Let’s visit the Netherlands! (30 April–5 May 2015) – Day 3: Gouda, Den Haag, Madurodam and Rotterdam

I know that I haven’t been updating this blog for a very long time – entries have been far and few between. Still, this blog isn’t dead yet and I’d be providing updates from time to time.

Today’s entry would be about the city of Gouda – famed for cheese and a sweet Dutch treat, stroopwafel!

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This is Gouda station. There’s a small Albert Heijn kiosk there with a rude cashier there but I won’t dwell on that.

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More canals.

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I came to Gouda to buy stroopwafels. There are several stores selling the real deal but I went for this one:

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I’m telling you – nothing beats the original stroopwafel fresh from the griddle! Stroopwafels are kinda chewy and gooey when still warm and the syrup just flows from the centre but not so viscous so as to dribble down your hand. You won’t want to eat the store-bought stroopwafel after this!

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Next stop – Den Haag (The Hague). The International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court is situated here.

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Trams in Den Haag. This is on the Green Line – Scheveningen Noorderstrand. These rolling stock GTL look pretty old (which they actually are).

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Statue of William 1 of Orange (or William the Silent), Prince of Orange (not to be confused with William 1, King of the Netherlands – the king who lost Belgium).

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Time for a quick snack! It’s not yet herring season but I’d love to try the Hollandse Nieuwe!

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I ordered a ‘broodje haring’ – raw herring and raw onions slapped in between an ordinary slab of bread. You may be wondering how it tastes like – it’s creamy (even without additional condiments) but not too salty. The raw onions weren’t designed to mask the fishy smell – in fact it complements the entire package well. I would have ordered another bun but quickly thought that traveling alone meant that I could not risk getting diarrhea or something like that. 

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Den Haag Chinatown

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I’d have spent more time in Den Haag as it was a surprisingly lovely place to visit. Where Eindhoven is a provincial city, Den Haag is bustling enough to be lively yet not too large so as to create the impression of being smothered by crowds of people.

It was getting late and I decided to leg it to Madurodam:

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What do we have here? Holland in miniature form! And it’s not Lego city – it’s an actual representation of Holland within a reasonably large funfair-like ground, replete with moving vehicles, bridges and with live fishes and canals.

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These fish are not really all that big…

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It’s great fun waiting for the trains to make a loop around its circuit.

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Real life tulips in a small patch.

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There’s just enough time to travel to Rotterdam which is just some ways south of Den Haag. Honestly, I have no idea what to do in Rotterdam but would just try my luck there.

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I had wanted to visit De Kuip Stadion but decided against going too far when there’s a Feyenoord club shop here within Centraal Station.

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Nice walk along beautiful streets of Rotterdam:

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Markthal Rotterdam (Markethall)

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Erasmus Bridge.

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That’s a long, tiring day. The next day would be filled with tulips and gardens which brings peace to the mind and, if you think so as well, soul.

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Let’s visit the Netherlands! (30 April–5 May 2015) – Day 2: Alkmaar, Eindhoven and Maastricht (Part 2)

 

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After a most delightful noon at the Philips Stadion with the legends of PSV (goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen lifting the European Cup (now Champions League) in 1988 and also Romário), it’s  time to visit Eindhoven and see what the city has to offer.

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The imposing Augustijnenkerk.

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Sint-Katharinakerk dominates the Eindhoven central landscape.

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Eindhoven city centre. The government are obviously football fans too.

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Some more pics of Eindhoven. It’s a modern city – quite unlike the other typical Dutch cities with waterways and canals dotting the built-up areas. Strangely, I felt that the city lacked a soul, save for the PSV stadium.

From here onwards, I have a dilemma. It was already almost 3pm and I have enough time to go to one more location. Since I could realistically go a bit further south, I decided to visit Maastricht.

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On the way, we passed by the small city of Sittard.

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I don’t know if this is Offermans Joosten Stadion stadium (home of Fortuna Sittard) since I snapped a pic of it on the train and have no time to take well-positioned shots for comparison. I’m aware that their old home, de Baandert is no longer in use.

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Maastricht is very far south, close to the border with Germany and Belgium.

