QF10 – Paris to Melbourne – a revolutionary road

So there was plenty of space in business class and I got my upgrade. Yippee do dah !

That means I get the chair that turns into a bed and blankets, cushions and PJs. Good food, wine and big screen movies. Nice headsets and stretching out all make it much more comfortable when travelling 19000 kms over Belgium, Russia, India and down to Singapore, where I’ve just had a 60 minute stopover.

Back in the air I’ve moved forward one row to 12. I’ve got two seats to boot!
12 A and B !

I had the marinated chicken, salad and a wonderful tart that was teamed up with a Coonawarra cab sav.

The food together with the movie I’m watching “Revoltutionary Road” got me thinking about France and the wonderful experience it was. I really liked the way life happened there. Maybe it’s a romantic notion and there is something in that. But I think there’s more to it. It also depends on which slice of life you cut through to I suppose.

Yet on the crowded Metro yesterday I saw even the regular folk were doing something apart from the rest of the world even just up the road in Belgium or across the street in Switzerland. France is different. Paris – “people are alive there” Frank from Revolutionary Road.

Another film I watched, a doco, was “Not Forgotten”. A story about the World War 1 memorials and the personal stories of the names on those stones.

It was a very moving work. I’m going to build on and share my experience in Northern France and Beligum. I want to share those stories of my family so the victims of W.A.R. are not forgotten.

Those victims were on both at home and on those far away fields that are not so far away anymore. I’ve seen them and they are real.

Reflections on Terminal 4

Caught the taxi from the Hotel in Saint Michel, Paris to Charles de Gaulle aerogare (my word) where I left Europe. Dragging my bag and attendant parcels of glassware and recently purchased momentos.

I hung out at CdG figuring I’d be better with a bag to put all the glassware and Easter eggs in.

The flight from Paris to London is meant to be one and a quarter hours. It arrived 20 mins early. Then I had to make my way to Terminal 4 from Terminal 5. Simple I thought. Not so Alex. It takes 2 hours to clear security the customs official told me “and then you have to get to Terminal 4” she said. First bum steer.

Catch the train the guy with the Scottish accent and official looking garb. “Can I use €’s for that” I say.

“Its free” says he in his best Scot. Socialism lives even in the UK!

After getting to the platform serves the London bound train an official looking woman in smart uniform says I’m on the wrong platform for London. “I just want to go to Terminal 4” says I in a desperate voice.

“So it’s the bus you’ll be wanting” says she – “It’s quicker”. “I’ll show you where”. Bum steer number 2 as she directs me to a bus stop with a bus waiting. But this driver ignores the would be passenger from the Antipodes whose carrying more luggage than a camel train driver. I see the friendly looking British Airways attendant and thinking she’ll know, I ask her. “Over there to the Terminal 4 bus” she directs me, in her best scottish song.

Bum steer number 3.

I’m redirected on to the “true” path by another soul. Though he suggests I go back into Terminal 5 and take the train! Not that again. The never ending buddist circle. No I’ll find the magical mystery bus. The true path to enlightenment.

On the true path I meet the BA lassie who apologises for giving me the wrong steer and then she goes into overdrive helping me through bus routes and timetables to get me to Terminal 4. Thank you!

2 minutes and you’ll get a bus. I’m trusting but not convinced.

She and the other air attendents board their bus and I wait ! Then along comes the 390 or whatever. On I get bags flapping everywhere. The driver confirms we are going to Terminal 4.
I do not believe him.

We make another stop (eating into my 2 hour security clearance). On hops another man about my age. At first I think he’s English, turns out to be Spanish who lived here for 16 years but now lives in Peru. He is heading home to Lima. He tells me this is the Terminal 4 bus for sure. I believe him.

We arrive at the entrance to Terminal 4 and I can see the QANTAS desk. Australian spoken! A billabong at last.

The clerk confirms my upgrade to Business Class, the sleeping capsule, the food and drink. I have been enlightened.

The Last Post (bar one or two)

Today is Good Friday and later this afternoon I board British Airways flight from Charles De Gaulle for London and then on to QF 10 for Singapore and Melbourne.

For the first time on this trip I’m feeling unwell nothing serious just a sore throat. I grabbed a strip of night and day tablets before checking in my bag.

Spent my last day in Paris which was the begining of Easter weekend shopping and having my last cafe creme at a brasserie on the corner of Boulevarde Saint Michel and Saint Germain. Sitting on the striped cane chairs and watching the European world walk by, thinking about all I’ve seen and done in these past nine weeks. Wondering about it all.

So soon I’ll be off and all this will be a dream.

Goodbye Europa!

Test post

I’ve been having problems with posts being visible BUT I THINK IT’S NOW FIXED

Fingers crossed

Beynat, a village in France

Beynat has a human population of about 400 growing to a 1000 in summer time when visitors come and people return to their holiday homes.

It’s located in the southern end of France and is designated Department 19. The nearest “big” town is Brieve about 20 km away.

The centre of town has two squares, one is located in front of the post office, “Poste” with the town hall ( Hotel de Ville )on the side. I thought Hotel de Ville was a chain of hotels because almost every town had one! Language !

The other square is the main one with a memorial to the war dead, a parking area and a cluster of shops and cafes including Jean Claude’s Bar/cafe.

