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Drama on the Nile

Egypt - Aswan

sunny 29 °C
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The train ride wasn't too bad... we got a lie in and didn't get woken up by the Adhan at 4:30am. But the toilets were grim and breakfast was a three course selection of different types of stale bread. We had a bit of chance to enjoy the Nile Valley, as most of the population (and therefore all the transportation routes) are along the banks of the great river. By mid-morning we had arrived in the southern city of Aswan.

Welcome to Aswan

Welcome to Aswan

We started by taking a visit to Philae, a temple dedicated to Isis (the goddess, not the group...). The temple sits on the island of Agilkia, in the Aswan Reservoir - the area between the Low and High Dams.

Temple of Philae

Temple of Philae

Until the construction of the dams, it sat on the island of Philae (hence the name) which was then submerged and required it's relocation to the neighbouring island. However it is near enough the same as it was - same position, almost the same orientation, and still requiring a boat to get to it.

Boarding the boat

Boarding the boat

We arrived at the marina, which as surrounded by locals selling tat, as well as millions of flies. Trying to avoid both, we eventually made it onto a boat, where we were joined by some local salesmen before we finally reached the island.

Philae

Philae

The temple was a standard Egyptian complex, with colonnades leading to a gateway portal and inner sanctuaries. Was it the best temple in Egypt? No. But it's setting on an island did make it very interesting, plus it had some pretty cats to look at...

Cat at the temple

Cat at the temple

We headed back into Aswan, arriving at the hotel - the same one I had originally booked to stay in in March 2020. We checked into the room and had a few hours to ourselves. Some of the group decided to take a walk around the area, grab some food and visit the souq. I had Pringles and decided to have a rest instead. I've overdone it on previous trips and having had a rubbish breakfast... (If I never see stale bread again, it'll be too soon)... I was best off resting.

It was also the first time since the brief few minutes in Cairo that I'd had chance to connect to the WiFi and the outside world - so the time went by pretty quickly. Before I knew it, it was time to regroup, and after meeting in the lobby, we headed across the road to board a small boat.

At this point of the river there are many islands. The largest of which, Elephantine, contains luxury hotels to the north and a Nubian village to the south. The Nubians were the original inhabitants of this part of Egypt, and are of more African complexion as opposed to the majority of the Arab Egyptians from the north. For the first time it felt like we were actually in Africa. Northern and cosmopolitan Egypt is very much part of the Middle East.

Boat Tour

Boat Tour

We circled the island, including views of the Old Cataract Hotel (where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile), before taking a walk around the village.

Old Cataract Hotel

Old Cataract Hotel

After the tour we then visited a local family's home for dinner. Once again it was local food - grilled chicken, rice, tagine, stale bread. Fine, but nothing special. Thankfully it was still relatively early, as the next day we had a very early start.

Sunset from the Nubian Village

Sunset from the Nubian Village

At 3:45am the alarm went off... I took my travel pillow and blanket with me and prepared to board the coach that would take us south to Abu Simbel. I was ready to knock any grannies over if necessary in order to claim that back row all to myself. But thankfully I boarded first so didn't need to... I settled in to grab a few more hours sleep, as it was a four hour drive to Abu Simbel. To ensure our safety, this was via a police escort which had enforced this disgustingly early start.

After a few hours of sleep I awoke to find sunrise as we drove the last hour or so through the Sahara Desert.

Waking up through the desert

Waking up through the desert

Abu Simbel, like the temple at Philae was moved due to the construction of the dams at Aswan. Previously located within the cliffs on the banks of the Nile, it has now been moved to relatively flat land above Lake Nasser (the lake that was formed by the Aswan High Dam). Consequently artificial domes have been created to house the relocated Temples, which look ridiculous and so out of place!

Back of the Temples

Back of the Temples

But the temples themselves are very impressive. As we had a fast driver, we were one of the first groups down to the Temples.

Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel

This allowed our group to take what was essentially a photoshoot outside. Just half an hour later and the place was completely crowded!

Not long later...

Not long later...

