Nachi Falls

The rain overnight was torrential, really loud and every now and then, it became louder. There was a steady drip drip drip somewhere that could have been someone playing a bongo extremely rhythmically and loudly. It was still raining when it was time to get out of bed. When I say, get out of bed, I mean, get up off the tatami mats that we were sleeping on.

Tatami mats OK. Being on the floor, not so much!

I don’t know why it should be so much harder to get up off the floor, but it is. My theory is that Japanese people do this every day from a very young age, build up very strong thigh muscles and then become sumo wrestlers.

I was very glad that I spent much of my youth practicing the fine art of origami. A passing knowledge is required if you want to make filter coffee. The thin cardboard handles unfold so the filter bag hangs into the cup.

Making coffee in a Moomin mug

Our plans to visit Nachi Falls looked like they biting the dust. The rain finally petered out after 11.00. By this time, Liesel was engrossed in a TV show on her phone, and I was messing up Soduko puzzles again. I really seem to have lost the Soduko mojo lately.

In the end, I visited the waterfall on my own. Nachi Falls is 133 metres high, the tallest in Japan. It’s a train and a bus ride away.

At Nachi Station, I passed time waiting for the bus by going for a quick walk on the beach. The clouds looked adorable, so nice and cute: just fluffy children’s drawings of clouds, nothing like the big, black angry ones that had been precipitating all night.

Nice beach at Nachi plus clouds
More clouds

There’s a fine memorial at the station for the man who brought Association Bootball to Japan. Again, I think my translating app needs some tweaking.

Let’s remember Nakamura Yoshiyuki
You get the gist…

The bus ride to the falls was quite long, so it’s a good job we’d already decided not to walk it. The site, and sight, is stunning and greatly revered by the local people by the looks of it.

Nachi Falls
Not a bad time exposure with the phone

A lot of water comes down but only a small stream trickled by where the people gathered.

I started walking up the stone steps towards the Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine but I could see the clouds were coming down fast and it was getting dark, plus I really didn’t want to miss the bus back.

Shoe car? Bike? Skateboard? Segway? Rollerskates?
The clouds are coming down as I’m going up

The bus system is totally different from any other one I’ve been on. While people are paying the driver and getting off at the front, you get on at the back and take a ticket from the machine. If you don’t know what the fare is, it doesn’t matter, because it’s shown on the laser display unit at the front of the bus.

What’s the story….?

Your ticket has a number on it, such as 3 or maybe 6, and this number corresponds with the numbers on the displayed grid. Each number has an amount underneath which represents the fare you would pay if you were to get off at the next stop. But if you stay on the bus, you’ll see the amount increase underneath your number and thus, if you were counting out the money so that you could tender the exact fare, you would have to recalculate. It’s like watching the fare in a taxi go up and up at a ridiculous rate, only there are six such numbers. Well, six for a while, then, as the journey progresses, it turns into a 3×4 grid, that is to say, there are now 12 possible different fares for people to pay, if they each joined the bus at a different location and thus received a ticket with a different number from each other. And the fares don’t go up by fixed amounts, either, oh no, sometimes the increase is 30, sometimes 50 yen and occasionally there are other odd increments. Sometimes two adjacent numbers might incur the same fare for a short while. But there is plenty of time in which to count out the coins so that you can get rid of as many as possible, thus reducing the weight of money in your pocket. You want it to be correct. So when the time comes and you’ve arrived at your destination, you stand up, walk to the front, try to hand the driver the correct fare. But no. There’s a plastic box there into which you drop the coins along with the ticket. Inside this box, there is a slow-moving conveyor belt taking the takings to, presumably, some sort of counting and checking device. But that doesn’t matter because, as I said, the conveyor belt moves quite slowly, so by the time it’s sucked in your final coin and your ticket, you are well away from the bus.

Also, I don’t know if it’s because many of the roads here are quite narrow and so the buses have to be narrow too, but there are only three seats across rather than the expected four plus the aisle.

