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The trendy town of Tulum

The Maya city Tulum is located in the southern part of the Riviera Maya, about which I wrote my first blog post in this series. But since there's so much to see and do in Tulum I decided to write a separate post dedicated to this trendy town.


Tulum is said to be one of the last cities that was built and inhabited by the Maya. It served as a port for the ancient city Cobá, which is situated slightly further from the coast. The ruins, which are about a fifteen minute bike ride from the city centre, are very well preserved. It takes about an hour and a half to see everything and most temples and buildings are in a good state so it's not too difficult to imagine what Tulum must have been like at its peak. Especially the Pyramid El Castillo and Templo Dios del Viento still look very impressive. The site also offers a fantastic view on the ocean and is a good place to spot Iguanas, who walk around the ruins as if they own the place. But they are not the only animals in Tulum. Some of the beaches, like the one close to the ruins are protected for nesting sea turtles. However, it's unlikely you'll be able to see those without trespassing.




Another of Tulum's main attractions is most definitely the beach. The coast line is absolutely magnificent and has something to offer for almost everyone. There are plenty of resorts and restaurants on the beach where you can relax on one of the big cushioned sun beds while enjoying a refreshing drink. However, the soft white sand is very comfortable so you can also just lie down on your towel if beach bars aren't your thing. When I was visiting Tulum it was quite windy so the conditions were pretty good for kite- and wind surfing, which I saw some people doing.


The town itself is rather small so you can easily get around by bike. You can find rental places on almost every street corner and you'll find quite a lot of segregated bike lanes. From the town you can also cycle to one of the nearby cenotes. A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. You can find lots of them on the Yucatan Peninsula. Cenotes were seen by the Maya as sacred entries to the underworld, Xibalba. I went to the Gran Cenote, which is about 20 minutes cycling from Tulum. At the cenote you can rent snorkelling equipment and lockers for your belongings. The fresh water was quite cool and refreshing. When you go snorkelling in the cenote you can see that it's incredibly deep and I couldn't help but wonder what might be lurking in the dark depths of the well. I didn't see anything scary though, just very friendly fish and a couple of sweet water turtles. But when you go to a cenote you can imagine why the Mayans were intrigued by these places.




Tulum is quite different from the other places I visited on the Yucatan peninsula, in the sense that it's very trendy. The beach bars are decorated in a very stylish way, there are lots of pretty boutiques and tourism is much more tasteful in Tulum. One thing I also found very remarkable was the number of vegan restaurants. When cycling to the beach we saw numerous places advertising about their vegan meal options. My favourite food place in Tulum was Burrito Amor, an open air restaurant where they sell a wide variety of delicious burritos (including vegan ones with cactus!) and freshly made juices.




If I ever go back to the Yucatan Peninsula again, I will definitely stop by Tulum for a second time. It's a perfect place to relax and enjoy some of Mexico's fantastic ruins and cenotes. In my next post, I'll write about Cobá, Valladolid and the world famous Chichen Itza.

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Isla Mujeres & Riviera Maya

This is the first post in a series about my recent trip to Mexico, or more specifically the Yucatan Peninsula. I travelled around the northern part of the peninsula for two weeks and will share my experiences with you in the coming blog posts. In this post I'll tell you all about my time in Isla Mujeres and the Riviera Maya.

You almost can't go to the Yucatan Peninsula and not go to the beach. Unless that's really not your thing of course. But I can assure you, this part of Mexico has some incredibly beautiful beaches. The white sand is soft to the touch and the turquoise sea is simply dazzling. We spent several days on Isla Mujeres and on what is called the 'Riviera Maya' to enjoy the sun, sea and beach.

The first stop of our trip was Playa del Carmen and the last one Isla Mujeres, which are actually quite similar. Playa del Carmen is a beach town south of Cancun, which you can reach by car or bus. Isla Mujeres is only a 30 min boat trip away from any of the ports in Cancun. Both places are ideal if you just want to lie down on the beach, get a tan, and have some cocktails in the busy main street at night. Both places are also pretty touristy.

On Isla Mujeres you can clearly see the influence of the United States. A lot of places are adjusted to suit the taste of the northern neighbours, and even with the help of the Lonely Planet we had trouble finding authentic Mexican restaurants. Nevertheless, Isla Mujeres has some good things to offer, like the turtle farm on the south west coast of the island. At this farm they protect turtle eggs and release hatchlings when they're strong enough to survive.




