Play Wild: Work Experience.

Have you thought of becoming part of the wildlife filmmaking industry?

Do you enjoy making videos, photography and nature?

Over the last couple of years I have come up with the idea of merging my passions with a potential prospects for a career in the natural history documentary production. Thanks to my friend I also decided to document my struggles, achievements and great tips I have been getting from professionals .

In this episode I talk abut the importance of getting work experience – be prepared to do some work for free and it will benefit you later on. I share my experiences from the scheme I have undertaken and share the knowledge I have gained from professionals about secrets of production and development.

Play Wild: First Steps

Have you thought of becoming part of the wildlife filmmaking industry?

Do you enjoy making videos, photography and nature?

Over the last couple of years I have come up with the idea of merging my passions with a potential prospects for a career in the natural history documentary production. Thanks to my friend I also decided to document my struggles, achievements and great tips I have been getting from professionals .

Here is the first entry of my vlog – a bit of introduction and my first steps in achieving my dream.

Malta for Christmas

Malta

I cannot let my blog get all dusty, empty and old again. Since there is a lot going on in my life at the moment – this is just an excuse, cause there isn’t that much! Anyway I know myself enough to predict that I won’t probably finish writing up the Australian part of the RTW trip in the nearest future (I have started, which is already an achievement :), therefore I am posting this article about my Christmas in Malta from 2013. I wanted to leave it for when I’m done with RTW trip but I guess it’s better to write not in order than not write at all! RTW TBC and for now get excited about beautiful Malta.



 This year after having really depressing perspective of sending Christmas in work amazing opportunity happened to me. My father has been offered spending Christmas time on Malta on the yacht of his friend and invited me over and of course I agreed. I booked tickets in the early November from Leeds Bradford Airport and they cost me about 200£ but several weeks after that price dropped a lot so it is worth consideration to buy your Christmas tickets in December and plan it kind of last minute if you are not afraid (ah, what of! I’ll surely try next year). Malta has a massive Christian heritage but also plenty of other cultural differences of Arabs and British Empire. Malta was ruled by the latter and gained independence just recently in 1960’s and that is why you can see there plenty of English influence and English is another official language next to Maltese. It is incredible like next to this amazing and totally different sandstone architecture and unique atmosphere you see English breakfast in the restaurants, English buttons on the traffic lights for pedestrians or red telephone boxes. But I am not complaining – everybody speaks English and it is just so convenient! These influences do not spoil a thing, Malta is incredible. Old beige sandstone architecture, little houses packed on the narrow streets with adorable colourful balconies and all these churches and monasteries, all that make amazing impression!

  We stayed in Manoel Island Marina, very close to Valletta – capital of the Island. It was the middle of the winter, 22nd of December when we arrived and you cannot feel the atmosphere of Christmas (not that I really wanted to). 17 degrees,some days bit windy but sometimes really nice and sunny, just a couple of Christmas decorations and that is it! Everything was open on the 24th and you could have enjoyed everything like it was not a holiday. I arrived on the 22nd rather late so we did not have time to do much but accommodate ourselves. On the second day we went to Mdina – the old capital and the oldest town on the Island located in the centre of it. Every single town is very small on Malta because Island itself is very small too and Mdina is like super small – for a 15-20 min walk around. But even though it was really nice to stroll around these quiet antique streets and end up in the famous Fontanella Tea Garden for their famous (massive) chocolate cake and some traditional Maltese snack – pastizzi with ricotta (fried pastry with ricotta or mashed peas filling). We didn’t do much apart from this, tried to find Domus Romana but we couldn’t so we went for a walk around Rabat. Another small town just right next to Mdina. Despite less prestige it offered us even more adorable little streets full of flowers, plants, balconies and other gadgets (once even a singing canary!).

  On the Christmas Eve and our last day of having a car we went for a ride to Gozo (we were suppose to sail but the wind was to strong and the weather still not good enough). We drove basically through the whole Island from Valletta, passing stunning views of ST. Paul’s and Mellieha Bays, to the north-west tip and Paradise Bay from where we took the ferry to Gozo. Gozo is one of the three Islands of Malta country (apart from this if of course Malta as the main one and little Comino with famous Blue Lagoon in between them). It was about half an hour ride with amazing views of the cliffs and coasts. In Gozo it took us another 15-20 min to get to Dwejra Bay where we wanted to spend our day admiring the biggest (I guess) natural attraction of the Island – Azure Window, natural geological arch in a table-like rock, which was apparently featured in some films like Clash of the Titans, The Count of Monte Cristo or even Game of Thrones! This bay really offers amazing views and after being full of Azure Window experience we went for a stroll to the opposite side of the bay for some more amazing views and photos. It was a great day indeed, on the way back I collected some prickly pear fruits but during our provisional Christmas dinner in the evening I found out they taste really bad (kind of like dragon fruit) and spent the rest of my time trying to pick terrible spikes of my hands.

  Christmas Day offered really good weather so we used this opportunity to sail to the Blue Lagoon on Comino Island. Calm waves were nicely rocking our boat and after a couple of hours we could admire amazing turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon. Colour of the water changes when you enter a little channel between Comino and Cominotto from the navy blue to a beautiful and surrealistic turquoise-greenish-light blue and you can see tiny jelly fish slowly drifting around. We decided to have a short swim even despite rather cold temperature but the sunshine warmed us up after that. Just be careful because this adorable little jelly fish are not that defenceless and my father got burned twice as I expected. After a bit of chill out there we sailed back to our marina catching a beautiful sunset over Malta. It was very pleasant day with nice weather and a bit of sailing and swimming. If you have an opportunity, make sure you will commit to see Blue Lagoon cause the view there is incredible!



  The weather was not the greatest during our stay in Malta. We managed to catch only 3 sunny or rather not rainy days. Despite the weather we decided to visit Valletta in the rain. We took the ferry from Sliema to Valetta because the walk or even bus ride would be quite long as the roads need to encircle all the bays in the port. Ferry goes every 30 min and costs about 2,50 euro return. Quickly rushing from the ferry to Upper Barrakka Gardens we managed to be on time for the changing of the guard and spectacular cannon shooting. After that we went for a long stroll around Valletta in the rain looking for some decent place to sit and have a hot beverage but all of the places were full. In the end we ended up in some Sicilian Restaurant and on our way back to the ferry when it got sunny for a while we grabbed some pastizzi for a snack.

   Important part of experiencing every culture is trying the national cuisine and local tidbits. On the very first evening in Malta we went to the Tre Angeli restaurant in Sliema where we tried Maltese rabbit in garlic and it was really delicious. Another time just in the pub next to the left from this restaurant we tried some Maltese pizzas and amazing octopus with olives and capers which was really nicely cooked and tasted fantastically. Another time on the same boulevard in Sliema we found a great Cheques Creperie serving delicious sweet and savoury crepes which are basically pancakes but they call and serve them differently. There was the whole range of chocolate, biscuits, nuts and fruits to choose for the filling (I was obviously interested only in these sweet ones :). Try the ones with chocolate and strawberries, that is definitely a treat you deserve while in Malta!

