Travel Pinch Me Moments

“You have to travel to see new light, find new hope, renew the mind and revitalize the soul.” Lailah Gifty Akita

It was summer in January on a beach in Napier, New Zealand.  The weather was hot and the sun was setting at 930 PM. The moon was out at the same time.  My new friend pinched the fingers of both her hands together and said, “This is a pinch me moment”.  I had heard of pinch me moments when someone wins an Academy Award or accomplishes a dream but I had never heard of it standing on a beach watching a sunset.  She explained that, “You pinch your fingers to save the moment. When I am sitting in my kitchen in England and I look out the window at the dreary weather, I will remember this moment.” 

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 As I watched the moon that night, it made sense that it is also the small moments that resonate in our minds. They are part of the story making events of our lives. Here are some of my travel pinch me moments. (photo by Cordula Reins)

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Looking out at the balloons in the air over Cappadocia, Turkey.

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Watching the sun set over the Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia

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Rainbow over Iguazu Falls, Missiones, Argentina

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Angor Wat, Cambodia

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Walking on the beach in Varadero, Cuba

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 Sailing on the Mekong Delta, Viet Nam

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Machu Picchu .

Seeing the elephants up close in Kruger National Park, South Africa

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The Tori Gates on Myajima, JapanIMG_1074

The view of the volcano in Santorini, Greece

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Fly safe,

JAZ

Ten Amazing Travel Days

Ten Amazing Travel Days

“It’s a perfect day, drank Sangria in the park, later on when it gets dark, we go home”  Lou Reed

A perfect travel day is when everything falls seamlessly into place. There are days when you experience amazing things because the world is an incredible place. I picked ten of my favorite days

Cappadocia , Turkey

Cappadocia could be among my favorite places in the world.  The dramatic landscape is the result of volcanic eruptions that happened millions of years ago. Wind and water eroded the land leaving these odd surreal land formations, fairy chimneys, caves and underground cities.

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Floating across the sky at sunrise, above the lunar-like, rugged moonscape of Cappadocia in a hot air balloon was one of the most incredible mornings of my life and should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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Dubrovnik and Peljesac Penninsula, Croatia

I had a great time in Croatia with my kids. A particularly beautiful day was spent exploring the Peljesac Peninsula with our tour guide Petar Vlasik http://www.dubrovnikrivieratours.com.  We stopped at a few different wineries for wine tasting. Ston is a fortified city from the middle ages with stone ramparts said to resemble a small great wall of China. Ston is known for their lush oyster beds and salt pans and is a great place to eat the freshest oysters and buy salt.

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That night we attended a really good jazz concert at the Old Rectory Church in Dubrovnik. It was a great family memory.

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Onsets and Ryokans, Japan

Ryokan are Japanese style inns found throughout the country in hot springs resorts. Ryokan are a traditional Japanese experience, incorporating elements such as tatami floors, futon beds, Japanese style baths and local kaiseki ryori (eight course typical Japanese meals with local and seasonal specialties).

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The main activity besides eating is bathing. The geothermal springs located throughout the country( onsens) provide hot mineral-rich water for indoor and outdoor baths. The chemistry, temperature, pressure, buoyancy, sulfa and magnesium of thermal baths have curative properties . The meals show all that is beautiful about Japanese culture. Kaiseki is a multi course meal rooted in the Buddhist idea of simplicity. I have been fortunate to visit a few ryokans in Nikko, Yufuin and Iso Nagaoka. Each one has been special.

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Marajo, Brazil

Marajo is an island in Brazil in the state of Para at the mouth of the Amazon. It is the size of Switzerland and home to many beautiful birds and water buffalo.

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The story goes that a ship laden with goods and water buffalo from India hit a reef and sank off the coast of Marajo. Some of the buffalo escaped the wreck and swam to shore. The buffalo are descendants of this shipwreck though now more have been brought in. There are large herds of domesticated water buffalo on the island. At Fazenda Sanjo you can experience life on a farm in the Amazon. There is piranha fishing, riding and milking buffalo, canoeing and horseback riding through the river with the buffalo. We did the riding with the buffalo. It was definitely the most different thing I have ever seen up close and pretty amazing.

