Getting my science on

This year I finally got tickets to go and see Brian and Robin’s Christmas Compendium of Reason after seeing so many tweets and blog posts about it over he last two years. It was amazing and this blog post is really for me to keep a record of all the acts we got to see on the night as I am rubbish at remembering these things. So here goes…

First up was Jack Liebeck’s quartet.

The Public Service Broadcasting who were so different it was good.

They even bought out a dancing astronaut/cosmonaut.

The Brian and Robin did a bit of an introduction to the night and as you can see we had great seats just back in the stalls.

Then we saw Helen Czerski with her pet globe.

Then we had computational biologist Andrew Steele who took us through research spending (I want his powerpoint presenting skills!).

A better photo of Robin and Brian.

Then Festival of the Spoken Nerd and I definitely want to see these guys again!

The we had a great presentation on genealogy by Adam Rutherford.

Followed by a talk from Steve Backshall.

 

Then Chris Lintott went through gravitational waves (I was lost!).

Then the next one I wasn’t sure about from Alice Roberts and Ben Garrod.

Then James Acaster performed his stand up routine.

Then before the break we had more music from Nitin Sawney who has a beautiful voice.

During the break we found that Steve Backshall was now sat in front of us and taking selfies with fans (I did not ask for one).

Then we had more music from the quartet from the beginning and The Hackney Colliery Band.

This was awesome and again I would look to see these guys again.

Sophie Ellis Bexter then joined them on stage.

Then Clifford Slapper and David McAlmont performed and were amazing!

Next was a panel that was most like the podcast I love – The Infinite Monkey Cage – I would have loved more of this, but it was a great show anyway!

The Lucy Cooke came on and really bought the science and comedy together.

The Greg Foot came on for some experiments and this was great fun!

The Ben Goldacre was fantastic and the fastest talker I have ever seen! This was really interesting as well as it was all about the trials that do not get published.

Milton Jones who is famous for his one-liner stand up, which I find funny to begin with, but then it gets old fast. Sorry Milton.

The we got to hear a brief talk about his time in space from Chris Hadfield.

Then the night ended with Duran Duran – who I totally did not have to ask my sister who is 10 years older than me who there were, definitely didn’t happen!

Overall this was a fantastic night and I hope to get tickets for next year!

Winter Blues

Yeah, so I’m ready for January to be be here already.

I’m really struggling at the moment and since November I’ve been all over the place emotionally. I’ve been doing really well at work and focused on my mental health around dieting and food, but other things have snuck up on me and caught me off guard. My doctor passed away and he was the one who listened and looked beyond my weight. Then a colleague passed away and that was a shock. Then there are some stupid things going on within my family that no one wants to have a proper discussion about as it ends in arguments.It’s all built up to a point where a feel really overwhelmed.

It’s felt really sucky (totally a professionally recognised term!) and having had to miss two weeks of therapy also has not helped. I’ve found it difficult to talk about as it just feels like I’m complaining and people try to fix it by telling me to ignore it of care less – not helpful! I am an overthinker and need to process my thoughts to move past them. Ignoring my feelings leads to binge eating as it’s the only way I know how to cope.

I’ve also been super tired. I am wondering if I am experiencing a stronger case of SAD then in previous years, especially as I stopped my medication towards the end of last year and maybe the darkness and weather is also taking it toll. I am in the office or inside working more than before as I really love my job and want to do more than expected. However that does mean I am sacrificing being active and this is something I need to rectify.

I have been doing breathing exercises as this is something my therapist is keen on this and I do find it really works, but I struggle to remember to think to do it in the moment and only after or when I’m in bed do I actually focus and relax. My thoughts totally wander all over the place, but it’s okay and I bring myself back to my body and how I’m really feeling. Sometimes it feels okay, other times my body is crying out for attention and the acknowledgment of aches and pains is needed. It really does work and also helps me to step away from my worries.

The big worry I just cannot seem to get away from is that I am not looking forward to Christmas at all. I would love to stay at home all day and have a duvet day rather than face being social with my family. It feels selfish to say that, but I am really anxious about the whole thing. I don’t think any of come away from forced gatherings feeling good about ourselves. I find myself slipping in the child/teenager persona and I hate it. I hate who I becomes and how I let them make me feel. One on one they are great, but together we do not fit. I am not who they want me to be and I feel resentful for them not wanting me to be myself (this may be perceived, but it’s how I feel).  I know I’m over thinking and my focus is on setting boundaries and making sure they do not expect me to be there the whole time. I am going to go for lunch and leave when I want to after. I know I’m making a bigger deal of this than I need to, but it is at front of mind and no one seems to understand.