  Last day my companions left me in the very morning as they had their flight at noon and mine was at nine in the evening so I spent this day mostly on washing the covers and towels we used in my father’s friend apartment. In the same time this was the best possible end of the stay in Malta I could have imagined – this view from the terrace on the 10th floor in Tigne Point right on the opposite side of the port from Valletta. The weather was kind to me and served me stunning panorama of Valletta and its amazing antique-looking architecture covered in a sunlight and a couple of yachts and boats leaving the port to enter the sea. Malta is a magical place and Valletta is a magical and beautiful city. This view will be the best memory that will stay with me forever – in my head and on my pictures.

Real world Middle Earth:Kiwis, Tikis, Hobbits and other stuff

Bay of Islands

New Zealand! My love, my dream, place where I want to settle down and raise my children (as for now), anyway you get the picture… I really really like this country and I always wanted to go there! Lucky us, Dan has a family over there, the loveliest hippie kind and caring people in the world – Auntie B, Uncle Lawrie, Lucy in the sky and little Johnny! These people made our time in this beautiful land of bush walks and kiwi birds. Already after we arrived Uncle Lawrie on the way from the airport took us to One Tree Hill from top of which we had our first panoramic glimpse of Auckland and both harboursides. The rest of the day passed on family reunion, sharing great music, eating great food… oh no, wait. I actually managed to scar for the rest of heir lives poor Kiwis by serving them one of Dan’s favourite dishes he discovered in Poland – steak tartar. I cannot recall what kind of thoughts were running through my head then but as a true wild child I greeted my new friends with raw meat and raw eggs, hell yeah! But that’s OK, I think they just assumed I might be insane but they still loved us much and helped us lots. Sitting with our maps and guides they advised us what to do and where to go and helped us arranging our time in the north island.

 

The next day was a day with Auntie B. In the beautiful sunshine we went for a ride around Devonport, gorgeous suburbs of Auckland, where we have been staying. Admiring from a top of an old inactive volcano a stunning cityscape of Auckland from one side and Pacific Ocean from the other side. Then we hopped back to the car and headed towards Wawairewa hot springs where we chilled for a long long time in different pools heated geothermally to a different temperatures while a cold wind was stroking our faces. The following day our little geeky dream came true thanks to Lucy, who drove with us to Mata Mata to visit Hobbiton. The drive itself was stunning, especially the part where we were driving alongside the tectonic rift which looked pretty much like a sudden long wall that appeared out of nowhere! Later on gorgeous green rolling hills took over the landscape. When we reached our destination we purchased an overpriced tickets (60NZ$) for a tour around a Hobbiton farm and before the bus came to pick us up we fed some sheep with a sheep food we got from the office staff. For the next few hours we were strolling among little round-doored hobbit houses and tiny gardens. Unfortunately houses were fake, behind the door there was nothing inside, but from the outside it looked marvellous! We listened to a story how Peter Jackson loved this farm from the first sight but there was one crucial element missing and that was a tree on Baggins’ house. Originally on the hill there was no tree, therefore Jackson got himself created a fabulous artificial tree and employed a painter to paint every leaf of the tree in the different shade of green. Last point of our tour around Shire was a visit in Green Dragon where weirdly first time in my life I tried ginger beer since there was a free drink included in a ticket price!

 



As Auntie B says, like in Crowded House’s song – Four seasons in one day, that’s what you get in Auckland. Beautiful sunshine in the morning, cloudy and grey while strolling around Piha, probably the most popular Auckland’s beach, and worst downpour on the way to Anawhata that we couldn’t even get out of the car without getting instantly soaked. But we had fun anyway! We ate pies and drank Just Juice. Like Auntie B says New Zealand is famous for a few things – pies, beef, white wine, best juice (Just Juice), Whittaker’s chocolate and Tim Tams. And if there is one thing I know, peanut butter Whittaker’s stole my heart! After all those fairly local experiences the time has come to head north. Thanks to Lucy’s cousin we had a place to stay in Russell in the Bay of Islands. We got the bus to Paihia and from there ferry to Russell and then we had the loveliest two days! Trekking Tapeka trail in the sunshine, climbing hills, walking on the beaches, eating fresh mangos, coconuts and best Pad Thai ever and of course getting Maori tattoos. For me it was a first tattoo ever, unfortunately it wasn’t a traditional Maori tattoo done traditional way by Maori but nevertheless it was beautifully done by a great artist from Bay of Islands INK . I am still super happy with his work and I am planning on expanding it. Tattooist told me about the tradition of ‘growing’ tribal tattoos along with life experiences, unfortunately I do not remember a Maori word for that but it’s definitely going to happen!

Eventually we needed to say good bye to the Bay of Islands that we enjoyed much and head back to Auckland. After sorting out some issues with Dan’s visa to another country on our route we hopped on a different bus to Rotorua. There we met with a lovely friend of Lucy – Pippa, amazing hippie girl who took a great care of us and showed us the area. Boiling mud pools surrounded by fence to prevent from suicidal jumps, steaming hydrogen sulphide lakes, gorgeous mountains and smell of rotten eggs, YIKES! No, actually I really loved it, especially since I have never seen anything like this before. We visited Burried Village, befriended a cat over there, trekked an amazing bush trail and admired the panoramic views of lake Tarawera. Afterwards we enjoyed a lovely picnic with exciting Wonka’s triple chocolate whipple by the Tikitapu the Blue Lake, right next to the Rotokakahi – the Green Lake! 🙂 At the end of the day we have been watching sunset at Pippa’s place and it was the sweetest spot to live in, on the steep hill by the lake surrounded by mountains. Next morning I very much wanted to visit Wai-O-Tapu park to see stunning colourful geothermal lakes and geysers but the problem with New Zealand is that it is veeeery expensive country and to see those major crazy natural creations like these just mentioned, or others like glow-worm caves tourists need to pay a lot of money for tickets to parks. As you may guess, as poor students travelling on a shoe string we didn’t have money to see even few of them. But there comes Pippa with a solution! She took us to a place called Rainbow Mountain, free of charge great walking trail from which you can admire beige, brown and red colours of the rocks contrasting with a intensely turquoise colour of the lake beneath.

Here comes the last stage of our stay in New Zealand. Uncle Lawrie picked us up from Rotorua and together we headed down south to the Tongariro National Park. We stayed in a lovely cabin nearby the park that belonged to Uncle Lawrie’s friend. The whole next day we spent on trekking the trails of Mordor. Actually we unfortunately didn’t trek to Mordor and the Mt. Doom since we have been on the other side of the national park. Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a trail that you need to accomplish with a ring in your hand on top of Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom). We have had a sneaky glimpse of Ngauruhoe when the clouds uncovered a bit of horizon but trail-wise we have been trekking on the side of Ruapehu where normal people would usually go skiing at this time of the year. Actually there were two different trails we wanted to do but we did not have much time therefore we had an exciting off-trail short cut from one to the other. A few calming hours of amazingly ancient forest, rivers, little bridges and waterfalls – highly enjoyable! And that’s it. Next morning we headed back to Auckland, packed up, exchanged good byes with everyone, chilled a bit more and the day after got on the plane to Sydney.

Green Tea flavored Kyoto

Maiko

We have reached Kyoto at 6am. We didn’t have any accommodation booked for the oncoming days but it didn’t bother us yet. Leaving our luggage in the locker at the station we set off in a horrible heat (worse than in Tokyo since Kyoto was located in the valley), towards Fushimi Inari. This place was very important for me to visit.

