Saturday, November 29, 2014

30 Hours in Kyoto, Part II

On Saturday morning, we "slept in" until 8:15 and by 9, we were pretty much ready to go.  The morning was drizzly so we headed over to Kyoto Station to lock up our bags.  We grabbed much-needed cups of coffee and then took a taxi to Nijo Castle.  Nijo is my go-to drizzly day destination since the inside tour of the Ninomaru castle takes awhile and is the site of the famous Nightingale Floors, which give melodic warning sounds to detect murderous intruders (quite the juxtaposition, n'est pas?).

We wandered the castle then went outside to the gardens.  There, you can go up to the base of the castle and look under the floorboards to see the crossed iron pieces that rub against the wood to make the noise.  SMS noted that it seemed strange to have such an intricate security idea for the inside when the outside seemed to be dubiously protected via walls and windows made of paper.  This seems like an excellent point and no one in the group had enough knowledge of Japanese fortifications to help reconcile that seeming discrepancy.  Anyway, things to ponder!

After Nijo Castle, we headed over to Nishiki Market.  Before wandering the market, we waited in line for Gogyo ramen, which I found via a Kyoto Taxi Driver's blog.  I highly recommend checking out the link because there are several seemingly awesome restaurant recommendations complete with address cards that a visitor can show the taxi driver.  While SMS and Blake held our place in line, Marissa and I walked into the market to sample pickles and buy sweets.  A winning combination!  I bought a packet of sweets for the MLC/secretary at work that made our restaurant reservations the night before.  The shop keeper asked where we were from and he was very sweet!  He explained that one of the sweets names meant "Bright light through the dew" and his English was charming.  It wasn't the best English, but it's way better than my Japanese and it was so nice of him to talk to us.

After about 10 minutes, I got a text from SMS to "Come back."  We were seated shortly thereafter and we quickly ordered lunch.  Blake, SMS and I had the miso-charred ramen which was phenomenal!  On top of being delicious, we were all pretty hungry and it was the best thing we'd eaten in awhile.  Marissa avoids wheat so she had a tasty rice bowl and bought a couple of snacks in the market, where
 we wandered after lunch.  There are so many samples there and the variety of booths, stalls and shops is so cool!  I'm really happy I got to see it again!
Taiko drumming in the arcade
Next, we walked along a covered pedestrian mall street with a stop in a video arcade where Blake and Marissa were excellent video game Taiko drummers!  Then we stopped for coffee at an Italian place along one of the canals and it was a very picturesque place for a needed pick-me-up.  Even though we had a.m. coffee, the cups are small in Japan!
Our coffee stop!

On the rock bridge across the Kamo River
SMS, rock jumping instead of rock climbing!
It was starting to get late, so we hailed a cab for the remaining 2 miles we had to get to the Silver Temple.  The grounds were absolutely beautiful. There were leaves on the ground but they didn't obscure the moss in the same way that Gio-ji had.  It was difficult to take pictures because it was getting dark but I have a lot of mental snapshots.
Silver Temple Tea House, with some filters to lighten it up
Afterwards, we quickly went behind the temple to check out the trailhead for a hike Marissa had researched.  It looked like a great gravel trail and something I would definitely be interested in if we had more time.  The trailhead had a map showing that it leads up to the "Dai" symbol that is burned during August festivals before continuing up to a 496 meter mountain top.  It's accessible by turning left just before the staircase to the Silver Temple Entrance, making the first right and then walking straight uphill to a carpark with vending machines.  At that point, the street turns into the gravel path and the trailhead sign is to the walker's right.  I don't think I'll ever get a chance to do it, but it looked pretty cool.

We cabbed it back to Kyoto-eki where SMS and I bought salads for dinner in the Itsen food basement.  The food basement has gift-type food on level B1F and prepared foods and a small grocery on B2F.  It is so crowded and so bustling, I highly recommend checking it out even if you're not trying to purchase a train meal!

