This small and intimate gay bar in Sapporo's Susukino district has a friendly and welcoming master and clientele. The master speaks English but a little bit of Japanese will go a very long way.
The patrons were all Japanese and of all ages. Most of the patrons attempted to talk to us however limited their English was and encouraged us to speak Japanese.
If you want to speak to local Japanese guys (rather than fellow travellers) then this is your place.
Oh and of course there's a Karaoke machine with an English and Japanese song selection. Have a go, this is not an intimidating place and you will be cheered on and encouraged no matter how off key you sing.
011 562 4005
2/F S.A. Bld, South 6 West 6, Chuo-ku, 562-4005
(From Sapporo central take the Nanboku line to Susukino, the SA building ( SA ゼル) is a 5 min walk at the junction of South 6 and West 6, Dan bar is on the 1st floor, the sign is in English)
Google map: bit.ly/dCTr9B
Travellers to Japan rarely venture out of its cities. Kyoto, Hiroshima and Tokyo may well have a wealth of historic and cultural sights, but do take some time to visit the other side of Japan - rural Japan and in particular Hokkaido.
I stayed in the Akan-ko national park in North-Eastern Hokkaido. There are plenty of hiking opportunities. The lakes are beautiful, especially Oneto ko near Akan-ko.
You must not leave without the sublime experience of soaking in an outdoor onsen (geothermal pool). Stay warm and toasty in the onsen even in the cooler months while you enjoy the view of Hokkaido's mountains.
Also not to be missed while you are in the area is a bowl of rice topped with crab, uni (sea urchin roe) and salmon roe fresh out of the sea of Okhotsk - every town on Hokkaido's north and eastern coasts will have several little cafes serving this.
Air - fly from Tokyo (Haneda) to Kushiro (1 hr 20 mins), rent a car here and drive out to Akan-ko national park (about 70km) - easy pleasant drive.
Rail - Train from Ueno (Tokyo) to Sapporo (9 hours), change here and catch a train to Kushiro (4 hours), change here and take a train to Kawayu onsen (2 hours). Kawayu onsen is in the heart of the Akan-ko national park.
Google map: bit.ly/auoBut
Kyoto is flat and is a warren of old narrow lanes with traditional architecture. The best way to get around and see its hidden gems is by taking a cycle tour of the city. If you don't like the idea of being part of a group tour then the guide will happily take just you and your party on the tour.
The tour will take you to some of the more popular sites in Kyoto and also some of Kyoto's back streets that tourists rarely venture into.
Cycling is a great way to see the city, stay fit and travel sustainably.
Kyoto Cycling Tour project. Very close to Kyoto central railway station. Ring them (354 3636) or check out they're website for further directions. www.kctp.net/en/index.html
Wedged between the end of the scenic 4WD Bloomfield Track and Cooktown, sits the Lion's Den Hotel. An oasis to travellers in Australia seeking the path less travelled.
Wake up to the raucous, undisciplined laughter of Kookaburras and share the outback with an assortment of other Australian fauna.
The atmospheric bar serves excellent meals and good beer and is the ideal place to rejuvenate after crossing the Bloomfiend track. Exchange tips with other travellers before continuing your journey up into Cooktown and the untouched and unspoilt Cape York Peninsula.
Rooms are very basic but clean and comfortable. Showers and toilets are shared.
The best way to explore the Murray. Kayaking through the still billabongs and waterways of the Murray. Surrounded by ancient tree hollows that stick out of the water which teem with birdlife. The drone of Melbourne traffic is miles away and instead your journey is accompanied by the the chatter of the birds and the raucous laughter of Kookaburras.
Moontongue eco-tours will organise an adventure to suit your ability.
The surrounding Mallee district has lots to explore. The town of Mildura with a population of 25,000 is an ideal base to explore from. Activities include wine tasting, bush camping, bush walking, top-class restaurants, Aboriginal art, Aboriginal cultral experiences.
daily direct flights to Mildura from Adelaide and Melbourne.
Moontongue tours arrange the kayaking - ring Ian on 0427 898 317 to organise. A 2 hour kayak trip will cost $35 per person.
Green spaces, clean air, tranquility and not a sky scraper in sight - surely we're not talking about Mumbai (Bombay)?
