It’s not often that I get my brother to come out and visit me here in Gordon’s Bay, but on the odd occasion that I do, it is imperative that the girls and I do something out and about with their ‘favourite uncle’. Luckily, small as it may be, there are more than just one or two pretty things to look at when visiting here in Gordon’s Bay.
On this particular visit of his, we decided to head up for a stroll at the Steenbras Water Treatment Plant Lookout Point, which involves taking a short drive up the mountain overlooking Gordon’s Bay, followed by a walk along a narrow ridge (if you are brave/steady enough) to a clearing that gives you a great view of the treatment plant itself, not to mention an even better view over good old Gordon’s Bay.
A nice addition to the lookout point is the recently installed granite map of False Bay that the local Rotary Club has donated and installed, a great guide to all the major points along this important Cape Town geographical landmark.
Anyway, piggyback rides exhausted, our next stop was back down the mountain and on to the old harbour. (In case you didn’t know, Gordon’s Bay is surprisingly the proud owner of two small harbours!)
Pretty boats in water, what’s not to like? So, two reasonably nice and relaxing sights to see, and one out and about ‘adventure’ with the favourite uncle all done and dusted.
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Note: I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t take as many photos as what I normally do when out and about sightseeing, but it probably had something to do with the fact that it annoys Ryan to no end when I constantly whip out the phone whenever I spot something new! ;)
As for the rest of the day, it was probably spent braaing and playing XBOX games – you know as adult brothers tend to do.
Related Link: Gordon’s Bay
It has been a good couple of years now since Terrance left our sunny shores for a life of teaching English in Japan, and while I have been over there once so far for his wedding, I pretty much rely on his annual(ish) visit to South Africa to catch up and learn all about his interesting life in the Land of the Rising Sun.
So as you might imagine, I was quite pleased to discover that he dropped into the country for a couple of days in February, so much so that I immediately suggested getting together for a nice breakfast at Vergelegen Wine Estate – an experience that he was instantly onboard for!
Established in 1700, the historic and beautiful Vergelegen Wine Estate in Somerset West is a must visit if you’ve never been there before, and it was a great treat for both Ryan and Terrance, neither of whom had been there before. We enjoyed a leisurely and delicious breakfast (complemented with extremely expensive water I might add), before shuffling along and taking in the sights of the estate.
(I did my best to keep up on my crutches, but eventually I set the two free to go and explore while I worked my way slowly back to the car park!)
Following that, the three of us next headed over to Somerset Mall, where we caught an afternoon screening of Deadpool – which was surprisingly good. They really, really captured the essence of the character for the movie, with Ryan Reynolds proving to be the perfect actor for the role. (That sequence of him punching Colossus literally had me wiping away the tears of laughter!)
The movie done, I next convinced them that going for an ice cream with Chantelle would be a great idea, so after a bit of a wait at home for her to finish up with work, the three of us left and headed out to Gordon’s Bay beach.
Only… the wind had picked up a bit in the meantime, meaning that in the end we swapped out soft serve on the beach for ice cream in the safety of the Spur – which turned out perfectly fine as well!
And yes, once again I took many, many pictures at the beautiful Vergelegen Estate:
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Related Link: Vergelegen Wine Estate
We were lucky to be able to spend a day alone with Terrance before the wedding, and having already enjoyed some morning activities that included smacking baseballs at a batting cage in Ina, he next took us for a spin in his delightful new car to show us his daily commute to the school that he teaches at.
It’s a long drive, but with beautiful mountain countryside scenery wherever you look, one can’t really complain! However, it wasn’t just scenery or a school that he wanted us to see, instead, his ace up the sleeve was a stop in Iida, more specifically, a stop at a little place called Good Life Cafe.
The unassuming Good Life Cafe is a pizza and pasta restaurant run by Bobby Shipley, and is said to be the only genuine New York style pizza place in the entire Nagano prefecture!
In other words, if you want good pizza, then you go to Good Life Cafe.
Their menu is fantastic, the pizzas are indescribably good, and washing it down with some good Japanese spirits and beer – well, what more could you ask for?!
Not that we were finished with the tourist experiences yet mind you. After an enjoyable drive back to Komagane, a visit with his soon to be parent-in-laws (which is tricky given that neither Ryan nor I speak Japanese), the next stop for us was our very first ever visit to a proper Japanese onsen (hot spring bath).
(Note: Because everyone is naked, I have no photos of this awesome evening experience – just in case you are wondering about the distinct lack of photographic evidence!)