After that, we got our bags out of the locker, walked Marissa and Blake to the taxi stand and said our good-byes.  Although it was sad, I was overwhelmingly happy that this trip had worked out and we were so lucky to see such great friends, even for a short time.  SMS and I bought our Shin tickets home for the 1845 train and we were back in the house by 10.  Amazing!

Friday, November 28, 2014

30 Hours in Kyoto!

Bamboo Forest, Arashiyama
Sagoy!  I am very impressed with SMS and I!  Two weeks ago, my friend Marissa wrote to me to let me know that she and her husband were going to Kyoto.  We worked it out so that we could meet up so SMS and I headed off to Kyoto for what ended up being a 30 hour trip.  Although that sounds short, we had the most amazing time catching up with friends and seeing a lot of Kyoto!

On Saturday, SMS and I left the house at 7:50.  We took the train to Shin-Yokohama where we caught the Nozomi Shinkansen down to Kyoto.  We arrive at 11:40 and took a taxi over to the apartment.  I found the listing on and I highly recommend the place. It was a cute, minimalist apartment with two bedrooms, 1 toilet and 1 shower room (these are most often separated in Japan housing).  It would be a great place to base a longer trip to Kyoto, but SMS and I were limited by prior commitments we had in Yokosuka on Sunday.

SMS, Marissa, Blake and I met at the apartment and dropped off our bags.  The weather was much better than the forecast so I switched plans and we headed to Arashiyama.  I had originally planned to go on Saturday but since the weather was so good and everything in Arashiyama is outside, we decided to head West.

Since the overall trip was pretty short, we took taxis almost everywhere.  The buses aren't bad, especially for the central and east parts of the city, but for four people, a cab was only slightly more expensive than subway and train fare.  We were dropped off along the river near the Togetsukyo bridge, or "Moon Crossing Bridge."  While we were in the cab, we listened to a podcast and we all felt very knowledgable!

Before heading off on our Arashiyama trek, we stopped for a heavy snack.  SMS was hungry and ordered ramen for lunch.  Blake and I ordered croquettes for a snack.  I didn't want to have too large of a lunch since we were going to have a great dinner later that night.
After eating, we headed to the Bamboo Forest.  There, I saw one of the highlights of the trip.  There was an older man very seriously playing "Greensleeves" on a wind instrument held to his nose- a nose flute!  It was pretty amazing and I have pictures to prove it!  Don't worried, I gave him a tip- fair's fair.
At the Villa, aka my Vacation Home!
After that excitement, I recovered from my near-swoon and we toured the gardens of Okochi-Sanso Villa.  It was breath-taking.  The entrance is a bit pricy at Y1000/person, but with the awesome current exchange rate, who cares!  Plus, it really is breath-taking and I highly recommend it!  This site in particular made me so happy we were in Kyoto.  When we toured with SMS' parents, I made a mental note that I wanted to come back for the Fall Foilage but it probably wouldn't have happened since there are so many other places I want to see.  Fortunately though, our friends' visit lured us down there and it was so worth it!

I took a lot of pictures at the Villa and was so impressed by the vivid Fall colors. Afterwards, we went to my favorite washi shop and headed to Gio-ji.  This was the only disappointment of the trip because I was so excited to show off my favorite temple but it's gorgeous carpet of moss was covered with leaves.  Nooooooo!  It was still beautiful and worth seeing, but I was a little non-plussed.  Marissa tried to cheer me up, which was sweet and sort of funny because it really wasn't that big a deal.  It's just I had really built it up and with the Fall leaves, the main attraction (for me) was mostly obscured.
Gio-ji, covered in leaves <:o(
After Gio-ji, we started back in the direction of the train station.  We wanted to maximize our time in Kyoto so we decided to see the Kinkakuji (Golden Temple).  On our way to the station (to catch another cab), we walked through the grounds of Seiryo-ji, which caught our eye mainly for the impressive wooden gate and main building.
Kinkakuji and our new friends!
We then quickly caught a cab and went to Kinkakuji just in time for sunset.  It was very beautiful and we got some nice couple shots.  We also had a photo with several Japanese school girls.  I thought they initially only wanted Blake in the photo but then we were all invited in!

