Japan – Day 16

James wanted the alarm set for 7.20am and when it went off, he decided snooze would be good… We did get up around 7.40am as breakfast was being served at 8am and we were concerned that they may have been ready earlier than this (as they were 15 mins early serving dinner the night before). As suspected, there would be more rice and lot’s of little things including tofu and eggs <EN – In San was was concerned that I couldn’t handle so many rice meals in a row, it has not been a problem so far>.

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Breakfast was big and filling, just what we needed

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We ate it all in 20 minutes and then headed back upstairs to get ready for our day ahead. We got a lift up the boring hill to Takahara where our next trail would begin. Of course, we needed to check out the only shop for snacks and opted for mochi balls with red bean inside, I was briefly tempted by trail bars but James put me off by saying the mochi would be better, it was only afterwards that he admitted the bars were JPY 374 (when the mochi was only JPY 100) <EN – I couldn’t just say that in front of the nice lady in the shop>.

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Of course the car didn’t have seatbeats.

The first part of the trail was quite uphill and we had very useful signs everywhere, they were so clear they even had signs telling you which trails weren’t part of the official route.

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There were a couple of friendly faces along the route

The route was quite mossy and there were a lot of things moving which I didn’t like, the spiders are definitely a lot bigger and scarier. <EN – In San is not enjoying the giant insects in Korean and Japan. Japanese people delight in pointing out to her when insects are crawling up her leg>

We stopped off at a rest point for our mochi break and then a giant bee came to join us, we decided to eat them on the go.

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It was always clear if a route was not part of the official trail <EN – Unlike in Korea where you had to make bold decisions and find out afterwards if you were correct>

We walked past quite a few shrines and some cool tree roots. We walked and saw a particular Japanese lady a few times as we must have been walking at similar paces. She rather sensibly brought a plastic mat with her to sit on whilst eating her onigiri and when we stopped to look at an oji, she asked us where we were from. James always responds England and I have been requesting that he says London, to date he has still not satisfied my request. We made polite conversation which included mentioning how difficult the walk was and the word ‘sweaty’ also came up.

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We kept on walking and saw a stick with mushrooms growing on it. This was pretty awesome to us so we took quite a few photos. At the same time, another walker was passing from the other direction and joined in on the mushroom watching. Another conversation was started with the classic ‘where you from’ question, although this guy was particularly friendly and he got out his map and we talked about the kumano kodo trail and which parts we were walking. There was obviously a lot of pointing at the various maps and gesturing during this conversation and when he realised we didn’t have an English version of his map, he went into his backpack and gave us one he was carrying around. I thought it was very random that he would carry a map for other people just in case but we were grateful as his one included information about snack breaks and may come in useful if we decide to do another part of the route in the future.

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The mushrooms were enchating
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<EN – In San seemed to really enjoy crossing the bridges, maybe they distracted her from the sheer drops on the side of the trail>

When we got to Chikatsuyu-oji, we decided to sit down for our bentos. They had a bit of everything including octopus, beef, chicken drumstick and two onigiri. They were nice but I didn’t like the pickled filling in the onigiri as much as James did. The pit stop had a cafe which sold ice cream, this wasn’t the official ice cream spot as indicated in our guide but we saw they had premium cones and couldn’t resist. We opted for one matcha one to share and at JPY 300 it was totally worth it.

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The bento lunch was exciting and we were happy to finish it off with some matcha ice cream

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The scenery was pretty magical (not quite Ghibli level as before)

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We then made our way to Minshuku chikatsuyu where we would be staying for the night. As the walk was only 4 hours,  we arrived too early to check in and decided to explore the area. There was a foot bath so we made use of that. We had hoped to have plum ice cream <EN – I was officially suggested in our guide that here was the place to get plum icecream> to eat whilst bathing our feet but the lady said they didn’t have any. We were very grateful for our matcha ice cream purchase a few kilometers earlier.

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We got a stamp in the middle of the trip, as well as the start and finish.

There was a random shop which had rabbits in cages. We did not put our fingers anywhere near them as there was a clear warning they would bite.

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The shop which was meant to sell plum ice cream, didn’t. It made us sad.
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We also took advantage of the free public foot bath

The other shops amused us for some time <EN – they were all rather high end but interesting to browse>, we found some orange juice and there was finally a vending machine that sold royal milk tea in hot rather than cold form.  We also explored the A-coop supermarket to get snacks for tomorrow’s walk.

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The orange juice didn’t taste quite like the orange we recognised and there was nothing google translate could do to help us understand why.

On arrival, we were shown to our room and the host asked us a few times if Japanese style dining would be fine and of course we said yes. Dinner would be served at 6pm and so we headed off to have a bath before then. We were very happy to amuse ourselves for a little bit as the humidity made it difficult to walk uphill, we are certainly not designed for warm climates.

We weren’t sure what to expect for dinner at a minshuku as it was a less excessive ryokan from our understanding. Dinner didn’t let us down. There was sashimi (oh yeah!), mushrooms <EN – Steamed fresh in front of us> with a yuzu sauce, and traditional rice with burdock and chicken. We later discovered the Japanese couple next to us got rice and fish instead so the hosts must have tailored the food for our Western palettes.

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Dinner = tasty, there was even a small glass of plum wine

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There was also tofu soup and ‘fish and chips’

The host joked that we were given wasabi ice cream for dessert, I believed her until I tried it and it turned out to be melon. It was a nice way to end the meal. We carried on chatting to the couple next to us who were intrigued as to how we even knew about the Kumono Kodo as it’s only really popular in Japan with older people. I got the impression they may have thought we were old before our time.

