Norway Fjord Cruise – Part 3

The morning after the storm everything was fine, the seas flat again and I felt okay, even if I didn’t have any appetite yet. The Okinawa trip where the bad weather lasted for about 16 hours and when I couldn’t walk straight anymore for a while upon arrival, remains the peak of seasickness so far, but now I have a clear number two: that night on the MS Lofoten 😉
The last full day at sea was the least interesting with plenty of fjords, yes, but not really amazing sceneries, apart from the town of Molde, which has quite a view at mountains across the shore.

The day also provided another stretch of open sea before Molde, which was quite shaky again and I lay down for a while on a sofa in the salon. I found that lying down does help a little with the seasickness feeling. I didn’t get sick this time, but was happy when it stopped swaying.
On the last day towards Bergen seas were quiet, luckily.


The average age of the cruise passengers on board was maybe 60. There were a few younger people though, notably an Australian lady in her 30ties who I talked to a lot and a British girl in her twenties. There was also a weird young guy not yet 30 who walked around in a suit for the entire journey. Lol. One notable passenger was a 87 year old lady from Norway who spent much of her life in Canada though. She didn’t even get sea sick, she was only complaining that she cannot walk through the ship when it shakes so badly! She was everyone’s grandma and so funny and alert. I wanna be like that and still go on cruises and be interested in the people around me if I get to become 87!
The tour guide announced everything in Norwegian, then English, finally German. Half of the cruise guests were Germans and they did make me cringe. The kind of Germans who want to take Germany with them wherever they go and complain about anything they find un-German and not up to their “standards”. There were no younger Germans on board, I might have been the youngest. I felt kinda embarrassed and wanted to apologize to the crew for those arrogant German retired couples. There was an astonishing amount of Australians on board and equally interesting there were no Chinese or Japanese around, some signs along the route were in Chinese, indicating Chinese passengers, but not on my trip.
All in all the journey was living up to my expectations and that one glorious day with the Trollfjord and sea eagles and the view of the Lofoten at sunset will remain a highlight among the travel experiences I have made so far.


I’m not in the habit of doing the same thing twice apart from Wacken and other heavy metal related things, so I won’t do a Norway cruise again 😉 Let’s see what will happen after Wacken next year. The Wacken ticket just arrived! 🙂

Norway Fjord Cruise – Part 2

Day three of the Norway cruise was the most glorious and perfect day. Sunshine, quiet seas in the fjords, astonishingly warm for 70 degrees north. The best and most spectacular fjord was the Trollfjord, followed by the main town of the Lofoten islands, Svolvaer. Wow, those were picture book fjords in fantastic weather. It also offered the only excursion I had booked, a sea eagle photo safari. It involved spectacular action like the small boat for the sea eagle safari matching speed with the MS Lofoten and the people who booked the excursion “jumping ship”.

Seagulls entertained us with the tour boat people throwing bread and fish at them and before and after entering Trollfjord looking out for eagles and luring them to the boat with free fish. We had six or seven eagles in total, two of them catching fish from the air close to the boat and the others catching the fish that the crew threw into the water, noteably after injecting the fish corpses with air to make them float to make it easier for the eagles to catch them out of the water. The nosy seagulls kept their distance from the eagles when they approached by the way.


I would have loved to go ashore at Trollfjord and spend some more minutes there, but it was just in and out of the fjord and it’s for the cruise ship the only detour without calling to a port and only weather permitting. One of the cruise staff said we were hella lucky that the weather was so fantastic, many times you don’t see the tops of the mountains due to clouds, fog, whatever.

From Svolvaer to the next port we had to cross a stretch of open sea, but the day was fine, the sea was quiet and the view of the receding Lofoten islands in the sunset was completely stunning.


On day four we crossed the arctic circle in the morning and were entertained by cool looking, low hanging cloud and fog banks.

After passing a row of mountains called the seven sisters in the afternoon we entered an area of bad weather with rain and not seeing further than fifty meters. Then came the nightmare. We had to cross another section of open sea and the rain developed into a little storm and sent the ship swaying up and down and from side to side and by 23:00 I felt like I’d die!

I’ve only been really seasick once before, as far back as 1995 when I once went from Fukuoka to Okinawa by ship during my scholarship student times at the University of Kyushu. On the way to Okinawa everything was fine, on the way back we got into the outskirts of a typhoon and I thought the ship would sink and I got violently sick. Now for the second time on board the MS Lofoten. It’s amazing how miserable seasickness makes you feel, you really feel deathly sick and as if it’s the end of you, lol. I threw up two times, then fell into bed in my clothes. Luckily we left the stormy waters after around three hours and at two in the morning I was able to get up and get ready for bed in a proper fashion.

