Day 170B – Happy New Year to All


How is this New Year different from all other New Years…

The Montreal Gazette just published a wonderful story talking about how the different Jewish Synagogues in the Montreal area are dealing with the challenges of the High Holy Days – when traditionally all Jews go to Synagogue – and the restrictions enforced here in Canada and Quebec by Covid-19

It’s a challenge. Synagogues that normally seat 2000 at this time of year are restricted to 25% or less – and given that we’ve actually had a lot of warning that this year wasn’t going to be like any other year – have gone to zoom and outdoor options.. Making the best of a bad deal.

So I thought I would share a link with you.

Click here

https://youtu.be/KijnnlVzREw

The song was written by Leonard Cohen – who was unabashedly Jewish, and the Synagogue featured is one of the most beautiful in Montreal – the Spanish and Portuguese.

It’s a beautiful and quite emotional appeal for all of us to search our lives and our souls asking if we’ve lived up to our potential as human beings – and asking us to make decisions on how to improve in the next year.

And for many – this is the raisin d’être of the High Holy Days… to force us to re-evaluate our lives.. to consider how we can be better family, better friends, better neighbors, better citizens..

Happy New Year

The Soup Lady

Day 156 – Our 50th Wedding Anniversary is upon us!


I got married on Friday, September 11, 1970. For years my husband remembered it as September 13.. because it was a Friday.

And for the record – we are still married. Which in and of itself feels like a record. So of course – I googled it!

We are still playing it ‘safe at home’ – so what else is there to do…

Turns out that – yup – it’s something of a record. Only 7% of American’s celebrate 50 years of marriage.

But upon further digging, it turns out that while I’m among a distinguished few that make it this far – it’s not really the record one might think. It isn’t really about being married… it’s about not dying.

According to a wonderful piece in a blog site called ‘Family Inequality’ the truth of the matter is more that neither of us died!

If you discount the folks that died, and the folks who are widowed – then you are left with the folks that got married married before 1971. And of those folks – who have the potential to celebrate 50+ years of marriage – fully 50% of us are still married.

So what does this mean. It means that folks that got married before 1971 thought we were getting married forever. We didn’t think of divorce as an option, it never even crossed our minds – or at least 50% of our minds… I guess the other 50% that didn’t die, did get divorced.

Bottom line – I’ve gotten to this milestone thru lucky genes (I didn’t die), lucky genes on my husband’s side (he didn’t die), and then I guess – because we never considered being anything other than married.

One other important factor – not to embarrass my kids or my readers – we still find each other very appealing physically. We also share a lot of history, but have our own unique interests and hobbies. We can let each other go on trips without being jealous (too jealous anyway), and rest comfortable in the knowledge that they will return. We give each other space… and a place to be separate inside our home. We forgive each other when we must – if not immediately, then eventually – and almost always before bedtime. We try hard to find the positive stuff – to not get bored when stories get repeated, but to enjoy them re-told and often mis-told. We are still in love.

I’m still happy every morning when I wake up and say ‘Good Morning Honey’.

My daughter-in-law just reminded me that when they got married – I told her that marriage is a 60-60 relationship – you must always feel that you are giving the bigger portion. If both of you feel that way – the marriage will work.

How are we celebrating this milestone? Are we having a big party or taking a fancy holiday? Well in the days of COVID-19 – the quick answer is – of course not.

We’re lucky in that we’re in Montreal, and the better restaurants are open under COVID-19 restrictions and taking it very very seriously. So we’re going out to dinner with the kids who live here in the city. It won’t be a fancy party – but it will be our style. Comfortable and happy.

Signing off to figure out what dress to wear (not really) … The Soup Lady

Blursday Posting – but at least there is light at end of the tunnel


It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to… Words to a song that formed part of my impressionable youth that resonates with me still today.

After countless days in self-isolation – some imposed because we traveled back from St. Croix on April 1, and some just done because my kids were fussing at me about going even to Costco… Like I suspect most of you, my oh so loyal readers, I’m getting a bit bored.

And it’s going to be my 72nd birthday on June 24. Oh man – I never ever thought I’d be this old – I’ve lived longer than my Grand-mother, and I’m 2 years shy of the age my mother was when she died.

My vision of 72 – at the tender age of 15 or so when I thought about my grand-parents – was house bound (check), living basically in a chair in the TV room (nope), limited conversation topics (what was the weather?), and moving only when absolutely necessary.

My husband and I just returned from our daily 2 mile walk along Lakeshore – dodging the bikers in Spandex that race along like it’s an Olympic track – and enjoying the breeze off the lake. My dad was doing something similar when he was this age, but my mom was totally house bound. I work out daily if possible, lifting weights, doing push-ups, squats, planks – well – you know the basic drill. So yes, I’m in much better physical shape than my parents. And glad of it.

