Another Taste of Japan

Posted in Travel on June 1st, 2013 by Bec

You’re right Megz, you are probably overdue an update. But as we’re so lazy and pictures tell the story better than our typing, you can have a short pictorial view of our recent holiday to rural southern Japan. All clicky if you want a slightly bigger view. Enjoy! We did!

We love visiting Japan. Maybe its the good company, the scenery, the food, the hospitality or just not having a clue about what’s being said around. Or perhaps it’s (f) all of the above!

There is always something different about every country you go to, but in Japan the food and customs are so different to how we live, and so different to all the European spots we’ve passed through. We are lucky that we have our own tour guide (thanks Jo), who takes care of most things for us, but also explains what is going on around us and more importantly what I am about to order and whether I’m likely to like it!

So what did we do there for just over two weeks? We got some rest, spent time with family, ate lovely home cooked food and lunched out a lot (nom nom nom), visited some local sites (some of which we had seen before but were happy to go again), including, an amazing private garden maintained by an 80+ year old, 500(?) Buddhas (twice), a Samurai town and house, the Beppu aquarium again, a Samurai cemetery, the local Usa shrine, tea fields, and the umbrella factory. A bit further afield we visited the caves and stone fields in Akiyoshidai which were pretty impressive and on the way we stopped to eat some fresh sushi at the fish market and look at the impressive bridge we had to cross to get there.

Oh and of course there were a few visits to the 100 yen shop to stock up on cheap things that we needed (but most of the stuff we bought probably does not fit into that category). And I was allowed to do some serious bowl shopping this time, as we had lots of room in our luggage. So I might have overdone it, but the Japanese do make lovely, slightly different bowls.

What was the highlight of the trip for me? I’m still somewhat undecided. The food was up there, but I think that perhaps it was just being able to go, and realise that you can still travel internationally even with a little one in tow. It’s different travel, and takes much more planning but its still just as enjoyable!

On to the pics!…

















And another big round of thanks to the Tomooka family for a really nice, relaxed time. Again!

Playing tourists

Posted in London, Travel on November 23rd, 2010 by Coffee

We took some time out of our busy schedule the other day to do a bit of sightseeing. St Paul’s Cathedral, to be exact.

Yes, we did live here for over 10 years, and yes, we have sat outside during that time while we’ve waited for guests of ours to make their way back out, but this was our first visit. The difference this time? Free tickets! Always a good reason to go!

And we were suitably impressed. As you can’t help but be. Although for the next 2 days my calves were feeling the effects of clambering up all the stairs to the very top. I’m glad it was in 3 stages. All in one go might have been just a bit much.

Would I pay? Hmmm. Maybe. I think its probably worth it, you know… to erm, pay to walk up all those stairs and to take in the lovely architecture! It really is quite impressive and quite tall. And the whispering gallery actually works. I even had a smile when Bec made me participate in the whispering just so she could say we had done it. And the views from midway and the top were good too… So all in all pretty good, I guess!

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more the tourist here, though!

I can haz chillies for breakfast?! Really!?

Posted in Travel on July 27th, 2010 by Coffee

(Long overdue catch-up entry no. 3)

For a first step in learning how to relax again since finishing up work and leaving London, we managed to convince Michael and Megan to ditch their kids for a week and come on a week long break in Mexico. It was really hard work to convince them. We kept having to say things like “are you sure you don’t want to go somewhere else where we can take the kids?”, but their replies indicated that that really wasn’t the preferred option! So we booked in for an all-inclusive poolside week in tourist town, and passed through Houston to pick them up on the way to Texas.

It felt weird leaving the heat of Houston to go to a cooler place for a beach holiday. Something about that took just a little bit of getting the head around until the first time that we were slouching around by the pool and it was pretty much the perfect temperature. (Houston didn’t get that comfortable poolside until late afternoon.)

We managed to settle into a routine pretty quickly:

  1. Get up.
  2. Breakfast.
  3. (optional) an after breakfast walk along the beach to work off some of the food we’d just eaten…
  4. Back to the room to get prepared for the morning by the pool.
  5. Morning lounging by the pool, trying to put off the first drink of the day…
  6. Lunch at the buffet.
  7. Afternoon by the pool, spending time trying to catch the eye of the drinks waiters…
  8. Back to the room to get prepared for the night…
  9. Pre-dinner drink at one of the bars.
  10. Dinner at one of the restaurants.
  11. After-dinner drinks at one of the bars.
  12. (optional) Post-after-dinner drink/snack at one of our rooms.
  13. Sleep. Repeat.