We went home and got ready for dinner.  We went back to Takuma, our favorite restaurant from last time.  This time we had table seating instead of counter seating so we lost a little bit of the showmanship aspect, but the food was just as delicious.  Although there were some variation on the specifics, the courses were the same as our last visit.

We walked home through Gion, which was beautiful.  On the way home, we walked through the Kennin-ji grounds, which were beautifully lit.  It started to sprinkle so our walk ended at the perfect time since we were nearly home by that point.

That was the first half of the trip, just under 12 hours in Kyoto.  Isn't it amazing how much can be seen while on vacation?!  I wish work life felt that efficient sometimes!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving 2014 was awesome!  Although I didn't hit up 3 dinners like I did last year, SMS was here which made for a perfect Thanksgiving. We have so much to be thankful for and it was really a perfect day. 
Fuji-san wants in on the party!
I started off with a 5 mile run, which felt pretty good. I'm trying to be a little more consistent with my working out and a little bit of pre-Thanksgiving cardio never hurts. Plus, SMS and I are traveling Friday and Saturday and we're packing light (aka, no workout clothes!).
So, the main event of the day was Turkey Time, hosted by our good friends Zac and Emily. I think I've mentioned before on this blog but we have found such a wonderful group of friends here in Japan. It seemed that all of us were in town for this holiday (not always the case for long weekends), so we converged on Z&E's house for an epic Thanksgiving dinner. 
Sides and apps, just waiting for the bird!
SMS and I brought cranberry sauce, Kentucky bourbon sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts in hazelnut butter, a chocolate mousse in phyllo crust (thanks Martha!) and very dense but tasty pretzel Parker House rolls. The spread is above and it was awesome!  Rolls, stuffing (2), green bean casserole (2), mashed potatoes, more cranberry sauce and buffalo chicken meatballs. 

The Turkeys were fried and delicious!  There was also a ham but I didn't have any. There were about 20 people and so much food. We went around the room and we all said things we were grateful, which was pretty sweet but not overly sappy. 
Desserts featuring the 2014 Pie-Off!
Speaking of very sweet though, the amount of desserts was insane. I had a brief few minutes of being overly full after I drank a big glass of water but I recovered. While I was inside hanging out, SMS was outside totally dominating bocce ball. What a ringer and hidden talent!

The desserts included pies (pumpkin, cherry, chocolate phyllo, apple, pecan), pumpkin cheesecake, banana-peanut butter pudding and bread pudding. My favorites were the cherry pie by Emily and the Martha dessert I made. It was delicious but hard to serve so it won't be a go-to for me, but it was tasty and different so it was a winner for me. 

The night ended with a totally early 20s move by Carl convincing Adam that 6 people plus a dog could fit into Adam & Jen's little Japanese car. While we may have taken 5 years off the life of the car, it worked!  SMS and I got a ride home and it was a great end to the night. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Roller Derby Weekend, aka Sore!

Yokota Hanger 15

A roller derby camp was offered in Yokota last weekend and SMS and I decided we wanted to go. I figure that if I'm going to commit to roller derby, I need to jump start my skill set!

On Saturday, I woke up early and headed to Yokota. SMS had two photo shoots so he was going to train up later in the day and attend the second day of camp.  There was a fair bit of traffic and I arrived shortly after warm-up.  We went through a lot of drills that day and although I was one of the newest players there, I didn't feel completely over my head. Close, though!

SMS arrived later that evening and we went to Banzai Burrito.  We had quesadillas that were pretty good but would not be mistaken for SoCal Mexican food!

