Welcome to our blog

Welcome to our blog. During the coming year we travel (backpack) around the world and will try to regularly post some updates on our whereabouts on this page.

Sonntag, 31. Oktober 2010

Back in China... and our plans for November

We won't have access to our blog nor to Facebook for the coming weeks.
Just to avoid anyone worries about us, here are our plans:
Tomorrow, the 1st of November we take the night bus to Yangshuo, in the Guangxi province.
Yes, you read that right... we actually go back on a bus...  this time 10 hours, should be better then the 22.5 hrs we were on that last 'horror-bus'.
We stay approx 3 days and help out at an English language school. Just conversation. The Yangshuo area is beautiful we are told :-)
From there we move on for a couple of days to the West. Lijiang and Shangri La - the latter one is our jump off point to Tibet, we hope.
An overland bus should take us to Nepal, where we plan to stay for a couple of weeks starting approx the 20th of November.
Above is not a fix plan, our plans always change, depending on our the opportunities we get on the way...

We are doing fine. As soon as we are back 'in the air' we update the blog :-)

5 Days in Hong Kong

From Shenzhen to our hostel in Hong Kong it took approx 45 minutes on the metro. We stayed in the middle of the city, at a great location for little money, looking at the hotel prices in Hong Kong.

Still it is way more expensive than mainland China, so we restricted our stay to 5 days.

We were staying in the city center, very close to the Avenue of the Stars and the ferries to the other islands. At night the skyline is filled with lights of high buildings and billboards.

Hong Kong = Shopping... especially electronics. So no wonder Matthew and Robin ended up buying a PSP and we bought a small computer as the one we have is about to fall apart.

Don't get a shock.... we stayed in the 'famous' Chungkung Mansions on Nathan Road.
The outside looks terribly, on the picture you see the front of the building. But... renovation has just started, so there is hope...

The inside is fascinating. On the ground floor there are many small shops going all the way to the back of the building. Super slow elevators go up at least 17 floors, the whole building is filled with small hostels, restaurants and who knows what other kind of businesses. Together with people of many different nationalities, loads of boxes are moved in and out of the elevators all day long. It was not difficult to connect with the Indians, Pakistani, and Africans of many different countries. We ended up eating Indian food most of the time :-)  

Hong Kong is not only a big city, there are islands with beautiful scenery. We took the ferry to go and have a look.

We visited a nice fishing village.

And we visited the big Buddha.

Our stay in Hong Kong was really nice, we checked out loads of stores and a night market. The metro system is really easy and Matthew and Robin were going around on their own as the city is really safe.
On the 'downside', we have never seen so many tourists as we have seen in Hong Kong!!

A short visit in Shenzhen

Matthew's YEP friend Jun (http://www.pangaea-yep.com/) lives and studies in Shenzhen. As Shenzhen is very close to Hong Kong, we decided to go and visit here before moving on to Hong Kong.
That was a really good idea! We stayed in a nice hostel, got to know great people, both locals and travelers and went for a visit to the university.

Jun lives with 3 nice room mates in a small but cozy room on the campus, she just started studying there some weeks ago and stays 4 years. On the picture: Matthew shows the girls the Taiji presentation. 

A group picture: Jun, in front, her 3 room mates and the 3 of us.

We had dinner together in the cafetaria. Kaycee (sitting next to Matthew on the picture) should probably change her studies and go into entertainment. We really had to laugh with her :-)  Keep speaking with all those foreigners Kaycee...  we are still looking for that 20 year old good looking international guys for you.
Jun, thanks very much for the opportunity. We really much appreciated it! We hope to see you in Switzerland some time in the future.
To Joan, Adam, Shadow: great to have met you all! Let's stay in touch.

From the hostel in Shenzhen we walked with Jimmy, a visitor from Brazil, to the metro, took the metro to the border, crossed the border and jumped into the train. See you in Curitiba Jimmy! Hope you had a good flight home.

Freitag, 29. Oktober 2010

18 Hours "in Prison"

In China it seems long distance trains can be booked 5 days in advance, and that is the time to run to the train station. We realized that the day before we wanted to take an 18 hours train trip to Shenzhen... and with a list of questions, translated in Chinese, we tried to get tickets anyway.

Forget it... no way... all was sold out, soft beds, hard beds, even hard chairs! The last week of the Shanghai Expo starts and some other fairs are going on. We tried the close by Hong Kong and Guangzhou, but same story here.