But that doesn’t do much for the gut fear reaction to COVID-19. This is scary stuff because it is targeting my age group. 80% of the deaths in Quebec (most in Montreal where I live) are in the 70+ group.

The good news – here in Montreal – the numbers are definitely on a slide downward. Fewer and fewer cases every day, and while the deaths are still happening (about 50 a day) – but they are the cases that were detected weeks and weeks ago.

Testing here – which by the way gets reports in 2 days – was limited to folks showing symptoms or who had been in contact with folks who had tested positive. But the numbers of folks getting tested has plummeted so they are now saying – anyone can come in.

I haven’t been tested – and am unlikely to get tested at this point. I have been careful to sanitize and wear a face mask when out in any kind of public environment – so while this may be a false sense of security – I do feel secure.

Which brings me to the reason for this blog. It’s my birthday. And restaurants in Montreal will be opening up starting June 21. And our favourite restaurant in the city – Bonaparte’s – is having a grand opening dinner on June 23. It’s the day before my birthday – but I’ve never been a stickler for exact dates. And we are going. In 1810 style. Our dinner companion will be the local Vicar – so the conversation, while polite, should be interesting. He’s always in the gossip loop on local doings.

Yes – I’m excited!

The restaurant has taken all the precautions the management can think of. Limited # of diners, all staff wearing masks, menus sanitized before being presented, table etc sanitized before you sit, and they will usher everyone out at 8:00 to re-sanitize the entire space before seating the next group of guests. You can check all this out at their website.

Interestingly – the better description of what they are doing about being prepared to be open again is found on their opentable site… now that is interesting… Check that out here

I shall of course dutifully report back.

Signing off to go fuss in my garden (I think this year everyone is going to have the best garden’s ever…) – The Soup Lady

Day 19 – It’s feeling like Ground Hog Day


You remember that movie – it was awesome. Bill Murray is caught in a time wrap – he keeps repeating the same day over and over again.

Well – this forced confinement is beginning to feel a bit the same. I’m caught in a time wrap of repeated actions – get up, get dressed, play bridge, maybe chat with folks, eat dinner, watch an old episode of Death in Paradise – go to bed – and repeat

But if you remember that movie – you will also remember how Bill’s character gets out of the loop. He re-invents himself by using the time constructively. And I’m watching folks who are capable of doing just that – and I’m unbelievable impressed

Take this link for example:

https://www.facebook.com/601402741/posts/10157229075837742/?d=n

A Sedar on Zoom?

How absolutely creative is that – they had to have re-written the song, then learned and practice their parts, then figured out how to get it all captured on ‘film’.

Amazingly creative.

Ok – They are from Berkeley – and maybe they are actually theatre folks in truth – but I don’t care. They used their time to do something that made me laugh. And honestly – that was well worth their time.

Signing off to find something else funny –

The Soup Lady

Day 2 – and I’m already getting bored


Which is probably a good thing. Better bored than sick – Right?

London – and the UK in general – has finally started taking this thing seriously. Which is very good news. Countries like Iran – that didn’t take it seriously – are having someone die every 10 minutes – as per the latest from CNN

Everyone I know is either voluntarily self-isolating – or being mandated to do so by the government. I think this is likely a good thing, but it’s really really going to hurt small business. Actually, it may hurt any business that came into this period anything but flush with cash.

One of the CNN reports actually Refered to the Great Depression in terms of the impact this is having on the economy. But since we’re in this together, it would make sense to paddle together – so I’m thinking if you are in business – talk to your supply chain. Better to not pay them today, then for you to go bankrupt tomorrow – and so on down the line.

Canada in general, and Quebec in particularly have made downsizing the number a company must pay easier. They have removed the delay on getting Un-employment benefits – so employers can be frank with their staff. “We need to let you go – so go on Unemployment – as soon as we can, we’ll hire you back”. This works, at least in a country like Canada, in a good way. The company stands a much better chance of weathering the storm, and the employees are protected.

Think ahead. Plan for folks ordering on-line, wanting delivery to their doors with no touching, etc. I think there’s potential here for businesses to flex and change and stay in business. But being able to Flex? That’s tough.

Meanwhile – as a retired lady – stuck in the Caribbean, I’m entertaining myself by Skyping my family and friends, playing bridge on-line, and reading a book. Thank goodness the library was still open, although that might not be forever. Or even correct tomorrow!

Which would be easier if the Bridge sites weren’t finding the sheer quantity of folks trying to use them almost impossible for their servers to cope with. Which is actually kinda funny if you consider what this must mean in terms of ways to handle boredom.

Maybe my number of followers will go up?

Hope beats eternal here in St. Croix. Signing off to take a walk on the beach – and incredibly happy she’s able to do so – they are closing beaches in Pensacola… The Soup Lady

Hiding out from Coronavirus


It’s beginning to feel like this will be a marathon – not a sprint. We’re going to have to all hunker down to weather this thing out – and fortunately for me – I’m not in a decision making position.