I am one of those people who browse hundreds of pictures from different places and the plan to see them on the way of my travels, and however cheesy it may sound, take my own pictures in these places too. We have spent half of a day wandering through the Torii gates climbing up the hill, admiring hundreds of little Shinto shrines. On our way we met delightful Indonesian couple and walked with them for a while chatting about different travel opportunities in Indonesia and experiences from Japan so far. So, for anyone who’s interested, best time for going to Indonesia according to our friends is June-July and a trick for saving on accommodation is renting a place, which may be cheaper than staying at the hostels. On the top of the Inari mountain there was an amazing view over Kyoto, so we took a few panoramic shots of the city among the mountains. After exhausting mostly because of the weather climb, we headed back to the station, regaling ourselves with green tea flavoured crushed ice on the way, popular summer snack on the city streets. Although, this was only the beginning of the green tea flavour madness. As it turned out, Kyoto offers whole range of delightful titbits with this flavour. From ice cream and crushed ice, through traditional Japanese sweets – spongy cakes filled with sweet beans, to the fancy desert which I discovered on the streets of east Kyoto, green tea parfait – compilation of ice cream, jelly (both flavoured of green tea of course!), fruits and sweet beans, YUM!

After returning to the station we picked our luggage and headed to the tourist information to sort out the accommodation for the incoming nights. Unfortunately, it turned out that most hostels do not have any available spaces (obviously!), the ones that did exceeded out financial possibilities. Using accessible there computers we searched any potential hostels we could stay in and marked the on the map getting ready for tour around city with backpacks on our backs. When we reached our first hostel in eastern Kyoto – Santiago Guesthouse, we have been told that there are two available bed but both in female dorm so there was no chance for Dan to stay. Luckily nice hostel receptionist helped us checking other options and called other places to check whether any has got two beds for us for sure. This way we landed in the coolest, nicest and interesting place to stay in Kyoto – Rakuen Guesthouse, being thankful that everything happened the way it did. Atmosphere of this place surprised us at first. The owner of the guesthouse turned out to be a very positive and friendly guy in his late twenties living in Tokyo, who as far as I understood, inherited the house and decided to turn it to a hostel. He was there when we stayed, but most of the time lovely Joanna from Shanghai took care of all the business and management. Apart from her there were no other employees, only volunteers who would come and deal with all the work in the guesthouse for the opportunity of a free accommodation and food. Hostel was very small itself and thanks to all this added up the atmosphere there was amazing, hippie, sociable, very friendly and positive. Every night there would be a dinner for everyone and all guests would gather together to eat, chat and have fun.

Second day in Kyoto turned out to be the best. We went to conquer the eastern part of the city, which was suppose to be the most beautiful. Starting off from Kiyomizu-dera temple we strolled through amazingly climatic old streets feeling almost as we travelled back in time. All the little shops had a range of beautiful traditional handmade products, we tasted the best honey ever sold on the streets there, admired the process of creating traditional ceramics from Kyoto and beautiful outfits of local strollers. There was a last thing missing to my complete happiness – the sight of a geisha. Apparently it is not so easy to spot a geisha there since they rather try to avoid tourists and work mostly in the evenings in the area of Gion. Therefore, when I saw this beautifully dressed Maiko walking up the street with full make-up and hair gorgeously done in a traditional way tears came to my eyes with the realisation that my biggest dream from a few years back just came true! I say this although, I am still not entirely sure whether that was an actual Maiko or a regular Japanese woman who has used the services of one of the geisha’s parlours since such experiences are offered for tourists.

 Following days passed on sightseeing the most popular temples and palaces. One morning I was left alone, going crazy in the same time, because Dan looking all miserable informed me he might have had a heat stroke. I was willing to believe this since the temperature and humidity were insane and we both have already had some serious sunburns. But a few month after the trip he admitted it was a cheeky conspiracy to get me a Christmas gift from Japan without me knowing. So I went by myself to the Silver Pavilion but already after a few minutes I did not regret being alone. That’s the thing about travelling alone – you are actually constantly surrounded by other lone travellers and you are more likely to meet and hang out with other interesting and cool people. That’s exactly what happened then to me, right after entering the Ginkaku-ji I met Johanna, cool girl from Alaska who live in Korea and was travelling around Japan.

We were hanging out together for the rest of the day sightseeing Nijo castle and chatting over green tea deserts. Johanna introduced me to interesting ‘cultural’ customs over in Alaska for the wintertime, like spitting on the ground when the spit should freeze while falling, or more spectacular one – spilling the kettle of boiling water and watching it evaporate before touching the ground! You can see this on Youtube, happens also in Russia ;). With all this and circumstances prevailing in Kyoto Johanna looked absolutely grotesque! Pale, white skin, covered from feet to wrists with thermal clothes, face covered with sunscreen and umbrella in hand. We had so much fun, moreover my new friend was a Japanese history enthusiast, so while sightseeing she loaded me with plenty of tittle-tattles!

Due to the lack of money and resignation from most of our other plans in Japan we decided to stay in Kyoto one day longer too. Visited the rest of popular temples including Kinkaku-ji the Golden Pavilion and Zen garden in Ryoan-ji. Apart from this after so many days of awfully high temperatures we have lost all our shame and went to have a ‘swim’ in the Kama river. Water was so deep it almost covered our knees! Nevertheless it was amazing just to lay down in the river and cool down, the effect did not last long, we have dried out completely within 20 minutes. Our departure flight from Japan was in Osaka therefore, we needed to make our way there but did not assume any longer stay in the city. We decided on spending one day in Nara after hearing lovely stories about town inhabited by deer from other travellers. As an animal lover I had a really strong need of seeing it with my own eyes. We took morning train from Kyoto to Nara and hit the streets in search of deer. It didn’t take long, our aim was to reach Todai-ji, temple with the biggest wooden Buddha statue in the world, according to the gossips there was suppose to be lots of them. Although, already on the way by pagodas on little squares we saw animals lying down in the shadow or nibble on food from tourists. There were little stalls selling deer crackers for 100 yen, we obviously got some and started feeding and petting them too. However, those deer were not tamed, they were wild animals that came out of forest to capture some food and got used to people, yet they still can get very aggressive and dangerous trying to pick stuff from people’s bags or backpacks occasionally kicking, biting or hitting with antlers. I personally found myself in an awkward situation with one deer too, since he wanted to eat all my crackers and I wanted to share with other deer too, this nasty greedy one dived in my bag when I wasn’t looking at him and pull a paper out. We started wrestling over this paper and unfortunately I only got half of it back. Walking down the boulevard towards Todai-ji we saw indeed the largest amount of those lovely animals, most of them lying in the shadows and barely breathing because of the heat, but some of them still strolling among people trying to scavenge some food.

In the evening of the same day we reached Osaka and the first hours passed on searching for an internet café which we needed to print some maps of how to get to the hostel we booked in Kyoto. We got lost and nervous wandering in the city centre at night and when we finally found internet spot we could not communicate at all with people working there and ended up signing up some subscription and paying insane amount of money for two computers for 15 minutes, unlucky. Later on we strayed more looking for hostel as we took the wrong exit from the underground. Seemed like we were getting a little tired with our stay in Japan, fortunately some girl spotted us on the streets, asked whether we are looking for this hostel and showed us the way since she stayed there too. In the hostel itself – as usual, socialising with great people vol. II! And our last day we spent ultimately tired and overwhelmed by the even higher temperature wandering the streets of Namba district. End of our trip has been topped with absolutely delicious proper sushi in proper sushi restaurant. The phenomenal taste of octopus in creamy vinegar sauce and massive red sun on the horizon bid us goodbye and since then I know one thing for sure. I haven’t got enough of this absolutely stunning country and desperately need to go back there!