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From the railway station, you’d need to walk rather far to access the ancient city. Keep walking along the Stationstraat and you’d end up at the Roman bridge.

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It’s quite a distance, though, so be prepared to spend some time.

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This is the old part of Maastricht.

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Basiliek van Onze-Lieve-Vrouw (Basilica of Our Lady).

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Lots of old buildings..

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Scenic views along the River Maas. This place is a definite contrast with Eindhoven. If possible, I’d surely visit this city again – just to explore the historical aspect of it.

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For now – it was an exhausting first full day in the Netherlands. The next day would be equally tiring, but would be a sweet experience. I think you could almost smell the syrup…

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Let’s visit the Netherlands! (30 April–5 May 2015) – Day 2: Alkmaar, Eindhoven and Maastricht (Part 1)

 

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I know this trip has become old news due to my tardiness. So, I’m trying to finish sharing the pictures by cutting down the small talk and getting right to the action moving forward.

Since I arrived at Amsterdam rather late the day before, I was only able to visit the city center and visit the funfair, taking a few pictures.

Back in my hotel room, I had to plan very quickly as to how I would maximize my time. I’d definitely need to go to Eindhoven to buy the PSV kits since that was my primary objective here. Incidentally, the next day is Friday as well and my handy travel guide says that Alkmaar has a cheese market every Fridays. Well, why not…

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I was having accomms at Schiphol so I have to rely on token common sense to get me to Alkmaar.

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Heemskerk is the hometown of Arthur Numan and Rafael van der Vaart of the Dutch national football team but I don’t have the time to singly make a dedicated visit there. Instead, I’d pass thru Zaandam which is the birthplace of Ronald Koeman.

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The entire journey north to Alkmaar takes approximately 45 mins, and it was a rather dull ride. We passed by places like Uitgeest and Castricum which I’ve not heard of of before.

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But Alkmaar is a welcome sight when we drew to the station. It’s a lovely city.

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Fear not if you arrive at Alkmaar not knowing where the Cheese market is – you would be able to see lots of helpful signposts guiding you along.

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This is the ‘Grote or Sint-Laurenskerk’ – a prominent landmark of Alkmaar.

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Good day for a visit!

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This is the city hall / stadhuis. I had trouble fitting the entire dimensions into the now-technically limited iPhone 5.

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After much walking, I’m here at the Waag building – the site of the Friday Cheese market.

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Taking a look at the cheese auction. I read that it is the entire thing is just for show now.  It is possible to assume better vantage spots at the shops nearby in case you are not as tall as the average tourist.

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More pictures of Alkmaar.

In my view, the distance from the railway station is rather far – just to manage your expectations. Walking around the Netherlands is roughly the same sort of thing unless you’d rather rent a bike.

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I spent a rather long time in Alkmaar and thought not to stay for brunch. Instead, I’d be making the arduous trip down south to Eindhoven. On the way, I’d pass thru Utrecht and den Bosch which I don’t plan to drop by for a quick visit. When you are a PSV fan, you’d instantly know that the long wait to reclaim the Eredivisie title means that you’d not waste anymore time in getting the kits to commemorate the victory.

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This-is-Eindhoven!

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I know where to go – the Philips Stadion. Look at all the buntings celebrating PSV’s latest triumph.

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As I approach the stadium, it feels…strange. I have only ever visited Highbury from the outside and even then I didn’t enter the club shop since it was closed on that day roughly 10 years ago. But now – the PSV store beckons!

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This is the great Mr. PSV – Willy van der Kuijlen!

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Alright – here we go..

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Championship souvenirs – mugs, caps, scarves and geeky glasses. PSV’s last season with Nike means that all their old kits are valuable in my eyes. I cant understand why Umbro has been chosen as sponsor of the 2015/2016 season. Their kits suck – British kits suck.

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Ik hou van PSV Eindhoven!

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I spent around €150 on the lovely blue 3rd kit, the home kit (only XXL size left T T), a mug, some PSV flags, and a lanyard.

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That figure also includes stamping my name and chosen number on the 3rd kit. See that unique PSV numbering style?

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This is the Eredivisie-title winning team for 2014/2015. One of the best teams PSV had in over a decade – and now disintegrated by Man Ure and Newcastle United. PSV will thrive though – we just beat Man Ure 2-1 in the Champions League.

