Japan

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Japan- The land of the rising sun .

Tokyo

This is a country I have visited many times but it still intrigues and amazes every time.
This trip includes places I haven’t visited in the past , Kyoto , Osaka , Kobe and Nara .

On arrival you get a warm feel with everything running in perfect motion. People are most accommodating, one such story where a lady helped out to two stranded tourists in the middle of tokyo station navigating us to our hotel. No compensation , no scam , someone willing to help .

Our First day in Tokyo, must see the Tsukiji fish market , the largest fish market in the world . The fresh fish sold here , can be served fresh in London or New York within 24 hours .Side streets sell an array of fresh fresh that makes a brilliant meal and the best value lunch to be had in Tokyo . Fresh sashimi at its best ! Also many street vendors selling spices and souvenirs at attractive prices compared to midtown pricing .

After lunch , take the subway to visit the Imperial Palace and the surrounding gardens , well kept and managed . A small museum in the East Gardens of the Palace , worth a visit and all areas are free to the public . A short walk away is a photo op , outside the imperial Palace , home of the Japanese Royal family , see photos page .

A major landmark site is the controversial shrine is the Shinto shrine ,we visited during the afternoon , absolutely jammed with tourists both local and foreigners , some foreigners who I was surprised to be visiting this shrine and buying many trinkets at the malls around the temple .

Ginza , the upmarket and yuppy area , the usual Main Street stores as well as the local brands available . Roponngi Hills also a great area for shopping as well as getting a bite to eat , or just watch the city buzz .

Tokyo has improved so much in the past 10 years since my last trip ,prices are more acceptable ( but still probably most expensive city is Tokyo , in our world trip ) .

Tokyo offers the most Michelin star restaurants outside Europe, however been on a backpacker budget , this is outside our budget. Best strategy is to walk down side streets and you will find a small family run noodle shop , or a sushi counter or ramen shop . Prices are very reasonable with the food prepared with great care and attention.

Tokyo is a city where you will never go short of food , drink and warm hospitality .

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Costa Rica

We left Sau Paulo on Copa Airlines landing in San Jose the capital city of Costa Rica. There is a real Carribeen feel to the place with a strong American influence as seen by the many fast food joints that line the streets.

This land is fertile and with a tropical climate makes it ideal conditions for crop growing. One of its principle exports being coffee and until recently was its number one export.
Introduced from Ethiopia, large swathes of land were cleared to enable planting of this valuable commodity which supported generations of Costa Ricans.
Coffee plantations streak the landscape with there structured terracing with only the workers cabins offering further evidence of a settlement. Goods are exported to their neighbours by means of trucks which drive as far as Mexico delivering anything from fresh goods , coffee to Micro Chips. ( Costa Rica is one of the worlds largest producer)

Tourism makes up a large portion of their GDP and CR stands as the most visited nation in Central America. It’s also very expensive ! Especially everyday essential items make it a struggle for locals. An average meal out would set you back 25$ per person.

This land is rich in natural beauty , secluded beaches, immense tracks of jungle interspersed with high mountain ranges. With such a tropical climate expect diverse collection of Dendrobates, Reptiles ,Arachnids and Invertebrates. That’s spiders , snakes , frogs all things that can kill you In an instant.

Top sights to see include the Poas Volcano Crater, Arenal Volcano, Jaco Beach and Rincon de la Vieja mountain range.

We’re heading back to Asia , 36 hours in transit is the longest on this trip so far….

That’s all for now folks…….

Cue music …..

Sent from my iPad

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Buenos Aires

Evita

Buenos Aires

Exiting Sau Paulo with the country’s array of incarceration facilities dotting our Airport exit lane way , we were unlucky to spent our time in São Paulo with miserable weather conditions .

We both looked ahead too Argentina. This is a vast open space stretching all the way to Terra de Frago , with the magnificent Andes providing a natural border with its neighbours.

Mill house Hostel on Plaza de Mayo was a real hostel in terms of atmosphere with lots of activities on offer from daily guided walks to free Tango lessons . Its also evidentially very popular with Irish backpackers, where 20 to 30 fellow Irish stayed during our stay .(where’s the recession !)

The only drawback is the atrium style accommodation was the noise reverberates around at nighttime , which means no sleep! On our last night a couple decided to wake the entire hostel with a full bloodied mud slinging contest. The threat of police eventually put them to bed and us to sleep .

Buenos Aires is truly a buzzing city , it’s of course Latin and very Spanish in style as well in ways , everything is slow as in service etc. They rely on tourism , however what we saw most tourism is from two sectors ,business sector and Backpackers .Remnants of the financial crisis can be seen around the city . There are two rates on the US dollar , official which is 5.5 ( atms and banks) or the underground which is 8 plus ,needless we did pay 8 and made sure we got deals.
One has to be sure though where to exchange your dollars ,as there are many fake pesos , we tended to use places we knew .

Food , Argentinian beef is famous and restaurants are plenty , many recommendations , suggest always have a big lunch and long walk afterwards and maybe a glass of ferna blanca wouldn’t go astray . They are too many choices to recommend , some though middle range are bar badda ,Casa Cruz ,and Plaza Asturias .Note always have cash handy as some places , don’t take credit cards and you may end up flipping a coin who has to go to get cash .

