Country Diaries

Month: December 2016

In Bruges

Based solely on the fact we love the movie, In Bruges, we head to Belgium for a few days. Bruges in December is magical –  cobbles, canals and festive Christmas markets.

Belgium makes me feel like a kid in a candy shop – quite literally. The streets are groaning with cute little chocolate shops. Delicious home-made chocolatey smells waft down the street, beckoning you inside.

Innocent-looking Belgian chocolate shops will lure you in with an open door and the delicious smell of homemade goodies 🍫🍫

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We head to the Christmas markets in the town’s historic centre and suddenly I hear the clickety-clack of horses hooves on the cobbled street behind me. A horse and carriage clatters by.

Call me a sentimental fool, but I have tears in my eyes it’s all so beautiful and romantic.

As we amble around the Christmas markets taking in the handmade toys, candles, Christmas decorations, bratwurst and mulled wine stalls – there is the small matter that we are in the middle of a tiny fight.

I want to tell you we hold hands as we sip hot chocolate – feeling more deeply in love than ever as church bells ring out across the medieval square.

But actually, we’re jet-lagged, tired and seriously grumpy with one another.

Sitting snugly by the roaring fireplace in a charming Belgian cafe, Jim leans towards me and quietly murmurs that I’m doing his head in.

Moules and Belgian beer fireside.

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“You’re so annoying” I whisper taking a deep sip of delicious cherry beer.

We lean back on our comfy leather couches and marvel as a brass band strides past the window, bellowing music into the damp night air.

I’m pretty sure Bruges is a place other couples come to declare love, propose marriage, conceive babies. But Jim and I? We scrap our entire three days here.

Day four, the jet lag and grumpiness has gone and we’re friends again (hurrah!) We load up our suitcases with Belgian chocolates and it’s time to move on.

Next stop is a good one – we’re skipping over the channel to England to surprise family and friends for Christmas.

Over the last few days we’ve been pretending, ok – lying our heads off – that we’re in Cambodia to ensure maximum shock factor. English country Christmas, here we come!

Has anyone else had a small domestic with their other half in a beautiful destination? Share your stories with me!

 

Bentos, buddhas and bullet trains

newlanterns

Kyoto is renowned for its Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, tranquil gardens and elusive Geisha – offering a quieter side to Japan after two frenetic weeks in Tokyo.

Part of the joy of visiting Kyoto from Tokyo is riding the bullet train. ‘Shinkansen’ trains epitomise Japanese efficiency, zipping along at 320 kilometres per hour. They are also insanely good-looking.

The slinkiest train I've ever had the pleasure of meeting #bullettrain 🚄🚄🚄

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We arrived at Tokyo station with just enough time to grab a tasty bento box for the ride. Bento boxes are an upscale Japanese lunchbox, perfect for hungry travellers. Delicious bento places are dotted all around the station, and it sure beats crisps and an apple as far as travel snacks go.

We get to our platform and the gleaming white Shinkansen positively slinks in – on time, of course – to greet us. Bullet trains are renowned for offering a world class service – fast, punctual and super-efficient. In just over two hours, we arrive at our destination.

Kyoto is old-world Japan and quickly charms with its rich traditional Japanese culture, from zen gardens to majestic temples.

When we arrive, busloads of tourists are spilling out to witness the famous Kyoto changing leaves, heralding the arrival of Fall.

 

Near the Gion district, home to Japan’s few remaining Geisha, is the Ryozen Kannon Temple. Here a 1.5 metre giant Buddha sits atop a lotus throne – a memorial to the fallen on both sides of the Pacific in World War II.

There are over 1,000 temples in Kyoto, making it hard to narrow down choices. Day two, we head to the Fushimi Inari Shrine.

This is a dramatic and impressive temple – thousands of blood red Torii gates along the mountainside marking the presence of sacred ground.

Five thousand vibrant red gates snake their way up the mountainside at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto.

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The gates create a blood-red tunnel that takes three to four hours to trek through on foot. Shrines and shops along the way offer rest stops for quiet reflection, souvenirs and food.

Our final port of call in Kyoto is Kinkaku-ji, the ‘golden pavilion’. This Zen Buddhist temple gleams in golden splendour.

It’s reflection shimmers gently in a peaceful pond reminding me of the tale of Narcissus – a vain river god’s son who wasted away gazing at his own watery reflection.

The temple suffered a similar grisly fate in the 14th century when it was torched by a young, apparently schizophrenic, monk who believed such beauty should not exist. It has since been fully restored to its former golden glory.

We’ve spent nearly a month in Japan, absorbing its fascinating culture, both past and present. However, the bullet train back to Tokyo is calling and its nearly time to move on.

There’s so much to see and do in Kyoto, we only had time to scratch the surface. Tell me – what are your favourite spots to visit?