Sunday, 9 August 2015

Kryal Castle Medieval Park & Hotel

When you picture Kryal Castle Suites modernity and glamour aren't what necessary come to mind. Yet nonetheless that's exactly what you'll find at the well outfitted theme hotel situated right in the heart of Kryal Castle medieval theme park.

We visited on a Friday night, as a welcome escape from the weekly grind. It's an almost magical experience (especially at night) when you arrive at the grounds, squirreling through a secret doorway into the vast, silent grounds of the park. Walking through the castle, to your royal abode, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd been transported to another, simpler time.

We had an interconnecting spa and family suite. Both rooms were large, with high ceilings and spacious surrounds, and featured all the typical mod cons. The spa baths provides a welcome retreat for weary couples. The rooms themselves are equipped with very comfy, warm beds (with electric blankets to escape the winter chill), flat screen televisions, lovely tall wardrobes and cute kitschy cool additions like comfy faux fur blankets, hanging tapestries and elegant Gothic capped windows featuring truly stunning view of Ballarat. Wi-fi is free and fast and television channels are limited but being able to wander the deserted castle grounds is entertaining in itself.

Breakfast at the bakery is tasty, if a tad expensive. You're best bet is to opt for one of the set meals - ranging from $8 - $15, without extras. Expect typical cafe style fare.

The staff who run the suites are also friendly, hospitable and a pleasure to deal with.

One of the best things about staying at the Kryal Castle suites was that entry into the park the following day was included in the price. My whole family – ranging in age from 12 to 55 – thoroughly enjoyed our day in this primitive wonderland.

Though probably not an entire day’s worth there are numerous sights on offer. All the would-be-heroes in my family loved trying (and failing) to free the sword from its stone. The hilarious headstones in the graveyard are also worth browsing (and chuckling) through.

There are numerous shops available though, unfortunately, some of them are closing soon in favour of children’s party rooms. I found the staff lovely, always up for a chat and a great interactive addition to the park.

However by far the best offering at Kryal Castle are the shows – offering amazing, interesting, hilarious and just plain entertaining distraction for everyone. The jousting is terribly impressive and absolutely unmissable. The skill on show is truly a sight to be seen.

Kryal Castle is a great family outing for any and all. At the right price it’s an unmissable weekend hotspot. We had a wonderful family stay at Kryal Castle Suites and will definitely be returning. For those seeking a magical escape you'd be hard pressed to find somewhere offering such great warmth, comfort and value for money.

Switch @ Fountain Gate Review

Switch is a nicely outfitted, trendy restaurant located right in the heart of Fountain Gate shopping centre (just outside the cinema entrance). It has both outdoor and indoor dining options and a pub-like menu, consisting of burgers, wood fire pizzas and the like. We visited on a icy Sunday afternoon as a reprieve from the cold and rain.

As far as ambiance is concerned Switch offers a modern, chic interior, with an open kitchen and warm atmosphere. It's just a pity the draughty layout rendered it only a few degrees warmer than the freezing cold Melbourne day outside. The staff improved the situation slightly with their warm, friendly demeanours and super speedy service.

I opted for something off their lunch specials; a chicken roti wrap with salad and a house drink. The wrap itself was nice but bland, under seasoned, slightly charred and nothing particularly note worthy. The salad was completely ordinary; a collection of leafs and Spanish onion with no discernible dressing. My husband's burger was also nothing to write home about and, to be blunt, expensive and unimpressive (especially considering Grill'd, with much better burgers at much better prices, is only two shops down.)

Mediocre is the word of the day. I wouldn't bother returning to Switch as there is a veritable smorgasbord of tastier and cheaper fare available nearby that I'd rather frequent. I recommend you do the same.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

A review of Ozsale, BrandExclusive & Catchoftheday

Though, unlike today’s generation of net-jacked youth, I cannot claimed to have been born into the land of the internet I am nonetheless one many World Wide Web pioneers. In no area have I shown more interest than the amazing innovation of internet shopping. My first purchase was a Paul Frank cover for my ancient Nokia (remember those?) back when I was 15 (good old eBay!). Now, more than a decade later, internet shopping has transformed into an online metropolis of great deals, interesting items and an almost overwhelming sum of reputable, not-so-reputable and downright dodgy dealers.

