Category Archives: Birds

日本 8.10.13 イレーン

We took the train Saturday from Hiroshima to Kurashiki by way of Okayama quite early. We had heard that Kurashiki was a beautiful, quiet and traditional town with a day’s worth of activities to enjoy. We arrived too early to check into the hotel (APA Hotel BTW is right at the JR Kurashiki station and very convenient) but we checked our big bags.

This town was a really nice change after all the crowds in Hiroshima and Miyajima. The historical district is beautifully preserved around the canal. We started with the Piggy Bank Museum which is just a really small room of glass cases on the top floor of an antiques shop. It was incredible how many they had and of all different varieties. This town was also an antique collector’s dream. (Mom, you would have loved the 101 Dalmations wallpaper!)

For lunch we got the special lunch sets at Mamakaritei. We were disappointed only because the guide book had led us to believe we would be getting a special “sardine” focus which was not entirely accurate and it was a rather expensive Kaiseki for lunch time on our budget.

After lunch we went to the old toy museum which was a wonderfully crowded crazy hodge podge of dolls, masks, daruma, kites and games from Japan for hundreds of years.

I was done museum hopping at that point and I had my eye on the shops in town. So Dan went off to the Ohara museum and I went shopping. Kurashiki is a great town to shop in both because of the antiques and also because many of the shops have traditional products hand crafted in the area so you get away from the proliferation of junk for sale. I bought a great waist belt pouch made of canvas from a Kurashiki design company and educated myself about all the differences in Bizen Pottery (a specialty of that region) so that we could get something nice when Dan was finished at the museum.

Along the way I stumbled into a small shop where an older lady was sitting quietly manning the store. She was really sweet and we tried our best to communicate. When Dan popped his head in she invited us to stay for iced tea and chat. She was 88 and in great health. Taking away… We did our best to participate!

After shopping we checked into the hotel and got settled researching dinner options. We heard that the regional Katsu (fried pork usually) had a great sauce so we headed out to Misokatsu Menoki. Dan got the seasonal set menu: pork and crab Katsu, rice, steamed chicken and vegetables, raw octopus in a mustard vinigrette, chicken sashimi with salad, miso soup with raw egg, tuna sashimi and a lemon jelly yogurt dessert. All that for 1800¥! I got just the pork katsu set which was delicious but Dan’s meal was delicious and one of the best values thus far.

Off to Zushi City tomorrow to finally see our friends!

Photos: steaming veggies at Misokatsu Menoki, pork Katsu set, piggy bank museum wallpaper, bird and fish toys at the Kurashiki toy museum

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日本 8.7.13 イレーン

We packed up our bags at Kyoko’s place and left everything home while we walked a few blocks down to Ritsurinkoen. This was one of Japan’s great gardens and we had heard that it was worth the trip. We did the 60 minute walking tour through the south end of the garden then hit the shop for another gelato treat. By 11:00 am it was already oppressive heat and humidity. We left through the north gate which ended up being the highlight… Their huge pond of Lotus (taller than me!) were in bloom and totally gorgeous.

We picked up our packs and headed to the bus stop. Kyoko’s apartment was a great place to crash for this first part of our trip and we will miss Takamatsu.

We caught the 12:40 train to Okayama and decided we would again treat the city as our lunch spot. Thanks to a blog post about food in the city we hit up a ramen shop that specialized in local ingredients (even their own Hishio -unfiltered soy sauce boiled with olives). We both had the Tonosho ramen and for the benefit of my New York friends… Ippudo needs to step aside. This thin broth was light, with a distinctive flavor (thanks to the local sardines they use), the pork was absolutely delicious… It just melted in your mouth. And they shave thin strips of Yuzu into the soup which is a stunning refreshing moment in the salty broth. I would not hesitate to go back. The best part? Dan was still hungry so he ordered the Kaemeshi bowl which was a generous bowl of rice with pulled pork, seaweed and scallions for only 100¥ ($1.00)… To pour the end of his broth in!!!

Off on the tram after lunch for another famous garden… Okayama’s own Korakuen. We had left our packs in coin lockers at the station so we could get around easily. Our garden walk was spectacular because it started to rain and their vast green fields, forests and terraces were beautiful in the rain. This rain, by the way, did not have any effect on the weather except to make it even hotter and more humid when the sun returned! Ritsurinkoen was lovely but Korakuen was truly worth the detour. They have a pen of cranes on the premises as well.. incredibly elegant birds.

