Author Archives: DebHallSF

The Alps

Sorry for the long delay in finishing the posts from my summer trip. Since I didn’t have my laptop with me, I wasn’t able to download, keyword, or sort until I got home and then “regular” life and a couple other trips distracted me.

The walkers Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, covering about 187 km (over 100 miles), is typically covered in about two weeks, in 14 stages. Before we started, we planned to combine a few stages and skip a couple, shortening this hut-to-hut or village-to-village hike to eleven days. Though we hiked about as many days as planned, we ended up abandoning the route, partially because of weather and partially because it was more difficult than expected, especially carrying 20 pound backpacks.

24 July – Forclaz (Stage 1-2) – Rain

It rained heavily during the night and when we saw the forecast for more of the same, we had a pow-wow and considered skipping the route entirely and heading to Italy for a week. Instead we took the train further than planned, to Le Châtelard just across the Swiss border, and then caught a bus to Trient. From there it was an hour hike uphill in the rain to Col de la Forclaz. We arrived before lunch and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon drinking tea, sharing apricot and raspberry tarts, napping, showering, strolling during breaks in the rain, drinking beer, and chatting. Though postcards implied that we were surrounded by snow-capped peaks, we say none of them.

25 July – Lac du Champex (Stage 3) – More Rain

Anne and I decided not to join Hennie and Lynne on the Bovine Route, due to predicted rain and mud. Instead we spent almost four hours in transit (bus–train–train–train–bus) at a cost of over $50, including a snafu with our train ticket purchase (a lot of time and money to avoid walking in the rain). When we got to Champex, a small town along a lovely lake, we had lunch at one of the only open restaurants. I picked the cheapest thing on the menu, a small pizza and a simple green salad. My meal came to about $30; this is an expensive place.

As we headed back to our lodging, we encountered Hennie and Lynne returning from their wet, muddy hike. We checked into Hôtel du Col de la Forclaz and were assigned to a seven-bed dorm room; we were later joined by three young American men.

After placing my bags down, I walked uphill a few minutes to the Jardin Flore-Alpe where I spent a pleasant hour photographing alpine flowers. It drizzled on and off. Afterwards, I had a nice gluten-free dinner, rice with a small but yummy piece of chicken, and once again we talked about replanning to reduce rain and avoid thunderstorms.

26 July – Mont Fort (Stage 4-5) – Fog

Based on Hennie’s past experience, we combined two stages of the route, hiking in the fog through pastureland to Sembrancher, then catching a train to La Châble, bypassing a stretch along the road. We got a few peeks of the nearby peaks along the way in between the clouds.

In La Châble, we were fortunate to find the supermarket right before it’s midday closing. We quickly purchase food for three lunches – cheese, olives, nuts, hard-boiled eggs (dyed red), and energy bars. From there we took two cable cars up to Les Ruinettes, where we had a picnic lunch. By then, the fog had once again surrounded us. The hike up to Cabane de Mont Fort was pleasant, along a stream much of the time. We arrived with plenty of time to shower, relax and take pictures when the sun peeked out. The recent snow provided a beautiful dusting, like powdered sugar, on the craggy mountains. We had our own four-person dorm room. Dinner was delicious, including minestrone-like soup and a rare salad with lots of veggies. The main course was spaghetti, but since I requested a gluten-free meal, I was served a delicious raclette, a Swiss dish similar to scalloped potatoes, and in this case, crispy bacon. We all liked this hut with its friendly staff.

27 July – Prafleuri (Stage 6) – Boulder Fields

After such a delicious dinner, I was surprised to see no protein was served at breakfast, so I ate one of my hardboiled eggs.

I wasn’t worried when I read the hike description, after all I had recently completed a hike in Colorado that was longer, steeper, and at higher elevation, however, this was one of the most difficult hikes I’ve ever completed – more boulder field than trail. It took us 11 hours to reach Cabene de Prafleuri, almost twice as long as the book estimated. I was exhausted, and there was some grumpiness in the group, but my injured body parts held up well and the views were amazing.

We reread the hike description in our guidebook (Chamonix to Zermatt, the classic Walker’s Haute Route by Kev Reynolds), but there is no mention of rocks or boulders! An easy-to-miss comment does state that the estimated times do not include breaks. We took two, one for a snack and one for lunch; I finally consumed the can of tuna I’d been carrying for days.

