Legends from our own lunchtimes

Monday, April 24, 2017

A great day to be indoors - April 22
Lagarde


A certain reality hit home today, in the greyness of it all, that once again we don’t have an engine, and that the broken part will take some time to arrive, perhaps a week. Therefore, with no particular reason to sort things out aboard, our “rule of ten” was applied and we didn’t get out of bed till temperature cracked double figures.  This turned out to be sometime around morning tea time as it happened, even with both of our heaters struggling valiantly. 

Even then one of us concentrated on the business of remaining completely relaxed, snug under anything he could find worth snugging under, while the other busied herself sorting out things, folding this, packing away that,  and generally moving to keep warm.    The covers did come off the bed and the boat as well eventually, but really, it’s probably not going to get its spring clean out there until there’s just a tad more warmth in the air, just the tiniest weeniest little bit of warmth will do, the sort that allows water to flow through a hose in its liquid form.

In the mean time, it was a nice day to remain indoors, sneaking out only to assist the nice man in the cheese van reduce his vast levels of stock.
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Sunday, April 23, 2017

The good, the bad and the ugly. - April 21
Luneville


Had the morning not ended with us being serenaded by a Mexican dishing out silent ‘Vee” signs, while we sat at lunch in the restaurant opposite the bank, we may very well have thought we were having a dream.

On entering that very same bank an hour or so earlier we couldn’t be sure if the mushrooms in last night’s stew weren’t having some sort of effect, or whether we’d accidentally stumbled onto a Jacques Tati movie set.   Spanning the two counters that would be where the tellers would normally reside was a rather large cage with an equally large rabbit in residence.  Oh there were eggs on the counters too, chocolate ones, slow moving stock from last week no doubt.

Perhaps it was said rabbit that had erred with our account.  There is little point in speculation, but after almost an hour someone discovered that someone else in a bank far far away had made a teensy mistake when writing “Luneville” in the address on the envelope containing our card, on a whim writing “DIcky Beach” apparently, thereby sending it scurrying off into another less convenient hemisphere.  

At almost the same time news arrived to the effect that Perkins in the UK had made themselves uncontactable for the day, rendering Mr P silent for at least the next week and therefore ensuring that we will remain unmoving for a similar period, hopefully snug until the temperature reaches more than the negative number it was this morning.  

With no better plan for the afternoon therefore, we remained in the warmth and safety of the restaurant with Joan and Peter, as far as we could get from Bankers, Rabbits, Mexicans and Mad Hatters.
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Lagarde! - April 20
Wuppertal to Lagarde



There’s probably a clinical term for the sort of anxiety one feels when one must really get going.

Whatever it is, we felt a very strong compulsion to do just that this morning, albeit not so obsessively compulsed that we couldn’t linger over breakfast with Elle and Jörgen for the sort of time that even a Hobbit would be proud of.  After all we had more to catch up on that was possible in just one evening.

The draw of home proved too strong too keep us beyond second breakfast time though and this time we had to forego the sights of Wuppertal in favour of getting home by sunset.  One of us hadn’t quite come to terms with the fact that we’d missed snow here by two days, but the residual chill was enough to give us a picture of how it may have felt we thought.

Four or five hours later, with the clear blue sky and yellow of the colza seeming to amplify the siren call of the village, lulling us into a false sense of warmth, we arrived, welcomed by friends as ever to the news that it had been snowing yesterday, and if we thought it was cold now tomorrow was going to be minus two and Mr Perkins has broken again and the toilets leak and you must come up for supper....  

Sigh.   We are home at last.
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There be the tulips! - April 19
Lisse to Wuppertal

Anyone with a memory better than that of a goldfish will recall that our original purpose when we set out on this particular part of our adventure was to see tulips.  Most will know that tulips are synonymous with the Netherlands and having got that far, inarguably the best place in the world to see them is at Keukenhof, one of the world’s largest flower gardens and as it happens in a surprising turn of events given our propensity to be there "the day after", with its seven million bulbs at the peak of their full bloom about now.

Keukenhof is located in exactly the opposite direction we needed to travel to get home of course, but it was a great opportunity to introduce Louie to the wonders of nature or perhaps man’s attempts to tame it, and to give him a taste of what it feels like to be outdoors all day in single digit temperature.  After taking several thousand arty photos of stunning tulips grown in even more stunning ways, in forests, in houses in patterns of ever increasing ingenuity and spectacle, and unable to choose just one, we suddenly became grateful for his presence.  The baby photo wins every time!  So there’s one more item ticked off our our list of flowery things to see before we die, and what a glorious bunch of flowery things they were.   

At severe risk of suffering some sort of colour shock, we had barely finished our “hellos” to Marty and Vanessa when we snuck off quite early in the afternoon to continue on our circuitous route home, this time heading to Germany and Wuppertal.  

Say that out loud and try not to smile. 

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

And now … a Tulip! - April 18
Utrecht

Our rolling sideshow continues, today battling ice and sleet as well as the traffic on the Antwerp ring road.  It’s a bit counter intuitive, heading north through sleet into a climate where the temperature is not expected to reach double digits tomorrow to see the blooms of spring, but we have been assured that they are there.

Today though ti was another kind of bud that we had really come to see.  Louie has been waiting we are sure, for all of his eight weeks on earth, to see us.  Despite a less than stellar day involving a nurse, a bit of nudity in a cold clinic building and a couple of jabs in the legs with sharp objects he put on a great show of enjoying our company. As ever we had a delightful catch up with his mum, dad and nana when he wasn’t watching, all the while looking for a reason not to venture outdoors.

