Category Archives: travel

Day 4: Pee Wee Herman Christmas

Day 4 of twelve days of Christmas decorations for the #blog12daysxmas challenge.

When Wayne and I visited New York City in 2010 we scored tickets to the Pee Wee Herman Show at the Stephen Sondheim Theater on Broadway. Well, just around the corner actually, on West 43rd Street.

It was a very special night and of course we visited the souvenir stand after the show for some trinkets to take home to remember it by. One thing we didn’t buy though, and we regretted it as soon as we left the theatre, was a pack of Pee Wee Herman Christmas baubles. I was thinking they might be difficult to pack… #stupid

Anyway, the next night while walking through Times Square we decided to head back to the theatre to pick up the Christmas baubles but the door security wouldn’t let us in – at first – but we politely explained the situation and they took pity on us. The show was just about to let out so, before the crowds emerged through the doors, we were quickly ushered over to the merchandise stand to make our purchase.

I put the Pee Wee decorations together with the pottery animals from Jonathan Adler on the “New York Christmas Tree”…

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Day 3: A Westie for Christmas

Day 3 of twelve days of Christmas decorations for the #blog12daysxmas challenge.

When I went to the Charleston library conference late last year to give a paper about ebooks I managed to wrangle a stopover in New York City on the way home. Life can be tough sometimes.

Before my late afternoon flight home on the last day I headed down to the Soho district, intending to visit Purl Soho on Broome Street – sadly closed the morning I visited, although it was supposed to be open – and then to the Jonathan Adler store around the corner on Greene Street.

wpid-wp-1419740791194.jpegJonathan Adler had just moved from a little way up the street and was covered in scaffolding due to building works, such that I walked past it twice before I finally found the front door.
When Wayne and I visited New York in 2010 we’d picked up some beautiful pottery Christmas decorations and I wanted to buy one more as a special gift.

I took ages trying to decide on a decoration. The shop assistant was gushing over a silver cat, but I thought it was perhaps more her than us, and I decided instead on a white pottery West Highland Terrier with his tongue sticking out.

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Special meals

For the second last day of #blogjune in which I mustn’t forget to order a vegetarian meal for the flight

It seems that I may be in the minority but I do love airline meals and have even been known to peruse airlinemeals.net when choosing an airline for my trip. It’s fun to browse the pictures of retro airline meals from the 1950s to the 80s too!

14193930839_4211647ba4_zSeeing as we are vegetarian we also get to order a “special meal” which does make you feel a bit special even down the back of the plane because you get your meal first. It’s amazing how often a fellow passenger leans across and says “I wish I’d ordered that”. I do wonder though why an airline meal can’t be as beautiful and tasty as what you can get on a Japanese train.

wpid-img_20140528_031945.jpgWe flew to Japan in May on budget airline Jetstar but you can still order a meal plan, which of course we did! Here is the vegetarian lunch on the way back home from Tokyo. In Australia I’d always choose to fly Qantas where I can. I prefer the service, I prefer the slightly more mature flight staff, and you get a meal! On an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Charleston last year the catering consisted of a glass of water.

I took a mid-afternoon flight on the way up to Brisbane last week so it was just a snack, but it was pretty good: a cup of coffee with a pack of almonds and cranberries, and cheese biscuits with dip. When the flight attendant came around later offering seconds I couldn’t resist.

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I flew home on Friday evening so scored dinner, a pretty basic pasta as it turned out. An Indian gentleman across from me had forgotten to pre-order his vegetarian meal and there were none to spare but the cabin staff tried their best and assembled a tray of bread rolls, biscuits, snacks and fruit. I think he ended up with more food than me.

You get a Rowie’s cake with the vegetarian option on Qantas, and Wayne loves them, so I always save the heart-shaped cake for him.

 

 

Trip to Brisbane

I seem to have fallen off the #blogjune bus somewhere around the half way mark but will try to rectify matters somewhat by getting in a couple at the end.

I’m just back from a two day work trip to attend Elsevier’s Asia Pacific Ebooks Forum which was held on Brisbane’s South Bank in remarkably mild weather for the middle of Winter. It was a very pleasant respite from grey and blustery Melbourne.

