Stuttgart, Castles and Spas!

There are a number of popular ride sharing sites in Europe and we used one to book a trip with a guy to Stuttgart. Slightly mind blowing, but the guy we drove with ended up being a developer, and specifically he is an Intershop developer! Some may recall that last year I did a training with Intershop, which is not exactly a hugely popular piece of software. The company lives in a city called Yenna. The guy we drove with actually knew the guy that ran the class that I attended! It was crazy! Anyway, we talked about programming for about 2 hours (or at least as much as I could get him to talk with me about!) and it was awesome.

We arrived in a strange part of Stuttgart quite early (8:30 or 9 AM perhaps?) and spent a few hours trying to figure out exactly where we should go to find something to do. After a number of false starts (I think that’s the expression/phrase) (which included an awesome breakfast of coffee, breads and pastries in a little back alley, and a Burger King for a bathroom and ANOTHER coffee) we found ourselves to the city center and ended up going to a Starbucks to do some trip planning and to wait for Lars to get off work so we could go home with him. It ended up being quite a productive afternoon, as we ended up booking a number of things, including a bus to Amsterdam and a flight from Amsterdam to Zagreb.
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(This would be a good point to mention that a friend of mine, who despite not having seen in many many years and even then only briefly, is likely one of my earliest childhood friends. Julia, whom I had really really hoped to visit in Berlin, offered to host us and I am incredibly sad that it didn’t work out. Julia is one of two daughters of family friends Wolfgang and Grobie (sp?) and these were the people who introduced me to Kinder eggs. Wolfgang visiting on a business trip was very near to Christmas for me as a child as it always meant a box of Kinder eggs. Those of you who know me know how significant this is to me! Anyway, I don’t know Julia well other then her travel adventures I’ve read about on facebook (I probably last saw her when I was in middle school or high school, and even then only briefly) but I have a feeling we may have been kindred spirits. I was really looking forward to getting to know her and perhaps having a connection as our parents did when they were younger. Anyway, I want to say this because I really am very sad that it didn’t work out to visit. Berlin would have been an amazing city to see of course, but most of all I was looking forward to getting to better know Julia. It’s on my list of important things to do, so I hope I have an opportunity to hang out some other time and perhaps we can host Julia and her partner if/when they visit the US next.)

Anyway, back on track. We met Lars at a train station (10-15 minutes late I think! The second time that we didn’t realize that there were multiple stops of the same name in slightly different places depending on the type of train you take (S-Bahn vs U-Bahn)). It was SOOO nice to see Lars at the station. Lars is a friend that I worked with at Infield Design, we spent a number of stressful nights together working on a Magento module and we like to consider ourselves core-committers ;). Anyway it’s been years since I’ve seen him, but it felt like we had just seen each other yesterday, it was so nice to see him once again.

OK, so a thing I have to point out: Lars and Saskia live outside of Stuttgart by an hour or so drive, near/in the Black Forest in a small town called Bad Liebenzell. After all of our travels, as I believe we’ve mentioned in other blog posts, sometimes it is nice to get away from a city and be somewhere smaller. Lars and Saskia’s place was 100% amazing and perfect for this. It’s difficult to describe exactly but basically driving to Lars and Saskia’s was (for us) like driving into what you picture an old small German town should be. Beautiful forests covered with snow, fresh air, old houses in the traditional German style (beams of wood with stones between in a checker sort of pattern). Bad Liebenzell is down in a sort of valley and surrounded by hills/trees and it just felt amazing. As you may have noticed this blog post is getting a bit long in the tooth so I feel like my words are failing me, but I hope some of the photos will give some idea of what I’m talking about.
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When we arrived at Lars and Saskia’s place we were so excited to be there, and their apartment is awesome. You can literally see a castle up in the forest from our bed. It felt sort of like a combination of Houghton/Handcock and Germany, to me. The air was so fresh.
Our bed at Lars and Saskia's

Anyway, again, the highlight here was seeing Lars and Saskia, but we also did a ton of fun stuff. For one thing, I walked to the bakery with Lars or Saskia every morning which was awesome. Walking through a small German town to buy bread for breakfast is basically like a dream for me and I got to do it every single day.
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First night Lars and Saskia took us out for a traditional German dinner where I had snitzel and Lindsay had kase spaetzle. We also had a huge Radler beer (mixture of something like sprite and beer) made from the beer brewed at the restaurant.
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Second day we had an amazing breakfast, then hung around the house for a while (Lars had to work, Saskia very kindly took the day off to hang out with us!) where Lindsay and I did a bit more travel planning for Croatia.

