Away and Back Again

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I recently returned from a long weekend holiday in London, England. I took daily notes in a travelogue, of sorts, just because I wanted to keep the memories of the little things I experienced, and writing them down always helps. Some folks wanted to see my handwritten notes, though they are mostly illegible. Still, I’ll share a few highlights. (Typed translations included to read my scrawl):

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Our first chuckle came at Immigration, when the officer asked what we are going to do while here in the UK. I said, “Pubs and walking,” and he replied, “I like the sound of the first one! The second one, not so much.”

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Did the walk past Buckingham Palace and Westminster (where we got lost), on our way to Cask. There, I had a tall, refreshing Rothaus Wheat and a burger that REALLY hit the spot.

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Coffee and tea at Kaffeine, along with some egg-and-salmon croissants that were quite tasty. From there, we planned a long-ish day of walking, up to the “Spaced” house in Islington. Walked through Kentish Town – which had some very trippy graffiti – and Camden, and found the old house in question, where husband got some pictures. We took a walk up to Hampstead Heath, as well, just because it was so close. Gorgeous windy day for the walking dogs!

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“Pissing rain” for part of the afternoon, but we got a reprieve with some very tasty – if pricey – sushi at Murakami. The soft-shelled crab was so good, we had to order 2! It was a bit too much to get dessert there, so we picked up some macarons and a parfait – and a few more beers to try – from Whole Foods, and went back to the hotel for an early night. A good thing, since we were both very tired and ended up sleeping for about 9 hours! Walking so many miles every day will do that, though.

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Walked by 10 Downing Street, but Larry was “napping.” We did see the Horse Guard’s Parade, or at least part of it.

Meeting Beth and Vanessa today. Very excited! I hope I don’t end up being a stereotype [sic] American and making an ass of myself.

Turned out, I didn’t have to worry! We had a very nice time chatting, drinking, and eating at Lowlander Cafe, a Belgian bar in Covent Garden. After, we had tea at Pret a Manger – which I’m still not certain how to pronounce – before we parted ways. I may need to go out to Kent next time, though.

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We travelled out to Brighton, on the coast. It’s very much a seaside town; parts of it reminded me of Harbram. We stopped for a pint at another chain-type pub, and after that took the bus out to The Seven Sisters cliffs. The train to Brighton was about an hour plus, and the bus ride just about an hour, as well, so it was mid-afternoon before we got to walk around the cliffs area. It was gorgeous, though, with sheep and cows and a real English countryside feel.

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I loved the vibe walking through the park. The parks were my favorite part of this trip, as they usually are for my vacations. Saw lots of birds and dogs, and it just felt so peaceful and welcoming.

Imperial was very much like home. The students and faculty walking around, doing university business, really made me feel like I belonged there. The bustle of Piccadilly was exciting, but the atmosphere around Imperial was much more my speed. I’m glad I got the chance to walk around the campus by myself before we left. I would definitely go back there and through Hyde Park, next time we’re in London.

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Hoping for a smooth plane ride home to Philadelphia. Meanwhile, story ideas are coursing through my head for the flight…. <3


I appreciate how lucky I am to be able to travel and have experiences away from home. My family, friends, and colleagues all helped me prepare for, cope with, and enjoy this vacation, in a way I couldn’t have done were I alone. Even though I was supposed to be alone for a portion of this holiday, and I was looking forward to that me-time, I am glad that I got to experience it together with my husband, as it became something of a second honeymoon, for us. Adventures that take us to new places – and new places within ourselves – are exciting when we’re on our own…but they can also be so much more fulfilling when we have someone to share them with.

The crunch-time of vacation merrymaking didn’t allow for as much writing as I might have gotten were I by myself, but I did manage to finish the story linked to below on the plane ride home. It has nothing to do with vacationing, but I don’t know the next chance I’ll get to indulge myself in writing younger Rob, Paige, and Daniel.

“Just a Man”
[~6800 words / 26 pages DS; PDF opens in a new window]

Have you enjoyed any adventures, recently? What do you like best about vacations? What are your favorite (in)activities while on holiday? Do you keep a travelogue while you’re on the move?

Sports Day in Japan (or, watch kids go crazy on a field)

Every year, Japan celebrates undoukai (運動会). It’s a holiday that celebrates sports and health awareness, and it usually involves children competing in very simple intramural events. While we were in Kyoto this past October, we were lucky enough to attend Ave Maria School’s undoukai. Friends and families cheer on the competing students, and it’s a great lot of fun to watch these young athletes excel…or, at least, yell their little lungs out with excitement.

You can learn the straight facts about undoukai from Wikipedia, so I thought I’d share our personal experiences.

Saturday, October 10, 2014, we set off from our house in Otani to Ave Maria School in Yamashina. Ave Maria School is a kindergarten/primary school, with three sets of class ages: 2, 4, and 6. My nephews* are in the 4-year-old class.

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Taking the field at Ave Maria

Those kids love to march while swinging their arms.