You can also find some good snorkelling spots both near the famous Playa Norte and Playa Garrafon. In both places it's easy to get near the reefs and you'll be able to spot lots of colourful fish, sea urchins and maybe a sea cucumber.






In Playa del Carmen tourism is more about showing off Mexican culture. We had lunch in the popular Avenida 5 (5th Avenue), which is filled with restaurants and tourist shops, but it was very satisfying. They prepared the guacamole freshly at our table which tasted incredible, and most of the food on the menu was based on traditional Mexican recipes. In the middle of the town we witnessed a Danza de los Voladores, which is an ancient Mesoamerican ritual, in which four men launch themselves from a 30 meter high pole and swing down hanging on ropes while a fifth stays on top of the pole playing a flute and drum.


In the evening we had a fantastic and incredibly cheap meal at a Yucatecan restaurant, Lonchería Doña Mary. We weren't the only tourists, but the restaurant seemed quite popular with the locals as well. At this place I had panuchos and tamales for the first time, and they are both a must try when you go to Yucatán.


If you really want to avoid the major tourist spots, but still enjoy the beach, you could go to Akumal. Akumal is famous for its sea turtles which you can see when you go snorkelling there. It's still rather busy, because the chances of spotting a turtle are really high, but you can definitely find a comfortable spot and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.


In my next post I will tell you all about things to do and see in and near Tulum!

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Mexico Travelogue

Just like I did after my trip to Japan, I going to share a series of blog posts about my recent trip to Mexico! In the coming weeks you can expect posts about the beaches and snorkelling on Isla Mujeres and in the Riviera Maya, the ruins in Tulum, Cobá, Chichén Itzá and Uxmal, the colonial city Mérida, the nature reserve in Río Lagartos, sandy Holbox, and of course about the fantastic Mexican food. I hope you'll enjoy reading them!

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City trip to Lisbon
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Lisbon is the perfect place to go for a city trip. It's not too big, but there's still plenty to see and do to fill several days. It's a city with a lot of history, beautifully tiled buildings, iconic yellow trams and delicious custard cakes.

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Hostels in Lisbon are of really high quality and not expensive at all. We stayed in the Good morning Hostel on Praça dos Restauradores, which I would definitely recommend. They prepare breakfast for the guests every morning, which includes waffles, fresh bread and delicious fried eggs. They also organise all sorts of activities. We joined them for dinner at a traditional Portuguese restaurant where I, amongst others, ate a delicious dish with 'bacalhau'. Afterwards, we went for a pub crawl and joined the locals in a couple of dance routines.

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The São Jorge Castle is absolutely worth a visit. It's located on top of a hill, so it's quite a steep climb if you go there by foot, but the quiet neighbourhoods around the castle are very pretty. From the castle you have an amazing view on the city and when you walk around the gardens you might spot a pea cock or two.

I'm a really big fan of botanical gardens, so when I found out there is one in Lisbon, I went to go and see it. The garden is a very peaceful place with beautiful palm trees and a butterfly house. It's not the most spectacular botanical garden I've seen, but it's a lovely place to escape the burning sun and city for a bit.

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One of the more touristy places to visit is Belém, where you can find the Jerónimos Monastery and the tower of Belém. You can get there by tram from the city centre, but if you don't want to wait too long, you can take an Uber which isn't that much more expensive. If you walk from the tower of Belém in the direction of the city centre, you pass the famous Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) which commemorates the Portuguese exploration.

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You possibly can't leave Lisbon without having at least one Pastel de nata. These custard cakes originate from the 18th century and you can find them everywhere in Portugal. The place to go to for nata in Lisbon is Fábrica da Nata, where you can also get a great cup of coffee for as little as €0,60.

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Lisbon is truly a wonderful city and if you go there in low season it's really not that busy and you can have a lovely relaxing trip, just like I did :)

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Vacanze Romana
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Rome is one of those cities you simply must visit once in your life. At school I learned a lot about the Roman Empire and even studied Latin for a couple of years, so when I visited Rome for the first time, I wanted to see all the places I read about in my books. I went to the Colosseum, Vatican City, the Spanish steps, the Pantheon, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and more. It was a wonderful but quite overwhelming trip, so when I got the chance to visit Rome again, I decided to take things a bit more slowly.

