Hong Kong

Travelling is great.

(Alert: grumpy post)

I arrived in Hong Kong on a hot, rainy Sunday. The streets were full of people and it was hard for me to walk around with my bags trying to find my hostel. But I found it!

It was a creepy, very creepy hostel. Dark place, unfriendly staff, not very clean room. But it was one of the cheapest in Hong Kong, so I felt that I couldn’t complain. However, I started to find reasons to do so. Wifi was not working, neither on my tablet or on my cellphone, and the staff didn’t care at all when I mentioned it. Great! Kitchen? This was the “kitchen”:

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A rice-boiler, a water-boiler and a sink, all covered in dirt. Great! Having a kitchen is one of the most important things for me in a hostel because I actually use it (for more than cooking rice and making tea).

I was already in the common room using the computers to search for another hostels in the area when some members of the staff started arguing and raising their voices. And then they started fighting against each other, breaking every object in the reception that they would find on their way. The situation got so bad that some minutes later two policemen arrived to check out what was happening. “Click to confirm new booking on Hostelworld”: YES.

I picked up my things, went back to the reception after checking that no bullets were flying around and explained the staff that due to no wifi, no kitchen and the unpleasant situation I had just witnesssed, I wanted to leave and get my money back (at hostels, almost always, you have to pay for your whole stay at the moment you arrive). They understood my position and let me go away with the money that I had given them just an hour before. Maybe the fact that a policeman was still at the reception keeping an eye on them helped.

The new hostel I found was finally a decent one. After many years of travelling, I’ve come to a conclusion: if a hostel has individual reading lamps and sockets, it’s a good hostel. And this one had that:

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But the grumpy part of the post is still not over. The following morning, I woke up and found that the right lens of my glasses was broken. Great! That led me to spend much of my time in Hong Kong at the optical store of the closest shopping mall to get my glasses repaired as quickly as possible. Great! Did I mention that on the same day I had that incident with my glasses, I accidentally spilled my lunch over my legs and now one of the few jeans that I brought for this trip has a beautiful oil stain on it?

And finally, the things I did in Hong Kong:

Victoria Peak. Getting the tram to go up this mountain is a must if you are in Hong Kong. You can have a good view of the city from the sky terrace of The Peak Tower:

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Ferry to Kowloon. On my last picture you can see Kowloon as the area on the other side of the bay. It is connected to Hong Kong Island by subway, but the nicest way to get there is to hop on a Star Ferry boat and enjoy the views:

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Hong Kong Museum of History. This museum is a good way to spend a rainy day in Hong Kong. It has lots of information about the city, from Prehistory until today. For example, you can see (and walk on) a model of an old fishing boat:

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Foot massage. I had initially planned to spend a day in Macau, but as it was raining heavily every day, I decided to stay in Hong Kong and invest some of the money I had saved for the trip on a foot massage. There are plenty of massage places in Hong Kong and you’ll probably be invited to get one while just walking on the street. I was actually talking with a Spanish guy at the hostel who had a friend from Hong Kong who had told him… how to distinguish a massage place from a “massage” place. If you see foot massages advertised with just a foot, then you will just get a massage.

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But, if at some moment a smiling face appears in the sign…

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Guess what? You actually get a massage with a happy ending. I got my massage (without quotes) after almost being kidnapped by a massage-PR lady in the streets of Kowloon and checking that there were no smileys anywhere to be seen. It was a great and relatively cheap way to relax after hours (and days) of walking from one place to another.

All in all, I didn’t really like Hong Kong. Too big, crowded, hot, humid and smelly for my taste. But I have to admit, it is a very tourist-friendly city: almost everyone speaks English, locals are not pushy with tourists (I’m in Vietnam now and locals ARE pushy with tourists) and you can find maps in the most visited places to help you find your way if you get lost:

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And finally, my vegan experiences. I kept cooking as in Japan:

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However, look what’s on the right side of the picture. “Oreo? Is this girl not vegan anymore?”. Good news! In some countries, Oreo are made without using any animal products, although they might have milk traces (I’ve already written before that I don’t care very much about that). So far, I’ve only found them in USA, Hong Kong and now in Vietnam. I was actually in New York last October and I remember being so excited about the vegan Oreos that every morning I would eat as many as I could for breakfast until my teeth would start hurting.

