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|10/05||Singapore to Osaka, Japan, to Kyoto, Japan
The flight from Singapore on JAL was uneventful. Of course, we were both dead tired when we arrived in Osaka about 7 a.m. Japan time (one hour behind Cairns time.)
We took the tram to Immigration where we got in a long line to have our passports checked. We picked up our gear, then waited an hour or so to find out the next step.
About 9, our gear bags were loaded onto trucks, then we got a bus to take us to Kyoto. About 10:30 Karen-Ann started trying to convince the bus driver we were ready to leave. He wouldn't leave without direction from Tim. Karen-Ann got an English speaking airport official to tell the driver it's okay. Nope, he needed it from Tim. The official got Tim on the phone. No good. It had to be Tim in person. Finally, a little after 11, Tim came out and told the driver it was okay to leave. We left, finally, about ten after eleven.
Surprise! We're still driving on the left! And another surprise. Though the temperature is very pleasant, the air is very hazy (smoggy? polluted?).
We drove an elevated highway (a toll road) a looooong way following the waterfront through lots of industrial areas past several petroleum plants and past a few small marinas for about 40 minutes. Then we got on a surface highway for another 20 minutes of driving through dense residential areas on the way out of town.
There were HUGE, quarter-circular, perforated metal sound walls along the highway. We saw several VERY LARGE Ferris wheels along the way also. Some of them have neon light advertising on them. (Don't know why they are there.)
Finally we drove through two very long tunnels to get out of Osaka. And where were we when we came out of the tunnels? In more city! It is incredibly congested all the way from Osaka to Kyoto.
We saw parking garages that have cars stacked in cubicles like toy blocks. Every street we were on was wall to wall cars -- and none of them parked!
We finally got to our hotel a little after 1. We picked up our key and checked out our room. It is very basic with three twin beds, a bathroom, TV, fridge, desk, chair, reading lights (a plus) and filthy carpets. It looks like clean sheets, though. AND, each bed has a kimono included.
We picked up the gear bags that we needed for today and went to our room. I studied brochures and maps as Lisa napped. Then I went downstairs to schmooze with other riders about their finds of today and their plans for tomorrow. I walked over to a temple, but it had just closed for the day.
I came back and woke Lisa up. She showered while I snoozed. Then we went to dinner.
At dinner Pat (with staff) came over. She had a frantic look about her. It seems that, since TK&A is here a day later than the original schedule, the hotel needs 35 rooms back for a large group they had booked in for tomorrow night. We agreed to give up our room and move to another hotel where rooms were available. It meant we had to bring our bags down in the morning for the hotel staff to move for us. Then, in the evening we would just go to the other hotel, pick up our bags and check in.
After dinner, we retired to our room to read.
Love to all,
Last night we made plans to spend the day with Rich and Jane (Portland) and Sean (Washington. DC). Lisa and I had reservations to go to Tenryu-ji Temple, a Zen Buddhist monastery, for lunch. This morning, after we checked out and delivered our bags, we called and changed the reservations from two to five.
The breakfast today was fascinating! There was the standard western fare of scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, juice, cereal and coffee. Then there was a large table filled with various Japanese foods -- a variety of fish, both bean and sesame tofu, various rice dishes, rice cookies and cakes, miso soup, corn soup, and some other vegetable-type things that we couldn't identify, and have never seen in Japanese restaurants at home.
After breakfast, the five of us hopped on Bus 202 to the Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) Temple.
When we got to the temple, we thought, uh-oh, tour busses. But most of the busses were full of school children on "excursion" for the day. Hoards of kids, all dressed alike, all wanting to practice their English on us, all anxious to have their picture taken while they showed the "peace" sign (two fingers held up in a 'V'). By "practicing their English", I mean they wanted to make sure what they said in English was clear and correctly enunciated. They could not understand much of our English.
The Golden Pavilion is so called because the top two floors are covered with gold leaf. It is a very attractive building. On a pond, of course, because it's within simply marvelous gardens. Actually, the most interesting thing about the Kinkaku Temple was the beautiful, exquisitely manicured gardens.
After the Kinkaku Temple, we caught a taxi to the Tenryu-ji Temple. As we walked through the neighborhood leading to the temple, we saw that every yard and every plant was perfectly coifed. All the houses were traditional Japanese style with the turned-up eaves, wood strips covering the windows and shoji-style doors.
As we walked through the neighborhood on our way to the temple, we found this shop called "Bruce's" in one of the houses. It sold kids "pencil boxes" exclusively. These "pencil boxes" were, in fact, little cloth figures shaped like Gumby dolls. They each had a zipper in the front of the body (placed in five or six different standard locations) that gave access to the inside of the cloth figure's body. This is where a kid could store their pencils and erasers.
The store, which was a tiny part of the tiny living room of the house, was full of these little pencil box dolls "designed by Bruce". Each was exactly the same size, but each was made from different fabric. That was the only item the sold What a strange thing. (By the way, the price for one of these pencil cases was an astounding 3000 yen, or about $30!)
