A day in Moscow

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Ntendeni finally saw St. Basil’s cathedral.

It is not a coincidence that just in April this year, Russia scrapped Visas for South African citizens. I believe that it was a plan by God to give me an opportunity to finally visit Moscow.

The cheapest flights to Paris were via Moscow so I deliberately booked a return flight with a day layover in the capital. I was too tired on my way back from Paris and on my periods so I just wanted to go home, but I dragged on because I could not miss the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I arrived early in the morning and although the airline desk emphasized to me that I could not go out without a Visa, I refused to be discouraged. I went to immigration and after too many uncomfortable stares and comparisons between me and the picture on my passport, I was finally let through. After struggling to find someone to help me and show me the way, I finally found a nice young Russian lady who could speak in English and a taxi driver that helped me.

I hustled my way around the bus and subway systems until I got to the Red Square. Once again I was in a different country where I did not speak the language. Nevertheless, I managed to find my way around, saw what I wanted to see, went through another immigration hurdle (story for another day) and had enough time left before my flight back to Tokyo.

The Red Square

I finally got to see the Red Square. The beauty lived up to the hype. It is a lovely place.

St. Basil’s Cathedral

The main reason I wanted to visit the Red Square was St. Basil’s Cathedral. The colourful patterns, shapes and the onion roofs make it look like something from a  cartoon.

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Ntendeni admires the architectural genius of the cathedral.

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State Historical Museum

This is the attractive red building opposite St. Basil’s Cathedral.

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She looks like a model posing for a picture.

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Ntendeni finally fulfilled her dream to spend a day at the square.

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Around the Square

It was nice taking a walk around. I visited Gum shopping center and watched some kind of military, army event going on; whatever that was.

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The Kremlin

Before finding the Red Square, I happened to stumble across the Kremlin. It was one of those times when I thanked God I got lost. The Kremlin was not even on my agenda but ended up being worth a visit. The reason for going there was because I did not know how to get to the Red Square

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Ntendeni loves the onion roofs.

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Bolshoi theater

This was also not on my agenda but just happened to be on the way between the Red Square and the subway.

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The subway

I was impressed by the subway in Moscow. It was spotlessly clean and the train stations were as beautifully designed as art galleries. The Moscow subway can definitely rival Tokyo and wins over Tokyo in terms of art decor.

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The rest of Moscow

Although I had a short time in Moscow, what I saw was enough to make me want to go back.

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The ultimate Japanese postcard

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Chureito Pagoda with Mount Fuji in the background.

In an attempt to renew my joy in travelling, I travelled to the Mount Fuji area. The only other time I had been in the area was last year and I only went to Fuji Q Highland theme park. This time, I went just to enjoy natural beauty.

On my way back, I decided to pass by Chureito Pagoda to capture the sunset. I walked fast, up the steps, to capture the sunset as it was already getting dark. Chureito Pagoda,with Mount Fuji in the background creates a stereotypical, touristy and postcard-worthy shot of Japan.

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Autumn colours

I love Autumn colours, maybe more than spring colours. The journey to the Pagoda presented some nice colours.

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Hitachi Seaside Park

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A hill of Kochia.

I am a flower lover. Daydreaming about running through a hill of flowers gives me peace. For a flower lover, Japan is a good place to live. There are many flower enjoyment opportunities in the country. Cherry blossom season is just one of many.

I went on a travel hiatus after coming  back exhausted from Paris in July. The humid Japanese summer also left me with no interest to go outside. Instead, I spent the rest of the summer cooling under the comfort of an air-conditioner.

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I ended my travel hiatus by visiting Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki prefecture. The park boasts a variety of flowers that attract visitors throughout the year. In Autumn, the main attraction is Kochia. The bush starts green and gradually turns red, or pink, or purple, or maroon, depending on what colour your camera sees.

I used to see a different colour depending on which side of the hill I was looking from. I am happy the rainy weather did not discourage me. The hills of Kochia felt like I was inside a landscape painting.

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After applying a cellphone filter.

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The rain did not discourage people from coming.

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Other parts of the park

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Views from the Ferris wheel

It was rainy and windy so I could not get clear views of the park from the wheel. The wind was also strong up there. This made the Ferris wheel less enjoyable.

