Special Post: Finding HP in the UK (Part 2/2)

Part 1 was posted last week, so here’s Part 2 🙂

Although my first post was about a couple of places I visited in the UK with links to the filming of HP, this post is only about one place. But boy, is it the place that you need to visit if you’re a HP fan; Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter in London.img_6565

This attraction is not like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions you can find at Universal Studios in Orlando, Osaka, or Hollywood; there are no rides. Instead, you get a intimate behind-the-scenes look at how the films were created. From props to set design, costume choices, special effects, visual effects, and the antics of the cast while filming, everything is available to discover.

Now I could easily spoil all of the cool information that you can discover and bombard you with photos. I err… took over 600 in the 6 hours I spent there. But I will not, because if you’re a HP fan, you really should be getting to the studio, learning your own facts and taking your own photos! (I can’t guarantee that I won’t bombard you with photos, but I’ll try not to go too crazy!). To start with, how does one get there? The studio is located in Watford, on the outskirts of London and easily accessible via train. There’s a shuttle-bus to get you from the station to the studio, which is very convenient. As soon as you know around what dates you’ll be able to take the tour, I’d recommend buying the tickets straight away (from the website), because they certainly sell out fast. When booking your tickets, you have the option to add on an audio guide, souvenir book, and so on. Not wanting to miss out on anything, I also got the audio guide, and it was money well spent, as you get access to extra videos, pictures, and information. We booked in for a 9.30 am start, and I’m glad we went with the earlier time slot; by the time we left the studio was super full. This is because once you’ve entered at your time and finished the initial guided part (literally the Great Hall set), you’re free to explore as you want. Hence, you’ll get people in the same spot from several different start times. So; buy early for an early time spot, and if you’re a major HP fan, don’t schedule anything else in the same day. You’ll want all the time you can get there.

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The giant chess pieces outside the studio is your first glimpse at what’s inside, and entering into the lobby begins your wide-eyed journey. The Golden Keys of the first movie, giant posters, a flying car, and the smallest set (the cupboard under the stairs) is what greets you. Standing in line and waiting for our turn to go in, I found my head whipping in every direction! Upon entering the guided section, you’re treated to two short videos; one explaining how the HP films went from book to movie series, and one from the films’ main stars talking about their experiences as one of the most famous trios in history. The second video finishes with a projection of the entrance to the Great Hall. The screen lifts, and suddenly you’re standing right there, the massive doors shut and ready to welcome you into the world of Hogwarts. The guide opens the doors and you enter…

Throughout the tour, the sets are dressed up as they were scene in the movies, usually presenting a key scene. To help the sets come alive, there are mannequins in costumes to really create the right feeling. The Great Hall, with its line of Professors down one end, and clusters of students in house robes, certainly gives you shivers. Unfortunately, you only have a limited amount of time of the largest HP set, as the next time slot will be just as excited as you are to get in. But there’s definitely enough time to have a good look at everything!

Upon leaving the Great Hall, you get right into the thick of the action, full of sets, props, costumes, information on special and visual effects, information about animal training, and so much more! Each section has large videos explaining key things about creating the movies, and there are also large information boards (all of this is also available on your audio guide). You will spend a great bulk of your time in this area, so be prepared! I got shivers standing in front of my favourite sets, which include Dumbledore’s Office, the Potions Lab, the Burrow, and of course, Hogwarts Station (as well as filming on location in Goathland, a set was built), complete with Hogwarts Express! I was also blown away by the impressive 9 m (30 ft) high Ministry of Magic set. The one thing that really strikes you when looking at the sets is just how much detail went into their creation. Things that I never noticed in the movies suddenly stand out loud and proud. For example, in the Gryffindor common room there is a portrait of a young Professor McGonagall, while Dumbledore’s office contains is a large telescope. It was very expensive to create for the filming, but you only ever see it in the backgrounds of the movies. That’s a lot of dedication!

Did you know that approximately 5 000 pieces of furniture, 12 000 books, 40 000 Weasleys’ Wizards Wheezes products and packages, and 3 000 wands were made for the filming of the HP movies?! That’s a lot of contribution from a lot of different people! As I’ve already mentioned, a lot of the props are set up on the sets to help bring them to life, but you can find many, many more scattered around the tour, or else stacked up in a Room of Requirement-y way. You could spend forever looking through this piles, trying to place every object. The wands, of course, are a major feature, and it’s really fun to get a good look at the different characteristics of each one, and see how they match their user.

The tour boasts a couple of places where you can have photo opportunities with props or sets, for an additional charge. The first one you come across is the green screen area for flying on a broomstick. You actually get to have a go at trying it yourself. Unfortunately, I didn’t join this one because the queue was very large, but I do regret it a little bit now. The other chance is on the Hogwarts Express Station, where you can have a go sitting on the interior filming sets of the carriages, and trying to act with a green screen. Of course, you are free to take photos everywhere else, so grab the opportunity!

