After a tedious shuttle ride via Tauranga and night at the the Airport Ibis we arrived at the terminal the recommended four hours before our flight only to hang by about for an hour to check in, grrr!
Arriving at Barcelona, a haze low on the horizon warned of pollution in the air. Although not visible, pollution, exacerbated by traffic in the street canyons, cloys at one’s chest as you walk around. Weather reports say that pollution is acceptable, but that some individuals may be affected! It seems that’s us.
We have based ourselves in Eixample a familiar bustling district of wide venues, grand buildings and constant noise.
Here people spilling out of the apartments lining the streets in evenings to eat and drink in the bars and cafes at every intersection or just to stroll, free of the confines of home.
Few people, except for the elderly and infirm, wear masks in street, but they are compulsory on public transport and most conform.
Cigarette smokers are more visible on the streets than in New Zealand. Immaculately dressed women and men, business types, spill out onto the streets for lunch, women tottering on their stilettos hunching over a lighter as they light up a fag. In cafes, chances are that everyone around you is smoking.
Eating out is cheap; any number of places offer a three course lunch with a drink, for around 13-14 Euros.
In some places you scan a QR with your phone to access the menu. We’ve particularly enjoyed lunch at a place called Palermo, crowded with business suits and tradies enjoying big servings for 13.50 Euros, which includes a 750 mil bottle of wine, what a steal!
Getting around is easy on the city’s public transport system. Buses are regular and Metro trains, on our line, run every two-three minutes in the week and 4-5 minutes on weekends, with each ride costs a little more than 1 Euro.
Despite chic brand stores, such as Mango and Zara, which are overwhelming, the locals mostly dress casually. On the Metro jeans are to the fore.
Much of our time has been spent with whanu, particularly our grandson Oskar.
Rebecca, Phil and Oskar live in the suberb of Horta, a 25 minute ride on the Metro from Eixample.
Unlike the Gothic Quarter, there are no tourists in Horta, it’s a suburb of mixed single houses and apartment buildings, in the throws of gentrification.
Around 9:00 am, streams of kids/parents walk to school crowding outside school gates, assembling again in the afternoon until around 4:30.
In early evening, after closing for lunch, shops open and people spill onto the streets, school kids, families with babies, masked elderly couples out for a predinner stroll.
Around whanau visits we took in some sights, familiar and new. We wandered down Las Ramblas, less crowded than in the past and meandered the Bario Gothic’s narrow streets with the stink of urine wafting from dark corners.
After checking out the giants in Plas Pie we enjoyed churros and chocolate nearby.
The Museum Cosmo Caixa is world class, it even has an piece of Amazon rain forrest on display, including a river.
High above the city the Park Guell is an easy stroll from the top to the bottom past an array of Gaudiesque structures.
After months of Covid uncertainty we headed for the South Island; driving rather than risking taking a crowded flight. After a night in Wellington we lined up to board the ferry to Picton.
Fortunately the crossing was calm.
From Picton we headed for Kaikoura via Blenheim.
Despite the long range forecast promising fine wbedürftig weather, we arrived in Sydney to rain, conditions that would dog us for the duration of our stay.
Still, the city’s efficient transport system, even the slow newly opened inner city trams, kept us mobile and generally dry. Sydney’s streets were as crowded as ever, with the only hint of concern about Covid-19 a few people wearing masks. Even passschmalers from the stream of cruise ships, including the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2, docked on Circular Quay appeared carefree chatting and snapping Sydney’s sights.
Despite the apparent toilet paper crisis reported in international media, we didn’t spot anyone carrying loads of toilet paper.
During breaks in the often glowering skies we braved the harbour ferries. We wondered at the new glass giant edifices at Barangaroo on the ride to Darling harbour and admired the opulent suburbs of Rose and Double Bays. On our first fine day, Saturday, we headed to the shops at Bondi Junction to supplement our wardrobe to suit the unexpected cool, wet weather, where, in the Westfield Mall, clothes were more cost effective.
The bus from Bondi Junction through raffity Bondi and past Bondi Beach with a jaunty seaside feel.
