"" Writer's Wanderings: August 2016

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Off To Climb Mount Fuji

Some time ago when we were planning our trip to Japan to visit our son and his family, we casually threw out the suggestion that we should all climb Mt. Fuji. The idea grew and so we packed clothes we thought appropriate for the climb and bought trekking boots and a walking stick for me and our son and his wife looked into booking the trip.

Thankfully they planned the climb for several days after our arrival because we were going to need all the energy we could muster. The youngest granddaughter stayed home with mom but our nine year old grandson and twelve year old granddaughter thought they could make it so the five of us woke up early Thursday morning and set off with our backpacks for our rendezvous with the tour bus.

Station 5 - The starting point
We took the train to the Tokyo Station to meet with our tour group. We checked in with them and then were taken to a staging area where people were divided into more groups and assigned buses for the trip to the mountain. Our tour guide tried to talk to us in English and was doing fairly well but was totally relieved to discover that our granddaughter spoke Japanese and would translate. (Our son speaks fairly good Japanese but relies on her for the correct forms to be polite.) The guide led us to the "orange" bus (which he said clearly) and we got into our assigned seats.

Already in the clouds.
The bus trip was a little over three hours with an interesting stop at a rest stop along the way. It was a huge place, lots of cars, trucks, and buses. There was a large restroom with a board at the entrance that lit up to show which stalls were open and which were occupied. There had to be at least 40 or more stalls. But of course there was a line for the ladies. Our granddaughter discovered that one whole corridor of stalls was closed for cleaning and that was what had made the line.

Supplied with a few snack purchases from the mercantile, we boarded the bus again for the rest of the trip out into the countryside and up the mountain. The land was so beautiful outside the city. Lakes and water and lots of trees. The ascent by bus to the starting point of our climb, Station 5, began and our experienced driver took us up the switchbacks with ease.

The expedition crew (my son took the picture)
We arrived at Station 5 around 11:30 or so and checked the bags of clothes into a locker for changing after the trip (something I'd neglected to plan on). At the restaurant, we had lunch. Mine was a delicious miso soup with nice chunks of vegetables in it. Soon we were taking a deep breath (we were already at about 2400 meters--around 6,000 feet) but the altitude didn't bother us too much--until we started climbing.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Tokyo Tower

The Tokyo Tower is a landmark in the district of Minato, Tokyo. The red and white tower resembles the Eiffel Tower in its structure. It is a communications and observation tower and of course a tourist attraction in the area. Built in 1958, the main source of revenue is tourism and antenna leasing. Like all things built for technology, it was affected by advancement in digital TV. At a little over 1,000 feet tall is a bit too short for complete digital broadcasting but still acts as an antenna for other broadcasting venues.

Beneath the tower is a four story building that houses museums, shops, restaurants and of course provides a ride to the top for those wishing a bird's eye view of the area. We ate at the food court and watched an attendant who fascinated kids and adults alike with his sound effects as he entertained and engaged those around him.

Since our family had already been up to the top and Bob and I weren't really interested in looking at the city from the heights, we opted to visit the aquarium that is there. I'm glad we did. The kids were fascinated and so were we.

The aquarium houses lots of unusual fish, many I've never seen before and quite a few I've never seen in an aquarium display. There was a small touch display with a dozen starfish in it and next to that was a tank of what looked like black and gold mollies. The kids were given nets made of paper and the object was to catch as many fish as you could with the net before it dissolved. It was a lesson in patience. The more you chased a fish the faster your net would fall apart. The one who patiently waited for opportunity and gently pulled the fish up with her net caught the most.

Tanks with huge catfish, eels, decorative fish, porcupine fish, turtles, shrimp, seahorses, the list goes on. About 2:30 a feeding time began with two attendants going to various tanks and feeding the fish. There was a lot of explanation--in Japanese, of course, that Bob and I didn't understand but it was fun to watch. Our youngest granddaughter was quite interested and thankfully she speaks Japanese and could understand what they were saying.

