Banks Peninsula

Continuing the pattern of wet, dry, wet, dry, today was dry. We drove to Akaroa stopping a couple of times for short breaks.

Cormorant colony on the jetty

We drove back towards the penguin colony so that we could have a quick chat with the cormorants on the jetty. Hundreds of them including many babies learning to fly. They’d jump off, hit the water, start running, then eventually take off. It all looked too much like hard work to us mere humans.

Fledgeling cormorants running on water
A hill wearing a very bad toupé

There are signs here and there telling us that “New Zealand roads are different, so take your time”. One thing we’ve noticed is that the speed limits are all multiples of 10: 100, 80, 60, 50, 30 kph etc. But when you approach a slight bend, the recommended maximum speed always ends in a 5: 85, 65, 45, 25 kph. This isn’t a problem but I wonder if there is some deliberate thinking behind this pattern?

Dorothy the Double Decker – a reminder of home

The drive to Akaroa was very pleasant and as we approached the Banks Peninsula, the hills became more noticeably jagged and angular. The whole peninsula, as far as we can tell, was once one big volcano and we were both secretly looking and listening for telltale signs of an imminent eruption, after tens of thousands of years of dormancy.

Small but popular Akaroa beach

We went for a quick walk into woods, The Garden of Tane, into the shade, but it was too hot and too late to go too far. But while messing around with my phone camera, I took this selfie.

Just my shadow

And as with most accidental shots, I’m quite proud of this one!

New Zealanders equally are very proud of their kauri trees: so proud that this one has two plaques. Their wood is very hard, so suitable for construction, but there aren’t very many left after severe logging over the decades.

A very huggable kauri

We gave this one a hug and some words of encouragement, for what it’s worth.

On the way to our b&b at Little River, we stopped at a restaurant called Hilltop. As the name suggests, it’s on top of a hill and the views are stunning. While we ate, we just looked out of the window rather than at each other.

View from Hilltop pub/restaurant

My nachos were ok, nothing special, obviously reheated but that’s ok. Liesel’s pizza was better than the one she’d had a few days ago. Our landlady, Bridget, said the food at Hilltop was awful, she’d like to be able to recommend it to visitors but it just wasn’t good enough. Liesel and I looked at each other wondering whether the rumbling was the aforementioned potential volcanic eruption or a mild case of borborygmus!

The good news is, outside Hilltop, we actually saw a bellbird. A gorgeous yellow bird sitting on top of a post. And we know it was a bellbird because it made the bell-like noises as it flew off. Which, of course it did, just as I was getting my camera out.

Elusive wildlife seems to be a theme on this trip, unfortunately.

We’re staying in Little River in a b&b, not an Airbnb, and we’re the only guests, despite the booking site claiming that this was the only room available. The internet lies: who knew?

Bridget’s a character. She has two dogs, a husband, chickens, horses, lots of land and a strong kiwi accent.

Breakfast both days was fried eggs on toast and a reminder that we don’t need gluten-free bread on a regular basis. The fresh eggs and fresh milk, however, were delicious. I picked up the bottle. “You’ll have to shake that hard,” she said, “there’s a lot of cream on top. It’s straight out of the cow.”

It was a slow start to the day but it did warm up quite soon. Meanwhile, in Anchorage, they are having to put up with sub-zero temperatures and sights like this. Brrr.

Anchorage aka Narnia

We drove back to Akaroa but on this occasion, we followed the longer, scenic, tourist route.

At Pigeon Bay, we decided to go for a walk along a well-defined walkway. We followed the coastline for a bit, into the woods where the canopy made it quite dark and spooky in places.

It’s dark in these woods

We followed the path through some fields, over a couple of stiles, one strong and stable and the other much more like the Britsh government, totally wobbly and unreliable.

Wait for me, Liesel

We carried on driving the scenic roads, up, up, up, and still we climbed. It started drizzling, the view became obscured when we became immersed in the clouds. We didn’t really expect to be this high, and I’m sure the view is magnificent on a clear day.

The mist and murk (but not a Merc)

In fact, on the way back down, when we cleared the mist and the clouds, we saw little old Akaroa in the distance by the bay looking like a well-manicured model village. On the other hand, there were places where, from my window, I could see nothing but a sheer drop, no crash barrier, nothing, and that was a little disconcerting, not to say scary.

