Enjoying Dun Laoghaire in the sun

I’m in Dublin for work right now, staying here until Thursday night. And lucky for me, I get to stay in the town where I grew up, Dun Laoghaire, which is south of the City. 

I landed to a surprising – but welcome! – amount of winter sunshine, so as soon as I’d unpacked and organised my hotel room, I headed out to walk the pier and enjoy some sunshine, while it lasted. 

Walking the pier was really a Sunday afternoon tradition when I was growing up here. And the crowds today showed that it’s still a popular venue for a walk and a natter. The town has changed a lot since I grew up here, but the coast is relatively unchanged. The pier still faces out towards Dublin Bay and you can follow the path along the coach to Sandycove – so I did!

I walked the length of the pier in record time, so took it a little easier as I made my way over to Sandycove and its Martello tower. And amazingly, despite the cold, there were some people swimming in the sea at Forty Foot. Colloquially known as the ‘Gentlemens’ Bathing Place’, Forty Foot was always known for all-year swimming and a contingent of gentlemen who preferred (and were allows) to swim ‘sans shorts’.  

I came back to my hotel via the new library, the Dun Laoghaire Lexicon. Its striking design is very different to everything around it, but I think it’s fabulous. I know it divided opinion, but I think it makes a bold and confident addition to how Dun Laoghaire faces out to the sea. 

Sun a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon. I love coming back to Dublin, especially when I can combine it with work. Now to catch up with some old friends and (hopefully) something to eat. 
 

A tale of two check-ins…

I’ve just checked-in to my hotel here in Dublin and had to share this…

I got a taxi out from the airport and had a surprisingly nice chat with the driver, considering we were discussing Brexit and Trump. We both felt a little helpless and both agreed that focusing on the sunshine was probably more productive, at least for today!

I realised when I got to my hotel that I was probably a little early to check-in and decided I’d only ask to leave my suitcase with them, so I could go for a walk by the sea (I’m staying in Dun Laoghaire, south of the City Centre). 

But I was checked in by the nicest, friendliest Brazilian girl, with whom I had a great chat about coming back home, how London compares to São Paulo and what Dublin is like for a Brazilian. 

We laughed, smiled and treated each other like humans. I got a free room upgrade, so I’m now in an executive room overlooking the sea. 

However, the woman checking in to my right had come from the US and was pretty much berating the staff member who was trying to tell her that her room wasn’t ready. I thought that maybe if she’d started with a smile, or a ‘hello’, the encounter might have gone so differently. 

But, no. As far as I know, she’s still waiting for her room and probably silently fuming at how she felt she was treated. Meanwhile, I’m in my room, admiring the sunny views over Dun Laoghaire pier, have unpacked and am planning a nice walk in the unexpected sun. 

I’ll also be leaving an excellent online review of the hotel, in the hope it goes some way to cancel out the negative one she’s inevitably going to leave. 

Winter blues: Craving the sun on my skin

Right now, I’m looking back on December a little wistfully. According to my (unreliable) memory, December 2016 was a lot milder and drier than January 2017. The last couple of weeks in London have featured some really bone-chilling weather and, despite the facts of the matter, I don’t see any longer ‘stretch’ in the evenings.

I miss the sun.

I know many people in this part of the world will be thinking something similar right now. But a conversation with a friend earlier this week really brought it home to me. Turning my face up to bright sunlight and sitting still in its rays is one of my most favourite things. I’m really impacted by my physical surroundings, for better or worse, and sunshine is something I’ll always move towards.

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Soaking up some sun on the last day of our visit to Tokyo, November 2016.

After spending time in the sun, I feel a wonderful mixture of recharged and relaxed. It’s like I’ve been literally ‘topped up’ by the solar energy and given a boost, but also a calming pat on the head.

Getting some more sun has been a priority for me over the last year. I mean, what’s the point of being your own boss if you an’t take off and soak up some rays when the weather’s good? Last year’s travels to Spain brought it home to me – the sun is good for me, I feel better when lying in the sun and so, I shall get more of the sun.

Every time I catch a glimpse of sunlight recently, I’m brought back to the long weekend I spent in Sitges by myself. Prepping for a few days of work in Barcelona, it was the perfect opportunity to unwind, lie on the beach and be alone with my thoughts.

