Winter Sports and PyeongChang Olympics 2018

With PyeongChang Winter Olympics happening less then 200 days from now, there are no lack of winter sports that I would certainly be watching out for. In one of my previous post, I mentioned there are a total of 102 Gold Medals up for grabs across 15 winter sports for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics game and 80 Gold Medals up for grabs across 6 winter sports for the Paralympics Games. Of all the winter sports, I like Luge, Skiing and Ski Jumping most. I had the opportunity to try out the amateur versions of these winter sports.

PyeongChang Winter Olympics is less then 200 days away

Sledding – an Amateur version of Luge

I was in High1 Ski Resort, 3 hours train ride from Seoul, last year for winter. Coming from a tropical country, snow is never seen here in Singapore. As I have never tried skiing before my trip, I was hesitant to try skiing without going through proper lessons. Being my first winter sports, I wasn’t ambitious in trying skiing, and opted for sledding instead. Sledding requires me only to slide down a short slope on a sled. Sledding is a fun version of the Luge, which is a competing sport in the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics. Luge is a fast sliding sport where competitors (one or two lugers) race down 1,000 to 1,500m track while lying face up with their feet stretched in front of them. Runs are timed up to 1/1,000 of a minute. While the sledding is not as intensive nor the track is as long, however it gave me a glimpse of luge as a winter sports. Sledding requires no training, all I did was to grab a sled and slide down the slope. The only “technical” part about sledding is the braking. It is a fun sport for amateurs and families.

High1 Ski Resort, 3 hours train ride east from Seoul

The ski slopes at High1 Ski Resort in Gangwon-do

My friend getting ready to sled down the slope in High1 Ski Resort

Me and my friend trying sledding for the first time. This is our first time trying a winter sport

My friend with the sled in High1 Ski Resort

The snow in High1 Ski Resort is perfect for sledding

High1 Ski Resort in Gangwon-do

My First Shot at Skiing

As I visited Hokkaido earlier this year, I finally got to try skiing. I took a beginners lesson on skiing and I loved it. Without the use of poles, the trick to skiing is really to control the braking speed with the inverted “V” shape that one would need to form with the skis. Prior to learning to ski, I always thought that the poles are used to control the speed and was initially puzzled why I was not provided the ski poles. After some clarifications by the instructor, I realised that the poles are used to increase the speed of skiing down the slope, especially for Alpine Skiing, another event in the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics, where competitors slides down snow-covered slopes on skis with fixed heel bindings. Alpine Skiing is comprised of largely two types of disciplines: the speed (velocity) events and the technical (skills) events.Skiing down the slopes gives me a sense of freedom, just letting gravity doing its job. I can imagine the exhilaration the competitors must have feel during velocity Alpine Skiing, rushing down the mountain at great speeds. Skiing is a fun sport and is a fun even for kids.

Having ski lessons

I was glad that I managed to ski for the first time

My friend learning to ski

A Skier in action

Skier coming down the slope

Despite still learning to ski, we immediately fell in love with this winter sport

Me on a chairlift up a ski slope for beginners

My friend skiing down the slope under the watchful eyes of our instructor

The Elegant Ski Jumping

I had the opportunity to watch Ski Jumping broadcasted over the television when I was in Hokkaido. Prior to visiting Ski Resorts, I always thought Ski Jumping is boring. However with my very limited experience in Skiing, I came to realise Ski Jumping is quite fun to watch. The skier glides down a ramp at 90km/h to jump and fly as far as they can go in Ski Jumping. Because the downhill launch souring through the air is so beautiful, it is also called “The flower of ski sports”. Just looking at the jump from the slope is enough to deter me from trying this sport (perhaps one of these days I might try this sport). Ski Jumping is both elegant and thrilling just by watching it. This is also one of my favourite winter sports. Ski Jumping is also an event in the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Can’t wait to see Ski Jumpers in action during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018.

Ski Jumper in action (image credit: https://www.pyeongchang2018.com/en/sports/ski-jumping)

Chef : Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab – Immensing in Korea’s Non-verbal Comedy Musical

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One of the dancing scenes in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

Non-Verbal Comedy Musicals in  Korea

Non-verbal musicals that infuses Korean culture, be it food or lifestyle with dance and acrobatics, is one of the must-dos while visiting South Korea. These popular musicals are watched by Koreans and visitors. Several years ago I had a chance to watch Jump, one of the several such non-verbal musicals, whilst traveling in Korea. I was amazed by the fact that despite no language was used, I was still able to understand the show and was kept entertained throughout the show. It is refreshing that the Koreans are able to pack laughter throughout the theater despite not using any form of language. My friend and I managed to catch one of such non-verbal musicals that has made its round to Singapore. Chef: Bimbap is a show about a group of chef learning to make a perfect Bibimbap. It combines dance, beat boxing whilst introduces Korean’s iconic dish, Bibimbap to the audiences.

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Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab standee outside the theater

Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

The show that is being shown in Singapore, Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab, feels like a localised version of the original show Chef. The story seem slightly different from the original Chef. Instead of having a group of chef learning to make a perfect Bibimbap, Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab is about 2 chefs (green and red chefs) pitting their culinary skills to outcook each other. The show saw both chefs taking turns cooking up cuisines from sushi to pizza to Chinese chicken noodle and ended off with a show down of both taking the stage, with one side cooking the Chili Crab and the other Bibimbap. Despite departure from the orginal show, Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab, still has the same theme throughout and did not lose its essence of infusing break dancing and beat-boxing into the show. The 1-hour show saw the use of beat-boxing live on stage most of the time, with small occasions where recorded music was used or complimented with the beat boxing. The actors doing the beat boxing seem to be masters of the art, verbalising musics for the most part of the show (including the Korea Folk Song, Arirang). There is segment where they beat- boxed a series of songs from K-pop songs to Michael Jackson hits. The beat boxing added to the entertainment value of show.

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Beat Boxing was performed lived on stage

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Beat boxing was the main source of music throughout the entire 1 hour show

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One of the character singing to the tune of beat boxing

Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab packed laughter in the theater for the entire duration leaving audiences amazed by the breakdancing of the actors. There is a segment where one of the characters sang and the light went out. In pitch black emerges luminous hands mimicking fishes and scenes of underwater. There is even a diver swimming underwater in this scene. Audiences later were made known how this diver underwater was created with the diving appearing in a comic way. Audiences were also invited up to the stage to become part of Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab at times during the show, which adds more comedic effect to the show. Watching Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab does reminds me of similar performance that I watched some years ago in Korea, which has earned itself a place as a pop-culture of Korea. The show is highly recommended for one who wants to immerse themselves into this aspect the Korean Culture.

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Scenes in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab where the 2 master chefs pit against each other

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Scenes in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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The underwater scene in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Break dancing in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Scenes in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Audience (the guy in the middle) were invited to the stage to participate in the show

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Final showdown in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Audiences were treated to breakdancing in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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More breakdancing in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Breakdancing in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Scenes in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Breakdance showdown in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Breakdance showdown in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Scene in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Audiences were treated to a series of dance and songs in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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The cast of  Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

 

PyeongChang Winter Olympics 2018

Olympics Return to South Korea

After 30 long years, the Olympics flag is flying high in South Korea once more. The city of PyeongChang, about 2 hours KTX ride from Seoul, has been chosen to host the 23rd Winter Olympic Games. The last time South Korea flew the Olympics flag was in 1988 in the Summer Olympics version. More information, including ticketing and schedules can be found in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics website.