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‘wasabi’ ice cream and snacks for tomorrow

We pleasantly surprised by how delicious the food was and look forward to the next stage of our trail adventure. Getting up for breakfast at 6:30 we are less keen about.

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Japan – Day 15 – Rocking the Ryokan

We were sad to leave Osaka, this time we had managed to wander around a lot and eat many things, but there were many more things we wanted to see and do. However we were excited that the highlight of our trip was coming up, our trek along the pilgrim trail Kumano Kodo. But first breakfast.

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In the interests of a speedy start we went back to buying in baked goods for breakfast. We had a few new additions, including the light and airy UFO bread (the giant one encrusted with sugar) it was very tasty.

We needed to go all the way to Kii-Tanabe on the coast south of Osaka which was about two hours away by rapid express (Editor’s note – we had a slight panic when we turned up to Tennoji station and it looked like all tickets for our train were sold out, it turns out all booked tickets were so we opted for the non-reserved one which we would have purchased anyway as it was the cheapest). Then we needed to catch another bus for an hour before we even hit the start of the trail.

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Arriving at Kii-Tanabe with plenty of time we decided to have a quick ramen, slightly oddly the ramen shop was run by an eastern European lady.
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Rather than faffing about with change we decided to pre-buy tickets from a vending machine. Forewarned by our previous adventures with Japanese rural buses we made sure we had a photo of the exact stops and timetable.

Eventually we arrived in Kaki Jiri, the start of our section of the trail. It was pretty small so we dropped of our bags (we splashed out on a service that would carry them between our nightly locations) and prepared to start our 5 days of adventures.

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We arrived! Any fears we had of not being able to find the visitor centre were not founded, as there were only two non-residential buildings in Taki jiri.

Fortunately the weather was a little cloudy so the 28 degrees of sun wasn’t too bad, unfortunately it was 88% humidity and we climbing a fairly steep mountain. Things got sweaty (editor’s note – especially for James).

We made good progress and received the first of our official trail stamps. There must be some kind of official book you can get as they are pretty frequent but we are just going to get the ones at the beginning and end of each day.

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First we visited Takijiri shrine, one of the most important on the whole trail.

There were some weird stories about pregnant women on the trail having to crawl between rocks and leaving babies to be looked after by wolves. It was certainly interesting a thousand years ago in Japan.

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Next was the Tainai Kuguri (passing through the womb) this was a tiny tiny crack in the Chichiwa rock, I tried to fit through but my shoulders got wedged before I got close. To tiny for me. In San was dis-inclined to try after that (editor’s note – it was also muddy so after seeing James reverse out with muddy hands and knees I decided against it>.

There was no-one else on the trail with us and it was very easy to follow the route so we could concentrate of enjoying the views which were very impressive. Also sweating like dirty dirty animals.

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‘Take the left fork for a longer uphill route with a viewpoint’ of course we choose it? It did require us eating the last of our UK dried fruit to power us up.

After two hours of walking we reached Takahara, there is a shrine there with some rather vague history. It is a lovely area but there isn’t a lot to do apart from look at the mountains and use the only vending machine on this part of the trail <editor’s note – there is so little to do here that the vending machine is marked as a point of interest on the map>.

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Takahara is a very picturesque (and small) village. It is also the proud owner of the only vending machine along this section of the trail.

After maximising the amount of sightseeing we could do (Look at the sawmill, look at the mountains, look at the rice and gaze upon the mighty vending machine) we headed for our accommodation. Initially we feared we would be staying in the slightly dingy looking ‘organic’ hotel in Takahara but then we remembered we had a paid a bit more to stay in a ryokan. This was a half hour walk away in Kurisugawa but was much more exciting. On entering we were wondering if this was the correct place but then we saw our bags and knew we had navigated correctly. Day 1 of trek success!

Fortunately we have done the whole ryokan thing before so the old school rules were understood, the proprietors did not speak any English but with our extremely broken Japanese and some printed out info cards in English we were all sorted.

Step one get clean (after tea).

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The Ryokan Kikyoya we are staying in is old-school.

Sadly there was no natural hot spring so we had to bathe in a big bath tub, it was super hot though and very nice after a walk. Of course before you enter you need to make sure you are super clean (other people will be using the water). So 10 mins of scrubbing everything sitting on the little plastic stool was needed. We know the rules by now after being taught by stern Japanese people in Onsen before.

Post cleansing and after donning our yukata we amused ourselves before supper. We had resigned ourselves to mediocre food as we had not been able to review and obsess over selecting this ryokan as previous (there was only one of them in town). However the food was delicious and exciting so we were pleasantly surprised. I personally am also hopeful about the packed bento box we will have tomorrow. Sashimi, pickles, tempura (including some really delicious prawns). It was a feast and we were very hungry so we eat every last scrap enjoying it very much <editor’s note – James went back for lot’s of rice was which a sure sign he was hungry if he’s eating more rice than me>. There were so many delicious things, I had forgotten how indulgent the ryokan style meals were. Also the vegetables and fruit were very nice to have after several days of greasy and rich food.

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After some deep thinking/quick micro-nap it was time for some tasty ryokan food, there was so much of it and it was so tasty. Fortunately we were hungry after our modest lunch and brisk walk up mountains. This and the baths are the best bit.

