Getting My Cheesy Kitch On: Our Visit to South of The Border

south-of-the-border-700x209Drive up or down I-95 and after miles and miles of billboards promoting the place, just south of the North Carolina/South Carolina state line, you’ll find South of The Border (SOTB), a tourist attraction in Dillon SC, whose name is a tongue-in-cheek tip of the hat to its Mexican theming. A well worn tourist attraction since its humble beginnings as a beer stand 1949 (the just-north-of-the-border NC counties were “dry” at the time), SOTB runs on both sides of highway 501 and contains, among other things, a truck stop, a 300-room motel, several souvenir shops that sell everything from T-shirts to hats to fireworks to leather goods to beachwear and everything in between, a handful of restaurants, a 200-foot tall observation tower shaped like a sombrero, and the largest reptile exhibit in the country. Oh, and don’t forget the dozens of statues of animals such as dinosaurs, gorillas, dolphins, flamingos, etc., painted in whatever garishly beautiful color was the cheapest paint at the store that day.

For most people, SOTB is just a rest stop. For me, it was a vacation destination. See, I had
Continue reading “Getting My Cheesy Kitch On: Our Visit to South of The Border”

#TBT: Japan April 2005: World Expo in Aichi (Day 1)

The 2005 World Exposition in Aichi (just outside Nagoya) opened at 9:30am today so we woke up at 6:30am, got ready, and had a quick coffee and doughnut at the nearby Starbucks. I noticed that the Starbucks here was not as fastidious about recycling as they were in Kyoto…they only asked you to separate the paper vs plastic and had a garbage can that said, “Please dispose of your liquid here.” However, they also offered real  ceramic mugs if you were not “to go” and the employees helped you to empty your tray…though the latter might’ve been because they figured us foreigners didn’t know any better (grin).

The walk to the train station during the daylight (without luggage. Or rain.) gave us a much better idea of the part of Nagoya we were staying in. It seems to be a larger city than Kyoto, if not in size (not sure…haven’t checked a map), definitely in “new world modern,” as opposed to Kyoto’s traditionalism. Nagoya has MANY more stereotypical “Japanese businessmen,” as well as neon signs, restaurants open until 1 and 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning, etc. A definite change of pace from where we’ve spent the past 5 nights.


“Our” train station in Nagoya. It’s a LOT easier to negotiate the stairs without luggage!

After switching trains, we had to get on a HUGE line to get on the Linimo train, whose stations were built specifically for the Expo (but will remain a permanent part of the cities once the Expo closes its doors in September 2005).


I sure wouldn’t want to wait in THIS queue when it was filled up!

While on line the 3 of us were talking away, with our usual cynical and sarcastic senses of humor. I noticed there was an Asian-looking (and we assumed Japanese) man who seemed to understand everything that we were saying (he laughed at all the right places in our conversations). Turned out the guy was from Hawaii but was now living in Japan. It was nice to talk to someone in “unhalting” English, besides each other.


The line of people entering the fair from their tour buses. Picture taken from the Linimo train.

Finally got off the Linimo train and there was the Expo. It was HUGE!


Joe and I standing outside the Expo. Those 2 green guys are Kiccoro (the smaller, lighter green one) and Morizo (the one who is larger and darker green) the Expo’s mascots. EVERYTHING in Japan seems to have a mascot and Japan is the leader of “synergy”…Kiccoro and Morizo had their own cartoon on TV for months before the Expo started and they are EVERYWHERE a the Expo and, for that matter, in surrounding cities (i.e. department stores in Nagoya and even our hotel have racks with Kiccoro and Morizo merchandise).


The theme of the fair was Nature’s Wisdom, so the importance of “living in harmony with nature” was played on EVERYWHERE. Case in point…this recycling area outside the gates of the Expo…with spaces for paper, white plastic, clear plastic, liquid, wood, you name it. The Starbucks in Kyoto would’ve been proud!

