Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Travel blog goes travel

Yes, the blog moved permanently. You can find it here with its new suitcase and map full of old and new destinations.

Thanks for staying with me :)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Welcoming Boston

Boston knows how to make people feel welcome. A free ride from the airport and free Charlie card for public transport is a way of city saying: Come, let me show you around.

Boston

Boston is a city that is very much alive. But unlike New York, it breathes a relaxed atmosphere. City's parks, benches and squares are full of people taking their time to appreciate life. And the city gives much to appreciate too.

1. History & Architecture

Chillaxing in the city

To start with, the city has a refreshing educational approach to history, so don't be surprised if you find monuments accompanied by historical explanations of events and its context. Many critical stances towards own history make it clear that a city of Boston is aware there is more than one story to it. Having Cambridge just around the corner, this probably isn't just a coincidence.

Those who appreciate it will want to explore at least few stops of Boston's the revolutionary tour and background Boston Tea Party and other events that led to American declaration of independence. And while you're at it, take few minutes to experience the New England holocaust memorial. It's an incredible experience that lives a strong impression and gives even more food for thought.

Boston's buildings are something special too. Some were made to reflect the city and others perhaps to create a cubist painting. When it comes to history, culture, food and people, Boston seems to have it all.

Copley square, Boston
MIT Boston
2. Food

Foodies have much to choose from: be it local seafood specialties like clam chowder, creative new American cuisine or Italian cuisine, the food in Boston is great. If you're not sure where to start, Quincy market a great place to try out different local specialties for reasonable prices.

For bigger appetite, restaurant Hillstone has the best tomato soup I ever ate and really great new American dishes that will linger in your mouth and mind still long after you've left Boston.

Hot fudge sundae @ Hillstone

Salmon steak @ Hillstone
Seafood lovers will not want to miss delicacies of Atlantic Fish Co. Make sure to reserve a seat and try their awarded clam chowder soup in bread. It was so good I still can't get it out of my mind.

3. Culture

Boston wants its people to enjoy the culture and art, so most of museum are free to access one day a week.  If you can only see only one of them, then go for MFA. Their collection is big, great and inspiring. It's free to visit every Wednesday from 16:00 to 22:00, still 6 hours will only be enough to see a small part of what it has to offer.

Harvard and MIT campuses have publically accessible art pieces and exhibitions that are well worth seeing. Plus, from the side of Cambridge you can catch a totally amazing view of the city. And if you're into books (and you took an extra suitcase), visit the Harvard bookstore. The only problem there is you might not want to ever leave.

Boston view from Cambridge
It's easy to fall in love with Boston, it's welcoming atmosphere and it's deep dive into the culture, art and history. But most of all Boston is a city that cares. Maybe that's why it's so hard to leave it behind.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Charming Chicago

Chicago is the city of art with a special charm. Whether is big names like Picasso, Miró, great libraries, nice parks or local specialties like deep dish pizza, Chicago has it all. The misty atmosphere just adds to its charm. Spoiler alert: you won't get tanned.

Chicago by day
Chicago by night
Start of the route 66
The good thing about Chicago is that you can just walk around and discover artworks made by famous artists, like these:

Pablo Picasso: Untitled
Joan Miró: The sun, the moon and one star 
Dubuffet : Monument with the standing beast
alias Snoopy in a blender
My favorite piece though is by Anish Kapoor. It's not that hard to understand why this piece attracts so much attention and is so popular among people.  Cloud Gate is basically a giant bean that mirrors the city, almost as if it was telling its story.

Anish Kapoor: Cloud Gate

Apart from a big amount of publically accessible art, Chicago's Art Institute and Contemporary Art Museum are real treats for art lovers. The Art institute has a good overview of American and European art with interesting exhibition while Contemporary Art Museum was one of the best ones I've seen. Inspiring artworks, creative and fresh approaches are backed by interesting explanations of the context.

Book lovers might want to check Chicago public library. It features many cool events and is set in a beautiful building, definitely worth seeing.

It's impossible to leave the city without trying their famous deep dish pizza. We tried the one at LouMalnati's but heard many good things about Giordano's. In fact several places in the city claim to theirs is the best and have some difficulties agreeing on who invented it. So you might just need to try them all and make up for youself.

Deep dish pizza

There is something special about Chicago. I am not sure if it's the art, the food or the people, but I know I would like to see it again. Till we meet...

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Big in Japan

While it's easy to get a feeling of being big in Japan for anyone who is 1,6m tall, there are also some things that are super big. Here are three from my "Big" tour.

