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.

Narita – Worth staying at least 2 nights!


Most folks just pass thru Narita on their way to Tokyo or Kyoto – If they sleep even one night in town, it’s to rest up after their flight – and then to quickly race off to other parts of Japan.

But that’s not fair to Narita. It’s a very famous place in it’s own right! One of Japan’s most famous and most often visited pilgrimage sites is right here in Narita – the Naritasan Shinshoji temple.

This is a huge complex – dating back to the beginning of Buddhism here in Japan – and is well worth a long visit. Particularly special is their three times a day services in the main hall. These feature some amazing drumming – and were very very different from the services we saw in Koyasan.

This temple has been performing a Goma (fire burning) ritual every day for over 1000 years. No matter what your religious affliction – that’s a lot of devotion!

And I had to see it. So we got organized, left our absolutely lovely Air BnB lodging, and went to Temple.

The service started with a brief introduction in Japanese – to a congregation of almost 500 people. There were 4 sections of participants. two large groups kneeling quite near the center alter on the right and left, a much larger group kneeling in front of the altar, and then the senior group. We were sitting on benches that ran along the back wall – with a good view and no kneeling required.

I expected something similar to the morning prayers in Koyasan – but what happened was very different. The service started with the entry of the monks – about 10 of them in formal attire. The main monk seated himself in front of the altar, the gong rang out in the courtyard, the lights dimmed, and a monk sounded a single, extremely loud, Thump on the giant Taiko Drum. That started the service. The monks said some prayers that clearly the gather congregants knew, and then there was some gong ringing and drumming. Suddenly a huge fire burst out in front of the main monk. We were blocked by his body from the bottom of the flame, but the top was easily a body length above his head. This was a signal for everyone to get up and line up to the right and left of the altar.

The Intrepid Traveller and I tried to decide in our own minds, what they might be doing. Comparing notes I thought they were going to do confession, the Intrepid Traveler thought that they were going to a lesson or communion. But it turns out they weren’t doing either. They were handing bags and purses and personal belongings to the helper monks, who were bringing these items to the altar and exposing them – briefly – to the flames.

We had read up on the Goma ritual – and the idea is that the flames represent the wisdom of the Buddha of Unmoving Knowledge – and they burn away the root causes of your suffering. Bu exposing your belongings to the fire, you are allowing the wisdom of the Buddha to impact your life.

Obviously as soon as I realized this was what was happening, I got up with my backpack and joined the line.

After the service ended – folks again lined up – this time to run their hands along a staff that ran in front of the main Buddha. We never figured out why they did this – but it’s been happening for a really long time. The staff was carefully wrapped in ropes to prevent it from being worn away by hundreds of hands, multiple times a day.

Great Service, very interesting Temple, lovely walking meditation garden. This shrine was a definite winner.

We did also had an incidence of ‘Japanese nabbing’. I left the Intrepid Traveller alone for just a minute – and when I got back, she had disappeared. Two older Japanese ladies had grabbed her and forced her to go with them into the tea room for a cup of tea. They spoke no English, so she felt the polite thing to go was to go with with them.

While she was being polite, I spent several anxious minutes wondering where she’d gone when she finally re-appeared to explain that she just had to drink the offered tea – it would have been rude to have refused.

Lunch was in a traditional Eel house. It turns out that Narita is famous for it’s ell restaurants – they are the preferred food of pilgrims – health restoring and considered beneficial after a long trek. And the Eel restaurants in Narita have been serving this dish for over a hundred years. We sat down in a traditional looking restaurant, but with a hole for your legs – no kneeling unless you wanted to – and ordered a meal of eel to share.

It was delicious – and the tea (both hot and cold) was unlimited and free. We were the only westerner’s in the place – it was packed with Japanese – so you know it’s the right place. Delightful meal – and a great way to end our trip to Japan. Tomorrow we are heading for home.

A note on shopping in Narita. We happened into the two largest grocery stores we’ve seen in Japan here in Narita. The land is clearly cheaper – and the shoppers clearly either locals or pilgrims to the shrine – not a foreigner in site.

The sushi selection in the 2nd of the grocery stores we found was unreal. So fresh, so beautiful and so reasonably price. $5.00 Canadian ($6.00 US) got you a platter of at least 8 different sushi option. And need we say delicious?

We are so glad we opted to spend two nights in Narita. It’s a really cool spot – well worth visiting. If you come – check out the Aeon Mall – and buy the sushi. And of course – have at least one eel dinner.

Signing off to get our selves to the airport – our flight home awaits.

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.

Moving on – we hit Osaka


I admit to being emotionally hard hit by leaving Kyoto. I definitely didn’t want to go – and yet we had to move on. I shall miss our lovely lodgings, the wonderful kitchen and common area, the ease of getting around, and the sheer abundance of Shrines and Temples to admire.

But all good things have an end – it’s the way of the universe – so move on we did.

Our trip from Kyoto to Osaka was about the price of a long subway ride – and just about as easy to organize. These cities are really sister cities, and it’s hard to say from the train where one ends, and the other begins. All of which means that we were in Osaka before we really had a chance to say we’d been travelling.

But while Osaka may be only minutes away from Kyoto – it’s a world away in feel! This isn’t our cozy upscale residential neighbourhood with it’s lovely grocery shops, fancy and not so fancy restaurants, and ladies out cleaning their door steps. This is a working class place – and it shows.