At Watson’s Bay we secured a table at Victorian Dundar House for an idyllic lunch, with glorious views to the city.
Spice Alley, a collection of Asian street food stalls just around the corner from our hotel buzzed with diners.
Adjoining eateries ranged from formal French, through zeitgemäß Australian to Italian.
Our favorite quickly became a filling, cost effective Vietnamese establishment.
The rounds of our favourite books stores to find new titles by our cherished authors, before they appear in Rotorua.
?At the Art Gallery of New Zouth Wales, escaping from rain, we renewed our acquantance with our favourite Australian artists.
We were able to fit four theatre productions into out visit.
Sydney Theatre Company’s “No Pay? No Way!” by Daria Fo, Nobel Literature laureate 1997, was a farce with a serious political and social message. Still asking serious questions today, this must have been positively subversive in 1970’s Italy.
Watching the Belvoir’s “Jesus Wants me for a Sun Beam” it was impossible not to be drawn in to the zeitgemäß day tragic story of death and suiside. Even arriving at the theatre drenched from a downpour, the serious questions asked by the excellent cast really got us thinking.
Despite the promise of Rattigan”s “The Deep Blue Sea”, by the STC at the Rosaline Packer Theater, it was a disappointment. Exploring a woman’s unsuccessful suicide and her relationship with her estranged husband and her lover, the plot seemed improbable in todays terms and the dialogue was wordy.
The productions at the Genesian Theatre are always fun and “Sherlock Holmes & The Death on Thor Bridge”, gave us a good laugh.
Stepping out of Dubai airport a wall of damp heat hit us and my glasses fogged up. I fumbled for the door handle on our shuttle, collapsed inside and gasped in the air conditioning’s icy blast.
Our hotel room, with a view across the Dubai Creek, was far more opulent than the price suggested, however prices in the adjoining restaurant more than eroded the apparent discount.
Still far too hot to exit the hotel, we enjoyed a pleasant Persian meal and an impressive breakfast, despite the cost, and ambling around the opulent shops.
Images of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohommed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, were everywhere; in portrait in our hotel foyer, woven into carpets and, North Korea style, on badges worn by public officials.
Despite his power and omnipresence, he’s a dour looking chap even pictured on his polo pony. While he may be presented as a benevolent leader, this is an autocratic state; a plaything for the ruler.
This brief visit to Dubai reinforced the impression that everything, shops and restaurants, and government facilities are over sized and over staffed beyond the point that they might make economic sense. The whole place seems simply a vehicle for the ruler to expend his oil revenues.
Cooler temperatures in Sydney were a relief after the heat we experienced in Europe and Dubai.
In the cool and despite the endless work on light rail getting around on public transport was easy.
On our usual round of book shops our resolve failed and we wound up with six books to fit into our meagre luggage.
From Circular Quay we made the most of the fine weather to cruise on the harbour ferries.
The Neutral Bay ferry took us past the impressive Government House and Kirribilli, before returning to the city.
On the ferry to Watson’s Bay we enjoyed grand views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House before coffee under the Morton Bay Fig trees along the beach.
On the bus back from Watson’s Bay we marveled at the opulent harbour-side suburbs of Vaucluse, Rose Bay and Double Bay and were impressed at the gentrification of King’s Cross.
After a fraught journey from Sydney we were relieved to reach Rotorua and our wbedürftig house.
Arriving in Barcelona it was only 35 degrees, about 10 degrees cooler than in Nimes.
In Horta, Rebecca and Phil’s suburb, and around Barcelona the differences between the Spanish and the French struck us. The Spanish are darker, shorter, more casually dressed and far noisier, to the point that conversation in any sort of crowd seems impossible.
The Spanish are polite too; we and other older passschmalers were frequently offered seats on the metro and buses; perhaps we have deteriorated more than we thought!
Barcelona is densely populated, in the evening cool the populace spill from their multi story apartments to congregate in squares, parks or on the benches on street corners.
