Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 (Day 3 & 4 – Kagoshima, Sakurajima, Yakushima)

See: Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 itinerary and intro

Day 3: January 20

In the morning, we took a bus to Sangen-en/Sangen Garden. The bus I wanted to take didn’t actually seem to exist (maybe I got the wrong information online) but I did find another bus. Sangen-en is another landscape garden which has stunning views of Sakurajima and Kagoshima Bay.

One of the cutest things I saw for the first time was the little straw huts that the Japanese use to cover plants in the winter! I found them so adorable!!!



We also witnessed this cute scene where the man in the pond (staff) was trying to catch a fish, and the other visitors were cheering him on. Everyone was very pleased when he succeeded in catching the fish.

We then took the bus to the Kagoshima ferry terminal that would take us to Sakurajima. I mentioned in the last post that I was really excited to come to Kagoshima in order to visit this active volcano and Yakushima, an island close to Kagoshima. These were major destinations I planned around for our visit to Kyushu. The ferry ride between Kagoshima and Sakurajima is only around 15 minutes, so it’s really close (and the reason why the town gets a lot of ash when the volcano erupts). After arriving at Sakurajima, there wasn’t much around so we walked up the hill to a cafeteria for a simple and quick lunch.


I love that they are keeping track of Sakurajima’s eruption frequency on this board. As you can see, it had been quiet thus far in January and T were personally quite disappointed that there were no eruptions during our time in Kagoshima. In fact, it erupted over a thousand times the previous year, and after we left, Sakurajima did erupt!





We walked the Nagisa Lava Trail (around 3km), then took a bus from the end of the trail to Yunohira Observation Point. The Nagisa Lava Trail starts near the ferry terminal, and winds through the lava zone created from the giant 1914 eruption, showing all the vegetation regrowth since then. The Yunohira Observation is the closest observation point to the crater (2.5km away) and also the tallest at 350m.

We took the bus back to the ferry terminal and returned to Kagoshima. I also purchased our ferry tickets to travel to and from Yakushima, where we would be going tomorrow.

We walked around Kagoshima, stopping at a shochu store to buy (shochu) souvenirs, and many conbini since it was a bit early to have dinner but I had no other plans.

For dinner, we had ramen at Tontoro Ramen, which was apparently one of the best ramen restaurants in Kagoshima.

Day 4: January 21

We took a very early taxi to the Kagoshima ferry terminal. It was just easier with our luggage and the time of day to take a taxi. Our ferry departed for Yakushima at 7:45am and took two hours. When we arrived at Yakushima Miyanoura terminal, we picked up our rental car. For this rental car, I would be driving! Yakushima is very hard to navigate without a car, and especially so in winter when public transport is more limited. The island is manageable to drive around though – only 135km.

Yakushima is a subtropical island covered in cedar trees and known to have Japan’s oldest trees. It is famous for raining “35 days a month” and its ancient cedar trees, especially Jomonsugi, which is estimated to be 2000 to 7500 years old and the is the main attraction of Yakushima. Visiting Jomonsugi is like a pilgrimage to the Japanese, and in peak season, the trail to Jomonsugi is so congested that there’s barely any gaps between hikers. The roundtrip hike takes around ten hours (or more depending where you start) but because of the reduced access and shorter daylight hours during winter, it was not a good idea to attempt this hike. However we are hoping to return to Yakushima in the future to do the Jomonsugi pilgrimage!

My plans for Yakushima were fairly relaxed since it would be weather dependent. In true form, it poured the whole first day so we drove around one side of the island to the various sites marked out on maps.



How adorable was our car? It was tiny but comfortable and very easy to drive. The road speeds were slow enough that it didn’t matter that we were in a small car.

Much of the island was pretty deserted and we almost never saw tourists, even at tourist destinations. Even the town area where shops and hotels were located was really quiet. I guess winter is really not a popular time to visit Yakushima. We couldn’t even find a restaurant or anything for a long stretch, so we stopped at a supermarket. It thankfully had a bathroom (which I desperately also needed). We bought some food from the supermarket, warmed it up in their microwave and ate a very late lunch in the car.





We were driving down the western coast, which is definitely the quietest side of of the island (buses don’t even serve that side). The roads were, for long stretches, just single lane mountain roads for BOTH directions but we could go an hour or two without seeing a single car driving in the opposite direction. I guess that was one good thing about visiting during the super low season. Occasionally we would have to stop as there were animals in our way. We stopped at four waterfalls, including Okonotaki/Oko Waterfall, which is considered one of 100 most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. Japan loves a good list.






It worked out well that we just drove around the western side and stopped at the waterfalls, since it rained so hard all day. It would have been miserable to do any walks or hikes. We drove to our hotel, Yakushima Green Hotel, on the eastern side of the island (where all the hotels are) and checked in. The hotel had large rooms but was a bit old. Overall it was fine though.

We drove to have dinner at Izakaya Jijiya, which serves modern and fusion izakaya food. I hadn’t had trouble with parking the whole day because we hadn’t really been on residential roads, and most tourist destinations had parking areas. Unfortunately I could not figure out where to park nearby! We actually had to go ask at the restaurant, and they informed us of a parking area across the road where we could park for free. We enjoyed a nice dinner after a pretty tiring day. I was definitely sick of the rain though!






Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 (Day 0 & 1 & 2 – Travel, Kumamoto, Kagoshima)

See: Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 itinerary and intro

Day 0 & 1: January 17 & 18

Our flight was at 12:30pm and I woke up at 6am (!) to shower and get ready. T’s parents drove us to the airport. We arrived around 9am and it took around an hour to get through to the gates. We had some breakfast at Little Ludlow and bummed around until our flight (with JAL).

Our first leg landed at Singapore Changi airport around 5:30pm and it only took around half an hour to clear immigration. I met my friend and she took us to the staff food court adjoined to the airport where we ate some hawker food. This was a great way to catch up with her in the few hours we had to transit since we didn’t have to travel anywhere.

We hung around until 8:30pm before going back to our gate. Our next flight departed from Changi at around 10pm. We landed at Tokyo Haneda airport around 5:30am (on time) but we had a domestic transit at 7:30am, which I hadn’t realised would be a problem. We had to clear immigration, which took around an hour because there were so many people, run out and find our checked luggage and re-check it in for the domestic leg. I noticed that a lot of domestic flights were cancelled due to severe snow weather. Then we had to catch a monorail for the domestic terminal! We made it to our boarding gate with 15 minutes to spare, so it was really a lot more stressful than I had anticipated!

All over the country, Japan was actually having abnormally cold weather with lots of snow storms and many unusual places experiencing snow. Our plane was actually delayed because they had to de-ice the plane… this seemed to involve a man on a crane hosing the plane down, haha. I’m just grateful we were one of the few planes not cancelled! Shortly before take-off, a flight attendant also came and informed us that our checked luggage had not made the flight and would be on the next flight (roughly an hour behind). This wasn’t a big deal to me because almost anything is better than lost luggage.

After landing at Tokyo Haneda airport, we waited at the boarding gate another two hours (the second flight with our luggage was also delayed). I did have to check that the staff member knew who we were and that we were waiting for our luggage. She was quite concerned about disrupting our travel plans but honestly it wasn’t a big deal to us. When the plane landed, a staff member informed us and we went to baggage collection, where someone else was waiting there with our luggage – yay! It was such a relief to see it.

But the crazy first leg continues (I don’t think I’d ever do this again…)! We took a bus to Shin-Osaka station (25 minutes), exchanged our 21-day JR pass, booked some shinkansen seats, and activated our passes for our 3+ hour ride to Kumamoto, the first city on our trip. From Kumamoto station, we took a tram to our hotel, Richmond Hotel Kumamoto Shinshigai, which was located in the central shopping arcade of Kumamoto. It was a lovely hotel and exactly what I wanted. We checked in and picked up the pocket wifi that was mailed to our hotel. And so after 30-odd hours we were finally in our first location. Good gosh what was I thinking…

After relaxing for a bit, we left to walk around the area and find somewhere for dinner. We definitely wanted izakaya food!






We settled on Hakata Ichibandori, a quiet restaurant (I think we were one of only two sets of diners there) with a huge menu. It’s actually a chain restaurant, I think. The skewers were ah-mazing! Kumamoto’s specialty dish is basashi, horse sashimi. We ordered some and with some apprehension (none from T though because he’s game for everything), I tried it. It wasn’t bad, but also not memorable.

Day 2: January 19

Due to the weird cold weather Japan was experiencing, we actually had light snow in Kumamoto! Kyushu is the southernmost of the main Japanese islands and has a subtropical climate, hence why I chose to visit in January. Snow is pretty rare overall. Locals said it happens once every five to ten years or so. It was quite cold and windy though the light snow didn’t really continue into the afternoon. We were only going to sightsee around Kumamoto for half a day. First we walked to Kumamoto-jo/Kumamoto Castle, which is a modern reconstruction of the original castle, though some original structures still remain (such as the Uto Turret). Although it’s a modern reconstruction, the castle and its grounds are considered one of the most impressive in Japan, especially during sakura season. Very sadly, this castle suffered severe damages during the 2016 earthquake and it is still closed to the public.


I believe the structure on the left of the enormous tree is an original structure. We also went inside the castle, and at the top you can see a beautiful view of Kumamoto city, since the castle is perched on a hilltop.



We then walked back to the Shinshigai area to line up for katsu (Japanese port cutlets) at Katsuretsutei Shinshigai Honten, a very famous and popular katsu restaurant in Kumamoto. We arrived before midday and didn’t have to wait too long.

After lunch, we trammed to Suizenji-jojuen/Suizenji Garden, a landscape garden which reproduces the post stations of the Tokaido (including a miniature version of Mt Fuji).






The garden was so immaculate and beautiful. There were hardly any people, and in general I was surprised by how few tourists we saw in Kyushu until we got to Beppu and Fukuoka. (Honestly, it was kind of glorious compared to the rest of the trip)

I also picked up my first dango of the trip! (FYI I freaking love dango)

We trammed back to our hotel and picked up our bags to then take the shinkansen from Kumamoto station to Kagoshima-chuo station (around 45 minutes to arrive around 5pm). I was first introduced to Kagoshima from the taiga drama (period drama), Atsu-hime, in which the first half is set in Kagoshima, with the beautiful backdrop of the active volcano, Sakurajima. I was so excited to visit Kagoshima and Sakurajima!