Fortunately, we got to bypass the huge ticket line, because we had bought our tickets online. So, with tickets in hand, we went in.


Besides having to go through metal detectors before you could enter, guards checked all bags for not only dangerous items, but PET containers and any other food holders that couldn’t be recycled. THOSE had to be left behind.

The fair really is set up like Epcot, with big pavilions set up by corporations (Mitsubishi, the Shinkansen, etc) and smaller ones from dozens of countries from around the world. All of the pavilions have themes in the realm of Nature’s Wisdom (albeit sometimes with some poetic license…the U.S. Pavilion, for example, focused much more on it being Benjamin Franklin’s 300th birthday this year).

I won’t go into all of the details of all of the pavilions we went into, because we went into a LOT of ’em . Suffice to say that we went into about 6 or 8 corporate pavilions and probably a good dozen countries’ pavilions over the course of 11 or so hours. Some of the pavilions had foreign language headsets available for visitors who spoke English, Chinese or Korean, which was VERY helpful and VERY appreciated or we’d have definite problems in figuring out what was happening. The technology of some of the pavilions was just amazing, with HUGE high-def screens. And one of the hosts at the US pavilion had heard of Toxic Audio!


Joe and I were being geeks and wearing matching Toxic Audio shirts that day

We had lunch and dinner at the Expo, which, although tasty, were still pretty much “fair food.” Lunch was Japanese food:


Joe’s lunch


Steve’s lunch (Steve is a friend who traveled to Japan with us)


Sharon’s lunch (note the Kiccoro and Morizo on the…whatever it was [grin]!)

Dinners were Korean and I had my first taste of kimchee. YUCK!


Outside of the Korean restaurant. Note the international symbol for “soft serve ice cream” outside the door. The Japanese apparently love their soft serve ice cream…it’s EVERYWHERE. I’m personally not a fan of soft serve, but I’ll save my “I saw a picture advertising hard ice cream somewhere and I can’t find the store” story for a Tokyo Disneyland entry.

By 9pm or so, we were cold and tired so we retraced our route back to the hotel and went to bed. Tomorrow (Thursday) is Day Two of the World Expo.

 

#TBT: Japan April 2005: Cherry Blossoms on Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, Travel to Nagoya

We have about 45 minutes on this Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Nagoya, so I can start to write what we’ve done today.

Joe and Steve (Steve is a friends of ours who went on this trip as well) decided that a real, sit-down breakfast was in order today, so they went to our hotel’s breakfast buffet. I’m not a “big breakfast” person (give me a cup of coffee in the morning and I’m good for 3 hours) so I stayed in the room and had a can of iced coffee and the double-chocolate chip marshmallow cookie that I had bought from Starbuck’s yesterday, while I packed.


This is less than half of our luggage, not including Steve’s stuff. And we only brought 8 days’ worth of clothes, allowing time for doing laundry!

After the guys came back from breakfast (choices of scrambled eggs, bacon, Vienna sausages, corn flakes, french fries, grilled fish, beef stew with noodles, coffee, juice, tea and Japanese food), we finished packing, checked out of our hotel and left our bags with the bell check (who gave us a ticket, put our stuff on a cart, threw a net over it all and left it off to the side of the lobby. Hey, it’s Japan and people here are honest – who’s gonna steal it?). We then took a bus to the Philosopher’s Path.

Now, when I went on the Philosopher’s Path in April 1994, it rained. All day. So I was really looking forward to seeing it in sunshine this trip. Buddha must not like that idea though, because it’s been raining today. All day. Sigh.


I’ve discovered that my backpack sticks out so far behind me that when I hold an umbrella, part of the backpack still gets wet. So I went to the “100 yen” store near our hotel and picked up rain ponchos for the 3 of us. I wrapped the sleeves of the poncho around my front and would either hold them or stick them into the pockets of my coat, to make sure the poncho didn’t fly up and let my backpack get wet. I think it made quite a fashion statement, don’t you? Undoing and then re-doing this contraption was a LOT of work!