At around about the half-way point on the tour, you arrive at the Backlot, where the exterior sets and vehicles are kept. There’s also a cafe here that you must stop at, because it grants you the opportunity to try butterbeer! You can purchase it in both ice-cream and drink form. I tried both, but I have to admit- I preferred the ice-cream form. Either way it’s pretty tasty!img_6346

The most impressive thing in the Backlot for me was the Knight Bus. Unfortunately, and understandably, you couldn’t actually go inside it, but it was pretty intense towering over you anyway. Other sets in the Backlot include Privet Drive, Potter’s Cottage, and other vehicles such as another Ford Anglia and Hagrid’s motorcycle.

The next section was, rather surprisingly for me, one of my favourite parts of the whole tour! Dedicated to creature effects, make up effects, and animatronics, the next few rooms were full of things equal parts terrifying and fascinating. Thankfully Aragog is hoisted up high above everyone’s heads; if he was writhing and moving on the floor, I’m not sure I’d be able to continue the tour! One of the big highlights for me was the seated, but moving, life-sized Buckbeak. I would have bowed and patted him if there weren’t other people around!

Just like the Great Hall, one other large, significant set is separate to everything else; Diagon Alley. Having it separate to the rest of the sets really impacts you when you visit it. As the set has obviously been added to over the years, you’ve got the Weasley twins’ joke shop as well. I really wanted to enter into all of the shops; get my school books from Flourish and Blotts, potion ingredients from Apothecary, and finally a wand from Ollivanders. If only!

The final two stops on the tour had me almost overcome with emotions. The first was the famous Hogwarts model, that was actually used for exterior shots. The entire thing was hand crafted to scale, and real gravel and plants were used to make it as realistic as possible. Fibre optic lights are wired throughout the model to simulate lanterns and torches, and while you walk around the entire model, the whole lighting changes between night and day. Just being so close to the castle is such a special, overwhelming experience. You fans out there will know what I mean! The final stop is a small, dark, unassuming room, full to the brim with wand boxes. Over 4 000, to be exact, bearing the names of the individuals who helped create the world in the movies. Absolutely extraordinary.

Once exiting the tour, you’re free to explore the studio shop, which you can also explore before the tour. In here you’ll find a range of merchandise; wands, robes, books, sweets from Honeydukes, products from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, and more! The only (expected) downside is that it’s very pricey. You can only visit the shop if you have a valid ticket for the day, but there is a smaller selection available in the online store, but I would only allow myself to spend that much when on the tour.

My day at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour is certainly one I’ll remember for a very long time! Seeing just how much went into the creation of the world of HP made me appreciate just how much everyone involved took the extra step to really bring it all alive. It was definitely a magical day 😉

-S

Special Post: Finding HP in the UK (Part 1/2)

Apologies everyone, as I had previously promised a post on both Monday and Tuesday that never came. I’ve been a little caught up; it was my Mum’s 60th birthday a couple of weekends ago, I went camping with my cousins the weekend just past, and have since developed a flu. However, I’m certainly on the mend!

Anyhow, a couple of days late, but ready for your viewing pleasure nevertheless, is my first post about finding Harry Potter (HP) filming locations in the UK! When I visited the UK in August, I didn’t actively seek these places out, but I was certainly pleased that I managed to find them!

Alnwick Castle

You’ll be hearing more about this castle later today as it’s the next to feature in my Castles of the UK series. However, today we’re going to focus exclusively on its use in the filming of HP.

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The castle was only used for the first two films, but is easily recognisable from the first movie when Harry gets his first flying lesson (click for a refresher). Walking through to the inner circle of the castle will get you right into the thick of where the filming took place, and it’s very tempting to look up into the sky for a first year struggling to keep their broom in control.

Actually, you don’t need to look to sky to see that, since the castle holds free broomstick training lessons right on the spot where Harry and his friends had their first lesson! The lessons are run throughout the day and broomsticks are provided. I was pretty tempted to join in, but ended up in the line for archery instead.

Goathland Train Station

Goathland is a little village in Yorkshire, right in the Yorkshire Moors. My reason for visiting was actually because it was used for the filming of something else… the very old police show Heartbeat. However, it’s train station also features as Hogsmeade Station in the HP films; the station where the Hogwarts Express stops! The station was built in 1865 and has remained virtually unchanged since.

There’s a small gift shop at the station that sells a couple of things that might interest a HP fan, such as the station sign for Hogsmeade. But what’s really cool is that the station is still used by the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, which is a heritage railway. This means it still uses steam-powered engines, just like the Hogwarts Express! While there, we were lucky enough to watch a steam train pull up. We decided to seize the opportunity while we could, and ended up jumping on one through to Whitby.

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When I closed my eyes, I could just about imagine I was on my way for another school year at Hogwarts!

Lacock Abbey and Village

Lacock (pronounced “lay-cock”) is a small village in Wiltshire that is owned entirely by the National Trust. This is because all of the village dates from the 18th century or earlier… walking down the main street certainly makes you feel like you’re in a different time period!

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One of the more significant buildings in the village is Lacock Abbey. This building was run as a nunnery between 1229 and 1539. However, with King Henry VIII‘s Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Abbey and lands were sold, and eventually converted into a private house. Luckily, the cloisters remained untouched, and it was here that filming took place for the HP movies. Unfortunately, Lacock Abbey only really features in the earlier movies; the majority of its scenes are in the first. The cloisters were used for Professor Snape’s potion classes, Professor Quirrell’s defence against the dark arts classes, and Harry’s encounter with the Mirror of Erised.

