hope it’s useful.

The current focus is hotels. Budget is €80. What we found out, and are advised by frequent travellers to Japan, is to consider business hotels, or bizunesu hoteru. Seriously, read that out loud and marvel at the Japanese language. These business hotels, quite a number are part of a chain, are not only for business people. They’re no frills, reasonably priced and well located (next to a train station for instance). No frills means no gym, no room service, and some only change bedding every 3-4 days. The rooms will be functional and, since it’s Japan, quite small. But also since it’s Japan, they will be clean and the service polite and efficient.

tok093hotel

We stayed at a Tokyu Stay hotel last time and there was a small kitchenette and a washing machine in our room. A small seating area in the lobby served simple breakfast in the morning and a coffee machine served free coffee the rest of the day; there were also the ubiquitious vending machines for drinks and snacks. A helpful notice board showed nearby restaurants. The front desk helped us book a taxi for 5am check-out. The trip several years ago we stayed at a Superhotel and they had a daiyokujo hot spring bath on site. Next time I’ll also include Daiwa Roynet and Dormy Inn when searching for hotels.

That’s in cities. What we are finding is that Hakone hotels are much more expensive, €100 rooms are really basic. Not a big surprise because hotels there are mostly hot spring resorts that also include dinner.

hak077lake

Sigh. Hakone. Now I want to go there again. Go to Moto-Hakone, stare at Mount Fuji, go back to the hotel and have a full course kaiseki dinner, soak in the onsen and sleep on tatami mats. Heaven or not.

hotel planning

Spent the entire afternoon booking hotels. First for the cruise trip in feb. Need 1 night in Singapore, 3 nights in Sydney and 3 nights in Auckland.

The criteria for Singapore is not too far from the airport and food options nearby. We arrive early afternoon and leave first thing the next morning, so I wasn’t even looking at Orchard Road, Esplanade area. There’s a new Holiday Inn Express along the ECP, 15mins taxi from the airport, next door to the i12 mall. That’s perfect. If I were by myself I may not even have booked a hotel. I will likely store my luggage at the airport, go out somewhere to walk around, hawker centre for dinner then back to the airport to spend the night. There are spas, showers and transit hotels at Changi.

Anyway, Holiday Inn Express it is. The odd thing is, hotels.com was showing me hotels in Johor and Batam when I searched for Changi. I mean, geographically those places are near, but…they’re in another country! What good is a hotel in Malaysia or Indonesia when I’m transiting for one night in Singapore.

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flickr peter hardy

Sydney I was initially looking at airbnb, but they’re not that much cheaper than hotels. All in all, expensive either way. The one I liked, near Darling Harbour, mum didn’t like because they’re doing construction work outside. I reserved a hotel by the curious name of the Tank Stream. A little googling tells me that the tank stream was originally a fresh water tributary that provided water to the new colony in the 1800s. The stream is now a drain channel but there are commemorative signs dotted around.

Auckland was the worst. Expensive airbnbs. Hotels were split into 2 types: expensive brand names and motels outside the city. Must be some event going on, so many hotels are already booked. I reserved a serviced apartment near the ferry terminal that had really good reviews. Hopefully it’s okay.

tok004hotel

Started looking at airbnbs for our tokyo trip in jan, mm found one that is in a residential area with its own sento (public bath) but not available on our dates. I saved it in my wishlist for next time. There are a lot of availability, so it was a matter of too many choices.

Our flight home is 9am so I was also looking at how to get to the airport that early. The NEX train arrives at 7.17am, the TCAT has 6.45am and 7am arrivals and the limousine bus 6.45 and 7am too, from Tokyo station. The other alternative is to stay at the capsule hotel the night before. I was looking at Shinjuku but I realise I should be looking at Tokyo station for the limousine bus. I should also check out superhotel lohas where we stayed at last time, near Tokyo station, and with its own spa.

homeless in New York

I fly on sunday, so I thought I’d reconfirm with the airbnb place in NYC. Argh! The host replied that she is being kicked out by her landlord so she has to cancel my booking. When was she going to tell me? When I show up in 2 weeks’ time and find myself homeless?

airbnbchelsea

Regardless of whether this was a real reason or not, the fact is I have to find an alternative place to stay. It being so last minute, there are very few available places left at a reasonable price. May need to resort to a hotel. Not ideal.

bookstore-themed hotel tokyo

bookstorehotel01

via boredpanda, a cool place to consider next time we visit tokyo is the book and bed hotel, which will open in November. It’s a hostel which is based on a theme of a bookstore because:

dozing off obliviously during your treasured pasttime is the finest “moment of sleep”, don’t you agree?

 

bookstorehotel02

They will have 1,700 English and Japanese books and comics available, to be expanded to 3,000. The books are not for sale, just reading.

The accommodation is basic, more like capsules built inside bookshelves and shared bathrooms. Free wifi. At ¥4500 (USD37, £25) it’s aimed at the backpacker end of the market. Ikebukuro location is another positive. Then again, we prefer a little more comfort and private bathrooms. Probably not as suitable for us. Still very cool.

 

 

buffet, slots, fireworks

bc001hotel bc003casino

Overnight trip to Blue Chip hotel resort in Michigan City, Indiana. It’s a very large hotel that consists mainly of a casino and spa. We checked in mid-afternoon and wandered around to meet Carleen’s cousin inside the casino. Mainly slot machines with some table games. Not really tempted to play, I put in $5 each into 2 machines and lost very quickly. Ah well, it’s interesting to watch other people play anyway. Not too comfortable inside the casino as smoking is allowed, and towards the end of the evening when the place was crowded, the smoke was heavy.

bc012crablegs bc014pies

The hotel also had a buffet, and the daily theme was crab legs and steak. The crab legs were good, I had 2 platefuls. The steak was so-so, small pieces grilled and piled into a serving dish made them get cooked quickly. There were other food too, like chicken, pizza, a roast and chinese, but I didn’t try them. Dessert was ice cream and lots of pies: apple, lemon meringue, pumpkin, pecan, chocolate, cheesecake. There were also warm puddings like apple cobbler and bread pudding. I had a little of a pumpkin pie (standard) and bread pudding (good) as well as a root beer float. Overall, a good meal, definitely ate more than the meal’s worth in crab legs.

bc028fireworks

Went upstairs to cousin’s room with a great view of the different fireworks going on around the hotel. Put my camera on the windowsill and set the shutter to 1 second. The trick was to press the shutter at the right time, I managed to get a couple of halfway decent pics.

interesting holiday houses

I was reading a book where one of the MCs went off to live in a cottage in the Lake District for a few months. Nice, nice, nice. Reminds me that I have a couple of self-catering places saved in instapaper.

orton01 orton02

In Orton, outside the actual Lake District, there’s a small cottage called the gatehouse. The bedroom is on a gallery level that overlooks the living room, there’s even a grand piano there for mm (I’ll forgive the zebra print throw). Looks very quaint and quiet. Not bad for around £500 a week in peak season, and drops to under £400 in September. Then again, it’ll start getting cold around September already.

