Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Welcome to Norwin!

Friday, September 27th, 2013

My holiday blogging fell apart a bit, so I’m just going to post some highlights, probably out of order. The craziest part of my holiday was when I hired a car,and drove 200 miles West (and a bit North) from Washington DC, to the place they call Norwin!

Norwin Hills

I found out about Norwin from google I suppose, when vanity googling used to return things about Norwin High School, so I have been aware of it as a place for some time. But when I decided to visit New York and Washington, it was just close enough to go and see it for myself.

And I am pleased to say that I was impressed!

Yes, I was freaked out to see my name everywhere. I particularly liked this sign at the doctors:

"Stamping out disease and pestilence in Norwin for 30 years"

Given that I am 40 now, I guess I was just lucky for the first 10 years.

And I was kind of dumbstruck to see the selection of Norwin items in the local sports shop (I bought 2 t-shirts and a pair of socks) as well:

House of Norwin

I have to admit that I did spend quite some time taking in the sight of my name in so many places. Though in the end I was more freaked out by the lady in the library who answered the phone saying “Norwin Library – how can I help you?”, as I of course immediately turned round to see why she was talking about me.

Unfortunately the Norwin Knights weren’t playing while I was there, but I did see their stadium:

Norwin Knights Stadium

And the Norwin Marching Band were out practising, which was kind of cool to see. They weren’t in their uniforms as you can see, but I do like their silly hats:

Norwin Marching BandI was especially pleased to manage to take photographs around a school without getting arrested for being suspicious!

I wasn’t able to get a copy of the Norwin Star, as it is only published weekly, and doesn’t hang around for long on the shelves. But it looks like this (fortunately the library had a copy):


But here’s the real surprise about Norwin Pennsylvania – it’s a beautiful area! Pennsylvania is just full of trees – there are places along the road where you reach the top of a hill and just see forest as far as the eye can see in every direction. It’s quite breathtaking. I even saw deer out the window of my hotel at dusk, grazing on the grass.  It turns out that Norwin is just at the edge of the Laurel Highlands, an area of outstanding scenic beauty. This is the view of Norwin from the back of Walmart:


Okay, Applebees isn’t so picturesque, but the background is beautiful.

So in summary, I really enjoyed my trip to Norwin. It’s fair to say that the good people of Norwin were not overwhelmed by my presence, but that’s okay – not many people are! A few of them were impressed by the distance I had come to visit their town, but on the other hand the receptionist in the hotel didn’t comment at all when I checked in.

But I don’t care – I am so glad I went there – I was genuinely impressed by it, and I might just go back some time.

Tokyo – The way home

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

As yesterday’s post said, my journey home turned out to be more difficult than I had expected. Our reasoning turned out to be correct – Virgin had indeed sent their flight crew to Nagoya rather than keep them in Tokyo.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about.

The flight out of Tokyo was not very busy – there were lots of empty seats on the plane (despite press reports of people fleeing) and once everyone was on board, I was able to move up and take a seat at the exit, with lots of lovely legroom. A Japanese gentleman did the same. He was a former reporter with very good English (and fond memories of Ireland), so we chatted for a while. He couldn’t believe my earthquake story of being up Tokyo Tower. And I couldn’t believe his earthquake story either. I’m sure he won’t mind if I repeat it here.

When he retired, he bought a boat to sail around the world single-handed, which he did. He was still living on that boat, as he hadn’t been able to sell it since his voyage. He was at a shop when the quake hit, and took cover out the back in a garden where there weren’t electric wires to come down (a danger I hadn’t considered, but one that must be significant when you look at the power cables strung along each street in Tokyo). When the shaking stopped, he raced off to make sure his boat was okay in the tsunami he now expected. The first wave of the tsunami broke 4 of the 5 mooring ropes, leaving him with just one, but his boat was still intact. He left the boat again to seek help getting it secured when someone pointed behind him to where the second wave was coming. He saw his boat go into the air, and come down, and break. At that, he ran for higher ground.

He spent a few days in a refugee centre, but not unsurprisingly it was pretty depressing, so he headed for his brother’s in Tokyo by train. He made it most of the way (including detours through the Fukushima exclusion zone), but once he got to Tokyo the trains weren’t running for him to get all the way, so his brother had to come and get him in his car. With the petrol shortages, they weren’t sure they’d make it back, but they did. He then headed for the airport, and booked a flight to London, where I think he has family.

His boat wasn’t insured (apparently you can’t for round the world trips at his age), so this is a man who I guess has lost everything he had. It made me realise that everyone on that plane must have had their own earthquake story, of where they had been, and what had happened. A sobering thought.

But I wish that guy well for the future.

Tokyo Day 14 – Never can say goodbye…

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Got up bright and early this morning for the journey home. Well, early anyway – I’m not a morning person. We headed out earlier than usual, as our preferred train to the Airport (the Keisei Skyliner) wasn’t allowing advance bookings (which it usually does), and therefore we worried that the trains might be running full, and we’d not be able to get to the airport on time. It wasn’t full – I thought it was pretty quiet.

