Vacation Daze

I have a week off.  I’m quite excited about that.  Tomo and I are going to Thailand for the week, first a few days at an island resort in Koh Samui and then a few days in Bangkok.  I already feel like it is too short of a trip and I haven’t even left yet.  The key is to relax, right?  I hope we can relax and explore Bangkok at the same time.  This trip is taking advantage of frequent flier miles before they expire and using free nights at a hotel.  Probably not what is necessary to stimulate the economy, but I can’t do it all myself.  Hey, we are flying an American carrier and staying some nights at an American hotel.

One nice thing about leaving on a Sunday instead of a Saturday is that there’s plenty of time to get stuff done before you leave.  I’m happy to report that I am departing a very clean apartment – it will be nice to come home to it.  I’ll have a day to recover at home as well (and do homework) when I return.  

This is my first week long Asian travel experience since this time last year when I came to Japan on vacation.  I definitely want to take advantage of living in Asia by visiting places in Asia.  There’s still a lot I have not seen in Japan as well.  We have plans for a ryokan sometime later this month.  I’d also like to go to Taipei.  I anticipate that I will only get a slight taste of Bangkok that will leave me wanting more.  I’ve never been to Bali and I think I would enjoy it.

This morning I was going to mein lokale (the neighborhood Starbucks) and bumped in to some colleagues.  They were co-conspirators to the naked man festival.  Usually I think, “Uh oh, white people” but I always enjoy these colleagues.  However, it must have been foreigner day at the Starbucks because it was FULL of gaijin.  It seems there was even a family reunion.  I didn’t think my area was that full of foreigners but I guess I was wrong.  It seems we are everywhere in Nagoya.

I hope I am able to post some pics from the vacation.  We’ll see.

Why not Kyoto?

After I bought my new Macbook, I suddenly had a laptop surplus. I happened to be chatting to a friend, expressing a little buyer’s remorse, when he suggested I sell the computer to him so he could give it to his sister for college. Hey, that’s a good idea! She lives in Kyoto so I had a great excuse to travel to Kyoto this weekend. In addition, a colleague suggested that we drive there this weekend as well. So my plans converged and Saturday was designated as a trip to Kyoto.

We really didn’t have plans – just playing it by ear. As my colleague suggested, it is the difference of being tourists and living here. Just do what we wanted to do. We met Reina at Kyoto Station to “deliver the goods” and have lunch. I had never met her, so it was a little awkward. “Hey, here’s a really nice computer that is a little old. I hope it works for you.”

We were hoping to have a little bit of fall colors in Kyoto. Last time I was in Kyoto was in November, 2003 (I think). The colors were great – I think it was Thanksgiving Day or a weekend before or after Thanksgiving. This time, we were a BIT to early. However, there were still some good colors. We went on a scenic drive and got a few good shots.

One view along the scenic route in Kyoto


Another view along the scenic route in Kyoto


After leaving the scenic route we were trying to get to Kinkakuji. Unfortunately, it was getting late and the traffic was bad. As we were heading to Kinkakuji, we passed Ryoanji. Since I was the only one who had been there, we decided to stop. It is one of my favorite places in Kyoto, so I was thrilled to stop again. Ryoanji is famous for its Zen rock garden and one of my favorite black and white photos is from Ryoanji. I snapped a few more pictures at Ryoanji. The property has a lake, and I snapped a few pictures as we walked around it. It was getting dark, so the pictures are a little dark as well.

One of my favorite black and white photos


The Zen garden at Ryoanji


The Zen garden at Ryoanji


Reflections on the lake at Ryoanji


After Ryoanji, we decided to cross Kyoto to go around Higashiyama. We wanted to go to an okonomiyaki restaurant in the Sanjo / Gion area of Kyoto for modanyaki. Kyoto traffic was remarkably bad. Really, really bad. We were also were planning to go to Kiyomizudera temple. Every fall, the temple and the trees are lit. Since this was the first weekend, it was crazy busy. We made it to the area, parked the car, walked to dinner (and bumped into another colleague in the crowd who seemed to find the coincident unremarkable) and enjoyed the scrumptious okonomiyaki (Kansai style). We then walked to Kiyomizudera. It was late but still crowded. My pictures were really disappointing. I was frustrated by the crowd and not paying enough attention so I technically wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be. Oh well.

A Zen garden we stumbled upon


On the way to Kiyomizudera


Kyoto at night from Kiyomizudera


It was great though to be in Kyoto and made me realize how lucky I am to be here. I finally got home around midnight. Definitely a long day.

The full Hoshinoya post

I’m back from Hoshinoya. What did I do there? Nothing! Well, not exactly nothing. The point was to relax. I certainly did. The place feels a little cultish, like I said before. We arrived at an outpost, where we were greeted by people in funky dyed, old but modern clothing with what looked like heavy quilted jackets. They looked comfortable. We were ushered in to a reception area where … oh too scary … that’s almost exactly what I wrote before. I won’t repeat. Here’s a picture of the musician.

The reception musician


We were served an interesting rice welcome drink. That was the beginning of the indoctrination. We were asked if we wanted ゆかた (yukata – basically a kimono) or さむえ (samue – pants and a shirt – like surgical scrubs but the shirt has buttons). We then got in to a purplish Nissan Cube and were shuttled from the reception area to “the village.” The village is somewhat isolated from the outside world by hills, sight lines, and appropriate fencing. The road to get us to our room in the village was one lane and very curvy. Clearly it was not supposed to feel like a road. Any time I saw a Cube shuttling guests to the rooms at a slow speed negotiating all the little curves, it reminded me of a Disney ride. Another cultish thing is the Hoshinoya logo below.

