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taowhotravels
27 September 2015 @ 06:23 am
DAY 12 is all about the Osaka Aquarium. I was all “man, I'm in Japan, I ain't going to no dumb aquariums!” and then I was like “let's see what cool things to do there are here” and #1 or #2 on every list was like “BRUH. THIS AQUARIUM? WHOA. YOU'LL LOVE IT SO MUCH.” and I was like “Ugh but – Japan, I am supposed to do Japan things.” but ultimately my love of Aquariums won out so yet again, we journeyed to go see some cool animals.

It was a pretty straightforward subway trip from our hotel to the Aquarium, which we made at – what, noon, or so. We got off at Osakako station and walked towards the Aquarium which I didn't even need Google Maps for because there were large signs all over with whale sharks on them being like “THIS WAY”. We walked down this street, looking for someplace to stop for food and finding all of the restaurants HELLA SKETCH looking, so we did not stop.

Then we turn a corner and suddenly there's a HUGE FERRIS WHEEL. Like, very nearly as high as the London Eye, huge. Only it has much smaller capsules, of the kind that rock back and forth if you move too much, and both dad and my fear of heights went “Hmmm” at that. I'd probably have still gone but dad was like NOPE.

There was also a giraffe with lipstick on made out of lego that was at the bottom of the ferris wheel. That was weird. I have a picture. You'll see it.

There was a huge mall next to the Aquarium and I was like “let's check it out for food” and there ended up being a huge food court and many restaurants, so we stopped in to one of the restaurants and fatherly unit had a Tempura Udon and I finally had my curry rice. Katsu curry rice, to be specific. Om nom nom. Delicious.

We left the restaurant and wandered into the mall, and I was distracted by capsule toys. I'm very glad that capsule toys are not a thing at home because I think my room would be full of commemorative plastic garbage all the time. MAYBE I SHOULD GIT ANOTHER, as Ryo Hazuki always said. I spent like $20 on capsule toys as father admired the clothing stores nearby, and I heard a candy store playing “Candy Candy” by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, which is one of the very few J-Pop songs I know basically by heart because it is a weapon's grade ear worm, so I had to sing/dance along as I browsed.

Finally it was time for the Aquarium, so we bought our tickets (2300 yen pretty dang affordable for any Aquairum, IMHO, but particularly for this one) and walked inside. The first place they bring you through is a gift shop, which seems WEIRD, because surely the gift shop should be at the end, but the introduction to the gift shop showed me that they had some truly amazing t-shirts for sale so I looked forward to checking back at the end.

Then you go past a photo op (nobody seemed to be going for it, I felt bad for the poor employees who were trying to market it) and up a long escalator into a jungle forest scene. “Interesting!” I said, and then walked a little further and saw a bunch of river otters chilling out on a branchy tree stump. Eeeeeee! Otters!

A little further on in the same room there was a pair of giant (and I mean GIANT, like bigger than one of my legs) salamanders, and then even further on there was a bunch of waterfall-climbing crabs. I turned to my father and said “I have already seen three things that I have never seen in my life in this Aquarium. Seeing TWO is rare. This NEVER HAPPENS.” So. Yeah. One room in and I'm already 10,000% sold on this Aquarium.

It only got better from there. You kind of start at the very top of the building and slowly work your way down in a giant circle. Most of the tanks you see are the same tanks. There are like 9 or 10 of them, and they're all very large, which is great news for the animals inside, and also means that you get to see what animals prefer to exist at what level of the tank, which is in itself super interesting. What you see at the top, middle, and bottom of a tank is often vastly different. Unless that tank is like – the Dolphin tank or something, in which case you just see them swimming around at all levels, which is fun.

Animals to see include: capybaras, parrots, penguins, seals, whale sharks, sea lions, otters, an incredibly lumpy sunfish, and – well, lots of fish in general, really. There's also a touch pool where you can pet rays (which I've done before and LOVE) and sharks (which I've never done before, and love left, but was still really cool). You also see spider crabs, monstrously large jellyfish, and really tiny ghosty jellyfish that are far more deadly.

It was, overall, the best aquarium I've ever been to in my life, and considering the pure volume of aquariums I've been to, that is SAYING SOMETHING.

I went a bit nuts in the expanded gift shop afterwards, because they have a TON of cool stuff in that place, beyond just t-shirts. Thoroughly impressed with it from the apparent treatment of the animals to the design of the exhibits to the merchandising. A+ tourist attraction, would go again in a heartbeat.

We'd discussed going to the park that holds Osaka Castle after the aquarium, and we had just enough time to make it there to look around, so we took the subway back that way and walked into the castle grounds.

I honestly hadn't been planning to visit the castle, because the reviews I'd read said that there were minimal English translations and the view was just okay, but it was only 600 yen and we had 45 minutes before it closed, so we went in and took the elevator to the top.

...DAMN IT, INTERNET, YOU LIED TO ME. Fatherly unit would have loved more time in that place! It was all about the history of the Shoguns in the area, which he'd been reading about this whole time, and had their swords and treasures to look at, and we had to rush through all the exhibits. It was a real shame. Although I will say that the internet didn't lie to me in that the view is just okay. If you aren't interested in the history (I'm not really, but I would have gone for dad's sake) then you could give it a miss.

Then we wandered back to our hotel after a quick stop at a convenience store, and settled in to watch our sumo again while dad researched restaurants. Is there a way for me to watch the sumo at home when it's on? Does anybody know? Because I find this sport really stupidly watchable and would watch it every time it's on.

Fatherly unit found a place for deep fried skewered food, which we did not at the time know was a regional specialty of Osaka. It's called Kushi Katsu, and spoiler alert: it, like everything we've eaten in this country besides those gross sandwiches that still make me nauseous to think about, was frickin' delicious.

So we go to this place called Rin, which is a little bar where two people are currently sitting and eating, and otherwise is empty. We sit down and they give us a thankfully English menu, and we end up ordering the 15 skewer special where they just kind of give you random skewers and stuff and see if you like it.

Fatherly unit asked for the guy to recommend a sake, and the guy was like “yes? Sake?” and just looked confused, so I busted out the Google Translate app and made it translate for the guy, at which point he understood and went to go get a bottle for father's approval. This resulted in a meal where we communicated back and forth using the translator... until my phone started melting down and resetting every couple of minutes, freaking me out royally and sadly stressing me out so I wasn't enjoying the food as much as I should have.

In hindsight, I should have, because as it turns out, Google Translate punched my phone in the brain and made it malfunction. Uninstalling it and doing a reset on my phone fixed the problem completely.

Also, it doesn't even work that well, based on the fact that his phone delivered questions to me like “The food I do not like is the kind which is what?”

BUT, in hindsight, I can also appreciate the food, which was too delicious to be completely ignored.

Our 15 deep-fried skewer course went like so:

Bonito (so the guy's translator app said, but it wasn't just the flakes, it was the actual fish meat)
Pork & Cheese (for me) and Squid (for dad)
Mushroom and Cream Cheese
Curry Bread
Tuna and leek
Ginko Nut
Octopus
Onion
Shitake Mushroom
Chestnut
Cheese
Eggplant
Asparagus
A whole shrimp, head and all
Sweet Potato

And for dessert we had a piece of banana fried inside a donut, and a freshly-fried sesame ball filled with red bean paste, in true dim sum style.

Yum. Osaka, your culinary specialties are the best.

Then it was back to the hotel, watching some more TV, and sleepy times.

OH I just realized I don't think I mentioned the fact that dad totally got his debit card working, so we didn't need my credit card after all, and all was well. He just has an absurdly low transaction limit we've been contending with.

DAY 13. Osaka becomes our favourite city so far, just in time for us to realize that it's where we're spending by far the least time.

We woke up dumb early in the morning, because I wanted to try going on a tour that I'd read about on some tourist websites called the All-Star Intro tour of Osaka. It was a paid tour, which is kind of disgruntling as somebody who's been on a lot of good free tours, but then – a good tour guide deserves to be paid fairly, right? So – hm. Strange.

Anyway, fatherly unit agreed to join me on this excursion, so off we headed to Osaka station to meet our guide at 9:45 in the morning. Her name was Minako, and she was by far the most enthusiastic, loud Japanese person I've met so far. She told us that Osakan people are just kind of like that, and the guy from Tokyo who was on our tour agreed with her. Oh, let me introduce the people who joined us on our tour, because this tour was great in that it encouraged us all to interact – although didn't encourage anybody to give their names, so...

The German – a lady that I would guess to be around my age or slightly older whose brother used to live in Osaka and was on a tour on her own. Also, she loves monkeys and freaked out when we told her about the monkey park, because she was just about to go to Kyoto.

The Tokyoite – a guy who was probably in his mid-30's, claimed that he had never travelled much, but whose English was nearly flawless despite it. He laughed at all of the jokes about Japanese people and confirmed for us that many of them were in fact true. I'm glad he was there to contrast against Minako!

The New Zealander – Tall, kind of geeky looking guy about my age who has travelled and lived all over the place. Engaged to the British woman!

The Brit – Also about my age. Looks somewhat like my dear friend CW at certain angles which kepts weirding me out. Currently working in Hong Kong, has dragged the New Zealander with her. She proposed to the New Zealander by presenting him with a ring from a Haribo bag on the beach. Then they ate the ring. She'll buy him a new one eventually.

Our first visit on the tour was actually Osaka station itself, which is a brand new station full of extensive architectural planning. The station has a plaza on every floor, and she showed us 6 of them. Each one has its own indicative clock. The first floor was the main plaza with its LED clock – nothing special, just looked like a ground floor plaza. I was kind of questioning the tour as she showed us that one.

The second plaza overlooked all the platforms of the rail station and the trains coming in and out. It actually had two clocks – one large gold one and one smaller silver one. The gold one represents business in Osaka. The small one represents culture. The culture one is smaller because – culture isn't nearly so important as business in Osaka. The Tokyoite laughed.

The third plaza was the Japanese Garden plaza, which was – well – a Japanese garden. The clock was a really tiny clock set into a rock pillar in the garden, because “Japanese beauty is minimalist”.

The fourth plaza had a garden, where there was a glass clock which had a rosebush growing under and behind it. When the roses are in bloom, they bloom right behind the clock, making it the rose clock.

The fifth plaza was busy with kids and camera crews, because it hosts a community garden type thing that shows off all the different foods that are grown by Japan. The kids were there harvesting the rice that they had planted earlier in the year. There were also potatoes, red beans, peppers, and – just a bunch of things on display. This plaza was on the top of the building, so it had a sundial, of course.

Then she brought us to the bottom of the station, and it seemed like she was going to lead us to the subway, but instead she was like “I know I said I would bring you to 5 plazas – but this is another plaza! Do you hear the beautiful natural sounds?” and I was like “What.” and then she started leading us towards the clock in the place, and I saw a sign that said WATER CLOCK, and I was like “What.” and then I heard the water...

And then she brought us to a clock that functioned by making pixel art out of waterfalls. Water would fall in specific patterns to make it show the time, and patterns based on the current season, which in this case meant a lot of falling leaves. It was really amazing to watch, and is hard to describe. I got a video, I'll see if I can get it uploaded.

Then we actually DID go to the subway – and along the way Minako pointed out two lineups in the mall on the way – one for cheesecake, which makes sense to me... and one for potato chips. I said “What.” She said “Osakans like to eat!” The Tokyoite laughed.

We got on the subway and went to Shinsekai, which is an old area that used to be a themepark, was torn apart for scrap metal and then bombed to hell in WW2, and then was rebuilt into an area packed with restaurants and crazy designs. We walked through a shopping arcade where they were selling live turtles to eat, and old men were playing Shogi and Go in smokey parlours. We learned about Osaka's mascot, Billiken, and met a guy who I want to say was named... Shin-chan, or something like that... who wore weird glasses and did a wacky pose with all of us.

We were brought to a restaurant to try kushikatsu, which is where we learned that it's a regional specialty. The Tokyoite helped us order and explained that dad got an extra appetizer just because he ordered a beer. It was called... Oto-something, except then Minako came over and was like “oh – this is a side dish called tsu(...something...)” and the Tokyoite was like “what!? You call it -that-?” and she was like “you don't!?” and they bonded over it. They also bonded over her explaining the difference between people from Osaka, Tokyo, and Kyoto.

“People from Osaka – they'll see you wearing your nice sweater. They'll be like 'oh! It's so nice! Where did you get it? How much did it cost? Do you like it?'” and the Tokyoite laughed.

“People from Tokyo – they'll see it, they'll stare at it, they won't say a thing... and later they'll google it and figure out where to get it.” and the Tokyoite laughed even harder.

“People from Kyoto – they'll see it, they'll say 'Oh! It's so nice! What a nice sweater, it looks expensive!' but then you'll go away and they'll say 'It's so ugly and cheap' to their friends. Because they're snobs.” and it took the Tokyoite like a full 2 minutes to stop laughing at that.

Then we walked through the “adult” district full of theatres showing porn films, back to the subway, and went to Namba, which is a major food and entertainment area. Minako showed us a restaurant where you can fish for your meal, a famous barbeque restaurant, and we turned the corner and found a Buddhist Temple and tiny Shinto Shrine, and showed us how to pray properly. She brought us through an alley that was set up as a museum to life when Namba was a theatre and comedy district. And then she brought us down a crazy street filled with restaurants with enormous papier mache or animatronic mascots above their doors.

Then – we got to the ultimate Japanese symbol – Glico man! Which is an ad for Glico candy, which Minako gave a box of to the Brit for spotting the minimalist clock earlier. She kindly shared it with us all, and it was a pretty good chewy butterscotch candy. Then we all posed with Glico man... and the tour ended! I was sad to have it end.

Dad and I had another goal for the day, so after a quick goodbye we headed north... to the Open Air Museum of Japanese Farmhouses! You could literally not design an attraction more suited to my father's interests, I swear to God.

The train took about 20 minutes, and then we walked through a beautiful park to the museum. We got there, went inside, walked into an old rice granary turned into an information/introduction house... and I saw the mosquitos. At least a dozen of them, just in the granary.

“Oh SHIT.” I said – because although I knew there would be mosquitos... I didn't know what I had been signing up for.

Dad walked through the whole museum, and I think he really enjoyed it! I was trailing along behind him, literally jogging from place to place to try and keep mosquitos off of me. At one point I literally smacked my leg and killed four mosquitos at once. They barely bothered dad at all, but I am clearly like candy to the damn things, because they swarmed me the whole way. And it's a shame! The buildings were really cool! Thatched roofs, and completely different building techniques, and straw floors – there was a lot to look at and appreciate! But my mind was on my fast-approaching anemic state because of tiny bug vampires.

At least until we got to the back of the place – where I was pretty much resigned to my itchy fate – and there was a COSPLAY PHOTO SHOOT going on. I hovered around nervously watching them shoot, and then looking over the photos, and then doing more shooting – and then eventually got brave enough to ask if I could take a picture myself. I got their twitter handle too, so I can check out more of their cosplay later! Hot damn it was an impressive costume. Involved some mad wig styling.

My favourite farmhouse was the one with the fire burning inside it, because the smell of smoke kept the mosquitos out, so I could actually enjoy that room. Also, it smelled nice.

Then we walked back to the train station – with me having lost count of my new mosquito bites at 27 (There are 41. 41 is my final count. I am SO ITCHY.) - and took the train back to our homestead. We settled in, watched our sumo, and then went out for Indian food! Because the Japanese take on Italian was so good, how could we resist?

The Japanese take on Indian was... made by an Indian chef, so there wasn't much fusion involved. But it was really tasty! Other than dad's samosa, everything tasted delicious, was the perfect level of spicy, and involved an ENORMOUS piece of Naan, which is all I need in life.

Then I took a bath in hopes of soothing my mosquito bites (worked for a little while... a little while...) and we went to sleep! Zzzzz...

DAY 14. Farewell, Osaka!

Travel days are never very exciting. We packed up, talked to the motherly unit on the phone, and then headed out at 11 o'clock to Shin-Osaka station to await our train. We picked up an ekiben (a packed lunch you get from the station), got on our Shinkansen, and took off for Tokyo. We went all the way to Tokyo, went to Shinjuku, returned to our faithful hotel, which put us into a FAR less nice room – wow, that upgrade is SUBSTANTIAL – and watched our sumo. Appropriately, it was the last day of the tournament, so we watched the winner of the tourney be decided, read all about sumo winners in recent history (they're all Mongolian!), and cheered for the winner! It's been great to watch the sumo. I want to watch ALL the sumo always. This is the last time I can bring it up so I'm bringing it up. Sumo is so cool!

Then we went to a conveyor belt sushi place which made very fresh, very delicious sushi, and tried all manner of nigiri. And it was all great! And everything was happy! But then...

Okay so. ...there had been a really nice piece of fish going around. Dark red flesh. Looked like some real quality tuna. Dad took it off the conveyor, and I leaned in for a closer look and was like “oops! That looks like meat sashimi.” So I stepped in to eat it, as dad does not eat meat. It was really tasty and soft, and I was like “huh, maybe that wasn't meat? I'm not even sure.”

Next time it came around, it came with a big black sign, and I read the characters on it. “Ku-ji-ra. Huh. I'll have to google that.” So I did.

And then I went “Oh no. Oh noooooo.”

And fatherly unit was like “What's wrong?”

“...It's whale. It was whale meat...”

Waaaaaugh vegetarians, I understand the pain of when you accidentally eat meat, because while I don't have rules against eating meaty things, I DO have rules against eating endangered things, so this news was HORRIFYING to me. And I felt kind of bad eating anything at all after that. But the damage was done. LESSON LEARNED.

At least everything was delicious.

Even the whale.

WAUUUUUUUGH DON'T EAT WHALES THEY'RE IMPORTANT AND THERE AREN'T A LOT OF THEM, OKAY.

Then I bought two more capsule toys (because I was trying to get the one I wanted, and I DID – on the second try, and now the first one will be an excellent gift) and we went to the liquor store and filled our suitcases with booze to bring home, as you do.

And now it is dark! And it smells vaguely of smoke in here! And the day is over! And tomorrow we go home.

And it feels wrong to finish this blog when more adventures could happen tomorrow, so I'm posting this in private mode like a sneaky son of a bitch, and then I will finish it and link you all and there will be much rejoicing!

For today is...

DAY 15 – the journey home!

Hello! I am at an airport typing this out ASAP before we leave. Luckily there isn't much to report.

This morning we packed, went to the station to book our tickets to Narita and grab some food, ate hot (dad) and cold (me) soba noodles with tempura, and eavesdropped on some adorable old men who kept having to repeat things because they couldn't hear, and did so as if it was a comedy routine.

Then we wandered the mall, spent far too much in a stationery store, and admired all the dumb expensive things. Good thing apartments are so small here. You must have to sell a kidney to furnish them.

Then I bought two more capsule toys, one of which was a pair of panties you put on a water bottle to catch the condensation. Lololol Japan.

Then we got our bags! And got on a train! And came here, and did all that airport stuff, and blew the bank on snacks in the duty free area.

And here we wait.

Japan, I will miss you. I'm so glad my dad had a moment of madness and decided to go on this trip with me. It would have taken me a lot longer to get here on my own, and there's no better time to have done it, really.

No idea when I'll update this blog next. I have to go be an adult for a while, and get my own apartment, and all those fun things.

So to Japan, and all those reading, I say: sayonara!
 
 
Current Mood: gratefulgrateful
 
 
taowhotravels
DAY 8 could also be titled: Kyoto is really old.

So – what even day of the week was it. Monday, apparently! So on Monday our plan was to visit some old temples and castles and stuff in Kyoto, because there are a LOT of temples and at least two castles that can be visited.

We got ready for the day and were putting on our sandals at the front of the Ryokan when one of our hosts stopped by and asked where we were going today. We told him, and he was like “Oh – if you're interested, there's a flea market at Toji Temple today only. It's very popular with Japanese people. You might like it.”

