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A rainy Thailand re-union

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During Christmas & New Year 2016/2017 me & my travel friend went three weeks so Thailand. Louise had never been to Thailand and I was curious to see what had happened since last. I went to Thailand for the first time around 20 years ago and then again around 15 years ago. I also had a short stop in Bangkok 10 years ago.

We had chosen to visit the South East islands Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. Since we had heard Chaweng Beach, which was our first stop in Koh Samui, was a very commercial place we had picked a hotel a bit away from the center up on a hill. It was a very nice little retreat to acclimatize and with the sun shining almost the whole first day our hopes for the vacation were high!!

Koh Samui | Chaweng Beach

First I like to say that even though most of my pictures will look sunny we only saw the sun about 4-5 half days! And naturally that is when I had my camera out. I guess it will sound unbelievable to be three weeks in Thailand during December/January and hardly see sun but that is what happened to us. It started of reasonable in Koh Samui and our first day in Koh Phangan but then a delayed monsoon rain hit…

We only stayed three nights in Chaweng beach and that was enough. It is very commercial and busy. There is hardly any space on the beach as you can see on below picture.

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On Christmas Eve, which is when Swedes celebrate the most, we had decided to meet up with a girl I got to know in Panama some years ago, in a beach close by. The taxi ride there was a rip of and we never managed to catch up since we had different understandings of which day we actually should meet. The area was closing down extremely early and we were happy to find somewhere to grab a Pad Thai before heading back to Chaweng again. We made up for the poor Christmas Eve experience the next day with a great seafood plate by the seafront. Those are things that are very affordable to do in Thailand. Another thing that is very cheap is to have massage. I think I had at least 10 foot massages during our trip. On one of below images Louise played around with the camera, can you see her? 😉

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Koh Phangan | Thong Nai Pan Yai Beach

It was interesting to spend a few days in Chaweng to understand how the development has transformed what was once a tranquil place. But we hoped to find more peace in Koh Phangan. Yes, it is true that Koh Phangan is known for its huge full moon parties once a month. But it is a big island and I had read that there are amazing places to find on the island. We had decided to see two sides of the island. Our first stop was Thong Nai Pan Yai where we had splurged our selves with a better bungalow that appeared to even more luxury than we had prepared ourselves for. We had a little patio with own pool and chill area. The sun shined as we arrived after a short boat ride. And our hope for a relaxing vacation on the beach was higher than ever 😉

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We stayed in Thong Nai Pan Yai  for four nights. It was a very sleepy little place with beautiful green surroundings. Our fist day was very beautiful with calm turquoise water. But the day after that it started. It had become very windy and during the night lots of garbage had blown up on the beach. People spend a full day cleaning it away. But we still could enjoy two hours of sun in the afternoon. All in all our days on this side of Koh Phangan were very relaxing.

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Koh Phangan | Haad Yao Beach

After four nights on the east side of Koh Phangan we moved to the west side to Haad Yao. Yet an extraordinary beautiful beach! Our bungalow was simple and a bit up on a hill. Just a short walk away there was a beach which they say are usually as wide as a football field. But unfortunately there was a very hide tide when we were there so even if we could have sunbathed it was more or less impossible since there was no beach to lie on. Since we only had half a sunny day during our four nights in Haad Yao it did not matter that much to us. We focused on eating nice and shilling bye the water listening to the waves and hoping the sun would come out. In the late afternoons the tie went down a bit and the restaurants could put out their tables in the sand.

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Koh Phangan Count Down Party

On the 31th of December we took a cab to Haad Rin beach to attend the 2016 Count Down Party. The organizer was the same as the famous full moon party, which usually draw between 20 000 to 30 000 party goers.

We did like everyone else and bought a bucket with some “hard stuff” to keep us awake all night. We had heard that people would be colorfully dressed so we did our best to melt in 🙂

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Nothing could have prepared us for the size if this party. What you see below is just a fraction. A whole long beach was filled of people dancing. There was about 10 different venues having DJ´s playing all sorts of music. The crowed was mostly young and painted in fluorscent colors. We actually spent more time walking than dancing. It was a very interesting night. I guess for some even more interesting than for us since we discovered that the grayish milkshake many people bought in one specific club was a magic mushroom drink that was supposed to enhance your evening. We had a great night people watching but both felt that “seen that done that”.

