A Travellerspoint blog

Bike tour of Tokyo

sunny 7 °C

Morning comes and we rouse ourselves after up to 14 hours sleep. Some of us still look like the walking dead though. Breakfast is a varied buffet, basically Japanese, with a few western things to keep everyone happy. Volume is no issue, plenty for all.
This morning we have booked a bike tour around a bit of Tokyo, so we have to get to Naka-Meguro, right across town. The change of lines at Ueno was a bit of a hike – like most major city metros, although the schematic for the network shows two lines changing at a station, in reality the walk can be anything up to half a k. Out to the end of the Hibiya line, and down to see Neil at Tokyo rent a bike. From base, we head up through the typical local housing(very small to our Australian eyes) to Daikanyama, a low key and exclusive area, then on to Shibuya with the love hotels in the back blocks and its landmark crossing (not all that crowded at 11am on a cold day). Neil is giving us back ground as we go, helping us to make a bit of sense of it all. From Shibuya, we head up through Yoyogi park, looking quite bare at this time of year, to Harajuku and the Meiji Shrine. The shrine is a lovely sight with the copper roof and the huge cypress columns and beams.Out riding

Out riding

Meiji Jingu

Meiji Jingu


After this peaceful interlude, we head into Takeshita Dori, the teenager’s street, although today there are almost as many tourists. We grab an oh so sweet crepe to keep us fuelled, and head off up to Jingu, where the big baseball parks are. Here Neil puts us into a batting cage and we show that Australians don’t know much about baseball, but we can hit fast moving objects.Moment of impact

Moment of impact

In fact, we are told as cyclists, we make great baseballers? The next part of the tour piqued my interest the most, as we head down through the Aoyama cemeteries. Here we get to see the burial grounds of some of Tokyo’s citizens. Some of the plots are simple, running the gamut through to mini Japanese gardens and bonsai landscapes.
From here we have a brief interlude in Roppongi Hills before a high speed descent down from Ebisu to get back to base. Four hours was well spent getting an overview of part of Tokyo.
Safely off the bikes (and admiring a new house in the back blocks of naka Meguro) we head down the street where there is a mega bike – a Surly Pugsley – and a ramen shop for us to have a go at. There is no point and order menu, but we have to buy tickets at a little vending machine and hand them over to get our food cooked – this way the cook does not need to bother with handling money. With the lucky dip concluded we dig in to a huge bowl of noodles to sate our hunger.
There was a bike shop nearby that I wanted to go to, and which I found easily enough, but it was shut today. This was going to happen a few more times. With no plan as to what happens next, there was a bit of a conference before we head to Akihabara, so G could see about taking a PS3 back to Australia. The stores people said it won’t work, and there was only a $30 – 60 saving anyway. Also asked at another place where they were showing much cheaper, second hand consoles, but the same story there.Akihabara

Akihabara


As it happened while we were in the area, I knew of a few model shops that I wouldn’t mind looking in...
In the end it was a bit later by the time we got back into bed tonight, may make tomorrow morning a bit of a drag...

Posted by lostagain 18:10 Archived in Japan Tagged cycling Comments (0)