My father couldn't have known that at these words an almighty flame of purpose lit within me. HELL YES I WILL GO TO YOUR FLEA MARKET, SIR. This is probably the closest I'll get to a festival, and I'll TAKE it.

So we walked to Toji Temple, and into the flea market – which had a whole bunch of handcrafted goods for sale as well as some random knicknacks and a ton of food. At first when we walked in I was like “Oh yeah this is cool, we're going to find some good food here” and then as we started wandering the pure scale of the thing hit me. There were THOUSANDS of stands. More food than I could possibly eat and realistically more things for sale than I could even look at in the four hours before it closed.

But we did wander! There was pottery, and really nice clothing, lacquer bowls, and toys for sale, among many other things. We also got to eat Takoyaki (yum) and I got some peach flavoured shaved ice (yum!), chicken karaage (the deliciousness doesn't stop), and some taiyaki – dad and I split two, one with red bean and one with custard. I ended up leaving that flea market stuffed full of food.

From there we headed to Nijo Castle, which was a castle set up by one of the most famous Shoguns who apparently ushered Japan into an era of peace (so sayeth the version of history dad's reading). In order to get there we had to walk a ways and then take a bus, which was going to cut the trip from 40 minutes down to 20.

I mean, I guess it did technically get us down to like 25, 28 minutes but I'm not sure the bus ride was worth it. We climbed on and got packed in like sardines. There was no room to move. Once, I leaned over so an old woman could pass me, and a person stepped in and stood on either side of my feet so I couldn't straighten up again. I was stuck hanging from the bar, all my weight supported on my arms for like 4 stops. I guess it saved our feet the trouble, though.

So we got to Nijo castle, bought our tickets, and started inside. Dad struggled with his audio guide for a while, and then we went through this huge, gorgeous gold-trimmed gate. It led into a really pretty garden and up to the castle, which I wasn't allowed to take photos in. Or wear shoes in. So we joined a bunch of strangers in our bare feet and walked through the castle. It was really huge and the ceilings and wall paintings were really elaborate. But if you want to see it you'll have to go there yourself! Sorry! I admit that because I am a bad person who sucks at museums the coolest thing about it was feeling the super old floorboards on my feet! They were all smooth from having so many people walk on them.

Then we left the castle and wandered the gardens some more. There's a viewpoint you can climb up to and look around Kyoto from, and some vending machines and a seating area. But – because Japan, people were smoking in there. So we fled, and ended up finding a cafe which was open to a super beautiful traditional garden and we sat on tatami mats and ate yet more shaved ice- with mango juice and fruit. Soooooooo tasty! And beautiful.

While we were eating there the castle actually closed, so we left after a quick tour around the souvenir store – actually, wait a second, I need to talk about the souvenir store. Okay so souvenir stores around Japan are kind of similar to all souvenir stores in that every souvenir store in one country seems to hold the same stuff. Except Japan's all have the same stuff, but themed based on the area they're from. So like- okay, my personal favourite is the Attack on Titan merchandise they carry, which features the colossal titan climbing on a local landmark, like – Mount Fuji, or Nijo Castle, or a bunch of other things. There are also different themed Pikachus, Luffys, and other anime fandoms to celebrate.

So, not wanting to brave the bus again, we started the walk home, and I suggested to the fatherly unit that we stop by a giant temple that we waited for the bus by on the way there. It was called Nishi Honganji and it was really impressive! Incredibly huge, with huge wooden doors (and steel gates to reinforce them, badass) and again more old wood for us to walk on in our bare feet. There was also one monk just standing in a yard hitting a block of wood with a hammer repeatedly. Dad claims it's part of his training. As a Buddhist monk do you have to just do pointless tasks for hours until you find meaning in it because otherwise you'd go nuts? Because that's the only logic I can see there.

Then we went to find a place to eat dinner and – given that things seemed to be full yet again, we decided to look for something a little different and ended up stopping into an Italian place to figure out what Japanese people did with pizza and pasta.

The answer: they made them goddamn delicious. They served us an antipasto amuse bouche, a house salad and carrot salad to start, and I had a spaghetti carbonara and fatherly unit had a Romana pizza. Everything was incredibly good. Have I called out France yet for its undeserved reputation as the best food country? Japan wins that contest hands down. Oh, speaking of, we also had dessert, where fatherly unit had a creme brulee-type thing which was actually a little frozen square of the dessert which was reeeeeeeeally tasty. I got a Panna Cotta which was extra creamy. In general: italian food in Japan – A+.

We went to Lawson, which is our fave convenience store brand over here, and I tried to pick up some figurines I... thought were for sale? There were like 40 little boxes with figurines pictured on them and I figured you could buy them, but when I brought them to the counter the teenage girl working there got immediately flustered and tried to figure out how to explain to me that I evidently could not purchase these things. She showed me this little ticket, which suggests to me it's a raffle prize or something? But she mostly flapped her arms and went “Eh!? Eh!? Eeeeh??” as she tried to figure out the English to tell me what the hell was going on.

I just apologized and told her it was okay! She apologized profusely as we left and seemed to genuinely feel bad? Not like it's her fault!

Then we went back to the hotel – sadly too late to watch our Sumo – and after a while of just chilling out we went to sleep.

DAY 9. Oh Glob this is gonna be one heck of a blog.

Okay, so on Day 9 we went to Nara, which is a town about an hour outside of Kyoto. This involved waking up early, got lunch at the train station (cold soba is MY FAVE) and finding our train, which was a nice, not-too-busy trip out into the countryside. Beautiful countryside, too! Lots of mountains, bamboo groves, and farmland to look at.

Nara itself is pretty obviously a tourist-based town. From the time we arrived, we were clearly directed towards Nara Park, which was where I wanted to go! I wanted to go entirely because I'd heard about the deer there. They were considered sacred deer for a long time, but now they're just a dedicated national treasure. And they are EVERYWHERE in this park. We walked in and it wasn't long before we saw one (sadly injured) deer, and then another deer, and then another, and then like 20 of them – and from then on we just saw them everywhere. Does, Bucks, and fawns, of a couple of different species at least, all wandering around amongst the people, flopping down and having a nap, chilling in the ponds and in the woods nearby.

I bought so. Many. Deer crackers. You can buy little bundles of crackers for 150 yen and feed them to the deer, which is pretty tough up by the front of the park where the deer are too damn full and will ignore your attempts to feed them, but is the easiest thing in the world in the back of the park where the deer will crowd around you and actually bite at your shirt/jeans if you take too long to feed them the damn crackers. I learned this from experience. I smacked that national treasure right in the face after he bit me.

Other than the deer there was a Shrine (Kasuga Shrine, up the mountain) which you could visit and get lots of deer-related charms at, and featured a wisteria tree which apparently appears in scrolls from the 1300's (whaaaaaaaaaaat) as well as a Taiko drum team that was playing a full concert. They were very cool. Drums are an intimidating instrument when they're played by a group.

There's also a temple in the park called Todai-Ji which is huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge (at least one thing I read claimed it was the largest wooden building in the world, and I believe it) and contains one of the largest Buddha statues in the world. It's very beautiful to look up and strangely has a gift shop in it, which doesn't feel very Buddhist to me but WHATEVER you do you, Japan.

Then we headed back on our train and stopped in to the Okonomiyaki restaurant I'd tried to go to earlier in the week but couldn't because of the dang holidays. Turns out we got there just in time because I'm pretty sure we got into the only un-reserved table (same thing happened at the Italian place, actually) and then we were handed a totally Japanese menu.

So THAT was an adventure. By the time the waitress checked back in with us I'd managed to figure out (more or less) what we could eat and was ready to ask for it... and then she spoke some of the best English we've encountered on the trip! Geez, lady, way to let us waste 30 minutes on the menu you could have explained to us.

Luckily the Okonomiyaki made up for it. This is a food I love and rarely can persuade somebody to join me in ordering (hot scoop, the Okonomiyaki at Kishimoto on The Drive is totally delicious and holds up to what you can get here). As the waitress explained, they offered two different kinds at this place- the classic kind and a noodle-based kind. We both got the noodle kind, me with pork and udon noodles and dad with squid and (Chinese, the waitress pointed out with great import) soba.

Stuffed full of meat pancake, we headed back to our Ryokan and – yet again missing the sumo – flipped through the channels and watched random crap until sleep times.

DAY 10.

MONKEYYYYYYS

This day we went to the Arashiyama Monkey Park! I'm getting my fill of adorable animals on this trip.

Fatherly unit went out to purchase a bunch of pastries, so that's what we had for breakfast, and then we took off for the park. We were looking for a particular bus, and Google lied about where it left from, so we had to wander over to the bus station and search for one that left for it. We were waiting for the bus we knew went to the right place, when I spotted a bus that had the characters for Arashiyama on it and we got on that one instead!

This is normally where a story might end in disaster but NOT FOR THIS GIRL, I don't get lost, sons! ...Not yet, anyway! ...except in Bruges. But that place is a dumb maze!

ANYWAY.

So we pull up in Arashiyama, which is actually a super scenic mountain range with a river running through it, which I did not expect to be so pretty. We crossed the bridge, bought some drinks from a vending machine and bought our tickets to the monkey park, and then were faced with the hugest uphill climb. Stairs, slopes, and curved paths, oh boy. Dad and I were both super winded and passed grandmas carrying their grandkids on their backs, so they must have been really exhausted by the time they made it.

Up at the top of the hill you could see a panoramic view of Kyoto, which would probably be worth climbing up to all on its own but FORGET THAT OMG THE MONKEYS.

There were so many monkeys! Grandpa monkeys, momma monkeys, tiny baby monkeys. They're macaques, and they have red faces and butts and are the most charming creatures. There's a house you're allowed to go in and buy food (bananas) for the monkeys and feed them from inside. The older monkeys will take a piece and then rip off the banana peel and eat the fruit within seconds, but when you give a baby monkey a piece you have to peel it for them or they give up and drop it, and if they're REALLY small you also have to break it into small pieces and squish it a little so their useless baby fingers can grab it and hold it while they try to shove it in their face incompetently.

Babies are the most useless, dumb things and the way baby monkeys scramble around kind of convinces you they might not be dumb and useless but then they can't eat. Luckily their idiot faces are so endearing you can't even be mad.

So we wandered around and took pictures of all the monkeys and fed them all the stuff. And also overheard THE MOST AMAZING ARGUMENT where this couple (who were... Australian? Some sort of English-speaking but with a weird accent. Maybe South African) were getting married soon and the bride had set deposits for the venue and dress but now she had to cancel them because just the day before she FOUND OUT HER HUSBAND-TO-BE WAS STILL MARRIED TO HIS PREVIOUS WIFE so now they have to delay everything while they deal with the lawyers and WOW I was glad to be a fly-on-the-wall for that one.

Eventually we had to leave the monkeys, and I was super-sad to do so because I love those little guys. As we walked down the hill this little girl came barreling past us at a run and her dad (who was in full business attire, gah, he must have been boiling) came hurrying after her, and I managed to be like “She's got a lot of energy, huh?” in Japanese to him and he just laughed in an exhausted sort of way and ran on. Poor guy. Sign that kid up for some gymnastics classes.

So then we went down into Arashiyama and were hunting for a renowned Unagi place – so we wandered through the town, got briefly confused about what the hell Google maps was trying to tell us, and found the place. There was a line! We got into it. The waitress came out and closed the line – a full hour before they were due to close – and then told us that from where we were, it'd probably be a 90 minute wait.

I watched the line move for a while and figured she was probably overestimating the wait – not knowing there was a whole other line inside, so she was DEAD ON.

But we waited! And the fact that the food was what I would judge as worth it should be pretty impressive to all of you because I am normally anti-waiting when it's more than like 30 minutes.

So by then it was already like 3:30, and we hopped on our train back into town, which was getting pretty packed full. I ended up on the other side of the train next to a girl with curly blonde hair all up in a ponytail and some crazy freckles – and a black nametag. When she spotted me she got all excited and was like “Excuse me! Do you speak English!?” and I was like “Yes”, and she had me talking through the whole train ride. Turns out she'd moved to Japan in February from Melbourne and was going to be there until next July, and was teaching English locally and volunteering for her church. Turns out she was also there with her partner, who she hadn't met until she did training.

“OMG I'M TALKING TO AN AUSTRALIAN MORMON” went my brain, that tragically only recognized this story from the Book of Mormon musical. But she was actually super sweet and just wanted to talk about where I was from, what I had been doing, and I asked her what she'd been doing, and told her I had been to Melbourne a lot and so she talked about how much she loved the beaches and was so impressed I'd been so many places and could read some Japanese and I was like “man it ain't that hard to read the alphabets, I'm sure you could figure it out”. And we identified with eachother about how counting words are some serious bullshit because despite the fact she doesn't know how to read anything yet, she's pulling together some vocabulary and Japanese is HARD.

And then she heard some Australians on the train and were like “YOU'RE FROM AUSTRALIA! Where are you from!?” And the person replied “Adelaide” and she had palpable disappointment and some disgust in her voice as she said “Oh.”

Nobody Likes Adelaide: An Australia Story.

So we got off the train, returned to our room, watched some Sumo and got a couple of rice balls from the convenience store for dinner because we had such a late one. I hung out in the lobby to use their Wi-fi and found a delightful grumpy cat there napping and was thrilled. Then – again with the sleep times!

DAY 11.

On to Osaka! Which is where we now are.

We woke up, checked out, but left our bags there so we could do some shopping. I'm afraid I must here redact the types of stores we went to in certain cases so as to not spoil what we were shopping for, but safe to say we spent some time wandering around a shopping arcade filled with food and I spent WAY TOO MUCH MONEY in an anime-themed store.

I COULDN'T HELP IT YOU GUYS THEY HAD ACE ATTORNEY MERCH. DO YOU KNOW HOW RARE THAT IS? Of course you don't, nobody is obsessed with it as I am.

I also got a Digimon, Sailor Moon, and Haikyuu fig, which I had varying luck on. I got Agumon for the Digimon, who makes a good fig but is – as much as I was in denial about it at first – totally the worst Digimon. Then I got Sailor Uranus for my Sailor Moon fig, and while she is definitely a super cool scout, she's also probably my favourite now that I've seen the virtues of Sailor Jupiter thanks to the Crystal remake. But then, Uranus hasn't appeared yet. I MAY BE CONVINCED. ...But I wanted Saturn. And then I got Hinata, who was like – the best choice out of the questionable choices they made for which figs were available. God damn it I love that inspirational volleyball anime.

Then we had some hot (and iced, respectively) cocoa and took a bus back to our Ryokan to pick up our bags, went to the station, hopped on a train to Osaka, and got here trouble-free.

Then we checked into our hotel (I got yet another compliment on my suitcase key earrings) and watched our Sumo and went for dinner, deciding to do a cash run on the way...

...And then we discovered that my credit card was still locked after they issued a fraud scare when I used it to get cash the first time, despite me calling and explaining that yes, I WAS in Japan, and yes, they should remove the blocks...

WELL IT'S STILL BLOCKED, so far as we know, and it's the only card that's worked for us to get cash here, so that's gonna be fun times. I have about 200 bucks worth of yen left, and we've got four days left. Time to get creative!

...And call the credit card company again in the morning!

SIGH!

Tomorrow we go to the Osaka Aquarium – and hopefully my card starts working again!

And it's nearly 1am!

I PUT IN SUCH AN EFFORT FOR THESE BLOGS I HOPE SOMEBODY READS THEM.

Three days left! I'm going to miss Japan a lot. I wish I was a Mormon staying here for a year and a half!

...Well without the Mormon part, anyway.

Sorry, Sister Steere! You were such a sweetheart and probably have very well-meaning intentions, I shouldn't make fun of your religion. You wouldn't want me anyway.
 
 
Current Mood: excitedexcited
 
 
taowhotravels
20 September 2015 @ 04:22 am
DAY 5 began, like so many others, with us waking up at 7am.

Actually that's not what most days are like here.

Actually I guess that's kind of late for the Fatherly Unit to wake up, really.

Anyway!

We got up early because we were headed to the Tsukiji Fish Market, which is famous because people go there to watch guys cut up giant tunas and also bid on them in a very aggressive auction. And also to have sushi for breakfast.

Because so many tourists have started coming to the market, they don't really let people go walk around on the warehouse floor anymore, because those guys want to get their work done without having to avoid a bunch of idiots. But we could still go to the outdoor market and stare at all of the sushi restaurants and wonder how on earth to pick out of all of them. We also got suckered into some free samples of roasted almonds and wasabi soy beans which were so tasty we bought them. I don't even like almonds, man. Or I thought I didn't. These almonds proved me wrong.

We ended up deciding on a tiny sushi restaurant that was just like – a wooden shack – for our sushi breakfast. They served us a tuna rice bowl, with three types of cuts of tuna on it. It included Fatty Tuna, which is like – as delicious as it is rumoured to be. So soft, it melts in your mouth! In general, the super-fresh fish was all tasty, but the fatty tuna was the clear winner for me.

We wandered the market for maybe two hours, and then – knowing that it was so early in the day, I suggested we walk to my next desired destination. Tokyo Tower!

We briefly stopped in a shrine along the way, which was right by the fish market and featured two lion-head masks that were used in traditional festivals a long time ago. It was pretty cool. They sold charms for ships and fishermen, because of course they did!

Then on we walked to Tokyo tower. The area between the market and the tower seems to be business-district-central. There were many salarymen around, and a bunch of office towers. We walked along a major highway most of the way, occasionally catching glimpses of Tokyo Tower between the buildings.

Then we got there, and – although it didn't surprise me like the Eiffel Tower did – dang, that thing is tall. We sat at the base to debate what to do next (have I mentioned that it was raining this whole time? It was raining most of this morning) and had a crepe while we were waiting. I had one with bananas, whipped cream and chocolate syrup. Dad had the same, but with an extra scoop of vanilla ice cream. Apparently he didn't enjoy it – I thought mine was pretty delicious, though.

I was sitting at the base of the tower debating asking the Fatherly Unit to go inside – I'd just wanted to see the place, I didn't think I cared if we went up or not. But sitting there, I decided I really wanted to go up! So we ended up going to the lowest observation deck. It was the only one open that day. Oh, except you could also go to the ONE PIECE THEME PARK WHICH IS BUILT IN THE BOTTOM OF THE TOWER, WTF. That was weird. I mean, it seems like if you're a One Piece fan it would be THE COOLEST, but I've literally never seen One Piece, and this is a major landmark... it's so funny.

Anyway, so we went up to the main observation deck. The elevator ride was kind of hilarious. This adorable woman in uniform greets you as the elevator goes nuts with psychadelic colours and music, and then you see out the windows as you slowly get higher and higher. It brings you to the observation deck extremely quickly!

It's much like all other observation decks before it. It had a 360 degree view of the city (very nice view), and a gift shop and photo point upstairs. Downstairs there was a cafe, a stage where they have live music playing fairly often (that day there were two people hosting a radio show and playing the most catchy music) as well as your path back down. We probably spent like 45 minutes wandering around and looking at the views. They say that on a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji – but with all the rain that morning, the clouds were persisting.

When we went back down, we were dropped into a weird collection of souvenir kiosks which were super anime-focused because of the One Piece theme park. There are also some restaurants to check out, and a One-Piece themed gift shop which made me actually wish I was a fan of the show because some of that merch was SWEET.

Dad had been talking about how he wanted to see a garden back in Shinjuku, so we decided that heading back that way was in our best interest. We walked to the station and took the Yamanote line back homewards, and went to Shinjuku Gyoen, which is a big, very impressively tended garden.

We walked around there for about two hours. It's not exactly the right time of year to view a garden, but we walked through the traditional Japanese Garden, the rose garden, the sycamore walkway, across a tremendously impressive lawn made up of the weirdest, stiffest grass I had ever seen. I also got eaten alive by mosquitos in an area of the garden that was super creepy (I sent a picture of it to the boyfriend unit and he said it looked like the PT splash screen) which they had warned us about at the front with a big sign that said “WEAR LONG-SLEEVED CLOTHING DUE TO MOSQUITOS”. Which is when I knew I was doomed. I am like sugar to them!

