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caution, caution, warning, warning

It is hard to get your attention in Japan. There are bright lights everywhere. In the countryside, pachinko parlors are lit up like the fireworks shops in Tennessee I saw as a child driving “straight through” from Indiana to Florida. In the cities, restaurants will have old-fashioned blue, amber, or red lights like those on top of a police car or fire truck. What are those lights called anyway?

Recently, the city of Nagoya decided to move bicycle traffic off of the sidewalk in front of my house to the road. A lane was removed from the road, and a temporary bike lane has been set up. This change was before my unfortunate tangle with a bike, so I didn’t cause this change. Because the routing is new, there is a traffic monitor at every corner of the bike lane whenever it intersects with anything. Since a lane ends in the street, special notice is given as well. Because it is dangerous to put a real flagman in the road, a special mechanical flagman is used. The mechanical flagman usually stands in front of a truck and the truck also has many things to catch your attention as well. All this to prevent you from, apparently, missing the point and plowing into the flagman, the truck, and the bicycle lane up the road.

Pay attention!

In this picture you can see the mechanical flagman standing in front of two barrels behind two cones with a couple of arrows. He’s in front of a double men working sign, a go slowly sign, and a truck. The truck has red lights on top that flash in a rotational pattern and amber lights on the side that flash on and off. Next to the flagman is a light disk with round lights that flash on and off in a circular pattern – at least the inner ring. I’m not sure what the outer ring does. Of course, there is also an animated flagman on the truck just to make sure. It is even more dramatic at night.

I think I’d be so mesmerized by all the action that I would end up driving straight into it.

It was bound to happen

Sooner or later, it was going to happen. At some point on the streets of Nagoya, I expected there were be an accident with me, a bike, and another person. Today it happened, but not as I expected. I changed my usual walk home pattern today by taking the elevator to street level because I was looking for a Kinkos / FedEx since I had to ship something back to the States. I knew there was one very convenient to my apartment and near the subway exit, but I could not remember if it was before or after the stairs. I took the elevator since it’s exit is further from my apartment.

The elevator is sort of recessed from the sidewalk, so as I was walking out I was kind of lost looking and trying to get my bearings. Which way to the FedEx? At that point, “Boom” and I was knocked a little off balance. I didn’t see anything and that was odd. I thought I had run in to someone, but I couldn’t see anyone. Then I looked down and saw that a rather petite young lady had run in to me with her little bicycle. “Gomen ne!!!!!!” she uttered. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry” she said. I was still kind of just surprised by it. At that time, I wasn’t even sure whose fault it was. I was fine and she was fine, so we went on our way. She didn’t even knock me over so she must not have been going that fast. H = MV as we all know (momentum equals mass times velocity). Her mass was small and I’m not sure about her speed, so it wasn’t too bad.

I should have been paying more attention, but she must have been riding pretty close to the side of the sidewalk for me to walk out right in front of her. So I blame her! But all is OK. Oddly, I thought I would be the one to hit someone on my bike.

 

I needed to go to FedEx to mail my old MacBook back to Apple. Long story short, they wanted my MacBook for some wireless testing as I had sort of a strange problem with my wireless dying when the wireless network had any other computer on it. I finally was ready to send my old laptop back and FedEx was the shipper I was told to use. I had my shipper number and my commercial invoices ready and I thought that was enough. Not in Japan! Did I have a Lithium battery? Not sure. If so, is it a safe battery? I did indeed have a lithium ion battery. I had to assume it was safe. But, I had to print a sticker out from their webpage. I got the store to do that for me.

I also needed to fill out other forms too. A RADEC form for radiation declaration and an FCC740 form for compliance to FCC regulations. Luckily, the laptop had the FCC compliance numbers printed on the case, so I was able to fill out the form. I am afraid that I made a mistake though, and somehow the package will be returned to me. Japan takes these requirements very seriously. I’ll probably be tracking this package more carefully going OUT than I would an inbound package.

j’ais un stylo

Monday, September 21

Our crossing from the British Isles to continental Europe was uneventful, marred only by the crazily loud Brits in the seats in front of us. That did not deter Tomo from sleeping though, as all Japanese are specially trained to sleep in any moving vehicle. We arrived at Paris Gare du Nord on time and with bags in tow. The train station is huge, and so much different than a Japanese station. We made our way to the taxi stand and of course got a negative reaction to our luggage. Hmmm, the taxi stand was at a major international train station – should he expect everyone to be free of luggage? On the taxi ride to the hotel, Tomo commented something like, “Paris is ugly.” Admittedly, the area around Gare du Nord is not beautiful, but I thought, “Uh oh.”

We arrived to the hotel and were luckily upgraded from an incredibly tiny room to a really small room due to my platinum status. Hotel rooms in Paris are small, and we knew ahead of time that the room would be small, so it was no big deal. The room was quite nice – the time we were staying at the Renaissance Paris Vendome. It is considered a “boutique hotel in the heart of Paris.” The location is great – just off the Rue du Rivioli near the Tuilleries. I was able to use a couple of free nights there too, so the cost was amortized. That’s the only way I can look at it. Hotels in Paris are expensive, especially with the weakness of the dollar right now.

Tuilleries Metro Station

 

(Recall, I’ve added a gallery using Apple’s MobileMe gallery. Check it out here.)