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Edinburgh, Scotland

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a summer theatre festival that includes cutting edge theatre, interesting comedians, and everything else. It is a festival where anyone can perform and my daughter’s high school took advantage of that and had a three-week summer program in Edinburgh. My son and I went to see her perform. It was my first time at the Edinburgh Fringe. Being a theatre person, I loved every minute of it and have been back a few times.

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My son worked there the following summer. The Royal Mile is the definitive part of the fringe. This road is packed full of street entertainment, groups doing excerpts from their shows (mainly musicals) and lots, lots and lots of acts trying to flyer you to get you to see their shows. There’s not really any equivalent to this anywhere else. Theatre goes on all day and all night. We had a blast.

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Cartagena, Colombia

The heat in Cartagena gives it a sleepy feeling which kind of makes it okay to sit on the wall, browse through shops and street vendors, buy fresh fruit from a woman carrying it on her head and not go to a museum.

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La Boquilla is a poor fishing village twenty minutes outside of Cartegena. It is a peninsula at the end of a beach with the Caribbean Sea on one side and a lake with mangroves on the other. The guide takes you on an old canoe through mangrove tunnels with flocks of birds and fishermen fishing for crabs ,shrimp and small fish.

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After the canoe they pull out a fresh coconut and make a hole for a straw with a machete. I walk for a long time on the beach with my feet in the Caribbean Sea. I have lunch on the beach of fresh fish, plantains and coconut rice.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez became a writer in Cartegena. His novel Love in The Time Of Cholera Is set here. It is one of my favorites. I see Fermina riding in the horse and carriages and Florentino wandering everywhere in despair. You can see how much of Cartegena is in his books.

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Hoi An, Viet Nam

Hoi An is one of the most charming cities in Viet Nam .Hoi An’s Old Quarter is lined with two-story old Chinese buildings that now house shops with elaborately carved wooden facades and moss-covered tile roofs.

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The food market reminds visitors of another era when it was filled with goods from all over the Asia. (mangos, rambuchan, snake wine) Hoi An is a place where you can get clothes and shoes made at a reasonable price as long as you have a picture. It is also one of the best eating cities in Viet Nam and known for cooking classes and especially delicious food.

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After spending the day in the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Hoi An, i head back to the Nam Hai all-villa resort on quiet Hoi An Beach. The contemporary architecture is welcoming and eye-catching as feng shui mingles with strong modern lines.

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The Spa at the Nam Hai is truly something wonderful. Composed of 8 villas, floating around a lotus pond, it is the ideal location for a relaxing massage, steam shower and herbal tea! The people who work there are most helpful and always want to practice their English.

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Venice, Italy

Every corner you turn in Venice ,you walk deeper into some real-life watercolor painting that a camera can never do justice. It’s like no place else I’ve ever been.

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It’s  a maze of canals and small streets, whimsical bridges, and colorful buildings. And as with all mazes, you should prepare to find yourself lost a time or two. I was there with my kids and a friend,  It was during the Art Biennale in the summer.

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We got to see incredible modern art from all over the world in the morning and explore the city in the afternoon.

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An important Venetian holiday is held on the third week in July. It is the Feast of the Redentore commemorating the end of the plague that killed fifty thousand people including Titian. The fireworks display is so extensive and significant that the re-election of the mayor is contingent on their quality (sort of like us picking a governor based on his movies) I have to add that they were the most incredible fireworks of our lives –I hope that mayor got re-elected.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

It started in Tigre, a port a half hour from Buenos Aires. We sailed through the different rivers of the Delta Del Parana.

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At lunchtime, we went to Tres Esquinas in Barranca, a working class barrio in Buenos Aires for steak and empanadas. I love outdoor markets but the Sunday antiques market in Plaza Dorrego  in San Telmo is a phenomenon. The antiques are around the plaza but the shopping continues with arts and crafts vendors for many blocks. It is curbside capitalism at its finest.