Norway Fjord Cruise – Day 1

Hurtigruten has a wide range of ships of all ages and luxury classes and due to my travel times and dates I traveled with the MS Lofoten, currently the oldest vessel in service, I believe. The boat is from 1964, wow, quite an old lady for a boat 😉 You could of course feel and see that in the simplicity of the design and the often painted over old steel, but the ship did have a rustic charm. I had chosen my cabin a bit unwisely though, since I was very close to the old sputtering, noisy engine of the ship, however, the constant sound and vibration also lulled me to sleep at times.


From Kirkenes we sailed further north with not much fjords yet but the open Barents Sea to our right and the coastline to our left. The ship calls to port every two, three hours on average. Climbing up north along the coast was quite unpleasant. Due to the constant sideways swell of the Barents Sea, the ship, which had of course no stabilizers being old and rather small, the ship rolled quite heftily from side to side. I didn’t get seasick, but I didn’t feel like eating more than half of my dinner that first night. From the second day onwards we entered the jungle of fjords big and small and the sea was much calmer. The north is rough but beautiful and at times I wanted to take pictures of every single mountain we passed.

There was also a sense of desolation and isolation though and I could not shake the thought of just how bleak and cold and miserable it has to be there in winter. One place particularly threw me and I checked about it in the Internet. An island called Loppa. It was halfway between the maybe five hundred inhabitants towns of Oksfjord and Skjervoy, which are served by Hurtigruten. It looked like there are ten or twenty houses on Loppa, even a church. Internet says there are “few” permanent residents left, but there ARE permanent residents left. Holy crap.

You need one and a half hours to Oksfjord with a whip going 14 knots like the MS Lofoten, longer of course with a slower ship. Main industry is presumably fishing, it didn’t look like there is anything else. What must it be like to live there? Why would anyone choose to live there? In summer, okay, I might still get it, it’s lonely, remote and beautiful, but in winter??? Where it never gets really bright at 70 degrees north and where it’s minus thirty or whatever degrees Celsius? I can relate to living in a place like this if it were subtropical but not if it’s subarctic. Wow.

Kirkenes and Hurtigruten

After the Oslo visit, I flew to Kirkenes, a mere seven kilometers from the Russian border and located at 69 degrees north. Kirkenes is a frontier town and has officially 3500 inhabitants compared to the 600.000 of Oslo. Much of the place exists because of the Norwegian fjord cruise ships that anchor there and load and unload passengers. There is some cruise ship there every day, I believe, even during the winter months for aurora watching. For only 3500 people living there, it has a lot of shopping malls. I went to two and a map spoke of yet another one. Apart from those though, there is nothing going on in that cold little town.

Despite it being 9th of August, it was about seven Celsius during the endless day. While staying there I learned about civil, nautical and astronomical twilight. Thing is, in winter, there is no official daylight from November 28 to January 15. I cannot imagine how bleak, dark, cold and miserable the place has to be in winter when I found it already pretty bleak, cold and miserable in summer! The pic below is from my hotel room at around midnight or so.


But then it was finally time to get on board the cruise ship.
A few words about the company with the for German ears funny sounding name Hurtigruten. Hurtig is also a now rather unused, old-fashioned German word, and it means quick, fast. Ruten is route. So it literally means express route. The company is over 120 years old and they started as post, cargo and of course passenger ships along the Norwegian coast to reach all those remote villages. The stops are fixed still to unload and offload people and goods. You can also board the ship from town A to B like a train without paying for cabins or food or anything. You can even sleep in the salons on board if you stay for a few stops overnight.

If a cabin were to be free you could also book a cabin for a night, I suppose, but I guess most cabins are occupied by cruise passengers who have full meal packages too. So apart from the cruise passengers there was a coming and going of backpackers and locals and all sorts of people from all walks of life. The full cruise is eleven nights from Bergen to Kirkenes and back. I did only the half cruise from Kirkenes to Bergen. Since you are at the ports at different times of day, you kinda need to go both ways to get the full experience, but for me personally five nights on board were enough 😉 with greetings from sea sickness! 😉

A Visit to Oslo

After the usual family visit following Wacken, it has become a bit of a tradition to do something extra. Last year I’ve been to Iceland, the year before that to Scotland and Ireland, etc. This time the way led to Norway, the last Scandinavian country I had not been to yet. The plan was to have two days in Oslo, then to go to the very north eastern end, to Kirkenes, a mere seven kilometers from the Russian border, and board a ship to do a Norwegian fjord cruise.


Oslo is a beautiful, rich and expensive city that is well worth a visit. It’s got everything to offer from castles over palaces to modern architecture, good museums and fancy shopping malls. One highlight is surely the opera building. You can walk onto its roof from the outside. A very cool and interesting concept and a must when you go to Oslo.