As part of my frequent stay status, we are allowed a “welcome gift” so we thought champagne would be appropriate. Usually the welcome gift is given shortly after your arrival. We went to the room, unpacked, relaxed a little, and waited. And waited. In the meantime, since I cannot live without the thought of being connected to the interwebs, I hooked up my computer to get online. We were meeting a friend the next night for dinner, so I had to get online to check the when and where. The connection was dead. We called the front desk, and a kid was sent up to look at it. We tried several different options, and still dead. He gave me the Gallic shoulder shrug and short “pfft” sound and said, “Someone weel loook at eet toomarrhow.” Great. (Tomo asked me why the French say, “eeet” instead of “it” – interesting question. Because the “i” sound equals a long e sound in English I guess.) Ah, I really was in France!

We gave up on our champagne and decided we’d just get some dinner. We went to the truly friendly (as in truly friend, no sarcasm at all in this statement) front desk and mentioned about the internet, our lack of welcome gift, and did they have any good dinner recommendations in the neighborhood? They gave us a free internet pass for use of the computer in the lounge, said they would look into the problem tomorrow, delayed our welcome gift, and suggested a good restaurant. Tomo and I both decided that we wouldn’t worry about the internet – if the hotel wasn’t able to fix it then we would assume they would change our room. We won’t talk about my attempt to get access to the electronics behind the wall, and the cracking sound that happened when I tugged on the board that I thought was an access door. Now I’m not sure that it was.

We asked to go to a simple bistro / brasserie nearby because we were a bit tired. We were sent to L’Absinthe on Place du Marché St-Honoré. I was expecting something a little less upscale, and was surprised by the €50 price on the meal. Oh well, c’est la vie. The meal was very good, but the ensuing drama behind us was disconcerting. The weather was remarkably mild, so we chose to eat outside on the patio. One thing about Japan – there’s really no eating outside. It is too hot, or too rainy, or too buggy, or just too too. But as anyone who was been to Europe knows, eating al fresco is quite popular.

We were settling nicely in to our meal and then heard a ruckus behind us. An American couple, or at least they seemed American, were having a fight. Something happened, we think it was with the woman complaining about some aspect of the service, and the husband reacted. The husband stormed off, returned, and then stormed off again. Public conflict always gives me the shakes, and I don’t like seeing it. Unfortunately, the voyeur in me can’t keep from watching or being interested. So throughout meal, we tracked their progress. They ended up waiting for each other within 50 yards, but invisible to each other. If one or the other had walked to the edge of the Place du Marché St-Honoré they would have seen each other. Instead, their obstinacy won out and they departed separately. Oh boy, I’d hate to be near their hotel room that night. How horrible on vacation.

Our meal was very good, and I was quite satisfied by the recommendation. It was getting late, so the restaurant was actually quite pleased to get us on our way.

Our dark table,

Our first meal in Paris

 

Place du Marché St-Honoré,

Place du Marché St-Honoré

 

The evening was beautiful, the food was heavy, and it was our first night in Paris so we decided to go for a walk even though it was late. We walked across the Rue du Rivoli and entered the Jardin du Carrousel. From there, we could see the Arch de Triomphe du Carrousel and look across the Tuilleries, the Place du la Concorde, down the Champs-Elysées, to the Arch de Triomphe. Look to the left a little, and there was the Eiffel Tower in all her majesty. Turn around, and the Louvre and the IM Pei pyramid is right there. So much fanstasticness in one little spot. Paris is definitely not ugly. How the city maintains its grand feeling in these modern times is very special. I love Paris (I will avoid the cliché) and always will.

Here is the Louvre at night,

The Louvre

 

The Louvre

 

As we were walking back to the hotel, the clock struck midnight and the Eiffel Tower sparkled for a while as tons of strobes blinked on and off. To think that the Eiffel Tower was hated at the time it was built.
 

Tuesday, 22 September

Paris is for walking, and we had a pretty big plan for Tuesday. First on the schedule was the Eiffel Tower. At least that was my schedule. Tomo wanted to hit the Arch de Triomphe first to get a map of the city in his head. Not a bad idea, of course, since all roads lead there anyway. You can walk to the top and get a great perspective. Before climbing to the top though, we enjoyed a view of the Champs-Elysées.

Champs-Elysées

 

We climbed the stairs to the top, and it was a rather gray day. It looked like the morning haze would burn off though, and the temperature was fine. From the top, we got a great view across the city, and I could point out all the areas we planned to visit.

A hazy day in Paris,

From the Arch de Triomphe

 

While we were inside the Arch de Triomphe, we saw what Tomo reckoned was a tribute to Fred Perry. It might have been about peace.

Fred Perry Flagship Store?

 

We found a statue inside that reminded us of Aunt Linda from Saturday Night Live, a Kristen Wiig character who does movies reviews. “Whaaaaat?!?! I give 3 ‘are-you-kidding-me’ and a ‘mleh.’” Tomo is doing his best to imitate in the background.

What?!???

 

Going down the staircase to leave the Arch de Triomphe, Tomo snapped a really good picture of me.

On the descending spiral staircase

 

We then went by subway to Trocadero to approach the Eiffel Tower from the North. In this time of year and this time of day, this is not the best photographic approach. All photos were shooting straight in to the sun, so it was almost impossible. Turn around though, and it is a beautiful blue sky. There’s really not a lot to write about visiting the Eiffel Tower. It is majestic, and the area approaching is beautiful too. There are lots of illegal vendors selling souvenirs, but they scatter when the bike cops ride by.

Remember, you can see higher resolution photographs of Paris, in color and black and white, here.

