Sorry for the delay in my final blog. The next day I got up for breakfast but then had a lazy morning as a bit tired.

Headed out around lunchtime for the metro. Decided after all the zipping around the previous day to buy a day ticket. Got this and headed to the line but it wouldn’t accept my ticket. “This isn’t the metro”. Despite it looking awfully like the metro. So had to get another ticket.

Went to the Meiji shrine. The Emperor Meiji ruled around the same time as Queen Victoria and was the Emperor who modernised Japan culminating in winning a war against Russia and then annexing Korea.

At the shrine itself there was a couple taking their wedding vows. The bride wore a full white hood – a bit Obi Wan. I took a few sneaky photos – well there was no sign!

I then looked around the treasure museum. It had an imperial carriage and portraits of the Emperors. There was a man in there reverently bowing to the portraits.

I then headed off to the gardens. It wasn’t the right season for the irises or azaleas but the trees looked very pretty in their autumnal colours

I then headed back to the metro. This time I went the slightly longer way back so as to use my day ticket.

I headed to Ueno station and went to Kumagaya. What? Where? Never heard of it and nor had I. It was more a case of how. I was originally looking to take the bullet train to Kyoto but that still takes 2 hours and costs over £100. Kumagaya is the nearest place you can travel to and experience the full speed of the bullet train.

So the first twenty minutes consisted of mere cruising through the Tokyo suburbs. After that it started gaining speed until it was belting along at 240kmh.

Kumagaya itself was a pleasant enough town. It had a stream running through the middle and lights in the trees. It had also had some shops with interesting English names:

Moustache – a grocers/coffee shop
Daisy Farm – clothes
Perm Pam – sells wigs

I then headed back to Tokyo. While it took 30 minutes to get there it took an hour to get back via the local train.

I had dinner at a noodle bar. Some noodles with seaweed (they also give you a raw egg still in its shell but didn’t eat that). Still a bargain at a pound.

The next day got up and went to Ueno station to get cheaper and quicker train back to airport. Had a problem as wouldn’t accept my credit card and had had trouble getting money out of hole in the wall. Fortunately just had enough change but only 25p left for the airport.

At the airport my credit card worked fine so must have just been the railway machine. Watched 5 films on 12 hr flight back. Then long sleep.

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Somewhere over the rainbow

After buying the doll I headed back to the hotel for a bit.  After a rest I headed out again to the Odaiba district.  This is a reclaimed island in Tokyo harbour.

There was a fairly new metro line to get thee which was a bit more like the DLR in London.  The train proceeded along the waterfront until it reached the Rainbow Bridge (a bridge lit up in the colours of the Rainbow).  It looked like the train was too low but it did a massive 270 degree loop like a motorway slip road to get onto the bridge.

Once in Odaiba I got off at the first stop and walked along the waterfront taking photos of the bridge and of Tokyo.  The tall buildings all had had blinking red lights on the top to warn any helicopters.

Wandering further on I got to a shopping mall with a Xmas trip and a giant Transformer (the robot) outside.  Thee were lots of excited Japanese people with their cameras on tripods.  I waited and waited and nothing happened.  I thought if it suddenly does something like come alive and go on a rampage you might not want to stand so close.  Further along was a ferris wheel. 

I headed back about 11:30 and the subway was completely rammed with people in business attire.  While some of these may have been going for after work drinks I suspect most had been in work and were all rushing to get the last metro before it closes (at about midnight).

Right breakfast time before clatching my flight home.  Still one more post to write about yesterday (saturday)

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The Bride of Chucky

So I got up fairly early and decided to have a look at the hotel information booklet.  In most cases this consists of stuff about the hotel and the local area.  In this case it consisted of a very long set of rules that had to be followed or they could throw you out of the hotel.

These included a ban on irons and on sleeping drugs.  Also no hanging posters out the windows – as if I would do that 10 floors up.

After that they had a further list of things they merely requested you not to do.  This included not talking loudly, not having the TV on loudly and a request not to move about too much in the evenings.  Clearly they expect their guests to just sit looking at the wall for hours on end.

Adding in to the fact the room was a bit small, I was starting to think this was more like a prison camp than a hotel.  I went down for breakfast – no plates or bowls but plastic trays with compartments. Hmm.  They had scrambled egg and sausages and very thin soup [gruel]. They also had mini cutlery – not just teaspoons but teaforks and teaknives too.

After breakfast I wandered across the lobby and spotted a PC,  The good news it was free.  The bad news “Please refrain from using it long time. If you use it 20 min. over, we will speak to you”.  Ominous.