Usually I don’t eat almost any processed foods, and there’s no need to say that Oreos are not the best thing for your health. But who cares, they are vegan!

By the way (only useful for Spanish vegans), los bollycaos del Mercadona también son veganos. De hecho, cuando estoy en España y voy a comprar al Mercadona, la sección de bollería se convierte en un poderoso vórtice calórico del que me es imposible escapar…

Apart from cooking, I used the chance of having food labelled in English in the supermarket to fill my suitcase with vegan cereal bars.

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Quite often in the supermarkets, even in Spain, it’s possible to find at least one sort of cereal bars without any animal products, and they are very useful to have at hand when you’re travelling, just in case you can’t find any suitable food.

This was all about Hong Kong. Sorry for not having more pictures, but as I’ve mentioned before, it was raining almost all the time. And there were just not many nice things in that city to take pictures of…

Next post: Vietnam.

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Lovely Kyoto (II)

(This is the second part of my last post)

On the day of my trip to Nara, I decided to stop at Fushimi Inari Taisha on my way back. This is a shrine known for the paths of torii gates that surround it:

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Each one of them has been a donation of a company or a person and the name of the donor is written on it:

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You can walk up a mountain trail with thousands of torii gates which lead to small shrines. I had already been told that I wouldn’t find anything special at the end of the path, so I decided to walk until my SD card started to complain about so many pictures and then I went back to my hostel.

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On my last day in Japan, I decided to go to Arashiyama. I went mainly to see a bamboo path so well known that it is actually, if I’ve guessed correctly, on the cover of the Lonely Planet guide for Japan. It should look like this:

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(Source: http://www.insidekyoto.com/arashiyama-bamboo-grove)

It seems to be a place to meditate, to get lost, to be in touch with nature… In fact, it was full of people, the bamboo groves didn’t look very impressive and there where even taxis passing by. This is the least crowded picture that I managed to take:

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But you know what? The trip to Arashiyama wasn’t so bad at all. Because that day I also managed to feed some wild monkeys:

I’m always suspicious of any kind of business that might have to do with animal abuse, but the monkeys in this park live free in the mountains and get in touch with humans just to have some extra food. Actually, you are not allowed to touch the monkeys, to feed them outside of the designated area or… to look at them directly in the eyes:

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I just love how in Japan everything can be explained with a cute cartoon. By the way, in Nara there were also similar warning signs, but in that case, they were thought to protect you from the superevil deers:

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I tried hard not to bother the monkeys, as my natural instinct with animals is to hug them. When I see a cute animal… do you remember that episode on The Simpsons when Homer believed to have found an alien, which eventually turned out to be Mr Burns?

I bring you love. That’s more or less me when I see a cute animal. It’s easy to understand why I decided to be vegan.

Back to the topic, I spent some time feeding the monkeys and taking pictures of them. The views of Kyoto from the monkey park are also pretty nice:

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Hey, you, give me coins, I wanna see the city!

And the monkeys didn’t care very much about the humans, they were just hanging around or yelling at each other. This one seemed to be playing hide-and-seek with its buddies:

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In order to feed the monkeys, you have to get into a cage. Funny. They were all happy after you gave them a peanut, except for one who didn’t seem satisfied until it got its third one. I guess not only humans are greedy.

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By the way, their hands seem so similar to ours when you see them from a short distance! Just a little bit smaller and hairier.