From memory I think the only days we deviated from that pattern was 1) took up the invite to a wine tasting with one of the managers of the hotel at the rooftop bar, and 2) when we (shock horror!) left the hotel grounds into the local town for a look. The wine tasting was great. Later afternoon on the rooftop, 4 wines, all matched to surprise plates of some really nice food. Yum! Almost didn’t need dinner that night. Almost! We still managed it, of course! The trip into the local town was interesting, but still didn’t feel like it was the real Mexico somehow. But that’s what you get when you get lots and lots and lots of tourists in one area!

One of the highlights of the week was the ability to have chillies on my breakfast. Yum, yum, yum!! While not being the “real” Mexico, we still had access to some Mexican food in the restaurants at all stages of the day. I wouldn’t want to even guess at what some of it was called, but it was all pretty good!

Then just when we were really getting into the swing of the daily routine, it was back to the heat of Houston. Stay tuned!…

A Yorker of a Staycation!

Posted in Travel on July 21st, 2010 by Bec

(Long overdue catchup entry No. 2)

Hot on the heels of an overseas trip, we thought it only fair that we went somewhere local the following weekend. We’d been told by everyone that York was a great place to visit, and in all our time in the UK we had not managed to quite make it there. So York it was!

After an early start to catch our 7am train we were pleased to see that this time we had well and truly managed to pick a weekend with some decent weather! More than decent really. Almost too hot!

First thing we did was to try to get our bearings in the town. What better way than to look out from the top of the Minster tower. All you have to do to get this view is to climb the 275 very narrow and windy steps to the top (paying for the privilege of giving yourself a heart attack as well, of course!) And let’s face it, it’s not as if you can run up as it is a very narrow spiral staircase. On a fantastic day like we had, well worth the effort though!

Then a visit to the National Railway Museum. This is a great museum with lots of old trains and historical information. It’s amazing to notice that trains haven’t really changed that much, perhaps just the layout of the passenger cars, and OK the technology part. But they are still pretty massive and to me they really do look quite similar, but nowadays just look a lot slicker and don’t have coal to keep them going. Standing at ground level beside some of the engines and carriages gives you a sense of just how large they are. When things just pull up at a platform you never really get to see the real size. Impressive.

After a leisurely brunch on Sunday we had a walk around the city walls. This was a great way to keep up our normal theme of ‘walk, walk and walk some more’ whilst on holiday. You’d think by now all this holiday walking would make us pretty trim. But lets just say those results are yet to be seen. Anyway the walls are quite impressive and the walk was all the more enjoyable in the lovely weather, but at times the sun became a bit unbearable so we would stop for a break out of the sun to try and catch our breath for a bit.

Then late afternoon we jumped back on a train to London, and in true UK style the train was hit by delays on the way. Didn’t bother us too much as we had no where to be.

Another nice weekend away and a great UK place to visit which I would recommend stopping by if you haven’t already.

A (last?) European City-Break (for a while anyway)

Posted in Travel on July 19th, 2010 by Bec

(Long overdue catchup entry No. 1)

We’ve always had a great time in Switzerland, so we thought we’d have one more weekend there a, ummmmm, number of weeks ago. Zurich was the choice this time as it’s easy to get to from London City airport and flying from there is just a bit like going to the shops really. You’re in and out just like that with nothing like the queuing issues and general hassle of any of the other London airports.

Last time we passed through Zurich it was about -5C, snow on the ground, howling wind, and we ended up sitting on a random tram as it went up and down the line just to get our feet warmed up a bit. We hoped that going at this time of year we’d actually get to see a bit more of the city and environs.

We managed to miss the snow, but we did seem to time it right to hit all the rain!

But that didn’t phase us much we managed to walk around the city a bit and take in a couple of sites. We took a train up to the top of the hill to take in the view, but guess what? Just as we got to the top of the hill, it chucked it down and you couldn’t see a thing. So we wisely just got back on the train and tootled back down again. Then a quick visit to the toy museum, which was very small but the very old doll houses and clockwork train and steam engines were actually quite cool.

