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Are you visiting Tokyo but want to try something a bit different? Our guest author Mike Gale lives in Tokyo and has been busy discovering alternative places to visit. He shares a two day itinerary that will allow you to find some more unusual places while having a good time in Tokyo.
Day 1- Owls, Culture and Delicious Restaurants
Brunch time – If you’re looking for a great place to stay while in Tokyo check out some of the recommendations at the end of this article or try our Tokyo hotels booking page powered by HotelsCombined. We recommend the Shinjuku district which is centrally located for getting around Tokyo.
Now it’s time to have a leisurely brunch at Bubby’s in Roppongi Iichome. Getting there: Take the Marunouchi Line 4 stops then transfer to Yotsuya Station for 3 stops until you reach Roppongiicchome Station. Total trip time is 15 minutes. Once you make it to Roppongi iichome station head to Bubby’s nearby where you can find the best brunch in Tokyo. Their pancakes and burgers are absolutely delicious!
Late morning: Next we’re heading for the Owl Cafe Fukuro No Mise. Have you ever heard of an owl café? I never did until I spoke to some friends who recommended it to me. Getting there: To get to the owl café you will take the Namboku Line two stops from Roppongiichome station. You will transfer on the Yurakucho Line to Tsukishima Station. The journey takes around 18 minutes.
Visiting Fukuro No Mise: In this café, you can actually pet owls and have a good coffee. First, you will learn about the owls and how to handle them. You will have time to take pictures with the owls as well and there are small, medium and large ones you can pet and hold! (Timings can be subject to change due to appointments on the day )
Price Range – 2,000 yen per person, Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. More information here.
As an alternative, visit the Owl Café and Bar Café in Harajuku if going on Monday or Tuesday. You can take the train from Roppongiichome Station to Tameike Station on the Namboku line, transferring at Kokkaogijido-Mae Station.
Afternoon: Head over to JR Harajuku Station to see a cultural area and also try out my restaurant recommendations in the area. Getting there: You will take the Oedo line back to Shinjuku Station then transfer on the Yamanote Line to JR Harajuku Station.
Walk around the Meiji Shrine which is one of Tokyo’s most famous shrines. It is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. The Shrine was founded in 1920. It is located in a forest that contains 70 hectacres. Pretty impressive in such a crowded city!
Next walk over to Takeshita Street. Although crowded, you will get to see some of Tokyo’s famous young street “Harajuku” fashion. Walk around to the different shops, try a crepe and enjoy all of the different fashion styles around.
Late afternoon: Stop for a beer at the Baird Beer Harajuku Taproom. It is on one of the side streets of Takeshita Street and is relatively easy to find. Here, you will find some of the best craft beer Japan has to offer; owner Bryan founded the company in a small southern town of Japan. I recommend trying their beer sampler as you will be able to try three different types of beers for only 1,000 yen. If you are a bit hungry, you can snack on some izakaya food which are Japanese side dishes of fish or vegetables.
Evening: Time for dinner at Chiles Mexican Grill. You will head over to one of the best Mexican restaurants in Tokyo, which is also in the area of Takeshita Street and easy to find. I recommend trying their chicken ranchero burrito. It is absolutely delicious. The staff at the restaurant speak English as well.
Day 2- Ramen, Art, Shimokitazawa, and Jazz
Early morning: We have an early start today (6am!) – head over to Sugamo Station on the JR line. Aim to arrive at Tsuta Restaurant by 7am. More information here.
Your goal is to arrive here to get a coveted ticket to this ramen restaurant. Get a ticket for 1PM to give you enough time in the onseon. Here, you will get a chance to try some delicious ramen. How delicious? Tsuta Restaurant was given a Michelin Star two years in a row! I got a chance to try the black truffle ramen and it was absolutely delicious.
Morning: Visit Tokyo Somei Onsen Sakura, a traditional Japanese style spa. Make sure you have clean clothes and a towel. They charge extra for towels. You must not have any tattoos or you won’t be allowed in. Getting there: You will head back to the JR Station and go clockwise on the Yamanote line to Komagome JR Station.
Alternative spa if you have a tattoo: Head over to Akihabara. You can take the JR train clockwise from Sugamo Station and counterclockwise back it will take about 16 minutes to get there. This is one of Tokyo’s famous otaku (anime) neighborhoods. I recommend visiting any of the maid cafes around the station. Also, you can walk around and see the weapons store, which will showcase a katakana up close.
Lunchtime: Head back to Tsuta Restaurant (Take the JR line to Sugamo Station) with your ticket to enjoy the delicious ramen. You won’t be disappointed.
