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.

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Planning a trip: Part 1 – Where to go?

1799_cruttwell_map_of_the_world_in_hemispheres_-_geographicus_-_worldhemisphere-cruttwell-1799The vagabond, off to see the world with nothing more than a backpack and a dream, is a romantic image, in reality it is probably not the best way to approach your next travel adventure. The other extreme, a spread sheet with the entire trip laid out in 15 minute increments has a certain penal quality that stifles spontaneity and serendipity. I am a believer in planned spontaneity – just enough structure to give a bit of security.

So what should you plan at the minimum? There are three questions you should ask, they seem obvious but let’s explore them a bit more in this blog and some future blogs.

1 Where to go? – Itinerary

Unless you are blessed with unlimited time and money you need an itinerary of places to visit, your basic pathway.

2 Where to stay? – Accommodations 

Rick Steves has suggested finding your hotel or in when you arrive in the city, visiting the tourist information office, calling or visiting hostels and hotels until you find one that works. Yes that is easily doable, and may even save a few dollars, it certainly will connect you with the people and the place. Yet, for me, it takes up time better spent with a sketch pad in my lap, a meal to savor, or some place to explore. So I make accommodation part of the planning.

3 How to get there? – Transport

Basically your: air transport, trains, and rental cars, from major location to location, as well as getting around while in the area.

Planning a trip for me is not a linear process, it is pretty random  – looking at a BnB one moment, a train trip the next; plenty of ideas that need to be collected for future reference so they can easily be searched. And a way to get the basic structures in place that also prevents missing something important. After we look at some thoughts on the three questions above I will offer some suggestions on organization. But first…

Where to go?

I often ask people, “If we had tickets to go anywhere in the world, where would we go?” The top three answers are: Greece, Italy, Australia. Surprisingly, at least in my mind, is how frequently Greece is the number one. Since I have never been to Greece I wonder if I am missing something?

There are some considerations when deciding your destinations. Destinations and itinerary are not the same thing: Destinations are pins on a map, itinerary is the sequence you will travel. Itinerary takes into account time available, transportation logistics, and budgets. For me it works best to start by picking places unconstrained by time and money. Then, unfortunately for those of us with the realities of limited time and money, the list gets refined and usually reduced.

First identify your travel context. Why do you travel? I am sure there are many ways to approach this but here are three:

  1. Exploration – you travel to see and experience other countries and people, it is the destination that is important, someplace you have never been or returning to a place that you loved. When people ask me where I would go with those free tickets I quite often respond with Scotland or France, I love those countries, the people and the culture.
  2. Interests – some activity or topic motivates you to travel, you are looking for a place to do something specific or to experience. Skiers might be motivated to try the slopes on another continent, golfers to play in Scotland where it all started. History buffs would find a trip to learn more about some period in history attractive. Hikers, mountain climbers looking to add to the peaks that they have challenged.
  3. What makes it a good trip for you? Think of past trips, what were the best parts, the most memorable days, and why were they good? What were the times you found yourself restless, why? Do you prefer big cities or countryside? How important are museums and iconic sites? How important is nightlife or shopping? How important is good food, dining out? Lots of activity or plenty of relaxing time? Time and place for photography or art?

Personally, seeing new places and experience the culture is high on my list. I would rather spend a few days in one location and not visit as many places. What is perfect is when I can stay long enough to have morning tea at the same tea shop that they recognize me when I walk in. Painting and sketching are major interests, but so far they are what I do while in a place and not the motivation to pick a place. Good food is going to get me to San Sebastian in Spain one day, but I like Spain anyway. We tend to stay in big cities only briefly, anxious to rent a car or take a train to get out into the smaller towns and the countryside. Shopping is low on our list, and nightlife pretty much nonexistent.

As important as it is to consider these things about yourself, it is even more important when you are traveling with other people. Unless there is some harmony on these basics there will be conflict on the trip. Frank discussions are essential.

Start with broad geographical areas then work your way to specifics. What part of the world is attracting you right now? Europe? Asia? South America? Yes, I would start at the continent level.

Browse images, travel pages, maps, guidebooks, talk to people. Then start listing possible areas and cities. At this stage don’t worry about sequence or time spent in each. Once you have some key locations identified it helps to look at them on a map. Look for patterns, try to see how it would flow going from one to another. If there is one city that is quite distant from the others, think about how important it really is – the travel to reach it may be expensive or take time from more important places.

Now comes the sequencing, list the destinations out in a logical order, taking geography into account. Then begin to factor in time for the overall trip, and the time you would like to spend in each location. My personal preference is to spend more time in fewer places as opposed to racing from town to town, place to place just to say you have been there. It is rare that I would ever want to spend less than two nights in a place, because if you travel in the morning, you arrive at the new location in the afternoon, or late morning at best. Then you spend the night and get up and travel again, so you really do not get to experience much of the culture or get a sense of the place. With two nights you get an evening, a whole day, and maybe just a bit of the next morning. If a place is not worth staying two nights I would question how important it really is.

