nostromos bLog






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* travel (241)
  `-bruxelles_07 (8)
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  `-hongkong_09 (13)
  `-iceland_10 (14)
  `-ireland_16 (7)
  `-japan_13 (22)
  `-paris_06 (1)
  `-poland_10 (3)
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* zoo (38)
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07(03), 06(03), 05(02), 04(02), 03(02)
12(02), 11(01), 10(08), 09(03), 07(17), 06(01), 05(04), 04(03), 03(02), 02(02), 01(06)
12(05), 11(02), 10(01), 09(01), 08(02), 07(04), 06(01), 05(02), 04(03), 03(02), 02(02), 01(01)
12(01), 11(02), 09(09), 08(16), 07(02), 06(03), 05(04), 04(03), 02(03), 01(02)
12(03), 11(01), 10(02), 09(01), 08(23), 07(03), 06(02), 05(01), 04(02), 03(02)
12(03), 11(02), 10(01), 09(01), 08(23), 05(02)
09(04), 08(01), 06(01), 05(02), 04(02), 03(01), 02(01)
11(01), 10(02), 09(15), 08(01), 07(02), 06(04), 04(12), 01(06)
12(05), 11(01), 10(06), 09(12), 08(02), 07(02), 06(01), 05(01), 04(10), 02(01), 01(05)
12(02), 08(01), 07(15), 06(02), 05(03), 02(02), 01(03)
12(05), 11(01), 07(24), 06(06), 05(03), 04(02), 01(01)
12(01), 11(01), 10(07), 09(01), 08(04), 07(05), 06(04), 05(06), 04(01), 03(04), 02(06), 01(04)
12(04), 11(02), 10(03), 09(04), 08(03), 07(04), 04(01)
07(01), 05(01)
08(01)
10(01)

Sun, 25 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 21+1 (0 comments)
hmmm.... so according to the plan, this day would have been rather easy and straightforward. getting up, having breakfast, bidding farewell to the lovely staff of the hotel, taking pictures of them[1-2], getting on the train to the airport, checking in, getting on the airplane, watching movies, eating, sleeping, doing stretching and stuff because my feet will hurt after some time, then about fourteen hours later and having a stop in moscow, getting of the plane and going to bed to be at work the next morning. yop, that was the plan. but somehow it did not work out that way. seems we lost a few minutes here, a few minutes there, and already got late to the train station. there we also found out we had a ticket for a very slow train, not the "N'EX" as we had it on our first day to get from narita airport to tokyo central station. but not only was it a slow train, we also missed that one by one minute. so our idea was to upgrade our ticket to a "N'EX" ticket, but it turned out we lacked about 1.000 yen (that is f****ing 7 EUR). oh damn... looks like for the first time in my live i will miss my plane. and that's just what we did. we arrived at the airport ten minutes prior to the departure of our aircraft. a grumpy guy at the check-in counter of aeroflot said it costs 100 euro each to rebook our flight. hm... did i mention we were broke? ah, i think i did. ok, so we explained to the guy that we would basically have some money, it's just we cannot access it, and also my credit card limit was reached, and blablabla. turns out, that made the guy even more grumpy. he offered we can call someone and charge someone else's credit card. good idea. it's just... it was 04:00 o'clock in the morning back home. so we tried to phone nina's parents. no one picked up. then nina's brother. luckily he answered the phone and gave us his credit card information. puh, lucky us. thanks to nina's brother for helping us out here. happily we returned to the grumpy guy, told him we can buy the new ticket. that was the good news. bad news was, the next plane was in about 24 hours. there's only one plane a day. oh great, that means staying at the airport. having no money, and not much left to eat. there were basins with drinking water everywhere, so at least we would have something to drink. although the water from the tap had this intense chlorine taste and scent. ok, so we strolled around the airport, and hours later we decided to camp at a nice couch with power outlets right next to it to charge our electronic devices. next to us was an old woman with two kids sleeping. soon she came over to us and asked if we know french. in french. well, i understood that much, so i said that i understand french a bit but i'm very rusty at talking. the lady told me a story i did not fully understand, but it seems like she was stranded at the airport with her two grand children and she needed to get somewhere. or someone would come. or... i don't know, it was hard to get the full story for me, as she was very talkative and i could not really sort out the important parts of her story. so i asked at an information desk if there is a french airline check-in around here, so she can talk to someone who actually speaks french. the lady said yes, but they will be here in a few hours. i tried to explain that to the old lady. it seemed she understood, yet she was not happy with that. so she told me more stuff i did not fully understand until i finally thought i got what she wanted. a single phone call to someone in her hometown in new caledonia. she showed me a number in her notebook that also had some comments next to it. according to the notes, it seemed like it was a number you dial, then the receiver can take over the costs for the long distance call, so the caller does not pay for it. as the lady at the information desk refused to do such call with the telephone provided at the information desk, i took our last coins and went to the nearby public telephone. i dialed the number, but it somehow was the wrong one. in the meantime the lady at the information desk had found out this number was only valid for calls from australia to new caledonia. by now the french staff had already arrived, and the family went there, accompanied by the information desk lady. the family was totally happy and the old lady thanked us over and over again, smothering us with kisses, and inviting us to visit her. hehe, well, maybe one day we will do that. after all this excitement, it was only 21 hours to go. thank you lady from new caledonia for keeping us busy for a few hours. after informing our bosses that we will not make it to the office on monday morning, writing emails to our beloved ones, and killing time with reading, and listening to music, we both took a nap. another few hours later, the shops were closing, and it was time for us to find a nice spot to sleep. so we loaded our luggage trolley again, and kept exploring the airport. soon we found a nice and quiet place where not many people came by. we had a bathroom right around the corner, and power outlets right next to our bench, and massage chairs for which we had no money. that would be our perfect place to sleep. or so we thought. around 22:00 o'clock a watchman came and said we cannot stay here. the only place to stay over night was the main entrance hall. oh crap. we also noticed other people being forced to leave their places. so all the people at the airport were herded and had to stay in one small area. arriving at the main hall we found what we had expected. around 50 people, and only benches with armrests, so you cannot really sleep on them. the only ones that were suitable for sleeping were of course already taken. oh man... this will be a long night, with not a lot of sleep. then came the police, asking everyone why they wanted to stay here, what their flight was, and checking if it was legitimate reason to stay, taking notes of the passport numbers, etc. also they almost panicked when people tried to leave the area. people were forced to stay in the area of the main entrance hall. every time someone went to the toilet a guard followed them. we found that rather disturbing. when later i brushed my teeth at the bathroom it seems it took too long, so one of the guys even came into the bathroom looking if i was still there. very very very disturbing. things got better once the policemen left, then the guards got more relaxed too. walking around freely was possible again, as they had already taken all the information of everyone. also a girl that was sitting on our bench left the area, so we even got some place to sleep. two seats for nina, then an armrest, and three seats for me. not really very comfortable, but at least we could sleep. lights were put out at around 23:00 o'clock... ...just to be put on again at 05:30. five thirty - what a madness. also they put on a tv screen and some other machines that made a lot of noise. yop, bye bye good night sleep. by now it was only another four hours left until we could get on our plane. yuhu. at a bakery we spent our last coins for my last japanese hotto cohi and a muffin, a tea and a bagel for nina. at the check-in we met the grumpy guy again, who was remarkably turned into a quite friendly guy within 24 hours. and then we finally were able to go home. missing a plane is not fun and staying at the airport for 24 hours neither - at least not when you don't have any money. a capsule hotel would have been nice, for example. i think next time i will try to catch the plane. makes things easier. ah, and remind me to bring traveler checks next time. anyhow, besides a really bad beginning, and an even worse end, this trip was still wonderful. so still thank you, nina.

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Sat, 24 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 21 (0 comments)
last day in japan for us - buhuuu. to lighten our mood we drove to the ghibli shop at tokyo station, as we wanted to buy some merchandise stuff we already saw at the ghibli shop in kyoto on day two. unfortunately they did not have the items we were looking for, so we decided to go to the imperial palace (opened today, yay), and later go to another ghibli shop. on our way to the imperial palace we spotted an area in front of a big hotel with loads of fountains[001-014], that had different activity cycles and stages. seems like it was a programmed choreography. we enjoyed the water wall[007-013] the most. also it was nice to cool the hands in the cool water a little bit.
then we finally made it into the imperial palace garden[033-049], where nina got her own multi-pass[034,038]. awesome, isn't it? but as it was again hot and humid we tried to avoid staying in direct sunlight, which is kind of hard to accomplish, as the garden mostly consists of spacious open areas.
to cool down, get a rest, and get nina something to eat we went to a nearby din tai fung branch, like the one at "tobu" that was closed four days ago, and nina wanted to taste their dumplings again so desperately. the restaurant had just opened, so no queueing (wow, imagine that), and not many people. we ordered a mix of all kinds of dumplings and buns, filled with meat, fish, or vegetarian stuff. we tried a novelty[059-060], sweet dumplings filled with red beans and a taro bun. soooo nomnom and delicious - nina was happy all over. after we left again, one could look right into the kitchen, as they had a big window there. the cooks inside were happy and amused that we took pictures of their artwork[062-064].
next stop was sky tree city. sky tree is the tallest building in tokyo, and had not yet existed the last time i was here. there would have been an observation deck, but due to lack of money, and as we already had quite a lot of observation decks, we skipped that. same to the aquarium that is there too. instead we went to the ghibli shop at sky tree city. and for the first time we were officially allowed to take pictures in a ghibli shop. inside we found a lot of cat buses, totoros, and all the lovely characters from the movies. also i found the item i was looking for, a cat bus flower pot. so cute. happy me. it really is frustrating when there is so much stuff you want to buy, and actually you could afford it, but you cannot buy it, because you cannot get to your money. aaaaargh, we hated that so much. it is like you have a cigarette, but no lighter. all the cool stuff they had here in tokyo... but we pulled ourselves together, and bought nothing else, because our last yen also dwindled. and so we reduced our activity to stuff one can do without paying. like enjoying the sky tree lights[088,091,093-094,097-102]. it seemed to us, that there was an opening ceremony for olympic games stuff and as soon as the ceremony was over, the sky tree was more colourful than the days before. it was some event to increase the liking of tokyo being a candidate city to host the olympic games in 2020. so there were loads of people enjoying the spectacle. we treated ourselves with a cold stone creamery ice cream. another thing we will definitely miss. then we went back to the hotel.
last night at the edo sakura, this time again in an eastern style room. and again a different room. but once more, the room was great. after having a tea, we went to bed - very tired, and very sad, as it is our last night in japan. what a great trip. besides all the troubles and inconveniences that had happened to us, it was really a pleasure, and we totally enjoyed it. thank you nina for this wonderful holidays. 1944 pictures taken.

