Saturday, July 03, 2010

Hot As

Man does not live on holidays alone. Check out the New York Gay Pride parade photos at Beauty and the Bum. It is just not fair that guys can look this good. Hang on, I used to (a thunder bolt descends from heaven and strikes yours truly)

Japan Day 2. 21/06 Pt 2

This lane became very 'interesting' at night.

There were about four of these streets leading quite a distance. Food, clothing, restaurants, you name it. It was like daylight at night with the lighting on. Yes, lots of neon too.

Ueno Station.

A muriel at Ueno Station.

Lovely glass work.

Clear as mud to me. Underneath this ground level station was also the rail subway system, not shown on this map.

Cute swan pedal boats on the lake in Ueno Park.

I never expected hydrangeas to be growing in humidity, and doing very well.

Greedy fish, with a tortoise/turtle to pick up the crumbs.

He had to go out for a bit, so bundled up his possessions.

You will be relieved to know I realised the very first day that I would have to stop taking photos of maples.

Japan Day 2. 21/06 Pt 1

I woke earlier than R, as is par for the course. Let me see about the laptop. Plug in the lan cable at the desk and try to set up an internet connection. Why did I not ask about this before we went on holidays? You have to set up an internet connection to connect to the net, or so I thought. At some point I realised the laptop was connected to the www and I was happy. I did not understand how it was connected, but it was. Boxes were popping up all over the place suggesting that I should connect via Three or broadband or small ports or whatever. None mattered. It was already connected and I think it auto happened.

Our first day in Tokyo was to be trip booking and orientation day.

We pulled up the sitting room blinds and saw a brick wall. We pulled up the bedroom blinds and we had a nice view of an overhead motorway. We explored our accommodation, including the bathroom. I lifted the lid of the lav and pushed a button and water went everywhere. What is this switch near the bathroom mirror? How do these fangled taps work?

It was a long time since we had eaten and we needed food. The small hotel lobby doubled as a breakfast room. No cereal, but a toaster for bread or croissants with spreads, fresh juice and coffee and fresh milk. The marge from tiny containers was like nothing but solidified oil, but the jams were good.

Our Friend in Japan had told us about strict rubbish recycling, but when one of our fellow guests ripped off the foil part of the jam sachet and put it into a different bin to the plastic part of the sachet, we were panicking. Care not. We are tourists. We separated our paper plates from the rest and dumped them as we thought fit.

Off to the station to book our Shink train trip north. Everything looked so much clearer in the daylight. At the end of our street was a large intersection with lots of stairs leading up to a plaza. It seemed to be the only way to cross the large intersection, apart from the subway which we used the night before. We climbed the stairs and look, there is the main entrance to Ueno station. We went in and looked around. The train information display boards alternated between Japanese and English, but there was little else in English. There is the Japan rail pass office, for us to collect our passes and nominate the date we wish our pass to begin and there is a separate booking office.

We sorted out our passes and the lass could also make our seat reservations. She used lots of timetable books to look at train times along with her screen. We should have gone to the booking office where it was all done electronically. She tried to book us to Hirosaki via Akita, which was the long way to go, but although it was three days before we were travelling, all reserved seats had been booked. I told her that there is another way to go and with much flicking through books, she found that we could go to Hirosaki via Hachinohe, which was what we wanted to do. Again, all reserved seats were taken on the train we wanted to catch, but the one an hour or so later was ok. Right, we were booked and we just had to remember that we leave from platform 20, or track 20 as they call it. But what paperwork we had generated for Japan Railways to file away. Although everything was done electronically, bits of paper were spat out left right and centre and it all needed stamping, stapling or clipping together. The first paperless office will not be in Japan.

We took a look around the station and then stepped out to see there were lots of narrow streets off the main road with market type stalls. We dived in and wandered. It was hot and humid and my feet were getting sore. We stepped into a cafe for refreshment. We decided iced coffee was the go. I expected a cold milk coffee with a scoop of ice cream and if I was really lucky, a coffee bean or two sitting on the ice cream. Instead we were served cold black coffee with ice in it. I drank it but I was not keen. R added some milk to his and asked the waiter for some sugar. The waiter gestured to the container on our table. It contained liquid sugar, that is sugar syrup. Dorothy was certainly a long way away from Kansas now. Two coffees, $13.

I'll interrupt here to mention money. We bought $500 worth of Yen before we left Oz. The rate was 75. I kind of understand currency exchange, but I can't put it into words. I worked out that if I dropped the last two digits of the Yen and then subtracted 1/4, I would have the dollar figure. We went on like this for a couple of days, wondering why people always talked about how expensive Japan is. Eventually I entered the exchange rate into my phone currency converter for an accurate figure, and damn, I should have been adding a 1/4, not subtracting. Instead of Y1000 being AU$7.50, it was $12.50. Amusing to us, but not important. You just pay what you have to pay. Coins were 1Y, 5Y, 10Y, Y50, Y100 and Y500. Notes, Y1000, Y2000, Y5000, Y10,000. The Y50 coin had a hole in the centre as did another coin which did not have a roman numeral on it. I calculated from change I was given that it was Y5. 1Y coins were like plastic coins and a nuisance to us.

