Italia Day 4 – Rome The First!

In which we leave before dawn to get to Rome before the Romans.

As I mentioned in my last post, our hotel door dumped us out right by the bus stop for 36:37, whose first holiday-time stop was at 5:34 in the morning and took only 10 minutes to get back to Firenze SMN. Our train for Rome, leaving from SMN, would be at something like 7:35. However, since we’d experienced trouble getting on the train the day before, we decided to be as early as possible to make sure we got tickets.

So we shivered outside for a few minutes (skipping breakfast at the hotel, alas) before jumping on the bus. Like most busses in Italy, these tickets were cheap (1.2euro ea) but had to be purchased in advance. We bought them while wandering Florence the day before.

Unfortunately, Aubri wasn’t much interested in eating (other than one case of the most delicious gelato ever) while we were in Florence, and so while I was buying the train tickets she promptly tossed up water and stomach acid all over the floor. We did our best to clean it up with napkins but couldn’t find an attendant to help clean the mess. Ugh.

Finally we gave up and hit McDonalds (the only thing open this early inside the station) to get some food and cappuccino. It was about what you’d expect from them, but Aubri ate almost one whole pancake. She was feeling a little better, briefly, but it was clear she was coming down with something.

We made it on the train without further incident and found ourselves in Rome Termini at around 8:22. While on the train we realized that Aubri was starting to develop a fever, so we decided to look for a pharmacy (Farmacea) for some baby tylenol before heading out to our first Air B&B stay. With a little extra pantomiming, they got the idea and hooked us up with a dropper liquid style tylenol alternative. They told us “three drops per kilo” and we were on our way.
Needless to say, counting out something like 42 drops for the kid was not going to happen, so I just gave her two droppers full and left it at that for the moment.

Our Air B&B stay had given good directions, so we were staying over near the San Giovanni exit and within a 15 minute walk of the Coliseum.  We were an hour early thanks to catching the better (cheaper) train, but our host G was there and we chatted for a while before leaving our bags in the room and heading out for our first day of exploring Rome.  It was expected to be around 54 degrees F as a high, so we felt prepared to have a good day. G hooked us up with a nice Ancient Rome area map and directions to some of the cooler spots, and we were on our way.

Looking back, I really should have pulled out the full paper directions (which I could read because I know enough Spanish/Latin to get by) and dosed Aubri with a lot more tylenol before we left. It turns out she should’ve been getting 7.5-10ml (a third of the bottle) every 6 hours because of her age and weight. Oops.

Anyway, we headed out for the Coliseum, and on the way we found a handful of pizza shops, one of which had thick handheld pizzas for only 2.50 ea. Jamie got one with olives and I got one with chicory leaves. They were delicious. We had to coerce Aubri into eating about 10 bites. We were amused to find several LGBT bars in the area immediately surrounding the Coliseum, well-denoted by rainbow lights. Lots of attractive people wandering around them at night, too. Good place to mingle probably, if you don’t have a small child tagging along.

The line at the Coliseum was absolutely crazy, and we suddenly remembered that it was Saturday. We settled for some cool pictures of ourselves outside it, and then moved on toward the Forum.
The Forum’s line was lighter, but since I thought we couldn’t actually get close to the ruins I didn’t really want to pay 12 euro each to go in there either. A Roma pass would have been a good choice, but we’d skipped on that. Note for next time.

Just past the Forum is the Piazza Venezia, which is dominated by a large and beautiful marble palace filled with cool statues. And let me add that I am pretty good at reading maps (even horrible tourist maps). But for some reason, I didn’t realize that huge marble structure was right by the Piazza, and we got turned around at this point. But I’m still not sure exactly where or how, because we didn’t realize that we were no longer walking in the same direction until we found the Pyramid, and the Pyramid was not on the map. Anywhere. This was an hour or so into our meandering walk, so we were displaced by a decent distance. Naturally, we kept walking and finally found ourselves at the Pyramid metro station, which was in an awful neighborhood with lots of loitering teenagers leering at people (namely, females, including us) as they walked past. We hopped on the metro to get back to the Circo Massimo stop.

By now Aubri was getting really whiny from walking, so of course she passed out on that short train hop, and we wound up stopping at a little tea shop to have a cup of black tea while Aubri slept on Jamie’s lap.

