25 Things You Should Know BEFORE Visiting China For The First Time (Especially with Kids)

25 Things You Should Know BEFORE Visiting China For The First Time (Especially with Kids)

We thought travelling to China with kids for two weeks would be a great family experience because it was one country that none of us had ever visited. In fact, we loved our China family tours so much last year, we were supposed to do it again this year. Our plans went slightly astray because Abercrombie & Kent told us that there were no foreign visas issued for Tibet in April because that is a Tibetan holy month. In fact, April is so holy that Tibetan monks ritually self-immolate in religious protest of the Chinese government. Of course, the Chinese government doesn’t want foreigners seeing any suicidal monks so it’s a no-go area.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

The view from the terrace of our room at the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat.

In lieu of Tibet, we toured around China for a week and then went to Japan at the pleading of the children. It’s actually a very short flight from Shanghai to Osaka airport.

My kids absolutely love Japan but they think China is merely OK. I think if we had prepared our children better for what to expect when travelling to China with kids, they would have appreciated the country more. Live and learn (from our mistakes).

Lessons From The Night Train to Shanghai

When we asked them why they wanted to skip out on seeing more of China to go to Japan, they opened up and told us how China was just so very different no matter how great the family friendly trip to China was.

This conversation did not happen easily.  We were stuck on a night train from Beijing to Shanghai which was a fairly hellish experience. First of all, they didn’t put us together.

Note – You can only buy the overnight train tickets 2 at a time. They are allocated by computer so you can’t guarantee you will sit next to each other if you are more than two people.  

Our Abercrombie & Kent guide had to beg some other passengers to move so that we could share one cabin together. Secondly, our suitcases were way too large for the space allocated (a problem we also found on Japanese trains).

So there we are in this tiny compartment with 4 suitcases, 4 carry ons and 4 people all jammed in uncomfortably for 8 or so hours. We had plenty of time for conversation. My son even came up with a song:

On the night train to Shanghai

I hit my head and cried

My sister said, shut up and die

Why Daddy why?

Could we not have gone to Dubai?

In the morning we had just nodded off into an exhausted sleep when we woke up to find a stranger in our cabin. Some man (one of the kind passengers who had moved to accommodate us the night before) was rooting through our suitcases. He had forgotten his shoes on the floor but it hadn’t occurred to him to knock on the door first.

25 Things You Should Know BEFORE Visiting China with kids #China #travel #traveltips #travelChina #Chinaguide #Chinatraveladvice #familytravel #bucketlist #travelgoals #familyvacation #visitChina #asiatravel #Chinatravel #Beijing #Shanghai

25 Things You Should Know BEFORE Visiting China For The First Time (Especially with Kids)

My husband and I have travelled extensively through developing countries whereas our children have less experience with non-Westernised countries. Some of these tips they told us for people visiting China for the first time were surprising. For example, I have no idea why squatty potties are a big deal.

25 tips for first time and family visitors to China

25 tips for first time and family visitors to China

What To Know About Travelling to China

We have learned so much from our family holidays to China that we asked our kids what people should know about travelling to china with kids. This list of 25 things to be aware of for a family friendly trip to China was compiled by our children for those people visiting China for the first time.

An Island in a Throng of People

Unless you speak Chinese, it’s a strange feeling to be surrounded by hordes of people with whom you are unable to communicate.

  • Everything is in Chinese so unlike other countries, you can’t even read basic information. There’s no sounding out words and/or guesswork in what the Chinese characters could mean. It’s completely and utterly different.
Lost in translation? But beer and coffee are always a good idea but not necessarily together.

Lost in translation? But beer and coffee are always winners but not necessarily together.

  • In the vast majority of the country, most people don’t speak English, or French, or Spanish or anything remotely related to a language you may have learned at school. The younger Chinese have learned English at school but they do not have enough practice speaking it.

Prepare for Paparazzi style attention

When you are travelling to China with kids, prepare for some major curiosity from the Chinese about you and your family. The Chinese love children and they are naturally curious. Needless to say they are curious about foreign children.

  • You get lots of attention from the Chinese such as them wanting to talk to you and/or wanting photos of you.
We have no idea who these people are but they wanted a photo with our kids.

We have no idea who these people are but they wanted a photo with our kids.

Not only were we travelling to China with kids, we caused much excitement because we had boy/girl twins. Any number of people told us how lucky we were to have one of each gender. The one child policy has been relaxed but many people feel they can’t afford to have more than one child.

  • China is a crowded country and personal space doesn’t seem to exist as a cultural concept either.

For example, on an internal flight, my daughter was doing a puzzle on her iPad. The Chinese lady next to her decided to help her. She didn’t speak any English but she reached over the tray table and started doing the puzzle with my daughter. The stranger was smart and seemed perfectly nice but my daughter was a bit bewildered.

  • The Chinese vendors seem to consider the word No as an opening gambit regardless of whether you really mean it. Maybe that is the way haggling works, but the pushy attitude confused our kids who just didn’t know what to make of it.

Different Manners

Visiting China for the first time is eye opening in terms of cultural differences of people’s behaviour.

  • My eco-friendly children were a bit shocked when they saw people casually littering. The river in Shanghai was full of litter. My kids were also aghast that older Chinese people (especially men) would cough and spit everywhere. As far as they are concerned, random spitting is littering.
  • Of course you have heard of the famous Beijing pollution, but it’s also everywhere else, just in slightly less ghastly quantities.  It’s not just air pollution, there’s also noise pollution. Except for the countryside in Guilin, Chinese cities are noisy!
Just another hazy morning in Beijing.

Just another hazy morning in Beijing. You really have to see the smog to appreciate it.

Beijing really was an eye-opener in terms of pollution. Locals wear masks to filter the air but even then, we experienced teary eyes and a burning throat.