Finally –  a long-held wish came true – a visit to Eindhoven and to Philips Stadion!

(More of Eindhoven and Maastricht in a following post)

 

 

 

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Let’s visit the Netherlands! (30 April–5 May 2015)–Day 1: KL to Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam (Schiphol and Amsterdam Centraal)

 

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I was mortified to note that my last post was on 30 August last year. Now, don’t imagine for a second that this blog is dead and buried. It’s just that nothing terribly interesting has been happening at all – still haven’t met the girl that I could love unconditionally, ordinary work schedules drowning me, people around me are still not as inspirational as ever.  The list goes on and on. 

This was the second time I traveled alone to a foreign country – the first was to Japan.

I could write lengthy discourses on the benefits of traveling alone but the first one is this – if ever I screwed up my trip, it was my fault and I would have to take responsibility entirely. People all their lives seldom want to take responsibility for themselves and so, is a trait which I don’t want to be associated with.

The second one would be the need to engage my brains constantly. Third – I’m apprehensive of traveling with just about anyone. Past trips to France a decade ago and Singapore last year confirmed that we see the worst in friends during trips. I so hate people screaming at me when I’m driving.  Fourth – I could go to anywhere I want and at anytime. Rain or shine, I don’t need particularly long stops or lazing around in a café.  I don’t need to put up with complaining and bitter people who don’t share my convictions or travel plans.

That’s not to say I will never travel with someone – it would have to be with someone great and the gut feeling will tell me when the time comes. I’d just know it.  

Now – I’ve always wanted to go to Holland for these reasons (in no particular order): (i) Oranje is my favourite football team – possibly the strongest never to win the World Cup; (ii) the Netherlands is one of the most beautiful countries with unspoiled beauty; and (iii) I’ve wondered how flat the entire country is and came away a total believer.

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Etihad Airways offered the most attractive price for a last minute booking as compared to the other airlines. The catch is – I’d have to transit via Abu Dhabi airport to continue to Amsterdam from Kuala Lumpur. The delay was for three hours but time passed soon enough. I only booked my flight one week before the actual trip and planned my itinerary within that timeframe. KLM and Lufthansa initially provided some pretty good packages to mull over but with each passing day (delay), the predictably elevating costs would mean that some form of sacrifice isn’t too bad.

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There was Wi-Fi connection within the airport itself, so I shot off some Facebook pics, messages and waited for time to pass. Three hours aren’t terribly long if you are sufficiently occupied.

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There wasn’t much to do around the duty free area, so I opted to wait at the gates where my flight was due. Remember that the airport staff are terribly rude – I was asking for directions to the Terminal 1 (my e-ticket said Terminal 3) and the helpdesk guy took my ticket and mumbled something in Arabic and pointed agitatedly one direction.

There are complimentary copies of TimeOut (Middle East editions) which you could pick up to pass time too. There are some global dailies which you can also read while waiting to board the plane.

All in all, my visit to Abu Dhabi airport was uneventful – I was content to wait and time also obligingly passed soon enough.

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The trip to Amsterdam was around 7 hours long. When I touched down at Schiphol, the first thing to do was to get an OV-Chipkaart.

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A card costs around € 7.50. At any point of time, you’d have to load at least € 30.00 before traveling. You may load up to € 150.00 per card which is sufficient for you to travel around the Netherlands. You may purchase this card at the counter shown above. The staff are friendly and helpful, so don’t be apprehensive to approach them.

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At Schiphol airport (or at most train stations), always remember to ‘check in’ before boarding a train. There are free-standing posts erected around the escalator terminals. Just tap your card once and you’d see some Dutch words stating that you have checked in.

I’m saying this because I made the mistake of not checking in at Schiphol and ended up going to the next station ‘Hoofddorp’ paying €20.00 which is crazy fare upon checking out. This is because if the system doesn’t know which station you came from, that automatic fare would kick in.

In fact, this doesn’t just happen at Schiphol – there are similar systems at Den Haag or parts of Amsterdam. The Nederlandse Spoorwegen won’t check on you – it’s up to you to ‘check in’ at the station you are boarding on and then dutifully check out at your destination. If you are used to barrier gates (like the MRT in Singapore), then it’s fairly easy to get caught in this mess.

