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Adventure

The Doctor Who Experience

Doctor Who Experience

Also known as That Time We Unknowingly Booked Tickets for the Saturday of the UEFA Champions League Final.

The first weekend of June was a pretty good weekend.  One of my favourite bands, Madina Lake, announced they were doing a reunion tour, and would be visiting Cardiff.  Knowing it was soon-to-close, we decided to also book tickets for the Doctor Who Experience at Cardiff Bay – something to tick off the old Nerd Bucket List.  Tickets and hotel booked (why were so many hotels fully booked already, we wondered), we were surprised to learn that our plans clashed with one of the biggest events of the football calendar – the UEFA Champions League Final.

Don’t you hate it when you leave your hotel and there are tens of thousands of football fans between you and your destination.
– Me, all weekend

Trudging through the chanting crowds and bag searches (how quickly you become desensitised to strangers digging around in your dirty laundry), we finally made it safely to the DW Experience.

Doctor Who Experience

To be honest, I’m not the world’s biggest DW fan, but fortunately my traveling companion had far more knowledge than me, and was able to explain all the references and exhibits!

Doctor Who Experience

Before we queued, I may have spent a long, long time looking at this wax model and waiting for it to move or blink…

Three families, two Italian football fans and a pair of nerds walk into the Doctor Who Experience…

The first half of the experience was a roleplay, something that made my friend and I rub our hands together with glee!  Something that made the two Italian football fans glance back longingly towards the exit as the doors closed behind us.

Incredibly, visitors got to actually crash drive the TARDIS, led by an experienced guide and narrated by the real Doctor (Steven Moffat) himself.  With a bit of imagination, it was easy to get into the spirit of the journey, and I was determined to get the most out of every part of the experience!

My favourite section was the The Weeping Angel graveyard, which was like something from the London Dungeons – all it was missing was actors to jump out of the shadows and scare the already whimpering children.  With the children clinging to their mother’s legs, and the Italian tourists exchanging exasperated looks, I knew that I couldn’t let the Doctor down, and volunteered myself to collect the very last crystal, wedged into a rock beside a Weeping Angel’s outstretched hand.

After all that excitement, we were released to enjoy the museum part of the experience at our own pace.

Doctor Who Experience

Doctor Who Experience

Doctor Who Experience

Further along the museum there was an incredible display of costumes and monsters from the series, most of them from the last ten years.  Many were very realistic, and it felt almost uncanny being in their presence… I actually saw a little boy crying because he found them so frightening (and I totally sympathised with him!).

Doctor Who Experience

Doctor Who Experience

Doctor Who Experience

Doctor Who Experience

If you click on the image below you can check out this panoramic of all the Doctors’ costumes (some originals, other replicas):

Doctor Who Experience

Tour over, I bought an amazing poster and tote bag from the gift shop, and left quickly before I could spend anymore money.  From there, we fled through the streams of people to the train station, and were en route to home before kick off had even begun.

Emma

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June 4, 2017
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Searching for Poldark: A Week on the Cornish Coast

I’m back!

I’ve just returned from an amazing week spent in a quintessential little cottage in Cornwall.  I was hoping to have a week of writing (the end of editing my first draft is in sight), but we ended up with an action-packed seven days of trips instead, which let’s face it, is the next best thing.

You may know of Cornwall as the setting of Winston Graham’s famous Poldark novels.  And even though I didn’t see the handsome Ross Poldark (or, let’s be honest, Aidan Turner) walking the beautiful landscapes of the county, I still had a wonderful time.

Firstly, I simply must talk about my favourite day out, which was to Healey’s Cyder Farm near Newquay.

