Sunday, August 14, 2016
This is the story of how, on a rainy night in the Japanese Alps, we came to eat the worst meal of our whole trip: a train station fast food burger from the Mos Burger chain.
One of the things David was looking forward to in Japan was the cuisine. Lana was a little apprehensive about it, as she’s not a big fan of fish, especially raw fish, or things that have been cooked but are served cold. All things heavily represented in Japanese cuisine. We also knew that we could not expect an English description of dishes or ingredients, and that generally, things come exactly as they’re traditionally made. Substitutions are not really an option. The very polite staff may smile and nod to your “no this/no that” request and then the dish will come out exactly as the cook always makes that dish. We can respect that. We also knew, from previous experience using translation dictionaries, that menus often contain specialized vocabulary that’s not in a common dictionary. We knew there would be challenges, and we didn’t even know all of them yet.
Japan was one of the first countries we placed on our must-see list for traveling around the world in 2012, and it was one of the last that we removed from that same list, due to cost and time constraints. At the time, we decided that Japan was a good candidate for it’s own, dedicated trip. While our must-see list has grown since then, Japan seemed to be the obvious choice for our next over-seas trip. A great deal on tickets didn’t hurt either.
Saturday, October 17, 2015
We spent a long weekend in New Mexico earlier this month, as an extension to David traveling there for work during the week. He was deploying new desktops and servers to two different judges' chambers, one in Albuquerque, and one in Santa Fe. Lana flew in to Santa Fe Friday night, and we had Monday off as a Federal holiday, leaving us with enough time to see a little of both cities. We’d visited Santa Fe twice before, but had not yet spent much time in Albuquerque.
David had wrapped up his work in Santa Fe before lunch on Friday. If Lana wasn’t flying in, he would have spent the afternoon in return travel. Instead, he had about 8 hours before he needed to meet Lana at the airport . Before leaving chambers, he’d asked the law clerks there for their suggestions of things they’d enjoyed in the area. They had a number of great ideas, but the one that seemed perfect for the weather and season was a hike in Hyde State Park, northeast of Santa Fe.
David packed up a picnic lunch and his camera bag, and drove up Ski Basin road to the Aspen Vista trail head. The drive itself was quite pretty—the aspen were all turning. The trail head starts at 10,000 feet, and after 6 miles reaches the summit at 12,000. David only hiked about 3 miles, to 11,000, which is where the aspen give way to pine. While sitting and eating the last of his lunch at the edge of the pine forest, he noticed a dot of red. Looking closer, he noticed a number of raspberries, and after a bit of foraging, had a nice extra snack!
The pine forest itself was pretty interesting; it was a very damp micro climate, perhaps due to the slope and location. The trees had long tendrils of moss hanging of the branches and bark, and the undergrowth was spongy and full of interesting succulents. Not what he expected to find just above arid Santa Fe!
The skies had been overcast as he hiked up, which worked out nicely, as he could hike as briskly as he wanted without getting to hot. As he descended, the cloud cover broke up a bit, giving some spectacular lighting on the aspen, as well as some neat views of Santa Fe. What looks like a river in the plain is actually highway 285 on the north side of the city.
Lana left work a little before 4:30, and her tiny plane landed just before 8. David saw it fly directly overhead as he drove to the airport (there was only one plane due for the next four hours, so there wasn’t much question). Outside of a dirt airstrip in Limpopo Valley, Botswana, it’s the smallest airport we’ve been through—a good thing. It took Lana longer to walk across the tarmac than it took to walk through the building, and to the car. Neither of us felt like a restaurant meal, so we made a simple, tasty pasta dish in the adequately appointed kitchen of our hotel room, which was a nice perk.
We spend the morning in Santa Fe, wandering the Plaza, and re-visiting the history museum in the Palace of the Governors. They have a great, functioning print shop there with a number of different printing machines and some beautiful posters and books that were produced there. After lunch, we drove to Albuquerque to see part of the 2015 International Balloon Fiesta, which had been running all week.
We’d planned to visit a botanical garden, but it was a zoo (actually, an aquarium and a zoo and a botanical gardens, but really it was just far too busy for the relaxed afternoon we had in mind), so we simply headed to the Balloon park early and wandered around. The shops were interesting; a mix of what you’d see at a fair or farmer’s market, along with all manner of balloon merchandise. Canon is one of the event sponsors, and David was curious about their tent. Inside, they had some of their cameras on display (though nothing in the mid-range or higher, oddly). On the side facing the field, they had about 15 different telephoto lenses, up to 800mm, mounted on tripods for people to test. Inside, they had an interesting promotion: they would loan you a DSLR for the evening; they seemed to be getting a lot of takers.
The balloon field is huge (78 acres, or 54 football fields), and it took a while to walk past or through the tents that lined just one side. We were getting hot and tired, and after lingering in spots of shade, we finally sought refuge (and seating) in the tent of another even sponsor, Dos Equis. It was really a beer garden with a small tent for the staff tending the bar, and not enough tables and shade to go around. We shared a hard cider, found some chairs and moved them to shade, and sat and watched the crowds. It ended up being a perfect way to while the afternoon away until the sun dropped close to the horizon, and lost much of it’s fierceness. Two ciders and a bottle of water later, we left—it was much more crowded than we we’d arrived, both inside the beer garden, and on the field. 100,000 people were estimated to attend, and it was easy to believe.
As the sun set, the balloonists started rolling their trucks and trailers onto the field, and deploying their gear. It was fun to be able to watch different balloons in various stages of inflation, right in front of you. As darkness fell the Night Magic Glow began: after a 10 second countdown all the balloonists would fire up their torches to light up all the balloons at once. It was pretty incredible.
Finally as some balloons started to deflate to call it a night, we headed back up the hill to the car. We drove a little further into Albuquerque for dinner, and at a a place in Nob Hill that David had eaten at when he was staying in Albuquerque for work. After dinner and some fro-yo for dessert, we headed back to Santa Fe, wiped out after a long day of being outdoors in the heat and sun and dry air.
After a good night’s sleep and a yummy Sunday brunch at The Chocolate Maven (our favorite restaurant and bakery in Santa Fe), we were kind of at a loss of what to do. We’d done as much museuming as we wanted to, and weren’t planning on leaving until the next morning. Ultimately we decided on a little hiking, a little shopping, and a little hanging around doing nothing. We started with the hike, a short one in the Canyon Preserve. It was pretty, but mostly dry and scrubby.
After our hike, and a picnic lunch, we hit a fabric store (Santa Fe Quilting) where David found some fabrics for making bow ties (his latest hobby), as well as an outlet mall nearby. Then a lazy evening winding down our trip. On Monday, we drove back to Denver, after breakfast. It’s a pretty drive, and passed quickly with music and good company.
Friday, December 26, 2014
Almost exactly 2 months after returning to the US, at the end of September, we headed out again for a much shorter trip. We were driving towards San Diego via the Grand Canyon. We planned about 2 weeks away from ‘home.’ Our renter was still paying our mortgage and then some, and neither of us were quite ready to settle down. It seemed like a perfect time to get one last visit in to our close friends in California while we still had the luxury of time to spare. We left heavy rain and flash flood warnings behind us in the plains, and headed over the Rockies, which had an early dusting of snow amongst the turning aspen.