Sunday was a huge derby day- 0900-1830. I participated in my first scrimmage which was a sensory overload but a lot of fun. By the end, I was a little sore but I really had a nice time.  It was a total immersion experience!  We drove two of the women home to Ikego after a nice dinner at Chillis.  I had the quesadilla firecracker salad and it was pretty good!  I slept like a rock that night and wasn't exactly jumping out of bed the next morning for work.  It was more like very slow-moving and creaky!

SMS, gearing up!

Friday, November 21, 2014

'Till November!

I had a pretty good week!  I was on call and it was really quiet until Friday afternoon (of course), but even that wasn't too bad.  I did miss out on going to a medical conference in Tokyo but I was really mostly excited about the sashimi after the presentations so maybe I'll treat myself sometime this weekend and feel like I still got what I wanted!

There were a few interesting patients in clinic and I had a full OR day on Thursday.  I had some interesting cases and it was great to be back in the OR. I always hesitate to go into more detail on the blog because even if they are the most de-identified stories in the world, there's still something vaguely unprofessional-ish about it.  I think that's especially true since I work in a relatively small community.

SMS has had a busy photography week and taken some beautiful pictures.  He's so talented and he always finds little take-away points from each session, which I think is really cute.  I think it's an attractive quality when someone can do a great job but still be open to things that can be improved.

Tomorrow, I'm off to Yokota to Roller Derby Camp!  SMS will join me Saturday evening since we're staying up there for Sunday's session.  He had a prior photo shoot scheduled so he decided to forego the Saturday session.

Coming up: Thanksgiving (yay!) at our friends' house with a big group; a two-day trip to Kyoto to meet up with Marissa and Blake; a work holiday party; a weekend in Tokyo; Christmas and call; and a trip to Mt. Tremblant to see my family and ring in the New Year!!  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Too much flying!

Beautiful day in Pittsburgh- 70 degrees in November!
My interview trip is complete!  I had a great time in Pittsburgh, especially since I got to meet Karen for lunch!  We went to the Allegheny Diner where I got a Thanksgiving Sandwich.   It was good but there was a lot of salt and gravy for the amount of sandwich.  It made me excited to have a Thanksgiving leftover sandwich in a few weeks!
That is my huge rental by the telephone pole- Town and Country!

The interview at Pitt went well and then I flew out to San Francisco.  I had a great interview at CEI and I really liked it.  So, overall, I had a very successful interview trip and I'm hopeful that I can pursue advanced ear training next year starting 1 July.

Ferry Terminal in San Francisco- I went into the city for a few hours after my interview!
I got home on Friday, dropped my bag off at home and headed into work.  The weekend was pretty mellow since I've acquired a head cold during my travels that, combined with jet lag, has really left me dragging.  SMS and I saw Interstellar with friends on Saturday night after a Sukiyaki dinner. Sukiyaki is a stew where dashi and warishita sauce (mirin, soy, sugar, sake) are brought to a boil and various vegetables and thinly cut meats are placed into the hot pot to cook.  SMS has been wanting to have it for awhile so it was nice that the evening came together so well.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mid-Atlantic fun

After leaving my parents (whah!), I flew into Philadelphia and drove to Wilmington, DE. Although my parents and I were rightfully worried about driver fatigue, I napped on the flight and felt refreshed enough to drive so off I went!

After too brief a stay at the local Ramada, I headed to my first interview. I shadowed the fellowship director in his a.m. balance clinic and his p.m. otology clinic. I had a really nice time and I think I would learn a lot there. 

After clinic, I headed back to the airport to fly to Pittsburgh. There was a long delay for my flight which would have meant a missed connection so United rebooked me on US Airways direct to Pittsburgh. Yay!  

