My English/Japanese wedding…

Not content with just having one wedding I have decided to have two, both to the same man I assure you. After a ceremony here in my native England I will be jetting 6000 miles and hopping 9 time zones east to Japan, a country I fell in love with even before I stepped foot off the plane last year.

A miko in the grounds of Sumiyoshi Taisha, Osaka

Ever since I can remember, Japan has had this kind of hold over me, like an itching curiosity that couldn’t be scratched until I saw it with my own eyes. Over the years I have scowered the bookshelves and travel magazines in the hope of reading something I don’t know about Japan, something new, no matter how small.

Early morning at Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

I don’t know what it is about Japan, but I am completely obsessed! But I’m not alone. When I booked my last trip at least 99.9% of people have replied with the same ‘I’m so jealous, I’ve always wanted to go to Japan’, when being told where I was going next. And I can’t pinpoint why people want to go anymore than I can for myself. We all have an image in our minds of Japan; Tokyo’s circuit board of neon, temples tucked away behind towering skyscrapers or seeing the last remaining geisha of Kyoto flitting between the tea houses of Gion like heavily painted butterflies.

Rob and I with our manga portrait at the International Kyoto Manga Museum

As soon as my fiancé and I started planning our wedding, I knew Japan was going to be our honeymoon destination. But after being together 8 years I wanted to do something special, something which we would remember for the rest of our lives and be a talking point at dinner parties; note: we don’t get invited to dinner parties but just in case we do. After doing some research I discovered that Inside Japan can arrange for couples to have a wedding blessing in Japan. Perfect! Hundreds of couples get married abroad every year; Mexico, Las Vegas and the Caribbean, so why not Japan?

On the streets of Gion, Kyoto

Like most Japanese brides who choose to marry in traditional Shinto ceremonies, I will be wearing a white kimono and the wataboshi, a type of hood which is said to hide the horns of jealousy. Following our ceremony we will have the customary photographs before being whisked away as newly (Japanese) weds for a fantastic wedding dinner at the Granvia hotel where we will be staying. From the ceremony we will continue to explore Japan including the ancient capital Nara, the hauntingly beautiful bamboo groves of Arashiyama and a day trip to Japan’s animation Mecca the Studio Ghibli Museum.

A Japanese bride wearing the traditional kimono and wataboshi

If you have never considered Japan as a holiday destination then I would put those brochures to the Mediterranean away and contact Inside Japan. Even before the tragic events of March 12th Japan did nothing but welcome my fiancé and I with open arms and provide us with the best hospitality. You will never visit such a visually stimulating and fast paced metropolis like Tokyo or sample fresher produce found down Kyoto’s Nishiki dori. Japan is a truly inspirational place and is perfectly safe to visit just ask Lady Gaga…

Peace and quiet in the middle of Tokyo

Advertisements
| Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Asia’s airline boost to see Europe’s recover…?

Tom Hall, Lonely Planet’s UK-based travel editor reports in this months Lonely Planet magazine that Asia’s budget airline networks are rivalling that of Europe’s with regards to scale and price.

 This has been mainly thanks to Air Asia (airasia.com), but Firefly (fireflyz.com.my) and Tiger (tigerairways.com), are also leading the charge. Check websites for the best deals

Air Asia (from balihotelfinder.com)

The air travel industry has seen a turbulent year (need I mention the ash cloud?) so this news will hopefully ensure a speedy recovery for Europe’s airlines who will no doubt try to get ahead in the market. Also, as it becomes more expensive for students to attend university due to the increase of university fees, this news may also sway more young people in to travelling instead of heading straight in to full-time education. This is the perfect time to be planning that trip of a life time…

More of you could end up here thanks to Asia's budget airlines...

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Honeymoon…home or away?

Within the next year I will be saying ‘I do’ to my fiance of 5 years (been together 7 altogether). We have an idea of where we want to get married, bridesmaids, reception venue etc etc But when it came to looking at honeymoon destinations we were rather stumped.

The perfect honeymoon destination?

You see my fiance and I are not in to ‘beachy’ holidays; lounging around a pool and sipping cocktails is not our idea of fun (are we strange of what?). Don’t get me wrong I love to relax and watch the world go by, but I think if you are paying all that money (the average honeymoon costs well in excess of £3000) why not visit somewhere where you can really take in some culture and bring home some exotic looking souvenirs?

Idea 1. Japan

Romantic Japan...

We visited Japan last year and the experience made me love the country even more than I already did. Ryokans are Japanese inns which can be found all over the country and are a perfect way to experience ‘traditional’ Japanese hospitality.