A day in Asakusa

Back to Japan - told you we would

overcast 7 °C

As usual, we are still throwing stuff into suitcases when Mum arrives to take us out to the airport. Even still making lunch when the last bag is zipped up. No doubt I will remember what I have forgotten on the way.
We head off as L is getting a bit toey about her flight, but when we reach tulla it is quite deserted.
She is in, we are not far behind. L has no time to wait, straight on. Next it is time for G and I to head off to our SQ flight. The crew is lovely, but the Jumbo is showing its age, hopefully they will soon be overhauling it. Row 52 is right next to the galley – try to avoid that in the future. Had some good vistas over central Australia, but G complains as opening the blinds interrupts his viewing pleasure!
A number of empty hours in Changi as we wait for departure. This leg is in a nice shiny new Boeing 777 with the new entertainment system. Despite G’s enthusiasm, he has to try getting some sleep tonight or tomorrow will be a washout. In the morning as breakfast comes out, he does not look like he has slept much, and falls back asleep.
At Narita we head out and meet up with L and get ourselves organised – cash out of an ATM (28degrees card, no exchange ripoff or O/S ATM fee), hired mobile phones and got down to the train.
Last time we went on the N’Ex – Narita to Tokyo express, and thought it was good. But JR east suggest the Kesei line is better to get to Asakusa. So we head over there and once I have bought the tickets, we are off. Except I have bought the wrong ticket so we are doing the standard local train instead of the Sky Express. Thought it sounded cheap. As a guide:
Kesei Line train, Yen 1060, 75 minutes, limited express
N’Ex Yen 3000, 50 minutes, very comfortable though
Kesei Sky train Yen 2000, 45 minutes
G is immune to the landscape during the 70km ride as he sleeps on L’s shoulder most of the way – should have taken a photo. The trip is made more interesting as we cannot work out which train to change to at Aoto. One of the locals kindly points out my error and we are on our way. We can only drop our gear off at the hotel – room will be ready at 3pm. This is good, as it stops us crashing out there and then.
Essential Japanese cuisine?

Essential Japanese cuisine?


So we have a cruise around Asakusa – which starts as it always must, at mister donut. After a coffee that helped L appreciate instant, we are on our way, going through the Kaminarimon (Thunder gate) and battling our way through the street of stalls behind. Many of these sell Kaminarimon

Kaminarimon

touristy trinkets, but there are some making and selling rice crackers, biscuits and sweet pastries by hand in front of you. Free of this we are in front of Senso-ji, the large Buddhist temple. Senso-ji is approached through an outer gate which is imposing in itself, but passing through the main temple is revealed. In the foreground there is an area for making prayers and getting fortunes foretold by the random selection of a numbered chopstick from a container. L gets hers, but it is not good – her prayers will not be answered and she is out of luck for now. But bad predictions are not contagious as G tries his luck next he picks the opposite fortune – all good, every thing you touch will be gold. I don’t chance my arm and just get some incense to burn for good health instead. We have a look around, and she spies another fortune telling place and decides to try for a better prediction. When it comes out, it is the exact same fortune as the previous one – which freaks L out a bit.
Good Fortune!!

Good Fortune!!


Enough bad news for now, we head out into the beautiful gardens around the temple for a look and to try and get a bit of heat from the sun as well. It is (unsurprisingly) cold and crisp, but this does not stop the local girlies from wearing short shorts or miniskirts – not all with stockings either – they must be tough here!
Senso-Ji gardens

Senso-Ji gardens


We cruise around the neighbourhood – which away from the temple environs is what this is – a neighbourhood. There are some great little shops selling stuff like old style knives and scissors, another selling a myriad of brushes – most made of hogs or horse hair, kimono materials (we make to size).
But it is around 3 and we have to have some food, L locates a cheap and cheerful ramen place with a minimal menu, but we have great ramen and gyoza – just what we needed at the time, not least as it is hot and warms us up from the inside.
By now, the room is available to us and we head back to the Blue Wave. We get our bags and head upto out room – it is in a great place, with views over the Senso – ji, looks great. The room is not huge as a triple but would be great as a double or twin. Everything we need is here, except G has to huff down to the lobby to get Wi Fi. L meanwhile decides to lie down and rest her eyes. G, back from downstairs decides the same, and soon the room reverberates to the symphony of sleep.