After poring over the map for a while, I finally realized we’d walked right off of it, but in the opposite direction I thought we’d been walking in. So we finished our tea, scooped up the monkey, and spent the next two hours slowly looping around the back side of the large triangle that includes the forum and Coliseum, as well as a bunch of cool old churches and such. We got a few neat pictures of ruins, and Aubri cried. A lot. It was getting a little more cloudy and grey, and she kept complaining about being cold.

Finally we made it back around to where the Coliseum was. We were still struggling to keep Aubri awake. We stopped in at a tasty smelling restaurant and just barely beat their rush. They were delicious and quite popular (though one of our pasta dishes was unexpectedly cold). The matron of the place coddled Aubri and even tucked her in with a tablecloth when she fell asleep. They gave us a to-go tin to make sure Aubri got some to eat because they didn’t want us to wake her up.

For dinner we ordered canneloni, ravioli, and that salmon penne again. Everything was good (especially the ravioli), but the penne was a little overly salty. I also notice that salt and other condiments almost never exist on the table in these restaurants–and maybe you can get your hands on pepper.

After dinner (which took some time because they were so very crowded), we scooped Aubri up and dragged ourselves back to our hosts’ home. Aubri’s fever was feeling much too high. Once we got to the house, we shoveled a few ravioli down her throat and then I resolved to give her two droppers of tylenol every two hours until her fever broke. These were the directions we got from her doctor when she had a high fever in November right after Thanksgiving. So we started watching Legend of Korra and dosing her. She was so hot by this time that her cheeks and hands were flushed totally pink. Yikes! It took like 4 hours, but her fever went down and she broke a heavy sweat. Finally instead of forcing her to drink water, she asked us for it. We were in the clear…and exhausted ourselves.

The bed at this host, hands down the comfiest bed we’ve ever had in a hotel or homestay arrangement. Nice down pillows too,  totally wonderful. Breakfast is a bit of a serve-yourself arrangement, but we’ll make it work.

And tomorrow, we have some choices to make on where to go.

Italy Day Two: Venice! Again!

There are several conclusions we’ve reached while traveling, even this short period of time:
1. Graffiti is a national pastime, and the older the wall the better. (It’s true, see this link).
2. Every third person in Italy smokes. Maybe not quite, but it sure seems like it when they are all carrying lit cigarettes at the height of Aubri’s face. (Another research point here).
3. All the signs are in both Italian and English but few people actually speak English. For someone who can read Italian decently well but not understand fast speakers, that presents a problem.
4. No one looks down in this city. Ever. So they aren’t looking for a walking little person.
5. No one apologizes for slamming into you either.
6. Clearly we shouldn’t have visited Japan first.
7. Every hotel charges a separate 2euro/person/night tax payable only in person (adults, littles under 4 don’t count). This vaguely complicates super early checkout. This was a “known but forgotten” factor, so just prepare for it.
8. People don’t make eye contact and are really confused if you do.
9. I sometimes can’t be sure if someone is speaking French or Italian and I’m sure that’s insulting to someone. But maybe there are some French tourists around.
10. Conditioner? No one uses or sells conditioner? Only shampoo? My hair weeps.

Those things being said, we started our second day in Venice off with a well stocked (mostly cold) breakfast from Autoespresso. Eggs, various breads and sweet treats, ham and baby swiss (The best swiss we’ve ever had), boiled eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and lots of decent strong coffee with steamed milk, Delicious. We ate our fill and headed out to Venice proper.

I realized a little late that our hotel is literally on the wrong side of the tracks. There were lots of broken bottles and trash etc all over the place after the night’s revelry. Also when we tried to find the hotel originally, we noticed the other side of the station was much nicer. Typical. We had a similar experience in Kyoto with the hotel gem we found back in April–great breakfast, horrible beds, nice price, awful location. For two nights in Venice only a 12-15 minute bus ride from Venice Proper, including breakfast, with a spacious room, it was only about $108/night during New Year’s. Other times of year would likely be much less expensive.

So after our bus ride, we took a look at the only free local map (at the waterbus station) and headed off in the general direction of the Doge Palace. And promptly spent the next 6 hours wandering aimlessly through the small alleys of the center of Venice, where we saw lots of random graffiti (Our favorites were unsavory, of course) and ruined houses. We noticed little restoration process, but lots of layered building that was interesting.