I actually feel really bad for those in power – any kind of power – right now. And that includes my kids. Not that any of them are either medical or political in any way shape or form – but they all have folks that rely on them to make the smart decisions – and smart decisions seem to be the challenge. Is closing down the right or wrong thing to do? I’m not so sure there’s a correct answer – if you close down (as many folks have) you put people out of work at a very tough time. If you stay open, you risk their health, your health, other folks health.

So my question to you – my readers – are you hunkering down, or trying to pretend things are normal?

Personally – I’m hunkering down. The good news – if there is good news on this topic – I’m hunkering down in St. Croix, USVI. Montreal is still extremely cold, and wet, and nasty outside – our typical March – and we’d come to the island a week ago, not knowing at all that things would go from bad to incredibly scary in just 7 days.

It’s really the terrifying speed of this that’s the really worrisome part. That and the panic buying. We went to Costco in Montreal a bit over a week ago, and toilet paper was on our list. There was NONE – of any brand – to be had. Why would people think it critical to stock up on toilet paper of all things? Will we still be laughing at them in another week? Maybe they know something we don’t know? News from Heber City in Utah (I have friends there) is similar – no stock of toilet paper. As someone quipped – don’t they know this is a respiratory problem, not an intestinal one? Buy out Kleenex – that makes sense. On the other hand – on the Montreal News this morning – apparently Montreal has been restocked.

I can tell you that here on St. Croix, it’s very different. Given that stocks have to come in by barge, and running out of something means RUNNING OUT – for months – the stores seem incredibly well stocked of everything except alcohol. I think folks are taking the advice to wipe down surfaces seriously, and yes – alcohol is superior to Anti-bacterial wipes, which have no impact on viruses at all.

Which brings to mind the gal at the Plaza Extra (it’s a grocery store) here on St. Croix with her shopping cart full of big bags of anti-bacterial wipes. I think she bought out the entire shelf. Hmm.. smart? Dumb? Mis-informed? I’m not sure.

In any case – I’ve taken to checking the WHO site every day – and reading CNN – live every morning. The list of countries that have closed their borders grows and grows. I think they are going to have to start publishing a list of countries that have NOT closed their borders.

Meanwhile some news that won’t make headlines. My son has an Amazon Store that sells our Soup Bases (Luda Soup Bases) – and his team is busy filling the orders that are pouring in. Given that we sell to restaurants, we’re talking fairly large quantities of soup base, enough to feed a family for months. But our bases have a really long shelf life, so at least this buying makes sense. And my daughter – who makes and sells artisanal sausages from her own website (Crown & Queue in the UK) is also reporting an up-swing. So it wasn’t surprising to hear that Amazon is hiring 100,000 temporary workers to fill the demand.

Another no news trivia – the major on-line Bridge Playing website – Bridge Base – got overwhelmed big time this weekend. If you don’t play bridge, you won’t understand – but there are literally thousands of folks that do play bridge, most of them in Clubs scattered all over the US and Canada and the rest of the world. All have been closed – and all these folks now have time on their hands. Result – the on-line site got swamped. I’m betting that Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other’s of that ilk are also getting hit big time. My son who does IT says that the ‘Cloud’ is suffering as well.

My question to you – my readers – what are you doing? What are your kids doing? Are any of you Covid-19 positive? Did you get really sick? I realize that we’re hardly a news worthy group, but I’m wondering. Right now I don’t personally know anyone with the Virus – and I’m hoping it stays that way.

Signing off to admire the beach and sun, and hope to Heaven that this too shall pass – The Soup Lady

If Nothing goes Wrong – It’s not an Adventure!


Ugg – I hate to travel. Well, not the meeting new people, seeing new things and visiting new places part of traveling – it’s the TRAVEL part of travel that drives me bonkers.

I never sleep the night before I have to fly – too many things can go wrong… And it’s more fun to start a trip exhausted, right?

So – Night before we had to fly home from Japan was no different than any other night before a big TRAVEL – I couldn’t sleep. But eventually dawn comes, and the Intrepid Traveler – who has no such issues – wakes up cheerful as always. I’m just tired.

We spend our last day in Japan looking for souvenirs to bring home – we have lists and we try hard to get stuff folks will like without breaking our poor bank – and eventually, we head off the airport. We each buy a package of sushi to have as a last meal… The grocery store Sushi in Japan seriously rocks – it’s so yummy – and we know that whatever we’re served on the plane – this will be much better.

Quick train trip (200 Yen or $2 Canadian) and we’re at the Airport. Check-in is easy, security is easy, boarding is easy. Things are going too well to be honest.

