2nd January 2023: Lies or oblivion? {Egypt, Winter 2022-2023}

I was awake at 6:40, but no phone call ever came. I was distressed because this gave way to two options. Either the tour guide had lied to me, or someone had forgotten that I existed. Neither was a happy thought. I tried to cheer myself up with a cup of Espresso from the room complimentary bar, and around 8:30 I went to have a quick breakfast. I was not hungry and to be honest quite upset. I had insisted five times about this beforehand.

A bit after 9:00 I tried to call the ground agency, Galaxia Tours, and I texted them through the website. But around 9:20 I said screw it. The hotel had a mini travel agency – I had noticed this because we had made an attempt to go see the light and sound show at Giza on the 30th, which the tour guide had walked around. Instead of telling us “you won’t have the time” he had deflected every question we asked about it.

Had I had more time to organise things, I would have hired the mini-agency to take me back to the Egyptian Museum, the Museum of Egyptian Civilisation, or even the Valley of the Whales. However, since the tour guide had mislead me, I was out of time. Then again, the hotel was not in actual Cairo, but in Giza [الجيزة], and a nominal 20 minutes away from the Giza Plateau and thus the pyramids, so I hired a tour over there. And, believe it or not, I ended up… on a “camel” – actually a dromedary – for a few hours.

I had been resisting doing a dromedary ride of any kind out of concern for animal welfare, especially after seeing how they were treated at the Petra site in Jordan. However, this time it looked like it was the best option to spend my three hours around the pyramids, introducing Moses the dromedary (Camelus dromedarius).

Moses the dromedary kneels looking at the camera over his shoulder. He exudes personality

I checked out at the hotel, left my luggage at reception, and was driven towards the The Pyramids of Giza Archaeological Site [مجمع أهرامات الجيزة]. My driver was a bit creepy, so I tried to keep it light. We arrived at a backstreet next to the Great Sphinx [أبو الهول] entrance, from where I had a great view. This entrance was a bit different from the one we had used on the 31st next to the tourist bus parking lot. Most people using this entrance were Egyptians, and they were thoroughly patted down. Upon entry though, the view was astonishing – the Sphinx, and Pyramid of Khafre standing right behind it, the Pyramid of Khafre [هرم خفرع], the Pyramid of Menkaure, with the Pyramids of the Queens peeking to the side.

A front view of the sphinx, with three pyramids behind it. The pyramids decrease in size from right to left

Riding the dromedary was easier than I thought. The trickiest part was managing his kneeling down and standing back up – I did get a cramp on the very first standing up – but it was mostly a matter of leaning forward and backwards. Through this new walk around the Giza Plateau I got to see the modern cemetery on the left, then we moved onto the archaeological site itself. From this side, I saw the path that joins the Great Sphinx with the Funerary Temple of Khafre and the Pyramid of Khafre. I also got to see the Tomb of Queen Khentkawes I [مقبرة الملکه خنتکاوس] and the Central Field of Mastabas and rock-cut tombs. It was weird, having such a vantage point of view! I got used to the rocking very quickly, so I got a few good pictures.

Two views of the archaeological area of Giza, with pyramids in the background and low, excavated tombs in the foreground.

My guide – and Moses – took me to a a different Panoramic Point of the Pyramids, the picture perfect one, a few metres south of where we had been the previous day – this spot is not reachable from the bus, but I honestly cannot calculate if I would have had the time to get there and back the previous time – it’s hard to estimate distances in the desert, and the pyramids are too big to gauge good references.

A general view of the area of Giza. All the big three pyramids and the small six are visible.

We rode around the Pyramid of Menkaure, and actually passed between two of the Pyramids of the Queens.

A collage showing the approach to the Pyramid of Menkaure. The smaller pyramids of the Queens are in the foreground, and the camera seems to go through them until it focuses on the bigger pyramid.

Then we moved on towards the Pyramid of Khafre. Coming closer was really cool, as I could see the granite blocks that would have made the pyramid smooth back in the day, along with the rest of some columns. Also, two sides of the pyramid are actually somewhat sunk in the ground, with a vertical wall of rock-cut tombs. I know I was paying for it, but being able to walk around the pyramid felt special, and allowed me to feel awed at the size and technology again, considering these were built about 4500 years ago.

The pyramid of Khafre. The top is still smooth as granite blocks have not fallen. At its foot, you can see the granite blocks that have fallen, some aligned next to the pyramid so you can guess how it would be smoothed. Another picture shows the moat like structure around the pyramid - it is the back-wall of some tombs

The Pyramid of Khufu stood to the left, and we continued our ride towards the Central Field of Mastabas and rock-cut tombs and the Tomb of Queen Khentkawes I.

A view of the Great Pyramid from behind.

A number of basement-like structures excavated in the desert. They are the tombs of the nobles and the pyramid builders.

I dismounted again and walked into the Valley Temple of Khafre [معبد الوادي لخفرع]. This time, not running and with fewer people, I got to see the megalithic structures for real. I also could go to see the rump area of the Great Sphinx of Giza.

Collage showing the sphinx with the pyramid of Khafre behind it; the megalithic temple through which you access it; then a lateral view of the sphinx and a view from the rump.

Afterwards, there was an “essence shop” experience, but as I told the lady I would not be buying anything, she dispatched me really fast. My driver got only creepier in the way back, so I tipped him and ran off to the reception of the hotel, where I sat down to wonder whether someone would pick me up from the hotel, or they would forget me like they had for the dray trip. Fortunately, I spotted some people I had seen during the New Year’s Eve party, and it turns out that they had the same pick up. That was good, because handling the transfer for Cairo Airport – and the airport itself – would have been more stress than I was willing to deal with. I actually think I was forgotten indeed, but this family was not – I did approach the representative they pointed out, and made him aware of my existence. Firmly.