We chose to go on the Full Guided Tour, which among other things included a cider tasting session, a tractor ride and a glimpse of ‘behind the scenes’ of the process of bottling the cider.  Watching the whole process in the factory from above was vaguely reminescent of the scene at the end of The Borrowers film, where Peagreen gets trapped in the bottle at the milk factory.  I can’t say I’m a huge fan of alcohol, but I still found the tour fascinating, and may have finally discovered a wine I enjoy (strawberry flavoured!).  Also, why did no one ever tell me that tractor rides were so much fun?Healey's Cyder FarmAnother highlight of the holiday was a day trip to Porthtowan Beach.  We enjoyed a BBQ followed by ice-cream from a local shop called Moomaid of Zennor.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t stop there because I thought it had an incredible name.  Apparently it is taken from the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor, who lured a young man to his death with her beauty.  Luckily, I survived the visit to the shop!

I also finally got to do some reading, settling into the first chapter of Skyfaring, this month’s Words & Geeks read.  Mark Vanhoenacker actually writes very poetically, though I’ll be interested to see how he creates an entire book from his experiences; I’m enjoying it so far though haven’t read anymore since.  Sitting on Porthtowan Beach with the sound of crashing waves and the sizzling of steaks seemed the perfect backdrop for a good travel read.

I was very excited to visit Truro’s Royal Cornwall Museum.  Though the advertised Poldark exhibition was a little bit disappointing, another exhibition of the watercolour painter Tony Foster caught my eye instead.  Tony’s paintings are just unbelievable – he has traveled extensively around the world to paint some of the most beautiful wild places on the planet.  I can’t even imagine how long it must have taken to get every detail perfect – the overall effect is something quite breathtaking.  You can read more about his work on the Royal Cornwall Museum website.

Tony Foster

Tony Foster

It’s amazing how new and exciting another county can feel, even if the border is just a short car ride away.  I’ve loved my week of eating, hunting for Poldark and gaming (turns out I’m quite good at Poker!), but now I’m back home, refreshed and ready to finish what I hope will be the final part of my novel-writing journey before it is ready to be sent out into the world.

Until next time, happy adventuring!

Emma

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September 11, 2016
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Dorms and Darcy: Visiting the City of Bath

Inspired by The Teacup Library’s trip last year, I’ve finally been able to visit the city of Bath for myself.  This trip was a first for me, like so many other adventures I’ve written about on here (first package holiday, first time to Asia), as we decided to sleep in dorms instead of opting for a private room as we tend to by default.  More on that later!

The City of Bath

Bath was such a photogenic city.

After dinner on arrival, we climbed the half a mile hill to Bath Youth Hostel, run by the YHA.  I’m a bit of a diehard YHA fan, and have stayed in some incredible locations over the years.  So, I knew when we wound our way up the driveway that it was going to be a unique property, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Bath Youth Hostel

Arriving up the long drive to the Georgian mansion for the first time.

Cursed with rain on our main day of exploration, we kept indoors as much as we could, dodging between shops and tourist attractions. Bath has a surprising long stretch of shops – lots of boutiques too – and the city seemed really clean and well looked after.  It had such a great vibe to it.

The Roman Baths were our first stop.

Roman Baths Ceiling

The incredible ceiling of the entrance to the Roman Baths.

I think it is optional but I felt that the free audio guide is needed to make it a full morning’s excursion.  The design of the exhibitions makes it easy to imagine what it was like to be a visitor all those hundreds of years ago.  Disappointingly, at times I felt that some of the items being displayed were not particularly engaging, but artifacts like the written curses were just incredible to see.

Our next stop was the Jane Austen Centre.  It is based in the house that Jane stayed in for a few months after her father’s death.  The centre wasn’t what I had expected – it was smaller than I’d imagined, and the seated introduction at the beginning had me worried that it would be a tightly controlled guided tour.  However, the exhibition area itself was very interesting, and included information about Jane’s family too.  Our guide – Lizzie Bennet – was really down to earth and clearly passionate about Jane Austen’s history; all the staff were dressed up, which made things feel more authentic.

Jane Austen Centre - Desk

I didn’t sleep fantastically during my first night in dorms. Having stayed up late playing card games, I crept into a completely dark room with just the glow of my phone screen to guide me.  Fortunately I had claimed a bed earlier in the evening (as they weren’t numbered or allocated) and I was able to navigate my way to it easily enough.

