Today’s the Day!

This post is being written over a month after the events described.

Long before we planned on going to Asia, we said we would like to go someday in order to see the Great Wall. Finally, today is that day!

When we decide to book the Viking cruise, we knew that their included tour for the first full day aboard was to the Great Wall. BUT, that was going to mean about a 3 hour bus ride in each direction and Viking would be visiting during the National Holiday week, we quickly began to explore other options.

We didn’t know that there were so many sections of the wall that were open to tourists, not that most had been heavily restored while a couple of sections are “wild” and unrestored. After much research (Link to descriptions of the Great Wall) we decided to do the Jinshanling section which had both restored and unrestored sections. We were concerned however as it would involve some hiking but our contact at the agency said they had other clients who had done it. We also hoped that since this section wasn’t as popular that we wouldn’t run into huge crowds as we had seen in our research:

We left the hotel at 7:30 and after an hour and a half or so drive we got our first glimpse of the Wall from the highway. Shortly thereafter we arrived at the entrance where the driver dropped us off (he headed to the east gate where he would pick us up several hours later).

From here Coco and we rode a big golf cart to the entrance building where Coco bought our tickets. You can see in the map what we hoped to hike.

The hike uphill to get to the wall was pretty steep and while there was a cable car, that seemed like cheating so we walked up the asphalt and gravel path and stairs until we reached the gate where we climbed up, into and on the wall.

The wall is just incredible. To see it disappearing into the distance in both directions and to think of what it took to build this 13,000 mile long building over 2,300 years ago is just amazing.

While our intention had been to walk both this restored section and make our way to the unrestored portion, the wall conquered us. The steps up and then down and then up and up and then down and down killed us. Thank goodness we had splurged at Target for the set of 19.99 hiking poles or otherwise I don’t think either of us would have made it. Some of the steps were almost as high as my knee-Crazy steep! Anyway, after about two hours of being on the wall we asked Coco (that’s her hands on her hips in the picture with Mike) how much further to we got to the Wild section. When she said we had five more towers (it’s the last tower you can see on the far right of the top picture in those just above and at this we had only been through two plus our entry point) we both decided that it was not going to be possible. 😢 While it was disappointing to not do what we had hoped, we were thrilled to have been able to do it at all. If you have any notion you want to walk on the Great Wall be sure and do it when you are able. We are so glad we did, and as you can see we didn’t have crowds to deal with. We saw the same 15-20 people all day including the family below who asked us to take their picture. It was so much more enjoyable than what our fellow cruisers described they did later in the week. Not only did they have the 3 hour bus ride there (and due to traffic a 4 hour one back), they only had a short visit to the wall and had to fight their way through big crowds. We truly enjoyed the experience and with the exception of the disappointment of having to leave the wall after only doing about a third of what we had hoped (compare the marked up map below to the one at the top of the post) it was a wonderful time and one we wouldn’t trade for anything.

After walking to the next exit point and climbing back down the hill followed by one of the several souvenir vendors (who we had seen at the entrance, at the towers and now on the way down – why won’t they take no for an answer), Coco finally had cell service and she was able to tell the driver to come back from the other end of this section for us.

We then went to a local restaurant and were the last lunch customers as as soon as they served us, all of them sat down and had lunch too.

Coco ordered for all three of us and just like Rocky before her we had too much food. But after our exercise, we ended up finishing almost all! We had a delicious slightly spicy beef stir fry, fried rice, an omelet with green onions, a tofu (it was thinly sliced and very dry-almost like a noodle) and snow pea dish, wok fryed greens (sorta a cross between spinach and kale) and sweet and sour pork. We questioned Coco about the last dish as we both thought this was a Chinese American dish but she swears it is authentic. It was very tasty and while sweet, not as much as here in the states. We were intrigued by the set up at each place (we had seen the same thing in Xi’an). Apparently the smaller restaurants use a service to wash, sterilize and package the dishes rather than having staff to do it.

After lunch, we made the drive back into the city. After our big lunch, we weren’t hungry for dinner but we did need some cash so after a little bit of a rest we explored the blocks around our place. Like everywhere else, there were lots of National Holiday decorations up. I was surprised that poinsettias seemed to be the flower of choice – not sure how they kept them from wilting. We ended up buying a few sodas and some interesting Chinese snacks which we enjoyed while watching some tv later that evening. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try the purple yam ice cream cone at McDonald’s 😢.