Located in the northern end of the crowded, over-populated, polluted island city of Mumbai is the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. A 104 sq km island of greenery in the urban jungle. Instead of being harassed by street vendors you get monkeys chasing after you for a snack or spotted deer obstructing your path.
Deep within the park are the Kanheri Buddhists caves which were carved out by Buddhists monks between the 6th and 11th century AD. The near absence of visitors allows you to take your time and comfortably view the detailed rock carvings of Buddha.
You can easily find the national park and the caves in the northern suburb of Borivali - about 90 mins drive from south Mumbai or you can organise a private pick up and a tour with reality tours which'll cost you Rs 4000.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park is in the suburb or Borivali. Bombay's roads can be a minefield for visitors - take a taxi or even better take a private tour with Reality tourshttp://www.realitytoursandtravel.com/
Google map: tinyurl.com/y9vmesj
The best way of seeing the desert around Alice Springs is by self-drive and bush-camping.
Camp n Drive in Alice hires out 4WD with all the equipment you need for camping.
We had no equipment of our own. Hired the car from Camp n Drive and drove out to Ruby Gap in the East McDonnell ranges. There was no one around. We set up camp by a ghost gum tree, lit a campfire, rolled our swag on the earth and spent a wonderful night in the desert under countless stars.
Camp n Drive is situated in Alice -48 Gap Road, Alice Springs, NT. 0870, Australia, 08 89520099. www.alicecampndrive.com/index.html
Ruby Gap is in the eastern MacDonnell ranges - easy to find. Follow the Ross highway from Alice, follow the signs to Arltunga and you will see signs for Ruby Gap. It's a 4WD road only after the Ross Highway.
Red Bank Gorge is like something out of a Bond movie. There is a series of narrow, winding, deep clear green pools, flanked by red stone that blazes gold when ignited by the sunlight.
The gorge continues for about 1km and the pools are separated by rocky banks to rest on. Make sure you take an inflatable raft or air mattress to navigate the pools as the water can be very cold. Even if you don't have a raft, you can easily explore the first two pools easily. The scenery is breath-taking.
I was there during peak season in the dry months and still was able to explore the pools by myself. One of the most beautiful places I have seen.
About 180km West of Alice Springs on the Larapinta drive just after Glen Helen resort. A 5km dirt track leads you from the main road - it says 4WD only, but I managed in a Getz no problem. A 20 min walk from the car park takes you to the gorge.
Google map: tinyurl.com/m6tgb3
The Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland is too big to cover in a few lines. It seems to be largely overlooked on most travellers’ itineraries and hardly gets a mention in the guidebooks. The reason for the omission might be the perceived difficult access to the region. This is a myth! The road in the dry season is a cakewalk with a 4WD and the tricky bits have bypasses should you wish to use them. If you’re prepared to take the road less travelled you will find a part of Australia seldom visited and with exceptional beauty. The road I took commenced in Cairns: I followed the Cook Highway north to the Daintree rainforest, then took the scenic Bloomfield track via Cape Tribulation to Cooktown. From Cooktown, the Battle Camp road went through the Lakefield national park to Laura. The road north via Fruit Bat falls eventually led to the Northern most tip of Australia. The trip didn’t end there: I ventured into the Torres Strait islands before returning south. The trip took two weeks during which I spent time on secluded beaches (so secluded that no one would know what you got up to on them!), lush rainforest full of wildlife, Aboriginal rock art sites, pubs in the middle of cattle farms in the outback and luxury hotels. Do your research, I recommend buying a copy of Ron and Viv Moon’s guide to Cape York before you make the trip.
Rent a car in Cairns. Britz lets you take vehicles up to the cape. Ring them on 1800 331 454 for more information.
Melbourne is Australia's secret city. Visitors from abroad are awestruck by Sydney's habour and opera house, but often fail to see Melbourne's charm. Melburnians however, all know that if you know where to look, the city is full of secret hidden spots.
Murmur bar is a fine example of a truly hidden secret Melbourne bar. Tucked away at the back of an alley way, off a small side street, up a flight of stairs and you find an atmospheric cocktail bar where you can while away a pleasant evening sipping new and innovative cocktail creations.