After the walk through the garden I was just about ready to collapse. We headed back towards our hotel and stopped in at a little place where we ordered some skewers of vegetables and yakitori and a pickled eggplant – which was kind of weird, but a weird kind of tasty. We also discovered a cucumber/garlic/sesame salad called Tataki Kyuri which is genuinely the tastiest damn thing. So refreshing!

Then we went back to our room and collapsed, despite it being like – 6pm. This is the result of leaving your hotel by like 8:30 in the morning. We just settled in and watched some Sumo wrestling. There's a big competition going on this week so it's on all the time. I'm actually watching it right now, as I write this!

Eventually we went to sleep! It was surprisingly late by then. I stayed up to do some writing.

DAY 6.

We slept in later this day, which was nice. Our only goal for the day was to join a free tour of the Imperial Gardens at around 1 o'clock, so dad took some time to catch up on work, and I watched some TV, and we left in plenty of time to get to Tokyo station, which is where we were meeting the tour.

We decided to stop in the area dedicated to Ekiben (lunch to take on the train with you) and picked up a couple of things at a sandwich/hot dog place. Dad got an egg salad sandwich and a shrimp/avocado sandwich. He thought they were okay, but uninspired. I got a roast beef sandwich and a hot dog I wasn't sure what it was, and...

Finally encountered my first disappointing food in Japan. But it wasn't just disappointing. It was SUPER GROSS. Okay, so – the roast beef sandwich was just kind of bland and had too much mayo on it – why do you love mayonnaise so much, Japan – but it was fine. The hot dog. Oh my God. The hot dog.

So I open up the box and I'm like

“...hmmmm.”

“...This looks like fish eggs. ...And... mysterious white foam.”

“...And this hot dog is white.”

Yes, somehow I had ordered a fish hot dog. And it was – so gross. So, so so gross. It was SO fishy, and SO strong, and made me feel nauseous for a couple of hours afterwards. Bleh!

Fortunately I didn't have long to linger over it. Our tour guides arrived, and we introduced ourselves and signed up. We were shown a map of the gardens by one of the guides, and asked what the weather in Vancouver was like. All of the tour guides asked us that. We just love comparing weather, as a species, don't we? We're weird.

So we were split into groups and introduced to our guides. Ours were Nao-san and Ayumi-chan. They were both really sweet people, but I learned the weakness of Japanese tour guides – they speak in a BELOW average volume. So we all had to huddle around really close to try and hear them every time we stopped to speak. I eventually figured out that if you stood beside or behind them, they were reading off of a script that you could read along with, so I started sneaking over to do that.

This day, unlike the day before, was super clear and sunny. It was hot and humid! Kind of ideal to tour a garden, but it felt sweltering. They would lead us into the shade to do their talks as much as possible, which I greatly appreciated. They told us all about the Shoguns, and the current emperor, and how the Gardens were divided up to protect the way into the Palace. You can't access that side of the gardens (the palace itself) on any day except for the day after New Year's, where everybody goes to hail the emperor and his wife. I had no idea the royal family was still so relevant here. Apparently there was a big issue about the emperor having no male heir until 2006 – which is pretty impressive, considering he got married in 1957 or something.

Also, does that mean that if he died today, a 9 year old would be emperor of Japan? ...That would be kind of adorable.

Anyway, I'm getting morbid. We walked all around! Nao-san found an excuse to show us the movie poster for Keanu Reeves' 47 Ronin! We walked up onto the foundation of a tower built long, long ago and burned down long-long ago and there were like THOUSANDS OF DRAGONFLIES, and I was like “Uhhhhh, is this normal” and Nao and Ayumi were like “...This is actually way less than there usually are. Go to the country, there are even more.” and I was like “what the HELL, you guys, that's too many dragonflies.”

They brought us to the traditional Japanese garden for our group photo, and that garden was definitely the prettiest. I'll have to go back when the flowers are blooming some day. They told us that in the Edo period, you could actually see the ocean from these gardens, which is weird to think about, because the ocean is way too far away and covered by way too many tall buildings to be seen now. They sure reclaimed a lot of land to make up Tokyo. Japan's done some weird things to house this many people on what is, ultimately, not a whole lot of land.

Oh, before I leave the story of this tour I have to mention the fact that on the tour with us was a couple of guys from Bristol who actually seemed like pretty cool guys, but I admit to judging them for their hair. One guy had a hella-greasy ponytail, and the other guy... oh man. That guy was rocking a full-on, genuine mullet. Not like a kind-of-sort-of mullet. A properly styled, very intentional mullet. I was kind of in shock. Why would anybody ever, ever do that if a mullet wasn't in style? I'm sorry, sir! You were super cool! ...But nobody looks good in a mullet!

I was considering ambitions of doing more, but the 8 hour day the day before had burned out the fatherly unit, so we headed back to the room and watched some sumo wrestling before he had a nap and I sat there watching Spongebob Squarepants. The weird part about that show in Japanese is the fact that Spongebob and Patrick seem to be voiced by the same person, and Patrick has the higher pitched voice. Very, very weird choices.

After that we went venturing out to find a restaurant again. We found one in a back alley with a super promising menu, and looking inside we couldn't see anyone smoking, so we went in and asked for a table for two.

When they promptly directed us upstairs, to the room that was filled with cigarette smoke.

SIGH. Japan, I can't wait until you bring in smoking bans.

The restaurant, however, was SUPER DELICIOUS. My favourite food of the trip, in sharp contrast to that morning. We over-ordered by a small extent, but it was all so good. The list of what we got was too long for me to write it all out, but the steamed clams in broth and the tori karaage were my favourites.

After that it was time for sleep! Because we had to wake up and get moving!

DAY 7! On to Kyoto!

Today has been pretty straightforward. We woke up, packed up, went for a quick lunch (tempura donburi for me, tempura donburi with a side of soba soup for father) and then took our bags to Tokyo station. We were super early, so we sat around and read for a while before going to wait for the Shinkansen.

I bought some rice balls at the station – they were hella delicious – and I ate them on the train. There was a lot of cool countryside and cities to see, and WOW, I did not realize Japan's mountains were so impressive. It was too cloudy to see Mt. Fuji, but I'm hoping we'll see it on the way back instead.

Then we got to Kyoto station, walked up to our Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and were shown to our room. It's modest, but really lovely. Except for the mosquitos. There are mosquitos all over. Aaah! Gross. We're keeping the screens closed from now on.

Then we watched more sumo! And now we're ready to go to dinner. And we don't have wi-fi in our room, so I guess I'll be posting this post-dinner, in which case I'll give you an update.

BRB, going to go get some damn Okonomiyaki!

BACK.

OH MY GOD IT'S A HOLIDAY EVERYTHING IS FULL AAAAAAH.

We ended up finding a place that was far too expensive but was still super delicious. We had a grilled squid, and some grilled mushrooms and shishito peppers with scallops in a miso-sesame sauce (DELICIOUS), and tempura (ALSO DELICIOUS) and – what else. Oh yeah! Sushi. Damn it the fish here is so much fresher than at home! What the heck, Vancouver!

But seriously oh man everything is so full. This does not bode well for sightseeing in the next few days.

WISH US LUCK.

GANBATTE!

...Talk to you from Osaka!
 
 
Current Mood: nostalgicnostalgic
 
 
taowhotravels
17 September 2015 @ 06:26 am
What is this nonsense!? Wasn't I just writing in this thing? Oh right, yes, I was. HAHAHA.

Welcome to the Father-Daughter Japan Trip 2015! We're three days in (four, if you account for time-travel) and it's been a parade of delicious food and shenanigans so far. Let me catch you up!

DAY 1

We left Vancouver at around 1:40pm – or actually, more like 2:30 because of some sort of mechanical issue. We were flying Air Canada, on a brand new plane, and it was a pretty impressive set up! We had plenty of room in our seats, a brand new in-flight entertainment system, and they actually fed us more than we needed.

Our neighbour (who was technically booked to sit between us, but I traded with her) was a young (late-teens) lady moving to Japan for a working holiday. She was pretty cool, and enthusiastic, and really obviously had never been on a plane before (or at least recently) because she was in shock that there was entertainment to choose from.

Dad and I kept ourselves busy with said entertainment. I watched Spy, Inside Out (for a third time, YES), three episodes of Modern Family, Four episodes of Jane the Virgin, Pitch Perfect 2, and an episode of Blackish. Dad watched a few movies – and played a bunch of games. They had games like trivia, solitaire, and even a game of pool that I swear I played back when AddictingGames.com was a thing. There were even language-learning games, although those were pretty garbage, disappointingly.

I spent a lot of time practicing my Hiragana and Katakana too, so I could read through a few signs over here. Which seems to actually have worked – I can read things fairly easily now!

They fed dad a couple of “vegetarian asian meals”, as per his request. I neglected to ask how they were. I'll ask now. “Unremarkable”, he says. Didn't make much of an impression. My first meal was pretty delicious – it was a beef rice bowl. The second one was chicken karaage on rice which was gross. More like squishy batter on rice. In retrospect I should have gone with the beef stroganoff – but I had dreams the karaage might be good!

Then we landed – a full day and two hours later. So, I'm gonna count that as

DAY 2

I briefly sat down to hook up to Wi-fi immediately after we got off the plane (Fatherly unit made a trip to the bathroom in the meantime) and a toddler – just under 3 years old, by my guess – walked up to me and stared at me.

I said “Hello!” cheerfully.

At which point he raised his arm and smacked my phone out of my hand and onto the floor.

I shouted “Hey!” startling many nearby people, and then the kid was rushed away by his parents. I think I looked too amused for them to feel the need to apologize – although now that I think of it they may not have seen what happened.

We walked out into the airport after a quick trip through customs, and our first goal was: find some way to connect to the outside world. We had been reading up on SIM cards and pocket Wi-Fi, and they both seemed complicated to get, but on the surface, a pocket Wi-Fi device SEEMED to be the most useful. However... it also turned out to be way too damn expensive! Especially considering how easy it is to load my Nexus with a new SIM. So now I'm hooked up to the web all the time! Huzzah, the future~

So that took about an hour and a half (there was an involved set-up system to go through) and then we had to pick up our JR Passes. These are passes that will get us EVERYWHERE for these next two weeks. They give us free transit on any JR trains (with rare exceptions) – which has even given us transit around Tokyo. They're super convenient!

So we pick up our passes, get a reservation on the Narita Express, and take off for Shinjuku Station.

One thing Japanese trains have over UK trains: their seats rotate! While they were getting the train ready, we saw them spin them all around to face the way the train was heading. As somebody with motion sickness: THANK YOU. THANK YOU THANK YOU.

So we ride on the train about an hour and 15 minutes, get into Shinjuku Station, get off the train, go to head out of the station to our hotel...

I walked through the gate ahead of dad. Then I noticed he wasn't following, turned around, and saw him with a horrified expression on his face.

HE HAD LEFT HIS JR PASS ON THE TRAIN.

This is what happens when you're jet-lagged (and not an obsessive freak about double-checking you have all your stuff exactly where it's supposed to be like I am) – you lose a vital travel document at the first possible opportunity.

So – oh boy, our exhausted selves were not up for this – but we headed for the station office. There we met an older man who got flustered at all of our English-speaking, and his junior, who came out and repeated everything the older man said, as if that made it clearer.

They told us the train would arrive at its terminus station (Omiya) at 8:50, so we had to wait there for news, and if they found it, we would have to go to Omiya – about 45 minutes away.

Long story short – they found it, we went all the way to Omiya, found an even sketchier station office that we needed to cross through a gate and knock on the door to find out anybody even existed inside. And he gave us the pass! And his office was closing in 10 minutes, so thank goodness.

Then it was all the way back to Shinjuku, and about 11 o'clock we finally got into our hotel – which is so nice! They upgraded our room for us so it's really spacious. It has a japanese style bathroom. The toilet is separate from the bath, which itself is split into the showering section & bathing section. If you don't know how it works, you're supposed to shower separately and then get into the bath solely for the purposes of relaxing. It's pretty nice to laze around in there! ...Actually I might do that tonight before bed.

But, with our adventures done – after checking in with everyone at home, who was just waking up – we crawled into bed and fell fast asleep.

DAY 3.

Predictably, the Fatherly Unit woke up nice and early, and went on a mission to collect a light breakfast of yogurt and juice and coffee for us. As it turns out, Japanese coffee is MEGA BITTER and I am not having it. Milk tea and lemon tea FTW.

I rolled out of bed and got ready kind of slowly – the cure to jet lag is to go to bed at a reasonable hour and spend the first night sleeping as long as you feel the need to, I find. So we didn't get out the door until around 11:30.

First order of business: find a place for lunch, because breakfast was small, and also like 2 hours ago. I asked the people at the front desk for recommendations, but they just looked confused and smiled apologetically. I guess restaurant recommendations are not a thing here. I wonder if restaurants in Vancouver are any good at providing suggestions. I could write a guide by now. Ahaha.

What the front desk DID do for us, helpfully, is give us a map that showed where the local restaurant district is. We wandered that way and were pretty quickly spoiled for choice. We settled on a seafood place specializing in sushi, but Dad had been hunting for a seafood soup, so he got a fish soup and some squid dumplings. I had a Chirashi don, and the seafood was SOOOOO FRESH. Like, we wandered into some random place and got the best sushi I've had in my life. Oh God. I'm going to be ruined for Japanese food when I'm back.

From there, we were just spending the day wandering, so I led us to Harajuku – where we wandered through the busy streets, saw a ton of places selling crepes, and some cool fashion houses. Tons of restaurants too! You're never far from good food here.

From there, we walked all the way to Shibuya (a bit over 20 minutes) to see the scramble crossing that you see in all the movies. I didn't realize that that intersection is where Hachiko (a statue of a famous loyal dog – look it up!) sits, and when I saw where the statue was I got super excited and ran over to take pictures. There was a big set-up around Hachiko, though, because some company was filming a tourist video. It was in Japanese and English, and starred a Japanese woman and an American (maybe Canadian) guy. I felt bad for the Canadian (or American) guy because he was so, so much less attractive than the woman they paired him with. I mean, he's not even that bad looking, but she was SO CUTE. Geez.

Then we wandered around Shibuya, down back alleys, past pachinko parlours, even past a pet store that exclusively sold puppies. They were SO TINY AND SO CUTE I COULDN'T HANDLE IT. Also they cost like – 2 grand or more. Yipes. Expensive to have pets in this town! If you even have the space for them.

Then we walked up to Yoyogi Park, where we stopped for some drinks and shaved ice (basically a snow cone) and watched some guys try to practice breakdancing between a pair of skip ropes. I was going to grab a picture of them as we left, but they stopped just then. So they'll just have to live on in my memory!

We wandered the park, then, which was really pretty and filled with couples having picnics. We noticed that the crows here are both way bigger than the ones at home and way more skittish. Why are they so much more afraid when they look like they could murder us way more easily? Your guess is as good as mine.

I spent the time wandering in the park trying to find our way up to the Shrine, which on our map looked like it was in the same place. But it wasn't! There was a partition in the park and we had to leave and then come back on the other side to get to the Shrine. I had honestly chosen to go there on a whim and was SHOCKED when I saw how impressive it was. It's called the Meiji shrine, and your first indication that you've found the right place is a 10-foot high Shinto gate made of solid wood. So...

Yeah, that's intimidating.

Then you walk along a beautiful forest path, clearly meant for far more people to travel it than there was that day, and eventually you make it up to the Shrine. There are shrine maidens out at the front selling good-luck charms and votive tablets for you to write a prayer on and put up near a sacred tree. I bought a couple of charms and gave an offering, so hopefully I've got some good luck coming to me!

As beautiful as it was, there wasn't actually much to see at the shrine, so there's not much else for me to say. But it was pretty incredible to see it all the same.

We walked from the shrine back to our hotel in Shinjuku and crashed in the room to give our legs a rest before we went out for dinner. We watched some TV and were both confused and intrigued by it. There's some sort of political boondoggle going on over here between pro-militarization and anti-militarization groups because Japan's bringing in some new legislation to boost the military, or something. It seems like it's a huge issue, and we've even seen some protestors supporting the legislation while we were here. Going to be interesting to watch that develop.

Then we headed out into the night and wandered for a while. Dad's trying not to eat meat out here, which is... difficult. Seafood's available, but lots of things involve some sort of beef or pork stock at the very least, so you have to pick and choose where you eat. After a lot of wandering we settled on a place that seemed pretty promising.

Only problem – which we discovered after settling in – was that people were totally allowed to smoke in the place. It bothered fatherly unit more than me. To be honest, I was impressed at how good the ventilation was. Unless a person was literally directly next to us smoking, it was only a vague smell hanging in the air. Which is good, because it's hard to taste your food when all you can smell is smoke!

This place was pretty traditional izakaya style. We shared pretty much everything. We had a seafood salad, tempura, and half a grilled mackerel. I also had a few yakitori skewers, which were DELICIOUS – although eating just a skewer of chicken skin feels like cheating. ...delicious, delicious cheating.

Dad ordered some sake and it came in a little wooden box, which confused the hell out of him. He couldn't figure out how to drink it without spilling. I have just Googled all about them, they're called masu, and apparently they're to add fragrance and flavour, but they're pretty perplexing to drink out of, apparently.

We escaped the smoky den only to meet up with a light rain outside. Dad wanted to pick up some sake, so I googled the nearest liquor store and we set out for it. I wandered around trying to read the labels on things while dad picked out his sake. I was moderately successful. I wish I had found some umeshu (plum wine) but I couldn't identify any. If we go back I'll just ask where it is.

Then it was back to the hotel, and dad enjoyed some of his sake while we got settled in – and then it was time for bed. At like- 9:30. Gosh. What am I turning into.

DAY 4.

The original plan for today was to go to the Tsukiji fish market, but we hadn't set things up clearly enough, so that's now a tomorrow plan. Today, we did what I wanted! We went to Akihabara.

For those of you not aware, Akihabara is the geek central of Tokyo. It's where you go to find anime and manga and games and all merchandise related to them. It's not the friendliest place for Fatherly Units like mine, but he indulged me.

When we got to Akihabara the first place we stopped was actually for lunch. We went to one of the places with a vending machine outside that you input your order into, put the money in, get a ticket, and then go inside and hand that to the chef to get your food. I had a pork cutlet donburi. Dad had a hot tempura soba soup bowl. I honestly expected the food to be kind of mediocre, but yet again it was SUPER delicious. God damn it, Japan. You just want to ruin me for all food forever?

Then we headed for Mandarake, which is an 8-storey high building full of NOTHING BUT NERDY THINGS. Floor 1 is antique toys, Floor 2 is dolls, Floor 3 is manga, Floor 4 appeared to be “adult” manga, Floor 5 is Manga for women, from the looks of it, because only women were in there and all the BL manga was too. Floor 6 was CDs DVDs and Games, and Floor 7 and 8 were all toys and figurines and collectables. Given the joys that are region-locking, only floor 7 and 8 were really tempting, and despite being tempted by a figurine of Isabelle from Animal Crossing and Madoka from Madoka Magica, I ended up buying a figurine of Sawako from Kimi Ni Todoke because that is my favourite manga OF ALL TIME.

If only they had Phoenix Wright merch!

We were about done in Akihabara after that, at least after I bought a capsule toy starring everybody's favourite shirtless boys from Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, so the next stop was Ikebukuro, because I wanted to visit the Pokemon Center.

Turns out the Pokemon Center is in a MASSIVE building – 58 storeys high at least – and it took some wandering though the mall at the base of it to find the thing, but wow. There is merchandise for Pokemon I haven't even heard of. They were doing a Halloween theme, so there was a bunch of Ghost Pokemon merchandise being featured, and lots of Pikachu dolls dressed up like the ghost Pokemon, too. It was pretty cute.