And just like normal we walked and walked and walked around the town to see what was about, and took in a couple of gardens on the way…

On Sunday we decided to hop on a train and head out to Lucern, where we’d stayed for Christmas about 8 or 9 years ago when we toured through the whole country. And it was extra cool as we got to take the double decker train – I had forgotten about them so it was a bit of a surprise. Lucerne, was still pretty much as we remembered it, except we could remember sitting on the toilet in the hotel and having a marvellous view of the alps all around. This time we got about 2 glimpses of the alps though the very low rain clouds. Oh well. We’ve got the old photos somewhere, I’m sure!

It was a nice break away, it’s just a pity the sun didn’t come out so we could take in some views. Oh well maybe next time!


Posted in Geeky Tech Stuff, Travel on May 5th, 2010 by Coffee

Following on from the enigma of the last post, another enigma…

Enigma Machine

This one is a slightly different beast!

We took a trip up north a bit the other weekend to collect the last of the belongings that we’d had stored up in “Kiwi Corner”, and to take the chance to catch up with a few other friends in Milton Keynes. I managed to convince Bec that the only thing that almost passed for a tourist attraction there is Bletchley Park, home to the WWII code breaking effort. Well, unless you’re some sort of roundabout freak, or something….

The story of what went on there has somehow made it into my head over the years, and was brought to life especially in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, so it has been a place I’d long wanted to visit.

The park itself was an interesting mix of old mansion and coach houses etc., with barrack type sheds and all sorts of other temporary (at the time) building shoved all over the place. As they were obviously so temporary some have started to feel the ravages on time, but recently with the help of some extra funding a good amount of restoration has started, with the most historically important sheds naturally being done first. The grounds themselves look like there hasn’t ever been too long between visits from a gardener and would have been a great place for a picnic. If we’d had any food. Or it was close to a meal-time. Which we didn’t and it wasn’t. But we had a nice stroll around anyway.

As well as the buildings and grounds, there was the main event. Various displays of both old and newly rebuilt code breaking and decoding equipment, along with various displays relating to the war period. Some obvious highlights such as the Turing bombe rebuild project, and the Enigma machines themselves.

It’s still pretty mind-blowing to think of the thought and ingenuity involved in all of this. And, of course, this was pretty much where the beginnings of modern computing, erm, began!

Which means it was no surprise to find that The National Museum of Computing is situated in a few buildings on the edge of the park. There has obviously been a bit more cash (or at least a bit more cash per square metre) for this bit. Not surprising really given the subject matter. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been too hard to squeeze a wodge of cash out of Microsoft or IBM or similar to get a wall painted now and then…

It was really fun to see all the old computers I first started out using at home and at friends places. Here’s the second computer I really used, and the first one I/we owned.

I still say a huge silent thank you to Mum for buying it whenever I see one, as without the Spectrum at home I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t’ be doing what I’m doing now. So here’s a slightly less silent thank you: Thanks Mum!

All in all it was a really interesting place to wander around, and I’m really glad I got to see it. I just hope they manage to secure a bit more funding so they can perhaps find a way to tell the story of the place in a slightly more integrated way than it felt at the moment. But as you get a yearly pass with your ticket, if we’re ever passing though Milton Keynes again in the next year I’d consider another visit to see if I could spot things we no doubt missed. I might even consider taking a picnic too…

A Pizza in Pisa…

Posted in Travel on February 28th, 2010 by Coffee

Another weekend away in Italy last weekend. This time we nipped off to see what we thought of Florence and Pisa…

Again it was a weekend of walking, but Florence appeared to be a lot more compact than Rome so the walking did not hurt the legs as much (but they still hurt a bit), either that or we have just gotten used to it.  Florence has some very cool streets to walk around and it has a nice feeling to it. The pizza’s are pretty good too.  But for dinner one night (when we didn’t have pizza) the chef had over done it on the garlic, so lets just say there we quite a few mints required the next day.

