Sunday, April 28, 2013

For you, Rox

Okay, so I admit it, I actually enjoyed posting all the trip posts. And I can't believe I didn't blog the road trip I took in February. Well, I can actually as it kinda ended on a sour note, and now so much time has passed, it doesn't seem worth it. Sean blogged a bit of my visit with him and Jeffrey and the pups. That night was big fun.

This weekend has been so nice weather-wise. Serge and I walked 9 kilometers yesterday. Serge likes to go onto Google maps and see how far we walk. As you may know, I love me an hours long walk. It's so great in a city like Montreal where at this first sign of beautiful weather, simply everyone is outside, on the balcony, in the yard or out and about. You would too if you were shut in for the last seven months.

It was so nice, we spent half the afternoon sipping wheat beer on our patio with our shirts off. Yes we got sunburned, but it is a small price to pay for WARMTH from the glorious sun, our friend.

Yesterday wasn't quite as warm as today is but still the sunshine beckoned. We walked over to the Montreal Pool Room to get our fix of the best dogs in town. Incidentally, they also have the best poutine in town but after the weight gain from the cruise, I gotta hunker down on that. We each had one hot dog and split an order of fries. Perfect!

There are two of these restaurants and we are so lucky to have one just a couple blocks away.

Spring is late this year. Nothing has popped yet. No green. The magnolias will pop this week though and the tulips next. Then we will have a couple weeks of that intense florescent green that makes me go wild. Probably gonna get that annual spring horniness too. Hey Serge, come over here for a sec will ya? ; )

The terraces were open too! Serge proclaimed at the start of our walk that they would not be. Ha! We got a prime people watching spot on St. Denis street and enjoyed insanely overpriced pints. We were out the door for $25. Money well spent.

I wish every day could be like this. Well maybe it can one day. We are in the middle of selling one of our buildings for a decent gain and are planning to purchase rental property in the states. The returns in some places are at 15%. I keep fantasizing about liquidating our assets and buying those kinds of deals. Then we could run away to Mexico and lie on a beach and while away the days in paradise.

On our way back home, we passed through the famous Park Lafontaine and were surprised to see that the lakes had been drained. It was weird looking. I wonder if they do this every year and we have never gone to the park at this time of year before.

I had been hankering for Japanese food, so we went to our fave Montreal Japanese joint, Kazu, where we arrived twenty minutes before they opened to a huge line. We were one of the last tables in for the first seating. They don't take reservations so the people behind us waited over an hour to get in. It is so worth it though. We had okonomiyaki, gyoza, carpaccio, tuna and salmon tartare bowl and pork neck paté.

The Japanese know how to do sauce man. So interesting and bursting with flavor. Makes ketchup and mayonnaise seem boring.

That is one happy camper. We had sake too. Yum. I bought a T-shirt on the way out. Their t-shirt had a Japanese flag on it. I looked for a t-shirt with the Japanese flag on it the whole time I was in Japan and never found one. Problem solved now.

After dinner, we walked from Guy-Concordia metro to Papineau metro. Serge says 3 kilometers. The setting sun made some nice picture taking ops.

This is our place des arts, and also place des festivals. All the big public events take place here over the summer. After this we stopped at Sky in the village for a drink and then took the metro home. A nice relaxing weekend. Looking forward to the next. They are calling for these wonderful temperatures (around 70F) all week so that should really jump start the foliage. Until then my friends. Mwah!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Asia trip part 8 - Tokyo

The next morning we were happy to see that the rain had stopped. We hustled over to the train station and waited for the bullet train to arrive. We were really excited because we have never been on a fast train before. 

 In two hours and twenty minutes we arrived in Toyko and the largest train station in the world. I believe it. It took us a good twenty minutes to get to the subway station we needed to get close to our hotel. We ran into the same cruise couple and learned they were going to the same hotel. So we all figured it out together. It was a little tricky since the street names sometimes have no English. 

Then we hit the streets to explore our neighborhood - Shinjuku. 