The cafes in country France generally only serve drinks and not food which is a dilema if you want something to eat especially on a Sunday. The sabbath seems to be strictly observed in the country areas so you have to make sure you’ve get some food with you on a Sunday if you travel.

During the week businesses close for 2 hours at lunch time as well. So buy for your baguette early!

Back to Baynat (pronouced Baynah). If you want accommodation there, the best by far is Agatha’s Garden, B&B owned and managed by Françoise with the warm French smile.

She has the most beautiful house that has been in her family for more than a hundred years. The interior speaks of a lifetime of exposure to art and design. A simple elegance and ambience in every corner of every room.

Toast and tea/cafe for breakfast is included with handmade chestnut bread and sweet fruit jams.

There are a few resturants in the area but having her home cooked bio-dynamic cusine, like her cottage interior is not to missed. Wholesome food, mostly grown in her own garden (Agatha’s) accompanied by wine that has been sourced by her son is fabulous!

Surrounding Beynat are many more delightful villiages and landscapes. Ancient abbeys and churches, villiages built into the rock of riversides and fertile farmlands where beef cattle graze. Renaissance places like Collonges-la-Rouge in Corrèze.

Vallée de la Dordogne – Corrézienne
Authentique …..

Passchendaele

My Great uncle was 35 when he was killed in action at Passchendaele, Belgium on October 12, 1917. Europe was at war since 1914 and in Russia the revolution was to explode in a few days.

Duncan had enlisted in AIF in November 1916 and sailed to England to get some basic training before arriving in Calais and being sent to the front.

Seeing the headstone of his grave with his name simply inscribed D.McCallum was deeply and profoundly sad. So far from home in Sydney

It was was a sunny afternoon when I saw the headstone in a cemetery surrounded by corn fields. The corn had been cut and the stubble retained in the earth. In the distance were farms and further away the villiage of Zonnebeke, further still Passendale.

Duncan’s 36th Battalion’s mission was to take Passchendaele from the Germans. On October 12 it was unsuccessful. Thousands of Australians died in that poorly planned battle in the driving rain and waist deep in the Belgium mud.

I don’t know what killed Duncan, a bullet, a bomb or bayonet. It will never be known. But what is certain is the order from Field Marshall Haig to attack when the officers on the battle ground knew it was hopeless, given the weather led to the deaths of thousands that morning.

Duncan is my link to the Great War who did not return home. Unlike my grandfather Alex Gibson and other great uncles, Bill Gibson, Jack Gray and Gerald Boés who married aunty Gloria. Duncan never saw his two little girls grow up, or watched a rubgy league game or saw his brother Don again.

So somewhere between the jumping off point and his grave in the small Dochy Farm New British Cemetery he was wounded and died on the shoulders of the Australian stretcher bearers.

Visiting the area today is vastly different to that place which in the weeks before October 12 had been pounded with over 4 million exposives that punctured the water table and turned the land to a quagmire.

Today the farms are back growing corn, leeks, cabbages and brussel sprouts. Children ride their bikes to the village school on the country lanes and roads.

There is a B&B called Varlet Farm where they have a small muesem and Charlotte shares kindness and smothers you in food and comfort. She knows the places where the troops were, what happened to who and where they maybe buried.

Every year 20 tonnes of WW1 munitions are found on the fields of Flanders. There are no winners in WAR we’re all losers.

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Spring time in Paris

What really stunned me in the Hall of Mirrors at Versaille was out the window and not in the hallway.

The breathtaking view of the grand canal and the colanade that leads to it. Another unforgettable view was from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, an uninterrupted view across the city in four directions. The Paris planners have not given into the skyscaper cult and instead have maintained a 4-5 story landscape.

The breadth of scale of the Lourve is another feature of the city that shocks me as a visitor from the antipodes. It so huge and then there’s the parks and squares that people congregate in. The backyards of Paris. People sit around the fountains on state provided deckchairs to nibble on Parisian baguettes or drink coffee in the sunshine.

The Eiffle Tower is heavy duty plus with its tonnes of steel, views and avenue of grassland to sit on.

I can see why the world comes to Paris.

THE PARIS

Bonjour Paris, here I am finding my way from the airport to Nord Gare and then on into the city.

Paris metro seemed easy enough at the start but then it got hard and I was lost in the underworld getting unhelpful advice even from the police but in the end I bit the bullet got on my third connection hoped it right and headed for the surface and daylight.

Bang I was in Paris, golden coloured stone buildings, motor scooters, baguettes under arms and life everywhere.

The Seine, the laneways, the endless shops and people. People everywhere.

This is Paris and these are the Parisians!

Food, I need food now!

Näkemiin Helsinki

Time to leave the “Cool City of the North” and travel south. I very much enjoyed my Finn experience and would recommend Helsinki to anyone. Especially if you want to travel Europe from Australia or via Asia..

The Check-In clerk couldn’t believe I’d come to Finland in the winter leaving an Australian summer behind.

But when I told him I was on an IceCapade he really got confused.

Hei hei !

Today i will be in France

This morning here in Helsinki I finished reading “The Great War” by Les Carlyon.

Today I will be in France.

It is truly well worth reading, a fine book which tells the stories of some of the hundreds of thousands of Australian men and women who went to Europe in the Great War. “The war to end wars”. He tells the story from many viewpoints.

