Tuesday/ new trains, new stations

I have been to Hong Kong many times, and there is always a new construction project, or an extension of the subway rail network to check out.
The new high-speed rail link between Hong Kong and Guangzhou in mainland China opened in Sept 2018, after many years of delays.
Unfortunately my American passport is not much help to get me into the new train and across the border! Aargh.  I would need a confirmed itinerary/ formal invite for a visa, which takes FOUR business days. I will be gone by then – and it’s too much effort for a jolly ride, anyway.

Slide 1 of 4: This is the 615 m/ 0.38 mi walk from the Marriott top left, to the new-ish Sai Ying Pun station (opened in 2015). The 200 m/ 0.13 mi to the green bubble where the train stops, is an underground pedestrian tunnel.  Yes, it’s a little walk to get there, but once there, there are 93 destination stations on 11 lines to choose from .. for only for a few dollars!
Slide 2 of 4: The entrance & exit B3 to Sai Ying Pun station. There are several others scattered around the station. The apartment tower was built along with the station entrance.
Slide 3 of 4. (Successfully took a picture without dropping my new phone into the abyss). It takes three escalators (or the elevator) to get to the bottom of the pedestrian tunnel that goes to the train station. There is also a spiral staircase winding around the escalators: a means to get into or out of the station during a local power failure.
Slide 4 of 4. The pedestrian tunnel that goes to the train station.
Here is the cavernous inside of the departure lounge at the brand new Hong Kong West Kowloon station, the terminus of the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link. Those pillars are just enormous, and the roof with its skylights is at least 6 storeys up.
I did not have access to the platform to check out the train, but here is a photo from Wikipedia. This is train G6581, getting ready to leave Guangzhou South, bound for Hong Kong West Kowloon, on the first day of running on the Hong Kong section in September. These trains are built in China.
Mickey Mouse in the arrivals hall of the Hong Kong West Kowloon station, beckoning to travelers to visit Hong Kong Disneyland. I think he looks very cute, and is doing a great job.
Hey! And above ground, the 110-year old tram system on Hong Kong Island is still going strong. Fares are now HKD 2.60 (33 cents US), up from HKD 2.00 (26 cents) ten years ago. Got to pay the bills, right? This was on New Years Eve, with the trams on a modified schedule. All these were heading out in quick succession to pick up people that wanted to travel to the city center.
This pedestrian subway tunnel under Salisbury Road by Victoria harbor was nicely remodeled as well. Pressing the camera shutter makes for instant abstract art!

Sunday/ arrival in Hong Kong

It was well after 1 am this morning when our delayed flight finally left Perth, and the flight arrived an hour late into Hong Kong this morning as well.
I took the Airport Express to Hong Kong Island, and the Marriott hotel’s front desk checked me in – even though it was barely 10 am!  So I could take a little catnap before going out into the city for a bit.

Here’s our Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 bird on short finals approach, ready for touching down on the runway at Hong Kong airport at about 8.30 am.
The Airport Express ride into Hong Kong Station on Hong Kong Island is about 24 mins. We’re approaching Tsing Yi Station here.
This giant electronic billboard is outside the SOGO Department Store at the Causeway Bay Station.
The happening place at sunset was the promenade by the Hong Kong Cultural Center, overlooking Victoria Harbor towards Hong Kong Island. The Central Plaza skyscraper (78 storeys, completed 1992) is reflecting sunlight onto the water. The Hong Kong Convention Center is in front of it. On the right is the IFC (International Finance Center) tower, the city’s second tallest at 415 m/ 1,362 ft (88 storeys, completed 2003).

Saturday/ ready for the red-eye to Hong Kong

I’m taking a red-eye flight to Hong Kong tonight, to stay there over New Years Eve, and for another day or two.

