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Sunday, 31 July 2011

BANZAAAII !!! Japan Adventure

Actually the song ‘turning Japanese’ is about masturbation rather than Japan, but now I have your attention, chicken choker or not, I would like to tell you about one of my favourite places in the world.

From the cover of the totally out of date and
aimed at socially inept 19yr old virgins - 'Lonely Planet' (which doesn't even have a single entry for 'zen' in the JAPAN guide - speaks volumes)

Yes, yet again I’m here in the land of the ‘delivery health’ service, Metro train gropers, fish that clean  your hands, and of course the gadget covered and heated toilet seat - Japan.

So first morning, I was exhausted.  After a sleep free night playing Poker in London (to pay for my spending money here), and Leaving at 9.50am from Heathrow and arriving without much sleep in Tokyo 11am the next morning, I was pretty tired. After a quick airport Katsu Curry (future wives please take note, that’s my favourite dish and its really easy to cook I heard)
Waiting for the big one - Earthquakes are actually pretty common here, but take a bit of getting used to

I recommend staying at the Akusaka Weekly Mansion by the way, its not so expensive, self catering, free wifi and great location in Akusaka which is a posh place next to Roppongi (the bizzare and dirty foreigner town) More on the areas of Tokyo later though.

Anyway, I’ve already messed up once, and slept through my alarm to go to a Summer Festival north of Tokyo with a really nice couchsurfer (sorry, I’ll make it up to you!)  It’s a shame it sounded actually pretty cool. That’s the good thing about couchsurfing, you can land in a place and quicker than you say ‘unreliable guy with jetlag’ you can have a bunch of new friends and cool things to do.  And surprisingly I haven’t met any weirdos on it at all. (which is not what most couchsurfing friends say since they have met me)
Japan is a Pot Noodlers Dream 

Now its 7am and, since I slept from 1pm to 4am (I was woken by an earthquake, I kid you not!) I’m feeling fresh and ready for the crazy day ahead. There’s always something weird and unexpected happening in Tokyo. I’ve had many a ‘quiet night writing postcards in Roppongi Starbucks’ which has ended the next afternoon in a Romanian Strip Bar. But this is a family blog so less said the better….today I’m off somewhere about 2 hours out of Tokyo, to my old friend and colleagues friends BBQ. Of course I’ll be the only foreigner but it will be good fun. Naoko is a future famous generipper and inventor of man eating plants who make quality electronics goods (it’s the kind of thing I imagine Japanese gene biology people invent at least) ok ok I’ll ask when I see her.

Everything you need in Tokyo at 7am except a beer

Since I’ve been here 20 times before and my Japanese is still awful, I’m coming armed with audio-books in my kindle and ‘japanese from zero’ which had been languishing on my bookshelf (or rather kadi-anns bookshelf) for 3 years or so already. This is my favourite country outside Scotland, so I really should learn the lingo (since no one else speaks ‘Engwish’) ;o)

Tonight I’ll get up to Tokyo Dome, home of ‘thunder dolphin’ rollercoaster, to completely fix my jetlag, and ‘la qua Spa’ which is where I should have gone yesterday instead of paying for a hotel as you can basically live there indefinitely (more on this place later, as were going to ‘the biggest spa in the world, ‘spaworld’ in Osaka so will be good to compare)

The plan in for the next 2 weeks get a bus down to Oskaka and Kyoto, with my good friend Minako, then I’ll have 5 days in Tokyo (which may actually turn into 3 days in Macao as I’d really like to check it there)

Ps- did you know that many apartments in Japan miss out 4 and 9 because the word for four (shi) also means death and 9 (ku) means suffering?  Superstitions eh - Kind of silly. 13 is my favourite number and it never did me any harm (because I’m left handed I think)

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Latvians are normal, Norwegians are not human.

I've plainly been brainwashed in Estonia about Latvians. Here are the myths with how it really is....

MYTH- Latvian girls are all hookers
Truth - Actually this might be true. They certainly dress that way, and when i asked random girls in bars to buy me a drink, they weren't so interested to speak to me. But if i made out i was thinking to buy a bottle of 'champanski' then they were my best friend all of a sudden (this, I may add was in a Russian club, God bless them, the worlds natural born prostitutes) However, i'm not sure if Latvian girls either wear leopardskin dresses or dance in front of mirrors alone.

