From Derry to Dunfanaghy

Shortly after departing the BnB in the sunshine, rain and rainbows became the norm.  Just a few minutes away was Grianan of Aileach, a stone fort built back in 1700 BC.  Supposedly, the good god Dagda ordered the Celts to construct what was to be a burial monument to his dead son.   This perfectly round structure has three levels and was restored in the 1870´s.   We certainly enjoyed the 360 degree views from the top despite rain as we arrived and its return while we were on the top level.  The distant loughs and emerald green countryside were just exquisite.


Then it was down to Letterkenny and then north again to the other side of Lough Swilly where we took a stretch break in the quaint village of Ramelton.  We agreed we could spend more time there in the future.  There are still some Georgian buildings and a wide stream passes under a triple arch stone bridge.  Back in its heyday there were eight churches!  Progress brought the train to Letterkenny and Belfast became a linen center which led to a ¨decline¨to Ramelton.  The sun was warming our backs and the delightful weather just made idyllic moments.


At the tip of this peninsula is Fanad Head with a lighthouse where one can take a tour to learn its history and pay extra to enter the top of the building.  We opted to stay outside and just enjoy the views.  The brilliant sunshine and breeze made for another pleasant experience.

Arriving in Dunfanaghy we took the Horn Head diversion on the Wild Atlantic Way.  At the tip of the loop we detoured down a dead end which afforded a look at Tory Island, 12 km in the distance.  The king of the island greets everyone as they disembark the ferry, but with the rather active seas we chose not to take the trip out there.  Our host that night said there isn´t much there anyway.  After enjoying the vistas we turned on the portable hotspot and found a BnB for the night.  The comfortable house is owned by an Irishman who spent several years working in Trumbull and Fairfield, Connecticut.  He returned to Eire with his New Hampshire wife five years ago.  We were quite lucky in that he told us a jazz festival was starting the next day and would last for four days.  All accommodations have been booked for quite some time!  After a tasty seafood chowder and side dish of carrots my full tummy said it was time to retire!

Advertisements

Cooley Cross to Malin Head and Around then Down

With a sunny morning we departed after another large Irish breakfast.  Cooley Cross was just outside Moville, not too far along the Wild Atlantic Way.  Despite much Googling, I still haven´t found why the cross is named as such.  Cooley is the site of a Early Middle Ages 14th century monastery founded by St. Finian. The monolithic high cross has no carvings but does have a pierced ring and a hole.  It is believed to be pre-Christian.  A footprint at the base is said to belong to St. Patrick.  Inside the cementary are ancient tombstones, many in disrepair or simple stones. The grass had recently been cut after a long stretch of time as it was quite long lying about.  One small hut, similar to the beehive huts or cells that monks of that time used, remains and a glimpse inside reveals a couple of white bones.  There is another stone wall, a remanant of an ancient church.   Despite much searching the name Cooley did show itself on any of the tombs.  I felt a bit sad when I left, as those I was leaving personal history behind.


We meandered around Moville a bit but the information center our host had promised, does not exist according to the local butcher.  An ATM provided us with more Euros, and a pharmacy carried a sunscreen containing Mexoryl which I purchased. I had recently read that ingredient is used in Europe but not in the States.  It is supposed to be more friendly and not a possible carcinogen.

Further up the road is another village called Greencastle where one can walk along the paved coastal path.  Bill found some more blackberries, but these were lacking in flavor, in contrast to the ones he found on the Inishowen peninsula.  Seeing a lighthouse well up the coast we drove up there and enjoyed a brief shore visit before the shower began.  Interesting algae lay on the sand during the low tide.  A flock of cormorants were further out on a rock.  The lighthouse was not to be visited but did make for a scenic view.  The port-a-potties were handy, once the rain slacked.

The northern most point of Ireland is Malin Head.  The walk around Banba’s Crown is truly wild and rocky.  With waves crashing into the craggy cliffs and outcroppings, we watched in awe at the light fury in front of us.  At one point, for a split second or two, was a seal popping its head out of the water.  Although grey seals are said to thrive there that was all we were able to see.   I didn’t want to leave this wild wonder.  Incredibly, there was a sail boat way out, supposedly in calmer waters.  It must have been right bone chilling out there!  We were actually lucky with all the rain showers throughout the day that it wasn’t just a downpour while we were there as that area is known for its soaking rains.  A bit of a sprinkle and lots of wind was all we were presented.  Quite pleasant, really.