I’ll be thinking of the men my mum told me about, her dad Alex Gibson, her uncle Jack and men I met like Gerald Boës who was my great aunt Gloria’s husband. He was an electician from Sydney, a trade unionist and a Dutchman. He had served in the Dutch Navy as an apprentice electrician.

Gloria came to Helsinki with her political work in the women’s peace movement.

Mum loved her dad immensley and she remembers him everyday. I never knew him, he died young from the results of mustard gas shelling. He spent 3 years in France and Beligum. It is impossible to contemplate.

I asked my aunt Gwen recently whether Alex Gibson said much about the Great War to her. She said all he said was those who talked about it weren’t there. On another occasion during the Great Depression on seeing a workless mate from the AIF walking towards him in the street he said, “here comes another workless victor”.

I know that both Alex and Gerald were politcally active and there is the story of Uncle Jack throwing down his war medals at a protest in the Sydney Domain in the depression only to threatened with a charge of destroying the King’s property.

So today I will be in France and I will remember them.

I will also think about Duncan McCallum, a railway fettler of Redfern who grew up in Lakemba. He is my Dad’s uncle who is buried in Belgium near Passchendale. My great uncle.

My grandfather Donald McCallum was opposed to conscription and he lost his brother Duncan to that war to end wars only to watch his sons go off to the next one.

Duncan was 35 when he died, the father of two little girls. He’d been in France and Belgium less than a year when he was killed in that terrible battle. I will visit his grave.

So this part of the reason for my journey. Lest we forget.

My 4 days in prison about to end

Some say it should have happened long ago, others that the 4 nights was grossly underweight.

Nevertheless I’ll be out tomorrow and sadly be leaving the “Cool City of the North” for Paris.

Tonight I’m celebrating my pending release with a good dinner in a cool venue eating a creamy crab soup and a medium rare beef steak. My first in 5 weeks or more.

How come? Eating prison breakfast and no lunch means making big saves on the travel budget. (Thanks Kev07, for the extra tax return, I’ll spend it all in a foreign land and save the world economy!)

The steak was a wee bit ordinary, either the steak knife wasn’t sharp enough or the cow was working out a tad too much.

The desert was “to die for” as they say in the classics. Those berries sneak into everything. I’ve never seen or tasted those small round red berries in .au they’re YUM. They’re around every corner here. As is licorice.

However the hot chocolate was something else. Everywhere does things differently and Finns are masters of the different. The left of the centre left, are they.

Here is a hot chocolate of massive proportions! Did I mistakely order a swimming pool? A chocolate hot tub? And another thing, they overdress for dinner! or they don’t go out much. Formal stiffness.

So that’s my final nights’ eating experience in Helsingfors.

So what does a coffee cost an Australian in Helsinki?

The snow stopped coming down last night and gradually through the day all the accumulation that was all over the footpaths melted or got pushed away by workers.

The sun even made a brief appearance low in the southern sky. It made my experience a little easier in that I could get about and even see outside the hood on my jacket.

I went to a glorious place today, a former fort on an island called Suomenlinna. It was a ferry ride from Market Square (the Victoria Market of Helsinki) through the sea ice to the island beautiful buildings and colours I’ve never seen. All set against a blanket of snow. I took a very long way around, through the ramparts and scattered buildings like cafés and churches to a snow covered headland.

There were old cannons mounted there behind the thick walls to protect the town from her enemies and impress her friends and allies.

The colours and hues were stunning. I saw this little frog, black against the snow hopping along bound for god knows where.

Helsinki is famous for music. Just ask the Finn Brothers. Wednesday night I went out to find some. Hard work but I tracked down a jazz place called Storyville. They had a special night with a New Yorker called Gene Taylor. It was good music, I enjoyed it.

Here people start talking to me in Finnish, just asking something or whatever. I must look shocked and then I say, “sorry I don’t speak Finnish, I’m a traveller” then we try to work out some English words.

But I have learned Kippies – Cheers, Salute, Kampie, Chin Chin etc.

The price of a good coffee in Helsinki, €3.80 or $A7.53 so don’t complain about the price in Melbourne, have two. And to the coffee snobs, it’s better kohe here than Melbourne which means anywhere in .au

Killing Rudolph

ISO QLUT

Beer, very dark in a very big glass

JARVIKALAT

Starters, white fish, smoked salmon, sardines, crispbread, a creamy cheese block

LÃHDEVESI

Still water,

GESTOS

Red Argentinien cab sav

HIRVEN ENTRECOTE

Elk, gamey, rare, tough but tasty. Wild mushroom, tough very tasty. Potato, cooked in half it’s jacket, creamy and YUM

CAPPUCCINO

As it should be !&

Finnish food

Trudging through the snow today I decided to take a short cut back to waterfront. Well that didn’t work out.

I took instead a detour of some kms in the opposite direction and then promptly did a circuit of that spot! The snow came down heavier and away I went, lost.

The people I spoke to weren’t fluent in Eigo and my Finnish hasn’t progressed much since yesterday. Anyway lost is always fun and eventually I found an angel in the form of an old man who got me on the right track. I started the long march back.

On the way back I was dreaming of lying in a hot bath and getting the aches out of my weary legs. I’m having hotel delusions at the moment like Frank Zappa’s 200 motels I’ve forgotten what’s what.