Image Sources:
https://www.pyeongchang2018.com/en/index
https://architectureofthegames.net/tag/pyeongchang/page/4/
http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/sochi-olympics/see-you-four-years-russia-hands-south-korea-n36786

 

Sydney Day 5 (22 May 17) – Blue Mountains National Park : Beyond The Beauties of the Three Sisters

As iconic as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House, the Blue Mountains National Park is a must visit when coming to Sydney. We planned to visit this national park during weekdays to avoid most of the crowd and indeed visitorship is rather thin on this Monday at the time of our visit. Blue Mountains is located about 100km West of Sydney and took us 1½ hours to drive from Sydney Olympic Park. Our first stop is Scenic World, which is a great place to start the trip to Blue Mountains National Park.
Baby Ryker excited to visit Blue Mountains
We travelled more than 200km to and from Blue Mountains
Driving on the highway towards Blue Mountains National Park

Scenic World

Scenic World overlooks the Jamison Valley where the famous Three Sisters is located. This is also where we bought our day pass that allowed us unlimited rides on all 3 modes of transportation for us to appreciate the beautiful Blue Mountains. Visitors are free to customise the way they wanted to use the 3 modes of transportation when visiting scenic world. For us, we took the Scenic Railway to the valley floor, did a short walk and took the Scenic Cableway up to Scenic Top Station and took the Scenic Skyway to the East Station and back.
My Brother-in-law and Baby Ryker in Scenic World
My friend and I at Scenic World
View of Three Sisters from Scenic World Top Station

Scenic Railway Ride to the Valley Floor 

Scenic Railway is boasted as the world’s steepest passenger railway with a inclination of 52°. I thought riding the railway down to the valley floor is more fun than riding it up backwards.  The train brought us down 310m into Jamison Valley and takes about 5 mins. There are options for passengers to customise the way they want to ride the Scenic Railway. My friend and I opted the “daredevil” Cliffhanger mode, which allowed us to ride the railway at 64° inclination. As there are no seat belts on the seats, half the time we were trying to prevent ourselves from sloping towards the seats in front of us. Nonetheless, we were glad we rode the train in their cliffhanger mode and had a great time riding the world’s steepest passenger train. As my sister and her family had a baby in tow, they opted the laidback mode, riding the train at about 30° inclination. My nephew, despite being only 9 months old, enjoyed his ride down to the valley floor on the Scenic Railway. As no prams are allowed in this ride, visitors with prams or wheelchairs are not able to take this ride, there is still the Scenic Cableway option down to Jamison Valley.

Scenic Railway signage
The train pulling into top station
My friend and my sister’s family ready to board the Scenic Railway
3 options for passengers in the Scenic Railway
Taking a wefie before the train leaves the station
My sister and her family inside the moving train. Baby Ryker is too busy enjoying the ride
Riding through the rainforest in the world’s steepest passenger train
The Three Sisters as we rode down the Scenic Railway

The ride down to the valley floor, started with a gentle slope. In the beginning we were not able to feel the steepness of the railway. A little in the ride, the railway suddenly tilted steeper as we descend to the valley, I find the Indiana Jones theme song playing inside the enclosed train carriage a little cheesy. Soon the Railway reaches a cliff-side tunnel, all of the sudden everything was pitch black. We can only hope that we don’t find ourselves sitting on the carriage floor after we pass the tunnel. As the train descends further into Jamison Valley, we were out of the tunnel. The view from the left side of the train is spectacular! I can see part of a waterfall and the Three Sisters peeking through the canopies of the forest. The inclination of the railway turns gentle once more, we know our ride is over as we were at the Scenic Railway Bottom Station.

We rode down this rail track
Three Sisters from the Bottom Railway Station
My sister and her family with Three Sisters in the background
Taking a wefie with Three Sisters
View of the surroundings at the Bottom Staton

Strolling in the Scenic Walkway

Exiting the Railway, we stopped briefly at the side of the station. We felt so small being enclosed by the cliff where the Three Sisters sit and the vastness of the land that seem to stretch forever. After snapping a few more pictures, we headed to the Scenic Walkway in the Jamison Valley floor. There are 3 routes that we can take in the Scenic Walkway, all of which end up in the Scenic Cableway Bottom Station. We took the shortest of the 3 route – Coal Mine Route, which took us around 15 mins to reach the Scenic Cableway Bottom Station, the other routes are the Lillipilli Link (30 mins) and Yellow Robin Link (50mins). True to its name, there are a couple of coal mines along the Coal Mine Route. The air is indeed fresh down at the valley, with the freshness of the rainforest. My nephew seem excited about the forest walk. He was smiling and very curious about the things around him. We passed a closed mine shaft, that used to be an entrance to the coal mine. These days it is a tourist spot that served for photo opportunity for tourists. Further down the path, there is another bigger entrance to the coal mine. Despite being unsealed and armed with a sign saying “Danger Keep Out”, no one seem to be entering the coal mine. Along the path we felt as if we are in scene in Jurassic Park, the forest seem as old as time and cliffs that seem to be sheared off by a giant sword, with its near vertical cliff face. A rock sitting on the side of the pathway that seem to be nature’s creation. Very soon we found ourselves at the Cableway Bottom Station.
The walk through the Jurassic forest in Scenic Walkway is very easy
My friend and I at the ventilation shaft of the coal mine
Baby Ryker is curious about his surroundings
Baby Ryker seem happy to have touched a tree for the first time
Coal carts that was used before
My sister’s family in Scenic Walkway
Horses used to pull these coal carts
An entrance to the coal mine
Flora in the Scenic Walkway
Wefie in the Scenic Walkway
My sister’s family in Scenic Walkway
We are some 300m from the top of the cliff
My sister’s family with a huge rock that seem to fell off the top many years ago

Scenic Cableway

The Cableway was just calling into the station when we reached. We boarded the Cableway and journeyed 510m to the Scenic World Top Station, where we started. The Cableway is a huge cablecar that is designed to ferry passengers up and down the valley. The cableway is less thrilling than the Scenic Railway, however the 10 min journey allowed us slowly enjoy this scenic part of Blue Mountains. While the Scenic Railway dashes us through the rainforest cliff, the Scenic Cableway gave us a bird’s eye view of the entire valley as we ascended in it. We were above the canopy of the rainforest that we were in just minutes ago. All this while, we had the Three Sisters constantly in our sight. At the side of the Cableway, we seem to be narrowly passing the cliff, as though we can almost touch them if the windows are opened (well it is not exactly that close). As we approach the top station, the staff in the Cableway, who has been giving commentaries about the Blue Mountains, suddenly announced a lone rock that we will be passing by, known as the Orphan Rock. The staff mentioned that there used to be a trail that leads to the top of the Orphan Rock, a wedding has even  being held there. However due to corrosion, the trail to the top of Orphan Rock is closed. Nearing to the top station, I spotted some rail tracks. These are supposed to be a roller coaster ride that used to be one of the attractions here in Blue Mountains and has since closed in 1982. The Scenic Cableway is Wheelchair and pram friendly too.
Scenic Cableway pulling into the Bottom Station
View outside as we ascend to the top station in the Scenic Cableway
View of Three Sisters at the Scenic Cableway top station
Wefie with the Scenic Cableway car that we just rode in
View of Three Sisters from Scenic Cableway top station

Scenic Skyway

After having lunch at the Scenic World Top Station, we went for the Scenic Skyway next. I have been to Scenic World more than 15 years ago. I recall the Scenic Skyway used to pull us out halfway to where the Katoomba Waterfall is and than back to the Top Station. Fast forward 15 years later, another station has been built on the other side of the cliff. These days the Scenic Skyway brought us to the Skyway Eastern Station, where we can view the Blue Mountains from another angle. As the skyway leaves the station, I felt we are like an eagle soaring up the sky, viewing the entire Jamison valley region in the Blue Mountains from the sky. The centre of the Skyway is a panel of glass that allows passengers to step on and view the valley from high above. Sitting solemnly afar, rising up from the grounds is Mt Solitary. Once at the Eastern Station, we took the short trail to the left, leading us to Cliff View Lookout, which is about 5 mins walk from the station. Here we can see Katoomba Waterfall on the right, with a relatively small stream of water falling 300m into Jamison Valley and Mt Solitary. The view of Three Sisters is obscured from Cliff View Lookout. There is a trail that leads to Echo Point which takes about 45mins walk, while it will only take us 5 mins to drive there. We took the latter option. After some photos, we headed back to the Skyway East Station and took the next skyway back to Scenic World Top Station, where we drove ourselves to Echo Point.
Me in Blu Mountains
Taking a wefie in Blue Mountains before we ride on the Scenic Skyway
My sister’s family in Blue Mountains
My friend and I in the Scenic Skyway
Taking wefie in the Scenic Skyway
The Scenic Skyway brought us across the Jamison Valley
Katoomba Falls from Scenic Skyway
Scenic Skyway that we just rode in
View of Jamison Valley in the Blue Mountains
Panoramic shot of Jamison Valley in Blue Mountains
My sister’s family at Cliff View Lookout
My friend and I at Cliff View Lookout
View of Mt Solitary from Cliff View Lookout
Jamison Valley from Cliff View Lookout

