What Katie did in Scotland: NC500

Been watching Outlander? Fan of Braveheart? Want to see the iconic bridge that the Hogwarts Express crosses? If so, I think you’re going to love this series of posts! Since visiting briefly ten years ago, Scotland has had a special place in my heart and i’ve been wheeling and dealing to get myself back there. There’s something about the frosty climate that breeds a stoic and welcoming people who have a rich and varied cultural history. There’s a bit more than bagpipes and blood sausage to this country. In this next series of posts, i’m going to share the details of the holiday I just spent in Scotland, specifically something called the NC500 and I hope you enjoy it!

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If you’re from Australia, you will know that the road trip is at the very least, a rite of passage and at the most, a national sport. With the vast distances and incredible landscape between cities, hopping in the car and getting on the road is one of the best ways to see the country. So when we were looking into exploring the Scottish Highlands, we immediately began looking into driving routes.

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The most publicised driving route around the highlands is called the North Coast 500 (NC500) which most people follow in a clockwise direction, beginning in Inverness. We decided to go anti-clockwise because we’re such rebels *cough*not*cough*. No, we actually wanted to end up on the Isle of Arran so it made more sense for us to go this way. For those of you playing along at home, you can see an interactive map here which will help you visualise this whole thing.

Here are the things you need to know before setting off:

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1. The quality of the roads on the NC500 is excellent, but the further north you get, the more single lane roads you will be on. Don’t worry though, the locals know what they’re doing and there are many, many passing places that you can pull into so that oncoming traffic (or those behind you) can pass. You can get away with renting a medium sized car. We got a Ford Kuga which was perfect and had no trouble with some of the steeper roads.


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2. You should see some highland coos, one of the greatest creatures ever created.

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3. You will see lots of sheep, sometimes on the road, sometimes not, sometimes staring off into the distance like a heroic explorer. I’m not sure if this is your thing, but this was one of my favourite things about driving through Scotland!

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4. Unless you’re going to pitch a tent or you’re driving a caravan (and sometimes even then) book your accommodation before you go, otherwise you might end up having to stay in a bothy like the one above! We mostly stayed in airbnbs which were a lot of fun. There are also some excellent hotels that you can stay at if your budget is a bit more generous.

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5. Take your time and keep your camera ready – can you spot the photographer here? It is possible to do the route in a week or so, but why rush it? I could have spent at least an extra day in every place we stayed. Also, you will need time for all the photos you will need to take. I say ‘need’ because the landscape is so unbelievably beautiful you will want to catch every second of it so that you can relive it when you’re stuck at work and everything sucks. P.s. super thanks to my husband who took a lot of the photos i’m going to share with you in this series.

Now that i’ve whetted you’re appetite, are you reading to come along on the NC500? What iconic road trips have you taken or are you planning on taking? Let me know in the comments!

What Katie Did in Japan – Lolita Costume

WARNING! This post contains much more kawaii photos than these cute bunny shoes that I bought on Takeshita St in Harajuku before I went for my Lolita experience. If you can’t handle this, stop reading now.

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The last time I went to Japan was way back in 2007 – not long after Gwen Stefani’s ‘Rich Girl’ came out and Harajuku Girls became a HUGE thing. Did anyone else have one of the Harajuku Lovers perfumes? Go around singing “if I was a rich girl – na na na na na na na na na na na na na na naaaaa” (if you are in your late twenties/early thirties and didn’t just sing that in your head I know you’re lying). If you need a little refreshing of your memory, you can listen to the song again over here. The point is, the whole crazy costuming that was popular with young Japanese people had just broken onto the world stage in a huge way. I remember going to the bridge in front of the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku where they were all supposed to hang out for photos and being so disappointed that there were only a hand full of people there. Boo.