We arrived just in time for dinner, served community style at long tables. It’s nice meeting up with the same people each night and comparing notes. This was our least favorite hut — no Wi-Fi, we had to either sterilize or purchase water, and there were only two toilets for the whole place. There were ten futons laid side-by-side on either side of our dorm room. The bedding clearly wasn’t changed nightly, so I used my sleep sack. I lay awake for hours with aching legs, finally falling asleep around 1:00 a.m. After the chatting people beneath us in the kitchen went to bed, it was surprisingly quiet.

28 July – Arolla (Stage 7) – Shortcut

Anne and I opted to take the easy way out, hiking for only two hours. We started straight up through a boulder field, taking about a half hour to reach the ridge with nice, if somewhat cloudy, views.  From there it was a pleasant half hour down to Lac de Dix, where we bid goodbye to Hennie and Lynne. They turned right to continue with the next stage of the Haute Route, while we turned left and hiked along the lake. It took about an hour to reach the dam, the tallest gravity dam in the world (taller than the Eiffel Tower from it’s base).  Our trail took us through multiple tunnels. After barely finding our way in the dark, we found a light switch for the next one. From the dam we caught a cable car down to Le Chargeur where we enjoyed tea/coffee and reconnecting with Wi-Fi while waited for the bus to Vex. Though less than 6 miles away, it took us almost 4 hours to reach Arolla from the dam.

We checked into Hotel de Glacier, a tremendous improvement over last night, where we showered, washed our clothes, and enjoyed the view from our flower-lined balcony, the sound of cowbells drifting across the valley. It was luxurious to have room to move about and repack our bags.

Lynne and Hennie arrived around 3:30, tired from their hike. It sounded like a good one, except for a steep uphill gravel stretch before a set of ladders.

Though this was my favorite hotel, and I enjoyed a very nice beer on the patio, dinner was disappointing. The salad was good, though with too much dressing, but the raclette was a great disappointment after my previous one. It was a do-it-yourself version with a pool of melted cheese on a plate, plain boiled baby potatoes, pickles, and various unappealing dried meats.

29 July – La Sage (Stage 8) – A Pleasant Hilly Hike

Anne decided to return home early, the injuries she incurred before our trip didn’t allow her enough time to get in shape, so she departed this morning, catching a bus and train to Zurich, then flying to London. Lynne woke up feeling ill, so she caught the first bus with Anne, while Hennie and I hiked.

We were on the trail by 8:00 and we saw no one for several hours, hearing only the sound of a stream and birds. It took us four hours to get to Les Hauderes, an hour longer than estimated (no surprise). We opted for the higher, more scenic route with lots of ups and downs. The section near Lac Bleu was especially pretty with nice views looking back at Mont Collon. There we met many day hikers heading out for a Saturday outing.

We crossed the road and continued downhill through trees and meadows to Les Hauderes. From there, we took a bus to La Sage, bypassing the last uphill portion of this stage. My legs were again aching, obviously needing more rest to recover from our arduous boulder field hike.

Lynne was napping when we arrived around 1:00. She slept for hours and felt much better afterwards. Our rooms aren’t as nice as last night’s (smaller with no view), but the lounge is huge with windows on three sides. After a shower and a nap, we spent the whole afternoon lounging there, watching storms move across the distant mountains. Our dinner was delicious: a salad with a small quiche, chicken breast with rice and herbs, fresh fruit, and a surprise bottle of champagne from a friend of Lynne’s.

30 July – Sion

With rain and thunderstorms in the forecast, we decided to skip the rest of the Haute Route and head early to Zermatt (see next post), stopping for one night in Sion on the way.

After breakfast at Hotel de la Sage, which included delicious fresh, warm croissants with homemade jam, we strolled through town watching vendors setting up for a festival. We decided to walk down to the next stop rather than take a chance the bus wouldn’t make it to our stop with booths lining the narrow street. In less than an hour, I was back at the bus stop in Les Hauderes for the third day in a row. This time I took a short walk through town before relaxing on the lawn behind the bus station.