I headed out of the hotel and went round the corner where there was a group of shops with Xmas decorations and music which seemed a bit weird [only seen this one other place].First went to Ueno park which was in walking distance.  To one side they had some lakes with dead plants in [Lillies?] and another with Swan Boats.  They had a Buddhist Temple in the middle.

I wondered whether to take photos.  I reasoned that if I wasn’t allowed there would definitely be a sign, seeing as Japan is full of signs telling you what to do/not do.  As there wasn’t a sign I took photos.

I then went up the main part of the park to the museum.  This had various things – painting which I thought were a bit meh, but some nice lacquerware and samurai armour.  Some objects had signs saying not to take photos so again I reasoned it was OK to take photos of everything else.

I then went out and to Ueno Zoo next door.  There was a carousel next to the entrance blaring out Thomas the Tank Engine. The zoo was full of schoolkids.  The boys all wearing blazers or bellboy-type outfits without the hat in black or blue and the girls in blue skirts and jumpers.  Apart from the usual animals they had some Japanese species like flying foxes and flying squirrels.  They had some Condors which I felt a bit sad about having seen them soar over the Andes and these ones stuck in a little cage.

The park also had a Shinto shrine.  It helpfully had instructions about what to do:

Little bow, throw a coin in the box, 2 big bows, ring the bell, 2 handclaps, 2 big bows, 1 little bow, leave.  I think that is the right order.

I had lunch at a restaurant in the park.  It had an English menu and I went for Rice in Omelette with Hashed Beef.  This turned out to be rice covered with omelette and then next to it some beef casserole type thing.  It was nice.

I then walked back to the station.  I had written down the names of the metro stations for all the places I wanted to go.  I aksed for a map in English but couldn’t find any of the places.  I then realised that this was because this was a map of the train lines which go through the centre a bit like the RER in Paris and Crossrail when finished.  So I went to the metro station and then managed to match up some names.

I first went to Tsukiji fish market which is supposed to be a top attraction.  You can go and see the tuna auction at 6:30 am. At 4pm it was starting to wind down.  I did wander round but then thought what I am going to do with some fish anyway?

So back to metro and then headed off to the Sensoji Buddhist Temple.  Just got in as they closed it at 5pm.  Outside was a whole street of tat stalls.  Perfect!

Should add here that I had been given a task by my mother to buy a Japanese Doll to sit on the toilet cistern in the downstairs loo.  It had to be 6-8 inches tall, not made of china but could have a china face, be reasonably priced, not tat and most importantly of all match a sample of wallpaper,  I had been sent. As the meerkat says simples.

I had been getting a little concerned as down the Xmas street – no dolls, at the museum – no dolls, at the zoo – fluffy pandas but no dolls.

So for once I had to carefully peruse each and every tat stall rather than hurrying by.  I found  a promsing candidate but carried on and walked the whole length of stalls.  I then had to walk half of them again as I couldn’t find the stall again.

I’m not daft so I quickly phoned home – Mum, you can have this doll that mostly matches your requirements or this other doll with long hair that kind of looks like the thing from The Ring [I may not have actually couched it in these terms].  I think she chose wisely and hopefully it won’t distract male visitors to Casa Nelson too much.  I give it about a month before someone accidentally knocks it and it falls in the toilet though!



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After dark

So I got to the airport about an hour before the flight.  Plenty of time – no queue to check in and drop off the bag.  No security checks.  It was sad to say goodbye to Dave and Robyn and Little Man.  The flight over was very bumpy – kind of like the boat the other day.  You could almost feel the plane going up and down through the clouds.  Some of my drink jumped out of my cup and into my lap – fortunately it was only water.

Once I got to Auckland I picked up my case and got the Yellow Bus to my hotel.  After chilling for a little while I decided it was time to see a few of the sights of Auckland.  I got the local bus.  This bus didnt go to Auckland but stopped in a place called Onehunga.  A lady on the bus tried to tell the driver that I should have been allowed to buy a ticket to the centre as the bus was going there.  The driver got rather annoyed at this and there was a bit of  a barney.  The bus indeed terminated at Onehunga.  The driver said our next bus was across the road but as we [the lady and myself] sprinted over to catch it, it drove away.  That,s integrated transport for you!  So I got some crisps from Countdown [they don’t sell sandwiches either] and waited. Finally got the next bus and arrived on Queen Street.

I was surprised as if you look at where Auckland is, it is on an isthmus of land.  Therefore I expected it to be flat.   Instead Queen St lay in a valley between 2 hills and then became a hill itself at one end.  Up one of the hills was the Sky Tower – a very large tower that looks a little bit like the Seattle Space Needle.  I didn’t go in but next to it was Sky City which happened to have a casino. 

It was quite a strange casino as you didn’t have to register at all. There was a poker room but there were 4 people waiting.  Had a go at blackjack and lost 50 quid [afterwards realised that this was a slightly different game called Blackjack plus] which didn’t know the rules for].  Oh well still up from Macau.

