Japan Photo Diary, Day 1-2: Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.

DSC_0002Already when hovering in the air above Tokyo I knew we were in for an experience beyond the ordinary. Just look at the order of this harbour, all down to seemingly millimetric perfection,  much in line with the country we were about to encounter.
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We arrived in Toyko at 11am local time. Most part of the day was spent queueing. Twice to get through the border, then near an hour to activate our Japan Rail-passes at their airport office.

This in turn made our mantra for the day something along the lines that “at least it moved us an hour closer to bedtime” → Beating that jetlag blues. After all, for us it was around 2 o’clock in the morning that we had landed upon Japanese grounds.
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Once we were settled into our AirBnb (believe me did that take some time! Hey, here is a secret travel tip: Do not follow the wrong co-ordinates on Google Maps. You might not find the place you are looking for ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) we hit the streets of Shinjuku – known for being a major administrative hub, housing the world’s busiest railway station along with the Tokyo Metropolitan Building where you can enjoy a decent view over the city free of charge. (If you are, surprise, willing to queue for it!)DSC_0020
We were however on the food hunt. Following a HappyCow recommendation we ended up at Ripple – part of a smaller chain of restaurants called AinSoph serving vegan food around Tokyo. Mum had their falafel burger and myself a burrito – particularly tasty after the joke* of a “meal” that SAS had served me on our way over.

(*The philosophy of my in flight meal seemed to be “let us replace all the non-vegan items with different flavoured jams.” Whereby my mum is sat with a full 3-course breakfast meal; myself with a bread roll and three types of condiments. Considering they had plenty of notice AND offer their customers a vegan meal plan option, I would have expected something a wee less spartan! Greetings, Hangry Bastards ™!)DSC_0041The following morning we had coffee at the Starbucks surveying Shibuya Crossing. (I have never in my life purchased so many cups of Starbucks coffee as I have during this trip! Who am I!)

All the best seats were obviously already occupied by dudes and their tripods, but the building also contains floor upon floor of stationaries. The top ones that sell books and magazines feels like a haven escaping the crowds of lower floors.

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetAfter satisfying our caffeine depots, we went to a Purikura. In other words it is sort of an interactive photobooth experience. Snapchat IRL. Instant airbrushing and doe eyes making you look like a far more kawaii version of your normal self.

I won’t explain it in much more details, I think the severe confusion you are struck by definitely adds to the comedic effect of it all. However I will add that I have not laughed like that in a la la long time!
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For lunch we walked just around the corner of Shibuya Crossing. Initially we ended up in a long queue (I swear, the Japanese love queueing more than the British!) but soon realised it was for the wrong place (phew!). It is relatively easy to miss restaurants and cafes when in Japan as one immediately thinks it ought to be visible on the ground floor – but look up! (Or in some cases down, it may well be a basement you are looking for.)

DSC_0058Up a tiny staircase we went, entering an Indian veggie place called Milan Nataraj. The bright side of chasing vegan grub in a country of fish fanatics – you really avoid the queues and the crowds!

The buffet hostess was lovely and happily pointed out my options as a vegan. (This was before I realised it is clearly labelled on the buffet table itself.) There is a lunch time All You Can Eat (only my four favourite words in that particular order) buffet served daily for about ¥ 1500, which is a price similar to most dishes on the set menu. But the more the merrier, right? At least as a vegan in Japan, one never knows when there will be food other than plain onigiris the next time!
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After lunch we took the train to Harajuku with its fair fashionistas, wacky installations and high pulse. It feels a bit like Tokyo’s response to Camden. The crowds down Takeshita Dori (starting under the wee dinosaur) were just mad. Then again, these little prefectures that make up the grand mass that is Tokyo are more populated than my hometown…

DSC_0099DSC_0111Our final stop before retreating back to the airbnb for the night was the Ueno Park. It is said to be one of the better spots in Tokyo for Hanami.

Due to the colder spring the cherry trees (this one above, that must have been standing under heating lamps or so, was under severe papparazzing! iPhones from all angles!) were far from ready to bloom this last week of March. We still agreed that it was a beautiful park on its own — of course yet hopeful to be able to visit it again later on and see what the fuss was all about.


This was part 1/7 of my Japan Photo Diary. Next post will be of Shibu Onsen and the arrival to Kyoto.

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Penang Hill (or ‘How I Got A Monkeyphobia’)

Around Europe, there are plenty of signs urging us not to feed the birds. Little did I know, while walking past the Please Do Not Feed The Monkeys-signs at the beginning of our hike up Penang Hill that this was also… a thing.

But boy, was I about to find out.

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1 An attempt to capture the steepness of the roads in photo | 2 H’s unexpected tan lines by the end of the day — it was cloudy for heavens sake!

 

Most people take the train when they go to the top of Penang Hill. But not your Scandinavian Trio. Those roads were indeed the steepest I have ever wandered and it felt somewhat like we walked those five kilometres straight up to the heavens. The sweat quickly started pouring down every inch of our bodies, but we kept on at a good pace. This was, after all, our very first trek through the rain forest. Figuring we would need something salty and energizing, I had brought snacks in the shape of salted peanuts.

So there I was, chewing on said peanuts, whilst we approached a group of monkeys hanging out on the road. Fascinating, really. They were just sat there, picking fleas off one another (as you do) and were c-o-m-p-l-e-t-e-l-y unbothered by our existence. Emily and Heidi casually snapped some photos, whereas I tried my best to keep a respectful distance; walking as far away from these creatures as the road would allow.
We pass the monkeys and cross the next corner.

And there, half way between my thinking ‘PHEW!’ and ‘we made it!’, he is. Out of nowhere, he comes jumping from the side of the road. Before I know it,  this metre-tall chimpanzee is bouncing just centimetres away from my face.

He screams.

I scream.

Despite my 13 years in school I have never heard a single thing mentioned about how to get a jumping monkey away from you — what the heck do I do?!

I hear Emily’s voice in periphery say something about him wanting the peanuts. I realize they are still clenched tightly in my hands. With the Please Do Not Feed The Monkeys-sign flashing by somewhere at the very back of my head, I throw the bag of salted peanuts at him and he immediately disappears after it.

The crisis is over.

At this point there is still another four kilometres to go until we reach the top of the hill and although I am now out of monkey magnetic peanuts, I am instead paranoid at every single sound coming from the jungle. (And as you can imagine, there are a few!)
While I do feel bad about littering in nature, part of me also hopes this chimp dude will get a genuine belly ache from chewing straight into the plastic bag.

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An abandoned hotel on the top of the hill.

Once we reach the top, it is unfortunately too much of a cloudy day to be able to really see any spectacular views. On the way up, we pass a group of yankees on their way down, throwing us some encouraging words of “it gets so much easier on the way down!”

What a bunch of liars!

The way down is worse, if anything! With a mind thinking that the worst part is over and with legs like jello, you now have to use the front side of your thighs to break the speed all the way down, or else you will have to run.

Then again, if that saves you from being robbed by monkeys, is perhaps not such a terrible thing.