The Akershus Fortress is a nice small castle with not too many tourists (at least not when I went there). You can visit the royal palace during the summer months, but only with guided tours with a limited number of tickets and my “go and see what’s there” travel style without planning much in advance, did not help here, since all tickets for the days of my Oslo stay were booked out.


I did a two hour fjord cruise too, which brings you past exquisite summer residences and permanent residences on the small islands everywhere in the fjord and past glitzy yachts as well.

I went to two museums, the Viking ship museum, which has, as the name says three 1000 year old Viking ships to offer. You can see the ships as well as other Viking times items like sledges, tools and so forth.


Vikings are “popular” nowadays and you have to compete for viewing space with countless other tourists. I also visited the Fram museum, named after the ships Fram 1 and Fram 2, which were polar exploration vessels, led by Roald Amundson, the man who reached the South Pole first. The north and South Pole missions are equally treated, and enough space is given to the other explorers who tried to reach the same goals. The main attraction of the Fram museum are two preserved ships, the Fram 2 and the Gjoa. You can also board both vessels and explore them first hand.


Oslo is a lovely city and it would have been nice to stay a day or two longer, but the way led further north 😉

Kume Island Report – Part 4

On the next day on Kume island, I headed to the west coast, which promised another great beach. The promise was correct and the Aara beach turned out to be equally lonely as the east side beach of the island. It looked especially lovely from a higher vantage point when you can see the sea converging between the coral reef banks.

I drove through the main town in search for some decent souvenir and food shops, but was disappointed. While there were two, three souvenir shops, the whole “Main Street” area was run down and had definitely seen better days. I rode on towards the airport past the baseball ground where the Rakuten team usually holds its winter camp and to the only real “resort” hotel of the island. It’s at an interesting boulder cluttered beach, but also right next to the airport. Not that there are many planes, but nevertheless the fortification concrete slabs of the runway are disturbing the boulder beach.


My last full day on Kume island brought bad weather unfortunately and it rained quite heavily for most of the day. I went only for a short bicycle ride to another look out, then walked on the beach for a while in the rain.

The next morning, the Kume trip was already done. I have explored most of the island though apart from a forest stretch to the south and the north-western corner. The four hour boat ride back to Naha was nice, even though the boat swayed quite a bit despite better weather than on the way to the island.

In Naha I did some shopping and then headed to a shopping mall in order to catch Avengers Endgame. I must admit that the city girl in me highly enjoyed the shopping mall and some modern touch. While Kume has beautiful nature, the man made stuff on the island is old and run down and a bit depressing. It’s a shame actually, since the island itself is so beautiful. But then again, there are many beautiful islands in Okinawa 😉

Kume Island Report – Part 3

There was a fat thunderstorm during the night and tons of rain, but luckily it cleared up in the morning and ever more so during the day and I made best use of the fine weather with the longest bicycle tour that I had planned out. The eventual aim of the day was the northern shore of the island with a big rock formation. But the first stop was the magnificent Hiyajo Banta cliff with great views over the northern east side of the island.

From there I headed into the clouds to the Uegusuku castle ruins, which lie on the top of one of the highest hills of the island. While it was a shame that the view wasn’t so good, it was also kinda cool and mystic to be standing in the clouds.

Then I rode down to sea level again for the Mifugaa rock, which is indeed quite am impressive formation, also the grim rocks next to it, which I called the castle of the Witch King of Angmar were equally Impressive.

The long rides up the hill to the Hiyajo Banta cliff were quite hard, but luckily my bicycle had power assist. The Mifugaa rock was the furthest point away from home and I was pretty tired and hot and had a headache and feared for a while to have a sunstroke by the end of the trip. Without hat I surely would have gotten a sun stroke. As soon as the sun is out it’s quite brutal in Okinawa. After all, the island is on the same latitude as the Sahara desert… But after some rest and cooling down everything turned out to be fine. 🙂

Kume Island Report – Part 2

For the first full day on Kume island they predicted rain starting from noon. Nevertheless I rented a power assist bicycle from the rental shop when it opened at 10:00. Goal was the southern tip of the island. It started raining twenty minutes into having rented the bicycle and I thought, oh man, this is not gonna be nice. But luckily that rain lasted only for half an hour and there was no rain again until 18:00. Yeah! Clouds hung fat and dark the whole time, but as long as it wasn’t raining, I was fine with that. Very beautiful rock formations and nature at the southern tip of the island awaited and also a bunch of wild flowers.

I rode back past my hotel to the north until a shrine and scouted out the route for the next day.

