Thursday, 30 June 2011

“hello, do you have a minute?”

First of all, apologies for the absence... I have spent the last 10 days or so in China where the leaders of the People’s Republic have a ban on a few (social networking) websites, most notably Facebook, and one of these being my beloved Blogger/Blogspot. I know you have all been anxiously awaiting an update on my travel adventures so, again, very sorry!

We left if off in Oz... After c. 2 weeks in Australia I got on a c. 10 hour flight to the country of the rising sun, the same country which has recently been struck by a devastating earthquake/tsunami and by an out-of-control nuclear crisis emanating from Fukushima power plant. Next stop: Japan. As I have pointed out in previous posts, and similarly to what I described about Australia, Japan was very much one of these “crown jewels” in my itinerary, a destination around which I decided to carve my trip around. Prior to making this decision, I had received plenty of input from friends and acquaintances alike on a country that, for some reason, everyone regarded as truly fascinating.  I thus had extremely high expectations... Would they be met?! Read on to find out! J

Before getting into the knitty gritty of my stay in Japan, let’s address the title of the post. To those who have travelled to Japan in the past, it may prove a familiar set of words or at least may ring a few bells. I first heard this phrase on my 4th or 5th day in Japan, in Hiroshima more precisely. After having spent roughly 2 hours visiting the Atomic Bomb Memorial Park (excluding the actual Museum, where I would spend a further 4 hours or so!) and as I worked myself around the various monuments erected to perpetuate the memory of the tragedy that followed the dropping of the a-bomb at 8:15am on August 6th 1945, I was approached by a group of young students (I would say they were still in primary school). In unison, they pronounced the following words (the title of the post): “hello, do you have a minute?”... Not knowing what this whole deal was about but relying by this point on my curious instinct, I told them: “Yes, of course I have a minute”. What came next was a totally inspiring and fascinating cross-cultural exchange that I would encounter, and in which I would be a primary actor, on various other occasions during my stay in Japan. In turns, and very politely, these children all introduced themselves and then took out a notepad where they had some common / day-to-day phrases written down in Japanese along with their respective English translations. These included introductory statements such as what school they came from or what city they were based in as well as questions related to my nationality, my stay in Japan, my country’s typical dishes, etc. Upon asking me where I was from, they showed me a map they had on one of their flashcards and asked me to point out where on earth (literally speaking!) this was. When I pointed to Spain, they were all in awe and repeated the word “Espain” a few times with a grin of total fascination on their faces. Then, on a separate flashcard, they showed me still pictures of 6 different Japanese comics (or manga) and asked me to identify, in first instance, and then to point to my favourite manga series. Without a doubt, and although some will disagree, I had to go for Dragon Ball Z ! ! ! After another couple of questions, including them asking me to sing / perform a famous Spanish song (I will not actually reveal the song I went for as that would truly ruin my reputation and end the young and prosperous life of this blog!), came picture time. The 4/5 students, two of their teachers and myself posed, quite evidently showing off our best “victory/peace” signs (see below pic for further visual details),  with smiles on our faces for a few shots taken from a variety of cameras (including mine!). Then, we did a round of bows (a very honourable and respectful greeting gesture in Japan) and parted ways. I was blown-away by this episode as I could have never imagined something quite like it anywhere else in the world, let alone Spain, Europe or the US for that matter. It demonstrated, to a large extent, how inviting and welcoming Japanese people are towards foreigners and how intrigued and puzzled (in a good sense – that of exploring, learning and discovering) they are by our presence in their country (and even maybe by our existence all together!)... far from being repelled by those aliens, what surprised me was how welcoming and thankful they were of my (and others around me) visiting Japan, particularly within the context of the recent nuclear “havoc” (as labelled by Western media) which emerged in March of this year. One of the many examples highlighting the polite and gracious nature of the Japanese folk.
I arrived in Tokyo on a rainy Tuesday afternoon (June 6th to be precise) and after landing at Narita airport, headed directly to the hostel I had booked for the next couple of nights. Before leaving Australia, as I mentioned in my previous post, I had given some thought to the preliminary itinerary I was hoping to follow in Japan. This included a couple of days, initially, in Tokyo, a trip via Shinkansen (or high speed train) all the way to Hiroshima and working my way back up to Tokyo with various stops along the way – Himeji, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, etc. This would all be topped by 4 days in Tokyo towards the end of my trip as I was due to fly out from there to Beijing. My arrival in Tokyo took a while as the airport is close to 100km outside of the city, so by the time I got to my hostel it was almost dark! The hostel was located in the Asakusa district which is slightly outside city centre but still conveniently located. For those of you who are unaware, Tokyo is a massive city – quite possible one of the biggest in the world and no matter where one is based, it will generally take a while to get to most of the main spots in the city. Fortunately enough, I had with me a Japan Rail (JR) Pass, which is similar to the Interrail Pass in Europe and allows for unlimited travel on the JR Network across Japan. JR also runs certain metropolitan lines in most of Japan’s big cities so depending on where one goes, travel can be free with the JR Pass. Right after getting to the hostel, which had a special 50% off promotion due to the current earthquake/”nuclear” crisis, I settled in and asked one of the blokes at reception for a place to have a quick and cheap bite of something typical from Tokyo. He recommended a Ramen (or thin noodles in a soup) place close by and I didn’t hesitate a second. For 700 Yen (c. 6 Eur), I enjoyed a fabulous meal! Afterwards, and on the way back to the hostel (which was only c. 15 minutes away), I stumbled into Senjo-Ji temple and its surrounding park. Given that the sun had only set a couple of hours earlier, the whole temple complex (consisting of c. 10 buildings) was lit up, thus providing a truly amazing sight and a great first “encounter” with a Japanese temple or shrine. The carefully planned lighting infrastructure highlighted the temple’s grandiosity and beautiful colours. Senjo-Ji, as a temple, is a Buddhist place of worship. Shrines, on the other hand, are Shinto – the other main religion in Japan. Just a note though related to “religiousness” in Japan as was pointed out by one of the locals I discussed the topic with. Although most people in Japan would ascribe themselves to either the Shinto or the Buddhist faith, this is more an identification of their spirituality rather than a strong and unconditional faith as we may understand it from other monotheistic religions, such as Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, etc. The fundamental reason behind this “écrémé” version of their religions lies in the incompatibility of an all-governing, flawless and undisputed faith and one of Japan’s overarching civil principles and ideals: Intellect. The latter is one of the most respected and admired values one could possess in Japan. Interestingly enough, to most Japanese, demonstrating to have a deep intellectual capacity is opposed to being an “all-in” religious believer / practitioner because it would entail relying on unproven facts and principles versus using one’s intelligence to rationalise their existence and make decision based on this. Quite interesting... Maybe something many devout religious practitioners in the world should give some thought to. Anyways... my first night in Tokyo was rather uneventful as I preferred to rest up ahead of the next day, which would be packed of sightseeing and exploring the huge megalopolis. I was quite lucky to have a great Lonely Planet guidebook on the city which I borrowed from my friend Coca, who is a true expert on the country – as he has been three times in the past, and which provided plenty of insights into the places I should see/visit.
First thing in the morning, I went over to Ueno Park, which was relatively close to my hostel (about a 25 minute walk). This park very much resembles any big park inside city centre. There were people all over the place, jogging, cycling, walking their dogs/kids, etc. Ueno is also the part of town where the main Tokyo zoo can be found, so plenty of school kids on day trips could also be found in the area. I mostly walked around the park and checked out a few temples / shrines in the area (this, let me tell you kind of becomes the norm for the first few days one visits Japan. Some temples / shrines are more impressive than others but end of the day, apart from a select few – Meiji Jingu, Senso Ji, etc. – they are all very similar). After Ueno, I decided to go to the Imperial Palace, previously stopping in Akihabara (the electronic/manga district for a stroll + lunch), in the hope that I could visit its interiors... but much to my surprise and disappointment, no visitors allowed on the premises. After this, I wandered around the Ginza area, which is the Tokyo equivalent of NYC’s 5th Avenue or Paris’ Champs Élysées, with all the fancy stores and brands having a prominent (or at least trying to have) a representation. After that, I crossed the city all the way to the West side to Yoyogi Park, where I was aiming to visit one of Japan’s most famous shrines (Meiji Jingu), and which, according to my guidebook, is the most beautiful in Japan. The shrine is particularly impressive as it is located in Yoyogi park, where one is overtaken and almost fully covered by majestic trees which lead the way to the shrine. On the way to the shrine, one also walks under humongous wooden torii gates which anticipate, even if just slightly, the sights that are due to follow. I was very impressed by Meiji Jingu... what I wasn’t aware of was that I would be returning a few weeks later, only to witness a very special religious ceremony. One thing at a time though! After that, I headed over to Shibuya (which is only one subway station away) as I was due to meet up with a Couch Surfing friend, Haruka. We met at 6pm and she took me around the busy districts of Shibuya (home of the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world) and Shinjiku (here we even went atop the Tokyo Metropolitan Government tower, where we witnessed a fabulous 360-degree view of the city. Following our long walk where we talked about our respective travel experiences, our future plans and during which I “bombarded” her with questions on her everyday life in Japan, her thoughts on the country’s future, her views on the current “nuclear” crisis, the role of religion in day-to-day life, etc., we enjoyed a very nice dinner and beers at a popular hangout. Given that she had class at university the next morning, we parted ways just before 11:30pm and I also went back to my hostel. I was quite tired from having gone around the city the whole day and wasn’t excessively repelled by the idea of resting up as the next morning I would be catching a train all the way to Hiroshima, c. 1,000km to the South West.      