There are two temples. One for Ramses II, and one for his wife Nefertari (not to be confused with Nefertiti).

Nefertari's Temple

Nefertari's Temple

We looked around the temples, impressive, with lots of side rooms, but quite small, considering the scale at their entrances

Inside the Temples

Inside the Temples

After spending several hours here we then headed back through the desert towards Aswan. We were so far south that we were on the other side of the Tropic of Cancer, where even before midday, it was hot enough to form a mirage. An incredible sight.

Mirage

Mirage

After having had some lunch out of a snack box, we arrived back in Aswan. We crossed the Low Dam, just managing to get some sights of the High Dam, before we stopped at an Essences store.

Aswan High Dam

Aswan High Dam

The store showed us examples of natural oils that can be used as an alternative to medicines. I didn't buy anything but came out smelling lovely... That evening we went for dinner at a restaurant beside the Nile, before taking a night time walk through the souq.

View from the hotel

View from the hotel

The next morning, thankfully later than yesterday, we had breakfast at the hotel before heading back down to the river. We were now leaving Aswan, but slowly... We would sail down the Nile on traditional Feluccas - wind powered boats.

On the Felucca

On the Felucca

The boats had mattresses upon which we would sit. And with our luggage aboard, we sailed off. The group had been split into two, which allowed us views of the other boat at close proximity. We didn't travel very fast, as the wind was not overly strong, and was coming from the north! Therefore we spent much of the time travelling across the river from side to side.

Felucca

Felucca

As the boat had no toilets or other facilities, we would make regular stops with the support boat in tow. Having sailed for a few hours already, we stopped along the western bank of the river just outside the city for lunch before restarting our journey north.

Getting to know our travelling companions, the sunshine and views meant despite being stuck on a boat all day, time went by quickly. It was also a well needed opportunity to have some relaxing on what was so far a very busy trip.

After a few hours we stopped again. And this is where the first disaster took place. The support boat pulled up beside us and everything was roped together. Then we were able to get off and have a walk around or use the facilities. One of the older ladies from Canada popped to the toilet, then when she came back attempted to walk on the boards heading to the river bank. As she did this the boat moved slightly, she grabbed the pole holding the boat in place, which dislodged and then she fell into the river. Queue panic with all the staff...

She was fine, but shaken up, as she had been fully submerged into the river. She stayed behind with her sister and our tour leader on the support boat to clean herself up, get changed and recover from the experience. A little later, the support boat caught up with us, and the three of them re-joined us.

It wasn't much later before sunset. And as the boats did not have lights we needed to stop sailing for the evening. We pulled up at another riverbank on the western bank, and began to get sorted for the evening. We re-joined our other travel companions and chatted over dinner.

Evening on the boat

Evening on the boat

Many hours of great conversation went by, discussing our experiences and before we knew it, it was already pretty late, with a busy day tomorrow.

The boats had a blanket wrapped around them to give us some privacy, but it made it pretty difficult to find our way around! I managed to grab my bits, sort out the blankets and settle in for the night. It was a bit cold, but pretty peaceful, and I got a better night's sleep than I expected.

The transformation into beds

The transformation into beds

We awoke to a pretty chilly morning, and this is when the second disaster on the Nile occurred. One of the younger Canadians had been sorting through her stuff ready for the day when she suddenly heard a plop... she looked over and realised that her bum bag containing her passport, money and phone had dropped over the edge of the boat and into the river, sailing submerged under the water downstream.

Cue panic, for the second time in 15 hours... The felucca began untying itself to sail down the river and see if it could locate the bag, before the support boat joined. But sadly, to no avail. The bag and it's contents were lost forever...

Early morning hunt

Early morning hunt

After returning to the one remaining static boat, everyone moved their belongings onto the support boat where we enjoyed breakfast. The sun was starting to rise and I was finally feeling some warmth for the first time in hours!

We then made our way across the river where we were picked up by a coach and began heading north to Kom Ombo, where there is a double temple - dedicated to two Gods, Sobek and Haroeris. The former of which being the Crocodile God.

