Tuesday, 27 September 2011

2009

I want to write recent stuff, but in order to maintain the chronology, need to update things a bit. So, go with 2009 first. As mentioned in the end of the previous, we got back to Beijing, and indeed stayed there the whole year. There are a few new restaurants and now the vegan club has reactivated, but otherwise it's much as before. Large, crowded, polluted, but friendly and with excellent food.


We did have a summer holiday in the Nordic countries though. In Tampere, Finland, the only vegan restaurant I mentioned earlier went bankrupt, sadly. That reduced the eating out options to one vegetarian restaurant, and even that open only during lunch time on weekdays. Quality not really worth cheering about either.

In Beijing there came and went a favourite restaurant, the Loving Vegetarian, which there's probably no need to review as it is indeed gone. The Vegan Social Club continued meetings, but rather than regular meetings in restaurants, potlucks in member's houses became the norm.

With reduced travel funding there wasn't an awful lot of that either. But there was Isabel's first visit to Europe in the summer, visiting Finland, Sweden, and Norway. While most of the time went in Finland, probably the most special part was visiting the fjords in Norway. We went over land and sea; Stockholm is quite good for veggie people but I'll get back to that on the more recent things, and Oslo was ok also. From there we took the train to Bergen, a beautiful town by the water but not so great food-wise.

Then we went by boat over to Flåm, with gorgeous fjord scenery all around. Flåm had even less when it comes to food, but the big hotel in town would cook decent veggie food and grilling something outside was always an option. We went kayaking, saw porpoises, and had lots of fun!

Back in China in the autumn we made another trip to Sichuan, but never mind that, wanting to get on to a bit more recent things. Here's a couple more photos from 2009 though.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Vietnam, part 2: and then there's two

Well, that's almost two years without updating this blog. However, I'll continue where I left off, as I did start this blog entry more than a year ago but just never finished it. The rest of the things to be updated later.

So even before arriving in Vietnam, I contacted a vegan girl in VeggieConnection and asked about veg food and interpreters for doing user studies in the country side. It turned out she was an interpreter, and all-around super nice, so we ended up talking a lot on the phone during part one of this trip. Part two, then, is where I took the bus to her village to do the user studies. The girl is called Isabel, and I even stayed in their house, enjoying the wonderful vegan cooking of her mother.

This meant a five-hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh city to a city called Long Xuyen in the Mekong river delta. The minibus ride included a half-an-hour lunch stop in a place with no vegan food, and a ferry-crossing where one could see these funny boats with eyes painted on them. She came by motorbike to pick me up from Long Xuyen. Now I'm not crazy about motorbikes, so a girl wearing a mask arriving by motorbike isn't the greatest turn-on for me, but I hopped on and we chased the sun on to her... town, perhaps, she called it a village but I was almost inclined to call it a city due to the apparently large population. I still don't know what the population is, but at one or two main streets I guess it doesn't really constitute a city.

I was lucky enough to come in time for dinner, and her mother was cooking. I was asked to carry the food to the living room, fine, but after I set the plates on the table they pointed out that this wasn't the Vietnamese way. They eat from the floor. Ok, fine, when in Rome... The food was delicious though, and everything served in the house is vegan! Awesome. The mother and one elder sister are vegans also, the rest vegetarian. Unfortunately Isabel was the only one speaking any language other than Vietnamese, so my communication was limited, but the whole family, including the husbands and children of her elder sisters, all live in the house. I was given a bedroom upstairs complete with a huge balcony. Before you go thinking it was immense luxury, let me point out that there was no bed. Just a bamboo-mat on the floor.
No deep sleep then.

Whatever light sleep there was got interrupted at 5 AM as a loud radio broadcast came on. At first I thought it was someone in the house, maybe using the radio as an alarm clock and accidentally turned it too high that morning, but then I noticed the noise came from the outside. It's a broadcast that's heard all over town, every morning from 5 AM to 6 AM, to get people up with the sun, apparently. This would set the pace then. Given that I wouldn't be able to sleep, I got up, and since Isabel was sleeping and I couldn't communicate with others, I decided to go for a run. On to my shorts then and off with everything else and running around the small town certainly did turn a lot of heads. I guess foreigners are a rare sight, and crazy ones even more so.

