Sunday, October 3, 2010

Day... 1? Back to life as we know it.

Well, it's fall. We decided to turn the heater on this morning, because it's so freakin' cold here! What happened while we were away? The weather report predicts 9 C (48 F) and rain today, and even snow in the interior. There are some nice colors out, though, and we've decided to take a walk and be happy, no matter what.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Day 23 - Saturday - Wakeup call

We didn't really have to set our alarm clocks this morning. When we woke up at 5:45 AM, there was a cacophony of calls to prayer all over the city. Our room was at the top of the Green Anka hotel (which is kind of shabby, but perfect for a short sleepover, only 15 minutes from the airport), so we had a panoramic view to Istanbul and surround sound...

A quick breakfast at the aiport and home sweet home here we come!

For reasons unknown, the movie they played on the way home from Istanbul included a shooting scene in an aircraft (which they paused, telling us to fasten our seatbelts) where the pilots where shot. The plane (in the movie) was forced to make an emergency landing, and exploded shortly after crashlanding in a field and being divided in three.

When we entered Norway, Bjørn Erlend, a friend of ours, was working in immigrations and welcomed us home. Thanks to Elisabeth and Liv for picking us up at the airport!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Day 22 - Friday - The longest day

We got up at 7:30 AM, which is 30 minutes past midnight at home, and 1:30 AM in Turkey. We'll check in at the hotel tonight around 7 PM, 17.5 hours later. That'll be a long day. But first, breakfast, and then, the brand new Skyliner express train! :-)

Did you know that Narita airport has free wireless internet? At least in certain spots... Like this one. Our plane is delayed by a couple of hours, so this is great :-)

And a little commercial: Métro is a GREAT application for EVERYONE who travels to a place with a SUBWAY and needs how to get from one station to the next. It's free, quick, and easy to use and works on a WIDE range of smartphones. Check it out.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Day 21 - Thursday - It ain't over till it's over

Aaaah... What a vacation! We didn't have any plans today but to relax and go shopping for some casual clothing, so we went back to Shibuya. You know, the busy crossing. We had lunch at a French crêperie named with the descriptive name Galettoria and headed back home to Sakura hostel at Jimbocho for a beauty sleep. Later on, we had a great dinner nearby at Oriental Dining (gotairiku), a chain restaurant serving great food to a reasonable price. Finally, we picked up a Japanese copy of Haruki Murakami's book Norwegian Wood. Not that we'll ever be able to read it...

We're leaving the country tomorrow, but we're happy to conclude that this has been a great vacation. But what happened to our bags? There's not room for all the stuff anymore!!!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Day 20 - Wednesday - Pregnant with Beauty

We thought this would be a quiet day, but we managed to squeeze in a photo session in the imperial garden and a visit to Asakusa. Asakusa has one of the most famous temples in Tokyo, and a huge street market surrounding the temple grounds. Add breakfast, coffee, reconnaissance for the airport express train and ticket purchase, lunch, more coffee, and dinner, plus subway rides, and 9 hours on foot has taken its toll. It was a great day, though, and we're happy to have seen the Asakusa district.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Day 19 - Tuesday - Return to Tokyo

It's still raining and the weather report for today in Tokyo is rain and 24 C (75 F). Tomorrow looks better, though! Breakfast and a two-hour drive awaits us before we check in at Sakura Hotel near Jimbocho station... again :-)

I got 2000 yen BACK in CASH when returning the car, and we had a lovely Japanese (?) lunch at a Spanish (?) restaurant. Astrid had a hot vegetable curry, and I had fried (!) hamburger.

We have driven 2500 kilometers! Phew! Now heading for a modern art exhibition on the 52nd floor somewhere in Tokyo. On foot. And by subway, of course.


