Day 219 – Traveling under COVID Restrictions


Getting stir crazy yet? How about a trip across the Ocean – does it sound a bit scary? Well – It seems really scary to me

But my daughter lives in London – and she needs me/wants me to come. And I need/want to come. And since saying no to my daughter just isn’t happening – I’m heading out, masks in hand.

All this explains why I am sitting in a deserted airport lounge waiting for my flight to London to depart.

Last time I flew was April 1 – on my escape from St. Croix (I’m still sorry I had to go – but that’s another story). The airports were deserted then – and trust me – that has not changed! If anything, more things are closed, there are more barriers up, and you can forget about eating anywhere that looks like an inside.. Closed, Closed, Closed!!!

And coming into the airport is now restricted – or at least there is only one working door (conveniently in the middle of the airport – so FAR from where I need to go). I snake around the barriers, spritz my hands, and walk into the empty main concourse. Air Canada is located to the far right – so I drag myself and my luggage basically 1/2 the length of the very long terminal building to the check-in desks.

The plan is for me to leave Montreal and fly to London. I first checked with American Airlines – who are holding my tickets to London on British Airways. BUT… they can only fly me to London via the US. And I’m not going into the US right now. I’m not easy about being in the airport in the US – I’m definitely not going to be in an airport on Election Eve in the US.. Nope. Not for me.

So I had to get a credit for that trip – and re-arrange my trip. I had a choice – X for a flight that changed in Toronto – and Y (X ++) to fly direct. I choose direct. I am not comfortable with going to any more airports than I need to.. No way.

Ok – so I choose Air Canada. My logic here was – it’s the national airline of Canada – no matter what they will get me home from London.. At least that’s the plan.

I had pre-checked in – which may or may not have helped because when I get to the check-in counter they ask for my COVID form for the UK.

Huh? What form?

Conveniently they have an OR code for me to scan that takes me right to the form – so I stand near the check-in desks to fill it in – Nope, I don’t know anyone with COVID. Nope, I don’t have a fever. Nope, I don’t have other symptoms, and Yes – I have a place to Quarantine when I get to London.

Form done – I go back to the counter – and the gal makes a scary statement – “Cutting it close aren’t you?” I immediately start to panic. I thought I’d have 2 hours to clear security and walk to the gate before it was time to board. Time to even include a bathroom stop. Now I’m upset and alarmed – I must have the time wrong – I’m going to be running.

I do the really old lady run (ok – don’t laugh – we can run, it’s just a very slow thing to watch) and get to the snaking line that goes to security. No surprise – it’s empty.

As will quickly become the norm here in the airport – there is more staff than customers in the security area. I breeze thru – well, except I forget that my watch is made of metal – which causes the bells on the metal scanner to go off. Take off watch, leave on counter, go back out, come back in – all clear. Sigh.

Now I need to get to my gate. For those unfamiliar with the Montreal Airport – there are 3 distinct sections. There’s the part that goes to the US (I’m not there), then there are the co-joined parts that go either to other parts of Canada or to other parts of the world. The issue here is that there’s US immigration here in Montreal – you effectively enter the US on Canadian soil – so that part is isolated.

I’m in the Canada and the rest of the World section – with the Canadian gates to my right – and far far far on the left – the World gates. Naturally – my gate is almost at the end of the far left section. Another long long ‘run’ dragging only my carry-on this time – but still – down an effectively empty concourse.

I reach my gate – and discover that the friendly check-in gal was thinking I was going to Paris – not the UK. Her time is short alarm was based on when the flight to Paris left – not when my flight departed. I do have the hour and more to wait that I’d figured on. But now I’m sweaty, I’m panicked, my stomach hurts – and there’s nothing open. I’m not walking back – so it’s find a seat far away from everyone else, recharge my phone and ipad – and wait….

Eventually – and on time I will admit – they load our flight. I’m counting passengers – and it looks like about 40-50. Given that this is one of those massive trans-ocean flights – seating upwards of 400 passengers- the flight will be empty. In fact – there are more staff than passengers. Not only is my entire row empty – so is the one in front and in back of me.

I’m very happy about that. Fewer people, less exposure.

The food is predictably lousy – a cold Eggplant Parmesan which would have been lovely heated, some kind of strange salad I couldn’t eat, and a too too rich piece of chocolate cake. No dinner for you dear!

