WOW!! What a whirlwind holiday!!
For those of you who didn’t know, about 18 months ago, I won a competition for an all expenses paid holiday for myself to the value of $10,000. I managed to get it extended to Catherine too, but that meant that a few things had to be covered by ourselves (meals etc)
Well, after deciding to go to New York (Manhattan) and Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima) and of course, organising everything from travel insurance and passports etc, we left on June 12th, 2010.
To begin with, the Melbourne Airport was evacuated before we could check in, causing total chaos etc. this followed with the handle on my suitcase breaking off.
When we FINALLY got to heck in (about an hour after originally planned) there was a huge wait to clear everyone through customs etc. we got to the check-in desk, and were told we needed Visas to enter America, or we couldn’t go. So off we went to the net café, applied and got them immediately. Back to check-in. all good.
On the plane bound for Sydney, due to delays, allowed us only 1 hour to get across to a different terminal, check in, and find the gate. We somehow managed to do that, and got on the flight for Japan (stop over only, en-route to New York). My Video screen didn’t work, and with enough complaining, I gained a $50 voucher for Duty Free (2 bottles of Jim Beam on the way home!)
Once we touched down in Japan after the 10 hour flight, we had a 12 hour stopover before a 13 hour flight to New York. So far I had not slept since Melbourne, so a little delirious, but that’s what’s holidays are for!
We headed into Narita (where the Airport is located) to find the local shops and a temple. This temple and its grounds took about 4 hours all up, and got me a few hundred photos. Totally gorgeous, and so peaceful (albeit rather humid!)
Needing food, we found a lovely little sushi restaurant, which has been family owned for 80+ years (the owner was a lovely man, who taught us the PROPER way to eat sushi, which really does increase the flavour!!)
Back to the airport, carry-on luggage in hand, checked in and on the plane (American Airlines). TV Didn’t work again. Read my book for 12 hours, and managed to finish it! (18 months of reading it, the life story of John Lennon – a seriously in-depth and awesome book…)
Cleared customs in no time flat, simply ‘do you have anything to declare?’ ‘No’ ‘Thanks, have a great day’… Caught a Limousine bus to the hotel, we check in and decide to explore. We walked to the end of the block, turned right, and found ourselves IN Time Square!
All I can say about Time Square is it is everything the movies tell you… Huge. Lights. Blinding Neon. TONS of people! No road rules what-so-ever… jaywalking in front of a cop car when the cop has a green doesn’t even get a honk from them…
After lots more photos, we noticed the Tony Awards being played on a big screen TV there.
We found out later that this was only 2 blocks away (turn left at the end of the street we were on, not right. Catherine Zeta-Jones, and a bunch of others right there, and it was so ‘normal’ for the New Yorkers, they watched it on TV rather than walk a block to see them in real life!
As I hadn’t slept, we simply went back to the hotel after getting dinner, and crashing. Up early the next day though, and off to explore the sights and heights of New York City!
We Started with 30 Rock (Rockerfeller Plaza) which is 78 floors high (I think, from memory) but it was rather foggy (which didn’t stop my photos!!) This gave us the idea of just how huge the city is! From 30 Rock we went to St Patrick’s Cathedral, which is the biggest church I have ever seen! 2 of our cathedrals would fit in there, no problems! (Lots more pictures!)
Some general Sightseeing followed, with some landmarks and movie scenes between more buildings (Marilyn Monroe’s subway grate etc) on our way to the U.N. Building.
This building is super-secure, even to go to the museum is airport security, no belts etc. (This was common everywhere in America though!) There was a rather in-depth exhibition on Nuclear weapons and Nuclear testing around the world, including some items from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
After the U.N. came the Chrysler Building, which is Art Deco at it’s finest! The whole city is based on Art Deco, but this building oozes vintage! (LOTS more pics!)
Just around the corner is Grand Central Station (Which is not the central hub you might think!! I actually think Times Square has more train line intersections than Grand Central…)
A few blocks up the New York City Library can be found. (Think Ghostbusters, The Day After Tomorrow etc.) the architecture in this building is simply breath-taking! Ceiling paintings similar to Italian churches and cathedrals etc. No flash allowed, and some rooms are no photos at all, but a lot more photos of in here!
By this time the weather had cleared up a bit, so a walk back to the Empire State building was in order, as they have 2 viewing levels. We then took the elevator to the 80th (30 seconds!) and then another to 86. The other viewing level (which was another $20 each) was up on the 100th floor, but the weather was still foggy that high up, so wasn’t worth it. LOTS more photos, of course, even the building was worthy of more, as it is all Art Deco as well!
