Home, sweet home: Chicago

I hadn’t really given Chicago much thought before we arrived there. It was the final stop on our 11-week trip – and at the thought of returning home to ‘real life’, I was almost too gloomy to contemplate the city of pizza, a reversed-flow river and Al Capone. I was already getting anxious about the flight home, our baggage allowance (exceeded) and how well I’d cope with the end of travelling. I wasn’t prepared for quite how much fun Chicago turned out to be.

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For a start, Chicago has the rather cool suburb of Wicker Park. This isn’t the first place you might think of visiting, but for us, it was a must-see. We strolled around the funky little boutique shops, tried donuts from Stan’s by Damen station, and drank an afternoon away at Emporium, playing video games and trying various different hard ciders. It was a perfect lazy city afternoon.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. We drove down from Wisconsin to Chi-town, stuck in vast lanes of slow-moving traffic, seeing the high skyline of the city grow ever closer. The sun shone, Lake Michigan glittered and eventually we checked into our art-deco-styled Hampton Inn right at the heart of the Loop. But not before playing the final round of mini golf of our trip, at the spectacular Par-King course in Lincolnshire, Illinois. Thirty-six superb holes of ‘skill golf’ fun. We loved it.

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From our base in the centre of the city, we spent our days wandering the city streets, admiring Chicago’s architecture (take the Architecture Foundation tour, a wonderful cruise along that reversed river, with passionate experts telling you why each building is so special). We strolled out to Navy Pier, which was so naff and cheesy and touristy, we were soon strolling back again. We headed out to Shedd Aquarium and admired the sea otters and the sharks.

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The Art Institute was wonderful, as was going up the Sears/Willis Tower, a la Ferris Bueller. We ate a huge pizza pie, at the famous Giordano’s, and drank Asahi in the Slurping Turtle on Hubbard. It was a joyful, touristy blitz of this lovely city, which prides itself on its good-time attractions and handsome beaches, washed by the lake’s gentle waves.

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On our final evening, we headed back to Wicker Park to close the circle. On our wanderings down Milwaukee Avenue earlier in the week, we’d passed a little izakaya – a traditional Japanese restaurant – called Izakaya Mita. So our last night away from the UK was spent eating okonomiyaki, ramen, gyoza and yakitori and drinking chu-hai cocktails. Rather like our first night in Tokyo… which seemed an awfully long time ago to us as we remembered how shell-shocked we’d been by Japan’s first city’s bright lights and crazed glitz.

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But somehow, despite the wonderful vibe of the city, the blue skies, the crowds thronging the streets and parks, we had the spectre of our return home and ‘real life’ hanging over us. Our wonderful sabbatical was almost at an end, and I can’t deny it didn’t tinge our final days in Chicago with sadness.

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We wanted to be back at the beginning of our time away, stumbling out of Shinjuku station, eyes wide with alarm as we took in the mad rush around us. Or stood at the top of Mt Mizen having hiked our way up to the top in the early morning sun. Or gazing down Bryce Canyon and its patchwork of wonderful colours. Or swimming in Lake Michigan as the sun went down on another perfect Door County day. Such a plethora of memories… crowned by Chicago, lights ablaze, the moon high above the towers, and Brad and I walking down Magnificent Mile, admiring the graceful buildings, loving the fact we were simply tourists having fun in a city that wasn’t our own. Thank you, Chicago, for being the perfect end to a wonderful three months.

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Happy holidays: Door County

It feels like your childhood holidays brought to life. Sand between your toes. The water lapping gently before you. The sun high in the sky. Boats bobbing in the bay. A traditional ice-cream parlour selling giant cones with whipped cream and nuts and little sparkly things. Messing about in the swimming pool. Going to a drive-in movie…

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Hold on, a drive-in? Not often part of your traditional UK holiday memory, is it? But then in Door County, Wisconsin, the drive-in is simply part and parcel of your summer holiday spent here, by Lake Wisconsin, enjoying the chilled-out life.

