As promised, I put the pictures online ^_^

Abandoned theme park

Kinugawa Onsen

Countryside pottery 

I'm sleepy now. I should go to bed. Photoblog pics later.

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A proper crazy weekend

This weekend was exactly what I needed to feel right back home here in Japan. A common-room party the likes of which we have not seen for quite some time. Even though the nice room was taken by Japanese people, the relocation of our fruit party to the first floor did not turn out bad at all, because we could use the common kitchen to make our fruit dishes presentable.  I made a crazy amount of pictures, but since the weekend was quite busy I will have to post some later, so have some patience.

The party lasted until quite late, so I spent most of the Saturday sleeping, after which I watched an interesting movie about China during WW2 with a couple of friends. The movie is called Lust, Passion, and is a recommended watch for anyone remotely interested in China. Apparently some of the sex scenes in the movie were too shocking for mainland China, so they had to censor parts of it..

Sunday we departed on our trip in search of an abandoned theme park. After doing some extensive research online we found a brilliant website about urban exploration, which contained links to abandoned places in countries all over the world, including Japan. This site is a must-see for every photographer reading this blog, and I guarantee that it's very interesting for anyone who is curious about the topic.  I'm actually wondering about whether or not to post this here, since technically I guess it's illegal to enter someone else's property. Therefore I present you the following disclaimer: everything in this post below this line is completely made up and fictional, and it never happened in real life :D

The theme park turned out to be more abandoned than I thought, and indeed I was too late to find anything of interest. All the rides and attractions had been demolished and removed already, and all that remained were a restaurant, the remains of a swimming pool and some toilet buildings. It was fun to explore the area and figure out what each part of the park was used for, and even though most of the park was a bit of a disappointment, the restaurant turned out to be a golden find. There was so much interesting stuff there, I found it hard to leave when the sun started to set. In the end I tried to leave the place in exactly the same state as it was in when I found it. It was quite an interesting experience, and I am definitely looking for new opportunities to find cool abandoned places a bit closer to home, maybe on a random bike trip some weekends later.

That evening I met up with some friends and we ended up in a very nice onsen (hot spring) hotel in Kinugawa, near Nikko. The next day we took a nice relaxing train ride all the way to Ibaraki-ken, to visit some countryside town to look at pottery. Apparently the town was famous for it's hand-made pottery, and it even offered people to make it themselves. Even though I didn't make anything myself I still had fun taking pictures of my friends making the pots. The scenery during the train ride was wonderful too, so all in all I really enjoyed myself this weekend ^_^.

I took a quick look at all the pictures I made this weekend, and I'm really amazed at the results of compared to my Europe trip (only ) a week ago. The photo's made in Japan seem to come out a lot better than the ones I made in Europe. I'm guessing this happens for two reasons. One: the weather in Japan is just better than in Europe, so the lighting is better, and I get more chances to make a good picture. Two: I'm just more interested in Japan than Europe, so I'm more motivated to look for a better picture.

The flash is amazing! I carried it with me for the trip, and in the abandoned restaurant it proved very useful indeed, lighting places that would otherwise be time-consuming or impossible to photograph, requiring either a tripod or a lot of patience and luck. The flash just makes clean, good pictures. I'm usually bouncing it against the ceiling because the effect of a direct flash is usually way too strong to produce a nice picture. The only complaint I have about it is that it makes the pictures look a bit too nice. The colors look very warm and the place looks way less creepy in the picture than it looked in real life. That will have to be toned down a bit by Photoshop before I publish some of them, I guess.

My opinion about my lenses keeps on changing too. I'm rediscovering the 17-85mm lens, which, even though it's degrading more and more (it's getting floppier and the focus still has some problems) produces very good results during day and night. At night the stabilization works way better than I previously thought, and it has the perfect range to use with the flash.

The 28mm 1.8 disappoints me a bit. I was expecting a lot from this lens during night scenes, like streets or statues, just doing random photographing in low-light conditions. But it seems that the pictures at f/1.8 are equally as blurry as my 17-85mm at 28mm - f/4.5 with IS enabled. And in that case there's really no point to use the 28mm in dark conditions, so I only use it to make close-up shots of things where the background is nicely blurred, and that doesn't happen too often during my trips.

