Kamakura, Part 2: Hasedera, and the Daibutsu of Kamakura

This is post #5 of our Tokyo-Seoul trip, for the second half of Tuesday, November 7, 2017, a continuation of the previous post.

After walking back to the station, we are hungry and tired and maybe even a little bit hangry, so we both hit the gift shop looking for something to eat.  It’s a maze, so we miss each other coming out (typical) but eventually reunite.  I bought two drinks, which we guzzle down and Dave bought a French pastry with chocolate chips — er, red beans.  Still can’t get used to finding beans in all my food.  We join the other masses of school children to ride the Enoden, the electric train.  We all pile on when it arrives, and it’s a noisy, happy two-stop ride to where we get off.


We are headed to the Hasedera Temple, but we all wait on the platfrom for the train to pass, then go down the steps, crossing the other tracks, and through the trestle-arm gates. TokyoSeoul3_17a

We turn left by the tsunami signs (sobering, as I watched many videos of the tsumani that hit Japan in 2011) and walk a short distance to the shrine. As with so many of these shrines and temples, the origins read much like my religion’s crickets-and-seagulls story, examples of God’s divine providence, but perhaps unintelligible to other peoples from other lands.  This one had to do with a sacred large camphor tree, a stump carved like a Kannon statue which was then thrown into the sea only later returning, and a temple constructed to honor and house it.  We enter the grounds, pay our entry fee and start up a winding path to the top of the hill.

Along the way were many small statues: “Along the steps to the Kannondo are statues of a much less monumental size but perhaps greater visual impact. All around are rows of small statues of Jizo, the guardian deity of children. Historically, parents came to Hasedera to set up these statues in hopes the deity would protect and watch over their children.  Today, though, the Jizo statues represent the souls of miscarried, stillborn or aborted children. Some of the statues are dressed in bibs, hand-knitted caps and sweaters. More than 50,000 Jizo statues have been offered here since the war, but the thousand or so currently displayed will remain only a year before being burned or buried to make way for others.” (from here)


Small reflecting pond next to the garden of statues


I bit and bought one of these. Who wouldn’t want a “perfect state of health” and “success in life”?

Sign at one turn of the steps on the way up to the Kannon-do Hall, at the top of the site.


This was my favorite of the temples, with its stark black-and-white, the pristine nature of the grounds and the view to the sea. It’s sometimes easy to forget we are on an island:


I do like the vermillion temples, but this was so different looking. Inside the main hall is a giant goddess of Mercy statue (no photos allowed, except for the one from the tourist site, below).


from the Kamakura Visitors Site

I was attracted to a small area to the side, where you could write down the name of a woman who had had a miscarriage and submit it (with a small fee) to the priests, who would pray for the mother and the unborn baby.  I thought of my daughter and all the miscarriages she’d had before getting her last child over a decade ago.  I could see her coming to this place, and writing down her name here.  But we also have collections of names in our Latter-day Saint temples that we pray for, and we don’t need to offer up money.  Her name was in those temples a lot in those days.


This shrine was originally dedicated to Kojin, the god of the cooking stove and fire, but it has been rebranded as Inari-sha, due to the presence of the oyster shells attached to the carved stump that found its way back to the land (all info is from the brochure).


More places of homage.



Bussokuseki (stone engraved with the Buddha’s footprint)

I sat and waited for my book to be signed (or, I waited for my “go-shuin”), while Dave explored the grounds.  He saw the small smiling statues, the footprint of Buddha, the Benten-jutsu Cave and other sights:

TokyoSeoul3_28aThese ice creams in the vending machine are tempting, as I am flagging because of no lunch, but we press on.

We leave the Hasedera Temple and walk up the hill to the Kotokuin Temple, pay the money and enter.  Immediately we can glimpse the giant Buddha.  We are there with (it seems) entire legions of elementary school children, who are happy and noisy and very charming.  (I wonder if American schoolchildren are this polite.)


I head to the building to the right to get my go-shuin; Dave sits down on one of the big rocks in the area, while I take photos and explore.


Apparently you can go inside (for an additional fee) the Daibutsu of Kamakura (what they call it).  Cast in about 1252, he has sat in the open air since around 1492, when the temple that used to surround him was destroyed.

Great Buddha woodblock

Ando Hiroshige: An Exposed Buddhist Image of Josenji Temple, Great Buddha at Kamakura, c. 1820–50

A woodblock from the late 19th century shows one view, but all the trees are grown now, so we couldn’t see the sea from this temple. However, we did see many schoolchildren.


I wanted to take a photo of one young man’s hat ON him, and asked him (that old thing where I think they understand English).  He takes off his hat, and says, with eyes downcast, “Sorry.”

I realize he thinks I’m telling him to take off his hat in deference to the Buddha.  I hold up my iPhone.  “No,” I smile “Photo?” and his friend whaps him on the arm and says something in Japanese with the word “foto” in it.

He grins and let me take the photo of his hat.  I still remember the time in Dubrovnik when the little boy, well-trained by his parents to deal with pesky tourists, screamed NOOOOOOOO!! when someone asked to take his photo.  I’m more cautious now.

I do wish I had a hat with a slogan that reads “Every Day Full of Drive.”


Less shy young women.

I picked up my signing book, Dave, and we head toward the bus.


These are the school children of the Pink Bandanna.


Dave snaps this photo as we leave; when we look at it later, the monk’s expression seems to say “You tourists.”


We pass a “Stitch” shop on the way to the train station.


You can see the divide here right down the center of the subway train car, as people face toward the windows.

TokyoSeoul3_tired woman

She likes ruched flowers.



TokyoSeoul3_Kabuki TheaterUp on the street, the neon lights start their performances, and we think about dinner.


This is about a one-minute walk from our hotel/subway stop, and we decide to try it out, given our success yesterday.  Note the wax food display on the outside, left.


Where are the chopsticks?  In a little drawer on the table, underneath the condiments.  Dave has vegetable ramen, I had tonkatsu and we share lightly refried rice and six gyoza, which were really delicious.  The whole meal hit the spot.


Two specials.  Or something.  Right as we finish, the lady at the next table lights up a cigarette.  Apparently smoking is not allowed on the street, but okay in this restaurant during these hours:


No smoking on the first floor between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m, and on the 2nd floor between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.  We asked about these hours; apparently it’s so women and their children aren’t exposed to second-hand smoke, or at least it’s what the hotel clerk told us.


We walk the block to our hotel, and enter the elevator, knowing that we are being watched:


I lay my collection of ema and go-shuin on the bed and admire them all.  I still have my treasured books from our last trip, and now have another new one for my collection.


I record today’s purchases, and write in my journal.  And I hope for a good night’s sleep for tomorrow’s a big day: Dave starts his conference and I try to find my way to buy a Blythe doll.


Kamakura • Part 1: Hokokuji, Jomyoji, and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Temples

This is post #4 of our Tokyo-Seoul trip, for the first part of Tuesday, November 7, 2017.


Just to remind myself: I am in a different country.  Good morning, Tokyo.  Today is Kamakura Day!


We squared away our travel on Hyperdia, got ourselves ready and headed to City Bakery to get our breakfast to go. TokyoSeoul3_1b

From the City Bakery, we had a wild walk through the tunnels of the Shimbashi Station through throngs of commuters–snaking up and down and around, 10 and 12 deep in lines coming down the stairs, just waiting to get down on the platform.  Tokyo rush hour at its finest.  I would have stopped to take a photo, but we were rushing to make the train for Kurihama (Kamakura).


It was a crush, and I admired this fellow’s set-up, of head-on-pole-for-a-rest.  But the farther out into the country we headed, the more room there was on the trains (the journey to Kamakura was about 60 minutes).  A young family with two boys — one more gregarious (read: out of control) than the other — were also in our car, and they spoke English.

We struck up a conversation and found out the young mother had grown up in Japan, but now lived in New York City on Staten Island; the children were being “World Schooled.”  I later wondered to Dave if that means that the parents just wanted to travel the world during school time, and not be tied down.  I had to wonder what the boys would remember.  The young mother shared with us their itinerary (below), which was thoughtful.  We must have looked more lost than we felt.  The train came to a stop and she told us that this was the station, and we should get off.


We stopped at the Visitor’s Center and after buying our two bus passes, we looked for a place to eat our breakfast, which of course, this being Japan, there are no easy places to eat unless you are in a restaurant or in your home.