Temple at Kom Ombo

Temple at Kom Ombo

We took a look around the temple in the morning sun, before heading next door to the museum full of mummified Crocodiles, in Sobek's honour.

Mummified Crocodiles

Mummified Crocodiles

After a short time at this odd museum, we made our way back past the tat sellers and onto the coach, to continue to the final major stop on this Egyptian Adventure - Luxor!

Posted by kmmk17 18:44 Archived in Egypt Tagged desert boat temple train river egypt museum island ancient mummy Comments (0)

Chaotic Cairo

Egypt - Cairo

sunny 25 °C
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For a long time I had wanted to visit Egypt. A land full of ancient wonders. However this part of the world has been through a lot since the Arab Spring, and it took until 2019 before I finally felt it was stable enough for a trip.

We would visit Cairo, Luxor and Aswan for a week in mid-March of 2020 - just in time to enjoy some summer sunshine before the summer would arrive at home. We had everything booked, and our suitcases packed.

But as the global pandemic was coming ever closer, lockdowns inevitable, and the thought of being stuck in Egypt unappealing, two days before our flights we cancelled. In hindsight it was right - what would have been 5 days into our week long trip, Egypt itself went into a partial lockdown, closing all the airports. And just two days after we intended to fly back home, the UK went into a full lockdown itself. We had managed to reopen our flight tickets, which could be used later in the year. No problems - we'll just postpone it all until October.

Two long years passed and in 2022, with the pandemic finally easing, maybe Egypt was back on the cards?
However I was now going to be going alone. And after three years of non-exotic travel, I decided to join a tour instead of attempting a visit alone. G Adventures (who I'd gone to Antarctica with a few years back) had a tour that covered near enough everything I'd wanted to do anyway, and so I booked one of the last slots on the tour running during the week I'd already booked off.

A few weeks later (and coincidently the 100th anniversary since Tutankhamun's tomb was opened, beginning the modern age of Egyptology), I was at Heathrow. There were flights with both British Airways and Egyptair available. Both similarly priced, but as BA classed the 5 hour flight to Cairo as short haul - hence no entertainment or food, I went with Egyptair.

Time to go!

Time to go!

Annoyingly, the flight was delayed by over an hour, so it meant getting to Cairo super late. The plane was pretty old and grim, meals were average and the entertainment was poor. There was also three separate sets of turbulence en route - one of the worst flights I'd ever had!

Eventually I arrived in Cairo, and after getting off the plane I walked towards immigration, where I was met by a representative from G Adventures, who was picking me up and taking me to the hotel. "Your flight was so late" she says - as if I didn't know. She was now behind as had another pickup, and so whizzed me through the airport. Immigration was instead done in a side room that I didn't even enter. Not that the jumping the queue made much difference - I now needed to collect my baggage, and this took ages. However she was so paranoid about the time that I didn't get chance to get to the cash point, instead watching the luggage belt like a hawk.

Whilst waiting, she had a call from the group leader, Saad. As I had missed the welcome meeting, he was updating me with the essentials. I'd be sharing with Erik, breakfast was at 6:30 tomorrow morning, and we would leave at 7:30.

Eventually my bag arrived. We then whizzed again through the airport. She chatted to the staff and I bypassed all the security checks. We then eventually headed out of the airport and into a taxi to head to the hotel. "Pharaohs [Hotel]?" she asked - I dunno, you tell me...?

I was then driven through the streets of Cairo. It wasn't quite India, but the lane markings were clearly guidance only. After an hour of chaotic road travel, I finally arrived at the hotel. Jumping out of the minibus, I whacked my knee on the door, making it super achy - but I didn't have time to worry about it. Reception gave me an overview of the basics - basically everything Saad had already told me, plus the WiFi codes. The porter then took my suitcase to the room, knocked on the door and then showed me in - despite Erik now being half asleep - bit awks...

After finally getting the porter to leave, I introduced myself to Erik, and we got to know each other a bit whilst I quickly tried to sort myself out ready for tomorrow's early start. It was now almost midnight and there was very little sleep achieved. The pillow was incredibly firm, and then the dawn prayer woke us up at 4:45.

