Friday, 20 August 2010

Splashdown Osaka!

After a long flight from London via Dubai we finally arrive at Kansai International Airport Osaka Japan. After much anticipation we have finally made it and while it’s late in the evening, we can see that it is big…very big! Although the sun has set, the temperature is still in the high 30’s. Thankfully the school has organised for us to be picked up at the airport so we are comfortably whisked to the heart of the bustling city to a hotel close to the school in the north. As day breaks, we can see that although this area is nowhere near as overwhelming as downtown Osaka, it’s still a busy metropolis that sits close to the surrounding mountains. We immediately hit the ground running with many things to be organised, including the most important one… somewhere to live! With no time to waste, we are taken to see a few potential places and are quite surprised by their generous sizes, as we had been previously warned that we might need to get used to some very tight living conditions…not necessarily the case! Amazingly, after only a couple of days of looking, the decision is made and we settle for a nice apartment, which is walking distance from the school and faces a leafy park. Of course it’s completely empty, so Jules is bound to have some fun over the next few months fitting it out. With that major decision over, we have started to venture further afield and are increasingly gaining confidence in the complex bus, monorail and train systems. We have had some great meals already, including a couple in down town Umeda and Namba, confirming that Osaka truly is a gourmet city…so much ahead to explore! Everyone has been so warm and welcoming and despite the obvious language differences, we are getting along quite nicely. Each day in Japan brings new revelations, as we just begin to scratch the surface.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Viva Seville!

With a week to spare before we venture to Japan, we decide to revisit one of our favourite countries, Spain, but this time the picturesque city of Seville. We had loved Barcelona when we visited earlier this year and knew that we would be warmly welcomed in regard to both hospitality and weather. From the time we arrive the thermometer remains around the 40 degree mark, so we opt for a steady routine of sightseeing, drinking, siesta, eating, more drinking followed by ice cream…a tried and true approach to Spanish tourism in the heat of August. We are fortunate that our hotel is in the old town, which means that some of the best tourist sights are at our doorstep and we are able to walk the narrow cobblestone lanes to most locations. We are amazed by some of the architecture with its strong Arabic influences, which are gradually undergoing careful restoration. In particular Torre Del Oro (The Golden Tower) and La Giralda with it’s imposing minaret, whose many ramps we patiently walk in the scorching heat of the day to reveal the best view of the city. The tower is attached to the grand gothic Cathedral of Seville, which is the third largest in Europe and houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus as well as many priceless church artefacts. Another highlight is the Real Alcazar palace with it's ornate decorations reminiscent of Morocco and it's tranquil gardens. Just around the corner from the hotel is the Plaza de Toros regarded as the oldest and most beautiful bullring in Spain and despite our objections to the sport itself, we remained impressed by this spectacular arena. Not too far away from the city centre is The Spanish Plaza, which is a complete surprise to me as I know very little about it but now regard it as possibly one of great buildings in the world. When the sun finally retreats around 10.00pm, the locals begin to emerge to enjoy their paella’s and drink sangria’s in the many street cafes, while the beautifully maintained horse drawn carts clip clop by. Like most tourists who stupidly tramp around in the midday sun, we are tanned and tired but in the cool of the evening we now happily try to blend in. All is well, until our lack of Spanish inevitably gives us away!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

County hopping

No sooner have we hit the shores of Southampton and we board a train for a short half journey to Bournemouth to visit Jules’ aunty and uncle. It is now a familiar spot for us and seems to always welcome us back with a warm sunny day. As part of our stay this time we visit the bustling township of Poole, which looks so picturesque with its views of a sparkling boat filled inlet. There is certainly a holiday atmosphere, with the tempting smell of chips and vinegar wafting through the air. After a few days of generous hospitality we head back to London for a quick pit stop before hitting the road again to visit Jules’ second cousin and his family in Norwich. We had visited several years ago, but this time we have more time to explore the surrounding area. This includes a quaint little seaside town called Sheringham; with it’s tumbled stone beach and an impressive links golf course that hugs the rugged coast. Further inland we explore a very grand residence called Blickling Hall, formally home to Anne Boleyn, the ill-fated wife of Henry VIII. We wander around admiring the considerable collection of art as well as the ornate ceilings and fireplaces. However, closer to Jules heart is the expansive kitchen downstairs that reveals a glimpse of life in service providing good English fare for dignitaries such as Queen Mary. After a short stay in Norwich we continue our travels with another short train trip to the cathedral city of Ely, which was famously home to Oliver Cromwell at the time of England’s short-lived revolution. It is here that my cousin is to be married and the big event brings friends and family together from far and wide. It is very much a village wedding, complete with horse and cart and the reception is held in a beautiful apple orchard that overlooks the rural surrounds. As the sun sets and with a celebratory glass of champagne in hand, we gaze admiringly over a classic English pastoral scene that we imagine wouldn’t have changed too much over time.