Sunday, March 30, 2008

Back in Seattle - last day in Kyoto and exit via Osaka KIX

It's over, it's one for the books. We're back home, physically at least. We've been up going on 28hrs and counting. The last day consisted of a morning visit to Nijo Castle again (and a good decision that was!), a quick stop by the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park and the train ride to the other-worldly huge Osaka KIX Airport.

We're burnt out right now, but more details will follow as we look back and review.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The end is near! More Kyoto and Nara

Well things are happening so fast that I didn't even have time to post anything yesterday. Now we've just wrapped up our last full day in Japan. But first things first - yesterday. We started out the day going to the Torii gates in Fushima. The pictures pretty much say it all - Miles and miles of red temple gates. The scope of the whole complex was amazing. After that we returned to Kyoto proper, did some shopping and had some truly amazing ramen noodles. Fatty pork prepared in a way I didn't truly think possible, just like butter. We went east again and got lost in temple after temple. We capped the day by going out for tempura - a place all about the ceremony of presenting the tempura. There was a Japanese couple there from Tokyo who were spending a few days in Kyoto, so we we're able to have some conversation while we shared similar dinners. Lucky the restaurant was right in the Gion neighborhood, famous for its cherry blossoms along a river bank.

...Sigh, falling asleep...

Today, Chiba-san came by bullettrain to meet us at the Kyoto train station. We then headed out to Nara, a capital of Japan just before Kyoto. We saw many great things there. I think the top 3 though were the wild deer, the Great Buda, and a cherry tree of epic beauty. We finished Nara off with a healthy lunch, composed of many interesting elements. We returned to the hotel in Kyoto after saying goodbye to Chiba-san. For dinner we stumbled into a small family restaurant just a few blocks from the ANA Hotel. We don't know what its name was, but the grand-daughter's name was Senda. The food, deep-fried, was great.

Time for bed, a few stops in the morning, and then the flight out.


Japan - Day 8

Japan - Day 9

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Epic day in Kyoto

Well once again, not enough time to write. I can't even summarize yesterday without it taking two hours to write. The super highlights:

First full day in Kyoto. We did a walking tour of the old part of Kyoto. We saw several nice temples and gardens. The funny thing is we barely touched the tip of the iceberg. There are just that many temples and shrines here. One of the more interesting moments is when we went out the back gate of one of the hillside temples... it didn't say we couldn't go out it. Well a little stroll in the forest became a rather interesting hike. Eventually we popped out at the top of a ridge overlooking Kyoto. It was quite a view, and we were very alone on top. We found out that it was another burial site for a Shogun. The trip down was even more exciting because we discovered we had actually taken a goat path up, but there was a nice trail down.. but where it lwould ead to we were not exactly sure. It went in kinda the right direction, and it did. It just got a little dicey because as we started going down the path it went from nice rock to muddy grass. We were afraid the trail would just end and we'd have to turn back up the (steep) hill. But no, we emerged out into a HUGE cemetery. Minutes later we were back on the map, literally. More temples, gardens, amazing mochi desserts and a grilled Unagi dinner summed up the rest of the day. We got back to the hotel after dark and then headed out across the street to Nijo castle for a nighttime walk under the lights. Amazing day. You could spend a year in this town.

More hoofing expected today. Anya is zonked out right now, she had to do some work last night. But shortly we'll get dressed and see if we can get lost, again, in Kyoto.

Japan - Day 7

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Screw the planes, I got trains at 200 mph!

Bye-bye Tokyo, hello Kyoto! Its quite a shock to the system (shock #325 this week,) going from the huge metropolis of Tokyo to Kyoto, but I think we'll do fine. We kinda have to learn everything over again, but faster. Time is short. What is riding the Shinkansen (series 500) like? Well, its long and spacious. Very nice. You know when a plane is in the process of taking off down the runway, right before the wheels lift off? Imagine that for a little over 2 hours. 200 mph, and it feels it. I've never felt G-forces in a train before.

So anyways, we're here. Safe and sound. New hotel, the ANA Hotel Kyoto. We just discovered our window opens up to a view of a major castle in the area. Not a bad way to start Kyoto.

Need to figure out dinner now.

Japan - Day 6

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Last full day in Tokyo - Blossoms for the last

