Toledo, Spain

While in Madrid, we visited a really pretty place called Toledo! Apparently on wikitravel, it says that although it’s nice, it’s very touristy. When I read this I was put off by it. Too many tourists often ruin a site. But when we arrived in Toledo, we were very impressed by it!

Yes there were tourists, but when you start walking down the many small alleyways, the tourists disperse for a while. I have to say I really liked the whole place! It’s an ancient city set on top of a hill and in the olden times was surrounded by a wall. Some of the wall can be seen today. There are quaint shops, beautiful old buildings, and I loved walking down the narrow alleys and seeing what we would come across. In the olden times, the Jewish, Muslims and Christians all lived within the walled city in their own areas. You can walk around each area and see the differences in each one!

So how we got there was we got a bus from Madrid bus station which was about 45min/1 hour to Toledo. Then from there we walked up to the old city.

While we were there, we took a small train (it’s not really a train but just a small bus that looks like a train with an open top) and it took us around the area and out of the city so we could take some great photos of the whole city from afar. I would suggest you do this as it’s the only way to get a great photo of it. They stop for 5 minutes for you to get out and take your photos.

If you plan to go, I would advise to go during midweek rather than the weekends. When we went it was pretty busy already and that was on a Tuesday.

But yeah, definitely make a stop to this pretty place if you are ever in Madrid!

Aisling

Advertisements

What To Prepare For Japan

Because we can’t speak Japanese and it was our first time in the country, we prepared some things to make our travels that little bit easier!

JR Travel Pass

japan-rail-pass-worth-it

Source: google

This has been so useful for travelling. We bought them online and then after we arrived in Haneda airport we went to an area where they will give us our pass. This allows us to travel on certain trains as we have already prepaid for it. We never used busses while in Japan, only relying on walking, taking the metro or trains. This pass doesn’t cover metros, so you’ll have to learn how to buy tickets for those. We were unsure whether it would be worth it, but we actually used the JR trains quite a lot, sometimes 4 times a day. And it’s very handy just showing the pass to the employees and they just wave us through instead of having to buy a ticket every single time. It’s expensive but really worth it!

A Wifi Device

We heard that it’s very hard to find free wifi in Japan, so we decided to buy a wifi device and that is our wifi for wherever we go! When we were lost, we simply turned it on and then we could figure out where we were . It’s very handy when you need to use google maps or search for restaurants nearby or whatever. We collected ours at the airport and then when we were finished we put it in a post box in the airport when we arrived back. The website we used for this is: Sakura Wifi Device

Plenty of bottles of water

As we arrived during a heatwave, I’m pretty sure we spent most of our money on buying bottles of water! But I would recommend maybe buying a flask or something so you can refill it. We had ours but we didn’t use it as much because they did become heavy with all the water! But yes, if you arrive during the summer you should expect to drink tonnes of water… and spend lots of money on it too!

Food

Since booking our flights, I had  been worrying about the food in Japan, that they only eat fish and sushi……

But when we arrived, we actually found out that they eat lots more than just those! For one thing, they really enjoy curry, and they have quite a few places that do curries. Also, Japan is famous for ramen, and it actually is delicious! I can honestly say that I never had one bad tasting thing in Japan. Everything was so nice! And I don’t like sushi! So if you are worried about the food, don’t be….. it really is more varied than you think!

Restaurants

As we knew Japan is very expensive, we found 3 restaurants that were cheaper than others, and all 3 of them were really good!

  1. Yoshinoya
  2. Sukiya
  3. Coco’s Curry House

We visited Yoshinoya more than the others as it was just more common to see. We went to Coco’s Curry House only once but we were hoping to find another one to go to! So if you want to go for cheap food, head to one of these…. cheap but delicious!

I’m pretty sure that all of them have an English menu so it wasn’t difficult to order food.