We are sitting here in our traditional room, with tatami mats on the floor and our futons unfurled ready for tomorrow full of delicious food. Life is good. We will see if we will survive the more arduous walking in future days.

Japan – Day 14 – Feeling full of fat

We decided to deviate from the french toast and opted for a fried egg sandwich. The tomatoes we purchased were amazingly sweet and added a touch of healthiness we had been missing.

It was then onto the station although James needed some coffee to help him along the way, the coffee at 7-11 was only JPY 100 and tasted like it according to James. <EN – It was fine, to be honest for 70p it was surprisingly good. I try to keep myself used to cheap coffee, it is already too late for me and tea but I want to avoid becoming a coffee snob>

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We opted for egg sandwiches for variety, James let me have the one where the yolk didn’t get ruined <EN – Because I am such a gentleman>.

We were heading to Osaka station to find the central post office, this was because we needed to collect our trail map and guide for the trip tomorrow. Unfortunately the post office was hard to find seeing as it was underground and needed to be accessed via a bank. Luckily, we managed to ask at a bank and they pointed us the right direction as we knew we were close when at ground level and couldn’t understand why we couldn’t see it despite the location on google maps <EN – By pointed us in the right direction they literally took us there from the bank, down an unmarked stairway into the basement and round a few corners>.

With the map collected, we also took the chance to change our KRW to JPY. Note to self, exchanging money requires form filling and not everywhere necessarily takes KRW. In the UK we would usually hunt down the best prices but here we just wanted somewhere that would take our money.

With our money exchanged, we headed to Kobe for you can guess. James had previously researched and decided that Ishida was the best. We got our hostel manager to try and book but they don’t take bookings, it wasn’t clear whether this was just for lunch times only but we turned up at 12.30pm and there was space <EN – They recommended this time, and it was just after the first set of people finished and the second round of people started to arrive>.

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Ishida was a step up from steak land, it was tasty but super rich.

The menu was limited (no a la carte at lunch time) but it was obvious what we were going to go for. The Kobe beef set lunch menu (I had wanted to try some black beef for comparison but James wanted us to both have the full Kobe experience). Turns out A5 with grade 8 -12 marbling is pretty darn tasty. Be warned, the food is super rich, I didn’t think it would be so filling but it was and it made me feel weirdly full the whole day. Before the main event, we got some cold roast beef, it wetted my appetite but didn’t taste that special.

We also opted to enhance the experience with some local sake, given it was only JPY 1,500 for a 300ml bottle we felt it was very reasonable <EN – At Kagawa it had been JPY 2,200 for 120ml>. This is compared with the JPY 7,800 and JPY 8,800 lunch we were about to embark on (prices are without tax so the total bill worked out closer to JPY 20k when we were finished) <EN – Only fancy restaurants do this, everywhere else what you see is what you pay, no tax no service. Shops on the other hand all seem to add tax>

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The roast beef to start the meal was so so, I quite liked the sake but not enough to try and source it in London

So the meat turns up and you can see all the fat on it. I’m a bit scared but it’s the most amazing fatty taste and as it’s sirloin it has some texture (it differed to steak land where we probably had fillet and it all melted in our mouth with no texture).

The chef asked us about how we wanted it cooked, James asked for his recommendation to which he said medium but James still asked for it medium rare. Typical. We got two different salts and to be honest I couldn’t taste much difference between the two <EN – If only we had the salt from the Tonkatsu place with us>.

What we really like about the beef is how they cook it up and then you are served with lot’s of mini steaks. We opted for a 130 g and a 150 g steak (as James is greedy <EN – Sensible>), he also opted for the fried rice <EN – Which was delicious as it was fried in the A5 Kobe beef fat> whereas I kept it simple with the steamed rice.

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The beef was pretty intense, there was also soy sauce with mustard but I felt it tasted best with just salt and pepper.

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The fried rice was intense, it was fried in the beef fat, I’m glad to have stuck with the steam rice but James being James had to go for the up sale (+ JPY 500)

The glorious meal was over too quickly but then we did get coffee and English tea. Unfortunately the tea was too bitter that I had to use James’ coffee cream to make it drinkable. We also got some yuzu sorbet which was surprisingly nice and the refreshing citrus taste helped balance all the fattiness we had just consumed.

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I would much prefer Japanese tea to end the meal on but I guess English tea is more popular at this place.

With our meal complete, we were going to wander around Chinatown and the harbour due to a recommendation from someone we had befriended earlier that morning however the rain made us feel like we should be indoors so we headed back to Osaka. The stations here are massive and so easy to get lost. I was feeling very sleepy and needed to wake up so we visited some game stations and had fun seeing how awesome other people were. We decided not to compete and stuck to what we knew i.e. time crisis. <EN – We also went on the Initial D racing simulators, pretty fun>

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The malls are giant and endless. <EN – Unlike this tiny escalator that In San was lazy enough to take>
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We limited ourselves to JPY 400 on time crisis <EN – In San is a cold calculating killing machine at Time Crisis>

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James was insistent that he had space for dessert whereas I knew I was full but I was happy to accompany him. We went to search for a particular place that did matcha souffle pancakes but we couldn’t find it so gave up. We went for the next best thing, souffle pancakes.