It took us about 45 minutes to reach Sion, a huge town by comparison to where we been (34,000). It’s the capital of Valais, the canton in which we’ve been hiking for the last week. Our hotel was only ten minutes from the train station at the edge old town. It felt hot, after the cool mountains, in the mid-80s (about 30°C). After checking in, we had a yummy lunch on an outdoor plaza (tuna with rice and veggies for me). It was the only place serving food midday on a Sunday. Afterwards we walked up to the ruins of a castle, Château de Tourbillon, and the Sion Cathedral, both provided nice views of town and the incoming storm. We got down before it arrived and rested in our triple room – showering, napping, and listening to thunder. Again, most the restaurants were closed, but we found an open one and enjoyed a pleasant dinner at an outdoor café. Accordions were playing as we walked around town, and vendors were setting up for Swiss National Day.

Chamonix

Anne, Lynne, Hennie and I came to Switzerland primarily to do the Haute Route, a hut-to-hut hike from Chamonix to Zermatt. While we did lots of hiking in beautiful places, we did not complete our trip as planned. This is the first of a few belated posts.

22 July – In Transit (from London)

We arrived at the Geneva airport around noon, got Swiss francs from the ATM, and caught a van ride to Chamonix, a beautiful city in the French Alps. We didn’t have reservations and were lucky get seats on two different vans. After checking into our hotel, we explored the town and had dinner at an outside table. Had we had weather ESP, we would’ve written the cable car to the top when we arrived. Rain and thunder started just as we finished our meal.

23 July – Chamonix

We had hoped to take the car able car all the way up to Aiguille du Midi and from there ride the Mont Blanc cable car across the glacier to Italy, but the winds were too high and the top shrouded in clouds, so we got off at the halfway point, Plan du Midi, and hiked to Mer du Glace, stopping at a small alpine lake on the way. Posted for 2.75 hours, it took us about 3.5. It was more cloudy than sunny, but the peaks showed their faces now and then. We had lunch overlooking the glacier, enjoyed a beer near the Montenvers train station, and took the cog train back down to town. We decided not to go in the ice cave, which in hindsight would have been worthwhile.

The cable car to the top was running when we go back down to town, so we paid for an upgrade and hopped aboard. By the time we got up, fog had totally encompassed the peak, and it was cold, so Anne and Hennie headed right back down. Lynne and I were rewarded for our short, chilly wait with brief, but awesome views of Mount Blanc and surrounding peaks. It then took us 1.5 hours to get back to the bottom since it was late afternoon and lots of people were lining up for the last cars down.

We picked up food for breakfast and lunch (our rooms have mini-refrigerators) and had a long, outdoor dinner which we cooked on a grill. We got to bed late that night and fell asleep worried about rain (justifiably).

London

I stopped in London for a few days on my way to and from the Alps with Lynne, Anne, and Hennie. The skyline has changed much since I was last here, forty years ago, but the weather has not.

18 July – Depart for London

I met my fellow travelers at the Embarcadero station for a BART ride to the Oakland airport. We had an afternoon flight on discount Norwegian Airlines. It departed four hours behind schedule thanks to mechanical problems with the first plane. As usual, I didn’t sleep much on the flight, not helped by hard seats that barely recline.

19 July – Arrive in London

We arrived in late afternoon, got pounds from an ATM and caught the Gatwick Express train to Victoria Station. From there it was a short walk our Airbnb lodging in Westminster. Our two-bedroom apartment was up a couple flights. Lynne and I slept in the large living room, swapping between futon and couch.

We dropped our backpacks and headed to a nearby Taylor Walker pub for dinner. I ordered a Mexican salad and a pale ale. Afterwards we took a short walk; the light was beautiful and I regretted leaving my camera behind.

20 July – River Walk and Tate Modern

We couldn’t figure out how to work the stove, so I crisped up a piece of fish on top of the toaster for breakfast.

According to our phones, we walked ten miles today – down Victoria, along the south bank of River Thames to the Tate Modern (with its disorganized exhibits spread throughout an old rambling power plant), across the river to St. Paul’s Cathedral. After lunch, a nice salmon with salad, we headed back along the riverfront, detouring to Trafalgar Square and fenced off Downing Street. It poured briefly just before and after our museum visit, but was mostly sunny.