Then I went back to the tatami rocks and the sun even came out for a few moments. Next to the tatami rocks is a small sea turtle aquarium which I visited. So, all in all it was a much more successful day than expected thanks to the rain being delayed and I enjoyed the bicycle tour and the lookouts.

Kume Island Report – Part 1

My search for the perfect Japanese island continued already five months after the last trip :-). Over New Year I was in Zamami, this time, over Golden Week, I decided to go to Kume island. Kume island is actually the fifth biggest Okinawa island, after Okinawa Hontou (main island), Iriomote, Ishigaki, and Miyako. (I’ve been on all of them). You can take a short flight from Naha or go four hours by ship. Since I love boats, I of course took the ship version (which is also much cheaper than flying). Because of the sailing times, and having learned from the Zamami trip, I booked two nights in Naha before and after the journey to Kume island. After a short afternoon in Naha wandering around the International Street, I had to get up at 6:30 to catch the boat to Kume island at 8:30. I was on board at around 8:00 and due to Golden Week the ship was full, which did not concern me too much though, since I stayed on deck the entire time anyway. The sea was a bit rough and the weather not so nice, but I thoroughly enjoyed the four hours on the boat, getting soaked from spray a few times, lol.

Arrived on Kume island I took a taxi (yes, they even have taxis) and a Stone Age old guy in a Stone Age old taxi brought me across the island to my hotel close to the so called Eef beach, which is apparently one of the one hundred best beaches of Japan. The hotel was very simple, but had everything and was twenty meters from the beach and right next to it was a Family Mart convenience store. Nothing else needed to survive!

I wandered around the beach, before they let me check in and then found a bicycle rental too, another twenty meters from the hotel. Perfect! For the afternoon I rented a normal bicycle and squeaked with it to the “tatami” rocks, a volcanic rock formation not unlike the hexagons of the Giants Causeway in Ireland. I kinda want to see this once in bright sunshine with blue skies, but… I walked up the entire beach beyond the tatami rocks and had the beach to myself.


The houses of Kume island are mostly all a bit old and there are no high rise hotels, which of course also has its charm. But my hotel was at the main road on the east side of the island and due to the Eef beach also a major “tourist” spot, there were restaurants and bars around. Some youngsters sang karaoke somewhere until three in the morning, unlucky me that I like to sleep with open window and no air conditioning on. There are also apartment houses nearby and hm… not a good spot to have an apartment with loud tourist night life every day.

A Short Visit to Yantai and Shanghai

Yantai:
Be honest, have you ever heard of Yantai? I had not before they told me to go there on a business trip. Yantai is one of those many million people cities in China that you never heard of.
Googling Yantai revealed that it is a coastal town, even a resort town with a large beach and that it has a whopping seven million inhabitants. It’s about the same latitude as Sendai, at the Bohai strait and about 500 km East of Beijing and 700 km north of Shanghai.
There is no direct flight from Tokyo to Yantai, but interestingly there is a direct flight from Osaka to Yantai. So I flew from Haneda to Kansai international airport and then checked in for Yantai. The plane was full with Chinese shopping travelers who stuffed their trophies into the overhead bins to the point of bursting 😉 The plane was not fully booked, but well booked, it also only made a break at Yantai and went on to a place called Taiyuan. Never heard of that before either and it’s a four million people city you’ve never heard of.
The weather in Yantai was pretty bad in the day of our arrival, heavy rains and pretty cold with under ten degrees Celsius.

Yantai is an an old city and apparently has an old town, but unfortunately there was no time to go visit there due to the business nature of the trip. The place where we stayed and the place of our factory was all new and subject to city planning. There is a lot of conformity, streets at right angles, high rises for the millions of people, that look very uniform. The beach was nice, especially in the evening of the second day in Yantai when the weather cleared up and we enjoyed blue skies. It’s a north facing beach and I haven’t heard about many resorts yet with north-facing beaches. Funnily the large pier that reached into the ocean served no obvious function. They should make an amusement park out of it or something.

There was one interesting scene at the beach, some young Chinese were taking what looked like fashion photos, while old Chinese people were getting clams out of the sea trying to make a living off that. Old vs. new China, probably either way is hard to make ends meet.