What we’ve realised now is that Italy really shuts down on Sundays! Like really shuts down! You’d think that there might be a tourist office open at least in Pisa, but no! Heaps and heaps and heaps of tacky souvenir stalls, but no info! But not many people around either, which was nice.

I think the highlight for me ended up being the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and I suspect that for Bec it was seeing the statue of David up close and personal.

Of course the picture we have posted is one of the two replica’s of the statue, as you are not allowed to take pictures of the real one.  This happened in Rome to when in the Sistine Chapel  – no photo! (though only in the chapel – pretty much everywhere else in the Vatican gallery it was fine)   How do we feel about that? Mixed feelings really I guess.  I get that they are not sure what the infra red light does to things, but I am also sure it is just so people have to buy a postcard or a souvenir of it! But the statue is quite impressive, and it did not disappoint. The detail is pretty fantastic. And the tower really does lean! I was expecting to be underwhelmed, but it was much more impressive than expected. Especially as I wasn’t expecting all the other buildings and square around the tower too.


Another random highlight for Bec was the dinky small electric buses that tootled around Florence. So cute!

Oh and the ice cream we had too was worth it, there’s something about Italian ice cream, it truly is probably the best in the world (well from the countries we’ve managed to sample from anyway).

When in Rome….. Walk!

Posted in Travel on February 6th, 2010 by Bec

January is normally a long, cold, dark horrible month here. So we normally try to do something to break it up a bit. This year we decided to go have a look at Rome for a couple of days. Not that Rome would be tropical, of course, but at least it’s not London!  I’d been before, but Mike hadn’t. In the end we couldn’t have had better winter weather for it, dry, crisp and sunny on day one and warm and cloudyish on day 2 – just as well with all the walking that we did.

Highlights of day one, would have to be the Vatican and Sistine chapel.  The Vatican is such a grand building and it even had a very large nativity scene in it with its own working water wheel!  But the Sistine chapel, always impresses me with the amount of paintings and art within the building.  It was funny this time as they were not letting you take pictures,  however, they are not so good at publicising this so we managed to get quite a few before we realised!   The rest of the day we pretty much just kept walking around and taking in all the tourist sites, including Spanish steps, Trevi fountain, Pantheon and I am sure there are more!

By the time we got back to our hotel and sat our weary bodies down it was very hard to get back up again and set off on yet another walk to find somewhere for dinner.  Eventually we ended up back where I wanted to go from the start, but only after doing a few circles around the local area. But it was a final choice of Japanese (yes I know its not very traditionally Italian) but it was fantastic (if you are ever looking for a good place to go when there and fancy Japanese, go to Taki)!  All that was left after a big meal was to sleep well and recoup for tomorrow. When we started walking again!


Day Two – pretty much started by heading as far away from our main point of interest for the day – The Coliseum, and then the train station.  But it allowed us to get some more exercise and take in a few other tourist sites.  But the Coliseum was worth a visit even after standing in a massive cue to get in.  It really is a massive structure that is still quite well preserved.  Oh and the pizza slice we had for lunch from what was probably more of a local shop than a tourist one was fan-bloody-tastic.  We were just gutted we couldn’t find another shop later in the afternoon before having to leave so we could have another piece, hungry or not (of course we didn’t need it)!

What’s my view of my second visit to Rome? The first time (about 8-9 years ago) I had absolutely loved it and it had become one of my favourite cities.  Now I’m a bit undecided I think… Parts of it did not have the same ‘wow’ factor as I remember the first time did.  However, I think the first time I went I really had not been anywhere else (or maybe anywhere for that matter) within Europe with such history or buildings.  But I got more and probably better pictures due to the quality of camera’s nowadays.


Google Earth paths of our 2 days walks are here: Day 1 walk, and Day 2 walk.

Homeward bound

Posted in Travel on December 13th, 2009 by Bec

OK, you got us. Yes, we’ve been quiet for a while because we were away on yet another holiday. Yes, I know it’s not been long since the previous one, but it is only the second (real) one of the year…

About once every 2 years or so we manage to make a trip home, and usually there is a wedding involved.  This time wasn’t any different. The trip was centred around a family wedding.  So we left the dark and cold of the UK for 3 weeks to take in some longer days, warmer days (mostly), lovely NZ scenery, great food and wine, PIES, fish and chips, and of course family hospitality! You just have to put up with some strange looks from some of the locals who aren’t quite sure where you fit into things any more.