After that we went on a beautiful walk in the forest.
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After this was a highlight for me: we went to a very awesome spa. Generally in the past when I thought of the word “spa” I generally though “girls go there and it’s expensive and I don’t want to go there” but in many parts of the world “spa” is sort of like “relaxing place where you can swim and sit in a hot tub or take a nice hot shower and sit in a steam room.” This particular spa that we went to was seriously crazy awesome. We don’t have any photos really, but the best part of the spa for me was an outdoor swimming pool that was really fancy with different bubble areas. It was heated, and there was a bit of snow falling, and it was very beautiful/clear/very little chlorine water. Lars and I did some “dive training” (swimming around holding our breath) while Lindsay and Saskia did a water exercise class.
Not a great photo of the outdoor area, but you get the idea. This is a view looking down from the apartment:
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Honestly I could spend an hour explaining how awesome this spa was. In the end, it was sort of like the German version of an Onsen in Japan I’d say. Different, but similar in many ways and very relaxing.

For dinner Saskia made us a traditional awesome dinner, spatzle and sausage with a type of bean sauce on top. I forget the name, but it was amazing. We also drank a few new types of beers. As I hope is clearn, the theme throughout the last 2 blog posts is: “amazing hosts.”
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We went to a bar the Lars used to frequent when he was younger and we got to meet the owner which is a friend of Lars. I drank my first beer with coke, which was good (though a bit sweet for me I think).
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The next day we had another amazing breakfast and then took a drive to a Hohenzollern Castle. Honestly, it was like something out of a fairy tale. It was foggy, and snowing and that, coupled with our amazing walk up to the castle itself was out of this world. We had a great small lunch (soup, hot wine) at the castle and went on a tour which was really cool.
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That evening Lindsay made some very great pasta for dinner and we finished the night hanging out, chatting, and watching the second Hobbit movie (which, and this seriously blows my mind, I somehow hadn’t watched yet. I normally see “big” movies like this in theaters, so I’m not quite sure what happened.).

Sunday, the last day, we had another amazing breakfast and then Lars/Saskia brought us back to Stuttgart as they had a vacation planned previously. We were very sad to say goodbye to Lars and Saskia. I truly hope we’ll get a chance to see them again soon, and as with Babsi and Peter I hope to do a better job keeping in touch with them.

We spent our last day in Germany in Stuttgart, coffee shop hopping. Sadly being Sunday there weren’t a lot of places open, so we ended up spending about 8 hours in various Starbucks on that day. It was good though as we got quite a bit of planning for our trip done, and also I got to do a bit of programming work…we even got a geocache in…
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That evening we took another night bus to Paris! It was a bit stressful figuring out where we would go, and there was an hour period of panic when it wasn’t 100% clear if we’d make our bus (frustrating considering we had literally all day to get there but we misjudged the time it’d take to find the bus pickup).

Finding the bus was stressful as I mentioned above, but it got even worse when the bus arrived. The bus driver, who as far as I can tell was just a huge dick, point blank said that we couldn’t get on the bus without a ticket. The thing is, we of course did have a ticket, but it was an “eticket” emailed to us. I’m not going to play dumb, the reality is that it’s not crazy that the bus driver expected the ticket to be printed out, however generally if a ticket needs to be printed it will say so somewhere on the ticket “not valid unless printed” “please print and give to driver” “TICKET MUST BE PRINTED” or something of the like. But this ticket, which again was in large bold letters called our “e ticket” (to me even further making it seem reasonable for us to keep the ticket on our phone). Anyway I hate to be the person who comes off as immature because I feel like I’ve been wronged when I really haven’t, but there was just something about the way the guy spoke that made the situation what it was. He’d look at me, say something in German, scowl. “This isn’t ticket (pointing at the phone), this is ticket (pointing at a printed out ticket.” I said “Sir I’m very very sorry, it says “eticket” and we need to be on the bus!” He’d scowl and shoe us away. Then other people would get on the bus (all who of course had printed their ticket).

Eventually I literally begged the guy, with my hands in the begging position. I said “sorry” and “please” in my best German I could. Lindsay was honestly annoyed because (while understanding the situation) could not believe how we were being talked to/treated. He looked at us like garbage, and was unmistakably clear how stupid he thought we were. He eventually let us on the bus a solid 5 minutes of begging and him looking/speaking to us in very disgusted German.

I’d like to take a minute to point out that Lindsay and I have now taken a nearly countless number of buses, and have never once printed out the ticket. We generally show our passport, or show the ticket on our phone, or some combination of the two. This is the first and only time we’ve ever had any troubles, not to mention the first time in my life I think I truly had to be in such a pitiful begging position like garbage.

Anyway, the lesson is this: print the ticket, or don’t and hope you don’t have to deal with this sort of thing but realize you might.

