Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cherry Blossom Mayhem

Right now, I'm packing and emotionally preparing myself to descend upon Kyoto for cherry blossom season.

I heard things can get pretty crazy under the fluffy pinkness this time of year, throngs of people having picnics underneath trees, too much sake, and maybe even a fight or two breaking out...

There's also a storm front going through and a chance all the delicate blossoms will have been blown away by the wind.

In any case, until I get back next week and report on the mayhem, check out an article I recently wrote for BootsNAll travel network.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I Dream of Dessert

Literally. I have been dreaming about dessert.

For the past few weeks, I've been waking in the mornings from the most wonderful dreams. Dreams in which I am dunking fresh donuts in hot chocolate syrup, loading up a plate at a dessert buffet, or licking the frosting off a lemon cupcake.

What's up with all this subconscious sweets consumption?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. But do any dream analysts out there happen to know what they mean? Wait, take that back. I don't want to know.

In any case, in honor of my dreamland subconscious, here's a photo montage of all my favorite confections over the last year. And you thought Japanese desserts were all about azuki beans and seaweed...

Mixed nut tart with rasberry jam

Peanut Tofu

Mixed berry Mochi Donut

Beni-imo Purple Sweet Potato Ice Cream

Caramel Hazelnut Tarte with Crunch Bar Ice Cream

Sweet Buns dipped in Sweetened Condensed Milk

Mini Citrus Cheesecakes

Custard Toast

As for the last treat, you might think that a piece of white toast topped with custard and ice cream would be blah, but it was heavenly.

Next week, expect posts about a different kind of fluffy pink frosting kind of experience. With a few thousand of my closest Japanese friends, I'm invading Kyoto for cherry blossom season.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What's your fantasy trip?

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about home and missing it.

I grew up in the deep South (Alabama to be exact), and after graduating from college, I could hardly wait to get out and explore the world.

And explore I did.

I made a vow at some point that I would take any travel opportunity that came my way even if it was the strangest most remote place. Well, it's now been over 16 years since I left the heart of Dixie to live elsewhere in the States and overseas.

But the other day I picked up a Budget traveler magazine and they had a spread about Nashville. It got me thinking about how alluring the South is to me now after all these years as a travel destination.

So, suddenly I had a new fantasy trip.

It will take a bit of research and planning as it involves multiple stops. It also won't realistically happen until at least late 2011, and who knows? By then, there might be another member of the family. There are logistics to work out. But anyway, here goes:

I want to do a 2 week road trip through the Deep South (Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia) to visit hole-in-the-wall Blues and Country Music Venues. I want to meet no name musicians who love their craft, eat biscuits and gravy, and stay in offbeat motor lodges.

It's funny how a travel inspiration can hit from nowhere.

What's your fantasy trip these days? Do you have more than one?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hitchiking Adventures

Confession time: When I was a Peace Corps teacher in Africa, I learned how to hitchhike.

I know, I know. It seems crazy.

Remember, I was a child in the 1980s and heard all those awful news stories and watched prime-time movies about hitching and the inevitable terrible demise too.

But I found myself in Africa in situations when I simply had to... and I survived.

In any case, I published an article giving tips about how to hitchhike on a popular travel network, Matador Travel. Please check the article out here.

So, what about you? Have you ever hitchhiked before? Do you think you could?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Buenos Aires Memories

When my sister and I were little, we loved the musical Evita.

We listened to the records and memorized all the songs and acted them out. I usually sang the part of Eva, and my sister did a really good rendition of Colonel Peron.

In any case, I always had a fascination with Argentina, if only for this famous political figure and her demise.

We finally visited Argentina a little while back, and it was one of the best trips I've ever taken. We didn't plan too much or research ahead of time, and the result was that we were completely surprised by much of what we found there: wonderful food, thriving Tango culture, and charming people.

Enjoy a few of our favorites memories from Buenos Aires...
We stayed in the unique Art Hotel, adorned with streaming light and mirrored walls. The hotel was an excellent value and well-situated. I highly recommend it if you are looking for a great place to stay.

One of our favorite areas was the lively San Telmo district, with street performers, a flea market, and wonderful restaurants. It was there we tried what was to become my favorite wine, San Telmo Malbec.

If you look closely, you'll see that the puppet matches the puppeteer. Even the same red socks.
Tango art in San Telmo
From our restaurant window, we glimpsed this mime on stilts in the crowd. It was surreal to watch him pick up a baby from the crowd and lurch around. We kept waiting for that baby to fall, but the mime was perfectly careful.
Tango dancing on the street
We enjoyed the food immensely in Argentina. Delicious pizzas with savory olives...
We were obsessed with one restaurant in particular, Cabanas Las Lilas. They serve the most wonderful mouthwatering beef. On our last night, we got there really late and we worried we would be turned away as it was midnight and there was a huge line coming out the door. Instead, they served complimentary champagne and appetizers to all the patrons waiting for tables. We did finally get a meal about 1:30 am, which isn't all that unusual in Argentina.
One night, we splurged on a stay at the Four Seasons Buenos Aires with a beautiful 1916 Belle Epoque Mansion (where we did not sleep as those rooms were crazy insane expensive; we were in the normal rooms which were only merely expensive, but you only live once.)