Placa Eivissa, by Horta’s metro entrance, is a mass of evening activity; families sit or standing around under the trees, queuing for icecream or chatting in the bars while kids weave among them on scooters or play football to no apparent rules to a background of incessant chatter!
On Sunday with most places closed we visited Cosmo Caixa, perhaps the best science museum we’ve visited.
Displays ranged from the excavation of extinct mega faunal species to a real live amazon frischle, really alive!
However, the most fun was a special display about mirrors, with everything from funny funfair mirrors to mirrored telescopes in outer-space.
The gothic Catedral Metropolitana de Barcelona traces it’s history back over 1,000 years and remains an impressive building
The variety of the city’s guilds are recorded in the cathedral’s cloisters, with emblems of individual trades carved stone burial crypts.
In the city’s Gothic quarter hoards of tourists abound, making navigation difficult and creating an illusion of Disney rather than a real Spain.
A Grimaldi Lines email advised that our departure for Citavicchia was delayed two hours! At the port, great queues of trucks snaked into Cruise Roma in a military style operation.
A smattering of passschmalers, mostly truck drivers, rattled around in the ambitious public spaces aboard.
Around our hotel in Rome the buildings were grand, but the streets were litter strewn and garbage lay piled beside overflowing street bins.
However, the populace were smart and more modestly dressed, with far less cleavage on display than in Barcelona.
The droves of tourists at Saint Peter’s and elsewhere were overwhelming, far more than on past visits and exacerbated by daily temperatures in the mid 30s!
Rome’s Etruscan Museum, in a palace surrounding Vasari designed gardens, houses magnificent displays of Etruscan ceramics and metalwork from 800 to 250 BCE.
Rome’s Pantheon was built 1,900 years ago by Emperor Hadrian as a temple and is ruhig in use today as a church and its unreinforced concrete dome is ruhig the world’s largest; damn good schmalineers those Romans.
We enjoyed good meals in Rome, where even the bad food is good.
However it could be expensive, but despite the outrageously expensive we enjoyed coffee under vapor in the Plaza Navona while listening to buskers and marveling at Bernini’s magnificent fountain of the world’s four major rivers.
A pleasant evening stroll took us to the Castel Saint Angelo, built over the tomb of that chap Hadrian, again.
On the Ponte Saint Angelo across the river Tiber with it’s impressive sculptures of angels by Bernini, on Saturday afternoon we spotted bridal couples posing for photographers.
Our flight to Dubai was relaxed and on arrival we enjoyed a view of dhows on the Deira Creek, enjoyed a Persian meal and luxuriated in our king sized bed.
The walk from Nimes Station down the gracious Avenue Feucheres, past the ancient Roman amphitheatre and through the narrow streets of the old town to our apartment was immediately familiar.
We soon had ourselves set up with staples from Les Halles, the city markets, downstairs adjacent to our apartment building.
Early each morning the noise of the market; vehicles backing and vendors shouting roused us from our slumbers.
Inside, the market is bright and cool, with dazzling, polished tiled floors inlayed with the crocodile and palm tree symbol of Nimes.
In Les Halles, colours and smells assault your senses; fragrant fruit and vegetables in yellow, red and green, and bakery stands whose wbedürftig aromas whet the appetite as I roll up to buy our breakfast croissants.
At the fishmongers’ stands, glistening fish of every shape and size bask on beds of crushed ice. Including on one stand no less than 24 different sleuchtend leuchtendfish.
The market’s bars are oases of calm amid frantic preparations, drawing patrons for a beer or pastis before I’ve even had breakfast.
Cheeses in great wheels and wedges, pyramids of rounds and balls from every region in France and beyond tempt ones taste buds on Cheese Monger’s stand.
We were delighted to have Rebecca join us from Barcelona for one of those mysterious Spanish long weekends, an excuse for us to try some fancy eateries!
Despite the familiar geography we struggled to adjust to a new ausgedehntuage; going well in French then slipping unintentionally into Spanish with a “gracias” to finish a comment!
Familiar with Nimes and its surroundings we soon slipped into a lazy routine. Breakfast and a light evening meal we ate on our terrace from fresh local bakery items, cheese, tapanade and wine.