Back to the hotel to refresh ourselves then out to the lovely Ueno Park. As we noticed when we arrived the night before, there were so many homeless men. The lay on park benches, on steps, on footpaths. It was quite sad to see. They were no threat at all though. We spied a KFC and just could not resist buying our lunch there. Very nice it was too and we sat in the park and ate. There are many cultural institutions in the park and we planned to visit some, but we just ran out of time and energy.

We bought some wine on the way back to the hotel. You seem to need to pay over $10 for something drinkable. I should have know that Bon Rouge would not be a good red for $8.

Back at the hotel, I called the tour company to confirm the next day's booking. No, they would not come to our hotel and collect us. We had to make our own way.

We should have tried Japanese food for dinner, but instead we came across the English Pub. We had a fine feed there and watched some football. The pub had a great atmosphere and was quite cheap. We even saw some foreign people in the pub.

Back at the hotel R decided to try some pay tv. There was no English language stations on the tvs. He bought card for $12 and what a waste of money. The card expired at 3am, long after we expired and gave access to atrocious C grade US movies.


These personal stamps have a They are like your own seal.

This cigarette ad I found to be weird. We saw the same guy around on posters everywhere. He looked so gay.

The ubiquitous vending machine. Find them everywhere and we found them very useful. Most drinks between $1.50 and $2.00. They can dispense cans of hot coffee too.

Pretty train. Maybe the first in Ueno.

The confusing flyover. We found we had no need to climb up to the walkway, nor use the subway under the road and through the station. We could just walk along the footpath.

Cars this shape are very common in Japan. The rear seat is well back with plenty of foot and storage space, rather like a London cab.

Looks like the non existent Australasian Drain Cover Appreciation Society needs to expand to Japan. What lovely drains they have.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Japan Day 1 20/06

Preface. This post is quite wordy with few photos. I think the rest will be the opposite. More photos, less words. Hey, the first day was very long. Prices will be converted to dollars, mostly.

What on earth possessed us to book a flight at 6.00 am to Japan? Musta been cheap. It was not that cheap really, but R's holidays are fixed so we can't choose a cheap fare and then fix time off work dates later. It meant we cleared immigration and customs in Cairns, not Melbourne. A few days before we travelled, we worked out that we were only a domestic flight from Melbourne to Cairns, then international from there to Tokyo. Pity Jetstar never told us this. Well, if we booked over the phone or through an agent, we may well have learnt that, but such are the joys of the online booking system. Anyway, domestic is only an hour or so before flight time, rather than the the two for international.

We booked our air tickets and selected our seats at the end of last year. Twice Jetstar changed our outbound flight. Instead of travelling via Gold Coast, we went via Cairns and this added some good time to our total travel time.

We had worked out that a taxi was the best way to go for us for this trip. We stepped out of our building just after 4am Sunday and of course there were a gazillion taxis plying their Saturday night trade. The driver was good and the cost $70. I did not have to ask where he came from to know he was Mauritian. I love a French accent. At 5.00am we were not interested in taxi driver chat and he picked that well enough. I can't recall the airport at all, but R assures me that the kind of shed we arrived home in today was the one that we left from. Given the flight number, the time and the destination had changed, it was not a surprise that our reserved seats had not been respected. We were with ANOTHER person, the plane was an old Airbus (321?) and the space, especially for R who is tall, was lousy. The actual plane seats had been bought from leftover 1958 VW Beetle stock. Our refreshments were so ordinary, I can't remember what they were. Maybe it was a muffin and an orange juice. By the time we arrived at Cairns, R was ready to go home rather than face another Jetstar flight. But at all times the staff were pleasant and polite.

Cairns airport is under reconstruction. We can take four bottles of 1.25 litres of spirits to Japan. Hey, we have two carry it. Two will do. We seemed to drag our cases miles through a reconstruction site. As we were to learn during this holiday, signage is so important when you are travelling. Gee, we had only travelled for a few hours and we must have been looking frazzled. The booking person must have taken pity on us and blocked out the seat next to us. She could not promise it would hold, but it did. We were in the middle of the plane though and I think the sides were for the codeshare Qantas passengers. We had prepaid meals and entertainment. The entertainment came in kind of dvd players that sat on your table or lap. Both were defective and one headset was defective. We asked for replacements, but one replacement was also faulty. I gave up and listened to my own podcasts on my mp3 player. Lesson 1, don't bother with prepaid entertainment at this time on Jetstar International. (Psst, they are using Ipads for domestic). In spite of me critical of Jetstar, the staff were very good.

