How To: Use Kakao Taxi

If you’ve spent any amount of time in Korea, you’ll know that Kakao is a way of life. If you are like me, perhaps you’ll even start to say ‘kakao’ in a similar tone to the message notification instead of replying to people in the affirmative – no? Just me then *sigh*.

Anyhow, since I briefly mentioned the app in an early post I have avoided using Kakao Taxi altogether by relying on other people or taking the car everywhere I go, but one of Raj’s delightful colleagues recently sent across a little ‘how to’ guide for non-Korean speakers, so I have no excuse now. Well, actually I do – I still can’t really figure out where I am on a map and where I want to get to, but that’s a separate issue. As this post largely consists of someone else’s writing (Cheat! Cheat! I hear you scream…) I’ll be following up with another one shortly… Happy wandering folks.

Step 1: Sign in

The sign-in page will greet you. You can automatically log in with your KakaoTalk account once you press the button on the button of the screen

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 Step 2: Agree to the T&Cs
Make sure you agree to all the statements, then hit next.

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Step 3: Confirm your Korean phone number
In order to use this app, you will need to have a working Korean cell phone number. The app will instantly send you a verification code and you must input the code into the KakaoTaxi app within the specified time limit.

 

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 Step 4: Input your location and Destination
Input your starting location in the top box and destination address in the bottom box. You can also click on the “starting location” box to be given the option to select your current location
*Scroll down to the bottom to view the diagram of Korean taxi types*  

 

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Swipe down on the map so that it enlarges to your entire phone screen. You can also type in the locations in the boxes. Once you input the information, the screen will close the map and give you an arrival estimate of your taxi. You can also click to see the map once more.

Step 5: Give them a “call”
Simply press the yellow button on the bottom and your request is sent to a nearby taxi. The app has real-time location, destination and travel time that you can send to family or friends through KakaoTalk, so that they can follow your journey on your phone.
Step 6: Pay at the end & give your driver a rating!
“We hope you had a pleasant ride”
You have the option of paying with card or cash once you arrive at your destination, much like a regular taxi. A screen should also pop up asking you to rate your experience with KakaoTaxi.
In short, as long as you can figure out a map, you can now use KakaoTaxi – Hurrah for this much-needed information and thank you PKC for sharing this with everyone!

 

 

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A Beijing Mini Break: 3 Day Itinerary

Having sorted out the admin pretrip, we were ready for our 3.5 day sojourn in Beijing. First thing to get used to pretty much every flight to China from Incheon gets delayed. It’s boring but it is part of the experience. Also, a lot of passengers will have an INSANE amount of hand-baggage, so you kind want to get on the plane quickly to make sure you get some of that precious overhead storage space (this is where you want loyalty points for some essential pre- boarding.)

We landed in PEK and jostled our way through immigration. The airport is HUGE! You have to get a fairly lengthy train shuttle from just outside immigration to luggage collection and from getting off the plane to getting into a taxi, it took about an hour.

People talk about the traffic in Beijing, and the drivers there, and it sounds horrendous. Knowing our propensity to hire cars and do things ourselves, several friends warned us off driving in Beijing and said we’d be scared enough in taxis. I don’t get it personally. The traffic, although plentiful, wasn’t the worst and because there was plenty of traffic, it really felt like everything was happening in slow motion. Yes, there were plenty of cars that zipped in and out of traffic, super close to a car we were in but because of the speed every one is travelling at, it isn’t an insurmountable feat. Anyway, I digress.

We arrived in Dongzhimen around 7 and spent the evening wandering around the local area – ostensibly to find the subway station, but really just to orient ourselves as we knew we would be taxi people this trip. During the wandering, we came across the Raffles City Mall, across the road from Dongzhimen station and lo and behold, dinner was solved – Pizza Express in China (although it’s called Pizza Marzano there!)

