From my travel journal: Tokyo, 2015

Because it’s Friday, and I’m over working for the week, and my mind is on travel because we just booked an Airbnb for our time in Tokyo and I cannot wait to get back to that incredible city…

 

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“First up, walked to Yoyogi Park, which was really, really green and very beautiful. I wandered around for a while & eventually made my way to the Meiji-Jingu Shrine/Temple area – swarming with people, construction going on, still breath-taking. On our walking tour, Mika showed us a Shinto tradition at their shrines – you toss a coin into the receiving tray, bow twice, clap twice, make your prayer, then bow once more. I had the opportunity to do this again there alone, which was really nice…”

Tea time: Tao Dan Park Bird Cafe, Saigon

Tao Dan Park
110Bis, Nguyễn Du, Bến Thành, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

This café stop on our last morning in Saigon was probably the highlight of our time in Saigon. Another suggestion from our wonderful Cu Chi Tunnels guide, she told us about the “bird café” in Tao Dan Park; each morning, from around 6am until around 8 or 9am, a corner of the park becomes a meeting place for men around 30 – 50 years of age, and their pet birds. Sounds odd, right? It is, but in a really beautiful way.

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Keeping pet birds is quite popular in Vietnam – you notice cages everywhere, beautiful, old, vintage-looking bird cages, with gorgeous little feathered creatures sitting inside. The café at Tao Dan Park is a real social event, where the men of the city roll up on their motorbikes with their covered birdcages perched on the back. They park their bikes and carefully lift the cages, bringing them to rest on the floor in the middle of the outdoor “café.” The covers are removed from the cages, and they’re delicately hung from the hooks on what looks like a collection of big metal trees with braches especially crafted for the cages.

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While the women are off presumably raising the kids, cleaning the house, running the shops and doing whatever else needs to be done, the men sit around for a few hours enjoying their coffee and listening to their birds sing. We pulled up a little plastic table and joined the growing crowd, husband with his Vietnamese condensed milk iced coffee, and me with my lemon tea and journal. While the tea is nothing to write home about (just a Lipton tea bag, boiling water and a squeeze of lemon), husband said the coffee was amazing, and that’s what everyone else seemed to be drinking, too. I got a lot of strange looks, being the only woman around, but probably no stranger than the perplexed look on my face when I first arrived trying to work out what the hell was going on. Travel is like that – we might all be a little weird to each other, but you learn to adapt to anything 🙂

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Photo Journal: Yoyogi Park & Meiji-Jingu Shrine, Tokyo

Yoyogi Park
2-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya, Tokyo
http://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/english/

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Good morning friends  : )  I hope everyone had a great weekend – I’m absolutely exhausted! After checking the calendar, we realised that this weekend just passed was our last free weekend before Christmas (…!!!!!), so we hit the shops like possessed elves, and knocked out all our Christmas shopping in 7 hours on Saturday! I’m so glad it’s done, but my goodness it was exhausting… And the weather was so beautiful, and I’d have loved to head out for a picnic and a bit of outdoor sunshine time! So this morning I’m going to take us all to Yoyogi Park in Tokyo for a visit  : )

For such a big city, Tokyo certainly isn’t lacking in beautiful big green spaces. I’ve always loved spending time in big parks on my own, ever since depression started taking over my life in high school. Sitting quietly on fresh green grass under a beautiful leafy tree has always been something that’s calmed me, so after a pretty busy first 48 hours, my friend and I parted ways for the day and I made my way to the park to re-calibrate a little. And it truly was a truly remarkable space…

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Also within the park is the majestic Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine, tucked deep within the park. Shortly after the deaths of Emperor Meiji (in 1912) and Empress Shoken (two years later), 100, 000 trees were donated from well-wishers around the world to create this beautiful park. The shrine itself came to be in 1920. The main buildings were sadly destroyed in 1945, in the midst of the second world war, and we rebuilt in the late 1950s. You can learn a lot more about the Meiji Shrine here, so instead of telling you more, I’ll just show you…

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Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, New York City

Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, New York
http://www.fdrfourfreedomspark.org/

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“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedoms of every person to worship god in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want – everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear – anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 6, 1941

The Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park was dedicated almost three years ago – a stunning four acre park that memorialises those four freedoms. You can read more on the website, but their mission statement reads:
The Four Freedom Park Conservancy’s mission is to operate and maintain Four Freedoms Park, a public space dedicated to celebrating and honoring the life and legacy of President Franklin Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms through educational initiatives and public programming.

