Back at STR. End of Asia 2012.
Only having two days in Istanbul has it’s up- and it’s downsides. A major downside is of course the lack of time – you cannot see nearly enough of a huge city like this. The upside of this is, you can make some easy choices on what to see. There are a few major tourist sites that are fast to get to, so just pick the most important and/or most interesting ones.
For today, we picked Hagia Sophia and the Topkapı Palace, since both are just a few walking minutes away from our hotel. Hagia Sophia a museum, that was a mosque, which is actually a church in the beginning. An amazing place. There you are walking over marble that has been there for centuries or even over a millennium – and you can actually see that, since it’s quite worn, for example, the spots where the guards stood have deep moles. And the craftsmanship that has been put into this whole building is amazing.
While we got into the Hagia Sophia quite fast, we had to stand a while longer in line for the Topkapı Palace. We even had to wait in line inside the palace to see some areas. Actually it was so full of people, that it was quite annoying at some places. Anyway, a lot of interesting architecture (never knew they were so fond of decorating their walls with tiles) and treasures. We also visited the Harem, but for some reason it did not completely live up to my expectations. Also a wonderful park there, where kids chase seagulls (give them a weapon and train then to hunt down doves… just joking… but then again….).
But let’s get back to annoying people. What is it with people these days? Everyone is just taking pictures of the sites and themselves there – but no one is really looking at it. I could observe that for a while at a certain observation point. My idea was just to take a few pictures and then enjoy the view over the Bosphorus. Well, that didn’t work out as planned. First, I was just taking my second photo, when I got shoved aside, because some lady wanted to take a picture of herself there. After I was done with my forth picture, I got asked to take a picture of a couple (with an iPhone, which didn’t take anything close to a good photo), which I did after finishing my last shot. Now, after that it was impossible to get back o any place where I could enjoy the view a bit more. I had to take a few more pictures of and for strangers, but that’s been it, since everyone was shoving around anyone and before I would start bludgeoning people with my camera, I decided to sit in a corner and observe the people. And yes, my hypothesis was correct, no one really did enjoy the view. And this wasn’t the only place where that happened. Well, why see the interesting things with your own eyes, when you can take a picture and look at it later – because that totally is the same thing. Bah, humans…
Leaving Japan was no problem, the flight was swift, the food okay and we had a quite new entertainment system, that allowed us to watch the movies in 16:9/10.
We arrived in Istanbul. No problem getting into the country, only the long wait for our baggage was a bit annoying. For some reason they were not as fast as we’re used to that. Since we ordered a shuttle service, we were greeted with a sign – nice for a change. After that we were driven at high speed (like 70-100 km/h, depending on the traffic) through Istanbul and arrived at our hotel in just half an hour. Nice place, very close to the main tourist sites. Let’s see what we can check out in the next two days.
We managed to catch our NEX, arrived at the airport, checked our baggage (17.3 out of the allowed 23kg for me this time) and passed security (without any incident this time). Now we are sitting at Gate 34 and the waiting game begins again.
At least they have free Wifi here now. So I can actually publish this without shelling out the equivalent of 5 EUR like last time (though that was still very cheap compared to what they wanted at London Heathrow).
So, that’s been it – the last two days in Japan and our trip is drawing closer to an end.
Yesterday we explored the bay area. While getting there, we found some place between the skyscrapers, where classic bronze statues of harp playing nymphs and colorful rough shaped plastic figures in submissive positions coexist. There is also a steam punk like clock (Miyazaki Clock), which is actually a cafe of some sort. This city never ceases to amaze us.
Over on the artificial island of Obaida is a large recreation area at the beach. Well, at least they call it a recreation area, though it is forbidden to walk around smoking (but okay to smoke at cafes or other designated places with a lot of passerbys), go swimming or play games. We tried to capture the sunset there, yet again the clouds didn’t play along. On the way back we could at least snap a few pictures of the nightly skyline. I want to stress the few, because we walked over the bay over the rainbow bridge (not in rainbow colors then), but because there was all this traffic and all that wind, it was impossible to have a moment where you could have the camera steady enough to make a photo that takes a larger fraction of a second.