Well another fine day in Tokyo. Wonderful sun in the springtime. We decided to go over to the Imperial East Gardens and take a look inside this time. I nice place to get away from it all. Well almost. Unlike Palatine Hill in Rome, you can still hear the Tokyo grind from inside the palace walls. After that we stopped by Mitsukoshi, a department uber-store with multiple locations in Tokyo, to pickup up a bento-box lunch... and then some. (Mitsukoshi's breadth and quality of food offerings boggles my tiny American mind.) We then jumped back onto the subway and headed back to Ueno Park to see the cherry blossoms in full effect. There were a few in bloom when we stopped by in the evening a couple of days ago. Now they are in full bloom. It is ground zero for Sakura watching in Tokyo right now. So we sat, along with tons of other people and had our lunch. We counted our blessings and had the best picnic lunch I could ever conceive of. Of course the two mochi ice cream desserts we each had kinda put our meal over the top, but we figured we'd walk it off. Hey, when in Rome... Then we headed over to Roppongi and the new uber-shopping/building complex, Roppongi Hills. A huge, massive complex. Amazing. But so over the top, it just oozes money. It feels like you need to be so rich to shop and live there, that DNA and bank account statements should be required for entrance. The large number of security personnel does nothing but reinforce this. Like I said, an amazing place, but I don't think we got much out of it. So now we're back, getting ready for our last night in Tokyo. Its been a great trip so far. We'll see how tomorrow goes with stashing the luggage at Tokyo Station until we get onto the bullet train for Kyoto. Every day is a day of firsts here. By the end of our stay here I think we've travelled on the Ginza, Marunuchi, Hibiya, Oedo, Hanzomon and Asakusa subway lines, plus the JR Line out of Shinjuku. Not bad for a couple of days.

Japan - Day 5

Monday, March 24, 2008

Day 4 - Shinkuju, Harajuku and Omote-sando again

Ok - I'm not flowing with details these days. Sorry. Finding time to do anything but run around town and try to absorb it all is almost impossible. I can't believe we only have another day and a half in Tokyo before we have to leave. We'll try to post follow-ups later.

Essentially though yesterday start out rainy. We got up late, so we decided to head over to Shinjuku and try some shopping. Its a huge rail hub with several shopping centers attached. We didn't have much luck with shopping. We did have a business lunch though, pretty cool.

We then headed over to the huge city metro building, it had two huge observation decks on top of it. We couldn't see much because of the weather, but it is an impressive structure. Rain started to tail off after that, so we decided to take the JR train to Harajuku and walk down Omotesando. It's really cool. A nice shopping neighborhood with tons of nice, expensive backstreets. We finally made our way back to the Berry restaurant for some "pie" and coffee. After that we walked back over to Shibuya to try more shopping - we had better luck this time but still no awesome purchase yet.

Feet worn off, we headed back to Akasaka and had dinner at a very nice, traditional Japanese restaurant. (First time this trip we've had to take off our shoes. Tofu that melted, MELTED in your mouth.)

Weather is way better today. Let's go see Tokyo!

Japan - Day 4

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Day 2 and 3 - Catching up?

Nope, no time yet. But we are doing well. We are trying to burn the candle at both ends... with a blow-torch in the middle. We'll post a more complete summary later, but essentially:

Day 2 - Went to the most insane fish market in the world. How we came out alive and without fish guts all over us I do not know. We then had a sushi-breakfast to set us up right. Then we ran over and caught a train to Nikko. A long 2-hour affair. Nikko is on the edge of the mountains bordering the Kanto plain I think. Amazing place. Bigger and more elaborate than I was expecting. Then we trained back to Tokyo and walked around Ueno Park at night - the first large collection of Cherry blossoms we've seen here. Then we decided to be really crazy and head over to Shibyua - ground center for crazy Tokyo nightlife... well one of them at least. We collapsed in bed that night.

Day 3 - We met Chiba-san at Tokyo station. It was the first time I've seen him since 1985. It was great. He took us on a local bus tour through the city. The Imperial Palace, Tokyo Tower, a Harbor Cruise and back to Asakusa (which was way more busy then we went there last.) A great day. And then we headed over to Imato Sando for some walking and dinner.

We're now in a rush to for day #4. Trying to make a plan and get ready. We are dead-beat tired, but push on we must!

Japan - Day 2

Japan - Day 03

Friday, March 21, 2008

First Day in Tokyo

So, notes of interest:

Politeness - Everyone here is so polite, like really polite. Even in Italy, with Anya's italian speaking ability, there were a couple times when you felt that you were an annoyance for asking information from information tasked people. Everyone greets you with a cheer, and you feel as if you can't do much wrong, even without knowing the language. We even had a person come up to us when we were looking at a map and offer to help us out of the blue. (Which we really didn't need at the time, but still nice. Especially with this wacky Ward, block number naming system for addresses. OMG. We'll address that later.)

Rush hour on the Ginza line - We've heard about the rush hour packing of people onto the subway, but now we've actually experienced it. So we've done Termini in Rome. Had to smash our bodies into Moscow trains. What sets Tokyo apart is that people do it, but in a semi-organized manner. Instead of a panicked mess, the police organize people, and check to make sure everyone is in. People actually form up into lines for each door. Once its your turn, you do push, and push fairly hard to get everyone in. Once your in, packed like sardines, it gets really quiet. Not a peep.

Tall Japanese - They've grown in the past twenty years since I was here. Most of the people are shorter than Anya and I, but many people are the same height and even taller... which blew me away. Boys and girls. Lots of tall girls wearing tall heals. So I guess they're finally getting that protein diet.

Smoking - I assumed there would be a lot of smokers, but not as much as I remember. Especially not as many as Paris or Seoul. There was only one restaurant in which someone was smoking and we saw only two other places where smokers clustered together outside train stations.

