What not to do while in transit

Maglev Evidence, originally uploaded by kdt.

We could not help ourselves, or to be precise I couldn’t. In Shanghai international transit passengers need to collect all bags and then go through customs and immigration. Which of-course with a dual entry visa means we were free to roam the streets of Shanghai for an hour or two.

I had done my research and new that there was a very convenient baggage deposit service. We dumped our bags and headed towards the worlds highest viewing platform and the 100th floor of the World Financial Centre in Shanghai.

We didn’t have too much time so we caught the fastest land transport in the world, the Maglev Demonstration Project and as the picture shows, we got up to the 431 km/h… But it still left for a very tight schedule. Helen in her full librarian voice demanded of the customer service officers to let us bypass the “experience” and go straight to the top. After some consultation with their leaders through their two way communication system we were quickly ushered to the lift.

The views through the murky stuff were still pretty impressive. I’ve uploaded a few photos to Flickr.

For most of the holiday the heart racing for fear of missing a connection was mostly absent. But this little journey did create a little race. You’re meant to be at checkin 2 hours before hand. We got there just after 1:30 hours before hand. It was sort of a blessing because there was no line! But it also meant that the bag checkers were bored. So our bag of goodies was subject to examination.

Helen had to explain the Mr Brush, the balded headed plastic icon with a brush mohawk for cleaning keyboards. I had to explain a few special bike bells and my super groovy new lightweight bike locks… I can see how those items looked suspicious on the x-ray machine. But we were let go after amusing the inspection man for a few minutes. By this time were moving towards the departure gate. Helen must have looked suspicious because her handbag was searched and she created much amusement with the staff by showing the lomo digitial camera!!

Ahhh… to think we could have just had a rest!

Last night in Japan…

Okonomiyaki, originally uploaded by Helen K.

The last night of our holiday was spent having dinner at our favourite Okonomiyaki place in Osaka. We discovered it last year, when we were in search of somewhere to eat. At the time we saw a long queue of Japanese people outside, we thought it must be good, so we joined the end. We ended up going back the next night, as the food was so good.

This year, when planning the flights we had to fly back via China, and thought leaving from Osaka was the ideal opportunity for us to re-visit.

We managed to locate the place without too much trouble. As it was our last night we went for the set of five different okonomiyaki’s. Each one is made up of different ingredients and held together by egg. The picture is just one of the five we ate – and just as good as we remembered.

Homeward bound

Currently sitting in the Osaka airport, as the free wireless isn’t working. (editor’s note it is working now), Keyboard is proving to be a challenge as the letters Keyboard is proving to be a challenge as the letters keep changing to Japanese.

Will send another post when we get to Shanghai airport before coming home.

We have loved being in Japan.

Here is a picture of the traveling trio.

At Kansai Airport

Japanese Beauty

Japanese Beauty, originally uploaded by kdt.

The mobile phone does capture Japanese beauty as well as my EOS400D, so I thought I would post another photo from today’s kimono fashion parade. It was a complete surprise to turn up a the Nishijin Textile Centre to be treated to a fashion parade. There were a lot of snappy happy Japanese photographers there.

Kyoto Best by Bike

Kyoto Best by Bike, originally uploaded by kdt.

There is absolutely no doubt, Kyoto is best seen by bike. Yesterday we met up with volunteers from the Kyoto University Good Samaritans Club. They showed us their Kyoto. We hired bikes ate lunch at the University and enjoyed giant servings of green tea sweets! For good measure we saw a shrine or two! But the best bit was cycling around parts of Kyoto that are well off the tourist path! For good measure we hired bikes again this morning and did some of the most rewarding cycling. Their tiny streets and interesting buildings make it a great joy. As soon as you arrive in Kyoto you should hire a bike from the Kyoto Cycling Tour Project. The things we happened upon were interesting real world shops, good coffee, a small shrine and kimono parade!

Spending time at Sendai Mediatheque

Sendai Media Tech, originally uploaded by Helen K.

Believe it or not we accidently came across the Sendai Mediatheque (aka a Public Library), and a modern slick one at that. We had been up to see the remains of the Sendai Castle, which has a lovely view over the city. We were on the Loople (yes that is the corect term), which was at crush capcity, to get back to the city. I had managed to get a seat and was nodding off (yes being a tourist is hard work), when Kym said lets get off. He had spotted the name of the Library from the map, and it reminded him what the French call their public libraries.

What a fantastic buidling. It is seven floors of light and activity – and on a Sunday too! The ground floor was featuring a number of young musicians, and people selling knitted and wooven items, a shop and a cafe. Yes we did have a drink and cake at the end of looking around.

While the building is square there are several large light wells from the top of the building that carries light down. The front of each floor has ceiling to floor glass ( not all clear) for the space to be well lit.

The second floor is for computer access and general quiet reading space in front of the windows, AV area (yes they still had video tapes, but not many), and a kids area. The kids area was defined by silver curtains. The thir floor was fiction and non fiction materials, magazines, and lots of study space on seats against the walls or tables. There was a third mezzanine floor, which had a queue of 20-30 people waiting for information assistance, and reference material. The floors above were dedicated art space, movie space, and a meeting space and performance space. Wow.. what a fantastic building. There wasn’t suppose to be any taking of photos, but I ignored the sign – as I could see a few other people were too. My photos don’t do the space justice. If you are ever in Sendai, I highly recommend you check it out!