The flights are always long and tedious as we prefer to get them over and done with in as short as time as possible.  The flight out was surprisingly easy and seemed nice and short (for it’s 27 hours) due to the fact that we both managed to get a lot of sleep on the first, longest leg.  It meant we both suffered from the least amount of vacantness after such a long flight we have ever experienced and pretty much managed to hit the ground running as soon as we landed.

Which was just as well, as with any trip home things get a little complicated and busy. The movements this time went Christchurch to Alex to Dunedin to Alex to Christchurch.  Not bad really. It could have been worse!

The weather was a very mixed bag and most of the time we were really lucky with it.  The wind, I never remember NZ having so much wind, but apparently November is a very windy month.  It followed us down the island, from Christchurch to Alex and Dunedin.  But on the wedding day, it couldn’t have been more perfect, great sunshine and no wind – just what you need for an outside wedding.


We took our time driving to Dunedin from Alex, and stopped off at some little rest areas on the way to take some pics and we took a look at Gabriel s Gully, something neither of us have done for years – next time we may even take some time to do some of the walks it has.  In Dunedin we managed to play the tourist for a bit with a visit to the butterfly house in the Dunedin museum, set in a tropical rain forest environment (boy is it hot in there) over 3 levels.  It’s definitely worth the visit. You get to walk amongst the different types of lovely coloured butterflies who are quite happy to land on you.  It also has a goldfish pond and some turtles too, and some quail running around… Something for everyone! I’ll warn you now though, taking photos of flying butterflies is not easy!


Next on the tourist trail in Dunners was the new addition – the Chinese garden. Nice enough, but a) it needs a bit more time to establish itself and look like a real garden, and b) we’re still really sure what the point of it really is, and c) it seems pretty pricey for what it is for just a single visit.


If we had to pick one to visit, it would be the butterflies!

We also managed to watch Kevin in action at the auction house and he kept us entertained for a bit, but I can’t help but wonder how confused all the attendees were about where all the nanotubes being mentioned were hanging out!


The wedding was really good. It was a good size, not too many people there, and we even managed to pick up suntans on the wedding day – boy was it hot!  It was great to catch up with family and people we had not seen for a while.  All in all a good time.


If the trip out was great, the flights back lived up to their usual standard. The trip was long and tedious and tedious and long…  The only good thing was we got to experience a Qantas A380 plane for the first time on one of the legs. The main differences are:

  • it seems a lot, lot quieter;
  • the TV screens are larger, widescreen models;
  • it has a very cool webcam on the tail of the plane that you can watch from all flight (including taxiing, take off and landing);
  • the moving map thing has been updated to be a lot clearer and cooler;
  • but the wall is further away from the window seats so it’s not as easy to use them to lean on to sleep.

But we made it back almost in one piece (each). But almost a week later and we’ve still not managed to get back to proper UK sleep patterns! Early morning waking, and early evening falling asleep on the couch are not quite what we’d like, thank you!

Finally! A holiday!

Posted in Food and Drink, Travel on November 7th, 2009 by Coffee


OK, enough grief already!  Here’s a new entry for you. Finally! And just for a change some of the pics are clicky for bigger versions…

The other week we had our first real holiday of the year. YAY! (And yes, for those of you that seem to think that we’re always on holiday, this really was our first real holiday of the year. Our only other trip was the long weekend in Morocco that doesn’t really count. Honest! Go back and have a look if you don’t believe me!)

Where did we go? We gatecrashed Rach and Rupert’s planned holiday to South Africa, making the most of a week off work by leaving on Friday night, and flying back on Monday morning straight to work. From the UK, South Africa is an easy place to visit as there’s no significant time difference, so the overnight out and back work really well. As long as you can sleep on a plane, and luckily we managed to get enough of that both ways.

It was a pretty busy time though, as you can imagine with such a short break.  Landing in Johannesburg we pretty much jumped straight on another plane and headed off north a bit to Kapama, a private game reserve on the edge of the Kruger national park, while the other kids drove off to visit friends. 2 nights there and then they picked us up on the way past and we headed to another smaller lodge nearby, Pondoro, for another couple of nights.

