I don’t know what I was expecting

But it wasn’t this….

Wilf has several day trips planned for us, and yesterday we were to go see a famous library. Okay – that sounds good. I like libraries. We’ve gone to look at libraries before. First up – an hour of riding trains to get to a town near the city of Saitama. The town is called Tokorozawa. As we were pounding our way north and west from Tokyo the train lines went through some agricultural areas, quite a lot of small industrial areas, small towns, small cities – quite a variety. Sometimes the train stations were big multilevel affairs with shopping centres and lots of activities, sometimes they were not. Tokorozawa was from the ‘sometimes not’ side of the ledger. But, our friend Mr Google knows how to get us places, so when we wound up in front of a small station on a small street he began to direct us.

I will say that for some reason Mr Google has taken to showing us the scenic route when we are walking. We have seen many a neighbourhood in quite a bit of detail, only to discover that there was another route on more traveled streets that might have been simpler…..

So we are walking through neighbourhoods, admiring the mostly two story houses. Nice houses with nice gardens – quite a few persimmon trees. We go a little further and the neighbourhood shifts a bit to small businesses.

And then this heaves into view:

This is where we’re going? According to the map it is…..

Before we get there we see a first for us – a contemporary Shinto shrine

Complete with tori gates and a purification fountain out front.

But lets get back to the main attraction across the plaza

This is the Kadokawa Culture Museum, designed by architect Kengo Kuma.The giant polyhedral is clad with 20,000 blocks of granite and ‘floats’ in a wading pool.

I’m a little confused at this point as I was expecting a public library and this seems a bit …. much.

In we go. Into a cavernous space. We look around a bit and Wilf engages an employee to ask where the granite came from. With some toing and froing and a translation app the answer is ‘China’. Wilf has read that the books are on the 5th floor, so we take the elevator up. And when the doors open we are greeted with this:

And a ticket gate. I look at Wilf and say ‘I don’t know what this is but we have to go back and get a ticket.’

A quick session with my phone tells me that this is not, in fact, a public library. It is a museum/gallery/event space sponsored by a publishing company called Kodokawa. Their area of publishing is the world of manga, anime, and light novels(which are basically young adult novels), with tv and movie divisions.

Back to the fifth floor we go, tickets in hand. First we are directed to the exhibition space. No pictures allowed, and lots of young ladies with signs telling us so and watching over us. I did not, of course, take pictures in the exhibit. But I did take a picture of the poster for the show to share with you:

The artist Mitsuaki Iwago is a wildlife photographer and this exhibit is pictures of cats taken all over the world. The poster cat, chilling on Copacabana Beach in Rio di Janeiro, is the coolest cat of the bunch, but there were many more from all over the world.

Having seen the cat pictures, back to the books. There is a desk at the front with a librarian at it, so the sign said. And then the books. Piled up every which way. Well, not entirely every which way. There is a type of classification. For example:

Each section is crammed with books, shelves full to bursting. Japanese books, English books, old books, new books. There are chairs and tables to sit at, and trolleys to put the books for re-filing.

And there are things to look at all around

Two giant paper mache shirts because why not.

And then, we pass through a huge gauze curtain to this space:

Here is a video to give you a sense of the space:

Behind the mask my mouth is hanging open.

I had to sit down for a bit after that.

In the big room the lower stacks are of modern books – a lot of them collections of books published by Kadokawa. In the upper reaches the books looked older and the info brochure said that they were private libraries from the founder of the publishing company and other famous Japanese writers and scholars.

A giant steampunk fish is coming out of the wall and people are walking around, reading books, looking at things. There was another exhibit tucked behind the stacks that was a sort of cabinet of curiosities that a Victorian collector might have assembled. No pictures there, either. But collections of butterflies and bird skeletons and everything you can imagine.

On the second floor there was another smaller library of manga and light novels. I forgot to take a picture there – it was a bright open space with comfy low furniture and and probably everything Kadokawa had ever published. It was full of young people reading the books. If you are a fan and a local – what a treasure trove.

So – I was pretty dazzled by what I’d seen. It is not a lending library, though you are free to sit and read. There is no catalogue, so it is really a matter of serendipity what kind of books you come across. But walking down what felt like streets of books, interspersed with art and video and places to sit was an interesting thing to do.