So, dorky tourists that we are, we sat down on the bus station bench and ate our breakfast (the green letter “B” on the map below).  Then we ambled back to the train station and caught the small tram out to our first stop.

Kamakura Map

Overview of our day: five stops


The tram was really crowded, but at the first stop many left.  We continued on to Hokikuji, the “bamboo forest” temple.


The tram stopped across the street, and the entrances were well-marked.TokyoSeoul3_2TokyoSeoul3_2c

This is what we saw when entering the temple area.


To our right were discreet signs blocking entrance.


The building directly in front of us, also had elegant structures, restricting our entrance.


But the more faithful paused and said their prayers.  Usually they let you get close enough to throw the money into the box with the slotted top, but even that wasn’t available.  We proceeded further to the left, to an open window.   I handed them my book; they handed me a tag with a number on it; there was also a charge to get my Shuin-cho (folded signature book) signed (300 Yen). We found out that they charged entry for this temple (200 Yen, about $1.80/person); we paid up and entered.


Even their pathways show great attention to detail.


We enter the bamboo forest.  It’s smaller than we thought (when they say “forest,” we Americans imagine something along the order of the Amazon), but quiet and beautiful.  This species of bamboo, “moso,” is the biggest kind of bamboo reaching heights of 92 feet; it is originally from China.


There are many small shrines along the pathway, which led up a small rise, near some “yagura,” which is a cave to accommodate tombs, but we really couldn’t see into it.


The grounds are beautiful, with a koi pond, and beautiful trees, which were being trimmed that day:


We saw three other school girls along the short path through the forest, and we kept dodging them.  Finally I offered to take their photo (not the group above), and they offered to take ours.


We try to get a “Christmas Card” photo on every trip, and were happy to have a candidate so early in our travels; we did end up using this one.


The short walk over, we collect my book, and head out, landing ourselves in the accompanying graveyard.


This being Japan, and this being a long day of being on the go, when I saw the sign for restroom, I took advantage of it.



Okay, not this one.  I found a Westernized toilet in one of the three stalls, and was also happy to notice that they provided toilet paper.  As I near the toilet, the sound of running water starts up from a speaker next to the toilet.  Whether it’s to encourage quick use of the facilities, or disguise any sounds, I don’t know.

Street scenes: manhole covers, and a Hello Kitty blanket hanging from the balcony.  I try not to look around too much because in all the tourist brochures we have strict instructions:

  • Please visit shrines and temples in a calm and quiet manner.
  • On the streets in town, please be careful not to bother the residents.
  • Please mind the people around you when eating and drinking on the streets.
  • And my favorite: Please take home your own garbage, do not leave them.

We did carry around a “garbage bag” into which we put our trash, as public trash cans are few and far in-between.



We walked from Hokokuji (Bamboo temple) across the street to the Jomyoji Temple, mainly because it was…right across the street.  Again, we leave our book at the front little building, and walk around to go in.  A group of tourists was just coming out and one of them, a man, called out, “Don’t go there!”  After ten minutes, we’d seen just about everything, so he was mostly right.


I liked their water spout systems–much prettier than a gutter snaking down the wall.


While the temples don’t really let you in, some visitors take their shoes off at the top step, some don’t.  All bring their hands together and bow.  They were serving tea inside one of these buildings, something we guessed was part of a tourist tour, so we crept about.


A funeral had just ended, and we hung back to see the priest, and the patrons (below) climb up the hill into the cemetary.


Leaving Jomyoji.  The place where we left the book is to the right at the bottom of the stairs (where the young man is headed).  Price for this one: 100 Yen (a little less than a dollar), but the book was 300 Yen (a little less than $3).

Walking down the street toward the bus stop, we heard some sounds coming from over the wall.  Looking over, we saw a man in waders with a week-whacker, trimming up the stream’s vegetation.  Vaguely hungry, we entertained the idea of eating a “garden of herbs, wild flowers and vegetables,” but settled for buying a bottled drink at the vending machine next to the bus stop.

The bus took the corner and dropped us about a block away from the entrance.  We swam upstream against a group of school girls, all dressed in matching uniforms.  By the end of the day, we could identify whose parents spent the most on their schooling, with the top of the ranking being the complete matching uniforms (like the ones above), moving downward to matching shirts only, and from there on down to matching kerchiefs around their necks, ending up with matching color of hats.  My children would have been in the latter category, for sure.


Dave got a great shot of the scramble crosswalks in front of the torii gate, the large red structure marking the transition from the mundane to the sacred.


A good map of the grounds of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.  After walking through the torii gate, there is a long open walkway with booths selling items: desserts, cotton candy, ice cream, loose bins of candy (fill your own bag), and pineapples.


Dave patiently waits for me while I purchase some stars; happily we seem to be over our “first-day adjustment phase.”


After the open yard with the booths, we approach this series of buildings: the temizuya (water purification basin), the maiden (lower worship hall), and the Shrine Office.


Wikipedia gives some details about the purification font:

“A chōzuya or temizuya (手水舎) is a Shinto water ablution pavilion for a ceremonial purification rite known as temizu.  Water-filled basins, called chōzubachi, are used by worshippers for washing their left hands, right hands, mouth and finally the handle of the water ladle to purify themselves before approaching the main Shinto shrine or shaden (社殿). This symbolic purification is normal before worship and all manned shrines have this facility, as well as many Buddhist temples and some new religious houses of worship.  The temizuya is usually an open area where clear water fills one or various stone basins. Wooden dippers are usually available to worshippers.  Originally, this purification was done at a spring, stream or seashore and this is still considered the ideal. Worshippers at the Inner Shrine at Ise still use this traditional way of ablution.”

I’m in love with the vermillion-painted buildings, with shiny brass fittings and decorative painting.


In this view, the shide, or paper streamers, hang down from the rice rope around the top.


Dave sends me over to where I can get my book signed (to the left of the tented area), and wanders around while I stand in the long line.  He comes back and holds my place while I buy an ema for this place.  They have two colors of wooden gingko leaves; I buy the green, but will forever wonder why I didn’t buy the gold…or both. I rejoin him in line in time for the monk to sign my book.TokyoSeoul3_10aTokyoSeoul3_10b

And then I shyly put forward my ema for him to write on, which kind of blows his mind, as it’s totally against what is supposed to happen.  He explains, kindly, and in Japanese that I’m to write my own prayer, and I, kindly, and in English, ask him to write the symbol of the temple on the ema.  After a bit of back and forth, and me offering to pay again, he does, but I’m sure he thinks I’m a bit nuts.



Children of the Matching Hats


Dave had gone over to the flower show on the side of the temple grounds.


These were amazing–the large sprays overflowing the table are all grown from one plant.  They also had displays of different types of flowers:


And up the steps we go to the main shrine, or Hongu.TokyoSeoul3_12bTokyoSeoul3_12cTokyoSeoul3_12dTokyoSeoul3_12e

It’s huge, ornate, and again, no photos of the interior.  This present building was erected in 1828, according to the brochure I carry around.


Green? or Gold? I’m still debating, but am not going back down the steps to get another.


We already did this dance at Asakusa.


There are multiple of small red buildings on this site; I stop trying to figure them out, or why they are important, and just enjoy the visuals.


To the left of the Hongu are these toriis; we head up to the Maruyama-Inarisha Shrine, which is dedicated to the deity of harvest.TokyoSeoul3_14aTokyoSeoul3_14bTokyoSeoul3_14cTokyoSeoul3_14dTokyoSeoul3_14e

Is it wrong to covet ema?  If I could have figure out how to buy one of these in a torii shape, I would have.


We head down the backway, onto a small street that brings us back around to the main area.  We head to the bus stop, sort of wondering about lunch, or something, as we were ready for a break, and were hot and a bit tired.


While we were waiting at the bus stop, a man comes out of the rickshaw shop and says “It’s only a five-minute walk to the station.”  We thank him, and continue waiting.  Then another random man comes up to us and says “A couple of minutes walk is all,” and gestures vaguely down the street towards the station.  We decide to walk.


And after five minutes walking facing the sun, we decided we were played, that the helpful locals could safely be categorized as bending the truth.  It was a 20 minute walk, but we made it.

Next up: Kamakura, Part 2.

Tokyo: First Night in a New City

This is post #3 of our Tokyo-Seoul trip, for the second half of Monday, November 6, 2017.