I’m also feeling lonely for the first time in long time. Maybe it’s my friends all getting married. Maybe it’s hitting 32 in January and still not having met anyone I want to spend my life with. Maybe it’s just time for me to starting looking rather than waiting. It’s odd and I don’t like it. I’ve always been independent and joked I would do a christmas card like the one below as I find it so funny, but if I’m truly honest I don’t want that to be forever. But then part of me says ‘fuck that’ I’m independent and selfish and it means I can do whatever I want!

I am so ready for January. I am glad I am working over Christmas so I have something to focus on. Next year I am definitely going away. Maybe with friends, maybe on my own. All I know is that I need to do something different next year. I don’t have all the answers when it comes to depression and it definitely catches me off guard sometimes, but I know and believe it is only temporary. I just need to do everything I know works to get through this period of time. Expressing my feelings is something I find I can only do in writing. I’m not looking for suggestions or advice, I’m just looking for a place to share my thoughts and hopefully let someone else know they are not alone as I know what that feels like and it still gets to me now, even when I know it is not true.

Catching up on Coffee 2016 part 2

I can’t believe my last coffee post was in March! I really haven’t appreciated it as much as in previously years. I still love you coffee I swear! I have been drinking less I admit. I’m now only having one coffee a day, maybe two on the days that need it or where we happen to go to multiple coffee shops. It wasn’t really a concious decision either, I just kept forgetting to take my coffee to work and as I am in less of routine with going to the office I have been drinking more tea. I am also more picky about the coffee I have as it has to be good. I am a proper coffee snob and don’t care!

My latest batch of coffee was from Rave and I ordered a selection of blends and single origins to see me through the festive period. I also got a decaffinated blend as I do love a acholic coffee in an evening in winter. It just warms you up from the inside more than a normal hot drink!

Before that my last bulk purchase was from Gorilla and they were good coffees. It was my first order and I will order from them again. They were really robust blends that held their flavours in various drinks and brewing methods.

 

The other main coffee experience I have had this year is the experience of Japanese coffee. I can’t say they do the best coffee, but their tea was spot on (if you like green tea!). As you will see from the selction of convenience store, vending machine, hotel and coffee shop coffees there is quite a variety and that variety continues into the quality. A great experience of trying coffee in a completely different country!

I’ve also been partaking in the a few of the Christmas coffees that have appeared this year. I do have a soft spot for the Pumpkin Spice Latte and the Eggnog Latte, but I’ve also had a Toffee Nut Latte and the Christmas Blends on offer. Maybe next years I will get back to individual posts, but I will at least try to do more than two!

Wandering around Japan Part 5… Tokyo

Night view from Ikebukuro Hotel

We finished our trip to Japan by staying in Tokyo for 4 nights. Our hotel was based in the Ikebukuro area and had great transport links all over the city. My first and lasting impression of Tokyo is that it is super huge! I would describe it as being 12 cities in one as every area we went too was different and felt like its own city. It was awesome and overwhelming – I definitely need to go back!

Day view from Ikebukuro Hotel

The first night in Tokyo our guide took us to Shinjuku. It has the busiest train station in the world and for a first trip out in the city is really a way to see Tokyo in reality. We visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to get a night-time view of the area. It was amazing to see all lit up, but not good for photography as it was brightly lit inside and even with the help of a scarf the reflections in the windows would not disappear. It was free to go up and makes considering visiting one of the towers in the city not as essential. We then headed towards the entertainment area and found a small restaurant that our guide had booked out for our group.

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Shinjuku

After dinner we wandered around the area seeing the bright lights and big city vibe. It was amazing in Kabukicho with so many shops, arcades and restaurants really making it atmospheric. It was still above 20 degrees in the evening making it really comfortable to walk around for an extended period. It was bustling with business people, locals and tourists and I could have easily found somewhere to people watch for a while.

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Shinjuku

The next full day in Tokyo our guide took us all over the city and it allowed us to get used to the transport system ready for our solo explorations for the rest of the trip. We got the train from Ikebukuro and headed to Korakuen on the Marunouchi Line. We stopped at Tokyo Dome City and went up another government building (which I have completely forgotten the name of and don’t seem to have written it down) for another free view. We marvelled at the theme park set up in the middle of a city as we wandered towards Ueno.