Ooh, I didn’t realise Martha was driving the bus
Three seats across

Liesel did some laundry, thank you, and then she washed some fish. Obviously, we couldn’t put fish in the tumble dryer, that’s a ridiculous thing to do, so where’s the best place to hang them up to dry? Oh I know: the railway station.

Fish hanging in Shingu Railway Station

The following day, we packed and moved on to Kyoto. And not just to get away from the fish at Shingu station.

I realised that the Sudoku puzzles I’d got wrong were designated ٭٭٭٭٭٭ which is very, incredibly, almost impossibly difficult. I completed a few ٭٭٭ ones to prove to myself that I still had some basic skills and then, finally in the evening, I conquered a ٭٭٭٭٭٭ puzzle and celebrated with a minor fist pump.

But one thing I never did conquer in Shingu was this:

More functions than a party planner

You think Google Translate is funny? What about Google Maps when it hasn’t a clue:

It’s a mystery

After dumping our stuff in the hotel room, we went for a quick walk. Yes: hotel. Something big must be going on here, all the Airbnbs are booked up and at Shin-Osaka Station, there were hundreds of students gathered, going somewhere. Another mystery, eh, Google?

Cycling by the Kamo River at sunset

Zoo Time

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning and the first thing that I saw was a video of Martha riding her bike. Yes, we are a little bit jealous that we’re not riding bikes right now. It would make a welcome change from all the walking.

Martha’s a Tour de Force

Of course, it wasn’t really Chelsea, but that song just popped into the old noggin.

We planned to visit the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, which recreates buildings and streets to give an idea of living in Osaka in the past: this would be interesting and inside.

We also planned to visit Nagai Botanical Garden: this would be fascinating and outdoors.

In the end, after a slow start to the day, we went to the zoo. A no-frills zoo: no frills for us customers, and not many frills for the in-mates.

Yes, Tennoji Zoo was very cheap to enter, compared with London, Chester and Anchorage Zoos, for instance, and there was no big gift shop at the exit. So, with such a small income, it’s no wonder that many (most?) of the animals didn’t seem very happy.

The first animal we saw was a koala way up at the top of a eucalyptus tree. We don’t know if he had friends or family with him, but if not, he had a lot of space.

Koala

The pelican seemed happy enough, a nice big pond to swim in, but as with many of the exhibits, the wire mesh made it difficult to get decent pictures.

Pelican

If we were kids, we might have taken up the offer to eat polar bear curry.

Mmm tasty polar bear

We were too scared to visit the aviary as the ducks are the size of bears. Plus, we didn’t want to be pooped on. Certainly not by a bear-sized duck.

Ducks the size of bears

Against expectations, the polar bear seemed to be the most contented of the large animals. He looked a bit grubby but was having a great time playing with his toys.

A rare green-nosed polar bear

I suspect the green cone and the buckets are the food delivery system but even so, he was so much happier than the poor old thing confined to concrete at Chessington World of Adventures just a few years ago.

We were particularly taken by the huge rat pen. I mean, the pen was huge, the rat was just a normal rat.

Rat

Oh, it turns out this was a bear enclosure. The rat was eating the spectacled bear’s food.

Spectacled bear

A lot of the animals seem to require visual aids: here is a nocturnal spectacled owl.

Spectacled owl

Chinese wolves, one of the tigers and the giraffe all seemed to be very short of space which was a little depressing. The lions seemed resigned to their situation. Only one of the females was walking around in circles, the other two just soaking up the Sun.

The days of being allowed, nay, encouraged to ride an elephant at the zoo are long gone. Or so we thought.

Blue elephant and no, you haven’t been drinking

The sad news is that the real elephant here has packed his trunk and said goodbye to the zoo. He’s in elephant heaven now hopefully with plenty of heavenly plains in which to roam.