Well – my husband kindly packed my grand-daughter’s Halloween treat bag gift – so I ate that, watched a movie, slept in a contoured position, and woke to the flight crew announcing that we were landing in London.

Cool – that was painless.

I’m all the way in the back of the plane – so to get off – it’s yet again with the drag the bag. And then there’s the forever long walk thru the empty terminal towards British Immigration.

Huge lines (where did all these people come from?) snake from the immigration booths towards me – and again I panic needlessly. I’m carrying a Canadian Passport with the seal that lets me use the electronic booths – and I’ve pre-filled in that form. I literally breeze past everyone else – walk up to an empty electronic booth – present my passport – and I’m in! Well – that was easy.

I find my suitcase, exit the secure part of the airport and drag myself, my suitcase, my carry-on, and my Montreal weight Winter Coat to my favourite first stop in London. Cafe Nero at the airport for a Late and a scone with Clotted Cream and Jam. Heaven on a plate! And they are open – and they have seating… And the seating is well spaced.

I’m a very happy camper.

Now I must wait for my daughter to arrive. My plane arrived at around 7:00 AM, I was out of the secure portion of the airport by 8:00 AM – and my daughter can only pick me up at 1:00 PM. I’m going to be hanging at Cafe Nero for a while.

But except for a group of airport employees on break that weren’t wearing masks and decided to cluster at a table near me (I picked up and left that seat) – I was fine. I found a comfy chair, put the cart with my luggage in front of me blocking anyone from coming to close – and I played bridge!

Eventually my daughter arrived – wearing a mask of course. As were most of the folks I saw. We exited the airport, loaded my suitcases into her car – and started the long (over 1.5 hour) drive back to her place. London traffic on the eve of a Lock-down is insane. But the rules are that I must go directly from the airport into lock-down, and we’re following the rules.

Our plan now – my daughter and her husband are joining me for the required 14 days of Quarantine. They have been shopping madly, and stocked up. Plus we can get delivery – no worries. So we’re going to hang out here in her tiny condo and try not to get on each other’s nerves or in each other’s way.

Signing off to finally sleep…. The Soup Lady

Day 166 – How do you celebrate 50 years of marriage?


Just to set matters straight.. We were married on Friday, September 11th, 1970.

Yes – I know – September 11. Not our fault. That date became infamous way after we were married – not fair really – a group of terrorists stole my anniversary date and made people think of something other than us..

For many years – because we were married on a Friday – Victor thought our anniversary was on September 13 (Friday the 13th) – but no… it’s Friday September 11, 1970. For sure.

6 months later, we went back to Atlanta to visit my parents – and Victor tried to return me. My dad told him – nope – warranty is up.

And on Friday, September 11, 2020 – it was 50 years…

Which is almost impossible for me to truly believe.

I was 21 when we got married. Hopelessly young and innocent and foolish and so much in love. I’m still in love you know – I adore my husband – ponytail and all.

I’m kinda hoping I’m no longer foolish and innocent – but I keep thinking that I’m still young..

Doomed to disappointment I’m afraid to say.

So just how does one celebrate 50 years of doing anything.. It’s a really long time. Way more than 1/2 my life. And here’s what really scary – longer than 80% (according to the US Census) of folks alive today have been alive!

Martin, the charming manager of Boneparte’s here in Montreal – where we celebrated our anniversary with an absolutely lovely dinner party for just 6 – annouced that he was born – BORN – the year we were married.

Our celebration – as most of our celebrations these days – was broken down into parts.. We celebrated in March in St. Croix – right as the COVID lock-down was happening with just our kids.. First time in over 20 years that it’s been just the 5 of us. It was really great – but the conversation centered around the COVID cases and how the world was going to react. We now know the answer – not great. But at the time.. we were a bit optimistic. Wrong – but positive.

Then we celebrated by traveling to send a lovely long Labor Day weekend in Barrie with our friends and Lucy and Lacy – the horses. It was a blast… a long drive each way – but worth it.

Then we had a wonderful dinner party at Boneparte’s – filled with laughter and gift giving and my kids and their kids.. Only Grover didn’t come, but the feeling was that perhaps the party would go on past his bed time. So we shared videos of him. He stayed home and went to bed on time. Probably better all around.

