Hello. My name is Emma and I go on cruises. Mostly, so far on P&O ships out of Southampton, but other perfectly good cruise companies are available. ;-) When I can, I con my parents into paying for my ticket.
When I travel, I blog. If you would like to read it all, it can be found at my PS. The Post have asked me to proffer some edited highlights of my ramblings, which I shall now inflict on you forthwith. Enjoy.
Sleep, or rather the lack thereof
I give up. Three hours I got this time. And I was SO tired. I went to bed at 9.30 and it is now quarter to one and I'm wide awake. Ironic, really, as Timmy Mallett disembarked yesterday. For those who led a more sheltered existence in childhood, Timmy Mallett presented a Saturday morning television show called Wacaday. WAC stood for the Wide Awake Club. So now you see why it is relevant to my insomnia. Clever, innit, this writing lark. I used to love Wacaday, used to watch it religiously, but I didn't get a chance to talk to him much, as he was being hogged by old people who watch I'm a Celebrity, Please Torture Me in the Jungle and wanted to suck up and have their photos taken. Most of them probably didn't have the faintest idea who he really was (and I heard several say they didn't even like him!). I bet you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of people on here who knew that he was once one of Britain's top radio DJs and taught Chris Evans all he knows prior to the interview he gave the other day. He's now an artist, and a rather good one at that. Rolf Harris taught him to paint, so he's quite fearless with colour and the results are stunning. He painted live for us several times and did scenes of places we have been to. Needless to say, the paintings have all been snapped up, despite the four-figure price tags! I'm hoping that some will be made into prints, so that us normal people can afford to buy them, too, but this is apparently by no means a certainty. So, anyway, I can't sleep. My body clock has officially given up the ghost. My computer tells me it is 4pm in London, my bedside clock says 1am and my internal systems have thrown their cards up in the air and walked away from the table in disgust.
Osaka was fun. And I finally got to part with some money! In the morning we met up with two of our table mates, Sonia and Mike, and shared a taxi into Den Den Town. This is the electronics quarter, where all the computer, camera and similar shiny things are sold. Osaka is quite like London in the 1500s - shops are grouped together by product. Hence in London there is Fish Street, and Milk Street and Pudding Lane and so on. We walked down a covered street (nice touch, that) and every single shop sold kitchenwares. Every single one. Chopsticks, pepperpots, ovens, condiment dishes, sign writers, lighting, air conditioning and so on. Everything you need to fully stock a brand new restaurant was available in the one place, in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. You nearly all got bamboo pancake warmers as souvenirs until my dad whispered in my ear "How are you going to pack them, exactly?"... Of course, when I say "shared a taxi", I am glossing over somewhat here. Every single taxi in Osaka is licensed to carry four people and four people only. Sonia, however, is tiny and could quite easily fit in my pocket - well, sit on Mike's lap, anyway. (I kid you not. She's four foot eleven and thin as a rake.)
We managed to find a taxi driver who would take five of us, as long as Sonia agreed to duck if we saw a policeman, but we weren't so successful later in the day, once the police were up and about, and we ended up coming back in two cabs, rather than one. Made for quite a giggle in the morning though, I can tell you! Good thing we all like each other! Anyway, Den Den Town. If anyone tells you that Osaka shops open between 10 and 11, just slap them round the back of the head and be done with it. 11.30, if you're lucky, thank you very much. This meant a fair bit of rather fruitless wandering past rolled down shutters that may well have hidden precisely what we were looking for! Anyway, after also failing to stop for a hot chocolate in McDonalds (they don't do hot chocolate over here, only tea, and coffee (both hot or iced) or fruit juice or GRAPE Fanta, whatever that is), we finally found a store that sold what we were looking for. Mike and I bought blank CDs to burn photos onto and flash drives for further storage. Mike takes a lot of video footage on his camera and his son has set it up to do it in High Quality, so he's almost filled his laptop's 100GB hard drive (no, really, I've seen it with my own eyes - he's got less than 5GB left!), so he's hoping to free up some space by putting stuff onto the sticks until he gets home. Personally, I'm just paranoid about data loss. Anyway, the CDs cost about a quid for 10 (yes, that's one of your Earth pounds. 10 pence each. Oh yes) and the 16GB flash drives were 20 quid each (at least they were after we'd corrected Dad's appalling conversion maths), so I relieved the nice people at Mastercard of about a 100 quid, all in all.
We then found another willing taxi driver who drove the five of us to the Sheraton Hotel. In the basement, there is a rather good restaurant (well, actually there are three, but we went to the President Chibo), which I highly recommend, if anyone's going to Osaka at any point. They served lovely, simple Japanese food (which has an astonishing obsession with garlic and seafood, which surprised me - well, the garlic surprised me, anyway) which they cooked in front of us. Sonia isn't a big fan of foreign food but she had a wonderful time and seemed to really enjoy it. It was delicious. I had Japanese tea after. I'd never tried Japanese tea before. Well, you know how Chinese tea is Green Tea with Jasmine in? Well, Japanese tea is black tea with nothing. Just ordinary tea, like we have at home! So now when you serve someone tea, you can ask if they would like Japanese tea or whether they would like milk as well! We then went back up into the Sheraton proper to use their rather lovely loos (heated seats were a bit startling though!). We then grabbed (two) taxis to Bic Camera.