We have had plenty of time to reflect while alone in the car on our great fortune to have “family” scattered throughout the world, but strangely mid reflection, we realised that we had not first met any of the people we had visited on our travels.  In every case so far on this trip, through one circumstance or another our introduction has been at our own house as circumstance has flung them across our doorway!   Perhaps we need to get out more….

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Shrimp, Barbie, Belgium. - April 18
Koksijde


Dave had promised he’d make no fuss, that dinner would be home made pasta and Bolognese sauce he’d frozen earlier,  It appears that either “pasta and Bolognese sauce” is Flemish for “shrimp croquettes followed by prawns with white asparagus” or he’d made a terrible mistake with the recipe. 

We’re not sure when the mistake happened, perhaps we’d distracted him in conversation during the morning, perhaps it was while we were wandering round Diksmuide in the chill of the afternoon contemplating whether we might move our respective boats there next winter.  Whatever the case we suffered it in silence (apart from the odd low moan each time we took another mouthful) not wanting to embarrass him by drawing attention to it. 

Last night after hearing we were going to land on her doorstep, Ria sent me a message via social media asking the question “Good food, good internet, what more do you want?”  I did of course make mention in my reply of a washing machine as after a month on the road now, it’s quite possibly that certain items of apparel were in dire need of some attention, but really neither of us had made mention of the obvious, that our friendship is such that we need none of those things. The company of each other is the source of our joy.

But perhaps it's best if we don’t tell Dave that.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Just a bit tired - April 16
Saint Omer


We lost a bit of the spring from our step this morning, not in an unhappy way, but some might say the continuous travel of the past month is starting to catch up.

Having driven for fifteen hundred kilometres in the past three days with bodies quite possibly thinking they are in a time zone fourteen hours away may be having a slight impact on our state of being as well.   Whatever the case, we didn’t visit Honfleur as we thought we would, neither did we stop at La Havre, or Calais, or Dunkirk.   Instead, after a long and leisurely breakfast, at which the line for coffee was such that if one went to the back of it with a fresh cup in hand, by the time one got to the front again one was well and truly ready for another, we ambled slowly away.   Slowly being a euphemism of course for travelling at slightly less than the motorway speed limit, taking something less than four hours to travel something less than four hundred kilometres.

When we arrived at Saint Omer, a destination chosen completely at random on the basis that car parking was available at the hotel, and that it was less than an hour’s drive to Dave and Ria’s place, we decided a short nap might be in order.   Our short nap ended up almost as long as our drive, and every bit as pleasant.  Dunkirk can wait.
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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Wrong direction again - April 15
Mont St Michel


Possibly nothing says “we are in France” more than a church in a castle on a rock, and nothing says “church in a castle on a rock” more than Mont St Michel, which is as it turns out just an hour or so to the south of where we woke up this morning, well three or four actually if one takes the scenic route through “Swiss Normandy”.

Since south is exactly opposite to the direction we need to be heading if indeed we are to see tulips in Holland, and since we really can’t go any further west because of this tiny ocean shaped obstacle, we didn't think just one day heading south would be a problem.  It was a longish day admittedly, and when we arrived pretty much everyone else had decided to make it a day trip too.  Since Mont St Michel attracts a similar number of tourists annually to the Sunshine Coast, but since its area is substantially less, a certain busyness is apparent at major holiday times, like for instance, Easter.

None the less we walked the two and a half kilometre bridge and causeway in blustery weather that was two jumper cool verging on “I do wish I had my beanie” and then climbed to the top of its not insubstantial height.  With skies becoming quite threatening, and queues rather long we chalked “tour the abbey one day” on our list of things to do, and wended our weary way ever so slightly northward snug in the warmth of our leather lined Jeep.
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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Westward Ho! - April 14
La Ferte Saint Aubin to


The boat is five hundred or so kilometres to our east, the Tulip fields a bit more than that to our north, so does it not seem logical that we should begin our quest to find them by travelling similar distances to the south and then to the west?

Actually we did have an appointment with our bank in La Ferte-Saint-Aubin, and therefore a very pleasant stay with Celine and Manu and a catch up with her mum and Pascal and Dume as well, and while that all took place last night, it was so far into the morning that it was afternoon by the time we stopped at the bakery opposite the chateau to stock up with supplies for our long drive west.

West?  Well yes, in that cack-handed logic that accompanies they who travel at random, it seemed a lot easier to go with the Easter exodus from Paris than fight it all day and night, so Normandy looks like a great place to us to begin looking for Tulips even if they are likely to be shaped like apple trees.

Perhaps I was a little hasty in criticising our not entirely little black car yesterday.  Despite the immediate failure of the on board GPS this morning and with it all things electrical connected to the dashboard, it handled our white knuckled exodus admirably.   It’s not as though we haven’t been stuck in Easter traffic before, three lanes bumper to bumper, but it is the first time we’ve experienced it at 130 kilometres per hour, yet here we are at the end of the day, unscathed.
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Baa Baa Black Jeep - April 13
La Ferte Saint Aubin to

When we went to beakfast in the airport hotel this morning it came as something of a shock to find a simple “continental” setup.   No weird fruit made of glutenous substances, no seaweed, no pickles, no chopsticks, no chap in the corner making fresh omelettes, just an array of super fresh pastries, fresh fruit and a delightfully fresh brewed coffee, accompanied by the murmur of people speaking in a language with which we were vaguely familiar.