The next day (Tuesday I think?) we headed downtown to check out the World Trade Center site, Wall Street and the harbour. Took the subway down, came out of the station, and it was right in front of us. They have begun the major redevelopment work, and I believe it is going to look great when it is done, and yet still be respectful of the fallen.
From there we got lunch, then made it through another security checkpoint to get to the ferry for Liberty Island. I was happy to just get photos of the statue, as it is a 3 hour wait to go inside, and it isn’t all that big, once you see her in real life… about 50 metres high from foot to torch!
Once back to the mainland, we headed back to the hotel via subway, so that we could get changed for the Broadway show! We went to see HAIR! Which was playing a few blocks from us. WOW! What a show! At the end of the show they invite everyone up on stage for a dance, and a party, which was just awesome!!
For breakfast the next day, we headed to the ‘Hello Deli’ which is a small deli that David Letterman has on the show every so often. Met Rupert (The owner) and had a yummy breakfast!
Next was Central Park, en-route to the Dakota Building. This is the building where John Lennon lived with Yoko and their son Sean. It is also where John was shot and killed. I have seen so many pictures, but seeing it in real life still put a chill up my back.
Across the road is Strawberry Fields. It is a sort of shrine for the fans, donated by Yoko, in Central park. Got some photos here, before cutting across the park to the ‘Alice in Wonderland statue, where Jimi Hendrix was photographed for the ‘Are You Experienced’ inner album cover.
From there we had lunch, headed to Greenwich Village, in the Downtown district (via Subway) to check out the places, and also to try to get to Electric Lady Studios (Jimi Hendrix’s own studio that he designed and had built just before he died) we found it at 52 W8th St, Greenwich Village!
We headed back to Times Square for Dinner (Hard Rock Café) with lots more pictures to be had! Their two most prized possessions are a wall of guitars from Gibson Guitars, made of over 300 guitars cut in half and attached to the wall, and also the original doors from Abbey Road in London!
After Dinner was Madame Tussaud’s… WOW! LOTS of pics here too… some I had seen before in Melbourne when it toured, but soooo many more in the New York base!
Next day was the New York Museum of Modern Art. This is the home of countless Picasso’s. Warhol’s, Lichtenstein’s and Dali’s. AND they allow photos, so yes, LOTS AND LOTS of photos!!
This followed with a horse and carriage ride through Central Park at night (not so many photos, as I couldn’t use the flash…)
Next day started with a free concert in the street of James Taylor and Carol King, courtesy of NBC Today Show (two blocks from the hotel!) I was waaaayyyy down the back, but got some OK pics…
Then came the mad dash across Times Square for the Soprano’s tour. We did a film site tour, where we took a bus to New Jersey, and were taken to all of the major scenes used in the Soprano’s series, including a few where people got ‘whacked’ and the final episode ‘Diner scene, being able to stop for photos in the booth where Tony Soprano sat. We even managed to go to the BadaBing… a Strip Joint they use in the show (actually called “Satin Dolls”. Which was interesting, as New Jersey law states no alcohol and nudity in the same venue… so ‘strippers’ don’t go beyond underwear!!
After Sopranos tour, we walked downtown to the Flatiron Building. (If you see a photo, you will know it… built on a narrow fork in the road, the building comes to a triangle at the fork… luckily I have photos!)
A little further up the road is a new area, who’s name escapes me, but it is a reclaimed rail overpass, converted into a public garden space… about 3km long or so? So we had to have a relaxing stroll along up there, and chill for a bit before the night’s activities. (Basically a medium pizza and an early night, ready for our early morning dash to JFK Airport to fly to Japan) oh, and by the way, their medium is our large… their large is 18” diameter, where our large is 12” diameter…!
Landing in Japan (again!) we remembered the completely different pace this place has, compared to New York! We landed, got a train to Shibuya, then once checked in, went out to check out the town. Shibuya is about 20 minutes out of Tokyo city, but it has the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing. This was 2 blocks from the hotel. I have photos of a Calm Saturday night… complete bedlam!)
Next day we walked to Harajuku (about 15 minutes) before checking out the main Temple here… simply gorgeous… the gardens alone took over 2 hours to walk around, and I have TONS of pics to prove it! ☺
Stopped off on the way back to Shibuya at Tower Records. Imagine an 8 floor CD shop, and you have Tower Records… simply massive… a Bunnings of Music! ☺
After a few hours, headed back to the room to get changed, walked 30 minutes to Ebizu, then took a train to Roppongi, where we went to a bar called Abbey Raod, and saw an amazing Beatles cover band, who completely nailed it! Photos not allowed, but I sneaked a few before being officially told not to. The outfits were awesome, and the food was totally awesome… I don’t think I had a single crappy meal in the weak I was in Japan!