And of course there was a koi pond and food pellets to feed them with. All in all for the price, it was a great time.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Japanese Cicadas

Our son and grandkids met us at the Haneda Airport when we arrived in Tokyo after a thirteen and a half hour flight from Toronto. I was glad to see them. We had been awake for most of the flight since it was during the day and didn't feel alert enough to manage finding their new address. All the way to the apartment, we kept hearing about all the "bugs". I was beginning to wonder until we got out of the Uber van our son had arranged and heard the noise. It was cicadas.

We had our seventeen year cicadas back home in Ohio this past June/July and they were plenty noisy. Their Japanese counterparts were just as vocal. The cicada season in Japan is July to September. I'm guessing that we are now in the peak of the season in August. And apparently it happens every year here.

As we walked to the Tokyo Tower we had to stop every so often because as all little boys do--and some girls too, they had to pick up the cicadas they found and examine them as well as the shells that looked like large beetles that they emerge from. 

The Japanese cicada is a little different looking than ours back home. Their eyes are not a bright red and they appear to be a bid stodgier than ours. They can still sing quite a song as they spend their week of life attracting a mate. It does cover up some of the traffic noise of a big city. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Languages - Learning The Basics

While English is probably one of the most difficult languages to learn (although I think Japanese and Chinese are right up there with it) it is also one of the most universally spoken languages especially in popular tourist areas. This was most evident when we visited Paris. The closer we were to the areas where most tourists are found, the more people spoke English to us.

Some people enjoy practicing their English with you. Others are more timid. But I've always seen a face light up (possibly in a moment of amusement) as you try to say something in their language. I believe it is appreciated though especially with those "magical words" that Mom taught you: Please and thank you.

A search online will help you to find a translator that will phonetically give you the words that translate the "magic" into the language of the country you are planning to visit. Add good morning or good day and of course cost or price if you plan to shop and you can charm your way through your trip.

And of course there's an app. Lots of apps actually. Some you can speak into and have it translated. Others you can use to take a picture of a sign and it will translate it. And still others where you can type in what you want to say. Apps are okay but I still think you will make more friends with your own attempt to remember how to say good morning no matter how much you may mangle the pronunciation. You can be that foreigner who brings fond memories to the local you encounter and a chuckle for what you tried to say.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Dumpster Diving--There's An App For That?

The title piqued my interest: 10 Shameless Ways To Eat For Free. Bob's philosophy is that nothing in life is free. Sure you get a "free" breakfast at some hotel chains and B&Bs but let's be realistic. The cost of breakfast is part of your room rate.

We've even stayed in some hotels that offer an afternoon happy hour with a free drink and appetizers or a sampling of a local restaurant's offerings. The Hampton Inn in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island in Florida offers a "Chef's Taste" with a sampling from a different restaurant each night.

The article on SmarterTravel started out with something I'd never heard of before--freegan. Basically it involves dumpster diving outside a restaurant or grocery store. Sure. That's what I want to do. Get my meal from a dumpster. Apparently there are those other than the homeless or down-on-their-luck who do. There's even supposed to be an app for it. I looked in the app store for it (Leftover Swap) but couldn't find it.

Since dumpster diving could get you into some trouble--the dumpster is technically private property and you could be accused of stealing, there is an alternative: foraging. And yes, there's an app for that and I found it. It's called Wild Edibles Forage. Lots of pictures and description and location. Anyone remember Euell Gibbons? He knew all the edible parts of a pine tree. This app was created by "Wildman" Steve Brill, a naturalist, environmental educator and author who gained notoriety in 1986 when he got arrested in New York City for eating a dandelion in Central Park. So I guess even foraging can get you in trouble. I'll stick with the "free" breakfast, happy hour, and a good dinner in a restaurant.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Oh Look! There's a Tourist!

A couple of weeks ago we started thinking about what to pack for our Tokyo trip. We don't start the actual packing for any trip until, at most, two days before we leave. But this trip is a little different. We are planning a climb of Mount Fuji. That means some different items like hiking boots, walking stick, rain gear, warm clothes for the higher altitude, etc. Knowing that the temperatures are going to be very warm and humid in Tokyo we need to pack accordingly. So, Bob turns to me and asks, "Should I pack my shorts?"

