Day Off in Osaka

Today was my first day off since returning to Japan.  I tried to make the most of it.  Waking up early to “enjoy” the ANA Crowne Plaza’s free breakfast, then running around the town trying to see as many sites as time would allow.

The heat slowed me down a bit, reaching 34c in the early afternoon.  I ducked underground a few times to enjoy the shade and cooler temps.  With so many metro lines cross-crossing the town, it’s not hard to find a spot to cool off.  And many of them have shops where you can pick up a cool beverage to rehydrate.  Just what you need on a day like this.

My first time using the metro was a breeze.  I found a machine outside the gate that sold me a pre-paid card.  Just put in 1,000/2,000/3,000 yen ($10/$20/$30) and it spits out a paper card with a magnetic stripe.  It’s quite similar to the system in Tokyo, complete with English instructions.

As per my usual routine in a new city, I had mapped out the route ahead of time using Google maps.  I don’t have a printer here, so I took down a few cheat notes.  All the lines and stations that I’d need for the trip today.  The metro signs are almost all in English, so really it’s quite simple.  The number of people using the trains might be a bit overwhelming for tourists here, but if you’ve been on the train daily through Shinjuku Station, the crowding on these trains won’t bother you a bit and perhaps you’ll even find some comfort in all the additional space.

Arriving at the Osaka Aquarium, you’ve got to walk past a small touristy mall to get to the main entrance.  You don’t have to go in, but of course, they want you to.  I bought my ticket and entered.  Upon entering the building, you go up a very tall escalator.  Reaching the top, I started to unpack my camera and set it up to take lots of (hopefully) cute fishy pictures.  Turning the camera on, my heart skipped a beat.  There was no memory card in the camera!  Ohhhhhh.  Blunder of blunders.  Here I am about 45 minutes away from the hotel.  The round trip to get a card and come back would be brutal.  I see a staff member and ask her if they sell cards in the shop downstairs.  It takes a few minutes to make her understand, but she gets it.  She says no, they don’t have any but there must be some for sale in the market that I had passed on the way in.  Perfect.  Then I see a sign that says “750m to exit”.  Yeah…  That’s a bit far.  I politely ask her if there is another way to, instead of walking through the entire maze-like aquarium.  She asks me to wait and starts to call people on the radio.  Next thing I know, I’m being escorted through the staff areas of the building.  In 2 minutes, I’m out the door with a hand-stamp to get me back in once I’ve bought a new card.

At the market, no dice.  I search high and low, finding many very interesting things including a petting zoo and the world’s largest ferris wheel, but no card.

Back at the aquarium I’ve no choice but to simply enjoy my time walking around with just a cellphone to take a few snapshots.  As it turned out, my Blackberry’s camera really surprised me.  I won’t spend a lot of time cleaning up the pictures, but I’ll post some of the better ones later.

Of all the aquariums and ‘oceanariums’ I’ve been to, this one is definitely in the top 5 worldwide.  They probably have the biggest main tank I’ve ever seen.  And their star attraction in that tank is a whale shark!!  Sadly on this day, it was receiving medical care in another part of facility.  But it gives you an idea about how big that tank is.

Leaving the aquarium I head back to the mall to take a closer look at that petting zoo.

In Tokyo there are quite a few ‘cat cafes’, and I even visited one to see what they’re all about.  Basically, if your lease forbids you to have pets in your tiny apartment, you can come to a cafe and pay an hourly fee to lounge around and play with their cats.  The one I visited had about 50 cats and plenty of space in a rather large multi-floor cafe.  And they didn’t make a bad cattuccino either (lol).

This petting zoo is a whole new level.  I didn’t go in, but I saw a half dozen cats and small dogs.  Then there are tortoises, rabbits, hares, several large I-don’t-know-what-that-is’s (look like a super guinea pig, but I really have no clue), an owl, a kangeroo and an iguana.  Wow.  Overload….  The Japanese have a reputation for being crazy and ‘over the top’.  I’d say they’ve earned it!!

