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.

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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:

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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):

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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.

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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.

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

Plitvice Lakes National Park

(This is the sixth post of our Croatia-Budapest Trip, June-July 2014.)
Saturday, June 21

In the morning we showered en suite in the tiny, but immaculate shower, packed up (easy to do with half my clothes gone) and thought we’d go up the street to get some baked goods at the bakery the landlady mentioned.  And on our way we would take half the luggage.  This prompted an outcry in Croatian from the “mother” to the English-speaking daughter.  We kept saying “one minute. . . one minute” like she could understand our English. Somehow she and I both thought if we spoke more emphatically in our native language that the other one would understand.  This never works, but goes on all the time.

Split Laundry

I stood at the front door, checking out the laundry hanging over our heads until the daughter dressed and peered down from her second floor stair landing, where we explained that we’d be right back in a minute and were just going to get some breakfast up the street and drop our luggage at the car.  “Okay!” she said, then explained this all to her mother, who then made the universal symbol of “carry on,” a hand gesturing towards the front door.  We were free to go.

Bakery Cookie

Luggage stowed, we entered the bakery, the only ones in there, and started looking around.  I immediately bought a bunch of the cookies (above) which tasted like those round nutty cookies at Christmastime, but without the annoying powdered sugar all over them.  We bought some breakfast-looking breads, then Dave, seeing a loaf with a chunk cut out, wanted some bread.  He pointed and asked with his fingers indicating a small bit.  By this time, she was tired of us.  She took a knife and whacked off a piece, rolling her eyes as she held them out and said “This one or this one?”  He chose the small one and we skedaddled.  Split is a working town, with little patience for American tourists, we decided.  We paid our bill, stowed the rest of our luggage and left town, heading for the A1 going north.

Sveti Rock

Heading up the A1, we saw this interesting formation: Sveti Rok.

Sveti Rock up close

As we got closer, it morphed into this.  We continued on, through tunnels and open road until we could stop for gas.

Auto Stop Croatia

These freeways stops (this one at Gornja Ploca) had all sorts of interesting things to snack on:

Grocery Store Spaghetti Candy

Grocery Store KitKat Candy

I bought this one for my granddaughter because her nickname is KeKe (pronounced like this candy).

Grocery Store Chips

Paprika is the national flavor, we decided.  We shared a bag once at some random lunch and it tasted like barbeque-flavored chips.

Grocery Store Tacco Chips

“Taccos.”  I love how we come off as Americans.

Grocery Store Big Pep Chips

I finally did buy this one, as I couldn’t resist the title “Big Pep.”  (I could use some of these every afternoon about 3 p.m.)  After a while, we turned off the A1 onto Highway 52, heading towards the interior, leaving the coast behind.

Big Lake Croatia

The landscape in this area is less Mediteranean, more rolling meadows with rivers and lakes.

Croatia to Plitvice Rt 59 scenery

PansionCafe Croatia

It was lunchtime, so we stopped at the roadside restaurant/hotel.

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Nobody was home, it seemed, but we needed to stretch our legs and after all, all the doors were open.  Eventually we were served and after a few more minutes, they brought us these:

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We sat outside in the car and enjoyed our lunch (we left the plates there, of course) and then continued on towards Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Plitivice Map from House Tina

We decided to begin at the lower section of the park and walk our way to the upper section, following the well-traveled trail, as shown by the map, above.  The lower box also shows the changes in elevation, but even after driving all morning after a pitiful night’s sleep, we didn’t find the hours we spent in the park to be strenuous.

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We walked in from paying for the tickets (not cheap) and to the overlook, where we saw this sight: Veliki Slap, or Big Waterfall.  It’s the tallest in the park.  See that line of tourists about halfway up on the left side, all lined up to see this?  That’s where we are headed.

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The descent is via a sloping, switch-backed path, down through the forested slope.

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We have now joined the line up of tourists as only a few can pass around the corner at a time, but we endure.

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Plitvice Large Falls DAEESEOkay! We made and got our picture besides, thanks to a skilled visiting tourist who knew how to meter a photo for proper exposure.  I hope I did theirs okay, too (a time-honored tradition: trading cameras to take shots of strangers).  We headed back up the boardwalk, following the hordes, but thankfully so far, no tour guides carrying flags leading a pack.

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The colors are amazing, changing from a jade green to a teal to deep blues.  We are happy to be here on a not-rainy day, as we’ve been following the weather forecasts ardently, moving the trip to Plitvice up a day, just in case.  We had gorgeous weather on this day.

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The park is a series of lakes and waterfalls in between each lake, and near each is a sign like this showing where you are (a little arrow on the right, which is hard to see) and the elevation.

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Looking up the canyon.

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Plitvice4_little fallsThis is a still shot of the place where I shot the video (below).

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Plitvice5a_cove and boardwalk

The boardwalk crosses over one of the lakes, and there was a pathway to head up to the top of the canyon walls, passing by this cave.  We decided to head on up the lakes (bypassing this gaggle of tourists).  We realize that by arriving at 2 p.m, we were going to hit crowds, but the park is so huge it wasn’t a big problem.  But Dave is a blue-sky kind of guy and will press on ahead just so his view is not the backside of multiple tourists, but a more open landscape.  By bypassing some groups, he was able to see the natural surroundings that were quite frankly, phenomenal.

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We stood here and took about five shots each of this, tilting our cameras this way and that for the exposure in order to get the blue below and the jade above.