Echo Point Lookout

Echo Point Lookout offers the best up close view of the Three Sisters. Just a 5 mins drive from Scenic World, it did not take us long to reach Echo Point Lookout. Legend has it that a witchdoctor turned 3 beautiful sisters into stones to prevent a warring tribe from forcing them into marrying into the other tribe. However the witchdoctor died before he can turn the sisters back to human. To this date, the Three Sisters sits on the cliff waiting for someone to turn them back into their human form. The Three Sisters are 3 cliffs that sit on top of the north escarpment of Jamison Valley. Visitors can take a short walk to the lookout below for a closer view and photo spot with the Three Sisters. It can get crowded here with bus loads of tourists here. We did not stay here for too long and continued our journey to other parts of the Blue Mountains.

Echo Point signage
Close shot of the Three Sisters at Echo Point Lookout
Wefie with the Three Sisters at Echo Point Lookout
There is a lower platform that visitors can access to for a closer shot with the Three Sisters at Echo Point Lookout
View of Blue Mountains at Echo Point Lookout

Cahill’s Lookout

For most of the visitors, their trip to Blue Mountains will end at Scenic World and Echo Point Lookout. Blue Mountains has a lot to offer (if one travels here via driving). Our next destination is Boars Head Lookout and stopped by a couple of lookouts before that.  The first 2 lookouts that we stopped by, Eaglehawk Lookout and Narrow Neck Lookout, while offers views of the Jamison Valley from another perspective, the view isn’t that great. There are no proper parking spots for cars and the views are obscured. We snapped a few pictures before heading to Cahill’s Lookout. Soon we arrive at Cahill’s Lookout. After parking the car, my friend and I headed to the lookout (my sister and her family was too tired to join us on the 3 min walk to the lookout). While walking to Cahill’s Lookout at which lies at the end of the pathway, we stopped by Boars Head Lookout. The view at Boars Head Lookout is magnificent! It offers a different view of Blue Mountains, other than the already popular Three Sisters and Jamison Valley. From Boars Head Lookout, we spotted the Narrow Neck Plateau that separates Jamison Valley from Megalong Valley. The Narrow Neck Plateau looks like the body of a dragon lies in deep sleep. The land below us seem to stretch to the end of the earth. We continued our walk to Cahill’s Lookout, which is an octagon platform that looks out into Megalong Valley. The views here is no different from that of Boars Head Lookout, except that we were able to see the cliffs off Pulpit Rock and Bonnie Doon Waterfall. As the sun is setting, we still have another spot to head to, my friend and I headed back to the car and continued our journey to our last stop of the day.
View of Blue Mountains at Eaglehawk Lookout
View at Narrow Neck Lookout
Narrow Neck Plateau in the Blue Mountains
Taking a wefie with Narrow Neck Plateau in Cahill’s Lookout
My friend with Narrow Neck Plateau in Cahill’s Lookout
Me in Cahill’s Lookout
My friend in Boars Head Lookout
Taking a wefie of Narrow Neck Plateau and Megalong Valley in Boars Head Lookout
Panoramic shot of Narrow Neck Plateau and Megalong Valley
Cahill’s Lookout
My friend in Cahill’s Lookout
Panoramic shot of Megalong Valley from Cahill’s Lookout
View of Megalong Valley from Cahill’s Lookout

Govetts Loop Lookout

The drive to Govetts Loop Lookout takes about 45 mins from Katoomba, where the Three Sisters is located. To get there we passed by the town of Blackheath. There are signs well placed to point drivers to Govetts Loop Lookout. Govetts Loop Lookout offers views of the Grose Valley. Due to the low clouds, the view here looks mystical, as if it is nothing from this world. The view here felt a little like Pandora, the homeland of the Na’vi from the movie Avatar. From the lookout we can see a waterfall – Govetts Loop Falls. Since it is our last day in Sydney and our last stop of the day, my sister, my friend and I decided to take the 30 mins walk to the top of Govetts Loop Falls. The walk to Govetts Loop Falls is downhill. The initial walk was gentle, there come a point where there are stairways carved out of the soil and at some more dangerous points railings installed to ensure the safety of trackers. As we were walking, the sound of water appears to be closer. Not longer after a series of down “stairs” walks, we knew we arrived at the top Govetts Loop Falls. The view here isn’t that great, as the “lookout” is not overlooking into the valley. Rather we were treated to a view where the stream falls into the valley. There is a smaller waterfall on the side where we came from, with gentle streams flowing from the rivers on top. At the other side of the stream, we saw part of the Govetts Loop Brook that seem to come from a forest on top of the waterfall. After taking some pictures, we traced back our steps from where we came from and headed back to the car. The walk back to the car park can be tiring for some as it comprises a series of stairs to climb up. We made it back to the car before the sun sets and were on our way back to Sydney. As we were driving out of Govetts Loop Lookout, the clouds are so low that the entire area fogged up. The drive back to Sydney took around 2 hours. We headed back to Chinatown in Sydney for a well deserved dinner after a whole day at Blue Mountains and a way to end our trip to Sydney. We headed back to our accommodation early to pack and rest as we fly out of Sydney the next morning. There are more places to Sydney than those we visited, given essentially only 5 days in this city, we visited most of the icons of the City.

View of Grose Valley from Govetts Loop Lookout
View of Grose Valley from Govetts Loop Lookout
Wefie at Govetts Loop Lookout
Panoramic shot at Govetts Loop Lookout
The low clouds makes Govetts Loop Lookout look mystical
My sister with a well in Govetts Loop Lookout
Another shot of Grose Valley in Govetts Loop Lookout
We started our trek to the top of Govetts Loop Falls

 

The initial walk was easy down to Govetts Loop Falls

 

A small waterfall at the top of Govetts Loop Falls that flows into the stream
My sister and my friend playing on top of Govetts Loop Falls
My friend at the top of Govetts Loop Falls
Wefie at the top of Govetts Loop Falls

 

My sister posing carefully to ensure that she don’t slip and fall into the river on top of Govetts Loop Falls
Govetts Loop Brook that flows down Govetts Loop Falls into Grose Valley

 

The waterfall side of Govetts Loop Brook falling into Grose Valley. It is a shame that we cannot see the waterfalls from here

 

My sister taking a break while walking back to the carpark at Govetts Loop Lookout
My sister taking another break while walking back to the carpark at Govetts Loop Lookout

 

My sister taking yet another break while walking back to the carpark at Govetts Loop Lookout

 

My sister now can celebrate after all the walk up to the carpark

 

The cloud is very low at the time we return to the carpark at Govetts Loop Lookout