After a nice run it was time for breakfast and then to work. I set out heading to what seemed more like countryside with Isabel, after we printed out the forms she had translated. After the first interview it was already lunchtime, and given how long it seemed to take to get these done, I figured we should give some gifts to the people we interview. So after lunch we bought some small stuff and started to give those to all the interviewees. Just small things like drinks and snacks, but they were well-received. To my surprise Isabel had to do most of the writing on the forms as a large proportion of the people were actually illiterate! That I hadn't expected.

Anyway, we picked up pace in the interviews and got quite a lot of them done in the coming days. And it was just a lot of fun spending time together too, whether it was at the interviews, meals, going around by bicycle, or hanging out on the balcony at night. Some days later I was due to go to a workshop in Hanoi, so we celebrated getting the interviews done, and somehow the whole thing started turning romantic all of a sudden. Odd.

So we went for a hike up a small mountain called Núi Cấm near the town of Châu Đốc, close to the Cambodian border. Along the way there were lots of beautiful flowers, a small water-fall, and the above heart-shaped splash of water. Up on the mountain there is a big Buddha statue and a pagoda (Chua Phật Lớn), where we were lucky enough to arrive at dinner time and they offered us free food. All vegan of course. Unfortunately it was already getting dark and there wasn't really any way of getting back so we just stayed in a little hotel on the mountain.

Then there was a quick train trip to Hanoi and back... it takes 29 hours one way but is quite alright. You can get rice from the train but not vegan food otherwise, so bring something along to have with rice or bread that you can buy from stations the train passes by. It stops for 5 minutes or so, enough for quick purchases. After a quick and uneventful conference in Hanoi I returned south and joined up with Isabel again to go to Đà Lạt, a nice city of flowers that's considerably higher than much of Vietnam and hence has cooler temperatures. We had a lovely few days there, rented a tandem bike (that we decorated well) and went around. There are a couple of veggie restaurants in Da Lat also, but I don't have their details on me just now... message me if you need those!

After Da Lat it was time for Isabel's graduation from the university. And for that I needed something formal to wear. We went around looking for a sizable suit to rent in Ho Chi Minh city, and eventually found one at a wedding photography shop. Isabel wanted to try on a beautiful wedding dress she saw, the shop staff thought we were getting married, and on an impulse we decided to take wedding photos! That proved to be heaps of fun, not only at the moment but also later when sharing the photos with friends and relatives, some of whom really thought we got married, and also going through the photos just between us. That always put us to a good mood.

The graduation itself was a simple party with shows that seemed like primary school performances to me. Either way, I had been called by my boss to get back to China, and with that looming we went to a beach for a couple of days. One of the easiest to reach beaches from Sai Gon is an island called Vung Tau. There's a fast ferry service that takes you there in about an hour, and the town of Vung Tau does have a veggie restaurant so don't worry too much about food. The beaches are passable only though, yet, with Isabel that was lots of fun.

Almost forgot to mention, also during the stay Isabel's sister had a baby. And funnily enough my sister in Finland had a baby a few days later. We did visit the hospital. Christmas in Sai Gon seems to involve getting on motorbikes and sitting in a traffic jam for a few hours, then returning home. Supposedly they're going to see the Christmas lights in District 1, but no-one seemed to be getting anywhere. Nothing else going on really. One of Isabel's friends helped me convince her to come to China with me, so we got on a train north together. Alarmingly she was feeling cold as early as Hanoi, but we pressed on nonetheless.

The price of the international train tickets had doubled during the couple of months, so we decided to find an alternative. This turned out to be a bus from Hanoi to Nanning in southern China, and a train from there to Beijing. This drops the price to a third of the international train: it costs over 2000 CNY while the bus is 150 CNY and the train from Nanning around 500 CNY. Unfortunately with the timings one has to overnight in Nanning, but the cheap hotels around the railway station only charge 80 CNY a night. That is where we spent New Year Eve then. Oh well. By the way, there is a veggie restaurant in Nanning also, I'll put the address here later.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Vietnam, part 1: North to south

Hanoi seemed even more polluted and noisier than Beijing, which is quite a lot to say. Beside that, the wireless networks didn't really seem to work, or at least were super slow. But one day the amazing massage kitty knocked on my door. Or rather, meowed behind it. So I let him in, he explored the room for a moment and jumped on my lap. And that's when he started showing his amazing talent. He went on for at least 15 minutes, massaging non-stop! I figured no-one would believe me without a video, so here is one.

video

Beside talented kitties, there was a lot of rain in Hanoi. Soon the city was flooded, which at first was just a curiosity to me as I had never been in a flood before. It was kind of interesting to go knee-deep in water to the veggie restaurants. But later I heard dozens of people died in the floods, which gave it a much more serious tune. Nonetheless, I went of hiking in Sapa, hoping that the rain would cease.