Rhinoceroses mark their territory by scent, according to the sign.

Rhinoceros toilet habits

The rhino we saw was slowly eating, and wasn’t afraid to dive in to the pile of grass horns first: he looked as if he’d just been for a swim with the hippos.

A rare green-nosed rhinoceros
Grey-crowned crane
Demoiselle crane

My phone has a clever app on it which can translate text into English. The results are variable: sometimes it makes sense but sometimes absolute garbage comes out.

And sometimes, you understand the message while the words displayed are just funny.

Useful instructions for using the dog park
I think the translation software is drunk

The zoo was very clean, no litter littering the place and just before we left, we saw a chicken being fed. We don’t know whose dinner the chicken was intended to be but what a strange sight after all the exotic fauna from faraway.

In the evening, I went through all the paperwork: maps, receipts, tickets, brochures, confirmations of bookings, boarding passes… and binned it all! Yes, the days of keeping paperwork only to throw it away years later are over! This is a major leap forward. (But, hedging my bets, I did take photos of it all, just in case, y’know…)

Anchors Aweigh

All good things come to an end. I will miss my all but daily trips to Kaladi Brothers Coffee shops. I don’t think I’ve visited all possible branches, but I’ve been to quite a few!

On the way back home on Sunday afternoon, I noticed how bald the trees are now. They were green when we arrived, yellow for a while and now devoid of all foliage.

Naked trees

Aaron, Jodi, Asa and Gideon joined us for dinner one more time. It reinforced how hard it will be to move on.

That, plus we’d chatted with Martha and William on Whatsapp (and Jenny and Liam to a lesser extent) earlier; and on this day, William’s 11th month birthday, the slippery slope to homesickness beckoned for the first time, really.

Lovely William

On our last full day in Alaska, we started packing. We’re still tryig to travel light but somehow our bags are now heavier than they used to be! I have a couple of new shirts, but I did throw away a holey, bloody pair of socks (blood from small stone burrowing into my heel).

Liesel had her final appointment with the physiotherapist who showed me the spot on Liesel’s back where I can poke and prod in an effort to ease her discomfort. (By spot, I mean the location an inch to the right of Liesel’s sacral shelf, not an actual spot, although there is a nearby freckle to help guide me.)

We visited Amy and her folks Wayne and Cathy one last time. This was another emotional parting.

After another spell of packing (here’s a tip: refolding items and rotating them doesn’t reduce their weight), we went to see the boys one last time. Amongst other things, we grown-ups discussed whether the boys should be allowed to watch Monty Python’s Life of Brian. I don’t know, all I could remember was the song, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. We also mentioned the the larger-than-life character Mr Creosote who came to grief in The Meaning of Life. Could such a person really exist?

Again, saying goodbye was hard but they, and Anchorage, will still be there, and we hope they visit us in England one day (hint, hint).

Jodi, Gideon, Aaron, Asa
Klaus and Leslie

In the evening, we joined Una, Phil and Kiran at Seoul Casa. As the name implies (does it?) this is a Korean-Mexican fusion restaurant. The kimchi-rito was a very fat burrito with cabbage and tofu and very nice but again, too much for this Englsih stomach.

Seoul Casa

Another sad but fond farewell. We’re going to miss the people and places of Anchorage but, let’s be positive, we are continuing our adventure for several more months and that can only be a good thing.

We rose at sparrowfart Tuesday morning for our early flight to Seattle. I finished my packing just in time before Klaus and Leslie drove us to the airport. The final emotional goodbye but we soon forgot about that when we entered the airport.

We used a machine to check in. It knew about Liesel but not about me. So we had to go to a desk and get help. There, we were told how busy it was, the security queue was miles long and we only had ten minutes! Holy moly. Because we’d checked in at different desks, we were seated ten rows apart. I was randomly given TSA Pre-check status so I went striaght to the front of the security queue while ordinary people such as Liesel waited and waited and waited.

