Entry Info

Even though I'm digressing from the main travelogue, I'd like to write about personal news which has had a significant impact on me. Well, this is a kind of a real time update of the trip and please join my monologue.


One of my friends who used to play guitar with me at the high school's club is going to make his major debut for a Japanese top label avex. Although I haven't seen the broadcasted version yet, his song is already featured as the Coca Cola's CM song in Japan. Heday, a male vocal and guitar player of a band Layla Lane is he.

Without any exaggerations, he could be the one who has had the greatest influence on my life because since our high school days he's been proving that the dream is only achieved by your own capacity. When I joined the high school's classic guitar club, he was one of my seniors. But not only playing the guitar at the club, dreaming to be a rock star, he was writing a lot of his original songs. And after graduating the school, he decided to go to the US for musical training despite his bright academic aptitude at the most competitive high school of the region. His challenging attitude, ignoring the noises around him and just following the declared dream, gave me huge courage when I came to decide my career before my graduation from high school.

Since then I'd been hearing a lot of amazing news such as that as a studio musician he became a friend of famous music producer, played a session with Ringo Starr etc., and a couple of months ago, the news about the tie-up with Coca Cola Japan came. What's more, the debut from AVEX is this time. It's a classic success story everyone would dream about. Probably, he is a sort of blessed person. Yet, not just because of luck, he must have had the capacity to catch the blue bird when it approached him. When I finished reading his detailed path on Layla Lane's profile page(only Japanese), I made a big sigh. Hey, what breakthroughs have you been making?

In fact, his talent of writing music was standing out from our high school days. Admiring to the Beatles and Queen, he wrote most of his lyrics in English. He also composed the music by himself and vocals, guitar, base, piano, drums he played all of the roles of the band for making his demo tapes. In those days, I had a quite a few friends who were forming bands but he, who kept making only original songs, was totally different from those who were just playing band games. I still have his songs from those days in my iTunes and even now I sometimes pick them up as well as the other major hit songs. I hope to find the remake version of those songs someday in the future when Layla Lane gets their break.

As the 20 century era was transiting to 21st, I, who was captivated with creating 3D graphics, used to help his technical side after school as I was good at handling a PC even though we belonged the same classic guitar club at the school. Mastering the music sources from his MTR by my PC, burning original CDs with the CD-R writer which was quite rare at the time, designing lyrics sheets in earnest by taking photos with a digital camera and such and such. Actually I liked these activities very much because I'd realised that despite my pleasure in playing guitar I couldn't devote myself completely to the music industry but I could contribute to his creation by my calling. As both of us were perfectionists, we pursued our "professional quality" (yet, on reflection I can laugh away the quality from the view of a professional) and I believe those creative processes were much more thrilling than the activities from ordinary colleges.

He made a lot of unforgettable episodes and I'd like to share one of the most impressive scenes. It was when he participated in a band music contest for high school students with his band members. After the brilliant victory of the first local stage, if they'd won the first place of the provincial stage, the door to the final national stage on which many major labels were keeping their eye would've opened to them. As usual they performed their original English song featuring about Christmas. What's more, all of the band members dressed to kill in formal suits. Though it's from a fellow's view, they presented so extraordinarily as high school kids. The audience looked rather more flabbergasted than amazed. Anyway few people were able to comprehend their English lyrics.

The result was that they unexpectedly received "jury's special award". In contrast to the other bands who accepted the special award with big smiles, they looked very dissatisfied and just commented "We are very disappointed because we came here to get the final stage". From this episode, I found how cool people are who focus on the apex and how difficult it is to actualise it. Only a winner could go to the final stage and the rest were the same as the losers. The consolation award wouldn't console them. Nevertheless, in retrospect, thanks to the defeat at the time, coming a very long way round and making a definite advance, he finally made his major debut at this time as Layla Lane. Really, this is "Connecting the Dots". Although we don't know when it happens, every incident connects to the future.

Well, in retrospect again, the very first motivation of me creating web sites was spurred by him saying that he wanted to have a band's web site. In order to meet his demand, I started learning about html from books. The first site was a typical "trendy" site which poorly used frames and emboss effects. In those days, I still devoted myself to 3D graphics as well but afterwards I became fascinated with Flash5, which I bought by academic discount, and started considering my career path to the web industry. Therefore, it's not an overstatement that he has been the greatest influence on my life.

I set out on the round the world trip after 3 years meticulous preparation. I believe I have been achieving a lot of things but after 10 years from those days I can't think of myself having caught up with my respectable friend. Maybe he's running far ahead. Ah, how fortunate I am to have such an inspiring person close to me. I want to make more breakthroughs, pursue my ideal and accelerate myself. I know I can't be satisfied with myself but I just want to feel the elation of making headway. For me, who started pondering over the future plan after coming back home, his leap means far more than simple auspicious news.

