Oct 14

EBC Trek: Back down to Lukla

After all that effort making our way up, it was a lot quicker getting back down to our starting point.

Back down the valley

Back down the valley

Friday 23 Dec

The best views of Everest from this valley are from Kala Pattar; watching the sun rise over the mountain was the plan for the morning. But not for me. I decided that I needed the rest, the cough was still plaguing me and chest hurt – getting up before dawn to breathe in ice cold air was not a good idea. It was not a late lie-in though, we were still out the door before 8 to walk down. The distances downhill were planned to be longer, there are fewer days to get back to Lukla. Our target was 1100m lower, the lodge where we lunched on Monday, 4 days ago. Eight hours later, by a different route to the one we used to go up, I made it, one of the last. The day had not been a good one for me, lack of sleep, accumulated tiredness meant today I was really slow, not wanting to miss a step. A hard day, I was glad to get to the cozy dining room and get hot food, before being able to sleep all the way through to 8!

Boiling water using solar power

Boiling water using solar power

Saturday 24 Dec

Today we ran out of weather luck. We’d had blue skies and sunshine all the way up the valleys, but today, the clouds came over, it was grey and dull, the mountains were hidden, no views for us today. A new route again, we travelled on the east side of the river, our target Tengboche Monastery after a shorter walk of only 4 hours. Lunch was the ‘famous’ pizza, which was pretty good, a change from the usual. Time to relax before a visit to the monastary, to listen to one of the ‘services’ a series of chants. Finally, as we were leaving, the clouds broke in places and we Everest came back into view, floating over the clouds.

Floating above the clouds

Floating above the clouds

Today also brought us one of the funniest episodes; a local herder had 3 yaks who became very, very interested in 3 cows that were grazing outside the lodge. The poor man was trying to get his yaks away and he’d run after them, herding them one way and the other before one of the yaks would break off again and he’d have to start again. Finally, one of the guides joined in and between them they managed to separate the groups and get the yaks moving down hill!

Sun 25 Dec

Christmas Day. Waking up to look out and watch the sun rise, te tips of Everest and the surrounding mountains glowing as the sun caught them. This has to rate as one of the best hotel views in the world.

Dawn light on Everest

Dawn light on Everest

Another long day planned; all the way down from Tengboche and then back up the next mountain, finally connecting with the good path into Namche. A break for lunch – no turkey here, but a cheese sandwich and chips were very welcome. Down the long hill and keep moving along the valley to our lodge for the night. I’m tired now, I want a shower and non-carb based food. It’s becoming a slog, retracing the steps. I think jumping on a helicopter at Namche would have been an ideal end of trip treat!

Mon 26 Dec

Last day! 7am wake up, eggs for breakfast then the long trudge to Lukla. Traffic jams all the way back – there’d been a delay in flights, creating a backlog of people and now they were all making their way up. Again, a reminder how lucky we had been with the lack of crowds.

People and donkeys queuing

People and donkeys queuing

Along the river, cross the river, along the river, repeat. Long breaks, we’re nearly done now. Finally, our final lodge. Drop the bags, off to find a bank for a little more cash. A visit to ‘Starbocks’ for a welcome hot coffee, free wifi and cake. Sit and while away the afternoon, watching snow fall where we have just travelled. Realising how lucky we were with the weather.

The end

That’s the end of my diary. An early flight out in the morning, back to the Kathmandu hotel to pick up the luggage left. I had an extra day at the hotel, the safety day just in case we could not fly out of the mountains, which can often happen. Very little was done, just chilled out. The back home, flights via Delhi home for 30 Dec, in time to
lose out the year.

This trip had pushed me harder than any other. I’d underestimated the fitness needed for the uphills; I had the stamina to take the long days but not the leg strength needed. Downhills were hard, that’s confidence more than anything else. Not sure I’ll ever be too good at that! Despite all of that, it was an amazing trip, in a fabulous country and I’d love to do it again.

Oct 14

EBC Trek: Everest Base Camp

We were nearly there..one more trek.

A glimpse of Everest from Base Camp

A glimpse of Everest from Base Camp

Thursday 22 Dec

Today was the big day, our final ‘uphill’ day. We had one of our earliest starts, up at 5:30, out the door at 6:30 as dawn was breaking. Off we went, heading to Gorek Shep; minimal plants, moss and lichens with occasional grass clunps. Glacial moraine, rocks and dirt, and increasingly, ice. There’s a path of sorts, a way though, but it’s ephemeral, disappearing and changing over time. The ground moves and there’s no fixed way. We pass a few coming down the way, on their way back from their trek. Nods and smiles – they’ve achieved their goals, now it’s our turn.

Heading up along the valley

Heading up along the valley

A few hours later we arrived at Gorek Shep, a small cluster of buildings that caters for trekkers. Time for breakfast number 2. Time to leave behind things, only taking the essentials as we head out for the last section, planned between 2-3 hours.

Sign posts to Base Camp

Sign posts to Base Camp

The start is easy, a flat sandy section, then gradually heads up, alongside the glacier, through more rocks and dirt. Up ahead, you can see the target, a bowl of mountains, the end of the valley.

Khumba Glacier

Khumba Glacier

Now down to the glacier, and a warning to make it quick – rock falls are possible, we need to keep an eye out. Across we go, to the ‘photo opportunity’. The cairn that gets built every year for visitors, that gets festooned with flags. We’d made it, we’re at 5,380, a vertical climb of 2.5km since we landed at Lukla

Cairn, flags and memories

Cairn, flags and memories

Silence, except for the ice cracking and groaning, the occasional bang as snow and ice break off . The slopes to slip down to the valleys. We’re the only ones there, everyone else had left and our small group had the place to ourselves. Deep blue skies, black and white mountains, the jumble of the Khumba Ice fall as it tumbles down lip of the mountain, and above us, the tip just barely visible, is Everest, tantalising us as it’s done ever since we first glimpsed it on the way up the hill to Namche. You don’t go to Base Camp to take a good look at Everest, you go for the journey and the challenge. Everest is just the beacon that guides you.

Icefall

Icefall

Done, Made it. A quiet sense of achievement. On my first day in the mountains I didn’t think I’d make it, but here I am, goal reached.

So what now? There’s no quick way back, we have to cover all the miles again – at least it’s ‘downhill’!

Back down the valley to be reunited with our gear. Gorek Shep was the most basic of all the lodges we stayed at – and the most expensive. It’s just a few tourist lodges; everything has to be carried up, so things are kept to a minimum and charged for at a premium. We’d were told they’d tried ‘western’ toilets, but they froze too often and cracked..so squat toilets were the only ones available (most of the other lodges we were had got sit on loos, even if no proper flush). But we had food, a bed, and some warmth with the dung fire. One final check of stats – HR106, %O2 83. Looks like my body coped fine this time. Time for bed!