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Anyway, by the second night I was surprisingly well adjusted to the dorm life and slept perfectly.  Considering the massive saving (quarter the price a Premier Inn would have cost at the time), I would certainly stay in dorms again – it may even be the start of a new kind of travelling for me.  Though I did have the benefit of well behaved roommates; I imagine sharing a room with a hen party wouldn’t have been as fun.

The highlight of Bath for me was Bath Abbey, which we visited before leaving (the sun had even attempted to come out for us).

I may not be religious but the sense of peace I get in such grand and sacred places really moves me, and the architecture even more so; I have a bit of a weakness for stained glass and intricate ceilings (couldn’t you tell?).

We didn’t stay in Bath for long, but it still made a real impression on me – I’m already planning my return there!  As well as the history, it is also a great place for shopping – I imagine it is a lovely place to visit at Christmas time.

If you’re planning on visiting Bath, check out the YHA website: http://www.yha.org.uk/hostel/bath (it may be a small trek away from the city centre, but the views are amazing and it is much more inviting than a typical hotel).

Have you ever stayed in dorms before?  Was it a good or bad experience?

Until next time, happy adventuring!

Emma

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June 8, 2016
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Our Last Day in Tokyo: Odaiba

10 Days in Tokyo

On the last day of our trip, I had mixed emotions – excited by the prospect of seeing family and friends again, but sad that nine days had already passed and we had only scratched the surface of the city.

I was actually prepared to drop Odaiba from our itinerary (with so much else we also wanted to see and visit), but it sounded like a fun day out, so we tagged it on to the end of the trip.

It took a little while to get there from Ueno, but the view from the train going over the water was incredible.

Our first stop was the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan).  We arrived very early, and were possibly some of the first visitors through the door that day!

Odaiba

En route to Miraikan

I had been particularly interested in visiting Miraikan because of its robot exhibitions.  We’ve all heard of Japan’s progress with robotics, and I was excited for what we might discover.

The museum was very hands-on, and everything on display was also in English.  It was amazing to see ASIMO, after seeing it on TV so much – we watched it hopping up and down, kicking a football and running.  It also sang a little song, which wasn’t really our cup of tea… but the technology was impressive nonetheless.

Odaiba

The highlight of the Miraikan for me was the android child reporter, who sat in an eerie white room, viewable through a long slit in the wall.  It was uncanny, only made ever more strange by its young Japanese voice.  It is an experience that will definitely stay with me forever, as I pondered the question the exhibitions were prompting – ‘what is human?’

There were also some other fun exhibits and experiments we were able to take part in.  The museum was like nothing we had ever visited before, and we were relieved we had made the effort to go to Odaiba on our last day!

We made our way over to Decks Tokyo Beach for lunch, before stumbling on a whole floor of retro arcade games.

Odaiba

Odaiba

We spent much of the afternoon visiting the shops and playing on the many games there!

One of our final stops was to visit the ferris wheel (Daikanransha) in Palette Town, which was 115 metres high!  We also finally captured a picture of Mt. Fuji through the window, after it had been obscured by cloud on the three other chances we had to see it – it was a momentous moment!

We finished our last night in Tokyo at the huge arcade in Palette Town.  We must have been in there for at least two hours, determined to use up the loose yen in our wallets.

My visit to Tokyo was epic beyond words.  It was everything I had hoped for and more – the food, the hospitality, the culture, I was seduced by all of it.  Ten days was never going to be enough to explore the wonderful city, and I don’t regret our decision to stay put in Tokyo for our entire trip – Ueno quickly became our home, and proved an excellent location for us.  There’s so much we did that I haven’t even had time to cover – crepes in Harajuku, visiting Shinjuku and experiencing the wonders of Daiso for the first time (literally the highlight of the trip for me).  I’m sure those photos and stories will materialise on here eventually (probably during Wanderlust Week), but I feel it is time to move on to other exciting things, like my recent trips to Dunster Castle and Bath!