Exhausted, we returned to our neighborhood and stopped at the Albert pub for an early dinner. I especially enjoyed the warm camembert with roasted onion jam and a London Royal beer. After a few taste tests, I also came to realize that gluten products are no better for my digestive system in England than at home.

21 July – Buckingham Palace and other Tourist Sights

I slept in late, 8:00 am, and awoke feeling more refreshed than yesterday. Anne and I enjoyed the morning quiet on a short walk to Westminster Cathedral. After breakfast, Hennie went off on her own, touring the British Museum and meeting a friend for tea. The rest of us walked through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace to join the crowd gathered to watch the daily changing of the guard. From our vantage near the Victoria Memorial fountain, we saw more horses than guards. We left before the hour-long ceremony was over and stopped at a café for a pick-me-up (decaf mocha and gluten-free brownie).

We walked to tourist-filled Trafalgar Square and waited in a short line for free entry into the National Gallery, a more satisfying experience than the Tate Modern. Afterwards, Lynne and I watched birds in St James Park while Anne took a quick tour of the Churchill Museum. There we encountered our first pay toilet, only 20 pence. In late afternoon, we returned to the Westminster Cathedral and took a lift to the top, all getting a 50% senior discount. (One of the few offered on our trip, and one of the fewer that I qualify for). After admiring the view with peek-a-boo sun, we listened to vespers for a few minutes then headed over to another local pub for dinner. The food menus were identical at all three, but the beers varied.

22 July – Off to the Alps

We got up at 4:30 a.m., walked to the Victoria Station, and took the Gatewick Express back to the airport. A one hour delay was announced, than another half hour, then we sat on our EasyJet for another half hour before departure. See upcoming blog entries for a description of this adventure.

8 Aug – Back in London

It was overcast when Lynne and I landed at the Luton airport. We took a shuttle bus and Thameslink train to St. Pancras Station and walked to the Travistock Hotel. Our room, on the fourth floor overlooking a small park, was ready, so we dropped our bags and went downstairs for an Indian buffet.

It was a short walk to the overwhelming British Museum, where we spent a few hours wandering through human history. It was swarming with people and would require a year-long college course to get an overview. We walked back to our room under misty skies, took a nap, then went to dinner at a roastery, and walked over to a cinema to watch Dunkirk. I was disappointed to see that commercials have invaded theaters here as well, but enjoyed being able to pick our seats.

9 Aug – A Wet and Musical Day

We ate breakfast at the hotel – typical English buffet with eggs, beans, grilled tomatoes, and meat – more satisfying than many of our protein-free, bread-heavy Swiss breakfasts.

Though it was overcast and drizzly in the morning, we optimistically bought passes for one of the hop-on-hop-off bus tours. This was a waste of money. The first bit was fine. We rode on top, plugged in our headphones, and listened to the narrative. The rain picked up as we waited to transfer to the next bus and it was pouring when we got on board. Though we nabbed great seats, by the front window on top, we would have needed windshield wipers to see anything. The traffic slowed the bus to below walking speed, so we got off near the Tower of London and took a boat ride back to Westminster Bridge (included with our bus pass). We stayed upstairs on the almost deserted roof for most of the half hour ride, huddled under our thin Big Bus ponchos.

After failing to find the next bus stop, we abandoned the tour and walked to Covent Gardens, stopping on the way for a very satisfying lunch – large salad, small thin crust pizza, and a draft beer. Though there are exceptions, this trip has confirmed a couple things for me: the U.S. has the worst pizza in the world (crusts too thick, cheese too plentiful, and seasoning not varied) and draft beers are better than bottled.

After a bit of shopping, we walked back to our hotel and changed out of our wet clothes. (I was glad to have worn hiking boots all day; Lynne’s socks and shoes were soaked.) With tickets to see The Book of Mormon, we took the tube to Piccadilly Circus. (If I return to London, I’d like to stay close to the theatre district and go to a show every night). It was still raining when we go out.

10 Aug – Long Day Home

We left our hotel at 9:30 am for the tube and train ride to Gatwick. Our 11-hour flight left an hour late. I didn’t like the dimmable windows in our plane, they neither completely reveal the view nor block the light, and they don’t insulate against heat or cold. The movie selection was limited and it was difficult to hear since the music soundtracks were louder than the voice tracks.Though the calendar date was unchanged, 17 hours elapsed from hotel-to-home. I fell asleep early and miraculously slept for 10.5 hours, both cats curled up with me.

