japan, travel

Going to Hokkaido (北海道へ行っています) part 1

I went to Hokkaido (北海道) over Golden Week, which takes place over the end of April and the beginning of May.

In this first installment I want to talk about getting there.

I took the long route. Also know as the ferry. I left from Fukushima City (福島市) to sendai (仙台) and from Sendai I took the ferry overnight.

The ferry is by far, the cheapest way to get to Hokkaido. Roundtrip tickets cost a lot less than half the price of a plane ticket. The price you pay is time, it took about seventeen hours to get there.

The “ferry” is more like a cross between the ferries I’ve been on in the US and a cruise ship. There is a range of rooms from suites that can match any four-star hotel to a giant room with fifty futons spread across in the floor. There is a movie theater, a restaurant, a bathhouse, a game room, and a few more fancy things which I didn’t really care about.

I spent most of my time in the lobby area with my friends. There were tables and slightly comfortable chairs, so we stayed up late played a few games and then hit the hay around 1 or 2am.

I was so tired I thought for sure I’d be out the minute my skinny butt hit the futon, but that was not what the night had ready for me. One treat I was offered was a loud guy talking just outside the room all night. He wasn’t Japanese, but he spoke it well enough to hit on a Japanese girl all night, and I do mean all night. Once I figured out how to close the door to the large room I was tossed another delight, the standard super loud snoring guy. This one came with sleep apnea action. The bonus was when he made sounds like he’d just swallowed a golfball at 4am. …And just for good measure he got up and fell on me, giving my leg a taste of pro-wrestling elbow-drop goodness. What a peach that man was!

The only thing that kept me alive the next day was the bathhouse. I’d never been to one before in Japan, but let me tell you this, if you ever need to function after only sleeping an hour and a half a bathhouse is a pretty good way to fight through the day.

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flight, travel

Travel Cheap (great ticket prices)

I’m heading to Japan for a year to teach conversational English and I needed a plane ticket to Tokyo one-way. I’m was only buying it a month ahead because I had to wait for all my paperwork to get processed before buying the ticket so prices on sites like Orbitz and Travelocity were in excess of $1000. Not ideal. I don’t have cash spilling out of my various orifices, so was looking to fly cheap or at least cheaper.

What I did was get in touch with Yung Mei Choi at STA Travel, she was an absolute pleasure to work with and was able to meet all the requirements of my flight. See, I needed to arrive on Nov. 30th by 4pm at Tokyo’s Narita airport. She found me a ticket for less than $600 that arrived in Tokyo at 3:55pm! The one catch (there’s always one) is that you need to be a teacher or student to qualify for the most amazing prices that STA has. And my ticket wasn’t even a deal by their standards, on the site they are currently advertising a flight from NY to London for less than $200 round trip, it used to cost me about twice that for a ticket from Seattle to New Hampshire.

You can buy tickets online from STA but if you want to be sure everything is awesome consider calling (212-473-6100). If anyone knows of cheaper tickets let me know, because I think this is probably the best deal going.

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flight, random, technology, travel

Anyone Know How Orbitz Decides on Airplane Ticket Prices

I just bought a plane ticket from Boston to Atlanta from Orbitz. During my searching I noticed one very strange thing— the prices were different in different browsers. Using Safari (browser on left in image below) I wasn’t given the same price for what appears to be the same ticket found in Firefox (browser on right in image below). Not only were the prices different, but I wasn’t even given the same options of airlines and configurations.

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humor, travel

Evil Can Still be Kind of Funny

Ignoring the arguments about whether Google is as good as they claim to be, one has to admit that they have a sense of humor. Take for instance their directions via google maps to get from New York, NY to Paris, France. I don’t know why I’d never considered just swimming the 3,462 miles to save on that costly plane ticket.

My brother showed me a couple of other cases of slightly evil and very evil being kind of funny. One is the now famous “Wooden Spoon Prank” check you tube for the dozens of people trying to imitate this.

The other is less known, but about a thousand times more evil. It is actually only borderline funny because it is so mean.

And of course all of this is courtesy of youTube, which is owned by Google… along with the other third of the internet.

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flight, seattle, travel

Well *Ding* You Southwest Airlines

I’m not the most experienced flier, but I’ve flown enough to know what I don’t like.  On that this of things is lining up as soon as I get to the gate in the desperate hope of not getting the worse seat on the plane.  Another thing is being in an uncomfortable seat for several hours and being offered only gross snacks on a fairly long flight.  What does all this mean?  I don’t like flying on Southwest Airlines!

I flew from Seattle to Las Vegas to Manchester and then from Manchester to Las Vegas to Seattle, clearly not the most direct way to get back and forth, but it was (just barely) cheaper than some other flights. The trade off is having to stand for an hour to fight for a seat, and then sit in an uncomfortable Boeing 737 uncomfortable for the duration of the flight (6+ hours in my case).