Today I aim to introduce those new to the scene (or just those of us who are slightly more weary of internet shopping) to three of the biggest Daily Sales Sites, along with the benefits (and downfalls) of each.

Daily Sales Sites are now big business is Australia. Forget your coupon sites (Groupon, Ourdeal, Cudo etc. – we’ll get to those) today we’ll be focusing on the three big sites offering daily deals for Fashion, Homewares, Accessories, Beauty, Technology, Groceries and more: BrandExclusive, Catchoftheday and OzSale. I’ve purchased a plethora of items from all three and I’ll go through the good, bad and the ugly to help you navigate the waters of those must-have deals (along with the ones you’d be better off avoiding).
(Including BuyInvite, their sister site)

Prices: One of the things that has always made Ozsale so appealing, over its peers, is its ridiculously low prices. If you catch the right sale, on the right day, you can get quality items for truly insance prices. These are by no means every single sale. However, usually at least several times a week, you can snap up branded items at 50% - 70% off retail.

Quality: As a third party distributor (who sometimes never even see the stock they’re selling) the quality of goods sold on the Ozsale website varies dramatically. I have bought a king quilt on there that, literally, shrunk to the size of a double in a matter of months. However, I have also bought $10 shoes that have lasted years. The main thing to consider with this site is the brands. If it’s a place you’ve never heard of at a price that seems ridiculous DO NOT expect it to be good. It will likely be a lower quality, international item that even our lower price department stores wouldn’t sell to the domestic market. When you think of it like that you realize you’re probably not getting the deal you think you are. Most of the big brand items are a relatively (see below) safe bet.

Note: I would like to add that I have been dubious about Ozsale since they sold me an obviously fake Thomas Sabo charm (for over $100 I might add). I did not appreciate the fact that I’d been sent such clearly fraudulent merchandise but, more importantly, I hated the dismissive way in which my complaint was handled. I received a refund, after jumping through at least a dozen hoops, but it has since left me questioning the integrity of the entire site. There are many reports on the internet that a number of the goods they sell are in fact fakes so it is definitely something to consider before purchase.

Shipping: Ozsale and Buyinvite operate as third party sales sites. They’ll often sell you items that are being shipped direct from their featured supplier, wherever they may happen to be in the world. For that reason shipping can go from long to ridiculously long to oh-wow-those-bras-I-ordered-three-months-ago-I-fogot-about-those long. You’re often not supplied with tracking numbers for your purchases either so it's impossible to tell when (if ever) goods will arrive.

Bargain or not: The phrase to remember with this site, as with many now lurking on the net, is the old idiom ‘buyer beware’. There are some great bargains to be had but just be careful what you get is actually what you paid for and, if not, send it back and get a refund.

Coupon: At the moment HSBCOZSALE25 will get you $25 off any order over $100.


New deals daily at 12pm, 4pm & 7pm

Prices: Catchoftheday offers reasonable prices, generally at about 30-50% off retail. However not everything is at a remarkable price and, if unsure, it’s probably better you just move on. One of the great things about the site though is that, occasionally, if you keep an eye out and an ear to the ground, they will offer further discounts, turning good deals into great ones. During this most recent EOFY sales scramble they twice offered 75% off on items ranging from mobile gps’, voodoo tights, quilt cover sets, American bbq sauce and so much more. Be warned though, this store does not hold things in your cart so, if you are lucky enough to stumble across one of these extra percentage deals, click, click, click and then buy ASAP.