Rocky Mountains

I just spent a week in Colorado, hiking in the Rockies with Lynne, in preparation for our upcoming trek in the Alps with two other friends. Coming from sea-level, the air was thin at 9000’ in Fraser Valley, a few hours northwest of Denver, and even thinner on our hikes above tree-line.

July 2 – Getting There

I flew to Denver, arriving in early afternoon. Lynne drove down to pick me up at the airport. It usually takes less than two hours to get to her family condo, but apparently a lot of people decided that Sunday was a good day to head out of town for the 4th of July, so it took almost an hour longer. This gave us plenty of time to chat. I was entertained by her story of her drive to Colorado via Oregon with her father, Jim, son, Tim, and cat, Lily. Needless to say, Lily was not happy about the idea. She nearly got lost and caused an unpleasant aroma along the way.

July 3 – Fraser Valley

Lynne’s dad had a sore tooth, so she called around and found an emergency dentist open on the Monday before a holiday. Tim agreed to drive his grandfather down to Denver, while Lynne and I stayed behind. Initially planning a four-mile walk for my first day at altitude, we ended up taking a 9-mile round-trip hike to Winter Park after discovering a set of trails near the condo. We stopped for lunch and a beer on our way back. Her father and Tim arrived hours later. Her dad’s problems turned out to be much more extensive than anticipated and he suffered for three hours in a dental chair.

July 4 – Cascade Falls

We dropped Lynne’s father off at her brother Jed’s place near Grand Lake, just to the southeast of Rocky Mountain National Park. We then spent much of the day hiking to nearby Cascade Falls, a 9-miles round trip. It was beautiful. We ate lunch at the top of the falls – apple slices with smoked gouda, olives, deli slices and Mary’s Gone Crackers – yum!

It started to drizzle on our way down and we heard thunder behind us, so I put away my camera, we put on our pack covers, and covered the last couple miles pretty quickly. We reached the trailhead in mid-afternoon with just enough time to drive back to Fraser, take a quick shower, and head back to Jed and Mia’s place with Tim, for a barbeque. After our tasty, filling meal, we enjoyed sitting outside watching the sunset.

July 5 – Rest Day

We had been planning to head up to Rocky Mountain National Park, but her dad wasn’t feeling well, so we enjoyed a welcome rest day. We went out to lunch, stopped at a couple stores, and I started sorting pictures. I also fixed my signature meal – Chicken Marbella and mashed sweet potatoes. It was appreciated by all and I packed up some for lunch the next day.

July 6 – Berthoud Pass

Tim dropped us off early at Berthoud Pass ,11’300’, and we headed uphill, breathing heavily. We had Lynne’s father’s pulse oximeter with us and at the top of the 1000’ climb up to the ridge my oxygen level dropped to 75%! A couple breathes from a small oxygen tank, which Lynne bought at the supermarket, and it bounced up into the 90’s, at least temporarily. It was lower than that most of the day. I hope my body is busy making red blood cells so I can breathe more easily in Switzerland.

We hiked through the tundra along the rolling ridge for hours, admiring the views. Colorado had a mild winter so there was less snow than usual on the peaks. (We more than made up for their moisture loss in California, with record rainfall that broke our 5-year drought). Seeking an alternate route to the one we took a couple years ago, our 8-mile hike grew to 13 miles; in the end, we backtracked and went down the initial route. My feet developed a couple tender spots. I got one taped, before we felt raindrops. Since we were still above treeline, I skipped taping other, leading to a blister.

When we got down to the Zephyr chairlift, it was not running due to thunder warnings. Fortunately, a shuttle bus arrived just as we did and we got a free, dusty ride down to the bottom. Exhausted, we called Tim for a ride rather than take a bus back to the condo. After a shower and brief rest, we went out to eat with her father. We shared a pizza and Greek salad at an outdoor patio. Our veggie pizza with basil white sauce on a thin crust was very good.