The flight is full, full, full. My seat mate is a young man from Vietnam, heading back home to the US. The seriously older gentleman behind the intrepid Traveler is also from Vietnam, being sent to Phoenix by his family. His son dropped him at the airport – I’m guessing (hoping) that another family member is going to meet him in Phoenix. He’s just a bit confused about why he’s on the airplane, but the crew takes it in stride and gets him seated and his carry-on bag safely stowed above his head.

This is actually a problem. He wants his bag, speaks neither Japanese nor English, and gets more and more concerned about his bag as the pre-flight stuff moves forward. The plane takes off – and he’s quickly up and moving around trying to locate his bag. I only know this because the only person on the plane who can talk to him and also talk to the crew is my seat mate.

Apparently the older gentleman doesn’t understand that the plane is in the air – and wants to get out. He also wants his bag. And he’s roaming around thru economy, Economy Plus, and First Class. The flight crew really don’t want him roaming First Class – Economy is apparently ok.

The crew has their hands full trying to get him to stay seated. With the help of my seat mate, eventually they realize that they need to let him hold his carry-on – at least he’s less alarmed when he knows where that is.

During the entire 13 hour flight – he’s either getting up, sitting down, being calmed down by the crew, trying to roam into first class, or finally – sleeping. The crew apologizes to me, to the Intrepid Traveler, to his seat mates, and basically to everyone in our area, but there is little to be done.

Mostly we’re all pretty annoyed. It’s clear that his family had to know that he wasn’t going to handle a long flight very well, but they didn’t plan enough to put a family member on the flight with him. Nor did they warn the airline. In chatting with the crew, they are very concerned that he needs to change planes in Dallas, and since no one is meeting him in there, they are worried about how that is going to happen. I understood their concern – what I didn’t realize was that no one was changing planes in Dallas!

Neither the Intrepid Traveler nor I can really do anything to help (we don’t speak Vietnamese)- so I watch movie after movie, and the Intrepid Traveler tries to sleep. It’s tough to do with him constantly pulling on her seat to get up, or banging her seat when he gets escorted back and forced to sit.

But all things must end, and eventually we arrive in Dallas.

I’ve now been over 24 hours without sleep – so I guess that explains what else goes wrong.

We need to change terminals – but since we have 3 hours between flights, it’s not a big deal. We go thru security and customs into the US – our bags are booked thru to Canada, so it’s just us and our tiny backpacks. We then re-enter the airport thru US security (again – no problems), and find what our gate number is for the flight to Montreal.

Quick note for those who don’t normally fly into Canada from the US. Major airports in Canada (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary) actually have US border control. So you officially leave Canada for the US before you leave Canada. And the reverse is also true. The flight going from Dallas to Montreal is a US controlled flight. We don’t go thru passport control until we get to Montreal. So in effect, we physically entered the US when we got off the plane from Japan – and won’t ‘leave’ the US until we physically arrive in Canada. That’s going to make a difference shortly!

Anyway – we are now in the Dallas airport – without our luggage – it’s bound for Canada. We make our way to our gate – and we sit and wait. There’s a lot of people roaming around – and we’re hearing bits and pieces of conversation. “I’m not sure where to spend the night”, “I hope they get us out of here”, “Any news on our flight?” Under normal circumstances I’d have reacted – but I was working out 26 hours of no sleep and counting – so I ignored the warning signs.

My bad on that one.

Our gate agent announces that the flight from Montreal is slightly delayed, but should arrive shortly. Then she announces that the flight has arrived and we’ll be boarding shortly. Then she announces that while the plane and our crew are here, our pilots were bumped off their flight into Dallas and are stuck in San Antonio. But no worries – they will arrive soon. Then she announces – we’re boarding.

I’m still obvious to the problem… and quietly wait to board.

We get on the plane, and I start to watch a movie. Another bad move – I don’t notice that our pilots still haven’t arrived.

Suddenly – our pilots do arrive – and announce that they don’t think there is enough fuel in the plane – they have sent out for more.

Then they announce that they just realized that there is a curfew in Montreal – planes can’t land after a certain time, so they are trying to get the curfew lifted for us.

Then the steward announces that the pilots have been working for too many hours – they have to find us new pilots.

Then the steward asks us to leave the plane, take all our belongings with us – just for a few minutes.

As I’m exiting the plane – I’m now at almost 30 hours with no sleep – I spot the sign that says – flight canceled!

What – our flight has been canceled. You are kidding me!

It’s now 10:30 PM in Dallas – there is no way we are leaving here tonight. Best hope is tomorrow.

We have no luggage – just the clothes we have on. The Intrepid Traveler doesn’t even have her toothbrush.

But I know how to use Hotwire – and I quickly book us an inexpensive hotel that offers a free Airport Shuttle. And then call American to see if I can get us rebooked.

