Sunday, 3 January 2016

Castles, accommodation and people

Date: Sunday 3rd January 2016

Weather: It was hovering around 16 degrees today making my attire totally inappropriate for such a hot day. Accompanying this heatwave was a beautiful and, yep you guessed it, a blue sky with fluffy white clouds.

MP3 track of the day: Parklife - Blur

Due to my busy day yesterday, I got up at the leisurely time of 8am. Though most hotels and hostels have a checkout time of 10am, this one was 11am. I therefore had ample time to relax and get ready for my move to Osaka. Before checking-out I finally went for breakfast at 'Viede France' which, though it was the smallest and probably the most expensive breakfast I've had on this trip, it was also the most delicious. I then made my way back to my hotel with a sad look upon my face. Within Kansai lies this city – let's be honest, due to it's size it really should be a town – called Nara. Whereas Osaka merges into Kobe as one big urban sprawl, Nara is very much isolated from the hustle and bustle of urban life and, I think, it chooses to be so. It has been a very friendly place and, though lacking in restaurants, it has had everything I've needed. Nara has most definitely shot into my 'number one city' for the Kansai region. If I had the money, I think that – knowing what I know now – I would have made Nara my base for my whole Kansai trip and just used the numerous trains to get to where I wanted to be. As I got back to my hotel – it isn't really a hotel; it's more of a posh guest house – I collected my bags and went downstairs. Waiting for me was the owner, armed with his smart phone and a big smile. He asked if I had enjoyed my time and helped me plan my oncoming journey to Osaka. After a few clicks on his smart phone he had managed to work out a route to my next hotel, which was different to the one I'd planned. As he hasn't been wrong yet, I asked him to write down his route and I followed it. This once again meant that I would be using the private rail company instead of 'JR rail'. This didn't bother me in the slightest; in fact, I had grown to like this rail company very much as staff members were abundant and they all seemed to know where each train was heading.

Sadly, the rail company cannot control who uses it's service. Though there didn't seemed to be any nutters bound for Osaka, the lady next to me did sniff a hell of a lot. I therefore resorted to putting in my ear phones and reading the announcements which were shown above one of the train doors. When my line of sight to said door had been blocked my another lady, I had to remove one ear phone so that I could hear when my next stop was due. Thankfully I didn't miss my stop and, neither did I mess up my connecting underground link. Soon enough I had exited my hotel's local underground station and was almost about to walk in the wrong direction. Luckily, I decided to get out my compass and map and soon after I arrived at my hotel which … was just a door. Space is a luxury in Osaka therefore, I found my hotel's reception on the 2nd floor. Once at reception I realised just how much I like small private guest houses – like the one I'd stayed at in Nara – compared to the cheap business hotel I was currently staying in. Once I'd checked-in, there were no further questions about my plans for my visit to Osaka. The lady wasn't ready to provide me with additional information. It was if she didn't have the slightest interest in travel or any traveller. When I inquired as to where good souvenir shops could be found, I was given a less than enthusiastic response which resulted in an underground name. Being 11am I couldn't go to my room; I therefore removed my camera, my guidebook and my mini bag from my large bag and left the hotel in search of Osaka's most famous tourist attraction. It's castle.

Still not completely orientated, I actually went the wrong way and ended up following a road leading away from the castle. As it turned out this was a good thing as it led me to Osaka's river front. I walked along the waterfront taking endless photos; for once, it would appear that Japan has actually thought about the aesthetics of a place and not just it's function as, Osaka's waterfront was very pretty indeed. Beautiful bridges crossed a blue river to a land of skyscrapers and trees. I enjoyed this brief walk and, once it was over, I found myself back at my hotel.

Once I'd worked out where the castle was, it didn't take me long to get there. Once again the castle, and it's surrounding area, was very pretty. It was such a beautiful day that I decided that I would walk around the entire outer-moat, and then the entire inner-moat, before going into the castle itself. The pathways running next to the outer-moat were very pretty indeed; flowers and trees bloomed up everywhere, all in the presence of the castle's keep and it's high looming walls. About a billion joggers were running around the park and I met a few a couple of times. I don't understand jogging around the same place everyday, even a place as beautiful as this one. Personally, if I was to take up jogging I would want to 'jog' to somewhere. I suppose it's all 'parklife' in the end. About halfway around the outer-moat I saw a man doing a bit of falconry. He was a Japanese guy though, he was wearing an army jacket with the American flag on. Though the bird was very impressive, it wasn't actually doing a lot and so I continued on my walk. I made it to a fountain which had been erected at the most southern edge of the park.