At 14:05, we were off on the mini bus towards the airport, and it took a bit over an hour. Meanwhile, they gave me a questionnaire to fill in – I tried not to get personal, nor attack anyone, but I was very sincere about the things that had gone wrong. Being forgotten is not a nice feeling.

We reached the airport past 15:00. There were two security controls for luggage, and one pat down. In the second control, the guards got money to let a group go before me, and the guard actually gestured that money would make things go faster. However, waiting had an interesting consequence… I met the people who went on the day trip, to Saqqara again, and they entered other pyramids there. So there had been another day trip – and again, lied to, or forgotten about?

But I had had my own fun, so I did not let that rile me up. I checked in, dropped my luggage, got my exit visa and settled down to wait – I was now just destined to have to listen to We wish you a Merry Christmas on loop for as long as it took to board. I got myself a cheese sandwich for lunch – this was past 16:00 by now, I was a bit hungry after only a fast breakfast. Cairo Airport is anything but traveller-friendly. Half the shops were closed, but without signs, so they just yelled at you if you walked in. There are no sitting areas next to the gates, just the shops, and I did not want to sit on another floor and rely on their English to know when boarding was ready, so I just walked up and down “a few” times. I was lucky enough to be next to the gate when boarding started – with yet another X-ray control, getting separated by sex, and being frisked. And yet, you have to take off your shoes, but you are allowed water bottles on the plane… Weird.

We finally took off around 19:30 for very uneventful five-hour flight. We got dinner on the way, which was unexpectedly nice, and I had a window seat, extra water, and got to see Cairo goodbye.

An aereal view of a city at night. The streets are lit, and light pollution diffuminates in the background. There is a black line in the middle, north to south - the Nile.

Overall balance: things were left unseen, and maybe one day I’d go back to see the rest of the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, and the new Grand Egyptian Museum. Possibly the Valley of the Whales. But I don’t really feel I must come back any time soon. It was the adventure of a lifetime, and I am very grateful I got to live it. I do admit, however, that I dropped by my travel agent’s to make it known that someone had either forgotten me, or lied to me, and that I was not happy – similarly to what I had done with the questionnaire. I don’t know if I’ll ever get a reply, but I have to say the experience has left me not feeling up to trusting anyone with my travelling for a little while. Though I had to admit, my first solo experience with a group was all right… nice people all around, so I’ve been lucky in that department.

30th December 2022: Philae and the Aswan – Cairo jump {Egypt, Winter 2022-2023}

Belonging to the city of Aswan [أسوان], the Philae Temple [فيلة] complex is currently part of the Unesco World Heritage Site Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae. When the first Aswan Dam was built in 1902, the monument became semi-submerged, and it would have completely disappeared after the completion of the High Dam. Between 1972 and 1980, through the International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia, it was dismantled and reconstructed over at Agilika Island, 20 m higher.

The main feature in Philae is the Temple of Isis. Isis was the major goddess from the Old Kingdom to the Roman period. Isis was the spouse of Osiris, and is considered a mother and protector goddess, divine mother to the pharaoh, and mourner of her husband. In the Osiris myth, after he was killed and dismembered by Seth, Isis looked up and down Egypt to gather all the pieces. After she did, she breathed upon him to resurrect him, they conceived Horus (there are more or less gory versions of this), and Osiris went back to the Underworld, where he became lord of the Afterlife. Isis was the longest-revered goddess of the Ancient Egyptian religion – her cult survived in Philae until 550 CE, when Christians took over, defacing the gods and carving the Coptic cross all around.

I left for breakfast having vacated the room, suitcase ready at the open door, and hoped for the best. I settled my drink tab, which rounded up to 235 EGP; however, with the same smirk I had been given the previous day, I reminded the person at reception that they owed me ten pounds. The debt was honoured and I left with a giggle – yes, it was not that much money and I could have let it slip, but nope. Not this time. After that, our luggage was loaded onto the bus (luckily) and we drove off to a tourist dock to board the boat to Agilika island, which we reached after a few minutes. We landed and climbed up towards the archaeological site.

The Temple of Isis holds the general structure of an Ancient Egyptian Temple, with a pylon, a court, a hall and finally the inner sanctuary of Isis. An obelisk stands before the pylon, in the outer court that has been preserved.

Collage. View of the outer wall of Philae, with the colonnade and the pylon; entrance to the sanctuary, richly engraved with deities and hyerogyphs; a cat sitting in front of the columns.

When looking carefully at the pylon, it shows the different water marks from the time the temple was submerged – at two different levels, depending on whether it was flood season or dry season. During the rescue, a cofferdam was built around the original constructions to dry the area out. Then, between 1977 and 1980, the whole complex was dismantled into 40,000 blocks, moved and rebuilt. The old position can still be spotted 500 m away, marked by the remains of the metal anchors for the cranes.

Close up of the pylon showing carvings of Hathor and Horus. Two water lines can be appreciated above and below them

Another structure in the island is the unfinished Kiosk of Trajan. I even managed to be alone in there for a heartbeat.

A cube-like structure built from columns, with the river behind them.

The final building is the Temple of Hathor, Horus’ wife.

Collage. A ruined building with derelict walls and a few standing columns - from land and from the river.

Next in the plan was shopping (joy -.-“) and we went to an essence shop. The lady claimed that Egyptian essences were the base of many brand-famous perfumes. I have no idea, but I was irked by the rigid sex separation of scents, and I developed a rash from one of the testers… While some people in the group shopped, someone else found the adjacent papyrus shop, and a small number of us went to snoop there.

After being spared a second shop – this one for spices – we were shuttled to the airport to take our charter to Cairo. It was a surreal experience through which I was patted down twice. The airport segregated by sex because you got the pat down even if you cleared the metal detector, which was weird. Also, it turned out that we had an extra suitcase in the bus! Creepy!

