How’s this for a panorama?

My first success with AutoStitch on iPhone, using 26 photos.

Driving around the mountain roads, such beautiful views

I'd love to be on a motorbike!

Flying into Innsbruck (Austria)

Leeds Castle

Visiting Leeds Castle today. So many people, but the sun keeps popping out.

Palácio National da Pena and the Castelo dos Mouros

Walked around the beautiful Palácio National da Pena this morning, then the Castelo dos Mouros. Relaxing now.

Lisbon’s Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

Visited Lisbon's Mosteiro dos Jerónimos this morning. This is a photo of the cloister. What an amazing building!

220km/h Alfa Pendular

Today we're taking the 220km/h Alfa Pendular train to Lisbon, where we'll spend the next three nights.

An unsuccessful first Portuguese meal

Nowhere opens Sunday. Tried bacalhau (salted cod) at the only place we found.

Porto Castle

Arrived at our hotel in Porto. It's a castle, and we've got a tower suite with 270-degree views! Can see the sea too.

Staying at Le Chateau Japonais

The Toto washlet, with its spray and heated seat, has been very much missed since leaving Japan. 

Visiting Bodium Castle, built over 600 years ago, in 1385.

Flying over London

Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye are clearly visible along the river.

Leaving Nagano for Tokyo on the shinkansen

The apartment block smack in the middle of the photo is where we've lived for the last nearly two-and-a-half years. So very strange, and a little sad, to think we will never return to it.


On the 487.5km journey home from Osaka today, we stopped at the newly-opened Suwa (諏訪) branch of Ippudo (一風堂), the ramen restaurant we ate at the other day in Kyoto, for lunch.

I chose the spicy miso option (一風堂からか麺 - photo one) and opted for the 'normal' spiciness level, and she went for the tonkotsu soup with added flavour (赤丸かさね味 - photo two). Along with my ramen came a bowl with half an egg, some pork meat and some rice flavoured with a similar taste to my soup.

After we had finished our noodles, we both asked for more noodles (替え玉), at which point we swapped soups so we could try each others'. I actually really liked both, although the winner for me was the ramen with separate noodles (つけ麺) I ate the last time, but unfortunately it seems like that choice is only available in the Kyoto branch.

The final photo is of the outside of the shop, painted bright red with small slices of windows. Very easy to spot!


Despite feeling rather worse for wear with a cold, I dosed myself up and went out in Osaka for a few hours this evening. Earlier in the day I'd dropped my brother at Osaka Itami airport for his internal flight up to Tokyo, ready for his flight home tomorrow morning, and arranged to meet Han-san. Han-san was a student in my class at my Japanese language school, and since graduating alongside me in March he moved to Osaka to continue his education. He's Korean, but moved with his mum to Nagano a couple of years back, and his Japanese is great. Especially now, since he has part-time jobs in a couple of hotels in Osaka - hence the good room rates for staying.

Our first stop was Ichiran, his favourite ramen restaurant. It's a chain restaurant, and its ramen was very tasty. However due to my cold unfortunately my taste buds weren't in optimum condition, so I will have to have another visit to confirm this verdict 100%. (Oh what a hardship.) It somehow felt like it had been a while (久し振り) since I had eaten a ramen, and indeed it had - five days since the last one. Ha!

Upon entering the restaurant (we had to queue outside for 10 minutes) there was a machine with just a single button labelled ラーメン (ramen) which made me laugh. Underneath that were more buttons for extras like an egg (which I chose) and beer (which of course I also chose). We inserted our money and it spat out our meal tickets. The seats inside were arranged in a single line, and on the wall of the waiting area was a panel with flashing LEDs showing the empty seats. When a row of three became empty we were told to file in and find our seats. Once sat down we were greeted with effectively a questionnaire of how we wanted our ramen to taste. The questions/options were:

- soup flavour strength (味の濃さ)
- soup thickness/oiliness (こってり度)
- amount of garlic (にんにく)
- onions (ねぎ) - either white (normal) or green
- noodle hardness (面のかたさ)
- spiciness / mystery sauce (秘伝のたれ)

I went for normal (基本) for everything except for noodle hardness, as I like my noodles slightly harder than normal. For spiciness I opted for 1/2 - the recommendation for newbies - whereas Han-san chose 2x, and you could soon tell as the sweat started pouring off his face!

I'll definitely be back to try their ramen again, probably next month at one of their many branches in Tokyo.

Yesterday’s foot bath (photo)

On our way out of the hotel this morning I took this photo, so you can see exactly what my brother and I were sitting with our feet in yesterday. As you can see they provide the towels too. A great form of relaxation after a day's walking!

Small croissant breakfast

As part of the reduced-food course we had booked at the ryokan in Kotohira, we were only expecting something like a single croissant and coffee for breakfast this morning. Instead we were presented with this - a tray including some orange segments, a salad, juice and two warm croissants. Butter and jam were also provided of course. Lovely!

I don't have anything but good things to say about this ryokan. We'd definitely love to go back at some point, and also take the opportunity of having more free time in which to climb the 1,368 steps up to Kompira shrine.

My brother didn't want to leave the breakfast table without leaving behind a present, and in his inimitable style this was an origami chicken made from his napkin. I'm sure the waiter appreciated it and had a laugh (assuming he could figure out what it was).

You call this a reduced-food dinner?!