I’m still on the phone (on hold of course) as we make our way to the Customer Service (or really – Customer no service) Desk. It turns out that things are worse than I thought. There is only one way to get us out of Dallas on Thursday – they offer us a 16 hour, 2 stop, overnight trip that would get us into Montreal late on Friday.

I ask to speak to a manager. Surely there’s another airline that has seats available?

No luck. Every airline is booked solid. There have been huge weather issues all over the central US and flights were delayed and canceled – shoving everyone into a frenzy. We could get one seat maybe – but not two. Won’t happen.

Meanwhile the automated system books us onto the non-stop that leaves at 7:00 PM on Friday. That’s almost 48 hours away!

We decide to accept that option, and after being sure our luggage is really, seriously, completely impounded – you can’t not have it – we head to our hotel.

On the way to the hotel, we realize that both of our husbands are going to wake up Thursday morning wondering where we are… so we dash off emails to them on our way out of the airport.

I’m now at 31 hours with no sleep – and definitely not thinking clearly.

I managed to book us a hotel with a shuttle that stops running at 8:00 PM – it’s now almost 11:30 PM. Thank goodness I know how to use my Uber App!

That at least goes well. Our Uber arrives – and drives us to our hotel. On the way it finally dawns on me that I have family in Plano, Texas. So I ask – how far is it to Plano? Answer – 25 minutes.

Ah Ha – Maybe I’ve got Thursday night solved!

Yup – family is willing and able to put us up for Thursday night (and keeps asking why we didn’t come Wednesday night). We spend Wednesday night in our hotel and wake up feeling a whole lot better about the world in general, and Dallas in particular. We have a decent North American style cheap hotel breakfast – Make it yourself waffles, eggs that saw a chicken somewhat recently, and sweet pasty. The best part – unlimited coffee. I’m so happy. The Intrepid Traveler enjoys her tea.

We take the now operational shuttle back to the airport, pick up a rental car, and drive out to visit my relatives for 2 days. They kindly lend us clothes (our suitcases aren’t going anywhere but Montreal – end of story), feed us, bed us, and let us use their pool.

You have to love family in a crisis.

On Friday the weather has cleared, the planes are operating normally and alls well with the world.

We drive back to the airport, return the rental car, and head out. Thank goodness no further adventures await us – the rest of the trip goes painlessly. We arrive in Montreal on time – and low and behold – there’s our luggage!

All’s Well that Ends Well.

Signing off to catch up on much needed sleep – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Herds and Hordes – That sums up Nara


In my pre-trip reading – Nara sounded really cool. It was the capital of Japan for about 70 years – starting in 710 – and a backwater of the country every since. But my reading made it seem lovely – several interesting museums, traditional homes to visit (for free – we love that price point), a very intriguing guest host we could stay in at our price level, and it was the birth place of Japanese Buddhism in 703 or so.

What I didn’t know was that despite the fact that it’s a small town, it’s a small town with an agenda. It wants to compete with it’s bigger, more famous, and much more important neighbors – Osaka and Kyoto – and the city fathers are doing the best they can to make it so!

Some things are being doing very well too. Since it’s the original home of Buddhism in Japan – it’s famous among the tour group set – particularly the student tour groups. We’ve seen more student groups on tour than we’ve seen anywhere in Japan. And interestingly enough – some of them still do the ‘Hello’ thing to us as they walk by.

In case you don’t know what the ‘Hello’ thing is – every kid in a long group of students walks by and says – ‘Hello’. One after the other. Some of the kids branch out and say ‘How are you’ or ‘Where do you come from’ or other catch phases. They are clearly very proud that they finally have a chance to practice their English on real live tourists. It’s adorable.

When we were in Japan 20 years ago – all school groups did this. Today it’s one in 10 or so – and we’ve been told that those are the groups from well outside the major cities. Which figures – city kids see tourists constantly – the country kids don’t. So for them – we a treat.

Nara also has one of the best (and basically cheapest) bus systems we’ve run into. For 500 Yen you can get an unlimited day pass that is a small cedar plank. You wear this around your neck and just flash the drivers! Basically all the buses a tourist would care to ride are now free. Even if you aren’t prepared to cough up that much – a single ride is 210 Yen provided you stick to the city limits. But in addition to that – on the weekends Nara runs 3 ‘low cost’ bus lines on the heavily touristed routes. These smaller buses only cost 100 Yen – and they will do the trick if your desire is to arrive by train, visit the critical sites (The Big Buddha and the Deer Park) and then high tail it back to where you came from!

There is one obvious tourist confusing aspect of the bus system here in Nara – some of the bus lines require you to enter from the rear and pay as you exit, other lines work the other way – enter and pay immediately, exit when you want. Locals know which is which, and of course the bus drivers do – but us tourists? Forget about it! We are constantly trying to get on while everyone is getting off! It’s a mess. But I’m nit-picking – it’s still a really great way to get around the city.

