Saturday, January 30, 2010

Our Rainy Saturday Winery Tour

We only have to drive ten minutes to experience our own version of Napa Valley. Even better, we were able to spend time talking to the winemaker-owners of Dakota Creek Winery and GLM Lake Missoula Winery this afternoon.

Small can indeed be beautiful.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hilton Hopping in Seattle

We're sitting in the Executive Lounge of the Seattle Hilton after a great day. Kathy needed more pages in her passport and we decided to make an adventure out of it. We rode the train down from Bellingham, stayed one night in the Doubletree Arctic Club, and are staying a second night in the Hilton property. As a result of these two stays, we'll get one night free as part of a Hilton promotion, so we're not exactly throwing our money away.

The weather was glorious today and we wandered around Pike Place Market at mid-day, and then hit the downtown Seattle Art Museum in the afternoon. It's a beautiful night here and the view out the window of the 37th floor is as glorious as our recent views from the Singapore and Tokyo Conrad hotels.

Kathy is scheduled to pick up her passport with the newly-added pages tomorrow at 2:00 p.m., after which we'll make our way to the train for our evening ride back to Bellingham.

All this has been good homework to help us us act more like "experts" when guests visit this part of the world.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tourists in Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market

The Tsukiji fish market is famous as the largest fish market in the world. They hold a tuna auction very early every morning. Many tourists attend and apparently disrupt the auction, so they're banned from time to time and generally discouraged. We saw signs stating that tourists were not allowed in. Since the auction starts at 5:00 a.m. and is over by 6:15 a.m. or so, we decided to skip it, since apparently they run the whole thing in Japanese without any sub-titles.

It's actually only a 15-20 minute walk from the Conrad.We did wander through the market one afternoon when everything had closed and then again at a reasonable hour the next morning when all of the little shops were open.

Even at our leisurely mid-morning hour we had to stay out of the way of the workers moving fish from one place to another. There are a number of rows like this one of full of food stalls, kitchen supplies, and souvenirs.

In the afternoon it's time to head to the Narita Hilton after our whirlwind stopover in Tokyo.

Tourists in Tokyo: Seen From The Bus

Tourists in Tokyo: Asakusa Kannon Temple

Our next major stop was the Asakusa Kannon Temple or Sensoji,a 7th century Buddhist temple located in the center of Asakusa.

The temple itself is here, surrounded by other sights, shopping, and crowds of people.

In the midst of it all, we spotted a long and orderly line of school kids on some kind of outing.

Tourists in Tokyo: The Imperial Palace East Gardens

A sunny day made for continued very pleasant walking at our next stop, the Imperial Palace East Gardens. On this site (as is said), Edo Castle was the residence of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from 1603 to 1867. Emperor Meiji also resided there from 1868 to 1888 before moving to the newly constructed Imperial Palace. The vast expanses of a couple of these sites (200 or more acres)must be even more impressive to Japanese than they are to us, existing as they do in midst of one of the largest and most densely populated cities and countries in the world.

Mr. Sato proudly carries his "fish flag" as we enter the grounds.

A stand of bamboo trees...

This was our only chance for a hasty snap of a sight we saw more the once - pretty obviously daycare kiddies being wheeled around in shopping-cart-like wagons.

Tourists in Tokyo: Meiji Shinto shrine

We signed up for half-day bus tour to see some sights. First stop for Kathy after a bus picked us at our hotel and dropped us off at the tour center to await our actual tour bus was a cup of coffee out of a machine.

And then off we go with a busload of tourists from a variety of countries. That was easy to tell because they often kept talking among themselves in various languages while our guide, Mr. Sato, cheerfully continued to narrate over the p.a. system on the bus. Oh dear. Does it already show that we generally don't like bus tours?

Our first stop is the Meiji Shinto shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife. We enter through the largest wooden torii gate in Japan.

Every sake maker in Japan supplies free barrels and sake as a tribute to Shinto shrines,

And now the whiskey distilleries are getting in on the act.

A place for visitors to write prayers and leave them...

A picture of the shrine itself from a distance, as photo-taking isn't allowed inside...

More scenes...

And seen outside the restroom, the not uncommon toilet-paper vending machine, a note of practicality in a site generally devoted to spiritual matters...

As we drove out we had a look at the lantern wall.