Afternoon: Ueno Park and art galleries – Stop over to Ueno Station on the JR line (11minutes) to check out the famous park as well as the art galleries. Check out the famous park first then the Tokyo National Museum. It is one of the largest art museums in the world!
Late afternoon: We’re exploring Shimokitazawa, one of the Bohemian neighborhood of Tokyo where you will find many interesting boutique shops and restaurants. Getting there: Take the JR line counterclockwise to Shinjuku Station then transfer to the Odakyu Express train to Shimokitazwa. The journey will take about 39 minutes.
For the best curry in Tokyo, I recommend going to Anjali Spices. The owner is from Osaka and puts pride into his cooking. He also spent time in India so you will expect to have authentic Indian style cooking.
Evening: A drink at Pit Inn. After you finish walking and eating in Shimokitazawa, I recommend one last stop in Shinjuku at the Pit Inn which has been open for 40 years. Take the Odakyu Line to Shinjuku, which is a good area to stay. This Jazz Bar has many local and international artists and is known to have some of Tokyo’s best jazz music. As it is a smaller venue, lounging may not be the best option but the sound system is incredible. The shows typically start at 8PM and cover charge is 3,000 yen which includes one drink. Check the website before going because some shows can start at 7:30PM.
We hope you’ve enjoyed your discovery of Tokyo’s alternative side, mixing up cool cafe’s, delicious food and nightlife with a bit of authentic Japanese culture.
Need somewhere to stay?
Try these hotel choices in the easily accessible Shinjuku district;
Granbell Hotel Shinjuku: This boutique hotel has a clean and modern look and is centrally located in Shinjuku which will make Tokyo more accessible. The lobby has coffee available and a good view from the roof terrace.
Hotel Rose Garden Shinjuku: This is a family owned boutique hotel with friendly staff and clean rooms. It is located closely to the train station.
Hotel Mystays Asakusa-bashi A modern 3 star hotel close to the station.
About the author: Mike Gale writes at NomadLifestyle, a Tokyo based food and travel blog. His aim is to find delicious food in Tokyo and document his foodie and travel adventures around the globe.
More things to do in Tokyo
Think of Kenya and you no doubt picture prides of lion prowling open grassland, giraffe grazing on acacia leaves and elephant cooling off in waterholes. Safari rightly plays a huge part in most Kenya trips, but your experience can be further enriched spending a few days at Free the Children’s Me to We initiative.
Operating just outside of the Masai Mara National Reserve, the initiative supports local communities in a variety of ways, from educational and medical development to hygiene around the home. During your holiday with Audley Travel, you can get involved in some of its projects allows you to contribute to sustainable change and make a real difference to people’s lives, as Mark Gillies, East Africa Specialist at Audley Travel, explains.
About Me to We
Me to We itself is a social enterprise that was established by Canadian charity Free the Children. It allows visitors and volunteers to access and experience the charity’s development projects in Kenya and seven other countries around the world.
This can include anything from acquiring clean water and improving access to medical facilities to smoothing the way for women to make a living for themselves. It can also involve setting up schools for girls who wouldn’t otherwise receive secondary education.
In Kenya, Me to We is run from Bogani Cottages & Tented Camp – a safari-style camp just north of the Masai Mara. Here, visitors not only sleep and eat, but undertake activities beneficial to the local community. They might find themselves helping to build health centres, or collecting water for ‘mamas’ (local women).
When I initially heard about Me to We, I was a little cynical. Over the 18 years that I’ve regularly visited East Africa, I’ve seen a number of community projects set up with good intentions, only to fade away a few years down the line.
I was therefore taken by surprise when I finally visited the initiative with Audley Travel. The extent of local support for Free the Children’s work is exceptional, and a testament to their achievements. Setting realistic aims, their fairly simple ideas have reaped extensive results in many areas of local life. Not only this, but the positive effects have been maintained over the 15 years they’ve been operating here.
What I liked about the Me to We experience was the feeling that you’re an active participant in the work, rather than a passive bystander. You’re right there digging gravel, pushing wheelbarrows and carrying tools. It’s about getting dirty and speaking to local people, whose gratitude is shown in their warm welcome and wide smiles. Speaking basic Swahili myself, I can usually tell when greetings are genuine or simply out of politeness. But everywhere I went here, people’s pleasure in seeing me was unmistakable.
During your stay, you’ll be in a group of around 12 – usually a mix of ages, from families with children to solo travellers and retired couples. Together with a Maasai guide and a Me to We facilitator, you’ll engage in a number of different activities.
During my time at Bogani, I helped to build an accommodation block for doctors. Contributing to something I knew would be appreciated by the community was really rewarding. I was also able to learn more about the project by talking to Me to We volunteers and local people as we worked together.
