Ha! Blogging from the airport.

June 15th, 2003 , 1:02

Ha! Blogging from the airport. They have internet terminals at the airport! We are ready to fly out – well, physically ready. Mentally I think we could stay another week or so. But the flight leaves in a bit so we’ll see you soon!

Oh dear, last day of holiday

June 14th, 2003 , 3:43

Oh dear, last day of holiday. This is a relaxing day, just walking about and checking e-mail and generally doing not much. Going to have to repack the bags tonight and make sure we’re ready for the flight tomorrow morning. Rich, you may just be surprised at how much can be stuffed into your rucksack! We are flying out tomorrow morning, details for those of you who may be interested: Virgin Flight number VS901 leaving Narita Airport at 11:00 and arriving at London Heathrow at, err, around 16:00 – there isn’t a time on the ticket!

Had a great day yesterday. Went to Disney Sea rather than Disneyland – a bit smaller and not as many rides, but it was different and we had a good day. Managed to keep ourselves busy there all day. It was a very easy day and very few people. The longest we had to wait for a ride was about half an hour and by the afternoon we were just walking onto anything we wanted to ride. However, it becomes very clear how much Disney rides rely on narrative when you can’t understand the narrative! Still we enjoyed the sheer fun of the place even if we didn’t always know exactly what was going on. We also had one of the best meals we’ve had this trip. We ate at the only Japanese resturant on the site and went all out – starter, main course and pudding. Joe had mackeral starter, sushi main course, and pink blossom cheesecake. I got the sushi starter, pork cutlets, and a mixed desert plate which had a cake (similar to a pound cake), rice balls in red bean sauce, some chewy squares of something that we never quite figured out, and fruit. Lovely. A really nice way to end the holiday.

We’ll probably update this one last time once we’re home, but we’ll see some of you soon!

Hello from Tokyo!

June 12th, 2003 , 4:37

Hello from Tokyo! Well, we’re nearly at the end of the holiday. Too short. We want to stay here for a while!

The north was nice. The sleeper train was the worst we’ve been on for sleeping. No compartments, just four bunks with curtains; annoucements were made until 10pm; we stopped in loads of stations with bright lights, loud announcements, and music; at 6.30am a loud announcement was made and about half an hour later they came around and moved our bedding so sleeping in! Gosh. But getting up that early meant we saw a bit of the coast from the train window which was nice. Straight through Akita with no time to look around and off to Kakunodate. Kaunodate was a nice little town with streets of saumari houses still as they were about 250 years ago – except most of them are now tacky tourist shops. We spent half a day there, saw one saumari house which was very nice. The family still live in it and we were shown around by a 12th generation decendant of the family. He apologised for his English then gave us a tour in excellent English! After that we decided we didn’t need to see any of the other places so we walked down to the river and walked along the cherry avenue which was lovely even if there were no blossoms. Very nice half day. Then we were off to Lake Tazawako. We stayed in an onsen (cheap onsen) and the baths there are sulpher so everything smelled of sulpher. Tazawako is very spread out so we had to use the bus to get anywhere – it’s sort of two resorts: the lake for summer and the mountain for skiing and baths in the winter. We were in the mountains so had to travel down to the lake. Spent a day at the lake doing a bit of walking and took the sightseeing boat round the lake. It’s a beautiful blue, quite striking agains the green and with mountains all around. Joe says ‘it was interesting’. We did a 1.5 km walk to see ‘Frog Stone’ and not a froggie anywhere around it! But it was a nice walk.

Then off to Kawaguchi-ko to see Fuji-san. We came up and actually saw Fuji – no cloud! We got an excellent place right on the lake with a view of the lake and Fuji – wonderful. We also found a wonderful little place to eat where we could see Fuji and the lake and drink loads of saki. Watched the clouds move in to cover Fuji and by the next morning we couldn’t see it at all. Took the bus up to 5th station where we got to see all the tourist shops. Met a Swiss bloke on the bus who was going up the mountain a bit, said he didn’t know how far. We headed down Yoshida trail. And down. And down. It was a bit longer than the woman at tourist info had said. We finally lost the trail at a road, found the main road down and a bus stop with a bus due in 10 minutes – the last bus down off the mountain. So we caught it and who should be on it but the Swiss bloke we met that morning. Turns out he climbed to the summit – it should take 4 to 4 and half hours but he did it in 2 and a half hours! Gosh. Must have run up and back down again to catch that bus. It was a beautiful walk and we got to see the snow on Fuji – up close like.

We are now in Makuhari just outside Tokyo. Disneyland tomorrow. But today we’re heading back into Tokyo to see the Greenpeace office, maybe.