  • People don’t really seem to think that fakes and copies of big names are a big deal. We see it as an infringement of intellectual property rights but the Chinese just shrug their shoulders.

You can find fakes everywhere – even wide out in the open in malls. Most of the women you see are carrying fake designer handbags. It’s a bit disconcerting to realise that fakes are the norm and not the exception!

If you think these are real Hermes Kelly bags, I’ve got a bridge I want to sell you.

If you think these are real Hermes Kelly bags, I’ve got a bridge I want to sell you.

Your guide or hotel will know where the good quality merchandise is sold. For example, we were taken to a high end pearl shop because we wanted to get little pearl stud earrings for our daughter. We didn’t even dare venture into buying anything like antiques. The fakes are really just that good in China.

Tip – If you want to buy fake stuff, your guide probably knows where to go for the better quality stuff. They can even bring designer items to your hotel.

Food and Drink

  • You need to be able to use chopsticks to eat easily.
Tip – If your children aren’t handy with chopsticks, get kiddy chopsticks which are attached at the top and easier to use. Alternatively carry a spoon and fork set with you like the ones you see in school lunchboxes.
  • Don’t look at some of the food photos if you are squeamish. My wannabe vegetarian daughter had conniptions when she saw some of the meat being advertised.
Fried scorpions on a stick are a street snack

Fried scorpions on a stick puts that Southern American axiom that anything fried is good to the test.

  • You can’t read most menus. Get used to pointing at something and hope you get what you want
  • My kids greeted Family Mart and Lawson (convenience store chains from Japan that are also in China) like a long lost friend. Although some of the items were the same in both countries, many were not. Convenience stores are not as good as Japan generally but pretty good. You can get dumplings, sushi etc.
  • You should always get bottled water with the seal on the cap. We paid extra for well-known brands because the last thing you want on a China family tour is one or more people having tummy issues. No… not the squatty potties again.
  • The Chinese drink tea like there’s no tomorrow. You don’t get offered water at a restaurant, you get tea.
A beautiful teapot and cup of Chinese tea

A beautiful teapot and cup of Chinese tea

Where the Sun Don’t Shine

  • You should bring your own tissue pack for public toilets.
  • Squatty potties are everywhere. We found our kids had difficult adjusting to squatty to become accustomed to using squatty potties .My daughter seemed to have an irrational fear of falling in them. And, yes, for the squeamish they do smell a fair bit.
Tip – Check out the disabled toilets which are more likely to have Western style toilets.
  • Don’t expect there to be toilets in restaurants, even in a Starbucks. They will just refer you to the nearest public toilet.

Connecting to the World

  • For free WiFi in a restaurant you need to put in a Chinese mobile numbers so it’s not actually that helpful.
  • The WiFi is painfully slow even in a major city in a five star hotel.

As luck would have it, my son was reading the book Radio Boy by Christian O’Connell  in the back seat of our car while we were stuck in Beijing traffic. He started giggling over the following passage. Our Chinese guide wanted to see what was so funny but then she got defensive over China having Wifi.

An excerpt from the book Radio Boy which our Chinese guide did not think was amusing.

Our guide was insulted when she heard my son laughing and wanted to see what he was reading.

  • It’s really beneficial to have a VPN to access the outside world. You can get one before you visit China.
  • There’s no Instagram, YouTube, FaceBook etc. It takes forever to access the internet anyway, so just get used to a social media detox.

Transportation

  • There are lots of regional airplanes in China. You should expect delays because the airports are super busy.
  • The food on regional airplanes and trains may be too different for kids.
Tip – It’s a good idea to stock up on familiar snacks at a convenience store before boarding the plane or train.
  • Trains have hot water for the making of tea, not a water fountain. And the water isn’t marked as hot so be careful. Our son almost scalded himself sticking his mouth under one of those taps.
  • Crossing the road is an adventure as a pedestrian because you have cars, motorbikes and bicycles to contend with.
A Shanghai street with pedestrians, bikes, motorbikes and cars all sharing the same space. #China #travel #traveltips #travelChina #Chinaguide #Chinatraveladvice #familytravel #bucketlist #travelgoals #familyvacation #visitChina #asiatravel #Chinatravel #Beijing #Shanghai

A Shanghai street with pedestrians, bikes, motorbikes and cars all sharing the same space.

When you travel the world, you will come across so many different ways of living. That’s the whole point of travelling right? If you wanted to experience the same thing again and again, you should just stay at home. On the other hand, as a seasoned traveller you may easily overlook things. We are grateful to our kids for providing us with a fresh pair of eyes and perspective.

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The Top 10 Things to Do (Including Free Things To Do) in Malaga with Kids

The Top 10 Things to Do (Including Free Things To Do) in Malaga with Kids

If you just fly into the airport at Malaga and go onto its more ritzy neighbours like Marbella and Puerto Banus, you are missing the delightful city of Malaga itself. The Costa del Sol with kids is fabulous – you really can’t go wrong with the sun and sand formula for a family vacation. When you tire of these most famous of the Costa del Sol attractions at the hotels and mansions in Spain, head back into the city of Malaga for some great food and culture.

Malaga’s attractions are family-friendly, too. There are plenty of things to do in Malaga with kids, especially older children. Malaga’s family-friendly attractions include lots of historic buildings and charming side streets full of shops and cafes. There are also quite a few free things to do in Malaga that children will enjoy such as sampling their way through food markets and checking out the fabulous street art.

Things To Do in Malaga with Kids

Here are choice of 10 things to do in Malaga with kids:

For Junior Culture Vultures

In terms of culture you have a choice of famous structures dating back to the Romans and the Moors as well as a handful of good museums.

Malaga Spain has a charming historic district with structures dating back to Roman times

Malaga Spain has a charming historic district with structures dating back to Roman times

Historic Buildings and Architecture

The majority of the remains of the Gibralfaro Castle are its impressive ramparts which kids will love exploring. It was built in the 10th century by the caliph of Cordoba.

