Tag Archives: travel

Respect for Hakone, Japan

Japan makes me feel like a changed person after visiting.  I can’t think of another country that coats its streets with a sound muting barrier.  It’s a country that I think actually prefers enough silence to hear a pin drop.  For everything they do, there’s a deep level of respect.

Relaxing in an onsen (natural hotspring) is a time honored tradition that embodies this attitude.  During a family trip to Tokyo, we visited Hakone , a short hour train ride outside of Tokyo.

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The water was clear, cherry blossoms just beginning to sprout, and the sky was a  calm cerulean blue.

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Source: Yamanochaya site

The Yamanochaya Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, was our wooded sanctuary, replete with amazing meals and open air baths.  I had the sensation of bathing in a hot babbling brook.  Our toddler had a ball padding around the tatami rooms and having unprecedented access to the low table.  Quite the family friendly vacation.

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source:yamanochaya site

Our traditional kaiseke meals were an intricate multi-course symphony of ingredients, assembled with seasonal elements and balanced flavors.

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Sakitsuke (Hors deouvres)

Tofu made from Ankimo (Monkfish liver).  Topping: Broccoli, Wolfberry fruit
Boiled crab and Japanese parsley flavored with soy sauce
Japanese pond smelt fish deeply fried with rice granules
Castella made from vegetables, fish paste and white of an egg

I could live in Japan for the food alone.

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Best Food Court in the World-Bangkok

Food courts have a bit of a negative connotation in the US-they tend to be fast food joints in malls aggregated in a single mess hall of quick cheap dining.  They exist for the convenience of the shopper rather than as standalone dining establishments.

In Asia the feel is a different.  While they are still usually reasonably priced, there’s a broader mass appeal.  Going out to eat at a food court is still a sensible Friday night choice.  When I lived in Singapore I probably ate out more often at food courts (sometimes called hawker centers)  than restaurants.

Singapore food courts were amazing.  Food Republic must have been some type of revolution at some point, freeing asian cuisines to the masses.  This chain of food courts were indoors, relatively cleaner, and airconditioned. (in contrast to the outdoor hawker centers)

And then I went to Bangkok for probably the umpteenth time. I randomly ran into an old friend who had married a local and was now living in Bangkok.  He took us to the best food court I’ve ever been to hands down.

The newly built Central Embassy mall is fairly high end and foot traffic is low, so it is quiet in there.  Their new food court features all types of Thai cuisines, with separate stalls for northern, southern, northeastern Thai, vegetarian, seafood, and street food.

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Marinated street pork, Beef salad, Galangal chicken noodle in coconut milk, and best pork satay with peanut sauce I’ve ever tasted

The food court is kid friendly, with a few high chairs and a tuk-tuk for the kids to play in.  At the door everyone gets a dining debit card/pass that allows you to charge food.  Each stall will hand you a receipt and staff will help retrieve the food once you give them the receipts.  Fast, easy, delicious!

 

Back in Time in Myanmar (Burma)

The most glaring difference between a developed and developing country?  The earthy tones of the landscape, clouded by the dust and dirt kicked up on a daily basis.  Myanmar was definitely the earthiest I’ve visited.  The country, despite being the second largest in Southeast Asia by landmass, has been one of the slowest to develop due to political strife.  A majority of the population is Buddhist and Burmese temples are a massive draw.

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Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon (capital city)-said to contain 8 Buddha hairs

 

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Shwedagona Pagoda, oldest pagoda in the world at 2600 yrs old.  Gold plated dome topped by a stupa containing 7000 diamonds, rubies, topaz, and sapphires (Burma is gem rich)

Bagan is Burma’s temple capital, rivaling Angkorwat in its grandeur without the crowds.  The best form of transport around Bagan was a horse drawn carriage.  Plodding along the dirt roads, I felt like I was in a different era.  The entire city was tinged in shades reminiscent of the older parts of Laos or Cambodia.   Well preserved and uncorrupted, sunset views from Shwe San Daw Pagoda reveal a landscape littered with temples as far as the eye can see.

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Sunset in Bagan

 

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Gyubyauk  Gyi Temple-Built in 1113 AD, one of the finest temples in the early period, decorated with carvings on the exterior and jataka paintings on the interior

Myanmar or Burma? Burma’s name was officially changed by the ruling junta to Myanmar in 1989, but considering my old Burmese roommate still refers it to Burma, so do I.  The names have the same meaning, but Burma is a colloquial form the locals tend to still use.

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Mandalay palace, the last royal Burmese palace

 

 

Stupas are Buddhist monuments used to house relics, commemorate Buddhist events, and offer a place for meditation.   They are typically dome shaped with a spire rising out on top.  Positively stupefying.