My husband lives in shorts when the weather is warm--even slightly warm.

My answer, "No!"

We are going to a big city. It's Japan where customs and traditions are a bit different. We already stick out as foreigners despite our clothing choices. No need to be offensive.

So many times as visitors in a country tourists are easily spotted even if their physical appearance may not be so different. Part of it is in the clothes we choose to wear but a lot of it can actually be in the way we act. SmarterTravel has a great article on how to stick out like a tourist.

One of my pet peeves is mentioned in the article: Standing in the middle of the sidewalk with a guide book or map out to check where you are going. It forces people to walk around you and in a crowded city or town will not gain you any friends if you are blocking their path to work or school or whatever their destination. Use your smartphone. You'll blend in with most everyone. Get an app or a map on your phone. You can always do a screen shot of the map and then you don't have to worry about wearing down the battery with the GPS.

While I'm on pet peeves, the other is talking loudly. When did the volume on our voices go up so loud? Was it with the introduction of loud music and ear buds? There are not too many places in the world where a loud foreign voice will not stand out and identify you as a tourist. I remember being in a restaurant in London once where everyone was quietly enjoying breakfast when a very loud American complained about the version of an American breakfast he got. "Darlin' that ain't no American breakfast!" and then he went on loudly to explain just how it should be. Bob and I just looked at each other enjoyed our English breakfast and tried not to look like we were in any way connected to him.

We will be taking light weight long pants and light shirts to wear in the city--all with at least short sleeves. While Japan does often copy our western styles our aim is to fit in not stand out quite so much. And we will try to soften our tone when we speak out in public. Where are you going to travel this year? Have you checked out the local customs to try to blend in rather than stick out and hear someone exclaim, "Oh look! There's a tourist!"?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What Do You Do With 13 1/2 Hours In The Air?

In order to visit our son and his family in Tokyo we will endure a long flight of thirteen and a half hours from Toronto to Tokyo. That's after a short flight to Toronto from Cleveland. When I tell people how long the flight is I usually get an eye roll or a tongue clicking or a shake of the head or all three. No one enjoys a long plane flight--except me, sometimes.

I don't mind if we have a little room to spread out in economy or can afford the upgrade to business class with travel miles or that rare, rare instance where we get upgraded to first class. For this flight we booked an aisle and a window seat with one between us. As time nears, the middle seat is still empty. We can only hope.

So what do I look forward to doing on that long puddle jump? A really good book, a little writing and maybe a movie or two. Some planes have games on their video screens but a lot of them are using WiFi to connect with your own personal electronics and link to their entertainment systems. There are even outlets below the seats in some planes to charge your device.

Of course a nap would be nice too but it's a daytime flight that leaves in the early morning on Friday and arrives late afternoon on Saturday, crossing the International Dateline. Did I mention jet lag? Going over to Tokyo won't be bad but coming back is always harder with the jet lag. We leave Tokyo spend fourteen hours in the air and arrive an hour later on the same day. Confused? You gotta love that International Dateline.

Flexing ankles and knees and walking the aisle once or twice will keep circulation going. I was also told once by a doctor that taking a couple of aspirin as you start a long flight will also help. Often the airline will give you a toiletries bag with socks, a sleep mask and toothpaste and brush. In this day of charging for everything, I don't count on freebies and take my own. It is refreshing to brush your teeth toward the end of your flight.

Well with my computer, my ebook and my iPhone, I should be able to entertain myself. And if I get too bored, I can always reach across the empty middle seat and startle Bob awake. That's good for a chuckle or two.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

In My Backyard - Meet the Tomato Hornworm

Note the red horn on its tail.
When it comes to his tomato plants my husband is fanatic. Do they have enough water? Are the blossoms forming fruit? What's the spot on the bottom of the tomato? Are they ready to pick? And then this past week: What's that green bug with the white eggs on its back?

He spent some time on the internet and came up with the answer. It is a tomato hornworm and the eggs aren't really eggs but tiny cocoons of a small type of wasp. I thought he was exaggerating until he called me out to the deck where our tomatoes and peppers grow in special earth boxes that he ordered this year along with a kit that contained the right amounts of fertilizer.