Shanghai:
Shanghai has two airports, Hongqia and Pudong, much like Haneda and Narita in Tokyo. Hongqia and Haneda are closer to town, Pudong and Narita are the airports at the end of the world. We took a domestic flight from Yantai to Shanghai Hongqia. The old Hongqia airport that I knew doesn’t exist anymore. It was a major construction site when I last visited, now it’s a glitzy modern airport, which is quite well organized. A company car picked us up and drove us through a copy of the planned high rises and right angle streets of Yantai into the industrial zone where our Shanghai factory is located. Greater Shanghai has become an incredible 26 million people strong…
When I was in Shanghai for the first time in 2001 there were mostly bicycles, from 2010 onwards mostly cars and electric scooters. Now it’s only cars and electric scooters. I saw not a single bicycle around. Maybe we were lucky, but there was no traffic jam and also in Yantai as well as Shanghai there are cameras over the streets every few meters and you get flashed constantly by speed checkers, those I don’t remember from 2015 when I last visited. I think they are new and a part of enforcing stricter traffic rules to get on top of the chaos.
I am living and working in and around Tokyo since the year 2000. Tokyo has officially thirteen million people and Yokohama six million. Nevertheless I felt that Tokyo is now small by comparison.
What made Shanghai so overwhelming for me this time was the endless high rise wood and its uniformity.

There was no time to go to the Bund unfortunately, our factory and the 43 floors high hotel close to it where we stayed were forty kilometers away from the Bund. You could not see the Bund due to haze. I don’t know how much of the haze was smog how much was moisture. The air didn’t feel too bad, I have had worse air days during previous Shanghai visits. The parts of Shanghai I visited this time looked quite wealthy and very orderly to me but they were all in an “urban development” area and not “grown” over time. The long ride by car to Pudong airport for the return to Japan lead through one and a half hours of high rises. So many people, so many fates, so many trying to make ends meet. It’s quite overwhelming. It was interesting for sure to be visiting China again and I suppose I haven’t been there for the last time. The very bumpy ride back to Tokyo due to lots of turbulence took only two hours and twenty minutes. I’m sure they’ll send me there again 😉

China Visa Adventures

On Friday evening of the 29th of March my boss came upon the idea that I should join him on a business trip to China starting 9th of April in order to hold my “how to work with the JOEMs” training for our Chinese colleagues in our factories of Yantai and Shanghai. (The JOEMs are the Japanese car manufacturers Toyota Honda Nissan and so on.)
Um, sure, nice, overseas business trip is always interesting, but um, Germans need a visa for China. Dunno if I can get one so quickly, let’s try. So, on that same evening I asked the travel agent that we have to contractually use and they sent me necessary documents for Chinese visa application, which I started to fill out over the weekend.
I’ve been to China several times before, first time was in 2001 as a tourist when I visited Beijing and Shanghai doing the classic stuffs of visiting the Forbidden City and so on. Ever since I have been on quite a number of business trips to China, once Beijing, all other times Shanghai, and I don’t even remember how often I’ve been to Shanghai. For my previous position I went to Shanghai regularly once or twice a year for a yearly conference and also some trainings.
The one business trip I had to Beijing sticks out, since it was 2007, one year before the Olympics there and all the tourist street neighborhoods close to Tiananmen Square that I fondly remembered from 2001 were flattened and gone.

But back to the visa. For the previous visits, I always had ample time for getting a visa and left going to the embassy to the travel agent. It’s also been four years since I last went to China and I forgot most of how the visa application works.
This time, because time was so short, I eventually decided to go myself to the embassy, but before that I needed to get an invitation letter from our Chinese counterpart. Usually they want two weeks of lead time to issue such letters, I had two days.
The travel agency sent me only a PDF sample of an invitation letter. Upon asking whether they have a word version of the thing, the answer was no. After begging the Chinese counterpart, they made their own invitation letter. I sent it to the travel agent for check and they said it’s unusable, why didn’t you use the WORD format? Which WORD format???? You guys sent me only a PDF and then said you have no WORD . Turns out they misunderstood… arghhh. They finally sent me a WORD format, which I sent to China and begged again to fill it out. I got the new invitation letter and went to the embassy in Tokyo on Wednesday the 3rd. The lady at the counter checks everything and says. Your passport number on the invitation letter is written wrongly, we cannot accept it. Ahhhhhhhhh! Two numbers were switched around and I didn’t notice, the travel agent who “checked” the document the night before didn’t notice. They told me I have to get a new invitation letter, but at least they allowed me to fax it to them instead of coming in once more. So I rushed back to the office and begged the Chinese counterpart to issue yet a new letter. After much begging I got the third version of the invitation letter, which needed to be stamped and signed by a director, and faxed it to the embassy. They accepted it and promised to have the visa ready on Monday morning, one day before I was supposed to fly.


I am of course majorly pissed with the Japanese travel agent and they shall get a fat complaint from me after the business trip is done. They made three major mistakes, not to send me an editable invitation letter, then to claim they don’t have one, then to miss the mistake on the finished letter. What the heck are we paying them for? When I was told we cannot accept the Invitation letter by the embassy, I thought I was in Kafka’s Der Prozess (The Trial), lol. Brought down by bureaucracy! 😉
I find it extremely fascinating why Japanese nationals don’t need a visa to China (if they stay under two weeks). Chinese nationals always need visas to Japan. Why are the Chinese not returning the “favor” and let the Japanese into their country without a visa? Why do Germans need a visa? Anyway, another page gone in my passport now 😉 and I wrote this while sitting on the plane to Yantai.

