Tokyo: Asakusa and Kappabashi

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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

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

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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.

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This was also available.  Beautiful, but no.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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“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)

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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.

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Overview of the area.

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Hozomon, the Sensoji Temple’s actual main gate.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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Private-school students, with matching uniforms.

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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Our first Japanese vending machine of the trip.

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

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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.

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

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They have tree-trimming down to a art.

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

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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)

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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!

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

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

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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.

 

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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.”

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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.

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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).

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

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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.

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Our table.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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Placard in the metro car.

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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.

Goodbye Dublin, Hello Berlin

This is post #5 of our Dublin-Berlin trip in September 2018.

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I have a reminder that I am in a different country, whenever I pull up my phone and there is a different language on my screen.

I woke up this morning thinking Happy News!  That’s the last time I’ll ever have to sleep in that bed (or not sleep, as the case may be).

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Yesterday afternoon (Friday), we’d decided to come back to the National Gallery of Ireland, when browsing through their book shop for 15 minutes just wasn’t enough.

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Dave wolfed down his breakfast, while we stood a few doors away, in front of this interesting building from the past: Pure Chemistry.

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The stairs up to the exhibit of Roderic O’Conor and The Moderns.  Of course, no photos were allowed, so the following are culled from the web, by doing a search on his name:

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The painting notes emphasized O’Conor’s use of stripes to color the shadows, give dimension to his work, and the influence of Gaugin in his use of bold color.  I loved one of the quotes in the title cards:

“Remember that a picture —before being a battle horse, a nude women, or some anecdote – is essentially a plane surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order.” Maurice Denis, 1890

Yes, “plane” is spelled correctly.

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However, once we crossed into the atrium between the old space and the newer space, we could photograph, enjoying this wooden sculpture.

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This wing was constructed from a Georgian Terrace House, and the planning board asked that they leave the basic construction inteact.  When you walk in, you wonder what kind of lives were lived here, and you have the sense that you are guests in a very grand house.

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Upstairs.  Photo by Dave.

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One of my favorite shots. Photo by Elizabeth.

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Elizabeth’s doors (modern style).

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We are sprinting through the galleries, sorry we don’t have more time to spend, and even though we asked for an hour extension on our hotel check-out, it still didn’t give us lots of time.  Next trip.

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We brought a few things home from the gift shop, but these stockings stayed there.Dublin3_2

In a strange land, even the mundane catches your eye, like this tiled stoop, which matched the gray sky.

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We head back to Sprout for a repeat bowl meal.

Mine was “Sataysfied Turkey Bowl.”  I believe Dave had “Superguacabowl;” the guacamole was on the side in a little container and did NOT look authentic.  But the color was right for this country.

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Another one-word shop title.  We check out, then spend a couple of hours in their basement, where the check-in desk is located.  I decide to wander a bit, leaving Dave to mind the luggage.

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I wandered over to the donut shop, and got three to go.  (They went.)Dublin3_7 Shop Shuh

We caught the express airport bus this time, and as we slugged our way to the airport, saw one last one-word shop: Schuh.

Our flight was at 5:55, so we tried to grab some food from the Dublin airport, knowing that Aer Lingus was considered a bargain airline, I doubted we’d get any free food on board (I was right–they even charged you for the water).  This food court was upstairs, a convenient area to wait for the gate to be announced. (The catsup was in those little bottles in front.)

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And the plane has landed, refueled, so we’re off to Berlin.

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And a couple of hours later (and one time zone shift) we land.  As is usual for European airlines, they put you on the ground in the new country, bragging that they were “early,” but you have to schlepp off the plane, get onto a bus, driven over to the terminal, thereby getting you to the baggage claim, etc. waaaay later than if you’d just waited and parked at a gate.  I’ll never understand this logic.

I sat by a young woman who was flying down to see her boyfriend run in the Berlin Marathon the next day.  We had a great conversation on the plane, about those things you talk about with strangers: her lack of divorce (complicated Irish law), how her children are doing with the father moved out of the house (fine), how she met her boyfriend, and how she voted in the recent Irish referendum on abortion (yes).  She did all this while painting her fingernails a bright glorious pink.

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Unusual to see profanity on a sign.  I know there a lot of English speakers here, so I assume they know what they are putting up there.  The German phrase translates out to “The first bank you will love.”  We grab a taxi and after 25 winding-around minutes, he pulls up to the door of the Movenpick Hotel, where we are greeted by a competent young clerk name Lina, who I became friendly with.  I’d called from the States a couple of nights previous to our trip, asking for a good room, since we’d be there so long.

Our room was wonderful, and I thanked her every time I saw her.

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It was wierd to have a glass-walled bathroom, but really the privacy level was okay, and if you wanted more privacy, you left the lights off.  We are hopeful for a good night’s sleep after seeing this on our nightstands:

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Meeting Dublin

This is post #1 of our Dublin-Berlin trip in September 2018.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

We left Los Angeles Tuesday evening, on Aer Lingus, an untested airline.  Now having flown them internationally and locally, go for international.  They make you pay for water locally (pet peeve of mine).  This was taken Wednesday, before we arrived in Dublin.

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I asked if everyone spoke Irish.  Nope.  But the law mandates dual language signs.  Actually it’s probably a pretty good thing, to try and keep the language from disappearing.

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We clear customs, get our luggage, and made our way onto the airport bus, that was the meandering version.  It took us past the harp-shaped Samuel Beckett bridge, one I didn’t see again.