Seating works like this: there are no assigned seats, you print a boardpass from the interweb the day before, it has either and A, B, C, or D on it depending on how many people already printed their boarding passes. Once you get to your gate you line up like cattle in lines labeled A,B,C, and D.  If you want to be at the front of your line you must get there powerfully early, don’t expect people to sit down until just before boarding.  Even if you are in line A you probably won’t get a very good seat, and if you are traveling with a large group don’t expect to sit together.

And bring your own food, unless you like those bread sticks with the fake gross cheese that I used to get packed in my lunch when I was a kid— those were good then, but they’re a punishment now.

I don’t know what it is about the seats, but I they are just unpleasant.  I know airplane seats are luxury, but for me these go above and beyond the normal discomfort.
The only pleasant part flight was the witty and snappy flight attendant on the flight into Manchester, though I’m guessing his routine is only enjoyable the first time.
I won’t even go into how much I hate the Las Vegas airport and paying $3.50 for a slice of the most disturbing pizza-like food I’ve ever eaten. I’ll leave it at this: STAY CLEAR!

People keep talking about JetBlue, so I think I’ll try them out next time.

[tags]airlines, travel, southwest airlines, jetblue, 737, las vegas, breadsticks n’ cheez[/tags]

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flight, travel

Should it Have Been Funny or Sad?

Dear Internet,

The other day I was on a plane stuck sitting in front of loud people who described themselves as Neo Conservatives. Was the galaxy playing a “funny” trick on me, or a very mean one?

During take off and landing I was unable to shield my ears from their discussion and so I found myself alternating between fits of anger and giggles.

I nearly tore my ears off as the woman (let’s call her Ms. Showbiz for reasons I’ll get into later) explained that poverty will always be a problem because even if money was more fairly distributed there would be some people with more and others with noticeably less. Ms. Showbiz also pointed out that if America’s poor went to impoverished countries they would be well off. I won’t go into why exporting the poor isn’t a very viable solution, it’s just silly (and anyway, selling the poor might be a better idea, with thirty-seven million* people in poverty in America we could really get to work on our trade deficit). But lets just stop for a minute and think about the difference between being less rich and living in poverty. If you need a hint, the difference is the ability to own luxury items versus the ability to afford food, heat, shelter, and have access to things like quality healthcare and education. Big Screen TV vs. Antibiotics. I don’t know, seems like the difference is both different and important.

And Internet, the other thing that the man (let’s call him Professor Blackjack) said about Iraq and WMD’s, was that supposed to be funny? I couldn’t quite follow his “perfect logic,” but somehow the UN getting ejected from Iraq, his claim that Saddam’s generals even thought he had WMD’s, coupled with something about “always bet when you have eleven” justified the invasion and was, according to Professor Blackjack, “the end of the discussion.” I didn’t want to point out that debating the reasons for invading weren’t as important as a intelligent debate on how to end the war, much less that sound logic never uses gambling maxims.

In fact my dear Internet, the only part I know was supposed to be funny was Ms. Showbiz’s speech about why being on planes scared her. Particularly the digression where she explained that when she was younger she tried to be “Ms. Showbiz” and did modeling, dance, acted, and trapeze. Saying how it was good to have as many skills as possibly to land jobs. Because everyone knows that trapeze experience will put you way above the average actress. I heard that was why Meryl Streep got her big break. …Though to be fair it might have put Ms. Showbiz high in the running for circus fashion catalogs. I’ll give her that.

There was so much more, I laughed, I cried, I briefly considered building a twenty foot ray-gun to blast them and any of their similarly silly friends off the face of the universe with, but I’m just not sure which of those I was supposed to do. It was a confusing and difficult time, I’m just happy I escaped alive.

*according to the 2005 US Census thirty-five million people are in the United States are living in poverty, though there are plenty of good arguments for that number being significantly higher… and also some not very good arguments for it being lower.

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seattle, travel

That's One Heck of a Market You Farmers Have

the glassesToday I went to not one but TWO farmer’s markets. The first was in Fremont, which is famous for it’s Lenin statue and rocket. But to me it is famous for getting me these free frames which I might use once my current glasses need to be replaced. It’s a longer story than worth telling, but I will say this: it pays to agree with the guys selling things. The second farmer’s market was in Ballard, which is a place I’ve been to a few times now and liked each time.