Sydney Day 4 (21 May 17) – Exploring Sydney – From Darling Harbour to Chinatown

Sydney Wildlife Zoo

Our itinerary is pretty light today. We visited the sights in Sydney and catered some time for shopping around town.Our first stop for the day is  the Sydney Wildlife Zoo, located in Sydney’s Darling Harbour a 25 mins drive from Sydney Olympic Park. There are 2 other attractions in this area on top of the Sydney Wildlife Zoo. The Sydney Aquarium and Madam Tussauds are located in the vicinity. One can consider getting the multi attraction pass and visit these attractions at one go to save time and money. We used the same attraction pass that was issued to us the day before to gain entry. Sydney Wildlife Zoo is rather small housing in a building occupying a total space of 7,000㎡. The wildlife park has a 1 km walkway that snakes through the entire Wildlife Zoo, across all 6 zones. All the animals housed in the wildlife park are found in different parts of Australia. The first few exhibits are snakes As the park is rather small compared to most other wildlife parks, it only took us about 1.5 hrs to finish the entire park. We spent about 10 mins listening to one of the staff educating us on the habits of koala bear. My sister bought a photo opportunity with the koala, instead of holding the animal taking pictures, they only managed to take picture with the koala at a close distance. We felt she was kind of being ripped off by the park. There is a Kangaroo petting area, which is rather small. Visitors are not allowed to feed the Kangaroos, just allowed to pet them as the keeper brought the animal around the open area. There is also another crocodile tank, which only house 1 crocodile. The entire Wildlife Zoo is rather disappointing (compared to the one in Gold Coast that I have visited last year), there are not much opportunity for visitors to interact with some of the animals plus Sydney Wildlife Zoo is small. Given a chance to come to Sydney again, I would skip this place.
My nephew – Baby Ryker posing on a fake Tasmania Devil 
Sydney Wildlife Zoo sits in a building next to Sydney Harbour Bay. Visitors can take these water taxis to Sydney Opera House area
My friend and I outside the building where Sydney Wildlife Zoo is housed
Entrance to Sydney Wildlife Zoo in Darling Harbour
Sydney Wildlife Zoo is housed in the same building as Madam Tussauds and Sealife Aquarium Sydney
This python is the first exhibit we saw as we enter Sydney Wildlife Zoo
A couple of lizards is in sight as we walked along the walkway
and more snakes
There is a Tasmania Devil living in Sydney Wildlife Zoo
and more snakes
Finally we see a species of kangaroo
My sister and her family in Sydney Wildlife Zoo
We also spotted a kookaburra in one of the enclosures
My sister and brother-in-law wondering where to go
Another species of kangaroo in Sydney Wildlife Zoo
My sister and Baby Ryker getting close to a koala
A keeper is “walking” this kangaroo in the open area allowing visitors to pet it
A mouse in the night zone of Sydney Wildlife Zoo
and more snakes
My sister and my friend with Baby Ryker
A lone crocodile at the end of the 1 km walkway in Sydney Wildlife Zoo

Paddy’s Market at Haymarket

We were glad we exited the boring Sydney Wildlife Zoo. We headed to Paddy’s market at Haymarket next (which closes at 6pm). Haymarket is located in Chinatown, a 20 mins drive from Darling Harbour. The covered market place comprises of 2 levels, we spent time exploring only the first level. The stalls are well organised in neat rows and columns, which makes it very easy to navigate around. There are 2 main sections on the ground floor in Paddy’s Market. The section nearer to the entrance sells mainly clothing and souvenirs. This area occupies 2/3 of the ground floor. Things on offer here are reasonably priced and is definitely cheaper than some of the tourist attractions and downtown Sydney. The common souvenirs such as T-shirts, kangaroo skins can be easily found here. There are also stalls selling nougats and locally produced chocolates. Paddy’s Market is a great place to stock up on souvenirs of all sorts.

Entrance to Paddy’s Market
There are lots of stuff on sale here in Paddy’s Market
There are lots of stuff on sale here in Paddy’s Market
My sister and her family shopping in Paddy’s Market
Paddy’s Market in Haymarket
My friend and I outside Paddy’s Market

Further into Paddy’s Market is a section selling fruits and vegetables. These produce seem fresh and is reasonably priced. One can get a pint of strawberries for A$5. This area is very lively, we could hear vendors shouting the price of their products on sale. It might be closing time is near, the vendors in market place here are trying to close as many deals as possible. Compared to the section further out front, this section seem more crowded with shoppers, probably due to the smaller area. As it is near to closing time we got out of Paddy’s Market.

The market area in Paddy’s Market
Paddy’s Market signage

Sydney Chinatown

The night is still young and hunt for dinner around Chinatown. Across the road from Paddy’s Market is a Chinese styled red archway, seem to tell visitors we are in Chinatown. There are no lack of Chinese Restaurants pass the archway, mainly selling Cantonese cuisines operated by Hong Kong immigrants. We settled our dinner in one of these restaurants. There are also shops that opens till late at night, selling mostly the same stuffs, Australian souvenirs of all sorts that can also be found in Paddy’s Market. The price is more or less the same as that in Paddy’s Market.  After dinner, we walked around Chinatown. Instead of Chinatown, it felt like a place where the Asians congregate. Interestingly, the different nationality who migrated to Sydney seem to cluster according to their country of origin. There is a cluster selling Taiwanese food and dessert, yet another cluster of restaurants selling Korean food and another selling Japanese food. We came across this shopping mall – World Square, where there is a supermarket in its basement. Near to the World Square, is where one would find a street of Thai Restaurants.

Walking around Chinatown
There are Chinese restaurants pass the Chinese styled archway
My sister deciding if we should dine here
Taking a wefie before our food arrives
My sister and my friend trying to decide what to eat first
My friend and I taking a wefie in Chinatown

 

Sydney Day 3 (20 May 17) – Icons of Sydney : Sydney Eye Tower , Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge

My friend and Baby Ryker with Sydney Harbour Bridge

Carriageworks Farmers Market

No trip to Australia would be complete without a visit to one of a numerous weekend markets. I read that Carriageworks Farmers Market is one of the top farmers market in downtown Sydney, offering a good variety of the freshest produce the land down under has to offer in Sydney region. We made our way to Carriageworks Farmers Market in Sydney, which is around 30 mins drive from Sydney Olympic Park.
Driving in downtown Sydney to Carriageworks Farmers Market
Walking towards Carriageworks Farmers Market
Carriageworks Farmers Market is housed what seemed to be some abandoned industrial area. The market is rather small, selling mostly vegetables and fruits. There are some stalls selling flowers and meats, while other selling homemade products such as cheese, biscuits, etc. There are a limited number of stalls selling food from Chinese dim sum to coffees to freshly pressed juices and steaks. Carriageworks Farmers Market is rather small, it only took us 15 mins to finish the entire market. It is not as big as we imagined it to be. Feeling disappointed, we headed to downtown Sydney to look for lunch. We had lunch in Kings Cross before heading to Sydney Eye Tower in the middle of Sydney CBD.
Carriageworks Farmers Market is rather small
Carriageworks Farmers Market
Some of the freshest produce on sale in Carriageworks Farmers Market
They sell flowers too in Carriageworks Farmers Market
My sister and her family checking out what is on sale in Carriageworks Farmers Market
Carriageworks Farmers Market
My sister and brother-in-law checking on Baby Ryker
Baby Ryker and his dad
My friend and Baby Ryker in Carriageworks Farmers Market
My sister buying some dumplings
Sharing a bowl of dumplings

Sydney Eye Tower

Sydney Eye Tower is located on top of Westfield Shopping Centre in the heart of Sydney’s shopping precinct. Parking is a tad difficult to find in this area as we had to go around a few rounds before being able to find a parking spot. As it is located in the heart of Sydney, parking rates can be a tad expensive. Westfield Shopping Centre stands out among the shopping malls in downtown Sydney, it is the building with a single tall tower affixed on top. Sydney Tower Eye is the tallest building in Australia, standing 309m tall. The observation deck is some 268m from the ground. We got a 2 attraction pass from Experience Oz and NZ website, which is value for money and allowed us to choose how many attractions we wanted to visit. The ticket prices are discounted and we did not have to pre-select the attractions when buying the tickets. We can appear at one of the 5 attractions and get our ticket validated and visit the rest within 30 days of the first attraction.

Sydney Tower Eye seen from Kings Cross
Sydney Tower Eye sits tall on Westfield Shopping Centre
Street outside Westfield Shopping Centre
My sister and her family in downtown Sydney

The lift to the observation deck, is located on 5th floor of Westfield Shopping Centre, where the food court is located. Tucked away in one corner of the food court is where ticketing and the lift up to the observation deck is located. I visited Sydney Tower Eye almost 20 years ago (it was known as Sydney Tower back then), there are a couple of new additions to the tower. There are some models of the tallest buildings in the world, where one can see how tall Sydney Tower Eye stacked up against other giants around the world. Another new addition is a 5 mins 4D show in an auditorium prior to the lift up to the observation deck. The show is rather unique in that it introduces Sydney to visitors from the eye of a bird flying through some of the tourists attractions in Sydney.

