Nara: feisty deer and lots of lanterns

After Koyasan, I headed to Nara for a couple of nights. Landed myself in a nice hostel again (Oak Hostel Nara) as it had fairly good reviews on Booking.com – it was clean and the dorm again was similar to what I’d stayed in before – there were about 16 people in this one. It was good value for money. After making my way to the station with a few changes, I arrived at around 12, dumped the bag off and went straight out again. I grabbed some gyoza at Nara station en route to Horyuji where there was a massive temple complex. This housed the oldest wooden structure in the world – 1400 years old. It was amazing considering so many of Japan’s temples had been lost in natural disasters over the centuries. It was fairly grand and also contains some of the country’s most treasured Buddha statues. IMG_4064IMG_4067IMG_4069IMG_4070IMG_4074IMG_4078I travelled back late afternoon on the train and did some much needed laundry at the hostel. I found a little place near the hostel to grab some food. I had tuna misoyaki which was yum and some edamame beans. IMG_4094The next day was spent exploring Nara park which is what Nara is primarily famous for. There are a lot of tame deer who will nip you if you’re not careful and haven’t fed them some “deer crackers” which you can buy from vendors for 150 Yen. They are feisty! There are signs around warning you that they will bite and possibly charge you to get what they want. I did get chased by a couple, but you have to manage them before there is a chance of them eating you alive. No where near as nice as the chilled out deer in Richmond Park. I didn’t realise, but they are meant to be messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion. IMG_4098IMG_4169IMG_4235There are a lot of temples to see in the park, as well as a couple of pretty gardens. I walked to Todai-ji temple where the famous big Buddha is. It is one of the world’s largest bronze Buddha statues (called Vairocana or Daibutsu) and the temple is the largest wooden structure in the world (and this was one that is now smaller, after a previous one was burned down). There was a museum nearby, so saw a lot of 7th and 8th century Buddha statues which were very ornate and in good condition – you can imagine how colourful and bright they would have been. The detail of the expression on the faces is incredible. These statues are often referred to as protectors of the Buddha in the temple – I guess that’s why they look so fierce and imposing. IMG_4119IMG_4123IMG_4124IMG_4138IMG_4133To give some sort of perspective – the hole in this pillar is the same size as one of the Buddha’s nostrils. Apparently, those who can climb through it will be granted enlightenment in the next life. So, a lot of children should be ok then!IMG_4139This statue is meant to represent Binzuru-Sama. You rub the part of his body that you is giving you pain on yours and it is meant to get better.IMG_4149IMG_4161IMG_4162IMG_4174IMG_4179IMG_4196IMG_4218IMG_4220After seeing a couple of other temples which housed important national treasures, I found myself at Kasuga-Tanisha shrine. The first thing that struck me was the amount of stone lanterns on the way up to the shrine mixed with the free roaming deer. There were also a lot of golden and bronze lanterns inside the shrine hanging from the ceilings. These have been donated by worshippers. The structure of the shrine was quite big and square, and it was completely red. Red is an important colour in Japan – it is meant to prevent evil spirits from entering. There was also a darkened room full of hanging lit lanterns which was very sombre and atmospheric – a place to contemplate and pray. I then walked all the way to the Heijo Palace remains in the west of the city. There wasn’t too much to see but you could certainly get an idea of the size of the place. Lots and lots of walking completed so far. Average walk of 11 miles a day! Had some more amazing food at a little place I found. I could get used to this! Also went to a traditional tea house and tried some green tea. I still don’t think I’m a fan of tea, although I am trying! IMG_4241IMG_4243

