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As a photographer, my priorities for travelling always have been photography first. This time around, unlike my Peru – Machu Picchu trek, my walzflex 120mm film camera made an appearance once again.
For 14 days of travel through Japan, I decided against a rolling hard case luggage. I have since replaced my Kata Camera bag with a new bag from PRVKE as my personal camera bag and my trusty Yellow North Face Basecamp Duffel as my main luggage, My philosophy when travelling is purchase only as much as you can carry back.
Japan Packing List
Wearing onto Plane
1 pair of tights (Underarmour are my choice of preference)
The original plans as to visit Chidori-fa-guchi Park during the day but it was raining so we opted out of it. We met up with Kanako again at Tokyo station by the popular gin no suzu bell (which was actually confusing to find). We had to go reserve tickets for the afternoon but then Mike wanted to drop off their other bag to the lockers which was even more confusing to get to and ate up some time. Got the bag near our main luggage locker and finally off we went to Shimokitazawa.
We aimed to start our day early but we got there really early that nothing was opened and it was pouring rain. Everything in Shimokitazawa seems to open around 11AM. The only good thing about thing being closed is that the gates to some of the stores are nicely decorated or graffitied. We walked out of the station and wandered all the way to the bottom of Shimokitazawa area and then turned back around and stopped by the arcade which was one of the only things somewhat opened.
We did purikura photos to kill time. We then wandered again searching for food – mainly Italian but we couldn’t find a place or it wasn’t opened but Kanako pointed out a conveyor belt sushi place that was opened and also rather cheap 108-110y a plate. We went to Kaisen Misaki ko – 海鮮三崎港.
There was a mini bullet train delivering orders from the iPad but also the normal conveyor belt that goes around where you can pull plates off. Kanako and me ate like beasts. The price of plates is designated by the colour of plate and once you finish eating one, you stack them. When you are done, the person comes around and counts the amount of dishes and their colours. Individually, both of us (Kanako & I) ate more than Mike and ManWai combined but it was good quality and cheap that in the end, it only totalled roughly $15CAD especially since we added them on Line App and you get 1 plate automatically off.
Back into the rain but this time we decided to walk the other side of the station and I was so sad that it was raining so hard and I didn’t bring my umbrella so I couldn’t shoot all the characters in this neighbourhood as its known for its hipsters. We stumbled upon a couple of stores – vintage – second hand etc. Finally stopping at a corner, we spotted a store on the second floor selling only raw Japanese cotton denim goods called Beauty of Life or something like that. Very cute little shop and I picked up 3 denim woven bracelets.
Right beside the store we saw some these neon lights and something about avocados. Since we needed a break from the rain we went in to a drink break. Madosh Cafe where everything on the menu has avocado. Just finishing a large conveyor belt sushi meal, all we could stomach was a drink. Kanako and I ordered the avocado and coconut smoothie 1000y while Mike and Manwai the Avocadoacino (unlimited refills) and a tiramisu. They had a sign in their window reading that if you tag them on social media using their hashtags, they will give you a free avocado. I did it but completely forgot to ask or show the post to receive it.
Our plan of attack was to continue back towards Tokyo station with a stopover at Meguro River which is a well known spot for cherry blossoms that hang over the river and when blossomed, it is truly a sight to be seen. We looked outside and the rain didn’t seem to be letting up so we had to forego those plans and decided check out Recipe Mall nearby that had 2 floors of Uniqlo, Daiso, a fabric store and a grocery store. Once we got warm and a little drier, we took he train back to Tokyo Station where we parted ways with Kanako and grabbed ekibens (meals made especially to be eaten on long train rides at the station) before departing for Kanazawa.
Our arrival into Kanazawa was later in the evening and once we go to the station, we had to go find the local bus that would bring us to our Airbnb. Our Airbnb was located in the basement of an apartment building however it was raised up so we were actually overlooking the riverside and you can see the bridge. We called it an early night and tried to do laundry with their 2-in-1 machine however the drying portion wasn’t quite working that well. The apartment is actually quite large to Japanese standards. It was a 1 bedroom apartment with 1 bed but could easily fit the 3-4 futons they had in the closets. We watched a few episodes of Terrace House before I falling asleep. Going into this trip, a bunch of us got hooked on Terrace House and because we were in Japan, We were able to watch Japan Netflix which has the most recent releases of the show which aren’t offered in North America for a few months.
