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Around The World, Part Ten

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Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Nine is here.

October 12 (Friday, Day 11, Bangkok to Delhi) –

We walked around the area near the hotel in Bangkok one last time in order to find a shop to print our photos for our postcards.  We succeeded and then went back to the hotel to lounge around and pack before we left at 3:00 for the airport.  We got to use the Thai International lounge due to Snookums’ gold membership level in US Airways.  It was nice, but not as nice as ANA’s at Narita. 
Thai International


But, we were able to eat lunch/dinner and relax before the flight to Delhi.  The plane didn’t have seatback videos and the movie that was being shown was “License to Wed” which Snookums watched on the flight to Tokyo so she ended up just reading for the short 4 hour flight.  Dinner was served and it was a chicken curry.  At the end of the flight every passenger was given a 3 orchid corsage since that must be Thai International’s trademark.

As soon as we stepped off the plane and onto the jetway, Snookums could tell we were in a poor country.  The jetway was old and the wheelchairs that were at the entrance were pretty basic and rusty.  We breezed through immigration since the “foreign passport” line was short, got our luggage and walked through customs.  We went to the prepaid taxi booth and paid for our ride to the Hyatt. 

An old, little minivan pulled up and we got in.  The driver had a seatbelt but we did not.  We started the ride of our lives.  The street had three lanes in it but it literally had 6 sets of cars and trucks using it.  Our driver, like all of the others, knew precisely the size of his minivan and squeezed us through all sorts of openings.  Filbert’s side of the minivan almost got crunched one time and then Snookums’ almost did, too.  Although it was dark (it was around 9:30 PM), we saw two elephants on the side of the road lumbering somewhere.  Our 30 minute ride was really a lot of fun.

We got to the hotel room and although it is a Hyatt and they did upgrade us to the Regency Club level, it’s not that nice.  However, had we booked our room using the cheapest rate, it still would have cost $383/night.  I’m sure it is opulent for Delhi, though.  The room only had one robe and only one set of slippers and didn’t have a clock in it and after many calls, we finally got everything that we needed.  We were told that the water at the Hyatt is safe to drink but then the man said “To be on the safe side, though, only use bottled water”.    

October 13 (Saturday, Day 12, Delhi) –

Delhi morning


Very light traffic in Delhi


We met Sushil, our driver for the day, and told him the things we wanted to see.  He drove us by the embassies and the home of the Prime Minister but due to high gates with barbed wire on the top, we couldn’t see anything.  We were impressed, though, with the buildings for the Defense Minister and other government offices.  They were huge and had large lawns all around them and they had military and police at the door but no fences or anything.  We walked around India Gate which is a war memorial arch built in honor of 90,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives in World War I. 

India Gate


We arrived at Raj Ghat, the site of Mahatma Gandhi’s cremation.  It is set amidst large, well kept, undulating gardens and there were a lot of Indian people there.  We chose to walk on the overlook of it rather than going to the actual cremation place since we didn’t want to take off our shoes. 

Overlooking Raj Ghat


On the way out we saw a large hose that was pumping foaming water on to the grass.  It’s hard to know what was in the water, but based on the pollution that you can see in the air, it can’t be good.

Foamy water


Crow


We drove to Old Delhi and drove through the markets on our way to the Jama Masjid.  We saw lots of live chickens and Sushil told us that you buy the live chicken and then the market guy kills it and plucks it. 

Chickens


We also saw pieces of beef (?) that had hide/skin still on it.  These pieces included legs and hoofs and heads.  We’re not sure what they were used for.  The market was extremely poor and was just a hodgepodge of stuff and the traffic (cars, scooters, and people) was just going every which way.  We decided we didn’t need to actually get out and we didn’t see any foreigners in the market area. Today is the day before Id-ul-Fitr which is the Muslim festival ending the fasting of Ramadan.  As a result, the markets were very busy since the Muslims are buying clothing and food for the festivities.

What the ???


Festival


The trip continues in Part Eleven, here.
Part Nine is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

Around The World, Part Nine

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Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Eight is here.

October 11 (Thursday, Day 10, Bangkok, continued) –

Gallery of tigers:


We were done with the tigers and while walking back to the car we saw pigs, water buffalo, peacocks, cows, a horse and two deer.  The deer were not shy at all and Tong had us pull leaves off the tree to feed them since they couldn’t get to the high leaves like we could.  All of the animals were roaming freely about.

Bovines.  We’re told the tigers don’t get to eat them.


Deer.  Tigers reportedly don’t eat them, either.


Boars.  Not tiger food, either.  We think.


It took us 2.5 hours to get back to Bangkok and Tong was driving about 75 mph until the last 30 minutes when we go in Bangkok traffic.  We only almost died once and it was due to the pouring rain and she didn’t see the brake lights until the last minute.  Hydroplaning is not as fun as it’s made out to be, kids!

Sundown Bangkok


We got back to the room at 4:30, showered off the animal filth and washed our muddy clothes.  Then it was time for the Regency Club at 5:30.  I guess we’ve been in Bangkok long enough since the spread was identical to the first night.  We decided (again) against going to the night market and were asleep by 10.

The trip continues in Part Ten, here.
Part Eight is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

Around The World, Part Eight

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Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Seven is here.