And with that, we were off to Paris!

Over and Osaka

In 5th grade (might have been 4th?) I started an origami club. I think there was one other member (Andros? Bob? ), and there were only a few club meetings (we were allowed to stay in during recess and do origami), but it was still a thing. I can’t tell you how many origami books I rented from the library at that point in my life – this is years before I even really knew what Japan was.

This is but one example of how Japan sort of just “fit” into my life, but there are many others (my hate for tipping, the fact that I so enjoy taking my shoes off when I go home, my love for gadgety/techy things, etc, etc).

All of this is to say that Japan was a place that I’ve wanted to go more then anywhere else for a very long time. And now Lindsay and I have gone, and as I type this I am at the Kansai international airport in Osaka getting ready to leave. I am quite sad about leaving to be honest. This is in large part because Japan has been everything I had hoped it would be. Every fantastic idea of what I thought Japan might be turned out to be pretty damn close to reality.

To finish up things with the trip itself, we just spent 4 awesome days in Osaka. We had few expectations of Osaka, but sadly it turned out to be one of our favorite cities. I say sadly because we spent less time here than anywhere else in Japan. Honestly, given the choice to stay in Osaka, Tokyo, or Kyoto (the larger cities we spent real time in), we both might choose Osaka. It felt slightly “grittier” and at the same time a bit more down to earth or something. I don’t know.

To start things off, we spent our first night in a capsule hotel. This was “one of those Japanese things” that I’ve sort of always idealized and wished I could experience, and as with other things it was as great as I had expected.

For those not familiar, capsule hotels are generally geared towards “salary men” who might stay too late working (or drinking) or are traveling and can’t make it home at night and don’t want to pay for an expensive hotel. So they are literally just “capsules” stacked on top of each other that you sleep in.

But it’s like being in outer space! Lindsay took these photos of her capsule (note the sexes are separated)

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I had a SUPER drunk guy climb in on top of me sometime around 2am, but he was friendly (I think, based on the few motor skills he was able to use) enough. There are no locking doors, just a wood/fabric mat that covers your door. You can read a lot more about these things on the ol’ internet, but the point is we did this and it was awesome. Also awesome is the fact that you put your shoes in a locker when you enter the capsule hotel, and then you get another locker that has a robe in it that you wear for your stay. There was a Japanese style bath/shower/sauna/soaking area with “free” single use shavers/tooth brush. I would say that one complaint I had is that the common areas allowed smoking and I think my throat is becoming more sensitive to cigarette smoke. Anyway, it was awesome.

After the capsule hotel, we did what we normally did and walked around Osaka a lot. We had ramen, we went to the grocery store, we ate various snacks and drank various beers. We spent a good half a day (if not more) geocaching (though we went like 2/7), and more walking.

We saw the Osaka castle (the photo doesn’t nearly do it justice – it was in a beautiful park, and there was a “Sweet Marathon” going on)

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But a REAL highlight for us was couchsurfing with a great new friend, Kyo. Kyo is a super nice guy and he introduced us to a great new friend Nia. Kyo made us a great hot pot dinner one night, and otherwise was just a really nice guy.

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Kyo also took us to his office to show us where he works. His company (basically) restores/renovates traditional Japanese houses. I happen to love traditional Japanese houses, so it was pretty awesome. His “office” includes various show houses, which are basically my absolutely ideal/dream house. Think wood burning stoves, fresh mountain air, cut cedar planks everywhere.

And that was about it for Osaka, and Japan. Now we fly to Istanbul.

Kyoto (last day) + Etajima + Hiroshima

On our last day in Kyoto, we visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Fushimi is particularly famous for the 10,000 torii gates (honoring Inari, Shinto god of rice) which lead you to (and up!) holy Mount Inari. 10,000 gates! How crazy is that? You can walk for 2-3 hours straight up the mountain-side through these seemingly never-ending gates, to give you an idea of just how crazy of an experience it was. It was pretty intense. While I was especially excited to see the vibrant orange color, I didn’t expect to see such beautiful shades of orange. It was truly quite a magical experience.IMG_1087Prayer plaques adorning fox faces (foxes are thought to have been Inari’s messengers). IMG_1095IMG_1082IMG_1102

We tried raw horse meat and fatty mane sushi…IMG_1113And the infamous (sometimes lethally poisonous!) fugu (pufferfish) sushi – all three of which were surprisingly tasty, if not strange.IMG_1114Late that night, we took a night bus (10:40 pm) from Kyoto to Hiroshima, where we quickly boarded a cable car (at 6 am) to the Hiroshima port, and then from there a ferry to Etajima island and from THERE a bus across the island, where we then TREKKED up this ridiculous hill with our packs to get to our home for the next 4 days. Turns out, the travel was worth it.