Only problem was there was an ad on a 30 second loop that was playing over and over and over again the whole time I was there. I would have lingered for way longer if it hadn't been grating on my nerves. As it is, I bought a figurine of Klefki (the most garbage Pokemon outside of Garbador which is literally a pile of garbage) and bailed.

We needed a break, so we had a seat inside an adorable cake shop, where we got iced tea and coffee and a couple of slices of cake. I had the super-stereotypical Japanese Strawberry Shortcake, where the shortcake is absolutely a spongecake and not shortcake, Japan, who do you think you're fooling? But also – it looks so adorable, with the one strawberry perfectly placed, and I have always wanted a slice. Yay!

From Ikebukuro we came back to our hotel, dropped off our stuff and took a brief laundry break (honestly to get rid of the garbage change in our pockets more than anything) before going out to dinner. During this laundry break, there was actually anime on the TV, although it was all kid's stuff, which was odd, given it was like 6pm. There was a tamagotchi show, some show about girls going to a school to learn to be pop idols using magical trading cards (that are totally sold by Bandai IRL... but not actually magic) and then Pokemon was on, which felt pretty appropriate. Ash sure has gotten a serious tan since he left home. Guess that makes sense! It's been years.

For dinner, we went just across the street and had udon soup. Mine had like- incredibly soft, flawless stewed pork in it, and was delicious. Dad thought his was good but not as impressive as the one that morning. More importantly, we had agedashi tofu and chicken karaage (well, I had the karaage) which were amaaaaaazing.

Then we went to the convenience store, I bought a milk tea that for no clear reason has Levi (last name redacted) from Attack on Titan's face on it, and we retired once again to our room.

Where we made plans to wake up bright and early to go to a fish market, so I guess I should go to bed! 7am wake up call!

It still feels surreal that I'm in Japan. It hasn't sunk in at all. I've wanted to come here since I was like 15, and now it's actually happening! Gosh.
 
 
Current Mood: impressedimpressed
 
 
taowhotravels
19 August 2015 @ 09:27 pm
Welcome to the last issue in the Eurotrip 2015 Blog – brought to you from many thousands of feet in the air!

Day 50 we packed up the cars (with all of the obligatory shouting back and forth around the house of a proper family vacation) and took off down the road towards Roscoff.

Given that we had to leave Bénodet at like 10am and we couldn't check in to the new place until like 2pm, and Roscoff is only an hour away, we had some time to kill. So we drove to a beach which I think was called Cape Coz, if I'm remembering correctly. It was a really wide, sandy beach in a bay filled with gorgeous houses. It seems to be one of the more expensive places to stay. We wandered around and Carwyn and I took some pictures, and we just enjoyed the view from a little bit.

Then it was back in the car and off to the hyper-marchés! Which is basically a giant grocery store – or like – French Walmart. Many foods and drinks were gathered to bring home to Wales. I just wandered around and marvelled at all the random goods on offer.

We also had sandwiches at a weird sandwich place in the hyper-market complex which seemed to be out of literally everything. It was 1pm, but they didn't seem to be making new sandwiches. Or they were out of ham. Either way, they refused to make croque-monsieurs or ham sandwiches. But confusingly, some sandwiches appeared out of the back room after some time. So we all got some sort of sandwich. Of mysterious origin.

Then Carwyn came out of the second hyper-marché with a gigantic bar of chocolate and started eating it, not realizing that he had just purchased like a pound and a half of cooking chocolate.

He finished it. I think we were all impressed.

Finally we were off to Roscoff – this time to finish the journey! We went through a gorgeous mountain range – they were very round, hill-reminiscent mountains, with rocks jutting out.

Not as gorgeous as Roscoff turned out to be! I just visited a lot of pretty places, you guys, I've been reaching for vocabulary to help describe them. It's a seaside town which is obviously very old. The tourist section is pretty minimal – about 6 or 7 hotels, a bunch of restaurants and souvenir stores, all down one street. But that makes for a nice, compact little place to explore.

Our first order of business, after checking in to our hotel (where we were given 4th floor rooms with an amazing view of the town and a corner of the ocean) was to visit a little place called Cafe Ty Pierre, which I thought was “Petit Pierre” when people were first saying it.

We sat down and enjoyed cider and an Irish coffee (on my part) and watched locals with their dogs – there are SO MANY DOGS IN ROSCOFF – and listened to a brass band, which turned out to be the exact same one that was in Concarneau. They're called Kraken, and they're really good. I'm not surprised they can make a living travelling around!

After a while of sitting around and talking, we headed back to the hotel and changed to head down to dinner at a placed called La Belle Etoile. I'd been told all about this place for its quality seafood, but Elaine and Paul went and ordered duck and made me indecisive. But I ended up ordering the moules frites I came for. I also got smoked salmon for an entree, which was weird because it wasn't from home and had less flavour – but the lemon cream that came with it was super well-balanced and tangy. But let's focus on the moules, for they were delicious! Delicious and plentiful. I was incapable of eating them all. I poured all my fries into the bowl when I was done and dearly regretted not doing it earlier. So tasty! Then I had a rice pudding bowl for dessert, which was a risk because my mother makes the GREATEST RICE PUDDING so maybe I was hoping for a taste of home but instead it was weird sour rice pudding that was warm with cold toffee sauce on top. Not bad, but so far away from what I was expecting I was really confused.

Then I was going to head back to the hotel, but I was convinced to come to Ty Pierre to watch Rugby with all the rugby nuts. England and France were playing, so of course because this crowd was Welsh, they were rooting for France, because – to hell with the English, is the general attitude of anybody who is not English. This caused some confusion in the bar, when some English guys heard all these English-speaking people cheering for France.

Carwyn and I were crowded onto one side of the bar and were going back and forth between me trying to give him ideas for nice things to text at his girlfriend who he'd been on his phone to all week, him trying to explain Rugby to me (when they all pile together like an ant hill, it's called a scrum – also it's like Football only there's no breaks for you to go get snacks and also they throw things backwards), and him trying to get me to pronounce Welsh town names and cracking up at my incompetent pronunciations.

France lost, by the way. I think everyone was dissapoint. Except those random English guys that nobody cared for. Allez les bleus! ...Despite them being dressed in red during this game!

Then I headed back to the hotel, took a phone call from my dear parents I hadn't heard from in ages, and fell fast asleep, because we had to be up very, very early for the ferry.

I think we woke up something like 6:30 in the morning on Day 51, and went downstairs for provided breakfast around 7:15 or so. We ate, packed up the cars, and drove to the ferry.

When we got there, we waited in long lines, desperately looking around for the French license plate number I still needed and mourning the fact I likely would never see it. But the lines moved pretty fast, despite some idiots showing up at passport control with their passports evidently packed at the bottom of their luggage in the trunk of their car.

Because I am Canadian, they sent us on to immigration control, where a guy literally asked me whether or not I was on holiday and then GAVE ME A PASSPORT STAMP – the first I've gotten since Copenhagen! They should give you a stamp every time you get stopped by passport control in Europe. It might provide adequate reward to make it less frustrating.

Then we got on the boat really, really early and made our way right to the bar to find a place with a plug, because the bar is the only place with internet access.

After a little while, the boat got started (late), and the swaying started, and I was like “ohhhhhh noooooo noooo motion sickness noooooo”.

So my ride on this ferry was a constant haze of nausea, pretty much. It was a HUGE ship. We had a cabin downstairs, where I eventually went to collapse for like an hour and a half. There was also a bar, a self-serve restaurant, a formal sit-down restaurant, a huge shop, a god damn SWIMMING POOL, a HELICOPTER PAD... yeah. It had a lot going on. BC Ferries are much less cool. Although TBH they have better arcades. The arcade on this one was pretty sad.

Like I said, eventually I did collapse in the downstairs cabin, like I said, and when I woke up/emerged I felt basically not nauseous at all. So we went and had food at the self-serve restaurant, where they bake their own bread and had roast leg of lamb as an option on the menu. That's what I had, with fries, peppercorn sauce, peas and carrots and a little bowl of broccoli and corn from the salad bar because BROCCOLI HELL YES and also corn is good.

After I ate all that I had about 20 minutes of non-sick feels but then as the ferry was about to dock I started to feel sick again. Luckily we quickly escaped, drove out to “the Hoe” nearby which – I don't know what to say about that place name. But we drove there to say our goodbyes! A group photo was taken, many hugs were given. Kat and I took off on our own, hoping to make it to an outdoor miniature town, under the guidance of her sat nav, which I managed to successfully name Gilderoy. Kat wasn't even a fan of the name, yet she started calling him such, so I think it's going to stick.

We drove aaaaall the way to the miniature place, and – missed its closing time by like 5 minutes. Oh no! Such sad faces. I'll go next time.

Then we drove aaaaaaall the way to Sidcot, which is near Bristol, to our hotel. It was a really nice place, with very comfy beds and a decent restaurant downstairs. We went down and had some snacks/dinner at the restaurant and then escaped upstairs. This place had the most garbage internet, oh my goodness. It disconnected every 5 minutes off my phone and was incredibly weak on my laptop on top of it. I'm just going to call them out. Shame on you, Premier Inn. Shame on you.

With no internet to keep me busy, I watched TV instead, which was featuring Miss Congeniality 2, which was delightful. It's been a while since I saw that. Ron Swanson was the villain in that thing??

Then we went to sleep. SLEEP TIME.

What did we even do on Day 52?

Oh right! We packed up our car and drove to Cheddar! That place where they made the cheese. And I guess sort of still make the cheese but it is blatantly only done as a tourist offering, so far as I could tell. Although hot damn it was some tasty cheese. BUT I AM GETTING AHEAD OF MYSELF.

So the first place we went, after the parking lot, which is itself in scenic Cheddar Gorge, and then walked down to Gough's Old Cave. Gough's Old Cave is a cave which this guy named Gough found a while ago. Hence the name. It's a cave, alright! What can one say about a cave? I enjoy them. They are cold. They have smooth rock surfaces, in this case. They are very damp and prone to dripping all over me, also in this case. This place has a veeeeery tall pair of caverns which were really cool to look at. Also there was cheese aging in there. Real cheese. Which is neat. I ate some of that cheese.

The audio guide for this cave was kind of... butts. It was informative and interesting, but it was in character, and I despise audio guides that are in character. “I'm Mr. Gough himself!” No you are not, get out. Also please don't spend the last 20 seconds of every audio recording telling me what numbers will be posted on the walls in future audio portions. Or if you must, don't list 5 options. List 1. ONE, Mr. Gough. Or Cheddar Man the skeleton. Or Mr. Gough's nagging wife who only wants to talk about cheese. Or whoever you are. I hate you all.

Leaving Gough's cave, we walked down through the town, trying to figure out what else we should be doing, and we found Cox's Cave/Crystal Quest. I knew nothing about this attraction. I went inside with Kat, but she quickly had to abandon it because Cox's Cave is way too narrow and activated her claustrophobia. So I went on alone.

Turns out, Cox's Cave is pretty small, overall. So soon I was walking into Crystal Quest.

OH MY GOD CRYSTAL QUEST.

Literally everybody, including marketing materials, that I only saw after this experience, described Crystal Quest as the “spooky” portion of Cheddar Gorge's entertainment.

AHAHAHAHA.

AAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

OKAY. So I turn a corner, I go down this staircase, and – this voice comes out of the heavens.

“I am (insert generic female fantasy name here). I am trapped by the dark wizard Mordon.”

By this point I was already grinning like an absolute idiot because I knew this was going to be some serious campy garbage of the highest order that obviously hadn't been updated since the 1980's.

“You must find the white wizard. He will lead you to the crystal of legend. Find the crystal and touch it, and save me - save the world!”

“THIS IS AMAZING” I half-shouted at the disembodied voice, laughing.

I walked on into the next room, where there were like- soldiers calling out “Save us, brave hero!” and like- goblin-y things, which got lit up one at a time, like WAY too slowly, and whose audio files actually crackled, they were so old.

I went into the next room, which was filled with goblins, and then there was this.

“HALT, FOUL BEASTS!” Cried another disembodied voice from behind me, and I turned, looked up, and found the white wizard I was looking for goddamn pinned to the wall above the doorway. He told me to keep going while he held the goblins at bay.

I was laughing so hard. So, so hard. You can't imagine.

Then I found the gate, where an animatronic seemed to be like – trying to intimidate me, but he was kind of broken and his sound file didn't really work, so I carried on, walked down the stairs – at this point recording all this because HOW COULD I NOT.

And then just as I turned off my camera, anticipating the door to the next room, a human being in a cloak jumped out of the shadows and yelled “HALT”

And I went “waugh!”

And she hissed “the others have not yet concluded their business”

And I was like Oh man there's something in the other room they actually close us off to experience, this is gonna be great.

So they let me into the other room, and apparently decide that I need to wait for a bunch of other people to show up before I can see the ending, so in the meantime I wander this dark room and faintly see – from a beam of light clearly coming from the exit – that there's a dragon in the room, a couple of people on the wall, and a pile of bones on the floor. Oh, and also the crystal is right in the middle of the room, and it's pretty obvious touching it does absolutely nothing.

So like 3 minutes later, enough people are in the room, they close it off again, and suddenly

“AHAHAHAHAHA. I AM THE DARK LORD MORDON.”

Me: “You are blatantly a Lord of the Rings ripoff, sir.”

“THERE IS NO ESCAPE FROM MY LAIR.”

Me: “I can literally see the exit turnstile.”

So Mordon's all 'you can't stop me or my super cool dragon', and then of course the dragon is lit up, and it's like “RAAAAR” and then

“Good hero! Touch the crystal! Hurry!” because there's old generic Galadriel ripoff, pinned up to the wall like the White Wizard before her, and so I touch the crystal, and nobody else does, and it literally takes 20 seconds before anything happens, and then Mordon starts giving a death scream and then him and the dragon's spotlights fade and magical happy music play and Galadriel ripoff is all like “you are a hero for all time, you have saved the lands and your heroism is legend”.

And the music, and the rainbow lightshow that started up

I was just dying.

This is the greatest thing I have seen.

If you want to thrill me, bring me to garbage like this. Oh my GOD.

So I left Crystal Quest, and went to find Kat, and was like “THAT WAS THE GREATEST I'M SO SORRY YOU COULDN'T COME”.

And then she repaid me by leading me to the lookout staircase that leads to the top of the Gorge so you can see the view, joining me up the first 40 stairs, and leaving me to climb the remaining 250+ on my own, which I didn't realize until I was halfway up!

So that climb felt like it was going to kill me. The stairs were all of varying heights and shapes and SO STEEP. But I made it to the top, up the incredibly rickety, rusty viewpoint tower, and the views were indeed magnificent. So it's worth it. But I'd never do it again! No sir.

Back down I went, and we returned to our explorations. We found many shops we intended to drop in to, but we were like “Oh, let's take the Gorge bus tour first, because then when it drops us back down here we can just head up again.”

As it turns out, the Gorge bus tour takes you back up to the top – while showing off the Gorge and random facts about it and the goats that live there.

So – whoops, we were walking all the way back down.

Although we did stop into the prehistory museum, which they have because the caves had a bunch of important archaeological discoveries made in them. It's mostly about humans, and how they evolved, and how they made tools, and also how sometimes they ate other people. It's no great shakes.

Then we did our walk back down. We stopped into a candy shop (where we bought candy), and the cheese shop (where we bought cheese I'm dearly hoping has survived the trip home). Then we stopped for ice creams. This particular ice cream shop offered themed ice creams that looked like cartoon characters and funny things.

There was one in particular called “Miss Flat Chested” which had googly eyes, big lips, and two fried egg candies on the front of it, that I was amused/weirded out by, but then things got hilarious.

This little girl stopped and pointed, and said “Mummy, I want that one with the pointy head and funny face with the dots.”

And her mom looked at the window and pretended not to see – a decent job, because I wasn't sure if she had or not, and the kid just kept pointing and going “that one, that one”.

Then the dad caught up with them, and the kid was like “daddy I want that one”. And her dad was like “which one?” and the mom said “Miss flat chested.” and he said “you're a little young to be wanting such things, aren't you?” and then me and Kat cracked up and made it clear we'd been listening in. Whoops!

Our ice creams consumed, we began the long, long walk back up the Gorge to the car, loaded up, and drove off towards our next destination – which was Crawley, just south of Gatwick.

Gilderoy brought us on a long, winding, confusing road full of beautiful countryside. We weren't sure whether to trust him, and occasionally saw the roads he wanted us to go on and were like “HAHAHA no.” But we made it, despite Kat's brakes getting squeaky, in a way that was not entirely worrisome but was a little weird.

The hotel was surrounded by fields filled with bunnies. I mention this mostly because I would be remiss to fail to mention me squealing “BUNNIEEEEEES” as Kat drove by, because she laughed until she cried about how excited I was.

We then drove around trying to find a place to eat, and after the Thai place I'd looked up turned out to be closed (thanks for nothing, Google!) we picked a chain restaurant and went to Bella Italia, where we had pasta and dessert and kept them from closing for a little longer, given that they were putting out the breakfast menus about an hour before we left.

Then we returned to the hotel, had brief online time, and crashed out.

Day 53 – the last real day of vacation.

It was the day we went on the Warner Bros. Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour.

IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS FOR THIS TOUR, STOP READING NOW. All that happened today is that Gatwick's computers went down, delayed my flight for like 45 minutes, and now I'm on a plane.

If you want to know about the tour, then by all means, read on.

So the morning of, we slept in like sane people, had breakfast, and then lazed around the hotel room for a bit while we waited for our tour time to come up, because they give you scheduled times for this thing.

Finally, we rolled out onto the M25, which is the big ring-road around London, which has a frankly unacceptably terrible road surface and is full of traffic that is occasionally frightening – although having been on ANY US Highway, I'd say nowhere in the UK could compare. Especially to L.A.

We got to the tour, and as we pulled in, noticed a HUGE village of greenscreens off in the distance. They were like 40 foot tall and very wide across. I wondered what the heck they were filming there, but figured it was a WB production I'd never heard of and headed inside.

It took about 40 minutes to get through the queue (yeah proper British terms for ya) and into the experience, the whole time of which I was staring at the gift shop and going “Oh crap. Oh crap. How is my wallet going to survive that place”, because even from the outside it looks magical.

On the way through the queue you also see the cupboard under the stairs set, which is pretty cool and features the tiniest pair of glasses. I spent a lot of time giggling on this tour about how tiny Daniel Radcliffe is. Those are some small costumes, sir.

So they open a tour with a movie that's basically Dan Rad, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint being like “Hello everyone, we're here on this terrible green screen to tell you how cool this experience is. Also, y'all always fangirl over the cast, but this crew puts in DUMB AMOUNTS OF WORK so this is the place you are coming to appreciate all of that please enjoy”

Then the screen lifts up and there are giant doors behind them (the entrance to Hogwarts) and that leads into the Great Hall set which is huuuuuuuuuuuuuge. One side was all set up like a feast, because we were there for the “sweets and treats” exhibition – every so often they change the setup to feature a different aspect of the production. Kat's been 3 times so she could point out all the things that had changed since she'd been last.

They did a house loyalty call out in the great hall, and it was literally the saddest thing, because she was like “Who's a Hufflepuff!?” and this one – I swear to god, one, out of maybe 100 people – person went “yaaaaay” in such an unenthusiastic voice, and I was like “...Okay Hufflepuff deserves better than that” just as the woman said “yeah that's about all I ever get for Hufflepuff”. POOR HUFFLEPUFF.

So then she was like “Who's a smart Ravenclaw?” and Kat and I went nuts because damn it, we saw what just happened to Hufflepuff – if we risked being the only ones we were going to be LOUD. And apparently we were, because she was like “Whoa that's the biggest cheer I've ever heard for Ravenclaw” and there were only like 3 or 4 of us who cheered so THAT'S REALLY SAD. Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff friends, we are coming to this tour all together one day and we are going to BLOW THEIR GOD DAMN EARS OFF. I am determined.