domehouse

In Bowness is the dome house which was on grand designs. I remember watching that episode, as the owners battled lack of funds to produce a house with stunning geodesic design, green roof and timber cladding. Turning part of the house into a b&b was part of the financial solution, I guess. There are 2 apartments and a studio, with lap pool and spectacular lake views. Price is something £200 per night, so in the luxury camp.

ecocapsule

If there is land somewhere, this ecocapsule from Slovakia can be a portable home anywhere. It has solar panels and a little wind turbine. The interior has a foldable bed, kitchenette and proper (probably chemical) loo. I really do like the idea of off-the grid, green homes but bathroom and kitchen facilities are important too.

houshi ryokan — family owned for 1300 years

Houshi Ryokan in Awazu Onsen is the oldest family-owned hotel in the world and second oldest owned hotel. Beautiful ryokan, beautiful onsen, beautifully shot video. Sad too. The ryoden passes down through the eldest son and the current owner, Zengoro Hoshi, is the 46th generation. His son died suddenly, and the film also focuses on Hoshi-san’s daughter, and her struggle to take responsiblity for the business, responsibility and pressure she hadn’t thought was hers.
 

cruise planning alaska: hotels

To recap, in Seattle I need to find hotels that offer park-and-cruise packages so I can leave the car there whilst we are on the cruise. I spent a lot of time looking and the results are disappointing, either because there aren’t many places with this package or the available ones have already been booked up. People plan and organise for their cruises, especially a big ticket one like Alaskan cruises, months or even a year in advance. We’re leaving in 2 weeks.

I found offers at Quality Inn, Knights Inn and Econolodge—motels around the Sea-Tac area, which is to the south of the city. The cruise terminal is around the middle and towards the north. These places say they have transportation to and from the terminal, but from online reviews and thinking about it myself, I’m not altogether convinced. In one case, their so-called transportation is to give you a link to book a town car or a minivan with Shuttle Express. Riiiiight. Of course, worst case scenario, there are taxis which potentially may be $50 or more one way.

The one place that is closer to the cruise terminal is hotel nexus in North Seattle. No wonder they still have places, the package, which works out to be around $450, doesn’t seem to be cancellable once booked.

Back to the drawing board. Find a hotel that is wallet-friendly, has parking for 2 nights and I’ll park at the cruise terminal. If the park-and-cruise package is in the $500 region and cruise terminal parking is at $140 then I have $360 for a regular hotel. Which sounds like a lot but is hard to find in Seattle during cruise season.

What is my bottom line? Given a choice, I prefer to be nearer downtown. One of the Kimptons, or the W is currently on special offer, or a b&b, or a real home at airbnb. These didn’t work. Too expensive, no availability or rooms with only 1 bed (no, Mum and I don’t share very well so we need a twin room). I did find a Quality Inn a few blocks from the Space Needle for $375. I consider the task complete. With a confirmed reservation, I can keep an eye on other offers in the next 2 weeks.

Burrard Street 2009 The Burrard Hotel
images from flickr users gord99 and miss604

Vancouver next. No complications with cruise parking and such, all I need is a decent place with 2 beds and parking. By now I’m getting tired of searching so I picked one that seemed reasonably priced, in a central location and has good reviews. The Burrard, according to its blurb, dates from 1956 and has been updated to a mix of fun, retro and design-chic. One of the tripadvisor comment says that it’s not for

stodgy and old people

which I find unfair to old people and a stupid comment in general. I think Mum will enjoy the modern design, if the pictures I found online are really indicative. It may be a bit noisy, if the guests are really as hip and young as they claim; plus they are pet friendly so…dogs, yuck. Anyway, I can cancel before arrival, so again I can look for others.

hokkaido day 4: jozankei, shikotsuko

joz136spa joz138spaoutdoor

Woke up at 7am to soak in the other onsen at the hotel. They switch in the morning, so this one was the male onsen at night. Two indoor spas, an outdoor one and a steam room. I like this outdoor one, the temperature was perfect. We tried them all before breakfast.

joz143bfast joz152salad

Lots to enjoy at breakfast too. Salmon, stuffed squid, rice, soup, fish balls and freshly squeezed apple and vegetable juice. We weren’t in any hurry so after breakfast we decamped to the lounge to chill before it was time to checked out. After we paid our bill we even managed to fit in a visit to the shop and bought massage pillows. Then it was off to explore the Jozankei area for the day.

joz169road joz178snowtrees

First stop was the dam, which also had a viewing platform over the valley. Unfortunately it was still closed for the winter. We could see how the area had much more snow than in Sapporo proper. The roads were all ploughed, but the packed ice at the side was quite thick. There was also an extremely loud continuous announcement that sounded ominous — probably telling whoever was in the area that the dam was closed, or perhaps it was so loud to scare off the bears, who knows.

joz205shikotsuko

joz193shikotsuko joz198shikotsuko

Drove about an hour to lake shikotsu 支笏湖. When we rounded the corner and saw the lake for the first time we said “wow” at the same time. So beautiful. It’s the second deepest lake in Japan and is surrounded by 3 volcanoes. There is a small touristy development with hotels, a visitor centre, some restaurants and in the summer there are paddle boats and sightseeing cruises. Not a lot open at the off season, still nice to walk around the breathe crisp fresh air.

joz238soba 

joz237tempura joz252owlcafecoffee

Lunch was tempura and soba at one of the few restaurants there. Simple family style restaurant producing quality food. Stopped off at café owl for coffee and tea. Another small quaint place we had the whole place to ourselves. Ah, that’s the life.

joz289hotelroom joz295spa
Drove back to Jozankei and there was enough time to explore the park and part of the river. There was a suspension bridge over the river but access was blocked by ice. So we went ahead and checked into our next hotel, shiraito onsen, a small family-run ryokan. It was funny, communicating with the elderly lady who ran the place. Mostly using sign and body language.

The tatami room was more basic than at the shogetsu grand, as was the onsen. The so-called outdoor spa was one bath probably max 3 people with a glass door opening out to a courtyard. Enjoyed the soak though.

joz303dinner joz318grill
Another fabulous kaiseki dinner, and we realised we were the only guests at the hotel. Lovely dinner, huge menu with course after course after course served. Starters, salad, sashimi, chawanmushi, tempura, soba, rice, soup, a gigantic platter of grilled crab, fish, ribs and finished with yuzu ice cream.