However, other parts of the cloisters and the courtyard were also featured in the films. This is fantastic, because the whole monastic section of the Abbey is absolutely beautiful!

Other parts of the village were also used for the HP films. During the first film, one of the houses was used for the brief shots of Potter’s Cottage, when Harry first learns the history of his family. Note that this isn’t the same as the set that was used in the later films, when Harry and Hermione visit Godric’s Hollow. Other parts of the village were used for the exterior shots in the sixth film when Harry and Dumbledore go to meet Professor Slughorn, and convince him to teach at Hogwarts.

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Although not much, I hope you got a sense of how easy it is to feel transported into the magical world of HP while in the UK. Just visiting these three locations evoked a feeling of nostalgia in me, and I certainly took the opportunity to pretend I was a Hogwarts student myself! As magical as these places were, they were nothing compared to one other place I visited… but that’s a story for the next post 😉

-S

 

Upcoming Special Post: Finding HP in the UK

With the start of my Re-Watching Harry Potter post series and my ongoing Castles of the UK post series, I decided to write up two special posts about finding Harry Potter in the UK. Now, I don’t mean stalking Daniel Radcliffe (is he even living there still?), but rather places associated with the filming of the Harry Potter movies. Of course, there are websites and books dedicated to helping people find these locations, but these two posts will be based on my own experiences in the UK. I was there on a family holiday, so my main focus was not seeking out such locations, but I did manage to visit a couple!

If you are also a Potterhead, or you just want to see pretty pictures of England, keep an eye out for my two-post special on the next two Mondays 🙂

-S

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Me too, Harry

Geek & Eat: Japan

Here’s the last of my Geek & Eat posts. Hold onto your seats, because Japan is going to be a loooong one…

GEEK!

OTAKU

Alright, let’s get straight into it. You like anime? You think Japan has anime in every nook and cranny of the country? Trust me, you’re not far off. You can buy anime merchandise pretty much everywhere. This is especially the case for really popular titles; One Piece and Attack on Titan are the two I saw everywhere when I was there. When you visit well-known landmarks, such as Osaka Castle or the Tokyo Sky Tree (amongst others), you’ll usually find an anime character hugging or posing with the landmark in the souvenir store. Usually it’s a key-chain or something else small, and only the most popular characters are used (you’ll find Luffy and Chopper everywhere). Other cheaper (and sometimes tacky) anime-related products you can find are gachapon! These are basically vending machine-dispensed capsule toys. There’s lots of different types (not all are anime-related; you can find some pretty hilarious ones!) and you’re basically gambling on what you figure/variation you’ll get for each line of toys. WARNING: They are very, very addictive. You’ll tell yourself you’ll just want one or two, and before you know it, you’re actively seeking them out. You find them in gaming centres mostly, but they’re pretty much everywhere. There’s also plenty of anime-related products in department stores (but they’re so much more!) such as Loft or Tokyu Hands, as well as toy shops and souvenir shops. Don’t be afraid to go a little crazy!

If we’re talking anime heaven, then, naturally, we are talking Tokyo. Akihabara is probably on your list if you’re into anime. Selling everything from figurines to manga to body pillows, there’s bound to be some sort of merchandise you’ll want to pick up. A couple of things to keep in mind when visiting; Akihabara is very, very big. And there are a lot of places you’ll probably want to check out. We’re talking multi-level gaming centres and stores, maid cafes, and other themed cafes. Basically what I’m saying is: have a plan. Of course you’ll want to explore at your own pace, but if there are certain places that you really want to check out, you’ll need to have the self-discipline to drag yourself out of a store and continue on your way. Alternatively, plan to have multiple days here! Another good Tokyo location is the area around Ueno Station. There you’ll find Yamashiroya, a cool toy store, but there are plenty of other similar stores in the area. Finally, there’s the Ghibli Museum for all you Miyazaki Hayao fans out there. There are a couple of exhibitions inside the museum, but sadly, not all of the text is translated to English. However, just the joy of visiting the museum is enough reason to go! They’ve really thought through the building a lot, and nothing feels untouched or ordinary. If you’re ready to be swept up in the magic of Ghibli, then you should be buying your ticket already! Note that the ticket process is a little complicated, but you can find lots on useful information on their website.