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If anyone is still reading my post after the avalanche of monkey pictures, I’ll just let you know that I have finished writing about Japan. I’m very happy that I decided to go there, it’s a great country where quietness reigns, everything is clean and well organized and people are just adorable. Plus, I didn’t do that bad as a vegan.

Next post will be short. I spent four days in Hong Kong and… let’s say I didn’t like it. See you!

Lovely Kyoto (I)

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much from this city, but in the end I ended up regretting not having booked more days there. This is a list of what I did on my (few) days in Kyoto:

– Walk in Gion (Geisha District). Before arriving to the city, I had already downloaded the Tripadvisor app for Kyoto. It’s free, it’s available for many other big cities in the world and, what I find very practical, it comes with many itinerary suggestions that you can also check offline. So I just followed the indications of the app for this itinerary and started walking. One of the first points was the entrance to Yasaka Shrine:

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I didn’t spot any geishas, but there were many groups of women dressed with kimonos walking around Maruyama Park:

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I also went to have a look at Kenninji Temple:

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And then I decided to get lost in the small streets of the area. What I love about Japan is that you can just get lost in any street and then find something like this (it would look nicer with a better camera…):

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By the end of the tour, it started raining (rain seems to be my travel partner in the last weeks), so I had to finish it earlier than expected and I probably missed other nice spots.

– Aoi Matsuri. When I heard about this I thought “I’m so lucky! I’m in Kyoto on the 15th May, the day of the Aoi Matsuri!” This is a parade where everyone is wearing clothes in the style of the Heian period and which goes from the Imperial Palace to the Kamo Shrines. Coming from Spain, if I hear the word parade, I automatically think of people dancing happily in the streets and loud music being played. This is actually what the parade in Kyoto looked like:

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It was raining the whole time, so the clothes didn’t look as impressive as they certainly are, and everyone had a sad face. My location was also not the best one, because I didn’t make it to the Imperial Palace on time, which would have been the perfect spot. Of course, there were no music or dances, the participants were just walking by. If it had been at night, I wouldn’t have been able to tell if it was a parade or the Santa Compaña. So I would say, the Aoi Matsuri is not something that should make you change your travelling dates for Japan.

– Nara. While I was planning this trip with some other people from the hostel, they were making sensible suggestions of what we could do: “I want to see Todaiji Temple”, ” I want to stop in Uji on the way back”.

“I want to hug a deer”, I said. And I almost made it:

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Nara is famous for its park, where many deers live free and happy. They are always looking for someone to give them deer cookies and will let you scratch their cute head if you do so. Wikipedia tells me that the deers used to be considered sacred but nowadays they are just national treasures.

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When I told my father about Nara, his reaction was: “What? The deers are free in a park and anyone can get close to them? If it was in Spain, people would go hunting to that park!”

Hahaha. True story. 😦

In the park, you can also see Todaiji Temple, which, to be honest, was the only temple that managed to get a wow out of my mouth in my whole visit to Japan.

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It’s one of the largest wooden buildings of the world and has one of the largest bronze sculptures of the world inside:

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By the way, Nara Park was full of school children looking for foreigners to talk to in English. Some of them came to us with a list of printed questions and were incredibly happy interviewing us. When they heard “I’m from Spain/I’m from America/I’m from Mexico” they were so thrilled that they looked as we were telling them “I’m from Venus/I’m from Mars/I’m from Saturn”. Here you can see a group of Japanese children who already found their prey:

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I love the deer passing by and kind of saying: “Hey, stop talking, look at me, I’m cute, give me cookies, cooookies!!!”

I think it’s a great idea that this children try to find foreigners to talk to. In Spain we always complain that we don’t get enough oral practice of English at school while many of our cities are packed with tourists who, I guess, wouldn’t mind hearing little Spaniards asking them “Güer ar yu from? Du yu laik espein?”.