Quality: One thing I really like about Catchoftheyday (and why it’s generally my go to) is that everything is exactly what it says it is and is generally a premium, often Australian, brand. I’ve snapped up a Billabong watch for less than $10, 1000 thread count Egyptian cotton queen sheet sets for $50 and Converse sneakers for $15. You never have any question that what you paid for is what you get.

Shipping: Shipping with Catchoftheday is great! They provide shipment tracking and super speedy service. Items generally arrive with 3-5 business days and are packaged well. You really can’t complain.

Bargain or not? There are definitely bargains to be had on this site. The trick is simply to keep your eyes open and wait for those truly extraordinary deals, which do pop up from time to time.


Prices: BrandExclusive offers many middle of the range brands for 30%-50% than you’d expect to find them in stores. Ignore their outlet, in my experience it only offers the same things they regularly sell for the exact same prices, just thrown into a jumble in order to get rid of excess stock. Much like the other two sites the trick of BrandExclusive is snapping up those great deals as soon as they show up. It does happen and they sell out fast.

Quality: One of the great things about this site is that the vast majority of the brands and items they sell are very good quality and will not disappoint you when they arrive at your door. In my experience it doesn't boast the same fraudulent item fear.

Shipping: Not quite as fast as COTD but not nearly as long as Ozsale. You’ll likely get your goods 24 hours to 2 weeks after you order them.

Bargain or not? If you like the format or Ozsale but dislike the fact that there is a very real threat of receiving fraudulent goods then BrandExclusive is your best bet. I find it quite a reputable site overall, though shipping can be a tad slow.

In my personal opinion Catchoftheyday is the clear and obvious winner of the three. It mightn't offer the cheapest prices but you'll get your items in no time and there is zero threat of fakes. However, all three sites are worth a punt.

Please share your experiences with me in the comments below. I'm really interested to know your opinions of these daily sales stores.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

PappaRich - Malaysian Delights

It's great when you can venture out of the confines of your house, on a frost bitten day, and visit somewhere warm, inviting and full of deliciousness. The best bit? You can find all this inside the confines of Chadstone Shopping Centre.

PappaRich's is a brilliantly authentic, well priced and down to Earth Malaysian restaurant located in the newish Chadstone restaurant precinct. When myself and Mr USA visited on a Saturday afternoon we were quickly seated (though a line quickly followed us) among the throng of diners already indulging in the cheerful Malaysian fare.

The ordering system is innovative, clever and faultless: browse through the yummy cuisine on offer, jot down your preferences on the provided order sheet, press the button to summon the swift and very efficient host/hostess and HEY PRESTO! your meal should arrive in ten minutes or less.

I had the Roti Telur Bawang Curry Chicken with Fresh Lemon Honey Iced Tea. The fresh Roti, with egg and onion throughout, perfectly accompanied the brilliantly delicious chicken curry and divine spicy and sweet sauces. It was utterly delicious and, honestly, couldn't be faulted. I thoroughly savoured every single morsel. Mr USA had the Biryani Rice with Red Chicken and Prawns. This was likewise a delicious and thoroughly satisfying meal that was just the right level of spice, season and salivating sauciness. Both meals were very generously proportioned and very reasonable value. For around $17 a head we both left thoroughly satisfied and eager to return.

PappaRich's is a Malaysian wonderland and much welcomed oasis for all weary shoppers. For the price the restaurant offers delicious quality meals sure to delight the stomachs (and budgets) of all. Give it a go next time you're visiting the shopping Mecca; I promise you won't regret it.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Look who's back.

After a vast hiatus so much has occurred:

I left Japan.
I taught every age of primary school across Victoria.
I dated, adventured with and eventually married an American.
He moved to Australia with me.
I've seen so much more of the world.
I became a travel agant.