Our tour guide did not fly with us. When we landed in Cairo [أسوان], we were taken to the hotel by another representative, who assigned rooms and called our names in the bus, before we even arrived, but did not hand the cards until we were there and had handed in our passports for check-in. It was of course too late to try and go to the Pyramids light show – seriously, everything would have been so much easier with a “sorry, no time”, especially considering the crazy Cairo traffic. At this point we were already planning to try it on our own – I had found out that the hotel had a mini travel’s agent that we could use.

A traffic jam heading to the Cairo airport traffic control. The green neon on top reads Welcome to Cairo

We met up for planning – and paying for the Night Cairo Walk, which was to take place the following day – and I sat down to catch up on everything that had happened in the days when I had been internet-less (have I mentioned that it was not such a bad experience?).

The whole trip was a New Year’s special and came with an optional 190 € dinner that I had not booked because… no. I had packed some cereal and chocolate bars just in case, and it turned out that only one couple out of our eighteen-people group had reserved it. There had been a tiny riff-raff when I asked my travel agent about dinner that day, and she received an email about the “Gala Dinner” being compulsory (demanding the extra money), and I asked her to reply that nope, I would not be attending.

Well, that night we were told that the local agency was treating us to the dinner – my theory? The restaurant they had agreed for the Night Walk would not take us for New Year’s Eve, the walk would be impossible due to people celebrating. Thus, they found themselves in a tough spot – so they used the spare from the overpriced optional trips to pay for it. Then, the night walk was bumped to the first of January. Looking back, I believe that they had completely overlooked the NYE factor.

Also, the hotel not only had free Wi-Fi, it also had complimentary water in the rooms, and free mineral water during dinner. And a bed that did not vibrate. It was a good night’s sleep. But before that I took a shower so long and so hotm, that I almost glowed in the dark afterwards.

26th December 2022: Timing, timing {Egypt, Winter 2022-2023}

Since Madrid is a horribly busy airport, apparently 5:00 is the right time to schedule a charter – and take off late anyway. The paperwork insisted on arriving at the airport with a three hour’s margin, and I did precisely that, reaching Terminal one at 2:06. I was slightly worried that the charter would not be shown on the screen, but it was there, literally the first flight. A number of tour operators had come together to charter around 200 people to Luxor, and as it was not a regular flight, there was no way to obtain boarding passes online.

I had to queue for about an hour in order to get my pass, and just as I was leaving the check-in counter, I heard that 90 people had been checked in, and the line was about even longer than when I had joined. There were three check-in counters and the process was really slow – there were problems with the conveyor belt for starters, then people would not have their passports ready or had weight issues with their luggage. I… handed over my passport, put my suitcase up, received my pass, and was out in less than two minutes… So I have no idea what all the issues were…

Security was also pretty fast even if I got stuck behind a family who didn’t take their electronics out, tried to get big liquids in, and couldn’t get their boarding passes sorted out to go through passport control. I found my gate and I sat down to snooze. We were the only plane leaving from the airport, and we were late by 20 minutes…

I slept for a couple of hours until we got breakfast, then slept again until we landed in Luxor | Al-ʾuqṣur [الأقصر ]. As my visa had a already been processed, I got a sticker and filled in the immigration card. Then I went through immigration, picked up my bag, and we were waived through customs. It was a bit of a chaos as different guys yelled up the names of different operators until we found our groups. A guide told me I’d be riding the bus with him as I was the only one heading for the motorboat “M/S Opera”, I’d be getting off first in 15-20 minutes.

Egypt Visa Stamp on a passport. It marks Luxor as point of entry and Cairo as point of exit

Luxor is located on the east bank of the Nile, covering part of the ancient site of Thebes, which comprised an area for the living (eastern bank of the river) and another for the dead (western bank, the current necropolis). Thebes was the capital of Egypt during the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom, and today the site of Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis is recognised as Unesco World Heritage Site. The bus drove off and we got to see Karnak [الكرنك], the Avenue of Sphinxes and the Temple of Luxor [معبد الأقصر]. The guide laid out the plans for his group to have lunch and then go off to visit both the temples of Karnak and Luxor to make the most of the time in the city. I thought this was a fantastic idea (I’d be sorely disappointed later when I realised I was not part of those plans).

Temple of Luxor from the bus

About 40 minutes later, way out of the city, the guide informed me that the bus driver had been unable to find my boat, but that he would drive me there now. They were leaving because they had reached their pier. Thus, I was driven back to Luxor, alone in the bus, to a shady alley that eventually got to my motorboat. I was worried that I was keeping the rest of my group back… It turned out that the 17 other people from my group arrived at night! I was not alone on the motorboat, of course, but my tour guide said I should “just relax”.

I entertained the idea of going out to explore, but I’d heard a few horror stories about travelling Egypt alone, and the dock was in a bit of (read: very) shady place; besides, I was pretty much out. It was colder than I expected (apparently, I managed to arrive through a cold wave in Egypt, go figure), so I divided my time between the sun deck and the cabin, reading and dozing off from time to time. Though my cabin didn’t have views, the sun deck had some nice ones of the West Bank of the Nile, where the tombs of the most powerful pharaohs are. The motorboat looked right out of a Mummy film if not for the fact that it was in colour. However it looked charmingly garish – though the cabin was a bit chilly, and the heating wouldn’t work. Since I had two beds, I planned to use both covers to stay warm.

A collage of the motorboat: From the outside, it looks like two train carriages welded together. The inside is full of carpets and decorated wood. The sun deck has a swimming pool and some hammocks.

At some point during the evening I looked up and saw that the light had shifted, so I climbed up to the sun deck and caught some amazing sunset views over River Nile [نهر النيل].

Sun setting over water

To be honest, by 20:00 I just wished dinner time would come and I could grab a bite to eat, a bottle of water, and then take a shower and go sleep for real. I tried to buy Wi-Fi access, the receptionist understood me, but decided to play dumb, so I decided to forgo that altogether. Furthermore, I was growing antsy because I wanted to know the plan for the following day – for waking up purposes – and where I could exchange some money for tips and so on.