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Fri, 23 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 20 (0 comments)
for today we decided to go the source of all the excellent food we had so far, namely tsukiji fish market[01-25]. the last time i have been there, i saw creatures of the sea which i had never seen before. so nina was kind of excited to get there, as i had told her about my last visit here. and while our guidebook recommends to go there very early, we could not get up early today, like all the other mornings for the last week. the hot humid weather, the long walks, all the new stuff made us weary to death over time. and although we really want to see, do and experience as much as possible, it got harder and harder each day to get up early. so, in our case, "early" for this day meant something like 10:30 o'clock. but for the fish/crustacean/food industry this meant almost end of business for the day. in other words: we got there too late for the cool and weird stuff. too sad, too late. nina was really frustrated and sad. but still, we could lay our eyes on some crabs, octopus, huge clams, squid, prawns, fish, and severed body parts. all nice, but not very exotic.
on the area of the fish market are some small restaurants that sell fresh sushi. but to get your food there, one had to practice the art of queueing[24-25] again. we did not want to do so (and besides that it would have been too early for my stomach to have fish anyway), so we went on to walk around the imperial palace[29-40]. no, just around, not inside the palace, because - guess what - it is closed on mondays and fridays. additionally it started to rain again in the meantime. not a good day so far, and nina got even more frustrated and sad. hm, we should have checked the opening hours prior to going there. but we will come back here tomorrow.
then we drove to shibuya crossing again, as nina saw some lovely shoes at a shop in "shibuya 109" the days before, and has now decided to buy them, since they are unique, and stylish, and... i honestly had no idea what she was talking about, but it seemed like they were really something very special. so why not buy them, right? and besides, it makes nina happy. which makes me happy. then we found a new spot to watch and study the shibuya crossing crowd movements. an overpass nearby. it was interesting watching the change from dry to rainy weather and how people use underground passages to cross the street then instead. so from the usual mass[46] to almost no people[49] at all in about seven minutes. quite impressive. as it did not stop to rain, and shibuya crossing had mutated to an ordinary crossing, we decided to go back to our hotel again.
at the hotel i checked my credit card balance online, as ATMs still refused to give us money. and it seemed we made some miscalculations and wrong estimations of how much cash in total we would have left. so to make sure, at first we put aside the money we would need for transportation to the airport. then we put aside the money we would need to pay the hotel. uh damn, we were missing around 3.000 yen (appr. 25 euro) to pay the rent. so we returned our suica cards, and got the deposit of 500 yen for our two cards each back. so 2.000 yen to go, and no cash anymore. desperately, i gave it a last try at an ATM using my credit card with smaller amounts to withdraw, hoping i would get at least some cash. and starting from 50.000 yen descending in steps of 10.000 i got some money at trying 10.000 yen - yippieh, we got cash for food and stuff. so 8.000 yen that we can spend on last day. not much, but better than nothing, right? lucky us. nice. with all the excitement and horror of almost not being able to pay the rent, we thought it is the perfect time to enjoy the private onsen for the last time. and yes, it helped to calm down and relax a bit. oh, we will definitely miss that onsen.

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Thu, 22 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 19 (0 comments)
first thing today in the morning was to check if i had packed all my stuff for the camera. i had, and the cam was working properly - good. so we were ready to take the metro to the senso-ji, a popular, highly frequented, and pretty colourful temple in the asakusa district. but to get there, one has to walk through the thunder gate, aka kaminarimon[001-005], with a huge lantern[001,002,004,005] in the middle and a wooden carving of a cute dragon[004] at the bottom of it. the statues of fujin and raijin, the gods of wind and thunder are placed at the sides. next one has to walk down nakamise dori[003,007], the shopping street leading from the first gate to the second gate, where one can buy all kinds of stuff - from touristy souvenirs[007] to super cool things[006]. nina was looking for souvenirs and those wooden sandals, but could not find a pair she liked.
having reached the hozomon[008,009,011-014], the second gate, one can see two big metal lanterns, or toros, and huge straw sandals[014] on the back of the gate. right next to the gate is the temple[017-025]. loads of people, incense sticks, and dragons to see, smell and find there.
time for a way smaller and much less popular shrine, namely the inado jinja, or cat shrine. the one i have searched so desperately on my last trip, and i took me two attempts to finally get there. so we walked there by foot to get to the inconspicuous cat shrine[032-043]. this place has not changed much, except for the watering can "altar"[038] and the tables and seats they put there to have a rest. we bought an ema[041], wrote down our wishes on it, and hanged it to the tree, where i had hanged my ema five years ago. also we did do some praying at the shrine. the procedure was described by a sign fortunately. the ritual starts with throwing a coin into the offertory box, then ring the bell to get the deities attention, then bow twice, then make your wish, then clap twice to get the attention again (i think), and finally bow again. done. now that was easy. at least for nina. i mixed it all up and did it all wrong. i hope the cats are not angry with me (n)ow.
after a little rest we went back to the senso-ji, because nina wanted to do some souvenir shopping on the nakamise dori again, and also we wanted to try out omikuji[050-058], the fortune telling paper strips. to do so, one has to grab a big, heavy metal box full of wooden sticks[050], then shake it thoroughly[051], then shake it thoroughly[052], then shake it thoroughly[053], then rest a little[054] from the strenuous shaking, then turn the box, and get one wooden stick[055] out of a tiny hole on the top of the box. on the stick some symbols are imprinted, which you have to match with the symbols on loads of drawers[057]. once you found it, open the drawer, and take out your fortune telling paper strip[058], which will tell you your future. fortunately, they have english translations on the sheets at the senso-ji temple. and once more, nina's future was brighter, better, and shinier than mine.
blessed with good luck, we walked on, and nina bought some incense sticks. again we made our wishes, and put the sticks into one of the big censers as described on the packing.
next, we walked towards the sumida river bank[084-089], where we found a ghibli shop, but unfortunately it was closed. too bad. have the paper strips been wrong about our luck? hm, let's hope not. so we walked on, saw a cute cat[084-085], on the other side of the river the asahi flame[086-088] (aka the golden turd), and the panda bus[089], a small bus that drives around asakusa district and definitely looks cool. i would love to have such a vehicle.
then we drove on to ueno to stroll around in ueno park and the nearby area. when we got off the station we found a bakery[091-096] selling cute little pies and cookies, inspired by the animals of the nearby ueno zoo. so we had a hotto cohi, and a tiger and turtle biscuit. so cute, so good, so sweet.
we were quite fascinated by the huge water lotus pond[097-103,107-113] and the lotus seed pods - yeah, we both definitely do not suffer from trypophobia[098,103]. and actually everything related to the lotus flowers[107-109,111,112].
but they also have a boat pond[119,121] right next to the lotus pond, full of hungry fish[122-125], and hungry turtles[126-127]. and a cat lady[117,118] was there petting and combing a cute cat that seemed to enjoy that very much. by now it was already late and it got dark, and nina got hungry. so time to go to the near-by shopping streets to grab some food.
so we entered ameyoko, a busy market street, that seemed to have loads of places to grab some food. a hawker showed us a menu on the street, and it looked good and delicious, so we agreed to be taken to the restaurant he works for. after following him for quite a while through a labyrinth of small and narrow streets, we finally arrived at a stairway that brought us down into the basement, where the actual restaurant was. we tried shabu shabu, a japanese dish with a pot of boiling water, where you can put in all kind of stuff, like vegetables, sliced beef, etc. while it was delicious and tasty it was also quite expensive. more expensive than the pirate meal we had a few days ago. in fact, it was the most expensive meal we had in ages. we are still not really sure if this had to be that way, or it was some tourist rip off we fell for. oh well, at least we tried shabu shabu once. and we are now a big step closer to my credit card limit. we don't have much cash left, and i don't think i can withdraw any more money.
back at the hotel we moved in to the western style room. we both agreed that we prefer the japanese style rooms, as there's no tatami floor, no paper wall windows, and the bed takes up way too much space. also the toilet seats were different and less nerdy as the ones in the other room we had. but still, the room was wonderful and i am sure we will have a good night sleep.

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Wed, 21 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 18 (0 comments)
the unthinkable happened today. and now that i think of it, i do not know how this could have happened. usually i charge the battery over night, put it into my cam the next morning, turn on my camera, check for the CF card to be inserted, add a new folder each new day, and check the time offset to my gps tracker. but this morning i did none of these things, simply because i... forgot. i guess. i forgot if i forgot. while not creating a new folder and not checking the time synchronicity is a not so severe thing to omit, not putting in the battery pack is. and so i ended up in ikebukuro with a huge, heavy, and dead camera. my bad, so sad - buhuuu... well, there has to be a first time for everything i guess. also i did not like to go back to the ryokan again to get it, so i thought let's try something totally new this day: a day on my japan trip with- out my beloved camera. crazy, ha? turns out you look at things more relaxed, as you do not have to worry about moments you did not capture in a picture. so i left this job to nina. but, for you to participate in this day trip to huge shopping malls, i will put it into words only what we did today. since a lot happened, this means a lot of words. just for you. and don't do the TLDR thingie here, it would make me really sad. really. so, here's the day... first thing in the morning was to extend our stay at the wonderful edo sakura hotel. while we asked a few days ago if we could stay longer, the owner told us there's no free room for this weekend. but while browsing the site at booking.com today for a new hotel, we found the edo sakura to be vacant for the last two days of our stay, which surprised us. so i decided to go downstairs and book right away. but lucky us, it turned out that there actually is a room for all the days we stay here in tokyo. yay, so we booked again. but this time a western room for two days, and a japanese style room for the last two nights. puh, we were really happy. after that we took the metro to ikebukuro, a district full of little shops and huge shopping malls, like "seibu" and "tobu", both very famous in japan, and both operating their own railway line (seems this is a nice add-on to have for huge companies?). starting with "seibu" we got a multi-storey mall full of shops with edible stuff. all kind of known and unknown dead animals, products of, or by them, tons of variations of sweets in all kind of flavours, colours, shapes and consistencies. overwhelmed by the variety, we bought a thing from time to time, because it looked so delicious, and we could not resist - we simply just had to buy a sample to try. and every time we did so, it was all nomnom and delicious, and sometimes strange and new. those shopping malls are really impressive, and sometimes they seem to me like a little town in this huge town of tokyo. but there was a reason we came here, besides all the things one can do in malls. and the reason is called "din tai fung". yes, that excellent dumpling cooking company we got to know in taiwan. they had some branches here too, and ninsti wanted to relive the experience of having those little hot and steamy dainties, which she was craving for so much, on her palate again. the restaurant is in the other big mall called "tobu". but hey, for some unknown reason the entire mall was closed on this day. poor nina, so close, but closed. being very depressed we had to find something for cheering up. and what would do a better job than petting a cat? right, nothing. so we went to the next huge mall called "tokyo hands", because on the eighth floor they have the "nekobukuro", a cat house in ikebukuro, with a little shop outside, where i have already been back on my last tokyo trip. so we entered the playground, found loads of cats, and also loads of people - this place seems to be very popular. the place is not a classic cat cafe, but more a playground for cats. also there is no time limit, you pay only for the entrance. there are between 20 and 30 cats (we think), all kind of races, colours, sizes, and shapes (like the sweets in "seibu") - from grumpy cat, hoover cat (yes, they have a glass top under the ceiling which seems to be the favourite spot of one particular white long-hair cat) to looong cat. from the popular scottish fold, and main coon, persian and siamese, to norwegian forest, and crossbreed cats. all so cute, most of them sleeping (of course), but also curious once awoken. while we lost track of time in there, the hunger built up in nina. so we went back to "seibu", as nina's guide book said that you can get cheap food when it gets close to closing time of the food court. market criers shouted, people were busy finding the best pieces, and this place was crowded. we joined, and grabbed loads of stuff[1-6], from sushi to sashimi plates, and some deep fried stuff for me. all looking so good. it was hard to decide what to take. and the longer we stayed, the more hungry the both of us got. and it was really very very cheap. we hurried back home to the hotel and had a feast - nomnom. oh, and by the way, it's not much of use if you know some phrases in japanese like "what is that?". i used that on a lady selling me the deep fried stuff, and there were four different kinds of them. so i asked her in perfect japanese "kore wa nan desu ka?" and she answered in japanese. so after a while i replied "wakarimasen", which means that i did not understand a word you just said. asking her coworker to help out, i got to know that it was different meat flavours inside. but, at least i know that my pronunciation is excellent. hehe. in the meantime it had started to heavily rain outside. so one more reason to hurry home and eat all the wonderful stuff we just acquired.
later we did the laundry at the hotel. and while i loaded the machines, it was nina who fetched the things from the dryer later. the machines were on the ground floor, and the heavy rain had flooded the basement in the meantime. although, according to nina, it looked pretty bad, the owner refused all offers for help from nina. either he was too proud, conscientious (guests do not need to work), or he was used to that - we do not know. we hope the rain does not get worse. poor owner. and i really hope i do not forget my battery pack ever again.

