When I was planning for my Japan adventure last year I stumbled across the concept of a “Cat Cafe”. These are hugely popular in Japan and they are essentially themed cafes where patrons pay a cover fee to hang out and play with cats. Many apartments in Japan forbid pets so this is a way for people to essentially “rent-a-cat” for relaxation and companionship.
Naturally I was curious and DYING to visit one of these. It happened to be my birthday in Tokyo and what better way to celebrate than hanging out at a cat cafe! (I am a crazy cat lady after all).
After some research I decided to visit “Ja La La”, in Akihabara.
The door handle was a cat paw! Eeeee!
Upon arrival we were presented with a “menu of cats” that featured a picture of the kitty along with its breed, date of birth and a little about me section.
I purchased some cat food (for an additional fee) and soon was getting a lot of kitty attention.
This was La La, yes who the cafe is named after! She isn’t here very often and we were very lucky to have met her (apparently). She was very bossy, constantly jumping up on our knees demanding food.
Most of the kitties were keen to play and eat except this guy, who looked like a lion. He just snoozed.
There were several other Japanese people in the cafe who I think had been there for a LONG time (we only paid for a 1/2 hour visit).
I must admit I was initially concerned about the cat cafe, wondering if the cats were mistreated or overworked. But I was pleasantly surprised when I got there – the cats all seemed very happy and were in excellent health. The staff all looked after them well and had a genuine interest in cats. There was also a long list of rules including washing your hands with antibacterial soup before and after hanging out with the cats and not bothering them if they were asleep.
I left the cat cafe with a huge smile on my face. But that smile only got bigger when I got home and checked the Ja La La website (www.nekojalala.com)….. each kitty at the cafe has it’s OWN PERSONAL EMAIL ADDRESS.
Oh how I would love to read the emails crazy cat people send to the kitties.
When doing your research on a country’s accommodation, sightseeing and transport don’t forget to research an important thing – etiquette. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of researching a country’s culture and customs before you leave to ensure you don’t accidently insult a local or worse, get in serious trouble.
♥ In Japan it is considered rude to put makeup on or talk on your mobile on the train (2 things I often do and certainly avoided when I was there!). Always bow when meeting somebody and take your shoes off when entering a room (generally a person’s home but I also removed my shoes at some cafes and restaurants).
♥ In Thailand never touch a Thai person on their head, as this is seen as the most important part of the body and is therefore disrespectful. Also never shake hands with your left hand as this is considered the “unclean” hand (this is also the case in many SE Asian and Muslim countries).
♥ In the UAE public nudity is a criminal offence (not that I expect you to start streaking down the street!) but did you know even a kiss on the cheek can get you on the wrong side of the law?!
♥ In Singapore you can be fined for smoking in public, littering and even for not flushing the toilet!
♥ In Muslim countries you should always be mindful of the way you dress and your public behaviour. Always dress modestly (a woman’s dress should fall at least below the knee and women and men should cover their shoulders) and when entering a mosque shoes should be removed and a women should cover their heads with a scarf. It is also best to avoid public displays of affection.
These examples should not cause alarm or worry, they are merely meant to remind you to fully prepare for your next adventure and have a worry-free time! For more information on travel etiquette overseas check out www.traveletiquette.co.uk
I am off to Melbourne with the boy for a long weekend hooray! The holiday will be filled with lots of eating, shopping and photo taking. This time we have decided to stay in South Yarra (as opposed to the CBD where we usually stay).
We are staying at one of the Art Series hotels called The Olsen. It will be nice to explore a different area more and this hotel has received rave reviews!
As they were having a sale at the time of booking I decided to treat us a little and upgraded us to the Deluxe Studio Suite :)
I will give my full review of the hotel when I return in addition to my city guide to Melbourne – the best places to eat, drink and shop. Stay tuned!