Then walked all the way to the top of Queen St to K Road [it has a very long name]

It was too late to get the local bus back so got the airport bus.  Only person on it and wondered about asking driver to go to my hotel instead.  When got to the airport the Yellow bus was still running.

Got up about 5 hours later. Ug. First day flight.  Had an emergency exit row so extra leg room.  Unusual flight as virtually all over water.  Only goes near New Britain and over Iwo Jima.  watched Interns, a film set in Nelson and an Australian arty film which got bored with and fast forwarded.

Arrived at Narita and already night – kind of felt missed out on the daytime. Several transport options but decided no more buses!  Got Narita express – took an hour which surprised me as Japanese trains supposed to be fast.  Think airport is not very central at all.  Then got local train to Okachimachi.  Got out the station and couldn’t match up where I was with the map but realised there were several Okachimachi stations.  Had a little walk but got to hotel.  Decided pretty much to go to bed straightaway.

Woke up in the night to go to the loo and then shortly after back in bed, it started shaking for about 10 seconds.  Checked it out in the morning and there was an earthquake at 5.0 magnitude.

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Walking in Deutschland

The next day Dave and Robyn were in work so I decided to hire a car.  I got the car from a place near Robyn’s work.  It was 60 dollars for a day (about 30 quid) which was quite reasonable.  Most cars in New Zealand are automatics but they had actually had a manual.  Hurrah!  Got a Suburu Galaxy.  It was quite easy to drive being a manual and as they drive on the left side of the road here.  The only thing is they have the two sticks the opposite way round so every time I went to indicate I turned the wipers on instead.

As it was raining I went into Nelson and had a potter round the shops.  I then tried to walk down to the port but that was quite hard to get to by foot.  Walked back up and had a hot chocolate.

It was still drizzling slightly but decided to head on anyway.  Drove to the Abel Tasman national park.  Stopped off at Warehouse in Motueka to get supplies.  Warehouse is a supermarket style store although mainly focuses on stuff for the house and garden.  They did have some food but nothing fresh (had been hoping to get sandwiches).

Turned off the main road and up a hilly and windy road before descending into Marahau. Here you are able to get a boat round the coast and then walk back.  Arrived at 1pm and next boat at 1:30pm.

On the boat out there were 7 Germans and me.  It was pretty rough – had to remind myself that I don’t get seasick. Fortunately no else did either despite the big thuds as the boat hit the bottom of the waves.  Firstly went around to look at split apple rock –  a rock that looks like an apple split in half.

Then headed over to Adele island. The NZ government have been looking to boost bird life and have eradicated rats, possums and stoats on this island.  They tried to reintroduce rare Kiwi on this island.  They initially did well but were then losing weight so they took them off again except for one Kiwi which lost its tag and may still be there.

We then headed over to a bay called Anchorage but just before we got there saw a pod of bottlenose dolphins.  All the Germans crowded to the back of the boat with their SLRs and when I finally got to take a shot I got low battery on my camera 😦  I don’t think the one shot I got off actually had any dolphins in at all.  After we left the boat I suddenly remembered the camera on my phone.  Grr.

The boat put us ashore on a beautiful sandy bay.  They had a little hut where people could stay for a night if they were walking the whole path through the park.  I decided to steal a march on the Germans who were busy looking for sunloungers, I mean taking photos.  My reasoning was that if I had any bother then the Germans wouldn’t be too far behind.

So I set off.  It was a 12km walk back to Marahau which was supposed to take 4 hours.  I thought I can do this fine and in less than 4 hours.  As we started at the seashore, the first section was a steep climb up.  I passed several other groups of (German) hikers as the trail; was quite popular.

At the top of the hill, I decided it was time to crack open my secret weapon.  Yes, the other walkers may have had proper footwear and walking poles and those plastic tubes out of their rucksacks for sucking up water but I had something they didn’t.  Hobnobs!  And 1.5 litres of orange Fanta.

After the big hill, the walk was more or less flat as it followed the line of the hill around the coast.  There were bridges over little waterfalls, verdant vegetation and the occasional glimpse of the sea far below.  I passed an elderly German couple and a young German couple with a baby. Then a couple of young Kiwi guys.  After a while the latter 2 re-overtook as I stopped to take a photo.  I thought that this might be a bit of a challenge.

I carried on at a brisk pace and later re-overtook the same 2 guys as they stopped for water (a poor man’s Fanta if ever there was one).  I then made sure I stayed ahead, making only the briefest of photo stops and made it first back to Marahau. 2hrs and 45 mins.  Not bad for a 4hr walk.

