NC500 Part 1: Edinburgh to Inverness

Ok are you ready for some road trip fun? Im super excited to share with you the first leg of our NC500 trip where we drove from Edinburgh to Inverness. If you haven’t heard about the NC500, flip back to my last post where i’ve given you a helpful overview. Then buckle up and get ready for sheep, spectacular scenery, and the open, open road!



Leaving Edinburgh, we took the A9 towards Inverness. No, the shot above isn’t of that road, that road isn’t super interesting so we are going to fast forward there. We stopped along the way at a little town called Pitlochry, which is pretty as can be and has quite a few places that you can stop at for lunch.



Or perhaps a huge donut milkshake – i’m not judging

We also poked our heads into the numerous charity shops and scored a couple of paperbacks to read along the way. The countryside was green and beautiful, and we went through dark and deep forests – at time’s mildly concerned about Birnam Wood…


English students/teachers should be aware of the significance of that one for a certain King Macbeth. Luckily, these woods weren’t moving.

We followed the A9 pretty much all the way to Inverness and our accommodation. We stayed in an airbnb here and were so sad that it was for only one night! Let me know if you want a recommendation though, it was an incredible old house with a very friendly host.


When we neared Inverness, the road opened and the landscape grew more wild and rugged and… inhabited by majestic sheep.

Inverness itself is a big town with lots to do both there and in the immediate surroundings. As I said, we were only staying overnight so, as the daylight hours were ridiculously long (sunset around 9.30 anyone?), we decided to take a drive to Loch Ness. Only roughly an hour away, the road is narrow but beautiful, particularly in the golden and sunset hours. There seemed to be only one road in to Fort Augustus from our side of the loch so we weren’t too worried about getting lost – although we did somehow manage to return on a different road to the one we came in on. As long as you follow the road signs to Inverness or Fort Augustus, you should be fine.


Loch Ness is beautiful and peaceful at dusk. The tour buses have gone and it seems as though it’s just you and Nessie – wherever she may be. The water is dark, almost black, and very still, save for the light ruffling of breezes. We stretched our legs by walking a little way around the shore of the loch and tried to do a bit of monster spotting, before stopping for dinner.



Maybe I saw something… maybe I didn’t…

There are only a few options for dinner, so don’t expect oodles of choice. If you have special dietary requirements, you should probably bring your own food. After dinner the sun was really starting to set so we walked up the series of locks that control the flow of water down into the big loch. Confusing I know, but it will make sense when you see it.


Or just look at the pretty sunset

The drive back was a little nerve wracking as it was dark and of course there are no street lights out on the back roads. There are also a number of stretches that are single lane roads, but you will see the headlights of any oncoming traffic long before you need to pull into a passing place. The drive back to Inverness was where we saw some of the most stunning sunsets across smaller lochs. It really gave us a taste for what the rest of Scotland would be like and we were very excited for the next leg of our journey. So are you planning on doing the NC500? Or just reminiscing? If you’re planning, let me know if there are any other details I can help you with by leaving a comment below!


Here’s one last sunset shot to see you out.

And a little taste of what’s to come: NC500 Leg 2 was the day we drank fancy whisky, ate dirty sandwiches, and got more of an adventure than we bargained for…

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.


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 – Tokyo Flea Market

Two of my favourite things in life are wandering in my own little world, and finding a bargain. If you’re like me, a trip to the Tokyo Flea Market at Katsushima will be heaven in a carpark.


We took the train from Shinjuku Station to Katsushima and then a short walk to the carpark where the flea market is held. Make sure that you plot your walk on a map first or use your gps as it can be a bit disorientating and the market is only signposted when you are nearby.


This is about as far away from a Paddy’s Market as you can get!


You will be faced with stall upon stall of proper flea market traders, often with their goods laid out on plastic sheets on the ground. Everything is second hand and most stalls just have a huge pile of stuff that you are free to dig through. If you are prepared to search, you can make some great finds. Here are a few things I picked up:


this sweet pair of leather boots for 100 yen


A few pins for 100 yen each with a free “chokosnacko” thrown in by the grinning stallholder


I wanted to take home these pretty plates but, as Tokyo was at the start of our trip, I knew I would never be able to fit them into my luggage. Boo. There is some Royal Albert and Royal Doulton in that mix.

There were also a bunch of stalls selling beautiful pre-loved yukatas and kimonos that you could pick up for relatively cheap. Those beauties were VERY difficult to leave behind. Still, I had a grand old time digging through piles and piles of clothes and bric a brac, and hubs scored himself a couple of second hand cameras that were apparently the bees knees (clearly the quality of my photos shows I have zero interest in cameras). So, are you a fan of the old car boot sale/flea market? What has been your best find?