As it was time for us to move on, we went to the bus station... and got tickets on the sleeper bus.

The only info we had was where the bus leaves and at what time. We had no idea what to expect.

I write this text in the bus... we ‘survived’ the night - we assume we arrive in approx 1.5 hours, but up to now, it is a great mystery...

Nobody, that means 30 passengers and the drivers speak English, at least that is what they say. On a bus between 2 mega cities. How strange is that!

For those who are interested in it, here is a short run down of our sleeper bus experience:

We loaded our bags in the direct bus to Shenzhen.

We queued to get into the bus, it seemed to go slow, people started to take the offered plastic bags. We figured that was for those we need to throw up... luckily that was not the case. Everyone had to take their shoes off and put them in a bag. Good thinking, too bad that was the only thing they thought about...

The beds are approx 60 cm wide and not more than 170 cm long. We had our small daypacks with us.. very bad  those and the bags with the shoes and our food bag had to be placed on our beds too.

There are 3 rows of beds, 2 high, 5 in a row with a tiny path between the beds. We had 2 top beds and one bottom bed. On the bottom bed we could not even sit, as it was so low.

Luckily enough we brought our food and drinks bag, we drove and drove and only after 5 hours the bus stopped for dinner. It was just passed 7 pm. Dinner is a big word, we stopped at a small convenience store, we bought a noodle soup as the show supplied how water, and once back in the bus we ate our food we got from the market that morning.

The dinner stop was a toilet stop at the same time. The toilet in the bus is a disaster, but the ‘let us call them toilets’ at the stop were nothing more than what cows have in Europe... even no doors. Great choice for a stop!

Na ja, in the mean time it was dark and the lights in the bus don’t work, at least not on the bottom beds. The bus stopped again and I tried to go out, but was ‘told’ in some aggressive sign language to get straight back in. So standing in the bus, at the door opening, I brushed my teeth and spit the toothpaste on the ground (outside). The bus left again and has not stopped since, except for getting fuel.

The night passed unexpectedly well. These 30 other passengers, being all Chinese don’t spit and don’t make horrible noises with their throat. It seems they all took heavy sleeping pills as most are sleeping since we got into the bus. Some others are fiddling with their mobile phones. Those calling scream in their phones iso talking normal...

There is one small kid on the bus, but even he does not make any noise. Am wondering who all these people are, where they go, what they do on this bus...

So now it is morning an my colleague Jeff has just spoken with a lady on the bus to find out when the bus arrives, being 1 p.m. ... iso 8 a.m. as we thought it would be.

5 more hours than expected.

It is hot, there is no more fresh air, the ‘airco’ only works more or less. There were still no further stops, just a few minutes here and there to let people out of the bus. The toilet smells like hell. And believe it or not, one of the 3 staff started smoking and none of the passengers said anything about it.

So I did, and the cigarette was put out immediately. Crazy there are!

We lie around and wait, to arrive... Brain on zero!

A one-time experience, never again 

Donnerstag, 28. Oktober 2010

Goodbye Japan!

Japan was great, meaning, almost the whole of Japan was great. Taiji is really beautiful, but what is going on there is nasty!

Sadly, that means we left the country with mixed feelings. Incredible actually, as, except for those 30 ‘fishermen’, we met nice people only! Still that bad feeling does not go away...

Japanese people are really helpful and really nice. Even that most people’s English skills are rather poor, there was always a way to communicate.

We stayed with Japanese people, we ate their food, Matthew and Robin visited one of their schools. We made some Japanese friends.

We ended up staying 6 weeks, instead of the planned 3 weeks... that says a lot!

This is 'Slime', Matthew's favourite 'game-monster' from Japan.


The bus ride to Osaka was supposed to take 3.5 hours. We left at mid-day on Friday and figured that this would be well in time to arrive before dark in Osaka. Due to a huge traffic jam, we ended up in the bus 2.5 hours longer than expected and ended up walking to the hostel through a dark, empty sports park around 9 p.m.

We had no idea what to expect of the hostel nor the city. This would change soon:

The super friendly hostel staff helped us to set up our 5 days stay in Osaka.

They gave us a room for the 3 of us, instead of having to split up in dorm rooms. Some staff spoke English very well and gave us very competent advice on where to go, how to get there and they made reservations for us, as we still don’t speak Japanese...