I’ve decided to come back so I can share my experiences, my life and the wonders of living with all of you.
Join me and live magical!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Okinomiyaki - DIY Cuisine

Okinomiyaki is one of my absolute favourite Japanese foods. I love the taste, I love the fact that you can make it with whatever ingredients you want and I love, love, love being able to make it at your own counter cooktop with a group of friends. But I won’t lie, it can be a bit frightening, with no Japanese language skills, to wander into a Japanese Okinomiyaki restaurant with no idea what’s on the menu, no idea how to cook your meal and really just no idea whatsoever what to do. Sometaro takes some of the stress out of this experience (and, if you’re tourists, you’ll like its position – right near Senso-ji in the heart of Asakusa).

Don’t get me wrong, this is not the best Okinomiyaki you’ll ever taste. Taste and option wise it’s so-so. However, the helpful English menu (complete with instructions), the polite semi-English-speaking staff and the rustic atmosphere of the sit-down-take-your-shoes-off-and-relax restaurant make it a comfortable place for your first (or just a contented) Okinomiyaki experience.

Additional Fact: The tomatoes at this place were divine! Fresh and juicy and plump and absolutely perfect. If you’re a tomato fan do not pass up the opportunity to sample these delights – best part of the meal in my opinion! ♥

How to get there: Just off Kokusai Dori, on the side street that runs between the Drum Museum and the police station. It's in the second block on the right.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Smoking Etiquette

Outside LaAerial's house lies this hilarious ashtray.

Only in Japan would you find a rigid admonition demanding the social niceties and reinforcing the apparent etiquette of smoking.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Asakusa – Golden Child

Asakusa is heralded throughout the travel media as THE place to visit in Tokyo. People coo over its old-world charm and authenticity. However, much of its reputation is hype. Though it is by no means a dive it is a major tourist trap, and it is best to keep this in mind when visiting.

If you are expecting a tranquil tree-capped temple village, right in the centre of Tokyo, then think again. Like most of Tokyo the majority of Asakusa is tall buildings, hotels, shops and other bits of modern efficiently we, in the 21st century, have come to either adore or despise. Tokyo Sky Tree, towering over the the mini city, is a constant reminded of the fact that Asakusa in not, despite suggestions otherwise, part of Edo period Tokyo.

However, the streets surrounding Sensō-ji temple are quaint, by Tokyo standards, and the festival atmosphere guaranteed to greet you makes them a pleasant place to stroll, window shop and photograph.

The long lane way leading up to the temple is perhaps the pinnacle of this. Packed with people, shops and a jubilant feel it is certainly a fun place to meander!

Sensō-ji is also a fairly interesting and fun-filled attraction. Huddle around the large incense stacks with the Japanese hordes and waft the healing smoke over your ailments. Or wander over the the fortune stand, throw in your coins, take the silver cylinder, shake it vigorously and then tip it over to receive your bamboo stick. Find the draw that corresponds with the number on your stick and receive your fortune (in Japanese and English). I was over the moon when I received the very best fortune; I'm now confident in the knowledge that good things await me.

Overall though Asakusa is not, in my opinion, the most interesting place in Tokyo and should perhaps be left off a short itinerary it is nonetheless a fun place to spend a warm afternoon.


• The best time to go is on the weekends when you’ll find yourself intermingling with a lot (and I mean a lot) of fellow tourists, both foreign and domestic. You may even be lucky enough to spot a few street performers.

• Don’t go nuts with your cash. The stuff here is expensive and (in most cases) dime a dozen. If you desperately need to spend cash then splurge on the over-priced, yet nonetheless tasty fare from the numerous street stalls (yatai).

• On a hot summer day treat yourself to a snow cone and, if you feel like splurging, a rickshaw ride.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Nikko on Golden Week

Being an English teacher (in my particular case salary woman might be a more apt description) In Japan is, at times, quite trying. That’s why I, like many Japanese people, was wholeheartedly looking forward to Golden Week; that magically time of the year when you get at least three (and in my case nine) solid days of rest, relaxation and revelry. In the air of being traditional I put Nikko of the top of my Golden Week to-do list.