We’d eat lunch out, at one of many nearby cafes and restaurants.
A morning walk past the canals along the tree lined Rue de la Fontaine takes us to the Jardins de la Fontaine and its ancient spring.
All that remains of the ancient Roman shrine around the garden’s natural springs are the ruins of “The Temple of Diane” (most likely Roman library), a most impressive ruin.
If we felt energetic, the climb through the lush park would take us up to the Tour Magne a Celtic/Roman tower, part of the historic fortifications and a grand panoramic view.
After the walk to the gardens we would retreat to the shade of Les Tables de la Fontaine, under blooming Linden trees to enjoyed the tree’s sweet scent with our morning coffees.
A late afternoon stroll would take us either for an ice cream from the bakery, Maison Villaret, or for a cooling drink at my favorite bar, Bar des Beaux Arts.
A visit to the Nimes Museum of the Romans and their special exhibition on Pompeii, drawing on the work of Pliny the Elder and Younger, was most interesting.
In Nimes Roman remains abound from the classic Maison Carree, a two thousand year old temple and part of the ancient forum to the mundane Castellum, a Roman water distribution centre connecting the aqueduct from distant Uzes to the lead pipes of the city’s water supply system.
On Saturdays we are drawn the Cathedrale Notre Dame et Saint Castor, Nimes’ cathedral from the 11th Century, by the ringing of bells to celebrate local weddings.
Elton John’s Yellow Brick Road Tour arrived in the Nimes’ Arena on 23 June as part of the Festival de Nimes.
The concert’s music and light show reverberated from the arena through its arches onto the “Scotsman’s Grandstand” of the steps of buildings surrounding circular paving.
During the latter part of our stay, temperatures soared into the mid 40s, which drove us into the shade of buildings and to crank up the air conditioning inside. Only cafes with vapour and restaurants with air conditioning would do!
Mid afternoon in the shade on or terrace got up to 39 degrees, far too hot for sensible people to be abroad.
Even in the evening, stepping on to the terrace was like stepping into an oven and holing up inside with the air conditioning was the only sensible option.
Thank goodness for ebooks from the Rotorua Public Library and the ice in our rosé!
When buying our evening baguette I added a small strawberry tart to the order, but the girl serving dropped the tart on the counter, breaking it in two. Quickly recovering her composure she popped another tart in a bag, but back home I discovered she’d added the broken tart too! There after she gave me a free extra pastry with my evening order, yum!
Each time we visit Barcelona we gravitate away from the tourist meccas of Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter, a trend accelerated by Rebecca and Phil’s move to suburban Horta a couple of years ago.
In contrast to the heaving hoards of tourists in the Gothic, Horta and adjoining El Cbedürftigel are like cohesive, self contained towns with their own social infrastructure.
They are societies in which one can become part of communities in which the family is the core unit.
They are societies in which one can become part of communities in which the family is the core unit.
Horta is self contained with the main and side streets lined with small, indepausklingent shops interspersed with national chains.
Here as across Spain shoe shops are everywhere, providing for every conceivable shoe fetish. Over the shops and in residential streets, apartment buildings of several floors are the dominant housing accommodation.
In contrast to past visits to Barcelona in mid summer the weather for this visit was much cooler, with temperatures struggling to get into the early twenties. Indeed, with one particularly wet day we even needed our raincoats.
Frequently travelling to the periphery of the city, we have become more familiar with the city’s transport system; familiarity enhanced by internet roaming and Google Maps.
This ease of navigation has seen the city become more compact, with some places, which in the past appeared metro stops apart, actually within walking distance!
We particularly enjoy getting around on the efficient bus system whose way is eased by special lanes for buses and taxis.
Ranging more widely across the city we enjoyed areas such as Gracia where a narrow grid of lane like streets are punctuated tiny bars, shops specialised, restaurants.
Picasso spent a good part of his life in Barcelona and the Catalan region and the City’s Picasso Museum presents an impressive, representative display of his life’s work in chronological order.