Etajima turned out to be the perfect mix of a Marquette, Michigan + Portland, Oregon. It felt industrial, and close-knit, cozy and cold. The people were warm and remarkably curious about us (we saw absolutely no foreigners anywhere). We loved it. One night, Kev and I made our way an onsen (another public bath house) on the other side of the island. I wasn’t there for more than 2 minutes, when I was bombarded by about 12 old Japanese ladies trying to speak with me (again, while stark naked) SOLELY in Japanese. Lots of cave-lady sign language and laughter allowed us to communicate (albeit in a comically basic way :)), but it was experiences like this that made our time so wonderful.

IMG_1134We stayed in a 100+ year old traditional Japanese-style house which was built by the owner’s great-grandfather. Interestingly, he actually saw the “mushroom cloud” from the nuclear bomb across the sea in Hiroshima from this home. It was a balmy 39 degrees while we were on the island, and in an attempt to stay warm, we went through copious hand warmers (of which we had 2-3 stuck to various parts of our bodies or tucked in our socks at any given point throughout the day), drank enough coffee to shake for a 24-hour stretch and (if we weren’t walking around) sat literally inches in front of our kerosene+fan room heater swapping sides every few minutes to prevent one side of ourselves from catching fire while the other side froze like an ice cube. You wouldn’t believe it by my description, but it was glorious.

No shoes allowed in the house (worth noting, Kev was in good company with our host’s love of crocs :))IMG_1142Our backyard.IMG_1144Also worth noting that we truly had the best host ever. Yohei taught us about how to make delicious somen noodles, made us fancy bancha-bark tea, (after learning about our love for ramen) cooked us ramen eggs and homemade toast and overall was just full of great conversation and warmth. While we didn’t think our stay could have gotten much better in Etajima, Yohei was truly the icing on the cake.IMG_1153

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Another beautiful feature of the island, was that it was full of mandarin and orange groves.IMG_1160There were these old-school rickity orange-moving carts scattered up and down the hills, which only added to the nostalgic feel.IMG_2707IMG_2705We collected awesome shells on the beach.IMG_1170IMG_1182

IMG_2767Walked through scallop farms.IMG_2754

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IMG_2740IMG_2746IMG_2695Geocached through beautiful patches of cabbage and various veges in practically every yard.IMG_2785We tried lots of new snacks.IMG_1192Last night with Yohei.IMG_1213On our way to catch a bus to get to the ferry on our way back to Hiroshima, we happened across these two ladies cooking up Okonomiyaki, these strange cabbage + pancake + noodles + BBQ sauce things and decided to give them a shot. They were delicious and again, the women were unbelievably warm.IMG_1221IMG_1225On our ferry back to the mainland with stormy skies.IMG_1234IMG_1250Back in Hiroshima, we went to the museum. It was something Kev and I both felt really strongly that we wanted to experience, and truly (not that we expected much different), it was just unbelievably depressing. The entire museum was filled with stories of specific people (many of those showcased, children) who were victims of the nuclear bomb. There were melted skin fragments housed in jars, nails and hair and burnt clothing galore. Photographs of charred skin and gaping wounds rinsed with “black rain”. First-hand video accounts of victims remembering what that day was like for them, and all that they lost.  Almost 140,000 people died that day. 140,000…IMG_2810This is the concrete slab that so many of us have seen pictures of in our history books of a person’s shadow “burned” on to the stone.IMG_2812A traumatizing diorama of children with melted skin.IMG_2796Hiroshima’s Peace Dome still standing from the bombings.IMG_2787I still have yet to process what it truly meant to me to be an American walking around the streets of Hiroshima and encountering so many people (on both Etajima and in Hiroshima) that must have been directly affected by the bomb. While everyone we met asked us if we were Americans, we were treated with nothing but kindness. Time and time again I am reminded that there are always two sides to every story – what we learn in history about our reasons for the bomb dropping and learning a bit about the story that Japanese tell their children about why we dropped the bomb in the museum, being a perfect example of this. I’ll never know what is the lesser of two evils, or what makes a time”right” to go to war – and am thankful that I am not in a position where I will ever need to decide, and that I have lived my entire life with my family and those that I love safe from the threat of it. Regardless of the story told though, it is abundantly clear to me what an appalling thing war is, and regardless of how it begins that it is most frequently the innocent that lose the most.

 

 

Quick post – video of our island home

And, here is a bonus video from a few days ago – just taking pictures walking around the island. Note that this is not “edited”, it’s just a video the camera automatically puts together from photos you take by recording a few seconds of video before you take a picture. So, not that exciting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXueKca1ZVc

Life couldn’t get much better, I don’t think

Pictures will come, but I just wanted to quickly post this while the spirit moved me as pictures likely won’t do justice anyway.