Early next morning I caught a Shinkansen train bound for Osaka, where I had to change onto another one bound for Hiroshima. One of the only limitations of the JR Pass is that one is not able to catch the super fast and direct Nozomi (yes, like that eccentric, overpriced but yet very fun Japanese restaurant in London) train which runs straight to Hiroshima. In spite of the layover (which was less than c. 20 minutes), the journey to Hiroshima was very smooth. I spent most of the 5 hours drafting up my post on Australia and reading. After arriving at the main railway station, I headed over to the Atomic Bomb dome, or one of the only buildings which wasn’t fully annihilated in downtown Hiroshima as a result of the atomic bomb and a true icon of the city/country’s struggle post WWII, where I had a rendez-vous with Mi-Ko, my couchsurfing host. She arrived quite promptly accompanied by Juuso, a fellow surfer from Finland who was also staying with her, and we went out for dinner to a ramen place close by. We had, according to Mi-Ko, the best ramen in town (we also enjoyed some yummy Gioza – or the Japanese equivalent of dumplings/perogis) and had a great introductory conversation. I gave them a bit of a download on my latest adventures in Tokyo and Australia and they both gave me some preliminary tips on Hiroshima. After dinner, we went back to her place (situated a mere 15 minutes by foot from the A-bomb dome, and we had a quiet evening during which we chatted most of the time about many many things. I also met another surfer, Roy from the Netherlands, who was also staying at her place (yes, a total of three people were staying with her!).
Following Mi-Ko’s advice, the next morning I woke up early and went over to the Atomic Bomb Memorial. There, I ended spending about 5 hours. Firstly, going around the park itself which was designed around the dome (i.e. one of the only buildings which wasn’t destroyed with the explosion) and then inside the museum, which is packed with pictures, personal objects of survivors, replicas of pre-WWII Hiroshima, where I could get a tangible grasp of the tragedy the people of Hiroshima went through on that dreadful morning of August 6th 1945 and for many years to come amongst the crumbles of what it formerly was and due to the effects of radiation. After having visited the Aushwitz-Birkenau concentration / extermination camps back in February and as reported here (, going to Hiroshima further added to my first-hand discovery of some of WWII’s, and contemporary world history’s for that matter, most famous, yet most horrific and tragic, landmarks. After leaving the museum I headed towards the Hiroshima castle which, although being completely destroyed as a result of the bomb, was completely rebuilt. There, I could also see a few trees (yes... trees!) that “survived” the bombing and which seemed to be quite popular amongst Japanese tourists as everyone was trying to get their picture taken. On the way to the castle though, I was approached by two pleasant and friendly elderly women who began by introducing themselves. Just when I thought this would be yet another Japanese-foreigner curious cultural encounter, they began asking questions about my faith, my thoughts about religion, whether I believed in “God All Mighty”... all this in the most proper English. They handed me a brochure and before I had time to read any of it, they asked me to read a passage of what I thought was The Bible. The passage itself covered things such as love, peace and all the shebang... but I did pronounce in the c. 30 seconds I was reading the word Jehovah about 5 times... Yes folks, these gentle and nice old Japanese women were indeed Jehovah’s witnesses... Upon finishing reading the passage I made sure to quickly say goodbye by making up some random excuse. When I had walked about 50 metres, I chucked the brochure in the bin... Not the first time I am approached by these types of individuals. The most interesting, though, was when as a Camp Otterdale Counsellor I was offered a “Book of Mormon” by one of my campers, because he thought my many questions on the “group” (to call it something mild and politically correct) implied I was, in some shape or form, interested in the movement... In the evening, Mi-Ko, Juuso (the Finnish couchsurfer) and myself went to a local restaurant to have Okonomiyaki, which is some sort of pan-fried mixed vegetables pancake topped with a special sauce and Japanese mayonnaise. This Okonomiyaki was made Hiroshima style (vs. the other type which is Osaka style and which I would have a few days later) and also included noodles (ramen style) and pork bits. DELICIOUS! We had a great dinner out and after a while we went back to Mi-Ko’s place for some drinks.
The next morning, at around 9:30am, I headed to Miyajima Island, which is know forms its “floating” Torii gate and the deer that populate its small extension and interact, without any fear or hesitation, with locals and tourists alike. It is also home to one of the most famous shrines in Japan, Itsukushima Shrine, which is painted in a vivid red tone. I was lucky enough to arrive to the island rather early so I caught both the low tide and the high tide (the latter in the afternoon before leaving). As you can see from the pictures below, I managed to see both the “on land” and the “floating” Torii gate. Quite cool if you ask me! I also climbed the island’s highest peak – Mount Misen – at c. 600m above sea level. This took me about 2 hours (!) so I opted for the 1,000 Yen cable car on the way down. The fact that it started to rain was also one of the factors which lead me to that decision. Once I got down, one final look at the shrine, the gate and the deer and I took the ferry back to Miyayima-guchi (literally Miyayima gate) to catch the train back to Hiroshima. It must have been c. 5pm when I got back to Hiroshima and when I arrived to Mi-ko’s she mentioned her and Juuso were heading to Matsuyama Island (c. 3 hours by ferry) for the week-end and I couldn’t stay at her place that night. I thus checked myself into a local hostel. I met a couple of British guys from Warwick University and LSE and another bloke from New Zealand with whom I partied that night at a local trance (!) bar to which we were invited by the hotel receptionists. Beforehand we had enjoyed a nice dinner at a restaurant nearby where we had another Hiroshima specialty (I unfortunately cannot remember the name!) consisting of ramen-style noodles which one was meant to dunk in a spicy sauce/soup and then “sip” away as loud as possible. A note here regarding eating noodle dishes in Japan – making a loud suction sound is, by all means, not regarded as an ill-mannered practice... much to the contrary. Don’t get mad Mom, but you know what they say: “When in Rome...”

