July 07, 2009

Back in Japan!

Well, I am back home now. That was a very short trip! The flight back was OK - it went fairly quick and that is always good.

I did a bit of surfing on Friday and Saturday, so that was nice. I rented a board but skipped the wet suit as I figured the water would probably be warm enough. Most of the surfers did have wet suits, but there were some that didn't, so it seemed OK, but I was wrong: it was REALLY COLD...61 degrees (16-17 degrees celsius). On Saturday, the guy getting into the water next to me was wearing a 5mm suit with a hood/cap thing. Just watching him put it on made me shiver and I hadn't even entered the water yet. Renting the wet suit might be a good idea next time around.

Saturday was the Fourth of July and I cannot remember the last time I was in America for that holiday. We watched everyone on the beach, had a small BBQ and watched the lame fireworks.

Here is IB on the Fourth...

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Posted by Kirk at 08:25 AM | Comments (0)

July 04, 2009

Almost baseball

We went to a baseball game yesterday. I say almost because it was a Padres game and they have not been the easiest team to support recently. Yesterday was no exception. This is the fourth time I have been to Petco Park and they have lost everytime. Having said that, it was fantastic. It was a day game and we had really good (half-price) seats.

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I just loved being there.

Well, three more days and I am back in Japan...wow, time flies.

Posted by Kirk at 02:18 AM | Comments (0)

June 30, 2009

Guess what I am doing tomorrow

Well, I finally got to California. It always seems like a long trip. Anyway, looks like I will be able to surf a little while I am here. This is the beach in front of my sister's place. Surf shop is downstairs...brilliant.

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Posted by Kirk at 09:41 AM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2009

Motivation

Here is a picture of the Pier in Imperial Beach. I am not there now, but I could be going soon (see post below), so I thought I would put it up to remind myself to sort that out.

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Posted by Kirk at 08:55 AM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2009

Florida highlights

Well, I am back in Japan! It is a long trip from Orlando to Zushi, so it already feels like the vacation was weeks ago even though I was at Disney World on Saturday! Before I returned, I was a bit worried about the weather here. Apparently, it has been cold and it even snowed a little, and after the good weather in Florida I was not sure I could handle more winter. BUT...it is lovely today!

Anyway, enough of that. Here are the highlights of my trip, starting with Cocoa Beach. I took this the first day I arrived. It was crowded!

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I like Zushi because there are bars on the beach in the summer, but Florida is one up on Japan in this respect...these bars are open all year round. Actually, it was fairly cold the day I took these pictures and the wind was really blowing, so it was not really crowded. On a sunny weekend afternoon, it is insanely busy.

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I mentioned the baseball before...here is a picture from that. I am not quite sure how the batter expects to swing with that grip, but who I am to question that? He is the professional.

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As I mentioned above, we also went to Disney World. Actually, we went to the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. You have to be specific because there are FIVE different parks to go to at DW! Crazy! My sister and her husband are going to all of them this week.

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Posted by Kirk at 11:45 AM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2009

That's more like it

It's warmed up again! Sunny, bright and 70 degrees (low 20s)! And it is supposed to get even warmer. I am comfortably wearing shorts, sandals and a t-shirt, so life is good.

Yesterday, we headed over to Space Coast Stadium to watch a spring training game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. It was a great day for baseball and I really enjoyed it. Even better: the ground is less than five minutes from my sister's place, so it was really convenient to get over there. Unfortunately, there are no more games this week, so my baseball watching is over for now.

Sorry about the lack of pictures...I am sitting in a big, comfy chair in the living room and cannot be bothered to go find my camera or a UBS cable to copy things over now. If I do get up, I am going to go to the swimming pool anyway.

Posted by Kirk at 01:38 AM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2009

Hey! It's cold!

What happened to Spring? I woke up to 7 degree temperatures this morning - not much different than Zushi. To be fair, we have had warm weather most of the time I have been here, although that makes the latest chill that much harder to bear! Fortunately, forecasts call for a return to 20 degree weather by the end of the week. I have my shorts and sandals ready.

Of course, I have been busy. Mostly eating, although we have managed to get over to Wal-Mart twice (Hey Leigh - they said it was your day off!) and the movies twice. We hit the bookstore/coffee shop every day and on Wednesday we are going to see a baseball game. In the meantime, I am also entertaining myself with 24-hour, 75-channel television. What a luxury!! What a waste of time!!

Anyway, I had hoped to write in a lot more detail, but jet-lag must be an issue because I can't seem to think of anything. So, maybe I will try again later...after a few cups of coffee.

Posted by Kirk at 10:50 PM | Comments (0)

February 24, 2009

Early summer! (Spring?)

Well, I am off to Florida today. It seems like good timing as it is still pretty cold here in Zushi. We had some Spring-like weather earlier in the month, but it seems like a distant memory.

I have a lot to think about it over the next two weeks. Mostly about whether I should stay in Japan. Considering the financial crisis, my chances of getting a job are very slim and I wonder if I need to be here. On the other hand, I am living super cheaply now and having a very good time, so that points to staying. Not an easy choice.

I will be there two weeks! I am not taking my laptop, but I may buy one, so if I do then I will blog from there.

In the meantime, this is a surfing picture. I took it at Shichirigahama last weekend. That is where I go surfing now. OH! I bought a surfboard too. I just realised I do not have any pictures of it. Anyway...

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Posted by Kirk at 09:05 AM | Comments (0)

October 02, 2008

Off to California

Well, I am on my way to the airport...I will go and see my sisters for a week. We are all meeting in San Diego, so that should be fun. And, I will be close to the beach. I think it is supposed to be a bit warmer so I should get some beach time in. Yeah! Although, having said that, it is absolutely gorgeous here in Zushi now. After a week or so of rain and clouds, the skies are clear and the sun is shining. Not quite enough for me to cancel my trip, but the thought did cross my mind.

Anyway, I won't take the laptop, so no updates. Well, unless I buy a new one, which I have been thinking of!

Posted by Kirk at 10:27 AM | Comments (0)

November 29, 2007

Foggy Imperial Beach

It has been a month since I got back from California. Tonight, having nothing better to do, I was looking at some of the pictures and thought I would post one.

At first, I expected to find a nice sunny day picture to put up, but as you can see it can get foggy in the mornings sometimes. I used to like that weather, actually, so this is the one you get to see today.

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Posted by Kirk at 06:42 PM | Comments (0)

October 27, 2007

The Good San Diego holiday

What better time to review the lovely part of my holiday last week than in the middle of a typhoon. Really, this whole weather/fire thing is a bit frustrating. I just want to have a nice sunny day...is it too much too ask for? Actually, tomorrow is supposed to be better and I have tickets to the football (Urawa Reds), so I am looking forward to that.

Anyway, here is some lovely sunny weather from San Diego last week. My sister and I stayed in Imperial Beach, which is south of San Diego and known Diego last week. My sister and I stayed in Imperial Beach, which is south of San Diego and known as the most South-Westerly city in the continental US. I know you are impressed. In any case, this is the entrance to the IB pier...

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I lived there until I was 9 years old and we moved to Chula Vista. In some ways, it has not changed much. I think my sister was tired of my running commentary as we drove: "Oh, that store/sign/building has been there FOREVER!" Multiply that by 200 times and you get the idea.

On the other hand, it HAS changed but not having lived there for 30 years, it is really hard to remember how it used to be. Anyway, we stayed at the Imperial Beach Club, which is a bunch of condos on the beach. The location was excellent! The condo was not. By the way, we used sandiegovacation.com and unless you like having all your appliances broken, you should try somewhere else. But..it looks good, right? I wouldn't even mention it except that when we told them this as we dropped the keys off at the end of the trip, the woman in the office seemed to not believe us, which is probably why everything is broken.

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Here are some surfers in the water. Also, a cruise ship coming into port with the IB pier in the foreground. You know...what you expect to see if you are in San Diego.

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I did not get any pictures of the the beaches on either side of IB. To the south is the Tijuana River and Border Field State Park. We walked over there but I was camera-less. Later, we walked north towards Coronado. There is a campground called Camp Surf...but it is surrounded by chain-link fences like the ones used on the military bases. It seemed kind of scary to me.

Posted by Kirk at 04:34 PM | Comments (0)

October 25, 2007

My timing is still good!

Well, I got back to Tokyo yesterday. It is good to be home, especially as San Diego is on fire. You may have noticed, at least if you read English language news.

We were in Imperial Beach so there was never any danger and we did not need to evacuate. But, the giant ash plumes did put a damper on the whole holiday thing. It was very surreal.

Here are a couple pictures...I have more from the good part of the holiday, which I will post later. I am feeling a bit jet laggy and want to go get a coffee.

This is in Imperial Beach at around 4pm on Sunday...that is the pier in the background.

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And this is from the plaza in front of the pier looking west on Monday morning. You can see the edge of the plume from the Harris fire. When we went farther north later in the day, it cleared up a bit. Apparently, it is much worse now than it was, so it is probably a good thing that we left on Tuesday.

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For the sake of comparison, this is what the sky looked like the day before the fires.

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Posted by Kirk at 09:21 AM | Comments (0)

October 17, 2007

California Here I Come

A little bit later today, I am off to Narita to catch a flight to San Diego. Well, flights...no direct service, you see. Woo hoo!

I am not taking my laptop, so no new posts for at least a week. Then again, I have not been prolific recently, so I do not know why I am telling you that. It does also mean I will be e-mail free for a week, so if you are trying to get a hold of me that way, I imagine it will be difficult.

I am going to meet my sister Terri. We plan to relax and also to look at houses for sale. The property market seems to be imploding, so it may be a good time to put some feelers out. If that is a bust, we will have to console ourselves at the beachside condo we rented.

Anyway, I will take my camera and I hope to have some pictures to post when I get back. Enjoy the lovely fall weather...

Posted by Kirk at 11:30 AM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2007

More pubs

I met Maurice last night in South Chelsea. Of course, we went to a few pubs. We actually met just off King's Road at the Cooper Arms on Flood Street. It's a nice pub, although it was kind of empty. They have a nice garden in back, which is useful now that there is a smoking ban.

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Anyway, after a drink there we went to "really" South Chelsea, also known as Battersea. We stopped at the Prince Albert for a pint and after that we ended up at the Duke of Cambridge. Here are some more pub pictures.

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Posted by Kirk at 05:45 PM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2007

Happy Canada Day

So, apparently today is Canada Day! I am in London, but there are lots of Canadians here and the one place they all go on a day like today is the Maple Leaf in Covent Garden.

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This shows the line to get in at 1pm...what you cannot see is the eight-ten police officers standing around to make sure there is no trouble. There were signs up a few days ago that said the Canada Day Block Party would not happen and that open container rules would be enforced. I also did not show how long the line is, which went down the block and around the corner. Anyway, I happened to be walking by so I took a picture.

This is also the first day of the smoking ban in England...which means no more cigarettes in bars and restaurants. I went with Stuart last night to enjoy the last evening of smoking in a pub...we ended up at some really crap place near Baker Street Tube stop. It was kind of anti-climatic!

Posted by Kirk at 11:39 PM | Comments (0)

June 30, 2007

Mini pub crawl

I met up with Stuart and Sam last night for a stroll down memory lane. Well, more like drinking in a lot of pubs that I used to go to when I spent more time in London.

We decided on four-five places beforehand and said we would have a pint in each. Or two, if that is how it worked out.

Anyway, Stuart and I kicked off at the Ship just off Eastcheap near Monument Station. This is where we used to go after work every day. I mean EVERY day. Somehow, I forgot to take pictures.

When Sam arrived, we headed off to the West End. The first stop was the Ship and Shovell near Embankment Station. It is actually two pubs with a walkway in between. Here are pictures of both...

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After that, we popped over to the Sherlock Holmes for a few drinks. We were lucky enough to get a table out front, so we stayed for a few. This picture is actually of the side entrance.

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A few pints later, we went over to The Harp near St. Martin's, mostly because we remembered they could be convinced to make sausage sandwiches and we were in dire need of food. But...they do not do that on Friday, so we had to settle for crisps instead. Here is the Harp as we walked up to it. I muist have dropped my camera or something because the picture quality really started to suffer. I am positive it had nothing to do with the number of beers I drank.

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So, we met a guy who used to work as a police officer at the station across the street. Somehow, it came up that his parent's were engaged at our next stop, The Coal Hole, so he went there with us. And here it is - this is the best of the three pictures I took. After that, we went to the Charles Dickens Coffee House and had a latte to fortify ourselves for the trip home. It was a really good night.

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Today is the last day to smoke in bars and restaurants before the smoking ban starts on July 1st. So, I guess I will be out again! I hope my camera recovers.

Posted by Kirk at 06:46 PM | Comments (0)

June 29, 2007

Something always happens

I was out drinking with the guys I used to work with last night - it was good fun. Finding a taxi in the City at 11pm is pretty difficult, however, so I took the tube back to the hotel. Well, sort of...I went to Embankment, which is about a 30 min walk away...that probably gives you a fairly good idea how much I drank. I walked over to Trafalgar Square and somehow found a taxi there. So, that was good.

Imagine my surprise today, when I am walking over towards Picadilly and see this:

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The whole area around Haymarket was closed off. There were police everywhere and lots of TV vans, reporters etc. Apparently, someone left a car bomb in front of the Tiger Tiger nightclub. Fortunately, the staff noticed the car, called the police and it was deactivated. That is pretty scary!

Anyway, you may have guessed I got a USB cable, so I can post some pictures. And, here are some more. The one on the left is the Dover Castle on Weymouth Mews. It is a Samuel Smith pub. I really like it and it is close to my hotel. The other one is the Hand and Racquet pub near Leicester Square...surprisingly relaxing place.

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I am meeting Stuart tonight for drinks. Not sure where we are going yet, but I have a list!

Posted by Kirk at 09:00 PM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2007

Back to London

Hmmm...when I was working, coming to London used to be a common experience and I probably used this title a lot! Having said that, it has been almost a year and a half since the last time I came here. Wow!

And I realise that I have missed it a lot. And that is despite flying into Heathrow to start the trip. As you probably know, there is always something going wrong when you do that! This time, there was a gas leak somewhere near the airport and they closed the sirport to inbound traffic. Fortunately, I was on the last plane to land before that happened! Who knows where I would have ended up otherwise. My cab driver from the train station said that a lot of flights had been diverted to Gatwick, Stansted etc. Lucky me?!

Anyway, it is much cooler here than Tokyo. When I left yesterday morning it was already 29 degrees and humid. But it is probably 10 degrees here. It really rained hard for about 15 minutes last night. I know that because I was going from one pub to another at the time and I did not have an umbrella. I was absolutely soaked. Nothing a few pints couldn't cure.

So, I will spend the rest of the time here meeting people. It is a lot like Tokyo in that everyone is working except me. I should remind myself to bring that up in conversation a lot.

I have my camera with me, but no USB cable, so I have to get one of those before I start uploading pictures.

Posted by Kirk at 02:07 PM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2007

Someone explain this to me

I came back to Tokyo today. Why is it 9 degrees (43F)?

Unbelievable. It is April and this goes beyond the whole "I was at a tropical beach where it was 90 degrees" thing.

Anyway, it is mostly good to be back, even if the flight back drove me crazy. The in-flight movie was Charlotte's Web and I was surrounded by people with children that they could not/would not control. The flight attendants were crap. I was seeing red.

Here are a few more pictures from Koh Samui. On the left, that cat picture I mentioned before. On the right, "Three Monkeys" coasters sitting out to dry. I do like monkeys.

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Posted by Kirk at 09:33 PM | Comments (0)

April 02, 2007

The dream is over

Well, this will be a short entry. I wrote a very long clever entry, but somehow I lost it as I got close to finishing. Really, that is so annoying.

In any case, I am in Bangkok now, but only at the airport Novotel, which is a bit too business-inspired for my tastes. I have a 730am flight, however, and this is ten minutes from the check-in desk, so there you go.

I had a good last day on the beach. I took a tour of the island, followed by lunch, coffee and a foot reflexology thing. A MANLY foot reflexology thing.

Here is one last beach picture, taken from Chaweng Noi looking north. That beach in the distance is where I spent all of my time.

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Anyway, my three-hour island tour (by car, not boat, for any of you getting attacks of the Gilligan's Island theme) also included grandfather rock and an elephant park. By the way Glenn, when they say grandfather, i think they mean 'todger'. What do you think? The guide asked if he could take a picture of me next to it, but I said hell no.

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Anyway, we also drove through the other towns on the island and finished near Big Buddha Beach, which I had always known as the place I wanted to go watch the sun set, but apparently it is famous for this, well, Big Buddha. That's below, along with this many-armed thing. I am not up on my Buddhist stuff, so I cannot tell you what it is. To be fair, ny guide did explain a lot of this to me, but that was hours ago and I have forgot most of it.

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I thought I would finish with some pictures of Chaweng Loop Road. On the left, you can see McDonald's (the guide says he won't eat there, but KFC is OK because they have chicken...he also says it is also too pricey for most people). On the right is Tropical Murphy's, which I mentioned in a previous post. Although I may have skipped describing the whole process of finding a suitable beer to drink by sampling every kind they had. It was a lot of work. As for today, I went there for a coffee and read my book.

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I took a ton of pictures and I will try and post a few more over the next few days...once I am back home. I have a really cute one of a cat at the buddhist temple, but after my spa admission, I think I better save that one for next time.

Posted by Kirk at 11:57 PM | Comments (0)

March 31, 2007

Samui - Day 3

I had lots to do yesterday. Really, I do not know where the time goes.

Here is a picture from the afternoon beach chair. Those of you who are paying attention may realise that I had to sit approximately three meters to the right of where I was the day before. To be honest, it did not seem so different to me.

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I did take more than one picture...here are the non-beach shots from yesterday. The picture on the left is a boat in the surf. On the right is the main road as it is going into Chaweng Beach...that is about a mile from my hotel and I walked the whole way and back.

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One thing that really surprises me is how easy it is to forget that Chaweng Beach alone is three and a half miles long. This is a problem because I will think to myself "hey, I'll head over to that dodgy mightclub around the corner" and its a 2 mile walk (remember its over 30 degrees and I am lazy). So, I end up having a coffee instead. Oh, maybe that is a good thing.