Anyway, the Philosopher’s Path is a small street along a stream, maybe about 2km long. It’s lined with small shops and restaurants, as well as hundreds of cherry trees. Since it’s spring, the cherry blossoms are blooming, which make for some lovely scenery on the walk on the Path.


Through rain, sleet, snow and hail…Joey can still read guide books and maps (grin). I think he carried about 20 pounds of books in his backpack every day (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Nowadays he has his TripIt all ready, and a bazillion web pages bookmarked LOL! Still a ton of info but at least it’s lighter than in 2005).

We stopped at a tea room and had a short break with some tea and small tea candies and cakes.


Outside of the tea room building.

The snack was served Japanese-style, so we had to leave our shoes in little cubby holes near the door (the employees even helped me take off my poncho and put it in a back room for safekeeping…and to make sure the floor didn’t get too wet), then we sat on small pillows on top of tatami mat flooring.


Window view of the garden that was outside the tea room. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the ceilings in this place were VERY low…Steve is about 6’2″ and when he got up to go to the men’s room, he nearly cracked his head open on a low ceiling beam.


Joe on the floor of the tea room.


The food I ordered…it was all written in Japanese, so I’m not positive what I had, but it looked and tasted like (from left to right) butter cookies, green tea cake and peach-flavored panna cotta.

About an hour later, at the end of the path, we found a small restaurant and had lunch. I had udon noodles with bits of curried beef, Steve had a beef and rice “stew” called donburi and Joe had eel over rice with a side of soup. This was one of the few places that had “serve yourself” ice water. Steve is an avid iced tea drinker and can easily get a half-dozen refills in the US, but with the tiny glasses he was continually getting in Japan without refills, I think he was thrilled to be able to get up and get his own drink. He must’ve gotten up at least 5 times (wink).

We caught a bus back to our hotel, where we JUST made the shuttle to Kyoto Station. Got our reserved seats for the 16:00 Shinkasen and now here we are, on our way to Nagoya. More later…

Okeedoke…it’s later. I was writing the first part of today’s notes around 4:30pm. It’s now close to 9pm. We had to take a subway from the train station to the hotel…which took us up and down 2 flights of stairs…with 3 HUGE suitcases, 3 carry-ons and 3 knapsacks. Now THAT was fun. Not!!! Fortunately, our legs have gotten stronger from 4 or 5 straight days of walking and steps to and from temples, but I don’t think any of us were in shape enough to carry all that crap those kinds of vertical distances. But with lots of rests, we eventually got to where we needed to go.

Our hotel, the Nagoya Tokyu Hotel, is just GORGEOUS and Joe thinks that it’s the first time in all the years we’ve been using it that Expedia actually “did us good” (grin) (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Yeah, Expedia. Joe was already dabbling in “points and miles” during this trip, but not to the extent he does now). I mean, this place has TempurPedic pillows in the rooms! (grin) When we entered from the rain, the hotel staff came with, not only umbrella holders, but towels to wipe ourselves off! Just an incredible place. I think the fanciest place Joe and I have ever stayed was The Plaza in NYC and although I like the decor of The Plaza better, the service here is just amazing.


The outside of the Nagoya Tokyu Hotel.


Front lobby, looking towards the check-in counters.


Front lobby, looking in the other direction.


Japanese people LOVE to shop and this hotel had almost a mini-mall in it!


LOTS of shopping.


And, of course, each storefront was perfect.

Anyway, once we were checked in and had our room keys, the first thing we did was unpack and take pictures of the room:


A view from the doorway.


Triple adult occupancy in Japanese hotel rooms was pretty hard to come by, so we had requested a day bed for all of our hotels, since the best we could get was “2 twin beds,” and we figured we’d take turns sleeping on the cot. We discovered in EVERY hotel that offered “twin beds” that “twin beds” are the equivalent of slight smaller than an American double bed. So although you see 3 beds in this picture, we got rid of the 3rd bed after the 1st night. Joe and I just cuddled close. Such a sacrifice (wink).


