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Kathy & Dave

Kathy & Dave consider western New York to be our home. We love to hike and travel, exploring the world around us. Dave retired from the National Park Service after 30 years and had the opportunity to live in National Parks like Redwood, Shendandoah,Death Valley, Biscayne, American Memorial Park (in Saipan/Guam), and others. His last park before retiring was the Blue Ridge Parkway where he was actively involved with establishing the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Kathy has extensive experience in the medical field, from pushing papers to working with patients.

After working for the same hospital (Dave as the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator and Kathy in the Revenue Cycle Division as the Director of PFS), they sold their home and began a 10-month trip around the world, visiting 20 countries.  Then, COVID hit. 😒  After 78 days and only 3 countries, they had to return to the US.  But where in the US, since they had sold their home??

First, it was back to the wide open spaces of the Adirondack Mountains.  There is no place better to ride out a global pandemic than Saranac Lake! Then, they finally bought a log cabin on 2.3 acres in western NY.  It is good to be back near family again!  Kathy went back to work working part time for her old hospital in North Carolina (remotely) and Dave is doing a smattering of per diem jobs, from being an EMT for the County Health Department to teaching CPR at the community college.  Dave also started a new career as a Travel Agent!  Check out Daves Travel Agency if you are interested in booking a trip.

Two-fer!

04/10-11/2024 Two-fer

Today’s post is all about the last two days: yesterday and today!  Yesterday can be summed up pretty simply, last bullet train, last hotel for the trip, and last few days in Japan. We found our last train going from Kyoto to Hiroshima without too much problem, but we did have to ask a couple of times for direction.  Seated, we chilled and enjoyed the quick trip to the coast of Japan. Arriving in Hiroshima, we took a taxi to the hotel and dropped our luggage off.  Then we were off to explore the surrounding areas. We discovered a park and walked the beautiful paths and tried to discover what the various statues were.  The pedestals were there, but the bronze statues were missing.  Google Translate did not help, as we just got “bronze statue”, but no names attached. Heading back to our last hotel we breathed a sigh of relief: the bed was not on the floor! Nor was anything low as we are on the 22nd floor with an amazing view of the islands and the Pacific Ocean.  Deciding that a day of rest would be a welcome relief, we ate at the hotel.  We did head out to after dinner to find a pharmacy to get Dave some medicine for his unrelenting cold. Just down the block was a HUGE grocery store and we wandered to the pharmacy where we had some issues with a failure to communicate.  Dave showed the pharmacist a Google-translation for “Do you have decongestants?” Instead of something for the nose, he got eye drops.  Do people in Japan have problems with their eyes becoming congested?? Going back, we tried again and we think he now has the right medication!  Settling in, we tried to sleep, but that proved as difficult as getting the right medication.  Tomorrow, though, is another day!

Look! It’s tomorrow already and we are awake!  We also had our breakfast, and it was more recognizable. Kathy had awesome French toast with maple syrup and whip cream – yep she is happy!  Dave is, too, as he found some granola cereal and juice. The only issue was the hordes of people.  Many of them were part of a tour group from India, and they had little sense of space. Meeting our guide, Chiyo, for the next two days we started our last tours of the trip. The private tour saw us head towards the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.  We visited the grounds and the museum that honored the victims of the first atomic bomb used in human history and reminds us of the importance of peace. The visit was solemn and sad and the pictures and stories told a horrendous story about death, survival, and hope for peace.  We were glad we went and the museum was reminiscent of the 9/11 Museum in NYC with its somber story told so that we may never forget.  It was very interesting to see the A-bomb from the Japanese perspective.  We then took a bus and a trolley to visit a traditional Japanese garden.  We soaked in the tranquility of the location in juxtaposition to the epicenter of the bomb blast.

Having the afternoon free, we found lunch which was quite interesting and good. While our sandwiches were pretty typical, dessert was chocolate bread with whipped cream and bananas for Kathy and chocolate bread with whipped cream and strawberries for Dave.  It was an interesting dessert and Kathy is all about trying to duplicate the dessert when she gets home. Rest, relaxation, another walk will round out our day. Tomorrow we visit Miyajima, our last iconic stop on an unforgettable trip!