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Day 1 in Beijing was a very rainy Friday morning not conducive to sightseeing, so we spent the day roaming (in taxis) around different areas, stopping for food as needed. I was particularly excited to find a place to get my eyebrows threaded in the CBD. Browhaus has two locations pretty close to each other, and the staff spoke enough English to make me feel comfortable. It was 98RMB for eyebrows and 50RMB for upper lip which is a bit pricey but I wasn’t so sure that I’d walk away with my face intact from some of the definitely cheaper in-mall threading places.

I went to the location in the Kerry Centre, and while I was doing my thing, Raj was busy finding a lunch stop in the same building: Din Tai Fung for world-renowned dumplings – including a veggie selection for him!

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After lunch, we headed over to the Bodhi Spa, as recommended to us, for some blissful massages which helped to while away the afternoon. http://www.bodhi.com.cn We paid 348RMB for a 1hr aromatherapy massage and you’ll find the spa just North of the workers stadium, across the road.

We spent the evening strolling through Sanlitun – known for its bars and restaurants. The food prices are pretty amazing when compared to Korea and the choice available is huge! Apparently Sanlitun used to be the soft red light district of Beijing and to this end, you still see women dancing on poles in an establishment which is right next door to a more family friendly environment. We had a nice drink at the Hacienda Rooftop bar, followed by a stroll home. One strange thing we found everywhere is that as soon as your food / order has been brought to your table, the servers expect payment immediately. If you hand over a card, they often ask for the password (pin) but we’d say no and mime signing instead. It’s almost like they expect you to do a runner so they avoid that by getting paid upfront, which is weird in the police-state that is China but you get used to it.

Day 2 dawned with slightly more friendly weather, so we set off to the Summer Palace, up in the North of the city. The summer palace was exactly the kind of crowded mayhem that you would imagine China to be. Last summer’s desire to be a video-blogger came back for a few moments while I tried  to capture the insanity – but it was a futile attempt. We bought the artists map to try to navigate around the palace, but whilst it is a very pretty representation it isn’t the most useful to get around, so that’s where Lonely Planet comes in. This is also the place that I came round to the idea of using umbrellas as sun protection. It was hot and humid and climbing to the top for some albeit very pretty views was sticky work. I think I’d almost prefer to return to Beijing in the cold months (cold weather doesn’t scare me anymore – I live in Korea after all!) to do the rest of the sightseeing. If you have time, it’s a nice little ferry ride from the main bit of the palace to South Island too. The sun disappeared while we were on the boat but the view were still nice.  Leaving the palace to get a taxi was hard. This seems to be a recurring theme in China, so if you have members of your party who would object to walking around in search of one, make sure you get the DiDi app and have data on your phone! Even with the app, lack of language skills means that it still isn’t the easiest thing, but every little bit helps.

From the Palace, we went to a Duck restaurant – its Beijing, Roast Duck in pancakes is an absolute must – that was recommended and across the road from the hotel. It was a late lunch, so the restaurant had run out of vegetarian food but Raj patiently watched me stuff myself and then went and found some noodles around the corner.

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After a little rest (I really must invest in a hat) we headed to Houhai for dinner and a drink. The name ‘Houhai’ refers to a lake and its surrounding neighbourhood in the Xicheng District of Central Beijing and is a lovely place for a pre-dinner stroll. We ventured away from the lake down some decidedly quiet, and in any other country, dodgy, side streets which are apparently filled with market traders during the day to a quiet and quaint little Italian restaurant, Mercante, which we’ve since learnt is a gem amongst the Beijing Foodie Set. With an Italian owner, the food is impeccable and I was only sorry that I’d eaten so much duck that I didn’t have space for the rack of New Zealand Lamb that was the night’s special. (Yes, I realise most of my holiday posts revolve around food. I can’t help it, I get hungry. I’ve started planning my trip to London in September already – Nandos, Teryiaki Salmon Fishcakes from M&S, Ribs and Greggs make the top food stops). After dinner we went back to the lake for a drink at the ‘No Name Bar.’ For such a gorgeous venue, it was empty, so please do make an effort to find it and offer it your custom when in town! 