When we got to the temple, we removed our shoes and walked on the bamboo mats to the dining room. The dining room was a long room with marble floors, bamboo mats to walk on and red, felt cloth strips (about 1/8" thick) to sit on. Sean and I managed to sit in the traditional cross-legged position. Everyone else kinda "lounged" on the felt mat.
According to the info they gave us, the Zen cuisine is very carefully prepared to nourish the mind and body. The meal is "just enough to satisfy the palate and the soul." It recognizes that there must be a "harmony of the six basic flavors -- bitter, sour, sweet, salty, light and hot" -- and moreover, the three qualities of "light and flexible", "clean and neat" and "conscientious and thorough." And, "ingredients with strong odors, such as garlic and onions, are forbidden."
As we were eating, the building started shaking. We kidded Jane that it was because she didn't eat some part of her meal, and that put the universe out of balance. It turned out that what we felt was a part of a 7.0 earthquake -- but . . . did we contribute ? ? ?
Before we left the Zen temple, we had to use the bathroom (of course). There was a first class oriental toilet -- a porcelain "squat toilet" which is a trough in the floor. There was also a first class western toilet -- a standard stool with a seat and seat cover. But THIS one was REALLY first class. It had an armrest with multiple control buttons and knobs. One was to preheat the toilet seat. Another provided a traditional flushing sound, apparently to mask any noises you might make. Yet another was a "derriere" spray. Push this button and you received a warm water spray directly on the "action spot" of your bottom. And finally, there was a "bidet" spray. It sprayed warm water on the length of the split between your buttocks. What a hoot!
From there we took a walk through the shopping area of the neighbornood of the Zen temple. (The temple is in a near suburb of Kyoto.) We saw there, as in downtown Kyoto, lots and lots of bicycles as well as lots and lots of cars.
As we strolled down the street, we saw that all the restaurants and cafes had pictures of the various foods and dishes that they had available, along with the prices. Apparently this is a standard practice
We also came upon many sidewalk-oriented places that had unusual looking (to us) food. Of course, with Lisa and Richard, we had to sample them all. We confirmed that none of us liked the (traditional Japanese) green tea ice cream. But we found many delicious but strange tasting food items that we liked.
From that neighborhood in Western Kyoto, we took a bus clear across town to the area of the "Silver Temple" called Ginkaku-ji. The temple was closed, but we walked the "Philosopher's Path" down the East side of town to the Honen-in Temple.
Our stroll down the Philosophers' Path was really interesting because it went through the quiet, residential areas of the city. We saw lots of interesting homes and apartments, All very "Japanese" looking in style (tile roofs with "turned up" peaks - wide eaves), yet all very homey and down-to-earth looking.
We got to the Honen-in Temple right at dusk. It is reported to be, and we found it to be, one of the most beautiful and least visited temples in the city. There were many unique and interesting buildings on the grounds, including many shrines and small places to worship.
At the entrance to each shrine and in front of each place to worship there was a thick rope hanging down with a big wooden "bead" around it at the bottom end. a bell or gong or some other type of noise maker was at the top of the rope. Apparently, one took hold of the rope at the "bead" and shook the rope. That rang the gong. That, apparently, invoked the spirit of a god. That being done, one must assume the position of prayer, pray, bow, and back away.
One thing I noticed in the stroll down the Philosophers Path is that the utility poles are all metal. We heard that it is a violation of some oriental beliefs to cut down trees. Thus there are lots of trees in Japan and metal utility poles.
Piano playing was coming from one of the shrines. We went in and found that the piano player was practicing for an upcoming concert -- but there was another concert later tonight. The cost was Y3,000. (3,000 yen or about $30 american. The exchange rate is about 99 yen to the dollar.)
We passed -- but that reminds me that we are constantly being hit with "sticker shock" here. Everything is really expensive. For instance, we had two coffees and two scones for Y1600. Our vegetarian lunch at the Zen Temple was Y3500, and it was the least expensive of three offerings. The other two were Y5500 and Y7500. We saw steak avertised in restaurants ranging from Y10,000 to Y15,000. (yes, that's $100 to $150 american.) Good thing most of our meals are paid for!
We continued our stroll down the Philosophers Path. It was really interesting because it went through the quiet, residential areas of the outskirts of the city. We continued to see many children of all ages in uniforms, even into the dusk at 6 p.m.
Next we caught a bus into the Gion district. That was the center of the Geisha houses in pre-WW II days.
As we strolled through some-of the side streets of the Gion district, we came upon a small hotel called the "Love 2". We had heard from a fellow rider-couple that there was a hotel chain with a name like this that was reasonably priced and each had a different and unique decor, so we checked this one out just out of curiosity. They had pictures of the rooms -- very clean and modern with chrome, mirror and plastic decor. There were three prices posted by each picture -- the first was for the night. The second was an hourly rate for the first hour. The third was the rate for each added half-hour.
Upon leaving, we noticed that outside was a post with business cards from dozens of women, each with a phone number, a picture and a description of her "services". I wonder if there was any relationship between the hotel and the advertising on the post???