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Koh Tao | Sairee Beach

After Koh Phangan it was time to hit our last island for this trip, Koh Tao. So far we had seen the sun about 3 half and 1 full day and were very eager to relax on the beach. I had seen images of Koh Tao and knew it was a beautiful island. And as a small note I also like to say that you might have to be Swede (or Nordic) to understand this obsession with sun 😉

We stayed four nights. On the first day we had 4 hours without rain. Then we took a walk to a beautiful beach called Sai Nuan. On the way back it started to rain heavy and we had to stop to have cake and coffee in one of the many cafés that you nowadays find everywhere in Thailand.

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Unfortunately the rain never stopped after that and the next two days we were more or less stuck in our hotel room since the non stop monsoon rain that arrived cause floodings. We lived a bit up on a hill and were lucky to have a dry room with functioning toilet and shower. We also had a great restaurant and a bar just opposite our street so twice a day we managed to cross the road to get something to eat and drink. The picture below shows how our street looked like. We heard further down there were places were cars could not even drive anymore and where the water was up to the waist if trying to walk. Tourists did not manage to catch their boat and we were starting to get really worried as we listened to the heavy rain poring down with out a pause.

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We were lucky and made it to the harbor after there had been some effort to get water away enough to bring people to the boats.

Summarizing the two weeks on those three islands I  must say that even though we felt the vacation was partially destroyed by the weather I don´t think I would have felt “wow” even with sun. The nature was fantastic but the authentic feeling was missing, the locals had stopped smiling and it was very difficult to walk around since the streets were overloaded by youngsters trying to ride a motorbike. About 1/4 of all young back packers we saw on the streets wore bandages from injuries. It was really much worse than it sounds, it was not relaxing at all to stroll around. And many bring their own sound speakers with them everywhere they go, so just listening to the nature was impossible since you must live with other peoples individual and selfish manners everywhere you go. I loved Thailand in my twenties but I will not go back anymore. There are so many other beautiful places in the world to be discovered and I have seen so much authentic beauty lately that I noticed my expectations have raised. One final reflection is that my discovery of Afro and Latin dances has also brought an insight that destinations where this kind of music is played and where people smile and dance a lot are the places that appeals to me right now. Every thing has its time. And everyday I learn about myself.

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Spara

Spara

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Discovering Hiroshima historically & gastronomically

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Finally I can start blogging about Japan again 🙂 Since I have limited time spending on this blog and since new trips takes up most of my attention, it is hard for me to catch up with the past. I still have so many trips to cover! In my last post about Japan I wrote about my amazing day trip to Miyajima, an island close to Hiroshima. After I came back in the evening I strolled around Hiroshima and had their famous Okonomiyaki. A great dish that you can see more about on below pictures. That evening I also saw the A-bomb Dome for the first time, lit up in the dark. This former Hall was just 160 meters from the hypo center of the bomb. Somehow it did not collapse and today it is on the world heritage list as a world peace monument. It was a very emotional moment to see this building. In fact when choosing the pictures for this post I had to cry. Japan is such a beautiful place filled with amazing people and it is hard to accept what the atomic bombing of Hiroshima led to. But before we go over to more sad history I have to say that Hiroshima surprised me. It was a very pleasant city with wonderful people. And the Okonomiyaki – wow!!! I cannot really describe this dish, I think the pictures below will better show both the dish and the nice way you watch it being prepared and eat it 😛

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After seeing the A-bomb dome at night the first time it was nice to come back and see it in daylight. The Peace Park in Hiroshima is a beautiful place to stroll around with lots of memorial monuments to watch and educational reading to go with it. The most famous is the Children´s Peace monument. Further down in one of my pictures there is some more background reading about this monument and the thousands of origami cranes surrounding the actual monument. At the end of the Peace Park lies the Peace Memorial Museum. It was a touching moment to walk around in the museum and learn about the tragedy the atomic bomb led too. The survivors of the so called A-bomb are called “Perifpheral Hibakusha” and there are today about 66000 of them still living in Hiroshima. With this I let you view some of the pictures from the park and the museum….

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The grand finale – Taj Mahal

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The wonderful two weeks Rajasthan adventure had almost come to an end. Now it was just one stop left before heading back to New Delhi from where we would catch a flight down to Goa for 1 1/2 weeks well deserved warmth and relaxation.

After a rushed ride from Jaipur we finally reached Taj Mahal not too long before closing time. Even though I personally don´t have Taj Mahal as my highlight memory from those two weeks, it is a truly magic moment when you catch the first glimps of this mausoleum that took 16 years to build (ready 1648) and that frankly has no other purpose that being the grave of an old emperor and his wife.