Let's be quite clear, we have enjoyed our breakfast over these past few weeks, except perhaps the ones "shared" with the larger tour groups, but now, we were home.

Not wanting the magic of our last few weeks on the road to disappear too quickly, we decided to proceed with a plan we’d been hatching for a couple of days.   We’ve seen enough cherry blossoms to last a lifetime but have never been to Holland in Tulip time.  Perhaps it's time for a road trip.

When we went to pick up our Fiat 500 rental car and it didn’t have cruise control we asked for an upgrade to something that did.  So it came to pass that we are now driving quite possibly the single most inappropriate vehicle for manoeuvring anonymously through tiny ancient streets that could ever be devised.  It's a tiny Jeep by Jeep standards and it's got electronic things to help us not hit things or alternatively to tell us that we just have, so it will have to do.

We have people to see, places to go and things to do, and we have a car to do them in.


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Farewell Fuji-san! - April 12
and so to Paris


The lobby of our hotel was at the check-in level in Haneda airport, therefore there was no need to stress about making connections this morning, nothing to fear by way delay by traffic jam, no need to set an alarm.  All we had to do was to wake up at our leisure and wander down through immigration and onto the plane.

At first we were a little disappointed to have a room on the opposite side of the building to the runway, thinking it might be nice to watch the planes coming and going through the night, but we watched the taxis instead and this morning as were rising, the haze beyond our large picture window cleared briefly, framing Mt Fuji perfectly as she winked at us and gave us a farewell wave, no doubt wishing us a safe journey and hoping we’d come back soon.

She was gone as quickly as she had appeared though, cosseted once again beneath a thick doona cloud, doing whatever it is that god-volcanoes do when no one can see them, leaving us checking our photos to convince ourselves the visit had been real.

In high spirits we checked in our bags, apologising as we did for their weight and blaming all of our souvenirs. “Ahh” replied the charming young lady behind the counter, “Because you have many souvenirs from my country I’ll mark your bags for priority handling.”

Tonight, Paris you have a hard act to follow. 
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The fat lady sings. - April 11
Kanazawa to Haneda


Our numbers dwindled till finally there were just five of us on the train to Tokyo, travelling in a cloud of that particularly numb silence that marks the end of a grand adventure in the continuous company of others.

It was a peculiar feeling to have Robert sitting almost anonymously among us, no longer standing, camera around his neck at the ready, himself ever vigilant out front, like a giant sheepdog keeping constant watch, always one step ahead, always checking that no one is behind nor too far ahead, while the rest of us blather on oblivious, like excited children.  His countenance is serious, but why wouldn’t it be, after all he is thinking for all of us.  Under that cold hard exterior however, there lurks a giant grin and a tiny giggle, trying not to escape until some more appropriate moment.  The rest of us could simply carry on day after day without even the need for thought which was just as well for one or two for whom the very concept of “thought” did not appear to be one with which they had ever been familiar!

We have covered a lot of territory in the past few weeks, seen things that we’d never think to visit by ourselves, things that if we did think to visit we’d never find, and perhaps things that if we did find we’d never have left without his gentle nudge.  What a time we’ve had!  

But it’s over, we’ve gone our separate ways, some of us destined to reunite, others we know we will never see again.  With just one more night to spend, and that at our hotel in Haneda Airport waiting for our flight out, we’ll just sit I’m sure, and try to take it all in.   
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And not a cherry blossom in sight! - April 10
Shirakawago


There are mountains in the distance, quite clearly visible from our hotel window and it was obvious from that vantage point through the clear crisp morning air that it had snowed quite a bit in them  overnight.   

What wasn’t obvious at least for those among us who had failed to take any notice of our itinerary was that today we were heading into some of those very same mountains to the World Heritage village of Shirakawa-go, with it’s traditional Gassho-zukuri, or Praying Hands houses named for the steeply pitched thatched roofs designed to easily shed snow.  There we would gain an inkling of insight into just what living conditions have been like over the centuries in a valley which in former times was completely in accessible except in summer.

We should not have been surprised when we arrived in the valley to find frozen rice fields and a liberal cover of snow on anything that thus far had not been warmed by the onset of spring, but the contrast between what we saw and the dare I say it, cherry blossom covered landscape in the town below was a little stark, and we were all suitably thrilled at the prospect of getting our toes cold.  The buildings were fascinating, the village splendid as of course was the company, most of whom, (the ones not with their ever increasingly nasty colds hopefully reaching some sort of crescendo) rounded out their day with a relaxing bath in a traditional onsen or public bath, while the others kept our sneezes to ourselves somewhere safely out of doors, until the bus returned us to Kanazawa, yet again tired, but happy to a man.
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Thursday, April 13, 2017

After all, we did come to see cherry blossoms - April 9
Kanazawa



Part of the point of coming at this time of year was to find sakura, the cherry in full blossom.  For that to happen, we needed to arrive in a very small window of time, and hope that the blossom co-operated. For a time it seemed as though we may not achieve that, as in city after city the trees seemed to be holding their breath until after we had left, but here things were ridiculous.   The trees, obviously tired of holding their breaths had let them out with a collective WOOOSH!

