Still As Life http://blog.stillaslife.com Quicker than you can say cheese! Fri, 19 Jan 2018 03:52:38 +0000 en-AU hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 https://i1.wp.com/blog.stillaslife.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/cropped-StillAsLife-Logo-White-512.png?fit=32%2C32 Still As Life http://blog.stillaslife.com 32 32 24046455 Royal Caribbean’s Main Dining Room Menu – Saffron Theme http://blog.stillaslife.com/travel/royal-caribbeans-main-dining-room-menu-saffron-theme/ http://blog.stillaslife.com/travel/royal-caribbeans-main-dining-room-menu-saffron-theme/#respond Sun, 14 Jan 2018 07:01:00 +0000 http://blog.stillaslife.com/?p=5045 Royal Caribbean’s main dining room menu is continually changing so that you will never experience the same food more than once on the same cruise. An assortment of menus are shared across all the Royal Caribbean ships, and they aim […]

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Royal Caribbean’s main dining room menu is continually changing so that you will never experience the same food more than once on the same cruise. An assortment of menus are shared across all the Royal Caribbean ships, and they aim to coordinate dishes from this selection with the ports the ship will be at and the tastes of the primary demographics on board the vessel. Today’s menu was sampled aboard Radiance of the Seas, and I have also encountered it on Voyager of the Seas and Jewel of the Seas.

The Saffron Menu

Saffron. Everyone knows saffron, the legendary high-price spice commonly found in Indian dishes. It is handpicked from flowers that only produce a tiny amount of the spice, making it labour intensive and driving up the price. Royal Caribbean’s saffron main menu incorporates saffron into the pan-fried hoki fillet.

Main Menu

Royal Caribbean's Saffron Main Menu

Royal Caribbean’s Saffron Main Menu

This menu isn’t a bad one to dip your toes into some of the different soups and consomme’s that we love trying whenever we cruise. I am not keen on rum though, so, for starters, I got the shaved cantaloupe and honeydew melon which comes drizzled with Midori yoghurt. Look, I’ll be honest, it’s just rockmelon and honeydew melon with a bit of yoghurt, so if you are one of those people (like my wife) who is not a fan of these two kinds of fruit, you won’t like it. It is, however, a light and refreshing dish that is perfect for leading into the main meal. It also happens to be the only vegetarian starter on the menu.

Shaved Cantaloupe and Honeydew Melon

Shaved Cantaloupe and Honeydew Melon

Wifey loves the double-boiled chicken consomme. She has picked it every time we’ve had this menu. It’s filled with warmth and flavour, just don’t expect lots of chicken or the ricotta-spinach gnocchetti, after all, it’s only a starter. This dish is also the starter included on the Vitality menu.

Double-Boiled Chicken Consomme

Double-Boiled Chicken Consomme

For the main course, I opted for the pan-fried hoki fillet. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for intense flavours, and this dish features saffron, capers, sultana grapes and pine nut relish. Add to that the fondant potatoes, some good fish, and I’m sold! I really enjoyed this dish, particularly the pine nut relish which turned out to have the capers and sultana grapes in it. It was soooo good! This is also the main course dish on the Vitality menu.

Pan-Fried Hoki Fillet

Pan-Fried Hoki Fillet

Wifey was feeling the beef though, so she went with the carved filet of beef tenderloin well-done. We find that a lot of dishes are a bit light on the vegetables though and we often feel like we are craving more veggies after a couple of days at sea. So, she also ordered a side of steamed vegetables for us to share which comes with broccoli, carrot and asparagus. I don’t know what they season it with, but it tastes great!

Carved Filet of Beef Tenderloin

Carved Filet of Beef Tenderloin

Dessert Menu

Next up is dessert! Saffron doesn’t make it into the dessert menu at all, but the chef’s recommendation is the bittersweet chocolate souffle. No good if you don’t like the flavour of coffee. Wifey tried this one once before, and it was way too strong for her tastes, but I quite enjoyed it.

Royal Caribbean Saffron Dessert Menu

Royal Caribbean Saffron Dessert Menu

The desserts on this menu are varied, and all look delicious. I got the low-fat berry bliss along with the ice cream of the day, raspberry and lime sherbet. Yum yum! The berry bliss is a berry mousse in one of Royal Caribbean’s standard moulds with strawberry jelly on top. It’s served with a dash of low-fat yoghurt, some strawberry syrup, whipped cream and a dark chocolate stick. The flavours are great, but it doesn’t hurt to let it warm up a little on the table. Mine was still partly frozen. This dish completes the Vitality menu.

Low-Fat Berry Bliss

Low-Fat Berry Bliss

The ice creams and sherbets of the day come served with an amoretti biscuit and are quite a generous serving. You could have this on its own for dessert, or get it to have with your dessert. They don’t always do sherbets, but when they do, they are great!

Sherbet Ice Cream

Sherbet Ice Cream

Wifey was pretty full after her beef tenderloin, so she asked for a fruit platter. This isn’t on the menu, but it’s always available if you are just feeling the need for some fruit. The standard selection is rockmelon, grapes, kiwi fruit, watermelon and pineapple.

Fruit Platter

Fruit Platter

What’s your favourite?

Have you had any of the dishes from the saffron menu in the main dining room? What was your favourite? Let me know in the comments below.

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Travelling by bus in Australia on Murrays Sydney-Canberra Express Coach http://blog.stillaslife.com/travel/travelling-bus-australia-murrays-sydney-canberra-express-coach/ http://blog.stillaslife.com/travel/travelling-bus-australia-murrays-sydney-canberra-express-coach/#comments Sun, 07 Jan 2018 07:02:00 +0000 http://blog.stillaslife.com/?p=5006 When I visited Canberra recently, I decided to go via bus instead of driving myself. and both offer express services that run from Sydney’s Central Station to Canberra’s Jolimont Centre Bus Terminal via the Sydney Airport and back. These services […]

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When I visited Canberra recently, I decided to go via bus instead of driving myself.

Murrays and Greyhound both offer express services that run from Sydney’s Central Station to Canberra’s Jolimont Centre Bus Terminal via the Sydney Airport and back. These services are meant to be three hours and thirty minutes, about the same time as driving it yourself.

Murrays Coaches Waiting at Central Station

Murrays Coaches Waiting at Central Station

Greyhound has free wifi on a limited number of their coaches, but they do the route much less frequently, so I opted to try Murrays as they run a bus almost every hour, 24 hours a day, giving me the most options for bus times. As an added bonus, if you travel this route frequently, Murrays also have a loyalty program where you get every 6th trip free. That’s awesome and strikes me as a cheap way to get from Canberra to Sydney for cruises, especially if you need to go to the White Bay cruise terminal. Just get the bus from Canberra to Sydney Airport and then take the cruise line airport transfer shuttle to White Bay!

But, I digress…

Murrays Coaches at Canberra’s Jolimont Bus Terminal

Murrays Coaches at Canberra’s Jolimont Centre Bus Terminal

After selecting the trip time, Murrays Coaches offer three fare types priced as below (current at the time of writing):

  1. Hot discount – $38.00
  2. Premium discount – $42.00
  3. Fully flexible – $46.00

Since I had to rely on the Intercity Train to get me from Lake Macquarie to Central Station, I booked the fully flexible fare. This means that if the train is late, delayed, or just doesn’t turn up, I can change my booking at no cost up to 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time (although they are pretty flexible and may accommodate your change later than that time if possible).

My train was due to arrive half an hour before the bus departure, which is plenty of time. Unfortunately, my train was delayed twice, and I didn’t get into Central Station until a few minutes after my bus departed.

Fortunately, I was able to quickly change my booking to the next bus. You can do this online or by calling Murrays customer service number. I was very impressed with the ease of change, though it wasn’t helped by the awful phone reception along the train line.

The other benefit of the flexible ticket is that if you happen to arrive early, you can change to an earlier coach. On my return trip to Sydney, it worked out better for me to get to the Jolimont Centre in Canberra about an hour earlier. I got there just as the bus before mine began boarding, so I swapped onto it and got back to Sydney an hour earlier than planned.

In Sydney, Murrays coaches operate from Pitt St, a level below the main station platform at Central Station.

It is a little confusing to find, but once you know it’s down on the lower level, and right on Pitt St (not any of the bus turn-around or drop-off areas), it’s really straight-forward.

Murrays Coaches Office at Central Station on Pitt St

Murrays Coaches office at Central Station on Pitt St

In Canberra, you’ll find the Murrays coaches office in the Jolimont Centre on Northbourne Ave with the coaches waiting in the bays behind the centre. Access to the coaches is through the Jolimont Centre building.

Checking in is straightforward with just your name required, though they can ask for ID as well.

Once onboard, the buses feature leather seats with USB power to keep your phone or tablet going. I found that while it is powerful enough to charge an iPhone 6+ while it was in constant use, it isn’t powerful enough to charge an iPad Pro while in use. It does slow down the speed at which you use up the battery though. My guess is they must only be 1.0 amp USB sockets.

My seat with USB power

My seat with USB power

The seats are firm and compared to airline seats they are probably a similar width to a Jetstar domestic seat with legroom like a typical Qantas domestic seat. Footrests come standard, and you get one 32kg checked bag plus one small carry on bag.

Footrest included!

Footrest included!

I personally found them no more or less comfortable than an economy airline seat, perfectly fine for 3.5 hours, but we had terrible traffic getting out of Sydney, and the trip turned into a four hour and ten minute one. I‘ll admit, I was ready for a different seat by then!

Each seat has it’s own air conditioning and lighting controls, just like on a plane, so it’s all very familiar and helps maintain comfort during the trip.

Air conditioning and lighting controls above my seat.

Air conditioning and lighting controls above my seat.

There are seatbelts as required by law, but there are only armrests on the outsides of the seats (window and aisle) with no armrest between seats. I think this makes the seats feel a little smaller than they actually are since there is no clear divider to separate you from your neighbour, but I didn’t find it problematic.

Seat belts are required

Seat belts are required

I found that for me; the only real source of discomfort with the seats is just that, even partially slouched, my head is still well above the top of the headrest, meaning no head or neck support unless I slump way down. It’s not enough to stop me from travelling by coach again, but it would definitely increase the seat comfort level over a trip of that duration. Looking at others on the bus though it seemed that the height is suitable for most people.

The headrests are fine for most people.

The headrests are fine for most people.

All in all, it was a good trip. It runs directly without a stop, so make sure to bring a water bottle and some snacks! There is a toilet onboard so you can make a pit stop if required, just don’t expect a Macca’s run!

There is a toilet up the back

There is a toilet up the back, and a decent amount of overhead storage space.

Overall

I found that overall, Murrays Sydney-Canberra Express coach service was a cost-effective and comfortable way to do the trip between Sydney and Canberra. It is about the same amount of time as driving the route yourself, and the terminal locations are convenient to Canberra city centre, Sydney Airport, Circular Quay Cruise Terminal, Central Station and the Sydney CBD. The baggage allowance is generous and everything is just easy, especially with a flexible ticket. Add to that the loyalty program for frequent travellers and this works out in my opinion to be one of the best ways to get between Sydney and Canberra.

Have you used Murray’s, Greyhound or another bus service on the Sydney to Canberra route? Have you used it to get on a cruise? I’d love to hear your experiences and which coach line you prefer, let me know in the comments below!

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Visiting Sapporo TV Tower at night in August http://blog.stillaslife.com/travel/visiting-sapporo-tv-tower-night-august/ http://blog.stillaslife.com/travel/visiting-sapporo-tv-tower-night-august/#respond Sun, 31 Dec 2017 07:01:00 +0000 http://blog.stillaslife.com/?p=4884 Hey everybody, it’s Matt here again, and today, I want to take you through Sapporo TV Tower at night in August. I hope you find it helpful for your own trip planning. Be sure to share it if you do, […]

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Hey everybody, it’s Matt here again, and today, I want to take you through Sapporo TV Tower at night in August. I hope you find it helpful for your own trip planning. Be sure to share it if you do, and check back for more articles and videos from our travels in Japan and elsewhere around the world.

After arriving in Sapporo and checking into our hotel, the Hotel WBF Sapporo Chuo, our first sight, the Sapporo TV Tower, was just two blocks away.

Matt outside Sapporo TV Tower

Matt outside Sapporo TV Tower

A quick question for you!

Before I jump into it though, I just wanted to ask, what’s your favourite tower and why? The only others I’ve been up in are Calgary Tower, Sydney Tower, and Tokyo Skytree. So far, I’ve found each one to have unique flavours, but, even though it’s nowhere near the tallest tower I’ve been in, I love the intimacy of Sapporo TV Tower and the city planning around it. Let me know down in the comments at the end of this post!

Getting to Sapporo TV Tower

Sapporo TV Tower is located at the Eastern-most end of Odori Park in the heart of Sapporo. It’s conveniently located for public transport access with nearby bus stops and the subway running below it. Being in Odori Park, it’s also convenient to access by foot from many of the hotels in Sapporo that are located near the park.

The full address is:

Sapporo TV Tower

1 Chome Odorinishi, Chuo, Sapporo, Hokkaido 060-0042, Japan

Getting there by car

There are a number of parking lots within 1 block of Sapporo TV Tower. The Sapporo Odori Underground Parking Lot is perhaps the closest. It runs under Odori Park and the Odori Subway Station, also connecting to Aurora Town underground mall. It has space for 366 cars and is across the road from Sapporo TV Tower.

Pricing starts at 390 yen for the first hour and 200 for every 30 minutes thereafter. You can also get one hour free by spending at least 2000 yen at one of the stores in Aurora Town. If you visit between 5pm and 10pm (closing time), the maximum charge is 1000 yen, and if you visit between 8am and 10am, you can get a half hour rate of 200 yen if you are there for less than half an hour.

The next closest car parks are to the south. There are around 4 lots in the blocks directly south of Sapporo TV Tower, including the Marui Imai and Mitsukoshi parking lots. These lots are located on either side of the Toho Subway line, with the Marui Imai being below the Marui Imai shopping centre, and Mitsukoshi on the opposite side of the road. Here, you can expect to pay 190 yen per 30-minute block. Most of these lots are underground, but there are some above ground spaces such as the one below that is almost opposite Sapporo TV Tower.

Getting there by public transport

The closest public transport link is via the Toho subway line, followed very closely by the Tozai and Nanboku lines. If you arrive on any of those lines you will want to get off at the Odori Station and head out of exit 27. This is a 1-minute walk from the Toho line or a 5-minute walk from the Tozai and Nanboku lines.

If you need to come in by train, it’s a 15-minute walk from the JR Sapporo Station and you will want to head out the South Exit.

Getting there by tour

There are some competitively priced full day tours available through Viator that include a visit to Sapporo TV Tower (however they do exclude the entry fee).