I did ride the ferris wheel.  It’s not cheap at 800 yen ($8) a ride, but it did last quite a long time and you can sit in an all-transparent car for no extra charge.  They are only 4 of them, so the waiting can be long.  But they’ve got a transparent floor and seats.  It must be quite the experience.  I opted for the normal car and was able to walk right on.  Some that were waiting in the other line, were still waiting when I got off the ride.  Amazing views, I must say.  Osaka is a very large city, but it lacks the huge numbers of high-rises that Tokyo has.  It feels like a much smaller city than it really is.

[UPDATE:  Here are the pics from my camera phone.]

Back in Japan. Hello OSAKA!

I’ve just arrived at the ANA Crown Plaza hotel in Osaka, Japan.  It’s been about 2 months since I was in Tokyo.  After the trip, I could not stop talking about it.  I’m very excited to be back!!

First off, I’d like to thank LUFTHANSA.  I’m sure that this is going to sound like a paid advert, but it’s not.  Honest!  I am a loyal client because they have the best onboard service, period!  Other airlines may have nicer interior layouts/seating (the OLD tiny video screens do need to go guys.  Let’s speed up the rollout of the seatback upgrades) but what can really make or break your onboard experience is the attitude and service provided by the onboard staff.  Don’t understand what I mean?  Take a flight on TAM sometimes.  Their “attitude” is downright embarrassing.  You’ll feel guilty for asking for anything.  And then you probably won’t get it.  Lufthansa staff are the tops in my book, time after time after time.  Great job guys and gals!!

Having spent just a few hours wandering around Osaka, what do I notice that’s different from Tokyo?  Oddly enough, the way people walk.  In most countries, the flow of pedestrians matches the flow of car travel.  If they drive on the right, people tend to walk on the right side of the sidewalk.  In Tokyo, this follows true.  They drive on the left and people walk on the left.  In Osaka, they walk on the RIGHT.  Wtf?  I’ve found myself constantly bumping into people because I’m on the wrong side.  How did that get started?

Time to head out and find some Ramen.  I can’t wait!!!!!



 

Lufthansa Senator Perks, My Business Trip to Montreal

After a busy couple of weeks, I think things should slow down a bit now.  Of course, that rarely happens.  Just the lull between the storms generally.

I’d like to thank Lufthansa for getting me to Montreal and back in comfort.  Even though I fly more miles than some birds, I’m normally stuffed into economy (‘Cattle-class’).  Fortunately, as a Lufthansa “Senator” they do provide me some perks.  I’d like to highlight some of those today:

  • Free seat reservation
  • Reserved section at the front of economy for Senators
  • Access to the First Class line at Check-In
  • Extra baggage allowance
  • Priority lane at the security check, most airports (This can save HOURS!)
  • Senator/Star Alliance Gold lounge access w/free snacks and drinks
  • Priority boarding, *before* the business class passengers
  • Priority luggage handling

 

They’ve also recently started to greet me on the airplane, by name.  After takeoff, the flight’s purser (boss of the flight attendants) usually comes around and introduces themselves, asking if there is anything they can do, bla bla bla.  It costs them nothing, but it’s a really nice gesture.  Sometimes the flight attendant in my section even remembers my name and uses it during the entire flight.  It really does make you feel like a celebrity.  The people around you definitely pay attention.  Should they know you?  Are you famous?  Hmmm….

On my flight to Montreal, they upped their game one more notch:  They brought me a gift.  A limited edition World Cup travel bag with an assortment of toiletries inside.  Perfect!  As well I had an empty seat beside me.  Sitting in a bulkhead seat, I had quite a bit of space.  Now if only that idiot behind me would stop punching the touchscreen, I might have even slept a bit.

