Tokyo is on the way to Vancouver… right?

So we are off to Canad for Christmas with the family, and as it turned out they were going to be in California pretty much right up a few days before Christmas.  We had, however, blocked aside to go from the 15th, but there was no point in going to Vancouver Island when the people we were going to visit weren’t going to return until the 21st… so what to do?  Stop over in Tokyo it is.

Our transit yesterday was pretty ordinary – I am not fond of this budget airline nonsense.  Our TA is great, but she had us on Jetstar for this leg of our trip, and to be honest, it feels like a theme park – you pay the entrance fee and then the costs keep piling up… Want a drink? $$$ Want a meal?  $$$ Want to watch a movie?  $$$ Want a blanket for the flight? more $$$..!  Maybe if the flights were super cheap.  Maybe.  But this wasn’t because it’s Christmas and for the travel industry – that is kinda like flying a wedding flag at the function industry.  Prices are up, up, up!  Anyway, we got here safely and I guess that is the bit that counts, and other than a ridiculous cock up with our train tickets to Shinjuku (the stupid woman at the counter at the airport only sold us half a ticket, one to Ueno where we got off the Skyliner train and had to switched to the JR, but not a ticket that also included the JR portion of the journey.  Much confusion and angst ensued as the English-challenged JR employee was trying to sort us out at the other end, and there is never enough patience to go around after a 14-hour commute.  :/

Finally found our hotel after much getting lost; the Google map really struggles in among the tall buildings, and we checked into the tiniest hotel rooms ever.  Slept pretty good – thanks to sheer exhaustion I dare say.

Next morning up bright and early to hang out with Amane, a friend our son had met on our cruise around Japan two years earlier.  First stop was the Imperial Palace.

The Tokyo Imperial Palace was built on the grounds of an old Edo castle.  It is surround by 3.5kms of gardens and is smack bang in the middle of some of the most expensive real estate in the world. One one side of the moat is the serene gardens and castle grounds, and the other – Tokyo CBD highrises.  It makes for an interesting juxtaposition, to say the least. Most of the leaves have dropped from the trees, but some in happy warm spots are still in lovely fall colours.  The fortifications of the old palace are seriously impressive – that large block in the bottom left is taller than I am. After a wander around the palace grounds (the palace itself is not open to the public as the current Imperial family still reside there) we took a train to Asakusa to see the markets and visit the Senso-ji temple. The Asakusa temple is Tokyo’s oldest temple and considered one of its most significant. It is dedicated to Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy The markets leading up to the temple are full of fun touristy stuff and yummy street food. Hozomon gate. The temple with it’s five storey pagoda. A couple out buying good fortune charms… many focused on health, money, good fortunes, passing exams, fertility – you name it.  Need a charm?  They have a specific one for you. We decided to get our omikuji fortunes.  You put your 100Y donation into a slot and pick up a steel cylinder to shake out a numbered stick.  Then select your fortune from the drawer of the same number – and voila!  Your fortune told is told. 

Mr K got 12, I got 25 and the Teenager got 34. There are seven results for omikuji, ranging from the best daikichi (大吉excellent fortune) to the worst daikyou (大凶terrible fortune).  Naturally, Mr K picked a Best Fortune, I picked a Good Fortune and the others got a Regular Fortune… I actually want to go back and find a bad fortune too!  🙂
Dad fortune; best Fortune!  Apparently.

After getting our fortunes, we visited the temple proper, starting with the rituals of drawing good health and good fortune to our persons by waving incense smoke towards ourselves and ‘bathing’ in the smoke. We then went to the fountain and washed our hands and face before approaching the shrine – the water was freezing.

At the shrine, we made our offerings and said prayers to Guanyin and Buddha.   Afterwards we wandered the markets for a while and saw lots of ladies walking around in their yukata.  Amane says she only wears her yukata for holidays like New Years and festivals, but some Japanese young ladies like to wear them out on special shopping trips – and given it’s a week until Christmas there were plenty of people out shopping. From Asakusa we jumped another train and head to Ueno.  This area is popular shopping district (though I think that phrase could be applied to nearly all of Tokyo’s well known precincts.

It is also where you find the Ueno Park district.  Ueno Park was established in the late 1800s and is now home to a number of major museums, marketplaces, the Tokyo Zoo and is famous for its cherry blossoms when they are in season. The history of the park (it was built on the site of an old temple and was the site of a battle during the Boshin war is really interesting) but also long, so check it out on Wikipedia if you are interested.

We went to the zoo first, as it was likely to close earlier than the museum, and our day was made infinitely better by panda, otters, tigers, lions, monkeys, polar bears and cranes etc.   The otter enclose had this clever contraption on the outside of the cage that the otters could access by climbing a ladder and swimming through a tunnel.  They had been carrying stones back and forth but all swam back into the enclosure as we approached. This guy was staring intently at something just outside their enclosure – but we couldn’t for the life of us figure out what it was.  I doubled back around on the otters as we were leaving the park and was interested to see they were feeding them live fish.  The otters spent about ten minutes chasing their dinner down which I think is probably better for keeping them active and stimulated than just being fed.  They were also given clams to eat, which they had to smash open with their stones.  Alas I have no photos of their feeding – they were moving too fast and the lighting conditions too low.  

There was also this guy – a Secretary Bird, which now seems to make all Pokemon make sense.  It has the head of an eagle, the body of a goose and the legs of a stork!  It looks like a living breathing wild Pokemon.  😛 

There were also rhinoceros, hippopotamus, lemurs, prairie dogs and yes even kangaroos… but the most thrilling exhibition must have been the Bin Chicken enclosure.  Yes, the humble Bin Chicken is here for the world to enjoy – only weirdly, here they are called Sacred Ibis. 

After leaving the kids to chase more African animals – Mr K and I went back into Ueno Park to check out the markets.  The markets pop up for 3-4 days at a time and have different themes.  At the moment, there was a homewares market on with loads of lovely ceramics, tools, knives, chopsticks, woodcrafts, artworks etc.

After the markets, we went to the Tokyo National Museum to see some of the country’s treasures.  The museum itself is in an impressive building but was very oddly laid out (in my experience of museums at any rate). It was supposed to be in some sort of chronological order but there were some artefacts that were in the ordered layout of the museum, with a sign beside them saying ‘to see more of these Edo period samurai suits, go to Gallery X’. Same beside the sword exhibit.  I think it was done purposefully to get guests to go through the entire museum, instead of just heading for the samurai exhibits and then leaving.  🙂

Keman – Buddhist ceremonial ornamental pendant with design of Kalavimaka birds (mythical birds).  Bronze, Showa era, 20thC reproduction of Heian period 12thC orginal.Gosuku type armour – with two-piece cuirass and white lacing.  Edo period, 17thC.
Okitenuagui Type helmet with dark blue lacking – Azuchi-Momoyama Edo period, 17thC. Yoroi Type Armour with red lacing. 20thC reproduction of 12thC Heian period original. Gusoku Type armour – with two-piece cruirass and red lacing.  Edo period, 17thC Gusoku type armour – with two-piece cuirass and bear fur, Edo period 17thC. Pillows.  Baku (mythical beast) and nandina design in maki-e lacquer.  Edo period 18thC. Pair of Boxes for Shell Matching Game Pieces – Designs from scenes of ‘The Tale of Genji’. Edo period, 17thC. Boxes like these held painted seashells for a shell-matching game.  They were important in the wedding rituals of feudal lords, as shells with two hinged parts symbolised fidelity. Karaori (Noh costume).  Pine bark lozenges, peon and pheonix roundel design on red and light blue checkered ground. Late Edo period, 18thC. Sobatsugi (Noh costume). Dragone and cloud design on dark blue ground. Edo period 18th-19thC. Nuihaku (Noh costume).  Seigaiha waves, mandarin duck, and water lily design on red ground.  Edo period, 18thC. Chukei (Noh fan).  Old pine and sun design on gold ground.  Edo period 18thC. Japanese print.  Blindman’s Buff:  Allusion to Yuranosuke at the Ichiriki Teahouse.  By Chokosai Eisho (date unknown)  Edo period, 18thC.
The print alludes to a kabuki play based on the story of the forty-seven ronin. In the scene being referenced, the hero indulges himself in amusements to fool his enemies into thinking he has given up on avenging his master’s death.
Detail: Standing Daikoku Ten (Mahakala) by Kaiken.  Wood with polychromy and inlaid crystal eyes.  Nanbokucho period, dated 1347. Mokujiki Self-Portrait.  Wood, Edo period, 1804. Shallow bowl, Kingfisher design in overglaze enamel.  Imari ware. Edo period, 17th century.  Interestingly the museum makes no note whatsoever of the beautiful kintsugi repair work done to this dish. Inscriptions of Antique Compendium of Sword Inscriptions over Ages, Edo period dated 1717.

And that was day one in Tokyo done.  After this we head back on the trains to Shinjuku for some cheap and cheerful ramen dinners – misanthropes must love these cafes where you order your meal through a machine and then someone brings you food and you don’t have to talk to anyone!  And it was a very tired borys who, 21,946 steps later, hopped in the tiny (but deep) Japanese hotel bath and actually fell asleep in the tub!

Australian Pokédex awesomeness!

A very talented Australian animation artist named Paul Robertson has turned his hand to making a uniquely Aussie Pokédex… and it’s just brilliant.  I imagine non-Australians might have some trouble interpreting some of these Pokémon creations – you’ll just have to trust us that it all makes sense!

Saving here for future reference, via @probzz on Twitter.

Valparaiso Street Art and Stuff

Valparaiso was a bit of a mystery.  Other than the meagre tidbit that it is a large international sea port, I knew very little about the place, so I had booked us a tour with Patagonia Shorex – which I should probably admit, I booked so long ago, that as I got off the ship this morning, I had no recollection whatsoever as to where the tour was taking us.  So yeah, today, as a travel agent I’d probably make a good brick layer.

We were met by our lovely guide, Dixianna (Dixie for short), who was going to be showing us around.  Dixie turned out to be full of interesting information, which of course is a very desirable trait in a tour guide!  Valparaiso has been an important Chilean city throughout modern history, as it served as a major stopover point for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as they passed through the Straits of Magellan and around the Cape.  The city’s ‘golden age’ saw the area grow enormously as it attracted many European immigrants, from Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland – all of these European influences are evidence in the architecture throughout the city.

We first went north towards a township that is adjacent to Valparaiso (the city limit/s apparently run straight through the middle of a public school!), called Vina del Mar – a place where once vineyards were common, but now is a city best known as a major tourist attraction, and the town sees travellers all year round.  Dixie informed us that the area was originally populated by the Chango people, who were nomadic and primarily lived on fishing endeavours.  The first Spanish explorers (I didn’t catch the names – Amergo? Amagero? Not sure and can’t google it just now) arrived in 1536.  The Chango people originally called the Vina del Mar area, the ‘Burned Land’ which referenced the frequent bush fires that still plague the region.  Thankfully, nothing looked even remotely of recent bush fire activity, and instead we went to visit what we were told is South America’s first ‘flower clock’.  It is currently planted with red and pink flowery things (big gardener type, me).  The flowers are changed every three months apparently, and there is a tunnel beneath it for maintenance.  Personally, I don’t see the significance of such things, but I’ve stopped and taken photos of many a weirder town monument, so there it is.

As mentioned earlier, Vina del Mar is a huge tourist town, and it’s wide esplanade is usually bustling with tourists enjoying the seaside restaurants and shops.  However, this week, the ocean has been particularly rough, and the waterfront area was completely closed to pedestrian traffic. No storms or anything, just really huge waves rolling right up to the town’s edge. In recent years Vina del Mar has frequently had to close the waterfront area due to the rough ocean weather crashing onto the breakfront… This is largely due to climate change – historically this sort of weather was very rarely experienced, but it is becoming increasingly common and is causing severe erosion. The town is constantly taking measures to repair buildings and walkways that were getting damaged by these crazy high tides and the brutal onslaught of the constantly crashing waves.  Houses and buildings in lower income areas that are affected by the rough seas are generally either left derelict or repaired slowly over time, but the fancy art deco casino and the lucrative public boardwalk shopping and restaurant areas are always repaired very quickly.  It is becoming a very significant concern for local authorities, and the local constabulary will fine people that go past the barriers that are put in place for people’s safety.

Next we went to see a genuine ‘moai monument from the Easter Island that was relocated to Vina del Mar at great expense, and after much negotiating with the Chilean government and the local tribal councils on Easter Island’. I guess Dixie wasn’t to know that we have all recently just visited the island and seen hundreds of the enormous and impressive monuments in situ a few days before; she was genuinely puzzled that no one seemed particularly interested in the lonely monument that to us seemed sadly out of context, set as it is, outside the Fonck Museum.  Instead, we spied the spire of a nearby church and all wandered around the corner to see what it looked like.  The church was beautiful, with it’s gothic style architecture, select stained glass windows, mosaic tile floor and beautiful timber and gold nave, and quaint confessionals.  Again, our poor guide was puzzled at our interest in the church, and I found myself explaining that in Australia, many churches are unfortunately designed in the same style as a 1960s brick toilet block, so sandstone churches such as these are quite rare for us, whereas Dixie shrugged and said many churches in Valparaiso look similar to this one.

After the church we made a quick stop at a botanical garden that leads to a huge modern amphitheatre that was preparing for the music festival that was starting soon, and then we hit the road back to Valparaiso proper.  Along the way, I caught glimpses of some of the city’s famous street art.

As we drove along the highway that connects Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, we were informed that the port continued to be a significant centre for resupplying and supporting ships during the Californian Gold rush of the late 19thC, as well as being a huge export centre for copper and various produce.  Unfortunately for Valparaiso however,  from the 1950s onwards, there was a fairly significant socio-economic decline after the opening of the Panama Canal, which caused a serious decrease in ship traffic.  Many eminent families moved to Santiago, and the port-based economy suffered for quite a long time.  In more recent years, Valparaiso has started to stage a recovery by becoming the ‘Cultural Capital of Chile’, attracting artists, musicians, chefs, writers and culture vultures, who have reinvigorated the city’s historic districts. The city also has four major universities to attract international attention, and is constantly hosting music festivals and community street art projects.

Our first stop on our return to Valparaiso, was to Neruda House, also known as La Sebastiana.  Located high in the hills of Valparaiso, the house once belonged to Pablo Neruda, the famous poet who had taken over the unfinished house started by architect, Sebastian Collado who had died before finishing the home.  It is now a museum dedicated to the poet, and is full of Neruda’s eclectic things from the mid-20thC.  Neruda obviously had a striking sense of interior design, and the house is full of many original pieces of furniture, pictures and objects, but nothing in the house is quite so impressive as the views, visible from every window, over Valparaiso Harbour.  The house was designed to make best advantage of the sweeping panorama below and it is absolutely beautiful.  It was a twisting windy little narrow house built over five floors, and I can’t imagine living there with all those stairs, but the views would make it worth it!

After this we drove further into the historic older district of Valparaiso, with more fabulous street art and more fabulous views of the city.  Tourism now makes up a good portion of Valparaiso’s economy as people come to enjoy the cobbled alleys and maze-like streets, the colourful buildings and the creative murals and almost overwhelming amount of street art.

The city is nicknamed ‘The Jewel of the Pacific’ and its historic district was named a UNESCO World Heritage site, in particular its unusual funicular lifts.  Built onto the steep hillsides that overlook the bay, Valparaiso is a winding labyrinth of narrow streets and cobblestone alleyways, between crazy diverse architectural and cultural centres, there is system of ascensore (funicular) lifts that help the locals get around.  For 100 CHL (Chilean pesos), you can take one of these funiculars up a hillside and cut large sections off your steep uphill walks.  This beautifully kept bright yellow house (above) is at the top of one of the ascensores that take people into the historical district. There are 15 of these rickety old ascensores, that are located in different parts of the city.  Dixie also mentioned there was one other that was not for public use, but belongs to a local hospital. These funiculars are also protected by world heritage status and therefore all kept in (at least, barely) working order.  The most popular spot for tourist is to ascent to the Conecpcion and Alegre historical district, or Bellavista hill which is known as an ‘open air museum’ as it contains so much street art.

Next stop was this crazy street corner covered with its bright red paint and ceramic tile mosaics, called the Resting Corner or Resting Place, (which is a bit grave, and way less than cheerful in English!).  The Resting Place was a community street project where artists and members of the local community who are interested come together to create a space.  All of the art works are very much encouraged by the city authorities, and Dixie was saying that if you wanted to paint your house a bright colour, all you had to do was tell the council and they would provide the paint and the workers.  If you wanted a mural on your house, you had to apply to do one (presumably for design approval) and they would come paint a mural on your house, but you would be charged a little extra for mural painting.  No wonder the city is so colourful and covered in art work – it is all subsidised by the city.

The rest of our afternoon was spent walking back down the hillside, winding through the historic district and marvelling at the brightly painted buildings.  There were painted tributes to Easter Island, to penguins, elements of Chilean culture, backpacker hostels painted with bright red double decker buses, a Van Gogh tribute, stairways painted like piano keys, a rock sculpture wall, and all mixed in with beautiful views down over the city.   This liberal attitude towards painting the town is evident everywhere and while there is a LOT of graffiti covering the town, none of it is over the top of the beautiful murals.

Valparaiso is certainly a beautiful and interesting city with so many interesting pieces of street art, that I have gone totally overboard with images in this post… and these aren’t half of the pics I took!

After this, it was time to head back to the ship – but not before ferreting out a fabric store to try and find some fabric for Aunty Mary’s hand sewn quilt that she has been working on.  We found two fabric stores, but weirdly could not find any material that was 100% cotton in either?!  In the end, we gave up and head for a local department store, where we found, in the men’s department, a 100% cotton shirt with a print that will do quite nicely, so we bought it to take back to the ship to cut up into little hexagons to be added to her quilt.  Everyone needs a decent project for these long sea days, there’s only so much bingo and trivia you can handle!  🙂

A Quintessenitally British Day Out

Being in London for the fourth time has been lovely… it has given me the option of doing as much or as little as I choose and I don’t feel the pressure to run around like a headless chook, playing tourist and trying to cram it all in – and there is a LOT to cram in if you want to see even half of what London has to offer. 

I wasn’t initially intending to, but on walking past the British Museum today, I saw there was a special exhibition on that piqued my interest – A Rothchild’s Rennaissance, the Waddlestone Bequest, so I had to pop in.  The Waddlestone Bequest is a collection of approximately 300 exceptionally beautiful and some iimportant objectfs from the medieval and Renaissance periods, as well as numberous 19thC copies.  The items were left to the Musuem in 1898 by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild and there were many items of Renaissance jewellery that I felt were worth popping in to have a look at.  Waddlestone, btw, is/was the family manor in Buckinghamshire, and apparently is a particularaly beautiful house.  I can just imagine old Ferdinand sitting on this enormous collection in his favourite library or smoking room, congratulating himself on having amassed such an impressive collection of objets d’art.  🙂   

I collect nail polish, travel pins and dust bunnies.   😛 

Anyway, there were some extraordinary pieces on display – some very fine and typically Renaissance items of jewellery (large gold, enamel and pearl pendants etc), some limoge enamel pieces, majolica ceramicware, some match lock and wheel lock longarms, a gorgeous medieval helmet and various reliquary items and plate etc.  It was well worth stopping in to have a look at these beauifully preserved decorative arts objects.  Just lovely.  The catalogue for this exhibition is avilable on the Book Depository if anyone is interested – GBP24.00, big heavy book full of lovely photos and delivered right to your door… if you’re guessing I didn’t buy a copy at the museum, you’re spot on! 




 And of course once one is in the British Museum, it is hard to just walk on out again.  So I whipped around and said, ‘hello’ to my old friends the Lewisham chessmen, the Sutton Hoo exhibit, the horology room, the Rosetta Stone and the winged bull from Ashurnasirpal.

Time got away from me a little and I had to run to make my afternoon tea date with KPeth down at the Brumus Bar on Haymarket.  We had decided we would got for afternoon tea or high tea somewhere nice while in London – it’s just the done thing you know – and were tossing around options on where we should go, when my friend Stephola recommended The Brumus Bar at Sulfolk Place.  Never heard of it, but Stephola’s very posh friends had remarked that it was ‘just as good as Claridge’s afternoon tea’, so with this high praise in mind, we made a booking.  And were not disappointed… our afternoon tea was delightful.  We had a lovely corner table which allowed for engaging in one of my favourite past times – people watching – and a fabulously English waiter who was extremely attentive and kept offering us more food, though we were struggling to get through the very beautifully plated items already offered.  Was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours – a glass of champagne, fancy delicate nibblies, nice tea and good company.  10/10 – would definitely go again.  🙂 

  After that I did a bit of tourist shopping – ie: bought a decent sized coffee mug to take on the ship, as I had intended to pack an old one I was happy to throw away, but in my rush to fit so many Tim Tams in my suitcase, I had completely forgotten to do so.  It is probably the one thing I do not like about the cruise lines – melamine coffee mugs everywhere except the main dining rooms.  So if you want a decent cup of tea, you need to order room service or go to the dining rooms.  I’m much happier to make one in the buffet and take it back to the room and not bother the staff.   Anyway, bought a touristy London mug (sans sparkly paint, sorry KPeth – just not my thing!), which may or may not make it home.  And then headed back to the B&B for a few hours before continuing my Quintessentially British Day Out with a show – The Book of Mormon.

Okay – have probably stretched the truth a bit on that one.  But I didn’t want to see Billy Elliot or Kinky Boots or *insert Random Shakespeare Play* to round out my Big Day O’British Stuff.  I thought I’d give The Book of Mormon a crack – which was a bit of an odd choice for me given I am not a South Park fan and generally have a less than favourable reaction to that sort of humour.  But I went in with an open mind and was not disappointed.  The show was fantastic.  Just hilarious, irreverent, surprising, unique and down right funny.



Written by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, the story ‘The Book of Mormon’, follows two mismatched Mormon missionaries who, upon graduation from Missionary School, are are sent to fucking Uganda of all places to spread their religion and try and baptise locals. As you might expect, when they arrive, things are not exactly what they expect and much of what they encountered definitely wasn’t in the brochure.  It was extremely earthy and frog-fucking funny.  If it comes to Australia, and I assume it eventually will, we shall all have to line up and go see it.  Brilliant.  And while it heavily pokes fun at the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints – a lot of it could just as easily apply to any organised religion.  I laughed out loud so much my cheeks were hurting.

Great way to finish my evening, even though it did’t fit into my Quintessenitally British Day Out.  🙂