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A tiny, European settlement of 250 souls, the town of Ephraim swells to huge proportions in the summer as Iowa and Illinois residents flood to the coast along the lake and soak up the simple charms of ‘The Door’. And it’s no wonder. Time moves more slowly here. Cars creep along at 20 miles an hour. Days take on a molasses hue – you get up later, wander down to your favourite coffee shop (Leroy’s Water Street Coffee) and eat your morning bun and sip your latte slowly as the sunshine dances on the lake and the trees whisper in the breeze. You play a game of ‘cornhole’ (bean bags chucked on to a wooden board and into a hole) or go for a hike through Peninsula State Park, wandering along the lakeshore, watching the eagles soar above you. You head back to your hotel – we spent four nights here, at the Bay Breeze – and take a cooling dip in the lake, letting the warm water soothe your tired legs. Then you head back to shower, change and go out for a delicious dinner… drinking Arnold Palmers (a delicious mix of iced tea and lemonade) and eating something tasty at the Chef’s Hat.

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It really doesn’t get much better – or more complicated – than that. Throw in places like the Red Putter Mini Golf course (the only course I beat Brad on, fair and square!) and the Skyway Drive-In and you have the perfect combo for a summer holiday of simple pleasures, easy days and chilled-out nights. It was bliss after all our travelling to simply do nothing for four days, and left us with happy memories of Ephraim, Door County as we headed on down to the bustle and buzz of Chicago.

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Six of the best: South Dakota

South Dakota was quite possibly one of the nicest, friendliest and most fun-packed states we visited on our trip across the USA. Which is weird because we so didn’t expect it to be quite so memorable; but this little corner of the USA has a vast array of sights to see. We spent five nights in its warm embrace and completed gorgeous hikes, saw some incredible natural wonders, and enjoyed ourselves no end at fantastic National and State Parks. Here’s our top six South Dakota stunners…

1/ Devil’s Tower

Technically this is in north-east Wyoming. But it’s very close to the SD border, and we went to see it while staying in Hill City, SD. Another ‘get up early to beat the crowds’ trip, we arrived here early morning and had the main 5km hike around the base of the tower to ourselves. By 12pm, the place was mobbed, and we left the other tourists to it.

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Star of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Devil’s Tower is every bit as spooky and mystical as you hope it will be. A plug of lava, revealed from beneath the earth by erosion over millennia, its nickname – Bear’s Tipi – makes sense when you see the deep grooves clawed into its surface. Astonishingly, mystically beautiful and not an alien/mashed potato in sight.

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2/ Mount Rushmore

Yet another childhood dream come true. I’ve wanted to visit Mount Rushmore for the longest time – probably since I saw a TV show about its creation back in the ’70s – and here I was, practically running up the Avenue of Flags, spotting little glimpses of Washington’s nose, Jefferson’s face… I almost didn’t want to look at first, but I’m so glad I did, because the Mount is a fantastic and memorable sight. Great museum telling the story of its creation, too, and explaining how the four faces were blasted and carved from the Black Hills’ rock. Just avoid nearby Keystone with its tacky Mt Rushmore memorabilia…

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We took the Presidents’ Trail around the base of the mountain and that was a great way to get some of Mt Rushmore to yourself – as with most National Parks and Monuments in high summer, it was mobbed. But walk a little way from the car park and you get peace, quiet, pine trees whispering, and the moody face of Lincoln staring beadily back at you. Fantastic.

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3/ Custer State Park

The surprise highlight of our stay. I didn’t expect an awful lot from Custer – but it was a fantastic place to centre our stay in Hill City around. Beautiful hikes; fantastic lodges; lovely rangers; wonderful drives. Plus as many bison to see as you could shake a stick at.

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We hiked the Cathedral Spires and Lovers’ Leap trails; Cathedral was busy and a over-crammed with kids, shrieking over a mountain goat (who promptly turned tail and ran). Lovers’ Leap was silent, lush, verdant; climbing high above Custer, you could see Mt Rushmore from the rocky viewpoint before the trail dropped down to a creek and a long meadow hike back to the park lodge (more Chex available here). We also had a small argument on the Leap, due to a disagreement about the likelihood of rain (Brad was right – it tipped it down just as we got to cover).

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The Needles Highway was also good fun; switchback roads, impossible bridges; tunnels blasted through sheer rock. Fantastic views across the Black Hills, too. Sometimes I hate being the designated driver.

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4/ Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

It was just – just! – like it was in Wargames. A missile silo 30ft underground. Two chairs and a key each and codes in plastic discs. A blast door that would have sealed them in and then ensured the silo became their tomb. Launching nuclear missiles at the height of the Cold War was no joke; and the Minuteman silo we visited (two people out of only 36 allowed in on that particular day) was a sobering reminder of how seriously the USA took the destruction of the USSR.