Lindsay and I took a night bus from Kyoto South/West to Hiroshima, arriving this morning around 6:30am. From there we took a road trolley to the port of Hiroshima, where we waited an hour or so for a ferry to take us to the Koyou port on the Island of Etajima. Each step of this trip brought us further from the city, further and further into smaller and smaller towns. People are more likely to stare and wonder what a few gaijins are doing walking down the street with giant packs.

Anyway, after arriving on the Island we took a bus (the bus we suspected took us where we wanted, though we weren’t sure) 3 or so kilometers and then hiked up the side of a hill through the backyards of some UP looking houses (except Japanese). Then bam! We arrived at our current living accommodations, a small, 100ish year old traditional Japanese house. It’s not fancy. At all. It’s got a bunch of random stereo equipment laying around. The couches are warn and mismatched.

It’s currently 38 degrees, and there is no central heat. The doors are all rice paper, which is to say, incredibly thin with very little isolation. The only heat comes from propane fans (I’m hoping we don’t die in a tragic fire), which I have pointed directly at my person. I’m also wearing socks for the first time in 4+ months and one of those expose-to-air-and-shake-to-activate heating pads taped to my chest. I’m still cold, but incredibly happy and content.

Outside the house is a garden with mandarin oranges, a bonfire area (complete with a bench that says “I’ve got 99 problems but a bench ain’t one”), and more importantly a direct view of the ocean. We’re up on a hill, so the view is great. It’s not a “top of the empire state building” view but it is a “top of a hill in a very small rural village in Japan overlooking an oyster farm” view.

Lirdy is currently taking a cat nap. Sadly for her, the heater in the room didn’t seem to turn on, so it’s very cold in there. But she’s under blankets, so hopefully she’s doing OK. We’ll see when she wakes up. Speaking of cats there are two here, but they are actually really great cats. You see, I generally don’t like cats, but at least one of the cats is quite dog like. Actually seems to enjoy petting in a dog-like fashion, and the cat is bigger then many cats I’ve seen so it’s got some substance to it when you pet it.

Having just arrived we don’t have many plans, but our host, Tohei has told us there is the oyster farm/factory 2km away that we can walk to and buy cheap oysters at, so we might do that tomorrow. I also plan on looking for a local bar. And, 6km is an onsen (hot spring/public bath) that apparently looks over the ocean, so that’s on the to-do list for sure.

We’ve got 4 days here, and no plans. Maybe do some reading, and definitely do some programming. And walking.

Kurashiki + Thanksgiving in 30 seconds

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The Venice of Japan.IMG_0965

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Kev with our snacks and tea courtesy of the ladies at the next table 🙂IMG_2280IMG_2279IMG_2273IMG_2244

Kev got a hand-carved hanko stamp made. It was pretty cool.IMG_2250IMG_2212

IMG_0930Scary pic – but us Thanksgiving night at our local onsen.IMG_0958IMG_0961

Thanksgiving Dinner part one: Soba, tempura and sushiIMG_0933IMG_0948

Naoshima (aka “Art Island”)

Naoshima did not disappoint. We heard about “Art Island” from a friend in Tokyo, and man am I happy we did. Today, Kev and I wandered around the island relishing in the fall colors, soaking wet from the sweet-smelling rain and breathing in the beauty of the contemporary exhibits scattered around the island. Coming just yesterday from a month in the exhilarating, albeit frenetically paced Tokyo, Naoshima was truly a breath of fresh air and rejuvenated me in a way that I didn’t even know I needed. Maybe it was the fresh sea air, maybe it was the cleansing rain or maybe it was the beautiful exhibits, but whatever the case, it was everything we could have hoped for.

 

Stormy clouds on ferry to NaoshimaNaoshima Beauty

Horrifying spider (which are literally EVERYWHERE in the woods in Japan)Scary Scary Terrifying SpiderOn the beach in NaoshimaGreying Islands in RainPuppet offering at Naoshima Hachiman Shrine

Don't smoke in GraveyardView from Ferry to NaoshimaPano View from Ferry to NaoshimaSwan peeking over wall

Beer at gravesite.Beers on GravesiteWhere we're at, yo.Naoshima Hachiman ShrineGo'o Shrine Art House ProjectGo'o Shrine Art House ProjectLook out over MiyanouraGo'o Shrine Ocean ViewBurnt home wallsLady Liberty in Haisha Shinro Ohtake Art House ProjectBike in alley

Pumpkin sculpture by Kusama Yoyoi, which has become the symbol of the island. Art House Pumpkin

Traveling can take work sometimes!