Our new lodgings are a shared ‘home’ – literally one room wide, and 4 stories tall with a super narrow, super steep staircase running thru the center.

There is a common kitchen, a common ‘bath’ room for bathing and showering, and two toilets for 3 bedrooms. In many ways, it closely resembles our lodgings in Tokyo in that our hosts do not actually live here. However, unlike our host in Tokyo who frankly ignored us during the 9 days we stayed in her place, Ken and Mark have gone over the top to make us feel welcome.

Our adventure here started upon arriving at Exit 3 of the Hanazoncho Station. We’d gotten delayed leaving Kyoto- more traffic then we’d thought there would be, we’d missed the earlier train, and then we’d gotten turned around on the Osaka Subway. All of which meant that our 12:00 estimated time of arrival became more like 1:00 PM.

This would not have been an issue, except that again I had no internet. So I had no way to let Mark (who was patiently waiting for us outside of exit 3) know that we’d been delayed. Every time I thought I got a WIFI signal – I’d madly try to email him – and I’d check for messages from him. But were our messages getting thru? I couldn’t tell for sure!

Finally I received one that said – use the WIFI at MacDonalds. So when we finally got to exit 3 – we left the station and found the MacDonalds. Unfortunately, my iphone and their internet security features didn’t jib – I couldn’t get on line! Panic.

I decide to leave the Intrepid Traveler to watch our suitcases in MacDonalds, while I left to search the surrounding area. Up and down staircases, in and out of the subway station – I could find neither hide nor hair of a single gentleman looking like he was looking for 2 lost tourists. And since we were the only Westerners in sight – I know if Mark were here – he’d spot us.

What to do?

What to do?

Looking above street level, I spotted a sign for ‘World Gym’. Hmm, wouldn’t a gym offer WIFI? I climb the narrow staircase (is this a pattern in Osaka?) and sure enough – there’s a gym – looks and smells like gyms everywhere. So I put on my best lost lady look, and a big smile – and beg for WIFI. The kind young clerk immediately understands what I’m gesturing about – but he doesn’t know the password. Two very quick phone calls later – and his friend must have told him to look on the wall of the gym. Sure enough – there’s a sign – in English – with the password!

Success! I reach Mark, he comes to find us – and we’re in our new digs.

What follows then is a first for us. Mark gives us a detailed and incredibly rule oriented tour of his place. We are not allowed to cook, but we can microwave and toast. We can use the fridge, but we must label everything ‘Nara’ – our room name. Our room is a Japanese style space on the third floor, so we must make our own futon beds. The front door has 2 locks – we must turn them the right ways. Windows must be shut when we leave, AC must be off, lights must be off.

After the house rules have been shared, Mark becomes much friendlier. We chat for over 2 hours on a host of different topics, including the new Emperor and the future of his dynasty. Mark spent several years in London studying and his English is impeccable. Clearly being a host is his retirement job – and he takes it seriously.

We decide to shop for a cheap dinner from the nearby grocery store – forgetting that this is a working class neighbourhood and like most working class areas – the grocery stores are more focused on cheap rather than good food. The options aren’t wonderful.

We do try a Takoyaki – a very traditional and very well known Osaka delicacy. It’s done in a dry fried cooking manner on a specially shaped grill. The balls are puffy, made from octopus bits and flour, and served topped with mayonnaise and Bonita flakes. I ate two and thought that’s enough of that, but the Intrepid traveler is made of sterner stuff and finished the portion!

So back to Ken & Mark’s for dinner and bed. Tomorrow is another day!

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

A Find of a place to Stay in Kyoto


We are in love with our lodgings in Kyoto.

Seriously – this place is awesome. I found it on Air BnB – and my husband will be relieved to know I didn’t have to meet the owner under a bridge at midnight to get the key.

The Gottingen (strange name – I know) is really more of a very tiny hotel than a real Air BnB lodging. But despite that, it’s adorable. The host is a lovely gentleman named Peng – who while not the owner, is effectively here 24/7. I’m hoping he gets some time off, but I’ve never known him not to be either at the front desk, or available thru the intercom.

The Gottingen is located in a very residential area of Kyoto (we love being in residential areas) to the West of the Kyoto Imperial Palace and just North of Nijo Castle. Even better it’s right near 3 grocery stores – one huge, one medium sized, and the third is a more fruit based smaller store. There are restaurants within easy strolling distance, and we are right on a long thin walking pathway along what used to be a river running thru the city.

And there are 4 different bus routes that go almost past our door – so you can really get almost anywhere you want to in Kyoto without much walking. I’m a very happy camper.

Our room is on the ground floor – so no dragging our carry-on’s up a flight (or two) of stairs, and our room has 2 twin beds and a sleep sofa. It even features it’s own bathroom – no sharing.

The bathroom has actually two spaces. A toilet and sink space (yes – one of those bidet toilets that the Japanese love so much), and a ‘bath’ space.

The ‘bath’ space is actually a shower and a bath tub combined, in the old Japanese style. The shower head swivels out so you can shower standing on the self-draining floor, or swivels in so you can use it in the bath tub. The tub is one of these short deep jobs, so you can in fact get in a soak if needed.