We were hungry so we started looking for restaurants and their pictures of food and prices in the windows. For some reason, we found lots of restaurants in the side streets of the Gion District that looked very nice inside but had either no pictures or unreadable prices so we had no clue of the type of food or the prices. (I know. You thought we were adventurous eaters. Well, we are -- but there's a limit. Also, the restaurants in the neighborhood that had prices posted indicated that we were in a pretty high rent district. )
So, we headed back out to the more touristy main drag. We had a sort of traveling buffet for awhile. We would spot something that looks unusual and interesting, so we would buy a couple and share them amongst us all.
For instance, we had what was called a "Japanese Pizza". It was a rice crepe fried and filled with a variety of chopped Japanese vegetables, tofu, seaweed and topped with an egg. The whole pile was flipped, flipped again, folded into a burritto-shape, topped with a teriyaki-type sauce and served. Strange but tasty!
Finally we went to a VERY small Japanese cafe. We picked it because the pictures looked reasonable and they said they had an "English Menue".
There were two tables inside -- one for two and one for four. We crowded around the table for four. The proprietor immediately brought us all glasses of cold tea, then the two English menues. We all decided what we wanted. The proprietor came over to take our orders. We pointed to the items we wanted (because he didn't speak English" -- but he couldn't read the English on the menu. Every time we ordered something, he would take the English menu to a Japanese woman at the next table so she could interpret our order for him. Another hoot!
Well, the various orders came out. only one was a total miss -- but we all shared it anyway. As expected, Lisa and Rich were the most adventurous in their orders. Jane pretty much sticks to rice at Japanese meals. We all enjoyed our various dishes, though.
We had to get back to our hotel to see if we had bikes for tomorrow. (When we left, the plan was that the bikes would be delivered today and tomorrow was a 170 km riding day.)
After another adventure on the busses, we got to the main hotel. There was nothing posted but we ran into Joan (from Philadelphia). She told us there had been a meeting at dinner where Tim gave an update. It seems the bikes were still in Kuala Lumpur. He would get them here, at considerable expense -- and with an unknown about getting them back out in a timely manner -- if there was enough interest in riding in Japan. A show of hands indicated that only a dozen or so cared about riding in Japan. So, the decision was made to bus Japan and pick up the bikes in Hong Kong.
Lisa, Rich and Jane were happy and Sean and I were kind of neutral. At any rate, the busses leave tomorrow about noon.
With that, Rich, Jane, Lisa and I headed over to our new hotel to check in and see our new rooms. They were really nice. The Kyoto International Hotel is a cut above the New Kyoto Hotel. The rooms looked like first class Hyatt or Hilton rooms.
Love to all,
|10/07||Japan, Kyoto to Amanohashidate (Miyazu)
Today was a bus day. We had breakfast in our luxurious hotel (Y25,000 per night and up-- about $250 -- and, we are told, this is the hotel that the Emperor stays in when he is in town. Of course we didn't pay, but Tim must be going nuts!) Then we all checked out of our rooms, stacked our gear bags in the lobby, and sat and waited for the buses.
We finally got loaded and left for Amanohashidate about 12:30. The ride was long. We went through a lot of urban area, through many long tunnels, along many rivers and past many foothills. We passed through residential areas -- all with houses with traditional Japanese tile roofs with high ridges and upturned peaks and wide eaves. We passed a lot of industrial areas. The river valley areas we passed through were beautiful like unadulterated river valleys everywhere. In fact the only ways we knew we were in Japan rather than the river valleys of the Eastern USA were, Japanese-style roofs on buildings and drivers on the left side of the street.
We stopped at a tourist-bus stop where they had all kinds of Japanese and psuedo-American types of food. Lisa was into Japanese -- I had the psuedo-American. (Lisa's was good -- mine was not.)
An unusual thing we saw from the bus was terraced cemeteries. The side of a steep hill would be terraced and each terrace was filled with tombstones. Right up from the road to the top of the hill.
We have found very few stores or products with signs or information in English. We have seen no on-street parking anywhere yet.
This part of Japan has lots of mountains and lots of water. We see canals and streams and rivers everywhere -- both in the cities and the suburbs. Every street we walked on had both an open gutter at the curb and a covered drain at the back of the sidewalk.
We drove northerly most of the day, much of the route following the Yura river to the Sea of Japan. About 4:30, the bus dropped us right downtown on the sidewalk in Amanohashidate, right in front of the Chion-ji Temple and all the little stores. (Downtown is about two blocks of little stores on a narrow street that leads to the temple.)
The scene where the buses let us out was bizarre. We were in front of the temple (we think), and there certainly was no campground around! Everyone, including staff, was milling around, wondering what was happening. No one in the town spoke a word of English, and generally seemed quite bewildered that four busloads of westerners -- with a motley assortment of gear -- had just landed, or more aptly, been dumped, in the middle of their little town and had pretty much taken over the whole street. And none of us speaks Japanese. (Tim and TK&A's Japanese interpreter were not there.) Lisa said the whole scene was "so Asia."