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We stayed in Trastevere, the bustling area on the west bank of the Tiber. I would definitely recommend staying in this area, because there are lots of nice bars and restaurants, and it's at a walking distance from amongst others, Piazza Navona and the Capitoline Museums. I had been to the Capitoline Museums on my first visit, but I did not exactly remember what I had seen there, so I didn't mind going a second time. We went there in the late afternoon, which was absolutely perfect. The museum was not busy at all, so we could see everything at our own space. The collection contains, amongst others,  the Capitoline Wolf, a beautiful statue of the goddess Venus, and lots of busts of famous philosophers and emperors. I secretly hoped that the quiet museum was a sign of Rome not being too busy at that time, but unfortunately that wasn't true.

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During the weekend the city was full of tourists. Luckily we planned to see Rome in a different way than just by walking around, we rented a Vespa! As I wrote before, I'm a really big Audrey Hepburn fan and ever since seeing Roman Holiday I've wanted to drive trough Rome on a Vespa, and actually it turned out to be a great idea! It is really the best way to see Rome, especially if you don't necessarily want to go into all the monuments and museums, because you can go from one spot to another fairly quickly and avoid the crowds. We started at the Spanish steps, and on our way  to the Colosseum stopped at the beautiful bakery Panella for an espresso and something sweet. We continued to Aventine Hill to peak trough the keyhole and see St. Peter's Basilica and to the Cimitero Acattolico (which is really beautiful!) where you can find the Pyramid of Cestius and the graves of Romantic Poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. We stopped at supermarket/foodcourt Eataly for lunch and then we moved on to Vatican City and passed Castel Sant'Angelo on our way. Lastly before returning the Vespa, we drove to the highest point of the Janiculum hill to the square Piazza Garibaldi where we got another beautiful view of Rome. 

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The next day we had breakfast near Campo dei Fiori, and wandered around the famous sites we couldn't drive to the day before. From Piazza Navona we walked through narrow streets to the Trevi Fountain and stopped by Giolitti for some fantastic ice-cream (my favourite flavour is definitely the Baci one). In the afternoon we visited the Villa Borghese. They only have limited number of tickets available each day, so you have to book in advance to get in, but it's definitely worth it. The museum has an extensive collection of classical art, which comprises of two absolutely stunning statues by Bernini. I quite like classical sculptures in general, but these two, The Rape of Proserpina, and Apollo and Daphne, are exceptionally beautiful. After our visit to the museum we strolled through the gardens for a bit and slowly walked towards the Via Condotti and Via del Corse to do some shopping. For dinner we went to Da Francesco, a restaurant close to Piazza Navona, where we had an absolutely delicious meal. I can highly recommend the Filetto Da Francesco which is one of the best pieces of meat I've ever had.

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Looking back I think it's quite funny how I planned to 'take things slowly' for this trip, and still did and saw soooo many things. Rome is truly a magnificent city and I'm really glad I threw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, because I definitely want to go back again sometime.

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Ciao!

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Sun, sea, and snorkelling on Okinawa
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The last stop on our trip was the tropical island Okinawa, south of mainland Japan. The temperatures in all places we visited had been quite high for late October/November, but when we arrived on Okinawa it was like we went back to summer. We stayed at a friend's house where we slept on real tatami mats. It was a great experience to stay in a real Japanese house and get a taste of home life in Japan. The first place our host took us, was the Shikina-en garden where visitors from abroad used to be taken by the locals. 

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Next, we went to the view point Cape Manzamo, which means "a place for 10,000 people to sit" in Japanese. We had dinner at a traditional Okinawan restaurant at a low table with a sunken floor for your legs. Food on Okinawa and the surrounding islands is quite different from mainland Japan. Of course, you can still get things like sushi and ramen, but the key ingredients in Okinawan cuisine are pork and konbu, a specific type of seaweed. Some dishes have been influenced by the Americans, who have several army bases on the island, such as taco rice, dishes with spam (canned precooked meat) and Blue Seal ice cream.

