Beauty and the Beast

Yesterday was a full day of traveling on three trains and a ferry ride to arrive at Miyajima Island. It is a magical place with a rich history and a peace and serenity we have been fortunate to experience in abundance in this beautiful Japanese country. Our hotel is a very traditional one where we sleep on tatami mats, have ten course Japanese dinners, and have another world experience like no other. Our first afternoon we have free to walk around the island and then the next morning we meet our next guide Yoshiko who spend half the day walking us through the temples and shrines and giving us a history lesson the island. So much for the Beauty…

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Our beautiful hotel

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The surrounding gardens

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Just one of our fabulous meals complete with Kimonos

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Visiting the temple with our guide demonstrating how to prepare for it

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The ceremony

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Some of our other favorite spots.img_3265

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Now for the Beast… in the afternoon we travel by train back to the city of Hiroshima. It is hard to imagine this pristine city, with it’s high-rise buildings and immacculate sidewalks ever having been visited by the Atom bomb. However unreal it may seem to us, as we visit the sights with the remains, the memorials and the Peace Museum we are confronted with a reality that forever will challenge our world to stop nuclear armament and become a place where peace and goodwill towards all beings is a reality. There are really no words to convey our feelings after being in Hiroshima…

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A reminder for all time

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A huge Thanks to Yoshiko for sharing this history with us

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Switching Gears…

From Vietnam to Japan was not only a journey of some distance but cultural shock as well. While leaving behind the chaos, heat, spontaneity of one we enter into the order, mild climate and formality of the other. Both have their appeal to us and both their shortcomings, but the special part of this particular vacation is the unexpected and diverse aspects of the people and their cultures. One not better than another just very different.  

Overlooking Tokyo


Our accommodations are impeccable, serenity in a city like Tokyo is a high priority for us with almost 13 million people. Technology is evident everywhere and while crowds of people abound the tiniest space can offer a sense of tranquility hence the importance of simplicity and order in behavior, dress and surroundings. 

Our room in Tokyo


Having said that, one night we venture out to the Shibuya district pre-Halloween festivities. One of the top concentrations of people crossing an intersection in the world! The crowds are like waves of people, dressed in costumes and out for a night of partying. The four of us make our plan to cross the intersections as a unit but the crowd has her way and I get separated from Mike and stand among thousands of mostly young people faced with the dilemma…try to find my group or head back to Hotel… both provided the ultimate challenge! Long story short, after my initial sense of panic, I survived and with the help of several gracious Japanese young men and many obstacles I made it back to our hotel safe and sound! Another adventure we all will not soon forget! 

Pre-Halloween Chaos

Out on the Town Food Tour

During the day we visit the National Park, one of those retreats from the hectic city similar to Central Park and the Shinto Shrine once belonging to the Emperor and now where weddings and blessings ceremonies take place.

Another evening finds us on a Food Tour with our guide Gen, a young 24 year old, who takes us to some off-the-beaten-path local restaurants to try unfamiliar dishes allowing us a whole new experience of Japanese cuisine. We love it but opt later to forgo the taxi and do some walking back to our hotel perhaps excising some calories ☺️

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Imperial Citadel and World Heritage Sites

I haven’t mentioned that I developed a cold and cough almost immediately from the beginning of the trip. The pollution and the alternating from hot humid atmosphere to air-conditioned buildings took it toll on me with some days being worse that others. It causes me to skip some activities such as the bike ride everyone takes in Hue. The rest does me good so I am glad to have the option. The countryside is stunning as we move on to the Imperial Capital, Emperors tombs, and the Thien Mu Pagoda.img_2862img_2869img_2874

Our guide Jo demonstrates how and where ambassadors stood to represent before the Emperor.

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After the historic sights we have such in a local nunnery, a peaceful, unique place outside of Hue.img_2964

We drive south in the afternoon to the town of Hoi An traveling along the coastline with breathtaking views over the pass into Da Nang city. img_2968

img_2978Our first stop there is the Cham Museum to view ancient sculptures and artwork.img_2974img_2971

In HoiAn we again stay at another La Siesta Hotel, which pleases us, as the grounds are beautiful. Mike and Ron spend the next day ride bikes along Cua Dai Beach while Linda and I do some shopping in the old city square.img_2979img_3019img_2992img_3012img_2987img_2993

Our favorite shop was Reaching Out a place where the proceeds benefit disabled individuals. It has amazing handcrafts and we meet the lovely workers their that could not have been nicer and are very proud of the work they do.