I didn't use the 10-22mm! This must have been the first time ever that I didn't use it during a trip. I always used it for every trip I took since I bought it. This trip there was only one time I wanted to use the ultra-ultra-wide angle lens, and that was for a huge statue of Kannon, during sunset. In the end I decided to use the 17-85mm since it had IS and I didn't really need a much wider angle.. :S

Finally, the 70-300mm is by far the best lens I've got. So many pictures are superbly sharp, and the colors are excellent. For some reason it's easy to distinguish the superior quality of the photo's made by the 70-300mm compared to all my other lenses. The sharpness is just so much better. It makes me want to consider getting a better mid-range zoom lens as well, since it's quite noticeable which photo's came from the 17-85mm and which came from the 70-300mm. And that's not a good thing for the 17-85mm...

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Europe by train

Europe by train!

Click on the picture or here to go to the trip gallery at Picasa. Yes, I know it's only 12 pictures -____-. It would have been less too, but I figured I should at least include some pictures of France and Switzerland, even though the weather was terrible at times and I lacked inspiration for taking good photos. I made a lot more photo's of course, but I'm hardly proud of showing them to anyone except my friends, just to show them where I've been. Photographically they are hardly worth noticing. I've also uploaded some of the phototechnically more interesting pictures (eg. the best ones >_<) to my photoblog, where they will be appearing the next couple of days, so stay tuned.

Well, that was the crazy trip. I somehow made it back to Japan after everything, and I took this weekend to relax and get better, because I've caught a serious cold on the way :( At least it gave me the time to sort the pictures and get settled in again. I'm ready for another year. I think.

The trip started on the 27th of December. I went to Amsterdam to meet Kamil and Liou. Meeting Kamil was memorable as always. Because the toilets at the station cost money he tried to use the toilet inside one of the trains and almost ended up on a train to Alkmaar -_-. We managed to get out just in time though...

The 28th we went around Groningen, my province, where we took pictures of sheep, cows, churches and windmills (as expected). That night we left for Cologne with our 5-day free train pass. The 29th we stayed in Cologne, and the 30th we spent looking around Koblenz.

We were supposed to take a train to Strasbourg on the 30th, and look around Strasbourg the whole day on the 31st, but we ended up going to Denmark and Sweden by night train instead! It was the crazy event that our trip was missing, and it ended up getting us away from the crappy weather in central Europe. The weather in Denmark was great, and this day was by far the best of the whole trip :) Copenhagen is quite a nice city, and in my opinion easily the nicest city of all the cities I've seen in Europe so far (except Groningen maybe :D ). Sweden was fun too, but we could only stay a couple of hours before taking the night train back to Switzerland o_0

So,  we decided to do Strasbourg anyway in the morning of January 1st, after which we continued on to Neuchatel, where we had booked our last hostel of the trip. That night we went around Neuchatel to visit the castle and we dined at an insanely expensive restaurant, which was a very nice experience.

For the last day of our trip we went to the castle in the early morning and then by train to Geneva, where I had to catch a plane back home. We had some time to walk around the city too, which was nice. Geneva is quite nice as well. It somehow just feels nicer than German and French cities. It's as if a German and French city had a baby and called it Geneva. Although the daddy calls it Genv and the mommy calls it Geneve...

After that I said my goodbyes to Kamil and hurried along to the airport, as it turned out for no reason. The plane was 2 hours delayed, just as any other plane leaving Geneva, apparently. It gave me a nice chance to read 'The memoirs of a Geisha', and by the time my train finally pulled into Groningen station I had just finished the last page. Quite a nice book. I've watched the movie yesterday and it does not compare at all to the book. It just didn't translate well to a movie IMO. Oh well, at least the book was great. I can recommend it to anyone, no matter if you've been in Japan or not. There is little relation to current Japanese culture, but it does give some interesting insight in classical Japan.

I was barely home and I already had to pack my bags again, because my flight back to Japan was on the 3rd. It finally occurred to me to check the departure times, and it looked like I had to get up really early too, since the plane left Amsterdam at 10:00 and I had to take two and a half hours to get there from my place. Fortunately my parents could bring me to the station and I managed to arrive there with time to spare. Swiss Air was excellently on time, and boarding was finished 10 minutes to 10. One hour later I was in Switzerland again... The flight to Japan went fine too, with a couple of setbacks though. I chose an emergency exit seat with lots of leg space when I checked in online, but as it appeared the seats in the plane did not match the ones on the website, and I was stuck with an isle seat one row in front of the emergency exit seat I wanted... Besides that, and the guy with the huge nose who sat next to me and kept on making breathing noises that were louder than the airplane's engines at full thrust, everything went well.

I have to admit my life feels quite empty right now. I was looking forward to this trip a lot, and now that it's finally over I don't have many things planned for the future. There's a ski trip next weekend. That should be a lot of fun. After that I have nothing planned at all. I have no idea where I will be this summer. That is exactly the way I want it.

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