Later today, I am going to a bar in the next village to watch the sun set. Appropriately, it is called The Sunset Bar. I was feeling pretty stupid when I forgot the name and had to look it up. There is also a place called the BBC restaurant, in case the first one is crap. And of course this all assumes I won't forget, or fall asleep.

Anyway, looking ahead even farther: I am going to take a tour around the island tomorrow (by car). I think I need to give the beach a rest. Or my skin.

Posted by Kirk at 10:12 AM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2007

From strength to strength

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It's really not fair. To you I mean. After all, you are probably reading this while at the office, while I am here at the beach having a laugh. That picture above is the view from my beach chair this afternoon.

I did not do much today...a bit of sunbathing and walking around. I took a few photos of course, so you would have a better idea of what its like.

I had been thinking this morning how life here has everything I need. Well, almost everything...there is no comfortable couch in my room - and that is really hard to replace. But less than 10 hours later, I find out the bar next door to my hotel has these amazing chairs on the beach.

And when I say amazing, I mean I could lay on them like the couch at home. I could have sat (lain) there all night, but I wanted to have dinner and go the Tropical Murphy's 6-yr anniversary party. I skipped the last part as I was feeling bloated from the beers on the beach and the untasty dinner I had. Oh well - there is always tomorrow. and the day after. and the day after...I am sure you get the idea.

Here is a look at the Three Monkey's Pub...and also another view of the beach:

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Posted by Kirk at 12:46 AM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2007

Koh Samui!

Well, I made it to the beach. Actually, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be, thanks to my own poor planning (?). On Tuesday night, I met Glenn for a few drinks at Mermaid Pub. Unfortunately, it was more than a few. I blame Delon, who showed up soon after and insisted on ordering round after round. Ha ha, I might be a bit fuzzy on the details (on who was ordering).

Anyway, it was past midnight and I had to be at Tokyo Station at 7:15am for my flight. I was absolutely not worried about this because all of my bags were packed and I knew I could make up any lost sleep on the plane.

Well, I woke up at 6:55am. Somehow, I managed to get out of bed, changed, and down to Tokyo Station in 21 minutes. Unfortunately, that was one minute late. No worries - I took the next train.

Flights were nice - I had a whole row to myself on the Thai Airways flight, so I could stretch out a little. There was an absolutely awful Ben Affleck movie on, however, which made the flight time seem twice as long.

And I saw the new airport in Bangkok. Woo.

I made it to Koh Samui in time for a drink at sunset, although I was on the wrong side of the island to actually see it. This is the view I had from the hotel bar...

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After my welcome drink, I ran my errands for the week, namely buying sunscreen and finding the bookstore and Irish pub. I ate dinner at the Three Monkeys Bar and Restaurant. I mean, really, I almost HAD TO, considering the whole theme of this website. Thankfully, it was good.

And now I am off to breakfast! Here is the sunrise over Chaweng Beach...

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Posted by Kirk at 08:51 AM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2007

Hiroshima/Miyajima again (も一度広島と宮島へ行きました)

I took a few days to head off to Hiroshima and Miyajima - a repeat of a trip I took last year at the same time. I really like it down there - it is super relaxing compared to Tokyo and Miyajima is one of the three best sights in Japan, so how can you go wrong.

Here is O-torii gate in front of Itsukushima Shrine at sunset...

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This time I stayed at Ryoso Kawaguchi, which is just off the Omotesando Shotengai and close to the Five-Story pagoda. It is a small place, but the people are very nice and the food was absolutely incredible. Really! They also have the bath with the HOTTEST water, which means Japanese people should especially love it. I felt like a lobster, but I could ease myself in without embarassment, because the baths are all private.

As one does, I spent a lot of time walking around the main part of town taking pictures...here are a few more of the torii and also a wedding party that was at the shrine when I entered. There was also a documentary crew doing some filming...that was strange - even more strange was to see them two hours later in front of my hotel in Hiroshima. They may have been doing a documentary about me?

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The highest point on Miyajima is Mt. Misen at 550m...more importantly, there is a monkey park at the top. I really need to catalogue all these monkey places someday. In any case, they have some new warning signs that are worthy of being shown - so cool! - and I saw a prayer/plaque that was so sad, I have to post it. The last picture is a monkey trying to escape from me - he does not know there is no where to go.

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From Miyajima, I took a high-speed boat directly to the A-bomb dome (原爆ドーム), that is a picture I took as we were arriving. I did not really spend much time sightseeing in Hiroshima - I walked over to the castle, but it was late in the afternoon and I decided I would save going in for some other time. One place I do have to mention is the Choco-cro/St. Mark's Cafe at the end of Hondori...because really this is the coolest branch they have. I went there last year also, but did not realise that there is a second floor that you reach by escalator or that there is a woman playing a grand piano when you get up there. I love that place.

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Again, I stayed at the Hiroshima Aioi Ryokan. It is super convenient to everything and very quiet. Well, except for the company puting on the floor below mine and the whole "saying good night after drinking loads of sake" seemed to go on forever.

Posted by Kirk at 09:46 AM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2007

My sister comes to Japan and we visit Kyoto

My sister Terri came to Japan for a week of holiday. Naturally, one of the things we did was visit Kyoto. Actually, we had a pretty full schedule while she was here and I wanted to write a lot about it and post some of the pictures, but I was off doing other things as soon as she left so I am late getting an entry up on the blog. And the more time goes by, the more I forgot what I wanted to write.

So, this will be quick, even though it was also my first visit to Kyoto despite being in Japan for over six years. All you need to know is that I really liked it and I hope to go back soon.

Pictures of kinkakuji and kiyomizu temple...

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Posted by Kirk at 07:33 PM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2007

Snowy Durango

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I spent Christmas at my sister's place in Durango. I took this from her front yard. It is really a winter wonderland isn't it? I just missed the first big storm of the season. The second arrived shortly after I left and now I hear the FOURTH big storm is on the way.

That is a lot of snow to shovel.

So, I had not been to Durango in maybe eight years...it is not as convenient to get to, especially when yoy are flying halfway around the world. Usually, we go to Pennsylvania to my other sister's place. This was a nice change. A bit cold, however.

It was great to see my sister and my niece. We watched a lot of videos, my sister cooked a fantastic turkey dinner, and I sat around a lot. Good holiday.

Posted by Kirk at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2007

Phoenix, Arizona

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This is a picture of the Phoeniz/Scottsdale area from the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs. I did not stay there very long, one night on each side of my drive to Durango, but I would have stayed longer if I could - there was a nice little Mexican restaurant with an outside bar that I quite liked. (and it was much warmer than Tokyo or Durango!)

I did not eat at the locally famous restaurant in the hills above the hotel, but I did walk up there to get this picture. It was recommended by the man at the rental car desk when I asked for directions to the hotel. He told me he goes there every year on his birthday. Nice view.

Posted by Kirk at 08:35 AM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2007

Shiprock, New Mexico

I went to the US for Christmas, but left my laptop at home. It was a last minute decision and not very clever as I piled up a bunch of pictures and experiences that is too daunting to do all at once. So...I will drop a picture in every now and then for variety. This is Shiprock, New Mexico, which is about 70 miles from where my sister lives. It is pretty impressive. WHen you are driving, you can see it from 20, 30 miles away. It is that big. The town next to it is really not worth writing about. I stopped there and got a takeout coffee.

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Posted by Kirk at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2006

Off to America for the holiday

I am off to my sister's place in Colorado for a week or so. I am taking the laptop, but no guarantees that I will find an Internet connection. Will try to post a few entries if I can.

I just checked the weather forecast... -7 degrees and sporadic snow throughout the week. Cool.

Posted by Kirk at 10:07 PM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2006

Lovely Los Cabos

This is the entry I have been meaning to write all day, if only because the pictures are so amazing.

To celebrate my brother-in-law Roger's final trip as a pilot for Continental Airlines, we flew with him to Los Cabos, Mexico. There were 14 people altogether: family (Sandy, Roger, Terri, Kaitlyn and Diane), flight crew (Adrianne, Marcie, Gary, Coleman) and friends (Michael, Marcus, Craig and Theresa). It was awesome.

We spent 24 hours at the Grand Baja Resort in Los Cabos. The views from the room were excellent, as was the beach:

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It is off-season because it tends to get very hot (37C/100F), but it is a dry heat and there was plenty of water to swim in and plenty of drinks. I was drinking Coronas and I could not believe how fast they went down!

The margaritas deserve a special mention. They were very VERY strong and two or three of those were enough to knock you out. Quite a few people were on the margarita plan, which is why they are not too many more pictures published here - not sure I would ever get invited back if I published the family sleeping off their afternoon drinks in the convenient deck chairs surrounding the pool and restaurant!

Here are a few that are worthy. That is me and one of my Coronas on the left. That is my sister Terri and niece Kaitlyn on the right.

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Other things that come to mind:

* The Mega Mart - this is one of the coolest supermarkets I have ever been to (in every sense of the word). In addition to being fully air conditioned, it was HUGE and it seemed like there was everything you would need.

We went on the morning that we were leaving, which was too bad as we could have used another few beers when all the restaurants at the hotel closed at 11pm. Ooops. There was also a nice man that offered me $200 to sit through a 90-minute meeting on time shares. Ha ha - no way.

* The official photographer! That was Craig, mentioned above, who took some great pictures of the entire trip including flights back and forth. He also lived in Japan a while back and it was fun to compare notes on what we know of Tokyo. His wife Theresa took over official photography duties for awhile (someone was asleep), although we had a hard time figuring out the camera.

* The flight crew - All those stories about airline employees knowing how to party??? True. They were good fun and so easy to hang out with. And good sports the next day when they had to take care of us on the flight back, while we slept everything off. I felt so lazy. Ha!

* Marcus - He came with Gary and it turns out he is a maitre'd at Plataforma, a really good Brazilian restaurant in New York City. By some sort of karmic coincidence, that is where the family went for dinner the last time we were all in New York (two-three years ago). He also smoked, so we had some leverage against the non-smokers in the group. Well, until they all passed out, heh heh.

I would write more, but we basically drank a lot and spent the next day laying around until we had to fly back. I love that sort of holiday. Now that I am not longer employed (are you still reading this far? More on that later!), I should be doing things like that more often.

We are back in Easton, PA now and I will spend the weekend here before flying back to Japan. So, if you are in Tokyo - see you soon. It is time to explore the beaches there!

Posted by Kirk at 12:12 PM | Comments (1)

Easton flood zone

It has been a few days since I updated this, mostly because everything has been moving so fast (or I have been very slow?) since I finally got to my sister's place in Easton.

There has been a tremendous amount of rain over the last week and there were worries that the rivers would spill over their banks and flood parts of the town. On Tuesday, my sister Sandy and I went to investigate. As you can see, the water was running pretty high and some places that should not have been underwater actually were.

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That was pretty exciting, but it got much worse. We were in Mexico, so we missed most of it. When we got back last night, however, we walked around and checked it out. This was the fourth-worst flood for Easton ever, and more ominously, the third time in two years that the rivers (Delaware, Lehigh and Bushkill) had jumped their banks.

The waters receded today, but a lot of people are busy cleaning up. Terrible.

Posted by Kirk at 12:04 PM | Comments (1)

June 26, 2006

Honolulu - dodgy wireless

This will be short entry, thanks to the dodgy wireless connection here. Argghhh - ten minutes of writing up in smoke.

I am over halfway through the trip now. I left my apartment 24 hours ago and I have about 13-14 hours to go.

I am in Honolulu now - I love Hawaii, I wish I could stay longer. But I do not love flying from Guam to Hawaii. Everyone sitting around me was huge. Except for the baby that kept crying. Needless to say, I did not get much sleep!

Two more hours until my flight and then nine hours in the air and another two hours to mys sister's place in PA.

Anyway, I will upload some lame photos later.

Posted by Kirk at 02:42 PM | Comments (1)

A tour of the Pacific...

I am on my way to the US. Does that seem strange? You would expect me to write “I am going to the US” or “I came to the US”…there is not really much opportunity to update the blog en-route, right?

If you are flying to Newark via Guam and Honolulu, however, there is plenty of time. I could go into to the whole long story (I will later). For now, it is enough to say that I am traveling on a free ticket and sometimes you have to compromise. So, here I am at 3am at the airport in Guam, the surprisingly busy airport in Guam, updating you on my travels.

TOKYO-NAGOYA

I left home at 3pm (Sunday) and headed over to Tokyo Station. After a quick stop at Maruzen (the best bookstore in Tokyo), I caught the 4pm train to Nagoya. Total trip time from my house to Nagoya Airport was just over three hours, including the bookstore. Considering it can take two hours to get to Narita sometimes, this is really not bad at all. And the airport is SO MUCH NICER than Narita. It helps that it is newer. And empty. It would have been nice to have some options for dinner, but then again I could probably do without an extra meal every now and then. In any case, here are some pictures that I took by the gate…8pm on Sunday night and no one around at all.

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An extra bonus: complementary upgrade to first class. My sister said that would happen. She is brilliant. She is also the one that sent me on this mad trek across the Pacific, so it balances out.

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The flight landed at 1230am and the airport was empty. I think the people in passport control and customs were actually happy to see me as it gave them something to do. I wandered around the public areas for awhile, searching in vain for a newsstand or coffee shop, but there was nothing open. Considering my connecting flight leaves at 6am, this was not a good development. But one of the workers assured me that the shops on the other side of security were open. And they were (are). There are flights leaving all night, so the food court and duty free are all open.

And there are lots of tourists groups moving in and out of the airport. At 1am it was absolutely quiet, but some flights have come in and others are leaving so the place is picking up. As far as I can tell, you can buy a drink anytime (usually bars close at 1-2am in the US and this is a US territory), which is a pleasant surprise. Well, almost pleasant as I told myself I would not have any drinks. It is nice to know I could, however.

I bought a few t-shirts in duty free, more to kill time than anything else. Talk about a captive audience! Here are a couple of pictures from where I have parked myself in the food court. The restaurant I am sitting in front of us is called “Big Nama”, referring to draft beer and kind of a kitschy take off on Japanese drinking bars. Lovely.

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Posted by Kirk at 03:06 AM | Comments (0)

April 08, 2006

Miyajima (宮島) and Hiroshima (広島)

Here is some more on the my holiday getaway. Like I mentioned before, I travelled down to the Hiroshima area. I spent the first day in Miyajima, about 30 minutes from Hiroshima by train and ferry, and the next day in the city itself.

Miyajima
I covered the high points in my last post. Miyajima is known for being very beautiful. There are also deer everywhere, which I cover below. Many people make a day trip out of it, so it is super busy during the day, but after 5pm it is almost deserted and all the shops and restaurants close down. It was SO QUIET! Also, spending more time there gives you a chance to walk around and see more of the island than you would otherwise do.

On the first day, I walked around the main street and then headed up the mountain by cable car to the Mt. Misen monkey park and some amazing views.

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I stayed at the Miyajima Hotel Kinsuiken (Annex), which is conveniently located across the street from the ferry landing, although Miyajima is so small that nothing is really far away.

On the second day, I roamed the hills above town, which is where the really good views are located. It is also where many of the cherry trees are, which undoubtedly made it nicer. Around mid-morning, I chanced upon the restaurant that I mentioned in the last post. It was awesome - you could see everything in town from there. The weather was warm, the sun was shining, and one of the three beautiful Japan views was laid out on front of me. And there was no one else there...just me and the owner. I could have stayed all day, but I will settle for going back again someday. This is the view...

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My next stop after that was the Daisho-in Temple. It is named after Kobo Daishi, who appears to be some sort of super Buddhist in Japan...I am sure someone else could so a much better job of describing him, so I will leave it to you to find out more on your own. As for the temple...it was very nice. Here are a few pictures:

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Don't feed the deer
Miyajima has a reputation for its deer population. Everywhere you go, they are walking around (in the way). And you are supposed to be careful that you do not let them get a hold of any papers that you have out because they will eat them – there are signs warning visitors to be careful. And with good reason…every deer that looked at me seemed to be sizing me up (yeah, he looks weak…if I get hungry enough, I can take him). Here are the deer getting ready to attack some poor tourists (left) and what they looked like after feeding (right).

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Anyway, the “do not feed the deer your important documents” campaign has obviously worked. I did not see anyone lose their passport, guidebook or cash. But I did see a deer go after a sign in front of one of the shops. Not only did it knock the signboard over, it tore the paper that was on it off and ate it. And whilst I thought that would be the deer highlight of the day, I was wrong. Later that night at the (empty) ferry station, there were two deer having a go at the garbage cans. They would get up on the hind legs and stick their snout through the lid and see what they could find. After checking all the cans in front of the station with nothing to show for their efforts, one of them walked into the station, went over to the phone booth and ripped the phone book off its cord. As I left them, they were merrily chomping away. I wonder how many times they have to replace that phone book…

Some last pictures of Miyajima
On the left...this could be the world's largest rice spoon. It is about 10 meters long. There was no corresponding rice cooker, although it may have been SO big, I missed it. And on the right, this is a stairway off the main plaza leading to some of the trails in the hills behind town. Not easy to spot unless someone takes a picture of it so you know what to look for (you can thank me later).

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And, finally...one more picture of O-Torii Gate. I think this is my best one, so you get the extra large size...

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Hiroshima
I have much fewer pictures from Hiroshima, I am not sure whether this is because I took so many in Miyajima or because I slept a lot more, but it is too bad because it really is a beautiful city.

In any case, I arrived from Miyajima in the afternoon and spent a few hours orienting myself, i.e. having coffee, finding the hotel and walking around. I stayed at the Hiroshima Aioi Inn, which is possibly the closest structure to the Peace Dome (原爆ドーム), as you will see below. I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which was a bit sobering, but the cherry blossoms were blooming in the Peace Park and the festive atmosphere added some cheer to offset that.

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The ryokan was fantastic and I could not recommend it more. The staff were very friendly and the food was excellent. I had the full Japanese dinner and I was so full when I finished I could not do anything. I mean it! I had planned to go for a walk on Hondori (see below) or, at the very least, go to the 7th-floor vending machines and buy a beer. Instead, I went to sleep sometime after 9pm. I think I was still full in the morning. This is my room...and the view from the room.

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Fortunately, the breakfast was smaller and I was able to get up afterwards and walk around. I wandered around Hiroshima for awhile. It is very relaxing. I stopped in a few scenic places and read for awhile. It is not a very frantic city, and it seemed OK to just stop what you were doing and hang out. I could get used to that. The pictures below include a row of cafes on one of the riverbanks...unfortunately closed (!) when I walked by, and a view from one of the places I stopped to read.