There is a lovely kitchen area right at the front door, so while we are preparing our meals we are also greeting our fellow travellers. There have been several Chinese groups coming and going while we have been here – since we are just 2 hours from Shanghai, it’s an easy 2 day, 1 night trip. But the guests that we tend to chat up, and who are staying longer in Kyoto are the westerners. There’s a couple with their 2 year old son from Germany, two Polish Women, and a couple from Italy. I think the newest arrivals are Spanish- it’s hard to say for sure since they just nodded as they walked quickly by on the their way out for dinner.

We get fresh towels every other day (a pleasure compared to our lodging in Tokyo where we never got fresh towels during our entire 9 day stay), and the place is spotlessly clean.

So – great host, clean space, lots of room (no dresser – but I don’t think the Japanese do dressers), our own bathroom, and a lovely quiet location with folks walking by on their way home – what more could we ask for!

Oh yes – and it’s within our modest budget – just $60 a night total, or $30 per person.

We are happy campers.

Signing off – The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady

Loving Kyoto


Compared to Tokyo, Kyoto is civilized, friendly, and easy to navigate. Not that it is easy to navigate, just that its a whole lot easier than Tokyo.

And Kyoto is cheaper. We’ve been running under $10 for lunch, and under $20 for dinner – including either Saki or Wine. How are we doing this – ah ha! We cheat.

Lunch is often at a restaurant, where we’ll share one meal between us. It is just lunch after all. And our new lodgings have a lovely kitchen and dining area. Perfect for cooking in. And that’s what we’ve been doing. Putting together meals from a combination of ready to eat stuff from the grocery store, and stuff we have to microwave or the Intrepid Traveller works her magic and cooks.

Tonight we’re having Edamame for tea time, followed by a mixed Tempura Appetizer and then dinner will be Wine, Rice with a raw egg and a tempura shrimp and onion pie, and mixed cooked vegetables. We even decided on a lovely Caramel thing (we hope it’s Caramel – it’s smelled like Caramel) for dessert. Yum.

Kyoto has been an amazing city to visit. I had pre-organized trips to 3 of the restricted Imperial Palaces – only to discover that they aren’t that restricted – you just need to reserve. Good thing too because I blew it on the dates for 2 of the 3. But I digress. The 3 restricted places we are going are the Sento Imperial Palace, The Katsura Imperial Villa, and the Shugakuin Imperial Villas.

Back 25 years ago, all three of these were only available on guided tours, pre-reserved, by foreigners from outside of Japan. No Japanese was able to see them. Boy have things changed in 25 years. Today there is an office of the Imperial Household Agency located near the Kyoto Imperial Palace, and all anyone, Japanese or Foreign must do is go to the desk and ask about available spaces. If there is space available – you are in!

Because I totally mucked up the dates, this proved to be a godsend. We first toured the Sento Palace and Gardens. This palace is still in use today by the Emperor and his family when they visit Kyoto. Our audio guides explained that the palace has been completely remodeled inside – this means carpets and western furniture. I’m wondering about toilets of course – but I suspect that’s understood to have been done.

Most of the tour consider of viewing the absolutely stunning garden. I want a garden like this. Even a little bit of garden like this. Of course there were 4 gardeners in one tree alone when we were there… so maybe the labor to maintain the garden would be well out of my price range, but still. It was magnificent. And right in downtown Kyoto. I do not understand why it’s not booked solid, but I think the whole – go to the Imperial Household Agency requirement puts people off. In any case – you are alone in the garden, you can pause to reflect and take pictures… it’s wonderful.

Our second tour was the Shugakuin Imperial Villas – and I think they were my favourites. Again – no lines, no crowds, no rushing you thru. And the tickets are free – my kind of price point.

There are actually 3 villas included on the tour – and to me the highlight was how close we could get to the villas. And all the shoji screens were open – so you could see thru to the magnificent views that they were created to showcase. Wandering paths, tinkling water falls, random bridges, glorious plantings, and magnificent moss gardens were there to be savoured. I loved it.

The bad news about the Shugakuin, ignoring my mixup of the dates, is its distance from Kyoto. We had to take a subway and a bus – and then walk. Naturally we got lost on the walk, so a 15 minute walk took 30 minutes – but we did eventually arrive at the Villas. Totally worth it. And the way back to Kyoto proper was much much faster – one bus ride and we were downtown enjoying ‘Kid’s Day’ at one of the major parks.

What a hoot and a half that was. The theme of the ‘fair’ was kid safety – and they had police cars for kids to climb in, big construction equipment that they could push buttons on, a Virtual Reality game that taught you to stop before you hit pedestrians, and a series of the most adorable bike riding courses.

For older kids, there was a biking maze set out with safety cones and policeman signalling directions. For younger kids unable to actually ride a bike, they had those push bikes. Kids mounted them, then either went around in a circle collecting rings from organizers standing on the outside of the circle, or – this was the best part – on a signal they got off the bikes and used special gloves to pop bubbles that the organizers were creating in the zillions.

We loved it and so did the kids.

Today we tried for the Katsura Imperial Villa – but again a date mix-up happened and we discovered it was closed. But all was not lost – we ended up at the Kyoto Aquarium. This is a completely marvellous aquarium, complete with a dolphin show, a seal show that had the young trainers bringing the seals out among the crowd, and a Penguin show. The stunner of the place was right at the entrance. You walk across a virtual tide-pool that ripples under your feet – revealing Giant Japanese Salamanders. These are roughly the size of a 4 year old child – and they are meat eaters. And they are native to the Kamo river that runs thru Kyoto.