Japan is such an easy country to travel to, but it’s just good to prepare for everywhere you go, such as for trains and what not. They leave on the dot and they certainly won’t wait for you! And if you’re stuck, a Japanese person will try their best to help you!

Aisling

What Was The Most Difficult Part Of Our Trip To Japan?

Although we loved our trip to Japan, there were two things that proved very difficult for us while there!

  1. Our bags!

Our bags caused us a lot of difficulties for us while in Japan. Not only in Japan but also while we were in Shanghai, they were difficult to lug around with us. We both had 50/60 litre backpacks, I had another smaller backpack, while my fiancé had a smaller backpack and a laptop case…. so he was carrying 3 big bags with him!

Never mind that, the worst thing about it was that most of the things that were in my bag I couldn’t even wear! I had two jumpers (because I naively thought it would be cold in the mountains in Japan) and just thick t-shirts and things that I couldn’t wear, mainly because it was just too hot. So out of all the things in my backpack I had about 6/7 t-shirts that I wore. The rest were sitting at the bottom of my bag.

When we were sending our big box home, we couldn’t fit everything into it, so we just had to bring whatever things we had left with us in our backpacks. So that was quite annoying! I had to throw away a few t-shirts and that while in Shanghai just so I could try and make it lighter. It was very heavy for me.

And then, while in Tokyo…. my backpack decided it had enough and broke: 1 slit at the bottom of it appeared, and then another 2 at the top. So that was it for my backpack! I’ve had it for 7 years so it’s quite old, but that meant our last day in Tokyo was spent looking for another one for me. Unfortunately in Japan they rarely use backpacks, instead using suitcases. I picked up a decent one in the city which fits all my things plus more! No more back pain!

So yeah, it was a struggle with our bags, but thankfully I think my body got used to the weight and it slowly got easier as the trip went on. Now in Hong Kong, I just have my suitcase and my small backpack, so it’s a bit easier now!

2. The heat!

When we arrived in Japan we noticed the weather was unbearably hot! I knew it was going to be hot, but not that hot!! Little did we know, we arrived in Japan in the middle of a heatwave!! We were talking to a few people that live there and they said it’s too hot this July, and that it isn’t until August that it gets this hot. They said that the summers seem to be started earlier and earlier. (There’s global warming in action).

Everyone was sweating; men, women, kids…… everyone. It wasn’t humid, it was just so dry and there was no rain for 14 days while we were there. Plus the sun was just so hot! Everyone struggled with the heat. So the heat, plus our huge bags made for us being VERY sweaty…..everyday.

It was tough!

Apart from that, everything else was a breeze! Really! Japan is such a friendly place for foreigners and it’s very easy to travel around. Yes it is expensive but if you find some cheap restaurants to eat at it’s fine.

Aisling

I’m Really Liking Tokyo

We’ve been in Tokyo 2 full days now, and we are really really enjoying it! The city is great! We’ve been to a few big cities, and of course Tokyo is huge, but I feel it doesn’t feel as crowded as other places we’ve been to. We got a real culture shock when we just arrived, but now we are getting to used it.

The weather is HOT, the food is delicious, and the people are so polite. The city is spotless, the drivers are courteous, and literally everything is organised and on time. This is the complete opposite of Chengdu, where nothing is organised.

It really is a unique city, and we’ve been enjoying walking around and not being bumped into, walking in spit and not being constantly stared at.

We’ve been walking tonnes so my legs need a break, and the sun was very strong today so I got burnt (what a surprise there). I think my body is also slowly getting used to constantly being on the go which is good!

We are heading to Kyoto and Osaka so we’ll look forward to seeing what it’s like in those cities!

Aisling

Things I Won’t Miss From China

After 5 years of living in China, and with departure only a few weeks away, here is a list of things that I won’t miss from China.

If you happen to be from China and don’t want to get offended then I suggest you don’t read this blog. I have lived here for long enough and I’ve experienced all of the things listed before, so I’m not making these up. These are all my own opinions so this doesn’t represent every expat here in China.