Mar 26

Kathmandu to Lukla to Namche Bazar

Donkey Train

Donkey Train

Despite having little to do on my first morning in Kathmandu, my body clock still woke me up at 6:30am, which was probably a good idea given the next few weeks of early mornings ahead of me. Lazy breakfast and a brief wander around Kathmandu before heading towards the briefing, which is the time to meet my travel companions for the next 2 weeks.

The Group

The Group

In the group we had 3 from New Zealand, 1 from Australia and 3 from London (including myself). An 8th person was supposed to be joining us, but never turned up. We did initial introductions, filled in paper work, got a briefing on altitude sickness and an overview of what we would be experiencing in the next few weeks. Then off to buy last minute things before meeting up again for dinner and early night. first day was very low key.

The start of the next day was less so; meet up time was 5:15am, we were booked on a 6:15 flight. Now we started to see the type of peple we were traveling with. Four of us were early (that would include me), 2 were bang on time and the last? The last had to be got out of bed and helped finish suitcases as they’d heard 5:45 somehow! No matter, it was a short ride to the airport, some random security, a pick up of our hand written boarding passes and then we wait for them to call the planes.

Unloading at Lukla

Unloading at Lukla

Lukla flights tend to be first thing in the morning; the turbulence and visibility gets worse later in the day. So you have planes doing a shuttle run every morning, with very quick turnarounds. We were on the first flight out. grab your seat, any seat, a quick briefing and off we went. No cockpit lockign here, we could see right through the window. The airport has a reputation – you land uphill, into a cliff, quick get unloaded and the plane picks up the next lot and flies back down the slope.

Lukla Airport

Lukla Airport

Our bags were grabbed by our guides and we headed off to breakfast before starting the first day hike.

Lukla (2840m) to Phakding (2610m)

Lukla to Phakding altitude

Lukla to Phakding altitude

You’re reading that right, the first day is downhill. It’s a try out day, a day to check your gear and how you are coping. Total distance is about 5m, but you have the start of some altitude and a few uphill sections to try out your legs. It took us about 4 hours and we were in the lodge in time for lunch. For the rest of the day we chatted and lazed around; after dinner it was the first of our early to bed days, which tended to be a theme as we headed up the mountain.

Villages

Villages

Phakding (2610m) to Namche Bazar (3440m)

Phakding to Namche altitude

Phakding to Namche altitude

the first day’s hike definitely lulls you into a sense of false security. This isn’t too bad you think..welcome to Day 2 which quickly disabuses you of this notion. We carry on walking along the river valley, crossing over various suspension bridges, back and forth on both sites of the Dudh Kosi River. You pass through lots of litte villages, all catering to tourists in some way. And you’re learning the best way to avoid yaks (and variants) and donkeys. Yak and donkey trains take priority. They’re the goods movers of this part of the mountains, more so than people.

We’re still in wooded country, trees and rhododendrons. but we’re getting glimpses of snow covered mountains ahead. Finally we catch a glimpse of the famous double suspension bridge. The bridge is amazing, the thought of what lies ahead less so. An 700m climb straight up towards Namche. Ouch, seriously hurt. slowly, slowly, one foot at a time. Lots of steps, lots of dust and loose stones, the paths are not the easiest. You can really feel the reduced oxygen available by now, you’re out of breath almost with every step.

Suspension Bridge

Suspension Bridge

We do get our first glimpse of Everest though; a view point perfectly aligned with the valley beyond. Just the tip – although that’s all we usually see, just the top of a mountain hidden behind others.

Everest Glimpse

Everest Glimpse

Finally, finally we reached Namche and climbed up more steps. The whole village is built around a bowl in the hills, so there are steps everywhere to get between levels. Never has a lodge been so welcome! And food, I’m not yet bored of the choice of potatoes, rice or noodles.

Namche Bazar

Namche Bazar

Another lecture on Altitude sickness, a reminder to start taking Diamox and a time for measurements – HR (120) and O2 (88%). These would be taken daily to assess our adjustment.

A day in Namche

Acclimatisation walk

Acclimatisation walk

No advancement today, time for acclimatisation. We go for a further up the hill, to the National Park Headquarters and the famous status of Tenzing Norgay, with more views of Everest. The weather was blue skies again, something we had a lot of during our trek. It was surprisingly warm, we were all in a single layer for most of the daytime Then back down in time for lunch (fried potatoes and cheese for me). This was our final chance to buy any trekking gear, or to stock up on food. Also more chance to find out about the team. Myself and T are the least experienced in the bunch – and possibly the least fittest. Despite the training I’d done, it was not enough. R is definitely the fittest and you could see at times over the trip his frustration that he needs to stay with us slow people, but that is the risk when you come along with a random group. We all charged up phones etc and took a chance for a hot shower, the last one we would see for a while.

Tenzing Norgay and Everest

Tenzing Norgay and Everest

Another early night, but not after my stats were checked. HR had come down to 96, my body was adjusting; the O2 was still at 88%. I was happy – sleeping the previous evening was not easy, i really thought that I was not going to be able to go further. My first time at altitude and all you can do is follow the rules – walk slowly, drink lots of water, take the pills and hope your body adjusts.

Mar 18

Travel: A trip to India

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

After 6 months of preparing, getting equipment and trying to get fit, my trip to India and Nepal was ready to go. Rubbish was put out, heating turned down, everything washed up and the final elements added to the suitcase. it was time to head off for 3 weeks, my first Christmas and New Year away from the family. The first part of the trip was a few days in India before I headed off to Nepal.

The bag was hurled to work for the last Friday and the hours ticked by through the day. I’d finished off everything and it was only the last bits of admin to do. But finally it was time to head to Heathrow and my plane. A slight anxious moment at checkin, a frown at the screen. Had I failed in my plans? Was my visa OK? But everything was OK, I was away, security, lounge and finally time for boarding. Drinks provided and pyjamas, I was all set for the overnight flight to Delhi.

My journey was set up with Intrepid Travel, so all connections and hotels were arranged through them, starting with airport pickup. After a long flight, I made the mistake of not joining the long queue to pick up currency, it caused issues later when I tried to get cash – India was still suffering from the currency change that had been called and there was little available. Once in the car, we did not go that far, but there were still times I had my eyes closed, lane markings appeared to be advisory only! Definitely not a place I’d be comfortable driving in. Arrived at hotel and my first travel issue. I had no booking. A few phone calls later, nothing found. Eventually, he accepted my paper version of the booking confirmation and cleared it with the company later. One of the reasons i always print out (2) copies of everything when I travel!

The hotel was fairly basic – the travel company was mainly aimed at backpacker types – but it did for the night. A few hours sleep, and then just food and repacking. We had 2 blackouts during the afternoon, with the generator kicking in after a few minutes each time.