As luck would have it, it indeed didn't rain constantly in Sapa, but it was pretty cloudy with occasional showers. This made it rather nice hiking weather, but these organised tours have very light hiking. The scenes were pretty great, albeit the place is very touristy and a lot of locals always follow around wherever you go and soon try to sell you stuff. They do it pretty effectively too, managed to even sell me a shirt and two bandettas! Otherwise it's worth the trip. Veggie restaurants I didn't find, nor really look for as food was included in the tour and they did make it vegan for me. Actually the tofu in tomato sauce was really tasty.

After returning from Sapa I just wanted to continue down south. Hanoi and surroundings were still mildly flooded and not too interesting anyway. I bought one of the open bus tickets that allow you to go from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh city or the other way around and stop in key places along the way. This was in a sleeper bus, unfortunately one might say as the buses are slow, too small to really sleep in, and too small to sit in, just like the Chinese sleeper buses. The sales people convinced me these would be different, saying they're German buses, but whether they are or not they're just the same as the Chinese ones, don't believe them!

After a long and unpleasant journey I arrived in the city of Hue, just to be surrounded by hoteliers and motorbike drivers. After a short bidding competition I agreed to follow the first guy offering me a hotel in town, as it sounded about right. They drove me there by motorbike, and this was in fact the first time I've ever been on a motorbike. To my surprise the big luggage wasn't a problem. The hotel was good, but another motorbike driver who I at first thought was involved with the hotel kept on asking me to take his tour. Instead I wanted food, but as he was so persistant, I asked him if he knew vegetarian restaurants in town. He did and drove me to a very nice one, and kept on marketing himself. After the long sales pitch, I agreed to let him drive me around for half a day. Big mistake! The tour was ok but he didn't say a price, I overpaid, and thereafter he wouldn't leave me alone. Stalking outside the hotel constantly and asking to drive me wherever I was going. Had to leave town quick to get rid of him. Note to all: stay well clear of pushy motorbike drivers!

Fortunately the next city, Hoi An, was also nice. The hotel the bus dropped us in front of didn't have wireless so I walked a while and found one that did, and they had a swimming pool as well! With free drinks in the evening. So that and my Vietnamese book provided solid entertainment after dark. Before dark there's the beach, and on the way to the beach, there's a vegan restaurant in the most amazing location: a bamboo house with a pier on top of a lovely tropical river. The food might not be the finest in the world, but it's vegan and completely adequate, and the location is a killer! There's a couple of vegetarian restaurants in town also, but I wasn't too crazy even about the old town.

Next up was Nha Trang which seems like a big city, whether it is or not. They have beaches, supposedly nice ones, but I preferred the beach in Hoi An. No amazing restaurants either. So, onwards to Mui Ne then, there the beaches are awesome! I ended up in a beach resort that had absolutely nothing else, but the beach was enough for a weekend. Just swimming, sunlight, running on the beach, didn't really ask for anything more. Except some fruit juice, and they do have that. Note that if you get the open bus ticket that doesn't include Mui Ne nor Da Lat, you can still stop in one if you pay them a few dollars extra. But it's better to get a ticket that includes the stop in the first place, they're both really nice.

And then to conclude this first part of the Vietnam tale, I arrived in Ho Chi Minh city, also known as Saigon. Or actually Saigon refers only to Ho Chi Minh city districts 1 and 3, but that's only for the smartasses. Anyway, the initial reaction to the city was to run away, and it never really changed. As told by a local, the only good thing about the city is food, as ascertained by an American who had spent 4 months there and announced you can't find anything good here no matter which way you go as I was looking at the map on the street. I started by walking to a park, and had to literally run away from the "massage girls" that even grap your arms and try to cut you up with their motorbikes. But yes, the food is good, and the best of it is at Thien Tam, which is located on 443 Su Van Hanh noi dai, district 10. Tel: 08. 8630798. But more about that and other things in the next part. I also went to tango, they rarely have milongas but they do have regular classes so I joined one. Quite fun.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Beijing weekend

Kind of depressing to arrive in Shanghai to witness the brown murky waters and the gray skies. It was mostly natural though, a rainy day, but still. Cold too. Anyway, Shanghai has its share of nice restaurants and I was looking forward to a feast until I eventually got queued all the way to the ticket counter at the railway station and found out they wouldn't have tickets for the faster evening trains but only for one leaving in the afternoon, and what's worse, a hard seat for that! Stupidly, I took that ticket then.