Joe getting the computer hooked up. ASAP. By my request. Of course (grin).


The problem with always having the camera is that you’re hardly in any pictures. Thank god for mirrors!


And THIS is why I married someone 6′ tall. To help me take pictures of stuff I’m otherwise too short to take pictures of.


This is what we took a picture of, together. Exciting, huh?


View outside our window.

After taking shots of everything including the bathroom…


We thought this mirror, which had an area that did not fog up, was SO cool. In my humble opinion, it would’ve been even cooler if the non-fog area was about 9″ lower (wink) (MODERN-DAY NOTE: When we re-did our guest bathroom in 2006, we got a mirror with an anti-fog option).

…we went out in search of dinner. I was pushing for the nearby Denny’s, just to see how it compares to Denny’s in the US, but I was outvoted. We finally settled on a British-style pub called “Queen’s Head.”


Not the greatest picture of the Queen’s Head menu.

I had fried chicken and chips (fries), Steve had a pasta and eggplant dish and Joe had fish & chips. My fries were perfect, but I now know why the Japanese are not known for their fried chicken (wink). Joe said his fish and chips were “right”…just that the tartar sauce tasted different from what we’re used to. But hey, it was closer to “home food” than we’d had in days (wink).

After a quick stop at Circle K for dessert, we went back to the room.

The guys are currently watching TV (they think it’s a Japanese version of “Antique Road Show”) and I’m going to contemplate going to sleep pretty soon.

Tomorrow is the World’s Fair….

#TBT: Japan Trip April 2005: Johnnie Hillwalker’s Johnnie Kyoto Walking Tour

Another day filled with not so much stress. Hehehe…now we’re even starting to talk like Japanese people.

We took the 8am shuttle bus to Kyoto Station and had breakfast at Starbucks.


Figure roughly 100 yen to the dollar…look at those prices! (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Those were 2005 prices. I just looked at their site and, as an example, a Tall Coffee Frappuccino (top item on the far right of the sign) is now 420 yen, Grande is 460 yen and Venti is 500 yen).

I’ll tell you…even somewhere as familiar as Starbucks is an adventure when you’re in another country. Japan is VERY big into recycling and trying to throw out your garbage when you’re done with your meal can take nearly as long as the meal itself:

  • Leftover liquid and ice go into the “liquids” garbage (where it sounds like it goes into a garbage disposal).
  • Plastic cups and clear lids go into the “clear plastic” container.
  • White plastic lids and plastic cutlery go into the “white plastic” container.
  • Paper cups, cup holders, napkins and wooden stirrers go into the “paper and combustibles” container.
  • Dishes and trays go onto their respective piles.

I almost took a picture of it all but got too self-conscious about taking picture of, well, GARBAGE! (grin). You know, after 4 days of coffee in a can (they sell it in ALL the vending machines, hot or cold, VERY milky and VERY sweet, just the way I like it) or bad coffee from restaurants, it sure was GOOD to drink some REAL coffee for a change!

MODERN-DAY NOTE about the following paragraphs: in the past few years, Johnnie Hillwalker (now age 87ish?) has retired and the WaRaiDo Guide Network has taken over the walking tours. However these notes are from 2005.

Anyway, after breakfast, we went on Johnnie Hillwalker’s Johnnie Kyoto Walking Tour. Joe had found Johnnie’s website (MODERN-DAY NOTE: website updated. Original website is a dead link) during his thorough-bordering-on-obsessive search of the internet of things to do in the cities in Japan that we were visiting. When I heard about “the little old man who does walking tours of Japan,” I decided we HAD to go on it.

Johnnie is a 70-something year-old man who leads people on a 3 kilometer walk around Kyoto in about 5 hours. We visited several Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples, places of local commerce (fan makers, pastry makers, ceramics, tatami mat producers, etc) and Johnnie explained about all of them. It was a VERY interesting tour.