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Sandamuni Pagoda, Mandalay
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Sandamuni Pagoda, Mandalay

 

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Burmese food-sampling of lovely curries

Back in 2009 the most popular billboards around town were of lubricant oil, an industry thriving from maintaining second hand imported cars.  As a result of these imports, the driver’s side of the car is on the complete opposite side of expectation.  Burma actually switched from driving on the left side during British colonial days to driving on the right.  In most countries the steering wheel would be placed on the left, but the second hand imports have steering wheels on the right.  Just one of the ways traveling reminds us that conventions, sometimes arbitrary, can be meddled with.

 

Gems of Rio de Janeiro

I first got to know Rio through the riotous lens of a Carnivale, but I promised myself I’d find out what local life was like.   So I stayed in Rio for 3 weeks. Here are a few of my favorite discoveries:

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Lagoon, photo credit Ana Carolina do Nascimento Guimaraes

Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas-A lagoon with a paved 7.5 km (>4.5mile) bike/running path lined with sports clubs.   I wouldn’t get in the water, mind you, because before the Olympics, water tests showed high levels of sewage and related viruses.  But this was my favorite way to knockout the daily jog.  The path is mostly treelined,  and even though I usually tolerate running only if I’m running after something, I felt pretty good about trying to complete the loop.  There were usually a few good looking folks running or walking, for an extra little motivation to keep going.

acai.jpgAcai – Before I’d heard about Oprah promoting acai as a superfood, I was experiencing it as my daily nourishment.  Brazilians love their corner fresh fruit juice stands, which always stock half frozen treats made with their Amazonian staple, acai fruit.  At first the consistency reminded me of 7-eleven slushees, and this half frozen version is inevitably sweetened, but it’s still brimming with antioxidants.  It’s practically a thicker form of sorbet, a bit like having a superfood ice pop.  Acai doesn’t export very well, and getting to eat the local flavor is a must for any visitor.

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Arpoador-The beaches of Brazil can’t be missed-they have it all: sun, sand, surf, and gorgeous eye candy.  Ipanema and Copacabana have been made most famous by their eponymous songs, but it’s this little bit of sand and cliff called Arpoador in between those beaches that I started calling home.   A popular surf spot, this area also has some of the best sunset views.  Muscle Beach calls this place home.

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Capoeira– a combination of martial arts, dance, and music.   If there ever was an art form evoking Zoolander’s “They’re breakdance fighting!”, this would be it.  To immerse myself in this local dance, I practiced capoeira at a local school daily in the evenings.  We danced barefoot on concrete in what seemed like an open air parking garage.  Everyone spoke mostly Portuguese and acted incredibly warm and welcoming, even encouraging me to showcase my clumsy moves.

 

Rio de Janeiro Highlights

As the curtain closes on the 2016 summer olympics, here’s a look at the hot spots to see in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Christ The Redeemer – One of the new 7 Wonders of the World, this 38m tall statue embraces the city with open arms from Corcovado mountain.

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View from Cristo

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Sugar Loaf-Named during the height of the sugar cane trade, when sugar was molded into cones, this granite and quartz mountain is located in Guanabara Bay.  The famed cable car ride provides incredible views of the city.

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View at dusk with Cristo in the distance

Hanggliding-I booked with EasyflyRio, who called me when it was the best time to fly.  The weather was gorgeous and off we went from Pedra Bonita, above The Parque Nacional de Floresta de Tijuca.  Literally the birds eye view of Rio’s beaches (Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Barra da Tijuca), Christ the Redeemer, the Sugar Loaf, etc…  beachwow.JPG

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paraglider in the distance

 

Arpoador Cliff (between Ipanema and Copacabana)-If you’ve ever wondered how Arpoador got its name, well today’s your lucky day.   Arpoar is the portuguese word meaning “to harpoon” and an arpoador is one who harpoons. Back in the day when whaling was popular, this area was the best spot to scope them out.  It’s also a great viewpoint for the sunset.

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Overlooking Ipanema beach
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Overlooking Copacabana beach

Favelas -Makeshift housing built by the homeless that have developed into full scale communities.  If all favelas in Rio were combined, the population would comprise Brazil’s 9th largest city.  Rocinha is Rio’s largest and most densely packed favela, and several tours are offered during the daytime.  This Brazilian slum is perched among the hills, proffering sparkling views of the rich towns underneath.  It’s best to go on an organized tour with someone who lives or works in the favela, but it’s safe to visit and a stark look at the communities left behind.

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View from Rocinha

 

And of course don’t forget the draw of Carnivale…stay tuned for that lowdown