When I first boarded that long flight to Japan, I was sure I never wanted to be on a plane for that long ever again!  Now, I can say with confidence that I’d do anything to return there, and hopefully one day will get to go back.  Watch this space…

You can view a list of all my Tokyo posts here.

Emma

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May 19, 2016
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Views of Tokyo: Tokyo Tower

10 Days in Tokyo

Tokyo Tower could easily be considered a day trip in itself; the building and surrounding area have a lot to offer.  The foot of the tower – known appropriately as Foot Town – has lots of shops and attractions, including a horror house, aquarium and a One Piece theme park.

tokyo tower

Tokyo Tower is actually taller than the Eiffel Tower, though is several hundred metres smaller than the Tokyo Skytree.  Nonetheless, with its bright red colour, it makes a bold statement among all the grey of the skyscrapers surrounding it.

We had wanted to walk the steps up to the observation deck, but upon arrival found out that is only available on weekends and bank holidays (maybe it was for the best, as we’d only walked Mt. Takao the day before).

Nevertheless, the lift to the top was good fun – heights make me feel a bit wobbly, so I tried not to look down at the transparent floor beneath us as we were whizzed up to our first stop!

View from Tokyo Tower

The main observatory had a cafe, gift shop and viewing windows in the floor.  I couldn’t bring myself to even stand on them, but I did peek – it was a long way down!

View from Tokyo Tower

I think we were a little disappointed by the observation decks in the end.  We paid to access both decks, and there is no denying the views were incredible, but The Government Building observation deck in Shinjuku (which we visited later in the week) felt it had more to offer, and that was free entry too!

More than Tokyo Tower itself, we enjoyed the grounds of Zojoji Temple, which sits within walking distance of Tokyo Tower.

Zojoji Temple

The temple grounds include rows and rows of Jizo statues, decorated with red bibs and hats.  In Buddhism, Jizo is believed to alleviate suffering and protect children; there’s an interesting website talking more about the meaning of the Jizo statues and their different forms, found here (for those who are curious!).  Personally, I found their presence very moving and quite beautiful.

Jizo statues

I’m glad we went up Tokyo Tower, but despite looking forward to the observation decks the most, we actually enjoyed the other features of the area more.  Sometimes exploring is the best bit!

Don’t miss the last post in the 10 Days in Tokyo series: Our Last Day in Tokyo: Odaiba

Happy adventuring!

Emma

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May 11, 2016
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Hiking Mt. Takao

10 Days in Tokyo

I’ve always wanted to hike up a mountain.  It’s been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember.  So, as you can imagine, I was thrilled when I discovered that Mount Takao was only a short train ride away from Tokyo.

Due to our aching legs from city exploration, we had pushed back the trip later than planned.  By the time we arrived at Takaosanguchi Station, we had lost the blue skies and were met with cloud.

Mt Takao, view on the ascent

View on the ascent.

Retrospectively, I’m pretty relieved that we sacrificed a clear view for a cooler ascent – I think I would have struggled if it had been a humid day!  There is the option to take a cablecar or chair lift part way up the mountain, but we opted to walk so we could proudly say we had hiked the whole thing.

Trail 1, Mt Takao

Trail 1 up the mountain.

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There were dozens of shops and shrines up the mountain.  Halfway up I bought and tried dango for the first time.  It was… interesting; definitely a unique texture!

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I’m ashamed to say that most Japanese families we passed, even older hikers, overtook us.  It took us just over two hours to reach the summit in the end (599 metres high), which included food and toilet stops.  Unfortunately, the amazing view we had been looking forward to was non-existent, as the fog was so thick we couldn’t see a single thing over the rail.  It still felt pretty good to reach the top though!

Fog

The higher we climbed, the thicker the fog!