Tried the indoor onsen after dinner — two spas that were quite, quite hot. Long day, quite tired so we turned in early. This hotel was small enough not to have wifi, so it was a good excuse to get some rest.

hokkaido day 3: sapporo, jozankei

Woke up to mm wishing me happy birthday, yay. Breakfast was a the café denmark inside the station shopping complex — egg curry roll, brioche and I had a royal milk tea which was basically normal tea made stronger than their normal weak standards. Checked out of the hotel, not before trying the free massage chair at the lift lobby and also discovering they had a lounge with free coffee. Ah well. Had some difficulty finding the car rental place, we were a little confused with google maps before realising that the office was next to Sapporo subway station and not the JR station. It was actually just a couple of blocks from our hotel on the same side of the street. Ah well.

sap184curbmkt sap191curbcrab

Drove 20mins to curb market and found a parking space around the shops. Unlike the covered nijo market, curb market had seafood shops lining both sides of a stretch of the road. Lots and lots of crab, crab and more crab. We had lunch at an upstairs restaurant, which we remember from last time. Uni & ikura rice, grilled cuttlefish, grilled corn and a bottle of beer to share. Yummy. Dessert was melon slices from one of the shops on the street.

joz011cafe joz014cake

After lunch it was off to leg 2 of our trip, to Jozankei onsen. It’s only about 45mins’ drive from Sapporo, on a regular main road. Small village with several hotels, a couple of shops and some cafés. It was too early for check in so we stopped at a traditional café. Tea, coffee, toast and pound cake. Very quaint and European style, down to the delicate china and wooden tables.

joz022hotel joz046honey

We were staying at two different onsen hotels at Jozankei. The first is the Shogetsu Grand, a more commercial and larger place. Lovely view of the river valley from our tatami room. We unpacked and made our way to the lounge for tea, coffee and to sample their honey bar. They had something like 15-20 different types of honey to try, from flowery ones like lavender and rose to fruity ones like apple and pomegranate to odd ones like sunflower and something woody. Crackers and yogurt were available to go with the honey. So relaxing, just sitting there at the lounge.

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joz070spaoutdoor joz072spaoutdoor

Even more relaxing was the onsen itself. A very large spa with 3 indoor pools at different temperatures, an outdoor spa and a steam room. Obviously you’re not supposed to take pictures in an onsen, but we sneaked them while no one was around. Great soak for about an hour until it was time for dinner.

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joz115riceeggsoup joz122dessert

Dinner was amazing. It was served in our room, and like all kaseki meals it consisted of neverending courses. Umeshu appetiser with small plates of starters, fish, sashimi, pork meatballs cooked in broth at the table, pumpkin and pork rib en papillote, chawanmushi, flavoured rice, soup and a seasonal sakura pudding with blueberry vinegar. Even though we were full it wasn’t the type of bloaty fullness associated with overeating. Most of the dishes were vegetable or seafood, only a small amount of red meat.

After laying around and allowing the food to digest, we headed down to the onsen for another soak. The relaxation was topped off with 10mins at the massage chair (¥100) and then it was time for bed. What a great day.

japan trip day 2 part 2

shirahama — coastal sights, sunset, onsen

shira168sandanbeki shira183senjojiki

After a leisurely lunch, we drove south along the coast to see the sights there. First it was a brief stop at the marine lookout tower. Just a quick snap from the entrance. Then it was sandanbeki 三段壁 which means three parts cliff. A short walk brought us to a lookout platform with 180° views of both sets of cliffs. There was a tunnel inside one of the cliffs that led to underground caves, but we didn’t have time to explore them.

Parking at the cliffs was ¥500, which would be refunded if we spent at least ¥1,000 at the shop. Thinking that we didn’t have anything particular to buy, we thought we’d walk around the shop anyway. Ha! Ended up spending over ¥4,000 on a bag of green satsumas and bottles of blueberry vinegar. At least the bottles were plastic, our liquid haul was beginning to build up. We had 30kg allowance, but we were still relatively restrained in our shopping, there were still whiskies to buy.

Another few minutes’ drive from sandanbeki was senjojiki 千畳敷, flat slate-like rock formations on the coast. Worth spending a few minutes taking pictures and walking down to the bottom. No car park fees or shop temptations.

shira197sunset shira204onsen

We had a voucher for one of the public onsens, and we had about 1.5-2hrs till dinner back at the hotel. We had assumed that everything was provided for, but forgot towels. Ah well, ¥250 on a towel souvenir is okay.

This onsen was spread over a large hill, with spas at different levels. We started with the indoor one next to the showers and quickly moved onto a secluded one outdoors. That one was very nice and peaceful, sitting in the hot spring we could hear the wind through the trees and birds calling too. Well, until the peace and quiet was shattered by a group of mainland tourists. Ugh. These idiots are everywhere, can’t escape them.

We changed back to street clothes and went to explore the spas at the upper levels. What a shame we didn’t have time to try them out, some had great views and seemed a lot quieter than the main ones downhill. What we did manage to catch, with perfect timing, was the sunset. Spectacular colours over the bay witnessed from a wonderful vantage point, it was fate.

shirakan060sukiyaki shirakan061sukiyaki

Dinner back at the hotel was sukiyaki tonight. A huge platter of one small lobster, a variety of fish, squid, pork, chicken, beef, mushrooms and green vegetables. Sashimi, small plates and pickles at the side of course. There was enough for 4 people, especially if we took up the offer of additional rice. Could only try a small amount of udon at the end. Umeshu with the meal, as usual.

After dinner, we re-organised our bags. It was funny, we didn’t discuss it, didn’t agree on anything, but as soon as we got back to our room, we went to our respective corners and started the repacking process. It was a good use of the rest time between a meal and going to the onsen.

We didn’t have exclusive use of the onsen tonight, a few other people came and went. One woman brought her baby to shower and soak in the indoor spa for a while. We still went through each of the spas, even when it started raining we stayed at the outdoor one. Didn’t want to leave the comfortable hot springs, a bit sad, our final night at the onsen.

japan trip day 2 part 1

shirahama 白浜 — beach, engetsu island 円月島

shirakan051bfast shirakan058hamegg

I’d set the alarm for 7am, our breakfast was at 8am. We went to bed around 10pm last night so we got a decent amount of sleep, hopefully catching up on lost sleep because of the red eye flight. One thing we had been looking forward to very much was Japanese breakfast. We were not disappointed. Another splendid selection — 6 small dishes including salmon roe, mashed potato, pickles and small mushrooms; pickles, grilled fish, salad, rice, miso soup. On the table was also the small grill on a stove from last night, already with slices of ham and sausage. Next to it was an egg. Aha, we were to make ham and egg ourselves, loving this cooking yourself business. A small bowl of yogurt and a slice of orange to finish.

We were in no hurry to go out, so we tried out the foot spa in our balcony. It was just above lukewarm and quite relaxing. Would have been great to enjoy with a cup of tea but I didn’t have milk.

shira018beach shira023spa

The hotel had valet parked our car safely in one of the covered spaces next to the entrance. We got the key but our first destination didn’t need the car. In advertisements and on tripadvisor we read that the hotel was 3 minutes from the beach. It’s an exaggeration! The beach is literally across the road so no more than 1 minute away. Perhaps the 3 minutes refer to actually hitting the sandy part and not just the pathway. Anyway, pedantic.