It was in Japan the bath, in Finland you get the designer shower! No soothing bath I’d grown used to even in the most modest lodging in Japon.

Of course the Finnish shower comes with a choice of shower heads gushing out gallons of water per second. It would make any Australian cringe but this country is two fifths fresh water not counting today’s snow so somehow it doesn’t matter.

Japan is like that too. Loads of the stuff running everwhere into baths and onsens.

That reminds me about Chiiori where Paul told me that in winter they have leave some of the taps running otherwise the pipes freeze up. Then along come the Australians who sometimes stay there. They turn the taps off. Can’t help themselves, gotta save water but wreck the plumbing. Horses for courses.

Tonight I decided to head out to try some local tucker. This time I really consulted the map. I new exactly where I was heading and how to get back, consulted the Lonely Planet and put all the thermals on.

“Finnish Food ” the sign said across the way from the little mermaid statue. So in I went with no Finnish and a hungry stomach.

To be continued.

My first Finnish voice

I just heard my first Finnish spoken! I’m at the departure lounge at Narita and they called the passengers in Finnish. Very nice it sounded. Didn’t understand a thing but I’ve had a month of understanding almost nothing, so situation normal.

The Finnish cabin crew and pilots aren’t prancing about looking to be movie stars, they seem just straight forward and helpful. Everyday people who work on planes flying.

The lunch was chicken in a white mushroom sauce with salada. White wine from South Africa, coffee and chocolate cake. A white bread sandwich later and more kohe.

There’s not much to see, clouds and Russia below and eventually the arctic sea ice if there’s any left these days.

On the flight map we seem to fly a long way north and then sweep down to Helsinki. Maybe Russian airspace isn’t open to FINNAIR.

Wow the landing at Helsinki was unbelievable the city is blanketed in snow and snow ploughs cleared the runway just before the plane came in.

Took a taxi from the airport, couldn’t believe how the cars hurdle along in the snow and driving left hand. The harbour was frozen over too. After checking into hotel went for a long walk into the city. Double Wowy !!

Couldn’t believe the snow falling, people trudging through it and along comes a mother and child. She is walking down the street towing a sled with her 3-4 year old on board.

Not in Australia!

Nihon des

“Ladies and Gentlemen you are on the Narita Express bound for Narita Airport……………”

So says the announcement. Now I’m leaving Japan till next time.

I’m a little nervous leaving here for unfamiliar Europe. I’ve always felt at home in Japan and it’s safe and inviting.

I took the shinkensen up from Okayama and the highlight was seeing the Fuji-san, snowcapped and above the clouds rising to the heavens.

I spent last night in Tokyo, went up to the top of the Metro Building watching the sun set and the evening lights of the city come on. The blinking red safety lights are so eerie. It looked wonderful though.

Then I went over to the Apple store to check some email, download updates on my iPhone and check out storage devices. Then a last Japanese dinner in Ginza before heading back to the hotel.

Japan des.

A long climb

It’s a long way to the top if you want to look!

The local train takes about three quarters of an hour to reach Bitchu-Takahashie from Kurushiki. Once there, there are a few historical houses and sites to visit on the way including a samuai house that’s in very good order.

A nihongo map with the sights can be found on a rack at the station or there is a small tourist office that caters to locals that may be of some help. There is no bus to the castle and if you don’t want to walk you may catch a taxi at the station.

If not, get ready for a long walk.

A few kms and some of it up 850 metres of steps and climbing.

If you take a taxi it takes you to a bus shuttle location and then up in the small bus and there’s still a fair climb to the castle. It’s unbelievable how they built the castle up there, perched high on Mt. Gagyu in 1240 AD. It’s Japan highest altitude castle.

The birds view of the river and the town below is awesome. Well worth the hike and climb.

Walking all the way down along the track that leads to Takihachi takes you through a national park and the Japanese bushland. A sign indicates that about 20 bird species that inhabit the area.

Back on the outskirts of the town you pass by microhydro water wheels that are turned by tiny canal flows and feed power out to consumers.

Walking back along the streets to the station seems so easy then.

Another Japan

Kurushiki…………..as fresh as tomorrow!

Sitting down to eat the udon noodles in the laneway off the main canal street in Kurushiki was a delight.

Kurushiki is wonderful small city 17 km from Okayama. There is an old merchant / warehouse area centred on a canal system that used transport food and goods around the city and out to ships to other parts of Japan and the world.

Today it’s a tourist quarter that houses muesums and galleries.

There’s the Omara Gallery that contains work by masters like Picasso, Raffelli, Miro, De Chirico, Kandinsky, Matisse, Warholl and many more.

There are galleries showing the many and varied crafts of Japan including weaving for which this city is famous.

Collections of pottery and ceramics from the second century till today. They are wonderfully presented in old warehouses and purpose-built buildings.

The food from the simple canal cafes to resturants is presented and cared for in the same way as the grand masters and its as fresh as tomorrow.

Kurushiki is worth a visit if you’re in Japan.

The pictures say it all……….Matsuyama – des

Je mata Hagi

I woke to a crystal clear, sunny winter morning overlooking the Sea of Japan. The air temperature is bracing but not freezing as it was in Matsue.