Managing a few hours of sleep scattered through the night, as dawn broke I realised we had a balcony overlooking the Nile - not that we got to use it. I gathered my bits ready for the first day in the city, before we headed up to breakfast. I started to meet my travel companions - a lot of Canadians, a few Brits, and a scattering of others (Irish, Spanish and Swedish).

View of the Nile

View of the Nile

Breakfast was bland - lots of bread, an omelette, boiled eggs, (frozen) butter and some juice. I had a bit and then headed down to reception to meet Saad properly. The Irish lady, Claire, was also down there as she had arrived on the slightly later BA flight last night (which had also been delayed).

It was now time to leave and start exploring the city. We began by heading to the iconic symbol of Egypt - the Pyramids. It was still early, but even now it was still warm enough for shorts! A welcome treat.

The complex was already very busy even early in the day. For anyone who isn't aware - the Pyramids are on the very edge of the city, and surrounded on all sides by developments or roads - but thankfully enough distance not to be fully consumed by it.

The Great Pyramid

The Great Pyramid

After some security checks, we entered the complex right outside the largest one - the Pyramid of Khofu. After a brief overview from Saad, we were then free to wander around and explore. I decided against heading inside the Pyramid, as I didn't want to overdo it too quickly, and knowing it would be a long sweaty experience. I did nevertheless walk on the Pyramid, which is made of huge limestone blocks piled to 140m tall.

On the Pyramids

On the Pyramids

I then went for a wander right around - there is an entire complex including mini pyramids for the Queens, tombs and buried artifacts.

We then headed back to our coach, to drive over the the other side of the complex for views over the area. From here there were beautiful views of the scale of the Pyramids, and somewhat benefitting from the haze over the city obscuring it from view.

Pyramids

Pyramids

The second (middle) pyramid appears bigger, but only because it is built on a mound slightly above the others. It does however still have a cap of the original casing stones.

After a while around here, and getting to know some of the travel companions a bit better, we headed over to the other side of the complex to visit the Sphinx.

Giza Pyramids and Sphinx

Giza Pyramids and Sphinx

The Sphinx sits as a guard to the complex from the city side entrance, and was unsurprisingly surrounded by tourists trying to grab a view. We walked through the Temple, seeing how huge the slabs used in the construction were, before getting close to the statue itself.

Huge blocks in the Temple

Huge blocks in the Temple

After eating some local food at a restaurant opposite the entrance, I finally managed to get some money out of the adjacent cashpoint. We then headed back into the centre of the city, to the Egyptian Museum in Tahir Square.

Egyptian Museum

Egyptian Museum

Thankfully, despite being "99% ready" since the Spring, the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza has not yet opened, and thus many of the famous artifacts have not yet been moved out of the Egyptian Museum - including the mask of Tutankhamun, allowing us to view them.

Tutankhamun's Treasures

Tutankhamun's Treasures

We were guided around the museum viewing many of the different sights, before being left to wander around ourselves. I took a look at the collection of Tutankhamun's treasures (the only thing left in his tomb in Luxor is his body and coffin), as well as the various statues and mummified pets.

Mummied Cats

Mummied Cats

After a good look around, I headed out to the gift shop at the exit, bought a souvenir, and then met the rest of the group in the café outside. It was then time to head back to our hotel to collect our baggage, before finally making it to a supermarket.

Hurray! finally I could stop rationing the water I had brought with me from London... It also gave me an opportunity to buy some snacks in case the next breakfasts were also bad. Along with some drinks, it equated to just £104EGP, (around £3.50) and helped break down my large notes. We then headed to the station. It was still a few hours before our train so we all sat at a café and got to know each other.

Eventually the train arrived and we boarded our cabins. The train was the best Egypt has - it wasn't too bad, but far from high quality. Erik and I were given dinner and then went for a bit of wander.

Our Cabin

Our Cabin

We joined our companions in the bar carriage before heading back and trying to get some sleep before we would arrive in Aswan the following morning.