And top it all off there was an brewpub on the other side of the plaza that made excellent beer and handmade udon noodles, so we were able to fortify ourselves for the journey back to Tokyo.

Street Food. Sort of….

Pop up flower shop on the corner.

I talked yesterday about our trip to a local market. That was the first stop on a tour about Saigon street food. The components, as it were. The next stop was a street food street. Basically a stretch of sidewalk, it is managed by a local charity and is an attempt to get people started in small businesses- the first step away from unlicensed mobile carts. The spaces are made available to small business people, and they have the use of the space for one meal service. When we got there the breakfast vendors were just packing up and the lunch people were about to arrive. Our guide works for a telecom company around the corner during the week and this is their go to lunch spot. Not much to see when we were there, but when things are in full swing it’s a very busy place.

And then the tourists started to arrive and they want to try the street food experience. The government thought about it a bit and decided to create the street food market (not street) for the tourists. While the street is licensed and inspected, the market is managed to a slightly higher standard. Can’t be poisoning the tourists, after all. Not quite as authentic but still yummy.

Chicken thighs wrapped in vermicelli noodles. With chicken thigh in the side.

Yum yum! Wilf found a craft beer and declared it good. Besides Vietnamese food there was Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Mexican- you name it.

Tourists – out of the heat and into the food!

After a snack we headed off to a very swanky restaurant for lunch. The lack of passengers on our ship has made for a bit of tap dancing on the part of the tour operators. Usually when we arrive at the pier there is a phalanx of buses waiting for us. In Hoi An both tours I did had sixteen people. In Ho Chi Minh City there was one coach bus per tour – maybe 30 people? Usually the guides are on their phones, making sure we don’t all wind up at the same place at the same time, coordinating arrivals for lunch. With so few people we keep showing up early for things. At our lunch stop we got a very thorough tour of the restaurant – I think they skipped the refrigerators – to get the kitchen caught up to our arrival.

This was really good but hooh! A lot of food.

In Ho Chi Minh City there are three ports. The old colonial port was built by the French. The river is deep enough there, but narrow, so only shorter cruise ships can go there – they need to be able to turn around. About 45 minutes away in the container port where the small and medium ships can berth. The big guys are another 30 minutes away in the area where the car carriers unload. After our huge lunch the guide finally gave up, stopped talking and let us snooze on our way back to the container port.

So good I did it twice

Our first port in Vietnam was Da Nang. I’ve sort of lost track of what the original plan was – it didn’t include a stop in Da Nang – but it did include a visit to the town of Hoi An. The plan was to visit the town and go to a cooking school.

The two days at sea to get to Vietnam were rather bumpy, so Wilf decided he didn’t need a bus ride and stayed on board while I joined the excursion.

Once upon a time Hoi An was a major port for Southeast Asia. Chinese and Japanese traders set up residence and this was one of the towns where East met West to do business. Eventually, however, the port silted up, business shifted to Da Namg and Hoi An became a riverside backwater. This fact saved it from being bombed during the Vietnam war and now it is a major tourist destination.

Amongst all the tourist tat there are some beautiful old building – old merchant houses, meeting houses and temples. The historic part of the town is closed to cars in the middle of the day. Nothing to be done about the motorbikes, though.

Our first stop was the central market, which is the food supply for the town. At first it was all fruit and veg.

Soon enough we came to the meat and fish area. There was a bit of horrified muttering in our group ‘no refrigeration! What about the heat?’ I would say – do you smell anything? Nope. All of this stuff was alive a few hours ago and it will all be sold within hours.

This tour was happening on Tuesday, and on Wednesday Wilf and I came back to Hoi An. We went to the market about 2.5 hours later tha my previous visit. And the fish was all sold and the meat vendors were also packing up. Everything all ship shape and proper. After some of the fish and meat markets we’ve been in in other parts of the world (I’m looking at you, Durban.) this was a wonder of cleanliness.

Normally the town is full of tourists. We happened to be there on a rare rainy day, which thinned things out considerably. It did make for a session of swimming up stream like salmon in the teeming rain.

Time for some food!

The cooking school was on the third floor of a building – Chinese restaurant on the second floor, street food market on the first. They were all ready for us in a very slick teaching set up.

We made spring rolls, barbecue chicken thighs, crispy pancakes and green mango salad. It was all delicious!