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Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the major shopping areas called Hondori (本道), which was absolutely charming and so much fun to walk around. From 12-8pm it is a pedestrian street and the whole area is covered. It ends at the peace park only 100m from my hotel and one of the shops at that end is a Choco Cro (St Marks Cafe), which only adds to the appeal. It seems like a lot of people in Hiroshima commute by bicycle and many of them use this street. It was very busy.

Posted by Kirk at 01:23 PM | Comments (0)

April 07, 2006

A quiet, relaxing break

I tried to get an Internet connection in Hiroshima, but there was not one available when I turned my computer on so I gave up. I have tons of pictures and lots to talk about, but I will stick to the highlights for now and take care of the detail work later.

Miyajima is really, really cool. I stayed on Wednesday night and spent that afternoon and Thursday morning sight-seeing. Among the highlights...The monkey park at Mt. Misen, including this happy monkey and some good advice for monkey watchers.

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And more photos of the islands' attractions, including the five-story pagoda and another pagoda, cherry blossoms and O-Torii Gate.

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I also need to show two of my favourite places in Miyajima...first, my single room at the ryokan (more on that later) and a small restaurant in the hills above town (yep...more on that later).

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I better go edit some photos...

Posted by Kirk at 04:40 PM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2006

Sleepy Yudanaka (湯田中)

I went to Yudanaka on Thursday afternoon - it was a quick trip, only twenty four hours. Because it takes three hours to get back and forth, it may sound short...but I like the train, so I did not mind at all.

Yudanaka is an onsen resort in the mountains near Nagano - it is the gateway to the Shiga Kogen ski area (home of the 1998 winter olympics!) and there is also a monkey hot springs (Jigokudani Yaenkoen - 地獄谷野猿公苑), which is why I went. To get there, you can take the Nagano Shinkansen to Nagano and transfer to the Nagaden Line for Yudanaka.

I stayed at Shimaya Ryokan, which I found through an Internet search. It is a nice place and you cannot beat the price (Y5,500/person). The owner speaks some English and was super helpful...he even gave me a ride to the monkey park on Friday morning (more on that later).

Here is a picture of the Ryokan sign (I took it from the window of my room) and the room itself (for the gossiping women in my office - notice there is only one futon).

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I was the ONLY GUEST that night, so I got a lot of attention from the owner. I tried to slip out and grab a bite to eat, but he pulled out all these brochures of where to eat. After letting me look at them for awhile, he told me to go around the corner to Yamaguchiya. In fact, he seemed to be insisting that I go there. So, I did.

It was a very old place - if you are looking for the traditional Japan, this is where you want to be. There were four old guys in the corner getting absolutely hammered, an old woman who apparently did all the cooking and serving, and me (reading a book).

I had breakfast the next morning at the inn...it was kind of creepy walking to the bath and the dining room and not seeing anyone...and headed off to the monkey park. Overnight it had started raining/snowing, so I was wondering whether to wait it out or not, but the inn's owner insisted I should go up then because it would be beautiful and the monkeys would be in the hot spring.

So, off we went. He could only give me a ride to the monkey onsen and not back as he would be driving to Tokyo later for his daugheer's college graduation, but he showed me where to catch the bus back to Yudanaka Station, so that was OK.

What he did not tell me at first was that there was a 1.6km walk up the mountain to get to the actual place. This is what I saw when he dropped me off. That was a bit disturbing because the snow was coming down harder now and it was much windier than it had been in town.

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In fact, I had serious doubts about wanting to see the monkeys once I started walking. Of course, by that time it was too late to turn around. And, of course it was worth it. This is a sign directing me to the park...I am not sure what the buildings are in the picture on the right and I did not see anyone up and about when I walked past.

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And here are some pictures of the monkeys! Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating and I was so cold that I could not get very many steady pictures. It did not help that the monkeys seemed to sense when I would take a picture and move as soon as I shot the picture. I think I took 30 pictures...these two are the best. (there is a live webcam here that can give you an idea of what is like now...much nicer!)

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And then it was back down the mountain...I think there must be an easier way because there were three-four people at the park when i was there, but no one had been using the trail I was on and I saw some of the same people at the train station an hour later even though they had never passed me. I might have to have another chat with the owner of the inn!

I got to the bus stop just in time to see the bus heading off towards the station...not good as it only runs once an hour. I figured I could get a coffee somewhere and wait, but as I looked around there did not seem to be anything open. I walked farther down the hill as the snow turned into sleet and saw a museum/restaurant, which would do the trick for me. But somehow...at 10am in the middle of nowhere...the restaurant was "reserved" and no seats were available.

Eventually, I asked the museum staff to call me a taxi and I went back to Yudanaka to catch my train. I had the best cup of coffee ever in this coffee shop, while I waited an hour for the next train.

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That was Yudanaka. I was completely soaked so I did not stop anywhere on the way back to Tokyo. Good trip.

Posted by Kirk at 10:17 AM | Comments (3)

March 17, 2006

A day of two halves?

I am back from a quick (overnight) trip to Yudanaka. I will write about it in detail and post more pics, but thought I could tease you a bit first. The picture on the left was taken in the mountains above Yudanaka at 945am...on the right is the view from my balcony at 3pm. Snowstorm in the morning - spring in the afternoon...amazing where a three-hour train ride will take you.

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Posted by Kirk at 05:40 PM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2006

Yuzawa Kogen Ski Resort

I am back in Tokyo now...whew. It only took 66 minutes on the train and I slept most of the way. What a shock: I left cold weather and snow on the ground and returned to...cold weather and rain.

Anyway, yesterday I went up to Yuzawa Kogen Ski Resort. It is amazing how easy it is to get around that town, probably because there is nothing else there. I walked about 0.5km, bought a ticket on the gondola and off I went.

It was beautiful as you can see...here are some pictures. Looking at them now, I cannot believe I was just there 90 minutes ago!

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This last picture is taken from the gondola station at the top, looking down on Echigo Yuzawa and the rest of the valley. The buildings towards the bottom are the town itself - there are other ski resorts as you move down the valley.

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It was not very crowded on Wednesday and Thursday, but this morning was crazy. I could not believe how many people got off the train between 7-8am...that was by far the busiest time of the whole trip. I am not sure I was ready to come back...then again with a 140 minute round trip, there is no reason I can't get back there soon.

Posted by Kirk at 10:29 AM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2006

Hatago Isen - Echigo Yuzawa

This is where I am staying during my few days in Echigo Yuzawa. It is called Hatago Isen and it is a fantastically good ryokan (Japanese inn). They renovated the place in October and it is really impressive.

You can see the entrance in the picture below along with a shot of my room.

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The baths are on the top floor of the building and look out at the mountains across the valley. The only possible downside to the place is that the train station is right across the street (then again, it makes it easy to find!), which you see when you stand up in the bath.

There is also a very good kissaten in the lobby - the coffee is excellent. When I got here yesterday, I walked around trying to find a coffee place before I checked in...I felt slightly ridiculous when I finally entered the ryokan and realised the best coffee in town was at the place I was staying. Ooops.

I should thank the people at We Love Snow, who have put together a website that makes travel to Echigo Yuzawa very easy for foreigners that do not speak Japanese. Hmmm - wonder what their neighbours think about that. In any case, that is how I found this place and why I decided to spend a few days here. (if you ever see this...thanks!)

I took some pictures from the mountain - will post those later.

Posted by Kirk at 05:50 PM | Comments (1)

Sunny Yuzawa

I woke up early and had a bath already. I did not set my keitai alarm right, but I went to sleep so early that it did not matter.

As you can see it is beautiful outside this morning. It was cloudy when I got here yesterday, but the sun is shining now...looks great. Actually, I had to do a bit of work to get rid of the rental car company sign and the parking lot before I posted this - selective perception, but you get the idea.

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I will go take some pictures before I have my breakfast. Then we will see what the day brings.

Posted by Kirk at 07:28 AM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2006

Echigo Yuzawa

How is this for a change? I am in Echigo Yuzawa for a few days. I arrived this afternoon, escaping the warm weather in Tokyo just in time.

It must have been 16 degrees when I left there - So, I suffered through a miserable week in London and ten days of terrible weather in Tokyo, only to run off to the mountains at the first sign of any decent weather? Well, I booked in advance and bad timing is the story of my life.

In any case, it is nice up here...cold, but it is supposed to be. And very relaxing. I checked into the hotel around 4pm, took a bath, and sat in the coffee shop downstairs and read my book. It is very quiet and calm. In fact, I am torn between reading some more or watching a DVD now...exciting life, right?

But it is very good to get away from Tokyo for a few days so I can get my head on straight. I am here until Friday - let's hope I can do it by then.

Here are a few pictures of Echigo Yuzawa that I took when I got off the train. The first one shows the mountains behind the town - these are bunny slopes for kids to practice skiing on. The second is a giant snowman...and, no, I did not make it. That big concrete thing in the background is the tracks for the bullet train (shinkansen). Did you know it only takes 77 minutes to get here from Tokyo? Amazing!

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I will put some pictures of the ryokan I am staying at along with an Internet link tomorrow. This is a fantastic place and I want you to be jealous.

Posted by Kirk at 08:04 PM | Comments (0)

February 26, 2006

Two great London pubs

I told you I would write about this! I went out with Glenn for my last night out in London. We met up at De Hems on Macclesfield Street, a Dutch pub snuggled in between Soho and Chinatown. Probably, this is a great pub if you are Dutch - it is simply excellent otherwise with good beer like Oranjeboom and Grolsch on tap. In the summer, the front windows are open and there is lots of room out front, but even in winter it was a good place to start the evening.

Despite a good bar menu, after a few (3?) pints, we popped into a casual Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown for a bite to eat. The menu looked suspiciously Chinese, but the waiter assured us the cook was Vietnamese and that the food, therefore, was Vietnamese. It is hard to argue with logic like that. In any case, it was filling, which is all we needed.

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We finished the night at Dover Castle, which is on Weymouth Mews in between Marylebone High Street and Oxford Circus. As should be expected, the beer was very good (I guess you should assume if I write about it, this is likely the case) and very cozy. It felt more like a country pub, although I am not sure whether that is because it was tucked away on a mews with little outside traffic, that there was not a truly level surface in the place, or that there was an odd mix of people.

The worst part about the last pub is that it was a three-minute walk to my hotel, which is good...but why did I have to find it on my LAST night in town?

By the way, the picture and the links are from www.fancyapint.com, which is a highly recommended starting point if you are at a loss on where to do your London drinking.

Posted by Kirk at 05:51 PM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2006

Back in Tokyo now

Can I start this year all over again? It has been a horrible two months to start off 2006 - starting to wonder what else could possibly go wrong. But life usually has a way of reminding you, so I am not wondering too much. The good news is that I am back in Tokyo after a four days in Barcelona and ten days in London. Whew...it is nice to be home.

I was told it could be snowing in Tokyo when I got here, but it was at least 10 degrees and very sunny. What was that all about.

Hit two great pubs last night in London...will write more about that later. No, really, I mean it this time.

Posted by Kirk at 06:05 PM | Comments (0)

February 09, 2006

Off to London now

I am leaving for London this morning. I will spend the next few days there before traveling down to Barcelona for four days. Unfortunately, that is work-related, but it could be worse, right?

Posted by Kirk at 06:35 AM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2006

Shelter Island boat launch

This picture has been sitting my camera since I returned and I finally got around to putting it on the laptop...and from there onto this site. I also had a few pictures from Saturday's travel nightmare, but there is probably no need for you to see a lot of disgruntled half-asleep travelers moping around Narita airport.

This is a view of downtown San Diego from Shelter Island. We stayed at the Humphrey's Half Moon Inn for a few days before leaving, which is a quality hotel that is surprisingly affordable. You should consider it if you ever take a San Diego holiday.

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There are also a few good restaurants around, including Boll Weevil which serves up some of the best hamburgers I have ever had anywhere, and Fiddler's Green - which seems to be the boat industry (yacht builders/sailors) local and has good clam chowder and steaks.

Posted by Kirk at 08:10 AM | Comments (2)

January 24, 2006

Imperial Beach sunset

This is Imperial Beach (IB), California at sunset. This is where I grew up - I did not realise at the time how lucky I was to live where I did. Cool, isn't it? That big wooden thing is the IB pier - it used to be bigger, but one of the winter storms knocked it down and they rebuilt this more compact version.

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IB is a sleepy town despite being its location and has managed to avoid all the massive buildup that other beach communities have seen over the last twenty-thirty years. The only tourist event of note is an annual sand castle building competition - it was not such a big thing when I lived there. Anyway, it is a cool place and I was happy to be back, even if it was for a short time.

I went there with my brother and sister - we had a coffee at one of the restaurants just off the beach and walked around for awhile talking about how things had changed etc. It was good fun.

Here is another picture of the pier from earlier in the day. It is amazing how few people there are...

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Posted by Kirk at 06:21 AM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2006

Narita nightmare

Sorry - I have been off-line for awhile. I will update this with the reasons why soon, but in the meantime I have to go through my experiences getting back to Japan. It is surreal.

I have been in San Diego for the last week. I left Friday...total flight time is 14 hours, so I was not looking forward to it. If only it was that easy.

My flight left at 730am from San Diego. That was uneventful - great weather, no delays etc. I made it to San Francisco by 9am. This is where things get crazy. The first thing I noticed was that my 1050am flight had been delayed until 2pm. Not a good sign. And when I got to the check in counter, it was even worse because they were saying the actual delay could be closer to eight hours.

I briefly thought it would be nice to spend some time in San Francisco, but arriving at Narita at 11pm did not appeal to me, so I took the option of switching to a different airline. They put me on a Northwest flight that left at 12pm - I would only be an hour late (430pm) getting into Tokyo. It sounded good to me.

My colleagues back in Tokyo warned that there would be snow on Saturday afternoon, but I did not think much of it. That would prove to be a big mistake.

The flight was uneventful...I slept a little, watched a few movies and read my book. Sort of like the quiet before the storm.

HMMM...IS THIS NORMAL?
We were put into a holding pattern as we arrived in Tokyo. Circling around in stormy weather is not my idea of a good time, but it only lasted 30 minutes so that was not so bad. And, eventually, we were cleared to land. It was snowing pretty heavily and we did not break through the cloud cover until we had almost landed.

I was quite happy when we were on the ground.

Unfortunately, our gate was still being used by an outbound plane so we were directed to park out on the tarmac. Because of the weather they need to de-ice the planes before take-off and it was taking longer than they thought.

What they didn't tell us is that they did not have enough de-icing equipment and that no flights were taking off. Eventually we found that out. In fact, we had a lot of time to think about it.

We landed at 430pm - we exited the plane at 1045pm. That is right - more than SIX HOURS on the tarmac. How can you explain that? The flight crew were excellent and everyone remained fairly calm, but you had to wonder why no one would come and take us in. (I found out later that it could have been worse...one flight actually got to the gate, but there was no one to move the jetway up to the plane. They waited eight hours...)

Needless to say, it did not get any better - passport control and immigration were packed with late arrivals and people from cancelled flights. It took 45 minutes to get through.

WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
And it was still not over. Because the trains and busses had stopped running. the only option for leaving Narita Airport (70km from Tokyo) was by taxi. I assumed the Y25,000 fare to central Tokyo would put people off. But there were 200 people in line. I waited 90 minutes and saw three taxis arrive. Meanwhile, empty buses were parked all over the place.

I popped back into the terminal to warm up and bought a few beers from the only place that was open. There were hundreds of people in the arrivals lobby and someone had passed out a few blankets. I had resigned myself to sleeping on the floor and getting an early train.

Sometime around 3am I managed to jump onto a charter bus taking a group of people to Makuhari/Tokyo Disneyland, which is more than halfway to Tokyo. Most of those had been given rooms by the airline (not available for me as I was not connecting to another flight) and we were told that only people going to the hotel could catch that bus. Which was not much of a problem.

"I'm sorry, you can only take this bus if you have a reservation..."
"I do!"
"OK..."

Once we got to the hotel, I shared a taxi to Shinjuku Station and then took another from there to Akasaka, somehow managing to find the only taxi driver in Tokyo who did not know where Akasaka was. So, I got to see Omotesando and Roppongi on the way. I arrived home at 5am. Madness.

WE HAD A PLAN, BUT IT WAS THE WRONG ONE
Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world, but a simple snowstorm closed the airport and left thousands of people stranded. There were solutions, but the people in charge were incapable of acting on their own initiative when contingency plans proved inadequate. This is the same week that the Tokyo Stock Exchange closed because it could not handle heavy trading volumes. Draw your own conclusions.

Posted by Kirk at 02:21 PM | Comments (2)

January 13, 2006

I have arrived in Seoul

OK...I am in Seoul. I was telling everyone that the weather would be better than expected - and it is if you look at the temperature (2 degrees). But it is rainy and foggy, which is not exactly holiday weather. Anyway - I will hang out at the hotel for now, but I am meeting a friend later for dinner and drinks.

On my way from the airport to the hotel, I took this picture of a park from the taxi. It has no historical or personal significance...it was just there and I had my camera out.

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As for the taxi ride, I am probably lucky to be alive considering the driver. He seemed to have an aversion to stopping, which is not good when there is heavy traffic. And he also took me to the wrong hotel - surprisingly, I knew where I was in relation to the right hotel and could point which way to go. HE kept pointing at his head and saying something in Korean. I probably do not want to know.

Anyway - it is nice to be on holiday. And I have three days to find out if there is anything worth doing in Seoul. I will explain why that is important later.

Posted by Kirk at 01:01 PM | Comments (2)

Weekend getaway

Ha! it is Friday and I am not working...I like that!

I am off to Korea to hang out for the weekend. I know it seems like a strange place to go. More on that later, including pictures (hopefully!)

Posted by Kirk at 06:51 AM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2005

Blustery Germany

I finished the work week in Germany with meetings in Frankfurt and Dusseldorf before flying back to London. I am glad to have that behind me and can now look forward to a weekend of Christmas shopping...wait, can I work some more?

Anyway, I do not have too much to say about today. It was cold and drizzly in Germany and the icy rain was supposed to turn into snow at some point, so I am glad to gave got away. But my increasing aversion to flying is not helped by inclement weather at all.