Now, it was a difficult decision, there was a single and a double pancake souffle but we weren’t sure how big they were and I was still full <EN – Yet managed to eat almost half the pancake>. We opted for a single but with chocolate sauce and banana. To help things along James went for a decaffinated coffee (tasted alright to me but I don’t know coffee) and I had a darjeeling tea. The coffee came with the most tiny jug, I wanted to steal it but I knew it wouldn’t be useful if I got it home. The pancake souffle was incredibly light but kept it’s shape once it had been broken into. I am interested in how we can potentially recreate this experience at home.

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Pancake souffle = amazing. Tiny milk jug = super cute.

We then went for a walk and still kept under cover due to the ongoing bad weather. We got distracted by a fountain that showed different messages, we managed to get a photo when it was showing the time. It was then onto the Pokemon centre on the 13th floor. It was funny because everyone got into the lift and everyone but one person got out. It was insanely busy, they even had someone with a sign to show everyone where the moving end of the queue was and the checkouts were constantly ringing. Many items caught my eye, I liked the idea of a fluffy pikachu pass case / coin purse but figured a bright yellow keyring did not look very professional. Instead I picked up a hand towel as I have misplace my towel from my previous trip.

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The pokemon centre was full of cuteness.
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James made a rash decision to purchase halloween pikachu even though it didn’t say Osaka on it.

With our purchases finished, we headed off for dinner. We decided to walk as I was still feeling full and needed to work up my appetite. We were going to tomato ramen and James even admitted the reason he wore his red shirt was because we were going there. This place is near the hostel we stayed at the last time we were here and it was nice walking back and being able to see some familiar sights.

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It was amusing to watch these men play a game where they could be a train driver. <EN – I like to think they are actual train drivers in real life>

The tomato ramen didn’t let us down, this time James opted for the seafood version which had clams and I got the original which had chicken. I really wanted the extra rice to finish off the soup but knew it was a bad idea so didn’t. We were both glad to have come back and will definitely try to recreate this at home, we already made an attempt once but it didn’t taste as good as the real thing. Once we got to the station James rooted around for his limited edition ICOCA card and turns out he lost it. He traced back his steps to tomato ramen but with no success so he ended up purchasing a new card. It made me sad at there was around JPY 1,500 of credit on the card.

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Tomato ramen was more delicious than we remembered.

We walked back to the hostel (the pics below are from the previous night when we took the long way back) and are preparing ourselves for our hiking. There is no wi-fi at some of the places so we were are going to be in the middle of nowhere.

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Japan – Day 13 – A bit of beer and a fancy fry-up

We had an action packed day ahead of us so we had to get up early. First job, putting all our dirty clothes in the wash. Next job making french toast to eat while it washed. Final job hang it all up on the hostel roof.

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Another hostel another breakfast of eggs and bread, although this time we had to make it ourselves. While we did so we also did a spot of washing.

After all that I had one final task, arranging our trip to the Asahi brewery tour. Calling up and in my best (terrible) japanese asking if they spoke any English (to show that I was making an effort). The person who took my call had the the most stereotypical hyper cute bubbly voice (In San said it sounded like I had accidently called a Maid Cafe), ‘Ja-mu-san from England see you later’! It was surreal, but got us energised for the day ahead.

We had forgotten the bloody tea so we had to make do with a vending machine, but failed to find one that did hot drinks in this hot weather so we had to drink cold tea like animals. In San managed to drop some of our change down a drain. I forgave her.

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Nowhere could we find a vending machine with hot drinks, they obviously change the selection during winter. We went for a little wander around Ogimachi Park before heading into the market.

We went for a walk around Tenjinbashi market to explore and build up an appetite for sushi at Harukoma. We had gone here last time (as recommended by a mysterious senior japanese businessman we met on our last trip) and it was amazing. As usual we will let the pictures do the talking. It was just as tasty as last time, it was also very reasonably priced for the incredible quality. Perfect rice as well!

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There was a bit of a queue despite us arriving early, however we timed it well and people from lunch round one were finishing so we got in speedily.
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We decided to go all out, fatty tuna and dancing prawns (they sliced them up so fast they were still twitching, they even fried up the heads for us)
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1) Tuna, crab, prawn (cooked) 2) Medium fatty tuna, horse mackerel (with yuzu), ?, octopus with ponzo

While I was waiting for the loo a customer (Japanese) was confused by my blue t-shirt and friendly face and tried to order a beer from me. Then realised that it seemed unlikely that the whitest white boy was a member of staff. Much hilarity was had by all.

A quick snack (and trip to a bakery to stock up for later) and we ready to head out to our next stop, the Asahi Brewery tour in Suita.

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After all that delicious sushi we were (mostly) stuffed, but there is always room for dango, In San had hers plain because she is boring. I had delicious sweet salty sauce like everybody else. Fresh off the charcoal bbq.

It was a little fiddly (as always) to get on the right line but we made it eventually to Suita. I found the right exit on the other side of the station but In San didn’t see me waving so I had to go back and she insisted on going out the wrong exit. We then had to cross a road, she insisted on using the crossing rather than the pedestrian bridge (I think she was too lazy to walk further).  She bet me that she would be faster. I was twice as fast, I haven’t decided what I will claim (she foolishly didn’t set terms).

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We were burning through the cash with all our galavanting to different parts of Osaka so we needed to top up the cards.

After a little wandering around we arrived at the factory. It was super popular and was mostly filled with Japanese tourists. We had a little phone guide with English so we could tag along.

It was actually really fascinating to see all the production line machinery going so fast in a real modern huge facility like this. Definitely worth a visit. Also fun facts, it would take over a thousand years for someone to drink their way through all the beer in one of the vats outside (one pint per day).