Now here's my information piece on train travel in Asia.
  1. Use the train rather than bus if possible in countries other than Malaysia, South Korea, and possibly Japan. In Japan it's pretty much the same but the bus is cheaper.
  2. Never ever take a hard seat for a journey of over 3 hours in China! If that is all that's available, forget point 1 and take the bus.
Anyway, I rushed to the vegetarian restaurant whose location I was most certain about, the one on Nanjing road, and ate quickly. The food was really good though. Then back to the railway station and to endure 17 hours on a full train, on a hard seat, with lights on all night and no hope of sleep, to be filled with anxiety of actually getting the tickets onwards to Hanoi and to get to work within some reasonable hour. So what to do? Study Vietnamese of course. :-)

The train arrived around noon and Beijing railway station unsurprisingly doesn't sell tickets to Vietnam. They suggested the west railway station, but I didn't have time to go there, heading to work instead. Afterwards it was on to a new vegan club event, Fridays at the Vegan Hut. Great to see the folks again and of course the Vegan Hut food is excellent. Then I just went to the office for the night -- being happily homeless, after all. Saturday morning and "rushing" to the agency that supposedly sells tickets to Hanoi, almost certain in my mind that they wouldn't have any at such short notice. Rushing through Beijing is kind of funny, especially if you do it in public transport. It just takes hours and hours. I got there at lunchtime and to my utter surprise, they did have tickets! Brilliant, on my way to Vietnam! :D

For lunch I had to go to the new vegan restaurant north from Xizhimen since a Chinese author was to interview me for a vegan book. Don't really know what the book will be like, but the interview went nicely, she asked me all sorts of usual stuff like why did I go vegan etc and even more odd stuff like what's my view on life. Quite interesting actually. And the food was amazing, and so great to see more friends there as well.

Later at night it would be a friend's birthday, so I ordered a birthday cake from the vegetarian shop, verifying once again that it really is vegan. Those just look so fancyful I always have my doubts. Anyway, they made the cake in time and I went to a third of my selection of four great restaurants for the weekend. That was 我行我素, because I happen to really like their "meat" pies and the "west lake vinegar fish". I got plenty of the "meat" pies to go too. But the birthday party didn't really happen in a large degree, went to a bar with a couple of friends and had the cake at her place.

Next day and rushing to the office to pick up my stuff, lunch with the vegan family and their super cute vegan baby, and on to the train to Vietnam! The ride took two days and was pretty much ok. The train goes nonstop until Nanning, there everyone is ordered out of the train for half an hour to a nice waiting room, then taken back to the same train, so it's ok to leave the luggage there. At the border town of Dongdang on the Vietnamese side there are the formalities, in a confusing manner and for some reason in the middle of the night, but it works somehow. And then another Vietnamese train takes you the rest of the way to Hanoi. It's not quite as nice as the Chinese train but not too bad either.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Japanese food wonders

Arriving in Fukuoka I had a great start to a stay in Japan. The weather was wonderful, sunny and 25 degrees -- quite a difference to Beijing that had already started getting cold. And the country is spotlessly clean, which still doesn't seize to amaze me, partly because they have very few rubbish bins. So I guess people just carry their garbage with them for miles, or then they don't snack while walking like yours truly. Either way, I started up my walk and as soon as I ended up at the first shrine I got to witness a school children's sumo wrestling competition! It was fun, I've never seen sumo wrestling live nor such young and small wrestlers. But they still had cheerleaders!

The destination of my walk was unsurprisingly a vegetarian restaurant. Or at least what was at the time listed as a vegetarian restaurant in happycow (they've included my update by now), Ruru. I was served a very nice Chinese style vegan lunch, well, vegan by my request, but when I went back there the next day I was told they don't have vegetarian food at dinner time. But at the time I was happy about it, not knowing of their meaty dinners. Their service was fine though, and when I was told they didn't have dinner for me they did give me even a map to the other supposedly vegetarian place in town, the macrobiotic cafe. But it was closed at the time.