The prepaid meals were lousy. We paid $60 each or $30 each for the privilege. First meal was either Thai chicken or curry chicken. There was nothing Thai nor Indian about it. Bland and a very small meal. It did come with a Kit Kat bar though. We bought wine for both meals. It came in a bottle with the screw top doubling as your glass. Quite clever and good wine and a generous serve for $6.50. They got that right. Our next meal was a pie, yes, you heard, a pie. An Aussie looking pie and not a bad one at that, but still, a pie. My arrival to Japan is to be heralded by an Aussie pie. The Jetstar Aussie pie became rather a running joke for the duration. We did get a Kit Kat bar with that too. In spite of me being critical of Jetstar, the staff were very good.

Oh, it has only taken me to the first post to have to backtrack. The international plane was an Airbus 330? Good plane, comfortable seats and good legroom. My usual communist thoughts abated as I realised that those up the front were not THAT much better off than us, except for perhaps the food. The plane seating configuration was two two two (confirm). While R's and my close romantic period has long past, we do like to be alone. It is so much easier to say, 'get out of my way you fat old queen' than 'excuse me'.

Touch down Narita airport Tokyo at about 8pm local time, one hour behind Australia. After a brief trip on some train like vehicle, (more on that at the end of the trip) we collected our luggage. Um, do you know how far Narita is from Tokyo? Can we get a cab? 60km plus? Maybe not a cab.

I already knew the airport was a long way from Tokyo and our Friend in Japan had given us the dirt. We could have caught the NEX, the extremely fast express train which we caught on our last day, but we would have had to catch another train to get to where we were staying. Another train company offered a service to where we needed to be, our hotel in Ueno, pronounced as best I can do for you, Yeno. Trouble was the Keisei train company has their own railway station in Ueno. I knew that but instead of catching the Skyliner Express for about $26 each, we caught the Limited Express for $12, and I thought this one used the normal Ueno station. It did not. I had a map from our hotel but it was very stylised and nothing made sense. By now it was 10pm, we were tired, we were lugging heavy cases, it was dark and we had no idea where we were, not even which side of the station we came out. All we knew was that we were near our hotel. I knew it was close, otherwise we would have got into a taxi, only to be taken 100 metres. Ah, a police box. R bravely asked a policeman and he directed us, but his halting English and not great local knowledge did not make it much clearer. He directed us down into a subway and we just followed our noses. I was now thinking we were on the right track and we walked along looking for our hotel, but without too much confidence. R spotted the sign for the Sutton Place Hotel first. I think we both mentally collapsed with relief.

The small lobby was on the third floor and only a lift on the ground. We checked in easily and went to our room. The clerk at the desk had forgotten to tell us to insert the plastic thing on the key into a slot for electricity. R had to go back to the desk to ask why the lights would not work. We could have worked it out ourselves if the room was not pitch black. We showered, poured ourselves a large glass each of the duty free product and collapsed into bed.

Travel lesson. If you can, find your hotel with Googlies Street View and back track to the station before you go and note carefully which station you are alighting at and which exit you should use, and take a compass.

Dep Melb, 6.00. Arr Cairns, 9.30. Dep Cairns, 13.15. Arr Narita, 20.00. (Melb 21.00)

The interior of the Keisei Limited Express. The train was spotless, the windows polished and the proverbial dinner could have been eaten off the floor. Our travel companions were mostly local people. The train travelled at a good pace the 70 something kilometres to Tokyo and the trip took about 70 minutes. The airport had felt rather warm and the train did too. It was air conditioned, but was obviously set to quite a high temperature. I was feeling anger at Australia for its poor public transport.

Two shots of our sitting room at the Sutton Place Hotel, Ueno.

A corrupted photo of our bedroom, with two double beds and its own tv.


Fifteen years ago all I would have taken my electric razor when I was on holidays and a camera with spare roll or two of film. Technology has not necessarily made life easier. The 'wires' are all hand luggage now. I can afford to lose clothes and toiletries in missing checked in baggage, but not the 'wires'.

1 electric razor, in its case with a protective blade cover
1 old electric toothbrush with removable batteries, batteries removed as the button can be accidentally depressed.
1 camera, plus charger, plus pc transfer lead
1 memory stick, photo back up
2 mobile phones, plus 1 charger, plus 2 charge/pc transfer leads
2 mp3 players, plus two charge/pc transfer leads, plus 2 ear bud sets
1 laptop, plus cord mouse, plus mouse pad, plus charger, plus lan cable (not needed, glad I bought the el cheapo cable)
1 adaptor plug, modified for three pin lap top charger

Thursday, July 01, 2010

I told you I would be back

Highriser staggered bleary eyed, unkempt and unshaven from a plane after spending twenty six hours travelling to get home only to be gobsmacked to find he now has a female Prime Minister. While most women would not know the finer points of Shink (ansen), or Japanese bullet train, I suppose I approve of female PM. I wonder how long my approval will last? I very much doubt I will become disillusioned because she is a woman. Much more likely that it will be the usual reasons for political disappointment.

Bit of catching up on stuffs to do. I'll be writing about Japan and posting holiday snaps soon. I became very angry about some things as I travelled Japan, but not for reasons you might guess.

Missed youse all.