Friday, April 26, 2013

Seatte- Pikes Place Market and Seattle Art Museum

My sister moved to Seattle last September to live with her fiance and his family. It was interesting to see my sister in her new surroundings. The house was clean, beautiful, and tastefully decorated a great home to be invited into.
 Seattle is a haven for artists. I was impressed by all the little niches artists could make their mark in. I'm not sure I understood the nuances, or point, but I appreciated that it was there.

 We headed down to Pike's Place Market. I was impressed by all the local talent. I'm afraid my sister must have felt like she was leading around two really dumb puppies, because we we're both highly distractible  had to pee every five minutes, and would head of in random directions.
We were positively useless in our get lagged state, and were quite happy to enjoy a lovely latte in one of the many coffee shops.
Kelly was an impressive tour guide, she showed us many of Seattle's finest tourist destinations, and of course Seattle's most disgusting claim to fame the gum wall.
We all contributed our own pieces to the wall and tried not to inhale the sickly sweet smell that made your stomach churn as you walked past the nasty wall. 
My favorite part of our first day in Seattle was the Seattle Art Museum. There were some impressive pieces of art including a Pollock, and a temporary Rembrandt exhibit.
I love museums and have been to many. While the Seattle Art Museum does not have the largest collection, it stands out in my mind because of the museums impressive use of space. It felt spacious, and there was always ample room to look at any piece you were interested in.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sayonara



I came to Japan with a big heart, and fell deeply in love with the country. I saw beautiful landscapes, ate beautiful food, soothed myself in beautiful waters, and met beautiful people. I had no idea how beautiful a foreign land could be, and was not prepared for how smitten I would be. My heart grew away from home with each new experience. It’s a good thing, because when I left I had to leave some of my heart behind, and there it will stay, waiting for me to return to the land of the rising sun.

Sayonara Japan, until I see you again.

The last photo I took in Japan.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Kiyomizu-Dera

Our hotel in Kyoto was a twenty minute walk from Kiyomizu-dera, and we couldn't resist a return in the beautiful spring air.Kiyomizu-dera boasts one of the most spectacular views of Kyoto. If all the world is a stage, this is the artists rendering of that thought.










Monday, April 15, 2013

Nara

Nara is a remarkable place. The buildings there are some of the oldest in Japan. It was the capital of Japan from 710 to 785, which made is a political, and social center of Japan.


The most remarkable part of Nara for me, was the Nara deer park. The deer there have been living peacefully with humans for hundreds of years, and until the 1600 hundreds, killing one of the deer was a crime punishable by death. The deer are still protected as national treasures, though the punishiment is a little less severe.
The deer have learned to live in harmony with humans, and freely roam the park interacting and accepting treats from humans.
There are several world heritage sites in Nara, Todai-ji, a temple, is the largest of them. The temple is remarkable, the ancient architecture and chipped pain take you back in time.



The temple is massive, the biggest I have ever been to. Inside of it is the biggest Buddha I have seen in Japan. It is 14 meters tall and weighs 500 tonnes.

Also in Nara Park is Kagasu-Taisha, also known as the Shrine of 1000 lanterns. Over a thousand stone lanterns lead the way to the shrine, and hundreds of lanterns hang within the shrine.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha is the most spiritual place I have been to. It's beauty makes me want to be a better person. It's perfect balance with it's natural surroundings makes me want to be a better environmentalist. The fact that it is the culmination of hundreds of thousands of peoples devotion over the course of over a thousand years makes me want to give more to the world I am lucky enough to occupy.

There is an intangible force at work there that moves me, guides me, and speaks to me. I like to think that it is the voice of the millions of other people who have been here before me, echoing through time.

Here are three video's I shot of the shrine.

And here is an album of the photo's I took.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Heian Jingu



Ben and I were so glad that the cherry blossom season wasn’t over before we got to Kyoto.





Heian Jingu is well known for its weeping cherry blossom garden. We got to the garden around 4:30, which was a romantic twilight hour in the garden (but not very good for photography).




The garden was full of sakura trees, the grounds were littered with petals.