We took the bus back to Okayama station, got our reservations for Sunday’s Shinkansen trip worked out and boarded the train for Hiroshima. We were due to meet up with Tanaka-san for his apartment that evening and still needed to eat. Tanaka-san’s flat is his grandmother’s place and it is a traditional Japanese apartment: tatami rooms with separate and partially outdoor shower and toilet. Such a cute place and in a neighborhood off the beaten path. We cleaned up and headed out to a sushi place he recommended just down the street… Much to our surprise and entertainment it was a conveyor belt sushi palace (we have heard about these but had never been). The place was enormous and we had counter seats. I was really impressed with Dan because he seemed to have the entire system worked out for keeping track of what we picked off the belt… That is, until they said last call. I then asked the waiter to calculate our bill (which Dan had been painstakingly writing up as the food went flying by) until Dan realized that the waiter thought we meant we wanted all 12 of those dishes and had specially asked the sushi chef to sneak in our “order”! BTW we were already full so if he had not caught that we would have been stuck with dinner number 2!!! I wish I had the entire episode on video, it was hilarious and our neighbors at the counter got a real show…. We were the only non-Japanese in the place and clearly didn’t know what we were doing. I did get a few videos on Vine if you want to follow us.

Photos: Lotus at Korakuen, Tonosho ramen at Shodoshima Hishio, sushi conveyor belt at Onmaku

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nu haiku

mist nets
flung by the rushing waterfall
Spring’s applause

Writing up my notes and filling out datasheets for my bird survey trip back in the beginning of June and I came across the following quasi-haiku I wrote (at the bottom of the “estimating cone mast” page) about 8:00 am at Diamond Notch waterfall at the base of the trail. As the poem came to mind I happened to be close to the pictured spot (photo by Ryan in June 2007).

Catskills weekend

Last weekend we had the pleasure of camping with the Otts again. Like Shenandoah in April 2005, we saw our share of thunderstorms and torrential rain. Ryan has put up some great pictures of the trip on his flickr page. I couldn’t locate my camera for most of it so he’s got the visuals of record.

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The bird survey Ryan joined me on was a success — the hiking was beautiful (perfect conditions – 60 at the top, light breeze, slightly overcast) despite much tree blowdown obstructing the trail, especially towards the top of the mountain (West Kill, 3880′, 6th highest in the Cats). I learned on the NY DEC web site that there was snow and wind in mid-April that affected many Catskills high peaks in the same fashion. Anyhow, we hit the cave (3500′) about 1:24 from the trailhead, which we left at 3:00 am. We stopped for a quick rest and two Bicknell’s Thrushes (the target bird of the survey) began singing & calling to each other. We noted a couple others along the actual survey route too. Finished the survey at 6:06 am and after enjoying the views, headed down the mountain in growing sunlight. The greenery was lush and most everything was pretty wet.

Once again, great food and company despite the rain. Oh, that’s our new screen house in the picture. What a great investment!

ketchup and the recent past

I’ve caught up a little on my flickr page, check out a few last pix from our March Florida trip I’ve finally posted. Photos from Cali to come, but I had a great time. My father-in-law will be jealous that Cringely was the keynote speaker.

Spent a tasty & fun weekend with the Ott family in Illadelphia. One benefit I’ve reaped from our visits, I’m finding, is that Amy saves me the work of posting about our weekend. Nice photos too — have a look at the official Weekend Debriefing. btw, it was a pileated woodpecker we were looking at in Fairmount park. I also hope I never make the salt lick caramel bars she had lying around- I’ll get sick from eating the entire batch in three and a half minutes.

Also showed them the RSS technology & how to use it. If you’re not hooked up on RSS yet, get yourself a reader or activate your live bookmarks and change your life & the way you use the internet. I swear it will be awwsum.

Other good news

  • Mom & Dad appear to be having a blast in Italia. Got one email from them, they were in Firenze & sounded excited. This is their first trip to Europe.
  • Congrats to Kerry & Mark who are engaged to be married. We (like I had anything to do with it) threw a surprise 30th bday party for her & she surprised us right back.
  • visiting Nancy in July. Looking forward to seeing Charlotte.
  • doing the annual planting in front of the home building this Saturday morning. explosive dehiscence!
  • It’s nice to be done w/ school.