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Boston!

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

It’s been pointed out to me that we never wrote about our trip to Death Valley last April. However, we’re on a special kind of trip this summer: one in which, instead of traveling somewhere to see the place, we have traveled to see the people! Five of our favorite-est people ever have all converged on one location: Boston! Luckily for us, Boston isn’t exactly the worst place in the world to visit, and five-in-one was too good of a deal to pass up! =)

The best part of the trip: being able to spend time with friends that we haven’t seen in a long time, and the fact that they were excited to see us as well. The less-than-perfect part of the trip: Boston is hotter than home, and slightly more humid at times… It even rained once!

Our friends took it upon themselves to make sure that we saw Boston while we were here and got a feel for the city. Here were some of the highlights!

Row of brownstones on Jen and Marc's street

Row of brownstones on Jen and Marc’s street

For the first half of the trip, we stayed with Marc and Jen, two of our friends from the Stanford Ballroom Dance Team. They have a spacious top-floor apartment in the South End of Boston, in one of the buildings called Brownstones because they are made all out of brick. And the top of their apartment has a roof deck! So we spent the first evening with everyone on their roof deck after dinner.

Jen on the bridge at one of my favorite spots along the Esplanade on the Charles River

Jen on the bridge at one of my favorite spots along the Esplanade on the Charles River

Jen gave us a walking tour of a good chunk of the Boston neighborhoods. Starting in the South End neighborhood, we passed through the Back Bay, strolled down the Esplanade along the Charles River, meandered through the shopping area of Beacon Hill, visited the Boston Commons and Public Gardens when we got to Downtown, followed the Freedom Trail for a few blocks and peeked in the fence of a really old cemetery with people we’d read about in history class, and ate and shopped at the Faneuil Hall and Quincy Hall plaza, where Marc joined us after work.

Fun at the Museum of Science

Fun at the Museum of Science

Jen also explored the Museum of Science with us, which is a really fun hands-on activity center more than museum. We analyzed our bodies, the efficiency of our walking, how well we could ignore distractions, our facial recognition ability, etc., and then played with light, freezing shadows, combining our faces, and more!

Imitating the painting at the MFA

Imitating the painting at the MFA

For the second half of the week, we stayed with David and Janny. David is a good friend from the Berkeley Ballroom Team, and Janny is a lovely musician he has decided to marry. =) Janny explored the Museum of Fine Arts with us, where we did exciting things like re-creating a scene in a painting. This particular painting was a painting of the art gallery in which it was hanging, which also happened to have another picture of an art gallery hanging on its opposite wall… Meta. So meta.

Exploring the Tree Canopy Walkway at the Ecotarium

Exploring the Tree Canopy Walkway at the Ecotarium

Janny and David also took us to the Ecotarium, a hands-on science museum geared more toward children which happens to have a walkway installed up in the treetops! We spent some time on platforms high up in the top layer of the trees, and then experienced our first zipline to get back down to ground level!

Ted and Jason at "KO at the Shipyard"

Ted and Jason at “KO at the Shipyard”

We also got to visit with Jason, Ted’s best friend from high school. Jason showed us some of his favorite spots in East Boston, including this park that has a waterfront area from which you can see all the rest of Boston, and this little stand in the middle of a shipyard at which you can get a drink in the middle of the industrial complex. He also showed us around Cambridge, including his fancy bio lab at MIT and the campuses of MIT and Harvard. Later we watched Inside Out, which was a great movie, with him and his friend Esther. Apparently it’s been a long time since I’ve gone to the theater, because I wasn’t prepared for (a) having my tickets attached to reserved seats (which meant we couldn’t sit together), or (b) having my too-close-to-the-front seat come with a full-on recliner! So fancy!

Eating at Barcelona with Jen and Marc

Eating at Barcelona with Jen and Marc

Eating at Top of the Hub with Janny and David, with a view of all the city lights in Boston stretched out behind us

Eating at Top of the Hub with Janny and David, with a view of all the city lights in Boston stretched out behind us

Throughout the trip, our friends took it upon themselves to make sure that we ate at all the best places in Boston, from local yummy sandwich shops like Flour and Cutty’s to fancier-than-I-ever-eat delights like Barcelona, a tapas restauarant, and Top of the Hub, a restaurant on the top floor of a tall tower from which you have a view of all of Boston—and we got a window seat!

And in between doing all of these exciting things we played lots and lots of board games!!!!!!!

Overall, we have had a wonderful time visiting some wonderful people in Boston and are glad we chose to spend some of our summer here!