July 7 – Mount Evans

Lynne drove us up to the top of Mount Evans on the highest paved road in the United States. At 14,265’ (4,348 meters), Evans is only the 12th highest peak in Colorado. Her father waited in the car while Lynne and I climbed the last few hundred feet to the top, head pounding. The views were stunning. Given the gathering clouds, it was surprisingly sunny, warm, and calm at the top. On our way back to the car, it suddenly became cloudy, cold, and windy, and hail began to fall. On our drive back down the mountain, with windshield wipers swishing off sleet, we spotted both Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goats. Nice. Back in Fraser, we all took naps to the sound of thunder, then woke up to sunshine. I looked for, but didn’t see a rainbow. Jim took us out for dinner. Thank you both for a great visit!

July 8 – Home

Lynne drove me down to the airport and I bid farewell to her and her father. They are spending the night in Denver, visiting old friends from when they lived here. My flight was on time and went smoothly. I entertained myself taking pictures of clouds and starting this blog entry. The cats greeted me when I walked in the door. I unpacked my bags, then repacked my backpack, ready for another hike.

Kyoto

Shrines, temples, temples within shrines, shrines within temples, they are everywhere we’ve visited, especially in this city and nearby Nara. Many Japanese consider themselves to be both Shinto and Buddhist, which explains the mix of practices. To show respect, wash hands before approaching a shrine. Toss in a coin, bow twice, clap twice, pray, then bow again. Cleanse in incense at temples, then bow once.

We wrapped up our organized tour in Kyoto, spending a couple sight-filled days with our new friends. With four extra days, Nancy and I took a couple side trips and saw a few more sights in this comfortable city. With a population of about 1.5 million, it’s not overwhelming like Tokyo.

April 7, 2017 – Torii Gates and Bamboo Forest

We took a short local train from Kurashiki, then a Shinkansen, arriving in Kyoto late in the morning, finding warmer, but mistier weather. After checking into our hotel, we walked back to the JR station, a huge complex, first going to the top for a cloudy view of the city (Team Stairs beat Team Escalator to the top, guess which one I was in). We had ramen for lunch, ordering from a machine. Mine came with a side order of rice and chicken that was better than the main dish. From there, we took a subway and walked to see the Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine, with 10,000 torii gates and numerous small shrines dating back centuries. That may not be an exaggeration; we walked through hundreds of vermillion gates, but not nearly all of them. What an amazing place! With more time, I would climb to the top of the mountain.

When I saw Mari pull a cute, facecloth-sized towels from her bag, I realized why these are for sale everywhere; almost none of the restrooms provide towels, conserving paper to help make up for the excess packaging on most purchased items. We took a subway and train to our next stop: the bamboo grove in the Arashiyama district of western Kyoto. Mari challenged us to come up with a haiku about the bamboo forest, here’s mine:

Leafy green columns
Dark and peaceful in the mist
Unseen birds chirping

Another our walk, I had another yummy crepe served like an ice cream cone, served from the side of a small van. Back in town, we picked up dinner in the Isetan basement, salad and a mango smoothie. Nancy and I had a bit of a challenge getting connected to WiFi and had to arrange a call from an English-speaking tech specialist.

April 8 – Temples, Tea Ceremony, and Farewell Dinner

Beep-boop, beep-boop, chirp, chirp-chirp, beep-boop, beep-boop, chirp, chirp-chirp, … these sounds are found at every signal we’ve encountered throughout Japan. We heard them throughout the night in our hotel room across from the train station. (Window opened to get some air). We were pleased to discover that breakfast was included, though this time it was a very crowded place with a much smaller selection than our first hotel, in Tokyo.

After our meal, we took a subway to the Gion district and walked from the Chion-in Temple (shrouded in construction cloth) to the Kiyomize-dera Temple. Lots of cherry blossoms, bringing lots of people. We then split up and headed in a few directions. I had hoped to return to our hotel for an afternoon break, but that was only wishful thinking since our morning excursion took longer than anticipated. Instead, I hopped on a bus back to the Gion District with Marty and Dori. We crossed the river, had lunch, walked through a shopping district, then caught a subway to our rendezvous spot at the T10 subway station. Nancy caught a cab with Raj, Katy, and Alana to go knife shopping.