Of course my own country has it’s fair share of problems, I know this… it’s known as having a  ‘compensation culture’, sky high rents and having a homeless epidemic, among many other things! So I can even write my own post about the problems in Ireland!

Maybe this blog will might help foreigners coming to China for the first time and what to expect!

Drivers; I honestly feel most people here have paid their way to be able to drive on Chinese roads, and they actually haven’t done the apparently very difficult driving test.

People don’t indicate… or they indicate right but then they turn left. They don’t use their mirrors, some don’t put their lights on at night.  Some stop at road corners which is incredibly dangerous.  I don’t know… it just feels like they have no regard for anything/ anyone except themselves. Once they find a spot to park their car, regardless of if it will affect other people… it doesn’t matter. They’ll park there.

They parked in the middle of the road to take a phone call and there are 5 cars behind them beeping like crazy for them to move. . . and they will continue to just stay there. They are oblivious (or don’t care) for other people. And I have witnessed this plenty of times.

Lack of common sense: Time and time again I have seen people casually walking across the road and NEVER look left or right! I remember once I was waiting to cross a busy road. There was a lady about my age waiting in front of me. So the green man comes on and out she walks into the road. But I saw there was an e-bike racing towards here. Thankfully he managed to stop in time but he was only 1 foot away from her. Not once did she even glance left to make sure nothing was coming. Because I was maybe 3 feet away from here, I saw the e-bike coming, and I was thinking “Is she not going to look left before she crosses?…..Oh, no she didn’t”

So when the e-bike had stopped, she got a bit of a fright… but carried on. She didn’t once look at the man on the e-bike and apologise, but just continued on walking like nothing happened.

To me, this is pure common sense to be aware of your surroundings. Chengdu has loads of e-bikes, and they won’t stop when the light is red. . . people here are aware of this, but still they don’t look before they step onto the road.

When I used to live in the city and I would cycle to work, and plenty of times people (without warning) would just step onto the road in front of me, and I would have to slam on my brakes to stop a collision. It’s so frustrating.  And of course they don’t look first.

Another time I was cycling around a corner. What a surprise, there was a car parked on the corner of the road, and a man and woman standing right in the middle of the road… TALKING TO PEOPLE ON THE OTHER SIDE. Jesus, why stop in the middle of the road and start talking to people who are on the footpath???

Obviously I didn’t want to cycle on the opposite side, so I had to cycle between the man and the car, and as I did I was ringing my bell on my bike furiously and I shouted “Jesus Christ, will you move out of the way!!” He looked at me with such a dirty look  and was probably thinking “huh, this foreigner telling me what to do.. IN MY OWN COUNTRY”. . . Yeah I will tell you what to do… if you are that stupid to stand in the middle of the road, then someone needs to tell you.

Lack of Queues: When I go to Walmart to go and buy things.. I hate queueing up…. just because no one here apparently knows how to do it. Because someone skipped us in the queue once before, read here: Skipping The Queue = One Angry Irish Girl I’m always constantly aware of the people coming behind me… Oh are they going to skip me?? Oh they moved, where are they now? (quick glance around my shoulder) Make a barrier so they can’t skip ahead.... You really shouldn’t have to be thinking about that kind of thing, but unfortunately here you have to.

Another time my fiancee was waiting to get veg weighed, and of course an old granny comes up and puts hers on first. He didn’t do or say anything because whats the point, he will most likely be ignored by the old lady plus the worker there, so he let her go ahead. The old lady wasn’t even fazed about it. Maybe she was thinking I’m an old women I deserve to go first. 

For buses, people (especially old people) make a mad rush to get on, it’s like if they don’t get on, then the bus will go without them. Planes are the same. Once the plane touches down, there is a mad dash for their bags. We always joke that they are afraid they’ll get stuck on the plane forever if they aren’t the first 10 people to get their bags. Haha that’s what it looks like though.

