Night View of Tokyo

A view of Tokyo by night, taken from Toranomon.

Tokyo, Japan – July 17th, 2009

We filled our arms with cans of juice and beer and took the elevator to the top of Mayumi’s building. Our tour book recommended several places for a good view of Tokyo – from where I was standing, this one was hard to beat.

We were shocked to be able to see Tokyo Tower (think: Japan’s Eiffel Tower) from the little rooftop garden. Laura’s sharp eyes also picked out two Ferris Wheels, and Rainbow Bridge, which Mayumi hadn’t realized she could see before.

We tasted Japanese beer, saw the electric energy of Tokyo shining in the night, listened to the bugs hum and buzz in the bushes around us. And I wondered; those poor, lost bugs – how did they get here? How did we?

/Three Weeks of Japan Mania

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Bilbao – Bigger, Brighter, Better

Bilbao, País Vasco, Spain – September 12th, 2010

To think I’d heard such nasty things about Bilbao. In our geography of Spain unit Junior Year, we’d been told nothing more of it than that it was Basque, northern, industrial. Lacking in charm. Even Ana, my landlady, had said, “Go to the Guggenheim. The Guggenheim is beautiful. But don’t bother with the rest of it. Bilbao’s not a pretty city. It’s not so nice.” Perhaps I’d simply had low expectations – I loved it.

From the Old Town, with the winding alleys and pintxos bars I’ve already come to expect from Basque Spain, all the way to the famous Guggenheim, I wasn’t disappointed by an inch of the Bilbao I explored. I suppose it could be said that I was only really ‘impressed’ by Bilbao’s riverside market (the largest covered market in Europe), the pintxos at Bar Irrintzi (amazing), and, yes, the world famous Guggenheim Museum, but the spaces in between held their own charm. Our walk through the center of town took us past dozens of cheerful parks and row after row of elegant buildings, and our stroll alongside the Nervión river revealed fascinating, if puzzling, designs of office buildings, bridges, and modern art statues. A shameless mountain geek, I also loved the way the city is nestled down between two mountain ranges, earning it the nickname El Botxo – “the hole”.

I found Bilbao’s reputation to be quite ill-deserved – it was on the whole bigger, better, and brighter than I had been led to expect, and well worth a day or two of wandering. But if the great majority of the day trippers go straight to the Guggenheim without passing GO, well, that just means more pintxos for me!

/A Semester in the Basque Country of Spain