They more than beautiful now, they are actually quite arrogantly standing in front of everything we want to see, bringing thousands of people to the same places we want to be.  Even the stunning Kenrokuen Garden, one of the three best in Japan has thrown open its gates, amazingly allowing visitors in at no cost for the duration of the blossom, which is tantamount to our western eyes to Woolies giving away free eggs at Easter.   

Lunch under blossom scavenged from the food stands in the park seemed like a compulsory activity, although for a little respite from blossom clad gardens and castles, in the afternoon we did venture indoors to a gold leaf museum for a dose of sparkle of a different kind.

Perhaps as a complete contrast to the day, a few hardy souls ventured a visit to the Myoriuji temple known as the Ninja Temple for it’s amazing array of secret passageways, trick doors and pitfalls.  It truly was difficult to believe during our visit that this was a genuine fortified construction and not some sort of sideshow with it’s forty-five rooms and forty-nine staircases.   The special room for Hari Kiri did add a fairly sombre note, bringing us down to earth a bit with its door that couldn’t be opened from within, used historically by those failed warriors whose particular cheery blossoms would never see another summer.
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Too many cherry blossoms are barely enough - April 8
Kyoto to Kanazawa



Robbie-san didn’t take any personal credit for the absolute explosion of cherry blossoms that have greeted us on our arrival in Kanazawa, but let’s just say if he had guaranteed we’d see a certain minimum amount of blossom, there’d be no refunds!  

Despite the dazzle, he managed to lead us at at a  cracking pace straight to the Omichi Markets, which specialise in fresh seafood, and once again it was no coincidence that we arrived there spot on lunch o’clock.

With bodies happily sated with fesh sea urchin, octopus and snail we set out to the museum dedicated to the great zen philosopher D T Suzuki which did its level best to help us sort out our minds. It’s a wonderful modern building which oozes tranquliy and is photographable too (but only outside the building please) however as has been the case of late the cherry blossoms continued to steal the show.

We moved much more calmly off to the 21st Century Contemporary Art Museum a circular glass building with some really terrific exhibitions but which perfectly reflected the blossoms, and even allowed them to be visible from inside.

Even our last stop, a visit to the Nomura family Samurai House  with it’s superb courtyard gardens featuring no flowering blossoms (the spectacular bonsai in the entry doesn’t count) served as a reminder of the link between Samurai and blossom.

The samurai was likened to cherry blossom as his life, while glorious, was prone to a sudden end during military service, similar to petals shed by cherry blossoms”

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Meanwhile back at the Ranch - April 7
Kyoto


Robert had suggested that we should visit Fushimi Inari shrine and its ten thousand red gates early, so that we would only have to share them with a few hundred thousand people rather than the several brazillion that would appear as soon as the bus tour groups got their act together.  

If only he’d given the same advice regarding the breakfast buffet in the hotel we may not have left it till fifteen minutes past opening time to arrive.  It was perhaps a good thing that our colds had by now rendered us listless and without enthusiasm for food as the place was swarming with Australian and American voices, several busloads of them, the sources of which had descended on anything edible with an enthusiasm bordering on avarice which left the normally abundant offerings looking like the aftermath of a bushfire following a plague of locusts.   

Outside meanwhile, when we weren’t paying attention the cherry trees had gone ballistic, quietly shrouding everything in their wondrous magic.   We walked all day through them and beneath them, oblivious to the cold and the occasional shower of rain, through Gion, the Geisha District where Chinese tourists in rented Kimonos made “V” signs to their selfies, visiting temples and markets as we went until we were pretty much templed out, blossomed out, and only the less blokey among us not marketed out as well.

In the way of Japan, it is the quiet things that speak loudest, and thus it was the house and studio of the renowned potter Kawai Kanjiro with all its personally crafted furniture and finishes and the legacy of his work scattered throughout, that seemed to resonate with all of us, a highlight of the day amid a trove of them. 

On another note, having learned something from our respective countrymen at breakfast time apparently, we were instrumental in giving the happy chap in the tiny and aptly named “Smile Burger” cafe (open 11:00 am till sold out) an early afternoon.  Though we were but a few, we were but a few more than his cafe could seat, perhaps more than he’d seen inside at once in fact. There seemed little point in letting his monster Australian beef burgers with teryaki sauce go stale, and the smiles they gave us lasted all afternoon and well into the night as well.


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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

An even longer ride in the Country - April 6
to Inuyama near Nagoya

Today our schedule saw us travelling during the course of the day on eight trains and a few buses.  To make every connection while travelling alone would be no mean feat and the fact that Robert had even considered it with fourteen children in adult bodies in his charge says something for his fortitude and skill as a tour leader.

Naturally in a group of this size when timing is all, one person will choose to arrive just sufficiently late that all planning must be thrown aside, and so we missed our first train by less than a minute, he accepted that with considerable patience and the sort of diplomacy that I suspect were one in his shoes, one would fail to muster.   Those precious seconds meant that each connection took an extra ten minutes or so, hardly earth shattering in the context of a lifetime, but none the less reducing the time we had at our destination by almost an hour.

Our destination in this case was the Meiji-mura museum near Nagoya, where a huge collection of buildings from the Meiji Era (no, look it up yourself!) have been rescued and reconstructed on a vast lakefront site in the forest.  We were never going to see all of it, that would take days. The constant drizzle which turned our planned picnic into a bit of gobble’n go would have hampered a lot of our wandering.  We did wander through a few buildings and had a tour beneath the stage of a Kabuki theatre and saw the emperor’s train, but really we were only there to do one thing: to have tea and cake in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel.