I woke up with a slight headache the next morning (not, in any way – obviously –, related to the excessive amount of low-quality sake I had put into my system the previous night!) and got on a train to Osaka which would take c. 2 hours. On the way, I stopped for c. 1 hour at Himeji where one can find one of the most impressive castles in Japan. I did know it was under maintenance and covered by a massive scaffolding so I only got into the castle “compound” but didn’t bother going into the castle itself. I returned to the Himeji station and hopped on another train bound for Osaka. In Osaka, I had made arrangements to stay at Amber’s place, a couch surfing host from Connecticut who is currently teaching English in Osaka to local children. We met at the tube station close to her place and had a very pleasant and interesting conversation on the way to her place as well as there once we arrived. Afterwards, we both headed out as she had a meeting with some friends and I decided to check out the area around her place. I found myself eating at a great local Izakaya (or Japanese-style restaurant) where, obviously, no one spoke English. I had a great meal and one of the bar tenders even gave me a free copy of his “debut” album as a singer... normally 1000 yen (as was advertised in the restaurant) but he gave it to me for free... I’m guessing because I was a foreigner. Didn’t understand a word of what he said though! J Later on that night, Amber and I went over to a bar where she was meeting a few friends. There, we ran into two other couch surfers that had gotten in touch with Amber but whom she unable to host, Josh and Ashley (I would end up travelling for most of my remaining time in Japan with these two guys) and after a few drinks and a shisha (which Ambre particularly enjoyed) we went to one of the biggest clubs in town (Giraffe) for one hell of a party... which ended Spanish-style, at c. 7am! Loads of fun though! Being surrounded by ecstatic Japanese people losing their customary calm and introvert temper was a very interesting experience!
Next day, as you can probably imagine, I took it slow... Woke up at 2pm and didn’t head into the city until the late afternoon. I did go to the Osaka castle (pic below) and took some great pictures of it at night. It was unfortunately raining the whole night so I was pretty much soaked by the time I got home. Nothing much happened that Sunday but I recharged my batteries for the following day.
I had agreed with Josh and Ashley to go to Kobe the next day (only 1 hour away by train). One of the main reasons was to try to have some Kobe beef (world famous for its amazing taste yet prohibitive price) at a local restaurant. Before lunch, we visited the 1995 Kobe Earthquake Memorial and explored both the Harbour and the Chinatown area (one of the biggest in Japan). For lunch, we managed to find a really good deal at a nice restaurant packed with locals. Instead of the 6,000 yen (c. 50 eur) per person for a full Kobe beef Teppanyaki (i.e. with our own cook in from of us making everything on the pan/grill) meal (i.e. with rice, salad, miso soup, etc.) we paid just over 3,000 yen as it was a special lunchtime promotion. The meat was splendid! The mouth-watering expectations wer surely surpassed. Having every piece of beef melting in your mouth like butter is an inexplicable feeling! Not sure, though, if from now on I will accept any invitations to eat overpriced Kobe beef in Europe, the US or anywhere else given that I have had the real thing. In the evening, and after climbing Mount Rokko (this time by cable car) and enjoying some nice views of the Kobe bay area, we returned to Osaka, rested up a little and went out for dinner. I really wanted to try Okonomiyaki Osaka style (the other main type in Japan) so I took the guys to a random restaurant we ran into and ordered one for each. I must admit it was great (the guys liked their first experience a lot!) but I have to say I will forever remain loyal to the Hiroshima camp J. In the evening I met up with Amber and her friends at an Izakaya close to her place for a few beers. There I also met her friend Tony, a guy from Utah who is also an English teacher, who was due to be my host on my final night in Osaka. We had a great time and even shared an interesting political conversation with all their friends. It was particularly interesting to hear the various, and somewhat diverse, points of view from an all-American crowd. I gave them an update on the socio-political climate in Spain... quite evidently paying a special tribute to the “indignados” movement.
The next morning I, once again, met up with Josh and Ashley to go around the final bits of Osaka. We went to the observatory situated on one of the city’s tallest buildings, tried to visit the Instant Ramen (i.e. cup noodle) Museum (was closed on Tuesdays unfortunately) and just wandered around the city for a while. In the evening we parted ways as I had to take a train to Kyoto. I would be meeting up with them there the following day as they had one more night to spend in Osaka. I got to Kyoto in the evening and after getting to my hostel, I grabbed a quick bite and set off to explore the nearby area. I didn’t get too far as I was rather exhausted and left most of the sightseeing for the following days.