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These two men would have launched 10 multi-megaton missiles from beneath the South Dakota soil, sending their birds to Russia and igniting the end of the world. Sobering to see and, despite the gung-ho approach of the US to this hidden piece of their history, chilling and moving in equal measure.

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5/ Badlands National Park

It rained. A lot. We got drenched every time we got out of the car. But not even a vast, torrential downpour could dampen the natural beauty of Badlands.

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It was like landing on the Moon – grey rocks, banded with brilliant strata of reds, purples and oranges, rising before us, or tumbling away at our feet, drifting to the grey-clad horizon far from us. We had wanted to hike in Badlands but the weather, and the thick sodden clay soil put us off; instead we made do with the scenic drive, a 30-mile loop that spat us out near Wall and its famous drugstore. This was a crap tourist trap, so I won’t bore you with it, but Badlands was stunning in its desolation and watery silence. Like viewing sand-blasted mountains from the bottom of a goldfish bowl.

6/ Sioux Falls

Just as the countryside starts to evolve from wild-west dust to verdant prairie (and, in the nicest possible way, going from thrilling to mundane), there sits Sioux Falls, a small, easygoing and slightly bohemian SD town.

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We expected very little from Sioux Falls apart from a bed for the night; instead we got fantastic waterfalls (Falls Park, in the centre of the city, is the loveliest place for an evening stroll – bands play, families scamper, everyone tries to get as close to the thundering water as they possibly can); brilliant brewhouses (nothing like a hard cider on the Big Sioux River) and the nicest restaurant I’ve ever visited inside the lower 48 (MB Haskett – check them out here). For a brief stopover on our way east, it was fantastic.

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Sioux Falls was our final stop in SD and, as I-90 funneled us towards Minneapolis, I was a tiny bit heartbroken to be saying goodbye to this welcoming state. When can I go back?

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Walking the walk: Bryce Canyon

I truly never liked walking. I was always that girl who hated getting muddy feet, or bramble scratches, or dirty trousers. I liked to be in the city, taking a taxi, getting a pedicure, wearing nice shoes. Hiking seemed like far too much trouble and effort. For what?, I’d think. I can see great views on a postcard. I don’t have to walk through mud and dust to experience them.

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Something changed for me around four or five years ago. I started to realise there was maybe more to getting fit than just getting thin (though that’s a nice side effect). It can bring you some measure of mental fitness, too (there’s nothing else to do on some long dull 5km runs apart from think). It gets you outside and into fresh air, works up an appetite, justifies a glass of wine in the pub afterwards. In conclusion, walking out to see a view is a Good Thing.

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I never felt that so much as I did at Bryce Canyon, one of southern Utah’s loveliest spots. We were up early again to beat the crowds on the Navajo Trail, a swooping, sweeping loop that drops down into Bryce Canyon, past the famous hoodoo rock formations, before following the canyon bed for a short distance, then sweeping through ‘Wall Street’ (a narrow, deep slot canyon) and rising again to lead you out of the basin. It’s a shortish hike (only around 2.5km) but it’s at a high(ish) altitude (9,000ft) and it drops 600ft very quickly, meaning you have to hike up and out 600ft on the other side. It’s a tough, swift walk but, my God, is it beautiful.

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It’s almost too much to look at, as the dusty red trail drops from under your boots and the rising sun strikes the rock formations like a hammer on an anvil, colours bursting forth, washing over you as you descend, your eyes constantly being drawn away from the trail to try to take in the colours and shapes before you. Then it’s a burst of feeling ‘how small am I?’ as the valley floor sweeps you towards grand slot canyons, the scent of pine in the air, ground squirrels scattering like clockwork toys at your approach, before you start to climb back to the canyon rim, your heart pumping, your lungs cranking (I’m so glad I stopped smoking three years ago), all conspiring to make you feel like you’re really, truly alive.

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I tried to let it all go, this time around, and maybe I got there. Bryce was so immense, it really does stop all thoughts and anxieties, apart from your brain saying, ‘look, look, look’; I think I did just look, and experience, and keep in the moment. It was a good feeling.

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Later on, after a lot of water and some Chex mix (my new favourite treat), we walked the easier Bristlecone Loop out to Yovimpa Point – at 9,100ft, the highest point in Bryce – and looked back along the canyon walls. There it was, the picture postcard moment of my trip so far. And I was seeing it myself, because I’d moved my feet back and forth, instead of believing looking at a retouched image on a piece of card would be enough.