ADDENDUM:  We just had dinner here in Hiroshima and it’s worth writing home about, or at least adding to our post for the day.  We can’t tell you the name of the restaurant or the style of meal we had, but it was a hoot.  We ordered a 70-item buffet.  They leave a little tablet with you and you scroll through and check the items you want brought to the table.  Once you are ready, you submit your order.  A few minutes later, out it comes, ready for you to cook it over the gas grill in the middle of your table.  Yes, that’s right, you cook your meal at your table.  They do have a little bucket of ice.  This is for outting out the fire if it gets too bad.  We ordered things like kimchi, sweet potato w/ honey and butter, big toro Kalbi, pork skirt ShioTare, basil chicken, chicken with pepper & Garlic, and beef toro Kalbi with Shio Tare.  Oh, yeah, and for a vegetable…an onion.  It was all very delicious!  Our compliments to the chefs.  A perfect way to end the day.

Shopping Trips

04/09/2024 Shopping Trips

We had a free morning, at least time wise, but we are determined to find our home souvenir. During our travels abroad, we have bought a cuckoo clock from Germany, brass and glass lanterns from Venice, Italy, an African mask from Zimbabwe,  place mats from South Africa and Peru, hand painted tiles with our name for our house from Spain, spoon holders from Turkey, and a hand tied Egyptian rug from, you guessed, it Egypt. Today we headed off to a stone quarry store where they make stone lanterns for gardens, Buddha statues, and gravestone markers, to find a lantern for our garden. After a 2 mile walk, we finally arrived at our destination.  We perused the selection and opted for the less expensive and portable option that will be a nice addition to our butterfly garden.  (We decided against the $560 lantern which required shipping, more than doubling the cost!)  We are sure our children will have the time of their life cleaning out our home, wondering what the heck were we thinking, after we pass. The store owners made sure it was safely wrapped with lots of padding and fashioned handles for us to use to carry it on our travels. The lantern will not be transported in the luggage hold, but hand carried from Kyoto, Japan to Lockport, NY.  Feeling accomplished, we raced back to the hotel to drop if off before walking another 1.5 miles to Kyoto Station to begin our afternoon tour to Nara. Bonus, we got our exercise heart points today!

The tour with Sunshine tours started out chaotic and confusing. When we checked in, we were given stickers indicating we were to be in “Bus #2”. We followed our guide who said “Bus #2 this way.”  We got on the bus.  Then, they said we were on the wrong bus and so we got kicked off the bus.  The staff took a few minutes to figure out what to do before they told us to get on another another bus.  The guide there called off names, but not ours, so she kicked off that bus, too.  The staff could not figure out how to rectify the fact that our names were on one sheet, but not the sheet that the guide had for that bus and her bus was full.  They finally got us on a third bus which apparently was the charm. Finally on our way, we settled in for the 45 minute drive to Nara. Nara is home to both a Shinto Shrine and a Buddhist Temple and famous for its “friendly” deer. The deer mill about, waiting for a cookie from the tourists who delight in feeding them.  It was kind of like a large, unfenced petting zoo. Kathy opted to buy some cookies to feed the deer. Completing the obligatory bow to the deer (who bow back like good Japanese), she fed a deer. She then turned to feed a different smaller deer when the big brute bit her on the thigh.  Chicken that she was, she just tossed the rest of the cookies to the deer from a distance and vowed to NEVER FEED THE WILDLIFE! Learning her lesson, she instead focused on viewing the beautiful shrine lined with its ancient stone lanterns.  What made the area different from the others we had visited were the 1000 stone lanterns covered by moss, as well as the ancient cypress trees.  Since the time that the shrine and temple were built in the 8th Century, no trees have been cut in the area and hunting the deer has been illegal.  We then began our journey back to Kyoto on the bus.

For dinner, Kathy and Dave tried a new restaurant called the Royal Host.  Stepping inside and getting seated, we had the sensation of being at a Denny’s restaurant in America.  Even the menu was Denny’s-like and we ordered the “meat and green” meal, which was some roast beef on top of a thin layer of mashed potatoes and a salad.  It was good comfort food.  The piece de resistance was the strawberry “sundae”, which had the teenager in the booth next to ours very jealous.  Finally sated, we went back to the room to get ready for our last train ride of the trip.  We were heading to Hiroshima the next day.

Nippon or Land of the Rising Sun

Happy Total Solar Eclipse Day back in Lockport, NY from us here in the land of the rising sun. How appropriate that we are missing a once in a lifetime viewing of the solar eclipse to be in Nippon, which is the name the locals use instead of Japan. Nippon means land of the rising sun. So, as the sun rises in Lockport, we are settling in the room to watch the sun set.  (It was Marco Polo who gave this country the name of “Japan.”)