We had intended to actually go into San Marco Basilica and the Doge Palace, but the lines were obscene. This was also the first place I felt uncomfortable leaving my tripod standing to get group photos, because we expected someone might just knock into the camera and send it crashing down.

So, given the lines, we resolved to search for reasonably priced Venetian masks and other interesting things. We came across a DaVinci exhibit, likely identical to the one in Denver (similar pricing, 8 euro vs $12/person). We went in to give Aubri something to do, as she was getting mopey about being forced to march all over. We also discovered some Steampunk influence to masks, as some artists had taken to gluing plastic machinations all over mask forms and then painting the whole thing.

And then we had Dulce du Leche gelato and the whole world was made right. Until poor Aubri started shivering from the cold.

Ultimately, we spent the entire day just wandering, and then found ourselves back across the way from our first restaurant experience, ordering food. This whole restaurant was so charmed by Aubri that they were offering to let her keep the Christmas tree she liked (what?? No!). But their ravioli with spinach/Gorgonzola/walnuts were delicious, as was the brie/Gorgonzola/mozzarella cheese pizza. And their service was extremely fast, so I think the other restaurant was just odd. The pizza chef came out to flirt with Aubri because his daughter’s name is Arianna and the staff thought that’s what we were saying.

And then we went back to the hotel and passed out because we really needed to be at the train station early.

Japan Day 17 (ish!): Yabusame and More Kimonos!

I had heard of the Japanese traditional horseback archery, called Yabusame, when we were in Japan the last time in 2012. According to all the good information it’s best seen in Kamakura, but I heard about a demonstration being done in Asakusa on April 19th this year following a parade. I talked to our host, Hiro-san, about the festival and ceremony. He warned me that I might not find it as interesting as I thought if we watched the Asakusa festival, because the tradition there was only five years old and that wasn’t long enough to get very good.

But I was stubborn, since Jamie was so interested in seeing horseback archery and our friend Hazuki-san from the northern part of Japan was meeting us to go see it. Kim-san, our Korean friend also staying with Hiro-san, decided to come along and keep us from getting lost in Asakusa.

We arrived in the vicinity of the performance at just the right time to see the entire parade marching from their starting point to the beginning gate. This was the best view we got for the entire affair.

IMG_0059

IMG_0041

IMG_0042

IMG_0047

The samurai armored people are not archers but attendants.

IMG_0049

IMG_0052

One of the archers preparing in line.

IMG_0053

So we shoved our way around until we found a spot where we could see the beginning of the track, at least. And then we stood for a while waiting.

The general description I see about the archery is that they should be shooting 3 arrows each, but as far as we could tell (from the sounds) they were only shooting one. So each archer (8 total I think) shot once after a big ceremony to start them off.

IMG_0080

IMG_0086

This was the only female participant (and she hit her mark).

IMG_0092

IMG_0098

IMG_0104

6 out of 8 hit the one target we know they shot for…but we’re still fairly sure based on the rate at which they were riding and the way they wore their arrows that they were only shooting once.

So after that everybody pretty much left. Big crowd, lots of waiting, for just a few shots. Crazy.

On our way out for lunch we did see this guy:

IMG_0109

IMG_0111

Then we went to Akihabara with our friend from up north and hit the Doujinshi stacks a little hard. We really should’ve gone to Ikebukuro instead, but at least we got some good pictures.

IMG_0123

IMG_0143

IMG_0153

And fast-forward to the Sunday night (our last night) and Hide-san dressed us up for some pictures:

IMG_0194

IMG_0203

IMG_0209

IMG_0221

IMG_0223

IMG_0227

 

And tomorrow: Our last day in Japan, so Ueno Park of course.

Japan Day 14: Matsumoto Castle

Our host family brought out a book with beautiful pictures of an ancient Japanese castle that is still standing and in good shape. Matsumoto Castle is a National Treasure of Japan, and located in the Nagano prefecture. Since this was our last day for our JR passes, we decided to go.

The direct line train between Shinjuku Station and the Matsumoto station only leaves once an hour, on the hour, from (currently) track 9. The train takes just over 2.5 hours and is the most direct route.

