Day 4 Paris Trip: The Latin Quarter and the Jardin du Luxembourg

January 22, 2008 at 10:30 am | Posted in Anime & Manga, books, Comics, France, General, Manga, Out and About, Paris, photos, Tourism, Travel | 6 Comments
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The last day in Paris was spent with a journey to the Latin Quarter and the Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens).

I’ll start with the gardens first. I walked and used the Metro but you might prefer to ride a bicycle. Throughout Paris are bike rental stations  –Velib -where you basically hire it and can return to any other station. For the safety conscious they don’t come with helmets.

Paris 308

Meanwhile, the gardens are home to the French Senate.

Jardin du Luxembourg (20)Jardin du Luxembourg (24)

Extensive grounds.

Jardin du Luxembourg (2)Jardin du Luxembourg (27)

Statues.

Jardin du Luxembourg (3)Jardin du Luxembourg (11) Jardin du Luxembourg (15)Jardin du Luxembourg (14)Jardin du Luxembourg (21)

Chess games alongside the sleeping homeless.

Jardin du Luxembourg (8)

Flower beds and bare trees – presumably the place would be spectacular to walk around in spring.

Jardin du Luxembourg (9)

Or you could play tennis.

Jardin du Luxembourg (12)

Overall, the gardens allow for a relaxing stroll around the grounds. A pleasant escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Jardin du Luxembourg (22)Jardin du Luxembourg

Even in the slight chill there are plenty of people taking the opportunity to sit around, contemplate, chat or have lunch.

Jardin du Luxembourg (25)Jardin du Luxembourg (23)

I’ve often complained that London lacks any trash cans and I realise there are safety concerns but it wasn’t until Paris that I realised why even the clear bag option may not work.

Jardin du Luxembourg (10)

Then again perhaps a slightly thicker non explosive/metallic material would still allow for a clean and safe environment?

Once out of the Gardens I took to the Latin Quarter in earnest. Home of higher education for the esteemed university La Sorbonne. Thus almost completing my pained and over stretched analogy of a trip of highs.

Latin Quarter (21)Latin Quarter (27)

Or more cultural highs at the Pantheon. Or, rather I’m sure there would be if I’d actually gone in.

Latin Quarter (22)Latin Quarter (24)

Or the high from finding a real life manga cafe in Paris – near a number of other comic/DVD/book shops. After all it is a university student district.

Latin Quarter (30)

The blue shop is Album comics but while trying to find the URL I stumbled upon the Boulevard des Bulles which is the same area.

Latin Quarter (17)

As the masthead indicates this is Boulinier and on the right down the small Rue Serpente (with a yellow awning) is the small but potentially interesting AAAPoum.

Latin Quarter (12)

Another books shop I stopped in was Shakespeare’s (towards Notre Dame). A well known second hand English bookstore where the staff actually live in the shop. As you walk around you’ll see the folded up beds and the sparse belongings in small piles so as to not disrupt the customers.  

And now a last smattering of photos from the Latin Quarter. Definitely a worthwhile part of the city to get lost in.

Latin Quarter (3)Latin Quarter (16)

Latin Quarter (23)

Latin Quarter (5)Latin Quarter (6)

After leaving the Latin Quarter I picked up my bags from the hotel and headed to the station, Gare du Nord, for my final high. The high speed train.

Gare du Nord (3)Gare du Nord (5)

Arriving back in Kings Cross.

Kings Cross (2)Kings Cross

Overall, I liked Paris, despite warnings I was not prepared for the distances involved. Realistically, I could have packed more in and left a day early but in part this holiday was about taking things relatively slowly and chilling out a bit. For the most part this was accomplished so the next time I make it to France I’ll be able to travel further afield.

Now that I’ve dipped my toe into Europe I doubt it’ll be too long before I’m back on the continent!

More photos on Flickr!

Day 6 – Harajuku, Ginza and Akihabara

June 10, 2007 at 5:53 pm | Posted in anime, Anime & Manga, Japan, Manga, Tokyo, Travel | Leave a comment
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On Day 6 (Sunday) I returned to Tokyo in the afternoon once again via Shinkansen and made my way to Harajuku. I was planning on seeing the Meiji Shrine and the cosplayers that make this suburb their home (particularly on the weekend). Harajuku, with its narrow winding main street is filled in equal parts funky clothing shops and food stalls on the one hand and tourists, spruikers and locals (whether cosplaying or not) on the other.

If you’re into shopping and fashion you’ll no doubt be interested in taking the time to explore all of the ins and outs of Harajuku but for me I was here to check out the people and to do it quickly. Time was ticking after all. Unfortunately, after “exploring the surrounds” (getting turned around) I found my way to a shrine or temple which was roughly in the place of a shrine listed on a Japanese language map I’d seen earlier. While it didn’t look as big as I remembered the Meiji shrine from my previous trip I put this down to the access paths were closed and not being at the main building. I wandered around a little hoping to find a big cluster of cosplayers to check out but unfortunately there were none in this area.