So we got to the airport early, worried that it would be very busy. It isn’t especially busy. But everyone else was there early too, and none of the check-in desks were open (we were just a shade over 3 hours before the takeoff time, so I guess that’s not unreasonable), so there were lines. We went and had a second breakfast, and then came back when check-in had opened.

On checking in I was given a letter to say that the flight was diverting to Nagoya, which is an hour away, and stopping there for an hour to change crew. So my flight which had been due to arrive at 3:30 pm in London is now expected to arrive at 9:30 pm. Where’d the rest of the delay come from? We’re also taking off nearly 3 hours late.

Karen’s never seen delays like this out of Narita Airport. The theory is that there is a relief crew in here in Japan, but instead of staying in Tokyo ready to take over, they were shipped out to Nagoya. Because flying regulations are very strict, it’s probable that the current crew can’t just fly us to Nagoya in our scheduled slot, as they just flew all the way here from London, and need to take a break.

So anyways, I’ve just spent the last while at a free wi-fi point re-booking my Belfast flight, and booking myself into a cheap hotel at Heathrow. Thank goodness for wifi and netbooks at airports – this is much easier than it might have been, since it’s after 2:00 in the morning in the UK.

And how is the airport? It’s not particularly busy. Karen reckons that the demographics of the travellers has changed, as there are more families with children and fewer businessmenthan usual, since this is during the school term, and you’d seldom see children here. But it’s certainly not chaotic, or especially jam-packed with people.

Right. I’m off to wander round the airport and look at stuff for a while before I settle down with a book.

Tokyo Day 13 – Being a tourist again

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Yesterday we went out and did normal stuff! We went on the train to Akihabara, did some karaoke, ate dinner out, looked at the flashy mobile phones, and bought some doughnuts to bring home. This is the kind of thing I’d been expecting to do lots of on holiday! It was all very normal and sensible, except for the earthquake during dinner, where the entire restaurant shook, and we got to watch all the frying pans swinging in the kitchen.

It was nice to be out and about again, and do normal stuff.

Tokyo Day 12 – a change of plan

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

After speaking to my dad yesterday, and continuing to get messages from people asking why I wasn’t coming home, I decided to talk to Virgin Atlantic yesterday. Previously, I had only looked at their web page, because I wasn’t seriously looking at changing my flight, and it had shown that my flight was not changeable, and I’d have to book a new one for over £2000.

However, when I spoke to an actual human being, and told her I was in Tokyo, she was able to help me, and offer me a flight for Monday at no additional cost. They couldn’t sort out my Belfast connection, but I was able to do that myself. So in the end, better marks for Virgin Atlantic, who were helpful after all.

On to the next question – why am I going home early? I am not leaving because I feel I am in danger from radiation. I am not leaving because I am suffering in the aftermath of the quake. I am going home because my family are worried about me, and it’s probably selfish for me to stay any longer than I have to. Added to that, it is my mum’s birthday on Wednesday, and being home for her birthday seems like a really good idea, under the circumstances.

I do feel bad for leaving early. It’s another person leaving Tokyo, which starts to make the tabloid frenzy about people fleeing Tokyo look correct. But I’m also only one person, and I’m only leaving 2 days early.

And let’s face it, I’m not helping anyone by being here, but it might help people if I go home.

Cycling in Tokyo

Friday, March 18th, 2011

I went out for a cycle today, on what is presumably a fairly typical Japanese city bike. It was interesting.

Here’s the bike:

Yes, it has a basket on the front, and it’s not what I am used to riding. But just bear with me – it has some interesting features.

The enlarged hub in the front wheel obviously contains some kind of dynamo, which is wired to the light. So as soon as you start peddling in the shady garage, the light starts flashing. It’s a nice feature. I’m not sure if the light continued to flash when we were outside in the sun or not. But it’s still nice.

This is the back wheel. Again, there is an enlarged hub. Again, there’s something clever going on inside there, as the bike has three gears, but there is only one drive cog, and only one cog here at the back wheel too. So there’s some kind of clever linkage inside the hub between the cog you can see and the wheel. But I have no idea how it works.

And this is the built in lock. Just slide the blue lever to lock and unlock, as long as the key is in. Admittedly, you can’t lock the bike to anything, but the back wheel sure won’t turn. I also discovered there’s a link between this lock and the front wheel, which locks the steering to straight-ahead, or turned, which is pretty clever.

The downside to all this trickery (well, apart from the basket, which is a major downer), is that the bike is really heavy. Heavy as if it were made from depleted uranium. But at least it’s got some interesting gadgets.

Very Japanese!