The exhibition was located on the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower and displayed various installations inspired by Japanese nature. The view of the city was excellent - we had access to windows all around the building, giving us a 360 degrees panoramic view to the city. They also served smoothies and gave away dinosaurs. At the end of the day, we had a cuban style meal in the Roppongi district.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Day 18 - Monday - Fuji

Clouds. Mist. Fog. More clouds! In addition to lakes and resorts, this is what surrounds Mount Fuji these days. The friendly staff at Sunnide Resort, which consists of a hotel, some cottages, and an onsen with a view to a lake and, normally, the famous mountain, had a Japanese style room available today, so we checked out of the western style room and left the building (we can't check in until 3 PM).

Even though we were told that the mountain probably wouldn't be visible all day, we plotted in the top of the mountain on our GPS and decided to drive to wherever the road ended, which was at a temple. The toll, 2000 yen, was worth it. On the way up, the road plays music! Just as rippled strips on highways make signal sounds when you go too far out of your lane, ripples in the road made music. Fun! We spent two hours browsing souvenir shops, eating a hot dog, and writing post cards, and then, just when we were about to leave, the curtain of clouds opened up and Mount Fuji stood out in all its splendor. The day was saved! 15 minutes later, the photo session was over, and the fog was back.

The view from our bedroom. The clouds are tracing Mount Fuji.

We're back at the hotel now, ready to relax at the onsen, have dinner, and sleep in before we head back to Tokyo in the morning.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Day 17 - Sunday - Meeting the samurais

We met two real samurais in Nagoya. Mr and Mrs Nakamura are both born and raised in Nagoya, so my personal belief is that they have to have some samurai blood flowing through their veins! They let us stay in their guest room, and we had a nice day together with a modern Japanese breakfast, tea at the Tokugawa Art Museum, lunch at a Japanese restaurant, and coffee somewhere nice. We had a lot of fun! Many thanks for the great hospitality.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Day 16 - Saturday - Breaking the waves

Today, there is a week left of the vacation…. It is passing to soon. Anyway, we woke up early. While Anders joined the other divers at the diving center, Astrid went to a nearby hotel to have breakfast and use their onsen. The onsen is closed between 9 and 11 am, so Astrid spent the time on the beach watching the waves.

The onsen is great, with a larger pool and several smaller ones, one even with yellowish water for meditation. Otherwise, I guess we both agree, this is the most shabby upscale hotel we have ever seen! Well, it is 11 o'clock - time for a warm bath with a sea view :=)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Day 15 - Friday - Whirlpool

Anders' version:

After a couple of nights in Kobe, we crossed the gigantic Akashi-Kaikyō suspension bridge (明石海峡大橋), a.k.a. Pearl Bridge, which has the longest central span in the world; 1991 meters or 6532 feet. After a short break at the nearby rest stop, we crossed the Awaji Island and made another stop under the Naruto bridge to spot a vortex, a natural whirlpool, which is created when the tide flows through the narrow straight at a speed of up to 20 km/h (.Due to the narrowness of the strait, the water rushes through the Naruto channel at a speed of about 13-15 km/h four times per day, twice flowing in and twice flowing out. During a spring tide, the speed of the water may reach 20 km/h or 12 mph, creating vortices up to 20 m in diameter. The current in the strait is the fastest in Japan and the fourth fastest in the world after the Saltstraumen outside Bodø in Norway and three others :-)

We made a quick stop a local scuba shop in a small town along the road, and later at the tourist office in Tokushima city, who both pointed us in the direction of the tiny village Shishikui (宍喰町), which was a town located in Kaifu District, Tokushima, Japan.
On March 31, 2006 Shishikui was merged with the towns of Kaifu and Kainan, all from Kaifu District, to form the new town of Kaiyo. So we actually went to Kaiyo, I guess.

We booked scuba diving for the next day they found a place for us to sleep. It was a ryokan, and a very basic one, in the residential area of Shishikui. The family that runs the place was very kind.


Astrid's version:

We left Kobe early this morning, heading south to Shikoku. On Shikoku island, there are 88 temples and there are still pilgrims walking the more than 1000 year old pilgrim trail. We spotted the 23rd temple, which has special powers to ward off ill fortune. In particular, you should visit this temple when you are 42 years old if you are male or 33 year old if you are a female, as these are the unluckiest years.

