Josh's Photo Blog

September 29, 2009

Oktoberfest Adventures

Filed under: Uncategorized — joshuaps @ 11:04 pm

I’d like to say that I planned far, far in advance for this trip, reserving plane tickets and beer tent seats months in advance, but that would be a huge whopper of a lie. Truth is, I found out I was going to Oktoberfest maybe 10 hours before I actually left for it, driving with some college buddies in a rental car across France and Germany to get there, sleeping 4 hours a night with 7 other people in one hotel room, and getting back to school maybe an hour before my first class of the week.

It was so worth it.

As you might imagine, there’s a LOT of beer at Oktoberfest. The plan of the day is to show up before the crack of dawn (I broke my lifetime record for number of sunrises seen in a row on this trip) to try and get a seat in one of several beer tents at the festival.

Once you get inside (no small feat – if you come after 7:30AM, you’re SOL), the fun starts. You order your bier and snacks (beer is served one liter at a time – about 3 regular beer bottles – and it’s THE strongest beer you’ve ever had, I promise), get sloshed, sober up and do it again.

You NEVER leave the tent – once you leave, you can’t get back in, such is the tenacity of the crowd outside that’s dying to get in

Between the alcohol freeing up everyone’s inhibitions, the low-cut women’s outfits and the amazingly catchy music, everyone’s out having the time of their lives

For those who didn’t manage to land one of the 80,000 or so seats at the tents fest-wide (yes, that many, and YES, they fill up THAT fast), Oktoberfest has all the attractions of a big carnival fair, with the added bonus of tourists from all around the world and massive numbers of drunk people trying to sober up

Gingerbread hearts, the latest fashion statement in Munich at the moment!

Below, the famous toboggan ride, one of the oldest at Oktoberfest, with a conveyor belt that’s tricky to get up on even if you’re sober. One can imagine the hilarity that ensues when drunk people try to ride it!

This is one of those events most people only do once, and I was really glad to be able to have done it. I’m not much of a drinker (as my traveling companions are able to attest to), but the sheer spectacle of the thing is just something you’ve got to see if you get the chance.


September 21, 2009

Bonjour, France!

Filed under: Uncategorized — joshuaps @ 3:31 pm

After over 6 months of planning and waiting, I’m finally here in Paris! I got in on Thursday but I’ve been busy moving in, getting my affairs in order and being a stupid American tourist. I’m out here through USC’s exchange program with HEC, one of the top business schools in Europe. I’m about 1-2 hours (depending on the train schedule) away from Paris, and I’ve been day-tripping as often as I can to take all the sights in.

The Eiffel Tower, like the rest of this city, looks about 20 times as awesome in real life as it does in photos.

Mon ami Alex (above) has been living here for over a month now, and clued me and some of the other exchange students in on the Journee du Patromoine, the EU-wide national heritage weekend where virtually all government-owned museums, offices and landmarks are opened to the public for free, including many with sections that are normally closed off. We naturally took advantage to do a lot of sightseeing, which included…

…the Arc de Triomphe, which commemorates France’s war victories…

…St. Eustache church, which is so awe-inspiring that you might swear in shock as you walk into it – how’s that for blasphemy?

…the inside of a church organ, while it was being played…

…and the famous Notre Dame

Above, the Shakespeare Bookstore, possibly the only place in Paris where EVERYONE is guaranteed to speak English. In typically French fashion, over half the books are on the second floor, the “not for sale” section.

I’m exhausted from the weekend, but extremely excited to be here. I’m hoping the enthusiasm won’t fade when my classes begin!

September 13, 2009

Thoughts on Japan, Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — joshuaps @ 2:12 am

To visualize Tokyo, imagine the biggest, most bustling metropolis you’ve ever lived in.

Now, imagine it on steroids.

The lights are brighter. The people walk faster. And both are in plentiful supply.

It was much less challenging to get around here than I thought it would be – though there are more rail lines and train companies in Tokyo alone than in many countries and the route map resembles a Gordian knot, a guidebook , help from the incredibly hospitable station staff and some planning got us to where we needed to be surprisingly quickly.

Of Tokyo’s many districts, Akihabara (above) was probably the one that made the deepest impression on me. A haven for Japan’s otaku (nerds, for lack of a better term), it is Japan at its best and very worst. You can see the admirable obsession and drive that pulled Japan out of the ashes of World War II and turned it into the second richest nation on the planet (and purchase its end result, in the form of the most advanced consumer electronics available), while at the same time gawking at the childishness of the area’s maid-cafes and the disturbing number of hentai (animated porn) shops

Lonely Planet guide entry on the Tokyo Tower (above):”Truth be told, Tokyo Tower is something of a shameless tourist trap, though it’s good fun if you go with the right attitude”.


Inspired by the Eiffel Tower (but, as the free guide points out, much improved in many ways), one might mistake it for the original were it not painted bright orange.

A traditional Shinto wedding at the Meiji-Jingu shrine in Harajuku, one of about 5 that were going on at the grounds at the same hour.

And, of course, Tsukiji, easily the best place to buy fish in the world. To call this place a “fish market” would be the understatement of the century.

At 5 AM, this place is busier than many cities at rush hour.

And yes, the fish tasted excellent.

My last shot on my Japan trip, at Shin-Osaka station, before I hopped on a train to the Osaka airport.

Overall, the trip left me in awe at the society, but also left me with a tinge of disappointment, not in anything I saw, but in the things I saw but couldn’t capture with my camera. I think I’ll be coming back again sometime, to try and rectify that.

September 11, 2009

Thoughts on Japan, Part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — joshuaps @ 9:54 am

I had the pleasure of spending a week in Japan, possibly the most amazing country I’ve been to in a very long time.

I saw an amazing amount in just a week, so much that it took me till now just to sort through all the photos and the thoughts running through my head. I shot a lot too – which is why this is first in a series of 2 posts about the country

I won’t pretend to be an expert on Japanese culture – but I will say that one of the many things that endeared the country to me during my brief time there was the way modern Japanese handle being a part of what is simultaneously one of the most rigid, but also most technologically advanced, societies on Earth.

The first leg of my trip was spent in the Kyoto-Osaka area, taking advantage of the unlimited-access, foreigners-only JR Pass (Japan Rail Pass) to bounce from high-tech Osaka to the historic (and much more scenic) Kyoto.

My mom and I found a walking tour guide, Johnny Hillwalker, who took us through the side streets of Kyoto, pointing out temples and traditional workshops along the way while dispensing thoughts on Japan’s dual-religion system (“The country is 99% Buddhist… and 99% Shinto!”) and on Article 9, Japan’s renunciation of war as a tool of diplomacy.

Kyoto was the setting for the well-known and controversial Memoirs of a Geisha. A stroll through the town, including the old geisha district of Gion, turned up no “real” geisha, but many, many people faking it for a day.

We also hiked through Fushimi-Inari, a temple built on a hill with thousands of orange torii (gates) that made for amazing visuals.

Next on the itinerary was Hakone, a vacation town a stone’s throw from Tokyo with soothing onsen (hot spring baths) and “amazing views of Mt. Fuji”.

That’s about as good of a view as I got of Mt. Fuji – the weather refused to cooperate!

I’m not sure who came up with the idea to float pirate ships on Lake Ashi (a vacation spot dotted with tourist-trap towns, temples and the aforementioned, nonexistent view of Mt. Fuji).




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