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There were librarians from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Canada! I was asked to represent Australia and presented a case study on ebooks at my library, Swinburne. Even among the Australian librarians we all seem to be doing very different things with ebooks so it’s interesting to hear what librarians are doing in other countries and the challenges they face. I was surprised to hear that there are hardly any ebooks being used in Japanese libraries, mainly because there are hardly any ebooks being published in Japanese, so the two librarians from Japan were certainly facing a unique challenge.

This was the first APAC Ebooks Forum I’ve attended. I believe they’re held every two years and are quite unique to our region. One of the Elsevier representatives told me that there are similar meetings held in Canada and Mexico but not in Europe or the US (I think that’s right). On the second afternoon there was an interesting workshop on authorship for librarians and there was discussion on using blogs to get started, and I mentioned our library’s staff blog Ideas come from everything which was created with just that thought in mind. I really should write up my presentation for the blog.

The Forum closed after the authorship discussion but because I misread the program and got the closing time wrong I booked myself on a much later flight than I should have. That did at least give me a couple of hours at the end to contemplate what we’d talked about and go for a walk down to the Botanic Gardens and enjoy some blue skies and sunshine before heading back to the airport and blustery Melbourne – and a very bumpy landing!

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Travel tips for Japan

I’ve missed a couple of days but I’ve decided I’m now just going to “blog every day quite often” in the #blogjune challenge

For today’s post I’ve been inspired by Steph’s blog post of travel tips for her recent trip to New York and thought I might do something similar for Japan. In May we decided to try out Jetstar’s new direct Melbourne-Tokyo flights for a two week holiday based in Tokyo and Kyoto.

Japan Rail Pass?

It worked out cheaper for us to fly in/out through Tokyo and pick up a Japan Rail Pass than to fly one way through Kansai, the nearest international hub to Kyoto, so we figure we got the rail pass for free. One return trip on the shinkansen between Tokyo and Kyoto will pay for a 7 day pass so any other rail trips you can work in after that are a bonus. You’ll need to purchase a voucher before you leave home (we got ours from JTB Travel in Melbourne – they also sell tickets for the wonderful Ghibli Museum) then exchange the voucher for the JR pass when you arrive in Japan.

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You’ll be covered for free travel on most Japan Rail services. Seat reservations usually cost extra but JR Pass holders can make seat reservations for free at station service desks. You can’t use the premium shinkansen services with the pass, such as the Nozomi between Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka, but you can use the Hikari shinkansen which is just  a little bit slower.

Trains to/from Narita airport

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Jetstar lands at Narita rather than the closer airport at Haneda. If you’re travelling on a rail pass that will cover you for the JR N’EX Narita Express. It takes over an hour to reach Tokyo where most trains split and some cars continue to Shibuya and Shinjuku. Count on up to 90 minutes from the airport to Shibuya/Shinjuku. All seats on the N’EX are reserved, free with a JR pass. You can exchange your voucher and get seat reservations organised at the JR office at Narita Airport.

If you don’t have a rail pass, the privately run Keisei Skyliner is faster, cheaper and more frequent than JR from Narita. It takes just 36 minutes to the Keisei terminal at Ueno. You can transfer to the JR lines at Nippori, but it’s not much fun getting on a rush hour Tokyo commuter train with luggage (ask me how I know) so if you’re heading for somewhere like Shinjuku or Shibuya you might want to take the N’EX.

Hyperdia

Hyperdia is a free web site that allows you to search for any JR or private train in Japan. The iOS/Android apps are by monthly subscription but we just used the free web version on a tablet.  Hyperdia is great for checking long distance train times, it tells you connection details (including platforms at major stations) and you can exclude the premium shinkansen services such as the Nozomi which you can’t use with a JR Pass.

It’s also great for when you need to make seat reservations. We used our tablet, pulled up the Hyperdia screen for the train we wanted to book and showed it to the ticket clerks at JR offices. Easy peasy.

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Luggage lockers

There are luggage lockers at all major stations. The ones at Tokyo took Y1000 notes but some only take coins. At a huge station like Tokyo there are thousands of lockers scattered all over the station. We took a photo of the lockers and also of one of the nearby “You are here” station maps. I’m not sure we would ever have found our locker again without the photo.