Day 3, and our last full day in Beijing. We jumped in a taxi to Tiananmen Square: interestingly, if you Google-search Tiananmen Square without a VPN in China, nothing of note comes up. There is a big ploy to make sure that people know that nothing happened there, but when you get there, security is super tight and there are supposedly plain clothed policemen at every turn. Why would you need all this if nothing happened? We planned to go to the Square first, but somehow found ourselves caught up in the queue for The Forbidden City so we went along with it. That was our first big fail of the trip. There are only 80,000 tickets sold each day for the Forbidden City and most of these are booked by tour operators or online before people arrive at the venue. The crowds to get into FC are HUGE and pushy and shove-y and gross in the heat, but there is no sign on the outside to say there are no tickets left. Once we shoved our way in only to find all the tickets were sold out, we made our way back to the front to get out, only to be turned around with no indication where the exit was. At some point I was wandering through crowds just saying ‘exit’ over and over again in the hope that someone would take pity on me and point me in the right direction!  Turns out you need to walk the length of the FC on the outside in order to get out.

Fast-forward from here to Silk Street. Ah yes, the infamous art of bargaining in a Chinese market. I am SO bad at haggling that I just went down the ‘speak to my husband I don’t have any money route’ and left him to it after I picked out things. There is a nice food court (veggie and non-veggie noodles pleaseandthankyou) for pre-shopping, and lots of great foot massage places for post shopping. All in all, I was happy with my spoils, which included a new pair of glasses for me, prescription sunglasses for him both for less than £100. I think I’ll get prescription sunglasses next time…

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Raj likes to check out the Indian food offering everywhere we go, so that’s what we did for dinner. The menu at Ganges in Sanlitun was HUGE and it definitely gets a thumbs up from us – sadly I ate my food too quickly before I thought of taking pictures, but it’s just an excuse to go back I reckon!! 🙂

All in all, a Beijing Mini Break is thoroughly recommended. I want to go back to see the Great Wall of China (a 70km hike in that weather was not on my list of things to do) and actually enter the Forbidden City so I’ll be applying for a multi-entry visa when I’m in London to make it possible…

 

A Beijing Mini Break: How To

One of my favourite things about living in Korea is the access to the rest of Asia. This year, a number of different factors conspired to mean that we have spent summer in Korea, and making our home leave visits later in the year. We’ve used a fair amount of that time to go into Seoul and more recently, made the 2 hour flight to Beijing, for my first trip to China.

Visa Free Layover 

A lot of nationalities (and I can confirm this from a British Passport Holder point of view) can do a 72 hour layover in China visa-free having met certain conditions:

  • You must fly in and out of the same airport around the 72 hour layover (e.g PEK)
  • You must be flying to a third country and possess a ticket to prove this journey. For these purposes, Hong Kong does count as a third country (e.g. Incheon ⇒ Beijing ⇒ Hong Kong ⇒ Incheon) NB. In the given example, if you wanted to re-enter Beijing after Hong Kong, you would need a visa for the second re-entry into China
  • You need to have your accommodation in Beijing booked, with a printed copy as proof.

If you are taking the layover option, there is a separate immigration queue that you can use – in fact there are two options here as well. You can either use the immigration queue that allows entry into the city itself, or if just transiting, there is another queue for visa-free-remaining-in-the-airport. Take a moment to make sure you are in the right queue and save yourself some time.

China-Visitor Visa 

Although pretty much everyone needs a visa to visit China, there are exceptions so it’s worth your while to check the requirements for your trip yourself.

Note: The Chinese Embassy no longer issues travel visas to individuals. One must go through one’s travel agent to get the required visas. Also, foreign nationals must now have 6 months remaining on their ARC (visa) to qualify for a visa to China.