Their are many sights and tours to do in and outside Buenos aires , from Tango to Vineyard tours as well as seeing a local soccer game , which our hostel could arrange , local team that was playing home was San Lorenzo . Boca Juniors were not playing .
Do visit the resting place of Evita Peron at her family plot at Recoleta cemetery, suggest visiting on a Saturday as they also have an outdoor market in that area that is well worth browsing , local handicrafts etc.
Recoleta is a very upmarket area , worth visiting and there are many other attractions and museums to visit as well as shopping .

We by chance , passed by the Museo del Bicententario , just located at the end of Plaza de Mayo . This museum unfortunately is only in Spanish , however don,t let this affect you not making a visit . 200 years of the history of Argentina , with each period explained in detail via video and with artifacts and photos , pictures etc of who was in government or in power .
Artifacts of each era , such as Peronists ,Madres de plaza de Mayo to the Spanish in the late 1800 . The exhibition is set in a partially reclaimed Fort , from the 1800,s that took 20 years to reclaim ….well worth the visit .

Architecture in this city is stunning with a huge European feel and presence . They are some great bookstores , must visit El Atheneo !

Malbec wine , cannot visit Argentina without enjoying their national grape , we enjoyed this wine , with very favorable pricing . Fantastic grape !

Buenos Aires like many cities we have seen , have domestic issues ,always a topic of discussion with locals , it is evident to see at the National Congress Building , which has a permanent iron mesh curtain always ready for potential protesters , one can see its been there for years , so much aged graffiti , with gates so we can pass through easily but can be closed in seconds .

All in all , Buenos Aires is fantastic city , well worth it , definitely would go back . Too little time to explore, summer time would be better , and next time venture out of the city more .

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Update

It’s been a while since I’ve been online or in contact. All is well , as you have seen on previous blog from Noel about Sao Paulo , we are back on the road and are travelling adhoc around South and Central America .

Since my last post in Lisbon, we attended Robyn and Nicky’s wedding in Ericea, Portugul . This was one of the best set ups for a wedding I have experienced . Location alone was beautiful and service and party was brilliant . Just look at the photos of the location(photo section) . Beautiful fishing village , and the wedding was held at a winery with its own private chapel .

Post Lunch withMarie & Jenny Candy in Dublin was less stressful on the liver as the week in Portugal.

I then moved on to visit my good friends Maarten and Jennifer in Amsterdam ,with my brother Patrick we stayed at their beautiful house next to the Rijs museum , weather was great , we enjoyed a great weekend.

Maarten laid on a farewell BBQ all preparations arranged by Jennifer &her trusty assistants …. Thank you guys once again for having us at your home , see you in Tainan for the New Year.

Ireland was fantastic , no better place to be when the weather is good , record temperatures this year at home , originally we had planned just over 3 weeks at home but ended up over two months . Goodto catch up with old friends as well as spending time home with family . Great boat trips on the river Shannon with Edward and Patrick , visits to Mary and Alan and Adam and Keela at Greystones , and also attending my brother Michaels retirement party from the Gardai with his family in Dublin.

Bbqs at Chris and Maureen house were special , always a highlight to meet up with my old friends Chris ,Christy , Maureen and Frank who I know since I started work in the hospitality business , in the late eighties ! Time flies.

Lest not forget the turf cutting in Drumlosh ,under carful supervision of a delighted mother !

Next post will be on Buenos Aires .
Aidan
Below picture some of the Duffy,s Kate , Patrick ,James and Hanna …..on the river Shannon .
The Duffys

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Sau Paulo and Santo Papa.

Kittens , it’s been a while since we updated our travel blog, now that we’re on the road here’s the latest news.
We left for Madrid with no onward journey confirmed as flights to Sau Paulo were full ! In fact , there was no availability for the foreseeable future – our travel agent gave us little hope. Baffled as to why Brazil is such a popular spot with all the rioting you see daily on TV we posed the question to near and dear. Over coffee with Aunt Juliet did we discover “Santo Papa” and another million people were travelling to Rio for world youth day.! As many of you know we are both very religious so I prayed to St Bernard hoping our situation would improve . Well situation has improved ,I’m now the owner of a 200 lbs Saint Bernard called Beethoven, very handy when your snowed in and need a brandy .

We did eventually get out after waiting at the airport for six hours – last two seats on Tam Airlines 609. Sau Paulo is a vast sprawling city which is best seen by air in my view as the traffic is constantly grid locked. This is the business capital of Brazil with residents living in gated communities due to the high crime rate . Everywhere you see razor wire, electric gates and security guards, this is a way of life here which can be unnerving. Its ill advised to walk down side streets especially late at night with muggings by roaming gangs an issue. An interesting fact about SP is its got the largest Japanese population outside of Japan . Many Japanese took flight after the last war heading to far flung destinations bringing with them their customs . This has greatly enhanced SP reputation with second ,third and fourth generation Japanese enjoying the current boom. Top sights include the Teatro Muncipal, Jardim Botanico , Museum of Football and Avenida Paulista where our hotel was located. Sau Paulo can be seen in a few days and probably ranks low on our list of favourite destinations .