Posted by lostagain 18:05 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Shanghai Part 2

rain 12 °C

The next morning is particularly wet, great to see the cyclists out in their mega ponchos. Today there is more walking, up to Jing’an and then across to Nanjing West Rd. Here I looked around, but there is nothing to grab me with excitement. I had read about AmyLin’s Pearls in the Fen Shin Accessories Plaza, and there was plenty there to go through. After a long search there was a great string of pearls for L, earrings for Mum, all sortsa stuff. The Plaza is three floors of clothing, bags, luggage and a few electronics things. All I could find was a Mao Purse for L. I’m not much of a shopper unless I have a particular object in mind.
After all this time on the shopping strip, I am happy to get away to the south to some pleasant plots of green near the intersection of the two elevated roads – Yan An and Nan Bei. Here the parks are not big, but they are very well set out and quite tranquil, despite all the traffic and everything else around. If it was dry, I could have stopped here a while longer.P1110443

P1110443


I thought I would go to an electronics “mall” to have a look at getting myself some headphones. The so called “mall” is four floors of stalls packed solid with deconstructed laptops, PCs, printers, etc, etc. The closest they have to headphones are used ones on a clothes line or empty beats by dr. dre boxes – the genuine article no doubt long gone. Not my place.
Just around the corner is my kind of place – a model shop. This is Xiangyang at 595 Nanchang Road. Everything is packed to the ceiling over 2 floors, mostly the Chinese (Trumpeter etc) and some other Asian companies.
I worked my way back to the French Concession, having a late lunch at Sichuan Citizen on DongHu Lu. At the time it is delicious, great soup and a spicy pork and chilli dish. In the end I had ordered way too much and had to waddle out. Just up Fumin Lu, I did my final ceramics shop and took all the loot back to the hotel. At this point i was a bit weary, so rested up for a short while before heading back out to the Bund.Bund at night

Bund at night


I started taking photos, but the Bund lights all get turned off fairly early, so soon I was standing there in the semi dark. At this time, plenty of touts start to appear, offering all sorts of services to single white males, and no doubt others too. There are some shops still open and in one of the big modern malls I buy myself a pair of headphones from Audio Technica. Head for home and bed. I nod off briefly before the Sichuan makes an appearance, and I spend the next six hours on and off the loo (fortunately ensuite) trying to purge it out. This is the only time I have had an issue with any food in China street stalls, countryside, anywhere and it only because my body cannot cope with the amount and concentration of the chillis from the Sichuan.
I have a late start in the morning after a tiring night. I leave tonight, so the bag is packed and left with reception. I head back to the Bund for a day time view, walking south past the Bund Observatory. From here head inland to the YuYuan gardens. All around here is very much a tourist area, packed full of souvenir shops and fast food places. Inside the gardens themselves there are still plenty of people, but the further you get into the gardens, there are some places where you can take a bit of a rest in a peaceful corner. So I enjoy the different tableaux with the 4 elements of Chinese gardens – Water, Plants, Pavilions and Rock, and how there are new views at each corner. And they have nice clean toilets which is important with my stomach still active.
At some point this morning I have put down the Shanghai Guide from the local library – $40 I don’t get to spend out here...yu yuan gardens

yu yuan gardens

in yu yuan garden

in yu yuan garden


From the Gardens I catch line 10 up to Tiantong Rd, and work my way east along the Suzhou River to the HuangPu and the Hyatt on the Bund. Again they are supposed to have an elevated bar with great views, but it is not open for another hour. Instead, I collapse into the tea room and do not much there for the next few hours, gathering my strength and having fragrant white tea. When the bar is open, I could not be arsed anyway, so I have more tea and a hamburger (something I know will not send my stomach off course.)
By the time I move, it is dark and I finally get to see the Bund at night, with the lights on. The photo tour over, I head back to the Old House Inn and saddle up my pack to head out to the airport. I am leaving from Pudong, so I have to head out on the Maglev from LongYand Rd station. It is smooth, and we get up to over 300km/h during the ride, so it does not take too long to get out there. At the airport, it is the last chance to buy up, but my remaining money will only stretch to a small panda and a pack of lollies. Once on the flight, I am quickly asleep.
In Singapore I buy a headphone to in flight converter, and it is a good investment, as I am on one of the new 777s back to Melbourne – big, clear screen on which I get through at least 4 movies!
And now back home and back to work after a great time away.