For our visas, we went to Mode Tour, which is right by Central Park 2. The staff don’t speak a lot of English, but enough to help you get your visa. You need a passport photo, your passIMG_1359port and your Alien Registration Card as proof of residence. If you don’t have an ARC then you’re better off applying for a multiple entry visa in your home country. We had a little issue because our ARC doesn’t have an expiry date, but luckily we have Korean visas in our passports which do have an end date, so it worked out OK. The staff in the agency fill out most of the form for you while you are there, and the standard service takes about 4 days. You pay, in cash, on collection – about 80,000 per visa. You probably can get a  multiple entry visa via the agency, but we just got a single entry for this trip. The recommendation is that you have your flights and accommodation booked before you apply for your visa but the travel agents didn’t take the printed copies when applying for our visas, so I’m not sure about that. There is also an express service for the visas as well, and as expected it costs a little more.

Accommodation 

I don’t have a lot to say on this – where you stay depends on what you want to do and what your budget is, but I will say this. All visitors have to register with the local police office within 24 hours of arriving in China. If you stay in a hotel, they take photocopies of your passport photo page and visa and do this for you. If, however, you stay in an Airbnb or with friends, I think you would have to arrange this yourself – just make sure you’ve done the necessary admin. It’s also a requirement to always carry your passport (or Chinese ID if you have it) on your person, so a good cross body bag for essentials is useful.

Getting Around 

The subway is getting larger and is pretty easy to use. You can get a T-money card equivalent but we just did a few single journies, as taxis are really affordable in China and we were being a little bit lazy (totally allowed on holiday). When you are taking taxis, always make sure they switch on the meter (and get out of the taxi if they don’t want to), don’t take private cars masquerading as taxis and have plenty of smaller notes to pay for the taxis as well (see money, below). There isn’t a lot of English spoken, so yo need to have Chinese addresses to give to taxi drivers. To this end, Google maps isn’t 100% reliable in terms of location but you can use it to obtain said Chinese addresses. Taxis start at a base rate of 13.00 RMB and if you are spending a bit longer in China, it might be worth downloading the Didi app (available in English) to hail taxis with. We didn’t hire a local sim card as it was just 4 days so used our Korean data but this is an option at the airport I believe. One thing you will want to have set up on your phone is a VPN, as access to many Western apps is restricted in China.

Cash v Card

China isn’t as card-friendly a society as Korea is, as locals tend to load money onto their ‘wechat’ apps and use this for paying for everything – restaurants, shops, taxis, cinema etc. Foreign cards are especially hit and miss – even when it comes to ATMs. I’d recommend using cash for most transactions and to withdraw cash, your safest bets are Citibank, Bank of China, HSBC and the airport ATMs.

Cash fraud is, however, still a big deal – especially with 100 RMB notes. Our hotel (Holiday Inn Express Dongzhimen) had a little list of checks to make when money is handed back to you but I’m going to get a friend to write a little note about this as well. Watch this space. I mentioned above that you should have correct change for taxis – this is because the following scenario is pretty common:

  • Passenger hands taxi driver 100 RMB
  • Taxi driver says it is fake (when it isn’t) and hands back a fake 100 RMB note to the passenger
  • Passenger accepts fake and uses another 100RMB note to pay fare.

One taxi we got into agreed a price of 20RMB from Silk Street to our hotel, which is what we paid getting there. He immediately handed me 80RMB in change, expecting a 100RMB in return. I said no and gave him a 20 note. At this, point he said he wanted 20 euros (!) so we said no and hoped out. I can only assume that the 80 change he was prepared to hand over was fake and I foiled his plan by having change to hand. Guess we’ll never know.