Tokyo Day 11 – Life by the river

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Today, we decided that since we believe it is safe to be out and about, we might as well go out. So we went cycling down by the river (there’ll be more about Japanese bikes in another post). We probably went about 5km down the river and 5km back, so we got a reasonable view of life.

People are back to work, doing the things they usually do. Other people were out walking their dogs:

There were lots of small dogs in silly dog outfits like this one. Other dogs looked more sensible.

This guy spent ages lifting dog poo with newspaper, making sure he got every tiny bit of it.

Meanwhile less disgustingly, other people were stopping to photograph the cherry blossom.

Cherry blossom season is very big in Japan, and under normal circumstances, the media would be tracking the cherry blossom line, as it progresses through the country. A number of people stopped to take pictures of this cherry tree.

And there were lots of other things I didn’t photograph – the folks playing tennis at the tennis courts, the guy practising his guitar on a park bench, the guys kicking a football. Plenty of people out and about, doing normal things.

And today’s shopping update – bread and milk are now back in stock in the supermarket, though there was no chicken or fish (but it was later in the day, and they may have just sold out).

Still no panic, still no empty supermarket shelves here.

Tokyo Day 11 – it’s been a long week

Friday, March 18th, 2011

The quake happened just a week ago. It feels like longer – it’s been a long week.
This morning, we find that for the first time, Japan has fallen to second place in the news on BBC World, which is good news for us. The plant having stabilised isn’t nearly as newsworthy as a plant that might blow up and do something exciting for the watching media
So we’re actually thinking of going further than the shops today!

Tokyo Day 10 – did you feel that?

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

This morning I was introduced to the fascinating concept of the banana equivalent dose, which tells us that bananas are radioactive enough to produce alarms in radiation detectors. Someone told us that the background radiation in Tokyo was “about a banana”, which was hilarious, and puts so much of the media scaremongering into focus. I thought that the comparison with the elevated background radiation in the Mournes was a good analogy, but a comparison with the fresh fruit section in Tescos is even better!

Meanwhile, we are starting to feel some of the effects of the level of shaking that we’ve received – my sense of equilibrium seems to be shot to bits, and I can no longer tell whether I am moving or not. I keep asking “Was that a shake?”, and we don’t know until we check the earthquake web site whether it was a real tremor or not. I hope that will pass when I get home, as it is a bit unsettling.

And yet I still manage to miss the real ones! I thought I heard footsteps in the corridor this morning outside the bathroom, and said hello, but actually it was the corridor flexing in an aftershock. I was almost certain there was one just after I went to bed last night, but I didn’t even get up. But I did feel the large ones this evening that set the building swaying again.

Have also decided to get an early night, instead of staying up until 3 in the morning. G’night all.

Tokyo Day 10 – another day

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Today we wake to more media scaremongering. If you haven’t seen it yet, this page from the UK Embassy (not the Japanese government), from UK nuclear experts makes it clear that Tokyo is safe from radiation whatever happens.

However, the US (followed by the UK, and probably everyone else) has extended their danger zone out to 80km/50miles around the plant, and are advising people to leave that enlarged area. I don’t know about you, but if I had been outside the 30km, but within 80miles, I think I would be out of there already, so I don’t think this is a very bad sign.

Likewise the US has said that he families of embassy staff can leave Tokyo on a voluntary basis – yes that is what they are saying – that the families may leave if they wish. I had kind of assumed that US citizens would be allowed to leave if they wanted at any stage, but the US have now explicitly given permission. They’ve also arranged some flights to help them get out, which is helpful. But it is still not a major evacuation – they are not advising their people to go, just saying that they can. And they’re not saying anything to other American citizens who happen to be in the country, only the families of American Embassy staff.

But anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about the Japanese people, and what happens to them next. Japan does not have a welfare state – if you don’t work, you don’t get handouts from the government. When I went walking by the river last Wednesday before all this started, I saw a number of tarpaulin homes along the path. At first it wasn’t obvious what these shacks were – they could have been building or gardening supplies, but then I saw flowerpots outside one, and washing hanging out by another, it became obvious tat people were living in them. And yet in 3 visits to Japan, I have never seen anyone begging, and the crime rate is very low here, so these people manage to get buy somehow without asking for help or stealing it.

I worry that this problem is about to become huge. I don’t know what kind of exceptional payments will be made available to those who have lost everything, but there will be a huge social need here for a long time to come. We’ve all seen the pictures from the north – there are no homes, there are no jobs, there is no infrastructure – there is nothing left. In a state which is not in the habit of giving out money, and may not have the mechanisms to do it, there could be yet more suffering for the survivors. Because of the risk here earthquake insurance is a specific thing, and not included in general house insurance. However, not only is it not mandatory, but quite often people can’t eve get earthquake insurance because of the age, or location, or building style, so a lot of people who have lost homes will get no automatic insurance payout. Japan is a rich country, but not all Japanese people are rich, and I hope that the world’s charities do their bit to help where it is needed in the longer term.