1. Shinjuku, world's busiest metro station 

It's really huge and feels almost liker walking through a small underground city. Shops, restaurants and cafees from which you can observe endless streams of travellers, passing through long corridors. Walking through the station can easily give you that "lost in the Twilight zone" feeling. Luckily there are enough signs and maps to get around.

A map of Shinjuku station
A map of Shinjuku station

2. Biggest camera shop in the world

To be completely honest this one was a bit disappointing. First of all it didn't seem big at all and secondly the setting seemed utterly unintuitive and unattractive. Think 80's building store that hijaked few nearby buildings. Not sexy at all, so no photos.

3. Shibuya: World's largest pedestrian crossing

Even if you're not into big things, you will definitely want to check out Shibuya. When the green light for pedestrians starts (simultaneously on all the sides of road) and hundreds of people start moving into all four directions, you can't help being utterly amazed. It's really an experience.

Shibuya, world's largest pedestrian crossing
Shibuya, world's largest pedestrian crossing

What was your biggest ever experience on travels?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tokyo: The Highlights


Tokyo is by far one of the most amazing and exciting cities I ever visited. Even a month after it's still impossible to compare it to anything else. It's gigantic, fascinating, fun, friendly, very organized, interesting and weird at the same time.

And since it's quite impossible to sum up everything I would want to, let's start with few highlights.

1. Gardens and parks


There are many nice parks and gardens in Tokyo that are well worth visiting.  Usually you need to pay a small entrance fee, but it's totally worth it. Those green oasis are little capsules of peace and beauty, perfect for either a meditative stroll, book reading opportunity or for enjoying your bento lunch box by the lake, surrounded by beautiful trees. They are timeless.

We visited quite some parks and gardens, my favorite two are Kiyosumi Teien and Happo-en but every single one of them was a very pleasant experience. Kiyosumi garden is a pure delight to walk through, having stones from all over Japan, neatly arranged in a path that leads you across the lake. If you're lucky (or you make an appointment), you can also enjoy a cup of delicious Matcha tea with sweets in the teahouse.

Kiyosumi Garden
Kiyosumi Garden 
Kiyosumi Garden
Kiyosumi Garden

Happo-en means a garden that is beautiful from all the sides. It's small and cute and contains several beautiful and very well groomed bonsai trees, some over 500 years old. Teahouse and nearby restaurant are a plus.

Happo-en, Tokyo
Happo-en, Tokyo

2. Tokyo Sky tree

This new relatively new broadcasting tower is a huge hit in Tokyo. Tokyo Sky tree is 634 meters tall and after an hour or so of very long but super organized queueing (very few western tourists), you can enjoy the 360 magnificent view over the city from 350 m (or 450m, if you chip in a bit more). 

Tokyo Sky tree
Tokyo Sky Tree
I admit I was skeptical about it, since it sounded much like a classic tourist trap. But I have to admit it is an experience. You arrive to the top in one of four super fast elevators, each decorated in theme of one of the four seasons. Yes, everything needs to have a meaning.

View from Tokyo Sky tree
Tokyo Sky Tree
And while you're there, you can also take a closer look at the city (in day and night) or learn more about each building using the displays. It's only there that I fully grasped the magnitude of the city. My advise is go for it!

View from Tokyo Sky tree
View from Tokyo Sky Tree

3. Museums and Galleries

Tokyo has really many museum and galleries that are worth visitng even if you're not a big fan of them. Often there are translations in English or an English speaking volunteer will show you around. But it's not just that - there's something special and unique about Japanese museum that is hard to describe. It's nearly impossible to single out just few museum in Tokyo, but here it goes.

Miraikan, Tokyo's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation is the best museum I've seen. Ever. And I've seen many. 

Not only because it somehow managed to put in practice what European scientists are struggling with for decades - to communicate complicated concepts and ideas in human language. But also because it's the most interactive, imaginative, educating and exciting museum I've ever seen. Think toilet exhibition (very educational but admittedly weird and funny), reconstructions of space shuttles, robots that look and talk like humans, future cities, that you can become a part of. Think games, 3D films and well, the future. It's there for you to taste, smell and play with.

Nearly five hours was not enough and next time I'm definitely taking a day to revisit Miraikan. It's a must.

2050 expo in Miraikan, Tokyo
2050 expo in Miraikan, Tokyo

Bridgestone Museum of Fine Art is a delight for all art lovers since it hosts a very nice collection of Western and Japanese Art. And if you're lucky you can catch one of their creative temporary collections (e.g. arts pieces that talk about time). It's like a candy shop for the art lovers.