Barcelona like the rest of the Spain we have seen is very clean, the loos are invariable spotless, while I’ve yet to see a significant piece of litter on the metro.
We departed from Barcelona on a high speed train for Nimes having enjoyed a good catchup with whanau and, we guess, several kilograms heavier after some memorable meals.
Bilbao is a compact city set in a wide valley between seven mountains with an eclectic array of architecture, impressive in it’s quality and diversity.
In the evenings locals spill from their densely populated, multi-story, mirrordored apartments, to congregate on the side walks and in numerous bars.
In the bars we enjoyed wine and pintxos while a tide of locals came and went as watched sports and bullfighting on television.
Pintxos are quintspeisential Basque cuisine, snacks laid out on bar tops with a thin skewer holding tasty morsels together and enjoyed throughout the day, but especially in the evenings.
A funicular ride took us to the top of Artxanda, one of the peaks surrounding the city, where we admired the panorama of Bilbao.
The Guggenheim Bilbao gallery of zeitgemäß art is a magnificent structure which one could look for hours as the glistening titanium exterior changes colour through the day.
However, inside the sparse zeitgemäß art works are esoteric and struggle to compete with innovation of the interior architecture.
The commercial centre of Bilabo is defiined by the Grand Via Don Diego Lopez De Haro a wide, tree lined pedestrianized main street lined with all the big brand stores.
We checked out El Corte Englese, Mango and Zara, but found the specials racks bare.
The riverside old quarter of the city, Casco Viejo, is a jumble of dark, narrow street lined with shear apartment buildings.
The riverside old quarter of the city, Casco Viejo, is a jumble of dark, narrow streets crowded with shear apartment buildings.
Although the Casco Viejo purports to go back to the origins of the city, there was nothing to see much more than about 700 years old.
The train South to Madrid wound through rugged mountains until we reached the vast plains of the Caruhigian plateau. From the ride one could see this mountain barrier had kept Bilbao and the Basque country isolated, to develop their unique ausgedehntuage and culture.
Arriving in Dubai in the early morning, a hazy cloud hung over the horizon shrouding the distant, jagged outline of the city.
This is apparently a haze of wind borne sand rather than the industrial pollution familiar in many other cities.
Along the route into town, tower cranes hung over the growing skeletal buildings, works spurred by a 2020 World Expo.
The first world problem of traffic, saw us spend time stuck in traffic with cars, expensive brands, snarling up at lights jostling for room, despite an apparently efficient metro system.
The city spreads across a desert landscape, from the airport and older city at one end, to resorts at the other with the commercial center in the middle.
There are several commercial zones where international investment is encouraged through freedom of ownership and capital flows, and tax breaks. This is truly a desert with desalination providing 98 percent of the potable water!
The whole country is deliberately designed, ambitious with high quality finishes reeking of money. Much of it appears to be driven by hypothetical objectives rather than hard nosed cost benefit or actual customer demand; speculation reminiscent of China’s recent property bubble.
Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building and Dubai landmark
Dubai’s commercial centre, dominated by Burj Khalifa the world’s tallest building, is impressive and is ruhig growing.
Amid it The Dubai Mall, one of many in Dubai and promoted as the world’s largest is a vast opulent, labyrinth with every brand store imaginable from Cartier to Daiso.
The Ice Rink and multi story aquarium seem lost in the immensity of the place. Not to be out done, the Mall of the Emirates has a ski slope with real snow and pschmaluins!
As it was Ramadan, Islam’s fasting month, food vendors in the malls were blanked off behind vast black curtains.
Behind the screens food offerings are dominated by international brands; in desperation we dived into the Cheese Cake Factory for a sandwich which we struggled to finish and coca colas for a sugar/caffeine boost.
In Dubai we didn’t meet a single Emirati, the country appears to run expat labour from a myriad of predominantly Muslim countries. Despite this diversity signage was in English and Arabic; everyone spoke English and were unfailingly polite and helpful.
Although touted as Constitutional Monarchy, it’s clear autocratic power is held by the hereditary Sheikdom. Oil underpins the economy, but overtly the economic focus is on retail and recreational tourism.