 

Lufthansa World Cup Limited Edition bag

 

 

On my return flight, I was anxious to see if they’d repeat the gift-giving.  The bag is quite nice, but surely can’t cost them very much when they’re buying in bulk.

This flight was crowded.  Completely sold out.  I again had gotten a bulkhead seat (advantages to selecting your seat early).  The gentleman seated beside me though had firmly planted his feet against the wall as soon as he sat down, as well as grabbing the centre armrest.  Naturally, he was asleep before takeoff.  I guessed that this flight I’d be trapped in my seat for the whole flight, with less than the usual ‘personal space’.  Great.  Just great!  But I was wrong.

When the purser arrived for their usual welcome speech, I got two surprises.  One, no gift.  I was a bit bummed that they had arrived empty-handed.  Two, at the end of the little speech, they asked “Would you like to sit in Business Class today?”  Does a duck like water??  Heck yes!!  “Follow me” she said.  To the ends of the Earth, I thought.  Lead the way!!

My seatmate had been woken up by our little conversation, you should have seen the look on his face as I began gathering up my things.  Eyes bulging out, mouth open.  I could have laughed out loud.

The thing I love the most about being a Senator:  You can’t buy your way in.  You have to fly the miles.  To get these benefits, you have to earn them.  And earned them, I have:

In the past 15 months, I’ve flown 196,000 km.  Since all my work will buy is economy class tickets, that means I’ve spent 11 DAYS 3 hrs 50 min stuffed into the ‘back of the bus’.  Given the chance to sit up front and relax with some space, you’d better believe I’m gonna do it.  And no be shy about it.

Oh and what was waiting for me in the business class seat:  Another gift bag. GOOOOOAAAALLLLL.

 

Antique Prison Wooden Cart

Wooden cart

 

Strolling around the streets of Cesky Krumlov, I found this unusual object.  It appears to be a wooden cart used to transport prisoners, perhaps being pulled by horses.  I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that it didn’t have steel bars to save weight for the poor horses that had to pull it.

It looks sturdy enough!  the wood is very hard and thick.  Not an easy thing to build, I’m sure.

 

 

Every Country? But NOT by Airplane? Amazing!!

Someone just sent me an article about a guy that has visited every country (yes, all 201).  And get this… *without* using a plane.  He’s also the Guinness World Record holder for the number of countries visited in a single year (they must mean individual countries with no repeats or I’d have a shot at this one!)

His blog articles about his adventures to every country are a great read:  The Odyssey Expedition

This has got me wondering how many I’ve visited.  I do travel quite a bit, for work and pleasure.  What’s my number?  So I sat down to count.  Here’s my list, by region:

 

Oceania

  1. Australia
  2. New Zealand
  3. Hong Kong
  4. Macau

South America

  1. Colombia
  2. Brazil

The Caribbean

  1. Barbados
  2. Martinique
  3. Dominica
  4. St. Martin/Sint Maarten
  5. British Virgin Islands
  6. US Virgin Islands
  7. Dominican Republic
  8. Jamaica

Central & North America

  1. Mexico
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Panama
  4. Belize
  5. USA
  6. Bahamas
  7. Conch Republic
  8. Cuba
  9. Canada

Middle East & Asia

  1. UAE
  2. China
  3. South Korea
  4. Japan
  5. Thailand
  6. Singapore
  7. Indonesia

Europe

  1. Netherlands
  2. Belgium
  3. France
  4. England
  5. Germany
  6. Sweden
  7. Norway
  8. Finland
  9. Estonia
  10. Russia
  11. Poland
  12. Czech Republic
  13. Slovakia
  14. Hungary
  15. Croatia
  16. Slovenia
  17. Austria
  18. Switzerland
  19. Italy
  20. Andorra
  21. Spain
  22. Portugal

Africa

(Sadly, NONE)

                         

TOTAL  52

 

If you’re looking at this list and shaking your head a bit don’t worry, so am I.  I’ve copied this from the website mentioned above.  Some of these countries are definitely disputable (like the Conch Republic.  Also called Key West, FL.)  and others are grouped strangely (Cuba as part of Central America?) but this is the “official” list, so I’ll play by their rules.