Here’s a new A$50 that landed in my wallet; it features David Unaipon, indigenous Australian of the Ngarrindjeri people, a preacher, inventor and author. The polymer note has all kinds of security features, and four birds of which only three are visible. Green swan, white swan, flying bird above it, and the fourth one is only visible under UV light. How come the USA has such blah banknotes?
I love this cartoon that appeared in today’s The Australian’s Weekend Edition. The cartoonist is Jon Kudelka.
This Instagram picture was taken in March by Tom Cannon, but was also printed in the newspapers as one of the top tourist pictures of the year. Coral Bay is some 1,100 km/ 700 mi up north the coast of Western Australia from Perth. (It’s an optical illusion; the fish did not ram the boat).

Thursday/ last day by the Bay

Our time is running short here at the resort by Geographe Bay.
There is a nice walk & bike track that runs along the beach. For me, it’s hard to just walk, though, and not stop and investigate the sounds and glimpses of the exotic birds in the bushes.

Here’s the late afternoon scene outside our resort: a nice walk & bike track that goes on for miles, a sandy dune, and the beach nearby. That’s Geographe Bay, tranquil with great swimming and snorkeling, and not as much to offer to surfers and paddle boarders.
This is a young red-capped parrot (Purpureicephalus spurius), native to this southwest corner of Western Australia. This one still has a greenish plumage overall, but before long it will sport a bright crimson crown (same color as its leg feathers), and yellow cheeks.
Yes, this fella is an oh-so-cute little wabbit – BUT WAIT:  it is an European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). They were first brought to Australia by the First Fleet in 1788, and have become a serious invasive species and pest, since then. They do serious damage to crops, and destroy food supplies critical to native species.

Monday/ Gnarabup beach & Boranup forest

On Monday we went to the beach for a bit, and then stopped at a viewpoint in Boranup forest.

Here’s Gnarabup beach (the ‘g’ is silent). The jetty in the distance is for jet skis and sea kayaks, and not for fishing boats. It was a little windy, but the water temperature was great for swimming.
This is Boranup Forest between Margaret River and Augusta. It is a karri forest (type of eucalyptus tree) with towering trees, but also with ferns on the forest floor.
It’s a long way up! Some 50 m/ 150 ft to the top of the tree canopy.

Sunday/ the Busselton jetty

We walked out to the very end of the long Busselton jetty today. There is a little train and an undersea viewing area as well, but maybe we will do that next time.

The current incarnation of the Busselton jetty. The original jetty’s construction began in 1865. Yes, that’s a little red train, that runs on tracks to the end of the jetty. It’s 1.84 km/ 1.2 mi long to the very end.
A little pied cormorant or kawaupaka (Microcarbo melanoleucos) on wood beams next to the pier. The bird is a diver, finding prey on the sea floor in shallow waters.
Looks like these silver gulls (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae) are getting ready to turn in and get a little sleep, even though it was only 6 pm. This the most common gull seen in Australia.
Here comes the electric train called the ‘Stocker Preston Express’. It’s really not an express train. It runs only barely faster than one can walk!.
The distance sign at the very end of the pier. Cape Town is 8,647 km (5,372 mi) away. Seattle is 15,021 km (9,334 mi) away!

Saturday/ to Busselton

Busselton (pop. 38,289) is 222 km (138 mi) south of Perth.
Our pit stop at the air-conditioned Crooked Carrot Cafe.  Its roof is outfitted with solar panels. Those at the back are eucalyptus (blue gum) trees, native and widely cultivated in Australia, but considered an invasive plant elsewhere in the world.

The five of us – my brother & his family, and I – packed up the SUV and made our way down to the town of Busselton on Saturday. We are going to stay there, on the southwestern Australian coast, over Christmas.

On the way there the car’s temperature gauge reported 42°C/ 108°F! .. but the high temperatures at the coast should be much more moderate, in the order of 27°C/ 80°F.

Thursday/ Perth downtown

I took the train from Bull Creek Station to Perth Underground station today – it’s only 11 minutes.

The Western Australian economy must have picked up steam the last two years, because there is a lot of new construction going on in downtown Perth.