Eiffel Tower

 

Eiffel Tower

 

Eiffel Tower

 

Eiffel Tower

 

Near the Eiffel Tower

 

We decided not to go to the top of the tower. In the past I’ve done it, and we thought we’d be better off just wandering around a bit. It was also getting close to lunch, so we decided we’d slowly make our way towards a restaurant. Once we got to the southern side of the Eiffel Tower, things brightened up a bit. And finally, I can prove that I was actually on this trip.

Eiffel Tower in the background

 

We walked down the Avenue du la Motte Picquet towards a restaurant recommended in Tomo’s guidebook, L’auberge Bressane. Interestingly, they have a Japanese website as well. Hmmmmm. The food was heavy, but good of course. As we were walking, I saw an old, beautiful building that felt very much like Paris.

Paris street scene

 

Next stop was Les Invalides, and somehow we approached it from the Musée de l’Armée side. I got a good picture of the courtyard, and then we went in to the Eglise St-Louis des Invalides. Just on the other side of it is the Eglise du Dôme where Napoleon’s Tomb is located.

Court of Honor

 

Eglise St-Louis Des Invalides,

Eglise St-Louis Des Invalides

 

Eglise du Dôme,

Eglise du Dôme

 

The tomb of Marechal Ferdinand Foch, which is brilliantly lit by deep blue stained glass,

Marechal Foch

 

I didn’t find the tomb of Napoleon that interesting as it was, quite naturally, far too large and overstated. However, I did find the mosaic in the floor to be interesting.

Napoleon mosaic

 

The day wore on, and we were getting tired of course. We continued towards the National Assembly, and on the way passed an interestingly named shop. This picture is for my friend Ben, and while the name of the shop is quite correct, I think he’ll get the connection.

moooi

 

At the National Assembly, we crossed the Seine via Passerelle Léopold-Sédar Senghor and made our way back to the hotel. At this point, we wondered if we were going to receive a Treatment Parisian regarding the interwebs, or if a solution would be provided.

On the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar Senghor,

Tomo over the Seine

 

I’m happy to report that upon arrival, we were told the internet could not be fixed so they had moved us to a different premium room. The room was slightly different but a little more bright than our previous, the internet worked, and all was well. In addition, our delayed welcome snack was brought to us and we enjoyed champagne after a long day.

In the evening, we met my friend Blaise for dinner. I met Blaise when I was participating in a 9 week study program in Strasbourg in 2003, courtesy of our companies. Blaise and I talked shop and reminisced while Tomo did his best to follow along. It was great catching up with Blaise, who is genuinely a great guy, and hopefully it won’t take 6 years to see him again.

Another highlight of the day was walking past Michael_Kors on Rue St-Honoré. Yes, that Michael Kors of fashion and Project Runway. We were too late to stop him and ask for a picture. He was walking down the street gabbing with a friend, looking very much like he was gossiping. A friend said, “Did he have on blue jeans, a black t-shirt, and a blazer?” Why, yes he did as a matter of fact.
 

Wednesday, 23 September

What would a trip to a major city be for Japanese without a visit to a major department store? Or in our case, TWO major depart stores! We planned to get おみやげ on this day so that we wouldn’t have some last minute panic prior to leaving. We decided to go to Opéra and the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores. On the way, we happened to stop at Celio, which is a sportswear shop. On my first trip to Paris 20 years ago, it was so hot when I was there that I had to buy some shorts. At Les Halles, I bought some shorts at Celio. Now, 20 years later, we were shopping at Celio again. Tomo found a really cool shirt that they had in XS. I wanted one too, but it would be sort of silly to have the same shirt. As we were checking out, the cashier could not find a pen. In my best French I was able to say, “J’ais un stylo.” I have a pen! It was a proud moment in my trip. For the first time, I uttered a complete sentence in French without mixing in a Japanese particle or Japanese word.

We wandered around the department stores, purchased the necessary gifts for colleagues in Japan, and ate a very unimpressive lunch. You can’t always pick the right restaurant while wandering about the city.

Inside Galeries Lafayette,

Galeries Lafayette

 

Galeries Lafayette

 

Our plan for the afternoon and evening was to visit the Louvre, which is open late on Wednesday nights.

We headed over to the Louvre at around 5:30 pm, walking through the Tuilleries and the Jardin du Carrousel again. The day was just beautiful, and the color was fantastic.

Tuilleries

 

Louvre

 

We arrived inside the Louvre just in time to take advantage of the noctourne admission price. Hey, that wasn’t the point but I have no issue taking advantage of a cost saving. Of course, there is way too much to see in the Louvre, and you cannot expect to see the entire museum at once. As a matter of fact, it is a bit crazy to even try. You’ll be so tired of the art that you will become numb. I can spend about 3 hours in a museum alone, usually a little less time if I am with someone else. Since this was Tomo’s inaugural visit to the Louvre, we HAD to see the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and the Vermeer works. We passed a lot of beautiful work on the way to the Mona Lisa, but we had a sense of purpose. The Louvre has renovated since the last time I was there, and the Mona Lisa is much more protected and has a room basically to herself.

The Mona Lisa

 

I found the scrum around to view her as interesting as the painting itself.

Around the Mona Lisa

 

My favorite picture, perhaps of the entire trip, is the picture Tomo took. Kudos to Tomo for this great photo.

Bored at the Louvre

 

Similarly, the scramble around the Venus was interesting.

Venus de Milo

 

Unfortunately, Tomo found out his favorite Vermeer was on loan for an exhibition in … Japan!

