Berlin-Tokyo-connection

It’s been already 4 months since I visited Japan, but I can’t get this place out of my mind. Eating out Japanese food, drinking matcha instead of coffee and listening to Japanese jazz & funk in Berlin can help only partially, as I miss this place so much! And I only scratched the surface. However, in a way I do think that these cities are somewhat connected in the way they bridge 24/7 craziness with awesome and orderly urban planning, let alone big errors in their history and reinventing themselves after all.

So it’s high time to publish at least some of my photos taken during my 15 days travelling around and visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Koya-San, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Nagasaki, Gunkanjima, Yokohama and Nikko. Indeed, scratching the surface but there is so much to see almost everywhere!

When I landed in Tokyo, although jet lagged and overwhelmed by 22nd century inventions (TOTO included), I already felt I will love the place. I’ve chosen a good time to visit: Indian summer felt warm, but not too humid, which can be a problem if you visit Tokyo during summer months. I decided to share my time and energy between the crazy neighbourhoods like Ikebukuro, Akihabara and Shinjuku and peaceful places like Ueno Park, Asakusa or Hamarikyu Gardens.

But usual unusual places like owl shrines, directions to ‘Sunshine’, noisy pachinko spots and cat cafes were stealing my attention continuously. Crowded Tokyo makes anything possible: J-pop merging with dark techno, commercial centres located next to sacred shinto places. And its cities for some reason stay almost sterile.

Not only safety and cleanness impress tourists, also train and subway connections make you feel very small. But not lost – it’s actually very difficult to get lost in Japan, even if you don’t know the language. Everyone is helpful, patient and information is usually available in English… to some extent. For some reason I always felt I was missing out a lot, if not being ‘lost in translation’.

Among the most remarkable things I’ve done in Tokyo I listed: visiting geysha bar with my sexologist friend Masayoshi, trying to fry our own okonomiyaki with Gosia – a friend from Poznan I only managed to meet in Tokyo after years, and visiting onsen in Tokyo Dome with Kyoto-born and Spanish-speaking Yasue followed by a feast of ‘Japanese tapas’. All of that, was shockingly (!) good!

My personal highlight would definitely be digging the vinyl crates around Shibuya and Ebisu and finding some rare gems at Jazzy Sport Music Shop, to start off. And buying XS-sized Issey Miyake clothes that fit me on a ridiculous sale.

For some people the size of Tokyo is overwhelming, but I have to admit, after finding my way throughout the city, I felt pretty comfortable commuting between the neighbourhoods. I guess it’s the proportion between the amount of concrete and the green spaces that makes Tokyo such a healthy living organism. Also, I was told that it never stays the same: due to space limitations, the buildings are rebuilt approximately within 10-20 years, so chances are, that when I visit it next, I won’t recognize some of my pictures.

Day and night differ so much though. Bars between Shibuya and Shinjuku in a weird way remind me those from Berlin, and during my stay even Tresor Festival took place in Tokyo.

It all leads me to a conclusion: the discovery is never complete but there are dots that one can connect easily. It felt impossible to write a single entry about Tokyo, and after reading a few books, I know there is no such thing like a closed chapter that can be written about this city. I feel the same about Berlin, although on a different, everyday scale. Time for my last matcha latte today!

Taipei 101 and more

During my latest trip to Hong Kong and Macau, I decided to spend a couple of days in Taiwan, since I have heard great things about it from my fellow friends travellers.

It was only 90 minutes flight away from Macau, so I could not resist the temptation, but I did not set too ambitious goals about the sightseeing. I focused mostly on its capital: Taipei, and the North of the island. Here I’d like to share my thoughts and experiences of staying for 3 nights in this exciting capital.

What was strikingly different to other places I’ve visited before in East Asia: Japan, Hong Kong and Macau is that it was still sort of ‘undiscovered’ and not touristic. Maybe it was a matter of the season, but I could probably list less than a handful of foreigners I met or bumped into during my visit.
On a flip side, it was very easy to get around and communicate with people: most of them spoke quite good English, and I was also very fortunate to meet Chelsea – a friend of a friend who used to live in Spain and offered to take me around her favourite restaurants and bars. I enjoyed this experience a lot!
However, even if you don’t know anyone in Taipei, the city has a very friendly and safe vibe. I felt very encouraged just to wander around the night street markets and old town, checking out delicious, fresh and vegan-friendly cuisine with 1000 varieties of tofu. I even risked trying the famous ‘stinky tofu’ which actually tastes really great (the comparison with the stinky cheese is very relevant here).
Taipei offers a lot of room of relaxation, including public hot springs in the Beitou district and green parks. For the first time I also enjoyed staying in the shrines, simply because they were not flooded by tourists (unlike in most parts of Japan) and offering a very spiritual experience.