Our main goals however, were the whirlpools and the beach. After about an hour, we crossed the Naruto channel. Naruto is known for the whirlpools and the bridge to the Shikoku island had a walking passage underneath for whirlpool watching.

On our way further south, we drove past Ohama beach were sea turtles come to lay eggs. Unfortunately, we were a little to late, as this happens between May and August. The scenery is marvelous! Sandy beaches, steep cliffs, and green, green hills….

Finally, we reached a fishing village named Shishikui, in Tokushima-Ken, were there is a small diving center. Anders booked two dives and gear for tomorrow morning. They also reserved a room in a small ryokan for us. The room looks like someones living room, but the family who rent it out is nice. The lady is giggling hysterically as we don't understand Japanese.

Tomorrow, we will head back north. We were planning on stopping by Nara to see the famous Buddha, but instead we will go directly to Nagoya to meet Junichi. We first met Junichi at Prekestolhytta a couple of years back.

Astrid's belly is getting bigger by the hour, and there is a lot of crawling around, kicking, and hick ups!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Day 14 - Thursday - Autumnal equinox

Autumnal equinox (秋分の日 Shūbun no Hi): This national holiday was established in 1948 as a day on which to honor one's ancestors and remember the dead.

This holiday actually gave us an extra hour of sleep, or at least an extra hour at the parking lot (for free!!!). We have to take our car out, and then park it again at the same place, or it'll cost us 100 yen per fifteen minutes all day, instead of 1800 yen for 24 additional hours.

We visited the Sake museum in Kobe and did a little shopping downtown today. We had a pleasant and moderately priced buffet lunch at an Italian place and roamed the streets, as usual. I don't think we'll try the cable car going up to Rokko mountain, where there's supposed to be a rock park and a superb view of the city by night. It's been raining and is cloudy today. Anyway, we'll see what happens.

After a refreshing afternoon nap, we had dinner at Steakland Kobe. The Kobe beef was tender and tasty, and the sides were great. Astrid had fresh (like, alive) shrimps fried perfectly, and she, too, loved the BBQ sauce. We took a walk in search for the Kobe Tower, but didn't find it, so we returned to "the strip" for some ice cream. Aaaah what a night :-)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Day 13 - Wednesday - On the Road Again

Many thanks to Muyujyu Sato who made our stay at White Hotel in Kyoto a very pleasant one. Mister Anders and Madame are very satisfied :-)

For those who are considering a trip to Kyoto, why not check out a brand new isakaya (Japanese-style eatery) which will become part of the Watami franchise on October 3rd. I met the owner, a hard-working fellow who does speak english, who seemed like a hard-working guy eager to take on a venture. His name is Yasumasa Ohnaga.


Here's a shot of Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺 Temple of the Golden Pavilion), which indeed was beautiful. It is located in the north-east corner of Kyoto. We were told that we should go there, and we didn't regret it.

We followed the highway - the slow route - from Kyoto to Kobe, ignoring the GPS and randomly pusing buttons with Japanese text until it finally gave in and supplied us with the non-toll directions. There was absolutely no country side between Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe - the cities are closely knitted together by populous suburbs. Just take a look at a satellite photograph of this area, and you'll see what we mean.

We're staying at Hotel Tor Road, where we got surprisingly much for the money. A room at the top floor with everything we could ask for, great standard, and downtown. We found a great "resort style" place called Bora Bora pretty much next door, which serves fun food and drinks, and even has karaoke rooms of good standard upstairs with or without video games, ping pong, darts, or billiards. We had to try the karaoke, and it was a lot of fun :-)

There's also a degree of dodgyness about the area - we couldn't help but notice a number of prostitutes lingering, and, of course, a certain presence of customers that could be less polite than what we've gotten used to...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day 12 - Tuesday - Flee market!

We're going to the flea market today. I wonder if we'll find something to bring back home with us?