 

Now otaku isn’t all anime, so I’m going to take a moment for two other things that are well loved about Japan; kimono and youth fashion. There are several places where you can rent out kimono in Japan, but by far, Kyoto is the most popular place for tourists to do it. This was particularly the case in the Higashiyama district, where there there are a lot of stores to rent (and buy) them. Don’t be afraid to have a look around; some places include doing hair and/or makeup, some charge extra for shoes or bags, some have time limits on how long you can take the kimono. We spent somewhere in the region of ¥8 800 ($110 AUD, $85 USD), so it’s not cheap, but also not horrifying expensive. Now, for those of you who don’t know, I’m full-blooded Caucasian. I was a little nervous about wearing a kimono, and a little cautious as to how Japanese people would react. Throughout the duration of the day I wore one, I got maybe two unpleasant side-glances. However, the overwhelming excited and encouraging responses I received from people more than outweighed the two nasties. There were older ladies waving excitedly at us when we walked by, and a massive group of middle-aged ladies (who had just left a temple) telling me in broken English (and my understanding of maybe three Japanese adjectives) that I looked pretty. If that doesn’t convince anyone who’s worried about offending others, then I don’t know what will! And boys, don’t think that this is just a girly thing to do, because there were plenty of places that rented male kimono out as well. One of the people travelling with me was a Caucasian male, and he also received a lot of positive responses when wearing one (one group of girls asked for a photo with him). The whole experience of picking out the clothing and decorations, getting dressed, and then feeling stunning the whole day is definitely worth it! As for Japan’s fashion, Harajuku in Tokyo is the place to go (although undoubtedly there’ll be similar youth hot-spots in other cities). You’ll see lots of street fashion and lots of shops so there’s plenty to see and explore! The best day to visit Harajuku is on a Sunday, so make sure you’re in Tokyo on that day!

 

ASIAN POP CULTURE

Everyone probably already knows about Japan’s massive pop and rock scene, and drama and movie scene (and if you don’t, you’re missing out!). Obviously, you’ll be able to easily get your hands on CDs, series, and the like, once you’re in Japan. I’ve heard that merchandise can be a little bit harder to obtain, but you can be guaranteed to find some in youth areas such as Harajuku in Tokyo or in Akihabara. If you’re a fan of the girl-group(s that comprise) AKB48, you can also visit their cafe in Akihabara and watch one of their performances!

If you didn’t already know, K-Pop is a big thing in Japan. There are certain groups that are more popular there than others (Big Bang rules over all, as usual), but if you are really seeking out something K-Pop related whilst in Japan, you will probably find it. For example, Tokyo’s Korea Town has merchandise, music, and dramas (I didn’t actually visit, having just come from South Korea). In other places, you can find some unusual K-Pop merchandise (of sorts). We often saw Big Bang’s teddy bears in gaming buildings, and I even found and EXO gachapon! With some K-Pop groups touring Japan fairly regularly, keep on the look out for shows you might to go to! We used Japan Concert Tickets to buy our tickets, since we didn’t have a Japanese address and couldn’t read the websites. The website was reasonably priced, the person I was emailing was very helpful, and it’s all very legal and trustworthy. The actual concert was amazing, the crowd was really energetic and excited (although hardly anyone clapped, which completely threw us off after the first song!), and there was a merchandise stall at the concert. Despite not being able to speak Korean or Japanese, we still enjoyed ourselves, so that gives you an idea how great it is!

HISTORY BUFF

If you’re visiting Osaka, you should definitely squeeze in a visit to Osaka Castle. The castle played an important role in Japan’s unification in the 1500s, but was mostly-destroyed during the Meiji Period. The main keep you see today is a restoration of the 1928 restoration of the castle. It’s not unusual for buildings in Japan (and other parts of Asia) to be rebuilt over time due to damage from war, civil unrest, fire, or earthquakes (most buildings are, after all, made of wood), so don’t let the more recent build put you off! After exploring the pretty grounds, you get in the elevator up to the top floor and then work your way down. The interior of the castle is actually a museum, focusing on the castle’s history and the life and achievements of Hideyoshi Toyotomi (certainly a very interesting character!). Beautifully kept and informative, it’s worth the visit!

Kyoto, considered the “thousand-year capital”, is just bursting with attractions for those of you seeking out history. There are countless temples and shrines to visit in the city, so I’m not even going to try and mention all of them. Instead, I’m going to talk about the Higashiyama districts; one of the city’s best preserved historical areas. Narrow lanes, wooden buildings, and lots of traditional merchant shops, it’s got the atmosphere you’re craving. It’s also a popular spot to rent kimono, which only adds to the feeling! Major attractions in this area include the Yasaka Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Tofuku-ji Temple, Kennin-ji Temple, and Kodai-ji Temple, amongst many others. There’s plenty of other attractions too; I visited the Entokuin Gardens and Temple and the site of the Goryo Eji Tonsho. The area’s very compact, so with good planning, you can see a lot in a day!

There were two places we did as a day trip from Kyoto that may interest you history buffs out there. The first was to Nara Park. Apart from some very intense deer, the park has a lot of religious buildings including Todai-ji Temple, Kofuku-ji Temple, and the Kasuga Grand Shrine. There’s also other smaller temples and historical buildings and gardens… that’s a lot in a small space! The other day trip was to Himeji Castle. This castle is considered one of the best examples of surviving Japanese castle architecture. The castle has an incredible perch on top of a hill overlooking Himeji, and the grounds of the castle, with a large parade square, are equally impressive. The inside of the main keep is relatively empty, with signs drawing your attention to the main architectural features of each floor. Elsewhere, there is plenty of information about the castle’s long history. Be sure to also explore the West Bailey Palace, a more recent (1618!) addition to the castle!