We explored the supposedly gay area but there wasn't much going on for a late Wednesday afternoon. Found a cute wine bar and noshed on some cheese and sipped some bubbly. We explored around town some more and then went on a hunt for dinner. We found this great hole in the wall place where chefs were grilling various meats behind a counter. And people were smoking! So Serge got to indulge himself.


All over downtown Tokyo and Kyoto for that matter, there were no smoking signs. The rule was you could smoke on private property, but not public. So no smoking on the sidewalk for example. But duck into an alcove and you are fine. 

 The reason we settled on this place besides it looking good is because there was a small sign announcing English menu available. It was English, but we certainly didn't order the wing with hard packed dirt floor. What the heck?

We kept getting so lucky with the prices too. I thought Tokyo was super expensive. Apparently it was a couple years ago, but the currency has shifted so I didn't find it any more expensive than our own city back home. 

Then we walked around our neighborhood some more. There was an area, a couple blocks where people kept coming up to us and asking if we wanted sex. Some were very insistent. We noted the area and stayed clear of it after that. 

This photo caused some speculation on Facebook. I have zoomed all the way in there and it's black. No I wasn't wearing undies but you can't see anything either. As you might notice, we turned in early that night. We were tired from all the traveling. We had some kind of Japanese sweet thing for dessert.

The next day we headed out on the subway. We noticed all the business men had the same clothes. Basically a black suit and shoes with a white shirt. Later when I asked the natives about it, I learned that it is an insult if you show up to do business with someone unless you are wearing a black suit. Makes shopping pretty easy I suppose.

They had smoking cages outside. You can also see the costume I was talking about.

Next stop Tokyo Tv tower. We stood in line, shopped in the souvenir shop and went to the top. 

Where we had an amazing 360-degree view of what seemed to be an interminable city. Urbanity as far as the eye could see. We were all excited about getting to see Mt Fuji in the background.

We walked for hours. Stopped at a cute cafe and had a coffee and tried to make our way to the palace. Turns out you can only visit the palace twice a year. 

There you can see just a little bit of the palace in the background. As you can see it was a fantastically beautiful day. It was odd though, even though Tokyo is North of Kyoto and Nagasaki, their cherry blossoms were already bloomed and fallen to the ground. Maybe because of the heat island effect of a big city, nay, the biggest city in the world. 

We walked some more and decided to go check out a whole other part of town. Which I can't remember the name of nor can I identify from a list, lol. Good thing I'm blogging this or the memory would fade to nothing. 

this part of town had lots of modern structures. This was a convention center type place. Cool architecture. We went in and had gyoza for lunch with a beer. Yum. Since coming home, we have gone to Chinatown and loaded up on gyoza. I know how to make them but it takes a long time. So much easier to cook from frozen.

I just like this picture. One thing that was very inconvenient in Japan for me was the taboo on blowing your nose in public. The day I got off the boat, I came down with a terrible cold. After getting numerous rude looks as I blew my nose, I checked the guidebook to find that it was unconscionable to do that. The rules dictate, nothing coming out, only in. So you are just supposed to sniff that nasal batter up and swallow. Ugh.

We found a kind of amusement area but didn't hang out to do anything. I did look for pinball but they didn't have that.

Toyota had a showroom there with future models. The one seater looked pretty neat. No doors though, so obviously not for rainy weather.

Then there was an upscale mall place with a very Vegas like interior. Reminded me of the Venetian as the "sky" changed color and morphed.

I made him pose for that. Will I ever grow up? That was another mall that we didn't go into. What we did do but didn't get any good pics of was go to the science museum. There were TOO MANY KIDS, as there usually are at such venues. The most interesting thing for me was the space station replica and the toilet contraption. A guide was explaining it in Japanese so I couldn't understand, but there were suction cups and clamps which would be necessary in zero gravity. What a long day! We started the journey back to our hotel so we could get ready to go out to dinner with my former students.

They took us to a great Japanese restaurant and then for a nightcap at a hotel rooftop. Their English was awesome (I'm such a good teacher, ha!) My favorite moment was when I asked the kids (now 18 and 20) what they missed most about Montreal, and without a moment's hesitation, they both said POUTINE! 