Hello friends, family, and everybody else.

I just wanted to take a quick second to update this blog and mention some of the things that have been going on.

First of all, as of today, we’re still in Tokyo, Japan. Specifically Koto-ku, which means, I think, the Koto ward of Tokyo.

Anyway, we’ve done quite a bit recently:

  • We’ve gone to a bunch of different incredibly beautiful parks
  • We had Ramen at 5 or so different ramen places
  • We’ve gone to a bunch of different grocery stores and tried a bunch of different foods
  • We’ve met new friends (various meetup groups, including a group from reddit of all places!)
  • We went to an amazingly beautiful sake brewery
  • We’ve tried a bunch of different sakes
  • We’ve walked down a ton of small side streets that are amazingly cool because there is just tons of stuff everywhere
  • We’ve gone to a bunch of museums, including most recently the Studio Ghibli museum, but also the Edo museum
  • We’ve gone to a sashiko meetup group (Lindsay) and a meetup to learn about crochet
  • I gave a small talk at a design meetup about my morse code project
  • More stuff

Anyway, we’ve been both busy and not busy. We’ve been in Tokyo now for just about a month, staying in the same place the entire time. It’s strange, it’s starting to feel less like traveling and more like living. We “go home” at night. We know how to walk to various places of import. We have a grocery store we go to, and we recognize/are recognized by the people that work there. We honestly don’t do that many exciting thngs, we just walk a lot, exploring new side streets, trying different buns with different types of fillings, always on the lookout for sushi at grocery stores that we think is half off. We are getting pretty good at recognizing “half off” as apposed to “20% off” – not as easy as you might think!

Tomorrow we are going to Maker Faire Tokyo, which I’m pretty excited about. I’m hoping to get some sweet stickers, and perhaps see some cool things that you can’t see at the Bay Area Maker Faire. Maker’s Faire. Whatev. This has been something I’ve been excited about for a while, so, awesome!

Anyway, the title of the blog post. Lindsay and I are planning out the next bits of our trip here and there is just so much stuff that we don’t know! It’s crazy! It’s easy enough to be jobless, traveling around to various awesome places, but when you are on a budget and trying to save money every step of the way, trying to optimize your spending, there is a lot to consider!

Currently, our plan is as follows:

  1. Go to Istanbul, Turkey for 2-3 weeks
  2. Go to Greece for a few days or a week or so (?)
  3. Go to Hungary (?) for a week or so (?)
  4. Go to France or Germany…
  5. Go to other places

The thing is, when you are trying to save money on everything, little things matter. Like, which city should we fly into France? How should we get from X city to Y city? Do we need to buy Z in advanced to make sure we are eligible for the X pass? Does the temperature in Y city during X dates mean we’ll be unable to do Z, and so perhaps we should instead fly into W?

Anyway, it’s a lot to consider. At the end of the day, we’re basically just sort of going with the flow and honestly not putting all that much thought into things, but that drives me crazy sometimes because I feel so unprepared! Oh well.

Anyway, happy weekend all!

Bucket List Massacre v. Tokyo Fish (Tsukiji) Market and Lost in Translation Stuff

Hello everybody! Kevin here! How are you!!!?

Anyway, look, let’s get down to brass tacks. As a friend/colleague used to say, here’s the deal:

Lindsay and I had the opportunity to go to Tokyo 5 years ago, when a friend awesomely gave us the opportunity to have an extended layover in Japan on our way from SE Asia to Chicago. But, we were homesick after having traveled for 6 (ish – Nick, we’re using the ceiling function) months on the road. On that almost-layover, we were planning on going to the Tsukiji fish market, for many reasons, but because mainly, I had always wanted to see that. But we didn’t, and went home instead. Since then, it has been an itch I couldn’t scratch, because my hands couldn’t reach, if you see what I mean (it’s like, figurative language or something?).

Switching gears 100%, my favorite movie is Lost in Translation. I don’t say this lightly. It really is. If you asked me to name a single piece of media that is most important to me, it’s probably that movie. And it’s been a part of the reason I’ve wanted to come to Japan, sort of like a pilgrimage. Anyway, a lot of that movie takes place in a hotel called the Park Hyatt.

So, here is what we did:

  1. We went to the Tsukiji Fish Market
  2. We went to the Park Hyatt, up to the 52nd floor where much of LiT takes place

Can you believe it? We did both things!

