I was able to sleep in today, and woke up at 8am. I quickly showered, ignored the hotel's "bring an umbrella" warning, and began my first free day out on the town. My first stop on my trip was one I happened to discover before I came to Japan; the Headquarter's of the video-game giant Nintendo.
I didn't know how to get there from my hotel, so I asked the lady at the front desk. Although she had decent English, she had no idea what I was asking. I wrote it down and she googled it, and came back with a map. She explained what subway to get onto, how many stops to take, and how to get from the subway to the HQ and back. I thanked her, and left.
Leaving the subway station, it didn't take me long to see the top of the building from afar. However, it was much more difficult navigating the winding streets to get to it. Add to that, the sky was overcast and there was a very distant rumble coming from the clouds. It was either because I misunderstood the seriousness of the thundering clouds, or because it was obvious I had no idea where I was going, but a Japanese man who's English was comparable to my Japanese buzzed his car over, ran up to me and asked if I needed help. I showed him my map and he gestured to his little Japanese car to get in; he would take me there. My mother told me to never get into vehicles with strangers, but I sized up the small man who I was about a foot taller and about 100 pounds heavier than he, so I got in his car.
And, he stuck to his word. We buzzed a few blocks over and he dropped me off at Nintendo HQ's gates and let me out. He wanted nothing in return, and just as quickly as he appeared, he was gone.
The public cannot enter the HQ, and if one attempts to enter it (or in my case, lean forward to take a better picture of it) a very loud Japanese security guard yells "NO!" from his booth a few feet away, throwing his arms up in the air in protest. Which was fine, I suppose. I just wanted to see the famous building, as did all the other North American tourists I found gawking around it, not get an interview with Mr. Miyamoto.
I got back on the subway as the rain began to fall. I took the train north to Kyoto's Imperial Palace, only a few minutes behind Steve and Alison, I later learned. The gardens were empty today, which would make sense because the temples could only be entered if you have a tour booked for them on the weekends. Our guide had forgotten that and didn't book us in, so we weren't able to explore them. Viewing the gardens didn't require a booking, so I strolled among the quiet arches and gravel paths of the gardens, enjoying the quiet. The rain had stopped by this point, but the air was wet and heavy, almost difficult to breath. The weather was beginning to turn.
As I walked I met a British man. He lived in Tokyo and just came down for the weekend. As we talked, the rain began and he whipped out his umbrella unperturbed as we continued to talk about the city and Japan in general.
It didn't take long for the rain to get heavier, so we hopped the narrow moat by the temple to hide under the overhang of the roof. But that set off an alarm, and although the guards could see what we were doing, they still shooed us away. We then found shelter under a tree, which at first was a good idea, but as the weather got worse and the rain got heavier and leaves and twigs began to snap off, the tree's protection quickly became nothing more than a mild deterrent. By now the rain had become a typhoon, with loud booming thunder, crashing lightening and stinging rain. The British man's umbrella was soak and water was going straight through it.
From our vantage point, we could see pools of water forming around us between the tree's roots. Even the gravel road, which was dry minutes before, had become a several inch deep river. With our clothes soaked and nothing to lose, we went to the gates of the temple and asked the guards if we could get shelter. Following protocol, they said no, and left us standing in the road, ankle deep in water, in the middle of a storm. A moment later a police car cruised up to us, rolled down the window and said something to the guards. They said something back, the police officer said something, and the guards mentioned for us to join them by the temple gates. Finally, we were out of the rain!
While we collected our bearings and checked the damages to our electronics, we kept an eye on the water level on the street. Although we were above the level of the road, and there was a drain under the gate, the water level was getting so high that it was beginning to breach the gate. Inch by inch, the water crept towards us. The gates to the palace were flooding!
The guards then rushed us inside the grounds and to the waiting room. Inside there we found a group, who had booked a tour, waiting for the rain to end. They were dry, and when they saw us they made room for us on the overcrowded benches. We must have been quiet the site! By now, the storm had been going on for over an hour.
Several times while sitting in the waiting room people would get up, attempt to leave, and then come back minutes later, soaking wet and shaking their heads. The storm outside was a monster.
In time, the rain stopped. I walked out of the palace and saw a very different Kyoto, one ravaged by the worst storm they've seen in years, if not decades. Trenches into the gravel were dug to redirect water away from the buildings, storm drains were full and bubbling, and zen pools were overflowing copper-coloured water; the Imperial Gardens were a disaster.
But outside the park it was much worse. The surrounding streets were flooded, and buses were jammed up, being forced slowly to turn around, Police and citizens fought the hold the water back and clean the streets to resume traffic. Shop keepers had even taken everything off the floors of their stores to protect their merchandise from damage.
I was told the river was beautiful, and it was yesterday when I quickly crossed it. But it too had drastically changed. It was a swirling maelstrom of chocolate-milk coloured water. Sand from the nearby zen gardens had overfilled their displays and covered the sidewalks, flowing down into the river. The river had become an urban beach.
Eventually, the path I was on gave way to water and I was forced to turn back. While climbing the stairs up the main street I had to cross yellow police tape that wasn't there when I went down. The city was under a state of emergency.