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The outside of the brewery was surprisingly un-industrial
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It was amazing to see such a large-scale factory in operation. The machines were so fluid and complex it was mesmerising.
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As well as seeing all the crazy machines producing thousands of cans, bottles and kegs we also had some fun stuff.

This was all free (unlike Dublin Guinness tour) and you get three free drinks at the end. Impressive. They even had different types to try. The first the Asahi Super Dry icy cold had a special two tap (one for beer one for the head) system to pour the perfect icy pint. I carefully took pictures of both an In San then promptly failed to notice and put pictures only of the person using one. Try and imagine the two taps in action.

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Me enjoying my three drinks, Asahi Super Dry (Icy cold), Asahi Premium, Asahi Black. They were surprisingly similar. All were fresh from within three days of optimal maturation.
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They had costumes to dress up in, after three beers it seemed like a good idea to do so. As you can see In San’s one beer was sufficient for her to realllllly enjoy the melon bread we had picked up earlier.

We hadn’t had delicious dedicated tonkatsu and so we decided to go on an hour long expedition to the far outskirts of Osaka (Yao) for what sounded like the most delicious and exicting tonkatsu there was : Tonkatsu Monger -https://tabelog.com/en/osaka/A2707/A270705/27013624/ .

They had an amazing selection of different meats, prawns and similar. Only with 13 seats in a very narrow building, so little space that they used the counter for people eating but also prep and constructing the take-away orders they were continuously creating. We timed it perfectly just between waves of people and managed to snag some seats, just before the rest filled up and everybody started queueing outside.

The Tonkatsu was amazing, so juicy and full of flavour with a crisp and non greasy outside. The Iberico pork melted in the mouth filling our mouths with flavour. It was incredible.

I wish it was round the corner from us so we could nip in and get a takeaway set of prawns …

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You could order a specific part of a specific breed of pig and they would tonkatsufy it for you. We kept it simple.
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We decided to go crazy and go for their signature Iberico pork tonkatsu and a Japanese rare breed pig tonkatsu. Both were very tasty. They also gave us two salts (white sea salt infused with truffle and black himalayan salt) and two sauces (original and the house special).

It was a tasty day, with lots of whimsical exploring and we enjoyed it very much. Tomorrow is Kobe … maybe we have a food problem.

Japan – Day 12 – Problematic public transport and fake food

Due to our excitement at finding dinner the night before, we had forgotten to get breakfast which meant that we had to venture out for food on an empty stomach. We ventured onto the tube thinking it would be easy as we are seasonable public transport takers. How wrong we were. The tubes run by different privately owned companies and confusing signage meant that it was difficult to decipher which tube to go on and where to get to it at the station. One guy helped us when we showed him which line we wanted, unfortunately we didn’t say which way we wanted to go so we ended up getting on one going the opposite direction we wanted to. By the time we got to our destination station (Namba), it took around 45 minutes for a journey which should have taken 15… <Editors Note – Things were complicated as there was a local, semi express, express and special express train which all stopped at different stops. As they were going out of Osaka as well they only had their end station in different parts of Japan which wasn’t helpful to us with only a Osaka Metro map>

We figured it would be easy to find food but it turns out that quite a lot of the shops and cafes which we had seen open the night before didn’t open until 10am.

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The empty and quiet shopping centre was a completely different scene to the night before.

We didn’t have much choice as we had arrived around 9.30am so we ended up at what we assume is a chain, it had halloween croissants it was promoting and the idea of chocolate and orange croissant for breakfast seemed exciting. Except it turned out to be chocolate and banana, it was still tasty but unexpected. We also purchased additional items, we independently both thought the food was plastic food <EN – It looked so plastic it was unreal, but that was a testament to how good the plastic food we saw everywhere is> but then when we saw the tongs, we realised that it was real food. I was hoping they would heat the food up but they didn’t. My cheese egg toastie was a bit odd but it was bready enough to fill me up for a bit.

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Breakfast was adequate, note to self, halloween packaging doesn’t necessarily mean halloween flavouring.

This was also the day I decided to move onto my new glasses, I had not switched over as I was carrying my sunglasses with my old prescription and wanted the option of still being able to wear them but I felt sad these had been in their cases for the last few days so I decided to switch out.

As our breakfast was relatively light, we ventured down and as soon as we saw a pork bun stall, James immediately decided he wanted one. It was only JPY 300 and made him very happy. The next stall down sold glutinous rice balls with sesame seed paste filling so I got one for myself, a bargain at JPY 150. Both were tasty and we were happy to have stumbled across them. <EN – My one had massive chuncks of juicy pork belly in which was amazing, no sad and minimal grisly meat for me!>

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Supplementary breakfast was definitely required.

There were many sights to see and we kept on being distracted by lot’s of food and brightly coloured stalls. It took us to just before 11am to reach the cookware street (Sennichimae Doguyasuji) which we had hoped to get to earlier.

We were sucked in by a shop selling fake food and it also had the option of making your own, it was our lucky day and it turned out the next course was at 11am and it was the one for making sushi, given this ideal timing, we decided to partake in the activity.

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Design pocket, the land of fake plastic food dreams.

We chose our sushi and made payment (almost JPY 4,000 so not cheap but at this point we were already committed). We were a little dispirited to see the guy remove some premade plastic food from some containers as we were hoping for it to be hands on (when we finally finished 1.5 hours later we realised that there’s a reason why we would only be doing some shaping and painting).

Our teacher apologised for not speaking English but he did know the odd word and we found google translate and hand gestures to be very useful. We took our roles so seriously and concentrating so hard that he even had to remind up (via google translate) that we could talk. <EN – We found out afterwards that the course was perhaps aimed at children who wouldn’t take it so seriously and would blob a bit of paint on rather than spend an hour carefully shading and putting in individual veins … maybe we take things too seriously>

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Shaping the food was quite an art, it didn’t help that it was really hot to hold.

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When we had finished, we had the most delicious looking sushi that we wanted to eat. We even got sushi take away boxes to take them home in.

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Our finished pieces look pretty tasty. <EN – Looking at this I am suddenly hungry again>

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With this side track, I had derailed James’ plans to take me to a delicious lunch place he had previously researched. We made our way over to Kigawa which does traditional Japanese, it would be fancy and we felt a bit sheepish in our very casual clothing. There was no menu on the outside and it wasn’t clear what the situation was. We made our way in and were greeted by someone who didn’t speak any English and he handed over a small Japanese menu which had 3 prices, luckily someone else came over with a menu printed in English to help clarify the situation so we stuck with the middle choice (JPY 8,000 each) and were sat down at the counter so that we could watch the chefs as they cooked.

Happy that we were accepted as a walk in and our lack of effort with our appearance we were energised and chose to enjoy the meal with the Goshun Sake. There were a couple of changes to the menu which the lady explained but these were substitutions rather than anything major.

 

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It was not obvious whether we would be accepted before entering the restaurant. <EN – I knew that Osaka fine dining was a little bit more relaxed but we were cutting it pretty close>
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For once we remembered to take a photo of the menu.
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The sake set was made of glass rather than pottery, it made us feel fancy.

We found the food to be very interesting and will let the pictures do the talking.

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The food looks particularly good as each diner has their own spotlight.

Overall we really enjoyed the meal as it used many ingredients we hadn’t tried before. Also, it was unusual for us to have such a fish based fine dining experience. We particularly enjoyed the sashimi round which was well executed with fresh fish and different garnishes we wouldn’t usually bother with as we usually eat it with soy sauce only.

After our dining experience, taking a little over 1.5 hours (and we were slow compared with other people), we headed to find some more cups to add to our collection. It took us a while to head around the shops to determine which ones we wanted and we spotted a cute sake set we didn’t purchase on our previous set, this was something we had regretted and we weren’t sure why we didn’t buy it previously but we would not make the same mistake again. <EN – Many of the shops had stopped their habit of piling up the crockery everywhere making every step treacherous but our favorite was more traditional>

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Our favourite shop was also the one which was the most precarious.

James thought the car park was particularly cool, it was a vertical one and once the correct car was selected, it reversed onto the round thing which then rotated it the correct way to drive off. We were both impressed. <EN – Who knows how many cars were stored in this tower, so efficient>

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The vertical car park amused James for 5 minutes

Before making the crockery purchases, we did have to sit down for a cup of tea and then go back as it was such an emotional decision. I ordered yuzu tea which I assumed would be a citrus/lemon tea, turns out they had a yuzu marmalade which I then add hot tea to, it was far superior to James’ original blend he selected. <EN – It was, I can’t even try and deny it>

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There’s always time for tea <EN – In San’s new glasses matched her tea>

With our purchases made, we attempted to go shopping for clothing but everything was pretty pricey, we were clearly looking in the wrong place. Instead we decided to call it a night and go for an earlyish dinner so we could head back for an early night (except it’s currently 10.35pm and I’m still typing this <EN – It is 11:03 and I am still editing it>). James did a quick search for tasty udon and ramen places nearby and Miyoshiya came up, taking a look at the pics it turns out this was the same place we had been to for an udon making class. Given it still had good reviews we decided to try it again.

It didn’t let us down. James went for curry (ton)katsu udon, there was an option to select the spiciness and he went for regular (which confusingly is one down from medium). I was still full so went for a plain udon, they offered this in a mini size for JPY 150 discount so I took advantage of this.

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James was particularly slow at eating the udon, 2 other individuals came in after him and both finished before him. <EN – It retained heat for a long time, I am unable to eat things that are too hot. The draft Asahi came in a thermos tankard, genius and icey cold.>

We made our way back although taking the wrong exit at our station meant our 1 minute walk took more like 5. We have picked up breakfast making goods from family mart so we are looking forward to having a more substantial breakfast.

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We were not convinced by the signage outside the eel restaurant.

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Japan – Day 11 – Failed UFO abduction and cubicle dining

On to Japan! We were sad to leave Korea as we still really liked the sites, food and people but we were excited to be going to Japan. We had a tight schedule so we got up with speed and efficiency. After a few rounds of the snooze button.

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We had a more exciting selection than usual, from Gamcheon Village (fish bakery) and a trendy Haeundae bakery (that tasted amazing fresh). We were sad to leave the whimsically decorated room even if one of the windows didn’t close. 

Previously we had been considering an early morning flight ‘oh we can make that no problem’. Fortunately we saw reason and booked one at midday which allowed us to be a little more relaxed. We remembered the sad sandwich which was all the food that was available after security so we made sure to have an extended brunch beforehand to keep us going <editor’s note – James got very excited by the soup in a bread bowl so he insisted we get one each rather than sharing>. Also claim some sweet sweet tax refund money for our glasses purchase (conveniently in JPY) <editor’s note – my reclaim was in JPY, James’ amount was much smaller so could only be refunded in USD>.

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With our memories of poor post security food to warn us we eat early, mushroom soup in a bread bowl should tide us through till we can get more food.

We got some snacks as well to finish off any remaining KRW change we had and also in case we got hungry.

In San went for her usual crisps, in this case unexpectedly she was lured into buying a small packet of super high quality crisps rather than the usual giant bag of flavoured foam and sawdust. I went for the intriguing ‘conch shaped snacks’ what they actually were was a mystery as no other description was given so I went for it (they tasted like extra sugary Frosties cereal so could be considered yet another extension of my breakfast) <editor’s note – my choice was clearly far superior to James’ and even he will admit it>.

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We had some tasty snacks on the plane and then then after a short flight (only one episode of a TV show for In San) we landed and picked up our trendy ICOCA cards for transport.

On arrival we decided to dump our bags in the locker (no high tech options like Korea, only coin locker operated key jobbies… disappointing Japan we expecting better) so we could get straight into exploring.

We walked through Tennoji park then up to Nipponbashi and explored this little corner of geekdoom and electrical stores. Then on to Kuromon Ichiba Market for some snacks, everything was very expensive and high end (but delicious looking) we cracked and bought some squids on a stick <editor’s note – I suspect the prices haven’t increased, more that the weak is seriously weak still due to the Brexit vote>. We were passing the cheap Korean street food. Then we saw some cheap and tasty dango (similar to mochi but chewier and grilled with either a sweet and soy salty sauce or just sweet) and our spirits raised (I love dango so much) <editor’s note – plus at JPY 120, it was a good value filling skewer>.

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Tennoji park was interesting but mostly full of the zoo which we did not want to visit.
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We wandered a around the park and up through Nipponbashi (geek central) then into Kuromon Ichiba Market where we picked up some snacks.

The snacks would keep us going but after our lack of lunch we were hungry for more. So on to Dotonbori for food. There are so many great options, so we got some takoyaki (octopus filled pancake balls) while we waited. In San wanted ramen and I am always up for ramen so we went for the tastiest place we could find Ichiran Ramen (it also had the longest queue).

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We were starting to get hungry so we headed up to Dotonbori for food, it is a magical place.

There was a 30 min queue so we were settling in for a long wait, when a member of staff came up to us and asked if we spoke Chinese and then when we said English she whipped out a sign (in English) explaining that there was a sister restaurant we could go to that was already the same and was much larger so less of a queue. As we had been considering whether or not it was worth checking out the other restaurant anyway we agreed. Importantly the new restaurant still has their most fun feature, you are served in an individual cubicle and your food arrives via a little curtain at the front. Added to this you order via a vending machine before you sit down and order extras via paper. So you don’t need to interact with anybody at any point even the people you go to the restaurant with, perfect! You also get to select exactly how rich/umami/firm you want your ramen to be. In San maxed out the garlic but put everything else to minimum, ‘I want something subtle’. She declared that there was an acceptable amount of garlic and that it was lucky that I didn’t have a garlic allergy or she would have chosen garlic over me. I take this to mean she enjoyed the ramen <editor’s note – James said that if I had a chocolate allergy which meant he couldn’t eat chocolate then he would choose chocolate over me>.

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We decided that we wanted ramen for our first meal in Japan so we headed to Ichiran Dotonbori, we had heard good things so we were intrigued <editor’s note – we had also been reminded of a youtube video we saw from strictlydumpling where he visited this place>. There was a massive line but a helpful member of staff suggested that we follow her (and her flag) to their new second restaurant round the corner, which had no queue.
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It was amazing, the broth was rich without being greasy, the meat was tender and full of flavour and the noodles were chewy and delicious. In San maxed out the garlic (as far as possible without paying extra).

In San declared herself too full to eat anything else, I however had room for a cheeky melon bread I had seen that they were selling from a stall. It was really fresh, soft and crispy (of course In San suddenly had room for several bites. Nice. Then we went into a weird tax free shop that sold everything from plug converters (useful for us as we had entered for the intention of sourcing and purchasing this) to dyson vacuum cleaners and hello kitty rice scoops.

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Fresh Melon bread (delicious) and weird and wonderful things, magnifying glass for nail clippers … of course.

We had been resisting the UFO machines successfully but In San cracked. She was unsuccessful but I did not let her put all our life savings at risk and pulled her back from the brink <editor’s note – James agreed I could spend JPY 500 for 6 plays, I felt this was reasonable and did not try to pursuade him for more as even I understood our chances were low from watching the previous people try multiple times and not succeeding and it was clear they had spent much more than me>.

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In San is still addicted to UFO machines, there was too much temptation to resist. She traded her snack money for 6 goes. She failed. We had fun living vicariously through others watching them (almost) win their prizes.

We had a relaxed first day and we are excited to explore more tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

South Korea – Day 10 – colour, culture and cats

We started the day slowly as we were feeling a bit tired. For breakfast we had melon bread which tasted of melon so that was interesting, the streusel bread and a chocolate walnut stick which James insisted on buying the previous day and it turned out to be dry and not very chocolatey – fail  <Editors Note – firstly I can write and EN in the first paragraph, also while it was not the moistest. It was still acceptable. Just. However it may not have been the best choice. Also the melon tasting melon bread was particularly exciting for me as I was previously disappointed when first trying Melon Bread to find out it didn’t taste of melon all those years ago>.

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This time breakfast had melon bread which which actually tasted of melon, a first in our melon bread experience.