I caught the tour guide at dinner and at least managed to secure a time to leave the following day, which was the most important thing. I was not too keen on him by this point – I think he was just miffed he had to start working 12 hours earlier just for one person, and not bothering to hide it, so communicating with him was hard, since he did not seem to have straight answers to my questions – well, at least I knew what time to get going. After dinner, I went to the sun deck again. I was not going to get to see Karnak lit up for the evening, but at least I saw the West Bank.

14th September 2022: Leaving is also tough {Jordan, September 2022}

We were picked up at 7:00 for our 10:55 flight out of Queen Alia International Airport, not by the guide any more, but by a random driver who dropped us off about 8:00. At the airport, a liaison came to pick us up. He took us through a pre-check before we could even walk into the airport. He walked us to check in and when I told him we had already done so, I might have broken his brain. He placed us on a special line and took our passports so we… got paper boarding passes.

Then he took us to the security area and left us there. We went through the automatic gates with the boarding pass, then through passport control, where we got the exit stamp. Finally, we got through standard airport security that swabbed my camera for explosives. The whole thing took about half an hour because even if there were many steps, there were few people in the airport. We found the gate and settled down to wait.

Passport page showing entry (10th September) and exit (14th September) stamps for Jordan, along with a "Group Tourist Visa" stamp (by JBinnacle)

And boy, apparently there had been overbooking in the flight, so checking in early saved us a lot of stress! We had paid to sit together, so I politely declined exchanging seats when I was asked, and my neighbour did not take it well…

We had a snack during the trip again, but I think that the meal and the drinks should have been a bit more separated, that would have made the trip more comfortable. We were supposed to take a little over five hours; however, had we found a landing slot, we would have made the whole trip in just over four. Upon landing, our passports were checked at the plane exit, then at normal immigration, then there was Covid vaccination status… and we made it back home after 12 hours on the go.

All in all, this has been an interesting experience, but we did not see a lot of the “important” sites, even in Petra. However, I do not think that I need to come back to Jordan. Even though it is the most westernised of the Arab states, child labour, animal abuse, hassling, peddling, distrust, and the tipping culture have been a put off. Furthermore, I plan to avoid the trip’s organiser as much I can in the future, because I did not like the way this panned out – especially the rearranging, the hours (early enough to be uncomfortable, too late to beat the crowds) and the “forced shopping times”, which I am told is typical in Middle Eastern countries. I swear, this has made me rethink Egypt…

10th September 2022: Arriving is tough {Jordan, September 2022}

Officially named the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan | Al-Mamlakah al-’Urdunniyyah Al-Hāshimiy [ٱلْمَمْلَكَةُ ٱلْأُرْدُنِيَّةُ ٱلْهَاشِمِيَّةُ], Jordan | Al-ʾUrdunn [ٱلْأُرْدُن] is located in the Middle East. It has limits with the Dead Sea, Israel / Palestine Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and it has a tiny connection to the Red Sea in the south. Due to its location, it is a semi-arid country, with relatively little rainfall, especially the further away from the Mediterranean. Today, it is an Arab nation, but it has been inhabited from the Palaeolithic – it has been Egyptian, Moabite, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Roman, Nabataean and finally Islamic. In recent times, Jordan belonged to the Ottoman Empire, Britain, and it became independent in 1946, being a Parliamentary Monarchy that gives great power to the King (currently Abdullah II). Even though Jordan was left largely unscathed during the Arab Spring (2011), making it one of the most stable countries in the area, it was hit by terrorism in 2005. Al-Qaeda bombed three hotel lobbies, which crippled the tourism industry, which is one of the most important in Jordan.

It is probably the Nabataean period the one that has left the most unique cultural assets, and tourist sites. The Nabataean were nomadic Arabs that setted down and mastered the art of stone carving, creating the city of Petra as their capital. Petra is a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and possibly the most visited place in the country.

As of September 2022, in order to enter Jordan, you need to fill in a document declaring that if you get Covid you or your insurance will pay for any health cost, including hospitalisation or isolation / quarantine. That meant that unfortunately we could not check in online for the flight, as the air line – Royal Jordanian in this instance – had to check that declaration before issuing the boarding passes. That required being at the airport with a three hour margin, maybe a bit more. That made the whole thing a bit extra tiring (total travel time must have been about 12 hours). Fortunately, it went smoothly, we boarded without issues and took off on time.

The flight to Queen Alia International Airport in Amman | ʻAmmān [عَمَّان], the capital of Jordan, took about 4h30min (and plane food has not got any better since 2019). We landed late in the evening, and that was when the stress started off. There was a tourist guide / mediator / whatever waiting for us, with the name of the group my parents had booked for the trip. He gave us instructions which ended up being… “hand over your passport to this policeman and wait by luggage retrieval for your stamped passport, that I shall bring”. Okay, that was creepy, and I was more than a bit on the uncomfortable side until I had mine back.

Then we had about an hour bus ride and we reached the Amman hotel by midnight. The hotel X-rayed our luggage and bags as an anti-terrorism measure, and checked us in… weirdly. Apparently the tour operator had given names and reserved rooms but… there were no rooms associated to the names so my parents and my sibling and I ended up on different floors. Oh and even if dinner was included, they had already closed the kitchen so they gave us boxed dinner with sandwiches and salads. Fortunately though, they also gave us water and some complimentary bottles, which was handy. I wish I could tell you that I slept by the dead, but I was to wound up to do more than snooze a little.

29th July 2019: Journey to the West: Osaka → Sakaiminato {Japan, summer 2019}

I was determined to cross as many things on my bucket list as I could in this trip as I could, and that involved some crazy travelling – in this case, two hundred eighty-something kilometres, four trains, and a bit over five hours. From the hotel I took the Midosuji underground line from Doubutsuen-Mae Station to Shin-Osaka station, where I took the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Okayama. There, I took the Yakumo Limited express to Yonago, and in Yonago I took the Sakai line to Sakaiminato [境港市] in Tottori prefecture.

