NAGOYA: The Adventure Begins
I spent the first half of my childhood living in Germany and visiting the surrounding countries. I moved to the US in 1993, but it wasn’t until 2013 that I made my first trip across the world as an adult. In early 2013 I befriended one of the foreign exchange students at the college. After she went home that summer I decided to visit her in Nagoya. This was a new experience for me since I hadn’t left the US in 20 years.
The flight there was a grueling 15 hours of watching movies from a cramped set and climbing over sleeping Japanese businessmen to get to the bathroom. Everything I experienced on that trip made the arduous journey worth it. When I arrived, my friend took me to my temporary apartment. It was only 150sqft, but it was better than any hotel. I had all the essentials plus a stove, refrigerator and washing machine. If I ran out of beer, I just walked across the street to a vending machine and bought more.
English wasn’t very common in Nagoya and neither was American tourism. I learned enough Japanese to get by, but the language barrier still stood tall. Luckily I found the Nagoya Supper Club and met a few expats that taught English. They took me to a few good restaurants and Octoberfest since Japan celebrates that in July. I ate green tea bratwurst. It was really strange.
I spent a lot of time eating dishes you can only get in Nagoya. If you were to ask a Japanese person about those dishes, they would tell you it’s not Japanese food, it’s Nagoya food. One of those dishes was something called Miso Katsu. They took a slice of pork cutlet, breaded it, fried it and dipped it in a dark (hatcho or red) miso. I washed it down with frozen Kirin, where they give you an ice cold beer, but they freeze the head to look like swirled ice cream.
The Nagoya Supper Club members weren’t the only friends I made. I befriended several of the staff at Daruma, my favorite place in Nagoya. Maria spoke enough English that we could hang out when she wasn’t working.
I went to a random restaurant near my apartment one day and met a firefighter named Tomo. He loved Quiet Riot and Journey. He also loved showing me his Bruce Lee and Spock impressions.
My entire trip was a blast. My favorite parts were the Mongolian feast and riding the subway. I never wanted to leave.
SWEDEN: The Adventure Continues
My trip to Sweden wasn’t until 2015. I don’t know how, but I managed to forget to take my 2014 vacation. Why Sweden? Once again, I had befriended some foreign exchange students and decided to visit them with the promise of a place to stay. They lived in Ostersünd, a college town with a population of 45,000 people. Even though it was small, it had a lot to offer.
There were a lot of unique shops. My favorite was a custom glass shop by the lake with the fabled Birger monster. Most of the trip was spend hanging out with my friends at pubs like The Bishop’s Arms. They even took me to the city of Ora to try skiing for the first time. I fell quite a bit, but eventually started getting the hang of it.
Half way through the day, they took me on an advanced slope and told me it was an easy, blue slope. The sun was out all day, so the snow had begun to melt and expose the ice. It made it difficult to stop or slow down. By the time I got half way down the hill, I had to take off my skis and slide down the rest of the way on my ass. Luckily, I didn’t break anything.
One unique dish I had the opportunity to try was reindeer steak. Most people ask me if it was gamey, but it was actually more tender than any filet I have ever had. It was probably the best steak I’ve ever had. I had a lot of fun in Sweden, but I eventually had to leave. On the way back home I stopped in Iceland for a few days.
When I spent 30 days in Japan, I learned that you can do a lot in one city with just a few days. So, Reykjavik was my way of making up for not going on vacation in 2014. It was conveniently on the way back anyways. I was only there for a few days and it was a really cool city.
I booked a tour for the Northern Lights, but weather in Iceland is unpredictable. The night I was supposed to see the lights, an overcast ruined my plans. I still had high hopes, but the tour agency never showed up. They didn’t even contact me to cancel. I even had to get my bank to force a refund for the booking because the agency wouldn’t respond to my emails.
On the bright side, I still had the chance to see the Golden Circle and meet what I like to call Tina Turner horses. Just before my tour of the Golden Circle, my tour group and I were lucky enough to witness a solar eclipse. The temperature must have dropped 20 degrees when the sun was covered. It made me feel a little better about spending $60 on wool long johns at 66North.
I spent a lot of time looking for unique restaurants, but ended up eating a lot of sushi and seafood soups. Sushisamba had some unique items on the menu, like a smoked whiskey sour. Unfortunately their smoker was broken during my visit. I may have not found many unique foods while in Iceland, but I did find the most unique museum of all time. The Icelandic Phallological Museum of Penises. The only one they didn’t have was man. Luckily, I left Reykjavik before they had the chance to change that.