Nara is neat

The last time I was in Japan (a little over a year ago), I’d wanted to go to Nara. I’d quite a bit about it, but just hadn’t gotten the chance to go. So when we planned this out, and happened to be spinning through Japan on our way home, it was a very fortunate happenstance that both of us wanted to be there.

Nara, as it turns out, is a very neat little city. Make no mistake, this is most definitely no town. But it doesn’t feel large. At least, if you’re within the “walled” portion. (I’m not sure if there’s an actual wall, but that’s what it looks like on the maps we’ve seen.)

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Adventures in Mongolia

We’re back in Ulaan Baatar after a few days out in the Mongolian wilderness. It’s a brief return — we hit the #24 train to Beijing at 8:00 tomorrow morning. (It’s about 21:30 right now, as I’m writing this.)

Without question, Mongolia has been the highlight of this adventure. Unless something really spectacular comes up that somehow manages to sway us (which I doubt will happen), then Mongolia will be the thing on the trip. Also without question, we would heartily recommend coming to Mongolia (and soon, before the rest of the world discovers how cool this country is) and signing up with Nomadic Journeys. They take far too good care of you.

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A little scoot around Ulaan Baatar

We arrived early this morning. We were up by 5:00, but only arrived an hour later or so. After a sort-of-nap (couldn’t sleep), we were picked up by our guide (again; she’d also taken us to the hotel from the station) and shown around the city.

First up was Sukhbaatar Square — a large open area in front of the Mongolian Parliment. It’s sort of like Red Square, but is named after a man who is credited with being the hero of Mongolia, who led the armies who finally pushed China out of “outer Mongolia” and declared an independant Mongolia. He died mysteriously (insert obligatory conspiracy theory here) and is buried at the north end of the square in a mausoleum. Unlike Lenin and Mao, however, you can’t get in to see him.

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Da svidanya Rossiya

Well, we’ve reached the end of our time here in Russia. Tomorrow morning, early, we’re off to Mongolia. And a 10+ hour border-crossing, so we’re told. It’s simultaneously a horror story and a quest of patience, so it seems.

After we arrived last night, literally 10 minutes into being in our new hotel room, the phone rang. It was “Helga from St. Petersburg”. Being more than just a little out of it, I assumed Helga was our tour operator, and was arranging our tour for tomorrow. She said she would be in the hotel, and we could meet her in the “cafeteria” (more like a bar with food). This was great since she had our train tickets to Ulaan Baatar, and would give us the details for our tour to the Datsun — the Buddhist template near Ulan Ude.

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Turning Japanese Again, Kamakura

We were up a little earlier than the previous few days, so we could catch a good train out to Kamakura, our excursion for the day.

Kamakura is a small town south of Tokyo, about an hour and three-quarters away from Yotsukaido. From 1192 to 1333, Kamakura was the feudal capital of Japan. There are no signs of its previous governmental past today, but the marks of its present status as a religious centre are very clear. The area is peppered with no less than 84 shrines and temples. Less than Kyoto, but Kamakura is a much smaller area.

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Turning Japanese Again, Touring Tokyo (still)

The alarm went off early. Earlier than usual, anyway. Jen was still sleeping, so I thought I’d let her sleep a bit longer. But at 9:00, I got her going.

Unforunately, Jen started off with a killer headache, so she didn’t move very quickly. Compound to that a very irregular bus schedule and not being able to catch a limited express to Tokyo wound up pretty much killing the point of today’s journey — going to Nikko.

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Turning Japanese Again, Kyoto Nishi Honganji Temple

Today, we experienced what can only be the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced. The earthquake hit around 7:30, and shook the entire room. Jen and I leapt from bed, and I dragged her into one of the doorways — supposedly the safest place to be during an earthquake. The rumbling continued for a good 30 seconds (not that I was timing, but it was certainly a long shake) before things settled down a bit. I don’t know how often Kyoto gets an earthquake, but apparently even our modest little ryokan can handle the stress.

April fool! Had you going, didn’t I? No, there wasn’t an earthquake. Quite the opposite, actually. It would have taken an earthquake to get Jen out of bed.

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Turning Japanese Again, Shinkansen to Hiroshima

No hangovers. This was a good way to start the day, even if it was a lot earlier than Jen really would have liked. (Mind you, Jen likes noon as a wake-up time.)

It was warm in the room. The Japanese seem to like it warm. Even trying to turn the heat down didn’t help. Twenty-four degrees is just uncomfortable. We rose, repacked our bags, and prepared for the trip to Hiroshima. Neither of us were particularly hungry, so would skip breakfast. Chris called to inform us of the paper shinkansen schedule, which we’d found out about the night before.

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