We made the flight ok, and we were both in the middle seat of our respective rows. The other day, we found out that airline etiquette says that if you’re in the middle seat, you have the right to use both armrests. But guess who I was sitting next to? That’s right: Mr Creosote. There was no way I could pull down the armrest between me and him!

We appreciated the entertainment provided by the Alaskan Air crew. The girl at the gate sang for us and the chief steward on the plane was very funny too, with her commentary, especially telling people to wait for the ‘ding’ before being allowed to stand up when the plane finished taxiing.

I read for the duration of the flight

We were a little late arriveing at Seattle and our next flight is delayed even further.

We checked in for our next flight on the only airline that I know of named after a John Wayne film: Hainan. There was a problem with my passport (I think) but I don’t know what it was, or why it took so long to check me in. Confusion between UK, EU and GBR? We don’t know whether our veggie meals are still on the system, so we’ve acquired some snacks, just in case.

We had a nice lunch at Floret, a vegetarian restaurant in the A Gates area. Don’t be put off by the fact that it looks like a wine bar. I had shepherds pie made with lentils, very nice, but not as nice as Jyoti’s dahl, of course.

So here we are, sleepless in Seattle waiting to board our flight to… wait for it… Beijing…

Bear Trouble

It was a long walk to the nearest Post Office, mainly due to the fact that I didn’t check before I left the house. So I ended up walking three sides of a long thin rectangle rather than along the fourth, short side.

Actual Sunflowers (and yes, that dog did bark at me)
This is where boots grow

Not that I’m complaining about long walks. I also spent some time looking for 100% cotton socks in a couple of department stores. I don’t think they exist in Anchorage and yes, I should have ordered them from eBay a few weeks ago.

Arty farty photo of the day, taken in downtown Anchorage:

One building reflected in another

A couple of people have commented on my addiction to Kaladi Brothers Coffee shops. Yes, I’ve been a few times, it’s very nice coffee, thanks. But it’s a bit much when even the phone comments on the frequency of my visits:

My phone knows my habits

One night after finally persuading the boys to get ready for bed, Asa came out and said it might be a good idea to practice his cello. Liesel and I looked at each other and said, yes of course, dear, 9.30pm is the ideal time to play a loud musical instrument while your young brother’s trying to get to sleep. (We didn’t say that.)

It’s Hallowe’en season and there are some scary sights around town. This chap is just down the road form us:

Ooh, spooky!

We took Asa and Gideon out to buy costumes and I can confirm, they look just as scary with their outfits as they do without! We went to a Chinese restaurant as Gideon wanted Mongolian beef. Mongolian beef but without the green stuff, which we learnt was onions. In his excitement, he knocked a large glass of water, with ice, off the table.

Thursday was Alaska Day, a day off work for Leslie, so she and Liesel went shopping. I had a massage and walked back home. Asa went to a school dance, but didn’t stay too long because it was boring: all the boys chatting on one side of the room and all the girls on the other. Some things don’t change with the passing years. Asa and Gid stayed with their grandparents: there was no school the following day, so Liesel and I were able to tidy up Jodi and Aaron’s house in peace.

On Tuesday, a black bear had demolished part of the fence in Mom and Dad’s back garden. No photos, but the neighbours heard the sound and saw the bear not going over the fence, not going under the fence, but pushing the fence over and going through the gap. By Friday, the fence had been repaired. In England, we’d still be waiting for a man to come round and look at it it and then wait several weeks for the actual repair.

On Friday night, Asa had a sleepover with a friend. The rest of us stayed at Mom and Dad’s: by this time Liesel and I had tidied the boys’ house and done all the laundry.

It was interesting living ‘downtown’ for a week, but it was a lot noisier than being close to Kincaid Park. Apart from the nearby airport, of course.

So here we are. It’s our final weekend in Alaska. The snow continues to settle further and further down the mountains. I think we’ll be flying out of Anchorage before it lands on us, but I don’t think the city will be free of snow for too much longer.

