Siberia and sakura

Currently traveling
Moscow to Kyoto by train and ferry. Easter 2018.
Currently traveling
  • Day22

    From the air

    April 14, 2018 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 0 °C

    Passing over Novosibirsk and Omsk on the way home - a lot of the route goes directly over the ground we travelled on the train. Still quite snowy down there.

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  • Day21

    Hong kong

    April 13, 2018 in Hong Kong ⋅ 🌙 25 °C

    Brief stop - just long enough to walk down to the harbour to see the lights and the buskers, then a few hours sleep before the next plane.

    Hong Kong airport reeks of tea. The cuppa of the old Empire, rather than Kyoto's matcha with wafts of roasted green.

    It also has a map problem - both in arrivals and departures. Most are just of a section, not the whole thing. So it's hard to get a sense of where you are, and where that is in relation to where you need to be. ''Ahead and left' on a map can mean 'right and right again to get to the bit where the map starts *then* ahead and left'. And some maps number gates, while others number things that are not gates, and relate to a key some distance away. Numbers on the map appear sequential, but then the sequence leaps wildly across to another segment for 2 numbers before hopping back to carry on.

    It is a light and airy space, but not well designed for the traveller who has had too little sleep and just wants breakfast. Most people plumped for McDonalds or the place that offered 5 flavours of congee. Not up to a 3-turn queue and extensive conversations about which congee might be vegetarian, I hunted down the small (nominally French) supplier of Danish pastries.

    On the way I discovered a more diverse selection of eating places than the average airport - from Chinese street food 're-imagined' by a chef with a tyre company star, to Goose to Go. Most of them don't open until 11, so if your airport requirements include the availability of whole rotisserie geese make sure you book a later flight.
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  • Day20

    The red gates of Fushimi Inari

    April 12, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    It is possible to get a photo of the famous avenues of red gates without a crowd of people, but it's not a true reflection of the experience. Huge crowds, relentless steps, mosquitos, and all the maps along the route disagree with each other. I'm glad I went, but if I make a return visit it will be for the excellent dried fruit stall. Or to see the local cats playing at being jungle panthers in the surrounding woodland.

    Other points of note in the area are the excellent vegan cafe and some odd plates in the roads. The former - Vegans Cafe - does fantastic crispy barbecue tofu, huge pizza, and delicious soya milkshakes.

    The road plates are tiny metal labels embedded in the road surface. A few point to visible features like this stone or a small wooden post, but most have an arrow apparently pointing to nothing. Some I think translate as 'The city' but others had different wording that I couldn't work out.
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  • Day19

    Gion by night

    April 11, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Our previous evening visit to Gion was a quick march up the main street to get to the park with the sakura illuminations. This time we wandered the side streets in search of the picturesque (and a good udon restaurant). We found both.Read more

  • Day19

    I know why the caged floor sings

    April 11, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    If you know anything about Japanese historical architecture, there's a fair chance it will be that the risk of sneak ninja attacks led to the development of nightingale floors. These are cunningly constructed so they make an attractive but unavoidable bird-like chirrup when walked on, thus alerting the family to intruders.

    Everybody knows this - it's in all the guidebooks, and countless novels. And like most things everybody knows, it's not true.

    When we went around the first monastery here I noted that the floors around the outside made a quite musical squeaking noise, while those in internal corridors did not. Listening to the sound, I wondered aloud whether these were the famous nightingale floors. Derek was unconvinced, because why would a monastery expect surprise attacks?

    Today on our tour of Nijo castle I spotted a small sign with some pictures of joist fixings. Most people walked straight past it - why look at a diagram of pegs and brackets when you could be admiring golden panels painted with hawks or majestic pines? But I like little details* and having just come through Russia I'm all gold-leafed out, so I read it. It explained how the floorboards are joined, and how pressure on them results in the characteristic squeak. A short sentence right at the end said the noise wasn't designed in - and wouldn't have been there when first built - it's simply a result of wear.

    Even if it had been true, a couple of minutes experimentation in a deserted stretch of corridor showed that it's perfectly possible to walk on a nightingale floor without making a sound. If I can do it, a ninja would have no problem.

    Having learnt about floors we went for a stroll round the gardens and found a cherry blossom viewing area that didn't have very much blossom left, but did have a stall selling cherry blossom mochi. We shared a sakura daifuku (after a brief discussion of whether or not to eat the leaf**) and a stick of hanami dango. The former is a large bun of textured, cherry blossom flavoured rice dough, stuffed with red bean paste and wrapped in a brined cherry leaf. The latter 3 small balls of smooth rice dough - 1 matcha flavoured, 1 plain and one sakura.

    After lunch we wandered up to the Imperial palace. You need to apply in advance to go into the buildings but we were quite happy to just wander through the park admiring the trees and roof decorations. A parliament of rooks had descended on the lawns there to enjoy a dandelion banquet, delicately plucking the petals from the flowers.

    * A few years ago I went on a trip to a famous waterfall. I came away without a single photo of it, because on the other side of the path the spray had resulted in some really interesting moss growth.

    ** Yes. But there's a similar one for children's day that is wrapped in an oak leaf, which is NOT edible. There is a tale of a former emperor who made himself quite ill when given one of the oak versions because - as a well brought up emperor - he'd always been taught not to leave anything on his plate.
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  • Day18

    Bowing deer

    April 10, 2018 in Japan ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    Nara is famous for its bowing deer, so we went to see them. They do bow, if they think you have biscuits. And if they don't think biting you will get the biscuits handed over faster.

    It also has a rather large Buddha.Read more

  • Day17

    Magnificent dinner

    April 9, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 14 °C

    Kyoto is famous for its food - but mainly for hugely elaborate and beautiful multi-course dinners (with a menu that cannot be varied at all), or octopus balls on sticks. Neither particularly veggie friendly, and the former are exceedingly expensive and have to be booked days in advance.

    But we discovered Kyotofu Fujino. None of the set meals are vegetarian (so we missed out on the mini tea ceremony that is included with those), but with some assistance from the staff we put together this wonderful spread from the individual dishes lurking at the end of the menu. The paper-lined basket is on a hot plate. It is brought to the table assembled but uncooked, and must be left to simmer for 10 minutes before eating.

    There is always a queue and it's on the 11th floor with tremendous views over the city, so you'll wait longer if you want a window seat. But it's well worth it. The food tasted as good as it looked and we had as much as we could comfortably eat for a grand total of £32. Not each - that's the total price for 2, including drinks.
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  • Day17

    Day at a theme park

    April 9, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    Not usually my sort of thing, but this one is part of a working film studio, where you can walk around the sets and see actors doing traditional Edo street performances. That"s the woman holding the sticks. She had what looked like a 60s bamboo table mat, but with cunning knots that allow the sticks to slide in one directions but not the other. So with a quick twist or two, or a flick of the wrist, she could transform the mat into a temple gate, bridge, crane, boat, hula hoop or firework display. I could have happily sat and watched that all day, deapite not understanding a word of the quick-fire Japanese rhyming that accompanied it.Read more