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After the bus left us off, we walked down O’Connell Street, snapping photos.  Dublin is pretty enamored of their donuts, but they are more like cream-filled donuts than regular ones.  By the end of our stay, I was pretty enamored of their donuts, too.

The William Smith O’Brien statue was wearing a hat, as were some others.  Later I found out it was part of Dublin’s Fringe Festival, a combination of plays, performances, art pieces, and some hi-jinks — like hats.

The River Liffey.  We really had great weather while we were there–only a few rainstorms.  My first impressions of Dublin are of a smaller town with lots of energy, a long flat river bisecting it east-west, lots of statues, lots of donuts, and lots of tourists.  Oh, and it is very very green.

We had lists of things to see, from friends and neighbors and even our son Chad, who had come here last year with his family.  One place I wanted to see was the Garden of Remembrance, a memorial with a reflecting pool in the shape of a cross and a beautiful statue of children being changed into swans.

The Dublin Post Office was on the way, and I often buy one beautiful stamp from a country as a souvenir.  This time I purchased postcard stamps as well.  What a beautiful building!  I imagine the other ones aren’t like this, but I did have severe Post Office Envy.

I loved the hexagonal stamps they sold, but left them there.  We are at the stage where we only buy things that we think we’ll enjoy in our lifetime (as the children will throw out the bulk of our possessions, we’re sure!).  I could see framing them, but then what?  I just enjoyed them there.

The Millenium Tower, aka The Spire, is right on O’Connell street, serving as a landmark for us as we scooted around.  It was finished in 2002 (two years late), and apparently some hate it and some love it.  It is kind of cool looking.

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Still on the trail to the Garden, we heard chanting, like an enthusiastic call-and-response, and we realized we had happened on the Labor Rally for that afternoon, perhaps to get them fired up for the talk (below):

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Looks like Jim Larkin’s spirit still persists.

We arrived about 5:43 and the gatesman said he was closing soon.  “6:00 p.m.” I asked.  “In five minutes,” he said. So I raced down into the garden, up to to the statue and then back again, all in five minutes.

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The statue of the Children of Lir, a tale from Irish mythology.  It’s complicated, but love, suffering, and revenge are at the heart of it.

According to Wikipedia, “In Celtic custom, on concluding a battle, the weapons were broken and cast in the river, to signify the end of hostilities.”  The broken weapons are in several places in the reflecting pool.

We look pretty good for being so jetlagged.  Little did we know that we would never have a good nights’ sleep in our hotel.  More on that later.

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All the buildings are so different from our town, we found ourselves snapping photos left and right.

Now it’s time for our traveling ritual: Hunt For Food.  These days we have guidebooks, internet, Yelp and Google to help us find our way.

Fabric Store!  Fun to see that night, but of course it was closed.  And of course, I never got back to it.  That also is a ritual of traveling–seeing things, and never getting back to them.

We had downloaded Google Maps Offline, which keeps us oriented even when we don’t have Wi-Fi.  That kept us on target to cross the Ha-Penny Bridge, so named for the original toll, keeping Us on one side, and Them on the other side because of the steep (at the time) toll to be paid.  Now it’s just a charming and well-used bridge over the Liffey.

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Dave on the Ha’Penny Bridge • Dublin, Ireland

Fun stores and buildings on the way to dinner.  We also saw the first of many many many buskers (or street musicians–the term can vary) (click the link to see a white Irish Rapper).

We were headed for Fallon and Byrne, where we heard they had good food.  We opted for the restaurant in the Cellar, where we had a really great meal, though unexpected in their offerings.

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I had the Irish Chicken atop Sweet Potato (what we call a “yam” in this area of the world).

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Dave had the Beetroot, Avocado and Tofu Fritter, but it was like all of that mixed into a sort of “patty” that rested on a ciabatta bun.  Tasty, it was!

Twisting and turning, we made our way to the Molly Malone statue, a tourist tradition.  Home, and then experience the wonder that is a hotel room in the Temple Bar area of Dublin: no quiet anywhere.  In fact, even given the jetlag, we saw more awake time because of all the action, than we did sleeping time.  No whining while traveling, right?  Yes, but it’s difficult.  They do like to party All.Night.Long.

Annecy

This is post #2 of our 2017 Geneva, Switzerland-France trip, September 2017.

The town of Annecy was a short drive from our hotel in Talloires, so after lunch on Sunday, we drove over there. These mountain are known as the “teeth” mountains–the Dents de Lanfon–we see them just as we drive out of the little village of Talloires. We are aiming for the old section of Annecy, and keep driving in and in…until we can’t go any further.  Someone honks behind us and we pull to the side to let them pass, which they do: right into a parking garage.  We join them, noticing that there aren’t too many places.  Dave’s so-called “Parking Karma” emerges again. In the center of town is this church with a golden statue of Mary over the front door, and is the Notre Dame de Liesse, or Our Lady of Joy. It had a most unusual, patchwork-type rose window over the altar, and in each of the transcepts. One of the more unusual things about Annecy is its series of canals through the town.   Of course, I always look for the decorative arts and fabric — or tissus– shops wherever I go. Feeling the jetlag, we grab a sandwich from a Paul shop to take back with us, and start to head back to the car in the carpark. We figured out how to pay, how to leave (again, Google Off-line maps was really helpful) and headed back to our idyllic Talloires, where we spent the rest of the day on the deck overlooking the lake, enjoying the scenery.