Epilogue: A Dozen Quirky Observations about Indonesia

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014
creative luggage

creative luggage

These do not relate to one specific part of Indonesia, but are things we have observed about the country as a whole during the last 2 weeks:

  1. Kleenex is a multi-purpose instrument, serving as facial tissue, toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins.
  2. That being said, toilet paper, soap, paper towels, and an automatic flushing mechanism are luxuries. As are consistent hot water, internet access, and power… even at nice hotels.
  3. Pillows are too fat. Perhaps intended as a sign of luxury?
  4. There are not as many mozzies (mosquitoes) as in the Amazon, but still way too many for a Ted (Pamela boasts just one bite).
  5. Cardboard boxes are apparently suitcases. They get taped up quite securely, wrapped with ribbon or extra tape for a handle, and checked at the airport.
  6. Children find us quite interesting. They stare at us, and get super excited if we look at them and smile 🙂
  7. children

    children

    Roads here are crazy. There are more motorbikes (mostly small motorcycles & scooters, not Harley’s etc.) than cars/trucks, and people drive with complete freedom to crowd the shoulder with motorbikes, pass at will, use the other side of the road, fit many vehicles into one lane, etc., all on ridiculously windy narrow roads meant more for motorbikes than cars (possibly kept too narrow on purpose because there are no speed limits, so the too-narrow road acts as a natural speed limiter). It’s scary whether you’re in the car or on the bike.

  8. Speaking of motorbikes, I’ve definitely seen ten-year-olds driving them on the roads in the more remote villages. There is no law here with a minimum driving age; in fact, if you don’t pass your driving test, you can get a license anyway by paying for it.
  9. Food here is cheap. You can get a complete, healthy meal at a restaurant for $3-4. In the US, the only meal you can get for that price is fast food crap.
  10. When they say that the food/water here will mess with your digestive system, the proper response should not be “bah, I’m made of stronger stuff than that.” Because it will, in fact, mess with your digestive system…
  11. crazy roads

    crazy roads

    Indonesian restaurants overall failed to impress. The best food we had was the home-cooked meals that we were served on the boats. And it’s going to be a long time before I eat more nasi goreng (fried rice).

  12. Shopping (and in some cases, even eating) is also not a pleasant experience. Shop (and restaurant) owners won’t stop talking to you. Any time you pass by, they say, “yes?”, beg you to enter their store, entreat you to stare at objects other than the one that caught your attention, and then stand there talking to you while you attempt to conduct a private conversation. However, they are always willing to give you a “discount” and promise a “good price”. Meaning, don’t ever pay what they first quote.

Indonesia Part III: Java

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
Atop Borobudur

Atop Borobudur

On Java, we were met by our guide Dwi and our driver Kus, who drove us from the airport on the north shore to our hotel near the south shore. We spent the night in the Manohara hotel at the base of the Borobudur Buddhist temple, and went up to visit it before sunset. At the temple, there is no inside, but you can climb up the outside. The bottom levels are ringed with reliefs etched into the wall that depict the life and teachings of the Buddha; the top 2 levels are ringed with giant stupas, bell-shaped mounds of stone with Buddha statues sitting inside of them and little diamond- or square-shaped windows through which you could peer at the Buddhas. From the top, you have a view of the whole surrounding valley. We played around at the temple until we got kicked out at closing, and then went back to our hotel for (bad) dinner (though it had dance and music performances!) and early sleeping.

We awoke the next day at 4am and ascended Borobudur a second time with Dwi, this time in the dark. We awaited the sunrise at the top of the temple, getting constantly blinded by hordes of people who do not know what flashlights are for. Eventually the sky became lighter and fewer people tried to find us with their flashlight, but the sky was quite cloudy and we never actually saw the sun appear, just saw some clouds turn pink. We explored the rest of the temple that we hadn’t gotten to see the previous night; while doing so, a group of middle school girls ran up, greeted me, and told me how pretty I was, then couldn’t stop giggling when I told them they were pretty as well and posed for me to take their picture, haha. I don’t think kids here see many foreigners. 😛

Prambanan

Prambanan

We returned to the hotel for a (bad) breakfast, and at 9am, Dwi and Kus took us to the nearby town of Jogjakarta/Yogyakarta, the old capital of the island which can’t decide how to spell its name. In Jogja, we got a tour of the Sultan’s palace, in which the 10th Sultan currently resides while acting as Minister of Finance in the democratically-elected Parliament; the compounds we saw are basically a museum of pictures and artifacts from the previous 9 sultans. We also saw the Sultan’s Water Palace, which was only used by the first 2 sultans before being struck by an earthquake but is for some reason still safe for tourists to wander… It had gardens and swimming pools that served as a secondary retreat for the sultan, and a defensive wall to protect him from attacks from the Dutch.

After visiting the palaces, we got to tour a batik factory and a silver factory. In the batik factory, we watched the process by which the Javanese handmake their fabric: first stenciling on a pattern, then waxing the design, then dying it such that everything not waxed gets colored, then boiling it to remove the wax, leaving behind white areas with the design. In the silver factory, we saw artisans at work spinning silver threads and making jewelry out of them, and learned the process by which silver is mixed and shined. We then left Jogja and went to the nearby Hindu temple at Prambanan, which is the largest Hindu temple in southeast Asia. This complex has 3 main temple pyramids, one each for Brahma (the creator), Shiva (the destroyer), and Vishnu (the protector), with statues of each god inside of them after you climb a tower of steps. In front of these main temples are 3 smaller pyramids for the gods’ vehicles: a swan, a cow, and an eagle, respectively. Around the complex are mini-pyramid temples at each of the 4 gates, and two “twin temples” mirroring each other across the complex for no apparent reason. We stayed there until sunset, and then went to a hotel in Jogja, ate (yum), and crashed.