Anyway, once I checked into my hotel (Best Western Hotel Amsterdam), I ventured into Amsterdam Centraal for a quick stroll:

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I got some ‘Oliebollen’ for supper and also a large packet of ‘Manneken Pis’ fries which the storeowners claimed is the best in Holland. They got that part totally wrong. It was dried out, bland fries which didn’t seem much different from ordinary ones. Definitely overrated stuff.

The ‘oliebollen’ was fantastic funfair food though – laced with sinful cream and powdered sugar.

The next day would be a busy day, though – and a wonderful trip to southern provinces of Brabant and Limburg. Stay tuned for more updates!

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Tokyo Trip (15 December 2013 to 18 December 2013)–Asakusa (evening) & Shinjuku (night) on 17 December 2013

It’s another day at Asakusa and this time to take in the sights at dusk and to have a look at the Hagoita-ichi fair at the Sensoji temple grounds.

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Returning to Asakusa at the expense of visiting other sights in Tokyo isn’t a very easy decision to make. For one, I hadn’t even seen the Imperial Palace and the gardens. I had also wanted to go up the Sumida Skytree but simply didn’t have the time. Again, I think that at some point, when I do return to Tokyo, it would be for a longer period and I could plan my itinerary a lot better.

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This is the famed fugu fish (puffer fish) in the aquarium near Asakusa. A meal there could cost a bomb and certainly wouldn’t be in my contemplation. Maybe next time…

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Here we are, back again to Sensoji temple for the Hagoita-ichi fair.

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This is the Battledore Fair – where hundreds of colourful rectangular boards adorned with beatiful motifs of women, samurai warriors, and even politicians are sold for ornamental purposes. See if you could spot one with Prince William and Kate Middleton in the picture directly above. I don’t suppose that you could use these to play vigorous games of battledore, it would be rather impractical as well since some of the dimensions are too small to play the game in any conceivable manner.

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The tradition is that once a battledore piece is sold, the vendor would clap their hands with the buyer in unison. Some occasional shouts may be heard as well to announce the successful purchase.

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After that, I could already sense the nearby Nakamise-dori shopping street becoming alive with night lights too. But first, there are some sumptuous street snacks to savour too.

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I love kara-age. Fried chicken prepared to perfection – doused with the right amount of mayonnaise. There are also other Japanese snacks there too – okonomiyaki and also oden. For me, lugging the beloved Dreamcast console along proved difficult to enjoy anything else. Next time, I will stay in Tokyo longer so I don’t have to miss out anything.

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It’s a joy to see friends coming together to draw in the sights and sounds of this bustling street. This place just gives me amazingly good vibes.

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Below are also some pictures of Ginza, which I stopped by along the long journey to Shinjuku to see what nightlife there is about.

Walking along Ginza in the frigid weather and drinking in the Christmas atmosphere was one of the better things I’ve experienced in a difficult year 2013. I thought I was at peace and with a better perspective to think things through. First, there are no one else around who knows me and next, I was far far away from some people (read: idiot bosses in my ex-firm) in Malaysia whom I absolutely detest. It’s important to believe that once you could travel alone by yourself to a foreign country and take care of all logistics and other pertinent matters, you can do anything that you set your mind to. These detractors and naysayers don’t matter at all in your life. Just kick them out like bad crap.

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I didn’t stay long at Ginza since I was already there yesterday, so I travelled to Shinjuku shortly after.

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The pace of life here is simply out of this world too.

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So many people streaming from all direction but the streets are so clean. Kuala Lumpur is so…different by comparison.

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I visited this large Kinokuniya bookstore as well. Pity that only one floor was dedicated to the English language. Perhaps if I had studied Japanese language more assiduously, that would have been a book haven to me.

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Here are the final few pictures of Shinjuku at night:

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You could see so many ‘Game’ outlets around Shinjuku. Maybe you could count McDonald’s as part of this statistic as well. Christmas was in the air and you could also feel it…

 

(next post: Shimbashi, Meiji Jingu and Harajuku…and sayonara, Tokyo – how I missed you!)