Suitably refreshed from our afternoon break, we head out again on this, our first day in Tokyo.  When we left early this morning, many of the shops had their roll-down metal doors closed, so we didn’t know what was behind them.  But what a lovely surprise to see a Hobbyra-Hobbyre shop a block from our hotel.  They are a embroidery/craft/fabric shop with wonderful displays in their windows:


I’ve made a mental note to come back here when Dave is in his conference.


Another treat we see are a waffle shop selling gaufres, which we loved when we were in Belgium many years ago.  These are a step up, with nuts.  We point, pay, and enjoy them outside on the street, a change from our last trip to Japan, where we felt like outcasts if we so much as chewed gum on the streets.  Maybe we still should feel that way, but we don’t and we enjoy the treat.  We also purchased one of those chestnut treats; more on that later.


I have a hankering to get as high as I can to see the scramble intersection so we head for the bulding that has the City Bakery in the below-ground floor.  We thought when we would enter we would see a large atrium with views, but inside it’s like a vertical mall: many small shops and the ceilings are normal heighth.

We try to take the elevator up.  This was our first experience outside our hotel with Japanese elevators.  They are slo-o-o-ow, and after a few days there I gather the thinking is that they are reserved for parents with strollers, or old people.  Apparently we aren’t old enough.  Most people just head for the series of escalators, but we stand there, dumbly, waiting.  Eventually it comes and we go up to floor 11.  We head to the part of the  building we think will overlook the street, and can only get this side view.   We take the escalators down eleven floors, all the way to the lowest level.


We find our way to our train, and notice these doors that protect the tracks from crowded platforms.  They open only when the train arrives and is in place, and close immediately afterwards.


I was aiming to take a photo of the sign above, but that guy…he’s interesting. Our final destination is the Tokyo Metropolitan Building where there is an observation deck on the 45th floor, North Tower (guidebook info).  We were trying to get there before sunset.


We arrived shortly after sunset but were able to figure out that the bump on the horizon is Mt. Fuji (their placards helped).


In the center of this area is a brightly lit shopping area filled with Tokyo Souvenirs, and it makes it hard to photograph what we see outside, or even look through the windows, as seen in the photo above, taken by another tourist.  I resorted to placing my camera lens right up against the window, or bunching my jacket around the camera to block the glare and light.

We thought the projection of the Godzilla image pretty funny (click to enlarge). After seeing the views through all the windows, we head back to the high-speed elevators along with a crowd, and head back down to the lobby. Other than our hotel, this is only elevator which seems to work this way (high-speed), but it’s built for the tourists.

We see many banners for the Tokyo Olympics–a thousand days away, all the signs say.  As a quilter, I love the designs.


We are  interested in this giant whatever, and read about it: TokyoSeoul2_38e

We now start the Hunt for Dinner.  I am jet-lagged, tired, a bit cranky, have sore feet and just want to eat, but Dave has seen something on Yelp and is trying to get there.  This is where we learn that having a hot spot in our backpack and using Google maps doesn’t really deliver.


We wander into a convenience store as there is an ATM in the back; I look for chocolate.  But we notice this vending machine full of cups of ice for purchase.  I guess you buy the ice and then that includes a stop at a dispenser for your drink?

We wander up one strange street and down another, circling around this elusive restaurant which gets “great reviews” on Yelp.  Truthfully, this is where I want to throw in the towel, pick up whatever back at the convenience store and head home.  Finally I ask someone in a shop who has limited English, and she nicely puts up her “closed” or “be right back” sign on her counter, and walks us the block over to where that restaurant is.  She shows us that the sign in English had been turned around backward, and we nod, realizing that we’d walked right past this.  We thank her and she scurries back to her post.  As we stand there like dumb tourists, three people move past us into the place, and just like that the decision is over: they take the last seats at the counter.


We eat at the first respectable-looking place we find: a restaurant that has a curry-themed menu, order udon, and get this: broth, rice and noodles.  It was okay.  It got us fed, but all plans for the evening went out the window as I have a meltdown: I just want to go home to our hotel.  I don’t want to see any neon lights.  I don’t want to wander neighborhoods.  Typical first night on a trip.  We pay the bill and walk towards the Metro.


We are near Shinjuku, and that has some razzle-dazzle.  Good enough.


We arrive at the Ginza station, and walk home, going one block further to see the Kabuki Theater, all lit up.

I looked it up on Wikipedia to read:

The original Kabuki-za was a wooden structure, built in 1889.  The building was destroyed in 1921 by an electrical fire. Reconstruction had not been completed when it again burned down during the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake. Rebuilding was finally completed in 1924. The theater was destroyed once again by Allied bombing during World War II. It was restored in 1950, however, the 1950 structure was demolished in the spring of 2010, and rebuilt over the ensuing three years (edited).

Back in the room, it was time to try the chestnut treat.  Of course, I love the bag.  The inside was (yes) a chestnut, surrounded by sweetened black bean paste all in a rice-type shell.  I give Dave all of my portion, brush my teeth in our beautiful little bathroom, and climb into bed to write up this lovely day (well, except for the March for Dinner) in my journal, and record the expenses (notice the face drawn in by the chestnut treat):


Goodnight, Tokyo.

Tomorrow: Kamakura.

Tokyo: Asakusa and Kappabashi

This is post #2 of our Tokyo-Seoul trip, for the first half of Monday, November 6, 2017.


Coming out of our hotel room after a typical first-night-in-a-new-country sleep, we see this.  I guess we can tell where the elevators are.


Our hotel is in the Ginza area of Tokyo, near to where Dave’s conference will be, and before we leave the hotel’s wifi, out of habit, we check where we are going for breakfast.  Later on in the trip, we wouldn’t do this, as we would become used to the fact that we had a wifi hotspot in our backpack.


As newbies in town, everything was fascinating and intriguing — the Nissan building with the car in the front window, the Mitsukoshi Department Store clock, and the pyramid of seasonal chestnut treats:


More on this later as nothing was open yet, and we were headed to City Bakery, then to Asakusa Temple.


This is the first time we saw a scramble intersection: where everyone could walk every which way at once.



City Bakery didn’t disappoint this Monday morning.  So much to choose from.  We tried using our Google Translate app on this item, a “Baker’s Muffin” in order to see what was inside.  It pulled up something like “flour, egg, and breath of angels.”  Hmmm.  We found that idioms didn’t translate well into English, and sometimes were completely off-track.


This was also available.  Beautiful, but no.


Since we’d been to Japan before in 2001, we knew the drill: get the tray, use the tongs to put the food on the tray.  At the checkout, we buy juice to go with our breakfast, and pick up plastic ware for the road, and silverware for in-restaurant use. We sit down at the only vacant table, apparently vacant because all the regulars in this coffee shop know that the ventilation system blows gale force right where we sit.  We anchor all the napkins under our baked goods, and enjoy our meal, saving a few bites for later.


City Bakery was in the basement of a building, and this was the area next to it.  Later on, we’d learn that we could take a train from here and get places, but we are early in the trip, so re-trace our steps upstairs to get to our train, passing by the “love-inviting”  stone cat, which people stroke for luck.


We used our Pasmo cards, and (hopefully) get to the correct track, correct train.  The Hyperdia app was invaluable during our stay here:


I used my Snapseed app to label critical photos in my feed, like what our home station was near our hotel.  Now it seems silly, but then it was a lifeline.


Another thing I did habitually was to photograph the exit from the subway at a particular destination so I could find it again, like this time, when it dumped us into a small non-descript alleyway.


I wondered when I would see my first display of wax food in Tokyo.  This is actually pretty convenient for non-Japanese-speaking tourists, as it provides the opportunity to see what the restaurant served, and the chance to point at it, if you can’t make yourself understood to the waitress.


Oh, yes, I always have egg on my spaghetti.


We made it to the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, founded in 628.  It has a main temple and a five-story pagoda.  We pause in the main gate area, underneath the Kaminarimon Gate — or “Thunder Gate” —  with its huge red chochin lantern.


“Its chronicles put its founding at 628 AD through one of these stories that legends and religions are made of: While fishing in the Sumida River on the morning of March 18, the brothers Hinokuma Hamanari and Takenari caught in their nets a small golden statue of the Buddhist deity Kannon. They tried to get rid of it, but it kept coming up so they decided to keep it. When they returned to the village, they showed it to one of the chieftains Haji no Nakatomo who being a devout Buddhist understood what it was and built a temple to house it. The temple was, of course, Sensoji. ‘Senso’ is another reading of the characters for Asakusa and ‘ji’ is ‘temple’.”  (from here)


From the main gate, there is a walk up Nakamise Dori, the shopping street, full of small shops.  We are early, so some are not open, but I loved the sprays of (faux) fall foliage jutting out from the roofs.