One cannot fathom the sort of insanity that was behind the preservation of this building but thank goodness it exists.  Imagine demolishing a complicated brick and stone building, packing it in containers, shipping it several hundred kilometres and rebuiliding it close enough to twenty years later.  Here it sits as far from its original urban environment as one can imagine.   Beautifully preserved, still with remnants of Tokyo smog etched into the facade, the tea room above the foyer in perfect working order.  The detailing was everything those books that I was sure had misled me so badly a week or two ago had promised.

Come back Frank, all is forgiven!    

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A long ride in the country April 5
A day in Koka


It was all Allan’s fault apparently. Yes that Allan, the quiet chap over in the corner who earlier in the week had been told by our guide for a day Yoshi-san that he looked like his uncle, and from that moment forward has been known to one and all as Uncle Al.    

Apparently he’s been in communication with Robert for years, with the promise that if ever a tour was to take in the Miho Museum designed by I M Pei, he’d join it.  In a bit of an inspired move, Robert, not being a particular fan of Pei, but always looking for a new adventure chose today to do just that.

So there we went, and what a gobsmacking thing it was too.  Entering through a stainless steel lined tunnel that would have been equally at home on the set of Thunderbirds or Ironman it must be a perfect example of what can be achieved quietly, albeit with what must have been close to an unlimited budget. It was something of a showcase of perfect yet perhaps even understated architectural detailing, museum lighting and display.  Some would say that there’s a tendency for all underground buildings to look the same, and if it hadn’t been for the now ubiquitous “No Photo, No Photo” signs that have been the bane of our existence of late we may have the shots to prove that they aren’t.   

It wasn’t a perfect day it had to be said. Those cherry trees lining our route continue to confound, refusing to bloom though absolutely bursting at the seams with ripe little buds. Perhaps another week they say or perhaps a day or two.

There are one or two sprinkled around which make our evening stroll from our place of sustenance something of a joy, the icing on the cake one may say after each evening of culinary adventure which to our dismay just seems to get better (and less costly to boot) as every night passes.   

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Monday, April 10, 2017

When too many temples are barely enough. 4April
Tokyo to Kyoto



Kyoto is nothing if not well endowed with temples, shrines and castles, and even those previously as ignorant and ambivalent of and about its history as we, couldn’t fail to take just a little inspiration from each of the places we visited.  It’s not as if we were alone in our quest, selflessly sharing our meditative experience with at least half the population of China and a few thousand citizens of other countries thrown in for good measure as well.

The famous golden temple Kinkakuji was clearly famous and golden and awfully crowded. Perhaps in a remarkable mark of self-assurance it featured a bin on the exit route serving as a repository for “unwanted lucky charms”, while  NIjo castle  with all it’s fortifications and hidey holes is similarly noteworthy, and thinning crowds in the late afternoon enabled us to poke around in perhaps a few more of them than would have been possible earlier in the day.

Earlier in the day, the world heritage listed zen garden at Ryoanji Temple saw several million people or perhaps more accompanying us as we ambled through the space in the same sort of shuffle we experienced on Tokyo’s Sunday shopping streets.  Surely they could not all be in search of enlightenment.  Some did make some pretence at peaceful contemplation, elbowing their way variously into or out of the shuffling hoard, trying to find silence amid the dull  murmur of the crowd despite the public address system roaring to make itself heard above the din. Those who could, sat on the steps searching hopefully in the raked gravel for enlightenment.

Before our very eyes, a fluorescent-clad citizen of a country to the south of Canada, with a voice even more shrill than her outfit, shuffled backwards to better frame a photograph, tripping over as she did, falling into three tiers of seated contemplators somehow landing on some of their number with inches to spare saving what could very well have been a faceplant  into a sea of white gravel quite possibly raked thousands of years before by a blind monk using a toothpick.   Once back on her feet, gathering her breath and even before the dozen steadying hands had withdrawn from her person, she exclaimed in a volume that significantly overrode even the PA system;

"Oh wow! This is SOOOO SPIRITUAL!"

Our search for whatever she had found, continues unabated.

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Friday, April 07, 2017

Our Best Day at Work Ever 3April
Tokyo



The relentless need to travel and discover things in order to spend our retirement productively does have a downside: not every day can possibly be the best day at work ever.  After today perhaps we should accept that we have reached some sort of pinnacle and console ourselves to the fact that some measure of disappointment must eventually follow.

It may have been the residual brain scarring from the visit to the hopelessly overcrowded Fish Markets that made us more receptive to cheery things, but when we arrived outside the National Art Center and saw Yayoi Kasuma staring at us from the posters, her hair a fiery red, on a landscape that seemed to have been personally planted by herself, we began to get the teeniest inkling that today may just turn out to be a little bit special.

There is no way to adequately describe the explosion of colour that engulfed us when we entered the exhibition, nor the overwhelming joy that left all standing giddy with stupid grins etched across their countenance.   None of us could leave, we scurried from one painting to another like stupid school children, overwhelmed by it all.  Perhaps it was the best exhibition we’ve ever seen. Perhaps it was the best we will ever see.  Who knows?