While everyone was waiting, I went with Jim (of Jim and Lilly) to arrange for a room. When I returned, everything and everyone but Lisa was gone. The buses had dropped us at the wrong place, so they came back and loaded all the gear and all the riders and took them to camp, about a km back up the river.
We went to camp, looked it over, and quickly decided we'd rather have the Japanese experience of staying in the "traditional" Japanese room that I had reserved. We called a taxi to take us and our gear to the inn.
The room was delightful! (Assuming you abandon your western ideas at the door.) It has sliding shoji doors on all four sides. Two sides lead outside, one to a closet and one to the hall. The room is simple. It has wood floors covered by tatami mats. It has a very low, square table with four cushions around it. And it has hot water, tea and tea pots for making tea.
The bathroom (toilets and communal sinks) is down the hall. Two toilets each for men and women -- and again, one eastern-style squat toilet, and, for the ladies, one really fancy western toilet, complete with the armrest and all the "ammenities" like the heater and the two bottom sprays. The bathing room (we haven't seen it yet) is in another building.
When we came back from dinner, there were two futons on the floor with two quilts and two rice-hull pillows. The two lights on the ceiling have three levels -- a full on (bright) white light, a very low level yellowish light, and an eerie and VERY low level greenish light. If I find anyone who speaks English, I'll ask what the two low level lights are for.
Did I say that we've met three "proprietors" and two other guests. None of them speaks or understands English. But it's amazing what you can communicate with sigh language and a few universal words -- like "toilet" and "train station" -- along with "origato" (meaning "thank you.")
Love to all,
|10/08||Monju (Amanohashidate), Japan
Amanohashidate is known as one of the three most beautiful spots in Japan. It is located on the Tango Peninsula north of Kyoto. It is a sand bar 2.3 miles long and about 566 feet wide at its widest. It is covered with more than 8,000 pine trees and is said to look like "the green bridge to heaven." It reaches from the "revolving bridge" on Monju across the Miyazu Bay to Fuchu.
(For clarification of yesterday's journal, we are actually staying in Monju. Everything I described yesterday was actually in Monju.)
As you may know, in traditional Japanese homes, hotels, restaurants, etc., you leave your shoes at the door, and wear slippers. When Lisa got up at 11 this morning and headed for the bathroom, of course she put on the "house slippers" to go down the hall. Well, she had quite an experience. Here's her story:
[As I headed down hall and turned into the room with the toilets, an ancient, very traditional woman, who apparently owns this place, started wagging her finger and scolding me. Of course in Japanese, so I had no idea what the problem was. But with the help of sign language, I figured out that I was wearing the wrong slippers into the toilet room! Turns out that the proper foot attire for the bathroom is WOODEN slippers (they had some outside the door to the toilet room--guess that was a clue!), as opposed to the vinyl slippers one wears in the hallways of the inn.
But once that misunderstanding was cleared up, all was still not right in the etiquette department. When I came out of the bathroom, and dutifully changed back into the house slippers, I received another scolding -- this time for placing the wooden slippers facing the wrong direction!]
Well, we learned a lot about slipper traditions in Japan in this one stay.
We decided to run today on "the green bridge to heaven" through Monju over to Fuchu and up to Kasamatsu Park.
We stopped in town (Monju) for brunch. That was another adventure. We went to the restaurant that is the Odyssey vendor because we knew they had coffee. We just wanted some coffee and something simple for breakfast. Through a lot of sign language, gestures and pointing, and the help of a friendly Japanese tourist, we determined that they only have whole (lunch or dinner) plates. No a la carte. They directed us to a small place across the street.
So we went there. They had various food dishes displayed in the window. We asked the little old lady who ran the place for coffee. She pointed to the restaurant across the street (where we had just been) and she turned to leave. We motioned for her to follow us outside where we pointed to two of the dishes. (One looked a lot like an omelet. The other looked kind of like rice with chicken chunks in a reddish sauce.) When the dishes came, we found that we were right on both counts. The one that looked like an omelet was, in fact, a rice omelet. Strange sounding but very tasty.
We then stopped at the Post Office -- the only place we've found in Japan cities that has an ATM that works for our card. It worked again. (We keep having to make trips to the ATM because I had been getting only Y10,000 at a time. That doesn't last long with the prices here.)
From there we jogged to the Chion-ji Temple and looked that over. Then we went by the "Chie-no-wa Toroh," a ring-shaped stone lantern (a stone circle atop a post) which symbolizes wisdom.
Then we jogged over the "Kaisen-kyo" or revolving bridge. (When boats want to pass, it pivots on its center to allow them to pass.)
Next we jogged the 5 km on the Amanohashidate to Fuchu and right through the town past the Kono Shrine to the foot of a mountain containing Kasamatsu Park and the Nariai-ji Temple. We started up the stairs to the top, then thought, "You know, it'd be fun to ride the chairlift up." So we did.
At the top of the lift we were in the park. From there, it is claimed, when you look at Amanohashidate between your own legs (mata-nozoki), it looks like "the Bridge to Heaven." Of course, we had to bend over and take a look.
We met Dr. Peter James and his wife Cristy at the lookout. We talked with them for quite awhile. He's the TK&A physician who will be with us through Asia. Very nice people. Coincidentally, he has a daughter named Lisa; she has a son named David.