The Gibralfaro Castle was captured during the Reconquest by Ferdinand and Isabella after a 3 month siege. Unfortunately the Spanish were not in a forgiven mood and the entire Moorish population of Malaga were put to death or enslaved,

Fun Facts – The Siege of Malaga was the first battle where both sides used gunpowder in battle. Also, this siege was the first time special vehicles to transport victims (i.e., ambulances) were used.

The Alcazaba is an 11th century Moorish palace and fortress built on the ruins of a Roman predecessor. It’s the best preserved Moorish fortress in Spain.

Another plus point? Once you’ve climbed up to the Gibralfaro you’ll have a terrific view over the city.

The view of Malaga from the hilltop above.

The view of Malaga from the hilltop above.

The Roman Theatre was built in the 3rd century and is located pretty much at the bottom of the Alcazaba fortress. The theatre was built by the Romans under Emperor Augustus in the first century B.C.. After the Romans left, the Moors repurposed some of the stones from the theatre for the Alcazaba.

Malaga Cathedral was built over the Mosque that stood in its place when Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Malaga. It’s an impressive structure but was never completed because the project kept running out of money – even though the construction was ongoing over 250+ years!

Fill Up On Fine Art

The Pompidou Centre in Malaga is set in the city’s harbor and the colorful cuboid glass building itself is entrancing. It is the only branch of the Pompidou outside of Paris. It’s got works from the 20th century such as old favourites like Frida Kahlo, Matisse and Rene Magritte.

Set in an old mansion, the Picasso Museum showcases the works of the Malaga-born artist. The museum has works by Picasso donated by his daughter-in-law and grandson. After a redesign in 2017, the museum is arranged in chronological order and houses more than 150+ of Picasso’s works.

The Picasso Museum is the most visited museum in Andalusia! Remember not to mix it up with Casa Natal which is Picasso’s actual birthplace and has only a small exhibition dedicated to him.

Deep in thought at the Picasso Museum in Malaga

At the Picasso Museum, my son is caught deep in thought. You get a handset that explains works in the museum.

For Foodie Families

Tapas Bar Hopping

In the historic centre, you can spend hours going from tapas bar to tapas bar. We visited quite a few tapas bars, mostly nameless. We did go to El Pimpi one of the more famous tapas bars in the historic district which was frequented by many celebrities, including the Picasso family (surprise!).

The Mercado Merced

Located near the house where  Picasso was born, the Mercado Merced located in the Plaza del Merced is a revitalised foodie market where you can find any number of delicious dishes to wile away a lazy lunch.

Hang out in the sunshine with tapas and wine.

Hang out in the sunshine with tapas and wine.

Free Things To Do in Malaga

Playtime at the Beach

The Costa del Sol has over 150 kilometres of coastline so chances are you will find the perfect beach for you.

A beach on the Costa del Sol

The Costa del Sol is known for its beautiful beaches and Malaga’s beaches are no exception. Malaga has two blue flag beaches which is the highest rating for excellence you can get in Spain.

One of the fun things to do in Malaga is eat the freshly grilled sardines on the beach.

Grilling sardines on the beach in Malaga

Grilling sardines on the beach

Explore the Old Town

The historic centre of Malaga is easy to walk and fun to explore. It’s got stores, cafes, bars galore.

It’s not all tourist shops either. I found my all-time favourite camera strap at a camera store in this are and have never been able to find something similar elsewhere.

A quiet back street in Malaga

If you go away from the tourist crowds, the back streets of Malaga are charming and crowd-free.

Street Art in Malaga

Malaga has a thriving street art scene because of the efforts of a local artistic initiative called MAUS (Malaga Arte Scene SoHo). This local initiative reminds me of the home-grown efforts in Houston to revitalise an urban area with street art.

A large variety of Malaga’s street art can be found in the up-and-coming arts neighbourhood behind the Center for Contemporary Art. My kids love street art because it’s colorful and witty. And, you don’t have to visit a stuffy art gallery.

Street art in Malaga

Beautiful woman captured as street art. But why are her hands so much darker than her face??

girl posing in front of street art

My daughter can’t resist playing to the camera.

Atarazanas Market

Built in a former shipyard close to Malaga harbor in 1879, Atarazanas Market is a chef’s delight. Like other food markets we have visited, my son loved checking out the market and my daughter was aghast at the smell of fresh fish and meat.

Fresh fish being sold at Atarazanas Market in Malaga

Fresh fish being sold at Atarazanas Market in Malaga

Centre for Contemporary Art

Set in a former warehouse that was the Wholesalers’ Market, the the Centre of Contemporary Art has a fun collection of 20th and 21st artists. It’s a great museum including kid-favourite Damien Hirst and pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. And, it’s totally free!

Nearby Costa del Sol Attractions

So many families come to the Costa del Sol every year that there are some great theme parks located near Malaga.

Theme Parks

My kids have never met a waterpark that they did not like and Aqualand Torremolinos would not prove to be the exception. On a hot sunny day, racing friends on waterslides is one of the best of childhood pleasures.

Tivoli World is an amusement park which has rides that are suitable for younger kids as well as older kids. You can buy ride tickets individually (which quickly adds up and drives me crazy) or an mostly-all-you-can ride pass. Note that there are popular rides that the kids will want to ride (such as bumper cars) that aren’t in the all-you-can-ride pass.

Nothing beats water park fun on a hot day if you are a kid.

Nothing beats water park fun on a hot day if you are a kid.

Visiting Malaga

Malaga is a very easy destination to visit from the United Kingdom and many parts of Europe because of its airport. The airport is modern and easy to navigate. I know – I did it 3x in one day because I had to pick up different people from the airport!

