A Wild European Adventure|
Sorry, You're Not My Blood Type
A Wild European Adventure
I left for Berlin via Frankfurt on Wednesday August 19th. The plan was for my wife, Ikuko, to meet me there on the following Monday as she didn't want to have such a long vacation this time. The 10+ hour plane ride to Frankfurt was uneventful since as usual I slept through most of it. I didn't really care for the service on the plane and the movies were dreadful, but I couldn't complain too much since the air fare was free thanks to United's Frequent Flier program.
Frankfurt airport is the largest and busiest in Europe. I thought that it must have been designed by someone with a perchant for mazes and a rather large sadistic streak. Once I finally figured out the way through immigration (which in Europe is basically a ten second stop and if you're lucky a stamp in the 'ol passport) and customs (which in Europe is basically walking through the exit without being asked anything), I was able to find the gate for the flight to Berlin.
It was only a short cab ride from the airport to my hotel which was situated in former East Berlin (Yes, the "evil" Communist side). The hotel was stylish and old with an elegant lobby and a friendly staff. They gave me a spacious room with a little iron balcony which provided a view down a wide boulevard with Brandenburg Gate to my left side and an old cathedral on the right side.
The best thing about my business is that anywhere I go in the world, I have a customer to look up and hopefully hang out with. Berlin was no exception as I was able to meet up with a long term customer who showed me around the city. It also happened that he is a travel agent and helped me set up the hotels in Berlin and the flight and hotels in Warsaw (more on this later).
My friend Bernhard came to visit around 7 Pm. Unlike Tokyo, it didn't get dark in Berlin until about 8:30, so we went for a walk to Checkpoint Charlie. The only remaining portion of this historic area is a small building that was actually used and a replica of the sign advising people of which sector that they were entering. I found it quite fascinating that a modern building was being put up where Check Point Charlie was once was, and that it already had a sign advertising it's web site (www. Checkpoint Charlie).
It was quite a contrast to see the dusty old building and the web site side by side.
Bernhard also showed me some of the remaining sections of the Berlin Wall that we left around the city. He explained that there's a debate going on about what to do with the wall now that the city (and country) have reunited. Most of the wall is quite ugly due to it's age and the layers of paint and other grafitti sprayed over it during the years when the city was separated.
Bernhard suggested some areas to walk around during my next few days in Berlin to get an idea of how the city was and what it is trying to become in the near future. One of the sites he suggested (which I saw the next day) was a small four storey building with a view over Pottsdam Platz. This section of the city was once no man's land where people tried to cross from the East to the West and unfortunately many lost their lives trying to gain freedom.
Pottsdam Platz is now overrun with cranes and construction sites. It's difficult to imagine what it will look like when all the projects are complete, but my guess is that it will be similar to Times Square. Most of Berlin seemed to be under construction while I was there. The German government is due to move back to Berlin in a few years, so they are busy erecting new buildings to house parliment and other government agencies.
The food is Germany was excellent! Sandwiches and crossaints were very popular at cafes which were all over the city. I also truly loved the pastries and various type of chocolates that were available around the city. One of my favorite things I tried was a hot pretzel during a street fair that was giagantic and superb! One of those was enough for a meal AND a snack at the same time.
After a couple of days of hanging out and discovering Berlin with Bernhard, I flew to Warsaw to see another friend. I had met him by email and we were happy to discover we had an instant repoir. He had invited me to visit the city and hang out with him for a few days. I thought this would be a great chance to see the area where my grandparents had come from and finally meet this guy, so I accepted.
Tomislaw met me at the airport and after helping me check into the hotel ("The Forum"), we went out for a drink. Warsaw seems like a city desperately trying to grow and prosper after being bowed and humbled by Communism for so many decades. The downtown area was a bit grey and dull with non despcript buildings everywhere and few cars on the roads. The largest building in the city was the former Government building where the Communists had ruled.
The next day, Tomislaw and I hoped on buses and wore out our shoes running around the city seeing the sites. Unfortunately, he wasn't the greatest tour guide around, his most frequent answer to my questions was "I don't know", but he was trying and this was the first time that he had shown anyone around the city. We visited a huge park, his university, and other sites around the city.
My favorite part of Warsaw was "old town" which was painstakingly rebuilt after the war as a reminder of what buildings and housing had looked like in the pre war years. The entire area of old town seemed to be only a few blocks with most of the highlights centered around a square where there was a castle. Tomislaw informed me that this was the most expensive part of the city and I certainly understood why.
That night, we went to a tiny basement bar to hear some friends in a band of his play live. The music was too loud for that tiny place and not all that professional, but I had a nice time talking with Tomislaw and a couple of his friends who had been waiting for us there. The band dedicated a couple of Zeppelin tunes to friends from long distances which brought a cheer from the enthusiastic crowd.
One thing I noticed about Polish is that it seems to be one of the funniest sounding languages that I've ever heard! I don't know if this perception is due to the fact that I can't understand a word of it (there were a few words in German that were similar enough to English that I could almost understand and written German was even closer), or the fact that everyone sounded like Andy Kaufman's "Latka" from the old American TV show "Taxi".
Tomislaw's parents invited me over to their house for a traditional Polish dinner the next day. It was wonderful to see how real people lived and ate rather than just what I could get in a hotel room. His parents like most around the world (especially mine) were kind and fun to hang out with. His mom made great efforts to speak to me although her English ability was lacking.
I enjoyed Polish dishes of Bigos (which is ham and I think salami cut up and mixed with potatos) and Perogies with bread. I also liked Polish Rum which was quite strong and the ice cream which was some type of vanilla yet rather different.
On Monday evening, I thanked Tomislaw one last time, made him promise that hewould meet me here in Tokyo next year and then flew back to Berlin to meet Ikuko for the REAL start to our vacation.