The nicest thing about Fukuoka though, IMHO, was the park near the restaurant. It was so lovely to just sit there in the sunshine and watch the water birds and the joggers going by. I read later it was designed to resemble the West Lake in Hangzhou, China, and indeed there is a bit of a resemblance to a miniature West Lake. Wouldn't have minded just sitting there for a few days.

And here's my favourite Japanese invention. Yes, it's a toilet seat, but notice the faucet at the top. Thing is, when you flush the toilet, the new water to fill the tank comes via this faucet, so you can wash your hands with it before it makes it to the tank. Saves water, and the water will be clean enough for flushing the toilet even after one has washed their hands in it. Brilliant!

A night bus onwards to save a little money (transport costs a ton in Japan!) and I arrived in Hiroshima. I was quite happy to see everything was within in a walking distance from the bus station -- and no, I don't mean just my walking distance, things really were nearby! The castle was ok, and the a-bomb dome... well, to truly get the meaning of the dome you have to visit the museum in Peace park. Even after all this time it really is moving. They have pictures before and after the bomb, as well as videos and artifacts and wax people who look so much like zombies from movies you'd think they had just made those up. But then you see the old pictures and realise that really is how the survivors were. It's scary, and may well make you cry. Much recommended visit though, especially to politicians and anyone in favour of nuclear weapons.

However, despite desperately wanting a shower I didn't stay in Hiroshima, possibly because of another disappointing restaurant visit. I went to Shichida Life Cafe, which happycow also listed as vegetarian at the time. It's a buffet but most of their foods did contain meat or fish. Rice and tofu for lunch, not highly exciting and certainly not worth the price. Instead I took the afternoon bus to Kobe, night buses were full. It's kind of disturbing about the Japanese night buses anyway, they go slower so that they wouldn't arrive too early, but the way they go slow is by stopping somewhere in the middle and keeping their engines running! Goodness, why not just turn the engine off when the bus is going to stand there for an hour or two?!

The bus arrived too late for the hostel, so I decided one should try the capsule hotels in Japan. I found one, got my capsule at a cost a bit higher than a Japanese hostel (which means the price of a fancy 4 star hotel in most of Asia) and was delighted to find that the capsule was actually relatively spaceous and comfortable. Besides, you get a spa for the same price, several hot and cold baths and a sauna. Pretty nice actually, but these places are usually for men only.

I failed to find any food in Kobe either (and the Japanese put whey even in flippin' peanuts! Not all of them, but some brands list that in ingredients. Don't ask me why, I'm just happy they use Chinese characters so I can recognise it), so I just took up and went to Kyoto as I saw a large number of entries in happycow. Finding accommodation was a bit challenging though, apparently it was the start of a long weekend due to some public holiday and everything was full. I did find a place eventually though, and it was quite a nice Japanese style hostel too, called Roro or something of the kind.

But the real find of Kyoto came a couple of hours later. I went on a search for the first vegan restaurant on the list, Café Proverbs 15:17. It's located right at the crossroads at Hyakumanben, near Kyoto University. However, I didn't see it at first and decided to ask a group of students. University students surely speak English, no? I asked them, and the answer came immediately: no. So I went to a second group of about 10 students and asked if any of them speak English. "No" came back right away. But I decided to be persistant, showed them the address and asked if they'd know where it is. One girl got up and showed me the way, speaking perfectly good English. Japanese politeness, eh?

In any case, the café is absolutely amazing, one of the best restaurants I've ever been to anywhere! It's totally vegan, the food is so good the thought makes my mouth water right now despite eating tons just a moment ago, and they even have yummy cakes for dessert! At dinner time you get to choose from 3 alternative set meals of the day, I was really tempted by the tempeh sandwich but went for the soymilk ramen instead, in a decision to have something Japanese for once. I can't stress too much how good the food is, and the service is wonderful also. Wish I could eat there every day.