On Wednesday, I decided to go over to Nara, which is situated about 1 hours South of Kyoto and is famous for Nara Park where deer run around freely (similar to Miyajima) and where one can find a temple with one of the biggest Buddhas in the whole of Japan. So I went there for the day, was once again surrounded by school children of all ages from all sorts of places and had to, hopelessly by now, endure the poor photographic skills of the random people I asked to take pictures of me with my camera. Sideways, limbs chopped off, focus on another person, etc. One of the few disadvantages of travelling by one self: asking stranger for photo shots. Sometimes, not such a good idea. Regardless, I very much enjoyed Nara. I also enjoyed a very tasty sushi platter I bought from a street vendor for a mere 400 Yen (c. 3.5 Eur). Delicious! I returned to Kyoto mid afternoon after sleeping the whole train ride back (here, very much in concordance with the Japanese habit of falling asleep on the train, subway, bus, etc.) just in time to check out some of the interesting sightseeing attractions the city had to offer. Some others, though, I inevitably had to leave for the next day. That afternoon, I visited Japan’s tallest Pagoda (or tower temple) and a Buddhist temple where I witnessed ongoing celebrations of the group founder’s 775th birthday. A massive deal as the festivities had attracted huge crowds. As a former imperial city, Kyoto was also known as a spiritual hot spot in Japan. This was particularly interesting and I could take some unique shots of some of the religious services. Not that they were inspiring from a personal standpoint (I haven’t turned to Buddhism like Richard Gere quite yet!) but it felt like a unique opportunity to witness a religious service I was not familiar with until then. Afterwards, I returned to the hostel and ran into Ash and Josh, the guys I had hung out with in Osaka. We also met an Aussie guy, Mitch, and after some banter we headed out for dinner. Following our dinner and on the way back to the hostel, we decided to stop at an Izakaya for a few drinks. Turned out it was “happy hour”/”happy day” and all drinks were half price. We stayed there for a while, and if I tell you that we ended up with a photo shoot behind the bar and mingling extensively with the whole staff once the rest of the guests had left... you must imagine how many of those cheap drinks we must have had. By the way, Ash and/or Josh, if you are reading this, I’m still waiting for your iPhone photos!!! ;) Upon returning to the hostel we had a few more drinks and then called it a night after decided it could be a good idea to rent bikes the next day to go explore the city.
Early wake-up (c. 10 am) but unfortunately for us, it was raining... at so it would remain for the whole day! We did, nevertheless, rent out the bikes at the hostel and equipped with our very masculine umbrellas took off. First stop: Golden Temple. Literally, it is a golden temple. Not entirely sure how the effect is provided or if it is real gold or just gold coating... but the optical effect sure is achieved. Impossible to actually check as the temple itself is surrounded by a pond, thus making it inaccessible. After a few photos and a few random “encounters” with Japanese school children coming to us with their: “hello, do you have a minute?” we headed over to our next destination: the Imperial Palace. It didn’t take us very long to get there but much to our disappointed, there were no more tours of the Palace in English scheduled for that day. Given that the entrance to the Palace is dependent upon being in a prearranged tour (i.e. no “independent visitors” as they put it on their signs), we could not go in... We did bike around the wall surrounding it. Second Imperial Palace I tried to visit and second disappointment. Our final stop of the day was at the Kyoto Castle (I believe it had a proper name but cannot recall right now), which we quickly toured on our own before heading back to the hostel to protect ourselves from the pouring rain. That evening, I had made arrangements to meet up with a Japanese girl from Kyoto, Aki, who had contacted me on couch surfing and who was interested in meeting up as she was planning a trip to Spain in the coming months. The rest of the guys tagged along and Aki + her friend Sue (guessing this was her “westernised” name. Sue, by the way, had spent some time living in British Columbia, Canada so her English was more than decent) took us to an all-you-can-drink bar for the first couple of hours. We had an amazing conversation as she was extremely keen to learn about Spain, its culture, its people, its food and so on. A real pleasure to have been able to provide insights, even if only a few, into that! From there, we went to a restaurant close by and had a typical Kyoto dinner. Very enjoyable – Top notch! The girls left us as they had to catch the last bus home but we tried our luck venturing out looking for a club as, by that point, we were quite in the mood for another few drinks. Not sure why Thursday nights are not too big in Kyoto but we didn’t manage to find anything decent... so back to the hostel.

