A Travellerspoint blog

Helsinki to Malta

With a little bit of England in between...

semi-overcast 17 °C
View Around the world on Meluke's travel map.

After an 11hr sleepless flight from Japan we arrived at Helsinki airport and made our approach towards the customs officer – a large, rough looking, tattooed man with a face that would never have cracked a smile and that only a mother could love. We realised we were not given an arrival card and there were none around.
Mel took a deep breath and lined up first. He looked at her and then her passport and asked in a deep croaky voice “where are you going?” Mel, clearly startled by the question answered with “sorry?”. “WHERE ARE YOU GOING!?” repeated the man in a loud stern voice. “Umm... into the city” was the best Mel could fumble into words. “HOW LONG ARE YOU STAYING?” “ahhh... just two nights" Mel stammered. With that followed a powerful stamp in the passport then a stern look and that was it! No landing card, no declarations, no luggage x-rays, nothing else... If you make it past the big scary man at the customs counter, you’re allowed in Helsinki!
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The first thing we realised when we got into town was our immediate requirement for warmer clothing. So the plan for the next day was to shop for warmth. This plan quickly fell apart as we wondered around the next day to the sight of shut shops. It so happened that our weekend in Helsinki happen to fall on two public holidays so restaurants and pubs were the only things open! Nevertheless we decided to attempt to shake off our jet lag, brave the freezing cold in what limited clothing we had, and attempt some sightseeing.
We stumbled across the contemporary art museum which looked warm inside so decided to check it out. Inside was an interesting African exhibition where we spent a good half of the day. For the second half we took a ferry over to some nearby islands which inhabit the UNSCO world heritage site Suomenlinna sea fortress. Here, Mel froze but tried to stay interested whilst Luke played on the old cannons and attempted to capture the picturesque scenery with the cannon.....camera...
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inside a church we visited that is built into a rock

inside the art gallery

inside the art gallery

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We left Helsinki having tasted some authentic food and warming drinks. We had a small taste of the culture and the very reserved, quiet, don’t make small talk but happy to help you when you need it type people, and left for London.

Here is a brief summary of our brief stay in London:
- Greeted at the pub by Lukes lovely sister Alison and her husband Mat (Hadji)
- Shopping
- Pubs
- Gym
- Pubs
- Cooking delicious slow cooked lamb roast (NZ’s finest)
- Dining out at various favourite restaurants
- Pubs
- Leaving for Malta!

We have included some of our own photos of our stay in Malta (below), however, Alison has written an excellent piece on our Malta experience, so please follow this link for our special guest blog entry.

view from the house

view from the house

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checking for a hidden key at the original Bonnici house

A beach at Gozo

A beach at Gozo

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Us with the owner of the restaurant Alison mentions

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Blue Lagoon

Next stop Spain..

Posted by Meluke 14:00 Archived in Malta Comments (0)