Ikuko only had one free day in Berlin, so I took her to the major shopping areas of both the former eastern section of the city and the Western section of the city. The difference between the two is like night and day, but I'm sure this will change in a few years. Unfortunately, we got some periodic heavy rains during Ikuko's day in Berlin, but we were able to duck in and out of shops along the road.
The next day, we flew to Dublin via Frankfurt. We were mainly there to see Jimmy Page & Robert Plant live and meet some friends. We checked into the hotel at around 4 Pm and immediately ran into the ring leader of the TBL crew who had flown from London to see the show. He informed us of the meeting place and what was on schedule for the evening.
I decided to head out to meet friends first since Ikuko wanted to rest and have some food. I popped into the hotel bar to see if there was anyone I knew and managed to spot a few guys wearing Zeppelin tshirts. This of course led to a conversation and a drink or two. When I mentioned that I ran a little website called Fisheads International, it turned out that three of the six guys were on my email list and two others on my postal list (small world!).
They were also planning to join the other folks at the meeting place, so we decided to go together. I thought that we were all going to jump in a taxi and zoom right over. Unfortunately, they decided to walk because it was close and easy to get there (famous last words!). About an hour later, we finally jumped into a taxi and the driver told us that we had been going the wrong way the whole time!
I won't bore you all with the details of the show. It was quite good and it was wonderful to see so many old friends, meet a few new ones whom I'd been in touch with for years by email. It was a major league hassle getting a taxi back to the hotel. I can't think of any other city the size of Dublin where so many people were out on a weekday night well after midnight.
The next day we rushed over to the train station to get out to Galway which is a small city on the Western side of Ireland. The 3 hour ride through the Irish countryside provides some of the best scenery I've ever been privelged to view. There were wide open lush green fields surrounded by small stone fences to mark off properties, cows, sheep and every now and again a house in the absolute middle of nowhere. The ride through is so relaxing and amazing that I never wanted it to end.
The city of Galway was absolutely charming and very old fashioned. The narrow cobblestone streets had shops and houses on each side which looked like they could be straight out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. I was a bit surprised to see so many people there, but it seems that Galway is a famous get a way area for people from all over Ireland.
The highlight of our trip to Galway was an all day bus tour which we took the next day. It only seemed to take about a 30 minute drive before the city melted away revealing that lush and empty Irish countryside again. The tour guide was an elderly gentleman who knew plenty of stories and history of the area.
The stops on the tour included 17th century castles, ancient Celtic sites, and these amazing cliffs called the Cliffs of Mohr. It's a bit difficult to describe the cliffs if you haven't seen them, but there is a whole range of them and you can wander around the sides of them for a spectacular view of the 700 foot shear drop into the ocean.
There is one huge stone slab where you can go out and look over the cliffs. Some people walked right up to the edge and have pictures taken in all sorts of death defying positions. It's a good thing no one lost their balance that I saw since there isn't much to grab onto before falling into the ocean.
After our day of sightseeing, we rushed through a secret exit in the hotel which puts you right on the train platform. We had less than 4 minutes to catch the train by the time we had checked out of the hotel, but luckily the crowd of people trying to get on prevented us from missing it.
We were heading back to Dublin for the final few days of our vacation. We had tickets to attend this massive concert that day, but it turned out that there was no way to get to the site since all the trains and buses had left earlier and they wouldn't allow cars to park there. It was really too bad that we missed it since Ikuko had very much wanted to see one or two of the groups. I'll have to make it up to her by taking her to see them when they play here (hopefully sometime soon!).
Our last days of vacation were spent shopping and seeing the sites such as St. Patricks Cathedral. Luckily, Dublin is an easy city to get around on foot and has plenty of places for tourists to see. We managed to hook up with another long term customer in Dublin for a couple of drinks on our last night in the city.
We then flew home via Frankfurt where we stayed one night since we couldn't make the connection for the Tokyo flight. I had wanted to see the city but I was so tired and it was already five Pm by the time we checked into the hotel near the airport. We ended up just having a nice dinner and watching tv for a few hours.
The jet lag has gotten to us a bit, Chibi seemed not to recognize us at first (she remembers us now - it took a few hours!!), and business seems ready to explode with orders, in other words things are back to normal at least for us. I hope this long account of a fantasic trip didn't bore everyone too much!
Sorry, You're Not My Blood Type
While medical experts have insisted for years that there is no correlation between character and blood type, many Japanese remain hooked on the idea. Matchmaking agencies often weed out potential partners on the basis of blood type and in tabloids it is used to chart the ebb and flow of celebrity fortunes. It is also the most vital statistic in profiles of up and coming stars.
"I would never develop a long term relationship with a "B", said Yoshiko Yamazaki, a boutique owner in Tokyo owner in Tokyo with type A blood. "They're so tiresome. Bs tend to be sloppy., so I'd always have to clean up after their dirty underwear". She admitted that being A was an occupational hazzard for her. "Fashion is an overwhelmingly B dominated industry" she said.
Blood can affect a person's employment prospect - some company divisions are said to be staffed entirely by people of the same blood type.
"It's a modern superstitution", said Hiroyoshi Ishikawa, a professor of social psychology at Seijo university. "But it's also a powerful social lubricator. Talking about blood type is the easiest way to establish contact with a stranger".
There is consensus on the broad outlines of blood characteristics: people with type A are nit pickers, but like to please others; Bs tend to be pushy, free wheeling and raucous; and Os are highly motivated., driven you might say, and intent on controlling group situations. ABs are a budle of contradictions, but there are thought to produce original ideas.
According to the Japan Red Cross Central Blood Center, about 40 percent of Japanese have type A blood, 30 per cent are O, 20 percent are B, and 10 percent are AB.
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