In the next blog we will discuss setting up a table to track all of this simply, and talk about transport.

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.

2017, make it simple, make it good

img_2219Au revoir 2016, I welcome 2017. While it would be tempting to reiterate the plethora of challenges forever attached to 2016, from personal challenges to a tumultuous election, I will strive to recall the positive and pleasant.

The 3 best memories of 2016

1. Sold our house and moved into townhouse

We recovered from the December flood, repaired the house and put it on the market. Thanks to a great agent, Kim Tornow, the whole transaction was a smooth success. Five months later than originally planned, which actually was a blessing as the market went up.

2. Vacation in Japan

I was ambivalent about going to Japan, but it only took a day to make me fall in love with the country and the people. Rebecca, our niece, was going to school there, and we wanted to visit our exchange student, Saori. We were unable to connect with Minori, our other Japanese daughter. It was just as good as a trip could be, I am ready to return anytime.

3. Sonoma and Crater Lake

What is there to say, how can you beat wine, good food, and hiking in a National Park.

The keyword for 2017 – Simplify. With all of the challenges and craziness of 2016 simple is a good word, but never mundane. So here are some desires and objectives for 2017.

My 3 Goals for 2017

1. Find pleasure in simple things

Reading a good book, going for walks, taking time to slow down. In a world that wears “busy” as a badge of success I want to strive to make “simple and slow” my hallmark. More time spent in contemplation and reading, walking and sketching.

 

2. Simple food – great taste

Food is of course always a priority. This year I want to cook simple dishes with amazing flavors. Jacques Pépin says that the best meals  use the best quality ingredients, prepare them simply, and savor the flavors. We plan to do more with local and seasonal foods. We continue to reduce meat and poultry.

Drink more tea. We have even canceled some wine clubs and are following the “Cheap Wine Curious” blog – good wines under $10.

3. Travel, simple regardless the length of the trip

Short weekend trips within driving distance of home. Here are some destinations we hope for in 2017:

  • Olympic National Park, Washington
  • Whistler, BC for snowshoeing
  • Scotland, England, France, Italy (OK, not a simple trip, but we do travel simple when we go)
  • National Parks in Utah
  • Hiking and snowshoeing around Washington

I am sure that 2017 has some surprises and challenges up its sleeve, and I am ready. If life and 2016 have taught me anything it is that you have to roll with it, or as I wrote in my book “Let it be Hot.” Rod McKuen said it well, some good advice for this year,  let’s make it a good one.

I’ve been going a long time now

along the way I’ve learned some things.

You have to make the good times yourself

take the little times and make them into big times

and save the times that are all right

for the ones that aren’t so good

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.

Traveling on a Saturday morning, with tea

It has been less than two weeks since we got back from Japan, we have two more trips on the calendar, and are already talking about our next trip to Europe. Anticipation is as much a part of the journey as the trip itself.

timthumb.phpThe next trip is a quick jaunt to Eastern Washington for a dinner at VanArnam Winery. They are a small winery in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, part of the Yakima Valley wine region. Unfortunately this area does not get the recognition of the Washington Wineries further East. The landscape is much more like the Oregon or Sonoma regions, more green and hills. The vineyards are interspersed with the fruit orchards, VanArnam actually started as apple growers and still do.

A week later we fly to Sonoma, a few days in wine country – sipping, eating, and hiking. Then we drive to Crater Lake National Park, more hiking and some painting. Then we drive home through Eastern Washington, just might need to make a stop along the way to pick up a wine club or two.

Next year though, Europe is on the radar. I have only spent 2 days in Italy, Tricia has not been there, so it is about time. Tricia has a friend who lives north of Inverness, I have a friend near Edinburgh, so Scotland is in the mix. There is a used bookstore in York, and San Sebastian in Spain is enticing. You can see there is lots of talk, web searches, and planning to come. Nothing like a glass of wine, some cheese, and maps to make for a perfect evening.

queenvictoria_self
A page from a Victorian Journal, possibly done by Queen Victoria herself

Personally I am on a quest for a Victorian Journal. I saw two on our last trip to Bath, England. Long before the days of recording life with photos and Facebook, people would have a journal that they would take when they went to visit friends. They would exchange the journals during their time together and each would make an entry in the others. Sometimes a paragraph, or maybe a poem, a sketch or a cartoon. These were treasured, a record of friends and family more personal than selfies on Instagram. The two I saw were at a book fair, for sale, but sadly not in the budget on that trip. So this trip we plan to hit used book stores and watch for book fairs.

We are always traveling, even on a Saturday morning like this, while sipping green tea made in the teapot I brought from Japan. I guess this is what they call wanderlust, a favorite pastime for theWinesketcher.

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