Admission fees and other costs

Standard pricing is 720 yen for adults aged 19 and over. For high school students the price is 600 yen, then 400 yen for junior high students, 300 yen for primary school students, and 100 yen for children aged 3 to 5. You can check the current entry pricing on their website and note that junior high and high school students need school ID to get their prices.

Before you arrive though, make sure you do some research as there are often discount tickets available. At the time of this article, the Sapporo TV tower website has a 20% discount available, just print out the voucher or present it on your phone when you buy your tickets. There are also often discount vouchers in the map books and promotional magazines that hire car companies include with a rental, so check them out to see if it works out any better for you.

Tickets can be purchased on arrival at the ticket counter or pre-purchased for a designated date through Klook. If you opt to pre-purchase via Klook, the pricing is the same as standard full price tickets, however, Klook guests get to jump the elevator queue.

If you book with Klook you will receive a voucher that you redeem at the ticket desk on level 3 of Sapporo TV Tower. Some things to note though is that when booking with Klook your ticket is non-refundable and the date cannot be changed. So you are sacrificing flexibility as well as a possible discount. However, you are gaining time, particularly if it turns out to be busy when you visit because you get to go straight up the lift on the next one that is available.

Buy tickets

Opening hours

Normal opening hours are from 9:00 am to 22:00 pm every day of the year except for New Years Day, special events and maintenance. You can check any upcoming closure dates here.

About Sapporo TV Tower

Built in 1957 and standing at 147.2 metres high, Sapporo TV Tower is one of the most recognisable landmarks of the Sapporo cityscape. It’s similar in appearance to the Eiffel Tower and Tokyo Tower, though much shorter.

As we approached it, just on dusk, we got to see the lights come on and it really does look quite underwhelming when it is first lit up at night with just minimal lighting.

Sapporo TV Tower starting to light up.

Sapporo TV Tower starting to light up, you can see the observation deck above the giant clock.

However, once all the lights come on, it’s quite dramatic.

Sapporo TV Tower all lit up

Sapporo TV Tower all lit up

There is an observation deck located at the 90.38-metre high mark, and it gives you a great view out over the Sapporo skyline, particularly down the length of Odori Park and looking towards the Mount Okura ski jump stadium.

Looking across Odori Park from the Sapporo TV Tower observation deck. You can see the Okura Ski Jump lit up in the distance.

For the Australians, in comparison, Sydney Tower stands twice as high at 309 metres with the top floor being at 268 metres high.

Sapporo TV Tower vs Sydney Tower

Sapporo TV Tower vs Sydney Tower

Access to the Sapporo TV Tower observation deck is via lift from the third floor, which is also where you can purchase tickets or redeem your pre-paid tickets.

Our tickets and English guidebook

Our tickets and English guidebook

From ground level, you can either take the stairs or a short lift up to the third floor.

One of the lifts to the observation deck.

One of the lifts to the observation deck.

It’s worth noting though that if you opt for the stairs, each floor is higher than normal, so the third floor is more like the sixth floor of a normal building. The stairs are also pretty steeper. A lot steeper than a normal staircase. There are lots of encouraging signs though to help motivate you on your climb!

The stairs are pretty steep. The stairs are pretty steep. 82 steps to go! "Burn that weight off by walking up the stairs" 28 more steps to the third floor!

Once you have your ticket, it’s a short 60-second ride in the elevator up to the observation deck. Along the way, you can enjoy the views and listen to the recorded commentary. English is available, and it provides a very brief overview of the history of the tower on the way up. On the way down, you’ll get to hear a little bit more.

When you get out of the elevator you are immediately greeted with the Sapporo cityscape, looking roughly east.

Looking East from Sapporo TV Tower

Looking East from Sapporo TV Tower

There isn’t a lot to see out this side at night since Odori Park ends in this direction at the base of the tower, and you are looking away from the heart of Sapporo’s nightlife. That said, if you go at night like we did, you’ll be pleased to see that the deck is minimally lit, meaning it’s easy to take in the city lights outside without reflections from inside the tower.

I found a lot of the little things that were lit up quite interesting, even though they aren’t as spectacular as the view over Odori Park. For example, the Sapporo Hall garden clock to the North:

Sapporo Hall garden clock

Sapporo Hall garden clock

Even the patterns of crosswalks at intersections seem so much more entrancing from this view at night time, like this one directly below the Northeast corner of the tower:

A pedestrian crossing from above.

A pedestrian crossing from above.

The deck itself features a lot more information about the tower as well as binoculars and a small souvenir store.

The main attraction, at least at night anyway, is the view to the west, looking down the length of Odori Park.

Odori Park lit up at night - the view from Sapporo TV Tower.

Odori Park lit up at night – the view from Sapporo TV Tower.

This side is the side with the most lights and the most interesting city viewing, including the NORBESA Ferris Wheel which features a constantly changing, illuminated pattern.

Looking towards NORBESA Ferris Wheel

Looking towards NORBESA Ferris Wheel

In the far distance, you can also spot the Mount Okura ski jump stadium, almost perfectly aligned with Odori Park and the Sapporo TV Tower.

Mt Okura Ski Jump Stadium in the distance

Mt Okura Ski Jump Stadium in the distance

While you are on the observation deck, if you find yourself needing to share the views on Instagram but you are running out of data, free wi-fi is available. It’s not super fast, but it’s decent for free wi-fi.

Sapporo TV Tower Free Wifi Details

Sapporo TV Tower Free Wifi Details

When you are ready to head back down, just push the button the lift, and/or wait in an orderly fashion for the next one to arrive. The lifts run up and down pretty regularly so it doesn’t take long before you are headed back to the third floor.

One of the Observation Deck elevators

One of the Observation Deck elevators.

Once you get there, you’ll find yourself in the paid section, a section you can’t get into without an observation deck ticket. There is a much larger gift store here and you will find a lot of tower-related trinkets as well as wider Sapporo and Hokkaido related gifts.

BBQ corn, a popular souvenir in Hokkaido. Melon Kuma, a hugely popular souvenir in Hokkaido, perhaps due to it's weirdness. It's the mascot for Yubari City near Sapporo. Pocky, another favourite in Japan. Melon Pocky is particularly popular as a souvenir since it's grown in Hokkaido.

One of the favourites in both gift stores is the TV Dad mascot. A personified TV Tower character who features everywhere in the tower, including in the cafe (which is closed at night).

It's TV Dad!

It’s TV Dad!

He even has a little shrine on the observation deck.

TV Dad shrine on the Observation Deck

TV Dad shrine on the Observation Deck

Altogether, you could go up, take some photos, check it out, and head back down in half an hour if it isn’t busy. You could probably do it all in 15 minutes if there is no wait at all and you are really pushed for time. We took about an hour in total by the time we just enjoyed the city lights for a while and browsed the gift stores.

Pros

  1. Cheap to access, especially if you have a discount ticket.
  2. Some of the best views you will find of the Sapporo cityscape.
  3. Can be a very quick destination to visit.
  4. Open almost every day of the year until 10 pm.
  5. Centrally located and extremely easy to get to.
  6. You can queue jump if you book a set date in advance through Klook.
  7. Low internal lighting at night for great night photos.
  8. Free wifi on the observation deck.

Cons

  1. Not much space on the observation deck if it is busy which could limit photo opportunities.

Overall

So, the big question, is it worth your hard-earned yen? For sure. It’s easy to get to and has great views out over the city of Sapporo. It’s also cheap, and extra discounts are easy to come by so you can save yourself some money too. The caveat though, is that there is not much space in the observation deck itself, so if it’s busy you might find you have to wait a little while before you can go up. Just be sure to allow yourself some extra time in case of a wait and you’ll be fine, or alternatively, book a fixed-date queue jump ticket with Klook.

Sapporo city skyline

Sapporo city skyline South of the TV Tower

Hotels near Sapporo TV Tower

Being located right in the heart of Sapporo, there are quite literally stacks of hotels within an easy walking distance from Sapporo TV Tower. We stayed in the Hotel WBF Sapporo Chuo which is located two blocks south of the tower. However, you will find there are hotels located all along Odori Park and within a couple of blocks on both sides.

You can also do a search for nearby hotels using the search box below.

Helpful links

Don’t forget

I’d love to hear from you! Let me know in the comments what your favourite tower is, and why!

I hope this has been helpful for you, and if you have any questions about the tower or visiting it, just let me know in the comments down below and I’ll do my best to answer it for you.

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12 Things I’m Thankful For This Christmas http://blog.stillaslife.com/meaningful-living/12-things-im-thankful-christmas/ http://blog.stillaslife.com/meaningful-living/12-things-im-thankful-christmas/#respond Sun, 24 Dec 2017 09:15:38 +0000 http://blog.stillaslife.com/?p=4896 It’s Christmas Eve, and that means tomorrow is Christmas! Looking back over the year, there are so many things that have made this year a challenge. Things that are painful, things that are stressful and things that are just frustrating. […]

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It’s Christmas Eve, and that means tomorrow is Christmas! Looking back over the year, there are so many things that have made this year a challenge. Things that are painful, things that are stressful and things that are just frustrating. The year started out with news, both good and bad. My sister was in Australia for Christmas and New Years where she made the announcement that she was engaged. We were super excited!

Then the news came that my Papa (grandpa) was very sick. By the middle of January, the tests showed it was most likely some kind of cancer. By the end of January, he passed away after battling liver cancer. So we spent most of January away, visiting him and doing our best to support the rest of my family. With that backdrop, the year looked like it was going to be a bleak one. Looking back now, some of the first things that jump to mind do indicate it was a tough year.

Papa passed away, work seemed to be a constant tug of war between doing my job and not being permitted to do my job. My boss was fired, and work politics exploded before I was made redundant. In amongst all that work politics spread into church politics, making it almost impossible to attend any kind of church event without people asking questions. Then growths on Pops hands (my other grandpa) were diagnosed after many years as being tumours. Spots on his face that had previously always been diagnosed as fungal growths were rediagnosed as skin cancer, and he spent six weeks in hospital undergoing treatment.

Then, of course, my Nan had a heart attack, and my dad and father-in-law have both had health issues. It’s been a wild year.

As I have been looking back over the past week at all that’s happened, I’ve realised, there is a lot that has happened to be thankful for. So I was inspired. Many people and organisations are promoting various 12 days of Christmas events, sales, and so on. So I thought I’d put together 12 things I’m thankful for from the past year. It’s impossible to be negative and grateful at the same time. So if you are going through something terrible right now, I’d encourage you to think about the things that you are thankful for. No matter how small, it can all make a difference to how you are feeling and help you to cope with the tough times. If you need to write it down, write it down, and if you’d like to share anything in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.

So, here are twelve things I’m thankful for from 2017 roughly in chronological order.

1. Wifey.

What can I say, I’ve been so blessed to have my awesome wife by my side, supporting me and working with me through all that has happened this year. I’m so thankful for her and everything that she does on a daily basis. Without here there is no way we could have done everything that I am thankful for, and so I am incredibly grateful that God brought us together and that we share the same beliefs and ideals.

Snorkelling with Wifey

Snorkelling with Wifey

2. We started an Airbnb.

Right back at the start of this year, we started an Airbnb. It adds a little bit of work to our weekly routine, and it took us a few months to really get it up and running well, but this provided some extra income throughout the year. It turned out, God knew we were going to need it later in the year when it got busy and helped to take a chunk of the financial pressure off after I was made redundant. On top of that, we’ve gotten to meet so many different people which is an ongoing fantastic experience!

Welcome to our Rustic Studio

Welcome to our Rustic Studio

3. My uncle got married.

The wedding was virtually at the opposite end of the state and turned out to be only three days before Papa passed away. We were able to get there though, and we streamed it to Papa in the hospital via Skype. I know he was so happy to be able to watch his youngest son marry a woman that shared similar beliefs.

The Wedding Cars

The Wedding Cars

4. Visited Noumea, Mystery Island, Isle of Pines and Mare with my parents.

For a few weeks, we thought we might have to cancel our booking. However, our cruise turned out to be perfectly timed. It was just under two weeks after Papa’s funeral before we were off on Voyager of the Seas with my parents. It was their first cruise and gave us the perfect opportunity to debrief and recover together after the stress of the previous month. This was also the first time we had been to Mare, so it was just such a beautiful way to celebrate Papa’s life with family. It’s amazing the way God lines things up.

Mare Jetty Panorama

Mare Jetty Panorama

5. We made a couple of new friends whom we value dearly.

We don’t generally socialise a lot, and we don’t quickly make new friends, so when we do, we are incredibly thankful to have met them and become friends.

6. Cruised to Hawaii via New Zealand and French Polynesia, visiting Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora.

This was something we had booked a year in advance and fell towards the middle of 2017. It had been a dream of ours to visit Bora Bora, and the opportunity arose to go on a transpacific cruise with my in-laws that stopped in at three French Polynesian ports! It also took us to Hawaii where we spent a couple of days before flying home. Along the way, we also got to see some parts of New Zealand we haven’t explored before, so this was a fantastic trip we would do again in a heartbeat. It was such a blessing to be able to see such beautiful, unique parts of the world. While we were on the cruise, we also found out that my sisters wedding was going to be in Japan only a couple of months after we got home.

Moorea

Moorea

7. So, a few months later we visited Japan for my sister’s wedding and explored Hokkaido and Tokyo.

Her wedding was in Yokohama, but we’ve long wanted to go to Hokkaido, and it turned out to be a good time of year for it. So we spent 6 days road tripping Hokkaido before the wedding followed by a couple of days in Tokyo before heading home. This was such an excellent trip, and we felt so blessed to have the opportunity to explore another utterly unique part of this world while also celebrating my sister’s wedding.

My sisters wedding

My sisters wedding

8. Wifey finished up her work in Sydney and no longer has to commute there, meanwhile, I was made redundant.

She was commuting down to Sydney all the time, so she was always exhausted. We decided together that it was too much and was not good for her health, so she finished up. A couple of months later (and after all my work politics), I was made redundant. It’s not necessarily a good thing, but I really count it as a blessing because our stress levels both went way down. Kind of odd since we were both unemployed. That said, my redundancy is part of the blessing because that gave us a financial buffer to begin building back up my digital marketing business, TerraMedia.

9. I started working for myself again, running TerraMedia, the digital marketing business I had been running before I began working with It Is Written Oceania.

I loved my job, so I had no plans on working for myself again, but since doing so, my stress has been way down, and I’ve found ways to combine what I loved about It Is Written Oceania with my own business. So I consider this new chapter as a huge blessing that I’m very thankful for.

10. Nanna survived her heart attack, and Pops cancer treatments went well.

I’m thankful she recovered quite quickly from her heart attack, and she has been looking after herself since. Meanwhile, after Pops tumours and skin cancers were diagnosed, it seemed like the doctors might recommend against treatment given his age. They went ahead though, and while the procedure was awful, I’m thankful that it was successful and he is making a full recovery.