Do you think it's nonsense to compare yourself with somebody? I don't think so. I do think it's nonsense to get depressed because of the comparison but it's great to have a person whose existence forces my chin up. I don't need to do the same things as him. I'm delighted too, though envious of his achievement. In case, I feel envious, I should give a try. I know he is just a human being although he appeared to us like a superman at high school. I presume he's been making a crazily tremendous amount of effort as usual. Learning from his attitude, I'd like to go beyond my limit.

Anyhow, the band of my friend from high school days, Layla Lane is going to make their debut by a single CD "Happy Lane" from avex. You can already order it from Amazon. It would be great if you could think of getting the one. Now, I'm just wondering what if the song enter the charts but whatever he achieves I wouldn't be surprised anymore but give it my big applause.

Entry Info

As I mentioned at the beginning of the previous entry, Istanbul is the meeting point of Asia and Europe. In other words, it's the city where all travellers on the Eurasia circuit get together. Because of this locality, there are many cheap hostels running and the more hostels that open the more they compete; eventually, the quality of hostels soars high. In fact, at hostelworld you can find many hostels which got more than 85points with the reviews. In my experience, if the hostel has more than 85points, they don't fail me. But there are too many nicely reviewed hostels to check out. Therefore, using Istanbul as a prime example, I'd like to describe my way how to choose hostels which meet my taste.

At the very first, I don't mind staying in dormitory rooms. Ideally, I prefer a 4 bed dorm room as it's quieter than the bigger rooms but it depends on the price of the rooms. What's more, a very important feature of the dorm room is that I give my top priority to sleeping in the mixed (both sexes) room. Mind you, I don't intend to chat up any beautiful girls. I hardly find attractive girls in the dorm rooms anyway. The reason why I choose the mixed dorm is, to avoid the men snoring so badly. You know some people are just as terrible as noise pollution. They even void my ear plugs. In contrast, most ladies are very quiet at night and I can sleep comfortably in the same room.

Ratings are probably the most informative factors. I usually start with checking about "Staff" value because I believe staff are the core to characterise the hostel. Although hostels can't compete with the decent hotels for their materialistic features such as the buildings and facilities for the cost issue, they can improve their soft services by their own hospitality. As I wrote before, such as Niras at Bangkok, Yashin's at Gyoreme, some people at nice hostel were very kind and willing to help travellers. In a way, they are the concierges for backpackers. Though they are quite frank and friendly, their kindness are on a par with the personal services from 5 star hotels.

Next point is, "Cleanness". You might think that cheap hostels cannot be clean but unexpectedly there are quite a few spotlessly clean hostels. Some hostels have dedicated cleaning staff who sweep the floor all day long. Luxury and cleanness are totally different; a simple room with bunk beds is comfortable enough providing the room is cleaned carefully. Maybe you should accept the cleaning lady entering your room in the late morning even if you are sleeping. It's much better than the messy room left from the cleaning schedule.

"Location" really depends on the city. If the city is small and everything is within a walking distance, it would be great to have the hostel in the central area. On the other hand, if the city requires using public transport all the time, not sticking to the location makes the choices wider and more valuable. For instance about Istanbul which is divided into the downtown and old city, I booked 2 hostels, each of them are nicely located in their own area.

Last but not least about the ratings, for me "Fun" should be low. Do you think it's strange to prefer lowly rated hostels? It's because of the clientele. Unlike Asian budget travellers, a significant number of Western travellers are crazy about drinking out and they are always talking about night clubs and pubs at the cities. The hostels which got high "Fun" rate are usually so called party hostels where the party animals congregate and sometimes staff lead their travellers to their local pubs. However, binge drinking and making noise are not my taste at all. In order to avoid this kind of people, I would often choose the less "Fun" hostel. As a result, I met some nice people who enjoy travelling itself and it was my pleasure to talk with them with some alcohol.

The reviews are just for extra information. I usually don't care about good reviews but bad reviews should be of concern. There are kind of inevitable accidents such as overbooking and broken something and I don't mind about them. However, if you find any security incidents happening often recently, you should consider using the hostel very carefully.

In terms of prices, I don't really care. Basically, the dorm rooms from hostelworld are reasonable enough. As you might have already understood my character, I'd rather choose a better hostel with some extra charge than stay at the cheapest yet dingy hostel. As a "first class backpacker", I'd like to stay at first class hostels.

Considering all of the factors above, the hostels I choose to stay at Istanbul is Chambers of Boheme and Agora Hostel. If you check out hostelworld, you'll see these hostels perfectly match my criteria. The hostels actually hit my spot and I can't state which is better.