Colorful houses in Malaga Spain

Colorful houses in Malaga Spain

In terms of accommodation, you have a choice of hotels, villas and mansions in Spain as you would expect from such a popular tourist area. We have rented both villas as well as stayed in hotels in Spain. Our kids definitely prefer villa holidays with friends because they have the freedom of a house and pool.

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Where To Stay in Osaka Japan: A Room With A View at the Marriott Miyako Hotel For Modern Luxury

Where To Stay in Osaka Japan: A Room With A View at the Marriott Miyako Hotel For Modern Luxury

When I was in Japan on tour in 2010, I felt like I was 30 years into the future. I love technology and they are so advanced with their phones, computers, everything.

– Soulja Boy

When we were searching for where to stay in Osaka Japan, we were not short on options. We were searching for cool and modern Japan  as well as Osaka accommodation for families with a bit of style and luxury. There would be plenty of traditional places to stay elsewhere on our 2 week trip in Japan. Thanks to being the second biggest city in Japan, you will have your pick of places to stay in Osaka, including many  5 star hotels from the major hotel brands. We specifically wanted an Osaka hotel near a JR station because we were using our stay in Osaka as a base to explore other places in Japan. Our choice of the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel also made my architecture-obsessed son happy because it is located in the tallest building in Japan. So would we say the Marrott Miyako is a recommended hotels in Osaka including for families? Read on and find out.

First Impressions of the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel

My first impression of the Marriott Miyako Hotel was that it reminded me of the skyscraper hotel in the 2003 Lost in Translation movie with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen. It’s striking, glossy and glamourous. The impeccably groomed receptionists are lined behind glossy long white lacquered tables. The lights of Osaka glimmer in the double-height windows. You definitely feel the sense of being small in a big city.

The reception area of the Osaka Marriott Miyako

The reception area of the Osaka Marriott Miyako

The service though added warmth to this glossy white space. Everything was organised and our room keys given to us in a jiffy. A smiling receptionist took us to our room on the 51st floor. My son was delighted – he adores skyscrapers and we had never stayed on a floor this high before. At check-in you get some freebies for staying in the tallest building in Japan, such as a discount coupon to use at the department store in the building and free passes to the observatory in the tower.

The view from the Marriott Miyako Hotel at sunset

The view from our room at the Marriott Miyako Hotel at sunset.

Family Accommodation in an Osaka 5 Star Hotel

We had a double bedded room (with queen beds) which was a good size in terms of Osaka accommodation for families.  The fancy toilet was a separate room from the  bathroom sink, bathtub and shower area.  Good thing because my kids were completely fascinated with the toilet controls and spent inordinate amounts of time in there.

Our fabulous bathroom at the Osaka Marriott Miyako hotel.

Our fabulous bathroom at the Osaka Marriott Miyako hotel.

I loved the bathroom because it is in a style usually found in high-end Japanese design. The bathtub is in a separate glass enclosure with the walk-in shower. You have all the benefits of a large walk-in shower without the water splashing everywhere.

There is a seating area, a workspace area and the usual amenities of bathrobes, a safe and mini fridge. What was extra and really nice were the Japanese pyjamas. Not only were they super comfortable but it meant that we could save our own pyjamas for later in the trip.

Style at this Osaka 5 Star Hotel

The Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel is glossy and modern. The lobby on the 38th floor is a cavernous open-plan space with double height ceilings and windows. The area is slightly subdivided with a separate gift shop and restaurant area. The middle of the floor though are bar areas. A musician plays in the evenings which is nice if you want to chill out with a drink.

One of the bar areas in the lobby

One of the bar areas in the lobby

The rooms are comfortable and cozy in feel though. It’s got a minimal of clutter which I appreciate. We bring our own clutter to hotel rooms!

There were definitely elements of Japanese traditional style at this hotel. For example, I loved this piece of pottery which incorporates the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi (the idea that imperfect is perfect). My daughter wasn’t buying it though. She thought maybe the potter had broken it and was trying to cover it up. Such cynicism.

Wabi Sabi (Imperfectly perfect) pottery at the Osaka Marriott Miyako

Wabi Sabi (Imperfectly perfect) pottery at the Osaka Marriott Miyako

Ambience of the Tallest Building in Japan

The ambience of the tallest building in Japan is definitely straight out of Lost in Translation. Giant windows overlook Osaka as it sprawls into the horizon. Fifty floors up, the people and trains below don’t seem quite real. Little toys scampering around.

Tub chairs in the lounge which overlook the Osaka city skyline

Tub chairs in the lounge which overlook the Osaka city skyline

By the way, how can this hotel be located in the tallest building in Japan? With a skyscraper geek in our family, he was only happy to educate us.

Well, technically the Tokyo SkyTree is taller but it is deemed the tallest structure in Japan. Most of the Tokyo SkyTree is unoccupied and serves as a broadcasting tower for the Tokyo metropolitan area. It’s as famous a Japanese sightseeing destination as the much smaller Eiffel Tower knock-off, the Tokyo Tower.

That leaves the Abeno Harukas building in which the Marriott Miyako Osaka is housed as the tallest building in Japan. It has 6o floors which are separated by function:

  •  the 2nd to the 14th floor is the main branch of the Kintetsu Department Store and the largest department store in Japan;
  • the 15th to the 37t floor is office space
  • the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel occupies the 38th to the 55th floor
  • the top floors have an observation deck and restaurants
No matter how slick, of course the Abeno Harukas building had a kawaii mascot

No matter how slick, of course the Abeno Harukas building had a kawaii mascot because … Japan.

By the way, we used our free tickets to the observatory in the Abeno Harukas building but can truthfully say the view from our room was just as good!

The view from our Osaka Marriott Miyako Osaka at night

The view from our Osaka Marriott Miyako Osaka at night

The Good Bits of the Marriott Hotel in Tennoji

What were we looking for when we were choosing where to stay in Osaka? A Convenient Osaka accommodation for families in a 5 star hotel with a bit of style.

