An Oasis of Calm in Tokyo – Meiji Jingu Shrine

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Only a short coach ride from our hotel in Shinigawa was the breathtakingly beautiful Shinto Shrine, Meiji Jingu. Located in a 170 acre forest of 100,000 trees, in the heart of Tokyo, this shrine, constructed of cypress wood and copper is dedicated to the souls of the Emperor Shoken and Empress Shoken. This very historic shrine is important to the history of Tokyo.

The parking for coaches is located on the outside of the grounds and it was then quite a long walk to the shrine itself. Along the path to the shrine I enjoyed the rows of brightly decorated sake barrels. Upon reaching the shrine, we were greeted by another large gate and a wall of wishes. This area is very busy but as soon as you walk through the gate, onto the tree lined path, it feels as if you have been transported out of the city.

I was grateful that we had a guide with us who was able to tell us about the history and traditions of the shrine so we could understand the full experience. She explained some of the traditions and the need to be respectful at all times. She taught us the correct way to wash our hands at the entrance before entering the grounds.

Located in a large forested park, the shrine offers a place of refuge from the bustling city. The massive gates, simple side buildings, and the shrine itself are great examples of Japanese architecture. The buildings are decorated with intricate woodwork and carvings. The shrine sits at one end of a large courtyard with a large gate building at the other end.

For train travel, this gem in the heart of Tokyo is an easy walk from the metro train station. I believe it is only a short walk from Harajuku station to the shrine.

We were very fortunate on the day we were there to see a traditional wedding ceremony. It was very elegant, beautiful and spiritual. We asked permission to take photos which they gracefully allowed. Actually they were quite happy to pose for photos.

This oasis of green can almost make you forget that you are in the midst of busy Tokyo. The beautiful trees surrounding this shrine make it truly a place of tranquillity.

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My Wonderful Trip to Japan

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Nothing could have prepared me for this exquisite and pristine country  with the most humble, gracious and polite people I have ever encountered.

We flew into Tokyo from Brisbane and after staying for 4 nights in this city, we made our way south zig zagging across the island of Honshu towards Osaka.  Our main places visited include: Tokyo, Nikko, Mt Fuji, Kawaguchiko, Matsumoto, Jigokudani, Nagano, Takayama, Shirakawago, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima

This timeless country is a place where ancient traditions are fused with modern life as if it is totally natural. Japan, with its beautiful natural landscape from mystical mountains to dramatic coastlines and everything in between enthralled us each and every day.  We visited temples, shrines, castles, onsens (natural hot springs baths), gardens and had the pleasure of shopping in many amazing towns and cities.

On the surface, Japan appears exceedingly modern, but travelling around we experienced numerous opportunities to connect with the country’s traditional culture. This place of many faces, left us feeling at times as though we were in a modern city anywhere in the world, then we were in  old towns with structures many hundreds of years old and then we were out in the country in an area that looked like it could have been Switzerland.

We enjoyed the food and soon learned that each area usually have their own specialised dishes. Wherever you are in Japan, you are never far from a great meal with small restaurants everywhere. Although we were tourists/visitors to this amazing country we always managed to find places to eat where the locals were eating. We enjoyed some wonderful experiences. In the Dotonbori area of Osaka, we were introduced to the ordering of meals using a vending machine. The vending machines (similar to cigarette vending machines) are placed near the entrance of the restaurant. With the help of pictures, we chose our meal, inserted out money and received our receipt. Then proceeded in to the tiny restaurant where we were seated at a bench and enjoyed our meal with fellow diners. It is such an efficient and different way of ordering. There is no exchange of money with any staff and your meal is ready very quickly. A really great experience. This was one of many unique and wonderful experiences during our time here.

A few more photos to share with you.

Castles

 

Gardens

 

Shrines

 

Temples

 

My 17 days in this timeless country was far beyond any of my expectations, it was insanely exceptional.

PS Sorry there are no photos of the Onsen.

Till next time

Sayanara

Snapshot of Hiroshima

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From Osaka, we took the bullet train and after about 90 mins, we arrived in Hiroshima. This is such a great way to travel. It is almost better than flying with much more leg room, comfortable seats, great views and you can walk around easily and often.

Visiting Miyajima Island was one of the highlights of my trip so far. The island is simply beautiful and the weather so perfect.

Miyajima Island

A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima Peace Park

Shukkeien Gardens

Just a little fun sign

Until next time

Sayanara from Japan

Hello Again from Japan

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We have now arrived in Osaka after travelling through many interesting and wonderful towns. Japan is an exquisite country, with friendly gracious folks and fabulous food. The cities are large and modern and the regional areas are picturesque and so very serene.

I will have so many stories to share with you but in the meantime here are a few more photos.

Higashiyama District Kyoto

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion

Heian jingu shinto shrine and gardens

Himeji Castle “White Heron” This Unesco complex is an example of the largest surviving traditional Japanese castle

Sika Deer at Nara Park

Out for the day wearing her pearls

Until next time

Sayanara from Japan

Carnival of Flowers – Toowoomba

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It was only about an hour and a half drive to Toowoomba from Brisbane.  Toowoomba (nicknamed The Garden City) is a city in the Darling Downs region of Queensland about 125 k’s west from Brisbane by road. The Darling Downs is a farming region on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Mountain range.