Eating can really make or break your strict travel budget you have imposed on yourself whilst travelling. On one end of the scale there is the dirt poor backpacker who refuses to eat out and exists on baked beans cooked in the hostel’s kitchen. On the other end of the scale is the traveller with too much money and too little sense who finds the nearest tourist hotspot and is happy to pay 5 times the price for average food. I try and avoid being on either end of this scale when I travel – both result in miserable experiences that don’t let you truly appreciate the country’s food. Here are some ideas for eating cheaply while away without sacrificing enjoyment! (and don’t be afraid to splurge now and then on an amazing dinner, you only live once)
Local markets are the best place to go for food that is fresh and cheap. It is also a true cultural sightseeing experience, seeing the locals bustle about in their daily life, the smells, the shouting, the unexplained mystery food items. You could spend a whole day here! Need a quick and wallet friendly lunch? Instead of spending 20 euro at the touristy restaurant in the piazza, buy a fresh baguette, cheese and salami, along with some fresh fruit.
An aparthotel with a kitchenette
♥ Your own kitchen(ette)
Getting accommodation with a kitchen/kitchenette means you can prepare your own food for a fraction of the cost of eating out 3 times a day. I strongly advise against cooking ALL your own meals at your accommodation as you miss out on the great experience of eating the local food with the locals. But it’s great to have a kitchen stocked with milk, bread and cereal for a cheap and quick breakfast or to be able to whip up a simple pasta dish at night if you are too exhausted/lazy to go out and eat. As mentioned in a previous post the best kind of accommodation to book where you can cook for yourself includes aparthotels, hostels and someone else’s apartment.
A great local yakitori restaurant we stumbled upon in Osaka. The staff barely spoke English and there was no English menu but through gesturing we ordered a cheap and authentic tasty meal
♥ Eat where the locals eat
Nothing beats getting food advice from a local but if you aren’t fortunate to know anyone (or are too shy to ask!) then it’s worth looking around for a local style restaurant – not only cheaper but more authentic! A general rule is to avoid eating in the piazzas and near tourist sites. Stumble down little alley ways – if there is no English menu that is often a good sign.
Langham Place food court, cheap and tasty and right next to our hotel in Hong Kong! Image source
♥ Eat in an Asian food court
Food court food in Australia is generally pretty drab fare and consists of McDonalds or KFC along with questionable international cuisines. It is a completely different story in Asia, especially in Japan and Hong Kong. The huge shopping malls generally all house great eating on their top levels. The food is delicious, affordable and all the locals eat there. I must have had dinner in food courts in Japan and Hong Kong at least 10 times whilst I was there and was never disappointed. Similarly in Singapore and Malaysia they have “hawker centres” which also are filled to the brim with delicious, cheap and authentic food that the locals love. Please be aware that more often than not there are no English menus, but it’s aways fun to order through pointing and mime :)
♥ Japanese convenience stores and train stations
I would never dream of eating food from a convenience store back home but the food in Japanese convenience stores is AMAZING. Fresh, tasty, cheap and easy if you’re on the go. Similarly in train stations (particularly the larger Shinkansen stations) you can get delicious bento boxes to take with you on the train. They are cheap and fresh and a great lunch idea.
Do you have any more tips on eating cheaply while away?
I thought today I would give you an insight into some of the sweet delights I sampled on my recent trip to Japan and Europe!
First stop, Japan. I never realised how crazy the Japanese were for desserts. But cake stores and crepe bars are everywhere!
A decadent cake display in Tokyo
Mmmm Sweetbox! All the crepe flavours you could possibly imagine!
This is my “OMG crepe!” face
Our haul of delicious Japanese lollies. We snacked on these constantly.
I pretty much lived on Pocky. And we were always finding new flavours everywhere we went!
An amazing creme brulee I sampled in Kyoto (don’t worry I ate it lots in Paris too!)
We found 99% Lindt in a store in Tokyo. It tasted TERRIBLE.
