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Travel

The House of the Tailor of Gloucester

I recently visited the city of Gloucester, a city with a rich Roman history, residing in the South West of England.  I was travelling to see friends, to experience a new city, but secretly, secretly, I was most excited about seeing the House of the Tailor of Gloucester.

The story goes that one Saturday night a tailor left his shop, a waistcoat unfinished within.  Come Monday morning, the waistcoat was mysteriously complete, all but one button, with a note saying “no more twist” attached.  Though I believe it was later found to be two workers who had done some overtime in secret to avoid being seen on Sunday in town, Beatrix Potter was inspired by the story nonetheless, and chose it as the setting for her book, The Tailor of Gloucester.

The shop is down a quaint little lane between the high street and the Cathedral.  Admittedly, the first time I walked down there, I walked straight past it, distracted at the time by the arts and crafts shop on the other side of the street.  The building is part shop, part museum, with information dotted around the walls, items in cabinets, and literally every surface covered with memorabilia.  It was almost overwhelming how much could be fit into such a small space!

It’s only a small thing, fifteen minutes of your day, but if you are in Gloucester, I recommend popping in and having a look around.  There’s some sweet Beatrix Potter souvenirs and entry to the museum part of the building is (miraculously) absolutely free!

Check out the shop’s website for more information.

Happy travels!

Emma

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March 14, 2017
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Book Club Review: Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker

25265574Title: Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot

Author: Mark Vanhoenacker

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Travel

Publication Date: April 2015

I try hard to remember that this is an unusual experience of the world – to have stood on the earth there, then there on it and there; then suddenly to find myself alone on an ordinary afternoon, quietly washing it from my shoes.

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


Review

Skyfaring is a memoir of author Mark Vanhoenacker’s experiences of aviation, from his interest in flight as a child to his journeys through the skies as a qualified pilot.  I must admit that the book was a complete surprise for me.  I suppose I started out with some vague notion that it would be a very to-the-point and factual book for the most part, full of complicated terminology and technical descriptions, but I was quite wrong.

Vanhoenacker is an exceptional writer, and his resume is no less impressive – leaving a career as a management consultant, he trained to become a pilot, and now works as a Senior First Officer for British Airways.  He is also a columnist, and his writing ability is clear.  Skyfaring is nothing less than a work of poetry, and he manages to make flying sound almost romantic; I actually forgot at times that I was reading non-fiction.

Paired with this freedom is the opportunity to come to know the cities of the world well, and to see so much of the land, water and air that lie between them.

I have never dwelt too much on flying – I’ve always tended to have my feet rooted firmly on the ground, I think!  But Skyfaring made me wonder why I never thought about it more.  In particular, I thought the paragraphs about restricted airspace were fascinating, especially the Tower of Silence near Mumbai.  I never considered that the skies would also have their own rules, codes and boundaries.

Of course, nothing is perfect.  My one real criticism of the book is that I wish that each topic was elaborated on just a little bit more – Vanhoenacker was quick to flutter between experiences, and actually if you were to strip away a lot of the descriptive, fancy language, the actual real substance of the book was half the number of pages.  He never seemed to stay long enough on a story for me to get a true sense of the experience.  This also extended to the paragraphs about restricted airspace which I was talking about above – I would have loved to have read more about it, but the topic moved swiftly on.  What is there though is exceptional, and it was still very enjoyable to read.

On the whole, Skyfaring was an absolute pleasure to read – educational, fun, poetic, it is an impressive piece of non-fiction.  I wouldn’t think twice about picking up another of Mark Vanhoenacker’s books – whether it be about flying, or anything else, I’m sure it would fill any reader with as much wonder as Skyfaring did for me.

Star Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5/5)


Thanks for joining us for this month’s Book Club read!  Click here to find out what we’re reading next.

Emma

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September 30, 2016
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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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Guest Comic | The Japan Diaries

The Japan Diaries

Today’s guest post is by Emily at The Geek Undergraduate.  Soon to depart for Japan for a whole year, you can keep up to date with her adventures by reading her comic series, The Japan Diaries.

Wanderlust Week runs annually on the first week of August, celebrating wanderlust and adventure through travel posts on the blog.  Click here to view all posts.
August 3, 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!

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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Book Review: For Fukui’s Sake by Sam Baldwin

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Title: For Fukui’s Sake

Author: Sam Baldwin

Genre: Non-Fiction, Travel, Memoir

First Published: September 2011

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | Amazon


review

The book is a memoir of author Sam Baldwin’s experiences of the JET (Japanese Exchange and Teaching) Programme for the two years he taught abroad.  Upon opening his acceptance letter, he sees the word ‘Fukui’ and assumes he is being rudely rejected – hence the book title.  In fact, he is sent to the rural Japanese town of Fukui, where he makes friends, goes on adventures and must adjust to Japanese customs (often with hilarious results).

Having been gifted this back in Christmas 2015 by The Geek Undergraduate, I had been told to wait until my flight to Japan until I was allowed to read it.  Though it took the flight and then a good month afterwards to actually finish it, I’m glad I got to experience the Japanese culture first hand before reading; it made the jokes and certain moments in the book more relevant and funny.

The book started strongly – Sam’s story of applying for the job and initially adjusting are some of the best chapters.  Even the people he met while abroad had their own quirks and wild backstories.  It’s a great advert for the JET Programme; I actually know someone who has been on the programme, and it seems like an incredible opportunity to be integrated into a whole new culture whilst making a good wage.  The website can be found here, for those of you who may be interested!  I was intrigued to read as much as possible about Sam’s teaching experiences, but he predominantly talks instead about the trips he goes on with the new friends he makes.

My only real criticism is that there doesn’t seem to be any chronology to the events that are told.  Sam jumps from one great story to another, and at times this can feel random and disjointed.  This is made up for by the fact that Sam is clearly passionate about his subject; he talks of Fukui and its community with such love and fondness, and it is easy to feel his loss when his time there comes to an end.

Star Rating: ★★★★ (4/5)

You can actually check out a trailer for the book here:

Emma

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May 9, 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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