My fingers almost froze as I tried to get a few good shots of the Taj in haze and surrounded by herds of tourist. As we circled the buried couple inside the Taj  the guards shouted “move on, move on fast”. I felt like we were a crowd of livestock. But I have been there and yes, it is a beautiful sight!

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Before heading back to New Delhi we stopped by a silk shop for some final shawls shopping and Sari trial time. We also stopped by yet another nice park with great architecture. Agra is supposed to have so much more to offer than Taj Mahal. But the truth is, we had seen so much and at this stage we only had one thing in our minds – the next destination – Goa, sun, sea and warmth!!! Once again thanks to Diana Tours and Travel for a very personalized and memorable tour through Rajasthan. Read more about Diana Tours and Travel in my Rajasthan summary post.

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Mountains, monkeys & Jaintemples

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The reason for cutting one day from Jodhpur was to let us experience mountainous and green Ranakpur, famous for some incredible Jain temples. The Langur monkeys with their long long tails are seen all over Rajasthan but never as many as in Ranakpur. I just loved them! But they are a bit aggressive and best viewed from inside the car with windows up.

Most hotels we stayed in during our Rajasthan adventure were very nice. Especially the outside usually looked kind of royal. The one in Ranakpur however stood out. It had a pool and lovely green sourroundings and the sheets were clean and blankets warm. Yes, Rajasthan nights are really cold. A few times I even had to wear hat and hand gloves in bed. Fleece jumper was standard. And no matter how nice the hotels were, the sheets were often broken and full of stains (even though relatively clean). But in Ranakpur Hill Resort everything was great 🙂

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The main attraction in Ranakpur is some marvelous marble Jaintemples. The details on those temples are amazing. Not seldom you can spot Kama Sutra, Indian love art, on them.

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The Langur monkey is a beautiful, rather grumpy, monkey with an enormous tail. They are often spotted along the roads in some parts of Rajastan. For professional National Geographic pictures check out this page.

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Ranakpur is situated in the Aravali hills. On our second day, before setting of to our next destination, we took a walk around the area. We looked at picturesque lakes, strolled through simple farm villages and spotted hords of goats. It was a great walk.

I had noticed that many poor kids asked for “cream & cookies” instead of money. I soon understood that “cream” meant schampoo. Since schampoo in the cities are sold in small “one portion” packages I had brought along some on this walk along with some cookies. The villages kids were unbelivable happy for those gifts. It is amazing how small things for me can mean so much to others. After this I allways carried along cookies and schampoo for moments like this. Below an older girl is distributing my gifts to the younger kids.

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The whole drive from Ranakpur to Udaipur was very beautiful. On the way we stopped by another fantastic site, the fort Kumbalgarh, wherefrom the views over deserted landscape were breathtaking.

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An eveningwalk in friendly Jodhpur

In most places me and Louise visited in Rajasthan we had to take care from people wanting something from us. After all, Rajasthan is one of the most touristic areas in India, and some locals take advantage of naive tourists to their benefit. Once we drove in to the center of Jodhpur what stroke me was the chaos. Jodhpur is a rather big city, and there are cars, people, rickshaws and cows everywhere. Not to forget all the beeping motorbikes, and even a camel here and there. Luckily our hotel was tucked away on a quiet oneway road.

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We decided to take an easy evening walk on the mainstreet close to the hotel while there was still some light. To see some streetlife and locate ourself. Both me and Louise prepared ourself mentaly, grabbed our cameras and started to walk. First focus was avoiding getting hit by vehicles or walking in cowshit. But even though chaotic we soon discovered a very genuin feeling. We saw no tourists at all and the regular Jodhpur life was ongoing in each corner. Along both sides of the street, vendors of all kinds held various businesses. Since the spaces they are occupying are so small, the most common way is a store where you simply sit down on a matress or similar. We where amazed. It was chaotic and noisy and still so charmig and beautiful. As we we saw the boys on the picture above I said to Louise ” I really want to take a picture of them. I will offer them some money afterwards” . I went up to them and with a smile they allowed me to take their picture. When I handed over some Rupies they refused and instead held up their cellphones and said they wanted a picture of us in retun. We where speechless. After this we decided to simply ask people to take their picture without offering money. But just a smile. And it worked! And it worked everywhere in Jodhpur. Not a single time people tried to ask us for something in return. So this small evening walk turned out to be one of my highlights in Rajasthan. Explaining this to our guide was very difficult. I guess Indian people themself cannot believe how simple street life can be more interesting than a temple sometimes 😀

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Also next post will be dedicated to Jodhpur streetlife. Jodhpur morning walk 🙂

Falling for charming Jodhpur

After Jaisalmer the road trip through deserted landscapes continued until we reached Jodhpur, known as “the blue city”. We had from the start chosen two nights in this city but our travel agency changed that to one night with the motivation that we would not like more than that due to pollution, dirt etc. Well….this ended up being one of my absolute favourite experiences and I really wish we would have had more time there.