In between my thoughts, or the occasional few minutes reading something on my Kindle, there was nothing by lying back and feeling sunshine on my skin, listening to the waves hit the shore and remember to occasionally roll over to avoid getting burnt.

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The utterly gorgeous Platja des Balmins in Sitges, Spain. In quieter times, last year. 

I also found some fellow travellers on that beach. People who spent the day there on their own, doing nothing but lying back and relaxing. They weren’t kicking footballs about, playing music or making noise. It seemed like they were there for some quiet appreciation of the sunlight and warmth – and, of course, to work on their tan.

We exchanged brief conversation from time to time, acknowledging each other’s solitary status and looking after each other’s belongings when one of us decided to take a dip in the sea to cool off. There was a mutual appreciation, I think, that we were here for the sunshine, in as pure a form as possible.

A couple of local people looked at me with a kind of sadness when I explained I live in London. “You must be so happy to see the sun” neatly summarises their response. “Yes,” I replied, grinning like I’d won the lottery.

And it’s not all about getting the chance to go ‘au naturel’ on a naturist beach. Yes, that’s nice, as I especially dislike seeing tan lines on my body. And swimming in a warm sea unencumbered by shorts is addictive once you start.

But also because sunbathing naked is my version of going against society’s grain and doing something most people won’t. My token act of rebellion each year. But you can’t do it everywhere, no matter how many World Naked Bike Rides are organised. And I don’t want to feature on the front page of the Evening Standard or be added to some kind of police register.

No. As the photo above illustrates (taken by @FrankDJS in Tokyo last year), I’ll sit in the sun whatever the temperature and whatever I’m wearing, just to turn my face up and close my eyes for a few minutes. To absorb a little sunshine and feel that little bit more energised.

So now, in the middle of a very cold and damp January, I’m craving sunshine and a solar recharging of my batteries – both physical and psychological. I won’t get to a beach until April, which seems very far away, so I’m hoping upcoming business trips to Barcelona will allow for the odd coffee in the sun. To tide me over. And I’ll sit there, eyes closed, face upturned and relaxed, just letting it wash over me.

In the interim, I’ll have to make do with long sessions in our apartment building’s sauna, frantically pretending the heat is coming from above and that I’m on a quiet, sunny beach.

Planning for Japan: 2017

It looks like we have a bit of an itinerary for this year’s trip to Japan! To avoid overloading ourselves with too many destinations, we’ve narrowed it down to splitting our time between Tokyo, Kyoto and Kanazawa.

I’d like to take advantage of the JR Rail Pass and arrange some day trips out of both Tokyo (Mt. Fuji, maybe?) and Kyoto (Arashiyama and its marvellous monkeys!). Last year’s visit to the snow-monkeys of Nagano reminded me how much I like to watch primates at play – always mindful of the slim chance they’ll attack an idiot tourist who gets too close, while I capture it all on camera.

Kanazawa is brand new to us, so I’m looking for how to enjoy it and not over-commit to venues and activities.

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Kanazawa Station

This morning’s win was finding a new (to me) onsen to visit in Tokyo. It looks amazeballs and very, very luxurious. Over the years, I’ve experienced onsen ranging from the very basic to the quite modern and interesting. Every one of them has been a pleasure, one way or another. And seeing as we’re unlikely to every replicate the onsen experience here in London, I’ll rely on my brief visits to Japan to take advantage of the facilities.

I may also get another item off my bucket list by arranging a brief stay in a capsule hotel in Tokyo’s Haneda Airport before we fly on to Osaka and then bus it to Kyoto.

Let me explain: I’m only human. After 14 hours on a plane – even going First Class – I need a shower, some clean clothes and a lie down. This will make the onward legs of this outbound journey so much easier. And I’ll be less likely to act like a toddler needing a nap by the time we get to Kyoto.

I’ll be honest – I’m also thrilled at the thought of staying in a quintessentially Japanese capsule hotel. It helps that I’m hobbit-sized and have no fear of shared bathing facilities. I’m also aware of how much my mental state is dependent on adequate sleep along with the extent to which jet-lag utterly rips my wellbeing to shreds.