Needless to say, we weren’t up late and slept good after the great day on the Great Wall.

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Xi’an Day 2

This post is being written in cloudy Santa Fe, New Mexico on November 7 (more than a month after the fun below actually happened).

When we were emailing back and forth with Lily our contact at China Highlights about how to spend our time in Xi’an, she suggested we might enjoy a bike ride on the city’s wall. Hmmm, wonder if the bikes will be big enough? Will we end up falling and breaking an arm (or at this age now maybe we need to start worrying about a hip?!). Lily suggested we plan it and if upon arrival we just wanted to walk them that would be ok too.

Rocky picked us up bright and early at our hotel and we drove to the north gate (there is one in each compass direction). Xi’an is one of the few larger Chinese cities whose walls thankfully haven’t been demolished to make way for new buildings or roads. While Rocky bought our tickets to mount the wall, we looked around the base of the gate. This was our first (but not last) time seeing how hard the Chinese work to keep places clean. They use the old fashioned brooms everywhere. With tickets in hand we went through the tunnel and into the courtyard and up the stairs to mount the wall.

The wall is well preserved and one could circumnavigate the entire older part of the city on it, a distance of about 9 miles. It was originally built in the 1300s. It is about 40 feet tall and just as thick at its top and even thicker at the base. In addition to the four towers at the gates, there are towers every 400 feet or so along its length. The walls were relatively empty when we arrived shortly before 9 am but by the time we left an hour and a half later they were becoming more crowded with folks taking morning walks, sightseeing, a company morale boosting run celebrating National Day. the towers were decorated for the Holiday as were the battlements at the corners.

We ended up deciding that the bike ride would be a great way to see more of the wall and are so glad we did. Not only did it give us a great overview of the 1/4 of the wall we rode, it got us some exercise in before our afternoon train ride to Bejing. Turns out the bikes have easily adjustable seats so they were able to fit even me! The bike ride turned out to be a real highlight of our time in Xi’an.

After returning our bikes, we went to a city market where Rocky (we apparatuses don’t have any pictures of him 😢) pointed us in the direction of ten souvenir sellers and advised us on how to bargain. He said however that he wouldn’t join us for this portion as the vendors blamed him if we ended up not buying something. We think we did ok buying chopstick sets for “bread & butter” gifts for our friend Andy in Seattle and Jeff & Ken who we stayed with last week in Tucson. The market reminded me of a single alley in Istanbul’s huge bazaar. The vendors all try to get you to buy their stuff as it’s better than everyone else’s even though it’s pretty obvious it’s all coming from the same manufacturers. When we did t have enough small bills to pay for what we bought, our lady pretended to not have any change and wanted to give us the change in merchandise until we started to walk away….then suddenly her vendor neighbor “loaned” her enough to make change. 😂

Rocky met us at the end of the market and we then headed to the food portion. He explained to us what each of the foods was and we had some delicious fresh squeezed (crushed?) pomegranate juice.

Even though it was a little early, we had lunch in one of the local’s restaurants in the market. Rocky ordered on our behalf and we had “soup” dumplings. We had heard about these before our trip and were excited to have them in person. The “soup” is broth made from bones and then chilled into a gelatin which is chopped up and mixed with the dumpling’s stuffing. When the dumpling is cooked, the broth liquifies. Theybare eaten by tearing a small hole in the dumpling, draining the soup into a spoon and drinking it. Then you eat the dumpling after dipping it in the ponzu sauce served in a small bowl along with the basket of dumplings. Delicious!

Rocky also wanted us to try “Chinese” hamburgers. These were steamed buns with a chinese meat filling that reminded me of pastrami. Not a hamburger but certainly tasty. We finished with the local fried dessert made of yams and filled with nuts.

After lunch we were driven to the HUGE railroad station newly built just to handle bullet trains. Rocky left us after making sure we (and some other gringo tourist) made it correctly though the first security check. We had to go through another to get to the area of the stations for trains headed to Beijing (perhaps extra security for the holiday?) where we faced hundreds of people waiting for the gates to open to let us go downstairs to the platform. After a short wait, the crowd finally started moving and we made our way to the train where the platform seemed relatively empty compared to the chaos upstairs!