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Tue, 20 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 17 (0 comments)
remember when nina wanted to go to some beach? well, today we went to odaiba beach. and to get there one has to ride a non-person train. so the train runs fully automatically, from driving to opening and closing doors - really nice. and when we got there, guess what... another anniversary celebration was going on there. this time the fifth anniversary of "united states of odaiba", whatever that means. for sure it meant tons of people and crowds all over the place. so, for starters we decided to take a nice walk to and on the beach, since there were not many people. to get to the beach one can walk down a wooden pathway that is right next to a small replica of the "statue of liberty"[007-009]. also the nearby bridge[011-013,028-029,054,058,093,108-111] somehow resembles brooklyn bridge. almost felt like NY.
at the beach[011-033] we also saw a cool baywatch boy[030] for nina, and a cool baywatch girl[032] for me. let me tell you, cool as ice - both of them. with our feet in sea water, and nina's skin peeling off from her sole[031] (as she had some treatment a few days ago with a japanese product to remove callus, we spent some time at the beach. and as you can see, it seems it worked pretty good.
to cool down a little again after the long walk on the beach we entered the shopping mall close by the beach. cool stuff they had there, like an automatic baby swing[035]. after some cold drinks and a hotto cohi we were finally ready to join the crowd, and headed to the fuji tv building[042-079] to go into the big sphere[040,045-046,051,069] which i had not done at my last stay. to get there, of course a little queuing was obligatory. inside the "hachitama", that's what they call the 1200 tons titanium sphere, there were more of the family attractions shown at this anniversary festivity. first of all, there were some of the minions[043-044,053,061] from "despicable me 2", a professor's lab[060] from a japanese tv series that seems to be very popular, as there's even a professor hello kitty[062], and loads of professor merchandise. then there was this penguin[067-068], loads of merchandise for another japanese series[065], and much more stuff like noodle advertisement[071-073], original props[074] from another series, etc, etc, etc, etc... so yeah, if it says anniversary celebrations, you really get a lot to see.
but by now we already had a crowd overflow, and thus decided to get something to eat. we found a pirate restaurant[080-088] in one of the many food courts in one of the many shopping malls on this little island. the staff was dressed as pirates, the menu cards[085] were really stylish, and the food was delicious, and also the table was nice, as it was with a nice view[086] to the brooklyn bridge. also this was the most expensive dinner so far, as one also has to pay a little extra for the pirate stuff, like the staff shouting and singing each time a customer enters or leaves the restaurant. but hey, it was fun, and good, and we enjoyed it - arrrrigato.
yeah, speaking of joy... as it was already late (meaning that it got darker, and most of the stuff was already close to closing), we decided to spend the rest of the day at "joypolis", a huge indoor amusement park from sega with all kind of attractions. actually the plan was to store our cameras in a locker, ride/see/do/enjoy all the stuff that one can rise/see/do/enjoy there, and then take pictures of it afterward. but we totally lost track of time in there, as there are no clocks or windows at all, like in pachinko halls or casinos, and so all the stuff had already closed when we got to our cameras again before getting thrown out because they were closing. too bad. but here's a little textual overview of what we did. we started with "storm-g", a futuristic bobsleigh video game with a cockpit that can turn 360 degrees. while in theory one could use a brake, nina and i did not do that, and also the two persons riding need to perform actions synchronously when shown so on the monitor. this means the team members of each bob have to press buttons or turn the control levers. and guess who won the race and got a "best team"-nomination? yeah, it was us - yippieh, we rock. next were "wild river", "wild jungle brothers", and "wild wing", all simulator rides through a jungle with a jeep, through a canyon with a speedboat, and a flight with a plane. all with moveable seat-rows, air blowing, and water splashing at the people. all the stuff was btw pronounced as "wildoh" by the japanese staff or speaker during the rides. so cute, and really fun, but pretty shaky, and our stomachs did not like the three rides in a row either. we felt a little sick. to recover we chose to do something romantic, called the "fortune forest", where you answer questions as a couple, and some mystical forest calculates your level of matching, and in the end you get a printout with all the collected facts about you. according to the mystical forest, my favourite colours should be either black or white, while nina's favourite colour should be black, and nina and i were not a good match. ownoez, too sad. and if you're sad, what's better than to shoot some zombies? nothing came to my mind, so that's just what we did (although it would have not been nina's first choice). so we entered the zombie shooter "the house of the dead 4", which was similar to "dark escape 4d" we played in taito game station in hiroshima. only this shooter was not only 3d, but also had a rotating row of seats and two screens, so whenever zombies were attacking from behind, you got rotated to face the according screen. har, that was a lot of fun (at least for me, nina though was still not so convinced of the fun in that). "dark chapel" was our next attraction. it's a 3d show where you sit in a room that looks like an old chapel. the language is japanese only, but it's basically the old fight good versus evil, and of course good wins (uhm... spoiler alert, sorry, i forgot to mention that beforehand). again shaking seats and warm air blowing into your face whenever there's fire involved in the story. cute and fun. the next thing i did alone, as nina was too scared to join me. it was called "another" but i totally failed to get the plot. basically it starts in a very small classroom, then some guy guides you around, you get scared here and there by other guys suddenly appearing behind curtains or behind glass windows that suddenly get lit. then you're brought to a room where there are several booths. you go in, get the order to fasten a seatbelt, hold on to the two handles, and the door gets closed. then you are in that coffin, it gets dark, and you get rotated to horizontally lie in there for a short while, and hear the sound of earth hitting your coffin cover. that was it. afterwards a japanese guy who could speak a tiny little english said he could not explain to me what it was, but it was somehow related to some japanese series or movie. or so i think. ah well, that was weird and strange... and if you're confused, what's better than to shoot some zombies? yeah, right, shooting zombies... in a roller coaster. that is what "veil of dark" is about. fun part is actually that the rails go through the big hall in the building[100-105]. unfortunately there were not many zombies to shoot, and the ride was rather short. but still, total fun. last thing, as we were already running out of time, was the "tokyo halfpipe"[096-099], where you get strapped to something that could be a snowboard, and you get a simulation of a half pipe. there's also a pad under your feet which you can press. by synchronising the push of the pad one can determine the amount of degrees one gets rotated. a few times we got the maximum rotation of 1080 degrees. but in the end we were third of four. too bad.
yeah, that was our day at odaiba. pretty much to do, to see, and to play. really enjoyable. but after some night shots[108-111], we really wanted to get to our hostel and go to bed. so we took the automated train, crossed over to the mainland via the rainbow bridge, and changed to the metro to get home. what a wildoh day!

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Mon, 19 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 16 (0 comments)
we started this day with a tea ceremony at our hostel, which was offered by one of the people running the hotel. so the lady invited us into the little tea room[02-05] inside the ryokan, with access right to the garden[01]. notice the pit, which is for western people if they cannot sit japanese style, on their knees, so they can sit on the ground and put their legs in there. also there is a samurai armour displayed, and now we could take pictures of it (remember when we did not take any at the wakayama castle because it was forbidden), and even touch it - ha. and then we started our tour for today and drove to tokyo dome city[07-21], with its giant ferris wheel, the roller coaster, and amusement parks.
we wanted to take a cohi break at the moomin cafe, but it was crowded, and - of course - people were queuing outside. but soon we found out, that they offered lunch sets that are available until 14:30 o'clock. actually, we found out waiting in the queue at around 14:20. so we were the last ones to queue, and were asked if we wanted to have lunch, which we did not. instead we had ice cream desert with moomin cookies on our moomin table with moomin cutlery. but there was no huge plush moomin sitting at our table, which made us sad. and while the waitresses carried the plush toys from table to table to shuffle the mute companions, all we got was a small snufkin, the character i dislike the most (which nina found quite amusing, and inspiring to mock[28] me). pah, snufkin... i wanted a moomin, or maybe cute stinky[29]. well, also nina was disappointed we did not get a moomin seated at our table. too bad. we came to the conclusion, it might be we are gaijins, thus most of the times getting not the best tables in bars, restaurants, cafes, and now, not getting the beloved moomins. but at least nina got a free plate with her order, as there was moomin day on the 9th of august. so they're giving away those dishes. too cute!
outside there was a big moomin[30], which we then hugged hearty and extensively, and after a walk around tokyo dome we drove on to akihabara[31-42,90-92], the electric city. here i met gullevek on my last trip, but unfortunately this year it seems he will have no time to meet us. while on my last trip to tokyo i had no troubles finding a cat cafe, as they seemed to have been everywhere, especially in the akihabara area, it was not really easy to find even one nowadays. so we asked loads of maidens, advertising maiden cafes, and even some girls with nekomimis handing out leaflets for nekomimi cafes (yop, that's waitresses wearing cat ears, and costumes that, in a way, resemble a cat - very kawaii). but even asking the girls where to find real cats did not help, although they seemed pretty surprised i asked them. but a lady at a counter in a big shopping mall could help us find one. and since it was quite far away, searching the cat cafe was our next quest. but finally we found the... "neko cafe jalala" - yuhu.
this neko cafe seemed pretty small and rather strange when it came to house rules. at the entrance we got instructions what to do prior to touching one of the approximately ten cats, and how to interact with them. that included going straight to the bathroom where they had soap and liquid alcohol to kill all the bacteria on our hands. it seems all those rules work well for japanese guests and protecting the cats. so we approached the cats as instructed and had fun petting and admiring them. strangely enough only the staff had toys to play with the cats, it seemed guests were not encouraged to play with the kitties. also, in our opinion, there were way too many cats in the cafe, that actually consisted of only one room. but it seemed the cats got along together quite okay.
after having extended our stay, and thus paying for one hour, while we had planned only half an hour, but we could not resist, we sadly left the cute kitties and walked around akihabara by night, but then drove home, as we already were rather tired. also we tried to book tickets for the studio ghibli museum, which you can only do at a lawson's stores with a loppi ticket vending machine. unfortunately the museum is all booked out during our entire stay in tokyo. seems again we hit a bad combination of holidays, and the new film that was just releases. oh nooooo, no totoro, and no huge nekobus, and no giant metal robot. i really wanted nina to see that, as the museum was definitely one of my highlights on my last trip. too sad.

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Sun, 18 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 15 (0 comments)
day 15 is a sunday, and sunday means "yoyogi park"-time! or, in other words: seeing japanese youth culture live-performing all around in the park. at least that's what we expected to find at yoyogi park, as i had told nina all about my last visit to this park. but times change, and there was no cosplay folk at the spot where they used to hang out. but there was also some other festivities right next to the bridge, so we thought the cosplay people are kind of shy or fled that much people. too sad. so we went on.
but the rockabilly crew[006-023,085-086] was still there. same place, and even almost all the same people. they performed their show and had loads of fun.
besides that i missed all those bands. there were only about three of them scattered all over the park. again, too sad. maybe they also did not come because of the other festivity? but at least one band[024-029] was having fun and did quite a good gig. then we noticed a huge crowd and loud music nearby. we went there and found a hip-hop festival with breakdance battles[030,036-037], and live music[033-035]. the battles were special fun, as they really were mimicking and teasing each other. but all the teams had really much fun, and some of them were really really good - impressive show (almost like in LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" video - so you get an impression. oh, but without robo-man - sorry to disappoint you. yeah, i know, i was sad too. *sniff*). but then came something new, and shiny, and total cool. we saw a sign saying "2nd performance". so we sat down, and waited. then the artist started to draw. and he chose to draw me[041-043,065]. once that was done, he modelled my head in clay[044-056], sprayed it with something[057], and provided the head with a black hat and coat[058-062]. awesome. also this crazy artist and his performance were really jolly, fun and kawaii - and i think he had fun too, especially with my bearded face. when his work was done, i gave him a voluntary fee for this really enjoyable show and in return (and i think he did not expect that much from me), he gave me the drawing - yippieh, what a cool souvenir from japan.
after exchanging loads of expressions of thanks, we moved on and took a stroll through the rest of this really huge park. we saw some more groups, like a drummer group[066], a little girl with her own group of devoted fans[080], a dance group[080-084], and other performers[067-069]. i think yoyogi park must look breathtaking in autumn, when all the trees change colours.
near the exit/entrance there was still the rockabilly group. i really like their name "lebels", btw. yet their wildest act of lebellion was throwing opened beer cans and catching them, drinking them all bottoms up, and then throwing the can away. but not too far away, so some other guy of the group can pick it up and put it in the bag with all the other empty cans. rebelism interlaced with highest decency. so cute, so japan. and while we thought yoyogi park was done, as we already were near the shopping streets right next to one of the park exits, we got another great performance of a guy with an instrument he called "the chopstick piano"[089-093]. it was obviously selfmade (respect for that) and was made of guitar pickups, steel strings, planks of wood, and ... of course chopsticks for the piano keys. astonishing appliance, that made a mystical, wonderful, and addictive sound. to get an impression, feel free to feed the search engine of your choice with the keywords "bazl whammy". there's a video of him and his chopstick piano online. nina bought his CD to support him and enjoy the music at home.
after that long walk we decided it's time for a hotto cohi and a little snack for nina. we found the "sad cafe"[096-097], which was full of little figurines from series and movies from the '80s, like the terminator, gremlins, rocky, all kind of superheroes, robocop, neo and wolverine (yop, not so strictly 80s), star wars and trek characters, aaaaaaaaaaand a cute little alien[097], yippieh. and then we entered nina's paradise, the takeshita dori[098-109] in the harajuku district. this district, and especially takeshita street offer endless shops for young people, providing all kinds of styles, from punk to goth to hipster and all the shades in between. also they had loads of shops there providing cool dresses. nina was like someone had cast a spell on her. shopping spree deluxe. hehe. especially one shop[107] had a clearance sale (or so we thought) and was full of little japanese girls trying to get their (cosplay) dress, wigs, and/or accessory. nice to watch. also the dresses nina bought really look totally awesome (what else?), and where pretty cheap - at least according to nina. so girls, if you ever get to the harajuku district be prepared for great, exclusive, and good value stuff and buys.
when we got home we were already looking forward to the private onsen. we had booked it at the reception in the morning. it is a small bath with an in-ground bath tub from special stones to keep the heat, and a glass window with a view to a small garden. the hot water and the atmosphere really made us relaxed and weary. so all that was left for us to do after the 30 minute bath was to go to bed. what a great day.

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Sat, 17 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 14 (0 comments)
tokyo, yay, i am back. so a little sightseeing today in the capital of japan. for easier travelling we bought ourselves a "suica" card which is a rechargeable smart card, valid for metro, JR ring line, and loads of vending machines that have the suica logo on them. first stop was shibuya crossing[04], world's busiest crossing, but actually it was not very busy today. right there is also the statue for little dog hachiko[05], of which there's already a movie too. maybe you have seen it, i have not - there is richard gere involved. it's about the dog in the 1930s, who still came to the station to wait for it's owner even years after he had died. cute, faithful dog.
so we paid a visit to "shibuya 109", a multi storeyed store full of fashion shops. and here another surprise: nina is also a fashion victim. we spent several hours in there, and nina enjoyed every minute of it. hehe. for the sake of fairness we then went to the "shibuya 109 men" store, which contains men stuff (but not only, as the name would imply). i was looking for some nice t-shirts but did not really find any that i liked. instead i spotted those cat-donuts in "shibuya 109" - so cute, but i did not buy one, as i was not hungry. but we had ice cream later at a cold stone creamery, where we had already enjoyed ice cream in taiwan last year. after that we visited roppongi hills[17-78], with the spider[18,21-22,78], mori tower[17,20,22-23,26,39], mori garden[25,27,40-43], and the tv asahi building[25,42,44-51].
funny thing is, last time i was here, tv asahi was celebrating their fifth anniversary. five years later, guess what they were celebrating - yeah, ten years. so again there was loads of activity in the spacious atrium. stuff i haven't seen in 2008 was the kitty shop[28-30,32-34] with the cute kitty slowly falling asleep as i was taking pictures. right next to the kitty shop was a dog beauty centre[35-38] for getting your little doggy super pimped.
then we entered mori tower to enjoy a good view over tokyo. but a few things have changed. first of all, there's no "sky aquarium" anymore. then there was a harry potter exhibition that reduced the size of the observatory deck where i have taken my favourite picture from my last trip. so the room was too small to enjoy the reflections on the ceiling. too bad. also we were told we could not go on the "sky deck", the uppermost platform where one can walk on the roof, outside. the exact reason no staff could explain to us properly. so we got quite disappointed, and did not really have much fun in visiting the "mori art museum" either (which i omitted on my last visit) with an exhibition on the topic of "love". also "sky view" was pretty crowded (you know, japanese style crowdedness). another fact that did not really amuse us. so far it was really much of a disappointment, when suddenly a security guy could finally explain to us what was going on here. there will be fireworks today, so sky deck is invitation only, and sky view was so crowded[63]. but it will be opened after 20:45 again. so we decided to stay a little longer. ha, finally we were happy again (that was not so hard, wasn't it?).
so we enjoyed the sunset[52-54,56-58], later the fireworks[59-62], night over tokyo[64-66], and at last the sky deck[68-77], yippieh.
puh, if only japanese people would be better in talking english, or us better in talking japanese, it would have been much easier today. but also less fun, because, ahm, hm... well, let me put it this way: "i am free to do soup stock another helping"[79] - sou desu-ne...

