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


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

Travel: Sydney Trip 2018 – Day 1 & 2 (4 days in Sydney)

In May, my Masters graduation was held at The University of Sydney. I was keen to attend even though I had studied via distance and it was in another state (I’d never even been to the university!), since I’d enjoyed the course so much more than my Bachelor. The ceremony would be on a Monday so I made plans with T and my family to make it a 4-day trip (Saturday to Tuesday). My Dad actually couldn’t make it for four days so he travelled in on Sunday morning and left on Monday evening. This was my fifth time visiting Sydney in the last decade, so I didn’t need to tick off many touristy sights anymore… but we still a lot of tourist-y things for my travel party.

Day 1: April 30

We (minus my Dad) took a morning flight to Sydney (I’ve learned that carry-on only is pretty difficult if you’re a guy bringing a suit!). We landed after midday and took an Uber into the city. We ended up taking Uber a lot and no public transport, which is not typical for how I travel, but with three people and my Mum who can’t walk super long, it worked out more time and cost efficient. We tended to walk throughout the city but took an Uber when going further. We booked two rooms at The Tank Stream Hotel (I would stay with my Mum on the nights my Dad wasn’t there – she’s never been able to sleep anywhere on her own in her life). It was a nice hotel with thoughtful amenities. The location itself is in the business-y district so it’s pretty quiet, but it’s pretty close to both Circular Quay and the busy areas of Pitt St and George St. The train from the airport stops nearby, but it’s a decent walk to the areas in the city with good food.

We walked across the road to eat some late lunch at Bowery Lane, which I actually visited on my previous one-day trip to Sydney to attend the introduction night for my Masters over a year ago. The space is nice, their opening hours suited us, and the menu is uncomplicated but good.

Bowery Lane – Seared scallops and blue swimmer tagliatelle were sooo good (spoiler: we went back again two days later because of it’s convenience, and my Mum ordered the tagliatelle because she liked mine so much). I like that this place does a decent breakfast, lunch and dinner Modern Australian menu. It’s in the middle of super casual and fancy, so it’s really comfortable and food is pretty good.

We took an Uber to Watson’s Bay, to visit Lady Bay Beach (there were definitely naked people here at this tiny nude beach) and Hornby Lighthouse, a great lookout point.

We spent about two hours walking through suburban streets filled with really wealthy and beautiful houses with gorgeous gardens to Nielson Bay, which was supposed to be another great lookout point, but there wasn’t really a clear view not blocked by the trees. It was dusk by now, so we got an Uber to head back into town. We looked up a chemist to stop at briefly before our dinner appointment – I had burned my arm really badly the week prior (I’m talking special bandages needed) and wanted to get a change of bandages because I ran out of the ones the doctor gave me. Luckily there was one really close to our dinner reservation. It was funny trying to explain to the Uber driver that our destination was actually chemist, haha.

Dinner was at Chaco Bar, which had been on my radar for some four years. It was supposed to be a really authentic yakitori restaurant. Expectations were high (but we tried not to get them too high)!

Chaco Bar – This restaurant is tiny and honestly looks exactly like you stepped into a Japanese yakitori bar. We sat on a long shared table and most of the seats (on the shared table or individual tables) are quite uncomfortable and cramped. But sacrifices can be made when the charcoal grill skewers are this good. It was amazing and definitely the real deal. Everything was cooked perfectly and the smokiness was strong. T is a huge fan of Japanese charcoal grill, and he said Chaco Bar was pretty much the best thing ever. I would totally fly us both to Sydney for special occasion dinners here. We also saw Australian chef, restaurateur and TV chef Neil Perry trying to get a seat. He was still loitering around outside when we left.

We decided to walk the 20-30 minutes across the city to our hotel. We stopped at a 3-storey Woolworths supermarket on the way. This blew our mind because Melbourne does not have any multi-level supermarkets! We picked up fruit and banana bread for breakfasts.

Day 2: May 1

In the morning, we walked south across the city (our hotel area, in retrospect, was pretty far from the good food areas) to Koi Dessert Bar. We walked through Hyde Park, because my Mum loves gardens.

I visited Koi the last time I was in Sydney (and carried cakes back home to Melbourne), and also purchased their desserts many times when Koi was temporarily at HWKR last year. I am definitely a huge fan of Reynold’s desserts, and not just blinded by the hype. I would argue they’re my favourite artisan desserts. We picked up three little cakes to take back to the hotel. Unfortunately there was just no other time that I could work out in our schedule other than picking up this morning.

My Dad had landed in the late morning, so he took the train into the city (the hotel is close to a train stop on the airport line) and dropped of his bag. We all met at Chat Thai (Thaitown location) where I made a lunch reservation.

Chat Thai (various locations) – Chat Thai appears, from the Internet, to be the most popular Thai restaurant(s) in Sydney. I went to their main location in Haymarket even though there was one location much closer to our hotel. It’s a narrow restaurant with a half second level. We ordered five dishes between four. The food was really good across the board. The boat noodles, one of T’s favourite Thai dishes, was weak though. Overall we are not sure Chai Thai is actually better than Melbourne’s best Thai restaurant, so T feels like “we’re not missing out”, haha. That said, the latter has been noticeably decreasing their portion sizes in the last two years, but Chat Thai’s prices and portions were really good.

