Japan to Serbia, hitting 50 (and the benefits of age), Trump, Obama, Netflix, and some weird photos from Japan

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tokyo-to-belgrade

December 18, 2016

Greetings from Belgrade, Serbia!

After 7 weeks in Japan we’ve just arrived in Belgrade, which is just about as different as any place could be from Tokyo. Belgrade is gritty, with graffiti, garbage, and stray cats everywhere. And unlike Tokyo, not a public bathroom in sight. But a few days here and we always remember the reasons why we love the Balkans. We’ll be here a few weeks before heading up to Zagreb for Christmas…and then on to Split for the New Year.

I’ll be writing more about Belgrade in the upcoming weeks. I’ve also got a few more posts on Japan. I get a sense that a lot of readers aren’t very interested in Japan (I’d be interested to hear what people have to say on that). I’ll have our own thoughts on our time there once we’ve digested it all.

 

On turning 50 in Japan…and the good thing about getting old.

Just today I found out another downside of getting old: I’m renewing our expat insurance and my broker congratulated me on my birthday while also telling me that my insurance premium has gone up. Thanks asshole.

I used to think that 50 was old. Honestly, I don’t think it’s so different than 35 except that you don’t look so good anymore. Otherwise you sometimes have to pinch yourself to realize you’re now on the downhill slope of your life  – I think most of us mentally think we are much younger than we are. In my mind I’m still somewhere in my late 30’s.  But then Lissette takes a photo like this. Which also reminds me what’s great about getting older…

asleep

The thing about getting older is that you just don’t care anymore. When I was young I was so self-conscious, so shy, that I wouldn’t ever have fallen asleep like this (Lissette says I was snoring). When we are young we worry so much about how we look or what others think of us. I think the best thing about getting older is that you get over that.

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Since I don’t care anymore, here’s another terrible photo. Lissette ” I want to take a photo of you eating that dumpling. Stop moving. No, you weren’t supposed to bite it yet. Stop moving. Just pretend you’re about to bite it…”  That’s how you end up having a stupid photo like this.

eating-japanese-dumpling

 

Another couple of photos from Japan where we did a lot of cultural and pop-culture stuff from going to a Maid Cafe, seeing the crazy show at the Robot Restaurant, taking a Ninja training class, doing karaoke, and getting made up and dressed as a Maiko (similar to a Geisha). Some of our experiences were hit or miss but it was the cultural aspects of Japan that we enjoyed the most during our stay.

Below: At the maid cafe. A disappointment. The maid called me “master”. I could get used to that. But that’s only after she told me that I couldn’t touch her anywhere which only made me feel like a dirty old fart. Anyway, 30 minutes of eating cake served by a girl dressed in a boring maid’s outfit = $40 CAD. We wanted to understand the whole infatuation with maids in Japan but didn’t. Was just incredibly boring. We had a few laughs but only because it was so ridiculous.

dreamin-maid-cafe-tokyo

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Below: These Maid characters were more exciting than the real thing…

maid-characters

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Below: Some kind of soft drink ad. Japan is conservative but you’ll see a lot of this kind of advertising. The Japanese like their young girls in short skirts.

japanese-sexy-characters

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Lissette’s favorite experience in Japan was getting made up as a Maiko. The whole process takes 2 hours, with several coats of makeup and 6 layers of different garments. But it was a learning experience and she had some good laughs with the girls taking care of her. A great cultural experience. We went here to get it done.

dressing-like-a-maiko-in-japan.

We also took a 1 hour Ninja training class where we learned to be assassins. We went here (the only place you can take ninja courses in Kyoto). Very interesting and lots of fun. I now know how to kill someone with chopsticks, something I might try the next time I eat sushi. I’ll write more about that experience soon. We’ve got some video people might find amusing.

ninja-training-in-kyoto

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Nara and its Deer

One of the highlights of our trip to Japan was a visit to the town of Nara. There are some amazing temples, but what makes Nara really unique are the deer all over town. And they’re not nervous – they’ll come up to you for food and eat from your hand. People pet them. We’ve never seen anything like it. I’ll be writing a post on Nara in the near future.

deer-in-nara

 

 

TRUMP (and Obama)

Below: Donald Trump and friends (store in Kyoto)

trump-and-buddies

I was going to write a bit about US politics but I’ve changed my mind. I’m sick of it. I’ve written and warned about Trump. I said over 6 months ago that I’d bet on Trump winning the election. I’m sick of the whining, hand-wringing democrat supporters almost as much as the deluded Trump supporters who actually think that this guy has their interests in heart. I’m also sick of Obama and his lame-ass presidency and I got particularly upset this week watching the US Ambassador to the UN blame everything in Syria on Russia. You’d almost forget about Obama’s famous “red line” and his funding of the rebels (which has only served to prolong the war and suffering of the people). Sick of the preaching and sermonizing of this administration. Who talks of Obama anymore? He’s already forgotten and all the hope and hype from 2008 is but a lost dream….