The flea market wasn't really a flea market, but rather an antique market which had a lot of very nice fabrics, kimonos, Japanese china etc etc. This has been another hot day. After lunch we headed to a temple north of the city center, Kiyomizu-dera to see the Tainai-meguri. Entering the Tainai-merguri, you are entering "the womb" of Daisuigu Bosatsu who has the power to grant any human wishes. Inside, you turn a large sphere shaped stone clockwise while making your wish. We both turned it counter clockwise, so we'll see what happens...

Anders got himself a new pair of glasses - they're sold as a set including frames, lenses, and a box, adjusted and fitted within the hour at the Æon mall near Kyoto station. And a bargain, too!

After buying a woodblock print by Kiyoharu Yamada at a gallery in a huge roofed street mall downtown, and enjoying some tea and cookies over a chat with the artist, we enjoyed a great Italian meal in a narrow alley near the river.

Tomorrow, we'll leave Kyoto. We don't know where we're going, but Kobe is a safe bet. Or Osaka. Or both. They seem to run together on the map. We might sleep in the city, or head for another island. Somebody is ready for another beach before we head for Nagoya, Fuji, and Tokyo again...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Day 11 - Monday - Respect-for-the-Aged Day

First, a little announcement: Our little boy or girl is 27 weeks on his or her way to the world today! Yea!!! And then...

Respect-for-the-Aged Day (敬老の日 Keirō no hi) is a Japanese holiday celebrated annually to honor elderly citizens.[1] A national holiday since 1966, this used to be held on September 15. Beginning in 2003, Respect for the Aged Day is held on the third Monday of September due to the Happy Monday System.

This is a shot from a beach near Niigata.

So, we're in Kyoto, staying at a Ryokan. Here's everything you need to know about staying in one. It's a Japanese-style hotel where you have to take your shoes off whenentering and step into slippers which they provide. The slippers can be left outside the room, or in the corner by the door in the room, which is covered by mats made out of woven rice straw. There's a really low table with a tea pot and some cups in a little box, some oblong futons made up to sleep on, and a few pillows to sit on near the table. There's normally air conditioning and a TV, and this room has a wired internet connection. The bathroom is equipped with bathroom slippers, a deep bath tub with a shower, soap, and a regular
toilet. The windows are covered by rice paper framed by wooden squares. In the room, there's cotton robes provided for wearing in and around the hotel.

We visited the national treasures of the Sanjusangen-do temple and biked around town today. It was nice.


We decided to go to the cinema and see a movie with English soundtrack or subtitles. The cashier mistook "original soundtrack" for "English soundtrack", so we ended up having an entire movie theater to ourselves, with deep love seats, which could have been great, hadn't it been for Korean soundtrack and Japanese subtitles. Maybe we'll see The Secret some other time.

I read that it'll cost you about 10 USD per head to enter the Kyoto Tower. If you'd like to see a panoramic view of the city for free, just take the most awesome escalators to the top of Kyoto Station, and pick up some scrumptious donuts on the way up - or grab something else to eat or drink in one of the restaurants in floors 1 through 12. Once up, cuddle in the little park area on top :-)

Day 10 - Sunday - Kyoto, finally

We decided to leave Kazawa, no, Kanazaga, no, Kanazawa! but quickly changed our minds and stayed for a few more hours. After all, we needed cash before entering the expressway, and we owed the city a second (or first, actually) look. We went to see the Kenrokuen Garden, which was beautiful. And then, we blew that joint and headed for Kyoto. A two hour drive (according to Anders) became a five hour drive (because of heavy traffic from half-way there on out). We called early on (well, as early as possible, considering our excellent organizational skills) to let the hotel know we'd be there on time, but they were very welcoming although we were three hours late. They even gave us a 50% discount on bicycle rental, and two special pairs of slippers labeled FOREIGNERS. We've got LAN in our room and a place in their parking lot - all for 8000 yen per night. Maybe Japan isn't that expensive after all when you think about it. The service is GREAT anyways. We were thinking about going to a movie tonight, but since tonight is already getting late, we might just go and get something to eat!

