Kyoto Panorama Photo (Japan, 2014)

<– Part 1 of Kyoto

<– Part 2 of Kyoto

My last day in Kyoto I decided to try and visit one last temple before catching the train back to Osaka.  Just a short distance from my hotel, it would be an easy way to kill a few hours.  I walked to the temple in staggering heat.  When I arrived I was only focused on finding water and a shady spot to sit.  I guess my trip to the temple was wasted.  I didn’t even have the desire to take photos.  Nearing 40c, it was just too hot.

I decided to head underground where it’s cool, even if not air conditioned.  The perfect place would be the train.  I needed to get to the main station to get back to Osaka anyways, so I started heading there.

Catching the metro was easy enough.  I’d passed the station earlier, so I knew exactly where it was.  Buying a ticket was a no-brainer as the pre-paid card I already had was good for this line.  I waited at the platform for a few minutes and hopped on the first train that arrived.  It was then that my jaw hit the floor.  I had stumbled upon a “Limited Express” train.  This train makes very few stops, hence the name.  To make things more comfortable, this car had plush deeply padded seats arranged in a way that you’d expect in business class on an airline.  Only 3 seats per row, and not very many rows.  Lots of space and comfort!

I found a seat and as the train started to move, the joy I had felt quickly turned to panic:  What if this train wasn’t going to stop where I wanted?  Would I be taken past my destination?  Would I end up in the next TOWN?

There were diagrams of the train’s route above every door.  I was able to see in a few seconds that yes, I would be alright.  The train would stop where I wanted to change trains.  What a relief!

In just a couple of minutes, I left my far-too-comfortable seat and got off at my stop.  I knew I had to change train lines, but since I had never been to this station before, I didn’t know where to go.  I started looking for signs.  In short order I was where I needed to be, or at least where I thought that was.

A train soon appeared and quickly passed through the station without stopping.  An exress, I figured.  Then another appeared, but this one didn’t go to Kyoto Station, where I was heading.  The next one and the next too were not heading there.  I guessed that something was wrong.  Did I get off at the wrong stop?

I found an employee at the station entrance and asked as best I could how to get to Kyoto Station.  He told me “JR Line”.  JR is a private company that has a vast rail network in Japan.  He also said “Station that way” and pointed  over his shoulder.  I thanked him and headed off.

Exiting the station, I found myself facing an entrance to the “next station”.  My pre-paid card doesn’t work on the JR line, so I was forced to buy another ticket to take this train.  The trains really are cheap, so I didn’t mind too much.  Entering the JR station, I looked around.  Not only was I 10 feet from where I had started, I was on the *same platform*.  They’ve built a wall down the middle of the platform and given the new “station” it’s own name.  Wow.

Once at the main station, I bought a ticket and asked when the next train to Osaka was.  “In 8 minutes or 1 hour and 8 minutes”.  I asked for the later train.  I was hungry and wanted to find some Ramen or maybe a few dumplings.

Kyoto station is not extremely large in size, but it is a VERY tall glass structure.  I wanted to take a photo of roof from a high vantage point, so I began to look around.  Riding an escalator up one level, I saw a sign pointing to “Skywalk”.  It led me to another escalator and another and another until I was at the very top of the roof.  The entire length of the station has a glassed in catwalk.  It’s not that great for viewing the station itself, but you can find a really nice view of Kyoto from up there.  Before heading down to the 8th floor, where 5 Ramen shops were waiting, I decided to try a panorama shot.

Here it is (and it’s BIG, so it may take some time to load):

 

Kyoto Panorama Photo  from Main train station

Photos from Kyoto, Japan (part 2)

Here’s part 2 of my pictures from Kyoto.  As stated previously, they’re a bit random!  I really just wandered around the town and stopped whenever I saw something interesting.

There are over 1,400 temples and shrines in this small town so it’s really not hard to find something to shoot.  And even the tiny houses are often made from a very photogenic wood.  I just wish I’d had more time to explore.  I guess that’s a great excuse to go back one day!