What Katie Ate in Japan – An Ode to Japanese Convenience Stores

Let me start this post by saying that I’ve always been a huge fan of Japanese food. One of the most exciting aspects of planning this leg of our trip has been the anticipation of juicy gyoza, fresh sashimi and diabetes-inducing crepes. As money was tight, we tended to eat one meal out each day then forage for other sustenance from the incredibly well stocked convenience stores. This is one wonderful difference between Japan and Australia. In Australia, if you’re going to rely on convenience stores, be prepared to navigate the super unhealthy shelves of donuts, microwave meals, chips and slurpies. Not so in Tokyo! I know how this makes me sound, but I had so much fun looking at the huge array of ready or almost ready made meals that decked the shelves of stores such as Lawsons and Family Mart.

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Also, I feel the need to confess that we basically lived on peach iced tea. These one litre cartons from Lipton were everywhere and came in smaller sizes too. They were so nice because they didn’t seem to have that weird taste that the Australian ones get from replacing sugar with stevia. I’m still not on board the ‘cut all sugar out of your diet because it is the latest way we want to look healthy’ train. We downed cartons of this stuff like it was water. Which might have contributed to the fact that i’m writing this post in my pyjamas because they are the only comfortable stretchy items in my suitcase and everything else is too tight. Hmm.

What Katie Did in Japan – Yokohama Cup Noodles Museum

If you’re itching to get out of Tokyo central and want something fun and quirky to do, you could always take a day trip out to Yokohama and visit the Cup Noodles Museum! Costing only 500 yen for entry, it definitely won’t break the budget, even if you splurge an extra 300 yen for a custom cup noodle experience!

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I think someone was watching a little too much Wizard of Oz when they thought up this statue of Mr Momofuku.
Scratch that. How can you watch TOO MUCH Wizard of Oz?

We passed through Yokohama on the way back from Kamakura and it was a pretty quick and fuss-free trip. The exit from Yokohama station was a bit confusing but we pieced together some maps and found our way out to the street where we could see signs pointing the way to the cup noodle museum. It’s really only a 5-10 minute walk from the station but you might get distracted by the amusement park that is situated halfway between the station and the museum. Go with the flow!

The museum building is an interesting one. Inside the foyer, it feels almost as if you are inside a giant white plastic noodle cup. We came at the end of the day and it was empty with no lines to wait on. We bought our ticket and arranged the time for our custom noodle making. You can wander through the museum until the appointed time or pick an earlier time and do the museum later.

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Yes, hubs rolled his eyes when I asked him to take this photo.

I didn’t know much about the cup noodle phenomenon, having been brought up on fantastic noodles and the ubiquitous maggi noodles, but it’s a pretty big concern over in Japan. There were huge displays explaining how Mr Momofuku had pioneered particular ways of packaging the noodles and reconstituting weird ingredients. There was even a tribute to the first packets brought up into space! The displays are part art/part normal museum and it was fun to wander through, but I wouldn’t spend hours and hours there.

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When it came time to make our noodles, we went up to the special noodle making floor where we washed our hands (very important) and selected our cups. The staff showed us to a little circular desk with a pot of coloured pens in it and left us to decorate our cups.

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I went for a ‘Japanese meme’ theme in the style of doge.

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Once we were done, we were ushered over to the ingredients bar where we could choose three ingredients to go into our noodles, as well as a specific flavour. This was a bit bamboozling but I went for dehydrated shrimp, green beans and corn. Why not?

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The cups were then sealed and passed through a weird conveyer belt then given to us to place in a plastic bag that we pumped with air to cushion the cup. The only thing to remember if you’re not eating them right away is that noodles can be flown internationally but you need to take them out of the air cushioned bag as the changes in air pressure on the plane can crush your cup!

We packed our cup noodles into our suitcases without the extra packaging and they survived a long haul flight. When we ate them a week or so later, they looked like this:

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They tasted pretty much the same as normal cup noodles but it was a lot of fun for not a lot of cashola and I would actually do this again! Did you eat cup noodles as a kid? As a poor uni student? As a still-poor adult who has blown all their cash on smashed avo?

 

Cup Noodles Museum

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm with last admission at 5pm – Closed on Tuesdays
Address: 2-3-4 Shinko, Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0001 Japan
Map and further directions: http://www.cupnoodles-museum.jp/english/map/index.html