Hotels are arranged for Kanazawa and Kyoto, while we look for the best possible bargain in Tokyo. I don’t think we’ll get the same awesome free upgrade at the Hilton again (but you never know), though Tokyo isn’t short of excellent hotels. It’s all about getting something central and close to a Yamanote Line station.

I tell you what, though – you can tell Sterling as taken a hammering when you check Japanese prices online. But who knows what state it’ll be in come September – maybe we’ll experience another rebound and Tokyo will once again seem cheap compared to London.

Maybe not. Though I’ve realised that the best things about Japan are the experiences, not the shopping. Even though I seem to do quite a bit of the latter every time I visit 😁

Heading to Japan, 2017 edition

You know, it’s never too early to plan our annual trip to Japan. At least that’s what we were saying when we started looking for flights to Tokyo on this cold and wet January Sunday morning.

After last year’s amazing trip, it was pretty much inevitable that we’d have to come back. So we searched for flights around the same time of year and, with @FrankDJS‘s usual skill and a gazillion BA frequent flyer miles, we have a two-week trip to Japan all booked. Well, the flights, at least.

Well, the flights, at least. At, due to some diligent and focused collecting of BA miles via every route known (and unknown) to humanity, we’ll be going and returning First Class. A guaranteed excellent start and end to the holiday – based on previous experience, at least.

While it’s not until September, that won’t stop me making lots of plans for where to visit. We fly in and out of Tokyo – literally my favourite place on earth – which gives us amazing opportunities to plan day-trips out of the city on the most fantastic form of public transport in the world: the Shinkansen bullet train.

Right now, I’d love to spend a couple of days back in Kyoto, but also visit Kanazawa. We dropped it from last year’s itinerary, as it was turning into a bit of a mission. Less holiday, more gruelling tour. So maybe we’ll get over there this time round.

The other key activities will obviously include:

  • Geeking out: on Shinkansen trains and Akihabara in Tokyo
  • Chilling out: in various onsen hot springs
  • Filling out: by eating far too much, but enjoying every mouthful

I’m determined to make 2017 another epic year of travel. So far, we have two trips to Spain booked (April and June), which will include Barcelona, Sitges, Mallorca and Alicante and now Japan in September.

That leaves plenty of space across the summer for some time in the sun. And plenty of time to pull together an exciting itinerary for Japan.

Remembering our last trip to Tokyo this morning…

…such great memories of a fun week in our favourite city. This was located just down the street from our hotel in Shinjuku and we walked past it at least twice a day on our way to and from Shinjuku station.

It’s time to plan a return visit, I think! Something amazing to look forward to towards the end of the year. Tokyo will definitely be on the list, but I’d love to go back to Kyoto this year – it’s always a nice contrast to Tokyo’s madness.

A healthy salad

I travel for work. A lot.

And one of the hardest parts of business travel (believe me) is eating healthily. I’m constantly presented with deeply delicious and dangerously unhealthy food on room service menus.

And my will-power is virtually non-existent.

Continue reading “A healthy salad”

Seoul in 8 minutes…

I opened iMovie on my MacBook for the first time this morning. I was determined to get to grips with an app that is praised for being easy to use, especially as I’ve collected lots of video from my various travels.

Why not edit them, tidy them up and share them online?

Some minor frustrations aside, it was pretty easy to just drop in some photos and video clips and make a single video out of it all. It’s not going to win any oscars, but as a way of sharing images and sounds with friends and family, it’s great.

Here’s my first ‘production’, an eight-minute summary of our couple of days in Seoul last month. I feel like YouTube offers more in the way of sound and on-screen edits, so I might produce the next one there. I feel like I’m wasting all this video I took in Japan if I don’t do anything with it. And I like to learn new skills, so maybe YouTube is my future.

Anyway, here’s Seoul – complete with stock music soundtrack:

Soaking up some Shinjuku sunshine

Just an hour until we need to take the bus to Narita Airport and we’re soaking up some sunshine in Shinjuku Chuo Park, opposite our hotel. 

The skies are so blue and the sunshine so strong, it doesn’t feel like November at all. This evening, we fly to Seoul for an overnight at the airport hotel, then home to London (via Helsinki!).

It’s been a fantastic two weeks. While I love home, I’m genuinely sad to be leaving Japan again. Time to start planning a return visit in 2017.