We got caught up on the lives of our two charming grand-daughters – who look more and more beautiful every time I see them. Their lives – like the lives of all kids from 13 to 21 these days are complicated by the truth of COVID. The youngest one is caught in a ‘bubble’ at school that doesn’t include her closest friends, and the older one is trying to have a relationship with a guy, be a young adult, start her working career – and dealing with idiots who refuse to wear masks, to social distance, to admit they are COVID positive, and thus put her life in danger.

I just don’t understand why people are so sure that their right to do what they want trumps the right of other people to feel safe. Why would any one who knows they are COVID positive not alert their friends. What is there to gain by not saying something. It confuses me.

As usual – I have digressed…

Back on track – Saturday afternoon we had a Zoom conversation with all the family – my daughter and grand-daughter in London (hubby was sick with a cold in bed – not Covid), my son and daughter-in-law in California, and my kids here in Montreal.

The we finished off with an equally splendid dinner party – period correct this time – which means we were dressed in our 1812 finest… Silver service, candles lit, music softly playing, amusing conversation, and No IT! Unfortunately for our hosts – their maid and butler had taken the day off (they always do when we come over… ) so while the service was excellent – it was our friends doing the service!

The meal celebrated our trips together. First course was a salmon tartar (yummy) with ground cherries. They are one of my favorite ‘fruits’ – which my friends only discovered when we were together in Quebec City. The 2nd course was a lobster Bisque with shrimp – we’d gone out to Boneparte’s – in period clothing – and three of the four of us ordered the Lobster Bisque… The 3rd course was Rabbit with Olives – in honor of our time together in Malta. The cheese course was again in memory of the Quebec City trip – we had cheese every evening before dinner in the ‘lounge’ area of our room in the BnB in Quebec City. And the desert course was a magnificent Charlotte Russe with a fruit topping. This was in honor of our times together at the Regimental Dinner parties in Vaudreuil.

The dessert was amazing. The dinner outstanding. The wines were well chosen to compliment the different dishes, and the conversation was delightful. We dragged ourselves out close to midnight – feeling very well feted indeed.

So this is how we have celebrated 50 years of being together.. And today is just another day – we’re headed off to buy fruit at Costco and the Marche near by – and having dinner together…

Life marches on… It’s 50 years and 2 days – if it lasts…

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

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.

Osaka Castle and the Museum of History – Must See Sights in Osaka


Our research had showed us that there were lots of interesting things to do in Osaka – and our first task was to decided what to do on what days. As seniors – shopping wasn’t on the list, and we were pretty Shrine’d, Garden’d and Temple’s out after Kyoto. It’s a good think that Osaka is best known for it’s museums, eh? (After the bars and nightlife – but that’s for other travellers – we are museum buffs!)

The list of must see museums here was long and intriguing, but two major Art Museums were closed during our entire visit. Something about having to put in new exhibits. But that left lots of other choices – and we made a list, considered closing days to avoid, and limiting ourselves to just 2 a day. At our speed, more stops would never happen.

Bottom line – Sunday our plan was to hit the two biggest hits in Osaka – the not to be ignored Osaka Castle, and the outstanding Osaka Museum of History nearby. Then Monday, when most museums are closed, we decided to go for the Largest Aquarium in Japan, Tuesday would be the Science Museum and the Museum of Housing, and then on Wednesday we’d do the serious stuff – the Osaka Museum of Human Rights, and the Osaka International Peace Memorial.

Nice solid planning – always an excellent way to start.

After spending some time deciphering the subway map, and deciding if the 600 Yen all day pass was a good investment (it wasn’t) – we headed out for the Osaka Museum of History.

This museum is huge, excellent, informative, has an English Language Guide, and was completely enchanting. I’d rate it an absolute must see.

For kids there were stamp desks positioned around the museum, the idea being to keep the kids interested by keeping them searching for specific items and being rewarded with the appropriate stamp. And this so worked! We were entranced to see how keen even the youngest were to get their books properly stamped.

The first floor of the museum is actually the 10th floor of this huge modern building. It is devoted to a full sized recreation of the oldest Ceremonial Hall in Japan – dating from around 800 AD. The space is very dark, filled with mannequins dressed in traditional robes, and with a movie projected on the dark screens. Then the movie ends, and the windows are automatically opened to reveal the view of Osaka. And right below us is the actual location of the Ceremonial Hall – identified only in 1959 and saved by community action from development. So stunning.

