Reflections on Kyoto

 We are on the Shinkansen train back to Tokyo, a day early. Motivated a bit by the slightly, only slightly, cooler temperatures in Tokyo. Yet for me, as much as Kyoto was a wondrous place, I like Tokyo.
We arrived in Kyoto on Monday, hot and humid. Desiring a true Kyoto experience we went to the Man in the Moon British pub. They did have Kilkenny Ale, but the Cesar salad was more like a Cobb salad with blue cheese dressing. My fish and chips was far too fishy, not the sort of Cod flavor expected, but it was a good reminder that culture is geographic, so one must not be judgmental. The bartender and waitress were so kind, when we left they walked us to the door and said good by.

Tuesday was raining, serious rain. Like true Seattleites we were undaunted, yet we did take umbrellas, it was wet. We walked along the Philosopher’s Path, a pleasant walkway along a canal, our only companions the fish we watch din shallow water. Amazing how rain thins out the crowds.

The desire to find someplace dry, and the need for tea, coincided with us finding a tiny cafe. I had my morning matcha, a habit I am sure will continue, and we shared a breakfast set of hard cooked egg, toast, salad, and a sauce that was heavy in butter but not sure what else. The place was decorated almost British with classical music, and the most delightful couple attending to us.

We walked on through the rain, we ended up at the Silver Temple, Ginkakau-ji, words just don’t work. We got drenched, but loved every minute. I am reminded at the effort that people have used over the centuries to build beautiful monuments to the things they worship. It also makes me sad that in the current mindset so many Christians worship in converted warehouses, does not the God of creation deserve better?

Wednesday we ate at Le Flure, yes a French place again. We have eaten a ton of Japanese food, so don’t accuse us of seeking complacency, yet we do love French. This was one of the best meals ever, really. The service was impeccable, the view on the 15th floor, and the food, hard to beat. Highlights, cold artichoke soup, an egg crème appetizer, caramel ice-cream. 

I had steak, now for all of you American Cowboy folks, this was not like anything you have tried. First of all the size,  check the photo, it was two servings, each of 1 ounce, no 16 ounce monstrosity here. Each piece was probably more fatty than the America pallet likes, but each tiny bite was heaven, the foie-gras was a perfect seasoning, I can only think of one steak ever that came close. (Read my blog on Brimmer & Heeltap)

The Golden temple was nice, the rest of the food was good, but Tuesday was the highlight for me in Kyoto. Now it is back to Tokyo. Oh, and on Wednesday, we went back to the Irish pub for an ale and wine, both the bartender and waitress remembered us, walked us to the door, and waved good-by. Have I already said how much I love it here?

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Monday, off to Kyoto

We are off for 5 days in Kyoto, but first some memories of the last few days.

Wednesday morning Saori brought Komonos fou us to try, worn most often for special occasions and festivals. I think we look great. We spent the day shopping, mostly at Shimboco Station, the largest in Tokyo. It is hard to believe how big it is, and the size of the shopping mall, bigger than anything in Seattle – all of the big names in fashion are here. We ate lunch in one of the food courts, common in basements of train stations and malls.

After lunch we went to the 45th floor of the Tokyo Government building, there is an observation level, and a cafe. So views of cloudy Tokyo and iced tea for the heat.


The heat and the along was taking a toll, so we called it a day, tomorrow would be a grand adventure. Saori and Digaro were taking us to some limestone caves.

We drove for a couple of hours out of Tokyo, after Saori welcomed us in our room with a Matcha ceremony. Matcha is ground green tea, that is whipped to a froth and drank out of bowls, a new favorite for me. Pictures say it best for the caves.


It was so good to get out into the mountains, small village – certainly not a place many tourists are able to see.

Saturday we went to Odawara castle, a quick ride on the high speed Shinkansen bullet-train. Lunch of raw fish, well at least for me and Saori, Tricia had tempura.


Good trip, more to come

 

Tokyo, off to a grand start 

Thursday morning, Tokyo. We arrived Monday and our friend Saori welcomed us at the airport. We picked up our Japan Rail pass, smooth as it could be, found our Pocket WiFi, then headed for the Narita Express.
Narita Airport is almost 90 minutes from Tokyo, it was worth the ride, we saw our first rice paddies and a lot of the countryside. The weather matched the forecast, hot and humid, but really it did not bother us much at all. It took us only 20 hours from the time Uber picked us up at home until we arrived at the Hotel Niwa. We rode in a car, a bus, light rail, airplane, train, and subway. A quick change of clothes, brushed our teeth, then off to meet Saori’s parents for dinner.