Sakaiminato was Mizuki Shigeru’s hometown. Mizuki Shigeru [水木 しげる] was the mangaka who wrote and drew Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro [ゲゲゲの鬼太郎], and he was also a great connoisseur of Japanese mythology, especially yokai. And the town has just… embraced that, with glee. And stamps!

The magic started when I reached Yonago [米子市] Station – both the platform and the train in the Sakai line [境港線] were already all dolled-up for the trip.

The station Sakaiminato-eki [境港駅] also greets you with a huge yokai mural and amazing streetlights in the shape of Medama-oyaji, Kitaro’s father who looks like an eyeball.

As you come out of the station, you are greeted by a bronze statue of Mizuki Shigeru. And as you follow the road and turn the corner you directly go into Mizuki Shigeru Road… but I am getting ahead of myself. Right next to the station there is a a mall-like building that holds, among other things, the tourist information office, where I got a copy of the yokai booklet to carry out the Yokai Stamp Rally [妖怪スタンプラリー]. The booklet was 120 ¥, of course I could not let it go – there were 35 stamps to collect.

As you come out of the station, you are greeted by a bronze statue of Mizuki Shigeru writing among his characters Mizuki Shigeru-sensei Shippitsu-chū no Zō [水木しげる先生執筆中の像], and the Kitaro postbox [鬼太郎ポスト].

And as you follow the road and turn the corner you directly go into Mizuki Shigeru Road. However, when have you read me going into something directly without getting distracted? First I had to see the Yokai World Summit, Sekai Yōkai Kaigi [世界妖怪会議].

Finally I got down to Mizuki Shigeru Road [水木しげるロード] – which features dozens of small yokai statues all along. Shops line to the sides, and a bunch of them have the stamps that you ink on your booklet – and it was hard to get to them, it was so crowded! I walked the right side until the end, then I decided to come back to check into the hotel, which was close to the station, and drop the luggage (looking back I could have just dropped the luggage there, but I was eager to get started). My hotel was gorgeous! It was the most expensive hotel in the whole tip, but it was amazing! Outside it was just a brick building. Inside it was full of wood and tatami, and so was the room. There was an onsen on the upper floor.

I was a bit sad that I only had a night there, because I would have really stayed in that room for hours just lounging around. But there were things to see! So I went out again, and walked the left side of the Mizuki Shigeru Road. Here are some of the many yokai and Gegege no Kitaro characters that I encountered (and stamped) along the road (also, some food, because this was 3pm and I had only had a coffee and a cracker at around 8am).

Of course I also had to visit Yokai Jinja [妖怪神社] on the way (the amount of time and times I had to wait till I was able to take a picture of this without anybody was ridiculous (≧▽≦)).

At the end of the road I had seen the Mizuki Shigeru museum, Mizuki Shigeru Kinen-kan [水木しげる記念館] and I knew that it was open (on a Monday!) till late (in Japan!) so I decided to go there first before I had finished the stamp rally (this is relevant for dates). The Museum features comics, a replica of Mizuki’s office, some items of his mythology-artefact collection, and then replicas of different yokai, a haunted house and so on. For my own future reference, the big (moving, trying to be creepy but only managing to be awfully cute) replicas are: Nurikabe, Shirouneri, Otoroshi, Azukihakari, Betobetosan, Suiko, Akaname, Miagenyudou.

After the museum I somehow ended up at Ominato Jinja [大港神社].

I backtracked to find a couple of stamps that I had missed, including the very last one, at the Sakaiminato Ekimae Police Box, Sakaiminato Ekimae Kōban [境港駅前交番]. With that one I had all my stamps, but it was just around 6pm so the tourist office was already closed.

That did not mean I ran out of things to do! I went to the port to look at the sunset.

Then to look at the fountain Kappa no Izumi [河童の泉], which had been being cleaned every time I had walked by.

Afterwards I walked back to the hotel to enjoy a long bath at the onsen, and I walked out again to see the town by night, because of course it was completely taken by the wannabe creepy atmosphere – at least that was what I thought at first. Then as I was walking down the road, all the lights stated flickering and then they went out with a thunderclap and I jumped! They got me good!

To finish the day, I got free soba at the hotel for dinner! As I mentioned, I would have stayed in that hotel for days on end!

Walked distance: 13641 steps, 9.76 km in one afternoon/evening. It was bloody amazing and I had a blast!

18th/19th July 2019: Made it! {Japan, summer 2019}

After the Iberia machine check in in Barajas worked for an intercontinental flight for the first time ever, I started my holidays with a splurge, in money and calories: meet the Unicorn Shake, by Burger King. It is a vanilla ice-cream and blueberries shake, with whipped cream and sparkles. Worth it, but I don’t think I’d ever survive the sugar rush again (≧▽≦).

I had a rather uneventful flight. Unfortunately I could not sleep further than 20 minutes so I arrived rather dead. After lunch, I had a short nap and then I went out for dinner with D****e. Then I must have fallen asleep cause I honestly don’t remember much of the day. Well, we must have had nachos for dinner because here’s a picture of them?

5th September 2018: An uneventful airport ride to an uneventful flight {Japan, summer 2018}

I took early trains to have a lot of time to get to the airport from Ueno [上野], because I did not know how much the wind could have affected transport. Not much, aside from the Ueno lift. I should have known that Takadanobaba lift was not going to work either. And then there was Narita, security, customs, boarding and going home using a slightly different route, but that was it. It was all over again ヾ(TωT ).