Disappointment at the Louvre

 

Our required pieces checked off, we were able to reset and start browsing the galleries.

Louvre

 

While we were wandering around, a group of performance artists entered the gallery we were in and began a performance. I’m not sure what sweet nothings were getting whispered.

Performance art at the Louvre

 

As always, I gravitate towards the sculptures. They are great portrait subjects because I don’t have to pose them at all. Just frame them or shoot.

I guess two of them got bored standing around alone for centuries and got together to gossip about the others in the gallery,

OMG, and then HE said ...

 

While another was enraptured by his own anatomy,

What's this?

 

In context, he and his colleagues are supposed to be supporting a fountain on their backs.

Dramatic lighting and a rich background can make a typical black and white shot also interesting in color,

Louvre

 

As we were leaving, we noticed the entry has a much different feel at night than during the day. The staircase to the exit was very interesting at night.

Louvre

 

We had saturated on French food by this point, and decided that Thai would be refreshing. It was, although it could have been spicier.

 
Thursday, 24 September

If you have read this far, you probably need a rest. We probably should have scheduled in a rest day as well, as we were getting mighty tired. There was a lot of seeing and doing on a daily basis, and although our pace was reasonable, a spa day might have been nice. But nope, we had things to see. Thursday morning was our day to go to Notre Dame, but Thursday morning kind of slid to Thursday late morning, early afternoon. The day was overcast compared to other days, and a little cooler. As always, we walked through the Louvre to get to the Pont des Arts to cross over to the left bank and work our way back to the Île de la Cité. On they way, we saw a more industrial side of the Louvre,

Cleaning the pools at the Louvre

 

Louvre facilities

 

On the Pont des Arts,

On the Pont des Arts

 

Notre Dame’s face was clear, for the most part, of scaffolding

Notre Dame

 

And the inside was dark and crowded,

Notre Dame

 

Of course, we climbed all the stars to the top to appreciate the view and get a glimpse of the gargoyles. As I’ve mentioned before in this entry, I have even more pictures posted here, so please visit this additional site for larger, higher resolution pictures. The roof was surrounded by a large wire mesh netting, so once on top there was no way out. No jumping, no climbing, and no easy way to take pictures without poking your camera between the wires. It very much limited what I could take.

Notre Dame

 

Notre Dame

 

Notre Dame

 

We stayed up on top for a bit and enjoyed the view and the detail the gargoyles have to offer. We crossed over to the Quartier Latin and had a nice Lebanese lunch. We caught a Seine river cruise and had another couple in the middle of drama behind us. We tried our best to stay awake on the boat, but I did, maybe, nap a little bit. I managed to wake up long enough to get a view of Notre Dame from the back and from the water.

Notre Dame

 

In the evening, we were going to Montmartre and Sacré Cœur. We asked our waiter for a recommendation where we could get good galettes. He didn’t have high praise for restaurants near Montmartre, and the only place he could suggest was booked. Instead, he sent us to another restaurant that, although I thought was on Montmartre, was really on the base almost along Blvd de Clichy (actually rue Cavalotti). We walked through Place Vendôme first for a picture on the way to the Metro. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera so I went back to the hotel to pick it up while Tomo checked out the Ritz and the Park Hyatt.

Place Vendôme

 

We actually had another nice, but heavy dinner at Le Bouclard. We made our way up the hill again, on our way to Sacré Cœur.

Montmartre

 

I took us some roundabout way, and what should have been fairly bright and full of restaurants ended up residential and quiet. We did eventually end up at Sacré Cœur and the basilica looked white and shiny and pretty.

Sacré Cœur

 

Unfortunately, the place was loud, boisterous, and felt a little more dangerous than it had in the past. Lots of drunk teenagers, and lots of drunk foreign teenagers. Never a good combination. What should be a really nice view of the city just felt dirty and creepy, so we left pretty quickly. Of course, below Montmartre is Pigalle, which has its own dirty and creepy feel. Like most seedy places, it has gems amongst the ick, but I don’t know where the gems are. The Moulin Rouge, or the current incarnation of it, has certainly benefited from the movie of the same name.

Moulin Rouge

 

And so ended our last full day in Paris.

 
Friday, 25 September

We had a late evening flight out of Paris, so we basically had another half day to wander about. We were able to arrange late checkout, so we could come back to the hotel and shower before heading off to the airport. We walked some more, and somehow on the last day I developed blisters. We window shopped along Faubourg St-Honoré and also Avenue Montagne. I saw some street kid get in a fight with a woman at Rond Pont Champs-Elysées Marcel Dassault and he spit at her. I’m not sure what was happening there. We ate a light lunch at a deli, and also FINALLY walked down the Champs—Elysées. Our trek to the airport took longer than expected, but since we had given ourselves plenty of time, we had no difficulties. We realized that we had a 4 hour layover at the Seoul airport, so we decided that it was a good time to get a massage. After a 12 hour flight, a massage is a very, very good idea and we felt invigorated as we headed to Nagoya and Tokyo. At the Nagoya airport, I had some drunk American get in my face and make some glasses remark, but whatever.

The vacation was fantastic, and recounting it on the blog was fun. There are so many pictures I have not posted, and some stories I’ve missed. Hopefully though this will be somewhat enjoyable for you too. This entry has taken over 5 hours so far, and that’s just the writing. I’ve spent countless hours editing photos, and still need to get this from a written document to a post. More work ahead!