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Fri, 16 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 13 (0 comments)
today morning wakayama was still a ghost town, but fortunately we did not stay there for long, as we got to the railway station and got on the kishigawa line, the sole line of the wakayama electric railway company. the route is around 15 kilometres long, and goes from wakayama to kishi station. but already to get to the platform for this train at wakayama station it becomes clear why this train is beloved by the people - cat paw prints on the ground[88] guide the passengers to the train that goes to two stations were cats are station masters, namely kishi and idakiso. so we got on a train to go straight to the final stop, the kishi station were super-station master tama[01,03-09,11-20] was on duty[45] today, from 10:00 to 16:00 o'clock. usually there are three train cars, with special themes. one is the "ichigo" (strawberry) train, in which strawberries are sold (if it's strawberry season), one is "omocha" (toys) train where the train is full of toys, and tama train, full of tama stuff and pictures of tama on it. and this was the train we totally wanted to ride, but unfortunately only the strawberry train[82] was in service, but no strawberries were sold either. the other trains were parked in the carriage shed[41]. too bad, too sad. but at least tama was on duty (she is off-duty on weekends, and it was friday today, so lucky us). so we got off at the kishi station to admire the super station master at hard work[13-14,17,19-20,33-39]. her office in a former ticket-booth, where she slept all the time, sometimes moving a leg and once even getting up shortly to change her sleeping position.
and while she consistently continued doing her job, we had a little break in the tama cafe[10,23-28], admired tama's super station master dress[21-22], including the super station master hat and a robe, in a display case. also there's a museum[04,12,40] included in the cafe, showing more tama stuff and offering the same tama merchandise items as the tama shop that was also right next door in the station hall. the station hall[10] was rebuilt in 2010 and now resembles a cat's face - meow. and there's tama everywhere. even the chairs[23] look like a cat, and the cups[24-28] and cakes[24-26] at the cafe have tama printed on it. we liked that a lot.
so time to put a stamp into the tama book[43] that nina bought me as a present, and hop on the train to get to the idakiso station, where another station master was on duty, namely nitama. nitama[44,46,50-81] was more active than tama, and so we got a good impression of her hard daily working schedule. also nitama's hat and ribbon[43] were in a glass display case. actually the wakayama line was saved by the calico cat, as they had severe financial problems and were close to being shut down, when tama, an adopted street cat from kishi was appointed station master by the company. soon the station master became very popular, and people came to see tama. so the train line was able to continue services for local residents. due to this huge success tama was promoted to super station master. purrfectly awesome story - meow.
but then it was time to bid farewell to the two station mistresses. so we got back to wakayama station[89] and got a JR train to shin-osaka to change to a train to tokyo, as we had discussed the day(s) before what to do next. nina wanted to go to the beach, but beaches are either far in the south of japan, or more like a family experience park, full of people and with a quite limited "beach feeling" - at least according to pictures and reviews on the internet. also our JR passes were valid for 14 days, so only one day left for free rides, and, again it was weekend to come, so all of japan is traveling. with all this in mind and nina wanting to go on loads of shopping sprees, we decided to go to tokyo right away. but as we booked our train, unfortunately there was only a seat in a smoker compartment available, so we had to sit in a smoky train for almost three hours or wait for another hour, which we did not want. nina got headache after a while, i didn't enjoy it much either - cough, cough. but we took a little joy in eating our bento boxes, which were really delicious and quite cheap, and available at every bigger railway station, like the one in shin-osaka. a really wonderful surprise awaited us at the ryokan in tokyo. first of all it was right in the love hotel district, where hotels had "hidden" entrances and two price categories called "rest" and "stay", which means either you stay for a couple of hours, or you spend the night there. also when searching for the hotel, we spotted a little cat there. and then there was the super friendly staff, really, really nice (not the usual japanese nice-level, but way beyond), and our japanese room[91-97] was awesome. also the atmosphere at "the edo sakura" is so quiet and peaceful. you enter and feel home instantly. a total recommendation from our side.

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Thu, 15 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 12 (0 comments)
today not much happened. reason is, we took the train back to the east, heading to wakayama. since we arrived there pretty late, all that was left to do was to check in at the hotel,and walk around a little bit. wakamaya turns out to be some kind of a ghost town, at least as soon as you leave the station area. and although it was around four in the afternoon during the week, all shops were closed, no people or cars on the streets. really weird. and once we spotted some people, they gave us pretty strange looks, like they never have seen any gaijins around here. well, maybe they really never have? hmmm.... now one may ask why we got to this ghost town at all. well, this will be revealed in tomorrow's bLog entry. uuuuh, i'm so looking forward to tomorrow... so now here's what wakayama has to offer. first of all, a beautiful park[05-12,29-40] with awesome camphor, and of course many other trees. i like the trees here.
and then there's also wakayama castle[14-28,38-40]. a nice idyllic small castle, compared to nijo-jo castle we have visited on day 08 of our trip. the entrance was cheap, and they had a hello kitty popcorn vending machine there. inside the castle we were almost the only ones, and one could go up the roof to enjoy a good view[19-20,22-24] over wakayama. also at the castle we got loads of strange looks, but by now we already got used to that.
and then there's some more excellent examples of the most elaborated art of engrish. signs saying things like "i am careful in a head"[17], or "wicket"[27] are found quite often and always a pleasure to read (and most often even more fun to decipher their meaning). inside the castle taking pictures was prohibited. and although, as already mentioned, we were the only ones, and there were no CCTVs, we respected that and took no pictures of ancient samurai armours and armoury, nice wall paintings, and old scrolls with beautiful drawings and japanese texts.
after the visit to the castle we went home by foot. our hotel was near to the castle, so it did not take that long. still no people on the street, and we wondered were to get some food, as ninsti was already hungry. fortunately there was a japanese restaurant in the same street as our hotel. and there we tried all kind of foods again. from deep fried chicken, salad, dumplings, tuna sashimi, mackerel - as always totally nomnomnom.
since that was pretty much all about wakayama, here's some more observations about japanese people or culture. firstly, train staff is bowing when they enter a train compartment. and they bow when they leave the compartment. nice gesture, but actually no ones cares. except for me. i bowed back at them, but they in return did not notice, because they bowed so low, they did not see me, and turned around pretty fast once they straightened up again. so... lots of bowing, no one cares. secondly there's this big discrepancy between women's and men's public toilets. while women sometimes have those toilets that generate some noise so that no one can hear them peeing, toilets for men are usually always pretty open, and one easily feels like peeing in public. slide 35 is a good example for that. i do not know why it is that way, we had to conjecture that either it keeps men from masturbating, or dealing drugs, or something we would not think of. another example is the urinal on the train. it has a glass window. admittedly, one does not feel that exposed here, as one stands in there with the back facing the window, but then again, compared to the ladies bathroom, fully protected from any views and listening, it is quite the contrast. but the good thing is, there's public toilets everywhere. we really appreciate that. a lot. ok, time to go to bed so tomorrow's here soon. yippieh!

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Wed, 14 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 11 (0 comments)
today's trip is a day trip from hiroshima to one of the most famous sights of japan (according to our guidebook), namely the floating torii on the island of miyajima, or, to be more precise, the floating torii of the itsukushima shrine on itsukushima island. don't get confused, people will simply just refer to it as "miyajima" ("shrine island"), and so will i. so we took the JR line followed by a ferry[02-07], to get to this island, where one can find ... some deer - but will it be tons of? we will see... ah, JR holders can take the JR ferry for free, as it's included in the pass - what a nice surprise.
well, what we found were only some deer[09,16,26,27,72-73], and loads of people[13,14,17,19] going to this popular place. to get to the "otorii"[03-06,12-15,22,28-34,77-78] ("grand torii gate") one has to walk along a beautiful promenade[08,13-27] at the seaside. and since it was very hotto again, we had a little break to drink some water and rest a little, when suddenly a deer[26-27] came along and tried to get some treats from nina's rucksack. a little grumpy, since we didn't have any, it went on. then we reached the end of the peer and had an excellent look on this 16 meter high wooden gate, that was erected in the 6th century, but this torii was rebuilt in 1875.
ah, by the way, it is forbidden to die on this island. also to give birth to a child. so pregnant women, elderly people, and terminal ill people should refrain from going to the island, as they might destroy the purity of this sacred place. in fact, it is so sacred, there's not even a graveyard on the island. right next to the floating gate is the floating shrine, the it-sukushima shrine[37] itself, also built on pillars, so that it seems to float too - of course only when there's the tide. lucky us we got there at the right time. but we did not enter the shrine itself, as there was massive queueing at the entrance. instead we went up a little hill one of japan's hokoku shrine, called senjokaku hall[38-51,53-58] - "hall of thousand tatami mats", as it has the size of ... you guessed it, one thousand tatami mats (by the way, if you book hotels, the room size is also given in tatami mat units). the shrine provided shadow, smooth wooden floors nina likes so much[41-42]. so we took a little break, just like some other visitors[41-42,47,49] did, practiced the art of power-napping, and enjoyed the wood carvings[40,44-45,47-49] and rice scoops[39,43] of all sizes. furthermore there's a five-storeyed pagoda[52,59-60] ("goju no to") right next to the big hall.
and now, time for some local specialities from the food assortment[10-11,61-63,65,69-71,74-75], as nina got hungry. so first we had some buns[62-63], then some leaf-shaped sweets filled with chocolate, vanilla pudding(?), red bean paste. a lot of shops offered those local specialities, all with a view into the automated factory[69], where they were filled and baked this soft biscuits, called "momiji manju". after that we tried some "fish cake"[71], as it looked so disgusting. but actually they taste totally awesome. nina had an asparagus and bacon, while i went for the crab fish cake. nina then tried a "squid stick"[75] - also very tasty.
and while we enjoyed our meal, another deer came along, demanding his share, which we did not want to give to him. soon we found out how to get rid of them, as they can get pretty pushy. just walk by some person that also has something to eat, and almost all deer stopped pursuing us - easy task, as almost everyone had something to eat. last sight was the biggest wooden rice scoop[64] in the world, located on the omotesando shopping street. this scoop weighs about 2.5 tons, is almost eight metres long, and it took almost three years to manufacture it. and we thought the scoops in the senjokaku hall were big ones. on our way home i was already looking forward to a foot massage that was offered in a shop right next to the entrance of our hotel. and as i did not go there the night before when we checked in, i really wanted to go there today. but, guess what, just today it was closed, although opening hours should be 11:00 to 21:00 o'clock, seven days a week - so why was it closed this day? ownoeeez, poor me *sniff* *sniff*. i really would have loved that now. damn it, so i will try to find it somewhere else, since i was really looking forward to that since our last holidays in taiwan, where they offered that on every corner.