October 11 (Thursday, Day 10, Bangkok, continued) –

A monk started Tiger Temple in 1994.  Somehow a hurt tiger was given to the monk.  (There are about 225 wild tigers left in Thailand’s forests.)  The monk decided to take care of it and now has a wildlife sanctuary that contains 22 tigers, deer, pigs, water buffalo, a lion cub, a sun bear, etc., etc., etc.  Tong and a worker took us to a cage that had Bam Bam in it.  Bam Bam is the sun bear and we got to go in the cage and feed her mangoes and soy milk.  It was pretty amazing to be standing next to a bear holding a bottle in its mouth while it was on its hind legs and using its front paws (with sharp claws) to try to also hold the bottle.  We had to hurry and leave Bam Bam in order to see the tigers.

Snookums and Bam Bam

Around 12:30 every day some of the tigers are released from their cages.  It was pouring rain and she wasn’t sure they would release the tigers but they did.  There was an open muddy yard and the fully grown tiger was chained to a tree trunk and four or five others were running loose so that we could go up to them and take pictures and touch them.  Two of them were cubs and didn’t have chains on at all while the middle sized ones had leash chains and sometimes the workers would have to grab a chain to keep them from getting to “friendly” with a tourist.  One lady did get clawed on her thigh and the marks turned into welts.  It was no big deal, but was kind of neat to see and we were kidding her about getting a free souvenir.  She said they stung a lot, but she didn’t seem to be any worse for wear.  Filbert had one of the medium sized ones take a swipe at his backside and ended up with muddy tiger prints on his vest and butt.  After awhile the monks took the tigers from the open yard down to the canyon.  We could also interact with them in the canyon and the workers took our pictures with each one.

Tiger in the rain

 

Snookums, Filbert, tiger (1)

 

Snookums, Filbert, tiger (2)

 

Snookums and tiger


Filbert and tiger


Snookums and the *censored*cats

 

Nice kitty

Notice the scratch marks on the tree trunk!

The trip continues in Part Nine, here.
Part Seven is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

Around The World, Part Seven

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Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Six is here.

October 9 (Tuesday, Day 8, Bangkok, continued) –

Tong took us to a local restaurant that she used to eat at a lot when she was getting her guide degree.  We were the only foreigners in it.  We let her order for us.  She ordered a seafood and noodle soup (like ramen) for Filbert and duck on rice for me and her.  Then she ordered pork satay with peanut sauce for us and a bowl of the soup broth for herself.  She also had an iced coffee.  The total bill for the three of us for all of this was $5.10. 

I saw that there was a toilet at this restaurant and needed to use it.  It was a squat kind and I’m familiar with them but I couldn’t figure out how to flush it.  I told Tong and she said “pour water in it”.  Now it all made sense.  The squat toilet was on the floor (naturally!) and next to it was a built-in “sink” full of water (also on the floor) with a shabby plastic bowl in it.  You simply take the bowl and fill it with water from the full sink and dump it in the toilet.  Voila, it flushes!  I couldn’t figure out why there was this built-in basin of water on the floor with a bowl in it but then I understood.

Then we went to Vimanmek Palace which used to be the summer home for royalty.  By then we were tired (and Filbert was very sweaty) and although we hadn’t used 10 hours of her time, we had seen enough so we went back to the Hyatt.  And neither of us really wanted to take off our shoes even one more time for another temple or mansion!
Reclining Buddha


October 10 (Wednesday, Day 9, Bangkok) –


We were up around 6 and had a leisurely breakfast in the Regency Club.  The wireless internet is free if you are in the Regency Club but if you use the wired port in the room it’s about $30/day.  (Don’t ask me why???)  And, you can’t really get a good wireless signal in the room.  So, we were in the Regency Club for about 2.5 hours.  But, since nothing really opens until 10, we weren’t in any hurry.

While we were back in the room, our transformer exploded.  Filbert thinks we had too many electrical devices plugged in it.  We now had a purpose for the day – to replace the transformer we bought in Venice.  We went to three different malls and several storefront locations and finally found one. 

We ate lunch at Thailand’s biggest Thai food chain (per the English menu that had a picture of each of the 135 items).  Filbert had the fried scallops and papaya salad (two items that were paired on the menu for $2.10) and he ordered his papaya salad “spicy.”   It was.  Very.  I had the pork and minced rice salad ($1.65) and said “no” to spicy and it still burned my lips (but in a good way).  Mine came with a wedge of raw cabbage, too, which helped tame the fire.  I also ordered a tamarind slush ($0.80) and Filbert ordered a watermelon slush ($0.80).  We were quite content with our lunches and would happily eat there again.

Thai fast food


I had really wanted to eat at one of the million street vendor stalls, but it was pouring rain and around 90 degrees and most of the street vendors don’t have tables and chairs so we thought a food court type of place would be a better idea.  Vendors sell whole fish, little sausage balls, chicken wings, various noodle dishes and all sorts of things that we don’t even know what they are.  Most Thai do NOT cook at home since it is cheaper to eat out.  So, they eat from a street vendor or at a food court or something like that.

Rainy Bangkok

 
We’ve noticed that at any given time, about 10% of the population wears a light yellow polo shirt with the King’s crest on it and so then I decided I had to have one.  The Thai people LOVE their King and this is NOT an official uniform, but these shirts are sold everywhere and everyone seems to wear them.  I found one on sale for $4.50 in one of the malls.  (It’s probably $3 at a street market!)  We’re trying to get one for Filbert, too, but so far none are big enough.  It’s yellow since the King was born on the day of the week that is represented by yellow.  My day is orange (Go LadyVols!) and Filbert’s is red.