Restaurants

Eating out in Beijing is great – for veggies and carnivores a like! All the menus are in English and there are options to suit every taste and budget. I’ll write more about where we ate in the next post though… 

One last thing

People talk a lot about the pollution in Beijing. We really didn’t find it to be visibly that bad but maybe we’ve gotten used to a similar level in Korea. Checking the air quality app showed that levels weren’t great, but speaking to a couple of long-term expats in Beijing, we learnt that it was the worst it had been in a while (save for 2 weeks in Winter when you try not to go outside.) What I did find however, is that my contact-lens covered eyes struggled after a day, no matter how many eye drops I used. Wearing sunglasses, even when it wasn’t that sunny helped a LOT so either do that, or give your eyes a break and wear your glasses every now and again.

 

 

Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Designed by Zaha Hadid (no relation to Gigi & Bella as far as I can tell) and typical of her designs I’m told, Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a great place for a day out in Seoul. We only made it over for the first time three weekends ago and have ended up going there three weekends in a row.

Here’s a picture I’ve stolen from the interweb – I couldn’t get a great one of the entire building on my phone :

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DDP, as it is colloquially known, is made up of five halls: Art Hall, Museum, Design Lab, Design Market and Dngdaemun History & Culture Park. Located at the centre of South Korea’s fashion hub, it is a popular place to visit with locals and tourists alike and super easy to access – the subway station Dongdaemun History & Culture Park leads straight into the plaza. There are pretty gardens surrounding it, as well as numerous malls, and in the past few weeks we’ve visited in rain and sunshine alike.

 

The Art Hall is known as the primary space for the Korean creative industry, and we visited it to check out “Volez, Vougez, Voyagez,” The Louis Vuitton Exhibition. The exhibition is a free one and on until the 27th August 2017 and if you haven’t been already, it is definitely worth checking out! You can reserve a space online, so that you don’t have to stand in the queue – we didn’t do this but were still in within 15 minutes and spent a happy hour wandering through various stages of LV’s history, checking out the designs, patterns and collaborations that make the brand so well known today. For a free exhibition, the accompanying brochure and app were amazingly produced and full of information.

We also visited the “30 Years of Pixar” exhibition in the Design Exhibition Hall – it is only on until the 8th August so get your skates on! Tickets cost 13,000 KRW per adult and inside you will find lots of background information on how some of your favourite Pixar movies are made and the incredible initial sketches and colourscapes that go in to each and every scene. It is SUCH a treat for any Pixar fan and the little gift shop is a great bonus at the end!

DDP is also the location of one of three Shake Shacks in Korea – and yes, we’ve eaten there every week for 3 weeks now (they even have a mushroom burger for the veggies)!

All in all, you should definitely have a look on the website regularly and keep heading on down (up) to see what DDP has to offer: http://www.ddp.or.kr/main?hl=en_US

 

My #nuclearholiday #YVR

Yes, you read that correctly. I’ve come a long way mentally from the last stream-of -consciousness-post that I sent your way and I can now make fun of myself and my mini (ed. Ahem) panic attack. As you know, I decided that while Raj was travelling, I would travel too, and booked a trip to Vancouver to see my brother, Kesh, and sister-in-law, Rosa. Sidebar: have I mentioned recently how lucky I am that Raj is SO indulgent of me and my over-active imagination? I don’t think many people would have accepted my need (and my mother’s need!) to not be in Korea at that time and gone along with plans which were a complete over-reaction, but he did and, with regards to this, will, I believe, continue to do so. Definitely a lucky girl.

Anyway, once I landed in Vancouver, it only took a few minutes with my joker of a brother – I call him this to his face, it’s ok and truly, Kesh is the funniest person in the world – for me to accept that my panic was probably uncalled for and for him to coin the phrases, subsequently developed into hashtags for my social media needs obvs, #nuclearholiday and #falloutfun. Some might consider these in bad taste, but I defy those who say that to experience my levels of panic and then avoid attempts at humour to make yourself feel better about it.