The route spirals downward from floor to floor – past full sized street views of Osaka, animated by a Noh character that moves from screen to screen, explaining as he goes what you should be looking for. Many of the images are 3D cut-outs of scenes from Art of the time period portrayed, other images were intensely accurate scale miniatures with amazing detail. Cats and Kids chasing rats (apparently this was reported in visitor notes from the time), housewives putting out wash on roof terraces designed for the purpose, Imperial messengers on important business, shopkeepers selling their wares – the stunning detail is definitely a characteristic of Japanese model building, and it was bewitching.

The bottom floor of the museum is a full scale replica of Osaka shortly before WWII, and was offering a free ‘wear a Kimono’ event that day. So we dressed up – and gleefully took pictures of ourselves looking lovely.

Once out of the History Museum, we headed over to the Osaka Castle – and were immediately plunged into mob central. Where the Museum of History had a pleasant vibe, the Osaka Castle is a must see on everyone’s agenda – and it was crowded. We had to wait our turn to see each section of the exhibits, and this was a problem because it entailed a great deal of standing and waiting.

Old knees aren’t fond of standing and waiting.

But the exhibits themselves were utterly fascinating. They tell, in intense detail, the history of the original builder of Osaka Castle – and the 2nd great unifier of Japan – Toyotomi Hideyoshi of the Osaka Castle, and of his fights with the man most consider the primary Shogun of Japan – Tokugawa Ieyasu. One entire floor is devoted to a detailed analysis of the famous Screen Painting – The Summer Battle of Osaka Castle. If you are interested in the Edo Era, or find information about the Shogunate period from 1600 to 1868, this is the place.

We are not incredibly interested in this period, but the intensity of the displays made it impossible to ignore them. I’d rate Osaka Castle a Must See.

We dragged ourselves out of the castle, overwhelmed and completely exhausted – and a long subway ride from home. To make matters worse – while the streets were deserted, the subway was packed! Rush hour in Osaka – oh that’s perfect timing.

But we managed to not get lost, and still stay friends. Dinner, a quick chat with our fellow travellers, and bed. Tomorrow is bound to be another long long day.

Signing off to dream of Samurai Soldiers – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Mob Scene or Personal Journey? Choose your own path in Kyoto!


Quick – have there ever been any religious arguments in Japan between Shinto and Buddhist’s? Answer… No!

Our awesome guide at the Edo-Tokyo Museum explained that the religions get along so well because they have different mandates. Shinto – the original religion of Japan is about living – births, wedding, celebrations of life – these are all Shinto related experiences. And when you visit a Shinto shrine to pray – you are praying for the continued health and happiness of those you love. Or perhaps you are praying for their speedy recovery. But it’s about living!

Buddhism on the other hand, at least according to our guide’s quick explanation, is about what happens after death, and more importantly perhaps, how you prepare for that. So Buddhist priest have no issues with their congregants going to a Shinto Shrine – and the opposite is also true. In fact, most Buddhist Temples include a Shinto Shrine on the grounds – even the massive training facility at Koyasan had a Shinto Shrine. It was designed as part of the original design in 803 or so and dedicated to the Shinto Gods that protect that area of the world. How cool is that?

All this said and observed, the two religions do have different traditions that dictate how you worship at the shrines or Temples, and one could even comment that they march to the beat of a different drummer.

Shinto Shrines all have Tori Gates — in the case of Fushimari – over 2000 of them. Upon entering or leaving a Shrine, one washes ones hands and mouth, and bows at the gate – upon entering to focus your mind, on leaving to say thank you for letting me visit, and for listening to my prayer.

Shinto traditions place a lot of importance on fortune telling – and there are plenty of options available. Shaking a container with sticks and then picking the fortune that the stick directs you to by number or symbol is very popular. And if you don’t like that fortune – no problem. Just tie that fortune to a nearby tree or post, and then pay again to pick again. Our guide told us that the fortunes are about 70% good, 30% not so good – and it’s considered excellent fortune to get a bad one first – the gods are going to be very happy when you pay a 2nd time for a better fortune.

More costly fortune telling involves a more personal touch – but the idea is the same. Good fortunes go home with you, Bad fortunes stay at the Shrine.