Chugach mountains with the ever descending termination line

We’re confidant it will be warmer in Japan and we’re looking forward to being in a totally different cultural setting for a few weeks. Our only contact in Tokyo hasn’t responded, so we’ll be on our own. Our main concerns are getting by without speaking more than a couple of words of Japanese and in my case, keeping to a vegetarian diet. It’ll be an adventure but it is a little scary, especially compared with the last few months here in Anchorage, in the bosom of friends and family! I think that’s the first time I’ve used the word ‘bosom’ in this blog.

Apropos of nothing at all, here is the car number plate of the day:

Blymee o’Riley

Crabs

A few more-relaxed days while Asa and Gideon are at school. We’re into our final week here in Anchorage and so we have been planning our trip to Japan. We? A million thanks to Liesel who has been so much more pro-active in this respect.

I walked around the neighbourhood a couple of times, even though it was drizzling slightly.

No idea what inspired this bike rack design

We watched Star Wars on TV, Chapter 4, ie, the first one made but later enhanced with more special effects. I particularly enjoyed the ‘ding’ sound when the startrooper bangs his head on the door frame, definitely not in the initial release.

We had lunch with Amrit and her husband Siri. He’s a retired teacher and has spent a year demolishing a house and recycling anything that could be reused.

Liesel, Amrit, Siri

We ran a few administrative errands in town under cover of battle grey clouds. In fact, I was reminded of chilly, grey, cloudy November days at home. In food news, we had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. I think those two statements might be related.

Pizza: we each customised our own pizza. We? I am indebted to Liesel who made mine perfectly!

In wildlife news, I saw some crabs in Sagaya, a nearby supermarket with, by luck, a Kaladi coffee bar.

They’ve got crabs

In sailing news, here are some yachts correctly sailing with the wind.

The boats on the post go round and round…

And in gardening news, this is a great idea and a great pun!

Garden of Weedin’
One bed per gardener
How to make a boring fence look attractive

Homework

Gideon went to a birthday party where the highlight seems to have been consuming a whole bowl of pilfered Doritos! Kids, eh?

Asa went for a bike ride, something we weren’t too keen on: suppose he got kidnapped by a bear? Liesel and I went for a walk with the dog. It’s alway great exploring a new city, you’re always finding new things. I didn’t know about the Martin Luther King memorial until today.

Dr King
Hmmm, food for thought

The snow on the mountains is a few more inches lower down. It’s now officially a race: does the snow reach Anchorage before we leave? Or will we have to beg, borrow, buy or steal snow shoes? Watch this space!

Icing sugar sprinkled on a slightly stale and chopped up chocolate sponge cake

Another thing you don’t expect to see in the city centre, a long way from the railroad, is No 556, an S-160 class locomotive. It was one of 2,300 locomotives built for the US Army in 1944. They lacked the typical steam engine domes because many were sent to Europe where the bridges and tunnels were much lower than in America.

Funny place to park a steam engine

No 556 was built in 1943 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Pennsylvania. They were stripped down for war action and acquired the nickname ‘Gypsy Rose Lee’ locomotives, after the famous striptease, burlesque dancer.

In the evening, we watched Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark on TV. Asa and Gid played video games where far too much was going on for us old farts to keep up with. Learning to use the X-box controller really is, for us, beyond rocket science. We happily accepted that Gid had no homework and that Asa had finished all his.

Sunday morning, Gideon played a couple more games of Futsal. In the afternoon, while Asa was having his cello lesson, Gideon and I went to a nearby school where we had a go at soccer.

Calm down, girls, but these are the socks I was ‘encouraged’ to wear. With shin guards that flew out whenever I kicked the ball.

Cool socks

I displayed limited ball skills, but it’s fair to say, my goal-keeping days are well over: mainly because I didn’t want to get my clothes dirty by diving onto mud where the grass used to be.