My sister and my friend ready to go up Sydney Tower Eye
Models of some of the tallest buildings on earth
My sister and her family ready to go up Sydney Tower Eye
A happy Baby Ryker at Sydney Tower Eye
My friend and Baby Ryker at Sydney Tower Eye

After the show, we took the lift that whizzed us up 268m into the sky within minutes to the observation deck. Stepping out of the lift, we were treated to unobstructed view of the entire Sydney. Sydney Tower Eye is a good place for visitors offering a 360° view of the city, especially great for first timers to Sydney to get a glimpse of how massive the metropolitan city is. It is also a great place to orientate one on where’s where of Sydney. The side that faces Sydney Harbour Bridge was the most crowded, as visitors are here to get a different perspective of the famed icon of the city. However Sydney Opera House is kena obscured. I managed to find the Opera House peeping out in between 2 buildings. One can also see the entire Sydney Harbour Bay from the observation deck. We spotted the Blue Mountains sitting afar from the observation deck, as well as the Sydney Airport and the many suburbs. Walking one round takes around 5 mins (provided one do not stop and take pictures). There is a souvenir shop on the observation deck selling overpriced souvenirs (Hay Market in Chinatown offers souvenirs at half the price here on average). We stayed in Sydney Tower Eye for about 1 hour as my nephew needs to be fed, however Sydney Tower Eye can be done within 20 mins on average.

View of Sydney Harbour Bridge and a small section of Sydney Opera House from Sydney Tower Eye
View of Sydney Harbour Bay from Sydney Tower Eye
View from Sydney Tower Eye
My friend and I at the observatory deck of Sydney Tower Eye
View of Sydney from Sydney Tower Eye
My sister and her family in the observatory deck of Sydney Tower Eye
Sydney Harbour Bay seen from Sydney Tower Eye
Baby Ryker seem to spot something below
Sydney Harbour Bay from Sydney Tower Eye
Sydney Harbour Bay from Sydney Tower Eye
Sydney Harbour Bay from Sydney Tower Eye
My sister had to put the koala ears on Baby Ryker
My friend and I on Sydney Tower Eye

Shopping in Downtown Sydney

Coming down from Sydney Tower Eye, we spent sometime exploring the shopping malls in downtown Sydney. There are no lack of shops ranging from Myers department store to upscale boutiques to mid-range boutiques around this area. One would be spoilt for choice with the numerous amount of shops here. There is even an Apple Store round the corner in downtown Sydney. Do not miss some of the small stores selling finger food such as sushi and cream puffs in the basement of some of these shopping malls. The nearby Queen Victoria Building, a Romanesque architectural building built in the late 1900 Century, that once housed government offices and public library is hard to be missed. The well preserved building, spotting a large dome right in the centre of the building stands out from the rest of the modern skyscrappers. Queen Victoria Building now houses a 4-storey shopping mall in its most recent reincarnation. We did not spend much time to shop around here and headed over to the iconic Sydney Opera House.
Shopping in downtown Sydney
Shopping in downtown Sydney
My friend and I in downtown Sydney
My friend in downtown Sydney
My friend and I in downtown Sydney
Downtown Sydney
Queen Victoria Building is now a shopping mall
Some of the cute cream puffs in downtown Sydney
Downtown Sydney at night
We came across this Roman themed theatre in downtown Sydney
My friend and I taking wefie in the Roman themed theatre
Baby Ryker with his parents in the Roman themed theatre

Sydney Opera House

The iconic Sydney Opera House is a good 30 mins by foot from Sydney Tower Eye. As we had Baby Ryker in tow, we decided to drive there instead. There are ample (but expensive) parking spaces in the carpark of Sydney Opera House. By the time we reached the Opera House, it is already nightfall. This is when the restaurants in the Sydney Opera House promenade is bustling with life. Sydneysiders gathered here in the evening to chill out in the night, while some others come here to watch performances. From the promenade, one can get a good view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Night view of Sydney Harbour Bridge
My friend and I with Sydney Harbour Bridge in the back
My friend and Baby Ryker with Sydney Harbour Bridge in the back
Sydney Harbour Bridge at night
Sydney Harbour Bridge with a little of Sydney Opera House
A bit of both icons in Sydney

We headed towards the Sydney Opera House, comprising of 7 “shells” which look more like sails. From a distance, the Sydney Opera House resembles a sailing boat sailing in Sydney Harbour Bay. The iconic white roof looked as if it is coated with a blanket of white paint from afar, upclose, these white parts of the buildings are tiled with uniform mosaic tiles. Getting up close to the Opera House, it seem to emit a sense of timeless beauty and classiness. There are plenty photo spots around the Opera House buildings, however one would not be able to the entire building into the picture. For a great view of both Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, head to Mrs Macquarie’s Point, a short 10 mins drive from the Opera House.

My friend and I outside Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House at night
Taking a wefie with Sydney Opera House
My friend with Sydney Opera House
Another wefie outside Sydney Opera House
My sister and Baby Ryker at Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House from the promenade
Sydney Opera House up close at night
My sister and her family at Sydney Opera House
My sister and her family at Sydney Opera House

We headed inside the Opera House. The ceilings are decked in the concrete grey, as though telling visitors no fanciful dressings is required for its interior. The building is already magnificent even with the plain grey concretes. There is a shop inside the ticketing area of the Opera House selling memorabilia. One can also opt to join a 1 hour guided tour of the Opera House (costs A$37) to get a better understanding of the history and architecture of the building explained in detail by the staff. We stayed here for quite awhile to admire the grandeur of this iconic structure that visitors and locals come to identify Sydney with before heading back to rest for the night.

Interior of the Sydney Opera House

Sydney Day 2 (19 May 17) – Yengo National Park – Viewing Mt Yengo From Finchley Lookout

Our plan today is to visit the Finchley lookout and the Chocolate Factory as well as some wineries in Hunter Valley, New South Wales premier winery region. However we did some last minute change in plans after our visit to Finchley Lookout in Yengo National Park. It is autumn at this time of the year in Australia, this means that sun will set at around 5pm, after which it would be dark. My previous experience with driving in Australian roads tells me that we would have to rely on reflectors along the road when driving after dark in suburban roads. Hence we  visited the Finchley Lookout on our way to Hunter Valley.
Baby Ryker and mummy ready to go out
Pit stop at Mooney Mooney Rest Area
Mooney Mooney Rest area is about 1 hour from Sydney Olympic Park
My friend and I at Mooney Mooney Rest Area
My sister and her family at Mooney Mooney Rest Area
Taking a wefie at Mooney Mooney Rest Area