In truth, the bath experience was really enjoyable – relaxing and leaving your feeling like a million bucks afterwards – even if you kind of have to get over the fact that you are completely naked in a room full of naked strangers, all rather intrigued because as a foreigner you kind of stick out like a sore thumb. (Thankfully though, a decade of Virgin Active gym had me more or less okay with this! :P)
Right. So only photos of the pizza in the gallery then…
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Related Link: Good Life Cafe
Following a day of driving around the Kiso Valley, doing tourist things like viewing a historic post town, seeing a samurai museum, and partaking in the area’s specialty, soba noodles, the next day was to be a complete change of pace as Ryan and I got to spend a rare day alone with the groom-to-be.
So we went to hit a few baseballs.
Baseball is very popular in Japan – hugely so – meaning that we weren’t particularly surprised to find a batting cage in small little Ina (where we currently were based).
All three of us had played baseball together as boys, and so we were pretty keen to have a go at swinging the bat as adults. I certainly have never been to a batting cage before, so it was a pretty cool experience.
We started off with the slower pitches, and quickly worked our way up, where I’m pleased to say I actually managed to get quite a few hints in, even at high speed. Loads of fun!
(Top speed that we faced off against? 120 km/h! I’m impressed just saying that!)
Adjoined to the batting cage was a games arcade, and Terrance was pretty keen to get Ryan in on some rhythm games – which amazingly Ryan gave into! The arcade machines in Japan (as we had already seen in Tokyo) are amazing, and some quite complicated, and so we spent quite a bit of time wandering about the games area.
Also, how in the world can you say no to a game of air hockey?!?
We did some window shopping at a mall nearby, browsed a sports store, and most important of all, tucked into some delicious Baskin-Robbins ice cream – which has kind of been my thing all trip long! :)
Next up. A drive to a very special pizza place…
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Following our night time Yokohama walkabout, my brother Ryan and I found ourselves spending the first day on our own in Japan by taking a trip out to Bunkyo, Tokyo, in order to visit Tokyo Dome City, home of The Big Egg, otherwise known as Tokyo Dome!
Home of the Yomiuri Giants (the oldest baseball team among the current Japanese professional teams), Tokyo Dome is a 55,000-seat baseball stadium that first opened back in 1988. It is recognised as the world’s largest roofed baseball stadium.
Its original nickname is The Big Egg, stemming from the fact that thanks to its unique dome-shaped roof, it well… looks a bit like an egg. The roof itself is pretty interesting. It is an air-supported structure, with the flexible membrane covering being held up by a slight pressurization on the inside of the stadium.
Tokyo Dome forms part of what is known as Tokyo Dome City, an entertainment complex built on the grounds of the former Tokyo Koishikawa arsenal.
It features a number of other attractions, including a hotel, multiple sports arenas, the Japanese baseball hall of fame museum, spa, shopping center, amusement park (which is home to Big O, the world’s largest centreless Ferris wheel, and Thunder Dolphin, Tokyo’s largest roller coaster – that just happens to pass right through the center of aforementioned wheel!), video game centers, and the largest JRA WINS horse race betting complex in Tokyo.
We were of course the most interested in the baseball aspect of the complex, and as such spent plenty of time browsing through the baseball curio shops, with Ryan picking out a few nice items to bring back home with him.
And of course, as is Ryan’s international travel custom, out came the stuffed pig for a photo op:
Actually, the pig makes a pretty good model truth be told.
True, it doesn’t pay heed to any of the instructions that you might give, but generally it stays nice and still, holding pose for as long as you need it to.
Sadly, there weren’t any baseball games being played on the day that we were there, so instead of going inside the actual stadium, we ended up being lured away by the colourful LaQua building across the bridge…
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So day 1 of our Japan 2014 tour had been pretty awesome, and with tour guide Terrance still at our disposal for half a day, day 2 kicked off (after a delicious hotel breakfast of course) with a trip to Shinjuku, Tokyo!
Our target for the morning was the impressive Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which literally houses the headquarters of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which governs not only the 23 wards, but also the cities, towns and villages that make up Tokyo as a whole.
Of interest to us were the panoramic observation decks situated on floor 45 of this unique looking, immense skyscraper complex, which would allow us fantastic views of the highly developed commercial Shinjuku ward.
Coming from a small city like Cape Town, it was overwhelming to walk in the shadows of so many skyscraper and highrise buildings, and it is an absolute incredible sense of awe that one has walking through such an obviously productive area.
It’s impossible to miss the imposing Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, and after a lackadaisical bag check, we were ushered into the elevator and whisked up to the 45th floor, to an spacious observation deck outfitted with a restaurant, curio shop, and of course, lots of posters in anticipation of the 2020 Tokyo Games!
As expected, the views of Tokyo were phenomenal, and you eventually left the building now even more in awe at just how large the city of Tokyo actually is!
Oh, and did I mention that access to the observation deck was free? In other words, a definite tourist attraction if you ever find yourself in the Shinjuku area.
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Related Link: Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
So our first day in Japan (with Terrance as tour guide) was a pretty good one.