Last glimpse of Tokyo and ultimate Fuji experience

Sunrise from top of Mt. Fuji

When I am going back to the memories of Tokyo it is rather blurred, but maybe it’s better since I will write about what I remember the most. Tokyo impressed Dan more than me, I was overwhelmed by its metropolitanism. Blinking neons in super modern districts and noisy Pachinko&Slot saloons for sure give the city its nature, but it is not exactly the one that wins my heart.

“Tokyo was my first experience about Japan, country about which I thought I knew something. Let’s say travelling verifies expectations.”


Don’t get me wrong, it was an exceptional experience to be there and see it, especially after years of my fascination of manga, anime and modern Japanese culture in my teenage years. But I noticed this dependency, that if a city fascinates me and gets to me at all it is usually not a capital. Tokyo was my first experience about Japan, country about which I thought I knew something. Let’s say travelling verifies expectations (is it even good to have any expectations while travelling? That’s another issue). My visit there has thrown some light on the aspects of culture and life I have not been thinking about before. In the end those details, that are rather subjective, because everyone notice different things, create our image of the place and add a bit of relish to our experiences. Well, probably the very first of my observations was the lack of smokers on the streets. Nevertheless we light our cigarettes with Dan, while walking down the Asakusa. I’m thinking, maybe it is just unpopular, maybe cigarettes are expensive and nobody can be bothered to buy them, maybe Japanese are very aware of the bad consequences of smoking. Streets are clean, no trace of cigarette butts, when suddenly just around the corner a smoking area appears! Small rectangular space on the pavement with trash can and people gathering inside to stop on their way, wherever they were rushing to, to enjoy this deadly pleasure. Yes, I thought, that’s right Japanese are rather exemplary nation to me. The greater was my surprise when I found out that in all restaurants we visited it was permitted to smoke inside! Not in any separated smoking areas or rooms, it was OK to smoke anywhere on the premises and no one seemed to be disturbed.

    Regarding my opinion about Japanese as an exemplary nation I was not disappointed! Everything appeared to me as well organised, means of transport work exceptionally punctual even in the peak hours. Even though English language is not that popular among natives, in every tourist information and other public places tourist would use, there is no problem in communication in this language or acquiring the information you need. Despite that Japanese are the nicest and helpful people. Repeatedly, when me and Dan seemed a bit lost people would come to us gratuitously and offer help, even if it meant guiding us from point A to point B. Every time we asked for help or information we always got it (smile included) if only person was capable of helping. I won’t forget our last afternoon in Tokyo, in Kiyosumi garden, where despite our hopeless language abilities we had an amazing time with lovely old lady and a group of her grandchildren feeding tortoises together, laughing and having enjoyable little conversations in two different languages.
     We enjoyed our time in Tokyo and decided to stay there one day longer than planned and even then we did not manage to see and do most of the things we wanted. Our plans were thwarted mostly by the weather. In my humble opinion summertime is the worst possible time to visit Japan. Temperature reaching over forty degrees and insane humidity are the factors that caused us instant exhaustion, dizziness and drowsiness – not exactly desirable set for intensive touring. Despite that, one of Japan’s biggest charms are amazing gardens, deliberated and designed according to philosophical instructions, looking all beautiful during spring while everything blooms, over autumn when Japanese maple turns red and in the winter when all those whimsically shaped trees are covered in snow. During summer you can admire water lilies if there are any on the pond and lotus flowers (stunning!) if you are lucky to go to the right garden. Except those two there is a green bush of everything waiting for you rumbling with the sounds of cicadas.
    The rest of our stay in Tokyo passed on regaling delicacies of Japanese cuisine in little street bars in which orders have been taken by an enigmatic machine, or fabulous onigiri freshly from 7-Eleven. We saw imperial gardens, visited the cat café ‘Café Calaugh’. We have been extremely thrilled the moment we heard about the concept of cat cafés where you can enjoy a delicious green tea vanilla ice latte and rent a cat to accompany you! And finally we visited two really adorable gardens, which I strongly recommend to every person planning on coming to Tokyo – Koishikawa (with lovely rock pathways through ponds and Japanese maple area with red little bridges designed especially to make a great impression in autumn) and Kiyosumi (that has to offer little bit of everything, lotuses, cherries, plums, wisterias, rock pathways, and little lake with tortoises jumping there from the rocks).

     The day before we left Tokyo time has come for us to figure out how to get to Fuji mountain. We went to the bus station in Shinjuku, loosing our way several times on this occasion what got us very nervous and even aggressive. After finding the station we purchased tickets for the next afternoon to the 5th station of Fuji – highest point on the volcano to which you can access by motorized transport. Cost of the tickets was 2700 yen per person (approx. 15£). We planned our trip there so that we could start climbing around 8pm. From the information I gathered before it turned out that the way to the top should take approximately 6 hours. In the end it took us exactly this much to climb however, my forethought made me assume that we are going to need at least two more hours due to our physical condition and lack of preparation. We paid for this pointless precaution by curling under a rock to hide from the wind and freezing until merciful stalls with hot drinks and food and benches to sit on have been opened. Our plan was to climb overnight to admire the sunrise from the top of the volcano, what turned out to be quite a popular practice. We knew that even though the temperature in the night oscillated around 30 degrees in Tokyo, it is not going to be so cheerful on 3700 masl. Therefore we left our backpacks in the shed on the 5th station and changed our clothes to warm. Well, I did. Dan relied on a jumper and a jeans jacket and he strongly regretted it after.

“In my humble opinion summertime is the worst possible time to visit Japan. Temperature reaching over forty degrees and insane humidity are the factors that caused us instant exhaustion, dizziness and drowsiness – not exactly desirable set for intensive touring.”

Climbing kept us warm although, our mistake was that we took too little food with ourselves and needed to pay horrendous amount of money for some chocolate bars in the stalls on the way up. What I really liked was the idea of collecting stamps from every station on the walking stick with a flag, that you could purchase in the shop on the 5th station. Unfortunately it was too expensive for us, since the stick cost about 100 yen and every stamp 200-300 yen depending on the altitude. However, next time I am not going to hesitate to do this. Climbing wasn’t that hard, especially on the beginning. First kilometre was actually a nice walk, initially descending, later on somewhat ascending. Second stage was slightly steeper zigzag path that would get steeper with altitude and finally last several hundreds meters challenged with massive rocks and chains, but still doable even for elderly people. Unfortunately Dan suffered from altitude sickness which is apparently quite likely to happen there, but even then he managed to finish the climb and admire the rewarding view. We both managed, but after reaching the top at about 2:30 am another challenge was awaiting. Sunrise was predicted for about 4:30 am and we needed to cope with unbearable cold. We tried to nap under a rock but the temperature didn’t let us to do this for more than 15 minutes. Fortunately as I mentioned some stalls were open from around 3:30 and we managed to squeeze into one of them slurping hot chocolate bought for the rest of our money. Around 4:00 am it started to get bright, we left the stall and searched for some appropriate place to nest for sunrise. Between us and the ground was a layer of clouds, so we couldn’t see the sun from the ground and needed to wait until it reaches the clouds. The atmosphere on the top was amazing. Dozens if not hundreds of people awaiting for the same moment of first rays of the sun to appear from beneath the clouds, full of excitement and exhausted in the same time. When it finally happened crowd started clapping, whistling and cheering. That was for sure the most spectacular sunrise of my life.