The waves just splash on the shore of this beach as they have for thousands of years. History has seen much here and looking at the samuari walls along the foreshore, the remains of their watchtowers you can feel the stories in your chilled bones.

This morning I’m off to Kurashiki over near Okayama. It’s a long way in time and space. First on the 10:40 local train for 2 hours and one and a bit hours by shinkensen and finally another local train for a bit.

Je Mata to Hagi! Farewell. Soon I’ll be getting my Finland Lonely Planet out for a read.

…………………. Local train turned into local bus and because buses are are subject traffic delays and because of the delay I missed connecting shinkensen. But there’s always another train in Japan. So I ended up going to Hiroshima and then on to Okayama.

From Okayama I changed to the Kirushiki train and commenced 3 days in another Japan. Stay tuned!

Big and Fast ……… who needs it ?

Hagi with it’s 56,000 people is a very little town in Japan. There are many villages and hamlets scattered through the mountains and along the coastline that have smaller populations of course but Hagi has played a pivotial part in Japanese history and life, so it outshines it’s size.

Korean pottery styles were adopted here in 14/15th centuries and today the city is crammed with potters spinning bowls and shaping earth.

It was also where the plot was hatched to introduce western technology and trade to Japan. The plot headed by Yoshida failed when the US commander Perry gave him up to his enemies. Yoshida’s dreams were realised but only after he died and his friends went on to be Prime Ministers and Members of the Cabinet.

Today this beautiful city that is an island bounded by two rivers and the Sea of Japan is so quiet. The samurai castle was ripped down as were the giant busts of Lenin in Moscow. In the back streets you can still find real samurai houses and whole neighbourhoods whose walls date back to that era. People live in restored houses from that time. Its old Japan in many ways.

I made my way around the town on a hired bicycle. The traffic here is non existent and it’s as flat as a tack. You can cycle around the laneways and see shrines and traditional housing. Shoji screened houses that Prime Ministers and warriors have lived in. Little steams flow along streets where coloured carp glide. The city is criss-crossed with the canals and streams that people bring into their gardens and homes to watch carp and water movement.

Riding a bike down these lanes and thinking how impossible this would be in other countries like Australia where Big and Fast is the name of the game.

The Japanese environmental fingerprint must be very small with their tiny cars, bicycles and mass transit systems.

Why do we need Big and Fast ?

I’m not sure that we will answer that one before its too late.

Things that surprise and interest the traveller

Yes many things in Japan surprize and interest the traveller as you make your away the country.

Like looking from the left-side train window this morning and seeing the mountains covered in snow and over on right are perfect shaped swells rolling in from the Sea of Japan with wetsuit clad surfers taking left-handers across a bay.

The cake shops in Japan sell fantastic cakes that go well with a kohe (coffee). Many Australians are surprised at the Japanese baking skills, they’re masters of the cheese cake or torté.

yuki des……………in Matsue

The garden at Adachi at first seems to be a disappointment after the hype. It looks like some kind of mini-golf place attached to a truck stop on a highway. You know the style a big carpark, a souveir shop and an attraction like
A big banana or such, a garden in this case.

However this was no mini-golf franchise, as you entered the garden you knew this is not the big banana.

Instead it was the most beautiful garden created against the backdrop of neighbouring and distant hills. The man who created it in this small town of his birth brought with him a lifetime of knowledge and skill. You mostly view the garden spaces rather than walk through them. There are however places where you step out into the cold and walk little tracks to view some feature.

http://www.adachi-museum.or.jp/

Later in the afternoon I took a narrow motorised boat through the canals and moats that surround Matsue-jo castle. You have to duck down low as the boat negotiates under bridges (bashi) along the way, the skipper sang folk songs as she steered the boat along the waterways. There was a table in the centre of the boat over which went a warm blanket and under there was a heater.

I went to the pasta factory in the evening and greatly enjoyed the pasta and french red. There were a few people there from Canada, NZ and Korea enjoying a birthday party.

This morning I woke in the minshiku and on sliding back the shoji to view the day I saw snow (yuki) falling between the river and the minshiku. It was a stunning sight too see.

Matsue will always be something special for me, warm people, mouth-watering food and postcard sights.

Lost in Japan

Lost net connection. I haven’t been able to email or post blogs recently till I found a “spot” in Matsue. That’s why it’s late being posted. Deep apologies if this has caused any incovenience!

To Matsue…… another world

Matsue des. From Kyoto to take the Shinkensen to Okayama and then the Yakumo Rapid Express through the shintaro hills and mountains down to the coast.

The Yakumo wends through the pine covered mountains along the river valleys passing little hamlets with houses surrounded by gohan paddies and awaiting the plantings. I think J.R. Tolkien would be at home here for sure.

Boys playing baseball on the un-sown gohan paddocks, pitching their very best shot to each other. It’s maybe the flattest place in the district to play on and only in that interlude between winter and early spring when its dry enough to stand on that they get the chance. The rest of the time its waterlogged or snow covered, passed a snow covered peak, it might have been Dai Sen Yura looked like a picture with snow right down the sides.

Had another great minshiku meal here in Matsue, seafood is the speciality. Tempura, crab, saishimi and veges !

The sunset on the lake was snapped by scores of very keen picture takers.

Everything is a few minutes away here in Matsue and friendly too.

