Monthly Archives: August 2016

Tokyo on travelling guides

images-21Where first, Tokyo or Kyoto – it should be an easy choice, right? They’re polar opposites, after all: Tokyo is a land of neon and skyscrapers, the archetypal metropolis; Kyoto is full of kimono-clad geisha, temples and tea ceremonies. So just decide whether you want your first glimpse of Japan to be cutting-edge modernity or high-brow tradition, and your choice is made.

But as with everything else in this tantalising and contradictory country, it’s not quite that clear-cut. Here are a few ways to make that difficult choice.

WHICH IS BEST FOR FOODIES?

It’s hard to eat badly in Japan no matter where you are, but there are a few key differences between the food scenes in Tokyo and Kyoto. If you’re not keen on wall-to-wall Japanese food, Tokyo may be a better bet. The capital is far more multicultural, and home to some of the best French, Italian and Chinese restaurants in the world.

Kyoto is more traditional, packed with places to try Japanese dishes you might not have seen back at home. If in doubt ask for the teishoku (set meal), and you’ll probably end up with a slightly overwhelming array of tasty dishes. Kyoto is also home to a thriving café culture, with standouts including riverside efish, book-filled Cafe Bibliotec Hello and vegetarianMumokuteki.

The two cities both have amazing high-end cuisine – you could almost eat at a different Michelin-starred restaurant every day of your trip if you had the cash. Tokyo has plenty of cheap spots, often clustered into districts like Omoide Yokochō in Shinjuku, but you’ll generally find Kyoto a little cheaper overall.

WHERE CAN I PARTY?

In Tokyo, there’s a huge amount of choice. As the city’s so large, rather than looking up a few places you want to go to, it’s best to head to an area you’re interested in and just see what takes your fancy.

Roppongi is the traditional nightlife area but is a little commercial; try Shimokitazawa for low-key bars and live music, or head away from the main drag in Shinjuku for world-class clubs and music venues. Golden Gai is also a must-do, a tiny area of tumbledown bars and karaoke spots.

Kyoto’s club scene is unfortunately pretty dire, but has a few notable exceptions; try Club Metro, based in an abandoned section of a subway station with DJs, live bands and avant garde performers.

The heart of Kyoto’s nightlife is its bars (especially izakaya, Japan’s answer to the pub) – there’s a huge variety of independent places around Shijō and Sanjō streets, just west of the river.

WHERE CAN I GET BACK TO NATURE?

Tokyo has some stunning spots to take a breather, but most of them are parks or gardens rather than “nature” in the strictest sense. The only really “wild” experience is at the Institute for Nature Study in the Meguro district; it’s a small area of the primeval forest that once covered the plains hereabouts, and as entry is restricted to a few hundred people at a time you can enjoy it without the usual Tokyo crowds.

If you’re feeling hemmed in by the skyscrapers looming over the trees, your best bet is a day-trip to Kamakura, or an overnight one to Nikkō or Hakone.

Nature is a little more accessible in Kyoto. The city is set in a basin between mountains, meaning a 30 minute train ride can get you out into open spaces. To the west is popular Arashiyama, where you can take a boat cruise or walk on the wooded slopes; northeast is the holy Hiei-zan, home of Tendai Buddhism; while to the north you’ll find plenty of trekking routes, such as one linking the appealing small towns of Kurama and Kibune.

Within the city itself, the scale is a bit more manageable, so you can cycle from park to temple rather than squeezing into a rush-hour subway train.

WHICH IS BEST FOR CULTURE AND HISTORY?

If you’re keen to see Buddhist temples and Shintō shrines you’ll be spoiled for choice in Kyoto; some of the main areas are Higashiyama and the Philosopher’s Path in the east and Arashiyama in the west, but wander any neighbourhood and you’ll find the local one. In the south of the city is the low-key, traditional area of Fushimi, with a particularly spectacular shrine: Fushimi Inari Taisha, thousands of red torii (shrine gates) leading you up a mountain, to glorious views over the city.

Tokyo, while also home to several venerable shrines and temples, is better known for its cutting-edge modern architecture. Take a walking tour of the city to see some stunning examples, from Tange Kenzō’s awe-inspiring St Mary’s Cathedral to Kurokawa Kishō’s sinuous National Art Center – not forgetting Philippe Starck’s infamous Asahi Beer Hall, affectionately known as kin no unko (“the golden poo”) for the stylised gold flame on top.

Best place when visit in florida

download-51Pioneers, visionaries, geniuses, crackpots – the Sunshine State has seen more than its fair share of eccentrics over the years, drawn from cooler northern climes in pursuit of their dreams.