Back home on Sunday. May be an update on Saturday but definitely one when we get back.

Our last week

June 7th, 2003 , 10:22

Well, we’re fairly well sorted now – our last week. We are just now getting ready to head up north where there may not be any internet access. If we can find computers we’ll keep you updated! Joe is waiting at the train station while I get this done. We have our last couple of days planned as well – we are heading down from the north and going to the Fuji five lakes area. We have been told we can’t climb Fuji so that’s something for next time. Then we are off for – Disneyland Tokyo! Oh dear. Expensive but pretty much all is included and it will be our last blow out. Then we have a day in Tokyo before flying out. Not enough time! We want to stay longer!

I’ve gotten an e-mail complaining that we’ve not said anything about food or TV. So here goes –
Russia: yummy cabbage rolls, blinzis, pelmeni (sort of like ravioli but more meat and less pasta served with sour cream or in soup), smoked omul (bought by our house stay by Lake Baikal so hopefully not contributing to the decline), stews, so-so food on the train. TV was MTV, loud MTV, no make that very very loud MTV. In Russian.
Mongolia: dried mutton stew with noodles, weird pizza, more pelmeni. No TV.
China: even more pelmeni, noodles, food that reminded me of take aways at home! Hong Kong movies (Joe gets the remote and . . . )
Japan: the best meal by far was at the ryoken where we actually had to take a photo of the table! We have had noodles, sashimi, even more noodles, tempura, fast food Japanese style. Baseball and more Hong Kong movies (Joe moves for that remote very quickly).

We actually haven’t been eating loads since we’ve been here or even on our travels (so you think we’ve looked at TV?!) – we’ve been too busy looking at stuff and having a good time! Not to mention travelling. Which reminds me – I really must get back to the train station before our train leaves!

Hello from Kyoto.

June 6th, 2003 , 5:50

Hello from Kyoto. I hope this computer doesn’t start doing Japanese again – I was happily typing e-mails and next thing I know the stupid thing won’t type in English any more – just Japanese! But it’s a free Internet place so I can’t complain – well I can but shouldn’t.

We are having a wonderful time still. We went to Joe’s tacky tourist place, Beppu, and were very disappointed. Hardly any neon at all, no groups of people wandering around from bath to bath in yukata and geta, and only a couple of huge tour groups with megaphones and banners. But lots of ticky tacky tourist shops. And the two hot springs we saw were interesting even without the huge tourist groups – though they did have the loudspeakers going. So we saw Blood Hell and Sea Hell – hot pools for looking at rather than bathing in. Blood Hell was, as the name suggests, blood red. It was also steaming and bubbling and quite impressive looking. Sea Hell was deep cobalt blue and with more action in the way of geysers spraying out. It also had a basket of eggs cooking in it! We didn’t bother with the baths, though the sand bath looked interesting. We then went to Kinosaki which the opposite of Beppu – very upper class spa town with loads of lovely ryoken and bath houses. We stayed in our first ryoken and I’m impressed. Want to stay in more, but they are expensive. However, you get first class treatment. We came in and were taken up to our room which was huge – entry area, another area (dressing?) with full length mirror and cupboards, a small sitting area overlooking the garden with table and two chairs, and a huge main room with low Japanese style table – the table was moved at night for our futons to be put out. We were taken up and sat at the large table in the main room where we were given tea and sweets, signed the register, and had the woman explain the system and the baths. We then changed into our yukata (a dressing gown, informal kimono) and went and tried the ryoken bath which was HOT! We then put on geta (those wooden sandals) and clumped around the small town looking at the bath houses and the other tourists wandering around in yukata and geta – all of these were Japanese, there were no other gajin there, so the wooden sandal bit wasn’t a trick to make western tourists look funny; everyone looked funny! We then went back for dinner (dinner and breakfast are included in the price). We had dinner served in our room and it was huge and wonderful. We then tried the baths which were nice, but I’ve decided I’m a bath wimp – they were far too hot for me. Joe managed a couple of good soaks and boy were we clean when we headed back to the ryoken to go to sleep. Our beds were all made up for us (in the other Japanese style inns we’ve been staying in we’ve had to do our own futons) and we got a very good night sleep. When we got up our futons were put away and breakfast was served – interesting breakfast. Salmon, soup, rice, boiled tofu, egg with ginger. Again loads of food. The ryoken also delievered our bags to the tourist information place so we could go to the coast! Unfortunately, instead of the beach we got directed to the ticky tacky tourist Marine World – including trained seals and dolphins. Oh boy. We skipped going into the place but walked around the outside getting shots of the Sea of Japan and coastline.