I was spoilt in Vancouver. Rosa and Kesh live super centrally to everything – all my needs were met within a 15-minute walking radius of the house, and #keshcooks became an oft-used hashtag on Instagram. Kesh has always enjoyed cooking (you know my feelings on that already) and Rosa and I are more than happy to clean up, which he hates. The sun made an extended appearance during my stay and long walks to see the surrounding area, excellent food and copious amounts of salted caramel ice-cream were the order of the week. I was able to do the usual ‘buy-things-that-I-don’t-get-in-Korea’ easily and catch up on a couple of zombie/sci-fi films that haven’t made it out here too. I finished reading my current collection of psychological thrillers – Mr. B is SO thankful for that, as it is helping to temper my ‘what if’ scenarios that I wake him up with – and I learnt a couple of things as well.

(1) My brother and I are more alike than I realised – I have emergency plans in place, he walks a different route every day so that in the event of the Zombie Apocalypse he has escape options. I look at buildings and wonder how easy, or otherwise, they would be to scale (up or down, need-based) and he always sits facing the room in a restaurant so that he can deal with potential assassination attempts more easily.

(2) I talk A LOT. Rosa was away for the first two days of my trip, and I talked my, somewhat quiet, brother’s ear off non-stop. When Rosa returned, she and I jabbered on endlessly. Kesh said that the word count of the apartment had increased by 5,000 words a minute and he really couldn’t get a word in edgeways even if he wanted to.

One pretty important thing that came out of my trip is that I finally know what I want to do with my time here in Songdo. Apart from the obvious perks of being an expat-wife, Kesh suggested that I should put my crazy imagination* to use and do a creative writing course. I mean, it’s so simple but SO GENIUS I am surprised that none of us thought of it earlier. I’m on the hunt now for a suitable online creative writing course that I can do from Korea so that I can embrace my future career as a writer. It might even mean that some of my previous, as yet unseen by the world, musings and writings might make it into the public eye. Who knows. At the very least its a fabulous way to keep busy. So, readers, if you have any hints for any courses that I could look into, please do leave a comment with the details and I’ll get searching. This might mean that my somewhat-erratic blogging habits become even more erratic, but I will try not to let the one affect the other. Here’s a couple of pictures of beautiful Vancouver as an ending….

*Here’s another example of the way my mind works, just in case you hadn’t figured it out already: The return to Songdo has been hectic. Landing on Sunday, one overnight guest on Monday and then Raj’s cousin, wife and six month old arriving on Tuesday for a visit. We have a few fun things planned so I hope to share a bit more about the local area and things to do in the next couple of posts, but all this is by way of setting the scene for an amusing anecdote. On Monday, we borrowed a travel crib and car seat from a colleague of Raj’s for the aforementioned six-month-old. I made our overnight guest (who reads this blog – Hello!!) fix the car seat into the car on Monday night- having two children of his own, I determined that he possessed the appropriate skills to do this correctly. On Tuesday morning, I get into the car and get the fright of my life – I forgot the car seat was there and all I saw was a big red blob behind me, which became a serial-killer who snuck into the car during the night and was going to stab me and leave my decimated remains in the car park. Well, I quickly realised that wasn’t the case, and whilst waiting for my heart-rate to come down, I texted Raj. He laughed. I moved on with my day, but I will always remember the time that I was nearly a goner.

A Danish (Scottish-Japanese) Love Party 

So it has been a quiet period on the blog because I’ve been on holiday in England and Denmark but while I have been away, a couple of independent sources have found my blog and mentioned to me that it has been useful and interesting, especially for those living in or planning to move to Songdo. Accordingly, I thought it worth noting here that if anyone has anything in particular that they would like to know about leave a comment and I’ll do my best to find out about it! Whilst a post about the oddness of being on holiday in the place I called home, where working long hours and a hectic social life were very much the norm, is certainly called for, that’s not where I want to go today.

We originally planned to go to England this Summer because we had been invited to one of Raj’s very-good-friend-from-uni’s wedding in Denmark and going to Europe without making a stop in London would not have gone down well. K is a half-Scottish-half-Japanese girl who met Danish P in Tokyo many years ago. They dotted the t’s and crossed the i’s in London (i.e. legally wed), where they live (ironically formalising their personal European Union on the very day Brexit was announced), but for the big celebration went to P’s family home in what has been regularly described as “the middle of nowhere” in Northern Denmark. Dubbed “The Danish Love Party” it was arguably the most inclusive, warm and, well, loving wedding that I have been to in recent years.