Well, we got to the Regency Club at 5:30 and the guy just came around to ask if we wanted anything else since the food is being taken away.  That means it is 7:30.  Time to go to the night market!  We didn’t look out our windows as we were getting ready for the night market.  We went down to the lobby only to be surprised by the pouring rain.  We decided to skip it and watched HBO.

October 11 (Thursday, Day 10, Bangkok) –

Tong picked us up at 6:30 AM to go see the Tiger Temple (www.tigertemple.org).  On the way, we drove by salt farms and shrimp farms.  She also took us through a little town where the people that can’t afford to rent space for a market stall literally set up their wares ON the train tracks.  The trains come 8 times a day and a whistle blows giving them 4 minutes to clear the tracks of their items.  Then they go back to the tracks to sell their fruits, vegetables, clothing, prepared food, whatever it is.  It was amazing to see the tracks packed full of stuff knowing that at some point, the owner would have to pick it all up for a few minutes.  No one has ever died, or so they tell us.

Railroad Market


We stopped at a temple whose interior was completely done in 3D carved teak.  The government was going to tear down the temple in the 70s since the province had too many temples (per the government) but the locals poured money into it and basically dared the government to tear it down.  It’s still standing and is very impressive.  We’ve noticed that the Thais spend a lot of money on their temples and offerings.  Each neighborhood has a temple and they seem to be more expensive than our neighborhood churches and considering this is a developing country, it makes it that much more impressive.

Teak carvings


We also stopped at a porcelain factory where we saw about 15 men and women painting porcelain with tiny paintbrushes.  Nothing is for sale at this factory since all of the orders are placed and then it takes about 4 months for the porcelain to be created.  This factory produces the porcelain for the King and the Prince, among others.  It was very exquisite.

Long live the King


We went to the floating market which is a very touristy place (and Tong knew we didn’t want to do touristy things but we were okay with this).  It’s a market set up on a bunch of canals and the people in the boats are actually selling goods.  We rented a boat and the three of us went for a ride.  Tong knew we liked to eat (and we hadn’t had breakfast) so she had our oarsman stop at one of the boats and ordered us one $0.60 bowl of rice with red pork with a sweet sauce on it for us.  She got a $0.60 vegetarian bowl for herself (but let us taste it and it was vinegary and spicy – very good) since the Vegetarian Festival started today and will last for 9 days where many Buddhists won’t eat meat.  As a result, a lot of the food vendors only sell vegetarian dishes during this time.  They fly yellow flags with red writing to indicate that they are vegetarian.  We ate our pork and rice bowl in record time.  (The oarsman sees to it that the bowls and utensils get returned to the correct floating restaurant.)  At the next stop, she bought Filbert a $0.60 bowl of noodles in a spicy broth and me a $0.60 bowl of noodles with no broth and I saw that she put 3 spoons of sugar on mine before stirring it all up.  Filbert’s was very spicy and mine wasn’t.   I put some of his broth on mine to spice it up a bit.  (There seem to be 4 condiments for Thai food – sugar, soy sauce, hot cut up little peppers in vinegar and crushed red pepper flakes.  They tend to put three of the four on each of their dishes.) 

Braving the floating market


A little while later she bought us chicken legs and pork skewers for $1.20 total but they tended to taste like teriyaki items you could get at any US mall food court – not bad, but not what we want to eat while in Thailand!  The boat finally took us out of the market place and took us along the other canals that are lined with houses.  It was very peaceful back there.  At the end, Tong bought us deep fried finger bananas and as everyone knows, anything deep fried is yummy!  She also asked a vendor if I could have a fresh tamarind so I could see what a fresh one is like.  It was as long as my finger and looked like a very large peanut in the shell.  After easily taking off the woody peel, the texture of it reminded me of eating a date (and it had a squarish pit in it, too) and it’s taste is kind of sour.  It was very good.  By the way, now that you’re thinking, “Snookums and Filbert are pigs” (and we are!), Tong told us that we wouldn’t have time to have lunch due to the timing of the Tiger Temple.  So, we had to pack it in when we could.

Floating market food


More floating market food


After our feast at the floating market it was time to get back in the car and continue our journey.  We stopped at a Thai handicraft market where we saw the men chiseling the wood to make the various 3D teak scenes.  Tong had warned us to not buy anything since it would be overpriced.  We kept telling her that she didn’t need to worry about us buying anything, anywhere!  We also stopped at the Bridge of the River Kwai for a few minutes and some pictures.  Then we got to Tiger Temple around noon.  Now the real fun began.

Bridge over the River Kwai (note Snookums’ Long Live the King polo shirt)

Bridge over the River Kwai (note Snookums’ Long Live the King polo shirt)

The trip continues in Part Eight, here.
Part Six is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

Around The World, Part Six

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Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Five is here.