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Tokyo Trip (15 December 2013 to 18 December 2013)–Akihabara & Asakusa (afternoon) on 17 December 2013

I had better finish writing about my Tokyo trip before this entire thing turns stale. I would need to get this out of my system once and for all – then complete the Johann Strauss best waltzes review and then work on other projects, such as Lego sets and more.

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So as you could see from the previous entry, Akihabara is not only an electronics town, it also boasts a well-stocked hobby centre and (as we can see in the following paragraphs) it is also rich in history.

But first, in the picture that you could see above, I’d be showing you a sweet snack that I enjoyed.

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This is ‘Taiyaki’, made of pancake batter and typically contains sweet filling, often red bean but may also be of other kinds, such as chocolate, cheese or sweet potato.

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The filling is sweet potato – fresh and hot from the griddle. I would have taken better pictures of the snack, I must concede, if not for the heavy load that is the ‘Dreamcast’ console that I’ve bought just half an hour before. I mean, it would be unthinkable to lay down the game console on the road while I eat this delicacy. Besides, eating hot ‘taiyaki’ in the middle of a street isn’t a really pleasant experience. Still, it was a tasty snack and the chilly weather had a somewhat balancing effect.

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This is a look at the back of the packaging.

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Now, it’s time to get to another tourist attraction within walking distance from Akihabara.

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This is the torii to Kanda Myojin (神田明神).

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Here’s some historical overview of the shrine. I hope the text in the picture above is legible enough.

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This shrine exuded a sense of calmness perhaps because there weren’t many worshippers and visitors.

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There was also a pony within the compound of the shrine too. I’m not sure of its significance, I’m afraid, so if any Japanese readers could shed some information here, that would be great.

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Here are more pictures of the beautiful pony.

I must admit that sometimes I’m wearing blinkers while taking photos and also blind to many things in life. There are so many other sights that other bloggers have captured and I sometimes wonder if I’m just sleepwalking or dreaming awake because I missed out so many details. I promise myself to be more attentive while enjoying the sights at the same time. The reader must come away from this blog with a proper message and not getting disenchanted.

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Time for a quick snack. This is the delicious onigiri which I’ve been snacking on when I need a rapid energy boost. At 188 calories and 120 yen per snack, this is an economical and sensible choice when travelling from one location to another within a short space of time.

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I’m back at my favourite spot in Tokyo – Asakusa for the second time in 2 days. The city model above is located inside the Asakusa tourist information centre.

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This time, I’d be heading to Imado Jinja to have a better look at the maneki neko (better known as ‘beckoning cats’) which are thought to bring business luck to its owner.

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It’s not such a good idea to walk so far there, since it was a quite a long trek from the heart of Asakusa to the cat shrine.

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Well, here we are. When I arrived, a group of exuberant school children were coming out of the shrine.

It’s really wonderful to see the blend of modernity and mystic in one scene. I suppose that traditions could never be easily swept away.

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Aww, beckoning cats.

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A brief description on the Imado earthenware history.

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It’s thought to be good luck to take a picture of the shrine and the beckoning cats together. You may save the picture if you wish….. you’re welcome : )

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The shrine office is at the left, where you could buy some souvenirs, lucky charms, omikuji (fortune telling scripts) and omamori (protective amulets). The two ladies ‘womanning’ the office were thoroughly amused that a Malaysian Chinese could have visited this shrine and bought omikuji for fortune. The kindly elder lady even gave me a small bar of meiji chocolate. How nice!

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As evening turns to dusk, the lights of Asakusa were all aglow. See it all in the next post.

  

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Tokyo Trip (15 December 2013 to 18 December 2013)–Akihabara on 17 December 2013 (morning to noon)

This is it – the pinnacle of my trip to Tokyo. I’ve planned this for 5 years. 5 freaking years! I dreamt of getting a Sega Dreamcast console from this electronic town as it is one of the most reliable places that one could go for just to lay hands on a working model. Consider this  as a pilgrimage to a special place where video game fans could revel in all its splendors…

I’m not there for the otaku culture, though but am curious nonetheless to see what I may find there!