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Money

Credit cards are becoming more common but it’s surprising how many places still only take cash. We also had problems with some businesses that couldn’t process a debit card so you’ll need to have some money or be able to get some.

A lot of ATMs wouldn’t accept our ATM cards from home but we discovered that the ATMs at Seven Eleven stores not only take foreign issued cards but also have an English display. There are Seven Eleven stores everywhere all over Japan.

Google Translate

We also loaded Google Translate on the tablet. You can load a language dictionary so that it will work when you’re offline, although I’m not sure how helpful it is. When Wayne got a blister we tried to ask for help at a chemist shop but nobody understood anything that Google came up with – not even the word “blister”.

Maps

As Steph wrote in her blog post, we loaded the offline maps for the CityPro app for Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka but the Japanese ones are a bit tricky to use. You can usually find large neighbourhood maps near major road intersections and train stations in Japan but don’t assume that the top of the map is north. Japanese maps seem to be oriented in the direction you’re looking, so north might be at the bottom or the side.

If you’re looking for a shop or restaurant, always try to get a screen shot of the little maps that seem to be on every business web site. Apart from major roads, most streets in Tokyo don’t have names and it’s all but impossible to find anywhere in Tokyo just by the address. Even Japanese people have to ask for directions so if you have a map and you’re in roughly the right area, show it to the staff at convenience stores who will try to point you in the right direction. In Kyoto, most streets are named and addresses describe the nearest main intersection.

North/south or east/west?

In Kyoto, the signals at crosswalks make the sound of a cuckoo’s call if you’re crossing north/south and the sound of an owl if you’re crossing east/west. This may be helpful, but it is certainly delightful.

Loft

For day 8 of #blogjune – our meeting place in Tokyo

We loved this beautiful musical kinetic sculpture at the Shibuya branch of Loft, in fact in became our regular meeting place.

Loft is a Japanese lifestyle store with things like stationery, crafts, homeware, bags, travel goods and things you didn’t realise that you needed until you see them. Some stores are better than others and the Shibuya branch in Tokyo is probably the best, although the new one co-located with the Muji flagship store in Yurakucho, Tokyo is pretty good too. Put it on your shopping list if you’re planning on visiting Japan.

T’s Tan Tan – vegan ramen in Tokyo

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Day 5 of #blogjune – in which we stumble upon vegan ramen at Tokyo Station

Before our trip to Japan I’d read that ramen chain Chabuton has a vegetarian ramen and gyoza option which sounded pretty good. They have a Tokyo branch at funky Shimo-kitazawa, but we didn’t make it out that way on this trip. It can be tricky finding vegetarian food in Tokyo but then we stumbled upon a great vegan ramen restaurant inside, of all places, Tokyo station.

T’s Tan Tan Ramen is inside the ticket barriers at the station so you’ll need to be travelling through Tokyo to have a meal here, but we managed to do that four times during our trip! It’s open from breakfast right through to 11.00 pm.

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We went there the first night on our way back to Shibuya after a day at Tokyo Disneyland. We took the Keiyo line from Tokyo out to Disneyland and T’s Tan Tan is located in the “shopping street” that leads to the Keiyo line platforms so we found it almost by accident.

That first night we had the “Smile Curry”. On our other visits we tried various ramen dishes, some traditional Japanese style and others in a more spicy “dan dan” style. There are seven or eight ramen dishes costing about Y750 to Y900 (so under A$10) and as a lunch set you can add a small curry for an extra Y300 – we did that once and I couldn’t finish it. They even take credit cards.

How to find it!

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The Keiyo shopping street is near the Yaesu side south exit of Tokyo Station on the first floor. Just follow the station signs to the Keiyo line trains and look out for an information office where the “Keiyo Street” begins. Continue heading towards the trains and just when it looks like there aren’t any more shops, look to your right and there it is! Look for the sign “T’s たんたん”.

Because it’s located inside the station you’ll need a JR train ticket to get in but if you’re travelling from one part of Tokyo to another by JR you can just go via Tokyo for a delicious quick and cheap meal and then continue on your way. Of course, if you have a JR Rail Pass you won’t have any problems!