Think dim lighting, jazz music and attractive thirty-somethings drinking quirky cocktails.
Bit on the expensive side, but worth it!
Murmur bar is on wharburton lane in the Melbourne CBD. From the junction of Little Bourke st and Elizabeth Street walk west on Little Bourke (towards the Telstra Dome), Whatburton lane if off Little Bourke on the left side. (03) 9640 0395.
Google map: tinyurl.com/pdnkff
Uluru is undoubtedly a priority on every travellers list when they visit Australia. Although spectacular in its own way Uluru's beauty is eclipsed by nearby King's Canyon in the Watarrka national park. This ancient canyon created by a pre-historic inland sea allows breathtaking views over the Watarrka national park. The scenery is much more varied than at Uluru and the red domes against the azure sky are a visual treat. The walk around the rim of the canyon takes three hours - but is pleasant with lots of variation in incline and scenery. Halfway through the walk you come across the garden of eden which is a permanent waterhole. It's safe to swim here and the experience of swimming in this waterhole surrounded by sheer red cliffs with the sky above is amazing. Sunrise is the best time to visit the canyon when temperatures are bearable and the flies are few in number. Take plenty of water, sun screen and insect repellent. Nearby Kings Canyon Resort offers accomodation and there is a camp site nearby as well.
From Uluru airport Kings Canyon is a 400 km drive (takes about 3-4 hours as the roads are desserted). The drive is well signposted. Kings Canyon can also be reached from Alice Springs. For accomodation see the resort website - www.kingscanyonresort.com.au
Whether you're in Hong Kong for business or you're doing a stopover en route to Australia, a great way to soak up the Hong Kong vibe is to take a beginners Tai Chi class on the waterfront.
The class is in English and assumes no previous knowledge of Tai Chi. There are a few demonstrations first followed by lessons on how to do the most basic tai chi routines. All this in front of Victoria Harbour with the skyscrapers in full view. It captures the whole East-West fusion that Hong Kong is all about.
Best of all - the lessons are free.
The lessons take place in front of the Museum of Art on Salisbury Road by the waterfront. It is a five minute walk from the Star Ferry terminus on Kowloon. They start at 8am and run on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Ring the Hong Kong Tourist board on +852 2508 1234 to ckeck days before going.
An absolute must for anyone who is visiting Australia's number one city, especially those who have very little time, is a bike ride around the city. Rent a cycle on Flinders Wharf at Federation Square. The bike shop will advise on the route and give you a map. The most scenic route takes about two hours at a leisurely pace with plenty of stops. It takes you through the banks of the Yarra, the Botanical Gardens, Kings Domain, Albert Park, St Kilda beach, South Melbourne beach and South Bank.
The stretch from St Kilda beach up to South Melbourne beach and the station pier (where the Spirit of Tasmania docks) is the most picturesque segment. If weather permits, stop and have a dip in the sea or have a drink at one of the many seaside cafes. It's very difficult to get lost. The route is circular and flat nearly all the way.
Rent a bike on Flinders wharf at Federation Square. Ring 9654 7262 or visit the website. www.rentabike.net.au/
Melbourne is undoubtedly the foodie capital of Australia and the choice of restaurants is overwhelming. Should you find yourself out of the CBD's foodie haven and in the suburb of Camberwell, seek out the Afghan kitchen. I started with a platter of starters to share, which consisted of north-west frontier lamb dumplings, roasted aubergine and flat bread. For mains I had the bamia - okra cooked the Middle Eastern way in a tangy, tomato sauce and to finish off, a trio of mini desserts consisting of barfi (pistachio cake), firni (rosewater and cardamom custard) and Baklava. Pleasant ambience, a culinary experience that's a bit different and friendly service make this place a winner. And the icing on the cake - averagely priced!
923 Burke Road, Camberwell 3124, Melbourne
Phone (03) 9882 2775
The easiest way from the CBD is to take the train from Flinders Street and get off at Camberwell station, which is on Burke Road and minutes away from the Afghan kitchen. There also is a tram route that services Camberwell.