Next day it was time for sightseeing in Kyoto. After a few temples and shrines I went to the old imperial palace, and only when arriving at the gardens it dawned to me much of it wasn't open to the public as there still is an emperor to be usign the place! Silly me. Oh, along the way I had lunch at Mikoan, which was a perfectly fine vegetarian café but it's unlucky to be in the same city as Proverbs... that's way too hard to compete with! So dinner at Proverbs it was, and it didn't disappoint.

However, I felt I should hurry to Tokyo to apply for the Vietnamese visa as I had read it might take up to 10 days to process, and took the night bus over. But arriving in Tokyo I realised this was that mysterious public holiday and the embassy would be closed. Never mind, on to the imperial gardens then. I was happy to see how clean the waters were even at the heart of possibly the biggest city in the world. However, they didn't let me in to have tea with the emperor, so I had to go on and find veggie restaurants again.

I'm happy to say there really is a plenitude of choice in Tokyo. I decided to go try Pure Cafe, but instead I found Brown Rice café. It was fine, and had vegan things clearly marked, but ever since the thought of the tempeh sandwich at the Proverbs I really wanted a sandwich or a burger or something and I had read there'd be good ones at Pure Café. So despite having a perfectly fine lunch at Brown Rice I kept searching for Pure. And failed, but instead I found the vegan bakery, der Akkord! It's a macrobiotic bakery actually, and I'm still a little unclear as to what exactly does macrobiotic mean, but at least this place doesn't use any yeast, baking powder, or sugar, among other things, like animal products. Which effectively means it doesn't have that finger-licking yumminess of Sticky Fingers but strikes quite a different chord with a sturdy European flavour. Very nice bread, but the apricot pie didn't really win me over.

Next day I went off to the embassy then, but got up late and only ended up there at lunchtime to find it closed for lunch. So I decided to take a lunchbreak too and walk over to Vegan Healing Café since it didn't seem to be too far, despite the light rain. It's a cozy little place, seemingly quiet but as there's only one person working each day it apparently is busy work nonetheless. The food is vegan and fine, but resembles homecooking to me, nothing really fanciful. Oh, and if anyone working there ever reads this, do add some berries or something on top of the soycream cake, it'd make it so much more appealing!

Back at the embassy I filled up a form, handed in my passport and was told to wait. Half an hour later they gave me back my passport, said here's the visa and it'll be 12000 yen! (Or something of the kind, not 100% on that price.) Yes, it's expensive, but a super fast service, forget the 10 days. And I can get that reimbursed, it was the kind I was looking for, so no problems. For dinner I was thinking of Little Maman, but I think I was there too late and it was closed, or then I just couldn't find it.

Next day it was the turn of Café 8. Now this is the place in Japan that can really compete with Proverbs, the food was heavenly and they too have things like New York style cheesecake for dessert! And it's completely vegan. It felt terribly expensive though, and I started noticing how fast my budget was running down. In retrospect, however, the food wasn't much more expensive than elsewhere in Japan, it was the optional extras that really cost. Like a pot of tea costing over 600 yen! So yes, go there, eat and be happy, and if your wallet allows have the dessert too, but go somewhere else for tea. Same for other drinks. Water is good and free.

Following day I found myself back at Vegan Healing. Ok, I'll be honest with you, this had more to do with the nice girl working there than their food. Beside it being great to have someone to talk to, she was also the first Japanese vegan I ever met, so that's quite something. She recommended the nearby Meiji shrine for sight-seeing, so I headed there after lunch. It was ok, but when it comes to shrines I think the first one you see is really exciting, the 2nd also quite interesting to compare with, but after the third shrine the interest goes down. If there isn't for religious reasons of course. However, the surrounding park is lovely, so I quite enjoyed it.

Then I went back to the hostel to do some work at last. This had after all turned into much more of a real vacation than planned. I also looked into the return options and realised there'd be no way to make it to the Beijing-Hanoi train leaving on Sunday afternoon with the ferry arriving in Tianjin at noon on Sunday, and the train would be the easy way to cross wherefore I felt I should use it since it would be work time rather than adventure time. Besides, my shoes, bag, and computer were all breaking down, so a pit stop in Beijing and visiting all the friends for a weekend made sense. So I booked the ferry from Osaka to Shanghai leaving the following Tuesday. This was on Thursday, and I meant to go out of town for Friday and the weekend would have the Tokyo Vegetarian Festival, while I would have to leave Tokyo Sunday at the latest, so... That's how my excuses went, and silly as it was, I went back to Vegan Healing for dinner. I just wanted to see that girl there one more time before I leave, in case I wouldn't run into her at the vegetarian festival (which I indeed did not). Well, in any case, the fried soy meat thing is probably the best dish that café has.