I must admit I was feeling a little stiff by this point and had about a 45 minute drive back to Dave and Robyn’s.  Robyn then came with me to take the car back.  We had roast chicken for dinner.

I must admit I didn’t sleep the best due to a spot of toothache and then got woken up at 7:30am by little man running past.  We had to call the AA again due to another spot of car trouble but got going and went to visit a historic house in Nelson.  We then had a pub lunch in Richmond.

Off to the airport shortly for my flight to Auckland.

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Breakdown in Kaikoura

From the top of the gondola we could see clear skies over central Christchurch but slightly to the right there was thick cloud over the seaside where we were going next.

As we headed downhill from the gondola car park we got to sea level and were encompassed by a thick fog. We passed the suburb of Bexley which was in the red zone and seemed to be largely abandoned like a ghost town.   We then crossed the river and headed into New Brighton, a slightly down-at-heel seaside resort.  We got fish and chips and headed to the pier.  The fog was still very thick as we walked along the pier and it felt a bit like a post-nuclear winter.  It did have a playground which Aidan very much enjoyed.

We then headed up to the Groynes which was a park near our holiday park.  It was quite pleasant and there was another exciting playground for the little man.  We then had a BBQ at the holiday park.

The next day we got up and headed north.  We drove across the plains and then into some thickly wooded hills.  It seems to be a much more temperate climate here with pine trees.  We then reached the coast again, fiercesome and rocky and the town of Kaikoura.  This town is well known as a place to watch whales but we didn’t have time for this.

We had a short stretch and got back in the car but it wouldn’t start (the key wouldn’t turn).  Had to call the AA out who eventually managed to get it started by basically hot-wiring the car.  We then headed a few miles up the coast to where a seal colony lived.  Dave and I were able to walk down the slope and were able to get quite close to the seals.  Got some good photos.

We then headed up over more hills and reached Blenheim which is the main centre of the NZ wine industry.  We stopped off and went to a park which was very nicely laid out and Aidan went in the playground.  He is a very brave boy and isn’t just content with the little kids playground.  Dave helped him climb up the highest slide used by the big kids and he loved it.

Afterwards we headed back to Richmond over some more hills.  Had stirfry for dinner.

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Into the red zone

So after another fairly early start we left the Greymouth campsite

First stop was Luke Brunner.  Had a pleasant walk alongside the river feeding the lake.  Then stopped at the railway station cafe.  The famous transalpine railway runs from Christchurch to Greymouth.  We were doing the same route by car.

Next we climbed up over Arthur’s pass.  A very steep road up and the car struggled a bit with 4 in the car and luggage.  Couple of viewpoints with spectacular scenery.  At one stop a friendly kia (bird) came and perched on the wing mirror.

Over Arthur’s pass we started the journey down again.  Stuck behind 2 slow lorries for a while but eventually overtook them.  Another stop at Castle Hill.  Supposed to be some famous rocks to look at but didn’t bother.  Finally out of the wholes and on to the Canterbury plains.  Very flat with long straight roads.  Staying for 2 nights at the Johns campsite (fomerly Groynes campsite) on edge of Christchurch.  Can’t think why they changed the name.

Went over to Robyn’s brother Chris’s house for the evening.  Had pizza.  Their house was on reasonably solid ground but still had to have extensive repairs following the 2010-2011 earthquakes.  They were saying that now have to specify cost of total repair of the house in insurance documents and insurance has gone up.  The city plan we had shows the red zone areas that were most affected by the earthquake.  This includes the city centre and suburbs near the river where the ground liquefied.

The next day we got up and headed into central Ch’ch (the local abbreviation).  A few years on it is still mostly a scene of devestation.  There are many empty lots where buildings once stood and other buildings that stood but were fenced off.  This included some pretty large office blocks.  Not sure whether these were damaged and needed repair, condemned but not demolished or safe but not in use due to the wider damage in the zone.

We walked through the centre (past the damaged Cathedral), walked along the river and then headed back to the centre.  The centre had a mall called re:start – this consisted of shops with a difference.  each shop had been made from 2 shipping containers with spaces cut out for doors and display windows.  There is still a great deal to do and some people say the City may not be fixed up until 2020.  Some people were living at the holiday park we were staying at since the earthquake, while others like Robyn’s friend had headed to other parts of NZ like Nelson and weren’t intending to come back.

We next headed out of the city and took a gondola ride up into the hills on the banks peninsula.  This had good views towards the city and also looking down the other side.  There is an almost perfect caldera inlet of the sea (slightly ruined by the modern port) showing the former volcanic activity in the area.

At the gondola there was a cart ride through the history of Canterbury which was a bit amusing.  It got to the end with a section on famous people from canterbury and I was going. who? who?

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