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Traveling with Friends

It seems impossible that the last time we traveled with our friends Ron and Linda it was nine years ago! We traveled to Peru, Ecuador, and the Galapagos Islands. It was an extraordinary trip and again we share a transforming experience.

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A night out in Cuzco

We have been friends for over 40 years, shared our daily lives in Sedona for about 28 of those years. It has been and continues to be a blessed life as friends and our chosen family.

So let the journey continue! We leave Hanoi all to soon. Today we change guides saying goodbye to Tony and meeting Joe, we toured the remains of the palce in Hue, Vietnam.img_2840img_2845img_2855

Largest fig tree I have ever seem!img_2865img_2868img_2857img_2885img_2887

We settle into a lovely hotel, walk the city which is much more subdued than Hanoi and enjoy some more authentic meals. In the evening we sit around the hotel bar reminiscing about how we meet and younger days. Our next experience will be traveling down river on a traditional boat and visiting the Imperial Palace.img_2905img_2890img_2900

 

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Travel Days

Last night we attended mass at St. Joseph cathedral in Hanoi where the local people really know how celebrate with non-stop singing. The church was full and the sound was soothing and yet inspiring. A rather long mass but one we are so glad we did not miss. We returned to the hotel to have yet another wonderful dinner at the Red Bean Restaurant.

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The next couple of days involved some long travel time in the van and we cover a lot of territory. This morning  we take to the road cross-country to arrive in Hon Gai International Harbor, Ha Long Bay. We board a lovely ship provided by Indochina Junk Company on the Dragon Legend Cruise ship. The accommodations are superior and the staff amazing. The sight of the bay with its limestone islands is breathtaking. We experience the tranquil wonder of cruising past these natural wonders and then the next morning kayaking through the waters to see them up close. The couples share a kayak but I swear Mike let me do all the paddling! Everything about this was a must-do and it was something we will not forget.

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It was so relaxing another day there would have suited me fine.af127ed1-26a6-456e-8734-1e2abd2fdee8f5d76f11-24f8-4e1e-89a2-4781a1395f7d

We met some amazing people!

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Matthew from San Francisco

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The fabulous staff made the ride even better!

We make a couple of stops for some shopping. And we all had fun chosing some magnificent needlework art to bring home. We also visited a pearl factory but passed on any purchase, we may hold out for Japan on that.

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These are all worked with the finest of silk threads! Unbelievable workmanship!

We spend another night at the La Siesta Trendy Hotel.  We loved this little hotel in the heart of Hanoi. Our room were beautiful, beds remarkably comfortable and the staff cannot do enough for you at every turn. Also, the hotels restaurant, which I mentioned above, kept us returning for more of the best dishes we had in Hanoi.

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More pictures of the countryside 

Do you see the elephant in this photo??

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Traveling to the Mountains

Our day was spent traveling to the mountain town of Sapa, a beautiful town that resembles more a European village at first sight, but that evolves into quite the tourist destination. The way was filled with splendid rice fields which we will trek through tomorrow.We enjoy another vietnamese lunch and arrive at the Sapa Dragon Inn. In the afternoon after freshening up we walk to Love Falls with our guide Tony.img_2735img_2065

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Our second day in Sapa we take our van to the rice field valley village of Lao Chai. We travel a few miles by foot and meeting the people along the way is one of our favorite things. We see many different aspects of village life, the local schools were especially inspiring!img_2761

The chalkboard is an example of the penmanship to which the children aspire. The classrooms were bright and colorful welcoming spaces. Education is not free and still the people value it and find ways to help their children become educated.

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Shoes are lined up outside the classroom

Along the way we met some interesting people.img_2776

At every turn were are greeted with smiles, and true affection and hospitality. Here is an example of the handdyeing and stitching up of accessories to be sold on the streets.img_2773img_2766img_2768

The people are hard at work not only on the land but making and selling had crafts. I get to try my hand at the sewing machine.

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More to come…

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Rested and Ready

Nine hours of sleep last night after an exhausting travel day and we were ready to go sight seeing. We took a drive out to Tinh Hung Yen to visit a local family, have a cooking lesson and have a home cooked lunch. But first we visited the market place. It was very primative but provided anything and everything the local women would need to feed their families well.img_2722

We were greeted with smiles and curiosity from the locals. The women were warm and friendly, they allowed us to take pictures all the while giggling and delighted to see the shots of themselves. The most obvious quality is there open hearts.img_2721

After we arrived at the Mr. Mien’s home for lunch. A tiny man with a crooked smile welcomed us into his beautifully manicured garden. He immediately sitted us down for a cup of tea and answer all our questions about his life and family.img_2723

Everything about his home showed the pride he felt for his ancestery and heritage. After a life working the land he had turn to inviting tourist into his home, he was full of stories but he didn’t speak a work of English. That didn’t seem to curve his enthusiasm for sharing just the same through our guide Tony.img_2713

Like in every home he had a special alter for honoring his lineage.