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The next day, we took the boat to a group of even smaller islands, the Kerama islands. We stayed on the second largest island called Zamami, and did a short day trip to Aka. It was low season when we were there, so it was really quiet on the islands. In fact, some shop and restaurant owners couldn't even be bothered to open their businesses everyday. Life on the islands was very laid-back, and there was not a lot more to do than just chill at the beach, do some snorkelling and eat, which was a perfect way to end our trip. Both Zamami and Aka are surrounded by beautiful coral reefs so you can see a lot of beautiful things if you go snorkeling. Zamami even has a special turtle beach, where you might be able to spot turtles if you go at the right time. The area is also very famous for whale watching, because humpback whales come there in the winter (December-April) to mate.

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This trip to Japan was an incredible experience and I would recommend anyone to go there. Japan is an interesting and very culturally rich country. In Tokyo I was exposed to the buzzing, hyper modernised life in urban Japan. In Kyoto, the city of temples, I got the full Japanese tourist experience. Himeji castle made me wonder what life as a Japanese royal must have been like. I went back to the roots of Japanese denim in Kojima and immersed myself into modern art on Naoshima. Hiroshima surprised me with its positive vibes, despite its horrid history. I saw how beautiful autumn can be in Miyajima. And last, but not least, I had the warmest birthday ever on tropical Okinawa. I hope you enjoyed reading about my adventures in Japan :)

Merel

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Positive vibes in Hiroshima
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Hiroshima is a very special city. We decided to go there for a couple of days mainly to learn more about its horrendous history and the impact the atomic bomb had on the population. However, I left with a much more positive feeling about the city then when I arrived.

Our first stop in the city was the Peace Memorial Park where you can find the Atomic Bomb dome, the Peace Memorial museum and several monuments. The items they have on display in the museum are really confronting and shocking, and give you an idea of the impact the bomb had on the city and life after the war. I personally think you have to visit the museum when you go to Hiroshima, because the war is an unavoidable part of the city's history and it also explains the positive vibe you find in Hiroshima today.

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The peace park is a really beautiful and calm place with lots of trees and several monuments. I was personally most impressed with the Children's Peace monument, which was made for a little girl, Sadako Sasaki, who was 2 years old when the bomb was dropped and died of leukaemia when she was 11. Sadako wanted to fold a thousand cranes, the symbol of happiness and longevity, in the hope that this would help her recover. She died before she finished, but her classmates folded the rest of the cranes for her. Today, the monument, which portrays Sadako holding a big crane, is surrounded by colourful paper cranes folded by school children from all over the world. The beautiful thing about the memorials and the peace museum in Hiroshima is that the main focus is on how we have to make sure that we make peace and nothing like the disaster in Hiroshima will happen again.

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On our second day we went outside of the city to visit the famous Torii gate in Miyajima. It's one of the most popular tourist attractions in Japan and so we were definitely not the only ones on the small island. The torii (shrine gate) is built in the water and when the tide is high it's as if the torii is floating. The island is inhabited by wild deer that are quite curious and walk around the same sites as the tourists hoping to be fed delicious treats. One of the many tasty things you can find on the island are momiji manjū, soft cookies filled with paste in lots of different flavours. In some shops you can even see how they are made.

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We also visited the Daisho-in Temple where we saw some spectacular autumn foliage. It's a Buddhist temple and there are lots of statues and other religious objects to see. For example, along the stairs there is a row of spinning wheels inscribed with Buddhist sutra and it's believed that spinning the inscriptions has the same blessing effect as reading sutra.

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Back in Hiroshima, we spent some time in the colourful covered shopping streets and had dinner at Okonomi-mura, a building with 26 small restaurant spread over three floors. Each restaurant has a couple of seats around big hot plates on which the cooks prepare your food. Their specialties are oysters and Hiroshima-yaki, a local version of okonomiyaki, which has noodles as its key ingredient.

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My next post will be about the last stop on our trip: Okinawa, the Hawaii of Japan!

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Himeji, Kojima & Naoshima
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After visiting Tokyo and Kyoto we went to several smaller places: Himeji, Kojima, and Naoshima. We immediately noticed that, while directions in public transport areas were still mostly both in Japanese and English, people outside of the big cities hardly spoke any English. In Tokyo and Kyoto, things like ordering food had been very straightforward but were now suddenly quite complicated tasks. Luckily the people were very kind and patient and we always got delicious meals.