The beach was a revelation. Research before the trip had registered that there was a beach, but we did not expect the pristine white sandy beach and a sweeping secluded bay that greeted us. Not too crowded on a Saturday morning either. There were palm trees and tree parasols. There was even a public onsen with views across the beach. We walked all the way to one end and walked back, it was so pleasant.

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Coming out from the beach, we continued exploring the shopping streets behind the hotel but it seemed like it was off season as most of the shops were closed. Not just closed for the morning, but closed for a longer period. We visited a family mart opposite the hotel and a small shop selling fish cakes and sweet biscuits. Bought coffee, tea and coke zero at the former and biscuits for souvenirs at the latter.

shira065engetsu shira075wineshop

Back in the car, we drove north to see Engetsu island 円月島. A natural arch located along the coast, apparently sometimes the sunset hits it just perfectly at the arch. At the coastal point closest to the island were a couple of parking spots, but they charged money so we parked at a nearby small shop. The mean granny defending the shop wasn’t all that pleased at our presence, even though we ended up buying things from her. This was the only unfriendly Japanese person we met on the whole trip. Strange woman.

We tried to drive further up the coast but there was nothing more to see. So we headed back towards town in the direction of the market. But not before finding a wine shop and having more tasting. This time, we couldn’t get away from the Japanese insistence on no drinking for the driver so only mm was able to taste the sake and umeshu offered. She sneaked me a few sips when the shopkeeper wasn’t looking though. Ended up buying honey umeshu, so much choice.

shirahama — toretore market 南紀白浜 とれとれ市場

shira090tore shira134fish

shira110tuna shira101sushi

shira135juice shira141salt

Toretore market was exactly the huge food market we expected. It was full of people and full of great stuff. Seafood stalls selling fresh fish, prawns, lobsters, crabs, oysters and even whale, some of the food were for cooking at home but a lot of it was packaged and ready to be eaten as sashimi or sushi straightaway. Fruit and veg. Pickles. Juice. Sweets. Wine. Cooked food. Cans and jars. It was foodie heaven. We even managed to catch the fishmonger cutting up a whole tuna, down to gouging out the eyes and the delicious cheeks.

shira151lunch shira156uniroe

We bought a large selection of sashimi for lunch — fresh whale, which I’d tried in Bergen but mm has never tried. Large scallops, white fish and fatty salmon. Chirashi of salmon roe and uni, two of our favourites. Got a cup of umeshu each from the giant glass tank displayed at the shop.

Would have been great to find space to picnic, but the available tables and chairs were part of existing eating establishments. So we made the quick and easy decision to head back to the comfort of our hotel room, only 10mins away. What a life, eh.

japan trip day 1 part 2

wakayama 和歌山

waka006market waka037grapes

I managed to nap for a few minutes while mm drove us from Yamazaki distillery to our next destination, Marina City at Wakayama 和歌山. A longer drive than from Kansai, about 2.5hrs.

We were aiming for the Kuroshio market that supposedly had a tuna cutting demo everyday. We knew we’d miss it, but was hoping to see stalls with seafood, sweets and local produce. True enough, there were stalls at two buildings — the fruit and veg nearest the car park was full of delicious looking fruits, juices and jars of honey. The main market building was a bit deserted, some of the fish stalls were closed for the day already.

waka016chirashiumeshu waka023umeshu

It was almost 2pm so the first order of business was to find lunch. Disappointed that the only restaurant that seemed to be still open wasn’t serving anymore but very grateful that the fast food section was still open. One stall selling grilled food — raw seafood and vegetables, that customers grilled themselves. The other was the typical Japanese fast food of seafood rice bowl. No brainer in terms of choice. Sushi wins every time. We had salmon, salmon roe and uni chirashi, and although not the best we’ve ever had, it hit the spot.

For drinks we each ordered a umeshu, famous local plum wine. I had a mature umeshu and mm had a yuzu umeshu. The mature umeshu was sweet, just how I liked it. Again, perfect for the time and place.

The good thing about an almost empty market was that we were free to wander around. Bought some sweets and visited a umeshu shop. They charged a nominal amount for a small sample and we tried umeshu flavoured with honey and another flavoured with tea. Bought a few bottles too, the start of our bottle-collecting holiday.

shirahama-kan onsen hotel 白浜 館

shira030hotel shirakan007roomspa

shirakan004room shirakan010tatami

I took over the driving to Shirahama 白浜. We’d been awake since 5am after 2 hrs sleep so it was a long, tired 2.5hrs on a highway that was peppered with tunnels and tolls. The GPS brought us to the back of the hotel and it took us a few minutes to find the entrance. An old fashioned, rather basic hotel, it was well tended and we liked our room. Japanese style room with tatami floor, the living area converted to futon beds at night. A small balcony looked out to the main road and there was even our own private foot spa on the balcony.

shirakan032dinner shirakan034sushi

shirakan040beef shirakan043beef

shirakan044tempura shirakan046rice

Dinner was included, and it was a fantastic spread that greeted us when we were shown to our table. Not quite kaiseki style, but close. Lots of small dishes already set out — starters, sashimi, pickles, vegetables. We ordered more umeshu with the meal, mm had one with soda and I had one on the rocks. The dishes were delicious and intricate, small bites and portions of food that is now familiar to us.

Hot dishes included tempura and the meat / seafood course we cooked ourselves. They provided tiny grills powered by burning fuel blocks and we had a few small slices of beef, prawn, seafood and vegetables. Nice to cook food ourselves and to be able to control timing and flavours. The rice was flavoured with mushrooms and vegetables; it too cooked in its pot at the table.

shirakan016onsen shirakan024onsen

By then we were tired so we couldn’t wait to go to the hot springs. Japanese styled, so segregated by gender and no clothing or towels allowed. Not our first time at onsens so we weren’t bothered. After showering, we visited each spa in turn. There were 4 different ones: an indoor one next to the shower area, a semi-outdoor “longevity” one, an outdoor one underneath trees and a tall tub accessed via a wooden staircase. Our favourite was the outdoor one underneath the trees — enough seclusion from the elements but with fresh air and breeze that made the hot water even more relaxing.

Needed to do some research on where to go and to get phone numbers for the GPS. No internet in our room (our biggest complaint) and even worse, the advertised internet in the lobby didn’t work. I couldn’t connect on either the iphone or the mba although somehow mm got through on her iphone 3GS. Says something about older models. I was too tired to function and was very grateful when she took advantage of the small window to gather much needed information. Was out as soon as the lights were off and my head hit the pillow.

trip planning hotel

Trip planning moves onto finding hotel accommodation. We will split our trip into 3 centres, and hopefully stay in 3 different types of accommodation.

