Last Christmas, I gave my parents a trip to China (and back!) as a Christmas gift. We couldn’t afford going abroad when I was a child (except for that one time in 1991 when we had saved up enough to go to Spain for a week, by bus) so I wanted to take them now instead along with my lovely wife.
About a month ago it was time for the actual trip. We mostly stayed in Xi’an, the first capital of China, but took day trips to other places.
Here, it’s easier if I just show you…
All in all, it was a very interesting trip. There is a radical difference in cleanliness, culture and people’s behavior compared to e.g. Japan.
For one thing, we were constantly photographed by strangers. Some additional facts may have contributed to this though. This will take some explaining, so please bear with me;
We went to several places where we didn’t see any other westerners, or only very few – the ones we did see were pretty much all in their 20-30’s, carrying backpacks and cameras. We stood out from the crowd even in the cities for several reasons:
We didn’t see any older westerners (40+).
We hardly saw any people with white, or even gray hair.
We hardly saw anybody with facial hair other than a thin mustache, and nobody with a full beard.
We didn’t see anyone with visible tattoos – 75% of our group had very visible tattoos on our arms.
We also went to China during the Qingming Festival, a holiday for honoring the dead, but also a time where many are traveling. A lot of people from the countryside go to visit their friends and relatives in other cities, this can be the only time of year where they leave the immediate surroundings of their villages. It appeared as if many of them had never seen westerners before, at least not like us. Some days perhaps 20 people came up and wanted to take selfies with us, but mostly people just took pictures or started filming us without asking for permission. It even happened that while we were sitting on a bench, parents came up and put their children in our laps to take pictures of us together as if we were a tourist attraction. I don’t mind people taking the occasional picture of me, but that was a bit much. This behavior was much more visible when going outside the cities to more distant areas such as on Song Mountain, Shaolin and Lóngmén shíkū. Though it did become more amusing when I started playing a game – when I saw someone take a picture of me or anyone in my company, I pulled out my camera an took a picture of them as well. Often I only had a second or so to take the photo before the people started reacting and sometimes hiding their faces. People who wanted to take selfies with me using their phones & cameras seemed absolutely puzzled when I instead took a picture with mine (though I always did let them take one as well). But it gave us all a few laughs.
Me and my wife have been to Tokyo twice now, and I am still enchanted by this fantastic city. I miss it and have no doubt that I will return to it later in life.
I want to share a few of the things that I like about it. What you can’t see in the photos is how extremely friendly everyone is; not just the people trying to sell you things, but strangers in the street who will go out of their way to help you in any way they can.
And it’s clean. I mean really clean. If anyone sees a candy wrapper on the street, they pick it up and bring it with them until they find a trash can. This doesn’t happen very often in Stockholm.
Anyway, here are a few of my favorite things about Tokyo. Click to enlarge:
This photo was taken from the bar on the 41st floor in the Park Hyatt hotel. This is the bar where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson meet in Lost in Translation.
I can’t put my finger as of why, but I really like walking around the streets of Tokyo at night. It might be that I feel completely safe and can relax.
It turns out that Godzilla is real.
A close-up of Godzilla. Nicely done, Godzilla-game-for-PS4-marketing team!
Parallell to the main streets, things slow down a bit. But these stores and restaurants are often more enjoyable that the ones on the main streets.
The back alleys are often filled with hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Highly recommended if you have a limited budget and/or want a more genuine culinary experience.
As in all big cities, the buildings are crawling with ninjas.
This is adorable.
This is not… quite as adorable, but definitively different.
Outside a small restaurant in a remote back street.
This should be implemented world wide! Smoking in Tokyo is prohibited on most (all?) streets. Aside from the obvious health benefits for both first- and second-hand smokers, it also helps keep the streets and sidewalks clean from cigarette butts.
The food is so good! Well, most of it anyway. I tried to eat something I’ve never tried at least once a day, and not everything was a jackpot. But sushi, udon and the other “classic Japanese” dishes are superb (as you can see from my wive’s expression).
Found in a bakery/candy shop. I think the picture speaks for itself.
The Engrish was actually not as widespread as I hade expected, but did see it a couple of times a day.