A long ride…

IMG_9651

 

So that means it took us about 3 hours to get there, and since we missed the 10am direct, we had to catch the 11am. Around 1:40PM we finally pull into Matsumoto station.

The walk from Matsumoto station isn’t far. It’s about ten minutes, and very well marked with big signs and arrows. There are a few nice things along the way, like this clock:

IMG_9652

These carp over the river:

IMG_9654

A frog samurai riding a frog mount:

IMG_9656

Another clock:

IMG_9657

And my favorite, an old temple that has been converted to an antique book shop.

IMG_9662

We finally reached the castle and turned over 610jpy/ea to get inside. And what a splendid sight it cast with a sprawling moat and stony foundation lifting it high above the water.

IMG_9668

We walked through the grounds, snapping photos of the sakura blossoms along with the throngs of other tourists–many of them speaking German, French, or other Western European languages.

IMG_9703

Aubri’s only behaving for about the next two minutes.

IMG_9684

We got stamps on the backs of our tickets…

IMG_9685

 

The castle with sakura.

IMG_9694

And then we went on to the castle itself. Matsumoto Castle is darker than most castles in Japan, and so is nicknamed the “Crow Castle.” The castle was built and then expanded upon from 1504-1590ish. Because of the time period it was built in, it has both archer openings and rifle marksman openings in the walls.

As we entered, we had to put our shoes in bags that we carried with us.

IMG_9725

Rifle holes are more square.

IMG_9736

Arrow holes are longer rectangles. Either way the holes are smaller on the outside and have thin wires spanning them, also to discourage outside objects from coming in.

IMG_9737

A little about that you can’t read because it’s a tiny photo…

IMG_9738

An old painting of the grounds.

IMG_9740

Building materials.

IMG_9742

The view from the second floor arrow holes.

IMG_9744

Pulling Aubri up the stairs.

IMG_9746

The next flight up. The bamboo hand rails are a new addition, but basically as the stairs climb they get more steep and narrow, to discourage intruders.

IMG_9747

Aubri as an archer.

IMG_9748

Climbing the stairs to the third level.

IMG_9755

There are dozens of firearms from the 16th, 17th and 18th century on display throughout the castle. Some of them are really beautiful and would make great reference for a non-Western Steampunk.

IMG_9756

Also body armor.

IMG_9767

I love the six-revolver in the top right, so big.

IMG_9771

At the top of the tower the windows face East, West, North and South. The castle is six levels high but only five can be seen from outside.

IMG_9792

A view from the North window.

IMG_9794

And the East window.

IMG_9800

Tired and ready to head down.

IMG_9811

Running around at the top causing trouble.

IMG_9812

Another view from the arrow holes.

IMG_9816

So we hauled Aubri down all the stairs, trying not to bowl anyone else over in the process.

An adorable kimono on the way back to the station!

IMG_9867

We grabbed more sakura ice cream and a sakura sweet roll that had sweetened potato in the middle. Yum.

IMG_9869

They can’t speak English but try it!

IMG_9873

The view from Matsumoto station. I got to see this like four times…

IMG_9879

We got back to the station at about 4:30 and caught the train at 4:58 after buying a few quick snacks from the Newdays shop in the station (large convenience/souvenir shop chain in some stations). About 25 minutes into the ride, Jamie realized that she had left her glasses at the station when she changed into contacts. So we hopped off at the next stop, waited 15 minutes for a return train back, rode 25 minutes back to the station, spent another 20 minutes locating the lost and found and getting her glasses, and discovered that the next train back wasn’t for another 35 minutes (now at 6:35pm).

Fortunately they had a coloring book and colored pencils at a book shop in the station, to occupy Aubri (whose ipod battery was dead). Unfortunately we didn’t buy her any more snacks. So the 2.5 hour ride back to Shinjuku was probably the most miserable train ride yet. And since it was so late, everyone else was trying to sleep…

We caved and got her a cheeseburger at McDonalds at Shinjuku station before stacking on the last two rides back to get home.

So, that was our entire day. And we missed the good dinner, alas. But the castle was very cool and its weapons collection is worth a visit for the firearms enthusiast. They have English guides too, but they were out when we were there.

Tomorrow: Ikebukuro (yes, again), Nakana Broadway and Shibuya.

Japan Day 13: Tokyo Disney Sea

So we decided to go to Tokyo Disney Sea on Monday rather than the weekend. The weather predicted a small chance of rain and partly cloudy, so I had to coax Jamie to go on this day. Aubri also didn’t want to wake up.

IMG_9002

After much coaxing and repeated reminders that she would get to see mermaids, she was finally ready to go.

It’s about a 20 minute train ride from Tokyo station to the park station at Maihama station. Then it’s another about 10 minute walk to the gates. The entire walk is neatly trimmed and beautiful, though, so we suffered willingly.

IMG_9018

Once at the gate, it was 6400jpy/ea for the adults (about $64 right now) and anyone 4 and under is free. Before you choke at that price, realize that as of this writing Disneyland in California is $86/ea for ages 3-9 and $92/ea for ages 10+. Yikes! Now, Disneyland/Disney Sea is technically licensed to the company who runs them, but not actively run by Disney themselves. I’m not sure about the Disneyland side, but I imagine that’s why only older characters are present on the Disney Sea side.

But on to the park.

From the moment we stepped foot inside, the wonder for Aubri began.

IMG_9034

IMG_9073

This place has a big map with lots of zones, so we just folded up the map and started walking. If you take a right from the entrance, you’ll walk through a big open walkway and step into the Shipwreck and Castle area (Noted as Fortress Explorations on the map).

I should note that even right here, everything has both ramp and elevator access. The entire park is super easy for both strollers and wheelchairs.

IMG_9107

So we let Aubri go and explore…

IMG_9134

IMG_9137

IMG_9158

IMG_9163

IMG_9171

These canons really fired with a little blast of smoke (after a long loading noise) when you tugged the fuse.

IMG_9179

IMG_9221

IMG_9227

IMG_9233

Heading up to the castle portion…

IMG_9241

And then she found this…

 

IMG_9244

This awesome tucked-away play area has a contained weather system with ships. For 100jpy/play (which lasts several minutes) you can steer boats through rain, storms, whirlpools, dangerous straits, and other hazards. It’s super fun and I had to drag Jamie and Aubri both away from it…

IMG_9249

The inside of this castle is done up as though it belonged to a secret society of explorers.

IMG_9253

It has a whole scavenger/clue finding game you can play throughout the castle to “Crack DaVinci’s Code,” but we felt that Aubri wouldn’t have the attention span for that. So we reluctantly moved on from the fortress and found ourselves in the Mysterious Island area. This is about the time we started realizing just how great the attention to detail is here. Every inch of the entire place is not only themed but segmented by zone, down to the lamps totally changing styles. And every single ride has its own style of costume, in addition to each zone having different costumes.

We’ve been to Disneyland California several times, and this totally takes the cake.

So in Mysterious Island we had our first batch of Sea Salt ice cream. We were a little disappointed that it didn’t come in blue on sticks, but it was very tasty (310jpy for ice cream, so around $3).

IMG_9271

Then Jamie and I grabbed Fastpasses for Journey to the Center of the Earth, and we moved on to occupy Aubri for a while.

Now, something we didn’t realize about until later (but would be very handy to use) is the fact that they have “Baby Ride Cards.” Basically, you both fast pass and then ask for the ride card. The first person gives the card to the second person when they come out, and that second person gets to go up the exit line and ride basically immediately. No second fastpass wait. Pretty cool.

We grabbed a sausage bun (basically gyoza meat inside a fluffy steamed bun, 430jpy ea):

IMG_9280

And then moved on to the Mermaid Lagoon area.

IMG_9281

Now, the Mermaid Lagoon has an outdoor area with several rides (all kid themed, but one is a mini-roller coaster which only ages 3 and up can ride), and then it has an additional area “Triton’s Kingdom” that has more rides inside, is dark like the deep sea, and has a giant play area and a stage.

So we rode some rides, all with virtually no wait because the park wasn’t that crowded:

IMG_9286

And then we went inside.

IMG_9330

We rode the Jellyfish ride and then I sent Jamie to go ride on the first Fastpass while I rode with Aubri.

We rode this Blowfish ride…

IMG_9331

IMG_9332

IMG_9334

And then the “Kelp cups (Teacups)”

IMG_9340

IMG_9346

Then played with some lights on the floor…

IMG_9348

IMG_9355

And then we found Ariel’s Playground.

IMG_9362

IMG_9363

In Ariel’s Grotto

IMG_9366

Climbing through a dark tunnel of evil squids

IMG_9368

And then Jamie found us in the play area and I tapped out to go ride. The Journey to the Center of the Earth is fun, and the detail even in all the displays leading up to the ride is pretty cool. Alas, I left the camera with Jamie. It took me about 20 minutes to get out to the ride, get through the Fastpass line, ride and get back.

Then we rode the blowfish again.

IMG_9374

And it was time for lunch. We ordered the chicken and salsa set lunch for 1080jpy and the scallop sandwich set plate for 960jpy.

IMG_9376

While I found the apple tea soda weird, the sandwiches weren’t bad. The scallop sandwich is mashed scallop fried into breading. Overall filling enough for roughly $20.

There was a show coming up at 2 that we wanted to see, so we packed Aubri into the stroller and headed out to grab a fast pass first. We grabbed a Stormrider Fastpass from Port Discovery since it’s a quick walk from the Mermaid Lagoon. Naturally Aubri passed out just before the show started, and slept through the entire show:

IMG_9381

IMG_9397

They had dragon-styled jet skis and they were flying kites from them…

IMG_9405

So we watched the show and she slept on. Then we headed back toward Port Discovery and Lost River Delta. In Port Discovery we stumbled across a Japanese Steampunk Brass Band. Seriously:

IMG_9412

IMG_9413

IMG_9420

They were really fun to watch, but they woke Aubri up (of course). So we took her grumpy self over to take a picture with the Goofy Inventor.

IMG_9429

And then it was time to go see the show at the Hangar Stage in Lost Delta. Along the way we saw some plane wrecks:

I love that this plane is called C-3PO.

IMG_9390

IMG_9430

The stage was too dark to take pictures, but the show is basically this story of the various element spirits. Lots of cool special effects and great acrobatics, definitely a great surprise. We felt like we’d just watched a small segment of a Cirque du Soleil show.

Afterwards we left to go ride Storm Rider, which is a virtual reality storm chaser ride. It’s fun, but Aubri had to sit in her own seat so she got a little nervous (we also had to tell them she was 3 *koffkoff* because she is over 90cm tall and thus tall enough to ride).

But then we grabbed a Fastpass for Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. We moved on to the Arabian Coast, and the Flying Carpets, to kill time.

IMG_9438

IMG_9439

IMG_9441

IMG_9448

IMG_9465

We also had time to run through Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage, which is exactly the same ride as Pirates of the Caribbean, but set in the desert with camels. Aubri enjoyed it. The paint jobs are a little newer, for sure…

So we headed to go ride the Indiana Jones ride, and found out about the baby ride cards. So Jamie rode first while I entertained Aubri by the sales carts. So far she’d been a totally awesome well-behaved kid. Naturally I was about to change that.

IMG_9471

IMG_9478

The Indiana Jones ride was exactly like the one in California too, except that the model did look older (Harrison Ford ages!).

We caught sight of the full moon rising over Jasmine’s Palace:

IMG_9479

And decided we had time to ride the carousel before we needed to head back toward the front of the park (to catch the big show, Fantasmic).

So we jumped onto an elephant and a purple genie…

IMG_9587

Snapped a picture under the watchful eye of another Genie…

IMG_9511

Ran off to the front of the park (Mediterranean Harbor) to find Aubri a souvenir and grab a snack before the show. It was only about 6:40pm and people were already laying claim to real estate, so we tried to hurry. We did find Aubri a cool hoodie as her souvenir, and then grabbed a Mickey snack:

IMG_9604

And then we found ourselves a patch of the side street on the bridge to watch the show. Our view was pretty good. The show was similar to Fantasmagoria in Disneyland, but with some character variation and a lot of extra frill dancing.

IMG_9609

IMG_9616

IMG_9623

After the show (for which Aubri was enthralled), we joined the throngs of people rushing back. It was a little after 8:30, and with the walk and the trains we didn’t get back to our host family’s house until just after 10pm. But I would say the trip to Disney Sea was totally worth it, and probably the best experience I’ve had at a theme park. There was stroller parking available at every ride, the only line frustration we had was the swarming of characters (ignoring lines etc), and Aubri was even a little rockstar. High five, Japan Disney.