    For hiking enthusiasts who are willing to conquer Fuji I recommend visiting http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6901.html website where you can find plenty of useful information, like bus timetables, ticket prices and climbing trail tips. Descent took us about 2,5 hours, 5th station we reached around 8 am and the entire climb we did in about 12 hours. On the bottom we had a surprising wave of energy and excitement, high-fiving each other for completing our challenge and taking smiley photos. Although, it didn’t last long, immediately after boarding the bus to Kawaguchiko we lost consciousness and felt asleep. After reaching bus station in Kawaguchiko we checked our possible options for getting to Kyoto. We planned on hitch hiking but the exhaustion weakened our enthusiasm and we had two options left. Shinkansen for 11,000 yen which would get us to Kyoto in 2 hours or overnight bus for 8,000 yen. We chose the bus since our budget was running low and in this case we had the issue of an accommodation sorted for that night. While I was purchasing tickets, Dan accidentally met the nicest American couple working in Kyoto. They had been spending their holidays in the 5 lakes area (Kawaguchiko and surrounding cities nearby Fuji). It turned out that they needed to come back to Kyoto earlier than planned and had two spare tour bus tickets for the whole day and offered to give those to us for free. Thanks to them we could have spent our day on exploring 5 lakes area and save money we didn’t have already. We went to the other side of the lake that looked quite nicely, lied down on the shore and fell asleep in the accompaniment of intensive sounds of working excavator. The weather caused me a lot of disappointment since I was hoping for some good shots of Fuji from the ground. Thick plain layer of milky white clouds covered the sky thoroughly and the volcano, unfortunately was not visible at all. After recovering a bit from our intensive night we hopped on our tour bus again to explore volcanic cave by Saiko lake. After nice stroll through the forest and crawling in moist Bat Cave we returned to the bus station and ‘showered’ with dry shampoo and wet wipes before the journey. It was as well the moment of realisation that we had already spent most of our money therefore we needed to resign from most of our plans apart from Kyoto, we did not expect Japan to be such an expensive country and that was our mistake. We wanted to stay in Ryokan and experience traditional Japanese accommodation on Koya mountain among temples, shrines and monks; hike the trails of Kumano Kodo or trek antique pathway from Tsumago to Magome from Edo times. We regretted it a lot, but at least we’ll have plenty of adventures for the next time in Japan. The bus has come, we took our seats in amazingly comfortable seats (or shall I say nearly beds!) with blankets and curtains to separate from the rest of the bus and departed to Kyoto.

Tokyo under the sign of cicada

Gardens of Kyoto

So my dad was right, Tokyo looks better after I had enough of sleep. On the very entrance to Japan we have been stopped by a Japanese reporter with cameraman and translator asking where are we from and why Japan following with question to Dan ‘you are so handsome, are you a model?’, that’s a good one.

 My first impression about Tokyo and probably the rest of Japan are giant merciless cicades sitting almost on every tree. In park and gardens noise is that bad that I cannot hear my own thoughts and all this tick-tacking and screeching it’s driving me mad. Our second day in Tokyo we begin with too late visit in Tsukiji fish market. Traders were already closing and there were no fish left although, breakfast in one of the nearby bars was irreplaceable! Supertasty sashimi Anago dan after which my love to the Japanese rice has become eternal. I could live here only for rice and fish. Next metro ride to Shinjuku which looks amazing almost empty at 9 am on Saturday. Walk around the Central Park which probably brings to one’s mind images from New York ^ green space surrounded by skyscrapers. In that park we have eaten the best, most tasty, sweet and furry peach in the world.

       After 9:30 (at that time Tokyo Metropolistan Government Building is being opened) we reachedthe observatory on the 45th floor, from which there is an amazing view on skyscrapers in Shinjuku, Meiji Jingu park and center of Tokyo. Architecture is impressive, both height as well as appearance. In the observatory there is an exhibition dedicated to victims of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and event ‘Thousand paper cranes for Sadako Sasaki’ girl, who was 2 years old when the bomb was dropped nearby her house, delectable old man gratuitously offered me help with origami and after two trials I was able to make a crane by myself.

        From TMGB we went to Meiji Jingu garden admiring on our way sights of Shinjuku – boards, neons and first in my life view (and nosie!) of Pachinko – arcade gabmling machine. First shopping in Japanese market, bento – lunch box and onigiri – triangle made of rice and stuffed with meat or fish followed by liters of bottled green tea. Another delectable Japanese disinterestedly guided us to the garden as we probably looked a bit lost looking on the map in the middle of the street. Japanese people are so nice! Garden or rather park, beautiful and full of trees, was dedicated to Emperor Meiji. Nearby the entrance to the Inner Garden there were rows of wine and sake barrels sent by brewers from Japan and France, as gifts in the memory of the Emperor, who managed to reconcile tradition of the East with culture of the West and endeavored to the development of Japan. In the Inner Garden there is a temple devoted to the honor of the Emperor as well. To give the proper respect there you need to throw a couple of coins to the wooden box, bow, clap twice in your hands and bow again. Respect given, we move on.
    We head toward Harajuku, crowd is merciless and temperature doesn’t allow to breathe and function. We get around the main shopping street Takeshita-dori but unfortunately I see only two pink lolitas and one gothic lolita – apparently 35 degree heat doesn’t favour dressing up. We escape to the chilly metro which takes us to Ueno where we are going to visit Tokyo Zoo in which first time in my life I see Giant Panda and Polar Bear. On our way to the Zoo we pass by a funny amateur comedian who was entertaining the audience with mime a’la Mission Impossible and after the show even shook my hand ;).

     Unfortunately legs hurt and jet lag still takes its toll so we get back to the hostel for a short nap and at 8 pm when it’s already dark we head towards Akihabara – Electric City, district of technology and manga, for a walk. We admire lights and neons there as well as walls of the buildings covered in manga and anime pictures. Shops are surprisingly still open. We enter a huge 5-floor game room in which I take my memorial turn on Dance Dance Revolution,\ however, my skills are not the same anymore. We return to the hostel hopping into a nearby bar in which by my mistake I get tempura again and I decide I don’t like it! Although, rice is still awesome. Time to sleep before next day overnight escapade to Fuji. I have no idea how we are going to hack it, we just have managed to set our bio clocks, well almost cause I can’t sleep  since 5 am anyway. Never mind we need to do this – life challenge!

Sleepless in Tokyo (Day 1)

Pachinko & Slot

Alone on the Heathrow Airport. Procedures the same apart from that terminal is bigger and reserved only for British Airways. On the plane – surprise, especially for someone who has been travelling only with cheap airlines. Three rows of three seats, like in American films. For each seat TV with selection of films, music, games and TV programs to choose. On every seat blanket, pillow, headphones and toothbrush packed in a plastic bag. 2 meals included in the price adn stewardess regularly topping up your watering place (food not recommended for people with weak stomachs).

