Monday, September 1st, 2008

Considering that we'd had a very early night the night before, it wasn't too much of a stretch to wake up at 5:00am to get an early start on the day.

After packing up all of our stuff, we took some last minute photos of our hotel, then headed out. We made one last stop at the Starbucks around the corner, where Kevin got a coffee drink, and I got a juice. I thought I was ordering the same juice smoothie I got two days before, but this just ended up being juice. With drinks in tow, we found our way to the Shinagawa Shinkansen station so we could stash our backpacks in a locker for later. Then we made our way over to the Tsukiji-Shijo station to visit the fish market (when it was open!)

Arriving at Tsukiji Fish Market, we weren't exactly sure where the entrance was. We walked around a little, and ultimately found a loading dock type area to enter. We had seen another dock, but it really looked like we shouldn't be there, so we kept hunting until we found a more inviting looking entrance. Inside, it was just rows upon rows of stalls selling all kinds of fish in bins and tanks. There was salmon, squid, clams and tons of other stuff that I couldn't identify! It smelled quite expected in a place like this hehe

We wandered around for quite a while just taking photos, looking at the fish and narrowly avoiding getting bowled over by the many little vehicles carrying fish to and fro.

A man butchers some tuna

A wide variety of fish available in Tsukiji Fish Market

Tiny vendor stalls throughout the market

A man unloads a giant frozen tuna

After a while, we emerged out the other side and found the retail and dining area. The shops all had tourist crap, so we didn't buy anything there. Eventually we found a nice looking place for sushi, and we took a seat inside the tiny, empty restaurant.

The entire place was just a sushi bar on the left, with a single row of seats at the bar, and two seats on the end of the sushi bar near the door. Had there been anyone in the seats, it would have been an extremely tight fit to get in and out of!

I ended up getting the "ladies special" which had 14 pieces of sushi, including six hand rolled pieces, one piece of egg, one block of rice covered in salmon roe, then a bunch of other ones in the middle. One looked suspicious, so I asked the man what it was. He didn't know how to respond, but eventually found a large clam shell and indicated that it was clam sushi. I figured that if I was going to eat that one, I needed to do it quick before I thought about it too much, so that was the first one I ate. It was ok, but had a weird texture to it. Not something I would order.

I ended up eating all of my sushi except for two of the hand roll pieces since the fish in those was just weird and hard. Kevin had the same reaction, so I chalk it up to the fish being weird, and not my picky eating. I even ate the block of salmon roe rice, eventhough I have no desire to do that again! It was just slimy and was all I could do to swallow it...but I got it down! As we finished lunch, a couple of other people had joined our restaurant, all of which appeared to be Australian or English. We pretty much chalked the "have sushi for breakfast at Tsukiji" thing up to being a tourist trap since we didn't see a single Japanese person eating sushi at quarter til 9:00am like we were! Most of the people there either seemed to be Japanese people who were working there, or westerners who were tourists. Overall, it was definitely an interesting experience, but not one that I will probably ever do again if I'm in Tokyo, nor would I put it high on my recommendation list.

After we were done at Tsukiji Fish Market, we backtracked up to Shinagawa station and got tickets for the next Shinkansen to Nagoya. It was just a few minutes away, so we had to scurry to pick up our bags from the locker, dump that morning's trash (since we hadn't seen a trash can on the way!) and get to our Shinkansen loading area. It was very easy to find, just like almost everything else in Tokyo so far, and we arrived with a few minutes to spare.

Our Shinkansen to Nagoya

After finding our seats, the trip out to Nagoya was a breeze. An employee came by at one point and stamped everyone's tickets, and they had ladies come by with carts of food for sale as well. And all the other people on the train were so polite and one was being loud and obnoxious or annoying at all. And before we knew it we were arriving in Nagoya.

At Nagoya, we hung around just long enough to jump from one track to another and get on the JR Rapid Mie line. Fairly soon, we were arriving at the Kuwana station for our afternoon at Nagashima Spaland. I knew that there was a bus somewhere to the park, but there was a little confusion regarding which bus to take, and how to get tickets. Eventually we saw the bus pull up, but everyone already had tickets! So we rushed inside the little room at the bus stop and purchased tickets for the bus. Thankfully there were a few other people who needed tickets too, so the bus didn't leave without us.

We had a fairly long bus ride to get to the park, and were thoroughly confused by the pricing board that was at the front of the bus. When I boarded, I put my ticket in the slot, then immediately remembered that you need your ticket to get off of trains, so why would busses be any different? As we approached the park, we got a nice round trip tour of the park, and the bus dropped us off almost directly at the entrance. We made sure to note which bus stop we were dropped off at so we would know where to pick up the bus back to the train station.