The only hazard I spotted were the scooters: or people using them, not really respecting the order of the lights or other driving rules.

Taipei bridges amazingly authentic old town experience with stunning skyline of buildings like Taipei 101 or neon streets of Ximending. Apart from that the monumental sites like Chaing Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Grand Hotel or National Palace Museum are really breath-taking. I was pretty impressed by the street art and hipster backstreets with tattoo and designer clothing stores.

For more romantic souls (like me 😉 there is one more place you can’t miss: Tamsui. Not only for its ‘Love Bridge’ but more importantly: for its sunset, beach and a long walk in the park, followed by a ride on a speed boat. My journey to Tamsui ended up, no, not by any romantic encounter, but  at a concert of the Brazilian music and spotting some corgi dogs playing in a park. Well, call it a serendipity for me!

In one word: Taipei = 101 of lots of <3. With special thanks to Chelsea, my wonderful host!

New Year’s Chungking Express

I ended up 2016 with reminiscing travel locations I managed to visit in the past 12 months, and I kicked off 2017 in one of the most crazy places: Hong Kong. I’ve dreaming about going there since I watched Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express, so it comes as no surprise that I stayed in a microscopic room for the first 3 nights at Chungking Mansions in Kowloon.

New Year’s Eve celebrations took place in Victoria’s Harbour – since I arrived there around 9 pm, I had no chance for a better view of the fireworks, but I was pretty impressed by the syncronised smartphone lights of people recording the show.

Afterwards, I stayed in the area of the Hong Kong Island called Causeway Bay renowned for its nightlife. And I fell in love with the skyline from the first sight. From above, from below, doesn’t matter from which perspective you look. As a comparison, I think that only the skyline of Nagasaki I visited in October last year can picture the sea, the mountains, the bay and the skyscrapers in such a harmony.

But Hong Kong is so much more than bars on the 144th floor, skylines and luxury stores: it’s a very strategic place on the map, and thus rich in its history. The influence of the British reign can be found in the presence of double-decker buses and trains, the language and the pace, and the city lives 24/7.

Although it is such a dynamic place (some saying New York City’s minute is Hong Kong’s second!), it does not lack amazing opportunities for hiking in the stunning nature sites. Victoria Peak and Dragon’s Back trails are definitely a must-do hikes with some of the most rewarding views in the world!

And Mid levels Escalator System – why would it be interesting? Apart from Kowloon, Midlevels is a part of Hong Kong featured heavily in ‘Chungking Express’. I tracked down all the places ‘starring’ the movie: the bar with Chef’s Salad is in reality a tobacco place, but the crowd on the escalators is equally crazy like in the movie. ‘Crowd management’ is actually very impressive in Hong Kong – lanes, overground pavements and escalator systems make walking around the city very convenient. Or even: possible, taking into consideration the number of residents and visitors, making one of the most crowded places in the world.

To relax and unwind (it was still crowded though, also with the cows!) I took a subway line to a green Lantau Island, where the famous Buddha sits on the top of the mountain. The journey paid off in the views, albeit the smog was quite thick on that day.

And the Star Ferry… The cheapest and the most romantic way to commute between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, offering the wind breeze and spectacular views for some 25 cents for a one-way ticket!

I know I will come back to Hong Kong at some point, but how will it look like the next time? During the time I stayed, I bumped into a ‘camping protest’ on one of the major streets of the Hong Kong Island. Movements such as the Umbrella Revolution show the democratic needs of the society.

Overwhelmed, enchanted after all that, we took a ferry to visit curious place called: Macau… And then, Taiwan!

 

Travelogue edition 2016: 13 countries in 12 months

What a year it was. In many ways, it came with negative happenings and sad surprises. Life seems very unpredictable and one has to find way to cope with the current crises. On the other hand, personally it was one of the best year I’ve had: professionally, and personally. My major highlights stay around the experiences I’ve lived, not only in Berlin, but also travelling. In order to get my head around these reflections, I would like to dedicate my last post of 2016 to shortcountdown of the countries I’ve visited and their depictions. I did not included countries like Hungary, Finland and France which have been my stopover locations.