We ended up having a great day! Our guide, Koji, picked us up bright and early. Prior to leaving, we started out by having a history lesson on Japan or Nippon. This included looking at a map and Kathy tried very hard to pay attention. At least she knows we are on an island! Koji is a former teacher and we made sure to pay attention in case we had a quiz at the end of the tour. Today we are heading to Himeji Castle, the only original castle of the 12 built which is still standing in Japan.  As such, it is included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The castle, recommended to us by Kyoko (our local friend), was well worth the bullet train ride to get to the castle. The castle is a beautiful white color and sits upon a hilltop and was surrounded by flowering cherry blossom trees. The castle is nicknamed the “White Heron Castle” for its beautiful color and graceful lines. Koji, through the entire journey, took the time to educate us about how they built the castle and its many uses through the centuries. At one point it even housed troops to train them to prepare for WWI.  The castle has two parts, the princess’s quarters and the main castle. You can enter both, and for both you go up a lot of narrow wooden stairs in stocking feet.  The views, though, for both are well worth the slippery climb up and down.  Oh, and watch out for the low ceilings that if you don’t duck under, you will hit your head. (Yes, Kathy was again unaware and hit her head.) We briefly stopped off for “lunch” and we say that in quotation marks, because out came 5 little pieces of meat on a stick, like really little pieces, that were fatty, boring, and totally did not hit the mark. Oh well, so far we have had great luck especially as we had a 90% chance of rain and there was not a cloud in the sky! After “lunch” we headed to the gardens surrounding the castle and again got to enjoy the artistry of Japanese landscaping.  Hoofing it back to the train station we continued with our history lessons. Koji, spelled our names in Chinese, and in two forms of Japanese.  He wrote both our first and last name so that we can have a wooden placard made for our house. He discussed the various local foods, including our shuba-shuba, which we had already tried, and the differences in houses and various sports and theatrical styles. Luckily, no test was given to us. Finally back at the room we chilled, and then tried to order a pizza for delivery using the front desk staff.  Fail!  After all the work of explaining the order, finding the restaurant’s phone number, calling the order in… the restaurant said they weren’t delivering today!  We finally resorted to again walking to find dinner in the rain which had just started. Still, all and all, it was a good day. As we listen to the rain hit our windows we feel lucky, all is well on the island.

 

Philosopher’s Path

04/07/2024 Philosopher’s Path

Today again started out early, but the good news is we went to bed sometime before 8 pm, so the early am did not seem as early.  Good thing, too, as today’s tour is a ½ day walking tour along a stone path called the Philosopher’s Path.  We were greeted by our hostess, Noriko, and as usual she was on time. We headed off by taking a couple of subways to get to the start of the path.  The path is lined by hundreds of cherry trees and, boy! have we lucked out on this trip.  Normally the cherry trees have already bloomed by this date, but they seemed to want to wait for us to arrive.  They are in absolute peak here in Kyoto!  The Philosopher’s Path runs between Ginkaku-ji Temple in the north and Eikan-do Temple in the south and we, of course, started at the first temple and ended at the last. Along the way we were treated to the visual site of thousands of cherry trees in full bloom.  Along the path we met a man making boats out of flowers and weeds and he encouraged Kathy to gently drop hers into the canal below. If it lands upright, it is supposed to be good luck. Good news is, it landed upright and we continued to have a great day with great weather. Kathy and Dave stopped and tried a cherry blossom ice cream that had hints of cherry, but it was very subtle in its flavor. We did a little shopping, a t-shirt for Dave and our grandson Hunter, and were soon off. Walking along we found ourselves at the end of the tour with two hours to spare. Noriko said, “You two are fast walkers.  Do you want to see something else?”  Deciding to head back, we were relieved to be back at the hotel by lunch time which allowed us some time to be with just each other. Finding lunch, though, was an adventure and we ended up in a restaurant sitting on the floor with our shoes left at the door and having the daring food of a hot dog for Kathy and an egg sandwich for Dave. Living dangerously in Japan! Strolling back, we visited again another temple, this one to a branch of Buddhism not related to Zen Buddhism. Kind of like two Baptist congregations, each similar, but each just a tad bit different.

Heading back we settled in for some quiet time and just relaxed on the floor.  Oh, we mean the bed on the floor. We miss chairs! Dinner was again another walk to find a restaurant. Finally finding something, we had a choice: McDonalds or Curry, and we decided upon…….curry it was. It was great, delicious and inexpensive.   That pretty much summed up our day.