There’s a cardboard rocket tower in the back, with the word “がんばって (ganbatte)” written on it. “Ganbatte” means, very basically, “Do your best,” and we heard a lot of it that day. Especially during all of the fun little contests, like this ball-to-basket toss.

For these little ones, the contests weren’t all that complicated. Most of them were some variation on a race. It didn’t matter, though. Watching kids run across a field is pretty much comedy gold any time.

While the students were very excited to compete, they also stayed pretty orderly. You know, for 4-year-olds.

SportsDay3The colored caps were used to keep the different “teams” straight…as well as to help families and friends keep track of where our particular kids were at any given time.

Undoukai is just as much a celebration of school pride. Here’s the 6-year-old class marching band performing semafore.

They’re not Army-Navy game caliber, but pretty good for 6-year-olds. Am I right?

My nephews had a great time participating in their first undoukai (this is the first year they’re enrolled in a formal school). They did well in the giant ball race – they’re twins, so they got to be together for that one – and their obstacle course races. At the end of the day, everybody gets a celebratory lift from their parents!

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Parents resting their backs until the kids arrive.

I’m so glad we got to experience undoukai with family while we were there, especially since we were only in Japan for two weeks. It was a great time!

I almost forgot! We also had scrumptious obento (lunch box) made by my cousin that day. You’ve got to keep your body well-fed if you want to compete at the top of your game, after all!

SportsDayFoodHow do you celebrate sports and wellness in your family?


* I call them my nephews, but, actually, they’re my cousin’s boys. It’s just easier for me to refer to them as “nephews” instead of “second-cousins.”

From Japan to the Yucatan

Okay, so I didn’t actually go to the Yucatan. But, I did go to Japan recently!

The last time I’d been to Japan was back in 2012. I’d gone with my family and my parents. We wanted to do that again, but my dad passed away earlier this year. Both my mom and I decided it would be a nice way to honor my dad’s memory by making the trip he would have done. And, when you lose someone close to you in your life, you realize that the joys of life shouldn’t be put off. So, off to Japan we went!

I’ve been to Tokyo, but I went to university in New York City and I’ve traveled extensively across the country, and I’ve learned that every big city is pretty much like any other. I much prefer my mom’s quieter hometown of Kyoto.

Kyoto is the old capital of Japan. It was spared bombing during World War II, so there are many castles, shrines, temples, and other historical buildings that were eft intact through the last several centuries. The Japanese people are very aware of their history, and one will, on any given day, find many national tourists flocking to those castles, shrines, and temples. Of course, that doesn’t mean Kyoto is stuck in the past. There are many parts of it that are very modern.

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Modernity in Kyoto (the roof of Kyoto Station)

I said, modern. I didn’t say it’s necessarily pretty.

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Shrine up the street from our house

As opposed to this quiet little shrine, which was located up the street from our house in Ōtani, just one stone stairway off of a fairly major thoroughfare. The village of Ōtani is located Yamashina ward, essentially a suburb of Kyoto. There isn’t much to do in Ōtani proper, but that’s okay, because it’s always nice to get back to a quiet home base. Plus, we had this view outside our balcony:

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Sunrise in Ōtani

For any kind of bustling action, we went first into Yamashina proper, only three stops away on the Keihan Keishin train line. One of the very first nights we were there, in fact, Yamashina had its festival of lights and street vendor fair! You can’t see it very well, but there were lots of people there, from all over Kyoto and the surrounding wards, sampling huge cooked kaki (oysters), takoyaki (fried octopus balls – that’s octopus, vegetables, and eggs fried into little balls, not octopus scrotum), okonomiyaki (vegetable or pork pancake), kara age (fried chicken), “bifu-and-chizu” (beef and cheese), sake, and beer. (Just so you know, drinking alcohol on the street is generally not allowed. Especially not at those prices! This was a special occasion.) Most options were under 300 yen, too, which made for a very nice opportunity to try something different.

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Yamashina street fair

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Actually a restaurant oyster. But they were this big even at the street fair.

Yamashina is also home to the pancake house (okonomiyaki house?) where we stop for our first night every time we arrive. I don’t know whether their taps are phenomenal or we’re always so relieved to be in Japan after that 11-hour flight, but the Yebisu beer there always tastes like the best beer ever!

One of the best things about Japan is their ultra-reliable public transportation systems. The trains run like clockwork over there. They have to, with billions of passengers using them every single day! Since we were living out in the suburbs, we had an 8-minute walk to our local train stop, where we took the train to Yamashina, or Kyoto Shiyakushomae, or any number of locations. Yeah. We rode a lot of trains. More often than not, as a way to get something to eat. 🙂

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The Kintetsu Limited, one of the more luxurious train lines in Japan.

We eat a lot when we’re in Japan. Every stop, eating. Always something different, always something scrumptious. I’m going to be posting a lot of food pictures for the next few weeks as I cover our Japan trip, so if you’d rather be spared all the sumptuous details, you may want to look away for a while. (Like I am, as I keep my head down with this year’s NaNoWriMo project.)

Next time, I’ll talk about undokai, Japanese Health Awareness and Sports Day. Until then, happy writing, happy reading, and happy eating!

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