03/31-04/01/2024 9.93 miles

Nine point five three miles.  That’s how far Kathy and Dave walked today on their tour of Tokyo.  Normally, that is not that much for them.  But on the concrete and asphalt of a city more than 4 times the population of New York City, well, let’s just say that last night was a Vitamin I night (aka, Ibuprofen).

Today in Japan, Kathy and Dave will celebrate Happy Dingus Day! In NY it is Easter, so no matter what side of the world you are in we are celebrating with you! As we write this post, it is again somewhere around 4 am.  One would think we would have adapted to the time at this point. Dave is of the opinion if Kathy would stay up past 7 pm she would not be up at the awful hour of 4 am!

Today, though, was a fully packed day, full of ups and downs.  Starting bright and early, we waited in line to get to eat breakfast and Kathy’s much wanted (needed?) cups of coffee.  The line was long and slow.  But!  Then, the hotel staff came by with a sign stating that there was another temporary breakfast location on the fourth floor, and since we were right next to the elevator, we jumped at the chance.  While waiting for the elevators to open, a side elevator opened and Kathy jumped inside, while the rest of us, seeing a bunch of Japanese writing plus the word “PARKING” on the elevator, said, “No, no, no.” to Kathy, assuming that elevator only went to the parking garage. However, Kathy was vindicated when the staff said that the elevator also went to the fourth floor!  Now, we were first in line for breakfast, and Kathy was Dave’s hero.  While, at first, we were “down”, having to wait in line for breakfast and wishing we had arrived earlier, we then were “up” in the elevator and got to the front of the pack!

The morning while we waited for our guided tour was spent trying to verify we had our Mount Fuji tour for the next day.  We found the tour office, but they had never heard of us! We were “down”.  Dave was convinced somehow the company we booked with for the 5 days here in Tokyo lost us for one day. Oh well, we need to meet our guide for the day so figuring out what happened will be left for later in the day.

Meeting our guide, Miyakago, our companion for the day, started out without a glitch. Having our own private guide was nice as she was willing to answer all of our questions as they popped into our thoughts throughout the day and we were able to adapt and change our tour if something piqued our interest. Our first stop was the first of many train platforms that saw us through the day as we traveled to the various historical sites. First stop was the Meiji Shrine where we respectfully paid homage to the spirits and former Emperor Meiji by bowing at the Torii gate before entering the shrine. Along the path into the main shrine we saw empty barrels of Sake and wine that are given to the shrine to honor the spirits of the deceased Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. The Shinto shrine is surrounded by a lush forest and is a sea of tranquility in an otherwise bustling city.  Upon entering the shrine we felt honored to see a wedding being held in the temple. The bride, dressed in a traditional white kimono, was simply breathtaking. The visitors to the shrine put a coin in the fountain, bow twice, clap their hands twice, make a wish, and then bow one more time. It is said that if you do all this, your wish will be granted. Dave and Kathy had no coins, but we did bow and clap and we are pretty sure since we short changed the fountain our wishes will also be short changed.

Next stop was the Imperial Palace where we learned the history of the palace and saw the 400 year old stone walls and moat that guard the palace. Dave asked Miyakago if we could have tea with the Emporer.  She said she would try to arrange it.  She then proceeded to tell us that the palace grounds are only open to the public for one day, no, it was two days a year:  once on the Emperor’s birthday and once on January 2nd.  Forgotten by our guide was the fact that it is also open for two weeks:  on week in spring and one week in autumn.  Today was the last day of the spring week! Of course, Dave figured it was really open today only so that Dave could have tea with the Emperor as promised.  A portion of the grounds called the Imperial Gardens is also open to the public year round.  Since we had a private tour we opted to delay lunch and stroll through the gardens. Next on the agenda was a tea ceremony where we learned how to grind “matcha” leaves (or green tea leaves) and the history of the ceremony.  Climbing into a small chamber, designed that way to create equality for all who enter the chamber (every person needs to kneel to clamber through the small opening and it is too small for the samurais to bring their swords) we watched as our host completed the intricate ceremony. The ceremony started with us eating a sweet bean dessert (yes it sound awful, but it was actually kind of good. Not chocolate good, but still tasty.) Next came the ceremony of the preparing and drinking of the tea.  It was a zen-like experience and we are glad we did it, but matcha tea is still not something that will be on our diet. It has very healthy qualities, but Dave still thinks it tastes like lawn grass.

