A Travellerspoint blog

Las Vegas and Death Valley

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I always thought I would love Vegas so I wasn’t surprised when I got there and found it amazing. What was surprising was that Stephen really didn’t want to go but he ended up loving it! We had the best time and can’t wait to go back. Not too soon though as it’ll take a long while for us to recover!

Day 1:

After checking into our room at Circus Circus (which is a terrible and tacky hotel, but it was dead cheap) we headed out to the Strip and were disappointed to find out that everything in Vegas isn’t open 24-7! It was around 9pm and we were struggling to find somewhere for dinner that would be staying open long enough for us to eat and have some drinks

After an absolutely massive Mexican meal we walked around some of the hotels that were closer to us, The Venetian and Palazzo. We wandered around their casinos but it all seemed a bit confusing and daunting so ended up in a bar that sold over 200 beers, so Stephen was pretty happy!

Day 2:

Today was a day for shopping! We spent the entire morning and most of the afternoon in out of town retail parks trying to find a new charger for Stephen’s camera as it had stopped working, and then the rest of the afternoon clothes shopping in one of the malls on the Strip.

Two of Stephen’s friends from uni, Ali and Fred, arrived in Vegas today as part of their two week trip around California so we met up with them at 7pm in front of the Bellagio fountains. They told us how easy it was to get free drinks in the casinos even if you were only playing penny slot machines, so that’s what we did! The rest of the night was all a bit of a blur but I know we had an amazing time! Here's a selection of photos:

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The giant wheel - our favourite casino table with lovely Melissa

The highlight of the night was when I found someone’s discarded ticket with just 1 cent on it, I put it in a slot machine and won a dollar:

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As you can tell, this made me very happy!

We finally called it a night at 4am. Ali and Fred got a taxi back to their hotel but Stephen and I decided to walk, which was a huge mistake as it took two hours (we didn’t realise how far down the Strip we’d come!). So we got back when it was 6am and broad daylight, but I guess that’s how it should be done in Vegas!

Day 3:

We got up at 3pm, got a huge seafood lunch from Red Lobster and then drove to the Fabulous Las Vegas sign and got our picture taken:

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By the time we’d done this it was time to meet Ali and Fred again to repeat the antics of last night! We met them at the Hard Rock Hotel where they were staying (and where we’ll be staying next time!) and it was so cool; we were very jealous! When we went out the night followed the same pattern of the night before except this time Ali and Stephen won some US flags and we got the bus back to our hotel so we got back an hour earlier at 5am.

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Winners!

Day 4:

Ali and Fred left Vegas today so Stephen and I had a more civilised day! Everyone says you must do a buffet in Vegas and we’d looked online to see which was best and it always said either Wynn or Bellagio, so we opted for the Wynn Hotel buffet. It was amazing and I’m still kicking myself now for not eating more! At the time I felt very full, but I hadn’t really eaten that much so I’m sure I could have stuffed a bit more in. There was so much to choose from and it was really high quality and nicely presented. I definitely recommend it! We also signed up to Wynn’s players club as we heard that you got unlimited free champagne with the buffet if you did, so that was also pretty good!

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The desserts were the highlight of the buffet

After dinner we went to Bellagio and watched the fountains. We’d seen these so many times over the last couple of days but they don’t get any less spectacular!

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To round off the night we decided to play $5 on the Big Wheel in the Bellagio casino and came away with $20, so that was a great end to our last night in Vegas!

Day 5:

We felt horrible when we got up this morning at 7am. Four days of drinking too much, eating too much, sleeping too little and walking too much in uncomfortable shoes had definitely taken their toll! We went to Denny’s for breakfast and then headed into Death Valley for another long day of driving. It was so hot and there were parts of the road where you had to turn the air con off or your car would overheat! There was some awesome scenery though:

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As we were coming into Bakersfield (the place we were stopping off overnight) there were some really cool hills where the grass looked a so smooth in places and then all creased in the dips, like a blanket dropped over the hills:

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Posted by charlotter45 21:23 Archived in USA Tagged desert hotel vegas casino Comments (0)

Los Angeles and Palm Springs

The Californian road trip begins!