I think everyone is sick of politics. So I’m going to stick with the positive – how entertaining will it be watching Trump as president? I’m hoping he surprises us all.

trump-in-japan

Above: lady asleep in Kyoto the day after the election…

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Netflix

We’ve been travelling full-time now for 2 ½ years and there are two websites that, for us, have made this life possible: Airbnb (for obvious reasons) and Netflix. We had a large collection of videos when we lived back in Montreal which, obviously, we couldn’t take with us. Even in the crappy little room we had in Thailand we would log in to Netflix and watch a movie or series. Wherever we are it gives us a bit of normalcy, a bit of routine like when we had our own home.

If you’re a Netflix fan you’ve probably noticed they’re doing a lot of their own original series these days. When they started doing that a few years ago we found they were pretty weak (Marco Polo, House of Cards, Lilyhammer) but this year we’ve found they’ve really stepped it up. A few of our favorites from recent months: The Crown, Versailles, Shooter, Marcella, Designated Survivor, Roman Empire: Reign of Blood, Narcos. A few other favorites: The Fall, Bloodlines, Borgia, The Tudors. Netflix is fantastic and only getting better in our opinion with all these series. I’ve only listed their original series above, there are other series like Homeland, The Killing, Gilmore Girls (one of Lissette’s old favorites), Dexter, The Office, Big Bang, Luther, and Mad Men that we always rewatch (one show that we just can’t get into is Breaking Bad).
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We’re always looking for new series so if you have any favorites feel free to comment with any suggestions. We especially like British Crime, Political dramas, and Historical pieces.

* our only frustration with Netflix is that the availability of different series/movies differs wherever you are. My mom has long told me about “The Americans”. We could never get it in Europe but Netflix has it in Japan…we’re now in Serbia and can no longer get it. Rats…

 

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Entry into Serbia…and leaving Japan with a bad taste in the mouth

So, after 7 weeks in Japan we went to Tokyo’s Narita airport last weekend. We ended up with a couple of interesting experiences.

– When checking in at the Turkish Airlines counter, we were asked for an onward ticket out of Belgrade. We didn’t have one. I explained we would take the train out of Belgrade. This seemed to create problems with the staff. Finally, after about 10 minutes of delays, they printed out a couple of forms that they asked us to sign. They were waiver forms that basically said that Turkish Airlines was not responsible for any problems we might encounter upon arrival in Belgrade. We of course started worrying what might happen upon arrival…

– Going through security, Lissette was pulled aside and got a special security search (we call her experience “Tittygate” because they spent a lot of time passing that metal detector over her breasts). Ask anyone how they feel being pulled aside because of the color of their skin and they’ll usually be pretty pissed off. Lissette got pissed off. It was a reminder of the experience she had 8 years ago when we entered Hong Kong. We enjoyed Japan and we especially thought the people were incredibly helpful. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this experience didn’t leave Lissette with a bad taste in her mouth. If you mention it to her she still gets upset…

entry-into-serbia
Roughly 20 hours later we arrived in at Belgrade’s Nikola Testla airport (named after the man who invented electricity). Well, it was the easiest immigration procedure we ever had. Just thought this story might be helpful to anyone entering Serbia on a one way ticket.

 

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That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. Have a great holiday season!

christmas-tree-kyoto-station

 

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Comments

  1. Great recap of your travels! And belated HB as well. It is so much easier to keep in touch on the road culturally then just a couple of years ago. Easy to stay up to date with Netlix, youtube, etc.

    Enjoy the Balkans, let me know if you go to Sarajevo, I have a contact there.
    Gaz recently posted…Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland’s Remote SettlementMy Profile

  2. Welcome to Europe!
    Japan is an interesting country, but seems like a little crazy. I have not been there, but I would like to visit it.
    Victor recently posted…Zell am See, Austria: Après Ski instead of Ski PassMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Japan has so many unique idiosyncrasies, things that make it so different from anywhere else on earth. The people were also really great, very nice and helpful and everything is super efficient. Very interesting country.