11. My little brother graduated university with honours.

My baby brother has been working hard for the last four years on his bachelor’s degree, and just a couple of weeks ago he graduated with honours. We were able to attend his graduation ceremony in Canberra and celebrate the end of his studies with him. We are so thankful we could celebrate the end of one chapter and start this exciting new chapter with him!

My brothers graduation!

My brother’s graduation!

12. Blogging and vlogging.

I’ve gotten to explore YouTube and blogging so much more through my channel, this blog, and my TerraMedia blog since being made redundant. I love writing and sharing about the world, technology, and how I try to live a meaningful life, so it’s been such a blessing to have some time to explore this more since being made redundant. I hope you’ve found it helpful too!

What else?

As I was compiling this list, I realised there are so many things to be thankful for. Even just the fact that we are able to spend Christmas and the remainder of the year with family, including my sister from Japan. In spite of the sad events, there were so many times this year that my extended family came together and spent a lot of time with each other, something that doesn’t happen very often normally.

God provides things we don’t realise we need until after it’s happened, and whether you believe in Him or not, I think that looking over the year in review, there can indeed be things that line up better than we could have ever planned them ourselves. I hope you can find at least a couple of things that you can be thankful for this Christmas, and I challenge you to put down a list of 12. While you are thinking about it, you’ll find things that you just have to smile about, I’m sure.

And with that, I’d like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and leave you with this video of the Christmas light show at Melbourne Town Hall.

God bless.

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ExpanDrive 6 Review – Improvements and Caveats http://blog.stillaslife.com/technology/expandrive-6-review-improvements-caveats/ http://blog.stillaslife.com/technology/expandrive-6-review-improvements-caveats/#respond Sun, 17 Dec 2017 07:02:00 +0000 http://blog.stillaslife.com/?p=4854 Last updated on December 21st, 2017 at 07:47 amAs you may have read in my previous blog post on ExpanDrive 5, it had some great features, but some significant caveats. Now, ExpanDrive 6 is here, released almost 6 months ago […]

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Last updated on December 21st, 2017 at 07:47 am

ExpanDrive LogoAs you may have read in my previous blog post on ExpanDrive 5, it had some great features, but some significant caveats. Now, ExpanDrive 6 is here, released almost 6 months ago (July 5, 2017) it’s had some time to release minor updates and bug fixes. So as a traveller looking to keep my local storage at a minimum while having everything backed up and readily available in the cloud, I’m excited to see what version 6 brings to the table. It comes with claims of being 500% faster and the addition of offline-sync mode. It also adds two new cloud platforms, BackBlaze B2 and Google Team Drive as well as a new user interface.

The question is, does real-life usage actually match the claims? I’d love to hear your experiences. Let me know in the comments at the end of this post! Meanwhile, here is what I’ve found.

There is very little information about the v6 release on their website or Twitter. Even now, months on from its release, the changes are not entirely clear so most of the information in this article will be based on the newsletter they sent out announcing the version 6 update as per the two lists below (also published on their blog here).

All new User Interface

  • Fast server-side search
  • View old file versions
  • Easily get shared links
  • Built-in file browser
  • Integrated context menus and transfer badges

Super-fast Strongsync transfers

  • Multi-threaded transfer, up to 500% faster
  • Sync files and folders for offline access
  • Google Team Drive & BackBlaze B2
  • All-new SFTP & FTP engine
  • Support for SMB/Windows file sharing

My main complaints with ExpanDrive 5 on a Mac were it’s inability to handle large files and large multi-file transfers, and the fact that it froze all the time. So has this been solved?

At the time of writing, ExpanDrive continues to offer a free 7-day trial. Once the trial expires, the pricing remains the same as version 5 meaning you can purchase a single-user license for USD 49.95 or with lifetime upgrades for USD 74.90. Additional discounts for multiple licenses and for educational or non-profit users are also still available.

The core features remain the same:

  • Connect to multiple storage platforms at once, including most common platforms, with a single application.
  • Background file transfers for small files and real-time transfers for large files.
  • Native file access just like an externally attached drive.

Supported storage platforms

Dropbox Yes
Amazon Cloud Drive Yes
Google Drive Yes
Google Cloud Storage Yes
Google Team Drive Yes
Box Yes
Amazon S3 Yes
OneDrive Yes
OneDrive for Business Yes
OwnCloud Yes
OpenStack Yes
RackSpace Cloud Files Yes
Dream Objects Yes
Backblaze B2 Yes
Microsoft Sharepoint Online Yes
HubiC Yes
WebDav Yes
FTP Yes
SFTP Yes
FTPS Yes
SMB/CIFS Yes

From the list above, HP Helion has been dropped, understandably since it’s no longer being offered by HP, and four new platforms have been added: OneDrive for Business, Backblaze B2, Google Team Drive and SMB/CIFS.

So after using it for 7 days, I’ve covered off all the things I did in my previous tests of ExpanDrive 5 and Odrive that I would do on a regular basis.

What I found is:

Setup

Like it’s predecessor, ExpanDrive 6 has a straightforward installer. It’s to the point and doesn’t mess around. During the installation, you can connect your first storage location if you wish, and once it’s installed, the usual ExpanDrive taskbar icon becomes available. Any clouds you have connected during setup should now appear as external drives on your Mac, and you can access them just like you would a USB drive. I did note though as I had connected Dropbox during setup that it seemed to have forgotten my connection and I had to reconnect it after installation. Having only installed it with Dropbox and adding other clouds later, I’m not sure if this is a Dropbox specific issue or an ExpanDrive one. I have noticed throughout my testing though that the Dropbox connection does seem to drop out and need reconnecting frequently. It occasionally happens with other cloud drives but far less often.

ExpanDrive 6 Settings

ExpanDrive 6 Settings

From the taskbar icon, you have similar functionality to ExpanDrive 5, with the ability to control your connections and monitor what they are doing, including the new background sync function. You can add or remove cloud connections, eject and reconnect storage locations (useful if they failed to connect for some reason), you can edit the connection settings, you can see any transfers that are currently running, and check for updates.

Add a cloud drive in ExpanDrive 6

Add a cloud drive in ExpanDrive 6

The interface has had some cosmetic updates that do improve the appearance,  but it’s nothing major and doesn’t significantly enhance usability in my opinion. The main thing it adds is the ability to see what files are currently being transferred, giving you an idea of what is happening in the background.

The ExpanDrive 6 dialogue showing active background transfers

The ExpanDrive 6 dialogue showing active background transfers

File transfers

Files mostly seem to upload or download just as fast as Dropbox, Google Drive and Amazon Drive’s own applications. Previously, in ExpanDrive 5, it behaved solely like a native file copy. So on a Mac, your Finder file transfer dialogue is open telling you how long there is left and so on. Now though, there are some differences. The new StrongSync engine is meant to synchronise files up to 500x faster than ExpanDrive 5, which would be a massive performance improvement. It also adds offline file sync support.

Now, I was hoping that this offline file sync support and new sync engine might resolve large file and multi-file transfer drop-outs. In my first tests, it didn’t. In fact, I was going to write it down as worse. Initially, I couldn’t get anything more than about 200mb to sync successfully through ExpanDrive 6. I got the same errors as in ExpanDrive 5 that indicates “some data can’t be read or written” for single file transfers or “one or more required items can’t be found” for multiple file transfers. I found the error even occurred with folders containing just 5 files that were about 5mb each. I tested this moving data from the local hard drive as well as from an external drive on a connection with 40Mbps upload speeds and encountered the same errors. This meant it would still be really unusable for me.

ExpanDrive transfer failed because some data can't be read or written.

ExpanDrive transfer failed because some data can’t be read or written.

However, after the ExpanDrive 6.1.3 update on October 12, 2017, I noticed that I can now sync much larger files. There is no mention of anything related to this in the release notes, but I was even successfully synchronising video files over 6gb each. The caveat though, is that this is achieved using the recommendation I made in my previous review to have a local file cache that is used to synchronise in the background. So if you throw gigabytes worth of files in, they’ll copy quickly and smoothly. However, it will take time to sync in the background, and until that synchronisation is complete, there will be gigabytes taken up on your OS X drive. It’s a monolithic improvement. I can’t even begin to describe how brilliant it is. It just means being aware of how it functions to ensure you don’t fill up your Mac hard drive accidentally.

One other thing I noticed is that when working with smaller files directly on ExpanDrive 6, it worked much better than in version 5. For example, I was able to open a 12mb PSD file and edit it in Photoshop without waiting long and without it causing the entire computer to freeze. Instead, just Photoshop freezes while it waits. Offline sync can also help with this by synchronising the needed files first.

In my experiments, I did notice that uploads sometimes seem to show in the new transfer section of the ExpanDrive dialogue as transferring for a long time. I suspect that since there are no options to control the bandwidth usage, this may be to automatically balance transfers so that they don’t significantly impact the internet for other usages, something cloud drives can do if they are left to use unlimited bandwidth.

In ExpanDrive 5, I noted that an ‘untitled folder’ often occurred when creating a new folder on a cloud drive and renaming it. I also noticed deleted files often reappeared. This does seem to occur much less in ExpanDrive 6. However, I’ve noticed that when working with files directly on a cloud server, the files change. You get files occurring on say Dropbox that have unusual names. Sometimes these files are completely inaccessible and appear corrupt. Other times they are perfectly accessible with Finder generating previews for them. Yet ExpanDrive indicates those files are completely synchronised. My first thoughts were that they were being corrupted, however, after further testing, it turns out that these files eventually appear as normal on Dropbox. So I assume it’s part of how ExpanDrive locks the files while they are in use and until they are entirely synchronised back to Dropbox.

A preview of an oddly named file that ExpanDrive 6 sent to Dropbox

A preview of an oddly named file that ExpanDrive 6 sent to Dropbox. Finder was able to preview this one.

It’s a little concerning initially, but it is important to remember that ExpanDrive is meant to replace the cloud provider’s own software, not be used alongside it. In that scenario, it is unlikely you would ever encounter these temporary partially synchronised files.

File Access

Within applications, file and folder access is native as it was in ExpanDrive 5, so in case you haven’t read my previous post, this means that, for example, in Photoshop I could navigate into my drive and select a location to save my graphic. I could also open a graphics file from the drive, just as if it were a USB stick. The caveat here though is, logically, the speed is impacted by your internet connection. So loading a large file, especially on a slow connection would take a while. Similarly saving a large file can take a while. Why? Because it behaves just like a physically attached drive, so there is no visible temporary files or anything like that it is straight to the cloud, or at least, to the local cache and then the cloud. This is another area that becomes a problem with real-time access, especially since there is a risk your large save will fail.

It is excellent, for small files. In practice though for large files, I found in ExpanDrive 5 that I was waiting for a while for it to open and even longer for it to save before continuing on with what I was doing. Even in Finder when opening a folder I had not opened before that ExpanDrive had not cached, it seemed to cause Finder to hang until it loaded the contents.

This freezing of Finder and other applications when opening and saving files was a real headache and seems to have been a significant focus of the ExpanDrive 6 improvements. Previously, I found it can cause Finder and other applications to hang and become unusable for a few minutes, the longest, while I was testing was about 8 minutes on a 40Mbps connection while I was accessing a Dropbox folder containing a couple of thousand photos. The freezing also occurred when first single-clicking a file. In Finder, a single click would result in loading a preview icon for it. So when clicking a larger file, say a 20mb raw photo, Finder would be frozen until it finished creating the preview which of course requires accessing the entire file. This again depends on the file size and the speed of the internet connection. My main comment here on ExpanDrive 5 was that it wouldn’t matter quite so much if there were a delay except that Finder hangs, meaning you can’t use it for anything else in a different window. You just have to wait.

I can’t even begin to tell you how pleased I am that this has been partially addressed in ExpanDrive 6! When opening uncached folders, I find they now load much faster than they did in ExpanDrive 5. I’m talking almost instantly, except for some folders with huge numbers of sub-directories or files. Those ones do still take a bit longer. However, most importantly, the delay waiting for the directory contents to load is not a big deal because Finder no longer freezes while you wait. You can keep using Finder freely! That is a vast improvement and makes ExpanDrive 6 vastly more usable than ExpanDrive 5.

The other improvement is that ExpanDrive 6 now seems to bypass preview generation. This means that when you click a file, Finder no longer freezes while it accesses the entire file to generate a preview. It just shows you the filetype icon instead. This is also a vast improvement on usability. It also appears that a timeout has been put on file access, meaning if it takes too long to download, it will generate an error message. This means you aren’t stuck waiting for that file to process, particularly if it’s a massive file. The downside of this though is that if you are on a slow connection, it can be near impossible to open anything.

I tested this particular function while our internet connection was capped at 256/256Kbps. I know a lot of people are running faster than this all the time, and in Australia, as more people migrate over to the NBN, they are getting unlimited connections, but these low speeds are still a real-world scenario that has to be tackled. Especially if you are planning to use ExpanDrive for cloud access while travelling and never know what the quality of your internet connection will be like. So this is what I found on 256/256Kbps while not doing anything else on the internet:

I could not open a 300kb file from OneDrive or Dropbox.

It just threw an error over and over after every attempt.

In translation, the timeout means that ExpanDrive is not usable on a very slow connection except with the absolute tiniest of files.

Desynchronisation

As ExpanDrive 6 has added a local sync option, allowing you to download files to your local computer for offline access, you need to be able to remove them as well. This is done in much the same way as the Smart Sync function that Dropbox introduced early this year.

ExpanDrive 6's new icons to represent files in the cloud.

ExpanDrive 6’s new icons to represent files in the cloud.

When using ExpanDrive, right click on the file or folder you would like to synchronise. Go to the “Offline Sync” sub-menu and select “Local” to make the file available offline. If you don’t need offline files anymore, repeat the same steps but select “Online only” instead.

The new offline sync context menu in ExpanDrive 6

The new offline sync context menu in ExpanDrive 6

Encryption

Back when I reviewed ExpanDrive 5, the team there indicated encryption is something in the works for a later version:

However, that does not appear to have found its way into ExpanDrive 6 as yet. So in the meantime, you will still need to continue to pair ExpanDrive with another tool like Boxcryptor to make use of encryption.

Memory and CPU usage

With only 7 days in the trial, it does not give much time to test memory and CPU usage, however, ExpanDrive 6 seemed to remain faithful to what I noticed in my tests of ExpanDrive 5. In fact, it’s even better, during transfers, particularly of big files or lots of data I did not notice ExpanDrive using large amounts of RAM and CPU time. It seemed to remain quite reasonable all the time and never seemed to exceed the percentages used by the Dropbox application with similar data.

Overall

I have to say, ExpanDrive has jumped ahead by leaps and bounds. As an application it is excellent. It’s still so simple to get started, easy to use, and it just works as though it was always a part of the operating system. It’s great to be able to access all my files across all my cloud platforms as though they are a locally connected storage drive. Even better, it has virtually no footprint on my local storage except while files are being synchronised, or are locally synchronised. So I have access to terabytes of data with a few clicks of the mouse.