Let’s briefly go back to the musical entertainment item from last time… I downloaded a new album onto my phone and it seems to have stirred up the sludge of other tracks on my device. ‘Shuffle’ is now playing things I’d forgotten I had. As well as Murray Gold, we’re now hearing tracks from Duran Duran, Erin McKeown, Billy Bragg, James Galway, The Viennese Boys Choir, Inspiral Carpets and much much more! Plus, even the artistes it selected before are now performing tracks previously ignored by the so-called random shuffle feature. Mott the Hoople and Ofra Haza too had been hiding in the depths of my MP3 folder, unloved and unplayed. But best of all: The Red Hot Chili Pipers entertained us royally today.

We parked and proceeded to walk up and down the length of the main street in Akaroa, partaking of coffee on one side and a late lunch on the other.

A pretty little creek

We visited the Museum too but were asked to leave because it was a very early closing time. There’s a fascinating history here on the Banks Peninsula involving Maori tribes, Brits, Dutch and French explorers. Whaling was big here too and there are still some of the vast oil vats on display in the street.

A wooden campervan – or is it camperveneer?

We’re planning and plotting the next steps of our trip but everything changed when we came across this wooden campervan. If we rent a campervan, we now want a wooden one.

It’s another ‘Karoa sunset

There can never be too many pictures of sunsets, so here’s today, seen as we left Akaroa, climbing into the hills again.

Blackie the old hen

Meet Blackie, Bridget’s oldest chicken. She’s so old, she only lays five or six eggs a year now. But recently, following attention being paid by the rooster, her hormones must have been on a rampage, as she’s laid eight or nine eggs in quick succession. These eggs aren’t very nice, apparently, so Bridget has been giving them to the eels. Feel good story, right? Until you remember that the rooster is in fact Blackie’s son.

We packed our bags and said goodbye to the circus that is Little River and headed off towards Christchurch. We overshot and ended up in Hanmer Springs. What a beautiful drive, despite being on a main highway for most of the time. The clouds were strange, as if the painter was running short of white pigment.

Fuzzy half-finished clouds

There are plenty of very tall hedges here on South Island, too, often macrocarpa, tall-growing trees that need pruning but are often just left to their own devices.

Big hedge

I wondered whether any of these hedges are taller or longer than the supposed tallest and longest hedge in the world, in Meikleour, Scotland, that Fi Glover told us about, gulp, twenty years ago.

These hedges are meant to reduce the effects of strong winds but as is the case everywhere, there are disputes beween neighbours about reduced light and about views being spoiled.

It was 32°C when we arrived in Hanmer. I went and had a dip in the hot rock pools and the cooler pools while Liesel rested her eyes in the car, in the shade. I thought about booking a massages too but we still had to return to Chch. The 40° water wasn’t as hot as the ’40°’ water in the onsen in Japan. I could climb straight in, here, whereas in Japan, I had to enter one delicate body part at a time.

On the way back into the city, we passed by The Fanfare Sculpture.

Fanfare

This fabulous work of art has been on display in Sydney and latterly in Christchurch.

At the Thai Orchid restaurant, we chose to eat indoors rather than outside by the busy main road and this surprised the owner, I think. But the heat from the kitchen was preferable to the car fumes.

And so, to our final full day on South Island, in Christchurch. It’s time to pack again, properly, and so we began by shedding as much stuff as possible. Mainly by throwing away excess paperwork, after photographing it (just in case) and by sending some stuff back to the UK. We bought cinema tickets for this evening, we went to the library to print out some tickets and wow, Christchurch Library is stunning. There are four floors of good stuff, computers everywhere, lots of young children reading, loads of older people studying and some like us, making plans for future trips.

Big Lego bricks for little children

30°C today so a bit of a shame we spent so much time indoors and in the car.

It’s a hot afternoon and soon we’ll be off to the movies and you’ll never guess what we’re going to see… There’s a very tenuous clue in the title of this article. No prizes, though, it’s just for fun! Entries on a postcard…

Seaspray

That was a little bit scary and definitely a first for both of us. We were escorted to the cashpoint machine. And all because we needed tomatoes.