Kyoto and Hiroshima

sunny 24 °C

Our first impression of Kyoto was “oh wow, it’s all modern and city like, thought it was going to be all old temples and stuff”. Once we got hold of a map, had a chat to the hostel staff and did a couple of days of exploring, we realised there were more Temples and Shrines than we could possibly see (or needed to see).
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The first day we saw a beautiful Japanese and bamboo garden in Arashiyama (and Temples), the gardens were busy with tourists, so we decided to hire bikes and ride along the river before stopping for beer and going for a row down the river. Luke was stoked to row past a boat selling more beer, which meant Mel had to row the rest of the way while Luke kicked back! The second day we went on an unofficial, unadvertised, you just gotta know, where and when to meet, guided tour with Johnny Hillwalker. This little old Japanese man takes you on a 5 hour walking tour of Kyoto after you pay ¥2000. He has been doing this tour for 16 years, so his knowledge is invaluable, he explains about each Buddha and God and who belongs to each respective Shrine, and the rituals that take place when approaching the Shrine - bow/clean their hands/ring bells/clap hands etc.
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At the end of the tour Johnny strongly advises that you continue exploring at your leisure, an area he claims is the best of Japan which was conveniently not that far from our hostel. It ended up being quite touristy and very busy but we did manage to eat some phenomenally delicious curry puff thing before promising ourselves we will return that night and see what else the place has to offer and eat 10 or so more curry puffs.
We returned that night and the place was a ghost town and we weren’t even sure where the curry puff store once was. Instead we walked a few km’s and found what we believe was the red light district of Kyoto. The strange thing was – usually you would get hustled and approached and convinced to enter every “shop” in such a place, but in this instance we felt like outcasts. Nobody wanted a bar of us or wanted us in their bar. We left there with a sense of “is it cos I’s blek?”
Possibly the best part of our Kyoto trip was the hiking in Mt Kurama. The track, the bush, the scenery and the temples were amazing. It was also quite the hike and thankfully it ended (if you choose) at an outdoor Onsen. This was a real Onsen that used natural spring water from the ground but was heated from a large boiler.
We attempted to communicate with the lady behind the counter who was trying to explain what the go was. It appeared there were two deals on offer – you could just go in the outside bath or pay a bit extra and go in the inside also. At some point, she did point and verbalise something about eating in the restaurant.
We ended up choosing the inside/outside deal but would have just chosen the outside in hindsight. At some point during the outside men’s bath, Luke overheard an English speaker mention he was finishing up as he had paid for the package deal which included a meal. After the bath we met each other (still in our robes) near the restaurant and were about to enquire with the staff if a meal was included, when one of the waitresses started ushering us into the restaurant and repeating “the noodle” with the accompanying hand gesture. We nodded and the next thing you know we were sat down at a pre-arranged, authentic Japanese style setting with numerous bowls of who knows what. The waitress then ignited the candles for the dishes which required cooking in place whilst Mel looked at Luke in amazement and Luke looked at Mel with a smug “I told you so” look on his face. It took us a good minute of lifting lids and exploring through what we had and attempting to figure out exactly how we were supposed to go about eating it before we started digging in.
As we were discussing what an amazing deal this was, there was a loud commotion from the kitchen – much like the Simpsons episode when Homer ate the poisonous fish. A short time after, one of the waitresses bustled up to our table with a frightened and confused look on her face and started taking components of our meal away. We looked at each other equally frightened and confused (well Mel did, Luke started eating quicker knowing it was all about to quickly come to an end).
The waitress left one of the three trays in front of us which was mostly sashimi then proceeded to try and explain that there had been a mistake. We spent what seemed like the next two whole minutes bowing with hands together and apologising to each other - us with extremely awkward smiles on our faces and the waitress with a genuine look of regret - like she had just run over our dog.