Here is the landmark Bell Tower (built 1999), surrounded by the Elizabeth Quay construction which is coming along, but not quite completed yet. Those oval towers on the far left are the The Towers at Elizabeth Quay, and offers 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments for sale. The 3-bedrooms go for AU$1.2 million (US$ 860,000).
This lime-green Lamborghini (‘Lambo’) in front of the Louis Vuitton store has a plate that says ‘BOTOX’ .. is it a tongue-in-cheek joke? Does the owner love Botox? I don’t know.
Here is the old Perth Palace Hotel on the corner of William St and St George’s Terrace (built in 1897 during the Australian gold rush). Behind it is the BankWest Tower, completed in 1989 ‎(52 floors, 214 m / 702 ft).
I found this opal watch at the Perth Mint. Nice to look at, I’m not sure I like it well enough to wear it on my wrist.
Here is the mail man (in the neon green), about to stop at the gate of the annex (the white building) to St Mary’s Cathedral. It was warm today: 33 °C/ 92°F.
The gorgeous building of the Criterion Hotel, formerly the Regatta Hotel, is a hotel in Perth, Western Australia. It is the only remaining Art Deco hotel in the Perth Central Business District. [Source: Wikipedia].

Wednesday/ arrival in Perth

It was 5 hrs from Tokyo to Hong Kong, and 7 hrs from there to Perth, due south from Hong Kong.

I made it in to Perth late on Tuesday night.  The passport checkpoint is automated: a machine scans the picture page, and then a camera takes a face picture.  I am sure while all this is happening, the computer runs a database & records check, and that a human will show up if everything does not check out!

Here is the observation deck at Narita Airport’s Terminal 2, at 7 am in the morning. I am about to go to the gate for my flight to Hong Kong.
This is the connection at Hong Kong airport. We are just boarding Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A350 for the flight to Perth. The big old Rolls Royce engine will work for 7 hours to get us there.
Here is the view from the tail camera shortly after take-off in Hong Kong. Down below is the Stonecutters Bridge, a high level cable-stayed bridge. It has a very long cable-stayed span: the third longest in the world.

Early Tuesday morning/ at Ueno Station

I am at Ueno Station, on my way to Narita airport to catch the Cathay Pacific flight to Perth. I had planned to take the local subway (the Ginza line), to get here, only to find that my station of departure at the hotel, was closed until 5.40 am. (Then how come the train schedule showed its first train departs at 5.18 am? Oh well).  So I just took a taxi here.

You know you are at the right place when there is a big old aeroplane and a sign that says ‘Narita airport’.
The station for the Keisei Skyliner express train is still a little rough around the edges! .. but hey, here is the train waiting. The doors will open in 20 minutes or so, then I can board.
Here is another train that just came in on the opposite platform.

Monday/ there it is: Mt Fuji

The Tokyo Skytree is the tallest freestanding broadcasting tower in the world. The lines for its public observation decks were short today, and so, up I went.  The view of Mt Fuji in the distance, blanketed in snow, and floating above the clouds and the Tokyo skyline, was wonderful to see.

This is Asakusa station at the end of the Ginza line, on the way to Skytree. The Ginza line opened in 1928 and is the oldest subway line in Asia. Its stations have been upgraded many times, of course. Most of the stations have safety fences with sliding doors installed now, such as these at this station.
Outside the Asakusa station, at the start of the Azumabashi bridge. It’s still about 2.2 km (1.4 mi) to Skytree. I walked half the way, and then took the Skytree line the rest of the way.
Built in 2011, Tokyo Skytree is the 2nd tallest structure in the world at 634 m/ 2,080 ft. Only the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at 829.8 m/2,722 ft, is taller. The first observation deck is at 350 m, with a second smaller one at 450 m. I went to both (of course).
Here is a naked-eye view towards Mt Fuji (the highest point in white, left on the horizon). The Sumida river is in the foreground. The golden ‘head of foam’ of Asahi beverage company’s headquarters stands out among the shades of grey.
Here is the view of Mt Fuji and the skyline below it from the 450 m deck, drawn closer by my camera’s zoom lens, and with the contrast bumped up. I noted some of the tallest buildings in the skyline. Mt Fuji (‘Fuji-San’) is an active volcano* about 100 km (62 mi) southwest of Tokyo. *Last eruption 1707 to 1708.
Boo! The photo frame on the 350 m deck. Tough to get a good picture with that harsh bright background. My phone’s little flashlight was not quite up to the challenge.
Look at these guys, suspended in a box from the window washing crane outside the 450 m deck! They did double duty as window washers AND as Santas, waving at the kids inside.