The train trip was uneventful. Speed was slightly greater than on the Japanese trains and we got some snacks though most weren’t very tasty and were left behind! Legroom may have been a little less than in Japan but the lack of a footrest meant it was just as comfortable. Even though they didn’t bow, the attendants were just as pleasant and even better dressed. Unfortunately, unlike the Japanese, the Chinese don’t think it impolite to chat on their phones or sing/hum along to whatever song they are listening to over their earphones! 😱

We arrived in Beijing just before sunset and after wandering around the station for waaay too long (apparently there was more than one Exit 3) we finally found our guide, “Coco” and after basically retracing our steps, we got to the van and were driven through the heavily decorated streets to our hotel for the next three nights.

Just before we left for Japan, Lily our contact at the Chinese travel agency emailed me to inform me that due to the holiday, our hotel near Tinammen Square was no longer available and she suggested another hotel. After checking TripAdvisor and finding poor reviews, we looked to see if we could find another hotel. We found a great rate for the Crown Plaza and asked her about booking it. She did but I order to get a king room we paid an additional $20 a night. Upon arrival, apparently they had given away “our” room so we were upgraded to a huge fancy corner room with an entry hall, separate toilet room, and big shower/tub room. So glad we “splurged” for the extra. I think even with the extra the room was under $80 a night!

After checking in, we had a snack from the mall next door and quickly went to bed. Tomorrow we attempt to conquer The Great Wall!

Xi’an

This post is being written in Sedona AZ on Halloween more than a month since we were actually in Xi’an. Wow, how time flies!

Rocky picked us up at 8 am (so we didn’t get much time to sleep in that extra long bed!) and our first stop was the Big Goose Pagoda. This would be the first of many Buddhist Temples we would visit in China. All temples have a “Happy” Buddha near the front-he is the smiling big bellied one. And always the guide would point out that Mike or I or we both were like happy Buddhas!

At one point, Rocky and I were walking along and suddenly realized Mike wasn’t with us. We turned around and found him surrounded by middle school kids. Turns out an English teacher brings his students to the temple and asks tourists to speak English with the students. It was such a hoot to see shy Mike center stage trying to come up with simple questions for each kid. Even funnier was watching the kids helping each other try to answer. This was the first of many interactions we had with Chinese folks wanting to practice their language skills. We were often stopped and greeted with “Hair-row, how are yu?” When we responded we were off to the races with a fun conversation!

We left the pagoda and drove an hour or so out of the central part of town to see what had brought us to Xi’an, the Terra Cotta Army. These clay statutes had been made and built as part of the tomb complex of China’s first emperor. They lay buried for over 1600 years until they were accidentally discovered by farmers digging a well. There are three pits which are now contained within three separate buildings where the army is found.

There are estimated to be over 8000 soldiers plus chariots and horses. All but a few were in pieces due to the collapse of the wood roof that protected them (initially) from the dirt under which they were buried. When the wood rotted, the dirt damaged them. There is a large group of anthropologists who have worked continuously since they were found piloting them back together. They number each piece and where it was found and use plastic bins to keep pieces together. Each warrior is unique so it’s a huge jigsaw puzzle. It’s estimated at their current rate they will finish putting back together those currently unearthed in another 100 years. Of course there are many that have yet to be uncovered.

In a separate building there is a museum display of the few figures that were intact. You’ll note that they (and the rest of the warriors) are missing their weapons. This is because the 2nd Emperor opened the tomb and had his soldiers steal them! This is also when some of the figures were damaged.

In the second picture above you can see that the figures were originally colored. The back if that warrior has the original color. Apparently, unless these colors are protected immediately after being exposed to air, the color fades.

It is impossible to adequately describe the magnitude of this place and its impact when you walk around. To think about the amount of work it took to create this army is mind blowing. Hopefully these pictures give you a little idea.

After having our picture taken with the army, it was time for a late lunch. Ricky took us to a local place and helped us order. OMG, it was so good-I had been told that we wouldn’t like real Chinese food. That Chinese American food was very different and that real Chinese wouldn’t be tasty. Not so! It was similar but so much fresher, better!