October 8 (Monday, Day 7, Tokyo to Bangkok, continued) –

After dinner we decided to see the Erawan Shrine which is on the corner next to the Grand Hyatt.  It was bustling with local Thais.  I just love the fresh marigold garlands and other flower offerings that people buy to pay their respects.  It is a Hindu shrine that houses a statue of four-faced Brahma. It often features performances by resident Thai dance troupes who are hired by worshippers in return for seeing their prayers at the shrine answered. On March 21, 2006, a man vandalized the shrine and was subsequently killed by bystanders.  (The Thais are a very religious people and take it very seriously.)

Erawan Shrine

The Erawan Shrine was built in 1956 as part of the government-owned Erawan Hotel to correct bad omens believed to be caused by laying the foundations on the wrong date.  Construction of the hotel was delayed by a series of mishaps, including cost overruns, injured laborers and the loss of a shipload of Italian marble intended for the building.  An astrologer was brought in to provide a solution to the bad luck, hence the shrine.  The hotel construction then proceeded without problem.  In 1987, the hotel was demolished and the site used for the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel.

We continued walking, without looking at a map, and found ourselves on a very long street that didn’t have a cross street for probably 1.5 miles.  I had a map, but we were fine.  We turned at our first opportunity and ended up making a big square hike.  It was a longer walk then either of us really wanted, but we survived just fine and slept soundly!


October 9 (Tuesday, Day 8, Bangkok) –


We had arranged for a driver/guide for two days in Bangkok and this morning we met her.  I found her from a bunch of glowing reviews on tripadvisor.com.  Her name is Tong Tong (tourwithtong@yahoo.com) and I figured that the $100 for us to be with her for up to 10 hours was well worth it.  Her husband ended up driving for us today since they hadn’t really seen each other in several weeks.  They live about 1.5 hours from Bangkok and he is an optician in Bangkok at his family’s business.  She’s a private guide (i.e. she doesn’t work for a company) and often leaves before he is awake and gets back after he is in bed.  So, he took the day off today and drove for us!

We started off by seeing the Golden Buddha.  This huge Buddha was coated in cement during some war way in the past to keep it safe and then within the past 30 years or so someone chipped it and discovered that a gold Buddha was under the cement.

Golden Buddha

We then went to the Grand Palace and Royal Temple of the Emerald Buddha.  The Grand Palace is a huge complex that Tong normally would spend 3 or 4 hours in.  However, since we aren’t history buffs and don’t like long explanations, it took us about 1 hour to see the major sites.

Views of the Grand Palace:

Thai military at the palace

When we left the Grand Palace complex, she bought us papaya juice and carrot juice from her favorite juice vendor.  Then she hired a boat for the three of us (and the boat driver) and took us on a tour of the khlongs (canals).  We saw a few nice houses along the canals but most of them were very shabby.  Then we went to Wat Pho which is famous for its huge reclining Buddha that is probably as long as a volleyball court.

The canals of Bangkok


Really big water monitor (all the other pictures were even blurrier)

The trip continues in Part Seven, here.
Part Five is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

Around The World, Part Five

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Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Four is here.

October 7 (Sunday, Day 6, Tokyo, continued) –

We needed to sit down so we bought small sodas at McDonald’s and watched the world go by.  It was an open air McD’s and we sat in the front row.  We saw a 10K Fun Run go by (and the runners had to run on the sidewalks and they had to stop for traffic lights).  A lady came up and put her purse on the chair next to Filbert and then proceeded to go “inside” and order.  We couldn’t believe how trusting she was of us as well as all of the people that were walking by on the sidewalk.  Tokyo is incredibly safe, that’s for sure.  We then walked all over Harajuku which is a part of Tokyo that teens and 20 year olds go to on Sundays in various weird outfits.  We saw several girls wearing maid outfits with fur and one was kind of in a Strawberry Shortcake outfit.  It’s their way of showing individuality.  We ended up eating lunch at an Indian curry place in order to get ready for our next part of our around the world adventure.

Peoplewatching



Harajuku


Filbert, Arisa, Snookums

 


Arisa-san came to the Hyatt and the three of us enjoyed a final “dinner” at the Regency Club for a couple of hours.  Now it’s time to pack for Bangkok.

Tokyo sunset

 


October 8 (Monday, Day 7, Tokyo to Bangkok) –

We took the 7 AM Limo Bus to Narita.  Today is a Japanese public holiday, National Sports Day, which meant that there was no traffic on the streets.  It’s usually pretty empty this early anyway, but there weren’t even taxis running around.  We got to Narita in record time!  We walked all over Terminal 1 and Filbert took a bunch of pictures of all of the different airplanes – Aeroflot, Austrian, Scandinavian – and enjoyed his airport time.  The duty free shops were giving out samples of 18 year old Chivas, cognac and green tea and that was fun, too.  We finished our walk and went to the ANA Lounge around 9:30 AM. 

Beer machine!

 


Thank goodness for having gold status with US Airways due to signing up for a free credit card in the past year!  This gave us access to the ANA Lounge.  We enjoyed ALL it had to offer – little sandwiches, brownie cakes, individual wrapped packages of rice crackers, cookies and nuts, fresh sushi and rice rolls (Filbert enjoyed these, not me), the noodle bar where we ordered soba (buckwheat noodles) and udon (like spaghetti) so that Filbert could experience both.  He preferred soba over udon but I know that I like udon better so it all worked out.  Both were served the same way – a bunch of noodles in a miso broth with a piece of fish paste on the top along with a clump of seaweed and two more clumps of stuff that I can’t remember but they are basically always served with soba and udon.  Anyway, the miso broth is excellent and the whole bowlful just makes a great soup.  Filbert REALLY enjoyed the automated beer machine, too, and even took a video.  The glass tipped so that the beer was poured in at an angle and then at the very end a little bit of foam was put on the top for the head.  Those whacky Japanese!!!  I saw a sign that said ice cream was available and to ask the staff so of course I did.  The woman brought me a little container of excellent chocolate ice cream.  So, Filbert enjoyed his morning beer and I enjoyed my morning ice cream!