The fun in Northern Jutland began with the welcome – being a farm, there were horses and very enthusiastic family and friends of the couple. Being the awkward English Folk that we were (there were 5 in our little party) we very much stood aside until it was time for official proceedings to unfold and for the merriment to begin, but it would appear that we unwittingly formed a receiving line of sorts. 5 of us, stood on the corner of the patio and every Dane came up to us to introduce themselves by name and relation to the couple. One chap was so focused on the task of introducing himself to us that he didn’t notice the groom patiently following him down the line trying to attract his attention! This was our first clue that the Danes are a super friendly bunch but little did we know quite how much..

Now the ceremony itself was taking place in the woods so it was off with the heels and on with the flats for a little wander through actual woodlands to come to a pretty little clearing where we would wait for the Bridal Party, and what an arrival. The Bride, dressed in white-gold with a brightly coloured Kimono, arrived on the back of a tractor driven by her father-in-law, where her groom awaited looking SO happy and SO proud that you couldn’t help but be swept up in his cloud of excitement. They were preceded down the aisle by nephews and nieces and the ceremony was officiated by close friends (a couple) who prepared a service that was utterly unique to K&P.

One of the first things that they did was to acknowledge all the friends and family present, saying that it takes a community to make a marriage work and every guest was asked to affirm their commitment to the marriage we were witnessing. Clue 2 to the inclusiveness of the Danish Love Party. It’s pretty safe to say tears were flowing from the moment the Bride made her entrance, through the service, readings and group-sing-a-long too.

Following the Bridge & Groom’s tractor-departure, we all pottered back to the main house, where several hours of drinking and getting to know everyone ensued. It had the relaxed feel of summers idly spent in the park, except with a group of people who were all there for the same reason. There was none of the time sensitive rushing commonly associated with weddings (I am sure that the wedding party felt differently) and a most enjoyable afternoon was spent in the grounds of a farm in the middle of nowhere..

Then we had the reception. The reception where every bit of decoration and food was hand-made, hand-picked, home-grown and then some. Dinner was held in a marquee set next to acres of farmland and a number of Danish traditions were followed, including:

(1) When all the guests clink their cutlery on their plates, the bride and groom had to get up on their chairs and kiss

(2) When all the guests stamped their feet, the bride and groom had to crawl under the table and kiss

(3) If the bride/groom left the room (marquee) then all the men/women respectively would line up to kiss the person left in the tent (they like the kissing these folk).

(4) The Speeches. Oh the speeches. Tradition has it that anyone who wants can get up to give their words of love to the couple and without fail, I cried at EVERY SINGLE SPEECH. Not only are the Danes super-friendly, inclusive and full of love, they aren’t afraid to show it or talk about it either. We had speeches from the bride, groom, groom’s father, best man (groom’s brother) and several other friends who had stepped up to have their say. If you were in that tent, you couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the ridiculous amount of love that was causing that tent to rip open at the seams. And that is just how I felt as a guest-once-removed. The outpouring of love didn’t stop at the couple – friends and family were thanked time and again for their presence (and it’s the only time I’ve ever been furthest-travelled to a wedding!) to such an extent that I am pretty sure everyone in that wedding felt as though they had personally played a part in the union before us. Thankfully the next tradition helped to subdue tears…

(5) Songs. It’s traditional to take a well-known song and change the words to suit the couple… this was a fabulous warm up for the Karaoke to follow

In between the various speeches and songs and general fun, there were stunning sunsets and views over the field to take in. It was another world and the fact that it was still bright bright bright at 2230 was rather disorienting, not least because you couldn’t begin to explain where the day had gone!