During the flight amazing views while flying over the cloudless sky. Wild, raw and full of rivers and lakes landscapes of eastern and northern Norway, totally different from flat and chopped with fields sights of the UK. Slightly wrinkled but peaceful and impassive surface of the Barents Sea reflecting in a blue-turquoise water rays of the afternoon or maybe evening Sun. Further frozen surface of the Kara Sea, and further nothing. Nothingness on the Taymyr peninsula – only brown ground, grey rocks, furrows of snow and river. We skip the night flying so close to the North Pole that we manage to slide on the border of day and night and catch the polar day. When we are flying over the northern Russia there is completely nothing there, even with the cloudless sky all you can see is black void. Only its eastern edge shows more oriental and moist landscapes. Japan green with green fields and trees – different from those in Europe. Tall trees with long, naked trunks and short, pointed and coniferous upper branches, and apart from that a lot of bamboos much to my delight.

The time has come to revise all of my opinions, views and expectations I have had over time to this country after years of fascination. I feel its modern, technological side of huge metropolis might not meet them. I expected different airport, different trains and underground, different architecture and interiors. All of that brings to my mind the image of Poland in the 90`s. We reached Asakusa, where our capsule hostel is located. Poor and dingy as every cheap hostel I guess, in which everything seems to crumble, the shower is one for the whole hostel and the sight of Japanese toilets discourages although, every capsule is equipped with a plasma TV from Toshiba. That day despite big plans we didn’t do much because of the jet lag. Walk around the Asakusa in which we were suppose to reach, by passing very nice market on Kaminari-mon, the Senso-ji temple, but somehow we mistook it with a different one. First lunch ordered with difficulty by a machine with buttons and on the base of the picture. Noodles – soba or udon dipped in a sauce reminding the soy one with ground radish, chopped spring onion and shrimp tempura an the top. All of that cold (but good). Next trip to Imperial Palace and Garden which unfortunately on Friday were closed. Resignation and return to the hostel. Tiredness won, sightseeing tomorrow – getting up at 5 am and starting from Tsukiji fish market. Now I am sitting and experiencing the authentic Insomnia in Tokyo – 3 am and instead of sleeping I am writing a blog. Jet lag pushed me to go to bed at 5 pm and made me wake up at 2 am. Well I hope my bio clock is gonna set properly today. My dad claims that Tokyo is gonna be more beautiful and exciting when I will be rested.

Hey, welcome to the UK

Chester

Actually, after a year of living in UK I don’t really know how to start writing this text. British culture is apparently rather well known among Europeans. Most of us learn ‘British English’ with a bit of culture along with that. I was always fascinated by British conservatism and some kind of difference and isolation from the rest of the Europe. I managed to visit London a couple of times, very popular destination, but in my opinion the capital is not really a representative picture of the whole country. The level of multiculturalism, amount of foreigners, megalomania and worldliness London is for me rather a separate cosmopolitan city with its specific culture and only reflecting some characteristic British symbols like London Eye, Tower Bridge, Big Ben or Buckingham Palace. My adventure with UK in the wider aspect has began since the Erasmus exchange. Unfortunately my home institution offered the exchange only to University of Hull – average but very nice University in terrible and awful city Kingston upon Hull. After eight months of studying there I managed to hate that place completely, mainly because of the architectural, geographical, and cultural reasons. Hull is totally flat, port, located far away from every potential interesting destination (apart from York), ugly and boring, cause there is nothing going on apart from a couple of clubs and events organised by University. Another Hull’s disadvantage is a massive Polonia. The problem with that is, that very big part of that Polonia are Polish coming to UK without any qualifications, any language skills or personal culture, working in second-rate factories and roaming drunk on the streets after working hours being mean to ethnic minorities. I personally had a doubtful pleasure of living for a couple of weeks with a bald criminal who bullied his girlfriend.

HULL
     That’s it about Hull however, it has got one bright side – University on which I met a couple of really nice people. They helped me familiarise myself with British culture and understand it better, my boyfriend, our house mates and a couple of friends from drama society. Apart from youth slang and recognizing different accents, about which I had no idea before, that’s why I struggled with understanding anything for the first two months, I have learnt some British habits, which only confirmed my opinion about British distance to everything. For example the fact, that being direct is very often perceived as being rude,so many people hide their thoughts under the mask of courtesy to not offend anyone. Well, some people might think it’s right, I guess. Apart from that something that I would perceive as natural thing. You are invited for the party or whatever, ask if you can go with your partner and you get permission – very natural for me. But no, English man will not go without personal invitation. Another observation of my friend, who spent with me half of a year, is that English can’t drink. Well, I am not entirely sure cause sometimes I have been surprised by the amount of alcohol consumed by some of my friends, but it almost always ended with vomiting all around and terrible hangover.

 

CUISINE
        Another important, if not the most important 🙂 case in every foreign country if of course the cuisine. After a couple of previous visits to London and opinions of different people I was assured that English cannot cook and that their cuisine is terrible and bland. After a year spent on British food and stomach problems that stereotype is only getting more true for me. Well, maybe it’s not that bad, as I thought before, although I still think that there I no chance for food to be tasty, food is greasy and fat, and obesity dominates among people on the streets. The leading dishes are burgers, cheesy chips with vinegar, takeaway, curry so adored by British, as well as somewhere after all of that maybe fish and chips, apparently so popular but I didn’t notice that. Some dishes are really shocking for me, like for example cheesy chips with vinegar served in burgers, tortillas, solo or any other possible way. I noticed that pesto is quite cheap and popular here, but pasta pesto is not the most rich food. When I think about leading British dish Full English Breakfast comes to my mind. In theory consisted of toasts, fried egg, fried mushrooms, baked beans, fried or baked bacon, tomatoes, sautéed potatoes, potato cakes and famous black pudding. The amount of the food on the plate is overwhelming, that’s why it is often called full-day breakfast. My culinary discovery of the year is that already mentioned before black pudding. I have heard different terrible things about it, that it is made of blood and fat and nobody likes it. I was really doubtful about trying that thing but in English breakfast I didn’t have choice. Well, that famous black pudding is just an ordinary ‘kaszanka’ (polish dish as well)… traditional English kaszanka. From other popular dishes I can think of it’s Sunday roast dinner – roast chicken, roast potatoes, peas, carrot, cheesy cauliflower, gravy and so on. I would say that it’s tasty if it would have any taste, but yeah it’s good :). Pork pies! Sold in the shops with the size of a tin of luncheon and inside reminding luncheon as well. Crumpets – actually I don’t really know what it is, tiny fluffy pancakes, which you can eat with anything when you roast them a bit. I ate them the very first day I came to the UK with peanut butter and I had no idea I was eating very traditional British thing. Actually in contrast to what I thought before, British cuisine is rather diverse and there is plenty of things I didn’t mention, but I stop here. I love the fact that cider is so popular in the UK and with all the flavours I can think of. After all this, definitely very tasty think I have eaten here is the best beef burger ever – with salad, tomato, bacon, cheese, onion rings, tomato sauce and best in the world sauce made of Tennessee Honey Jack Daniels – Viva la Wetherspoon!