By then it was early afternoon and we still had as far to drive to get back.  Gas became a challenged to find as three stations in different villages were not working.  We decided to cut short the periphery and cut down the middle of the peninsula and luckily found some fuel before we ran out.  Getting on in the afternoon we stopped in Buncrana for a Guiness and then dinner at the Harbour Inn.  The food was average but the shared vegetable soup was warming.  The baked cod was bland, despite the butter and lemon. The garlic sautéed potatoes were tasty, though!

Wicked Wind, Stunning Scenery, and a Walled City

After I made a quick visit to Dark Hedges, showers, and breakfast we checked out of the hotel.  First stop was Downhill with its majestic panorama of scattered architecture atop another jaw dropping cliff.  When we arrived at Bishops Gate the main entrance was closed, but I found a small door latched open.  Despite the property being officially closed we saw other people enter so followed their lead.  After gorgeous gardens and a walk through the woods we entered an open field allowing us entry to view the mausoleum.  Of course, just as we began to make our way another wind whipped shower began to fall on us in an already soggy area.  We found a bit of shelter on the leeward side of the structure and realized there was another breathtaking wide spread of beach in the far distance with scads of white capped waves.  Noticing that the road passed the field on the other side we returned to the car and drove over there.  From the parking lot we entered the grounds and visited the rookery where one long pigeon was wishing we would disappear.  Back in the day the pigeons were a wonderful source of food which was otherwise scarce.
Beyond the field in the back we spied another breathtaking expanse of beach and over to the right was a glimpse of the Mussendon Temple.  Despite being buffetted about by strong strong winds we made it over there without being blown off the cliff.  Supposedly it was a library for the owner, though it is rumored it was for his mistress.  A fireplace in the basement and a closed flue kept the books from ever getting damp.  As the summer hours were over we could not gain access, but what a stunning building in a fabulous location.  Over time the cliff has eroded.  How sad will be the day when it can no longer support this incredible work of art in the middle of nowhere.


Between the temple and the mausoleum are the remains of an enormous mansion which was lived in until 1922.  One owner is said to have a bit of humor.  He would lightly sprinkle flour on the hallway floor at night to see which of his guests were making nocturnal visits to other bedrooms….During WWII it was used as billets for soldiers.  In 1944 it was sold and left to ruin.

After a bathroom break we continued on to Magilligan Point, a triangular bit of land that is on one side of Louth Foyle, with a ferry across the water over to the Inishowen peninsula. It has military firing range, a formerly notorious prison which is still in operation, and a small tower which was used to keep the French at bay. With alternating rain and sun and the ever present wind, we had to wait out the showers from time to time.

Londonderry/Derry became our next port of call.  We parked the car and took the Lonely Planet tour of the walls around the center of the city.  Cannons, the most famous is called Roaring Meg and used during the Siege of Derry, are in place at various points along the top plenty wide for pedestrians.  A bit of rain and wind surges followed us around.  In the distance one can see scads of townhouses packed together, especially on the Bogside which also sports many murals depicting the most recent unsettled times.  The most exciting part of the tour was seeing Dalai Lama leaving a large building in a car with security watching out.  As the chauffeur began driving, the Dalai Lama put his hands in prayer position and bowed his head slightly to the adoring spectators.

P1060817

After checking in at a BnB further outside Bogside we returned to the city for dinner.  We walked quite a bit trying to find a pleasant place but ended up at a two-story bar/restaurant packed full of too many people and fussy young children.  At least the chicken curry and chicken carbonara were delicious.

Castle Ruins, Beach Walk, and Cellar Dinner

After another hearty breakfast we drove north to the coast and found Dunluce Castle a bit further west.  Due to Heritage Open Days there was no admission fee which made up for the rain delay in the car and the brisk winds.  Around 1500 the MacQuillans established the site as the center for their power.  A half century later they were ousted by the MacDonnells, of Scottish descent.  Despite their dominance in the area, they were greatly conflicted with many of the local families as well as the English Crown who was not taking a liking to their power.  Before the end of the century there were more uprisings. Another fifty years later and Cromwell gave portions of the town and land to his soldiers. The castle went to ruins and parts were reused in other constructions.  Fifteen years later ownership was returned to the MacDonnells who soon left it for another residence. Ruins remained when it went under State guardianship in 1928.  The grand ocean views atop a cliff makes it seem like prime real estate.