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La Confiteria Ideal did not start as a tango hall but as  a pastry café in 1912. In the nineties it became a tango hall. Its faded glamour was a perfect background for the faded glamour of the tango dancers I saw that day. Dance has been a big part of my life. Andres Miguel my tour guide is a tango dancer.  tango@culturacercana.com.ar  Everything we did that day was related to tango  –  a boat on a river, good food and shopping, a milonga and always tango stories. He was the perfect tour guide for me and gave me a gift of the perfect day.

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Krueger National Park, South Africa

My daughter and my new son-in-law  were married on a safari In South Africa with sixty-five of their closest friends and family. A game park in Africa is an unlikely wedding destination. (We Love Pictures)

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You know that word that we Americans overuse for everything – awesome? i didn’t expect to have the feeling of humbleness and awe I had when seeing the African animals in the wild up close. There are moments of joy in your life. Watching your daughter get married to the right guy   in the peace and beauty of the African Bush is a distinctive moment of happiness. Watching your son officiate the wedding with intelligence, humor, kindness, sensitivity and even a bit of spirituality  (albeit in the form of animals)  makes it perfect.

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Fly safe,
JAZ

Kinugawa Onsen, Nikko, Japan

Kinugawa Onsen, Nikko, Japan

“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps.” Frank Herbert

Being naked with friends and strangers is a traditional practice in Japan. Being American, I’m a little uptight about that. But having been to Japan a few times, I have gotten a lot more comfortable with it.

Staying at a ryokan (Japanese style inn) in an onsen town in Japan is my most favorite thing to do now. I have been lucky enough to do it a few times. I’ve written an earlier blog explaining ryokans and onsens so I’m not going to do it again. Feel free to read that one. https://travelwellflysafe.com/2013/06/11/onsen-and-ryokan-in-japan/

Water is very important in Japanese culture and religion. There are many hot springs in Japan and you are probably never more than an hour’s drive away from one.They are found in remote mountains, on beaches, in major cities, on the edges of cliffs, on the tops of hotels, on river banks and just about anywhere.

This time we stayed in Kinugawa onsen. It is a Hot Springs resort in the city of Nikko two hours from Tokyo by train. It is located on the Kinugawa River where there are many onsen hotels.

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Of course we needed lunch. Yuba (skin of the tofu)  is very popular in Nikko. At one time there were many vegetarian Buddhist priests here and there are still many Yuba restaurants.

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We had soba with yuba. Yuba can be cooked in many  different ways. These were heavy yuba -like matzoh balls –  very filling.

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We stayed at the Kanaya Ryokan Hotel and it was wonderful.  They have indoor bathing and showers for people like me who can’t bathe outside in the cold. The rooms are spacious and lovely.  The food was delicious as well.  http://www.kanayahotel.co.jp/english/index.html

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The bathing areas are constructed of stone, built with fragrant woods and decorated with Japanese ceramics. Everyone was Japanese.

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The main thing at a ryokan are the kaiseki meals. (food photos -Reiko Hirai)

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They consist of six to fifteen different foods.

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They go from appetizers, sashimi, side dishes, simmered, sauced, pickled, seasonal, local, marinated, grilled, steamed, hot pot, rice , miso soup and dessert.

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Kaiseki meals are one with nature and represent shapes and things found in nature. (persimmons, persimmon ice cream)

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The food is always prepared and decorated in a seasonal and visually beautiful way.

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There is always way too much and it is all about mindfulness and being focused on each course.

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The first day I ordered American breakfast and got kaiseki American breakfast. It was smoked meats, cooked meat, steamed meat, sausages, bacon,  salads, pickled vegetables, soup, yogurt, raw eggs, cooked eggs and croissants. The next day I had  the Japanese breakfast which is what they do best.  It is a lot of food as well but mostly fish. The boiling waters and steam of hot springs can be used for cooking. Onsen tamago which are eggs boiled in hot spring are often served.