While we were in the bustling, huge ANA Lounge, a Japanese man came to sit by us and put his luggage down and then went off in search of food.  The Japanese are a very trusting society.  Filbert and I looked at each other in disbelief.  It sure would be nice to not have to worry about leaving personal items on your seat while walking away for a few minutes.  But, I sure wouldn’t do it anywhere in the U.S.!

ANA

 


We boarded the plane at 10:30 AM and settled in for a short 6 1/2 hour flight.  We had an empty seat between us which was nice.  Although we were kind of full from the ANA Lounge “snacks”, we managed to finish the meal that was served to us (Filbert had the Japanese one which was salted broiled salmon and crab and I had the pork and bean ragout).  I watched one movie and ANA has “on demand” video so I could pause it at any time.  Maybe our airlines will catch up.  (On the flight from Chicago to Narita on American Airlines, you had to watch the movies when they started.  You couldn’t stop them or fast forward or anything.)

Avoiding Formosa

 


Da Nang from the air

 


We landed about 30 minutes early and both of us commented that it was a short flight.  We got through immigration and customs with no problem, got baht at the ATM and caught a taxi for the Grand Hyatt.

We got settled in our room on the 18th floor.  At 440 sq. feet it is smaller than the one we had in Tokyo, but it is still very nice.  It overlooks the skytrain tracks, a police hospital (?) and a horse race track that has a golf course on the infield.  The races are just on Sundays and the golf course appears to be in constant use during daylight. 

We hit the Regency Club for the evening cocktails and appetizers.  The spread here is even better than Tokyo!  There were platters of meats, cheeses and breads, pickled cauliflower, a frittata, sausage in puff pastry, dumplings, various dips for the fresh vegetables, roast coconut, shrimp, peanut and shallots on beetle leaves (?) with shrimp paste, green mango and mushroom salad, crispy chicken wings, roasted chicken on a lentil salad, salty crispy fish and pumpkin “fritters” with gorgonzola dip.  Dessert included thong yip (it tasted like honey added to a paste of some kind – very, very sweet), tropical fruit salad, mini pandan sponge (a cake with fruits on the top made out of bean paste), coconut tart, pineapple upside down cake, assorted macaroons and 5 kinds of homemade cookies.  I drank my ice water with lemon and Filbert drank either Singha beer or Kloster Bier (also made in Thailand, although it sure looks and sounds German to me!).

Bangkok room

 


Bangkok hotel room view

 


The trip continues in Part Six, here.
Part Four is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

 

Around The World, Part Four

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Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Three is here.

October 6 (Saturday, Day 5, Tokyo) –

We had a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji from our room this morning.  Snookums never really saw Mt. Fuji from Tokyo while she lived here since her apartment was on the 3rd floor and her office was on the 4th floor.  But, since our room is on the 9th floor and we have an unobstructed view of the Tokyo skyline, we saw it clearly today!

We decided to go to Akihabara, which is the area of Tokyo that sells electronics.  We got there around 9:30 and found out that the stores opened at 10!  Tokyo really is a late starting city.  We saw a line of men (no women, just men) in front of a store waiting for it to open.  We don’t know if it was selling a new video game or what, but it was interesting to see.  When things did finally open, we wandered around and Filbert was very impressed with the electronic hobbyists heaven which was a square block of little shops selling soldering irons, transformers and every electronic part you could possibly want.  And it was full of people shopping for that kind of stuff.

Mt. Fuji in the distance

Akihabara


We thought about buying a handheld 36-language translator but didn’t.  Filbert looked at the new $2500 Sony laptop that basically can fit in your hands (about the size of a paperback) and drooled over it, but in the end we walked away with nothing.

Overpriced coffee


We decided we needed a rest so we bought some overpriced drinks (coffee for Filbert, iced chocolate for Snookums) and sat and people-watched for a while.  It was worth it and we noticed that Japanese really just wear black and dark clothes.  There is very little color.  Snookums was wearing a bright orange printed seersucker blouse that her Mom made that really stuck out!  We also stumbled across a geek convention, i.e. the 2007 Japanese Animation Masters.

We found a building that had two floors of restaurants and went around and looked at all of the plastic food displays and decided on tonkatsu in order to eat a good one after yesterday’s 7/11 version.  We were each served a wooden tray that had green tea, fried pork cutlet, finely shredded raw cabbage, miso soup, rice, and two kinds of pickles on it.  There was tonkatsu sauce (kind of like steak sauce but much better) and ginger-soy dressing for the cabbage on the table.  Oishi-des (delicious)!

We went back to the Hyatt and Snookums had an afternoon nap.  A blimp was flying around the sky and went right by our window. We don’t know why it’s here, but it was neat. 