As I don’t know when I’ll be able to continue posting, I’ll stop my Kyoto post here and will try to find some time to write the second part… from Hanoi 🙂

Vegan in Japan

Before going to Japan, I had thought that this country would be the perfect place for vegans and vegetarians, as Japanese are known for eating a lot of tofu, rice, vegetables and, on the whole, healthy things. But they also eat a lot of fish and, unless otherwise specified, the food that you can order at the restaurants and the processed products that you can find at the supermarkets are highly likely to contain fish or fish derivatives. So I basically cooked, and that turned out to save me a lot of money. More or less the same amount that I had to spend today on a new pair of lenses for my glasses because they woke up broken this morning. But that’s a story for future posts!

Back to food, this is what I took home on my first visit to a Japanese supermarket:
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Rice is sold in very large packages, the one you see there is 2 kg and it was the smallest one I could find. It was also easy to find other basics as olive oil (expensive and of poor quality but, as a Spaniard, I can’t cook without it), beans and vegetables. What you see in the blue bowl is seaweed salad. I really like seaweed and in Japan it’s very cheap compared to Europe (100 JPY=0.7 EUR):

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I guess what I got was basically Wakame, which is very rich in calcium, so it is a good source of this nutrient for those who don’t consume dairy products. I like using it in salads: I soak a teaspoon of the dry Wakame from the bag in water for around ten minutes, and it’s then ready to eat.

On my last days in Kyoto I went for more Japanese products:

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It’s hard to believe that I only paid 500 yen (3.6 EUR, 4.9 USD) for all that. Apart from the water, the bananas and the lettuce, you can see:

Nori seaweed: it’s known for being used for wrapping sushi. Usually you should toast it before eating it… unless you are staying at a hostel where there is no easy way to do it, in which case it’s not so bad to eat it as it comes in the package.

Tofu: there were so many kinds of tofu! And so cheap! For the ones who have never tried tofu, remember that it has a special (lack of) taste, so you should try to add some sauce or some spices when you cook it. How to cook tofu? If it’s smoked tofu, I just fry it for some minutes in a pan. If it’s normal tofu (white and fluffy), I boil it for 20 minutes with (optional) a small piece of Kombu seaweed so that it will be softer. Usually, as I’m always cooking some cereal to eat with it, I boil the tofu together with the cereal. That way I save energy, time and another dirty pan.

Umeboshi plums: my biggest addiction. They are pickled Japanese plums with a very sour taste and lots of properties: they can be used against fatigue, hungover, digestive problems… I like them so much that I could add them to every meal. The problem is, in Europe (at least in Germany and Spain), a package like the one in the picture costs around 10 €, although umeboshi vinegar has also similar properties (but less intense flavour) and a small bottle costs 2-3€. But in Japan the plums are very very cheap! I think I had just too many on my days there. Even my mum, who is not exactly a fan of exotic products, always uses umeboshi vinegar in her salads, so you get an idea of how addictive it can be.

Udon noodles: very easy to cook. I just boiled or fried them for a couple of minutes and they were ready to eat. I had never tried them before and I don’t know the prices in other countries, but the ones you see on the picture were just 15 yen (0.11 EUR, 0.15 USD). A great way to save money in Japan!

And this are some examples of what I cooked with those ingredients:

– Beans with umeboshi plums, carrots, rice, nori seaweed and olive oil:

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This is the typical dish that I would have for lunch, because I like having my protein (beans) in the middle of the day in order to have enough energy for the afternoon. As I’ve mentioned before, a way to make it cheaper outside Japan would be using some umeboshi vinegar instead of the plums.

– Spaghetti with tofu, carrots, umeboshi plums, lettuce and nori seaweed:

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I don’t usually eat gluten because it makes me very sleepy, but after a week of having just rice as a carbohidrate source, I felt it was time for some pasta (the only bread I could find in the supermarket had clearly milk or butter on it). This is a quick and easy dish, I just boiled the spaghetti together with the tofu and a carrot. I would have preferred to use buckwheat, millet or quinoa instead of pasta, but they are just too difficult to find in Asia.