If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
We booked a pretty decent deal with Expedia.ca that included flight and accommodation for $555CAD/person. I travelled with my friends Klarice & Crystle during March break for a 4 day, 3 night short trip to Chicago. Main goals of this trip: eat and shop.
We flew with Air Canada – Rouge Express and got there in about an hour and half. Chicago is an hour behind of Toronto but seeing as the Sunday prior was the start of daylight savings; it didn’t feel any different.
Once we got through the airport, we went straight for the CTA train terminal and purchased the Ventra Card ($5USD) and loaded up a 3 day CTA day pass ($20USD). Be warned that the machines don’t give you any change! So bring exact change. You need to purchase the Ventra Card if you want to purchase anything more than a 1 Day CTA pass.
We hopped on the Blue line to Washington and then got off and walked through a mall and hopped onto the red line to Chicago / Grand. We stayed at the Godfrey Hotel (127 W Huron St, Chicago). The hotel is in the heart of North River and features its own restaurant Dolce and a lounge with a balcony on the 5th floor. We made ample use of the fitness centre although it is very limited with its equipment. The main lobby is beautifully decorated and smells like cinnamon. The staff were all very helpful and friendly. We got a double bed room and it was very spacious and clean including 2 sinks in the washroom and 1 at the “mini bar” area.
Once we checked in and dropped off our things, we walked around to find some food. We had an early dinner at Pizzeria Due (619 N Wabash Ave). Our waitress Janae was very delightful and attentive. You can’t come to Chicago and not have deep dish pizza. We of course ordered ourselves the Numero Uno – cheese, fresh sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions and green peppers. Between 2 people, a small is more than enough! (small – $18.49USD) and a individual Spinach ($8.49USD) and washed it down with a bottle of Beringer White Zinfandel ($17.97USD) with a shrimp and crab dip to start ($11.99USD). Be warned that the deep dish pizzas take about 45 minutes to cook! The crust is nice and crispy whereas the interior is the perfect consistency and delicious.
After dinner, we walked across the street to Trader Joes – where I purchased my go-to item: Unsulfurated & Unsweetened dried mangoes; to my disappointment there were no dark chocolate edamame beans. The night was still young and we had enough time to walk the Magnificent Mile of Michigan Ave to find ourselves at Uniqlo. It is open until 9PM and we sure made sure to use up our time there. Needless to say, Uniqlo is one of my main stores that I shop at especially since it is not available in Canada yet. I ended up purchasing 8 items but all items that will be used beyond the price I purchased them at. The Easy Pants will change your life if you haven’t tried yet ladies!
We returned back to the Godfrey Hotel to rest momentarily before heading out to Beercade HQ North River (213 W Institute Pl,) to end our night. All the games (minus 3) are free play as long as you purchase a minimum of 1 drink. We ordered the fries as well as a mango beer, Steigl Radler and Delirium. They have classic arcade games including Ms Pac-Man, 2 rows of pinball machines, NBA Jam, Time Crisis, Frogger, Tron, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter just to name a few. If that doesn’t bring back nostaligia for you (80’s and older) they also play older movies such as Ferris Bueller, Karate Kid, & Back to the Future on the TV screens there as a DJ spins live.
What was strange about our first day was that as the day went on, it was actually warmer at night than it was during the day.
We flew with Air Canada 14.5 hours direct to Hong Kong – very smooth.
Landed in Hong Kong and had to walk a distance to get to customs. The airport is it’s own island as Hong Kong acts as a giant hub for transfers. Once we cleared customs we purchased a sim card and a octopus card. Octopus card is a tap card you can refill and use for buses and convenience stores – It is very important to have one of these cards. $39HKD for the card with $10HKD already on the card.
We stayed at Caritas Oswald Cheung International House (rm2105) in Aberdeen for the week. We got a room with triple beds. We took the bus (A10) from the airport all the way to Tin Wan street (about an hour ride). It is humid outside however, in Hong Kong, they blast AC everywhere indoors (including the bus) – you can’t win. When we arrived at our hotel, our glasses fogged as we left the bus. We went to reception and they heard us speaking english so they started to converse with us in english and unknowingly, they spoke with a British accent. Hong Kong was once under British rule thus British schooling. After checking in, we passed out until dinner time. We joined Georgina’s parents for dinner at a small restaurant down the street. The rain started to come down really hard to the point that the streets were flooded and a heavy stream of water covered the streets. Good thing for flip flops.
