Saturday, April 21, 2018

Hiroshima Mon Amour

Our arrival in Hiroshima was pretty straightforward. The instructions from our host were good and the tram from the train station dropped us immediately in front of the apartment. Our host and hostess met us on the street.

Cute little apartment with the only potential drawback that same proximity to the tram, just a minor one of the noise from it. We didn't use the tram much but the tracks did provide a convenient trail to follow home.

Hiroshina is mostly on islands in a river delta. That helped as well to determine where we were. We were essentially one island away from the Peace Park which is pretty much the center of the city. The stark reality of the Atomic Bomb Dome is right there to provide an unmistakable landmark. The island itself is also home to the Peace museum. I visited but it was so crowded with tourists plus hot and humid I could not stay long. Nonetheless it was a quite moving experience and I did learn things about the city and the bombing of it on Aug 6, 1945.

We really liked Hiroshima and our little apartment. It was a place I could imagine living. Unlike Tokyo which was so big and busy, Hiroshima was a manageable size.

We visited a few small shrines and gardens and took a fairly long but local train ride (using our JR pass) and boat to visit Miyajima. It was filling up with tourists as the day progressed but it was still possible to enjoy some quiet places. We even got in a bit of a hike. The cable car type tram took us up in 2 stages to an elevation of 400m or so and we then had to follow a trail, descend some and then climb back up to about 530m to the top of Mt Misen.

The view was a pretty spectacular 360 degree one. We even saw air force jets overhead and a submarine coming into the harbour far below.

Deer cover the island and are so not afraid of people that they are probably a nuisance to the locals and the tourists are a nuisance to the deer. They are even featured on the labels of the local craft brewer.

Food was great here and came with a lot of character. On the recommendation of our host, we went to Okinimura the first night to have Okonomyaki, somewhat of a local specialty. It was great and the ladies running the place seemed to like us.

Another evening we tried to find a tempura place that was supposed to be right next door to us Instead we stumbled into another tiny place and had a fun time with the woman running it and 6 local women at the next table who were having a fun and loud girl's night out, I guess.

We did have to leave Hiroshima and move on to Kyoto though. Here are a few more pictures first.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Tokyo to Hiroshima

We are now on the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo on our way to Hiroshima. It's a 3 train ride if we count the Chuo line from Shinjuku to the Tokyo main station. It will take about 6 hours, 5 of that on the inter-city high speed trains. This is all covered by our JR pass again. Unreserved seating on this car and our tickets but we were at the head of the line for the 120 seat car, of which every seat is now full.

Shortly we will pass the area of Mt Fuji, though I doubt we will see it as it is a bit overcast today. We had thought about a day trip there from Tokyo but decided against it.

Instead we spent another day wandering the streets and parks of Tokyo. Some of the names of the areas and shrines escape me now and I am not going to dig for the little guide book that has some of them mentioned. Our trips yesterday crossed the city a couple of times, partially because we really didn't plan it, but with the free trains rides and the frequency and speed of them it was no big deal. We also walk lots and don't mind it, so if a trip involves a transfer to another line or a 20 minute or so walk, we often skip the train and the potential of getting on the wrong one, or going the wrong way, and hoof it instead. We probably see more that way. And argue more too, especially about which is the right direction.

Meals have been usually a bowl of noodles or rice with toppings in the morning, a snack or 2 through the day, and a funky little grill joint for dinner. We've really enjoyed the food. Probably not getting enough green veggies but we try to get some. A couple of places have served some really nice cold cucumber dishes with miso based dips. Otherwise it's grilled chicken bits (liver, heart, skin and other parts included), batter fried yam, crispy fish with mayo, and other tapas-like bites. We top it off with soba noodles or grilled rice. And of course wash it down with beer, or a non alcoholic beer-like drink served with ice, called Hoppy.

These little restaurants are cramped but super fun and easy to handle. Eventually we will want our own food but we could get by on these for a while. The staff sometimes speak English, sometimes not, but are always friendly and accomodating...well, there was that one guy...

It's going to be nice to get to a slightly slower paced city though. Our next stop is an AirBnb in Hiroshima and the host Sakura says he will meet us at the tram station, which is a short distance from where the train spits us out.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

After 2 Days In Tokyo

I'm writing this with a BlueTooth Apple keyboard and an Android phone with a mini mouse attached. It's pretty portable but it can be a bit awkward for uploading photos and stuff, so that mostly has to wait.