To get into the park, we had to walk all the way around their water park, which was looking better and better the more we walked since it was so hot outside!

Eventually we found the entrance, got two tickets and made our way inside.

The first stop of the day was at Steel Dragon 2000, the much maligned longest coaster in the world. When we arrived, there were some people waiting around, but no one was in the station, so we thought that it looked closed at the moment. Since we didn't want to waste time (it was already well after 1:00 at this point), we moved on and got in line for the Wild Mouse.

The line for the Wild Mouse wasn't terrible, and I think we made it onto the ride within 15 minutes. We spotted a great Engrish sign in the queue that made both of us laugh...

I'm pretty sure it was saying that the coaster was closing for a maintenance inspection, and if the wheels didn't pass inspection, it might stay closed after the scheduled window. But it didn't say that at was all just mangled up haha The ride was nice for a wild mouse, though nothing particularly thrilling or unique.

While in line for the wild mouse, we saw Steel Dragon 2000 start to cycle trains, so we immediately went back over there after our Wild Mouse ride. Quite a few more people were already in line, so we grabbed a spot and decided to wait it out. We passed the time chatting about this and that, including our earliest memories of when we went to Disney World as kids. When it was our time to ride, we went for a back of the train ride.

I thought the ride was really solid and really fun, but it didn't quite live up to some of the hype I'd heard. It wasn't the best ride I've been on, but it *was* a really nice, enjoyable ride. The first drop was great, but the next few drops seemed to be a little too big, so the airtime petered out just a bit. The turn around was strange but powerful, and the return leg was just bunny hill after airtime-filled bunny hill. Kevin seemed to have the same reaction I did...very fun, but not at the top of his favorites list.

I was really hungry when the ride was over, but since we were right next to the Bobcart, we decided to ride it. When we approached the ride, the ride op had us store all of our stuff in a locker, which was a little strange considering that the vehicle could have comfortably accommodated our bags, but whatever. I don't think we waited even 10 minutes to ride, and we chose to get separate vehicles so we didn't have to squish ourselves into one little car.

The ride was really awesome. I left my accelerator wide open the whole time, and I was flying around the track! Too bad we can't have awesome rides like this in the US!

Finally it was time for a bite to eat, and since we'd had such a huge sushi breakfast, we both wanted something a little more subdued and comforting. We settled on a restaurant near the pirate ship that had hamburgers, and was also a place where you had to buy tickets for your food out of vending machines. So we each got tickets for what we wanted (I tried to buy a drink, but it wouldn’t give me a ticket for some reason) then gave them to the girls behind the counter. The food was pretty obviously prepared some time in advance since as soon as you handed over the tickets, they handed back a tray with your food.

We sat down at a table in the shade and enjoyed our meal. It wasn't quite like any hamburger I had eaten, but it was ok, and sufficiently "comforting" for this American. After sitting for a while, we decided to ride the Ferris wheel and let our lunch settle before hitting any more coasters. I said that I wanted a Coke before boarding, so I went over to a nearby bank of vending machines to get one. It was farther than I thought it was, so it ended up being quite a hike! But once I had the Coke, it was icy cold and hit the spot like no other drink can! Mmm, I love Coke.

This Ferris wheel looked just like every other one I had ridden in the country except that it was air conditioned! Kevin said it was air conditioned, but it didn't look any different to me, so once we got inside and it was nice and cool, he had to say he told me so hehe. The ride was very nice and relaxing, and the view was amazing. You could see water all around, and even see the Nagoya skyline off in the distance.

Leaving the Ferris wheel, we decided to jump next door and take a ride on their woodie, White Cyclone.

This was the third and final woodie I was getting the chance to ride, which is 3/5ths of all the woodies in the entire country! Maybe on my next trip I will hit the other two and go for 100%! There was very little wait for this ride, and we got a seat near the back for our ride. The Toontown party song was playing in the station, which I thought was very strange! This ended up being a very nice, solid woodie. It was quite smooth, had some nice elements and felt very classic to me, much like Colossus at Magic Mountain or American Eagle at Great America. Kevin even said that he thought it was one of the best woodies he'd ever ridden!

After the ride, we went next door so I could get my Ultra Twister credit! This was one of my most anticipated coasters of the trip! I'd wanted to ride the one at Astro World, but the park closed the year that I had planned to go. For our ride, we were in the back seat, which was a bit disappointing since you can't see the track spiraling in front of you. But the ride was a TON of fun! It had a vertical lift hill, a forward barrel roll, then the track tilts and drops you going backwards into another barrel roll. It was a lot of fun, and not a terribly uncomfortable ride.

