Sunday, 2 February 2020

日本へ!

Wow, so here we are.

The travelling itself went without a hitch. We had a smooth drive up to Heathrow with plenty of time before we even had to check in our luggage. I got hauled into the 3D scanner at security, as I often do, while Caz just breezed through. Typical.

We ate dinner in a cute place called The Commission, quite simply because they did nice-sounding cocktails. The food was also good and our waiter, Ivon, was fabulous. Unfortunately, we were so chilled out and pleased by dinner that I mixed up the boarding time for our flight, which resulted in a brisk trot halfway across Terminal 4. Luckily we weren’t the last ones on, but I was still mortified.



Our flight to Paris took off bang on time, and was a really easy journey. The AirFrance staff were absolute darlings, especially one lady who kept coming to speak to us and the couple in front of us (who were also on their way to Japan). Unfortunately Caz and I got the giggles over something silly – the fact that the French Coke cans had ‘goût original’ written on them. Of course Caz decided it was pronounced like GOUT, the disease.

A girl on the flight was toting her Shiba Inu puppy on the journey and everyone was cooing over him. As we disembarked the plane, we gave him lots of pets and felt very blessed.

At Paris, Caz got her comeuppance when she forgot to take her smartwatch off and got drug-swabbed by security. So I was pleased. 



And thus began our ridiculously long leg of the journey. Long-haul flights are a DRAG. Our seats were right at the back, so no one was kicking me the whole time. But the people in front of us decided to have their seats reclined for the whole eleven hours. Which was really quite inconsiderate. We were accommodating and nice when they wanted to recline and get some sleep. But then they sat watching movies with their chairs reclined for the rest of the flight. Thanks.

Apart from that though, the flight was fine except from some pretty intense turbulence over Germany. When we touched down at Haneda airport, there were people asking where everyone had travelled from due to the coronavirus situation. Caz and I said, “Er, France?” and the lady said, “France? PFFF! Go ahead!” in a really breezy way. It was hilarious. Border control was super easy and we got through nice and quickly.

We had to get our tickets for the onsen we're going to visit at the airport, and I eventually managed to find where we were supposed to pick them up from. This is less because of the airport, and more due to me being ridiculously tired and slightly overwhelmed because we were finally here in Japan! We also got our Welcome Suica cards, which were a godsend. They allow you to use all buses, streetcars and trains in Tokyo (even right out in the suburbs) and you can also use them in cabs, some vending machines and some shops! They also have a cute cherry blossom design, which makes them a nice souvenir from your trip too. We loaded them up with cash, thanking god that our WeSwap cards were also in perfect working order.

At this point, we were so tired that we opted to get a taxi to our hotel. It was a fairly long drive, but luckily our taxi driver was a madman and raced on the highways to get us there. We couldn’t stop goggling out of the window the whole time, watching the lit-up skyscrapers and neon side streets fly by. I couldn’t wait to start exploring once I’d rested.



The hotel we stayed at was Hotel ICI Ueno Shin-Okachimachi by RELIEF. I know it’s a bit of a mouthful but it’s a cute building that looks a bit like a domino. It’s also well-placed with convenience stores, food places, and a subway station right nearby. And it’s quiet at night – bonus! Checking in was easy and the staff were so friendly and helpful. I tried some of my limited Japanese on them and they were super receptive, which is so encouraging.



Pictured above is part of our room, including my bed, the desk and the window. It was way bigger than I was expecting, having been told that Tokyo rooms are usually very cramped. Caz’s bed is just out of frame here, but they were both what I’d call a ‘mini double’ size. The room was absolutely pristine and so wonderfully quiet. The bathroom was also beautiful – compact and clean, with the cutest bath. It’s small in size but very deep, so I’ll have to soak in there while we’re here.



After flipping through the weird TV channels, we decided to order food (God bless UberEats) as we were about ready to collapse. Shamefully, we ordered McDonald’s but I promise there’s a legit reason! Every country’s McDonald’s has different menu items, and their regular menu always tastes a little different. We were curious to see what it was like.

The guy who delivered our food was the cutest. We came downstairs to meet him, and he was peering through the hotel window. Caz gave him a thumbs-up to let him know it was us and he was beaming and did the biggest bow ever. It was so sweet! I had another chance to try out some Japanese as I handed over the cash and thanked him very much, and he was also happy and receptive at my efforts. If this is any indication of how people are in Tokyo, I’m going to love this city.

Our food was delicious. Japanese McDonald’s is different to home! I found that their fries are a lot less greasy and have more of a crispy texture, and they don’t load up on salt as much. It was really nice to just have something simple and quick to eat.

The view from our window.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to try out all the buttons on the toilet and then collapse into bed.

おやすみ!

Saturday, 1 February 2020

I'm Going To Japan!

I’ve previously mentioned this, but now I want to write about it properly because it’s today.

My last adventure was to Edinburgh, in March last year. I returned from there with some money left over, and immediately started saving again for my next trip. I prioritised travelling over treats and material goods, because it’s what makes me the most happy. I didn’t do anything for my birthday, or go on any more trips. I cut down on eating out and essentially killed what little social life I had. I saved all of my money.

I hoped to have enough to perhaps go somewhere in Europe in late 2019/early 2020. But instead, by a strange and incredible twist of fate…


I’ve had an interest in Japan since I was a child. It started with Hello Kitty, Pokémon and Dragonball Z. As I got older it advanced to Japanese horror films and video games (especially Fatal Frame, Resident Evil and Silent Hill), as well as an appreciation for Japanese food/snacks, J-fashion and the ‘kawaii’ aesthetic. At this point I also became interested in Japanese culture, particularly old Shinto rituals, tea ceremonies and the Samurai. I even learned Japanese for a year in university (it’s really difficult – kudos to people who stick with it and get really good)!