– Rice with lettuce, carrots, nori seaweed and tofu (for the road):

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This is similar to what I used to take for lunch when I was working, but in this case I prepared it for my last plane journey. I like to put the rice in the bottom so that the dressing will leak and get there by the time I eat it and make the rice tastier. Ideas for dressing are olive oil, my beloved umeboshi vinegar or lemon juice. Or a combination of olive oil+umeboshi vinegar or olive oil+lemon juice. Lemon juice and umeboshi vinegar are maybe too different to be combined… but I also try that from time to time.

My culinary experiences in Japan end here. For the meat-eaters reading this, I’ll just let you know that you’ll probably only need to be able to point with your finger when you order in a restaurant, because they often have a plastic model of each dish to help you decide. For example, you can order a flying pizza slice:

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Next post: Kyoto and my encounters with cute deers and monkeys. Oh well, just an advance:

Tokyo: last days

On my third day in Tokyo, I went to a sumo watching tour organized by the hostel I stayed at. I’ve been lucky with the dates, as the sumo tournaments only take place in January, May and September in Tokyo. I might have been late to see the cherry blossom in Japan but hey, I was on time to see two… ehm… corpulent! guys in thongs fighting against each other.

The Ryogoku stadium is quite impressive, even if you see it from the second floor (cheapest seats):

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It’s hard to understand why people would pay more to be in the front rows, as the chances of having a sumo wrestler falling on you are quite high there. It must be funny to have a 150 kg man landing on you.

I was surprised to see that there were many sumo wrestlers from outside Japan. Egypt, Brazil, Bulgaria, Mongolia… No one from Spain, though.

After seeing a couple of fights, I understood the rules: the first one to fall on the floor or to put a foot outside of the white circle loses. Quite simple. Look, the one on the right just lost:

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Sumo is definitely something to see if you are in the right dates in Japan!

Then on my last day, I decided to do somehting cheap and relaxing: a visit to the Meiji Shrine.

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This shrine is located in a park in Shibuya which gives you the impression that you are walking in a forest far away in the countryside, when actually you are just 20 minutes away from the famous Shibuya crossing. This temple is less crowded than Senso-ji and I find the location much nicer. And there are quite big Torii gates to see:

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Oh, I had promised to write about the toilets. This is a picture I took of the ones at the Ryogoku Stadium:

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There are many cleaning options that I didn’t dare to try because it was all written in Japanese, so I just searched for the flush sign. On the right you can see a loud-speaker where you can play an artificial flushing sound, I guess it’s for those people who don’t enjoy silence while they are in the toilet. I kept pressing the button for fun, it was just cool.

In the last post I had mentioned my frustration about not seeing Mount Fuji from the Bunkyo Tower. Yesterday I was lucky:

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On the Shinkansen train from Tokyo to Kyoto, if you sit on the right side and look carefully through the window around 40 minutes after departing from Tokyo, you might spot Mount Fuji. It’s just beautiful and hypnotic, I couldn’t stop looking at it.

Next post, Kyoto.

Tokyo: first days

Due to my laziness, there are still some posts missing for some cities, but I feel like writing about Japan now 🙂

I arrived two days ago to Tokyo. It’s almost my first time to Asia (being on the Asian part of Turkey for a couple of hours doesn’t really count), so I am still getting used to all the new things I find here.

On my first day, I went for a walk in Asakusa, the area where I’m staying. This is Kaminarimon, one of the gates to Senso-ji temple:

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The gardens surrounding the temple:

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And this is just a cute dog standing in front of a shop in a street nearby:

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And this is just a cute pig going for a walk:

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Then I went to Ueno park in the afternoon:
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I felt so relaxed there! I was just walking around randomly and there was something to take a picture of in every corner. Here I feel like the Japanese tourists in Europe who are always making pictures of every single thing they see.