Shitamachi museum is a very nice recreation of working class life in Tokyo in the early 20th Century. On the first floor English speaking volunteers will take you through different rooms utensils and explain how they were used. Cute little houses and rooms make you admire Japanese practicality and craftiness but also makes you wonder how could a family survive in such a tiny space.  On the second floor you can see and play with Japanese games. I tried but didn't manage to solve one puzzle, not even (or specially not) the one for kids. It's not hard to understand why they are so smart.

Shitamachi Museum
Shitamachi Museum

4. Senso-ji Temple

Senso-ji is a Buddhist Temple that is simply breath-taking, especially in the evening. After it was destroyed during World War II, the Japanese rebuild it and today it's Tokyo's oldest and most significant temple. Next to the temple is Shinto Shrine Asakusa - two different religions co-existing without any problems.
Senso-ji Temple Tokyo
Senso-ji Temple Tokyo
When there, try out their DIY fortune telling (English translations available). Afterwards you can take a walk along a very nice street market with crafts and food.
Senso-ji Temple Tokyo

5. Tsukiji Fish market

Tskujihi fish market is something special. Though we weren't enthusiastic enough to visit their tuna auctions at 5 a.m., there was still enough to see around 10 -11 a.m. Yummy and interesting snacks, freshly made on the spot, a wide range of fish and different sea food, weird snacks, tea utensils, and traditional Japanese tools and products. It's the kind of place you want to visit more than once.

Dim sum snacks
Dim sum snacks
Fish sale
Fish sale
Freshly made snacks and tea
Freshly made snacks and tea
Though I've had a lot of sushi during the two weeks in Japan, the one at the market was the best. Very reasonably priced and simply delicious. So if you're up for an early lunch, it's really worth visiting one of the restaurants on the market - preferably with a queue that doesn't try to lure you in with touts.
Sushi Lunch at the market
Sushi Lunch at the market
What else is there to say about Tokyo? A lot. Really a lot. So all I can say for now is ...to be continued!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Nara & Nikko

Our trips to Nara and Nikko were rather short but sweet. Especially to Nara. According to legends a mythological god Takemikazuchi arrived on a white deer and since then deers are considered holy animals, protecting the city.

And it's easy to see Nara is better protected than the Pope with hundreds of deers wandering around the city, being cute and sniffing tourist's bags for food. You can feed them with rice crackers that are sold on the street stalls, but beware. The minute you posses food, you're fair game. Though ridiculously cute, deers will also bite or lick you/your clothes and in some cases, jump on you, kick you or butt you with their head.

Deers of Nara
Scouting for cookies
Deers waiting for treats
I'm cute, give me food!
Spotting tourists with food
I saw this sandwich first!
The other thing Nara is famous for is the giant statue of Buddha in Tōdai-ji temple. The wooden temple burned down in a fire and was rebuilt, the bronze Buddha however survived. This truly majestic 15 m statue is the world's largest bronze Buddha and absolutely worth seeing. Figures around Buddha's head are different sizes to appear the same size when people view them from below.

Tōdai-ji Temple
Tōdai-ji Temple
Buddha
The bronze Buddha
Nikko, on the other hand, is closer to the mountains and known for temples, tasty Yuba and suicides waterfalls. Though it's fairly easy to get a temple/shrine overdose in Japan, Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shinto with three wise monkeys and the sleeping cat is worth checking out. Monkeys are supposedly connected to Tendai Buddhist legend and represent human's life cycle. Sleeping cat or Nemuri-neko on the other hand is one of many animals carved in the corridor, meant protect the house from evil and bring good luck (go cats!).

The three wise monkeys: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
The three wise monkeys: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
English: Nemuri-neko (Sleeping Cat) carving at...
English: Nemuri-neko (Sleeping Cat) carving at Tōshō-gū Shrine in Nikkō Polski: Płaskorzeźba Śpiącego Kota w świątyni Tōshō-gū w Nikko (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Five story pagoda in Tōshō-gū Shrine with anti-earthquake hanging pillar
Five story pagoda in Tōshō-gū Shrine with anti-earthquake hanging pillar
School kids visitnig the Shrine
School kids visiting the shrine

Nikko's famous waterfalls - Kegon falls are fairly easy to reach by a bus. The ride includes adrenalin rush as you're progressing up the mountain on a very curvy road. Luckily all the the roads to and from the mountain are one-way. It's super easy to go to the bottom of the falls - with an elevator. Yes, for real.

On a more gruesome note,  Kegon falls seem to be a popular suicide spot among Japanese youth. Perhaps glorified suicide of Misao Fujimura, a Japanese poet and philosophy student, has something to do with that. In 1902 he apparently wrote his farewell poem on a tree trunk, read it out loud and then threw himself into the falls. Needles to say he got famous almost instantly.