Towards Finchley Lookout

The drive to Finchley Lookout takes around 2 hours from Sydney Olympic Park. Finchley Lookout is located some 150km northwest of Sydney Olympic Park. We set out about 3 hours later than planned as my nephew, Baby Ryker, woke up pretty late. We wanted him to sleep a little more before setting out. As we were driving towards Finchley Lookout, the 3-laned highway turned into one-laned (2-way) country road, zipping pass some farmlands and rural areas. Whizzing up and down mountainous roads, we eventually ended up into a single lane gravel road. This is when a sense of adventure begins. There are no reflectors nor barriers as we were driving up and down slopes. The drive from where the gravel road starts to Finchley Lookout takes around 45 mins, longer than I had expected. From my research prior to the trip, I was expecting gravel roads before we reach Finchley Lookout, but I did not expect the drive to take 45 mins. At this point, we were glad that we made the decision to visit this lookout during daylight and I thought to myself, the view better be worth the drive.
Our journey from Sydney Olympic Park to Finchley Lookout takes around 2 hours
As we were driving along the gravel road, a sign was in sight pointing to Finchley Lookout. We finally arrived at our destination after 2 hours on the road. There are no proper parking facilities, but just some space for us to park our vehicle. There are no one here when we reached Finchley Lookout.  We will soon find out if the drive was worth it at the bottom of a small flight of stairs that led to a  wooden platform – The Finchley Lookout. We reached the Finchley lookout after climbing up the stairs, the surrounding opened up from deserted forest to a remote land of wilderness stretching beyond the horizon. We were awed by the view and soon felt the drive was indeed worth it! Coupled with the fact that we were the only ones here at the time of our visit, it felt like we had the entire Yengo National Park to us. From Finchley Lookout, we spotted Mt Yengo standing majestically afar from the forest, as though it commands the entire Yengo National Park. We could almost see the entire Yengo National Park, which is one of the eight protected areas in Blue Mountains Region that was enscribed to form part of the UNESCO World Heritage list. Yengo National Park holds a special place in the hearts of the Aborigines in this region as it is an important spiritual and cultural area for them for thousands of years. There are over 600 recorded Aboriginal cultural sites in this national park. It is legended that the ancestral being stepped off Mt Yengo into the sky after finishing his creation. As it is getting late, we headed off to Hunter Valley before it turns dark.
We finally reached Finchley Lookout in Yengo National Park after some 45 mins drive on the gravel road
My friend and I at Finchley Lookout signage
Me at the Finchley Lookout signage
My sister and her family getting ready to climb up to Finchley Lookout
A monument beside Finchley Lookout 
View of Mt Yengo and Yengo National Park at Finchley Lookout
My friend at Finchley Lookout with Mt Yengo behind
My sister trying to take a family wefie at Finchley Lookout
A happy Baby Ryker at Finchley Lookout
Mt Yengo towering over the entire Yengo National Park
Panoramic view from Finchley Lookout
My sister and happy Baby Ryker at Finchley Lookout
Forest around Finchley Lookout
Mt Yengo at Finchley Lookout

A Change in Plan

As we were driving towards Hunter Valley Winery region, gravel road turned into tarred roads and civilisation were once in sight. About 1 hour into our journey, it started to pour heavily. We were glad that we got off the gravel roads before it started to rain. Soon we found ourselves in the town of Wollombi, the last town before we reached Hunter Valley Chocolate Factory. Along the way there are signs that points towards some Wineries. As we missed our lunch and we were getting hungry, we stopped by to grab some food. It is already 4.30pm now. Knowing that shops close around 5pm, a check with the Chocolate Factory’s website confirmed the closing time. At this time, I proposed to change in plan and head back to Sydney instead as the factory will be closed by the time we reach (we still have another 30 mins drive from Wollombi to the Hunter Valley Chocolate Factory). As we were driving towards the main roads, we spotted a shopping mall with supermarket. My sister wanted to check out the supermarket and we headed there. We spent some time at the supermarket.

The night was still young, we headed straight to The Star Casino in Sydney, hoping to find some food before we head back to our apartment to rest. The drive back to Sydney took another 2 hours. It is around 11pm when we reached The Star Casino. Most of the eateries in the Casino has closed for the day. We headed to the nearby Harbourside Shopping Centre for later dinner before heading back to Sydney Olympic Park.

The Star Casino in Darling Harbour, Sydney

 

 

Sydney Day 1 (18 May 17) – Arrival in Sydney – Shopping in DFO HomeBush and Rhodes Waterside Mall

My sister wanted to visit Sydney when she did not managed to visit Gold Coast last year due to her pregnancy. As the rest of the party had never been to Sydney, we made a 6-day trip to the capital city of New South Wales state in Australia.
Sydney Opera House, an icon of Sydney

Arrive at Sydney

After a tiring overnight flight from Singapore, we finally reached Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport, the city’s international gateway. Clearing custom was a breeze thanks to the efficient automated gate clearance and the numerous airport security staff directing visitors who are eligible to use the automated custom clearance. No pre-registration is required for visitors to use these automated custom clearance gates, which is a plus unlike some countries where one is required to pre-register in order to use these facilities. We wasted no time and quickly got our SIM cards from one of the 2 telco counters (Optus and Vodafone) to the right of the immigration gates. Personally I prefer Optus due to the value for money (we paid A$10, including SIM Card, for 5 days of data and phone usage) and the reliable connection from my previous experience last year while traveling in Gold Coast. After the staff had our phones set up for data usage, we proceeded to the car rental counters, located to the left of the immigration exit to pick up our rented car.
We got our Australian SIM Card from Optus, which is to the left of the immigration exit in Sydney Airport
Waiting for me to settle our car rental
My sister’s family at the exit of Sydney Airport

Sydney Olympic park

It is expected that we will be drained from the overnight flight, we intentionally kept today’s itinerary very light. We drove to our AirBnb accommodation located in Sydney Olympic Park, located about 30 mins drive from Sydney Central. Our host was already waiting for us with the keys to the spacious 2 bedroom apartment. Sydney Olympic Park was the venue for the 2000 Sydney Olympics games, complete with villages where the athletes were housed back in 2000. Today the Sydney Olympic Park is a major suburb, twice the size of Sydney Central Business District, where residential and commercial activities are located. Other then being a commercial and residential suburb, Sydney Olympic Park is also a major sporting hub, where sporting facilities used during the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games are “recycled” for the public and professional athletes to use. There are shops, eateries and supermarkets within minutes drive from our accommodation, making it an ideal place to settle in for this trip. It is already getting late by the time we settled into our apartment, as planned we headed out to the factory outlet nearby Sydney Olympic Park.
View of Sydney Olympic Park from our apartment
My sister’s family happily settled in our accommodation for the next 6 days

DFO Homebush

The only outlet mall around Sydney, the DFO Homebush outlet mall is a mere 5 mins drive from our accommodation in Sydney Olympic Park. The 2-stoery outlet mall is rather disappointing, compared to Harbour Town in Gold Coast. Unlike Harbour Town, DFO Homebuswh feels dead with not much people shopping around. There are no eateries, except for a few cafes that were closing at the time we visited. The outlet shops are located on level 1 of the shopping mall, while the home living shop and a couple of sports gear outlet shop occupies the ground floor of the building. We only spent about 1 hour here in DFO due to the disappointing shopping experience. While some of the big brands such as Burberry, Calvin Klein offers good discounts, the goods on offering did not appeal to us.
Before heading back to our accommodation, we headed to the supermarket to get some food for breakfast in Rhodes Waterside Mall, which is a 5 mins drive from DFO Homebush.  This shopping mall is a vast world of difference from DFO Homebush, there are more people shopping in this mall. Rhodes Waterside Mall houses Ikea, Coles Supermarket, Target and Priceline amongst other shops. One can find most of the daily needs here. We headed back to Sydney Olympic Park to rest after getting what we wanted from Coles Supermarket (which opens still midnight). Before heading back to our accommodation, we got our dinner from Dominoes which is a mere 3 mins drive from our accommodation.

Hokkaido Day 14 (Sapporo) (27 Feb 17) – Goodbye Hokkaido, Till We Meet Again

Night view of Sapporo

Farewell Hokkaido, Farewell Japan

Today we fly to Bangkok from Hokkaido, where we will be staying for 2 nights before heading home to Singapore. We headed for Sapporo JR Station at 6.30am to catch or 7.05am train to New Chitose Airport. We wanted to cater sufficient time as we will be lugging our luggage and walking in the snow one last time before we head back. At the train station, we had to carry our luggage up 2 flights of stairs to reach the platform where we boarded the train to New Chitose Airport. I usually have the habit of reaching the airport 3 hours before flight in case there is a long queue at the customs. As expected, there is a long queue at the security prior to the immigration. However after clearing security, clearing customs is quite fast. There isn’t much shops at the airside in New Chitose Airport, we spent our time in the airline lounge before heading to board the aircraft.As we were sitting on our seats in the aircraft, looking out at the snow-covered tarmac of New Chitose Airport, I felt a sense of unwilling to leave Hokkaido. Afterall we had alot of fun and did a number of firsts in Hokkaido. We did skiing for the first time, we built our first snowman, we experienced snowing for the first time, we walked on the frozen lake for the first time, we sailed through ice for the first time, we soaked in onsen for the first time and soaked in onsen in the snow for the first time. So many first times we done in Hokkaido.
Traveling on JR from Sapporo to New Chitose Airport
Arrived at New Chitose Airport, ready to check in
Walking towards the International Terminal
The queue to clear the security is very long. Do arrive at the airport early
There are not many shopping options or things to do at the airside of New Chitose Airport. There are more things to do in the public area of the airport though
Relaxing in the lounge and grabbed some breakfast before we board the flight back