The hornworm we found was fascinating so of course I had to look it up and check it out myself. They grow anywhere from three to five inches (depending upon which site you read). Eventually they become a brown moth. They like only certain plants and favor the tomato the most, thus the name. They will burrow into the soil for their pupae stage and can have two generations in one summer as well as winter-over in the soil.

Against the green leaves it is difficult to see them unless the wasps have found them and laid their eggs there to hatch into larva which actually feed off of the hornworm. They then spin their small white cocoons and eventually emerge. Meanwhile the hornworm is spent from being food for the wasps. Several sites I visited said to leave the hornworms with the wasp cocoons alone as the wasps will help to control the hornworm population.

Uncontrolled, the hornworms will defoliate your tomato plants, feeding off the tender new leaves first and working their way down. Without the wasps, it is suggested you pick the worms off the plants and put them in a soapy water solution (or smash them if you are so inclined).

Every year there is something new to discover in our backyard and we certainly don't have to travel far to see it.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Kayaking The Crooked River

Looking for a fun outdoor activity to do with our visiting granddaughter, we decided to revisit a place from our youth leader days. About thirty-five years ago (or so) we would take the teens from our church for a weekend canoe trip at Camp Hi in Hiram, Ohio. It was not a fancy place to say the least back then--outhouses and basic canoe equipment. The first time we did the overnight trip was when I learned what "primitive camping" was. I thought it meant the facility had an outhouse. That sounded primitive to me. Not so. We ended up hanging up a blanket for the girls to have some privacy. We had one teen who never came again even though we found a better camping spot in the following years.

Well, Camp Hi had changed but not a lot. The grounds had a lot more picnic tables and the outhouse was a lot nicer. Is there such a thing as a modern outhouse? And along with a lot more canoes there was also the option of kayaks.

We arrived shortly before ten in the morning. Bob had reserved three kayaks but once there, our granddaughter decided she didn't want to have her own kayak so she and I chose a two-man (or rather woman) kayak. We picked up life jackets and paddles and found the last three seats in the van for the ride up the river to the drop off point.

One canoe and several kayaks went into the river before us. We were the last in and let everyone get a good head start. It was like having the river to ourselves. The Cuyahoga wasn't running too fast since we hadn't had a lot of rain in the last few weeks. There were a few places where the current picked up and I got to rest a bit. Our granddaughter rested between a couple strokes here and there which got more frequent as she got hungrier and wanted to get to our picnic lunch.

A seven mile trip that took us three hours fifteen minutes revealed lots of water lilies and other marsh flowers as well as a huge blue heron, several turtles and a glimpse of a river otter. While it promised to be a hot and humid day, there were large sections of shade and a nice breeze blowing most of the time. It was relaxing and peaceful and something we will always remember sharing with our granddaughter.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Exploring a Geode - Crystal Cave

It's been many years since we have taken a tour of the Crystal Cave at Put In Bay, Ohio. Looking for something new to do with our granddaughter as we visited the island and some family we have there, we decided to introduce her to one of South Bass Island's more unique sites.

The cave is actually a geode that was discovered by workers in 1897 who were digging a well for the Heineman Winery above ground. The walls of the cave or geode are covered in strontium sulfate, a bluish mineral called celestite. The crystals are not as blue as they once were because of the lights that work with the natural moisture in the cave to create a greenish algae.

The crystals of the cave range in size from 8 to 18 inches. Some have been removed to allow enough room for visitors and create a floor to walk on. The removed crystals were used for manufacturing fireworks. It gives off a bright red color.

During prohibition days, the family owned winery was helped to pay its bills by offering tours of the cave since it was not allowed to sell alcohol.

An $8 ticket gives you a tour of the cave and the winery and a token for a small glass of wine or grape juice. We skipped the winery tour since we were running short of time but we did enjoy a glass of grape juice while we waited for our tour to start. Heineman's grape juice has a unique taste totally different than Welch's from the grocery store.

I don't know of anywhere else in the world where you can walk inside a rock. If you can manage the 42 steps down and back up take a look. It's worth the effort.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Corn Sweat? Really!