The next morning, we slept in until–wait for it–5am!, got an early breakfast (the restaurant literally opened early for us), and were taken to the train station for a 4.5-hour train ride down Java to the town of Surabaya, where we were met by our guide Anwar and driver Imam for another 3-hour drive south to the Bromo Cottages, a hotel near Mt. Bromo, which is an active volcano. This hotel is very high up; we drove through a lot of mountain farming villages on the way and ended up on top of a mountain with a very nice view. Unfortunately, the room itself smelled like mildew, but we didn’t stay there long. We took pictures around the premises and then went to bed around 8:30pm.

Mts. Bromo & Semeru

Mts. Bromo & Semeru

We woke up again at 3am because we’re crazy, and got in a 4-wheel drive jeep with Anwar. In case you ever wondered, it is not at all comfortable to ride in the back of a jeep. The seats are sideways, so you slide back and forth; your head is too high to see out of the window; and it is very bumpy. The jeep took us to approximately 8,800 feet up, and we walked a short distance to watch the sun rise over the valley below. Then we walked a short distance further to see a spectacular view of Mt. Bromo’s crater inside the caldera, with another volcano, Semeru, in the distance. The jeep then took us down, down, down to the bottom of the crater, and we walked up, up, up to its rim and looked down and saw the steam billowing out from within. By the time we returned to the hotel, 5 hours after we’d left, it was time for… breakfast!! And they had eggs, instead of just noodles!!! After breakfast, Anwar and Imam, picked us up again to drive us 3 hours north back to Surabaya. On the way, Anwar stopped a few times and had us get out to point out eucalyptus and clove trees, leaves that close when you touch them, a waterfall, giant spiders (!!), and other things of interest. A few local kids came running up once and introduced themselves, and most of the village people who saw me smile at them as we drove by smiled back. When we reached Surabaya, we took a very short flight to Denpasar (on the island of Bali) and waited until the next morning for the flight that would take us east for the next section of our adventure! While waiting overnight in Bali, we gave in and ate pizza for dinner…

The Japan Alps: Japan Days 8-10

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Last post on Japan!

Arrival of the Shinkansen

Arrival of the Shinkansen

2012-07-28: Kyoto to Fukuji Onsen

We started the day with another 8am breakfast at the ryokan. Breakfast has gotten more psychic: Ms. Uemura stopped asking if Ted wanted a second piece of toast and just brought it. During breakfast, we watched the Olympic opening ceremony on TV in Japanese and saw the torch get lit. We could hear the beginning of everything that was said in English… but about 3 words in the Japanese translator would drown out the English in the background. After eating, we cleaned up and checked out, but left our luggage behind. Even as we checked out, there were no other guests at Ryokan Uemura. Surprising; almost disconcerting.

No sooner had we walked around the corner from the ryokan than we ended up in the middle of a group of people filming a movie scene. They had to stop to let us through. I’m guessing they re-shot that scene. =\

We walked to Ryozen Kannon Buddhist temple, which was basically in our backyard but we haven’t been home during its open hours. Our entrance fee bought us an incense stick to bring up to the… incense-stick-offering-area. We finally got a complete view of the giant Buddha statue sitting on top of the main temple that we’d caught sight of two nights ago. Pamela wonders how a temple can hold up a gigantic stone Buddha. It was seriously gigantic, and just sitting on the roof of the temple. Then we caught monks chanting and drumming and performing a ritual, which we later read (in the temple’s brochure) was a ceremony that they only do 3 times a month, in which “the mountain priests of this temple conduct services of kindling a sacred fire for the sake of national prosperity, highway traffic safety, and harmony within families.” We walked as closely as we dared without distracting them, and Pamela videotaped the chanting.

After staying too long (we’d told Uemura we’d only be gone an hour), we walked next door to Kodai-ji Buddhist temple. We did a really quick walk along the “tour route”, hardly stopping to look at anything or take any pictures, and discovered that our “quick run-through” of Kodai-ji was about the average touring pace of other tourists… and we even skipped all the optional turn-outs. We’re slow.

We walked a few steps back to Uemura, collected our luggage and took a bus to Kyoto station. While waiting for the bus that our map said went to the station, this other bus arrived listing “Kyoto station” as its destination and we decided to take our chances. Apparently our bus map is incomplete, because the bus we took isn’t listed on it at all.

Once we’d purchased our train tickets, we ate lunch (pasta and… a rice-pasta-omelet) and then wandered into the department store at the station and gawked over all the pretty, expensive umbrellas/parasols. There are a lot of pretty umbrellas walking around Japan, and the department store had several hundred of them in stock. We’ve never seen so many umbrellas for sale, and all with different pretty designs. They were also unnecessarily expensive, so of course now Pamela wanted one.

We rode a Shinkansen (Hikari) from Kyoto to Nagoya. Upon boarding this train, an entire class of Japanese schoolchildren got on the train with us. Our first instinct was to groan, but as we got off the train, we realized we’d forgotten they were even there. How was an entire class of elementary school children that quiet for so long?? Ted slept; Pamela wrote yesterday’s blog post until the computer ran out of battery. The train from Nagoya to Takayama was slower. Pamela slept; Ted studied Japanese.