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Tue, 13 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 10 (0 comments)
this morning it finally worked - i got rid of my old broken suitcase. and it was as i was told. trashing old luggage is part of the hotel service here in japan. so remember, next time you plan to swap your luggage, do it first, give it to the reception, and check out afterwards - lesson learned. happily to have solved this problem, we started our tour for today. we hopped on a hiroshima cable-car[001-002] line number 2, and drove to the peace memorial park[003-073]. first stop for us there was the a-bomb (genbaku) dome[003-023], one of only a few buildings that survived the atomic bomb blast back on the 6th of august in 1945. it survived because the force of the blast came from directly above, thus leaving all the vertical structure intact.
next stop was the children's peace monument[032-038], a monument for all the children that died at or after the blast. there were showcases with uncountable folded cranes[038] representing prayers for the victims, and the story of sadako sasaki. sadako was a girl of two years when the bomb was dropped and while fighting her sickness she started to fold cranes (it is said that one is granted a wish once a thousand cranes were folded), but she ran out of paper, so she could not finish the 1000 cranes. after her death, a friend folded the missing ones to complete her goal. there is also a bell right in the monument, and people rang it. by now our mood was already pretty down with all this unbelievable things that happened here within the blink of an eye. eighty thousand people simply just wiped away. near the children's memorial is the peace flame[041], in the middle of the hiroshima peace pond. the flame was lit in the 60s and will remain lit until all nuclear bombs are destroyed. sadly, i think it never will be extinguished. another memorial is the cenotaph[041-046,068-069]. it was built in 1952 and was one of the first memorial monuments to remember the victims of the atomic bomb in hiroshima. the concrete arch-shaped building represents a shelter for the souls of the victims. under the arch is a coffin-shaped chest holding the names of 220000 people that died of the initial blast or exposure to radiation.
at the end of memorial park is the peace memorial museum[047-067]. and while the modus in the museum is again typical japanese style[051-052,054] (tons of people, queuing, and walking through the exhibitions like being on conveyor belts), the concept and design of the exhibition itself was amazing. it covered every aspect of the bombing, gave a historical background of the era, from the first settlers up to today's city plans. it explained the american side, the japanese side during the war, why hiroshima and nagasaki were chosen as targets, it gave technical insight of an atomic bomb, it showed the impact on life, and also gave an insight of the aftermath. it revealed that the american government hid all the studies on nuclear exposure and the consequences for the human body. only recently those documents have been made publicly available. and it showed every day items that survived the blast, like a tricycle[060], all kind of melted items[062-067], but also things like the shadow of a person[061] sitting on stone stairs and simply just being evaporated. and by now we already were really really really depressed. time to get out of all these reminders of human madness.
so, to get a little contrast, we had hotto cohi, green tea, fresh orange juice from all the oranges[074] in front of the cafe, and famous hiroshima oysters for nina. then we took a stroll down the hondori shopping arcade[075-077,102-106], and soon nina needed a toilet, so we went into the taito game station - and that's where it all began... on the fifth floor of this gaming and pachinko paradise[077-101,104] nina found the cosplay section with all those photo booths. for only a 100 yen (that's not even one euro) one (as in girls) can rent a costume, wear it, take it to the photo booth and take pictures of themselves. while on the pictures outside they also had cool costumes for boys (mostly uniforms or uniform-alike costumes of some manga stars unknown to me), inside they had none. too bad, too sad. so ninsti got all the fun, and turned out to be a real cosplay addict[078-080,084-087]. taking the pictures we did together[081,088], and had loads of fun, and loads of troubles getting them printed out. so each time we had to call for the guy handing out the costumes to press the right buttons for printing the pictures (instead of sending them to the mobile phone, which seems to be the preferred way here in japan). also during "post-production" we pressed all kind of buttons we had no idea what they would do. so double the fun. also those photo booths make your eyes bigger, add an overdone soft-focus lens effect and clean your skin. i almost had no beard anymore, and had eyes like puss in boots in shrek (if you remember the scene i refer to).
then we did some zombie shooting in "dark escape 4D"[089-097] (yes, 4D). with 3D glasses in a dark box and air-blasts this game was fun. extra fun were the "panic attack" detection systems, that showed your heart-rate. while nina's heart rate was beyond healthy, mine was low as always - guess that's the pro gamer in me. hehe.
time to grab some food. nina had read something about a nice place to eat, called okonomi-mura village[133] in hiroshima parco. so we entered this four floor food place to enjoy the hiroshima style okonomi-yaki[107-132], which was super yummi! and since "okonomi" literally means "to one's liking", i had mine with "tamago, ie" ("egg, no"), and crossing my two forefingers while ordering - and it worked! once you decided on which okonomi-yaki you want, it is prepared right in front of you. dad, son, and mom[119] (or at least we thought it was a family run business) were all working to get our meal done. nomnom.
repleted and tired we made our way home to our hotel. since it was not far from our current position, we decided to walk home instead of taking the cable-car. and while walking we saw those huge huge zebra-crossing[134-136], streets full of life and lights[137], and cute drain covers[138].

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Mon, 12 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 09 (0 comments)
one wheel on my suitcase was broken, but so far it was still working, sometimes it was blocked, but generally worked. i got it delivered like that to the hotel on day 03, so i didn't actually notice it until we first moved. meter by meter it got worse, until it finally broke and i dragged my suitcase on one wheel on the one side, and the plastic edge on the other side. soon the plastic was gone, and i was dragging it on the outer shell. so sooner or later it will be totally foobared. thus i had to buy a new luggage - an investment i really did not want to make since the ATM network is still broken, and the limit of my credit card will soon be reached. but, it had to be. so after checking out from the hotel i went to yodobashi and got myself a new and shiny luggage on four wheels - wohoo, never had that before. at the store i transferred my stuff to the new suitcase. and although i asked the guy selling me the item beforehand if i could leave my old one at the store he then refused to take it. and this is where the challenge starts: trying to trash my old suitcase in japan. i asked at the tourist information, they said that's hotel service, i asked at the JR desk, they sent me to the luggage and bags repair service at the railway station. no way. i thought about leaving it somewhere, but with all the 9/11 fuss and all those "report unclaimed luggage" signs everywhere i thought it's better not to. also i thought about bringing it to the lost and found office, but that might have been too obvious. so for now, i decided to keep it until i can dispose it somewhere. so we got on the JR train to osaka, as we had planned to visit the osaka aquarium today. nina really wanted to see this, so she was really looking forward to that. also, after the super hot day before, i thought it will be a day in a cooled down environment, since it will all be inside. yay, win:win. and approximately 45 minutes later we arrived at osaka station. there we stored our luggage at the luggage office at osaka station, since we would get on the train to hiroshima once we visited the aquarium. oh, the guys at the baggage room also did not trash my suitcase, and instead charged full price for my empty suitcase. grrrrrr... but now, time for some fishies, sharks, turtles, and crustacean!
we got to the aquarium[005-133] pretty late, due to all the suitcase troubles in the morning, so there was no queue at the entrance area. good we thought, believing to find an uncrowded aquarium, also because it was monday. but, again, we were wrong. inside there were masses of people[016,126], it was loud with kids crying and shouting, loudspeaker announcements, narrow, and packed, at least it seemed so to us, i guess it actually was not that busy - maybe, as people seemed to enjoy all that.
it took quite a while to get used to all that, or at least be able to ignore most of the stress factors, but soon it was bearable to us. so we could finally focus on the animals and really big and beautiful aquariums. i think the size was quite okay for most of the animals. especially cool was this huge tank right in the middle of the aquarium, where the main course through the building was circling down the aquarium. in there they had two huge whale sharks[043,059,082,084], rays[045,057,059,065-066,088,090,093], sharks[046,047,056,061], sleeping sharks[091,092,094,095], sleeping dolphins[071], really huge crabs[075-087], octopus[050-055] and more.
they even had a jellyfish[096-116] section, that was pretty big, with jellyfish the size of only a few millimeters to those really big ones[110-116]. that was really amazing get-ting to see so many different kinds of jellyfish.
then came the seal zone[120-125] with cute seals. throughout the museum there are markers on the floor that tell you how far it still is to the exit. the total course was around 600 metres long, and now there was only around 150 metres left. so we thought we will soon be at the exit. but what came as last highlight was so awesome! an aquarium where one could pet little sharks and rays[126-129,132]! while we had doubts PETA would approve that, we just couldn't resist to touch a ray and shark. no, no, we had to - and they feel awesome. actually it seemed the animals either liked it (rather unlikely) or got used to the petting (more likely), and they could also take a break in the middle of the aquarium. oh, and i touched a catshark too - meow.
at the aquarium shop i bought nina a pillow in the shape of a gray seal[125] (actually it looks more like a barrel with face and fins, but nina's pillow is already worn out, and i wanted to buy her a new one for months now - so an excellent opportunity to replace it. but then it was time to hurry back to the railway station to get on a train to hiroshima, as it was already rather late. while walking through osaka i noticed that japanese people seem to be rather indecisive about standing on the left or right side on escalators. within one metro station it was even mixed several times, always indicated by a sign on which side to stand - weird. and as the ATM network still is not working, as already mentioned, i will raise my credit card limit again. fortunately this can be done online. so now i set it to the maximum amount - i hope we will not come up against the limit. on the 1.5 hours long train ride to hiroshima we ate our bento box we bought at the station in osaka - yummi! then we drove to our hotel, checked in, and went to bed.

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Sun, 11 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 08 (0 comments)
right in the morning we booked another night at the brighton city hotel in yamashina and also checked a hotel for our next nights in hiroshima. once this necessity was done we had breakfast at the hotel, and headed out to our tour for today. so we took the metro to get to the nijo-jo castle[01-37], our first castle to visit on this trip. surrounded by moats and huge stone walls[23-25,29,32] are the three areas of the castle. the first and second circle of defense. inside is the main building of the castle, housing many waiting and audience rooms for visitors to the shogun. unfortunately taking pictures inside was not allowed, so i have no pictures of the rooms decorated with nice paintings on the sliding door walls, ceilings, and hallways. the innermost rooms included offices and living chambers of the shogun and his wives. special fun were the "nightingale floors", wooden boards that made a squeak when walking on it, to detect intruders. squeak, squeak. this day it was especially hot - much hotter than usual. staying in direct sunlight for even a short time physically hurt. even the japanese visitors - not that there were many of them on this hot day - were all sweaty, and looked exhausted - something they usually not do. and inside the castle it was even worse. windows and doors were shut tightly all the time to prevent sunlight bleaching the wall paintings. so it was like in a sauna. walking barefoot on the ancient, soft and smooth wooden floor did not make it better, but we at least enjoyed that, as we did so far with all the wooden floors in temples where one has to take off their shoes. these wooden floors are really wonderful to walk on.
after the castle we fled outside and tried to enjoy the beautiful japanese garden[05,07-14,20-26,35], hurrying from one tree to the next to get at least a little bit of shadow. putting our towels in cold water and then on our head[30] brought a little relief, at least for a few minutes, until all the water in the towel was evaporated (which seemed like it took only a few minutes). the last point of interest was an observation platform, which we climbed, but then nina felt really bad. so we headed back to the guest house[37], where everyone seemed just as knackered as we were. even inside the air condition could not really cool down the room, but at least it was a few degrees cooler than outside - that was enough to feel a little bit happier.
even after a longer break, nina did not feel better by now. sunstroke, dehydration, all the physical exertion on the trip so far, or maybe all of it, we do not know. since i was pretty exhausted, overheated, dehydrated, and tired too, we decided to just call it a day, go home, and rest - no more sightseeing today - we both really need a little rest. way too hotto! on our way home we spotted a cute umbrella vending machine[39] at the metro station.