We never anticipated becoming involved with the Fijian criminal underworld yesterday while visiting some gorgeous islands.

We got up unusually early to join the bus at the nearby Mercure Hotel at 8am. We waited and waited, got worried because nobody else was waiting and no buses appeared. We decided that if we were still waiting at 8.30, we’d go in our own car. But finally the bus turned up, more of a people-carrier really. Fiji time. Fiji bus.

The ride to the Port of Denarau was short but sweet, and as soon as we arrived, we knew we’d have to come back to spend more time in the port itself. All those shops.

Counter clerks in Fiji do like using their staplers. They’ll never give you one piece of paper when three or four will do, all stapled together. And the boarding passes for the day’s boats appeared fastened in this manner, to a pamphlet.

We’d opted for the all-day Seaspray Day Adventure as it took us via a few islands to our main destinations.

Looking back at Denarau

Most of the young people chose to spend the day on South Sea Island doing young peoples’ things. Energetic activities.

South Sea Island

Treasure Island and Beachcomber Islands also look exactly as you’d expect south Pacific islands to look. Not as wild as in Robinson Crusoe’s day, there are now buildings and jetties and facilities. Transfer to these islands was on a small tender. After 90 minutes on the high speed catamaran, we transferred to another boat at Mana Island.

The Seaspray Day Adventure would be our home and base for the following six hours.

Mana Island – where you can stay overnight

There were nine of us passengers, guests, and seven crew. Not a bad ratio. While sailing, they played music for us, gave us champagne and offered drinks throughout the day. There was shelter from the Sun but mainly, we just gazed upon the sea and the islands. And just a few, fluffy clouds to break up the monotony of the blue sky. Liesel saw a turtle in the middle of the ocean, it came up for air and said hello.

Our lovely crew

Modriki Island was the first port of call for us. We went snorkelling. Liesel had a much better time than I did. I don’t know whether I’ve just forgotten how to breathe using the equipment or mine had a leak, but I took on board far too much sea-water. Liesel saw shoals of little blue fish, scissor-tail sergeants, an eel, a parrot fish but she didn’t find Nemo nor Dory.

I spluttered my way to the beach, had a quick walk and waited for the little dinghy to pick us all up.

Modriki Island

Then, it was lunchtime. Plenty of barbecued meat was on offer but the salads I chose were far superior IMHO. We realised we hadn’t eaten potatoes in this form, boiled, for a long, long time. Couldn’t get enough potato salad!

The neighbouring island is Yanuya. Here, we visited a Fijian Village and were welcomed with a traditional kava ceremony that was genuinely not just something for tourists. Kava is a drink made from the root of the kava kava plant, and it is quite bitter. But, in the end, not as bitter as I’d anticipated. And no side-effects.

There was a market area, where many of the local women had their arts and crafts for sale. Well, probably not their own work, the clue being that most of them were selling the same set of items.

The village itself was fairly deserted and the school was closed for the six week holiday.

Liesel trying out for the Rugby 7s

Like a lot of Fiji, the sunshine, the heat and the torrential rain has taken its toll on many of the buildings. The village is, apparently self-sufficient, but the drinking water is brought in on tankers.

How did that tyre get round the bottom of this mature tree?

There were a few signs of life, a couple of little children running around, the sound of faint music from a couple of house, but I think most of the adults were either working over in the fields or enjoying a siesta.

Laundry day
Recently installed solar panels
Yanuya Island

Some of the more adventurous and confident guests jumped in for a quick swim before our boat returned us to Mana. We disembarked onto a very hot jetty to wait for the fast catamaran back to Denarau.

Swimming

We wanted to visit a nearby Hindu Temple but on arrival, we realised, we couldn’t go in because I wasn’t wearing trousers. I haven’t worn trousers for ages, and it never occurred to us to consider the Hindu dress code.

Sri Suva Subramaniya Hindu Temple

We’re in Fiji for just a couple more days so we’re trying to eat as much of our food as we can before moving on. Liesel wanted to make salsa again and the only ingredient missing was tomatoes. The local supermarket didn’t have any and the guys outside were charging far too much for their produce. So, off to the big city, well, Nadi, we went.