Of course Slytherin got a decent cheer and Gryffindor got an overwhelming one. I am identifying more and more with the Pottermore writeup that says Ravenclaws resent Gryffindors because they're pompous dicks because HELL YEAH, GRYFFINDOR IS OVERRATED.

I'm going all house loyalty on this right now, I'm sorry.

Anyway, from the Great Hall it all becomes self-guided, and you walk into a huge room with sets like the Gryffindor Common room, Harry's Crowd's dorm room, the Ministry of Magic (a portion of it, anyway. That was my FAVE set. I am mournful they don't have the whole thing set up), Dumbledore's Office, Hagrid's Hut, Umbridge's Ministry Office, Malfoy Manor, Borgin & Burkes, and a bunch of props and cool stuff set up.

There was also a pair of prop makers there for the sweets & treats exhibitions. The woman made all the real food, and the man had made all the fake food. They had some real/fake food set up to show off and try and get you to guess which was which. The fake raspberries were almost indistinguishable, and the fake fruit tarts proved to in fact be completely impossible to identify. At least for me.

The lady who made all the real food told us most of the food is fake, except every time they eat breakfast that's all real food because breakfast is hella cheap to make and they had a lot of breakfasts. And I couldn't remember a single breakfast scene but then we watched Order of the Phoenix later and I was like “Oh what the hell they're eating breakfast RIGHT NOW” a few times. So – it's true!

Then you went and saw Platform 9 3/4 and the Hogwarts Express – the real train, and the carriage sets. There's also a shop in there because damn it they know their merchandise is irresistible. Well, nearly. Kat and I managed to bypass that shop.

Next you exit into the area with the Butterbeer and snacks and stuff, and I tried a Butterbeer and Kat had a Butterbeer Ice Cream. I found the Butterbeer fine (but not something I'd want) except for the whipped cream on it, which was foul – which is weird, coming from me, because I love whipped cream. Kat loved the ice cream, I thought it was gross.

While we ate we could see all the outdoor stuff – the Potter's Cottage, #4 Privet Drive, the Knight Bus, and the bridge where Cedric Diggory drops some homoerotic undertones in Harry's direction are all out there. This is also about when my camera started dying because I was taking WAY TOO MANY PHOTOS.

Then you go in to the creatures lab where they have all of the monsters and prosthetics – Aragog, Buckbeak, Grawp, and all the Goblins were in there. From there, you move into the Diagon Alley set, which is just – a glorious mess of details. All of the shop windows are packed with interesting things to look at, and the set itself is of course iconic and was so cool to see. Forget you, fake Diagon Alley in Florida, I saw the real thing.

The next room is the CONCEPT ART ROOM AAAAAAAAAAAAH.

WHY DO THEY NOT SELL A BOOK OF NOTHING BUT HARRY POTTER CONCEPT ART BECAUSE I LOVED THIS ROOM AND I WANTED TO OWN EVERY DRAWING IN IT.

They had designs for every location, for the Puking Pastiles Machines, for the creatures, for the candy, for the doors, for the vehicles – all in glorious detail, all showing how you could film them, how they would work, how they would fit into the scene. It was heaven. And around the corner was the concept art that was fully coloured and more of a “this is the mood/colour scheme we're going for” art which was just as incredible and I want a separate book of that, too!

Close to the end of this passage, there was a design for the model of Hogwarts Castle – which gave us a hint for what was coming.

IT'S HUUUUUUUUUUUUGE.

The model is enormous! So much detail, so many cool things to look at. The only confusing thing is that the Quidditch Pitch and Hagrid's Hut are blatantly missing, whereas the boat house is prominently featured. But man, what a thing to look at. I'd pay 10 pounds to just stare at that model for about half an hour.

Then you go into a room with all the wand boxes they had in the film, which are all inscribed with every member of the cast/crew's names, so you can wander and find famous names. Or ask the staff to find an obscure name and watch them scramble.

Finally, there was the gift shop. I got a video of that place I'm hoping to upload, but – ugggggggggh I want so much stuff in that shop. There's actually a huge quantity of Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw merchandise, which never happens, and also Chudley Cannons, Hollyhead Harpies, Bulgaria & Ireland team jerseys, Honeydukes candies, Ministry-themed merchandise, magical creatures merchandise, wands, the plates from Umbridge's Office, a bunch of making-of books, quaffles & snitches (where are my bludgers at? I want a bludger!), and – just... so much stuff. So much cool stuff. So much stuff of actual quality make.

I got a hoodie. A Ravenclaw hoodie. It cost too much but it is glorious and I needed a new hoodie anyway. I managed to get away without buying anything else, but man did I want more. Sigh! If I had a million dollars, I would have a ridiculously nerdy collection of things.

Oh, and I forgot to mention – that field of green screens we saw outside? The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them set! !! I should not be excited for that movie. I am still angry it's being made. But damn it. ...I am a little excited.

It's probably going to be garbage.

...Still excited.

Curses.

Then we went to Wagamama for dinner, where our waiter made the mistake of asking me for 3DS game recommendations and ended up being held up for 5 minutes as I gave him a very thorough answer. We picked up snacks after that, to prepare us for our Order of the Phoenix watching party, and returned to our hotel.

So I packed as we watched OoTP, and we ate snacks, and hung out, and went to bed what was probably too late, but it was our last night, so of course we were going to do that. I just feel bad, because Kat had to drive home. Hope you drove safe, Kat! I'll find out when I've landed, I guess.

So, here we are.

Day 54.

Or 55, depending on how you count that first interminable day.

Either way, I'm coming home.

I feel like this was too long away, or something. People keep saying they've grown used to me being away, and I don't care for that. But I suspect this will be my last trip of this magnitude in my lifetime, and that's enough of a thought to make it worth it. And all of these trips lined up too perfectly for me to leave it undone. My mother had to be in the UK for July 7th. Wolf, Nicole and Gal were already making their graduation trips to Europe, whether I joined them or not. And my invitation to join Kat in France has been standing for days – and they left just a few days after Wolf & co. were flying home.

It's been one hell of a trip.

I'll be glad to be home.

I'll miss exploring the world.

But...

I guess I am going to Japan in a month, anyway. (For those of you who didn't know... uhm – SURPRISE!)

Next time on the travel blog: I coach my father through culture shock!

It's gonna be fun.

(P.S. I'm going to try hard to resist breaking the ankles of the man who is sat near me on this plane. There's an empty seat between us yet he still has his legs so stretched out they are across that seat and UNDER MY SEAT. Sir, you aren't the only one with messed up knees around here! He literally has them resting on my feet sometimes. I just- arrrrrrrgh.)
 
 
Current Mood: sleepysleepy
 
 
 
taowhotravels
16 August 2015 @ 04:22 pm
Well hello, blog-readers! It's been a while.

I last wrote about Day 42, which seems like a long, long time ago. I was waiting awkwardly in a hotel room that wasn't my own for Welsh people to arrive.

I did need dinner before they arrived, though, as it turned out they wouldn't be in until past 10 o'clock, so I marched myself up to the only nearby food provision source – a KFC. This KFC resulted in the most confusion I have ever suffered in a fast food restaurant (except maybe the time a manager at a DQ shouted at me “A CONE IN A CUP IS A SUNDAE. IT'S THE LAW OF DAIRY QUEEN!”) - because this KFC did not serve original recipe chicken. They didn't serve chicken thighs or legs at all, in fact. Only sandwiches, chicken wings (which were not breaded, unless you wanted spicy ones) and sundaes. Is the purpose of KFC not the original recipe crispy skin which is two bites of delight followed by multiple bites of regret?

One disappointing chicken sandwich consumed, I returned to the hotel, waited until the traffic from the ferry from the UK started arriving, and headed down to greet everyone as they struggled with the automated booking system. I then discovered that when you get 7 Welsh people into a room their accents compound upon each other and my ability to understand them diminishes rapidly.

I'm going to write a brief introduction to my Welsh companions to put their appearances in context.

THE WILLIAMS FAMILY

1) Kat – one of my online friends from the Harry Potter message boards way back. You may recall her appearance during Eurotrip 2015 when we stopped over in Bath.

2) Elaine – Kat's mom. She likes frogs, is ceaselessly outgoing, and is known for giving hilariously misguided answers at Trivial Pursuit. She was in charge of telling as many people as possible “J'ai perdu mon requin gonflable” on the trip. (That means “I've lost my inflatable shark”, for the record.)

3) Paul – Kat's dad. He is pretty much the opposite in terms of trivia and constantly serves out random facts about the areas and things we encountered on the trip.

THE GANGES FAMILY

4) Gareth – The Williams' friend from Rugby Club. He's relatively quiet so I can't speak to what he may or may not like, but he's a cool guy and may have a clone in France.

5) Marina – Gareth's partner. She likes rugby a LOT. Also karaoke. And cider. And presumably Gareth.

6) Carwyn – Gareth's son. He's 16. He likes his phone. And his girlfriend. And being on his phone to message his girlfriend. And charging his phone so he can use it to message his girlfriend.

7) Megan – Gareth's daughter. She's 14. I spent a 10 minute conversation trying to get her to talk about what she liked. As I recall, she came up with dancing, and music. All kinds of music. She specifically referenced Vance Joy.

And me! The wayward Canadian.

We all found our ways into our room – and after I set up Streetpass for Kat, because she's had a 3DS for 3 years yet has been missing out on the glory of Streetpass and that is terrible – we went to bed.

43 days in, we woke up bright and early for a mediocre hotel breakfast! Then we got in the car and began the 4 hour drive to Bénodet. 4 hours is an eternally long drive to Welsh people. They described a 45 minute drive as a long one at one point during the week. As a Canadian, I am – slightly bewildered by that. I was also bewildered by the fact that they believed that 19 degrees was boiling hot, but that's probably slightly coloured by the fact that I had just come from places where it was 35 degrees.

The drive wasn't particularly eventful, other than repeated traffic jams. Kat and I listened to music on the way down, we picked up food for lunch at a grocery store (that I think they kept calling a hyper-market? I never asked for clarification) and ate it while on our way. I was also introduced to a game, which was basically a scavenger hunt for the French departements on license plates. To clarify – there's a number on the bottom right hand side of most French license plates. This identifies the region the person who owns the car is from. We were trying to spot them all. I spotted all but one – which I believe is the same for the other team, which was Elaine, Megan, and Marina.

(There's another game called “Cheese on Wheels” where basically you point out every yellow car by saying “Cheese on Wheels!” It's... pretty straightforward.)

We also saw Mont St. Michel, but only at a distance. Sorry for all of you people who messaged me who told me that I should see it. We also went through the town that Kat lived in when she lived in France. Which is a very pretty town and was way bigger than I thought.

Then we got to the campsite! The campsite is not really a campsite so much as it is a vacation resort place. But it is pretty badass. There are a bunch of little trailers-turned cottages, a ropes course, climbing wall, adult tricycles, and our cottage was a two-story four-bedroom deal. It was pretty sweet.

Then we went for proper groceries, bought a metric ton of them, and had REALLY tasty pizza from the “campsite” takeaway. Pizzas with eggs on them need to be more of a thing.

We also all started calling wasps Dennis, because Marina, Elaine, and Megan named the wasp in their car that.

Then we went to bed! Because, exhaustion.

Day 44! A pretty lazy day. Several of these days were gloriously lazy, as you might tell by the fact that I managed to actually post photos. If you're a person who is checking out my photos.

I woke up, had some croissants for breakfast, as we did every day at the “campsite”, and then everyone (with the exception of Paul and Gareth) went for a nice long swim at the pool. The indoor pool, while nice for pale individuals like me, was also crowded as heck. People were splashing, throwing things around, and generally being in the way. An old man foolishly decided to take his camera out near the pool to take pictures of his family, and I was watching that going like “Oh my God this is going to end terribly.” and it did. His camera was SOAKED. Oh lord. Poor old dude. He looked so disappointed.

We also swam outside in the pool up there and played this game called “Can't Catch the Butcher”, which is basically tag in the water, but with a faaaaaar more violent name that makes it more fun. I also went down the world's coldest, slowest waterslide. Then we got in the jacuzzi, thinking it would warm us up, but as it turns out, the jacuzzi operates on cold water. Uhhhh... okay then.

After a quick shower and change, we retired to the “campsite” bar. I can't remember the context, but Kat had earlier in the day accused me of being a bad influence, so two drinks into the evening, I bought us both a shot. This led me to both of us being quite drunk! So I lived up to her accusation. This made it particularly interesting when we started playing Trivial Pursuit after dinner. Dinner was a barbeque of assorted meat on skewers, by the way, including “Tex-Mex” meat on a skewer, a concept that just confused me.

Not like I was going to be especially useful in the state I was in, but that was the most brutal game of Trivial Pursuit I've ever played. So many questions about Rugby. And what they call football. And British people. I managed to answer some questions about geography (when they weren't like “what's the county town of Essex”) and actors, and also helped steer my teammate Marina in the right direction a couple of times, so in the end our team came a close second to Kat and Megan. Elaine and Carwyn were dead last, but in Elaine's defense, Carwyn abandoned her immediately to... for once not text his girlfriend. I think he was taking pictures of the stars or something?

Then it was to bed, because we were waking up bright and early on Day 45.

We went to a French market (after yet more croissants) and window shopped. As much as you can call shopping at stalls window shopping. No actual windows are involved.

The market kind of reminded me of a night market. Various accessories, random decorations, clothing, foods, were all available for sale. Some of them are terrible, some of them are really nice. Kat purchased a bag with converse shoes embroidered on it, which is appropriate, because Kat is both obsessed with shoes and bags. Now she has an item to celebrate both those loves.

After wandering, we returned to the gite/cottage and went swimming again! This time the main pool was... in all honesty, even more crowded. But luckily it was crowded in no small part with tiny babies who were floating around being adorable, so it provided for some excellent people watching. Which is... good, because there wasn't much room for swimming.

Pools – they're great sometimes, except when there are people in them you don't actually know.

By the time we got back to the gite, Paul and Elaine were busy cooking up a feast! Swordfish and grilled zucchini and boiled potatoes – all amazing food which I consumed happily. Swimming always makes me hungry, even if it is paddling around a small area. Marina and Gareth and the kids went off to the bar to hang out.

It is here that I should mention that Elaine is very assertive when she offers you things. This might be a Welsh thing, or a her thing, but either way, as a Canadian, I am not used to so aggressively having to refuse gifts and kind offers. So when she went inside to serve up some watermelon, I didn't say no. I mean, mostly because I wanted watermelon. But when she came back with literally a quarter of a watermelon and put it in front of me with a spoon... that was a little intimidating.

Luckily it was good watermelon. I did actually finish it. As Paul and Kat killed themselves laughing.

Then we went up to the bar ourselves, hoping to join the Ganges (and Marina, who is actually a Jones) in their revelry, but they were nowhere to be seen, so we had our own drinks in the drizzly rain. I was chilly, so I had an Irish Coffee, as Kat, who was plenty warm, helped herself to some tequila sunrises. Which came with glow sticks in them. We had some discussion about whether or not that'd be allowed in Canada. I figure it probably is? Somebody who drinks in clubs more often should tell me if they've ever seen this.

Back to the gite we went, and we curled into bed. I doubt it happened so neatly, and at some point I must have uploaded photos, but WHO CAN SAY.

Day 46! We went to Concarneau and Port Aven. They're tourist traps! But pretty ones.

Concarneau was first. It was about 40 minutes away from the “campground”, and is an old walled city filled with souvenir shops, chocolateries, bakeries, and most importantly – creperies. We wandered around for an hour or two, taking pictures and avoiding the rain as much as possible. I sampled honey cakes with pistachios and chocolate in. I expected the pistachio one to win the best cake award (maybe expecting baklava?) but the chocolate one won hands down.

I looked over the edge of the wall and saw tiny fish. Kat went into a bead shop and didn't buy anything (if you know her, you know this is a momentous occasion). We listened to a brass band and also a celtic band. I was bought a Bretagne flag, because hurrah for Celtic nations!

Then we had crepes! Two each. I had a mushroom, lardons (soft bacon bits, basically), and egg crepe, and a baked apple, butter and sugar crepe. They were all deliiiicious. Crepes at home aren't nearly as good as they are in France. We do not use the right type of flour. I don't know exactly what they use but it is better.

Then we took off for Pont Aven, which is – that is not an easy City name to say in French. It makes it pretty clear that the Celts had more influence in that area of France than the French, all on its own.

Pont Aven is just – pretty. It reminded me of a lot of the towns in Cornwall. Just beautiful scenery, nice little shops, a river running through it. Lots of bridges, as the “Pont” might imply. We all kind of split up through this town and walked our own ways. I took many pictures. Then Elaine and Kat caught up with me and Marina and Megan. Elaine was telling us that there are rapids in part of the river and recommended we walk over.

The rapids were pretty tame, as they go, but they reminded me of the parts of Lynn Valley where you can actually swim. Elaine got in and wandered through the water for a while, and Kat dipped her toes. I didn't want my sandals wet, or I would have joined her. It was pretty dang cold, though!

Then we returned to the gite, ate some cheese, bread and burgers for dinner, and that was that! Megan, Kat and I tried to get to bed early (I'm not sure any of us succeeded) because the next day was zoo day!

Day 47!

By the time everyone was awake, we were off to the Pont Scorff Zoo. Kat drove Megan and me like an hour away to the zoo, listening to the Deathly Hallows soundtracks the whole way. It was one ominous car ride.

At the Zoo, there were animals! Surprise! Notable sights include the SAND CATS which I bold because they are some of my favourite animals and I'd never had the pleasure of seeing one before. They are adorable fluffy balls of feral energy. Although they were napping when we saw them.

They also had a raccoon on display, which – much like in Australia, struck me as very funny. Because to us, those guys are vermin. It was also the tiniest raccoon I'd ever seen. I don't think it was particularly representative of raccoons.

There was also goats that were allowed to wander free amongst us, as well as a rabbit that was not meant to wander free amongst us but had flown the coop and was hanging around in the monkey cage. Which doesn't seem safe. Monkeys are killers, tiny rabbit. Watch yourself.

We also waited an hour for snacks, and because that more or less caused us to melt in the heat. It was like 26 out, but waiting in a concrete lot is no joke. We were all chugging slush puppies. Which are never as delicious as they were when it is too damn hot out.

We also saw a Sea Lion show, which was pretty impressive because the Sea Lions were super well trained. But also because there was a little redhead girl in the crowd who was SUPER PUMPED for these damn sea lions. She stood up on her seat and started clapping, like 20 minutes before the show, and chanting “LES OTA-RETS! LES OTA-RETS! LES OTA-RETS!”, trying to convince them to come out early. And then, when they showed up, she clapped like a LUNATIC and screamed “BRAVOOOOO! BRAVOOOOOOOOOOO! BRAVOOOOO!” and then her parents made her shut up, which made me so super sad because she was the highlight of the whole thing.

Then we went to the Bird show, which was especially amazing. They let the birds fly out across the crowd so you could get a really good view of them no matter where you were sitting, and they showed off all kinds of birds. Penguins, Cormorants, Pelicans, Owls of several types, Falcons – and for a finale, they let all the parrots, storks, and ibises out of their cages and let them soar over the whole zoo. Which is both really great because it was cool to see the birds really stretching their wings, and also because they just kept coming from all directions! Then they went back to their perches, because – food, it lures all creatures.

Then we headed home, and normally this is where I would say we had dinner and went to bed. We did have dinner, it was a clearing the fridge dinner that ended up involving every type of food imaginable, you'll see when I post photos. But we most certainly did not go to bed. Or at least Kat and I didn't.