From Vladivostok with Love – Part 4

All the Russian fans told me I should look out for the band because they would surely be staying in the same hotel as I did. So in the morning I did keep a look out at breakfast but nobody was there. I later found out that the poor guys must have left much much earlier than when I sat at breakfast at 9:30. They were going to Novosibirsk next and when I got to the airport myself the next day I saw that the flight to Novosibirsk left at 8:50. Uh… that means being at the airport before 7:30 surely. I suppose they left the hotel at 6:30 or something like that! So much for tour live. Since the Amon Amarth fan lady, just let me call her AA, promised to pick me up at 14:00, I wandered around some more, found a nice spot for a Vladivostok skyline picture and also found two more shopping centers, slowly finding out what looks like a shopping center and what not.

I confirmed already the day before that the Chinese and Koreans are coming for shopping. The rubel is apparently quite low these days, prices in Vladivostok are lower than in Korea for sure and apparently it’s even becoming attractive for Chinese mass tourism. AA also told me that the Koreans and Chinese don’t need Russian visas for Vladivostok and she does not need one either if she wanted to go there. It’s some special agreement for the Russian Far East as well as some areas in China close to the border. If they want to go to Moscow they need visas, but not for the Far East. Interesting, I didn’t know that.
I bought some souvenirs and then waited for AA at the hotel.
She was very punctual and then we drove off towards Russky island over the impressive two bridges.

At some point the asphalt road ends on Russky island and the adventure begins. We were not the only ones on the dirt path, it felt like a caravan at times. AA said this is nothing yet, in the summer there is traffic jam at these dirt paths!


There are several “parking” areas and we stopped at one with a beach and where a hiking trail starts to a scenic spot.


I was totally amazed by the amount of people there. Well, it was Sunday, but nevertheless. Much of the area is wooded, but was extremely dry and also dusty, it has been a super dry winter with not much snow even. There was actually a small bush fire a hundred meters away at one point. AA said the best time is in summer of course, when people go swimming at these beaches but also September and October, when the leaves change color.


We had a great walk and the last cliff looked really beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed this unexpected adventure, that I never would have been able to do without a local and AA drove me all the way back to the hotel again. Very cool addition to an already great trip.
To say goodbye to the place, I went down to the shore once more and was in for another treat. There were several elderly men who were actually, one after the other, taking a swim in the ice cold ocean!!! Kyaaaaaaa. I was walking around in arctic gear, these guys, jump into the ocean! Air temperature was around zero Celsius and water temperature… well look at the floating ice! OMG!!!

It was my second time to Russia and both times I made nothing but good experiences. I thought also in St. Petersburg and Moscow that people were friendly, but I must give it to Vladivostok that people there were even more friendly than in the big cities. There was not one moment where I would have felt unsafe, despite the adventures in finding the concert venue. Okay, there was a shady “taxi driver” hanging around the hotel who kept on asking me if I need a ride every time I left the hotel. But even he never got rude or too close. There was less police and military around than in Moscow and St. Petersburg. There is of course also less to see than in those two big cities, since after all Vladivostok is a mere 160 years old.
I wonder since when there are direct flights from Tokyo and how long they will keep those up. On the way to Vladivostok there were maybe 60 people on board, on the way back 40 people.
I can totally see myself going to Vladivostok again though if some band of interest decides to come all the way there for a gig. And even if there is no direct flight anymore, there will surely be some from Seoul 😉

From Vladivostok with Love – Part 3

On the Amorphis website it read that the Vladivostok venue was called San Remo, apparently a hotel. On the ticket I somehow bought online the venue read Submarine Club. Hm. I asked at my hotel lobby, and the guy did not speak English too well. For standard questions he could somehow answer in English, but not such non-standard stuff like whether the Submarine Club is maybe inside San Remo. He pointed vaguely into the right direction and I thought oh, heck, I’m gonna find it somehow and went looking. It said 19:00 on the paper. I was not sure whether that meant concert start or start of letting you into the hall and the hotel guy couldn’t tell me either because of lack of English. So I went looking for the venue at 17:30 and good that I did so. At a sign which read San Remo, I actually ran into the two guitarists of the band and quickly addressed them and told them I’d see them later, they greeted nicely back, then walked down the road. Good, so it had to be around here somewhere if the band members are close!
I ventured into a spooky alley and ended at a nightclub, all right, but it had another name, and the door was closed, nobody there. Some shifty looking dude wearing an indistinct hoody came out of a side door and I showed him my print out and asked where the venue is. No English really, he said, niet niet, and pointed up and right. Hm.