What Katie Did in Japan – Learning to Play Pachinko

One of my enduring memories of Tokyo is the proliferation of Pachinko parlours. These are the mysterious rooms behind double doors of frosted glass that look like the slot machine floor of a casino, sound like a hail storm and are prohibitively signposted in Japanese. Basically, if you speak no Japanese, you’re not going to go into one of these places. I was so curious about these places last time I came that when I was messing about on the Voyagin! site and saw that I could have a lesson in how to play Pachinko, I was totally sold. The package seemed pretty good value as it was for a lesson plus a guided session of playing pachinko in a real parlour with the teacher present for guidance. Phew!


You can see the practice machines lined up against the wall, and the table that we sat at to learn the rules of pachinko. It was fun to be a student on the other side of the desk for a change!

We met our guide Jhena outside a convenience store near Ginza station and she took us to her office which is part of a company that run a huge string of pachinko parlours. She spoke excellent English and gave us some of the history of the company before we began our lesson. Firstly, as a teacher, it was so much fun to be a student for the day and I thoroughly enjoyed being on the other side of the desk! Jhena had set up the room to be very welcoming, with little paper cranes made out of the Australian flag, a small gift for each of us, and lots of information on the whiteboard to help us understand the game. There were even model machines that we would use to practise the game before we went down to the real parlour.

IMG_7688Jhena was very thorough, teaching us all about the ins and outs of pachinko.

Pachinko has quite a long history (90 years) and is based on video games which explains the neon flashing lights and crazy videos that comprise many of the special features. Each machine seems to be linked to a different part of the video game culture that permeates Japanese fashion and entertainment. There are over 12000 pachinko parlours in Japan which shows how popular it is. The basic aim of the game is to get as many balls into the correct slot as possible to win tiny slivers of gold. As there is a law in Japan against earning money from gambling, you cannot exchange this gold for cash on the premises. Instead, you need to exit the parlous and find a gold exchange booth (often very close by!) at which you can exchange your gold.


Of course I wanted to practise on the pink machine.

Now that the history lesson is done, lets get down to the game! We began by looking at the setup of the machine and Jehna pointed out the digital display to the left side of the screen where you swipe your card (that has been preloaded with cashola). You type in your password then press the “Tamakashi” button to rent a ball. These are tiny ball bearings that are the main feature of the game. The balls fall into the tray at the bottom of the machine with a huge clatter to mark the beginning of your game. The machine is set up basically like a huge vertical pinball machine that continuously spits balls up that fall randomly into different pockets. Jhena showed us how to rotate the handle to control the force that each ball is thrown at to try to aim for specific pockets. Apparently you should always begin by aiming for “bukkomi” or the top left corner of the machine in order to cause the balls to fall into the middle pocket. When you get a ball into the center pocket, the machine will begin a special feature which is similar to the rotating numbers on a slot machine. If you win this round, another tulip shaped pocket, called the “attaka” will open and you have the opportunity to get as many balls into that pocket as possible. This will multiply your number of points. When you have run out of balls, you can press a button back on the display to use any available credit to get more balls until you run out and the game is done.

IMG_7693Here you can see Jhena turning the handle to keep the balls flipping up, and turning the switch to pass her winning balls into the collection tray below.

There are also three different levels of pachinko machine that increase in difficulty but also increase the amount of gold you can win if you win a jackpot. You can tell which kind of machine you are playing by looking at the display at the top. Green will be the easiest but will yield the lowest number of points, while pink will give you more points but be much more difficult. Unfortunately, when we went down to the parlour, I chose a pink machine without looking at the difficulty and lost most of my balls very quickly! For a short while, the power of pink had forsaken me.


Luckily, my husband and our friend seemed to have chosen lucky machines and were quite skilled at getting the balls in the correct pockets. After a few incredibly fun special features, we had won enough points to exchange for three pieces of gold. Yippee! Also, on a side note, how cool is this machine? The big gold head on top of the machine flipped up from a hidden place when a special feature began. I didn’t manage to get a picture of it but the sword on the right was also involved in some special features and you had to stab it down at a specific time to get more winning balls. So confusing but so much fun!


Gold and bunny shoes. What more could you need?

Wait until the next post to find out more about these sweet sweet shoes!

Pachinko is definitely not something that you could just sit down in a parlour and learn on your own. At least, not without losing some serious money. Our class was super good value as it was on sale, included credit in the pachinko parlour and, most importantly, Jhena stayed with us while we played to help explain what was happening at each stage of the game. Our class only had us and a friend in and I think a small group would be best. It seems from the website that they deliberately keep the number of participants small which is a good thing. So, another thing ticked off our ‘to do in Tokyo’ list and another success. Do you have any must-do activities for Tokyo? Anything you’ve been dreaming of? Let me know, my lovelies!