Tokyo Dome City

Ueno is the cultural centre of Tokyo with the park (Ueno-keon) at the very centre. It is full of many museums and when I go back I would like to make time to visit the Tokyo National Museum as there was not enough time to fit everything in.

Cat in Ueno-Koen

We walked  through the park and I spotted my first outdoors cats on the trip. We didn’t see many cats or dogs at all and it made sense to find all the animal cafes as the concentration of people make the city not a great place to have pets I imagine.

Post box cat in Ueno-Koen

We then walked to Asakusa which is home to the most visited temple in Tokyo, the Senso-ji. The legend is that a statue/image of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy (Kannon) was pulled from the river by two fishermen in AD 628. You can get a great view of the entrance to the temple by going in the tourist information centre and up to the viewing platform. The entrance is lined by lots of little shops and stalls selling all sorts of trinkets.

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Senso-ji in Asakusa

This was a lunch spot and I managed to find a okonomiyaki place to take my mum to where we cooked it ourselves. It was ace and is something I said I must learn to cook when I got home (and I already have). They bring out a bowl full of all the ingredients and you mix it all together then cook on the hot plate set into the table. Simple and amazing!

Okonomiyaki at Asakusa

We then got back on the train and headed to Shibuya. It is the centre of the city’s teen culture and is full of bright colours and amazingly dressed people. We came out of the station and watch the Shibuya crossing from above. It is said to be one of the world’s busiest crossing as when the traffic stops people head in all directions to get where they are going. It was fun to watch and again when I come back I will get a seat in the Starbucks looking right over the crossing and watch the world god by.

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Shibuya Crossing

We also got to see people playing real life Mario Cart as we were waiting at the crossing. It looked amazing, but not something I would be brave enough to do!

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Mario Cart at Shibuya Crossing

If you find yourself at the crossing you will come across the statue of Hachiko, the dog that waited at the station everyday to meet his master and continued for another 10 years after his master died in 1925. Nowadays you’ll find a cat upstaging Hachiko for an excellent photo opportunity. He looks like a stray, but his owner pops him up there everyday. He was very friendly.

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Hachiko Statue at Shibuya Crossing

In the late afternoon we headed to Harajuku to Meiji-jingu. It is Tokyo’s grandest shrine with this amazing wooden Torii gate at the entrance, created from 1500 year old cypress trees. It is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken and was constructed in 1920, but destroyed in the second world war and had to be rebuilt in 1958.

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Enterance to Meiji-jingu

On the approach to the shrine the path is lined with barrels of sake and casks of whiskey.

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Sake Barrels at Meiji-jingu

It took the whole trip but I finally pursuaded my mum to join me in visiting a cat cafe and Cafe Mocha was located really close to the hotel. It was a modern and well spaced cafe and I didn’t see any cages, which I had read warnings a bout.

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Cafe Mocha

The cats were all quite sleepy, but that made it really peaceful. I could have easily sat there for a quite a while and read book, but my mum was expecting teh cats to be playful so we didn’t stay as long as I would have liked.

Cafe Mocha

There were some fun characters in the room and all accepted strokes freely and knew if they went up high they would be left alone.

Cafe Mocha

But this once just lounged right on the floor and gave the best looks!

Cafe Mocha

It is such a good idea as it keeps cats off the street and gives them a safe environment to share with people.

Cafe Mocha

That night we headed up to the top floor of a shopping centre where you can find all the restaurants you could want. We went for a teppan one and I could have a proper dessert of the Halloween variety!

Halloween Dessert in Ikebukuro

We ended what was a long day by heading up for a drink in the bar on the top floor. It was expensive, but worth it for the ambience and view.

Top floor hotel bar

The next day we had it free to explore as we wanted. I will say I preferred having a guide to take us around as it was an overwhelming city, but we had fun and had many more coffee stops than we did the previous day. We started by going to the bakery across the street for breakfast and I partook in the Halloween theme again – who would have thought it would be such a big thing in Japan?

