Obama and the Sea of Japan

It is hard to believe we are four days from the end of the trip. The sights and learning keep coming. There has not been a moment that wasn’t jam packed with learning and wonderful sights.

We followed the mackerel trail up the mountain and through the the cedar forests. The mackerel trail was a forty hour journey over the mountains to deliver fresh mackerel to Kyoto. The fish was passed by runners relay style. The cedar tree were planted at the end of world war 2 and have become so dense that you can barely pass through, it is impacting the wildlife. The lack of light is choking out the native growth on the forest floor. The bottom fell out of the lumber industry years ago now and no one will harvest the wood.

Our first stop today was a rice vinegar factory. 400 years of family tradition in the making of this rice vinegar that is sold locally and online. Once again fermentation plays a role, the secret starter is sake.

We checked into our Obama hotel. We all had balconies with seas view windows. In every room in every hotel have stayed at they leave pajamas for your use. Todays hotel left kimonos which we instructed to wear for dinner.

At the hotel we had a traditional Japanese dinner. We were all dressed in kimonos. The room was set with a beautiful Ikebana arrangement. I believe I was told she is the house mother of the hotel, in charge of keeping all the flower arrangements fresh and assisting as hostess for banquets.

In the morning we had a cruise around Obama Bay. After lunch we visited the culture museum. We learned how to make paper and the visited the food culture display.

In the morning I took a bath in the hot springs. Very hot, relaxing and traditional.

On the way to Kyoto, we stoped at a small town< Miyama and learned about the traditional thatched roofing. We had the opportunity to use the tool as and learn thatching.

Our next stop was at a traditional indigo dye shop. We watched a demonstration of how to dye the fabric and then visited the museum. The most impressive piece was a coffin cover that the artists mother made in the last two years of her life
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Gardens and Geisha

GARDENS AND GEISHAS

In Kanazawa, we visited the old quarters. This area is the quarter for the Geisha. These women are trained in song, music and conversation. The beauty of their gowns was hard to ignore.

At the hotel we had another “plated” meal that went on for seven courses. No course is large, the beauty is in the presentation and style. I would bet that each of these beautiful meals is fewer calories then any of us would consume at our favorite American Restaurant.

On Wednesday we went to the Kenrokeun Gardens is a recreation of the samurai past. The name means the gardens of the six qualities. Spaciousness, seclusion,antiquity, ingenuity, flowing water and views.

After the gardens we had free time for the rest of the day. We went to the 21st century contemporary art museum, very interesting pieces both inside and outside the museum.

I went with another woman to explore the downtown commercial area. Went went to the basement of Diwa and cruised the grocery store. Fresh fish and vegetable were beautiful, but honestly nothing familiar in the rest of the lower level.

The evening meal was on our own so we went to a Japanese Diner, seven stools at a bar and two small tables, obviously a family business. We watched our meal being cooked, Just like old Mel’s Diner on TV.

After dinner I returned to the shrine for the evening light show and concert in the garden. Serenity was all around us.

A morning walk to a 1583 Samurai house. Like all the traditional houses gardens with moss, running water and well trimmed trees were tucked in every corner, behind sliding rice paper doors.

As my father would have said, “Let us bid a fond farewell to lovely Kanazawa and look forward to the sea coast and Obama Japan.

A Perfect Day

We left Musamoto and drove through the mountains to Takayama..

The weather was excellent so our leaders took us to an unscheduled stop. A national forest. People in the front of the bus saw monkeys. We walked next to a beautiful river flowing out of the mountains, the water was crystal clear. I used my phone app plant id to identify a cousin of our native virgin bower (clematis family), and long leaf bamboo, the moss is thick on the fallen trees, it is my version of heaven.

For lunch we had ramen noodles ( the real thing in a soy base.)

Takayama is famous for its annual fall parade. The floats are huge, 1000s of pounds, carried by large groups of men. Floats were built by neighborhoods and maintained by them. The floats have been used for hundreds of years. They are very elaborate.

The city also has a large Shinto Shrine,Shinto is the main religion is Japan and the Emperor is the head of the religion.

The next day(I no longer know what day it is). We visited Jinya which was the head quarters of the Shogunate. The headquarters revealed the class structure. For example, if the tatumi mats had an edging it represented a higher class room. The gardens courtyards were breathtaking. Also breathtaking in a negative vein was the torture room.

Then on to the old town and sake breweries. Sake is a rice based plant that fermented for a year. The quality is based on hoe polished the rice is. Highly polished rice fetches a much higher price.

The hotel was lovely.

After lunch were boarded a bus to our next stop.

MATSUMOTO, MISO AND MOUNTAINS

On Saturday we left Tokyo and Headed Matsumoto.

The spine of Japan is mountains, they make up one third of the land in Japan.

Driving to Matsumoto was reminiscent of driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, low mountains, tunnels and rest stops.

When we arrived In Matsumoto, we went to a miso factory

Miso is a staple of the Japanese diet. It is a thick paste of soybeans, salt, and rice which this company ferments in cedar barrels over a three year period. It is used a soup base which is served at every meal, high in protein it is believed to be responsible for the preventing many diseases and contributing to long lives of the Japanese people. Miso dates back to the feudal era of Japan.

After the factory tour, we had a lunch of rice, cabbage salad, miso soup with pork, turnips and tofu. Dessert was miso ice cream. This is one of the best meals I have eaten in Japan.

After lunch we went to the museum of modern art to see a show of Yayoi Kusama. She was born in Matsumoto. Her work was inspired by her seizures. It consisted of many dots, mirrors,dark rooms lit with lights reflected into multiple mirrors. The giant yellow polka dotted pumpkin was one of the centerpieces of the shows. The display was curated by the artist.

After checking into the hotel we had a multi course meal. Dinners are esthetic shows of color and texture. Vegetables, fish,raw and tempura, mushrooms tiny pickles, seaweed, fruits, flower petals are all artistically arranged on tiny plates and bowls. Miso is also served. Tonight’s dessert was a rich flourless chocolate cake.

After a stern warning about covid protection, some of us walked to the castle.

In the morning we visited the grounds of the Matsumoto Castle, one of five designated as a national treasure. These castles date from the 1600’s.

We headed for Narai, aPost-Town on the Nakesendo trail. This trail goes between Edo(now Tokyo, the Shogun capital and Kyoto, the Emperors Capital.

Slow Plane to Japan

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The important news is I am here and my luggage is with me.

Said, the Limo driver picked me up at 5 am. We made it to DTW and caught a flight to Newark,as scheduled. At Newark there was talk of landing at Chicago O’hare airport and switching planes because of the typhoon in japan. Passengers milled around trying catch what ever news they could. Finally news came that we would leave on time, stop in Chicago and take on more fuel so we could make it through any turbulence ahead. We taxied to the runway and sat,and sat because one runway was down. No worry this was less than an hour delay and we would make it up in the long run.

The refueling took 90 minutes. But everyone was in good spirits mingling and sharing stories. I happened to be sitting next to a gentleman who was going back to Viet Nam to visit family. He told me about being one of the original boat people. There were four children in his family and his parents selected him to be the one to escape the country. With every penny of their savings they bought him a seat in a large open boat that floated in the ocean for days hoping to be rescued and taken to freedom. Finally they spotted an oil freighter and were able to pull up close. The freighter could not throw a rope, it was considered illegal to pull them in, but they each tried to jump up on the boat and continue a journey to America. This gentleman spent several years in a refugee camp. In the meantime the family was able to send two more kids. The three refugee children were able to gain work with a farmer while they waited for papers that allowed them to work and go to school. They eventually made enough money to bring the parents and the other child. It was interesting to hear his views on immigration and becoming a citizen.

The final outcome of the delays was a 4 hour delay in my arrival. I was concerned about how I would make my way to the hotel. Luckily Road Scholar had been tracking my flight and had someone waiting to pick me up and delver me to the hotel.

On Thursday we visited the grounds of the Imperial Palace and the National Museum.

My first impressions were the cleanliness of everything in Tokyo. From bathrooms to roads nothing is out of place. The toilets are are unbelievable, the seats are heated and by pushing a button your bottom is sprayed clean with your choice of water pressure.

The Imperial Palace and grounds were spared bombing during WWII. The contrast between the pre war buildings and the enormous, modern building is amazing.

The other thing that struck me on my first day is the style and fitness of the population.

The fitness is due to government fitness programs and diet. The diet is so different from our average American diet. Breakfast is salad, fruits and fresh cooked grains, a choice of fish. Lunch and dinners have included an assortment of raw fish, vegetables and small amounts of cheese. I am curious to see what meals are like in the smaller cities we will be visiting.

We are literally the first post covid tour group to visit, things are just opening for the general public as well as tours. Masks, hand sanitizer, and temperature readings are the rules everywhere. Japan just relaxed rules on September 7.

Today, Friday we learned about Kabuki Theater which dates back to the 1600’s. It is all male casts, with elaborate costumes and make up. Music and drama are preformed in long elaborate productions. The actors are from a long lineage of families that date back many generations. We ate lunch on the roof garden of the theater.

In the afternoon several of went to the Hokusai Katsushika Museum. He is the famous Japanese Woodblock artist famous for the Big Wave.

Tomorrow we move on to the center of the country.

Lightening Does Strike Twice

When we left Malaga airport the plane was running late, the plane was filled with Africans going to Mali. Every overhead bin was filled, with their carry ons. Our carry ons were stuffed on the floor by our feet. I was the last to board the plane and I watched as they stuffed the luggage compartment beyond capacity, two workers pushing with all their might to squeeze the door shut. The flight was cramped.

When we reached the baggage claim area there were no Africans from the plane, only an assortment of Europeans shouting in five languages at the attendants. I sensed this was not good. I fought my way toward the center of the group toward the airport manager and joined the shouting and fist shaking as we were informed that the baggage of anyone getting off in Casablanca was left in Spain because there was no room for it after all the African luggage was loaded. Not to worry we were told, our baggage would arrive the next night at 8 pm. We could pick up our luggage at the airport or possibly have it delivered to where we going the day after we arrived. We waited in line with the other ranting passengers to fill out the paperwork. One of passengers was a young man from Germany who is a pro golfer coming to play in a tournament for spot on the golf tour, his clubs were gone. Hard to compare clean clothes, under ware, meds and toiletries with a chance on the tour.

As I write this we are driving to Fez after two nights in Chefchaouen, wearing the same dirty clothes. I fear we will still be wearing these clothes when we land in Detroit. I fear I will never see my luggage again. If it does find us the airlines still have two more flights to lose it again. You may want to start betting pools on the fate of the luggage.

The five hour ride from the airport, through the mountains on a dark foggy night is another story I will not share for fear our families never allow us to travel again.

We arrived in Chefchaouen at 3:30 am. We toured the beautiful Blue City on Sunday. Mary said our hotel was classic Moroccan. The city is high in the mountains, off the beaten path. There are cats at every turn, the food is delicious, the call to pray resonates five times a day but there is no wine.

GOODBY SPAIN

Today was the last day in Spain. We traveled to Gibraltar, captured by the Moors in 711AD it has had a long history of occupation. The Spanish took it from the Moors in 1492. Eventually, after several other backs and forth between invaders, the British gained full occupancy. It was an important stronghold during World War 2 allowing the Allies to hold the Mediterranean Sea.

The Brits have installed desalination and purifying plants that provide fresh water for the residence.

As I mentioned before the residents are very concerned about Brexit. It will require many changes in the money and residency of the non-brits who currently enjoy EU benefits.

We drove around the rock learning the history. We stopped at the natural caves. They had cut and polished a stalactite, I was surprised at the beauty.

World War2 tunnels were amazing. In anticipation of a war, they spent three years digging tunnels that could house the army base. It had water collection systems, barracks, cook centers, hospitals, and mechanical repair centers. It was capable of storing all the munitions. In the end, they never needed it.

There is a colony of monkeys on the rock that have made their way from Africa. Their health is monitored by the Veterinary Medicine center on the rock.

Because it is a British Colony we had fish and chips for lunch.

Tomorrow, we move on to Morocco.ffv

Week 2

Sunday, we arrived by bus and settled in our rooms. We spent the afternoon poolside with wine and beer.

Monday, we drove into Estepona, a fishing harbor city. Our guides were local women, one of whom is a professional fisherwoman, runs a bed a breakfast and does tours. We were escorted around the old town and then had lunch. The lunch was local fish, sardines, octopus and shellfish. After lunch, our plan was to shop, but all stores close from 2 pm to 4 pm. This is the time of the large family meal and all businesses are closed.

Tuesday was one of the trip highlights, Cordoba. The great mosque was built in 787AD by the Moors who ruled this part of Spain. In 1146 Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Cordoba, drove out the Moors and had the Mosque consecrated as a Christian Church.

In the 16th century, Carlos ordered the building of a bacillus within the mosque. The church is extremely ornate and clashes with the mosque. We walked thru the Jewish quarters and wandered the traditional streets.

Wednesday, we went to the harbor to learn about the fishing industry. After that we had a paella cook-off. We divided into teams and each team cooked their own paella. The results were a delicious traditional lunch.

Several of us visited the cities orchid museum.

Thursday, we drove to Ronda, a city built on a large gorge and surrounded by mountains. We went to the bullfighting ring and museum. The ring is one of three that are sanctioned by the royals. It is a brutal sport, usually fought to the death of the bull. The country is very divided on their thoughts of this sport.

The Mayor and Olive Oil

Today we went up into the mountains to visit the an olive oil factory. As we neared the town, we picked up our guide Miquel. Miguel is ”running” for mayor of his small town and everything is a big campaign promise or photo op.

Our first stop was a bar for the ”traditional” mountain breakfast of coffee and brandy, it sure takes the edge off and adds humor to everything. On the way to the factory, the mayor announced breaking news. The olive oil factory we passed had just taken third place at an international olive oil festival.

Further up the road we stopped to see an olive tree that is 1853 years old. We also saw a holm oak tree which produces the acorns that the wild pigs graze on.

The mountains and houses along the way were inviting.

At the olive oil factory we observed the entire process. The olives are hand picked or shaken off the tree with a stick, loaded onto a truck and taken to factory. The olives are crushed and spun to remove the oil which is filtered before bottling. The tanks are cleared on the crushed olives which are moved to a second factory to make virgin olive oil.

Brexit is causing concern here. There are 700,000 Brits, in Spain, mostly retirees, many own properties. There are 100,000 Spanish people, students, workers in Britain. Gibraltar is owned by the Brits, countries all over Europe have companies there and enjoy tax-free status. In less than a year all hell will break lose across Europe as Brexit takes effect.

Sunday, 15 of us moved closer to Gibraltar. On a clear day we can see it and the coast of Africa from the hotel. We spent the afternoon at a beach bar enjoying the sun.