The next day, another issue. the hotel wanted cash for the bill (my food). I had no cash. Eventually got them to take card. Luckily, that was the last of any issues, everything else went well. Once that had been sorted out, I met up with my guide for the morning, we were going on a quick tour of Delhi, just a couple of places to get a flavour of the city.

Delhi Street

Delhi Street

The first stop was the Jama Masjid mosque, built by Shah Jahan (a name I was going to become familiar with over the next 2 days). Apparently the open courtyard can hold 25,000 people! So shoes off, a flowery robe put on and time for a wander and photos. A guess on a clear day you would have a good view over Delhi, but the haze was strong.

Jama Masjid Mosque, Delhi

Jama Masjid Mosque, Delhi

Next on the list was a short walk to a Sikh temple, more shoes off, this time a scarf to cover the forehead/top of head (not just me, the male guide too)

Sikh Temple, Delhi

Sikh Temple, Delhi

Our final stop of the morning, via pedal rickshaw, was a spice market, apparently an old brothel. Now it has all been converted to shops and houses, even the central square.

Spice market, Delhi

Spice market, Delhi

The morning was just a small taste of Delhi, 3 quick stops with very good, knowledgeable guide who had a lot to say about the places we visited and India and Delhi in general. My first impression and definitely culture shock for me; my travels have never taken me to this part of Asia or to any countries like it.

I was handed back to my driver and we headed to the next stop – the long 200 km drive to Agra for the other main attraction on my stay, the Taj Mahah. The main reason for doing this little trip before heading to the Himalayas was to get over jetlag; I reasoned that if I was travelling via Delhi, I should take a look at one of the main attractions.

The driver was excellent through the Delhi streets; I’d (sort of) stopped flinching at every beep of the horn, of which there were many, and I had time to look around me a little more to see the different lives, from upmarket flats to a small spot on the side of the road. Such wide contrasts. Street markets consisting of piles of shoes or clothes or produce with people many deep around the piles. Are there spotters or do people not take things when they easily could? Long stretches of road with clothes hung to dry along the central reservation fence. Once out of the city, the drive was along toll roads, it could have been England – fields, hedges, yellow flowers. A few hours later and we arrived in Agra and I started to my animal count – cows, horses, goats and even camels were seen.

Just a hint of the Taj Mahal, there was heavy haze and there was no clear view. Because of that, it was not going to be a dawn trip, but a more sensible hour of 9:30 pickup. We managed to get there before a main rush; on the way in, we were straight up to the ticket office, by the time we came out, there was a long queue.

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

Another great guide, knew all the best places for photos, wanted to make sure I got all the classic views, although was a little surprised I didn’t want my picture on ‘that’ bench along with everyone else. He was good at fending off the ‘official’ photographers and other vendors.

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

A low walk up the gardens, plenty of photo ops and then up to go inside the building itself. As foreign tourists, we got the cover up booties instead of having to take off shoes to enter the building. Inside was actually a little disappointing; not as much to admire as the actual building itself. Outside definitely better than inside.

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

In the afternoon, time for a visit to the Agra Fort, the 3rd building associated with Shah Jahan – he was imprisoned here by his son for 8 years.

Agra Fort

Agra Fort

A return now to the hotel for the rest of the day; if I wanted to go and explore, the driver would be available to me. i took that as a strong hint to not to wander around alone. I wasn’t going to do that, i realised I did not know enough about how the country works to be comfortable doing that. Beer and food in the hotel, plus a ring side view of the wedding parade that went by.

Agra Wedding

Agra Wedding

My final day in India was a long travel day. Pick up was at 8; the driver doe this trip between Delhi and Agra all the time, taking groups up and down. He does it 2-3 months at a time and then returns north to see his family for a few months. We first traveled to Fatehpur Sikri, the capital of the Mughal empire from 1571 to 1585 (when it was abandoned due to lack of water).

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

Another new guide to take me around; unfortunately, this one was not that good, i got the key points but that was it. the guides do appear to have a fixed script and tend to want to go through it; this was the least fluid and the least likely to change based on my questions, he stuck to the script.

We parked the car, then got on the bus to the palace. The first of the money transactions took place – the bus, my ticket, the guide ticket at the end, the bus and then the parking. If India is to continue to drive to be a cashless society, as I saw from the press and the large promotion of mobile pay, then it has a long way to go before these transactions get altered.

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

After the palace, the long drive back to Delhi, getting back to the hotel about 4, an hour waiting around and then off to the airport for my flight to Kathmandu. Eventually got into my hotel there at 11:45, tired and ready for bed.

I was not comfortable during my trip to India; I partly expected this from what I knew about the place, a reason I’d never visited before. Too chaotic for me, I prefer a little more order. It’s not on my list of ‘must go back now’, although I’d be open to explore a little more at some point. But even so, I did enjoy the trip and loved what I saw.

Flickr Photos:
Delhi
Agra
Fatehpur Sikri

May 31

A trip to Gloucester

After spending the first day of my bank holiday weekend in Worcester, on the Sunday I explored the town of Gloucester. A day similar to the previous in that it took in Cathedrals and museums. First of all was Blackfriars Priory, founded in 1239, dissolved in 1539 and bought by a local alderman who turned it into his house. It was still lived in until the 20th century. the main church now has had all of the floors and rooms removed, just leaving the shell.

Gloucester

The centre of Gloucester is pretty compact and just a couple of street away are the docks (GLoucester used to be a fairly large port on the Severn). The former industrial area has been turned into a shopping and pedestrian areas, with a couple of decent museums.

Gloucester

The first one I visited was a military one, that told the history of the Gloucester regiments, along with a lot of local stories. After a good wander round that, it was back to the other side of town to go round the cathedral – on a Sunday the opening hours for tourists are shorter, due to services. Just round the corner is the House of The Tailor of Gloucester, as in Beatrix Potter fame.

Gloucester Cathedral

At Gloucester Cathedral, there was another volunteer tour guide, this time for a tour round the crypt. My favourite story of that was of Robert Cuthose, the eldest son of William the Conquerer, who dies before he could succeed his father. During the WWII, his burial statue was stored in the crypt, on top of a large storage box that had been sent up for London – the Gloucester vaults were deemed to be fairly safe. At the end of the war, the box was revealed to hold the throne of England – so the Prince had ended up ‘sitting’ on the throne. The other royal burial in the cathedral was Edward II, a not quite successful King who ended up being deposed and disposed of. Edward was not the eldest, he only inherited when his older brother died – Alphonso, a name that cold have been interesting as an English king :-).

Gloucester Cathedral

The final museum of the day was back at the docks, the Gloucester Waterways museum, all about the canals and the life spent on the canals.

