9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 3 (Part 1): Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum + Peace Park

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Apologies for the hiatus. There were so many things that have happened in the past months and I just didn't have the time or want to blog. With 2017, I'm just trying to get back on track, so here's the rest of my Kyushu trip.

Nagasaki (長崎市)

Nagasaki's location as a important port of call secured its position as a centre of Chinese, Portuguese and Dutch influence from the 16th to the 19th centuries. When in Nagasaki, the Portuguese and Dutch influences are abound and something which you should not miss as a traveller.

Nagasaki is also notoriously known as the second (and let's all pray that it will be the last) city to have experienced a nuclear attack in 1945.

Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum (長崎原爆資料館)
The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum was completed in April 1996 and is dedicated to serve as a remembrance of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. A visit to the Atomic Bomb Museum is almost a "must-do" for all travellers visiting Nagasaki.
Day 3: Atomic Bomb Museum + Peace Park --> Hashima Island --> Glover Garden --> Mt Inasa Night View --> Hotel
Upon entering the museum, you can almost feel a palpable sense of solemnity and quiet permeating through the place. The stark white and grey interiors of the entrance add to the atmosphere, almost as if they are aware of the sobering and tragic exhibits that lie beyond.

This "String of a Thousand Cranes" art piece hangs along the walls while you walk down the inclined slope towards the exhibits. The Japanese believe that if a wish can be granted if you fold a thousand paper cranes. These strings of paper cranes have since become symbolic of hope and peace.

Exhibits within the museum depicted the devastating horrors of the explosion and advocated against nuclear war. Our tour guide shared that even though he had brought many to this place so many times, to date, he still could not look at the exhibits without feeling emotional. And mind you, our guide was not a local Japanese.
Initially I was still worried that my parents would not be appreciative of the museum tour. They're not history buffs nor are they the museum sort; my mom once breezed through a local museum in 15 minutes and then waited a full 2 hours for me. My fears were thankfully unfounded.
The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum did well in presenting a tragic historical event that was made easily understandable. My parents spent quite some time looking through the many photos and items, such as the replica of the Fat Man bomb, pictorial scenes of destruction, the impact of exposure to radiation, etc. My mom, who's illiterate, even asked for translations of some of the signages that came with exhibits. Like I said, other times when I brought her to similar places, she would have just breezed through them. Do note that most of the exhibits were well accompanied by explanations in English for the international visitors, so language wouldn't be an issue here.
This particular stop on the itinerary was an emotionally educational one. Having said that, it's not as if we ended the museum visit feeling depressed. Rather, it was more of a sobering effect about the dangers of nuclear war. Perhaps, even of war in general. I remember having a discussion later that day with my parents about our current state of world affairs. And at the end of the tour, my parents even asked if I could bring them to the Hiroshima museum one day.
I didn't take much photos while touring the museum either. It just seemed disrespectful. However, I sought to capture these many strings of colourful folded paper cranes. These appeared at the end of the museum tour and like a breath of fresh air, brought to bear the significance of the hope for peace.


Enroute to the Peace Park, we also passed by the Hypocenter. This is the point directly beneath where the bomb exploded 500 feet above on that fateful, day (9 August 1945, 11:02 am), i.e. Ground Zero. The site is now marked by a black cenotaph that is ringed by concentric circles, symbolic of the ripples of devastation. The empty tomb at the base stands in honour for those who evaporated and were never found in the aftermath.

Next to the Hypocenter, the scorched ruins of a church wall stands. This is what remains of what was once the largest Catholic church in Japan, the Urakami Cathedral. Likewise, the foundational stones that innocently line the path towards the Peace Park are testaments of what was once a prison. Nothing much else within the very simple and innocent compounds, and hence, all the more effective as reminders of the devastation endured.

Given the historical significance, I was pretty sure we would encounter students before we started the tour. In fact, our tour guide shared that encountering students and learning groups at this venue was common. Sometimes, the place would be crowded with students and most groups would often bring along strings of coloured paper cranes as offerings. I sincerely hope that the lesson of peace would be felt by as many of these student as possible.