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Sat, 10 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 07 (0 comments)
with our base camp at the hotel, we started our day trip right after a western style breakfast at the hotel. for this we took the JR nara line to... surprise, nara. at the tourist information we got a local map and spotted signs from time to time telling people how to interact with deer. the guidebook said there are around 1200 deer in the area roaming around freely. but while we thought deer are shy and would be hard to spot, we were wrong. so very wrong. there were tons of deer, standing, laying around, begging for food in most of the time a friendly way, but sometimes also pushing or pursuing people (especially kids) to get their share of deer cookies, one could buy at small kiosks and huts all over the place. so, accompanied by deer (tons of), we headed to the konfukuji-temple[001-004], but - ha, guess what! - the main site, the central golden hall was renovated[006] and even rebuilt to its former form as it was back in the 18th century - so no konfukuji to us until 2018 (from 2011 on). so instead we admired to five storeyed pagoda right next to the scaffolding cover of the temple. along our stroll on the lantern road[018-053] we found a little tea house called ninaijaya[024] tea house. since we both liked the "nina" part in the name, we decided to have a break there, with a hotto cohi ("hot coffee") and tea.
refreshed we continued our walk on the road with endless numbers of lanterns to the kasuga-taisha-shrine[038-058], where even more lanterns[053,055-056] were awaiting us. also we bought some fortune telling deer[054] there, as they had english versions of them too - yippieh! nina had a prediction summed up as "great good fortune", i only had an overall of "moderate good luck", which is pretty fine, considering one can also have a prediction of really bad luck and such.
we kept on walking by old stone lantern, covered with moss and lichen, awesome tree structures[062-065], more tons of deer to finally reach a huge park, nara park[068-084]. there we noticed that some preparations for something were going on. also people were quite busy there. we continued our walk to and through the nandaimon torii[085-093], with two giant wooden statues on each side. and of course deer - tons of. begging for shika senbei - those crackers for deer. well, while the gate was impressive in size and dimensions, the todaiji-temple[076-153,198-205] with giant buddha-statues[109-123,127-129,131-132,138-140,142] in the daibutsuden ("big buddha hall") was even more impressive. this hall is the world's largest wooden building, and is a reconstruction erected in the 16th century, sized only two thirds of the original hall. so the original one must have been really a quite impressive thingie! and speaking of largest things, the bronze buddha statue inside is japan's largest one - 15 metres in height, flanked by two more bodhisattva statues[118-119,123,140], though they are a way smaller. one could paint or write something on a roof tile, that would then later, when the roof will be renovated, be part of the roof. what a nice idea - we liked that. also cute was this pillar[135-136] with a hole in it, where people could crawl through. of course one could also properly queue for the crawling experience, but at the time there were not many people at the temple, so we only saw the cordons but could get the picture of how many people usually would wait in line there. those japanese are really into queueing.
on the way to the exit we once more enjoyed the huge garden[143-153], a really creepy wooden statue[144-145], and the most top-notch mechanisms in fire fighting[147]. with all these awe-inspiring sights (and tons of deer), it was time for another little break. we found a nice quiet and lonely spot - there was only one deer[156] - with a small bench in the shadow near the shoro[154-157], the bell-tower. heading back to the railway station we noticed the preparations and busy people[162-164] again, when finally we found out what was going on. the nara tokae - the lantern festival - was taking place tonight. that's why there was a choir singing[162-164] and loads of cups where placed in nara park. the cups where candle holders. we liked what a japanese woman told us in broken english what we might expect at the festival - a community event with everyone placing candles in the park. we really liked that and decided to stay, had another hotto cohi and a little snack at a nearby cafe that was overlooking the park entrance, so we could follow the progress of the festival preparations, and, as it got later, also the beginning of placing candles in the park. we supported the lantern festival by buying our own candles[177-178] and placing them in an assigned area (where there were only half a ton of deer). with the money we spent for the candle, a new candle can be bought next year - so our candle will, more or less, live on and participate next year again. aaaaaw, isn't that kawaii?
puh, what a long day. so we headed back to the station, and found... no, not deer (they were already sleeping, i guess), but cats! cute little kittens[210-211] on the street. again being fed by a caring japanese - so nice!

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Fri, 09 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 06 (0 comments)
after getting up today, we had to look for a new hotel. since we wanted to go to osaka, we took our laptop to the nearby shopping mall and connected to the public wifi there. but what a bad surprise - we forgot it's upcoming weekend. so all hotels are already fully booked, or miles away from the centre of osaka, or expensive five star hotels. thus, with all the japanese people travelling around their own country, we made a change of plans and decided to stay in kyoto for two more nights and use it as a base for day trips. for that we found a nice little hotel on the other side of the town. puh, lucky us, we got a room. actually, this reminds me of our taiwan trip; different country, same problem - weekends mean travelling folks all over the country. so, pretty late, but relieved, we finally got to the nishiki street market[01-47] - and just in time for some delicious food. and there was plenty of all kinds of food. from dried and fresh fish, squid, shrimps, meat of chicken and pork, to vegetables, fruits, sweets, knives to gut fish, or animals, sweet chestnuts, sweet potatoes (oh, i love them so much, and missed them so much since taiwan), tea, and loads of other stuff. here and there we grabbed a bite, and tried out loads of stuff (sometimes things we have never seen before), until we were full. it was so very awesome - all of it.
then we really had to hurry to make it to our next sight, namely the kinkakuji[48-80] temple, the golden pavilion. we got there ten minutes before the last entry time. while this on the one hand meant that we would have not much time to enjoy the temple and garden, it also meant that there were not many people - and the golden pavilion usually is pretty overrun (according to our guidebooks). the pavilion's upper two floors are fully covered in gold leaf, and with the pond in front of it, it really makes a wonderful picture with the reflections on the water and the golden phoenix on the roof. unfortunately the inside of the temple is not open to the public, but on the other hand it also was not covered for renovation - so lucky us. on the way to the exit one passes by the anmintaku pond, that is said to never dry up, and also some small stone statues, that one can toss coins at. this should bring good luck - of course we threw some coins, but missed the metal bowl (which would have given a wonderful gong sound, as we heard, when other people hit it). also we could get an impression of how many people usually are there by the large number of kiosks and small huts, selling food and drinks along the short way to the exit - but as it was already that late, they were all closed. and so we also headed home to our new hotel.
at the hotel we had a free reliable internet connection for the first time in japan - yippieh! so, checking emails, sending messages that we arrived safely, but without luggage in the beginning, and no ATM to withdraw money, etc. that was the time when we also found out that the maestro network is not working since april - yes, about four months! wtf is wrong here? and why did no one mention that at the travel agency? oh well... furthermore, it seems wireless internet is not so common in japanese hotels, but one can get a cable at the reception for ethernet connectivity. which also means only one can go online, since there's only one slot per room. but the hotel room was nice, the A/C was very silent, and we had western style beds again - nina had a hard time sleeping on the hard mattress. and now it's time to check out the cosy beds...

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Thu, 08 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 05 (0 comments)
today we went to the arashiyama area, which lies in the west of kyoto. so we went with the JR sagano line to the saga-arashi-yama station. first thing we went to was the tenryuiji temple[05-13], but the main hall was under renovation - yet another temple we wanted to see where they built a huge hall around it. too bad. but at least the garden was not closed, so we had a stroll through the park around the temple. also we did not get to see the heavenly dragon there - ownoez, i would have loved to see that one, as there have been postcards and posters around of the dragon at the souvenir shop. so, instead of dragons, we went to see a lot of bamboo, at the bamboo grove[14-20]. a long walking path through a bamboo forest, with loads of shades of green. it was really beautiful in there.
next we wanted to see the gioji temple[27-49], which was nearby. but the nearer we got to it, the fewer english signs and foreigners we spotted, and in the end, we even had troubles to find it, as there were only japanese signs pointing to it. then we found out that those stone pillars that we have already seen from time to time are actually waypoints, pointing to the nearest point of interest. so we compared the signs for the gioji temple from our guide book with the ones on the pillar, and had a match - yippieh! so, in the end, we found our way to this really awesome place. we especially enjoyed the garden, of course only with loads of anti-mosquito spray on our skin, as the bites really itch badly and for a very long time - i still scratch on the ones from our first day in japan. the garden of the temple was pretty small actually, but so beautiful with all the moss on the ground. at the exit we found a little stone cat[40], and also an altar (at least i think it was one) for a white cat[41-43], most likely for a former temple cat - meow. also there was a little graveyard[45-47], with nice stones, full of lichen and moss.
reluctantly we left this peaceful oasis and headed on for the okochi sanso garden[50-71], a 20 square kilometre park surrounding the villa of the famous japanese movie actor denji-rou okouchi, who died in 1962. in a little info folder one gets with the entry ticket, it is said that it took him 30 years to build that garden for this residence (whatever "build" here actually means). the area includes the daijou-kaku[54-55] (main house), a little jibutsudou[57-59] (a buddhist shrine), a separate tea garden[61-63], and a wonderful view over the hozu river gorge[64-66]. it must be breathtaking in autumn with all the trees in this gorge. with the entrance also comes a voucher for tea and cake[70-71], which we had before we left the property again.
we thought about going to the iwatayama monkey park, a park with over a hundred monkeys roaming freely. but then it turned out it would be quite far to walk there, and also it was getting late again, so instead we went back to the saga-arashiyama station, to get a train home again. we tried to get money from ATMs from all kind of banks, but still no luck. so i had to withdraw cash with my credit card again. although i already raised the limit before we went to japan, i raised it again. thankfully this can be made via the internet on the banks homepage, and is usually processed within one day. so by tomorrow i should already have the new limit. i hope the maestro network will be fixed soon.

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Wed, 07 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 04 (0 comments)
day four started where day three ended, but this time with a fully charged battery for my camera - yippieh! so back at the heian shrine[001-039] we paid a visit to the garden[008-038] all around the shrine. again not many people, though this time we were there around noon (and again, maybe that's why not many people where there, but having lunch at that moment). the garden itself was a nice, quiet, and tranquil green spot in the middle of the loud town kyoto.
but then it finally got crowded. we got on the bus going to ginkakuji-michi to go to the ginkakuji temple, aka the "silver temple", planned as a counterpart to the golden temple, which we might visit within the next few days. but in contrast to the golden temple, this temple never was made silver. but at the entrance there was a really long queue, and as it was so very hot (again) today, we decided to simply just skip it, and head on to the honen-in temple, hoping it's less crowded. to get there, one can take the "philosopher's walk"[042-044], tetsugaku-no-michi, that follows a small rivulet. it is called so, as it was a walk a famous philosopher used to take every day for meditating. and there we spotted our first cat! when we noticed and approached it, it preferred pooping to getting petted - poor us. so we went on and got to the honen-in temple[045-069]. again we were almost the only ones there, so we could take our time to enjoy this temple with its moss-covered ground, awesome trees, beautiful bugs, and its cooling water at the wells. unfortunately loads of mosquitoes were there too - but today we were prepared, and brought the anti-mosquito spray we bought last year in taiwan. and for the short time of a few minutes until sweat washed away the spray from our bodies, the mosquitoes stopped tormenting us.
to get to the next temple, we continued our stroll along the philosopher's path[070-086], found an awesome shop with a cute bottle holder[073-074] (no, not nina, but the thing she holds in her hand). and soon we found real cats[078,081-085] - loads of them! all fed by a cat lady, that seemed to take care of about 20 to 30 cats. aaaaw, so cute!
after enjoying the presence of the feline beings, we soon arrived at the nanzen-in temple[086-128]. unfortunately the hatto (dharma hall), hojo (former head priest's residence) and the sanmon[088-089,091,094-095,119-128] (entrance gate, which one can enter and enjoy the view from underneath its roof) were already closed.
there's also a nice aqueduct[097-103], one can climb up to[106-109], which we did, as the rest was not accessible any more.
sunset had already begun, so we headed to keage subway station to have our first ride on a metro. so far we always were using JR trains or the bus for transportation, so it's time for something new. so we headed back to kyoto station to get up the kyoto tower[132-140] to enjoy a nice view over the city. perfectly timed, we could enjoy the sunset[136]. also we saw the station[132,139], a loooong shinkansen train[133], and our hotel[137] from the observation deck from the height of around 100 metres. it seems all towers in asia must have some kind of mascot, so there's tawawa-chan[140] for kyoto tower. after getting back to the ground again and enjoying some delicious evening meal[144-146], we got back to our ryokan. what a nice day, with luggage and cats. one thing we were wondering about was the high amount of employees working at one shop/station/cafe/compartment/etc. it's like in a cafe, there's maybe ten tables, but at least four waitresses, and maybe even a cook. same for a station gate like at the JR railway stations. they have sluice gates there, but also an occupied booth where people with wheelchairs, prams, or like us, with JR rail passes can walk through and have their ticket inspections there. but then again, it's around three to four people standing in, or around the booth. for every exit of one station (and there might be up to eight, or more, depending on the size and importance of the station). hm... so who pays them, and how much do they all get paid? a mystery... ah, and sadly nothing new though on our ATM problem. all ATMs still refused to give us money so far.