Sunday/ the Nozomi Super-Express Shinkansen

It was finally time for me to try one of the other express trains (besides the Narita Express that I had taken several times to and from the airport). I picked the Nozomi (のぞみ, meaning ‘wish’ or ‘hope’) Super Express – the fastest of the fast bullet trains – running on the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen lines.

The ride to Shin-Yokohama station towards the south of Tokyo Bay takes only 20 minutes. We started out in Tokyo, made a quick stop at Shinagawa station a few minutes later, and then the Super Express could express itself and pick up speed.

Going, going, gone! I stood at the end of the platform at Shin-Yokohama, and as the train on the opposite track slid out of the station & picked up speed, I took a series of pictures. The front and the back end of the train both have the sleek bullet nose. This train is the N700 series, and they reach speeds of 300 km/h (186 mph).
Here is the inside. A cool musician dude with a black hat and jacket is stowing his guitar as we all get settled in at Tokyo Station.
We are approaching Shinagawa, and I was able to catch a glimpse of the new station under construction on the Yamanote Line. Its name will be Takanawa Gateway. The station is set to open between Shinagawa and Tamachi in the spring of 2020, in time for the Olympic Games.
Urban area flashing by as we go on to Shin-Yokohama. The homes on my street on Capitol Hill in Seattle are close to one another, but these are packed in even tighter!
A picture of the beast at rest. As it approaches the station, there is an announcement, and a flashing message on the overhead boards: ‘Train Approaching’. If you stand on that yellow line, oblivious, as the Super Express swooshes in, you are GOING TO SPILL YOUR COFFEE! Or DROP YOUR PHONE!

Saturday/ skyscrapers west of Shinjuku Station

I went out to Shinjuku Station today to Tokyo’s skyscraper district, west of the station.  I took a little break after lunch and went back early in the evening, to take a few pictures of the billboards and neon signs.
Man! There is a lot of people out and about on a Saturday night – what a surprise, right?

Here is the Shinjuku building of Kogakuin University (completed 1989, 29 floors). The blues and grays complement each other nicely.
The Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower is just across the street, and home to three educational institutions. Completed in 2008 and 50 storeys (204 m/ 670 ft) tall, its architectural style is called ‘Deconstructivism’. (The design brief called for a building that is anything but rectangular). The architect used white aluminum strips and dark blue glass to make the cocoon.
Here is the entrance to the south of the cocoon. I guess the architect thought: oh well, we have a cocoon, why not throw in a geodesic dome at its base as well? ( ! ).
Here’s lunch today, from a franchise called Soup Stock Tokyo. It’s chicken & veggie curry and rice, bisque soup and iced tea (with tiny cubes). It was spectacular .. I was SO hungry and SO tired as I sat down and scarfed it all up.
Here is a street corner close to Shinjuku station decked out with billboards and neon signs. Shinjuku is a happening place on a Saturday night: beer halls, restaurants, pachinko parlors, karaoke bars, upscale stores and not-so-fancy stores, department stores and more.
A colorful restaurant on one of the side streets. It was still early, so not many people in the street, but the hostess is ready to beckon them in. I suspect those scooters are for take-out food delivery.
And here is a Godzilla installation at the IMAX movie theatre. I’m sure it is to advertise Godzilla King of the Monsters, due out in summer of 2019.  The heroine with the sword must be from a different movie.