Overview of the area.


Hozomon, the Sensoji Temple’s actual main gate.


Not Geisha.  I found out later that kimono are available to rent, and many young women will rent them and tour the temples, taking their photos as they go.


A group of school children, with matching red hats, with the five-storied pagoda in the background.


I made Dave do this with me, under great protest: drawing an omikuji.  I had an English-speaking Japanese tourist help me, as I couldn’t quite remember the drill.

We both drew bad fortune, so instead of being to bring the paper home, we had to tie it to a rack.  Judging by how many pieces of paper are tied at all these temples, I wonder if the temple puts out more bad fortune papers in those drawers, than good.


Now that we’ve donated money to the temple, we go to explore more of the area, in spite of the crush of tourists.


Private-school students, with matching uniforms.


Around us the incense is blowing around, the smokey air playing havoc with breathing (and even though we are supposed to draw the smoke over an aching body part, we side step it and head into the temple


And then we go out again.  No photos are allowed and a service was going on in the inner sanctum, so not much to see.  We appreciated the gorgeous decorations; I buy an omamori charm: a small bell.


Looking out from the doors of the temple toward the Hozomon Gate.


We read the guidebook, appreciate the pristine gardens and the beautiful five-storied pagoda, available for entry only at certain times in the year, and only if you have family buried here.


Our first Japanese vending machine of the trip.


Mine must have had caffeine in it, because it kept me going the whole day.


We head into another building, and buy an accordian-folded book, so the monk (or his assistants behind him) will write their shrine’s name in calligraphy and then place the shrine’s stamp in it, in glorious vermillion ink.  This costs 300 yen, or 500 yen sometimes — about $4.50 US dollars.  The shuincho is notebook, and the shu-in is a stamp with calligraphy.



We got a Christmas Card photo shot–one of several we’d take.  Such beautiful doors!


They have tree-trimming down to a art.


She’s holding her selfie-stick to one side of the photo.  We see them strike this pose repeatedly for tourists.


We wander over to the Asakusa shrine, another ancient place (but apparently not reconstructed like everything we see — WWII bombs didn’t destroy this one), and get another signature in my new accordian book.

Outside a family is posing for pictures.  Was it Children’s Day? as both the little boy and the little girls are dressed up in traditional dress.  Dave thought maybe it was that they presented the them to the priests at a certain age.  It’s Shichi-Go-San.

“In the custom, which literally means “seven-five-three,” families with three- or seven-year-old girls or five-year-old boys visit a shrine or temple to pray for the health of their offspring as they grow. Shichi-Go-San is traditionally observed on November 15, although with the busy pace of modern life it has become common for families to schedule visits to shrines on a weekend or holiday before or after the date.” (from here)


Dave steps up and offers to take the family’s photo.  All smiles, all around.  Dave later told me he thought tourists ought to be good for something!


We leave the shrine and wander down a street perpendicular to the Temple and see a lot of little shops in a decorative arcade.


We are headed to the the “kitchen street,” Kappabashi, but notice all the decorative surfaces as we walk.


We’re here, but what is it?  It’s basically a street filled with little shops of things we don’t need: knives, steamers, pots.  We amble and amble.  Our first big disappointment in Tokyo Touristing: overly-hyped attractions, supposed “gems” found in my research at home on the internet, but in real life? Not so much.



Random Gold Statue that I made Dave pose in front of.  I later found out that this is the Kappa Kawataro Statue, where Kappabashi gets its name.  On a tourist website, I read:

“A kappa (“river child”) is a creature of Japanese myth: a humanoid, frog-like amphibious creature with a plate-like head, scales, webbed feet and beak for a mouth. However, although pronounced the same, the “kappa” in Kappabashi and the mythical “kappa” are written differently. The association is coincidental, but Kappabashi has nevertheless eagerly latched on to the kappa as a mascot. The street’s kappa statue is a gold-plated bronze statue erected here in 2003 for Kappabashi’s 90th anniversary.”


But it is interesting to see these decorated buildings: I wonder if the one with plates and silverware is related to the fact that we are in the Kappabashi area?  Tired of trying to make sense of this area, we turn back toward the Metro.


But first, lunch!  Love the take-out window in the front right, but we go inside and head upstairs.  In our guidebook we read that Tendon is a combination of bowl (don) with tempura (ten).


They scurry to bring us the English menus.  We are happy to know we’ll be eating non-stressed-out prawns.


We point to the special and it turns out to be very good, although eating the squid was a bit strange.  The tempura was squash, green beans, white fish, prawn, lotus root over rice.  It also came with a cup of miso soup.


Our table.


We figured out that we should take the bill downstairs and pay for it on the way out.


Design is all around us, as even the heavy metal grates that straddle the the sidewalk to the street are decorative.


We stop at a dish shop, buying four little plates, two bowls and two chopstick rests.  It goes into the backpack along with everything else.



We laugh when we make our way back to the Metro and the shop right outside the entrance is a TENDON TENYA, where we had just eaten.  They turn out to be all over the place.


Time for a break: We head back to the room for a rest.


Placard in the metro car.


Clearly we are below par with our shoe choice of American athletic shoes.

We arrive back at the hotel, and Dave immediately crashes into a deep sleep, but the caffeine in my early drink keeps me awake.  I upload Instagram photos, watch the skyline from our our room, pondering what they are doing on the roof of the building just beside us.  This mystery will be solved by the end of the week.

*** Photos of these sites from our trip in 2001 ***

From Home to Tokyo


This is the opening post (#1) of our Tokyo-Seoul trip, for Saturday, November 4 to Sunday November 5, 2017.  We were gone for fourteen days, beginning the trip in Tokyo.  After a week there, we headed to Incheon, South Korea, then the final three days would be in Seoul.  This is the day where it all begins: a drive to Los Angeles International Airport, a flight and a new adventure.  

I keep a master listing of the posts associated with this trip, in case you come at this sideways and are interested with our experiences.

We went to bed late Friday night, the night before our trip was to begin, after updating our passwords for our computer, then telling Son #4 where they were, sending him photos of where we keep them. Does anyone else feel like they are preparing for Armeggedon when they leave on a foreign trip?  Like whatever notes or letters we write will be the last ones?  Like we need to get in our final instructions and good-byes?

Then at 7 a.m. Satuday morning, a text came through on Dave’s phone that the flight had been delayed by two hours.  I’d spent some time on Friday downloading the Asiana Airlines app, a truly buggy piece of software, and had only been able to get Dave checked into the flight.  My check-in wouldn’t go through.  Luckily one of us got the message about the delayed flight.


I always make a picture of where our car is, with some notations, as a trip can wipe your brain clean.

We decide to go to the airport anyway and see what we can do.  The line at Asiana was forever long and moved exceedingly slow; the nice young man who helped us, though, got us onto the flight with Al Nippon Airlines, which was three hours late.  However, it was a non-stop to Tokyo, so we wouldn’t miss our connection and it got us in much earlier than our original flight.  We practically skipped over to the Al Nippon counter to get our flight voucher.


We cleared security, and entered the newly renovated Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.  It’s quite upscale now, with soothing lights and sounds and moving pictures on screens.


In the middle of the Great Hall hangs “Air Garden” a mass of colorful looping strings.


We take our usual requisite couple selfie, actually we end up taking several, before finding the one to post to Instagram, and go to find some lunch: pricey, but we were able to eat near large windows with comfortable seats.  Usually you get one or the other, but not both.  We killed some more time doing email, calling my mother and father, but then it was time to head to Gate 157.  One last treat before boarding: a slice of fudgy cake at a Starbuck’s (using up a gift card from one of Dave’s students), then we waited for boarding onto NH5, our flight to Tokyo.

The flight was lightly filled, so we had an empty seat between us.  Everything is already Japanese; polite, smiling, kind, and handing us everything with two hands at the same time.


Even before take-off, they bring us Japanese crackers, and a drink.  After take-off, my cup of apple juice slides off the table, but the attendants were nice in helping with the clean-up, making me wonder: why do we have so many surly flight attendants on US flights?  I am impressed, even with their flight safety video: spare, with a slight sense of humor, but firm in their instructions.


A meal is served right away and we go for the “Japanese” option of mackeral, rice and assorted other treasures.  It wasn’t bad.  Then ice cream for dessert.  The trip was the best kind: uneventful, with a good array of movies for my sleepless husband.  About 90 minutes before landing we were offered another meal:


I never could figure out what the “CA Recommend” sticker meant, but we both got the Westernized meals, although it was a good thing we had a description of what we were eating.  We had crossed the International Date Line somewhere so instead of it being evening on Saturday, it is Sunday evening when we land.  There is not the crush to get off the plane, like there is with the US domestic flights.


In every airport: a welcome sign and a sundries shop (below)


Entering the airport, we had to walk through a scan, checking our temperatures, and then walk over disinfecting carpets (shoes on).  We pass through Immigration, retrieve our luggage, then go through Customs.  We find the airport ATM and get some money, then find the tourist stand to get maps, two essentials for any visitor to a foreign country.


Before leaving home, I always assemble a book: tabs for different cities or countries, money conversion schedules, a hard copy of our travel itinerary and for this trip, some train and subway directions, like the page on the right.  Because of all the time spent researching train destinations, we knew what to do (sort of): buy two Skyliner tickets, then in the adjoining machine, buy two PASMO subway cards, and put money on them.


We board the train from Terminal 1.  At Terminal 2/3, the train fills up — three Australian women in front of us, chatting and relaxed the entire 45-minute trip (approximately) to Ueno Station.  We get off there, with plans to change to a  a train.  We find our way to the Hibaya line, and the correct direction for the Hibaya line.  Our stop is H9–Higashi-Ginza.  Of course, sitting at home in California, all of this is meaningless to me, but now it makes somewhat sense.  Using the Google little yellow walking man in Street View multiple times, I had made him walk the trek from where we would get off the train to how it looked as we would try to get above ground and to our hotel.  I knew that if we took the A-1 exit and the elevator to the top, it would put us at our hotel’s front door, which it did.


But when we came up out of the underground, we saw the streets all blocked off by white-gloved policemen; I couldn’t tell what was happening.  We asked an American-looking woman what it was: “Trump’s visit” she said.  I joked that we came all the way to Japan to get away from him, and here he was, following us. (Jetlag lame humor) We continued talking as we waited the supposed five minutes before the motorcade was to arrive, but Dave gave up and went to the hotel to start checking us in:



A minute or two after he left, the motorcade came roaring around the corner, flags waving, the whole she-bang. The woman I was speaking to, as it turns out, was from Santa Monica, California and brought tour groups from all over the U.S. to Japan.  I was suprised at this, but I would run into the idea of how close our nations were by the sheer numbers of American tourists I would see, and the amount of tour groups, too.


A view to our room door from the elevator.

Since we were staying for a week, the hotel clerk gave us a nice room on the 14th floor, and then handed us a package: the wifi gadget had arrived!


Up in our room, we pulled it apart and checked that all the parts were there: wifi hotspot (black unit), battery charger and cords, pouch for carrying and a mailing pouch to mail it back when we were leaving.  I’d read about them on some online blogs, and knew that it would be lovely to have one of these.  We’d looked into the international plan with our telephone, but each person would incur the daily charges, whereas with this one, both of us could pair our phones with the wifi hotspot for the same price.  As per our usual, we connected the other devices with the hotel’s wifi, posted on Instagram.


A drawer with “gift-wrapped” toiletries. I wanted to bring them ALL home, but restrained myself.

The room was compact, but lovely.


After exploring all sixteen square feet of the room (sort of kidding), I opened the sliding door of the toilet to be welcomed in this way (click to experience this).


And we both snickered over the wording on this bottle, found near our bathroom sink.  Us?  Have anxious smells?  Oh, my.


Finally in our pajamas after too many hours, I wrote the daily expenses in my travel book, noting the shifting from U.S. dollars to Yen, then it was lights out.


Returning Home, or Multiple Levels of Dante’s Hell

This is the final post (#24) of our Dublin-Berlin trip, for Friday, September 27, 2018.


Why is this photo taken at night?  Because after a night of interrupted sleep, at 5:30 a.m. I say to Dave, “Ready to give up?”  He is, so we are out the door by 7:15 a.m.

We take the Metro to Potsdamer Platz, head to BackWerk and pick up breakfast and lunch, then board another Metro train to Zoolischer Station. We are just happy that we remembered to validate our tickets in the last stop of that ride.  Better late than never.  We board bus X9 for (as my travel journal states) “a bus ride to the Outer Levels of Hell, a.k.a. Tegel Airport.

We can hardly figure out which end is up, and of course, are completely frantic to get where we have to go in a big fat hurry, for in spite my romantic musings of yesterday, we are ready to go home.  Boy, are we.


After walking through an interminable and exceptionally crowded terminal hallway, we arrive at this place: budget airlines’ check-in.  We join the queue, getting an band for our “Under Seat Cabin Luggage” to prove that we checked in.  We pray our checked luggage makes it.  Then across the room from this stately and orderly process (we were early, by the time we left this gigantic room, it was a hive of activity and suitcases), we headed towards security screening.  If people went through too fast, everything locked up and no one could pass.  Finally the magic hour arrived, and they brought in more staff to process.

We walked down an interminable hallway, then another, then another passageway to arrive at another giant room full of people milling around.  It feels like a temporary terminal, filled with kiosks dispensing overpriced water (Euro 3.40 for a 1/2 liter–we bought one, then another).  I was glad we had purchased our breakfast, but when you are locked into a level of hell, snacking is the only pleasure, and there is none here that we want to buy.


Finally it was time to board.  No jetway.  As Dave said, again, “Welcome to budget travel.”  We didn’t make the plane reservations; his conference did.


This flight is uneventful–the best kind.  We land, yet it’s that “fake” kind of landing that European airports/airlines do: you are somewhere hanging out on the vast tarmac somewhere and you have to wait for people-mover busses to come and get you, all the while the pilot is chirping that “we have an on-time landing.”  Yet it’s not really, because there is still thirty minutes of waiting/moving until arrival at the terminal (photo of the door of the people mover, above).  After being moved to the terminal, we try to find out where we go next.  Another typical experience of European airports is that we have to hang around in a central lobby until they deem it the “right time” and only then will they tell us our gate.

Since we’d already been through the “dining experience” at Dublin airport, we avoided that.  Again, we’re looking for a snack.  Above are our choices for food in the Dublin airport where we are waiting.  I bought the Hunky Dorys, and we shared them.  I look up at the screen: it’s Magic Time! and we could head downstairs to the USA transit center.

This was new to us.  Downstairs was another set of massive rooms, all nearly new, where we would clear customs into the U.S., allowing us to come in to any terminal in Los Angeles, not just the International Terminal.  First up: security.

Apparently I was tagged for a secure search.  (Was it the jars of jam?  Just kidding–that was in our checked luggage.)  I’m pulled out of line, patted down, swabbed on the hands, devices powered off, shoes off, and basically treated like a criminal.  I glance at her sheet: approximately 20 of us are on her list.  I read about it later, the Frequent Flier guy mentioning that seeing the code “SSSS” on your ticket will send shivers down your spine.   Here’s another version of that.

Meanwhile, where’s Dave?  He’s watching all this from outside the glassed-in area, waiting patiently for his convict wife to re-appear.  We find a place to eat, and enjoy our lunch: squished sandwiches from early this morning in Berlin. I read the headlines from home (not a good idea) then it was again Magic Time! and we could head to our gate.  I’m double-checked in again (that SSSS thing), but we finally made it on board, heading for home.


I was pretty happy to take off!


Last views of Ireland.


This made my day.  My spirits were lifted.


I didn’t sleep much, so I was able to enjoy the view over Greenland.


And here’s the contrast with our own Western United States mountains.


After a long flight, this is breakfast/lunch/whatever.  Dave was still asleep so I took the one on the left, saving him the one on the right.  It was cold sludge by the time he ate it.  We landed, we were home and the only thing left was this:


Welcome to LAX and waiting for the luggage (about an hour).  We are happy to see our luggage, happy to be near home (another couple of hours to drive) and happy to have gone to Dublin and Berlin.

At the beginning of the trip, we loaded our luggage and packed our expectations and headed off into points unknown, ready for adventure.  But upon returning, the routine and familiar tasks await: check the phone for the traffic, call my 90-year-old mother, letting her know I’m back on American soil. The final pieces are laundry, stowing the souvenirs and suitcases, and dealing with jet lag.  Is travel worth it?  Does the hassle negate the more intriguging aspects of leaving home and seeing different places?  Each trip determines its own balance, the scales tipping one way or the other.

