Posts Tagged ‘day trip’

Getting Out of London City Center: Oxford, Eltham and Chiselhurst

Oxford


Oxford

On our London trip, one of our goals was to actually spend time OUT of the city since we hardly ventured out when we were living there because we were so busy, and Evan wasn’t able to go with me to Oxford, Cambridge or Brighton. Our first day trip was to Oxford. We hopped on the Oxford Tube at Notting Hill Gate and less than two hours later, we were standing in the middle of Oxford’s High Street.


eBoy LA poster; photo from eBoy site

We started by going into the church right in the center of town and climbing up to a lookout point where we were able to see the whole city. Then we wandered by the Radcliffe Camera and the library, and stopped in at the Blackwell’s art and poster shop, where we bought a great poster of LA by eBoy. It had all sorts of LA landmarks, zombies, SWAT teams and more done up in a fun, colorful old-school arcade game style. The shop also had plenty of other cool posters, cards and books.


Christ Church College Quad

Then we went to visit Christ Church College, walked around town some more, and got gooey, warm and delicious cookies from Ben’s Cookies in the covered market. We also saw a whole, headless deer hanging from the wall. It was more than a little disturbing. There was also a goat in a similar position. We did, however, see some live deer in Magdalen College’s field, and had a nice walk around its pretty grounds, which are right on the river. It was too cold and rainy for punting, though.

Eltham Palace

My friend Janet invited us out to her neck of the woods — Bexleyheath — to see some of its sights, so we met her at the Eltham train station about 30 minutes outside of London, and went to visit Eltham Palace. The place is an Art Deco palace-turned war command center-turned historic site, built on the same spot as one of Henry VIII’s childhood home. It was rainy, so we didn’t get to tour the grounds and gardens much, but we did go through the many living rooms, bedrooms and funny exhibits on the family’s pet lemur, including not one, but two stuffed lemur dolls. We took along the free audio guides, but they proved excessively verbose. Though the segments would start off well and had plenty of interesting information, each room’s story seemed to last for ages. Thankfully, there were signs we could read, instead. I just wish the weather had been better and we could have had a picnic.

Chiselhurst Caves


Me with my oil lantern in the Chiselhurst Caves

After our morning in Eltham, Janet brought us over to the Chiselhurst Caves, man-made caves in a hill that were started 4,000 years ago by the druids, then continued by the Romans and the Saxons. The caves were used to house 15,000 people during the WWII air raids, and they currently host frequent role-playing events, though in a separate section from the main tour. Stil, you can’t help but notice the LARPers dressed in everything from caveman to wizard costumes as you pull up to the small visitor’s center.

We paid for a tour, and descended into the caves with a big group of people and a guide. We grabbed lanterns, since most of the caves don’t have lighting, and started our tour through the cold stone walkways. We passed by the church, the stage, lots of spots for triple-decker bunk beds, a druid altar, a well and a hospital. The guide told us about what life in the caves was like during the war, its mining history and its quite honestly creepy ghost stories. They also took us by a “cave monster” on our way out!


Chiselhurst Cave Monster

It was great to see a part of London we’d never experienced and get to some tourist sites that we’d never read about in our guidebooks — and that some Londoners don’t even know about. Thanks, Janet!

6 Days in Kyoto

Getting to Kyoto from Bangkok involved a very long day of traveling, which seems to be a recurring theme on this trip. First we took a 5-hour flight to Tokyo, then had to hop on an hour-long train to get to the 3-hour-long Shinkansen — where we had to stand in the unreserved smoking car for about 45 minutes before getting seats. We also had a bit of a failure in planning here — we had no baht left to exchange for yen, so we didn’t get any in Bangkok. Then we missed the exchange counter at the Tokyo airport, leaving us with 0 yen, and thus no food or drink possibilities. We thought we’d be able to find an ATM at one of the train stations, but that didn’t happen, and when we finally got to Yamashina, where we just needed to take a Kyoto subway 4 stops to Daigo, we got stuck. Our Japan Rail passes wouldn’t cover the trip, the ATMs we found wouldn’t take foreign cards and at 10:30 p.m., we didn’t have any exchange options we could see. We were also caught in a thunderstorm. Thankfully, we were able to call the person we were staying with, Ted, to come pick us up. He even had dinner ready for us when we got to his house.