We arrived in Takayama… in a rainstorm. The storm had been partially predicted, because when a train passed us going the other direction, Pamela had said “that train… is wet.” But it was still jarring after the heat of Kyoto. While we waited in bus station… we found free Wi-Fi!!! Japan does not seem to be very big on Wi-Fi hot spots; this was the first and only one we ever came across other than the airport. Pamela plugged in her dead laptop to post a blog entry… but got yelled at for using the power outlet. I can use the Wi-Fi, but not the outlet???

Seriously, why can’t I use a power outlet??

That burned.

We rode the bus from Takayama to Fujuki Onsen through the rainstorm. At our stop, we asked the bus driver where our ryokan was, and he found it on a map and then drove us a bit farther forward to point it out to us and keep us out of the rain. The helpful bus driver did not actually speak any English, although he managed “bus stop” at one point. He also had a very thick regional accent of some sort.

Ted says that the name of our new ryokan (Ryokan Sansui, or 山水) literally means “Mountain Water.” Fitting for a hot spring hotel. As we walked up to the building, a man came running out to help us as if he’d been waiting all day for us to show up. A woman gave us a tour and showed us our room. Then dinner came… By dinner time, the rainstorm had turned into a thunderstorm, and the first particularly loud crash of thunder actually made Pamela scream. Pamela claims she has never screamed due to thunder before…

But back to dinner. First, a new woman walked in with a tray of food, and indicated to move our table and make room for it. Then we both pulled our seats up to opposite sides of the tray, and the woman looked horrified and indicated that that was very wrong, so we leapt back. Then she came in with a *second* tray of food. Oh.

In the end, dinner involved 15 separate dishes; they just kept bringing up more food! We’re still not sure what half of it was; but in no particular order we were served:

  • Jasmine tea;
  • mineral water;
  • a square box with… a bite of salmon with something yellow on top; a square of fish on top of a cube of cornmeal; an entire 3-inch-long fish; a bowl with a wheel-shaped vegetable and a bit of meat; a leaf wrapped around rice and secured with a toothpick; and something that looked like a round stuffed pork slice;
  • a bowl with… shrimp tail; flower-shaped soft rice cake; purple and white vegetable that looked like swiss cheese (lotus root?); a bite of green vegetable; another… vegetable; and a pile of thin seaweed-y things in a soupy sauce;
  • a bowl of cold soba with rice krispies and green onion;
  • a bowl of miso soup with a *lot* of seaweed, green onions, tofu, and mushrooms (Pamela drained the broth);
  • a bowl of egg pudding with fish and a white vegetable and a green leafy vegetable;
  • a bowl with a potato-rice ball;
  • a bowl of tempura with shrimp, zucchini, kabocha squash, 2 leafy green things, a potato chip (??), and a dish of pink salt to dip it in;
  • a plate with an entire 8-inch fried trout atop vegetables (pink, brown, and green strips) and a green chili pepper;
  • a sashimi plate with tuna (2 pieces), 2 types of white fish (2 pieces each), and a pile of noodle and radish (?), with soy sauce, wasabi, a flower, a sprig of small red ball-shaped berries, and tiny red leaves on the side;
  • a plate of beef, enoki mushrooms, green onions, other onions, and brown peanut-ty sauce over a giant brown leaf, with chafing fuel lit in a pot underneath the plate to cook it;
  • a pot of rice… that we never opened. Oops. The women exclaimed over it when they came back to pick up the remains of our dinner;
  • a bowl of pickled… green, red, and white veggies, next to the rice, that we also never touched. This was apparently less offensive;
  • a dessert cup with green tea pudding, whipped cream, pink mocha ball, and a piece of fruit.

After dinner, the first woman (the only one who could manage some broken English besides the man at the front desk) told us there was a summer festival going on right that moment, and another woman brought us dessert while they removed dinner and laid out our futons. We ate the dessert and changed, then went down to walk to the festival… and were told it was ending. Fail.

Instead, we showered and changed into yukatas provided by the inn. We tried to read up on the procedures for using hot spring baths in our travel book, and instead giggle about how it described “magic elves” as making your futon appear while you were bathing and disappear while you were eating. Ryokan staff members will thus henceforth be known as elves.

Apparently the yukata is intended to be worn with the left side crossing over the right side, not the other way around. This was learned after the inn-elf giggled at us and tried to fix it. No idea what else we were doing wrong with it.

We soaked in a private onsen (hot spring) bath outside before sleeping. The hot spring water is too hot to remain in for longer than ~5 min. at a time without a break, so we didn’t stay long (maybe 30 minutes). The correct onsen procedure here is to apparently shower in the “preparation room,” then get in the onsen bath, then shower again in the preparation room. We learned this after showering in our own room, as we found that the “preparation room” showers actually had soap and shampoo.

Random Observations:

  • Pamela still does not like Orangina, even though Ted thought he’d finally found some juice in the store for her.
  • Tatami mats look much nicer on the floor than industrial-grade carpeting.