After our tour of the garden we sat at the small outdoor table and were instructed on how to make spring rolls. We all had a hand at it and a few laughs as ours did not resemble the examples.We had a small feast of prepared by Mr. Mien’s two daughters. complimented by his son’s homemade rice wine.img_2716fullsizerenderimg_1358img_1758

After returning from the countryside we returned to Hanoi to make a few more stops. We visited the Hanoi Hilton, Hoa Lo Prison, were American prisoners of war were kept after the Vietnam war. Now a museum it brought to mind the pain and tragedy of that time in our mutual history. Only part of the prison exists today and the displays are somewhat controversial as they are presented as inmates having been treated well and unharmed. Like our time in Cuba we found it unsettling as Americans.img_1792

Linda and I made one more stop at the Vietnam Museum of Fine Art which we throughly enjoyed. Beautiful art and marvelous examples of the history of the country through the eyes of remakeable artist of the past and present. The boys went off to get some exercise at the hotels gym.

In the evening we had a night of touring the city for street food. Tony did a fine job walking us along the city streets, dodging traffic and getting a chance to experience the city at ground level. (Sorry no pictures too busy eating.)

 

 

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Vietnam, really?

Yes, here we are in Vietnam! At first sight from the airplane I thought this cannot be the place our country spent over a decade bombing and devastating and attempting to rescue from the hands of communism. It looked lush, serene, covered with clusters of homes across it’s landscape and somehow welcoming us in. We have more surprises in store.

We are here with our best friends Ron and Linda Martinez for 8 days. We will take in as much as we can, then on to Japan, but more on that later. We arrive in Hanoi, being from Arizona memories of war heros and John McCain come to mind along with all the hundred of thousand of young men on both sides that lost their lives…but this is not a blog about that but about sharing the beauty of this placeimg_2638

Our first stop was to the temple of Literature in Hanoi. A very busy place busy with locals and tourists. The weather is mild and we are blessed with light breezes off and on. Wandering around enjpying the park-like setting and taking pictures. img_2650img_2648img_2654

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Founders of the first University in Hanoi

After a lunch of Pho (pronounced FAA), like none I have ever had in the States, must be because of the freshly killed chicken included in the soup dish!  We visit the Museum of Ethnology.img_2657img_2655

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With several more activities on the schedule we make one more stop before heading to our hotel where after 20 hours of flights we have a lovely welcome by the staff with drinks and fresh fruits and on to shower, dinner and this lovely sight!img_2670

 

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September up the Coast…

My husband purchased a new car this year and announced it was time for a road trip! Loving the opportunity to ride up the coast of California and just into Oregon sounded like a keen idea to me! So we did just that.

Our first night we stayed in Santa Barbara with just a night’s stay in a simple room downtown. Our friends the Seiger’s suggested a lovely little Italian place for dinner and it was a fabulous local place on State St.called Via Maestra 42. If you’re ever in town don’t miss this tiny little gem. Mike took his bike of course and got up bright and early for a ride above the hills and along Hwy.94. Sunday at the mission is also not to be missed, the choir there is amazingly beautiful.img_2483img_2481

The next day we drove up the coast for a stay in the little town of Cambria. I have always loved this town but had never stayed . We love to use the HomeAway.com site to book places when we travel, they never disappoint. We did a return visit to Hearst’s Castle after maybe having been there 30 years earlier! While in Cambria we got in touch with old friends from Mike’s college days, Sue and Gary Brennen. They live in San Luis Obispo and it proved to be a memorable evening. Returning back to our setting in Cambria was a real pleasure.

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Favorite shots of Hearst Castle

Our final destination was Nesika Beach, Oregon. We rented a lovely but tiny beach cottage right on the cliffs with views to die for!! Once again Mike was on his bike enjoying himself immensley . Sadly we planned on 4 days there but had to cut it short as work commitments called Mike home. It was a fabulous, relaxing trip and we hope to do it again!

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Lastly a trip up the coast would not be anything without a visit to the redwood forests!img_2544-1

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