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I went hiking around the Kinugawa River on the crisp fall mornings.

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The colors were amazing.

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Healing with hot springs has a long history in Japan. Samurai healed their wounds and relaxed in springs after battles.The thing about onsens is it feels good when you just sit there. The water is warm, the air is cold and everything is really quiet. It is a place to make some good decisions about your life.

Yo I sorano tabi o,

JAZ

Temples of Nikko, Japan

Temples of Nikko, Japan

“The peace within and flowing from sacred spaces and architecture places is clothed in forgiveness, renunciation, and reconciliation.” Norris Brock Johnson

Nikko is a traditional religious center with Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The oldest buildings date back 1200 years.

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All the major shrines and temples are located within the Nikko National Park and classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The first buildings were constructed on the slopes of the sacred Nikko mountains by a Buddhist monk in the 8th century. The buildings are also closely associated with prominent chapters of Japanese history.

There is a very high level of achievement between the architecture and the natural beautiful setting.

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The Toshogu Shrine is the main temple complex in Nikko. It was built for the great Shogun, Tokugawa Leyasu (1543-1616). (The shogun that James Clavell’s novel was based on)

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To create a worthy shrine for the shogun, 15,000 craftsman worked for two years, using 2.5 million sheets of gold leaf. The enshrinement of Leyasu’s spirit is reenacted twice each year in the Procession of the Thousand Warriors.

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The temples get a lot of attention because of the very impressive wood carvings. Unlike most Shinto shrines, characterized by minimalist architecture that blends into its surroundings, Toshogu is a full of color, gold and carvings, with birds, flowers, dancing maidens, and sages following one another around the buildings.

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Some visitors find the shrine inspiring and beautiful; others are repelled by the gaudiness. I must have been in a wood carving kind of mood because I thought they were spectacular.

The is one of the eight panels of well-known carvings of the three see-no-evil, speak-no-evil, hear-no-evil monkeys. They can be seen on the Sacred Stable where a white imperial horse is kept (a gift from New Zealand).

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A few steps from that, the Youmeimon Gate has over 300 carvings of mythical beasts, such as dragons, giraffes, and lions, and Chinese sages.

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Toshugo has a lot of Buddhist elements as well such as the five-story pagoda in the entryway.

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The temples of Nikko exist as part of the beautiful landscape they inhabit.

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The mountainous landscape, forests, trees, lake, fall colors, waterfalls and natural beauty of the area around Nikko, makes it a really special temple complex to visit.

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yo I sorano tabi o,

JAZ

 

 

 

 

Sushi At Tsukiji (Tokyo)

Sushi at Tsukiji (Tokyo)

“Heaven has no taste. And not one single sushi restaurant,” I said. A look of pain crossed the angel’s suddenly very serious face.” Terry Pratchett

I’ve eaten great food before. But all raw fish aficionados should make a pilgrimage to Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo in their lifetime. The best and freshest fish are known to come from the Tsukiji Fish Market. (squid and red snapper)

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The sushi bars that surround the market are the epicenter of sushi culture.

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The lines for the best ones start at 5am when they start serving. They usually close around 12. The restaurants outside the market can stay open for twenty four hours. The sushi restaurants are small, crowded and sometimes the chefs take something right out of the tank in front of you and prepare it. I think it was still moving.

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o-toro (fattiest of the fatty tuna) was the best tuna I’ve ever had. The whole piece melts in your mouth. You don’t even need to chew. It tasted fresh and rich in flavor with gorgeous color and marbling.

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I’ve never had uni that was this amazing. I’ve never even liked uni before. Sea urchin at a lesser degree of freshness tends to be overly mushy, taste a bit rank and looks like it’s covered in a sort of mucus. This was the best I’ve ever tasted.

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Eating sushi in Tsukiji was a near spiritual experience for me and I’m sure it would be for anyone that loves sushi. (o-toro and anago)

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I don’t know where it could be fresher and better. (fresh clam soup)

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It is always hard to start eating sushi again after leaving Japan. Thanks for a memorable lunch Hiro.

