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ABOUT THIS BLOG

In the summer of 2009, Nicolas Rapp decided to take a break from his Art Director job at The Associated Press to attempt a one-year overland travel around the world in a 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser. He was back in New York in February 2011 after traveling 15 months and 37,000 miles.

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  • A country of ninjas and striking beauty

    Posted on January 11th, 2011 Nicolas No comments
    Kinkaju-Ji hall in Kyoto.

    Kinkaju-Ji hall in Kyoto.

    I have to say, I don’t think the picture I took in Japan really reflect the beauty of the country. But I will still try to share these images with you, and you will have to use your imagination. In my last post, I was still in Osaka, on my way to Kyoto. Later on, I arrived in Tokyo where I spent five days visiting the city. Since, I made it back to the United States and I am in Los Angeles since Saturday. My American adventures will be for the next post, but I just wanted to let you know, dear readers, that I was back for good in the USA.

    Nijo castle, Kyoto

    Nijo castle, Kyoto

    When I arrived in Kyoto, I check-in a small “Ryokan”. A Ryokan is a traditional local accommodation, similar to a guesthouse and nicer than a hotel, as it allows you to sleep in an old wooden Japanese house and benefit from the knowledge of the family running it. (Guesthouse Roujiya , 3,000 yen per night in a dorm)
    I stay two nights in the city, and most of the time I am out in the snow visiting temples and the oldest neighborhoods.

    New Year's pilgrimage in a Kyoto temple.

    New Year's pilgrimage in a Kyoto temple.

    Even so it is cold, I am lucky to visit these sites in the wintertime. It is really stunning to be able to enjoy the view of the temples, shrines and lakes under the snow and frozen in ice. This is really something to not miss and I am glad I decided to stop by Japan even so I am without my trusted vehicle. The fact that the country was closed to the outside world for so long really helped Japan to develop an architecture, a culture and way of living very different from the rest of the world.

    The most handsome visitor ticket I got so far during my trip.

    The most handsome visitor ticket I got so far during my trip.

    The first day I spend visiting some temples in the heart of the city. The most gorgeous to discover is probably the Kinkaju-Ji with its gold hall seeming to float on a lake. The evening, as all the others night, I spend time finding cheap restaurants. Food prices are high, and as I mentioned earlier, you cannot find accommodation at least than US$30 in the country.

    The Kinkaju-Ji in Kyoto.

    The Kinkaju-Ji in Kyoto.

    The second day I go for a hike up in the hills in the city periphery, in the area called Arashimaiya. There also, the snow covers trails and bamboo forests. It is a very peaceful walk uphill, which concludes with the Adashino Nembutsu-Ju temple where thousands of statues cram the ground.

    Adashino Nembutsu-Ju stone statues.

    Adashino Nembutsu-Ju stone statues.

    On the sidewalk in the Gion District.

    On the sidewalk in the Gion District.

    In the hills above Kyoto.

    Following a trail in the hills above Kyoto.

    Kyoto at night is charming as well, especially the east part of town where the historical center lays. In the Gion district, it is easy to get lost in the narrow alleys packed with old houses and traditional restaurants. Once in a while you can spot geishas, who are women dressed traditionally and trained to entertain men with conversation, singing and dancing.

    Alley in the old Kyoto.

    Alley in the old Kyoto.

    As always, people are very nice, and I meet residents quickly in one of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Soon I am sharing drinks with smiling strangers and ordering food by pointing to dishes I see on people’s tables.

    Back in time on the Kamo-Gawa west bank.

    Back in time on the Kamo-Gawa west bank.

    The long-distance buses are all full because of the New Year’s holidays, so I have no choice but take a ticket in the bullet train leaving frequently for Tokyo. At $150 it is costly, but it is also a very convenient way to cover the 500 km (315 miles) between the two cities. There’s a train leaving every seven minutes, and in less than two-hours-and-a-half, I reach the capital.

    Walking in the business center in Tokyo at sunset.

    Walking in the business center in Tokyo at sunset.