8th / 9th August 2018: Not really Murphy, but almost {Japan, summer 2018}

Our story today begins in Barajas airport and the hour-long line for baggage drop off. There are a few details to this trip that might be a bit different from usual, as there is one more factor to take into account. Something that has never flared up on this journal is my chronic pain, which may or may not be fibromyalgia (we go with that for now, because it is never Lupus, and we don’t want to go into the possibility of ALS, not just yet). That makes it difficult to move and to do certain things. The greatest pain I have, or at least the most unmanageable one, is my right wrist, which at the moment warrants a 250€ wristbrace (affectionately known as the exoskeleton) and sometimes a sling.

Even though there are now direct Madrid-Tokyo flights, I booked via London, for a reason – well, actually almost 400 reasons, I’m sure you get my meaning – and direct return flight. Thus I had Iberia and British Airways flights for the leaving trip, and Iberia for the return. Somehow, British Airways told me I was able to buy my seat, but it assigned me one. I think this was because the check in defaulted via Iberia, who keep saying that they have no control over the aircraft British Airways use, so they can’t assign a seat.

So I tried to get a decent seat where I could actually manoeuvre with my wristbrace and my sling, which ended up causing the whole mess. Somehow, after a bunch of calls and emails, my check-in was effective in Iberia, since I had my boarding passes, but somehow not in British Airways – as I was denied entry into London Heathrow intercontinental area until someone punched some stuff on a computer.

Guess what this means? No? Well, it means that I made it to Tokyo Haneda – albeit we were delayed – but my luggage did not. Joy.

(Shout out here to the personnel in Madrid Barajas and London Heathrow for their helpfulness and attentiveness throughout the whole process too, and helping out when I could not move so well).

Anyway, I disembarked in Haneda, and headed off to the luggage belt only to see my name on a small whiteboard. And here we headbutt with the whole Japanese-ness for starters. Superpolite and superineffective ladies wanting me to give them a lot of details on my suitcase while unable or unwilling to answer the simple question of “Is it lost or is it in London?”. They did not know where it was, but they could tell me when it would come via Kuroneko, somehow explaining about the typhoon impacting delivery service. Well, when an airline loses your baggage, they are supposed to explain that you have some rights. For example, the right for them to compensate you for stuff you have to buy. I got none of this. Neither did I get the reference number I was supposed to get nor my receipts, but for some reason I needed to leave them the key – in case customs decided they had to open the suitcase. I tried to prod them about buying things but they would not bulge, they just wanted the paperwork filled and me out of their way.

So guess what?

That meant that I had been awake for roughly 24 hours and now I had to go shopping. For everyday clothes. In Japan. Instead of going to D****e’s place and get a shower, which is what I wanted – and the only thing I could think of was the big Uniqlo in Ikebukuro [池袋]. So Ikebukuro here I come.

Let’s be honest here, for as much as a disaster this could have been – It wasn’t. I had all my money with me, had not packed any, and I did not have pressing stuff that required special clothes. As someone pointed out, if this had happened the year of Gackt’s birthday party I would have died. But it was not really fun, having to spend the first afternoon looking for XL clothes in Uniqlo and Sunshine City. In the end I found enough stuff to survive two or three days and headed off to D****e’s apartment to have my shower, change into new clothes and then get some dinner. And sleep. Cuz sleeping is a thing that should happen.

I think one of the T-shirts I bought perfectly illustrates the situation. It states イライラ (ira-ira), which is an expression of annoyance.

1st (and 2nd) August 2017: Running out of time! {Japan, summer 2017}

This was my last day and I had to make the most of it! First I went to Shibakoen [芝公園] and Tokyo Tower [東京タワー], because that always keeps the sadness at bay. I went up the tower and I finally gave in and bought the stamp rally booklet. I should have done it before. The Tower was being visited by a primary school class. Ho boy.

Then I went to Iidabashi [飯田橋] using the Shibakoen subway station. The day before I had hired a private lesson to have a teacher explain Japanese conditionals to me. That was very productive. Finally I was off to Shinjuku [新宿] for yakitori and karaoke with B**** and D****e to say goodbye for now.

Finally, I half-packed because I apparently forgot half of my stuff atover there, and went to bed. At 2:02 in the morning there was the only noticeable quake of the trip, quite a big one. In the morning, I headed off to Narita Airport, checked-in my luggage, and once again, it was time to go back to reality.

27th July 2017: Osaka → Kyoto → Tokyo {Japan, summer 2017}

It’s not the first time I’ve done this, but this time it was sane-ish. I left Osaka [大阪] maybe at 8.30 in the morning and took the Shinkansen to Kyoto [京都]. Once there, I found myself a coin locker at the station and went on to the bus area. I was heading to Jonan-gu [城南宮] which was my last shrine of the Kyoto Gosha Meguri ~Shi shin Sou Ou No Miyako~ [京都五社めぐり~四神四神相応の京~] and… under repairs too. But I had finished the Meguri. I had to wait about an hour for the bus. Then 40 minutes ride, about 10 minutes in the shrine, 30 minutes waiting for the bus back and 40 minutes ride again.

After I had some lunch at the station, I headed back to Tokyo [東京], where I met up with D****e in order to hit Nakano Broadway [中野ブロードウェイ] to rummage through TRIO (Yay TRIO for getting me what I needed ♥… and some more stuff I did not need but hey, who cares about those details?). Afterwards we had some kushikatsu dinner.

25th July 2017: Osaka → Shinagawa → Osaka → VAMPS {Japan, summer 2017}

Yeah, well. That day, I had to go to Tokyo and and pick up my VAMPS at Zepp Osaka Bayside because there had been a slight mess up. But in the end everything resulted fine and I was able to attend the concert. Let’s try to break it down.

Through the mostly-sleepless night I had booked another hotel, so I just picked up my things, returned the keys and did not even try to cancel the other nights. I was just happy to get out of there. I took a shinkansen to Tokyo, where I retrieved my ticket, had lunch with B****, and jumped on a train back. I checked in my new hotel – I’ve never felt this happy about a boring hotel – and had a shower. Then I headed off to the venue, Zepp Osaka Bayside.