Bar Carriage

Bar Carriage

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 18:46 Archived in Egypt Tagged food airport train city egypt pyramids pollution mummy covid Comments (0)

Popping by Pompeii

Limoncello Adventures - Pompei

sunny 20 °C
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After a busy few first days, today would be more relaxing. Getting up later for breakfast we took our time heading for the station to take the train to today's sightseeing destination - Pompeii.

The train started off not too busy, however after stopping at the first few stations the train quickly filed with people. By the time we arrived in the town of Pompei, it was going to be a struggle to get off - although we weren't the only ones. Eventually making it out of the station with half the train, we crossed the road to enter the archaeological site of Pompeii, upon which the town revolves.

Pompeii Forum

Pompeii Forum

It wasn't cheap to enter Pompeii, but it was a must. We began by heading up the main street towards the forum, where there were views of Vesuvius through the ruins it created in 79 AD. From here we headed north through the well preserved streets, where the crowds emptied out and we were able to enjoy streets to ourselves.

Streets of Pompeii

Streets of Pompeii


Inside the Villas

Inside the Villas

After exploring the north of the former town, we headed back towards the main street, looking inside some of the villas with preserved frescos before heading south towards the Garden of the Fugitives, where some bodies of those who tried to escape became fossilised.

Garden of the Fugitives

Garden of the Fugitives

We then made our way towards the eastern side of the complex, taking a look inside the gymnasium before heading into the amphitheatre, where a photoshoot of a rather unattractive girl was being carried out by her mother who was dressed in red from head to toe - a hideous sight.

Amphitheatre

Amphitheatre

After this hilarity we made our way back through the complex, taking a look in more villas before reaching the Bathhouse.

Bathhouse

Bathhouse

Eventually leaving Pompeii, we took the half hour train ride back through the tunnels of the peninsula to Sorrento. We then chilled in our hotel room before heading out for dinner and a final walk around the town on our last night of the trip.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 11:40 Archived in Italy Tagged ruins train roman ancient limoncello Comments (0)

Terminating in Tokyo

Cherry Blossom Adventures - Tokyo & Mount Fuji

all seasons in one day 18 °C
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Leaving our very excitable host in Kyoto, we made our way over to the station to catch the bullet train I had reserved the day before, bound for Tokyo. The Japanese capital would in fact be the last of our bases on this trip, staying here for the final four nights of this East Asian adventure.

Sitting in the reserved part of the train, we had a bit more room around us for bags which made the trip more comfortable, even if it was only for a few hours. The one thing I didn't get to do last time I was in Tokyo, was see Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, the humid summer air meant seeing it from the city was too difficult. This time we had more opportunities, and our first would be on our way to Tokyo - through the city of Fuji.

Seeing the mountain is always difficult, as the weather conditions need to be just right. Having researched when we would be able to gain a view, as we headed through the last hill before the city, we got up and headed towards the window at the door (all of the seats on this side were already booked when I requested our seats the night before). However our luck was not in, and the unseasonably warm humid air blocked the view, with us just managing to catch a glimpse of the snow peak through the haze. Never mind, there would be more opportunities!

Fuji through the haze

Fuji through the haze

Not long after, we arrived in the heart of Tokyo city. With our Japanese rail passes still valid for a few more days, and a good network of local rail in the city, it wasn't even necessary for us to use the metro initially. We got on a local train and headed to our hotel - the same one I had stayed in 4.5 years earlier. After dropping off our bags, we headed back into the city, deciding to visit the central sights, beginning with the Pokemon shop inside the station.

Pokemon Store

Pokemon Store

After taking a look inside the shop, we headed outside the station and made our way around the corner to the Imperial Gardens. It was yet another beautiful hot and sunny day in Japan, and we enjoyed a walk around this idyll in the middle of metropolis.

Imperial East Gardens

Imperial East Gardens

After a lot of travelling already, and ample time in the city, we headed to get some food before making our way back to our hotel for a break. Once it got dark we then headed back out and made our way to the Senso-ji Shrine in Asakusa. By day this a bustling shopping street and active shrine, but by night it's a more peaceful and lit up attraction.