We ate dinner, as always, at the Regency Club.  Tonight, though, was packed with Japanese couples.  There were only two other Caucasians, unlike other nights when it’s been all businessmen and no couples/families.  The hotel was filled with Japanese—we speculated that it was because they were on a weekend getaway to Tokyo.  We managed to people watch for about 1-½ hours and had a fine time.

Blimp


October 7 (Sunday, Day 6, Tokyo) –

We woke up around 5:15 AM and Filbert immediately decided to watch the SDSU vs. Georgia Southern football game via the internet.  (Georgia Southern won with 7 seconds to go on a 54-yard field goal.)    Our plan for the day is to go to the morning flea market at Togo Shrine and then to an afternoon festival, Ekoda-no-Shishimai (lion dance), at Hikawa Shrine with a history and tradition of 700 years.  We’ll see if we last that long!  Snookums suggested that this festival will be the equivalent of a U.S. church carnival – nothing big or fancy, but she went to these types of things every weekend when she lived in Tokyo and always enjoyed them since they were so “Japanesey”.

By the way, the weather for Tokyo has been absolutely magnificent for our visit.  It’s been in the mid-70s during the day and then cools off to the 60s after sunset.

As it happens, we didn’t make it to the festival but did go to the flea market at Togo Shrine.  We didn’t buy anything but we did see the Cosmos Sports Club have some kind of event.  We deduced that the Cosmos Sports Club is for kindergarten and preschool kids.  Anyway, they all had uniforms on of shorts, t-shirts and little matching hats (the Japanese have a thing for hats).  The kids were in a line and the music started and one by one they marched (with arms and legs flying high) into the courtyard of the school.  Many, if not all of the parents were there as was an official photographer.  It was pretty darn funny to watch from the alley. 

Snookums (in orange blouse in the middle of the photo) at the flea market


Kids


We’re in front of Togo Shrine


Togo Shrin


The trip continues in Part Five, here.
Part Three is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

Around The World, Part Three

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Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Two is here.

October 4 (Thursday, Day 3, Tokyo—continued) –

After lunch we walked to Meiji Shrine.  After seeing the shrine, we took a bus back to Roppongi Hills and sat in our room talking with Arisa.

At the Meiji Shrine


Sanctified wine


Sanctified sake


Around 3 PM Snookums decided we needed to restock our refrigerator with Regency Club beverages so the three of us went upstairs.  They had chocolates and cookies out (and beverages) so we sat in the Regency Club and talked.  We finally left the Regency Club at 7:30 PM and the three of us enjoyed the evening appetizers, too!!!  After all of the walking we did, sitting and talking (and eating) for hours and hours and hours was just what the doctor ordered. 

Regency Club eats


Arisa-san is currently unemployed but very happy about it since she gets $2000/month unemployment.  She is holding out for just the right job.  Since she has so much experience being a great executive assistant for expatriates, that is what she hopes to continue to do.  Her most recent employer, the president of Gap, just left Tokyo after living here for 9 years which is why she is no longer employed.  She went to Paris and London with him this summer to help him get set up there.  Arisa-san’s husband doesn’t mind since the employer is gay.  Otherwise, it would have been a little awkward for her to go with him.

We said goodbye to Arisa-san around 8 PM and around 8:30 there was a knock on the door and champagne was delivered with a “happy anniversary” note from the Hyatt.  (Snookums told each of our Hyatt’s that we are celebrating our 3rd anniversary--since we are on our 3rd Anniversary Round-The-World Trip.)  Filbert had two glasses and then we turned out the lights at 9:30.  We had a great “first” day in Tokyo but our legs are pooped!

Tokyo at night


October 5 (Friday, Day 4, Tokyo) –

We woke at 5:30 and lounged until 7:30 or so when we headed out for Hama-rikyu Gardens.  This was the first time in 2 ½ years of using Snookums’ free Tokyo subway program on her Palm that it was wrong!  We went the wrong way on the subway and realized it after about 4 stations.  So, we got off and got on the one going the right way.  Not a big deal at all, but this software program has never failed Snookums before.  You put in the starting and ending destination and then it tells you what public transportation to take to get there.  (We’ll be using it in most of our other cities, too, since they all have public transportation systems and people have gathered the data for others to use.)

When we got off the subway at the correct destination, a brand new office complex had been built since Snookums was last there.  We looked at the maps that were posted all over the place and it seemed really easy since we just had to get to the other side of the building for Hama-rikyu Gardens.  Well, it wasn’t that easy.  We finally asked a security guard and even he had no idea.  It was pretty funny since he was basically telling us that we could go around the building either way (we were basically in the middle of one side of the building and needed to get directly across to the other side).  However, there were highways running all over the place and the lack of sidewalks seemed to be the tricky part.  We ended up getting there just fine, although we did spend about 10 minutes looking at the map and “talking” to the guard.

This wasn't here before!


Flowers in Hama-rikyu Gardens


Hama-rikyu Gardens has origins stretching back 300 years (and has a 300 year old pine tree that was planted at the time the garden was created), when it served as a retreat for a former feudal lord and as duck-hunting grounds for the Tokugawa shoguns.  We walked all over and saw a bunch of fish that would leap two or three feet out of the ponds.  They were pretty neat.  We then caught a boat for a cruise on the Sumida River in order to get to our next sight, Asakusa Temple.  The Sumida River Cruise took about 1 hour and went under 14 bridges.  The banks of the river were concrete walkways and had a bunch of tents and tarps set up for homeless people.