  1. Portugal – I actually started 2016 on Lisbon’s Praca do Comercio with my family and friends, newly arrived from Cabo Verde. We were all very hopeful of what the year will bring and cheering with the crowd below amazing fireworks. I managed to come back to Portugal once again in September: revisiting beautiful city of Porto and having fun at Lisb:On Festival: Jardim Sonoro. I bet I’ll be back in 2017, possibly discovering more of the magical Azores archipelago.
  2. Poland – It almost doesn’t feel like a proper travel, but I always get excited either coming home, or visiting friends and family in different cities. I spent here my 30th birthday, even if suffering from a disease I brought from the previous journey, I had a blast in the freezing January temperatures. One thing I want to make sure is to come back as often as I can to cycle in the picturesque lakesides, Baltic Sea coastline and visit my nearest and dearest, especially in these turbulent times.
  3. Spain – My second home. I escaped to Barcelona already in February to visit my friend’s awesome flat-warming party. Only to encourage him to apply for a job in Berlin and seeing him leaving his precious hometown behind in 3 months of time (and the flat anyway). Coming back to Barcelona is almost like coming to Poznań – here are my dearest friends who are always there for me and things don’t change even as time passes by. Apart from that I escaped to Mallorca (like a proper German!) around summer – and it was blissful too, revisiting one of my favourite archipelago even if for 48 hours weekend. To top it up, I’ll spend my Christmas in Andalucia, ole!
  4. Greece – To be honest, I have a big backlog when it comes to Greece and during Easter time, I decided to visit Thessaloniki. What a heavenly tresure!
  5. Latvia – Speaking of Baltic countries, I’ve visited both Estonia and Lithuania earlier, and never been to Latvia before. So it was pretty much spontaneous to pack myself for an early spring break to visit friends in Riga and hike around the gorgeous Sigulga and Jurmala.
  6. Malta – This Mediterranean smallest country is perfect for a week-long getaway to search for the sun, historic treasures, hiking and island-hopping.
  7. Croatia – I was invited for a conference in Dubrovnik, and this sounded like a perfect opportunity to explore at least the Southern part of this island-abundant country. I’ve got to know the North of the country already in the 90s, and it was amazing to see how it developed during the last 20 years. The historic sites in Split and Dubrovnik are breath-taking, but so is the nature and its islands like Bol with the ‘Golden Triangle’ beach.
  8. Bosnia and Herzegovina – I only visited some part of the Herzegovina: around the multicultural city of Mostar, destroyed heavily during the civil war and currently being the symbol of fragile peace and unification. The landscapes in this country and its unique culture amazed me so much that I promised to return to its central and northern part soon.
  9. Montenegro – South of Croatia, there is a small country of Montenegro, known for its beach resorts and stunning hiking sites. I’ve only had a chance to discover the bay of Kotor and it was simply precious.
  10. Romania – Invited for a very special wedding, I had a chance to explore the city of Oradea, near the neighbouring Hungary. Enough saying that the wedding was a blast, I got to know the local cuisine, customs alongside with celebrating my friend’s happiness with a very international crowd.
  11. Japan – The ‘long’ trip of 2016. I have no words to describe how enriching these 15 days were. Travelling all the way from Tokyo to Kyushu (and beyond, to spectacular islands like Gunkanjima), I balanced my time among big cities, hiking and sanctuary places. It will probably take me some time to describe all I’ve seen, but sit tight, at some point I will publish more about this amazing trip.
  12. The Netherlands – In November I spoke at the European Women in Technology in Amsterdam and visited this lovely city when free. Even if it was short, it’s always good to remind oneself how sweet the Dutch capital is.
  13. Hong-Kong – so this will be a final destination in 2016: I will celebrate the ending and the beginning of 2017 with my Brazilian friends in this incredible place!

What will 2017 bring? I can only reveal that I will keep visiting the places that are or used to be my home (Poland, Portugal and Spain), I will discover more of the Nordics (Faroe Islands) and follow my Arctic obsession all the way to Greenland. I decided to see Taiwan while in Hong-Kong. And in the meantime…well, the time will tell!

Gunkanjima – the possibility of an island

Hashima Island (端島), commonly called Gunkanjima (軍艦島; meaning Battleship Island) was one of the highlights of my trip to Japan in October. Situated just a couple of kilometres away from the port of Nagasaki, it is one of the most unusual places I’ve ever seen.

I found out about Hashima thanks to Google Earth and a friend of mine who has visited Japan earlier last year. She didn’t make it to visit the island, but knowing my passion for the beautiful decay and abandoned places, she knew that I will do my best to reach it during this trip.

Reaching Hashima proved to be not as complicated as I initially thought. Obviously, it depends greatly on the weather and sea conditions, but since it was awarded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining in 2015, regular boat cruises to the island started to operate from Nagasaki port.

According to the tour operator, and my fellow travellers, cancellation of the cruises happen very often. Especially that I was visiting in the typhoon period, the dock on Hashima is pretty steep and landing not always is possible. I was lucky to sail when the sea was relatively quiet and on the way, I managed to hear various stories about the industrial revolution, Mitsubishi’s investment in the area that left impressive massive port architecture landscape in the Nagasaki Bay. However, a big part of the narration was also about the consequences of the brutal 19th century capitalism, and further decay of the settlements.

During the cruise, a former mining company employee was sharing both thrilling stories, and anecdotes about life on Hashima. Unfortunately, the narration was not always comprehensible or translated, so I could only read through his emotional language and further investigate about the industrial battleship exile.