After a few blocks I found a cute restaurant near a river; one I would love to take my girlfriend to on a romantic date had she been with me. While exploring the area around this restaurant the rain resumed.
I went down the stairs to the restaurant, found a stool outside the doorway and sat on it, cowering from the reincarnated storm, watching it slowly get worse and worse.
After an hour of waiting, I ran out of hope and ventured out into it. I was still dripping from the first storm, so it wouldn't hurt me to get any more water-logged. I headed to the closest subway station, and after getting some very broken train directions, I took the train to my hotel, and went back to my room.
Steve was there, and we exchanged stories of the storm. I then took a quick shower and dried off.
Then, like it or not, I decided it was time to do laundry. There was a small laundry-mat not far from our hotel, and after hearing stories of people stealing clothes, I sat with my clothing and read for the two hours it took. When I returned I found a note from Steve. While I was gone, Siako had come looking for me because I missed the 1:30 meeting to go to Golden Pavilion earlier that day... which we had missed the previous day as well. They were then headed to the Gozan no Okuribi. Being as that was completely across the city, and knowing the buses were still recovering from today's ordeal, I decided to go shopping instead.
The mall near Kyoto Tower was gigantic, with several floors going above and below the main floor. While in the shopping center I stumbled into a light display of the Gozan no Okuribi on some stairs. It was beautiful, but I unfortunately walked into the end of it. I continued shopping, and in the video game section of the mall I ran into Florence, a girl on our tour. She was with her boyfriend Gabriel, and then I found the rest of the troop. We continued to shop and then went out for supper, which was my first meal of the day -- and it happened to be McDonald's. We then headed back to the hotel, for the last time.
I excluded much from today's adventure. We have to make a new over-night bag for our trip to Hakone and Mt. Fuji tomorrow and we're sending our luggage ahead of us to Tokyo. Tomorrow is another early morning, and I could use a good sleep after today.
Goodnight all. Until Hakone!
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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Canada's 150th birthday cannot be complete without visiting the country's capital city... but which one should you visit? While Ottawa is the current capital of Canada, there have been four other capital cities, and it has changed seven times. It started in Kingston (1841 – 1844) and then moved to Montréal (1844 – 1849), believing it to be safer from the Americans. After the citizens of Montréal burnt it down, it rotated between Toronto (1849 – 1852 and 1856 – 1858) and Québec City (1852 – 1856 and 1859 – 1866). Finally, it was placed right on the border between the two provinces in Ottawa (1866 to present day). This tour ventures into each of these five cities and explores what makes them so unique.
Since the capital flip-flopped location seven times, it would be much more convenient to go through the cities geographically then historically. If we started in the West, we would start in Toronto, Ontario, Canada's biggest city. While G Adventures only mentions the CN Tower and Kensington Market, there is much more to see in this city. You could visit the 18th century Casa Loma Castle, stroll through the artistic Graffiti Alley, visit Ripley's Aquatic Aquarium, or go drink and dine in the Distillery District. Looking for more outdoorsy stuff? Check out the Toronto Islands, the famous High Park or the Toronto Zoo. You can even take a boat out onto Lake Ontario and see the city's iconic skyline!
A few months ago I entered a contest for a trip for two to visit Philadelphia on Two Bad Tourists. Normally contests like this are limited to United States residents so when I saw this one was open to Canadians I jumped at the chance. I've never won something like this before, so I actually forgot about it until I got the emailing saying I had won. Two Bad Tourists then worked alongside Visit Philly to organise the trip for me and my mother to explore Philadelphia for three days. Visit Philly paid for our flights, hotels and gave us a VIP Pass to experience the city to our heart's content. It is thanks to them that this trip is possible.
Several movies and television shows have tried to capture the essence of Philadelphia over the years – from the boxing Blockbuster Rocky, to the paranormal thriller The Sixth Sense, to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and even Boy Meets World – but each described the city differently. There is no easy way to approach a city as dynamic as The City of Brotherly Love. With countless layers of art, history, religion and the paranormal, Philadelphia is a city unlike any other throughout the United States.
One thing that surprised me the most about Philadelphia was the history. The city was founded and designed by William Penn, who is also the state of Pennsylvania's namesake. Born in London, England in 1644 he lived through The Great Fire of 1666 and The Great Plague of London from 1665-1666. Both events shaped Penn's life so he designed the city to be strictly stone buildings (to stop fires from spreading) and to have plenty of space between the buildings (as to prevent illness from spreading). This led to the older areas of the city to have winding corridors between old stone walls.
For many of us in Saskatchewan, summer means it's time for an Alberta road trip. Although the endless stretches of prairie have their appeal, there is nothing quite like seeing the mountains rising over the horizon.
One challenge that comes with taking a summer road trip is the heat. Much like on this side of the border, it isn't uncommon for summer temperatures to get to the extreme. I know a few people who have had car problems in the heat, and my family is one of them. Nothing ruins a trip more than an unexpected visit to the mechanic.
Thankfully, Alberta has a myriad of places to go swimming, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding or fishing. This not only gives your vehicle time to cool off, but also gives you a chance to escape the heat as well.