Whatever the case we departed full of ebullience, noticing that every little thing along the way had perhaps just a tinge more colour than it had before. There were the almost equally stunning buildings and exhibitions and sights of course, the brown poodles with dresses and the boutiques that serviced them, their, hairdressers, those Super Mario carts being driven through the city streets, but none of that could truly begin to compare.  Not even the tacos we had for dinner in the German beer hall with Australian friends while lederhosen clad singers serenaded us with Cherry Blossom songs in Japanese to old German folk tunes.    Not even that.

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Thursday, April 06, 2017

Pineapple Cake 2 April
Tokyo



Our man with the plan had us out and about early, arriving at the Tokyo Sky Tree not much past opening time, ensuring we were up to its three hundred and fifty metre observation platform before the madding crowds arrived.   One would have thought that from this incredible vantage point that things could only go downhill from there, but the day went in quite the opposite direction as it turned out.

We weren’t intent on doing anything quietly apparently, so we joined at least ten million of Tokyo’s inhabitants on the streets, walking for miles on endless footpaths so packed that they made Sideshow Alley on People’s Day at the Ekka look like a ghost town.   We did  manage to squeeze (literally) a visit to Meiji Shrine and Park, where it’s almost compulsory to watch the wedding processions and entertainment provided by Japan’s counter-culture afficionados.   We could probably have stayed all afternoon just watching the curious bunch of Rock and Rollers strutting their oh-so corny moves resplendent in leather jackets that bore slogans like “Greaser on the Road”, and curiously exaggerated ducktails, but we didn’t.

Instead we shuffled on, past architectural gems and curiosities taking them in with child-like curiosity until we arrived at the sublime Sunny HIlls Tea House   The newly famous "pineapple building" in which it is located thankfully bears no resemblance to our own Big Pineapple, and it is as much of an architectural delight as the pineapple cake sold there is a gastronomic one.  So certain are the proprietors that visitors will fall under the spell of their magical cake, which is the only product they actually sell, that it is offered with tea as a glorious refreshment at absolutely no cost.  

Thus it was, carrying vast piles of pineapple cake, purchased at well above the cost of a mere light refreshment, our little troupe continued to scale greater heights of enjoyment than even those offered by the ride in the sub-sonic lifts of the morning's adventure.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

We have blossoms 1 April
Tokyo



Walking seemed to be the only way of keeping warm, which is just as well as  there was a bit of walking to do today and we needed to keep warm a lot.

We have a problem with this journal though.  There can only be one highlight for a day, but that’s not how things appear to be turning out.  We are being force-fed a feast of visual and emotional riches at a pace which seems to have picked up a notch, if not at ramming speed then perhaps just a little below.  Strangely, despite the pace nothing seems to be rushed, perhaps because we have gained a certain level of match fitness over the past few weeks. 

While the weather alternated between a bit chilly to  “quite cold actually” even toes turning blue within sock-clad feet couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm  nor that of our guide as she graciously walked us through every corner and timber detail in the wonderfully preserved yet unrestored Kyu-Yasada house  even allowing us the special privilege of a tour through the garden once we had returned our frigid toes into the relative warmth of our shoes.  

If it were just cherry blossoms we were here to see we would not be disappointed unless we wanted to be alone while we did it.  Unselfishly we shared them among several million others as we soaked in the amazing atmosphere of Ueno Park.  Despite the crush and the drizzle, watching the hanami (cherry blossom parties) under the trees as we wandered leavign us with involuntary silly grins on our faces.

Of course there was more to remember; visits to Sendagi, Nezu Shrine, Kyu-Yasada House, Yanaka Ginza, Maranouchi and Ginza Districts for a start, but it’s cherry blossom happiness that will remain with us for a long time to come..

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Friday, March 31, 2017

I did it my way.
Tokyo to Kawagoe



I read recently that the art of Bonsai will die out in thirty years due to a lack of trainee bonsai masters.  As we stood in front of a thousand year old tree today at the Omiya Bonsai museum it was not hard to see why.  It’s simply impossible to imagine the feeling one would have before walking into one’s employer’s office to explain how it had just turned up its toes while in one’s care. To snip a wrong branch on a three hundred year old tree would be bad enough!

At the Kitain Temple, we marvelled once again over joints and proportions that changed in magical ways, bringing indoors out and outdoors in, listening transfixed to the song of the nightingale as we walked across the connecting bridge betwixt samurai’s house and temple.  There’s no reason to fix the squeaky stairs at home now, I just need to work out how to tune them and give them a slight vibrato effect.

Then to the museum in Kawagoe where we could dismantle and re-mantle those joints we had come to love, through the ancient warehouse district and finally to yet another modern gallery, curious in form and in content where we found our own nightingale.

To our great shame, his name did not stick in any of our minds, but it was his last day at the office after 29 years of tending the gallery, and whether it was because of this or because he just liked us, he deemed us fit to share his farewell moment with a glorious a capella baritone rendition of “My Way” obviously honed through a similar number of hours of karaoke to those required to become a bonsai master.


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Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Dangers of book learning.
Tokyo


When one is touring there are things that one really shouldn’t miss, and things that some say one shouldn’t miss and I suppose some things that are missable but into which one collides by good fortune.

Today was a day spent not missing quite a lot.  While the cherry blossoms still have a day or two before they reach their prime in Ueno Park,the parties were in full swing as we made our way to the Museum of Western Art.   

I suppose it was a bit of a “death by architecture” day with a sprinkled topping of some of the finest art could possibly imagine.    Having munched our way through a feast of works of the likes of Corbusier, Frank Loyd Wright, paintings by the great European Masters, a collection of Rodin, and who knows what else we made it to a museum dedicated to the work of  Katushika Hokusai “the woodblock guy, who made the wave picture”.  