Gideon’s drop-kicking is very good

But he really is good with the ball, and this was a good way to pass an hour while Asa was bowing away.

We happily accepted that Gid had no homework and that Asa had finished all his, so we went to the movies and the choice today was Goosbumps 2: Haunted Halloween. It was very funny, scary in a cartoony way and I think the boys liked it!

Can’t wait to see this film in December

Back at home, Asa revealed the Time Capsule that he’d made for his project. Fallen Autumn leaves stuck to an oak chest with real mammoth blood.

Time capsule to be opened in 2118

Then, an hour bedtime, Asa realised that he did have more homework to do, after all. Kids, eh?

Once upon a time, a man went into the car registration service center. The clerk asked him “What would you like your six-character number plate to be?” The customer thought about it for a long time, umming and ahhing. The clerk got fed up with waiting.

Mmmmmm

Socktober

A very lazy morning: I ate breakfast while messing up a Sudoku puzzle. In the afternoon, I walked to the coffee shop and back, enjoying the sunshine but not so much the cold. It’s borderline right now: too cold without a jacket, too warm with it.

Jewel Lake branch

It’s Socktober: a campaign to donate socks to homeless people. Elsewhere it’s Inktober, a challenge for artists all around the world to draw an ink picture every day and post it online. And it’s Stoptober, the campaign in England to help people give up smoking. But I like Socktober as a word…

Socktober

After dinner, we went to Aaron and Jodi’s. They were packing for their trip to New Orleans. Asa and Gideon went to bed after we watched a couple of episodes of Flight of the Conchords on TV.

Gideon likes to go to Campfire, the big breakfast party at school. Which is fine, except that it starts at half past seven. Far too early for civilised people. Liesel drove him while I stayed behind to look after Asa, who then walked to school on his own.

Liesel had another physio appointment and we walked there as it’s not too far from the house. We took the dog, Zipper with us, and while Liesel was being treated, Zipper and I found the coastal trail. Zipper pulled a lot and sniffed everything. I didn’t.

Someone had a placard in their front yard which I thought was quite sad.

The caption speaks for itself

After meeting up with Liesel again, we walked home via a baker slash coffee shop that we’d been to before: Fire Island: On the way, we passed dear old Star, the reindeer. Not the same Star that was here before, apparently. Like the good Doctor, Star regenerates every few years.

Star the Reindeer

It’s a pity he, she or it has to be behind such a dense fence though, with just a small area of dirty perspex to look through.

Ain’t nobody gonna get outta here

But we did like this park bench, seemingly inspired by Vincent van Gogh.

Front porch bench project

At Fire Island, we had a second, late breakfast.

In the evening, we took Gideon to play Futsal. He and his team wear the red shirts of England, hooray! It’s an indoor version of soccer, similar to 5-a-side football that I was no good at, at school. The indoor court is probably about the same size as a basketball court. The ball is smaller and less bouncy than a soccer ball and the goals are smaller too. But there are still five players on a team.

Klaus and Leslie met us there to look after the boys while Liesel and I went out for a Thai meal with Bob and Margot. Bob was Liesel’s boss in Anchorage until I dragged her kicking and screaming away to London. It was good to see them again, and Liesel and Bob caught up on news of many old acquaintances.

Bob and Liesel

We collected our charges from their Opa and Oma. I read Gid the first chapter of The Wolf Book after which he pretended to be asleep.

Here’s the first of today’s bonus pictures:

Registration number of the beast

My Dad had a Vauxhall Viva with the number THO666H, and you can imagine what teenage me and my sister thought of that! It was seen on TV once. No, not as a getaway vehicle on Crimewatch. More innocently, in the car park at Epsom races.

And here is the optical illusion of the day. I’ve seen it posted several times on Twitter and Facebook recently, so here it is, just so you know what you’re missing.

You want it to stop, but it won’t ….