Apr. 12th, 2010

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A beautiful place, but the loveliest of all were the people. Friendly, helpful, kind and smiling when engaged. They love lovely things and while I cannot say the city is any prize-winner, here and there are some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Kerri loved the garden in the Imperial Palace. Utterly without any colour but green and grey, it had some old trees, grey stone bridges, a lake and meandering paths. Not that we could see much of it.

The Emperor must have been a very cosseted prisoner. Mostly powerless, but he could order the death of any of the household, a great incentive to the gardeners, I am sure.

We managed to snag an open day, so just breezed straight in, gazed at all the incredible buildings, read the signs and enjoyed the place. Just us and half of Japan.

The western suburbs - Arashiyama and Sagano were concrete in the middle, tapering into forest and cherry trees and bamboo as the slopes grew steeper. We visited a World Heritage garden, and walked through a carefully tended grove of huge bamboo. I have very rarely found any place so peaceful and majestic in the green light filtering down through the smooth stalks of the great plants.

Village lanes, bento boxes, a helpful local and we were back into the bewildering jumble of modern Japan. We had two day transport passes, making all trains and buses essentially free - one transaction to buy the ticket and we didn't have to worry about fares and ticket machines and drivers without English.

Some juggling around that night to post postcards and arrange tickets for the return trip to the airport. In between we finally got to sample Okonomiyaki, which is also misleadingly called Japanese pizza. That's like saying ramen noodles are spaghetti. Close, but no prize.

Unlike other meals, we had this one in a rather rowdy, earthy bar. The folk beside us were raucous and drunk. Happy drunks but noisy. Unusual in a city where most people are quiet and dignified. Good to see them letting their hair down.

Got up early to make the train to Kansai International. On checkin, we were upgraded to seats in the middle. Nice to have the comfy seats, but I do like a window view. We were also given exit rows on the flight from Helsinki, nice to get the legroom, but I detest exit rows because I can't stow my bag under the seat in front and the wing blocks the view.

*SIGH* I need not have bothered choosing seats for these flights at all.

All in all, it was a happy couple of days with the cherry blossoms and the odd meals and the temples and the kindly locals. Kerri is happy, and I'm happy.

Thinking fondly back to my first trip to Japan, when Cari from New York was able to guide around a bewildered Aussie. I'm OK with finding my way around a Japanese city now.

Istanbul next. Daylight flights, and we'll sleep tonight in sight of AyaSofya, overlooking the Bosphorus.

Oh yeah. One quirk. Two toilets per car on the airport train. For the unisex cubicle, you could see if it was occupied by checking the indicator on the door lock. For the other, just a urinal, you could see if there was anyone inside by glancing through the window thoughtfully provided.

Public toilets often allow a view of the row of men's urinals. In this airport lounge, the doors open off the lobby and if you are standing there having a quiet wee, another traveller can open the door and suddenly there you are in public gaze. I'm no prude, but it's a bit unsettling. Don't quite know whether to wave at passersby. Or with what.

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Skyring

September 2010

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