On Location: Bowling for Takayama

By: leelefever on May 20, 2006 - 12:45am

I never knew much about the mountainous areas of Japan other than the fact they are high enough and get enough snow to host a Winter Olympics, as they did in Nagano in 1998. 

Despite being hard to get to from the west coast (Kanazawa) and rain being the dominant condition, the Japan Alps have been a truly worthwhile experience.  We’ve spent the last three days in small city of Takayama and the tiny village of Kamakochi, both in the Japan Alps.

Takayama is famed for its charm, as it has been able to hold onto it’s historical past through the preservation of traditional family homes.  You can walk across the whole town in 20 minutes and most of the sites are within a 500 meters of one another.  Like so many towns, it has it’s special selections of foods and Takayama’s is Hida Beef and Hodo Miso, which is cooked on a magnolia leaf.  We enjoyed the street food as always.  This is Sachi with grilled mochi (rice) balls.

Like Tsuwano, Takayama has a too-good-to-be true feeling. I don't know how these places stay so impeccably clean and orderly.

We’ve been referring to the movie “The Truman Show” where Jim Carrey plays a character that discovers as an adult that his whole life has been staged for an elaborate TV show.  Walking around some of these towns feels like we must be walking through a movie set, where a director is whispering directions into the ears of the townspeople via tiny earphones.  “OK Ms. Fujimori, when they walk by, stop watering the bonsai tree and smile and wave”.  But, it’s all real- all of it, and that’s the charm for which places like Takayama are known.


Alas, we did get tired of the rain and went bowling for an hour.  Sachi beat me in points, but I beat her 2 games to 1 and declare final victory- though she's filing an appeal. The alley was exactly like any one in America, except it didn’t sell beer.  Everyone sells beer in Japan! It’s even in vending machines. No beer in the bowling alley?  That’s just plain un-Japanese!


We stayed in the mostly characterless Hotel Hana, which is close to both the train station and the sights. We paid about $93 for a western style room.  Many of the hotels we choose are called “business hotels” and are low on charm but have the amenities we prefer, like an attached bathroom and Internet access. 

On Location: Tsuwano and Kanazawa, Japan

By: leelefever on May 18, 2006 - 1:04am

I don't think I'm genetically inclined to remember all the names of these Japanese towns.  They all have four syllables and seems to all begin or end in yama (which makes sense as "yama" means mountains and we're in the Japanese Alps).  No matter though, what I will remember is the beauty of these places.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature has not been kind of late. In the past week we've seen the sun on one day.  Other than that, it has been rather dreary with occasional rain. On the other hand, it has been abour 65(f) degrees- which is simply luxurious compared to SE Asia.

 We talked about some of these places, but didn't get to provide many pictures, so here is a load of pictures from the last week or so...Oh, and a big thanks to TwinF member (and long-time friend) Kai for pointing us in the right direction.

My favorite small town so far has been Tsuwano, where we stayed in the ryokan. Here's the town from above:

 The view above is from a hike we did up the Tsuwano Castle ruins- from about 1500AD. 

 Here's Sachi on the ruins:


 I got to ride in this little bike thing called an Anttcycle.  It's pedal powered with a little extra juice from solar power.  Very cool, but I need an XL.

 Tsuwano has a ton of these types of scenes too.  I keep trying to find a picture that captures, to me at least, the essence of traditional Japanese style.

 We're on trains a lot and it's fun and quite entertaining.  Not once has a train been more than one minute late.

Some of the trains have been around a while.

Sachi's not sad, just tired.

Kanazawa was next.  We really liked Kanazawa- it was very kind to tourists with good maps everywhere and a great overall experience- you can tell they are trying to become a tourist destination. The city has the most amazing train station exterior I've seen. OK, maybe there were two days of sun.

 Kanazawa's main attraction is Kenrokuen Gardens.  It may have been that we don't "get" Japanese gardens. This one is nice and it may have been a bad time of year, but we were a little let down. The Kenrokuen Garden is rated as a top-3 garden in Japan.  Still nice, but not what we expected.

 Updated:  I wanted to say a little more about the Japanese gardens. I'd say that we do "get" most gardens, but the Kenrokuen was different than we expected.  It is known as the "Garden of Six Attributes", which are: seclusion, antiquity, spaciousness, human ingenuity, water and scenic views.  The one attribute that seems to get in the way for us is human ingenuity.  All over Kenrokuen, trees are being propped up by braces- so much so that you can't appreciate the trees for the braces in the way:


The bracing is an ancient practice and is particularly useful in Kanazawa where it snows heavily.  However, from my western and amateur perspective, the bracing is obtrusive and takes away too much of the natural beauty of the scenery and trees. But that's just me.