Friday and out of town in Tokyo, I went over to Kamakura which is a lovely little town totally littered with temples and shrines and has also a huge bronze Buddha. He has windows in his back. And you can go inside. Wee. Anyways, the temples are beautiful and the best thing is the hiking path around there, the place is totally worth a visit! Dinner time I was back in Tokyo, however, so I went over to Nagi Shokudo. It's a cosy vegan café with pretty nice food, although I must say whatever they were having at the next table looked more exciting than mine. Oh well.

Saturday was the exciting time of the Vegetarian Festival. I was happy to see lots of people and stands of various veggie restaurants, cosmetics companies, shops, and animal rights organizations there. Really good turn-out, and way way more than I would ever have expected in a country like Japan! There was so much yummy vegan foods and nice people to talk to that I spent pretty much the whole day there, and ate tons!

In the evening, however, I just had to go find Pure Café. I was on a mission to try many veggie places in Tokyo as a friend was asking for recommendations for another friend who'd be visiting Tokyo soon. And I was still craving for a sandwich. I found their website and they have a map there, making it rather easy to find. The place is nice, and I finally got my sandwich! It was almost worth the wait, and I only say almost because it had been a long time. The sandwich was good, really good.

Sunday morning I went back to the festival to pick up some things for the road. Just a quick visit this time and on to the railway station. The thing I most crave for about Japan though was at the festival now: the Loving burger, made by the Loving Hut. Goodness, so juicy and tasty! Anyway, I figured I had to try the shinkansen, the Japanese bullet trains, at least once and this would be my last chance. However, had I realised how much it's going to cost overall before buying the first part of the ticket I probably would've changed my mind. Sure, they're fast trains, but way overpriced.

Anyhow, I arrived in Kyoto and you don't have to be a genious to guess where I went then. I had a huge meal with desserts and everything, and after hearing Proverbs is closed on Mondays I also bought one of those sandwiches I had been craving so much for the road, or the ferry as it turned out to be.

On Monday then I took a walk around Kyoto and realised it definitely is the nicest city in Japan. Or at least of those I visited. Lots of temples, lovely rivers, nature, and yes, great food. Since my favourite place was closed I went to Kairas, with the notion of soya ice-cream. The food was nice, as was the ice-cream, just again, there's too good a competitor in the city for anything else to be taken very seriously. Oh, and I found out where to get money: in Japan the ATM's don't accept international credit cards, the only place where I could withdraw money had been the Visa office in Tokyo. But the hostel in Kyoto let me know the ATM's at 7-11 do take international cards, so I was saved, as my budget was long gone by this time and the ferry must be paid in cash also.

So, for the last night I took a train to Kobe, because I wanted to try the soychicken pizza mentioned in the happycow site. And possibly the onsen as well. But after a couple of hours of searching and finding the right block, I just couldn't locate the restaurant! I'm pretty sure it was closed, at least for the day, maybe even for good, because at least the English name wasn't anywhere to be seen and there was only one (closed) café without an English name in the block. Of course they don't have house numbers so it's not easy to tell which is which. As for the onsen, I decided to go there but after buying a train ticket I changed my mind. It was after all late already and I should've been working, so I turned around and decided to try the fare adjustment machines. Don't do the same, they just steal your money. The fare adjustment is there only to pay more, if you've paid too much, they give you a ticket of zero yen to replace your money. Greedy bastards.

Anyway, after a night of some working and more sleeping, I took a train to Osaka and got to the port in time. Two days on a ferry, I had bought some noodles from the vegetarian festival to take along but nonetheless I was happy to find it was a Chinese ship. For that means I can actually eat in the restaurant: one can talk to the staff and in any case, I don't have the same fear of everything having fish sauce when it comes to Chinese food. The ride to Shanghai was quite nice, mostly, apart from the few hours on the second day when the sea was quite stormy and to my surprise I found out I do, after all, get seasick under certain conditions. I think it was mostly due to the fact that I was stupid enough to go to the toilet, closed space doesn't do good. Whenever I could breathe the sea air my stomach would be calm. Anyways, China for the next entry.