I’m not into politics, nor do I care for politicians. I know next to nothing about my own country’s political history (and not even sure it’s worth worrying about considering the iPhone wasn’t even around yet the last time we had a prime minister run a full term), much less about a country on the other side of the world, no matter how big a world power they may be. For the most part, I don’t care. But those words up there hit me hard when I visited the FDR Four Freedoms Park in January; I was reminded of the concept of freedom (more so freedom from ourselves) writing this post on Wednesday night, and reminded again more specifically of the words themselves last week while I was putting together this article for Outlet Magazine. 75 years ago, in the midst of yet another world war (the speech was meant to help rally the American public against the threat of the Axis powers), this man had the strength and courage to speak up about the freedom that should be afforded to EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD. And what really got me, still gets me, is how relevant those freedoms are, today maybe even more so than when they were first expressed.

Freedom of speech and expression: how many instances have we heard of in recent years where journalists have been made victims? Or even just regular every day people speaking out about their beliefs?

Freedom to worship god in your own way: how many people are persecuted and killed over religious differences, not just every day, but every hour?

Freedom from want: did you know that the 85 richest people in the world hold as much wealth as the 3.5 BILLION poorest?

Freedom from fear: imagine living on constant fear of bombings, rape, drive by shootings, poverty, homelessness, abuse…

 

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The park itself is beautiful; from the pictures I’ve seen, it’s bright and colourful in summer, but it was another level of stunning in winter. You can visit any day except Tuesdays, when it’s closed, and you can take the cable car over – it’s a gorgeous view looking over the city on your way across. Everything about the island was perfect, from the decrepit old smallpox hospital to the modern design of the island by Louis Kahn, it is magnificent. It doesn’t get the attention of Central Park or The Empire State Building, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a must visit in New York City. And while you’re there, take a moment of peace to appreciate how fortunate you are to have at least had the freedom to travel to such a beautiful place.

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San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park

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I’ve been talking to a friend about her upcoming trip to America, including San Francisco… got me remembering what a cool city it was, so thought I’d do a bit of a flashback post thing today! The original plan was to grab a few bikes, ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, and come back to the Golden Gate Park to relax with some lunch. That didn’t go quite to plan; apparently among other similarities to Melbourne, San Francisco’s weather can be a little crazy. It was sunshine and rainbows the day we came up with this plan, less than 24 hours later it was just rain. And lots of it! So we scrapped the bike idea, had a cup of tea in the foyer of our hotel and waited for the rain to ease up a little; as soon as it did, we ran outside, hailed a cab and asked him to take us to the park.

Our cab driver was super helpful actually, offering to drop us off right near the de Young Museum, which is apparently the easiest point to navigate from if you’re not too familiar with the enormous park (seriously, it covers a little over 1000 acres!)

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I guess we got pretty lucky, because the rain actually stopped for an hour or so, which made for a much more pleasant visit! One of the things that really got to me was the Music Concourse – it was a beautiful, huge area, where I imagine would be a great place to spend a summer day listening to some music. In the winter, however, it seemed to have been converted to a makeshift shelter for the homeless souls of the city. It was confronting, and quite heart breaking to see… it really went to show that homelessness really is a universal problem that we need to tackle.

It was a beautiful park, very green and well kept, even in the winter holiday season. It was nice to see a few groups of people practicing Tai Chi, and families getting their kids away from the video games and out into the fresh air. I’d have liked to have stopped at the Japanese Tea Gardens, but we were wary of the rain starting up again before we’d had the chance to see more of the park, so we pushed on. There’s actually a heap to do there, if you have the time and appropriate weather – there’s the museum, the Conservatory of Flowers, Botanical Gardens, California Academy of Sciences, playgrounds, archery field, it just keeps on going! Just pack yourself a picnic basket and cross your fingers for sunshine!

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