British Waterways Museum Gloucester

A very good two day trip and 2 cathedrals knocked off the list. I’m busy planning my next one now – looking at a double header of Peterborough and Ely.

Jun 15

An F1 Pit Lane walk

Canada is one of the few F1 circuits that offer access on the Thursday before the race meet starts. You don’t even need to have a race ticket to access the track. So off we went to hang around the pitlane for 3 hours – along with a lot of other people! But it was not that crowded, the circuit had done this plenty of times before and had the organisation sorted. A queue, a bus to the pitlane and then the chance to queue up for driver autographs or just walk up and down the garages.

Neither of us wanted to get autographs – the queue was long, you never knew who you would get and neither of us tend to collect them – so we just went straight to the cars, taking lots and lots of photos. We also saw quite a few drivers heading out for their track walk.

Back into town and a bit of tourism – the Notre Dame Basilica. Built by the Francophone community, it’s completely different to the churches I usually visit, with the English reformation stripping out all the decoration back to the raw stone. I prefer the unadorned grandeur, but I can see the reasoning behind the decoration.

Montreal June 5 2014

We ended the day with a trip to Crescent St, which is blocked off and turned into a F1 party street, with lots of sponsor stalls and events. This is supported by the official sponsors; a few blocks over on Peel St seems to be slightly more unofficial, with non-sponsors getting into the act. Both a fun places to wander around! We bumped into a few F1 fans we knew from Twitter and ended up with a few drinks.

Jun 05

Some time in Toronto

The day started with coffee and chat. Gaming, game design, trademarks, AI, the future of humanity, startups, population growth and Malthus. Just your everyday small talk 🙂 A great chance to talk about different things, that I don’t have chance to think about in my everyday job.

Next, off to the airport for my next phase of the trip, heading up to Toronto. Newark airport was pretty painless, except for the need of Air Canada to charge for bags – why not just put it in the original price. They were not overjoyed at my insistence of paying cash though. Especially as there were a lot of crumpled dollar bills!

My original plans for Monday night fell through, so instead I headed to Canoe, a gorgeous fine dining Canadian restaurant, where the tasting menu included things like elk, pickled maple leaves, stinging nettle puree and coniferous cream. The chef makes a point of using local ingredients as well as bringing in his influences from Japan, with the desert of rice cake, green tea custard and red bean sherbert. I sat at the kitchen table and watched the chefs rush to meet the demand of a full restaurant, which was pretty good for a Monday evening. I absolutely adored this meal!

Canoe

Tuesday dawned foggy and damp but the sun quickly came out and the humidity went up. The first thing to do was sort out a phone sim for the week – despite the wifi ubiquity around and about, the F1 circuit won’t have that, so need to be able to connect there.

Toronto 3 June 2014

Then a walk round town before meeting Jeremy for lunch and catching up about the last 6 years or so since I saw him. More walking and another catch up, this time with Rick – it’s probably been 8 years since I last met him.

Great to spend the first few days of the hols just catching up with old friends, before heading off to Montreal to make new ones!

Toronto 3 June 2014

Jun 05

New York and New Jersey

It’s another holiday! This time to the continent of North America, with a combined trip to New York, West Milward (In New Jersey), Toronto and Montreal for the F1.

Emoisre state

An easy trip to Heathrow and all the way through the security ended with a slightly worrying beep of the machine as I went to board. Had my ESTA run out, what was the problem? It turned out to be a nice surprise instead as the computer had said yes and I was given a lovely upgrade to World Traveller Plus – bigger seats, small cabin, Yes, a good start!

Food done, sleep done, no issues with immigration, remembered how to use the subway and made my way to my hostel for the evening – where possible, I’m sleeping cheap and eating expensive! The Chelsea International is probably your typical hostel, standard welcome, rooms with lockers, basic functional place. But, clean, tidy, secure and works fine.

American Wagyu Carpaccio

A quick lie down and then out for my a meal, at Craft. I thought about the tasting menu but decided it was too much after a day of travelling so settled for American Wagyu Carpaccio, Monkfish and chard, finished with Banana Tartin with Peanut butter icecream. Enjoyed it and everything was well sourced and well excuted, but the nothing outstanding. Waiter was great but some of the servers not so much – my starter got delivered to wrong table..

Next morning, I jumped on a 90minute bus ride out to the wilds of New Jersey, to see a friend from my New York days. Breakfast at a 24/7 diner than out to the stables to see his horses and spend some time helping out building a fence for the stables, which is a rescue centre relying on volunteers to get things done. It was quite a change to be out in the sunshine doing physical work instead of sitting in an office all day.

US Day 1-2

We finished the day at a local sushi (local in these parts being a 20min drive away!). And at that point an early night to chase the jetlag away was needed.

Horses and fences

Feb 09

Visiting Naples Part 2

The dry (if overcast) weather that I had for the day round Pompeii did not hold for the rest of my stay and there was plenty of rain around. For the rest of my trip I’d planned walking round Naples, Churches and Museums. My Lonely Planet guidebook had a good walking day set out and that’s what I sort followed!

I started off at one of the city gates, the Porto Nolona. To get there, I’d jumped on the Metro, which is surprisingly modern and clean (given the rest of the city). The city had got various artists to design the stations and they were all pretty nice!

Naples

The walking tour took me round ancient streets and churches. Having visited a lot of Uk cathedrals, visiting those in places like Italy, which never went through the Reformation, is always slightly disconcerting. Colour and pictures and paintings? What is this! I’m used to them being plain, with the stone only forming beauty. The sheer number of images is mind-blowing, especially when you see some of the painters. The Caravaggio Le Sette Opere di Misericordia was particularly wonderful. So much to see and wander round, I never got to all of them.

Naples

The history of Naples in the 20th century is not the best, a town beset by a lot of corruption. But I think it may have been responsible for the historical legacy of the old town centre, with it’s lanes and small roads, the surprise squares and statues. It was not modernised at all and is fascinating to wander round. Certain streets are home to specialists, such as Via San Gregorio Armeno, which is full of presepi makers – figures for nativity scenes.

Naples

I made sure I had time to try the local speciality – PIZZA! I went to Pizza Gino Sorbillo, generally regarded as one of the best places in town for pizza and it was brilliant – both the busy restaurant and the food 🙂

Naples Food

At this point, I decided it was time to head inside for slightly longer as it was getting a bit wet. As I walked towards the Archaeological Musem I was totally bemused by the attitude of the locals to the rain. It’s as though this was a once in a lifetime event and they had no idea how to deal with it. Just a little sprinkle had people heading for cover. It’s not as though you couldn’t get umbrellas…for most of the weekend, you couldn’t go a block without seeing opportunistic salesmen.