There are also prayer plaques. These are thin wooden objects that you put your personal design on or prayer or both and then hang on boards near the shrines. I loved the ones at the Fushimari Shrine – they were shaped like fox faces, and folks who knew how had decorated them Manga Style.

The Buddhist do it very differently. They chant sutras, meditate, and sound gongs during specific parts of the service. In Shinto, you do your own gong/bell ringing – it’s a more personal approach.

Buddhist monks, like monks the world over, dedicate themselves to their religion, never marrying, and denying their past existence in the hope of reaching nirvana. Shinto priests (men or women) can marry and have children – and choose to live at the Shrine, or just be a day visitor. It’s a much more flexible religion.

But all of this aside – I want to describe my favorite Shrines and Temples!

We happen to adore Zen gardens, particularly the dry stone gardens. So many of our favourite Buddhist places – like Ginkaku-ji Temple (the Silver Pavilion) or Eikando Zenrin-Ji had magnificent stone gardens. Ginkaku-ji actually had both a pond to walk around while meditating, and a double stone garden. The stone gardens were quite small, but very dramatic – and of course hand done.

But Eikando Zenrin-Ji was the favorite of all the Temples we’ve seen. For starters – there were few other tourists – so the experience was a very private one. And the buildings were varied in shape, and we were able to walk inside them to admire the magnificent sliding panels. But the real prize were the varied gardens for meditating. One had a wonderful pond with a waterfall, and places for folks who couldn’t quite do the on the floor kneel to sit and enjoy the place. They even had free hot tea – so you can imagine that the Intrepid Traveler and I took full advantage of the opportunity to just enjoy the space. On the other side of the main mediation hall was a stone garden that along with the curved stone outline, had a water feature. So the sound of moving water was everywhere to be enjoyed.

On the other hand, we have little positive to say about the Nanzenji Temple. It was crowded and unpleasant.

The same thing could be said about the Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-Ji. It is not much of a religious experience when you are sharing it with a thousand other folks all snapping pictures and shoving you out of their way. I saw it, but we can’t recommend the experience.

We also tried to visit some of the other Shrines in Kyoto – but in almost every case the sheer popularity of the sites ruined the experience for us. Of those we popped into – the Heian Shrine, the Yaskaka Shrine (formally the Gion Shrine) and even the generally outstanding Fushimari Shrine were just plain mobbed – and not in a nice way. I found the abundance of faux geisha interesting from a photographic point of view, but the giggling, the posing for pictures, the lack of any kind of religious intent just felt wrong. Even the Meiji Shrine that we visited in Tokyo suffered from an overwhelming popularity. Much nicer were several smaller Shrines that we spotted as we walked, and just went inside to pay our respects. Quiet, serene, and peaceful – our kind of religious experience.

Bottom line – do include the Eikando-Ji on your list of must visits when in Kyoto – and spend time looking for smaller, less visited temples and shrines in Japan. You will be glad you did.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

BHAG* Achieved!


Back when I started this blog – back when my husband suggested calling myself Montreal Madame… I set myself a BHAG.

In MBA terms – a BHAG is a *Big Hairy Assed Goal – and it represents something that you really would like to achieve – but think is well outside the realm of possibility.

So I decided getting 500 followers would be my BHAG – And I wanted to get it done by January 2020.

Well guess what – I made it MONTHS early! i actually have officially 504 followers – so the follower that put me over could be one of 4 champions – and I love them all!

So Thank you follower #1 – and #100 and #201 and #350 and #500 to #504… Thank you all in fact!

Couldn’t have done it without you.

For my next BHAG – I’m thinking 1000 Followers by January 2022. That’s a lot in a very short time considering how long it’s taken to make 500 – but I’ve got my fingers crossed and my ‘Muttering’ Boots on!

Signing off – Content for the moment – and celebrating in Japan with a glass of very lousy but I don’t care red wine… The Soup Lady

Nijo Castle – Negative Reviews aside – it’s totally worth a visit


Sometimes I wonder if folks who write those negative reviews have even been to the same places I’ve been. It’s a puzzlement, for sure.

For example – Nijo Castle, one of the most important historical buildings in Japan, got beaten up pretty badly by 2 different reviewers on Trip Advisor. And I can’t even begin to understand why.