We reconnected for a tea ceremony at the Hosomi Museum, a welcome, peaceful break in our otherwise too busy day. We learned how to prepare, serve, and drink green, powdered matcha tea. From there we headed back to our neighborhood for a farewell dinner – sashimi, tempura, roast pumpkin, and tofu. We had considered a night of karaoke, but were all too tired. I dropped everything and crashed. Packing could wait until morning.

April 9 – Goodbye Hugs

 Mari air-dropped photos she’d taken along the way, we confirmed email addresses, and gave everyone a final hug. Some are heading home, some have a few more days of travel. I’ll miss Marty’s and Raj’s humor, morning walks with Dori, Mari’s great smile, and everyone’s good company. May you all have safe travels; perhaps we’ll meet again. Nancy and I headed to the train station to visit Nara, followed by side trips to Hiroshima and Miyajama (see earlier posts),

April 11 – Back from Miyajima

We stopped at a 7 Eleven on our way back to our room in Kyoto where we picked up items for dinner and breakfast, my standard: yogurt and a rice ball (onigiri, often triangular and wrapped in seaweed). These convenience stores, and another chain called Family Mart, are all over the place.

April 12 – Cherry Blossoms, Temples, and a Castle

I woke up early, as usual, wrote a bit for my blog, then headed out for an early walk before Nancy got up. I returned to some of the sights we saw a few days ago, covering in reverse our path from Kiyomizu-deru Temple to Maruyama Park, enjoying the lack of people.

I returned to our lodging, anticipating a leisurely final day, but Nancy had a burst of energy so we walked to the Nijo-jo Castle. It wasn’t raining, but I had to dig out a couple warmer items from my suitcase. Though also surrounded by a moat, the architecture was totally different from the castle we saw in Matsumoto. This one was a whole complex of low buildings with murals of tigers, trees, and birds. The restored entry gate was amazing.

From there we caught a bus to the Kinkakuji Temple, a.k.a. Golden Pavilion. We arrived at closing time, hoping to avoid crowds, but that wasn’t possible. Fortunately, visitors are separated from the pavilion by a pond and we were able to appreciate it in the afternoon light that broke through the clouds.

I was exhausted when we boarded a bus for a 45-minute ride back to our neighborhood, so I was happy to get a seat. We had our last Japanese dinner, more sashimi than anticipated, such as in our salad, but satisfying. According to the health app on my phone, I walked 10.5 miles, a record for this trip. Before I started, I worried that I’d get out of shape for my next big adventure, hiking in the alps; instead I averaged over 15,000 steps a day!

April 13 – Home Again

Our alarm went off at 5:00 and the taxi arrived promptly at 6:00, whisking us to the bus station in five minutes. We took an hour-long bus ride to the Kansai airport. After spending my last few yen on novelty yummies, I realized that I left my carefully packed bag of breakfast and plane snacks on the counter. Fortunately, Nancy found an onigiri and bag of the crunchies I’ve been enjoying, small rice crackers mixed with peanuts, at a place that accepts credit cards. (Many places accept only cash, unlike in Iceland where credit cards could be used for everything).

On the flights home, we had a layover in Seoul, I finished reading, 36 Views of Mount Fuji by Cathy Davidson, a series of interesting observations about the culture based on her experience teaching English there in the 1980-90’s.

I’m going to miss Japanese toilets, the kind with warm seats, not the squat ones. (I’m going to put one in my bathroom when I remodel). I’ll also miss cherry blossoms (of all varieties), sculptured trees, bowing merchants, quiet voices, Japanese gardens, torii gates, wafts of incense, the peacefulness found at many temples and shrines even when crowded, robust and reliable public transit, fresh sushi, peach water, and strawberry mochi. I won’t miss crowds of people, ugly, utilitarian buildings, prefab bathrooms that stub my toes, futons (we slept on the floor about a third of the time), tofu or noodles. I look forward to a soft bed, affordable fresh fruit, and seeing my friends, family, and cats.

P.S. When I got home, I was surrounded by a whirlwind of obligations and commitments, a common occurrence for me post-travel, so it took a while to get this last post out. Now I need to start work on a slide show.

Hiroshima and Miyajima

We took an overnight trip to the magical island of Miyajima, stopping in Hiroshima on our way to visit the Peace Park.