Once I'd walked around the outer-moat, I crossed over a bridge and did the same around the inner-moat. Obviously this took a lot less time however, time was also helped by the fact that a third of the inner-moat's walking route was closed due to private property or renovation work. As I was almost completing my walk, I could here this 'hai' … 'hai' …. 'hai'... sound. I could make out that it was a man's voice however, I really had no idea what was going on. I could see a small crowd in front of me all looking up at the outer-moat's wall. On top of said wall was the falconer looking up into a tree where his bird had perched itself on the highest branch. There were quite a few giggles from the crowd as this falconer almost pleaded with his bird to come down. The bird however was having none of it; quite content to watch his owner look like a 'prized prune', it sat up in the tree looking like it had all of the time in the world. It was hard not to laugh and, what made it worse was that, as I walked away I could still hear 'hai' … 'hai' … 'hai'... for quite some time.

With the walls finished I progressed into the central area where I found the main castle and a huge souvenir shop (so much for having to go to another underground stop for souvenirs). I purchased a drink and read about the castle in front of me. In all honestly, my guidebook made the inside of the castle sound as though it wasn't worth the entrance fee. I do usually like the outside of buildings more than the in therefore, having seen the outside for free I was contemplating leaving without going in. With time on my side I decided that there was little harm having a look inside; I purchased a ticket and joined the crowd. Today is the last day of Japan's New Years holiday therefore, I am hoping that tomorrow might be a little quieter.

Once inside the castle I was beginning to think that my guidebook was right. Unlike at Himeji-jo, the whole inside had been renovated to look very modern indeed (there were two elevators). The ideal route was to take the elevator to the top of the castle and work your way down, visiting each of the seven floors filled with exhibits. Due to the queue for said elevators being so long, I decided to take the stairs and go against the grain; I visited each floor as I went up. The first floor was filled with cheap tacky amusements like being able to have your photo taken with a plastic red samurai hat on. Fortunately, the other floors provided more stimulating entertainment. I didn't really take everything in however, the woven blinds showing several battles from the 'shogun war' period really fascinated me. The way the art told the story is very different to what we see in Europe and for me, I found it fascinating but confusing. The castle also housed two models; one of the castle before it was sacked by the forthcoming shogun, and one after, when the shogun ordered the castle to be rebuilt. Though some similarities remained, both castles looked very different to one another. Once at the top I managed to get a good look at the city before I headed down and away from the castle. In total I'd spent three hours within the castles grounds and I'd had a very good time.

Being half two, I still had time to do a bit more sightseeing however, I wanted to stay within this area. This didn't seem to be a problem; my guidebook had written about two of Osaka's best museums being close by. One was dedicated to the bombing of Osaka during World War Two, and the other was a general history museum. Being in a bit of a 'war' mood, I went to the World War Two museum however, sadly, it was still closed due to it being the New Years holidays. The same was true for the history museum. With the time now close to 3pm, I decided to give up on today and prepare as best I could for my forthcoming days here in Osaka. I therefore went back to the giant souvenir stall close to the castle and bought all of the presents I'd need for work. I then headed back to my hotel were I was finally allowed into my room. Unlike all three of my other hotels / guest houses, my bags hadn't been taken to my room therefore, I had to carry them, plus my purchased souvenirs, up to the seventh floor. The room, on the other-hand, is quite nice though oddly shaped due to the exterior wall. I set-up my stuff so that it would make getting ready, over the next three days, as quick as possible. I then left my room and ventured forth.

This morning I had also enquired as to the whereabouts of a large book store. Once again I had been given an underground station name. Once outside of my hotel I peered across the street to see a large shopping centre. Originally I went there to see if they had a restaurant area – they did; but it was far too expensive. What I also found was that the 6th floor had been designated as a giant book store. I went in looking for a photo book of the area I'd visited on my holiday. A very helpful lady showed me where both English, and Japanese, photo books were. Sadly there wasn't one just about Kansai; I could either buy a photo book for each city individually, or a photo book of all of Japan. On closer inspection, I didn't like the 'individual city' books as there was way too much text. The photo book covering the whole of Japan, on the other-hand, was actually pretty good. Due to the large geographical area this photo book had to cover, there weren't many photos of Kansai however, each one within the book was a place I'd visited – or am going to visit. I looked at all the photos chosen for this book and, it's as if the photographer had actually followed me around Japan – or that he and I had the same guidebook. I purchased it and was rather happy with myself.

Due to this areas lack of restaurants, I found myself within a burger fast-food store for tea. Looking around the area, it would appear that food might be an issue. It might be better if I eat whilst travelling rather than wait until I get back to my hotel. Once I'd consumed dinner I purchased some snacks and retired for the night.

So tomorrow I hope to head to Asia's best aquarium … or so the leaflet suggests. It is located at the other end of Osaka so an early start will be needed. I need to try and make the most of tomorrow as on Tuesday I have another 'hire car day' and on Wednesday, I will probably visit the two museums which were closed today before taking my flight.

So far, I have found Osaka to be quite a picturesque city however, not really that friendly. I wonder if that will change tomorrow!

Toodle Pip!

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