Google map: tinyurl.com/qv8mbd
I spent a very hot weekend in Geneva recently and found the perfect cure to the heat - Les bains des Paquis is a city beach on the shores of Lac Leman. Entry is two CHF for unlimited time. In addition to the pebble beach and the lake, there is a restaurant (which serves an excellent salade Greque), a hammam with massage services and a games area.
Sounds tacky? I thought it would be, but it wasn't! Swimming in the lake in the height of the summer with city views all around, the jet d'eau in the background and the snow-capped mountains in the distance is really something else.
It's on the same side of Lac Leman as the Cornavin station. Walk down to the Quai Mont Blanc and head left (towards the parc mon repos), the bains des Paquis are clear signposted and are accessed via a bridge.
A blast from the British past - this Parsi cafe in the heart of Bombay's fort area not only serves excellent and cheap Parsi food, but is a relic from the days of the Raj. It caters to the needs of the office workers at lunchtime and tends to be very busy. No tourists to be seen here! The traditional patra ni macchi (a fish dish) is a must. For mains I had the lamb dhansak (not quite the same as what we get in Britain!) which is a delicious dish of lamb flavoured with apricots. Don't expect five-star service! This is a no frills place for the locals which serves up food that you'll struggle to find anywhere else in the world! Recommended for all you foodies out there.
Off Horniman circle, Opp State Bank, Fort, Bombay 400 023. It's a bit hard to find, ask the cabbie to take you to the front of the Bombay Stock exchange (BSE), right opp the entrance to the BSE you will see a lane called Green Lane - you'll find Jimmy Boys at the bottom of Green Lane. tel - (022) 2270 0880/ 2266 2503
How many of you know that Goa was a part of Portugal until 1961? To get a true flavour of Portuguese Goa head to the state capital of Panjim. Apart from the Portuguese promenade, the churches and the ruins in Old Goa, you can savour the true taste of Portuguese colonial India in Venite reataurant. Set on a balcony overlooking 31 Janeiro Street, I had the crab and the Goan sausages.
My family hails from the Konkan coast and I grew up eating this blend of European and Indian food. When in Goa make sure you sample the region's true cuisines - my personal favourites are pork vindaloo, a dish flavoured with vin (red wine vinegar) and alho (garlic) and the xacuti.
Venite's is on 31 Janeiro Street, all the cabbies know it. It's in Panjim's Sao Tome neighbourhood. I don't have a phone number I'm afraid, but it's easy to find in a taxi and you don't need reservation
I have always wondered why it is so hard to find fresh and interestingly cooked seafood in our island nation!
Well, my search ended when I came across the Loch Leven seafood cafe sitting innocuously on Loch Leven just off the A82. The fish and seafood is caught fresh and locally.
My starter was a plate of oysters - which I can honestly say were the juiciest and plumpest one I've ever had. For the main course I had the razor clams cooked in herby white wine served with delicious bread.
There is also an adjoining shop that sells fish and seafood. If you like seafood you won't be disappointed.
It's about four miles off the A82 (the Glasgow to Inverness road) as the A82 passes in between Ballachulish and Onich (just south of Fort William). There is a brown sign on the A82 pointing you in the direction.
01855 821048 www.lochlevenseafoodcafe.co.uk
If you hate the hordes of screaming children and other assorted hazards of your average beach, head to the North Norfolk Coastal walk where I found miles of marshland and sandy beach. The sea was too rough to swim in but the beach is long, wide and sandy allowing for walks, taking in the views and comtemplating. And if you get bored of it all, the hustle and bustle of the beaches at Hunstanton are merely a stones throw away.
take the A149 from King's Lynn northbound, go past Hunstanton, at the village of Thornham, turn left off the A149 onto a very small road called Staithe Road. This should take you straight to the marshes, over which there is a path that'll lead you to the beach.
Restaurant on the North Norfolk coast with superb views of the salt marshes. Delicious fresh seafood served in small portions allowing you to eat a three-course meal without feeling like you're going to burst. I had the salad of cromer crab and quails eggs, plaice for mains with a side of samphire (available from the marshes in season) and an exquisite rasberry brulee for dessert. A perfect way to spend a summer's evening.
Brancaster Staithe on the A149, Norfolk, PE31 8BY.
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