London Calling

It has taken way, way, too long to get these posts up. Sometimes life conspires to keep you really busy, or really tired. After I returned home from Europe, I had a very busy week with two nomikais, a Japanese class, and really heavy jetlag. Then I had to take a business trip to the States. I arrived in the States, and I was prepared to write but jetlag won the battle, and what energy I had was spent at dinner with friends / colleagues. When I returned to Japan, I didn’t know what time it was, and fought to establish normal sleep patterns. Today (or at least the day I first starting writing) is really the first day that I feel sort of normal, whatever that means. So I shall try to accomplish the first post.

I’ve added a gallery using Apple’s MobileMe gallery. Check it out here.

This idea for this trip started out in a strange way. Tomo has worked with and become friends with the band White Lies and their management team / crew. Earlier this year, they invited Tomo to come to the UK and see them open for Coldplay at Wembley Stadium. That seemed like too much of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I used some frequent flier miles and we had reservations for London. We eventually realized there was a Japanese national holiday in there as well, so we lengthened our vacation and added Paris to the mix. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit London and Paris many times, but it was the first time in Europe for Tomo.

Tomo amazed at Paddington Station

In awe in London

 

Paddington Station

European style train station

 

And of course we had the very familiar notice to mind the gap.

Mind The Gap

 

Tomo flew from Tokyo, I flew from Nagoya, and we met in Seoul for the continuation to London. That’s right, Korean Air. It was a fine flight, always made better by business class.

In Seoul, ready for the trip ahead.

Vacation!

 

We stayed at the Grosvenor House JW Marriott near Hyde Park in Mayfair. Yes, that sounds very decadent. The hotel was very nice. It is a far cry from the first place I stayed on Montague Street near the British Museum. I walked down Montague Street this trip and noticed the two hostels I stayed at 20 years ago were still there and still hostels. I could see through the open windows that it looked like they still had the same bunk beds. That was the first place I ever stayed outside of the US. Who knew that in the 20 years following I would have had the opportunity to live in Australia, Europe, and Japan as well as travel around the world. I was grateful at the time to have a fantastic experience and highly recommend hostels to younger folks. However, I grew out of them, I am afraid to say. Tomo seems to have quickly graduated from the youth hostel experience and now prefers the Ritz-Carlton. Where did he get those tastes? He has stayed at more Ritz-Carlton’s than I have.

Grosvenor House - JW Marriott

I chose the Marriott for a couple of reasons – we’ve had good look at JWs before. Because I am an Elite member to their rewards program, we get a free upgrade to the Executive Floor, which also includes the very convenient Executive Lounge. Also, they had an incredibly good deal running which made it one of the cheapest stays I could find. It made sense.

 
Thursday, September 17

We had blocked out a plan for our visit already. Nothing firm, but we obviously wanted an idea what to see and do so we could be efficient. When we went to Bangkok either in the year, we arrived there and said, “Now what?” We decided that if we felt OK and the weather was good, we’d go to the London Eye. Originally I had no intent on riding the thing and was reluctantly being a trouper and going along. I’m not a big Ferris wheel fan, and I actually kind of dreaded it. We arrived, got checked in, had fine weather, looked at our watches, and said, “Let’s go!” and made plans to eat on the way back. Fortunately we were right by the Jubilee Line which took us to Waterloo Station which was close to the Eye. London now uses a pass like the Suica called Oyster. It is very convenient. However, it took a long time to buy our card. Still we made it to the Eye was time to spare and boarded for our flight.

I will say the ride was pretty spectacular. The ride did not scare me nearly as much as I thought it would, most likely because the car was fully enclosed. What struck me though as we were rotating, is that the car is attached to the OUTSIDE of the ring, so the car is basically rolling around the rotating ring so that it always maintains the same orientation. You would not want the people to have to continually readjust like gerbils on a wheel. Tomo actually found the ride a little scary at one point.

The views were breathtaking, and I was able to snap a few pictures.

From the car looking into the exoskeleton,

In the Eye

 

The view from the Eye,

The view

The view

 

The view from top, looking back. You can see the structure of the car behind us.

On top of London

 

The Eye is on the South Bank side of the Thames, so we walked along the river for a bit and crossed the Westminster bridge for a terrific view of parliament and Big Ben. We also managed to see a guy with some of the worst looking saggers you have ever seen. Wide-butt people should not wear skinny jeans saggers. Only really thin emos can pull that off. He couldn’t. It was Fashion Week in London, but somehow I don’t think he was involved.

Tomo, tired along side the Thames

Tired Tomo

 

The Eye from the north side of the Thames,

The Eye and the Thames

 

Tragic saggers,

Tragic saggers

 
 
Friday, September 18

Both Tomo and I are Ben Sherman fans. Although I think I introduced the brand to Tomo, it is appropriate to say that he has embraced it fully. Since Friday was our day at Wembley Stadium to see White Lies / Coldplay and we needed to get there plenty early to figure out just what the arrangements were, we thought it would be a good idea to hit the shopping early. That would allow us to rethink purchases, make one last run later, etc. What better place to start than Carnaby Street, the heart of the Mod scene in the 60s and 70s?

Carnaby Street

Carnaby Street

On my first visit, I had gone to Carnaby Street, knowing that it had been a fashion center. When I went though, I was thoroughly unimpressed as most of the shops had left and it really wasn’t anything special. Now, however, it seems that in the last 10 years, the area has been renovated and flagship stores have opened. Ben Sherman is there, Merc is there, Fred Perry is there, and other spiffy brands. We beelined to the Ben Sherman shop like kids on Christmas morning.