Shrimp and pork spring roll
Ingredients for chicken marinade
Green mango salad

Everything was so delicious that on the following day we came back. The ship moved from Da Nang to Chan May. We took an excursion from the ship that took us to Hoi An and left us to our own devices for the afternoon, then took us back to the ship. Being us, you know what we did!

Yep – lunch and local beer. The ground floor of this restaurant has a central seating area and little stalls arranged all around the edges where all different types of food were being made.

Dumpling production

We ordered by saying yes to the dumplings, checking out the lady at the next table and her interesting banana leaf packages and generally ‘bring all the food’.

Those are crispy pancakes, Madame.

By the way – yesterday I was rocking the ‘doused by a bucket of water’ look courtesy of the rain. Today I was working that shiny look only high heat and high humidity could bring…..

Once fed we explored the town a bit. There are several very old temples and merchant houses to visit. Being next to the river flooding is an issue. This merchant house is right beside the river. There are markers inside to show how high the water has been. There is an attic area and all the furniture can be hauled up if there is enough warning. The enormous teak pillars that support the house stand on marble pads. In the picture below you can see almost at the top the marker for the 1964 flood, which was devastating…

This area is also famous for its marble production,and families have been in the business for generations. No bus trip is complete without a stop. I’ll leave you with a selection of items that they would have been happy to ship to us…

East meets west, Goddess style

Tap tap. Is this thing still on?

Greetings, beloveds. Last I left you we were in Windy Wellington, NZ. And then – whoosh – a year has passed. Our next adventure begins soon, but I wanted to check and see if I still remember how to do this.

I’ll be back soon, but until then here is a picture of the sort of thing we are planning to escape.

Making sure we have an escape route

That was last month, and it didn’t last long. But still! Not supposed to happen here!

Back to Japan

Wilf and I just can’t seem to get Japan out of our system, so off we go again. We’re starting in Osaka this time. I’ll be back with the details of our adventures- until then here’s a little bling from a shop across from our hotel:

U-huh – that’s a convertible Benz completely covered (seats, too) with rhinestones. As one does.

The first time we came to Japan in 2009 Hallowe’en was a low key affair. It gets bigger each time we visit.

They call it fishing, not catching

Wilf and I headed to the north end of Vancouver Island recently to see if the pink salmon were schooling at the mouth of the Cluxewe River. After the miraculous summer of 2014 and the no show of 2015 our hopes were high. Wilf has been following reports from his fishing buddies throughout the north island, and the reports were…… inconsistent. Some fish around, but they were not biting.

Wilf sets out to see who’s out there.

 One of the nice things about being at Cluxewe is running into friends. Don and Peggy, Margaret and Denise were on hand.

 Margaret did catch fish – one of which we ate!

 Our last night there was perfect – sunny, no wind. Margaret took a break with us while Miss Emma kept a close eye on Don.

There’s at least one fish out there and Don wants it.

 James wandered by

 Eventually Don came in to join the log sitters.

I wandered up the beach

 And found Wilf and Denise returning from the mouth of the river.

There were a few fish out there, and a few were hooked but they weren’t being landed. Once again- lots of fishing, not much catching.

Chacun a son Gout

Once upon a long time ago Wilf and I were in a pub in London. We were looking at the bar snacks, and on offer were packets of potato chips – crisps – in the flavour ‘roast beef’. I decided that was too weird to eat and passed. And I’ve always kind of regretted that – after all – a bag of chips? Don’t like ’em, don’t eat ’em. Since then we’ve been to Japan twice and Turkey and India and have sort of adopted ‘Sure, I’ll try that’ as a motto to live by.

And then I was in our local Fairways market. And there, in the ‘ethnic’ section was a display of potato chips from Scotland:

Steak flavoured crisps! I’m in. And, after tasting them I’d have to say – apparently texture contributes a lot to the taste of something. Do they taste like steak or beef? No. What do they taste like? I don’t know. But you know what they aren’t? Salty!!! Half the salt of a similar sized package of North American chips.

Of course, if I’m going to continue on my path of ‘brave eating’ I guess I’ll have to go back and get the package that was beside the aberdeen angus steak flavour.

What do you suppose ‘Haggis and cracked black pepper’ is going to taste like?