I visited the home of Mama Joyce, who shared her beading techniques with us. Like many other mamas, she’s able to generate an income from her craft to support her family. Previously, women here were completely dependent on men to supply food and money. Yet with the help of Me to We, they’ve been able to learn a craft and sell their products to a wider market.
Mama Joyce was also happy to answer any questions we had about village life, and in exchange for her time we collected water for her from the Mara River. While only 200 m away, carrying heavy bucket loads of water was quite a challenge, and was yet another way for us to appreciate the rigours of daily life here. Together we were able to collect enough water to last Mama Joyce at least three days.
Another activity I enjoyed was venturing to a local market, armed with some Kenyan shillings and a list of items that the village needed. Strolling through the stalls displaying fruits, fresh flowers and woven baskets, I bartered with the market sellers while soaking up the atmosphere.
Back at the camp, you can try out some of the traditional weapons used by Maasai warriors under the tuition of Maasai field guides. These include spears, throwing sticks, and bows and arrows, which you use to hit a target. It’s a fun way to learn about Maasai culture in an informal way. I was even given my own throwing stick as a keepsake, and it now sits proudly in my home.
Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School
By far the best thing I did was visit Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School. Opened by Free the Children in 2011, it offers hundreds of girls the chance to further their education. In Kenya, secondary schools are unaffordable for many families, and boys have priority.
All of the young women I met here were incredibly inspiring. Seeing their passion for education and listening to them talking about their aspirations to be doctors, engineers, nurses and accountants was really eye opening. I was left in no doubt that most of them would achieve their ambitions.
We were given a tour around the school, not by teachers, but by the head girl and two prefects. They addressed us confidently as they showed us the building’s facilities and spoke about the school’s values.
One thing that stood out was the school’s efforts in promoting a sense of community and bridging differences between the local Maasai and Kipsigi cultures. The contrasting lifestyles of these two peoples (Kipsigi hold areas of land that they cultivate, while Maasai move around with their livestock) have been the cause of bitter feuds and violence for many years. But in this school, pupils celebrate what unifies them.
The hard work of the pupils, teachers and Free the Children/Me to We has also paid off in the girls’ academic achievements. 2016 saw the very first year group to pass through the school graduate with the highest marks in the whole of Kenya.
Bogani Cottages & Tented Camp
Situated around a two hour drive north from the core area of the Masai Mara and an hour’s light aircraft flight from Nairobi, the camp is surrounded by open farmland dotted with small villages. The tents are comfortable, with electricity, hot showers and flush toilets, and there are several cottages to accommodate families.
Buffet-style meals, consisting of European dishes with the occasional local delicacy, are served in the camp’s main communal area. Something I always remember about the camp is how involved the catering staff are. Unlike in many safari camps, where they’re friendly but unobtrusive, at Bogani they’re very much a part of the conversation. They’ll greet you, ask about your day and proudly introduce the dishes.
Combining Me to We with safari
A Me to We stay works well with a safari in the Masai Mara National Reserve. Both are very powerful but completely different experiences.
Me to We gives you the opportunity to add to a very positive story of development within Kenya. You learn a lot about yourself and your travel companions, as you’re taken out of your comfort zone and have to turn your hand to things you wouldn’t normally do.
A short drive allows you to enter an entirely different world. A safari in the Masai Mara is all about those close encounters with wild animals – watching lion prides lazing in the sun and wildebeest frantically crossing the wide and fast-flowing Mara River.
A huge grassland area in the southwest of Kenya, between July and October the Masai Mara plays host to the Great Migration. This is a wildlife phenomenon where millions of wildebeest, zebra and antelope follow the rains, attracting predators such as lion, leopard and crocodiles.
The reserve is also home to the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo), along with cheetah, hyena and a variety of birdlife.
Along its edges are private conservancies where many of the camps and lodges are based. Their experienced and knowledgeable guides will lead game drives and walking safaris through the open grassland. In the evening, you’ll share candlelit meals beneath the stars.
After flying to Nairobi for your holiday with Audley Travel, a Me to We facilitator will meet you and transfer you to a hotel for the night. The next day, you’ll take an hour’s flight by light aircraft to the Masai Mara. An hour’s drive past fields of grain and rural villages will see you reach the camp.
A trip combining Me to We and a safari suits anyone with an interest in wildlife, Maasai and Kipsigi cultures, or social development and conservation issues. It’s also for people who want to experience what life is really like in rural Kenya away from the regular tourist spots.
Families are well catered for, with all guides speaking English and activities offered specifically for children. It’s also easy and safe to travel solo: you’ll stay within your group once you arrive and the journeys are all escorted.