We took a tube to Haeundae station and then a bus (1-1, 2-2 or 2) to Gamcheon culture village, this place is so colourful and we didn’t do it on our previous trip to Busan when it was winter and we were glad to see it on a sunny day. How to get there : http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=1998211 .

There was a place to buy a map which led you around the village collecting stamps, this was a great ploy to get money from us (KRW 2k) and for us to be lured into the shops.

There was plenty of art work all around, lot’s of trickeye and the whole place is very instagrammable if we were on instagram but we are old and not with the times so we are not. <EN – all in all it felt like a heartfelt and interesting way to get tourist trade and let the locals express themselves/make money rather than a cynical cash grab.>

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Gamcheon culture village, very colourful and some modern art which we weren’t sure how to interpret, e.g. the room of darkness
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When buying socks James got distracted by a pikachu pencil case which a giant zip.

With all the wandering around, we had to find lunch. We did try to enter one place where the door was open but no one came out so maybe they were out for lunch themselves. Instead we had to head back to the start for some pork cutlet and shrimp rice (the bulgogi James wanted was already sold out).

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The lunch was simple and effective.

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After lunch, we walked past a gif shop which we hadn’t noticed previously. Turns out they turn an 8 second clip into a mini flip book and you get to choose the background. It was surprisingly fun practising what we would do and the book was made in only 3 minutes. It wasn’t cheap for KRW 10k but we couldn’t resist and our only goods purchase (apart from glasses) on the holiday so far had been a fridge magnet.

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The photobook was fun to make. <EN – In San seemed a little too keen to attack me with boxing gloves, method acting is dangerous>

We walked down the main road some more before the heat got to us and we stopped for ice cream (only KRW 3,500). This particular machine was unlike any we had ever seen before as we usually don’t buy soft serve, this one pushed it out using sheer force. It meant the shape wasn’t great but we were impressed by the individually wrapped waffle cones which meant they stayed super fresh.

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The soft serve ice cream required the use of a machine to press it out of a cup, different to mr whippy and a lot nicer in texture and taste. We opted for blueberry yoghurt.

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The whole area was trying to make a claim to fame as Busan’s version of something i.e. Busan’s california and Busan’s macchu picchu.

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There was cat alley which was marked on the map, there were only a few cats and I didn’t bother staying long to capture them as I’m not fussed about them.
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There was an option to post the post card back in a year’s time so we opted for that for only KRW 500. There was also the option to rent out hanbook (Korean traditional clothing) or school uniform costume, we did not opt for either.
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The egg installation was broken due to a backlog of eggs but a long stick and some bashing soon fixed that. <EN – In San refused to leave until she had fixed it by hitting various parts with a stick at arms length. She managed to unblock a few runs and get it running in a pale shadow of its former glory to the amazement of some other Korean tourists. >
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Kiwi juice – yes please. Also, we were impressed that the sign had specifically been created for the hard rail.

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The hands were a bit creepy, I stepped in first and they were sensor controlled so only started moving and making noises when I got into the room. <EN – In San screamed … so loud. It made the room much more impressive for me>
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There were plenty of plastic people around, the lady at the counter was particularly convincing. <EN – from a distance we thought she was real, she also looked just like the real lady manning the counter behind … spooky>
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One of the stamps was hard to spot in it’s innocent little wooden stamp cage.
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There were plenty of narrow paths for us to weave through and get lost, unfortunately the hilliness of the place meant that our legs got quite a work out.
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We were tempted by the magnets of the houses but decided against it as it only looks good when there are lot’s together.
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A few hours later and we completed the stamp collection, we weren’t sure whether there was an option to collect a prize for getting them all and we didn’t fancy walking all the way back to the information centre to check, especially as any prize was likely to be another postcard. <EN – It was definitely a postcard they told us at the beginning but In San wanted to believe in more.>

For dinner we got the bus back to Hauendae and we weren’t sure what we wanted so we headed to An-ga which was a BBQ place I had marked up when I was researching restaurants in London. Unfortunately when we turned up it turned out it was shut on Monday. Instead we wandered around and decided that maybe an Indian might be better, that was until we got a waft of BBQ from a restaurant and that was enough for us to decide to go in without even looking at prices. It was okay though, the restaurant was reasonable and really good value for money although the soju probably helped with that. We fancied beef as we had a lot of pork recently and it didn’t let us down. The lady cooked the meat for us but she did it so quickly that the meal was over quicker than I’d like.

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Trendy bread place in Haeundae, that’s breakfast sorted 🙂
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Dinner was Korean BBQ, yes we have a problem but that’s because you can’t get Korean BBQ like this in London.
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We obliged with some soju, the first time during our whole trip.
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The beef was pretty premium, can’t complain given the whole meal was only KRW 50k

We were amateurs and didn’t order rice with the meat, James also indicated it would come with vegetables <EN – All the pictures in the menu had veg with the meat so I think it was a fair assumption> but it never did so we were full of protein and needed some card. Wandering the streets, we could not see many dessert cafes which was annoying as we felt we had walked past so many earlier in the day. We finally stumbled upon a shop and looking interested, the lady gave us a chestnut sample to try. We cracked and got 9 for KRW 3k and she was very nice and gave us an additional one as service.

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We supplemented the dinner with some chestnut snacks. See also the socks I couldn’t resist.

Heading back, we have been happy with our time in Busan and need to mentally prepare ourselves for Japan which means not saying kamsahamnida anymore and no more Korean BBQ.