Christmas 2014

When we were writing this letter last year it looked like 2014 was going to be a quieter year than 2013, which seemed like a good idea after all the activities of that year. Then….. 2014 happened!
After 14 years in this house we finally bit the bullet and took on the big project – hardwood floors. In January we packed up the contents of the house, moved out and let the contractors at it. Six weeks later we moved back in to beautiful new floors throughout. Many thanks to Joan & Doug for letting us bunk in with them for the duration. Over the summer we had the outside of the house repainted, finishing off the sprucing up that began last year. And next year – kitchen counters?
Once again 2014 was a year of travel. Sharon’s Mom celebrated a big birthday with all the family in Las Vegas over Easter – shows, excursions & helicopters made for an action packed trip. In August both Sharon and Wilf had big trips. Sharon joined girlfriends Nan & Lisa in Birmingham, England to attend the “Festival of Quilts” – a week of shopping and looking at quilts at the Big Show! Later in the month Wilf’s fly-fishing club had an excursion to the north end of Vancouver Island to fish for salmon on the beach at the mouth of the Cluxewe River. According to the locals, it was the best salmon run in 20 years. It was a wonderful experience we shared together.
In September we returned to Istanbul – Wilf celebrated his 60thbirthday there and this year he celebrated his 75th in that great city. We enjoyed the city once again, then boarded a cruise of the Black Sea. After 12 days of interesting ports, including Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia we arrived in Athens, Greece then moved on to a week in a villa on the island of Crete. It was a truly memorable trip full of great sights, great food and time with good friends, Nan and Greg.
Christmas will be spent with Sharon’s parents and brother Bill in Victoria. We will cross Australia off the bucket list this winter and a family trip is planned for fall 2015. Truly, we are blessed to be able to travel the world and come back home to our wonderful spot by the sea. We appreciate so much our family and friends and look forward to another year of adventures.
Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year.
Love,  Sharon and Wilf


More adventures in bathing.

And so the great adventure, Autumn 2914 version, begins. We are in Istanbul – we were last here in 1999. It was pretty straightforward to travel from Victoria – Victoria to Toronto direct (~4 hours) followed by Toronto to Istanbul direct (~9 hrs). Long flight, but not complicated. 

Because we arrived at 9:30 am I figured that we’d be too early to check in to our hotel – and we’d be tired. So maybe a visit to a Hamam would be in order. One thing and another, we found a Hamam that met our requirements and made a reservation. 
Most hamami are segregated – there are either seperate facilities, different times of the day or different days of the week. Which is fine, but the first places we found would have had me going in the morning while Wilf did??? And then Wilf off in the afternoon leaving me unattended. But we found a place – for tourists- that is co-ed. 
After a visit to the Hagia Sofia (in the 15 years since our last visit they’ve moved the scaffolding from one side to the another) we found ourselves at the Hamam, tired, disheveled and hours early for our appointment. No matter – they swept us in and got us settled. 
As is traditional men get a large towel wrap to wear in the bath. To preserve modesty women are given a pair of shorts and a bikini top in addition to the wrap. A pair of wooden clogs completes the ensemble and off we went. 
The main room is a large domed area with a huge marble platform in the centre – 8 people can lay out easily. The platform is heated – as is the floor – and we layed down to relax in the heat. Around the outside of the room are big marble sinks and small basins. We could go and pour water over ourselves – mostly to cool off. After awhile we were called into a smaller room where there were two marble massage tables and two muscular guys. First up we sat down by the big sinks for a rinse and then a scrub. Sort of like being worked over with a potscrubber. 
Once we were scrubbed there was the small problem of hauling my weary slippery self up off the floor, but big guy helped me get the job done. I’d forgotten about the Ottoman sitting on the floor thing…
Next up was the soap bubbles – the masseur had what looked like a big pillowcase in a pail of soapy water – the case would be full of air and bubbles – it was a strange sensation as the hot bubbles poured over me – by the time he was done I was covered from my neck to my feet in a layer of bubbles about 4″ thick. 
After the bubble bath and a rinse – a massage. That worked out the kinks! In a more traditional set up there would have been a very thorough scrubbing to take off a couple of layers of skin followed by a massage that takes you apart and then puts you back together. None of this was quite as rigorous but it was just the ticket. 
After it all we changed out of our wet things and into a dry towel. The attendants then used more towels and lots of flapping and wrapping to get us all bundled up – we sort if looked like gift wrapped packages by the time we got to the lounge area to enjoy fresh and delicious orange juice. 
My bathing beauty!