MYTH - Latvians are all crooks who like to rip off Ryanair stag party tourists in strip bars
Truth - Actually this may also be true. Except this weekend i did meet a number of quite decent Latvians who are totally normal and who understand the concept of business (not 'bizness' as the Porche Cayenne driving Mafia would tell you about) and the general normal concepts of society. Actually really cool people. This wasn't in a Russian club I may add. I did meet a great Russian taxi driver who tried to do me over, but fortunately accepted my doing a runner as me not accepting paying 20 Euros for a 3 Euro fare.

MYTH - Riga is full of drunk English Ryanair Stag Parties
Truth - Actually.....this may also be true. Despite Riga being a genuinely beautiful city with really decent people as i found out this weekend, i'm afraid to tell you that, If you meet a group of English guys in Latvia - they are there, like in Tallinn, for the cheap booze and cheaper women - how to test it? well....for fun, ask to speak to 'Dave'  - there is ALWAYS a guy called Dave in the group. If there isn't, they are certainly not English, certainly not a Stag party. Dave, I think you can gather stands for something like 'Dickheads Abroad, Very English'. Or something like that. And he will explain everything. Every group has a 'DAVE' even if he isn't called Dave.

Ok ok, there is another post on this blog, with some normal things about Riga...ill post it up here soon.

About the Norwegians - I had a very international weekend, mostly with some cool Frenchies  (hello if you are reading) whom I drank heavily and played poker with and, strangely enough a Norwegian Stag Party in Riga this weekend.
anyway i found out from these, quite decent but sadly Norwegain guys that it seems that if you rape someone (guy or an animal, or a girl) in Norway, you get 4 years in Prison. If you get caught playing Poker, you get 5 years. Speaks volumes about the feminist trust fund socialist state that is Norway, really, and kind of explains why they breed the kind of people they do.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Mean Moody and Magnificent - The West Highlands and the Isle of Skye

View from Sleat, Skye across to the mainland. Here it's possible for it to rain and be sunny at the same time.

I'd forgot how beautiful the Scottish Highlands are. We took the road North from Glasgow, up the west side of Loch Lomond. It begins to get 'highlandish' about halfway up the Loch (Mainland Britains Largest if i remember correctly) when you see Britains southermost Munro (hill over 3000ft), Ben Lomond, across the water.

Eilean Donan Castle, just down from Kyle of Lochalsh

After an initial baptism into the scenery, things take a turn for the better when you pass Tyndrum, and the haunting Rannoch Moor, which flows into the more haunting Glencoe, scene of the famous massacre of the McGregors by the Campbells, and of a million other battles, including that in the opening scene in Highlander. A road, a railway and the West Highland Way all funnel through here, and suddenly your in the highlands proper, hitting the sea along the road that leads to Fort William.

The Church at Glenfinnan (probably haunted)

Fort William itself is nothing more than a functional tourist town, full of sameish restaurants and hotels, tourist info. and of course surrounded by beautiful lochs and hills. There are a couple of dodgy nightclubs too. Less said about Fort William the better.

On the way to Mallaig (for the ferry to Skye) you pass Glenfinnan, which has the famous Jacobite Monument, an amazing view, and of course the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which is where Harry Potter always seem to cross on the train. Actually this whole trip was voted the most scenic in the world twice in a row now and i'd definitely recommend it (the West Highland Line goes from Glasgow to Mallaig, which is where the ferry to Skye is.) The Ferry is £29 one way for a car by the way, but only £4 or so by foot.
Menacing Skye

If you go the other way to Skye, by road (its free) then you have a different treat. The scenery is great, but the highlights are the famous Eilean Donan Castle which you'll recognise from Highlander, Loch Ness, and one recent James Bond film. The Skye Bridge itself gives you an amazing view too, well worth walking over if you have a chance.

Menacing Sky

Skye however was a different league altogether. Every corner you turn, a scene greets you straight out of a postcard. Here's a quick guide -


Every second house is a Bed and Breakfast, so this is not an issue.  You can book a place in advance at any tourist info (i.e. in Glasgow for example) You can also camp which is probably a much better fun option than a hostel, and cheaper. We stayed in the Ardvasar Hotel, (better known as the Edgar Savisaar Hotel) just 800m left from the ferry terminal. Breakfast ended at 9.30 which was annoying and in true country style, the internet didn't quite reach the rooms. The Isle of Skye is bigger than you might think so i'd recommend a place more centrally located if you want to explore the whole island - for example near Portree would be perfect, or the hotel Sligachan (which also has a campsite/caravan place, restaurant etc etc and for some reason a little house for the Order of St John (where they secretly plot world domination from the lee of the surrounding Cuillin Mountains)