Firstly, a tip: if you can drive there, do. The scenery the entire way from Takasaki to Nikko was absolutely breathtaking: rolling green valleys, lush peaks, looming mountains stretching off into the horizon. Truly a stunning sight! I found my directions via Google Maps and if you just ignore the Japanese (or read it, if you can) and follow the road numbers and bearings you should have no trouble. This is just a teaser of some of the sights you’ll be treated to if you do:

If you do decide to visit by car then get there early to avoid a long wait for a car park (500 YEN seems the standard all day rate). We parked on the main street, just below Rinnouji temple (see Parking mark on the map) and were able to see everything easily. If you chose instead the train or bus option then your journey begins at the bottom of a long hill, pitted with souvenir shops and restaurants, which lead up to the shrine complex.

Second tip: go when it’s busy. I know many travel guides would suggest quite the opposite but at peaks times everything is open, street stalls pop up all over the place and the circus-like atmosphere, which adds so much to Nikko’s general appeal in my opinion, is guaranteed to put you in good spirits.

Now, starting off from the station is the uphill path leading pasts a plethora of souvenir shops. In my opinion the souvenirs available at Nikko were of a fairly standard variety and, as you would expect, overpriced. However there are some nice sweet shops (selling cookies, cakes etc.) that I would highly recommend for your peeps back home (or simply your own burgeoning waistline). The first is a shop, just off the main road (it’s easy to find from the station you just walk down the road closest to the station, at the back of the main road, for a block uphill and then it’s on the corner) selling milk-based sweets. I bought a box of various cookies and cakes and they were delicious. They also sell fresh and yummy ice cream ♥. My second recommendation specializes in what they call “Cheese Egg”. Don’t be turned off, it is in reality a cream cheese cake that is utterly divine and probably one of the best sweets I’ve ever had in Japan (marked “CE” on the map). Those these are my top places to visit I would still recommend delving into all the shops on your way to the temple as many of them offer that much-revered marvel: the free sample! If you’re hungry for something a little more substantially then, honestly, I’d stick to the convenience stores (marked on the map). The restaurants here are overpriced and certainly nothing to write home about. A Combini Bento is more likely to satisfy both your appetite and your wallet.

When you finally reach the temples, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be struck by the gorgeous fertile scenery more than anything. Nonetheless Toshogu is quite a sight to behold; the attention to detail ensures that every single element of the place is elaborately decorated. I would recommend investing in the 1050YEN combination ticket. The famed sleeping cat is worth seeing simply due to the fact that it is not at all lifelike, fascinatedly non-descript and absolutely impossible to understand what it is about it that makes it so apparently intriguing (and the long line of tourists waiting to photograph this baffling phenomenon are testament to the fact that it is, apparently, intriguing). Also make sure you make a wish at the sacred tree near the tomb because… well, why the hell not?!

The rest of the temple area is a great people-viewing spot, though I wouldn’t recommend forking out any addition cash. Simple wander around and soak up the carnival like atmosphere.

Here are some of the sights that await you, along with a map of the area:

If you did decide to drive then do not miss out of the long, winding, slightly frightening, utterly amazing road that leads up to Lake Chuzenji. It is a completely mind-blowing sight.

Nikko is a great place to visit and I would definitely recommend it to anyone and everyone.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Banking in Japan

With the help of my co-worker I've just set up my own Japanese bank account with Gunma Bank and it was surprisingly simple. All I needed was my address, my alien registration card, my personal stamp (it's unbelievably cool to have your own personal stamp ♥) and my own little piece of the Japanese economy was created, as quick as a flash.

An added perk, and this is apparently a thing in Japan, is that with every additional bit of banking you do with your bank you receive a free gift. So for my passbook account I received some tissues and for my attached Visa Debit card I got some toothpaste and a Gunma Bank table cloth.

I love these little eccentricities in Japanese culture, they're utterly fabulous, if a little baffling!