Red thumb – part III (and final!)

Ah… the next day.   We hired a bike, as it looked like a great day!  Little did we know it would rain later that afternoon.

We had to be back near the West entrance of the Shanghai Railway Station around 12 – 1pm to retrieve the confiscated camera (Your camera is not your camera…).  Now as we were cycling, we decided to park the bikes near a subway station, and catch the train there (if you have been there you would understand the 1000’s of people in the vicinity and cycling there is too hard).  Got there… and the expected Police that apparently are always there… weren’t there – oh surprise.  We wandered around looking for the Police and also the Police Station, it was shut for lunch.

We had a phone number to give to the police person, at the railway station, but as there was none in sight, after 15 minutes or so we realised “Hey we have a phone, let’s call ourselves!”.  A few minutes later, a young police officer came to get us and escort us to the behind the scenes area of the station.

In daylight, its a lot less scarier. When we got there, different police were present, but they were still smoking. To get my camera (or not my camera back), I had to sign two pieces of paper, and provide a thumb print over my signature.  The ink was red, hence the title of these series of posts.  For those who had been asking, the camera is safe still in my possession.

Motto of the story is:  In Shanghai, pay more attention to your camera, and undercover police are very smartly dressed.

Finally, I would like to thank the Shanghai police for apprehending and retrieving my camera.

Hokkaido Road Trip

For those of you wondering where exactly we drove in Hokkaido, I have prepared a google map which shows fairly well where we went. I’ve embedded it below.

Sapporo is a really friendly town. A kind man, a volunteer guide at the Clock Tower, showed us around and explained some of Sapporo’s history. He lived in Adelaide for a while to practice English. We had lunch in a local “cafeteria” which had amazingly good and cheap food. He provided us with some tips. We really appreciated his generosity.

We were hoping to take the overnight train from Tokyo to Sapporo. But unfortunately it was impossible to book a berth. Apparently it is very popular for Obon. Instead we flew with JAL, it was very very easy to book over the internet and it offers J Class for a small premium. J Class is excellent it is like business class and has made it very difficult for me to fly in economy class. There is actually space for my legs and the seats are comfortable. It convinces me that economy class is a conspiracy to create the “value” proposition for premium economy and business class. Anyway, my only bit of conspiracy theory for the trip.

We picked up our car in Sapporo it was a Toyota bB. You’ve seen photos already. Its a mini wagon and super practical. It survived with its 1.3 litre engine and automatic gearbox quite well in the hills and on the expressways. It demonstrates that most Australian cars are well over-specced and as a result over priced. We rented through the Toyota Rent-a-Car service and in particular the English website of Toyota Sapporo. The site is very good and the service was perfect.

We drove along the expressway to Asahikawa. The expressway (maximum speed 100, which no one follows) is much faster than the main roads (maximum speed 60 even in the country). It is also much more expensive. It cost us more than $30 for a trip of around 100km. But the pain soon wore off as we woofed down our Ramen, we went through the fields and town of Biei. To arrive at Furano for our first night. Natalux is a hotel that has been refurbished by a fashionable Tokyo designer. Pretty schmick for Furano and a bit more expensive. But enitirely enjoyable.

Next stop was Lake Shikotsu and the Lakeside Villa Suimekakui. I had a lot of hot baths that night and the next morning. The food was nothing short of outstanding and the trout from the lake will probably stay in my mind for the rest of my life. For a foreign tourist, particularly couples, the idea of separating and going to an onsen with the a large crowd isn’t to appealing. The Lakeside Villa Suimekakui has an in-room bath, plus access to two other fine baths on a private reservation basis. They were all great. If you want the best food, French and Japanese, and a great Onsen experience then this is place for you and in the scheme of things to costs is justifiable. I’d love to go back.

When I was booking, I tried to compensate for the fact that we spent a bit the night before by being a bit cheaper a Lake Toya. We had a basic 8 tatami mat (quite big) room in a hotel hidden behind the main hotels on lake front. It was cheap though and had a good Japanese breakfast. If you are thinking about choosing which lake to stay at Lake Shikotsu is the one it is beautiful, while Toya has ugly buildings upsetting the landscape. Lake Shikotsu is smaller and more focussed on good food. While Toya’s fireworks and volcanic eruption sites are good, I’d recommending visiting the sites on the way through.

From here we drove to Hakodate and following some guidance from Hokkaido website drove to Oshamabe for a bento that the area specalises in. The town is a practical fishing village, nothing really to see, but the crab based bento from the little restaurant across the road from the station and I assume also available is a bento from the station a rice dish with a crab topping is worth the diversion.

Hakodate is (after you get through the outer suburbs and the working port) a gorgeous small city with plenty of things to do. A great fish market, good restaurants and easy to get around city, by foot, car or public transport. I’d like more time there.

I’ve put together a slideshow for you. So far I’ve uploaded twenty or so. Hopefully in the next day or two, I will get a chance to upload the rest. Remember to press the big triangle to get it to play.
(p.s. We’re sitting in a cafe in Kyoto after one of our best Japanese dinners yet. Included seeing our fish killed and eating almost everything including head and skeleton.)