Rain returned as we drove on to Portrush which is not of any interest other than its sweeping beach.  Some interesting carved gaps in the stone cliffs are intriguing with one resembling elephants.  While the rain abated we were able to meander the beach but soon it returned dampening us quite a bit.  After deciding there was nothing in town to hold us we drove east to Ballycastle.  We had made a ferry reservation for the next day but due to some difficult weather conditions the sailing was highly unlikely.  As the terminal was in town we stopped in to confer with the agent and cancelled our plans.

The village is on a small inlet with some interesting shops and restaurants as well as a beach.  Several boats are harbored there.  After meandering around and enjoying seeing several vintage Mini Coopers we drove to the other side of town for dinner.  The Cellar Restaurant is small and cozy with delicious plentiful dinners.  This time we both chose salmon in a cream sauce with a very generous side of garlic sautéed potatoes.

The day’s weather was a mix of rain and sun along with gusts of wind.  This might be the norm for our trip!

Dark Hedges, a Rope Bridge, and a Giant’s Rocks

Despite having just arrived in late afternoon and dark gray skies, we walked up to the Dark Hedges to photograph this popular spot.  Bill showed me the effects of zooming in on the row of trees paralleling the road to make them seem closer together.  Later we edited them to look a bit more eerie and erase the few tourists.  Then it was time for some much needed slumber.


What started off as a gray drippy morning turned out to be bright and sunny, fortunately.  I guess it is a good thing we slept in late to catch up on a great dearth of sleep on the flight from BWI to Heathrow and then a wait and another flight to Belfast.  Breakfast is served beginning at 8:30, and we didn’t get there until closer to 9.  Bill’s enormous bowl of porridge and my plate of sausage, bacon, egg, black pudding, mushrooms, stack of bread, a pancake, and grilled tomato was certainly more than I could eat.  The breakfast was included in the room rate so we filled up and didn’t have to eat again until dinner.

Clothed in layers and prepared for a chilly day we set off to Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge after stopping at an ATM to gather some pounds.  By the time we got there the sun appeared and the worst of the gray disappeared for several hours.  After paying seven pounds each we trekked along the coastal path for just over a half mile, pausing for photographs of the scenic shore, and got in line to await our turn to cross the hanging bridge. 

For over 350 years, fishermen have strung a bridge 30 meters above the sea so that they could access some of the best places to catch salmon as they migrated.  After several minutes it was our turn to descend the steep narrow metal steps to the bridge.  Dearly holding on to one of the guard ropes I made my way tentatively across.  I kept going to have it behind me, as much as I truly wanted to experience this mind game.  The return was bit more unnerving for me as I was taking a video with my iPhone.  The fear of dropping it due to the wind made the adrenaline pump into my chest.  Here I am crossing the bridge (taken by Bill).

The views in that area are stunning, as is all of the island of Ireland.  With the brilliant sunshine, blue aqua waters, sheer rock cliffs, and fresh fresh air, one is immediately taken with the magic of Eire.  

The Giant’s Causeway was even more popular and somewhat disappointing in that respect.  The mythical Unesco site is very striking in its geoligical wonder with over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns.  One legend has Finn McCool, a mighty giant, having trouble with some Scots across the water who were threatening Ireland.  He grabbed chunks of the coast and threw them into the sea forming a path so he could deal with the troublemakers.  Unfortunately, the Scot was an even larger dude and chased Finn back across.  Mrs. McCool dressed her husband as a baby.  When the Scot saw the size of the baby he retreated thinking the dad must be truly huge.  The locals believe there is magic between the hexagonal stones.  Who knows?


We stepped around a bit, spoke with a National Trust worker who told us of the wildlife which comes by throughout the year, and saw the two seals he listed who poked their heads out of the water in the distance.  

By then my stomach was growling so off we drove to find some grub.  The Smugglers Arms hotel has a bar where we filled our bellies.  Bill had Guiness, of course, with his beef and guiness pie while I chose wine and salmon with a creamy sauce.

To Fortuna for a one day tour to Nicaragua

Needing to use vouchers with NatureAir before they expired, Bill decided he would like to spend his birthday on a one day tour to Nicaragua which involved a boat ride out to some islands.  We flew from SJO to FON, less than a half hour north, which would take a few hours by car.  A taxi arranged by the Arenal Volcan Inn picked us up for for a “mere” thirty dollars for the six kilometer ride to where we were staying.