Temples, Towers, Robots and Baseball, one certainly couldn’t argue against us deserving a bite to eat and something decent to drink in order to cap off what had been a truly excellent day out and about – which is why after an enjoyable late night stroll around Yokohama and a bit of its waterfront area, we found ourselves entering a decidedly un-Japanese establishment.
Celts is literally a classic Irish sports bar – from the layout, signage, decor, finishing, right through to the large screen televisions (beaming UEFA Champions League soccer of all things) – in the middle of Yokohama, Japan!
Authentic pub food and a wide range of draft beers, cocktails, spirits and of course, whiskey. After all, you can’t have an Irish bar without whiskey, now can you?
(That said, you also can’t be in an Irish sports bar and not have a Guinness either – a situation Terrance and I quite quickly rectified!)
The food was good, the atmosphere pleasant, and it was a great way for us to put our feet up after a long day and deservedly relax a little.
(Terrance also introduced me to some of the local Japanese spirits, and on that note, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the varied beer and spirits that I encountered throughout Japan. They certainly have a healthy drinking culture and produce some great alcoholic beverages themselves!)
So yeah, Craig and Ryan, tourists in Japan, go to an Irish pub for supper. A good indicator that we’re not gastronomic tourists then…
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Having already enjoyed a jam-packed day in Tokyo that saw us wander around Zojoji temple, view Tokyo from above via the iconic Tokyo Tower, and stand in the shadow of a giant Gundam in front of DiverCity, we scurried back back to Yokohama to make it back in time for our evening date – a Japanese league baseball game between the Chunichi Dragons and home team, the Yokohama DeNA BayStars!
The circular-shaped, American-styled stadium was opened in 1978 and can seat 30,000 spectators. In addition to being the home ground for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars (it’s primary function), this multi-purpose stadium has also been used in the past to host sports like American football, as well as a number of large musical concerts – including the likes of Madonna, Michael Jackson and even Tina Turner performances.
As it turned out, this was actually the final game of the season, which meant a good fan turn out and a pretty decent game to boot (though if you’ve ever watched professional baseball before, you’ll know that sometimes it can be a bit on the boring side – which I guess is why they have such entertaining mascots – go DB,Rider! – and dancing girls!)
Japanese sports fans are extremely well mannered just by the way, meaning that you only shout when your team is up to bat, after which you give the opposing side fans a chance. No such thing as booing your opponents!
A particularly cool gimmick was these weird balloons that the BayStars fans let go during one of the breaks. Shaped a bit like sperm, the balloons make a whistling noise when let up in the air, making for quite a colourful sight/sound experience.
Sadly for our home team though, the cheering wasn’t enough and the Yokohama DeNA BayStars had to finish off the season with a crushing 4-1 defeat to the Dragons – a sad blow for DB.Rider and co.!
However, this being the end of the season meant that we were in for quite a treat.
After a live speech from the coach to the fans, an awesome season wrap-up film was shown on the big screen, followed by the team doing a lap around the stadium to thank the fans – during which the stadium was illuminated with nothing but the spectators’ cellphone LED lights!
And of course, what is a season ending game without a spectacular show of fireworks? :)
All in all, an absolutely brilliant way to spend our seconding evening here in Japan!
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Having seen Tokyo from above thanks to our trip up Tokyo Tower, we next started making our way towards Odaiba, the popular sightseeing and shopping district that is situated on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay!
In order to ensure the best views, we took a trip aboard the elevated Yurikamome train line, and indeed were treated to some spectacular views of first of Tokyo and then Rainbow Bridge itself as we cruised in towards Odaiba.
Our intended target was very clear, and beautiful walkways guided us to Odaiba’s DiverCity – and more importantly, the 18 meter high, life-size Gundam model standing guard in front of it!
If you are (or ever were) into anime then there is no way that you won’t get a kick out of seeing this gigantic, hulking figure spewing smoke and moving a couple of joints, all accompanied with a booming sound track and big screen visuals projected behind it.
(DiverCity actually hosts a big Gundam shop and a bit of a Gundam museum, so you can pretty safely say that this is sort of a Mecca for Gundam fans!)
Anyway, after our first official cup of coffee at one of Japan’s many coffee franchises, we headed into DiverCity to explore our very first Japanese shopping center – where we also encountered what was to become my little ‘thing’ for the rest of the trip – hunting down Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlours!
(This being Japan, the flavours are pretty out there. After all, Japan generally doesn’t do sweet, meaning some pretty interesting – if sometimes strange – flavours were waiting to be hunted down! Oh, and because it was getting close to Halloween, pretty much everyone had something spooky to go along. Turns out the Japanese are quite fond of co-opting American holiday customs!)
Also, we stumbled across a game arcade on one of the top floors – which excited Terrance to no end as he immediately made us challenge him at a drum beating rhythm game.
It did not go well for me.
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