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Los Angeles:

Our first day in LA didn't start so well as it took us 3 hours to get out of LAX airport when we arrived because there are so many forms to fill in and so many queues for everything, it’s really inefficient, so most of our day was wasted! Luckily we’re spending another 3 days in LA later on in our trip. Our hostel was in West Hollywood so there were a lot of cool things to see within walking distance, including the Farmer’s Market, so we just wandered around on our first evening. Stephen wanted to buy some ‘potato chips’ and hummous, but of course the smallest size was big enough to feed about 10 people!

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Huge hummous!

On our second day we went to pick up our car and have a little practice drive around. I was a bit nervous about this as, although it’s Stephen driving, it’ll be pretty scary driving around on the busy streets of LA. Everything was fine though and we’ve been driving for over a week now without any accidents! After parking the car at the hostel we walked up to Hollywood Boulevard. It was a lot further away than we thought and the walk took us nearly two hours, but we got to see lots of interesting streets, shops and cafes on the way, as well as quite a few crazy people! We also got our first glimpse of the Hollywood sign:

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People in LA must really love their dogs; we saw so many dog food and clothes shops, and even a ’’dog agility training centre and canine social club’’ which held ‘doggy discos’:

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When we finally got to Hollywood Boulevard it was all a bit crap, but you have to do it! We strolled down the walk of fame and watched the impersonators outside the Chinese Theatre. I did obviously really enjoy standing in Robert Patterson’s footprints though!

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The cast of Twilight's footprints outside the Chinese Theatre

On our way back to the hostel we walked down Sunset Boulevard as the sun was setting and got quite a nice photo:

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Sunset on Sunset

Palm Springs:

It was time to leave LA and drive to Palm Springs. We stopped off at a huge Walmart on the way to buy camping equipment for when we visit Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. We spent an absolute fortune and realised it would probably have been cheaper to stay in motel, but oh well!

When we arrived in Palm Springs we stopped off at the Indian Canyons to do a bit of hiking. This didn’t really go too well and we only lasted about 45 minutes as it’s pretty hot in the desert! We reckon it was about 40 degrees or more!

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Palm Canyon

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Our lovely Nissan Versa

We were pleasantly surprised how nice our motel room was, but I guess after spending so long in Asia even the most basic room in the US would feel like luxury! We went into the town for dinner and it was so nice. It was so warm in the evenings and the streets were lined with nice looking bars and restaurants and it was really busy with people (I think everything escapes from LA to Palm Springs at the weekend). We were finding it hard to choose where to eat when a man came over with free samples of pizza from his restaurant. This made our decision easy as the pizza was one of the best I’ve ever tasted!

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Statue of Marilyn Monroe in Palm Springs

Driving from Palm Springs to Las Vegas:

This was a very long day of driving! We left Palm Springs at 9am and arrived in Vegas at 7pm. I’m not really sure why it took so long, but we did do quite a few stops along the way. The first stop was Pioneertown – an old film set in the desert where they’ve shot over 200 Western films. It was pretty cool but also a bit quiet and creepy!

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Some of the set at Pioneertown

We then drove along a section of the famous Route 66, where we obviously had to get out the car and take a picture of the sign!

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The rest of the drive had some amazing desert scenery and we even saw a little tornado!

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Mini tornado!

Our last stop of the journey was at Hoover Dam which was pretty spectacular. You can walk across it on the road which is the state line between Nevada and Arizona, so one minute you’re on Pacific Time in Nevada and 100m later you’re on Central Time in Arizona!

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Standing on top of the dam

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The view from the bridge opposite the dam

Shortly after leaving Hoover Dam we could see the Vegas Strip in the distance through the dust - we were very excited about getting there!

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Vegas Baby!

Posted by charlotter45 20:52 Archived in USA Tagged desert hollywood Comments (0)

Fiji

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Before we arrived in Fiji we said we better make the most of it because it’s so far away from home that we’ll probably never come back, but after spending two amazing weeks there we definitely want to go again! Although it rained for a whole week, the times when it was sunny were just perfect. The places we stayed were great, the food was delicious and the Fijian people are the friendliest people we’ve come across by far. The locals and staff at the resorts were always smiling and so talkative, they made us feel so at home.