Incidentally, we did spot Robert Duvall getting into an elevator at our hotel. Apparently, he's a huge tango aficionado.
We had grand notions to take tango lessons, but due to lack of time, we settled on a memorable tango dinner and dance show. We try sometimes in our living room to reenact the graceful moves we saw there, but we usually end up just kicking each other in the shins.

Any visitor to BA must pay a visit to the famous Recoleta Cemetary, one of the most beautiful resting places I have ever seen. It's also full of many extremely fashionably dressed handsome mourners. Not us, obviously.
I also couldn't pass up the Eva Peron museum, where even the menu is designed to honor the memory of Evita...
Not a bad experience in BA considering we didn't have many plans or expectations.

What about you? Have you ever gone somewhere without much idea of what to do or see?

Sunday, March 7, 2010


In honor of the 2010 Iditarod, I post these images. So many fond memories of Alaska, but man, it was cold!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My Chocolate Fantasy Come True!

Chocolate Mochi Donut from Nevyn Handmade Bakery in Tokyo

What would you say if I told you that you could enjoy the taste of real chocolate without consuming any calories?

A Harvard scientist and his grad students recently created a device called "Le Whif." Basically it's an inhaler dispelling vaporized chocolate particles rather than oxygen... you actually get the taste of chocolate in your mouth.

Sound weird? Apparently, it's all the craze in Europe right now. Check out Le Whif website.

I have to admit I'm intrigued, but not convinced. My chocolate love is so much more than just the taste. It's the creamy smooth texture of a chocolate bar, or dense chewiness of a brownie.

That's not to say I wouldn't give it a try if I found it in a Japanese airport. Maybe those wacky oxygen bars will add a chocolate option to the menu.

What about you?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Jigokudani Monkey Park, part 2

How do you feel about eating a fine local meal of dried crickets and fresh river fish, eyeballs and all?

Normally, I'd be completely turned off, but this was part of our dinner at the Jigokudani Korakukan Inn. We stayed there on our snow monkey quest a few weeks back.

Now, many lodging options existed there including regular hotels and spa resorts, but we wanted a unique experience, you know?

Traditional Japanese Inns are interesting places to stay. It's almost like you are staying in someone's home, and you're sort of on their schedule, rather than your own. That means they serve meals at a specific time and usually everyone gets the same thing. It's like a bed and breakfast and you share a bathroom.
Jigokudani Korakukan Ryokan inside the Jigokudani Monkey Park

When researching places to stay, I found many reviewers who promised that the Korakukan offered up close encounters with the monkeys.

So close in fact, that monkeys could be found leisurely hanging about, scampering across the roof, looking in your window as you change clothes, and even climbing in the hot tub with you.
Sure enough, monkeys outside a window

I have to admit I was tempted...

Our lovely traditional room with huge window facing a snowy scene

Tatami style bedding

Tonight's dinner: wild duck, mountain vegetables, cod sashimi, marinated mushrooms

River fish and...
Um... yeah
If you're wondering how eating the crickets went over, watch our Amazing Race Parody video here.

We did visit the outdoor hot spring in the late afternoon, and there were a few monkeys sitting on the edge near us. They never did join us in the hot water though.

I highly recommend this inn for its character and proximity to the monkeys. I have to tell you though that the next morning, we requested the western breakfast with eggs, toast, and ham.

Read more information about the Jigokudani Korakukan Inn here.

What's the most memorable inn you've stayed at?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Flatulent Stuffed Animals in Ocean Beach

Tonight, my husband and I just listened to the most interesting radio program about the psychology of winning a silver medal instead of gold at the Olympics.

Basically, researchers found that many runner-ups suffer a huge disappointment (more so than bronze winners even) and for the rest of their lives feel intense regret about being second best.

Well on that note, I just received some news that I was selected as a runner up in a writing contest I entered. Actually, I'm not even certain I placed second; I think I may even be third.

But details aside, I don't feel too disappointed yet. There's always a chance of a delayed reaction later tonight.

My story is about being an expatriate living in Okinawa. It will published and ready for viewing in April.

But until then, I remembered another story I wrote and placed as runner-up a few years back. (Uh oh, I guess I really am always first place among the losers)

This story was about living in Ocean Beach, San Diego. If any of you are familiar with this little community, you know it's a funky place.

Here is a link to that article "Flatulent Stuffed Animals in Ocean Beach" for you to enjoy. By the way, whoever formatted my story did a dreadful job- there's lots of typos and weird spacing. I really do know the difference between "the" and "die," I promise.


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