Kyoto in Lent

Kyoto’s Ginkaku-ji temple garden is my favourite. The silver temple was closed due to renovations but the magical garden walk still makes it worth to trouble in getting there across town from the Roanji and Golden temples.

I bought the ¥500 all day bus ticket which is a great fare saver because each separate fare is ¥220 and it’s multiple trips to any of these sight -seeing places. If you get the schematic for the bus routes combined with the Kyoto map you will have much to see in Kyoto, the capital of Japan.

From Ginkaku-ji you can walk the path of philosophy nearly all the way to Gion and the hundreds of delicious eating houses along the river and in laneways. Practice your Nihongo first though or look for eigo/french menus.

The food is very good, the variety and sheer number of cafés would stagger people from Melbourne which in Australia is renowed for the number of cafés and eating places. Its staggering food and shopping aplenty.

That’s why this Lent I’m giving up Australian food till after the anniversary of the Easter Rising.

Kyoto san

Kyoto is the most beautiful place you can imagine. However, it is not a place that slaps you in the face with its charm. It is hidden and reveals itself to you in bite sized chunks over time.

Last night I walked along a creek path that runs parallel to the main river. At first it was along an old factory area and gradually it opened up into Gion district and all the buzzle of that area. I stopped at little cafe, efish. They made american style food like clam chouder and BLTs. They served it with wine. The river flowed by the window. They also had an english language school on the premises. The setting was Kyoto style. http://www.shinproducts.com

The next evening I ate the Kansai pancake special, okomenyaki at a small place in Gion I’d been to before with Hitomi and friends in 2004. It hadn’t changed and the food ………. oiishi des

Making plans for Matsue today, might be a bit of a tricky travel plan to get to there and Hagi, should be fun though.

Art and Craft

William Morris and the Art and Craft movement has a big following here in Japan judging by the crowds at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art today.

There is much in common I think with Japanese art styles and that movement. The idea of simplicity, design and beauty are common in the works produced by Japanese and promoted by Morris and the Art and Craft movement.

So I’m heading off south tomorrow Wednesday looking to forward to the Okayama / Matsue regions.

Taking a spell

Long days of travelling from place to place meant I really needed a break. So I decided to stay put in Tokyo before heading south again.

Today it rained all day here, it was pleasantvto watch. The night is a mild cold temp of 5 degrees.

I’m in Ueno currently, it’s cheap and central to many of cities that make up Tokyo and best of all it can be accessed on the Yamonote Line using the JR pass.

I’m thinking of spending a few days I Kyoto before heading to Matsue. I’ll see.I’ve lost a post somewhere too, by sure what happened, nework conjestion I think.

Over and out world of webers.

Saturday night (almost) live in Tokyo

Hi world. It’s Saturday night and I’m staying “home” in Chidori-cho Tokyo, cause I’m getting up early in the morning to go to another plum garden. This time out in the country somewhere. I’ll be going with my union friends from here.

Last night there was a celebration dinner for a victory in court for a victim of asbestos exposure. The party was attended by over a 100 people from the union movement, labour lawyers,medical specialists and community organisations who have campaigned for justice for those victims.

It as a great night and it showed me the same struggles are happening everywhere in the world. Much the same type of people pitch in to help too.

Aferwards we headed off for a bit karoking in a bar somewhere in Yokohama. That was fun too but think we may gave drunk a little too much.

Today the pace changed altogether. I spent 5 hours learning the art of Tea Ceremony. Wow that is an exacting science for sure. I enjoyed it though. Afterwards out for sushie at a local place with the TC people.

Now returning back to Ryokan Kangetsu to watch The Bill if such a thing is on! Goodnight everyone

Laneways leading to………….

The General Union in Japan represents workers who don’t fall into the coverage of other unions. It’s a community union that has about 700 members in Japan, mostly in Osaka and Tokyo.

Charles Weathers, an American acedemic living in Osaka introduced me to Ian Raines an Organiser with the General Union. Ian has lived in Japan for 18 years, working as an english teacher.

He’s Australian and worked in a bank in Australia before going to Uni and doing teacher training. He came here on the way to Europe and has never left. He got actively involved with the union when the Nova languge centre went broke and the General Umion helped workers recover lost entitlements.

Ian has had to learn the organising craft on the run but he seems to be having success in a hostile environment.

He did primary teaching a Wiley Park Primary in Sydney and like me his dad was born in Lakemba and his falmily lived there many years.

The three of us had an interesting chat over dinner and drinks went our separate ways. It’s funny these little laneways in life that lead people to different worlds and places.

Osaka Joe

A real pillow is what I’ve craved since I arrived here in Japan and maybe a Melbourne coffee. The coffee is improving but it still has a way to go to my taste.

I’ve got a great room, compact but it has a 3/4 double bed, and a real pillow!
The Walls are the finished concrete surface with boltholes and formwork marks. Beautiful warm morning sunlight.

Osaka is freezing at the moment, I’ve put the thermals on and all. Gloves and scarf weather it is with a cold and biting wind.

The Umeda Sky Building is called by some a space age “Arc de Triomphe”, I don’t think its that. I walked around its bold shape this morning. From one side the building is plain a but then the side facing shinensen side you see the arch. I’ve seen it from the shinensen before and am pleased to be this close.
It is dramatic.