In Osaka we will go for a regular hotel, as it is part of the package. Two nights at a Nikko, Best Western or the popular Hearton. Hotel rooms in Japan are small, very small. A lot of hotels offer a room type called semi-double where the bed is somewhere in between a single and a double. This is for a single person or a couple who, in the words of a commenter on tripadvisor, still enjoy close contact with each other. While I’d like to say we will go for this for romantic reasons, the actual reason is that this is the cheapest room rate.

shiraraso

In Shirahama we will stay in an onsen, or hot spring, hotel. The one we are looking at is the Shiraraso Grand. They offer Japanese style rooms with tatami mats. A table and chairs occupy the room space during the day and at night it’s converted to a sleeping area. Technically it’s sleeping on the floor, in reality it’s sleeping on a comfortable futon mattress on a clean bamboo mat. This hotel doesn’t have in-room spa, rather there are 2 large communal spa areas with features like massage waterfall, mist sauna and bubble bath. Imagine soaking in this huge spa overlooking the beach. Meals are included. Japanese breakfast (we hope!) and either traditional kaiseki style of many small dishes, or shabu shabu for dinner.

In Kyoto we are looking at staying at a converted machiya, or traditional wooden townhouse. In Kyoto in particular, there has been a movement to restore and convert some of the houses to holiday rentals. Though both are traditional holiday accommodation, there seems to be a subtle difference between a machiya and a ryokan, the general name for traditional Japanese inns (machiya isn’t listed as one of the ryokan types). The best western analogy is a ryokan is a b&b while a machiya is a self-catering apartment — much cleaner and better quality of course.

arishiyamahanare

We managed to narrow down to 2-3 possibilities. Our favourite is the Arashiyama Hanare. This house was built in 1935, restored to very high standards and is certified as one of the Important Cultural Properties of Kyoto. I know we need to take online reviews with a grain of salt, but this one has consistently gained high scores everywhere we looked. Beautiful rooms, hot tub bathroom overlooking a zen garden shared with the main house where the owners live. Look at the white goose down duvet, so soft even on the picture. Since it is a standalone apartment, there is a kitchen which means we don’t need to eat out all the time, and can definitely have breakfast at “home.” It’s not located in the centre, about 20mins by train to Kyoto train station. We’ll likely have a car, and it’d be nice to stay in a more peaceful area to experience more local flavours.

provence trip day 1

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We took a minicab to St Pancras and were on the Eurostar in no time. I was a bit concerned looking at the timing that timing may be a little tight. We had to get from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon with our luggage, via the RER. But it turned out to be quite straightforward although we didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until we were well and truly on the TGV to Avignon. It was hot in Avignon when we arrived, took us a few minutes to find the rental car area. I’d already prebooked and prepaid our car so it was just a matter of getting the keys. It’s a small Citroen C3, good enough for us.

We made our way to Avignon city centre, parked our car in the car park near the papal palace and went in search of food. There were a row of outdoor restaurants in what looks like the main square, so we settled into one. Lots of shops in the pedestrianised district, had ice cream, hit a small Spar for soft drinks and supply. There are more shops and things to see than expected, so nice. Found a small wine shop that looked interesting, saving it for later.

The drive to Rousillon was about 1-1.5hr. Our hotel is supposed to be near Rousillon, but we got to the town and couldn’t find our way round. Had to use our basic french to ask directions. Turns out, the hotel is pretty much in the middle of nowhere on a tiny D-road. We finally found the entrance, drove up the hill and there it was. Very well decorated, rustic yet modern. Our room led out to a small patio, and the whole place screamed style and coolness and Provence.

We opted for dinner at the hotel, which was served outside by the pool. A few other guests were also enjoying dinner. Proscuitto & melon, roast veal and vegetables, rhum baba and fig tart for dessert.

big lunch, big dinner

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2012hkicon015ribs 2012hkicon017noodles

Lunch buffet at hotel icon which is part of the tourism and hotel management school at one of the universities. The hotel is staffed by students at the school, nice concept. The buffet has one of the biggest spreads we’ve ever tried, and we’ve tried many many hotel buffets. There were: all sorts of freshly made bread, salad, parma ham, singaporean yu sheng, alaskan king crab legs, prawns, lobster, sushi station, noodles station, grilled steak, lamb chop, sausages, salmon head, ribs, duck breast, ribs, too many hot food to mention.

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There were 2 dessert stations. One with the more traditional cny type desserts, plus ice kacang; the other had cakes, cheesecakes, macaroons, ice cream and bread & butter pudding. We left there, impossibly full.

Then we tried to walk the food off at the science museum. Had to avoid the trick mirror that gave us all additional 300 pounds and doubled our waistline! My niece had taekwondo practice at 6pm so we went to see that. Amazing that the master and his 2 assistants can fit a class of 12 kids in a squash court. There were toddlers who had just started, intermediates like my niece and a couple of older kids with black belts. Very impressive.

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And to top it off, my sis had reservations at peking garden for peking duck dinner. The rest we stuck to vegetables, but we were too full to finish. Took 3 containers’ worth of food home, plus the duck carcass. They had spares so they gave us one more carcass too. Luckily, my mum has 3 fridges.

home leave day 13 | food

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The eating continues. I’ve been over my calorie goal, and no exercising, for more than 2 weeks. But, I’m on holiday, right?

Went with parents to the café marco for lunch buffet. Seniors get a discount so there were quite a few there taking advantage. It was well worth even the full price. Everything was so well done — salad, seafood, sashimi, 3 hot dish stations, extensive desserts, chocolate fountain, movenpick ice cream. Amazing.

After all the gorging, Mum and I spent our energy hunting for a wii. Went to the golden arcade, but the ones on offer there were too “fixed” — she couldn’t use regular disks, had to download into a flashdrive — I didn’t know where to do that. So we went back to 188 and got the proper version for a higher price. I got a couple of games myself too — lego star wars and sports resort.

Dinner with sis and my niece at tokio joe. I was stuffed from lunch but couldn’t pass up more fresh delicious japanese food.

café des architectes

chi451sofitel chi452sofitel

I can’t stay away from food posts right now. I wanted to go to Gibson’s but all the restaurants along that strip on Rush were crowded. I ended up at the hotel restaurant, with a fantastic dinner.

Ordered the wine flight — the Peter Andrew Ingenium (a mix of cab, malbec, merlot and petit verdot), an Argentinian Cab and a Californian zinfindel. Surprisingly it was the zin that came out as favourite. I also got an amuse bouche of tuna pieces.

chi453sofitel

For starters I ordered the tomato trilogy for something light. Besides, I love tomatoes. The dish consisted of 3 variations on tomato — a stack of lightly marinated yellow and red slices, a tomato ice and a tall shot glass of tomato foam. Very nouvelle cuisine but amusing.

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Main course was curry-crusted lamb with couscous stuffed pepper, figs and a soft pancake. I haven’t been that impressed with lamb in the US but this was perfectly done.

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Dessert, at the captain’s recommendation was banana pain perdu with caramelised bananas and cumin ice cream. The pain was a bit filling after the meal but I can’t fault the caramelised bananas or the cumin ice cream.