It is very clear everywhere you turn that Kagoshima is also very proud of Sakurajima.


We checked in to our hotel, Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel Kagoshima (also excellent), and they had a great view of the mountain from the hotel! Sakurajima is so close to Kagoshima that it’s visible from almost everywhere.


We headed out to grab dinner. We went to Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, which roughly translates to Kagomma old hometown food stall village. It has a bit of a novelty factor, but it was really quiet and there really weren’t any tourists at all! We sat down in one tiny little stall (seated about two people on three sides so six to seven people total sitting around the chef). The store owner-chef (shopkeeper?) and the other locals were very friendly and chatted to us. One man said he/his company built a lot of important buildings around the world. One thing I always get in Japan is people exclaiming how far I’ve travelled (from Australia) to visit Japan. I find this so bizarre because I consider Japan one of the closest countries for us to visit!





We left after we had tried everything we were interested in, because a couple of them were smoking. We also like hopping around and trying a lot of stuff in Japan. The sizes of izakaya dishes means we can try a lot of things in small portions. We went to another little place, where we tried some oden. This one was more like a small restaurant and we sat in our corner, rather than squished up against other customers.


Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 (3 week/23 days) itinerary and intro

Intro

This was my first holiday with T and we were both pleased to discover that we had similar and often complementary travel habits and priorities. T also discovered to his joy how much I enjoy trip planning because he hates thinking about it. So I get to plan all our holidays forever and ever, yay!!

It had been just over three years since the previous visit to Japan. The trip was my longest yet – three-ish weeks, meaning I could fit in first-timer must-see tourist places (my opinion) for T who hadn’t visited before, and I could easily expand the itinerary to include other sites that I want to visit for the first time. This trip was a monster to plan. We visited southern Kyushu and northern Hokkaido (briefly), and used the 21-day JR pass which is known as the most difficult JR pass to get your money’s worth out of. We exceeded the value significantly, which shows the distance and frequency we used it. Now I know we both adore Japan and T really gets why I want to keep returning to Japan for travel, there will be many more trips to Japan in the future. We are visiting again this coming April!

I chose January to February because it is the low season (and I love escaping Melbourne summers to enjoy winters) and timed it to visit the Sapporo winter festival.

The plan

    Visit the top “first-timer” places (if I designed a 1.5-week itinerary for someone’s first and last Japan trip) – Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Miyajima, Kawaguchi-ko – could not fit in Kawaguchi-ko and not great time to visit
    Sapporo Winter Festival
    Otaru Snow Light Path Festival (Otaru and Sapporo festivals usually overlap by a few days)
    Visit Himeji castle, often considered the most beautiful original castle in Japan – Was under renovation for many years when I wanted to visit in 2012
    Visit Kobe – Never been!
    Visit Kyushu including Yakushima (and Jomon Sugi) – Southern Japan would likely have a milder winter and Yakushima looked like a stunning island but we didn’t manage to visit Jomon Sugi because winter is actually not the right time to make the hike – oops!
    Visit Shirakawa-go and see the gassho-zukuri farmhouses – carried over from the 2012 trip where I couldn’t fit it in and because winter is still the best time to visit
    Visit Amanohashidate, one of the nihon sankei (three most scenic views of Japan) – carried over from the 2012 trip where I couldn’t fit this in but did visit Miyajima (one of the other nihon sankei

The worst part of planning Japan trips is everything that unfortunately cannot make it onto the itinerary! For resources, Japan-guide and Hyperdia were my indispensable best friends as per usual. To be the most time and distance efficient, I wanted to fly in and out of different cities, and ended up flying with JAL to Itami airport (Osaka) and departed from Narita airport (Tokyo) with stopovers in Singapore on both legs and an additional transit at Haneda airport (Tokyo) for the first leg to Japan. That made both legs pretty intense (considering Japan is not that far to Melbourne) and the first leg arriving in Japan especially crazy! I tend to find the combination of Tokyo and Osaka flights optimal since both cities have two major airpots and both cities typically end up on itineraries. I think I would look less favourably on spending 24 hours to get to our starting city (after our flight we had to take a shinkansen to our first destination!), especially as I hadn’t realised we would have to check-in again on the domestic leg (including hauling our luggage, which ended up missing our flight during the short transit – but more on that later). On the other hand, fewer airlines can string together Osaka and Tokyo routes, and I considered under $1000 for JAL pretty good at the time. The route also allowed me a few hours in Singapore – enough time to exit and leave immigration in order to meet my friend, who came to the airport.

Final itinerary

17 January – 10 February 2016

Click links to see the corresponding blog entry!