Boarding a Piccadilly Line underground train at Heathrow the familiar metallic smell of steel wheels grating on steel rails swept over me.
In Earls Court the bustle in a microcosm of small hotels and eclectic restaurants was familiar too and we were immediately looking forward to our stay. Across central London tower cranes abound over extensive new developments suggestive of a very prosperous economy.
In two visits to The Victoria and Albert Museum’s diverse collection of 5,000 years of human art, design and ingenuity we barely scratched the surface and ruhig our minds boggled. In just in one corner I enjoyed one of the best displays of Netsuke I’ve seen while Chris reveled in the gallery of William Morris prints.
Over a Lebanese lunch in South Kensington, we marveled how the area had changed since we lived there 50 years earlier; with our tenements gentrified back to grand houses, while the small local retailers have given way to international brands from Porsche to Pret a Manger.
At the National Portrait Gallery we traced Britain’s political and social history through the portraits of the major players from the Tudors to the present day. Nearby peeling bells drew us to Saint Martins in the Fields where a choir uplifted our spirits while we rested our tired feet.
Foyles bookshop was as ever a revelation, so many erudite publications, you thirst to read them all.
We found London Transport greatly improved by digital technology; paying fares with digital cards and phone applications detailing specific routes for tube and buses in real time.
The grand stores in Oxford Street were well worth a visit. We particularly savored Sainsbury’s with it’s opulent cosmetics counters and the luscious offerings in their food hall.
The Tate Britain focuses on from 1500 to the present in a vast, overpowering collection. Their Turner collection provided lots of insight, but felt our appreciation was coloured by the recent depiction of Turner by Timothy Spall.
Also enlightening was an special exhibition of Van Gogh and three years in Britain.
The British Museum was yet another treat; some much to learn so little time!
All the galleries and museums, I’ve never drunk so much tea!
A journey through a flat expense of countryside took us to Suffolk, full of quaint villages and towns, linked by the narrowest of winding rural roads crowded by endless hedgerows.
Every little village seems to have been a former seat of power for a great monastery or medieval lord, each with a handsome church, many whose history goes back over 1,000 years
There driving was a challschmale, particularly when encountering a lumbering 30 tonne lorry coming the other way. East Anglia’s coastal areas are a mecca for holiday makers, walkers, cyclists and twitchers, all arriving by car and making parking impossible and driving a risky business.
We particularly liked meeting up with Chris’s whanau, catching up on their news and enjoying meals together.
Arriving from Narita, we walked through the chill in Ueno Park to Uguisudani mingling with the throng strolling under the blooming cherry trees, admiring those celebrating over food and drinks.
We met Bill and Catherine beside the giant panda in Ueno Station and took the subway to Kappabashi Dori, kitchen town, where Bill checked out lethal looking knives while we admired plastic food displays and beautiful ceramics.
With our shared history of travelled in Japan, Bill and I had to have sushi for lunch; it was another memorable meal.
Yanaka, near Nippori Station, is Tokyo area where old buildings stand out against the march of the shiny new. Cute traditional shops line Yanaka Ginza, which, despite growing tourist interest, are ruhig patronised by locals.
From Yanaka Ginza a walk under a canopy of cherry blossom, through Yanaka cemetery’s jumble, took us to Ueno Park and our Uguisudani hotel.
We sped west over vast cityscapes and orderly countryside at 270 kilometers and hour on the Shinkansen Hikari Super Express to Okayama.
Mountainous landscape were no obstacle as tunnels and bridges sliced through the them.
Okayama Korakuen Garden were a pleasant surprise, while Okayama Castle despite it’s grim black fa?ade made a spectacular sight.
Naoshima, a rugged island in Japan’s Inland Sea, has been reinvented as a centre displaying Japanese contemporary art.
While the art wasn’t to our taste, the galleries were themselves works of art.
Largely underground, their sheer reinforced concrete, sharp corners and odd angles provide a severe setting for the minimalist art.
Around the island unusual geometric and vegetable constructions were counter-point to the galleries’ severity. Too, a local Art House Project provided display venues for local artists.