    This is an experience by itself to take one of these trains reaching speeds of 300 km/h (188mi/h). Even with such frequency, the train is crowded and I have to stand for much of the trip. We can only wish the train system would be similar in the U.S. The landscape north of Kyoto is stunning

    Training in a Tokyo park.

    Training in a Tokyo park.

    The Audi tower in west Tokyo.

    Audi tower in west Tokyo.

    In Tokyo I use the modern subway to reach my guesthouse (Sakura Hotel, 3,150 yen a night) and discover the dorm where I will stay for the next few days. From there, I leave every morning to explore the city neighborhoods. It is an interesting place, and I find it quite difficult to select the places to discover at first because of the city many centers. Regardless, it is great to go back and forth between the modern and traditional areas and spend time in the many parks. I meet David – a Canadian guy – at the guesthouse, and we go together to discover the city restaurants and bars.

    Temple in Tokyo.

    Temple in Tokyo.

    The temples are crowded due to “Shogatsu”. This is the most important holiday of the year, and families gather together to visit shine and temples. The tradition is to go to at least three of these places, and there are long lines you can spot from far away all over the city.

    Omikuji – Fortune papers tied outside a temple.

    Omikuji – Fortune papers tied outside a temple.

    People pray and read their fortunes on pieces of paper they find in wooden boxes near the shrines. Then they tie the paper in knot on lines outside the temple.

    Crowded street in a Shibuya street.

    Crowded street in a Shibuya street.

    But everything is not a traditional sight in Tokyo, and young people know how to have fun. You can spot many of them around Shibuya where you can barely walk down the streets packed with people in their twenties wearing fashionable clothes.

    Fashion in important in Tokyo.

    Fashion is important in Tokyo.

    I frequently end up at nightfall in the Golden Gai area, a network of small alleys packed with tiny bars and small restaurants. Many businesses there don’t accept foreigners, but if you hang around long enough, you can find fabulous places.

    The Golden Gai area. Dozens of bars in each alley.

    The Golden Gai area. Dozens of bars in each alley.

    Mysterious place.

    Mysterious place.

    Ninja cocktail.

    Ninja cocktail.

    With my new friend, we can spend hours there speaking with locals. Japanese are very kind people, and the younger ones tend to speak more English. We are very curious about the intriguing culture of the country and we never stop asking questions on subject as crazy as ninjas… Nights finish after the last subway and we walk for hours to go back to the hotel and avoid the horrendous taxi fees.

    A bar in the Golden Gai area.

    A bar in the Golden Gai area.

    What we learn is that ninjas – and Kunoichi their female counterparts – were some kind of mercenary spies who probably disappeared in the 18th century. The barman explains everything about them to us, and even creates an original ninja cocktail to conclude the night. Few days after I would come back and noticing he was serving this new cocktail to other clients. This is how you leave your mark in a country.

    Drawings were always a great way of communicating while I was traveling.

    Drawings were always a great way of communicating while I was traveling.

    Soon it is time for me to prepare my bags. Sadly this is the last foreign country I will be before going back home. Of course there are mixed feelings about going back, but I try to not think about it much. One of the followers of the blog, Scott, found a way to get me a very cheap flight ticket to Los Angeles arriving during the week-end and I say good-bye to Asia as my plane take-off in the afternoon.

    Tokyo at night.

    Tokyo at night.

    Later during the week I hope to update you about my trip back to the western world, so stay tuned!

  • Traveling from Delhi to Mumbai

    Posted on September 4th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    The Taj Mahal, one of the World Marvels.

    The Taj Mahal, one of the World Marvels.

    There is roughly a distance of a thousand miles between Delhi and Mumbai for a traveler willing to see the Taj Mahal and the capital city of Rajasthan, Jaipur. This was the road I planned to take as I arrived in India.

    Delhi Tuk-Tuk and rickshaws.

    Delhi Tuk-Tuk and rickshaws.

    My plane touched down at four in the morning, and I took my time passing the immigration checkpoint and collecting my luggage. I had no hotel reservation, and arriving as early in the city would not help.
    I left the airport to reach the center and try the first of the hotel address I had wrote down. The place was full. I switched from the airport minibus to a three-wheel tuk-tuk, a common means of public transportation in urban India, and continued my quest for a place to sleep.