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Japan wow! Himeji and Osaka

Japan, you have thrown me. Completely. From the heated toilet seats to the endless warm flannels and taking off/putting on shoes. I’ve only been here 5 days, but it’s enough to see a stark contrast. From Miyajima, it was a train ride back to Hiroshima to catch a crowded Shinkansen to Himeji, en route to Osaka. I was able to dump my large bag in a locker in the station – I was definitely not going to carry it around with me all day! I went to Himeji castle which was built originally as a fort in the 14th century and completed as a castle in 1609. The structure has withstood all natural elements, although there has been some restoration work done from time to time. It is quite imposing as it stands alone on top of a hill. You can climb to each floor and see the inside structure. A scale model was made to illustrate the detail in preparation for restoration. There are racks that weapons were stored in and a couple of slits in the walls that were used for defence. I also visited a lovely little set of gardens close by which were very pretty and peaceful. IMG_3713IMG_3719IMG_3723IMG_3724IMG_3732IMG_3743IMG_3751IMG_3758IMG_3760IMG_3766IMG_3770IMG_3776From Himeji, it was another bullet train to Shin-Osaka, and a local train to Osaka station. This rail pass is so great – it’s getting me everywhere! It even got me on the ferry to Miyajima island. My hostel in Osaka was fairly close to the station, but I still managed to get lost. I ended up walking for ten minutes in the wrong direction because I came out of the wrong exit. Drop Inn hostel was fairly decent. In a 10 bed dorm with individual cubicles was nice although it did mean I slept with both of my bags for company at night as there was no bag storage area – just a little cupboard in the cubicle to lock your valuables in. It had a screen so there was a fair amount of privacy. 2 nights here was fine. After some sorting, I headed out to explore. It was late afternoon by this point so there was no need to do anything too much, I ventured into Dotonbori by metro (a challenge in itself – almost got quite lost) which was the Leicester Square of Osaka, although much more colourful, large and noisy than London. I’d never seen anything like it in my life.IMG_3778My bed for a couple of nights! The dorms are actually quite nice – the beds are quite private.IMG_3787IMG_3790IMG_3791IMG_3792IMG_3794

Big objects on the walls above food places illustrate the main selling point (I assume, anyway) e.g. Crab/squid. There was lots of shops in arcades too. There were so many food places to choose from. Especially down little alleyways off the main drag. IMG_3824There was one little street which was meant to be the oldest street and there was a temple nearby. This temple was called Hozen-ji Temple and was just off the Main Street in Dotonbori. IMG_3819You get this a lot, I think, in Japan where you can turn down a little side street and come across a small temple or shrine. IMG_3910This was tuna that I had in a sushi place on the main street in Dotonbori. It proved to be fairly popular as there was constant queues.2017-06-IMG_3840Above: prawn tempura. Below: gyoza – pork, I think. They were so yummy that I had some more the next day!2017-06-IMG_3841Below: an assortment of sushi – salmon, tuna and some rolls.IMG_3918Below: Salmon sashimi which is basically raw salmon. Fairly decent, and healthy!IMG_3842Eventually found something to eat after wandering around for ages. It was a little place down a side street which wasn’t too crowded and decent food. I went back there the following day. I’m still walking around 10 miles a day on average. The next day, I got up early and headed out to Osaka castle. My alarm went off which I really hated, but I wanted to make the most of the day. Had a couple of coffees before heading out. I caught a JR train, so I could use my pass, from Osaka to Oskajokoen and walked through the park. I was still feeling tired which was annoying. I’ve noticed that there are trains with women only carriages – apparently this was to ward off lewd conduct. The castle was imposing, although not as much as Himeji. It sits in the middle of a park surrounded by gates and moats. The construction was started in the late 16th century. Inside was a series of exhibitions about the history of the castle and you can climb to the top for an impressive view. IMG_3864IMG_3866IMG_3867IMG_3868I then took another JR train to Teradacho where I could walk to Tennoji which is a big temple complex. One of Japan’s oldest temples is here (called Shitennoji).  I was able to go to the top of the pagoda and have a look around the many temples. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take many photos around the religious sights. IMG_3882IMG_3884IMG_3885I then wondered back to Dotonbori via a different path. There was a bit of town which was the ‘gaming’ part. There was a Namco store so I had a peek inside to see how it compared to the one in London. I expected the usual sort of thing – air hockey etc, but I was very wrong…..It was amazing. There were so many teenagers in there (and smoking was permitted upstairs) and they appeared to have some sort of loyalty card or a pre paid thing. The way that their fingers moved around the screen when they played the musical games was so quick!IMG_3892IMG_3893IMG_3895 I walked into another arcade and had a quick massage on a chair and then found a little tribute to Alice in Wonderland shop.IMG_3916IMG_3834IMG_3833 I did some research about how to get from Osaka to Koyasan the following day using some free wifi. I was still knackered so I was looking forward to some peace and quiet! After a bit more food, I headed back to the hostel early to sort stuff. Early night required for another early start!

