Aug 072010

Stockholm by sea

Stockholm and sunny weather was a combination that invited a day on the seas and in the archipelago. On account of not having a full day, we settled on a shorter trip as opposed to a 12 hour two-meal cruise.

Fjäderholmarna (feather islands, of which only one was easily available) are reached with a half an hour journey on a boat. The ride crosses the harbour and provides a great view into the Stockholm waterfront.

The island was billed as a center of craftsmen, with plenty of workshops to visit and browse. In reality the number of shops was small, but at least some of them did contain plenty of interesting objects. Picked up a hollow glass fish – just the thing to hang on the balcony.

Smoked mackrel, shrip and mussels at Fjäderholm RökerietAte a scrumptious meal at the Rökeriet. The restaurant smokes their own seafood, and both the fish and the shrimp were nothing short of excellent. My background as a landlubber surfaced again, there’s a trick on peeling shrimp that persistently eludes me.

Äventyrsgolf (apparently a mini golf course) was shut down for the year, and all the holes carefully excised from the ground. The only real “activity” offered in 2010 was lounging around the cliffs. Nothing wrong with that, obviously, and plenty of people were enjoying the sun.

The Mackmyra facility on the island was quite a disappointment. On account of alcohol monopoly ther were unable to sell bottles of their product, that much I expected. But the unavailability of swedish whiskey by glass struck me as an odd omission. But even odder things were on the cards: the shopkeeper refused to sell t-shirts to anybody who does not own a share of a Mackmyra barrel. Their loss.

Forgot to check whether there were any caches on the island – the environment would have allowed plenty of good hides.

The crowds were plentiful enough in the departure pier, but fortunately the vast majority of them were taking another boat – to Slussen as opposed to our destination.

Fjäderholmarna landing

Jul 152010

Shibuya crosswalkShibuya, the site of world’s busiest crosswalk is just a stop away from Harajuku.

And quite a busy area it is, indeed. Though not really comparable to the Shinjuku train station, in Shibuya the hecticity is confined to a just a small area, in Shinjuku train station the tsunami of people is just oberwhelming.

Walked around a bit, saw the Hachiko statue (and logged it for the my first ever featured Gowalla spot) and walked around some more.

Avoided the lure of shopping and had a late lunch instead. Gloriously good dim sum in the basement of Seibu was brightened further by the unexpected gift from a neighboring table – a voucher that cut off a significant chunk of the price.

Exquisite dim sum

Jun 272010

Spent the morning of April tenth (yeah, the reports are rather late) in and around the Tsukiji Fish Market.

Entry was not the most auspicious. Big warning signs along the way from the closest metro station stated that the market was temporarily off limits to “non-business” visitors.

Tsukiji fish market

Tsukiji fish market

Not so easily dissuaded, decided to go and see what was really going on. And it turned out that the warning was only about the tuna auctions held veruy early in the morning, not the whole market.

The first sight in the area was the massive number of ground-hugging transport vehicles zipping around the area. The flatbed cars were transporting the products to the vans of restaurants and shops that are not allowed to enter the halls.

The halls are vast, and absolutely packed with seafood of all descriptions – the selection ranged from the common (tuna) to truly obscure (sea cucumber) via the ugly (some deep sea crustaceans). Apart from the fish most of the wares were alive, so as to provide as fresh a dish as possible. Some critters were numerous (squid, mantis shrimp) whereas some were confined to one or two specimens on a single vendor’s table.

Photographed without aiming the camera much. The corridors were narrow, people were milling everywhere and the rapidly moving vehicles were a constant hazard and thus a free-ranging paparazzi mode was far easier to use.

While there were plenty of sales made in the halls of the market, it was the surrounding area that had the more consumer-friendly shops. And plenty of sushi restaurants.

Sushi platter

Just had to have a breakfast in one – and got treated to likely the freshest sushi dish ever. And one of the cheapest. Close to twenty pieces (both nigiri and maki), a bowl of miso soup (with a bonus shrimp) and an infinite amount of green tea for the equivalent of ten euros is not a typical cost in Finland.

Picked up the second t-shirt of the trip (wrap-around stylized black tuna on white) and some sushi paraphernalia in the barracks next to the market.

A couple of blocks away the market turned a bit more conventional, but still very seafood-related. Ought to have picked up an industrial-sized pack of nori or tasted a proper japanese omelette, but was way too full for the latter and figured that Narita shops would have sources for the former.

Miso with a bonus crustacean

Jun 212010

Spicy octopusA long day had built up quite a hunger, and sadly Akihabara is not exactly packed with quality restaurants. At least ones that project their appeal on the streets.

Finally settled on a chinese restaurant on the top floor of Yodobashi Camera (a tactic that served us well in Osaka), and didn’t come off disappointed at all.

Quite the opposite, the spicy octopus dish (accompanied by an appropriately chilled glass of Ki-Rin) was a gloriously good cap on a day that easily surpassed 20k steps.

May 062010

FuguExperimented with Kaiten sushi at a nearby restaurant recommended at the hotel. Too bad the mode of operation outside the rush hour was a la carte. Everything had to be ordered. Tried shako (squilla or mantis shrimp) for the first time. Pleasantly smoky, yet expectedly crustacean taste.

Shopping-wise Shinjuku is either a paradise or a nightmare. Spent a couple of hours in Kinokuniya bookstore and various malls. Picked up a couple of books and a set of bright red hummingbird stickers for boring white walls.

