Things seen along the way

As we’ve moved along over this journey, I’ve taken pictures of things for posting to the blog. Some of them didn’t make it, for one reason or another. But hating to waste good pictures, I thought I’d throw them into a blog posting for all to experience.

The engine of my plane as I fly down to San Francisco:

The engine of my plane as I fly down to San Francisco

Our British Airways 747 to London:

Our British Airways 747 to London

The women who decided to talk us up at the hotel in London (mother and daughter, quite friendly):

The women who decided to talk us up at the hotel in London

Amy and Nick (and me, but I took the picture) sit in a sushi restaurant in St. Petersburg. Russia has surprisingly good sushi for a country that seems to have very few Japanese:

Amy and Nick in a sushi restaurant in St. Petersburg

Siberia doesn’t have a lot of features. It generally looks like either of the following two pictures. Usually more the former than the latter:

Endless stands of birch trees

A small, nameless Siberian village

And periodically, you do see other trains:

Passing a freight train

The forests often get thicker, too:

Endless stands of trees

Another shot of the Museum of Wooden Buildings. Didn’t post this as I took too many pictures there (was unsure of lighting, etc.):

Down Main Street, USSR, er, Russia

This is a far, far better shot of the Mongolian Embassy in Ulan Ude, Russia. I think I chose the other one because it did look better … at least at the time:

Mongolian Embassy in Ulan Ude

Me at the lake in Mongolia. Wouldn’t want to go swimming in that, though. Probably not the “cleanest” of places, with all the waterfowl and horses:

Chillin' at the lake

Amy catches up on journal- and postcard-writing:

Writing in the ger

We caught a sunset at Hustai National Park. This was before I nearly froze to death:

Sunset at Hustai National Park

A line of rail car bogies sit to one side in the bogie-changing shed in Erlian, China:

Bogies waiting for a new train

Most of you are probably wondering what the toilets in the trains looked like. Here’s an example of the “western” toilets. Never did take one of the squat ones, sadly…

Trail toilet

On the road, especially for this length of time, you periodically have to do laundry. Normally, not an issue. But this is what it looks like after washing out all the sand from Mongolia:

Down Main Street, USSR, er, Russia

We hit a great little restaurant in Beijing for lunch one day, and were served a pot of tea. Make with chrysanthemums. Not exactly normal, but quite tasty:

Chrysanthemum tea

Don’t ask me what kind of store this is. With a name like that, who really cares, anyway?

Valued Squirrel

This is the view from our hotel in Shanghai. As you can see, it was quite hazy there. The humidity was murder:

View from our hotel in Shanghai

It rained a lot in Xian on our first day there. Nice, but wet:

Bell Tower in the rain

Who doesn’t want to go to a Yummy Restaurant?

Yummy Restaurant

We walked around part of Xian’s walls one night. They looked pretty nice:

Valued Squirrel

Our last meal in Xian was at a strange hotpot restaurant, where we had to get someone to translate the freaking menu for us because we couldn’t read it at all. It was pretty tasty, though:

Valued Squirrel

We made a mistake of going to the “Entertainers”, a trio who perform in the lounge of the same name at the Hyatt in Xian. They forever butchered many of my favourite songs…

Be afraid ... very afraid

I meant to post about this. I mean, really, who names their water: “WAHAHA?”

WAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

At least you can’t miss the sign to get you to Kowloon (Hong Kong):

Get on the train!

Chinglish isn’t escapable, even at the Chinese/Hong Kong SAR border crossing:

No Flowing Back

One of these is the actual border between China and Hong Kong SAR. I have no idea where the heck it is, as it’s no longer marked:

Somewhere around the Hong Kong border

Somewhere around the Hong Kong border

Somewhere around the Hong Kong border

Somewhere around the Hong Kong border

Rogue vendors are so bad in some areas that private property owners try to keep them out with signs like these:

No Hawking

Ferry traffic!

Boat traffic in Hong Kong Harbour

Our hotel in Kowloon was next to the Avenue of Stars, sort of like the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I found a few names I know:

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Jackie Chan apparently heavily sponsors California Fitness. He’s probably an owner.

Jackie Chan plugs Hollywood Fitness

Inside our favourite dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong:

Mmmm... dim sum

We had this at a sushi restaurant in Chiba. We thought it was some weird pickled eel. It was eggplant:

It was still tasty

The world’s costliest cities

Check this out, we’ve hit five of the top ten World’s Costliest Cities (from CNN.com). And four of the five are at the very top.

Osaka Retrospective

We got to Osaka around noon and found the hotel after taking several hops on public transportation. The Hyatt Regency Osaka is out in a less-than-exciting part of town with mostly wharves and docks (what’s the difference?) surrounding the hotel and World Trade Centre.

So naturally, for dinner, we headed out to Dontonbori where we’d hoped to find incredible Osaka-style sushi.