Gosh, is it hot and muggy there with the lower elevation!  At least we had a fantastic view of the volcano and seemed to be right at it’s base.  Often it was hidden with the rainy season clouds, but we did enjoy some towering vistas.

The villa we stayed in was listed under AirBnB and seemed to be part of the personal deal of the inn’s manager.  With fees we paid $65 a night, including breakfast.  There was a refrigerator in the room which came in handy for the box breakfast they provided the first morning as our tour began before the dining room opened.  The AC was welcome relief from the oppressing outdoors.

After a light lunch and despite the climatic conditions we did roam around the colorful landscaped grounds on the intertwining paths leading to various duplex villas and pool.  The workers certainly must be kept busy maintaining all the flowers, shrubs, and trees as well as lawn.  In the back of the property are two large solar panels to heat the water.  It was from there we had the best volcano views when the skies were clear.

FullSizeRender 420

Since it was too hot to walk several minutes to try other restaurants we remained at our digs for dinner.  A large pizza contented Bill while I was very pleased with the delicious cheese ravioli in pesto.  So yummy!

Ecoterra came as planned at 5:50 AM to begin our excursion across the border.  Our hotel breakfast provided fresh fruit and mostly tasteless bread so even though the tour boxed version was not what we normally would eat, processed meat and plastic cheese sandwiches, it did taste pretty good!  There was also very sweet yogurt with hard to eat granola, cookie sandwiches, and a strange lightweight granola bar.  Ah, but there was lots and lots of bottled water and some flavored tea and the van had AC.

About an hour and a half later we arrived at the border.  First we had to exit Costa Rica by going through immigration and then walk down the road to enter Nicaragua.  The process seemed overly cautious.  After we were stamped out of Costa Rica and were at the actual border, our passports were checked by another local agent.  As soon as we entered Nicaragua a formidable young woman reviewed our passports.  She seemed displeased at all our recent travels and I fully expected her to state some problem.  Begrudgingly, she handed them back to us.  Then it was on to the official processing where our picture was taken and the facts that we are retired and married were duly entered into the computer.  The long wait was then for the van to be fumigated and paperwork checked and recorded.  Ecoterra used to have Nicaraguan vans take the tours on their side of the border, but they were rather unkempt and not up to standard.

Finally, we were on our way.  But wait!  Just to be sure all was well agents down the road wanted to see our paperwork and ask about our purpose.  Ok, now we are done.  Oh, think again!  A few minutes further down the road is a friendship bridge donated by Japan.  Agents there needed to look inside the van and our passports!!  Good grief!  Four checks on the Nicaraguan side of the border!!

A half hour or so later we entered San Carlos, a rather dirty town of a few thousand people.  There we met a local young woman who speaks English pretty well who was to guide us around the area and out to the islands where she lives.  The town used to house a castle where there were skirmishes.  Costa Rica and Nicaragua have never gotten along.  When there were concerns about William Walker, Costa Rica invaded Nicaragua unannounced to get rid of him.  That did not go over well and eventually the Ticos had to withdraw.  There have been issues regarding the border between the two countries for decades with each country taking over boats from the other country.   In 1977 the Sandistas, who Costa Rica supported to get rid of Somoza as he wanted to invade Costa Rica, attacked the National Guard along the San Juan River there in San Carlos and who were able to push them back.  During this, Nicaragua strafed three Costa Rican boats inside their own territory, which did not help relations.  Costa Rica granted asylum to almost a dozen Sandinistas.  Many Ticos were ambivalent about the guerillas, not being sure they were actually of communist persuasion.  They certainly did not want communism in their own country, though.

Enough of a complicated history…after a stop at a mirador for a look out over the river we headed on down to the dock and boarded our boat for the hour ride out to the volcanic Solentiname Islands.  The refreshing breeze as we sped across the Lake Nicaragua was very welcome!  We paused along the way to view thousands of cormorants, storks, ahningas, and a few tiger herons and whistling ducks which littered the trees and shore.  Our destination was the largest of the four inhabited islands of the thirty-six in the archipelago, Mancarrón.  No electricity or roads with minimal running water make the humid conditions very uncomfortable for those not acclimated to it.