Mountain Trail in the Japan Alps

Mountain Trail in the Japan Alps

2012-07-29: Shinhotaka Ropeway

We dragged ourselves down to our 8am breakfast only slightly late after our own alarm, an unexpected wake-up call, and an also-unexpected door knocking all ensured we’d be awake. Breakfast had almost as many dishes as dinner, but none of them looked very breakfast-y: this was our first actual Japanese-style breakfast, with things like rice, fish, soup, etc. Pamela liked the ham with potato salad and the boiled nuts the best. Meals around here do not seem to include much fruit, except perhaps a few pieces with dessert.

We asked the front desk where the nearest ATM was since we didn’t have enough cash left for today’s travel. (NOTHING in Japan takes credit cards except for the department stores. Seriously. Nothing. It’s cash or bust.) The inn elves told us that there wasn’t a nearby ATM, but that the female elf would drive us to one in the next town to the north, near a different bus stop. We accepted the offer, got ready and left… also only slightly late.

She drove us to an ATM… but it was the wrong kind of ATM – it didn’t take foreign cards because Japanese cards are apparently fancier. So she drove us to a different ATM. Also too fancy. Finally she drove us back to inn and loaned us a couple hundred dollars…

They offered to drive us to our destination, the Shinhotaka Ropeway, since we ended up missing the intended bus, but we declined and decided to wait for the next bus 45 minutes later. We ended up spending 30 of the 45 minutes we had to spare searching for the bus stop which was supposed to be 200 meters from the ryokan. A few minutes before the bus was due to arrive, the male inn elf mysteriously showed up to clean the bus stop building, and was still there as we left aboard the bus. We suspect he may have come just to make sure we made it onto the bus.

The bus took us to the Shinhotaka Ropeway, which is this gondola attached to a pulley system ski-lift style that takes you up to the top of some mountain a few mountains over from where it started. We went up up up. We noted that there were no other foreign tourists in the whole area. By the end of the day, we had only seen exactly 2 foreign tourists at Shinhotaka Ropeway: us. There were, however, many Japanese tourists.

We bought a baked good from a bakery at the ropeway to call lunch. It was yum. Then we bought 3 more. We admired the view from the top station for a short bit, and then attempted to hike the trail that Lonely Planet told us would take us down the other side of the mountain to Kamikochi, the next town over, in about 3 hours. We tried asking the guy in the store where the trailhead was, and he showed us Kamikochi on a map. Um, thanks. So we went outside and found a trail and just started walking down it. We took pictures of the signs along the way, wondering what they said. All we could tell was that they did NOT say Kamikochi (we’d taken a picture of its name on the map). We also noticed that everybody seemed to be going the *other* way down the trail.

A ways down the trail, we started stopping people we passed asking where they were coming from. None of them indicated that the trail went to Kamikochi (in fact, most of them seemed to indicate they had never heard of Kamikochi). One couple finally communicated that our trail was about a 2-hour hike and went to the summit of the extremely large-looking mountain in front of us. We finally turned around, deciding it must be the wrong trail.

When we got back to the trailhead, we looked at a map inside the hut again and discovered that the name of the stop *in between* us and Kamikochi matched the signs on the trail (and was over the summit of that large mountain). Thus we decided we had, in fact, been going the right way.

So, we started again. We’d gotten to about where we’d been before when we passed a group of hard-core-looking hikers. They stopped us, exclaiming that they had just seen us going the *other way*. A man in their group who actually spoke English (first one in the entire mountain range, I swear), asked why we were going back the way we’d just come. When we told him we’d been trying to go to Kamikochi but had been told we were going the wrong way, he exclaimed that we were crazy and should turn around at once. He claimed that they were going to Kamikochi, but with an overnight stop on top of the mountain, and that it was at least a 10-hour hike. We hiked for a little while longer, then turned around and went back again, deciding that either Lonely Planet was trying to kill us, or that the nice man thought we’d kill ourselves without hiking sticks or something. (Unlikely.)

After consulting the same hiking map for a third time, Ted found times listed between each stop on the trail, and decided it was supposed to be about a 3-hour hike. Sigh. At least the weather was really nice. It had been great hiking weather all afternoon, and would be great evening weather for outdoor festival-viewing; best weather all trip. This was the first day of our trip that Ted did not get over-heated and exhausted.

We took the ropeway back down and returned to our ryokan. Thankfully, we hiked back fast enough to make the 4pm bus rather than waiting another 2 hours for the next one.

After getting back, we relaxed in another private outdoor hot-spring-pool until dinner, then had another gastronomical adventure in our room, consisting of *only* 13 dishes this time. I’ll spare you the details of each dish.

After dinner, we walked to the “summer festival” with 2 guys we ran into from Norway, and couldn’t believe the fluidity of their English after trying to communicate with the Japanese for the last week. We watched some sort of cultural drum dance things, followed by a dragon dance, followed by a dragon-eating-a-snake dance. There were a million bugs attracted to the outdoor lighting, but thankfully, they were mostly moths, not mosquitoes. There was occasional lightning during the festival, but the rain held off.