Sunday we went to Osaka castle, it was not our first choice, but the castle we planned to visit was closed for renovation. Robin found the place a waste of time and money.

The castle was re-built and looks way too modern, it has a museum inside with mainly Japanese explanations. Don’t go, there are way better place to visit in Osaka.

Too bad... but maybe it was meant to be...

On our way out, a Bulgarian lady ran up to us, desperately asking for our help... we were very surprised at first, but then she told us in tears that her tour group had left her behind and she had to go back Kyoto on her own.

She had no idea how to get there.

We dropped our plans and came to the rescue.  

After crossing the city by metro, and dropping the nice lady off at the train station, we checked out the huge underground station’s shopping area before returning to the hostel.

Monday we traveled on the metro to the Tezuka Osamu manga museum. It was impressive to see how much influence this man had on the animation industry in Japan. All in all, an excellent place to get to know the history and philosophy of this highly creative man, and to see his work.

Right after that, we jumped on the metro again, to our next stop, the Osaka human rights museum. This was a truly great place – it talks mainly about minority groups and their rights – homeless, disabled, HIV/Aids, and the Minamata decease, which could well break out in Taiji again...

Even that the text on the walls was in Japanese, we got an audio guide in English. An elderly volunteer stayed close to us during our whole visited, which took almost 2 hours and kept giving us additional information.

We watched some documentaries and experienced this trip as very interesting!

Tuesday we took the metro to the city of Kobe, around 30 minutes away from Osaka main train/metro station. We visited the harbour, checked out a Japanese garden, met some nice people there, who were right away.

Wednesday we went to the Nissin ‘Cup Noodle’ museum and participated in the hands on noodle making workshop. It was a whole lot of fun.

That evening Matthew and Robin joined the local Karate training. The locals were really interested in them and lots of pictures were taken after the training – the language barrier was not a big deal.

Thursday we went to the garbage burning facility. Chika, a girl working in the hostel was so kind to come with us. The staff at the facility did not want us to take the tour as they don’t speak English. Thanks so much Chika, it was a great experience! Without you we would not have been able to go!

The building was designed by the Austrian architect Hundertwasser. What a cool designer!! Too bad for the Osaka taxpayers that it ate up quite some of their tax money!

With that we came to the end of our stay in Osaka. It was great to be in this city!!

Mittwoch, 27. Oktober 2010

Miyajima Island

Miyajima is an island just a short ferry ride away from Hiroshima.
After a lot of serious subjects, we were ready for a 'lighter day'. So we went to Miyajima, an island known for some famous temples and shrines.

Once we arrived on the island we were first surprised to see a deer walking around, but soon it was clear that these tame animals are walking around all over the town.

We have no clue what this is for, but it looked kind-a nice... Loads of these rolls of 'something' were stacked in the main temple.

Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima-style, some kind of a pancake with egg, vegetables, noodles and spices, prepared in front of us. Delicious! Actually the best reason to come to the island... 

Sonntag, 10. Oktober 2010

Shortly back in Tokyo and on to Nagoya

Kii-Katsuura is just a small town, still, they have a direct overnight bus to Tokyo! We boarded the bus at 1930 hrs and arrived bright and early on 0530 a.m. at a bus station in Tokyo. Busses have recliner seats and are way more comfortable than airlines (Y-class) seats. It does not come close to sleeping in a bed, or even on a tatami mat... but it is cheap and it is convenient to travel at night, when traffic is low.
'Real' Travelers always depend on opportunities to 'break away' from the tourism routes and learn more about the countries they visit.

Cyril is one of the special persons who offered us to stay with her through Couchsurfing and learn more about living in Tokyo. As we stayed with Cyril when we just arrived in Tokyo, we could now just go back to her house... Arriving there before 0700 hrs in the morning we found a bunch of people still sleeping, but others were already packing and talking quietly. We really felt like coming home.

That day, we helped Cy to pack up her belongings as she was moving out of the apartment, we washed our clothes, we stayed at Cy's place for a night and then picked up our luggage, including the stuff she stored for us and moved on again on the next nightbus to Nagoya.

But not before meeting with Kiki, our 'new' friend from Taiji and later on with Rolf, our 'old' friend from previous travels.

Bye Tokyo, we had a really nice time !!