Leaving them to head down the hill on the chairlift, we jogged up the VERY steep climb to the Nariai-ji Temple. (Yes, there are a lot of temples and shrines here in Japan. I think we're already "templed-out."
From there we walk-jogged down the steps and path to the bottom of the climb in Fuchu. Then we jogged back across the Amanohashidate to Monju and back to our "traditional Japanese inn."
On our jog, we noticed, again, clusters of little, rough stone monuments (shrines, maybe) that all had little aprons tied on them. We were told there is some religious significance to the aprons but we were unable to find out more. We did find out that the stones ALWAYS have the cloths tied on them.
[From Lisa -- We wanted some tea. (There's a "hot pot" with hot water, a teapot, and green tea in our room at all times. If we use up the tea or the water, they replace it while we're out of the room). Anyway, we mostly use tea leaves at home (rather than bags) so of course we know how to make tea. But the proper brewing of tea is very important here, and after the shoe debacle this morning, we didn't want to offend anyone further, so we asked a younger woman here (in sign language) to show us how. (The issue was: The leaves were wrapped in a kind of parchment --do you dump the leaves out, or leave them wrapped? Very trivial, we know, but you must understand that traditional Japanese are quite sensitive about these things.) The woman showed us the correct way (leave them wrapped). About 10 minutes later, there was a knock on the door. It was the same young woman -- carrying a tray with Twinings Earl Grey tea (BAGS), sugar, lemon, and even English-style teacups (with handles). I guess she thought we were a couple of American clods. But actually it was a nice gesture. We prefer green tea, but we drank a cup of the Earl Grey so as not to insult our hosts AGAIN!]
We walked back into town for dinner. After dinner we went back to our place where we utilized the communal, coed bath. Fortunately, we seemed to be the only guests at the inn tonight so we had the bath to ourselves.
After the leisurely (and HOT) mineral springs bath, we showered, then went back to our room to read and listen to the crickets. The sound really reminded us of our home in Redwood Shores (except, as Lisa pointed out, no frogs).
Love to all,
|10/09||Japan, Monju to Hiroshima
We got up this morning, packed our gear bags, and headed over to the campground. According to the plans issues yesterday, the gear trucks were loading from 7:00 to 8:30; breakfast was a Japanese box breakfast; and the busses were scheduled to leave at 9:15 for a seven hour trip to Mountain Sanbe and the Kitanohara Camp.
We got to camp, loaded our bags, and then ran into Rich and Jane. They, along with some other riders, were going to take the train to Kyoto, then the bullet train direct to Hiroshima -- the Odyssey destination after another long bus ride tomorrow.
We made the quick decision, "Let's do it." Then we considered the implications and challenges of the decision.
First, all of our gear was packed and we couldn't get at the bags. We had no clothes, toiletries or drugs. No umbrellas, no jackets or hats -- only the clothes on our backs and the small stuff in our purses. Could we do without for two days and a night? We decided that we could.
Next, we needed someone to make sure our bags got reloaded onto the gear truck tonight. We talked to Larry and Joan. No problem, they'll see to it.
Next, we didn't have enough cash for the train tickets to Hiroshima, the train to Kyoto was to leave at 8:50 and the ATM didn't open until 9. (We heard they don't take credit cards.) Not a problem. We did have enough cash for the train to Kyoto. There we could get cash from an ATM, then purchase the tickets for the bullet-train to Hiroshima. (It turned out that the station at Kyoto did accept credit cards for the tickets.) With all that determined, we told Pat we'd be off route, then we headed for the train station.
The express train to Kyoto was clean, fast and smooth. We sat and talked with Ron (from Boston) and Adrien (from Sri Lanka) for the whole two-hour trip.
The bullet train to Hiroshima was larger cleaner, and smoother -- and MUCH faster (250-300 km/hr). We talked with a local for awhile, then read. The bullet train is amazing. Our's had 16 cars, each with 20 rows of wide, comfortable, 5-across (in a 3-2 configuration) seats. This very long train makes very, very smooth starts and stops. (It definitely would "not spill a drop of coffee" as the old Sante Fe used to claim. In fact, you can only tell you are stopped by looking out the window.
We arrived at Hiroshima at 1:13 -- EXACTLY on schedule. Note that the bullet train stops for about 2 minutes at a station. That means you must be ready and standing at the door to get on or off, or you will miss it.
At Hiroshima we went right down to the tourist office to book one night in Hiroshima and one night in Miyajima, the Odyssey destination for tomorrow night. The agent discouraged us though, when she pointed out Miyajima is a resort island and the prices there run Y25,000/night and up. So we arranged for a room in a nice hotel in Hiroshima for two nights. It's close to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and it's only a streetcar and ferry ride to Miyajima.
The five of us, Rich, Jane, Sean, Lisa and I, checked into the hotel. We all agreed to grab a quick bite to eat, then go over to the peace memorial.