Soon we were off again, but this time to find a meal that was safe for Kathy to eat. Settling on a vegan/vegetarian restaurant, we had a nice vegetable salad that had one option for some chicken so all three of us had a few slices of chicken with a variety of fresh vegetables. The food court was in the heart of the subway system and was like a small underground city teeming with people enjoying the day. We enjoyed our lunch and conversation with our guide as we discussed what was next on our agenda.

Opting to change up the tour, we headed to the oldest Buddhist temple, located in the Asakusa District, called Senso-Ji where we navigated a few blocks of narrow shopping stalls.  Kathy found some replacement sunglasses and a kimono for Jill!! SCORE!!! At least someone scored today as at about the same time, we got updated and saw that the Buffalo Sabres were shut out at the latest home game.  While Kathy was happy to have finally got new sunglasses for the pair she lost, she was sad that it is looking grim for her favorite team to enter the playoffs.

At the Senso-Ji temple, as at the Shinto shrine, you put a coin in, bow, and make a wish and supposedly it will be granted by the Buddha.  By this time had some coins, so we are hopeful to having our wishes granted.

Dodging people back through the narrow shops we ascended up to an observation tower that overlooked the narrow streets teaming with people that looked more like ants. In the distance was the temple overlooking the shops. Trying to get to the top deck in the elevator was another example of ups and downs.  We entered the elevator on the first floor.  Unfortunately, it was headed down to the basement.  Then we went back up to the first floor where more people entered the small elevator.  Then we ascended to the second floor, where we fund no one waiting.  Finally, we went up and up until we arrived at the top of the tower for our destination.

Last thing on the agenda were four train rides to get back to our hotel.  We said our goodbyes to our kind and gracious guide and went to our room.  Much to our delight, when we arrived at our room, we had a note from our next-day tour company which said they had found our reservations!! That was a huge “up” for us!  Dinner, much different than our norm when we travel, was at McDonald’s where Kathy felt confident that she could eat dinner without having an Epi Pen on standby!! Plus it was close by, we were tired, and we could bring it back to our room J !

Sunday 03/31/24 (In Japan) Spring is in the Air!

Well, morning started bright and early, like 0300 early. So probably not bright, but very early……….yes, we have jet lag and cannot seem to wrap our mind around the 13 hour time difference. While it is 05:00 as we write this is it 4 pm yesterday at home. The boys are settling in for their afternoon nap at home while we are waking up to being our day. Yesterday was very eventful. We started the morning off with a hearty breakfast while we chatted up a couple from Ohio, a physician and lawyer, who, like us, are avid travelers. We had a great time chatting but it was soon time for them to leave on their tour and for us to begin our day.

As soon as we were out the door we headed out to explore the local area. We wandered around the subway station and its labyrinth of underground tunnels was like a world in itself. Being Saturday here in Tokyo did not slow down the many people heading to destinations despite the early hour. We, at some point, decided we had better head back to the room in order to meet an old friend of Dave’s, Kyoko, who he met twelve years ago and has kept in contact with her all these years later.  The life-sized iguana seated on the bench was a good marker point to know we were headed back in the right direction. Thankfully we managed to make it back by following the crumbs of clues that told us we were headed back to the hotel. Kyoko came up to our room where Kathy had an opportunity to get to know her and we planned for the day. She had some great ideas and we headed off to “Shinjuku National Garden”, a park famous for its cherry trees. Today, being near the start of the blossom season and the Garden being hugely popular in Tokyo, we were required to have a ticket to enter the park and access was limited. Thinking ahead, she had made reservations for us and we managed to slip through the throngs of people milling about wishing that they had a friend like Kyoko! The weather was perfect as we wandered around and around. The park had spans of trees without any blossoms, since the season started late this year, and then sudden bursts of flowering large trees and bushes appeared. In its own way, it made it more special when we found the bright arrays of various shades of white, pink, and red on the blooming trees. The colors set in front of the vivid blue sky was amazing. Sitting down on our “picnic towels”, we had lunch in the shade. Kyoko had brought us all lunch from a local bakery/deli and Kathy was delighted to see one of her favorite sandwiches, a BLT. While not the same as the US version, it was excellent and tasted marvelous! Dave had a smorgasbord of small sandwiches in different flavors.  It was great people-watching, talking, and relaxing as we ate our sandwiches. Full from our lunch, we again started walking to discover more cherry trees of various types some in bloom, some trying to bloom in the warm spring day, and some trees hesitant to bud out, waiting to make sure it was really spring. As we were heading out we got lucky enough to see a bright green parakeet, which was way larger than normal proportion, a Godzilla parakeet clipping the flowers off a blooming cherry tree. Scattered on the ground were all the petals from his exertion to suck the nectar and then toss away the remains.