Senso-ji by night

Senso-ji by night

After enjoying views of the beautiful complex, we headed back for our first night's sleep in the city.

Lanterns at Senso-ji

Lanterns at Senso-ji

The following morning the weather had changed completely - after a week and a half of warm summer weather, it was now down 10˚C, feeling much more like early April.

Having not been able to see Mount Fuji very well on the train to Tokyo, we planned to visit the Fuji Five Lakes area for a better view. With our Japan Rail passes ending the following day - giving us free travel on most of the trains to this area, we were trying to make the most of it, as well as using the weather forecasts in order get the best views of the mountain. Annoyingly as the weather had changed, clouds were coming in making the opportunity to view Mt Fuji even more limited.

It now looked very iffy we would get to see the mountain at all, but tomorrow looked more promising and so we gambled and spent today in the city. After having a lie in, we headed out to view some of the sights outside the centre centre - starting with the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese war dead (including war criminals from WWII) are commemorated.

Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine


Takeshita Street

Takeshita Street

We then headed over to the Harajuku area, heading straight out of the station and down Takeshita Street, a popular shopping street full of novelty and small gifts. After buying a few keyrings and doing a loop of the area, we then headed into Yoyogi park and towards the Imperial Meiji Jingu Shrine.

Rice Barrels in Yoyogi Park

Rice Barrels in Yoyogi Park

Heading back out of the park we then walked south towards Shibuya, and the bustling crossing in the heart of the area. We stopped at the Starbucks that looks over the crossing and sat watching the huge amount of people crossing in all directions every minute.

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing


Tokyo Tower overlooking Zojo-ji Shrine

Tokyo Tower overlooking Zojo-ji Shrine

Our last sight for the day was the Tokyo Tower, from the Zojo-ii Shrine, where upon arrival we found a service was being carried out.

Service inside Zojo-ji

Service inside Zojo-ji

After watching part of the service, we then headed to Tokyo Bay, for views over the port area.

Tokyo Bay

Tokyo Bay

We then headed back to our hotel for a rest before we headed out for dinner. Originally we had planned to go for Ramen, and with us wanting to head to Shinjuku we found a few places to visit. However as suspected, even early there were long long queues, and with it being quite chilly, we decided to scrap that and eat at Burger King. We can always have Ramen at home!

Kabukicho

Kabukicho

After eating, we took a tour around the Kabukicho area, which is famous for it's LED lights and billboards, before heading back to the hotel for some well earned sleep.

The following morning we got up early and headed to Shinjuku station for our trip outside the city, to the Fuji Five Lakes area. The weather still looked iffy, but there was a better chance of seeing the mountain earlier. Using our Japan Rail passes for the last day, we spent an hour or so on the train heading outside the city before changing at Otsuki to a private line, that would take us the final journey to Fujiyoshida. As we headed up the valley it became clear that we would see Mount Fuji, as the huge mountain dominated the backdrop.

Mount Fuji - finally

Mount Fuji - finally

We got off at a small local station, that was clearly a tourist draw, as signs led us all the way to the Chureito Pagoda. Making the most of the views, which could be scuppered at any moment by the ominous clouds, we headed up the steep hillside towards the top. Chris paused halfway whilst I continued, in what was one of the biggest struggles I've ever faced! Two weeks of exhaustion against the strong winds in a rush against time almost seemed impossible.

The amazing view

The amazing view

Nevertheless I made it, and the views were worth it. As Cherry Blossom had come early this year, it meant that although there was nothing left in Tokyo, this area was full! Approximately two weeks earlier than normal. It meant we got to see one of the most picture perfect views that are in many of the tourist guidebooks. Our luck clearly was in! And after taking some photos, Chris had also made it to the top and we took in some of the breathtaking views.

We then headed back down to the train station, and eventually back to the city. It was a lot of faffing about, spending about 6 hours getting there and back just for 10 minutes of views, but it was worth it.