There are plenty of cozy seating spaces in the open plan lounge area

There are plenty of cozy seating spaces in the open plan lounge area

Convenient Location

In terms of convenience, we really wanted an Osaka hotel near a JR station. I love Osaka for its food and fun but we knew we would be using Osaka as a base for a few days to explore other places in the region. This Osaka 5 star hotel is wonderfully located above a major transportation hub. At the end of a long day, we could drag our weary bodies straight upstairs to bed from the train station downstairs.

Amenities on Your Doorstep

Having the Kintetsu department store downstairs meant that we had quite a few options for breakfast and snacks. They have a GREAT food hall which we loved. Did I mention that my children are completely addicted to Japanese candy and sweets?

The giant train station complex meant there was lots of good shopping options, for both food and other supplies we needed..

There  is a separate convenience store which is pretty upscale for the people who work in the offices  from which we got dinner once. Of course you will need to take multiple elevators to get to it from the Marriott Miyako hotel.

The Marriott Branding

The Osaka Marriott Miyako is part of the Marriott brand and so part of the Starwood Group. You know how much I love the Starwood Group for both great hotels, excellent service and a fabulous rewards program.

We didn’t partake but this hotel does do afternoon tea.

We didn’t partake but this hotel does do afternoon tea. I did wonder what New York Breakfast tasted like – caffeine, bagels and lox?

The Great Bits of the Marriott Miyako Hotel in Osaka

What would I consider some of the extra add-ons that go above and beyond in terms of staying in an Osaka 5 star hotel?

Exceptional Service in a Medical Crises

We were very grateful to the Marriott Osaka Miyako Hotel manager for finding us an English-speaking doctor in the middle of the night. One night our son felt ill  because his ear hurt. Although he has had ear infections before, they have never occurred while we were away from home.

The concierge desk of the Osaka Marriott Miyako hotel.

The concierge desk of the Osaka Marriott Miyako hotel. I really had the impulse to peel that ‘paper’ off the wall every time I saw it.

My husband and I were in a bit of a panic about finding an A&E in country where we didn’t speak the language. My husband’s first reaction was to suggest that my son was just being dramatic and he could just power through the pain. I was not happy with that decision as the whimpering got progressively worse..

The manager at the hotel sorted everything out for us in an hour after our phone call to him.  He put  my husband and son in a hotel taxi to a hospital together with a note to the hospital explaining the circumstances in Japanese. My son was seen by an English-speaking doctor who prescribed antibiotics for a definite ear infection. My son felt better the next day  and I felt immense superiority in being right.

Excellent Location

I was looking for a good Osaka hotel near a JR station. The Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel is actually located above the massive JR Tennoji station as well as Osaka Obenabashi station for the private Kintetsu railroad.

This simplified map shows where Tennoji is in relation to the Osaka loop line (photo credit: JR Rail)

This simplified map shows where Tennoji is in relation to the Osaka loop line
(photo credit: JR Rail)

Tennoji JR station is one of the main stations in Osaka and is served by several JR and Osaka subway lines.

  • With your JR pass you can go directly from Kansai  International Airport to Tennoji JR station in half hour  on the Haruka Express or 45 minutes by the Kansai Airport Rapid Service.
  • We used the Kintetsu train from Obenabashi directly to Mount Yoshino.
  • You can go directly from Obenabashi to Mount Koya, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of Japan’s holiest places.
  • You can take the JR Yamatoji  line from Tennoji Station directly to Nara in less than an hour depending on what type of train you take.

On the JR Osaka loop line, you can use your JR pass to get around large parts of Osaka without paying extra for the Osaka subway. For example, on the loop line you can get to Osaka station and then change for a train to Himeji.

You really are spoiled for choices for transport links around and out of Osaka.

What Left Us Underwhelmed

In such a tall building, the elevator banks are a bit confusing to negotiate. It took us a while to figure them out, such as the floor we needed to get off to go directly to the JR station. The elevators themselves are speedy but different sets of elevators serve different floors.

We ordered room service once. For a simple meal of Onigiri (Japanese rice rolls) and Miso Soup, it took close to 45 minutes to deliver.Maybe they had issues navigating all those elevators too!  It’s the sort of thing you can get in a Japanese convenience store much cheaper and much faster.

On that issue of laundry, the costs are sky high. We thought very briefly about sending some items for cleaning but balked when the cost of laundry for a pair of socks came out to about $10. Instead, we just went out and bought 3 pairs of new socks for $10.

Plenty of champagne to pop as you would expect of an Osaka 5 star hotel.

Plenty of champagne to pop as you would expect of an Osaka 5 star hotel.

Our Opinion of the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel

I can definitely say the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel is our recommended hotel in Osaka, and not just because the manager got us out of a tight spot. We loved the location, the convenience and the uber-cool feel of it. Our other hotels in Japan were more traditional in feel which is what you would want in the historic areas of Kyoto and Kanazawa. In the brash neon glam of Osaka, the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel perfectly captures the modern city glamour of Japan.

Check out the great TripAdvisor reviews that the Osaka Marriott Miyako hotel received from other guests.

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Sparkling chandeliers inside and sparkling city lights outside

Sparkling chandeliers inside and sparkling city lights outside

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Don’t Miss Visiting The Thermae Spa Bath in the UK (And Take Your Older Kids Too!)

Don’t Miss Visiting The Thermae Spa Bath in the UK (And Take Your Older Kids Too!)