After a slow start on Friday morning, I said goodbye to the guys (Ash and Josh I made arrangements with to meet up in Tokyo a few days later) and got on a train to Mount Fuji. As I had to be in Tokyo that evening to meet up with Mamen, a friend from uni, and a few of her friends, my plan was to stop at the Fuji station for a quick 1-hour layover and try to get a glimpse of the perfectly-shaped volcano which most Japanese consider to be sacred. Unfortunately, cloudy day which covered the whole upper part of Mount Fuji. I guess  I will have to return to Japan in the future to check it out as it is still on my list of to-do’s, potentially even climbing it, who knows! I got into Tokyo at c. 6pm that afternoon and checked in at the same hostel (Sakura Hostel in Asakusa) I had been in a couple of weeks ago. Here, just an explanatory note before getting into the evening. I had received a note via Facebook after a post I had put on my wall re. my departure from Osaka from one of my good buddies from my ML + London days, Philipp from Germany, who mentioned he’d be in Tokyo on a business trip for the week-end and wondered if there was a chance we could meet up. What a fabulous coincidence... of course we met up! I actually went to his hotel and met him and his father (who was there on business with him) for a drink. What a change to have a gin and tonic in a fancy 5-star hotel bar vs. what I have gotten accustomed recently. J Afterwards, we met up with Mamen and her friends it the Hiro-o area (close to Roppongi) and, following a few cheap drinks, went over to a Karaoke for a few hours of quality entertainment. Most definitely one of the highlights of my stay in Japan. I had a blast singing everything from classics such as Radiohead, Led Zeppelin and the Eagles to the most commercial tunes like Rihanna and the like. This non-sense did prove, though, that I’d have no future as a singer! A very fun night which ended at c. 5am at a nearby Spanish (??) bar called “Guapos” where we had our last drink of the night (my favourite type of Spanish beer by the way: Estrella Galicia). It took me about 1.5 hours to get back to my hostel and while in the taxi back I agreed with Philipp that we would meet at 12pm at his hotel the next morning. Just do the math to see how much I slept that night.
Knackered from the previous night, I arrived to Philipp’s hotel one minute after 12pm (and then Spaniards have this reputation of always being late!). We got on the train to Shibuya as I wanted him to see the famous and busy crossroad. From there, we also checked out the Roppongi area but had to return to the hotel as he had met up with his dad to go see a shrine (which at that point I didn’t know which one it was). It turned out they wanted to see Meiji-Jingu. Given that I had already been, I took enormous pleasure in acting as their “guide”. While we were walking around the shrine, we were lucky enough to witness, first-hand, a Shinto wedding service taking place right in front of us. Superb... the bride and groom looked great and everyone was dressed up in their special attire (Japanese/Shinto) for the occasion. Took plenty of pictures and videos of that special and unique moment. In the evening we returned to Philipp’s hotel as him and his dad were due to meet with their Japanese business partner and his wife for a nice Teppanyaki dinner (the one where a party as a cook all to themselves cooking on the pan/grill). They were kind enough to invite me to come along and I was very pleased to accept the invitation. We went to a fancy restaurant, enjoyed a fabulous meal consisting of plenty of quality seafood and meat topped with a two bottles of remarkable white wine. We spent the whole dinner exchanging views on Japan and Europe, how Japan had changed since Philipp’s company first entered the market. I was also questioned about my trip, my plans, my career, Spain, etc. All in all, a superb experience. After dinner, Philipp and I went to the hotel to have a few drinks at one of the many fancy bars and went on for a while on the usual stories, our memories from our time together in Madrid, NYC, London, etc. Had a blast that night. We parted ways close to midnight as they were due to catch a plane back to Germany the next morning at 7am. I returned to the hostel and went straight to bed.
I still had a few things on my list to do in Tokyo before I left, one of which was to explore Roppongi Hills properly and go to the Tokyo tower. I did both of those (yes, I did go up the tower... and even got a lame certificate for going up to the first level – c. 150m – up the stairs! It’s all about staying in shape) and then met up with Mamen for drinks and dinner in a nice little district West of Shibuya. Very trendy part of town where she took me to a nice little hidden alleyway bar. Then, we went to have dinner to this amazing Izakaya. We had an amazing conversation on everything, but mostly just updating ourselves on what we had been up to since uni, what plans we had for the near future and where we saw ourselves heading. Given that she is working directly under the responsibility of the Diplomatic mission in Tokyo (although she focuses on economic/commercial matters), we also exchanged some views on that as I have some experience in the field and have pretty much lived and breathed in that environment all my life. She also asked me if I would be mentioning her in my post on Japan... Well, here you go!! How could I not?! ;) After one last drink, we parted ways and I returned to the hostel.
The final thing I was aiming to cover in or around Tokyo on my last day was either Kamakura or Nikko. Nikko, to the North is rather close to Fukushima (c. 100km) so I opted for Kamakura, which is a small town about 1 hour outside of Tokyo in the South West, which I had heard was also as impressive. So there I went the next morning. I spent pretty much the whole day there and was particularly impressed by the huge Buddha statue. This one was the biggest in Japan (I was told) and was hollow on the inside so one could go in and “hang out” inside the Buddha. Good vibe... I also visited a famous shrine and got back to Tokyo at around 6pm. When I got back to the hostel I ran into Ash and Josh who were very much in the mood for joining Haruka (my Japanese couch surfing friend whom I had met a few weeks back) and myself for dinner. She was as always, super cool and took us out for a beer or two in Shibuya. We also grabbed something to eat in the area and enjoyed a nice conversation. Funny story from that evening is that there was a group of completely drunk Japanese guys sitting at the table next to ours. They began to engage in a conversation by asking Haruka, in Japanese, how she had met us, where we were from, etc. and slowly got roped into our conversation. At one point, I was taken by surprise when one of the guys said, out of the blue, that I looked like Orlando Bloom and that I was quite handsome (don’t misinterpret here... In Japan, for some reason, it is quite normal for straight men to give compliments like these to other men so I was “flattered” I guess...). Given that the two most typical look-alikes I get are Charlie Sheen (sweet Jesus...) and Jack Sparrow, I guess Orlando Bloom isn’t too bad after all! Hehehe. After that pleasant evening the three of us returned to the hostel and made it an early one. I had to wake up at 5am the next morning to get on a plane to Beijing. 

It’s been c. 10 days since then and now I am actually writing this in a sleeper-train on the way back to Beijing after an interesting couple of weeks in China. That will have to wait until next time though. For the time being, enjoy the pics. I did take c. 1,500 so have tried to pick out the best / my favourite. And if you haven’t noticed yet... I LOVE JAPAN!

Hasta pronto!


Wednesday, 8 June 2011

smith street.

After the c. 2 weeks I spent in Brazil and which I shared with you in my last post, I embarked on my first ever trans-pacific flight towards the Land of Oz, Oz, Aus or just simply Australia. As some of you may be aware the latter was alongside Mexico, Brazil and Japan, one of the prime destinations I was intending to visit on this world trip. As you may recall (not sure if I shared this with all of you here) these were the pillars, so to speak, of my trip, with all the intermediate destinations selected as a means of getting from one of these “pillars” over to the next. First things first... smith street.