The weather in Kansai is perfect right night, warm days, cool enough to wear a sweater, but not so cold you need one. The nights are cool, and feel great when you cozy into a warm bed.









Jingu means shrine, but is reserved for places that enshrine the souls of emperors.


Heian Jingu, though beautiful, is easily overlooked next to its beautiful gardens, especially during sakura season.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Wakayama

Ben and I are back in Japan for a few days before we return to America. It's just now setting in that I have to leave this beautiful country, and may not see it for way too long. It's not going to be easy to leave, and I'm glad we get a last hurrah of tourism before we go.



We're staying in a nice hotel in Wakayama, It has it's own onsen (hot spring), which we are free to enjoy as much as we want. They also have massages available, which is very tempting, and incredibly comfy beds.

 Today we spent the day at Wakayama Castle. The sakura are still in bloom, and hundreds of people were eating and drinking in the park enjoying the last days of the beautiful flowers.


 I always enjoy the grounds of Japanese castles way more than I enjoy the actual castles. There is usually a beautiful garden, lake, or canal nearby with beautiful views of the castles.
 Ben loves the castles, because he likes to tell me about how ninjas, and other warriors battled, techniques used to protect the castles, and how he would attack it. He's definitly not the only one, with these fanciful thoughts, as we came across a group of ninjas bouncing around the castle.
 The best part of the castle for me was listening to Ben babble about everything he had ever read and watched about Japanese antient warfare. We also laughed that all the guns inside castle were called "firelocks" in English, but had very specific names in Japanese.












The view from the castle was windy but spectacular, It was easy to imagine the power a Daimyo felt looking down on his domain.









Here's a video of the festivities at Wakayama yesterday.



Sunday, April 7, 2013

Thailand - Last Day



Ben and my last day in Thailand was absolutely miserable. I woke up nauseous, achy, and congested. Ben woke up with a cold. Neither of us are very surprised that we got sick, we’ve been exhausted for almost a month, and Thailand is a terrible place to test your immune system. Ben packed our bags, and I did laps to and from the bathroom. We checked out of our hotel room just before noon, and had the hotel hold our extra suitcases. We stopped at the ATM just outside our hotel to grab enough money for a lunch and a dinner, and then proceeded to head out into the city. It was windy and drizzling, so swimming didn’t seem very appealing, and we had read about a mall, where we planned to walk about in air conditioning for a few hours, to kill the time until the transport to the airport picked us up at 10pm.
                The mall was not indoor, not cool, and aggressively in your face. There was no option just to browse the goods, store clerks shoved things into your hands, shouted at you from other stalls that you wouldn’t get a good deal at the stall you were at, and heckled you when you didn’t buy anything. I couldn’t handle the culture shock, after I had spent the past year pampered by Japanese shopping experiences. We found a big fancy hotel, and decided to lounge about in the lobby until they figured out we didn’t belong. We decided to eat lunch at a nice looking middle eastern/Indian restaurant. The food was excellent but slow, and the waiter was very pushy, and tried to insist on us getting way more than we wanted. When it came time to pay the money we had anticipated covering lunch and dinner didn’t cover the cost of lunch, and I had to ask if they accepted visa cards, luckily they did. I went to grab my card out of my wallet, but it wasn’t there. I’m fairly certain I left my card in the ATM, but in the two hours between getting the cash, and dashing back to it to see if anyone had turned it in, it had gone missing. Ben and I spent the next two hours canceling my card, which filled the time, but was a miserable activity.
                We had dinner at a buffet using the remainder of our money, the food was terrible, and the staff was annoyingly insistent that we wanted to eat spaghetti with cheese which did not look even remotely appetizing. After dinner we spent some time on the beach, this part of the day was nice, a cool breeze came in from the ocean, and Ben and I talked about what we had wanted to be when we were kids, and what we would do if we won the lottery. We passed the time until we had to go back to our hotel to meet our airport transport.
                We got to Phuket Airport at 10:30, too early for our 2:30am flight, but there wasn’t anything we could do about it. We waited around until we could check in for our flight. A group of about 40 tourist all raced towards the line as soon as it was open, they were not well prepared, rude, and very slow, they held up the line, and were so loud that Ben and I had to shout to talk to each other less than a meter away from each other.
                We got to our gate at about 12:30, exhausted. Ben and I both tried to fall asleep, but I was hit with a wave of sickness. I spent about an hour bent over the nasty airport bathrooms, wondering how so much food could come out of me, as Ben took a nap. My skin itched everywhere, I was dizzy, and very nauseous. I went back to Ben, thinking there was something he could do for me, unfortunately despite his incredible desire to do so, there was nothing he could do to help. We waited near our gate for our 2:30 am flight, which got delayed to 4:00 am. This meant that our transfer in China, during which we would have to recheck our bag, and go through security again would all have to be done in the impossibly short time slot of one hour.