Can you imagine swimming in rain water that fell 10,000 years ago? The mind boggles. Yet, that is precisely what you are doing when you visit the Thermae Spa Bath in the UK. I am a big fan of spas and my children have visited  thermal spas in Iceland, Japan and Austria, so a visit to the Thermae Spa Bath is right up our alley! The Thermae Bath Spa UK is located in the city of Bath in England. Bath is a beautiful UNESCO world heritage listed location marked by beautiful architecture and renowned through history for the thermal baths that gave the city its name. Located in the historic center of Bath right near its other main attractions, taking a dip in the thermal baths like the Romans did is partaking in a bit of history. Unlike the Georgians though, we don’t recommend you drink the water!

The historic Roman Baths which you can tour.

The historic Roman Baths which you can tour. Then head nearby and try out the hot springs for yourself at Thermae Spa.

Why a Spa Day in Bath?

Some 5 cool reasons to spend a spa day in Bath at the Thermae Spa:

  • Bath is one of the great European spa cities like Baden Baden in Germany and Montecatini Terme in Italy.
  • You will be participating in something that has happened at this site since before even the Romans came to Britain! It really is at the same water as the historic Bath Roman baths spa nearby.
  • Bath got its UNESCO world heritage listing thanks to its famous bath waters and the Georgian buildings created to enjoy them.
  • You get to have a nice relaxing time AND partake in history at the Thermae Bath Spa UK. How many places can you do that??
  • Your body will feel rejuvenated and muscles that you didn’t even know were aching will feel better.
The Cross Springs Spa

The Cross Springs Spa | Bath England Spa #BathUK #BathEngland #visitUK #UKwithkids #England #cityofBath #England #thermalbaths

Where’s The Water Come From?

Geothermal activity created three springs that came to the surface in Bath. The springs bring forth rain water that fell thousands of years ago and then sank to a couple of kilometres below the Earth’s surface. No one actually knows the exact location of the source of the springs.

Fun Fact: Each day the 3 springs churn out over 1 million litres of water! That’s a whole lot of rainwater that fell 10,000 years ago. If you thought it rained in England during modern times…

A Very Brief History of Bath Spa

The Thermae Bath spa is a tradition that goes back over 2000 years. It’s a city that grew in fits and starts with the periods of history jumping jerkily over hundreds of years as if the intervening years were the blink of an eye. Coming from a country like the USA which is only a few hundred years old, it’s amazing to think about this time line.

The Legend of the Leper Prince

First lets start with the founding legend of the city of Bath.

There was Prince Biadud, the son of the King of the Britons sometime in the 9th century BC. He came down with leprosy and got cast out of the kingdom. So he works as a swineherd until he has a Eureka moment. He sees his pigs get cured of scabies when they roll around the mud of the hot springs in Bath. He decides to wallow in mud himself and gets cured.

Returning leprosy-free to his father, he eventually becomes the 9th King of the Britons and goes on to father Kin g Lear (he of Shakespeare fame). Prince Bladud ’s so happy he creates the city of Bath.

We saw a statue of Prince Biadud at Cross Bath Spa who was fittingly watching over the bathers.

Prince Bialud sneaks a peek from behind the ivy

Prince Bialud sneaks a peek from behind the ivy

Enter the Romans

Fast foward to the Romans who did love their hot baths. In 70 AD, the Romans created the baths and a temple to Minerva at Bath. The Romans leave Britain in 410 AD and the Saxons take over.

There’s a few hundred years of decline in Bath’s fortunes until Edgar is crowned as King of England in 973AD at Bath Cathedral. Sadly that did not mean Bath’s fortunes rose again anytime soon though.

Quacks, Royals and Socialites

In the mid-16th century a Dr. Turner wrote about the medicinal benefits of bathing in Bath. Intrigued, Queen Elizabeth I visited in 1574, and was pleased enough to make Bath an official city. Assorted royals  and their courtiers visited the city over the next 100 years, including the openly Catholic Mary of Modena.

Mary (married to the equally Catholic James II) couldn’t have a child but became miraculously pregnant after visiting the baths at Bath. Unfortunately, that child sparked the Glorious Revolution because the English did not want another Catholic king. The royal family got sent off to France and the English put James II’s more acceptable  Protestant daughter Mary (and her husband William) on the throne.

Wow!  Bath’s thermal waters were indirectly responsible for regime change in Britain!

Back in Bath, the Royal Family still favoured the city. Along with the royals came the aristocracy for spa breaks in Bath. The 18th and early 19th centuries saw the heyday of Bath and its baths. Jane Austen and her family came to Bath and catapulted the city into literary history.

There is evidence that Jane Austen’s father and brothers bathed in the same Cross Spa where we bathed! How cool is that??

The Royal Mineral Bath Hospital on one of the side streets near Thermae Spa

The Royal Mineral Bath Hospital on one of the side streets near Thermae Spa

Decline and Fall

Bath fell out of favour in the late 19th century when the British discovered their love of the great seaside resorts like Brighton and the Isle of Wight. Although the baths at Bath had lost their luster, too, they were used as a rehabilitation centre by the UK military and the NHS.

In 1978, the spa was closed because it was in such bad shape.

The Phoenix Rises

After a multi-million dollar renovation, the Thermae Bath Spa UK was opened in its present form in 2006.

Bath stone and columns mark the entrance to the Thermae Spa

Bath stone and columns mark the entrance to the Thermae Spa

The Thermae Bath Spa Bath

The facade of the building may be Grade 1 listed but everything inside is state of the art and modern. The building is a masterclass in how old and new architecture can work together. It is constructed to be 6 stories in the back although you wouldn’t know it from the front facade which is a 4 story town house and shop premises.

The Pools at the Thermae Spa

There is an indoor Minerva Bath which is the largest the pools. It’s got massage jets, whirlpool and even a lazy river! Available for your use at both pools are blue swim noodles so you really don’t even need to make an effort to even float. That’s my kind of lazy.

The open-air rooftop pool offers divine views over Bath city and you can even get a peek at the Cross Bath nearby.