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Louvre: Mother of all museums

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The winged victory of Samothrace has been voted amongst some of the most famous sculptures in the world.

I believed that the Louvre was the biggest museum in the world hours after being there. I started to doubt if there could be any place in the world with an art collection that large and crazy. The Louvre changed the way I saw art, my definition of what a museum entails and my appreciation for art.

I had read that one needed at least three to four days just to finish the museum but I underestimated it. I expected it to feature just the Mona Lisa and a couple of paintings and that would be it. I was beyond shocked when I went there. I arrived before the queues in the morning and left when the museum closed twelve hours later and I doubt I even finished exploring the whole museum.

The Louvre is so big, I ended up getting frustrated and emotional. After a while, I started just scanning around the museum without absorbing the details of the art. I thought that paintings were the only art the museum held and I was shocked at what I discovered. The museum celebrates every kind of art one can think of. Paintings, sculptures, ceilings, carpets, home decor, silverware and others.

I was shocked to find a gallery of African art in the museum and a large collection of Egyptian art. I was also shocked that they appreciated home decor and carpets as art. The museum’s definition of art is broad. They even have Islamic art and a section dedicated to grave, burial art.

From now on, I will compare every museum I visit to the Louvre and I know none will come close. The Louvre made me appreciate art and made me understand why people would pay so much money on art. After twelve hours of walking, my feet were sore, I was exhausted and I had learnt to appreciate art more. The museum was a maze and I discovered it freely without a guide and without following the map. It was fun and frustrating getting lost.

Paintings

The Louvre has a large collection of paintings. As I was getting lost in the maze, I discovered more and more themed galleries which I would have otherwise missed had I left early.

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Ntendeni’s favourite painting in the museum. Out of the thousands of paintings, it was the only one where a black woman was the focus of the art.

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Ceilings

At first, I did not pay attention to the ceiling and I was missing out because the ceilings at the museum have art of their own. What frustrated and wowed me about the museum was that the art was in all directions from top to bottom. The ceilings stood their ground as art on their own.

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Sculptures

The museum boasts a large collection of sculptures from all over the world, from different periods and showing different styles.

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Galleries

I felt honoured to be amongst other art lovers appreciating the work in the museum. I also felt overwhelmed because each gallery had lots of beautiful work and I did not have the time to study each piece of work properly.

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Other art

I went to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and ended up being overwhelmed by all kinds of art. Some of the sections that shocked me were Islamic art, African art and the large collection of Egyptian art. I was humbled by the museum’s appreciation of various types of art from all over the world. They also have decor and carpet art!

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My morning started with some overpriced breakfast. I needed the caffeine binge if I were going to survive the museum though.

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Mona Lisa: the Louvre’s superstar

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Ntendeni managed to take a picture of the Mona Lisa early in the morning before the crowds.

Behold, the number one reason people visit the Louvre. The Mona Lisa, usually listed at number one as the world’s most famous painting. I had known about the painting for some time and knew that it was sought-after and well-known; but I had no idea how small it was until I was doing my research to prepare for my trip to Paris.

Many people visit the Louvre just to see the strange smile and the gaze and nothing else. The most sought-after painting in the museum, it is always overcrowded throughout the day and I am happy I arrived early in the morning before the madness. The most disappointing thing about the painting is the size of course. I used to imagine it being a large piece of art, the kind that fills an entire wall and makes you look up.

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The Mona Lisa is the most overcrowded work of art in the museum.

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The barriers around the painting to keep admirers, and crazies, out.

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Unlike Mona Lisa’s smile, Ntendeni’s smile needs no conspiracy theories and mysteries to decode. 

 

The Louvre

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Ntendeni crushed the Louvre off her bucket list.

Behold. The world’s most famous glass pyramid. I wanted to say it was the world’s most famous pyramid but forgot Giza in Egypt? The pyramid has become the image that comes to people’s minds when they think of the Louvre. Besides marvelling at the works of art, I took my time just to photograph the pyramid. Once you see it in real life, it draws you in and you cannot help but just stare.

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The famous pyramid at night.