It really wouldn’t.

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Zion and Cedar Breaks: hiking up high

I’d never seen anything as spectacular as Zion National Park, Utah. The red cliffs closed in around the car as we drove towards the range that makes up the sheer canyons and high peaks of the park; the Virgin River below us, carving a path through the sheet rock walls. It was stunning… More than stunning. I’m not sure there are words for what it was.

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We were there before the sun touched the peaks of the rocky drop-offs surrounding us; to beat the crowds on The Watchman trail, we were hiking at 6am, eyes still blurred with sleep, heads still fuzzy. But as we climbed the steep trail, lungs working overtime at the 8,000ft elevation, we woke up quickly. Ground squirrels scattered before us. Birds swooped and cried over our heads as we followed the twisting path up and up, The Watchman peak towering over us.

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The sun started to warm the rocks 2,000ft higher. We climbed a little faster, leaping over a tiny stream, peering over the trail edge to the valley floor 700ft below. It was silent. Our boots grated on the dusty trail. The wind rustled through the low scrub. But apart from that – nothing. We were the first that day to stand on the lookout, high up and alone, The Watchman ours for that moment. I was almost scared by the loneliness surrounding us.

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Our first hike in Zion was intense, but so satisfying, we wanted to do more. Later that day, escaping the crowds flooding into Zion, we drove high up to Cedar Breaks National Park, 10,000ft in the sky, and almost as deserted as Zion was packed. The views across the natural ampitheatre, its incredible red rocks, hoodoos and faultlines glowing in the afternoon sun, were spectacular. We had the Rampart trail almost to ourselves, the white limestone path blinding, covering us in dust as we hiked on. Pines twisted by winds rustled over our heads. Tiny blue and pink flowers grew across the inhospitable landscape. It was almost too bright to look. We loved the solitude and the peace.

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The hard work needed to hike at higher altitude took us by surprise – we weren’t expecting it to make such a difference – but the physical challenge was what I needed to silence my usual anxieties and focus on the moment. Where to put my next step, where to stop for a breather was all I was concerned with, and the extraordinary scenery spread out before us was also more than enough to wipe away day-to-day worries.

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It’s nigh on impossible to be sad or anxious when you’re gazing down over 10,000ft of rocky outcrops, or watching the sun touch the tips of mountains towering above you. It’s not possible to do anything apart from marvel at how beautiful and strange the scenery is, and how happy you are to be there seeing it – blisters, tired legs, and all.

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Far and away: Japanese memories

It’s been tricky trying to sum up our incredible five weeks in Japan in a single post. We had such a swathe of experiences – from the neon glitz of Osaka to the quiet simplicity of Takamatsu; from the incredible art of Naoshima to the cheesy fun of baseball in Fukuoka, that there doesn’t seem to be any way to combine all these experiences into one single blog post.

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I’ll try: simply by saying that Japan is the most intriguing, craziest, strangest countries we’ve ever visited. It’s also one of the kindest and efficient – the people we met were all, without exception, lovely and helpful. Things worked when they were supposed to – sometimes in puzzling ways (to our mind) but they got done. We were treated with huge amounts of hospitality. Japanese customs are curious to our British eyes, but they just add to the enjoyment and mystique of the sights you see and the people you meet.

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In five weeks, we barely skimmed the surface of this vast island country, but we loved the places we did see. Kagoshima’s peaceful harbour, with Sakurajima’s volcanic bulk towering over its calm waters, is one lovely memory from our two weeks in the far south of the country. Queueing up for chicken ramen on our return to Tokyo, waiting outside for an hour, then eating the most delicious bowl of broth, noodles and meat I’ve ever tasted, is another. Baseball at the Fukuoka Soft Bank Hawks stadium is a third, with the smiling chu-hi girls and the obsessive fans.

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Just for the sake of balance, we did struggle with the language barrier – Japanese is a hard language to learn, and we spoke only a few words – which is our issue, of course. And we got by. We sometimes had issues with food (I had a bizarre series of upset stomachs, caused by… who knows!) and occasionally longed for a menu where we knew exactly what we were ordering!

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But these things were far outweighed by the great stuff we saw and the lovely things we got to do. Tsukiji fish market early in the morning. Nara’s ‘begging’ deer. Himeji and Hiroshima and their histories. Riding a bullet train. Experiencing an earthquake (I don’t need to do that ever again…). Truly memorable moments, which I know will stay with me forever. Arigato gozaimasu, Japan.