Halloween bakery breakfast

I mapped out our day starting in Ginza the upmarket shopping district of Tokyo. We walked through the shops and stopped for coffee as we headed to the Tsukiji Market. This is still home to the fish market, but we did not fancy the super early start you would need to see the action. Instead we experience the outer market and I enjoyed some fresh tuna sushi and my mum got to have lots of fruit!

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Tsukiji Market

The market is busy, but absolutely amazing! I could have carried on wandering and trying different foods all day, but we wanted to go and experience some other neighbourhoods as well. We headed back to Ginza so that we could go in the shops that opened later than the market. There were several things that were cheaper if they offered the tourist tax discount, so worth a look!

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Tsukiji Market

We got the train to explore Akihabara as I wanted to experience the geek subculture of the district. However I was quite tired by this time and it has peaked in temperature to 30 degrees (in October!!!). We wandered through the electric town and it was fun to explore, but I would have liked a bit of help to know exactly where to go and what to see – my guide books didn’t quite have enough information.

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Akihabara

We took it easy the last night and went out with the group locally for a last meal as some of the group were heading off on an earlier flight and other had an extra week to explore. As our flight was not until the evening we pretty much had a whole day to explore more. We went to the Marunouchi area to see the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station. We didn’t end up getting to see the gardens of the palace as there was an event on, but we had a wander around the outside and went to see the old bridge entrance.

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Imperial Palace

We then headed back to Ikebukuro to explore the local area bit more before having to be back at the hotel to catch the airport bus. It’s a great and fun neighbourhood with lots of quirky aspects and some big shopping opportunities around the station. It is very worth finding a 100 yen store before you go as you can pick up fun small gifts such as origami paper.

Owls at Ikebukuro Station

I was also able to fulfil a big part of my kit kat mission by finding a chocolatory in the food hall of a big department store and came away with some posh versions of kit kats I hadn’t seen anywhere else.

Successful Kit Kat Mission

We decided to fill the last few hours by going to Sunshine City just up the road from out hotel. It has loads of entertainment things and we went to the rooftop aquarium. It was fun, but at the same time I was concerned about the lack of space the animals had, so would not go back and wouldn’t really suggest visiting. It’s quite an eye opener to go somewhere like a place you would go as a kid and see it in completely different light. I did however find a Pokemon shop and again dragged my mum in to have a wander!

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Ikebukuro Sunshine City Aquarium

Top tips for Tokyo:

  • Know you will not fit everything in to your trip and pick the things you want to do first
  • It’s a huge city so be prepared for crowds – wait until after 9am to use the trains
  • Don’t be afraid to walk between areas as it means you find other things along the way
  • Go up or down to find restaurants
  • Make the most of your guide if you have one

Wandering around Japan Part 4… Matsumoto, Yudonaka & Hakone

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Nakasendo Way

The next part of the trip was through the Japanese Alps and heading towards Tokyo.  We started the day getting the train from Takayama and heading to Tsumago. Tsumago is a designated protected area preserving the traditional buildings by keeping out modern disruptions. We walked along the Nakasendo way, which is one of the five highways from the Edo period between Tokyo and Kyoto. We only experienced a small part of this path, but it was beautiful and peaceful. It’s full of trinket shops and we tried gohei mochi, which is rice ball cake covered in a peanut sauce. It was very nice and tasted like rice in a satay sauce.

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Nakasendo Way

Then we carried on to Matsumoto. Matsumoto is  surrounded by the mountains of the Alps in a valley only 20km wide. It is a lovely city and is a favourite of tourists and residents. We got there in the evening and with only one night in the town we headed straight out to explore and find food. We went straight to see the Matsumoto-jo, which is Japan’s oldest wooden castle. It was a great chance to practice my night photography and as I had decided to carry my borrowed tripod on this overnight stay I improvised with a beanbag to take this beautiful image. Lit in green it stood out throughout the park that surrounds it.

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Matsumoto Castle

We found some great food in a local favourite. Full of business people ending their day with freshly cooked food. It was very much tapas style where we order a section fo meat and vegetables and each came freshly prepared and cooked. We were sat at the bar area and the chef handed over our dishes on a long wooden paddle.

Dinner in Matsumoto

The next morning we headed back to the Matsumoto-jo to go inside and experience it fully. It was extremely busy even though it was off-season and first thing. I captured this great picture of a koi. They see you walking along by the shadows you cast over the water and must be so used to be being fed they come straight up expecting food.