I’m so not swimming in that river.

These things are huge – with enormous teeth and extremely ugly. Yuk!

Another highlight was the jellyfish exhibit – all black light and glowing jellyfish floating around in huge tanks.

Speaking of huge tanks – there is a ‘Sea of Kyoto’ Tank that contains Manta Rays, Sharks, and a school of small fish that numbered in the several hundreds. I’m thinking these fish might be the dinner for the seals – but as a school, they created wonderful balls and funnels and odd shapes.

We watched as one of the organizers suited up and dove into the tank – and fed both the fish and the manta rays. I’ve never seen a manta ray eat before – so this was very cool. They have mouths on the bottom, and create a vacuum that sucks any food that passes by into their jaws. So the diver just released the tidbit, and the manta did the rest. It was very cool to watch.

On the way back home, we decided to visit one of Kyoto’s most famous Temples – the Golden Pavilion (also known as Kinkaku-Ji). We’d been warned that it was a mob scene – and figured that hitting the place in the late afternoon might have thinned out the crowds a bit. I think it did to be honest – we were able to get photographs of the Pavilion without having to wait our turn. But compared to the serenity of the other gardens – this place was decidedly unpleasant. I got hit a few times by other tourists trying to get past me in a hurry – one wonders what was the rush, and the number of souvenir stands made it feel tawdry. Worse – we had to pay for the privilege of going in.

Well – I suppose it’s one of the must do things here in Kyoto – but I’m basically glad we crossed it off our list.

We still have a lot more to see and do here in Kyoto – including seeing the Aoi Matsuri Parade, so I’ll be reporting on Kyoto again in a few days.

Meanwhile – I’m the Soup Lady – signing off to help the Intrepid Traveller prepare our dinner. (That means I pour the wine and set the table – she cleverly does the rest).

2 Down – lots to go!


The Intrepid Traveler and I are museum buffs. Serious museum buffs. So rain or shine, English or no English – we are going to visit as many museums as we can squeeze in while we are here in Japan.

Our plans for today were a bit washed out by the weather, and our own stupidity. Last night it poured – and while our home away from home is lovely – it’s also made of wood with shoji screens on the windows and what I suspect is a tin roof. So while we were safe and dry – unless we were trying to navigate that rickety iron staircase down, the noise of the rain was considerable. We woke a bit sleep deprived – but still ready to rock the world – or at least a tiny section of Tokyo.

After a quick breakfast – with a disastrous attempt at coffee (never liked instant – never will) we headed out – making our first critical mistake of the day. We didn’t grab umbrellas. Clearly overly optimistic – and an error we won’t make again. It poured on and off all day – and we were well and truly soaked by lunch time. I took off my socks and spent the afternoon barefoot in sandals – it was that wet. The Intrepid Traveler fared little better – her ‘rain jacket’ is water resistant – and gave up the ghost after noon.

We navigated ourselves around using maps.me (free off-line GPS map App) and by asking a lot of questions. I’ve gotten very good at showing folks the name of where I want to go in both English and Japanese, and the subway officials are very good at grabbing laminated maps and pointing out the correct locations. We haven’t gotten too lost – I think.

We did wander into the Yushukan Shrine – just 150 years old and dedicated to the war dead of Japan. There was a war relics museum on the site – but we just opted to clap our hands 3 times, toss a coin into the offering box, and make a quick prayer. It was a relaxing interval in an otherwise busy day.

But I digress. This blog is about our first 2 museums in Tokyo.

The Showa Memorial Museum was outstanding. I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Japan. While it definitely presents a bit of a white-washed view of what life in Japan during and shortly after WWII was like – it was absolutely fascinating – and featured a free (and extremely well worth it) audio guide in English. The museum itself is just a collection of objects and photos dating from that time period – mostly taken in Tokyo – but the slice of life that is represented is interesting, meaningful, and intriguing. My personal highlight was the rising sun lunchbox. Those who have read “Memoirs of a Geshia” might recall her mentioning it. It was amazing to actually see one.

I also found the sections on how schools were impacted intriguing. At first of course – the changes were made to encourage nationalism – textbooks rewritten to praise the Emperor and to inspire children to become good soldiers. As time went on, the need for children to want to be soldiers became more and more intense, and the schools were told point blank to work towards that direction. Eventually the need for factory workers because even more important than the need for soldiers – and school kids were taught how to operate machines. Towards the end, as more and more children were evacuated from Tokyo, the school system shut down.

After the war ended, and the children returned to Tokyo to find most school buildings destroyed or at least severely damaged. Classes resumed – but outdoors or in layered time periods as less damaged schools were used by multiple classes. Eventually textbooks went back to standard formats – but for a while they were only available in heavily censored 1940 versions. Growing up in this time period – which corresponds to when I was growing up – must have been very challenging.

Another section dealt with what happened to the War Widows. At first they were considered war heroes and given a pension. But when the war ended – that changed drastically. Widows were no longer heroes, they no longer got a pension, and many of them had no career training. Life for them was intensely challenging, simple survival because almost impossible.

All in all – the museum was well worth the visit.

A bit dryer, we now had to walk to our next port of call – the Momat – The National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. To get from the Showa to the Momat required us to walk past a lovely garden – but given the rain – we opted not to spend time there. We also strolled past the Nippon Budokan – a huge sports center that today was hosting a K-Pop concert. The crowds were considerable – and clearly out for a great time.