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Despite lack of time we tried to make most of it. We visited the star of Jodhpur, the fort Meherangarh, the first afternoon. Then did a short early evening walk close to the hotel, to watch some street life. The next morning we tried to utilize the time after breakfast by walking around watching the city come alive. But we had to leave just when the market woke up 😦 Since I managed to capture more beautiful Indian streetlife in less than 24 hours than during the rest of our trip I have decided to make three posts about this place which was the most friendly and genuine experience we had in Rajasthan, despite the dirt and traffic.

But let´s start with fort Meherangarh. Such a beauty, both inside as from outside. My favourite part was the magnificent view over all the blue houses from above. Just as I was gazing out over the blue sea of houses the prayers from all the surrounding mosques started to sound in the distance. Magic moment.

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A summary of Rajasthan & Goa

Me and my friend Louise are just back from an absolutely amazing holiday in India! I have brought back so much material that it is going to take rather some time to compile and structure it all. But below follows a serie of pictures that for me summarizes our four magic weeks in India. This is for sure a trip that is growing in my mind for each day that passes by. Wonderful India, I miss you!

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The two first weeks were spent in Rajasthan, “the land of kings”. We were taken care of by the superb small travel agency called Diana Tours & Travel. I heard about this company about 1 1/2 year ago through an ex colleauge who had used them to tailor make their tour through Rajasthan.

From the first moment I got in touch with them I felt I was in the right hands. They were so helpful and cheerful that upon arrival it felt like I already knew them. Ishrar and Harriethe (an Indian/Dutch couple) treated us as friends and invited us to have dinner in their home both on the first and last evening of the tour.

Ishrar and Harriethes business is going better and better. Mouth to mouth the reputation about their excellent service is spreading. Before Ishrar used to do all the tours himself (Harriether is the administrator) but since it is going so well and he had some Italian guests arriving at the same time, he had arranged his brothers son Tanzeem as a guide for us. Tanzeem had been following his uncle on many tours around Rajasthan but since it was his first tour alone they also arranged an extra driver called Raja.

Together the four of us, Tanzeem, Raja, Louise and me, spend many cheerful hours on the road. And many moments viewing the extraordinary landscapes, forts, temples and colorful surroundings of this part of India. It was a very safe and fun trip which has given us so many new beautiful memories.

After those two weeks we headed down to Goa to finish of with 9 days sun and sea. After so many new impressions in Rajasthan it was the perfect way to end this vacation.

Enjoy below glimpse and hope to see you back for more 🙂

Below, the golden city Jaisalmer

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On the road…

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Below, the blue city Jodhpur

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Below, Ranakpur & Kumbalgarh. First image; our driver Raja and second image; our guide Tanzeem

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Below, the romantic lake city Udaipur

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Below, the holy town Pushkar

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Below, the pink city Jaipur

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Below, Taj Mahal Agra, Uttar Pradesh

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Below, Agonda beach Goa

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Enjoying the couchsurfing network in Tokyo

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Couchsurfing is a fantastic network of people that wants to make new friends all over the world. The main idea is that one can “surf” other peoples couches for free although there are many more ways to utilize this network. Personally I host guests about 3-4 times a year. On top of that I might meet up with people visiting my city a few times a year if any interesting proposals turns up. For me it is all about quality, some people use CS differently. I have also tried to be hosted a few times. Being a guest in someones private home is a way of getting closer to a culture and getting to know things about a place that you never would have discovered on your own. But it naturally requests adaptation to your hosts schedule and rules. Since I like to come and go and plan my own day I don´t use this so often.