Many of the islands’ 900 or so inhabitants combine farming and fishing with painting and balsa woodcarving. Yet we saw just a few people.  Almost 50 years ago, they began to produce primitive art inspired by their daily struggle and dreams as well as the islands’ verdant landscape.   Politician, poet and priest, Ernesto Cardenal has been instrumental in guiding the residents, and he is there part-time, to help them find justice in their lives. During the revolution that brought the Sandinistas to power in 1979, it was a hotbed of political activity. We visited Cardenal’s cabin and church, with its pre-Colombian style altar and whitewashed walls decorated with the locals’ paintings.  Many were done by children representing their dreams.  I loved this humble dirt floor simple church with its primary colored moveable benches.  This is how churches should be, not gaudy showcases.  There were chickens and rooster roaming about, oropendolas calling above near their nests, and five peacocks also take up residence there.  A pre-Colombian museum displays several clay pieces found there on the island.

IMG_8050

We then followed the sidewalk up a slope towards a hotel, formerly a university, and through humble abodes.  One man was carving the balsa wood and a young woman was painting his creations; toucans, parrots, flowers, etc.  They were for sale but we weren’t in the mode to purchase anything.  The sidewalk meandered through the residential area where high school students go to school twice a month and spend the rest of the time doing a lot of homework.  The younger kids attend about five hours a day.  Spiny palm trees were pointed, ha ha, out to us.  Some are cut down and pieces are carved out and filled with water.  After a few days fermentation has created a rather strong alcohol.

We returned to the boat for a quick ride around to another hotel for a delicious and simple chicken lunch.  The orange flavored meat was very salty so the cabbage salad, very thin fried plantain chips in strips, beans, and rice balanced that.  Dessert was a winter type squash boiled with tapa dulce, a brown sugar formed during part of the sugar cane processing.  Very sweet!  Lemonade made with “good water” was also served though none of us drank it.  Our guide had informed us of the questionable water in the area.  While waiting for the boat to return we relaxed and admired the oropendola nests hanging way overhead from the trees.  At times the babies hidden inside were chattering away when Mama came to feed them.  Boa constrictors are on the island, though we didn’t see any.  One of our guide’s kittens was eaten by one of the serpents, surmised when it was missing and the other two were being threatened by one.  The baby birds are also at risk of being eaten by a boa.

During the shorter boat ride back to San Carlos a bit of rain finally fell.  We were given a long piece of folded plastic to cover ourselves.  By the time we reached shore it had ended.  We really were very lucky that with the threat of rain all day that was all we had to endure.

Passage through immigration was much faster and leaving Nicaragua was clearly less concerning to them as there were fewer checks.  Costa Rica didn’t care about fumigating the car after being in Nicaragua and being a local car made the re-entry quick.  Shortly before arriving at the hotel our very observant guide spotted some howler monkeys up in a tree and had the driver stop so we could observe them.  They were a bit far away but with binoculars I got a pretty good view.  Always cool!

For Bill’s birthday dinner he decided upon sopa Azteca so he could enjoy his coffee flan for dessert.  Whatever I had was mediocre but the strawberry gelatto was yummy.

After a quiet morning we left by taxi to return to the airport, and this time the cost was only $20 as all he had to do was drop was off, no waiting.  Turns out he is from the same town where we now live and knows well the Toucan Rescue Ranch where we have been volunteering most of the past year.  We had to wait a bit for our very casually dressed NatureAir agent, sporting a new tattoo under plastic, to check us in.  He had the audacity to set out a bowl for tips.  That was a new one.  Guess he needed to pay for the newest ink.  The flight back was via Quepos where the landing strip is among a palm tree plantation.  It was pretty fun descending into that.  Deboarding was at Tobias Bolano Airport in Pavas, which is further from home but the only option.

Another adventure under our belts!

Observations of Japan

Walking through a main train station in Tokyo as locals made their way to work it struck me that they all wear coats of drab color – black, brown, beige.  Youth will sport a flash of color, though.

Toilets have sprays to clean the butt.  Some have heated seats.  Japanese and Western style toilets are in most public bathrooms.  If you need a Western style and there isn’t one in the main bathroom then use the handicapped stall which may be separate so any sex can use it.

Restaurants hand out warm moist cloth towels when customers first sit down.  One hotel greeted us with them and packaged disposable ones were given out in the first class section of high speed trains.

