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    a conversation with Totoro the Traveller

    Name: Totoro the Traveller 

    What city and country are you based in? Currently, I enjoy a traveller’s life and do not have a permanent place.

    Please provide any links to projects: My main social media is Instagram, that’s where it all started.

    About year ago, I had a feeling that pictures were not enough, I wanted to share more and try to show the atmosphere of places I’m visiting. So in July 2016 a YouTube channel was created.

    How and why did you start your Totoro the Traveller blog? I’d been living at Studio Ghibli museum in Mitaka, Japan. Life seems truly amazing when you live in a place like that. However, at some point I noticed that people coming there every day were very different. They looked different, spoke languages I couldn’t understand but at the same time, all of them were wandering inside the museum with faces like that popular emoji, the one with hearts instead of eyes Most of them tried to give a hug to Laputa robot outside, buy some cute stuff to bring home, snapped pictures and vlogged. Watching them, I realized that being curious, one can travel the world and see lots of beautiful places. That Ghibli museum, which was a whole world for me back then, was just one of those interesting places. And so I went. I started from Spain because, at that time, one of the most creative people I’d heard of was Antonio Gaudi, the Spanish architect. I came to Barcelona, spent a day at Parc Guell, visited Sagrada Familia Cathedral and other buildings he created and got so inspired! And the further I went, the more I noticed. I learned about Santiago Calatrava, another Spanish architect who is only 65 now, and traveled to Valencia to see one of his most famous work, City of Arts and Sciences, which literally took my breath away. I wanted more. I realized I wanted people to learn about all this beauty and maybe to inspire someone to travel and see it all with their own eyes.  The best option was Instagram, as it’s all about pictures. I checked and learned there was no active account like the one I was going to create, so I assumed I should give it a try.

    What can we expect next from your blog and video series? I plan to make more videos for YouTube, hope they will be inspiring and entertaining. My “Postcard from Totoro the Traveller” fun will also continue as it’s becoming more and more popular and gives me a chance to get to know my followers better (I send postcards from places I’ve been to my followers). I plan to travel more, go more deeply into local cultures—maybe I’ll try some new activities this year, and hopefully, will make new friends. But what you can always expect from my blog are positive vibes!  

    How often do you travel? Is it for pleasure or do you also travel for work? Travel is always a pleasure. I’m on the road every time I get a chance. I often get messages like “I want to travel like you” and I would like to say that guys, you actually can. If you can’t afford a flight to another part of the planet yet, you can take a bus, you can go on a road trip or hike somewhere with a friend—there are plenty of opportunities if you just look around! Distances in Europe are so small and there’s so much to see. Being in Belgium, I wanted to stop in every small village to look closely at those cute houses. Upon arrival to Portugal, I was so mesmerized by the ocean I could hardly talk myself to go to a city nearby. The city was Aveiro, and it is still one of the highlights of that trip. On the way to Aveiro I saw so many storks I almost thought I got into some Stephen King’s book. Thank God I didn’t stay at the beach that day and missed it all! In the US, states are so different and there is something to see everywhere, be it a city or nature. What I’m trying to say is, you never know what is waiting for you until you go. You can make a new friend in a neighboring city over the weekend getaway, you can taste something amazing in another part of your own town, you can hear a song that will inspire you for months and will always remind you of the place you’ve heard it for the first time (I have a couple of songs of this kind, they are like teleports!). Sometimes I stay for longer time, like I did last summer—arrived in St Petersburg (Russia) to see famous white nights, and spent more than a month up there because there was so much to see and I was really interested in local culture and activities. However, it was nice to leave Russia for warmer Italy later in September

    Have you ever been to Japan? If yes, what did you like about it? If not, where in Japan would you want to visit? As I’ve mentioned before, I’m originally from Japan, but unfortunately I haven’t seen much of it and I didn’t even take any pictures there. So I would love to go back, travel in my home country and show it all to my followers. Where? Everywhere! And visit Studio Ghibli museum, of course!

    You’re planning a vacation. Are you headed to the beach, a city or the mountains? Usually, it goes differently: I see some awesome place (it can be a city, an antique windmill, a bridge, a café, a national park or castle—anything), google about it, learn what else is in that area, local events, etc. Later, when I see a possibility to go there, I go. It means that I have a very long wishlist in my head, but Pinterest is a good friend of mine and helps to keep interesting places at hand.  

    What is your favorite city/country you’ve traveled to and why? I cannot choose a favorite country and city, they are all too different. How do I compare Romania and China, Finland and Hungary? Or even more complicated—Barcelona and Brugge? Amsterdam and Beijing? Paris and Istanbul? Unreal! They all have a place in my heart!