Following the sudden bout of shopping it was time for dinner. The restaurant next door turned out to be a fugu-place. Every item on the english menu had blowfish in them. The japanese menu had helpful pictures of other dishes as well, which meant that there was more than tetrodotoxin available. Sampled the poisonous fish in a mandatory appetizer – smoked skin in clear jelly. No tingling, no other odd effects, but definite relief when the scallops and tunafish arrived.

Too bad the images of the blowfish on the point and shoot didn’t succeed too well. The multiple layers of dirty glass and roiling bubbles in the water threw off the autofocus rather steadily.

May 042010

Breakfast in Ishicho RyokanThe Ryokan in Kyoto offered genuine japanese breakfast. The dishes were almost completely different on the two mornings.

The first one (of which there’s no pictures) was good all around, with no seriously suspicious items on offer.

The second, however, featured oddities. The main event was an odd organ that tasted mainly of fish. Probably a liver, but possibly something quite else.

Breakfast room

Apr 192010

Crab legsFor dinner rode the subway to Namba – allegedly the entertainment-oriented area of the city.

Even on a rather chilly monday evening the first drunken salarimen got spotted only a few meters into the zone. Thankfully the black-clad guys kept to themselves.

Had a very crab-based dinner at JRI (the name of the chain remains a mystery): crab legs, crab sushi and crab bateria (carved rice topped with crab and kelp). The legs required some chopstick acrobatics, but all in all were pretty easy to eat. And delicious, utterly delicious. The entire menu was heavily crab-based – the oddest dish was a plate of unpleasantly darkish grey “crab guts sushi”. Concentrated on the white, pink and red bits instead.

The restaurant had just a couple of booths – after a long day walking it was quite a thrill to strip off the shoes and sit next to an almost floor-level table. A pint of well-chilled Asahi lager filled out the dinner nicely.

Apr 172010

Yodobashi camera in OsakaAfter a longish power nap in the finally available hotel room, it was time to explore the surroundings further.

There were basically three goals for the evening walk: establish where we are, get a bite to eat and investigate the huge Yodobashi camera shop allegedly next to the station.

Next to the station turned out to be a rather amorphous concept, since the station reaches quite a bit in all directions, both on top of and under the ground.

The camera shop was bigger than thought – though only one floor of six was filled with photography gear. My object of desire, a 18-200mm objective for the DSLR was not cheap here, and I settled for picking it up the following morning after a bit of further investigations. A bottle/umbrella-sized neopren pouch for the backpack was the sole extent of shopping today, even though the toy/game-department had plenty of lucrative items on offer.

First sushi meal of the tripHad the first sushi meal of the trip on the top floor of the shop-building. Gyo Gyo’s prices were low, the quality high and the seats at the bar comfortable indeed. Had my first taste of abalone and was quite unimpressed. Maybe the nigiri didn’t have the best slice of the mollusc on top, but the flesh felt tough and seemed to have a few shell fragments (or other hard chunks) in it. Other than that, the selection was delicious and a good start for a gastronomically exploratory week-long trip.

May 072009

Sugar content in different coke visualizes exactly how much sugar is used in products.

The amounts are scary indeed. I gave up non-light soda a couple of years ago, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg – have to start winding down juices as well. Even though it’s mostly natural sugar, there’s still scary amounts in the liquids.

Apr 182009

Berlin - Wall closeupHere’s the five day trip in a very condensed form:

  • Pictures taken: 403 + 24 (camera + phone).
  • Kilometers walked: plenty (forgot the pedometer home).
  • Methods of public transport tried: 2 of 4 (missing the trams and buses).
  • Trips outside the city: None.
  • Finns sighted: Several groups.
  • Currywurst eaten: Once (it’s quite OK).
  • Wall fragments seen: Just a few.
  • Geocaches found and logged: Two (both virtuals), one more sighted but unavailable on account of being mobbed with muggles.
  • Pieces of the wall bought: Two.
  • Semi-touristy t-shirts bought: Two.
  • Berlin accent comprehensibility: Quite high (especically when compared to Bavaria and Austria).
  • Moments of utter misnavigation: One (the first foray on the eastern side).
  • Really good bookstores discovered: None, quite an omission.
  • Pictures of the Ampelmann: Just one (of the green man).
  • Official stars possessed by the hotel: Five.
  • Missed exhibits on personal heroes: Two (Dali and Hitchcock).
  • Museums visited: Just one (the Reichstag does not count).
  • Movies bought: Zero.
  • Classic german police shows available on dvd: Plentiful (though missed Ein Fall für Zwei in the shops).
  • Locals drinking beer in inappropriate places: Quite a few – including the zoo (happily enough none of them were the least bit on the belligerent side).
  • Long queues: Two (Reichstag and Zoo).
  • Pleasant flavors of mixed Berliner Kindls: One and a half.
  • Recommended locations visited: Two out of ten (Treptower Monument and Prater Biergarten).
  • Time spent surfing the web: Very little – the hotel WLAN connection was very expensive, and there was something else to do almost the whole time.
  • New volumes of Ehapa’s Hall of Fame-series seen: Zero.
  • Locals selling newspapers on the subway: Almost on every second trip.
  • Well-lit sidewalks: Quite rare.
  • Kebab eaten: No, and that’s a real shame.
  • Shorts-season opened: Yes.
  • Appreciation of the producer-specific champagne-bars in KaDeWe: High.
  • Coming back: Definitely.