Friday/ Yodobashi Camera & Ginza

First on my agenda today, was to buy a train ticket to get me back to Narita airport in a few days. Since the first Narita Express will not get me there early enough, I have to take the Skyliner Express, which runs out of Ueno Station on the Keisei Line.

Then I ran out to the Yodobashi Camera store in Akiba. I love that place! LOL. Just beware: the store’s theme song will stay in your head, long after you had left. Its words are set to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and sung in an animated voice:
Marui midori no Yamanotesen (‘The round green Yamanote Line’)
Mannaka tooru no wa Chu-ousen (‘What goes through the middle of it is the Chuo Line’)
Shinjuku nishiguchi eki no mae (‘In front of the west exit of Shinjuku Station’)
Kamera wa Yodobashi ka me ra! (‘[For] cameras it’s Yodobashi Ca me ra!)’

Finally, I walked around the Ginza shopping district a bit, to watch the streetlights come on, and storefronts get lit up, as the sun was setting.

Ueno Station is by Ueno Park, a spacious public park with lots of big ginkgo trees. So the ginkgo leaves on the fence posts along the street is a nice touch.
Ueno Station is on the famous green (its color on maps) Yamanote loop line, operated by East Japan Railway Company (JR East). Akihabara is the stop for the big Yodobashi Camera store (there are other locations as well).  This photo is of the Tokyo Station stop, close to my hotel.
Once I am in the Yodobashi Camera store, and I check out all the home electronics, and Canon cameras and lenses, and Seiko watches, and the toys on Floor 6, AND that rousing theme song plays, I just kind of go: yes! you can take all my money! I don’t care! -you sell so many cool things, and I want to buy all of them! This one I will buy in the United States, though: an LED retro bulb (¥1740 equals US$13), that one can use with a dimmer switch. I would love to have one for my nightstand.
Now to the Ginza district. On the left is Ginza Place (completed 2016), with its white façade of 5,000 aluminum panels. Kitty corner from it is the Wako Department Store, built in neoclassical style in 1932, with its Seiko clock.  It is one of only a few buildings in the city of Tokyo that survived World War II.
This golden retriever pooch with his Christmas garb and soft fur, charmed everyone on the sidewalk and in the store that they went into.
This store, lit up in red from the inside for Christmas, is the headquarters of Tasaki, one of Japan’s premier jewelers.
And here is Fendi (the white corner section), the Italian luxury fashion house, founded in 1925 in Rome.
I had to check into the Noritake store (porcelain wares), but did not buy another coffee mug or dish (I have many already). These are figurines called Hina Dolls (price ¥75,600/ USD 655 .. the artist must have used gold powder paste for the gold). In Japan, young girls are celebrated on Mar 3, called the Peach Festival (also Doll’s Festival). The festival is a wish for their happiness and healthy growth as they grow up.
One of the side streets out of the main street, called Miyuki-Dori. The bird on the lamppost banner is the Fenghuang, a bird from East Asian mythology that reign over all other birds.
This matrix of mannequins is on the first floor of the Uniqlo flagship stoor. I’m on the second floor, with a glass section that provides a view to down below.

Thursday/ arrival in Tokyo

Whew – I made it into the Marriott Courtyard here at Tokyo Station. The flight on All Nippon Airlines was uneventful*, as was the express train ride into the city.

After that, I had to work a little to make my way to the hotel with all my luggage. The express train platform is five floors down from street level, deep under the sprawling Tokyo Station complex.

*I forgot to take my large camera out of my big bag as I checked it in. So I fretted that the camera might get damaged by the baggage handling process, or frozen while in the cargo hold .. but it seems to have survived just fine.