The application freezes are not something that can quickly be dealt with as that comes back to actually opening files. If they have to be downloaded, it is going to take longer to open. Fortunately, Finder no longer freezes so this is a vast improvement. For large files, you really need to synchronise them locally first. This makes them totally usable compared to ExpanDrive 5. The downside is that there is no way to specify where these local files are stored, so you have to make it work on your local drive. If you are travelling and don’t want an external drive, then this is perfect anyway. If you have a lot of large files that take a while to upload or a lot of big files that you need to access locally, then this can quickly chew up your local drive. So it’s going to be a balance depending on the kinds of files you are keeping in the cloud and when or where you need to be able to access them.

If you are using the free versions of various cloud platforms to get more space, you could purchase ExpanDrive to bring them all into one application. It works well in that scenario. In my situation where I have 3 terabytes in Dropbox, 1 terabyte in Amazon Drive and another terabyte in OneDrive, comprised of many large files as well as small ones, ExpanDrive 5 was useless. I’m pleased to now be able to say that with ExpanDrive 6, it now works very well and I can use it smoothly across a lot of cloud platforms. The only downside I can see is not being able to specify where to store the local cache. Encryption would also be great, but not a big deal for me.

Awesome work ExpanDrive, awesome work!

Don’t forget!

I’d love to hear your experiences with the latest release of ExpanDrive. Let me know in the comments below.

Read More

  1. Odrive or ExpanDrive? A comparison of specifications and supported clouds.
  2. 30 days of Odrive Cloud Unification – Review

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Toyoko Inn Kuko (Tokyo Narita Airport) Deluxe Twin Room 11027 Review (Non-Smoking) http://blog.stillaslife.com/travel/toyoko-inn-kuko-tokyo-narita-airport-deluxe-twin-room-11027-review-non-smoking/ http://blog.stillaslife.com/travel/toyoko-inn-kuko-tokyo-narita-airport-deluxe-twin-room-11027-review-non-smoking/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 07:00:00 +0000 http://blog.stillaslife.com/?p=4794 If you are travelling to Japan via the Tokyo Narita Airport, you might have already looked at it on a map and discovered that it is a loooooong way from Tokyo city proper. In fact, it’s almost 70 kilometres from […]

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If you are travelling to Japan via the Tokyo Narita Airport, you might have already looked at it on a map and discovered that it is a loooooong way from Tokyo city proper. In fact, it’s almost 70 kilometres from the airport to Tokyo Station in the heart of the city. That’s an hour on the Narita Express train, and up to two hours to drive.

If your flight arrives in the evening or late at night, you probably aren’t going to feel like doing that hike. Especially not if you’ve just been on a plane for almost 10 hours from Australia (Unless, of course, you can afford to do a 20-minute helicopter transfer).

Yeah…

It isn’t high on our list either. Fortunately, there are a number of hotel options around Narita Airport.

We went with the cheapest non-capsule hotel option. Since we only booked it two weeks before our arrival, that turned out to be the deluxe twin room at the Toyoko Inn Narita Airport, also called the Toyoko Inn Narita Kuko on some booking sites. Everything else below $200 and within walking distance of the airport was booked out.

A quick question

If you’ve stayed here as well, either in a deluxe twin room, or another room category, I’d love to hear what you thought about it. I’d also like to know what your favourite things to do in the area are. Let me know in the comments after this article!

Getting to Toyoko Inn Tokyo Narita Airport Hotel

If you are just off a long flight and eager to stretch your legs or just plain keen to walk, the Toyoko Inn is within walking distance from Narita Airport. Keep in mind though, there are three terminals here, and the hotel is not central. The Toyoko Inn is closest to Terminal 3, but as Terminals 2 and 3 use the same entrance, it’s about 2km’s from Terminal there and 2.4km’s from Terminal 1.

The address is:

560 Tokko,
Narita,
Chiba Prefecture
286­-106

Shuttle Bus

For those of us that just want to get to our hotel, get some food and go to bed, there is a free shuttle bus, YAY!

The bus is extremely convenient. From the Terminal 1 building, it stops at stop number 16 just outside the arrival lobby at the South Exit S2. From Terminals 2 and 3, it stops at stop number 31B just outside the central entrance to the first-floor arrival lobby.

The shuttle is normally every 20 minutes (less frequent between 10 pm and 6 am) and is not bookable, it’s first come, first serve. We found that there weren’t a lot of people waiting when we got on at the Terminal 2/3 stop, but a lot more got on at Terminal 1. Since each shuttle stops at both Terminal 2/3 and Terminal 1, it can take 15-20 minutes to get to the hotel. More importantly, if you need to get the shuttle back to the airport during peak time in the morning, it can take up to 40 minutes due to heavy traffic (it actually took about 35-minutes for us to get to the airport again the next morning, departing the hotel at 8:15am. So make sure you leave yourself plenty of time.

Please note, the shuttle information was correct when we took it, and still is at the time of writing, but definitely check their website for the latest shuttle information.

Taxi

If you would like a more private and direct route to the hotel, there are lots of taxi’s waiting at all terminals. A direct trip will still take 10 minutes under light traffic though due to the way the roads take you.

Fees and other costs 

We found the best price through HotelsCombined, which took us to Agoda. However, Agoda is also the only booking site where they don’t seem to offer breakfast as an inclusion or an optional extra. Their website states breakfast is included free, but without that clarity on the Agoda website, we decided to go with a booking site that made it clear. For only a few dollars more, Hotels.com stated that breakfast was included. For those few dollars we couldn’t have bought breakfast elsewhere anyway and I had a 10% off coupon for them, so we went ahead and booked with them. In the end, after using the coupon, we paid $96.93 Australian which worked out slightly cheaper than the Agoda price. Hotels.com is not always the cheapest, or even close to the cheapest (t wasn’t this time except for the coupon), and price competitiveness varies from day to day, so definitely check HotelsCombined for the best rates before booking.

If you happen to hold a Toyoko Inn Club Card, you are eligible for a discount if you book directly with the hotel, however, that discount works out pretty similar to the prices you can get via the booking sites.

There is a Lawson convenience store in the hotel foyer. We actually picked up some food at the airport, but you can get fully prepared and heated meals at Lawson and they are very cheap, as long as you don’t mind pre-packaged food.

If you are paying for your accommodation at the hotel, payment is very flexible. They accept cash, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Diners, JCB, and Alipay.

Opening hours 

The hotel foyer is open 24 hours a day.

Check-in is available from 4:00 pm (3:00 pm if you are a Toyoko Club Card holder).

Check-out is by 10:00 am.

Breakfast is served in the dining room between 6:30 am and 9:30 am every day.

About the Toyoko Inn Narita Airport Hotel and deluxe twin room

The Toyoko Inn Narita Airport was undergoing renovations while we were staying. These renovations had no impact at all on our stay, we didn’t notice any noise or disruptions. It does mean though, that there will likely be some newer room styles coming soon, something that is well overdue.

The hotel decor is dated, with the halls, elevators and rooms looking like they belong in another era altogether. That said, everything is clean and well-maintained. I’m looking forward to seeing what the newly renovated section looks like when complete.

Toyoko Inn Narita Airport 70's Elevator

Toyoko Inn Narita Airport 70’s Elevator

On a side note, if you happen to need parking, there are 205 spaces available at a cost of 500 yen for 24 hours.

Arrival and check-in

Upon our arrival, we were a little overwhelmed. As you enter the foyer, the front desk is on the right-hand side, and Lawson’s is even further to the right. The dining room and elevators are on the left along with vending machines. The shuttle lets us out right outside the hotel foyer, but there were people everywhere and there didn’t seem to be a clear queue for the front desk. Fortunately, it turned out that was because there were only two other people waiting to check-in.

The staff at the check-in counter were extremely helpful, their English was surprisingly limited for their location as an airport hotel, but definitely still enough to ensure the process was smooth. They also did a brilliant job of picking out the foreigners and making sure we were looked after and understood what was happening.

As at any hotel in Japan, the hotel is required to take a photocopy of all foreign guest’s passports, so ensure that you have your passports ready to go and this will speed things up.

After filling out our check-in form (which was in English), and getting our passports back, we were given key cards for our room, and a little gift pack for wifey that included a facial cleanser, facial oil and facial lotion. To our surprise, they turned out to be mostly natural products, and they smelled sublime.

The deluxe twin room 

We were in room 11027, which translates to room 27 on level 10 in wing 1. This is a non-smoking room, and you definitely want to check that when you book as both smoking and non-smoking rooms are available here.

So, onto the room itself. It turns out that level 10 is also the top floor of the hotel. We were exhausted and ready to go to bed, but couldn’t help but be a little excited at being on the top floor, even though we were only there overnight.

We're on the 10th floor!

We’re on the 10th floor!

Then we opened the door and were blown away by how huge this room is for less than $100 Australian! I’ll admit, the elevators are cosy, slow and seem like they are straight out of the 70’s, but it was worth the ride for what we saw.

Toyoko Inn Narita Airport Deluxe Twin Room Beds

Toyoko Inn Narita Airport Deluxe Twin Room Beds

The room is not only on the top floor, it’s also a corner room, which means lots of windows. The two beds, a queen bed and a double bed, back onto a sparsely decorated wall, and look across the room to massive windows. These windows start from about 60cm above the ground and run to the ceiling, covering almost all of the longest outside wall in the room as well as most of the shorter outside wall.

The beds face this huge window that runs almost the entire length of the room and up to the ceiling.

The beds face this huge window that runs almost the entire length of the room and up to the ceiling.

Even though the view is only of car parks, the airport, and roads, these enormous windows make the room feel even bigger and almost give it a feeling of luxury, somehow, almost.

The view out the main window

The view out the main window

 

The view out the side window

The view out the side window

Also in the room, you will find a lounge, reading lamp, flat-screen TV, bar fridge, safe, kettle, ice bucket, dressing table, hanging rail, and of course, the bathroom. The room is air-conditioned and has free wifi, and there is a little surprise in the bathroom.

The dressing table / work desk

The dressing table/work desk

The wifi is decent, but don’t expect mind-blowing speeds either. It’s comparable to what you can get on the National Broadband Network now in Australia. One thing to be aware of though, is that there is no written connection information anywhere to tell you which wifi network to use or what password to use. It turned out to be staring us in the face though. The home screen on the television shows those details in the bottom right of the screen. It’s fairly small, and parts of it are in Japanese, but it’s there!

The wifi details are on the TV home screen

The wifi details are on the TV home screen

This TV home screen also gives you access to a number of other features like on-demand movies, YouTube, nearby attraction information, location information, breakfast info, and everything else you would normally find in a hotel room compendium.

Last but not least, as with most Japanese hotel rooms, you’ll also find slippers, a shoe horn, and a shoe shine kit. It was surprisingly lacking pyjamas, shoe deodoriser, and an air purifier though, all items that are virtually ubiquitous at hotels in Japan.

The deluxe twin bathroom

If you’ve ever stayed in a Japanese hotel before, you are probably familiar with the pod bathroom. With its cosy beige pod, the Toyoko Inn is no exception. Inside the narrow door is the standard hotel bathroom found all over Japan with minor variations.

Toyoko Inn Narita Airport Deluxe Twin Room Bathroom

Toyoko Inn Narita Airport Deluxe Twin Room Bathroom

As you might expect, there is a Western toilet with bidet, hand basin, mirror, bath, and shower hose over the bath. There are two things that make this one a little bit different and a little bit special. The first is that the bidet is full-featured, in the sense that it warms the water before it sprays, and it blows warm air for drying your clean backside. Believe it or not, the percentage of hotel room bidet toilets that don’t dry your rear for you is quite high. There’s also a surprising amount that uses cold water.

The bidet toilet, basin and bath

The bidet toilet, basin and bath

The second surprise here, and this was the big one for me, is that there is a second shower head. In addition to the hose shower, up in the ceiling is a rain shower! I love these showers because I can actually get completely under them. At 6 foot tall, most showers are a little too low for me, and in Japan, it’s safe to say almost every shower is too low. So it’s not a big thing, but it’s just something unexpected that makes the experience more unique.

The rain shower

The rain shower

How did we sleep? 

An all-important question, especially if you have to be underway again early in the morning like we did. I’ll be honest, the beds are firm to the point of being hard.

Now when I say hard, I mean the carpet would not be much harder. We sleep on a firm mattress at home anyway since wifey and I are both stomach sleepers, but these beds take firmness to a whole new level. I didn’t expect to get a good sleep at all. That said though, we both fell asleep pretty quickly and felt refreshed in the morning when we woke up.

I should add to this, as hard as these beds are, this is pretty common in Japan. It seems to be a preference there, and these are not the hardest beds we’ve slept on in Japan either. It is however quite a shock when it’s your first night on one.

Come morning, we were appreciative of the heavy block-out curtains that kept the room dark after sunrise. So dark that when my alarm went off, I wasn’t convinced it was actually morning.

So overall, we slept well.

What was breakfast like? 

Hotel breakfasts are usually pretty similar, even in Japan, most follow a fairly standard model with fairly standard food. This one though was a bit different.

It’s a buffet style, and it was hectic. It seemed like every guest in the hotel was scrambling for food all at once. Some sections had a queue that appeared to be around 40 people long, and that’s not including those that were pushing in.

The quieter section at the breakfast buffet

The quieter section at the breakfast buffet

Top that off with it being the only place we went to on this trip (which included a lot of remote places in Hokkaido) that had no English labels and very few Japanese labels, and it made for an interesting meal.

The more hectic section of the buffet

The more hectic section of the breakfast buffet

If you don’t have any specific dietary requirements, then the labels aren’t a big deal. Even without them, I found it easy enough to pick out what things were vegetarian and what wasn’t. I’m sure the staff would be quite happy to help, but they seemed like they were pretty stressed trying to avoid the stampede while also getting the food out!

It would be easy for it to become a stressful meal, just because of the way people were behaving there, but if you plan out your time, there is no need to be stressed. Just avoid the busy areas. I got enough vegetarian food to eat while not queueing at all (except for an orange juice), so it is possible.

The vegetarian options I found in the quieter section

The vegetarian options I found in the quieter section

As at a lot of hotels in Japan, when you are finished your breakfast, you are expected to return your used plates, cutlery and cups to the dirty shelf where they are collected for washing.

Overall, the food we had was nice, nothing special, but there was nothing wrong with it either. The atmosphere was frantic, but if you plan your morning with some extra time, you don’t need to be a part of the rush.

Pros

  • Staff really look out for foreign guests.
  • Quick and easy check-in.
  • Great price for their top room category.
  • Rain shower.
  • Free shuttle to and from the airport that is easy to find.
  • Lawson convenience store in the foyer.
  • 24-hour front desk
  • Easy to access vending machines.
  • Free wifi with decent speeds.