Yesterday I went for a walk in the Imperial Palace East gardens, which is the only thing you can see from the Imperial Palace if you didn’t know that you have to book your tour some weeks in advance. Ouch!

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Everything is so clean and well taken care of that it looks like a movie set.

In the afternoon, I went to see the panoramic view from Bunkyo Civic Center. There are a lot of skyscrapers in Tokyo but I decided to go to this tower which offers you a view from just a 25th floor for two reasons: it’s free and, in a lucky day, you can see Mount Fuji from there. Look, here it is:

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Ehm… no, it wasn’t a lucky day, as you can guess, but in a day without fog it should be exactly there. As I have read, there are only a few days every month where Mount Fuji is visible, and on that days it should look like in the pictures here. I feel deceived. Japan, I want my money back!

Anyway, I liked the views. It’s shocking to see so many small buildings of just 2 or 3 floors so close to tall buildings, it seems like there is no homogeinity:

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If you look closely you will notice it: cars here drive on the left. Actually, when walking in the subway stations, you also have to keep always to the left, which is something I wasn’t used to.

Speaking of differences, another one: here the streets don’t have names, the home adresses just indicate the block number of the building. You can read the full explanation in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_addressing_system. So when you are looking at a map from a Japanese city, you have to search for landmarks and try to guess the place where you want to go according to them. For a person like me who is used to check every street name in Google Maps in order to go from A to B, this is hell.

And finally I went to Shibuya in the evening. This place is full of lights, shops, fast food restaurants and young people. Some might recognize it from the film Lost in Translation and in my case, I couldn’t take this song out of my head when I was there:

Some pictures I took:

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It would look nicer without my finger on it, I know

There is also this big famous crossing that I can’t just explain with words:

People, people, people.

On my next posts I will write about the sumo combat I went to see today, the japanese toilets and being vegan in Japan. See you!

Las Vegas and Grand Canyon

It’s been a while! I’m now more focused on travelling and enjoying my time than on writing. But here is a brief summary of my first days in the USA.

First, I’ll let you know that if you are a jobless Spanish girl travelling alone and your pockets aren’t filled with american dollars (it doesn’t matter if you have 3 credit cards, cash is the only important thing), then maybe you won’t be warmly welcomed at the border. After landing in Las Vegas, I was sent to a special room for suspicious immigrants and had to explain an immigration officer for around 15 minutes what my exact travel plans were, how much money I had in the bank, how much money I had already spent on my trips, what I did in my job back in the time when I was working, how it was possible that I had only spent 1000 euros in my three weeks in Mexico, why I wanted to travel so much, why I was staying in a hostel instead of a hotel, etc, etc… Nice way of greeting a foreigner! But eventually I made it through the border and now I have another funny story to tell about my travels.

As I was still not feeling great after Mexico City, the main thing I did in Las Vegas was taking a day trip to see the Grand Canyon. Have a look at the pictures:

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Even with the best camera of the market, it wouldn’t be possible to show the greatness of this landscape. I spent 2 hours walking the route from Mather Point to Bright Angel Lodge (2 miles) with my neck turned to the right just to try to catch every detail of the Grand Canyon. It was so beautiful that it actually looked fake.

So, if you’re ever in Las Vegas or close to it, you really should try to book a tour or rent a car and go to see this. The pictures here are from the South Rim, which was the cheapest tour I could find but, at the same time, the one with the best internet reviews. I booked mine through my hostel and the price was 99 USD (~71 EUR), including pick up and drop off at accomodation, some stops to see the Hoover Dam and a little bit of the Route 66, snacks for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch (vegetarian and vegan options available) and unlimited supply of water. Yes, a little bit expensive, but totally worth it!

Regarding my veganism in Las Vegas: I cooked at the hostel, end of the story. I really want to avoid eating out in the USA because it can get very expensive. And there are canned beans, rice, vegetables and fruit in every supermarket I’ve been to, so I don’t have any trouble with getting my nutrients.

Next stop, San Francisco.