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Seeing Dave’s backpack was often my view as he kept pressing on. . . and I kept stopping.  (However, the photographs on this blog were taken by both of us.)  I did catch him once and got him to pause enough for the next two photos.

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Plitvice6d_falls view

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At one point the trail led up into the forested landscape, where I found some dainty wildflowers.  We were headed to Jezero Kozjak, a big lake central to the park, where we would catch a boat ride to the next part of the trail.

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View from the front of the boat, where we sat.

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Another boat passed us going the other direction.  Our tickets could only be used for one boat ride, otherwise I might have been tempted to get on another going the other way, and then another taking us to where we were now headed: towards those little set of falls, straight ahead of us (below).

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Plitvice13c_lakeviewA panoramic photo of the lake. The lake was serene, the day was not hot, but warm, the crowd on the boat was relaxed and soon scattered as we reached the dock.  Most of the time I felt like Dave and I were in our own little world, being English speakers in a foreign country.  We could sit at tables close by our neighbors at dinner but since we couldn’t understand them (and we assumed that they couldn’t understand us), a cushion enveloped us as we traveled where we didn’t speak the language.  And it had the added benefit of creating a deeper bond between Dave and I.

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The first few days in Croatia, we would walk side by side and not speak to each other.  It wasn’t because we were angry or anything, it was that we were just out of practice.

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At home we would spent most of our days in our own “caves:” he doing his work and me doing mine, and then after dinner I’d head up to my study to grade or even get a few minutes of quilting in, and he’d stay downstairs and read, grade or watch TV.  Parallel lives that were now blending into one life: that of a middle-aged couple on the road together, creating memories and sharing experiences.

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Plitvice8c_walkway onto partII

The ferry landed on the left side of an inlet, and we stayed on, as it crossed over and dropped us off on what looked to be an island, although we knew it just the other side of the lakes.  As it turned out, we went backwards from everyone else.  Fine by us.

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As we walked along this path, a large group, complete with parents pushing baby strollers, came walking towards us.  One older man detached himself from the group and went ambling off to my right, in between the trees.  Usually good tourists keep to the trail, so I realized he was after something else.  Sure enough, he stopped, looked at his group, unzipped his trousers and took Nature’s call.  Unfortunately, he didn’t look DOWN the trail, so Dave and I caught the full visual image.  We focused our gaze back to the left to see others in the group looking over at him, shaking their heads, smirking.  We were smirking, too.  Some things cross all language barriers.

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The group passed us by and the trail changed to boardwalk, as it was headed over marshy land at the edge of the next little series of lakes.  There are twelve in this upper section, but by taking the path we did, we would only see about half of them.

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Plitvice9c_path again

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More falls:

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Because we live in a dry, quasi-desert country, all this water is amazing.  Gallons and gallons and gallons falling over moss-covered embankments.  We loved the sound and so took more videos here than any other place on our trip.

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Plitvice10c_falls

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After a while the water splashing on this rock began to remind me of hail, the fat drops of water scattering and chattering over the surface of the water. I could hardly tear myself away, but we still had much to go and the light was changing, indicating late afternoon sun.

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Dave snapped this blue little insect in mid-flight. Still can’t tell if it is a flying buzzing thing, or a tiny butterfly.  I think the former.

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Plitvice11a_wide falls

Plitvice11b_wide falls

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Even the lichen on the bark is beautiful here.  We won’t see such things in our neck of the woods.

Plitvice12_watercolors

Plitvice12a_more falls

Plitvice13_path to lake

This path leads back to the boat dock, where we will take a short ferry across and then up to the trams to carry us back to the beginning.

Plitvice13a_rushing watersIt’s hard to leave such a gorgeous place.  I’ve seen pictures of this in winter and the frozen landscape is also beautiful.  (I just wouldn’t want to be here when it rains.)

Plitvice13b_ferry and trail sign

We board the ferry to cross over to the other side of this narrow part of the lake.

Plitvice14_steps up to tram stop

And head up the path to the trams, which we think will carry us back to the beginning.  We start chatting with a couple next to us, waiting on the bench.  They are from Russia and he is a photographer, carrying a tripod and bag of gear.  Their English is pretty good (our Russian is non-existent) and we chat to each other.  Of course, we are dying to get their views on the Russian takeover of Crimea–a real first-hand viewpoint, but I don’t think it’s polite to grill your benchmates on politics, so we talk about places they’ve been, places they liked a lot (many in the US).  The tram comes and they board the first car and we board the second.

Plitvice Looking Up Canyon6

The tram takes us about halfway down the canyon, near the hotels onsite, and drops us off.  We have a bit of a walk, and it’s late afternoon and we’re a bit tired.  So we are passed a lot by faster-moving younger people, but we still manage to stop at most of the viewpoints, to look down on where we’ve been.

Plitvice Looking Up Canyon5

Plitvice Looking Up Canyon4

I wonder if the larger lake at the top of this photo is where the boat crosses.

Plitvice Looking Up Canyon3

The boardwalk that crosses the lower lakes, just above the Big Waterall.  There are steps from this vantage point down to the hidden cave.  No way I’m doing that, and I think Dave feels the same.  We still have to find our hotel, find dinner, and get settled before we can call it a day.Plitvice Looking Up Canyon2

Plitvice Looking Up Canyon1

Our final view of the canyon.  The Russian couple kept our pace, and we saw them again at the big sign at the entrance, where he took our photo (below).

DAE ESE Plitvice Lakes

Next up: House Tina and a real, home-grilled dinner