Tag Archives: Wanderings

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 3… Hiroshima & Takayama

Bullet Train aka shinkansen

I’m still reliving my trip to Japan, even though it’s been 4 weeks since I came back. It was so much fun as well as cultural and exciting; I definitely want to go back! You can find my previous posts Part 1 and Part 2 through those links.

Our fourth day in Japan by catching the bullet train from Kyoto to Hiroshima to the south-west. We started by going to the island of Miyajima, which is a World Heritage Site and one of the most visited tourist spots. The Japan Rail Pass gets you on the ferry across to the island. Our rail pass was only for tourists and lasted for a week and made it very easy to get around the country to all the areas we were going to. There are also private train lines, but you need different tickets for those.

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Torii of Itsukushima-jinja

The first thing you see as you arrive at the island is the torii (shrine gate) of Itsukuushima-jinja, also known as the floating gate. We unfortunately arrived at low tide and so you can see the bottom of the gate in the sand. It’s still very impressive and stands out against the tree lined background. The shrine sits behind the gate and from all the stilts I assume it also sits upon the water at high tide.

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Cheeky deer of Miyajima

Our guide Tats introduced us to the island and the cheeky deer than are very friendly and ate the first maps Tats was showing us. My mum and I had our lunch interrupted by an overfriendly deer!

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Torii or floating gate

This is a view of the gate from the other side. It was still impressive, but definitely weird seeing people right under it and new photographer side was disappointed I could get a photo without people or the scaffolding in the frame! We only had the morning on the island, which wasn’t really enough time to explore beyond the main street and shrines. There are many temples and hikes on the island and I think it would be fun to go back and explore further.

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Bridge into Itsukushima-jinja

The Itsukushima-jinja is thought to have begun in the 6th century, but the present form fo the shrine is from 1168. It was built on the water because common people were not allowed to step foot on the sacred island. It was very beautiful to see from the outside and I would have paid to go in if the tide had been in and water underneath the walk ways. That would have been an atmospheric experience.

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Main street of Miyajima

The main street through the town was full of fun shops and restuarants. It also had many stalls and food outlets with interesting delicasies to take away. We went for the fish cake on a stick, wrapped in bacon with cheese on one and aspargus on the other. It was very nice and I would definitely eat it again.

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A fish cake lunch

We took a sit by the sea and it wasn’t long until the dear approached us and followed us like the couple below. He was not happy we wouldn’t share our food and reared up at me to try and grab mine. They weren’t nasty, just persistent!

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The deer that was interrupting everyone’s lunch

It was fairly quiet on the island as it was outside normal tourist season. Many of the hotels and restaurants were not open as not many people live on the island and therefore shut down after the peak and live on the mainland.

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My mum and another deer that liked her

When we were waiting for the ferry back a lot of school groups arrived and it felt much busier. It’s a beautiful place and well worth a visit.

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My mum and another different deer (I sense a theme)

After the island we got back on the train and headed to central Hiroshima.  It’s an amazing place to visit and a stark contrast to anything else you’ll see. This is living history. The history we were taught in school about the second world war is nothing compared to the legacy that is still very real for the people of this beautiful and thriving city.

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Atomic Bomb Dome

The first thing you see as you enter the Peace Memorial Park is the Atomic Bomb Dome. This is one of the few buildings that survived the bomb at the epicentre. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1966 and is a haunting reminder of what happened. This very much sets the tone for the visit. There is a erie quiet to the park, even with the amount of people walking around. Everyone is taking it in and like me probably had no words to describe what they were experiencing.

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Paper cranes at the Children’s Peace Monument

The biggest reminder that this still impacts people living today is the Children’s Peace Monument. It was built for Sadako Sasaki who was only 2 years old at the time of the bombing. She develop lukemia at 11 years old and decided to fold 1000 paper cranes, but unfortunately died before completing her goal. The paper crane is a symbol of longevity in Japan and so her school friends completed the goal for her. Today a monument stands surrounded by these colours paper tributes. It was a beautiful sight and one I will not forget.