The main \"gate\" in neon

We failed on the Osaka-style sushi. We found some but it was decidedly less than incredible. Less than thrilled, we did the photo thing.

(Please pardon my cruddy scanner, these are actually prints from the first roll of photos I had developed today.)

Dontonbori at night

And I couldn’t resist a shot of this cafe’s window display. Loads and loads of plastic replicas to show off the restaurant’s specialities. You see this in Japan everywhere, just not typically so photogenically lit.

Lots of plastic food

Eventually, we did find some really incredible sushi. I think I would rate it the top sushi, or at least a tie for first, in my life. Fresher than fresh, with atmosphere to boot. And, not terribly expensive. All good things. You know a good restaurant when you have to wait in line outside to squeeze into a tiny tiny space at the sushi bar.

Darn.

It’s 4:00am and I’m awake. Since 12:35. I was afraid of this.

It’s getting light in the east, and birds are chirping away. I just chatted on the phone with my dear friend Mandy who typically is awake until 6:30 or so every night, which is 7:30 my time. Handy! And nice and distracting. There’s not much else to do at 4:00am. I’ve already written, already caught up with some work stuff. My eyes hurt too much to read for any length of time. I could start editing the video… oh wait, that’s a brilliant idea!

But maybe I’ll save it for the next night. If this is anything like my trip to Thailand… it might take me awhile to readjust.

Home again, home again, jiggity-jig

Um… someone stop the world, please? I wanna get off.

Wow.

The world is a lot bigger than one would expect. Sure, Disney says it’s a “Small, Small World”, but trying going around it sometime. And I don’t mean by plane — go around it by surface. It takes a lot longer, and you’ll see a lot more.

Biggest surprise in the whole trip? Reverse culture shock. Didn’t see that coming, I tell ya. After seven weeks of blocking out all other languages to concentrate on the rare blips of English (signage and speech), arriving in San Francisco about overloaded me. Ouch.

The Bow River is flooding. The main highway was renamed. And those are the only two things we knew about on the road. Adjusting back is going to take some time…

the definition of culture shock

Looking out your office window and seeing this.

my neighborhood

Weird. Perfect kelly-green lawns, near-identical houses, SUVs.

Had some of this feeling in San Francisco yesterday. So much English everywhere it sort of made my head hurt, being able to understand every single conversation going on around me.

The Last

Yesterday was a day of lasts.

The last train (finally, even if it was just an airport tram; I was thwarted from taking the airport express train by a completely bulletproof argument put forth by Amy that the bus was faster).

Amy crowds a corner on our last train

The last flight.

The last airport.

Kansai Airport

The last country.

We left through Kansai Airport (the sinking island — I wonder if it still is sinking?), not nearly as impressive as I’d hoped it would be. Chek Lap Kok is much nicer, I think. Amy flew in Business, with me back in Galley Slave. The food was horrific on a level I can’t even begin to describe.

San Francisco was a rush of English. Ouch. But nothing was more painful than trying to get through United States Immigration.

Okay, rant…

We’ve been to a number of countries, now. Why is it that, even with countries that need a visa to enter, getting in and out is generally trivial? Amy’s got an American passport, I’ve got a Canadian one. Not a single issue. Ever.

Except in the United States. Amy gets to go through the Resident line. Quick, effective. Me? “Visitor”. Never mind the fact that Canadians are effectively treated like Americans, especially when in transit through the United States to home, and especially when not there on business. I was one of only two Canucks in the line of about 300. The rest were mostly Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino, with a couple of Aussies thrown in for good measure. Time for me to get through? An hour.

Really, does the United States need to be this paranoid? Fair enough, there’s been a terrorist attack. Do you really think that anyone determined enough is going to let you inspect them at the border? Scans of index fingers and digital photographs probably aren’t going to do anything useful, except make people wonder why they’re being treated like criminals. As a Canadian, I’ve been lucky to avoid that crap, but I’m waiting for the day we have to do that, too. Grr.

The delays meant no early flight home. So we spent a few hours wandering around San Francisco. Probably the smartest thing to do, since we needed the time to realize that yes, Toto, we are back in Kansas. It’s weird having to relearn to listen and read a language you’ve known your entire life.

San Francisco Cable Car

home

and just like that,

we are home.

more to come. much more.

the right words for me are bitter and sweet.

The view in Osaka

Nothing like a little wandering around to make things interesting.

I’ve been to Osaka once before — a few hours last year, when Jen and I came here. Mostly to see the Aquarium, mind you, but we did see a few other things.

Our hotel has got a great view … of the harbour. If that sort of thing interests you, then you’re in luck. The Hyatt is, otherwise, quite isolated. Thankfully, they have a free shuttlebus to the JR Osaka station. A little more convenient (although the route is anything but direct!) than trying to take all the trains.

A room. Sorta with a view.