We walked back to our room, sat by the windows, and turned all the lights off to watch the lightning storm outside until we fell asleep. The rain was no longer holding off.

Random Observations:

  • The Japan Alps are very pretty. The hiking trails are so much greener and prettier than the ones on Mt. Fuji, which was a barren volcano once you got above the tree line.
  • Japan uses these TP rods that have a cover. This cover is useful for tearing the unperforated TP if it is either (a) serrated or (b) thin. Not if it is thick.
  • The Japanese TP also has no cardboard roll inside. It’s like it was wrapped tightly around something else gear-shaped that was then removed. Less waste.
  • I don’t think we’ve mentioned Japanese toilets at all, actually.  For those of you who have never seen one, public toilets in Japan (though not in our inns) are in the floor. You squat.  They still flush and have modern plumbing and everything, just no seats, so they’re technically more sanitary.  This works better for some forms of business than others.
  • Ted gets fewer bug bites when wearing long pants. (Duh.)
  • Pamela’s blog posts get progressively longer each day of a trip.

Private Hot Spring Bath #3

Private Hot Spring Bath #3

2012-07-30: Fujuki Onsen to Tokyo

On the last day of our trip, we woke up eaarrrrlllier than early to relax in the third private outdoor hot-spring-pool *before* our 8am breakfast. We have now successfully tried all 3 of the private baths.

Breakfast was again many dishes, though none as enjoyable as yesterday’s. One particularly weird dish was a bowl full of fish that are about the size of a bean sprout. Looked like a bowl of short noodles full of eyes. The Norwegian guys were seated next to us at breakfast, and we noted that their breakfast dishes were the ones we’d been served yesterday. After comparing notes, we learned that their dinner dishes last night were also the ones we’d been served two nights ago. That must be one busy cook, considering each meal was 13-15 dishes… and he was making multiple meals.

The inn-elves drove us to a third ATM which had been closed yesterday so that we could pay them back… and then drove us to the bus terminal in Hirayu Onsen, the next major town, since we’d again missed the intended bus. Note to future selves: JP ATMs accept foreign debit cards. Other ATMs do not, pretty much universally.

We took a bus east to Matsumoto, rather than going back the way we’d come, and saw many pretty waterfalls in the hot spring area. From Matsumoto, we took a (slower) train to Shinjuku, Tokyo.

We wandered through Kinokuniya, Coldstone, and a mall in Shinjuku, but got sick of lugging luggage around while we shopped. Then we took a train to Shibuya to meet Eiko for dinner, where we met her mother as well. They took us to dinner at an Asian-fusion restaurant in a department store where we had Thai/Vietnamese food.

Pamela stayed with Eiko and her mother in Shibuya while Ted traveled back to Brian’s place to collect our walking sticks and return his key. We waited, and waited… and the discovered that Ted had gotten on wrong train and would not be returning to Shibuya, so we left and met him at the monorail to the airport.

Eiko and her mother took the monorail to the airport with us, where we checked in, returned our rental phone, and said goodbye to them. Then we flew home, during which we slept pretty much the entire way. We arrived and were greeted by Ted’s dad negative one hour after we’d left. Weirdo time zones.

Random Observations:

  • We’ve seen children in school uniforms the whole time we’ve been here, and not just the ones “dressed-up” as schoolgirls. They must attend school year-round… or enjoy wearing their school uniforms.
  • I lost weight in Japan; my pants are no longer too tight!
  • Jetlag was easier to deal with heading west: We arrived at 5am, were forced to stay up all day as we ran around Tokyo, crashed at night, and were on a normal schedule. After heading east, we left at midnight, slept all night, and then arrived at midnight… wide awake. This does not work so well…
  • Bay Area weather is SO NICE. Even when it’s hot.

Kyoto: Japan Days 5-7

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Ted has decided that my bullet-point blog posts are in a boring format, so here you get actual writing. Thus it’s longer. Comment which way is more interesting. =)

Ninen-zaka

Ninen-zaka

2011-07-25: Tokyo to Kyoto

After relaxing at Brian’s house in the morning, we took a shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo  Kyoto. Got on a hikari train, the second-fastest type! We went through a lot of tunnels: apparently shinkansen don’t go *over* hills; they go *through* them.

Upon arriving at Kyoto station, we transferred to a city bus.  The buses here are advanced (by our standards): they announce upcoming stops, both by sound recording and on a screen, and they are air-conditioned! Not as scary as usual, where you have to frantically find each intersection you pass on a map and hope you haven’t missed your stop.  We got off at the stop that the tourist info guy said to get off at… but then promptly got lost trying to find our ryokan (Japanese-style inn) because the map he gave us was crummy.