Day 00: Flight from Melbourne to Itami/Osaka via Singapore and Haneda/Tokyo [enroute]
Day 01: Arrival in Osaka; travel to Kumamoto [Stay in Kumamoto] *JR Pass Day 1*
Day 02: Kumamoto – Kumamoto Castle, Suizenji Garden, travel to Kagoshima [Stay in Kagoshima]
Day 03: Kagoshima – Sengan-en, Sakurajima [Stay in Kagoshima]
Day 04: Travel to Yakushima, pick up rental car, Yakushima [Stay in Yakushima]
Day 05: Yakushima – Shiratani Unsuikyo [Stay in Yakushima]
Day 06: Yakushima – Kigen-sugi, Yakusugi Land, return rental car, travel to Kumamoto [Stay in Kumamoto]
Day 07: Pick up rental car and drive to Takachiho – Takachiho Gorge, drive to Beppu [Stay in Beppu]
Day 08: Beppu – Hells of Beppu, return rental car, travel to Fukuoka [Stay in Fukuoka]
Day 09: Fukuoka, visit Nagasaki [Stay in Fukuoka]
Day 10: Travel to Kyoto – Fushimi Inari Taisha, visit Osaka – Umeda Sky Building [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 11: Visit Hiroshima, visit Miyajima – Itsukushima-jinja [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 12: Kyoto – Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto Imperial Palace, dinner at Sojiki Nakahigashi [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 13: Visit Himeji – Himeji Castle, visit Kobe [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 14: Visit Amanohashidate, visit Osaka [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 15: Kyoto – Ginkaku-ji, Philosopher’s Path, Nanzen-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, Higashiyama, Gion [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 16: Travel to Nagoya – Nagoya Castle [Stay in Nagoya]
Day 17: Visit Takayama, visit Shirakawa-go [Stay in Nagoya]
Day 18: Travel to Tokyo – Asakusa, Tokyo Sky Tree, Sumida Aquarium [Stay in Tokyo]
Day 19: Travel to Sapporo [Stay in Sapporo]
Day 20: Sapporo Snow Festival, visit Otaru Snow Light Path Festival [Stay in Sapporo]
Day 21: Travel to Tokyo [Stay in Tokyo] *JR pass day 21 – last day*
Day 22: Tokyo – Tsukiji, Roppongi, Odaiba [Stay in Tokyo]
Day 23: Tokyo – Shibuya, Shinjuku [Stay in Tokyo]
Day 23+1: Flight from Haneda/Tokyo to Melbourne via Singapore [enroute]
Day 23+2: Arrive in Melbourne

Important costs (AU$ or ¥)

(Not well documented…)

    Flights: ~$990pp with JAL
    Hotels: ~$140/night for 2 (most expensive ¥35728 for one night at The Tokyo Station Hotel)
    Dinner at 2-Michelin star Sojiki Nakahigashi: ¥15000pp
    Kobe beef dinner (in Kobe): A5 120g-180g sirloin and flank/bottom sirloin (a bit of confusion on the cut) ~¥9000-11000
    JR pass: $676pp (21-day JR Pass)
    Return ferry to Yakushima from Kagoshima: ¥16100yen
    Car rental: ??

Note: T didn’t really buy anything and spent around $4500-5000 total for the whole trip (inclusive of flights) and I wouldn’t say we were frugal at all

Final thoughts

We packed one check-in suitcase (~17kg), one carry-on suitcase and one carry-on backpack (we packed a change of clothes in our carry-on plus anything we wouldn’t want to lose, such as cables and chargers). We packed a light duffel bag in case of shopping – which we ended up doing a lot of. The whole check-in suitcase ended up filled with souvenirs (mostly food and alcohol) so we additionally checked in the carry-on suitcase and duffel on the return flight (we haven’t needed to expand with the duffel bag for our later Europe or USA trips though). We avoided breakfast-included rates where possible because I find conbini so much more convenient and much cheaper, especially as T doesn’t tend to eat breakfast. I usually purchased vegetables or salad the night before to eat while getting ready the next morning (I find vegetables far too lacking when eating out). If still hungry, I’d grab something on the go while we were out for the day. As with previous trips, I mostly chose mid-range business hotels, which are small but clean and well-priced. Often it’s possible to find good ones near the main stations. I stayed at Hotel Sunroute Plaza (Shinjuku) for the second trip in a row because I really like it’s value and location. It’s reviewer ratings are lower than what I typically choose but having stayed there before, I knew what I was in for and it met all my needs as it did the previous time. One of my favourite things about travelling in Japan is that mid-range hotels usually have coin laundries. We only had difficulties with machines taken up by other customers once and had to leave and come back, but otherwise we were able to do our (planned) laundry every 4-6 days.

We only made one restaurant booking, which including ringing up months ahead to book the Michelin restaurant (among my shortlist, this was the first one to accept a reservation from a non-Japanese patron – usually they would ask your hotel to book for you). For everything else, we looked up restaurants on the fly or just walked into a restaurants that looked alright. Most restaurants that came highly recommended from the Internet, we planned ahead (like the day before) and made sure to arrive early to minimise the queuing. It was hit and miss – I wouldn’t trust English reviews anymore. Notable restaurants will be discussed in subsequent posts. Overall the food was amazing and cheap – T is the most adventurous eater I’ve been to Japan with, and I think we were really able to eat very well for pretty cheap. In particular we are both fans of izakaya (and drinking Japanese fruit liqueurs), which we ate at for most dinners. My impression is that on average, most of our dinners cost ¥3000-6000 for two (with alcohol), proper lunches around ¥2000-3000 for two, and on-the-go quick snack/lunches around ¥1000-1500. This isn’t representative of Japanese food but these are the kind of places we naturally gravitate towards based on our taste and preference for Japanese food (casual and homely)… and occasion need to just keep moving and not prioritise food. Street food and conbini food is pretty awesome!