The front gate at Kiyomizudera

We spent our first few days in Kyoto exploring the city — going shopping, eating at vegetarian restaurants and checking out the temples. Kiyomizudera was my favorite, with its pretty trails, beautiful views and quaint wooden shrines. The complex also has a waterfall that people drink from to gain luck and knowledge — we made sure to drink up! We also spent some time in Gion, where we saw a Geisha in her full get-up, with white face makeup and all. Tons of people were snapping photos of her just crossing the road. There were many other women in traditional kimonos, but not many were fully made up.

We visited some other temples in the hills that form the city’s border, like Nanzen-Ji, where we walked through an enormous gateway and under a red-brick aqueducts and up into the woods to visit a small shrine by a waterfall. And we walked down the Philosopher’s Path, a quiet walkway by a canal, until we found Honsen-In, another temple, which was closed for the day.


A temple garden in Kyoto

We were able to scramble over to the Ginkaku-Ji, the Silver Pavilion, shortly before closing time, but were disappointed to find the structure undergoing a complete restoration — it was basically a shell of a building covered in tarps. The gardens, however, were well worth the visit, with clear ponds, stone steps leading up to a view point, sunny and shady areas, plenty of moss groundcover, and a sand garden shaped to represent Mount Fuji and the sea. We took a second loop around the grounds because we liked it so much.

The rest of the time we were based in Kyoto, we took day trips to nearby cities. Also, we were surprised by how hot Kyoto, and Japan in general, was — the heat and humidity made Thailand feel temperate, and we had to buy little towels to wipe the sweat from our faces. Who knew?

August 11, 2008

First, we took the Shinkansen to Hiroshima, where we visited the peace park. We saw the A-Bomb Dome, the ruins of a neoclassical building that was very close to the hypocenter of the blast, which was eerie — parts are still standing, other parts are totally mangled, and there are Japanese families taking photos giving the peace sign in front of it. From there, we walked on to the island where most of the park is, and saw all the paper cranes that comprise the children’s memorial, then went by the eternal flame and the cenotaph, which looks back on the A-Bomb Dome.


The A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima

We also visited the museum, which gave a detailed history of Hiroshima and a good amount of insight as to why it was bombed. It also had a lot of information on nuclear weapons and really showcased the devastation of the city through photos, models and artifacts from the day it was bombed, like warped metal girders, burned clothed, melted roof tiles and some gruesome victim portraits. The museum isn’t only a memorial of what happened there, though — it is truly a call for peace and an end to nuclear proliferation. It was very powerful to see such a tragedy turned into a positive mission.

After taking in the museum, we also checked out the memorial hall, a large, echoing sunken space with a fountain at its center and the names of Hiroshima’s neighborhoods set around it. Also, we noticed that water played an important role at the peace park — many visitors were leaving water bottles at the memorials — and we learned that it’s because many of the bomb’s victims died begging for water.


The floating gate in Miyajima

Once we’d toured the park, we were ready for some lighter fare and headed to Miyajima to see the tori gate in the sea. We took a ferry over to the island and were surprised to find lots of deer to greet us. We walked down the coast to the shrine, which was closed because it was a bit late in the day, then watched the sun set pink behind the bright orange floating gate.

August 12, 2008

Our second day trip was to Himeji to see the castle. From the train station, we walked right up the main road until it stopped at the big, scenic moat. We walked across the bridge and onto the castle grounds and went to the main tower — a big, white, multistoried building on a tall stone foundation. There were lots of small spaces for people to throw rocks or boiling water down on invaders, and these came in square, circle, triangle and rectangle shapes. It was also a no-shoes building, so we climbed the stairs to the top barefoot, carrying our shoes in bags. I don’t know why they insist in putting metal caps on the ends of the stairs for people going barefoot — it’s quite an uncomfortable climb.


Himeji Castle

The view from the top wasn’t all that great — Himeji looks pretty industrial — but it was nice to see the castle.