We finally arrived at Ryokan Uemura about an hour after we said we’d get there, and were greeted by Ms. Uemura, the innkeeper, who showed us to our (air-conditioned!!) room and served us tea and cake.  Although this inn was listed in Lonely Planet, got high reviews on TripAdvisor, along with recommendations to book far in advance, and has only 3 rooms, we were able to book the room by phone last night.  We did not expect it to be available.  Thought maybe it had had a cancellation; however, it appeared that we were actually the only guests there…

We relaxed in the room cooling off for a bit, then went for an evening walk through the Ishibei-koji, Ninen-zaka, and Sannen-zaka areas, which are cobblestone, wooden-house-lined cute streets. (Our inn happens to be located on Ishibei Koji.) Most places were closed, and the streets were nearly deserted but lit up prettily. We wandered down to the Yasaka Pagoda nearby and saw part of a giant Buddha statue at the Kodai-ji Temple (but could not enter to see the rest of it because it was closed).  We were definitely located in the cutest part of town.

When we finally decided we wanted dinner, we discovered nothing was open anymore (7:30pm).  Apparently it’s very weird to eat dinner past 7:30pm. We asked Ms. Uemura where we could get dinner, and after being astonished that we hadn’t eaten yet, she escorted us down the block to a Chinese restaurant that was still open.  This was our first non-Japanese meal since arriving.

After dinner, we showered and relaxed in our room for the rest of the night.  We found a book on Japanese architecture in our room; according to this book, our room looks very similar to a merchant-class Japanese house.  The floor was lined with 8 tatami (woven straw) mats; it was encased with sliding wooden and paper doors; there was a table in the middle of the room which could be moved to make room for the futons on the floor; there were little alcoves displaying decorations; and there is was separate passageway which had a sink and an area from which to view the garden through the window. It’s a cute room.

Random Observations:

  • Tokyo was hot. Kyoto is even hotter than Tokyo. Air conditioning is good. Brian thinks we’re wimps.
  • We were told that while in Tokyo, you stand on the left side of the escalator and people pass on the right side, it is the opposite in Kyoto. However, this is not true.  We tried standing on the right side and were just in the way.
  • Disposable chopsticks here are no better/worse than those in the U.S.
  • Vending machines have a lot of water and tea; it is hard to find juice around here.
Bamboo Grove

Bamboo Grove

2012-07-26: Kyoto on our Own

We had to wake up early for breakfast, for which we were served fruit, eggs over ham, toast, and orange juice by our hostess. Yay juice! She also offered us tea and coffee, was surprised when we declined both, and brought us extra juice and toast.

Ms. Uemura had us take an umbrella when we left today. That umbrella and the fan that was a gift from Akie were both instrumental in preventing heat stroke today, and the towel that was a gift from Eiko has proven instrumental in drying hands and removing sweat. California should adopt a parasol, fan and towel custom, especially in the Central Valley where it gets really hot. Maybe we’ll start a new trend.

We began by walking through Maruyama Park and the Yasaka Shrine to the Chion-in temple complex. We would like to note that gardens are cooler than temples. Especially gardens with shade from trees and running water.  We strolled through the beautiful garden area at Chion-in, then got lost in the confusing temple area with the terrible map they gave us at the ticket booth.  Chion-in has a lot of stairs and dead-ends. Also, its main hall is under construction, with a huge crane, a lot of scaffolding, and a sign saying it will finish restoration in 2019.  We started to get sick of the temple when we couldn’t find a way out, and eventually went all the way back and left through the front gate.

Next, we took the metro to a station that connected to a “rail line” and discovered that the “train” was actually a streetcar (singular), like the ones in SF, attached to lines overhead. We took this streetcar to Arashiyama, which means “western mountains” and is the western border of Kyoto.  (Our inn is in the “Higashiyama” district, which means “eastern mountains” and is the eastern border of Kyoto.) The buses, trains, and metro are all air-conditioned. Yay.

In Arashiyama, we had Katsu-don and Oyako-don for lunch at Yoshida-ya, a place our guidebook recommended.  Then we walked to Tenryu-ji Temple, where we were able to enter both the actual temple itself and its extensive gardens.  We exited the gardens to find the Bamboo Grove, which is like a forest made entirely of large stalks of bamboo.  While strolling through the bamboo grove, we watched a girl doing a photoshoot dressed up in a kimono.  Bamboo groves are really cool.  Unfortunately, Bamboo groves are also full of mosquitoes. Mosquito bites are itchy. Mosquitoes like Ted. He’s got around 40 large red splotches all over his legs and arms. =\ Two of his bites even got a pus-filled blister. =\  Pamela’s favorite spot was Ted’s least favorite spot.

When Ted got tired and grumpy from walking through mosquitoes, we got lost trying to find the Japan Rail station and wandered through a residential neighborhood. We eventually took a (real) train/metro back to our area and had dinner (nyumen and soba noodles) at Hisago, where we watched a girl dressed up in a kimono having dinner with her boyfriend.  Pamela’s study of Hiragana finally paid off: We’d tried to find Hisago for dinner last night and failed, but today in daylight, Pamela recognized the name of the restaurant written in Hiragana.

After dinner, we stopped at a cute store selling a lot of things made with beautiful fabrics and spent some time shopping until the shopkeepers got grumpy because they wanted to close. (It had been the only shop still open.)  Then we got some (more) ice cream from a convenience store and headed back to our ryokan.