The daily timetable at both lodges was roughly the same. A very, very early wakeup call, early snack and coffee, a dawn/early morning game drive for a few hours, back for breakfast, a bit of rest time, lunch, a bit more rest, then high tea (yes more food) before the afternoon game drive for a few hours, dinner, then sleep, ready for the next day. A lot packed into a day! And if you arrived just before lunchtime, you just kind of slotted in with lunch and then the night drive etc…

What did we see? Well, luckily for me Pondoro issued us with a little list of possible sightings which I proceeded to tick off, as well as trying to remember what we’d already seen at Kapama. Here’s what it shows we saw of the larger animals:

  • Lions
  • Jackal (Pondoro only)
  • Baboons (Pondoro only)
  • Vervet Monkeys
  • Elephants
  • White Rhinos
  • Giraffes
  • African Buffalo (Kapama only)
  • Tree squirrel
  • Burchell’s Zebra
  • Waterbuck
  • Wildebeest/Gnu
  • Greater Kudu
  • Nyala (Kapama only)
  • Bushbuck (Pondoro only)
  • Wharthog
  • Impala
  • Common Duiker
  • Steenbok
  • Blue tailed scrub lizard

We also saw a huge number of different birds as well. Almost enough, and enough pretty ones, to understand the twitchers…

The only one of the big 5 we missed seeing was the Leopard, which apparently is the most difficult to find. We don’t feel particularly hard done by though. It’s just a potential reason to return one day!


Do we have a favourite lodge?  They were both quite different, Kapama is a fenced in reserve that caters for a lot of guests (60 rooms)… but you are pretty much guaranteed to see some animals I guess, just not sure what and when as although its fenced in it is still a vast space.  Pondoro is a lot smaller reserve with only 6 rooms, so the experience is a lot more intimate (they know your name and the staff hold down about 6 jobs i.e bar tender, tour guide, ranger etc) and the food is fantastic. The reserve itself is not fenced in so you can actually drive around for ages and not see anything.

So which one would I go to again, that’s a hard one… I am glad we spent time at both, they each have their own advantages, they both had fantastic service which you can’t really fault.  But if we had to go back I guess we would choose Pondoro though for the size… but then it would be a bit of a bummer if you went the whole time and saw no animals……but then that’s wild animals for you!


After those fun and interesting days, we said goodbye to the animals and headed south for something completely different.  A couple more hops in various aeroplanes later and we were at the other end of the country in Capetown. We had 2 nights there, eating, drinking and doing the hop on hop off tourist bus trail around town. There was an aquarium on the waterfront there, and I find it very hard to walk past an aquarium so I managed (with actually no effort at all) to convince everyone to go in for a wander. I’d give it a 7/10 on the aquarium, 8/10 if you factor in that it was just a couple of degrees cooler inside than in the sun outside!

And then another quick drive out to Franschhoek for a couple of days and nights of wine tasting, wine drinking, eating and sleeping.


We let Rupert pick the wineries, including a full day tasting session around Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, which started at 9.00am (a lot of spitting was required), and he did a pretty good job!  It was just the 4 of us being driven around in a van by a local wine tour guide who knew so much (he was really great).  The wineries I recall are:

  • Rupert and Rothschild
  • Boekenhoutskloof
  • Kanoncop
  • Rustenburg
  • Delaire
  • Thelema
  • Muratie


We tried some great restaurants in Cape Town and Franschhoek, they were Fork, Tank (Cape Town), La Petite Ferme, Ruebens, and Tokara.

And then another short hop back to J’berg airport to jump onto yet another plane for the overnight flight back. Yes, I know, a lot of flying. We’ll plant a couple of trees or something in a few weeks to offset our carbon footprint.

As you can imagine there are far too many photos for us to wade through, argue over and then work out what to do with. Even more than usual this time as we had 2 cameras with us along with a heap of memory cards and were both busy snapping away merrily at anything that moved, along with some stuff that didn’t. When we finally agree on a few more that we like we’ll chuck them on another page for your viewing pleasure. Or we’ll bore you stupid with the whole set when we’re next with you sitting around a laptop or something. You have been warned!

But I leave you with this, a kind of ugly animal, but kinda cute in an odd way: