Forget the reserve of Japan, it’s a different world in Korea, with chaos and emotion raw and infecting. Middle aged travellers may prefer Japan, but the young will love the energy here.
Moments we didn’t see in Japan……. On the tube, a harassed mother shouting to her boy. Sitting on a bus, the driver remonstrating with a car blocking a narrow road. In the street, teenage girls in the tiniest shorts adjusting their hair. In a taxi, the attitude that makes you demand to be let out.
As well as the people, Korea’s second city is a simmering kaleidoscope of buildings; new and old, battered and glistening. The concrete and neon feels alive, on the go and changing in front of your eyes. Getting higher, getting wealthier, getting more global.
And we’ve noticed a big generational difference here. Many older people are missing out on the progress, sitting on the pavement selling their fruit, whilst the younger people are amongst the best educated in the world, totally online with a global perspective. The mums look bemused and weary, whilst their kids scan smartphones for the latest music, trend or happening.
We used the excellent bus and metro system to get around, and enjoyed particularly walking along Gwangalli Beach at dusk past the karaoke performers, with the millions of LEDs on Gwangan Bridge flashing away, the view of the city from the rugged coastline at Igidae, and a visit to Gamcheon Culture Village.
Flying from the Outback to Sydney was in itself a culture shock. Now we are in Tokyo, the largest urban area in the world with 37m people, 13m more than the whole of Australia! It’s contrasts like this that makes this gap year so amazing.
For both of us, it’s our first time in Japan, so here are our initial observations….
It’s hot and sticky, oppressively at times. Temperatures are in the mid 30s Celsius but it’s the humidity that’s making us so tired walking around the streets. Today we took refuge in the Tokyo National Gallery to keep cool.
For some reason, in our planning, we were led to believe that Japan would be our most expensive country. It’s not, that honour definitely goes to Australia. Instead, we’re finding it relatively cheap to buy food from supermarkets and back street cafes. Also getting around isn’t too expensive thanks to passes specially aimed at encouraging tourism.
We expected to be overwhelmed with noise and people. Instead, there’s an air of calmness, perhaps flowing from the character of the Japanese, who value conformity and living in harmony over individuality. No one seems to rush. No one pushes into you. No one talks loudly. Manners are everything here.
It’s so easy to get around, thanks to the extensive tube network. In fact we’ve been really impressed by the wayfinding system used on the metro. With every line denoted by a letter, and every station by a number, you don’t need to understand Japanese writing.
This city must have the lowest police presence of any city we have visited this year. No policemen with sub-machine guns here, for the only police we have seen are over 50 years old, cycling around on old bikes. But then everyone is very obedient; no one even jay-walks.
There’s plenty of urban shabbiness, but everywhere is so clean. There is no graffiti or down and outs anywhere, and smoking as you walk along the pavements is outlawed. On every street there’s a person sweeping and at the Meiji–gingū park several old men are continually raking the gravel to perfection.
If we stand somewhere studying our maps, looking vaguely lost, people will inevitably come up and help us. People seem genuinely interested in helping us out and then chatting to us in English.
We were going to spend just a couple of nights here in our hostel, but as we are enjoying it so much, we’ll stay for a third.
Darwin is a fun place to spend a few days. There’s a relaxed, quiet feel to the centre, and new developments have created a stylish waterfront precinct. We’re here for six days exploring some of the sights, swimming in the free lagoon area, and languishing in our Airbnbs during the heat of the day.
After three months in North America, Sydney feels so European. Maybe, because we are in the middle of winter. Maybe, because of the amount of Victorian buildings; which massively surprised Roger who hasn’t been here before.
Thankfully, and eventually, the clouds cleared, and we enjoyed strolling around this most attractive of cities in the sun. We also had planning to do. Where would we go in this vast country? Even though we are here for four weeks, because of the huge distances, we’ll need to decide what we really want to see. The Great Barrier Reef, the Outback, the Gold Coast, or the cities.
A short 30min up and down flight took us from sleepy Maui to bustling O’ahu.
It felt good to be backpackers again, catching the Honolulu bus, and mixing with the locals. We were heading to a hostel, a couple of blocks from Waikiki beach, that probably cost a quarter of the rate of the next door international hotel.
We could have been in Cannes or Dubai, if it wasn’t for the beautifully bronzed carrying their surfboards under their arm to the beach. And for the Japanese and Chinese tourists this is where you shop, take mini-bus tours and eat out in stylish restaurants.
In comparison, we used the time to throw away our worn-out clothes, update this blog, and plan the next stage of the gap year. But this didn’t stop us going out for swims on Waikiki Beach and eating from an authentic Chinese street cafe.
We’d both been to LA before, but at the time when you didn’t go downtown. It was pretty-well a no-go area for tourists back in the 80s. So that’s were we headed now, and it was a revelation. Perfect for an afternoon stroll and everyone looked happy, even the homeless looking less desperate than up north.
In particular, in the sunlight, the stunning architecture impressed. Most notably for us the 1930s City Hall, Pershing Square, the inside of the stunning Bradbury Building and the ultra-modern Walt Disney Concert Hall.
And now we deserved a celebratory drink. Over 34 life-affirming days, we had travelled from Portland to Los Angeles in our lovely Grande Cherokee 4×4 experiencing incredible landscapes and sights. Oregon we could live in. California we would love to visit every year.
Walled country clubs and over 100 golf courses have replaced the “Rat Pack”, but Palm Springs still has charm. Everywhere is manicured, even the palm trees, and the boutiques, galleries and restaurants delight the tourists.
But we didn’t experience it at its Spring best – in June it’s simply too hot, although water misting systems cool you as you walk around, looking a bit like a scene in Macbeth. But they don’t keep out the polluted air from LA that gets channelled down the Coachella Valley.
Memorial Weekend in America’s most European city, 60 years on from the Summer of Love. The squares were full of youngsters picnicking. Golden Gate Park full of families and couples out for a stroll or a cycle.
We stayed airbnb in the desirable Noe Valley area, taking the J line tram into downtown. Joined by Hilary’s sister Stephanie we simply enjoyed being tourists.
Built on 43 hills, this is a city with views. Also a place with charm and elegance. We were surprised how many of the historic buildings survive.
Puddletown. It’s an appropriate nickname for Portland as it rains here three out of every four days.
Walking along the Walamette riverfront and around Downtown was all a bit miserable. So we kept drier by visiting the art gallery, the local history museum, the largest independent bookshop in the world and lots of cafes. This is a city with a strong sense of community and lots of raincoats.