I hung out at the USO which had hot food. Awesome!  It meant I got to enjoy my second meatball sub of the trip!  I didn't realize the unintended goal of this trip was to look like a meatball at the end!  It wasn't as good as the one the previous night but it still hit the spot. It was a really nice USO but alas, all good things come to an end. I flew to Pittsburgh and picked up my HUGE rental car- a town & country and it drives like it's the size of a small town. I feel like a soccer Mom!

I had a pretty good night's sleep at the Wyndam Grand, a very nice hotel. I'm off to get ready for my p.m. interview at Allegheny hospital which is going to be preceded by lunch with Karen. Yay!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Best layover ever!

So, I'm back in the States for a whirlwind interview trip. 4 days and flying every day- crazy!

When I was planing my trip, I noticed that one United itinerary included a 6 hour layover in Dulles. Normally, a 6 hour layover is a no go but in this case, it meant I could see my parents for a short but sweet trip. 

It was AWESOME to see them. They're finishing up their French course before moving and I am so happy I got to see them. I even had a bonus of talking to Grandpa and my sister on speaker phone on the way to my parents' apartment. Yay!

I'm not too cheesy on this blog but really and truly, my parents are such a gift in my life and I feel so wonderful and lucky that I got to see them. Now, with a meatball sub in my belly :), it's off to Delaware for my first otology interview. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tokyo Weekend

This weekend was awesome!  SMS and I had the best time and it was packed with activities. 

On Friday, I went to derby practice and SMS had a Japanese lesson.  Derby is a lot of fun and slowly but surely, I'm getting better on skates. After our individual activities, we met up at the apartment and headed over to Stacie and Jeff's for dinner. They made an awesome white fish dinner with a garlic/tahini/cilantro/lemon sauce served in a grilled eggplant boat.  Yum!  Dessert was a multi-course smorgasbord. I had received two rich custards and two chocolate millefleurs mini-cakes from Kazu-San at work; SMS had bought macarons from a shop outside Daiei mall; and Jeff and Stacie provided mini-custard eggs. It was an awesome dinner and such a fun but mellow time. Liz and Carl were there too. It was a great time and we talked until it was pretty late. Since we had a sort-of early day on Saturday and we were tired from the workweek, we all headed out around 11. 

On Saturday, I woke up at 6:30 (boo!) and though I tried to will myself back to sleep, I got up around 7:20 and went for a 7.5 mile run. I haven't been running much but as long as I try to stick to a long run a week, the half-marathon will at least be tolerable. I ran down to Kannonzaki and ran the trails during which, I was seriously sucking wind. Trail running is hard!

I got back, showered and SMS and I headed out to pick Carl and Liz up because we were off to Tokyo for the Japan vs Maori All-Blacks rugby match. It was awesome!  The game was really close and for about 10 minutes, it looked like Japan would win which would have been a HUGE upset. The final score was 20-18 with the All-Blacks winning; what a heartbreaker for Japan!

We started walking back to the hotel when we decided to go into the Tesla store. SMS was nervy and asked to test-drive the car and a half-hour later, we were cruising Tokyo in a Tesla. Sagoy!  It was an awesome ride and super cool. The touch console display is amazing. I know what's on SMS' Christmas list now!

We walked back to the hotel and got ready for dinner. We thought about Gompachi, but we decided that we were in the mood for pizza. We went to Roppongi and went out to a brew house that had pretty good pizza. We had a lamb/arugula pie, pancetta/sausage/ground meat pie, and a bechemel/mushroom pie along with Caesar salad. It was delicious and filling, which was great since we were four hungry people!  

Afterwards, we headed over to Mori Art Center and took the elevator to the 52 floor to see the Tim Burton exhibit. It was pretty amazing. He is a very talented, prolific artist and seeing the various sketches, storyboards, paintings, drawings and models were really cool. I particularly like his wry takes on common expressions like a man with seeing eye dogs, literally two little dauschounds and a puppeteer whose one puppet cut off his head to the horror of the other puppet ("Eek!"). 