  3. Nice round up Frank and belated happy birthday from us as well. A couple of points as usual;

    1) Lack of public toilets is a big moaning subject for me! It basically means you have to walk around Europe slowly dehydrating or go into a bar/cafe and buy a drink in order to use their toilet, which in turns leads to a catch-22 situation. Alternatively, you have to pay and this annoys the crap out of me (pun intended!). I found out that the pay-as-you-go toilet at Victoria station in London makes a profit of GBP£1.4 million a year – A YEAR, that’s insane! Like violence in a multi story car park, it’s wrong on many levels (ha, ha!).

    2) Did you still notice the cigarette ads in Japan? A huge Russian-looking guy in very short shorts and a vest smoking and advertising ciggies – they amused me every time I saw one!!

    3) TV series-wise, try the Knick (American) and Ripper Street (British) if you like period dramas and your mum is right, the Americans is excellent!

    Have a good (I reframe from using the C word). Cheers, Mark
    Mark recently posted…Our Visit to Brest Fortress, BelarusMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks so much Mark!

      I don’t mind paying for toilets, our issue is lack of clean toilets. As a guy it’s not so bad because you can whip it out anywhere but for a woman it’s really not easy. And Lissette has sworn off Balkan buses because they often have no toilets – imagine, you’re stuck in a bus 3-4 hrs and what if you have to go? The word for it is uncivilized, sorry. I don’t care if we have to pay 1 Euro for a clean bathroom, but they should have something. And with the high unemployment rates in the Balkans you’d think someone would think of something like that.

      No, didn’t see any cigarette ad like that but sounds funny. They have some unique advertising in Japan and even packaging is really interesting. For someone in marketing I think they could have a trip to Japan with an emphasis on that alone…

      Thanks for the series suggestions, I’ll look into it.

      Don’t worry about the word Christmas, Trump has made it clear it’s ok to say that again 🙂

      Thanks for the great comment Mark.

  4. I did not add Nara to our itinerary because l knew l wouldn’t like it. I am a big chicken! 🙂 . I would spend the whole time screaming. Spanky looked really nice as a Maiko and you could pull off the Ninja thing..haha! Happy 50th! and you’re right, you care way less. I used to color my hair religiously. Now, l don’t care. Imagine, l could get it done for pennies here in Nigeria..but l can’t be bothered. I actually like the grey..Love, love, love Narcos. I think l get to watch everything as my Netflix is still set to the U.S.never changed the info on the account page 🙂
    Kemkem recently posted…How Sensational is the Chatrium Hotel Riverside Bangkok?My Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Nara was for sure a highlight, the Tōdai-ji temple was our favorite of all the temples we saw in Japan. The Kasuga-taisha shrine also very impressive, it has thousands of beautiful lanterns on its grounds. The deer are very well behaved – the worst thing I saw one do was pluck a map out of this guy’s back pocket and start eating it. Really enjoyed our day there.

      Spanky appreciates your comment Kemkem! She really enjoyed the whole experience, especially getting dressed by the girls. Lots of laughs.

      Is there a way of changing the location to fool Netflix? It would be nice to be able to finish watching the Americans but it seems unless we go back to Japan or Mexico we won’t be able…

  5. Welcome back to Europa. I am looking forward to more posts and impressions from Japan. Personally I hate the deer in Nara (and on Miyajima near Hiroshima) – but then, I guess they can sense that and do not behave well towards me….There is a place in the mountains near Naganao (in Tokakushi) from where a lot of famous Ninjas came. There they built a so-called Ninja house: You have to find your way out through hidden doors, sliding walls, removable floors and such. Great fun! Just some input for your next Japan trip :-)!
    Natascha (from WESTWARDS recently posted…Our budget for 15 days of backpacking in SudanMy Profile

