Where many meals were eaten and walks were walked. I neglected to take any pictures of this part so am “borrowing” a couple.
This photo by Bernadette
Walking with John in Solihull Park by Mewby
Mewby outside the house where Shakespeare was born.
Mewby & Christina waiting for their pub lunch.
Mewby outside the church where Shakespeare is buried.
A tour of impressively posh Stowe School with my sister Bernadette.
Mewby and Bernadette
In the library
Me & Bill Shakespeare at the Temple of Worthies…
Two ladies in the Palladium
A whole lotta lamb
I spent a year in this town when I was 18. It felt a bit funny coming back here two decades after I last visited…
Me outside the Royal Oak pub in Oxford where I worked as a weekend bartender 1988-9 (this pic by Bernadette)
Lunch in the Royal Oak Oxford – I have to say it was very good! (this pic by Bernadette)
The streets were packed!
So it was a relief to get up in the clouds by climbing the tower of St. Michael at the North Gate.
We did a bus tour as well, but I think we enjoyed it more than that grumpy looking lady behind us. This pic by Mewby.
One day only we escaped to Cambridge. Apologies to my friends there who I didn’t have time to see. Next time!
Punting with Jasper…
A picture postcard view of King’s College…
Perfect light on Parker’s Piece…
The wonderful Botanical Gardens…
Up in the clouds again at Great St Mary’s Church tower…
The Senate House
That there in the distance is the University Library. Looks a bit phallic, eh?
A bunch of old buildings…
Great St Mary’s
Walking on Mersea island with the Readers
Hannah and Joe
And then it was only a 30 hour journey to get back here! All well worth it though. Many thanks to all my family for putting us up, cooking great meals, showing us around and generally showing us a great time. I am missing you all already…
October 4, 2011 /Comments Off on Climbing Tateyama
On the 24th & 25th of September Mewby and I joined the Hailstone Haiku Circle for their annual autumn haiku hike. The idea of a haiku hike being that you jot down the haiku that come to you as you are hiking through spectacular nature. This year the hike was quite a tough one: climbing Mount Tateyama in Toyama prefecture. The mountain is 3,015 m (9,892 ft) high, so no small feat for Mewby climbing it as she is extremely afraid of heights.
On the first day ten of us were driven in three cars (all praise to David McCullough, Hisashi Miyazaki and Stephen Gill for driving us) up to Toyama. After a lengthy journey we transferred to a cable car, and then a bus that drove us through a lovely national park, forested to begin with and then up into and beyond the clouds. Along the way, the bus slowed down so that we could see the Shomyo falls – the highest falls in Japan! I took a quick fuzzy pic out of the window with my i-phone:
Beyond the treeline we were treated to spectacular views of misty mountain slopes swooping down into a beautiful sea of clouds. Everybody on the bus was oohing and aahing at it but you’ll have to take my word for that as I failed to get a decent snap-shot.
And then we were off the bus and hiking up to our hostel. In the picture above you can see the road ahead of us, and if you notice Mewby (on the right) feeling inspired is scribbling a haiku in my notebook. The notebook incidentally was a gift from Stephen Gill which he bestowed, along with oranges, before our ascent. Here are some more pictures I took along the way. The path is beautifully cobbled and as Stephen said, looks very much like an old Roman road.
All of those pictures were taken with my i-phone as we were on the move. Once we reached the hostel though I whipped out my proper camera. The views were lovely and got lovelier as the sun went down.
After we’d had a good feed and some of the men had opened up the bottles of spirits they had brought along to loosen up our tongues, the haiku sharing session commenced. I’m pretty sure that Stephen will be posting the best of them on the Hailstone site in the near future. There were a couple of really nice ones from David as I remember and Miki and Atsushi had some good ones too. As for me well, I’d scribbled something along the way, but I wasn’t satisfied with it so I kept working on it, and working on it until…
…I still wasn’t satisfied with it. Anyway, my poems won’t get better if I don’t open them up to scrutiny I thought, so I opened my mouth to deliver my gentle poem on soft clouds and mountain tops – and at that moment two rather silly women came in from outside, sat down behind me, and started shrieking noisily about the cold. And they continued shrieking quite happily for some time about whatever other topic entered their heads. And wouldn’t stop. SHRIEKING. At the top of their piercing voices. So I found myself shouting rather than reciting the following words in an oddly inaproppriate tone of intense irritation:
gently on green slopes
cloud scraps drifting
into a hollow milk mist sea
Stephen wasn’t happy with the word “hollow”, but though I’m not so happy with the poem as a whole, I can’t think of a better word to describe the insubstantial quality of a sea of clouds so I’m (stubbornly) reluctant to let that “hollow” go. Anyway, some of the Japanese poets present put their heads together to translate it and it actually sounds much better in Japanese:
Mewby also wrote a haiku, which she has given me permission to post here:
And here is Stephen’s translation:
From the carriage window
ah, the season of deepening colours
That was Mewby’s very first haiku! Further challenges however, still lay ahead!
This is the mountain we had to climb the next morning.
It didn’t look like the top was that far away. But actually it was, and it took a good hour and a bit and a hard slog to get up there. Tateyama is actually considered one of the “three holy mountains” of Japan. So we made a point of getting a blessing at the summit shrine. Directly under heaven, we sat on loose cobbles as the shrine priest prayed over us. We learned later that those cobbles (some of them immense) had been brought there by pilgrims. It was a lovely ceremony. You’ll notice from the second picture in this next set that from the top you can actually see Mount Fuji (another holy mountain).
That wasn’t the end of our journey though. The tricky part was getting back down. Poor Mewby had a very hard time of it. But she kept going and eventually she got there and I think she felt a great sense of achievement having done so.
Here we all are at the bottom.
Finally though in tribute to brave Mewby, as my own haiku skills aren’t sufficient, I shall cheat and borrow the words of Mitsuo Aida instead.
it’s ok to stumble, isn’t it?
we are humans after all
September 4, 2011 /Comments Off on The Minka in Miyama
Some time ago I was given the option to stay at one of a number of houses owned by a French tourist business in the Kyoto area. “Why not have a little holiday in Kyoto?” I was asked. However, instead of choosing one of the nice, clean houses in Kyoto proper I chose to stay in a run-down minka way out in the sticks. It seemed like a good opportunity to get away from it all, and I do like a bit of fresh country air, so I dragged poor Mewby out on a two hour bus ride into the heart of inaka.
We set off around 5pm, so when we got there the place was pitch black. Fortunately, I had thought to bring some torches (that’s flashlights for my American bretheren, not flaming brands from an Indiana Jones movie). We managed to find the house, find our way into the house and then find the fuse box so we could turn on the lights. Mewby wasn’t very happy about the enormous amount of creepy crawlies that inhabited the place though. This fellow was one of the prettier ones.
I didn’t take any pictures of the spiders though. Too terrifying.
Mewby made a simple dinner while I cleaned the place up a bit. As the minka is unused most of the time and shut up, the damp gets to the tatami and it gets musty so I had to give it a bit of hoovering. Once we’d had dinner and relaxed a bit we kind of got used to constantly batting fluttery scampery things away from us.
And Mewby cheered up once we went outside and had a little fireworks party. She really likes fireworks.
Fortunately, I had also brought a 蚊帳 or mosquito net so we could sleep in peace undisturbed by all the little beasties around us.
Or at least Mewby could. Foolishly I had watched this scary movie trailer about a girl and her father staying in a run-down old house out in the middle of nowhere… and images from the trailer started popping up in my head as soon as I closed my eyes. “Really!” I thought as I listened to the sound of mice skittering through the woodwork. “There’s enough living things around me. Do I have to start worrying about dead things too?” Eventually, though I could sleep and early in the morning I went outside to explore.
You can basically open up the whole front of the house, just by removing the wooden panels. It’s a nice view to have as you eat your meals.
But the weather is very changeable in the mountains and though it had been sunny, it was suddenly raining very hard.
There’s nothing better sitting indoors listening to the summer rain – and we had a perfect view too.
The company that owns this building, plan to do it up and have it ready for rental by the spring. It could be really nice as the location is lovely. But I think someone should make a horror movie there first, while it’s still nice and creepy.
Here are some more pictures, this time from Wat Chalong, Phuket’s major temple. After visiting there we went to the Jungceylon shopping center, so the last couple of pictures are (fairly typically) of us eating. The restaurant was Spoon Cafe. Probably one of the better meals we had in Phuket.
During our time in Phuket, even though it was the rainy season we were very lucky with the weather. It didn’t rain at all until the moment we got on the plane to Bangkok. Bangkok was rainy on the first day but we spent the first few hours indulging ourselves with another Thai massage at our hotel before Chris Rowthorn came to meet us and took us out for dinner with his family. It was a lovely dinner, and interesting to meet up with a friend from Kyoto in an entirely different location. The next day we did a tour of the most famous Bangkok temples. Chris had forewarned us about the guys outside Wat Phra Kaew who try to tell you it’s closed so they can scam you, so we told them where to go. Haggling with taxi drivers about prices was kind of a pain in the neck though… The following pictures are from Wat Phra Kaew. The scenes painted in the galleries are from Ramakien, depicting the war waged by Rama to rescue his wife Sita – basically the same story we saw enacted in Bali last year as a kechak dance.
The following pictures are of Wat Po, a short tuk-tuk drive, a ferry ride & Wat Arun.
Again the weather was perfect all day, until we went back to our hotel when it began to rain again. After that we were into a taxi and on our way back home. It was a perfect trip but after almost two weeks away we were ready to get back home.
One last drink in the hotel bar.
An altar in the Twin Towers hotel dedicated to... wait a minute isn't that -?
Here are some pictures (actually quite a lot of pictures) from our Sea Canoe Adventure (organized by HIS). Sailing from Phuket, we took in the islands of Phang-Nga bay and explored the sea caves of Phanak, Hong and Ko Tapu. Ko Tapu is now known as James Bond Island because The Man with the Golden Gun (probably the most abysmal film in the Bond canon) was partly shot there. It was a great day out, and the sunbronzed wild boys on the boats who were our guides were funny, friendly and showed us a great time.
Watch out for a “walking fish” and a rock that looks like a baby elephant in this bunch:
And heeeeeerez JamesBondIsland!
And on we sailed. The wild boys whistled down some sea eagles for us. We went to another island and paddled around a bit, sometimes in a canoe and sometimes in the water. And then we went home and had dinner served by a man in a skirt, and big plate of shrimp crackers so amazingly huge I couldn’t hold the camera straight for awhile.
More pictures to come, but in the meantime just look at Lulu singing The Man With the Golden Gun! Look at her! Isn’t she AWFUL? £5 if you can sit through the whole thing.
We had to pay for it though with a massive hike up the hill every time we went back to our hotel. The hotel itself was a bit odd. in that it consisted of a number of different buildings connected by an elaborate and labyrinthine system of walkways, steps and stairways. No matter where we wanted to go, we always seemed to be climbing. I guess it made our legs stronger…
On this day, (by which time I had lost track of dates, days and any sense of time) we went down to Karon Beach, a slightly longer walk away than Kata beach but well worth it. You see that little speck of humanity in the sea?
That chubby little fellow with the bodyboard?
That would be me.
We had a lovely time here and lots of fun riding the crashing waves.
More pictures to follow of our Sea Canoe Adventure & “James Bond Island”!
Some more pictures for you. Day two of our trip we spent relaxing on the beach at Kata:
We started out our holiday with lots of good intentions and would get up very early in the morning and go jogging along this beach together before breakfast. I think we managed this health regime about 4 times before Mewby’s inherent dislike of jogging plus my recurring back pain (I did something to it lifting boxes a couple of months ago – and must get it seen to!) put paid to our fitness lifestyle and we went back to lounging and snacking. On this day though I actually did a wee jog along the beach in the afternoon too, though. The last picture in the set is of Mewby at an entirely forgettable restaurant in Kata. I think I had fish and it was reasonable, but in general I was a little disappointed by the food in Kata. I think I’ve had better Thai food in Kyoto to be honest (there’s a nice place near Rokujou on Kawaramachi that I have to put on DK sometime) – and maybe the best meal we had there was an Indian curry! Still it’s a tourist trap so I guess they don’t have to make the effort.
Day 3 we went horseback riding because I read a bunch of reviews online of elephant rides and it all looked a bit wrong really. Also, I’m 41 and up until now have never sat on anything bigger than a donkey (when I was six), so I figured it was time to put that right. Horses are cool.
We rode for a couple of hours and as we hadn’t done it before a guide trotted along beside us to ensure the horsies didn’t misbehave and scare the bejesus out of us. Every now and then we’d have a bit of a canter (felt like a gallop to me) and that was (ahem!) rather exciting. Check out the Phuket Riding Club site if you are interested.
Back from our 12-day trip to Thailand yesterday and finding it hard to accept the heat and humidity in Japan already! Thailand was hot but not like this! Our first day, we arrived early in the morning and hadn’t slept much so decided to take it easy with a trip to a spa for two hours of sauna, jacuzzi and massage. Damn those Thai massages are good! They are painful – but in a good way! Afterwards we felt like we were floating! Here are a couple of pictures from our first meal out in Kata, Phuket at the Kampong, Kata Hill.
A big place up on a hill, it resembled a temple from the outside and on the inside was decorated with Buddhist statuary. We wandered into it quite by accident, but later found it was listed in our Japanese guide book as one of the better places to eat in Phuket.
Here’s what we ordered. Our eyes were bigger than our tummies.
When disaster struck in north Japan last week Mewby and I were snoozing on a train on our way back from a hot spring trip in Wakayama. It was about 14.30 when I became aware that the train had stopped and there was an announcement that there had been an earthquake in northern Japan and subsequently a tsunami warning. Checking internet news sites on my i-phone I discovered the earthquake was a big one and off the coast of Miyagi. That struck me as odd. Why, I wondered, would there be tsunami warnings off the south coast when the earthquake was so far north? It wasn’t until I finally got home sometime after midnight and turned on the TV that I realised fully just how bad things were. While JR staff were apologising to us for delaying our journey, a giant tsunami had struck in the north-east wiping out towns and villages and taking away thousands of lives.
I used to live in Fukushima and travelled often up to Sendai. When I lived there people often said that Fukushima was relatively stable compared to other prefectures and less at risk of a major earthquake. Of course if you have a massive earthquake in the prefecture next door it doesn’t really matter. Nowhere is really safe in Japan… Even in Wakayama they had a small (90 cms) tsunami later that day and if Mewby and I had gone a day later we would have ended up staying in a refugee shelter. So I guess we are lucky… These things really do make you think about what you have right now in your life, how precious it is and how we must celebrate it while we have it.
Anyway, it might seem strange posting holiday snaps at such a time but maybe taking a look at some of these pictures can in a small way help people understand why this country is so special (and why I want to stay here). The pictures below are from 熊野那智大社 (Kumanonachi Taisha – a shrine) and 那智の滝 (Nachi no taki) which is the highest waterfall in Japan.
I wanted to go to an onsen (hot spring bath) in the real 雪国 (yuki guni) this winter vacation and John Einarsen told me he knew just the place: Ryokan Ontake. He kept talking about the icicles there and saying how amazing they were but it wasn’t until we got there that we realised just how amazing they were.
This was the view from our room:
But the icicles that we saw later on our way to the mixed outside rotenburo bath were something else again. There are two separate baths for men and women within the ryokan proper and they both include rotenburo baths but down a labyrinthine semi-exposed stairwell of 160 steps there is a mixed bath (called 混浴 or konyoku in Japanese) that is really spectacular. As it’s mixed you are supposed to wear a towel at all times to preserve your modesty. Actually though, with temperatures at minus 15 (!) no one else was daft enough to go down there so we pretty much had it to ourselves. Here’s the icy stairwell…
And here’s that outside bath:
This was the view above us.
To get to Ontake Ryokan, you take a train to Gero Onsen and then the hotel bus will come and get you. The bus journey takes about 3 hours and is totally worth it for the fantastic snowscapes. We booked our trip through JTB and it was cheap! Only about 23,000 each + 2000 each for the bus. That includes one night at the hotel, dinner and breakfast and the train fare! Many thanks to John and his wife for letting us know about this – we had a great time and will probably be back there next year!