But today we left our camera equipment in the hotel, because we wanted to be prepared for a lot of standing around: Sushi breakfast at the Tsukiji fish market! Okay, after waiting two and a half hour in line (well, last time it was a line – this time there was also a line for that line) it was more of a brunch. But worth it – 3,900 Yen and worth every single Yen and every minute waited. This really spoils you, because once you taste the real deal, nothing you get at home can keep up. (At least in our case, living in a German area over 500 km away from the sea.) After some souvenir shopping, that’s been about it for the day.
Now we’re back at the hotel, got most of our stuff packed, tickets printed and some having some meager dinner. Tomorrow morning we will have to board the plane and leave the country. Then we will have a brief stop in Istanbul to cure of our jet lag, have some Kahve and of course see that magnificent city.
Well, according to the weather forecast, that’s been it with the good weather. Today in particular was rainy (and the next two days are supposed to be at least cloudy). Not having a real plan on how to deal with that, we just hopped onto the train, rode a few stations, got some caches and got back. Back to Ueno that is, since we spotted the Hard Rock Cafe shop there – which magically transformed money into t-shirts.
Let me use this quite empty blog post to write about something different. Some of you might have noticed, that we didn’t use a particular word since we left Seoul – and that word is coffee. The reason is simple, one does not simply find good coffee in Tokyo. Oh, it’s not like they have no coffee shops, but those are almost all franchised shops – just like Starbucks – that serve you overpriced caffeine-pops. It’s not like their stuff is bad, but then again, it’s not what we are looking for and we just don’t go to those places, if we don’t have to. Our regular dose of caffeine rather comes from the source you see on the photo here. Something I’d never even dare to touch back in Germany. But here it’s cheap, doesn’t taste half as bad and is easily available.
Anyway, after being a bit disappointed by the Skytree rip-off yesterday, we decided to have a coffee there to brighten our moods, since the coffee bar seemed acceptable. Wasn’t bad, wasn’t our most expensive cappuccino ever (that place is taken by a mall café in Kobe with 7 euro-bucks in 2010), but not really satisfying. (In the background of the photo you can see Tokyo at night.) So there’s something we can look forward to for the time back in Germany: Decent coffee! But I also have my hopes up for some Kahve in Istanbul.
Today’s mission sounded easy: Visit the new Tokyo Skytree. We arrived at Ueno (the closest JR station) and decided against taking the metro to the Skytree and preferred to walk there, so we could see more of the city while also grabbing a cache or two.
The walk to the Skytree was quite nice, found some temples and an area that is obsessed with kappa (some shinto water god/demon that’s half human, half other creatures, mostly turtle). The story behind this is, that a merchant named Kappaya invested in water management for this area and since his name is somewhat homophone with the water creature… well you get the idea. There’s even a golden statue of a kappa (not of Kappaya).
But let’s cut to today’s main story. So we arrived at the Skytree around 14:00 and wanted to get some tickets. But that ain’t easy, folks. After walking around a bit and trying to interpret the Japanese signs, we figured out with the help of some guides, that we can’t buy the tickets to go up to the tower – at least not yet. We were given waiting tickets, that indicated at which time we were allowed to enter the lobby to buy tickets… 18:30. And this is how it really works. You stand in line to get a waiting ticket, that will allow you to stand in a line to enter the lobby at a certain time (in our case several hours in the future). There you stand in a line again to buy the tickets that you need to actually go up the Skytree (for which you need to stand in line for the elevator, of course). Well, at least you can go to the lower observation decks. If you want to go to the upper decks, you gotta go to the lower one first, stand in line there and buy a ticket, so you can stand in line to go up to the upper observation decks. Confusing? Well, you didn’t have to go through this personally.
To make things worse, even though it’s Monday, half of Japan has nothing better to do than go onto the same tower – so it’s quite crowded at the observation decks, making the observation part quite hard, not to mention the photography part. That had it’s own difficulties., like the fact that you you’re not supposed to reach the windows, meaning that you either extend yourself quite a bit till your camera can touch the windows – or that your photographs will have a lot of reflections. The weather was okay, but not perfect, so we couldn’t get the photos we were hoping for. And to finish the that whole stuff, here are the numbers. Going to the lower observation decks: 2,000 Yen. Going to the upper observation decks: Additional 1,000 Yen. Oh, speaking of money. No need to worry about the time you have to spend waiting, since they have numerous shops and restaurants, so you can spend the time spending a lot of it. The whole thing is a bit of a rip-off. We assume that the whole tower will have redeemed itself in one year.