Heading out, we listened to the grumblings of our stomachs and went to our dinner spot, a place Kyoko had made reservations at for dinner. It was around a dark corner, in a back alley of the street, in a room that was as big as our living room at home. Crammed into the small area was a bar where people sat around with their food and two small tables. (A back room held a few more tables) Cognizant that Kathy had to be careful with what she could eat without dying of anaphylaxis, we perused the menu. The dining is family-style and small trays/bowls/plates are presented to share. Kathy stuck with a beef stew and some rice, while Dave was more adventurous and tried chicken, seaweed rice, fried mozzarella on a stick, and some other items not quite identifiable.  He’s pretty sure Kyoko tried to squeeze some squid into his diet. It was a truly authentic and fun experience and one of the best meals we have ever enjoyed. We were with a good friend experiencing a meal that was both delicious and fun.  It truly amazed all three of us that a chance meeting of Kyoko and Dave 12 years ago, where they spent only 4 or 5 hours together, led to such an amazing day as if we were all life-long friends.

Heading back to the hotel meant wandering around following our phone as Google maps directed us to turn right, turn left, and oh! you have left the route. Wandering again through the underground tunnels we said our goodbyes to Kyoto as she headed back to take her train back home.  Shortly thereafter, we exited the tunnels and found our hotel at the top of the stairs. Phew, we made it back. Time to catch up on some much needed sleep!

 

March 29, 2024 – Hello Boys, I’m Back

“Hello Boys, I’m Back” is just not a classic line from an old horror flick, it is also the line Kathy thought as Dave deplaned to enter Japan. She nervously glanced around to see if anyone recognized him from his two previous encounters; including one that saw him detained for a round of questioning. Upon exiting immigration, then customs, and then being outside, she breathed a sigh of relief. Phew!  We have landed and we are now safe to find a bathroom. Safe could be a relative term as the bathroom looked similar to a torture chamber waiting to accost an unsuspecting tourist who is audacious enough to park themselves on a toilet seat. Kathy, bypassing the squat toilets, settled upon a more standard toilet. Upon seating, suddenly sounds of running water and nature sounds start playing. Apparently it is used to keep any cubicle patrons from being embarrassed about the sounds emanating from the stall.  For Kathy, it just helped the natural process of emptying her bladder. Luckily, the flush button was prominently displayed and in English. Bypassing all other buttons, she skedaddled out of the bathroom feeling that she accomplished a feat, surviving her first Japanese restroom.  Now time to find our driver, get to the hotel, and if possible, see if we can recover from the long flight.

The drive, while long, was a great time to talk with the driver, find out some interesting facts about Japan, and have a great view of the setting sun. While Japan is considered the country of the rising sun, the setting sun was spectacular. Recovery seemed a long time away as we found that our hotel had us only booked for two nights, not five. A bit of a wait, some verification, and they moved us to another room. Hopefully for five nights, not two! The long journey, 23 hours, I am sure will be worth it in the end, but dang it was a long flight.   Settled now, we begin our adventures!!

The first adventure being the shower!  There is a bath tub in the bathroom.  But you don’t shower IN it.  You shower NEXT to it and let the water flow on the floor to the drain.  The toilet also has about 8 buttons.  A learning experience, for sure.

(the lack of photo quality is thanks to Kathy’s expert skill :))

Norway

Norway info

Glacier-formed Norway, western Europe’s biggest producer of oil, shares a border with Russia, Sweden and Finland.  It prides itself on it Scandanavian heritage.

It has a long history of sea voyage and exploration.

The glaciers carved our long, breathtaking fjords which offer excellent hiking opportunities.  It is also one of the few countries that host polar bears, albeit only on the far-north islands of Svalbard.  It also has moose and reindeer.