There is a great landscape garden on one side with veges growing, rice and tea planted. Then there is the windswept space below the arch which in inhabited by the homeless and smokers, both groups forced from their workplaces by change.

The maze under the station is amazing take a wrong turn and you’re on your way you know not where. Shopping malls and plazas to make shoppers weep and me freak – Take me to the surface now! Hop a JR and travel the surface circuit. Figuring out where I am and hopping off to see the plum trees in bloom at Osaka Castle.

Everybody is out to see the plum trees business men in black, teenagers, elderly couples and mums with happy kids.

People look close up to the blossom and look for something that only nihon-jin can see. It’s a mystery, I have an idea but not a full understanding.

But then schoolkids are the same the world over. Why is it they need to walk through the cars on trains, changing carriages and looking for what?Happens in Sydney and Osaka.

The average joe is much the same wherever you go. Osaka Joe is no different.

So what does petrol cost in Japan?

Heading for Takamatsu this morning from Takashima by Express Train. I left Nisha-Iya this morning before 6:00AM to hook up with this train at 10:27AM.

Driving the Japanese roads is a real experience. The speed limit is 50kph and as you pass through a town Koboke for example it might drop to 40kph. Often the houses in those little village towns have there front door within a metre of the road. So you don’t want to driving fast.

On the mountain roads it was mostly single lane and you had to use the mirrors on the side of the road to see if there was any traffic coming.

So what comes the other way?

Log trucks of course. So you have to reverse and find a spot to tuck into while the log truck passes.p

I didn’t hit any traffic till about 15 km out of Takashima. It wasn’t much but I had to fill up with petrol so I found a place that fills it for you, old style!

The price was ¥97.14 per litre. What’s that in A$ ? About $1.93 per litre ?

This is my first long distance train in Japan this time, it’s not a long trip is very comfortable.

………………….arrived Takakatsu at 11:30AM and by mid-day I had handed in Japan Rail (JR) exchange order, got my JR pass, booked some future tickets and was on the Marine Sunliner bound for Okayama and Osaka.

At sea level along the coast it was snowing! Looked great, the fluffy light snow flakes just floating down. Magic!

Then across the inland sea on that massive bridge towards Okayama.

Shinkensen waits for no man…. Almost missed it at Okayama because I was at wrong end of train when it pulled in. Anyway all is cool now, I’m on board and doing 295kph! Bound for Shin-Osaka where I’ll get a local train to Osaka and find my not to be missed hotel, The Landmark Hotel. Be there for 3 nights.

It’s been a big day for travel. I’ll be glad to put my feet up and have a bath in a country where there is heaps of water.

Ice in Chiiori

IceCapading at last. The weather changed today and it was really cool. Went driving and found www.chiiori.org it’s a house restored by Alex Kerr of Lost Japan fame and it was stunning. I met Paul there who is a North American who has lived in Japan about four years. He kindly showed me the house and we shared stories.

Prior to that I drove way out into the bush, high in mountains and saw snow!

Paul says it will be back!

660cc of motoring grunt

I wasn’t sure what would happen. I’ve never driven in Japan before and now I’ve done it.

I found a car hire place, Japaren Rent-A-Car in Tokushima the phone number is 088-626-3914. I got the very cheapest car but i’m sure it would be the most powerful in the fleet, 660cc of Hondaering Gruntpower.

I was on the way navigating through peak hour traffic until I realised it was Sunday. Still it had all the samurai of a Sunday.

I found highway 192 and I was on my way to the Iya Valley west of Takushima. I sat on the open highway limit of 50kph and cruised like a cowboy. The stop lights were a bit of a challange at first but after a couple of late breaking episodes I got the hang of them.

Navigating some simple, I had satnav! All in kanji and the delightful Japanese woman giving directions or hints in Nihingo. Couldn’t be easier. Or could it?

I used the Japanese / English map I had matched up with the Lonely planet guide and the Shell Service station symbols on the satnav to give me fix. There was a sign every now and then how far to Miyoshi City and this information together with the trip meter worked fine. It took quiet a few hours but I didn’t rush and don’t think I got lost.

I’m stating at the ya-so minshiku which is really pleasant. I have a nice room but the owner says it will get very cold though.

I went for walk this afternoon in the glorious weather we’re having here. I treversed the vine-rope bridge which was a bit more scary than it looked on paper or at distance. Then I had fish-on-a-stick ! I saw these kids eating them and thought they were icy-poles. Then I realized it was a fish, all toasty cooked on a tiny fire with a few coals.

Beatiful it was and so was the first afternoon I spent in the Iya Valley.

88 LED ART St Valentines Day 09

This afternoon I chanced to see some people working on a display by the Shinmachie River. I came back later to see the most beautiful display of lights shimmering on the steps leading down to the river.

It was Valentine’s Day installation naturally focused on love. There was Steinway at which various artists played love songs.

I took a swag of photos and met the artist who created the work. She was from Tokyo and grown up on Takushima. She’d been asked by a local group to do something for Valentine’s Day.

It was remarkable!

That was Saturday Febuary 14

Bizan Summit view

Up here atop the mountain that overlooks Tokushima you get a glimpse of the beauty of Japan. Despite the microwave towers and vending machines in the carpark you can see the wonder of the landscape with it’s pines and cherrys scattered across the hills.