It was a splendid brand new aluminium crystal, detailed to the sort of perfection that made one’s eyes water.  Of course one could ask questions as to how well it may stand the test of time but that would be failing to enjoy the moment.    Speaking of standing time’s test, our visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s school for girls was a somewhat shattering experience for yours truly.   

For considerably more than half a century my expectations have been built chapter after chapter by various texts and experts leading me to believe that this chap was special and he undoubtedly was.     

His work was well ahead of his time, but I was expecting I think to see genius at work, spaces beautifully resolved, public areas that I could stand erect in without taking more skin from the top of my scone.   Certainly if one put two buildings of the same era side by side, the differences and originality would be staggering, but for me the experience of those jarring volumes left me with a feeling that it was a great idea not quite properly worked out.

I spoke with others in our group who know about this stuff, of my concerns, and in reply they looked at me with a different kind of concern.

Am I the only one who can see the emperor has no clothes on?

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

O.C.D.
Okayama to Tokyo via Kurashiki


Tokyo is close enough to five hours away by Bullet train and today’s schedule had us travelling more or less for the whole day.  Were we travelling by ourselves that’s exactly what we would have done, wasting the better part of half a day in the process.  But Robert who wrote the schedule after all, is nothing if not keen for us not to miss an opportunity to discover a corner of Japan while it’s only a train or two and a bit of stored luggage away and all we had to do was finish breakfast early and follow.

The town of Kurashiki was our surprise destination, and if finding a museum closed in our honour yesterday didn’t make us feel at home enough, a town built around a canal network did the trick very nicely today, topped off by a museum filled to the eyebrows with a wondrous collection of paintings from the European masters.   

As something of a contrast the folk craft museum in an old granary was equally captivating, although it says something of the calibre of our group that many, including one of us were transfixed by nothing more complex than a simple wall with timber cladding fixed with hand forged nails, many of us feeling a compulsion to run hands over it and stare at it for long minutes on end, eyes glazed and sighing at the wonder of it.  

It was so hypnotising, so beautiful that one dares not post a photo lest others too should fall under its spell.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Changing with the Times.
Naoshima to Okayama via Bizen


Robbie San suggested that a reference in this journal to himself would be appropriate, something, he said, along the lines of “Robert knows his stuff” would be fine.  Even at this early stage of our tour, the evidence seems to suggest that he really does, having us zip from ferry to train to platform to train making connections with precious minutes to spare thus saving hours of time that would otherwise be wasted, making side journeys that would otherwise be impossible,  possible.

Today our commute to Okayama brought us within a couple of train connections to Imbe in the provence of Bizen, noted for the style of unglazed ceramic ware that bears its name, and home of a very important museum explaining the history and detail of how it came to be.

Now Robert may know his stuff, but seriously he hasn’t a clue when it comes to our own habit of arriving on precisely the day that museums are closed.  Thus it was, that when we arrived the museum which was normally closed on Mondays, had decided that Tuesday would be nice for a day off this week.   

Using all the guile and skill carefully honed through years of travelling with groups like ours, our leader was fearless and undeterred, talking his way into one of the family run potteries, and having us invited into another where the firing process was explained in great detail.  

There we learned from a young potter that sitting cross legged on the floor throwing pots as his father-in-law has done for forty years is perhaps a much too painful way of eking out a living.  Instead he had dug a hole beside his wheel and placed a chair in it bringing at least a semblance of  twenty-first  century sensibility to his craft though he assured us the ancient methods will prevail through time. 

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Monday, March 27, 2017

A billionaire for a day.
Okayama to Naoshima to Teshima or not


When one is staying in the midst of a grand collection of masterpieces, it’s easy enough to feign illness, in order that one might be left alone with one’s collection.   Actually the illness may not have been entirely imaginary, although thankfully nothing a day spent productively lounging around alternately tolerating the stupendous view from the equally stupendous room, and wandering among the collection downstairs wouldn’t fix.

So while the other of us marched off with the rest of the troupe to discover what was from all accounts the equally spectacular delights of the sister Art Island  of Teshima, the other reigned smugly for an afternoon over his domain, wandering through its corridors safely tethered to a place where according to a translation we had seen a few days earlier, he could “tidy himself” should the need arise.

Thankfully the malady was not of the lingering kind, fading with the sunset just enough so that one could partake in the evening’s festivities almost unimpeded, and at the same time receive a complete review of the day’s activities elsewhere on the screens of a thousand (or was it three) smart phones..


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Sunday, March 26, 2017

In Wonderland.
Okayama to Naoshima

The Art Island of Naoshima is truly a wondrous place. 

Our companions clearly are of the same accord as we, minds reeling, dangerously close to sensory overload in the nicest possible way, having spent the day before wonders of art, wondering about art, and it must be said wondering in some cases how the artist convinced someone that this was art.   Then of course there was the wondering if it was actually art but that wondering was always overwhelmed by the wonder of the architecture and the micro museums and galleries and the wonderfulness of it all.

With examples of the work of anyone who is or has been anyone in the world of visual art displayed in purpose designed vaults and chambers themselves the work of renowned architect Tadao Ando, and our room located within one of those magical museums but with dare I say it, wondrous views across the inland sea, we were in a photographer’s heaven.