Following my open door policy (if a door is open – go in) – we also wandered into the East Imperial Palace Garden – which was having a free admission day. This is the grounds of the original Edo Palace – dating from the time of the Shogun, and while today it is just a lovely garden, at one time must have been a magnificent collection of buildings and flowering paths that the Imperial Court wandered at their leisure.

But eventually we made it to the Momat. After the highlight of the Showa, I must admit that the Momat was very disappointing. I found that given the wealth of Tokyo, and the intriguing public art that surrounds us as we wander the streets of the city, I absolutely expected more – a lot more – of the Momat. The price however was right – it was free to seniors over 65 – and worth exactly what we paid for it. At least we were dry.

So one winner – one loser – and wet feet. The story of our 2nd day in Tokyo.

For dinner we opted to eat in – Fresh Udon Noodles and Fried Boneless Chicken Breast. It was actually quite acceptable as a meal. About half way thru dinner – the guests that I thought spoke no English joined us – and to our surprise the young guy (Trung) spoke excellent English. His friend Anne spoke only Vietnamese and Japanese (Right – only 2 languages… sigh) We had a completely delightfully fun evening getting to know them.

They are from Vietnam, but are currently living here in Japan. Trung (27) is a student in the north of Japan, and is studying Japanese methods of Site preservation. He intends to go back to Vietnam and work there preserving the shrines and other religious sites that abound – and absolutely need preservation. We asked about getting the funds needed to do such work – and he assured us that religious sites have little trouble raising money – at their hearts the Vietnamese are quite religious.

Our conversation was wide ranging – from concerns about aging (another blog) to more political topics. – Trung told us about the Japanese law that restricts building habitation to just 25 years. According to him – and I want to confirm this somehow – After 25 years, homes (I’m guessing new construction only, or perhaps homes that are built quickly – not apartment buildings) are declared uninhabitable and must be torn down and rebuilt. He says that the law was written shortly after the end of WWII – and is based on the fact that there are earthquakes every 10 seconds in Japan. Most are very Mild ones I’m guessing since I haven’t felt any since we’ve been here. Which is a good thing. Anyway – Many homes are built of cheap materials – put up quickly – and just as quickly fall into ruin. He told us that 20% of the homes in Tokyo are currently condemned and thus vacant. And we have seen vacant homes that have clearly fallen on hard times. Even the home we are staying in was in ruins before the current owner (the grand-daughter of the original owner) rebuilt it in 2015. And she has the pictures to prove it.

He also spent quite some time discussing the current history of Vietnam, giving us an interesting if to our minds one sided and clearly a school taught view of the situation leading up to the US involvement. He felt strongly that life in Vietnam was much improved at present – I can only hope he’s right.

Eventually we toddled off to bed. I wore not only my nightgown, but also a long sleeved turtle neck and socks. I’m not getting cold tonight.

Tomorrow is another day.

The Soup lady and the Intrepid traveler – signing off.

Kingston – a pit stop on the road to Toronto


I’m on the road today. Leaving Kingston by train for Toronto. My sisters are flying in to Toronto this morning too. It’s my 70th Birthday – and we are meeting up at the UP station near the train station to spend a ‘sister”s’ weekend celebrating that milestone.

I’m hoping there’s a waiting room or somewhere to sit at the UP Station. I can’t remember for the life of me. But I’m sure I’ll work it out.

I came to Kingston from Montreal by train on Tuesday – to play bridge. They are having a Regional Competition this week, and I’m squeezing in two days of bridge before my birthday celebrations in Toronto. My trip here was uneventful. I arrived early at the train station in Kingston, which is located in the middle of basically nothing but forest/farm land. A local bus driver, with help from two of the other passengers, determined my best bet to get to the St. Lawerence College was to take the slow and winding 16 route. At least I don’t have to change buses, and I get a free tour of downtown Kingston. I also get to chat up some of the locals – who for reasons I do not understand decide to share their medical histories with me. To you both – I hope you feel better soon!

Soon enough I”m at the college, and a young student (he’s a grad student, so not that young, but it’s in comparison) walks me to the door to the residences so I can drop off my small suitcase. He also points out the food court, and the gym where we’ll be playing bridge.

The College is one very long, very narrow building on two floors that is probably the result of joining several smaller buildings into one at some point in it’s history. It’s relatively modern looking, and has most of the expected facilities – non-gender toilets, white boards in all classrooms, and signs. Lots and lots of signs. There’s a cooking school (the student restaurant isn’t open for the summer, but I did see signs of a class being held), a vet school (complete with a furry quick stop, and even a weight room. Recycling here is big – and there are 4 different sorting bins – including one just for coffee cups.

And it’s clean. And relatively empty being that it’s summer and while there are classes – the population is clearly reduced from what it must be during ‘term’. But I”m not here for school – I’m here for bridge!

And Kingston for bridge was interesting. I met some very nice people and saw a lot of the same faces from Toronto Regionals. My PUP (pick up partner) was ‘The Independent Lady’ – 73 years young and very very interesting. She’s been married 4 times – has 2 sons from two different husbands – and is very independent today. I admire this of course, but do not envy her at all! I kinda like my cozy married life of almost 48 years.. But she was a very decent partner – we had our ups and downs on Tuesday, but on Wednesday we put our acts together – and did very well. We came in first in our section in the Gold Rush (yeah!!) and even finished in the top 4 in a side game against some pretty impressive competition. I was very pleased.