Parked up, fed the meter, looked around getting our bearings, trying to remember where the market was located. A dark voice behind us asked if we were looking for something. “Ah, the market, it’s over there, follow me,” he said. So we did.

We crossed the road, turned right, turned left, went down a narrow street, turned into a narrower alley, turned right, walked up some stairs, passed a room where some lads were playing pool. I wondered why the market was upstairs, it wasn’t last time. We were shown into a room filled with Fijian works of art. All genuine Fijian craft, we were assured, no Chinese or Korean knock-offs. Compare this heavy wooden turtle with that cheap one from China, made from balsa wood. There were big masks, bangles, jewellery, ornaments, turned wooden bowls, all great stuff of course, but nothing that we could buy and carry with us.

Our guide was by the door, another man was ‘selling’ the wares, an elder turned up and lit a cigarette then asked if it was ok to smoke here.

In the end, we bought a small painting. It will go with our new curtains at home, we think! We didn’t have enough cash on us, and they didn’t use credit cards because their money isn’t put through the banking system.

Liesel and I looked at each other, wondering what kinda mess we’d gotten ourselves into.

Our guide took us to the nearest ATM, I withdrew the cash, paid him and he then showed us to the market that we wanted to go to in the first place.

Quite possibly the most expensive three tomatoes we’ve ever bought, ever, anywhere.

He then took us back to our car.

I think we may have had a close shave with the Fiji Mafia, but so far, we seem to have got away with it. If we wake up with a horse’s head in the bed, we’ll think again.

As anticipated, we returned to Denarau where we ate lunch, keeping a look-out for gangsters on our case. There was one suspicious character. I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera.

Merry Christmas: this tree is made from plastic bottles

It was a lot more overcast today, so we were lucky with our trip to the islands, yesterday.

The Port of Denarau

We drove home the ‘long way’, in order to take some photos.

Didn’t expect to see this
Sugar cane train engine
One of many roadside markets
Roadside goats

I went for a quick walk but the main road isn’t that interesting or photogenic, so I came back, changed into my swimmers, and spent a while in the pool. Yes, this Airbnb has a pool and it has an awning that isn’t entirely waterproof: it let the rain in!

Mick, coffee, pool, rain

There is also a small fish pond with a lot of large koi. They often come up to the surface and say hello too, when we walk by.

The rain was pretty half-hearted, but at least it did encourage the frogs to come out.

It’s raining frogs

So, salsa, rice and bhaji (a local spinach-like vegetable), crackers, crisps, rose apples, pineapple, mango, chocolate biscuits, ice cream and an apple all made for a very nice, balanced but wide-ranging supper.

Was my sleepless night due to lack of exercise? Too much coffee? Too much food? Concern about the local triads or other criminal organisations? I lay awake for ages worrying about this and in the end, I picked up my book for a while. Yes, of course I read it.

Our final full day in Fiji was filled with fun on the internet. This. And Liesel was booking flights and cars and things for the next couple of months. We listened to the radio: Cerys Matthews, Amy Lamé, Tom Robinson, Bob Harris Country and very little Christmas music, just the way we like it.

Okinawa OK

We came to Okinawa to spend some time on the beach. After a late start on Sunday, we walked down to the nearest one, a couple of miles away.

Pavements eat broken pots

Naminoue Beach is now my favourite beach. Not because you can gaze upon not one but two motorways over the water while sunbathing, but because the word itself contains all five vowels. (Cf Carnoustie and Cointreau.)

Nice beach, shame about the view

There were just a couple of people actually swimming in the sea, but most people, me included, just went in up to our ankles. I thought it was probably safe enough to swim there, but if the locals weren’t going in, then neither was I.

The sand was very coarse: you should have heard some of the language it came out with! Very good though for exfoliating ones feet.

On the walk back, we encountered another Shinto ceremony.

Another beautiful family, another blessing

This chap looks quite intimidating. His job might be to frighten away evil spirits, but he didn’t deter us visitors.

Alligator? Dragon? Scary either way
Artistic photo of the day

Kokusai Dori, one of the main shopping streets, is closed to traffic each Sunday afternoon. This provides space for local bands and musicians to perform, and allows children to play in the road, legitimately.