Instead, we stayed up until 3am setting up Paul's birthday party. Kat had been given the option of theme, so she picked Harry Potter theme. Oh man did she dig into that. She made drink charms for wine glasses that are tiny models of the books. She tempered chocolate and made chocolate frog boxes and boxes for jellybeans to be Bertie Botts beans. She set up little posters, she decorated the bathroom like Moaning Myrtle's toilet (including basilisk), she relabeled all the drinks in the fridge to be potions. She even set up house point jars, with appropriately coloured beads! It was incredibly impressive and I feel honoured to have helped.

Having said that, by 3am I was ready to sleep like a rock.

So, on day 48, I woke up in Hogwarts, and spent my time there... uploading photos.

What can I say, I was exhausted.

That afternoon, though, we headed down to Quimper, which is the largest nearby city. It's another old, beautiful city, in a way that reminded me a lot of Bruges. Except I don't think it's quite that old.

We were basically just wandering around and allowing Kat and Elaine to do their shopping. We wandered around Eurodif, which is a department store. We checked out chocolate shops, and designer clothes stores, and even wandered into a “games and manga shop” which had 15 shelves filled with used video games and a single manga shelf that looked like the books on it were used too. We also had some coffee and drinks near the food market. That food market smelled kind of terrible, despite the food looking great, which was confusing.

We wanted to take a ride on a tiny train, but it turns out tiny trains are too popular in the summer and we missed our chance for a ride. Just as well. Tiny trains are for suckers.

After our brief journey to Quimper, we went back to the gite, got ready to go out for Paul's birthday dinner at the “campground” restaurant, and all headed down together.

It was actually very good food, but the meal was... complicated. We sat down and got our drinks and starters easily enough, but then all of the sudden, when we were in the middle of eating our starters, two of the mains showed up.

Those of us who had ordered starters just kind of stared and were like “wait, wh- we've been eating this for like two minutes, France, hold on.” Meanwhile, Gareth, who didn't have a starter, accepted one of the mains and happily started eating.

When the waitress asked which of us was having the other main (same as Gareth's), both Kat and I put up our hands, and seeing barely-eaten first courses in front of us, the waitress hurriedly ran away for the kitchen.

As it turns out, Gareth ate somebody else's food, and as a result, that table was delayed.

As was, seemingly, the entire process of dinner.

I watched the waitresses look increasingly more stressed out. Food started coming out inconsistently to certain tables, and of course the table that got their meals stolen by our table were upset.

Gareth finished his meal about 20 minutes after our starters, and he still got back from a walk around the “campground” before we'd even gotten our mains.

Eventually it got sorted out, finally, and we all enjoyed the food. That service was just pretty horrendous, and the language barrier between us and the servers didn't help.

With food enjoyed in a somewhat confusing manner – we went back to the gite, and it was sleep times.

Day 49 – we're in the home stretch now.

On Day 49 I wasn't feeling great. I'd had a lingering nausea problem since we'd gone to Pont Aven that would come and go, and it was particularly bad this day. So I didn't do much but goof around on the internet. Other people went out swimming, or read, or did other things. It was a nice lazy day.

So as a result, the only thing really worth mentioning (other than the fact that Welsh people apparently start packing even earlier than me – Canadians would be in shock) was that we went to an award-winning pizza place!

It's called Chez Alain, and is literally in the sketchiest location, down a side alley next to a worn down yellow sign. The decor isn't particularly exciting, and honestly, I'd have never guessed that this place would be any great shakes from all of that. But its owner, Alain Olivier, was the first person to place in the top 5 of the world pizza-making championship, held in Italy, who was not actually Italian.

We kind of assume he won because he can make paper-thin crust without it breaking or going hard. It was delicious pizza which was ALL about the ingredients. I don't remember what I had, except that it involved egg, again, and he was the first person who managed to successfully soft-broil the egg on the pizza rather than making the egg yolk cook through. It also had fresh cream on it, because the egg mixed into the cream perfectly. Actually if I think about this pizza too much I could probably work it out, what he used, but this is also making me far too hungry considering what hour of the night it is.

We enjoyed a fantastic meal that night – the night that would be our last night in Benodet.

The morning of Day 50, we packed up and headed for Roscoff.

But that's a story for another day. It's late. Everyone here must go to bed.

I'll tell you about the road home next time.
 
 
Current Mood: sleepysleepy
 
 
taowhotravels
07 August 2015 @ 10:12 am
All my recent blogs seem to be tools I use to avoid the nauseating fact that is riding a train facing backwards. This one is particularly bad. It sways like an ocean liner. Bleargh.

Day 39! My first full day in Paris. So what to do but... sleep in and then go on a walking tour! Yaaaaay~!

I took the Metro to Cité, which is where you'd find Notre Dame and all that, and met my free tour at Saint Michel's Fountain, which itself is a pretty sight. I arrived with about 15 minutes to go, so I took the time to grab a sandwich with tomato, lettuce and goat cheese that was grilled so the cheese was all melty and it was delicioussss~. And cheap. Cheap is always a bonus.

And then it was time for the tour! My guide was from Mexico and has worked as a tour guide both there and in Cambridge. So he's got about a decade's worth of experience. He gave us all an extensive speech about how we should tip ethically, and talked about how most local tours cost 20 euros, which was like – awkward, because sir, if I could afford to pay 20 euros, I would go to one of those.

So that got the tour off to an uncomfortable start, but he was a pretty solid tour guide. We of course went to Notre Dame and talked about how Napoleon basically told the Catholic Church to GTFO of his power structure.

Then we walked to the Pont Neuf, and discovered a fence where everyone now puts their love locks, because the love lock bridge is dead. Having subsequently crossed many bridges and passed many famous buildings, I can assure you that love locks are basically being placed EVERYWHERE IN THE CITY. So I think those dudes need to build a fence specifically dedicated to the love locks ASAP.

We also learned about how horse statues are actually symbolic, if they're made after a certain era, and the position of the horse's feet basically indicates how a person died. All I remember is that the front two feet up means that the person died in battle, all four feet down means they died of natural causes, and one front foot up and one back foot up means they were murrrdereeeddd. Don't ask me why I felt the need to stretch out that word.

Then we went to the Louvre, and as we were walking in I was all “What is this giant building here? Is this a government office of some sort? How odd. Where are the pyramids?” because the only thing I've ever seen/know about the Louvre is those glass pyramids. But did you know that those things are brand new and not really where the Louvre is? I did not. It's housed in giant buildings that are former royal palaces. And I'm staring at these things and going “DEAR GOD THE LARGEST MUSEUM”. It's not officially the largest museum but it sure seems impressive by how far it's spread out.

Then we walked through this park to this big square which are both famous but I don't remember the names of either of them, shame me in the comments if you must, and the tour ended there. So I walked down to admire the giant obelisk in the middle of the square. “You might think that Napoleon stole this, because he stole so much from Egypt” said my tour guide as we had arrived. “But it was actually a gift because a French man figured out how to read hieroglyphics by translating the Rosetta Stone.” So that's pretty nice, I guess. Although if somebody stole that much stuff from me I wouldn't be thrilled with the idea of giving them a priceless gift but WHATEVER.

Our tour guide had told us it was a really nice walk to the Eiffel Tower from there, so that sounded like a good idea. What I'd forgotten was that it's a so-hot-milk-is-a-bad-choice kind of day and I had to buy two bottles of water on this walk, which as it turned out, was about a 40 minute walk. I was more or less melting by the end of it.

Wow it was impressive, though. It honestly took me by surprise. I did not expect the Eiffel Tower to be anything special, but that thing is INSANELY tall. I had no idea how tall it was. I mean yes, I should have figured, considering how it stuck out from the rest of the city, but somehow, I wasn't expecting skyscraper height. It was just enormous. The idea that they built this thing as an ENTRANCE GATE for a world's fare that was only going to last 20 years – that is INSANE. No wonder public opinion was so strongly against it. I mean, I know that it's now the so-popular symbol of France, but my lord. Up front that would have seemed like the biggest waste of money.

Then I wandered around the fair grounds – I mean not really, but they felt a lot like them – and looked for a good souvenir and ended up finding a bunch of food stalls instead. So I checked my watch, discovered that it was actually dinner time, and decided to indulge. The thing that drew me was so damn weird that I had to stand and stare at the food for a long while, watched other people be served it, and then walked up to the woman at the counter and was like “C'est un peu mysterieux, tout ça.” and she laughed and explained to me that basically, they would give me a plate which was actually a big flat piece of bread, they would put salad and fries on it, and then they'd slap down a big serving of stew in the middle of it of one of many different types of meats. I asked for duck stew. There were peppers, and onions, and freshly fried up duck. Pretty delicious. Pretty difficult to eat, because the bread was a plate which meant that if I put it down somewhere, I couldn't eat it, so I'm just sitting there balancing my “plate” in one hand while trying to eat my duck with the tiniest fork one has ever had the pleasure of seeing. It was awkward, yet I managed not to get it all over myself.

Then I had an ice cream as I headed to the nearest metro, Metro'd my way home to my hotel – and I'm going to choose this place to talk about the Metro announcer on the #4 line, because it's as good a place as any. He announces every station twice. Once just before we arrive, and the second time as we come to a stop. But the first time, he says it like a question – like he's lost, and is trying to reassure himself that he's in the right place, but isn't entirely confident, and it's not until we come into the station that he's sure of himself. So it's like “Raspail?” and then there's a pause, and then as you can see the signs show up, it's as if he's gone “aaah yes, I'm right” and then he says “Raspail!” And inwardly you feel proud of him for getting it right. Good work, sir.

So I got off the Metro, had a brief adventure in a grocery store that was so poorly laid out that pretty much everyone there was wandering aimlessly trying to find what they needed. At first I was worried it was just me but then I heard three other people telling their shopping companions that this was the worst layout they'd ever seen, and I felt justified.

So I purchased a bottle of lemon squeeze which I figured would be lemonade-ish but turned out to really just be a giant bottle of lemon juice, which means I was lucky I bought several liters of water as well so I could cut it. I also bought some locally grown yellow plums, which were delicious, and some red currants, because I figured I wasn't likely to see them in another grocery store for a long time. I expected the currants to be sweet because they were huge and swollen, but NOPE. More sour than gooseberries. Pretty intense.

Then I watched some French TV, which was mostly English TV dubbed over with French voices, and also One Piece, because there seems to be a channel that just plays One Piece all goddamn day. I also saw three One Piece pirate flags in town, which is almost as many French flags as I'd seen the whole time.

Then it was sleep time. Zzzzs were had.

Day 40! Another milestone. Only one more number divisible by 10 until I'm home!

On Day 40 I decided I needed to see every thing that was stereotypical Paris I had not yet seen. So I went to Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Arc du Triomphe.

Notre Dame was first, so – first order of business was yet again subsisting off of a street food sandwich, which was tasty but not nearly as much as the one the day before. But I impressed the guy there who was speaking to me in English by responding to him every time in French. He wouldn't switch over, even still, but damn it this is a matter of principle.

So I waited in the substantial line for Notre Dame, and got inside, and I was like... y'know what, this church isn't so impressive. I can only assume that this is Victor Hugo's fine work, the fact that the cathedral is so hyped up. I have been to multiple churches that are a great deal cool-

OH MY GOD I CAN LITERALLY SEE A COOLER CHURCH OUT THE WINDOW RIGHT NOW. WHERE ARE WE.

We are in Lisieux! I got a picture. Sorry, I got distracted for a moment there, where was I?

Oh right, so Notre Dame. No big deal. Most notable thing: the fact that the confessional is set up like an office, with a giant desk with one chair on one side, one on the other, and filing cabinets.

Which – like- are you keeping records on what people confess, priests, because I'm pretty sure that's against the rules.

Other than that there were some nuns begging, and a little gift shop where half the stuff didn't even have prices on it, which meant I didn't buy stuff I might have otherwise, but – who knows. I assumed it was super expensive. Maybe I was right. I mean, the rosaries were priced and those were 10 euros which is madness.

So then I left Notre Dame, and walked to the Louvre, and avoided the many people trying to sell me selfie sticks – oh my God, tourists, you look insane when you take photos of things with your forward-facing camera with a selfie stick. Remove your phone from the stick when you are not actively selfie-ing, you lunatics.

The Louvre had a half hour line, which I spent behind THE WORST FAMILY IN THE WORLD. I'm sorry, human beings. Maybe you have good traits. All I know is that I was in line behind you, and there was a silent father, two daughters, and a son, and a mother who was actively encouraging the oldest daughter to shame the younger daughter for not wearing sexier clothing and mascara and looking a little more “like a woman”. SHE COULD NOT HAVE BEEN OLDER THAN 10. Like, listen, if your kid is precocious and wants to try using makeup and dressing up I'm actually of the opinion that they should be allowed to. But holy hell, if your 10 year old doesn't want to wear mascara, SHUT UP ABOUT IT. And then they moved on to shaming the son for not showing an interest in girls yet and being shy and I just wanted to shove this mother over the barricade and into the selfie-stick buskers so much.

Eventually I got away from these infuriating people and wandered the Louvre! It's a big museum, as I expected, and very easy to get lost in. I actually don't find art super interesting, so I just kind of rushed through the whole thing. So sue me, this segment of culture ain't my thing. I did see the Mona Lisa, and the Venus de Milo, and all that. I was prepared for the fact that the Mona Lisa is tiny and relatively inconsequential and has to be seen through a wall of 200 people, so it was pretty cool to see, but not particularly amazing. I wasn't actively disappointed, though!

The coolest part of the Louvre is actually the piece of the Louvre that was left the way it was when the royals actually lived there, which kind of leads me to think that they should have just left this palace the way it was and built themselves another art museum. I think that palace, if kept in its entirety, would have rivaled the Biltmore in a showing of ludicrous wealth.

My point: cloth “wallpaper” is the sign of a true madman with far too much money.

After wandering the entire museum in about 4 hours (and considering how fast I was going, that's an indication of how huge this place is) I headed out of the building and towards the Arc. It was visible straight from the Louvre, but my lord it was hot out. I stopped twice to purchase a drink because I desperately needed one. I also stopped in a souvenir store, where I broke a christmas ornament that they extreeemely kindly did not charge me for because there's nothing like spending 15 euros on absolutely nothing.

I saw the Arc! I – uhm – didn't do much there. Just looked at it. Then escaped to the Metro. Back home, found a bakery, purchased myself yet another sandwich (still not as good as goat cheese sandwich, probably the second best I had anyway) and walked home to my hotel, and enjoyed it with my giant tub of lemon juice.

Then I watched more TV, talked to the Motherly Unit, Skyped with Adam, and slept! With literally no idea of what I was going to do the next day, but with ambitions to be supremely lazy all day so my aching feet could recover.

And here I'll take a wee break for we are almost in Caën.

I'm here! But the reception of the hotel is locked. Fortunately it is a beautiful day so I can wait the hour until they open again out here on the terrace, typing my blog.

So! Uh, where was I going with this. Right.

Day 41! I woke up at noon, feeling incredibly well-rested, and basically right there and then decided that I would go to the Père Lachaise Cemetery where there are many famous graves, and also go on a walking tour of Montmartre, which is a cool neighbourhood that was built up by artists in the Belle Epoque. This tour got really talked up by my Mexican-Cambridge-French tourguide on day 1 so I was pretty curious. Turned out to be the best decision I made in Paris, but that story comes later.

SO. I get on my train and make my way to the Cemetery. What's there to say about the Cemetery? Well, I saw the grave of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, and Edith Piaf, which is, in a morbid way, pretty cool. But I'll start from the beginning.

I just started randomly wandering at first, reading the tombstones and trying to puzzle out why all these people from EXTREMELY different time periods were all buried together and coming up with nothing, and then I was like “I should actually formulate a plan because this place is enormous and I will just end up lost with the dead people.”

So I went to Oscar Wilde's grave! Because it was closest.

His grave has a giant Egyptian figure on it for reasons I don't really understand, and is protected by plastic and a rotating host of armed guards. This is because apparently, ladies keep climbing onto the grave next to him (TACKY, TACKY, holy hell the people disobeying basic cemetery etiquette in this place), putting on bright coloured lipstick, and giving the grave a smooch so it leaves a mark on it. I don't quite understand this ritual. I mean surely, you would at least want your gentleman friends to be the ones participating in that action? I don't recall Mr. Wilde being particularly up for lady smooches. Maybe it's a reference I'm not getting.

From there I wandered in the general direction of Jim Morrison's grave, and on the way saw graves for every particular variety of war casualties France could have possibly had (Tunisia, Morocco, WWI, WWII, etc), as well as separate graves for their allies in the same conflicts, as well. They also had a bunch of graves for members of the Communist Party, which made me laugh because wow that would not fly in so many places, and here it's like “these heroes helped us oust the Nazis”.

Also, there were a bunch of graves that made me stop and stare at them and go “Wow, an ASSHOLE was buried here”. Because listen. Sepulchers and Mausoleums are cool. I am the first to admit that. But if you feel the need for yours to be 20 feet high and have “BLESSED BY JESUS THE SON OF GOD” written on them in enormous letters, as well as a bunch of statues of angels surrounding your sculpted charicature, I am going to assume you were an asshole with way too much money.

There were also really depressing graves, including one that said (all this is in French, of course), “My son was the only thing that kept me alive, but he preceded me to the grave”, or something like that, and that was THE SADDEST. People who buy a family grave where the first name carved on it is a baby's – HEARTBREAK.

I ended up taking a wrong turn and getting kind of lost on my way to Jim Morrison's grave, because this cemetery is huge and meandering, but eventually I found it. I had totally expected a bigger crowd in front of Jim's grave, but there were half the people there were for Oscar Wilde and the fence wasn't nearly so large. There was a tree covered in bubblegum, though. ...Another reference I don't get.

Then my last goal was to find Edith Piaf. Turns out, in my wandering to find Jim Morrison, I had passed her grave TWICE and not realized, which – I am disappointed in your lack of respect for Edith, tourists. That place should have been crowded.

So I found her grave, and stood next to it while listening to “Je ne regrette rien”, which was a pretty champ moment in my life. Her grave is pretty unassuming, and she shares it with several other people – as I recall they are all people with pretty tragic stories.

Of the three graves I saw, I have to say that hers was most meaningful to me personally – but I don't know why!

Then a bunch of tourists showed up and sat on all the graves surrounding her and like – climbed on top of graves around so they could get to her because I was in the pathway, and... AUUUUGH come on people respect the resting places of the dead, you dicks. I only accept that behaviour from small children who are too busy loving life to realize that there are people who might be upset by them climbing on these cool rock slabs.

Then I departed and made my way to where my walking tour was going to start! I walked out of the Metro and was like “...Well! There's the Moulin Rouge! ...That was unexpected!”

Second observation: “HOT DAMN THIS NEIGHBOURHOOD IS SKETCHY.”

Which, I guess shouldn't be a surprise, it's where all the sex shops, brothels and cabarets are. But it was nonetheless unpleasant to be there.

But I waited for my tour (and got a Subway sandwich because I had all of 10 minutes to eat before it started) and thus encountered the MOST ENDEARING TOUR GUIDE EVER.

Her name is Roberta, and she was born in the North of England (think: York) and then moved to Sicily (think: The Godfather) and then moved to France because she loved French culture and as a result her accent is BONKERS. She also has all of the delightful colloquialisms of Northern England and all of the exaggerated hand-gestures and energy of Italians. She was an absolute delight, my God.

So Roberta promises us a tour filled with “Sex! And sex! And art! And art! And sex! And suicide! And more suicide! And MORE suicide! And then a bit of sex at the end there.” and only she could make suicide sound so exciting.

So, we went on the tour. We talked about the red light district, and all about the Moulin Rouge, and the famous artists that frequented it. We talked about Amelie, and she showed us the café where they filmed most of it. We talked about Van Gogh, and she showed us an apartment where he lived for a while. It was obvious that everyone that currently lived there hated us. Apparently a woman once leant out the window of her apartment and declared in heavily accented English “'E dozzent live 'ere anymohre!” which the tour just found profoundly amusing.