Rocky wanted us to order more than we did, thank goodness we didn’t! We had leftovers which he took home. We had pork buns, dumplings and sizzling beef stir fry and then a fried dough with a molasses sauce for dessert. The stir fry was served on a thin aluminum pan sitting on a very hot plate.

After our late lunch, we drove back to the city and were dropped off at our hotel where a nap may have been taken. After our naps we went and explored the neighborhood around the hotel. It was busy with shopping, food and folks just out enjoying the evening including the two twenty somethings in their crazy Little Bo Peep outfits. We were a few blocks from the center of Xi’an which is marked by the Bell Tower. This tower is lit every night but was surrounded by special decorations in anticipation of the National Holiday a couple of days away. Each town has a bell tower and a drum tower. The bell was run in the morning to get work started and the drum in the evening at the end of the day. That is Xi’an’s drum tower in the distance behind the Bell Tower.

While we weren’t hungry after our huge lunch it was fun to check out some of the street food. We did eventually go back to the room and munch on some chips we had left from an earlier visit to a store and a pomegranate. Pomegranates are grown in this part of china and we had seen them along the road. They put plastic bags over the immature fruit to keep bugs out while still on the tree. Then the bag also makes for an easy way to tote it home! It was tasty though a bit messy to deal with in the hotel room.

Tomorrow we are going to see Xi’ans City Walls and then head towards Beijing!

To China

This post is being written from Las Vegas about our trip from Japan to China on September 27th. Sorry I have fallen so far behind.

The picture above is Mike in Kyoto as we boarded our bullet train to the Osaka airport for our flight to Xi’an China. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After our long day to, from and in Hiroshima and knowing we would be going non-stop for the next 7 days we decided to take it easy on our last day in Kyoto. We had thought about seeing another sight or two but the remaining ones required a trip away from the city so we decided…”next time”.

After sleeping in, we had a tasty last lunch in our hotel’s buffet restaurant. We hadn’t planned on eating there but after peaking in and seeing it was all locals, we decided to try it. Very tasty salad makings and Japanese versions of European dishes but also some delicious tempura and other Japanese noodle dishes. It was interesting watching the locals use chop sticks and raise their plates to eat non Asian dishes.

We had originally intended to use the same luggage service to take our bags to the airport and for us to take the subway to train station. But we found out we had to send the luggage two days ahead and that the cost of a cab was cheap much less than the luggage service, we decided we would handle the bags ourselves. The hotel called us a cab and I’m glad we had that experience.

Like so much in Japan, it is still old school. The driver wears gloves (some wear suits and hats), the cab is immaculate and the seats are even covered with antimacassars!

We arrived at the station and quickly boarded the Hello Kitty Express to the airport. Everything on the train was themed even the bathroom mirror and the antimacassars!

We arrived at the HUGE (well we thought it was huge until we saw China’s airports) too early to check in so had to cool our heels for a bit in the checkin area which wasn’t much fun as apparently half of everyone leaving Osaka was doing the same thing.

But after we checked our bags, and after spending a bit of time in the lounge we found ourselves aboard our plane for our 4.5 hour flight to Xi’an. When we booked the flight on Hainan, we discovered for less than $100 more over what an economy ticket plus the exit row seat fee cost we could be in Business (which came with extra bag weight which we needed 😢) it was a no brainer to ride up front. The service and food but most importantly legroom were all great.

We arrived in Xi’an at 11:35 pm. We had used a Chinese tour agency, China Highlights to book our hotels, tours and transfers in China. We don’t normally use an agency but as Asia was completely new to us and frankly we were a bit afraid to plan our travels without help. Thank goodness we did, as it turned out to be the National Holiday in China. If not for the advice of the agent we worked with, we would likely have been trying to see the sights along with thousands and thousands of Chinese. She advised us to arrive earlier than originally planned which we did. All of that is to say that we were pleased to see the smiling face of our guide “Rocky” waiting at the door when we exited customs. He and our driver drove us through dark but heavily decorated streets to our hotel in the center of the city where we arrived about 1 am.