 

Cons

  • Hallways are quite hot and humid in our opinion even though the rooms are well air-conditioned.
  • Breakfast is a mad rush.
  • No English and very few Japanese food labels at breakfast.

 

Overall

This is an airport hotel, and with that, there are a lot of travellers, both domestic and foreign. That means there are a lot of people worried about time and rushing around. In spite of that, our room was silent besides the occasional hall sounds.

The room itself was huge and had everything we needed, in fact, it was the biggest room we had during our entire trip to Japan that cost less than $300 Australian per night. It was also the cheapest room except for our night at the Tokyo Kiba Capsule Hotel.

The styling overall was dated, but it was very clean and comfortable, in spite of the hard beds.

We slept well, and really enjoyed the enormous windows for the short time we spent here.

So overall, I’d say that the Toyoko Inn Narita Airport is great value for money with friendly, helpful staff and convenient access to the airport and food.

We would definitely stay here again if we find ourselves in need of a hotel at Narita Airport in the future.

Attractions near the Toyoko Inn Narita Airport Hotel

Helpful links

 

Don’t forget

Let me know in the comments what you think about the Toyoko Inn Narita Airport Hotel if you’ve stayed there!

I hope you find this review helpful, and if you do, please share it. If not, let me know what else I can include and make it more useful for you.

Happy travels.

The post Toyoko Inn Kuko (Tokyo Narita Airport) Deluxe Twin Room 11027 Review (Non-Smoking) appeared first on Still As Life.

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The Chocolate Lounge Menu at Shiroi Koibito Park (English) http://blog.stillaslife.com/food/chocolate-lounge-menu-shiroi-koibito-park-english/ http://blog.stillaslife.com/food/chocolate-lounge-menu-shiroi-koibito-park-english/#respond Sun, 03 Dec 2017 06:59:00 +0000 http://blog.stillaslife.com/?p=4755 For those that are thinking about visiting Shiroi Koibito Park after my article about it here and are not quite sure yet, the menu might help sway you towards it. The Chocolate Lounge does not feature any main type food, […]

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For those that are thinking about visiting Shiroi Koibito Park after my article about it here and are not quite sure yet, the menu might help sway you towards it. The Chocolate Lounge does not feature any main type food, the closet you can get is the tea set. As the lounge name suggests, it is focused on chocolate. However, there are a wide variety of sweet dishes and drinks that incorporate milk, dark and/or white chocolate.

Just before we dive into it though, I’d love to know, what’s your favourite hot chocolate? I usually go for dark varieties, but lately, I’ve been enjoying white hot chocolate! Let me know in the comments down below, and if you’ve been to the Shiroi Koibito Park Chocolate Lounge, I’d love to know what dishes and drinks you’ve tried and what you enjoyed most.

Getting to the Shiroi Koibito Park Chocolate Lounge

To get to the Chocolate Lounge, head to Shiroi Koibito Park by car, public transport, or take a tour. I’ve put detailed information on parking and public transport routes on my Shiroi Koibito Park blog post here. From the park, there are two ways to get into the Chocolate Lounge. The first is by taking the paid self-guided factory and museum tour. This is worth doing, but if you are short on time, you can also get to the Chocolate Lounge via the Tudor House entrance. It is located on level 4F. It is a bit confusing to go this way though. You have to take elevator 1 or 2 from the store on level 1F up to level 2F. From there you have to cross to the other end of the level and take elevator 3 or the stairs up to 4F. Fortunately, they do bring you out near the lounge.

Admission fees and other costs

Admission to the Chocolate Lounge is free, but there is, of course, your food and drink cost. Food and drink prices are all shown in the photos below of each menu, but on average they are pretty competitive and are comparable to what you might expect to pay at a typical cafe for similar items.

Opening hours

Shiroi Koibito Park and Ishiya Chocolate Factory are open every day from 9:00 am until 18:00 pm with the last admittance at 17:00pm. The Chocolate Lounge operates at this time as well.

What to expect, and what’s on the Shiroi Koibito Park Chocolate Lounge menu?

The menu is mostly filled with parfait’s, to be honest. That said, there is an assortment of other sweet dishes and both hot and cold drinks. Don’t expect anything savoury though, this is literally a cafe for the sweet tooth!

The menu is provided in both Japanese and English. That said, very little English is spoken by the staff here (or at least when we were there), so if you don’t speak Japanese, have your pointing finger prepared to point at the items you want from the menu.

That is of course after you are seated. I mentioned in my main article on the Shiroi Koibito Park and Ishiya Chocolate Factory tour that there is a queue system in place when it is busy, and it was definitely busy when we were there. So plan your visit to take into account that you might have to wait a little while to be seated. First, you go up to the friendly greeter at the entrance and let them know how many people you need a table for. They will take you straight to your seat if there is one available, if not, they will write your name down and ask you to wait. There is a small number of seats available for waiting so be prepared to stand. Once a table is ready for you, they will call your name out or just come and get you.

Once you are in and seated, you get your menu’s, and a waiter or waitress will be around soon to take your order. Once they have it, service is very prompt, and I’m sure you will enjoy every bit of the food and drink they bring you!

The Promotional / Flagship Dish

The flagship dish isn't actually chocolate

The flagship dish isn’t actually chocolate

Oddly enough, what appears to be the flagship dish on the Shiroi Koibito Park Chocolate Lounge menu is actually the Rich Melon Parfait. As far as I could work out, there is no chocolate in this except for white chocolate soft serve ice cream. It’s definitely one you would want to share, probably with a minimum of four people! This thing is enormous, and at about $20 Australian, it ought to be.

It's probably not for you if you don't like rock melon

It’s probably not for you if you don’t like rock melon

Hot Chocolate Menu

The hot chocolate menu

The hot chocolate menu

This is the real reason to visit the Chocolate Lounge while you are at Shiroi Koibito Park, the hot chocolate. We were here in spring, but if you are travelling in winter, I imagine this would be even better!

There is a choice of five different options, two milk chocolate, one dark chocolate and two white chocolate:

  1. Milk Chocolate Valrhona – French
    Smells like milk and rich caramel but with a slightly sour taste.
  2. Milk Chocolate Felchlin – Swiss
    Has a mild, smooth and milky flavour.
  3. Dark Chocolate Valrhona – French
    Smells like roasted nuts with a well-balanced cacao taste.
  4. White Chocolate – Japan
    Made with white couverture chocolate.
  5. White Chocolate Valrhona – French
    Delicate, smooth and lightly sweetened.

Wifey got the milk chocolate Felchlin, and I got the dark chocolate Valrhona.

The milk chocolate felchlin

The milk chocolate Felchlin

They were both fantastic and very chocolatey.

The dark chocolate Valrhona

The dark chocolate Valrhona

You probably wouldn’t want to have more than one, especially if you also have a chocolate dish.

Other Hot Drinks

Other hot drinks

Other hot drinks

  1. Coffee
  2. Cafe au lait
  3. Cafe Cappuccino
  4. Espresso
  5. Caramel Macchiato
  6. Hot milk
  7. Tea – Straight, lemon or milk.

Cold Drinks

Cold drinks menu

Cold drinks menu

Surprisingly, there is only one ice chocolate in the cold drinks menu plus a cafe chocolate (which I believe is an iced mocha). Even so, I’d love to go back and try it. It has corn flakes in it! Your options in the cold department are:

  1. Iced coffee
  2. Iced cafe au lait
  3. Iced tea with lemon, milk or black
  4. Iced chocolate
  5. Cafe chocolat
  6. Orange juice
  7. Apple juice
  8. Coca-Cola
  9. Ginger Ale

Alcohol and Soft Serve Ice Cream Menu

Alcohol and soft-serve menu

Alcohol and soft-serve menu

It’s a little odd to have these two together if you ask me, but they are. I really wanted to try the mixed chocolate and white chocolate ice cream, but we opted to share a parfait instead, and in hindsight, the ice cream would have been too much on top of that!

Your alcohol choices are:

  1. Original wine
  2. Original cocktail
  3. Draft beer
  4. Black beer
  5. Chocolate milk with baileys (iced or hot)

And your soft serve ice cream options are:

  • White chocolate
  • Chocolate
  • Chocolate and white chocolate mix

Chocolate Fondue

Chocolate fondue

Chocolate fondue

This is one of the dishes that the Shiroi Koibito Park Chocolate Lounge is known for, chocolate fondue. It’s not cheap though, and after seeing some other people have it, it’s definitely a sharing size. I bet the chocolate is delicious!

Tea Set

Ishiya Original Tea Set

Ishiya Original Tea Set

The Ishiya Original tea set is the only ‘meal’ on the menu (if you could call it that). It’s the set menu that the Chocolate Lounge is famous for. It gives you a sharing tea set for two that lets you try a variety of options from the menu including all of the Ishiya Chocolates:

  • White Shiroi Koibito Cookie
  • White roll cake
  • White Baumkuchen “Tsumugi”
  • Blueberry Mifuyu
  • i-gateau
  • White chocolate Shiroi Koibito soft serve ice cream
  • Your choice of 2x hot or cold chocolate or coffee drinks from the menu.

Not sure what all of those things are?

Roll cakes are a favourite in Japan and are basically a jam and cream scroll, but with an enormous variety of other fillings and cake flavours. In this case, the emphasis is on white chocolate.

A Baumkuchen is a German cake that has rings like a tree trunk, and its name literally means tree cake. I’ve always wanted to try one but never actually have. The Tsumugi, or ‘Shiroi Baum’, is one of Ishiya’s specialities. Read about it on their website here.

The blueberry Mifuyu is the third dish that comes from Ishiya’s line up. It features a filling, blueberry in this set, layered with puff pastry in the same way as a mille-feuille or custard slice. It’s then coated in chocolate. Yuuuuum. You can also read more about it on the Ishiya website here.

Then of course, if by now, you don’t know, the Shiroi Koibito cookie is what Ishiya is most well known for, and is what Shiroi Koibito Park is named after. These cookies really are amazing. It’s no wonder they are so popular in Japan! They are a pair of langue de chat cookies with chocolate sandwiched between them. Somehow, the chocolate centre is almost fudgy. It’s also on the Ishiya website here.

Jumbo Parfait Menu

Jumbo parfait menu

Jumbo parfait menu

It would almost be wrong not to try one of these jumbo parfait’s, but they are gigantic, and you are going to need to share! There are two choices in this enormous size.

  1. Jumbo strawberry parfait
  2. Jumbo chocolate banana parfait
Look at all those layers!

Look at all those layers!

Parfait Menu

Parfait menu

Parfait menu

The standard parfait size is still pretty substantial and is shareable between two people as well. Two of these parfaits share the same flavours as their jumbo counterparts, but you also get one additional flavour to try.

  1. Chocolate parfait
  2. Strawberry parfait
  3. Caramel coffee parfait
The standard parfaits

The standard parfaits

Dessert Menu

Dessert menu (need more desserts?)

Dessert menu (need more desserts?)

Yes, there is a dessert menu, just in case you didn’t feel you had encountered quite enough desserts already. You have two options:

  1. White roll cake
  2. Shiroi Koibito parfait

So, if you are keen to try some more of the Ishiya sweets without going for the tea set, you can do so here. The Shiroi Koibito parfait contains Shiroi Koibito cookies and some Tsumugi white Baumkuchen.

The Shiroi Koibito Parfait

The Shiroi Koibito Parfait

Baumkuchen Menu

Baumkuchen menu

Baumkuchen menu

Just want to try Tsumugi, the white Baumkuchen? It turns out, you aren’t the only one. You have a choice of how you would like it:

  • Tsumugi with your choice of whipped cream, chocolate sauce or caramel sauce.
  • Tsumugi as above, but with coffee, tea or milk to go with it.

Small parfait menu

Small parfait menu

Small parfait menu

More parfaits anybody? The last page of the Chocolate Lounge menu is full of little parfaits you can choose from. Unlike the others which are all prepared fresh in parfait glasses, these small ones are pre-prepared and served in disposable plastic parfait glasses (not really a glass though if it’s plastic, is it a cup?). These particular parfaits are also available to take away with you so you can savour the amazingness later.

These are the smallest parfaits on the menu and are the perfect size for one. That said, two can still easily share these bad boys.

Small parfaits all ready to be enjoyed

Small parfaits all ready to be enjoyed

Your choices in this range are:

  1. Strawberry
  2. Gianduja chocolate
  3. Pudding alamode
  4. Double berry
  5. Grape and kiwi
  6. Chocolate and banana
  7. Mango pudding
  8. Tropical

Wifey and I shared the Gianduja chocolate, and we are glad we opted to share. It tasted great, but it’s so rich. There was also a little surprise in it that we weren’t expecting. Gianduja is chocolate that contains around 30% hazelnut paste, and that was awesome! However, there was also a coffee liqueur in the bottom section, which wifey really doesn’t like. So, something to be aware of if you are not into the coffee flavour.

The Gianduja parfait

The Gianduja parfait

Pros

  1. Their pricing is very competitive. Nothing seemed expensive or opportunistically priced.
  2. The drinks and dishes are excellent quality and taste fantastic.
  3. You get to feel a little bit luxurious, drinking from fancy mugs with gold-plating that cost more than $80 Australian each if you wish to take one home with you.
  4. It’s a lovely spot to chill out after taking the tour with some tasty goodies.
  5. The menu is written in English as well as Japanese.
  6. Quite easy to get to by car or public transport, and tour buses also stop here.
  7. Depending on your timing, you can enjoy watching the dancing robotic animals when their show comes on in the clock tower that is located directly opposite the large lounge windows.

Cons

  1. There can be queues to get a table, and there is not much seating for people who are waiting.
  2. It can also be hectic, making it quite loud.
  3. It can be a bit confusing to get to if you don’t take the factory and museum tour.
  4. Regardless of how you get there, it’s a fair way from parking by the time you navigate your way into the lounge.
  5. This isn’t exactly a con, but there are no savoury options, so don’t go there expecting a full cafe range. It’s just sweets.

Overall

The Shiroi Koibito Park Chocolate Lounge is a great little spot to unwind after doing the factory and museum tour, or even just to experience the sweets that have made Ishiya such a well-known chocolatier and cookie manufacturer in Japan. It can be bustling so be prepared to wait, but in my opinion, it’s worth waiting for. The sweets we tried are excellent, and just a little bit decadent (or a lot if you go the jumbo parfait route) and the chocolate drinks are delicious.

I probably wouldn’t make the trip out here just for the Chocolate Lounge, but if you are visiting Shiroi Koibito Park, doing the factory tour, or just staying nearby, then it is a worthwhile stop on your trip!

Hotels near the Shiroi Koibito Park Chocolate Lounge

There aren’t any hotels within walking distance of Shiroi Koibito Park. The closest ones are near JR stations, and there are some nearish to the Tozai subway line. For the most choice, I’d look towards the city centre near a Tozai subway station. The options below are the closest and within walking distance of a subway station.

You can also do a search for nearby hotels using the search box below.