A couple of weeks ago our weather man on a particularly hot and humid day was offering reasons for our thick muggy air. As I write this we have hit fifteen ninety degree days in our area and it looks like at least two more coming by the end of the week. I can take the heat. I can't take the humidity which is why we don't visit grandkids in Florida in the middle of summer. The weather man did have something to blame the humidity on though and it wasn't climate change. It was corn sweat. Really?

I thought he was joking but apparently there really is such a thing and for those of us in the midwestern states that have so many corn fields perhaps it makes sense. Now there is a fancier name for it--kind of like women who don't sweat but "glisten." For corn it's called evapotranspiration.

Just as people who exercise or are active in the heat begin to sweat the corn as it grows and pollinates takes in more water and "transpires" or releases moisture. Oh come on now, let's just say it sweats.

As temperatures rise the capacity to hold moisture grows and the dew points begin to reach the uncomfortable point. And we all know that higher dew points means more women will "glisten."

Glisten. Sweat. Transpire. Come the middle of January we'll wish for a little more of that.

Monday, August 08, 2016

The Real Indiana Jones

Sometimes in looking for things to write about I get on interesting bunny trails. While perusing a list of books that inspire travel I ran across one called The Lost City of Z by David Grann. As I scanned the description, I found that the story was about the man who was the inspiration for Indiana Jones. I couldn't help but follow up on him.

His name was Sir Percy Fawcett and he was quite a colorful character. His resume included being a British artilleryman in Sri Lanka, a tour of duty in World War I and a top secret assignment as a spy in Morocco. He was most famous for his map making expeditions mostly into Brazil and Bolivia. His exploits earned him a prestigious medal from the Royal Geographical Society.

Fawcett developed a theory that an advanced and ancient city had existed in the Amazon. Stories of local natives and one particular story from a Portuguese fortune hunter from 1753 who gave an account of a huge stone jungle metropolis spurred him on.

The explorer became more obsessed with the possibility as time went on and twice in the early 1920s tried to find the city he dubbed Z but was driven back by the conditions of the jungle. Still the 57 year old explorer was convinced the city was there in Brazil and in 1925 set off with his twenty-one year old son and a friend to search again.

The expedition got to a point where he had turned back before and he released his guides continuing on with just his son and the friend. His last communication was what he had sent back with the guides. When two years passed without another word from him, newspapers began to report his probable death. Still stories surfaced that he was living as a native in the jungle or that he was a captive of the Indians. One account had him ruling a tribe of cannibals.

In 1928 the Royal Geographic Society sent an expedition, the first of many that have searched for the lost explorer. The author of the book, David Grann, went into the jungle searching as well and ran across a tribe that had preserved a story in their oral history that fits with Fawcett and his expedition. The tribe warned him not to go into a territory that was ruled by a fierce warring tribe. They never saw him again.

To make the comparison even closer to Indiana Jones, Sir Percy Fawcett's middle name was Harrison--as in Harrison Ford??

Friday, August 05, 2016

Love Locks

In 2010, we spent several days in the Cique Terre area of Italy. There is a trail that connects the five towns that sit on the cliffs of the shore line. Over the course of our stay we walked almost all of the trail. Part of it was closed for repairs. One section of the walk was called Via dell'Amore and there we ran across an unusual practice that apparently has grown in popularity over the years.

Along one section where there was a chain link fence there hung all sorts of locks. I don't remember how we found out--perhaps we asked someone but we learned that the locks were mementos of pledged love. A couple would pledge their love to each other and fasten a lock, sometimes with their names engraved on it, to the fence. Then they would throw the key into the ocean.

It all sounds very romantic but it has become quite a problem in many areas of the world. Thousands of locks in some places have created a danger. For instance in Paris many of the locks are attached to a bridge over the Seine. Periodically they have to be cut off for fear the weight of so many metal locks could undermine the safety of the bridge. When one such bridge had a metal grill collapse under the weight of 700,000 locks that weighed a collective 93 metric tons the sides of the bridge were replaced with glass panels that have nothing a lock can be attached to.