Finally, Tokyo. Now Tokyo has its Edo-Tokyo Museum (amongst many other museums) and Imperial Palace, but unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to visit them.  We did, however, visit Sensoji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest temple. It’s been rebuilt several times, but the location itself is obviously an important spiritual place for the city. The Asakusa Shrine is also adjacent to the temple. Leading to the temple is Nakamise, a line of various shops that features traditional crafts as well as more modern souvenirs. There are many interesting attractions in the area, including Hanayashiki, which claims to be Japan’s oldest amusement park. We didn’t get to visit here, but I plan to next time! Tokyo is also a good location for day trips, and heading up to Nikko is a great option for history-lovers! Toshogu Shrine, with its beautifully decorated carvings, is breathtaking… and I’m saying this without seeing the main Yomeimon Gate (under restoration)! There’s plenty of other things to see in the area, make sure you grab a map from the train station and plan out your day!

EAT!

Just like I’ve said about every other country in these posts, Japan is the place for food! If you’ve had Japanese food before, then you probably have dishes you want to try already. The most popular dishes (e.g. sushi, tempura, tonkatsu, etc.) you can find easily, and noodle restaurants commonly specialise in one type (udon and ramen are the most common). Make a list of what you want to try, and cross it off as you go! Another thing to note is that different areas in Japan have different specialities. We tried the houtou noodles in Fuji when we were there, and they were delicious! If you’re travelling around while in Japan, be sure to do a little research to find what you should be trying where! A little less luxurious, but still an interesting experience in itself, is the food from convenience stores such as 7-Eleven, Lawson, or FamilyMart. Apart from the snackage (definitely check out the ice-creams!), there’s also light meals available; bento boxes, onigiri, various types of breads, and many, many others. The quality is better than what you’ll find in western countries, and it’s cheap! I particularly loved the onigiri with karaage chicken! You’ll also find drink vending machines everywhere in Japan. Offering warm and cold drinks, and ranging from various teas, energy drinks, soft drinks, and milky drinks, they’re an incredibly convenient and fun way to try some of Japan’s popular drinks! Finally, if you happen to be visiting a temple or shrine during a festival, be sure to keep an eye out on the food stalls. Apart from popular regulars like takoyaki, yaki soba, and dango, you’ll find lots of other interesting food! A lot of the times, you’ll play some sort of game or draw a coloured stick to determine something about the food you’ll get, such as the number of eggs, toppings, or the number of treats you’ll get. A very interesting test of luck!

A couple of other “everywhere” places that are worth trying are some of the chain restaurants. If, like me, you’re from a country like Australia where there aren’t many big American chain restaurants, Japan is a country where you can enjoy them. We’re talking Denny’s, Starbucks, etc. It may just be ‘anytime’ food for others, but it was exciting for me! Japan, of course, has its own chain restaurants. We tried out a couple and found them really delicious. For some good quality Japanese curry, Coco’s Curry House is a good choice. You can customise your meal easily, including size and spiciness, and, considering I don’t particularly like Japanese curry but I enjoyed eating here, you can rest assured that it’s delicious! If you’re craving something more western-styled, Mos Burger is a chain restaurant. Their burgers are quite tasty, and served with chips and a drink if you buy in a meal. It’s very delicious, and a competitive alternative to McDonalds! Finally, Yoshinoya is a chain restaurant that specialises in gyuodon. This is essentially bowls of rice or noodles topped with beef (although lots of variations). The restaurants are usually quite small, and you get in and out fairly quickly. The bowls are cheap and pretty tasty!

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Spice guide in Coco’s Curry House

Finally, on to more specific locations and restaurants. I found that the teppanyaki in the Kansai (Osaka and Kyoto, amongst others) area was the most delicious. In Namba and Shinsekai in Osaka, there is a high concentration of teppanyaki restaurants, so if you’re in the area, check them out! You’ll find similar things on each menu, but usually there’s variations in ingredients for things such as okonomiyaki and yaki soba. Eat at restaurants that seem the busiest! In Kyoto, there are two very specific noodle restaurants that we went to that were amazing! Both are located on the main north-south road in Higashiyama (I believe it’s called Higashi Oji Dori). The udon place Mimikuo (small white building, very close to the Yaska Shrine complex) served some incredibly delicious noodles! If you’re a fan of udon, or you want to try a Kyoto-style dish, this is the place to go! The staff spoke very good English and you’re given bibs to wear while eating! The other noodle place Abura Soba Nekomata specialises in “oil noodles” (better described as soup-less noodles). This place is further up the road from Mimikuo, but well worth the walk. Follow the restaurant’s suggestion to add an onsen tomago (slow-cooked egg) to the dish, follow their instructions in the menu on how to eat, and enjoy! I loved the noodles so much, I ate here twice, and still dream of the food! Moving on to Tokyo, where there’s a lot to eat. However, I’m just going to talk about one thing; crepes in Harajuku. They’re a very big thing, and you’ll get overwhelmed both by the number of stalls selling them, and the number of options! As with anything else, follow the crowd to the popular places, even if it means waiting in queues. You won’t be disappointed!