Although the trip took only a few hours, it left me very impacted by the possibilities of afterlife for the post-industrial settlements. As the world will be hopefully becoming a more sustainable place in the future, endless opportunities or creating architectural memories of the massive coal mining, or steel industry will become a destination about learning about the past.

Maltese Mediterranean mood

Summer on my mind… Lately a friend of mine visited me and while singing karaoke (picking the most horrible choices like Geri Halliwell’s ‘Chico Latino’) our minds traveled to where it’s sunny, stunningly beautiful and the Mediterranean breeze is blowing.

Malta is definitely  one of these places, and I could share the whole series of Baleares, Sardegna and Adriatic tales to cheer up those still working and looking forward to the ‘real’ summer holidays. Since I am not a fan of high season travels, it’s not my case and I’ll share with you my impressions from this little Mediterranean island and country I visited in the springtime.

I spent some time in the Northern Part of Malta, where the widest and longest sandy beach is located, as well as the picturesque town of Mellieha. I strongly recommend visiting the town, since it’s still very authentic and has some stunning views to offer (when the visibility is good, one can spot the islands Comino and Gozo). For more spiritual or religious people, I’d recommend visiting the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Grotto, a very tranquil and soothing place for those searching for peace of mind and… oh well, shadow. Another interesting point worth visiting is the abandoned village of Popeye, since the movie was shot here years ago. Somewhat funny, somewhat scary!

Staying at the Northern tip of Malta allowed me to travel easily to the neighbouring islands of Comino (with its emblematic Blue Lagoon) and Gozo. Unfortunately, Blue Lagoon is already too popular and touristic – even off the high season, so I enjoyed mostly hiking around this small island and taking stunning photos of the blue waters.

However, Gozo will offer you much more: towns and villages with craft food, places to eat out authentic Maltese cuisine and again, excellent views of the Maltese sculptures of its own: rocks.

As opposed to the North, the South of Malta, including the Valetta-Gzira-Sliema three-in-one towns is full of history. Military buildings, museums and churches tell a story of years of battles and resistance of Malta.

I recommend a long walk throughout the Old Town of Valetta, including the port, and beyond: multicultural Gzira and posh Sliema. While Valetta reminds of a living monument, Gzira and Sliema are actually very lively places with the whole bunch of cafés and restaurants.

I didn’t have chance to visit St. Julian’s but its party image was not something I was looking for during this stay. All in all, I have to say that a couple of days on Malta made for a very relaxing, but also inspiring experience. It’s very well communicated, so it’s not too stressful to visit place, and yet not too expensive. I have a lot of thoughts around the sustainable tourism, which should be something to implement in places such as the Blue Lagoon, so please enjoy responsibly!

Auseklis of Latvia 

Auseklis in Latvian means ‘The morning star’ and symbolizes protection from dark and evil. As somewhat my long weekend getaway coincided with the season change in Latvia: from long winter to springtime awakening, I feel that this could be a could symbols for the changes that were going on not only in nature, but also in my life.

For some reason, even while I visited both Lithuania and Estonia years ago, Latvia was always a pending country in Europe to see. What accelerated my visit were a few spare days in April I could use up for holidays and having two of my friends living there and posting beautiful Instagram pictures of Riga, Baltic coast and Sigulda, even in the gloomy wintertime.

I stayed in the hipster part of Riga (where else I could end up, ha ha) nearby Miera Street, full of original cafes, craft beer bars, theatres and streetart. And Laima – the chocolate factory, which tested really good!

I obviously checked the must-see boxes in the beautiful Riga’s Old Town learning about Latvia’s rich yet turbulent history, including visiting the Jewish Ghetto. I was equally enchanted by the Art Nouveau district, and post-industrial parts of the city, as much as the parks.

I didn’t go out at night beyond the Miera Street – my friends warned me that most likely for clubbing in Riga, I’d need to dress up in high heels. Berlin all-black-everything-I-don’t-give-a-damn style still didn’t get in here.

Instead, I chose an early morning escape to Sigulda, Krimulda and Turaida. 1 hour train ride from Riga you can find yourself in the beautiful Gauja National Park which is a paradise for hiking. Local tourist information offers a lot of advice regarding the most interesting paths. I opted for the 25 km one which was ambitious but extremely pleasant, including visiting the castle in Turaida, Park of Walking Sticks in Sigulda (?!), Sculpture Park of Krisjan Baron (Latvian natural art representative), as well as some bird-watching reserve. And since it was a very early springtime one could witness the sheer awakening of all the species!

On the third day I visited Jurmala, a seaside resort town and hosting of one of the most beautiful beaches. All in all, I was extremely happy to have discovered Latvia, and I would like to thank my friends for the extensive list of tips prior to visiting it.

And today I’m even more happy since one of them is re-visiting me in Berlin!