Posted by lostagain 05:33 Archived in China Comments (0)

Shanghai part 1

overcast 20 °C

I have a good sleep in and am late down for breakfast, so just a light one today. I am in the French Concession area, and I start out by walking the neighbourhood and looking at some of the shops. Just here in FuMin Lu there are some great porcelain and ceramics shops, as well as Mrs. Mao’s Dowry where there are some modern souvenirs.
Head up along JuLu Rd to Brocade Country where there are some of the traditional crafts, particularly woven and embroidered fabrics from the Yunnan area. I can appreciate the craftsmanship, but they are not for me, or for anyone I know as souvenirs.
After this I kept walking across town. The streets are not crowded; there are lots of bicycles still, and loads of delivery vans. In the French Concession area, the streets are lined with plane trees so they are quite cool and green. It is not at all what I expected in my happy ignorance. I am working my way across town to The Former Residence of Dr Sun Yat Sen. Here I get to have a look at some of the history behind the 1911 uprising - a cause for special celebration on this, the centenary. There is plenty to see and English translations for the permanent exhibits. Next door in the residence itself, the rooms are well preserved (or restored?) showing that this was a modest residence that he lived in.Sun Yat Sen's Museum

Sun Yat Sen's Museum


For a break I see there are the Fuxing gardens next door. I head in and have a bit of a sit down. Here there are people spending their Saturday relaxing, playing mah-jongg or reversi. In other corners, families are having picnics on the grass (well rugged up though) and others are dancing to music being played. A very happy place for all concerned. Dancing in the park

Dancing in the park


Next stop is the old trendy alleyways in Taikang Lu’s Tianzifang where there is a real crowd, wall to wall people, this is more what I expected! There is plenty of stuff here, I pick up a Mao Slogan shopping bag, 110Yuan, not particularly cheap. I also head up to the Dongtai antique market and have a look around there. Not much I am set on, but some good fried samosa like thingies off a street cart keep the fires fed.
It is starting to get dark so I head over to Xintiandi. The place I am after here is Din Tai Fung. I arrive and there is a queue, but being a single I get through quickly to one of the small tables. I have read this is the place for great xiao long bao - a broth filled dim sum. They are good too, with the hot broth bursting into your mouth and mixing with the flavour of the pork or shrimp stuffing. BUT they are HOT and can burn the roof of your mouth if you are not careful. The meal has been really god, now it is late and I could do with rolling myself home.
The next morning I am down earlier so I get more breakfast, and a chat with a French family. Today I am off to the Shanghai museum, but I have learnt enough not to walk all the way there. So it is onto the metro and off to people’s square. Shanghai Museum does not look big from the outside; the entry atrium is a square, four floors high, with galleries off on each side. I have to select what I am going to look at, unless I can cycle through. There is a great display of traditional clothes from all the different regions, and a map showing just how many regions there are in modern China. The range of costumes is naturally wide, even including one suit of tanned salmon skins.Costume gallery in the Museum

Costume gallery in the Museum


The jade collection also has a great breadth of pieces on display, showcasing the increasing skills of the craftsmen over the aeons. The many uses of jade from funerary, ceremonial and decorative are all explored. It was complemented by the display of Maori green stone in the ground floor exhibition space. Next was the ceramics. And although some were not to my taste, there were a few porcelain bowls where the depth of colour in the glazes was just amazing.
After all this, I went quickly through the different collections, including painting, calligraphy, bronze, furniture and coins. Last stop was the museum shop where the souvenirs and reproductions are good, and not bad prices.
I watched the kites flying in the people’s square, and then spent some time in the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre. Here they have the Master plan of how Shanghai will look in 10 years time – and details of the plans for reducing pollution (move the coal burning power stations away from the city – no mention of cars?) Increasing the green spaces in the city, cleaning up the creeks and rivers, particularly the rotten Suzhou River. Having walked around part of town yesterday, there is still plenty of the old neighbourhoods being closed down and boarded up ready for the bulldozers and tower blocks to move in.Ready for the wrecking ball