OK, so I just realized that I managed to explain a 5-hour tour in about 3 lines of print. How about some more stories and some pictures…

We met Johnnie at the designated place, just outside Kyoto Station. There were about 30 of us on the tour that day…about 20 were from countries that spoke English as a primary language (mainly the US, but I heard British and Australian accents too) and the rest spoken German an another language or two I didn’t pick up on.

Our first stop was at Higashi Hongan-ji Temple, which is only a block or two away from Kyoto Station. It was originally built as a Buddhist temple in 1602, but due to frequent fires, the current buildings are “only” from 1895.


Overall view of Higashi Hongan-ji temple, except for the “big” building.


HERE’S the big building (wink). The “Founder’s Hall” of Higashi Hongan-ji, which you may enter after taking your shoes off (you can see people doing that in the background of the picture…they even give you plastic bags to put them in), is one of the largest wooden structures in the world. I like the guy with the Playboy bunny hat, don’t you? He was on our tour. Guy was from Long Island. Remember him…I’ve got a story about him in a minute.


A small fountain can be found outside all Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. It is considered to be “holy” water of sorts and you’re supposed to rinse your hands and mouth with it, in order to purify you inside and out. Mr. Playboy Bunny, upon finding the fountain, took the opportunity to fill his water bottle with it. Typical clueless American.


A somewhat fuzzy view of the Amida Buddha (as per Johnnie, there are lots of Buddhas but Amida is the most important Buddha), inside the Founder’s Hall. 80% of all Japanese people are Buddhist and 70% believe in Shinto so there is a lot of overlap between the two.


Johnnie showing us how one prays to Amida Buddha.


One of the sleds that was used to carry felled trees from the mountains to be used to build the temple.


An example of the rope, made of human hair, that was used to help build the temple.

The next part of our tour was to walk through some streets in Kyoto that are home of the “industrial” people…those who, for generations, have made goods on the first floor of the buildings, while they lived on the second and third floors. Specific neighborhoods or blocks would be well-known for their paper fans, prayer beads, etc. Some of the old traditions of local commerce are dying out, especially with the younger people wanting to work with computers and other more technologically-advanced, higher-paying careers, but those who still make such products keep going.


A typical “industrial” street in Kyoto.


Making Buddhist prayer beads.


Producing fresh tofu.


Making fans.


Putting the gold paint on the ends of the fans. This guy is more anal-retentive than ME!


The final results. For sale, of course (grin).


Making tatami mats. Yeah OK, these people didn’t let the Industrial Revolution pass them by (grin).


Making ceramic bowls. They were all hand-painted and VERY expensive (think $30+ per saucer), except for the “Seconds” that were for sale for $2 to $10 each.

Our next stop was the Shosei-En Garden. It is a strolling garden that belongs to Higashi Hongan-ji Temple, although the two properties are separate and not connected. It dates back to the ninth century, when it was built by Prince Minamoto Noturu.


Shosei-En Garden is a typical Japanese manicured garden.


These carp were HUGE and boy, did they like the lunch that Johnnie brought them!


Joe enjoying hanami (cherry blossoms). Or maybe he was just reading one of his maps (grin).


Closeup of hanami.

Our next stop was to visit a Shinto shrine. You can tell that it’s Shinto because of the rope hanging from the doorway (the rope designates the boundary of a sacred place).


This particular shrine we visited is the one that Johnnie is a member of, and he has made a donation to have a paper lantern with his name on it.

Next stop was a small Buddhist cemetary. Each grave site is small because Buddhists are traditionally cremated, so they need less space. They usually place the ashes of several family members underneath one stone grave marker.


The wooden sticks are made by loved ones and are left at the grave site to show that they visited. They also often leave flowers or plants and/or burn incense at the grave site.


Johnnie said that leaving a jar of sake, like at this gravestone, is NOT traditional (grin).

Our next stop was in front of a store that made sushi. We all got to taste a piece of vegetable sushi. Not bad, but I still like California and eel rolls better.