Street Addresses - Oh my lord, the single biggest pain in the butt for finding things in Tokyo is the lack of street names, street addresses and decent maps... and crappy travel guide maps and instructions. Case in point - Asakusa Manos. So its in our Lonely Planet travel book, listed as a Russian style restaurant in Tokyo. We thought it would be fun to see Russian food interpreted in Japan and we were "nearby." But the street listed in the address is not the street you'll find it on. The street listed borders the ward (mini-neighborhood) in which it is in. An area might have several wards. Each ward then might have about twenty blocks. And then each block might have several buildings or fronts. There really is no order to the block numbering. If your lucky, there will be a neighborhood map with each block number listed out. And to make even more fun, its easy to loose track of how many streets you've past when trying to locate a block because insanely small streets, barely an alley, qualify as a street, thus a new "block." Some blocks are barely 20 feet wide and maybe fit 3 buildings. Anyways - it took us forever to find the place. Luckily we located a neighborhood map. But the kicker - the address was 2-7-14. We assume Ward #2, Block 7, Entrance 14. But no, after going in circles we went to block 14 and found Manos, Entrance 10... So the address was totally wrong. It should have been 2-14-10. And to top it off, the hours were wrong in the book. It was closed. Thanks Lonely Planet!! Wankers.

Fashion - Well Anya was really impressed with how made up women in Rome were. In Paris, even more so by a huge leap. Tokyo is another jump past Paris. Especially in Ginza, the shopping is crazy. Huge buildings for places like Cartier, De Beers and other jewelry and fashion designers.

Food servings - How are these people all not overweight? My god, each bowl of noodles I eat just hits me like a brick. Its all good and stuff, but wow - its not like they serve tiny portions here. Starving has not been a problem.

The Rundown:

So we're exhausted. We started the day by taking the subway through the heart of rush hour to get to Asakusa's temple and neighborhood. We walked around a bit. They have what seems a cherry blossom festival, even though they haven't bloomed yet. But it was fun to see the area and all the people. We had a good solid lunch before diving back into the subway for Ginza and the shopping district. The food court in the shopping center we came to first was awesome - we have to go back there. We were still full. We roamed Ginza for a while and then trekked over to the Hama Rikyu-Onshi-teien, a park that use to be the sport hunting park for the Shogun it seems. It was a nice place but under construction all over the place - they were preparing to drain many of the lakes, so not the placid zen experience. We crawled around the new sky-walkways surrounding the Shiodome and tried to find something to eat, but alas nothing caught our fancy. So we headed back to a dessert bar back in Ginza and called it a day.

We wanted to take a nap and head back out that night, but we were dog tired.

Next on the plate should be heading over to the fish market first thing this morning, and then hopefully taking a day trip to Nikko.


Japan - Day01

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Eagle has Landed - In Japan

Well we made it. I won't make a long post, but I have some pictures. Nothing really went wrong. Vancouver, the flight, Narita, the train to downtown and the subway to the hotel, not to mention finding the hotel itself all went fine.

The end of the flight was a roller coaster. I almost lost it. The immigration line in Narita took forever - over an hour. So our faith in Japanese organization took a slight dip.

Anya's faith that a lot of people in Japan speak english has been crushed, but most of the signs have english. Enough to make it work for us. So we bought all our train stuff with little trouble. The total travel time by train and subway was about 2 hours.

After arriving at the hotel we walked the back streets for some cheap eats, which we got in the style of a ramen shop... looked like the Denny's of Japan. And yes, we did see a McDonalds, Starbucks and Denny's. We'll probably save the Denny's for later. So on to Day 1!

Japan - Day0

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Step One - Arrived Vancouver

Got up this morning, had breakfast and headed out for Vancouver. The trip was fine, pretty much 2 hours from door to gate. We got a little scrambled when the nearest ATM didn't have any cash, but the next one up was stocked, so disaster averted. We're now sitting along the "riverside" that YVR has here in the international terminal, digesting our questionable bowl of Sweet and Sour Pork noodles. Our flight looks about 15 minutes delayed, but that shouldn't be a problem.

So far so good.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

OK Houston, start the countdown.

Time to finish with all this blog stuff and get mentally ready for the trip. Planning still to be done. Luckily my wife (name hidden to protect the innocent) has finished all the packing.

Next stop - Vancouver. Stop after that, JAPAN!

Old is New - Tanya's Trip

So I'm trying to figure out the best wat to blog with photos attached... so far using Picasa is the easiest way... hm. Using the pictures from Tanya's trip as a test.. Easy, but this is not really what I want.

Posted by Picasa

Ok - Toe into water....

So I'll be able to ramble on about various things from here, but what about pictures too? So lets see... this last weekend before the big trip we headed over to Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill just to walk around. We walked through the Conservatory for the first time. It was awesome. Plants older than me, bigger than me.... better looking than me.


Day One

Well, a blog? Why not. One day before the trip to Japan I'm deciding to get all fancy. We'll see how this goes.