Himeji
Himeji is famous for its castle. The white castle was built in 1333 and is one of the first Japanese monuments to be added to the UNESCO world heritage list. Walking around the site and inside he castle I found myself wondering what it must have been like to live in this place. When researching the castle a bit more I came across the intriguing story about Princess Sen who lived in the castle from around 1615 to 1626, after she escaped Osaka castle during its siege. She lost both her husband and son while she lived in the castle, and her tragic yet romantic life have made her one of the most popular Japanese characters.

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Kojima
Kojima is a small village in the south of the Okayama prefecture. It might not seem too interesting for the average visitor but it is heaven on earth for Denim lovers. When you arrive at the train station you see denim advertisements all around you and there are even jeans attached to the ceiling. In the village itself, Jeans street is the place to be. Here you'll find the workplaces and shops of major Japanese denim brands such as Momotaro Jeans and Pure blue japan. Unfortunately, we arrived quite late in the day so a lot of shops had already closed. But we saw that during the day you can even get denim ice cream.

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Naoshima
I really enjoyed the art island Naoshima. The small island is home to several contemporary art museums. We visited the Chichu art museum which is built in the earth and has pieces on display from James Turrell, Walter De Maria, and Claude Monet. I'm not a huge fan of modern art, but visiting Chichu was a very special experience as you really get immersed into the art. Scattered over the island there are works of art as well, like the yellow pumpkin made buy the famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. If you don't have a car, you can rent a bike to get around the island, but it is very hilly and the bikes are tiny and without gears so if you have time, walking might be more comfortable.

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It was quite relaxing to get out of the cities and very interesting to see what Japan is like in the quieter areas. The country really has so much to offer and even small places are easy to reach by train. We continued our journey to Hiroshima, which I will write about in my next post!

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The city of temples: Kyoto
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After Tokyo we took the bullet train to Kyoto. Kyoto used to be Japan's capital and is home to a lot of temples and shrines. It is not surprising that Kyoto is a popular destination for tourists, because this is where you can find almost everything associated with Japan, from zen gardens, to kimono's, to colourful shrines. Kyoto is not nearly as big as Tokyo and one of the easiest ways to get around is by bike. The city is quite flat and there are lots of quiet roads where you can cycle safely. At the most famous temples and shrines you will find a special bike parking lot, so it shouldn't be too difficult to park your bike somewhere safe. I didn't know cycling was a thing in Japan, and so I was quite surprised to see lots of cyclists in almost all places I've visited on my trip.

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Souvenirs
I stayed in Len hostel, which is equally trendy as its sister venue, Nui hostel, in Tokyo. The hostel is located very close to the area of Nishiku Market, which is the place to buy typical Japanese souvenirs. Nishiki market is a covered market with little shops that sell interesting and sometimes quite odd looking types of food. Something that's very big in Kyoto is matcha. Matcha is very finely ground type of green tea, and is said to have certain health benefits. You can buy matcha in other places, but in Kyoto you'll be able to get almost anything with matcha, like matcha Kitkat, matcha Oreo's and matcha frappuccino's. In the shopping streets around the market you'll be able to find kimono's, pottery, Japanese fans and so on. In this area you'll also find arcades where you can play video games or take pictures in a photo booth that will make you look like a manga character.

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Bamboo grove
The bamboo grove in the west of Kyoto is one of the many beautiful sights the area has to offer. The grove is really a quite magical place and leads up to Okochi Sanso house. The house is owned by Okochi Denjiro, a famous samurai actor, and is surrounded by a magnificent garden filled with Japanese maple trees. After you've visited the garden you can go to the tea house for a traditional cup of matcha tea and cake.

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Fushimi-Inari Taisha
This is probably the most touristy place I've visited during my trip through Japan, but it was definitely worth it. It's the head shrine of Inari, the god of rice and patron of business. Leading up to the inner shrine is a path lined with thousands of torii, which are traditional Japanese gates. Each of these gates has been donated by a Japanese business. Fushimi-Inari Taisha is a fascinating and mysterious place, and I would definitely recommend going there.

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Kurama
If you feel like getting away from the crowd you should go to Kurama. Kurama is a small village in the mountains about 30 min from Kyoto by train. The main attraction is the buddhist temple Kurama-dera, but if you visit Japan in autumn, like me, you'll also be able to see some beautifully coloured autumn foliage up here.