So I went up and right and landed on the roof of the San Remo building. It’s built kind of into a hill and you could easily walk onto the roof. some youngsters hung out there, but they didn’t look like heavy metal fans and were too young also. One kid walked into the roof access of whatever was beneath it and I thought, what the heck and followed him.

I ended in the seventh floor lobby of a super old style hotel way beyond its prime. Everything screamed seventies and that in Russian. At the reception I asked the lone lady present if she spoke English. A little. I showed her my paper and she was going, Hu? Never heard of it kind of “Hu”. She went into the office, asked someone, then came back. Go down and left. Hm.
I went down with the elevator to the first floor, nothing but a shady restaurant. Outside of the building to the left, closed doors, no metal fans. Damnit, it must be here somewhere, even the band members were around.


Under normal circumstances I never ever would have gone near such night clubs, shady hotels and run down buildings! Lol. But there I was wandering, feeling like in a Russian spy movie. I decided to walk around the complex and went up the hill again outside of the building. And there! In a corner, next to a bar, “Submarine”! Yeah!

And there were a few heavy metal looking dudes around! I approached them and felt safe, ladies and gentlemen. To “normal people” Russian dudes in leather, with long hair, beards, whatever chains dangling from their clothes look scary. But I felt right at home, lol.
I said “hi” and they immediately noticed I’m not Russian and there were actually three, four guys and girls who spoke English and immediately questions started, where the hell are you from? You came to Vladivostok for metal? Oh man! So cool! One girl had been to Europe several times, going to Amon Amarth gigs, so much appreciating I bothered to fly to Vladivostok. They were all super nice and friendly and we are all one big heavy metal family where it does not matter where you come from.
The girl who had been to Europe and I exchanged social media stuff and then she offered to drive me to Russky island the next day so that I see some more of her home town. What? Seriously? Yes, yes, no problem! Wow!
With the promise to pick me up at 14:00 the next day, we were finally allowed into the venue and since I had been early, I managed to get first row together with the other early birds.
While waiting we talked about metal of course, but also the weather for example. It’s been the warmest winter ever they said, usually in March the west side of the bay is still frozen solid and not only a little bit, zero degrees is so warm! Okay. It’s all a matter of perspective. One of the guys said, he hates winter. Uh! A Russian who hates winter! I asked another guy whether he can recommend a vodka brand to me. I wanted to buy one bottle at the airport duty free before I leave. Hm, he doesn’t drink vodka and has no clue about the stuff! There go your stereotypes! He doesn’t drink even a beer before a gig, he wants to be in full capacity of his senses to enjoy the music. Yep, same here!
One guy works for Mazda, another for Carl Zeiss, the Russky island lady and her husband are both programmers.
The gig was great, the band was in a good mood, the crowd was screaming and going nuts, not too many bands bother to fly all the way to Vladivostok, so the metal community is happy and grateful when they do come. It was a fantastic gig and I made a bunch of great friends 🙂

From Vladivostok with Love – Part 2

My driver from the Vladivostok airport into town drove like a berserker in a fat Mercedes. He spoke not a word of English but I said Germania and then he was raving about German cars, I believe 😉
First impression of the town was gray, cold, pre-fabricated high-rise buildings from the seventies.

My hotel was nice though, nothing special, but all the international standards available that a hotel is supposed to have. The room looked out over the western half of the bay and there was ice floating at the shore.


I ventured down to the shore and checked out the ice. Half the shore was a construction site, but people walked through the fences, taking a stroll, as if that was all very normal. The constructions sites were around two defunct buildings from the sixties maybe and made the impression on me as if they were permanent.
I had chosen my hotel strategically close to the venue of the concert and already found the place on that first stroll, or so I thought at the time, and was quite relaxed about that, eating dinner at the hotel’s restaurant before going to bed.

The first day of exploring: I walked down to the shore again, this time venturing further towards an amusement park by the yacht harbor. All the facilities looked very much seventies or eighties to me. From there I walked through town for about five hours with a short break for a late lunch and checked out most of the sights of the city.

The big cathedral at the central square was unfortunately closed do to repair. I counted 12 military ships in the harbor and their radar etc. masts looked like a collection of alien space ships to me.

Much like in Moscow and St. Petersburg the Second World War is quite present still in every day Russia. War memorials and eternal flames and an old submarine exhibit take you back seventy years. The submarine was interesting though, a museum part and then a “live” part where you have to squeeze through bulk heads.