The Peace Park is adjacent to the Atomic Bomb Museum and a pleasant, short walk to get there. I remembered reading that it was feared that the place would be devoid of vegetation for 75 years from all the radiation. So these lovely flowers made it a memorable shot for me.
The hallmark of the Peace Park is the bluish 10-meter-tall Peace Statue created by sculptor Seibo Kitamura.  This is a very well-known symbolic piece of artwork; the right hand of the statue points to the sky, signifying the threat of nuclear weapons and war. The extended left hand symbolizes the wish for eternal peace. The mild expression on the statue's face is representative of divine grace, while the closed eyes offer a prayer for the souls of the victims of the bombing. The folded leg is also symbolic of the wish for peace while the other leg appears in a pose indicative of the need to be ready to stand up against nuclear threat.
Unfortunately, I wondered how many of the swarm of Chinese tourists (who were all loudly clamouring to take photos and selfies with the statue) understood and appreciated the significance of the Peace Statue.
By the way, apart from the students, please also be prepared for the swarm of Chinese tourists that are likely to descend on the place as well. Given Nagasaki's location on the sea routes as well as it's historic Chinese influences, it is common for cruise tours from China to make a stop-over at Nagasaki.
The city of Nagasaki had also invited donations of peace monuments from countries around the world.

I can't recall which country the above sculpture was from but the one below, of a mother holding her child high, was a symbol of love and peace from Italy.

This huge stone with the Mandarin characters for Peace is from China.

Halfway through, I thought I had lost my parents. It wasn't a very big park but there were tons of Chinese tourists abound. It was only after a bit of looking around that I found that they were distracted by a lady selling ice-cream! It wasn't any ordinary ice-cream either. Check out my picture below!

In a place full of beautiful sculptures, this amazing ice-cream lady painstakingly sculpted her ice-cream cones to look like roses! I should have take a video of her at work, but unfortunately, my parents had by then shoved one of her cones into my hands. She's a regular feature at the Peace Park and even shared that she had once been on a Japanese TV show because of her amazing skill! In fact, she was being filmed while we were there! So do look out for her if you're visiting the Peace Park!
Tourist Information
Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
Local Name: 長崎原爆資料館
Address:  7-8 Hirano-machi
Local address: 平野町7-8
DID: +81 95-844-1231
Opening hours: Mondays to Sundays, 8:30 am to 5 pm. Admission closes 30 mins before closing.
Admission fees: 200 yen
Peace Park
Local Name: 平和公園
Address: 2400 Matsuyama-machi, Nagasaki 852-8118
Local address: 〒852-8118松山町2400-
DID: +81 95-829-1171

Swissotel The Stamford

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Ok, so I haven't been posting for almost 3 weeks. My bad. Well, that's what happens when you get a new kindle, have a birthday week and get caught up in the Pokémon Go fever. But ok, the birthday celebrations are over and the kindle and Pokémon addiction has abated a little. So here I am, back with a review from a recent staycation.
(The Kyushu posts will resume after this)