Well that’s it for my Geek & Eat posts. I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them! Have you been to Japan? If so, how were your experiences there? Did you find a cool anime figurine you’ve been dying for, or visit a really interesting, historical place? Or did you have one of the best meals of your life? I’d love to know!

-S

Geek & Eat: South Korea

Hiya everyone! With my two weeks in South Korea, I finally have a lot more I can add into the Geek section of this post, and if you’ve already seen my holiday bragging post, you’ll know that I have a lot to say about eating in South Korea!

GEEK!

OTAKU

Given the popularity of anime in South Korea, it’s not surprisingly that there are a number of places in which you can buy manga, posters, and figurines (more so in Seoul compared to other cities, but I’m positive that there would be places in Busan selling merchandise as well). However, at Myeong-dong station (and probably available in many other clothing shops) we found an amazing sock shop which sold Studio Ghibli socks! I have a bit of an obsessive love for socks, and these were absolutely amazing! I never saw anything similar in Japan, so keep an eye out for quirky anime merchandise if you ever go to South Korea!

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My Ghibli socks! (L-R) My Neighbour Totoro, Howls’ Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service

ASIAN POP CULTURE

With the popularity of South Korea’s music and drama series, there’s no shortage of places to visit! The South Korean tourism website has a whole section dedicated to places you can visit that are associated with different dramas, and you can visit a whole host of places associated with entertainment companies, as well as specific idols and groups.

Obviously, there’s merchandise everywhere, so if you’re chasing stickers, postcards, calendars, mugs, jewellery, socks, clothing, or really anything, you won’t have far to look. Most of the major shopping areas in Seoul will have merchandise stores (especially in Myeong-dong) and there’s a lot in Busan’s markets.

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K-Pop merchandise! I actually bought a lot more, but to give as gifts. AND LOOK, T.O.P SOCKS!

With such a large number of famous entertainers in South Korea (and particularly Seoul), if you’re a massive fan, keep your eyes peeled, because you never know just who you might see… (on a side-note, any BTS fans out there? I want to brag 😛 )

HISTORY BUFF

We didn’t do much in terms of visiting historical sites and museums in South Korea, except for the time we spent at the National Palace Museum of Korea, Gyeongbokgung Palace, and the National Folk Museum. The two museums are in the same complex as the palace. There is a lot to see here if you want to visit everything, and so if you’re trying to fit it into one day, be prepared to get there early and leave late. However, it’s not very expensive to get into the palace, so you can always go multiple times, like we did. The National Palace Museum, rather obviously, focuses on aspects of Korea’s royalty, specific the Joseon Dynasty (both the longest and last dynasty of Korea). With information ranging from the members of the royal families, science during the period, court music, and so on, there’s a lot there for anyone interested in this time period! The palace itself is very maze-like, but there’s a lot to look through and see, from the guards at the very front of Gwanghwamun Gate right down to the expansive coffin hall and shrine at the back of the palace. The National Folk Museum is all about Korea’s people and their lives; right from the earliest archaeological records to modernity. I was really impressed with the set up and exhibitions in both museums, so if it sounds like something you’d like, you should definitely check it out!

EAT!

There is so much delicious food in South Korea! It’s definitely a place to go and eat! I recommend trying both street food and food from proper restaurants. The street food is safe and delicious (if you’re ever not sure which stall is offering the best quality, follow the crowd) and the restaurant food is amazing!

There are always several options when it comes to street food. If you like spicy food, tteokbokki, or spicy rice cakes, is an obvious choice. There’s quite a few varieties; in Seoul in was pretty common to just see your standard rice cakes, but in Busan we noticed that fish cakes or soondae (blood sausage) was commonly mixed in. Bungeoppang is the Korean equivalent of Japan’s taiyaki; red-bean paste enclosed in sweet pastry, and a must for anyone with a sweet tooth (plus perfect in the cold weather!). Another good choice for those with a sweet tooth is Gyeranppang, a sweet egg-bread cross cake. Other street foods that you see everywhere and may interest you include hotteok (filled pancakes), kimbap (“Korean sushi”), and odeng (fish cakes; served on a stick). I didn’t know the correct names of a lot of the foods I tried, but there are sometimes a couple of signs in English, or you can just watch them being made to know what’s inside 🙂

You can’t go to Korea without going to a Korean BBQ place! The concept here is to buy different cuts of meat (some marinated) from the menu and then cook them on charcoal grills that are set into the table. It varies in restaurants how much you cook yourself and how much the waiters cook it for you. Try to have a bit of idea what to do before going in, or else try and find a tourist-friendly place, because otherwise there’s a good chance the staff will expect you to know what you’re doing. There’s many BBQ places everywhere, and you can look forward to some delicious meat and an interesting array of side dishes. Having food being cooked in front of you seems to be a pretty common thing in South Korea, as our delicious meals of bulgogi and dak galbi showed. If you find a restaurant offering these dishes (designed to be shared among a group), try them out! South Korea is also famous for fried chicken. There’s a number of chain restaurants as well as small businesses, and it’s pretty common to go out for beer and fried chicken. Our first lot we had at the delightfully named “Cucurucu Chicken” in Jongno-dong in Seoul, which was delicious. We also tried Cheogajip in Busan (may be a chain-restaurant, I’m not too sure) which was better than the first restaurant. So good! If you want something a little different, Bon Gousse, a chain burger place, does delicious and interesting rice burgers!