Good thing about eating at the hotel was that I could sign for it, and no need to walk outside. It was a very hot day! Rest of the night was spent packing and watching tv.

another day of flying

There really isn’t much to say anymore. A 4-hour flight, 1.5hrs layover and another 12 hours. Eat, sleep, read, watch movies, fidget.

Watched Charlie Wilson’s War, Definitely Maybe, Penelope, I Could Never be Your Woman and some tv. Ate everything they gave me. Surprisingly only got through 70 pages of the book I brought along. Sometimes I’m in the mood for movies, sometimes for reading, I never know.

It was hot in Chicago. Took a taxi to the apartment. Since I’ll be here 3 weeks they booked a serviced apartment for me. It’s at Presidential Towers and first thing I did when I got through the door was take pictures, hee. It’s a one-bedroom place, with more closet space than my own apartment. No, strike that. Total area is larger than my own apartment. Just look at all those large appliances in the kitchen.

chi411pt chi413pt

travel = tired

Woke up at 5.30am Sydney time, checked out by 6am. Getting to the airport was really really quick; getting through immigration and customs was also really really quick. This meant that I was settled in the lounge, had gotten breakfast and was just messaging Car when the A380 pulled in. Yep, I’m going to Singapore on SQ and I lucked out on the A380. Again, hee.

This time I wasn’t as wide-eyed tourist like as last time. It was just as quiet and smooth as I remembered. There weren’t any films I wanted to see so I watched HIMYM instead — mmmTed. swoon I tried to sleep a little and managed about an hour before giving up and started reading instead. During lunch I watched Bones. Yes, it’s a CSI knockoff, but I was impressed with it. It was … interesting to be watching a program featuring a year old decomposed body found in a lake while having a nice lunch. heh.

Most of the rest of the trip was reading and listening to country music. We landed pretty much on time. Had a chatty taxi driver to the hotel, and all checked in by 3pm. Quick trip to the 7-eleven to get drinks and that was as much as I could manage. I’d been up since Singapore time 2.30am. Tried to nap but only managed half an hour.

At around 6pm it was time to find dinner. I was mortified to discover that the small shopping centre (including a bunch of restaurants) had closed for the day and the choices were — Subway, Burger King, a local place selling only deep fried food, walking further to the hawker centre near Chinatown (with no guarantee that it’s still open) or cup noodles from 7-eleven. Not much of a choice, eh? I took the expensive, I-can-claim-T&E way out and had the semi-buffet at the hotel coffee shop. Lots of seafood starters, a scampi and fried rice main course, dessert and tea. SGD35, not too bad.

Not a busy day tomorrow, I can get away with resting a bit.

sydney 1

okay, I like qantas business. Seats are the pod-like skybeds which don’t quite fold flat but are good and comfortable. Lots of buttons and reclining positions to play with, including one for a mild back massage.

qfskybed

Dinner was cream of broccoli soup followed by sea bass and noodles. The noodles were too salty and I needed a quick fix of diet coke. Finished with chocolate mousse tart. I tried a muscat dried wine but I didn’t like it. Or I was too tired. Couldn’t sleep that much though. The way they handled breakfast was pretty good — they gave us a hotel door hanging type card so we could choose what items we wanted. When the lights came on, they were able to serve people as they woke up instead of having a trolley service.

Watched Once which was fantastic. I’ll write about it in the next post. After breakfast I watched Strictly Ballroom, which I hadn’t seen before.

Staying at the Swissôtel this time. So I didn’t hurry through immigration and customs — I knew the room wouldn’t be ready when I got to the hotel at 10am. And I was right! So I left my bags, walked down to Paddy’s Market to wander around; then took the light rail to the fish market. Had oysters, a few prawns and a spinner crab (remember last time?). By the time I got back to the hotel at 1.30pm the room was ready. Took a shower and hopped online. Got too tired and slept for 4 hours. Woke up at 7pm. Luckily today was late night shopping and the streets weren’t totally deserted. Dinner at the food court at Myers — roast lamb with vegs, lemon & sugar pancake, and a carrot juice to take back to the hotel.

Everything so familiar. I even bought a 10-ride bus ticket. The hotel receptionist asked if I needed a map and I said no.

The Christmas tree is already up at Martin Place. It’s been so busy that I hadn’t had time to focus on Christmas.

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korea

sigh. guess what. I’m not home again.

This time it’s Seoul. Flight and everything was nothing special although my neighbour struck up a conversation with me. She’s an American lady who lives in Korea and she was curious about my accent, so we got talking about culture, technology and language. Normally I don’t talk to people on the plane but it turned out to be a nice chat.

Immigration was quick. I’m staying at the Westin Chosun hotel. Once out into the arrivals hall, all I had to do was to go to the hotel counter and the lady there took me to the airport bus. She actually gave me a choice of transportation — airport bus, hotel car or taxi. I mean, the bus is so convenient there is no point going for more expensive transport.

She must have called it in because I was greeted off the bus by the check-in staff. No need to check-in at the desk either, he took me right up to my room and I did all my signatures in the room. It was done in 2 minutes, very efficient.

I actually did not bring enough KRW in cash with me. I thought I had some leftover from the previous trip but it turned out to be only $50 in total. Yikes. There was enough for the bus and to go the 7-eleven to get some drinks. But dinner had to be room service. I had beef rib soup which came with kimchi and rice. Seriously, i don’t like room service it’s not value for money. ah well, I went to the supermarket in Sydney and lived off bread, ham and yogurt for 3 days, the company can pay for my room service for a few days here.

Of course the room is nice. The bathroom is nice. The bed is great. I’d rather be home though.

A380 experience, arrived in Sydney

So I got to the gate, and it’s buzzing with anticipation. There was a party of young kids, presumably on a school outing. There were families, grandparents, and the usual single travellers. People were huddled around large seat maps or their noses pressed against the glass gazing at the big monster. I tried to take a couple of pictures but they didn’t work, neither on the camera nor on the cellphone. I should have gone out while it was light, dammit.

The lower deck consists of Suites and economy class; the upper deck is business class with economy at the back. Economy is 3-4-3 downstairs and 2-4-2 upstairs so I think upstairs is preferable.

Business class was amazing. The seat arrangement is 1-2-1, with the intention that each seat has aisle access. The seat itself is wide enough to seat two people and there is a footrest embedded in the seat in front. Narrow storage cabinet between the seat and the window, like the ones on the 747 upper deck.

a38001cabin a38004seat

The seats fold out to completely flat flatbeds. There is enough room to lean back, move around, sit cross-legged, stretch my legs. I watched Stardust like that, very comfortable. Even when dinner was served, the table was high enough so I could sit cross-legged at one side of the seat. I had prawn salad and lamb chops. Dessert was ice cream and I had some Shiraz with the meal.

I was enjoying myself so much I didn’t want to sleep; but I knew I had to, otherwise I won’t last the day today. The flatbed was great, they even gave us 2 pillows and a non-static blanket. It was easy to fall asleep. So much so that I had to force myself to wake up when the lights came on.