An aerial view of the Cross Bath Spa

An aerial view of the Cross Bath Spa (to the right of the photo) as seen from the Royal Spa.

The Water

The thermal water contains over 40 different types of minerals. The four baths at the Thermae maintain a water temperature of 33.5 degrees Centigrade (92 degrees Fahrenheit). Nice and toasty even for the rooftop pool!

Fun Fact – The word spa coms from the latin “salus per aquam” which translates as health through water. Now go impress your friends with this random piece of trivia!

Treatment Facilities at the Thermae Spa Bath

There are 26 treatment rooms offering ever over 40 different types of therapies.

For example, you can have a Vichy shower where you lay on a table and shower jets are sprayed over you to enhance circulation and treatment benefits. I had a Vichy shower at Terranea Spa in Los Angeles and it feels wonderful! It is a specialist treatment and not many places have the facilities for a Vichy shower.

Other specialist treatments include Watsu Massage (a form of water massage) and Hot Stones Spa Therapy (where warm volcanic stones are used at pressure points to encourage relaxationf).

There are also the usual massages. body wraps and facials.

At its busiest, such for example the weekends, the Thermae Spa Bath gets over 1000 a people a day. On average though, you get about 700 people a day. During the quieter weekdays, you get about 400-500 people.

Tip  – It is advisable to book well in advance if you want a treatment during weekends.

Check out the great reviews for Thermae Bath spa on Tripadvisor!

Other Amenities

On site at the Thermae Spa Bath, there is a Visitor’s center, a restaurant as well as two boutiques. Everything you could want for a relaxing few hours in this historic city.

Cross Baths in Bath

The Cross Baths Bath is also located in a Grade I listed building. Across the street from the Thermae Spa, the Cross Bath Spa can hold a maximum of 10 people. It can be rented for private parties, proposals etc.

The Cross Bath Spa is located within a grand Grade I listed building.

The Cross Bath Spa is located within a grand Grade I listed building.

The Cross Baths Spa has its own changing rooms and bathroom facilities. You can even arrange for the Thermae Spa to send over a basket of food and drinks if you wish to eat while you are at the spa.

The Cross Spring actually bubbles into the Cross Bath Spa through a stainless steel fountain sculpture by William Bye inscribed with words by former poet laureate, Ted Hughes. The spring water bubbles to the surface and then cleverly gets siphoned off and is gently treated before it enters the Cross Bath spa.

William Bye sculpture that brings the Hot Cross spring water into the bath

William Bye sculpture that brings the Hot Cross spring water into the bath

We can attest that it is entirely relaxing floating on a noodle or two as you listen to the seagulls fly overhead, surrounded by the mellow cream stonework of the city.

In the evenings, the lanterns are lit at the Cross Bath Spa setting a magical scene

In the evenings, the lanterns are lit at the Cross Bath Spa setting a magical scene

My daughter and I were at the Cross Bath Spa with another 3 families. Three of the 10 people would have fit the 12-16 age bracket. I was surprised though to learn that everyone there was from different parts of England. Most were visiting Bath but one mother/daughter duo were specifically on a spa break in Bath.

Where were the international tourists visiting for a spa day in Bath?! What a hidden gem in Bath that they are missing!

Hotels Near Thermae Spa

The Thermae is run by the same people who run the The Gainsborough Bath Spa – Bath” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow noopener”>Gainsborough Bath Spa, a 5 star spa hotel opened in 2015. A member of the Leading Hotels of the World, the Gainsborough Bath Spa has excellent reviews on TripAdvisor. It is a great choice for a Thermae Bath Spa hotel if you want the whole spa package appearance.

We chose to stay at the four star Francis Hotel also conveniently located in the historic center of Bath. It is a charming hotel and very convenienly located. On previous trips to Bath, we have stayed at the No.15 Great Pulteney – Bath” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow noopener”>No 15 Great Pulteney, a 4 star boutique hotel which is in walking distance from the Thermae Bath but over the river that runs through the city.

Children from the age of 12 are allowed in the Cross Springs Spa in Bath England

Children from the age of 12 are allowed in the Cross Springs Spa in Bath England

Visiting the Thermae Bath Spa

You don’t need to make reservations to visit the Thermae Bath Spa but you do need to make reservations for specific treatments.

Location

The Thermae Spa is located right in the historic centre of historic Bath near the Bath Cathedral, the Roman Baths and the Pump Room.

The address is on Hot Bath Street. Yes, really.

Opening Hours

Thermae Bath spa is open every day of the year except 3 days at the end of the year (Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day). The Thermae Bath is open from 9 in the morning to 9:30 at night and the Cross Bath is open from 10 in the morning to 8 pm.

Booking and Entry

You get entry into the Thermae Spa in two hour slots and the Cross Bath in 1.5 hour slots.

Beauty treatments are only available at Thermae Spa. If you book a spa treatment that time is added to your two hour slot. You can also pay at entry for additional hours if you want to stay longer.

Tip: If you want to avoid busy times at the spa, you should choose to go at a time other than the weekends, summer and Christmas. Christmas you say? Yes, because Bath has a wonderful Christmas market which attracts many tourists.

You get complimentary towels, robes and flip-flops upon entry at both the Thermae Spa and the Cross Bath. Note there are only adult sizes for flip flops.

Even the teddy gets a complimentary robe to snuggle up.

Even the teddy gets a complimentary robe to snuggle up.

You can not get multiple access entries that cover both the Thermae Spa and the Cross Bath.

Thermae Bath Spa Offers

Check the Thermae Spa website for special Therme Bath Spa  deals for visitors. Some examples:

  • One  Thermae Bath spa deal offer is for Sunday afternoon  which includes spa access and a meal at the restaurant
  • Another Thermae Bath spa discount offer is the twilight package where you can use the spa during weekdays in the evening. Imagine watching the sunset over Bath from the rooftop pool!
  • You can get also get a Thermae Bath spa discount package that includes the historic Roman Baths, a meal at the Pump Room Restaurant and a session at the Thermae Bath spa. And the best part? It doesn’t all have to be done in one day!