Everyone waits in line quietly with plenty of space between themselves in the indicated areas while waiting for public transportation, ascending the stairs and escalators, hotel reception, stores, crosswalks, etc.  No pushing or rushing past someone.  They stay to the left on escalators usually, and leave the right side for those who need to keep moving at a faster rate.

Japanese people are humble, helpful, and always pleasant.

Hotel bathrooms provide toothbrushes with a tiny tube of toothpaste, razors, foldable plastic hairbrushes, and dispensers with soap and shampoo.

Most hotels offer eco-cleaning.  In exchange for no linen change they gift a bottle of water.  They may or may not swap,out towels.

Priority seating on trains is rarely left or given up to those for whom it is intended without asking.

Any litter is something dropped unknowingly yet trash cans are impossible to find. An exception is Hiroshima which also had park benches.  Tokyo and Kyoto did not have any resting spots.

Food is expensive.  A cup of tea is about four dollars.

Japan, for its own share of unfortunate history, has created amazingly respectful people. The respect for everyone is truly something we Americans need to embrace.  They are quiet in public which meant peaceful train rides and eating out.  Pointing at people and things is rude so it is always with a formal open palm, fingers together, that they indicate location.  The bowing when we approached and left hotel reception was amazing. When we were waiting for the Delta counter to open so we could drop off our bags the personnel all stood in front of their podiums, a greeting was made over the PA, and they bowed in unison.  After purchasing a gift for the neighbor girls who entertained Jack, the two clerks carried our package and escorted us to the door and then bowed and bowed as they said thank you.  Even the train conductors and food vendors will turn and bow before leaving the train car.
Everyone has appropriate weight, except the sumo wrestler we saw in a train station going up the escalator as we descended, which really made the obesity in the US smack me in the face when we returned to LAX.  They just don’t overeat.  Salad and fish for breakfast help! Yet they don’t seem to eat many vegetables or fruits for lunch and dinner.  Not being one who has a history of loving veggies, I sure missed them on this trip.  At breakfast in Sendai I was so excited the breakfast buffet at the hotel had steamed broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots I made a small pile on my plate both mornings.  The only people we saw arguing were an American couple in a convenience store.  Not until the end of three weeks did we hear any fussy kids, and they were pretty young.  The adults just spoke with them quietly.
video of our travels

Nikko

Our last stop before returning to Tokyo and onward, we spent only one afternoon and night here.  It is a very popular locale as there is a slew of temples here, including the most ornate in Japan, a UNESCO site.

Two kilometers of walking through the outers streets of Nikko brought us to the edge of the park housing the temples where there is a red bridge.  For a few dollars one can cross it to gain prosperity.  We chose to keep our money as we would likely be ahead financially…

As we were maxxed out on temples by that point in the trip and the entry to the most famous was costly and crowded we opted out.  Gaudy is not of much interest.  The stroll through the park was refreshing with so many pine trees and cool air.

To return to the hotel we took the main street.  Along the way Bill noticed a gentleman with a curious gaze across the street.  Yikes!  A very furry snow monkey was on the ground between some buildings!  It quickly scaled the downspout and two stories up took off across the roof.  I headed back up the block to the next alley and back a ways saw him and two smaller ones on a roof.  They scampered away so we went around the buildings to the next alley.  There the three of them were sitting, two of them in a tree eating what was likely from a trash can.  They didn’t seem to mind us but suddenly took off and disappeared.  For me, it was the highlight of Nikko!

 

 

Sendai

From the northernmost point on the main island we headed back south and stopped for two nights at this clean modern city.  Fortunately the modern clean hotel was only a few blocks away as Bill was still the pack mule carrying our one very heavy backpack.

As the forecast for the next day indicated rain and we had to wait to check into the hotel, we dropped off our luggage and continued by train to Marashuma on the coast.  The village had been recommended to us for the boat ride through the maze of islands, all of which seem to have a name, covered with pine trees!  We paid half again of the fare to utilize the upper deck where we could walk outside.  Even though the excursion was not as beautiful as we had been led to believe, being on the ocean for a while was a good change of pace.  Afterwards we walked across a long red bridge to stroll on a paved path around an island.  Forest bathing renourished the soul a bit.  An amusing bit was seeing two seagulls resting on the seat of a boat as though they owned the place.