Florida’s Gulf Coast may be best known for its relentless sunshine and glorious sandy beaches, but it’s also home to some of the state’s more unusual attractions. Here, Ed Aves picks out some of his favourite curiosities in the sunny southwest.

1. KEEP UP WITH THE KORESHANS

The humid, mosquito-infested swamps of Estero may seem an unlikely place to build a New Jerusalem, but for Dr Cyrus Teed, founder of the bizarre Koreshan Unity, this Florida backwater was to become the centre of a new civilization.

A one-time alchemist, the messianic, luxuriantly moustachoied Teed had an “illumination” one night in 1869 (sparked by a massive electric shock) and thereafter devoted his life to redeeming humanity, guided by the principles of communal living, celibacy and his esoteric scientific theories.

Some 25 years later, he purchased three hundred acres of uninhabited wilderness and led a merry band of credulous followers down from Chicago to establish Utopia.

Today, the Koreshans are long gone but you can learn about their beliefs at the Koreshan Historic State Park, which preserves the colony’s scattering of simple two- and three-storey timber buildings.

Central to Koreshan philosophy was Teed’s unique brand of Hollow Earth theory, that the world was effectively inside out with the entire universe contained within it; ranger tours will you into take to the Art Hall, the colony’s cultural hub, where a scale model provides (none-too-convincing) proof.

Life in the nearby Planetary Court was equally revolutionary, for it was in this modest but homely dwelling that the governing council of seven women (each representing a planet) ran the society’s day-to-day business – an adherence to gender equality that suggests that perhaps Teed wasn’t so completely barking after all.

2. EAT FRIED CHICKEN WITH THE AMISH

Head a hundred miles north to Sarasota, and you’ll find God-fearing, clean-living pioneers of a different sort. Here, the sleepy suburb of Pinecraft is the winter playground of choice for thousands of Amish and Mennonite “snowbirds”, who fly south (or, more correctly, come on the bus) to escape the northern winter.

You’ll see them letting their hair down by playing shuffleboard in leafy Pinecraft Park, riding around on steel tricycles (the traditional horse-buggy combo isn’t very practical for suburban Sarasota) and perhaps dipping a toe in the ocean at Siesta Key.

Local stores sell wooden crafts and home-style dresses (here’s your chance to pick up a copy of Colour the Psalms or a set of Dutch Blitz cards) and head to the Fresh Market for homemade cheese, jam and baked goods.

Undoubtedly the most popular destination, with queues to match, is Yoder’s Restaurant, legendary for its juicy fried chicken and mash (as featured on TV show Man vs Food) and home-baked pies, piled so high with cream they verge on the sinful.

3. FIND HOT DOGS ON TREES (AND A HISTORIC SNEEZE)

Perhaps Florida’s most illustrious snowbird, Thomas Edison wintered in Fort Myers for almost half a century at the leafyestate he built on the shores of the Calasoohatchee River; his great friend, Henry Ford, later moved in next door.

Concerned that supplies of rubber might be cut off in the event of war, the green-fingered Edison became obsessed with the idea of finding a cheap alternative that could be grown on American soil, testing over 17,000 plants – many of which, like the bizarre African sausage tree and an immense, acre-wide banyan, now flourish in the grounds.

Elsewhere you can explore Edison’s indefatigable thirst for gadgetry at the museum, where alongside beautiful creations such as the ornate multiphone (forerunner to the jukebox) and records of his contributions to cinema (including the USA’s oldest copyrighted motion picture: the five-second Fred Ott’s Sneeze) comes proof that even geniuses are fallible.

Curios among the great inventor’s less successful patents include an electric pen and a labour-intensive foot-powered phonograph – definitely more perspiration than inspiration.

4. SEE A SEASHELL SANCTUARY: DO THE SANIBEL STOOP

Southwest Florida’s sugar-sand beaches may be ideal for supine roasting in endless sunshine, but the majority of visitors to laidback Sanibel Island strike a different pose: hunched at the hip, fossicking for treasures along the surf line. And the prize? Shells – billions of them.

In fact the abundance and astonishing range of shells along Sanibel’s Gulf shore frequently gain this mollusc graveyard plaudits as the finest shell-collecting beach in the world.

Even if you’re not an ardent malacologist, it’s well worth trotting to the surprisingly absorbing Baileys-Matthew National Shell Museum where, aside from learning how to distinguish your ponderous ark from your Humphrey wentletrap, you can read about the shockingly brutish and cannibalistic world of these predatory creatures, oggle at the world’s biggest whelk and take part in a live-tank demonstration.