I understood Bic Camera to be Osaka's biggest camera store. It's WAY more than that. It's six floors, for a start, and is basically a department store that is REALLY obsessed with electronics. But it also sells children's clothes, golf clubs, cosmetics, air conditioning units, white goods, you name it. There's even a McDonalds on the 2nd floor (apparently). Anyway, I bought a camera. Mine has been on its last pixels for a while now, and I've been getting dead pixels and shadows in my photos. So I bought myself a 10 megapixel Canon for slightly under 80 quid. It's blue! This was on the ground floor, and because I presented my passport, it was duty free too, which was nice. We then went up to the 5th floor to buy a little tiny converter plug for the charger. I tried to buy a small notebook laptop on the fourth floor, as my beloved pink Dell don't half weigh a lot when you have to schlep it to the library or [email protected] all the time. Maybe that's what I did to my neck, now I come to think about it. But, anyway, I failed, because, despite the fact that they cost the same as the camera (80 quid) and had Windows 7 and everything, they only spoke Japanese. No, really. We asked and they said that they were especially for the Japanese market and that nothing that has anything less than Windows 7 Premium can be converted to speak anything other than Japanese. You couldn't make it up. So, no new laptop, which was a dreadful shame, because they had the exact one that Simon had recommended I get, and everything. Oh well, heigh ho. Can't have everything, I suppose. So we grabbed a couple of taxis back to the ship.
The ship was moored, incidentally, at the foot of the World's Largest Ferris Wheel, which Mike went up on. It looked a bit vertiginous for my liking. The pods are grouped into colours and one of each colour contained a giant Winnie the Pooh. We never did grasp why, exactly. Just half a dozen four foot Winnie the Poohs going round and round and round and round every twenty minutes or so. Deeply strange. Next to the wheel are a shopping mall and an aquarium. Mum and Dad headed off to the aquarium and Sonia and I hit the shops.
Unsuccessfully, as it turned out as Mike and Dad had our money! So we looked around anyway and failed to buy anything using plastic and so we headed back to the ship. On the way, I spotted someone I knew and asked if I could borrow some yen, but he didn't have any. But the next person I saw did, and lent me their shrapnel. Which enabled Sonia and I to go back to the shops and buy the couple of bits I had seen but couldn't buy before (minimum spend to use a credit card *sigh*) and then we headed back to the ship. By the time I had put my new camera battery on to charge (MUCH unwrapping and so on), it was time for dinner, at which point I found out that mum and dad HADN'T gone into the aquarium because they thought it was too expensive.
Mike showed us the photos he'd taken from the top of the wheel and yes, the video footage DID make me a bit dizzy, so I think I made the right choice - although maybe I should have gone on it, just for the sake of having been on the World's Biggest Wheel. Too late now, though. I could barely stay awake during dinner, so afterwards, I took the money I owed back to the cabin of the lady who lent it to me and then I went to bed. And here I am, four hours later, wide awake and talking to you. Good thing tomorrow is a sea day. I have a feeling I will be spending most of it asleep! I've been wondering if we should have gone on an organised tour. We did have one booked, but it was eight hours long, so we cancelled it. I'm wondering if we missed out on the "traditional" Japanese stuff. You know, girls in kimonos, temples, cherry blossom, tea ceremonies and the like. Oh well, maybe next time, but even then, not eight hours of it, please! But we definitely saw Osaka, which is, much like Hiroshima, not a pretty town. It's just a big city - and don't let the Port Guide map fool you, it's HUGE - although with the same temporary-looking overhead wiring we saw yesterday. It is by no means a beautiful place.
I'm starting to see why people make such a fuss about London, Edinburgh, Paris and the like. They are very PRETTY cities, particularly if this is what you're coming from, if you see what I mean. I suppose it's true of all war-ravaged cities. When you rebuild, you rebuild fast and useful, like I said yesterday about Hiroshima. This is the same, only WAY bigger. And with a rather cool double-decker road bridge, with one level going each way. If you're wondering what a Port Guide is, for every destination we visit, P&O provide us with a four page guide to the place (one A3 sheet). A paragraph of history, a list of the best places to shop, some useful words and phrases, a couple of safety and cultural tips and a map on the back. The maps are a running joke. They are notoriously unreliable. The one for Hiroshima portrayed the distance from the ship to the Peace Park as walking distance. The fact that it was twenty minutes in a taxi is pure coincidence... And I'm sure most of you know the story about the Kuala Lumpur Port Guide map. P&O bus you from the port into KL (takes about an hour and a half) and drop you at the Petronas Towers (which still takes rather tasteless pride in describing itself as the World's Tallest Twin Towers). This is also the pick-up point at the end of the day. The biggest and most important sight to see in KL. Shame the map doesn't even cover the area it's in, don't you think? Call me picky, but I've always felt that the most important sight to see and, probably more importantly still, the shuttle pickup and dropoff point, should be marked on the map, but, hey, what do I know? So, anyway, I digress.
Again. The map of Osaka was similarly useless. It was such large scale that it almost covered Kobe as well. The fact that it centred on the islands rather than the mainland, rendering it so near to useless as to make virtually no difference, is really neither here nor there and is probably just me showing my picky streak again. Luckily, I had looked at some maps of Osaka last night (although the printer wasn't working...), so I had a pretty good idea of where we were going. And Mike found a free map of the Namba quarter in a dispenser which made life much easier. He's very useful, Mike. Must go out with him more often!