  6. Hello Frank & Lissette,
    I agree with your political comments, but I did and am supporting Trump….anything was preferable than what’s her name….and the “hope and change” never existed in the first place….so lets hope for the best this time around, and that’s my 2 cents contribution.
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I know all about aging, but older than you, I don’t give up and so I care about my looks to keep me young. Imagine I travel alone (sans my husband)…they say I am crazy…well so be it.
    Your comments about the Balkans were interesting. Remember my last email to you, I am already in the planning stages for my trip in May. I remember your posting about the last bus experience in Croatia, but I just called one of the bus companies, and asked about toilets on the buses. The perfectly English speaking Rep said that they do have toilets, A/C and even non smoking (which I hate and then found out that smoking is all over on the trains). I am planning the Dubrovnik-Split-Sarajevo triangle, so your comment about difficulty with connecting to Sarajevo is disturbing to know. It’s my only chance to make it there this time around, so I have to decide. The most complicated issue for me for this trip is getting from Croatia to Romania (going back the 4th year in a row). Although the trip is less than two hours flight, none of the airlines fly direct and the shortest one is about 8 hours? can’t figure out any solution yet.
    Is there a train between Dubrovnik and Split? I thought you were already in Split, could you recommend the Air B&B there? Following my last email about a guide/driver, if you still know anyone or any connection, I would appreciate a feedback.
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.
    Sara Y.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hi Sara,
      Thanks for the comments.

      Politics: I understand what you say about Clinton as well as Obama. Personally I can’t get over Trump and his lies, behaviour, and language. No matter what, I couldn’t have voted for him for those reasons. Having said that, I agree that he’s the best option for “change”, although I’m not convinced that’ll be for the best or the worse. I’m a news junkie though and look forward to a lot of entertainment 😉

      Balkans: We’ve travelled through Croatia and Bosnia by bus and have yet to see toilets in any buses. These are buses taken at bus stations. We must have taken 10 buses and none had toilets. Bus Croatia was the company most used (the buses on that website look a LOT better than anything we’ve seen). When I wrote about the Split – Dubrovnik – Sarajevo triangle I meant by bus. There is no train connecting these cities (only bus). Sarajevo until very recently was connected by train to Zagreb but that just ended (just this month). No international train connections to Sarajevo. This site is the best for train connections between cities. Also, the train service in Croatia ends in Split…no train to Dubrovnik (a 6 hr bus ride from Split which we did. No toilet).
      Lissette hates the toilet-less buses so we try to get around by train/plane. But as you’ve said, links in the Balkans are bad. Last year I rented cars. Yes, I can believe 8 hrs between Croatia and Romania…we went through the same getting to Macedonia (Split to Zagreb, where we waited 4 hrs for the flight to Skopje).

      You mentioned at the time you might be looking at taking a private shuttle service. I just found this. I can’t vouch for it though since we haven’t gotten around in this manner.

      Sorry it’s so complicated. That’s the downside of the Balkans.

      Airbnb in Split: I’m going to write you personally on this Sara.

      Happy Holidays!
      Frank

  7. There are indeed the downsides of aging (choking at my own travel insurance premiums this year since the big 6-OHHH is looming) but I LOVE the upsides including the willingness to take yourself (much) less seriously. Howled at your pics as well as the fact that you put them out there! I’m hoping that I’m gaining a bit of wisdom but what I really see happening is a growing appreciation for new places and experiences, living more in the moment and acting more spontaneously. I see a lot of that kind of thing happening when you write your posts too. 🙂
    I’ve enjoyed your Japanese posts – looks like a whole ‘nother world of quirkiness going on in that country and I love the contrasts between the highly ritualized culture from the past and the downright kitsch of the present.
    As for politics … I’m one of the downtrodden dems looking at the future mess looming with a huge sick feeling and I definitely agree with your assessment of DT. We haven’t turned the TV on since the election although, like you, we’re both news junkies too. At least reading it I can jump between different sources for a more rounded picture and then DELETE when I’ve had enough and move on to Netflix … A big thumbs up there, even with the more limited Portuguese site. 🙂
    Happy Holidays to you and Spanky!
    Anita recently posted…Part Two – Figuring It Out Along The Way – Life In PortugalMy Profile

  8. Wouldn’t mind that maid around me! She doesn’t look Japanese though. I think Japan is worth a visit, but many people might be antsy about the very different culture there.
    Peter Harwerth recently posted…Green ChristmasMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Yes, she’s got a different look. You’ll see them sometimes with slightly darker skin, not your typical look though.
      I get what you say about the different culture. My biggest worries were transportation and just generally finding our way around in a huge place like Tokyo. It was incredibly easy which is what surprised us the most. We had a few “lost in translation” moments though, especially shopping at the grocery store…

  9. great post. Japan is a country of dress ups isnt it? Never went to a Maid Cafe. still kinda of the list i guess. Im not surprised by your reaction. And of course, Happy Birthday – for whenever it was!
    Andrew Boland recently posted…PanAmerica Panorama – GalapagosMy Profile

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