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Koi at Matsumoto Castle

Inside the castle is an experience. It is made up of multiple floors with varying degrees of stairs, which basically become ladders at the top. There are boards explaining the history of the castle and the samurai while you look through the small windows of each level. We queued round the whole castle, where you also have to take your shoes off and carry them round in a bag (great system!) , and finally you make it to the top for stunning views of the city. I would recommend a visit here as this was completely different from the temples and shrines we had seen.

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Matsumoto Castle

As we wandered around Matsumoto we explored several little shopping streets and stumbled across an organic vegetarian market, where we bought this wonderful sushi for our lunch on the train. It was lovely to wander freely around the city after the rush of the castle.

Vegetarian Sushi from Matsumoto

Our next destination was Obuse which is famous for chestnuts and art history including woodblock printing artist Hokusai. It was extremely busy with Japanese Tourists and at this point my mum and I decided to avoid the crowds and find a little coffee shop to relax. I would have liked more time on the places at this point in the trip as it felt rushed as we were fitting in so much. I will definitely return to the Japanese Alps if I return to Japan.

We then headed on the train to Yudanaka for another night in a ryokan. This time it was a huge hotel version, which would be wonderful in the winter for skiing, but just felt a little wrong for the time of year. It has two large onsens which changed over at 10pm switching from male to female. This time the group decided to go altogether and there were may more locals there using the amenities. It is a very odd experience being fully naked with other people in a spa like setting, but then having the shower facilities around the edge. It’s a body positive experience (I see a separate post on this coming) as all the Japanese women had no issues with stripping down, at least it did not seem that way. However when a couple of younger ladies got in they were trying to be modest like ourselves. It’s definitely an experience!

The next day we headed to the Snow Monkey Park just outside Yudanaka. It is another experience that is hard to explain. The park has been there since 1964, but unlike the interpretation of natural onsen ponds, the area is man-made. Without any snow you can see all the thermal pipes and debris from the operations. Also the monkey’s stay for the food they are given, as in reality they would migrate away from the area when it snows. Apart from this the monkey’s were free to come and go and although we were warned they would try to take things we had no problem with any of them.  I also managed to take some great photos I am really happy with.

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Snow Monkey Park
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Snow Monkey Park
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Snow Monkey Park
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Snow Monkey Park
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Snow Monkey Park

We then headed on to Tokyo, but before we explored the city we made the most of the extra day on the rail pass and tried to see Mt Fuji by going on travel day to the area of Hakone. It is a full day of travel, all by different modes, but there is very little time to stop and appreciate the surroundings you find yourself in. Again if I came back to Japan I would spend more time in this area as it was so beautiful.

Hakone Travel Plan

The day started with getting the Bullet train to Odwara, then catching a local train to Hakone-Yomoto. We then transferred to a switch back train to start the journey up the mountain to Gara. We then transferred to a funicular to got straight up the mountain to Souzan to catch a cable car. The cable car took us to the volcanic springs at Owakudoni. Here they have a speciality of cooking eggs in sulphur water so they turn black, you can then buy a bag of 5 to eat. We had one each and they were very nice. Being hard boiled they give you some salt to add and it’s a very nice protein snack surrounded by volcanic activity!

Owakudoni Black Eggs

We then got back on the cable car and headed down to Togendai-ko. Here we got on a pirate ship (yes you read the correctly) to Hakon-Machi-ko.

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Togendai-ko

We then stopped for lunch and walked through the cedar trees to Moto-Hakone-ko to get back on the pirate ship (correct again) to Togendai-ko. We then got on a bus to go walk through the silver grass.  It was a beautiful, but cloudy day and we did not get to see Mt Fuji, apart from the glimpse I got on the train in the morning. We then got back on the bus to get back to where we can catch the bullet train back to Tokyo.

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Silver Grass

That night we stayed close to the hotel for dinner and found a wonderful basement restaurant and tried some new things such as dumplings and this wonderful mochi strawberry dessert. Desserts aren’t big in Japan and there were only 3 on offer in this restaurant and it was very good.

Dessert in Tokyo

Next up the big bright lights of Tokyo!

Top Tips for Matsumoto, Yudonaka & Hakone:

  • Make the most of your time by having breakfasts and lunches on the train
  • Get to tourist attractions early to have minimal crowds
  • If you can have more time in places I would recommend it, but this trip lets you see everything
  • Don’t be afraid to go down or up to find good restaurants
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