Our last thing to do in the city, was head back to the Senso-ji shrine, this time during the day, and grab some souvenirs. After grabbing some dinner we then got some sleep before our last full day on this long trip.

Shopping at Senso-ji

Shopping at Senso-ji

Having overestimated how much time we needed, we had already seen everything in the city, with a day to spare. Therefore we decided to spend out last day at Tokyo Disneyland. It had been years since either of us had been to Disneyland, and so this was a nice experience. With the sun shining, we headed out early to the park early to try and beat some of the weekend rush.

Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland

Starting with Westernland, we headed onto Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise before the queues got so long. Whilst we waited in the queue for Thunder Mountain however, the sunshine was masked by clouds, not to be seen again. The wind was picking up, as were the length of the queues.

We continued around, heading inside the Haunted Mansion and the Snow White ride, before we headed over to Tomorrowland. Japan is generally quite warm, and so the park is not built to break the wind - despite this being on a reclaimed island in Tokyo Bay, and with long queues, it meant for a freezing experience, for which we certainly weren't dressed accordingly.

After waiting over an hour and a half for the Buzz Lightyear ride, we went inside the gift shops to warm up and wait for the parade. However just before it was due to start, there was an announcement that because of the wind this would not take place - hardly surprising, but a real shame. We headed back to the Star Tours ride, luckily most of the queue here being inside, before cutting out losses and heading back to our hotel.

After two busy weeks it had been an amazing adventure, we were thoroughly exhausted and now just had the ridiculously long journey back.

With this being the peak time to visit Japan, flights were not cheap. There were two flights each from Tokyo to Beijing and Beijing to London, but taking the combination with just 4 hours to transfer was twice as expensive as that with 7. We therefore took the cheaper option, even if this did mean we would be travelling for 24 hours.

Getting up at 3am in Japan, we headed on the first train to the airport, eventually leaving Japan at 7:20am. We flew west, heading right over Mount Fuji, getting great aerial views of the iconic mountain.

Views over Mount Fuji

Views over Mount Fuji

Eventually, after circling the city for ages, over three hours later we had arrived in Beijing. Originally it was possible that we may leave some things in the city for this return leg, and use the 5 hours to sit about, to explore the city. However having seen everything we wanted two weeks ago, as knowing how much time would be wasted to get down there, we instead decided to stay in the airport.

Airport Lounge

Airport Lounge

Transferring for over four hours meant we also got free access to an airport lounge, which although wasn't the best, did give us free food and drinks. Despite not being able to connect to most of the internet, time went by quite quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to board our final flight of the trip, the long 10 hours back to London.

Having exhausted not only the entertainment, but also ourselves - despite not being able to sleep for fear of worsening our jetlag, this was a tough journey. By the end of the flight eating was a struggle, and so was staying awake. I even napped for an hour with Chris unable to wake me back up.

Sunset over Siberia

Sunset over Siberia

Arriving back in London was a relief, but having been awake for over 24 hours, also a struggle. Waiting for ages to get our bag back evetually we made it out, to find my dad who picked us up and took us home. Eventually we made it to bed - but only after having been awake for 28 hours!

Nevertheless, even with all these struggles the trip was amazing, fascinating and totally worth it!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 13:06 Archived in Japan Tagged park temple mountain airport palace train city shrine themepark eastasia Comments (0)

Southern Honshu

Cherry Blossom Adventures - Hiroshima & Himeji

sunny 21 °C
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With yet another early morning flight, we checked out of our hotel early and began heading to Seoul's Incheon airport. This was our only flight not with Air China, being with Asiana Airways, and after a short pleasant flight we arrived in the city of Fukuoka, Japan.

We flew via Fukuoka, as it had the best connections to get to Hiroshima, and after getting through immigration, we boarded the short bus transfer to the station, and got hold of our Japan Rail Passes which we would be using for the next week. With everywhere being so busy, it was several hours after we had landed that we finally boarded our bullet train to Hiroshima, but nevertheless we made the train we wanted and got to enjoy the journey on this legendary train.