Next stop is Bueno Aires as “Santo Papa”put the brakes on Rio , no flights or accommodation. Your penance for reading this article is too walk/feed Beethoven three times a day.

 

Museum of Art -SP

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Gallipoli

Some facts …. The Gallipoli Campaign, also known as the Dardanelles Campaign or the Battle of Gallipoli or the Battle of Çanakkale took place on the Gallipoli peninsula in the Ottoman Empire between 25 April 1915 and 9 January 1916, during the First World War. A joint British and French operation was mounted to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (Istanbul) and secure a sea route to Russia. The attempt failed, with heavy casualties on both sides. The campaign was considered one of the greatest victories of the Turks and was reflected on as a major failure by the Allies.

Gallipoli is located about five hours by bus from Istanbul.

We trekked off at 6am on metro bus for this back breaking journey reaching our destination just in time for late lunch.This is a beautiful part of Turkey which witnessed one of the most tragic events in history . Staying a night at the Anzac hotel we were collected by our guide after breakfast to be shown the principle battle sites .First on the agenda was the main landing areas Anzac Cove, Cape Helles and later on in the campaign Suvla Bay. Hugging the coast we stopped off at Helles to be giving a detailed explanation by our guide Fadi.

It’s difficult to get a sense of how the Soldiers felt as they landed on relatively lightly defended coast. Their officers likely reassured them it would all be over shortly as the Ottoman Empire was in serious decline. While historians argue this to be one of Winston Churchill’s great blunders it seemed the only option available to him at the time as the Nordic seas were impassable due to German U-Boats. (Russia was a land locked ally) What’s unforgivable was the willingness to sacrifice large numbers of men drawn mainly from their vast empire.Indecision at critical times resulted in the allies suffering huge losses for little ground gained while the planners continued to fuel a failed campaign .( the Royal Dublin & Munster Fusiliers suffered 80 % casualties) What’s particular sobering is the age of the enlisted (average age 23) engraved on headstones which read the early part of the battle , there after, the dead were buried in mass graves.

Fadi showed us the Turkish memorial which is very impressive on an elevated area which was lost and retaken during the Suvla bay battle . This memorial receives up to 50,000 people at weekends with the Turkish flag and statue of Ataturk scanning the beaches below.

This part of Turkey is now at peace with thousands visiting to pay there respects to the fallen. A memorial with the inscription by Turkey’s first premier offers a lasting resting place too these brave men.

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Lisbon

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Portugal

Warmer climate is here to stay for a while . Lisbon is the famous Harbor (Belem) where Vasco de Gamma sailed from on his adventures around the world , the first explorer to sail an exhibition from Europe to India.

This city has two Unesco sites , must see , the Jeronimos Monastery , and close by , the Tower of Belem .
We were fortunate to get good advice on exploring this city from good friend Bertrand , who had spent a few years working here at a hotel just outside the city .

Bertrand was very detailed on how to get the best out of the few days we had here , Noel had returned to Ireland for a family gathering , so I was exploring the city for the long bank holiday week end . Continue reading

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France

Biarritz

Biarritz

We left sunny Barcelona early Friday , crossing the border into France with the Pyrenees in the distance. Overland via bus to Girona and then onto Perpignan , the bus trip was a nice way to travel ,although there is also an option to travel by train .Our journey took 4 hours including a lunch stopover in the old town of Girona , which is worth a day trip .
Nadia who we befriended on the trip , spent a week end there recently and recommends it , Nadia is traveling by working in Hotels for free accommodation and meals , she was off to Montpellier for 2 months staying at a chalet hotel with plans to do the trans Siberian express train later this year , both of us were envious of her travels . Continue reading

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Ola! I’m fluent in ola! -Espana

A long time ago , a wise man, lets call him the ” professor”, told me too learn a “wee bit ” of Spanish in view of our intended itinerary. That idea was duly ignored, resulting in us confusing the local severs to the point of near starvation. Alas , we survived ….

Landing from Turkey to the nation’s capital was something we both welcomed as it brought us closer to home .

Madrid offers you everything taking little in return . Cobblestone streets , tapas , great wines, markets, tavernas and the locals who bind it all together makes for an experience you will never forget . Immerse yourself,lose  your way, discover, this lady doesn’t disappoint . The simple pleasure of sitting on a side street cafe watching a smorgasbord of activity, tourists and locals warm the soul. Continue reading

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Bleeding Taxi Drivers

For those of you who work I’n this profession, turn away now,this is not going to be pleasant .

Since the invention of the wheel it seems taxi drivers are intent on ruining ones day plus slipping you closer to financial Ruin.

Some examples so far.

Thailand , drivers reassure you they know the address only to take you on a wild goose chase where you end up in city traffic for the day. Your having an epileptic
fit their the picture of calm and serenity. Taking additional precautions of having the hotel write down the address seems to give them the licence to discover areas of Thailand yet inhabited.

Jordan , the first item on the agenda was to avoid taxi drivers like the plague. This advice came from the hotel as they have reputation of ripping tourists off . We had two such experiences.
Continue reading

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