Last night we decided to share a 3/4 bottle of red wine after the night game, and went up to the lounge on her floor of the college residence. There were others bridge players there – and we chatted and drank and practiced yoga (yes – someone has the pictures to prove that) until after midnight.

We agreed to try to get together again – like me she travels a lot and lacks a consistent partner. We shall see how that works out. She’s not as good as Fern (the gal I went on the cruise with), although she has more master points. While she’s been playing for a long time, she’s still open to new ideas about defence – what I think is the most crucial part of the game. Everyone can learn conventions – but 50% of the time you are on defence – and that makes or breaks your scoring.

I think there’s a definite problem with folks that have been playing for too many years and are willing to teach, but not so willing to learn – they are sure that they know what they know – whereas I’m sure of what I don’t know.

On the subject of college residences… Well, they haven’t changed much since my Tufts University days in 1966-1970. I honestly felt transported back to that single room I had my senior year. The only difference – they have put bathrooms inside the rooms – so no sharing the toilet. But otherwise – it was identical. My bed was the upper part of a bunk bed that had been split, so a metal frame that was a good 25” above the floor. I had to hoist myself up to get in! I had a single window on one wall – which at least could open. The sheets and bed covering were thread bare and had been washed a zillion times. Same for the towels. The closet had no hangers, so I had to just dump my jackets on the floor, or hang them on the back of the only chair in the room.

On the first night – I was so so cold. I didn’t realize that the thing that looked like an AC on the wall was also a heater. I got up in the middle of the night, walked the long long walk to ‘reception’, and asked for a blanket. (I was already sleeping in my sweat shirt, and wearing socks). She kindly gave me a nice cuddly blanket, and explained how to make the heater work. Finally – I was warm enough to sleep!

Last night I asked for better towels – and that too was provided. So I had a nice warm shower before bed – very nice. Maybe I should have had more water to drink though… Wine tends to give me a bit of a headache, and this morning I feel a bit hungover. But two cups of latte at Via Rail’s expense and a warm breakfast makes for a good pick-me up!

We are playing bridge in the University Gym, and the nearest bathroom is clearly the Woman’s locker room. Two tiny toilets – and the biggest shower space I’ve seen in years. No barriers, no curtains, no separations. I know, guys are not surprised, but for women, we tend to shower in our own space – not in huge open spaces with multiple shower heads. And it smelled horrid. Ah well – I guess Gyms are Gyms.. What was I expecting? Marriott? Not hardly.

Food at the residences was also interesting. I was staying at St. Lawerence College, not Queens. I mention this because it was a bit of a distance from ‘downtown’ Kingston, and the closest food was the ‘food court/cafeteria’ of the college. To get to any restaurant required a healthy walk, or a car. Good news – The Independent Lady had a car. Bad news – the restaurants were Tim Hortons, Subway, and a local Sushi Joint.

The food at the cafeteria was actually excellent – I ate lunch there both days – and it was quite acceptable. But they close at 4:00 PM – And the afternoon bridge game finished at 5:30. So you couldn’t go there for dinner!

The first night – we drove over to Tim Horton’s. The Lady had poutine (seriously?), and I ordered from the Sushi place. It was ok, but too much food, so I carefully took part back to my dorm room and put in the fridge.

The second night we opted to eat at the Residences. The Lady munched on some of my grapes and some cookies I”d taken from Via Rail on my trip into Kingston, I ate most of the remains of my sushi. Not a gourmet meal by any stretch of the imagination.

The company however was stellar. We were sitting outside, and were joined by a young man who is studing to be a Correctional Officier. He was adorable – cute, young, very very strong, and very articulate. He was born in Corsovo (sp?), and had immigrated to Canada while very young. He felt that the Canadian Federal Government had saved his life, and wanted to return the favour by working for them.

We chatted and chatted. He explained that the program is 3 months long, and a new ‘course’ starts every week during the summer, with 30 new trainees. If you finish the program, you are guaranteed a job. But getting into the program is the challenge. Thousands apply, few are accepted! They weight train for an hour every day, the rest of the time is filled with courses and lectures and more physical training. It was an eye-opening look at what kinds of decisions young people make today – and it was very interesting discussing how he felt our prision system is managed.

This morning on my way out to get my taxi to the train station, I saw a large group all dressed in their uniforms heading out to start their day. Man, they looked fit and ready for action.

Yes – both women and men if that was the next question.

One of his reasons for making what I can only think is a odd career choice is that the comarderie among the folks who work/manage the prision system is so intense – something he really wanted. He had done a few weeks in a prison prior to committing to the training program, and had experienced an inmate uprising. This made him want to be part of the system even more.

He also told us that folks can retire from the system after 15 years – young enough to easily get another job where their excellent training make it easy to get hired. His original, and I think final, goal is to be a policeman. This is an inbetween stop. But a long one if it’s a 15 year committement.

One of the interesting things about meeting new folks who are so different from what you normally meet is the increasing odds that you’ll find something that relates them to your own life. And so it was not surprising that this morning I was reading the paper waiting for the train, and ran across a review of the play that my sisters and I bought tickets too in Toronto. Tiled “Out the Window”, it’s subject is police brutality!