The empty table next to ours was then arranged in a panic with our uneaten trays and a new sashimi tray. Five seconds later a nicely dressed couple walked into the restaurant and sat down at the table next to us. Luke quickly recognised it was the guy he overheard in the outside bath who was now complaining to the waitress that he was missing chopsticks (that’s all they managed to get wrong!!)
We managed to negotiate a price for what we ate and the waitress asked us to choose two noodle dishes that she was prepared to throw in. We chose our dishes and waited for about 10mins when the waitress came back over and started to repeat the bowing process. We joined in, only this time she included the cut-throat motion and crossed her two index fingers. She left and we looked at each other and hoped that that didn’t mean she was going to be fired. We shrugged our shoulders and continued to wait for our noodles, when realistically we just wanted to get the hell out of there!
We waited more and started regretting the fact that we still had to go and get changed and that we were the only ones in the restaurant in only our robes. The minutes went buy and we started whispering abuse to each other like “how long does it take to cook noodles?” After too long we noticed there was no action in the kitchen so we decided we would take turns at getting changed. We ended up just paying (way too much) for some sashimi and tea, before exchanging another minute of head bowing before finally leaving. On the way home we figured out that the cut throat motion must have meant she can’t throw in the noodles so we actually could have left ages ago!
The next day we set off for Hiroshima.
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We stepped of the Shinkansen (bullet train) excited that Lukes phone GPS just recorded us exceeding 300km/h and the fact we were in Hiroshima. No time was wasted checking in and hiring bicycles before setting off to grab some lunch and explore the town. We got as far as the A-bomb peace museum where we spent the next 4hrs learning and swearing under our breath.
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The next day we decided to take the ferry over to Miyajima Island which was full of very friendly deer (that ate our map), interesting shops and Temples, scenic hikes and spectacular views. It was a warm sunny day and we left there feeling like we had a good productive day so we decided to end it with a night out in Hiroshima town.
We got the tram into town, started having a look around and realised we were in another red light district when we were actually after a meal. Luke realised he was getting to a point of busting for a pee and Mel realised she was starving (as per usual). So at this point any restaurant, English menu or not, was a high candidate and before we knew it we were following a waiter to our seats down the back of a place that fit this description.
The back of the restaurant was small and we had three moderately druken Japanese men on a nearby table. These men were clearly quite shocked to see westerners in this place but were also clearly excited at the possibility of the surprise entertainment. They managed to gather enough English words to ask where we were from – probably just to test whether or not we could speak or therefore read any Japanese. The following next few minutes involved the waiter awkwardly attempting to ask if we had chosen from a %100 Japanese menu while the Japanese men laugh in hysterics as Luke points to a random sign - perhaps a “special” on the wall.
A short time later, as the waiter delivers our dish, we realised what all the fuss was about... the rawest possible fish you could ever imagine... the chopped in half shrimp was literally still limping on the plate!! We all sat there for about a good minute and laughed before we got the courage to dig in to what turned out to be very delicious Sushimi!
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Our last 24hrs in Japan in Nara – a small, scenic town situated about 40km south of Kyoto. Here we took a leisurely stroll and admired the greenery and more tame deer after checking out a huge statue Budda who lives in a soaring temple. We decided to stay in a traditional Japanese Ryokan rather than a Hostel (hmm..ok more like we left booking accommodation to the very last minute and a Ryokan was all that was available but it was on the to-do list anyway!) Ryokans are beautiful but also a little scary because some of them are so traditional they don’t even let westerners in the door. You are constantly questioning your moves in fear of offending or breaking rules. Luckily ours was owned by a couple that spoke English well so there were only a few awkward moments.
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Next stop Helsinki, London, Malta...