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View through cenopath to the Flame of Peace and the Atomic Bomb Domb

We walked through the Peace Memorial Park and saw the Flame of Peace, which is set to stay alight until all the nuclear weapons in the world are destroyed. There were times I was speechless during this visit and at this point and heading into the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum were both times of internal reflection. The museum was full of facts, figures and items from the bombing. It was very factual, with very little, if any, analysis of why it happened. As I said it was a very different view of the war than I was taught in school and it was eye opening. There were many school groups visiting when we were there and I just could not process seeing this at that age. The legacy of it is what got to me the most. People who were young at the time are now the older generation and the map of Japan in the museum that shows where people moved to and the amount of radiation illnesses was staggering. It was a humbling experience to say the least.

Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima

After the main visit we headed towards the station for dinner and tried the distinct Hiroshima version of okonomiyaki, which is built up of layers of noodles, cabbage, pancakes and topped with a BBQ type sauce. It was delicious and something I want to learn to make at home!

Sake in a box!

This was also our first experience of sake in a box. We did not know the equiette at the time and later learned that you are supposed to say stop just as the sake tops the glass. However as we did not know this they kept pouring until the box was full! A really fun experience to watch it cooked in front of you and very tasty food, a definite must!

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Ryokan Murayama Takayama

The next day we headed to Takayama on the train from Kyoto. This was our only experience of the trains not going to plan. We needed to get 4 trains and that turned into 5 as one train had to stop a station early due to an accident. That meant we had to get a private train to the next station. Our guide was so apoligetic as it rarely happens and compared to the UK it was super smooth to get the addition train and get where we needed to go.

This was also our first experience of a Japanese ryokan, which is a traditional inn where you sleep on futons on the floor. It was fantastic and so simple and clean. It was also very peaceful and relaxing once you had settled in and got to know the customs.

Tempura Udon

The food everywhere was so so good. I very much liked the soup based dishes as they are very simple, while being extremely tasty. I also want to learn to cook these as they would make a very good work night dinner (apart from the tempura as I don’t want to deep fry anything!).

Me and my mum

I’m not very good at taking photos of myself and even photos other people take I usually don’t like (something to get into another day!), but this one of me and my mum makes me happy as we are having a fantastic time. Plus this was the first restaurant where we had to sit on the floor!

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Hida Folk Village

Takayama is offically known as Hida Takayama and is located in Central Honshu. On our arrival we spent the afternoon at the Hida Folk Village, which is an open air museum  and is home to lots of traditional houses that were taken down from the original sites and relocated to this village to keep them safe. It illustrates rural life over the centuries and how people lived in the Japanese Alps before the modern day conviences we have today.

Tradition Set Dinner

While staying at the Ryokan we got to experience tradition Japanese set meals. All of which were set on raised trays while we sat on the floor. It was an interesting experience and I enjoyed elements of all the meals, but not all. Rice in the morning just does not work for me!

Traditional Set Breakfast

Takayama is a beautiful place and is home to a festival of floats and as you walk around you see these very tall doors that hide them away and keep them safe in between the festivals. The main area is called Sanmachi-suji and is the orginal district of three streets the merchants would frequent. There are also many shrines and temples within the town and you can easily wander around and experience the peacefulness of the place and then the bussle of the tourist areas.

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A pagoda

The architecture is amazing and you can find modern houses next to amazing pagodas and shrines. It is worth getting lost to see what you can find as you find your way back to the centre of town.

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Wooden maneki-neko

This is the first place I saw lots of maneki-neko, or lucky cats. It was a fun place to explore the shops and even finding dedicated cat shops!

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A sake brewery selction

There are many sake breweries and they are denoted by cedar fronds hung above the doors. My mum was very happy as we got to try quite a few different sakes and whiskys.