Kegon falls, Nikko
Kegon falls
Chuzenji lake
Chuzenji, vulcanic lake
Food is definitely one of Nikko's highlights and everything they say about it is true. We tried out Nikko's speciality and yes, I'd have some of that tasty Yuba anytime - it's unbelievably juicy, a bit sweet and extremely addictive. Usually served with rice, noodles and tempura.

Tofu skin (yuba) with buckwheat noodles (soba) and tempura
Tofu skin (Yuba) with buckwheat noodles (soba) and tempura
Though very nice and interesting, Nikko is also rather pricy, so if you're running short of time (or money) and hesitating between the two cities, I'd strongly recommend Nara. After all, how many times will you have the chance to be chased by urban deers?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Kyoto

At first sight Kyoto is more traditional and quiet than Tokyo. While we did see more people wearing kimono's there's nothing quiet about the city. It's very much alive, vibrant and charming. As intellectual center Kyoto was original considered as a target for atomic bomb and was in the ends replaced by Nagasaki upon insistence of US Secretary of War.

Today this former imperial capital with its 1.5 million inhabitants has a lot to offer. Its cute mix of traditional and modern culture and rich history give a feeling that every stone has a story to tell. Also - Kyoto gives you 3 hours of free internet every day.

Nijo castle
Nijo Castle

It's mostly known for temples, zen gardens and cuisine. It is also the place of Japan's highest pagoda and two most famous pavilions: golden and silver one.

To set straight the rivalry between the two pavilions, the silver one is really just a nice wooden house in a beautiful zen garden. While golden one is really a wow - must see.

The golden pavilion
The golden pavilion
5 story pagoda - highest in Japan
5 story pagoda - highest in Japan
Zen Garden Konchi-in, Kyoto
Zen Garden Konchi-in, Kyoto
Famous Fushimi-inari shrine with hundreds of red gates

Kyoto's food is simply delicious, from fish dishes to deserts of strange colors and shapes. Vegetarians might struggle a bit, but there is always enough of tasty bean-curd skin to make your mouth water. Soy dishes, ramen noodles (with strange sour plum spice that you get used to) and green deserts with red beans. It's all delicious, thought admittedly sometimes a bit weird.

While you can't go much wrong with eating in Kyoto, I'd strongly recommend avoiding restaurants in shopping streets (especially if they're trying to lure you in). You'll just get pricy food that is below Japanese standards. The best rule is to eat at the big train stations and shopping malls. It might sound strange but food there is really very tasty and cheap. If you like to dine with a view, then you will love eating at the top floor of Kyoto's train station.

Night view of Kyoto from the train station
Night view of Kyoto from the train station

Museum of Kyoto offers great overview of city's history and friendly volunteers are happy to guide english speaking visitors through the first part provide interesting historical insights. Our guide (who was around 70 years old) shared few enthusiastic stories about the city's history and gave good recommendations on which of Kyoto's 1600 temples are worth visiting.

The city is also the birthplace of the first novel The tale of Genji, writen around year 1000 by female writer Murasaki Shikibu. Museum of Kyoto hosts also interesting temporary exhibitions (e.g. Japanese comics about space travel).
Murasaki Shikibu
Murasaki Shikibu
Philosopher's path is names after Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro, who walked alongside the canal, probably thinking deep thoughts. The path is well worth taking even if you're not into philosophy: enjoyable stroll along the river is accompanied by many cute cats, little craft shops and interesting opportunities, like 30 minute pottery classes, where you can make your own tea cups.

Cat station on Philosopher's path
Cat station on Philosopher's path
One of city's biggest attraction is of course the bamboo forest or Chikurin No Komichi, real treat for all nature lovers that want to take a walk among magnificent bamboos. It's enjoyable and free.

Bamboo forest
Bamboo forest

Bamboo forest

Only few kilometers from the forest is Iwatayama, a hill that we lovingly referred to as the Monkey mountain. This hill is full of cute wild (but seriously introvert) monkeys that you can feed (in a secure way) but not touch, cuddle, talk to or stare at. They'll go after white plastic bags, thinking it's food. 

However, once you're there, you can buy fresh snacks and feed them safely from behind a net. No worries, there will be plenty of instructions on how. From the top of the hill you can also enjoy one of the nicest views on the city.

Iwatayama
The "Monkey Mountain"

Kyoto, yes definitely. As our guide in Museum of Kyoto explained, some people believe Kyoto will be Japan's capital once more. And in a way it already is. Since Tokyo actually means East Kyoto.