Every famous picture you have seen of Mt Fuji,  otherwise known as Fuji San,  must have been taken,  drawn,  or painted from in and around this lovely resort area.  As we were approaching, Fuji San played with us showing the snow covered lower slopes,  then revealing the peak and finally for a brief glimpse a clear view of the entire mountain with power lines in the foreground.  Most of the day we could see much of the mountain with the top wreathed in clouds.  It was glorious.  I will append photos soon. 

I have waited too long to write this and memory fails washed away by many trips to the mineral hot springs in the hotel.  We were in a wonderful ryokan, a traditional Japanese Inn, Gora Asahi Hotel, with Japanese rooms.  That means the floors are tatami mats and no footwear is permitted.  There is a single low table in the middle.  We had a separate area near the windows that was carpeted and we could close that off with shoji screens.  We never used the shower room and deep tub as we found the hot springs more to our liking. The men’s side had a locker room where we left our kimono and towels as we entered the bath.  There is a line up of faucets with hand showers and a low stool and bucket to sit on while thoroughly cleaning before entering the bath,  really a pool about one meter deep of hot mineral water that is constantly being refreshed as excess  water sluices over the top and down the drains.  After soaking for as long as one dares, there is a cold bath followed by a return to the shower.  Before breakfast and upon return to the hotel before dinner I reveled in this luxury each day.

In true OAT mode we traveled by all available means of transportation.  We had a bus for the day and took a large luxurious cable car up to the active volcanic area where the ground is covered with yellow traces of Sulphur. We climbed up to the high point where baskets of fresh eggs are lowered into a hot spring for 12 minutes until they are hard boiled and the shells turn black from the Sulphur and iron compounds in the water.  They sell them 5 for 500 yen (about $5). They are very tasty, if you like your eggs slightly sulphorous. The bus then took us down to the lake where we enjoyed a ride on a large catamaran tour boat to a shrine, followed by lunch.  After some more touring we returned to the hotel in time for a trip to the mineral hot springs before dinner.

The next day we boarded a medium speed bullet train for a one hour, one stop ride to connect to a super express,  slower than any bullet train,  for a 2 hour ride to Kanazawa.  This trip was from the Pacfic Coast to the Sea of Japan coastal area.  We have visited markets,  an ancient samurai house,  various crafts people and had several meals including dinner today on our own with another couple.  The trains are impressive.  They are very timely and spend very little time stopped. One had best be prepared to disembark or board when the train stops.  In many cases the stop was only 3 or 4 minutes. Everything is clean and seems very well maintained. Everyone on staff is uniformed with hats and white gloves. 

We are at the New Grand Annex Hotel located in the middle of town,  walkable to most of the sites in town.

Headed Off Grid

First, Kabuki, the performance was led in three chapters or sections which seemed totally unconnected.  Taking Toshi’s suggestion we shipped the first chapter which began at 4:40 and arrived at about 6 for the dance performance which was followed by a play after a 15 minute intermission.  We had picked up English language headsets which provide both a translation and a running commentary explaining the action we were watching.  With out this I would have been totally lost.  We really enjoyed the experience in this very old but recently renovated theater.  Looking at the stage felt like looking at a panoramic image as the stage is very wide relative to the height of the proscenium.  The only unpleasant experience was the total lack of legroom.  For those who know Kilbourne Hall,  there was LESS legroom than the worst seats there.  I was almost unable to stand ayer the performance and I really felt for our companion Howard who is a good 6 inches taller than me.

Today we welcomed three new members to the tour for the main trip Which began today.  We are now at our full complement of 14 for the next 2 weeks. Today was a city tour of Tokyo by bus.  Tomorrow we leave by bus for Hakone, near Mt Fuji where we will be staying in a traditional Japanese Inn.  There will be no Internet service,  also we are expected to dress in kimono which they will provide.  We are looking forward to this experience and will report fully from Kyoto when we reenter the connected universe on Friday.

Tokyo Japan

We landed late afternoon on Friday,  Tokyo time.  Bus and cab to the hotel took 1 hour 15 minutes.  Toshi, our OAT Tour Leader, met us in the hotel lobby and gave us the instructions we needed to assemble with our group the next morning and some local restaurants should we feel the need to eat.  After sort of settling into our room,  we decided that soba noodles in a quaint restaurant would be the way to start our trip.  Three blocks walk to the left from our hotel brought us to a pre war wooden building nestled among the high rises of the area. They stopped us as we came in the door and presented us with the two English menus so we could figure out what we were ordering.  Actually the English descriptions still left us wondering.  Carol had her “vegetarian notice” written by a hotel desk clerk and I was able to discern a hot soba noodle in fish broth with chicken as a likely choice.  It was wonderful and we soon crashed in our beds and slept, only to be awakened by jet lag and the sound of street repairs that continued until sunrise. Welcome to a very large city.