Viti Levu – The Coral Coast

We spent our first 5 days on the south coast of the biggest island, Viti Levu, at a place called The Beachouse. We met some really nice people here and had a great time, but unfortunately it rained for the entire 5 days - not a minute of sunshine :( It was not the Fiji we’d imagined!

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The pool area at The Beachouse

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Lovely Lucy - one of the three massive dogs they had at the resort

On our second-to-last night one of the guys who worked at the resort asked if we wanted to go and see the final of the pro surf competition that was currently being held off the coast. We thought this was an opportunity not to be passed up, so the next morning we were up at 5am to travel to the marina and get our boat out to ‘Cloudbreak’ (the area of the sea where the competition was going on). There were such big waves just suddenly swelling up, but 10m away where our boats were was perfectly calm – it was so cool! Our boat was right next to the surfers’ massive yacht so we got to watch them all go out to the break. We said to the guy who took us that we’d definitely have to go and see surfing again, but he basically told us not to as we’d just seen the best surfers in the world ride the best waves in the world, so it would never be as good!

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Enjoying the atmosphere

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Kelly Slater getting ready to go out - the No. 1 surfer in the world and winner of the competition

Beachcomber Island

We spent the rest of our time in Fiji island hopping up the Yasawa’s and our first stop was Beachcomber Island. It has a reputation as a party island so we thought we'd check it out. It’s a tiny little island with just one resort on it. It has one massive dorm (86 beds!), a few smaller dorms and some beachfront bures (bungalows). Luckily we had beds in a 4 bed dorm and we were the only two in there, so that worked out a lot better than paying the same to sleep in the same room as another 84 people!

After a spot of sunbathing we had a pretty bland buffet dinner and then the party all kicked off! We danced on the sand dance floor until 2am and met some pretty funny people. We really enjoyed staying a night on Beachomber, but one night was definitely enough!

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Beachcomber Island

Waya Island – Octopus Resort

We loved this island and resort. The beach was beautiful, the pool area and restaurant were lovely and Stephen said the coral reef was better than the Great Barrier Reef (a big claim!). Our dorm room was a little bungalow with five single beds in and was really cute and comfortable. It was a small resort with only about 70 people staying, but there were plenty of sun loungers, bean bags and other seating areas which was perfect for enjoying the sun. We got a boat to the other side of the island one day to watch the local village play rugby against another village which was really fun; the locals were really getting into it!

We only spent 3 days at Octopus but that wasn’t enough! We’ll stay again for much longer next time!

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Lovely beach bar...

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...Lovely pool...

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...Lovely beach...

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...Lovely staff - singing goodbye to us as we left on the boat

Nacula Island- Blue Lagoon Beach Resort

This place is the sister resort to Octopus so we expected it to be just as good and we weren’t disappointed! The beach was perfect and sea was as still as a lake with a nice coral reef just off the shore. We spent 5 nights here, doing the usual beach stuff. Stephen went on a trip to some caves and a snorkelling trip, and we both went to the village church service on Sunday which was nice

We were pretty lucky as we got upgraded from a dorm room to a private lodge room which felt like luxury after staying in dorms for 3 weeks!

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One of the best beaches I've ever seen

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Delicious food, including my new favourite: Cassava fries

Blue Lagoon was a bit smaller and had some good activities in the evening, but we still preferred Octopus overall as it had a pool area and more space for lounging around. We did get some amazing sunsets at Blue Lagoon though:

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Our trip on the boat back to the main island was terrifying! It should have taken 4 hours and been back in the port by 6pm (in time for us to get to the airport in plenty of time for us to get our 10pm flight), but we got caught in a storm. The waves were so high and it was pretty bad luck that the boat company had sent a very small yacht that day as the main boat was under maintenance. Pretty much everyone on the boat was being sick and we were very close to tipping over at numerous points. The whole ordeal lasted 7 hours and we got back into port at 9pm – the time check-in closed for our flight. The boat company said they had called the airline and they were going to extend check-in by 15 minutes, so we raced to a taxi and told him to do the 20 minute ride to the airport in 10 minutes. Thankfully, after a bit of a death defying taxi journey, we made it to the airport for 1minute to spare! We were so grateful that we were alive and that we made the flight as we’d have had to wait for 5 days for the next one if we’d missed it, and ended up messing up all our California plans as everything was already booked!