Posted by Meluke 09:34 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Tokyo and Mt Fuji

sunny 24 °C

The arrival into Tokyo was quite the mission. It took a total of just under 4hrs from disembarking plane and arriving at our accommodation. This involved two trains and a Subway including one of the busiest stations in Tokyo on a Friday night. The platforms were packed and so were the trains, except for one carriage which looked a lot less jammed and conveniently stopped in front of Luke waiting on the platform. The doors opened and to Luke’s further surprise, it appeared that people were actually making way for him to get on the train as they got off. “How nice is that?” were Luke’s thoughts as he stepped onto the train... and then realised the truth. A MASSIVE vomit just to the right of the doorway that he was forced to quickly avoid stepping into with thongs on and 25kg of weight on his back! A deep voice from someone in the crowd then followed in a stilted English accent, “Welcome to Tokyo raahahaha”
We stayed at a friend of a friend’s, Rika who was lovely and welcoming and had the cutest little Japanese house. We headed out to do some sight-seeing in Asakusa which preserves a traditional downtown atmosphere. Here we found Senso-ji - a huge Temple filled with worshippers and numerous traditional features. One of these was Omikuji- a paper fortune. Mel got very excited by this and followed the procedure but forgot to make the wish! If you get a bad fortune you can tie your paper up to a wire and let the wind blow the bad fortune away, however, Mel got number 99 – literally the “best fortune” ...if she only had of made the wish!
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Turned out Mel was too distracted and excited about a certain rugby game that she believed was on that afternoon so we made our way to Roppongi – the party town and place to watch sport. We quickly realised we were a day early but decided to hang around anyway and check out the bars.
We somehow found a small hidden bar on the second floor behind a hair salon called Answer bar which was decked out with detective paraphernalia. The barman poured us a G + T served with Japanese snacks and chatted to us for a while. Turned out he works in the bar with 20 other private detectives, who take turns doing a bar shift when they are not investigating (mostly love affairs) during their regular work days.
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We checked out a couple more bars, ran out of money, decided it was time to head home so went into a convenience store to get some cash out but had no luck as the ATM did not take Master Card... neither did the next one, neither did the next one, neither did the next one... this went on for 3hours!! We started weighing up our options which involved mostly saying “umm” and “ahhh” to each other before deciding it’s either do a runner on a taxi or flag fair the trains. We choose the latter and successfully sneaked past numerous guards and hopped on 3 different trains until we reached our final change... only to find the trains had finished for the night! We then started to formulate the plan of how we were going to do the runner. Mel lined up in the taxi queue whilst Luke decided to have one last ditch effort to find another ATM.
We were in Ikebukuro – a Kings Cross like town with maze of small streets and alleyways but at the end of one of these streets... bingo! A 7Eleven that didn’t have a stupid pink ATM that would accept our card! The problem was our 28Degrees MasterCard had maxed out and the spare card was with Mel.
Luke ran back to Mel, grabbed her and then realised (mind you it was 3:30am at this point and we had been running around for hours and were completely knackered) that the spare was actually with him the whole time and we had no idea how to get back to the 7Eleven!
Eventually we found another 7Eleven, got some cash out and jumped into a cab and realized we were kidding ourselves with the runner idea. It’s virtually impossible in a Japanese cab - they control the locks and the opening of the door from their driver’s seat!
We spent the next day watching and celebrating the All Blacks win then headed down to Mt Fuji. We decided against a partial climb as we were ill prepared with equipment and footwear. Instead we hired some bicycles and rode around Lake Kawaguchiko and admired the scenery and views of the Mountain. After our hard day of exercise we relaxed in our first Onsen (traditional naked public bath house).
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Next stop Kyoto Japan...

Posted by Meluke 22:08 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Honkers

Hong Kong

28 °C

When the captain announced the decent for Hong Kong airport we looked out the window and were mildly disappointed at the threat of rain as the plane passed through cloud... then we realised the weather was fine and we were actually passing through smog! However, as we attempted to navigate our way to our accommodation we were pleasantly surprised at the cleanliness of the city, and super friendliness of the people. This was actually our first real backpacking moment, walking through the streets with a map, our far too heavy packs on our backs, and not knowing where we are and where we are meant to be. We eventually made it there and the struggle was all worth it as the view from our room was immediately uplifting.
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Given that we only had two nights in HK, we decided to harden up and head straight out to experience the nightlife. We figured out the place to be was around Soho so jumped on a bizarre looking double-decker tram despite not knowing the ticketing system which we figured out soon enough and was pretty simple – drop the exact change into some contraption on your way out or you don’t get off. We checked our pockets and had nothing and by this point our stop was fast approaching. Luckily the lady opposite us figured out our predicament from our look of panic and confusion and the occasional pointing at the sign. She helped us with half our fare and translated to a few other people for the rest.
Soho was going off despite it being a Wednesday. There were plenty of interesting bars and places to eat and prices were cheap. We found a place with the equivalent of $5 cocktails that put any Thailand cocktail to shame.
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We spent the rest of our short time in HK checking out markets in Stanley (a small coastal town), caught the Peak Tram for some sight-seeing, ate some extremely cheap and delicious real Chinese from a street stall (pretty sure there were chicken livers in there somewhere) with the locals, and watched an awesome night light show - which involved watching the city landscape across the harbour with lasers and lights flash from building tops and different coloured projections on various buildings all in time with music.
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After a short but sweet stop in Hong Kong, we were off to Tokyo.