One morning at the Louvre

It was my second day in Paris. I was tired and sleepy, two words that basically describe my entire stay in Paris. I had not had proper sleep since leaving Japan and I could feel my eyes struggling to keep open. However, I woke up early in the morning to beat the queues.

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The Louvre from the inside.

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Carrousel du Louvre

As I was leaving the museum, I saw an interesting inverted pyramid and went on its direction. I didn’t know there was an underground shopping mall connected to the Louvre.

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The inverted pyramid at the shopping mall fascinated Ntendeni.

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Ntendeni at the Louvre.

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Eiffel Illumination

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The Iron Lady shows off at night.

What is better than visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris? Watching the beautiful illumination at night. I joined thousands of tourists and admirers just to adore the illuminated Eiffel at night. Once it gets dark, the tower remains illuminated. As a bonus, it sparkles for five minutes at the beginning of every hour at night. The sparkles are a wonderful spectacle and a must on the to-do list while in Paris.

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The Eiffel Tower sparkles for five minutes.

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Thousands of people gather in all directions around the tower to appreciate the beauty of the illuminated sparkling lady at night.

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Ntendeni waits with other admirers for the tower to sparkle. 

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Ntendeni enjoys views of the Eiffel Tower from Arc de Triomphe.

 

Eiffel picnics

It is a past time and a memorable experience in Paris to have a picnic at Champ de Mars, the park at the bottom of the tower. It reminded me of Hanami, cherry blossom picnics that the Japanese enjoy in spring.

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People enjoy picnics at Champ de Mars as they wait for the tower to sparkle.

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Climbing the Eiffel Tower

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Of all the Eiffel Tower pictures Ntendeni took, this was her favourite. The flowers decorated the tower. 

It is official!!!!!!!!

I did it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I spent a week of summer in Paris!!!!!!!!!!!

After years of dreaming, months of planning, sucking a couple of my month’s salaries dry, without help from a travel agent, I finally went to Paris and now it is in the past. I no longer talk about Paris in the future tense or dreams. It is now in the past and no one and nothing can change that. Not demons, not witches, not bad luck, not the devil. It is in the past and no one can change it.

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Ntendeni opted for the more fun, and cheaper, option of climbing the tower instead of using the lift. 

I arrived in Paris midnight and did not get much sleep. I woke up early in the morning to see one reason people go to Paris, the Eiffel Tower. No, it is not the museums and monuments that make people visit Paris. It is the Iron Lady. The one and only original in all her glory.

I arrived early in the morning to beat the queues. My plan all along was to climb the 704 steps to the second floor. After doing some research online, I realised that it would be a more authentic and sporty way to experience the Iron Lady than to take the lift. I only took the lift to the third, final floor and all the way down.

It was unforgettable climbing the tower, gradually rising with the views and feeling the structure under my feet. It made me appreciate the architecture more. I would advice anyone who is visiting the Eiffel Tower to climb the steps instead of using the lift. It is also cheaper to do so and the queue is shorter than the lift.

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Climbing the Iron Lady made Ntendeni appreciate and feel the architecture.

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Ntendeni woke up early to beat the long queues.

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Ntendeni bit the fear of heights by looking down and walking on the glass walk.

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The Iron lady

One of the reasons for arriving early in the morning was so that I could take pictures of the Iron Lady clear of other tourists.

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My first ski experience

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Shiga Kogen is the largest ski resort in Japan.

Skiing was one of the priorities at the top of my checklist of things I wanted to try while still living in Japan. That was the main reason I booked a holiday in rural Yudanaka in December. Were it not for the pursuit of a ski experience, I would not have bothered with this rural obscure town. When I found out that Snow Monkey Park was another bonus around the corner, I made the trip final.

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Ntendeni’s body was sore after a day of skiing.

Skiing looked so easy when I saw it on TV. I was very ignorant and did no basic research before skiing. I was ignorant of the equipment that was required to ski. I used to see people skiing in certain flat, thin boards attached to their feet but I had no idea those things were called skis and had no idea that they were mandatory.

I am embarrassed when I think about how I wanted to ski in my normal leather boots. I thought that a person could ski in normal clothing. I had no idea that my normal boots and fabric jackets would not be suitable. The clothing would get wet and the boots would not slide at all.