Afterthought

I quite like the pace of our Hokkaido trip, which we had time to leisurely visit the sights. Each day was planned with at most 3 places to visit. We had the chance to slow down our pace and look around us at the peaceful snowscape in Hokkaido. What kept us from feeling bored is the snow. We spent our time playing with the snow, walking in the snow and admiring the snow scenery. I thought travelling should be relaxed and not rushed (that is one of the reason why I detest package tours). Travelling in Hokkaido requires a certain amount of planning, especially in winter where public transports are less frequent. Planning for this trip, however is not difficult. There are websites that helped in the planning of our Hokkaido trip from the Hokkaido JR website to the hotel websites to the websites of the places we have been to. I find traveling in Hokkaido to be very pleasant, everyone is so courteous and made us felt so welcomed and Hokkaido doesn’t feel crowded. We will be back to Japan again, perhaps visit another city the next time we come back.
Aircraft taxiing to the runway

 

Take off from New Chitose Airport

 

We are going to miss the snow and the fun we had in Hokkaido

 

Farewell Hokkaido, Farewell Japan. We will definitely return to Japan

Hokkaido Day 13 (Otaru) (26 Feb 17) – Day Trip to Otaru and Viewing Sapporo from Mt Moiwa

The beautiful and peaceful iconic Otaru Canal

Day Trip to Otaru

The original plan was to visit Mt Moiwa in the morning and by noon arrive at Otaru. However Mt Moiwa Ropeway opens at 11am, which would mean half day will be wasted. We made the decision on the spot at Sapporo JR Station to visit Otaru and return by evening and head over to Mt Moiwa. JR from Sapporo to Otaru took about 1 hour. We bought our train tickets from the vending machines which also allows us to get reserved seat tickets. We also bought our train tickets to New Chitose Airport for tomorrow since we are already at it. Once arrived at Otaru we headed for the Otaru Canal, which is about 10 mins walk away from the train station. To get to Otaru Canal, we walked straight along the street with Otaru JR station behind us. As we were walking towards Otaru Canal, we were surrounded by thick snow and couldn’t resist playing with the snow. As we were playing with the snow, my friend and I started building a snowman by the side of the walkway. We were hoping that our snowman will still be around by the time we return.
Taking JR from Sapporo to Otaru 
We reached Otaru Station in about 1 hour’s time
In Otaru Station
View of Otaru JR Station
Walking towards Otaru Canal
On the streets of Otaru (near Otaru JR Station)
My friend building a snowman on the streets of Otaru
The snowman we built
Buildings in Otaru is influenced by westerrn architecture

The Charming Otaru Canal

We were greeted by a canal across a road, we knew we have arrived at Otaru Canal. Rows of brick-walled warehouses lined up across the canal, standing tall and unwavering by the cold winter of Hokkaido (was -4℃ at the time we were there). Covered with snow and icicles forming on its roof, these buildings eluding a sense of majestic to these buildings which once served as storage space in the first half of 20th century. These days these timeless warehouses transformed into shops and restaurant continue to stay relevant to their changing roles. As we strolled along Otaru Canal on the snow covered pathway the stroll was comfortable and peaceful as we gaze at the canal and the warehouses, despite having quite a number of visitors strolling along the same path. A bridge nearby, Asakusa Bridge, where a lot more visitors gathered. The view from Asakusa Bridge is even more charming. This is where one can take iconic pictures of Otaru Canal running in the middle with warehouses on the right side and the modern buildings peaking through the snow on the left side. Diagonally opposite Asakusa Bridge is the Denuki-Koji Street, which comprises of a cluster of restaurants that are built on whatever land they can find here. On the outside of Denuki-Koji Street are some small stalls that sells some street food. My friend and I headed into one of the cafes to have a small portion of melon soft serve. It was snowing when we exited the shop and seem heavier by the minute. We headed over to the sushi restaurant opposite Denuki-Koji Street.

There it is, Otaru Canal
Taking wefie at Otaru Canal
The warehouses standing unwavering to the cold winter weather
Me at Otrau Canal
The snow and icicles on the warehouses gives it a different personality
Denuki-Koji Street Opposite Asakusa Bridge over Otaru Canal
Me on Asakusa Bridge over Otaru Canal
My friend with Denuki-Koji Street
Shops selling street food in Denuki-Koji Street
We went for the melon soft serve in Denuki-Koji Street. It is a pity the melon is not from Hokkaido as we were told Feb is not the season for Hokkaido melons
Denuki-Koji Street
My friend in Denuki-Koji Street
It started to snow as we were getting some street food in Denuki-Koji Street
Going for sushi in a restaurant opposite Denuki-Koji Street 
Maki with tuna
The sushi here is very fresh and tasty

Strolling in Otaru

After lunch, we walked along Rinkosen Street, the street opposite Otaru Canal, towards the Otaru Music Box Museum. There are a number of restaurants and souvenir shops on this side of the side. We went into one of the restaurant to have some ramen and grilled scallops. As we were walking along Rinkosen Street, we came across a shop selling 7-tier soft serve with 7 different flavours. Feeling full from our 2 lunches we had earlier, we opted for the 3-tier soft serve with lavender, vanilla and melon flavours. The soft serve tasted rich and not too sweet, perfect to be eaten in the snowing winter of Otaru. We went into LeTao cafe and got ourselves both flavours of their famed cheesecake. Their cheesecake did not taste too cheesy, coupled with the rich Hokkaido milk it is made from, the cheesecake is simply heavenly. Even my friend who is not a fan of cheesecake got bought over by LeTao cheesecake.

After lunch, we headed back to Otaru Canal and explore the street behind the warehouses. The snowing weather makes Otaru Canal more charming
There are some restaurants souvenir shops in this warehouse
The street behind Otaru Canal
Most of the warehouses are restaurants
My friend in the street behind the warehouse
Some of the warehouses on Otaru Canal
Lunch no.2. We had grill scallops and crab
And Miso Ramen
The grill scallops. There are uni also
The restaurant we had our second lunch in
We saw this shop selling 7-tiered soft serve. We only got stomach space to fit 3 and got the vanilla, lavender and melon flavour soft serve
We passed by one of the restaurants displaying live seafood outside the restaurant
LeTao Cheesecakes is a must try when coming to Otaru
We ordered both flavours. The delicious cheesecake is rich and does not have a cheesy taste

Otaru Music Box Museum 

Feeling satisfied after our cheesecake, we headed to red-bricked western-styled Otaru Music Box Museum. Outside the Otaru Music Box Museum stands the Otaru Steam Clock which chimes every 15 mins. The interior of the Otaru Music Box Museum is mainly made of wood, from the flooring to the wooden stairways that leads to the 2nd and 3rd floor of the museum. My first impression of Otaru Music Box Museum, apart from it being crowded with tourists, is that it is a big shop selling all sorts of intriguing designed music box made of glass and some in wood. I was very careful when navigating in the museum amongst the hordes of tourists. The real gem is the room on the 2nd floor, near to the entrance of Otaru Music Box Museum. This is where the more expensive and unique and some antique music boxes are being displayed. We were quite turned off my the massive crowd flocking into Otaru Music Box Museum and left the museum.