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Japan: five travel myths debunked

It’s been just a few days since we left the beautiful, mind-bending country of Japan, which we called our home for five fabulous weeks. We went there feeling nervous about how we’d manage in this strange, custom-heavy place. We headed on to the USA earlier this week, sorrowful to be saying goodbye to a curious country that we fell in love with.

The myths about Japan as a place to visit are manifold. It’s expensive. You won’t manage if you don’t speak Japanese. It’s a pain to get cash. The food is all fish. The customs are hard to master. None of this is quite the case, as I’m going to try to explain below…

1/ It’s vastly cheaper than London. It’s also cheaper than the USA. Of course, this was written before the EU referendum and the freefall sterling is now in, but in the happier days of May and early June, Japan was a cheap place to visit. Coffee at Starbucks is around £2. A lovely dinner can be had for around £13. Hotel rooms cost around £50 / night. We managed on around £110 / day for two, which was a lovely surprise. The US is now draining our wallets as the dollar devours the pound!

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2/ I did five weeks of Japanese classes before I travelled to the country and learned how to say ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘excuse me’. Oh, and count up to 10. Not to be facetious – but as a traveller, that’s pretty much all you need. Most people speak English (a few words at least) and are delighted if you speak any Japanese at all. You can get by with English menus in most restaurants and pointing at pics if there isn’t a menu you can understand. The language is only a barrier because you can’t have proper conversations with people. Which we felt we missed out on – we had so many questions about Japanese culture and customs…

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3/ Cash can be got from every 7-11 ATM you come across. And believe me, there is a 7-11 on every street, it seems. Plus, the 7 Bank doesn’t charge you to withdraw cash (unlike US ATMs, which make a charge for each withdrawal – how annoying!). As an aside, 7-11s are your one-stop shop for everything a traveller needs. Breakfast, bottled water, plasters, egg sarnies, ice cream… you name it, a nearby 7-11 will have it.

4/ Foodwise, my partner doesn’t eat fish. We worried like mad that he’d be stuck with nothing to eat for five weeks. It so wasn’t the case. Japan has a million restaurants on every street, ranging from izakayas serving all manner of meat and dumplings, to swank sushi and sashimi places, to downmarket burger joints, to stylish noodle restaurants and incredible yakitori places. Non-fish food was easy. Our only issue with food was what to eat when each night there was a dizzying choice of restaurants, specialising in something delicious, cheap and tasty in front of us (that tip about pointing at menu pics also helped).

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5/ The customs are unusual (for us at least). But don’t be scared. The Japanese don’t expect us ‘gaijin’ to know all their society’s rules and regs – and will help you to do nothing really wrong. Find out when you need to take your shoes off, and that’s one hurdle overcome (it’s usually going into someone’s house, a Buddhist temple, a restaurant with a raised seating platform, a shop changing room… anywhere ‘nice’ is a usual rule of thumb). You don’t need to bow to anyone, but a head nod is considered a nice gesture. Be courteous with your few words of Japanese. And if you want to try an onsen, seriously, do it. It’s the most wonderful experience. Just do your best, and your Japanese hosts will help you as much as they can!

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We really are missing Japan and are planning to go back there as soon as we can. But for now, it’s a sweet ‘sayonara’ to this wonderful country as we travel on to the USA… and some new adventures!

Gunkanjima: slicing into the past

It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it. Living on an island in the middle of Nagasaki Bay, 10 miles from the city, an island only 16 acres in size. Living with over 5,000 other people on this scrap of land in the middle of the restless sea. Travelling over a kilometre into the earth to mine coal under the sea bed. It sounds like hell. It was reality for Mitsubishi miners on Gunkanjima island.

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The mine that once spewed coal out of the earth and up on to this blighted place closed in 1974, and all the people left too. The island was left to its own devices. It slept for 35 years. All those people, all that labour (some of it forced; the Koreans and Chinese were taken there, made to work underground) forgotten about. The concrete blocks crumbled and fell into the sea. The mine was destroyed by Mitsubishi so they could claim government compensation. The swimming pool and slides fell into disrepair. The island became a lost place. Just a scratch on a map.

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Seven years ago, it was reopened to tours. You visit the tiniest, safest section only – a catwalk guides you round the open spaces, the towering apartment buildings just a sketch and line on the near horizon. The mine gapes, its maw wide, inviting you to take a look. Just a little look… You want to look down into its depths.