But the old phrase, “seeing with new eyes” is certainly the weightier recommendation for leaving home.  Pico Ayer, a travel writer, notes that “One curiosity of being a foreigner everywhere is that one finds oneself discerning Edens where the locals see only Purgatory.”  I think of Evelinde watching me be a tourist in her small corner of Berlin.  I think of all those people who walked briskly on past me, as I was busy taking a photo of a flower, a tile, a decorated building.  Does it balance out?  For this trip, yes.

Ayer also noted that “Writing is, in the end, that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.”  As far as journaling the experience goes, I’ve also learned to let the photos and the travel journals rest a bit after a trip, let them breathe a little.  The photos don’t compare to the memories, and it is only somewhat later, that they start to sync up again, reminding the traveler of what they saw and experienced.

To whoever reads this: I hope these letters about Dublin and Berlin prove satisfying.

Last Looks at Berlin • Part 2

This is post #23 of our Dublin-Berlin trip, for Thursday, September 27, 2018.


Yes, this was shown before, but this has different light so the front decorative art can be seen.

Dave returns, and he hasn’t had lunch, so we re-trace our steps to the Galerie Lafayette because, as I told him, there are so many choices!  Even though it was only about 90 minutes after my visit, most all of that abundance of food is gone.  He found something to eat, a dessert to try, and we packed it up and went to the Gendarmenmarkt to eat.


As his tour guide, I thought it important that he see Babelplatz, so we followed the red arrows, coming in alongside St. Hedwig’s to the square.


So much history here.  So much notable history here.  We stroll towards the bus stop.


At the edge of the plaza, by the bus stop and along the Unter der Linden boulevard, were a score (or two) of police cars.   We watched them while waiting for the bus.  And waiting.  And some more waiting.


The nice police officer who spoke to us casually mentioned that there would probably be no busses running, because…why?  They couldn’t tell us.


Like the bicyclist making a U-turn here, it was time for Plan B: walk.


So we turned to our right and walked.  Really, the downtown of Berlin isn’t all that huge, so after a few minutes we arrived at Berliner Dom, by all the museums. Berlin12_19aBerlin12_19b

We heard all the sirens, and turned to watch Erdogan’s motorcade stream up the street.  Obviously that was what was holding up the busses, and that the police man couldn’t tell us.  It wasn’t as grand or as lengthy as the one that greeted us our first night in Japan (Trump’s motorcade), and after it passed, we kept walking.


We can see the Fernsehturm (the tall TV tower), but first, Dave wanted to see the beautiful old church, so we stop at St. Marienkirke, where I heard the organ concert.


We step outside, hook to our left back around to the large plaza, and spot the Neptunbrunnen fountain, backed by the Rose Rathaus.


We turn back to see the side of the beautiful church with its details (above and below) then stroll up the plaza.



The Fernsehsturm, with its origami-like wings at the base.


We cross underneath that, and into the large banhof (train station) at Alexanderplatz:


We head out the other side to Alexanderplatz itself.

The light is casting long shadows, some parts are already in darkness, pointing to the realization that our last day in Berlin is coming to a close.  Time for dinner, time to head back to the hotel and figure out All the Details.

After a Ubahn ride and a long walk, we enjoy a delicious dinner at Cafe Orange.

Golden light of sunset brings out the beautiful hues of Berlin’s buildings.


Even with Google Translate, we couldn’t figure out what this meant.


End of a good trip, we take a dual selfie in the elevator.


We pack, and head downstairs to try to figure out how to print out our boarding passes, check in to our flights, and wrap up the trip.  We speak with the young woman who has helped me enormously, and she gifts us two jars of jam from the Movenpick brand of foods.  In conversation, she asks us how we liked Berlin.  I could honestly say I loved it.  In one of our exchanges, her guard let down, she shared that she found the East Germans still “a little bit strange,” and I’d have to agree with her on some counts.  I appreciated that we’d been there long enough to enter her world, see a slice of life that she encountered and understand.

Next post: Multiple Levels of Dante’s Hell, or Returning Home.

Last Looks at Berlin • Part 1

This is post #22 of our Dublin-Berlin trip, for Thursday, September 27, 2018.


Okay, what day is it?  Oh, yes.  Our last day in Berlin.  Dave’s conference finishes at noon, so technically I have a half day.  I note in my travel journal: “Two things to see today and I only did one of them: see inside Galeries Lafayette.”

Berlin12_undone thing.jpg

As I try to recall from the distance of time and miles, perhaps visiting this church ( in the opposite direction) was the other thing, which remains unseen.  But it may have instead been some of the official State Buildings on the river.  Or that museum I can’t quite remember the name of.  Next trip.


I took the bus to Kochstrasse U-bahn station, then hopped on it for two stops, exiting near Galaries Lafayette.


Perhaps it was because these buildings were behind the wall, but their architectural style is so different than so much of what I’ve seen.  There is quite a mix of architecture in this city, from all schools and styles.


I’d walked by this multiple times, and today was the day.


The center “dome” extended far up into the upper floors, although with this view, it just looks like a spaceship about to land, and then below street level one floor. (Supposedly this is supposed to mimic the Reichstag dome.) I went down in their little space-capsule elevator with glass walls and a curved door that opened to each side and descended into their food section.  I strolled all around their food aisles, picking up lunch (seemed like enough prepared lunches for all of Berlin, with multiple counters and multiple menus), and then buying chocolate to take home:


We love European chocolate–the low-end kind from the supermarket shelves.


These caught my eye–aha! the Ritter chocolate shop.

I’d heard you could “build your own chocolate bar” but they didn’t have dark chocolate — only white and milk.  Apparently dark chocolate doesn’t appear until October, several days after our visit.  Makes perfect sense, I guess, if you live here.  I still bought a few to try and some bars and tins to take home to friends.


As I came out of the shop, I turned right, passing by this building with fascinating decor.


Lunch: a small turkey salad, a bretzel roll, my “water” bottle (Volvic) and the bag of yummy things from Ritter Sport.  I strolled to the big square I’d seen last night: Gendarmenmarkt, found a bench and ate my lunch.  At the time, these small acts of being “inside” a city, not just being “in” a city, are what I treasure about long-term visits overseas.


While I can still remember the feel of the brisk morning, the sunshine flickering through the trees, the sounds of the workmen renovating the large building towering over this spot on the bench, I know these sensory sounds and feelings will fade. Hopefully, though, I will remember the taste of the bread, the delicious flavors of my dessert:

I was feeling sort of wrenched about leaving Berlin: on one hand it WAS time to head home, especially given my tenuous health situation (funny how chocolate was always fine to eat).  But I’d grown accustomed to finding places to visit, hopping on the transit and heading there, observing new sounds and sights.  I was tired though–to be truthful, I was tired to the bone.  But it was bittersweet, this last lunch in Berlin, so I lingered, hoping to soak it all in deeply.

The workmen spilling out into the square reminded me that Dave was meeting me back at the room, and I’d better return.

Although I had a hunch as to what it was, I was curious about this green structure some distance off to my left.  Curiosity satisfied.


Map Key: pink circle (upper edge) is the U-bahn stop; yellow X is Galeries Lafayette Department Store; green X is Ritter Sport chocolate shop, and the red X is where I ate my lunch, under the trees.  This visual view gives a sense of the enormity of the square.


Gendarmenmarkt is a huge square, with two churches on either side of the Concert Hall.  According to my guidebook (Rick Steves’ Berlin), the name  — part French and part German — comes from Gens d’Armes, Frederick the Great’s royal guard, who were headquartered here.  In the 17th century, “a fifth of all Berliners were French émigrés.”




The Concert Hall is in the center, and I loved that some group was posed on the red-carpeted steps for a group photo.  This square is busy.


This is to the right of the concert hall as you face it, and is the French Cathedral. The church on the other side is known as the German Cathedral, “bombed flat in the war and rebuilt only in the 1980s” (guidebook).  They look remarkably the same, and unbelievably, even though I have multiple photos of this square, I couldn’t figure out which was which.



Buildings on my way home.


When I arrive back at the hotel, there is a helicopter circling overhead.  I guess security is tight for his visit.

Next post: Last Looks at Berlin • Part 2

From the 100 Bus to Bebelplatz

This is (long) post #21 of our Dublin-Berlin trip, for Wednesday, September 26, 2018.


My travel diary proclaims: “Today is Ride the 100-Bus Day.”