In Paris as well as other romantic spots in the world, the ritual is considered vandalism and some places will arrest those found contributing their lock no matter how in love they are. Don't be taken in by vendors who may be looking to make money by selling you a lock. I don't think they will bail you out.

Be sure you know it is all right to place a lock before you do. Better yet, exchange rings, take pictures, post a picture to Instagram and promise to return to the place to reaffirm your pledge of love. Chances are the lock will be temporary. Love shouldn't be.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

A Look At Cleveland's New Public Square

We had the opportunity to check out the new Public Square in downtown Cleveland. Really nice!! Here are some pictures but pay a visit downtown and check it out yourself.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Iceland - What's For Dinner?

Excitement over our trip to Iceland is growing. We've already laid out our road trip and stops and Bob has made all our overnight reservations because I don't go unless I know I have a place to lay my head at night. The one thing I haven't looked into yet is the food.

Our previous visit to Reykjavik and Heimaey (a small island off the coast) was during a cruise so we didn't get an opportunity to explore the restaurants and taste the cuisine. A little surfing on the net brought up some interesting items that are popular in Iceland. Some sound like a definite gotta-try. Others, not so much.

Lamb appears to be the meat of choice but it is prepared in different ways from boiled (I'm assuming like stew) to smoked. The smoked lamb sounds good but the one that won't be on my plate is the sheep head. According to one article it is singed to remove all the hair and then boiled. The eyeballs were said to be the tastiest. A couple of my boys might try that but I'll pass.

I'm not surprised that fish would be plentiful given that Iceland is in the middle of an ocean. Fish, too, is prepared by boiling and smoking but also by salting and drying (fish jerky).

Apparently Iceland is known for lots of varieties of cheese. One called Skyr is called a yogurt but actually isn't. Instead it is soft cheese made of gelatinous milk curds. Served with milk, sugar and blueberries it is said to taste pretty good. We'll see.

One of the articles I read said that there is a special hot dog that is made from lamb giving it a different kind of taste (I'm sure). The way to eat it is with all the works, ketchup, brown mustard, raw and fried onions and remoulade (made from mayonnaise and relish).

Most fruits need to be imported but there are lots of root vegetable like potatoes, rutabaga, beets and carrots. Cabbage and rhubarb are also grown there.

Of course breakfast is my favorite meal and it should be interesting. since we are staying in B&Bs along the way. I couldn't find a lot about breakfast but what I did included jam, breads, sliced meats, cheese and oatmeal. Will the coffee be strong? Esspresso? Will I switch to tea for ten days? As always, stay tuned. I'll be posting as we go provided we can find internet with our food.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Safe vs. Unsafe Tourist Attractions

In a society like ours in the U.S. where litigation is almost a certainty for the smallest thing, you can be sure that most of the places we visit are designed with safety in mind. It's not the case with many of the places you can visit and experience in other countries. SmarterTravel's article, Tourist Attractions That Would Never Exist In America covers several of them.

We have walked trails and edged our way on a cliff or two that had no rails or hand holds or other restraints that would probably be a necessity if they were in the U.S. Most of those places like the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland have polite signs that ask visitors to stay behind a certain point. Of course some tourists will ignore the warning and, in the case of the Irish cliffs, can get blown off the edge with a strong gust of wind.

It's a given that the running of the bulls would just not happen in the States and the plank walk in China that is mentioned--a narrow walkway suspended 5,000 feet up on the side of a mountain would be very questionable even though now you are required to wear a harness. Apparently no one polices it though.

In St. Martin on Maho Beach you can sit in the sand and watch the huge jets come in low over your head. When we were there, a smaller jet spewed a sandstorm when it turned to race down the runway for take off. We were far enough away that it didn't affect us so much but people who were closer and not expecting it were sandblasted. I can only imagine what it would be like with a larger commercial jet.

While visiting the Grand Canyon I was surprised at there being no rails around the edge even in some of the places that were quite accessible to people who would leave the trail. And of course we saw death defying stunts like the girl who struck a one legged yoga pose right on the edge of the cliff. I'm surprised more don't fall over the edge.

The standards for safety vary in the places you may visit. Be careful. Better safe than litigated.

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