Just in case please leave your valuable staff at reception desk.
We won't take any kind of responsibility from any kind of accident.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Day 9 - Saturday - Now what?

We turned 180 degrees and set sails for Kyoto, planning to be there on Sunday, maybe. On the way through beach land, which is about an hour north of Nagano (remember the Olympics?), we passed through a number of friendly towns, including one which had a museum for children on nuclear power: Atomuseum.

Anders finally had his wish come true: A swim in the ocean! Unfortunately, there were jellyfish, and after getting stung twice, sunbathing seemed like a better choice. Some of you have postcards coming.

At the end of the day, we stopped in the city Kanazawa. The hotel we chose from the GPS was full, and so was one close by, so we took a right and a left and who knows what and picked a hotel that looked like a… hotel. It turns out this is a LOVE HOTEL! We probably would never have picked one in the first place, but we can absolutely recommend it. It might on the high side, pricewise, at 16000 yen for a night, but it's great fun. (Problem was - the hotel did not accept OUR Visa - debit nor credit - or MasterCard, and after one our of roaming the neighborhood, Anders gave up finding an ATM that would. Coming back to the room, sorry to say that we'd have to leave, it turned out Astrid had dug out exactly 16400 yen - enough for the room and two drinks! No dinner.) Our room looks kind of… crazy! It has a little doll house with an animal family (think Hello Kitty), TV in the bathroom, a toilet which not only gives you a squirt, but also has a drier, karaoke, and a lot of other things in all the colors of the rainbow. The name of the place is Aine or As always, the staff was very friendly and understanding, and we managed to have a conversation in English :-)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day 8 - Friday - Heading West

Or south, maybe. Wow, it's 6 AM right now, and all of a sudden, fireworks are being shot! It's September 17th, which might mean something. Let's see...We don't know. Wednesday was respect for the elders day, but maybe it was just a thank God it's Friday celebration.

This crazy phone is on display down in the reception. I couldn't resist taking a picture of it before reporting it, and the staff quickly realized that "out of order" would be the proper way of labeling the phone, so this one is now history. We've got more, though :-)

It's important to note that Astrid and I are not the only ones on this trip. Astrid is carrying a little passenger who seems to be getting more active each day. Yesterday, he/she kicked, or rather pushed so hard that her stomach had a substantial bump for a second! That made our day :-)


Before leaving Nikko, we had to try their local specialty; shaved natural ice. As a matter of fact, it was delicious. Maybe because of the source, which is spring water and special preparation of the ice blocks themselves, but mostly because they put blueberries in Astrid's portion and strawberries in Anders'.

Anders had decided it was time to go to the beach, so we went straight through Japan, right on, northwestwards, until we had to turn left at the Sea of Japan. All of a sudden, we were amidst picturesque villages and abundant sandy beaches. Everything was closed, though, since the short Japanese summer holidays leave the beach resorts as ghost towns even in warm September. Darkness was descending upon us, so we had to find somewhere to stay, and fast. We were pointed in the direction of a Japanese-style hotel, a ryokan. And not only was it a traditional kind of hotel, it was also an onset! That means it has warm baths… After a quick guidance as to how to unpack the beds, find the bath robes (which you can wear everywhere and anytime in the ryokan), and change shoes at the proper places, we jumped in the water while some elves mysteriously made up our beds (freely plagiarizing Lonely Planet, which did not mention this part of Japan with one word) and had a wonderful sushi and fried fish supper. We made plenty of mistakes, but learned a lot! Here's their home page:

The town's name is Teradomari.

Day 7 - Thursday - That's one of three weeks!

