Too busy to… /tooBusy/ An archive of coffee, travel and tech blogging. Mon, 18 Sep 2023 10:22:38 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.3.2 /tooBusy/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/N-120-120.png Too busy to… /tooBusy/ 32 32 If you would like to continue following this blog… /tooBusy/2023/09/18/if-you-would-like-to-continue-following-this-blog/ Mon, 18 Sep 2023 06:34:24 +0000 /tooBusy/?p=4262 Continue reading "If you would like to continue following this blog…"]]> After 19 years of writing on this blog I have decided to move to a new, simpler, platform where I hope I can spend more of my time writing and publishing rather than tweaking and maintaining. The new site is still at toobusyto.org.uk, but a changed location: Coffee, Travel & Tech. If you subscribe via RSS then please add the new location to your feed reader.

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Kōrakuen Garden in Okayama /tooBusy/2023/08/20/korakuen-garden-in-okayama/ Sun, 20 Aug 2023 00:42:58 +0000 /tooBusy/?p=4236 Continue reading "Kōrakuen Garden in Okayama"]]> Okayama is a small city on the Shinkansen line between Himeji and Hiroshima. We first visited 11 years ago following the Rough Guide’s recommendation to use it as a base for visiting off-the-beaten track gems such as Takamatsu. Himeji is under 25 minutes away by train—an easy day trip—and its good value business hotels make it a better overnight stop for the sort of Rough Guide/Lonely Planet-reading budget conscious travellers we are. At the time it struck us as being a welcome opportunity to experience a more “real” Japan than the glitz of Tokyo and the foreigner-friendly tourist attractions.

Returning for the first time 11 years later, it was still as lovely as before but decidedly more aware of its potential as a tourist destination in its own right. It is the main gateway to the new and popular island-hopping bicycle tours and its Kōrakuen Garden is one of the great gardens of Japan and definitely worth a visit. It provided us with several hours of happy and peaceful diversion and, in contrast to Himeji Castle, there are multiple cafés and tearooms inside to keep you refreshed while you explore. Leaving the garden towards the castle there are some casual riverside restaurants with lovely views over the river. Okayama Castle’s commanding position completes the vista but is a modern concrete reconstruction following the original’s destruction in World War 2 so we did not venture inside.

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Himeji Castle /tooBusy/2023/08/05/himeji-castle/ Sat, 05 Aug 2023 08:22:19 +0000 /tooBusy/?p=4224 Continue reading "Himeji Castle"]]> Himeji is the most famous of Japan’s 12 original castles, and a popular stopover on the tourist route from Tokyo to Hiroshima. During our previous trip to Japan it was part-way through a five year programme of renovation and preservation so this was our first opportunity to fully appreciate its majestic beauty.

In addition to surviving wars and earthquakes, the castle’s domineering position on the skyline has been sympathetically preserved. Visitors arriving by train are left in no doubt as to why they should leave the train here with a grand vista from the Shinkansen platform. Reaching the castle is a 20 minute walk from the train station, not easy going in the July heat, but there are a good selection of ice-cream shops and bakeries to sustain you. No food or drink (other than water) is allowed to be consumed inside the ticketed part of the castle grounds, so it is important to time your visit around meal times.

The castle grounds are interesting to explore, and the West Bailey has informative displays about some of the former inhabitants, and how they lived. The main keep is unfortunately a little anti-climatic after such a grand build up. The upper floors of the keep are nearly empty so it becomes mostly about climbing flight-after-flight of very steep steps until you reach the top, where you can enjoy fresh breezes from the windows and the view out over Himeji city, except that Himeji is not the most pretty or interesting of cities to look at—you are already inside its best bit!

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Hiroshima and Miyajima /tooBusy/2023/07/17/hiroshima-and-miyajima/ Mon, 17 Jul 2023 07:37:07 +0000 /tooBusy/?p=4205 Continue reading "Hiroshima and Miyajima"]]> Our previous visit to Hiroshima in 2012 was a single rainy day so we saw no more than the inside of the moving and informative Peace Museum. On that occasion we stayed overnight on the island of Miyajima but the packed nature of the itinerary left no time to linger in this calm and picturesque spot.