Most ryokan are small buildings of no more than a dozen or so rooms, often built facing a small garden. There are some 58,000 ryokan in Japan, of which 1,400 are quality establishments belonging to the Japan Ryokan Association. http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/index.html  

Gora Tensui, Hakone. One of the hotels recommended by Inside Japan for honeymooners

Few holiday company’s offer Japan as a honeymoon destination, but it is hard to see why. Aside from the main island of Honshu with the exciting capital Tokyo and ancient capital Kyoto, and the sweeping landscape of Hokkaido. Japan’s crown jewel is Okinawa, a balmy stretch of  tropical islands offering the opportunity for island hopping and snorkeling, as well as sampling exquisite cuisine and taking in the many historical attractions.

Okinawa, Japan's crown jewel

Idea 2. Sweden

I have always been fascinated by Sweden. Swedish design is famous for being fresh and clean-cut (think IKEA) yet Stockholm itself projects a wholly gothic aesthetic, contradictory of its famous fluid design.

Stockholm

Idea 3. Stay in Britain? What you may not know is that I am terrified of flying. When I went on a plane last, my fiance described being next to me like sitting next to a rock….cheers. So maybe staying in the country will alleviate some stress and help me enjoy the wedding more. In the spirit of Cathy and Heathcliff, maybe somewhere windswept and wild? Or perhaps a bit more Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy…a country manor in the in the middle of nowhere. The possibilities are endless but it needs to be memorable.

Ideas please? Have you, or do you know somebody who has been to an unusual honeymoon destination or just stayed in the country they were from?

X

Posted in Japan, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Scotland…home to more than just Edinburgh

A few years ago, my fiance and I decided to go away for a few days. We stayed in the country because we were poor students and couldn’t take too much time off from uni and work (yeah we did both, hardcore I know).

View from outside Stirling Castle

We decided to go to Stirling in Scotland, instead of Edinburgh which can be overpriced with regards to attractions and eating out (it is the capital after all). Stirling is a beautiful city located in central Scotland and it was, and still is seen as an important historical city with two wars lending their names to the place such as the 1314  Battle of Bannockburn and the 1297 Battle of Stirling Bridge.

Statue of King Robert the Bruce

Stirling is home to a few interesting attractions which can be conveniently reached via the city tour bus. Located just 5 minutes from our hotel was Stirling Castle, an impressive building which sits on top of the aptly named Castle Hill. The best time to go is as early as possible because the crowds soon gather.

Stirling Castle

Stained glass in Stirling Castle

Some of the other main attractions are the Old Town Jail, Argyll’s Lodgings and the Wallace Monument with its 246 step climb to reach the top. The Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum is also a great place to visit.

The Stirling Smith is the home of a significant collection of rare and unique artefacts, spanning centuries of Scottish, British and World history.  The collection is managed by the Smith’s three full-time curatorial staff, and contains many remarkable objects, including a great many items of interest from the worlds of social history, ethnography, women’s history, natural history, and fine art. http://www.smithartgallery.demon.co.uk/collections.html

Wallace Monument

Stirling itself feels like a town with its quaint souvenir shops and pubs, but its easy to forget that it is a city home to over 33,500 people (and thats just Stirling itself).  The hotel we stayed in was the Stirling Highland hotel (at the time it was owned by Paramount but is now owned by travel and tourism group Barcelo). The hotel iself was beautiful and the rooms were in keeping with the historical nature of the main building which used to be a High School (which my fiance’s Grandfather used to attend). The rooms were decorated to a decent standard and as well as a pool the hotel also housed a jacuzzi and sauna room. As I said this was a couple of years ago, so things might have changed since then.

Stirling Castle at night (taken with a phone camera, can you tell...)

I would recommend to anyone to visit Stirling. Although I originally wanted to go to EdinburghI think Stirling was a prefect place to just relax and avoid the masses. Stirling is also great for people with young children, as a lot of the attractions have activities for the children to do in order to learn more about what they are looking at.

Posted in Scotland, Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Japanese and cute…

When visiting Japan, you will fail to notice the abundance of cute or ‘kawaii’ characters used to promote…well anything and everything. The Image Factory: Fads and Fashions in Japan by Donald Richie explores the Japanese ideal of cute, and how much of an impact ‘cute’ makes in advertising.

Cute characters on a Meiji advert in Osaka

“Making and selling things kawaii is an enormous industry and it is driven by the women who buy it. But why are such things (‘character goods’ as they are called in the industry) sold in such large numbers. A senior analyst at the research section of the largest of the manufacturers said he believed 70 per cent of those he had surveyed really sought solace in character products, and that the more stressed out they were, the more strongly attached they were to the items” Donald Richie, The Image Factory: Fads and Fashions in Japan, 2003. Reaktion Books.

Cute cat and dog poster

While I was in Japan last year I noticed how cute characters were used in the most simplest of advertising and promotion.

Some Japanese sweet companys use 'kawaii' characters on their packaging

 

Pink balloon cat down Takeshita-dori in Harajuku

Posted in Japan, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Turn a new leaf…

Rarely do we ever sit and contemplate the ever-changing colours of nature. Yet I believe visiting a country when it is at the peak of its season is the most exciting time to go as it adds to the atmosphere and looks great on photographs.     