Walking towards Otaru Music Box Museum along Rinkosen Street  
An oil lamp opposite Otaru Music Box Museum
The steam clock outside Otaru Music Box Museum which chimes every 15 mins
Taking a picture with the steam clock
There are a lot of music boxes for sale in Otaru Music Box Museum
The Otaru Music Box Museum feels more like a huge shop selling music boxes than a museum
Customers can choose what music for their music box here
More music boxes on sale
View of the music box museum from second floor
Sleeping with a lucky cat
This is part of the display on second level
One of the more expensive music boxes

Otaru Canal in the Evening

It is getting dark and still snowing, my friend and I made our way back to Otaru Canal Sakaimachidori Shopping Street to take pictures of the night view of the canal. Sakaimachidori Shopping Street has a mixture of western-style and ancient Japanese styled buildings. Personally I find the old Japanese styled buildings to be more charming. The street has shops selling all sorts of souvenirs, mainly souvenirs made of glass. Otaru is famous for its glasswares from decorative glass ornaments to practical glass kitchen wares, one is sure to find some glassware that suits one’s needs here. I learnt from my research for the my Hokkaido trip that a cafe in Otaru sells cream puffs that is bigger than one’s face. As we are strolling along Sakaimachidori Shopping Street, we found Kitaichi Glass 3gokan Cafe Bar which sells the signature gigantic cream puff. My first impression of the rustic cafe is it is rather dark, as they used kerosene lamp to light up the cafe. However as we were settling in, I like the cosy ambience in this cafe. As we tucked into the gigantic cream puff, we found the cream inside the puff is generous and not too sweet and has a rich texture to it.

Sakaimachidori Shopping Street viewed from Otaru Music Box Museum
My friend in front of  Otaru Music Box Museum facing Sakaimachidori Shopping Street
This cream puff is gigantic! Still the cream tasted fresh and yummy
We had the giant cream puff at Kitaichi Glass 3gokan Cafe Bar. The rustic restaurant has a distinct kerosene smell  as they use kerosene lamp as lighting.
Showing how big the cream puff is in Kitaichi Glass 3gokan Cafe Bar. The cafe is located inside one of the glassware shops.
We found a snowman in front one of the glassware shops along Sakaimachidori Shopping Street
Taking wefie on Sakaimachidori Shopping Street
Taking pictures with random buildings in Sakaimachidori Shopping Street
There are some Japanese styled buildings alongside Western styled buildings on Sakaimachidori Shopping Street
One of the shops in Japanese styled building on Sakaimachidori Shopping Street
We walked along this canal to get back to Otaru Canal. The buildings here are simply charming with the snow all around it
Me in front of the canal that links to Otaru Canal
My throwing a snowball into the canal
Walking along this small street is very peaceful. The snow covered buildings are beautiful sight to looking at.
Taking picture of the canal. There are some shops selling glasswares along the canal

The night view of Otaru Canal is peaceful and beautiful and has a very different flare from the day time. The Victorian-styled lamp lining along the pathway beside the canal gives a very romantic feel to the canal. Taking picture on Asakusa Bridge is a ritual that many tourists come here for, but taking pictures on the pathway is equally beautiful. After taking picture of Otaru Canal, my friend and I headed back to Otaru JR Station to catch the next train back to Sapporo. Along the way, we saw the snowman we built earlier in the day is still there. It survived the snow storm and mankind’s destruction! We headed to Otaru JR Station and took a train back to Sapporo.

In Otaru Canal in the evening
Taking wefie on Asakusaga Bridge. This spot has the best photo spot of Otaru Canal, especially in the evening
My friend on Asakugawa Bridge overlooking Otaru Canal.

 

The pathway beside Otaru Canal also offers great photo spot
Taking picture with Otaru Canal in the evening

Our Final Destination – Viewing Sapporo from Mt Moiwa at Night

Reaching Sapporo, we headed to our last destination of the trip – Mt Moiwa. To get to Mt Moiwa Ropeway station, my friend and I took the subway from Sapporo JR Station to Susukino Station and changed to the Streetcar (Shiden). The Shiden is a tram system that runs from Central Sapporo to Western areas in Sapporo and is the only way (other than catching a cab) to Mt Moiwa Ropeway Station. We alighted at Ropeway Iriguchi Stop and walked about 3 mins to the bus stop where a complementary shuttle bus picked us up and brought us to the base station (Sanroku Station).
The Streetcar or Shiden is the only way to get to Mt Moiwa Ropeway
Inside the crowded Shiden
The shuttle bus that took us from Shiden stop to Mt Moiwa Ropeway Sanroku Station
The bus ride to Mt Moiwa Sanroku Station takes only 3 mins
Map in Sanroku Station explaining the stations of the Ropeway System on Mt Moiwa
My friend with the Mascot of Mt Moiwa
This is the Ropeway that will take us to Chufuku Station where we changed to the mini cable car to the summit Sancho Station

Mt Moiwa is a 531m mountain located in Southwest of Sapporo, a romantic place for locals to date. The jewel of the crown on Mt Moiwa is its unobstructed view of the entire Sapporo and beyond. On a good day, one can see as far as Japan Sea. To get to the summit, we took the Mt Moiwa Ropeway to the mid station (Chufuku Station) and another mini cable car to the summit station (Sancho Station). As the ropeway pulls us up to the Chufuku Station, the City of Sapporo shine like stars in the sky beneath us. It felt as if the ropeway is hanging through a cleared path in the forest of Mt Moiwa. The ropeway reached Chufuku Station in 5 mins. There is a big souvenir shop at Chufuku Station, as we were trying to catch the mini cable cars to Sancho Station, we thought we could come back later to get some souvenirs.

Inside the mini cable car towards Chufuku Station
We are already mesmerised by the view of Sapporo city as we ascend in the Ropeway, to the mid Chufuku Station
Night view of Sapporo from the Ropeway
Night view of Sapporo from the Ropeway

We changed to a mini cable car in Chukufu Station which brought us to Sancho Station in around 2 mins. The mini cable cars are essentially 2 small train like cable cars running on rail tracks. Once at Sancho Station, my friend and I went directly up to the observation deck on the roof top. As we were exiting the lift, we were greeted by a huge diamond-shaped tripod with a bell in the middle sitting in the centre of the observation deck. It is believed that couples who rang the bell together will find happiness. The Bell of Happiness is surrounded by some railings for couples to put a padlock with their names on it, which is believed that couples who does that will forever be in love with each other. Pass the Bell of Happiness we saw what we came here to see, the view of Sapporo. The night view here is touted to be the new 3 most beautiful nightscapes of Japan. The cold winter wind (it was around -8℃ at the time of our visit) did not stop us from admiring the beautiful night view of Sapporo. Sapporo shone like stars in the sky, brightly lighting the darkness around us. As it was dark, I find it a little tough to make out where is what, on top of that we couldn’t see Sea of Japan due to the darkness. What a better way than looking at Sapporo from Mt Moiwa at night as a way to draw the curtain to our 14 day trip across Hokkaido. My friend and I looked back at our maiden trip to Japan and recollect how much we had enjoyed ourselves while traveling in Hokkaido, looking at Sapporo from Mt Moiwa. Soon it is time for us to take our leave traveling back to Sanroku Station and head back to our apartment. After all we have to pack our luggage for our early flight out of Hokkaido tomorrow.

My friend at Mt Moiwa Rooftop Observation Deck
Me ringing the Bell of Happiness. As we were the first ones to take picture with the bell, I broke the tranquility (and in the midst startling some people) when I strike the bell
Night view of Sapporo from Mt Moiwa.
Panoramic shot of night view of Sapporo City from Mt Moiwa
Another panoramic shot of Sapporo City from Mt Moiwa. It was freezing up here but the view was well worth it
Me with the night view of Sapporo City
The lights make Sapporo City look like stars in a galaxy system
Night view of Sapporo City is both stunning and peaceful
Night view of Sapporo City
My friend raining the Bell of Happiness
Taking a wefie at the Observation Deck of Mt Moiwa with the beautiful  night view of Sapporo City behind us
Enjoying the view of Sapporo City from Mt Moiwa
One last shot of Sapporo City before we head back to our apartment
Taking the Ropeway back to the base station of Sanroku Station
Night view of Sapporo City from the Ropeway as we descend. If you look closely you can see Sapporo TV Tower (it is lighted up in Red)
Night view of Sapporo City seen from Mt Moiwa Ropeway