In Asakusa Temple

In Asakusa Temple

Asakusa Temple was built in 645 (yes, 645) and it is Tokyo’s oldest temple (but not Japan’s oldest temple!).  It is a bustling temple and has streets leading up to it where all sorts of Japanese souvenirs and various traditional local snacks are sold.  The snacks include rice crackers and soft cakes with red bean paste filling.  Snookums sampled these when she lived here and didn’t “appreciate” them so neither of us bought any of these local snacks on this visit.  The streets were packed with Japanese tourists (and not many Gaijin, or foreigners).  It was a good time for people watching and we saw what appeared to be a homeless man wearing a very short skirt, a long blazer and a stocking cap.  It was just a weird get-up. 

By now we were hungry but since it was around 2 PM, we had a hard time finding any restaurant that was open as we walked up and down many streets.  So, we did what a lot of Japanese do on a daily basis and stopped in one of the many convenience stores and bought our lunch.  We bought tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlet) and rice and the clerk heated it in the microwave.  Snookums also bought a small plate of pickled vegetables for $1.80 (green cucumbers, bright blue cucumber-like vegetables and pickled shredded cabbage) since she really enjoys the different kinds of pickled vegetables that are basically served with every meal.  Filbert bought a $1.50 container of coffee and cream jelly which was coffee Jell-O with a runny cream top.  We found a bench to sit on and ate our lunch.  It was food, but the tonkatsu wasn’t that tasty.  Snookums said it was like buying a burrito at a 7/11 in the US and knowing that it isn’t really Mexican food!

Near Asakusa Temple

Near Asakusa Temple

We were pooped by now so we headed back.  We stopped at a department store in the Asakusa subway station so that Filbert could see the food hall in the basement.  It is kind of like a grocery store but it is where a lot of ready to eat food is sold. There aren’t any microwaves, though, since it’s really to buy and take home and serve your family.  A lot of housewives were buying items for their family’s dinner that night.  We walked by the gourmet fruit section where we saw a wooden case containing two honeydew melons for $200.  (The Japanese give fruit as gifts and when Snookums worked here she asked Arisa-san if the gift receiver really knew the worth of it.  She assured us that they did.  Somehow they know whether it is a $50 melon or a $100 melon.)  There were a variety of honeydews that ranged in price from the normal one for everyday consumption ($8 each) to the gourmet ones that started at $80 for two all the way up to $200 for two! As Filbert often says of the Japanese (with real affection, by the way): “They are a silly little people.”

The trip continues in Part Four, here.
Part Two is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

Around The World, Part Two

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Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part One is here.

October 4 (Thursday, Day 3, Tokyo)

Woke up at 5 a.m. due to jet lag.  We had talked about going to Tsukiji Fish Market to see the $10,000 tunas being sold during the early morning daily auction, but decided to take it easy so instead we finished unpacking.  Snookums washed our travel clothes in the bathtub.  We went to breakfast in the Regency Club at 7 when it opened (which is very late for a US hotel).  After breakfast we walked to Snookums' old apartment at Azabu Terrace.
Snookums' old apartment

Vending machine

Green tea—now in aluminum bottles!

On the way Filbert needed to try out a vending machine for a beverage.  He selected a cute aluminum bottled drink and was pleasantly surprised to find it was iced coffee.  We both thought it would be tea.  He did the polite Japanese thing and drank it while standing next to the vending machine.  (Japanese don’t eat in public so the most they do is to eat or drink while next to the vending machine.)  We took the subway to Tokyo’s city hall to see Tokyo from the 45th floor observatory.

Tokyo from the city hall

Snookums and Arisa

Snookums called her executive assistant that she worked with while in Tokyo, Arisa-san.  We agreed to meet her at the City Hall observatory--which she had never been to before!  We had a great time seeing her again.  She brought us a very nice “welcome to Tokyo” bag of gifts that she put together.  They included a table runner, two small textiles (her words) for chopsticks, a miniature teapot and rice cooker set (for decoration) and two boxes of green tea.  They were wrapped beautifully and although we wasn’t expecting anything, we really wasn’t surprised knowing the Japanese culture.  We were just thankful that we had brought for Arisa a “gourmet” box of Kansas City manufactured Russell Stover candy as a gift in return!

Autumn sakura

Flowers in the garden


After spending a few minutes catching up, the three of us headed to Shinjuku National Garden to see the annual two-week chrysanthemum display.  But, we were dismayed to find out that it is scheduled from Nov. 1 – 15. But, we did get to see autumn sakura (cherry blossoms) which are rare in October.  Arisa-san had never been to Shinjuku National Garden and after Snookums scolded her, she told Arisa that she had to come back in November for the chrysanthemum show and she promised that she would.  Janet had seen it when she had lived in Tokyo, and was fascinated by the shapes in which they grew the chrysanthemums. 

Crow in the garden

We took a cab to Arisa’s favorite ramen restaurant for lunch.  It was a typical Japanese casual restaurant since it was just counter seating of about 15 seats.  It was packed but somehow when we got to the front of the line to order (you pay in advance), 3 seats next to each other emptied and we sat down.  Filbert HAD to have a beer with his ramen, which was way too spicy for Snookums and almost too spicy for Filbert.  It was good, though.