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Tue, 06 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 03 (0 comments)
we started this day with going to the gion bus stop, heading for the yasaka shrine[01-04]. it is said that it is a pretty popular temple, but there was not many people there actually. we saw loads of omikuji[02,04], which are fortune telling paper slips. unlike our fortune cookie predictions, the range goes from very good, to really bad luck. after having read the prediction, tying the piece of paper either will make good fortune come true, or bad fortune averted.
next we walked through maruyama park[05-08]. the sun was shining and it was really really hot, so we hurried from one tree's shadow to the next one, to finally arrive at the next temple. it was the chion-in temple[09-24], with its huge sanmon gate[09-11], a 24 metres tall and 50 metres wide wooden gate, which makes it the largest one in japan. pretty impressive. again there were not many people there, maybe because it is so hot outside, people don't wanna do sightseeing or praying. or maybe it was also because the chionin's main hall, namely the miedo hall is undergoing major renovation works until 2019, so that the entire temple was covered by a large scaffolding structure and closed to visitors. fortunately still open to the public was the 74-ton chion-in temple bell "ougane"[20-21] from the 17th century hanging in the daishourou, the great bell tower. the bell is rung 108 times on new year's eve. i wonder how long it takes the monks to ring the bell that often.
strolling on to the shoren-in temple[25-45], we noticed the extremely beautiful, huge, impressive, moss-covered, and likely very old camphor trees[25-26] right at the entry of the temple. the shoren-in was a temple for priests from imperial families, and was even housing the empress when the actual palace was destroyed by a fire. it has a nice and peaceful kachoden, a drawing room[28-29], and a big, open shinden hall[31-35], the main building of the temple, surrounded by a lovely garden[36-45]. after having a longer rest and having the view over the garden, we went on to the heian shrine, passing by one of japan's biggest torii[47-48] gate to get to the heian shrine[50-55]. "heian" was actually the former name of kyoto, so i guess that is what this really big spacious shrine is dedicated to. again, no people, which made it really enjoyable to walk through. also it was only one hour to the closing of the shrine, and our guide said that the first and the last of the opening hours are the best. ha, lucky us!
and then it finally happened - my camera's battery died. as the temple was already closed now too, we decided to go home, hoping our luggage has already arrived - as we were told by the hotel manager in the morning that the airport had called, and it should be at the hotel around noon. if the luggage would not be at our hotel, i have to buy a charger for my camera's battery, which might get expensive (as it's canon). but it turned out that the luggage really had arrived at noon, yippieh! man, we were soooooooooo happy. a little more relieved i charged my battery, then we went out to have some lunch[62-64] at the food court at kyoto station, and later enjoyed the LED lit stairs at the station[56-75].

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Mon, 05 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 02 (0 comments)
so, time to explore kyoto today! for that we got ourselves a two-day ticket for the kyoto public transport system, and headed from kyoto central station[01-05] to the southern higashiyama area.
first stop was the gojozaka bus stop to get a bus to the kiyomizu-dera[08-37,51-55] and jishu jinja shrine. on the way to the shrine japanese schoolgirls tried to do english conversation with tourists, as it was part of their homework. so after some simply but lovely questions like "what's your favourite food", or "what did you like most in japan" we got loads of giggling, once we answered all the questions. at the jishu shrine there are two love stones[38-45], which are several metres apart. if a single person can walk with closed eyes from one stone to the other without stumbling or falling, they will find (true) love - so the legend says. since nina and i have already found our true love, there's - of course - no need for that. instead we bought a little lucky charm for couples to strengthen their love. of course also not really necessary, but they look so nice. also there was this big bowl[42] where people threw in pieces of paper that slowly dissolved. this is like we know it from fortune cookies (or at least it reminded me of that, though i did not understand the writings).
next we did a walk to a nearby unnamed three-storeyed pagoda[48], and while buying some water and taking a short rest we found the entrance to a huge cemetery[56-60]. although we got the impression that it was big, we looked at google maps to so see that it actually was huge. so soon we went back to the entrance where we came from and went on doing our trip that was described on a piece of paper we got at the tourist information at the railway station. it actually contained a few tours, some we will do in the next few days. so, following the guide, we came by nice little streets[61-69] in kyoto's geisha area, called gion. besides some shops with cute stuff, and a pottery (no photography allowed), we also found a studio ghibli shop[67-69] - yay!
next site was the gokoku shrine[70-73], which was closed. so we headed on to find - again more by accident than on purpose - some ancient samurai cemetery[74-78] (or at least we thought it was one). while we were walking through the graves we heard thunder and the sky got dark pretty fast. a few minutes later it was raining cats and dogs[79-80] (meow!). and although it was only about 100 metres to the exit, where we would find shelter in a tent that was placed there, we got soaking wet. this was actually pretty refreshing, but the rain only made the weather more muggy. after about 15 minutes later, the rain stopped, and we went on. in the meantime our next goal, the ryozen kannon[81-88], had also closed, so no entrance to this huge buddha statue, that one could see from pretty far. also we did not visit the kodaiji-temple nor the - according to our guidebook - beautiful entokuin garden, as we considered the price too high, since we would only have about 30 minutes left to see all the stuff before it was closing. instead we headed on to the yasaka shrine[91-96], our last stop for today, before heading home to our ryokan again. at the main attractions and in kyoto itself we saw quite a lot of non-asian people, which was a bit of surprise to me. when i was in tokyo i did not see so many "western" tourists.
at the hotel we were informed, that the luggage should arrive by tomorrow, noon. we hope that's true, because the battery of my camera will die soon - that's why i took not so many pictures, in case you wondered. also we don't have internet at the hostel. a fact we overlooked when booking the ryokan. nina was pretty tired after our tour, so i went alone to the yodobashi shopping mall, that was right next to our hotel. the day before i bought an power-outlet adapter there, as mine was in the luggage. but although designed to work with european plugs, the holes were too small for my notebook power-cord. so i went there to return it and get one suitable for my cable, which i took with me. with the adapter we could at least charge the laptops, and via usb-cable my gps-tracker and our phones. it turned out yodobashi was pretty huge, and on seven floors you get everything, from boesendorfer and steinway pianos to tons of other music instruments, bicycles, about 50 metres of shelves filled only with headphones, games, etc, etc, etc. quite impressive.

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Sun, 04 Aug 2013
nostromo in hello kitty land again, day 01 (0 comments)
oooookay, this day was a bit of not as we had intended it to be, and here's why: first of all, edward snowden has left moscow airport only two days before we got there. secondly we had to queue at the immigration office to have our fingerprints taken and our face photographed (and although i do not like both of the procedures, that was still okay actually compared to), thirdly - and now it really gets tough - our luggage didn't make it onto the airplane. but not just ours, the luggage of all passengers from our flight. so, in order to claim their luggage, everyone from our flight got to some office to fill out forms. this meant queuing again for us. as a side note: a japanese worker said that it's 90% moscow's fault that there is no luggage. i wonder how he got that number. anyhow, after having described our bags and the stuff in it to a nice japanese lady, who spoke surprisingly good english, we thought it's time to get some japanese money. but, for a little extra fun, no ATM in japan currently accepts maestro cards (except dutch and canadian ones), due to a software upgrade on the bank network. yippieh - no luggage, no money! no, we actually got a little money in the end thanks to my visa card. if i think back on my last trip to japan five years ago, when i had no credit card, i wonder what i would have done then. a little richer and happier, we went for the JR office to exchange our JR pass exchange order to a real JR pass. oh, guess what... again queueing there. but from now on it gets a little better. we got on the "N'EX" (which stands for "narita express" and is a train that connects narita airport with tokyo) and changed in tokyo for a shinkansen train to kyoto. we had already booked a ryokan (which, to put it simple, is a hotel in japanese style) a few days before the flight, and luckily we went for one right next to the main station, so we did not have to go far and long when we arrived at kyoto. with several hours delay, due to massive queueing, we finally arrived, pretty late. additionally the ryokan was hard to find, as it did not have any signs on it other than japanese ones. so we compared the signs, and got to the reception wet and soaked, as it also had started to rain while we were searching for it - a little bonus to all the bad karma we received today. the man at the reception already awaited our arrival and said the airport phoned to make sure that it's the right place to send the luggage to, once it is in japan. the people at narita airport really cared for us and tried their best to get everyone's data related to the lost luggage. but as we had no clothes to change (and also no cables to charge our cameras, copy the images to the laptop, etc), we went to kyoto yodobashi, a huge mall where we bought some underwear and t-shirts for the next two days. at a lawson combini shop (which is just like 7/11), we also bought some more stuff that we need. by now it was already about 22:00 o'clock and we got hungry. unfortunately all the bars and restaurants at the food court at the railway station had already closed, so we decided to get some snacks from lawson's. we bought some onigiri - rice balls filled with salmon, seaweed, etc. since they have colour codes and japanese, but no english descriptions on it, we picked some randomly. we liked the green one best, we think it was seaweed. after that, we both were happy to get to bed then. well, this is not the way i remembered japan and not really a nice start for our holidays. we really hope our luggage is arriving soon, because we don't want to buy all the stuff we are missing right now.

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