Naples (1 Feb 2014)

The Musueum was great, with lots of Roman art and lots from Pompeii. Again, I think it would have been great to be able to see the artifacts in situ as such, how did they display the various artworks alongside the everyday objects. The mosaics were amazing, to think these were basically floor coverings. the Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Room) was also fun – flying phalluses with bells on! Seriously, what were these for?

Museo Archeologico Nazionale

I was back at a museum on Sunday, this time the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte. Loads of paintings from masters, including Raphael, Titian and my favourite Caravaggio. There’s a LOT in this place and it’s well worth getting the audio guide, even if the translation seems odd at times and the narrator has difficulty with some of the names. As well as the art collection (most of it came from the mother of Charles VII of Bourbon), you also get to wander round the royal apartments.

Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte

I really enjoyed my time in Naples, there’s so much to see and I only touched the surface. I’d like to go back to see Herculaneum, to see more of the museums and sights and spend more time wandering around. That said, Naples does not give the impression of being welcoming – it’s in the architecture. It’s all closed and square, with shutters, with lots of grafitti, with no glimpse of what is behind the walls. I never felt unsafe, but the streets themselves seem to tell you to watch out and don’t bother them. I fully recommend it though, but probably go with friends and be prepared.

Naples

Feb 09

Visiting Naples

Last week, off I went to Naples for a long weekend visit. With so many cities in Europe to visit, Naples may not be the first on the everyone’s list, but it has plenty of attractions, the main one for me being Pompeii. The others were food (practising my carb-loading for running) and the art. I managed to squeeze all of these in!

First up was Pompeii, on what turned out to be the driest day of the weekend. A brilliant place and going at this time of the year meant that for much of the time I was wondering round the places and streets on my own, with plenty of time to sit and take up the atmosphere. You could definitely feel the volcano looming over the town. There’s always a worry that it may erupt again, but there are many more ways of monitoring so I don’t think there’ll be the same massive surprise as there was in 79AD.

Pompeii

Dotted around the site were some of the plaster casts that had been taken during the 19th century excavations. You look at them, in some of them seeing the expressions on their faces and can imagine the terror they must have felt as they realised there was no way out of the town.

Pompeii

Interesting that over the years, people have not changed. There’s still grafitti, the sports in the arena, the plays and music in the theatres, the places of worship, bath houses, swimming pools and fast food shops. It’s all there, we haven’t changed that much.

Pompeii

The fast food shops were great, with the inbuilt counters with spaces for the food containers. Not that much different from today’s canteens. What I found interesting is that the concept of the shop as the front of the house which just had a shutter pulled down out of hours was still found in Naples. So many of the shops there were literally rooms behind a shutter, no glossy window displays for them.

Pompeii

One thing that has changed is our public attitude to sex. The brothel had a lot of people going through it, all wanting to look at the wall pictures that are still perfectly recognisable as various pictures. In the Archaeological Museum back in Naples there are a lot of other pictures and objects (flying phalluses with bells on were my favourite) showing that there was a very different regard for sex.

Pompeii

Pompeii is well worth a visit, although in summer it is supposed to get really hot and unpleasant to walk around. It’s huge, I spent at least 6 hours walking around and quite a few of the places were closed for work – they’re still digging it up and working on it. I think the only thing I’d like would have been to see some of the places kitted out completely, a few replicas, to understand how the houses/places worked and how the objects that I saw later in the museum would have fitted into the lives.

Oct 21

Japan: The Last Days

Japan Last Days: Tokyo

After the touristing of the last 2 weeks, the last 2 days were basically travel. First of all we travelled from Hiroshima back to Tokyo via Shinkansen, the bullet train. We were staying in the Shinjiku area, so wandered along to the park Hyatt (as all the reviews say, made famous by the film Lost in Translation). We were too late for afternoon tea, but had a drink and watched the darkness fall across the city from the 41st floor. Pity the weather was so bad, as I guess it looks wonderful with clear skies!

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Japan Last Days: Tokyo

Then the travel home.Up at 5. train to airport, 12 hour flight. And miracle of miracles, the tubes actually working to take us both back to our respective homes. At the airport we were offered a deal for one of us to be bumped down to economy (for miles or pounds) but the answer was definitely no! I’m guessing somebody said yes at some point – maybe the deal got better, given that the cash offer was less than the premium we had paid!

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Flying across Siberia

That was it. it’s over, we are home. No more travel. We loved Japan, Sofia and I, and want to go back. There’s so much more to see.

Oct 18

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

Today feels like our last full day in Japan – tomorrow is travelling back to Tokyo and getting ready to leave.

We’re still in Hiroshima and the plan today was to walk round the Peace Memorial Park and visit the museum and memorials there.

First was the A-bomb Dome. As a concrete building, it was one of the few remaining standing in the centre of Hiroshima and has been left (after much deliberation over the years) as a permanent reminder. It is preserved in the same state of disrepair as it was after the bombing.

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

Wandering around the rest of the park, there are many more memorials. To students, to Koreans, to all the victims. The cenotaph contains a record of all the people who have died, all those who experienced the bomb, updated every year on 6th August as the aging survivors die.

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

The Children’s Peace Memorial probably had the most activity around it, as large groups of schoolchildren queued up to take their turn. Each class bought paper cranes, 1000s of them, connected and threaded into other shapes. We saw one group line up, the nominated student read from a book to the memorial, then the whole class sang.

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

Finally, they presented their assembly of paper cranes to be added to the collection. After posing for pictures, they left to make way for the next group.

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

The Memorial Hall winds underground, leading to a circular mosaic of tiles, one for each person impacted, making a picture of the flattened city after the blast.

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

This is where the records are kept, the written and video stories and screens show the never-ending scroll of names and pictures.
The Peace Memorial Museum is split into two parts. The first examines the history of Hiroshima, of Japans involvement in the wars in the area and how Hiroshima was a main staging post. It factually goes into the politics and decisions made about why the bomb was used and why Hiroshima was chosen as the target.

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

The second section was the stories of the victims and the survivors. How the city was destroyed, remains and artifacts of the day. One such as these steps from a bank, forever scarred with the shadow of the person who was sitting there at 8.15am on 6th August 1945, waiting for the bank to open. It’s an image that stuck in my mind when I read Hiroshima by John Hersey in the 80s, when the Cold War always meant another nuclear attack was still thought possible and the Protect and Survive information was out there.

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

That was our visit for the day. A lot to think about, too much. So we had lunch in the sun and discussed other things. Like do Japanese schoolchildren actually spend anytime in school as they always seem to be on trips. At every single location we have been there have been school parties, in lines, in groups, being shouted at my teachers/guides with megaphones or filling in the ubiquitous workbooks. They all want to say ‘hello’ to us foreigners and giggle.

Or how the stereotype of Japanese tourist with the ever-snapping camera is not just behaviour when they’re abroad but it’s magnified here. If we ever thought we could not take a photo, maybe because we were in a shrine, no matter, we just copied the actions of the other Japanese tourists.