Posted by Meluke 04:19 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

NZ to Thailand

sunny 31 °C

We arrived in Phuket after 3 weeks in NZ where we had some great times catching up with friends and family and sorting out the fiasco of moving of our shipping container from Sydney to Mel’s dad’s farm in Morrinsville.
The move went fairly well. It ended up costing a bit more than we expected/more than it should have (thanks to an administration error by our removal company) and we were forced to learn how the process worked on the fly but we got there in the end (thanks for all your help Rusty!).
Our first night in Phuket was pretty dodgy. We stayed in a $22AUS twin share hotel with a rock hard bed and had kids exploding fire crackers outside our window until 5am but being awake for 22hrs and a pair of ear plugs allowed us some rest.
We then jumped on a boat to our first resort - Paradise Koh Yao on Koh Yao Island. For those who don’t know we scored a deal on the internet which gave us 6 nights’ accommodation with breaky, massages, spa, yoga, snorkelling, cocktail party etc for $265AUS each. Let’s just say we are pretty darn happy with the deal. The food and service was amazing and the scenery was no less than paradise.
Our activities and highlights included kayaking around vertical limestone islands, night fishing - which itself was pretty lame and we later discovered was super expensive but good to see the sunset out on the water while watching thousands of huge bats fly from their cave. We got to go on a tour of the local village where we saw rubber plantations and how all the little rubber plantation people live. In the town we discovered a 7Eleven that sold beers for a quarter of the price of the resort, so Luke naturally stocked up. We were then treated with a delicious lunch of fish in the middle of a rice field to finish off the tour.
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The isolation of this resort meant a lack of any local pub to watch sport, however together with a kiwi couple we managed to watch the rugby via dodgy internet streaming - real edge of your seat stuff when you are waiting for the buffering to catch up! We also got to partake in a pretty good Thai cooking class, (both) enjoyed complementary meditation, Yoga class, sauna and a nice massage with the sound of pouring rain - despite the odd surprising drip from the leaky roof that turned into quite the flow... and quite entertaining for the Thai massage ladies before they eventually decided to push our beds to a dryer spot!
The next resort was cheaper and a bit more hotel-like, although we (well Luke) was pleased to observe the pool bar and was relieved to discover a fitness room.. as three delicious and generous Thai meals a day plus cheap beers were (is) starting to make a negative impact on our photos.
We spent the first couple of days checking Kamala and Patong towns out. We choose one of the plenty of Aussie pubs to watch the Rugby games. Mel generously gave Luke a Wallabies defeat for his birthday, then we hit Patong town to celebrate (?) with another friendly Kiwi couple.
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On our last day we decided to take the risk and hire a scooter motor bike and go for a further explore. This ended up paying off as we discovered some pretty random things including an elephant and its trainer playing in the surf at a beautiful beach. We also managed to navigate our way to a waterfall and had a very welcome cool off before stopping at a random Bob Marley bar for a refreshing beer. We became new friends with the owners 3yo little girl who was more than happy to show us her latest toys despite not speaking or understanding a work of English. She was quite upset when we decided it was time to leave and we rode off with our hearts torn out watching her crying from her Dad’s lonely little bar.
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From there we rode back to Kamala and handed back the bike – thankful that we had no injuries (physical at least) and decided to treat ourselves to a sunset cocktail and an hour long massage on the beach before having our last dinner at our favourite little beach side.. hmm you wouldn’t call it a restaurant.. more like a little hut with a few tables and bar, complete with pet monkey in a tree!
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Here we found the most delicious, cheap Thai food we have both ever had, conveniently located over the road from our accommodation. We ate and watched the night’s minor storm roll in, which has been one of only a few since we have been in Phuket. It seemed to rain only heavily at night and only on occasion. Days have been mostly sunny and only our last day was really stinking hot and threatened us with sunburn.
Next stop, Hong Kong...

Posted by Meluke 05:00 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

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