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Bridge over a temple pond

In the afternoon we wandered to the area of temples along the Higashiyama walking course and wandered in peaceful silence for an hour or so. It was so quiet as many of the temples were shut to visitors, but their grounds were open to explore and appreicate.

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Autumn colours in a temple garden
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Stone bridge in a temple rock garden
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Simple raked temple garden

At luch we visited a burger restuarant that our guide had to book 3 weeks in advance! It’s run by a young Japanese couple who liked what they could get in America, but knew nowhere they could get the same when they returned home to Japan and so opened their own place called Center4Burgers.

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Garden Kitten

This was also the first place I saw a real life cat in the outside. I had not seen any pets since arriving and this little Merry and Pippin lookalike was watching us as we entered the restaurant.

Quattro Burger

This was the most amazing burger! I couldn’t decide what to have as toppings so went for the one with them all – egg, cheese, bacon and avocado! It’s a tiny place and our group of 16 was squeezed in and took up the whole place, including the seats at the bar.

Tradition matcha tea

Another first was being able to go to a little tea shop and try tradition matcha. It came with a little matcha cake/sweet and it was lovely. I would very much like to get a proper bowl and whisk to be able to make this at home. There was a peacefulness to being able to sit and enjoy this.

The cat teapot I almost bought

I saw this amazing teapot while in Takayama, but resisted as that price is about £150!

Cat Shop!!!!!

I loved that they had shops that were dedicated to specific themes like the cat shop, but also the chopstick shop and the rabbit shop we also saw. It was quirky and fun!

Second set dinner

We had two nights in Takayama and that was a lovely amount of time. We didn’t do everything, but we did a lot and I felt like I experieced a different side to Japan compared to Kyoto and Hiroshima.

Top tips for Hiroshima and Takayama:

  • Get a Japan Rail Pass for your visit!
  • Try lots of the food stalls in markets for traditional cuisine.
  • Try the Hiroshima-yaki (okonomiyaki)
  • Try the small cafes in Takayama
  • Book in advance for the Center4Hamburgers

Recent Wanderings… Leonardo da Vinci at the Science Museum

Last week I took the opportunity of a work trip to London to pop by the Science Museum and visit the new Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. The exhibition showcases models made from his sketches made in 1952 celebrating the 500th anniversary of his birth.

It was very interesting and fascinating to see how some of his ideas have been applied ot modern technical advancements.  I wish I had a better memory to recall all the details I was reading about, but I can’t so based on a few odd memories and some photos of my favourite bits I hope to offer you incentive to visit yourself.

The below photo was of a self propelled vehicle. What I loved most about all these designs was that most of the signs included a note to ‘not workable at the time’, but have since turned out to inspire and look like tings we see today.

This was a miniature version of an armoured vehicle. The section on warfare and battlements was interesting. I found all the drawings were like things I would imagine from the fantasy novels I read.

I loved the atmosphere in the exhibition. The design and layout included many of these hanging with his drawings and writings on.  As I was heading to the museum most people were leaving so when I arrived at the exhibition it was very quiet and was still open for another hour or so. There ended up only being about 5-6 people in the space, which meant I could take the time I needed to look around without feeling other people wanted to get to the same bits. I would definitely go at this time of day again.

This bit just straight up freaked me out! Heads up you walk around a corner and straight into this.

The section on taking inspiration from living organisms was the most interesting to me. There were multiple videos featuring spiders, fish, birds, insects and the like that all related to drawings and models da Vinci made. This section also linked to the modern world most and showed applications in robotics and materials. This was a model of a robotic bird that the video shows taking off and flying like a bird. It was amazing!

I found these instruments beautiful and functional. If I ever live in a large house I would want to get pieces like this and learn how to use them even if putting them on display. There were also interactive things that got you thinking about engineering and how things work. I wouldn’t say it was a lot for kids though and was definitely more reading and looking than practical.

There was way more than I can show here and worth a visit. It really showed what da Vinci did back in the 1400s and how relevant they are today. I will be making the effort to add these trips on to future work trips in the future. It felt great to go and do something cultural for a change.