Helpful links

Don’t forget

I’d love to hear what your favourite kind of hot chocolate is. Let me know down in the comments below. I’d also like to hear your thoughts on the Shiroi Koibito Park Chocolate Lounge if you have been here, and what your favourite dishes and drinks are.

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Top 10 Gift Ideas For Millennials This Christmas (Written by a Millennial) http://blog.stillaslife.com/meaningful-living/top-10-gift-ideas-millennials-christmas-written-millennial/ http://blog.stillaslife.com/meaningful-living/top-10-gift-ideas-millennials-christmas-written-millennial/#comments Sun, 26 Nov 2017 07:02:00 +0000 http://blog.stillaslife.com/?p=4670 Millennials are a fickle bunch, I should know since it turns out that I’m one of them (born between 1977 and 2000 according to Millennial Marketing). Some of us are minimalists and don’t want much of anything, we prefer experiences […]

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Millennials are a fickle bunch, I should know since it turns out that I’m one of them (born between 1977 and 2000 according to Millennial Marketing). Some of us are minimalists and don’t want much of anything, we prefer experiences and things that create memories. I think this has been driven in part by all the (let’s be honest here) consumer junk that has been getting around for the last decade or so (wow, I’m old enough to remember more than one decade now).

Some of us are travel addicts and need things that are easy to take with us. Some of us are tech nuts. Some of us are focused on living a purposeful and meaningful life with people, animals and things that bring joy to our lives. In fact, Millennial Marketing says that around 50% of millennials are more likely to choose a product or brand if it supports a cause, and 37% of millennials are more likely to select products or brands that align with their beliefs. That’s part of why my wife and I have moved to giving gifts with a cause, such as Kiva gift cards.

A product should also serve a function, millennials aren’t into things that are just novelties and don’t bring some sort of value to their lives. Every millennial is different, but if you apply these rules to your millennial, hopefully, you’ll find some ideas in here that fit their life. Remember to ask them though, they will usually be able to give you plenty of suggestions, and if they mention a specific brand or model, it’s best to go with it since they will typically have a reason for that one.

So, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 Christmas gift ideas, as a millennial myself, that will give you some inspiration on what to get the millennial in your life.

1. Gift cards

You can get gift cards for just about anything

You can get gift cards for just about anything

We tend to think of gift cards as a last ditch effort if all else fails. I think we prefer to give something tangible that doesn’t denote an exact dollar value and that shows we put thought into what recipients would like. However, the most useful gifts for your millennial can often be too expensive. So gift cards mean you can help them to fund something they need without having to fork out all that money yourself. Of course, if all else fails then a gift card for iTunes, Google Play (check what kind of phone they use first), or another store/chain that they frequent like Kogan, BCF, Rebel Sport, David JonesSuperCheap Auto, or even eBay, will not go astray. This way you are enabling them to purchase music, movies, TV, books, applications, tech, tools, auto electrical needs or just about anything else they will find value in with your gift! This is also a great way to do it if you aren’t going to see them over the holiday period because you can send them a digital gift card instead of a physical one. So many places offer gift cards now, including gift cards for experiences, my number two gift idea. On a side note, if you pick a gift card you can get through eBay, you can sometimes combine it with their discount promotions to get it for less than it’s redeemable value. You could also consider a Kiva Gift Card for them as well. This is a gift that can keep on giving for them as well as yourself.

2. Experiences

Snorkelling at Turquoise Bay!

Snorkelling at Turquoise Bay!

Millennials love to explore, to travel, to adventure. Each of us likes to do it a bit differently, but it’s undeniable that the vast majority of us find more value in creating lifelong memories, especially with those we love than in physical gifts. Sometimes that means world travel, other times it can be as simple as a new experience with family. Be creative and check out websites like ViatorKlook and KKDay for ideas that are near your millennial that they might not have experienced before. Of course, be sure to pick something that’s going to be of interest to them. The Q1 SkyPoint Observation Deck or Climb, for example, might not be the right choice if your millennial is afraid of heights and not keen on conquering that fear. If you aren’t quite sure what to go with, you could try a gift card for an experience marketplace like RedBalloon.

3. Environmentally friendly everyday products

We love our Onya reusable produce bags!

We love our Onya reusable produce bags!

They might think you’re hinting at something if you get them body hygiene products, but millennials do generally tend to be interested in products that are good for them and good for the planet. Think outside the box a little bit. Hygiene products are useful, but what else might they appreciate? A biodegradable toothbrush for example. Reusable stainless steel straws? Reusable cups? Maybe even reusable fresh produce bags? We have bought all of these things over the last year and find them invaluable! Check out stores like BioMe for lots of great ideas!

We’ve been using bamboo toothbrushes with charcoal infused bristles like these for about a year now.

4. Quality, versatile clothing

This Rodd & Gunn sports jacket is so versatile, I wear it everywhere with button-up shirts or polo shirts.

This Rodd & Gunn sports jacket is so versatile, I wear it everywhere with button-up shirts or polo shirts.

This one is so simple but often overlooked. When you travel a lot, or if you want to keep your clothing to a minimum, high-quality items that are suitable for a variety of occasions are necessary. It is perfect if each piece packs down really small as well. Christmas in Australia is in summer, so you are likely to get some great deals on winter gear, but remember, you are aiming for maximum versatility. For a man, perhaps a button up shirt that is dressy enough to wear for formal occasions, but also casual enough to leave the top button undone and roll up the sleeves for everyday wear, like these ones. I find that brands like Gazman and Rodd & Gunn provide quality clothing that’s not too expensive. Generally steer away from prominent logos and think more solid colours. It doesn’t have to be costly, and you can often pick up great stuff from op-shops!

There's that sports jacket again, and I'm even wearing it with shorts.

There’s that sports jacket again, and I’m even wearing it with shorts.

5. Board games

Jaipur is a fun, low-cost game designed for two players. We love it!

Jaipur is a fun, low-cost game designed for two players. We love it!

Board games might seem old school and out of fashion, but they are also an activity that millennials tend to prefer to do the traditional way instead of digitally. Don’t go for Monopoly though (unless they specifically ask for it), check out some of the newer and more unusual games. Do a little bit of research and ask them if there is something they would really like. Depending on how much space they have and how many people they are likely to be playing with you could go for smaller games like Jaipur, Splendor, Patchwork, Cards Against Humanity, or Bohnanza.

We played Bohnanza for the first time last week and really liked it. It's cheap, compact and fun for up to 7 players

We played Bohnanza for the first time last week and really liked it. It’s cheap, compact and fun for up to 7 players

6. USB battery packs

Wait, what? Yep, batteries. Preferably a rechargeable one with a USB charge port on it so that it can charge a phone, tablet, camera, whatever it might be, on the go. They are sometimes called power banks, and as more and more things head wireless, this is a great gift. Phone batteries never seem to last long enough, in particular when they are being used as a camera during travel. This helps to solve that dilemma by bringing portable power wherever you go. As you are shopping, keep in mind that the higher the mAh number on the battery, the more charge it can provide. There are stacks to choose from in all colours, shapes and sizes on eBay, SkyComp, Amazon, and just about everywhere else including vending machines, if you are really stuck. I’ve had four different ones in different capacities, and my favourite so far has been the RavPower 20,000mah model. It’s small, charges quickly and provides a lot of power. Some other high capacity models are big or very slow to charge.

This has been one of my favourite power banks, the RavPower 20,000 mAh model.

This has been one of my favourite power banks, the RavPower 20,000 mAh model.

7. Smart home devices

We love our Philips Hue lights. They are dimmable, change colours, and can be controlled by Siri, Alexa or Google.


Not sure why anyone would want an internet connected speaker that listens to you and talks back? What about a TV that can turn on your lights? Millennials are increasingly spending their time in the digital scape and are rapidly taking on the smart-home and internet of things idea. In our house, we have a smart TV, smart lights (Philips Hue) and an intelligent temperature, humidity and air quality monitor (Elgato Eve). I find myself increasingly wanting to use smart assistants like Siri, Google, Alexa and so on because, to be honest, when they work well, they make things really easy. Think arriving home in the dark, getting out bags of groceries from the car and saying “Hey Siri, can you turn on the house lights for me?” Voila, on come the house lights. It’s still in early stages but there is huge potential, and this is something that tech-head millennials will especially love! Not to mention, this is bound to spark joy in their lives. Check out tools like the Google Home and Amazon Echo for ideas. The Sonos One is also a great looking smart speaker that supports both Google and Alexa assistants though it is a bit difficult to get in Australia at the moment.

8. Wireless Headphones

You might have noticed, millennials are often seen wandering their native habitats with headphones on or in their ears. Wireless headphones have been around for a while, but they’ve recently dropped in price and make listening to your favourite tunes while commuting to work or hitting the gym much more enjoyable. Can you say: “Yay, no more accidentally ripping the headphones out of your ears when the cable gets caught on something”? Just check what they use them for the most. earbuds like the Dr Dre Powerbeats might be best if they are exercising with them on (I have a set of these, and they are great!). If they are just wearing them on a commute, then on-ear headphones could be better.

I've got a set of these wireless headphones and love them for listening to music or podcasts while I'm out walking.

I’ve got a set of these wireless headphones and love them for listening to music or podcasts while I’m out walking.

9. Drones

Drones make it possible to experience the world in new ways

Drones make it possible to experience the world in new ways.

Drones are really cool, and a lot of millennials are experimenting with them, mainly as they document their travels, explorations and lives in general. The problem though is that they are so difficult to choose and can be quite expensive. They can be either too big, poor quality camera, too heavy to travel with, and of course, they can also be costly. The DJI Spark is the latest consumer-level drone from DJI and provides an excellent balance. It’s small and lightweight making it a perfect travel drone. It’s also relatively cheap while being a very advanced piece of equipment for the price. This gift is bound to satisfy the travel addict and the tech nut.

The DJI Spark comes in a number of different colours to suit the tastes of your millennial.

The DJI Spark comes in many different colours to suit the tastes of your millennial.

10. Virtual reality

Coming in at USD $600, the HTC Vive is not the cheapest way to enter the VR world, but it is an immersive setup with headset and controllers.

Coming in at USD 600, the HTC Vive is not the cheapest way to enter the VR world, but it is an immersive setup with headset and controllers.

Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality are taking off, and millennials are at the forefront of experimenting with it. A full-blown headset like the HTC Vive can be pricey though. A Google Cardboard compatible device can be as cheap as $6 and works with most current smartphones to create a virtual reality experience that your millennial will love. You might even want to get one for yourself!

Google Cardboard compatible devices are not quite as sophisticated, in fact, most of them are made of cardboard, however, they are a cost-effective way to get into virtual reality.

Google Cardboard compatible devices are not quite as sophisticated, in fact, most of them are made of cardboard. However, they are a cost-effective way to get into virtual reality.

More ideas?

I hope you got some inspiration from this list of ideas! If you have any other suggestions on gift ideas for millennials I’d love to hear them, and I’m sure others reading would too, let me know in the comments box below!

The post Top 10 Gift Ideas For Millennials This Christmas (Written by a Millennial) appeared first on Still As Life.

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Shiroi Koibito Park and Ishiya Chocolate Factory – My number one thing to do in Sapporo http://blog.stillaslife.com/travel/shiroi-koibito-park-ishiya-chocolate-factory-number-one-thing-sapporo/ http://blog.stillaslife.com/travel/shiroi-koibito-park-ishiya-chocolate-factory-number-one-thing-sapporo/#respond Sun, 19 Nov 2017 07:02:00 +0000 http://blog.stillaslife.com/?p=4474 Last updated on November 29th, 2017 at 04:13 pmHey everyone, it’s Matt from Still as Life, and I’m super excited to share this amazing place with you! In all honesty, it is my absolute favourite place in Sapporo on Japan’s northern […]

The post Shiroi Koibito Park and Ishiya Chocolate Factory – My number one thing to do in Sapporo appeared first on Still As Life.

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Last updated on November 29th, 2017 at 04:13 pm

Hey everyone, it’s Matt from Still as Life, and I’m super excited to share this amazing place with you! In all honesty, it is my absolute favourite place in Sapporo on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.

Question

Have you ever felt like you were Charlie in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory? If so, where? Let me know in the comments at the end of this page, I’d love to hear about it.

Getting to Shiroi Koibito Park and Ishiya Chocolate Factory

Shiroi Koibito Park and Ishiya Chocolate Factory are located in the north-west suburbs of Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido, Japan. It can be a little confusing to get to though because it goes by two names which vary depending on what you read or who you speak to. To be honest, I’m still confused. The signage at the factory calls it Ishiya Chocolate Factory, as does some of the material you are given if you take the self-guided museum tour. However, you won’t find it on TripAdvisor under Ishiya Chocolate Factory, TripAdvisor lists it as Shiroi Koibito Park, the same name used for the official website. My assumption is that since Shiroi Koibito is actually the flagship cookie product made by Ishiya, the factory and surrounding park have become known as Shiroi Koibito Park. So what does this have to do with getting there?

Getting there by car

Well, if you are driving there, and search on Google Maps for Shiroi Koibito Park, even though that appears to be the official name for it, you won’t find it. You need to search for Ishiya Chocolate Factory.

The full address is:

Ishiya Chocolate Factory
2 Chome-11-36 Miyanosawa 2 Jo, Nishi-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido 063-0052, Japan

You can also search for “White Lover Park” (the literal translation of Shiroi Koibito is “White Lover”), and Google Maps will find that for you too. One thing to note though is that the location marker for White Lover Park is located further away from the main museum and factory entrance so you may have to walk further if you park on that side.

When we arrived, we were directed to a car park across the road from the factory itself, located here:

Parking is free, and should you find yourself parked here on a rainy day, the thoughtful people at Ishiya have free umbrellas ready for you too!

Umbrellas at the Shiroi Koibito / Ishiya Chocolate Factory carpark

Umbrellas at the Shiroi Koibito / Ishiya Chocolate Factory carpark (and yes, those are apple trees).

Getting there by public transport

If you are travelling by public transport, then you are in luck because you can easily get here via the subway! If you take the Tozai subway line to the final station, Miyanosawa Station, it’s about a 15-minute ride from Odori station at the heart of Sapporo followed by a 700-750m walk to the factory. There is a slight uphill grade from the station, but it isn’t steep so most travellers should be able to do the walk with no trouble at all.

Not into the subway? You can also take the bus! Take the Chuo or JR bus from the JR Sapporo Bus Terminal headed in the Otaru direction and hop off at the Nishimachi Kita 20-Chome bus stop. It’s then about a 6-minute walk.

Getting there by tour bus

There are reasonably priced tour buses available from the Sapporo Station Bus Terminal operated by Hokkaido Chuo that include a stop off at Shiroi Koibito Park and Ishiya Chocolate Factory in addition to other city sights.

Hokkaido Chuo Tour Bus

Hokkaido Chuo Tour Bus

Half-day tour booking is available online through Klook for 2600 yen.