The unfailing Japanese Rail system failed – we were generally hanging around the station waiting for our train and having ice cream when we got shoved onto a different, slow, local train. As we don’t speak the language we weren’t sure what was going on – mind you the Japanese seemed confused as well. Even the JR staff seemed a bit confused and not too sure what was happening! What should have taken about 2 hours 40 minutes and one train took nearly 4 hours, three trains, and a bus – Joe thinks he saw (from the bus) where the tracks were washed out, or rather the bank under the tracks were washed out. It was a hot confusing ride and we were worried about getting into Kyoto after the tourist information had closed. We thought we’d have to use the TIC which closes at 5, but it turned out that there is a local tourist information for the city and they stay open until 7pm! They also book hotels which was good. Unfortunately nothing could live up to what we’d stayed in in Kinosaki and this one definitely doesn’t – a boring ol’ western style bland hotel. (sigh)

However, the Nijo Castle in Kyoto is wonderful! Nightengale floors really do sing. They don’t squeak. It sounds lovely, even with hoards of Japanese school children stomping across them. And the paintings on the walls and ceiling! It is a beautiful palace. We’re going to see if can get into the Imperial Palace – if we make it to the office!

We move on tomorrow night – have a sleeper to Akita and then on to Kakunodate in the north. We aren’t getting as far as the northern island, we’ll have to do that next time – but we are getting into the middle of Japan and a bit to the north. This also means we’ve gotten to use a sleeper train in every country we’ve been in. Gosh.

Hello from Hiroshima!

June 1st, 2003 , 8:23

Hello from Hiroshima! We are having a great time, though I’m still having trouble with the keyboard. Joe told me to describe these internet places so here it goes: The machines are in little cubicals, only one person. So in the last place while I frantically typed trying to finish in half an hour, Joe walked around and had a look. The walls were covered in bookshelves full of various books, magazines, newspapers; there was a rack at the front with DVDs; and behind the counter were playstation keypads and games. They are truly media centres rather than internet cafes. They also have various sized cubicals – from open style desks as we have at home in our internet places to small individual cubicals, to larger cubicals with beds! This place is very similar but you have to ‘join’ so poor Joe is downstairs looking at the CD\DVD shop. I shudder to think what we may be bringing home!

The Osaka Aquarium was wonderful – including the baby whale shark in the large tank. It didn’t look cramped at all, though I’m sure given a bit of time it will be way too big for the tank. Unfortunately their environmental message got a bit lost in the gift shop where they were selling sea shells, coral, and turtle shell.

Sorted out the trains fine – actually it was pretty easy. We got to Himeji and spent about two and half hours wandering around the castle and surrounding area. Most of it spent in the castle which was very impressive. We actually got to go inside the West Bailey and through the Long Corrider. You have to take off your shoes when you go into the buildings and they are lovely wooden floors. We also went into the main tower, right to the top – 6 flights of steep slippery wooden stairs – and saw the shrine and got our brochures stamped to show we went to the very top! Beautiful view.

Then on to Hiroshima. We’d done the classical, don’t miss this castle so today we did the classical, don’t miss this shrine – Miyajima, with the ‘floating’ torii. If you’ve seen photos of a Japanese shrine gate, you’ve probably seen this one. We did that perfectly – got to the temple while the tide was still pretty much high and stayed long enough for the tide to go out enough that we could walk out to the torii. There were hoards of tourists and loads of tacky little tourist shops – the main items appeared to be anything carved out of maple (including rice paddles which they claim were invented there); little maple leaf shaped cakes with various fillings (loads of little shops with the cake making machines in the windows – fun to watch); models of the gate; and loads of little deer (stuffed, carved, on jewlery, etc.). There are deer on the island, protected species and boy don’t they know it! My t-shirt got nibbled! They expect to get fed and deer cakes are sold as soon as you get off the ferry – Joe and I passed which was why my shirt got nibbled. The shrine is lovely – tour groups obviously pay to go to worship there so we got to see a Shinto ceremony. We also saw the floating No stage, but it wasn’t floating as the tide had gone out! We did not however attempt to climb this mountain or ride the cable car up – guess we learned a couple of lessons from Purple Mountain!

Last night after we got settled into our hotel – oh yes, Japanese style hotel. So we have to take our shoes off to enter our room, have tamati mats on the floor, and slept on futons last night. We also have a bath downstairs, but it looks more or less like a bath at home only covered and much deeper. I’ll have to try that out tonight. Once we got settled we headed out to see Peace Park. It’s very nice at night and quite sobering. We’ll see the museum tomorrow. And from that we’re heading to the most tacky tourist awful destination in Japan – Beppu! Should be a bit of a contrast.

Yes, we are still having a wonderful time. Only 14 days to try all the new stuff!