Nagasaki, Japan: More Than You Think

Outside of Japan, the port town of Nagasaki is simply known for one thing – the bombing that ended the second world war. There are plenty of reminders around the city, such as the striking single-legged torii gate (below) whose other half was blown off in the atomic blast, the stirring statues scattered about town and numerous memorials. It’s an important site in world history and worth going to for that reason alone.

Of course, no trip to Nagasaki would be complete without visiting Peace Park or the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, but there is so much more to Nagasaki.Yellow ceramic oragami paper cranes in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum

Yellow origami ceramic cranes in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

A monument under where the atomic bomb hypocenter was located.

Peace Park being visited by an elementary school field trip.

Nagasaki played an extremely important role in Japan’s history prior to World War II as well. For over 200 years, between 1633 and 1853, Nagasaki was the only port in all of Japan that was officially allowed to conduct trade with foreign countries. The impact of this role can still be seen today in the city’s food and architecture.

Megane-bashi, the spectacles bridge.

Megane-bashi, Japanese for “spectacles bridge”, is named for the reflection it creates in the water, is a very popular and romantic spot. Visiting around sunset is key and so is finding the heart-shaped brick in the stonework.

Castella, one of Nagasaki’s unique foods.

Today, Nagasaki is probably best known within Japan for its food. The two most popular dishes are castella (above) and champon. Castella is a simple cake that was brought in by the Portuguese. It’s rich with egg flavors and can be purchased virtually anywhere in the city. On the right is the original flavor and on the left is a green tea variation. Champon is a very popular pork and seafood noodle soup that was inspired from Chinese food. There is even a popular chain restaurant called Ringer Hut that sells Nagasaki champon throughout Japan.

The cute streetcars of Nagasaki.

Much like in the U.S., most cities in Japan used to have thriving streetcar networks. Today, most have ceased operation in favor of subways and making more room for cars. However, most of the big cities in southern Japan have held onto their streetcar tradition, including Nagasaki. It’s a convenient and fun way to get around the city and their bright colors are adorable.

Onboard a Nagasaki streetcar.

A row of torii gates at a local Shinto shrine.

Nagasaki is certainly not a main attraction in Japan, and quite a ways from many of the big name sights, but it’s worth it. It’s a quiet and quaint seaside town. It’s a great place to wander around and get lost in, to stumble across small neighborhood Shinto shrines and handicraft stores. There’s an important history to Nagasaki, without a doubt, but there’s a wealth of sights to see and things to do.

[Photo credits: Jonathan Kramer]

London Underground planning 24 hour tube service during 2012 Olympics?

london undergroundThe London underground may be one of the best systems in the world, but overnight service is still something not offered. Sure, there are plenty of late night bus services, and minicabs are usually everywhere, but once the 2012 Olympics come to town, chances are there won’t be enough buses to transport everyone.

Transport for London and the union representing tube workers are meeting to discuss the possibility of a round the clock service between July 27 and August 12, to help get visitors where they need to be.

As usual, 24 hour service will all depend on pay and staffing issues. To make matters worse, current pay issues have even raised the possibility of strikes during the upcoming Royal Wedding and the 2012 Olympics. Time will tell whether the workers get their demands met before these big events.

[Photo: Flikcr/fofiko]

The Chinese bus that straddles traffic

China is suffering some growing pains. Its cities are booming and road builders are having trouble keeping up. After last month’s nine-day traffic jam that stretched for 62 miles, it’s become obvious that something needs to be done.

One company has come up with an innovative result–a large bus with a tunnel underneath to allow two lanes of traffic to pass below it. The so-called Straddling Bus will cruise along at 60 km/hr (37 mph) and can carry up to 1,400 passengers. It’s 6 meters (6.6 yards) wide and up to 4.5 meters (4.9 yards) high. Sensors will warn when cars are getting too close to the sides or if a truck is too tall to make it into the tunnel.

The Straddling Bus has already been approved for use in Beijing, with 186 km (115 miles) of lines earmarked for the new system. Construction will being at the end of the year.

The video shows how it works. Hopefully the safety measures will be built with someone who has a greater grasp of engineering than the translator has of the English language.

London starts bike hire scheme

Transport for London is responsible for the arduous task of getting millions of Londoners around this giant city every day. Besides the Tube, bus, and Docklands Light Rail, they’ve added a new service–public bicycles.

Similar to public bike programs in other cities, people can get a bike at one of the self-service docking stations. You don’t have to be a UK resident to use one, but residents can buy an annual membership and get discounts. You can pay by cash, card, or online. You have to pay for an access fee as well as the bike itself. If, for example, you are in London for a day, you can buy a day’s access for £1 ($1.56) and hire the bike for up to six hours for £35 ($55), or a full day for £50 ($78). That’s expensive, but it wouldn’t take many taxi rides to equal that.

Actually the program is more designed for short rides. Journeys under half an hour are free and an hour only costs £1. You can cycle pretty much anywhere in central London in an hour. Users should be aware that London traffic is very busy and people who aren’t accustomed to cycling in big cities should probably give this a miss. The scheme is partially funded by Barclay’s bank and each bike sports an ad for Barclay’s.


Photo courtesy Transport for London.

Five ways to get to the airport

Your bags are sitting in the hallway, and you’re ready to go to the airport. How to get there involves a tradeoff between cost and hassle. A sacrifice is always necessary, and it’s significant: you’ll have to give up something important. But, this is the nature of travel, so the best you can do is understand the good and bad associated with each.

1. Drive
Take yourself to the airport, and you don’t have to rely on anyone else’s schedule. You own your time. But, you may have to deal with traffic, and parking can get expensive. Choose a long-term parking lot to trade convenience for savings.

2. Taxi
This is more an urban option. It’s cheaper than a town car but can still become costly, especially with tolls and tip. If it’s early in the morning or raining, you might have trouble finding a cab.

3. Public transportation
Public transportation is generally the cheapest alternative, but leave lots of time (especially if you live in the suburbs); it can take hours. How much is your time worth?

4. Town car/limo
You’ll pay to play with a town car or limousine, which can be the most expensive (unless you drive to an airport that charges a small fortune for parking … and you’re taking a long trip). But, your car should arrive early and be ready to wait for you (no honking or phone calls until you’re a little late), and it will be clean and comfortable.

5. Find a friend
Convince someone to drive you, and you save a fortune and win some convenience. Do this too often, though, and your friends will hate you.