Another thing that Nara has definitely gotten right is the Deer Park. This is a total hoot and a half. I didn’t want to enjoy it – but honestly – it’s beyond funny to watch tourists interact with Deer that know perfectly well that a) Tourists have Deer Crackers to feed them and b) Those Deer Crackers leaving the park! So while the deer are willing to bow to get a cracker – and they are even willing to pose for pictures, basically they know they have an easy life of it – and they put up with the constant petting, touching, and teasing with amazing grace.

Some deer have figured out that camping by the ladies selling the deer crackers is a winning strategy. Other deer have staked out their spots, and hang tough in that location. During one of our rest breaks, we watched a deer stand in one spot for at least 30 minutes – bowing repeatedly if needed to get a cracker. We also spotted deer that are just bored by the proceedings or have eaten their full for the day. They gather in the off-limits sections so the tourists can’t get to them.

And there are deer that clearly get off by playing with the tourists. They hang in the center of the pathways, shamelessly begging for crackers – and willing to what ever is needed to get them.

We are not talking deer in the hundreds by the way, we’re talking thousands of deer. And probably about an equal number of tourists. Not surprisingly – one of the big festivals here in Nara is the Spring Fawning.

Given the popularity of the deer park, and the historical significance of the city, and the marketing efforts that the city fathers have made to put Nara on the lists of all tourists – there are a lot of tourists!

Fortunately, they are clustered in the area near the Deer Park – making the Temple of the Big Buddha a tad crowded, and the buses heading to and from the Deer Park area packed. But outside of that space – and a couple of roads leading in and out of the area – the rest of Nara goes on with it’s business without interference.

And it gets worse – a lot worse – on the weekends. I’ve literally never seen this many tourists in one small space in my life.

On the good news side – Nara can handle crowds. In addition to the doubled up bus system on the weekends, the main attraction – The Big Buddha – is in a huge Temple. Plenty of room for everyone. And we arrived in the middle of a ‘classical’ concert! There was a wonderful Soprano with a glorious voice, accompanied by about 4 dozen kindergarten students who gave it all they had. Recognizable pieces included an hair raising version of Ave Maria – and an adorable ‘Take me out to the Ball Game’ – sung with tons of energy by the kids. For the music there was a piano, a violin and a cello. The acoustics were amazing.

Tourist bottle necks included the ‘crawl thru the nose of Buddha’ exhibit – which folks were lining up to do with great enthusiasm, and of course the bus stops. There was plenty of deer to go around however.

Once off the tourist track – the museums were lovely. Quiet, beautiful and generally free. We lucked into a tour of the section of the original Imperial Palace (703- 789 or so) that is being rebuilt in the traditional manner. But first they built a giant outer shell of steel beams, harnessed against earthquakes and Typhoons. Inside the outer shell is the area being used to hand carve using traditional equipment all the wood pieces needed to make the Main Gate of the Palace. Normally this area is closed to tourists – but when we were there it was open for visitors to go in and climb all the way to the top to gaze down from what will be the final height of the gate.

It was wonderful. There were craftsmen there showing us how to carve out the huge cedar columns and beams that will be used to make the Gate. We were told that all the Cedar comes from the Nara area. I was amazed. They are using only trees over 250 years old (the columns are huge), so there has to be a giant forest not too far away.

My other favourite site was the renown Gangoji Temple. While the Temple is beautiful, the highlight for me was the museum space where they had displaced some of the columns and beams they had found during the excavations. These wood pieces have been dated back to 700 AD! That makes them 1400 years old. Incredible.

For a garden walk, we opted for the free Yoshikien Garden rather than paying 900 Yen to visit it’s neighbor, the much better advertised Isuien Garden. We loved our tour of the Yoshikien Garden – we were alone on the paths, able to sit quietly on the deck of the tea house to admire the pond, and generally cool down from the heat and the hordes.

Speaking of heat – it’s been really really hot here in Japan. Over 30 degrees C (that’s over 90 degrees F) every single day. That kind of heat has taken a toll on our ability to get around – so that bus pass was a god-send.

One time we got on the AC bus, and it felt so good, we just rode around twice. The driver got really worried that we didn’t know we had to get off! He even found someone to explain that to us. But we re-assured him we were fine, and got off on the right stop the 2nd time around!

One final note – because of the heat – we’ve been visiting the local convenience stores in search of ice cream. And trying all the different options! I had a fabulous watermelon looking ice thing that actually had bits of chocolate placed into the red part looking like seeds. And the Intrepid Travellers favourite was a mint ice cream version covered in chocolate with crunchy pieces.

We are living the highlife here in Nara.

Signing off to check out a difference Convenience store (maybe their selection of Ice Cream is different) – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

We lo

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

War – What is it Good For?