The main difference between the two markets is that Fremont’s was more of a flea market, with lots of furniture and neat pieces of junk with a bit of produce thrown in, while Ballard was entirely things that you can eat or grow (food and flowers). Both places had musicians working off to the side, but Fremont’s were slightly crazy while Ballard’s were folky. Monica and I got a good sub from a shop and then some really good veggies. I bought a couple Asian pears (also known as a nashi pear) which I love, but they’re not ripe enough to eat yet. I suspect they will be delicious as the rest of the food from the good ol’ farmer’s market.

nice flowersthey are friendlylettucei kind of like this one

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eating out, environment, outdoors, random, seattle, travel

Yum & Yuck

rowingI ate down by the water the other day at a Mexican restaurant called Agua Verde Cafe. The food was delicious, not too pricey, and it was happy hour so my beer only cost $2.50. Okay, can I just say that $2.50 does not a happy hour make, that’s more like a pleasant hour. It wasn’t like I got some expensive beer, it was a Pacifico. Anyway, I had this taco composed of yams, onions, and cheese with some sort of tasty sauce. It was called a Taco Boniato and it was worth every penny. We ate on the deck which was nice, but would have been nicer if the weather was just a tiny bit better, because then they would have had the removable sides taken down, giving a full view of the beautiful lake we were eating beside. After that my friend and I went down to the docks just below so that I could see what water looked like in Seattle. It looks just fine. Below Agua Verde is a paddle club where you can rent kayaks, at $15 an hour it seems worth it to be able to explore what looks like a pretty amazing seascape.
waterwarning signs

I mean, look at how pretty the water looks on the surface, [cue “hard hitting” tv “journalist” overdub] and yet beneath this seemingly pristine facade lies a terrible reality. After these messages!!
[cue commercial] Buy the new iPod

I found this sign posted in quite a few places. But hey, at how often could it possible rain in Seattle? Even if sewage isn’t overflowing into the water while I’m there I’d like to avoid anywhere that sewage ever overflows into. Look at that swimming person on the sign, why can’t he see what a terrible mistake he’s made!  I realize that birds, fish, and little kids do all sorts of business in the water, but sewage seems like taking it up to the next level.

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outdoors, seattle, travel

Snow Lake

snow lake stitched panorama

yes, more natureLast weekend my friend Monica and I went hiking to Snow Lake. It was about an hours drive to the trail head, from there it was a 3 mile hike to the lake. To say that the quick ascent was pretty would be like saying a the arctic is chilly. And while it was all up all the time it wasn’t punishing, but it was certainly not long rolling green pastures. And of course it is because of the near constant climb that there were nearly constant views.

oh, that is natureThe weather was perfect, in the mid 70’s with barely a cloud in the sky. The trail was very busy, but I can’t blame folks— a beautiful lake only 3 miles in, a relatively easy climb, how could anyone say no? To get to the lake you go straight up on side of the mountain (no idea what that mountain’s name is) and then back down the other side, though not to the elevation you start from.

Once we got to the lake we ate lunch and I swam. Note the name of the lake… it was a chilly swim (see previously analogy). The photo at the very top is a stitched panorama of the lake, it captures maybe 34.72% of how beautiful the lake area was. Afterward we picked a ton of the plentiful and delicious wild blueberries that were all around the lake.

HUGE blueberry pancake with fresh blueberriesI mention the blueberries, not just because they were great to eat, but also because we used them dinner. I made blueberry pancakes with what was described as a “sh-t ton of blueberries.” Not to toot my horn, but they were amazing pancakes… actually it isn’t tooting my horn because the pancakes were from a mix, I used Arrowhead Mills Multigrain Pancakes which is a favorite of mine since it uses corn mean, and I love anything that is like cornbread. I also ended up making a HUGE pancake (pictured), this fella was nearly the size of my head and I ate him like it every second of his existence was an insult to my family.

view from above snow lake snow lake trail stitched panorama

[tags]hiking, outdoors, blueberry pancakes, seattle, snow lake[/tags]

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seattle, travel, whatnot

Walkabout

I went for a walk around Seattle’s downtown. Travis & Monica live within walking distance, which means that I didn’t have to take the bus, I am a little afraid of the bus so that’s a bonus, and besides I like to walk.

Seattle has a nice enough downtown, or at least that is how it seems with my very limited experience. I went straight until I saw water, then I just ambled this way and that. Going straight to water put me right at the end of Pike Place Market, where I saw a protest against Free Trade with Korea. I also saw a weird totem pole, that wasn’t quite a real totem pole but a pole with a totem facade. I saw people singing on the street. I saw poor people sleeping on a little grassy spot while not-so-poor people took breaks from shopping. I saw mountains and water and stadiums. I saw a lot of stuff.

seattle skyline w/stadiums

two guys seattle snapour friend the totem

street piano

werid spot where some people sleep and others make puppy eyes

shanty town behind fancy hotel

The one thing that struck me at first was how few homeless people I saw. Then I saw a homeless man and within seconds a cop was helping away from the tourist filled area. Then it struck me how there are quite a few homeless people in Seattle but they are hidden, in many cases hidden in plain sight. There was a *huge* police presence. I know this is old news, but I forget that it happens sometimes, Northampton, MA was full of homeless people, but the police there just ignore them so it’s an easy thing to forget after a few years. The craziest instance was when I saw the shanty town behind an oceanside luxury hotel (see below). What a contrast.

[tags]downtown, free trade, homeless, korea, pike place market, qwestfield, safeco, seattle, tourism[/tags]

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