Walking…

04/06/2024 Walking

Planes, trains, automobiles, buses, boats…..oh, and lots of lots of walking, have been included in this trip. I think we have hit almost every conceivable transport mechanism.  Yesterday was all about walking, despite managing to hit modes of transport including walking, buses, taxi, and train – all in one tour. Yep, it was a long day packed with lots of exciting adventures. We started off the day with the unique Japanese breakfast where we peruse the selection and wonder who would eat this for breakfast. An example is steamed tofu? Really, breakfast? Oh well, Kathy had cold pancakes and Dave found some cereal.

Next on the list was meeting our guide Chia who was a lovely lady from the area. She teaches English to local students, yet we at times had a hard time understanding her. We headed off to our first destination, Kiyomizu-dera Temple which is a holy place that people go to pray. Many women pray there for safe childbirth. KIYOMIZU-DERA TEMPLE (kiyomizudera.or.jp) The temple is accessed through some long winding streets that are lined with stores selling every kitschy thing you could want. The temple is perched high upon a hill and overlooks the city of Kyoto. On the walk down, we stopped at a shop where we sampled a variety of sweets. It was fun and interesting, but we did not buy any to bring home….they just did not compare to milk duds!

Next on our stop was the Sanjusangendo Temple, which has 1001 statues of Kannon, the Buddhist saint of mercy and is located in the longest wooden structure in Japan. The statues of the saints are wooden and painted a gold color. Each one is different and distinct. The Kannon Buddhist is guarded by four guardians who guard in each direction. Lotus Temple, Sanjusangendo The website shows the magnificence of Buddha and their guardians, and our words just do not do it justice.

Next on our Kyoto tour was the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which has thousands of bright red torii gates which mark a path that goes high up the mountain. We opted to not climb to the top and instead contented ourselves with milling about looking at the smaller shrines and learning about their history. (Our guide was greatly relieved that we did not walk to the top!)

Next was the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji, which was on Dave’s bucket list. Kinkaku-ji | 臨済宗相国寺派 (shokoku-ji.jp) The pavilion is covered in real gold leaf and was the home of one of the great Shoguns of Japan.  The Golden Pavilion was surrounded by a pond, and we even got to see a beautiful Grey heron guarding it.

Our last stop was Kitano-Tenmangu, a shrine to education.  School children come here to buy a lucky pencil in the hopes of getting good grades.  Damaged by a fire in 1444, many of the remaining timbers were used to build 7 tea houses in an area that has now become a Geisha District.  We did not see any Geishas, or even any Maikos, which are Geisha apprentices.  You serve and learn for 5 years as a Maiko before graduating to become a Geisha.

Finally we were headed home, part by taxi and part by bus. The bus was crammed full of people and Kathy was ready to bolt, but managed to hold out to the end of the line. Phew! back in our hotel, we made a decision on what to have for dinner. Getting a list of local restaurants from the hotel front desk –  with one of their “great” maps – we headed off to find dinner.  Finding dinner proved as elusive as finding an empty seat on the bus today. All the restaurants on the map were closed. A kind local lady even stopped her bike to help us find something, but the map even confused her. Thanking her, she headed off to her electric bath, we are still not sure what she was going to do, but apparently it is quite well known.  Off we headed on our journey to find dinner.  Finally we located an open restaurant and found ourselves at a small bar/restaurant where we seated ourselves at the bar. The wait staff who did not speak much English, worked hard at trying to explain the menu. Racing away, she brought someone who spoke some English. Explaining food limitations, we selected our meal. The meal called, Shuba-Shuba, was a highlight of the trip. Kathy opted for pork and Dave for chicken. The meal is cooked by the guests! They brought out a heating plate with a bowl of water (broth?) separated in two, one side for Dave and one side for Kathy. Next we each got a platter that contained paper thin strips of meat and lots of vegetables, most of which we were not able to recognize. We then put the ingredients in the broth and cooked our meat/vegetables along with a variety of seasonings to choose from.  The meal was then followed with Miso soup and steamed rice, (Kathy was not a fan of the soup, but again ate all the rice) and then a wicker steam basket full of vegetables.  Dave also ordered a drink – an organic plum and berry drink that was actually pretty tasty.  Last on the list was dessert, which was some weird cube things that shook like jello, but were not clear, and a small bowl with two cherry size tastes of ice cream and fruit (one grape cut in half and a morsel of kiwi).  It was a truly fun, and yet scary, adventure as neither of us had ever experienced doing something like this.  It was a truly authentic meal, no 7-11 or McDonalds here, but a small, out-of-the-way restaurant that served the locals with local foods.  When Dave got the bill (there were no prices on the set menu), it was a definite reminder that we were not a 7-11!