On this trip we had much more time to explore both Hiroshima and Miyajima, and were also blessed by some beautiful weather. Upon arrival at Hiroshima’s station by 300km/h Nozomi Shinkansen, there was both a feeling of comforting familiarity, but also a noticeably different atmosphere compared to Tokyo, for example the wider streets and shorter buildings means you see more sky.

Miyajima is a small island, a 10 minute ferry ride from the mainland. It is famed for the large torri gate on the beach, which marks the entrance to a substantial shrine complex that appears to float on the water at high tide. Aforementioned high tide was a little too early in the morning for our family of late sleepers in holiday mode, but it is still an impressive sight. The port area felt buzzy rather than busy (except when we crossed paths with a party of school children) but the enormous number of eateries made me glad we had come on a weekday rather than a weekend! I did also wonder, as it got progressively quieter throughout the afternoon, if there had been a big influx of people earlier in the morning for the high tide view and we were enjoying a more peaceful visit as a result of missing the set piece event.

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Hakone: A volcanic break from Tokyo /tooBusy/2023/07/08/hakone-a-volcanic-break-from-tokyo/ Sat, 08 Jul 2023 12:22:50 +0000 /tooBusy/?p=4184 Continue reading "Hakone: A volcanic break from Tokyo"]]> Hakone is a pretty mountain town just 90 minutes on a train from Tokyo, making it an ideal weekend getaway destination for the denizens of this mega-city. There are numerous onsen resorts (naturally heated hot springs), powered by the volcanic activity, and a cable car that takes you right over the volcano crater from where they extract the hot water and then pump it around the region! The views at the top of the cable car are impressive, and we paid ¥100 to go into a little geo museum which was fantastic and very child-friendly.

Sadly, while on a clear day, there are opportunities to see Mount Fuji from the cable car and also from Lake Ashi, on the day we visited it was blanketed by a thick cloud.

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Shanghai /tooBusy/2023/07/04/shanghai/ Tue, 04 Jul 2023 12:05:08 +0000 /tooBusy/?p=4173 A few weeks ago I had the privilege of making a short visit to Shanghai. It was a busy trip so my best photographs are from the plane. There was also an evening river cruise which allowed me to experience the city’s stunning modern skyline, as well as its historical European-style buildings.

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Sydney Harbour from a Helicopter /tooBusy/2023/05/21/sydney-harbour-from-a-helicopter/ Sun, 21 May 2023 07:18:00 +0000 /tooBusy/?p=4127 Continue reading "Sydney Harbour from a Helicopter"]]> During our trip to Sydney last August, I had the chance to enjoy a very special birthday present from my family—a scenic helicopter tour of the city. I have strong memories of how awesomely spectacular the harbour is from upon high as a result of climbing the Harbour Bridge in 2005, despite having no photographs. That tour does not allow you to take any unattached item that could fall onto the highway below, so cameras were forbidden—even hats and glasses had to be attached by bungee cord. This helicopter ride was considerably more comfortable, and required less physical effort.

Our pilot was a friendly and chatty guide. Our knowledge of the city and its surroundings gleaned from multiple visits to Sydney, exploring by ferry and bus previously, and this trip by car, made the tour that much more exciting when we spotted our favourite haunts. The harbour and its beaches have outstanding natural beauty, and the way the city flows across the landscape is an impressive spectacle.

Modern cameras thankfully allow almost unlimited shots since there was a lot of interesting viewpoints to capture. Taking photographs was challenged by the curvature of the window, the motion, and the bright Australian conditions, so a great deal of editing work has been done since the trip and it is a pleasure to finally be able to publish these. (Click “Read More” if you do not see the photographs.)

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Afternoon Coffee in Tokyo /tooBusy/2023/05/13/afternoon-coffee-in-tokyo/ Sat, 13 May 2023 07:18:06 +0000 /tooBusy/?p=4117

I popped into my neighbourhood coffee roasters for an afternoon coffee and enjoyed watching it brew in this beautiful machine, along with a very tasty sweet treat.