One thing I hadn’t been expecting – there were vending machines and shops dotted up the mountain, as well as a monkey park, temple and other curious places.  There were even vending machines right at the summit!

We decided to take a different route down the mountain, and finally decided on the Inariyama trail.  It ended up being quite rough terrain, and we witnessed our fair share of slips as we descended!  Unlike Trail 1, the fog really lingered on the path and between the trees.  We only passed about a dozen hikers on the whole trail, and it felt very different from our experience on the way up (we felt more like real adventurers).

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The Inariyama trail was eerie in the fog.

Hiking Takaosan was easily my favourite day of the trip.  I love hiking, and it was incredible to have the opportunity to do something like that so close to Tokyo!  Next stop: Mt. Fuji?

Look out for my next Tokyo post: Views of Tokyo: Tokyo Tower

Until next time, happy adventuring!

Emma

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May 7, 2016
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Day 4: The Imperial Palace and Tokyo Skytree

10 Days in Tokyo

We didn’t get lost often in Toyko, but the moment we stepped out of Tokyo Station we were disorientated.  Having set off in the wrong direction (which led to us stocking up on picnic food – a silver lining), we eventually found our way to the Imperial Palace Gardens.

After being absorbed into a huge moving queue of people upon arrival, we decided to see where it might take us.  After a bag check and body search, we began to wonder what exactly we had signed up for, until we saw a (very small) notice explaining we were heading towards Inui Street, which isn’t usually open to the public.  It was a particularly beautiful walk with the cherry blossom, and we got to see buildings that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen, though it was very busy!

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After taking some photos, we sat in the gardens for lunch, looking out across the sea of picnickers.  We also visited the foundations of the former castle tower, which was destroyed by a fire in the 17th century – you can walk to the top of the stone structure that remains.

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In the afternoon we visited the Tokyo Skytree, an amazing piece of bold architecture that you can see from across Tokyo.  At the foot of the building is several floors of shops, which are a great source of souvenirs!

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We didn’t go to the observation decks (we had Tokyo Tower on the agenda for later in the week), but we did go to Sumida Aquarium, which is a staggering five floors up the Skytree!

The aquarium was smaller than expected (though I suppose space wasn’t abundant due to location), but a great deal of effort had been made to create a modern and calming atmosphere.  Coloured lights shone through hundreds of jellyfish, and we were even treated to a light show with soothing music while we viewed the seals and penguins.

The highlight was certainly the shark tank, which we spent at least an hour viewing.  A man was cleaning the rocks at the bottom of the tank with a tiny scrubbing brush, and we watched with morbid curiosity as the shark swam round and round above his head – we wondered if he was being punished for bad behaviour, as surely he could have been given a bigger brush!

It was also fun to watch the penguins being fed, and then weighed afterwards.  The girls feeding them seemed to really enjoy their jobs, and it was really interesting to watch!

Look out for my next Tokyo post: Hiking Mt. Takao

Happy adventuring!

Emma

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May 4, 2016
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A Day in Akihabara and Asakusa

10 Days in Tokyo

One of the things I was most looking forward to in Tokyo was Akihabara. Having heard it referred to as Electric Town, I was thinking it would be the best place to go to indulge in geeky things.

Akihabara

It wasn’t until I visited Akihabara that I realised how dated my anime and manga interests are.  Fruits Basket and Soul Eater must be old news, as we struggled to find merchandise for most of our favourite series.  I was a tiny bit disappointed by Animate, which was so crowded we could barely move, but the Tokyo Anime Center was well worth a visit (though it wasn’t cheap).

The highlight of Akihabara for me was the arcades.  The Club Sega arcade was huge – I lost count of how many floors it had.  We played some games in several different arcades, did a little bit of shopping (far less than we had expected though), and decided to hop on a tube to our next destination.

