Golden Temple

Kinkakuji, Kyoto’s golden temple, is not just painted gold, but is actually covered in a thin layer of gold leaf. It’s located in the middle of a beautiful traditional Japanese garden and spending time here was one of the most peaceful experiences I had in Japan.

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2011: a year abroad

Now that 2011 is over we have been looking back on our first year spent without being in Canada. It’s been a crazy and wonderful year full of new and amazing experiences. While they have been troubling and stressful times, I mostly remember our amazing adventures. The stuff we have been posting on the blog is about 2 months behind our actual trip, due to spotty internet access and a little bit of laziness, but this is what we’ve been up too this year!

January:
After the New Year started we visited Kumamoto and Kyoto with my family, went to Kurokawa for Onsen, finally made it to one of Fukuoka’s most famous sites, Dazaifu, I went skiing in Hiroshima, and we enjoyed snow covered Japan, for a weeks weeks at least.
February:
In February I started this blog which has enabled me to remember all of the things I did this year and I’m so happy I did! We celebrated the Chinese new year with a trip to Nagasaki and I enjoyed a quick trip to Shimonoseki for some sushi.

March:
This month we discovered one of our favourite places in Japan, Yakushima. We also spent some time exploring Kagoshima and it’s volcanic island, Sakurajima and celebrated girls festival day in Yanagawa.April:
In April we spent a lot of time exploring Fukuoka and enjoying the various cherry blossom viewing festivals. I rode an electric bike through Kitakyushu, saw the retro town, Mojiko, and had a delicious burger on the island of Nokonoshima.

May:
We spent golden week and a half exploring China in Beijing and Datong, and at the end of the month went camping with our apartment mates in Miyazaki.June:
I took a train trip to the nearby Saga prefecture, biked over 7 bridges from Honshu to Shikoku,  where I went to the all important Anpanman museum and saw an old Canadian friend.

July:
We  celebrated Scott’s birthday in Yufuin, spent some time on the beautiful Iki island, off of Fukuoka’s coast, stayed up all night for Fukuoka’s Yamakasa festival, saw firebreathing dragons at Omuta’s Daijayama festival, and spent a lot of time saying goodbye to the country we now love so much.August:
One last Japanese hurrah in August took us to Tokyo, Hakone and Kamakura.  We experience snow in August for the first time in New Zealand, and spent the rest of the month being gloriously cold in a camper van.

September:
We spent 6 days of September in New Zealand and then we went to Australia. The majority of the month was spent in a campervan down the east coast of Australia.October:
In October we saw Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley and the Great Ocean road. Then we were off to Malaysia for two weeks, spending a few days in Kuala Lumpur and 8 days in the Perhentian islands getting SCUBA certified. We made it to Koh Lipe in Thailand just in time for a good Halloween party.

November:
The first half of November we were on Thailand’s beautiful Andaman coast. We spent a week on Koh Lanta, where we both suffered from a little bit food poisoning, I went to a yoga retreat on Koh Yao, and we had one uneventful night at the Bangkok airport before heading to Vietnam. We spent the last two weeks travelling with my parents in Northern and Central Vietnam.December:
We started decmeber off in Vietnam, but moved quickly to Cambodia for ten days, then 5 days spent in Chiang Mai Thailand, a few days in Bangkok, 9 in the Philippines, and  we ended the month and the year visiting friends in Southern Thailand.

It’s been an absolutely amazing year, the kind I’ve always dreamed of having, and I’m so sad to see it go, but I can’t wait for 2012!

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The Opera House

Another surreal travel moment: our first look at the Sydney Opera House. We spent most of our week in Sydney on the waterfront, admiring it. It is an incredibly beautiful building and we couldn’t get enough of it.

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New Zealand by the Numbers: a Wrap Up

Time: 25 days. 3 in Christchurch, 4 in Auckland, 2 in Wellington and 16 spent roaming in the campervan.
Vans rented: 2, Blackhole and Shenzou both from Spaceships, an excellent and cheap option.
Nights Slept in Vans: 19, 4 in commercial campsites and 15 in Department of Conservation sites.
Friends Visited: 1, we spent 4 days catching up with one of my camp friends in Auckland and it was wonderful.
Boat Rides: 3, we took a boat to see glowworms, a boat in fjordland, and a really expensive ferry between the two islands.
Flights: 1, from Auckland to Christchurch in their first snow storm in 15 years.
National Parks: 5
World Heritage Sites: 1
Best Food: After arriving from Japan, we enjoyed all the western food immensely, but our favourite were the cheap and abundant Fish and Chips, the chocolate bar Moro Gold, and, of course, the fresh and delicious Kiwi Fruit.

Worst Food: Not a big fan of Marmite.
Best City: We loved Wellington, with its charming waterside walks and excellent museums. It reminded us a lot of Ottawa, one of our favourite cities. A close second place goes to Wanaka where we enjoyed the beautiful scenery, the lake, a ridiculously dangerous children’s playground and the chill atmosphere.

Worst City: Queenstown. We felt it was overrun by tourists, which I know is a little hypocritical, and everything was way too expensive.

Best New Experience: Seeing all the natural wonders of New Zealand. It was amazing to drive through mountains and arrive at crystal clear lakes, boat through giant fjords, and come this close to touching a glacier.

What we learned: Thanks to some excellent museums, we learned a lot about glaciers, fjords, mountains and other natural wonders, as well as about native birds; like the crazy alpine parrot, the sadly disappearing kiwi bird and Maori customs and culture. I also learned that there are such terrifyingly large giant squids lurking in the ocean. We also picked up some excellant slang, like a handle of beer instead of a pint, that L&P is a delicious lemon fizzy drink and that ‘to go’ food is takeaway, not take out.
Travel Tip: If you’re camping, pick up a DOC camping guide. They won’t give them to you at your rental place, because they have deals with commercial campgrounds, but the DOC sites were cheaper, in more natural settings and more peaceful. Their only downside was that the maps and directions in the guide were a little vague and it was quite easy to get lost while looking for the sites, but that only added to the adventure. Also, don’t go camping in Wellington, make plans to sleep elsewhere, because the one campground is way too expensive.

Will we go back? Most definitely. We are already planning our lives as expats there.

 

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Nighttime at Luna

This creepy face marks the entrance to Luna Park, an amusement park in Sydney that has been there since the 1930’s. Unfortunately the park was ridiculously expensive, so we just walked around rather then take any rides.  Most of the rides were retrohilarious, including one which rotated so quickly that people stick to the wall in a circle. Crazy!

 

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