Our flight path had us skirt Juneau and Anchorage to their south, fly north over the Aleutian Islands, and over the Kamchatka Peninsula (part of the Russian Far East). Here is the view from the window, just as we started crossing over Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands.
We are just pulling into the gate at Narita’s Terminal 1, next to an aircraft that looks like ours. It was cloudy, rainy and 46 °F/ 8 °C. Tokyo’s latitude of 35° is a little further south on the globe than Seattle’s 47°.
Here’s a billboard with the Narita Express train that I took into the city. JR stands for Japan Rail and not for John Ross (the villain in ‘Dallas’). The beautiful red-brick Tokyo Station building is where I ended up from the airport. The original Station building was completed in 1914. Lately it underwent a 5½-year renovation, and reopened in 2012, restored inside and out.

Wednesday/ at the airport

I made it to the airport. We will board in 30 mins or so.
It’s great to get to this point!  Just to get packed up and the house taken care of before a long trip, leaves me frazzled. But now I can relax a little.

Here’s the engine and tail of Xiamen Air, based in Xiamen, China (across from Taiwan, on the mainland). This is a Boeing 787-8, and I believe it flies the Xiamen-Shenzhen-Seattle route. That’s a symbolic egret on the tail.
Here’s Hainan Air taxiing for take-off to either Beijing, or Shanghai. This is a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner that was made in Charleston, SC. (I looked up its details on planespotters.net with the registration number: B-7667).

Tuesday night/ my bags are packed ..

.. well, almost. I’m heading out to Tokyo in the morning, as part of my itinerary to get me to Perth, Australia, in a few days.

It’s great to have a direct flight from Seattle to Tokyo, but then: there is only Pacific Ocean between the two cities (unless one can make a stop on those Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska!). I’m going to cross the international date line on the way there and fly right into Thursday afternoon in Japan .. but I will get the time back on my return.

Sunday/ a nice start to Fall

It was a beautiful first day of fall here in Seattle, with puffy white clouds in a blue sky and mild temperatures (65 °F/ 18 °C).  I went down to South Lake Union for just a bit, and took the streetcar and No 8 bus back up to Capitol Hill.

I used the convex traffic mirror on the corner of Roy St and Westlake Ave N to take this ‘selfie’ of the South Lake Union streetcar. ‘South Lake Union to downtown Vancouver BC in about an hour’, says the Kenmore Air seaplane advertising painted on the streetcar. That’s not bad – much quicker than flying commercial out of Sea-Tac!

Saturday/ cruise ships

Fall has started, and the cruise ship season is winding down. (The last sailing from Seattle is Oct 10). Friends of ours left on a cruise this afternoon from the Smith Cove cruise terminal. Bryan and I went there to wave them goodbye – but we could not get quite close enough to the pier!  We settled for views of the cruise ship departures from the Elliott Bay marina.

Our friends are on the Ruby Princess on the left (built 2008 for $400m; capacity 3,600 passengers). She was setting sail for San Diego. On the right is the MS Eurodam (built 2007; capacity 2,100 passengers). She was setting sail for Alaska.
Here is the Ruby Princess shortly after she had set sail at 4 pm. She is heading north towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca, to get into the Pacific Ocean.

Tuesday/ Vienna is tops (says The Economist)

Hmm .. I see The Economist has given Vienna the nod as the world’s ‘best city’ to live in. (Melbourne had been at the top of the list for seven straight years). No American city made the top 10 .. but of course: Seattleites scoff at the notion that Vancouver is better than Seattle. That number 6 pointer on the map should move south to just below the Canadian border!

[Graphic from Die Burger newspaper] ‘Everyone wants to live in Vienna’. The grading of the cities were determined by Stability (25%), Education (10%), Health (20%), Infrastructure (20%), Culture and Environment (25%).
Ah, Vienna: the City of Music. Here’s a picture I took in December 2008, of the majestic Vienna Rathaus (City Hall), all decorated for the Christmas market. (My colleagues and I were working in on a project Bratislava, Slovakia – just across the Danube river – at the time). We milled around with the crowds, and had some great glühwein!