So, Tokyo is pretty crazy! It's busy, bright, loud, and brash. We are in the middle of the Shinjuku entertainment district, which is well situated but a bit of a zoo. There are cinemas, arcades, karaoke bars, virtual reality games, girly bars, pachinko parlors and no end of other entertainment options in the area just outside our door and for many blocks around. There is no lack of eating and drinking options for us. Shopping is also close by.

The Shinjuku station is one of the larger hubs so we can get around from here quite readily too. Yesterday we went from here to Akibahara, known for the electronics and other gadgetry available there. We also travelled over to the other side of our district to check out the view from the 45th floor observatory at the Tokyo regional government office buildings. It's free to do and well worth it, seeing the contrast from one side where the buildings are huge and modern, to the far side where they very quickly seem to be down to 1 or 2 stories.

Later we found a great little hole in the wall grill bar. We spent a couple of delightful hours here eating shrimp, tofu, liver, noodles and put back a few beer. Our Japanese neighbours on either side were fun to joke around with despite the language barrier.

The next day we headed out to the Tsukiji fish market. This is the site of the famous tuna auction but were not so keen on getting up at 4am to get there early enough to see it in action. It's very much a working venue but absolutely thronged with locals and tourists, especially today being a Saturday.

After this we walked to the grounds of the Imperial Palace just to see how the other half lives. Rather than taking a subway we just strolled, taking about 45 minutes to get there. A crab cake from the market and a latte in a can from a vending machine was enough to tide me over.

More shopping ensued when we got back to our neighbourhood and then we headed out to Memory Lane. This area is a small block with 2 or 3 narrow alleys jammed with small restaurants that seat from 10 to 20 people each, in about the space you would think you could sit 5 or so. Smoke wafts through the area from the charcoal grills, and from the cigarettes of the patrons. It's a great experience if you can get yourself squeezed into one of the places without waiting too long.

We could wander back to our hotel in about 10 minutes from this area. It's not a bad place at all and very quiet inside despite the racket outside. All mod cons as they say with the toilet that does most things you could imagine a toilet could do.

Breakasts have been either noodles or rice bowls with meat and onions and egg on top. Today it was served in the company of a few groggy punks who obviously hadn't been to bed yet.

Our Japan Rail pass is best for longer distance travel but it also works on a few lines (Chuo and Yamanote especially) that are good for travel within Tokyo. We just have to flash them and ride at no charge. So far we have only paid for the subway on 1 trip.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Spring in Hong Kong and Japan

Linda and I have a had a lot on our plates at home lately and needed a break again already. We enlisted the aid of a travel agent she knows and booked a couple of tickets to Hong Kong and Japan.

Hong Kong is old hat for us but it was part of the cheap air package price so we stopped there for 2 nights, and then are spending 12 days in Japan. I've never been to Japan and for Linda it's been a very long time. 12 days is not long but we are not going to move around the country that much, spending 4 nights in Tokyo (that hotel was also part of the package), 3 in Horoshima, and 4 in Kyoto. We travel back to Narita and home to Vancouver on the last day from Kyoto.

Hong Kong was very much as we remember it, busy and loud, a bit dingy except where it's slick and glitzy, but easy for us to get around in. We really only had one full day after coming in late from Vancouver. We took the fast train into Kowloon, grabbed a free hotel shuttle part of the rest of the distance, to a fancy hotel from which we walked the last 10 minutes to our windowless 8 x 10 room on Nathan Road in Tsim Tsat Shui. The room was an AirBnb and not bad but very plain. Clean and secure with a decent bathroom and very convenient.   

I won't bore with pictures of a room...

Our entire Hong Kong experience amounted to walking around some of the markets and streets in the Nathan Road area, Dim Sum at the BP International House, steamed fish at the same restaurant in the Temple Street market we have been to before, a stroll and sitdown in Kowloon Park, and a Star Ferry ride to Central and back. Not a lot else.

Actually there was a touch more. We met a fellow audio nut (a New Zealander) whom I encountered online, so I could deliver to him a phono cartridge he bought from me. I actually mailed it to him months ago but for some reason the HK Post Office sent the package back to me. It was total coincidence that we were going to Hong Kong so we brought it with us rather than mail it again. Having a borrowed sim card with a bit of text and data still on it helped arrange the meeting. Regrettably we had to make that at a Starbucks as the coffee shop that he remembered in the area was not there.

We definitely found prices in Hong Kong have gone up. It has been several years admittedly but not much is a bargain, even basic meals. Linda only made one purchase, of a nice shirt for about $10, and I have a new Bat Signal luggage tag that cost about $1.50. Big spenders...