After the hotel stress and not having slept much that night – the atmosphere was super creepy – and having to do the Osaka-Tokyo round trip, the concert felt super-cathartic, and one of the most tension-releasing ones I’ve ever attended, even with an album I’m not the biggest fan of. Furthermore, there was a very lovely The Jolly Roger, one of my favourite songs.

Zepp Osaka Bayside building, and VAMPS tour truck.

On my way back I saw Tsūtenkaku [通天閣] lit up (but I seriously had no energy to climb it) and bought yummy, yummy salmon at a random conbini before I bunked down in my nice, safe hotel in Shinsekai [新世界].

Tsutentaku Tower lit up in blue neon, and a tray of raw salmon for dinner

15th July 2017: 1,176.2 km with a stop {Japan, summer 2017}

Shinkansen are a wonderful invention (although the air-con regulation could use some work). D****e and I jumped on one to go to Nagoya [名古屋] from Yokohama at around 8.20. We were to be at Zepp Nagoya at 11:00 for the VAMPARK that was held there, which was a sort of exclusive film documentary of the previous year’s activities.

Zepp Nagoya Logo with a notice that reads Vampark 2017 and the date - 15th July 2017

After the VAMPARK and a forgettable lunch at an Indian restaurant in Nagoya station D****e headed to the airport and I continued on another shinkansen to head off to Kumamoto, where we had a concert the following day. This was because I had a RailPass but for her flying was cheaper.

In the end, it took me about 5 hours 20 minutes on trains from Yokohama to Kumamoto [熊本] in three different shinkansen. Once in Kumamoto, I got to meet the city’s mascot, Kumamon, a huge friendly black bear.

A giant Kumamon head rising from the floor. Kumamon is the Kumamoto mascot, a cartoon giant black bear with red cheeks and white snout and eyebrows

I had to invest a bit until I figured out the tram system, and that made it that – funnily enough – both D****e and I arrived at our hotel within 10 minutes of each other. After checking in we headed off to have a bite with a bunch of VAMPS fan friends at a freezing izakaya where I tried raw horse (basashi [馬刺し]) for the first time o.o.

Plate of raw meat with lemon and wasabi

5th January 2017: Narita squared, and a jump {Japan, winter 16/17}

I had a flight around 5 pm, not back just yet, but down south for my little excursion to Chūgoku. I headed out at 8 in the morning and missed my first train because stupid Google got me to the wrong station. Fortunately, I had a following train which still allowed me to make my final connection. Not making that would have sucked because I only had one train per hour to get to where I was going – which was the town of Narita, not the airport. But I was able to get the right train and I arrived in Narita [成田] (the town) at around 10.30 in the morning. my plan was visiting the complex of Narita-san [成田山], which holds the temple of Naritasan Shinshoji Temple and the Daikini Tendo Shusse Inari Shrine.

What I was not counting on was that a bunch of people were still going to be in Hatsumode-mood, and the area was the next thing from packed.

The lead-up to Narita-san complex is flanked by a bunch of souvenir shops and eateries, and two rows of little sculptures of the Chinese zodiacs – and one turtle, but the picture for that came out blurry (´;д;`)

Naritasan Shinshoji [成田山新勝寺] is a temple composed of several buildings and as mentioned it was quite full. That is why I did not manage to get all the shuin, but all in all it is quite a neat is place. However, I would like to see it when it is not this full (and the fact that I still have one shuin to get gives me the perfect excuse).

The other key building in the complex is Daikini Tendo / Shusse Inari Jinja [咤枳尼天堂 / 出世稲荷神社], the shrine of the white kitsune, where people were buying offerings to the fox in order to get favours from him, such as good luck in businesses.

The gardens were a good example of how things would work if it were less packed.

At around 2.30 pm I headed back to the station first and from there I caught a train to Narita (airport). My 5.20 pm flight departed from terminal three, which is the domestic low-cost terminal, and that was a bit of an experience. I have to say that I was awfully lucky because I was the scary foreigner and my bags were not checked, because I was for sure over the five-kilogram limit on my carry-on luggage.

I slept through my whole flight and I arrived in Hiroshima Airport a bit before 8 pm and I train-hopped towards the harbour to get on one of the last ferries to Miyajima [宮島], a place I had been wanting to visit since my first time in Japan. I had booked a nice little ryokan (traditional) room and I have to say I slept like a rock.

31st July 2016: Last hour in Tokyo {Japan, summer 2016}

The plane took off at around 1.00 am, and I said bye bye to Japan once again. I know it was not perfect and that I could have done many more things than I actually did. I could have travelled some more, visited more places? But I think it was good, and it was worth it. And I stayed within budget, which was a great surprise for me!

School was not that great, but I learnt more out of listening to the teachers speak Japanese and making friends, meeting them and so on, and travelling, than the actual grammar I was supposed to learn.

All in all, no regrets. Good feelings. Only a little sad as I close down the report for this trip. Bye for now, Japan. See you next time! Hello, European dairy, I’d missed you!(Behold latte and cheese sandwich during Frankfurt layover)

25th July 2016: Back to Tokyo {Japan, summer 2016}

Nothing special really happened this day. I had a 10 am train to get back to Tokyo, and was too dead to do any tourisim beforehand. On the Shinkansen, an obaachan got her seat wrong and sat on my seat. Figuring she had the aisle seat and that she had a lot of luggage with her, I sat down next to her and did my homework for the weekend – not the cleanest, prettiest homework I’ve done.