Breakfast was light, just fruit and croissant. Pretty soon it was time to land. At 7 hours the flight wasn’t long enough to feel like long haul yet was too long to be short haul. The view out of the window at landing was nice. We were even half an hour early, landing at 6.30am.

a38012view

I lucked out hotel-wise. We don’t have an office here so no official hotel. The hotels nearest the other party’s office are Swissôtel and Westin. I knew the Westin is more expensive but the Swissôtel only had suites. So Westin it is. Because I was so early I was afraid that I have to wait for a room to be ready but I got it straightaway. It’s on the 4th floor, not very high and looking out to the courtyard. I don’t mind though. It’s one of those rooms with modern design with glass between the bathroom and bedroom.

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Chatted a bit with Car; when she went home from work I went out to the Coles around the corner (yay for still remembering some of the landmarks) and bought bread, ham, rocket, pâté, tzatziki, yogurt and drinks. In other words, the essentials. Had breakfast, then napped until noon-ish. RKT chat at 1pm, and I arranged to meet Chris for coffee. It was nice to meet someone from the group, pretty soon I would have met everyone. He even took me around the shops to look for a swimsuit for my niece. No luck, but not for want of trying.

Tired, so I’m glad to be at the hotel early. Sandwich again for dinner, nice and simple.

in japan

I’m in Japan this week for meetings. It’s been 2.5 years since I was here last. Lots of changes since then.

I brought Mum. She’s never visited and wanted to. I upgraded my room to a twin and got her an air ticket; this way she saves on hotel. I had some airmiles expiring next January, and it was just enough to get her airport lounge access. We had breakfast and I set up the mbp while she read a magazine. It was relaxing pre-flight; much better than fighting with the masses at the public food court. The flight was too full to upgrade her to business class, but I checked her in early and got her a front-of-plane window seat.

Uneventful but long bus ride on the bus to the TCAT station, then we took a taxi to our hotel — the Royal Park Shiodome Tower. Shiodome is a new developed area, full of modern office buildings, post restaurants. It used to be a derelict railway terminal and now it’s like Docklands.

Met Sis’ family for dinner. My colleague took us to an area with a bunch of restaurants. I had chirashi and we shared a mixed sushi. ¥12,000 (US$100) for 5 adults and 1 child — we’re talking about fresh fish here. That’s really good.

Tomorrow is a long day for me. I’m still enjoying NewJob but it’s been quite draining.

skylines and wifi

From metafilter, the top 15 skylines in the world. Some of the entries are contentious and subject to debate on metafilter, but most are agreed on #1. Heh, my reaction has a huge dollop of “yeah right” in it, simply because most days it’s impossible to enjoy a single bit of that skyline — everything is covered by a thick dark blanket of disgusting smog.

In other news (and this is for mary), Klimpton is the best hotel chain for wifi. I remember my problems at the Oberoi in Mumbai, where the wireless conked out without notice and took almost 2 hours to return. While I’m traveling I usually have to wrestle with awful in-room internet services that are expensive and not always Mac compatible. So it’s refreshing to read about a hotel chain that not only provides free wi-fi, they make sure the network covers the entire hotel. Like the article says, the hotel is perfect for “business travelers, hip leisure travelers, and globe-trotting bloggers.” Globe-trotting? They mean ‘North-American continent’ trotting surely? The chain is only found in the US and Canada.

exclusivity

well, not packing with a list means I forgot my spare glasses. Hopefully my glasses won’t break over the next few days.

I checked-in early and was told the flight’s full (surprising since when I checked-in online yesterday it didn’t look that way) and I’ve been upgraded. Yay! The agent asked if I minded a window seat, boy … of course not!

I had plenty of time so I grabbed a machine in the airline lounge and stayed there till it was time for boarding. Being in the lounge is great, especially one that’s big and organized.

Staying at the Oriental again, nice. They’ve really done good on their renovation, everything is super luxurious — robe, slippers, toileries, fruit, furniture. Even the ethernet cable is in a thick black box. This time I asked for an extra duvet, so I have two, yay!

I have a lovely view of the harbour, directly opposite the Fullerton. The IOC is in town and they just had a short fireworks display at teh Esplanade, which I was able to see at close quarters from my room.

Thing about flying is, my feet and knees need a massage now. Heh, I could call the spa and get one, but I’ve taken a shower now, don’t want to move. Ahh… the good life.

no washing

I can’t help but laugh. I think my clothes are too sub-standard for the hotel. At least their laundry.

Normally I baulk at sending clothes to the hotel laundry for washing, but I’ve been doing this for a month and a half and I can’t handwash everything. So I send my shirts and my pants for the laundry.

And even when I tick the box that says No to “do you want to be notified of defects in your clothing”, they still wrap them up in plastic with a note that either there’s a big hole or the colour’s faded, and I have to sign and send back to have it washed. It wastes a day.

Okay I admit it, my polo shirts are extremely faded and my cargo pants have a gigantic tear and hole at the bottom. But didn’t tick the box that says it’s ok?

It’s like, they’re trying to disqualify my stuff from going into the laundry, like amongst all the other nice shirts and all that presumably other hotel guests send in, my clothes simply don’t make the cut? Shouldn’t be seen in that company?

Like I said, gotta laugh.

liquid refreshment

As part of the room rate this time, I get breakfast, plus 2 bottles of water and 2 cans of soft drinks everyday. Thing is, I’m used to going to the supermarket first day I arrive and getting lots of drinks.

So now, the hotel room is full of drinks. I have more bottles of water than I can drink, I have juice, and coke and green tea. Even though I drink more than many people, it’s still hard to get through them all.

At final last I think housekeeping has figured out I want diet coke, not normal coke. So my usual diet coke at lunch, all I need is to come back to the room before lunch to get it. There’s no fridge in the office so it needs to stay in the minibar to keep cold.

europe trip day 11: the move across town

Finally we decided to get out of the nowhere hotel. Packed our stuff into the car and found ourselves homeward bound. Except there is no happy ending, the Marriott near home was full, so we opted for Travelodge. Eventually ended up at the one at Kew. A bit nearer town and back in “our” side of London.

Since we were literally on the A4, we drove out to Bicester. And bought a big ol’ nuthing! Ha! Had lukewarm baked potato and tea, just being together was great. Then at the end, discovered the Carlucci’s at the bottom end, shades of Bluewater again. Next time.

Tried making a reservation at Chutney Mary but they were full, so drove back to Camden Town. And received the first truly big shock — L’Ecluse was gone! Gone! The staple in our lives for over 10 years, where we’ve seen its ups and downs. Gone! I’m still in shock.

It was Saturday night, we didn’t have much idea of where to do, so I suggested the Greek place at Primrose Hill. Which turned out to be also fully booked, and so obnoxious neither of us wanted to go back. We ended up eventually at a smaller Greek/Turkish place a few doors down, that had charcoal grilled lamb. What a discovery. It was very very delicious. We had a starter of olive stuffed something and hummous, for main course we had one of lamb rib, another of regular shish. And both came with rice and veg and were yummy. Our night was saved. We’ve found another heaven.

europe trip day 08: from the nice to a shock

So our flight was mid-afternoon, so we had the whole morning, as long as we set off for the flughafen at 1.30pm it was fine.