As mentioned above, we purchased the 21-day JR pass ($676 at the time but this moves with the exchange rate) which we picked up locally from HIS Japan because they had the cheapest AUD price at the time. We exchanged and used it upon arrival in Japan and I made almost all my reservations on the first day as well, for ease. With this, we literally zipped all over Japan and made some trips that seemed pretty silly if not using the JR pass (such as shinkansen travel between Kyoto and Osaka just for dinner).

For the first time, I also rented a pocket wifi. My previous travelling style had been without phone/internet and relying on maps and diagrams stored on my phone (or, I admit, hard copies printed and folded in my bag!). As my planning got more complicated, this method got more complicated for travelling through Japan. Now with T as my travel companion, he made it clear that Internet was non-negotiable. It is much easier to rent pocket (portable) wifi devices in Japan than to try and get a phone sim (it is now easier to get a data-only sim, but still harder and more expensive to get a sim with calls/text). We did some research on wifi coverage (since we would be visiting some pretty remote places) and daily limits in deciding on the company to go with (neither of us can remember the company or find the emails from that time unfortunately…). We chose to have ours delivered to our first hotel (also possible to pick up from major airports) and then return it via reply-paid post on our final day. This worked seamlessly and I believe many travellers who rent pocket wifi devices would agree that the process is very convenient for most companies. Our coverage was great even in Yakushima (except for maybe for some spots deep into our hikes) but actually it was surprisingly bad on long shinkansen rides. I am using a data sim for my upcoming trip so I will see how I get on with that compared to a pocket wifi.

I also discovered and bought my first goshuin-chou – a bit late from Kinkakuji though, so I missed out on several good opportunities earlier on! Argh! I almost filled my first book from the trip. We spent many days with no plans and just wandering the streets and obsessively going to teeny tiny shrines and temples annotated on Google maps and finding a priest or caretaker to give me a goshuin. I definitely surprised many poor priests/caretakers in some fairly obscure suburban shrines and temples. I am super proud of my first book and hope to collect many more books and fill them!

Unlike previous trips to Japan where I only used cash (pre-exchanged in Melbourne), we got the 28 Degrees credit card and used it for about half our expenses. I pre-exchanges only some cash, in anticipation for being able to use a credit card at most restaurants. This trip is where I noticed that more merchants were accepting cards than previously.

I also planned places where we would need to drive because public transport in Japan does have it’s limits! So for the first time, I had to rent cars and we both had a go driving (we rented twice). It’s actually really easy driving in Japan (especially in small towns). We got our Internal Drivers’ Permits just before leaving (received on the spot).

Camera: My beloved Canon G15 – unfortunately I dropped it a few times early on and then the focus didn’t work properly… this was my last trip with this camera although I tried to use it with difficulty for several more months. 🙁 I adored my G15 and should have taken better care of it.

Money Diary: #2 Week before Christmas

This will definitely be an abnormal week as it was the lead up to Christmas, and T and I celebrated our anniversary. T and I share expenses now so everything is charged to our joint account (cash and credit) unless otherwise stated. I’m not tracking T’s own spend from our joint account though, as I just don’t track that! I’m sure I spend a lot more money than he does, in any case!

Day 1: Monday 17 December

I prepare lunch for T and myself – a sandwich each and some carrots and sugar snaps I prepared the night earlier. I also prepare my breakfast to take to work (cut up an orange with yoghurt), and make a coffee to take and drink after lunch (I don’t like our work coffee beans so if I can be bothered in the morning, I just take my own in an insulated mug).

On Mondays, I drive to work so I can then visit my parents and eat dinner with them after work.

At work, I add some muesli to my fruit and yoghurt. I keep around 3 serves in a small jar at work so I am able to add it just before eating it. I don’t like soggy muesli.

For lunch, I eat what I brought, and then drink my coffee. I forgot to bring snacks today and struggle a bit. I don’t have any snacks in my desk drawer either. Sad times.

After work, I drive to my parents’ house. Mum cooks a feast (as always) as though it’s someone’s birthday. I can tell my parents really enjoy our family dinners, so I let them go overboard. Mum gives me some cash to pay for her half of Dad’s Christmas present (snow pants from Macpac) and a dress I recently ordered from J. Crew because she didn’t know what to get me for Christmas and insisted on “buying” it for me when the package arrived at her house. She then told me I had to bring it back to her so she could wrap it and put it under her tree. This means in total I moved it back and forth four times, haha! (Since I moved into T’s apartment and his building doesn’t have a concierge like my building, I send all my parcels to a parcel locker. Unfortunately my research indicated that the courier J. Crew used would not deliver to parcel lockers. In those rare instances, my parents are happy to accept my parcels. Why is online shopping still so difficult in Australia?!)

I sit through the first half of Home Alone (LOVE IT!) and then make myself leave as it gets late. I drive home.