Downstairs in the hotel lobby, I confer with the concierge about which way to head, which stop to get off.  I’ve taken to making a screen shot of the directions from Google Maps, and circling what he says.


There’s a new bus in circulation today: one with keyboards painted on it.  Is it a festival time, or something?  I catch my bus, get on the U2, get off on the correct stop.


Different food at this U-bahn station–I think they are covering it all.


But then it’s like, huh?  Very cool building and somewhere around here I’m supposed to catch the 100 bus.  I keep pulling out my phone, and watching my blue dot move.  No, that’s the wrong way, walk the other direction.  Nope, try turning left.  And there it is: a plaza with lots of busses pulling in and out.  I get early in the 100 line as I want a place up top in the upper level, right in front.  I want to see this route, recommended as a good way to get an overview of Berlin.  I grabbed one seat, and a young woman took the one next to me, as there were quite a few people heading to the upper deck.


I recognize this church, with its distinctive ruined, snaggled-toothed appearance.


I’d heard about the zoo, but never made an attempt to go.  (Next trip.)


I’d used ScribbleMaps a couple of times, as they draw out the routes.  The Siegessäule was one landmark I wanted to see.

Sometimes called the Berlin Victory Column (inaugurated in 1873), this originally stood near the Reichstag, but was moved in 1938 as well as elevated, and was envisioned as a welcoming column for the capital of a worldwide Nazi empire.


I struck up a conversation with my seatmate and she told me her job was as a voice dubber for English movies (into German).  She is 33 years old, and was just now getting her driver’s license, in fact that’s why she was headed into town–to take classes.  I also found out she hates our current president (Trump), using a vulgarity to emphasize her disgust; this was not unusual.  She worried about his impact on their politics, noting that the political right was making gains, and it worried her.


The Bellevue Palace, the residence of the German federal president, and where the police were camped out.  President Erdogan of Turkey was due in that afternoon for a state visit, and this is where he would stay (she said).


This is known as the House of World Cultures, but I didn’t know that until later.  I just thought — because it was advertising a current movie — that it was a fancy movie theater complex.


Now I’m in familiar territory, with the Reichstag on the left.  The young woman and I were now into the part of her story about the night the wall fell. I wrote at the time: “Today while riding bus M100 across the city, I struck up a conversation with the young woman next to me, and within a few minutes, she was telling me her memories of the night the Wall fell. She and her twin sister flanked their mother, watching a huge crowd on their way to the gate, everyone crying, smiling, crying and smiling, all unbelieving.
When she asked her father what it meant, he made a fist, then clasped the other hand around it. We were two, he said. Now we are one.  These stories are everywhere, and I’ve been listening to them for nearly two weeks. It’s sobering, this business of division and hate and mocking and ridicule. We need to be careful in America—careful that we don’t lose sight of what joins us.”

Evelinde writes: “I think everyone especially people who lived in Berlin always will remember that special night 💕”


Dave and I walked along here on the first day we arrived, one street over from the Berlin Marathon route.

She got off right after we passed under the bridge, headed to her driver’s class.  I wished her well, and thought long about her father’s hands — she illustrated them for me, clasping one into the other — and wondered how many Berlin stories would stay with me from my time here.


After being here for more than a week, I recognize all these buildings.

I linger in the fake Oktoberfest Village, cracking up to see fried tortilla shells stacked up, awaiting customers for…Mexican food? My new friend Evelinde explained about the cookies on Instagram: “Yes you can eat them, but should by them at [a] stand, where they should be fresh. When we were kids we liked to buy them because they have cute words on it. We mostly hung it on the wall for decoration and after a while they’ve been too dry for eating 😘 Lovers often buy it as a special sign of love for their partner 💕”

I’m also feeling the Get the Souvenirs Deadline, as tomorrow is our last day in Berlin.  One of my goals was to get a nutcracker and although we’ve seen a couple of shops, nothing has really inspired my husband to open his wallet.  I decide it’s up to me to get mine, and I’ll worry about his later.


I think I just found mine: a matryoshka doll.  I pick a blue set of five dolls:


As usual, I decide that my husband can give it to me for Christmas.  I head into the department store once again, to round up any chocolate bars, or find any trinkets to bring home.


I knew that Germany was famous for its Schleich figures–lifelike representations of animals and other monsters, if this display is any indication.  I pick up a couple to keep around the house and for gifts (they meet the criteria for Will Fit In The Suitcase).


I’m always fascinated by English writing on foreign toys.  Too bad these “2 Exclusive Babies!” won’t fit in the suitcase.


I end up buying a small pair of earrings to wear with my dirndl at home.  So fun to see these Oktoberfest displays.


And right by the elevator is that cake-on-a-rolling pin treat that we’d had on one of our other trips (Budapest?).Berlin11_15b

I snagged a bite or two of their free samples.  They let the dough rise, then cook on a turning spit, slide it off the rolling pin-thingie, and sprinkle it with cinnamon-sugar.  It’s an awesome treat.


Back outside: last time to see the World Clock, and the Carousel.


A little political expression on the sidewalk near the U-bahn station.  I don’t take the U-bahn this time, as I’m following the blue dot on my Google maps to find the Christmas-type shops that will carry nutscrackers and German wooden souvenirs.  I’ve read my guidebooks backwards and forwards (all three of them) and have written down the addresses.


I, of course, found many many things I wanted to buy and bring home, but none of the nutcrackers seemed unusual or ones I wanted to give Dave for Christmas.  I keep walking.


The Rotes Rathouse, named for its red bricks


Of course, it’s when you get home that you realize that you should have gone inside the Rotes Rathouse, or tried to get a tour, but when you are on the ground in Berlin– and it’s the day before the day you go home, and you are on a souvenir hunt, and it’s lunchtime and you’re still trying to find a particular shop — you walk by, instead noticing what a fine building it is.


I find the next shop, and fell in love with the big green nutcracker in the front window, but know there is NO way I can get it home, and besides Dave’s not that fond of green:


The people in this shop are very friendly and helpful and interesting.  When I leave, he hands me a card with the location of their other shop.  I think him, tuck it in my bag, but rather doubting I’ll ever get there, given that tomorrow’s our final day.


Across from the shop is this old church, marking the place where Berlin began, as a medieval settlement called Cölln, this fact sifting into my memory from multiple readings of the Rick Steves’ guidebook.  To walk around the church a fee is required, but it’s not really a church anymore, so I pass.Berlin11_18aBerlin11_18b

Love those twin spires, though.  At this point, I realize I am hitting the wall, and better stop walking around and get to food, fast.  It’s hard to stop, though, because now things are just starting to fit into place: how this area relates to this area, which is next to this neighborhood. Berlin is starting to make sense, and I just want to walk and walk and explore some more.  Instead I hop onto the 48 bus, which takes me back to Potsdamer Platz: I’m headed for BackWerk and a late lunch.


After eating the same thing I had for dinner last night, it revives me, so I walk over to the Mall of Berlin, pay half a euro to use the bathroom, and begin to explore:


This is the passageway between two different mall buildings, and stares right into the Bundesrat, or the Federal Council of Government for Germany.  One temple of power staring at another.Berlin11_22Berlin11_23Berlin11_23aBerlin11_23b

I’m headed for idee., the creative place, but end up buying only a pencil or two.


I’m fascinated by this three-story slide, and have fun watching people slide down.  I do head to Desigual, a Spanish clothing store that I love, and see if there’s anything else I want to buy, but they only have the shirt I already purchased, so I head back to the hotel.


Just outside the Mall is this line in the pavement, marking the site of the Berlin Wall.  Always sobering.  There is no forgetting in this city.


I arrive in time for the Chocolate Hour, and pick up a few treats to take back to the room for Dave.


I think he’ll like these, too.  I take a break, write some in the journal.  Dave emails me, and he’ll be late late late again, so I head out to find dinner for both of us.


Since I know BackWerk agrees with me, I head over there another time, but this time, my sandwich and drink are a little different:


I have a ham sandwich for Dave, along with another drink.

I’d read that the best time to see Babelplatz, or the place where they burned the books, is at dusk, so I walk the couple of blocks to that site, the sun just setting.


“Frederick the Great built this square to show off Prussian ideals: education, the arts, improvement of the individual and a tolerance for different groups — provided they’re committed to the betterment of the society.” (Rick Steves)  Here’s a video of the square, as I turn in a circle.