July to October is the best time for safaris in the Masai Mara as the Great Migration is in full swing and temperatures are comfortable. The only time I wouldn’t recommend visiting is between the end of March and May, when rain is heavier and more frequent.
About Mark Gillies
Mark Gillies is an East Africa Specialist at Audley Travel. His first experience of the region was in 1998, when he spent three months working as a research assistant on a biological survey programme in southern Tanzania. There hasn’t been a year since that he hasn’t been back to Africa, whether for work or adventure.
It was while working for a travel company that he encountered Kenya and grew to love its wildlife and its people. Since joining Audley, he’s visited Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda, furthering his passion for the region.
This article was brought to you in partnership with Audley Travel
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If you’re planning a holiday in Canada that involves camping or staying in an RV, in one of Canada’s scenic national parks, you might want some tips on what clothing will work best for your holiday. I don’t know about you, but when I’m dressing for outdoor activities such as cycling, hiking and canoeing, I like to choose clothes that are comfortable and functional while keeping a sense of style.
I recently spent two weeks with my husband Guy touring the provinces of Ontario and Quebec in Canada, staying mainly on campgrounds and in nationals parks with our cosy RV from Cruise Canada – our home from home on the road. For the trip I teamed up with Columbia Sportswear who specialise in outdoor clothing, to try out some items from their range. Based on my experience of this trip, here’s what you need to pack for a camping trip to Canada.
(For the Brits an RV is a Recreational Vehicle or large camper-van)
Quick drying trousers for evenings around the campfire
For hiking or evenings around the camp fire I recommend quick drying walking trousers like these Columbia Women’s Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers. They feel like a lightweight cotton but are in fact made from a 100% nylon technical fabric that wicks away sweat, protects against UV rays and is quick drying when you get caught in a downpour. For outdoor activities like hiking or cycling it’s better to avoid jeans or heavier cotton trousers that weigh you down and soak up moisture at the first sign of rain. Look for trousers that have a neat leg pocket to tuck in your guidebook, map or phone. I also like styles like this that have zip off legs, to make shorts, for maximum versatility. I know I’ll get a lot of use from these walking trousers on future hiking trips.
Sporty quick drying t-shirts
For outdoor activities I tried out this t-shirt from the Columbia range made of 100% Polyester fabric, designed to wick away sweat and keep me cool. Check out the Women’s Zero Rules Short Sleeve shirt here. I found that this fabric was silky, comfortable and not at all sweaty – ideal for hiking and other activities around the Canadian national parks. As an added bonus this t-shirt was easy to wash by hand or machine, quick to dry and hardly creased at all. Just as well, since irons didn’t seem to exist on the Canadian campgrounds!
I also packed a range of other short sleeve and sleeveless tops in fabrics that were less likely to crease. Although it’s great in sunny weather to wear sleeveless vest tops to stay cool and get a nice tan, being Mrs Sensible I like to alternate them with tops that cover my shoulders to avoid sunburn. I’m looking forward to using this t-shirt on future hiking trips and for jogging at home.
Sports shorts – go as short as you dare!
In the warm Canadian summer shorts are worn by all and from what I saw the Canadians like their shorts to be on the short side. In the bars and restaurants the waitress uniform seemed to be the skimpiest of shorts and even ladies of, ahem, a certain age and size seemed to favour very short shorts. No need here for modesty then and you can save your longer bermuda shorts for city sightseeing.
I was able to double up with my quick dry walking trousers from Columbia which had a zip off leg, allowing me to convert long trousers into shorts depending on the weather. The quick dry fabric made them cool and easily washable so ideal for activities like cycling or hiking. If you are a lover of short shorts don’t forget your sun screen even if you want to get a golden tan on your holiday in Canada.
Trail shoes for hiking in the Canadian parks
Although I have some excellent hiking boots (read my article here), for this trip I was looking for a hybrid trail shoe which is a cross between a trainer and a boot. My reasoning was that I wanted to have a supportive shoe for hiking in Canada’s national parks but that I wasn’t planning to do any hardcore hiking for hours and days on end. I needed shoes that were suitable for general outdoor activities, to wear around the campground, that wouldn’t be too hot to wear on warm summer days.
These Women’s Grand Canyon Outdry Hiking Shoes were just what I was looking for, with a low ankle so that they weren’t too hot and a waterproof but breathable construction so they would keep my feet dry when walking in the wet. Although these trail shoes didn’t have the support of a high ankle, the construction is very solid, so they would be ideal for summer hiking on rough and rocky trails. For serious long distance hiking I’ll probably stick to boots with ankle support, but these trail shoes are ideal for a situation like our camping trip where you want a hardwearing shoe that is suitable for a range of outdoor activities.