Japanese toilets are crazy, often with built-in automatically extending bidet arms with multiple spray modes and water temperatures. And built-in air driers. The really good ones practically eliminates the need for toilet paper.
The guest bathroom in a coffee shop in a suburb, way off any major street, gave me this experience:
I enter the room and the lights turns on automatically.
I approach the toilet, and the lid opens automatically.
When I sit down, I notice the porcelain ring is not cold as I expected, as it has a built-in heater adjusted to about the same temperature as my skin.
Sitting down also activates the sound system which plays nature sounds with gentle streams and babbling brooks, teamed with rustling leaves and singing birds.
After I’m done and get up, the lid closes automatically and proceeds with flushing and self-sanitizing.
Sensors at the sink activates the soap dispenser and water tap when I simply hold my hands under them.
The airblade hand dryer also activates when simply putting your hands in it.
Aside from opening and closing the door, I never had to touch any buttons, handles or lids with my hands.
Far from everyone walks around like this, but it’s not uncommon.
This is more common than the kimono getup, at least in the Harajuku district.
Street performances, festivals and other celebratory events seemed to happen almost every day.
Being big in Japan was fun. 🙂
You see a lot of scooters in Tokyo, and hardly any European or American motorcycles. But I did find this beauty from Spice Motorcycles.
Despite being on the other end of the biker scope, this guy still managed to stay (sort of) cool.
Often crammed in between large buildings, these tiny shrines could be found every now and then.
Larger shrines can also be seen here and there. This one in Ueno Park houses a flame that was taken from the burning ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (later merged into a single flame). It has been burning ever since the atomic bombs were detonated over the two cities in 1945.
From small to huge, the temples are plenty.
The 5-story Kan’ei-ji pagoda was built in 1631, rebuilt 1639 after a fire, and still stands today.
Wedding ring in titanium with a diamond seen.
The absolute serenity of this cemetery was stunning. We came to see a single, specific grave, but couldn’t help but walk around among the others as well.
This is the grave of the real Hattori Hanzō. Not the fictional sword maker from Kill Bill, but the real-life ninja, samurai and general that helped Tokugawa Ieyasu become the ruler of a united Japan in the 1500’s.
Even in the middle of a city with more than 35 million citizens, nature like this exists.
Got to love the parks. Beauty and stillness unlike anything I have ever seen in a large city. This was a fairly short walk from our hotel near Shinjuku station – which is used by about 4 million people per day.
We also found turtles! I think this is Donatello.
Call me sappy, but the best part of these trips to Tokyo was that I got to share them with my wife.
The last week I’ve been in Rome, Italy. Monday to Friday I’ve lived in Frascati and worked in Morena, and during the weekend I’ve stayed near Termini in central Rome together with M.
Frascati was okay, I guess. Small, worn down but not completely without charm. We found one good restaurant there with both good food and nice staff.
Work went well and the clients appeared very happy with my part, so no worries there.
The bad and the ugly
Going into central Rome, I realized that the worn down thing was not specific to the suburbs but the city core as well. The streets were very dirty and we often came by areas that smelled very bad. The traffic was horrible, and the subway stations felt like nobody has bothered to renovate or otherwise improve them since 1986.
Everywhere on the streets people were trying to sell us cheap imitation bags and various crap with a very intrusive attitude. This was worst when eating at outdoor seatings, we often had to tell the peddlers at least 3-4 times that we were not interested before they gave up. And came back again 30 minutes later.
Speaking of eating; I don’t know if we just had bad luck, or if the italian restaurants really are very bad. About 3/4 of all meals we had were a major disappointment. Service was most of the time terrible, and even though we always tried to be friendly and start the conversations in Italian, we were often treated with arrogance and not the smallest of smiles.
The ice cream/gelato was good and the wine was cheap.
Sure, Colosseum was impressive and there were a lot of ruins, fountains and statues that would probably be reason enough for some people to go there, but after a while things start to look the same everywhere.
For us, Rome was all together quite a bad experience.
I hope I don’t have to go here again very soon. It will be really good to go home tomorrow.
Tomorrow I will possibly have the worst trip of my life so far. Or the most boring, back-aching, cold and lonely. Or the best.