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Cherry Blossom in Tokyo /tooBusy/2023/04/22/cherry-blossom-in-tokyo/ Sat, 22 Apr 2023 06:55:27 +0000 /tooBusy/?p=4096 Continue reading "Cherry Blossom in Tokyo"]]> Japan is famous for its spring cherry blossom, although seasonal variation and its popularity make it difficult to see as a tourist. I think visiting as a tourist would also run the risk of being underwhelming. What makes the sakura special is way it completely transforms and dominates the urban landscape. Run-of-the-mill parks and canals, deprived by winter of any colour, are suddenly a riotous shade of pink and white. A few weeks later, the palette is a normal green. What was also unclear to me prior to experiencing it, is that sakura is a seasonal festival, not just a natural phenomenon. Shops and cafés produce seasonal specialities, and viewing the sakura is an excuse to get out of the house and enjoy some tasty street food with friends and family, perhaps washed down with sparkling wine and strawberries.

Like most parts of the world, spring is an unreliable season in Japan. The best days are comparable to fine English summer’s day, the worst are wet like the other type of English summer’s day. (It is unsurprising to me that strawberries are also in season in Japan at the moment.) Some fine weather in early March led to an early blossom, but this was then followed by two weeks of wind and rain, and some were predicting that the petals might be blown and washed away before there was a proper chance to enjoy it. However the day before we left for Hokkaido we were blessed with a perfect day of warm sunshine and we headed to the near-by area of Nakameguro which is reputed to be one of the best spots for enjoying the blossom.

Arriving mid-morning there was already a buzzy atmosphere. While it is a popular spot, everyone is here for for the same thing—a relaxed promenade, while eating, drinking and taking photographs—it was still very pleasant. Somehow the number of people enhanced the experience rather than detracted from it—sakura is something better enjoyed with others, not alone.

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Skiing in Niseko (Hokkaido) in April /tooBusy/2023/04/06/skiing-in-niseko-hokkaido-in-april/ Thu, 06 Apr 2023 11:18:21 +0000 /tooBusy/?p=4085 Continue reading "Skiing in Niseko (Hokkaido) in April"]]> Having been regaled with many tales of glorious skiing in Hokkaido (both before and since our arrival in Japan), we were keen to experience it for ourselves at the first opportunity. School broke up for the Easter holiday on 31st March when many of the resorts are already closing down, but at the beginning of March the snowfall had been good enough that Grand Hirafu in the Niseko area expected to be operating through to the Japanese Golden Week holiday in early May and so we took the gamble and booked a trip.

It was a good decision. The flight north to Sapporo was an easy 90 minutes, made more comfortable by it being a wide-bodied aircraft with 9 seats across. Collecting a hire car was also straightforward, in the sort of we have a process, and that process has been designed to cope with foreigners way that probably becomes frustrating when you have been here a while, but for which I am still new enough to the country to be grateful for. The car turned out to be essential, both because the cheap transfers from New Chitose Airport are winter-only, as well as to get between the four different ski areas (Hirafu, Annupuri, Niseko Village and Hanazono). During the main season there are high altitude ski links as well as a shuttle bus between the areas, but both had finished for the season. Luckily our car was upgraded to an SUV which allowed our rental skis to fit in too. It is worth noting that only Hirafu is a proper village with independent restaurants and shops, the others are just ski areas with few other services. In particular Niseko Village is confusingly not a village at all: it is just a collection of car parks to allow access to the lifts, and a large Hilton hotel!

Our first day on the slopes was a perfect blend of skiing through soft snow in warm sunny conditions: I had been worried that the start of spring would mean skiing on slushy-ice but actually the volume of snow here means that even when it gets a bit warmer, the snow gets denser and claggier, so it is like skiing through buttercream not ice-skating. There are a reduced number of runs available as the snow recedes in certain areas, especially lower down, but the slopes are also practically empty, so it has proven a great opportunity to have a relaxing few days of enjoying the tremendous scenery in the sunshine, exploring the different ski areas and practising techniques.

On and off the slopes, it feels like we have travelled to a different country, not just a different island within Japan! French ski resorts are busy, bustling, places squeezing as many people and buildings into whatever space the geography permits—not unlike Tokyo—but here the village has a car-centric, low-density, feel. The large number of international visitors also means that café and restaurant staff all speak excellent English, contributing to the feeling of this being an easy and relaxing holiday. The two Australian-style cafés in Hirafu village has also given us a chance to enjoy a wider variety of western-style food (and coffee!) than we have found in Tokyo—a welcome taste of home after two months away.

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