Venice

14 Jun

When planning the trip we decided to avoid the hassle of air travel around Europe with its schlep out to airports far outside the cities you want to actually be in, security queues and 15kg luggage limits if you’ve opted for a budget fare. Travelling as a family we didn’t want to spend our time in a row staring at a seat back or screen when we could instead be looking out a window at the country side, getting a sense of the geography and sitting down to dinner in a dining cart instead of wrestling a tin foil wrapper off a tray. So we booked a cabin to travel overnight Paris to Venice. It was far from the Orient Express but the little people thought it was tremendous and we had the joy of waking up in the heart of Venice. 

We keep getting drawn back to Venice. While meandering along the Grand Canal this afternoon on the back of a ferry while the other Campbells had afternoon siestas I started to wonder why. Despite being saturated by tourists and pigeons it is the city for me that most easily evokes the grandeur of European history. Of course its own history was largely dark, sinister and debaucherous from the Doges to Napoleonic rule and beyond. In contrast to Venice’s opaque past, visually it is so very accessible. For the children it’s like wandering through a fairytale. It’s the first city they haven’t queried how far we have to walk even after being on foot all day and from the moment of waking have insisted we get out to explore. With gondoliers, glassblowing and bridges at every turn and no cars to impede their exploration, it’s no wonder they wander the narrow lanes gobsmacked. Almost every structure is a perfectly patinaed marvel in shades of terracotta and emerald and as the sun sets chandeliers illuminate glimpses of flocked wallpaper and tapestries within the palazzos that are tightly shuttered by day. 

Paris 

11 Jun

It wasn’t until we arrived in Paris that holiday mode truly set in. Arriving in our ivy and jasmine laced Marais apartment we started to feel bone deep relaxation and life suddenly felt easy. I have realised we enjoy Paris best when we’re not attempting to tick off a list of the sights but just savour the daily rituals. For the first time we’ve stayed in Le Marais and most days haven’t ventured much further. Home to the nobility until the 18th century in which its lessened circumstances saw it being home to only minor nobility and then abandoned by aristocrats completely after the revolution. It became home to Paris’ Jewish community, many of whom were amongst the estimated 76,000 French Jews who were deported between 1942 and 1944 to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Today its synagogues rub shoulders with restored grand mansions once belonging to nobles. Dotted amongst this history are boutiques, galleries and of course old fashioned velvet booth bistros. 

We’ve started each day with croissants from the same boulangerie, stumbled across small museums and markets and walked off copious amounts of cheese. The children have been fussed over in restaurants with little plates of gourges and caneles being brought out while we’ve feasted on moules frites and Grand Marnier soufflé. They’ve become enamoured with salade nicoise which they claim is vastly superior to tuna salad at home. Difficult to argue with that. The three year old has embraced oysters (spurred on by applause from wait staff it has become a repeat act) but turned his nose up at ‘stinky cheese’. We’ve been surprised by how tot friendly Paris is in the warmer months with little bistros dotted around squares where little ones play between courses. The most striking thing is we haven’t once seen a child being distracted with a phone or iPad. They’re either engaged in table conversation or frolicking with their peers in the square. 
After dinner we’ve been ending our days around the corner from our apartment in Place des Vosges, originally Place Royale, the oldest planned square in Paris. Each night the square is positively heaving with families. We expected regimented French parenting to be on show but instead in our neighbourhood parents take to the park at night with their brood for long picnic dinners to a soundtrack of champagne corks popping and children squealing. We have readily adopted the routine, ending long sunny days with peaches and a splash in the fountain long after bedtime.

Bittersweet London

11 Jun

I had some hesitation writing about our time in London for a few reasons. The biggest being the night we arrived and fell into a slumber at an embarrassingly early hour fuelled by jet lag and 24 hours of travel, the London Bridge and Borough Market attacks occurred. The other reason was travelling with 2 people under the age of 4 doesn’t leave much time to write. However it’s the latter that has made this trip so sweet as they clap with glee recognising landmarks and bask in an (almost) English summer. London to them is English strawberries, Big Ben, running through endless green parks that feel like daisy filled meadows, Paddington Bear, the warm rush of air as the tube pulls into the station, palaces and scrambling for seats at the front of the top of a double decker bus. London to them is a storybook come to life and seeing it through their eyes, especially now, is so precious. 