    Alley in Delhi's wedding district.

    Alley in Delhi's wedding district.

    The multi-layered mess of Delhi.

    The multi-layered mess of Delhi.

    One should not mistake tuk-tuk drivers in Delhi for friends. All of them will try to squeeze every rupee out of an innocent traveler pocket. They will use all methods available at this effect. You do read about it in India’s guidebooks, but experiencing it first hand is so striking, and the guys are such great actors that you can’t help but wonder if the tales you are hearing are legit or not. And of course it’s all lies.
    One of the common scams goes like that. You ask to be transported to a hotel of your choice. If they figure you don’t have a reservation, they tell you that the place closed two weeks ago, or is under renovation, or even burned down the previous night. They will then drive you down to a hotel where they get a hefty commission when bringing a victim.
    In a variation, they could also drive you to a fake government tourist office. There, you will be told that due to festivals in the city, all the hotels are booked, and there is no way of staying in the city for less than US$150 a day.

    Quiet alley in Delhi.

    Quiet alley in Delhi.

    In my case, after several similar experiences, I went to one of these tourist offices where I seemed to agree to use their services to get a room. “But first”, I asked, “Can I check my emails?” Few minutes after they agreed, using their computer I had booked a room in the city at a rate of US$22 and fled in the street toward a well deserved bed.
    Of course I still had to fight with a new tuk-tuk driver, insisting to go to the place even if the hotel had been demolished recently. Of course it was not, and around 11 a.m. I was able to crash in a bed.
    Few hours later, I was back in the streets, this time trying to arrange for transportation to Mumbai where I would retrieve my truck. My new “friend”, the manager of the hotel, guided me to a travel agency he knew. There, I was told there was no available seat in the train to from Mumbai to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. It was true as well for the train to Agra from Jaipur. By now I was not trusting anyone, and found it even stranger when the agent added that there was only one bus on the Mumbai – Agra route, and that the bus was not suitable for tourists. The best – and only – solution for me would be to take a car with a driver…

    Delhi counts 12 millions inhabitants.

    Delhi counts 12 millions inhabitants.

    In all the countries I crossed during this trip, I always have been surprised by the multitude of bus running between the most unlikely locations. I could not believe it would be so difficult to get around in India…
    I left the tourist agency and started shopping around. An hour later, I was in possession a bus ticket Mumbai – Agra (US$13) and a train ticket Agra – Jaipur I paid US$14, which is double the usual price, but was enough to persuade the railroad employee to give me a ticket in the already “full” train. Another ticket in the overnight train from Jaipur to Mumbai arriving Sept. 1st did set me back another US$32.
    Now I would finally be able to enjoy some Indian food. And that was a highlight. The best food I had in a long time, probably since Ethiopia, the last country where they used some spice in the cooking. Of course cold beer was also nice to have after the restrictions of the past few weeks. Back at the hotel, I continued work on the logistic of the following days, and book hotels using the internet.

    Inside the Red Fort.

    Inside the Red Fort.

    After a short night of sleep, and now that I was done with the advance planning, I went out to enjoy a day visiting Old Delhi. I paid a visit to the Red Fort, the greatest of Delhi’s Moghul palace-cities. Built in the 17th century, the palace saw imperial elephants court ladies carried in palanquins and armies of eunuchs. The British moved into the fort in 1857.

    The mosque courtyard.

    The mosque courtyard.

    Diner at Monika's relatives.

    Diner at Monika's relatives.

    Ironing in the street.

    Ironing in the street.

    Also in the city is India’s largest mosque, Jama Masjid. It has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful place or worship in the world. It took six years to 5,000 workers to finish the impressive building.
    I spent a lot of time walking up and down the old streets Old Delhi is made of. I continued to eat like there is no tomorrow. I lost some weight during Ramadan, and now was time to gain it back. In the evening, I visited the relative of Monika, a former AP colleague, which is a good occasion to try some of Indian home-cooking.

    The Taj Mahal is also visited by millions of Indian tourists.

    The Taj Mahal is also visited by millions of Indian tourists.