Absolutely Nothing!

And why am I muttering about war? We visited two very interesting museums today – the Osaka Museum of Human Rights, and the Osaka International Peace Memorial Museum.

Both dealt harshly with man’s inhumanity to man – and both reminded us that we really need to be a little more open in our attitudes towards folks that are different from us..

To get to the Osaka Museum of Human Rights was not an easy task, and the museum itself actually tried hard to make it a challenge to find! This is not a museum for folks who do museums for the highlights. Honestly – we don’t think there were any real highlights here. Human Rights is a tough topic – and not one it’s easy to make light hearted. And they didn’t even try. It’s a serious museum on a very serious subject.

Lack of highlights aside, often a museum is more about what you put into it than what the designers put into it – and such was the case with this one. Once we found the entrance (thank goodness for the Japanese habit of trying to direct visitors.- even if they aren’t asking for directions), we were charged admittance and then instead of an English Audio Guide, they gave us a printed plastic notebook with photographs of different sections of the museum along with English text.

I figured that the audio guide system was broken – I didn’t realize how lucky we were to get the printed guide until we saw two other English language visitors trying to navigate the museum with the audio guides. Our printed guide was much much much more informative.

Also highly informative were the movies – offered with English subtitles if you pressed exactly the right sequence of buttons. We discovered these the hard way – pressing random buttons until we figured out how to get it working.

A museum on Human Rights is unlikely to be uplifting – and so we were not amazed to discover that the topics covered include Mercury Poisonings in Japan, the Japan treatment of Koreans living in Japan, and the Japanese treatment of two of their main indigenous tribes. Not very good sums it up.

Which is pretty interesting since Canadians have been beating up their government about our treatment of the First Nations – at least we now know that we aren’t the first – or probably the last – country to try to get rid of folks that just don’t seem to live the way we think they should.

Other topics covered included Gay Rights, the rights of Disabled Citizens, and the rights of Women. Human Rights is a broad topic, and the museum designers did their level best to hit a lot of different aspects of it.

We can’t recommend this museum to anyone else – I know the Intrepid Traveler and I are more willing than most to put effort into figuring out what the museum designers were trying to accomplish, but we did find this museum very interesting.

The 2nd museum of the day – the ‘Osaka International Peace Memorial Museum’ is very new, very well done – and frankly – very oddly named. It traces the history of Japan, Osaka, and the rest of the world from 1890 to just after WWII ended (say 1948 or so). The first two sections painstakingly attempted to give an historical overview of what Japan was doing during the period leading up to WWII. And the quick answer was trying to conquer as much of Asia as they could. These are the days of the Sino-Japanese war, the invasion of Korea by the Japanese, and the occupation of much of China. Give that – it’s interesting that from the Western point of view – we were ignoring Japan.

Instead we were focusing on what was happening in Germany, Britian and France – with some concern about what Russia was doing. It really wasn’t until Pearl Harbour – which most Americans felt was an uncalled for invasion of US territory that the ‘problem’ of Japan became apparent.

From the Museum’s view point, the events leading up to the American’s bombing of mainland Japan were covered quickly – with most of the museum focusing on what was happening in Osaka particularly, and Japan in general during the bombing.

The two most dramatic sections were devoted to a family home being prepared for a bombing raid, and a simulated bombing raid! This section was noisy, exciting, dramatic, eye-catching – and ultimately horrifying. And it was complete with an under ground home-made bomb shelter that featured bombing alert alarms ringing, fire raging around the shelter, and folks screaming. Not very light hearted.

Pictures of sections of Osaka before and after the fire bombing were displayed as well.

And then there were Pictures of the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan to complete the journey thru time.

War – What is it Good For – Absolutely nothing.

An interesting way to end our visit to Osaka. After we left the museum, we had to walk in a park – just to get our heads back out of the negative think of the day

Back at our castle we have new guests – lovely young ladies from Calgary. Thank goodness we were able to spend a pleasant evening chatting – then head off to bed. Tomorrow we must move on to Nara.

We are hoping for wonderful things in Nara – Osaka has definitely exceeded expectations. Despite the negative aspects of the two hard hitting museums today, we must admit to absolutely loving several of the museums we visited. The Osaka Museum of History was excellent, the Osaka Castle is not to be missed, the Osaka Museum of housing was great, and we had a lovely time at the Aquarium – that’s another must see. And we really enjoyed our stay with Ken & Mark. It was very pleasant, despite being unable to do more than microwave and toast..

Quick update for those who might be wondering – we are still on our budget – running under $25 a day per person for travel, museums and food. And yes – that includes wine.. (or Saki – this being Japan and all). We’ve managed this by becoming very very good at shopping the grocery stores and convenience stores for food for lunch and dinner. We’ve scored Sushi at 200 Yen off, bread on discount because it’s the end of the day (after 4:00 PM apparently), and done some very yummy tasting. I’ve also tasted some things that honestly – I don’t know what they were, I don’t care to know what they were, and I’d be happy if I never tasted them again!