Afterwards, as we collected our stuff from the locker, I decided that I wanted to ride one more time, making sure that I got a front row seat this time. When I tried to get back in line, the ride op motioned for me to go down the steps and back around, so I did, even if I didn't understand the need for it! When I got back up to the station, I ended up sitting with a guy in the front row, and the ride was much better up there! The visual of the track spiraling towards and away from you was so cool! I was very glad that I took the time to take the extra ride since I'm not sure if I will ever get to ride another one!

Leaving Ultra Twister, we took a moment to watch a peppy group of girls take a photo of themselves jumping into the air in front of the coaster, then moved on to the next credit. Corkscrew was closed (as was the other half of the Wild Mouse, the Schwartzkopf Looping Star, and apparently the shuttle loop, eventhough Kevin said he saw it cycling earlier).

We passed Jet Coaster as we walked, so we decided to go ahead and grab the credit on it just in case we didn't get back to it. This was a nice little ride...just a leisurely ride through the trees, with a little drop here and there...nothing much. It was nice and relaxing, and would make a great first coaster for someone.

After Jet Coaster, we saw a cute little suspended monorail and decided to try and catch a ride on it. It was about 5:00pm at this point, and we noticed that Old Lang Syne started playing on the speakers, and everyone was walking in the same direction. I jokingly said "Heh I wonder if the park is closing since they're playing Old Lang Syne" and unfortunately I was right :-( We hadn't paid any attention to the park's closing time, so we hadn't even made it to a lot of the rides we wanted to ride. When we got there, the suspended monorail was closed, as was every other ride in the park. Rats. I ended up with five out of ten credits in the park...but I really only missed the Children Coaster credit since the other four weren't open at all. I really liked the park, and would love to visit again sometime, but I would be sure to check and see if all the coasters were operating first!

On the way out, Kevin stopped at a vending machine that served soft drinks in cups with ice in interesting twist on the standard vending machine. We hopped into the gift shop, and they ended up having a few nice items I wanted to get.

A hilarious Engrish hat in the Nagashima Spaland gift shop

I love it! White's something! I feel more refreshed than anyone! I would have bought this shirt in a heartbeat had they had it in my size.

This was the first gift shop I had been in that sold towels with park logos on them, and I thought it was hilariously random (little did I know that towels were EVERYWHERE in the Disney resort!). They also had nice pint glasses with drawings of some of the rides in the park. So I ended up buying White Cyclone and Ultra Twister pint glasses and a Steel Dragon 2000 washrag with Hello Kitty on it.

We made our way out to the bus stop (and bought our bus tickets well in advance this time!) and I bought another water for the ride. The bus ride is quite round about, with tons of stops that no one seemed to be using. I wonder if a direct bus would be more effective, even if you had to charge more for it. Back at the station, we made our way back to the JR Rapid Mie line and rode to Iseshi Station. From there, we got onto the Kintetsu line headed for Toba.

Kevin is starting to really fit in with the locals, what with the playing with small electrinics on the trains!

When we got off at Iseshi, the Toba train was waiting, but we almost didn't get on it since it was so small and we assumed a larger train was coming for us. The train was also almost empty, with only a few people making the journey at that time of day.

When we arrived in Toba, we confidently headed out of the train station, with the assumption that our hotel, the Toba Grand Hotel, would be clearly visible outside. The website for the hotel, as well as another booking website, had described the hotel as "within walking distance of the train station." So we started walking, then spotted the only hotel that was within walking distance. It was a decent sized walk, but I guess it could be considered within walking distance. When we arrived at the front door, there was no sign showing the name.

We went inside the lobby, and when I showed the desk clerk my confirmation email, he said that I wasn't in the right hotel. He called over to my hotel, then handed me the phone as though I spoke enough Japanese to have a conversation with the person on the other end! I did manage to get my name across to the man on the phone, but then I had to hand back the phone to the desk clerk in front of me because I had no clue how to respond! Someone who spoke English eventually came up and said that the Toba Grand Hotel was sending a hotel shuttle to pick us up and take us to the hotel. We hung around for a while in their lobby, which had a pond thingy called Dr. Fish where you could put your feet in the pond and fish would eat the dead skin off of them! Ewww!

After just a few minutes, the Toba Grand Hotel shuttle arrived, and the overly eager and very helpful driver took our bags and loaded them into the van. When we arrived at the hotel, it was quite a bit farther than either of us had anticipated, and certainly not walking distance from the train station! It was up a really steep hill and wasn't very well marked...there was no way we would have ever found this hotel by just walking around!

It was just about quarter after 9:00pm when we arrived, and everyone we came into contact with seemed excessively helpful and hospitable. As we were checking in, Kevin discovered that he had lost his wallet somewhere. He searched all of his pockets and all through his bag, but it was nowhere to be found. He alerted the man who had driven us over (who was now checking us in) that his wallet was gone, and the man said that he would check around and see if he could find it. I thought that was very nice, but held out little hope of actually getting the wallet back.