Day 2: Tuesday 18 December

I prepare breakfast with banana and yoghurt this time, and make my coffee to take to work. I add my muesli at work. T did not tell me he didn’t want to take lunch (he had a work Christmas event), so my weekday lunch plans are thrown off somewhat. I decide to just buy today and pack our two lunches the next day. I remember to bring a snack today. I want to bring fruit but I poke the peaches and they’re definitely not ripe yet. I pack a small serving of biscuits as emergency snacks.

I take the train to work. I buy 4-week public transport passes and let T use it on weekdays when I drive. He works one suburb outside of the CBD, so usually only rides the tram through the free city zone and then alights at the end of the free zone and walks several blocks to his work so his transport is free (unless the weather is shocking or he has a really long day). I work in the suburbs now so public transport is a must. Driving would actually be cheaper since work is within 10km of my house, but taking the train is more time efficient if I don’t want to arrive early, and better for the environment. I’m usually at work after 9am. It’s a very relaxed environment.

For lunch, I buy a mini cherry, spinach and ricotta quiche and a mini spinach and ricotta pastry from a nearby gourmet food store, deli and bakery. It wasn’t the best choice and a bit much. This place is always really expensive but I didn’t feel like sushi today. I drink my own coffee. $15.45

I decide to buy a white water kayaking experience. It sounds awesome even if I’ll be miserable when I’m soaked, haha. I book it for the Friday during the Christmas break (forced break for me). We are always talking about doing cool and new things, but never actually doing them. This sounds like a great plan to me. I’ll surprise T later (today’s our 5th anniversary) even though I don’t consider it a gift. I don’t think we need to get each other gifts. Unfortunately I receive an email from the company a few hours later saying the date was labelled as available in error. I’m upset (a few days later we book it in for the start of January). $118 (personal account)

I email Jo Malone because part of my friend’s Christmas present was ordered late November and arrived at the Melbourne sorting facility at the end of November but hasn’t moved since. Of course being Australia Post, they did not respond when I opened a lost item enquiry a week later. T said I needed to jump up and down some more, and also make it Jo Malone’s responsibility. So I email Jo Malone asking if they could do anything for me. They respond almost immediately saying I could pick something else out and they’d send to me. The item (one of JM’s Christmas gifts) was long sold out, and I had since purchased some things from Sephora to replace the JM items for my friends gift, so I pick out a candle since it was closest in price. I tell the JM customer representative and offer to pay the price difference, but they said it would be posted and the price difference waived. I am super impressed by the customer service at Jo Malone, especially as it’s not their fault.

I purchase discounted tickets to Artvo, a ‘trick art’ gallery I’ve been meaning to visit for a long time. They’re usually $28 but I get them for $18 each. $36

I leave work early to get to the post office to pick up a package before they shut. The parcel lockers are all full so I have to collect from the counter, which is super inconvenient! I wish there were more parcel lockers! I take the train, which is stalled (as always) and rush to the post office. I make it before close and there is a long line of people waiting to pick up parcels. After I get my two parcels, I meet up with T and we walk home together. I drop off my stuff, change bags and grab a shawl.

We take a tram (T validates his pass today) to “Tempura Hajime”, a 12-seat tempura omakase restaurant. We both pick the more expensive tempura and sushi course ($115) and order a drink ($13). The food is nice and actually I wasn’t that full at the end. It isn’t amazing though, and I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it. T thinks we had nicer tempura at a simple lunch place on a tiny island in Japan… Our bill is an extravagant $256 and we argue over whether to tip and how much (settle of $15). $271

We tram back home.

Day 3: Wednesday 19 December

I make a sandwich and a heap of vegetables for our lunches. I am pleased to find one peach is ripe, so I cut that up and pack yoghurt and muesli for breakfast. I also take a banana but skip making coffee.

I take the train to work and same back home.

Once I get into the city, I wander around a little bit. I walk past a Koko Black pop-up store and decide to go inside. I get handed some free chocolate and then decide to buy some of my favourite Koko Black chocolate, Tasmanian Leatherwood Honeycomb. For 150g, $16.50

I get home and T is on day 2 of cooking his infamous pasta sauce (he makes a huge Le Creuset pot of pasta sauce over, typically, two nights). He started on Monday and is finishing it off today. We eat it with pasta and pack it for lunch too. Looks like it’s a small batch this time and we’ll get four more serves out of it (eight total). I also cut up some peaches for us to eat.

Day 4: Thursday 20 December

I make a coffee to take, cut up a banana to have with yoghurt and muesli for breakfast, and also cut up an orange and peach to eat throughout the day.

I take the train to and from work.

As I’m heating up my pasta lunch, a colleague whips out an apricot cake for her birthday. So I eat pre-lunch cake and then my lunch. It’s a lot of food…

After I get home, we eat more pasta with T’s pasta sauce. He packs two lunches as well and we are pleased that at least there’s two sauce serves left to freeze for rainy days. I also have some ice cream.

Day 5: Friday 21 December

I cut up a peach for breakfast with yoghurt and muesli, cut up an orange for snacking, make a coffee to take, and take my pasta lunch. I drive to work because I may need to pick up my mum from a surgery she is having later in the day.