The streets are so narrow and everything is pretty much on angles and slopes including schools. Since there isn’t much land, they build upwards. There are 7-Eleven’s everywhere. Well Come is their equivalent to our Loblaws, Shop n Park – Food Basic, K mart – Shoppers drugmart.
Since the weather called for rain, we decided the night before that we would make it a shopping day. In the morning, we went to Number 1 bakery and grabbed buns and egg tarts then some Vitasoy from the 7-Eleven for breakfast. We left around 930AM and arrived at Causeway Bay by bus at 10AM. Stores don’t open until 11AM (they stay open really late). The temperature started rising as we started to walk around. The sun came out and the rays were strong. Since Hong Kong is so jam-packed, they build department stores & malls upward. There are tons of shopping centres scattered around. Our biggest haul for shopping was from Uniqlo – we spent about 2 hours in there.
SOGO is the Hong Kong version of America’s Macy’s or Canada’s The Hudson Bay Company where brands are separated into sections in one big building. We all purchased a pair of Birkenstocks for 449HKD a pair ($65CAD). We went to Yoshinoya for lunch, which was basically a beef bowl with rice and onions.
It’s overwhelming to see so many people congested into one area. We grabbed beef jerky from Bee Cheng Hiang and also grabbed mango drinks at Hui Lau Shan (hoy lau saang). We returned home by the 72 bus and grabbed Mcdonalds for dinner – I got the big tasty. It’s weird to see people just leave their trash everywhere and on the tables but they have people that get paid to clean.
Adjusting to the time is difficult – Sleeping at 11PM but waking at 3AM. The time difference is 12 hours from Toronto.
I officially got up at 1030AM and went out to explore and shoot. I went left on the main street and kept going left thinking it would lead me back to my street instead it led me uphill and the road kept curving right. Back to Causeway Bay to take the subway line (MTR) – to Mong Kok – the Kowloon side of Causeway Bay. Their subway lines are very efficient in transporting thousands upon thousands of people each and everyday and are ahead of their time well, at least way ahead from Toronto. The subway line is incredibly easy to use and I highly recommend using it! The automated voice speaks in Cantonese, Mandarin and then English with a British accent. Also here on buses/subs etc there is absolutely no eating or drinking (all about efficiency). The subway also is slightly wider and only has seats going along the side instead of toronto’s seats that sit 2 forward/backwards and along the side. They also have metal seats so its easier to clean and just like Paris’ system, you can get cell service all the way underground. To enter the subway, there are already lanes for people to walk through and then arrows where people line up by glass doors which open when the subway arrives (also a good prevention of people jumping onto the tracks). As you exit you need to swipe your octopus card as the MTR charges by distance. There is absolutely no eating or drinking on the subway or else you might end up in a fight with locals.
It feels like it was 10-15 minutes just to get out of the subway station but Hong Kong is all about escalators at all lengths, angles and speeds.
When we arrived at Mong Kok station, we found ourselves at Langham Place which is a 12-storey shopping complex with a crazy long escalators and all about the astrology theme. It jumps from floor 3 to 8 and when you reach 8 there are stairs to either go up or down.
Just to get to each floor was a trek so we stopped by the food court for lunch. I grabbed the chicken beef with omurice from Curry House. It’s weird but they have food court security people who just watch you eat. I guess it’s for efficiency so they get you in and out in no time. I wanted to goto Tim Ho Wan – 2-8 kwong wah st which is the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant but we couldn’t wait to eat.
We walked shoe street and the ladies market. Ladies market street is quite long but is a great place to bargain for goods of all sorts there.
We finished shopping and decided to meet up with Georgina’s extended family for dinner on the west coast of Hong Kong island. We took the subway to the end then hopped onto the 5B bus. This city is busy all the time – think New York’s Times Square but everywhere. We finally made it to our destination after Sands St stop and had dinner in a food court type hot pot restaurant. We took a sprinter van/bus home.