Time to give Zurich its turn. Didn’t drive, took the tram, first stop Globus, to look at the beautiful kitchen stuff. I told her that I could have anything, anything on that floor and I’d be so happy.

Then to another highlight — chocolate at Sprungli at Paradeplatz. Difficult to believe it was my first time, usually when I’m at Paradeplatz it was to get the tram home, not much thought of lingering and getting anything to drink. It was really fabulous. They so need to export their chocolate abroad.

Walked down to the lake and up the other side. Finally couldn’t resist the temptation to walk into a Navyboot at the Niederdorf. She bought a handbag of unstated quality, I drooled at the shoes.

And all of a sudden, we were back at our friends’ place hauling our suitcases down to the car. We were really leaving, and I’d never felt so sad. It was like leaving home. And a part of Zurich, will always always be home.

It was a shock to be in London. First of all, after a week of sunshine and clear skies we were faced with the usual British grot. Then Hertz gave us a Japanese station wagon which she didn’t want to drive (too big), finally we got our Focus but it was 3-door and I was too tired to argue anymore.

It was strange not to have a home or someone’s home to go to. We booked the Ibis hotel, out there near Docklands. But getting there was a big gigantic boring hassle. Huge traffic jam at Embankment, bumper to bumper till Liverpool Street. Then another solid mass out by Isle of Dogs, I had to do a U-turn and get into the Isle of Dogs itself. We didn’t know exactly which Ibis it was and of course, ended up at the wrong one. When we eventually found the right one it was quite late already. It was at ExCel, a new exhibition centre all the way near City Airport, totally in the middle of nowhere, not even a local high street to have dinner, we ended up eating at the hotel.

The room was clean but very basic. The bathroom was well designed though, the shower was small but with inwardly opening glass doors and wooden decking there was no squick factor. All bathrooms should be designed that way.

obsessing about laundry

I fight a constant battle with having enough clean clothes. The washing machine is on all.the.time it seems.

May be cos I don’t have enough clothes? But that’s not true I have a large closet.
May be cos I only wear a small percentage of my entire clothing collection. Probably.
May be cos I wear something only once, when it’s taken off when I get home it goes straight to the basket, that includes times when I’m home but I’m due to go out again. Definitely.

I don’t like the smells my clothes accumulate outside, particularly in restaurants. The material just sucks up the food smell and doesn’t go away. Pretty gross.

Some clothes are not “allowed” to go outside, they are reserved for home wearing only, cos I don’t want to spoil them. Not because they’re expensive or anything, just too comfortable.

Whenever I travel I bring a ziploc bag full or washing powder and the bathroom rapidly becomes the airing cupboard.

Anyway I was especially pleased when I got a hotel room that includes 3 pieces of clothing laundered a day. So this morning I put my black polo shirt and a t-shirt in the little bag, filled in the slip and left it by the closet for laundry. And wow! They came back individually wrapped in plastic, ironed and with a cardboard backing. That’s the first time that little blue t-shirt has been ironed, like ever! It looks so good I don’t want to unwrap it.

I have enough for this trip, but I’m sure gonna use up my daily quota. Yes siree.

a brand new country

I’m jumping up and down (metaphorically), cos now I can add a new country to my visited countries list.

I’m in Seoul.

The new airport was so much more impressive than the Taipei airport, wide and straight highway into the city. Staying at the Lotte Hotel, the largest in Korea, with over 1,000 rooms. Once in the room, it’s just like any other hotel room. it’s got a fax, printer and desktop PC. Which kinda annoys me cos I can’t plug my Powerbook into the broadband. I’ll just use the PC then.

The minibar has the most number of canned drinks I’ve ever seen, it’s choc-a-bloc, all 3 shelves with soda, beer, water, all sorts. The soda here is sold in tall, thin 100ml cans, a bit like the ones in Japan. And there’re some unknown types I don’t really know if I should try or not.

I’m watching the Pentagon Channel, which is obviously aimed toward US army people based outside the US. The programs themselves are pretty updated, like the most recent versions of Leno, Letterman and Access Hollywood. There’s Survivor, The Apprentice, 7th Heaven, and some other programs.

But the ads are really strange. Promotion for the armed forces. Telling people to be vigilant and not reveal potentially sensitive information. Appeal to learn the host countries’ languages. It’s so sincere it’s bordering on the crass.

I need my sleep. See what time I wake up tomorrow. Yawn.

clean tent

Received a promotion postcard for a new hotel in Bali called Uma Ubud. Strange cos I’ve never been to Bali and I don’t know where they got my address from, the postcard had a Thailand stamp on it. According to the spiel, Uma is “a retreat devoted to the body and spiritual wellbeing.” Special introductory rate of USD145++ including breakfast until 18 December.

Usually for these sort of promotions you’d expect a beautiful view of the beach or a shot of the luxurious king size bed, no? No. Their selling point, a black bathtub in what is obviously a spacious and modern bathroom. Very swanky. But it leaves me cold. What spoils it for me is the tub is shrouded by a, what? mosquito net? I mean, you need a mosquito net to take a bath? How infested are we talking about? Isn’t there air-conditioning?

Don’t tell me it’s asthetics. I do not want to take my luxurious bath under a tent made of icky material. I know it’s supposed to be stylish and modern and all. I don’t like it. I’m not sold. See for yourself.

uma bali hotel

sydney 1

I’m used to both short and long flights. The 3-4 hours to Singapore is easy, eat up whatever meal they serve, watch a film and it’s there. For long haul flights I have my own routine as well, eat, sleep, wake up when the lights come back on. My point is, I know where I stand on flights.

Now, 7 hours between Singapore is so neither here nor there. I can’t go on short haul mode cos I’ll get fidgety, and I can’t get into long haul routine cos there’s not enough time. I ended up eating a very small dinner, watching a film, sleeping for a little bit then watched another film. The end result is when i checked into the hotel at 10.30am I’d had very little sleep and was very tired. So when the hotel said the room wasn’t gonna be ready for 2 hours I got very annoyed very quickly. And that’s after my travel agent had requested early check-in. I told them that 12.30 is not early check-in.

Anyhow they managed to find me a room — originally I was on the 25/f which is an executive floor, they got me 19/f standard but gave me access to the executive lounge. The rooms are no different so I just took it. Unpacked, had a shower and a nap. Boy did I need that nap.

When I ventured out it was still lunchtime and there were so many people around. Had a kebab at a food court, then walked from the CBD to the Rocks, Harbour Bridge, Opera House and the Botanical gardens. Walk walk walk. By the time I left the park it was nearly 5, now I’m too tired to go out and eat. So tired.

More tomorrow, my feet hurt and I want to crawl into bed, even though it’s not even 6pm.