There are groups in the CS network that you can belong to. When I went to Tokyo I became a member of the Tokyo group where people (as well Tokyo residents as tourists) are posting events which one can sign up for. This is an excellent way to get to know people and the city. I signed up for three things however the last activity I ended up doing on my own, (I will get back to that). The first activity was an evening out with food and Karaoke. At a busy station in central Tokyo about 10 people of different nationality, ages and backgrounds gathered. The local people choose a restaurant (Izakaya style described at the end of my last post), where we ended up having a splendid evening. Couchsurfers are open minded individuals just looking for new acquaintances and fun. Unfortunately I had to catch my last metro back to the area where I had my hostel. So once more I missed out on singing Karaoke in Tokyo…(I did not manage on my first trip to Tokyo either… )

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A Japanese girl had added an activity which appealed to me. She was going herself to a disaster preparation center in Tokyo. I have learnt that there are a few of those, held by the Tokyo Fire Department. It is recomended that Japanese people visit those to learn how to prepare for disaster. To this particular event three other people except for me and the organizer signed up. Another Japanese guy, a guy from India and a girl from Sri Lanka. The event included a movie about the disaster that hit Japan March 2011. This was followed by an earthquake experience on Richter 7 and information (in Japanese) about allways being prepared and how to act in case of earthquake. We then got information about fire (in Japanese) and the possibility to practice using a firehose. Then, fully dressed in rain protection, we could try heavy rain and wind. Finally there was a fire exercise (which I skipped due to my claustrophobia) where one should find the way in a smoke filled dark labyrint…

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The same day yet another nice activity was organized. A walk over the rainbow bridge with a group of people. I didn´t manage to get to the meeting point in time so I simply did the walk on my own which was a great experience too. After this walk, still pretty jetlagged from my arrival the day before, I took a nap on a park bench on the other side 😉 Great start of my Japan adventures!

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Strolling the streets of Tokyo…

I usually get a lot of attention when stopping in the middle of a Tokyo street to try to capture the magic feeling that I have when I stroll around the streets of Tokyo. I asked a Japanese woman how come that Japanese people seem to find it so interesting seeing a western woman taking pictures of a street. She answered “Japanese people are curious to know what it is you find interesting”.

A bit more than a year ago I was in the middle of Turkey in a place called Cappadocia where few Swedish people find their way to. I was amazed of the large number of Japanese tourists there. Later I learnt  that many Japanese people choose their holiday destination from the UNESCO world heritage list. Connecting this to a presentation a Japanese colleague recently held about the importance of collectivism in the Japanese society when it comes to making a purchase decision, and adding the fact that what one find exotic varies a lot between people, makes me understand why I received so many curious glances 😉

Tokyo is a huge city  where every metro and train station has its own athmosphere and attractions. Electrical wires is a common sight everywhere but in the evening the greyish buildings and wires are unnoticed as neon lights take over the night. As you have understood from above little story my biggest interest in Tokyo is simply just to wander around the streets. Usually a big amount of time is spent on metros since I tend to want to cover too much at one time.

I enjoy the bigger and more famous stations Shibuya and Shinjuku a lot where your head is getting dizzy from trying to avoid being overrun by people and your mind is overloaded of teenage fashion and unusual, sometimes, crazy sights. But what I like the most in Tokyo is to discover the smaller stations. There you usually find a maze of narrow streets packed with shops and eateries. The feeling is more relaxed and local.

One thing to get used to in Tokyo is that most restaurants and bars, especially around the bigger stations, are concentrated to high buildings. On ground floor is is common with a food show behind glass. You look what the restaurants on the different floors have to offer and then take the elevator to the place of your choice. Eateries and bars on groundfloor is more common around smaller stations.

Once you reach your chosen restaurant and the elevator door opens up, be prepared to enter a totally different world. Japan offers many unique styles of dining. One of my favourites if you are with a group is the so called Izakaya where every company get a unique room or compartment, depending on the size of group. Shoes are taken off and usually stored in a designated small  cabinet. Staff are running back and forward to serve you all kinds of small dishes, Japanese tapas you could say. There are Izakayas in different price levels and different atmospheres. Drinks (beer or sake) are as important as the food in Izakayas. It sure is a unique dining experience. Cooking your own food at the table is also popular in Japan as is having your very own chef cooking infront of you.

Tokyo fashion and electronics in Akihabara

Arigato gozaimasu! It is time to introduce a bit of Japan into this blog. I have been to Japan two times. First time was three years ago and the second time was this year in October. Japan intrigues me, inspires me and makes me full of joy 😀 I have covered both bigger cities, villages and countryside on my trips and I really look forward to share and inspire you with photos from one of my favourite countries ever visited.

A broken camera on my latest trip to Japan brought me to famous Akihabara in Tokyo, known for electronics and Manga. Luckily I managed to get my camera to function just a little longer, enough to capture some Akihabara street life…

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