Ready for the wrecking ball


From here I head across the Huangpu to the new side of Shanghai. At this point the plan is to decamp into the bar up on the 79th floor of the Grand Hyatt for dinner and drinks and watch the city change through sunset. At ground level, the sky looks quite blue and clean, but looking out of the hotel, the smog layer is very plain to see. Having paid for the view, I head back via the bund tourist tunnel, a very interesting if strange experience. Halfway across, the camera battery runs out, so the planned photo session on the Bund will not happen.up in the Hyatt bar

up in the Hyatt bar

bund by night

bund by night

Posted by lostagain 05:26 Archived in China Comments (0)

From Earthwatch to West Lake

semi-overcast 22 °C

Earthwatch and Amcor at Gutianshan

Earthwatch and Amcor at Gutianshan

T & J

T & J

After breakfast there are fond farewells to those who are staying on at the CRCC to continue their work, and the rest of us hop onto the bus. From here it is six hours on the bus to the airport, and an hour into Hangzhou by taxi for some of us. At the airport we bid a fond farewell to LH who is straight on the plane back to Singapore. We regroup at West lake, were some of the group are staying a few nights at a great looking hostel, down a street behind 103 NanShan Rd(opposite the Porsche dealer) that gets to the edge of West lake.
From here we have a very pleasant promenade along the lake shore, heading north through the gardens, over bridges and through pavilions. It is hard to say if there is an afternoon mist on the water, or if it smog from the factories in the area, but I am having no problem breathing. It is easy to see why this has been regarded as an area of natural beauty for over a thousand years. It must be famous, it’s on the one yuan note.On the far shore there are wooded hills with tall pagodas rising over the trees. On the lake there are traditional small boats plying their trade, larger modern tour boats and lots of McDonald’s wrappers.At West Lake

At West Lake


The area is very picturesque and could use a lot more time than I have available. We head south along NanShan Rd, turning east onto HeFang St (Turn at Orioles Singing in the Willows (East Gate) or the Aston Martin showroom and you will be right). HeFang St is not much to look at early on, but after a while you reach the Wushang Square (not great in itself) where there is a view up the hill to the City God Pavilion. Here also start the stalls lining the street before you go through a large gate into the tourist shops area. There is loads of stuff here to pick up for souvenirs at any price point you can imagine. We all wander up the street until the reminder goes out that we have not had any lunch today. So Justin locates us a restaurant and we stuff our faces again. Then it was back to the shops to spend a few more red ones (100yuans) but pretty restrained overall. Then it is time for me to leave the group, so there are some very fond farewells, and I head off to the train station.The shopping street

The shopping street


Following Emily’s directions, I get to the train station and get a ticket. The ticket hall for Hangzhou station is way outside the station, and is a mass of people trying to get through. I spy another whitey, so I go to where he is, in a very short queue, way out on the right hand end of the hall. This seems to be the foreigner’s line as we are dealt with quickly and by someone with great English (and French, for him). I head through the crowds and into the express train, in first class at 301km/h.
After a quick journey I am in Shanghai and I get lost searching for my hotel. Well, I am in the spot that I think I want to be, but the place I am trying to be is not the place I am supposed to be. I am trying to get to point 10 on the map, but the hotel is at point 16, so when I get directly to point 10, point 16 is not there. A bit of help from the locals see me work out the problem (me). I soon find my way to the Old House Inn, which is very hospitable, and I have asmall comfy single room just fine for me. Slight problem with the bed side light which turns off when I stand on just the right floorboard.Comfy single room at the Old House Inn

Comfy single room at the Old House Inn

Posted by lostagain 05:24 Archived in China Comments (0)

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