On Location, Ko Lanta, Thailand

By: leelefever on April 27, 2006 - 1:42am

Laid back- I don't think there is any better way to describe the environment of Ko Lanta. It is one of the lesser visited Thai destinations compared to Ko Samet/Samui, Phuket, etc. and the pace of life is a bit like slow motion. It's like you get off the boat here and things get heavier.  You move more slowly, as do the people around you.  Sleep sounds good- anytime.  Hours pass. It seems like it takes a long time to do everything, but it doesn't matter. It's Ko Lanta time and it feels really nice.

Here's how we've been taking our time:

We hung out on Ba Katiang Beach, which is the the home of a few small resorts/restaurants/bars and a big 5-star one called Pimalai (more on that soon). This is the bay from our bungalow.

 Down at the end is a place that was wiped out by the tsunami, but has been rebuilt and is the best place on the beach for dinner.  It's called "Same Same, But Different".

 Closer ot our resort is the "Why Not?" bar.  Yes, the Thai are creative with names. This is a place run by "Chaba" (on the right). He calls Sachi "Pepsi", because it helps him remember. We left the crowded bar one night and he came out calling my name and said "Lee, Lee, I'm sorry that I didn't get a chance to talk to you tonight, we've been very busy." He then gave us a lantern to help us home, as the power had gone out. Good guy that Chaba- and a lover of Bob Marley too.

On the beach, there is a flexible pier that reaches out to deeper water, where people can board large boats.  This pier eventually broke in the crashing surf, but not before we had some fun on it.

 While we were, it became low season, as evidenced by crashing surf that suddenly took away the beach.

 The beach was also the site of nightly fire twirling, or whatever it's called.  Most sessions are done to the music of Metallica or Linkin Park.


 We made some new friends, in fact more than any single week of the trip.  This is Luke (Aussie) and Christine (French Canadian).  We spent a couple of long night with these folks. This is from a hilltop bar than no one knows about.

 We also met an great Aussie couple who got married on the beach and staying in the 5-star Pimalai resort. Clayton and Lisa- congrats!

 This picture above is from the pool at Pimalai, which is one of the best ever.  They were kind enough to invite us up for a swim.  Ahhhh.

 Time really does have a different feel here.  Lately, it's been feeling like there isn't enough of it- enough of it here.




On Location: Hawaii

By: leelefever on January 3, 2006 - 11:22am
Our time so far in Hawaii has been marked by relaxation, exercise and food, lots of food.  Sachi's Mom is a wizard in the kitchen and there is always some wonderful smell wafting across our noses. 
All this food represents a bit of a conundrum for us. We're heading for places where people wear little clothes and we'll be emulating the locals I'm sure. While neither of us have problems with weight, I'm personally weighing more than I ever have at the moment and would prefer to start the trip on a less giggly foot.  We've heard conflicting reports about how travel affects weight.
Another conundrum regards being in Hawaii, but not taking advantage of the islands as most people would.  For instance, we're on Oahu, where Honolulu is located. We would tell people to really experience Hawaii, go to an outer island like Kauai. Yet, here we are for 7 days.  We looked seriously at going deep sea fishing which would have cost about $400 for two people. But we chose not to go.
Why? It's all about opportunity costs.  Hawaii will always be here for us, it's comparatively easy. Islands off the coast of Malaysia are not so easy, so we'll trade Hawaiian islands for Malaysian ones.  The same is true for fishing- we'll trade deep sea fishing in Hawaii for doing it in New Zealand. Each dollar we spend in America is a dollar we could spend in a place we may never visit again. It helps too that our dollar may buy more.
We're also saying goodbye to the last bits of Americana.  There can't be a better example than this, which we found on a walk around the neighborhood:

On Location: New York

By: leelefever on December 13, 2005 - 7:02pm
It's cold, again.  We had enough cold in Canada really, but we have yet to see many temperatures in NYC above freezing. It goes with the territory I suppose, and it adds to the the wintery and Christmasy feel of the city, but it's cold and the summer of New Zealand is looking oh-so-good.
Right now we're having an appliance face-off in our hotel room.  We have a heater without a thermastat that makes the room too hot.  So, we turn on the air conditioning on to acheive some balance in the temperature. .
We're not doing so great on the whole "defeating jet lag" strategy.  We were up until past 2 last night and this afternoon we had a 2 hour nap, so I'm sure we'll be up again tonight, faithful to our Seattle schedule.
So far we haven't boarded any wrong trains or been late to any appointments, but we realize that we have the luxury of all signs being in English- but still, it's good practice. I really enjoy the train rides out of the city- going through the Bronx and Harlem, it's seems like the real New York somehow with huge residential high rises.
We're taking it easy tonight.  We're in the Murray Hill Neighborhood, which is around Lexington and 30th - due south from Grand Central Station about 12 blocks.  We really like the neighborhood- lots of great food. Tonight we got cheap and good Indian take-out from a place called Curry and Curry at 153 East 33rd St.  Good stuff. Tomorrow it's downtown, Central Park and dinner with some travelers we met via this site. 

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