Random Observations:

  • We saw several girls wearing kimonos; they look cute. However, their outfits look terribly hot for this weather; Ted thinks they should have portable air conditioners wrapped in the fabric on their backs.
  • Our inn has funny bathrooms. The sinks are on top of the toilet tanks, and the water runs out of the faucet and into the toilet when you flush. Then there is a cloth towel dispenser, which rolls cloth towels out and back up.
Fan Makers

Fan Makers

2012-07-27: Kyoto Walking Tours

We spent most of this morning and afternoon on a Kyoto Walking Tour called “Walk in Kyoto, Talk in English.”  We’d wanted to do the walk with Johnny Hillwalker, the guy who started it and is highly recommended, but he only does tours on Wednesdays now. Our guide was Emi.  Over the course of 5 hours, she took us to Higashi-Honganji Buddhist temple, another private Buddhist temple with a graveyard, Ayako-Tenmangu and Ichihime Shinto shrines, a fan-making workshop (Kyosendo), a pottery workshop (Yuki), a rosary-making workshop, lunch at a café in a shopping center, tea and sweets at a tea/sweet shop (Kaikado), the old Nintendo headquarters, a couple “teahouses” in the old geisha district, the gangster headquarters (where she asked to please not all look at the same time), and the only bath house in Kyoto that allows you into the bath with tattoos on (conveniently situated right next to the gangster headquarters).

Before the tour, we didn’t understand the difference between Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples; we couldn’t tell which was which. They both have offering boxes that you throw money in and bow to; some of them have bells to ring; they all have large traditional buildings; many of them have Stonehenge-ish gates at the entrance—but there is no distinction as to which have which of the above. During the tour, Emi claimed that Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines are different, although they may look similar to the casual observer. Buddhism is used for death (does funeral rites, etc.) while Shintoism is for life (does weddings, etc.)  Both religions thus seem incomplete.  At Shinto shrines, you must clap to draw the attention of the gods, because they are just spirits floating around. At Buddhist temples, you need not clap because there is a statue of the god right in front of you; they have form. Shinto shrines are colorful, using reds and oranges. Buddhist temples are plainer (on the outside). Only Shinto shrines have tori gates. Also, Buddhist rosaries look different from Catholic rosaries. I’d assume they’re prayed differently, too…

We also learned that apparently you are not supposed to step on the edging of tatami mats because it wears off faster. Oops.  The fan-makers we watched made fans incredibly fast: using pre-folded 3-layer papers, the woman picked up a set of sticks, wiped them with glue, and inserted them into the papers. The man folded it up, made sure it was lined up right, and set it aside. When it is dry, they’ll go back and attach the sides. The whole process took under half a minute.

During our short break in the afternoon, we wandered into some shops and stopped at a café for shaved ice. It was too hot to do much. We gave up and took a bus to Gion, where the second tour we wanted to attend (same company) would begin. We went into an Internet Café hoping for Wifi, but found computers and cigarettes instead. Then we went into a bookstore, where we ended up with 4 people helping us find a book on Wagashi recipes for a friend, and still failed.

After leaving the bookstore, we went to the meeting point for the Gion walking tour and discovered we were 15 minutes late. We attempted to follow the tour route and actually found the tour though!

This second tour was a walking tour of Gion, the current Geisha district, with Mie. Mie was more fluid in English, and even used a word Pamela was unsure about: auspicious.  Mie walked us around Gion showing us geiko/meiko (geisha and apprentice geisha, in Kyoto dialect) dormitories and teahouses and explaining the traditions to us.  We happened to be stopped in front of one dormitory when a taxi pulled up, and Mie told us that meant a meiko was coming out because they only use that one taxi service. We all stood there for like 15 minutes waiting for her to come out so we could take a picture of her. Only Ted succeeded, so others in the group started taking pictures of his picture…

Both walking tours were good. The tour guides stopped often enough that we were not exhausted or dying of heat stroke, and we learned interesting things (although Ted claims not to remember anything).  Both guides had good English; probably the most fluent English we’ve heard anybody speak since getting here. Emi had two English quirks: she often confused masculine and feminine pronouns (her/his, she/he, her/him), and pronounced all English “r”s with the Japanese pronunciation. Whenever she was grasping for a word, she’s kill a millisecond saying “how should say…” and then continue right along. Pamela also noted that Emi (in the old district) said that the geisha are still sometimes used as prostitutes today since official prostitutes were banned; while Mie (in the new district) refuted the claim.

At the end of our Gion tour, we went back to an okonomiyaki restaurant that Mie had pointed out during the tour for dinner. The noodle dish was good, but the place in Tokyo had better egg dishes.

While walking back to the bus stop, we got passed by a geiko going somewhere. Ted tried to take her picture, and she literally ran away.  We passed her again waiting to cross an intersection, and she kept looking at him nervously.

Random Observations:

  • Ted uses ice cream to cool off. Pamela must limit Ted’s ice cream intake so that he will be able to eat meals.
  • The AC is never turned down very cool. Maybe cools off to 80 degrees (F), which feels good compared to outside but is not “cool”.  Opposite of places in the US, where you have to go out carrying a sweatshirt because it’s cooled down to 60 degrees inside.Ted’s suggested itinerary for next time: sightseeing in morning and evening; shopping in the afternoon.