In recent years, I've been making it a point to pamper myself with at least a couple of staycations a year, especially so on my birthday. I'm an introvert by nature and given my occupation and surroundings, I often look forward to a staycation by myself.
Yes, I love staying on my own. I need the peace and solitude to recharge.
And no, it doesn't feel strange to be alone.
So anyway, given this indulgence of mine, I subscribe to quite a number of hotels' Facebook pages. This allows me to stay updated should there be any promotions or good deals. A particular one popped right up on a day when I was feeling supremely exhausted and my birthday staycation was hence decided.
Swissotel The Stamford
I had booked the Swiss Advantage Room (with a King bed) for a total of 2 nights (12 to 14 August). Interestingly, while completing the online booking, I noted that the hotel did not immediately charge my credit card. Instead, I was sent a confirmation email which also stated that payment was due.
However, as I subsequently did not hear from anyone, and my card was not charged (by their stipulated due date), I had to send an email myself to confirm my room booking. While the response was immediate, it was only then that I received confirmation and my card charged for the stay.
Yay. At least I know I have my peace and solitude.
Checking in on the day itself was efficient. I was early and the young guy at reception let me know what time to be back. He was polite and professional. In fact, I found it a little too professional. Well, I personally thought he could add a bit of personal touch. At least the older fella when I returned did so, and that made me feel more welcomed.
My allocated room was on the 25th floor, with the balcony facing inwards towards the pool. Unfortunately, it was raining quite a bit during my stay, so I didn't get to enjoy the balcony view as much as I would have liked.
While the room itself was pretty spacious, I think the hotel itself could probably do with a little renovation and maintenance. The furniture and décor looked tired and worn out. In fact, the small side cupboard holding the wine glasses and cups couldn't close properly at all. It stuck out like a sore thumb no matter how much effort I tried and I had to be careful not to knock myself onto it.
Otherwise, it was clean and quite comfortable. I slept really well on that king bed and that's a plus since I don't always do well on hotel beds. Oh, and my nose didn't react (I'm pretty "allergic" to dust) and that's my usual standard to measure room cleanliness.
What made me squeal though (yes, I really did and it's ok since I was alone) was that there was a nespresso machine in the room! Awesome! For someone who loves her caffine, this was an awesome plus for me. Heh. I also enjoyed their TWG tea packets. Really decent stuff set out.
Heh. I only got a picture of the exterior of the mini-bar because I was amused by the automated billing. At least they left the bottom shelf empty for guest's use. I encountered an automated one previously (in another hotel) which was fully stocked and got into a bit of a hassle trying to sort out the bill.
The bathroom itself was adequate and decently stocked with amenities. They even included shaving kits and sewing kits. However, instead of shower curtains, there was only a partial glass panel. Not exactly helpful since I still managed to get quite a bit of water all over the floor when showering but it did contain most of the damage.
What did irk me a little though was that the pipes and shower heads were leaky. Plus I had a bit of trouble with the sink; it got jammed when I stoppered the sink. Took some effort to unplug it and I didn't fool around with it thereafter.
Like I mentioned earlier, the hotel is probably overdue for some maintenance works. But since those defects were relatively minor and didn't really bother me, I did not ask for a room change.
However, such issues/defects even if small, do contribute to the overall presentation and image of a hotel. After this, it definitely would not surprise me if I were to hear of a complaint about the state of the rooms. Plus, if location was not a priority, then this would not be a place I'd immediately think of recommending to someone.
The above 3 photos were taken from my room balcony. If you're afraid of heights, then avoid the high floors. Otherwise the views are pretty decent. I figure it would be a lot better still if you had a room on the higher floors. It'd be great to wake up to Singapore's city skyline!
Since the pools looked tantalizing from the balcony, I made a trip down the next morning to check it out.
Up close, it looked even better. There was a kiddy-pool and a second 1.8 metre deep pool for adults. There's also a pool side café in case you get hungry or thirsty after doing your (abet short) laps. Do note however, that there's a sign that prominently announces that there's no life guard on duty, so parents please do mind your kids.
The hotel also boasts of a tennis court. I hate racquet games. I have major hand-eye coordination issues, so I didn't bother with that.
If anything, the selling point of Swissotel The Stamford is definitely it's location. It located right on top of a central train station (City Hall) and is linked to a shopping mall. So if you're staying here, you're guaranteed easy access to transport, food and most amenities.
Since it's so central and public transport is so easily accessible, it's also easy for you to move around. During my short stay, I made trips down to Orchard and Bugis for errands and always returned within an hour. Apart from that, I got my meals at Raffles City Shopping Centre (that's the mall linked to the hotel) and did all my birthday shopping there!
Yeah. I kind of over-spent since I got carried away with all the shopping.
Oh and by the way, there's quite a few pokestops  around the hotel if you're into Pokémon Go. I definitely made use of them  ;)
Swissotel The Stamford
Address: 2 Stamford Road, Singapore 178882
DID: +65 6338 8585
Fax: +65 6338 2862

9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 2 (Part 3): Hotel Nikko Huis Ten Bosch