These pictures are from Frankfurt. On the left is the opera house, which was very close to my hotel and a nice walk to start the morning. On the right is a sign from a coffee place - seems there are some Liverpool fans in Germany as I cannot think of any reason why this would help them sell coffee!

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Just to recap the week:
Monday - London
Tuesday - Oslo
Wednesday - Amsterdam, Rotterdam
Thursday - Brussels
Friday - Frankfurt, Dusseldorf

Makes me tired just thinking about it.

Posted by Kirk at 06:58 AM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2005

Amsterdam to start, and arrival in Brussels

We spent the day driving around the Netherlands. I put Amsterdam in the title, but we actually shuffled back and forth between Den Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. One of the pictures below is taken in Amsterdam Port and will always be memorable to me for being very cold. And for having lots of shoe stores (long story). The other is taken on the road from Den Hague to Brussels, which is where I am now.

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The latter took about three and a half hours - this another part of the world where there are too many cars and too few roads, or both. Throw in a few accidents and Christmas celebrations in the center of Brussels and a barely tolerable drive turns into a marathon of monotony.

But it is good to be here. The aforementioned celebrations are excellent. The main square is chock full of old buildings with plenty of restaurants and bars. And there are some impressive Christmas tree displays and they lit up the old cathedral with a light show that was fun to watch. As always, my photography skills were not up to the task, so you have to take my word for it. But, I wouldn't mind having a day off to spend here (that is a subtle hint that this is indeed a working trip). In fact, we have a full slate of meetings before I head off to Germany tomorrow to finish the week.

Suprisingly, one of my colleagues Yoko is in holiday in Germany now, but it looks like we will miss each other. (Yoko, if you are reading this...it is all poor planning on your part).

Posted by Kirk at 06:59 AM | Comments (0)

December 14, 2005

Oslo...for now

I spent the day in Oslo, well at least part of it. Actually, I had to fly out at 7am from London, which meant leaving the hotel at 530am. Normally that would be a problem, but jet lag is working in my favor, so I was up at 415am after going to bed at 8pm the night before. That is pretty scary...

Even worse, I am on my way to Amsterdam now, which means I will have spent more time at airports and on airplanes that in Oslo itself. That is not really the ideal situation.

But it was quality time. The weather is not too bad (-4C...everyone keeps saying that is warm!) and there is some snow on the ground, so it is all very pretty. Here are a few pictures of the main shopping street - with only five hours on the ground here, there was not time for much else.

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Posted by Kirk at 12:33 AM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2005

Have my priorities mixed up

It is a balmy 2C in London this morning and the forecast is for drizzle, including some of the soot from that fuel depot fire that started yesterday.

This reminded me that I was in Singapore last weekend, where it was 30C and I could look at this:

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Probably this will be a long week.

Posted by Kirk at 02:32 PM | Comments (0)

And now in London

I am back in London now. It is a bit cold, but more to the point there was a huge explosion at a fuel depot here and the sky to the north of the city is filled with black smoke. We got a good look at it coming in on the flight...it is massive.

Other than that, everything seems normal for this time of year - lots of shoppers out taking care of their Christmas business and the like.

I will meet Glenn for a few drinks and dinner later and get the scoop on how life in London is treating him. That pretty much wraps up the weekend.

Posted by Kirk at 02:01 AM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2005

Oh no...Narita again.

I am back in Narita Airport, barely 48 hours after my last visit.

I am omy my way to Europe (again!). It is a busy week ahead: I will start in London on Monday, but travel on to Oslo, Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf the rest of the week. Whew...

I had a reminder of why it is important to check through your travel documents. Nothing too scary, but I arrived at Tokyo Station at 745am for my 8am train. Um, er, my 830am train, I mean. I tried to change my ticket for the earlier train but it was sold out. Yes...the 8am train on Sunday. I did not mind too much, because I had overslept and had to rush out of the apartment without a coffee or breakfast or anything, and I figured I could use the extra time to take care of that.

Anyone been to Tokyo Station on Sunday morning at 8am?

There is nothing open except convenience stores...no coffee shops, no chocolate croissant stands...nothing. It was a very long 45 minutes!

Posted by Kirk at 10:11 AM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2005

Paradoxical Beijing

We spent Thursday in Beijing. I would have liked to update the blog while I was there, but there is not full Internet connectivity there. Sometimes it connected, but most of the time it did not (seemingly whenever I considered creating a new blog entry).

In any case, it was below freezing the whole time we were there, which was not usually a problem as we were in meetings and not hiking through the city. But it certainly contrasted with Singapore earlier in the week.

I did not get out to see any of the city this time around, although I did notice that there has been a lot of construction over the last twelve months - Beijing rivals Tokyo for the number of buildings that are going up. They have the Olympics in 2008 and the government seems committed to making the city a showcase before then. I did take this picture from our car as we passed Tiananmen Square - it is the entrance to the Forbidden City and Mao is prominently displayed.

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Despite all the modernisation, one of the primary methods of transport is bicycle (although not nearly as predominant as it used to be). And this is where bicyclists go if they need tires, air, or whatever else it takes to keep your two-wheeled transport on the go. I do not think there will be too many of these left in 2008!

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By the way, one of the coolest restaurants in the world is in Beijing and we went there. It is the Red Capital Club, and never mind the teasingly irreverant attitude. It is the site and the food that are important. It is tucked away down an alleyway and impossible to find unless you have directions. There is not any walk-in traffic. As we went at night and I am useless with the camera then, there are no pictures.

We had a good dinner and tucked ourselves away in the bar for a few bottles of Chinese wine. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I had one of the all-time worst hangovers when I woke up the next morning (after four hours sleep, so maybe it is my fault). I was on my way to the airport and it was one of the longest taxi rides I had.

Posted by Kirk at 12:16 PM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2005

Hong Kong...it is cold!

We made it to Hong Kong today. I was very surprised to see the temperature was only 13C (56F)! That is quite a change from Singapore and (I think) unseasonably cold for HK. Of course, it is only going to get worse as the forecast for Beijing is -10C to 0C (18-32F). I suppose it is winter, so I should not be too shocked.

Anyway, we had a few meetings during the day (work stuff - boring) before heading off to the Felix restaurant in the Peninsula Hotel. Now this is an amazing restaurant and well worth a visit when you are in Hong Kong. It is a bit pretentious, but it reminded me of New York, so I was happy to be there. It was good enough that we returned to the hotel afterwards and did not even make it up the hill to Lan Kwai Fong for a nightcap.

We are staying at the Mandarin Oriental, which is one of my favourite hotels in the world. It is closing at the end of this month for a $140m refurbishment and will not open again until September 2006 (if that!), so I am glad we had a chance to stop by. This is the view from my super cool room on the 21st floor...on the left, Victoria Harbor...on the right, Central Hong Kong. Lovely.

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I tried to get some pictures from the Star Ferry of HK at night, but my camera is useless for night pictures. Or I am useless with my camera at night. Something like that.

Posted by Kirk at 12:29 AM | Comments (0)

December 04, 2005

A sunny day in Singapore

It was a really nice day today, so I spent the morning walking around to take pictures (the result is below). In the evening, we went to the Raffles Hotel for drinks and dinner. The Long Bar at Raffles is where the Singapore Sling was first made...we did not go there, but we did spend time in the courtyard bar before heading off to dinner at one of the restaurants. I have to say that I love that hotel, even though I am wondering where they could find space to put any rooms as there are so many shops there.

Anyway, here are some pictures...on the left is the Merlion, which is a Singapore landmark. It was looking very impressive today, as you can see. On the right is Cavanagh Bridge...it is only used for pedestrian traffic now - I thought the sign was cool so I took a picture.

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Posted by Kirk at 11:39 PM | Comments (2)

Singapore highlights

We have been recuperating from a week of meetings in Singapore. With 30 degree (86F) weather, it is not a bad place to spend the weekend.

On Friday night, we went out to dinner on Boat Quay at the Indochine restaurant at the Asian Civilisations Museum...this is a fantastic place and you should try it if you make it over here. Afterwards, we went to an Irish pub for a few drinks and then to their "sister nightclub" for a few more.

The photo on the left is the famous Singapore Sling...it tastes much better than Denki Bran. On the right is a girl dancing on the bar at the nightclub. She kind of flopped down soon afterwards, breaking a few glasses in the process. There seemed to be a lot of that...in the bar next to the restaurant, there was a kid that fell over at least twice...his friend did not seem to mind and we were enjoying the spectacle and wondering what he would do next. It was a strange night.

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On Saturday, we did the Singapore tourist thing: Sentosa Island and its beaches during the day and the Night Safari in the evening. At the latter, you were not supposed to use the flash on your camera, so you will have to take my word for it. It was better than I thought it would be, so I wish I had something to show you. Instead I have posted a picture with a view from our hotel. I want to say that was taken from my room, but actually it is taken from a window next to the elevators.

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Being in Singapore has been surreal at best, and surprising at least. The government executed a drug courier (Australian) on Friday morning that has generated a lot of press. I will leave the commentary to the Singapore blog community, but it has been in the background all weekend. As for suprising, I have not been in Singapore in four years and it is amazing how the restaurants and nightlife have improved.

Today is a free day and I will go to the pool soon, and later to Orchard Road for shopping (or browsing, maybe, as I do not really have enough room to buy anything). Then it is back to work...we have a week to finish up with Singapore and tour Hong Kong and Beijing before I get back home.

Posted by Kirk at 09:43 AM | Comments (0)

December 02, 2005

Singapore Airlines - why can't they all be like this?

We were up early today (530am!) to fly from Seoul to Singapore. We went from crowded roads and zero degrees to easy driving and 32 degrees - what a difference seven hours makes! More important, however, is the brilliant time we had coming down.

I love Singapore Airlines. The service was terrific, the food was good and the plane was comfortable. And all provided by the lovely Singapore girls flight crew. It was glorious. I may have to fly through Singapore to London from now on!

And compare this to your airline: the entertainment system was not working on our flight today. To start, they made sure to tell us before we boarded the plane. And for compensation, they gave everyone a US$200 voucher to use for duty-free shopping or upgrades. Yes, you read that right...$200. I was not even going to watch the movies anyway and I spent more time looking at the shopping guide than I would have watching movies.

I bought a watch and a few odds and ends. And the girl gave me a nice mobile phone strap too. Probably I will never use any of it, but there were so good about the whole thing, you had to be happy about it.

Posted by Kirk at 04:50 PM | Comments (0)

December 01, 2005

Seoul - cold and trafficy (is that a word?)

Seoul is a big crowded city. I have been here five or six times, but I can never figure out quite where I am. Also, there seems to be traffic jams no matter where you go...too many cars, too few roads, or something like that. I still like it, although I like it better when I am not in a car.

Anyway, here are a few pictures from the last couple of days. On the left, is the entrance to Gimpo Airport, which is actually the smaller (and older airport)...it benefits from being closer to the city. And it also has a kick-ass sign. On the right, is a picture taken in one of the business districts (looks cold, right?). I would have to look up the actual name of the location, but I am too lazy. This is in front of the Seoul Financial Centre. We had lunch there...it was good. There was also a Dunkin Donuts and I love donuts.

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Anyway - we are off to Singapore tomorrow and will be there for the weekend. It will be much warmer than Korea. Woo hoo.

Posted by Kirk at 05:50 PM | Comments (0)

November 30, 2005

Fujisan (富士山) and off to Korea

We flew to Seoul this morning...had to wake up terribly early to get to the airport and catch the flight, but it was worth it to catch this shot of Mt. Fuji from the airplane as we headed off to Korea.

We left from Haneda Airport instead of making the long trek out to Narita, which was good in terms of saving time traveling to the airport, but it is pretty clear that renovation is a low priority at the International terminal!

Anyway, this is the sunrise from my balcony this morning. This picture does not do it justice...it was very nice. And that is Mt. Fuji on the right, with considerably fewer clouds than usual.

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It is colder here than in Tokyo...the low tonight will be below freezing. I went for a walk just after sunset and it seemed like you could feel the temperature falling! It's a good thing I like cold weather!

Posted by Kirk at 06:14 PM | Comments (0)

October 18, 2005

Pictures of France in the album

link8.JPGYou can find some of the pictures I took in France by clicking the button to the left or the one on the sidebar to the right. I did not add all of them - why do something today, if you can put it off for tomorrow (not promising anything about more pictures then, by the way). Hmmm, do you think the overcast, rainy weather in Tokyo has got me down?

Posted by Kirk at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

October 15, 2005

Hokkaido - some of the pictures posted

link5.JPG I have posted some of the Hokkaido pictures...click this button here on the one on the sidebar to the right. It was really nice to take a look at these pictures again...made me remember what a good time it was.

Maybe you will also notice that I have made the page more exciting to look at by replacing the text links with actual pictures! I wish I could take credit for the monkey picture, but actually Aiko sent that to me. She took it in Nikko. Thanks Aiko.

I will add some more links to other galleries as I start to fill the albums up with pictures. You should go have a look!

UPDATE: I think I have all of them loaded now. There are 49 of them in the album...and I tried to leave some comments for each. Considering how long it has been and how bad my memory is, I did not do too bad. Good thing it is raining or I never would have got this finished.

Posted by Kirk at 11:37 PM | Comments (0)

October 09, 2005

Tokyo here I come!

I am back in BA's Heathrow Terminal One Lounge...at least I am going home now!

Since the last time I was here, a new section of shops has been opened at Terminal One. It is really well done. I spent some time poking around to see where my next meal is coming from as I can only assume the BA/Gate Gourmet dilemma will keep me from eating something on the flight. That is probably a good thing.

I did not buy anything in the shops, but I will have to stop by to get some last minute omiyage for the office. They are getting chocolate, like always. Better to be safe than sorry.

My trip to the airport was the fastest ever, maybe 30 minutes. I thought the driver was late to my hotel and I told him I had considered taking a taxi - not that I was late - but he seemed to need to prove a point. Anyway, as you can see, not much happening today.

I will spend part of my flight thinking about what I want to cook when I get home. Maybe I should eat now...I seem to be focusing too much on food.

Anyway, here is one more picture of London...this is the Lamb and Flag pub, just off Covent Garden. I did not go there this time, but I thought this was a suitable farewell picture.

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Posted by Kirk at 08:19 PM | Comments (0)

October 08, 2005

I am a lucky traveller

London has been consistently grey and cloudy over the last three weeks, which is a nice change from the heat and humidity of the summer in Tokyo. But I would not mind seeing a bit of blue sky or sun for a change.

The good news is that the weather forecast calls for sunshine and warm weather on Monday...28 degress in mid-October. The bad news is I will miss that as I am travelling back to Japan. I just checked the weather forecast. Yep, it is raining.

I took this picture in Zurich, where it was 8 degrees. It is all a matter of perspective. And, as you can see, the fog continues to find me wherever I go.

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Posted by Kirk at 04:22 PM | Comments (0)

October 07, 2005

I forgot my wallet...

Some of you may remember that last week I mentioned a certain person who went to the airport with his baby's passport. I can report back that he is taking advantage of his reputation as much as he can. We popped out of the office for a quick lunch today. When the bill came, he pats down his pockets, realises they are empty, and says to me "I think I left my wallet back in the office!"

...considering his reputation, how could I not believe him? I wonder if he had his baby's wallet instead?

Anyway, he saved himself £11, which goes a little way towards paying for the £120 in extra cab charges he racked up.

Posted by Kirk at 01:22 AM | Comments (1)

I am back in London, but nothing going on

I got back to London on Tuesday night, but I have been too lazy to update this. The good news is I will return to Tokyo next week...so, the few of you who still read this are in the know. I am hoping I do not waste my entire three-day weekend on a plane (I already missed two in Japan by being here in London), but it looks like Sunday is the only day I can travel.

In any case, do not include me in any of your weekend plans. This weekend, at least.

I am going to make a list of things that I want to do when I get home. It should be obvious, but jet lag makes my already bad memory worse. Often times I get home after a trip and remember I wanted to cook, but I cannot think of what exactly I wanted. So, I make chicken stir fry and am vaguely unsatisfied. Bad example - I love chicken.

Anyway, I will try and get a few spectacular pictures of London to post on here before I leave. Depends on whether the weather cooperates (get it? weather, whether! I am so funny). It is cold and cloudy here and there is no indication that will change.

Posted by Kirk at 01:13 AM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2005

Off to Zurich now

I am off to Zurich this morning - quick trip, leaving Monday morning and coming back Tuesday night. But, in the interest of travelling lightly...I am not taking my laptop, so it is unlikely I will be updating this!

Posted by Kirk at 02:21 PM | Comments (0)

October 01, 2005

Lazy Saturday morning

Carrying on from my earlier post...after killing as much time as possible on the Internet, having a morning coffee and finishing the book I was reading, I went out for a walk. I do this to give the hotel's housekeepers an opportunity to clean my room, but it is mostly wishful thinking on my part as they know to only stop by when I am here. They seem to have an innate sense of who is absent, which allows them to skip that room and continue on to harass the guests that remain behind.

Anyway, I walked through Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square with my camera ready in case I came across something interesting. I didn't, but I took 20 pictures despite that, and this is the one I like the best. At least you are not getting another picture of an old building and a red double-decker bus (I will save those for next time).

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Posted by Kirk at 07:40 PM | Comments (0)

Who can't travel alone?

I bet most of you are laughing and saying "that must be Kirk!"...but you are wrong. Sure, I have lost my passport once, mis-placed it twice, and lost my wallet too. But I am always traveling and over time the odds of this occurring naturally increase. Or I may be completely useless, but this is my blog, so I do not have to admit it.

What I have never, ever done is show up at the airport to head off with my mates for a stag weekend in Spain (who's the man? I am the man! etc) and try to check in using my baby's passport. Not only does he miss the first night's revelry, he has to pay an extra 120 quid to get back home and back and admit to his wife that he is the biggest monkey she could ever meet (which is why he gets another mention here).

I won't tell you who did that, because it is embarassing enough for him, especially as he has only been back in the UK for a short time after living in Japan for 18 months. You may remember his many sayonara parties.

Posted by Kirk at 12:26 AM | Comments (1)

September 29, 2005

An especially good pub

I had a dilemma today. I had arranged to meet a former client for a drink tonight but we had never agreed to the details. Having about a thimble-sized brain - and thus unable to remember anything, I found myself at a loss when he confirmed and said "name the place". I like to think I am pretty good at pubs, restaurants etc., but I thought I should pick someplace close to his office near St. Paul's and I rarely go over that way.

I decided that Bow Lane would be a good destination, but I had only been there once and could not remember the name of the pub. So, I went on to the Internet and found a great site that rated pubs. After 10 seconds, one of the listings jumped out at me, so I copied the link, dropped into the e-mail and wrote "this is the place".

I had never been there, so I had no idea what to expect. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be one of the coolest pubs I had been to in London. I would like to take credit, but the reality is it was a last minute punt (hit and hope, for you football fans) that paid off much better that I could ever hope for.

Anyway, the place is Williamson's Tavern and it is in a small alley just off Bow Lane. The location is great, it was crowded but not uncomfortable, the service was good, and the beer poured well. It helped that the guy I met is great company and I was truly sorry that I had to leave to meet another client. The ironic thing is we had talked about bad behavior like cancelling meetings at the last minute. Sure enough, when I checked my e-mail after leaving, my last meeting had indeed cancelled at the last minute.

Anyway, these are a few pictures. I took the one of the left as I was walking up to Bow Lane...you can see St Paul's Cathedral in the background. The picture on the right is the alley where the pub is located. What an awful picture...guess I will have to go back! Who's coming with?

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Posted by Kirk at 05:43 AM | Comments (1)

September 25, 2005

London's Wagamama's = AVOID

For some reason, I really wanted ramen for lunch today. So, I went to one of the many Wagamama's Japanese-style restaurants in London. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, TRY SOMETHING ELSE.

It is not that the food is particularly bad (of course, it is not great either), but the service is absolutely awful. It seems the only commonality between the people that worked there was their lack of awareness/inability to serve.

They ARE quick to get you to your table and take your order, but after that you are on your own. When I had finished today, I sat for about five minutes after they cleared my dishes before finally asking for the bill. I can handle that. But the server smiled and said "oh, I will get that for you!" like he was doing me a favor! AND I had to go through the same process twice more, once to actually pay and again with my change.

Maybe it is because service in Japan is better and I expect that should carry over in London. I paid 15 pounds (Y3,000) for a ramen and a gyoza, which is about three times as expensive as Tokyo. For that price, I expect them to be more attentive.

I know that some of you are saying "I told you so"...ok, I believe you now. I won't be going back.

Then again, it could be me. When I got into the elevator in the hotel, this complete fuckwit got in at the same time. (I could tell beforehand because he was wearing immaculately pressed khakis, white shirt (also immaculately pressed) and the shiniest tassled brown loafers I had ever seen. And it is Sunday) I pressed the button for my floor and the elevator starts to move. After five seconds he looks at me and says "uh, excuse me, four please". There were two of us in an elevator that can handle ten and I was not blocking the panel. I had left my bell boy uniform in my room and opted for a t-shirt and levi's, so you would think he realised I was a guest. I asked if he meant he wanted me to press the button for him...that got him sorted out. But not me...after that bad lunch, I just wanted to give him a kicking.

Posted by Kirk at 10:00 PM | Comments (1)

September 24, 2005

One last look at France

It is Saturday and exactly one week after my last full day of holiday in France. That is a bit depressing so I thought I would post a few more pictures to brighten up my day.

These two are of Leigh and Nicky's house - isn't it awesome? On the left is the front of the house - Leigh is standing just to the left of the tree while Nicky is upstairs in the window. On the right is a picture of the patio off the kitchen. We had a lot of meals there. A lot of very good meals. Do not get me started.

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I cannot believe I had to come back...

These last two pictures are taken from the front of the house and show the contrast in weather that we had. I think I have entirely too many pictures with fog in them this summer. As for the other picture, I like the contrast of the sunlit tree and the dark clouds in the background. Makes me feel like a real photographer. Leigh and Nicky just had all of this landscaped and it looks fantastic.

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Posted by Kirk at 08:58 PM | Comments (2)

Finally it is Friday

This has been a long week - probably because I was on holiday last week, but also because I was out late on two nights and I could not really shake off not having enough sleep.

Fortunately, I had a very good lunch, which helped restore my spirits somewhat (but did not make me any more productive). The venue was Pont de la Tour, which is a very nice restaurant in the Shad Thames area just off Tower Bridge. I took this picture on my way over to lunch.

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As you can see, the weather was not the best, but it was warm enough that we could get a table on the terrace. The food was good, although the service was a little overbearing at first. Lucky for us it started to rain and the canopy above us started to fill with water. It did not have any drainage, so the staff had to keep coaxing the water off of it so it would not break. They used chairs, which added an extra element to the entertainment.

I did not have an umbrella and neither did the client. His office was less than ten minutes away, so we decided to chance it and walk back. And, yes, I was soaked. For a city with so much rain, there is a surprising lack of umbrellas for sale. Anyway, the lunch was good.

Posted by Kirk at 05:45 AM | Comments (0)

September 22, 2005

Market day(s) in France

We actually had two market days on this trip. On Friday, we went to the super local market in St. Livrade. In Saturday, we went to Villeneuve-sur-Lot, which is a larger town about 15 minutes away.

If you like vegetables, you should love this picture. It makes me want to cook something. I wish I had a kitchen right now. Of course, that also has a lot to do with being in a hotel in London.

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Here are a few more photos from that morning...chicken on the left, spices on the left. I wish I had taken better pictures when I was there. They had a man selling very fresh chicken. VERY fresh...every so often he would grab one of the birds out of its cage and take it around the corner, presumably to cut its head off. I wonder what the remaining chickens were thinking as their mates were taken away?

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I like this picture - it is just off the main square in Villeneuve. Looks nice, right?
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The weather was much nicer that day...it is hard to take a bad picture in France when the sky is this blue. Here are some other shots. The only thing I bought at the markets was a newspaper. Sad, isn't it?
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That is all I will post on France, I think. Eventually, I hope to put more pictures in the photo album...of course I have to upload the Hokkaido ones first. I need more free time. Maybe I should stop going to work...it takes up too much of my day.

Posted by Kirk at 04:34 AM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2005

Wine tasting and a spectacular lunch

We spent one of our days driving around to the wineries. It helped that the weather was splendid (I promise I will not mention it again). The wine was also good. As I mentioned yesterday, we went to Montbazillac, which is just up the hill from Bergerac.

Our first stop was Chateau de la Jaubertie, which is not only a beautiful place but full of fabulous wine. I liked the white and rose (and the dessert wine - I always like that!), but apparently it is the reds that they are known for. Don't ask me what exactly I had - I drink whatever they put in front of me. Anyway, this is the entrance to the shop>>>
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The frustrating part of the day was that I knew I was not taking any wine home - not the same for Leigh, who bought more than a few bottles. More on that later.

After we had worked up a steady buzz, I mean seriously sampled the local vintages, we headed off to lunch. I cannot remember the name of the restaurant (imagine that!), but I can tell you that the food was good and the view was great (actually I took the picture below from our table). The staff were a bit creepy, however, as they insisted on explaining to you what was on your plate when they put it down. It could have been worse as the owner was chatting to some people at another table and did not leave, even when their courses arrived and they started eating. Mostly he just stared at them, but sometimes he would interject himself into their conversation.
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Afterwards, we went back home. Leigh and I spent the afternoon organising his wine (see the wine cellar below) and then we lit a bonfire to get rid of the boxes, some old tree stumps and other miscellaneous garbage. The fire smoldered for two days and we would go throw more wood on it when we were bored. That was surprisingly fun.
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Next time, I will put up some pictures from our early morning market visits. Can't be bothered now, Arsenal v Everton is starting soon and I want to watch a little of the match.

Posted by Kirk at 03:23 AM | Comments (0)

September 19, 2005

France: awesome

Well, I am back from France. It was excellent. Thank you Leigh and Nicky!

I think this is the longest time I have been away from the Internet (and the blog!) since I started writing all these things down, and I am having trouble deciding what to write. Because of that, and because it is Sunday night and I have an early start tomorrow (work - ugh!), I am going to give you a little at a time. And try to stick with pictures as much as possible!

For background: I spent the last five days with Leigh and Nicky at their place in France. It is in Lot-et-Garonne, in between Bourdeaux and Toulouse. The weather was mostly good, although rain threatened the first day and there was some morning fog three of the days (all my fault, as you know if you read about my trips to Hokkaido, Karuizawa and Hayama).
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This next picture is of Chateau Montbazillac. It is impressive from the outside, but after spending eight euros a piece and touring the place, we were less excited. But the region is also well known for its dessert wines (a poor man's Sauternes?!) and we went around and sampled a few, which made up for the disappointment of the chateau. And the weather was fantastic as you can see.
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I will leave it there for now. More pictures coming soon...

Posted by Kirk at 05:50 AM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2005

Some lazy London pictures before I go

I am off to France for the rest of the week. I had a fairly long day yesterday - jet lag had me up at 5am, all the better to get to the office by 7am. A full day at the office, with some major distractions as England and Australia played the fifth and deciding match in the Ashes. And, as usual, too many drinks at the Ship after work.

I realised I have not been prolific at keeping this up and thought a few pictures would be nice. But I am having quality problems and did not get much that is worthwhile. Maybe I needed a coffee?

Anyway, when I left the hotel, I saw these riders go past. By the time I got my camera out and focused they were almost gone. Definitely unexpected! And the other side is The Green Park - nice place to walk in the morning.
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I will not take my laptop to France, so this is likely the last post until Sunday. A true vacation...no Internet!

Posted by Kirk at 04:33 PM | Comments (0)

September 12, 2005

Cold and rainy...must be London

Here I am, back in London. I am staying in Piccadilly, which is a first for me. Every time I get used to a hotel and the surrounding area, my company takes it off the list and I have pick a new one and start the process all over again. Since I am only here for a few days, I guess it is not a big deal.

One benefit of the hotel is that it is right across the street from Hatchards, which is a very good bookstore. So, once I was settled I headed over there and got a few books. After that, I went to the Cafe Nero at St James church and had a latte. It is much cooler than Tokyo and it was nice to sit outside without sweating.

The flight was OK...I slept most of the way and the plane did not crash (Preyash/Glenn: sorry but it looks like I get to keep my plasma TV a bit longer). I flew on BA, which has limited its meal service because of trouble with the company that provides catering at Heathrow. Why that impacts flights from Tokyo is a good question, I guess, but I did not ask - I am getting used to the sub-standard service and all I wanted to do was sleep. (They did send me an e-mail on Saturday to let me know. I guess they realised if they had sent it earlier in the week, I would have switched flights. To reward their cleverness, I might start flying Virgin every so often)

Anyway - it is 6pm on Sunday night and I have to figure out what I am having for dinner. Thanks to BA, I am starving. And I must be jet-lagged if I am complaining about missing airline food.

Posted by Kirk at 02:05 AM | Comments (1)

September 11, 2005

Sayonara, for now

OK...here we go again. I am off to London and another business trip. I would really REALLY rather stay in Japan this time, but I do no have much choice in the matter.

I had a good final Saturday - I met Satomi for coffee in the afternoon. She was kind enough to come to Akasaka to see me. I am so lazy.

Last night, I met up with Preyash, who is back in Tokyo after "moving away" last month. We joined up with Fred's stag party soon after (they are probably still going....)

Glenn and Preyash were arguing about who would get my plasma screen TV if I die in a plane crash (today being 11 September and all), which is reassuring. For the record, neither of them can have it, or anything else i own for that matter.

Anyway, I took a few pictures of the stag party, but the memories are too fresh (and painful) for me to post them yet. Maybe I need a few days of London weather?

Posted by Kirk at 07:05 AM | Comments (0)

September 05, 2005

How many Americans own a passport?

Surprisingly, no one seems to know for sure. But an educated guess appears to put it at close to 20% or 60m. There seems to be a lot of reasons why this number is so low...these seem to be the most reasonable:

* The US is a big country. There is such a diversity of places, climates, and activities that Americans do not need to leave the country.
* Vacations are too short. Most Americans get two weeks holiday a year, limiting the distances people are willing to travel.
* There is no such thing as a "gap year". Some countries have a tradition of taking a year off between high school and college. Or military service and working. Not in the US!
* Close-by foreign travel is possible without one. One does not need a passport to go to Mexico, Canada or some parts of the Caribbean (at least not yet)

I did not get my first passport until I was 18 and before that, I did not think much of it. Of course, it seems like I have been on airplanes ever since.

If you want to review the entire debate about Americans and their passport situation, you should check out this entry and comments posted by Phil Gyford. At the very least, it is highly entertaining. If you want the hard number...skip the blog and refer back to the first sentence of this entry.

The whole question seems to invite an anti-American bias (Only X% of Americans have a passport, etc), but there is no love lost for the Americans that do travel....unfortunately that could be our own fault. And I am not talking about matching hawaiian shirts, not knowing the difference between carpaccio and pasta, or talking loudly in English in hopes that this will somehow translate into whatever local language is being spoken. Instead, think about iconic movie characters...we gave England James Bond and kept Chevy Chase for ourselves (and don't start moaning that Ian Fleming is not American...we made the movies).

Posted by Kirk at 11:35 PM | Comments (0)

August 27, 2005

Karuizawa - very cool

And I mean cool! It was 16 degrees on Thursday. And rainy. And foggy. I had hoped to go hiking (walking) for a little while, but the weather precluded that. I did walk around the place and buy a few things (jam, sausage), so it was not too bad.

Probably the biggest mistake I made was going on Thursday (rain in Tokyo) and not Friday (blindingly hot in Tokyo). Oh well, timing was never one of my strong points. The picture on the left is the view from Karuizawa Station. The one on the right is the entrance to the main shopping street.
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Karuizawa is one of the popular summer getaways from Tokyo. People have been heading to the mountains here for over one hundred years to escape the summer heat. The opening of the bullet train (shinkansen) and highway for the 1964 Olympics helped make it more accessible.

There is plenty to do (when it is not raining). Tennis, golf, hiking, and, of course, shopping. Most everything is on the northern side of the station, but there is an outlet mall on the south side that is impressively big. I did not take any pictures of that, but I did get a few shots in town - on the top left is an example of how international the stores are (sort of) and, on the right you can see the happiest store in Karuizawa. They sell honey there. Woo hoo. The bottom pictures are taken on the shopping street: a path to a shrine and the lack of crowds.
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It was a nice place to spend the day, but I would recommend you go when it is not raining. I was bored after a few hours. The train was nice, though.

Posted by Kirk at 09:04 AM | Comments (0)

August 23, 2005

Adventures in Japan's far north - part II

Here is what I was too tired to post yesterday...it is almost real time! I should tell you know that my original plan had been to leave Shiretoko and travel by train to Sapporo, through Hakodate and then down to Tokyo. With the uncertain weather, I opted to come straight back to Tokyo instead. So, there you go.

Hokkaido - Day four (Sunday 21 August 2005)
If you are reading through from the previous post, you may have noticed it was another early night, which made an early day possible. I woke up at 7am with nine hours sleep - that kind of schedule is either super healthy or terribly bad because it is such a change from my usual habits. Anyway, we started with the best breakfast: salmon, crab miso soup, wakasagi, salad and seaweed. I do not know if I had mentioned before, but Rausu is the "home" of the seaweed they use to make dashi. So, I guess that makes it important.

As for travel, the mood was down as the forecast was for rain in the afternoon. With that in mind, we left as soon as possible to get in what we could. We started with a viewpoint above the town of Rausu. From there, you can see the largest of the contested Northern Islands . These are the ones the Russians came and took at the end of World War II. I will write about this more at some point. It is only 30km away, and needless to say, this is a big issue for the locals.

As with the previous day, it was foggy on the road to Shiretoko, but it cleared up some as we came down the mountain and we even saw a few deer. In Tokyo, this probably seems like a big deal and you can see we got very close, but the reality is there are deer everywhere in the park. After awhile, we did not bother stopping to watch when we saw one on the side of the road. By the way, these are Ezo Shika (Hokkaido Deer), but they are referred to as "Bambi".
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We met up with our first traffic jam in Hokkaido when we got to the park. We had not taken into account the small parking lots! Even though we arrived before 10am, we had a 20-30 minute wait before we could actually park.
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Once we had done that, we walked around the five lakes. These are fed by underground springs and stay at a constant level (no river feeds into them). Notably, there are bears in the area, so one cannot always hike the full route, but we were fortunate enough that everything was open. Kaz says they close it when someone reports a bear sighting...so, there is always someone who gets a little extra during their walk - I was hoping it would not be us.

Actually, the whole scene was very funny. We set off at the same time as a tour bus group, so there were 40 people or so walking in a big group. It was crowded. We soon left them behind, however, as we walked farther in. It is an easy trail and nice to be in the woods away from civilisation. It was also very quiet (and relatively dry, so far).

After our walk, we went back to the main area. The air was getting misty, but no real rain. We pressed on down the road to the nature center, with another walk - this time to a viewpoint overlooking the ocean. As you can see the view was awesome! But the rain had finally arrived. It was nice to walk around anyway.
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With the rain, there was not much we could do. We caught a movie in “Dynavision” that showed all the beautiful scenes from the park that we could not see because of the inclement weather. I slept through half of it. From what I could see, the producers would fly a helicopter over a ridge and then point the camera down as they went over it. This was pretty dramatic and also induced a bit of vertigo. I am sure I will have one of those "falling" dreams now - that is exactly what it looked like.

cafefox05b.jpg We had planned to take a boat tour, but all the trips were cancelled. So, we went into Utoro and hung out for awhile. We found the coolest place - Cafe Fox. They do boat tours, but also have a cafe and "takeaway fish and chips". We settled in for a coffee and watched the rain come down. There were three girls working and they all seemed bored senseless. After we got our coffee, their work was finished. They turned on the DVD player, popped in "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen", and relaxed in front of the TV. We also watched for 45 minutes, but it was a bit cold (18 degrees again! and the cafe was open to the outside) so we decided to go to the hotel and check in. Cafe Fox was only the second place we saw with Internet access and the only one with Wi-Fi. And the coffee was good too. If you are in Utoro, this should be your central meeting point. It is in front of the "Godzilla Rock" by the port. You cannot miss it.

The last hotel "Hotel Shiretoko- Frontier Suite" gets mixed reviews...it had everything, included the best and most relaxing outside bath I used during the trip and a remote control toy helicopter in the lounge. But dinner was a buffet only and not very good. Following our usual routine, we had dinner, a drink in the lobby and called it quits for the day. I was alseep by 9am...not sure if it was the hiking in the morning or the malaise of the afternoon.

Hokkaido - Day five (Monday 22 August 2005)
I was up at 5am for the second time during the trip...SCARY. What is wrong with me? I went down to the bath figuring it would be empty at that hour, but it was massively busy! I actually had to wait my turn. I had not counted on the early bus tours.

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That was pretty much it. There was nothing to do because it was raining, so our plans for the day were out the window. We decided it was best to leave Shiretoko early. Unfortunately, that meant we had to rush as the only available flight for Kaz was at 1030am. And I had to decide whether to press on to Sapporo or return to Tokyo. I opted for the latter and made a reservation. Kaz would change his ticket when we got to the airport. We stopped by this water fall site on the way, but only long enough to snap a few photos and get back in the car.

When we got to the airport, however, the flight was stand-by only, which meant Kaz would have to wait until 1pm or even 8pm to catch a flight back. I thought that was ironic, since I had been the one who expected to stay in Hokkaido longer. Fortunately, he was able to get a seat and avoid hours at the airport.

BACK HOME
And that was the trip. By far, Kamuiwakka Falls and Iozan (Sulphur Mountain) were my favourites, with the walk to the coast from the Shiretoko Nature Center not far behind. But the fog and rain meant that I never saw much of the beautiful scenery that makes the area so popular.

Marumi Ryokan in Rausu was my favourite hotel - nice people and great food. And Cafe Fox was the best place to hang out. As i said before, any trip to Shiretoko should include these places.

One thing is certain - I need to get back to Shiretoko again. That was a great holiday.

Anyway, I am at home now, 10am on a Tuesday, and still on that weird holiday schedule (in bed by 11, up by 7). I think I will do a bit of shopping today and head over to Hakone or Karuizawa for a day trip tomorrow.

Posted by Kirk at 09:19 AM | Comments (2)

August 22, 2005

Adventures in Japan's far north

Hokkaido is Japan's northern island. I went with my colleague Kaz, who was making his third trip to the eastern part of the island. He mapped out an amazing itinerary that even wickedly bad weather could not detract from.

The main event was to see Shiretoko National Park, which was made a UNESCO world heritage site on 14 July, but we also visited some of the sites in central Hokkaido. By the way, in the Ainu language Shiretoko translates as "land's end" or "the end of the world". Coming from Tokyo, it certainly seemed appropriate.

This is also the "land of summer tour groups" - all the hotels are relatively the same: Japanese room with dinner and breakfast included, karaoke bar in the basement, and game room. Some were better than others, as you will see.

We had a typical Japanese holiday - except that we drove ourselves (actually Kaz drove as I do not have a Japanese license) instead of using a tour bus. For me, that meant two baths a day and only Japanese food. It was great.

Hokkaido - Day one (Thursday 18 August 2005)
After an uneventful plane flight, we arrived in Asahikawa. It looks like France to me…rolling hills, lavender, strange buildings. More importantly, it is cool…20-23 degress, no humidity. AWESOME

Kaz is an old hand at this part of the world so we went off and checked out a few places before going to our ryokan.
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We stayed in Biei (sounds like BA, as in the crap airline) and it is so beautiful here that the TV and commercial people come up here to film. One of the side effects is a tourism offshoot, which I will call the CM site. First off, the guide book had a number of places it recommends on the fact that a popular ‘80s TV show called Kitano Kuni (North Country) was shot there. We also went to “mild seven hills”, which is not planted with tobacco, as one might think, but edamame. That is the picture on the right, and I bet you could feed all of Ginza from this field!
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The hotel is nice (notice the downgrade from ryokan). The set dinner was very good, which helps, and the rotenburo (outside bath) was great. The inside bath leaves something to be desired, looking more like a prison bath than anything else (no drop the soap jokes please). There is also a fantastically cool omiyage shop, including melons (Y5,000), potatoes, onions, salmon (Y5,000) and crab (Y11,000) that you can send pre-packaged back home. I opted for the Hokkaido Milk Caramel candy (Y200), but was seriously tempted to send my assistant a crab (she asked for one…honest!...but I am cheap and did not send one).

The entertainment facilities are also worth mentioning – game room, ramen shop and “snack bar”, which was like some sort of Tokyo hostess bar/karaoke lounge, without any people in it. There was a Y1,000 cover charge, but drinks were Y300 each…so we still saved money.

The next day was the real start of the trip – for one, it was the longest drive of the trip at 200 miles – so we had an early night (1030pm).

Oh, forgot to mention – no Internet, which is why it is only now that you are reading this.

Hokkaido - Day two (Friday 19 August 2005)
Yikes! I was up at 530am. Must be the fresh country air. Or I am not used to all the quiet? We had a long drive, so we started early. After a quick breakfast (with bad coffee), we jumped in the car to start what would be 300km of driving.

s 053.jpg First up on the agenda was a photo museum, Takushinkan. Not quite what one would expect for a staring point, but the photographer Shinzo Maeda was an absolute genius with the lens and a local - the combination produce some fantastically nice pictures. After that, we popped over to a coffee shop and finally got the proper cup we had wanted at breakfast. Not worth mentioning except for the weird food they served and the great t-shirts they sold.

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Our first "nature" experience was to be Daisetsuzen (Big Snow Mountain), but when we got there it was starting to rain and there was little chance to see anything from the top. So we decided to press on. At the time, we did not realise this would become a theme of the trip, but it was one of the few times we let bad weather stand in our way. The tourist trap, I mean gift shops, at the bottom were nice anyway.

We headed off to Naitai Bokujo (dairy farm) for what is supposed to be a great view of the southeastern part of the island. s 059.jpg
As you can see, we were foiled again. Even worse, they had downgraded the food menu, so we had to settle for frankfurters and potato dumplings. We did eventually find a roadside ramen shop - this is when we discovered that a Hokkaido team had reached the semifinals of the annual high school baseball tournament (Koshien). We watched the start of the game, but soon more pressing matters, like outrunning the storm, took precendence.

We did our first hiking at Lake Onnetoh...there is a relatively easy 3km course that takes you to a waterfall. I snapped a few photos and we moved on to the end of the day's journey: Akanko Spa.

This was a pretty cool place, actually. Lake Akan was formed by the eruption of a volcano. It sounds cool until you see where the volcano is still venting. In fact, we visited this site down the street from our hotel where there is boiling mud and a sign warning you that you will boil yourself in the lake if you walk in there.
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Our hotel was a bit creepy, with a dodgy nightclub act in the basement bar (Y2,000 cover charge) and a Venus Fort-like lobby ceiling. But our room had a great view and there was an outside bath (rotenburo) on the roof that was pretty relaxing. We skipped the dodgy show and had a beer in the lobby while watching all the women shop in the souvenir store. I guess we looked pretty creepy ourselves sitting there drinking while wearing our yukata. Oh, I forgot to mention, we were the only ones who thought that was acceptable behavior for a Friday night. Asleep by 10pm...

Hokkaido - Day three (Saturday 20 August 2005)
This is when I first realised that Kaz had a problem. For some reason, where ever he goes in Hokkaido rain and fog follow. We managed to visit one viewpoint 10km from our hotel and have some sun, but that was the last we saw of it for the rest of the trip. s 083.jpg

Kaz said our first stop would be lovely Mashuko. When we got there, this is what I saw. That is when he told me that there was a popular song in Japan in the 70s or 80s called Kiri-no-Mashuko (foggy Mashuko). I can see why. That should have been a downer, but one of the highlights of the trip was next in the agenda: Sulphur Mountain (Iozan). This was such a vast change from what I expected! Yes, that is sulphur...the smell aside, it was great. For some reason, everyone there seemed to be having a great time, including me. We took a few pictures. That is Kaz with some boiling eggs (that is not where the smell comes from, but there were some savvy entrepreneurs there selling them anyway). Iozan also rates highly because they were selling Tantakatan shochu in the gift shop.
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We went next to Lake Kussharo to see the sand onsen (more beach-side volcanic activity...no thanks!) and the Ainu museum. The old man at the museum said he would take my picture in an authentic Ainu outfit. Considering how ridiculous I look in a yukata, I declined his offer.

The rain/fog was getting depressing and it did not improve at all as we headed to Shiretoko. By the time we reached Utoro (gateway to Shiretoko), it was nearly impossible to see more than a hundred metres. I was not so excited.

But then came the best part of the trip: Kamuiwaka Falls. I could never explain how cool this was (but I will try). First...it is so foggy we could barely find the parking lot we need to take the bus. Then we had to travel 40 minutes by bus to get there. But it is all worth it because the water from Kamuiwaka Falls is from a hot spring. And you climb up the waterfall to get to a bath. These are the pictures...it was still foggy, so it was very surreal.
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That finished off a pretty full day and we headed off to Rausu on the south coast of Shiretoko. We stayed at the Marumi Ryokan. It did not look like much, but it is an absolutely cool place. s 125.jpg
The dinner was excellent – one giant crab, one smaller one and a wide range of fresh seafood. I had whale sashimi for the first time, which is good for the entertainment value, but it was not really tasty. We shared a table with two older women – it looked like a mother and her daughter-in-law. The mother was an expert with crab and got us sorted. We ran into them a few more times touring ther next day- they were very nice and it made it seem liek a school holiday (except that my conversation was limited to "oh, hi, nice to see you again".

The inn is like a dormitory – there is not much to the rooms, for example. And the outside bath was not what you would get at a fancy place in one of the more travelled areas, but it was right over the beach (where they dry out the seaweed). It was absolutely relaxing and the best place we stayed on the trip. I hope I have the chance to visit again. If you ever go to Shiretoko, you really should stay here for a night.

We finished dinner by 8pm and there was not much else to do. We sat In the lobby with a few beers for awhile - the owner stopped by and chatted with Kaz for a bit, but I could only sip my beer and stare at the wall (that bad Japanese language issue again). Later, we walked up the street, which was completely empty. But it was only 17-18 degrees, which was awesome. Kaz was asleep by 9pm, but I stayed up for another hour reading and drinking a beer in the lobby. I was in bed by 10pm - not exactly the weekend schedule I am used to.

SIDE NOTE: The Hokkaido team won at Koshien for the second year in a row, which is very rare. That is all that everyone was talking about today. Good for them, and good for us that we were there when it happened.


I will write up the last day and a half later...stay tuned

Posted by Kirk at 06:39 PM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2005

Hokkaido we are here

We are in Hokkaido! This is the only Internet access i have seen and i left the UBS cable for my camera at home. Anyway, everything is great up here, but we have had terrible luck with the weather. Today we are going into Shiretoko. Last night, we stayed in Rausu at the Marumi Ryokan. Great place...I will write more about it later.

Posted by Kirk at 08:25 AM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2005

Finally...a bit of holiday

I am almost on my way...laundry is done, bags are packed (almost), and my mental changeover from work mode to play mode was finished days ago. I do have to spend a bit of time in the office tomorrow, but aside from organising my time away there is not much to do!

As you may remember, I am off to Hokkaido for a bit of touring, mostly with Kaz, but I will do a few days on my own and come back by train. Of course, there will be plenty of pictures etc.

The weather is the wild card...looks like there could be rain for the weekend, but the highs in Abashiri (25 degrees) are the lows for Tokyo now and Kushiro is even cooler. Might have to take a...what are those things called again...that's right: a jacket!



I am not sure what the Internet access situation is, so no promises on timely updates of the blog. It will all make it here eventually.

Posted by Kirk at 12:09 AM | Comments (2)

June 26, 2005

I have started to add some photos!

I have started to add pictures to the photo album. I am not so sure I like the format, so I might have to rebuild this at some point. For the time being, however, this is what I have to work with. You may notice that my enthusiasm for uploading pictures diminished the more I did it...sorry, I blame the jet lag.

Click here to see what I uploaded on Prague

These are from Budapest

And these are from London...

You can also click on the link "Go to pictures" on the right

Posted by Kirk at 08:41 PM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2005

One last look at London

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I took this last weekend when I was walking around Regents Park. You get to see it because I think it is an appropriate way to say goodbye to this trip to London!

Posted by Kirk at 08:57 PM | Comments (0)

The BA Lounge - home in 14 hours!

Here I am in the BA Lounge in terminal one...my home away from home. The good news is I am about 14 hours from being home.

I have my newspaper and two books. With that and, hopefully, one movie on the plane, I should be suitably entertained on the trip back.

I may be going back just in time as I think I am losing my mind. Today in duty free I bought a jacket. I have been looking for a lightweight blue jacket for the last few months, so when I saw one I had to buy it. But I have realised there is very little chance that I will be wearing it in the next few months. It is a nice jacket, though, and it should look good hanging in my closet over the summer.

Posted by Kirk at 08:50 PM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2005

St. Paul's - a quick visit

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My last meeting yesterday was just around the corner from this London landmark, and as I was a bit early, I popped around the corner for a picture. They had been doing renovation work on the facade for the last few years, but it is all finished now.

This is one of the most visited locations in London, and with good reason. The interior is absolutely beautiful and well worth the entrance fee and time spent.

If I was more historically inclined, I would give you some of the background. All I can remember is that it is very old and that it was built by Sir Christopher Wren, who was some kind of renaissance man. I think he did a good job, don't you?

Posted by Kirk at 03:51 PM | Comments (0)

The view from the cheap seats

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I took this from the cheap seats mentioned below. The view was actually very good, as you can see. I think I will have to explain more about cricket at a later date. I would now, but it is 1220am. Yikes.

Posted by Kirk at 08:15 AM | Comments (0)

Lords - the home of cricket

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Tonight I went to watch the cricket. We went to Lord's, which is probably the most famous cricket pitch in the world (for the English, anyway). We saw a type of cricket called 20/20, which is a shortened version of the traditional game invented about three years ago.

We sat in the cheap seats, although to be fair we had a pretty good view of the pitch. But there was no escaping the 30-degree heat and the concession stand catered to the warm beer crowd.

Fortunately, we had an ace in the hole. One of the girls in our group has some serious connections. Her father's company keeps a corporate box at Lord's. After the match, we headed there. The view was amazing, as this picture shows, and instead of ten-deep queues for warm beer, men in green jackets tripped over themselves to serve us Pims, wine etc. Very impressive.

I like cricket.

Posted by Kirk at 08:01 AM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2005

Tower Bridge and the Thames

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I took this picture from London Bridge looking east to Tower Bridge. I think the timing was perfect...it is a very nice picture.

Posted by Kirk at 08:41 AM | Comments (0)

London after work

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I took this picture from the front of the pub we went to after work. We sat outside and looked across the river at the financial district, better known as the City.

The building on the left with the ugly concrete plug on the top is where I work when I am in London. I felt like I was far enough away.

It was almost perfect...good weather, sunshine and water nearby. But the service at the pub was awful. I have always liked this place, but I am tempted to give it a pass from now on. It is the Horniman at Hay's. Go somewhere else if you have a choice - I spent about 40 minutes in line tonight. Basically, the bar staff suck.

Still we minimised the damage by ordering two drinks each when we went to the counter. And I guess I would have drank too much if it was more efficient. Did I mention that the bar staff suck?

We finished the night in Covent Garden at 1100. That is a bad time to go home as all the bars close at the same time and it is impossible to find a cab. I walked back to my hotel (30 minutes). It seems there is a conspiracy against me!

Posted by Kirk at 08:34 AM | Comments (0)

June 19, 2005

One more picture

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This is the Queen Mary Gardens in Regent Park. You could smell the roses from 100 metres away...fortunately for me, they were blooming. I would not have walked over here but my colleague Sarah sent me a text message saying I should go for the photo opportunity. She was right...thanks Sarah!

Speaking of which, I will go meet her now and watch the end of the cricket. And finally get that pint!

Posted by Kirk at 11:13 PM | Comments (0)

Doesn't this look comfortable?

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I spent an hour here reading a book. It was so relaxing I had to take a picture...I want to remember it!

Posted by Kirk at 11:11 PM | Comments (0)

Oasis or mirage?

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Actually, it is a little bit of both. I spent about four hours in the park today, mostly sitting and reading, but sometimes I walked around to get some pictures.

That is thirsty work, as you can imagine, so when I saw this place ("The Honest Sausage") in the middle of the park, I thought I was in luck. And I was. I had a sausage roll (hot dog) called a Park Porker that was very tasty. And I washed it down with a cold bottle of water.

But, my first impression when I arrived - that i had found a veritable oasis of great weather, outside benches and a cool lager - was disappointed. For some reason, they don't sell beer. Damn'

Posted by Kirk at 11:05 PM | Comments (0)

The canals of...London

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The weather is absolutely WONDERFUL today. High 20s/low 30s, with enough of a breeze to keep it comfortable. I took advantage of this by going to Regent's Park.

I cannot believe I had not done this before...it is about ten minutes from my hotel, so it is very convenient.

In any case, Regent's Canal forms the northern boundary of the park. This is a picture of the canal with some of the colorful boats. You can walk from Camden to Little Venice on the canal path (about three miles), or take a tour if you are lazy. When the sun is out, it is a very nice place to be.

Posted by Kirk at 11:01 PM | Comments (0)

June 18, 2005

Brussels' main square

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This is one side of the main square in Brussels. I think this is one of the nicer places I go to when I travel and the pictures do not do it justice.

Whenever we are in Brussels we usually stay near here (except this time). And I always go to the square for a look around. The other thing I do in Brussels is buy chocolate, because it is very good here. No pictures of that, unfortunately.

Posted by Kirk at 03:45 PM | Comments (0)

Brussels - lots of restaurants

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I took this picture yesterday as we were on our way to a meeting. This is a street just off the main square in Brussels. There are restaurants on both sides and it can get very busy.

This is mostly for tourists - and the menus are in four-five languages just in case. There are also men who stand in front of each place and try to get you to come in. It is kind of lively, but not always recommended as the best place to go for dinner. We were there in the morning, so it was not crowded at all.

Anyway, I think it looks nice.

Posted by Kirk at 03:41 PM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2005

Another Zurich picture - the lakefront

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I like water...lakes, beaches, rivers etc. So,I had to post this picture even though we are in Brussels now. Nice, isn't it?

Before our last meeting in Zurich, we walked over here and looked around. As you can see the weather was nice and it was very comfortable. When we get to the meeting, our client said that day was a good one for going to the lake. I wonder if he realises how lucky he is that we actually showed up?