    Inside the Taj Mahal.

    Inside the Taj Mahal.

    After the tiring day, I sleep for four hours and wake up before sunrise to take the uncomfortable bus to Agra, some 150 miles (250 km) south of Delhi. Upon arrival, I throw my bags at the hotel and immediately go visit the Taj Mahal.
    Set on the river Yamuna, the Taj construction started in 1632 and took twenty years to complete, while the Mughal Empire was going downward. The cost of the monument was high, and the emperor Shah Jahan who built it in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal was imprisoned by his own son for overspending of state funds.
    Some three millions tourist visit the Taj every year, as the mausoleum is regarded as one of the world wonders. On my part, I am always nervous about visiting these huge tourist magnets as you can be easily disappointed after hearing so much about such monument. But the visit was pleasant, and the stroll in the outside garden worth it. I found the inside of the monument a bit disappointing, but overall it was a nice visit. Probably one of the costliest in a while as well, at US$17.

    The Taj Mahal in Agra, India, seen from the the Agra Fort.

    The Taj Mahal in Agra, India, seen from the the Agra Fort.

    The Agra Fort.

    The Agra Fort.

    After leaving the Taj, I took a Tuk-Tuk to the Agra Fort which dominates the center of the city. It is the most important fort in India. The rulers lived here, and the country used to be governed from here. It was visited by ambassadors, travelers and the highest dignitaries coming from all over the world.

    It is also a good place to see the sunset on the Taj Mahal, which I did before getting back to my hotel. After this other well-filled day it was not difficult to fall asleep. Few hours later, at 5 a.m., I found myself on the train to Jaipur.

    No wonder I am traveling alone if some guys take 5,000 women...

    Seen in Agra Fort. Some guys travel alone, others live with 5,000 women...

    The train from Agra to Jaipur.

    The train from Agra to Jaipur.

    In the last few days, I seem to have gain the ability to fall asleep everywhere I stop for few minutes. So as soon as I am in the train, I collapse only to wake up as we arrive at destination.

    A gate leading to the Old City, Jaipur.

    A gate leading to the Old City, Jaipur.

    Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan is also known as the pink city, thanks to the pink wash that most buildings are given. There are some atmospheric places to see in the old city, including bazaars and palaces.

    The Palace of the Winds, detail, Jaipur.

    The Palace of the Winds, detail, Jaipur.

    The “Palace of the Winds” is possibly one of the most famous buildings in town. It was built for the ladies of the harem, and features almost 1,000 windows on its façade, enabling cool air in, and allowing the ladies to take advantage of the spectacle of the street.

    Jaipur City Palace.

    Jaipur City Palace.

    The nearby futuristic observatory.

    The nearby futuristic observatory.

    The City Palace is still a royal residence and has a vast array of courtyards, gardens and buildings. Just outside is an observatory, Jantar Mantar. It was built around 1730, and each huge stone and marble instrument was used for a particular function to give an accurate reading. For Hindus, the horoscope is very important, which explains the vast interest in the science.

    Selling vegetables in the street.

    Selling vegetables in the street.

    I am scheduled to stay for two days in the city, which I use to take a lot of rest, and also try multiple restaurants. On August 31, after lunch, I take place in a sleeping car part of the train to Mumbai. There, as usual, I fall asleep and remain in this state for most of the trip.

    Street of Jaipur old city.

    Street of Jaipur old city.

    Arriving in Mumbai early in the morning, I took a cab to see an old friend. Vikas, who I met few years back in New York where he was working for the New York Times, now lives in India, and invited me to share his flat for few day. As I arrived, I checked the status of the container I was waiting for and was supposed to arrive the same day. It turned out that unfortunately, the box was still laying in Iran. After speaking to people there, it seems that it may arrive in Mumbai Sept. 10. But that remains to be seen…
    As I write this overdue entry in the blog, it seems that I felt sick. Not sure exactly what it could be, but I am running a fever since yesterday. It has been the first time since the beginning of the trip I felt ill. Hopefully some small food-related issue.

    Arriving in Mumbai.

    Arriving in Mumbai.