Okay, that’s about all I think about to say for South Korea. Do you have any great dining experiences or any other interesting aspects to share for South Korea? I’d be happy to add them to my list for my next trip 😉

-S

Geek & Eat: China

Greetings all! Just like in my last Geek & Eat, I’ll have to say that the Otaku and Asian Pop Culture for this post is small. So small, in fact, it’s non-existent. We knew Japan was less than a month away, so there was no point in seeking out otaku-related items in China, and I don’t know enough about Chinese films or music to be aware of anything to visit in Beijing. However, if history or food is your thing, then read on!

GEEK!

HISTORY BUFF

Being one of the world’s oldest nations, there is history absolutely everywhere in China! Some of the most interesting places we visited in Beijing include the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven Park. There was plenty of information at these places, outlining the original function of the some the features, and how the structure or purpose of the buildings had changed throughout the years. I really liked that in both of these places, the information wasn’t only about the buildings themselves, but also about statues, trees, and other features. Tienanmen Square was somewhere with lot of modern history that I also really wanted to visit, but alas, we ran out of time. The Yonghegong Lama Temple and Confucian Temple were also really interesting, but I would recommend only visiting them in you’re in the area; there is, after all, a lot to see in Beijing!

Any self-respecting history nerd should also jump at the chance to visit the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses and nearby Emperor Win Shi Huang’s Mausoleum. I was very impressed with the museum; there was so much information, not only about why and how the warriors were made, but the whole process of discovery, excavation, and restoration. I liked that the museum pointed out the different roles of the warriors, and how the archaeologists could tell them apart. For example, the generals stood with folded arms and wore different headgear to the foot soldiers! I can’t remember exactly, but I think the mausoleum entry is also covered with the entry to the museum. Not only is the mausoleum park a very pretty place to visit, there are also other exhibition pits inside its grounds to visit and found out more about the burial process of Emperor Win Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, and the emperor whom the Terracotta Warriors belong to. It’s amazing that he lived over 2 000 years ago, but still has such a strong presence to this day!

Finally, Pingyao was an interesting little stop for us, and its Ancient City is easily accessible to explore. There’s English information inside all of the major buildings of the city, but I still think we would have benefited having a guide take us around… something to consider if you plan on going!

EAT!

China is well known for its impressive cuisine, and there were certainly a lot of different things to try while we were over there. However, I’ll only outline my most favourite meals here.

Firstly, anyone visiting China should try the street snacks such as the candy fruit or the roasted sweet potato. The candied fruit we had in Xi An was really sweet but delicious, although we were surprised when we bit into the tomato. The skewer was huge, and can fill you up for the a little while while you wait for a little snack. The sweet potato we had while walking around after visiting the Lama Temple, and even split amongst three people we couldn’t finish it, so you can probably make a meal out of it!

Secondly, Peking duck is a must for anyone visiting Beijing! We asked at the reception for a good place and were recommended Da Wan Ju (Dongsi), a very busy restaurant attached to a nearby Chinese business hotel. The whole experience was very unique, with a chef coming out from the kitchen to slice the duck in front of us, and our waiter showing us how to eat the skin (dipped in sugar) and how to make the pancakes with the meat. Everyone, I still dream about the taste of this meal, it was beyond superb. In fact, we were too busy eating, we didn’t take photos of the actual meal… but that’s a good sign, right?!

One of the places we visited the most frequently, since it was a favourite breakfast stop for us, was the uniquely named Maan Coffee: Waffles and Toast. To be honest, we only tried it because of the name, but I am so glad we did. The servings were huge and delicious, and the drinks were amazing. Perhaps the best part of the experience was that instead of table numbers, you get teddy bears! It was such a fun, delicious place, I really want to go back there!

Okay, my darlings, that’s all I have to say for my amazing history and food experiences in China. What about you, have you ever been to China? What are some things that you visited or ate that you can shout the praise of for days? Let me know in the comments 🙂

-S

Geek & Eat: Hong Kong

Confession time: the “geek” section of this post is going to be relatively short, sorry guys. None of us had any plans to seek out particularly geeky thing in Hong Kong since we knew that we’d be stopping in Japan and South Korea later in the trip. As such, the recommendations in this post are only from what we discovered when exploring.

GEEK!

OTAKU 

If you’re travelling to Hong Kong and still want to pick up some sweet Studio Ghibli merchandise, then don’t fret! Harbour City, a huge shopping complex on the Kowloon side of the harbour, has a Donguri Republic shop! If you’ve never heard of Donguri Republic, it’s basically a merchandise shop for Studio Ghibli. You can find them in practically every city in Japan (but more on that later), and also in a couple of other countries. The range is pretty impressive, given the shop is not the largest, and not badly priced either. Feel free to go crazy!

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A familiar face marks the entry to Donguri Republic!