Hong Kong was a nice interlude but not the real point of this trip though. We got the A21 bus from across the street from our room, paid with the Octopus cards that were also lent to us and on7 out to Lantau Island and the airport. 

 This leg was on Cathay Pacific, They get my vote next time as we had good seats at a bulkhead, getting our meal before anyone in our section, food was reasonable, and they had a camera below the plane you could access from the video monitor in front of us. They also put up remarkably well with the bitch behind us who kept demaning Heineken from them, unopened, probably so she could take them home with her. But the best thing was that they had Haagen Das ice cream.  

A 100mph taliwind helped to get us in on time despite leaving a bit late.  After landing in Narita airport though things slowed down a lot. Customs and baggage was fine, or at least normal. However we also had to pick up our Pocket Wifi Hotspot and our Japan Rail Passes. 

The Pocket device is a nifty thing that keeps you connnected with your mobiles devices through a local wifi network that travels with you, giving high speed access to the web though the cellular network. Kind of like getting a sim card with data but easier to configure and allows more than 1 device to use it. Linda and are both able to access it at the same time with our phones. I'm not using it direcly right now (the hotel has wifi of course) but it travels with me in the shoulder bag and gets charged every night. It's about the size of a small cell phone. Having Google Maps on the go is very handy. 

Anyway, picking that up was easy and quick, once we found the right counter, as we had ordered it in advance. The Japan Rail Pass was also ordered in advance but we still had to turn in vouchers for the actual passes. This line-up was painfully slow. It took about an hour to get them and by that time the last Narita Express had left and we had to take the milk run train to the city. That took about 90 minutes and then we had to change trains and go another several stops to Shinjuku station. Our hotel is near there.  

Finishing Up Ireland

One day I will finish this Ireland trip off fully but for now this is a placeholder.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Finishing Off Ireland

I have been very remiss. The Ireland trip was left unfinished and I should at least wrap it up before we get on to the next voyage, which begins in a few days.

After travelling past the Rock Of Cashell we set up camp in a cute little house in Tralee for the next few days. Tralee is fairly well situated for visiting the south west corner of Ireland, being near the apex of the Dingle peninsula and the Galway peninsula and not too far from Cork. It isn't perhaps as well known as some of the other towns but suited our purposes well.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Tintern Abbey, the Dunbrody and the Hook Lighthouse

Our full day near New Ross definitely was full.

First stop was the Dunbrody emigrant ship moored in the River Suir at New Ross itself. This was literally a few minutes from our accommodation. Out the quaint little road, left at the roundabout and down the hill into the main street of town.

The ship is a recently built reproduction of a ship that made several trips to North America taking escapees from the famine of the 1840's. The original was built in Quebec and the reproduction here in Ireland. The tour was quite interesting and the boat itself (a barq) very impressive. I loved the dummy gun ports painted on the sides. Down below decks were reproductions of the living quarters for the passengers, most of whom paid "steerage" fares.

Our trip was virtually a private one as we arrived early. The tour buses were just starting to arrive when we left. I would recommend this one if you are in the area as it is very well done and provides a lot of insight and background to the Irish heritage in the "new world". Even the (JFK) Kennedy is from this region. We passed their estate but did not stop in.

Next stop was Tintern Abbey. This is a partially restored Cistercian Abbey built around 1200 AD. We were able to wander the grounds here with almost nobody else around either. There was a tour available but after a while one big old stone churchy building looks like another. It is impressive though so if you are into big old stone churchy buildings, stop in!

After out brief stop here were headed out the Hook Peninsula to check out the views and the 800 year old but still functioning lighthouse. I think they've changed the bulbs a few times. 

The scenery out here was quite nice. The land in the east of Ireland is somewhat flatter than the west and the views less dramatic but still very picturesque. There are many old castles, estates and abbeys and we didn't have the time this trip to check them all out (we probably never could) but it was pleasant just driving past them. Heck even the barns and fences are terribly picturesque. 

We took a tour of the lighthouse while we were here. It was another one that was well done with good anecdotes from the guide and interesting use of films that had actors playing period roles describing life in the era of the light.   

So, all of this was before lunch but we even found one more site AT lunch. This was the Templar's Church, situated across the road from the Templar's Inn where I indulged in my first bowl of seafood chowder. 

A car ferry at Ballyhack took us across the Suir River to Waterford. By this point we had had a good enough amount of sightseeing for the day and we headed on home to New Ross and down our quaint lane to our home for 2 days. Tonight was a big black dog and full moon night.