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Getting to Akihabara is easy. The hard part is getting around Akihabara to those not-so-obvious places that sell used video game consoles. There are plenty of those shops around town but the trick is getting one working copy that is well worth your money. I’d explain as we go along.

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Oh and this is a selfie in my hotel room to start the day. Fully equipped to resist the chilly weather and ready to go! See my new Uniqlo coat? Don’t look at my face too much – admire the new navy blue coat!

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Confusing guide map mounted on the walls of the JR station.

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Remember to get hold of one of these guide maps. These aren’t very descriptive but you’d have a better idea of the district layout.

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I’m ready to raid the Electronic Town!

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One of the many ubiquitous Sega outlets dotting Akihabara.

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Akihabara Gamers. More manga than you could ever read in your lifetime.

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A maid café. 450 yen could get you a cheap decent meal, as seen on the posters outside. The maids are rather attractive too – but I’m generally cautious of flirty behaviour unless you really mean it, of course Winking smile

I can’t get the part on the obsession with maids, though.

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Look – Colonel Sanders is also garbed for the season! KFC is hot in Japan too during Christmas season – 24 December here is celebrated with good old piping hot buckets of fried chicken!

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Alright – enough sidetracking already.

This is Super Potato. The famous potato shop every classic video game fan should pay pilgrimage to! This branch is just some ways away from the KFC branch pictured above.

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Inside Super Potato: these are Famicom cartridges. I’m not in Japan for a Famicom console, but it’s nice to see these nostalgic baubles still around!

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I’m here for these Dreamcast consoles.

To my disappointment, they don’t come packaged with the power supply, which is a big red flag. How would I know which cables to get then? My limited conversational Japanese won’t work here – I’d have to look elsewhere.   

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There are plenty of Dreamcast games at Super Potato, sure – but what’s the point of getting software without the machine to play it with?

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These are Sega Megadrive carts (Genesis in the USA). These come ‘loose’ – i.e. without the original plastic black box and game manual. Do not presume that the prices are also easy on the wallet because of this.

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I wanted to get that Sonic 2 boxed! But I was here for all three of them and since I could only get hands on one, then it’s ok.

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Playstation 2 accessories on the top floor.

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I don’t know about you, but when I was browsing through these stuff, I got this irrational fear of being hit by a massive earthquake that would cause these games to literally bury me alive. To be killed as a result of (over)playing video games is heard before – but to be slain by a cascade of video games is not.

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Wow – cute Game Boy carts! These are the ones primary school pupils fight over to get a chance to play TMNT in black and white.

Since Super Potato didn’t give me what I want, I’d also return the favor – I’ll get my goods at some other place.

My next stop – Liberty.

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Not suitable for persons below 18 years old. Since my brain may also intermittently be below this age limit, I also made a mental note to stay clear.

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Hmm – more videos than video games. My mood turned south after visiting this sad joint. At least the place is clean and tidy.

It’s already close to noon by the time I headed for Trader, so there was this growing expectation that I must seal the deal for the Dreamcast console soon.

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Much better – so much better! These are what I’m looking for! I quickly reserved the middle Dreamcast console for myself. A feel good grin stole across my wicked face.

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I also wanted to get a Super Famicom console but logic quickly decided that my rather small luggage bag would suffer for it. Stuffing it inside is one thing – it’s another thing to ensure that all that bumping around town and in the airplane compartment doesn’t cause damage to it! I intended to bolster my Dreamcast console with plastic bags and other Japanese snacks.

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It is already 1 p.m. when I left Trader.

The next stop would be to Tam Tam Hobby which is also not far down the main street. This mammoth store encompasses about four floors of hobby stuff (gundam), scale model kits and other interests – even air rifles. Pretty serious stuff this. 

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There is a good selection of Fujimi kits available. I’d want that Hosho kit! Who’s gonna get it for me?

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These, my friends, are the air rifle and other weapons on sale. See that sniper rifle at the middle tier? Pity that my stupid country doesn’t allow me to bring these in. Stupid lame country sitting at the end of the Asian main continent.

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Anyway, this is not all for Akihabara. What I’ve covered so far is only the retro gaming stuff, but there is also a snack review and a religious trip in the next entry!

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By the way, this is my haul from Akihabara. Not bad for a 5-year plan, if I may say so myself.

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