The Inca Trail

An early start in the chill was our introduction to the 4 day hike to Machu Picchu. A bus took us 45 mins from Ollantaytambo to the start of the trek. It only costs around 300 soles (£75) to actually do the trek which isn’t a lot! After a bit of organising, we set off with our guide leading the way. There is a weight restriction on the amount of luggage you can take with you as there are porters who carry it for you to the campsite – they are absolute machines as they carry around 20kg on their back, leave after you leave, and arrive at the campsite before you do – I felt so inadequate! They are absolute machines and legends! It’s 44km over 3.5 days, which I know doesn’t sound too far, but dealing with altitude, varying weather conditions and steep ascents/descents makes it the challenge.IMG_2316IMG_2320IMG_2322IMG_2323The walk itself was only 11km but was up and down hill a bit. Reached an altitude of 3100m having started at around 2650m. It gave us a good idea of what to expect over the following days. We were fortunate enough to see a few Inca ruins along the way – they suddenly appeared out of no where and the views were stunning.

The food was amazing and continued to be for the whole trip – we were definitely spoilt! I was used to eating cold baked beans out of a tin, not having amazing soup and a plate of rice, beef stew and veg, along with “Happy Hour” which consisted of several cups of tea and cheese crackers and jam. Early nights on all three evenings was a necessity as we were all so tired.IMG_2327IMG_2336IMG_2344IMG_2352IMG_2358IMG_2394IMG_2395The second day was much more of a challenge – the morning was all about climbing. Went up 1000m to 4200m and reached Dead Woman’s Pass in under 5 hours. It was such an achievement – a hard one both physically and mentally. The altitude affects the lung capacity more than you may think although the recovery is a quick one. I also had a couple of odd dreams too. The rain came down when we started the descent so it was poncho time! It made the steep steps quite slippery. We had to keep ourselves motivated and the reward at the end was great. I thought I’d be a lot worse and find it harder than I did. The spin classes have clearly paid off! IMG_2369IMG_2372IMG_2375IMG_2376IMG_2379IMG_2383IMG_2390Day 3 was another early start – this was going to be the longest day (16km) and mostly downhill which isn’t easy sometimes – down 1000m to 2500m. My quads were starting to feel the burn on this day. I didn’t use walking poles on the second day so relied entirely on leg power. We started uphill which was ok but I was definitely slower – tiredness was beginning to sink in. The group tended to separate a bit depending on the different paces, but we all met again at various points. Going down was a huge challenge – I slipped over a few times down the wet steps and near some steep cliff drops which was frightening. Now have 2 elegant bruises on both bum cheeks. I ended up getting frustrated with myself that I kept on slipping over or coming close to it so got a bit emotional. But as the day went on, I grew in confidence and was fine by the end of the day – it takes a while to adjust to focus on where you put your feet. Everyone else was feeling the fatigue too.IMG_2411IMG_2420IMG_2421IMG_2425IMG_2437IMG_2438IMG_2447IMG_2451The final day – we were woken up at 03:30 to get through the final checkpoint as early as possible. This meant waiting in a line at the checkpoint for an hour in the dark. But it would be worth it. The views along the way were incredible. You were never tired of the scenery around you – 360 degrees of mountains, waterfalls, luscious grass – almost jungle like in parts. The walking on the last day was great in comparison. Easy up and down with some narrow parts. We finally reached the Sun Gate and had the most incredible view of Machu Picchu as the clouds cleared and the sun was rising. Another 45 mins on our feet and we made it! It was hard to take it all in. Of course, we were all shattered by this point and had to contend with a huge amount of tourists. Walking around the site made me realise how massive it is in comparison to other Inca ruins we had visited along the way. We explored the major temples and wandered around.The sun was fairly fierce and it was so early in the morning.IMG_2483IMG_2488IMG_2498IMG_2528IMG_2535IMG_2539IMG_2545IMG_2548IMG_2549IMG_2557IMG_2561_Copy(1)

Things I have learned to love and appreciate:

1) Oxygen

2) A toilet I can sit down on

3) The power of the legs

4) Face wipes & deodorant

It was the most amazing journey and I valued that more than visiting the big site itself. It suddenly hits you once you’ve completed it. Sitting in the town afterwards having a celebratory lunch was great fun. Back to civilisation – aka Wi-Fi!

Small victories!

Cycle in Richmond Park before night shift completed on Sunday. And then good gym session at work. Arms are now sore!

Spin class done before work today as well as menial tasks. Eating better and less too.

Definitely being more organised with my time and I’ve been in touch with someone to help me fit my bathrooms out.

So, yes. Feeling good. May this positive and productive streak continue! Onwards and upwards!

Organising a trip to see family friends in Ireland again too next month. Will be good to get away for a weekend with some fresh sea air and it was so nice when I went there last time.


Cycling is the way forward!