Destination: Domtomburi (and surrounding area). This is the major outdoor market zone. It’s big, it’s busy, it’s loud (lots of pachinko parlours), and it’s very Japanese. (Which is good, because if it was, say, Angolan, that might be a little weird.) We even found the area where every sushi restaurant in the area seems to buy its equipment (including the plastic food featured in the windows).

In the shopping markets

Kitchen Stadium. Never did find Chen Kenichi, though...

Domtomburi

And after a great deal of effort (and patience on Amy’s part, because I was no doubt becoming quite annoying about this), we found some Osaka “zushi”. This is sushi, but formed and cut into squares. It’s a different presentation, and I honestly expected it to be a bit more different than it ended up being. I won’t say I was disappointed, but I guess I had a higher expectation for it.

Osaka zushi

Nara is neat

The last time I was in Japan (a little over a year ago), I’d wanted to go to Nara. I’d quite a bit about it, but just hadn’t gotten the chance to go. So when we planned this out, and happened to be spinning through Japan on our way home, it was a very fortunate happenstance that both of us wanted to be there.

Nara, as it turns out, is a very neat little city. Make no mistake, this is most definitely no town. But it doesn’t feel large. At least, if you’re within the “walled” portion. (I’m not sure if there’s an actual wall, but that’s what it looks like on the maps we’ve seen.)

Our trip there was an adventure and a half. First, shinkansen to Shin-Osaka, Nozomi-class. (There are three classes: Kodama, Hikari, and Nozomi. Although JR Rail Pass holders aren’t allowed on Nozomi, the cost to buy a ticket isn’t much different (maybe 300 yen) between them. And you save almost an hour.) Originally, we were to go to Kyoto, but Amy convinced me to go all the way to Shin-Osaka. Once there, we switched to a local train to Osaka station, then to a regional train that took us all the way out to Nara. From the moment we got off at Shin-Osaka, all the way to a taxi that we finally climbed into in Nara, we stood. My feet were KILLING me.

We’re staying at a ryokan, a small traditional Japanese guest house. Apparently, it used to be a geisha house. I don’t know if that’s Japanese geishas, or American geishas. (What’s the difference? A proper Japanese geisha is an entertainer. Their job was to placate and entertain powerful men who paid very highly for the services of a geisha. Despite beliefs, Japanese geishas were not prostitutes, unlike the American geishas. These were introduced by the U.S. Government after World War II as an effort to keep American soldiers from “disturbing” the Japanese people. These were prostitutes dressed up as geishas, and called as such for the exotic overtones.) I’d like to believe the house was a Japanese one. It’s nothing fancy — a pair of mattresses, a couple of chairs, and a noisy air conditioner. Toilets and showers are communal, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone around.

Nara is full of temples. Aside from being a former capital (many Japanese cities seem to hold this title), this is still a religious centre. Thankfully, most of the neat stuff was in walking distance of the ryokan. (For the record, though, our “walking distance” is probably a lot further than some people’s definition. We’ve walked a lot in this trip.)

Starting off at a pond near the Five Storied Pagoda, we found a healthy collection of turtles. Then we wandered through the Pagoda area and were introduced to the deer. Nara deer are … odd. They’re small, not as small as the ones on Miyajima Island near Hiroshima, but certainly smaller than the ones in Canada. They’re defined as “semi-wild”, meaning that while they are wild animals, they tolerate interaction with humans quite well. (Although there are a lot of signs telling you to be careful and not to enrage the deer.) It’s stuff like this that reminds me why many tourists in Banff (Bamf!) are told not to get too close to the elk.

Pond o' Turtles

We were distracted by a rather nice park on the way to Tennoji Temple. Aside from the wonderful Japanese stone lanterns, the biggest attraction we saw was the botanical garden. Apparently designed off various literal works, the garden contains a wonderful collection of plants, arranged into very beautiful pockets of splendour. Of particular interest was a small red deck built over a lilypad-covered pond. The pond was home to a school of carp, which a trio of elderly photographers were taking turns snapping pictures.

Botanical Garden

Tennoji Temple is quite impressive. Like other buildings I’ve been to that claim it’s “the largest wooden building in the world”, it’s big. Really big. And impressive. There’s a large Buddha that sits inside, sheltered by the building. Interestingly enough, the building is smaller than it once was (fire reconstruction), and the temple itself is smaller, having been reduced by similar damage.

Tennoji Temple

We walked around through various alleys and laneways (Nara has many that are very picturesque. You’ll see something interesting down nearly every road, it seems.)

Nara Cultural Hell

Amy finally found some Japanese yarn. I thought she was going to have kittens when she found it. She couldn’t decide, either.

Yarn, yarn, everywhere...

I’d glad to have finally been to Nara. It’s a nice little place. If you’re thinking of coming to Japan, give it a thought. It’s an easy trip from Osaka … so long as you’re not carrying all your bags with you.