Tomo as we were heading towards Carnaby Street, excited as a kid on Christmas morning.

Let's Go!

 

We stopped by Top Shop on the way there, as we were up very early due to jetlag. There were some Ben Sherman clothes there too, but nothing as good as we supposed would be at the flagship store. As we entered the shop, it seemed to me to be about the same size as the LA shop in the Beverly Center. There was some construction going on in the store as well, and that gave the shopping experience an odd feeling. Sometimes the anticipation of something great can lead to some disappointment, and Tomo quickly learned that the UK shops do not carry XS size (nor do they carry kids sizes but anyway Tomo refuses to wear large kids clothes). In spite of the lack of clothes his size, I do believe that we touched every article in the store. I had no trouble finding clothes my size, and left with two sweaters and a shirt. I could have bought a LOT more, but with the weakness of the dollar against the pound, I had to be careful. Yes, although I live in Japan, I earn dollars, so shopping can be a bit harrowing abroad. Tomo did not leave empty handed, and is now the proud owner of 8 pairs of Ben Sherman socks.

We walked across the street to Merc, and fortunately, Tomo was able to find some nice (and expensive) clothes there. Merc carries on the Mod tradition as well, with the Union Jack buttons.

It is interesting to note that almost every shop we went to in Carnaby Street and seemingly London had a picture of The Jam or Paul Weller. The man is a mod icon. We were lucky enough to see him in a small venue in LA two nights in a row, doing Jam, Style Council, and Paul Weller material.

Ben Sherman is moving in to the custom suit market and we learned a brand new shop on Savile Row had opened that day. We went, found the salesman speaking way to quickly using custom suit lingo we didn’t understand, and the prices higher than we desired. We left.

Paul Smith Boxer BriefsWe also visited Paul Smith somewhere – I’ve forgotten where. I love Paul Smith, but cannot quite understand their pricing. In London, they were priced in a range that I was unwilling to visit. Without getting too personal, I have a pair of Paul Smith underwear that I bought in Japan. Basic short boxer brief with traditional Paul Smith stripes. I don’t think I paid more than 2500 yen in Japan, about $25 when I bought them. In London, they sell for 30 pound. 30 quid!!! That’s about $48. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever found anything to be cheaper in Japan than elsewhere in the world.

We wandered through Picadilly, and we got a picture of Eros.

Eros statue, Picadilly

 

We must have had an uninspiring lunch, because I have no recollection of what we ate (Tomo reminded me – it was nothing). London food is much better than when I first went, but a quick lunch is still a quick lunch.

The big event of course, was the concert. And this is when we threw our planned itinerary out the window. The Coldplay lineup got bigger and bigger, so the show was now White Lies, Girls Aloud (who?), Jay-Z, and Coldplay. Since White Lies was going on so early (about 5:00 pm), they booked ANOTHER gig for the same night in Brighton. It was going to be impossible to get from Wembley to Brighton by ground transportation, so they were taking two helicopters from Wembley to Brighton and asked Tomo to go along. Tomo only. No space for me. I found this out just before our trip and it did not go over that well with me because I knew that since Tomo was missing the Coldplay show, he would want to go to the show again on Saturday night. I really didn’t want all my time in London to be dictated by Chris Martin and friends, and I really didn’t feel like paying for the show that I had already seen three times. After a lot of proposals and negotiating, we determined that we’d go together to Wembley on Friday, and maybe Tomo ran the risk of getting bumped from the helicopter anyway. Saturday night we’d each be on our own and Tomo would go to the concert without me.

We were both pretty excited to be going to Wembley for a show, and even more excited that we were comp’d. We were not quite sure of what that meant though. We followed the steady crowd up to Wembley Stadium, and then began our search for ticket windows. We found the sign for guest list people and figured that was us. We went to the counter, said we were on the White Lies guest list and, sure enough, we got an envelope that said Tomo + 1. Tomo opened up the envelope and I expected to see a couple of tickets or maybe a pass. No tickets in the envelope, just two stickers with the tour logo, the access (working), the venue and date (Wem 1 18/9) and the band, (WL – White Lies). This looked promising.

Wembley Stadium

This way to the guest list

Our all access pass

Besides the times I played trumpet supporting a band back in my youth, I had only ever had one all access pass. I knew that we needed to find the magic door that would let us in. Finally, one security guard seemed to know where we were supposed to go and directed us to the crew entrance. We found the entrance, slapped on our stickers, and we were in! Foolishly, I stuck mine on my shirt. Any good rock and roller knows that you put them on your jeans. I took them off my shirt and restuck them to my jeans, worried that the adhesive was a one shot deal and I’d have a pass that fell off sometime in the night. The pass, fortunately, remained fully adhered to my jeans.

At this point, I can best describe our general feeling as a Spinal Tap. We were deep in the functional part of Wembley Stadium, feeling like at any moment we’d be recognized as impostors and duly thrown out of the venue. Yet, we had credentials. We wandered around a bit and a few helpful people said, “Can I help you” and my heart skipped a beat. Tomo smartly asked the directions to the dressing room, we got them, and headed there as if that was exactly where were supposed to go. We got yelled at once for walking in the road, and that caused us a little panic. Somehow we found the dressing room area, walked passed the Coldplay Friends and Family pen, and found the White Lies dressing room.