Then I got a bit lost on the search for the mini funicular promised in a Vladivostok walking map I got at the WW2 submarine. I walked too far as it turned out, but stumbled across more tanks and war stuff in a park. Finally I found the funicular. It’s a two minute ride only up the hill which costs 14 rubles, which is some 30 yen. On top was a closed viewpoint but the sight over the city was okay from the side of the funicular also.

Apart from long distance trains the funicular is the only railway inside of Vladivostok, all public transport happens via buses. Those buses look old and they blast a lot of unfiltered exhaust into the air. I did everything on foot, which is okay though, since the downtown area is not that big after all. Nowadays Vladivostok has about 600,000 inhabitants. Funny thing was that I had difficulties recognizing shopping centers for what they were. Due to the cold they don’t have open inviting big entrances but there is a glass door somewhere, which leads into a foyer and then another glass door, all in the attempt to keep out the weather.
I luckily found one shopping center where I could buy some fast food lunch by pointing at pictures. Public rest rooms are also a rarity and shopping centers are your best bet for that. Then I walked back to the hotel past the Vladivostok railway station.

It is still a dream of mine to ride the trans Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok or the other way round one day. Without getting off in between it takes seven days. Well, let’s see! At least I was now on either end of the tracks 🙂 After a rest in the hotel I readied myself for heavy metal!

From Vladivostok with Love – Part 1

Vladivostok is surely not the most common and easiest to get to holiday destination, which is a shame actually. I thoroughly enjoyed my short journey there.

A few things about Vladivostok before the details of my trip. Vladivostok was a Chinese fishing village called Haishenwai, before the Russians seized it in 1860. China was weakened from the opium wars and didn’t oppose Russia seizing that frigid port to the north. The Russians renamed it Vladivostok and quickly developed the place to make it theirs for everyone around to see and brought people there. Nowadays more or less zero Asians are residents of Vladivostok, if in a way they partially claimed it back, but more about that later.
Even though Vladivostok is on the same latitude as Sapporo or the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean (!), winters are brutal and the ocean around it freezes. Vladivostok lies on a peninsula that sticks out into a large bay. There is ocean on three sides of the town, and, as mentioned much of the quiet bay freezes over in winter.
During Cold War times, Vladivostok was closed to foreigners, since it was and is the one and only big harbor for whatever Russian naval military forces. I wonder what life was like in Vladivostok during these dark times.

The town saw a major development boost when the APEC summit was held there in 2012. They got the two big bridges connecting parts of the city and the city to the island of Russky in the south of Vladivostok. Before the bridges you had to drive around a big part of the inner bay and go by boat to Russky island or rather don’t go there at all. They also built a giant convention center and university on Russky island and a big aquarium.

So, why go to Vladivostok? People who know me know that it’s one of my passions to travel and to combine that if ever possible with going to gigs of heavy metal bands. It came to pass that one of my favorite bands, Amorphis from Finland, was going to Vladivostok. Ha! That sounds like an adventure worth undertaking 😉 Since after all, Vladivostok is just a two hour twenty minute plane ride from Tokyo. To get a Russian visa is the biggest hustle about going to Russia, but also that is manageable, if super inconvenient.

I must admit I was quite excited about the trip, not knowing at all how much remoteness to expect. I was not majorly encouraged by the tiny propeller plane of Aurora airlines, the Far East subsidiary of Aeroflot, at Narita airport either.

Though, thanks to okay weather, the flight was smoother than expected. I think about 80 people fit onto such a plane and there were maybe fifty or sixty heading for Vladivostok. Some Japanese adventurers, but mostly Russians. Arrived in Vladivostok though I was in for a surprise. The airport immigration was swamped with plane loads full of Chinese and Koreans. Uh? What to they want in Vladivostok? My first hunch was shopping and my hunch got verified later. I shall come back to that.
They let me into the country thanks to my visa no questions asked. I waited forever at the baggage claim until I came upon the idea to walk around because some suitcases fell of the band once in a while and yes, mine must have fallen too and I found it at the farthest, darkest corner of the baggage retrieval.


I had ordered a taxi via my hotel and they were supposed to pick me up with a sign stating the hotel name, but there were only tons of Korean signs and none in western writing. I happened to arrive though, luckily, on the international women’s day, which is even a national holiday in Russia, and people were giving all women who arrived tulips at the arrivals area. I went to the side and stood there waiting and got out my phone to call the hotel, as one of the young women who gave out flowers asked me if she could help in very good English. I explained and she whipped out her phone, called the hotel and ran through half the airport for me searching for my driver, apologizing that he must be stupid and that I have to wait. Wow, so friendly! She did ask though, what are you doing in Vladivostok, with the undertone of ‘why the hell have you come here’? Lol. I explained to her about the gig and she said she’ll check out the band! Lol. Then she found my driver and off I went towards Vladivostok which is about an hour drive away from the airport.