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

Bullet trains look so futuristic, and felt also very strange, as although travelling exceptionally fast they pivot and thus don't feel particularly faster than regular fast train travel, except the noticeable sensation of ears popping. After just over an hour, we arrived at Hiroshima station, and after buying a few snacks, we headed to our hotel to leave our bags.

Hypocentre

Hypocentre

Our time in Hiroshima was limited to just one night, and this afternoon was our opportunity to explore the city. We began by heading to Hiroshima castle, before making our way to see the sights that are connected to what the city of Hiroshima is most famous for - the atomic bombing in 1945. Starting at the plaque marking the hypocentre of the bomb, we walked around the corner to see the A-bomb Dome, the closest building to survive the bomb, and symbol of the event, surrounded by cherry blossom.

A-bomb Dome

A-bomb Dome

The trip had been scheduled to coincide with the Cherry Blossom Season. However as time was limited, and the cherry blossom takes place in just a few weeks, it was unsure where we would actually get to see it. If it came late, we would catch it in Tokyo just before we left, whilst if it came early we would catch it in Hiroshima as we arrived. This year it came over a week early, and Hiroshima was already at the peak of the blooming.

Eternal Flame within the gardens

Eternal Flame within the gardens

The immediate surrounding area of the A-bomb dome is now a peace park, with monuments and landscaped gardens alongside a couple of museums, which contain artefacts from the bombing as well as other items, such a clock counting the days since the bomb, as well as the last nuclear test.

Peace Watch

Peace Watch

Having taken a brief look around the city, we headed back towards the station to grab food, from a food court on the 11th floor of a department store overlooking the surrounding area, before checking into our room at the hotel.

View from the Food Court

View from the Food Court

The hotel itself had its own Onsen, and after having a bit of a rest, I headed up there to enjoy the heated baths. Although as it was traditionally Japanese, this did mean having to go in naked!

After a soothing bath, it was finally time to sleep before the next day's adventure. However in the morning Chris had not slept well and was exhausted from the week's travel so far. Therefore I left him to get some rest, whilst I headed outside the city towards Miyajima Island.

Taking the train south for half an hour, upon arrival almost everyone got off - evidently full of tourists doing the same, and after a quick walk across the small village I boarded the ferry that would cross the small channel to the island. Upon arrival it was clear the traditional fishing village had now become a tourist magnet, being full of little shops and cafés.

Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine

A five minute walk later and I arrived at the magnet of the island, the Itsukushima Shrine and it's torii gate. I had deliberately timed the visit this morning to coincide with high tide, when the gate appears to float in the water.

Floating Torii

Floating Torii

And with the local area also in full Cherry Blossom bloom, it made this one of the most pretty on the trip so far. After popping in the shops, and observing the local pagoda, I headed back to the ferry port and eventually the hotel to collect our bits.

Toyokuni Shrine Pagoda

Toyokuni Shrine Pagoda

Having rested this morning Chris now felt a bit better, and we headed back to the station to continue our journey, now headed for the city of Himeji. Himeji is not exciting enough to warrant a stay here overnight, but it does have one of the most important and beautiful castles in the country. And being just ten minutes from the station we decided to take a look.

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle

Arriving at the palace, surrounded in cherry blossom, it was packed full of tourists, but not feeling completely better, Chris stayed outside with the bags, whilst I took a look inside. However the queues inside were long, and it took ages to get around the complex. Queuing to enter the palace took an hour, and I ended up skipping some of the sections altogether. Nevertheless it was an interesting place to visit and did look beautiful.

Inside Himeji Castle

Inside Himeji Castle

Relying on the trains, if we headed back to the station quickly we could make the next train, or otherwise we would have quite a long wait. We therefore decided to hurry and not long later we were back on the bullet train headed for the next city of destination - Kyoto.

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Posted by kmmk17 06:37 Archived in Japan Tagged palace train museum castle spa shrine nuclear gate bomb macabre eastasia cherryblossom Comments (0)

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