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From Kyoto we travelled to Himeji, Okayama and Naoshima which you'll be able to read about in my next post!

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Food, pandas, design and Harajuku girls in Tokyo
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This is the first post in a series about my recent trip to Japan. Just like the first stop on my trip, the first post in this series will be about Tokyo! I got very excited about my trip when planning where to go and what to do, but not necessarily about Tokyo. I'm not sure why, but I guess I thought it would just be an overwhelmingly large city which I would want to escape after a couple of days. But nothing could be further away from the truth. I fell in love with Tokyo. Head over heels! It could be that I'm just very used to living in a noisy, and busy city (London), but Tokyo didn't seem hectic to me at all. In fact, I thought it was pretty quiet for such a massive metropole. Moreover, I found Tokyo very clean: no trash, no graffiti, no weird smells in the tube. The people were very polite as well, which made, amongst other things, travelling by public transport a lot more pleasant.

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We stayed in the area Asakusa, very close by the Senso-ji temple, in two lovely hostels. The first one was Nui Hostel, which is a really cool hostel with a stylish interior and good coffee, and the second one was Khaosan Tokyo Kabuki, where the staff is really kind and helpful. The temple is the main attraction in this area and so it was quite touristy during the day. Asakusa has lots to offer when it comes to restaurants. On the first day we had dinner at a sushi-train restaurant, (sushi train is"kaiten-sushi" in Japanese), which was delicious. If you don't speak or read Japanese I highly recommend going to a sushi train restaurant, because you can see what the food is and pick it up yourself. We had another great dinner experience at a restaurant called "Sometaro". It's a restaurant with low tables with hot plates in them, so you have to prepare your meal yourself. Their speciality is Okonomiyaki, a savoury pancake with various ingredients, which is now one of my favourite Japanese dishes.

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Ueno
On the second day in Tokyo we went to Ueno, where we visited the zoo and Tokyo National Museum. Overall, the zoo was not that amazing, but they do have two giant pandas that are definitely a must-see if you love pandas as much as I do ;) The National museum on the other hand, is absolutely worth a visit. The museum has a special highlights section which shows items that are typical for Japanese culture and art. I was personally most impressed by their collections of Kimono's and Samurai harnesses.

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Harajuku
Of course, I couldn't leave Tokyo without going to the shopping area and trying to spot some "Harajuku girls", and I actually got quite lucky. We went to the big department store LaForet where there happened to be a special event with some kind of Japanese celebrity and so there were a lot of girls dressed up in the most fantastic, crazy, cute outfits, queuing to get a signature. It was really interesting to see how they were all dressed up. The store itself was pretty amazing too. It's made up of various small stores that each sell very unique clothes and accessories. I think shopping in general is really nice in Tokyo, it's not necessarily cheap, but they sell things you won't find that easily in Europe. Also, Japan is really big on vintage stores, and in Tokyo you'll find stores, such as RAGTAG, selling vintage items from brands like Vivienne Westwood, Acne, Dries van Noten and even Chanel, and Louis Vuitton. If busy shopping streets are not really your thing, you should go to Cat street, which is just off Omote-sando. In this street you'll have more space to move and you can find a lot of unique boutiques.

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Roppongi
Another area of Tokyo I really liked was Roppongi. We went there to see an exhibition about Frank Ghery in 21_21 Design sight, which is a design gallery/workshop created by Issey Miyake and Tadao Ando. Both the exhibition and the building were really cool and if you like design I would recommend you going to Roppongi. The part of the area we walked through was very much focussed on design. The architectural style is very modern, with a lot of glass and wood, and in the parks you can find some interesting statues and fountains. I have also heard that Roppongi is a good area for going out, so even if you don't care too much for architecture, you might want to check this area out.

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Tokyo is a really interesting city and I definitely want to go back to do and see more. If you get a chance to go there, I would recommend getting a good travel guide (such as the Lonely Planet) and find out for yourself what areas you would like to explore. You should also buy a Tokyo Subway pass, which is quite cheap and the subway is most definitely the easiest and fastest way to get around Tokyo. The next post in this series about my trip to Japan will be about Kyoto.