Update from that missing Jo Malone parcel. I get a tracking notification that it was sent back to the seller because I didn’t pick it up! I phone Australia Post (20 minutes on hold) to ask what the heck is up. Apparently it was never scanned in when it reached my post office, hence I was never made aware. Then AusPost somehow forgot to respond to my lost item enquiry. Then some three weeks later it got automatically sent back! To their credit, the representative I was speaking to thought it was a unbelievably huge ****-up and profusely apologised to me. She said the company would be able to just send it back to me and she even transferred me $15 for the inconvenience. (The following Monday, the Jo Malone representative I was emailing said the package would indeed be sent back to me, and to keep the extra candle as a guesture of goodwill when I offered to pay for it! At the end of the day I somehow came away happy with the excellent service, a free candle and money…!)

Mum is staying overnight in the hospital so I drive home. Dad will pick her up the next morning.

For dinner, I make okonomiyaki with cabbage, mushroom, carrot, potato and egg. This is my second attempt and not as good as my first attempt, which turned out really well.

Day 6: Saturday 22 December

It’s a slow morning and we only leave the house after midday. We drive to have brunch at Bawa. I have a salmon gravlax dish and T has the chilli scrambled eggs dish and a latte. My salmon gravlax is an awful dish, and the chilli scramble was always our favourite in Melbourne but today it’s not as good as before. We probably won’t come back here. I lost the receipt so do not have itemised costs. There was a 10% weekend surcharge. $47.30

We go to the Bunnings Warehouse next door (partly why we chose to visit Bawa) because I need to purchase a replacement globe for my Airbnb. $9.30 (personal account for Airbnb and not included in total)

We head to South Melbourne. I need to start shopping for everything I am making for Christmas day lunch and dinner (the former is hosted by T’s Aunt and the latter by my Mum), hence our grocery buys over the next two days are not typical of our usual grocery shopping habits, which usually involves hoarding things only when they are at their lowest unit price (I have a strange talent of being able to remember unit prices on almost everything we usually buy…). This applies less to fresh foods – I will begrudgingly buy fruits and vegetables that are not on sale, haha.

The things I need to buy for that I don’t already have ingredients for are a fruit salad and a mango cake. I look at mangoes in Woolworths so I can time them to be perfect by Tuesday (I need some ripe and some a little underripe). I buy 7 mangoes ($1.80 each), 1kg of carrots ($1) and 200g of fancy blueberries ($6.50!). I have a $10 of rewards credit that I use off the $20.10 total, and pay the rest on a 5% discount gift card (we buy everything under the Woolworths family on gift cards pre-purchased at 95% value). $10.10 but really ~$9.60

We walk across to Dan Murphy’s because the only gift left to buy is something for my Uncle. I pick a white wine. We pay using the 5% gift card. $19.99 but really ~$19

I decide we might as well also visit Coles because I want peaches for my fruit salad and they probably need the extra day to ripen (we otherwise will do our major grocery shop on Sunday as usual), but they didn’t look very nice at Woolworths. I buy ~800g peaches ($3.50/kg), ~1kg oranges ($4.90/kg) and a packet of reindeer ice cream sticks because I got an offer to redeem them for free (otherwise $4). $7.80

For dinner, I booked Hell of the North, one of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne. We haven’t visited in a couple of years and want to make sure it’s still excellent. It’s funny because I rather dislike French food, but I adore everything here! We drive there. T wants to get the chef’s menu ($75/head) so we do that because it’s Christmas (I much prefer a la carte – $75 is a lot, we already had a super fancy meal earlier the week, and the last time we had the chef’s menu here we could barely move…). We also order a cocktail ($18) each. The food was impeccable and divine. Our bill comes to $188 with an included $2 donation to feeding those in need. We spent way too much on food this week and it makes me anxious. We tip $12 so it rounds to $200 but it turns out there’s also a credit card surcharge!! $203.10

Day 7: Sunday 23 December

We go to the florist and I pick three flowers to make a bouquet for my Mum. $40

We go visit my parents. Mum is doing poorly and couch-ridden after her surgery. I send T out to get some supplies for a cranberry vodka punch I am making for Christmas dinner so we can just leave them here. I also struggled to find half pineapples yesterday (I don’t want to accidentally pick a whole pineapple that is underripe and half pineapples are easier to time because you can see inside already) so I get him to hunt that down at the local grocery stores too.

T successfully finds half a pineapple at Coles. $1.90

T also gets 2 1.25L bottles of lemonade ($0.75 each) and 2 1.5L bottles of cranberry juice ($3.80 each) at Woolworths for the punch. He pays with a 5% gift card. $9.10 but really ~$8.65

After leaving my parents’ house, we go to Huff Bagelry for a quick lunch. We get our usual “Autumn Brekky” bagels (THE BEST) ($11 each) and T gets a latte ($3.80). $25.80

We also fill up petrol because petrol predictions say we are sitting at the low point on the price curve. We fill unleaded 98 (140.9c/L) and use our 4c/L discount. We pay using our 5% gift card (effectively around 130c/L after all discounts). $63.06 but really ~$59.90

We go to Woolworths to do our weekly grocery shop. We always do it on Sunday but this time we buy ingredients for Christmas lunch and dinner dishes, and don’t buy much for ourselves. I buy ingredients for the mango cake I am making and more fruit for the fruit salad. For ourselves, we only pick up some vegetables. I lost the receipt and can’t really remember what we purchased so I won’t bother trying. We pay with our 5% gift card. $39.44 but really ~$37.47

For dinner, we go to visit T’s parents. We usually eat with them every Sunday night. They say we are going out for dinner instead of eating at home. We eat at a Chinese restaurant and T’s parents kindly pay. We return back to their house to chat and eat fruit – YUM!