The mysterious logo

They even placed the logo on the grill of the Cube, replacing the Nissan logo. It was a neat effect, but I’m not sure what Nissan would actually think about it. The logo reminds me very much of LOST. I hope pregnant women who go to Hoshinoya don’t have troubles. I wish I had taken at least one picture of the car but I didn’t think about it. I was there to relax, not document.

Mark, an Australian reared in London but living in Japan took us to our room. Our first room, that is. We had booked a waterfront room, what I assumed to be on the water level. Well, we got a second floor room that didn’t match the layout of the website. It was a nice room, but wasn’t what we expected. Both Tomo and I expressed a little disappointment. As Mark was beginning to explain the rules of the cult and the services available, we decided that we’d accept his offer to check if another room was available. Nothing like being an ugly American (with backing of a native Japanese). We were shown another room and given the option to decide which we wanted. Tomo and I clearly liked the second room better than the first, so that was pretty easy. I think it was a good choice.

As Mark was explaining the rules to us in the new room, I noticed it was pretty dark. Really dark. I asked if there was a way to make the room any brighter? After all, I had brought several books to read and was looking forward to relaxing in the living room and reading them. He said, “Well, the light is part of the atmosphere but there should be a desk lamp somewhere.” He searched the room, couldn’t find it, and ordered another to be sent to the room. Later, as I was checking out the closets, I found a desk light. However, by that point, the damage was done so we had two desk lamps. We actually used one of them for reading. I think the closet was too dark for Mark to see the light, so to speak. We had to wait for the light to arrive as well as the room key! Tomo, who has gotten too accustomed to the service at the Ritz-Carlton, noticed that they do the big stuff well at Hoshinoya, but can’t seem to quite get the small stuff right (they had trouble getting the proper sized samue to me, we had to ask several times for a tea strainer in the library, little things that the Ritz gets immediately apparently). No, Tomo doesn’t stay at the Ritz, but his artists do so he deals with the Ritz on a frequent basis.

The relaxing living room


The dark, dark bedroom


The bathroom where you can't see in the mirror


We relaxed for a while and then caught a Cube to a sister property to have dinner at a French restaurant called, “No One’s Recipe.” We had the simple degustation wine menu (champagne, white, red) and the simple course Menu d’automne. We both agreed that it was good but we had been spoiled by “La Table” by Joel Robuchon in Nagoya. Still, it was nice to have a seven course meal in the middle of the countryside in Japan. To all my foodie friends out there, and especially Chuck, I didn’t take pictures of each course. Tomo did! I’m not the food porn type. I enjoy a good meal, but I don’t love to eat so I’m not inspired to capture it forever. Sorry.

After dinner we asked the Cube driver (to drop us off at the onsen) so we could have a nice post-dinner soak. And indeed it was nice. We walked the rest of the way to the village and called it a night.

The onsen entrance


Tuesday I got up before Tomo and was able to spend a lot of time reading in the living room (with the aid of the reading light). We were a week or two after the peak of the fall colors but there was still some around.

There were still some maples in glory


The village center


Tomo in the fall


It was COLD out, the lows were around freezing. The days were mostly overcast as well so that kept things on the cool side.

We wandered about to take the fall pictures, had a simpler lunch, and then decided to try the natural mineral bath in our room. It was nice having a wood tub in the bathroom. After the relaxing bath, we watched the lighting of the floating lanterns.

Lighting the lanterns in the rowboat


A small path to a small island


The spa and meditation bath


The room we almost had


We went to the library to enjoy some tea, the atmosphere, and to do a little more reading, then off to dinner. Here are some pictures of the library and Japanese restaurant.

The library


The library


The Japanese restaurant dining area


The Japanese restaurant dining area


We had a great soba meal at the same restaurant where we had lunch near the onsen, probably fresher tasting than the French the night before, and for a fraction of the cost! After dinner we took a ton of night pictures, trying to capture what the place feels like at night. The pictures below are all over-exposed to get the idea. If I properly exposed them they would be pretty dark.

Hoshinoya night scenes


Hoshinoya night scenes


Hoshinoya night scenes


Hoshinoya night scenes


Hoshinoya night scenes


We went to the “Meditation Spa” after our picture session. This is a little different experience. It is meant to be experienced alone I think. The shower stalls are semi-private compared to the “Hey World!!” onsen experience. You walk a course in about waist high water. First you go into a “light” room that is brightly lit and relatively big with a very high ceiling. After you meditate in that room, you move into this really dark tunnel about 1 1/2 people wide into a low ceiling, very dark room. Only the water is lit. I felt like I was in the womb or in formaldehyde. I was NOT comfortable in the closed dark room. I didn’t panic, but I can say I wasn’t relaxed. Tomo enjoyed it though. It got pretty hot in that room. We slowly made our way into the light, went to the changing room, and then chilled in the relaxation room before returning to the room.

Today we had a traditional Japanese breakfast in the nice dining room, then went back to the room before heading back down to the onsen for one last soak and shower. Then a little Cube picked us in from our room and we took a shuttle bus back to reality. Sigh.

Tomo is ready to go back. We didn’t experience the spa or the Japanese restaurant for dinner, so there are some inexpensive (not!) things to consider the next time. It was very relaxing though, and I’m glad we did it. One thing that cracked me up was that Tomo didn’t want to sleep in because he wanted to experience the place and relax. It makes sense, sort of!