Materialistic: Because China has become rich quite fast, this means that a lot of people think about material things. Every Chinese person NEEDS to get the latest iPhone, or they will seem poor.

Every week= new shoes, new clothes…. it’s a never ending battle to look rich and pretty here! I definitely can’t handle it! I can’t wait to go back home and not have to worry about looking like I have money.

Wasteful: Because of this new wealth, unfortunately many Chinese people waste a lot of food. Once I saw a family of 3 (mother, father and a 5/6 year old daughter) come in to a restaurant. Usually when you order food, for 2.5 people you would order maybe 3 dishes and rice. But this family ordered about 6/7 dishes of food! Just for the 3 of them! Usually this is to show ‘we have money, we can order as many dishes as we want’. We left after our meal but I seriously hope they got the rest of that food to take out!

But anyway, here they do waste a huge amount of food. I hope in the future the government will educate China about wasting food, because it’s such a a shame. There are many many poor people… give the leftover food to them instead of throwing it all in a big bucket.

Pollution: I don’t need to elaborate on this.

Being ‘fat’: I’m absolutely fed up of feeling constantly fat in China. At the moment I’m 9.5 stone, but be god thats FAT here. I constantly feel like every Chinese girl is looking at me and thinking “Oh wow look at her skin, it’s so white…. but she’s fat.” I know 100% that that is what they are thinking.

I can’t wear shorts because I just feel so self-conscious. I don’t like like wearing t-shirts because they ‘showcase my fat arms’. To be 45kg (7 stone) is the perfect weight for Chinese girls here. WTF!!??? To me that is just unhealthy, and definitely not attractive looking. So I really do worry about my weight and just feel so self-conscious here. They think that I don’t exercise and I eat crap, and that’s why I’m like this. It’s true. In class sometimes we would talk about health and what not, and the students would say “Don’t eat unhealthy food so you won’t get fat”. Simple as. So they must think I gorge on food and don’t exercise whatsoever.

So yes, I really really won’t miss that aspect.

My god that’s a long list!

I know It sounds like a big rant, but I honestly have enjoyed living in China. And don’t think it was all about getting good money; I’ve been here two years working part time, so I really didn’t earn a lot. If I wasn’t fed up of teaching and had a job related to what I want to do, I think I would have stayed here for longer. So although I have mentioned some things that I won’t miss about here… there are a lot of positives about living in China.

So that will be another post to make, things that I WILL miss from China.

Aisling

Egg Coffee in Hanoi

Egg Coffee in Hanoi

While researching about Vietnam, I cam across a thing called Egg Coffee. I thought it sounded disgusting…. egg with coffee??? How can that work at all? But I was mad to try it and see what it was like. (I love trying different drinks)

IMG_1106

While we were in Hanoi, we found the place where this drink originated from, and we went on in and luckily found a table! It’s a very popular place! It was invented by a man in the 1940’s because at that time milk was scarce, so he decided to mix egg instead. And voila!

We see the menu and I gingerly order the hot egg coffee. My fiancé ordered a lemonade. So we wait until it arrives, and it comes in a little bowl with hot water and a small spoon. I realised I didn’t know how to drink it!? I was looking around at the other tables to see how the others were doing it, but of course they were all finished theirs. So I decided just to use the spoon and sort of eat the top.

I tried the eggy meringue thing, thinking it was going to taste like egg and be horrible, but in fact it was delicious! It didn’t taste like egg whatsoever. More like vanilla. My got my fiancé to try it and he loved it too. So I was really delighted that it was nice. I read online that one girl tried it and she thought it tasted like egg, but I’m guessing maybe she went to a bad place or something, because mine was delicious.

 

Of course then I was mad to try the iced egg coffee, so we called the waiter over and asked for one. He said ok but then to me he said “Mix!”