Well, how’s that for a blending of fate.

In any case – that’s the news from KIngston. Next stop – Toronto.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

EB Hotel – Now that’s a shower…


This blog post is a continuation of the one about my almost aborted trip home from St. Croix in March. In case you’ve forgotten – our plane ran into a bird on it’s landing approach in St. Croix, and American had to ground the plane until a very expensive piece of equipment could be flown in from New York City. But there was no where for American to put the 200+ passengers in St. Croix – FEMA has taken almost all the housing. So they found a plane in Puerto Rico and flew it down to Miami. Clearly most/all of us will have missed our connecting flights!

I land in Miami, and no surprise here, join a long long line of my fellow travellers waiting for the American agents to re-book us. It’s not as if they didn’t KNOW we were coming – that they didn’t KNOW we’d missed our flights. You’d have thought, foolishly as it turns out, that there would be some kind of triage.

You already rebooked – so all you need is printed boarding passes and a hotel voucher. Oh – you haven’t rebooked yet – ok that will take more time.

Nope – didn’t happen. So instead we all stand in one LONG line, waiting our turn. At first (given that it’s after 11:00 PM), there are only two poor agents at the re-booking center. But as the line grows and grows, the number of agents dedicated to getting us taken care of increases. By my turn, there are 7 agents working, so the line is moving.

Since I already re-booked – it’s a print and ‘have a nice night’ meeting. The hotel voucher says EB Hotel – and I question the agent – EB? Never heard of it. He reassures me – it’s a nice one. And sends me on my way.

I leave the airport security area, and cross over to the ‘hotel’ shuttle waiting area. Standing with me are several of my fellow passengers – all of us slated to go to the same hotel. One guy smartly calls the hotel to check on the shuttle – to be told – it’s on it’s way.

Shuttle arrives – not large enough for everyone, but I’m lucky enough to score a seat, which I’m not giving up. I need to be back at the airport at 5:00 AM – and it’s now almost midnight. I don’t want to lose any more of my precious sleep.

My room at the EB is amazing. Seriously – I’ve stayed in some pretty high end places in my life, but this is probably the fanciest hotel shower system I have ever seen. I set my alarm for 4:00 AM – it’s too late now to shower – but I’m willing to wake up early to take advantage of it tomorrow.

About my shower. It’s a hoot! There are 4 different kinds of shower heads. A rain shower in the middle of the space – partly over the large stone ‘sitting’ area, a more standard shower head, 4 body jets that are serious about giving you a massage, and a handheld shower head. It’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys – and I’m having a blast turning every shower possibility on and off – playing with temperature, pressure, and position.

I’m having so much fun – I’m almost (but not quite) late to my 4:30 AM Shuttle back to the Miami airport.

After the excitement of the bird hitting the nose cone, the jet being flown in to St. Croix from San Juan to get us off the island, and the over-the-top fancy hotel shower – the trip on to Louisville, KY is just long and boring. Ah well – can’t have too much adventure at my age – probably bad for the digestion.

Signing off to sip her Illy Coffee – paid for by American Airlines – The Soup Lady

Gatlinburg – Honky Tonk Heaven


My travels find me in Gatlinburg, Tennessee to play bridge The largest regional bridge tournament in the US – 4100 tables, 16,400 bridge obsessed folks show up to play bridge for a week here every April – and I, my partner Judy, Fern – my friend from the bridge cruise – and her partner Judy (yes – two Judy’s) are 4 of the lucky travellers.

I must say that it sounded like a great idea to go to Gatlinburg until I discovered that there is no airport in Gatlinburg! None – nada – it’s walk, bike or rent a car to get from point A to point B in this part of the US. There is no airport. The nearest airport is in Knoxville – so my Brigde partner (Judy) and I have taken separate flights to end up in Knoxville. Our original plan had us heading out to Gatlinburg right after my flight arrived. Ah the best laid plans … and all that.

Weather was not my friend on Sunday – and my flight from Montreal was delayed just a bit. The major problem happened in Philly. Bad weather (hey folks – it’s just RAIN) delayed or canceled flights all over the Eastern Coast of the US, and my flight from Philly to Knoxville was definitely impacted.

Much phone calling and texting later – we agreed that I’d spend that night in her hotel room in Knoxville (cancel one night in Gatlinburg – and we’d head out the next morning. And this plan worked perfectly. The Historic Gatlinburg Inn, our choosen spot for bedding down, was very gracious. They agreed to cancel the one extra night without penalty (nice folks, eh?). So Sunday night found me knocking on the door of a perfect stranger and asking to sleep with her!

Fortunately, we’d swapped pictures, and Judy is not a serial rapist. We managed to meet, pick beds, and get to sleep. Tomorrow will be aa big, big day!

We get up, enjoy a rather blah breakfast (the hotel breakfast food can definitely not be called fine dining), and head out. Using Google maps, we original choose the shorter, more scenic route, but a bit of miss direction, and we’re driving mostly on highway until close to the turn off to Pigeon Forge.

Does that sound familiar? It should – it’s the home of Dolly Parton and DollyWood. We’re quickly skip past this bit of Americana and are on the main drag of Gatlinburg.