Of course if I’d been smarter I would have realised/ remembered that this was completely the wrong part of Harajuku but instead had to rely on Miki to tell me a few days later as she scanned through my photos.

While I didn’t get to the bridge connecting Harajuku with the Meiji shrine (where according to my guide the bulk of the cosplayers gather) I did see quite a few as I walked around but nothing amazingly outlandish. Did I take photos? No, I feel a bit weird taking photos of people, especially those who are dressing up, as I wouldn’t want to make them feel like they’re an attraction when they’re just trying to be themselves. Granted I’m saying that without knowing their individual motivations and possibly just laying my own preconceptions onto the situation.

With Harajuku done (at least in my head at the time) I was ready to move onto Ginza. Tokyo’s high end shopping district. My guide book advised that on Sunday they close the main street and it turn it over to pedestrians and (not verbatim) ‘cafes and everything spills out onto the streets in a European style’. Except not. Silly incorrect guide book.

Yes the street is closed which means you can walk at pace quite well up and down the main boulevard and there are the occasional street performers but that’s about it. There are no alfresco coffee shops just a few chairs placed in the middle of the street every so often for those weary walkers. I was glad to have gone to Ginza but annoyed that I’d bothered to go on Sunday when I could have visited realistically on any day and spent more time either in Harajuku or my next destination: Akihabara.

Akihabara is Tokyo’s technology district with every shop stocking alternatively a piece of technological gadgetry or manga/anime related products. Honestly, while I should have been uber impressed by the technology I wasn’t.  The items may have been super advanced on the inside but I was oblivious to this due to the language barrier and so I was reduced to a casual inspection of the exterior where they all looked like a variant of a TV/ phone/ camera etc. One of my stops was to the Tokyo Anime Center and it was quite disappointing. When I hear the term “center” I had imagined a variety of things, none of which were the glorified information service and gift shop that greeted me at the (small) Anime Center. It would be so much easier to just walk down the main street and wander into various shops than to bother with the anime center in it’s current size and form.

Speaking of walking, when I arrived into Akihabara I found that its streets were closed as well and this may or may not be a result of the festival that was occurring. Many, many people were working together as they paraded small shrines through the streets. I have no clue what this was in honour of but apparently there was a large festival in Tokyo over the weekend. The participants (from all ages and genders) looked like they were having a ball – it was infectious.

I checked myself into the Akihabara capsule hotel and then headed back into the area and wandered around anime and manga shops. A relatively healthy experience given the number of stairs to climb to cover each building’s floors. I was suitably impressed by the range of products in anime, manga and general merchandise. Whatever your taste there will be something in Akihabara for you – although being able to read it is another matter entirely. If I had any room in my luggage I may have bought more (as it is very cheap compared to prices in Australia/UK – although these are translated) but in the end I only purchased the latest Bleach.

Another Akhabara staple are maid cafes. I’d vaguely heard about these cafes where the staff dress as maids without knowing too much about it or doing additonal research and had considered going in just to check it out but while in Osaka I happened to watch a game show that shed a little extra light (as well as ick) on the cafes. This game show (no idea of the name) pitted various foreign otaku against each other in the struggle to be named biggest otaku. I was quite impressed by these foreigners (from a number of countries) as they had to speak and understand Japanese. After one of the challenges the contestants ended up at a maid cafe where the ‘maids’ dutifully spooned ice cream into their mouths. From what I have since gathered this maid/master relationship is the standard and honestly it doesn’t work on any level for me – even to just check it out and say I went. So I didn’t. For those more interested there are plenty of maids on the street handing out flyers. I didn’t see any cafes on street level but there are numerous signs pointing the way.

After all that walking it was time to head back to the capsule hotel. For those of you not in the know or not wanting to click the link a capsule hotel is basically a single futon in a rectangular box, it features a tv, reading light and alarm clock and the ‘entrance’ has a blind. It is quite high, lying on my back I could not touch the ceiling. The capsules are stacked two high and on this particular night I was on the lower capsule. They are highly affordable at 4000 yen per night and are often used by late night revellers or businessmen who have missed the last train home. Going on a Sunday night was a good option as there seemed little chance of drunken idiots. Men and women are segregated to different floors and there is a gender plity communal (Japanese style) sento bathing. In your little gift bag you receive toothbrush and towels as well as the Japanese yukata. I had a good experience, sleeping quite well but if you were quite tall or claustrophobic it may be a challenge. At this particular hotel the reception was 24hrs which allows for lots of sightseeing. I met a British traveller here who’d spent the past 4 nights at the hotel and had no problems and enjoyed his time.

If you’re coming to Japan and are on a budget then the capsule hotel is a great alternative, conversely you may want to give it a try before they become too old hat and are available in every airport and train station.

Day 5 – Kyoto

May 27, 2007 at 3:17 pm | Posted in Anime & Manga, Japan, Kyoto, Manga, Travel | 1 Comment
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In all honesty I was feeling just a tad delicate the morning (oh all right, the mid morning) I set out for Kyoto. I wasn’t entirely looking forward to doing anything but a long day in Kyoto turned out to be an excellent cure.