Tomorrow, back to Tokyo for the last night then we board the plan for London. Where I believe it’ll be cold and wet!

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr
Day 13 post – Hiroshima and Miyajima : Day 12 post – Nara
Day 11 post – Kyoto : Day 10 post – Kyoto : Day 9 post – Race day at Suzuka : Day 8 post – Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 17

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima and Miyajima

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

An early start to the day as we headed to the station to catch another Shinkansen, heading further west to Hiroshima. It takes just over 2 hours (discounting the standing at stations) to travel the 224 miles, speeding through the countryside. Except it wasn’t really countryside, as you’d call it in the UK. There’s no rolling fields, it’s all suburban. It seems that except for the mountains, everywhere we have seen has been built up, the trip was an endless strip of city and suburbs. There’s an occasional field, sliced into strips, some with cereal or rice, others cultivated with a variety of plants, like an allotment. In one small section, there were longer sections of fields, but every couple there were groups of 4-5 houses. Japan has a population if 127m, that’s over twice the UK, but a population density nearly 3x as much. And if you can’t build in the many mountains, that means they’re nearly all squeezed into the coastal plains. We saw no real farmland- where do they grow the rice? And definitely no animals in any of the fields. Just houses and more houses.

Arriving on Hiroshima we jumped onto a local tram, dropped the bags off and then nipped back to the station to get a train out to Miyajima island. Well, a train to catch the 10min ferry ride across the sea to the island. We were there to see the floating shrine. Unfortunately, it wasn’t floating today, as we arrived at low tide.It basically stuck up out of the mud.

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

Before we got there, it was time for me to try the local delicacy – BBQ oysters. Well, grilled oysters as they are called, but they’re basically cooked on a BBQ. Served with a squeeze of line they were great.

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

We headed onto the beach for a quick paddle and to stare at the torii. This is usually photographed sticking out of the water, we got sand and barnacles.

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

The shrine is quite small really, bridging across the two sides of the bay. As we reached the middle, we got caught up in what looked like a marriage – the first marriage by interpretive dance I’ve seen. Well, it looked like a marriage party and I assume the ceremony took place elsewhere, but we just say the man in the mask do 10 mins of dance to drums, flutes, kazoos and a broken bagpipe. (I don’t know what the instruments actually were but that is what they sounded like).

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

More photos, more beach wandering and the ferry took us back to the mainland.

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

We tried one of the izakayas this evening, a sort of pub that serves a mix of food. This one was the first one we had been too with no English, so it was a matter of point and hope. I ended up with a mixture of rice in stock, chicken cabbage and egg, which I am informed via Twitter was ‘oyako donburi’ . Very nice it was too.

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

Tomorrow we head to the Atom Bomb dome, as listed on the signs.

Finally, my sign of the day. Everyone needs an emergency Escape Mouth.

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr
Day 12 post – Nara
Day 11 post – Kyoto : Day 10 post – Kyoto : Day 9 post – Race day at Suzuka : Day 8 post – Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 16

Japan Day 12: Nara

There’s so much to do in Kyoto we haven’t even started to scratch the surface. But today, we took the decision to head to Nara, the old capital of Japan. Or should I say older, as it was capital from 710 for 75 years. It’s about an hour SE of Kyoto.

Like most of the towns we’ve seen, the arrival location is never that impressive, but we headed out up the main shopping street through to Nara Park.

Japan Day 12: Nara

First was Kofuku-Ji, transferred from Kyoto in 710. Nothing remains of that time, as with most temples, they’ve been destroyed by fire, earthquake or the Shinto tradition of rebuilding every 20 years. These are still current reasons for changes. Every single temple we have been too has big warnings about smoking and lots and lots of fire extinguishers. When you’re made of old wood, fire is probably enemy number one! The main hall is in midst of being renovated, due to be revealed in 2018.

Japan Day 12: Nara

There are some old elements remaining, this 5 story pagoda was built in 1426.

Japan Day 12: Nara

We carried on through the park, running into the deer that run free across the whole area. Most of the stalls carry deer biscuits and they’re used to being fed – the bolder ones tend to demand it!

Japan Day 12: Nara

Even with the all the people around, they carry on with their lives. It’s obviously mating season and we had to avoid the deer sex and male fights.

Japan Day 12: Nara

The second place we visited was Todai-ji. A large temple complex containing Daibutsu-den, which was until recently the largest wooden building in the world. Rebuilt in 1709, it’s 1/3rd smaller than the hall that stood there before.

Japan Day 12: Nara

And the reason it is so large? It houses the Great Buddha – a statue 16m high, with 437t of bronze and 130kg of gold. It is HUGE! There are other large statues in the building as well, all of whom add up to an overwhelming presence.

Japan Day 12: Nara

It’s not just the statues that are awesome, the building is too. You can’t help wonder how they put it together. But there is something completely unexpected. In one of the back columns, one of the huge columns supporting the roof, is a hole. According to guides, the hole is the same size as one of the nostrils on the big Buddha statue. Apparently you’re supposed to climb through this hole. There’s no sign as to why you should climb through it, but apparently it is to gain enlightenment in the next life! It is very popular with the large groups of school children that visit the hall. However, having taken a look at the hole, i decided that it was probably big enough and I had to have a go!

Japan Day 12: Nara

As you can see, I made it 🙂

Whilst there, we also added our names to one of the tiles that will be added to the building. A little bit of permanence and history, at least until they rebuild. It’s hard writing Roman script with the brushes, the Japanese characters looked so more elegant!

Japan Day 12: Nara

A few more temples further up the hill (almost every temple we have visited has been up a hill. We have climbed a LOT of stairs) then we headed back. But not before being waylaid by a Japanese Tv show and asked to smell some mushrooms. They smelt like the deer dung but are allegedly a delicacy. We have no idea if we will make an appearance.

Japan Day 12: Nara

A late lunch was taken, this time a Nara specialty of kamameshi, which is rice, vegetables/meat/seafood cooked in an iron pot. The skill is cooking it so the rice just sticks and gets crispy!

Japan Day 12: Nara

Once back in Kyoto we called into the Japanese equivalent of Poundshop and stocked up on some essentials. No major events this evening, just a repacking of everything to send the cases back to Tokyo whilst we go on to Hiroshima for the last city of the trip.

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr
Day 11 post – Kyoto : Day 10 post – Kyoto : Day 9 post – Race day at Suzuka : Day 8 post – Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 15

Japan Day 11: Kyoto

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

A day in Kyoto. Despite the many, many temples and shrines, World Heritage Sites and Cultural Treasures, the main part of Kyoto is basically ugly, like most cities in Japan it appears. Any charm has been destroyed as buildings are built and rebuilt, modern, flat, grey. Electricity lines snake down streets, not underground but in the air like mad knitting. There’s no space between houses, no gardens, the buildings in the city built tight next to each other, the same pattern repeated as you move to the outskirts. Now and again you get an old building that has survived, but most seems to be as new as possible.