By my count, I’ve been to 52 countries.  Wow.  No wonder I feel tired!  Africa, I’m afraid I need to apologize.  I’ve never visited you.  In order to tick off my ‘bucket list’ to visit every country, we’re going to have to meet and spend some quality time together.

In the comments section, please write how many you’ve been to.  And don’t be shy if your answer is only ONE, we all have to start somewhere and I think it’s motivating as well.  Get out there and explore!!

 

Two Versions of the Same River Panorama

Dark and stormy Church web Daylight Church web

While shooting the Flixel that I posted yesterday (Click HERE to see it.)  With the church sitting so high above the waterfall, I thought it would make an excellent location for a river panorama shot.

I set up my tripod and begain snapping away, taking a lot more pictures than normal because I thought it would help the stitching software perform better.  It did. It’s not perfect (as you can see the windows of the church are not parallel, as they should be), but all in all a pretty good picture.

While processing the picture in Photoshop, I decided to see what it would like like in Black and White.  WOW.  Completely blown away by how different these pictures are.  I’ll post both of them so you too can see.

The B&W shot seems to show a really sinister DARK outlook.  The colour shot shows none of this negativity.  They are worlds apart in my eye.

 

Flixel Experiment, part 2

 

 

Here’s my latest work on the subject of “Flixel” Pictures.  (Click HERE if you missed the first blog post about it.)

I’ve tried a few other shots, but they didn’t quite seem to work out the way I had planned.  This one at least is what I consider to be passable.  Not really what I was going for (as the rafters are blurry), but close enough.

As I was setting up the tripod to get this shot, canoe after canoe, raft after raft passed me by.  Probably 20 in all.  I though to myself ‘oh, this is gonna be easy.’  No such luck.  As soon as I’d set everything up, nothing.  Absolutely no boats on the river at all.  I waited nearly an hour.  The spot I’d chosen was a little precarious as well.  No real danger to me, so long as I was careful not to step into the river.  But while I was waiting, a couple of people decided to go swimming just behind me.  A couple of people and their large DOG, I should say.  At one point he ran right under the tripod.  I had visions of seeing the camera making a nice ‘splash’ as it went in the water.  Luckily, he didn’t even bump it.  Whew….

I also met a nice lady from Vancouver, Canada.  She too wanted to take a picture of the rafts coming down the chute.  While we waited together, she told me all about her organized trip around Europe.  Her first time and she was having a ball.

Anyway, I hope you like the picture!
Flixel cinemagraph

Flixel Experiment

Trying a new form of photography/video that I just found out about.  So new, in fact that people can’t agree on what to call it.  Some are calling it “FLIXEL”, “Living Photography” or “Cinemagraphy”.

You start with a video clip, then select a single still frame from that movie.  Then you select what objects you’d like to ‘freeze’ and what you’d like to move.  Then you export the final product.

It was already dark when I learned about this technique or I’d have been running outside to make a movie of something, anything really, that had some motion in it.  What I ended up doing was taking an old video clip that I’d long ago forgotten about and trying to use that.  The original clip shows a crowded street crossing in Mexico, with tons of people coming and going.  I picked a frame with lots of people in it and made that my ‘base’ image.  Then I selected an area where I would allow things to move.  I picked the countdown timer (which has a very cool running man image) and some papers blowing in the wind on the left side.  With a few mouseclicks, I was able to produce this.  Perhaps when you see the result, you’ll understand better.

Sadly, the video is watermarked because of it’s ‘trial’ nature.  But you should still be able to see what it’s all about.

PLEASE WAIT – The image will take some time to load.  If you don’t see motion, it’s not done!

And then check my Second Flixel Experiment HERE.

 

Flixel of traffic crossing

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