Next was a brief stop at the former site of the Nintendo Card Playing Company, which eventually turned into the computer and video game giant that it is today.


Sign declaring the Nintendo Playing Card Company on the now-abandoned building.


Outside of the building. Notice that the architecture is very American.


A very poor shot of the inside of the building (Sorry…I had to take the picture through a glass window with a metal screen in it and not use a flash).


Johnnie preparing to give each of us a card as a souvenier.

The next stop on our tour was a local shop that sold candy made out of bean paste, as well as different types of Japanese tea. Like so many other businesses in Kyoto, the store had been in the family for many, many generations. We got free samples of the barley tea (yuck) and a bean paste pastry here (not bad, but, of course, not sweet enough and, as pretty and differently decorated as the candies were, they all tasted the same).


Outside shot of the tea and bean paste candy shop


Making bean paste candy.


Close-up of making bean paste candy.

Next stop was another shrine. This one was called Toyokuni Shrine. I don’t know about the guys, but by this point, I was starting to get “shrined out” (grin) so I didn’t pay as much attention to the history of it, nor (perhaps thankfully?) did I take as many pictures of it.


Johnnie in front of the Toyokuni shrine. Probably the best picture I got of Johnnie (grin).


Decent shot of the inside of the shrine.


Multiple Torii gates next to the shrine, in combination with the statues of the foxes, indicate that this shrine was an Inari shrine. There are several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari across Japan. Inari is the Shinto god of rice, and foxes are thought to be his messengers. Therefore, many fox statues can be found at Inari shrines (see picture of inside the shrine). The Torii gates are usually paid by individuals, groups and businesses…usually in the hope that their donation (and advertisement of their names on the gates?) will please the gods and, in turn, will help them in business matters. By the way, please note that this shot includes Mr. Playboy Bunny again…with a full bottle of water. Totally clueless. Thank heaven we visited all of those shrines, or he would’ve dehydrated!

Behind Toyokuni Shrine was the largest bell in all of Kyoto. Although hundreds of years old (it was built in the 16th century), it’s still in use for ceremonies and holidays.


Far-away view of the big bell


Close-up of the bell, including the hand-painted ceiling.

The end of the tour, where Johnnie bid us goodbye, left us near Kiyomuzidera Temple, which is a set of Buddhist buildings at the edge of the mountains on the west side of Kyoto. It was easily a STEEP mile up, with more hills and steps than we had done in all previous days combined, but according to Johnnie, the area was “most beautiful” (wink), with the buildings, many trees and plants and cherry blossoms in full view and, since we were so high, a gorgeous view of the city.


First thing we came upon when we got to the top of the hill was this HUGE cemetary. My guess is that it’s probably filled with all of the people who died of heart attacks after walking up the hill!


A short description of what we had climbed the hill for and were about to see. Brought to you by Fujicolor film! (grin)


First building in the temple area.


Back view of the same building, but it gives you an idea of how high up we were.


More buildings in the temple “compound.”


This temple is being refurbished for your future enjoyment! (wink)


Joe in front of the main building of the Kiyomuzidera Temple.


Shot of me looking at Kyoto.


Fountain for purification at the temple. Mr. Playboy Bunny must’ve been thrilled…he could get a refill!


There were several gardens at the temple site, as well as on the way down (we took a different path down the hill, for variety). During the walk, I found this small cherry tree in full bloom.


As the blossoms fall off the trees here, they go into the river and are washed away. Pretty, huh?

There were several shops on the long, steep hill going towards and away from the temple, though there wasn’t much “stuff” that we found very interesting in those. Since we were hungry though, we each got what we think is the equivalent of a cream puff, albeit with custard, not cream, on the inside. The wrapper for the pastry was another perfect example of Engrish:


Recently I have become very healthy. My hopes have begun to swell. Dreams have increased one by one.
WTF???

Took a bus back to the hotel and ate at a restaurant adjacent to it, called Die Gute. I had steak, Joe had pasta and Steve had a beef stew.


