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.

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.)

Click to See the photographs

Sunset at Treyarnon Bay, Cornwall

Despite being an overcast day, the clouds cleared late afternoon and treated us to a spectacular Cornish sunset. The rest of the week featured plenty of different weathers, from glorious sunshine to driving rain.

Nova Scotia

The final leg of our Maritimes road trip featured three places in Nova Scotia. First up was the rugged natural beauty of the Atlantic coast and crashing waves at Peggy’s Cove. Next was some man-made prettiness in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Lunenburg (and lovely sea food at the Salt Shaker Deli). Our final day was in urbane but relaxed Halifax. After so many outdoor activities, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic gave our brains a good workout, and then we had a fantastic dinner at the oddly named, but superb, Wooden Monkey. Their special that evening was “Vegan Poutine”, which sounded a bit trashy but was actually quite sophisticated, and very tasty.

New Brunswick

After Prince Edward Island we traveled into New Brunswick to explore the Bay of Fundy. This is famous for having the highest tidal range in the world, causing the unique reversing rapids in Saint John. The photographs do not really do justice to this phenomenon where the tide from the Bay is strong enough to reverse the flow of the river, creating whirlpools and tumultuous rapids. I also have some short videos of both high and low tides which I will post in the future.

New York: The High Line and Brooklyn

We spent the second bank holiday in May enjoying the hustle and bustle of New York. Staying in Brooklyn gave us an opportunity to visit some attractions away from Manhattan. This was also my first opportunity to visit the High Line park since it opened, and we spent a very pleasant sunny afternoon exploring a different side of Manhattan too.

Hiroshima, Miya Jima, Nara and Koyasan

After a week of warm and sunny weather, our weather luck ran out and our one day in Hiroshima was in torrential rain. That evening we stayed in a wonderful Ryokan (traditional guest house) on the island of Miya Jima and the weather had cleared by the next morning so we enjoyed a pre-breakfast walk around the temple before the first tourist ferry arrived from the mainland. Sadly we caught up with the cold front in Nara but the weather improved again by the time we reached the Buddhist mountain retreat of Koyasan, centre of the Shingon Buddhism. At the higher altitude the Autumn colours were already beginning to show, and it was possible to see a glimpse of how impressive the Autumn leaf colour would be.

Long weekend in Helsinki

Helsinki is a fun place for a relaxed August long weekend, especially when the sun is shining. The CBD is clean, functional and perfect for strolling. There is a UNESCO world heritage site at Suoemenlinna Island fortress, pretty churches to enjoy, and then all of these activities can be punctuated with frequent stops at excellent cafés serving mouth-watering delicious cinnamon buns and strong coffee.

The Finns were all lovely and could not have been more helpful. I managed to leave my jacket on the bus from the airport but getting it back was no trouble at all. The city’s popularity as a cruise ship stop does mean it is worth trying to find out when the the cruise ship tour parties will be present at the major attractions and avoiding them.

We flew direct from Gatwick with Norwegian airlines, who have two services per-day to Helsinki. The smart modern aircraft was very nice, and featured free onboard wifi, although it appeared not to work with any smartphone app that was not a browser. Charging €3.50 for a cup of nescafé and not having any free water are standard, but irritating. Intriguingly the aircraft had the ability to stream video to any wifi-enabled device. It cost €7 for one film or a package of TV programmes, but since I had brought my own entertainment, it is not clear if the experience would be an improvement over seat back viewing.

Berlin: history, culture, and cool (and snow)

For a city that was—according to our walking tour guide—a small fishing village until the late 19th century, Berlin has been witness to a huge number of significant historical events. Yet at the same time it has the feel of a fresh, modern city, actually trying to downplay its role in the past and emphasise the future, rather than marketing itself as a city-sized historical theme park. This is refreshing.

The museums, built during its Prussian Imperial hey-day and recently updated, are excellent and contain superlative artefacts such as an exquisite and refined bust of Queen Nefertiti of Egypt; the Pergamon Altar; 1 and the Ishtar Gate, the ceremonial entrance to the ancient city of Babylon.

Modern Berlin’s low cost of living is also attracting a thriving modern art and party scene. It was a cold weekend when we visited, despite being the beginning of April, and we enjoyed several hip but friendly cafés and restaurants serving delicious unusual food and excellent coffee (the most important factor in how much I like any city!). The zoo also proved an entertaining diversion when our brains needed a break from the history and partying.

  1. The display was clearly intended to rival the Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum. I later heard that the altar had originally been built to demonstrate the city of Pergamon’s ability to compete with Athens. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.[]