All of these Thermae spa deal offers would be great for tourists to the city who need some R&R after spending time enjoy Bath’s many attractions and walking its nearby hills.

Disabled Access

The spas are accessible for people with disabilities. The Thermae Bath Spa has an elevator for ease of access.  In addition, the pools have special assistance chairs for lowering people into the baths.

Visiting with Older Children

Children over the age of 16 are allowed access to the Thermae Spa but need to be 18 to receive spa treatments. Children from the age of 12 are allowed at the Cross Bath spa on a 1:1 adult/child ratio.

The Cross Bath spa at the Thermae Spa

My daughter enjoyed herself immensely and has gotten a promise from me that we can go to the Royal Bath Spa when she turns 16.

We were guests of the Cross Bath Spa. All thoughts and opinions in this article remain strictly my own.

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Why You Should Make Time To Take A Tokyo To Nikko Day Trip

Why You Should Make Time To Take A Tokyo To Nikko Day Trip

Tokyo is an exhausting city which is why it’s always good to leave it for short breaks. In addition to our day trip to Hakone, we went to Nikko, a UNESCO World Heritage town set in the mountains north of Japan which is home to one of Japan’s most famous shrines. Although going from Tokyo to Nikko by train takes a mere 2 hours, it feels a world away. It was great to get some fresh mountain air and walk around without dodging people and cars. We highly recommend that you take a Nikko day trip to recharge your batteries and to explore an area that is very important to Japanese people.

Tokyo To Nikko By Train

Getting from Tokyo to Nikko by train is very easy. There are 20+ shinkansen (bullet trains) that go from Tokyo station to Utsunomiya station. Then you take a local Nikko line from Utsonomiya to Nikko station which takes about 40 minutes. The waiting time between the Shinkansen and the local Nikko line can be anywhere between 10 minutes to half an hour. Overall, the trip can take up to 2 hours.

Another one of the kawaii cardboard cut-outs that are all over Japan.

We went from Tokyo to Nikko using our JR Pass. It was all straight-forward and the entire trip was covered by the JR Pass. When you exit from the Shinkansen, follow the signs (in English) marked for Nikko. In addition, there are little monkeys on the floor showing you the way to the local Nikko train.

Nikko train signs lead you to the local train

The Nikko station itself is tiny. It does have a good tourist office but the lines can be long. Just go to the train ticket office and get a Heritage bus ticket. You can either get round-trip or one-way. Alternatively, you can walk 40 minutes up to the shrine. We split the difference and took the bus uphill and meandered downhill at our own pace..

Why You Should Make Time To Take A Tokyo To Nikko Day Trip

Why make time to visit Nikko from Tokyo and how to get there

One Day in Nikko Sightseeing

Nikko Sightseeing must include the Nikko Heritage sites. No two ways about it, they are the stars of the show. In addition to Nikko’s heritage sites though, there is nature to explore in the form of Lake Chuzenji and waterfalls. We are city people at heart though and we opted to explore the charming town of Nikko.

What to Do in Nikko: Heritage Sites and Nature

If you don’t achieve temple/shrine fatigue by the end of visiting Nikko’s heritage sites, you are a superstar.

Rinnoji-Temple

Rinnoji-temple is undergoing renovation which has been ongoing for a couple of years. It is dedicated to the Buddhist monk who introduced Buddhism to Nikko in the 8th century.

It was believed that a dragon on the ceiling of a Nikko temple protects the building from fire.

Why the monkeys everywhere? Because Nikko is where that famous saying “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” comes from. It’s a word play on the Japanese word for monkey and is supposed to help children learn Buddhist principles.

The 3 monkeys plaque at the Nikko Shrine

Toshugu Shrine

The Toshugu shrine is in honour of Ieyasu Tokugawa, who unified the country under shogun leadership ending years of battling warlords. His grandson built this shrine and clearly he wanted everyone to know his grandpa was THE MAN.

The purification area before you enter the Nikko Toshugu Shrine

The Nikko Toshugu shrines are unlike anything we had ever seen in Japan. Because it is. Usually shinto shrines have plain aesthetics but the Toshugu shrine is more like Chinese temples. More is simply not enough.

The warehouses that store the costumes for the annual Nikko festival

The rooftops at the Nikko Toshugu Shrine complex nestled in the trees.

The 5 tier pagoda at the Nikko Toshugu shrine

Nikko National Park

Nikko National Park is considered one of Japan’s most scenic areas – mountains, waterfalls and lakes. It’s free to enter the park and the temples and shrines are technically within Nikko National Park.

The Shinkyo Bridge in Nikko National Park

Things to Do in Nikko Town

We had great food in Nikko at a Japanese restaurant that looked a bit tattered. The walls were covered with post-it notes from all around the world so we knew we had stumbled onto a winner. Hippari-Daku is casual, great for kids and serves yakitori and beer.

A nikko street lantern with dragons

The town is charming with lots of little souvenir shops, eateries and vintage shops. We found some great unusual souvenirs which were cheaper than anything we could find in Tokyo or Kyoto.

An antique samurai helmet in a store in Nikko – yours for 800,000 Yen (about $8,000).

It’s great for browsing with friendly locals. My daughter pronounced the crepe she had from Marion’s creperie one of the best crepe she’s ever had and she is a bit of a crepe connoisseur.

Giant tori gate at Nikko National Park

Why You Should Make Time To Take A Tokyo To Nikko Day Trip

Why You Should Make Time To Take A Tokyo To Nikko Day Trip

Why make time to visit Nikko from Tokyo and how to get there

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them at no extra cost to you. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.