April 10 – Peace Park and Shrine Tour

We left most of our luggage behind at our airbnb in Kyoto and traveled with our backpacks, via Shinkansen, to Hiroshima. It was overcast when we boarded the red tour bus that took us directly from the JR station to the Atomic Bomb Dome, it’s shell left standing as a reminder of the horrors of nuclear warfare. We spent a couple hours visiting the numerous monuments throughout the park and briefly touring the museum; I couldn’t stay long, the images and tattered remains were too depressing.

We then caught a fast, direct boat to Miyajima, getting to the island in about 45 minutes. As on Nara, Sika Deer wander through town; I helped another tourist recovered her booklet from one. When we picked up a map at the tourist information center, we were thrilled to hear than our hotel, Jukeiso, offers a shuttle service. We were picked up 15 minutes and whisked uphill, bypassing the congested main village, and delivered to the nicest place we’ve stayed on our trip. (It was also the most expensive and the only one available when we tried to book a room a couple weeks ago). Though I’m not fond of sleeping on thin, hard futons, our room was spacious with a pleasant view.

From there, it was a short walk down a stone staircase to the shrine and its famous torii gate. It was low tide so many people were walking out to touch it. The shrine, and whole island, feels peaceful. A light misty rain began as we wandered down shop-lined Omotesando street. I bought one of the wooden dolls I’ve been eyeing since we arrived. We returned along the shore.

Back up in our room, we changed into yukata robes and slippers for a fishy feast – sashimi, sushi, salad with fish, beef sukiyaki, tempura with prawns, fish, and veggies, tofu, rice, miso, and a few unidentifiable items, plus an Asahi and dessert! I was as stuffed as at Thanksgiving. Afterwards, I took a 5-minute walk to the shore to photograph the lighted torii gate, now at high tide. I got back to our room just in time for our half-hour soak in the private onsen with an opening overlooking the hillside and down to the torii gate. This stop makes a perfect bookend to Mt. Fuji, which we visited early in our trip.

April 11 – Rainy Stroll on Miyajima

I took a short walk up to the Daishoin Temple in the morning; it was raining harder than I realized, so I didn’t stay out long. We had breakfast at our hotel, included with our room, Japanese for me (rice, salmon, cooked this time); Nancy chose Western food (eggs cooked with bacon and toast). I would gladly have traded my warm tofu for her yogurt, but was otherwise happy with my choice.

The rain slowed a bit, so we walked back to the port, climbing up to the base of the five-storied pagoda on our way. I paid to enter hall of adjacent Hokoku Temple, removing my shoes, so I could take pictures without getting my camera wet. I had left my umbrella behind in Kyoto, so I was dripping by the time we boarded the ferry (my lightweight rain shell passed the test and kept me dry). From the ferry terminal it was about a half hour train ride back to the station where we caught a Shinkansen back to Kyoto.

 

 

Nara

After reaching our final destination, Kyoto, we took a couple side trips. I’m going to cover these first before wrapping up with Kyoto after we get home. Our tour, while wonderful, offered too little down time for me to keep up with photo sorting. Now that Nancy and I are on our own again, we’re slowing our pace, a bit.

Established as Japan’s first permanent capital in 710, Nara is less than an hour south of Kyoto. It contains some of the oldest and largest temples in the country.

April 9 – Nara

We stopped at tourist information and planned our route through town. It was Palm Sunday and we saw priest and a few people singing, holding palm fronds. Only about one percent of the population is Christian. Wild, but tame sika deer, native to Japan, were wandering about everywhere. Up until 1637 they were considered sacred and killing one was punishable by death. Now they follow tourists around seeking out deer crackers prepared for their consumptions; one nibbled my map. The city was filled with tourists, many taking pictures of the deer and cherry blossoms.

Isuien Garden was peaceful and provided a glimpse of Todaiji Temple gate, the only one we would see not covered in construction cloth. In the temple, we saw one of Japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha. Fifteen meters tall, this seated Buddha is flanked by two Bodhisattvas and numerous small buddhas. From there is was uphill, past many sights, to the Kasuaga Taisha Shrine, filled with hundreds of lanterns (tōrō). We took a bus back down to the train station.