Honky Tonk doesn’t even begin to describe this place. I never even heard of Shoot’m up 7D – but here it is. And it features a horse singing country songs and ‘riding’ an old miner. Seriously – what’s with that. Opposite this ‘attraction’ is a festival of Ripley Entertainments that demonstrates exactly how far out of the loop we in Canada have become. There’s a Ripley’s Haunted Adventure – which sports multiple signs warning those faint of heart or with ‘medicinal issues’ to enter with caution. There’s also a Ripley’s Hollywood Stars – that apparently is all about cars and the Advengers. There are bits and pieces of cars (all labeled ‘do not touch’) adorning the towering edifice. I’m not sure of the point really – but I think I recognize ‘The New Advengers’, although maybe not. There’s also an ‘activity’ center that features a mirror maze, and as it’s ‘marketing tool’, has a guy swinging on a trapeze high above the main floor of the building. These are only 5D – the 7D activity seems to be only the shooting gallery.

There’s an escape room Adventure, a Sky Lift – fancy name for a chair lift, a towering Sky tower that doesn’t appear to be functional, and a huge – seriously huge – convention center. It’s way way too large for the town, so clearly the idea is have a space to bring in tons of visitors.

There are two – count’m two – Moonshine distilleries, a Paula Deen store, a Starbucks, and here’s a surprise – a Walgreens.

All of these are squished into the spaces between hotels, motels, and other ‘sleeping’ establishments. Most are deliberately designed to be cute – faux log cabins, faux castles, and our lodging – the Historical Gatlinburg Inn.

There are plenty of food options as well – a Bubba Gump Shrimp (can you say – everything fried), several sports bars that serve fried everything as well, BBQ places, Pizza places, and two Sweet Shops where you can buy candy by the very very expensive ounce. I wouldn’t suggest shopping for something practical (like – say – fruit or underwear) but if you need a statue of a bear labeled ‘faith’ – they have you covered.

And that’s just in the 5 minute (max) walk from where we are sleeping to the Convention Center. I’m both amused and stunned. But I should have been warned when our warm welcome is marred by my distraction at the size of our hostess. She is simply the largest person I’ve ever seen. And the maintenance man is equally her size. Clearly weight inflation is real and happening in Gatlinburg.

A little about our lodging. The Historic Gatlinburg Inn is just that – Historic. And in desperate need of a serious renovation. I’m reminded of the ‘before’ section of a reality TV show I used to love – Hotel Impossible. This guy would go in and explain how the owners could inexpensively update their hotel – and then proceed to do it to a single room. The Historic Gatlinburg Inn could really, seriously use help.

The good news here is that the staff is unbelievable nice (if perhaps a tad overweight). They couldn’t have been nicer to us. The breakfast buffet was quite nice – and featured a different type of sausage every morning, as well as unlimited scrambled eggs, 2 waffle machines. There were biscuits, Cereal in those little boxes, wrapped apples (why wrap the apples?), yogurt and coffee. There wasn’t a fridge in our room, but we could put food in a small fridge located behind the bar in the rarely used ‘party room’. And they had a pool. Our room even had a view over the river that runs parallel to the Main Street.

My issues with the Historic Inn were in the decor. I’ve never really appreciate exposed pipes, and the retro-fitted sprinkler system meant that there were pipes everywhere. I know it’s hard to hang ceilings to hide those pipes – but honestly, why hang the pipes a foot or more below the ceiling line? It’s so ugly. But the really depressing thing, aside from the seriously outdated old couches in the room (we had two..) were the bathrooms. I’m not a fan of extra doors in bathrooms – although folks seem to love to wall off the toilet – but I really don’t like horrid tub/showers. They are dangerous to get in and out off, and those cheap plastic sliding doors just say – old and gross to me. Put in a laminate counter and a low sink – you are not going to impress me. Tiny old washed to death white towels complete the picture. This is not a luxury bathroom.

I’m also not fond of odd lighting arrangements. Our room was a huge U shaped thing, with an entrance hall that had a wooden bench (handy) for putting our suitcases, the bathroom in the center of the U, and two double beds on the other side. So the distance from the bed to the toilet was as far as it could be, the lighting was several lamps placed randomly in the room, and two wall/ceiling fixtures. One was a chandelier looking object – placed near the beds, but controlled from a switch near the door on the other side of the U, and the other was a long thin bar that extended over both beds. That rather handily had a switch near the bed to turn it on and off.

The problem = we couldn’t find the switches to turn lights on and off for the first 2 days. It just wasn’t obvious enough.

But I was feeling ok about this until I walked down the stairs instead of taking the elevator (an obvious add on tower probably built when they added the sprinkler system). Old couches could be found all through the hallways – I’m guessing that the owners couldn’t decide if these were to be thrown or kept – so they got put here and there in various hallways. The end effect was a rather unfortunate Bordello look – lacking only the ladies in waiting.

I don’t think I’m coming back to the Historic Gatlinburg Inn the next time I come to this competition.

On the drive back to Knoxville, we opt to take the scenic route through the National Park. It’s a lovely, albeit winding, 2 lane road that fortunately was effectively empty around 2:00 on a Friday afternoon. It criss-crosses the river that runs thru Gatlinburg – and alternated between lovely vistas and narrow passes thru rock walls. Had there been crowds of ‘leaf peepers’ – this road would have been a disaster. But we breezed thru, and arrived in Knoxville in plenty of time to catch my flight home.

Signing off to unwind and eat some fruit…

The Soup Lady