 

STUDIES IN ENGLAND
       In terms of different experiences – Education. For all those who wish to study in England. It’s horrendously expensive! I had an amazing opportunity to join particularly that academic year when the price of tuition fees has raised three times – only £9000 per year. EU students are eligible to get tuition fee loan which needs to be pay back after graduation but only when income of the graduate will reach £21,000 per year. However, unfortunately EU students cannot get maintenance loan which is available for UK students to pay for the cost of living on studies. In Hull, rather cheap city, average cost of living is, I would say, £100 a week. Renting a room differs between 50 and 90 pounds per week including bills. About 20-30 pounds for food fr a week (I do my shopping in Lidl, cause it’s cheap and nice), apart form that any additional costs like cosmetics, alcohol, entrance to clubs, medicines and so on. Everything depends on one’s style of life, I guess. There is no problem with finding a job, especially when you hand the CV in the right period of time. There is no problem with working along studying as well. Study course includes 60 credits per semester and 120 per year. One module is normally worth 20 credits (10 ECTS), so normally it in one semester you have 3 modules (1 hour of lectures and 1 hour of tutorials a week), and additional work at home and one or two hours of free elective – language/ course/ or any module connected with your course. So you would spend on average 6-8 hours a week on University unless you join any society. In such case you can afford working part time (15-20 hours a week) earning the minimum wage about £6 per hour. You pass modules normally by writing an essay and passing the exam. Essays are, depending on which year of your studies you are, between 2000-3000 words (undergraduate studies). Exams are very rigorous, you have 2 hours to answer the questions from your module, you sit in separate tables in a big room, there are plenty of people checking if you are not cheating and your phone needs to be turned off and placed under your table in a plastic bag. Maybe that is why education in UK is more effective. If you want to apply for studies you need to do this via system UCAS already before 15th of January or sometimes even earlier when you are applying for the course starting in September. Over the next months you fill the next stages of application process via UCAS system as well (high school or college results and stuff). Unfortunately EU students cannot get a loan for Master studies. Another interesting place in UK for studies for EU students is Scotland, cause there undergraduate studies are for EU students for free. Unfortunately I don’t know yet how it looks like with Master studies there cause it seems to be quite complicated. Everything depends on the University you are applying for, some courses are refundable, for some you can get a loan or scholarship. I will work it out and post about it later.
TRAVELLING
    Moving towards more travelling aspects of Great Britain, even without travelling much so far I know that UK has got incredible potential in that topic, it is an amazing country with interesting culture and history. There are plenty of places I have read or heard about and I am going to visit them with Scotland and its west coast on the top. The other places are definitely Lake Districts on the North West of England, Malham Cove – my favourite place showed in the Harry Potter VI film, Snowdonia National Park in Wales where you can climb the highest peak of Wales – Snowdon, Cornwall, its fantastic coast and Eden Project(http://www.edenproject.com/ ), White Cliffs in Sussex – Seven Sisters, which I have already seen from the ferry (and that’s probably the best view), but it’s always good to see another perspective. Giant’s Causeway in North Ireland, which according to the legend was supposed to be built by a giant as a bridge to Scotland. Apart from that many many National Parks in which you can fully use the potential of the UK: New Forest, beautiful sights on the beach of Dorset, Peak District National Park, Torquay, Hadrian’s Wall – northern border of the Roman Empire, Massive bridge in Bristol, or finally Stonehenge to which you can’t come close anyway.

        Travelling in Great Britain is rather expensive. Trains cost between 40 to 100 pounds and higher, depends on the route. You can buy tickets cheaper booking them early enough or having a special Student Rail Card. A bit cheaper way of travelling are National Express couches which can get you almost everywhere thanks to cooperation with local transporting companies. The cheapest, I guess, is Mega bus company, they offer very cheap deals on fares but they do not link many locations, for example ticket from Hull to London return booked about 2 weeks earlier was £20. One litre of petrol costs about £1,34, so you can try to travel by car, its beneficial when you travel in a small group.

WIRRAL AREA
     If we talk about my travelling experiences with England so far, thanks to my awesome boyfriend I had an amazing opportunity to visit his home area – Wirral. Little peninsula located between Liverpool and Wales and separated from them by two rivers – Mersey and Dee. Both of those rivers accumulate massive amounts of mud which makes beach to grow and get longer. Some of the further parts of the beach are planted by rare grass and plants in which there live endangered frogs and other stuff. From the beach in the Southern Wirral there is an amazing view on the Northern Wales and dozens of wind mills on the Irish Sea. There is a Marine Lake (apparently the biggest marine lake filled by the sea water in Europe) in West Kirby. There are also some windsurfing events happening there and the races of Kite Buggies. Around the lake a nice walking path has been built. A bit more to the North is Hilbre Island, on which you can get during the lower tide and come back before higher tide cause then the Sea surround the island from all sides. On the Hilbre Island there is bird sanctuary and on the west side you can see seals lying on the beach. Going on the dunes from West Kirby to Hoylake I found fantastic rocks of red sandstone, beside that the whole area lies on the red sandstone and it’s the local treasure. The rock were very colourful – red, green, brown and grey, they were fantastic place to sit for a while and admire Razor Clams which I have seen for the first time in my life. Between the rocks and the sea there is at least 500 meters of beach and on that beach you can find many weird things from huge jellyfishes to crab’s shells. In the area there is plenty of amazing places, in West Kirby you can climb Calday Hill from which there is stunning view on the whole area, Wales and the Irish Sea, going down from the hill you can get to the cliffs with beautiful rocky beach full of colourful shells. Going further in the direction of Calday there is Thurstaston Park full of little lakes, dunes, flowers and grass and in its centre there is legendary Thor’s Rock. It’s legendary only cause my boyfriend used to play there with his mates in the childhood, apart from that there is nothing legendary and the rock has got nothing in common with Marvell’s Thor. Although, it’s very nice, full of grooves made by water and writings made by teenagers sitting there. Further that direction there are beautiful Botanic Gardens in Ness. Nevertheless, the place most magical for me with which I fell in love from the first sight was the beach in Formby – Anthony Gromley’s Another Place. Again amazing long beach with the view on the wind mills on the Sea, and on the beach Gromley built plenty of statues of men turned to the sea. And apart from all of that sunset and birds like the icing on the cake.

Getting ready

Papers

It’s one week left to the departure let’s then sum up what we have done so far. It started from the idea, quite long ago I have heard about the Round the World ticket – multi-stop route planned by travel agencies or by oneself. Later on somebody in my life decided to go for such kind of a trip. I was thinking then that my poor Eurotrip plans are nothing compare to that, but though as well that £1000 are not impossible to collect (average price of an average RTW ticket). As I thought it wasn’t so hard to do this while working part time as a waitress and saving money from two scholarships. Finally magically I have collected money I needed and the time came to choose and buy the ticket. Tickets unfortunately constantly change so the route we were tempting to choose was no longer available, however we found a different one interesting as well. Travel Nation agency offered a route London – Tokyo (self transfer to Osaka) Osaka – Auckland – Hong Kong – London for £975. China, UAE, some Asian countries, New Zealand and Australia are rather popular destinations on such trips, but Japan? Wow! That convinced me, if only we would have Australia included in our route that would be just perfect. In that case we called Travel Nation and asked politely – £140 and additional plane from Auckland to Sydney and back is ours, not bad! Hmm, how about travelling around China a bit more, maybe return from any other city like Beijing or Shanghai? That’s right, from Shanghai, £50 more. Thus it turned to be London – Tokyo … Osaka – Auckland – Sydney – Auckland – Hong Kong … Shanghai – London for £1350 including insurance for flights and luggage, not bad considering the route.