The Tsukiji market was pretty awesome. For those of you who don’t know, it’s the largest wholesale fish market in the world. It’s huge. One of the big parts of the market is a tuna auction that happens most mornings. The auction is one of the things we really wanted to see, but it starts at 5am. Only 120 people per day are allowed to watch this auction, and to get a spot you need to arrive as early as possible to get a place. We heard that 4:30AM was a good time, but being the paranoid person I am, we decided to get there at 4AM. This was bad enough, but to make matters worse we are a fair distance (3ish mile) from the market, and no public transportation would take us there at 4AM. So we were left with either 1. pay to sleep somewhere near the fish auction (expensive), or 2. pay a taxi ($40+) to get us there, or 3. walk there. We opted for option 3 on account of our budget, which meant we had to be out of the door at 3AM. So it was an early morning.

It turns out that we were almost LATE at 4AM, as there were only a few spots left. After all 120 spots are taken, the entry door shuts and nobody else can get in. So, at 4AM we got there, then sat on the floor of this room for an hour and 45 minutes.

Thumbs up for Tuna Auction

But, it was awesome!

After the auction, we walked around the market and found ourselves a great place to get a 6AM sushi breakfast! It was a bit pricey (~$25 for both of us), but probably some of the freshest fish you can get, short of eating the fish raw on the boat.

7am Sushi Breakfast 3
(doesn’t look much like breakfast)

The wholesale fish market itself was amazing. It was far and above better then any fish market I’ve ever seen. Sadly, we don’t have many digital photos of the place (I took a whole roll of film though!), but here are a few random photos:

Inside Tsukiji Fish Market

IMG_1847

Overall, one of my favorite things we’ve done in Tokyo.

And then, there was Park Hyatt. We felt quite underdressed and generally like garbage walking into the hotel, which was incredibly fancy and awesome. Walking into the hotel made you sort of wish you were rich, and living a different sort of life. It was pretty amazing.

Anyway, we walked in like we owned the place, despite our feelings, and went straight to the elevator which took us up to the 42nd floor. Here, you step out in a huge huge room, complete with plants and dark atmospheric lighting and fancy people drinking expensive things. But we weren’t at our destination yet. We had to make it to the 52nd floor, which required finding a different lift. We ended up having to ask a hotel person how to get to the top floor, and I slipped in a tacky (feeling) question about when they started charging cover. We walked through the library, found the second lift, and ended up at the New York Bar on the 52nd floor of Park Hyatt.

It was smaller then I expected based on the movie, but I sort of liked that. It made it more believable that the two characters would be able to communicate with each other sitting at different tables without it being super weird/ackward.

Anyway, photos don’t really do the place justice, but here are a few bad ones anyway:

LIT == Lost in Translation

I had a Suntory beer, although a wiskey would have been more appropriate, they didn’t have a Suntory whiskey that I could find, and also it would have cost too much anyway :).

Here is where “Bob” sat

If anybody is curious, the drinks were 1100 Yen for the beer, 1900 Yen for the mixed drink, plus 13% tax (?) and 13% service charge, so the total was around 3600 Yen or 36 dollars for the two drinks. They gave us freeze dried peas and sesame crackers and peanuts in a dish. The service was awesome, if you are into that sort of thing. If we had stayed after 8pm (7pm on Sunday) we would have each been charged 2200 Yen for cover. If you ever visit Tokyo, and enjoy the movie or super fancy/classy/beautiful bars or awesome/amazing views, I’d say this was a great experience.

A great few experiences.

Delhi + Agra (Taj Mahal)

(note: I’ll add pictures in a bit!)

Lindsay and I went to Delhi, though it is NEARLY a distant memory at this point. I’m typing up this account of the experience to be sure we don’t forget about this bit of our trip.

Arriving in Delhi was great after a somewhat long journey from Varanasi. Like every other trip we took, the train ride was longer then you would think, and our train was delayed in Varanasi which was not a particularly nice train station. I think we sat around for 3 or 4 hours on the piss smelling ground, not really sure when the train was coming.

Anyway, getting to Delhi was great though. While hot, Delhi is a pretty modern city, some areas could easily be straight out of the United States. A great example is the Delhi metro, which is clean, air conditioned, and generally in working, non-broken condition. The Delhi metro was actually significantly nicer then the Bay Area’s metro. And more useful as it went all over the city.

Lindsay and I ended up staying accidentilyin a touristy area of Delhi near the “Main Bazar”, the hotel being called “Hotel All Iz Well.” This ended up being one of the nicer hotels we stayed at in India and also one of the more expensive places at ~20 bucks a night. It had air conditioning, CLEAN sheets (from what we could tell), a HOT shower (well, some of the time), and even a TV that had a few stations showing Western movies. We were staying in Delhi for a full week and we had prepared ourselves for dirty, hot, humid, loud, and overall not relaxing time and figured if we were going to be there for a week we might really appreciate having a nice place to come home to. And we did! Very very much!

