The next morning I got up, Skyped home, and got ready for my first full day in the land of the Rising Sun.
I had a bit of a plan made up today, and it involved checking out some of the nearby temples, as well as just exploring Osaka in the daylight. Because my room was being switched, I had to checkout for the day and store my luggage at the front desk until that afternoon. It only cost me ¥1080 ($10.80). I then went down for breakfast.
While in the continental, buffet style cafeteria, I ran into a young woman named Freya. She's 19 years old and is from England, with this being her first ever solo international trip. I remembered my first time abroad so I helped her and kept her company during breakfast. It turns out she's also on the same tour as me! She had no idea what to do in Osaka, so at 9:30 we left together to go find some temples.
Japan is an incredibly country when it comes to innovation and transportation, and walking out into Osaka in the daylight I learned that very quickly. Moments within walking outside, we saw every form of transportation: bikes, side road, major roads, overpasses within the city, underpasses within the city, subways, trains and boats, all moving in sync like a polished machine.
We headed East at first, and went past discrete massage parlors, restaurants, flower shops and many vending machines. It wasn't long until the hot, humid heat got to us (I didn't check the temperature, but the whole trip it was around 40 Celsius out because of the humidity, so that would be a good guess for this day as well). We stopped at a vending machine and got some water (¥60, or $0.60) and I explored the parking lot nearby.
It wasn't the parking lot that interested me, but the buildings beyond the fence of it did. It appeared to be some kind of cemetery. It was small, and only had a few dozen graves in it, but it was old and very well maintained.
We turned North at this point and walked along a major street. There were many pedestrians here, so we must have been close to downtown. They had sky-walks built up from the sidewalks so people could cross without stopping traffic. This fascinated me because it was a complete opposite approach that Paris has with their underground walks ways!
This intersection, which we crossed using the sky-walks, had 5 lanes of traffic going each way, making 20 lanes of traffic going every which way. If you can image that!
As we continued walking to Osaka castle we found a free map that mentioned a temple close to Ikutama Park, a nearby park. We decided to try and find that instead, just for fun. It took us a while, but we finally found it. Unfortunately, we couldn't get too close to it because of some kind of festival they were preparing for. We then just sat in the park and relaxed in the shade.
However, we weren't the only ones in the park.
Japan is a very busy country, but is also very quiet. We have so far crossed major intersections and walked among crowds of people, but the sounds coming from these trees were by far the loudest sounds I have ever heard. We believed at first they were bugs, but thinking back, they must have been hundreds of insects. Very quickly their loud chirping got to us, and we had to leave the park covering our ears!
We got back to the major street and decided to take a shot at the subway instead of walking in the heat. We didn't know how to use the trains, and even with Frey's Tube experience, she too was lost. We asked a security guard for help, and although his English was very broken, he told us the best he could where to go.
We got on the train and arrived at our station in about 5 minutes, instead of walking around in the head above ground for another two hours. Trains in Japan run every 5 minutes, so you never have to worry about missing one! (Wish our transit system was that efficient!)
We walked up the stairs of the subway and onto some kind of plaza. On the plaza was a large black building and about a hundred stone stools. The English explanation to what we were witnessing wasn't very clear, but I believe it was some kind of ancient elevator that had been recently excavated.
We then walked around a large building - which I realized later was the museum - and saw Osaka Castle for the first time.
The castle is inside a fort, built on a hill, with a moat, which is on top of another hill, with yet another moat around that. It was breathtaking to see! Each stone moat was about 100 feet wide and 50 feet high, all made of large stones. The largest one was called the "Octopus Stone", which was about 10 feet wide by 15 feet high.
We meandered through the fortress and got closer to the castle. We got in queue, got our tickets, and walked up the stairs. I've seen some strange things in my days, but what I saw hooked up to those stairs was something very odd. It was some kind of mist making machine to keep the stones from getting too hot in the sun. Weird!
We finally arrived at the castle and took the elevator to the 5th floor and walked up the the 8th floor. For some reason, when viewing Osaka castle you start at the top and then work your way down, instead of the other way around.
We took some pictures of Osaka's skyline and the distant mountains and then headed down to the 7th floor.
The 7th floor was full of paintings and old photography showing what the city used to look like a hundred years ago. It was very, very different! It was very interesting to see!
We then went down to the 5th floor (there was no 6th floor). The 5th floor showed the history of Osaka, focused mainly around it's very war torn history. There was even a video to watch which picked apart a massive tapestry painting made about one specific war, and discussed the many different, yet very real, people in the picture. It was incredibly detailed and showed everything from battle scene, to fleeing common folk, to bandits robbing the refugees. Not only was the action detailed, but the expression on each character's face was unique to their situation. It really added a personification to the face of war, instead of a faceless war that the 21st Century is so used to.
