The island nation of Japan takes its food very seriously or at least tries to justify the large price tag for a very polished melon and other things most people find for much less back home or on the other side of the South China Sea. The same melon here in Japan would only set me back $4-5 USD depending on the season and if I decided to go organic and get from Whole Foods no less.
Food prices are a tricky thing because most nations of the world have experienced a huge rise in them for the past few years. Japan is an island nation that has always had high standards when it comes to food. There is some food grown and raised here in the island nation but much of it needs to be imported. The cost of production and simple economics causes the simple melon here to make international headlines.
The only fruit I’m consuming is the watermelon and an occasional bowl of fresh pineapple to break up the fruit monotony. I’m not visiting Japan for the fruit. My experiences usually go beyond the meals that usually are meat free which is hard do in a country where the prevailing belief that a meal without vitamin “meat” is just wrong. There’s not much food adventure for someone like myself who doesn’t eat a whole lot of meat.
We will be moving on to China next week and the exchange will be more in favor of the USD. I’ll be able to go back to my one dragon fruit a day diet without breaking the bank. I think my first meal will be just a big bowl of dragon fruit and a side of pineapple. I’ll skip the Champdak.
We said good-bye to Shanghai on Friday as we boarded our taxi in the surprisingly sleepy Jing’an District. The ride to Pudong seemed like more a demonstration on how our taxi driver could get us to the airport faster than his nemesis the speedy Maglev. Of course, there are no working seat belts in this shaky compact and we are left to overlook the lack of safety and the speedometer and just watch the Shanghai skyline disappear behind us. We reached the Pudong Airports in 45 minutes and the Maglev never managed to pass our vehicle.
The Pudong Airport is new and of course super-sized like most structures like it in the new China. We boarded our Air China plane an hour and after a 2 hour bumpy flight landed in Osaka. The short flight consisted of a watching Globetrekker episode where we learned how Ian Wright traveled around Las Vegas, and a Wonder Bread cucumber tea sandwich with juice.
The journey today ended in town of Zeze otherwise known as Lake Biwa just outside of Kyoto. It’s been over two years since our last visit to Japan and the sticker shock hit us just little after getting off the JR train in Kyoto. For example, in China a pastry costs 4 Yuan or about 75 cents at the corner bakery opposed to the 240 Yen or $4 dollar bagel without cream cheese from a kiosk in the Kyoto JR Rail Station. This just means that we’ll have to be selective in how we spend in Japan. This means still treating ourselves to things we love most. This includes at least one trip to an Onsen, a few nice meals and many glasses of smooth sake and souchu. We have an idea of what we want to see but the plans are loose so we have the option of cutting out if we end up going past our comfort zone.
Our plan so far is to stay here in Kyoto and visit a friend whose wedding brought us here in the first place. We will then fly south to Kagoshima using new Japanese budget airline called Peach and travel around the Kyushu region. The details are still being worked out but so far we will be going to see volcanoes of southern Kagoshima and central Mt. Aso , see castles in Kumamoto and temples of Fukuoka and Nagasaki.
In the span of two long days we packed and stored our NYC life, grabbed a direct 14 hour flight from EWR to PVG, and checked into our new temporary home in the former French Concession (FFC) in downtown Shanghai. We chose Shanghai because we are familiar with the city and will be able to have a longer visit.
In 2008, the Chinese Consulate in Seoul granted my husband and I both 30 day Single Entry Visas. It was pretty much just enough time to hit up the major tourist draws – Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai. Back then, China was frantically getting ready for their world stage premier and the Olympics was just the first act. There were other events unfolding behind the red curtain which were causing headaches for everyone for travels, locals, and officials alike. Securing travel visas was difficult. We made due with what we were granted in Seoul and just saw what we could. This allowed us to budget only 5 nights. This time it will be a 3 week visit.
This time, the Chinese consulate in New York granted both of us 90 day multi entry visas which are good for a year. This will allow my husband and I plenty of time to visit what was missed back in 2008 including a proper visit to many cities like Shanghai. We will also witness what has become of China after four years of rapid expansion and construction. So far, it’s obvious that much has changed and this country is still rolling along at full Maglev speed.
Shanghai still appears to be caught up in a construction frenzy. Streets are constantly being swept in the former French Concession and it is not uncommon to see a Bentley speed by while strolling down Huaihai Road. Will the things we see in China’s cultural capital be a stark contrast to what lies ahead? I’m enjoying it all none the less.
The first week was a blur of jet lag and it still hasn’t sunk in that there’s several more weeks – and possibly months – ahead in this journey. At least the jet lag only lasted a few days, Shanghai looks sort of familiar and the transition from living in NYC and now in Shanghai is not very difficult – just warmer.
36 hours from China to Morocco. I’m on a train from the airport to Casablanca and it’s only been an hour but feels like it took 20 hours. We are arriving to Morocco after a 36 hour-long Qatar flight 550 from Shanghai where we each racked up almost 8000 miles of distance along with a dose of mind-boggling jet
lag. I’m Traveltired to say the least. The flight itself felt like we were tagging along a Chinese missionaries sponsored by the People’s Republic peace corp (if there is such a group is doubtful) because we were just about the only passengers not equipped with a yellow safety helmet and military issued backpack. The flight dropped all of those workmen losing their flying virginity in lovely Tripoli. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get off to check out the airport but the graveyard they call their runway was enough of a visual souvenir. The plane is now 90% empty. This was a Boeing 777 which can seat up to 550 people. The flight attendant still refused to give us an upgrade to first class. Too tired to care.
The 3 hour trip to Casablanca from Tripoli got us landed in the middle of the afternoon Western Europe Time . There was just enough day light to get to the hotel, find something edible nearby and to find ways to keep our eyes open since it would be a bad long-term move if we turned in before 8pm. It was our only time to see Casablanca. We just wanted to see a little bit of the city while overcoming the harshest jet lag I had ever experienced. The hours from the airport to the pillow was surprisingly hassle-free, my head didn’t burst and the little pill had no problem helping me get to sleep later. A good night’s sleep was imperative tonight since this adventure wasn’t close to being over. We had booked a morning Marrakesh Express. Don’t worry I’m not going to reference the song as tempting as it may be.
The train, like in most places, is the best way to go from Casablanca to Marrakesh May Day weekend 2008. Taking a plane was just ridiculous since it’s expensive, we didn’t need to get anywhere fast and besides, we would miss the opportunity to witness inside and outside scenery of the humid train.
One of the pitfalls of planning a RTW trip is the things which can’t be avoided. We had traveling in this part of the world before the severe heat, Ramadan and here we had May Day. Being in Morocco during that particular weekend isn’t ideal since it’s Europe’s equivalent to the US Memorial Day long weekend holiday. Like us, they usually hit the road and descend in the thousands near by attractions like Marrakesh. The euro was strong and still is years later. For many, its great place to spend a few Euro on rugs and other bric-a-brac found in cute shops inside the Media and on a spa treatment back at the luxurious Riad. The USD just wasn’t allowing us to go crazy and proposed a challenge to our planned budget. We were just about half way through our year-long sojourn and had already had some unplanned budget overrides. We just had to just roll with the Euro backed punches like we had done from the start.
Why waste more time and money on worrying about forces that were out of our reach. We were determined to enjoy Europe Morocco since we had just spent 2 days getting there . Our fiscal pains temporarily were forgotten in the steam of our Tagine and help of a few bottles of local beer. The common theme on such a trip is to manage with what we had and we did. We found beautiful yet reasonably priced Riad called Riad al Faras for $85 USD, and enjoyed a few days of walking around the Medina, enjoying the company of those also staying at the Riad. At the end, it only took a medium size chunk out of the budget but it was one of minor indulgences we treated to ourselves that year away.