Mix? Oh! I was supposed to mix the top with the coffee at the bottom. So I did that and then it tasted a little more like coffee. My fiancé doesn’t like coffee at all, but he said he could carry on eating the top. Then our iced one came. This one is more of a dessert/ ice cream, and that was also delicious.

 

On the menu there were no prices, so we were pretty sure we were going to be ripped off because we were foreigners. We asked the price and they were 25,000 dong each. From what I read online, this is the standard price. So I’m glad we weren’t ripped off. The lemonade cost 40,000! So definitely order the egg coffee instead!

If you can only order one, I would suggest the hot one. I think the flavour is a little bit more intense than the iced one.

The place is a little tricky to find as it’s behind the main shops down a small hallway, but keep looking!

 

So it really made my day trying that. I was really surprised by how nice it was. So if you are in Hanoi, definitely check it out. If you don’t like it, well you at least tried it!

Aisling

Vietnam: Hanoi (Part 2)

We heard in Hanoi that there was a show called the Water Puppet Show that was supposed to be good, so we decided to find out where it was showing. We found a place opposite Hoan Kiem lake. And it was really worth it!

There are certain times that it’s on, so we decided to buy tickets for the 4:10 one. We went for a walk and a beer until the time came to go. We entered and we had tickets with the seat numbers. However then a lady working there said we couldn’t sit there (I don’t really understand why, maybe they doubled booked those seats) so we ended up right at the front row. So in the end we got perfect seats!

And you definitely cannot go to Hanoi and miss Hanoi Train Street. The train tracks run though the city, and you can wait for the train to pass you by. We were walking about and we just stumbled upon it! We then found out that the train would be coming in 10-15 minutes, so it was perfect timing! It was so exciting seeing the train coming ahead, and you really need to squish yourself to the wall, it’s very close!!

I really enjoyed it! I saw this on TV years ago but I never thought I’d experience it myself!

What else is great about Hanoi is just the different types of buildings that you see. Most people stay around the Old Quarter as it’s the main tourist area. I love the buildings and there’s so much culture about! It’s crazy busy, but I found the area really interesting!

Where we stayed:

The Daisy House Hanoi

Good: The bedroom was nice and the location was great. It was only about 1 minute walk from Hoan Kiem Lake. There are food places nearby and things to do.

Bad: The owner spoke very little English, so sometimes it was hard to communicate to her. Also there’s no lobby area, as the lady owns a salon downstairs and rents rooms upstairs. The place is also a little difficult to find, we walked past it without realising.

Would I recommend? Yes

Nam Phuong Home

Good: The location was very good. Literally in the heart of Old Quarter. Very easy to get about! Also the shower pressure was unbelievable; it’ll definitely get the dirt out of your hair! We stayed in the Daisy Room (Economy Double Room)

Bad: It’s ‘Economy Double Room’ for a reason! The room itself is too small. If you are 5 feet 8 or over you’re going to be hitting your head off the ceiling. One wall wasn’t a wall at all, merely a plastic partition with a plastic door. So we really felt we weren’t safe at all. Plus the window in the bathroom faces windows the opposite way, so I constantly felt they could see me showering. As you can see, the stairs from outside are literally outside the partition, so we didn’t exactly enjoy it when people were walking upstairs to their own rooms.  Finally, to allow the others to carefully walk up to their rooms upstairs, a light was placed outside, so of course it was never dark. That picture below was how dark the room was at night.

IMG_1094

The ‘wall’ in question

Plus, it didn’t help when he brought us to the wrong room when we arrived…. entering a spacious two floor bedroom, with a seating area and everything! Upon realising his error, we were rather deflated to be brought to this room.

Would I recommend? Definitely not. The other rooms are much better, but the one we stayed in wasn’t very good. The room itself is clean and a nice looking room, it’s just there are too many problems with it. I’ve stayed in a few hostels, but this is the only one where I really didn’t want to come back to at the end of the day.

To find out about Part One; click here:  Vietnam: Hanoi (Part 1)

Aisling