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Showing posts from June, 2008

Reflections on running water - flying

On this trip I felt like there were five stages to each of the flights. The first is when you take-off. With the powerful thrust pushing you back into your seat there is excitement. You watch as the ground disappears beneath you, trying to locate features before you disappear into the clouds. Then there is the turbulence, shaking you around in your seat. You hope desperately that it won't be like this the entire journey, focus on watching for the next entry into the high cloud that we begin the bumping again or the exit into blue sky that means some relief. After a couple of hours or so you get a bit inured to the turbulence. You still don't like it each time the aircraft quakes, but it ceases to consume your every thought. You look outside and all you can see is featureless high cloud. The sun is either very bright or is on the other side of the world and all you have is darkness for company. You get bored and wish that the flight was much shorter. With three hours l

Reflections on the running water - Japan

It's now a week since we returned from Japan and there has been time to reflect on the journey. Negatives first. I feel that the holiday was too short, too rushed. We seemed to spend a good portion of each day travelling on trains. For me, that is not unusual as my daily commute to and from work is at least three hours by rail. But B didn't enjoy the non-Shinkansen portions and it was difficult to relax with her unease. More difficult was, I think, that there were only a couple of locations where we stayed more than one night. From all our travels we have learned that it staying a few nights in the same place can make a large difference to your enjoyment. There's less packing and unpacking, dragging luggage around. You get a feeling for the rhythms of the place, can revisit a restaurant or shop that you especially like. There is less pressure to make instant decisions knowing that you cannot revisit them. Following on from this were the hotels we stayed in. I think that

Slipping along the Silk Road

B's mother returned today from her two week tour of China's part of the Silk Road. She had a fantastic time and it is apparent from her photos that they visited some spectacular sights along the way. Places like Jiayuguan, Dunhuang, Tian Chi (Heaven Lake), the Yellow River, Hua Shan and Turpan. While the only place in common with B's mother's last trip to China and our own was Xian I felt pretty familiar with her tour destinations thanks to the large amount of research I did in preparation prior to our trip. Months of attempting to digest everything I could about China. I had hoped to visit some of the same places she did, but unfortunately we just couldn't make it work out in the time available. I am still fascinated by the Silk Road, not just in China but also in the adjacent ex-Soviet 'stans. Unfortunately, they are probably not the kind of places that you could easily take a young child, but later on, who knows? I think that this is one case where I would

The sound of running water

We made it home from Osaka. There is a special feeling that comes when your arrive at your house after a holiday. It is utter relaxation. No longer do you need to worry about other language or customs. There is no need to look up directions, to plan out your day, to journey between sights. Then again, you now need to clean up your own mess, to make your own bed. Rather than eat out you need to cook your own dinner. The shower is weak and the toilet doesn't wash your bum. And you need to wake up early tomorrow morning in order to spend a day at work. You are back to your old routine. Looking back upon this holiday in Japan I've decided that the theme of running water has applied to each of the days. Sunday - Arrival in Osaka - washing ourselves Japanese style Monday - Matsuyama - water from the hot springs at Dogo Onsen Tuesday - Takamatsu - waterfall at Ritsuen-koen Wednesday - Tsumago - streams of water throughout the town Thursday - Takayama - the sounds of rushing water e

Shopping in Osaka

Just watching BBC World News as live scorpions are being deep fried in a Beijing market. Now it's pork in steamed egg in a Chinese take-away. Brings back memories, but I know which country I prefer right now as a tourist. Yes, it's Japan. And I don't want to leave. [How do you eat duck heads? You open up the mouth and suck out the brains.] Still on the subject of news, we woke up this morning to see a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Iwate province flashed all over the Japanese news. Down here in Osaka we didn't feel a thing, but the pictures of roads demolished by landslides are quite astounding. Unfortunately they are currently listing 6 people dead and about 100 injured. Scary. The earthquake replaced the other big news which has dominated the television news since we arrived: the Akihabara knife-wielding murderer. Fortunately, there was nothing so dramatic to report about our adventures today. All we did was shop. And shop. And Eat. And shop. From the shops along the

Tale of the Orange Sarubobo

Each morning the Takayama locals hold a couple morning markets alongside the river. While there are many tourist goods for sale, there are also farmers selling fresh vegetables and pickles from small stalls. It was from a shop alongside the Miyagawa market that I bought by little orange sarubobo doll. The sarubobo was designed to be attached to a mobile phone. He had a little bell atop his head. I chose orange as it supposed to bring luck in travel. From the markets we set off east and along the Higashiyama (East Mountain) walking course. The walk is away from the busy tourist oriented shops and up past numerous shrines and temples. It is calm and beautiful, with the white, brown and greens of the temples and their gardens. The signposted walk also takes you into the quiet suburban streets of Takayama, past tiny rice paddy fields, market gardens and the houses of people who are obviously none too poor. You could tell by the fresh wooden construction of old style homes. The pa

Beefing it up in Takayama

First Matsuyama. Then Takamatsu. Now Takayama. Pine mountain. Tall pine. Tall mountain. Not all beauty in Japan is on a miniature scale. The train ride between Nagoya and Takayama is incredibly scenic, running along deep river gorges of boulders and jagged rocks on the way up into the mountains. There was an English/Japanese brochure detailing the region’s many sights in the train's seat back pocket and the sights were also announced over the PA system. Initially we followed the Kiso River, the same as we visited yesterday. The Kiso was joined by the Hida River and it was this that we followed into central Japan. At times the river rages through narrow gorges, but the Japanese have tamed most of their rivers to provide hydroelectric power, so other sections were placid blue-green lakes bound by dams. Great pipelines ran down sides of mountains, through the generator turbines and back into the river. Steel red and pale blue bridges criss-crossed the valleys to allow traffic and

You go, me go, Tsumago

Poor B, she doesn't have the same levels of energy anymore and with pregnancy we've had to slow down and make certain we have meal breaks at the appropriate times. It doesn't mean we can't still have fun. Today we caught the Shinano Express to Nakatsugawa, a journey of less than an hour. The intention was to catch the bus to Magome and then decide whether to walk or bus it to Tsumago. Magome and Tsumago are historically preserved checkpoint towns in the Kiso Valley along an alternate route between Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo). The train runs up into the Central Japan Alps, along river valleys carved between the mountains. It is spectacular scenery, reminscent at times of the European Alpine regions. However, instead of meadows, available flat areas are devoted to rice paddies and vegetable farming. Upon reaching Nakatsugawa B decided that she couldn't face a half-hour bus ride to Magome and certainly was not able to travel between there and Tsumago. The alternativ

Pine trees, tea and fruits

As I begin writing this we are speeding across Japan at hundreds of kilometres per hour not knowing where we will stay tonight. Our Series 700 'Hikari' Shinkansen will deliver us to Nagoya, but we have not booked any accommodation. Outside the window the sun is a mere patch of glowing yellow in a hazy grey sky. The land alternates between rice paddies and the grey tiled roofs and concrete of suburbia. But if you look carefully there are always tiny patches of beauty that stand out amongst the samness o the landscape. A temple, somebody's ornately manicured garden, a narrow path between a bunch of old wooden houses. It takes a little while to see the real beauty of Japan. A cursory glance will only lead to disappointment. I happen to glance at the walls of this Shinkansen and notice, for the first time, that the plastic walls appear to be made of handcrafted washi paper. The day began a little late, but sleeping in felt so good. We had to wait at Matsuyama Station for