Tuesday, July 3, 2012


In an effort to get caught up, I'm going to ignore the normally chronological organization of this blog, and tell you a bit about the trip I took in March 2011 with my sister.  Since the details have faded even for me, I'll give you more photos than words.

First, there was the beautiful Playa del Carmen

where we ate fantastic Yucatecan food

and swam in a cenote.

Then there was this:

I loved the buildings

And the varied modes of transport.

(the stupid Hipstamatic filters make it hard to see - you're looking at a horse drawn carriage transporting a rocking chair)

But even though we found a thermos of this

I did not love the food.

However, the diving was fantastic, and so was just laying on the beach.

But the very best part was spending 10 days with my sister.  She's a wonderful woman.  Definitely a very special trip.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Tokyo, Part Ni

After our lovely time at the hot springs, we headed back to Tokyo for one final night.

By this point in our trip we had zero ambition for sight seeing, although we still checked out the big department stores and fancy shops in Ginza near our hotel.

Mostly though we were excited to try Japanese whiskey,
and Kobe beef.  I didn't have a fork, but I did cut it with a chopstick, just to prove to I could.  Yum!  

I'm still mad I didn't order a second steak.  

And the next day, we lazed around, enjoying our last night in a hotel for a while, before heading to a final, or rather finale, meal at Sushi Sawada.  I don't have enough superlatives.  All I can say is even after all the fish we'd eaten, even after that traumatic abalone, Michelin-starred sushi still tastes special.  

They don't let you take photos, so I couldn't capture the gorgeous spot prawns, or the squid tentacles being finely diced, mixed with rice and stuffed back into the body of the squid, or the wasabi being grated to order, or the delicate tendrils hanging off the grape leaves he used as plates for the veggie rolls he serves as part of his extended tasting menu.   I had to grab this photo off the interwebs.
But notice the special fish locker behind him, with slots perfectly sized to hold his lacquer-ware trays of precious fish.  It's that kind of a place.

The chef doesn't speak English and so he focused mostly on his Japanese guests which left us feeling a bit neglected, but MAN.  I will remember the three grades of tuna (fatty, semi-fatty, and semi-semi fatty) that he served us, from the same fish caught near Kyoto - he told us that much - for the rest of my life.  Just as I'll remember this entire fantastic trip.


The day after we went to Hiroshima we left Kyoto and traveled to Hakone, a town in the mountains close to Tokyo.  It was nice to be at a bit of elevation where the air was cooler, if no less humid.  Everything there is so GREEN!

It rained much of the time we were there, but we didn't mind so much because this was supposed to be the mellower, "vacation" portion of the vacation.  We did visit the Hakone Open Air Museum, which has a marvelous collection of modern art sculptures, displayed in a very pleasant park,

along with it's very own hot spring-fed foot bath.

We also stopped at Woody's which was quite aplty named.  It was pretty cool to see what Americana looks like, Japanese style.  And at this point in the trip, we were happy to eat something that didn't include fish, and to have a shot of SoCo.

The detour into "western" culture was all the more of a contrast because the first night we were in town we stayed at a semi-traditional ryokan.  The beds were western style, but we had to wear our yukatas to our (very fishy) dinner and breakfast in the communal dinning room. 

Overall, that place was rather depressing (the property felt neglected, and our room smelled strongly of mildew) so the next morning we were happy to get an early start on the traditional tour of the Hakone area.  I'd hoped to see some of the Japanese "back country" this trip, and although I knew Hakone doesn't qualify, I still had to laugh as we spent the day moving from a mountain train to a cable car to a gondola to a replica pirate ship to a bus, to a....  I lost track of the number of modes of transportation we took that day, but it was all very scenic, 

and we did get to see some of the geothermal activity the area is known for.

Right as we got hungry for lunch it started to pour, so we holed up in the Gyoza Center and ate ourselves silly.
Although it was warm and cozy, and lovely to sit and look out at the rain while eating one of my favorite things in the world, it wasn't the best idea because shortly after we left we took the train partway down the mountain to our next hotel Taiseikan.
A true ryokan with its own hot spring baths (I guess that makes it an onsen?) situated at the bottom of a steep gorge, right on a river, we were blown away by this place.  It might have been the private cable car you take to get down to the hotel, or the fact that we were waited on hand and foot the whole time, or their enormous outdoor hot spring pools right on the river, but I have a feeling it was all of the above.  All I know is that by the time I took my 5th soak, in our own private hot spring, I was finally on vacation in Japan.

Unfortunately, I was still full of lovely gyoza by the time our elaborate dinner started being served to us in our room.  Still, the only thing that marred the whole experience was the live abalone that arrived at our table for dinner that night, twitching before it was steamed alive.  I swear I can still hear it screaming.