Banging drums and dancing
Playing in the road

We walked back via a supermarket that we’d found last night. This one is called Max Valu. It sells Top Valu items. Still, it’s a pleasant change from the ubiquitous 7-Elevens, Family Marts and Lawson Stations. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be funny if we saw some belly dancers here in Naha? Well, we turned the corner, into Makishi Park, and guess what we saw?

I’ll be your belly dancer

Emerald Beach might be more visually attractive than Naminoue, we thought. This was a bus ride away: nearly two and a half hours in each direction. Five hours sitting on a bus is not something we want to do on a regular basis. On a train or a plane, you can get up and walk around a bit: for some reason, people don’t seem to do that on buses.

On the way to the bus stop, via the Visitor Information Office, we came upon a load of old rope. Literally. Every year in Naha, there is a Giant Tug of War involving up to 15,000 people. Liesel and I would have had a go, but the sign said not to.

The biggest rope in the world
The legend

One thing we’ve noticed is that, if you ask for bus related information, people are very helpful in telling you which bus stop to use, and what time to expect the bus, but they seem strangely reluctant to divulge the bus number. If the bus is due at 12:10, you get on the one that turns up at 12:10 and hope you’ll be OK.

We walked through the Ocean Expo Park, past the Aquarium, said hello to the captive manatees and turtles, and made our way to Emerald Beach.

We walked down these nnn steps (forgot to count)
American manatee sent as a gift from Mexico

And it didn’t disappoint. It is very pretty, no motorway to spoil the view. We were surprised to see that you’re only allowed to swim in the sea between April and October. Well, it looked pretty calm today but again, nobody was in the water. Indeed, there were signs all over the place telling people that it was forbidden to go into the water.

Health and safety gone mad, was the tabloid phrase that came to mind. Then I saw the poster depicting the reasons. Box jellyfish have a nasty sting, cone shells are venomous, sea snakes are venomous, you can be impailed by long-spined sea urchins, stone fish (which look like algae-covered rocks) can sting, blue-ringed octopus are venomous, lionfish have poisonous pectoral fins and striped eel catfish can sting. We stayed well away from the water just in case an octopus with a particularly long tentacle tried to grab us.

Emerald Beach
Holy mackerel, stay out of the water

Instead of swimming, or even paddling, we sat on the beach and read for a while, wondering if it would rain. The clouds began to look menacing and the temperature did fluctuate, but it never really felt like a storm was on the way. I went for a quick solo walk and marvelled at the beach and the small number of people here. Again, the sand was very coarse, and there was a lot of broken coral. Some of it was quite soft. I assume that this too was damaged by the typhoons a couple of months ago, and it’s still being washed up onto the beaches.

The time came when we had to go home. From 4pm, there were only three more buses back to Naha. By now, we were too late for the 4pm one, so we walked slowly up the hill and the steps and even used the outdoor escalators to find ourselves at the bus stop in good time for the 4.39. We did see an octopus in the end, but he’s quite a harmless fellow.

Octopus? More like a quadropus

We boarded the bus, paid the fare (usually, you pay when you get off) and sat down.

When the bus was 50 metres down the road, we realised we’d left the green shopping bag on the seat by the bus stop. Usually the green bag has snacks in it, or shopping, or rubbish. Today, it also contained the internet. I’d left the pocket wifi with Liesel while wandering around the beach area and so it was transferred to the green bag away from its usual home, in my famous manbag. By the time the bus had travelled another 50 metres, Liesel had told the driver to stop and he did so. I’m waiting for Guinness to ratify this claim, but I ran all the way back to the bus stop, picked up the bag and ran all the way back, 200 metres, in 17.8 seconds. Admittedly, it was a humid day and I broke sweat slightly, but that’s not a bad achievement for an old fart like me.

We found a restaurant, Ethnic Vegan LaLa Zorba where we enjoyed a good curry. The musical accompaniment was mainly Anandmurti Gurumaa (Hare Krishna) and Bob Dylan, although we did hear John and Yoko’s Happy Xmas (War is Over). Did Yoko ever find her daughter Kyoko, do we know?

Did I mention it? Yes, the curry was very nice, very tasty.

Taking it easier the following day, our first Japanese dance lesson went very well, thanks for asking.