Posted by Kirk at 04:45 PM | Comments (2)

Brussels - whew! the hotel is nice

First, I should update you on the hotel. I must have been in extreme pessimistic mode, because the hotel is a lot better than I thought it would be. Although it is pretty far from the city centre. And my room is decorated in red, which seems more appropriate for royalty...or torture. Not quite sure.

And I think this is why I woke up in the middle of the night with my heart hammering in my chest and vague memores of trying to escape from something. I do not usually have nightmares, but when I do, they tend to get my attention.

It could have been I ate too much last night. We went to a fabulous brasserie near the hotel called La Quincaillerie. The food was excellent - the service less so...just like in France. For some reason, the waitress did not like me. When I spoke to her, she would only reply with a tight-lipped half smile (my colleague says it is because I am American. But you have to remember that she is from Australia so she likes to make fun of people).

Despite that, it was very good and if you are ever in Brussels, I highly recommend you go there. Make sure to tell them you are American if you want the traditional French service.

Posted by Kirk at 04:33 PM | Comments (0)

The famous teddy bears of Zurich

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This is a picture of a teddy bear statue in Zurich. The Big Apple, or New York, is the theme, evidenced by the, well, big apple in its one hand and its Statue of Liberty crown. There are thousands of these statues all over the City, all with different themes. Strangely, I could not find any monkeys. I was a bit disappointed.

Anyway, this is an offshoot of the Cow craze that swept a lot of cities just after the millennium. I think it started in New York. In any case, they will be displayed for awhile and then auctioned off for charity.

The city unveiled these statues on a Saturday and the city announced a shopping day for the Sunday (usually shops are closed). The shop workers were not so happy about this and kidnapped a lot of the statues and took them to Bern. (Apologies if I did not get the story right…our local expert told me this after we had drank three bottles of wine). Anyway, they made their points but the stores still opened. And the teddy bears are still hanging around Zurich. I think it is a bit over the top, but the tourists seemed to like it.

Posted by Kirk at 02:39 AM | Comments (3)

Whirlwind tour of the Netherlands

We had four meetings today, each in a different city (Amsterdam, Schipol, Den Hague and Rotterdam). You know, like rock stars.

Despite the travel distances, all went well. We booked a car for the day, which made it easier. Our driver was excellent, easy to talk to and generally pleasant. He even bought our sandwiches to eat in the car as we had no time to stop for lunch. Very nice!

I left the camera in my overnight bag, so there is nothing to show you. Since we spent all day in meeting rooms or in the car, you are not missing much.

It was raining this morning, but the forecast is for 25-30 degrees in Brussels, our next destination. So, things are improving on the weather front.

The best thing about today could be last night. I slept deeply for eight hours and was not yawning or fidgeting for the first time in two weeks. Of course, I am tired now. Apparently, our hotel is less than impressive in Brussels, so this could be a disaster. Of course, you will hear about it if it is.

Posted by Kirk at 02:37 AM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2005

Amsterdam - everything but the Internet

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We are in Amsterdam now. This city has quite the reputation for easy living, but one thing it does not have is cheap Internet access. I finally found a hot spot and I am paying 19 euros for 30 minutes. So this will be a quick entry.

This is the view from my hotel room! Awesome. Very pretty city. We have meetings today and then we are off to Brussels tonight.

We seem to be following the rain around Europe, which is not great, but at least it is comfortable.

Last night, I had basil tomato soup for dinner. It was very good. There is a cafe next to the hotel that has amazingly good food.

Posted by Kirk at 03:15 PM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2005

Zurich - good fun, but now we have to work

I met my colleague Sarah here in Zurich - we will travel together the rest of the week. Last night, we met up with a friend for dinner. We went to a very good Italian in the city centre. It is very beautiful down there (of course...I left the camera in the hotel). We followed up dinner with a bottle of wine at a bar near the river and a few beers at a jazz club.

The latter was very fun, enough that we stayed out until 130am. It seemed like a good idea last night, but this morning I am not so sure. But I will remember that place for a long time, while I imagine I will have forgotten today's meetings by...tonight.

We are off to Amsterdam when we finish here.

Posted by Kirk at 03:30 PM | Comments (0)

Frankfurt - lots of time, no battery

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This is the view from my hotel room in Frankfurt. Not bad, I guess, if you like to look at high-rise buildings. Usually, I am not so keen on Frankfurt, but this time it was not so bad.

Except that my hotel did not have a power adaptor I could use for my laptop. So blame them for my inability to post new entries here.

It was good weather and I had a nice look around while I was there. It started to rain as I was on my way to the airport. I thought I was getting out just in time. But in Zurich, it was POURING DOWN rain when I arrived. More on that later.

Posted by Kirk at 03:25 PM | Comments (0)

June 13, 2005

Rhein Promenade

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This is the waterfront in Dusseldorf. There are a number of temporary bars set up along the wall facing the Rhein river. I imagine it is quite lovely when the sun is out, but the grey murky weather did not do much for the scene.

One of the bars had a sand floor, which was kind of cool, but I imagine you would have to drink a lot of beer to believe you were at the beach. I only stayed long enough to get this picture.

Posted by Kirk at 02:07 PM | Comments (0)

Local hangout

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I am staying at the Steigenberger Park Hotel and I took this at the aforementioned Park in front of the hotel. These birds seem to be fearless: when people approach them they do not run or fly away. Instead, they wait for the bread crumbs that one would obviously give them.

I spent about ten minutes watching them, before I got absolutely bored and had to go off and do something else. Now I know what they mean when they say there are lots of birds in Dusseldorf.

Posted by Kirk at 02:03 PM | Comments (1)

Dusseldorf - not bad so far

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I arrived in Dusseldorf and quickly left the hotel. I have heard this is a wild town if you know where to go.

In any case, there are a number of places like this. You can stand here and drink beer and watch everyone walk by. And it is really cheap! I had three beers (granted - they were small) for less than five euros.

I would have stayed for more, but it was freezing and I had left my jacket back at the hotel. I seem to vaguely remember 30 degree weather in Prague and Vienna, but there is no sign of it here.

Posted by Kirk at 03:27 AM | Comments (0)

June 12, 2005

Team America World Police

This movie probably offends everyone. And that is why it is so funny. I have been wanting to see this for ages and I finally had the chance last night.

The movie is by the guys who made South Park and is about a group of puppet commandoes that operate from a secret base in Mount Rushmore. North Korea's Kim Il-Jong is the bad guy, as are a host of terrorists, Hollywood actors who think we want to know what they believe, and possibly, Team America. The theme song is excellent.

It is not for everyone, but I liked it.

Posted by Kirk at 10:18 PM | Comments (0)

Here I am again

It is Sunday afternoon and I am in my normal place, namely the BA lounge at Heathrow Airport. So far, so good as there has not been any notification that my flight will be delayed!

I am on my way to Dusseldorf, Germany. I should arrive around 6pm, which will give me some time to walk through the old town down to the Rhine river. That should be nice and may make this website a little more interesting for you as I have not had my camera out for a few days.

I think I had already mentioned where I will be this week, but I will go through it again just in case.

Monday - Dusseldorf, Frankfurt
Tuesday - Frankfurt, Zurich
Wed - Zurich, Amsterdam
Thurs - Amsterdam
Fri - Brussels

I will get back to London on Friday night and should spend the following week there, so once I get through this week, I should have an easier time.

This reminds me of an intersting theme. I fly a lot. And that means tons of air miles. That should be good if I want to take a holiday, right? But the last thing I want to do is go to the airport if I have some time off. So, the miles keep piling up.

And, no...you cannot have any.

Posted by Kirk at 10:05 PM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2005

When am I coming home?

I have been out of Japan since 20 May and I am absolutely ready to go back. I think I will be finished on 24 June, which means I could go home that weekend.

The benefit of traveling as much as I do is that you have a keen appreciation for what you leave behind. Today, I am thinking how nice it would be to cook a meal. If I was home now, I could easily cook up some stir-fry chicken. Or prawns with chili and basil. Or mashed potatoes. Aarrggghhh - I am driving myself crazy.

Instead, I will probably go to Hamburger Union or La Perla. Not bad, but you have to go outside to do that. And THAT that reminds me that I would like to lay on my couch for ten hours and do nothing.

Posted by Kirk at 08:48 PM | Comments (2)

Nyhavn - an actual picture

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I bought some more batteries for the camera, so I was able to retrieve the pictures I took on Friday morning. This is the bar that we went and had drinks at.

It doesn't look like much at 730am, but it was much more festive when we were there in Thursday night.

Posted by Kirk at 08:46 PM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2005

Its Friday...ya-aaay

Thank God it is Friday. We will finish up our meetings in Copenhagen and should be back in London by 6pm. I get the whole day on Saturday off - not sure what I will be doing yet.

On Sunday, I will go to Germany to start the next leg of the business trip. I will travel through Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Amsterdam. This week went quickly and I hope the next one does to.

I went to take a few pictures of Copenhagen this morning, but the batteries in my camera have had enough. So, there is nothing to show you today. Ooops.

Posted by Kirk at 03:25 PM | Comments (1)

Copenhagen - very comfortable

What a day! We had six meetings in Stockholm, which was very tiring. We started with a breakfast meeting at 0730...that should be illegal! I was more concerned with drinking my coffee than saying anything intelligent. Fortunately, everyone else seemed to have the same idea.

We finished at 5pm and jumped on a flight to Copenhagen. Usually, that should not be too bad, but our flight was absolutely full and I sat in between two men who has some serious hygiene problems.

Arriving in Copenhagen makes it all worthwhile. This is such a cool place. Out hotel is fabulous and it is in a perfect location. There is a plaza in front of the hotel and one of the more laid back areas of town, Nyhavn, is on the other side.

We dropped off our bags and headed over there for a few drinks. Nyhavn (New Harbor) is a street next to a canal. On one side are restaurants and bars, with the required tables in front. The other side is the canal and a concrete kerb, which is just as busy with people that bring their own drinks and hang out. Basically, everyone is drinking.

There is a word in Danish, hygge, which loosely translates as comfortable or cozy. And that describes the street scene perfectly. It was a good way to wind down. Did you know that I studied Danish in college? That is about all I remember, unfortunately.

Tomorrow, we do not have to start until 9am. So, I can get a bit of extra sleep. Cool...

Posted by Kirk at 05:52 AM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2005

Silja Lines (シリヤライン) - a very cool cruise ship

The best way to travel between Stockholm/Helsinki is by cruise ship. And this is the route dominated by the world's #1 cruising company Silja Lines.

I am mentioning this for a number of reasons. First, there is a Silja Line office next door to my hotel. Second, my sisters did not believe me when I said I had been on a cruise ship. Third, I am in Stockholm and re-living my first overseas experience (see previous post).

Now, this is probably not for everyone. We sailed overnight, which was very cool as it was summer and the sun was out 20 hours/day. That and the fact drink prices were less than half that we paid in Sweden led us to stay up all night drinking.

We arrived in Helsinki the following morning and used the day reserved for sight-seeing to sleep in the train station. It was worth it! I don't know why my company insists I fly between these two cities when the better value is so obviously a cruise.

In the fifteen years since (yikes! has it been that long? that is scary), Silja Lines has expanded its marketing efforts and now promotes itself around the world. Click here for the Japanese site シリヤライン

Posted by Kirk at 05:47 AM | Comments (1)

Helsinki - another fine day

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We spent the day in Helsinki today. Actually part of the day as we had two meetings. We flew from Oslo in the morning, did the meetings, and then flew to Stockholm.

This is a park across the street from the offices of our client. Wouldn't that be a cool place to go have lunch? I was a bit jealous.

Anyway, we are in another strange hotel. For some reason, it has been really crowded and all the usual hotels are booked. Last night, we were at a hotel near the main train station and were given 'junior' suites. When you opened the door there was a staircase down to the room. So, you entered my room on the fourth floor, but it was actually on the third floor.

The hotel today is also strange. The front desk clerk seemed surprised when we walked in. And when I said I was there to check-in she asked me if I was at the right hotel. My room has two twin beds. And the bathroom is the size of a broom closet. It is very funky.

We will go to dinner and try to find that Irish bar soon. Should be fun. Tomorrow is very busy (six meetings!), so it looks like an early night.

Posted by Kirk at 01:25 AM | Comments (0)

June 08, 2005

Time for a picnic

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I took this picture at a park overlooking the harbor. Looks like fun, right? As I said before, we were going to dinner so we could not stop and enjoy the weather more appropriately.

Tomorrow morning we will fly to Helsinki for two meetings and get back on the plane to go to Stockholm. My colleague and I will use tomorrow night to hunt down a good Irish pub so that he can watch the Lions rugby when he returns in a few weeks for personal holiday.

Posted by Kirk at 06:06 AM | Comments (0)

Oslo - a good place to start work after holiday

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I took this picture in Oslo. It is a pedestrian street between the main square and the train station. It is pleasant, but the important thing here is that I snapped this at 10pm!

This is the best time of year to be in Scandinavia - the sun hardly sets and everyone wants to be outside to enjoy it.

We were out this late because we flew in to take a client to dinner. That was good fun, because everyone in Scandi is laid back and happy and this particular client is great to hang out with. We went to a Chinese restaurant - the food was good...but the waiter spilled a glass of wine AND water on me. That was not so good.

Posted by Kirk at 06:00 AM | Comments (0)

June 07, 2005

Off to Scandi soon

I am flying to Oslo this afternoon to start the working part of my trip. We have a pretty crazy schedule: four cities in three days. The good thing is that we end up in Copenhagen on Friday. I am wondering whether I should stay Friday night and return to London on Saturday.

The problem is I have to leave London on Sunday to get to Germany, which is where I start my next week of travel. I better check the weather. If it is sunny in Scandinavia, it would be foolish to not take advantage of it.

Anyway - I will try and get some pictures.

Posted by Kirk at 04:57 PM | Comments (1)

June 05, 2005

At least its sunny in this picture!

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London is cloudy and cold, so I thought I should post this...Budapest in the sunshine. This is part of the Fisherman's Bastion. It is up on the hill in Buda.

I do not understand the whole "Fisherman" part - the only water around Budapest is the river and this is 200m up the hill. But it looks good. The name probably comes from some dodgy translation - maybe there is one word in Hungarian that means both 'fisherman' and 'man who lives in a castle'.

Anyway - it is nice to see the sun.

Posted by Kirk at 08:55 PM | Comments (3)

BA = Bloody Awful

The flight from Budapest to London left an hour late - but you already know that. What happened after that is even worse - after holding above heathrow for 20 minutes, we finally landed. Like usual, BA used an off-gate stand to park. This time, they forgot to send buses to pick us up.

Our pilot was a complete idiot. He kept saying the buses were on their way even though the flight attendants were being told they weren't. He wrapped us his commentary by instructing us to not be "so frustrated" as we all have to go through this at one time or another.

As I stood there waiting, I realised that this is the third BA flight I have taken in two weeks. And the third one that was more than an hour late. So, I guess if you fly BA, you have more opportunities to "not be frustrated".

So, I was almost two hours late this time. They are going to get an earful from me this time. I will let you know what they say about it.

Posted by Kirk at 08:41 PM | Comments (0)

Time for a new camera?

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I took this picture of the old church near our hotel last night. I was in my room and you could hear the wind gusting - I had to go outside and check it out. While I was out there, I thought a few pictures were in order.

But, I have a cheap digital camera and it does not take very good pictures at night. This was the best, so I thought I would share it with you.

I think I need a new camera, but I am not sure which type to get. I am depending on you to let me know. Please e-mail me suggestions - kirkb (at) akt (dot) miinet (dot) or (dot) jp!

Posted by Kirk at 03:11 PM | Comments (0)

Weather report

So, it looks like I am getting out just in time. The Budapest forecast calls for rain today. Then again, I am going to London from here - I won't even bother looking up the report- have the rain jacket handy already.

Posted by Kirk at 03:08 PM | Comments (0)

Ooops they did it again

Still in Budapest. My 820am flight is now scheduled for 920am. You may remember that the same thing happened on the way out here. Not a good sign for the rest of the trip, but mostly I wish that I had spent that hour near the hotel as opposed to in the BA lounge here at the airport.

As for those pesky Americans...when I got to the airport there were HUGE lines to check in as a tour bus had just dropped them off. But there was only one person at Business Class check in. Good for me! So, I pop over to that line to wait. After 10 seconds, this cranky old woman in the next line clears her throat and says "excuuuse me - we are next in that line". I turn to her and ask if she has a business class ticket. That shut her up. I hope she is still waiting.

Posted by Kirk at 03:02 PM | Comments (0)

June 04, 2005

My sight-seeing picture of the day

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This is what I saw today. From my table at the cafe across the street from the hotel. Yep - no castles, ruins, churches, funky walking streets or souvenir shops. I unleashed my sister and niece on Budapest and sat in the shade, reading and drinking coffee.

I feel like I deserve it after seeing a majority of the historical sights in three cities over ten days. And it was very nice to watch everyone walk by, sweating from the heat as they rushed to the next place they had to see.

It was not to last forever, however, as the family eventually found me. I had agreed to see Margaret Island, so we walked over there. It was nice over there. Not as nice as the cafe.

I am heading back to London tomorrow morning (8am flight!) and start working on Monday. I will travel through Scandinavia for four days - if I have time I will take some pictures. I think this is the best time of year to be there, so I am looking forward to it. Except for having to work, I mean.

Posted by Kirk at 11:32 PM | Comments (0)

Another view of Hungary

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When I was walking around this morning, I saw this car next to the phone booth and I had to take this picture. You see, this seems to be a very typical Eastern European scene to me.

The car is a "Lada", which was the former communist countries answer to the Fiat. Actually it was a Fiat, because they copied the designs. You still see these cars all over Hungary - as the picture shows.

It could be worse - in East Germany, they drove Trabants, which were possibly coal-fired and seemed to based on Citroens. Ask your German friends what they think about them.

Apparently, Hungarians (and Czechs) prefer to be called Central Europeans rather than Eastern. So, highlighting the Eastern aspects is probably politically incorrect. But I doubt they are reading this anyway.

Posted by Kirk at 11:29 PM | Comments (0)

A Hungarian haircut

I had my haircut today - those of you who know me realise that I prefer short hair, so this should not be a surprise. And I do have meetings for the next three weeks, so it is better that I look my best.

I asked the front desk if there was a place close by and they directed me to a stylist in the shopping arcade next to the hotel. The surprising thing is that it was open at 9am on a Saturday.