I wanted to save money and dodge ski rental but I had no choice. After my friend, Angelina explained that we needed the entire gear, I decided to book two days worth of rental. I found out about ski boots for the first time in my life. I didn’t know that such things existed. I was also shocked at how uncomfortable they were. I also did not know about ski poles, ski helmets, ski pants, ski jackets and ski goggles. I did not know the required gear and the experience was a life lesson.

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Ntendeni’s first day of ski experience was spent at ski school.

After trying to use the skis myself, I realised that I did not even know how to stand in them. Everything was too slippery. Although I did not want to, I had no choice but to dish a couple of thousand Yens on ski school. Both days were filled with discouraging falls, including one which haunted me, where I fell and got buried in the snow near a cliff. It left me scared for my life and wondering what would have happened had I fallen from the very top and got buried in the snow below, where no one could see me. What if  I got buried in the snow and no one saw me or saw where I ended? The fall scared me and made me hate skiing.

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Ntendeni and Angelina occupied the entire working day of the poor ski instructor.

Me and Angelina were impossible to teach. We were such slow learners. We ended up feeling sorry for the instructor. He was patient and worked with us the whole afternoon until ski school closed. We fell the whole time.

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Ntendeni and Angelina were envious of the kids that were better skiers than them.

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Besides the falling, there were some great selfies taken on the ski lift.

We removed our skis and decided to walk to the ski lift. We knew we would not go from the lift to skiing down the slope so we sat there hoping to get back to the bottom on the lift. That was until the lift operator stopped the lift and ordered us out. After falling over and over again, and hard, coupled with my struggle to latch the boots on the ski bindings; we decided to walk all the way down on the uncomfortable ski boots.

After falling too many times, thank God I realised I had dropped my money to use for the next following days in Nagano. It was otherwise going to be painful losing such a large amount and not knowing where to find it in the snow. God is indeed alive.

At the end of the experience, I ended up discouraged, hating skiing and being fearful of the many “what if” scenarios that were playing in my head.

The bright side of falling

The falling was hard and discouraging but the pictures looked good.

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Angelina(in blue gear) practises her skills.

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After falling her life away, Angelina decided to just walk down the rest of the slope.

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The kids were good at skiing and left us wondering, “Why weren’t we born in Japan?”

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Tendi the falling ice-princess

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A selfie to lighten the mood after falling.

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Ntendeni fell hard and got buried in the snow. The experience left her shaken.

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Giving up with grace

After falling too many times, I settled for a kiddy sledge. I tried to take it up the top of the slope on the lift but I was disappointed when they did not let me in. The lift is for those who are going to ski, not for kiddy sledges or walkers.

The truth is that ski resorts are impossible to enjoy if one cannot ski.

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After realising that the struggle was too real, Ntendeni settled for a kiddy sledge.

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Skiing is an expensive sport. Ski gear and resort lift passes are expensive.

 

Black eggs

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I spent my first two afternoons in Hakone at Owakudani. I had always wanted to see a live volcano ever since studying volcanoes in high school. While that dream has not come true yet, Owakudani came close. It is a great boiling valley with active boiling pools of sulfur-rich water and vents that spew steam and volcanic gases.

Besides the active volcanic activity, people are attracted to black eggs the valley is famous for. The eggs get their black colour by being hard-boiled in natural hot springs. The sulfur in the water gives the eggs their colour.

Legend has it that one egg adds seven years to one’s life span. If the legend is anything to go by, the five black eggs I ate have added 35 years to my life. That is more than the 26 years I have been living. In that case, I still have more years to travel and live life to the fullest.

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The eggs get their colour from being boiled in sulfur-rich hot springs.

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Owakudani is an active volcanic valley. 

Black ice-cream

After eating the black eggs, I ate black ice-cream. Don’t be fooled by the colour. The ice-cream tastes like any normal vanilla ice-cream. I believe the black colour of the ice-cream is all a marketing ploy to capitalize on the fame of the black eggs. After doing some research, I learnt that the black colour in the ice-cream was a result of charcoal being poured into the ice-cream mix. They also had some black steamed buns in the area.

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Do not be fooled by the black colour. It tastes like normal vanilla ice-cream.

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Ntendeni spent two afternoons at Owakudani.