Tradition (6) was the first dance.. as the couple danced, everyone claps and steps closer and closer to the bride and groom to enclose them in a circle and a big-bundle-type-hug on the dance floor. So amidst all the love there remains a sense of fun and togetherness always.

The evening rounded out with more drinks than could be drunk, Karaoke (to remind everyone where the couple met) dancing and a sausage-grilling-Campfire in the fields.

Raj & I had to hot foot it to another wedding in London the next day, so it was an early end for us (1am – still a respectable 12 hours spent celebrating!)but overall such a privilege to be a part of the day and easily the best wedding I’ve been to yet.

Nikko, Yamazaki & Nara

Following last night’s little rant about a mere handful of things going on in the world which all leave me indescribably sad, I thought I would lift the tone by returning to my current favourite topic. Japan.

This blog seems to have taken a turn for the travel-blog, rather than one of my musings but I suspect that as I end my missive to Japan, things will return to normal, so bear with me dear folks.

Right, so, I’m combining a few of the day and half-day trips that we did (using our trusty JR Passes) – I could quite easily wax lyrical about each place in a post of its own, but your comfort and interest is at the forefront of my mind (somewhat) and so brevity is the order of the day.

On Saturday, the sun was shining and we planned to take our first Shinkansen. Now, as much as I love Japan, I super-super love the Shinkansen. Granted I only managed to stay awake on one of the Shinkansen (I even love to say the word..) trips we did but wowowowowow. Anyhow, my first Shinkansen experience was to Nikko. We’d heard many good things about the place and it didn’t disappoint. The initial sunshine of the day waned a little, so we didn’t spend the whole day there, but we did visit the Shrines Tosho-gu and Futarasan. I can imagine that when the weather is more consistent, Nikko would be a glorious place to spend a couple of nights.. and that is on the agenda for my next trip. The evening consisted of dinner with friends in Shibuya and the all important viewing of Captain America: Civil War, followed by a little stroll and the easy-peasy reservation of our seats on the Shinkansen (there is that word again) to Kyoto from Shinigawa station.

Jumping forward a few days, we spent Tuesday visiting the Yamazaki (or Kamikaze, as i kept, rather Freudian-ly kept saying) distillery and the temples of Nara. As we only realised the distillery was so close to Kyoto rather late in the day, we were unable to get a space on the tour – this books out months in advance, so plan ahead and make the most of it. We were however able to wander through the museum and try a few of the more choice whiskeys, which made for a most pleasant morning! A word to the wise for you whiskey aficionados out there: Yamazaki 18 is near impossible to buy. A bartender in Kyoto told us that most bars send their staff out to remote countryside liquor stores on the off-chance that there is a bottle in stock and nobody has realised it’s worth. The distillery had none left to sell and nor did any of the stores or bars we went to. I believe that a few years ago there was a dramatization of the Whiskey Industry in Japan, which increased popularity and led to ginormous sales and the current low stock situation. So enjoy the drink when you find it in bars but set your sights a little lower when planning which bottle to take home!

From Yamazaki, we went back to Kyoto and took a local train (no Shinkansen today, sigh) to Nara. If you head to bus stop 2, you’ll get to the Todaiji Temple Complex. The main sight, the Todaiji Temple itself is of huge historical significance in Japan. Constructed in 752, it was the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples. At the time, Nara was considered the capital of Japan but the growth of the Todaiji temple meant that the capital was moved to Nagaoka in 784, to reduce the influence of the temple of the governmental affairs.

We then wandered uphill to Kasuga Taisha – unfortunately slightly too late to go inside, but we hung around the front and snapped a few pictures nonetheless, and I met one of my favourite trees of Japan.

Dinner was Ramen at Ippudo (more about this in the Kyoto post) and a little wander through the streets of Gion, which evoke all the traditional feelings that one associates with Kyoto. Tonight was the night of drinks at the wonderful Finlandia, but I’ll tell you more about that next time..