After enjoying our earlier pre-dinner udon, we returned to the hotel for our "reduced-food" dinner course. We were certainly not expecting what we ended up with! The five courses we were given were:

- Appetisers (including jellyfish - in the tiny flower-shaped bowl on the right)
- Sashimi (including sea urchin, raw prawn, turban shell [栄螺/サザエ], flounder, scallops, yellowtail, sea bream)
- Beef and Matsutake mushroom (cooked ourselves over a flame)
- Miso soup
- Swiss roll and kiwi fruit

We were completely stuffed after this. All we could do was have a quick rest, and then go for a long soak in the ryokan's onsen. This was so clean and the indoor and outdoor baths were an absolutely perfect temperature (my guess 41 degrees).

Yamashita’s famously tasty udon in Kotohira, Shikoku

The part of the Japanese road trip with my brother I was most looking forward to was the two-day drive through Shikoku, well known for its udon. I love udon and for the last couple of years - I think since watching the Japanese film 'Udon' - I've wanted to visit Shikoku and eat Sanuki udon.

We'd booked to stay in the well-known (and expensive) Kotohira Kadan, a top-class ryokan, and one of the ways of reducing the price (as you pay per person, not per room), and at the same time experiencing some of the local udon, was to take a "reduced-food" course. In addition to this reduced dinner at the ryokan, we were also each given a ticket (photo two) which could be exchanged for a bowl of udon at one of a couple of the local udon restaurants.

We went for 山下うどん (Yamashita Udon), which was about a ten-minute drive from the ryokan. And it was fantastic. The udon were quite chewy and obviously home-made (in a good way). Unlike our lunch earlier they aren't going for completely-smooth seemingly Sanuki-style udon, but instead the taste was much more preferable to me; I do like firm noodles!

The first photo shows my choice of the きつね (named for the sweetened fried tofu served on top of the udon) ready to eat once the sauce was poured on. The third photo shows the bottles of cold and hot sauce the staff brought to our table, along with the stub of fresh ginger they provided for us to grate for ourselves. Finally the last photo shows my brother's (meat topping) udon. Yum!

After finishing, I had enjoyed my udon so much that I ordered another きつね. It should be pointed out that these bowls of udon were considered their 'small' size (they also had 'large'), and cost just 350 yen each (about £2.30). Amazingly cheap and so very delicious!

Sitting overlooking Kotohira and Mt. Sanuki-Fuji

Feet in a hot foot bath. So very relaxing!

Our first Sanuki udon experience

On our way to Takamatsu, the largest city on the island of Shikoku, a quick check online (using my iPhone) and we had our lunch destination in 鶴丸 (pronounced 'tsurumaru'), a small restaurant in the centre of town near the station.

The owner was really friendly and recommended a few things to us, as I guess it was obvious we weren't local and didn't know our udon. First on the list was 'sashimi udon', served cold over rice with some onions and ginger. It's eaten sashimi-style, in that you eat it by first dipping it in soy sauce. This cost just 100 yen (65p), and I ordered seconds.

The udon was really smooth and surprisingly soft. It almost melts in the mouth! I somehow remembered that in the film 'Udon' it was said that you shouldn't chew Sanuki udon, but instead let it just slide down. Not sure how true that is, and I didn't fancy trying it in case I choked, but I can see how it could be feasible as the noodles certainly don't require much chewing at all.

Shown next below is my hot ぶっかけうどん (served in slightly-watered-down sauce with meat, ginger and onions) which was very tasty, and after that my brother's かけうどん (served with meat in a thinner broth).

As we paid and left, the owner asked us if we'd had a good experience of udon, which was really nice. Definitely a good first experience.

Curry and beer!

Tonight we are fortunate enough to be able to stay right in the centre of the south part of Osaka (Namba). A friend of ours works at a hotel literally right off Dōtonbori so not only did we get a great room on the 14th floor for next to nothing, but this evening we were able to sample the food of a fantastic curry restaurant nearby.

The place is called Puru Nima, and to cut a long story short we all left there very full and very happy. The service was great; the guy (of Indian descent who spoke very capable Japanese) politely and patiently answered all of our million-and-one questions about the different types of curry on offer and the spiciness and contents of their menu. I enjoyed a Kingfisher beer - a lager which, despite being offered as an Indian beer, is in fact bottled in the UK - and we gobbled down our curries and naans with tremendous gusto.

Between us we had a prawn curry, a potato and aubergine curry and a minced chicken curry, accompanied with garlic, cheese and plain naans. Superb!

Journey of the creation of okonomiyaki

Our journey today took us from Kyoto to Osaka, and for lunch we decided to visit my favourite okonomiyaki restaurant chain, 風月 (pronounced 'fugetsu'), for lunch. The photos show the stages of the cooking process, all done by the staff on the large heated pan embedded in the table in front of us. The items we chose were (left to right):

1) 風月焼き (pork, beef, squid, prawns)
2) 牛すじねぎモダーン (beef and onions with noodles)
3) とんぺい焼き (omelette with pork)

Photo 1: placing the mix of the pancakes on the pan (the omelette was brought to us)
Photo 2: adding fish flakes to both, and noodles on the middle one (half the omelette, gone!)
Photo 3: after flipping them over (and finishing consuming the omelette)
Photo 4: adding the final mayonnaise, sauce, and onions. Ready to eat! Go!