Homeward

29 Oct

   

Our final day was spent on another fast train, this time back to Tokyo. We spend the evening hopping between yakitori joints in the smoky alleys of Shinjuku, also the scene of our first night . Really just a lane of small shops, each housing a counter with 8 stools and some glorious bits of charcoal goodness. 
I’m excited about returning to our life in Melbourne, I’m thrilled that we had this experience as a family. Japan has been exotic, pushed us out of our comfort zone and made us feel like travellers again. The hand gesture has become a key communication tool over the past fortnight. It has also felt like a holiday in the true relaxing sense with many books read, ice creams eaten and naps taken. 
We’ve also just felt pure joy in watching our children travel and to see them mesmerised as they explore the world, see new things and meet new people. A relative once said the biggest developmental leaps happen when you’re on holiday and it has certainly been the case in our experience. Our toddler took to his pins when we went to France last year. This trip he’s refused to sit down, insisting on walking everywhere even when we’ve put in 10-15km days. He’s also started to really converse and being able to talk to him at the end of the day about what he’s seen or experienced has made travel richer. Our little baby has stopped being a newborn and started taking in the world around her. Even if they don’t remember a minute of this trip, I hope that they will learn that there is so much more to the world than what they know and that it is open to them to explore. 

 

Castles, hipsters and red meat

27 Oct

   

We begin our day with a stroll through Dontobori which is almost a ghost town compared to the frenzy of lights and people at night, on our way to Orange Street, a little slice of hipster Fitzroy in Japan. This street is all about the coffee, converted warehouse aesthetics and fixies. It is hardly bustling but that may be related to the Japanese hipster’s love of a late start. Those in attendance don what we have come to recognise as the hipster uniform in Japan – a striped t-shirt and chunky beanie, preferably with groovy thick rimmed glasses. 

After a caffeine hit we make our way to Osaka Castle. Twice destroyed the main castle was rebuilt only last century so is in remarkably good nick but the surrounding walls and structures (including two very impressive moats) date back to the 1600s. We go straight to the eighth floor of the castle for spectacular views of Osaka. 

In the evening we venture to Hozenji Yokocho, a shrine and historical alley tucked behind the neon lights of Osaka. The WHO findings today that cured meats, and to a lesser extent red meat, are linked to higher rates of cancer have put us in a defiant mood and we indulge in a final dinner of Japanese beef in all its marbled glory. The WHO conclusions seem to ignore that the studies they are based on couldn’t really separate the variables that may explain these higher cancer rates. That is it might not be the meat itself but factors associated with higher meat intake diets – low fibre, lower vegetable consumption, lack of physical activity and other factors associated with less healthy lifestyles that are responsible for the higher rates. We’ve unintentionally hedged our bets this trip with a mostly fish and veg diet so we indulge without guilt. Almost as delicious are the vegetable sides, so we manage to maintain some balance after all. 

  

unimpressed at being asked to pose for a snap

  

unintentionally donning the hipster uniform

    
    
    
   

Osaka

26 Oct

 
  Thanks to another fast train we raced from Kyoto to Osaka and in a mere 26 minutes found ourselves in Japan’s third largest city. The taxi from the station to our apartment gave us a glimpse of luxury shopping on a scale we haven’t seen in Melbourne with everyone from Mr Dior to Mr Vuitton reigning over a store that more closely resembled a mini shopping centre in size. 

In contrast we are situated in Dōtonbori, once the theatre district and still a hub for nightlife. We ventured out in the evening into an area whose planners may once have had a hand in amusement park design. The neon sign reigns supreme rivalled only by that of the mechanical variety. Mega sized crabs complete with waving claws, behemoth octopus and giant gyoza leave the diner in no doubt as to the cuisine offered within. The restaurants back onto the canal with another line of street food stalls in front to ensure all budgets are catered for. The people watching is pretty fantastic and leaves us in no doubt about the high level of selfie stick sales. We can’t believe the crowds given it is only Monday night. It’s a bit gritty, incredibly lively and very exciting!

    
   

  

  

  

  

  

  

Fushimi Inari

25 Oct

   
It’s our last day in Kyoto and we are wishing we could spend longer here. Perhaps it’s our affinity for second cities (or in this case a seventh city) but we’ve preferred the pace, scale and history to the capital. We were interviewed by a group of local volunteers who want to make Kyoto more accessible to tourists but in our view it is pretty perfect! The volunteers seemed to think more vegan and halal restaurants were required and less raw fish needed to be served to boost the tourist industry. We aren’t so sure. 

Today we made our way to what is perhaps the city’s most famous destination, the Fushimi Inari Shrine. It is more like a large compound of Shinto shrines that you visit as you climb your way up a mountain through a mesmerising corridor of vermillion tori gates. Luckily the toddler insisted on walking as it is not a pram friendly hike. As with many temples here we are struck by how closely commerce operates to religion with stallholders selling everything from dried blueberries to waving cat statues dotted along the mountain trail. The shrine or rather shrines are aesthetically striking but it doesn’t make for a calming temple visit, particularly with the frenzied weekend crowd. The vendor selling icy cold green tea though is a very welcome sight! 

Sunday lunch

    
  

ringing the bells