Tomorrow’s post… Matsumodo Castle in Nagano Prefecture.

Japan Days 11 and 12: Ikebukuro and Akihabara

I’m going to combine some days of exploration (mainly places like Akihabara and Ikebukuro) because it’s difficult to separate them.

First there was breakfast at the host family’s house.

IMG_8826

And then waiting for the bus.

IMG_8830

We started with Ikebukuro, and we were there early but on Saturday morning–and that was our first mistake. There were huge crowds everywhere, of the teenaged variety.

But at least they lock their smokers together in cages:

IMG_8837

It’s a forward thinking place with loads of American food…

IMG_8841

Ikebukuro houses Sunshine 60, a huge shopping complex with 60 floors. The 60th floor is a 360 degree observatory area that you can pay to look out from. But the elevator…it’s the Shinkansen of elevators. Our ears popped as we rode it!

IMG_8844

Aubri was asleep, so we didn’t actually go out on the observation deck. We just rode up and down.

Once back down, we set out to the task for which we were in Ikebukuro…the giant An!mate store that is possibly the largest anime store in the world, and also a couple of manga stores specializing in doujinshi (fan drawn manga).

From An!mate we acquired a huge headache, two hours of losing each other, and a couple of boxes of Final Fantasy Creatures. I got Alexander. Twice. The FFVIII version and the FFXIII version. Seriously.

It took us a bit of wandering, but we finally found Mandarake, our favorite store. It’s actually just a few doors down from the old location of the An!mate store, but it’s hard to locate because it’s inside a basement floor reached only by a deep winding staircase. Seriously. We spent a good amount of time perusing, but we could barely breath inside because of all the teenaged girls. They have lots of quality items from 200jpy, though, and by far it’s the cheapest place to go.

Nearby is KBooks, but we were afraid to venture in with the crowd. We DID make it to An!mate (the big one), though.

Nearby, a few quirky signs:

(RolePlaying Cafe)

IMG_8852

(Japanese Grumpy Cat Cafe)

IMG_8853

 

And Aubri met some mascots:

IMG_8856

IMG_8863

IMG_8879

We had some kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi, but Jamie and Aubri weren’t impressed by the selection. The place we will go later, in Minami-Senju station, is much less expensive and much tastier.

We also passed some BakudanYaki!

IMG_8888

After sheer exhaustion settled into our feet, we headed back home for the night. The next day we ventured out into Akihabara…which might seem like madness on a Sunday (and actually is, if you think about it). Akihabara is home to Electric Town, a place where you can find parts and gadgets for maybe less than they would be normally. It’s like Made In China Ebay, but at a flea market. But Akihabara also is internationally famous for all the anime shops.

On Sunday they close some of the streets to cars so that only pedestrians can cross. The result is a swirling vortex of mostly non-Japanese Otaku mixed with lots of Lolitas and other craziness… All concentrated in a 6 block by 6 block radius.

The last time we were here we got REALLY lost looking for a host club targeted toward girls called Queen Dolce. This time we found Queen Dolce while looking for a used cosplay store called Jupiter.

IMG_8913

Jupiter was OK, but very creepy and packed with almost strictly obscure female costumes (not just for women, but female characters). Add to it the very creepy old guy working there who looked pretty annoyed to be seeing us, and it wasn’t someplace I would recommend for the sewing disinclined.

However, beneath it is a collector store with old figures and sets. I got the Secret of Mana for PS1 collector set (sans the game, alas) for 300jpy. The figures and music box are cool.

IMG_9000

We wandered into a department store afterward and found these essential convention survival kits:

Also this was in the window of an Adult Shop, being advertised as extra sexy. Wait, what?

IMG_8920

Oh, and this thing…

IMG_8921

We went inside virtually every anime and hobby store in this 6 block radius, seeking Final Fantasy action figures among other things. We finally found *one* Lightning from Lightning Returns, and wound up acquiring it. I probably could have paid the same $80 (7910 yen, to be precise) on Amazon, but I can’t tell if the one they carry is the big size.

I also picked up a couple more Final Fantasy Creatures packs. I got the Bomb and another Alexander, alas.