The first reviewer belly ached about having to take off their shoes, and how horrid it was to walk barefoot where other folks have been putting their smelly feet. Hello dear reviewer – did you not read up at all about Japan before you came for a visit? Taking off your shoes is the absolutely in thing here. Everyone takes off their shoes to enter most important places – whether they are shrines, temples, historical momuments, or even folks homes. So get over it! And if you really don’t want to put your bare feet on their floors – carry socks! Seriously. How can you tell folks a place as important as Nijo Castle isn’t worth visiting because you didn’t carry socks with you.

The other complaint was about the use of restorations instead of the original painted sliding doors. Again – what was this reviewer thinking. This place is 400 years old – and it’s completely open to the environment. Why would they ever leave 400 year old painted wood sliding doors up in such a location. Be glad that they replaced them with the most gloriously painted panels – using exactly the same techniques and following the same exact patterns. You can really feel how incredible it must have been to be admitted to such a glorious room while you waited on knees and knuckles for the Shogun to hear your petition. And if you want to see the originals – they are housed in a specially designed building – temperature and humidity controlled – right on the grounds of Nijo Castle.

But my annoyance with lousy reviewers aside – Nijo Castle is well worth paying whatever it costs to visit. It’s amazing. And surprisingly open to visitors. Since it’s no longer in use by the Imperial family, except for very special occasions, tourists are allowed inside the castle itself, not just inside the gardens.

And it’s the inside of the castle that is special. From the famous Nightingale floor that sounds like a thousand birds singing as folks walk around to the marvellously painted shoji screens that divide the space into rooms, this is an amazingly beautiful space.

We particularly loved the thick (over 1 foot thick in fact) carved wooden transoms that created an early form of AC for the rooms. One side was carved with Birds, the other with flowers, and between the carvings, holes allowed air to flow from room to room.

The painted shoji screens are stunning, made even more impressive by the fact that the paintings extended above the doors, almost to the ceilings of each room. The effect was both dramatic, and intimidating. And apparently the intimidation factor was an important component. The Shogun didn’t want anyone getting uppity on him, and there were subtle, and not so subtle ways to keep the powerful lords in their place.

Like the Emperor, the Shogun always sat on a higher floor. And the ceiling above him was also raised to make sure everyone knew who was the most important person in the room. Even the paintings were done to focus eyes on him, and him alone. I loved the sheer audacity of the men who commissioned such work. No wondering about who they thought was boss.

Nijo Castle is not only beautiful, it’s of historic importance. It is here that the first Shogun of the Tokugawa family accepted his commission from the Emperor, and it is here that the 15th and last of that line announced that after 266 years of rule, he was returning authority to the Emperor. It gives me the shivers to think I walked on those same floors.

Just a heads-up on the time required to tour Nijo. It took us at least 3 hours to see the entire castle and all of the gardens. It is a vast area, and you really don’t want to rush through it. We wisely paid a bit extra for the audio tour in English, which combined with the well placed English language explanations provided an excellent and informative view of the entire place. And it’s well worth it to take your time. It’s hard to appreciate how magnificent and detailed the paintings are if you just glance into the rooms.

Folks with a different attitude towards touring rushed past us, hardly spending a moment to glance quickly into the rooms. Given the details on the paintings, birds singing, tigers glaring up and down or nursing their young, we can not fathom how they saw anything – let alone appreciated the incredibly detailed work. Well each to their own I guess.

We finished our day at The Museum of Kyoto, which was having a special exhibit on Ukiyo-e paintings of ‘Beauty’. While the collection in the regular part of the museum is nothing exceptional, the special exhibit was outstanding. We were very intrigued by the 111 painted scrolls – all dating from 1700 – 1850. It’s hard to believe that paper that old can still be in such excellent condition, the colours so vibrant, the details so intricately executed. Of particular interest was the wig collection. Over 70 wigs were used to show the different hairstyles – and labeled in both Japanese and English so that we could see what kind of women were being portrayed. Just an FYI – most of the women were Courtesans, Geisha, or similar. After all, the wife of a nobleman, or even a woman of the middle class would hardly pose for an artist.

This was a very interesting, if very long day. We finally dragged our tired feet home for a well earned dinner and relaxing evening.

Tomorrow is the Aoi Festival – a once a year event that I’m greatly looking forward to seeing.

Signing off to nurse our tired feet back into health, The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

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).