Waterproof Jacket – yes it does rain in the Canadian summer
Although the weather on our July trip to Canada was warm and sunny, we did experience a few showers so my lightweight waterproof jacket came in handy (Read my article on what to look for in when buying a waterproof jacket). For summer wear in Canada I’d recommend a lightweight jacket that can roll up small to keep in your day sack but if you’re visiting in spring, early summer or autumn you might prefer a jacket that’s more substantial or has a removeable fleece lining, as we found that mornings and evenings could be cool.
I wore my waterproof jacket when we were canoeing in Algonquin park as the day was overcast and rain was forecast. Luckily the showers held off until we had finished our canoe trip but the jacket was also ideal for keeping off the midges and flies that you tend to get hovering over the water. Cloudy days can be a bonus in Canada as our guide told us that we were more likely to see wildlife such as moose when the day was overcast, since they come down to the water’s edge to feed, while on hot sunny days they prefer to stay in the shade under the trees.
Three-quarter length leggings – versatile for outdoor activities
I found it was useful to have some sporty three-quarter length trousers for activities such as cycling and climbing where I wanted a bit more protection. My sports leggings made from quick dry fabric got a lot of use on our Canada trip and I also wore them for canoeing where they would dry quickly if I got wet wading into the water or splashed from the paddles. The three-quarter length and close fit were also ideal for cycling if you don’t want sunburned thighs or trousers that flap around the ankle.
Flip flops for hanging out by the lake
If you are a happy camper you’ll know to pack a pair of flip-flops or waterproof sandals that are easy to slip on and off. They are always handy for those early morning trips to the shower block (although luckily we had our own shower and loo in the RV) and for hanging out by the lakes that seem to be a feature of most Canadian camp grounds.
You’ll want something made of plastic so you can easily rinse off the sand or pine needles and they won’t look grubby. No harm in having a pedicure and pretty nail polish before your holiday – we like to keep up standards even when camping!
A cosy fleece for cool mornings
I was pleased that I’d packed a fleece for our Canada trip as despite the warm sunny days, we found the mornings were often quite cool. For the first hour or so each day we often needed an extra layer and then the temperature would warm up and it would be short sleeves all day and into the evening. It was never really too cold on our July trip so I’d suggest a mid-weight fleece if you are visiting in the summer but perhaps something more substantial for the spring and autumn. Due to the limited laundry facilities on the Canadian campgrounds I’d avoid smarter woollen knitwear in favour of anything that is quick drying and doesn’t crease, unless you have an element of your holiday that requires you to dress more smartly.
Other things to consider
Those pesky flies and mosquitos can be pretty persistent when you get into a camp ground or one of Canada’s national parks. If you are trying any activities such as hiking, cycling or canoeing, a liberal spray of deet based insect repellant is recommended and in the evening it’s best to change into a long sleeved top and long trousers with socks and shoes to cover your feet. I neglected my own advice on a few occasions and regretted it as I was scratching nasty bites for days afterwards.
Most but not all of the camp grounds we visited had washing machines and dryers but none seemed to have any ironing facilities. I’d recommend packing clothes made of quick drying technical fabric that are less likely to crumple in order to look your best, leaving your linen suit at home.
A sunhat is advisable if you’re out on long hikes or canoe trips in the full sun and to fit in with the locals I’d choose a cotton cap – you can buy them everywhere in Canada.
My Canada Camping clothing check list
- A lightweight waterproof jacket for the occasional shower or cool evenings
- Long quick dry trousers for hiking and to keep off the insects in the evening
- Quick dry shorts for sunny days and sporty outdoor activities
- Three-quarter leggings or joggers for sporty outdoor activities and cool mornings
- Quick dry sports t-shirts
- Trail shoes for hiking and climbing
- Flip flops or waterproof sandals for wearing around the campground and the lakes
- A mid-weight fleece for cool mornings and evenings
- A light, long sleeve t-shirt to wear in the evening when the mozzies come out to bite
- A cotton cap or sunhat to protect you from sunburn or sunstroke on sunny days.
- Plus of course pack some other casual clothes and footwear for when you are out sightseeing
Thanks to Columbia Clothing who provided me with some of the items mentioned in the article to try out on my Canada trip.
Some of the links in this article allow me to earn a small commission when you purchase at no extra cost to you – thanks for your support!
Visitor information for Canada
To plan your trip to Canada check out the Explore Canada tourism website as well as the websites of the states and national parks you plan to visit, in our case Ontario Tourism and Quebec Tourism. Our RV was provided by Cruise Canada.
More Canada articles
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