Except that photography is pretty much prohibited inside any building on the island, and outside some as well,  just for good measure.

So I took a photo of a giant pumpkin.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

A day in the garden.
Tokyo to Okayama


Okayama is really just a stopover on our journey, but handily enough it happens to be the place where Korakuen, one of Japans three great gardens can be found.  When one thinks of gardens of any description, one imagines fluorescent green lawns and leafy trees with perhaps a flower or two.  

When one does that, one is imagining summer 

Strangely perhaps, when one actually visits a garden in summer one never thinks “well this is all very nice but what does it look like in spring?”. So when one comes from a clime where summer never ends it comes as a slight sensory shock to see acres of  the crunchy straw and monochrome of a winter not quite complete.  A garden however, doesn’t get to be the best of the best based on one season per year, so as the plums and cherries and wisteria patiently waited their turn to bloom and the rice and other grasses prepared to change the palette  of the scene, we had the pleasure of examining its bones laid bare.

Of course there were photos, lots of photos of garden edging and bamboo ties and lines of sight through trees, but each time an opportunity arose for that great garden “hero” shot, some tourist would appear in a whacky pink puffy jacket to stand out in the shot as Robert our trusty and terrible insightful leader was given to remark “like a certain piece of dog’s anatomy”, although perhaps more precisely put, going on to helpfully suggest that they should be banned, and who could disagree.

Thankfully, back in town no-one has thus far had similar thoughts about buildings similarly clad.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

We have an itinerary.
Tokyo


Travel for us is a somewhat random, some might even say haphazard affair.  We tend to lurch on with only the vaguest of notions about where we might end up on any given day, following signs on a whim, walking and riding transport in a pattern that often resembles the wiring on a Tokyo back street.  Like the wiring though, what appears to be completely accidental almost inevitably ends up at some sort of bright light.

Today for instance, we managed to quite deliberately find our way to Nippori Fabric Town, accidentally discovering a sensational bowl of noodles along the way, some more excellent steam buns, and somehow discovering the first flowering cherry tree of summer.  In that we were not alone it must be said, as here in Japan, the cherry tree in blossom has special significance, quite different to its significance in France where it is a sign that shortly we’ll be eating cherry tart.

Back to our random travels for a bit though: Most reading this will be only too well aware that we are not particularly fussy about where we sleep as well, having found ourselves gratefully recumbent on many a floor, couch and spare mattress on our wanders.

All that changes tomorrow.  We’ve done a strangely uncharacteristic thing.   We’ve arranged to travel with a small group on a guided journey with an actual itinerary and accomodation booked weeks in advance.  

Over the coming few weeks we shall have a chap telling us about things, taking us places, organising accomodation and even more strangely travelling to a schedule, and we’re going to like it a lot.  We’ll be staying in hotels in which if the cost of all this is anything to go by, we might even find ourselves sitting at tables with table cloths.   It's a bit of an experiment really, so stay tuned.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Through the looking glass.
Brisbane to Tokyo


If this morning was hot and humid and relaxed as we sat outside our house, this evening was cold and damp and positively dozy as we wandered in downtown Tokyo.

It can hardly be jetlag causing our state of fatigue, because there’s just an hour of time difference between home and here, so we’ll blame the sudden cessation of work or perhaps it’s an allergy to airline food, but there is no doubt we have once again found ourselves on the other side of the looking glass, in a world which will be more fully revealed in coming weeks.

For now, a quick stretch of the legs down one of Ginza’s retail streets, some steamed buns and a nice cup of tea were the perfect end to what had been a fairly long day, or perhaps to the year to date.

It will be interesting to retrace our steps on the morrow, revisiting these streets with fresher eyes, but is the temperature really going to be in single digits all day?

Really?

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Good heavens is that the time?
Dicky Beach to Brisbane


When one closes the door to the house for a period of extended travel, there’s a strange sense of closing the door on all of the ills and spills and the accompanying madness up to that point in time.  

Suddenly the whirlwind that sometimes seems to be of tornado like proportions simply stops.  

Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag?  Blow that for a game of soldiers, why not leave ‘em at home and get on with life!

So it was at four thirty this morning, we found ourselves sitting in complete silence, the doors firmly locked behind us, memories of the race to get the place tidied, tools away, make space in the garage for the car, and the ills and spills of recent months already starting to fade.  The sweat from that effort washed off, but already starting to reform as the solid wall of humidity and mid twenty degree temperature made its presence felt, clad as we were in clothing more suited to our destination.

We were not leaving everything in the state we would have preferred, but the two bags at our feet contained all that we would need for the next three months and providing the the bus had not forgotten to pick us up and of course that we remembered to race in and turn the lights off when it did, we just had this feeling that everything would in a very short space of time, be simply tickety-boo. 

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Monday, January 02, 2017

If a job's worth doing....


We wouldn’t do any work on the house this year we said, after all we’ll only be home for a few months , and it might be nice to do “beach stuff” after almost five summers of “building stuff”.   Then a few things happened, a couple of stars that were formerly neatly in line slipped a bit, and once again the wheels fell off our resolution.

Two weeks was all it took to demolish everything downstairs that wasn’t holding something up, getting rid of excess possessions took a little longer, and like it or not, the final stage was underway.

We knew at the outset there’d be no no hope of finishing before the middle of March, but perhaps we could give it a good shake, as long as we could get the car back inside by then things would be fine.

We had begun.

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