The website had said that if you arrived after 6:00pm, dinner wouldn't be included on your first night, so we didn't expect dinner at all. As for meals in general, I hadn't quite figured out if there was a restaurant or room service or what. So the same guy who drove us from the other hotel and checked us in also helped us up to our room with our bags, then informed us that dinner would be delivered in 15 minutes!

We threw our bags in the corner and before we knew it, two ladies arrived with a cart full of food. One spoke just a little bit of English, and said that she was on a work exchange from China. So we stood back as they started to lay out all this stuff on the table. It started with all these little plates and cups, and a big tea service, then came the food. At first, I was so excited because everything seemed so fancy, and we were obviously in for a very high class meal.

The first thing I saw that they put out was a cooked shrimp. Fine. Then came the raw stuff...and more and more and more raw stuff came out of this cart and onto the table. Having had the big sushi breakfast, I really didn’t want anything else raw, much less an entire table of unidentifiable raw food. Eventually they motioned for us to have a seat at the table, so I sat down and began to get a better look at everything. Everything my eyes landed on, I couldn't identify. I had no idea what any of the fishy type items were, there was nothing "safe" like rice or miso soup, and there was this block of brown gelatinous SOMETHING that I knew I wasn't going to even touch. Then I spotted a big plate with squid laid on top of the other stuff and immediately dismissed any possibility of eating anything on that plate.

Having been a picky eater since birth, this was pretty much my worst food nightmare. I just have some sort of mental block when it comes to eating things that I don't know what they are. I am fine with most new foods so long as I know exactly what it is before I eat it. But if I don't know...I can't eat it. My mind will just not let me put something in my mouth if I don't know what it is.

So as I scanned the table for something...ANYTHING...I would eat, I spotted a piece of raw tuna and grabbed it with my chopsticks. I dipped it in soy sauce and put it in my mouth, but then realized that I had a big, huge, gooey mouth full of raw fish and started to panic. I've just recently started eating sushi, but that much raw fish at once was just too much to handle. I quietly mumbled to Kevin that I didn't want to eat any more raw fish, and that I wasn't hungry, but since this was a meal where the servers sit there and keep feeding you and watch you eat, I knew I couldn't just sit there and not eat. Finally I spotted a bowl of rice, also covered in raw, unidentifiable fish. I pushed the fish aside and got a bite of rice to my mouth, but it tasted horrible.

So I paused for a minute and made another scan of the table, and realized that there was nothing on the table that I would eat. Yet these ladies were like "Here, eat this! Here, eat this!" and I started to panic even more. I just sat the chopsticks down and started to cry since I didn't know what else to do at that moment. Kevin asked me if I was ok, and I just shook my head no. After another moment or two, I felt like I couldn't breathe, so I ended up getting up and walking into the stairwell near our room. I could hear the ladies making a commotion in the room as to why I had left crying. I knew it had to have been just about the rudest thing you can do in that situation, but I couldn't help it.

After a few minutes, I yelled for Kevin to come out into the hall, and I was apologizing as profusely as I possibly could for ruining his meal. He said it was ok, and that he understood how I am about my food, but I still couldn't help but feel like I had ruined the entire evening by panicking over all the unidentifiable food. It was overwhelmingly embarrassing, especially considering how I knew that that type of meal is supposed to be so classy, refined and dignified. After Kevin went back into the room, I could still hear him apologizing to the ladies, and at that point, the man who had driven us over in the shuttle had been called up to the room, which further heightened the embarrassment.

Still flustered and panicky, I went downstairs and hunted for a drink machine since I was thirsty from hyperventilating. Eventually I found one and got a grape Fanta, then went outside through a nearby exit. I took some steps down by the water and sat down to try and calm down. After a minute or two it started to rain, and a lady who worked in the hotel popped outside to talk to me. I didn't understand what she was saying, but undoubtedly it was something like "Why are you sitting in the rain? Please come back inside our posh, luxurious resort."

When the rain got hard enough that I was getting really wet, I went back inside and sat in the lobby. I wasn't sure how long it was going to take Kevin to finish the meal, or if they even finished it for him, but the last thing I wanted was to walk back in while everyone was still there. So I ended up sitting in the lobby just watching the rain for almost an hour and a half. Finally, at a little after 11:00, the staff turned off the lights and closed up the lobby for the night, so I went back to the room. Kevin said that he had loved the meal, but ate "so many things" that he didn't know what they were. I was still just crying and upset, but he assured me that I had not ruined his evening, and that he had enjoyed everything by himself. It took me a while to calm down before I could go to sleep, but I tried to remind myself that we were going to Parque Espana the next day, and that it would be much, much more fun than that night had been.

Go to Day 6 - Parque Espana
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