To get any idea of what it may have been once, you need to get to the outskirts. We went to Arashiyama this morning and houses in their own plots, tidy, organised gardens, single stories are what you find there. Totally different to anything we have seen so far, in the cities or from the train. We went to visit Tenryu-Ji, a temple that was established in 1339.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

All the buildings are modern (ish) but the gardens date back to the 14th century, designed to work with the background mountains, called ‘shakkei’ or ‘borrowed-landscape’. This is the first real sculptured gardens we have seen so far. We sat and contemplated the view for a while.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Next, a walk along the edge of the mountain, through the famous bamboo grove. Gorgeous towering bamboo trees reach up to the sky and you walk through the green-tinged light.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Back into the village, a quick meal of noodles from a roadside stall and then train and bus to the complete opposite side of the city, the other mountains.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Here we visited Kitomizu-dera, another ancient temple, established in 798 but with most buildings dated from 1633. If the morning was about contemplation of nature, this was definitely the interactive temple. We climbed up and up, through the graveyards before hitting the forecourt, full of people, especially schoolparties.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Into the main hall, with a verandah jutting over the hillside supported by huge pillars and a view over the city.
You could go down under a building, into the pitch dark, following a guideline to the magic stone, figuratively entering the womb of a female budhisvatta. At the heart, there’s a stone that you can turn either way and make a wish. I’m guessing there’s some pretty slick ball bearings under the stone to allow it to do that!

Up to the main interactive section, a shrine or action for everyone. You could rub the statue for luck. You could write your sorrows on paper and dissolve them away, wish a curse on your enemies.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Or you could walk the 18m between the two love stones with your eyes closed. Make it and hit the second stone, you would find true love.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

You could also be terrified by the love messenger bunny, in bronze or red-eyed furry glory.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto
Japan Day 11: Koyoto

The final activity was to reach out and catch the water from the spring, wash and drink it and make a wish. This place is all about the wishes.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

We headed back to change as tonight we were off out to treat ourselves. As we’re in Japan, we have to try Kobe beef and the Itoh Dining by Nobu seemed to be a good place. The 7 courses that followed were definitely worth it! (and we finally saw a real geisha on our way to the restaurant)

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Most people we’ve seen so far seem to obey the walk/don’t walk signs, they wait, even if a small road and no-one is heading your way. They often have a count down so you can tell how long you have to wait. When they do turn green, they start making a noise and I have no idea what defines the noise they make, as it does not seem to be connected with the type of sign. There are two main noises. One goes cuckoo, cuckoo. The other goes pew, pew-pew. Today I heard a third, going cuc-cuckoo.

Tomorrow we head out of the city for a visit to Nara, the previous capital.

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 10 post: Kyoto : Day 9 post – Race day at Suzuka : Day 8 post – Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 14

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

A new city! Today we travelled from Nagoya to Kyoto, to continue with out sightseeing touristy part of the trip. We boarded the Shinkansen for the 40min trip. We had intended to forward the luggage, but it turns out, that it takes 24 hrs, so we took them with us. Somehow, despite not really buying a lot, both suitcases seem to have got a LOT heavier!

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Luggage left at hotel, we headed out into town. First of all, we wandered along the row of Nishiki market. It’s like Borough Market, except mainly fish!

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

I thought about it, but in the end wasn’t tempted by the octopus on a stick.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Then across the river through Gion, taking a look at Shimbashi, one of the really old style streets. Some lovely old houses along streets that looked pretty quiet.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

We headed on to Chion-in, a temple at the base of the mountain. It’s an active temple, the centre of Pure Land Buddha teaching. Plenty of different buildings, trails through the forest, burial grounds. They have a 47t bell up a hill. How did they get it there?!

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

The main building is currently being restored, with a completely new building been put around it. It’s going to take until 2019 to finish it.You can walk through the different buildings and shrines, some of which are connected together with ‘nightingale’ floors, that creak and squeal like the sound of birds when you walk across them. In the main working area, we watched people line up for private services, where they sat and preyed whilst the monk/priest sang and banged a variety of percussion.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Back down the hill, through the park. It’s a national holiday today so it was pretty busy. Then to Yatsuka-Jinja, regarded as the guardian shrine of Gion. very colourful buildings and a place where we encountered lots of kimono wearing women,

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Somewhere, there’s a service that dresses them up for the day, and they then wander round for the photo opportunities.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Finally the main bit of the Gion district, first in daylight and then returning after dark Old wooden buildings, lots of tourists, quaint streets, but not that much else to see.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Dinner this evening was sushi, at a lovely place called Hisagi Sushi. Well, sushi for me, definitely not one of Sofia’s favourite foods.

On the favourite subject of toilets, our hotel this time has a remote control, so you don’t have to turn sideways to activate the various spraying elements. The basic Japanese squat toilet requires too much flexibility to be comfortable but I’m don’t prefer the ones that you’d need an electrician to fix if it went wrong! And it may just be me, but having a toilet that plugs in, even if it does give you a warm seat, just feels odd!

Favourite sign of the day – all about Beautification Enforcement areas.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

And on the favourite subject of toilets, our hotel this time has a remote control, so you don’t have to turn sideways to activate the various spraying elements. The basic Japanese squat toilet requires too much flexibility to be comfortable but I’m don’t prefer the ones that you’d need an electrician to fix if it went wrong! And it may just be me, but having a toilet that plugs in, even if it does give you a warm seat, just feels odd!

Now our feet and legs are tired. Time to retire before hitting more sights tomorrow.

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 9 post – Race day at Suzuka : Day 8 post – Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 13

Japan Day 9: Race Day at Suzuka

Japan Day 9: Race day at Suzuka

Today was the day of the Japanese Grand Prix. The 15th race of the season. A race where Vettel could win the championship. My second GP of the year. And the reason why Sofia and I are in Japan.

But this isn’t a race report. These blog posts are more about my travels in Japan. So there’s not that much to say today!

We caught the morning train to the circuit and decided to follow the locals in their traditions. Not camping out in car parks though!

Japan Day 9: Race day at Suzuka

We found ourselves a spot under the grandstand, spread out our mat and camped out there, waiting for the race.

Japan Day 9: Race Day at Suzuka

The fans come prepared, with ground mats and masking tape. The mats are taped down and that is their space. It’s respected, no one intrudes or steps on it and people snooze, eat, chat or read. There is a similar respect at Silverstone, when it comes to race watching positions, but in Suzuka, this is about pre-race waiting.