The trip continues in Part Three, here.
Part One is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

Around The World, Part One

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The home page of our Round The World trip is here.

This is a tale of our journey around the world.  It was inspired by the fact that the family talked Snookums' sister Judy into taking a 3-year deployment to India to help her company run an outsourcing operation doing American tax returns over there.  Plus, we don't really need much of an excuse to drop everything and head out for parts unknown.

Snookums did her usual research, and came up with a deal where we could stop at eight cities around the world for a cheaper air fare than a Kansas City-Hyderabad, India round trip ticket would have cost.  But, of course, you have to go to those other cities to get the cheaper fare.  Oh, darn!  (he said, with feigned concern).   So, after a bit of negotiation, our round-the-world trip was set.  We would visit, in order, Tokyo, Bangkok, Delhi, Hyderabad, Dubai, Cairo, Prague, and Dublin, over 37 days.  As it turns out, the month October is the best month to visit, well, everywhere.

So, let's get started!

October 2, 2007 (Tuesday, Day 1, Leaving Kansas City for Tokyo via Chicago)

We left our house at 8 AM and arrived 45 minutes later at the KC airport to find out that the flight to Chicago was delayed due to fog.  We boarded the flight only about 15 minutes late, but then sat on the runway due to a ground-stop of flights O’Hare.
American Airlines MD-80 at KCI

American Airlines 777 at the gate at Chicago

The ground-stop lasted about 50 minutes after which we took off for an otherwise uneventful flight to Chicago.  We landed at 12:30 p.m. and saw that our flight to Narita was still listed with an on-time departure of 12:50, so we hustled to the gate.  Filbert boarded the plane and Snookums went off to buy bottled water.  She was starving and also bought two club salads for us to eat on the flight.  She had a  bad experience a few years ago on a flight to Tokyo where she didn’t get enough to eat and so was hungry the entire way.  That would not be a problem this time, as we will soon see.

We settled in our seats on the American Airlines Boeing 777, and the flight departed right on time at 12:50 p.m.  We opened up our salads soon after takeoff.  They were big, good club-type salads with a slightly sweet dressing.  Just as we were finishing the salads we saw the cabin crew beginning to serve a hot meal.  We shrugged and ate that, too—a choice of pork and rice (which Filbert had) or chicken and rice (which Snookums had).  So, we finished our own personal extended meal service about two hours into our 12.5-hour flight.  

Alaska Glaciers

More Alaska Glaciers

Along the way, Snookums ended up watching 4 movies and Filbert mostly sat and stared out the window the entire time while listening to an audiobook of “Lord of the Rings”.  Neither of us slept since that is Snookums' trick to combating jet lag.  Over Alaska, Filbert spotted some glaciers and snapped a few pictures.

We weren’t done eating.  About the same time we passed Anchorage, Alaska—about half way through the flight—we were served snack boxes with a sandwich, small candy bar and raisins.  How could we turn that down?  Somewhere over the Bering Sea a few hours later Snookums was a bit peckish so she picked up another snack box and got one for Filbert, too.  The small Twix candy bars had somehow  vanished from these boxes but we ate the sandwich and raisins.  Once again, as soon as we were done, we saw that another hot meal was being served.  Needless to say, when we landed on time at 4 PM, finding a restaurant was not an immediate concern.

October 3 (Wednesday, Day 2, Tokyo)

Welcome to Japan, Snookums!

We zipped through baggage claim, Customs, and Japanese Immigration, and went to the bus counter.  We knew the Limosine Bus to our hotel left at half past every hour and we were hoping to make it to the 4:30 p.m. bus. We didn’t even go to an ATM or the bathroom in the airport since we were really trying to make the 4:30 bus. We obtained the tickets and went outside, just as the bus was pulling up.  The ride from Narita to Roppongi Hills in Tokyo went smoothly.

Grand Hyatt Tokyo

We arrived at the Grand Hyatt around 6:15 p.m. and were upgraded to a deluxe corner room (which we could have reserved for these same dates at $620/night plus tax!).  Our room was pretty large at 645 sq. feet.  The normal room that we should have received is 452 sq. feet ($439).  Compared to our corner room type, the next biggest room is a suite that is 914 sq. feet so we were quite satisfied with our accommodations.  We also have full access to the Regency Club which means free breakfast and evening snacks.

Toilet instrument panel (Note the very illustrative Butt-tons)
Japanese Techno-toilet

We dumped our luggage in our room and discovered the wonders of state-of-the-art Japanese toilet technology.  Features like bidet, light wash, regular wash, and deodorizer, and heated seat grace these units, to the surprise of the unsophisticated American toilet-user.  We decided to check out the lounge and were pleasantly surprised at the cute individual servings of appetizers.  Every item was in its own little dish.  We ate “shot glasses” of pumpkin soup, pork medallions with tuna sauce, smoked scallops, tomato caprese salad, various nuts and sesame sticks, baby carrots, baby radishes, various little desserts, champagne, beer (Filbert decided he likes Kirin better than Asahi) and other beverages.

We decided we needed to find an ATM so we went to the connected Roppongi Hills shopping mall and got some yen.  We got back to our room and showered, did a little bit of unpacking, and turned the lights off at 9 p.m.  (We also lowered the motorized blinds and had fun playing with all the light switches on our nightstands.)

The journey continues in Part TwoThe home page of our Round The World trip is here.