Biking round Osaka

Totoro and I wake up and grab a shower. We pack up our stuff and head down to the front desk. Counter Guy recommends a French place for breakfast just down the street. A baker from France owns and operates it. He says the bread is fantastic. Counter Guy also gives us a couple compact trash bags and explains that Kyoto is very clean but there aren’t many garbage cans. Thanks!

The French spot is called Le Bac a Sable, it looks amazing. If you love quiche, this is heaven.

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We grab a spread of goodies and some coffee and numble it all up. The bread is indeed fantastic.

Fueled up we head back to check out of our little apartment in Gion Hanna Stay. It’s been a wonderful spot, we thank Counter Guy and wish him well. Down the street to the metro and we get tickets to Osaka. The train that pulls up is pretty fancy. What’s going on here? We get on and have plush seats all to ourselves. Hmmmm I think we probably needed to pay more for these. Are they gonna check? Maybe we should move. Fuck it, we’ll just play the dumb tourist card if it comes up (it doesn’t).

We have to make a transfer in the Yodotabashi station and the tickets have us stumped. Ahhhhh.. this is confusing. We have to pick a line? None of these seem right. A guy with crazy anime hair sees us being dumb tourists and helps us out. Money first and then these other buttons glow. Ahh 180 for Namba station. Thank-you!

We get into Namba Station in Osaka and make our way to the street. Whoa, glitzy spot. Lots of shops and high-rises, flashing lights and people milling about. Awesome, we’ve got a new city to explore!

I’ve got a contact here named Andrew. We did our masters together back in Scotia a coon’s age ago and I haven’t seen him since. I moved to California and he moved to Japan. Sounds like we’re going to catch up tonight over dinner and drinks, can’t wait! Andrew forwarded me on to a friend of his here in Osaka named Rodney. Rodney has a couple of apartments around town that he AirBnBs out and so we’ve been in touch over the passed few days coordinating on it all. He’s been great so far, seems chill and friendly (as far as you can tell via emails anyways). He’s sent a bunch of PDFs that he’s made about the apartment, directions to it, little maps with things to see and do in the city. Super helpful.

I pull one of them up on my phone and follow it directly from Namba station to the apartment, which he’s called Namba Oasis. Easy Peasy. This is actually where Rodney lives with his girlfriend and he rents out the spare room. Gonna have roommates for a few days, should be fun!

Namba Oasis

We take the lift up an apartment high-rise and follow directions to a red door with the right number on it. A few knocks and we’re greeted by Rodney with a great big smile and just a spectacular accent. What is that, Kiwi? Great voice, he should do radio podcasts. He welcomes us in and starts to show us around. Our emails back and forth had alluded to a person with personality, and within the first minute of meeting this is easily confirmed. Rodney is a real character. Personable and charming, energetic and really really fucking funny. This is going to be great.

The Namba Oasis looks like it’ll be a great base of operations while we investigate Osaka. (The flag confirms he’s a kiwi)

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Rodney gives us the tour, complete with hilarious commentary (eg: “This oven does everything but in vitro fertilization”). It’s basically a two bedroom, one bath apartment with living room, kitchen and balcony. Perfect! There is lots of cool artwork, books, board games and Star wars  paraphernalia.

Good manga collection, I’ll have to get some tips. Sweet Storm trooper helmet!

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This is awesome, did Rodney make this?!

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But this though… this makes me think Rodney and I have potential to be BFFs. I love this. I may steal it. But then I’d have to carry it around Japan. This is just so awesomely awesome.

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Rodney is pumped about Osaka. He has loads of suggestions for us and is genuinely enamored with the city which is nice. It’s been hard to get a sense of the place online. Lots of people say that Tokyo and Kyoto are the bomb and there isn’t a lot of reason to go to Osaka besides the food and nightlife. I found this to be a funny reoccurring statement because those are the main things I gravitate to in a city. Ancient temples are cool and beautiful, I can appreciate the history and architecture. But real, local people showing you their food, drink and culture is just as memorable or more so. On a really epic night you don’t remember shit actually. You’re just left with the feeling of a place and the people you’ve met.

Rodney says he’s been here 11 years. He got tired of teaching English so recently he’s been picking up airbnbs to rent, running a bar crawl and doing little gigs here and there. Seems to be working out for him. He’s gotta run to another appointment but could show us to a local bike rental spot if we’re interested. Sounds perfect.