Next stop on my sweets tour was Munich, Germany
Amazing gingerbread at the Christmas markets. I ate so much of this. It says “I Love You”, not “I Love Dick” as I originally thought hehe
And on to Prague, which is not really known for its great cuisine…. (unless you LOVE meat and dumplings)
But they do make a good pancake! This huge stack of pancakes came with bacon, fried eggs, sausage, a bagel and shot glass of maple syrup. All up it only cost AUD$9.50!
And finally I bring you Paris, the heart and home of the patisserie. This was the most beautiful shop window I had ever seen!
Bell jars, tea pots, macarons, glitter… could a girl ask for more!?
Beautiful sugar work that looks like crystals
And the most perfect macaron I have ever seen
I love design hotels, where so much effort and thought has been placed on each room your stay is anything but ordinary!
Hotel du Petit Moulin – Paris, France
A divine hotel designed by Christian Lacroix in the heart of the le Marais district. For more information go to their website.
Each room features unique artworks
Amazing wallpapers and polka dot rugs (!!) adorn each room
Possibly the most amazing hotel bathroom I have ever seen!
Hotel Fox – Copenhagen, Denmark
21 international graphic design artists have made Hotel Fox into an exciting and creative lifestyle hotel. For more information go to their website.
Ecstasy Room designed by WK interact
Japanese Garden room designed by Tokidoki
King’s Forest room by Birgit Amadori
Maison Moschino – Milan, Italy
Coming from mega-brand Moschino, style and surrealism are to be expected: rooms are inspired by fairy tales and abstract concepts. For more information go to their website.
The Forest Room
Sometimes no matter how much careful preparation and organisation you do, disasters happen on a trip. The key thing to remember is something probably WILL go wrong on your trip and its outcome will depend on how well you handle it. Here are some examples of travel disasters that have happened to me and close friends and how we dealt with it. No trips were ruined!
You Lose Your Passport
I received a nervous phone call from my boyfriend when I was in LA last year, something you never want to hear when are severely jet lagged and have been awake for 36 hours. “I think I have lost my passport”. Ok so this is every traveller’s worst nightmare, but it doesn’t mean the end of your trip (In fact this happened right at the beginning of our trip!) Unfortunately there was no Australian consulate in Las Vegas where he was and he was thankfully allowed on a flight from Vegas to San Francisco after showing various forms of ID. I met him at SF airport and we went directly to the Australian Consulate. We explained the situation and that we were flying to Canada in 4 days and had to have a new one issued by then. Several hours later and yay! Emergency passport. Now of course things don’t always go smoothly as this, and often planes are missed and accommodation has to be rearranged (this is when travel insurance comes in handy). But please remember that losing your passport is not the end of the world and certainly not the end of your trip. Just remember to report your passport lost or stolen IMMEDIATELY and high tail it to your consulate.
You arrive at your hotel and they have never heard of you
This disaster happened on the exact same day as the above lost passport story, what a wonderful way to start a trip! As mentioned previously I was very jet lagged and had been awake for a ridiculous amount of hours. I finally arrived alone to my hotel in LA, so excited to shower and perhaps have a quick power nap. After showing the front desk my hotel confirmation (which I had paid in full for, may I add) the receptionist looked at me worriedly and said “I am sorry we never received your booking and we are completely booked out for the next few nights). I must admit I had a minor meltdown. I don’t deal with things that well when I am sleep deprived and the thought of trying to find last minute accommodation in Beverly Hills on a Saturday night was not ideal. To cut a long story short after hours of fretting and trying to call Expedia back in Australia (who were closed as it was 3am!) it turned out the hotel made a mistake and I was finally allowed to check in. Some tips to avoid this situation – make sure you have a printed confirmation of your hotel booking as well as the bookers contact details (such as Expedia). If you are really worried there is no problem in sending the hotel an email prior to your arrival. However if you are booking through a reputable booking agent (such as Expedia and may I add that they returned my call as soon as their office opened and it was not their fault!) you should be fine.