 

TRANSPORT

 

      We purchased our tickets on the phone with card payment, any other services that Travel Nation offered (like getting the visa) are available to do online. They offered a whole range of expensive tour sets from relax to adventure, although as a poor students we didn’t agree for them, besides it’s not about getting everything ready by them. We decided however for one thing – campervan in Australia. In New Zealand we have been blessed with my companion’s uncle living there, so he offered us accommodation and transport. About the campervan, we might have not done to well with that believing in cheap prices of the rental – £21 a day. But what else we could think of beside camping and hitch-hiking (without a tent and I would be rather scared living in a tent in Australia) – accommodation with transport in one, when we want to go from Sydney to Melbourne and back, visit as many national parks as we can, hug koalas, box with kangaroos and kill wild spiders and snakes with machete – rather good option with that campervan. In the end the rental of the campervan was the cost of £660 for 12 days (to divide between us both, so £320 each) plus petrol of course. Initially it was meant to be £300 for rental for 12 days, however I found out that in our rental agreement we need to pay additionally plenty of fees and taxes and horrendously high deposit of £1600 – more then our ticket for the whole trip, deposit refundable of course, but we would not have those money anyway. We have been told about the inclusive rate, so the cost of the rental raises to £500 but all the fees and taxes are included and deposit is decreased to refundable £60. Although, we need to pay additional £160 fr renting a campervan for less than 21 days and it is unfortunately non-refundable. Well, twice as much as we thought but we still can do this, I hope.
       The time has come to figure out what do we do with the transport in Japan and China. In China we assumed to visit Beijing and Shanghai from which we fly back to the UK. Thanks to an awesome website of a nice train-traveller(http://www.seat61.com/) I got to know everything I need about train connections in both those countries. Train from Hong Kong to Beijing which goes every second day (only 24 hours ride) with a hard-sleeper option is the cheapest option and cost about 85$ however, depends where the booking is made. Train from Beijing to Shanghai which goes everyday with a hard-sleeper option costs about 75$ and with just a normal seat 45$. Considering that China is a big country and those cities are located on the very edges of it the price seems to be not that bad. Although, Japan does not look as good. I have been told that the best option for travelling in Japan is buying a Japan Rail Pass that allows you for unlimited travelling in a particular period of time by particular trains. That ticket costs £186 for 7 days, £297 for 2 weeks and £380 for 21 days – what the hell are those prices? When I summed up all our potential train rides over 10 days separately it would cost us about £200 including transfers from and to the airports. Well in that case there is hitch-hiking and walking left. That will be funny especially cause Japanese are rather not familiar with hitch-hiking. As well as with couchsurfing (website / project that allows you to find a person in any place in the world that could host you or the opposite) – after a couple of weeks of seaching for a host I was left with mostly no response, majority of refused and one maybe. Well in Tokyo we wanted to try capsule hotels anyway, and hopefully there will appear a nice couchsurfer in Kyoto who could host us.

 

ACCOMMODATION

 

        Apart from all the basic things like tickets and transport. Hostels – in China rather cheap, like bed in 4-6 persons dorm in the city centre for about £6. In case of Japan it’s similar to the UK – cheapest accommodation in Tokyo I have found is £15 for a night and rather far away form the centre. Food we will hopefully find, buy, eat, if not there is always the option of grilled insects a’la Bear Grylls and piss as a drink. Insurance is I guess definitely advised, apart from our insurance included in the ticket for flights and luggage I purchased Euro26 card with SPORT insurance for a year time covering the whole world apart from USA and Canada and covering sports like snowboarding, snorkelling, diving and stuff, as if I would come up with the idea of bungee jumping somewhere on the way. Apart from that additional insurance for that particular period of time on the trip with a bit higher financial limits offered by my bank for about £45. Clinics in the pre-summer period encourage vaccinations. After checking the requirements about the vaccinations in each of the countries I decided to vaccine myself too. In New Zealand and Australia there is almost no risk of any serious disease (only yellow fever occurring in the north of Australia). In Japan it is advised to be vaccinated for Japanese encephalitis however, in Poland (where I was vaccinating myself) that vaccine is not popular and you would need to order it especially and it takes too long to apply the vaccination (a couple of dozes in period of a couple of months to take). Chine is though a completely different case. There is plenty of diseases from hepatitis A, B through tuberculosis, polio, typhoid to bird’s flu. I decided to vaccine myself only for the typhoid – cause I guess with their water and food that might be rather easy to get ill for, and hepatitis A as I hope that I am still immune for the B type. Apparently in the cities there is not much risk of getting a serious disease. From the other hand I started doing any vaccinations about 2 months before departure so after taking two vaccinations in the same time I have been told not to take any more for the next two weeks. The problem is that most of the vaccines are not disposable, most of them you need to take 2-4 times in the period of a couple of months, the two that I have taken have been in only one doze (hepatitis A in two but the second one to be done after 9 months). So if you are going for trekking to the Chinese rural areas start vaccinating one year before the trip :). Both of the vaccinations costed me about £30 each (in Poland).

 

VISAS

 

       Another pre-departure duty is to get visas. Considering countries that we are going to visit we needed only two – Australian and Chinese. Japan and New Zealand are in the international convention agreed between quite a few countries, according to which you do not require a visa for the tourist visits up to 3 months if you are the citizen of one of the countries included in the convention (Poland and UK are included). Australian visa was included in the cost of our ticket as an electronic visa and its cost is £15. It was a bit more ridiculous with the Chinese visa. The Travel Nation agency offered the possibility of getting the visa through them but for £105. I have checked then what are the prices in Chinese embassies and consulates in Poland – in the normal procedure (about 4 working days) £45. And here goes the funny bit. While being at home in Poland in Gdansk (there is a Chinese consulate) I wanted to drop a form and get a visa done however, they require more documents then embassies and agencies normally do, like hotel bookings, phone numbers, invitations and stuff apart from just passport and flight ticket. The first problem was a wrong day to come. So Chinese working days mean Monday, Wednesday and Friday… While I wanted to apply on Tuesday a day before my flight back to the UK (unfortunately the next Wednesday was Chinese bank holiday anyway). Nevertheless I tried again being in Poland another time, this time on a proper day however, my for has been rejected anyway. It was because my flight ticket is to Kong Kong, not the actual China. I was a bit afraid of that although it shouldn’t matter as normally in such cases people do get visas to China. I had a train chosen but I could not have bought the ticket yet because it was too early but it did not help unfortunately. It turned out that it’s not only me having problems with getting a visa because of such a ridiculous reasons. When I left the consulate I have been offered help with getting a visa by a girl who has given me a card and told me where to find that address in the city. I was pretty sure I am going to consult with a travel agency or something although, somehow I got to a Chinese restaurant. Very nice Mr Consul came up with the idea of having an agreement with the owner of the restaurant (Chinese of course) who is getting previously rejected clients a visa without any problem but with paying extra money for that (and of course without giving any confirmation of the payment) and somehow following normal working days not the Chinese ones. For example for the normal visa you would need to pay extra £30, for express one £50 and for the superexpress for the next day of the application £70. In the end cost of my visa was about £75.
        I am sitting now a couple of days before departure and trying to think of what is else to buy or do. Aid kit complete – basic things like bandages, plasters, antiseptic spray, painkillers, anti diarrhoea pills, vitamin B1 (apparently works like mosquito repellent). Head torches bought, additional batteries to the camera as well. Only some snacks and light food left to buy and some emergency phone numbers to write down and collect all the important documents and that should be fine.