So we have made it back after another amazing week in Japan. I won't go through everything we did as it is outlined in my itinerary blog but I would like to share some photos and little tips that we came across.
This time we stayed in Namba, a great place to stay. Must admit that I enjoyed this area more than where we stayed last time (near Osaka Castle). It is so central to getting everywhere with so many places to eat and shop.
This hotel cost us about $110 for a twin room. The room was small as per every other room we have stayed at in Japan. The hotel was easy to find and had heaps of good points. We joined their membership for free and got free breakfast every morning. We went on the first day but it was all Japanese and wasn't quite to my liking. You could also get free pastries from the lobby between 6 and 8. Have to admit if you got there much later than 7 there weren't too many left. There were plenty of coffee shops within 5 minutes walk and we had Mcdonalds breakie a couple of times. Y100 for a sausage muffin is just amazing!
|Our twin room Y8000 a night|
|Small but adequate bathroom with lots of toiletries|
The bed was quite hard but you were able to pick your own pillow type which was good. Free internet in the room, a help yourself hot and cold drinks machine in the lobby and a shampoo bar! Loved the fact you could pick a shampoo to pick your own hair type.
2 Day Osaka Unlimited Pass
This pass cost Y2700 and was a 2 day subway pass for use in Osaka. As well as covering the subway it also gave you a heap of free entrances into sights in Osaka. We definitely got our money work plus some. I think I calculated that without the pass the two days would have cost us well over Y4000 for what we did.
|Easy to use travel card with discount coupon booklet|
3 Day Kansai Thru Pass
I considered not getting this one but we ended up saving money with some clever planning. I think you really need to plan out what you are going to do to get your money out of it. You can't use it on JR lines but that was no issue for us.
We used the card to go to:
Kyoto on Keihan railways from Yodoyabashi
Kobe on Hanshin railways from Namba
Nara on Kinetsu railways from Namba then we used it on the Nankai airport express to get back to the airport
When calculating the price it wouldn't have been worth it if we didn't use it to get back to the airport. Because our flight was at 8.30pm it worked out to spend the day in Nara then use it to get back to the airport. The pass is definitely worth it if you are visiting Himeji. We had been to Himeji on a previous trip so we didn't do it this time. My advise is to use hyperdia.com to check if the pass is value for your plans.
|Easy to use card which came with discount coupons that we didn't actually use|
Namba Information Centre
I was a bit confused about where the centre was before we went. I have got advise on Tripadvisor but was a little confused. So here goes my attempt at trying to explain where it is. If you enter the Nankai Train Station from the main entrance at the front it is about 10 metres in (just past Godiva chocolate shop) on the 1F (street level) floor. There is a large circular cut out part in the floor in front of it. We walked in from the street at the East exit (at the side of Louis Vuitton/Takashmaya department store) and you walk straight then turn right and continue straight until you reach it.
I have probably given confusing instructions but it is definitely on the street level floor. Don't go down into the basement floor where the subway is.
I have to admit Japan has the most amazing food in the world. It is incredible how you can pay pennies or a fortune for food. You can walk down the street and see food for a few hundred yen then a shop away the cheapest is in the thousands. We ate like kings and did it really cheaply. Trick is to stay away from those English menus as they seem to up the prices of the food.
|Japanese fast food|
|Ordering is half the fun|
There are so many places that offer beef bowls. We ate at Matsuya several times. They do a pretty large size bowl of rice with beef on top in a flavoured sauce with some onion. We couldn't believe that you could get this for dinner and be satisfied at Y230 (less than $3). I went for the set with an egg, small salad and miso for around Y290. The service was super fast and they gave you unlimited ice cold water. Half the fun is actually ordering. You order through the machine that is near the door. Put money into the machine, press the photo of the food you want and take your ticket. When you sit down you give the ticket to the person on the other side of the counter. The only downer I have to say is that they are so busy that once you finish you are expected to get up and leave. No lingering and letting your food digest!
|Press the button when you are ready to order|
This was another chain food place we found. The food was better quality than Matsuya but also a little more expensive (but not that much). We ate like kings in this place several times! In one of the outlets we actually sat Japanese style (much to the discomfort of my knees). Two of us had an enormous dinner here one night, including beer for Y2700. We had a huge spread of special fried rice, fried chicken, meat dumplings, spring rolls, sweet and sour sauce, gyoza and soup.
Some of the delicious food we ate
|Y500 seafood noodles|
|Y700 set menu|
|Y500 vegetable pancake|
|Y700 Prawn set with green tea|
|Y490 smoked salmon pizza|
Some foods we weren't game to try!
|Spam roll was just a little off putting|
|Hormone fry I think NOT!|
|Y2400 ice-cream, think it would have made me sick|
Some of the sights we saw
We did so much walking it wasn't funny. There are lots of things we didn't see as this was our second trip to Osaka. There are many things I would choose over the things we did if it was my first trip to the area.
Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel
This was free with the Unlimited Pass. The views were amazing on such a clear day. There were two carriages that were pure glass but there was a wait so we just went in a normal carriage.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
We got a 100yen discount by showing the Unlimited Pass. Great aquarium with an amazing whale shark. We spent about an hour and a half in there looking around.
|Well worth the money|
Santa Maria Boat Cruise
After hours of walking it was nice to sit down for 45 minutes. Unfortunately we were so worn out that two of the four of us fell asleep. Although I kindy napped for half of the trip I must admit that the views were not that exciting. We got the ride for free with the Unlimited Pass but I don't think I would like to have paid the Y1600 normal fee.
|Goes under two pretty impressive bridges|
Osaka Science Museum
This was free with the Unlimited Pass and is pretty good for kids. Lots of hands on science activities for kids. It was nothing like the science in Tokyo, much smaller. There was a planetarium for an extra charge but we didn't go in there.
|Good for kids|
Floating Garden Observatory
This was free with the Unlimited Pass. The views from the top are beautiful. You go up some of the way in a lift then the last part is in a glass escalator (not good for people afraid of heights). There is a cafe at the top that has reasonably priced snacks. I thought that it would be ridiculously priced for a coffee up there but it was not far off normal. I think we paid around Y450 for a piece of cake and a coffee. Well worth the visit! Easy to get to. If you come out of Osaka station (follow the yellow signs) you will see Yodabashi Camera. Look to the left and you can see it reaching up into the sky. It is a short 5-10 minute walk.
|Great during the day or night|
This is a shopping center with a large red Ferris wheel. The ride on the wheel was free with the Unlimited Pass. Without the pass it costs Y500 which is probably a waste of money if you have just been up to the Floating Garden Observatory. It was nice to sit in there though and do the loop slowly. Last time we were in Osaka we went up at night which was great to see the city lit up when we had been up to see all the other views during the day.
One bit of advise is that it is quite expensive, compared to other places, to eat in Hep Five. There is a food floor on the level of the Ferris Wheel. We ate there last time we were in Osaka and paid Y1500 for a meal that you can get for Y600 elsewhere.
|A bit of fun|
Osaka Museum of Natural History
I was a little disappointed with this stop. We went because it was free with the Unlimited Pass. There were a couple of interesting things but it didn't quite live up to my expectations. We only spent about 45 minutes here.
|Pretend dinosaurs were good|
Going up the tower was free with the Unlimited Pass. There was a great little place to eat at the base of the tower. The area between the train station and the tower was really seedy. I wouldn't want to be wandering around at night by myself which is strange to say considering how safe I have felt in Japan.
If you are sensitive I am going to say do not go. I was nearly in tears. The zoo is very clean but some of the conditions that the animals are kept in are terrible. The pool that the seals were swimming in was so dark green with algae. The polar bears had no shade and it was 35deg. The animals looked stressed and were doing repetitive movements. There are some amazing animals but there were so many things that were heart breaking that it didn't help.
The shopping in this area is fabulous. I love my Louis Vuitton handbags and the undercover shopping street, Shinsaibashi street, has several second hand brand name shops. The bags range in condition from old well used to barely used bags. If you want to pick up an authentic bag for a fraction of the price make sure you visit.
We were going to to the Tombori River cruise free with the Unlimited Pass but didn't get to it. The atmosphere in this area is very busy and hip. It is great to people watch or grab some Takoyaki from one of the many street stands. There is also a Krispy Kreme on Shinsaibashi street which seemed to have a line up when ever we walked past.
This was our second trip to Kyoto and it is such a gorgeous place. We had seen lots of places before so we did some of the things we had yet done.
We spent just over an hour walking around the castle and the grounds. The gardens are spectacular and so well looked after.
We booked an English tour over the internet for 2pm. It was a bit of a pain timing things so that we could get there in time. The tour took about an hour and walked around the outside of the buildings. It was a shame that you couldn't get in to see the buildings. The tour gave you some information about the buildings and the past.
I had been advised that the tour wasn't that exciting and might possibly be a waste of time. I wouldn't say it was a waste but if it was your first trip to Kyoto I probably wouldn't do it. If you have several days then it is worth fitting it in.
|Would have been nice to see inside|
This area is truly amazing. It is so beautiful and the little back streets are wonderful. You could spend a day exploring this area and still not get enough. I would put this on my to do first list if I was heading to Kyoto.
Hakutsuru Sake Brewery
This was a 10 minute walk from Sumiyoshi train station in Kobe. It was a really interesting stop and was even better that it was free. There was English translation which was great. We had the opportunity to taste free sake in several different flavours. The shop selling sake and beauty products was reasonably priced as well. I would recommend this as a stop. We spent about 45 minutes there.
Earthquake Memorial Museum
Although quite somber, the museum is really interesting. It is incredible to see the damage the earthquake caused and how the city has rebuilt. We had an amazing volunteer gentleman walk through the museum with us and explain things in English. There were several different levels including a reenactment of the moment the quake hit, a short movie based on a survivor, lots of memorabilia and interactive activities about quakes. We spent over an hour, maybe even coming up to two hours in here. It was about 15 minutes walk from Iwaya train station.
Great place for different foods and to soak up the atmosphere. We came out of Motomachi train station and it was literally a two minute walk. We then walked up the undercover shopping street but it wasn't as exciting as the one in Osaka. We didn't get down to any of the other parts of Kobe but it is on the to do list!
We spent three hours walking through Nara Park and the area around the train station. We caught the Kinetsu train in from Osaka as we could use the Kansai Thru Pass. The station is closer to the Park than the JR station. It amazed me how the deer walk around the park without being fenced in. The can get a little insistent on being fed, especially if you are standing near a food stall. One of them bit my hubby on the stomach as he was trying to feed them. There are several temples to visit. The guide book said most were a 30 minute walk from the station but we either walked very slowly or they are a bit further.
Nara reminded me of Kyoto but on a smaller scale.
|Free roaming deer|