    What’s the best warm weather destination in your opinion? I’d say Italy. It’s a paradise both for sightseeing and beach lovers, with all that great historical sights, cities and sandy beaches (don’t forget Italian islands!). This is just from my current experience; I have not been to Mexico, Cuba, Greece, Maldives and other well-known beach destinations yet.

    What about a cold weather destination? I’d say Finland. Scandinavians know how to survive cold weather with a smile on their face. I’m yet to visit Lapland, but it looks like a place all the best winter fun happens at!

    Where are you off to next? Still working out plans for this year. I’ll definitely go on a big trip in Russia as this country is so diverse, it’s very popular among my followers and I wanna see more of it: I’ve planned to visit 3-4 republics so far. Most likely I’ll finally visit Denmark. Thinking about Czech Republic, Iran, Morocco, Indonesia, Germany and Ireland, but who knows… I’ve been in 13 countries last year, hopefully, 2017 will be full of adventures as well!

    What city or country is at the top of your travel bucket list and why? Norway, Iceland, Alberta in Canada and Faroe islands—for nature; Hong Kong, New York, and London for big city vibes.

    When you are exploring a new place, what is always on your list to do? Visit historical places or major sights (a good point is to check the opening hours and days off! I’ve failed to enter famous Kasteel De Haar and Malbork, the largest red brick castle in the whole world, due to poor scheduling, so be wiser please!); some cute places (cafés, museums, art spots), check if there’s something related to Ghibli (I’ve found a great street art with scene from “Whisper of the Heart” in St Petersburg!); try local food; check what activities are offered (I still envision myself in hot air balloon after I saw it soaring in Vilnius, need to try that!).

    What are some of your favorite restaurants from your travels? I’m more concentrated on the food itself, but yeah I try to eat at some interesting places as it might be a good way to look at a city from a different angle. I remember having “croquet-madame” for breakfast at one of that Parisian pavement cafes with little round tables, near Comedy-Francaise. Sipping coffee at Sixty, the highest restaurant in Europe, located in one of the Moscow City skyscrapers with a breathtaking view over the streets full of lights. 

    Chewing a sandwich in Gdansk’s Owl café, where owls were everywhere and it was too adorable to leave, so I spent half of that rainy day there. I wish I could take one of their coffee cups with me! 

    From my first trip: El Rey de las Gamba in Barcelona, with frutti di mare so fresh, right out of the sea! 

    Jamie’s Italian by Jamie Oliver in Moscow and St Petersburg. Both are located in the city center, have a great atmosphere and the food is amazing. I like Jamie Oliver and his initiatives mostly dedicated to inspiring people to eat healthier.

    Being in Belgium, I noticed people drinking beer from glasses I’ve never seen before. I had to try it and I did, it was in Liege, at La Brasserie Cathedrale, a pavement café overlooking the square and stunning St Paul cathedral, in evening lights. That beer was Kwak, and it was unforgettable with all that scenery around me.   

    Isn’t it precious to have a chance to try the famous sausage of Nuremberg in a cheerful atmosphere of an old restaurant, to buy Czech snack “trdelnik” from a street vendor in Karlowy Vary, catch your meal at Running Wok and Sushi in Budapest? Imagine yourself a part of Ferrari owners looking at pictures at Ferrari café in Prague or watching ferries on the Bosphorus strait, eating your bakhlava bit by bit in one of the cafés located on the Galata bridge?

    What about any can’t-miss sights? What should we make sure to see this year in our travels? One thing applicable to any place you go: on a sunny day, wake up before sunrise, find a spot with beautiful scenery and watch how the world around you wakes up. I will never forget sunrise in the mountains of Romania.

    You post lots of great photos and videos on your social media. Can you share any tips for getting the best portrait of yourself? The major issue is to be in a great mood so your eyes will be smiling. When I snap a pic being excited, it somehow gets more feedback, which makes me think that good energy also gets captured somehow. Not saying about light, quality, wiping the lens (crucial for phone shots!) and technical issues. Be the one who tries to give some nice vibes to all who’ll see that picture!  

    Can you share with us any packing tips? Is Totoro a carry-on or checked luggage fan? I’m a minimalist. A camera is all I take in summer and a scarf and bottle for hot drinks is all that I add in for colder seasons. I understand it might not be enough for people, but in my opinion traveling light is the best option almost every time. Traveling light and credit card, haha.

    Who makes your adorable pink scarf? It’s quite fashionable you know. I’ve been waiting for a question about my scarf, hehe. One of my followers read that I was freezing during my Russian trip in January 2015, and kindly crocheted this scarf for me. It melts my heart to wear it as I know it was made with love and care. It keeps me warm but to tell the truth, if I ever go to Alaska or Siberia in winter, I’ll wrap myself in a blanket and never peek a paw out of it!

    stevie benanty

    stevie benanty

    Founder of a conversation.
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