Book with Klook.

Full day tours that include Shiroi Koibito Park and Ishiya Chocolate Factory are also available. The half and full day tours can be booked directly with Hokkaido Chuo buses at the terminal, or through their website here, starting at 2600 yen.

The half-day tours operate in the morning, departing the bus terminal at 9:30am and returning at 1:35pm in Summer or 8:50am returning at 1:15pm in Winter.

Most of the bus tours offer approximately 60 minutes at the factory.

A number of options are also available through Viator to suit your budget, including a cookie-making lesson.

Experience Sapporo: Shiroi Koibito Cookie-Making Lesson
Experience Sapporo: Shiroi Koibito Cookie-Making Lesson – $40.73

from: Viator

Admission fees and other costs

Admission to Shiroi Koibito Park is free. This allows you to access the external park grounds and experience the beauty and merriment that exists here, including the rose garden. So whether you come on your own or by tour bus, you know you don’t have to pay any more, unless you want to.

To enter Ishiya Chocolate Factory and the self-guided museum tour, there is a fee of 600 yen per person for people high school age and older. For children, it is 200 yen, and for infants 3 years and younger, admission is free.

It’s pretty cheap for what it is and in my opinion well worth it. If you are here on a tour bus though you will definitely want to keep track of time. It’s easy to spend more than an hour inside.

100 yen discounts for adults are common and can be obtained quite easily. If you hire a rental car, be sure to check the travel magazine that comes with it as these often include vouchers for Shiroi Koibito Park as well as many other attractions.

There are multiple dining options on site that are available at an additional fee, and there are also some activities available in the cookie-making workshop for an extra charge. If you go on a tour, such as the cookie-making lesson I mentioned above, then this is included in the tour cost.

Opening hours

Shiroi Koibito Park and Ishiya Chocolate Factory are open every day from 9:00 am until 18:00 pm with the last admittance at 17:00pm. The store is open an hour longer until 19:00 pm.

About Shiroi Koibito Park and Ishiya Chocolate Factory

A place of wonder

As I saw the building, entered the park and began to explore the wacky world within, it struck me.

First view of Ishiya Chocolate Factory

First view of Ishiya Chocolate Factory

If Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were real, this is the closest experience to it that I’ve ever encountered.

Some ladies having fun in tiny houses at the entry to Shiroi Koibito Park

Some ladies having fun in tiny houses at the entry to Shiroi Koibito Park

Everything here is fun. It has been designed to entertain, educate, inspire, and bring out the inner child in everyone.

The clock tower at Ishiya Chocolate Factory

The clock tower at Ishiya Chocolate Factory

This place is where I had my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory experience of complete awe and wonder. Have you ever had that experience? If so, where? Don’t forget to let me know down in the comments below!

Got my factory passport and Shiroi Koibito cookie samples!

Got my factory passport and Shiroi Koibito cookie samples!

So what makes this place so magical? That is a long story that almost has to be experienced to really understand it!

The ornately detailed west gate at Ishiya Chocolate Factory

The ornately detailed west gate at Ishiya Chocolate Factory

There are actually five parts to this factory:

  1. The museum
  2. The factory
  3. The Chocolate Lounge
  4. The store and Candy Labo
  5. The external park

 

The Museum

Museum and factory entry are available for the small fee of 600 yen for adults which includes a Shiroi Koibito cookie each, and a “passport” to get stamped throughout the museum if you wish to.

The ticket desk is located at the museum entrance near the base of the clock tower. Make sure you have cash though as cards are not accepted. English is limited depending on who you speak to, but it’s easy to point to adults and children and show on your fingers how many tickets you need for each.

Once you enter, the first room is absolutely breathtaking and left us speechless…

The Fountain

The centrepiece of this room is the ornate, blue and gold Aurora Fountain situated below a detailed ceiling mural.

Aurora Fountain

Aurora Fountain

Made in approximately 1870 by the English Royal Doulton Company, this piece feels like it belongs in a palace.

The cornices are gilded and everything has been crafted with care and attention, even down to the regal doorways and fireplace.

The stunning doorway and fireplace in the Aurora Fountain room

The stunning doorway and fireplace in the Aurora Fountain room

An official photographer is available to take your photo in front of the fountain, both on their own equipment, and on your camera if you have one.

Us in front of the Aurora Fountain

Us in front of the Aurora Fountain

Around the outer edge of the room is a raised balcony that gets you up close and personal with the ceiling details and also takes you to the photo stand to buy your professional photo print if you wish to.

A close-up look at the ceiling mural Me checking out the professional photo they took of us Some of the detailed cornicing on the ceiling More of the ceiling details in the Aurora Fountain room

The Stained Glass Room

Next is the stained glass room, with stained glass ceilings and windows.

The stained glass ceiling

The stained glass ceiling

The detail continues here with delicate carvings everywhere!

 

This long narrow room takes you across the raised walkway from the museum entrance to the factory, but don’t worry the museum isn’t finished yet.

Chilling with the stained glass

Chilling with the stained glass

The Hot-Chocolate Cup Room

From the stained glass room, you step into the hot-chocolate cup room.

Yep, that's one cabinet of hot chocolate cups

Yep, that’s a cabinet of hot chocolate cups

A room dedicated to the history of hot-chocolate cups.

More hot chocolate cups and some pots

More hot chocolate cups and some pots

There are cabinets full of cups and saucers from all over the world, some more than 100 years old.

Some of the hot chocolate cups are very old

Some of the hot chocolate cups are very old

This room is dedicated to the fineries of hot chocolate drinking with gold-inlaid cups, and finely painted porcelain. Feeling regal yet?

Gold inlaid hot chocolate cups

Gold inlaid hot chocolate cups

Demitasse-Package Room

Enter the Demitasse-Package room. This is an interesting room focused on packaging used over the years. It isn’t just any packaging though. A demitasse is a small coffee cup, so the packaging is actually for small cups.

Demitasse Packaging

Demitasse Packaging

It is remarkably intricate and delicate.

Package Label Room

From chocolate to cookie packaging over the years.

Some of the packages

Some of the packages

There is a room dedicated to all sorts of historical boxes and wrappings. Some of them are remarkably detailed!

Lots and lots of chocolate and cookie packages

Lots and lots of chocolate and cookie packages

Of course, these rooms and the hallways are decorated with such detail, like these intricate sconces!

One of the detailed wall sconces

One of the beautiful wall sconces

And then, of course, there is the ceiling!

The ceiling in the package label room

The ceiling in the package label room

Chocolate Time Tunnel

The chocolate time tunnel takes you through the historic process of converting cocoa pods into chocolate in miniature form. It’s actually quite cool.

Enter the Chocolate Time Tunnel Cocoa Pods The Chocolate Time Tunnel Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5

Cookie Factory Production Line

On the other side of the Chocolate Time Tunnel is the Shiroi Koibito cookie production line.

Making the white chocolate centres

Making the white chocolate centres

It takes you through the process right from the start. Unfortunately, the chocolate making and first part of cookie production, the mixing, is only shown in diagram form.

What goes into the Shiroi Koibito cookies?

What goes into the Shiroi Koibito cookies?

 

The process of making Shiroi Koibito cookies

The process of making Shiroi Koibito cookies

From there though, you can see just about everything and even touch a few things.

Preparing the chocolate centre

Preparing the chocolate centre

The first thing you can see is the chocolate conching, preparing it to just the right smoothness for the cookie centre.

Chocolate Conching

Chocolate Conching

Next is the baking room, a giant series of ovens.

Giant ovens

Giant ovens

You can’t see a huge amount inside, but it also has a touch panel to feel the heat.

Feel the heat from the ovens

Feel the heat from the ovens

Next up, you can see the chocolate being sandwiched between the cookies while they are still warm.

The chocolate goes between the cookies

The chocolate goes between the cookies

From here on, the production line has been decorated with children having fun, sculpted and painted all around the upper sections of the walls.

See the children all around the walls?

See the children all around the walls?

It is really, really fun just looking around and seeing all the different activities that these children are getting up to.

All the walls are decorated with children playing

All the walls are decorated with children playing

Of course, it’s also interesting to watch the workers making these yummy cookies.

Next, the cookies go through a chiller for 10 minutes to cool them down to 6 degrees or less and set the chocolate.

Cookies going through the chiller

Cookies going through the chiller

There is a touch point here too so you can feel how cool it is!

Feel how cold the chiller is

Feel how cold the chiller is

Continuing on, there are more children dancing around the walls, watching the production as we enter quality control and packaging.

Quality Control

Quality Control

The cookies are checked for imperfections or damage, tested for weight and thickness, and then fed into the packaging machine.

Individually packaging each cookie in the high speed packaging machine.

Individually packaging each cookie in the high-speed packaging machine.

Next, they are run through a metal detector and an x-ray to check for foreign contaminants.

Checking for foreign contaminants

Checking for foreign contaminants

Finally, they move along to boxing.

All lined up ready for boxing

All lined up ready for boxing

Sugarcraft

Just outside the Chocolate Lounge cafe are, there is actually another piece of the museum, sugarcraft.

A small selection of the sugarcraft

A small selection of the sugarcraft

This sugarcraft is insane! There are detailed piano’s, dolls, enormous cakes, detailed flowers and much more!

One of the beautiful cakes on display

One of the beautiful cakes on display

The Chocolate Lounge cafe

A trip to Shiroi Koibito Park and Ishiya Chocolate Factory would not be complete without a pit stop at the Chocolate Lounge.

The flagship parfaits, you will probably want to share!

The flagship parfaits, you will probably want to share!

Here, you can indulge in a variety of sweets, from enormous parfaits to chocolate fondue and other assorted desserts.

More of the sweet choices!

More of the sweet choices!

Don’t go past a hot chocolate though. This is what the Chocolate Lounge is known for, and there are a variety of gourmet options to choose from.

Looks expensive!

Looks expensive!

I went with the dark chocolate “Valrhona”, and wifey opted for the milk chocolate “Felchlin”. We also got one of the small, Gianduja Chocolate parfait’s to share.

Chocolate? Yes, please!

Chocolate? Yes, please!

Depending on when you go, the cafe can be very busy, so be sure to allow a good chunk of time for it. It took us about 10 minutes to get a seat, and another 30 minutes to place our order and enjoy the decadence.

The process is:

  1. Line up to put your name down on the list for a table.
  2. The attendant will take your name and the number of seats you need – to our amusement, the attendant spoke no English and had me write down my own name amongst a sea of Japanese writing.
  3. You can either wait and if you are lucky there might be a space available on the waiting bench, or you can wander through the sugarcraft section.
  4. Once a table is ready for you, they will call your name out. If they don’t speak English, they will probably just came and find you like they did for us (it might not hurt to stay somewhere obvious)!
  5. Once you are seated, you will be given menus, and soon after, your waiter will take your order. They will also leave a slip on your table.
  6. Times vary, and since the small parfaits are pre-made they come out quite fast. Freshly prepared items like the hot chocolate can take longer if the cafe is busy. We waited about 15 minutes for ours.
  7. Enjoy!
  8. Your waiter will confirm if there is anything else you need, and when you are ready they will take the slip of paper and come back with your bill.
  9. Take the bill to the cashier and pay for your mouth-watering treat.

Our hot chocolates came out in Shiroi Koibito’s signature, gold-detailed mugs, including gold embossed saucer and gold stirrer.

These mugs make you feel pretty special

These mugs make you feel pretty special

They were also served with a syrup the waiter explained was an orenji sweetener. For the uninitiated, it turns out that it’s a sweet orange syrup that gives your hot chocolate a Jaffa flavour.

Orenji syrup

Orenji syrup

Our parfait came out with two beautifully presented parfait spoons, and we were blown away.

Parfait spoons

Parfait spoons

The parfait is unbelievably rich. It was a struggle for us to get through it and the hot chocolate, but we made it. It also turns out that the chocolate syrup used in the Gianduja parfait has a coffee liqueur in it that wifey was not keen on.

The Gianduja parfait

The Gianduja parfait

As we waited, and while we were enjoying our treats, we were amazed at the detail-rich finishings in the cafe.

Some of the woodwork around the Chocolate Lounge

Some of the woodwork around the Chocolate Lounge

As with the rest of the museum and factory, there are intricate carvings and sculptures all around the large atrium-style room. The raised ceiling I supported by Romanesque columns and the large, window wall looking over the park makes it feel extremely open.

The raised ceiling and columns add to the atmosphere of the Chocolate Lounge

The raised ceiling and columns add to the atmosphere of the Chocolate Lounge

Much to our delight, we were treated to a musical show opposite the window.

The show opposite the Chocolate Lounge windows

The show opposite the Chocolate Lounge windows

The wall below the clock-tower opened up and a number of robotic animals and people appeared, dancing and playing instruments to a catchy tune.

The show was a lot of fun to watch while we waited for our hot chocolate

The show was a lot of fun to watch while we waited for our hot chocolate

It was one of the most enjoyable dining experiences I’ve had, and if you loved the mugs, you can take one home with you! They are sold at the cashier’s desk for 8100 yen each.

Take a mug home with you!

Take a mug home with you!

The Inner Court

As we made our way down the stairs from the cafe, we saw a little bit of a show in the Gramophone Theater situated beside the stairs.

The Gramophone Theatre

The Gramophone Theatre

At the bottom, they opened out to the gallery on the second level above the inner court. This space gives a perfect photo opportunity for the beautiful court stairs in Tudor House.

I felt a little bit like I was in Game of Thrones

I felt a little bit like I was in Game of Thrones

The details and regal setting continue here with a hot air balloon chandelier and unbelievable wall and roof details.

The intricate details continue...

The intricate details continue…

If an entertainer is working in the court it also gives you a birdseye view of their act. While we were there, a mime was doing his thing, and he did a great job of it!

There are all different acts held in the court here.

There are all different acts held in the court here.

The Toy Museum

On the other side of the gallery, the museum continues. This section is actually free to access if you come in via the Tudor House store entrance. Here, it takes a step back from the world of chocolate, but doesn’t leave fun behind at all!

Old figurines

Old figurines

This museum is a museum of toys and Americana.

Its Mickey and Minnie

Its Mickey and Minnie

There are action figures, superheroes, tin toys, planes, ships, dinosaurs, beetles, animals and more!

Superheroes, and even characters from Toy Story

Superheroes, and even characters from Toy Story

 

Tin toy plane collection Tin toy animal collection Tin toy ship collection Tin toy collection Tin toy plane collection

There are even JFK memorabilia and moon landing artefacts.

JFK Memorabilia

JFK Memorabilia

 

Moon landing memorabilia

Moon landing memorabilia

The Store

Downstairs, on either side of the inner court is the store. This is also accessible through the Tudor House entrance and is free to get into.

Chocolate and cookies galore!

Chocolate and cookies galore!

Here, you can purchase from a huge selection of Ishiya chocolates and Shiroi Koibito biscuits.