Japan Day 9: Race Day at Suzuka

I decided on a hamburger for lunch. I assume the owners of the van knew what they meant by their slogan, but not 100% sure!

Japan Day 9: Race day at Suzuka

Other people had pizza. And ate it using chopsticks!

Japan Day 9: Race day at Suzuka

The race was brilliant! At the circuit, you can only see a certain amount and without commentary it is very hard to follow. But in this case, Twitter filled in the gaps and we were able to keep track of what was going on. Vettel won the race, but not the championship. Guess he’ll take it in India.

My souvenir was the Bernie puppet, only available in Japan. There’s a Jenson one too!

Japan Day 9: race day at Suzuka

Still absolutely in love with the train system. Amazed that they only let people with seat reservations onto reserved trains, no filling up the aisles. Makes for a calm journey.

We had to double check it was still Sunday – it seemed to be the busiest day on the transport and shopping mall so far. Japan does do Monday to Friday work weeks??

I’m not sure why, but all the red wine I have had has been served chilled. Sake, coffee, tea, chocolate, they offer you hot or cold. Red wine, no choice, it’s chilled!

Tomorrow, we head for Kyoto.

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 8 post: Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 12

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

Another day at the races. Today was qualifying. We got there for 10ish, plenty of time to wander around and watch weird audience games, people watch and then take in final practice.

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

We met up with Hiro, whom I had met last February in Barcelona for F1 testing. He’d managed to go to 4 GPs, was now at the Japan one and would be heading to Brazil. A man very economical with his holidays!
Lunch was Japanese curry from one of the many, many stalls dotted around the track.

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

Qualifying was fun – especially the last session. Webber pipping Vettel to pole was well liked in our bit of the stadium.

We were amazed at how clean and tidy the race track was as we were leaving. Very, if any, rubbish was left around. Everything was binned. Very different to many others that we’ve been to.

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

Heading out of the circuit, we weren’t too sure how the booked trains would work. How would you get onto the platform for your train. We needn’t have worried, it was all organised. If you had an unreserved ticket, you lined up and they called you to the platform ready for trains to arrive – just enough people to fit into each train. If you were on a specific booked train, you lined up ready for that, in carriage order. When it was time for your train, each carriage was called up and placed exactly at the right spot to get on the train. No crowding, no pushing, impeccably organised. Brilliant. (The train was 8 mins late though, first one we’ve seen late!)

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

Back in Nagoya, you could see it was obviously a shopping day. They had music playing along the streets again. Just loud enough so you couldn’t hear the bikes behind you. They don’t ride bikes on the streets, all the action is on the pavement. I’m surprised there are not more collisions, but it seems to work, just about.

Tomorrow is race day!

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 7 Post – Suzuka
Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya
Day 5 Post – Hakone
Day 4 Post – Tokyo
Day 3 post – Tokyo
Day 2 post – Tokyo
Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 11

Japan Day 7: Suzuka

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

So today was the day, the start of the event we have built our holiday around, the Japanese Grand Prix. At the start of the week, rain was predicted, but the day dawned sunny and bright and stayed that way. it was 29C at the track and the only use of umbrellas was for shade.

There are special trains put on from Nagoya to Suzuka, about an hour away. We found the platform and waited as it filled with more and more fans. Inside Japan had sorted out all the seat booking for us, making the journey a little easier than squeezing into the unreserved carriages.

At the station, just follow the fans.

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

The circuit was easy to find and really, really busy – although it’ll be busier on race day. There were loads of stalls for merchandise and food,making it really fan friendly. (although I’m not sure what this is!)

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

One immediate thing struck us – the cigarette advertising, It’s not allowed in Europe, but here, it’s everywhere. A big stand and sponsoring the smoking areas. Oh yes, the strange control of smoking means you can only smoke in designated areas – including specific indoor rooms. Not wandering around outside.

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

They also had a Ferris Wheel, free if you were at the race. A quick whirl gave some great views of the track!

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

There were plenty of fans making signs for drivers at the first ever craft corner we had seen at a race!

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

Some more behaviour differences was this one of staking out a section around the circuit, taping the mat down. Most were under stands, so protection from sun or rain. The mats were left there, I’m guessing ready for the next day

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

And for some reason, a woman in a brides dress carrying a bouquet was driven round the circuit. No idea why!

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

We have brilliant seats – at T1/T2, prefect for the race.

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

As Friday you’re allowed to wander around, we also did that, to see the rest of the track. Well, Sofia did. I had a last minute chance for a Paddock Club ticket from Marussia and watched practice 2 from there 🙂

The trip home was just as easy, the queue was orderly and organised and we managed to be positioned so we got right on the train into a seat!

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

Finally this evening, we met up with a friend, who had found a tiny little restuarant for Okonomikaki and fried noodles. Absolutely delicious.

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And that was today! Except for my sign of the day. A pointer for a Lat Rine

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

Oct 10

Japan Day 6: Hakone and travel

Sleeping on a futon to the sound of a waterfall is definitely an experience. A good night sleep. The breakfast this morning was also an experience, very, very different and will no alternatives. Grilled fish, salad, pickles, chicken/okra, miso soup, rice and a soft boiled egg. I had a go at everything – and finished most. Except the soft boiled egg. I really don’t like those.

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Today, the sun was out so we tried again to get up the mountains. First of all we consigned our bags to the baggage movers again, sending them on to the station. Then back on the train up the mountains, then the cliff hugging cable car and, finally, the ropeway, the dangling cablecar. Up and up and up we went, to a summit of 1144m.

Japan Day 6: Hakone

Over the first crest was a surprise – a smoking volcano, with vents pouring out sulphur and a reek.

Japan Day 6: Hakone

Then down, down further, straining for a glimpse of Mount Fuji but it was not to be. The clouds had gathered, the rain was threatening and there was nothing to be seen.

Japan Day 6: Hakone

The last stop was on Lake Ashi, 720, above sea level, formed 3000 years ago when the volcano blew and left a caldera that filled. Now it’s a tourist haunt and our Hakone Travel Pass took us on to the cruise ship that wound it’s way to the end of the lake and back. We treated ourselves to the upgrade to first class, so we had the front deck to ourselves, unlike the crowding behind!

Japan Day 6: Hakone

Japan Day 6: Hakone

One lake cruise later and it was back up the cable car, over the mountain, down the mountain, back on the cable car, back on the train to the station at the bottom of the hills to collect our bags, another train back to Odawara and then jump on the Shinkansen to head further west to Nagoya, our home for the next few nights. And magically, our bags we’d sent on their way on Tuesday were sitting here ready for us.

This was today’s favourite sign – in the one western toilet in a block

Japan Day 6: Hakone

No Japanese food for us tonight, it was time for steak! A quick wander round the block then back to chill. It’s an early start tomorrow as we head for the F1.