Our room was large but Asian standards but when we walked in I was sad to see what I thought was a very ornate footboard. I had told Lily (our travel agent) that I was very tall and that I’d appreciate it if we could be assigned a room without a footboard. Oh well, it was only two nights. But wait, that is a strange looking footboard. What is it?

Yes, apparently the hotel had taken Lily’s request to heart and using some ballroom chairs, and extra pillows and a folded comforter, they had extended the bed! Wow, this was a new one! Mike said, “can you imagine the conversation the housekeepers must of had while setting this up!”

So after a long day, we fell asleep in a very long bed in a brand new country!

Tomorrow, we are off to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Disembarkation

As much as we hated to leave, we are still smiling so it must have been a good time!

While Viking requires you to be out of your room by 8 am on disembarkation day, they do serve breakfast in both the buffet and the Restaurant. Since our trip to the airport wasn’t scheduled to leave until 9:40, we timed it to leave the room exactly 8 am and had a civilized proper breakfast-with lambchops and a pistachio raisin roll of course.

We then adjourned to The Living Room to wait for “Purple 4” to be called. While there we had the opportunity to say goodbye to the various cruisers we interacted with aboard. Some we exchanged contact info with, others a simple “safe travels”. Before finishing breakfast, the Assistant Cruise Director and singer Brensley Pope stopped by to say goodbye. So a sad time as all good times come to an end.

We are now sitting on the bus waiting for the boss to give the go ahead to head to the airport hotel where Viking has booked us a day room. And at 10:18 we are off!

And at 11:16 we are in our lovely room at the Regal Airport Hotel. It is directly connected to the airport but unfortunately no view of the runway or taxi way. Just a parking garage.

Given our air was “free”, I’m impressed that Viking is providing us this nice room to wait for our flight that leaves in about 12 hours. For those with afternoon flights, they’ve provided a hospitality room in the meeting part of the hotel. I’m gonna run down there is a bit to see how those folks are faring.

Then Mike and I have to decide whether we are going to try to sleep this afternoon and start resetting our clocks or just go enjoy the pool and relax until time to check in our luggage and head to the priority lounge for our flight.

#FirstWorldProblems!

Hiroshima

We took our second bullet train early in the morning for the roughly two hour trip to Hiroshima. We had arranged another “Goodwill” Guide and Tai met us as promised at the train station. That’s him below in a picture taken on the ferry to our first stop, Miyajima. This resort island is known for its Shinto Shrine that has a huge Torii partially submerged at high tide.

Unbeknownst to me (despite copious research) the gate is undergoing renovations so rather than seeing this:

here is what we got:

Mike’s bad juju continues-remember he didn’t get to see Big Ben’s Tower in London due to similar scaffolding. If we ever get him to Paris I’m afraid the Eiffel Tower may be under a cloak too!

The shrine itself is pretty interesting as it is mostly overwater (or at low tide, over sand😢)

We hiked up lots of stairs to get to the beautiful pagoda that dominates the hillside where we took our standard selfie and Tai all but laid on the ground to take a much nicer photo.

The island is also home to a herd (perhaps several) of small deer. They aren’t at all afraid of people and we were warned to keep our ferry tickets put away as they have been know to snatch and eat them. Luckily our train passes were good on this ferry so that wasn’t a concern for us!

After returning to the ferry and back to the mainland, we took the Hiroshima streetcar back into the city. We had ridden a train out from the City as it was covered by our rail pass but due to time, Tai said it would be faster overall to take the streetcar since it would make a stop directly at the Peace Park. I’m always up for trying new transportation and the streetcar was great. Tai taught Mike how to buy our ticket and off we went. I particularly liked the attendant in her white gloves who walked through the car after each stop to make change if needed.

We arrived at the Peace Park stop but before we visited it was time for lunch. Tai took us to a restaurant in a department store. This is fairly typical in Japan, the malls and department stores have floors devoted to restaurants. In the one we visited I counted five different ones on the floor he took us too. We had Okonomiyaki. This delicious cross between a pancake and an omelet was delicious! We had seen it during our YouTube research so we were glad Tai suggested it. The dish is made on a flattop by making a crepe, covering it with cabbage, sprouts, other fillings (one of ours included local oysters) an egg, special sauce (sorta a sweet and sour Worcestershire) and noodles. Through an intricate series of flipping you end up with crispy noodles on the outside and gooey deliciousness inside. While we ate at a table, if you sit at the flat top, you eat it directly off the griddle. Either way it was Yummy!