IMHO, if you buy an apartment at a place that bears a plaque that declares that somebody famous once lived there, you cannot then be upset that tourists drop by to look at your apartment building.

Roberta also told us about the Bobos, aka hipsters, that took over the neighbourhood. But this isn't Main Street style hipsters – this is a worse vintage of hipster. Somebody who was born with a ton of money but has pretensions of artistic desires and thus moves into the “artsy” side of town, gentrifies the hell out of it, and turns it into the most expensive area in Paris. So many artisinal coffee shops.

So she complained about the Bobos a lot, which was funny. Then we walked up the hill to this statue of a woman named Dalida, who is a very famous singer, and had a lot of very famous romances, where literally every one of her lovers seems to have killed himself. “Not over her, which is even worse!” says Roberta. Is it really worse? I'm not sure. Anyway, she ended up committing suicide too, at 53, which is pretty rough. Poor woman.

It's apparently good luck if you touch statue Dalida's breasts, so Roberta encouraged us all to do it and then marched us up the hill to Sacre Coeur, which is legit already a more impressive church than Notre Dame, and it also features an amazing view, and I didn't even have to leave Paris to find it, so I repeat: what's all the fuss about Notre Dame?

Anyway! We got 4 minutes to take pictures of the view, and then she took us into the tourist trap restaurant central area by the church, and then down to Picasso's old haunt, and she finished the tour by being like “hey, a ton of people we talked about on this tour were depressed, but Pablo Picasso sure wasn't!” to which I say: “yes, but wasn't he also supposedly a huge jerk?”

I mean, I didn't say it out loud, but I thought it.

Then I followed her directions towards a supposedly good restaurant, but I couldn't find it where she said it was. Instead I found myself back in the supremely sketchy area of town, and was so intimidated I didn't even want to wander to find a restaurant. So I didn't! I went back to the area where my hotel was, found a place that served a savoury gallette and a sweet crepe and a beverage in one meal deal, was deeply impressed by how tasty it all was, and then returned to my room, very much wishing a grocery store was open so I could get something to drink.

Back up to my room, another Skype chat with Adam, another call to the parental units, and then it was 2am and I was like “Oh God I guess I should sleep” but also I was supremely glad that checkout was at noon.

Which brings us to...

Day 42! Today! Again, uneventful. I got checked out, I made my way through the metro system to St. Lazare, the train station I was due to be at. I got lunch there, which yet again involved a sandwich, as well as a supremely mediocre croissant. (Also, can we talk about how the places called La Croissanterie don't seem to actually sell croissants, because what's up with that?)

Then I got on a train, came to Caën, and got to the hotel via taxi... but they won't let me check in unless I pay for everyone's room, as it turns out! Which was not the scenario I was expecting.

I honestly can't remember if Kat & family are supposed to arrive at 7pm or 9pm, which now makes a substantial difference as to my level of feeling the need to pay for the rooms rather than wait, because either I'd wait an hour, which is no big deal, or three, which is more of a deal. I honestly cannot recall. Whoops.

Well, with the blog done, I guess I'm going to go inside and see if they have wifi. So I can post this thing, and also check when my latest traveling companions arrive!

UPDATE: She let me into the room without paying, although I think I'm going to have to pay anyway, because reception closes at 9 (WTF?) and everybody has to be paid up by then. So OH WELL.
 
 
Current Mood: uncomfortableuncomfortable
 
 
taowhotravels
Day 37! I woke up, heavily protesting the early hour. I even went so far as to set an alarm for two hours later, settled back into bed, and then like 5 minutes later was like “NOOOO I MUST SEE BRUGES ARRRRGH” and got up and showered and was a human being.

First order of business: free breakfast at the hotel. Pretty much the same food as was offered at the Amsterdam High School (minus the tomatoes and cucumbers, oh God, when will I eat vegetables again), so I suddenly felt grateful I'd taken a break for coffee shop breakfast the day before.

With breakfast consumed, I was off and away to yet another walking tour. This time it was the Legends of Bruges tour. The guide was named Simon, and he opened the tour with a bunch of jokes at the expense of the French. I went from jokes at the exception of the Swedish, to the Germans, to the French. In general: everybody hates somebody.

It was a cool tour, though. Simon is studying the local area and runs the free tours & company all by himself. He knows a lot about the area, about the architectural styles of the buildings, and what they all are. Asking him a question usually got you a clever and knowledgeable answer.

Basically, the story of Bruges is: it became a very powerful and wealthy port city, bringing goods in from the North Sea and then passing them on around the region. This all went very well, and trade guilds and artists and everyone else gathered in Bruges and it was one of the biggest cities in the region, with lots of beautiful, elaborately kept buildings.

And then their ruler fell off her horse and died unceremoniously, and power passed to her husband, the emperor(?) of Austria. Which nobody was a fan of.

...So he came for a visit and they kidnapped him and locked him in a house in the square and refused to let him out until he seceded power.

And then they tortured and murdered one of his very good friends in the square, while the emperor watched. Because he was taking too long to give up power.

So then they were like “Okay, we'll let you out. But only if you don't punish us.”

So they let him out and he immediately punished them. Both by ordering that no trade could occur in Bruges anymore, and the new port would be Antwerp, and also by giving them a bunch of swans and demanding they keep swans in honour of his murdered friend.

(“Do they still have the swans?”)

So then Bruges became destitute, and everyone left and they never really recovered. But them being totally broke is the reason the town is so old and beautiful, because they couldn't renovate aaaaaaaannything for like 200 years because they were so broke.

Eventually, fairly recently, some tourist came around and was like “Hot damn, this is a beautiful city, look at all this old stuff.” and they went home and told everyone to come to Bruges and today 5 million tourists come every year to visit this town which has like 125,000 people living in it, and tourism is really how they all survive.

Then Simon took us to these stores that obviously sponsor him and we got a discount (if we wanted it) on chocolate, and waffles, and beer.

I bailed on the tour when they were headed to have their beer, because I didn't want the beer wasted on my palate. So I went to get a waffle instead. I got a waffle with strawberries, whipped cream and powdered sugar on it, and got it literally all over my shirt. Those things are impossible to eat cleanly, oh my God. Powdered sugar just flies everywhere.

It was tasty, though. I can't deny that.

So I walked the long way back to my hotel, cleaned up my shirt, and then took an afternoon nap because damn it, I needed it.

I woke up fairly quickly so that I could catch a canal cruise before they closed up for the day. I fully suspected it wouldn't be worth the 8 Euros they charge you for 30 minutes, but I couldn't leave without knowing. So I bought myself a ticket and got onto the canal boat.

Okay, so I know that I've been saying that Bruges is pretty small and it's easy to see it all, but the canal boat definitely brought me to places I hadn't seen before and just gave me a better view of things I'd already seen, like the swans, or the quarantine room at the old hospital. There was one part where you can apparently swim in the canal, which... uh. Gross. That water is brown. And smells terrible. And has a ton of trash in it.

...Gross, man. Europeans have such low standards for what constitutes a clean body of water to swim in. That would not fly in Canada.

Oh wait, people actually swim in the Great Lakes.

Okay, that wouldn't fly in BC.

Another thing I learned on the canal tour: Spanish tourists are the worst. There were a couple of groups of them, and they kept standing up, leaning out of the boat, catcalling women on the shore, and they took a bunch of pictures of the swimming people, all the while wolf-whistling. Gross.

Admittedly I haven't met enough Spanish tourists to judge them all, but this was not a good first impression. The only impression I've had similar to this is Australian dude tourists, and, uh... HAVEN'T BEEN PROVED WRONG YET.

After that I just... okay, straight up, I am living on a shoestring budget right now. I had no money to do anything more but eat dinner. But it was only 4pm. I refused to eat at 4pm. So I wandered. I wandered aimlessly. I got hella lost in Bruges. I found the highway, I found a random giant flea market, I walked so far out into a residential area I started wondering where the hell I went, and then I heard the bell tower in the town centre start clanging away and was like “Oh great” and headed in that direction.

OH YEAH I DIDN'T MENTION THIS YET.

So Bruges has a lot of churches. And bell towers. There is an almost constant sound of bells on a Sunday. The day I was there was a Sunday. So it was like all the bell towers were having a shouting match, all clanging over eachother, some just ringing the time, others playing jaunty tunes, and generally it sounds like the End of the Third Day in Majora's Mask for hours. It sounds less soothing and more oddly ominous.

ANYWAY what was I saying. Oh right I got really lost and wandered around and then found my way back. Then I wandered around looking for the best deal for food. I ended up choosing an Italian place, which might seem like an odd choice to you, but Bruges has like 30 Italian restaurants. I'm pretty sure they have more Italian places than anything else. They even have a place that is both a frozen yogurt place and a pasta bar. Which was bewildering, because there were no signs outside indicating there was pasta inside. But there was. And also frozen yogurt. WTF.

I sat down in this Italian place and set my purse next to my foot in front of my chair so it was resting between me and the wall. Why is this relevant? IT'LL COME UP IN A MOMENT.

So I order a Spaghetti Carbonara and a coke, and I'm happily eating away. To my right is a family happily eating their own meal.

I didn't actually see it happen, or I would have yet another interaction with the police to tell you about. But I did out of the corner of my eye see that somebody had come into the restaurant, briefly (20 seconds at most) loitered behind the family, and then rushed out.

Mom of the family thought that was very weird, that somebody had rushed out so fast. So did the waitress, who saw her while setting a table further up.

Then the mom checked her bag and discovered her phone was gone.

Oh no!! She was upset, all the little childrens were upset, grandma was upset, the waitress was upset. Mom searched her whole bag, confirmed the phone was gone. Shock! Horror! The police were called!

I'm sitting there, thankful I didn't unwarily hang my purse over the back of the chair. Feeling bad for this lady. Still enjoying my spaghetti.

Then the lady – who was mostly speaking in Italian – keeps saying “Gypsy, Gypsy”, and I'm like...

“Noooooo. Nooooo. You are not going there. Are we going full Europe right now?”

Then she threw out “Romani” and I was like “Nooooooooooooooooooooooo Europe no”

Then her and the manager of the restaurant had a moment where they stood around and talked about how the woman was probably a gypsy, how she probably begged for money and stole for a living, and how gypsies have no respect for anything and don't even keep a home so they can't be caught.

Then my emotion was mostly “Glad it was you not me, racist lady! This pasta is delicious.”

Then I bailed out of that restaurant, and went back to the hotel and uploaded a bunch of photos you probably already saw. And Facebook banned me from captioning them, because Facebook is the worst and makes no sense. Then I slept out of frustration.

Day 38 has been pretty uneventful so far. I woke up, I packed, I had breakfast, I went to the post office and got lost on the way because they had blocked the road. I mailed a postcard. I returned to the hotel. I checked out. I took a taxi to the station. I took a train to Brussels. I am currently on another train to Paris.

It is so damn hot on this train and Paris is supposed to be 35 degrees. My hotel has no AC.

Pray for me.

Mind you, I won't be posting this until I'm in Paris and in my hotel, so...

HEY FUTURE SELF, HOW'S THE WEATHER OUT THERE?

Well, it ain't no Budapest, past self. It's borderline refreshing by comparison.

And either this hotel has AC or it is miraculously well ventilated, because the air outside is definitely warmer.

I got to Paris and to my hotel fairly incident free. I did briefly get lost because there are NO STREET SIGNS AND NO GODDAMN HOUSE NUMBERS so I went the wrong direction, but now I am here, on the 7th floor, which means I am gonna have to take the world's sketchiest elevator a whole lot. It's also a very slow elevator because you have to stand and wait until it's free and then hit the button really fast before someone else does to summon it. I suspect I'll be going down the 7 flights of stairs and only use the elevator coming up.

Goals for today include food and a visit to an ATM and lots of sleep! Not very exciting, but it'll get me in shape to survive Paris.

Also, there was some sort of biting insect on the train, apparently, because I have just developed multiple itchy bite wounds. Augh. I did not miss the bugs of summer. I guess I found them in France!

Nobody here wants to accommodate my desire to practice my French, but I'm determined to try anyway. I have ambitions of practice, damn it.

Tomorrow isn't supposed to be so unseasonably warm. ...That'll be nice.
 
 
Current Mood: relaxedrelaxed
 
 
taowhotravels
I'm on a train to Antwerp riding backwards, so in the hopes that I do not vomit I am writing this blog. Maybe it will distract me from the backwards momentum. We can only hope.

Where was I? Oh right. Day 33. We were going to dinner.

...OH GOD THAT'S RIGHT, THIS DINNER.

So we had intents of going for Turkish food, and it seemed like we were in the midst of the Turkish district of the City. So we headed towards the better reviewed restaurant of the bunch.

We walked in to the place, and there was only one old man sitting in there eating. Hrrrm. Not the best start, but admittedly the weather had been weird and there weren't many people on the streets, so okay. Maybe it's fine.

So we get sat down by a guy who legit looks like the stereotypical image of a used car salesman, with his hair slicked back down his neck. He asks us if we want anything to drink.

Wolf asks for a Turkish Coffee. He's like “Sorry, the machine is broken.” and she's like “Oh- damn. Okay. I'll have a coke.”

Fair enough, right. Then he comes to me. I ask for a fresh mint tea.

“I told you the machine is broken, sorry.”

...The water heating machine? Would that not be like- ...the stove?

That might explain why when we asked if we could order food, they seemed to be “out” of everything. They also refused to allow us to order starters, because we were “in a group”.

Uhhhhhhhhm.

We paid for our cokes and bailed.

We walked down the street kind of aimlessly before we passed a pub called Walter that I'd seen on the list of recommended restaurants, and we went in.

The food and atmosphere in this place were both really charming. They did an Indian-fusion style pub food, and I got a curry with rice that had fried up peppers in it. Really tasty. Wolf also had a steak that I greatly envied – it looked so perfect! We liked it so much we got dessert too.

Then it was back to the hotel and crash hard time. Zzzzz.

Day 34 was much less spontaneously rainy than the day before. We spent it basically wandering to all of the things we had wanted to see the day before.

First there was a free breakfast, though, which was handed out college-cafeteria style at our giant hostel. And I mention this because despite the fact that it took Gal and Nicole pointing it out for me to reallize, our hostel was TOTALLY A REMODELED HIGH SCHOOL. Remember last time when I said the windows reminded me of being in school? WITH GOOD REASON, APPARENTLY. Makes me wonder what happened to the school.

Back to the mission – our first goal was to climb onto the roof of the old church in the middle of the Red Light District, so we walked our way into town. Amsterdam is ridiculously walkable. The whole city centre didn't seem too big to walk around. Which is good, because their transit ain't cheap.

On the walk in, we bought duct tape, because Duct Tape Wheel #1 on my suitcase had failed for a second time and needed a new application. The guy impressed me with his English. God, North America, get with it. Everybody else seems to be able to speak more than one language.

Then we went to the church, passing a bunch of bored sex workers on their phones as we went. I find it kind of striking how uninterested they seem. It was the same when we walked through at night.

We stopped into the chocolate shop that now operates inside of the church, which was just gorgeous. They had chocolates of all different flavours/fillings/coatings and none of us could resist picking up a few. I had a coconut, pistachio, and coffee chocolate. Regrettably, I ate the coconut first, because it was definitely the best one. The pistachio was booze-soaked and the coffee was... too intense for me. There was an espresso caramel in the centre!

We then intended to climb the church, but it cost 7 Euro. No thanks! I'll stick to Google Earth for now.

The next goal was to bring Nicole and I to the museum gift shop, where we'd spotted the Amsterdam ornaments we wanted to take home. That was quite a walk away, and we ended up wandering through the City, where Nicole bought a bunch of cheese for her parents. I would have but I've got a long way to go to be carrying cheese the whole time! Maybe in France.

We picked up our ornaments, and then went for lunch at a sandwich place recommended by our guidebook. Yet we were all kind of surprised that every sandwich they served was open-faced. How one eats a BLT (with Avocado) with a fork & knife and any dignity remaining at the end of the meal is something I still have questions about. It was very tasty, though.

From there, Gal and Nicole decided to do some clothes shopping, so we wandered clothing stores. Everything was on sale, but nothing was really cheap. I was feeling so envious of those among us with the cash available to buy things.

Nicole got a pea coat, but regretted the purchase. She found another one she liked better later – and smartly bought it despite having the other one, because it is super cute. Wolf and I didn't get anything. Did Gal? I don't think so. But she'd gotten two dresses the day before after we went to Pancakes!, so I don't think she felt too hard done by.

When we were shopped out, we decided it'd be nice to go on a Canal Cruise around the waterways of Amsterdam.

WE WERE ALMOST COMICALLY INCORRECT.

Man was that cruise lousy. We drove around and listened to a recording spout facts that would be really difficult to describe as interesting at the best of times. The recording also seemed out of date, because its estimate for how many bikes there are was way under our tour guide's, and his seems more plausible. We didn't have a live guide we were just sat on the boat. Gal fell asleep. But apparently that's a thing she does on boats, because she did it in Copenhagen too. And I loved that tour!

After the tour we split up for about an hour so we could all wander the City and take care of some other stuff we wanted to do. I saw yet more things I wish I had the money to purchase. Sigh!

Dinner was at a tapas place, which was dangerous considering how hungry we all were. We ordered like 8 tapas and two starters, including a place of nachos that I swear only had 20 chips in it and was otherwise filled with ground beef. Delicious, but confusing, is what I call that one. My favourite tapas option was actually the mixed grilled vegetables. I think I'm getting veggie-starved after all this Europe.

Then back to the hotel and to sleep for us! It was already almost midnight!

Day 35. We STRUGGLED out of bed as Nicole berated us for our tardyness. Back downstairs for free breakfast. Free breakfast eaten with mild distaste because it was all the same stuff.

Our goal was simple: we were going to see windmills in the morning, then go out for Amsterdam Pride Weekend (which was a complete surprise to us? A very pleasant one). We caught a bus to the central train station and got on a bus to... somewhere that starts with a Z. I FORGET THE NAME. But it had 6 fully-working windmills, and was an old-style (but newly built, in no small part) Dutch town. It was so cute I kind of wanted to move there. Move there and see clogs.

We had a picnic there, with cheese and salami and bread and various fruits, and just watched the windmills roll around. So peaceful. We also saw goats, and sheep, and cats, and I fed some ducks the leftovers of our bread and MAYBE THAT'S BAD FOR THEM I'M NOT SURE but it was cute and they all gathered and attacked the bread. The seagulls and crows even stole a few pieces.

We also watched a guy make a wooden shoe with a machine that basically works the same way a key copier does, which is kind of brilliant.

Gal and Nicole were hurrying ahead of Wolf and I for most of the trip, and I guess it was good they were setting a fast pace, because even after almost 5 hours we didn't really get to see everything as much as I'd like. Guess I have to come back, Amsterdam!

We took the bus back to the station, and when we got there, Nicole admitted she was feeling really sick. She headed back to the hotel while Gal and Wolf and I headed for the Pride Weekend opening-night Drag Olympics.

It. Was. INSANE.

The crowd was huge when we arrived, and was only getting bigger. We shoved our way in to a spot with absolutely no view, and then as the event went on, slowly got to scoot closer and closer until we could at least see the contestants when they were on stage.

The Drag Olympics involved 4 events:

1) Stiletto Races. Running in a circle in stilettos as fast as possible. I could not see this event whatsoever, but judging by how fast the tops of the ladies' heads moved, they were running pretty damn fast.

2) Purse Throwing. Basically picture shotput, but with purses. Into the crowd.

3) The Bitch Volley. Which involved all the Queens going into the audience and trying to get a hold of a giant rainbow beach ball which was bouncing around the crowd. The first one who could get on stage with it above their head won. By the time somebody got up there, that ball had already been popped!

4) The Hula Hoop. When the Hula Hoop got going, it became VERY CLEAR who was going to win this whole contest. This one Queen hula hooped with so much damn attitude, checking her nails as she did it, doing a little dance between hip shakes, adjusting her hair – she became a crowd favourite instantly. Once she also turned out to be the best at Hula Hooping, it was done!