Dance steps 101

We took the monorail to Onoyama Park where we spent an enjoyable couple of hours. We walked slowly, observed a group of old men (even older than me, according to Liesel) playing baseball.

Old fogeys’ baseball

We sat for a while and watched the children playing in the playground. It would be lovely to bring Martha and William here, if only so I’d have an excuse to climb to the top of the very long slide.

Young kiddies’ slide

There’s a running track through the park that is marked with distances and is very slightly cushioned. It was a warm day, but even some of the runners were wearing leggings and two or three layers on top. I was dressed sensibly, shorts and shirt, but I resisted the temptation to try and beat my 200 metres PB from yesterday.

Ms. They’re like M&Ms but half the size

We perambulated in an orderly manner alongside the river and crossed the bridge.

You shall not pass (we did)

We eventually found ourselves back on Kokusai Dori, so went into Edelweiss for coffee and cake. Edelweiss, Edelweiss, every morning you eat me.

There were some strange things on show in the shops and we are so glad that we’d already decided not to buy any of it.

ET and Jaws together at last
Not for us, thanks
Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas, everybody

Yes, Christmas is all over the place, no getting away from it, here. It feels strange: it’s November, but very warm, 23°C, 72°F, so it doesn’t feel at all Christmassy. Hearing Silent Night performed that fast doesn’t help with the Christmas mood, either!

Some Mighty Fine Shrines

We went on a pilgrimage today, visiting quite a few shrines. They’re all interesting, they’re all different, they’re all peaceful.

The names on the brochures don’t always exactly match the names on Google Maps, so sometimes, we couldn’t be sure exactly where we were. But that doesn’t matter: we had a very nice, strenuous walk.

As we set off towards the mountains, we were delighted to see a flock of birds of prey circling… we were curious but didn’t really need to see what they had their eyes on. Too small to be eagles, not fast enough to be falcons, maybe kites of some kind.

We are the birds of prey

Let us know if you can identify it from the silhouette!

Here’s an interesting sign that invited us to deviate from our course.

I wonder what this says?
Oh yes, we’ll go there

It was a very steep path, rocky but covered with moss and leaves. After a ridiculously short time, we realised that this path wasn’t for us: hard enough going up, never mind coming back down. We never even got as far as the back of a cow.

There’s a path there somewhere

We returned to the road, wondering what we’d missed seeing up the hill, but we needn’t have been concerned. Just round the corner, we came across a Buddhist Temple.

Sooji Buddhist Temple

There was nobody around, so I don’t think it was open for business nor for visitors.

A challenging wheelchair ramp?

Wheelchair users must be made of stronger stuff in Japan, if they have to contend with ramps like this one. It’s probably for bicycles to be pushed up and down, really. There are a lot of cyclists around here, partly because, I’m sure, the roads are so narrow. A typical car from Anchorage wouldn’t fit in here.

Away from the town centre, this is a typical road

We thought we’d walk up these stone steps, up the mountain. Only later did we learn that this was the path down which the gods came to Earth. It was steep, it was long, it was a challenge, we had to stop several times.

Up, up and away

Here’s a delightful little shrine that we came across: this wasn’t the main attraction. It looks like somebody just wanted a small place to worship halfway up the mountain: maybe they just couldn’t climb all the way.

A nice little shrine
Keep going, I’ll catch up in a minute….

After a long climb, 538 stone steps, to be precise, on this warm, humid morning, we reached our target: Sessha Kannokura Shrine, or Kamikura-jinja Shrine, depending on which source you trust. My translation program couldn’t read the signs at all, so that’s no help!

We’d passed and been passed by a Japanese lady on the way up and at last, we all caught up with her husband. He very kindly took this picture of us, so of course, I returned the compliment.

Photo taken by our new friends
The rock behind the shrine is where the gods first came down

The view over the city of Shingu towards the ocean was a fine reward for our exertions.

Shingu from the Shrine

Walking back down was in some ways much more of a challenge. For a while, it looked as if we would step off the edge of the world, the steps were that steep.

Going down… eek…

The palms were very sweaty, and not just because it was such a humid day.

The man playing the flute near the bottom of the climb had left by the time we returned. I was looking forward to sitting down, having a rest and listening to him for a while before proceeding.