Aubri decided we needed more pictures of her…
IMG_8923

IMG_8931

We found a duck while wandering around the Electric Town area looking for friends…

IMG_8965

Gave up on the friends and went back to Queen Dolce (which doesn’t open until 4pm). Basically it’s a small, quiet little place where the girls wear men’s clothes and talk in their version of deep voices instead of high pitched “cute” voices. To be in the cafe you have to buy at least a drink an hour. We ordered their “original blend” tea and a caramel latte, as well as waffles with ice cream.

IMG_8966

Aubri proceeded to adopt one of them and ran her ragged for the next 50 minutes or so. It was adorable, and we talked her into letting us take a picture (normally not allowed)

IMG_8970

We trudged back toward the station, feet aching. Aubri wanted another cameo.

IMG_8972

We found a “Victorian pub”

IMG_8940

 

And then we stopped by the Gundam Cafe on our way out.

IMG_8945

Fist bump the Gundam…

IMG_8957

Had to get a Gundam-shaped taiyaki of course.

IMG_8980

And then it was time to go home…seriously. And for the next day: Tokyo Disney Sea!

 

 

 

Japan Day 10: Tokyo Pt. 1

As I mentioned yesterday, we decided to forgo Karuizawa and go straight on to Tokyo to meet up with our host family.

We had a delicious breakfast first at the ryokan in Hakone.

This egg was cooked in the onsen water:

IMG_8755

Those braziers are filled with delicious miso. Aubri ate half of mine and spilled a bunch more all over both of us.

IMG_8758

Aubri’s “favor” is the crunchy seaweed.

IMG_8761

It’s a 15 minute walk and then a 14 minute rail car ride to get to Odawara, and along the way we found this crazy machine.

IMG_8764

It makes tiny pancakes filled with white bean paste, and we bought a fresh hot one to try. Very tasty.

IMG_8765

 

Odawara is where shinkansen to Tokyo  take about 45 minutes. We hopped on, but not before getting Aubri a Qoo because the kid loves this stuff and can spot the bottle in a vending machine at 60 paces.

IMG_8766

She also showed off her cute a bit. It was pretty heartwarming. She sat down and said “Aubri have two moms. A mommie and a momma!” Snuggles ensued.

IMG_8767

So we finally made it back to the more familiar Tokyo station. This is not the largest station in Tokyo by far, but it is closer to our host family’s house than the big Shinjuku.

We found some smelly earrings while we were there.

IMG_8771

So we went from Tokyo station to Ueno and hopped a short subway from there to get over to the Minowa area where our host family lives. Tokyo Sky Tower is our landmark star to guide ‘er by:

IMG_8773

We’re here!

IMG_8774

So Hiro-San found Rapunzel on TV and Aubri basically checked out of reality for the entire length of the movie. I had to go grab us lunch from 7-11 because she refused to budge.

IMG_8776

But then we finally got to Asakusa. In Tokyo everything is divided by town areas, in a much more extensive way than the Denver Metro area. Clothing styles and even some food styles are totally different between districts, as though each little suburb pod is its own town.

Asakusa is a pretty touristy location now but used to be the “old style” part of town. It is fun to wander around though.

We found a puffer fish restaurant where dinner is 6,000jpy/plate ($60). Not the deadly puffer fish then.

IMG_8778

This guy was doing some sort of a promotion and his handler offered to take a picture of all of us:

IMG_8781

Aubri  put her hands in those of the stars at the Asakusa version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

We ran into the entire Team Deutschland Gerban Futball team? Jamie thought she heard them say they’re an American-style football team though…
IMG_8787

 

And then Aubri met this dog.

IMG_8792

IMG_8795

His owner had him so well trained that he handed the leash to Aubri and she walked him for a bit.

IMG_8797

We took a few pictures of the Gate of Thunder and Wind Gods before heading back.

IMG_8800

IMG_8801

IMG_8802

IMG_8803

IMG_8805

And of course we got some ice cream (maron flavor? Macaroon we think maybe?)

IMG_8812

And then we saw this crazy contraption on the way back. It looks like a Steampunk music-making bicycle.

IMG_8814

And there were blossoms on the way.

IMG_8816

Aubri was happy to settle in for a delicious dinner.

IMG_8820

Tomorrow we will hit Akihabara and there is a kimono parade in Asakusa, so we should have great pictures.