I read an interesting article the other day in The Independent which emphasised the benefits of walking and/or cycling to work, paying particular emphasis on the lower body fat of individuals compare to drivers. Since moving closer to work a couple of years ago, I have relished the energy and the new lease of life that I now seem to have, and it is in part due to this. Even though my cycle is only ten minutes, it wakes me up in the morning and allows me to focus on something else after a hard day at the office. Here is the article.

In Central London, it has been known to be a controversial topic due to the amount of injuries or arguments with drivers. But the amount of cycle routes and highways allow for more safety and less disruption. I have only cycled in the centre a few times, but I felt the pressure to move off quickly and flit around the traffic. Where I live, there is not so much chaos so I don’t feel so vulnerable. Besides, the river provides amazing scenery when it is seen at dawn.

I’ve recently invested in some road bike shoes (even managed to sort the cleats myself!) in preparation for road bike fun. I’ll have a go with them tomorrow on a spinning bike in the gym.

 

Cycling is something that’s changed my life for the better. I’m healthier and fitter than I was this time 2 years ago, and I hope to improve my general wellbeing even more. So back on the healthy eating and the miles in the saddle it is! 

Cycling again!

Yes. I’ll be doing a lot more of this soon. I say soon. I mean from June. But that’s fairly soon I think comparatively speaking – I’m not quite sure where last year went..!

I’m doing the long route (103 miles) of the London Cycle Sportive in June. It’ll be close to a year since I did my first ever event which was the 25 mile version of the same ride. I remember being incredibly nervous and not sure what I was letting myself in for as I had only really started cycling (or doing any form of exercise at all) 6 months prior. It was an amazing feeling to end in the Herne Hill Velodrome and it gave me confidence that I could do some sort of physical competition, having never been good at any exercise before.

I’ve also entered into the ballot for the London-Surrey 100 at the end of June which I really want to do! I think I hear fairly soon as to whether I have a place. If not, I might try and get a charity one but I’m not sure how much I would be able to fundraise, as I did a fair amount last year.

I did my first long ride in 3 months yesterday – can’t believe I left it that long. You can only make so many excuses so often e.g. the weather was bad/the holiday period etc. I still did 60 miles and did Box Hill again and I really enjoyed the challenge and the long climbs. I definitely need to have more goals to keep me on the straight and narrow! It really helps having something to work towards, and I do need to lose a bit more weight – I’ve been stuffing my face full of rubbish and I know it 😦 bad times.

60 miles

A new road bike (yikes, more money!) is definitely required. I’m still on my chunky hybrid, and even though I’m getting good speeds and distances, I know I could do a lot better. Hello credit card?

So where do I start..?

To know what you want from life, you have to be honest with yourself. Otherwise you won’t get anywhere. In October last year, I was told by my partner’s grandmother, that “You have a pretty face, but you’re a bit fat, aren’t you?”. Although perhaps insulting, this blunt statement fueled a determination to eventually do something about my weight that I had been carrying far too long.

So I did it.

In 6 months, I shed 3 stone.

And I feel all the better for it. I guess the weight had started to creep on from University days – a  combination of cheap unhealthy food, too much alcohol, no exercise, and a lazy existence with the boyfriend at the time, who was also lazy. Looking back, I wish things had been different – I should have worked harder. I should have got off my a*rse. Hindsight is an amazing thing.

But if the comment hadn’t been made, I don’t know whether the determination to get healthy would have happened. So I should be thankful, I guess. It has changed my life for the better. I have taken up cycling and recently competed in a 55 mile event. I actually did about 70 miles in the end as I accidentally got lost. But on the plus side, I never dreamed that I would be able to have that sort of stamina. I wasn’t the fastest, and I don’t think I ever will be (I’m blaming the short legs and the heavy hybrid bike I have for this….obviously…) but this was such an improvement from a year ago when I was out of breath running for a bus.

I’ve signed up to do a couple of 100 mile events next year. Hopefully I can train for them! I need to bite the bullet and actually buy a road bike instead of telling myself I will at some point. I have to confess, I don’t like spending money on big things – I recently had to replace my boiler and that has knocked me financially a little bit! But it needed to happen.

I’ve got a bit of internal struggle going on at the moment with wanting to lose more weight, but have reached a plateau where it’s not quite happening. I know I’m an emotional eater, so because I’m annoyed and disappointed that I’m not losing any more, I’ll eat something and everything will turn into a downward spiral. Not sure how to get out of this one! I’m sure it’ll be ok in the end and the extra few pounds will go eventually. I guess I need another blunt statement.

Anyone?

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I like to think so 😉
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Something to think about
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Definitely know that feeling!
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Yes! BURN!
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Know this feeling too!
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Anything is possible