The woman who was in there did not speak English, but I am used to describing my preferred haircut in "sign language" as I do it all the time when I get my hair cut in Japan.

Anyway, she did a surprisingly good job and it was cheap in comparison: about $12 or ¥1,400. I wanted to show you a picture, but my sister is relatively useless with a camera (don't tell her I said that).

Posted by Kirk at 11:15 PM | Comments (0)

They're back

By the way, did I tell you the Americans are back. Forget the so-called strong Euro...they are everywhere (not counting myself or the family in this, by the way, we are strictly here to observe and report back).

The cliche is that you can tell Americans because they are loud (voices - especially if the locals have a bit of an issue with English; clothes - the brighter the better...bonus points for each person in the group that matches).

I disagree - I think it is situational awareness, or the lack of, that really makes Americans stand out. If someone stops right in front of you on a busy road, or stands on the left side of the escalator as people are trying to get by, they are probably Americans. Well, actually Japanese do that too, but they are polite about it. So, maybe I mean it is an arrogant lack of situational awareness.

Then again, when we were at dinner tonight, the two guys at the next table were Americans and they did not get in our way. But I can tell you that one of them has two sisters, lives in New York near his mother and one of the sisters (and her husband), thinks he has $10,000 in stock options which have not vested, barely pays the rent on his home with his current salary etc. I could go on and on. Like he did. Maybe the cliche is right.

Posted by Kirk at 05:21 AM | Comments (0)

Token picture of the inside of a church

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I took this in the cathedral right across from my hotel. Very nice, isn't it? I think I have better pictures from other churches, but I took this today - so here you go.

So, why I am going to all these churches? Don't get me started on that. I usually assume if you have seen one five-hundred year old church, that is enough. But there are so many in Europe, that I find myself wandering around and before I know it a priest (or doorman) is telling me to be quiet (asking for me another five quid).

Anyway, this is the same church I can see from my hotel room, so at least I did not walk too far before seeing it.

Posted by Kirk at 05:15 AM | Comments (0)

Euro-statue contest: Budapest entry

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So, how do you like this one? I can't tell if he is supposed to be some sort of king or whether this is an ancient Hungarian rock star (the guitar having been ruined by vandals).

I had another picture that I wanted to use, but everytime I tried to take a picture of it, someone would run towards the statue and put their head in the way. That would NEVER happen in Japan.

Unfortunately, people here do not seem to think walking between your camera and what you want a picture of is rude. Then again, maybe they know who I am and want to be on my website.

Posted by Kirk at 04:53 AM | Comments (0)

June 03, 2005

Budapest: A good start

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So, we have arrived and it is MUCH better than Vienna. This is a picture of the Parliament building taken from the Buda side of the river...near our hotel.

We are staying in the Castle district and the guide book says that "many of the sights of Budapest are [there]". That should give me more time to simply hang out, as opposed to running around trying to see everything.

The hotel is right next to a fancy old church, which I can see from my window, along with the Danube River. I am liking that.

It is very beautiful up here. But not all of Budapest is like that. We took the metro from the train station to get here and that is definitely a hold over from the communist era. Imagine buying your subway ticket from a cranky old woman in a dark cubicle and you start to get the idea.

And the currency is hard to get used to. It is about 200 forint to the dollar. My sister was confused about that - at the bank machine, she took out 1,000 forints...equal to $5. Boy was she surprised when we went to buy our tickets! I was going to leave that out, but she mentioned three or four times that i would probably put it on this site. So, I finally decided that I should.

SANDY/ROGER - hope you made it back OK. Budapest a huge improvement...about 20 'historical sites' within five minutes of hotel. And we have air conditioning here (not that we need it anymore). I knew you would be jealous...

Posted by Kirk at 04:51 AM | Comments (2)

June 02, 2005

One last Vienna picture

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This is most of the group...lacking only one of my sisters (sandy) who is behind the camera. That is me on the right, of course. And you may recognise my niece standing next to me. Her mom (and my sister) is to the left and that is my brother in law Roger on the other side.

I have no idea why we decided to take pictures here, but it has most of the group so I put it on.

Sandy and Roger will fly home tomorrow, which is sad (especially for them as they have to leave the hotel at 530am!). The rest of us will catch the 10am train to Budapest (finally).

Posted by Kirk at 06:20 AM | Comments (0)

Mozart's House

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This is where the famous composer Mozart used to live. As you can see, he his having a bit of work done on the house. My brother-in-law saw a sign leading us in this direction, so we went despite the fact it was raining (and I wanted to go have a coffee).

He was actually paying me back for pointing out a store to my sister that she had wanted to visit after we had already passed by. Because I did that, she turned around, went in and spent loads of money on linens.

I still think what I did is funnier. Especially because there was nothing to see at Mozart's House except scaffolding and construction workers.


Posted by Kirk at 06:11 AM | Comments (2)

Check out this funky dance move

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I think Austrians may be under-rated as party animals. This is one of the many old statues in Vienna, and if you look closely you can see this guy had the dance groove (note the out-thrust hip matched the hand subtly pushed out with the palm up).

There should be a Euro contest for coolest statues and this could be the Austrian entry. If you think that is a stupid idea, I challenge you to explain the annual European song competition (Euro-vision? or something like that).

As for who this is or the name of the church behind him...you will have to go to Vienna to find out.

Posted by Kirk at 06:01 AM | Comments (0)

June 01, 2005

One more day in Vienna, not that anyone's counting

Tomorrow is our last day in Vienna - I am looking forward to moving on. We will go to Budapest next, and that should be more interesting.

Today was a good day - I am not complaining. My sister and niece went all over the place visiting museums and the like, while I managed to drink coffee (morning)/beer (afternoon) and read my book. They were very tired and wanted to go to bed early. As for me? I am relaxed.

When we get to Budapest, I will be more active. Ha ha ha - just kidding.

Posted by Kirk at 04:40 AM | Comments (1)

Where do you want to live?

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I did not post this picture to say that I want to live in Vienna. But this is the kind of street that I would love to walk out onto every day. I imagine there are a lot of places like this: one of the guidebooks says there are 1,500 MILES of streets in Vienna.

Maybe if you live in Europe, you are bored with these kind of scenes. But if you are American it captures the charm of Europe perfectly. This street has probably existed in one form or another for hundreds of years - before cars or even carts were considered necessary. You won't find many places like that in America.

And, of course, I am probably romanticising too much - I doubt I would be happy without air conditioning, a big kitchen or a balcony. If you happen to know of something, however, please let me know.

Posted by Kirk at 04:32 AM | Comments (0)

May 31, 2005

A relaxing day...I hope so

It is 830am and I am in the lobby of the hotel waiting for my family so we can go out and see more of Vienna. I had a good night sleep last night, so I am ready to have a full day of sitting around drinking coffee.

If you read my posts earlier, you know that it could be worse. I was without a fan in my room and the elevator was not working. As for the latter, the front desk staff told me not to worry as there was nothing wrong with the elevators. They were not working because the FIRE ALARM went off. WHEW...I felt better. And the hotel is still here today, so I guess there was no problem.

And my fan was working...it was only that electric outlet that had failed.

Posted by Kirk at 03:24 PM | Comments (0)

OK, so where are we?

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I took this picture in Prague. This is in the Old Town quarter on the pedestrian street between the main square and Old Town Square. I like the colors. And the two guys checking out the map make me feel better that I am not the only person who kept getting lost!

Posted by Kirk at 03:21 PM | Comments (0)

A must-see movie!

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I had to look twice when I saw this advertisement. It is for a Brasilian movie festival. It does not look like a good ending for the man pictured, although the dog may be happy enough. I am not very artistically minded, so I probably won't go to the festival. But I did like the sign.

Posted by Kirk at 03:16 PM | Comments (1)

Vienna Cafe Society

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My sister Sandy and I found this cafe today. It is only a three-minute walk from the main square in Vienna, but it is completely off the beaten path. I only took a picture today, but I am sure we will be back there tomorrow for an actual coffee.

Posted by Kirk at 05:47 AM | Comments (0)

It's cooling off...finally

Vienna is starting to look better. The heat wave (it was 32 degrees today!) is finally going away. And tomorrow it will be only 19! That is good because there is no air conditioning in the hotel. I think I got about four hours sleep last night because it was too hot...

Its not all good though - I borrowed a fan from the hotel to get some of this cool air from outside into my room. It worked for about 30 minutes before inexplicably stopping. Has that ever happened to anyone before? I didn't think so. I am down in the bar to cool off and may be here awhile. The elevator has stopped working too.

I told you it was a crap hotel.

Posted by Kirk at 05:32 AM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2005

Another reason to like Prague

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This is the entrance to a beer garden near our hotel in Prague. Its colorful. And look at the beer prices...35 krone/beer. That's $1.50 or less than a pound.

See why I am not so pleased to be in Vienna?

Posted by Kirk at 06:48 AM | Comments (0)

A holiday snapshot

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Here I am with my niece in the hills above Prague. Isn't she adorable? We had been walking around sightseeing for about four or five hours when this picture was taken. I was absolutely wiped out. Fortunately, it was all downhill from that point. And I could spend the rest of the afternoon in the bar outside the hotel.

Posted by Kirk at 06:43 AM | Comments (1)

Has it all gone pear-shaped?

Everyone seems to have good things to say about Vienna, but I think it is awful. Of course, I may just be tired after the train journey from Prague. It could be that it is amazingly hot in central Europe. Or it could be the crap hotel we are staying in.

Anyway, enough complaining for now. Tomorrow may be a better day as I have resolved to spend all my time in coffee shops while the family runs off to museums and churches etc.

Prague was generally excellent - it was amazingly crowded and a lot of the people that stayed out all night drinking were as enamored of the neighborhood we stayed in as we were. And they could sing to prove it. Interesting sight at 6am, trust me.

Anyway, I will post some pictures so you can see how cool it is.

Posted by Kirk at 06:33 AM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2005

Amazingly beautiful Prague picture of the day

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I took this from the tower at one end of the Charles Bridge. We had to climb to the top (five stories) on this winding staircase…I was very dizzy when we got to the top. But the views were amazing, as you can see. There are lots of red roofs. On the bottom left is part of a sign advertising Karlovy Lazne, the biggest nightclub in Prague. I do not know if that is true, but they have ads all over town claiming the same thing.


Posted by Kirk at 09:59 PM | Comments (0)

How many types of steak are there?

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At this restaurant, they claim up to 60! We had a look at the menu…there was rattlesnake, ostrich, buffalo etc – very impressive. We had pizza at the place across the street.

Posted by Kirk at 09:57 PM | Comments (0)

May 25, 2005

Slipping into holiday mode

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This is a view into the Little Quarter from the Charles Bridge. Prague Castle is on the top right. I took this as I was walking away from my hotel on my way to explore the city. I have a lot of pictures already, but it takes time to upload them, so I plan on doing that later.

Prague is such a beautiful city. That is such a cliche, but I am rapidly sliding into holiday mode and cannot think of anything more clever to say.

Posted by Kirk at 08:11 PM | Comments (2)

Prague...I am here

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This is the view from my hotel room. Lovely, isn't it? I took this at 6am...so you can assume my jet lag is still hanging around. Anyway, this is one end of the Charles Bridge, one of Prague's more famous landmarks.

As I write this, I am sitting across the street from the hotel at a beer garden. (Brian - I am having that first Budvar for you).

I like Prague.

Posted by Kirk at 08:05 PM | Comments (1)

The weather you ordered has arrived

Just in case you were wondering, here is the weather forecast for Prague. It does not get any better than that!

Posted by Kirk at 01:14 AM | Comments (0)

ha ha - I am on vacation

I have been waiting for days to use that title on this page, and now I can:I am in the lounge at Heathrow waiting for my flight to Prague. Unfortunately, I will be waiting longer than I thought because my flight has been delayed for thirty minutes.

When I am on a business trip, this kind of thing stresses me out, because the last place I want to spend my free time is at the airport. But, considering I have 10 days of free time in front of me, I am not going to worry about half an hour.

And it feels like a holiday already. I was baffled by this for a minute, but realised it is not the usual crowd in the lounge. Instead, there are a lot of people here waiting for the flight to Istanbul. Football fans will understand. AND it seems like every one of them has four or five empty beer cans in front of them. Yep - like a holiday.

It reminds me of traveling around Japan during the 2002 World Cup. That was great fun. I wish I was going to Istanbul. I'll do the second best thing and have a beer. Or four.

Posted by Kirk at 01:01 AM | Comments (0)

May 24, 2005

An easy Monday?

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This is the Red Lion pub off of Jermyn Street in the West End. My colleague Sarah and I headed here after our last meeting of the day. We finished at 430pm, and it would take at least 30 minutes to get back to the office. As that would have been a waste of the firm's time and money, we bit the bullet and came here instead.

There are probably five thousand pubs named the Red Lion in England. This one stands out for being closest to our last meeting. Having said that, it was a worthwhile destination and we would have walked twice as far to get there. It has that 'old' pub feeling - mismatched furniture, a very old bar man and dirty glasses that make the head on your beer foam up rather impressively.

Fashion-sensible readers: Jermyn Street is THE destination in London if you need to buy shirts, especially if they are made to measure. I had my eye on a fancy black t-shirt on the wall of the pub that advertised the Westminster-to-Picadilly pub crawl. Of course, my tastes are a little more pedestrian.

Posted by Kirk at 05:56 AM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2005

St. James Park

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I took this picture in St. James Park near Buckingham Palace. You would think you were in the countryside and not in the middle of one of the world's biggest cities. That sense of isolation was magnified because I was out at 730 this morning. If you have ever been in London on a Sunday morning, you will understand.

Because there is NOTHING open. In fact, the only people I did see were obviously from out of town: true Londoners were still asleep. But I have jet lag and woke up at 6am. And the sun was shining, so I thought I would get out to take advantage of it.

I did not get many pictures. I think I have mentioned before I have no eye for pictures...this becomes glaringly obvious when you try to snap photos of famous places, because the pictures never look as good as post cards. So, what's the point?

But I kept myself busy enough until the coffee shops opened and I could really start my day. Because one of the really cool things about coming to London is the newpapers. I love reading the Sunday paper, but I'm lucky to spend 20 minutes on that in Tokyo. There is just not much available. In contrast, London has lots of papers. It is paradise.

Posted by Kirk at 07:00 PM | Comments (0)

May 21, 2005

Not so sunny London

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This is a picture of Oxford Circus. As you can see, the (briefly) sunny weather that we had yesterday when I arrived is no longer here. But that does not stop anyone from getting out for a bit of shopping on the weekend. Oxford Street on a Saturday is almost always insanely crowded and you tend to shuffle along rather than walk.

In fact, most people who live here recommend you avoid it all costs. I had my wallet stolen around here once, so I can agree with that. But my hotel is about 100 metres up the street, so I do not have much choice.

I took some other pictures and I will put it all on line later. Right now I am off to see my friends Leigh and Nicky. They used to live in Japan, but have moved to London within the last year. Leigh could be the one person I know who travels more than I do. In fact, he is off to Tokyo tomorrow (for some reason, he only goes there when I am here...)

Anyway, we are watching the FA Cup final and I expect I will have something to say about that later. It is Manchester United v Arsenal and it is a game loaded with significance as this is the only chance for either team to win a trophy this year. I would like to see them both lose, but I may have to give my reluctant support to MU for Preyash's sake (and if they lose, I am sure he will blame me for mentioning it here).

Posted by Kirk at 09:39 PM | Comments (0)

Sunny London

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I am here! This is taken from the car on the way to the hotel. Thought it would be a typical London picture with the red doubledecker bus and the old buildings in the background (and the traffic), but the blue sky ruins the effect!

Posted by Kirk at 01:33 AM | Comments (2)

Traveling is fun

If the journey over here is any indication, this trip will be a nightmare. For one, the trains were not running in Tokyo (this never happens!) and there were only vague hints from the station manager on what to do. To be fair, it does happen so rarely they were probably shocked as well. In any case, I ditched the train option and took a taxi instead.

Now, some of you may be wondering why I didn’t do this in the first place. If that’s so, you have never been to Tokyo. The airport is about 100km outside the city and the taxi fare from Tokyo is ¥20,000, or about $200. In fact, after five years in Tokyo, this was my first taxi ride to the airport. Compared to standing on a crowded train platform wondering if I would catch my flight, I can’t complain, but other than that it was a bit of a letdown. And I think it was the first time for the driver as well, who seemed better-suited to city driving and did not ever exceed 100km/hr despite the steady stream of cars, trucks, buses (and horse-drawn carts and pedestrians) passing to our left. But I reached the airport with time to spare, so that was OK.

I mostly fly British Airways. They go a lot of the places I need to go and the service is generally good. In the big scheme of things, European airlines are average. Asian-based airlines are much (much) better, while US airlines are often the worst (except Continental! I like them!). In the case of BA, the staff is polite and usually helpful. The lounges are good (depends where you are, to be honest), and their schedules are accommodating. The only real problem is the flights themselves.

So, here come my complaints: the plane was full…of muppets. It seems like everyone on the plane was flying for the first time. There is one guy who has left his overhead light on so it shines directly into my face when I try to lie down. He is sleeping, and even if he wasn’t, there is another light one row up that is also strangely aimed right at me. Meanwhile, the guy next to me keeps opening the shutters on the window and looking out (does he think everything outside has ‘gone away’? or is he making sure we are not lost?). I tried to sleep, but that wasn’t working out.

Not sleeping on a 13-hour flight can be a crisis…there is not much to do. You can read or you can watch movies. According to the BA Magazine, the lineup of the latter is excellent…if you are flying the other way. And I had only one book, so I had to ‘ration’ it to make sure it lasted the whole trip. Of course, there is one other thing you can do…complain about all of it and post it to your website.

I have saved the best for last. Inevitably, the pilot will come on the PA and let everyone know we are “making good time” and that we should “arrive early”. This, of course, is good news because it is a 13-hour flight. And it happens EVERY flight. Usually, the next time we hear from him is when we have been put into a holding pattern (those English sure love to queue), delaying our “early” arrival. Sometimes, we skip that only to find our gate is still being used. Or that we need to park off-stand and take a bus in. I have flown BA from Tokyo to London maybe twenty or thirty times and I have been early once. We were one hour late this time.

Posted by Kirk at 01:31 AM | Comments (1)


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