We began our tour walking from the hotel to a subway to Tokyo National Museum located in Ueno Park and then walking through this very wonderful park to see shrines,  azelia gardens in glorious bloom,  and lunch in an all you can eat buffet that was very nice.  A walk through an old pre war neighborhood introduced us to very compact living arrangements on streets too small for large cars.  I cite pre war often as much of Tokyo was burned to the ground in the destruction of the end of WW II. Very little from that era is left. 

We returned to the hotel to wait the arrival of Sara and her Japanese husband,  mother-in-law and two children.  Sara was a student of Carol’s who we saw off to Alaska to live with an aunt when she was 16. We next saw her in 2002 in San Diego and although there has been continous contact through email,  Facebook and even snail mail we had not seen her in 12 years.  We had a wonderful reunion,  punctuated by the rambunctious behavior of a very over tired 3 year old boy.  We parted with no idea of when we are likely to see each other again.

Sunday brought another day of touring.  We traveled by subway,  train,  monorail,  and local train to Kamkura, southeast of Tokyo on the coast. This is an area that thrives on local tourism and it was a festival weekend so we moved in throngs of people,  mostly Japanese on weekend holiday.  Although there were some reminders that is was Easter Sunday, they were minor and scattered.  We were going to Shinto shrines and temples.  Along the way we had lunch at 0467, one of the nicest restaurants we have been taken to by OAT in our travels. On our return to Tokyo we got off at Tokyo Station which is wonderfully restored and we continued on into the adjacent Tokyo Post Office called Kitte. There I made use of aJP (Japan Post) ATM to provide me sufficient yen to continue the trip.  I had counted on getting local currency from ATMs only to learn that my card would work only at JP ATMs. After one more stop, I believe I am carrying sufficient cash to pay my way. We have already run into circumstances that require cash,  not credit cards.  We bought take out at the Kitte to bring back to the hotel.  I got too much sushi which I enjoyed immensely. Carol found delightful veggies. We set up our dining area in the lobby only to find that this was an unwelcome activity.  However we were permitted to complete our meal.

Our 3rd day started with a walk and subway ride to the fish market.  We walked through aisles and aisles of wonders from the sea. We dodged a wide assortment of vehicles in the aisles transporting goods from vendor to buyer.  Eventually Toshi,  our tour leader,  let us into a cramped restaurant past a long line of people waiting to get in where we were offered a sushi tasting.  This was not to be considered lunch!  Among the items offered was the finest tuna I can ever remember setting tooth to and I never remember being offered scallop as a sashimi,  but there it was and it was delightful. We continued through the list shopping area on to the Ginza. Eventually we scattered.  Five of us returned to the hotel for a break before combining on to a Kabuki performance we had tickets for in the evening. More on Kabuki later.  I must stop and post this.

A Very Occasional Movie Review – Grand Hotel Budapest

We were walking along State Street in Santa Barbara this afternoon when we noticed a theater showing Grand Hotel Budapest and when we checked the times we realized we could take in a matinee and have a timely dinner.  So we rushed to get the car from the distant parking lot with a fixed time limit and move it to a nearby lot where you pay for time parked after the fact.  We were in the theater 10 minutes after the scheduled start which meant we missed the first two coming attractions.

Grand Hotel Budapest is a period piece using the convention of a story within a story within a story.  Everything is very stylized and it appeared that great attention was given to details of positioning and direction of action.  There is much tongue in cheek and lines that just seem to come from a different genre altogether.  There are some wonderful bit parts including a minor role by Bill Murray.  Like a fine piece of music the end returns to recapituate the opening theme.  I hesitate to say more,  the time period is from the great war to the beginning of WW II in Europe.

Carol and I really enjoyed the movie and couldn’t leave as long as the Balilika music continued over the closing credits. Do not leave until the screen goes black!
This is the first movie we have seen on the big screen since October anyhow.  We are watching many more movies on our tv using satellite pay per view and Roku for Netflix and Amazon prime.

Expect the Unexpected

Our day in Buellton, after a lovely time with Marty and Barbara seemed to be turning into a catch up day, do the laundry, do some reading put the finishing touches on the 2013 taxes take a walk around the very large and lovely RV Resort.

During the walk we noted a row of vintage Airstream Trailers. A tech was walking from one to the other with tools and as we stopped to chat he mentioned that the line was all rentals and had been recently refurbished. As most were not occupied he told us we could feel free to wander through those with open doors.  As we walked through them we saw that each had been completely redone to a theme and they were quite intriguing and would be a wonderful place to rent for a someone who had showed up without their own RV.

We met another couple, seemingly younger than us, wandering through the rentals as well. It turned out that they travel in a modern Airstream and were also quite interested in these.  Further conversation revealed that they actually travel separately and meet in the campground.  She drives the truck pulling the Airstream and he flies his 1929 “New Standard” biplane.