Although this last day was the worst day of my life so far, it hasn’t ruined my memories of the rest of our time in Fiji. I will think twice about going on that boat next time though!

Posted by charlotter45 11:15 Archived in Fiji Tagged beaches sea snorkelling food rain cave sun Comments (0)

Auckland

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Our original plan for New Zealand was to do a one week tour of the north island with one day in Auckland either side. Unfortunately, when we tried to book this online a few weeks ago it was no longer running on the week we wanted to go, so we changed our flights so that we were just spending 3 days in Auckland and one week longer in the US.

In a nutshell: Auckland was totally depressing. It was really cold and rainy and there was nothing good to do. We missed Asia so much and just wanted to move on to Fiji as soon as possible!

On our first day we just wandered around the (very small) city centre and bought jumpers! We wanted to get an early night as we’d had a long flight from Tokyo the night before, but when we got back to our dorm room there were two very drunk English girls in there that convinced us to have some gin and tonics with them. We eventually ended up in an Irish bar and getting to bed at 3am!

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Nice building in Auckland city centre

We spent our next day sleeping in until lunchtime, having delicious burgers for lunch, and planning and booking accommodation for Fiji and the US.

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Auckland Harbour at night

We decided we’d better actually do something on our last day so we got on a ferry to a volcanic island called Rongitoto where we hiked to the top of the volcano for ‘an amazing view’. Unfortunately we couldn’t see anything at all as it was so drizzly and cloudy! It felt good to do some proper exercise for a change though!

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At the crater of the volcano

Everybody says that Auckland is the worst place to go in New Zealand and that the rest of the country is amazing, so we’ll definitely come back again and tour the whole country in a campervan. We’ll also be sure to go in their summer so that it doesn’t just feel like England!

Posted by charlotter45 11:10 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rain volcano cold Comments (0)

I left my heart in Tokyo

A photo blog of our time in Tokyo

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All I'm going to say about Tokyo is this: It's crazy, it's weird, it's busy, it's expensive, but we LOVED it and cannot wait to go back another time!

I really couldn't cut down my hundreds of photos less than this, so this blog is going to be loads of photos and very little talking!

Day 1:

After arriving on the bullet train we dumped our bags at the hostel and went to look around the Skytree. This only opened last week and is the tallest tower in the world. This is a different record to 'tallest building' and is no where near as tall at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, so it was a little disappointing! There was a shopping centre there though and some fun interactive games.

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The Skytree by day and by night

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Us (unexpectedly) ending up as Japanese warriors on a video screen!

We soon realised that you can buy a Hello Kitty version of pretty much everything, including dried fish and bento boxes!

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Day 2:

Today we spent the morning and afternoon walking around Ginza and Roppongi, two of the main shopping districts. Ginza has the biggest Uniqlo in the world and we ended up buying quite a lot of clothes there!

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One of the 13 floors just sold cool t-shirts

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Our lovely shopping bags

In the evening we went to see a Tokyo Giants baseball game. It was really fun and the atmosphere was great, but the game itself was a bit crap. The best part was that you could take your own beer in and they even poured it into a nice cup for you! The game was at the Tokyo Dome, which is an indoor stadium where the roof is held up only by air - the pressure inside is 0.3% higher than outside! It's so odd; your ears pop on the way in and when they opened the doors to get out at the end the rush of wind from the air going to the lower pressure was so strong, they had people positioned to catch you as you flew out of the door!

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Guess who one of the team mascots is... Hello Kitty of course!

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Enjoying the atmosphere

After the game we went to get dinner at a shopping centre that had a rollercoaster and log flume going through it:

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Day 3:

Today we went to Disneyland Tokyo and it was so awesome! All the childhood memories came back in an instant and I couldn't believe it had been 11 years since I last went to Disneyland. Almost all of the Japanese visitors dressed up for the occasion in Disney t-shirts and Minnie Mouse ears, and they bought bags and bags full of merchandise!

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Smiley faces on Big Thunder Mountain- not the same without Dad filming it and losing his hat though!

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In front of the Magic Castle and the Easter themed decorations

All the Japanese people loved the t-shirt Stephen is wearing the in photo above! He bought it at Uniqlo and had no idea what it said, but after people pointing, laughing and high-fiving him all day we decided to look it up. Apparently it says 'Pom Juice', which is a very popular brand of orange juice in Japan. We still thought it was weird that this provoked such a reaction from random passers-by!