The entire time we were traveling to Wembley and then in our search, we were carrying 8 boxes of white powder. We were really worried that we were going to have to go through security and they would reject us. Tomo had brought 8 boxes boxes of Pocari Sweat mix. He introduced White Lies to the sweet elixir when they were in Japan and they have declared the ultimate hangover cure. We made it in to the dressing room and “the boys” were definitely glad to see Tomo. They were shocked to see the 8 boxes of Pocari Sweat as well.

The dressing room, all to myself, after everyone left for Brighton.

Dressing room

 

We hung out in the dressing room for a while, and I was very impressed how normal the guys in the band were. They are young, just 21, and are definitely working really hard and have had a grueling touring schedule for the past year or year and a half. Hopefully they’ll continue with the success they’ve had so far. Tomo and I headed for the floor to watch “the boys” perform.

Wembley, filling up 4 hours before Coldplay would take the stage,

Inside Wembley

 

Tomo excited to see White Lies and Wembley.

White Lies at Wembley

 

I will say they totally killed the set. Very tight, enthusiastic to be at Wembley but still very professional. They really sounded good.

I saw the band and Tomo off at the shuttle bus to take them to their waiting helicopters. I went to the Girls Aloud gig and really didn’t get them. I learned that they were created from a reality show and have actually been hugely successful in the UK. The crowd seemed to love them. They sounded fine, and I think they were really singing, so they obviously have talent. When I was hanging out in the dressing room area prior to the Coldplay show and security was trying to wrangle the little girl friends-and-family, one of the Girls Aloud performers walked by and the little girls went screamingly crazy. Um, what about Coldplay?

Jay-Z came on next and I really found that I wasn’t interested in his show and I was getting hungry. I wandered backstage for the catering, and had a delicious Pad Thai. I soon came to realize that, in the hierarchy of passes, our pass was top dog. I hung out in the dressing room, then in the hallway just to see what celebrities may appear. Indeed, I saw Gwenyth. She’s tall. Here are a few more pictures of the backstage.

Catering

Strict curfew

The Coldplay show was similar to what I had seen before. They are getting a little over the top. They had this X-Factor / Simon Cowell shtick during “Yellow” that was, frankly, a little embarrassing. Still, the show was good, I just think I have seen it too many times. After the end of every large event though, you have to leave the facility. People kind of trickle in, but then everyone leaves at the same time. They used horses as crowd control gates between the stadium and the train station. And interesting idea, but seemingly a little dangerous. One horse gets a little frisky and people could get injured. Plus, you have to walk through horse poop if you pick a bad path.

Horses acting as gates at Wembley Stadium,

Horse gates

 

I made it to the hotel and Tomo followed not that much later after a fun helicopter adventure to Brighton and a personal drop off after the gig by the manager. That was one heck of a first full day in London.
 

Saturday, September 19

Our Saturday plans were modified a bit because Tomo was now going out to Wembley again to see the full set. Our morning plan was to go out to Notting Hill / Portobello Road and look for Hugh Grant. I did my Hugh Grant imitation (that’s taking off my classes, squinting, and mumbling and stumbling a few words until I make an ironic point, all with a very bad Oxbridge accent) and that is the best we could find. I had never been to Portobello Road before, so it was a new experience. I had been to Camden Locks market. This didn’t feel the same, although it was just as crowded. I’m not much of a market shopper, but it did make for some interesting photos.

Portobello Road

Portobello Road

Portobello Road

Portobello Road

 
You can find higher resolution and black and white versions of these and other pictures here.
 

One thing I noticed in the UK and in Europe in general was a lot of Japanese language on clothing, but sort of incorrect. Kind of like the strange English we see on t-shirts here.

The opposite of Engrish

This probably is not a product from Japan, judging by the grammar on parts of the bag. But it is close, and looks cool.

Also part of the plan was a pilgrimage to Rough Trade Records, and a pub grub lunch. I had bangers and mash at a pub called, “The Cow.”

Rough Trade Records

bangers and mash

 

We experienced the joys of the London subway as we tried to make it from Portobello area to Sloane Square. As London ramps up for the 2012 Olympics, they are doing a lot of infrastructure work. While it will be great in 2012, it really sucks at times trying to get around. Stations are closed, lines are shutdown, and trains are delayed. It took us about an hour to get to Sloane Square and the King’s Road Kensington area, which didn’t leave us much time to wander around.

Tomo went back to Wembley and I started walking, and walking. This trip was ostensibly to find a pair of Doc Martens shoes. I was told that there was a shop on Carnaby Street, but I couldn’t find it. Then I decided I would look at the bookstores on Charing Cross and somehow ended up in a Borders. I walked from the hotel in Mayfair, back to Carnaby Street, then to Soho, over to Charing Cross, up to Tottenham Court tube station. I was shocked at Tottemham Court Road and Oxford Street. What happened to the buildings?!? A number of buildings had been torn down including the original home of the G-A-Y club – a landmark in London. I wandered to the British Museum and then to Montague Street and saw the hostel I stayed at 20 years ago. I wanted to walk to Covent Gardens but kept making bad decisions and ended up at Charing Cross Station. There I found a footbridge across the Thames that I had noticed from the Eye. Not what I was planning. It was sprinkling every so often. I was getting REALLY hungry at this point, so I went to a Pizza Express which really isn’t express. As I was sitting there, the skies opened up and drenched everything. It rained really hard, and I was without an umbrella or raincoat. It isn’t like Japan where you can always get an umbrella for 5 bucks at a convenience store. I thought I was in trouble. But I took my time eating and then the rain stopped. That was it. I wandered around Leicester Square a little bit, was wiped out, and went back to the hotel without Doc Martens or a book. I did take some pictures. Here are some typical London photos.