Enjoy the pics, and please write in the comments which one is YOUR favourite:

<–  Read 24 Hours in Kyoto Part 1

Kawa Coffee – Kyoto, Japan

After leaving the Imperial palace grounds in Kyoto, I discovered the “Kawa Coffee” cafe, just across the street from the South East entrance.

 

 

I’m always up for a hot cup of coffee, even on a scorchingly hot day like today, when most would prefer it iced.  The name also intrigued me.  In Polish, “KAWA” (pronounced Ka-Va) means COFFEE.  So I read this as ‘coffee coffee’, which seems quite funny!  I was sure that a Polish person was running the shop.   I had to investigate!!

Once inside, I was greeted by the owner, who I quickly realized was not Polish.  Instead he’s a craftsman of fine leather products.  In addition to running the cafe, he also makes and sells these products.

Kawa Coffee cafe interior

After placing my order for a pourover coffee and some delicious sweet beans on toast, I spent some time with the owner.  His level of English is about on par with my Japanese.  Pretty much ZERO.  With the aid of Google Translate, I told him about the ‘coffee coffee’ Polish/English name.  He laughed and told me that he wasn’t aware of this when he named the store.  He simply wrote the English sound to the word Leather, which in Japanese is Kawa.

It took some time, but it was a slow day with few customers.  We spent half an hour “talking” about various things.  Why I came to Japan, how long he’d been in business, etc. etc.  Quite a good experience, but typical of all the stories I’ve heard from friends spending time in Japan.  Initially a bit shy, the Japanese open up quite quickly and before you know it, you’re having a laugh and sharing stories as if you were long lost friends.  (I’m told that alcohol consumption speeds up this process.)

I’ve got to spend more time in this country!

If you’re in Kyoto, you’ve got to go to the Imperial Palace.  And if you’re going to the Palace, why not stop by and have a coffee at the Kawa Coffee cafe?

<–  Previous article “24 hours in Kyoto”

 

Cloud Time Lapse Video, Osaka, Japan

The weather has been dismal here lately.  The sweltering heat has been replaced by thick clouds, even stronger humidity and rain.  Our close proximity to a recent tropical storm has blessed us with a bit of wind.  Yes, I’m thankful for it as it’s the only relief from the humidity.

The air has been so thick that I even took off my raincoat in the rain because I was soaked anyways.  At least the rain doesn’t leave your clothes smelling bad.

Today we saw the first blue sky in quite some time as the storm has now passed.  I set up my tripod and took this time lapse video while I was away.  The glass didn’t reflect light very much, so the video turned out pretty well.

Be sure to look at the upper right corner of the video near the end.  You’ll see some very high clouds moving a completely different direction than the others.  Messed up weather!!

In a few days time, the Typhoon Halong is due to hit us.  The skies are grey once again.  Let’s hope the storm dies out before it gets here.  I’ve only got a few more days left on this trip to Japan.  I’d really like to get outside and enjoy them.  Wish me luck!

Enjoy the video!

 

24 Hours in Kyoto, Travel Photography

I’m recently back from a quick trip to Kyoto, I’m madly rushing to get the photos ready to show you.

This trip happened really last-minute, so there wasn’t much time for planning and I decided to just “go with the flow”.  Most of my time in Kyoto was spent just wandering around the streets, seeing what I could find.  Several times I went back to revisit sites that I’d found earlier, but with better light.  But Lady Luck was kind and presented me with plenty of good photo opportunities.  Sometimes she’s good that way, sometimes she’s not.

This first group of pictures are all from the area directly around the Imperial Palace in Kyoto.  No tickets were available to tour inside the palace grounds, but the park and surrounding area are quite beautiful.

If you know what type of bird (stork or crane) is in the pictures, please write it in the comments.  I’ve never seen a bird behave so strangely.  It seemed like it was trying to tan the underside of it’s wings.  On a blisteringly hot day, it seemed to be trying to get MORE heat from the sun.  Crazy!  But the turtles below the bird were enjoying the shade…

 

 

Read the next blog post “Kawa Coffee cafe, Kyoto” –>

Osaka Travel Photography

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.

 

 

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