The other place that might of interest to the otaku-minded community is the Avenue of Comic Stars in Kowloon Park. Although it features local comic characters (and information about local artists) from manhua (“Chinese manga”), and so may not be as well known to fans of Japanese manga, it’s pretty interesting to see and easily comparable to manga and manhwa (“Korean manga”). It’s also in the beautiful Kowloon Park, so there’s more than one reason for visiting!

It’s also relatively easy to get your hands on anime merchandise (particularly figurines), especially in the Mong Kok area, but you’ll need to further investigate this yourself, since we didn’t venture up there 🙂

ASIAN POP CULTURE

Unfortunately I’m pretty unfamiliar with Hong Kong dramas and Cantopop, so if I accidentally visited anywhere related to either of these things I’d have no idea. To be sure, Hong Kong’s skyline is featured in a lot of the movies produced there, so I guess that’s something?

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A reminder of how spectacular that skyline is…

I did want to visit the Avenue of Stars, a promenade that outlines Hong Kong’s rich history in film-making and includes statues of some of its most famous stars, including Bruce Lee, but had read that it was under construction until the end of 2018. However, I didn’t realised until it was too late that some of the most recognised statues and hand prints had been moved to the temporary ‘Garden of the Stars’ along the waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui. Oh well, next time I go, the avenue might be open again!

I wouldn’t be surprised if K-Poppers and J-Poppers could get their hands on merchandise in Hong Kong either, probably in the Mong Kok area as well.

HISTORY BUFF

Sadly, we didn’t actually visit any museums or any particularly historical attractions in Hong Kong itself. I had wanted to visit Tai O (oldest fishing village in Hong Kong) and the Buddhist Po Lin Monastery, but because we ultimately ended up with one day less in Hong Kong than what had been originally planned (thanks to flight delays), it was one of the things cut out.

However, visiting the historical centre of Macau, only an hour’s ferry ride from Hong Kong, is a must for any self-respecting history nerd (or anyone else interested, for that matter!). Having been controlled by the Portuguese from the mid-1500s to 1999, there exists a large number of Catholic churches and other European buildings mixed in with older Chinese architecture. There’s information outlining the history of the buildings when you visit them, and also the Macau Museum, next door to the Ruins of St. Paul’s and Mount Fortress. There’s maps readily available for exploring the area, and we managed the 2km distance between the ruins and A-Ma Temple easily, passing by a number of attractions including Senado Square, Cathedral Square, Na Tcha Temple, Luisde Camōes Garden and Grotto, St. Augustine’s Square, Lilau Square, and Barra Square, just to name a few!

EAT!

As I’ve already mentioned, Hong Kong is the place to eat. Out of all the places we ate, there’s three that I would recommend to anyone heading over to Hong Kong who loves food.

The first, of course, is dim sum! For those of you who aren’t aware, dim sum (alternatively known as yum cha) is a style Cantonese cooking where small portions of food such as steamed buns and steamed or fried dumplings are served in steamer baskets. Usually you go to dim sum in groups and order several different types of dishes to be shared around the table. There is usually a trolley service in the restaurant, where waiters push around trolleys with food already prepared, and offer you their dishes as you sit at the table. Dim sum is very popular in Hong Kong, since it’s a Cantonese area, and we were really excited to compare it to dim sum in Australia! The place we went to was called “Dimdimsum Dim Sum” in Jordan, Kowloon (I believe they have another stores somewhere else). It was very crowded and didn’t have trolley service, but the food more than made up for it. We got to try dishes we hadn’t had before, including wasabi buns, pineapple buns, steamed squid in garlic sauce, dried octopus and pork rice, and traditional siu mai with quail eggs. Everything was delicious, and I highly recommend it!

Secondly, if you venture up to the Temple Street Night Markets, you will find a number of small window-front or limited seating restaurants in the area that offer a range of different foods. All of them looked really interesting! We settled on a place offering various types of skewers and fried balls. We had skewered duck, lobster balls, beef balls, octopus, steamed dumplings, and rice rolls. All of it was excellent, and surprisingly filling!

Finally, if you decide to check out Macau, there are plenty of options for street food there as well! We had lunch in between Cathedral Square and the Ruins of St. Paul’s. Basically you walk down a little alleyway to get to Lou Kau Mansion, and then keep following the alley. We had a lot of different types of skewers, and there was one, sausage wrapped in bacon, that was particularly amazing. Try not to eat too much, though, because when you continue to the mansions you go past a lot of stalls selling sweet jerky and almond cookies. Almost all of them offer free samples to the crowds passing by- be sure to try it!

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The alley itself!

Alright, my lovely teacups, that completes my advice for geeking and eating out in Hong Kong. Please note that this is post is only based on my own experiences, and in no way pretends to be an extensive list for all the cool things in Hong Kong. Which is why I would like to ask you if you’ve been to Hong Kong? If so, what would you recommend to others in terms of geeking or eating out? I’m happy to take notes for my next trip 😉

-S

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Not belonging in the other categories, but still very geeky and cool, Star Wars jewellery for sale in Chow Tai Fook… and a solid gold R2-D2 on display!