We were pretty tired after that and decided to head back. On Sunday morning, we went to the New Sanno brunch and had a feast!  There was a pastry table, lox bagel fixings, prime rib, omelet station, waffle station, shrimp fried rice station, dessert table and two buffet lines with breakfast and lunch offerings. It was awesome and our bellies were full. 

Then SMS, Carl and Liz headed home while I waited for my bus to the airport. I took a quick walk and went to my favorite park before boarding and then it was time to go. I'm doing a whirlwind tour of the States for three otology interviews.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Rain and Nikko!

Mosaic in Nikko
Saturday was a lazy, rainy day.  I was not on call (yay!) but since we were planning a trip to Nikko, we decided to have a mellow Saturday.  We went to Snug Stay Door for lunch which was delicious, as always.  This time, I had the vegetable bean burger.  It sounds redundant, doesn't it?  But it was awesome and came with a delicious bean sauce and normal burger fixings (vegetable) on top of a slightly polenta-tasting (bean) burger.  Yum.
Shoyen Garden, Nikko
Although it doesn't sound lazy, I went on a six mile run to the Art Museum late in the afternoon.  I'm "training" for the Yokosuka half marathon, which basically consists of a weekly long run with scattered working out during the week.  Not the best plan and I wouldn't recommend it, but it's enough to keep from deeply regretting running in the half.  Who wants her running mantra to be, "Why didn't I sign up for the 10K, Why didn't I sign up for the 10K?"
By Shinkyo Bridge
On Sunday, we headed out to Nikko.  Let me preface this travelogue with the fact that this trip was a tiny bit of a dud by my standards.  I had been to Nikko several years ago and thought that hazy flashback would be enough to get me through.  Eh, I should have planned a little better.
There was a strange obsession with drawing comparisons between SKYTREE and the temples.
Do you see the SMS tree?
So, the main reason for going to Nikko was to see! Fall! Foilage!  This was very successful and I was very happy.  The Shoyen garden attached to the Rinnoji temple has beautiful Fall colors with several bright red Japanese maples.  I think the trees were at their peak which was pretty awesome timing.

The main reason for the "meh" feeling towards the trip overall was a bad sense of timing.  The trip from Yokosuka took about 3 hours to get there and 4 hours to get back.  Since there were other things we would like to do in Nikko like see Lake Chuzenji and Tobu World Square, we should have planned a weekend trip to see everything.  Sights are about 40 minutes apart by bus or train so doable in a weekend, but we just didn't really think things through other than "Leaves!"  Also, it was really crowded due to the foliage and that Monday was a holiday so I was very happy we didn't drive but it also made the trains more crowded.  We were unable to take the Rapid Express home, which is why the extra hour got tacked on to our trip back.  I should have booked our seat reservation when we got our tickets in the a.m. at the Tobu Asakusa station.
Intersection by Tobu Asakusa Satation
Next time, I still think I would take the train since the Nikko 2-day pass is a really good deal for public transportation and driving doesn't save that much time.  I also might go at a time when we're not still "templed-out" after our Kyoto trip. A great resource for planning a Nikko trip is this handout from CFAY.  Also, bring snacks since the temples are spread out and the train rides lengthy.
A funny vegetarian-friendly restaurant named Hippari dako in Nikko where we ate Tsukune (so, not veg)
and looked at all the pieces of paper/detrius from former tourist patrons.  Very cool!
SMS is happy because he found a house with a garage in Japan!  Sagoy!
BUT!  I'm glad we went.  I'm from the East Coast where people do crazy things like sit in crazy traffic along Skyline Drive to look at Fall Foilage so I don't think what we did was too crazy.  I would just like to plan for a better leisure time:travel time ratio.

On the way back home, we stopped in Yokohama to see the Smart Illumination, a energy awareness light art exhibit/installation in Yamashita Park, Yokohama.  The website said Minatomirai so we walked extra (yay, more walking!) to get there but eventually we saw the installations and had a more modern end to our day.