I mean, it did help that the finale was a twerk-off, because that kind of advantages the skilled Hula Hooper anyway.

So she won, and I have literally 0% recollection of her name. And then we bailed out of that insane crowd and decided to return to the hostel to check on Nicole and get dinner. Wolf and Gal had tentative ambitions to come back out into town, but they were not to be.

So we got back to the hostel, had questionable quality (but cheap!) pizza in the hostel bar, packed, and slept the night away.

Day 36, otherwise known as THE DAY I REALIZED MY DAY NUMBERING HAS BEEN ONE DAY OFF FOR WEEKS NOW, THANKS FOR POINTING IT OUT, LOYAL READERS, YA JERKS.

We woke up, packed, got ready for our long days of journeying, dropped our stuff off in the luggage room and had breakfast at the nearby coffee shop. Shortly afterwards, Wolf & Gal & Nicole were off to the airport in what was supposed to be a Tesla, but I'm pretty sure somebody else stole their car before they could get it. So they had some other electric vehicle. Which may also have been nice.

Then I had 40 minutes to kill, so I got caught up on my favourite currently airing anime using the hostel's decent Wi-fi.

Off to the train station. I had a reservation number and a notice that I should pick up my tickets at the station, so I figured it'd be like the UK and I could just pick them up with 45 minutes to spare and still have to wait around 30 minutes. Nope. Instead I got yelled at by the information guy for leaving it so late (I had an hour and a half to spare) and he said there was no promises I could pick up the tickets in time to get on the train, because I would have to wait.

So now I'm sitting there freaking out and also going “WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS SYSTEM, EVEN AIRPLANES CHECK YOU IN FASTER THAN THIS, AND WHY WOULD THEY GIVE ME NO NOTICE OF WHAT PICKING UP TICKETS ENTAILS” but luckily not many people were in line, it took them 20 minutes to process 3 people (WTF) but I still got on my train to Bruges. Well, technically Antwerp. Which is a GORGEOUS rail station, FYI. And also has lots of fast food waffle stands for your Belgium-stereotype pleasure.

Then I took a commuter train full of really rude French and Dutch people who broke a bunch of transit rules, such as: Don't sit your bags in seats, don't let your stuff block the aisles, don't LIE ACROSS MULTIPLE SEATS, don't throw things... yeah. It was kind of a mess. I listened to podcasts the whole time.

Then I got to Bruges! Or Brugge, if you prefer. I took a taxi to my hotel and on the way the taxi driver played tour guide, telling me what areas to avoid to avoid tourist price gouging, how to tell my way around town by orienting myself around the churches (SO MANY CHURCHES) and told me that I would really like Brugge, because it is in every way better than Brussels, which is the literal worst. How many people have told me how terrible Brussels is on this trip? I can remember at least 5. I am starting to get the worst mental image of this place.

I came back to my hotel to reorient myself and make some plans, and then I went out and just... wandered the whole damn city. It took about two hours to see the whole thing, which is all so so so pretty and old looking and it is hard to believe anybody lives here, because I only saw tourists.

Then I got the tiniest hamburger I'd ever seen, which was called the giant burger. Ironic.

Then I returned to my hotel, showered because I felt kinda gross, organized my stuff, and was settling in to upload photos while watching a terrible movie where Drew Barrymore and Jon Krazinski save the whales. And then the Boyfriend offered to call because the internet here is TOP NOTCH.

And then we Skyped for two hours.

I'LL POST PHOTOS SOMEDAY I SWEAR.

Then I did laundry and now here I am doing this blog and I am literally waking up in like 6 hours what is wrong with me.

I'm trying to appreciate Bruges to the fullest extent, I suppose!

Fuckin' Bruges.

The swears don't count when they're movie references, right?
 
 
Current Mood: sleepysleepy
 
 
taowhotravels
29 July 2015 @ 10:02 am
We did a lot of walking tours in Berlin. Allow me to explain.

When I last left off on Day 30, we were headed for a walking tour. In fact, pretty much as soon as I finished with my laptop! Although first order of business was a quick lunch.

When we were first walking to the Hostel, I'd noticed that there was a Bibimbap place down the street. Now – if you know me, you know I have a deep love of Bibimbaps, so despite the fact it's probably the least German thing imaginable, I talked our adventurous crew into trying it out. Nicole had never had it before, so she opted out and got a non-Bibimbap. The rest of us struggled our way through ordering a set of beef Bibimbaps because we were honestly not sure what was in the rest of the options. (Beef is apparently “reinfleishe” in Germany)

The Bibimbap was fresh and tasty but not particularly surprising. I went a bit nuts with the spicy sauce, assuming it was just siracha sauce, but nope, it was a pretty legit chili sauce. So there go the sinuses clearing!

THEN it was time for the walking tour. So we made our way to the Brandenburg Gate and met our tour guide, who was named Stephanie, and was from New Zealand. I feel pretty grateful for the Krakow tour which specifically aimed to have a local lead us around. I'm appreciating how rare of a treat that is.

Stephanie knew her stuff, though. She's writing a book about the history of Germany from 1910 to 2010, and based on the walking tour: a lot of stuff has happened. Not that I didn't know about some of it, but there's something about going there today, and seeing how directly the repercussions of WW2 and the Iron Curtain are still being felt by the people who live there, that makes it really clear how recent this history was.

I kind of expected my time in Europe to make me feel a sense of permanence, because people have been here for so long, but all I've heard about is fires, occupations, dictatorships, and other kinds of social change. Europe is so much more in flux than anything I've ever known. Or at least the parts of Europe I've been in are. Admittedly Eastern Europe is a touch diffferent from Western Europe. But basically all that being here has taught me is that people in the US and Canada feel very comfortable and very safe that everything will be the same forever in a way that I'm fairly certain that Europeans know better than to be.

Anyway. Stephanie walked us from the Brandenburg Gate to a few different places, mostly Nazi or Communist history related. We saw the site where Hitler's Bunker once was (sort of still is, despite the top half being destroyed) – which is a parking lot, because Germany believes that despite the fact it's a place of significance, it isn't a place that should be memorialized.

By comparison, the memorial to murdered Jewish people is pretty huge. It's a bunch of concrete blocks in the ground. The explanation for it does seem kind of like a cop out. “Whatever you feel about it – that's what I intended” is the artist's statement. But Stephanie explained that basically, while you're sitting there trying to figure out what it might mean, you're being forced to think about and remember all of the people who died. So it's doing its job. I think that's pretty cool.

We saw a piece of the Berlin wall, and some old Nazi offices (now the ministry of finance, oh boy) and some public squares, including one where all the book burnings took place. In general it was yet another depressing tour of historical atrocities!

When that was done we thanked Stephanie and retraced our steps to a store we'd seen earlier, because Nicole and I had spotted a place that sold Christmas Ornaments, and given that that's both of our souvenirs of choice – we couldn't NOT visit it!

The store turned out to be kind of overwhelming in terms of how gorgeous all the ornaments were. We were dithering around for like 45 minutes trying to make a selection. We ended up both deciding on the same one – a little owl holding a pretzel, with a Bavarian hat on. Nevermind the fact we weren't in Bavaria, he was adorable, and also clearly Germany-related, unlike most of the ornaments there. I shall name him Twisty.

Then we headed back to the Hostel, where we were let into our room with the most broken lock of all locks – getting inside was an ordeal every time. Luckily the lock was literally the only thing we could have complained about. The room was beautiful, for a hostel. Huge, with hardwood floors, and a spacious bathroom. These are the benefits when you get given the handicap accessible room! That also meant that it was on the first floor, right next to the entrance, which we worried would be noisy, but wasn't in the least. EasySeven Hostel gets 5 stars from this crew.

Our goal for the evening: laundry. All of us had hit the critical point with our laundry and needed to catch up on our washing ASAP. So we bundled up our clothing and headed out to the nearest laundromat. Here began the adventure of doing laundry: a) in German, b) with no change to our name (people cling to that stuff like it's gold here), and c) on machines that required like three steps to operate.

We managed to get everything washing okay, after jockeying about some change – because this place did not supply a change machine, as we'd been hoping. Then Wolf and I sat and watched the clothes swoosh around while Gal and Nicole went to get us pizza.

The dryers were where it got tricky. Nicole seems to have terrible luck with laundry machines. She tried one, and it was broken (and ate several of her euros) – I tried one, but ran it on cold, so nothing was fully dry. I did like the spin dryers, though. They get things really dry before they even head into the regular dryer.

By the time we were done our pizza, and struggling with our lightly dampened clothing on the way back to the hostel, it was nearly 11pm. So we hung up our clothes all around the room so they'd finish drying and crashed into bed.

Day 31 – Gosh, it's been a month already. It's all going so fast!

We woke up pretty late – around 10 o'clock, and got ready for the day, really appreciating our fresh new clothes after yet another train experience. Despite the fact that it was a fine train experience, you still end up feeling pretty gross.

We took the Metro down to a location relatively close to our tour, with the goal of visiting a place with traditional German food. We found one and settled onto their patio for lunch. We were kind of worried it was going to rain on us, but the fact that Wolf and Gal purchased umbrellas from a souvenir shop that morning seemed to have jinxed us into good weather for almost the entire day, thankfully.

The food at this place was VERY good, and we all appreciate the fact that everything seems to come with a side salad. I had a schnitzel. This does not seem like a food that would be difficult to get right, yet somehow the schnitzel here is genuinely more delicious than any I've had before. Wolf and Nicole had this egg and “ham” which was totally giant slices of bacon on potato bread, which they were raving about, and Gal had currywurst, which is entirely necessary to do at least once on a trip to Germany.

Then it was time for our tour, which was the “Alternative” Berlin tour. This isn't something I would have ever chosen to do on my own, because I am not cool enough for this tour. It isn't my scene. But it gave an incredible view into the current social situation in Berlin, the challenges the City faces, and the street art that is literally everywhere there.

Our tour guide was Leen, who was a street artist herself, specializing in stencils. She was obviously really passionate about her art and the socialist/artistic community in Berlin, and she made me feel... so right-wing. Because man, socialist art communities, I kind of respect your communal living ways and I DEFINITELY think the art you make is very cool, but also you're nuts. I don't understand you at all. We are not human beings who will jive on any level. I am not an artist, and I hold a great deal of value in law & order when they're well-placed, so I... I dunno man. I am more establishment than these guys. So it was cool to learn what's going on with them.

Also cool to find out that Berlin is massively impoverished, never recovered from the war, or its aftermath, and is even still suffering from massive gentrification, despite the fact that ever since the wall went up, half the City's been empty. Because foreign investors keep buying properties they can rent to tourists, and in the meantime, nobody in the City can afford to live there. THAT IS AN UNTENABLE SITUATION DEAR GOD GERMANY THIS IS YOUR CAPITAL CITY, GET IT TOGETHER.

I mean, they're trying, but – uh – if this isn't fixed I can almost picture Germany choosing a new capital soon.

The tour was like four hours long but I can't say much about it without the help of photos, which I will turn to broken Facebook to help me with. Basically: Berlin has SUCH cool street art. That is one thing that Vancouver won't ever be able to compete with, with all its glass windows for walls. It's a little sad. It's something we should see more of.

From there, we took a walk down the East Side Gallery, which was a stretch of the Berlin wall that a ton of artists showed up to and painted down its length so that it would be kept up and maintained as a memorial to that part of Berlin's history. Neat idea, frequently gorgeous art. Shame about all the dumb people writing their names all over the art. The poetry or street art added to the wall didn't offend me, but the whole “Janette was here, 2012 Grad Trip WOOOO” is irritating. If you're going to write all over a monument, at least write something of consequence, whydon'tcha.

From there we went to the nearest station. Our intention had been to go on a pub crawl that evening, but I was already feeling burnt out, and Wolf's sick & aggressively denying it, so that was already at risk. It pretty much died for good when we arrived at Max & Moritz, a traditional German restaurant again. It was like 100+ years old, as I recall. This place did traditonal European dining, alright. Our meal, which included drinks, mains, and dessert, took 3 HOURS.

It wasn't at all unpleasant, mind you, but I don't think any of us were expecting to be sitting there for that long. I had a spaetzel meal with pork soaked in mushroom sauce (SO GOOD), Wolf and Nicole had Schnitzel, and Gal had Sauerbraten. The latter was risky, because she can make that stuff, and she really likes the way she makes it, so I think it might have been a bit disappointing. Overall the meal was very good, though, including the Panna Cotta for dessert and the Cherry Juice I ordered to drink – something I'm just straight up angry we don't offer as a drink at home. Or if we do, I'm pretty sure it has way more sugar than this stuff did. Nice and tart.

Back home, and everybody slowly melted away into sleep. Except me, that is, because I stayed up cursing Facebook's name trying to upload my damn photos, and then fell asleep at about 2am.

Day 32 – A 10am wakeup for us, because checkout was at noon, alas! We can only hope the last place in Amsterdam is as nice.

After checkout, we dropped Wolf's bag off at the train station, because she was heading over to the Germany branch of her company to visit her coworkers, and wouldn't have time to head back to the hostel. Then we went together to a restaurant we had yet to check out – which our guidebook described as kitchy.

Kitchy clearly has a less extreme meaning in the eyes of the author of that book than it does in mine. This place just had a couple of pieces of taxidermy and slightly aged wallpaper. But we had a nice lunch. I had this thing that described itself as pasta squares but really looked more like pasta ovals. Then everybody made fun of me for how I pronounced pasta. We ate, and then kind of... were indecisive about what to do.

I had spotted a festival thing earlier at a station called Alexanderplatz, so I suggested we go there and check it out, which we did! I don't remember the name of the festival, alas, but it involved a ton of food stalls, drink stalls, and little booths selling random stuff. It also had these giant hamster balls for children floating on a pond, which was hilarious to watch. It also had giant sculptures made entirely out of bikes that were also toys you could play with. There was one where you had to pull levers to make the mechanical man pick his nose, and another one where you had to balance the bar perfectly despite the different weight on each side, and another where you had to play at what looked like a ping pong table, where you hit a ball from underneath a net-covered table and into a bucket.

Gal, Nicole and I, now left to our own devices, got ourselves drinks and decided to sit down and appreciate the very civilized notion of drinking outdoors. It was a great way to appreciate the afternoon, and besides, these were the most reasonably priced drinks I'd seen since I've come to the damn Euro Zone.

From there, we left, went to the Hostel, picked up our stuff... and were very distressed to learn that Gal's glasses were not there waiting for us. They'll probably arrive when we get to Amsterdam tomorrow. Sigh!

We then went to the train station, met Wolf, and... I never did ask how her visit to the Berlin office went, hold on a moment. Let me get a quote from her.

“It was good. I surprised everyone. They thought I was not on vacation. Someone heard my voice and was like 'whaaat'”

So that went well! Then we did a rush around the station to each find our own food. I had a currywurst from a fast food place, which I ate in a rush. This older German couple offered me room at their table that I was standing next to, but they did so by gesturing to their stuff that was in the table and saying a good paragraph full of German speech, and thus got a long, blank stare from me- which seemed to confuse them, until I said “Sorry... I only speak English?” and then they laughed and moved their stuff and I joined them. And then startled them by eating so fast. I'M SORRY BUT I HAD A TRAIN TO CATCH.

A train we are now on! We're heading to a mid-point between Berlin and Amsterdam, where we will leap from the train and hop on to our proper overnight train that'll get us in to the city.

This train is crazy. There are doors that open with motion detection, and a dining car with a whole bunch of food options (wish I'd known that before I slammed down a currywurst) and we've got a comfy table setup in a quiet car. We played 45's for a while. Gal destroyed all of us at it. WE'LL GET YOU NEXT TIME, SLEMAKER.

That's all I have to say for now! We get off this train at midnight, so unless something catastrophic happens, I'm handing it over to future self to cover...

DAY 33.

Where we may have been awoken by the conductor making announcements, but we were driven out of bed, yet again, by the police.

This time, they just knocked, said “Hello, Police”, and then showed us their badges through the window and walked away. It was like “Good for you, sir, but you could have let us linger in bed a little longer, our stop isn't for like an hour and a half.”

The train was fine, by the way. Its amenities were similar to hell train, but it was also, like- cold outside. I slept fine. Others found it pretty loud and struggled more with sleep, alas.

Then we woke up, got off the train at the correct stop in Amsterdam, and made our way to our hostel via the autobus.

The hostel seems HUUUUGE. I don't know how many people are staying here, but if the size of the cafeteria is anything to go by, it is a lot.

Of course, we couldn't check in at the time, so we headed into the city for breakfast, thinking that maybe afterwards we'd hit up the Anne Frank House, because it was so close. Our tram pulled up right next to the Anne Frank line up. The Anne Frank House was straight around the block. Honestly, I'm not sure we'll make it in there at all. And after seeing that line, I'm fine with that.

The place we went was called Pancakes! That exclamation point is actually part of the name. It specializes in crepes of both the sweet and savoury variety. Gal and I sensibly opted for savoury, Wolf & Nicole were on team sweet. Gal had a smoked salmon and guacamole crepe with creme fraiche (uhm- sounds SO GOOD) and I had a leek, cheese, ham and mushroom crepe. Team Sweet had a Goat Cheese and Strawberry Crepe, and an apple, raisin and chocolate sauce crepe. Soooooooo good and shockingly filling was the general opinion of the meal.

Then we headed in the direction of Dam Square because we needed to meet our walking tour there – because a walking tour always seems to be a good introduction to a city.

We stopped in a coffee shop, because Gal wanted another coffee, and then Wolf ordered them to stay, so we stayed... and good thing, too!

All of the sudden the sky opened up and it started POURING rain.

Then it stopped, in about 5 minutes. So we finished our drinks and cautiously reemerged.

Just as we made it to the square, another shower hit, so we hid in the bank.

Then another, so we hid in a (REALLY TASTY) cheese shop where I nearly spent all my money.

Then we reluctantly made our way to the tour group, when yet another shower hit.

Yeah, this was going to be cold, damp, and unpleasant.

Luckily our guide, Geert, somehow managed to maintain his energy through the whole tour. He was good at cracking jokes, pausing in the middle of a sentence as a truck rattled by (THE TRAFFIC HERE IS TERRIFYING WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE) and then picking up where he left off, and had lots of neat insights to share about the Dutch.

Basically, what I got out of it was: the Dutch wanted to be the Socialist-style colonialists, but England got all up in their face and stole their gig. Sans the colonialism. Also, Amsterdam is old, and cool, and generally in the midst of one giant social experiment. Seems far less depressing than Berlin. Apparently it's one of the safest cities in the world, too. Beside Tokyo, which is the safest. Look forward to that blog this fall because IF YOU DID NOT HEAR I AM ALSO GOING TO JAPAN THIS YEAR I know it's ridiculous.

Through Geert I learned that if you want coffee, you should go to a cafe, because if you go to a coffee shop you will get something completely different. I was not aware that pot is not actually legal here, but just granted legal immunity under something called plausible deniability, which is also how the Catholic Church operated here for like two centuries, because that used to be illegal too. GO FIGURE.

Either way, they make 14 Billion Euros per year from the pot industry, so – go Amsterdam, you're doing it right.

After the tour, we came back to the hotel, settled in to our weird room which has two bathrooms, one of which only has a toilet, and neither of which includes a sink (that's in the hallway), a set of cubbies, and five beds. And 30 foot high ceilings with windows that remind me of being in high school.

It's weird, is what I'm trying to say.

Soon we will go eat delicious foodstuffs, and thus life will feel complete again.

The next time I write one of these blogs, these fabulous companions of mine will have departed, and I'll be on my way to Bruges! A town I have to see because I once saw a movie with Colin Farrell where he complained constantly about having to be in Bruges. Go figure.

So – one more time in this blog...

#IdontrunbutIcrosscountries
 
 
Current Mood: coldcold