                All that being said, will I return to Thailand? No, I like traveling to observe and participate in foreign cultures. I cannot say I saw any of Thailand’s culture, as everywhere accessible to us had been so deformed by tourists, that it was impossible to go anywhere without being bombarded by dozens of types of tourism. The traffic in Thailand is scary, and it is impossible to go anywhere without having to jaywalk half a dozen times. Ben and I were most excited for the food in Thailand, as it is one of our favorite types of cuisine at home, but the only “Thai” food was either outrageously expensive, tasted terrible, or made me very sick. The beach was packed, and vendors walked up and down the beach constantly, shouting about their wares, or standing right next to you shaking their wares in your face until you either pushed them away or somehow verbally let them know that there was no way that you would be buying anything. The tours were fun, though it was very frustrating that the guides would stop at various times during the tour to pull out their poorly made jewelry, and try to guilt you into buying it, while you’re sitting on the back of their elephant.
                Thailand is beautiful, and I went to the country with my loving, and wonderful husband, so really truly I had a wonderful time, I do not regret going, but I will not be returning, and would not recommend our trip to friends. I think there are much better ways to spend your time and money.

Thailand-Animals and City Tour

 Our third day in Thailand, we decided to do a half day city tour. The tour took us inland to the beautiful jungles on the island.

 Part of our tour was done on elephants. We got to ride lurching seats atop the elephants. It was a surprisingly good ab work out, and a very interesting experience. We also got to feed and pet baby elephants, they were very cute. I was surprised by how dexterous the tips of their trunks are, they were easily able to pick up the sliced banana we fed them without smashing it.
 
 We got to wander around a small orchid farm, the flowers were gorgeous. The roots hung down several feet under the plants, spewing out of their small hanging pots.
 After the elephant park, and orchid garden we went to Big Buddha, atop Nakkerd Hill in the middle of Phuket Island. The buddha is 45 meters tall, and made of white marble. It is visible from far off, and is a stunning and serene call to faith from all directions.
 Big Buddha is still in progress, but is still a pleasant tour despite the construction. Many of the statues we saw had clothes wrapped around their faces, which looked eerie and foreboding. The temple had a very open air feel, allowing you to admire the beautiful scenery from atop the mountain.
 After Big Buddha, we went to Chalong Temple. A lavishly painted, grand temple. The temple was chaoitic, and any peace you might reach was often interupted by series of fireworks, set off by people either trying to get rid of their bad luck or bring on good luck. The place felt like it was part amusement park, part temple, every thing was gaudily painted, vendors pushed their products, but a distinct Buddhist theme prevailed.

 The temple felt very strange to Ben and I after all the Buddhist temples we have visited in Japan. Where Japan has a subtle beauty, the temples of Thailand are cheerful, with a full palate of exotic colors.
We finished our tour at a cashew factory, which was not visually very interesting, but the flavors were amazing. We ate dozens of flavors of cashews, and watched as people turned the brightly colored fruits into the light brown toasty nuts we all enjoy. We drank cashewy juice, which was a new experience for me, I expected a creamy nutty flavor, but it had a nice fresh zing to it.
In the afternoon, Ben and I took an afternoon siesta, and then enjoyed cocktails while swimming in the pools in our hotel that overlooked Patong. We got nothing done that day, and it was everything we wanted to do.