Japanese McDonald’s for Breakfast (OMG it is AWESOME!) talk about pride in their work! The people on register bow to you, take your order, complete manners, impeccable uniforms, before saying thank you for your service, bowing again, and even thanking and bowing again when you throw your rubbish out! Imagine a Bacon N Egg McMuffin… with Golden Syrup in it! Or… a Breakfast hotdog!
After Maccas we headed to Akihabara… technology and porn capital. Cath wanted an ipod, and I wanted… techno gadgets as always… got a new classic controller for the Wii for about $8AU… bargain!
Headed to Tokyo City after that, and to the Emporor’s Palace (Closed to the Public) to walk around the East Garden (Open to public most times) This Garden, on the map, looks pretty small… 3 hours later we walked out, missing some of it, but simply too stuffed to check every little corner out!
After that walk, it was another early night, as we had to battle rush hour to get 2 trains to Kyoto the next morning.
Arriving in Kyoto, we pretty much dumped the bags at the hotel, and got two subway trains to a Shrine on the other side of town (The Home of Zen) a few hundred more gorgeous pics, and many blisters later, we went back to the room for our one night in Kyoto. Beer from a vending machine and strange game shows in Japanese = a good night in.
EVERYTHING is in a vending machine!!
From Kyoto the next morning we took another train to Hiroshima. Same deal, find the hotel, dump the bags and took off for photos and sightseeing. A mere 15 minutes walk from the hotel was the A-Bomb dome and Peace Park. After witnessing a few Americans posing in front of the Dome (the only building NOT flattened by the bomb) and even smiling, or giving a ‘thumbs up’ I decided to not pose in front of it in any photos, rather taking photos of it from every angle possible, and returning at night for some shots with a full moon in the background…
Peace park was rather moving… headstones and markers everywhere, although no bodies. Merely ashes. There is a grassy mound in the park fenced off, where the ashes of approx 70,000 people who were never identified have been buried.
The whole place is so beautiful, yet so heartbreaking. At night, these feelings were amplified. No noise, no graffiti, no bikes. Barely any car horns anywhere in the town. It is such a quiet place…
There is a memorial for Fallen Students, children who died, most working hard labour collecting metals for military use, and rebuilding houses etc.
Another shrine is for Sudoku, a young girl who contracted Leukaemia a few years later, and after hearing that folding 1,000 paper cranes will grant a wish, she began folding tiny little cranes. When she died, she had exceeded the 1,000, and had 6 more squares to go, which are in the peace museum. Afterwards, her friends, and schools around the country started folding cranes for peace, and sending them to Peace Park. These are now locked into a sequence of about 10 small glass rooms, packed to the roof with cranes, posters and similar, all in the name of Peace.
The Peace Museum is rather hard-hitting, in that it includes fingernails, hair and even a human tongue, showing the deformities and disease that were contracted after the bomb.
There were, among other things, letter in the museum that, without getting into details, made me so angry at the American Government. I said to Cath, ‘I would be embarrassed to admit being American in Hiroshima’…
The Next day (Friday) saw us heading to Miyajima. Miyajima is a small island off the coast of Hiroshima, and basically has some of the most breathtaking natural sights in Japan that I saw. There is an ancient Temple, constructed in the year 600, built on the water of the harbour on stilts, with a Large O-Torii gate in the harbour. At low tide it is possible to walk out and even under it. High tide allows small vessels to go through it. (yes, I have pictures!) we went for a 5km bush hike, aiming to get to the top of the mountain and get a good view, but the drizzle turned to rain, and walking almost vertical up carved rock steps, holding an umbrella in one hand, and making sure not to fall off a cliff with the other (no, no handrail!) I decided to give up, about 800m from the summit, and head down. We got completely saturated, even with umbrellas!
The island has a population of wild deer roaming the streets, peering into the restaurants, and quite happily sopping to be patted by tourists, and pose for a photo. Simply gorgeous creatures!
Next day saw us catch 3 trains to the airport in Narita, then a Plane to Sydney, customs etc, then check-in to a flight home to Melbourne, at which time, Qantas had lost my bag, and had it couriered home about 7:00pm Sunday night.
Travel time from Hiroshima to Melbourne via 3 trains and 2 planes = 24 hours… not bad, considering the sheer distance covered!
Glad to be home, but missing it already…