Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tokyo Day 2

December 29th, 2009
Went into downtown Tokyo today. Well, not downtown, but a downtown-like area. We took the Odakyu line from Aiko-Ichida to Shinjuku, and from there took the JR to Tokyo Station. We went outside and looked around the area for a bit before heading to the Imperial Palace. It was pretty cool, although it was completely closed and you could only really view the outer gardens and moats (yes, it had multiple moats). We attempted to get a picture of ourselves with some of the palace guards, but they refused, which Dan found absolutely shocking, given the general friendliness of Japanese people. I’m pretty sure it was something to do with their honor or something. We left that area and went to Akihabara, aka Electronic Town. Tons and tons of electronics shops, but even more so, tons of anime porn shops. Pretty strange place, but absolutely hilarious. After Akihabara, we went to a huge public park near Ueno. This park contained a weird kid’s amusement park thing, a huge, 5-story pagoda, and a shrine which had a pretty amazing walkway leading up to it. The shrine was a bit disappointing, however, given the fact that most of it was covered by a huge, poster-like thing of the shrine (similar to that thing in Venice of the Eiffel Tower that we saw in 2005). We had some ice cream in the park, saw a huge 1:1 scale replica of a blue whale, and went back to the subway. From there we headed back to Akihabara to try and find an internet café, and failed miserably, given our inability to speak Japanese. Went back to the condo, hung out for a bit, then explored the town around this area (Aiko-Ishida). We walked around for a good hour and a half and didn’t find much, so we just went back to the noodle bar from last night with the “FUKUDOME” guy. Had some absolutely magnificent bacon with like some ginger sauce and rice. Unbelievably good. Went back to the condo and passed out due to jet lag.

Tokyo Day 1

December 28, 2009, 2:00pm Tokyo Time (December 27, 11:00pm CDT): If the flight to Amsterdam was everything that sucks about air travel (bad food, bad sleep, etc.), the flight to Tokyo was everything that’s decent about it. Upon getting onto the plane, I passed out immediately in my exit row window seat (huge leg room). I slept for about an hour, and upon waking up, got some food and took a sleeping pill, which allowed me to pass out again for awhile. Woke up about 5 hours later to find them giving out hot noodles, which was definitely the best non-Business Class airline food I’ve ever had. Passed out for another 3 hours, then got up in time for breakfast (yogurt, fruit, and a roll, with scrambled eggs that I stayed away from). After that, I just hung out for the next 1.5 hours or so before landing. After we landed, we were very relieved to find that our bags had made it through to Tokyo, and we got through customs real quick. We then took the train to Dan’s grandma’s condo, and there was quite a bit of good scenery along the way. I drank my first Japanese Sake immediately after boarding, which was quite nice. The train ride was about 1 hour and 15 minutes to Shinjuku, from where we transferred to another train. Transferred at Shinjuku station, which I later found out is the busiest train station in the world. After a very long local train, which stopped at every stop from Tokyo to here, we got to Aiko-Ichida train station. Having very little idea of where to go, we sort of just wung it, and ended up walking around for about 20 minutes (with about 80 pounds of luggage, mind you) until we found the place. Arrived at the condo, took a shower, looked around a bit, then went out for some dinner. We ate at a noodle bar, and when the owner (who spoke very little English) asked where we were from, he promptly replied “OHHHH, CHICAGO CUBS!!! FUKUDOME KOSUKE!!!”. Pretty warm welcome if you ask me. Anyway, after that, we decided to take the train back down to Shinjuku, which, in addition to being a huge train station, is in a pretty interesting part of Tokyo. Mulled around there for a couple hours, got turned around once, ate at another noodle bar (this time they were cold noodles, but still fine), then headed back to Aiko-Ichida around midnight. Got back and watched some ridiculous Japanese reality TV show with women wearing very little clothing and a guy in a crazy wig. Also, Japanese commercials are ridiculous, just tons of crazy stuff going on.

Monday, December 28, 2009


The phrase "I did not see that coming" gets thrown around all to often, especially by me. However, when we were told that we were going to Amsterdam, that was a pretty appropriate response. Here's the story of how that went:

December 27th, 2009, 7:00am Central European Time (midnight December 27th CDT): After a brutal trans-Atlantic flight, which included about 2 hours of sleep, we arrived at Amsterdam Shiphol Airport. If nothing else, I got to see Inglourious Basterds on the flight over, which was quite good. We departed the aircraft being insanely tired, hungry, and quite worse for the wear. Upon walking into the airport our first stop was a Starbucks, which at the very least provided a pick-me-up after such a long flight. We purchased some tickets from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station. We got on the train, quite surprised that at 8am local time, it was still pitch black out. After about 35-40 minutes, we realized that we had apparently missed Amsterdam Centraal Station. This was a combination of several factors, foremost of which was that neither of us speak a word of Dutch. Additionally, they continuously referred to this “Inter-City”, which I misinterpreted as “Inner-City”. Therefore, I continuously said that we were going to the inner-city part of Amsterdam, whereas it was actually an inter-city line between the major Dutch cities, such as Utrect, The Hague, Leewarden, Groningen, etc. Finally, we got off at Amersfoort station, and realized that, yes, we’d gone quite a bit too far. To give one an idea, we’d traveled nearly 30% of the length of the entire country, in about 45 minutes. However, it was probably worth it, as we passed some simply beautiful Dutch countryside, and were able to see a good deal of the country. Also, we were able to kind of wake up a bit once the sun came up. We figured we’d just get a ticket back to Amsterdam Centraal, which we did, but not before exploring the station a bit, and getting a few good pictures of the surrounding area. We took the train back to Centraal, where we finally got off at the correct stop. After departing at Centraal we were quickly introduced to the center of Amsterdam, with canals, cafés, Van Gogh museums, etc. We decided to just walk around a bit, and basically ended up just hanging out around the area for a little while. Some sights we saw were a few museums, the Heineken Brewery (from the outside, anyway), and most of the canal area. We then ended up taking the tram to Museum Square, which is the home of the famous “I Amsterdam” sign, where we got the obligatory picture taken. We mulled around there for a bit, although it was quite difficult to get anywhere, as much of the sidewalks were absolutely covered by a very hazardous layer of ice. We walked about the canals for awhile before heading back to the area near Centraal to get something to eat. It was at this point that it really dawned on us how odd the daylight hours are there. It was about 12:30pm local time, and the sun was very much setting, after having risen fully at about 9:30am. Apparently the Netherlands is much further north than I thought, and therefore they get much less daylight in the winter months. Near Centraal, our food options were relatively limited. We’d walked around a couple of Dutch food areas earlier, and the smell was very much enough to keep us from ever trying anything. That is not an exaggeration. I have never really found the smell of any food to be really bad, but sweet mother of god, was the smell of Dutch food simply unbearable. We settled on an Italian place, figuring how bad could it be, and while it was certainly fine, the “pizza” that we ordered was not, in fact pizza, but simply bread with some seasoning, a bit of cheese, and some salami. For 4 euro each. After eating, we mulled around a bit more near Centraal before deciding to head back to the airport to attempt to find somewhere to sleep (keep in mind, at this point it was about 4:00am CDT, and we hadn’t slept on the flight over). We took the train back to the airport, got off at the wrong stop, but quickly realized it and got back on the same train, before finally getting to the airport and passing out in a rest-type area for about 2.5 hours. We boarded our Boeing 747 to Tokyo, still incredibly tired. Dan’s seat ended up being Business Class, and mine was an exit row, giving me unlimited leg room, so that was quite nice.

Getting to Tokyo

December 26, 2009, 5:30 am CDT: Woke up this morning to catch the flight from Chicago to Minneapolis-St. Paul, 9:10 am flight. Went to pick up Dan at 6:30, arrived at O’Hare by about 7:15. Breezed right through security, got to the gate by about 7:40. Before leaving the house, I checked the flight status, and it said on-time for both flights. However, upon arriving at our gate, we were told it was delayed until 9:44. Not a huge deal, as our connection in MSP was 2 hours, so it still gave us about 90 minutes to make the connection. As the snow continued to fall onto the runway at O’Hare, the flight continued to be pushed back, eventually being settled at 10:32. This would be cutting it extremely close, giving us approximately 30 minutes in Minneapolis to get to our gate. Once we got on the plane (at about 10:30), we sat on the runway for a good hour and a half. Needless to say, we were damned sure we’d be missing our flight in Minneapolis, as it was noon by the time we took off, and our flight was scheduled to leave for Tokyo at 12:40. We got to MSP around 1:00 pm, and were informed that our flight to Tokyo had indeed departed. They’d already scheduled us to travel to Honolulu, arrive there around 9:30 pm local time, and depart at 9:00am the following day. We made it fairly clear that this was a pretty undesirable option, as we’d simply be spending 9 hours in a hotel (which the airline would not pay for, as the delay was weather related). They informed us that we could also do Minneapolis-Amsterdam, arriving at 6:40am local time, and depart Amsterdam for Tokyo at 5:40pm that evening, local time. This seemed like an excellent option, as it eliminated the need for a hotel in Amsterdam, and we could simply explore the city for about 7 hours before returning to the airport for the flight to Tokyo. A concern of ours, however, was the possibility of our luggage being lost, but the extraordinarily helpful gate agent did everything she could to make sure that didn’t happen (and lo and behold, our luggage arrived with us in Narita). It was settled then, we’d be leaving on a flight to Amsterdam in about 2 hours.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Welcome to the Blog

As many of you may know, I'll be going to Asia from December 26th until sometime in May-August. I'll likely not be on facebook or AIM much as I really don't want to be, so I'll be doing updates here. During my study abroad I'll be traveling around a bit to different parts of Asia (preferably Thailand, India, and perhaps Indonesia), so those trips will be written about here. Additionally, I'm trying to get an internship through the State Department during the summer, preferably in Tbilisi, Georgia, and will be finding out about that in the next month or so. If that ends up happening, I'll be flying directly from Hong Kong to Tbilisi after the semester, and returning to Chicago in early-mid August. If said internship doesn't happen, I'll likely travel through Asia for a few weeks, returning to Chicago just before the World Cup.

The first leg of this trip will be 11 days in Japan, beginning on December 26th, so I'll likely blog periodically when I'm there. I'll be heading from Tokyo to Hong Kong January 6th, and starting classes January 11th I believe, or whatever Monday is near that date.

So basically as I said, I'll be updating this blog with my activities in the Orient, so if you care to read it, hope you enjoy