It turned out that the little old lady had gotten her row wrong. She was sitting on my seat, and I was sitting on some other lady’s seat and the poor lady had not known what to do with herself. The conductor arranged it by sitting the second lady on the obaachan’s place. The obaachan was very apologetic and gave me some cookies in apology. At least it was not clear enough that I would have seen Fuji-san from my seat…

Have I ever mentioned how much I love the little detail that the conductors bow at the passengers when they exit the carrieage? Just a little thing, I guess…

I got to Tokyo station, from there I went to class, and from class I went home because I did not even feel human. (( _ _ ))..zzzZZ

22nd July 2016: I did not play hookie {Japan, summer 2016}

So I stayed studying all morning. And maybe – just maybe – lazying around for a little bit. Then I headed off to class and after class I went to Tokyo station because I was going to hit the road (traintracks?) again to go to Osaka. I had a good nap on the Shinkansen and made it to the subway without complications. It still amuses me how different the train attitude is in Tokyo and Osaka, it is like night and day sometimes. So there I was again, ready for a weekend of fun – hopefully.

I am not completely sure of why but I really love Osaka [大阪]. Sometimes I think that a bit too much. I did try to keep it sane this time around and even if I had physical time to do things, I tried to take it easy.

July 2nd, 2016: Starting off with the right (bruised) foot {Japan, summer 2016}

I have to admit that even if we took off late this was the smoothest flight from Europe that I’ve had to Japan. We left Frankfurt with about an hour’s delay and arrived about 40 minutes late. However, best landing ever. The plane was cold, but I am not going to complain considering the time that the heat made me sick. I prefer huddling up in the blanket. I kind of slept for a few hours, which was good, but I really don’t like when they just tell you to put your window down because it’s bedtime. Oh well.

This trip, I have been showing some of Tokyo to T**y, so a lot of the ‘we’ that skip refer to him and me.

The first day was a bit of a bit of everything one, and even a week later I’ve got bruises from hurling the suitcase up and down the stairs. After lunch with B**** in Shibuya [渋谷] (to get my Internet from her, too), I headed off to Shinjuku to get my keys. This time I was staying for a month and I could not impose for that long on any of my friends so I decided to rent a small apartment via an agency named “Sakura house” which rents places to foreigners for a long or short stay in Japan, starting at one month. As my stay was 28 days, it made sense to use their services.

Sakura House is located in Shinjuku [新宿] and that is why I headed there. The procedure was completely in English, and not difficult, but long, as it included all the specific info for an apartment rental. It is not as quick as checking into a hotel.

The whole process involves reserving a room online and paying a deposit, then signing a contract and paying at least the first month at the place. Afterwards they give you your keys, give you specific instructions and then you’re off on your merry way.

I was staying in an area called Komagome [駒込], 15 minutes away from Ueno and 20 away from school. Right downtown, and what I spent in location I would save on transport, or so I hoped.

After signing and getting my keys, I took T**y to his hotel and we got horribly lost on the process. In the end it all had a happy ending thanks a nice car park guard and after checking him in, we headed off for sushi and karaoke with B**** (^_^v)♪.

After that, I braved the Yamanote on my own to get to Komagome, and was lucky to get my station exit right, so I could arrive home in good time to have a shower and get some sleep because the next day I had to wake up early.

8th & 9th August 2014: Never trust the French {Japan, summer 2014}

I have discovered that it is easier to get up before 4 in the morning rather than between 5 and 8, don’t ask me why, but I suspect vampire genes. Boarding the connecting flight to Paris was a bit of a hassle as baggage drop took forever I (on the fast, already checked in queue, sheesh.) but the flight itself was good.

Transfer in Charles de Gaulle was however a true nightmare, which involved elevators, buses, mobs of people and staff calling out who could go on each bus according to the gate. Still made it to the gate with 10 minutes to spare… until they delayed the flight. The first notice talked about 3 hours, in the end we left with barely over an hour. Apparently there was something wrong with the entertainment system that could only be partially fixed, so we ended up with 15 films streamed over and over again.

I managed to doze through most of the trip, might have even slept some, because I had to watch Captain America II twice for it to make sense. Same with The Hobbit 2.

There were three or four turbulence alerts but it was not terribly bad, and we made up for the delay and arrived almost on time. It was Saturday, 6 am, which made it about 11 pm my regular timezone. I thought it would be dead, but surprisingly I was not, and after retrieving my luggage and making it thorough customs, I plunged into the maze that is the Tokyo chikatetsu service after being greeted by Tokyo Banana. The first thing that I heard when arriving in the platform was the music box version of SMAP’s “Sekai no hitotsu dake no hana“.

I’d be staying with a friend in Satte (Saitama), so that meant two hours and a few train changes along the way but it turned out fine. Now, getting the suitcase down from her third floor would be fun.

We decided to heard off for sushi and first Jmusic mission of the trip – which turned out to be Nakano Broadway and Shinjuku Book Offs. Sushi was, as always, delightful and I was quite oh-shinied by a few things in Nakano, also as always. Then there was a little DVD watching. That was an early night as jet lag and exhaustion eventually caught up.

20th June 2013: Karma still does not like me (Worst Flight Ever) {Japan, summer 2013}


Plane standing at the end of the tarmac (by JBinnacle)

As I am currently jet lagged, here are you have a small summary of the trip: I arrived early to catch the first plane. Helped two lost girls find their way. Sat just in front of a family with three kids under 5 who I feared would have a wild party along the ride and who did not as much as peep once, so I told them that it had been great to flight with them.

Made my connection okay. Watched Batman Dark Night. Ate dinner. Filled the immigration paperwork and my pen dropped a blotch of ink there. Dozed off somewhat. Woke up about 4 hours before land, and it was so hot it was not even funny. Tried to watch The Hobbit, but the cabin was so hot that could not concentrate. I got sick from the heat, and by the time we about to start the landing manoeuvre I had to rush for the toilet to throw up.

The Narita exchange office was closed.

Got onto the Narita Express, had to find another toilet to puke – this one at least was clean… But I made it to Tokyo [東京].

In the end I somehow got to the meeting point with D****e without that much trouble, and then to her place to get a nap. I managed to eat a little and coke also helped settle my stomach. By the time I was back to functioning, D****e was on her way back and we spent the night looking at Jrockers photo books and figuring out plans XD

That’s all for now, off to nap again.