After lunch, we walked north through the city again, dropped off the cakes in our hotel’s fridge (the reason why there’s no good photos to show of our desserts is that they got squished in the fridge!), and continued on to Circular Quay to view the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. I’ve been so many times in recent years, but half of my travel team (T and my Dad) had not seen these in decades.

We walked to Darling Harbour, which has always been my Mum’s favourite part of Sydney.

We were meeting my friend to go on a cocktail cruise around the harbour a bit later, and had some time to kill (plus we were a little tired), so we stopped at a tourist trap bar in Darling Harbour to have some drinks and a snack.

I booked the five of us the Sydney Harbour Cocktail Cruise by Captain Cook Cruises. It was enjoyable but mostly I was catching up with my friend who is studying and working in Sydney for a few years.

After the cruise, it was pitch black, and we walked across to The Star for our dinner reservation at Sokyo. I’d never visited The Star before.

Sokyo – Sokyo is a fine dining Japanese restaurant, and reminds me of Koko and Nobu which are also housed in Melbourne’s casino area. I’m generally pretty sceptical of Japanese fine dining, but we all agreed that Sokyo was really excellent. I couldn’t fault any dish at all and I’ve probably never seen such a photogenic souffle before. It was a great dinner!

We walked back to our hotel and ate our slightly squished desserts from Koi – still delicious!

See day 3 & 4 post

Beauty: David Jones Deluxe Beauty Edit

A few weeks ago I got an email from David Jones about the David Jones Deluxe Beauty Edit, which was described as a two-day online exclusive. I promptly purchased two – the value for $39.95 looked really good and lately I am having a real problem with my obsession for mini and travel size beauty products (to try and to hoard for travelling!). I figured the second one could be a gift. About 6 hours later I received an email that the order could not be fulfilled. I was pretty annoyed because I had ordered it within twenty minutes of receiving the email. I clicked through to check if it was sold out, but noticed I was still able to add it to my cart. So I decided there was no harm to try again. I ordered three this time because I wanted to gift two away! On the internet later, I read that lots of people had trouble buying the product (typical Australian online retail), but in fact it was also available instore despite what the email said. Fortunately my latter order of three bags arrived in the mail a few days later.

Despite seeing the pictures of the contents, I was honestly blown away by the twenty products. I thought it was interesting that it was mostly skincare and no makeup. The items were very generous and from a really good range of (reasonably high-end) brands.

I splurged on my first ever advent calendar last year – the Look Fantastic beauty advent calendar. I also got it for my friend, who had so little control that she opened everything in the span of three days! While it was fun to open all the new products, I couldn’t justify buying one this year, especially as I an uninterested in half of the items in the LF calendar, which has gone up in price significantly. The problem with all the makeup products in advent calendars is they take longer to use up and are often things I don’t use, so a lot of them have not been worthwhile to me. Advent calendars overall are very expensive, and the ones that look good to me are exorbitantly priced (even if they contain 2-4 times the value). I think the DJ Deluxe Beauty Edit was by far better than most advent calendars in contents and value, and would have been great to use to hand-make a beauty advent calendar. It’s not packaged extravagently as an advent calendar, but I’m more interested in the bag (one can never have enough toiletry bags!) and contents rather than lots of cardboard, so it’s a win in my books! Because it’s skincare-heavy, I’m pretty sure I will be able to use everything. I’m super impressed and will be looking out for a similar offering from David Jones next year (hopefully)!

Guerlain Abeille Royale Daily Repair Serum (5mL)
Shiseido Essential Energy Moisturising Cream (10mL)
Clarins lip comfort oil in ‘Candy’ (2.8mL)
Sampar ‘Too Much to Dew’ Midnight Mask (15mL)
Lancome Genifique Youth Activating Cream (5mL)
Khiels Midnight Recovery Concentrate (4mL)
Ella Bache Eternal Beautifying Eye Cream (3mL)
Oribe Gold Lust Dry Shampoo (43mL)
L’Occitane Immortelle Reset Serum (5mL)
philosophy Purity Made Simple Pore Extractor Clay Mask (5mL)
Cremorelab Mineral Treatment Essence (15mL)
Cremorelab Fresh Water Gel (15mL)
Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Capsules Daily Youth Restoring Serum (7 capsules)
Molton Brown Vetiver & Grapefruit Bath and Shower Gel (30mL)
MAC Prep+Prime Skin (6mL)
Weleda Skin Food (10mL)
Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm (15mL)
Narciso Rodriguez ‘Narciso Rouge’ EDP (4mL)
Carolina Herrera ‘Good Girl’ EDP (7mL)
Versace ‘Dylan Blue’ EDP (5mL)
A $10 beauty gift card (on purchases over $100 on brands included in the bag) and complimentary consults/treatments at Shiseido, shu uemura, Clinique, and L’Occitane