Anyway, I will attempt to drive my Gilera Runner (50cc) från Stockholm to Ulricehamn, a trip that totals about 440 kilometers. I will make a stop (and possibly spend the night) in Tibro, but have otherwise no plans besides hourly stops to stretch, eat, and so on.
Why? The practical reason is that I’m going to store the moped at my parents place during the winter, but the other reason is probably just for the heck of it. “Because it’s there”, as a mountain climber would say. When I was 15 I wanted to go on a moped vacation with my friends, but that never happened so perhaps I’m subconsciously compensating for it now. 😉
To quote the great Waylon Jennings: I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane.
Yesterday we went to Mercat Del Encants, a huge marketplace with many hundred (maybe thousand) of stands where absolutely everything was sold. From young men selling brand new furniture to old ladies selling used adult magazines. Lots and lots of plain junk, and often the seller had just poured everything out on the ground. It was very crowded and stressed, and we didn’t really find anything of interest.
After a few hours we took the metro and decided to jump of at Arc de Triomf, built for the 1888 world fair. Therewe first encountered musicians that we at a distance thought were protesters for something (lots of banging drums and whistles), but when coming closer we realized they were kids from a local school or something.
On the other side of the arc there was another marketplace. The contrast to Mercat Del Encants was however huge. Here everything was extremely calm, not at all crowded and the loudspeakers played soothing music. The market seemed to focus more on handcrafted items and there were also plenty of food (like an entire sausage stand) to be seen. We stopped for a while and had delicious falafel pita while sitting in the grass. About halfway through, the marketplace changed direction and started to focus on animal rights, new age, help organizations and such.
After stopping by for a while at our apartment, we did some more alley-walking in old town. Since it was Saturday, a lot more street performers was there, taking advantage of the extra crowd of people coming in over the weekend. We also crashed another wedding, saw some ancient roman pillars, had some food and later some dessert and did some final shopping.
Today we are going home, and I better finish packing now. We will wait in Frankfurt for about 3½ hours. Good thing I have plenty of movies on my Eee. 🙂
Today we started the day by visiting the 60 meter high obelisk/statue of Christopher Columbus. We paid the 2.50 € fee and took the elevator up to the top, where we got a good view of the heart of Barcelona, the old town. After that, I tamed a giant metallic lion and rode it. 😉
The rest of the day we spent alley-walking in the old town (where we live). We walked for hours and still didn’t covered half of it. Some fun shopping and surprisingly good and cheap meals were also included in the day. When the cold hit and we were both tired and with aching legs, we retired to the apartment for some relaxing.
When getting hungry again we went out for dinner and found an Italian restaurant where you could get a three-course dinner for 6.95 €. The female bouncer was very nice but the male waiter was very unengaged and almost rude. Dessert consisted of an apple.
On the way back we bought some snacks, and now we are going to watch a movie. 🙂
Today we went sightseeing in Barcelona. First stop was the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, an enormous church that has been in construction since 1882 and is expected to last until at least 2026. We never went inside due to the extreme long line youn had to wait in. After that we walked around, ate bad expensive paella and watched buldings for a few hours or so. Getting close to our apartment, we jumped on an overpriced sightseeing bus and took a tour around parts of Barcelona. After almost two hours we were back were we started and decided to walk some ofe the back streets and alleys near our apartment in old town. We started to get hungry again and had some good and fairly cheap local pan pizza.
By this time we were getting cold (it had rained twice earlier that in the day) so we went back to the hotel for a while to relax and warm up.
After some time we went back out again in a new direction. Walked for a few hours, found a giant cat, had a drink and bought some snacks on the way back. Now we are going to watch a movie: Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. 😉
My mom has a nice tradition. Whenever we kids turn 30, she takes us to a destination of our choice in Europe, just the two of us. Since I turned 30 just over a month ago, it was my turn. I picked Barcelona.
My brother gave us a ride to the airport at 7 in the morning, and checking in went fine. We changed plane in Frankfurt and spent time watching two movies on my Eee: The Heroes of Telemark and The Good Thief. Both were surprisingly good!
After arriving in Barcelona we took the aerobus in to town. instead of taking a taxi to our hotel we decided to walk. Strolling through La Rambla, we arrived at our apartment around 4 in the afternoon.
Shortly after, we went for a walk, did some minor shopping and had tapas.