We have looked forward to meeting them for some time, Saori has become such a part of our life since she lived with us seven years ago. They took us to a Japanese BBQ in the Tokyo Dome City Hotel, for you Mariners fans, Ichiro played there. We had the meal I had a been waiting for, thin sliced meats, vegetables, all self-cooked on your individual BBQ at the table. 

Tuesday, in typical brilliance, we picked the hottest, most humid day of the week to walk 20,000 Fitbit steps. The plan was to visit the Imperial Garden and Palace, but it was closed, so we walked to Ginza. Ginza is like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, lots of nice things, but even with the Yen as favorable as it is for us now, really expensive.

The Kaguruzaka neighborhood hosts the French embassy, we found a restaurant owned by a Frenchman, with French food. The menu was in Japanese and French, so we had little trouble, the service was great. I know, we are in Japan, but French food was just too enticing.

Wednesday was wonderful, spent the morning at Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens. They were built in 1629, and are one of only two Edo period Gardens in Tokyo. Edo was the original name for Tokyo, it was during this period in the 1600’s when Tokyo grew to become one of the largest cities in the world. 

There is a huge pond, with a series of canals. The 2nd Lord built a rice paddy so his royal born wife could learn of the struggles and hardship that the farmers endured.

For lunch we went back to the Tokyo Dome City Hotel, it is very upscale, with nice restaurants. This time we opted for the Tempura. We were attended to by 4 people, a server, and three tempura chefs. They brought six or seven courses, it was peaceful and quiet, and cool, the heat and humidity were in good form.

That night we met up with Rebeca, our niece. She has been here for almost a year attending Waseda University. We had a fabulous time touring her school, drinking peach iced tea at a student cafe, wandering through the gardens. She took us to a shrine and a temple on our way to Korean BBQ. (Kansas and Texas think they are the centers of BBQ, nope these folks beat them to it by centuries) I have been to Korean BBQ, but this one was so different, it was really casual, kind of an industrial retro decor, we sat on stools, while the staff cooked. You take the grilled meat, add a few condiments and it’s all wrapped in lettuce leaves, a Korean taco.

So far a wonderful time, we are learning to like this country, the people have been so accommodating, the crowds that we were warned about have never materialized, even in the heart of the city. It is a big city, but Barcelona on the Ramblas is more intense, Hong Kong is more crowded, we are looking forward today to more new experiences, Saori joins us again in a couple of hours and we are off.

“With a flair for old romantic to the Orient he flew” – Off to Tokyo


After months of waiting, our trip to Japan, postponed from April to July, due to our flooded basement, has begun. Uber to the park and ride, bus to Seattle, Sound Transit Light rail to the airport, TSA Pre-check, and we are in the Delta Crown Club, sipping Moët. Thanks to my life of air travel we fly business class on the 10 hour flight – good food and service await, the seats recline flat so sleep is possible. When we land Saori, our friend and former exchange student will welcome us at Narita airport. Did I mention we are excited?

Japan – a prepared adventure

Delta 167, Sunday July 17, 2016 – Non-stop Seattle to Tokyo’s Narita airport. Hotels in Tokyo and Kyoto are booked, house and cat-sitter all arranged, we are set. That is really all we have planned, no detailed itineraries, not much in the way of “must see.”I will readily acknowledge that our approach to travel is not for everyone, yet I encourage folks to give it a try. Three components: Spontaneous plan, Light packing, Technical Logistics.

We arrive on Monday, mid-afternoon. Saori, our Japanese daughter, is going to welcome us at the airport, assist in picking up Wi-Fi hub at airport, then navigating us on the Narita Express to our hotel. Then we will take her to dinner. That is about the extent of our definite plans. The rest is pretty much make it up as we go. There are only two things I specifically want to do, Odawara Castle, and a train that goes near Mt. Fuji. We will work these out when we are there.

Readers of my blog know that “tourists must see” lists don’t do a lot for me. Beyond that we have learned that all of the research in advance helps, yet when you get to the place you are going it looks different, strict agendas made 10,000 miles away are restrictive. Then there is the physical demands, some days we feel like doing nothing. I remember afternoons in Bruges, sitting by the fire at Rembrandt’s, reading and snacking for hours, one of my best memories of Belgium; you don’t really plan for that kind of day, they happen if you let them.