At the memorial we first saw two movies -- the first was "Hiroshima: A Mothers Prayer." It was a powerful argument against war from a mother's point of view. The second was, "Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Harvest of Nuclear War." It showed the short and long term damage of the nuclear bombs. Both showed the really sickening damage to humans from nuclear weapons .
We learned some background information about the decison to drop the bombs that we hadn't heard before. One that I didn't realize is that we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima just 6 weeks after our first test of a nuclear bomb.
Another is that the two bombs -- one on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki -- were each a different type of bomb. The Hiroshima bomb was a Uranium-based nuclear bomb while the Nagasaki bomb was a Plutonium-based nuclear bomb.
And one of the three reasons cited for dropping the bomb was to see how much damage each type of bomb would do. Hmmm, I had always wondered why we dropped the second bomb . . . . (It was really interesting to hear all this from the Japanese point of view.)
We closed down the museum, then joined with Priscilla (from Pennsylvania) to find a place to eat. We walked round and round looking for a place that Tim and Ann Moe (more riders) had recommended. When we finally found it, we decided it was too expensive for our tastes. (Well, probably not too expensive for our TASTE, but our wallet is another matter...)
We settled on "The Garlic House" just down the block. We all ordered different dishes, then found that they were like Chinese restaurant dishes -- all large. So we all shared everything. And they were WONDERFUL!!! (And that's coming from David, who is definitely NOT a garlic lover!)
We had such things as eggplant in a garlic sauce that had a sweet edge to it; Thai-fried fish that had a really delicious garlic and coconut sauce; garlic bread that was cut in lengths, stood on end, piled high with garlic and butter, then baked (it was to die for); Calimari and asparagus in a light garlic sauce; a soup made with garlic (of course), ginger, prawns, mushrooms and onions; deep fried (in a garlic batter) octopus; and three different types of rice.
From there, we walked back to our hotel and hit the sack.
Some observations from our walk to the restaurant. We walked down a street that had been made into a covered pedestrian mall. So, of course, it was full of pedestrians . . . and bicyclist who were adeptly swerving in and out and around to miss the pedestrians.
There were lots of young women wearing one of the latest things here -- thick soled boots. And when I say thick, I mean THICK -- from four to six inches thick. And some were even in high heels with the thick soles. We even saw a bicyclist riding along in thick-soled high heels.
Another thing everyone under thirty seems to have is a tiny, tiny cell phone. Most are about 1 1/4" by about 3" by about 1/2 inch thick. They looked like key fobs.
Another observation is that there is no Japanese television in English.
And another is that canned drink vending machines are as ubiquitous here as cigerette vending machines were in Germany.
Love to all,
This morning the five of us had breakfast at the hotel, then we headed out with Sean to find a place that he could get a replacement modem for his new computer. He got a new modem, dropped it off at the hotel, and we got back over to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum by noon.
We spent a little over an hour in just the first part. More information was given there about the possible reasons for dropping the bomb and for choosing Hiroshima . . .such as, the USA wanted Japan to surrender quickly and stop the large scale killing of both military and civilians; it had become a large, military complex supporting their war effort; and how Russia had promised to enter the war against Japan within two months of Germany's surrender and the that the USA wanted Japan to surrender before that to minimize Russia's future power in the area.
About 1 o'clock, the Odyssey busses arrived. Also about that time the five of us were feeling burned out on the museum. (It was very repetitive. It's significant to know and remember the impact and harm that was done by the atom bomb . . . but there's a limit to how much nitty gritty detail can be absorbed in one sitting.)
We decided to see the rest of the memorial outside the museum, including the Children's Peace Monument, (A statue of a girl holding up a paper crane, in honor of a victim who had leukemia and made a folded paper crane each time she had a blood test in the belief it would save her life.), the Flame of Peace (It will be kept burning until the last nuclear weapon is destroyed.), and the Atomic Bomb dome (A building that was almost under the epicenter whose shell was still standing has been preserved as a reminder of the power of the atomic bomb.)
Then we had a quick lunch because Lisa and I wanted to catch the bus (scheduled for a 3 o'clock departure) to tonight's Odyssey campground on the island of Miyamata. We would then pick up our clothes and come back to Hiroshima.
Good idea in the planning -- not so good in execution.
The bus didn't leave until almost 3:30. The bus trip took more than an hour to get to the ferry. After the short ferry ride, we had to walk about 3 1/2 km, over a hill, to the campground where our gear was. When we got there, our bags were spread all over. Lisa was in a bad mood because of the time all this was taking and the fact that she didn't want to have to walk back and the shuttle bus kept leaving without us.
But we finally got our bags that we needed, got our others together in one place, got Lynn Miller to agree to watch and load them if appropriate, and ran to catch a bus back to the ferry terminal.
We were a bit stressed trying to figure out which ferry to take but we finally caught one that took us to the right place.
We had a little challenge finding the train station from the ferry terminal. And our very poor ability to communicate in Japanese didn't help. But we finally found it. By the time we bought our ticket and found the right track, the train was arriving. The stations along the way had names, so we were able to track our progress on a map, thus insuring that we got off at the right station.