Candy Labo

Also in Tudor House is Candy Labo. Another space for fun and entertainment with colourful candies everywhere.

Yes, that is a candy ferris wheel at Candy Labo

Yes, that is a candy ferris wheel at Candy Labo

There is a regular candy making show, and of course, it can all be purchased. This is not much different to Candy Kitchen at Coffs Harbour’s Big Banana, so we didn’t wait for the next show to start, but it’s something that kids especially would love!

Freshly made watermelon candy

Freshly made watermelon candy

The Hells Angel

I really don’t know what this has to do with anything at all, but as we made our way out, we were met with this intense, piped motorbike sculpture by Nathan Watton called “The Hell’s Angel”.

Hells Angel Hells Angel About Hells Angel

The Park (Shiroi Koibito Park)

The outdoor park area of Shiroi Koibito Park is freely accessible and can be entered without a museum/factory tour ticket. If you don’t want to spend the money or don’t have time to do the full tour, this park is worth a visit on its own, and it will be different depending on what time of year you visit.

Looking across Shiroi Koibito Park to the clock tower from Tudor House

Looking across Shiroi Koibito Park to the clock tower from Tudor House

We visited in early August, and as you can see the flowers are in full bloom, so the park is full of vibrant colour.

The colour in the flowers bring out the colour in the factory building.

The colour of the flowers brings out the colour in the factory building.

It’s an unbelievably beautiful place. Even without the flowers though, you can enjoy the unusual combination of architecture.

Tudor House

Tudor House

With inspiration from all over the world, parts look like factory, other parts like large houses, and still others like they could be from a town hall.

Looking across the rose garden to the clock tower and Chocolate Lounge

Looking across the rose garden to the clock tower and Chocolate Lounge

There are street lamps dotted around the park, and with their gold detailing and almost British appearance, they could be straight out of Narnia.

Gold details on one of the lamp posts from the Borough of Poole

Gold details on one of the lamp posts from the Borough of Poole

There are cubby houses and tiny spaces everywhere with matching tiny tables and chairs, including under flower gardens, that make it feel almost like you are in the Shire from Lord of the Rings (AKA Matamata in New Zealand).

Looking across the small houses Tiny houses straight out of fairy tales Some of these small rooms are under the garden bed There is even small furniture inside Cubby houses everywhere!

Oddly enough, there is an apple tree garden as well, and within that garden are English and Japanese Police Boxes.

Apples!

Apples!

These little moles detect motion, and if your arm strays too close to an apple, BOOM! Officer Mole will pop up and have words to say to you.

Look out, police

Look out, police

There are tiny white picket fences, a fairy tale bridge, a double-decker London bus, and even a tree house.

This tree house looks like it belongs in a children's book

This tree house looks like it belongs in a children’s book

There is a lily-filled pond with a fountain and hippos.

The hippo fountain and lily pond

The hippo fountain and lily pond

There is a beautiful rose garden, and vines are climbing the walls of buildings, making them almost blend into the gardens.

Vines creeping up the clock tower Roses in the rose garden Roses in the rose garden Roses in the rose garden Roses in the rose garden Looking across the rose garden to the Chocolate Lounge Looking across the rose garden to the Chocolate Lounge and clock tower

Here is also the second professional photo opportunity available, in front of the rose garden with the intriguing architecture in the background.

The professional photo location in the rose garden

The professional photo location in the rose garden

If you are keen, you can also sit on the Shiroi Koibito Park love seat and take your picture with a loved one!

Wifey and I on the Shiroi Koibito Park love seat

Wifey and I on the Shiroi Koibito Park love seat

Shiroi Koibito Park Shows

Spend at least 15 minutes here and you will be treated to the show! This is the same show we saw from the cafe, but there is so much more to it. Make sure to check out the YouTube video above, particularly the last minute of it to get an idea of the show!

From the cafe windows, we could only see the portion in the clock tower.

Outside the stained glass room is a trio of robotic trumpeters, and above the flower garden is a dancing chef quintuplet!

The dancing chef quintuplet The dancing animals in the clock tower Trumpeting chefs outside the Stained Glass Room

The tune is a real earwig and was stuck in our heads for days afterwards!

Don’t leave just yet though. After the main show finishes, the Grand Meister starts up below the clock tower.

The Grand Meister

The Grand Meister

He plays a tune on his golden music box and releases bubbles from the top of his gazebo.

The Grand Meister blowing bubbles

The Grand Meister blowing bubbles

It’s enough to bring out the inner child in anyone!

Outside

Well, we did have to leave eventually, but we took some time to check out the details outside the factory. Even here, the fun continues. The fence is topped with golden carved cats and there are rows of flower-filled window boxes.

The details continue outside

The details continue outside

The gates are gilded and have so many little details in them.

EST 1947

Est. 1947

Even the drain pipes are decorated with gold-work and form a part of the regality of this building.

Even the drainpipes are detailed!

Even the drainpipes are detailed!

It’s no wonder that the GPS in our hire car shows the park with an “art” symbol, it really is a work of art itself.

The GPS thinks Shiroi Koibito Park is a work of art

The GPS thinks Shiroi Koibito Park is a work of art

Pros

  1. I love the fun of it. Every aspect of this factory has been designed with the intention that it be enjoyed. It reminds of the Cadbury “Joyville” ads, and Cadbury could definitely learn something from here because to me, this place is the definition of “Joyville”, something Cadbury’s own factories are not.
  2. Easy to get to by car or train, very close to a subway station.
  3. Suitable for all ages.
  4. Free options available that are worth seeing.
  5. Cheap entry tickets with discounts readily available.
  6. Lots of readily available English information and signage.
  7. Chocolate, cookies, chocolate, oh and chocolate.
  8. Elevators are available for those with prams or disabilities.
  9. No matter what time of year you go you will get a different experience in the gardens.
  10. Open every day of the year.

 

Cons

  1. There is a lot to take in, and it may be a challenge for children to take the time to enjoy the museum sections.
  2. You may put on weight.
  3. The gardens vary from season to season so to see in flower or to see the Winter decorations, you have to plan around the time of year.
  4. Very limited English speaking staff.

 

Overall

On TripAdvisor, Shiroi Koibito Park is marked as a place to shop rather than a thing to do (incorrectly, in my opinion), and within shopping, it is rated number one in Sapporo.

I think it should be categorized as a thing to do as it is far more than just shopping, and for my vote, it is the number one thing to do in Sapporo by a long way.

It’s entertaining for everyone, easy to access and cheap. The only downside is that you could spend far too long there without realising it!

As such, I would rate it my #1 must-see attraction in Sapporo.

Hotels near Shiroi Koibito Park and Ishiya Chocolate Factory

There aren’t any hotels within walking distance of Shiroi Koibito Park. The closest ones are near JR stations, and there are some nearish to the Tozai subway line. For the most choice, I’d look towards the city centre near a Tozai subway station. The options below are the closest and within walking distance of a subway station.

You can also do a search for nearby hotels using the search box below.

Helpful links

 

Don’t forget

I’d love to hear about your Charlie and the Chocolate Factory moment, if you’ve ever had one. Let me know down in the comments below. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on Shiroi Koibito Park and Ishiya Chocolate Factory if you have been here.

The post Shiroi Koibito Park and Ishiya Chocolate Factory – My number one thing to do in Sapporo appeared first on Still As Life.

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Visiting Moerenuma Park in Sapporo’s Summer http://blog.stillaslife.com/travel/visiting-moerenuma-park-sapporos-summer/ http://blog.stillaslife.com/travel/visiting-moerenuma-park-sapporos-summer/#respond Sun, 12 Nov 2017 07:02:00 +0000 http://blog.stillaslife.com/?p=4411 Last updated on November 16th, 2017 at 04:21 pmG’day everyone, in today’s blog, we are going to visit Moerenuma Park in Sapporo’s North East, the #1 rated thing to do in Sapporo according to TripAdvisor, and one of the places […]

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Last updated on November 16th, 2017 at 04:21 pm

G’day everyone, in today’s blog, we are going to visit Moerenuma Park in Sapporo’s North East, the #1 rated thing to do in Sapporo according to TripAdvisor, and one of the places we visited during our Hokkaido 6-day road trip.

Before we jump into it though, I’ve got a question for you:

When you are travelling and on a schedule, what kind of activities do you prefer? Do you like to just chill, or do you prefer something fast paced? Natural or cultural experiences? Something else? Let me know down in the comments below!

Getting to Moerenuma Park

This 188-hectare park is located approximately 11.5km’s from the heart of Sapporo, which is about a 20-minute drive. Don’t trust Google Maps for your directions though if you search for Moerenuma Park because Google Maps switches from driving to walking and takes you in the long way around. Instead, search for one of the car parks. “Moerenuma Koen Azuma parking lot” is at the eastern entrance, and is the one we went to as it is the most direct when coming from Sapporo CBD. This parking lot also gives you road access to drive into the Glass Pyramid car park.

Driving in to the Glass Pyramid car park

Driving into the Glass Pyramid car park

Here is the Google Maps reference that we used.

Sadly, there is no train or subway access to the park, but you can get there by bus, so those limited to public transport need not despair.

First, get to the Kanjo Dori-Higashi Subway station on the Toho Line. From there, you can catch the Chuo Bus, either Higashi 69 or Higashi 79, and they will take you out to Moerenuma Park’s east entrance. The stop there is called “Moerenuma Koen Higashiguchi” and it’s about a 25-minute ride on the bus. From there it’s a short walk to the park. You can also take the 26 from Asabu Station on the Nanboku subway line.

If you don’t read Japanese, it can be a little tricky to find the timetable online and a map of where the bus stops. So, check here for the best English map I’ve found. Depending on how good your Japanese is, or how well you do at deciphering Google Translate, you can check the 69 and 79 bus timetables here.

Admission fees and other costs

Admission is free, and if you drive, parking is also free, so your only costs are optional ones, like going to the restaurant, or hiring a bike, which you can do from the Koen Azuma parking lot. Bicycle hire for a two hour period costs 200 yen or 300 yen with a baby seat. If you are planning to check out the entire park, this could be a great option to do it a little quicker. Much of the park is level, so it should be an easy ride.

Bicycle hire pricing and times

Bicycle hire pricing and times

Opening hours

Moerenuma Park is open 7:00am to 22:00pm, 365 days a year, however, the main entrance closes at 21:00pm, so no late night driving in.

The west and south entrances shut at 19:00pm and are also closed during Winter.

Some of the attractions within the park have different and varying operating hours. Check the Moerenuma Park website for the current times.

About Moerenuma Park

Moerenuma Park is unique because it has been built over an old garbage dump that had been used as reclaimed land from 1979 and with the construction of a park beginning in 1982. The final park design was done by Isamu Noguchi, and work on implementing his designs began in 1989 with the park opening in 2005. Unfortunately, he passed away and never got to see the final park.

Matt at the Glass Pyramid

Matt at the Glass Pyramid

One of the things that’s pretty cool about Noguchi’s design is the intention that the entire park would be a sculpture in and of itself. Surrounded by Moere Marsh and with the pyramid motif throughout the park, it makes sense that there would be a “mountain” to give you a good vantage point while continuing the theme. Mount Moere is only 62m high, so it’s an easy paved walk to the peak.

If you aren’t really into cycling or walking around the park, you can drive into the heart of it, to the Glass Pyramid car park and walk from there directly in.

Entry to the Glass Pyramid 'Hidamari' from the car park

Entry to the Glass Pyramid ‘Hidamari’ from the car park

The pyramid, nicknamed ‘Hidamari’, or sunny spot, houses a museum, shop, gallery and restaurant.

That was some good chocolate...

That was some good chocolate…Oh, and that’s the Glass Pyramid at Moerenuma Park!

We were keen to have a look inside but unfortunately for us, we were there too early and it wasn’t open yet.

Peeking inside the Glass Pyramid

Peeking inside the Glass Pyramid

Some of the other park attractions include the Sea Fountain water show, the artificial Moere Beach, Play Mountain, Cherry Tree Forest, Tetra Mound, Aqua Plaza and the Music Shell.

Tetra Mound and the Music Shell at Moerenuma Park

Tetra Mound and the Music Shell at Moerenuma Park

We were planning to see some more of the park, but, it was raining quite a bit, which it turns out is common in the Summer here. So we just saw what we could without getting wet and decided to travel on to our next destination, Ishiya Chocolate Factory at Shiroi Koibito Park.

So, we saw the Glass Pyramid, the Tetra Mound, and the Music Shell. We could also see Moere Mountain, though we didn’t realise that’s what we were looking at! Really there is a lot more to see here, but if you have a wet day like us (which is highly probable in Summer), you might want to rethink your plans.

Pros

  • Cheap! Free admission and free parking.
  • Easy to access by car. Can drive right into the centre of the park if you need to.
  • Can be accessed by bus.
  • A beautiful green space.
  • Interesting for those with an eye for art and architecture due to the use of the pyramid motif.

Cons

  • Located out of the city, away from many of the other attractions.
  • Limited public transport options.
  • Walking/cycling access only to most of the sights (only a con if it’s raining, you are limited on time, or you have mobility impairments).
  • Takes a lot of time to see a small number of things.

Overall

So from what we experienced, I’d say that Moerenuma Park is a peaceful place that does feel very open and certainly helps reconnect you with nature in the built-up city of Sapporo.

Part of the grassy parkland between the Glass Pyramid and Tetra Mound

Part of the grassy parkland between the Glass Pyramid and Tetra Mound. Perfect for a picnic if it’s not raining!

It is a large, green space that strikes me as being perfect to spend the day at with your family or church friends, or anyone else you enjoy spending time with. Take a picnic lunch and just relax, particularly in the spring months when the cherry blossoms come out and the rain is less frequent.

Some of the green space around the Glass Pyramid

Some of the green space around the Glass Pyramid

For a tourist on a tight schedule though, it’s definitely something to miss, particularly if you get a rainy summer day like we did. There are some cool ideas in it and as a park, it’s great, but it is a fair way out of the city and there are plenty of exciting things to do and see in Sapporo that will keep you busy. To be honest, I don’t think it warrants a #1 rating on TripAdvisor. If you are travelling that way anyway, then I’d definitely check it out, but if not, save yourself the time and effort.

For our #1 thing to do in Sapporo, stay tuned. I’ll link to it right here when it’s up!

Hotels near Moerenuma Park

Unfortunately, there are no hotels in the immediate vicinity of Moerenuma Park, so if you are travelling by public transport, you may be better off with a hotel near the subway line like one of these ones.

Otherwise, you can search for the nearest hotels using the search box below.

Helpful links

I’ve put a number of links throughout this article that I found helpful, but here are a few others that I found handy for planning as well.

Don’t forget

I hope you find this info helpful. Don’t forget to let me know in the comments below what kind of experiences you like when you travel and I’d also love to hear your thoughts on Moerenuma park.

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