My appetizer/salad. I had no idea of what I was eating at that moment. Sardines, maybe? Well, the steak was good.


Can’t ruin beef stew.

Very good and definitely worth the price.

After dinner, we did some walking around a local supermarket (“Oh look, they sell Del Monte and Hershey’s products!”) and a 100 yen store. Didn’t buy anything yet, save for some small stuff, because we’re still at the beginning of the trip and will have to shlep it all with us for over 2 more weeks.

As of this writing, we’re in the midst of doing laundry at the hotel’s laundry facility…they have a whopping 2 small washers and 2 small dryers. For the whole hotel. And we’re 3 people. AND there’s another hotel patron who is doing HER laundry (she was from California, but originally from Long Island and didn’t like Japan at all. She liked Hong Kong better. More action. OK lady…whatever). It’s gonna take us forever for our stuff to dry (update…we were drying stuff until about 2am).

Tomorrow we see the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, then go on our way to Nagoya, to see the World’s Fair Exhibition. We’ll have internet access in Nagoya too, so my next message will be written from there. Until then, sayonara!

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Hotel Reviews: Three Nights in the Carolinas

We just returned from a trip to North Carolina and South Carolina. The main reason we went was to attend a friend’s wedding in Charlotte but since we are rarely in that area, we decided to turn the trip into a whirlwind weekend of visiting South of the Border, the cheesy tourist trap right off of Interstate 95, on Thursday, meeting up with friends in Raleigh for dinner on Friday night, and then attending the wedding on Saturday before Continue reading “Hotel Reviews: Three Nights in the Carolinas”

#TBT: Japan Trip, April 2005: Shinkansen, Hiroshima, Peace Memorial Park

I’m writing this on my PDA (MODERN DAY NOTE: A PDA. Wasn’t that CUTE?!?!?!) while on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) from Hiroshima back to Kyoto. If you can read it, that means I’m much more computer-savvy than I give myself credit for (grin).

Today was pretty stress-free, since we’re getting more of our bearings when it comes to trains, shuttles, scheduling, maps, etc.

After yesterday’s near-fast (grin), we made sure to make room for meals today. We took the 9:20am shuttle from the hotel to Kyoto Station and, after a quick detour to a touristy place under Kyoto Tower to buy postcards, we had breakfast at a restaurant in the Station called “Beef Stew.” And I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure that’s what Joe and/or Steve (our friend on this trip with us) had for breakfast (grin). I, on the other hand, had bacon and egg on French bread with a side of salad and Miso soup (Yeah, salad and soup with breakfast. That’s what they do here. Different culture).

So we made it onto the Shinkansen to Osaka (15 min ride), then switched trains to go to Hiroshima (90 min ride).


Waiting for the Bullet Train


Here it is!


The trains are VERY comfortable, with padded seats and foot rests. They have bathrooms, offer snack/beverage service, you name it.


This train is 8 cars long and each car has its own set of “rules”….reserved seats vs. non-reserve, smoking or non-smoking, “silence car,” etc.

At Hiroshima, we took a trolley car to the museum area that we intended to see. The first thing we saw was the Peace Park, which encases the remains of the “A-Bomb Dome.” That is a building that (sort of) survived the atomic bomb attack (“sort of” because all that’s left is the skeleton of the building and a few inner wall structurings…as opposed to all the other buildings in the city, which were totally obliterated).


The A-Bomb Dome as you approach from the trolley.


Information and history about the A-Bomb dome.


Beauty, destruction and modern times.


Information about the destruction of Hiroshima.


The Peace Memorial Park area. In the hours and days after the bomb hit, thousands and thousands of bodies floated in this river.

The park also houses several memorials (to the various thousands of people who perished), and the history museum. Here are a few of them, with explanations when possible:


Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students (middle- and high-school students who were working for the government to help make fire paths. Over 3/4 of the mobilized students died from the A-bomb.)


Close-up of the base of the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students


Cenotaph for A-bomb victims (Memorial Monument for Hiroshima, City of Peace).