Again we had a challenge finding the street car stop, but, with the help of a building guard, we found it . . . just as our street car was approaching. Again, by tracking our progress on the map, we got off at the right stop.
Bottom line? It took us only an hour and a half from when we left the campground to get back to our hotel.
The bad news is, in the rush to get our gear and catch the bus, I left our digital camera sitting on a fence where I had placed it to keep from banging it around while I dug in the luggage. I called Brit-Simone as soon as I realized it. She hadn't seen nor heard anything about anyone finding a camera, but she would check at breakfast. She said she would also have someone check the fence tonight.
Nothing more we could do about that, so we went for dinner. I had read about a gourmet dish called a Hiroshima Okonomiyaki. It consists of a crepe, upon which a pile of sauted vegetables is added, then various fillings -- like ham, octopus, prawns, pounded rice, cheese, etc. -- are added and sauteed together, then all that is turned over onto a fried egg Then the entire pile is turned over again, a tasty sauce and something green (???) is added, and then it's served. AND IT'S REALLY DELICIOUS -- AND HEALTHY, TOO adds Lisa. (Also the least expensove meal we've had here.) In fact, she says, if we were here longer she'd go to a different restaurant every day and try to find the BEST Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima.
On the way back we stopped for dessert. Of all things, Lisa had a strange craving for a good ol' American donut, ever since we had noticed the "Mister Donut" shop. But the problem was, when you want a fatty, sugary, bad-for-you donut, we learned that you DON'T want the Japanese version. It tasted, Lisa tells me, like it was made from tofu . . . and what you thing is choped nuts on top is actualy some kind of rice thing. Oh well. So we tried our luck at a place called "For Desert Lovers Only" (actually written in English) where I chose a piece of a fruit covered custard pie, Rich chose a whipped-cream covered piece of cake and Lisa chose a cinamon roll. These were REAL deserts!
Jane held out for a sorbet at a shop she had spotted earlier. We walked down to the shop but it was closed. Jane had her heart set on sorbet, so Rich, Jane and Sean set out in search for some. We had to do laundry, so we headed back to the hotel.
We took off all of our dirty clothes (that we had worn for the past three days), put on our Kimono-like robes (that are provided in every hotel room) and slippers (also provided -- with "slipper sheets") and headed down the hall to do our laundry. We finished by by 11:30 and called it a night.
Love to all,
|10/11||Japan, Miyajima to Osaka
Today is another travel (bus) day. We bussed to Osaka. The plan was to leave the island of Miyajima by 11 and arrive in Osaka by 4. In reality we left about 1 and arrived at our hotel at 9:30 (with a dinner stop).
But, first things first. We arranged with Sean, Rich and Jane to meet after breakfast. They had breakfast at the hotel. We went down the street to a coffee house.
They came by and we all walked to the street car, then reversed our route from yesterday -- street car to train to ferry to Miyajima. That only took us an hour today.
Then, at the island, we ran into a snag. It was a long wait for the bus and we couldn't all fit in one taxi -- and there was only one taxi available. Easily solved, though. Rich and Jane said they would rather walk the 3-plus km to the campground, so Lisa, Sean and I, with all the bags, took a taxi.
When we arrived, the first thing we did was locate our gear bags and make sure they were set for this, yet another traveling odyssey within our Odyssey.
Now why do I say that. Well, the riders who stayed on route on the day we took the bullet train, told us this story. (See the foot note)
The next thing I did was to look for my camera. Fortunately, Sue Ireland (Britt-Simone's friend) had it. She had heard about my plight last night, then went out and found it.
So, camp this morning was mass confusion. Transportation to Hong Kong was scheduled for three different flights on two different days via three different routes and three different airlines. Sound confusing? It was. The written instructions were confusing. If you asked any of the staff, they said, "Ask Tim." Of course, Tim was trying to be everywhere and do everything at once, so he wasn't very available.
Oh well. As usual, just go with the flow.
While we were waiting, we walked around a bit. Miyajima is a small, resort community on a very small island nestled in the Seto Inland Sea off the Sea of Japan. We went to the five-story Pagoda, to the main shrine, and to the town. (Temples and shrines are as ubiquitous in Japan as T-shirt shops are in beach communities. This tiny village has FIVE shrines and EIGHT temples.) The Pagoda is very picturesque. The Shrine is a large, sprawling, one-story complex. It is unique because it is surrounded by water when the tide is in.
The little town was full of small souvenir shops, each selling the same stuff -- each making their own little stuffed Maple-Leaf-shaped pastry. (The Maple Leaf is the symbol of Miyajima.) The automatic machines making the pastries look a lot like fortune cookie makers, only much more complex. And the pastries, stuffed with cream, beans, bean paste or chocolate, are DELICIOUS!)
We finally boarded the ferry around one. Ten minutes to the mainland and the busses, then almost an hour to load the four busses and leave. After a short ride, we pulled into a truck stop. It seems we had to change drivers. (Never heard why.)
Back on the road, I am continually amazed at how many mountains are in Japan. And the highways -- they're constructed basically FLAT! (Lisa points out that I may be making a leap for non-Civil Engineers. What a FLAT highway through mountains means is the road is built on bridges and tunnels. And truly, it seems that fully one-third of the drive today was through tunnels.)