I planned to take the ropecar up here this morning but it was out-of-service so I had this mad idea I would walk up the 280 metre Bizan Summit. Bad/good idea! I’m glad I did it but what a climb, and I wasn’t prepared. But the view is majestic.

Tomorrow I’m going to the Iya Valley and I’ve hired a car, smells of adventure! Matene

Tokyo to Tokushima by ferry

If you ever want to travel to Shikoku by ferry from Tokyo it’s not hard. First practice your Nihongo and allow time. After the frenetic Tokyo pace there is nothing better than joining a ferry for the slow rythmic ride to Japon’s 4th island.

Shikoku has been isolated to some degree till more recent times. It was once a hideout for monks fleeing hostile governments and since the 15th century has been a place of pilgramage. There is a 1600 km journey called the 88 Temples that pilgrams take, dressed in white, carrying staves and carrying a few essientials in a bag.

They visit the 88 temples (89 if you count the first that you come back to: The Buddist circle)

The first temple is near Tokushima however it is the custom to visit Koyosan first before heading on the 88 Temples walk of enlightenment.

In the early days many pilgrams simply died on the journey. Today some people do the journey by helicopter, others by air-coned car. However Interest is growing in walking the 1600km and the knowledge that is gained on that walk. I might do it myself one day.

The ferry ride puts you in a good frame of mind as you slowly travel through time and passing ships, ligthouses and whitehorses. I have no more than a dozen fellow passengers and it makes me wonder for how much longer the ferry will make this journey and it’s next port which is in Kyshue before returning.

For ¥9900 you get a 2nd class ticket that entitles you to sleep on the tartami mat with a blanket, sheet and Japanese style “pillow”. You share the sleeping floor with about 9 others. On my trip there were so few of us we had one of the dozen or so floors to ourselves. There is a shower and bathroom to share and there is a vending machine kitchen that serves hot food. ¥200 per meal !

The time drifts away on the ferry and it really slows you down just watching the other ships pass and the white horses dancing. The wind on the deck is strong and blows you along as you walk.

To catch the ferry you’ll need a ticket. I bought mine at a JR travel agent, you can buy it at the terminal but maybe weather or passenger numbers affect that chance. You can bring a car on board too if you’re bringing your car BACK to Japan.

From Tokyo (I bordered at Shinjuku) take the Rinkai Line to a stop called Kukusaiten-jijo. It’s a private line i.e. not JR from # 1 or 2 platform at Shinjiku. When you arrive at Kukusaiten-jijo you’ll find taxi and bus stand, swing round the bend to the right and there is a sign indicating a shuttle bus to the ferry terminal. It leaves there at 17:10, 17:30, 17:50 and 18:10. Don’t try to walk it’s too far and complicated. It costs ¥200. Maybe
a taxi is fine too.

The ferry boards at 6:40PM (18:40) for passengers without cars. If you don’t like vending machine food (why would you come to Japon?) you should bring some with you.

Bon voyage!

Australia nil Japan zero

I’m under Shinjuku Station somewhere in a tiny fastfood place that has hundreds of little eating booths. It’s somewhere to sit and think about what I’m going to do today……………

Yesterday I travelled around the city a bit and visited a plum tree garden that was blooming. There were a whole host of temples and some very old houses, traditional timber places that look like old Japan. My friends from Asia Pacific Worker Links had arranged a meeting when they asked me to outlin the Rights at Work campaign and all the changes that kevin had brought about. (that didn’t take very long and then it was into a full blown discussion about the GFC and what is happening. That is a huge amount of unemployment building here I think.

We went out for dinner afterwards in Yokohama where Australia was playing Japan in soccer. That had a nil all draw which was good all around.

I’m off to Shikoku this afternoon by ferry from Tokyo to Takashima. It’s an 18 hour jouney down the coast. Google it!
So that’s the journey at the moment.

PS it is cold I can tell you !

Shinjuku morning

Hi there folks I’m in Shinjuku Tokyo. Spent my first night here. Bed comfortable, the room is big enough although the cat keeps hitting the wall. Tonight Australia plays Japan in the football I’ll be a union meeting but they are having a break to watch the game. Everybody is talking about and win or lose Ill be in trouble. I’ll be off to Shikoku by ferry to send two nights in Tokoshima and then maybe Takamatsu. This building is pretty neat I’d say! The air was cold to me yesterday. Glad for jacket. Matene to all

At the pointy end

Monday Feb 9 11:00 pm.

I’m airborn now. This morning I checked QANTAS website and bango I got the upgrade to business! Now I’m travelin’ stretch out horizontal seats, gourmet food and stacks of cabin space, night robes and a kit of morning wash stuffy I could get used to riding at the pointy end.

The supper was marinated kingfish with bokchoy and soba. It was fantastic, Japanese style mushrooms in rich light sauce, mmhhh very good. What’s for breakfast you ask?

Tuesday Feb 10 4:24AM

Had the smoked salmon and scrambled
eggs, fruit and yogurt plus a muffin. Kept the strawberry jam for ron.

It’s 5:21AM and the QF21 is decending into Narita. Not sure of my plan yet but I think I better get one soon!

Captain says it’s 2 degrees at Narita with light northerly.