A day of Spanish missions, sketching and prayer 

A whole day and all I needed todo was drive 40 miles, so I opted to visit three old missions and spend the day sketching and praying.

First stop was the famous San Juan Capistrano, I would love to see the swallows return but I fear it would be crowded, today it was full of school children yet I found some solace nonetheless.


This is the tiny chapel for Saint Peragrinus. It was the perfect place to read the Morning Prayers.


Here are more from San Juan Capistrano, including the old chapel, and the living quarters for the priest.


Then I went to San Luis Rey, much smaller with  seminary and retreat center, nice place for Noontime prayers.


Last stop was in the foothills of Palomar Mountains, famous for the observatory. Mission San Antonio de Pala is much smaller but so enticing to set and do a mid day devotion.

Travel – tear down the walls

tower-of-londonYears ago we were staying at The Tower Hotel in London. As the name suggests it is next to The Tower of London, which is a Medieval Fortress that housed the Royal Armory and still houses  the Crown Jewels of England. It was built for protection, a place for the Monarch to retreat and defend themselves if they were attacked.

One morning, as usual, I was up early and went out for a walk. The Tower sits next to the River Thames, it is surrounded by a park – a perfect place for a walk. It was early enough that the London traffic was not yet awake, nor were there many other people out. As I walked around the walls, I considered what it must have been like to live inside the Tower. Though the Tower was used as a prison as late as 1952, its original purpose was a Royal residence, and a lavish one at that.

As I thought of what life would have been like in the parklike setting of moats and stone buildings, gardens and trees, as well as security from all dangers, eventually my mind began to focus more on the walls. Walls to protect you, walls that kept you safe from the enemies outside, walls that gave you security – walls that kept you in. Then it hit me, “the very walls that we build to protect us become the walls that in-prison us.” Fear builds walls, we find safety behind them, those on the other side of our walls become the adversary; outside the wall is a scary place, better to be incarcerated within our walls than to risk the perceived dangers beyond the wall. Walls may protect but they are a barrier to freedom.

This is one reason I like to travel, it breaks down walls. Prejudice is based on ignorance which leads to fear, and our fears build up walls for protection. When we travel and meet people that are different we discover that most folks in this world are pretty much the same. We all want to just do our jobs, have a place to live and food to eat, raise our kids, and have some fun along the way.

I remember that morning often, and am reminded that to really live life to the fullest you can’t hide from it. We live in a crazy world, with politics that frighten, yet I refuse to stop traveling, in fact I am motivated to travel all the more and I encourage others to travel as well. Relationships and understanding tear down walls, we need that these days.

Sunriver, trying to remember how to ski

img_2634Day 3 in Sunriver, Oregon. Yesterday we went cross-country skiing at Swampy Lakes Sno-Park. When I was young (20’s) I gave up downhill skiing because the lines were too long, and I was either too hot or too cold: hot while skiing, cold on the lifts – not to mention that lift tickets were expensive. So I switched to cross-country: no lines, always warm, and less money.

My son’s family are here with us, they are snowboarders, so they went to Bachelor. Well I hear the lines are longer than ever, of course since it is  Christmas Break there were record numbers of people at Bachelor, so they spent a lot of time waiting in lines; I guess nothing has changed. And those lift tickets have just gone up in price.

My cross-country skills are pretty rusty, the last time we went skiing was a few years ago at Mt. Bachelor, and before that it was at least 30 years since I had been on skis. My mind remembers what to do, but my body and balance have forgotten how.

img_2637It was a beautiful day, we did the beginners loop; for once I overcame overconfidence with practicality. Yet it was still quite a challenge getting back into the flow. All went well until I jinxed the day by proclaiming, “Its been 30 minutes and no one has fallen.” Well shortly after that we both fell, and followed that up with a few more. Snow is cold, and the deep un-groomed snow offers little support, so getting back to standing proved a challenge. Yet we prevailed and finished the 2 ½ mile loop without much incident.

Today we are skiing the golf courses here at Sunriver, they are better groomed so most likely more conducive and forgiving as I attempt to reclaiming some long lost skills. My mantra today, “Bend your knees, keep your weight forward.”

A morning of skiing, then I am sure we will be on the hunt for a good lunch and some time to recoup.

 

Saturday morning tea, reflections on Sonoma – Part 1

Sonoma and Crater Lake, both beautiful, both potentially intoxicating, one in a not-so-good way the other most desirably good. We try to take one trip a year, yet we have not been there for three years so we enthusiastically anticipated this trip. First off – Sonoma and food.

We visit Sonoma for great food and exploring wineries, seldom are we disappointed, this trip was one of theimg_2463 best. We discovered that some things are changing in the Napa-Sonoma world. In the past we gravitated toward the less presumptuous Sonoma, and less expensive. Well, Sonoma has become more like Napa, and Napa has become a bit less stuffy

Thursday night we started the gastronomical part of our trip at John Ash & Company, part of the
Vintners Inn at Windsor. A new place and definitely on our list of places to revisit.