Dinner tonight was, finally, a real Japanese meal. (Other TK&A meals here have been either Japanese "fast food" in a box -- "box meals" are very common here -- or pseudo American food.) This first "real meal" included sashimi (tuna, salmon), octopus, two kinds of squid, several different kinds of fish, barbecued eel, pickled sea weed, pickled sea cucumber, individual hot soup pots over a flame that included a prawn as big as your fist, bacon, Udon noodles, ham and greens, and, of course, sticky rice and tea. What a feast! (for some :-) (Just kidding. I enjoyed it too. D)
On the way across country, riders in the bus bet Y100 each on the time of arival at the hotel. I chose 9:18. Lisa picked 8:53. We got to the hotel at 9:35 so we both lost.
The hotel is REALLY super! It even has CNN. (We've gotten CNN most other places, but for some reason it's been scarce in Japan.) We're on the 50th floor. We have a beautiful view of the coast and part of the city. Unfortunately, we leave for our flight to Kuala Lumpur at 9 tomorrow morning.
They (the riders who didn't take the bullet-train into Hiroshima with us) got on the bus for what was initially purported to be a four hour bus ride to a nice resort area. Four hours would get them there in early afternoon -- enough time to see and enjoy the place.
Just as they were pulling out, Tim poked his head in and said, due to the cost of the tolls on the main highway, they would be taking the "scenic" route along the coast.
Well, the "scenic" route was nine plus hours of bus ride. They arrived in the dark and in a drizzle; had to set up their tents in the rain; then pack up early the next morning for another 5 hour bus ride to Hiroshima -- and then another hour and a half ride and a 3 plus km walk to camp.
What a journey!
Love to all,
|10/12||Osaka, Japan to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
We had a beautiful view this morning from our very nice room on the 50th floor of the Ana Tower Hotel. The room was quite western -- two double beds, and CNN on TV.
Also of note, we had a state-of-the-art tub-shower. The tub had a standard water spout. The shower had a standard spray at the end of a flexible hose, except the hose came out of the wall rather then from the tub spout. The significant difference was in the controls. There was one temperature control sticking out of the wall, then two separate on-off-volume knobs -- for the tub, one for the shower. Very nice!
Then, at the "traditional Japanese" breakfast buffet on the 54th floor, we sat with Lynn Miller and overlooked the Kansai International Airport.
We loaded our gear on busses and went to the airport. There we checked our luggage and went into the lobby to wait.
Suddenly Lisa and I were summoned back to the baggage check area. It seems they wanted to see something that they spotted in our camping bag, and it was locked. So, word went out. Find the Valkenaars. "Get them to come back here, open the bag, and face the music."
We went back and opened the bag. Busted. They had spotted two cans of canvas waterproofing spray. Once they saw them and understood what they were for, no problem. "Oh. Is good idea." they said.
Well, this is the start of another long, roundabout, connecting-flight journey that will end up in Hong Kong tomorrow night. Today's flight brought us to Kuala Lumpur. Tomorrow, we will fly to Hong Kong. (Just in case you're not up to speed on your geography -- as we weren't -- Hong Kong is BETWEEN Japan and Malaysia. So this is like flying from Los Angeles to Seattle via Alaska.)
We landed in Penang, Malaysia at 5:30 local time (6:30 Japan time.) Had an hour's layover, then reloaded for the short flight to Kuala Lumpur.
We landed about 7:30 in Kuala Lumpur, had a long wait for our luggage, Then walked over to the Pan Pacific Hotel (adjacent to the airport.) We left our gear at the door and went right over to dinner.
What a magnificent buffet faced us!! A full table of western food, then several tables of Malaysian food. There were several stations where special dishes were made to order. There was a huge dessert table, and, finally, an ice cream station where you could have any or all of six flavors of ice cream. Per Lisa, this may be the best dinner yet -- definitely in the top five.
We understand that Malaysia is quite inexpensive, so it should be really great when we come back here in a few weeks. (This is the second time we have just "passed-through."
We went to check-in to get our key. For some reason we had a long wait, but finally got to our room about 10 o'clock Malaysian time.
Our room was on the exclusive ninth floor -- a key card was necessary to get the elevator to stop on there. We had a magnificent view of the airport with all the night lights. We were behind and just to the side of the control tower.
The room was the nicest of any we've had so far -- all Oak furniture, king bed, several English language TV stations, separate tub, shower and sink in one bathroom and a separate room for the toilet. Of course there was a phone at the desk, a phone on one of the night stands and phones in both the bathroom and the toilet room.
Unfortunately, we have to leave early in the morning to catch our flight to Hong Kong.
Even more unfortunately, we turned on CNN tonight and see that Isreal is in the process of attacking the Palestinians in retribution for the beating deaths of two Isreali soldiers, and a US Navy ship has been attacked leaving 5 dead and 30 wounded American military men.
Sad, scary! We hope everyone will join us in hoping and praying for peace!!!
Love to all,
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