Located off the street of the main shopping street Istiqlal downtown, is Chambers of Boheme; a Bohemian design boutique hostel as the name indicates. The ground and first floor are used as a stylish café and their breakfast included nicely brewed coffee from the café. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to bring our own food, I liked sitting on a classic sofa at the café and using my PC.

Agora hostel at the old city area boasts their ocean view terrace at the top floor. The breakfast buffet consists not only the basic foods such as bread, cereal, and egg but some rare foods for budget hostels like a variety of hams and homemade brownies. Besides, the area has many other hostels as well as some reasonable restaurants and I didn't find it difficul to eat out well.

Even though we say dorm rooms at budget hostels in a single word, there are actually so many types around the world, weird Japanese hostels, party hostels, boutique hostels etc. I recommend you check with yourself about your preference and follow the basic rules. In addition to this, it's sometimes interesting to stay at places different from your taste. Especially, after Istanbul, I mean Europe is the hottest area of hostels. I suppose even just browsing hostelworld and looking for hostels would be a great fun.

Entry Info

The bridge between Asia and Europe is literally Istanbul extending on both side of the Bosporus. Although I'd considered paying a visit to Pamukkale, a famous resort for the hanging limestone and the hot spring spas, I decided to head for Istanbul with Shin and Tomoko as I wanted to stay at an urban city rather than a remote touristic site. After 10 hours sitting on the night bus, we were very excited to see the spires of the huge mosques, which is arguably the touristic symbol of the city.

Istanbul is divided into the Asian side and the European side by the Bosporus and many tourist attractions are concentrated at the old town located at the south part of European side separated by a small inlet, the Golden Horn. The northern part of the European side is regarded as the new town with modern buildings and shopping streets. Since I'd been looking forward to staying in this city, I'd booked the accommodation 5 nights in each area; that is 10 nights in total. However as I arrived earlier than the original plan, I needed to find bridging accommodation and I decided to stay at a (in)famous hostel Tree of Life mainly targeting the Japanese budget travellers in the Middle East.

Just 10 minutes on foot from the Blue Mosque, Tree of Life is on the top floors of a multi tenanted building located at the back of the main street in which the tram is operating. Climbing up to the 4th floor by stairs, we reached the reception and it was the classic example of a Japanese hostel. There were dozens of Japanese travel guides and comics on the bookshelves and whenever I called into a room somebody was reading those books and smoking cigarettes. Incidentally, the staff working there was not the proper employee of the hostel but a long term resident who bartered his accommodation fee (and a bit of daily allowance) for the post of caretaker. According to him, the owner lives in a different place and come to the hostel occasionally. Despite the gray colour in legal terms, it's an absolutely win-win solution for the budget travellers who want to reduce their daily expenses and the owner who wants to reduce the personnel expenses. It could be an exemplary business model.

The biggest attraction of the hostel is its price; only 8 EUR per night is one of the cheapest in Istanbul (For your info, the hostels I booked by hostelworld cost 15 EUR per night). What's more, cooking the meals with the other Japanese travellers would reduce the food expenses significantly. I can recommend this hostel as the best for the budget travellers needing to make their expenses as low as possible. Besides, there are piles of Japanese travel books and by luck you could possibly meet the people who have traveled the actual place you intend to go. This hostel is very suitable for making your travel plans.

Nevertheless, I have to tell the truth that it was not my taste. I'm afraid of speaking ill but the atmosphere was quite dingy. The people staying there looked in a way very typical Japanese travellers who had become tired of their life and escaped from Japan. At Seven Heaven of Dahab, I met a lot of Japanese but most of them were totally fascinated with scuba diving and even none divers looked enjoying their own lives. In contrast, the people at Tree of Life, they talked like this "Uh, I feel bored. What am I doing today?" They can find so many interesting things around them! Yet they are actually very nice people and our communication was very smooth. I suppose we know how to talk in Japanese manner pretty much. Besides, one more thing I should mention is the hostel is not really clean. I know for the price I must not complain it but it looked very difficult to keep the hostel clean with only the amateur caretaker.

I have to emphasize this again; it was just not my taste. If you seek for other Japanese travellers and information (providing you speak Japanese of course), you should at least consider staying at Tree of Life. Speaking for myself, I was positively trapped by the Japanese famous comic series and couldn't go to the bed until I finished them all after 4:00 a.m. It may sound bizarre, coming to such a far city from Japan yet I was absorbed in reading Japanese comics. But I reckon it was the life in a Japanese hostel abroad.

Well, I'd like to introduce the hostels I booked by hostel world too. But it takes long again and therefore to be continued. I'll write about my tips on hostelworld too on the next entry.

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