Friday lunch we headed for Brix, near Yountville. Plein aire dining with a view of the gardens has always been a must on our trips of the past; not sure about the future though. The food was good, but not as stellar as in the past. My flatbread was soggy. The roasted, thin red peppers were so good, they could have been my meal. The service that makes you feel tended to but comfortable was right on. A good meal.

So why the uncertainty about the future? We noticed it in the food, good but not as great as in the past. We learned that there was a new manager. Making conversation with one of the servers I asked how long she had worked there. She said she came over with the new manager, from a restaurant we were not familiar with (she seemed slightly put off that we did not recognize it, apparently it has prestige). She explained that the new manager brought some of his old staff in so they could raise the standard of the restaurant up. When I said I liked Brix better than Thomas Kellar’s  famous French Laundry or Bouchon it was clear she did not agree. So I am concerned that Brix is changing, sad for us, but we pretty much agreed that on our next trip we might just skip it.

img_2462We had reservations for dinner Saturday at Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, CA, another fixture for us on our trips to Sonoma. Nothing but good things to say. I had the Spicy Crusted Liberty Duck, duck is right up there with flatbreads in my food addiction collection. It came with roasted peach, duck confit ravioli, and Swiss chard. I find my limitations as a food writer surface when I have an extraordinary meal, I focus more on the experience and it all becomes a kaleidoscope of flavors, all good but my vocabulary is just too limited, and metaphors elude me. “Deliciousness” is the pop term, but it sounds goofy to me, Tony Bourdain and others use the term “food porn” but that offends me. So just think of wonderful tastes, a bit of spice, but not chili or Thai, crispy crust, and perfectly pink meat. I smile just trying to write about it.

Sunday we tried a new place, Brava Tapas, in Healdsburg. We love anything with small-plates, and of course the Spanish invented the premier small-plate, tapas. In Barcelona, one of our favorites was tomato bread, it is so simple that it has evaded reproduction in our own kitchen, just toasted bread rubbed and topped with tomato; of course we started with that. We paired the bread with roasted potatoes and sautéed mushrooms. While we ate we watched a chef prepare Paella over an open fire, in a paella that was about six feet in diameter, great entertainment.

I finished off with Spanish Sardines, another Barcelona memory. Do not even think of the canned sardines available in the stores, check the photo.

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Completing the food part of the Sonoma leg of our trip were a few picnics, procured at the Oakville Market, the oldest continuing operating grocery store in California, opened 1881. It is an iconic place in Healdsburg. We ate well, and shock of shocks, did not gain any weight.

Our final days in Tokyo, Japan

We arrived back at our Tokyo hotel, the Hotel Niwa, mid-afternoon on Thursday. Settled in then headed out to revisit the Kagurazaka area and find dinner.

Friday morning we got out of town and IMG_2416headed toward Mt Fugi. There are plenty of things to do in Tokyo, but we like getting out of town, and we hoped to see Mt. Fugi. Thanks the the public transportation feature of Google Maps (I know there is a blog about that in the future) we planned our Metro and rail journey without a hitch.

Our destination was Kawaguchiko Station, and Kawaguchiko lake. Google maps lays out the trains and stations, estimates the time, and at the bottom tells you the price. The price is important because if you buy your ticket from a vending machine you need to know what amount the ticket needs to be, it’s all there in Google Maps.

I was hoping for a quiet mountain village, but not to be, Kawaguchiko must be the destination for half of the tour busses in Japan, and it is the staging point for groups hiking on Fuji. And since the lake sits downhill from the train station you can’t see Fugi from the lake. We ate lunch at an Indian resturant, we were the only people there, all the other places were crowded; curry is always a good choice so we ate well.

The train we took down the mountain was such a treat, a fully restored vintage train, with a wooden interior, freindly staff, and hopefully views of the mountain. Fuji, like Mt Denali in Alaska, has a reputation for hiding from visitors behind clouds; a reputation it lived up to when we were there, none of those pristine vistas one sees in guide books. Yet it was a memorable trip, and we did get a glimps of the mountain.IMG_2380

Saturday and Sunday we spent with Saori, doing some shopping, eating and visiting the Tokyo National Museum. I had to find Obi belts to go with the Kimonos that I bought in Kyoto.

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Monday night, Saori and Dijiro drove us to the Tokyo waterfront, a huge mall. We ate then wandered along the park taking in the Rainbow Bridge and the city lights of Tokyo. There are three Statues of Liberty from France in the world: New York City, Paris, and one that was given to Tokyo by the French.

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Our last night in Japan

Tuesday we flew home, it is good to be back, but a piece of my heart stayed with Saori and her beautiful country; I am sure we will return

 

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?

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?