Located in the trendy, artsy and up-and-coming (well, maybe it’s already lively enough and kicking) district of Collingwood in Melbourne, Smith Street (,+fitzroy,+melbourne&aq=&sll=-37.87571,145.039559&sspn=0.0094,0.021136&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Smith+St,+Fitzroy+Victoria,+Australia&z=15)  is quite possibly the closest thing I have seen thus far to my former neck of the woods in London (c. 2008/2009) à Shoreditch (,+Hackney&aq=0&sll=-37.801487,144.98386&sspn=0.01882,0.042272&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Shoreditch+High+St,+Hackney,+Greater+London,+United+Kingdom&z=16) . Although the latter was located slightly closer to city centre (by that I mean The City – or the business/financial district) they both share common characteristics which to this day I had not been able to discern anywhere else. These can both be described, on the one hand, as the nucleus of the emerging artistic/musical indie subculture and, on the other, as a vivid representation of a truly fascinating cultural melting pot – all that topped by an overarching atmosphere of openness, mutual self-respect and "libertarianism". It would not be uncommon to walk 100 metres down either Smith Street or Shoreditch High Street and stumble upon a live music gig from a 3-years-down-the-line-famous-to-be indie band, a kebab shop, a gambling venue as well as a gay/lesbian bar. To me, these neighbourhoods, in spite of being classified by many as the ghettos of contemporary youth, act as the perfect representation of the urban evolution of our cities, and most significantly of our societies. For one can be truly stunned by the cultural, gastronomic and entertainment quality offered in a place like this, in addition to the "libertarian" vibe one can be surrounded by.

My arrival in Australia was preceded by a rather long flight from Brazil. To that one must add the relevant time-zone shift and as a result one develops a chronic fatigue state and a totally messed-up biological clock for, at least, the next 2 days. Nonetheless, all worth the trip down under, given the extremely high expectations I had on my visit. Unfortunately, though, I was well aware that 2.5 weeks would certainly not be enough time to cover, even if just partially, a country/continent the size of the US. So, on my flight over and during the last couple of days in Brazil I began to devise my itinerary, as always, in part based by the recommendations and tips I had received from fellow travellers as well as from friends back home (Spain, UK, US, Europe, etc.). All that said, I arrived in Sydney late on a Monday night. I should note here, for the audience’s benefit, that one of the objectives I set myself for this stay in Australia was to give Couch Surfing ( a shot. I had been advised by many friends and acquaintances that this online community was ideal to meet locals and enjoy their company while they hosted you in exchange of travel ideas, recommendations, tips – and an overall good time. The principle is quite straightforward... people open up their houses, let you stay with them (for free) on which ever surface they have available (bed, couch, air mattress, floor?), show you around the area/city and provide you with insights into their lives, culture, interests, etc. To me, a true complement to the hostel experience, where, to a certain extent, one only meets fellow travellers who tend to be in the same “clueless” state as oneself when it comes to visiting a place/country for the first time. Another ruling principle is that one is able to benefit from people’s goodwill to host by accepting to give back when a couch could potentially be available after one has settled down post travelling. So, in my case, when I settle in Chicago starting this September, I will very much be open to receive travellers and aim to share with them as much as I can on the city, the country, my past+future travels, etc. Good stuff, really, that can result in lasting friendships. I would encourage all of you to give it a try next time you travel. You won’t be disappointed! I was unable to arrange a “surf” in Sydney as I couldn’t get in touch with my potential host early enough. I nevertheless stayed in a backpackers’ hostel for the first 3 nights I was in Australia. I arrived to the hostel at c. 8pm and would you believe it, there was already an outing prepared for the evening. In spite of being completely crushed I decided to tag along. We went to a bar nearby where I met some of the hostel folk (hadn’t had much time beforehand as I had spent the c. 30 minutes I was in hostel to leave my bags, make my bed and explore the place) and had a great time. First shock from that first evening though, I found out how expensive Australia was going to be, not only in terms of entertainment/nightlife but in general... food, transportation, accommodation. Fyi, I paid, on average, US$ 25/night in a hostel in Australia, whereas in Peru and the rest of LatAm (ex Brazil) I never paid more than US$10/12. Yeap, depressing... add to that the mind-blowing performance of the AUD vs the EUR and the GBP over the past 2 years (currencies in which I hold most of my savings) and you get one very shitty purchasing power for Viguera... The next day I woke up early with the aim of seeing selected parts of Sydney as, given its magnitude, it is relatively challenging to visit in one day. So, in that first day, I focused on the Botanic Garden (where the Governor’s House is), the Opera House, King’s Cross/Paddington (the area where my hostel was) and some parts of downtown. Another preliminary observation: it rained the entire day. It basically didn’t stop until I left the city. That’s what I get, I suppose, for visiting during “their” fall/winter. What impressed me the most that first day was, apologies for sounding cliché, the Opera House. Absolutely breath-taking! Being an architecture "aficionado", I took great joy in walking in and out + around the construction. Also, the views from across both the Eastern and Western bays are very worth it. Honestly, no wonder this building gives Sydney a predominant part of its identity, even if just to the outside world. A true must, along with the hundreds of pictures I took of it. In the evening, again a similar story, I went out to a local bar with some of the people from the hostel. It was good fun as we went to a karaoke-type bar (no... I know what you are thinking... I didn’t make it up on the stage myself! Didn’t want to embarrass any of the other participants! hehe). There I met Mario and Pascal, two really easy-going and cool German dudes with whom I spent most of the evening and whom I would randomly run into in Byron Bay, on the East coast of Australia, about 2 weeks later towards the end of my trip. The next day, I decided to explore some more of Sydney with another guy from the hostel who was in my dorm. We went to the Olympic village (he was very keen but most definitely not a must...), Chinatown (where we had a succulent bowl of Ramen! and where I bought my bus ticket, to Melbourne, for the next day) and Darling Harbour. We also crossed over Harbour Bridge for superb views of downtown and the Opera House. Given that, yet again, it was raining heavily and incessantly we took the ferry back after a short stop by Sydney’s main amusement park – Luna Park – which apparently was shut in the 1970’s (and for a few years after that too) due to a series of accidents which took place there. That night I was totally exhausted and stayed in. I had walked a lot over the last couple of days and needed a rest from all that marching under the rain. The next day was due to be my last I was catching the overnight bus to Melbourne (c. 12 hours) at 7pm from Central Station. During the day I opted to head over to one of the most famous surfer destinations in or around Sydney: Bondi Beach. It must have taken me c. 2 hours to get there but the effort was totally worth it! Although the beach was rather empty, as in spite of the bright sunshine it was a bit chilly, there were some surfers catching the decently-sized waves along the coast. I stayed there for a while, just relaxing, walking around and taking pictures (you know that my camera is a dear friend). The views from the northern part of the beach were particularly nice, very much reminding me of the “Peine de los Vientos” area of La Concha (cfr. Chillida statues), San Sebastian’s main beach. I walked on the way back as well, although I did make a stop at a Jewish bagel store (not sure why it was there but it was delicious) along the way. Got back to the hostel in time to get my things and set out towards the bus station. What awaited was a long 12-hour bus ride to Melbourne. Nonetheless, from a big-picture standpoint, have been through much worse... like that 20 hour train ride from Bucharest to Budapest! Also, the bus was quite comfortable, nothing like I had ever seen before. Surprisingly, the seats were much more separated from one another and the excessive and vital leg room made the trip all the more comfortable.