This is the book-burning memorial–a glass window looking down into a room of empty bookshelves.


It’s a sobering place, this platz where they burned the books one night in 1933.  That night, the students and the staff from the university built a bonfire, and into that they threw 20,000 books that had recently been forbidden.  Overseeing it all was the propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels.  “Erich Kästner, whose books were also among those burned, was present at the scene and described it with bitter irony in his diary” (Wikipedia).

The plaque reads: “That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.”


Another thought-provoking moment in this city of two histories.


I head down past St. Hedwig’s cathedral, finding my way through things, trying to get somewhere, yet I don’t quite know where.


This square was magical in the nighttime: Gendarmenmarkt is beautifully lit, and enticing, but I’m thinking that I should be heading back soon.


But!  Right across the street is that “other shop” from the one I’d been in earlier.  I find a beautiful (smaller) blue nutcracker like the green one I’d seen earlier in the day.  Leaving behind all the beautiful pyramids was difficult, but I was fairly quick in wrapping up my purchase.


I walk toward Checkpoint Charlie, as I now have my bearings, and pass this building.  Things look differently at night, but I am alone and don’t really want to do too much exploring by myself.  I catch the bus, and head back to the hotel.  Dave arrives a moment or two later, and enjoys his sandwich and chocolate treats.



Can you believe it? More Berlin Museums


This is post #20 of our Dublin-Berlin trip, for Tuesday, September 25, 2018.

Day Three of the Three Day Museum Pass, and thankfully, a night’s rest really helped in the Feeling Better Department.  I’m taking no chances today, and have decided to limit my eating (it’s also hard to manage on a 7-up and crackers diet when in a foreign country).

And…we start the morning with the Squeaky Blinds Going Down.  I’m going to miss this when I go home.


This mural is right next to our hotel, a piece of gaiety in a parking area.


Have I shown you the manhole covers (in some places)?

I head back over to Museum Island, taking a closer look at the central fountain.

I am aiming for the Alte Nationalgalerie, or the Old National Gallery, to see the Caspar David Friedrich paintings, some moody favorites of mine when I studied art history at our local community college eons ago:

Monastery Graveyard

Notice that “courtesy” business on the bottom of the painting?  Let me explain why I have an internet picture: it all began when I couldn’t get the elevators to go up to the third floor.  I kept pushing the button, nothing happened.  I asked Guard #1 for some help, and he just looks at me as if to say, Stupid Tourist.  Nearly getting slammed by the elevator doors, I try to get some help from Guard #2.  See above.  A lady with the stroller gets in, goes easily to Floor #2, and I begin to think I am a Stupid Tourist, until Guard #3 explains that the button to floor #3 won’t work because the Friedrich gallery is closed.  Which prompted two cranky postings to Instagram:

That’s the danger of always having a hotspot in your backpack.  And they aren’t just closed for today.  They are closed until the 29th of September, while they reset the gallery.  That’s just  two days after I go home.  So close.  I push the button and go to the second floor.


Snow White (1862), by Victor Müller

Love this one of the seven dwarves frolicking around Snow White.


The Sisters, by Gabriel Max (1876)


Flax Barn in Laren (1887) by Max Liebermann


The Artist’s Mother (1877), by Louis Eysen


Auguste Renoir: Children’s Afternoon at Wargemont (1884)

And then I had a bonanza of People Stitching In Paintings.  Or doing thread work or spinning.  I did see a painting of a dog with a chain of sausage balanced on his nose, but I’ll spare you that.  Rodin had representation with another version of his Thinker, or as the museum translated it, “Man and his Thought.”  There must be quite a few of these in the world, I’ve decided.  Here’s another view of him:


This is in homage to my late brother-in-law Tom; he used to teach art history and he always had a slide of this view of the statue for his classes.  Clearly I am becoming goofy, having been gone away from home so long.  Only two more days after this one.


I was completely taken with this photo showing how a bunch of soldiers have trashed an elegant mansion while taking advantage of the fine furnishings.  The title is “A Billet outside Paris,” by Anton von Werner.  I wonder if it was his family’s home that was destroyed by a bunch of oafs.


This museum is pure elegance when it comes to the architecture.


View of the dome.


This is now my screen on my computer, all ethereal blue/greens, classical statue and tiny rows of gold stars.  Okay, Alte Nationalgalerie, I forgive you.


I walk out, past the Berlin Cathedral, and catch a bus to the other side of town, passing through a veritable gateway at Potsdamer Platz:

Berlin10_PotsdamerPlatz buildings.jpg

This is the opposing view of the street where the marathon was run that first morning in Berlin.

Berlin10_lego giraffe

Giraffe guarding the entrance to Potsdamer Platz plaza, as seen from the upper deck of my bus.


The bus drops me on the other side of the Concert Hall, and I walk over to the Gemäldegalarie, passing St. Mattheus-Kirche, ringing its bells just for me (click *here* to see video).


I have arrived.  But where to enter?  I gander towards the left, using my iPhone and my hotspot in my backpack to guide me to the entrance.  Backpack into wooden locker in the lower level (no coin necessary) and then upstairs to enter, after going through this courtyard:


Always look up.


The paintings in here are old.  Very old.  This diptych is from 1475-80, and depicts the twelve apostles, first when Christ washes their feet, and then at a meal.


detail of Judas, looking rather gnome-like


Seen also in my art history days, I was blown away to see this in person.  While on the flat pages of a book, it looks almost cartoonish (and it probably looks that way here), I studied this for a long time, trying to take in all the very strange details of Mary as the Queen of Heaven and the baby Jesus.  It is part of a set, known as the Melun Diptych, and only joined here together because of another museum’s renovation (see text, below).  This was painted by Jean Fouquet around 1452-1460, and the features of Mary resemble those of King Charles VII of France’s mistress, Agnès Sorel. It was really a breathtaking painting.


The title card for this one reads “The donor kneels with his patron saint Stephen in front of a Renaissance architecture, addressing the Virgin” (in other painting).  Stephen, one of the first Christian martyrs, was stoned to death so he is often depicted carrying stones or rocks.  One internet site notes that Stephen is the patron saint of  headaches.  No doubt.



I loved this picture for its frame.  I know, shallow.  I photographed many of their beautiful paintings, but because of the lighting, they didn’t all turn out well.  They do have a online database where much of the collection can be seen.  This museum also had some interesting architecture:


Pieter J. Saenredam (1635) “View into the ambulatory of St. Bavo in Haarlem”

Looks like I’m not the first person to try and capture an image of a church.


I waited ten minutes to take this one, waiting for the guard to move out of that far doorway and to stop looking at me.


In this central hall was an overview of painting from the 13th century to the 18th century.  There were many beautiful paintings in this museum, but it was time to go.


I headed to the next museum and got this far: a photograph of their lockers.  Couldn’t face it, so I started to walk towards Potsdamer Platz.


Art exhibit showing trees on life support. (I know.)


I walked into the Potsdamer Platz courtyard, but after the beautiful dome at Alte Nationalgalerie and the geometric dome in the last museum, this was was soulless, cold, and I noticed that there weren’t many lingering here.  I didn’t either.



Sculpture near staircase headed down to the trains.

It’s nearly 3 p.m. and I’m tired, but since I only have a couple of more days, everything has to count.

One floor down, there was a little shop called Back Werk (Back is short for bakery).  Since I was really hungry, the sandwich I bought ended up being amazing: a triangular bun (Laugendreieck, or Lye Triangle–another way to say pretzel bun), layered with süsßem Senf (sweet mustard), Lollo Bionda (a type of lettuce), saftigem Krustenbraten (some type of roast ham?), Krautsalat (pickled cole slaw) and fresh radish slices.  And yes, I really do have to go through all that translation just to figure out what I’m eating.  Especially today.  I also bought Dave’s breakfast at Back Werk and some treats for later.  I took the late lunch and treats back to our room for a break, and to rest for a while.


Dave sent me an email: he’ll be late late late.  I felt okay, so decided to head to the Christmas Shop near Checkpoint Charlie to pick up a few things, including my favorite: Mama Claus.


By the time I was finished, and the shop closed, it was dusk.  Fake Checkpoint Charlie was all lit up.


I headed home to meet Dave, and we enjoyed a treat from Back Werk and other odds and ends of food we had tucked away.  He told me I looked a lot better tonight than last night.  I do feel better.  We prep for tomorrow, and he tries to listen to the audiobook we’d downloaded for the trip.  And…he’s out for the count, so to speak.