Beautiful leaves in Japan

 

In Japan, cherry blossom viewing in spring and Koyo viewing in autumn are celebrated with equal rigour. Considered the best times to visit the country, sakurazensen and koyozensen refer to the spring and autumn fronts that sweep through the country. New seasons bring old traditions. Cherry blossom festivals are held all over Japan in every prefecture. Hanami is one of the busiest times in Japan, when an influx of tourists head to Japan to get in on the celebrations. Okinawa celebrates Yaedake Cherry Blossom Festival from late January to mid February(one of the earliest places to celebrate the cherry blossom season) and Ueno Park in Tokyo is noted as one of the best parks in the capital to hold hanami celebrations, from March to April.     

Cherry Blossom in Okinawa (taken from okinawa-information.com)

 

New England is famous in autumn for its fantastical display of colour.  Every colour from red to orange and every shade in between replaces the once lush greens. The autumn leaves are at their peak in mid October. But New England is just as popular in spring when the area holds a number of flower festivals including Nantucket Island’s (Ma) Daffodil Festival Weekend held in April and the annual Fields of Lupine Festival held in early to mid June in Franconia, New Hampshire.     

Daffodil Festival picnic (from the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce website)

 

This got me thinking about what we do here in England to celebrate the changing of the seasons. The Chelsea Flower Show held in May exhibits, well….flowers obviously, but not our seasons. I believe this has a lot to do with our culture, but I am sure there must be places people only visit at certain times of the year? Let me know…      

worldwind     

x       

      

Posted in Travel | Leave a comment

My York…

I have lived in and around York since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Weekends spent at my dad’s  house would involve walking in to the city centre and spending my well-earned pocketmoney. It wasn’t until I got a lot older, when I could venture to York on my own, that I could really appreciate the city for what it is.  

Me in York Museum Gardens aged 7

 

York is a very special place to me as it encompasses everything I love about city life; shopping, the occasional street performer and a fantastic coffee culture.  But what makes it different from any other city is its richness in history and important cultural sites. What about London or Edinburgh I hear you ask? As somebody who has visited York countless times and has worked in the city centre on a number of occasions, never have I known York to reach the high volumes of visitors such as what is experienced in the City or Scotland’s capital, and thats the way it should be otherwise it will just end up as unbearable as a saturday afternoon on Oxford Street…and nobody wants that.  

York is not only home to the largest Gothic cathedral in the North of Europe and Clifford’s Tower noted as  ‘the last remnant of William the Conqueror’s medieval castle’. But York also conceals such gems as Barley Hall, a striking townhouse hailing from the medieval era where it is possible to immerse yourself in medieval life and the beautiful Fairfax House a perfect example of Georgian architecture.  

If like me you can’t resist a little bit of shopping, then York is the place to be to inject your fashion and homewares fix. The Shambles was voted ‘Britain’s most picturesque street’  and could well just make you feel as though you have stepped on to the set of Harry Potter. This cobbled thoroughfare with its quaint selection of shops (some with original black and white timbered fronts dating as far back as the medieval times) is a stones throw away from the bustling market, but the Shamble’s spell is only broken once you leave the street.  

The Shambles

 

If like me you adore unique gifts and home accessories (more for yourself than anybody else) then head to Stonegate, a quaint but bustling street that could rival the Shambles. My favourite store Wild Hart is jam-packed full of exceptionally beautiful treasures, most of which wouldn’t look out of place in a glossy lifestyle magazine. The shop itself can get a little crowded due to its popularity among tourists but is well worth a visit. The owners are exceptionally helpful and the customer service is top-notch.   

Wild Hart, simply beautiful

 

Just down the street is The Minster Gate Bookshop. Over five floors of wall to wall book shelves, crammed with second-hand books… my idea of heaven. Some of the rooms overlook the pavement below where it is nice just to sit and browse through the vast collection of books available. Bibliophiles this is the place to be…  

York has all the classic high street food and drink vendors like Starbucks, Pret a Manger, Varsity and the like but if you want a completely new drinking experience then make your way to Pivni. Whenever I go out in York with family or friends we always end the night here. Situated on the fantastically named Patrick Pool street Pivni is a charming pub/coffee house which oozes character, and provides York with extensive and eclectic selection of beers including beauties from Belgium, Czechoslovakia and Germany. Visit here for a great review and pictures http://www.thepubsofyork.com/pivni.  

This just a snippet of what can be done in York and what I usually do on a rare day off. York is not just beautiful, it is historically important (Guy Fawkes was born and schooled here) and is not afraid to move with the times while still retaining its identity as the York in Yorkshire.  

Guy Fawkes was born in York

 

If you are planning a trip to York in the near future, please feel free to contact me where I can give you a more detailed and personal account of York. More information can be found here http://www.visityork.org/.  

Posted in Travel | Leave a comment