We really enjoyed our time with Tai. He is a recent retiree also and enjoys being a goodwill guide to improve his English (which is already amazing!) it was fun to watch him pull out his phone and look up translations and then ask us to explain certain phrases that don’t translate exactly. For example, at some point I said in relation to our first visit to China that we took the cruise to “dip our toe in the water”. This phrase obviously doesn’t make much sense when directly translated but once we explained, Tai grinned and reached for his notepad to write it down. I would love it if I spoke a foreign language enough to be able to be a Goodwill Guide in the US. 😢

After lunch we walked a block or so, to reach the Peace Park. This park is built around the former municipal building whose dome was the sighting point for the knowing when to drop the world’s first atomic bomb. The title picture for this post is what one sees when entering the park. The park is beautiful and and spreads across both sides of the river. It is in start contrast to the destroyed remnants of the building. I was particularly taken with the fallen stone and brick ruble scattered around the buildings.

In addition to a Museum which we didn’t have time to visit, there are memorials throughout the park.

The most moving is the Children’s Peace Memorial. It was inspired by Sadako Sasaki who was exposed but not injured during the original blast when she was two years old. Nine years master, she was diagnosed with leukemia. Believing the ancient practice of folding origami paper cranes would bring her health, she started folding and continued to do so until her death 8 months later. Today, in addition to the clacker of the bell that hangs in the center of the Children’s Memorial, there are thousands of cranes that people around the world have folded in the children’s memory and in the hope for peace surrounding the monument. The modern connection between paper cranes and peace is said to be the result of Sadako’s original cranes.

Our visit to the Peace Park was very impactful. It is awful to think of the horror that the bomb wrought. Of course the horror of war is also unimaginable. I hope that the goal of this park to achieve Peace in the world is someday permanently achieved. This is also probably a good time to share my thoughts regarding the way the Japanese treat us. Unfortunately I never felt close enough to any of the Japanese people I met to discuss it with them, but I found it surprising that there appeared to be no resentment towards Americans. Given the devastation the war wrought I expected that they would not be as accepting and friendly. Perhaps it is that ingrained Japanese politeness and desire to not disrupt. I mean a people who don’t blow their car horns or don’t ever push to get on or off a subway certainly wouldn’t want to treat anyone badly simply because we retaliated for a surprise attack by defeating them. Anyway, not trying to be political, just an observation.

After thanking Tai for his time, stories and knowledge, we headed back to Kyoto arriving about 12 hours after we left. Since we were still stuffed from lunch we ended up eating some leftovers we had in the room and hitting the sack. It had been a long but meaningful day.

Tomorrow we head to China!

Kyoto Day 2

This post is being written in the middle of the Strait of Taiwan on our sea day between Ishigaki Island Japan and Xiamen China about our second day in Kyoto last month.

We woke up early and after a quick breakfast from the bakery next door to our hotel, we took the subway to Nijo Castle/Ninomaru Palace. Prior to being relocated to Tokyo, the capital of Japan was Kyoto. Originally built as a fortress by a shogun, this castle later became the palace for some of the emperor’s relatives and hosted a long visit by the Emperor.

The entrance gate is heavily decorated (actually everything is that way!) and I found some of the details just beautiful. Even the back is the gate is impressive.

The palace building is a series of rooms each having a different purpose, the first ones administrative and the further interior the more private. All are also highly decorated. Additionally, the floors chirp when you walk on them. It is said this was done for security so that an intruder could be heard coming. However, my mama would have said the floors squeak and they ought to call the contractor back to fix them! Unfortunately, photos weren’t allowed inside but I’ve included some photos found on the innerwebs below.

The gardens of the Castle/Palace are lovely and I suspect more so during blooming season. They were designed to be viewed from inside the building and the waterfalls and plantings create pleasing vignettes for the royals pleasure.

There is a second building onsite but it was under scaffolding being restored but we did cross it’s most and climb up (and I mean climb) to the castle walls.