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Huis Ten Bosch Hotels
Before I actually start writing about Hotel Nikko Huis Ten Bosch, I feel duty-bound to inform you that there are 3 other hotels located within the theme park itself:
1) Hotel Europe
2) Hotel Amsterdam, and
3) Hotel Forest Villa
To be honest, in my personal opinion, the theme park is nothing like Disneyland or Universal Studios. I really didn't see the point of spending an exorbitant amount to stay within the theme park. Though I have to say, on the website, the 3 hotels really look darn good.
However, if you're like me and also not keen on staying within the theme park, there are several other hotel options nearby. In fact, there's a new one that recently opened that's being manned completely by robots! It's just a short walk away from Hotel Nikko Huis Ten Bosch, so you might also want to pop by for a look if you're interested.
While I was doing my research, the price varied quite a bit between these hotels so please be mindful if money is a consideration.  
Day 2: Yobuko Morning Market --> Huis Ten Bosch --> Hotel Nikko Huis Ten Bosch (ホテル日航ハウステンボス)

We opted to stay at Hotel Nikko Huis Ten Bosch, which was a 5 minute (or even less) walk from the entrance of the theme park. Ok, more like I opted since I was the one who planned the entire trip. I've got to say, I'm pretty glad I made the decision to stay at one of the Huis Ten Bosch hotels. The proximity was a god-send in the poor weather. While my parents and I had shouldered on within the theme park (primarily because we could always duck into the many shelters within), it was always a comfort knowing that we could always return to the hotel nearby if we were really sick of the rain.
By the time we decided we had enough of the theme park, we were soaked through and it was almost dinner time. Plus, we actually bought quite a lot of stuff from the various stores within Huis Ten Bosch. I was completely exhausted fighting the rain and carrying all our goodies.

You can imagine how pleased I was when I walked into a clean and spacious room. In fact, given that it's Japan, the land of tiny hotel rooms, I was extremely pleased with the space! It was definitely one of the more spacious hotel rooms we had in this trip. Mom and I didn't have any trouble packing and unpacking from both our luggage at the same time.
Even the bathroom and toilet was decent-sized! I've since learnt that toilets and bathrooms in Japan can be absolutely tiny. I've had previous experiences where I'd bang myself every time I turn around in a tiny Japanese bathroom. Heh. In fact, the first time I toured Japan, I came back with bruises and yeah, they were all gotten in tiny bathrooms.

The view from our hotel room. Unfortunately, we weren't on a high enough floor and hence were blocked from a lovely garden view. But we could still see Huis Ten Bosch from where we were. Since it was raining, we didn't exactly miss much either.

Once we dried ourselves, we went down to the hotel's Japanese restaurant for dinner. Yup, no inclination to head out in the rain anymore. Dinner was again a traditional kaiseki affair. Unfortunately for them though, we had come off a really good one from Ryokan Yoyokaku, so the one at Hotel Nikko Huis Ten Bosch paled a lot in comparison.
Perhaps by then, I was also coming down with a fever so I was not particularly enjoying my food too. All I wanted to do was to get back to our room and sleep. And sleep I did, the bed was pretty comfortable.

Breakfast in the hotel came with a view of the lovely hotel garden. Breakfast was a buffet spread of both Japanese and Western (International) items so it was great to be able to pick and choose whatever we liked. I forgot to grab pictures of the buffet spread (in fact, I consistently forgot about doing it on this trip!) so you'd just have to take my word for it that both the spread and the quality of food was not too bad. Not awesome, but definitely above average.
As we had only stayed a night (and it was a night where I really fell sick), there's really nothing much else I can add about the hotel. Nevertheless, it served us well for that one night stay and I'd recommend it still to anyone who's visiting Huis Ten Bosch readily.

In addition, Hotel Nikko Huis Ten Bosch has a side gate which allows hotel guests to re-enter the theme park. This would be especially useful if you happen to stay during their Kingdom of Light festival (the entire theme park is decked out in lights which from online pictures and reviews seemed really pretty!).
Tourist Information
Hotel Nikko Huis Ten Bosch
Local Name: ホテル日航ハウステンボス
Address: 6 Huis Ten Bosch Machi, Sasebo 859-3243, Nagasaki Prefecture
Local address: 〒859-3243ハウステンボス町6
DID: 0956-27-3000