Luberon is a small village in Provence, France. On our first visit to Provence, Tricia was not feeling well one evening, I went down to the bar in the hotel to let her sleep. As normal I struck up a conversation with a local. She told me that Luberon was not to be missed. The next day we headed for Luberon, I had a Croque Monsieur at an outside café, we bought local pottery from the shop with the blue doors in this painting. The joy of spontaneity.

The second important consideration is light packing. We will go to Japan for 17 days, and we will each have a carry-on size roller, plus a small carry on. This is so important. You are flexible if you need to take trains, navigate stairs. And you are not burdened with stuff. I know it is often repeated but it’s true, the longer you travel the lighter you pack. Set out what you think you need to take then cut it down, then do it again. Light packing means flexibility, and that adds to the spontaneity. I must admit that when I see couples travel with two huge cases I really wonder what they are taking and how much they will use. One exception, when we have gone places where hiking is on the agenda we take a larger case, boots and packs do take up space.

The one place I do spend time planning is the technical details. This includes maps, plugs and chargers, Wi-Fi, and a few miscellaneous goodies.

Maps are a big thing for me, first I love them, but I really like to be able to find my way around. With a WiFi hub Google maps navigating works on iPhone or iPad. I also use Maps-2-go, they are offline, and since the GPS works on my phone even if not connected to phone service, it will find you on their maps. Maps-2-go also has great place to store lists of sights, restaurants, etc.. So with these two in place you are ready. Google also allows you to download maps for offline use, along with stored favorites.

If I need directions to a hotel, or for driving, I do turn-by-turn maps of directions before the trip. These are stored in an offline notebook on Evernote, a bit of redundancy I know but it’s comforting when in a strange town and you need to find your hotel. With Google street view you can take pictures of the area around your hotel to help you spot it when on the ground. This helped us in Barcelona and in Provence.

It is obvious, but worth reminding, that you need adapters and chargers for all your electrical stuff. Thankfully unless you have really old electrical items most are already 110/220V so you don’t need a converter. Take more than one adapter, they are small and you probably will want to charge phone and iPad at same time.

I travel for pleasure with only iPad, it does all I need and is lighter than computer. iPad and iPhone pretty much take care of everything from music to navigation. A Bluetooth speaker brings music into room, Google Translate app (different than the online translate) is brilliant as it will capture the text of a sign or menus and translate, no internet needed.

 Couple of things I carry, a real tea cup, and immersion heater- tea in the morning is important so I make it possible most everyplace. Along with that an acrylic wine glass, wine and beer just don’t work out of the placid stuff at hotels.

Travel should be a prepared adventure, take what you need, resources for what you will need, and the curiosity to let each day unfold as it will. Bonnet voyage.

A Japanese gem in Torrence

Sometimes sheer luck brings us a gem in the midst of a otherwise less than non-descript travel day, a reminder that it is always worth it to travel and explore.
Today was my first time on JetBlue, my fourth flight in four days. You don’t expect a lot on discount airlines, and JetBlue lived up to that nicely. The Airbus was old, I have not been on a plane that old in some time, the attendant was so pleasant, he spoke Spanish to the elderly lady sitting next to me. But JetBlue is air travel at its most basic. Southwest may be discount air, but they do have a lot more class. 
I needed a treat, not something I thought I would find in Torrence, CA. This is an industrial area, headquarters for Toyota and some other big companies. My best hope was a sports bar with a game on and something deep fried. 

Thanks to Yelp I found Bistro Beaux, sounds French, it’s Japanese. Really small, industrial-modern decor, textured concrete walls, cyclone fence used as accents. When I went in, I was the only Caucasion in the room, a good sign. 

The bartender was a real pro, when he was not mixing or serving he was carving a spherical ice cube, chipping away with a Japanese knife, creating a perfect 4” ball. The food was not the stereotypical Japanese fare.

I started with Sauted Cod with a lemon butter and caper sauce. Cooked to perfection, the fish flaked without being mushy, the sign of an expert in the kitchen. The lemon and capers enhanced the fish, not overpowering. 

Having a weakness for Uni (sea urchin), the Eryngii Mushrooms Sauted with sea urchin was obviously next. I have never had sautéed Uni. When I have sushi, I usually have Uni with a raw quail egg for desert, so sautéed was intriguing. The Uni actually had just a hint of crisp, the Eryngii sautéed yet firm, with some delightful sauce and the Uni strips, wonderful.

This was the gem I needed to remind me why it’s worth it to travel, these surprises crop up when your least expect it, and deposite experiences and memories for the future.