Annually this garden city puts on a spectacular garden show called the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers.  Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers is a cultural party featuring a floral parade, local food and produce, regional wine, entertainment and all things spring.  Toowoomba is a beautiful city all year round but especially during Carnival of Flowers.

 

Our first stop was at the top of the range at picnic point where we stopped for morning tea. The views from picnic point looking east are outstanding.

Laurel bank park

From Picnic point we drove to Laurel Bank park. All the gardens around Toowoomba are beautiful in September for Carnival of Flowers, but Laurel Bank Park is one of my favourites, and is a must see. We always make sure that we go up the viewing platform for the best photos and to really see the theme of the gardens each year.

 

 

We wandered throughout the magnificent gardens taking in the diverse array of flowers, colour and design.

 

The beds were covered with mixtures of flowers that provided colour, levels and designs with each being unique in their own way.
The wisteria arch was covered with flowers and the scent within the tunnel was amazing.

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The gardens are offset by the range of topiary items scattered throughout the park.

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All the parks and gardens around the area are spectacular and the resident’s gardens are just as good. We visited 3 of the private winning gardens which were fabulous. It was just astounding to  see  the amount of effort put into these gardens and an absolute pleasure to meet some of their creators.

 

 

 

Toowoomba shines in September. The generosity of the home gardeners to open their gates and share their gardening secrets to the world is wonderful. The impressive public parks and gardens make for a complete picture of spring. The colours of spring bring the city to life with a sense of community seeing visitors from all nations share picnics and fun in the parks and gardens. A Big thank you to the gardeners of the Garden City in Spring.

Elegant Arcade Dressed up for Spring.

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This was such a lovely way to catch up with a friend who was visiting Brisbane from Perth, WA. We met in the city at the Queen St entrance to the arcade. Brisbane Arcade is a heritage-listed shopping arcade located in the Queen Street Mall in Brisbane city.

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Brisbane’s oldest and grandest shopping Arcade has been wowing crowds with its annual Spring Flower Show since 2014 and this year’s theme is a whimsical Spring Fair wonderland of carousel horses, cake displays, vintage bicycles overloaded in colourful blooms and sweet surprises.

This beautiful old building which was built in 1923, is one of the city’s oldest shopping destinations. A stroll through Brisbane Arcade is a romantic step back in time. The arcade retains wonderfully preserved woodwork, leadlight windows and Terazzo floors and balustrades. The petite stores are mainly stocked with locally produced goods and unique artisan items.

After admiring the elegant floral displays we stopped for a Devonshire tea at the Room for Roses cafe. This beautifully presented cafe on the first floor of the Arcade offers a mixed menu with many French style delicacies and of course the very popular Devonshire teas with pots of Real tea. The cafe appeared to be very popular, tastefully decorated and offering a unique experience but be prepared to pay for it.

If you like the finer things in life the Brisbane Arcade is the place to shop; just looking around will make you feel special.

This cool and graceful arcade is well worth a visit anytime of the year.

Stunningly Beautiful on a Perfect Winters Day

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I have been coming here to these gardens for a number of years. When I lived closer to the city we would ride our bikes in to the Botanical gardens and stop for Devonshire tea at the garden cafe.

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This time, with my friends visiting, we took the bus to Southbank where we hopped on to a city cat to go across the Brisbane river to these lovely gardens, arriving via QUT.

The City Botanic Gardens, which is Brisbane Citys oldest park, was originally planted by convicts in 1825 with food crops to feed the prison colony. These gardens include ancient trees, rainforest glades and exotic species. They run the full length of Alice Street, bordered by Parliament House on the one side and the Brisbane River’s northern banks on the other. Where the park borders the Brisbane river there is a wide tree lined path, which offers a pleasant walk by day or evening, and from here there are views of the many yachts at anchor and in the distance the iconic Story Bridge.

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In the park there is so much space that even when the park is busy you don’t feel overcrowded. There are many walkways which are wide enough to allow for both bicycle and foot traffic to share.

The gardens are an absolutely wonderful display of the most beautiful delights anyone could wish for. A large expansive area is set out beautifully with lots of grassy areas to relax in. The flower displays are truly delightful. The gardens are beautifully maintained and you really can get amongst the shrubs and giant trees. There are several large camphor laurel trees which are fantastic for climbing. The pond serves as a brilliant focal point that is teaming with wildlife including many species of birds, lizards (water dragons) and turtles.

There are several options of cafes to stop for coffee or lunch. We chose to have lunch in The Pantry located at QUT at Gardens point and within the grounds of the Iconic Old Government House. This small cafe offers a great selection of simple morning tea and lunch items, wonderful coffee and an interesting atmosphere.