Lastly, bedtime at the early hour of 7:30 pm in the hopes that the cold Dave is trying to fend off with go away with a long sleep.

Traveling to Kyoto

4/5/24 – Traveling to Kyoto

We are getting to be old hats when it comes to traveling the trains in Japan!  Well, a few glitches can happen, but we made it to Kyoto on time and in one piece.  We walked from our hotel in Nagano to the train station with our backpacks on our backs.  We found a shortcut that made the walk only about two minutes.  Once inside the station, we smugly put our tickets in the turn-style to get into the shinkasen section, and – oof! – the doors closed on us.  No admittance!  We asked a couple of young Japanese businessmen for assistance.  They used their smartphones but still could not figure out where we should go, so they pointed us to a ticket window to ask the professionals.  After showing the pros out tickets, we were directed down into a different area.  Apparently, our first train ride was not on a shinkasen, but on a “Limited Express Train”.  We made it to the correct platform and waited for our train.  As we waited, the two young businessmen walked by and we waived hello and said “arigato” for trying to help us earlier and to show them they we eventually found our way.

Upon arriving at the Nagoya station for our next train, we had only about 20 minutes to get on our next train to Kyoto.  After once again having the doors slammed “No Admittance!” on us, Dave figured out that we had to place both of our tickets into the turn-style at the same time.  Yea!  We are on our way to Kyoto.

On the ride there, Kathy and Dave discussed the Japanese language.  One thing we have learned from our various tour guides along the way is that the Japanese language is complex.  The Japanese writing system combines Chinese characters, known as kanji, with two unique syllabaries derived by the Japanese from the more complex Chinese characters: hiragana and katakana. Each of these 3 alphabets has many characters.  Some are letters like our English alphabets and have about 50 characters each, but the third set of characters are words and there are over 10,000 of them!  How big must their typewriters be??  And how do young school children learn how to hand-write all of those individual characters?? We see people texting all of the time, how do they do THAT? As for texting, they use a lot of “type-ahead” texting, meaning they start texting something simple and suggested words start showing up for them to choose from.  Also, they may have a 10-character keyboard on their screen, but if they press and hold each button, 4 more letters appear: one above, below, and to each side.  I still don’t know how they typed prior to smart phones!  An interesting side note is that, being an ancient language, they have words that many young people are not familiar with.  Even older people can’t understand some very old writings.  They also used to write in a sort of cursive style.  As in the US, cursive writing is going out of favor and so many people cannot read it anymore. As for their numeral system, they use mostly Arabic numerals like we do in the US, but also traditional Chinese numerals.

Arriving in Kyoto, we walked the one mile to our hotel.  Being considerably warmer than it was in the mountainous Nagano made carrying our luggage a full mile a bit of a drag.  Maybe we’ll call a taxi when we head back to the train station after 5 nights here?  We also had decided that our first day in Kyoto would be a good time to do laundry, since it was halfway through our trip and we had no tours for the day.  Dave had checked and the hotel did have laundry machines.  Unfortunately, there are only three machines and many, many guests.  Some of whom are long term stays.  We decided to ask the front desk if there was a laundromat nearby.  There was!  We found our way there pretty easily and there was one machine available.  Interestingly, each machine washes the clothes, but then also dries them!  Well, mostly…  We ended up putting our cotton socks in a separate dryer for about 10 minutes.  That cost an extra 100 yen, or about $0.66.  Most of our traveling clothes are wicking and quick drying.  We do that so that the times when we have to wash them in our sink, they dry fairly easily.  Cotton socks are the exception.  While we waited for our clothes to finish, we tried to find a 7-11 to get some dinner.  Along the way, we found another, closer convenient store which had the corn dogs Kathy was craving.  Their dogs weren’t as delicious as 7-11’s, but dinner was cheap, quick, and easy.  Back to the laundromat we went.  Kathy, being the old pro she was at Japanese laundry, was kind enough to show two different couples how the machines worked, including two older people who were originally from Japan, but have lived in California for the past 50 years.  I’m guessing they did not have these fancy machines back then!

We are now ready for our first tour of Kyoto which will begin at 9 am tomorrow morning.  We hope to sleep well in our tiny, closet-sized room at the hotel.  Being a traditional Japanese hotel, there is only a mattress on the floor, a tiny sofa, and a bathroom slightly smaller than some phone booths we have seen.  Kathy doesn’t think our fat cat, Navin, could fit inside the bathtub! J