When we returned to Kyoto station in the evening and took the escalators up to the roof garden on top top of the cool modern bulding to take in the nighttime view, then walked across its glass walkways.

August 13, 2008

Our day trips started feeling like doing suicide sprints backwards — we started with the longest, Hiroshima, and just kept on the same train lines, going shorter and shorter distances each day. We definitely made the most out of our JR passes. The bullet train was basically our daily transport, which really helped us get back and forth quickly, though we wish we could have ridden the super-speedy Nozomi trains, which had better, longer routes.

Osaka is only a short ride away from Tokyo, yet it feels quite different. It’s much more modern, and much more crowded. We first went to the aquarium, since it was highly recommended. Apparently it was highly recommended to all of Japan, though, since there were some really incredible crowds. There were people blocking every tank and sign and women on bullhorns yelling announcements every few feet. It made for a pretty stressful visit, though we did manage to at least get a glimpse of the dolphins, otters, penguins, rays and whale sharks. The best part was a smallish exhibit with baby otters, which was set apart from the main path and nowhere near as packed.


Looking up at the Osaka Sky Building

Next on our sightseeing tour was the Osaka Sky Building, a transformers-looking structure, with two tall buildings attached at the top, with long escalators running to the roof garden observation point and a thin bridge at the 22nd floor. We made it to the top just in time for sunset, when the clouds and sky turned a beautiful pink over the sprawling city. And riding up to the top in the glass elevator and then taking the glass escalator the last five stories was quite a thrill.

Check out more photos in Evan’s Facebook gallery.

Statue Park

Budapest Statue Park

Sunday, Evan and I went to Statue Park, a short drive from Budapest, to see soviet-era statues that were moved from the city center to the countryside. Though the park was smaller than we expected and sort of strangely organized–we were under the impression that it was just a bunch of statues strewn about a field, though it’s actually a dozen or so statues organized in a sort of ringed garden–it made for an interesting afternoon outing, even on a cold and gloomy day. Also, most statues aren’t as big as the ones in the photos–those are the most striking ones.

One interesting statue that didn’t actually photograph very well (sorry) was Stalin’s boots. It used to be all of Stalin, but it was torn down from the knees up in a revolution.

Budapest Statue Park

I’ll link to the rest of the photos when Evan gets the gallery up on his site. OK, they’re up now. See them here.

Day Trip to Szentendre

Szentendre Christmas Market

Saturday, Evan and I took a short day trip to Szentendre, a town about 20 minutes outside of Budapest that’s known for being a cute, touristy artist colony on the bank of the Danube. After parking, we just started wandering into the small town, and we heard music and some pretty awful singing coming from the town square. We decided to skip the first part of the show and go to the Margit Kovacs Ceramics Museum, which had a nice collection of the artist’s work.

Once we were done with the museum, we went back out to the main square and found a group of schoolkids performing a cute little song and dance. We lost interest by the time a group of older students started dancing, and decided to check out the music box museum, which ended up being really interesting.

The small museum, tucked away in the back of a souvenir shop, was quite delightful. They had a host of old music-playing gadgets, including orchestrations, a clockwork bird, old gramophones and other sound machines. We even got to hear a number of them and got to turn the cranks ourselves on a few. Some dated back 200 years yet sounded remarkably good. Others didn’t sound as great because the humidity was low.

Szentendre Christmas Market kurtos kolacs

Next we went on to the Christmas market, which wasn’t crowded and had some interesting foods and crafts. We tried out kurtos kolacs, which is essentially fire-roasted coil of dough cooked on a wooden dowel and rolled in sugar, and found our new favorite Hungarian treat. Look at me just drooling over it. It was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, and it stayed hot the whole time we were eating it (which really wasn’t very long).

Szentendre Christmas Market kurtos kolacs

Also, in the Christmas market, there were many people walking around with their children and handing out homemade baked goods on trays. We got some cheese bread, which was good, and the whole thing just seemed like a really nice tradition. I believe it was the festival of St. Nicholas.

We tried to take a look at some more museums and churches in Szentendre, but they weren’t open very late, but I did manage to take a great photo of a boat on the Danube before I left.

Boat on Danube

Check out the rest of our Szentendre photos on Evan’s site.