I arrived to Melbourne at c. 8am on Friday morning. I was due to head over to my Couch Surfing (CS) host’s, Felicia (Born and raised in Singapore but living/working in Melbourne), house a bit later that morning so I decided to have breakfast at a Cafe while I caught up with some emails, the news, facebook, etc. I got to Felicia’s place at around 10am. Although I had voluntarily told her that I would be arriving slightly later than my bus arrival time, so that her and her sister, Hui Ying, could enjoy a proper night’s sleep, it seemed from the look on her face when she opened the door that my ringing the door bell had awaken her. After the preliminary introductions, we spent the next c. 3 hours chatting, just about everything. My trip, my plans, her past travels, her euro-trip scheduled for this summer and some many other things along the way I can’t even remember. All I can recall is that it was an extremely pleasant conversation.  Felicia was due to begin her shift at work at c. 3pm, so at 2pm, and just after a dashing visit to Fitzroy Gardens, we went for lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in Richmond (the Vietnamese district). Afterwards, I set off to discover the city on my own for a few hours. I went pretty much all over. Melbourne is slightly smaller than Sydney, so in one or two days, most of the relevant sights and places can be covered. As a side note I should mention that Melbourne and Sydney are two very different cities. Although they are both inspired, quite logically, by British influence, Melbourne does have more of a European flair, while Sydney is much more of an North American-style metropolis. In my opinion, the contrast could be exemplified by associating Sydney to Toronto and Melbourne to Montreal. I hope that helps you picture it. Needless to say that Melbourne was, by and large, my favourite out of the two! In that first day I covered Fitzroy Gardens, Carlton Street (“Little Italy”), the Melbourne University campus, the CBD (business/financial disctric), Chinatown as well as the area close to Flinders station. In the evening, I went out with Felicia, some of her friends and her sister to a pretty cool bar along Smith Street. We partied all night long and woke up late the next morning. As it was Felicia’s day-off, she was very kind to offer her help as a guide. Given that I had seen most of central Melbourne the previous day, we went to the southern district of St. Kilda, where we walked around and took in the relaxed yet lively atmosphere. We also went to Brighton beach, which is situated a bit further South and has some of the best views of Melbourne. It is also well-known for its multicolour beach huts (pic below). That evening I had made plans to meet up with Cat, an Australian friend of mine from my time at Penn. We met at 7pm (well... she was a bit late for our meeting. And then Spaniards have to live with the reputation of always being the ones who are late!) and went to a cool bar along Brunswick Street (also in the Fitzroy/Collingwood area) called “The Black Cat” for a couple of drinks. Afterwards, we moved over to Smith Street for dinner at an amazing Japanese restaurant and, yet, another drink. Being a very responsible individual, Cat had to tuck herself into bed before midnight, so we parted ways around 11:30pm after having spent a heck of an evening! Let’s hope, though, that it doesn’t take us another 5 years to arrange another reunion! ;) I got to Felicia’s place just when her and her sister were getting ready to head out. The three of us went out for a rather long while around the area, and just when I thought I was going to be able to catch the Barca-Man U. Champions League final (5am local time), I passed out on the couch. Shame on me! Regardless, Barca won and I was able to wathc the highlights the next morning. After, yet again, another late wake-up, I headed over to Southern Cross station to catch a bus to Apollo Bay. This marked the beginning of my adventure along the Great Ocean Road. Melbourne was an absolute blast... Particular thanks to Felicia, her sister and Cat for making it happen! ;)

My journey along the Great Ocean Road began at 7pm in Melbourne when I caught the bus to Apollo Bay. I had heard incredible things about that coastal road which spans c. 200km between Geelong and Warrnambool (approx). I was particularly excited to see the 12 Apostles and the area along the coast. Was also hoping to spot some cool wildlife such as Koalas and Kangaroos. I had heard from friends that the best way to travel along the Great Ocean Road (GOR) was to rent a car in Melbourne and just drive on. Being by myself though, with the evident budget limitations, and not being a true expert when it comes to driving on the WRONG (yes you heard me... wrong!) side of the road, I decided to pass and opted for the bus. I got to Apollo Bay at c. 11pm and found the place to be deserted. That preliminary impression would also be applicable to the hostel I was due to stay at as it was, literally, empty! The next morning, and being aware that travel along the coast would be challenging by bus, I decided to try my luck with hitch-hiking. I had never done it before but had heard some interesting stories of backpackers being able to travel throughout Australia at ease just by using their thumb. Well folks... happy go lucky didn’t have his day it seems and after c. 2 hours of waiting around, waiving my thumb up and down at cars and drivers of all shapes and forms: Nothing! To no avail... Luckily, though, I did manage to find a bus that was going all the way to Warrnambool which went along the GOR and made stops at the most relevant settings, such as the 12 Apostles, the London Bridge, etc. and one which I particularly enjoyed – the Bay of Islands. Unlike the tours that we ran into along the way, our bus (being a public service bus) only stopped for a limited amount of time in each spot so we (an elderly man and myself – yeap, that was the effective occupancy rate of the bus... 2/60!) had to rush to get over to the viewing platforms, enjoy the scenery and, in my case, take as many pictures as possible! The GOR didn’t prove to be at all disappointing. The Apostles (even if they are called 12, there’s only about 8 or so that are still standing), which are huge rocks about 100 metres off the coast line and have been carved and shaped over the years by the erosion caused by waves and tides, are very impressive. I was fortunate enough that the weather was quite good (sunny, with only partial clouds) and the time of day, close to sunset, made it optimal for picture taking. Also, surprisingly enough, I didn’t run into too many tourists! That night I stayed in Warrnambool in a relatively empty (remember it’s winter time...) hostel. The next morning I walked over to Logan’s Beach which is c. 2 hours away from town and which is famous for being one of the optimal areas for whale watching during June and July. It was a bit frustrating to have walked for so long not to spot any whales but still the views of the beach and the improvised surfers were good enough. That afternoon I left the GOR and returned to Melbourne, where I was due to catch a flight to Brisbane early the next morning.