As the conversation continued I learned that he had an extensive career in the Naval Air Arm followed by some years flying for USAirways before being laid off after September 11, 2001.  By the time they recalled him he had bought his own open cockpit plane and taken up the business of offering flights.  The New Standard was built in 1929 and has a Wright radial engine from the era.  It was built for the Gates Flying Circus with a front cockpit capable of holding 4 passengers and a single cockpit aft for the pilot. If you want to know more about the plane and the pilot this Nostalgic Warbirds site will provide far more detail. 
As you can surmise by now Mike offered to take us up for an “Intro Flight” half off the listed price and we could not even think of refusing.  40 minutes later we found ourselves in the front seats of the front cockpit, the back seats were empty, with the engine beginning to spool up.  I have shared most of the pictures I shot during the 20 minute flight and the direct link is here. 
We flew up the valley over Solvang and Buellton making a figure eight turn over the RV Resort so Carol and I could both see and photograph it. Look for the picture with Gee Whiz hidden under some trees.  The valley is beautiful to see from the air and the flight was very exciting.  We both strongly recommend that if you see Mike’s New Standard, Nostalgic Warbird, in the air, track him down and take a flight, you won’t regret it. Or look him up from his web site to see where he might be.

Harmony, pop 18

We passed the sign for Harmony as we drove south on CA 1, otherwise known as PCH or the Pacific Coast Highway.  We had elected to drive it from Monterey south to LA putting us on the lane closest to the ocean and the passenger in the navigator seat staring down into the waves many times.  Anyhow Harmony, pop 18 got my mind working.  How harmonious were those 18 souls? Do they sing great harmony? Is it a religious group.  Then of course for those who play with Jewish numerology, 18 combines letters that are Chai which means life.  That would seem to make Harmony a life affirming place.  I suppose I could continue to play with this, and may in the future, but mudslides, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, including Congress keep dragging my focus elsewhere.

Contrary to accepted opinion and many blog posts, driving CA 1 in a 36 foot motorhome is not completely foolhardy, for that matter, other than the occasional idiot that just must go faster than 35 mph, it is a very pleasant drive.  I will concede that it focuses the attention of the driver miraculously.  We only had one scary incident and it related to two cars, of the ilk suggested above, who passed us at a high rate of speed over a double line, actually around a double blind curve.  I really didn’t give a damn if they wanted to kill themselves, but certainly did not want to be a party to the mess.  Fortunately there were no oncoming cars for at least 10 seconds!  There really is no place to bail out.

We had set out from Alameda Elks Lodge which we used as a stopping place to visit with our niece Minda and her husband Will.  We had a lovely dinner at their house with Minda’s friend Prea during which we learned that Minda is a expecting a boy in September.  Since both our boys called while we were there, they too learned the great news.  The second night we went out to a neighborhood restaurant that was very nice.  While in the Bay Area we also visited with Marlene who had been with us on the Baltic portion of our trip. We drove to her home in San Rafael and had a lovely evening with wine, cheese and a delightful meal.  I really enjoyed the Halibut from Alaska.  It is so nice to make new friends who share so many interests.

We had committed ourselves to driving down CA 1 because we enjoyed the northbound trip three years ago on our way to Alaska.  First we stopped near Monterey to sightsee along Cannery Row and spent two nights at Marina Dunes RV, our most expensive nightly cost so far this year, but we did get laundry done as well as sightseeing.  Would consider staying there again if the weather were better, although getting in might be tougher, as it is we could only get two nights there.  Although we considered the San Luis Obispo Elks Lodge, we did remember that the parking is right next to US 101 and just a bit noisy, so we decided to stop at Morro Bay State Park.  When we arrived, with no reservation, we learned that the only sites available were dry camp (no water, electric or sewer) for $33 a night!!! Thank you California.  We took a site for two nights because we enjoy the area.  We were sung to sleep each night by an owl in the trees near our coach.  Never did see it.  We actually did very little because it poured on and off.  Drove into town one day to pick up some groceries and check out a Radio Shack for a replacement temperature sensor for our 9 year old Radio Shack remote thermometer.  For a wonder, even to the store manager’s surprise, they had two on the shelf.  I bought both although I really only need one.  They work with our old base station.

Onward to Solvang, actually Buellton where Flying Flags RV is located, just down the road from Solvang.  We went to the home of Marty and Barbara Goldstein who we traveled with in the Baltics.  Marty does dogs in bronze and that is just one of the galleries that represents him.  We had a lovely cocktail hour with them and dinner at Firestone Barrel  House (close anyhow).  We will spend Thursday touring this area and catching up on some other stuff before moving down the road a wee bit to Santa Barbara Elks Lodge.  We have come up this way a couple of times and never been able to get a reservation.  This time we have five nights booked.  On Sunday we will meet yet another couple from our recent travels even as we are preparing for our trip to Japan in 2 weeks.