Anyway, the location is basically right in the middle of the Island, surrounded by the Cuillins, just south of Portree, but easy to drive to other sights like Dunvegan Castle etc etc.  Its also a heart stoppingly beautiful setting, with the river and loch, and dark brooding mountains threatening to eat you every time you look up.
Random View to the mainland


Skye is, surprisingly a foodies delight. Seafood restaurants are all around, and there are even two curry houses and a chinese. The most well known restaurant is the three chimneys  - it also provides 5 star accommodation. Its the most surreal place i've ever seen. We took a single track road up, left as you enter Dunvegan - pass the fire station/hut and you're going the right way. It was a deserted road for 4 miles or so, then suddenly here we were, at the highest rated restaurant in the North - which was basically a pretty little cottage. It was empty but of course was fully booked for the £60 a head dinner- you must phone in advance to book, otherwise it's impossible. but i've heard the food is amazing. The menu is all about fresh local stuff, mostly seafood, which is tasty. The weird thing was that not a single person was around, apart from one weird rich looking old American Baldy, who turned up with his pretty female companion of half his age (ok ok i can't really criticise this scene except that i'm not bald and look poor)

If you can't get in there and want a similar experience, the Old School in dunvegan nearby is also pretty good and has the same fresh seafood gastrovibe, is full of American tourists who have never eaten fresh food before, and is a wee bit cheaper (not much)

The road to the permanently fully booked 3 Chimneys (with tomorrows lunch on the right)

On the other side of the Island is the famous Michelin Starred Kinloch Lodge where you can also stay for some Oligarch level price per night.

Apart from that there are loads of chip shops, and random pub food style places for £10 a head in Portree, or any hotel (Broadford has a hot dog stand and only one or two quite ok Restaurants.)


Well why did you come to Skye?

Most people come for either outdoor life or a romantic getaway. Its most certainly one of the most beautiful places i've been to, even when it rains. I was sitting in a cafe (in Struan, its pretty and has a bookshop, so jump in if you have a chance) drinking my £1 cup of tea. And looked out the window and there, like something from Narnia, is a giant waterfall flowing off a cliff into the sea. Surreal is not the word (actually it is the word, why do people talk like that?)

View from the Old Man of Storr, just before the Goblins attacked 

So for the walkers, hillwalkers, and climbers - The Old Man of Storr is an easy 30minute climb and you get an amazing view (mine was of a thunderstorm on one side and sunshine on the other) It's just north of Portree, in fact you can even see it from there, so drive 15 minutes north and you're there. It was quite busy when i went, it felt rather weird to hear accents and languages from every corner of the world in this random and remote place (we heard Estonians, Finns, Aussies, Americans, Koreans, Spanish and French, plus of course the Ubiquitous Germans)

Further north of there is the even weirder rock formations of The Quiraing (pronounced like Kerrang!) which are a bit more testing but quite fine and great if you wan't to pretend you're on a green version of Mars.

The main mountain range though are The Cuillins , where you can do some real stuff with ropes and not wearing flip flops (which is what most people walking up the Storr would do)

What else to do ?

You can visit  Dunvegan castle in North Skye, it's quite interesting although i'd say not worth the £9 entrance fee, unless you wan't to chat with the Laird, a youngish, kind of Highland Hugh Grant sorta guy. The Gardens are beautiful though, and you can get a boat to hang out with some seals (which i did 25 years ago when i went. My main memory is of my Mum moaning at me all the time to keep in the boat as i was hanging out to touch the seals.)

There are also a whole load of trips and guides around. If you're safely ensconced in a hotel they can help. Randomly there's a reptile centre and a (more apt) Sea Eagle centre. There are a million untouched beautiful beaches nearby (especially check south of Mallaig)

Theres another castle open - Clan Donald Castle beside the Ferry terminal in the south of Skye. They were the arch rivals of the Macleod's and trounced them in the Battle of Coire Na Creiche  which by the way, was the battle at the start of 'Highlander' , although it was filmed in Glencoe and the Castle Eilan Donan. It was also the last battle on Skye.

WEATHER - ahhhh one other thing. It never gets really cold here - It's on the gulf stream and you even can see the odd palm tree (add to the surrealism of the place) but be warned. It never gets really warm either. And it rains every day. I have never been to Skye and it hasn't rained at least once. It can be
raining and sunny at the same time too, which is mighty strange.

Ok im off to Japan soon, so more later!