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There’s something horrorshow about this place. The guides try to dress it up and make it pretty. But the veneer is thin. Gunkanjima was hollowed out of the sea and the earth and turned into a factory for men, women, children. For coal. I don’t know if it likes visitors coming back now and disturbing it. Maybe it wants to sleep again, and let the buildings rot, and the mine close up, healing the scar. But we won’t let it rest.

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Miyajima: thoughts and reflections

Hiking through the countryside is meant to clear your head, clean out your thoughts, purify you. Get you thinking about the bigger picture. My hope for the hike to the top of Mount Misen, just outside Hiroshima, was that I’d take in the breathtaking views, be inspired, come up with a plan for what I should be doing with the rest of my life.

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Instead, on the 2.5km vertical hike up to the summit of this sacred mountain, my thoughts chiefly were:

1/ God, it’s hot. Do we have enough water?
2/ Hope I don’t step on mamoushi (a poisonous viper)…
3/ I need a wee.
4/ My feet really hurt now.
5/ Are we there yet?

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I enjoyed the hard climb, the exertion, the graft to get to the top. I was thrilled by the views once we reached the summit. On reflection, I loved the silent woods, the deer breaking from the bushes as we approached, the sunlight shading through the bright green leaves, the waterfalls rushing noisily by. I don’t think I reflect enough when I’m in these beautiful places. I tend to live for the next problem, solving the fact I need to pause for a rest, or anxious that we should have bought an extra bottle of water. I don’t tend to look and experience enough of the world around me. I forget about how seeing the A Bomb Dome, or a beautiful shrine in Kyoto, or a wonderful piece of art on Naoshima, made me feel. My head is like a hive with bees of worry, constantly buzzing, when I want to be still and think and reflect.

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Is that mindfulness? If so, it’s something I need to learn, because this was one of the most beautiful spots we’ve encountered on our Japan trip so far – from the loveliness of Miyajima’s famous floating torii gate, to the hard climb up the mountain, to the scream-inducing cable car back to the bottom of the hill – and I wanted to take it all in. But because I worry too much about the things that can go wrong, I don’t pause for thought. I miss things that are in front of me because I’m too busy fretting over something small.

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We walked slowly back to the ferry, taking in the beautiful surroundings (a pagoda here; a centuries-old shrine there) and ate lunch in a charming cafe (oysters and pate and bread, delicious). All the time, I kept thinking ‘but I haven’t worked out what I should do with my life yet’. Maybe that bigger question will only be answered when I stop asking lots of little questions first. Maybe it’s time to properly stop the anxious ‘what ifs’ and take a leaf from the Buddhists’ book: ‘Be patient. Everything comes to you in the right moment’. I really hope that’s true.

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Hiroshima: walking through history

There are very few words left to be written about Hiroshima’s traumatic history. The city is lively and vibrant now, its streets buzzing with traffic and bicycles, its people friendly and easy-going. Restaurants and bars overflow with life and liveliness. Fashion is king, with skaters and hipsters strolling through the brightly lit alleys with casual panache. It’s the sort of place you can imagine yourself living. My morning run on my first full day there was alongside older gents in long shorts doing their tai chi, and ladies of a certain age practicing their Nordic ski-walking. Trams clatter past, their bells jingling. The sun comes up over the Motoyasu River and you run over a beautiful stone bridge, your feet echoing on the paving slabs.

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And then – you are in the Peace Park, walking past the A-Bomb Dome and the monuments, the heart-breaking monuments, to the 140,000+ people who died when a bomb was dropped from a plane at 8.15am on 6 August 1945, and the whole world changed forever.

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The people who died – from soldiers and sailors, to tiny children, mobilised students, mums, dads, office workers, postmen, waiters, telephonists, writers, gas workers, coal miners, riverboat men, school kids – are remembered in the Hiroshima Peace Museum. It’s a difficult place to visit. Visitors stare at the exhibits – a stopped watch, a burnt bicycle, torn, bloodied clothes – in total silence. There are no words to be said. We cannot even begin to imagine.

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This lovely city is now all about promoting nuclear disarmament and total peace. The reflections on what happened here are infinitely moving; there are no judgements, only a wish for a better world for everyone. So many visit Hiroshima; just to learn from the pain and anguish of the past; and to perhaps rejoice in the resilience of spirit, seeing how a city can rise from utter ashes and become a thriving community with a purpose once more.

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