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.
Last autumn I visited Kingston, Ontario for the first time in about seven years, and while I mentioned I had been there before, I never explained why.
Several years ago I travelled to Kingston to represent Southern Saskatchewan at the NEXT Generation Leaders Forum. The purpose of this international forum was to discuss urban planning in the mega-cities of tomorrow. We had to think outside the box and solve problems like housing, garbage collection, employment, energy and transportation. When the forum was complete, and we submitted our ideas to a panel of judges, my group won the "Global Vision" award for our ideas on improving housing for the future.
For seven years that award and my time in Kingston sat on my bedroom shelf collecting dust, and while the experience was memorable, it never amounted to anything.
150 years ago, Canada became a country, albeit a much smaller one. Since then, Canada has grown much in size, reputation and as a favorite for travellers from around the world. Lonely Planet recognized these accomplishments last year and ranked Canada as the #1 travel destination in 2017. With the addition of free National Parks all year long, 2017 is the perfect time to visit the Great White North!
I am always interested in Canadian adventures, so I thought I'd check out G Adventure's website to see what tours they have planned this year. Since G Adventures is a Canadian based travel company, I figured they would have something going on this year to celebrate our sesquicentennial. Instead, all I saw were the same eight tours as last year, and the year before. Thinking maybe there was some big announcement coming for 2017, I emailed G Adventures asking about it, hoping, praying, that maybe there was something, something, anything at all… but I received no response.
Now, don't get me wrong. G Adventures has eight great Canadian tours, and they all look really awesome, but they only show off a small sliver of what Canada has to offer. In fact, four of the tours are almost exactly the same:
As I stood in the courtyard of Fort Henry, I heard screams emanating from within. Fort Henry was constructed to protect the Kingston Royal Dockyard from the invading American forces during the War of 1812. The threat was so real that the capital of Canada – which was then Kingston – was moved to Quebec to protect it. The docks are all that stood between the United States and the St. Lawrence River and both countries were all too familiar with how easily it would turn the tides of battle.
As the screams from inside Fort Henry faded, I turned to the man beside me. He had come with his family. We got talking, trying to calm our nerves as bloodied clowns and undead mimes began wandering out from inside the fort.