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Japan Travelogue
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I have recently come back from an incredible trip to Japan and I would love to share my stories and experiences with you. I visited several different places that each have their own charms and qualities and so I have decided to write a series of blog posts on several of these places. This means that in the coming weeks you can expect to see posts about my adventures in Tokyo, Kyoto, Himeji, Kojima, Naoshima, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Okinawa! To make sure you don't miss any of these posts, read my post about how you can follow my website ;)

Enjoy!

Merel

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Non-touristy things to do in London
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I've been living in London for a bit more than a year now and I still find new things to do every day. Which is a good thing, because as Samuel Johnson said "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life". In this post I'll share some things you can do in London that are not too touristy, and not that expensive (or free).

Museums
London has a lot of fantastic museums, but some of them are just too busy to enjoy. A couple of months ago, when amongst others the British Museum was flooded with tourists, I visited the Museum of London Docklands. Just like the main Museum of London, this museum has an incredible collection. The focus is on the history of trade in and around the city of London, starting from when the city was a Roman settlement up until now. It's located in Canary Wharf, which might explain why it's not that busy, but you can easily get there by the DLR. At the moment they have a fantastic photo exhibition on display called "Soldiers & Suffragettes", so if you have the chance to go to the Museum of London Docklands before the 1st of November I'd definitely recommend you to just do it.

Another a bit less famous, but still fun and interesting museum is the V&A museum of Childhood. The collection consists of lots of toys and things that have to do with childhood. I felt quite nostalgic walking around the museum and seeing toys I actually played with myself. It's located in East London near the Bethnal Green tube stop, and around the corner of Broadway Market.

Markets
Every Saturday there is a market on Broadway Market in East London. You can find stalls with amazing street food from all around the world, great coffee, flowers, fresh products from farms, and beautiful arts and crafts. The market is next to London Fields and the Regent's canal, so if the weather allows it you can enjoy a great breakfast or lunch from the market outside.

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Another market I love, is the Columbia Road flower market, which I wrote about in an earlier post. This market is quite a bit more busy, and you should really just go there to buy flowers and not necessarily for a great lunch.

Parks
London has a lot of parks, but even some of those are tourist attractions. When you're longing for a breath of fresh air and a bit of peace you should go to Hampstead heath or Richmond park. They're both located a bit further away from the city center but still very easy to reach by tube/train. What I personally like a lot about both Hampstead heath and Richmond park is that they make me forget for a bit that I'm actually near a gigantic city. From Hampstead heath you have a great view on the city and in Richmond park there's a special view point through which you can see St. Paul's cathedral. If you're not too fond of nature but still feel like getting away from the crowds of tourists, both Hampstead and Richmond are good places to go to. They're like small villages with cute shops and tea rooms.

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hampstead_doors Colourful doors in Hampstead

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Escaping the city
The city can be a bit overwhelming sometimes, so it can be quite nice to get away. If you feel like doing a small day trip outside of London I'd recommend going to Greenwich. You can go by boat from several dock points on the river thames and if you're lucky there might be a tour guide on board who tells interesting stories about buildings and areas around the river. Otherwise you can get there by DLR or train. In Greenwich you can do and see lots of things such as the Old Royal Naval College, the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime museum, the Queen's house and the Cutty Sark. Furthermore, if you walk up the hill where the Royal Observatory is located you have a spectacular view on the city, spanning all the way from the London Eye to Canary Wharf.

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chapel_greenwich Old Royal Naval College Chapel

I definitely agree with Samuel Johnson that "there is in London all that life can afford", and if not in London than definitely in the Greater London area. I'm planning on staying in this amazing city for quite a bit longer and I'm sure I'll be able to write another post like this with a list of completely different things to do and see. I'm curious to know what your favourite things are to do and see in London, so leave a comment below!

Photos by my friend Vincent and me

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Columbia Road Flower Market
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Flower markets are very common in the Netherlands, but in London they are quite special. Last week I visited the flower market on Columbia road, and I must say it's quite worth a visit! The sea of flowers is really pretty, but I personally wasn't so much intrigued by the flowers themselves, which all come *surprise* from the Netherlands, but more by what's behind them. Hidden behind the flower stalls you find lovely shops selling things ranging from interior design, to vintage clothes, to art. Another thing that's quite unique about Columbia road is the way the coffee shops/bars are set up. Most of them consist of little more than just a coffee machine in a tiny space between shops. All in all, Columbia Road is a lovely place to visit both on a Sunday when the Flower Market is open, as well as on any other day.

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