Total spend: $917.47

I hope you had a wonderful end of year season and New Year’s. The day after the end of this money diary (Christmas Eve), I ended up sending my Mum to the emergency department. She returned home a few hours later and is now much better. She still insisted on going ahead with Christmas dinner but was unable to do anything. With the combined effort of my Grandma, T and myself (but mostly my amazing Grandma), we ended up making pretty much the whole dinner for ten and I think it meant a lot to my Mum that we were all able to be together.

Travel: Sydney Trip 2018 – Day 3 & 4 (4 days in Sydney)

See Day 1 & 2 post

Day 3: May 2

The day of my graduation! In the morning, we took an Uber to USyd and I got robed up. I’ve only attended UniMelb graduations before, so I don’t have a lot of “experience”, but my impression was the USyd graduation organisation and logistics was chaotic and poorly executed (and it shouldn’t matter if there are multiple in one day!). Robe rental was pre-booked and you get a time slot to turn up for your robes. This didn’t appear to be in effect, as the line was long and I got in a lot later than my time slot. So everyone was basically finished later than their scheduled time. Graduands and guests entered the ceremony hall after the scheduled start time. We weren’t given instructions on what to do, and we weren’t told that we’d be returning to a different seat so I had no idea what to do with my phone as I had no pockets (I handed it to a staff, who had her arms full with people’s phones). We started and finished really late and it was just a long and confusing ordeal. Despite a specified time by which robes were meant to be returned, the ceremony finished AFTER this time. Seeing as no one else rushed off to return their robe, I also didn’t care too much so I finally took some photos. There was otherwise zero time before or after the ceremony to properly take photos. This wass incredibly disappointing! I think the ceremonies need to start and end on time so people can organise their day and have the time to take proper or professional photos! I took photos for less than ten minutes after the ceremony before running off to return the robe, and it was a stressful ten minutes. My friend (who I met with the previous night) is studying and working at USyd so she came to see me too. Of course, she had to wait around a long time since the ceremony ended late. Sigh. Overall, I remember the graduation as more of a confusing and stressful headache.

After we were all done, we took an Uber back to Bowery Lane, where we visited two days ago, to have a late lunch. I was ravenous!


After the late lunch, we basically just wandered around the city and ducked into a few shops. I had planned for the afternoon to be quite flexible since I wasn’t sure when the whole graduation thing and then lunch would finish. We went to Queen Victoria Building, which I do like to check out every time because it is so beautiful! I am disappointed my favourite overly-fancy female bathrooms appear to be just fairly normal bathrooms now. Around this point, my Dad left to fetch his bag from the hotel and catch his flight back to Melbourne.


We walked around quite aimlessly for a few hours. We checked out a few of those designer outlets that seem to be common in Sydney, and lusted over Max Mara coats (drool).

Running out of places to walk, we started making our way back towards Circular Quay to see the harbour at night before heading to my dinner reservation, which was very close to our hotel.






Mejico – This Mexican restaurant was definitely busier than I had anticipated for a Tuesday night. The service and food were great! It’s elevated, modern Mexican food and sooo yummy.

Once back at the hotel, of course I had to take photos of my graduation gifts since I couldn’t keep the flowers my friend kindly gave me beyond the next morning. T got me an adorable graduation bear (okay, I had wanted it!). It was so cute that they were able to change his robe colours to reflect my degree’s robe colours! That was a really nice touch.


Day 4: May 3

For our final half day in Sydney, we had to firstly pack up and check-out. The hotel held out luggage for us until we came back to collect them later.

In the morning, we walked around the Royal Botanical Gardens, which has a beautiful harbour backdrop. I’ve only been once before.





The absolute highlight, and something I’d never known about before, was the indoor green wall at The Calyx. The theme seems to change, and I forget the name of the theme when we were there. It was so beautiful!!!

We then trekked to The Sydney Observatory, which was supposed to be a great lookout spot. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t take any pictures but perhaps I was too hot from all the walking…! Lunch was at Bar Tapavino, which was strategically chosen to be in near the observatory and our hotel.







Tapa Vino – It may sounds weird to have Spanish tapas for lunch, but I much prefer sharing small dishes and trying more things. The restaurant was quiet for lunch and the food was delicious! The food was quite homely and comfortable.

Finally, we grabbed our bags from the hotel and headed off for our flight back home! Now I’m just dreaming of when I can justify going to Sydney for Chaco Bar…

Costs

Flights: $140 per person (carry-on only with Jetstar)
Hotel: ~$600 per room (3 nights)