So it’s no surprise that I’ve always wanted to visit. But it’s always been a sort of pipe-dream, with it being on the other side of the world and all. My oldest friend Caz has the same long interest in Japan, and we’d been idly talking about ‘what if we went to Japan’ since we were about eight years old.

This conversation came up again, as it often did, on July 19 2019. We discussed the things we’d love to see and all the food we’d try, and Caz decided to pull up Expedia. She found a hotel offering a half-price deal. We decided to reserve it for two weeks in February – y’know, just in case. We weren’t required to pay anything for it at that stage, so no harm done if we had to cancel.

Obviously, we thought, the same luck wouldn’t apply for flights. We knew that the price of a round-trip ticket to Tokyo would be somewhere around a grand each. But again, we looked up flights for our two weeks in February… Just in case. Can you imagine our disbelief when we found a deal from AirFrance for half the usual price?

There is absolutely NO way we would have been able to book this trip, were it not for these two deals. Not to get all woo-ey on you, but we just happened to look online when two ideal half price offers just happened to be running. It’s like the universe was telling us that this was it, the chance we’d been hoping for for almost 20 years.

We booked the flights the same day, and the next day the deals were gone.


Since then, it’s been months of planning, pre-booking, and saving every damn penny we can. I spent a lot of time on creating itineraries for the trip. This involved so many lists, a tonne of Google-fu and research, and mapping out how to get from one place to the next. I planned it so that we could alternate the more full-on days with calmer ones in order to keep fatigue at bay as much as possible. This is a long holiday compared to my usual less-than-a-week jaunts, so I have to pace myself. I’ve managed to fit in everything we want to do with time left over, so hopefully we’ll get most of it done.

Back in July, it felt like it would take forever to get to February. Now here we are, on the day we fly out, as prepared as we possibly can be. I’m so happy and can’t believe this is happening, or how lucky I am. Next time I post, I’ll be in Japan!

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

2020 Goals

Happy New Year!

Is it me or does this New Year feel like an even fresher fresh start? Not only are we turning over the leaf to a new year, but a new decade too. As I do every year, I had a good think about what I'd like to achieve in 2020 and made a little list of goals to work from.

Go abroad

I might as well tick this one off already, as I have my trip to Japan booked. I’m going to keep it though, maybe I’ll get to go abroad more than once. You never know.

Learn to drive

I’ve become increasingly frustrated with not being able to drive and relying on public transport everywhere. So this year I’m finally going to learn to drive. Affording to get and maintain a car is a different story entirely, so for this year I’m only focusing on getting my full licence.

Save money as much as possible

Since pulling off the ridiculous saving for Tokyo, I’ve actually gotten a lot more faith in myself when it comes to going without things short-term to afford a better long-term goal. I want to continue to save as much money as I can for trips, driving lessons/test, and things that I want. I’ll also be saving for even bigger things like moving into my own place and getting a car. Obviously that won’t be achieved in a year, but I hope to at least get started.

Get back into paid work

This is pretty self-explanatory. Too much of my life has been put on hold by having a chronic illness and coming to terms with my new limitations, and I’m super impatient to get back to actually living. By the end of the year, I hope to have a job that I like and am interested in. In the meantime, I will also continue to work on skills, learning, building my CV, etc.

Go to the gym 3 times a week

Now that I’ve found my rhythm with going to the gym, I want to continue going very regularly. It’s hard for me in regards to my energy levels, but I can’t deny that I’m so much stronger now and exercising is a real help for my mental health. I want to get even fitter and stronger this year.

Read at least 15 books

I always like to set a reading goal because I often go a long while without reading, for no reason. It’s important to remember that sitting down with a book in the peace and quiet is super beneficial.

Continue habit/symptom tracking

This has been on my goals list for a good few years now, and I’m keeping it there as tracking these things are really useful for monitoring my condition and seeing how I’m doing in a more objective, visual way.

Do Yearly Purge

Another goal that appears every year, and another that is good for my soul. There’s something about a big spring clean and getting rid of things that you never look at or use. I recommend that everyone tries to do this annually – it definitely declutters your mind as well as your home.

Eat more healthily/cut down junk food

For the past couple of years, I’ve been actively trying to be healthier and feel better by staying hydrated, getting regular exercise, practicing mindfulness and keeping up with managing symptoms. My one downfall is food. Don’t get me wrong – I eat better than I ever have in my life. I used to actively fear vegetables, and was a really picky eater. I’ve definitely broadened my palette and become much braver with trying new things. I just really like junk food, and I know I probably have too much of it. This year I’m going to really try to tackle unhealthy food cravings.

Get a tattoo

I am determined to tick this one off, as it’s been on my list for so long and I’m kind of sick of the sight of it. I have plenty of ideas for tattoos and several artist recommendations from my friends, so I think 2020 is the year I’ll take the plunge.

Blog more

I love blogging. But I’m terrible at it. I even blogged about how I suck at blogging. I have constant writer’s block, and often feel like no one would be interested in what I’m writing. I need to get back to blogging for myself, and create a habit of writing all the time again. Let’s hope that I can get my shit together this year.

***

I thought a lot about these goals, as I want to keep them reasonable with consideration to my health. I like to think that these can be achieved, or at least worked on, in the space of a year.

What are your goals for 2020?