You get really sick
There is nothing worse than getting sick on a trip. I recently got the flu on a trip and I was bed ridden for 5 days. Thankfully due to the flexibility of my travel plans I was able to rest up and not miss out on TOO much. But if your illness requires medical attention then there are a few things to keep in mind. If you are in a non-English speaking country and need a doctor, an upmarket hotel is always a good starting place to find an English speaking one. And if you are en route to a doctor or hospital BRING YOUR TRAVEL INSURANCE DETAILS WITH YOU. When I was a travel agent a colleague told me of the time she was injured at a summer camp in the USA. A staff member drove her 40 mins to the hospital bleeding profusely and upon arrival she was promptly asked for her travel insurance details. Of course they were back at the camp, 40 mins away. Her friend had to drive back to camp to get the forms and the hospital left her there clutching a bloodied tea towel to her hand. They refused to treat her until they received her travel insurance details. Now I know this is a worse case scenario and the USA is notoriously difficult, but don’t push your luck. Insurance companies often give you a card with the insurance details on it, put it in your wallet!
Your flight is cancelled
During the recent snow storms in Europe and the UK thousands of flights were cancelled. We were flying in and out of Heathrow, Munich, Paris and many other airports faced with huge delays and cancellations. By some huge stroke of good luck we managed to get where we wanted to go without too many delays. But if you are less fortunate and your flight is cancelled, make sure you obtain the correct documentation from your airline stating that your flight is cancelled. If the cancellation means you are forced to alter travel plans and stay an extra night, you will need all this paper work to lodge a claim with your travel insurer upon return.
What travel disasters have you encountered on your holidays?
Take some time out to relax like I did here in Norway, it can make a world of difference on your trip
As wonderful as it is to cram in as many cities as possible (2 nights Paris, then 2 nights Rome, then dash to Vienna for a night etc etc…) you will burn out if it’s a long trip. Sure if you only have a few weeks overseas then go nuts. But for longer trips don’t underestimate the power of rest and downtime.
I learned this the hard way after completely burning out at the 2 month mark of a long trip – I actually nearly came home! I made the mistake of over planning my trip and was literally in a different place every few days, either sightseeing or getting from A to B. I was then a travel agent with the time and resources at my finger tips to plan the biggest, bestest and (as it turns out) the most exhausting trip ever. Don’t get me wrong, I had the most amazing time. Months exploring through Scandinavia, Iceland and Eastern Europe still remains one of my best holidays to date. But I distinctly remember the feeling I got when I arrived at roughly the 2 month mark. I was exhausted. I was sick of living out of a suitcase, I was sick of being on the move, I was sick of sightseeing. I was even sick of churches! I came so close to canceling the remainder of the trip with the intent to do it some other time.
But I pushed through. Instead of spending the next few days exploring Frankfurt I had some down time. I slept in, I washed all my clothes (in a proper washing machine! Not in the bath with bar soap!) I watched TV and I RELAXED. Sure I felt guilty about potentially missing out on all the wonderful sights and experiences Frankfurt had to offer but I knew I’d regret it more if I threw in the towel and went home. After my few days of “me” time I got back my travel mojo and thoroughly enjoyed the remainder of the trip.
From this experience I now know:
♥ Always schedule in downtime on a trip longer than 2 weeks. Even if it’s only a day.
♥ Don’t over plan. You should have seen my schedule, every day had notes scribbled on all the things I plan on doing. There was no room for getting sick or just feeling like some down time. It was strictly regimented. Remember this is a holiday! Do you really want to wake up at 6am every day?
♥ Know your limits and personal preferences – Is a 6 month solo voyage really suitable for you considering you are shy when meeting strangers and are prone to homesickness? Or is your idea of a holiday less of culture and churches and more of relaxing on a beach with a cocktail in one hand and good book in the other? Tailor it to suit YOUR wants and needs.
There are many things to take care of before you leave for a trip, some are obvious and some maybe not so much.