Apropos of nothing at all: who wants to see a mole with boobs?

Holy Moley

And who wants to see a picture of a big spider? Huge, it was, with its several siblings, sitting there, overhead, waiting for flies or the opportunity to drop down somebody’s neck.

Holy spinnarets
Someone in Covent Garden’s been looking for this sign…
That’s our shrine near the top of the mountain

We walked around town for a while afterwards: it felt strangely reassuring to be back on a nice, flat, horizontal surface. A cute little café provided cute little cups of coffee and the cutest, titchiest little cream jugs in the world!

ᴬ ᵗᵉᵉⁿʸ⁻ʷᵉᵉⁿʸ ᶜʳᵉᵃᵐ ʲᵘᵍ

Watarigozen Shrine is just round the corner from where we’re staying and as well as being delighted by the small shed-sized shrine itself, our minds were blown by the bamboo growing behind: it certainly put our old beanpoles into perspective.

Watarigozen Shrine dwarfed by the bamboo

Kumano Hayatama Taisho Shrine is also very close. It’s on a much bigger scale, really impressive in its own right, and it was reassuring to see so many people paying respects and praying here.

Kumano Hayatama Taisho Shrine
If you’re not on the guest list, you’re not getting in
Kumano Hayatama Taisho Shrine
The ancient and revered Nagi-no-Ki tree

The Nagi-no-Ki tree is over 800 years old and well cared for.

I put money into the box and picked out my O-mikuji, a random fortune printed on a strip of paper. I was surprised at how much text was printed there but of course, I couldn’t read it. Later, in the comfort of the Airbnb house, I translated it as well as I could. Suffice to say, I was relieved not to see something really bad.

Yes, I will cherish my twinkle twinkle

We carried on walking and found ourselves by the Kumano River. By this point, the sky was getting darker, we wondered whether a thunderstorm was on its way a day early.

In one direction, more mountains and in the other, bridges over the river as it flows into the Pacific Ocean.

Towards the ocean
Towards the mountains
Looking ominous

We went home via the tourist information place where we picked up some info for tomorrow’s trip. Then at home where, several hours later, it still hasn’t rained, by the way, we chilled: read, typed, listened to the radio, cooked, ate, and eventually, we’ll walk up the wooden stairs to Bedfordshire.

Today’s tour was just a small subset of our original idea, to hike from shrine to shrine on the Kii peninsula, several miles each day, for a number of days. That was probably too ambitious, and I think we’ve got the balance right, now.

Sharks, Shrek and Churros

Remember, remember the fifth of November. Well, I always do: this year it would have been my Dad’s 93rd birthday. He never made it to Japan, but his ship was on its way when the war there ended, having, as he told us, finished off the conflict in Europe.

So here we are now in Japan, experiencing everything it has to offer. Including, this morning, a very slight tremor. I felt the bed shake and in the kitchen, the pot of cutlery toppled over into the sink.

Here’s a clue to the Japanese experience we chose to experience today:

The Harry Potter Universal Studios train that we didn’t take

Yes, Universal Studios Japan is a two train ride from our abode. The entertainment began early as we again enjoyed the announcements at Osaka Station. The musical cues are fantastic, no simple ‘bing-bong’ here, you get a whole tune. I recorded a few minutes and when I edit it down, I’ll have a brand new ringtone.

The young lady sitting next to me on the train kept sniffing. I wanted to offer her a tissue but that would have been a mistake. In fact, to sneeze or blow your nose into a tissue here is considered rude. Sniffing is much more acceptable. If you use a tissue, you have to (try to) be very discreet. I tried the sniffing method but that still feels wrong and rude to me.

Universal Studios was a five minute walk from the station and apart from the Japanese script on all the signs, we could have been in America.

Merry Christmas!

Another Christmas tree getting us in the mood

That is indeed the Sun shining through the star at the top of the Christmas tree. We heard Christmas songs during the day too. We headed straight for Jurassic Park and my first ride was The Flying Dinosaur.

The pteranodon is scary-looking
The ride looks scary, there’s even a safety net, presumably to catch digestive tracts that people lose

OMG.