Short explanation of the Cenograph


Children’s Peace Monument. This memoriam is to Sadako Sasaki, a teenager who died of leukemia over a decade after being explosed to the A-bomb at the age of 2. Her goal was to make 1,000 origami cranes, in the hopes that doing so would cure her. She didn’t live to finish, and her grieving friends raised the money to erect this memorial to her. People from all over the world still bring thousands upon thousands of paper cranes to her memorial site.


The golden crane inside the Children’s Peace Monument.


Short explanation of the Children’s Peace Monument.


A small percentage of the thousands of cranes at the Children’s Peace Monument.


This mound of dirt is made from the cremated remains of the people who perished in the days, weeks, months and years after the A-bomb hit. Most of the people whose ashes are in the mound were unidentified.


(from front to back) Flame of Peace, Pond of Peace, Cenograph (partially obscured) and the center area of the Hiroshima Peace Museum.

The museum was amazing…it went through the history of the city of Hiroshima, the history of the invention of the atomic age, the events that led up to 8:15am on August 6, 1945, the immediate effects of the bomb, as well as the after-effects, some of which (birth defects, cancer, psychological, etc) persist to present-day time.

The museum houses thousands upon thousands of artifacts, from clothing people were wearing on the day of the bombing, to lunch boxes (melted, with burnt food still inside), to a pocket watch that was permanently stopped at 8:15am, to steps from a former bank that still had the faint shadow of the person who was sitting on them when the bomb hit and he/she was incinerated on the spot. There’s no way that my writing or our our pictures could ever do it all justice, but this website can give further information.

Besides the obvious tragedies of the loss and illness of thousands upon thousands of people, the one disturbing thing to me, as an American, is that the museum portrays not just the city, but the entire country as an innocent victim of the U.S.’s actions. Pearl Harbor and the rest of Japan’s part in WW2 was VERY minimalized in their presentation. Then again, as Americans, WE have learned an entirely different view of history. All depends on your perspective, I guess.

It was raining when we left the museum, but with umbrellas in hand, we checked out the various memorials within the park (see pictures above) and each took a turn ringing the Bell of Peace.


Me ringing the Bell of Peace


An explanation of the Bell of Peace

After that, we caught a trolley back to Hiroshima Station. In the months before we went on vacation, we had gotten a lot of “Japan advice” from someone we knew who had spent about 6 months living and working there, circa 2001-2002, and he recommended if we were going to eat in Hiroshima, to try to go to a restaurant that served okonomi-yaki style, since Hiroshima was famous for it. Okonomi-yaki is grilled ramen noodles, egg, vegetables and a batter, with meat, that you make into a sort of loose pizza in front of you (think of Benihana-style but smaller scale, the food comes all mixed together and you heat it up yourself). We found such a place near Hiroshima Station and had dinner there. VERY tasty!


Steve enjoying his okonomi-yaki.

After dinner, we got our tickets for the Shinkansen back to Kyoto (no changing trains this time!) and here we are on it (remember, I’m writing this on my PDA).

Tomorrow is our walking tour and I think it’s laundry day, as well. Until next time, sayonara!

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Hotel Review: Fairfield Inn & Suites West Palm Beach Jupiter

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Photo of hotel from Marriott website

When we drove home from Key West, our original plan was to leave early and visit the Morikami Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach and then go to dinner at Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale (click here for a recap of our visit to Mai-Kai). After driving from Key West and then having a full day of events, we figured we would most likely need to rest after dinner instead trying to drive three more hours to get home. We do have family in the area so we figured if we stayed overnight, we could plan to meet them the next morning for breakfast. We’ve stayed in the Fort Lauderdale area recently but decided we’d rather drive a little ways towards home after dinner so that our ride the next morning would be that much shorter.

Since I am not loyal to any specific hotel chain, I looked at what options I had that were Continue reading “Hotel Review: Fairfield Inn & Suites West Palm Beach Jupiter”