Two years ago – being in Japan – we wanted to see Mount Fuji, of course. Unfortunately on that day, the weather wasn’t very clear – in fact it was even drizzling a bit, so we couldn’t see Fuji-san at all.
Fast forward to today! We checked the weather, knew which route we wanted to take (there was a little navigational problem last time so we made two trips back then) and were ready to go. This trip included about all means of railway locomotion. Local trains, the Shinkansen, some old mountain train (that goes back and forth on the face of the mountain), a cable car and in the end even a ropeway (no railway, I know). It took almost four hours (and lots of money) to get to a spot from where we could see Fuji-san and these four hours are really long when the means of transportation are slow as hell.
Speaking of hell, that’s a nickname of our final destination: Hell Valley. But the correct name of the location is Ōwakudani (Great Boiling Valley). The name comes from the hot springs and sulfur vents there, which give the place a distinguishing smell. Those sulfur rich hot springs are used for the local specialty: Kuro Tamago – black eggs. Yes, these hard boiled eggs really have a black shell. And yes, we tried them. No big difference to regular eggs, but it is said that you live longer if you eat them, but it is not recommended to eat more than two, according to the legend (a legend we suspect has been brought up by the local black egg industry). Well, I still got two eggs left, so I guess this two-egg counter either resets tonight or I will have to suffer the consequences after tomorrows breakfast. And inspired by those black eggs, you can find a lot of other black themed snack (some of which magically found the way to Tokyo).
Oh and yes, we did see Mount Fuji. What a view! Once the ropeway got over a small hill and you could see Fuji-san for the first time, the whole cabin was up in awe and joy.
Since we weren’t really sure about today’s weather, we went to Yokohama – another metropolis near Tokyo. A really nice city, though you sometimes get the feeling it’s a huge shopping district with an amusement area (kinda like Kobe). Not that we complain, got us some nice photos. Especially from the Landmark Tower (highest building in Japan) once it got dark.
We even got a glimpse of Mount Fuji at sunset from up there. Hopefully we’ll see more of it soon and closer up. Of course it’s not just shopping and amusement there. Also nice parks, the sea, the scenery… well, you get the drift. We explored it while getting some easy caches and filling up our lungs with sea breeze. And in it’s own flooded dry dock lies the Nippon Maru (I) – former school ship, now a museum – strangely adding itself to the mix.
As you’ve obviously noticed, there wasn’t a blog yesterday. So, today you get two for the price of one! Don’t say we don’t spoil you.
Anyway, yesterday we arrived in Toyko – which was only a three hour train ride, mostly on the Shinkansen. We found the way back to our hotel mostly by bits of memory from our last stay (but had the GPS ready just to be safe). After checking in, checking the room and checking mails, we started a small tour to check the neighborhood. Not much changed, as far as we could tell with all the rain. But we already had our first target anyway: The GPS Store, which was also supposed to have geocaching stuff – and we were in need of some trackables. That gave us our first new experience with the Tokyo rush hour. Whoever is working on data-compression algorithms, should check the trains in Tokyo and learn something (if that’s how to or how to not, is up to them). We found the shop, got our geo coins and that was about it for the day, except dining on Curry.
Today we expected some cloudy weather, so instead of heading to a major location (which all need clear weather for a good sight) we started exploring the town with geocaching. It led us through the urban Tokyo (which surprisingly looked almost rural in some areas), some parks and the usual stuff (but no food this time). It was nice walking through Tokyo again and we will enjoy the in the next few days as well. We just have to figure out when we’ll do what, since the weather isn’t very stable.
On a personal note, a very important stop was at the end of the day: Shopping at a 100 Yen shop, where everything costs 100 Yen (duh) plus 5% taxes. Important because my jeans started to rip at the knee and I needed to fix this. It’s really amazing what stuff you find in those shops, really about anything to start a household and more. But we already learned from another 100 Yen shop that not everything is cheap. While a bottle of Calpis was 88 Yen in a high class super market in Naha, it did – of course – cost 100 Yen at the 100 Yen shop a little to the north. Anyway, we got everything we needed and more, so I could stitch up those jeans while the rest of our dirty cloths were spinning around to get clean and dry.