The next day was our last day in Asia. Although that brought a certain sadness, we were also feeling ready for home again. I decided I wanted to check out the Rappongi area of Tokyo where the expats are. Yes, there were more white skinned people but also more Western chains like the Hard Rock Cafe. No, thanks.

We came into this place because I thought the yellow picture was okonomiyaki, but as it turned out, it was tonkatsu - a breaded fried port filet - which was the final thing on my list that I wanted to eat in Japan. Ah good fortune, how sweet it is. This was the hardest time we had ordering because the waiter didn't speak any English. 

We were in the area of the famous spider sculpture so we made the detour to see it. 

Then we headed to an area my students had suggested we check out, again blanking on the name, where there was a huge street market and temples. It was crowded! But we found what we were looking for, yukatas (thin fabric robes) to take home. 

We enjoyed a coffee and the view and felt satisfied at our successful visit to Tokyo. The Tokyo tree is in the background, the tallest structure in Japan. We didn't go up it. Maybe on a future visit. By this time we were just enchanted with all things Japanese and though we want to do South America first, we definitely will come back to Japan in the future.

We chilled for a few at the hotel and then dressed up for our final night out. We got reservations at Nobu, easily our favorite place to dine out. 

The first course was a trio. The first thing was fugu. You know the fish that if it is cut and served wrong, you die? Yeah, we ate it. We didn't die. Crossed it off the bucket list. Don't get why all the hubbub though, it was kinda chewy. But the meal was fantastic as usual and included 8 courses. It turned out to be the most expensive dinner we have ever paid for ourselves. $550. But, you only live once right? No regrets.

Then we got home and tried our new yukatas. They will be delightful to wear in the summer here. The next day went swimmingly well, no trouble getting to the airport and we slept on the plane. However, the jet lag was really bad when we got back and took us nearly a week to adjust. It was easier going than coming back. I hope you enjoyed tripping along with us. I'll try to blog a little more frequently. It's still a fun hobby and unlike facebook, I don't feel like I'm shoving my thoughts in your face. XO tout le monde.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Asia trip part 7 - Kyoto

Disembark day had finally arrived as we woke up in the port city of Kobe, Japan. We decided it was the perfect length for a cruise - two weeks. One is not enough but we were ready to go onto something else by that point. Disembarkation was super smooth, we walked off, cleared customs and went upstairs to the metro stop and caught a train to another station where we took an express train to Kyoto. The train was fast and efficient.

The train station in Kyoto was enormous. And just humming with activity. Serge had scoped out the walk from there to our hotel on Google Earth, so he led the way there, maybe a three minute walk. Perfect! We couldn't get into our room though because it was only 10:30 in the morning. We sat in the "Seattle's Best Coffee" attached to the lobby and caught up on our Facebook and emails before heading out to explore. We were told to come back at 3 to get into the room.

First thing we did was walk over to the Kyoto tower to get up high and have a look. It was more spread out than we had imagined but there was a subway system for the 1.5 million inhabitants. We spotted some shrines or temples and a park and decided on a walking route.

But we were hungry first. We scoped out the food floor of a department store and finally settled on this place where we pointed at pictures of things in the menu to eat. Everything was delicious even though we weren't sure exactly what it was. There was shrimp and there was pork, rice and different saucy things. Then miso soup at the end. Yum. Our first Japanese meal was a success.

First we went to a park we had spotted from the tower. There was a fee at the entrance to the park, something like five dollars. As you can see it was cherry blossom season and as we learned later, the Japanese flock to Kyoto for the occasion. The park was just beautiful and well worth the fee.

I had already bumped my head like ten times in Japan at this point. I felt like a giant, especially here on the footbridge. I was WAY too tall for that. Serge fit though.

Kyoto was just littered with shrines. We visited several, taking off our shoes in order to enter. Although they were different than those in China, they all had a similar style. We didn't end up going to the Imperial Palace. I hadn't done my homework and you have to apply for admission in advance. Takes at least two weeks. I just figured we'd go visit, oh well, something to do on a future Japan trip.