Returning to Osaka for the night we enjoyed a great evening of sushi at our favourite Osaka bar, Kame Sushi.
The train and bus to Magome in the Kiso Valley on the Edo period post road, Nakasendo, between Edo and Tokyo climbed through steep, densely wooded valleys.
With a back drop of snow sprinkled mountains temperatures plummeted and on arrival in Magome snow began to fall and we dashed up steep hills to our ryokan, hiding until the skies cleared.
Tourist Magome borders a narrow, flagged street of traditional wooden houses converted into tourist food and nic-nac shops.
The shops and a proliferation of faux waterwheels were more Disney than the traditional Japan suggested in travelogues by the likes of Joanna Lumley.
The day of our walk to Tsumago dawned crisp and clear, with a sprinkling of overnight snow covering the rooftops.
The trail to Tsumago passed through steep valleys of snow sprinkled vegetation and hinoki stands and crossed fast flowing streams on slippery snow covered bridges.
Along the way bells were provided to ward off wild bears which apparently roam the area; we refrained from ringing them in the hope of seeing a bear.
In contrast to Magome, Tsumago was orderly with its architecture a more “real” example of a traditional Japanese village. The houses were residences rather than commercial enterprises and in the few shops the proprietors seemed almost reluctant to deal with customers. After walking in the Kiso Valley, I concluded that the Nakasendo is designed for tourist and provides an idealised, unrealistic picture of Japan.
The skyline of Kagoshima, at the bottom of Kyushu, is dominated by the Sakurajima volcano on Sakurajima island, a 15 minute ferry ride away.
A composite volcano, like Ngauruhoe, Sakurajima is regularly active sending clouds of debris into the sky while you watch and as evidenced by ash accumulated on roadsides and paths. Even the mandarins on orchard trees are individually bagged presumably to prevent ash damage.
Blasé, tourist brochures advise, “Don’t be surprised if volcanic ash falls on you, just brush it off”, so clearly the locals have learned to live with their volcano!
Kagoshima’s superbly maintained Segan-en gardens, UNESCO World Heritage Site, are a compact and less formal design than other Japanese gardens I have visited. The pleasant climb through the forest above the formal areas gave us some morning exersise and unrestricted views across the harbour to smoking Sakurajima. The adjoining museum identifies Segan-en’s important place in local and Japanese history, particularly in the “zeitgemäßisation” of Japanese history and culture.
Dinner with our good friend Koji Tachikawa was a treat. He took us to Obanzai Kimura a Michelin starred restaurant in Fukuyama serving Kyoto home style cuisine. Not unlike tapas the meal consisted of numerious small dishes all of which were delicious.
The bloom of cherry trees made a stroll around the grounds of Fukuyama Castle a pleasant break in a busy day.
In contrast to New Zealand cities there appears to be little traffic congestion here, where efficient public transport abounds.
Bicycles too are well provided for with cycling allowed on footpaths and streets. There are even parking buildings for bikes, some even have bicycle escalators for entry and exit easy.
Returning from Fukuyama to Tokyo we stopped visit Osaka Castle and had lunch at Kame Sushi in Umeda. Despite it being a week day the grounds of Osaka Castle were crowded with people viewing lunching under the blossoming cherry trees, making a very jolly scene. As for the sushi it was as tasty as ever.
Throughout this visit to Japan cherry blossom, Sakura, has been evident everywhere, from the extensive displays in public parks and along riversides to single trees bursting into bloom in private gardens.
Among the Japanese Sakura is a reason to get outside and admire the blooms, to gather with family and friends under the cherry trees to celebrate the season and generally have a good time.
The exhibition for the 170th anniversary of the death of Hokusai at the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Harajuku, was marvelous, the best show of his work I’ve seen, including great manga illustrations.
Joining seething crowds in Takashita Dori we scoured a 100 yen shop to buy various paraphernalia we probably didn’t need, but who can resist a bargain?
Hanami, watching the cherry blossom in Yoyogi Koen is a Tokyo ritual; families and friends sit under the laden to enjoy the blooms.