There are free guided walks available from Monday to Saturdays from approximately 11.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. (excluding public holidays). These walks which last approximately one hour are led by experienced, friendly Volunteer Guides. Just meet at the Rotunda near the Alice Street Main Entrance.

This is a brilliant place to visit with the family. You can wander through the gardens or walk along the river bank all the way to the bridge over to Southbank.

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One of the many beautiful camphor laurel trees

Swimmer’s Haven – Park Beach, Coffs Harbour

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Park Beach is one of the many stunning beaches that you will pass as you walk the coastal walk on the Coffs Coast of NSW. The coastal walk is a 60km stretch between Sawtell in the south to Red Rock in the northern beaches, linking a string of long golden beaches, rocky headlands and lush rainforest along the Coffs Coast. It is certainly one of the most beautiful walks on the east coast of Australia.

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Park Beach is actually a suburb of Coffs Harbour, located in the north eastern part of the town. This calm and relaxed, water wonderland accommodates all comers. It is a great family beach close to town and amenities. A really lovely clean and tidy beach for both walking along and swimming. The beach is relatively well protected and suits family swimming. It is dog friendly and very popular. We always see many dogs there including my Buddy.

 

This ideal location is perfect for pool swimmers to get accustomed to open water swimming. If in doubt, ask a local for advice on swimming conditions (for that day). The large sandy beach awaits families wanting to build sand castles and play in the sand.
A renovated parkland is beachside and is an ideal place for picnics and family gatherings. There is enough grass space for ball games. New bench seats allow places to relax and watch the yachts out to sea, people running with their dogs or just take in the lovely views.
There are beachside showers on the boardwalk which allows folks to rinse off sand and salt before heading to the park or the many nearby eateries / cafes.

 

Adjacent to the beach park is the Coffs Harbour surf life saving club which is a community organisation run by volunteers protecting members of the public who surf and swim at the beach. Surf club patrols are conducted on weekends and public holidays during the surfing season from September to April each year.

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On the 2nd floor of this surf club is the restaurant and bar which is open for breakfast and lunch, and offers amazing views of the ocean and beach looking towards the north and down to the south. It also offers pretty fantastic food. I know I have eaten there many times.

 

There is a very popular Holiday park directly across the street which means visitors staying there can just easily walk across the road to the park and beach.

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As are all the beaches in Coffs Harbour, Park Beach is stunning. There is plenty of easy parking close to the beach with many amenities close by, including showers, toilets, picnic tables and benches and free bbqs and also cafes nearby.

Fantastic for Nature Lovers – Karawatha Forest.

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This place is truly at my back yard. Karawatha forest was here a long time before I arrived but it is only in recent months that I have started exploring and enjoying this wonderful bushland. Initially it was a great area to walk my dog Buddy and for us to enjoy the natural area while both of us enjoying fresh air and great exercise.

Recently, while my friends were visiting, we went to the forest a couple of times to explore plus we joined a 2 hour guided walk through the bush one Sunday morning. These guided walks are conducted regularly. You can find the information on the website. When I was growing up on the northern beaches of Sydney this type of area was “my back yard” and although I had spent many hours there I realised there was just so much more that I learned on this guided walk. Karawatha Forest contains mainly open eucalypt forest with areas of heath, wetland and woodlands.

There are plenty of bushwalking paths which are well-signed making it very easy to explore and design your own walks.

Karawatha Forest Park is about 18 kilometres south of Brisbane’s CBD, is approximately 900 hectares in size and is one of the largest areas of remnant bushland within the city. Karawatha Forest Park has a range of walking tracks and trails and you can download maps from the site of the Karawatha Protection Society to see the wetlands, track locations, grading and length of the tracks.

We were delighted when we arrived at the area known as Poet’s Rock with its sandstone ridges and scenic outlook over the forest and in the distance we could see Brisbane city.

Due to the large size of Karawatha Forest Park, and the variety of habitats it contains,this forest is a very important refuge for over 200 species of wildlife, including a number of threatened or endangered species such as the greater glider, squirrel glider and rare frogs. The forest also supports rednecked wallabies, swamp wallabies and eastern grey kangaroos, possums, bats, parrots and owls. The birdlife is the most visible in the forest – over 100 bird species have been found.

Inside the Karawatha Forest, just off the Acacia Street entrance there is ample parking, which is a few meters from the Discovery Centre which is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9am – 4pm. The Forest Discovery Centre is so well thought-out. Interactive exhibits teach you about the local wildlife – from frog calls, to invasive weeds and a bird’s eye view of the forest. There are books and craft activities for children to engage with, plenty of buttons to press and lots for the older visitor too. They have packed a lot of information into a small space and delivered it in a fantastically accessible way.

Adjacent to the discovery centre there are large picnic areas with free bbq’s, picnic tables and benches, lots of grassy places to relax or play. There are plenty of public toilets and there is an amazing nature play area for the kids.

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Karawatha Forest Discovery Centre has been really well planned and there’s something there for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds so whether you’re a young family, backpacker or seasoned bushwalker there’s plenty to enjoy. You could easily bring a picnic and spend all day or just pop in for a quick walk.

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Grass Tree