Rodney grabs his bike and we get back to the street. Right next to the apartment is a good looking grocery store. That’s handy. A couple blocks away is the bike rental place. Rodney has a short back and forth with the owner and gets us a couple bikes on discount. He says he has a bit of an in with the place. He also designed their logo.

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We split off from Rodney and take our bikes into the city interior to explore.

Weave through some traffic and down side streets and soon we find ourselves in the Amemura area. Lots of retail and clothing shops. It’s a bustling spot. I kind of like the vibe of Osaka already. There isn’t a bunch of tourists everywhere. It’s normal everyday life. Maybe it’s not like this everywhere in the city, but coming from tourist mecca Kyoto, this is a nice reprieve.

It’s only mid morning and we don’t really have plans for the day. We’ll probably go to the castle in a bit, but just biking around getting the vibe of the place is as good a plan as any.

We come up on a coffee shop called Granknot and take a dip in. Coffee is the best.

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It’s a trendy, narrow, industrial kinda place. We grab some coffees and a muffin to split and sit in the back to do a quick planning sesh. We’ll kill it tonight with Andrew, Rodney and Co. I think we’ll go back to Kyoto tomorrow to catch the bamboo forest and golden temple. That place just has too much to see and we need another day. And then we’ll have another day afterwards to continue exploring Osaka. Bueno!

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This magic moment..

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I usually don’t like inspirational posters and ‘Hang in there’ cat posters and shit, but this one on the back wall of Granknot felt worthy of a pic

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While we’re sitting there enjoying our coffees I get a message from McBurger on the agency line. “Flo Rida liked our jetski pic? That’s legit.” I have no idea what he’s talking about, “What the hell are you yammering about?”, “On instagram. You posted a pic of us on jetskis in Malaysia and tagged it with #flo_rida and Official Flo Rida liked it!”, “Really? That’s hilarious cuz we were actually making fun of his video.”

James caved on his anti-social media mantra (except for twitter?) and made an instagram account for the sole reason of stalking us on our trip and getting all fomo because he has such a travel boner for Japan. Low and behold, the distancefromnormal account has pics on it from the whole SEA adventure, the trip from Cali to Chile, Taiwan/Hong Kong and the Mongol Rally too.

We finish up, grab the bikes and spin around town some more. Osaka seems a little grittier than Tokyo. Dare I say, more gangster? This area anyways. It feels like it could just be another section of Tokyo actually, with it’s own personality. Seems fashionable but more grounded than the anime fashionistas of Shibuya. More street. More chains. Lots of trendy restaurants and shops. People smoking on the streets here. Seems a little more relaxed than Tokyo and Kyoto.

We’ve worked up a bit of an appetite and start browsing the sidewalks for an outdoor patio to kick it on. A spot named Banco looks like it will work. Seems trendy and divey at the same time. Dark interior with a bar and then just a handful of seats and tables thrown on the sidewalk.

We get a couple beers and a gratin dish. The food takes forever and is burnt and shitty when it does finally come out but lounging on the street, sipping a beer, people watching and soaking up the vibe is pretty relaxing.

…until, unexpectedly we get blindsided by the Banco speaker system with the song Trapped in the closet by R Kelly. I just can’t stop laughing. Of all the damn songs, what the fuck is happening? I would have never expected to hear this anywhere in public let alone some hipster cafe in Osaka. It’s so bad but so entertaining. Oh gawd, this is absurd. why is this happening? it’s so great.

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Alrighty, enough dilly-dallying. Osaka seems legit enough to me. Time to get a local attraction in. We pay up at Banco and thank them for an interesting time, grab our steeds and boogie. The Osaka Castle is just North East of here, shouldn’t take to0 long to get there. We probably have time to get there, see the castle, catch the sunset and get back to return the bikes.

It’s a nice jaunt through town. Biking is such a great way to see any city. Just like Kyoto, we’re rolling through side streets, weaving around people and traffic, and getting a quick snapshot of the city as we cruise by the shops, restaurants and bars.

A bunch of kids are walking home from school with their little uniforms and backpacks and it’s insanely adorable.

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We roll up to Osaka Castle nearing golden hour. Looks badass. It’s a fancy pants, five story samurai-looking castle on a raised hill overlooking a moat w sheer rock walls. Let’s get in there

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