One story, for example, was about a commander that went out drinking one night after a month of silence on the battlefield. As he drank, the invaders took the opportunity and seized his castle. The commander was so ashamed of his actions, he raised an army and charged the castle. He died trying to recapture it, but is hailed as a hero. In another story, a commander was defeated in combat, and then took his own life to honor his family. Pride is so important in Japan, it sometimes seems excessive.
The 4th and 3rd floor was full of paintings and artifacts from the war, as well as weapons such as swords, spear, sabers and helmets. Because of their authenticity, photography is forbidden.
The bottom floor had brochures and samurai costumes for children to wear. We left from here, and headed out back into the ground.
We wandered around the park for a while, bought some postcards and drinks and decided to take the subway to our next location, Shitennoji Temple. On our way there I began to get tired of the heat and the people and felt like I had had enough touring around for a while. I asked Freya if she wanted to return to the hotel and she said she did, so we went back on train stop and arrived at our hotel.
I got my new room when I checked in, but my roommate had not arrived yet. At 6 I went down to the lobby to meet the tour group. There's people here from Australia, England, Mexico, Canada and even Switzerland, but no Americans, which surprised everybody. I would later meet my roommate, Steve, and he would become our solo American traveler.
We left as a group to go out for supper, and went to some strange Japanese deep frying restaurant. I had deep fried eggs, chicken, beef, sausage, fish with cheese and a very spicy appetizer of something I still don't know what I ordered.
After supper we all went our separate ways, and I met Alison, a 65 year old woman who is backpacking across the world. Being over 60 and in a strange city, I accompanied her around town and took pictures of the city's lights as we went. Very quickly I realized Alison probably could have taken care of herself had somebody tried to rob her.
We arrived back at our hotel, and I got to meet Steve. Not only was he an American, but he was also a New Yorker!
I'm off to sleep now. The morning comes early, and I have no idea what is waiting for us in Kiyo-san!
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.
Part 12 of my cross Canada series takes us to the smallest province in Canada, Prince Edward Island. However, don't let the name confuse you: PEI is actually 232 islands!
PEI also happens to have smallest population of any province in Canada, with only 146,300 people as of 2014. This means this province has less people than my hometown Regina!
Being so small, however, it was difficult to find images on Instagram. That isn't to say there's nothing there worth seeing! Quiet the quandary, actually. PEI has a few very unique locations that drive their tourism. One of them is the gorgeous themed village of Avonlea, named after the village in the hit novel "Anne of Green Gables" published in 1908. This story, and the subsequent stories, follows Anne, a red-haired "fiery" orphan who grows up on PEI. The story is an international bestseller, and is strangely very popular in Japan (or so I've been told)!
Nestled between the impressive Mount Royal and the majestic St. Lawrence River is Montreal, a city known for its festivals, abstract art, history and mosaic of countless cultures. Montreal is the second largest city in Canada, with a population floating around four million people. While the city is a dynamic mix of Canada's two primary cultures – French and English – there are areas of the city that are culturally specific, such as Little Italy, Greektown and Chinatown. Known for its artistic and liberal mindedness, Montreal also boasts the largest community of homosexuals in North America in their very own "Gay Village".
Being nearly 375 years old, Montreal was pivotal to the creation of New France and Canada and at a time held control over every waterway from the St. Lawrence down to the Gulf of Mexico. Having such incredible influence over the western part of the New World, Montreal hosted the "Great Peace of Montreal" in 1701, which started sixteen years of peace between the French and over 40 different First Nation tribes in North America.
Since its early days, Montreal has been one of the most influential cities in Canada. Montreal housed "internment camps" during World War I, became an ideal location for Americans looking for alcohol during Prohibition, and was the official residence of the Luxembourg royal family during World War II. Montreal held host to the incredible Expo 67, showcasing some of the most incredible architecture of that decade. The seventies saw serious political reformation in Montreal, with many Americans arriving, fleeing the Vietnam Draft. The late seventies paralyzed the city as a terrorist organization, the Front de libération du Québec, detonated explosives throughout the city and kidnapped and killed political figures. These actions forced the Prime Minster to enact the "War Measures Act" and deploy the military into the city to apprehend the terrorists. The eighties and nineties saw two referendums in the province of Quebec to separate from Canada, with Montreal playing a major role in both decisions. The last referendum in 1995 ended with 51% percent of Quebecers wanting to remain part of Canada and 49% wanting to separate.
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: