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Jul '13

Julian In Town.

One week to get the Weiner Wagon on the road. Today’s progress, got another drawer made for under the steam table:

And then mounted the “seat track” on the trailer:

And then got the generator mounted. I was amazed that the seat track hole were at the right position…

So then it was time to pick up Julian from the BoltBus. He is beginning a seven week trip starting in Vancouver, then China, then the Tran-Siberian rail link… bastard (that would be my jealous side speaking).

He packs light:

Planning his trip:

Dinner (fresh baked bread, salad, Amtrak-style braised lamb shanks):

And then, the usual “after dinner” Julian:

Luckily tomorrow is a late morning….


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May '19

Trip Report: Wedding Ramble, Part Two – The Wedding

Back on the train to the reason for this whole ramble, The Wedding. Off I go way too early in the day from the Emeryville Amtrak station (chauffeured by Lunetta).

And they are still serving breakfast!

Followed by a nap (do you see a pattern here?), followed by a late lunch:

With some scenery thrown in. Just FYI – I booked at bedroom:

The last photo is of the train station at San Luis Obispo.

Called Budget to snag a ride to the rental car office and signed out a car that had seen better days (like the driver’s side mirror had tap wrapped around it that had been there awhile and was yellowed). But soon enough I was checked into the Best Western Casa Grande in Arroyo Grande. I splurged on a suite:

Which has a VERY NICE lobby area:

And my suite wasn’t too bad either:

Went to the store for some dinner and drinking supplies….

OK – so, the four on the right came down with me, the two unboxed flasks are for me at the wedding – the six boxed (and filled) flasks are for some of the wedding party.

Spent the morning of the wedding tasting wine in downtown Arroyo Grande…

Visited Timbre first, then down the street to a winery that was closing, Phantom Rivers, where everything was 50% off. Here is the haul:

Great – I thought I was going to make the final leg WITHOUT the box in tow. Oh well.

Jameson and Carolynn (the wedding couple) arranged for shuttles to run from the hotel to the wedding venues. The ceremony was at Carolynn’s parent’s house (where she grew up):

It was good to see Julian (Jameson’s brother who I visit in Japan):

Nice that they were serving Gruett Rose bubbles (from New Mexico) before the service.

Then down to the clubhouse for the reception…

And I was on wine duty to pour the 5-liter bottles of Bonny Doon that I brought down a couple of weeks ago.

And the first dance….

The “after party” ended up in my suite – wish I remember more of it. Woke up to popcorn scattered everywhere!

Needless to say, I slept in really late. Fortunately, I don’t head south until Monday, which left time for an intimate dinner with the wedding couple and two others at Hapy Bistro which is half wine shop, half restaurant, with cigars thrown in…but the food was stunning.

It was an early night for me since I have a VERY early train in the morning, AND I have to get the rental car returned.

Tomorrow, the adventure continues!

[? ? ?]

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Dec '18

Trip Report: Santa Fe The Long Way

It used to be easy to get to Santa Fe…flight left in the morning, got into ABQ in the afternoon, plenty of time to drive/train to Santa Fe. Not anymore. A couple of months before my trip Alaska sent me a note saying that my flight that was supposed to get in at 1PM would, instead, be getting in at 10PM, and leaving on the return, butt early, in the morning.

Doesn’t work when you are an hour and a half from your final destination by the time you pick up your luggage.

Hello Portland along the way…

Started the trip with the usual trip to the Alaska Lounge

With a stop at Florette to hug Shua. It’s rare that his work schedule and my flight schedules align.

Bulkhead aisle to PDX…

Upgraded to First on the E175 flight from PDX to ABQ, which is 2-1 seating, with me in the 1:

So, aisle and window and the same time – and LOOK at the view!

This is why I call the Pacific Northwest home. And then, lunch was served.

On time into Albuquerque, off to the Rental Car Center, into the rental car, and headed north to Santa Fe, and checked into the WorldMark Santa Fe…Studio Handicapped Unit:

Because of getting in at 4PM, and not to Santa Fe until after 6PM, no hanging with the relatives, just grabbing food from across the street (Chopstix):

Popular, cheap, OK quality… perfect for taking back to the room, and she threw in a couple of wontons since I wasn’t willing to wait 20 minutes for the Bulgogi.

Lunch the next day (who is up for breakfast!) was at one of my favorites, a block away from the condo. Bumble Bee’s for Lamb Tacos. Love their drive through sign:

Dinner with my sis-in-law (might as well be sister at this point), and her husband, Uncle to Jameson and Julian, at Atrisco for their Chile Relleno.

Yes, this trip is about food – it is Santa Fe, after all!

Lunch at LottaBurger…a tradition with both The Colonels and I should mention that I was supposed to see The Colonels on this trip, but management messed up their 3-week reservation at their condo and turned it into a 2-week stay, so they headed back to Kentucky. I also missed them in New Orleans due to weather…I’ll see them in January in West Yellowstone.

Dinner with the family out in Eldorado (about 20 minutes from the condo):

The following afternoon Jen and I met up for lunch at Taco Fundacion – where Bert’s Burgers was for 30 years, but brought it back to the condo since it was only a block away, and they don’t really have warm seating:

I ordered the Roasted Pig, the Lamb, and the Goat (and then went back for dinner and ordered the Fried Oyster, Bison, and a side of chips). Damn good – worth a second trip.

My afternoon was spent on the computer, watching George H.W. Bush’s train ride home…

My final meal in Santa Fe was breakfast at another one of my favorites…The New York Deli:

The Eggs Benedict were $9.95 – a freakin’ bargain.

Got upgraded to my favorite seat on the E175, which is 1A – the combination aisle/window. And since it’s First Class, it comes with dinner:

And more mountain views….

Guess I’ve taken to photographing the wing tip for perspective. It works.

That’s my last flight trip for the year. Got a driving trip to Vancouver and Blaine coming up.


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May '18

Trip Report: Couple Of Nights With The Boys

When I find a fare for the low hundreds ($120.40) I book some time with the boys (Mark and Onyx).

Didn’t get out of town until early evening because of a Greek Wine Tasting in the early afternoon. It was in the old Julian’s Pool Hall in South Lake Union – where taking a small car is necessary to get parking:

Basically, that is 6″ behind and 6″ in front. I even get the “short car” discount on the state ferries!

Taking ex-Virgin America metal, where they are only two rows of Premium Seating:

But, because it’s still Virgin metal, there are seat back apps to order as much junk as you want for free in Premium – a step up from Alaska metal (that will be gone by the end of the year):

Yes, that was two doubles. Missed out on the big snack box – thought I’d ordered it, but it didn’t arrive, and was gone when I checked again.

Another amusing thing is seat back entertainment (which includes the food/drink ordering system) which includes a flight map. I just flew over (well, almost) my brother’s house in Coos Bay.

Before I knew it, I was on BART headed to Berkeley:

Did I mention I’m flying REALLY light this trip – yep, one small laptop bag:

Luckily, the boys had some leftovers then I arrived around 11pm… but nothing like dinner the next night, which was a scallop, crab bisque in a lobster broth!

I love staying with the boys (though at this point, they are way over thirty). Here is my dinner shot:

Late afternoon it was back to BART, with a stop at one of my favorite dog stands – in front of the Ashby BART Station:

Then into the lounge:

Sadly, the noodle bar wasn’t open, just burgers, sandwiches, and a lot of booze.


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Mar '18

Trip Report: Toyota City

Wednesday was a quiet day for me. Julian works, and I made a random Scruff date in the city. We ended up at the appropriately named Seattle Sandwich Café:

I was low on cash and the café didn’t take plastic, so it was a meal of snacks and a highball or two, but not a full meal:

Interesting guy, from Lebanon, working on his Masters in International Affairs at one of the universities in the city. Not boyfriend material, but I might get a place to crash in Beirut!

The next morning was an early morning…out of the house at 8AM, on a school holiday for Julian (who is a little slow at this time of the day).

Destination is the Toyota Museum and Assembly Plant Tour, in Toyota City. The downside is that Toyota City is 2.5 hours away from Julian’s flat. And many trains (four). I had to make phone shots of the route to get us there.

I congratulate Toyota on great instruction, including shots of the building that we’d be passing from the train station to get here:

Our tour time was 10:30, but that included half an hour of wandering around their museum:

Sadly, no phones are allowed I the plant, so we have to leave them on the bus. On the way to the buses, Julian made a little friend – now we can call him Poppa Julian, guess that makes the kid my great-grandson.

And off we go!

We were a little over an hour in the plant itself – and even Julian said he’d have like more time just staring at the line and playing their interactive “can you work the line” games.

Soon, it was back on the bus with our complimentary umbrellas as it was raining by the time the tour let out. By the time we got back to the museum, even the rain had stopped, but now we have umbrellas in case it starts again.

Needing lunch, we found this place by the train station that closed at 2, luckily it was 1:30, but we had to rush through our meal:

Ours was on the second floor (Yamauchinoujou), with the homemade banner offering 800yen lunch specials:

Another 2.5 hours and we are back to Julian’s flat, in time to make a farewell meal for ME. Julian and I did the shopping, and then when his girlfriend arrived, she looked at what we’d bought and went out and bought twice as much to supplement it – but it was a stunning farewell meal:

By 8PM, I was out the door and headed to the airport where I’d booked a room for my early flight in the morning:

Again, it was time to do some screen captures of where I was headed:

Toyoko Inn Chubu Kokusai-kuko Honkan (Orange Side). Apparently, the Orange Side is Western, and the Green Side is Asian – as reflected by the morning included breakfast, though you are free to go to either side for your breakfast. I, myself, was planning on going to the Japan Air Lines Lounge for my breakfast. Nice clean hotel, half the price of the ones that are directly attached to the hotel. This one required a five-minute walk (in the rain) from the enclosed overhead walkway. Definitely worth the walk. Mine would be the building with the reflected arrow on it.

And once again, it’s the hotel ice quest. And yet, another oddity – a machine in the lobby that dispenses cups of ice:

All, for this:

It’s going to be another early morning for me…so a couple of drinks, a little internet, and off to bed.


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Mar '18

Trip Report: Kyoto

We arrived in Kyoto a little after three, and easily found our “hostel” – and found it closed until 4PM. We continued down the narrow alley for another block or so.

To discover this:

It was a very serene place to just SIT – one of the few public resting places I’ve come across on this trip. I sat, Julian did a roam of the neighborhood.

When he returned, we still had time to kill, so we went to this place in the alley that advertised Craft Beer (a Julian favorite), called Beer Komachi:

Julian tried a couple of different beers, I went for an interesting sounding sake. Food looked interesting but didn’t try any (though Julian would try to try late in the evening, but the kitchen had closed). It was 4:40 by the time we got back to the “hostel” (Hostel Haruya Higashiyama), just a few doors down.

The main entrance is by the bicycles… as it turned out – our room had a private entrance just behind Julian. You can see the key hanging out of the door!

They had it set up for one person, but rectified the situation after we went out. One thing that didn’t get rectified was Julian’s response to the check-in person’s question as to whether I was his father – sadly, he used the wrong version (though close) which said I was his grandfather. Damn I look good for having a 30+year-old grandson.

Thought it would be noisy, being right on the alley, but amazingly not. Basically, we threw our shit down and left to explore.

One of the things I learned quickly is that Kyoto is full of tourists – mostly Japanese, and it’s dress up time!

And they all seemed to be under 30. Apparently, this is a great “courting” city, as in, if you are trying to woo a girl, suggest a weekend in Kyoto.

While we are on “photo albums”, here is a collection of Japanese posters that I liked:

What the hell –a vending machine – also a favorite of mine, including the first one which actually in the winter dispenses HOT cans of coffee in addition to the cold beverages. Blue signs for cold, red for hot:

Enough random photos!

We wondered around the old town section of Kyoto, which was just over the river from where we were staying. Tried to get into a jazz bar we found.

But it was closed, so we opted for a Yakitori snack and drinks.

After our snack, tried to go back the jazz club from earlier – still closed, though they said they’d be open in fifteen minutes, so we wandered and found another jazz bar, Beer Bar Jive.

Where we had a drink. Turns out, later in the evening they have live jazz. Once again, we are too early.

One drink, and we went back to see if Hello Dolly was finally open…

But one of the staff let us in, since he’d been the one to say that it was still closed because their bartender hadn’t showed up. No mixed drinks, but he could handle whiskey on the rocks and a beer. The closed sign was still on the door so we had the entire place to ourselves!

Nice old wood classy bar interior, but again, we stayed for just one drink before heading back to Beer Bar Jive a little before 8, hoping to get out of paying the cover charge from 8PM on (didn’t work). The musical guests were a Harmonica (& Guitar – but he should have stuck to the Harmonica) player and a Pianist (really good). I’d wanted to hear some live jazz on this trip, so I wasn’t all that picky about what I could find on a Sunday night.

After a couple of rounds of drinks, we left at the end of the first set, not really getting value for our 1500yen each cover charge, but we needed to find food – and probably should have gone back to the yakitori place, but instead, walked around forever, finally plopping me down in a British Pub while Julian scoured the rest of the neighborhood – coming up empty, so we both decided to have a little food. Tip for ordering Western food in Japan. DO order the Fish & Chips (me), DO NOT order the nachos (Julian).

We struggled back to the hostel – and the room was set for two:

Julian went back to Beer Komachi to see if he could get a little more food. No, kitchen was closed, but isn’t beer food?

I slept like a rock. I was up before Julian, meaning I had to find the shower (we had a bathroom in our suite). It was though the lounge, left through a sliding glass door!

Had a bit of trouble getting Julian up and going, but once we were out, found a close café (La Bac a Sable) for a little breakfast:

Nice to have a sort of American breakfast after a couple of weeks!

Off to the temple (Fushimi Inari Shrine) we go – two or three trains later, we pop out here:

Next up was noodles at Men Ko Bo Ren – a place that Julian had been to before. It was popular, so we had to wait for a seat:

But it was a good thing we got in when we did, as they sold out of noodles!

We took the slow (2.5 hours) train back to Nagoya, which saved us enough to pay for lunch.

Notice the railroad watch holder set into the control panel.

I had arrangements for a business meeting with a client from Tokyo who happened to be in Nagoya for the day one business, so we got together for drinks and dinner.

TokyoDave has the ordering tablet in his hand, but here is what it looks like:

I let him order all the dishes, and I wasn’t disappointed!

It was a wonderful dinner meeting, but TokyoDave needed to catch the 7:55pm train home, it was shorter than I’d like.

I, myself, headed back to Julians, for tomorrow is another day.

[? ? ?]

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Mar '18

Trip Report: Osaka

I had to look it up. Hip Contusion. That’s most likely what I suffered the other day. Right leg pain and flexibility issues. NOT the thing you want when you are headed out of town doing tourist stuff that requires lots of walking and lots of stairs. Welcome to Japan!

Julian has a great view from his building, FYI. Took this shot while waiting for the elevator:

Because Julian works until after 9PM, I headed into Nagoya Central Station ahead of him to grab our two tickets on the Shinkansen headed to Osaka. Julian and I were to meet up under the infamous “Golden Clock”.

Got the tickets but needed a little food:

My choice of food was as much about my love of hot dogs as it was for a place to sit down.

While Japan has plenty of trains that run on time, they lack much in the way of seating ANYWHERE (stations and throughout public spaces), which considering all the walking and stairs, with an aging population, it’s probably not a good mix. But I digress.

Before leaving the house, I popped out to the store for some supplies for the trip. All the food groups. Whiskey and mixers:


Dried squid, wasabi peas, and little sausage sticks:

Julian was on time getting to “The Golden Clock”, and so was the train:

Never seen a urinal on a train!

It took us a little over an hour to get to Osaka. Then there was the hike to the Asahiplaza Capsule Hotel.

We still needed to explore the nightlife of the Dōtonbori neighborhood and get some food.

A specialty of Osaka is their Octopus Balls (Takoyaki), so we split one:

And then it was off to a table top cooking restaurant:

Julian’s Japanese comes in handy when ordering from our VERY CUTE waiter:

Throat? Penis? Red fibrous meat of the cow’s front stomach?

Not your style? Maybe Heart Crotch, or the variation, Spicy Tongue Crotch? They have, and I quote, “Hard To Find Intestine.”

And I didn’t even mention the Hot & Spicy Retuculum or the Dainty Beef Face, nor the Red Fibrous Meat of the Cow’s Front Stomach with Scallion and Salt (how VERY SPECIFIC).

We weren’t as adventurous when we ordered…

Back to the hotel we went…full, and a little tipsy.

So, capsule hotels are a little odd, and rule bound. Shoes off in the lobby, check in, put your shoes in the shoe locker, turn in that key and get your personal stuff locker key. Luggage is not allowed in the “capsules”, so if it doesn’t fit in the gym-sized locker, that will be an extra 200yen (on top of the 3000yen [about $30] capsule rate). At the lockers you change into your yukata (rob top/drawstring bottoms), throw some personal items in the pod, and head to the basement where there is a full Japanese bath included in your room rate. Nothing like a long washing session before popping your tired bones in either still or bubbling hot water, or maybe just hanging out in the sauna (which, oddly, had a TV set in it). It being a traditional Japanese bath, no swimsuits are allowed, and they are serious about the heavy bathing before. Needless to say, no pictures of the facilities, oh, and by the way, like most of the public baths, you are not allowed in if you have tattoos, as they are associated with the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia).
LINK TO ALL THE RULES. Interestingly, the no tattoos was a sign in the bath itself, but not on the brochure or website, so I’m guessing that this is not strongly enforced for Westerners.

Here is a view from the inside of your pod. You have your choice of a TV or an electrical outlet. It’s an up-charge if you want both.

We went for the outlet as they were sold out of combo units.

I slept amazing well for it being a coffin. I think the booze helped.

In the morning we are off on our final sightseeing experience of Osaka – the Cup Noodle Museum. On the way there, passed this sign, which Julian informed me, that while Kobe, famous for its Kobe Beef, the beef at these stand is just overpriced from that region, rather than been raised in the Kobe tradition of pampering your cows:

The museum is several trains away from the hotel:

And amazingly well-signed at the destination station:

Talk about KIDS everywhere…to get to the museum we passed hundreds – all clutching these air-filled bags with their cup noodle inside so they would survive the trip home.

Yes, the statue of the founder has a packet of noodles in his hand.

If you ever wanted to know the history of ramen in its own serving container – this is the place.

Ramen through the ages:

Ramen in space:

Let’s not forget the theatre presentation:

Its free for the self-guided tour (2000yen deposit if you want the English language audio tour), but if you want the hand-on, make-your-own-from-scratch experience, that’s extra.

If that’s too much time and too much money, you can opt for the color your own bowl, and have them create a custom package of ramen with whatever toppings you want. Be prepared for a LONG line:

What can I say, I like weird tourist places – but it did make us hungry for noodles, just not from a cup, but a bowl. It took us a while to find a sit-down restaurant in the massive Osaka Train Station and my hip/leg was still bothering me, but the wait and the walk was worth it:

Next stop – Kyoto!

[?? ?]

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Mar '18

Trip Report: Hōnen Matsuri

That’s right, it’s Penis Festival Time – I mean Hōnen Matsuri!

This will be the third “festival“, my second time at Komaki. I’ve returned because I wanted to see what a smaller town festival would be like when it didn’t fall on a weekend. The one in Kawasaki always on the first Sunday of April, while the Komaki one is always on a specific date – March 15th, which when I was here three years ago, fell on a Sunday.

There must be some tourist interest for them to post the sign in English, especially since the route alternates even and odd years. See the WikiPedia entry.

There is lots of milling about before the parade – food stalls, if you can call chocolate covered bananas, food.

And candy stalls selling penis pops…that would be Taylor, a friend of Julian’s joining us:

Strangely, Zima is still a thing in Japan, and I got talked into trying one:

Which led to this….

And all this was BEFORE the parade was underway….which starts now:

And they were handing out free sake ladled out of a big wooden cask…

And they had a “petting zoo”…

We followed the parade all the way back to the temple…

As a side note it was interesting that locals would approach and chat with us – it helped that Julian and Taylor both speak a little Japanese.

Everyone was getting into the spirit…think Goth Sperm Dress:

Then there was the traditional “throwing of the rice cakes”…

I like the guy with the catcher’s mitt!

Somewhere along the way we met up with Kent, who Taylor knew from Tender, but had declined his invitation to go to the penis festival together…and as (his) luck would have it, he found us in the crowd.

Off we went for real food:

I do remember that this was an “all you could eat – all you could drink” place.

Which could be why I don’t remember the details of the karaoke bar we went to afterwards…at least I got a bit of a nap in. Apparently, I only made it through one drink at the bar – which was all you could drink in an hour. Not looking too hot on the train ride home:

At least tonight, we made the last train home.


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Mar '18

Trip Report: Nagoya & Komaki

With Julian’s work schedule (11am-9:30pm), it was definitely a sleep-in day after chatting until 3am last night. Guess I forgot to mention that we stopped by a 24-hour market near Julian’s place to pick up some supplies. That might have led to the 3am bedtime.

The Melita is in the picture for size (it’s the standard #4 size, not the #2, next to a 1.5-liter Coke Zero – next to the FOUR LITER bottle of Suntory Classic Whiskey. Go big or go home!

I made myself a little breakfast:

Before heading out to Sakae to one of the largest 100 Yen stores in the city. It’s a short walk from Julian’s apartment in this complex:

To the subway headed into the city. No transfers (at least to Sakae), and saw a couple of interesting vehicles along the way:

And, not unlike Seattle, some interesting manhole covers:

Even a cemetery:

One of the things I do when I travel is to take pictures of the transit maps (especially if they have English on them). It gives me a backup of where I’m going and how to return:

While in Sakae looking for the exit that Julian sent me, ran across a Bear Papa, which we have one in Seattle!

Found my way to the store, which covers and entire floor of a mall:

I actually managed to spend 3400Yen which means lots of quirky presents for people upon my return:

Also went across the street to Don Quixote – a four floor mass of Japanese consumer goods:

It wasn’t until I as headed back to the station that I noticed a Ferris Wheel stuck to the outside:

Back in Julian’s neighbor it was off to the Aeon (grocery/department store) a couple of block away for grab an afternoon snack, which wasn’t these:

But these:

The plan is to meet up with Julian in Komaki where he teaches, taking a different subway line. Julian tracked down a spare rechargeable transit card with I refilled in Sakae. He works in the building right on top of the train station, so it was easy to find.

Off to dinner we go with his friend Tak at the wheel. I’d met him on one or the other of my two previous trips to Nagoya. Two more teachers, a student, Tak, Julian, and I in a van rolling towards the restaurant owned by the mother of another student who has befriended Julian with furniture for his apartment, etc.

She even gave him a bottle of sweet potato wine (Sochu).

I was fascinated by the Jazz Musician speaker set. Might have to try and track on down.

We were having so much fun that, tonight, we did miss the last train. Tak offered us a list, but it would have been 35 minutes out of his way, and he gets up at 6am, so we sucked it up and dropped about 5000Yen (about $50) on a cab for the 7-mile ride.

Didn’t stay up as late tonight, closer to 1:30am.

Tomorrow, Julian has PTO (Paid Time Off), which was a royal pain to get from a supervisor. He had to go to the district manager to get his legal PTO.

It’s festival time (again!).

[? ? ?]

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Trip Report: Headed To Japan

Nice to have a washer/dryer when preparing to leave the continent for ten days. Woohoo, clean laundry!

My trip to Japan kicked off with a humorous encounter at the ANA check-in counter…where I ran into Beth, Zilla, their two kids and his mother. And on my flight no less!

Seems like they like to get to the airport three hours before flights as well.

Left them to get through security, and I headed to the S Concourse and the Sea-Tac owned lounge that ANA contracts out to serve their Business and First-Class passengers. Nothing like a noon time Manhattan.

When I arrived, breakfast stuff was out, but quickly transitioned to lunch items:

Not a bad lounge, though not huge:

Nice views of the runway:

Before long, it was time to board:

Not the best picture of my Business Class seat, but you can see by the window size that this is a 787.

And the usual pre-departure glass of bubbles!

And it certainly was a beautiful day to fly…

Soon, food started coming out. There were choices of either Japanese-style, or what they referred to as International. I chose International. Round one:

Round two:

Here is a close up of the classiest salt/pepper contained I’ve seen on any airline:

They were two separate pieces, and the empty on is for Olive Oil that came in a tiny little bottle which immediately went into my backpack.

On to the soup (corn) course:

Followed by the main:

Followed by dessert:

And more booze:

I went back to check on my friends a couple of times during the flight – they were in Economy Plus, which has nicer, wider seats (and I believe, upgraded food), that regular economy in the far back. I think they said it was $1800 more round-trip for the four of them:

Kind of nice having people to visit during the flight!

Then there was the pre-landing food service. I opted for “International” with a little champagne:

Nine and a half hours later, we landed in Tokyo, where after immigration and customs I headed to the ANA Domestic Lounge, which was oddly, before security:

With free, pour it yourself booze:

But the food offerings were fairly puny.

In retrospect, I should have used the showers in the lounge. Next time!

The boarding was out a set of doors and onto a bus out on the tarmac to a 767-300, which seems like overkill for the short flight to Nagoya. My boarding pass said Economy – but this is what “economy” meant to ANA:

Before the doors closed, I moved to this seat instead:

Like its own little island in the sky!

There was only time for a water and tea service on the 45-minute flight – maybe that’s why they called it “economy”.

This is what greeted in at baggage claim!

And Johnny Depp was on the train with me:

While getting into town was a straight shot – finding the “Golden Clock” in the huge Nagoya station took an hour of wondering around:

I needed to find the clock because his directions to the British Pub (a chain called The Hub) we were going to meet up with started from this point.

I can’t tell you how glad I was to find the place – and get a cocktail. I would have preferred a stool to sit on, but the place was packed, and everyone was smoking, both inside and outside, where it was actually warm enough to hang out.

I couldn’t really leave my bags to go back and get a second drink, so messaged Julian to meet me at the Golden Clock instead. At least there I could sit on my bag without the smoke.

Julian works until 9:30pm (starts at noon) teaching English in Komaki, one town over. By the time he got there it was already 10:30pm so we headed out to a 60’s style restaurant, oddly, a couple of doors down from The Hub.

While it was a relaxed dinner, we had to rush at the end to make sure we caught the last train home, which was around midnight. We made it, but with only minutes to spare.

All in all, a VERY LONG day for me.

[? ? ?]

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Apr '17

Trip Report: Nagoya, Days Two & Three

After my first day running myself ragged (OK, Julian was literally dragging me), I decided for a light day of exploring the neighborhood after Julian left for work around eleven. Explored the Japanese version of Home Depot, shopped for whiskey to pack in my bag (and in my belly), got snacks for the day from the huge AEON supermarket a couple of blocks away, did an initial pass at the 100 Yen store (that would be The Ninety-Cent Store in the US).

I was a little amazed to find this on the shelf of the grocery store:

I can’t even find caffeine free diet Coke in Canada!

Julian got home around ten and we started fixing a traditional Japanese dinner, which, for some reason I didn’t take any pictures of – maybe we were drinking, chatting, and having WAY too much fun.

So, it’s one in the morning and Julian wants to go on a walk, or it might have been midnight, I know it was late, and I wasn’t a fan of the idea, but he finally wore me down and off we went for a walk along the river.

Here is a nighttime view from his apartment:

And from our little evening walk:

Yep, the cherry blossoms are in full glory…

He is looking like the devil, which is how I felt about him when he dragged me out for a walk – my legs still feeling yesterday’s adventures.

As it turned out, the walk helped Julian not feel as bad the next morning, though he was still running slow. Me, I slept in and spent another day exploring the neighborhood, finalizing purchases at the 90 Cent Store and getting ready for a full evening…again!

The plan was that I was to meet Julian’s friend Yousuke for Hanami, the cherry blossom viewing party where everyone sits in a park, eating and drinking all day long. Off to the subway go I, and as tempting as it was to stop in for a bit, I didn’t:

Missed the first train by seconds when the sliding gates tried to eat me:

One train to Komaki to meet Yousuke (and pick up some snacks and drink for the park), three trains later we are back in Nagoya in a different direction. Yousuke probably should have picked up his snacks in Komaki because every convenience store in the direction of the part was MOBBED.

Then there was the challenge of finding his friends among the thousands of people enjoying the festival – these shots should give you an idea of the crowds and the blossoms.

Our group:

And part of the pile of shared food:

Imagine acre after acre of people hanging out with their friends eating/drinking/chatting for hours on end.

With that many people to say goodbye, we didn’t get back to Komaki to meet Julian until after ten (he gets off at nine) so we could all go out and cook our own meals.

That would be Yousuke on the right.

So, the reason that Julian works so late Tuesday through Saturday is that he is an English As A Second Language (ESL) teacher – who is even featured in his companies advertising (yes, they charge people more to have white people from the US teaching them).

Of course, we got home WAY later than I wanted since I have to be up at five to catch my flight home – this might be PART of the problem.

Yep, that’s a little recycling to take out.

Not looking forward to the early departure in the morning.


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Apr '17

Trip Report: Nagoya, Day One

Thanks to TackyT-ShirtPrincess, I have a link to the international coverage of the festival I attended in Kawasaki. CLICK HERE. Should I return next spring, I think I’d go back to the one in Komaki (always on March 15th – Kawasaki’s is always the first Sunday in April) as the crowds are smaller and the phallus’ bigger.

Guess that I really SHOULD show you the shirt I got her – even though it will ruin the surprise since she hasn’t gotten it yet:

With that little additional information about Kanamara, we need to get ourselves south to Nagoya on the Shinkansen, which means a couple of different trains to pick it up in Yokohama.

Yep – during the morning commute. But we made it.

And soon, the little lady with the cart came around. I picked a lovely Australian Red to go with my egg salad sandwich on blindingly white bread:

The trains are definitely high-tech – they even come with instructions on how to use the toilet:

Don’t squat on the rim, don’t put your poop stained toilet paper in the trash can, and wave your hand around to flush.

To give you an idea of how quick the train is – here’s a short video:

All that speed made me thirsty, so when the trolley lady came by, it was time for another round:

Arriving at Nagoya’s Central Station, changed to the local train, where there was even a sign on the train advertising the wine TokyoDave and Mitsio drank while we were in Tokyo:

Arriving at Julian’s place, I see he’s stocked up in preparation of my visit:

Though we might have to hit the grocery store for some of their 3 to 5 liter bottles:

His new place (since my last visit) is a definite step up – on the 13th floor with a nice view:

And the insides are nice as well!

You can see his previous place in this POST.

No rest for the wicked (guess that would be me), so after dropping our bags, it’s off to a Japanese Curry restaurant:

I even had a beer – yes, me!

Since this is Julian’s last day off before returning to work – off we go Inuyama Castle – more trains, more walking:

And after six or seven flights of “ship stairs”, we get (me, huffing and puffing) to the top to see the view:

Walked back to the station to use the facilities…luckily, no need for this one:

At least there was toilet paper.

But wait, there is MORE! Appetizers at home.

Before heading out to conveyor sushi! Where you order by tablet.

And get your own hot water for tea:

With food coming on Shinkansen and belts:

And a little video

And in the end, you pay by the stack of plates, by color:

Long day, longer…wait – karaoke!

In my(previous) world, karaoke is something done at a bar with people fighting over a microphone. Apparently in Japan, it’s something experienced with friends in a private reserved room with free unlimited booze.

This is a favorite of Julian:

Free drinks (with room rent) help Uncle Markie get into the spirit:

Julian filmed a small (thankfully) segment when the liquor took over:

A seriously long night. I’m thinking of sleeping in.


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Apr '17

Trip Report: Japan – Tokyo

TokyoDave and I arrived from the train station to a living room full of teenagers – apparently, there were twice as many (eight) earlier. In the living room on a tabletop cooker they had been making quesadillas and smores – yes, these are international school students. Sarah’s (TokyoDave’s number two daughter) red-haired boyfriend is half Japanese, half Argentine. Definitely a mixed crowd where English was the major language. And like teens everywhere, more food was needed:

Yep – they send Mitzio (TokyoDave’s wife) to the Dominos store because you get an extra pizza if you pick it up rather than have it delivered. Thankfully she also picked up a bag of ice for cocktails.

It was a long evening of catching up, noshing on various bits and bobs, a bottle of red wine was opened to go with the dutyfree whiskey I brought. Spanish, El Diablo something. Didn’t try it but it was finished by the morning.

Julian showed up from Nagoya in the morning – only getting a little lost needing TokyoDave to fetch him from the Family Mart (the 7-11 of Japan, except that 7-11’s are EVERYWHERE in Japan). Soon we were off to Kawasaki for the Kanamara Festival. Basically, it’s a Penis Festival – like the one that I went to two years ago in Komaki.

Police had closed off streets:

And the crowds were massive – much larger than the festival in Komaki.

With lots of people in costume:

And then the parade of penises started:

But a still photo doesn’t do it justice – how about a video!

And there were more “floats”….

This one was carried by and donated to the local temple by local drag queens:

Yet, more dongs…

And dress-up:

It turned into a family event with TokyoDave’s wife and daughter meeting up with us, though it’s only Julian, Sarah, and I in this shot.

Sarah and I are eating chocolate dipped penis’ (banana on a stick), while Julian is holding up his “mini-me”.

Eventually, we ended up at one of the two temples (starting and ending):

When the “honored guest” (that would be me) was ask about lunch, my request was not for street/stall food, but a sit-down restaurant to get away from the crowds (and, frankly, to sit down). We ended up at t noodle joint.

You order and pay at the hostess station, they give you tickets to place on the table. Want drinks? Step up to the vending machine for more tickets:

I opted for the sparking sake:

Soon, it was time to head back to TokyoDave at Mitzio’s house and relax:

And have a little late dinner.

For tomorrow Julian and I head to Nagoya.


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Apr '17

Trip Report: Tokyo Bound

I’m actually taking a weekend off leaving Jim in charge – like he is even when I am working the weekend. Destination? Tokyo to visit my ex, his wife, and daughter for a couple of days, then down to Nagoya to visit Julian.

But first, I have to get there, which means a stop in the Alaska Lounge:

Breakfast of champions!

Saw the combo Alaska/Virgin plane that was damaged several weeks ago in an “airport incident“. Fortunately, not my airplane.

Several days ago, I’d gotten an email from Alaska Airlines saying that they had upgraded me on my flight from Seattle to Vancouver. In the back, there isn’t even enough time for a beverage service. In the front, we got one quick round in the half hour flight. It was nice to even get an upgrade on a frequent flyer award ticket. Even got my favorite seat, 1C.

When I checked in back in Seattle, they were able to check my bag in all the way to Tokyo, but not give me a boarding pass for my connecting Japan Airlines ticket. Got to Vancouver, and while the plane had arrived, there, the gate area was locked up. Wandered the airport a bit and finally decided to go to the lounge that Alaska partners with in Vancouver – which turns out to only work if you are flying to the states, or, as it turns out, connecting to the Japan Airlines flight. Yahoo! More free food.

My newspaper fortune (VERY appropriate):

My plane (787-8):

My seat:

The bidet controls in the lavatory (yes, a bidet on a plane – better than a snake):

And then the food started coming (and coming). It IS business class, after all:

Somehow, I forgot to take a picture of the “starter” course which was shrimp, lox, foie gras (and tasty). Then before landing (after my third movie), they served us another lunch:

Upper left is VERY unusual version of Paella.

I went for the Western Meal option since I’ll be in Japan all week and this will be my last chance. Here were the menu options:

And let’s not forget the drinks!

My thoughts on Japan Airlines Business Class:

  • Last generation seats, not completely lay flat
  • A little stingy on the alcohol
  • A little too “formal” attitude for my taste
  • Food was good, but not over the top

But considering my round-trip ticket was 112,500 miles and $85, I can’t complain too much.

Arrived in Tokyo to an airfield taxi stand – meaning down the stairs and into a bus to the terminal. Fairly quick transit through immigration and customs, and soon enough I was on the Narita Express bound for Shinagawa Station where TokyoDave would meet me and get me the rest of the way to his house:

The train into town was an hour, and the remaining legs with TokyoDave another half hour.

We’ll pick up the story tomorrow, but at least I made it in to Tokyo in one piece.

[? ? ?]

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Jan '17

Trip Report: Vancouver & Victoria

Well, the travel season has begun again – starting off with a road trip with my old college roommate, MB.

Left my place at noon headed for CanadaLand…with a couple of stops on the way:

Since we were going into a “crown county”, we thought we’d gets our crowns on early.

First stop is a WorldMark that I hadn’t tried yet – actually a trade with Vacation Internationale or something like that – Rosedale on Robson – warning, I didn’t take this picture:

But it gives you an idea. We were in a one-bedroom unit with a sofa bed in the living room…

Good day and night views…

Not as nice as the WorldMark at the Canadian in the heart of downtown – especially considering valet parking is $30 a night at the Robson on Rosedale. However, it does have a decent restaurant ion the ground floor – Original Joes – were we had cocktails and dinner:

MaryBeth had the Brambleberry, I went for the Royal Buffalo (Buffalo Trace Bourbon and Chambord Liqueur)

My haddock and mixed chips – biggest piece of fish and chips fish I’ve ever seen:

MaryBeth went for the noddle/broth dish – both excellent:

Out at eleven to catch our ferry to Vancouver Island, but first breakfast/brunch at the ferry terminal which has a HUGE food/shopping court. No, I did not have the sugarized apples:

And it was a GORGEOUS day for a ferry ride – and we had a front row seat!

Our room was ready when we got there!

MaryBeth ignored the howling breeze and hopped into the tub. Me, I stayed inside and enjoyed the view:

Before it was cocktail time:

Sort of a “faux” Lemon Drop – Citron Vodka with fresh squeezed “orange lime” juice – we found them at the local Thrifty Grocery. These are organic (hence the code starting with “9” – regular limes are 4306):

Looks like a small orange, but has the juice more like a lemon. And we liked them so we made two more runs to the store over the stay to get more.

As is my usual Victoria journeys, people are invited to dinner – including one of the checkers from the Thrifty:

Our first set of guests managed to drain the bar – resulting in this:

This was AFTER the hot tub, which with a 30mph breeze, was more like a lukewarm tub – with heads bobbing barely above the water line to keep from ice forming.

Wednesday is all about PIG – the restaurant called PIG, and one of the cooks at PIG.

Totally forgot to take pictures of our lunch – I went for the pulled pork sandwich, MaryBeth went for the pulled port poutine (fries, cheese curds, gravy, pulled pork) small portion, which was the size of a small child’s head.

Next up was to stock up on provisions….

Great guy working there who I assume was one of the owners – GREAT customer service.

Two bottles of wine, replacement vodka, replacement whiskey, and we are on our way to the fish market for dinner protein:

Love the fact they tell you what boat and where – this is why I shop with these folks (Finest At Sea) – they are a wholesaler who has a tiny retail store a couple of blocks from the condo on a side street behind their offices, and now, a food trailer out front.

So, they translation to US measures/prices – a pound and a third of troll caught salmon for $22USD which works out to $16.36 a pound (thanks to a 30% difference between the $USD and $CAN).

The dinner company is MaryBeth’s daughter’s boyfriend (who is a cook at PIG) and his mother – how’s THAT for an interesting dinner! And I’m making him cook after I do all the prep work – doesn’t it look GREAT?

And he taught me a tip – give it grill marks on the flesh side, then finish cooking on the skin side – I’d change this to a 45-degree angle – or a 45, and then a 90 for cross hatch.

No hot tub action tonight!

When I hang with friends at WorldMark places – even breakfast is “ensuite”:

That is a coil of sausage done on the grill, Caesars (that would be a Bloody Mary made with Clamato), scrambled eggs.

Today we are off to a CASTLE – and not the one that most tourist go to in Victoria – we are driving to Hatley Castle, not his father’s castle Craigdarroch Castle (FYI, his father died before the Castle was complete). Hatley was Royal Road Military College after the family finished the cycle from rags to riches to rags and lost the place, now it the Royal Road University, mostly on-line but offering career transitions. Thank you, MaryBeth, for stopping a person on campus who must have been in the administration for the great boiled-down mission statement.

It’s “shoulder season” so no tours of the Castle since it is a “living building”, i.e. and Administration Building – but still pretty:


And the lobby…

And my favorite lobby sign from its former life:

Even though there wasn’t a tour – there is a small museum in the basement (along with gift shop, and oddly school supply stop):

Back in town, it was time for an afternoon snack – I’d taken the chicken from the first night, turned it into stock, skimmed the fat after an evening in the fridge, add noodles and frozen veg…and a lovely soup!

Got a lot of use out of that chicken! After we’d had our fill, I packed up four small containers (left over from appetizer plates) for the staff – nothing like a little homemade chicken noodle soup. They are VERY understanding of my life – they even got me chocolates for my birthday in September.

Dinner tonight was a friend of mine who connected over social media and his husband – one of those, “stop by for a cocktail” that turns into dinner. Take the two marinated steaks, cube, skewer, grill, add a couple of salads, and we have dinner!

Another day…another castle! This time it’s dad’s castle — Craigdarroch Castle!

Search on Craigdarroch on my blog to see more pictures of the interior – this time I was specifically looking for this one plaque:

Specifically, for this portion of the plaque:

My “faux” nephews Julian and Jameson, apparently names after Julian Jameson (there is a mention HERE).

Love this radiator in the library….

It was a great tour before getting in line for the Coho Ferry to Port Angeles. But first, LUNCH:

And we did have calamari with those drinks. Honest.

In the line:

On the ferry:

Made the last ferry (Bainbridge) with just enough time to line up and be the last car off the ferry.

Home, MaryBeth headed home, I headed to bed after opening one of the bottles of Duty Free and making a cocktail.


Feb '16

Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam – Eighth Leg: The Long Trip Home

The trip is winding down – time for Pigletté and Uncle Markie to head back to Seattle. The flight to Dubai is scheduled for a little before midnight – and when the check-in counter opened, I was the third person in the business line…this is what the economy line looked like:

And there is a shared lounge for Emirates business class passengers…not bad, but no open bar, just unlimited wine. Sigh. But there is a big open buffet:

My office for a couple of hours:

Wine, seltzer, beef noodle soup…a little post dinner, pre-flight food.

Another 777-300ER on the Saigon to Dubai flight. Pigletté gets settled in:

But he has to share his seat with Uncle Markie. Thanks to the lady in the window seat for this shot:

Soon it was movie time (Specter – a 007 movie):

We watched the movie while the flight attendant worked on my Manhattan:

Which came with some hot nuts – Uncle Markie LOVES hot nuts:

Even Bond, James Bond, enjoys a drink with us:

Before long, it was dinner time – and NO, that is NOT a potato, that’s a dinner roll. The starters:

The main:

Time for some more movies:

And the controller that also runs the system (in addition to buttons on the phone) – WAY too many options:

Here is a partial list of the movies I watched on the return flight:

  • Spectre (007)
  • Martians

And then there was a little sleep before arriving in Dubai at 4am in the morning – 4-hour layover, but the lounge is comfy and has “quiet areas”:

Don’t I look comfortable?

After a nap it’s time for a little breakfast before the breakfast on the Dubai to Houston flight:

Got to love Emirates Business Class Lounges in Dubai (they have three, each of which are the length of the terminal) – and how is this for boarding. The Business Class lounge is on 5 (in this terminal), First Class on 4, 3 is god-knows-what:

I love the “Upper Deck Boarding”, “Lower Deck Boarding” buttons, which correspond this this:

Yes, that is THREE jet skyways to the jet…Emirates A380-800 from Dubai to Houston is configured with

  • 14 First Class closed suites
  • 76 Business Class lay-flat seats
  • 399 Economy seats

With almost 500 seats you got to board these things from every orifice.

Wonder what economy looks like?

That would be a wild-body seating configuration of 3-4-3 (10-across). Upstairs, well, these are the back stairs – the front stairs go to First Class:

And the Business Class section which is a 1-2-1 configuration:

And my pod…

This was before I moved across the aisle so that I didn’t have to squeeze past the end table (which the feet of the person behind me slides into. Fresh flowers even:

Which was right above my 22″ tough-screen display…more reasons for changing seats.

Lots of charging opportunities…(and noise-cancelling headphone jack):

Add reading material (and Champagne) ….

And leg room …

And seat controls ….

Bye-bye Dubai …

A shot from above …

Time to settle in:

And then the food begins….

And yummy it is… another breakfast!

I opted for the Middle Eastern version of the main breakfast course… when in Rome (or Dubai) ….and more drinks:

Rob Roys with 18-year-old Chivas:

And since it’s a 15-hour flight, mid-flight mini-sandwiches:

And mid-flight work….

The flights movie list:

  • Life with father – William Powell

5 hours of sleep (Ambien washed down with Rob Roys)

  • The Man Who Knew Too Much – Kimmy Stewart, Doris Day
  • Philadelphia Story – jimmy steward, Cary grant, Hepburn
  • Desk Set – Hepburn/Tracy

Along with some hot appetizers:

At the back bar:

I think there was lunch in there someplace —

And the cheese course with a 2000 Warre’s Tawny Port:

I love some of the FaceBook comments on the cheese course photo:

Catherine: A GLASS glass?! METAL silverware!? An actual ceramic PLATE?!

Alexis: it looks to me like you are having too much carbs, only one cracker please ! x

Carlotta: Your cheese COURSE? There’ a vegetable, meat and dessert course? Soup too?

Retta: I could live off that.

Mark: I opted for the cheese and port over the chocolate lava cake, espresso and Cointreau. And yes, three courses before that. Redeeming 75000 miles gets you good airline food.

Kathy: I need to charge more on our mileage credit card, clearly!!

Mark: Happy to be anyone’s mileage consultant!

Carlotta: Well dear, you Are The Expert!

Mark: Catherine, that was a real piece of wood under that cheese.

Sean: It is so painful to see a man suffer

Jonathan: Not used to seeing you consuming grapes that haven’t been squashed and left to ferment for several years…

David: I approve!

Mikal: Pigletté loves cheese …

And then the party ended. Arrived in Houston with a two-hour layover which included customs/immigration, a terminal change, another round of security. Thank you Alaska for digital boarding passes that kept me from having to produce TWO quart bags since I’d collected all these toiletries from Janet to put in her church’s homeless packets. The downside of the Alaska gate in Houston is that there is no lounge access. Luckily I was exhausted because this was my seat for the four-hour Houston to Seattle run, in coach. At least it was bulkhead aisle:

One free drink, one bought drink, 3 hours of sleep which I dearly needed.

Cab home from the airport (about $30) about 9 in the evening – and here what was in the mailbox:

And what remained when I pitched all the junk:

International trip number one of four planned this year (next is Greece [June], then Mexico [September], then France [November]).

Next up is Victoria, British Columbia (which because it’s so close I don’t consider to be international).

[? ? ?]

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Pigletté In Vietnam – Eighth Leg: The Long Trip Home

Mar '15

Trip Report: Nagoya & Komaki

Julian works until 8 tonight (usually 9) so that was the reason for the late train to Nagoya – and it takes him 35-45 minutes to get from school (he teaches English) into Nagoya. Nagoya Station is crazy busy, even at 8:30 at night:

Bright lights in the big city…

But Julian is there at the appointed time (8:50) and at the appointed place (under the Gold clock at one end of the station, not the Silver clock [with gold trim] at the other end):

Yep – he wears a tie to work, even with the preschoolers. He teaches MANY different age and abilities. Off to dinner we go…

where you can order from their massive menu at a screen at each table.

I must have been hungry because there are no food shots, nor the beer and sake…

One the way back to his apartment – which is in Komaki, an in-the-sticks suburb according to Julian because it takes two transfers to get anywhere – I saw this nice bank of vending machines. Even in residential areas you will find them basically on every corner:

Guess I should get a day shot of this!

Welcome to Julian’s Dorm Room – technically a studio apartment, but it being furnished, it has the feel of a dorm room….

Past the door is the kitchen, toilet, shower, washing machine. Even the outside of the building looks industrial:

Stayed up too late catching up, (as we did in Portland as well,) luckily we don’t have an early day tomorrow.

Breakfast this morning:

Miso soup with a side of coffee.

The main reason for the timing of this visit is to see the Hōnen Matsuri – the fertility festival held each March 15th in Komaki. You can read the whole Wikipedia at the link to the left, or here is the “bite-size” bit:

Hōnen Matsuri (豊年祭?, “Harvest Festival”) is a fertility
festival celebrated every year on March 15 in Japan. Hōnen means prosperous year in Japanese, implying a rich harvest, while a matsuri is a festival. The Hōnen festival and ceremony celebrate the blessings of a bountiful harvest and all manner of prosperity and fertility.

Luckily we aren’t headed there for the entire ceremony, just the final procession.

As you can tell by the English on the sign – LOTS of Westerners (gaijin) attend.

Yep – there was a parking lot full of us:

What parking lot, you might ask?

That’s when I realized this was going to be a long day. Yep, a looonnnggggg day of drinking, luckily with no driving:

So I joined the fun and picked up this fun little number….

Until I did a little research on this bourbon (Heaven Hill), I didn’t realize that it’s from the producers of my favorite bourbon, Evan Williams.

But enough about drinking in the middle of the afternoon, let’s get onto the phallus shots. Yes, even the candy they are selling is phallus shaped:

That would be Jacob – a good-old-boy from the south end of Alabama (and English teacher). Nice veins on that candy…

Yep, that’s a big one! But it doesn’t stop there, the grounds of the temple are “littered” with penis:

When you make an offering to this:

you ring this:

Gives new meaning to the phrase: Ding Dong.

EVERYBODY turns up at this festival, not just the foreigners… from guitar-toting cowboys…

to she-males….

Yes, even the bananas are suggestive…

And yes, I had one. And bought lots of cock souvenirs.

Before we move on, I have to share one video of the ceremonies:

To show how far we slid by the end of the afternoon (and because I think Jacob is cute):

Needless to say – we needed food after all this (other than bananas and penis pops)…so off we went to a place close to Julians.

We were a decent sized party of over eight….and ate we did…

and the disaster we left…

Another long night, because we were out of booze at home, so we swung by the local mega-store for some mega-booze. At this point my feet were KILLING me, and Julian and his girlfriend were kind enough to wheel me around the store….

Just for reference, that is a shelf of 4 Liter booze bottles. To compare sizes, we have this illustrative photograph:

1.5 liter Coke Zero, 700ml Suntory Whiskey, 4 liter Suntory Black. The four liter bottle was $24, which my EuroFaerie friend Karl pointed out is only .15 per unit of alcohol. That should keep me through my visit, with plenty of leftovers for Julian. Of course, that might be the ONLY thing in Japan that is cheap.

Another long evening…but this time we have to be up and out by 9am because we have a 10:30am reservation at the Asahi Brewery. Feeling the effects of last night we take the wrong train, leading to a 20-minute walk to catch our connection…and then catch the express rather than the local and have to turn around and catch a local back, and realize that the “10-minute walk” from the station is more like 20+ minutes….and surprisingly we were only 15-minutes late for our Japanese Language tour of the plant. We arrived at the same time as a bus filled with seniors – but to our amazement, an English-speaking tour guide came to our rescue!

Here is an aerial view of the complex:

and our tour guide:

and us enjoying some pre-noon free samples.

We were both hobbling on the tour, Julian from his recovering broken leg, me from some swelling at the ball of my left foot – she enquired if we’d like a cab back to the station in Japanese. Had she said it in English I would have said “hell, yes”, but alas – we walked back the 20 minutes.

Then I broke my own rule (for the second time this trip) – no more than one tourist attraction or event in one day.

Off we went to the SCMaglev and Railway Park to continue on the transportation theme of this trip. We were beat by the time we got there – at the end of a train line through the industrial heartland of Nagoya.

It was a cool museum, though Julian spent a good hour sleeping in one of the train cars. Sorry, no picture. HUGE museum with lots of displays:

What I found interesting was the interiors of the previous generation of Shinkansen trains…

And yes, they did have a huge diorama/model train set-up as well…

Caught the train back into the city and killed a little time before meeting up with the girlfriend and other friends for dinner – this time, a cook-it-yourself kind of place:

By the time we got home, we were totally beat – and Julian has to work tomorrow, though luckily not until noon.

As for me – I spent the day hobbling into the city center of Komaki to do a little exploring, a little shopping and indulged my “once-per-international-trip” US fast food stop:

In the same department store of Ronny Macs, there was this “odd” display of which I am clueless, but it did warrant a picture:

Like some bad 50’s dream…but I did come back with the fixings for dinner:

That would be stir-fried pork and chicken bits with a couple of kinds of pickled vegetables with a bowl of rice (that yes, Mr. Low Carb ate).

Here are some of my random “wandering around town” shots…

My favorite part of the above picture is the crow drinking water out of one of the flower vases…

The final meal of the Komaki leg was with another of the English teachers at Julian’s school, and one of their older students. We went out for more conveyor belt sushi – this time with little trains to deliver your special orders:

Grab from the line, or special order on the touchscreen:

And it comes on a different little train that stops only at your table:

This is the stack of plates for the four of us…

And when you are done, you slid them into the slot in the table where they are automatically counted and added to your bill:

Other than pouring down rain (a BIG thanks to Julian’s student who gave us a ride home) it was a perfect cap to an evening – and we even put a pretty big dent in that 4 liter bottle of whiskey…

Out of the house a little before 10 to catch the train to the airport for my 2:45pm departure for Narita, connecting to my flight to Seattle.

On the train, I finally found the transit map that I’d been looking for since I got here:

This map has all the various different company lines in both Kanji and English.

Only one transfer, but I’m on the slow train so basically it’s almost 2 hours, but I saved 340 yen by not taking the express and going the long way with fewer connections.

Headed home.

[? ? ?]

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Mar '15

Trip Report: Tokyo & Yokohama

Oh the joys of family. My planned two-night stay in Tokyo has been turned into a one-night stay in Tokyo and a one-night stay in Yokohama, where I am the .005% — which has turned out to be…I’m at a loss for words, but not at all negative.

One of the things that I love about JapanLand is the attention to detail….TokyoDave got his shirts back from the laundry – tied with a ribbon:

Nice touch.

I spent my morning in Tokyo, not sightseeing, but working on the last blog post, eating toast and yogurt and Japanese-brand Laughing Cow, before Mitsio (TokyoDave’s wife) returned home and made coffee. I’m at a loss in their kitchen.

By noon or so I’m at the station to catch the train to Yokohama – in theory meeting up with TokyoDave on the train. They gave me one of their “ORCA” cards (actually that’s a Seattle thing, but same principle), though it was drained so I had to go through “the dance” and then top it off before the end of the trip. Apparently the same card works all over Japan, which should be handy – just need to mail it back since I think it’s like Seattle’s with a $10 charge to buy one.

Small misconnection with TokyoDave, but with the joys of email, we have a backup plan, and I have a “chair”, I mean suitcase, that works as a seat, and before you know it we are here:

And then we are checked in, after a bit of a walk – not my fault!

Tight quarters, but not my dime, nor Circus, nor Monkeys.

First up – LUNCH!

Nothing says Tokyo like plates of food on a conveyor belt – though we ordered the lunch special. We just needed a snack to tide us over until an early dinner (5:30):

The joys of mechanization, Tokyo Style.

And then there are the vending machines… not the porno ones in the “entertainment district”, but more mundane:

I love the “Japanese” Juan Valdez hocking coffee….

Next up was the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum…sort of an “odd” concept – you pay 310 yen to get in, and the place is set up to look like a 1958 townscape with stalls selling various styles of ramen…like I said, “odd” Covers two floors…

The only reservation TokyoDave could get for Teppanyaki was at 5:30 – which is a little early for dinner (for me…), but the show was fun:

Nice meal all around – though not cheap. Think 35000yen (now divide by 120). Luckily (for me) it was a business expense for TokyoDave since I’m his registered agent.

That was pretty much the end of the evening for the two of us.

In the morning it’s the breakfast buffet that is seriously crowded….but it’s included in the room, so we are up and out early since TokyoDave is manning the desk at his daughter Maya’s International Baccalaureate Art Show (the same sort of show that I went to for my niece Karen a couple of weeks ago. Here is a quick picture of Maya’s exhibit.

Maya’s would the second one in from the left. It seemed a little higher quality that the New Mexico show, but not hugely so.

Lots of interesting work in Maya’s – even got to meet TokyoDave’s in-laws, who were in town for the show as well, hence, why I was decamped to Yokohama so they could have the guest bedroom.

I have the day to kill before catching the Bullet Train to Nagoya to meet up with my nephew, Julian. First up is the Silk Museum, which was right next to the IB exhibition.

Not a huge place, but lots of traditional clothing throughout Japan’s history. Then it’s off to the Nissan Gallery at their World Headquarters – yes, I know, I’m breaking my rule of only one tourist attractions per day, but these were pretty cars to look at, and nice butts in rubber pants:

Then down the block a little more and it was to the Haro Model Railway Museum – apparently this guy has been collecting and building model trains for his entire life.

Then it was back to the district where my hotel was to grab my luggage – but not before trying to squeeze in one last museum, the CupNoodles Museum (yes, that’s how it’s spelled).

But alas, there were tons of people in line to just get tickets. Guess I’ll save that for the next trip. Time to grab a bite, pick up the luggage and head to the station (which luckily is right across the street from the hotel). And this would be my office inside the JRStation waiting for my train…time to work on the blog (but not finished it – which is too bad because there is free wi-fi and I’m stocked with Whiskey and Diet.

Da Train Boss, Da Train!

Stay tuned for Nagoya and Komaki.

[? ? ?]

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Nov '14

Status Report: Confessions Of A Travel Addict

While my hands are quite shaking, it does feel weird that I’ll be at home for the next couple of weeks – maybe that’s why a spur of the moment trip to Leavenworth is looking so tempting. It’s not like I don’t have anything to look forward to:

The second Albuquerque is actually Dwight’s flight to meet up with me for our train ride back to Seattle in a Bedroom (rather than Roomette) on the Southwest Chief connecting to the Coast Starlight. What’s a bedroom on the train look like:

And the shower/toilet stall…

But the trip that I’m most excited about is my March trip to Japan to visit TokyoDave, faux nephew Julian who is teaching English as a second language, and see the Phallus Festival in Komaki where he lives. Of course, the journey is part of the adventure:

Yep – I’m going the long way around. Emirates from Seattle to Dubai, a 13-hour layover in the Business Class
Lounge, then onto Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. Haneda is the close in airport – and Emirates is even giving me car service on both ends. It was 75,000 Alaska miles for a one-way to Japan and another 75,000 on United to fly home in Business aboard an ANA
787-8. $57.70 in taxes and fees. Not bad! I pulled the price of my itinerary on Expedia and their price was $16,269.40. WOW. That means I am getting 10.8 per mile value out of those frequent flier miles – the usual calculation is that frequent flier miles are worth 1-2 cents apiece.

POST UPDATE: Here is a great article on what points are worth. According to this article, Alaska points are valued at 2 cents per mile while Uniteds are valued at 1.5 cents per mile (down from 2 cents last year because of changes redemptions). Whole article here.

Lots of firsts (but no First Class) on this trip:

So, assuming I have the right images, this is what Business Class on Emirates 777s look like:

As opposed to the Business Class seats on ANA’s

Looking forward to experiencing both airlines. And look at the menus:

Not going to lose any weight on this trip.

Here is a great picture from WikiPedia of the Phallus Festival…

So, the confession is that even when I’m in town, my mind is out of town, looking forward to the next trip – but having blown most of my stash of miles, it will be awhile before I’m back overseas.


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May '14

Trip Report: Il Etait Une Fois L’Orient Express, Part Three – Paris

Landed in one piece, pretty much on time. Welcome to Gay Paree. Okay, that’s a bad pun.

Logistics: Landed at Terminal Two which is really about three terminals connected by underground trams…it’s like half a mile to even get to immigration and customs which in the Speed Lane (business Class ticket) is not an issue.

Luckily there is an RER (French Train System) station at Terminal Two (and Terminal 1/3 as well).

The directions I pulled says it’s an easy EU8.70 ticket to the city…turns out it’s EU9.70 ($13) but I still have than much in Euro Change (thanks Julian, and previous trips by me). Then I just have to put up with pushy people while I feed the machine like the slots in Vegas.

A dozen stops on the B-Line to get to the Gare de Nor (North Train Station), walk across the platform to the D-line, go two stops to the Gare de Lyon (Lyon Train Station) and I’m a block from my hotel….at a little after 11AM in the morning. Hello Gare de Lyon…and oddly enough, a food-truck fare in front of it:

That takes care lunch… The Big Apple Hamburger Truck…I wanted the “French” which was goat cheese and caramelized onions (as my bad French told me) but they were out – I had to settle for the “Memphis” which was bacon, cheddar, and BBQ sauce. Not bad, better yet, not over cooked. Luckily I just got the sandwich as the “frites” looked more French than American.

After a walk around the neighborhood just to get the feel I checked in (actually, the burger was after I checked in) I popped into the lobby of the Hotel Terminus Lyon to see if my EU50 single room was ready, fully expecting to just store my luggage (and go get that burger).

To my surprise, the bloody thing was ready and waiting for me at 11:30 in the morning. The view from my 10 square meter room (35 square feet approximately):

And my single bed, and desk…

And the shower in the loo…

Mind you, there are some downsides…the “odd” toilet paper dispenser and its product:

Now how many pieces does that take you to “wipe”? But there is a real cocktail glass on the nightstand.

Went back across the street, got the burger, ate it, and crashed HARD. 6 hours’ worth of hard. I guess I should have slept on the plane.

Got up around 8pm, went searching for food and was amazed that the food trucks were still there – what the hell… Phad Thai (not the best). I just didn’t feel like sitting down solo in one of the many cafes that lined the streets. It felt more natural (for me) to get take out and get some work done. Still a little more planning for tomorrow Exhibition.

Around midnight (after the last post), popped an Ambien and crashed until 7 (even though the wakeup call was for 8). A little more work and then it is was off to the reason for this trip…The Orient Express.

It was a twenty minute walk to the Arab Institute where the Orient Express Exhibition was staged, and the massive Botanical Garden (and Zoo) was on the way, though I didn’t explore much:

It felt like it would have been a day to explore on its own – luckily I found a nice bacon wrap in the rare convenience store as apparently Paris isn’t up before 10.

But I digress… pictures from the Exhibition at the Arab Institute (after one picture of the Institute itself since the building style mixes East and West):

I think it’s Stainless Steel, but again, back to the reason for this trip….

This was from the film, though it never was on the tracks. Yes, that would be steam.

Three cars and a diner are on display – though the diner is only available for EU120 ($165) for the light dinner and EU160 ($220) for the heavy dinner. That’s a little RICH for my budget.

Here are some of the interior shots from the cars – which I’d love to have been on, except for the constant smoking…


If you are a fan of Lalique, here is some of his work on the train:

If you want to see more of my Lalique travels, check out this church on the Isle of Jersey (http://www.glasschurch.org/Glass_church_jersey_glass_church.htm). If you want to see the church from the Piglette & BoBo perspective (another project of mine), check out the PDF of that issue here: http://unclemarkie.com/PDFs/Piglette%20In%20UK.pdf. We (they boys – Piglette and BoBo) had a lot of fun on that trip. But back to Paris!

I did the exhibit hall as well, but everything around the Exhibition was only in French, including the ticket site (thanks Niece Emily for getting my ticket) so that went quick since I couldn’t read the info cards.

Nothing left to do except explore Paris on a spring day…look, it’s Notre Dame just a bit of a walk…

Of course to get there I have to cross that bridge to the left…on of the “locks of love” bridges:

And if you need the detail….

Cropped that might make a nice screen saver or background.

Alas – I didn’t make it into the cathedral… the lines, the lines. For the “tour”:

For just the cathedral:

Mind you from this angle it looks small, but its 45-minutes of zig-zag to get in. However, I’m amused by what I’m assuming s the parson’ house off to the right. I wouldn’t mind living there…

I took the lazy way back to the hotel to pick up my bag (having checked it with the desk before my ramble)…

Started at Gare De Lyon (lower right, 97 in a square), the to the Institute Du Monde Arabe (across the Seine, up river), then further upriver to Notre Dame (256 in square), then to the Bastille Monument (18 in the square), past the Opera Bastille, (also 18) then back to the Hotel Terminus Lyon to pick up my bag and head to the airport hotel.

Time to retrace my steps to the airport, I love the fact that in both directions you just step across the platform at the Gare De Nord to make your connection. What I didn’t realize is that there is actually an EXPRESS train to the airport – it cuts out 12 stops, putting me at the hotel before I expected. One of the reasons I chose this hotel even though it’s twice the cost of the Hotel Terminus Lyon which was EU50 ($68), actually at $145 its more than twice.

Yes, it’s twice the size, from the bed to the shower:

Oddly enough I liked my tiny room a little better – maybe it’s because it had a real drinking glass rather than a fake drinking plastic…which brings us to ice.

Those of you who follow my ice blogs and the weird receptacles that I’ve gotten my requests for ice filled, we have two more entries. Ice run number one, no we don’t have an ice bucket:

Yep, two Imperial Pink glasses filled with cubes. Luckily there is a fridge.

Round number two when the bartender sent me to the restaurant saying his stash was too small… I’m guessing a food prep tray:

That should hold me for the evening.

The up-side to this hotel is that there is food by telephone, though not when I wanted it at 2PM. At 2PM I had to walk to the station (it’s attached to the hotel) and pick up a sandwich at Broiche Doree (they are in every train station). The nice thing about France is that even the convenience store this morning with the bacon salad wrap to the train station sandwich shop – the stuff is three times as good as convenience store food in the US. At the station I got their “Paris Mexico” – if they’d had a sense of humor it would have been a “Paris Texas” as it was basically a shredded chicken sandwich with the addition of avocado.

As for my dinner tonight, being in a “food desert”, here is what room service offered up:

Baby Octopus with Chorizo, side salad and bread. Why can’t US hotels deliver interesting food?

My last two photos are rather random… the view from the Novatel CDG:

Yes, that is the airport in the background…and one of my “tools of the trade” that I picked up in Macau… the “octopus” international power adapter with every USB plug known to mankind:

A great way to make friends on the road when you can charge their devices…and it goes into just one USB that plugs into the international adapter.

Bedtime for Bonzo – got a flight in the morning.

Oh, did I mention the fire alarm going off a midnight?

[? ? ?]

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