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It's a Small World - my favourite childhood ride and still just the same (except the song alternated between Japanese and English!)

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The Dreamlights parade was way better than I remember it from 11 years ago, but I guess technology has improved significantly since then

Day 4:

We started our day visiting the Tokyo Stock Exchange was I thought was pretty interesting. The trading floor closed many years ago but they still have a big screen with all the market movements and some analysts checking for any big changes. There was another room you could go in which explained all about the history of the stock exchange and how it currently works.

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The old trading floor

We then walked over the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba island. We got a good view of the Tokyo skyline from the bridge:

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We stopped for lunch in a park by a man-made beach, where I had sushi style sandwiches!

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Next up was a cat cafe - I've wanted to do this since I read about it in a newspaper article last year. You basically pay by the hour to go into a room where there's a lot of cats! It's a pretty popular thing and they have them all over the place as people can't really have pets of their own in Tokyo as their apartments are so small.

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Enjoying my ice coffee with a side of cat

We then went to Venus Fort, a shopping centre for girls! It was modelled on an Italian city and the roof changed colour every 15 minutes to look like the sky - very tacky!

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Venus Fort

The female-friendly shops there included a pedigree puppy and kitten petshop and 'Hello Kitty's Kuwaii (Cute) Paradise'

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My favourite puppy

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Hello Kitty shop - there was even a cafe in here where you could buy Hello Kitty shaped pancakes!

In the evening we went to Shinjuku. This turned out to be the Tokyo of my dreams - busy, flashy and weird!

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The main street in Shinjuku

Day 5:

Stephen got up at 3:30am this morning to go to the fish market to see the tuna auction and get some good sushi. I stayed in bed as I'm not the biggest fan of fish at the best of times, let alone when it means walking for an hour at 3am!

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Tune at the auction

When Stephen had got back and had a bit more sleep we headed to Shibuya for a wander around. This is another major shopping district and contains the world's busiest pedestrian crossing. Unfortunately the picture below is the best I got, and it wasn't even very busy then, but you get the idea!

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We then walked to Harajuku, which was actually a bit of a disappointment. We expected all of the weird and wonderful of Tokyo to be here, but it was just exactly like walking around Camden! We didn't see any of the 'Harajuku Girls' who go to stand on a bridge over the railway in their weird clothes. It was a Saturday afternoon so we thought there'd be some, but apparently they all do it on a Sunday :(

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Takeshita Street - the main street in Harajuku

The only odd thing were the amount of 'Idol Shops' on Takeshita street. These are shops that just sell pictures of pretty girls who are in 'bands' or are models and it's mainly middle-aged men that buy them - very weird!

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An idol shop

On our way back we stopped to get ice cream at a build-your-own-sundae place. Stephen was determined to make the weirdest, most Japanese ice cream possible and this is what he came up with:

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Black sesame ice cream with rice balls, beans and green tea sauce!

Day 6:

Today we only had a few hours in the morning before we had to go to the airport but we wanted to make the most of them so we went to Akiabara - the main electronics, anime and general geek district. It was pretty cool at the street was closed for cars on a Sunday, it felt strange walking in the street in Japan as they are usually very strict about jaywalking! There were loads of arcades here with weird and wonderful games, some of the more serious games had really long queues of people waiting to play!

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We stuck to the fun games

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Arcade game where the prize was salami!

There were lots of shops that sold models and these were very weird. I won't put up any pictures as this blog might get flagged as being inappropriate, but alongside models of trains, cars and tv characters there were models of naked women in positions you don't even want to imagine! We found this odd that they weren't hidden from view and were right at the front of the store in the same section as the model trains and cars, like there as no difference and nothing weird about it at all :/

We stopped off at a convenience store on the way to the airport to buy some snacks for the place and came out with this random selection:

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I can't wait to go back to Japan, it's been one of my favourite places so far and just so different from anywhere I've ever been. Although the people don't speak much English they are all so friendly and willing to help if you look a bit lost or confused. We really didn't want to leave and get on the plane to cold, rainy New Zealand :(

Posted by charlotter45 20:56 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo baseball japan city Comments (0)

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