We went to a Shinto shrine (as opposed to a Buddhist temple) in Nikko today, not far from the hotel. We had some trouble finding it by car. It would have been a lot easier by foot - just follow the main road, walk over a picturesque red bridge, through a gate and up some mossy steps. Thousands of other visitors didn't seem to have had the same problem, though. The place was beautiful, but very crowded. Next time, we'll visit a deserted place. Here's the hotel's website

Afterwards, we followed the road up the mountains to a waterfall. Here it is. You park your car (or bus), take the elevator 300 feet down, and marvel at the gaze. Then you go back up. We tried to find a hot spring nearby, but since we have no idea what a hot spring actually looks like, or if it's even overground, we utterly failed at our mission. We did find a post office, though. I said I wanted ten stamps, but when I changed my mind, and wanted 10 stamps with pictures on them, the lady had already prepared my ten regular (and sort of boring) stamps,and seemed to have a hard time telling me that it was too late for me to change my mind. So I just bought 20 stamps. This obviously made her happy, or ashamed, or maybe a little of both, because she quickly decided to give me two gifts - a pack of paper tissues and a towel! On the way back down from the mountain to the valley (?), we came across a monkey family.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Day 6 - Wednesday - Discovering an Onsen

We nearly overslept this morning, but in 2 hours we'd showered, packed, washed and semi-dried a load of clothes, had breakfast and picked up our rental car with a bilingual GPS. The car also has a little device which says something in Japanese every time there's construction work and when it's time to pay toll, which costs a fortune by any standard (about 5000 yen for the two-hour ride from Tokyo to Nikko). We took a warm bath at a nearby onsen - a building with four small pools - two for each sex, one inside and one outside - and a lot of different kinds of shampoo and conditioner. They also had a small eatery, which served great food.It was right here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day 5 - Tuesday - Morning at the fish market

Anders, who's got a built in clockwork that says DON'T SLEEP, decided to get up at 6 AM and go to the fish market at Tsukiji. Astrid, who's the most sporty person on the planet, decided to come with him.

The fish market - contrary to the rest of Tokyo, which is modern, high tech, and slightly weird - was just what one expects a fish market to be:
Traditional, filled with tough fishermen (with a sense of humor), and bustling with people preparing, trading, and transporting fish.

After a power nap (for one of us) and some research on camcorders (for the other), we're heading out to Shibuya to catch the neons at sunset.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Day 3, uh, 4 - Monday - Tokyo

There are a couple of striking differences between Istanbul and Tokyo. First, Tokyo is tidy. There are no garbage cans, but the streets are spotless. It looks like everything has a designated space for it, and nothing is out of order. The people are neat, and structured. You don't need anyone telling you that you have to stand on the left side and walk to the right when riding the escalator - you will stand out in the crowd if you don't. Also, people are nice and polite. Even though we don't speak much japanese:)

We arrived yesterday around noon and took the slow train to the city. We checked in at the hotel to find the smallest room we've ever seen (with one possible exception). Today, we walked to the Imperial Palace, which is close to the hotel. It was closed on Mondays, but we had a nice walk down to the shopping district Ginza. We spent the afternoon strolling through huge department stores and chic stores.

We have seen some interesting signs here as well. Our favorite in China was the sign in a museum describing an item as "A jar with pricks all over". Our favorite so far in Tokyo is " No smoking all over the toilet", followed by "Once the fire alarm in the toilet has functioned, a guard will rush to the site and check it out".

Today, we are in the 26th week, which is kind of nice. When coming home, we will be in the third trimester.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Day 3 - Sunday - Konnichiwa!

Ouch. The jet lag is caving in on us, but we're still not sleeping. Nor are we awake. Narita airport was surprisingly quiet, the train was not crowded, people downtown Tokyo weren't in a rush and the hotel was not hard to find. The room isn't big, either. It clean, though, and the receptionists are very helpful and people are generally very kind. It's warm and humid and we're looking forward to what tomorrow will bring :-)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Day 2 - Saturday - Istanbul Streetwise

Walk - Skate

The hotel being right in the middle of "everything" - at least for tourists like us , we have spent the last one and a half day wandering the souks of the old City of Istanbul. Our goal for today was to visit the Grand Bazaar to look for a couple of futons for our living room. We saw some nice ones in Morocco, and were thinking that we might find some nice ones here as well. These weren't as nice though, so we have decided to go back to Marrakech some time soon.

The Grand Bazaar was closed because of the Islam holidays following Ramadan.