This was in the big train station. Cracked me up. In Japanese they have a sound which is kind of between an L and an R. And although my Japanese students have learned to make the difference in the sounds, they have a very difficult time hearing the difference.

We strolled along the river and then we went back to the hotel and checked into our tiny tiny room. Seriously, the smallest room we have ever had, even smaller than the Hudson hotel in Manhattan. Remember that?

I don't know, you  be the judge. I think it is smaller. Definitely smaller than the cruise ship cabin, that's for sure.

Then we met up with a group of people to do a walking tour in the part of the city where it's possible to see Geisha girls. It was fun too because there were half a dozen people from the cruise ship who had the same idea. One couple from the Toronto area ended up having the exact same itinerary as us. It was funny when we got to Tokyo and we learned they were even staying at the same hotel as us. What a coincidence. Anyway, we learned all about the geisha girls and even glimpsed a few. Never got a good photo though.

Then we were starved and started looking for a place to eat. We found a really great place that also happened to be in our tourbook. It was a special kind of okinamiyaki, specialty in Kyoto. There were blow up dolls at each table although you don't see that here. Geisha town don't you know.

It was fantabulous! This was the only thing the restaurant served. It would be impossible for me to describe it. If you ever get a chance to try regular okinomiyaki, you should. Yum. You can see more pics of this place here

Then we went looking for a gay club we had read about in the guidebook. When we finally found it, fifth floor, no name on the door. We were told that it was Japanese only, sorry sorry sorry. Apparently, this is fairly common in Japan. Can you imagine having a business do that here? No Japanese allowed? We didn't know what to think. The guy was SUPER sorry and bowing even as he directed us out.

So we walked all the back to our hotel room and donned our Yukatas as I learned they are called. Basically a thin fabric robe. We liked them so much we asked when we checked out if we could buy them. The answer was NO. We kinda wished we had put them in our luggage.

The next day we headed over to the Kaleidoscope Museum. They wouldn't let you take any pictures inside which I didn't understand. But it was fun looking at and in a couple hundred. Some of them were really neat. We ended up buying one as our souvenir from Kyoto.

Then we went to a very crowded farmer's market type of place with all kinds of things for sale. We ended up coming back three times for the sashimi on a stick. I thought it was a great idea. I wonder if that would fly here or where you live. For $2 it seemed a bargain.

That is one happy hubby.

There were many things that were impossible for us to identify. Later, my Japanese friend clued us in. "This is "Narazuke"pickled melon with sake lees. Wash it cut in small slice and eat with rice. Sweet and salty.
Delicious!" Not sure I understand even with the explanation, lol.

I was really excited when I spotted the takoyaki booth. Yum! It's basically an octopus dumpling with a yummy sauce. I was a little disappointed at the TINY piece of octopus in the middle. My goal was to eat okinomiyaki, takoyaki and tonkatsu. I had already gotten two off my list. 

As you may have heard, there are vending machines everywhere in Japan. Inside, outside, everywhere. What we found cool was that there were both hot and cold beverages available and beer too! The is Serge trying a milky tea beverage. He liked it. 

After that we decided to take a train ride up through a gorge. This was a very popular attraction with the Japanese because it was beautiful with all the cherry blossoms in bloom. Unfortunately for us, we got the train car with no windows and it began to rain. It was one chilly ride.

This guy was some sort of entertainment on the train. He scared the crap out of me when he came up behind me. But he was very nice and spoke English to me. He asked if I was a movie star or actor. I said no. He said, You so handsome. It was cute and then he asked if anyone wanted to take a picture with us and the little girl did. 

It was cloudy and rainy and we were on a moving train, but I think you can get an idea of how lovely it was.

Well blogger has stopped letting me upload photos for some reason. Maybe I have some kind of limit? Let's see if I can use a Facebook link. Can't embed the photos, guess you will just have to click the link and the pic will open in a new window.

This picture is of Serge with our transparent umbrellas. We had to buy them and I loved them but they were too big to fit in our suitcases so we didn't bring them home. 

Then we went out to eat. It was another great meal. We were really loving eating. 

Finally we went back up the tower to the bar and had some cognac to finish off the night.

One more post to go for Tokyo.