Delhi itself we did a lot of random things, but to be honest not much to write home (or blog) about. The number of tourists things we did in Delhi itself were somewhere around 0. We didn’t go to see the Red Fort, we didn’t go to any museums, we didn’t see any temples or other places of worship (well, once, on accident we ran into a huge mosque), etc. Honestly at this point we felt a bit templed out, so to speak.

Instead, we spent our time in Delhi doing random things. We tried different foods. We went to a sports complex (which ended up being too expensive anyway) and tried to find a place to go swimming. We bought some clothing to bring with us to our next (colder) destinations. We spent some time sending a package back home… Interesting thing about that: we took a bunch of bags of presents/etc to a “package wallah”, basically a person who packages up stuff, and the dude SEWED all of the random stuff into a lumpy package with canvas. No box I guess, just canvas. It was like he made a lumpy custom canvas skin for our stuff. Took maybe 15 minutes and cost something like 4 bucks. Not bad. Shipping packages from India to the USA (Via “SAL” if you google this) was quite expensive. I think we paid ~USD$81 for a 11.5kg package.

And let us not forget our day trip to Agra (i.e. the Taj Mahal)! Agra could easily be a separate post but I’m worried I’ll loose steam and it’ll never happen, so here we are! We took an EARLY 6 AM train from New Delhi to Agra. Agra is a decent enough city I’m sure, but it mainly felt to me like a city with the Taj Mahal and a few other touristy places in it. We got off the train, took a tuktuk/autorickshaw to the Taj Mahal area, and walked in. We walked around, looking to buy tickets, but couldn’t figure out where to buy them. We thought we had to wait in a line that said “Tickets ->” to buy tickets, but it turns out we waited in the line and just got sent in to see the Taj. We still though we had to walk further to buy tickets, so we went to the entrance of the Taj expecting to be told/asked to buy a ticket or directed to the ticket purchasing counter or something, only to be pushed through the Taj (which is quite small) and then spit back out. This isn’t very clear i realize, what I’m saying, but basically we (honestly) accidentally saw the Taj without paying what would have been around USD $30. Which was crazy. The Taj itself was pretty cool. I keep typing other stuff and deleting it, but honestly that’s about all I can say for myself personally, “pretty cool.” It was cool. I’m glad we saw it so we can say we saw it. I wouldn’t travel to India to see the Taj, I’ll say that. And I might not even visit the Taj if I had a short period of time in India, just because for me I think there are cooler and more interesting things (Varanasi being a great example). I sort of feel like the Taj is travelers poison, you feel like you have to see it because it’s so famous, and it IS really cool, and you feel like if you don’t see it you’re going to regret being in India and not seeing it. Which is how I felt, and I’m glad we saw it, but those motivations sort of stuck in the back of my head.

The trip back from the Taj was hell. It was shit, so to speak. We were on a PACKED train, could barely move, people were screaming, Lindsay was sick, people jumping through windows of the moving train trying to get off on their stop, throwing packages through the windows, etc. Insanity. Hot, dirty, etc. Plus, when we finally got back to Delhi, it was super super crowded and somebody stole my wallet from my FRONT pocket. Pickpockted, you might say. Luckily the only thing of value that was stolen was the wallet itself, which I think was ~$20 bucks. I liked that wallet though :/. Other then that I had maybe 3 bucks worth of cash in the wallet, and nothing else (Larger bunches of money and credit cards, passports, etc, etc, I keep in a moneybelt either around my waste or locked up somewhere).

We also went to a western style mall one day (Select CITYWALK) which was great. I had a vegetable burger at McDonalds, and we tried various Indian deserts (I’m a big fan of gulab jamun btw, which I never was in the states… not sure if it’s better here, or different, or my tastes are just different with all of the Indian food), that sort of thing.

Honestly, this gives a pretty good idea of what we did for a week. Go to different parts of the city, different types of markets, etc, try different foods, eat a small bowl of rice pudding (kheer) from street vendors, get a chai and sit and read for an hour (I finished something like 7 Dresden Files books in a month).

At this point in our trip, especially the last few days in Delhi, Lindsay and I were honestly just getting pretty pumped to get on an airplane and fly to a new country. Our plan, because I’m not sure we have really posted it here yet, was/is to fly to Korea to see Phill and enjoy Korea for two weeks and move on from there. So, with a new (and happily colder!) country on the horizon near the end it mainly felt like we were passing time until our departure. Lindsay was quite sick one day and for this reason we spent nearly an entire day (except fro the occasional trip out to eat something or buy a “snack”) watching western movies on tv, which was awesome. We also watched Bang Bang! which was a pretty OKishsortofmaybenotreally Bollywood movie.

Eventually our time came, and we flew out of Delhi to Korea.