No panic in the streets of London

look right

London taxi

subway

subway

street scene

street scene

Grosvenor street

 
 
Sunday, September 20

Another full day planned, this time starting the morning at The British Museum. Tomo hasn’t had a chance to go to Greece, but he doesn’t need to because it is all in the British Museum for safekeeping.

Greece in the British Museum

I have mixed thoughts about the scope of the Greek collection. Perhaps it once made sense to have them at the British Museum, but the world is different now than it was when many of the important artifacts were taken by the British. Anyway, it is an interesting story.

Of course we saw the Rosetta Stone as well. I seem to think that the first time I saw it was in the reading rooms, and the display was pretty simple. I could have touched it. Now it is protected. I didn’t realize that it was originally discovered by the French but then turned over to the English through a treaty. I didn’t take a picture of the stone itself. Odd.

The Rosetta Stone

The British Museum has a new Great Court. At least new to me, but apparently built in 2000. I have no recollection what was there before. It must have been a courtyard of some sort, but I cannot remember. I’ll have to check some older pictures. The space is nice though, it definitely shines in its whiteness.

In the British Museum

In the British Museum

We went through parts of the museum. There’s just so much to see and you can’t begin to think you can see it all in a day. Plus, it is easy to saturate. We picked a few places and checked them out. Still even with an abbreviated itinerary, we were still there for a while. I was able to get a good picture of a status of Hadrian’s beau Antonious.

Antonious

 

We walked through room after room of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian artifacts. I don’t like mummies – shouldn’t they not be on public display? We also checked out the Japanese exhibition area. We found the old reading rooms of the library to be a recreation of reading rooms of the past. Hmmmm. Apparently the British Library has moved and now the British Museum is using that space as a time capsule!

In the British Museum

 

Tomo’s guide book had recommended The Fryer’s Delight for good fish and chips. I was thrilled, because 20 years ago my guide book recommended the same restaurant. I knew it was authentic so I was glad he wanted to go. We wandered down from the British Museum, arrived at the shop, and discovered it was closed on Sunday. Very authentic! The guide book told us that, had we bothered to read the details. We headed to Covent Garden to do some shopping (again). We decided for pub grub fish and chips, and the place we chose had fish and chips on the menu but when we ordered they told us they didn’t actually have any. Strange. So we left. We ate at the Prince of Wales and had OK fish and chips. We went on to Covent Garden and did some shopping – more Fred Perry, Doc Martins, Paul Smith, and Penguin. Why did I buy a Penguin hoodie in London? Why not.

Covent Garden

 

We walked back up through Chinatown and had coffee in Soho.

London's Chinatown!

 

We tried to make Sunday a traditional British food day so we planned on Indian for dinner. We realized we hadn’t had good Indian yet, and to me that was always a London requirement. Tomo’s book recommended a restaurant on Brick Lane in London’s Shoreditch area. Shoreditch seems to be up and coming, My TimeOut London described Brick Lane as, “may be world famous for its curries, but the rise in reputation has been mirrored by a decline in quality.” I can agree to that, and the restaurant we went to did not really impress me much. Also maybe because the restaurant doubled the tip amount I put on my credit card.
 

Monday, September 21

Our last day in London. Ostensibly a travel day, but through the wonders of late checkout and the Eurostar we were able to make quite a day of Monday as well. No self respecting Japanese would visit London without a visit to department stores. We went to Selfridges and saw many nice things, and then both got lost in HMV for a while. I had forgotten what record and DVD shops were like. I was able to get Season 1 and 2 of The Inbetweeners. Very funny show, but definitely not safe for work.

Selfridges

 

Of course, we had a visit to Harrods to pick up おみやげ for friends and colleagues. I was able to pick up some afternoon tea for my translator. Harrods was pretty impressive, although I was scared by the wax figure of Mohamed Fayed. We shopped around a little bit in the food court and walked through the men’s store (where we found Mohamed) but finally we were saturated with shopping.

Outside Harrods,

Harrods

 

Inside the food shops at Harrods,

Harrods

Selfridges

 

High on the food list was a restaurant called Gourmet Burger Kitchen. There was one sort of near Harrods, so we hightailed it there for lunch and had a delicious and expensive burger. I do recommend it, but not if you are traveling on a budget. We went to the hotel, finished packing, and then went to St Pancras International Terminal to catch the Euostar to Paris!

St. Pancras International Terminal

St. Pancras International Terminal

St. Pancras is the new home of the Eurostar and has been renovated beautifully. Previously I took it out of Victoria Station. I learned that booking ahead of time would have been smarter – I guess I have gotten too accustomed to Japanese trains. Japanese trains cost what they cost, no special deals. Well, I got no special deal on the Eurostar either! I also think I have been spoiled by the trains in Japan because I found the Eurostar to be incredibly cramped. However, I can’t complain because we safely crossed the channel underground, emerged in France, and eventually arrived in Paris.

And so ends my first report from vacation. I hope you made it through it.

Remember, you can find higher resolution and black and white versions of some of my pictures here.

A storm approaches

Typhoon Melor is heading for an almost direct hit of Nagoya …. and I’m in the US on a business trip. I hope everything will be fine – I’m kind of sorry I won’t be there to experience it. It has the “snow day” kind of anticipatory feeling.

The rain associated with Melor