FullSizeRender 408

Back in Sendai we spent the next day roaming another fresh market, a long covered walkway lined with shops and restaurants, taking in an aerial view from the thirty-first floor of an office building, and a park a short train ride way where we walked a couple of kilometers through the woods.  A surprise in all of that was a huge white Buddha in the far distance from the observation deck.  It is a 100 m tall making it one of the top ten in height in the world.  Inside are 108 buddhas and an elevator which one can take to the top for a panoramic view.  It was quite a bus ride away so didn’t make the effort to get there.

 

Aomori

The train ride here from Kanazawa was about 1100 km and it seemed we spent the majority of them in tunnels.  This prevented us from seeing much of the mountainous region.  The second high-speed train we took to arrive flew along at about 200 mph.

Aomori is a much less developed city seeming more tired.  It is right on the bay between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean.  It provided a break from temples, shrines, kimonos, and cherry blossoms with its own developing tourism.  The A building is a thirteen story triangle with an observation floor spanning 360 degrees.  A multitude of shops on the first floor along with a musical performance on a historical instrument similar to a guitar provided refuge from the wind.  A combination ticket included the observation floor and panoramic movie of Aomori culture and traditions.  Oddly, the seating was stationary yet the screens surround the floor.  We ended up standing to enjoy the complete show.  We were given audio phones to hear the explanation in English with the Japanese version was blaring away as well.  Nearby is the A Factory, an expensive place to buy specialty foods, enjoy apple cider as apples is the region’s cash crop, and feast on expensive burgers, including aged beef ones for almost thirty dollars, and pastries.  The first day we snacked on decadent rich apple pastries and the second day lunched on burgers and fries.  For free we walked out on the long pier to the short conical lighthouse though the wind about blew me away.

The second day we toured the local fish market, Furukawa, whose highlight, if you eat raw fish, is to buy tickets and trade them for a bowl of rice and whatever bits of fish you choose from any vendor.  It seemed intriguing but we left it for those who enjoy such delicacies.  The Nebuta Warasse Museum houses huge brightly lit colorful floats from past festivals.  The displays change every year.  Included are a few incomplete pieces so viewers can see the construction, which we saw happening in another building the day before, and some we could touch.  To make the interaction even more inclusive three women gave an explanation of the festival and invited guests to learn a dance while a flute and enormous drums were played.  Then there was an opportunity to beat they drums in unison and play some cymbal type things.  Bill and I joined in on the drums which involved holding the sticks in such a way that most of them hit the hide on the drum heads which are parallel to our heads.  Fun!

FullSizeRender 417

For me the highlight of the small city was dinner the first night.  We found a small restaurant that served only tempura and just a few minutes walk from the hotel.  Luckily we knew the location from the map on Trip Advisor as when we arrived we could easily have missed this small venue.  The owner/chef was seated at the counter, the only place to sit, waiting for customers.  The menu was only in Japanese but he did speak a few words of English.  First this serious looking man wanted to make sure we knew he only served tempura and then we asked for vegetables and seafood.  I noticed he had the selections behind a small glass case right at the counter so I pointed to items I couldn’t identify.  He was able to tell me in English what they were so we added chicken to the list. He deftly prepared a plate with his offerings and let us see it before cooking.  A thick scallop, two long shrimp, a bit of some kind of fish, chicken, asparagus, perhaps spring onion, and eggplant were put before us for approval.  Looked good!  He then proceeded to dip the first taste treat in the batter and place it in the oil.  Meanwhile he also served us green tea and Bill opted for miso soup.  A bowl of rice was delivered along with sake for Bill.  A dipping sauce was provided with a small dish of minced radish which he had to try to explain to me to add to the sauce.  He didn’t have the words to do so, so a bit of sign language helped out. The meats were prepared individually and served as they were ready.  In the middle of them he cooked the vegetables so we started and ended with shrimp.   As they became ready he placed them on a plate with paper set on a slightly higher counter.  We only had chopsticks and Bill asked for permission to drink his soup directly from the bowl.  This experience seemed so authentic and as though we had our own personal chef as there were no other customers.  He worked alone and did so efficiently.  The cost of this adventure was about forty dollars for the two of us.  It was totally worth it!  After we paid he bowed to each of us and finally smiled, seeming pleased we were so thrilled with his talent, and guidance  Allowing us to take photos just added to it all.  FullSizeRender 414