Throughout the grounds there are several tea houses most of which are not open to the public but instead are used for official entertainment or can be rented for events. These were originally used by the royals. One of them was open during our visit so we decided to have a rest and have macha tea for the first time. Macha is a powder made from green tea and rather than steeping it, you mix it using a bamboo whisk with hot water. When you hear about a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, it means you will be drinking macha. The tea house was lovely but rather than being traditional and sitting on tatami mats on the floor, we elected to have our tea on a bench (much easier to get up off of) on the porch (much cooler than inside). It was an enjoyable experience with a beautiful view into the garden but we won’t need to have macha again! Thankfully we also had some cold green tea which we knew we liked since that’s what we drink at home. With our tea we got a sweet-typically Japanese it was the consistency of bread dough with a sweet bean paste inside. I later learned we should have eaten with the macha as the sweet would have made the bitter of the tea more enjoyable..or so the guide said. The first video is of us making the tea and a lesson from Mike on its health benefits while the second one is worth watching just to see the look on Mike’s face as he tastes the sweet!

After tea and a stroll through the beautiful garden we headed towards the exit of the Castle/Palace with one last stop at the Imperial Kitchen. This huge building (surrounded by many small storehouses) is now used for exhibits. There was a photography exhibit of everyday Kyoto life on display which was interesting but I found the huge beams and beautiful architectural details and doors even more fascinating. But best of all were the beautiful long handles shoe horns waiting at the entrance/exit to assist in putting your shoes back on!

It was lunchtime by the time we left so we decided to walk towards our hotel (thankfully the taller buildings provided shade to the sidewalk) and find some food. We of course were looking for something traditionally Japanese-soba noodles perhaps but when we saw Mos Burgers we knew we had to try Japanese fast food! It was great fun-the cashier didn’t speak English but between her smile and my google translate we did just fine. The menu had burgers, shrimp burgers, fried shrimp on a bun, tofu burger and all sorts of others. We elected to have the Mos Burger which was a pork and beef mixture and the shrimp on a bun. Both were tasty, the fries and onion rings were just ok. After eating our sandwiches we were still a bit hungry so we split a hotdog. It was really good-more a German sausage than an American hot dog.

After lunch we continued our stroll (Death March) back to our hotel passing some interesting architecture and what we presume was a negligee store along the way.

We also passed a bakery with beautiful cakes so we order us up a slice of thebfig version to take back to the hotel. We were more impressed with the packaging than the cake unfortunately. Not only did they pack it in a beautiful box and bag, there was a cardboard spacer in the box along with a teeny ice pack and an even teenyer fork! All this for $4 bucks. No wonder the cake was just alright tasting! 😂 Back in the room, I made myself a cup of coffee using the coffee system that we found at both hotels in Japan. The coffee comes in what looks like a small packet that you typically use in 4 cup maker but the packet has cardboard “arms” which you just to hang it over the coffee cup. You then just add hot water and it brews to a quite tasty cup o’joe.

After a rest (read nap for someone), we headed back towards Gion. On the way we stopped to have soba. These noodles are thicker than ramen and made of buckwheat. Here rather than pork in the broth like in Tokyo, the tradition is to have tempura with them. Mike had a hot dish, while I selected cold noodles which are served with a cold mashed yam paste. We both liked them.

After supper we headed to Gion Corner. This theatre is the official headquarters of the Geisha Association and they have two shows a night which include a traditional tea ceremony, flower arranging and music (all happening simultaneously), a traditional orchestra performance directed by a conductor in an elaborate costume and mask, a traditional comedy play, a puppet show (with big puppets operated by two or three people) and a traditional geisha dance-in this case performed by a first year and second year maiko. You can tell the second year as her upper lip is also painted. You can tell they are not yet geishas, as their obe (belt is long in the back rather than tied into an elaborate knot. The show was a little hokey but I’m glad we went as otherwise we wouldn’t have seen a real geisha at all.

After dinner we had a nice stroll back to the hotel through Gion (where maybe we saw some modern Geishas??) and along the river which was quite lively. We also popped into the two story supermarket beside our hotel. The upper floor was a specialty market with lots of foreign foods-who knew you could get Brer Rabbit Molasses outside the south? Of course at $8 a bottle I wouldn’t be buying it very often!

Tomorrow we head to Hiroshima.