The only reason why I wanted to stop in Brisbane was because I was intending to travel down the Eastern coast of Australia. I had initially thought of flying to Cairns and then travel all the way back to Sydney but unfortunately it was too far away and I didn’t have enough time to cover it all. I had gotten mixed reviews of Brisbane... the official one, from my lonely planet guide book, depicted a vibrant and growing city with great weather and loads of fun things to do. The unofficial one, from my friend Cat... well she just said it was a shit hole (yes... you did say that!). To be honest, my stance would be somewhere in between. Ok-ish for 24 hours but not much more than that. The hostel I was at was relatively cheap and there were tonnes of backpackers. Fun fact: in my dorm, I met a French couple (must have been c. 22/23 years old) who had been travelling around Australia for the past 4 months and had just arrived in Brisbane in search of a job as they had run out of cash. To illustrate this, let me just say that they were sharing / paying only one bed (i.e. Officially, only one of them was a guest at the hostel). Weird... I had a very very early night and decided to miss out on the hostel pub as I had barely slept the night before. The next day I had to catch a bus to Byron Bay (located to the South of Brisbane and on the way to Sydney). During the c. 1.5 days I spent in Brisbane I mostly walked around the city (small enough to be covered in one day), had lunch in the park, went to Chinatown (gosh I love those places!), walked around the city (a little more) and bought myself a new towel (as I had lost/misplaced my previous one)! I would try to sound a bit more exciting but think the city didn’t really have that much to offer. In conclusion, only go there if you need to fly on your way to Surfer’s Paradise or Byron Bay.

That evening I arrived to Byron Bay, ready to experience what some had described as, without shadow of a doubt, one of the highlights of their Oz experience. In hindsight I couldn’t agree more with that statement. I got into town at c. 9pm and after a rather lousy orientation on my behalf (yeah, I know, not that common in me but does still happen at times!) I finally reached the hostel. I quickly went over to the lounge/common area and, minutes later, I randomly ran into Mario and Pascal, the two German guys I had met in Sydney. I was happy to see them and excited about the prospects of sharing the next couple of days with them. That night, we hit the local hang out, Cheeky Monkey’s (I know, a terrible name...), and partied well into the night. The next morning, I just barely missed the guys, who had already gone to the beach to surf, and I decided to explore Byron Bay on my own – I would leave surfing for the next day. I spent most of my day at the beach, walking up and down the coastline and taking pictures. I finally ran into Pascal and Mario at c. 1pm and spent the rest of the afternoon with them while they were taking turns surfing. After seeing how much of a blast they were having, I told myself I would be trying it out the next day – although all I have ever done is windsurfing (barely) and bodyboarding, back when I was about 10 years old, I thought it could be fun. So after spending most of the day at the beach we went back to the hostel and got ready for dinner. As we began looking for a place to have a cheap bite, we saw a sign reading: “Free BBQ – Everyone Welcome!”. And so we went: Free burgers for everyone. The event was organised by some sort of religious group, but much to my surprise all that demonstrated this were the few bibles and other religious insignia next to the buns. No other displays or manifestations. I would have even attempted to say grace or something for free food. Oh well, as the day went on we got into our evening routine and strolled by the “bottle shop” (much like in Canada, one can only buy alcohol, even beer... in specific stores) to purchase a few beers to have in the hostel courtyard that night. Big night because Nadal was playing his Roland Garros semifinal game against Murray and the game was being shown at Cheeky Monkey’s. Mario, who is half Serbian and very much a “Nole” supporter (he is a lost soul, forgive him!) is also a big tennis fan so we decided to hit the bar at 10pm. From there, the rest is known to most: Nadal won and we all had something to celebrate! The next morning I woke up early-ish (10am) as I had to check out of the hostel and rent out my surfboard and wetsuit for the day. Turns out the previous evening we had managed to get free “half-day” surfboard rental vouchers from the hostel reception (score!), which meant I would save c. AUD 40 (c. EUR 28). We hit our usual spot at the beach and got ready to go. I must admit that I had an absolute blast. I only managed to stand up on the surfboard a couple of times but I did catch a few big waves, even if I just took them flat on my stomach the whole way through: still picked up decent speed. Overall a great first experience, will surely give it a shot some other time. My body was nevertheless in pain though from the full workout, and so it would remain for the next three days. In the process, by the way, I broke one of the fins of the surfboard, without which, in theory, the “steering” becomes hazardous, cut my wrist with one of the remaining fins and managed to witness how the strap one is meant to tie to one’s ankle to ensure the surfboard remains attached ripped – luckily this last “accident” took place towards the end of the day and I was already too tired anyways to keep going. Very much of an eventful day at the beach! That evening I was due to catch the overnight bus (c. 12 hours) back to Sydney as I was flying out the next day. Before then, some of us at the hostel held a BBQ by the beach. Turns out there were free-to-use electric grills and we fired them up big time. About 8 of us enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a succulent feast. Kuddos to Andy and Chris who took on most of the responsibility of being the chefs! Overall, Byron Bay was a blast. Not only did I meet great people and “learn” how to surf but I also got a bit of a tan! Jokes aside, should be on everyone’s Oz list, but be careful as the place gets packed during the summer (i.e. the Northern hemisphere’s winter).

The next day I arrived to Sydney and had pretty much the whole day to spare. I left my big bag at the train station and walked around the city. Stopped at a couple of McCafés to take advantage of the free wifi (as in this country it seems that the concept of free wifi does not exist... not even in hostels. Shame on you!) and take care of some admin., personal things. I also used that time to reminisce on my Oz experience. Amazing country, but way to big for a two week trip. Next time, Perth, Western Australia, Cairns and Ayer’s rock are on the menu. Looking forward to being back! I took way too many pictures during my stay (c. 1000) but have attempted to select and share with you the most representative ones. Hope you enjoy them.
Next stop, where I am now (!), Japan. Pretty thrilled about that. So far been here 24 hours and I am already in love with the place... Let’s see. Oh yeah, currently in Hiroshima – minutes away from the Atomic Bomb Dome. Impressive stuff. Well, that will all have to wait until the next episode. Hasta pronto!