Recent Wanderings… Plymouth

This weekend I headed on the train to Plymouth to visit my friend Ingrid. The last couple of times I’ve been down that way it’s been for work so I’ve driven and it’s taken 4 hours each way. This time I took the train and it took 3 hours and was so much easier, especially the one that was direct.  I was able to get comfy and take my flask of coffee and settle in for a good couple of hours of me-time reading (or listening as I ended up doing).

Plymouth is a lovely place. but it feels so far away. The route down on the train takes you through Bristol and down to Exeter, then down on the coast past Dawlish and into Plymouth. It’s a stunning journey if you get a good window seat. It’s a city with a university in the county of Devon and is based all around shipbuilding and has a large naval base. It’s an interesting place to explore as my friend has been finding out for the last couple of years.

For example after having a good catch up over coffee we wandered to find somewhere for lunch and we went through this arcade with a gnome garden and dragon!

It’s hidden away in a little arcade with small independent shops near the Hoe part of the city.

We then headed to Rockets and Rascals for an amazing lunch. It’s a bike shop and cafe and was super lovely. We both has toasted sandwiches, which were made fresh and super tasty. I had cheese, chorizo and chicken on a sourdough bread and it was the best toasted sandwich I’ve had in a long time. If you get the chance to go here for lunch or cake (they looked amazing too!) I highly recommend it. The staff were lovely and it felt very welcoming. I’ve just had a look at their website and they are opening another shop in Poole.

We then went to The Book Cupboard which is a fantastic used book shop we explored for a good while. I didn’t end up getting anything, but Ingrid found a new series to start with older versions of the covers.

I loved it as it was packed with books from all different time periods. The only thing I struggled with was the ordering of the shelves and I spent a bit of time really wanting to take everything off and reorganise!

I even found a section dedicated to books on cats!

We then spent the rest of the weekend catching up and relaxing at Ingrid’s place. We enjoyed good food and some TV. I was introduced to Battlestar Galactica, which is the next binge watching show on my list (which seems to be ever growing!). We had a relaxing Sunday having a late breakfast and then heading to town for a bit of shopping and to Yo Sushi to try their new menu options. It was great fun!

Then it was time to catch the train home with a flask of tea and an audiobook. The train started out very quiet, but as we got closer to Bristol more and more people joined and made me very glad I had a booked seat.

It was fab going away for one night, but I was super tired when I got home that night. I don’t know how people do this every weekend, but I definitely want to do this more often. There are so many places to explore and going away for one night is easy to do and feels worth it even with a journey of 3 hours. It has opened my eyes to the potential opportunities I have when it comes to exploring at weekends. I just need to get organised!

 

 

Recent Wanderings – December 15 Edition

I had lots of plan for exploring in December, but getting a cold and ear infection scuppered that, but taking me out for the last two week of the month. I missed the lake swims I had planned and also some time exploring locally. But I did what I could and had fun doing it.

Cardiff

At the beginning of the month I went to Cardiff to meet up with my friends for afternoon tea and do as much present shopping as I could. I love Cardiff and do miss living there, but it was nice to visit.

 

Christmas Dos

Many evenings in December were taken up by making the most of festivities and catching up with as many people as possible over the weeks before Christmas. This year felt extra busy as I changed jobs not long ago so was included in two work team get togethers. It was all good fun, but I did eat way too much in the run up to Christmas.

  • Original work team
  • New work team
  • Work bookclub
  • Swimming Club
  • Running Club
  • Friends catch up

Cinema Trips

I’ve been trying to make the most of my cinema card too and this month saw four films. I enjoyed all of them. I missed a couple I wanted to see, like Black Mass, but went as many time as I could.

  • The Lady in the Van
  • Bridge of Spies
  • Christmas with the Coopers
  • Star Wars

I’ve made a lot of plans already for the coming year and feel more organised for doing these posts that I have before. It is nice to remind myself of what I’ve been up to and think about other places I want to explore.

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