Month(s) before you leave:
♥ Immunisations. If you are visiting a country in the developing world it is best to get your shots/pills well before you leave. Do NOT leave it to 3 days prior to leaving (my friend did this… not a great idea. She flew into Thailand sans immunisations). It’s wise to see the doctor at least 4–6 weeks before your trip to allow time for your vaccines to take effect and to start taking medicine to prevent malaria.
♥ Travel insurance. Buy this the second you book your travel. NOT just as you are about to leave. The same friend visited Thailand during the Bangkok riots and didn’t purchase travel insurance until right before she left. The insurance company would not cover costs related to changing plans to avoid the riots as it was HER choice to go to Thailand during this period of uncertainty.
♥ Visas. Countries like China and Russia require a visa to enter. Some countries need to issue the visa prior to you leaving home, others will issue upon arrival. Do your research! A travel agent can help you with finding out visa information and organising the visa.
♥ Passport. Many countries require travellers to have at least six months validity remaining on their passports. Immigration authorities may refuse entry if you arrive with less than this. Check your passport and get it renewed if necessary.
Weeks before you leave:
♥ Bills. Set up all your bills to be either direct debited from your account (so you don’t even have to think about it whilst your away) OR at least have online billing capabilities.
♥ Pets. Make sure your pets are booked into kennels or you have found someone to look after them.
♥ Banking. It’s often wise to advise your bank you are going overseas (Commonwealth Bank called my friend whilst we were shopping up a storm in Paris, assuming her card had been stolen!)
♥ Phone. Check you are set up for roaming with your mobile provider. Consider buying a local SIM card when you arrive at your destination, as roaming fees are killer!
Days before you leave:
♥ Travel documents. If you have booked anything through a travel agent make sure you call/email them to check everything is ready and arrange to pick them up. If you have booked everything yourself online, print out all accommodation/flight/rail/tour vouchers and file in a folder to take with you.
♥ Beauty treatments. Waxing, tinting, hair cuts – get all your primping done right before you leave
♥ Medications. Make sure you have enough of your medications (e.g. The Pill) to last you whilst you’re away, otherwise get to your doctor pronto.
♥ Itinerary. Type up your itinerary (where you will be staying and when, contact details of the hotel etc) and give to family members/close friends. Not only do they get a kick out of knowing where you are (I often receive texts from Mum whilst away saying things like “You are in Reykjavik today! How exciting! Must be chilly!) but IF something happens, they know exactly where you are or where you should be. Sorry to put a downer on that. If you are Australian I also recommend registering with The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (to help them find you in an emergency).
Do you have any more tips on preparation before you leave?
Here is a stupid tourist pointing to where she SHOULD be on the map and where she actually is. It is of course the maps fault. Not the 6 champagnes I consumed the night before combined with the sweltering heat!
I believe some people should just not travel. Too mean perhaps? Maybe, but read this list of hilarious travel complaints compiled by the Association of British Travel Agents and Thomas Cook and then decide for yourself.
* My fiance and I booked a twin-bedded room, but we were placed in a double-bedded room. We now hold you responsible for the fact that I find myself pregnant.
* A British tourist found their holidays were spoiled because “the beach was too sandy” and “no one told us there would be fish in the sea; the children were startled”.
* We bought Ray-Ban sunglasses for five euros ($9) from a street trader, only to find out they were fake.
* The brochure stated: “No hairdressers at the accommodation.” We’re trainee hairdressers — will we be OK staying here?
* There are too many Spanish people. The receptionist speaks Spanish. The food is Spanish. Too many foreigners.
* We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as yellow but it was white.
* We had to queue outside with no air-conditioning.
* I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.
* It’s lazy of the local shopkeepers to close in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during “siesta” time — this should be banned.
* I was bitten by a mosquito — no one said they could bite.
* We booked an excursion to a water park but no one told us we had to bring our swimming costumes and towels.
What stupid tourist situations have you experienced? Were you perhaps guilty of being a stupid tourist yourself?
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