That was the best/worst ride I’ve ever been on. Incredibly scary and I will never do it again. It’s the longest rollercoaster in the world, reaching speeds up to 62mph, there’s a 120-foot drop, you’re lying facedown, prone, you’re taken through 360° loops at least twice and, and, and, my palms are sweating just reliving the experience. Yes, it’s exciting, but it’s so fast, you can’t really see what’s coming, so there’s no anticipation. If you close your eyes, you might as well be inside the world’s maddest, fastest out-of-control tumble dryer.

I had to sit down for a while to recuperate from that. With a small cup of coffee and some soy beans.

The rest of the day was calmer: all good fun but much less frenetic.

The trio playing msuic was very good, and not playing Christmas songs which was a bonus.

A happy string trio

We were taken on an adventure in New York with Spiderman. Backdraft and Terminator 2 were both a bit disappointing. The former was just too much standing and watching people talk before a final few seconds of actual pyrotechnics. The latter was just too long a build-up for a couple of minutes of good special effects at the end. There’s a clever mix of film footage, real actors, lighting and effects but sometimes you feel that waiting in queues that long should be better rewarded.

Just a view of the water

Shrek 4D was very good. The 4th D is, I assume, the sensurround seating, you feel the horses galloping and the bump when you land hard. It was a very funny storyline too, even if we couldn’t entirely follow the Japanese dialogue.

As it’s so popular, we had a timed ticked for the Harry Potter Forbidden Journey ride. This was very enjoyable too, and probably the onlky time we’ll ever invade a game of Quidditch. Great stuff, and it was nice to see so many visitors dressed up in the Hogwarts School uniform.

Harry Potter’s battered Ford Anglia

Again, I told Liesel that I wish I still had my toy Ford Anglia from when I was little: it was blue/turquoise, the same colour as the one used in the Harry Potter films. I think I gave it to Garry next door.

Welcome to Hogwarts

Our churros were long, hot and very sweet, providing enough energy to keep going for three more rides. And bo9om. Five o’clock. Suddenly it’s dark. Twilight doesn’t get much of a look-in here.

Jaws entailed a nice gentle boat ride with the odd appearance of a shark. It really needs to see a dentist, though.

Boo!

We returned to Jurassic Park and again, I did the ride by myself. And yes, I did get wet: very wet. Liesel sent a picture of wet me to our grandchildren.

Mickey Drippin’ (as I used to be known)

And finally, at our second attempt, we went on the Minions ride. The ride was good fun, but again, I think the preamble was too long. Or maybe it just felt that way because we don’t know the language and consequently missed some very funny gags in the narrative.

We dined at that famous Japanese restaurant, Hard Rock Café, sitting at a table next to one of Beyoncé’s old basses, apparently.

We arrived home much later than anticipated. Probably fatigue and lack of concentration on our part meant that we didn’t notice that the train we were on had turned round and so we ended up paying a second vist to Universal Station. Oh well, it’s all an adventure, hey!

A day in

Thunderstorms featured briefly in one weather forecast but they never materialised. In fact, it was a nice day. We spent it indoors, mostly. One of us had a long lie-in while the other watched a couple of TV shows on her phone.

I read my book for a while and spent too long trying to fix a problem on my own phone: one in which email headers are displayed but not the body of the message. Yes, I emptied the cache, yes I turned it off and on again and no, the bug wasn’t fixed.

I did a few hours typing, we went shopping just up the road. Liesel concocted a delicious leek and potato soup.

I went for a quick walk myself, not too far, just downstairs, three doors along into the barbershop. It was great to get my hair cut, finally, after failing to do so in Anchorage. Neither the barber nor his wife spoke English, I spoke no Japanese. I think my sign language conveyed the right message: at least, I came away with a decent trim. I wasn’t seriously worried about the cutthroat razor, nor being turned into a pie, since there are no pie shops nearby. I got a free shoulder and neck massage too which I wasn’t expecting but that may be the normal service here.

We listened to radio programmes, mostly music, from BBC 6 Music, Radio 2 and Classic FM. I’m so glad we acquired the bluetooth speaker, it’s so much more pleasant to listen to than the tinny speakers in our phones.

I’m sure there are interesting Japanese radio shows being broadcast too, and I’m sure I’ll investigate them at some point. But for today, we just wanted something familiar from home.

What a nice, relaxing day for both of us.

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