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With the afternoon still ahead of us, we headed for Asakusa.  Stepping out the station, it immediately felt very different from Ueno and Akihabara, the two areas we had previously visited.  Gone were many of the neon signs and talls buildings of concrete we had grown accustomed to.20160331_145048The shops leading up to the famous Sensoji Temple – our main reason for visiting Asakusa – sold every kind of souvenir one could hope for, and as the crowds moved so slowly between the shops, we had a lot of time to look at the goods for sale.  I think this was one of the busiest places we visited on the entire trip, but it was worth the queuing and waiting.

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Asakusa

My favourite photo of the entire trip.

The whole area had a very traditional feel to it, and we spent at least an hour just sitting in the temple grounds, soaking up the atmosphere.  Afterwards, we strolled along the streets, crammed with tiny little eateries, many only big enough for half a dozen customers at a time.

Next up: Day 4: The Imperial Palace and Tokyo Skytree

Happy adventuring!

Emma

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April 19, 2016
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Pandas, Polar Bears and Cherry Blossom: Exploring Ueno

10 Days in Tokyo

This is the first of a number of posts about my experiences in Tokyo from March to April this year, during the beautiful cherry blossom season.  The trip was my first experience of a long haul flight (the longest leg was 14 hours on a plane) and also my first time out of Europe!

I’d read somewhere that Ueno was one of the less desirable areas of Tokyo, which before my arrival to our Ueno-based hotel had me just a little bit worried.  Yet by the end of my trip, it would become one of my favourite places!

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After the long flight, and an afternoon of rest, we kick-started the trip the following morning by exploring the local area on foot.

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We had breakfast people-watching in the park, before walking the short distance to Ueno Zoo.  The entry fee – 600 yen – was unexpectedly cheap considering the number and variety of animals they have, and it was our first attempts at some full sentences of Japanese!  I was really excited about seeing some animals I’d never seen before.

Ueno Zoo Pandas

The first animals we encountered were the two resident pandas.

Ueno Zoo Pandas

Unbeknownst to us, Ueno Zoo was hiding more than just panda bears… The highlight was definitely stumbling across the polar bear exhibit, where we experienced a polar bear swimming in front of our viewing window before climbing out and chewing on a toy right above our heads.

Ueno Zoo Polar Bears

Ueno Zoo Polar Bears

I was also fortunate enough to get some bear close-up shots.  We were winding our way around the bear exhibits, when an elderly Japanese man gestured for us to follow him.  He led us to a little window, which was tucked out of view, where the enormous bear stood, looking right at us!

Ueno Zoo Bear

One thing I had read before visiting the zoo was that there has been some controversy surrounding the size of the enclosures.  I thought this might be an overreaction until I saw some of the enclosures myself – a few of them were really quite depressing.  I think the most startling of these was the hippopotamus, whose face was buried in the one corner that seemed to allow it any privacy from the crowds – it was awful to see.  I appreciate that space is scarce in a city location, but it was my one and only criticism of an otherwise brilliant day trip.

Gorilla Ueno Zoo

Red Panda Ueno Zoo

We only spotted the Red Panda when we were preparing to leave. We ran down the bridge we were on and managed to snap a few photos. It seemed to be a favourite animal as the enclosure was swarming with visitors!

After Ueno Zoo, we followed our noses down a long street of vendors selling food, and visited the Toshogu Shrine, our first real taste of Japan’s beautiful architecture.

Street Vendors Ueno

Toshogu Shrine Ueno

Ueno Ema

Ema plaques at Toshogu Shrine.

Ueno

The day was drawing to a close, so we used up the last few hours in the National Museum of Science and Nature, which is also in Ueno Park.

Blue Whale Ueno

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We didn’t get to complete the whole museum before closing time, but it was still interesting to see some pieces of Japan’s history and the beautiful architecture inside the museum – the stained glass windows were a personal favourite of mine.

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Has anyone else visited Ueno? Did you fall in love with it as I did, or were there other parts of Tokyo you preferred?

Next up: A Day in Akihabara and Asakusa

Happy adventuring!

Emma

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April 12, 2016
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