From Osaka station I took the rapid to Kyoto, although with memories of Sakai still fresh, constantly worrying whether this was indeed the correct train. Fortunately it was. At Kyoto station I made my way through the throngs of tourists (both local and foreign) to the main concourse where a pop group marathon of some sort was taking place where different bands played all day (and were still playing upon my return at the end of the day). I have no idea if they are big names or not but the photos are already online and will be posted again here eventually.

At the tourist office (as I came sans map) I was confronted with a queue of foreigners before I got my map I also picked up a leaflet on walking tours which looked quite interesting. I went down to the food court to read their suggestions and fill up on okonomiyaki – a word despite repeated prodding from Miki and Justin I still can’t say properly. I thought that the Philosopher’s walk looked fun and would provide an opportunity to check out a different side of Kyoto, this would be particularly useful as I was already down to half a day. Basically the walk is along a canal linking a variety of sites, notably Ginkaku-ji (or the Silver Pavilion). The down side is, according to the guide, you take a bus to the Pavilion but due to traffic congestion it took about an hour. An easier approach would have been taking the subway (it’s non JR for those with the pass) and connecting with a bus further out of the city and thus beating the snarls. At any rate that’s my tip for future travels.

Now I had arrived at the street to the pavilion a very idyllic cobble path lined with shops selling various wares to the tourists. Of course it would have been a lot more charming without so many people but that’s what happens when you go on the weekend to a top destination. I had assumed being a UNESCO listed site and all that it would take a considerable amount of time walking around but in fact this was not the case. Granted I did power-walk through it but even so the path you are on leads you around the side of the pavilion and into the extremely well manicured garden (they sweep the moss) and back out again. 

Well with that checked off I began to walk and philosophise along the canal. While there were some tourists it was considerably less than at the pavilion. It is a pleasant experience and presumably during cherry blossom season it is packed with people. On the route you can duck into a number of the local shops, shrines or temples. I probably should have gone into some of these but I wanted to head back into the city and check out other aspects of Kyoto.

Unfortunately, it appeared the only way back was the way I’d come and being impatient and a little over busses I chose to walk back. It didn’t look so far. Well of course it was but on the way I saw some sort of children’s sporting day which had 80s music playing, notably “Girl’s just want to have fun” and more importantly a sign saying “Bushido“. Thinking that this may related to kendo and a chance to see kendo being played in its native Japan I followed.

I did not find kendo but I did find one huge shinto shrine – the Heian Jingu Shrine. An impressive complex of red buildings on white pebbles. While standing and pondering whether to go in I was approached by a girl sporting an ID badge and confident English asking if I wanted a free tour. Apparently the city has numerous free volunteer guides at various locations throughout the city (and not just in English). Wanting to get back to town as quickly as possible before the museums closed I asked and received a very trimmed down version as we went up to the shrine to the former Emperors and I heard how families used to come for blessings. If you’re in Kyoto try and track a volunteer down as they’re very useful for local content.

Now back to walking. Past a large canal with people hanging out and relaxing on the banks and into the centre of Kyoto. I walked along city hall where they were having some sort of launch. I have no idea what it was other than it involved marching bands and cheerleaders.

My next stop was the city museum and I finally found it down one of the side streets. Once again there was an exhibit of European art but the main display floors were available. Apparently there is the option to have an English guide but with the clock ticking closer and closer to 5PM when the museum closed I decided to ignore this offer. A good call as I paced quickly through the exhibits I heard a volunteer talking to a group of foreigners. He was definitely passionate about the city but his English lacked the confidence of my earlier guide and if you want to look at the city in a relaxed environment then that’s fine. As for the museum itself, it lacks a great deal of English (hence the guide I suppose) but does attempt some multimedia by having various TV sets around the floor that with the press of a button you can enjoy a brief clip.

If you can’t tell I was getting a tad fatigued but I wasn’t done yet. On the bundle of maps I picked up at the tourist office I had a standard tourist map and a transport map. On the latter it pointed to the Kyoto International Manga Museumbut the former did not. Somewhat odd. At any rate this is a gem. The museum is built inside an old school building complete with an astro turf lawn. Inside there a walls lined with bookshelves filled (and ever increasing) with manga you are free to take and read anywhere in the museum – including on the lawn. There are also exhibits on manga, occasionally special events, artists drawing live and a brief history of the project and school that existed beforehand.

Once you’re done with manga you can visit their small gift shop and head right next door (within the same complex but outside of the museum) to a coffee shop to rest your feet. Kyoto definitely has a coffee culture with coffee shops dotting the landscape and not all are Starbucks. This particular coffee shop – despite average coffee – is worth a stop because it (at time of writing) relatively blank walls are a canvas for visiting manga artists to sign and perhaps draw a bit.

I sat for a time and generally chilled out before walking back to the nearest subway station and returning to Kyoto station and finally Osaka.

Kyoto is a nice city – even with my brief interaction – I can tell you that. My only real complaint is that the transportation system really isn’t built for a day/ half-day trip experience. I will have to come back and get a fuller picture of this ancient city. Possibly by bicycle.

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