But Bottom line – there’s lots to see and do in Osaka – we would recommend including it on your next trip to Japan. Great Museums, really nifty neighbourhoods to walk around, including one where houses are a door plus about a foot on each side wide. That’s it – but they are long, at least as far as we could see on the inside. I’m guessing these are housing that were put up quickly after the war, and have survived because they are inexpensive for a single person to occupy. And there are some very classy neighbourhoods as well – so something for everyone.

Signing off on a more upbeat note than we started this blog report – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Kimonos in Kyoto


If you are coming to Japan to see ladies (and men) in Kimono – then let me recommend Kyoto. We’ve seen hundreds of folks wearing Kimono – not all of whom are geisha – or for that matter – normally wearing Kimono!

It turns out that there is a very large industry here in Kyoto in Kimono Rental. For anywhere from $15 to $30 a day, you too can be dressed in Kimono, complete with hair ornaments and proper sandals. They even provide tabi socks and proper hand bags. These places advertise madly – and not just in the Gion area where you might expect it. We spotted Kimono Rentals near the train station and near several of the major shrines. There was even one near Nijo Castle.

So how to tell a ‘faux’ kimono wearing young woman or man, from the real McCoy?

Dead give-always include speaking Chinese not Japanese. Or wearing sneakers. Sometimes you can spot leggings or pants under the kimono – that’s another sure sign it’s a faux Geisha.

Hairstyle is often another sign that the gal wearing a kimono is actually a tourist, although many orientals have long hair, and the kimono rental places do a good job of getting the hair up, and the hair ornaments in place. So that’s not probably the best sign.

If you spot an iphone – particularly one being used to snap ‘selfies’ – it’s a faux.

Overly bright colours are also a give-away – the gals that we’ve deemed as real tend to the more conservative styles and colours – those fluorescent reds, pinks, violets and oranges are often the choice of young ladies who want to look flashy – not necessarily like wearing a kimono is natural to them.

As for the men – we’ve spotted men in Kimono that look incredibly dapper and well dressed. They hold themselves erect, and walk with purpose. Often they are older gentleman – who we’re guessing either are extremely conservative, or feel that wearing a Kimono sets them apart. Whatever – they do look very smart!

The ‘faux’ male atire is often cotton, wrapped poorly around the guy – and almost certainly on a guy accompanied by a female faux geisha. I’m guessing there was some arm twisting involved. In any case, very few of these guys look like they are comfortable – and certainly one wouldn’t describe them as dapper. Often they look like they are wearing bathrobes – not even nice ones either.

There is another dead giveaway – but this required looking at the way the Obi is tied in the back. There is a cheap trick to getting that fancy knot on the back of the Obi – it is a separate piece of fabric, tied in a bow, and then fastened to a metal hook. The hook slides in the obi folds, creating what appears to be a bow tied in the sash. But it’s a fake. And if you know what to look for, it’s easy to spot.

The older the person wearing the kimono, the more likely it is that the kimono is real. I spotted older women gossiping on a street corner – and I’ll bet those kimono were real. On the other hand 3 young ladies giggling madly over ice cream are not serious about their kimono.

Last but not least – look for folks wearing Kimono that are doing things that a tourist wouldn’t be doing. For example, I saw one gal pushing a bicycle. I’m pretty sure her kimono was real, just because what tourist would even think of pushing a bike wearing one!

In the 6 days we’ve been in Kyoto – and the countless times we’ve ridden a bus thru the streets of Gion, I’ve only spotted one gal that I am pretty certain actually was a Geisha. Why? Because her hair was in the traditional style, her kimono was a very conservative cut and design, her posture was comfortable but not silly and she looked like she knew how to walk in her shoes.

Desperate to see more true Geisha, I went at twilight to Pontocho Alley – and found my self face to face with three different Apprentice Geisha – looking for all the world as if they had stepped out of a history book! I was so shocked – I didn’t take pictures! Silly me. But they were very cool, and very in a hurry to get where they were going.

Overall, I’ve spotted lots of woman that I’m sure were wearing Kimono because it was comfortable and attractive – some of them were attending a festival at one of the shrines we visited, and were invited into the inner sanctum, others were in the stands at the Aoi Festival, but looked comfortable, not stilly, and still others were just riding the bus or visiting a museum or a garden with us.

So while you are far more likely to spot faux kimono wearing tourist than real kimono wearing ladies and gentleman, if you know what to look for – at least you can be sure when you are lucky enough to see the real thing.

And a lovely thing it is!

Signing off the visit more temples and shrines – there appearing to be no end to these in Kyoto – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.