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yo I sorano tabi o,

JAZ

Wet Towels In Asia

Wet Towels In Asia

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” Mary Anne Radmache

Japan is a country of specific etiquette. Correct manners are very important to the Japanese. It’s very easy to embarrass yourself in Japan as an American. I started my Asia trip in Japan and as is their custom I began each meal with the wet towel. Japan is a society of cleanliness. It is a culture of bath houses and onsens. You have never seen so many people brushing their teeth and gargling (Japanese are obsessed with gargling as a cure for everything) in public restrooms. They carry handkerchiefs in case there is nothing to dry their hands with in a public restroom.

The towel is called an o-shibori. A typical o-shibori, made of cloth, is dampened with water and wrung. It is then placed on the dining table for customers to wipe their hands before or during the meal. The o-shibori is often rolled or folded and given to the customer on a tray. Even if a tray is not used, it is usually rolled up into a long, thin shape. Cold ones are used in summer and hot ones are used in winter.

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Airlines, also give out disposable towels containing a sterilizing agent such as alcohol or chlorine dioxide. Traveling on different Asian Airlines, the smell wafts through the plane as everyone rips open their towels as soon as they are given them.

The custom continued in restaurants and airlines in Thailand, Viet Nam and Cambodia. It is interesting because these are countries with unclean water and questionable sanitation. There is something civilized about the understanding between the patron and the restaurant that your hands must be clean before you eat.

I wondered why we did not have that concept in America. Do they just assume our hands are clean? Do they not care?

I like the towel. For me it means to stop and focus on what we are doing now. We are about to do something important. We are about to have a meal.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

Top Ten Reasons To Visit Tokyo

Top Ten Reasons To Visit Tokyo

“The overriding sense of Tokyo…is that it is a city devoted to the new, sped up in a subtle but profound way: a postmodern science-fiction story set ten minutes in the future.” David Rakoff

If you haven’t been to Japan you are missing out. I can’t wait to return.

1. It is so exciting. Whatever cool electronic experience or sleek new building we have in NY, they have ten of them.

2. Their subway system is crazy good, clean, efficient, on time, safe restrooms, vending machine heaven, huge shopping malls and delicious food.

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3. The food in Japan is outstanding and served beautifully. Everything is amazing but the sushi and sashimi will change your life.

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4. It is one of the safest cities. The Japanese aren’t big on scamming tourists. It doesn’t go with their mindset of politeness and duty.

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5. You can take a quick train and end up in an hour at a ryokan ( typical Japanese Inn and bath house) in Nikko and see the temples which is what we are doing. . Or go to Kamakura and see the giant outdoor Buddha if you haven’t already. (I have)

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6. Their museums have weird exteriors but interesting exhibits. There are a few exhibits I want to see this time.

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7. Tokyo street fashion is amazing and so entertaining to see. Even in this global society, it hits LA a few years later. Fashion changes so quickly in Japan that it is easy to find trendy inexpensive pieces. Fashion chain stores offer high-quality Japanese-made clothing in the latest styles — at reasonable prices. Halloween in Shibuya!!!!!

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8. Tokyo has the world’s best customer service and multi stage gift wrapping for anything you buy. It sometimes feels a little stalky as they follow you to the door carrying your beautifully wrapped purchase.

9.Tokyo has the most expansive sake list. Remember if you are drinking, Tokyo has very strict drunk driving rules for drivers and passengers so take one of the hundreds of cabs around at night.

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10. The most interesting thing about Tokyo is the juxtaposition of the old and the new. The unparalleled mass transit system and skyscrapers are next to shrines and paper lanterns. The fancy shopping malls are near small noodle shops and Japanese pastry stores. It is unbelievably crowded during the day, Nobody seems to sleep except on the train,  but it can also get very quiet late at night.

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For more Tokyo blogs

https://travelwellflysafe.com/2012/08/06/things-i-have-learned-in-tokyo/

https://travelwellflysafe.com/2013/06/11/onsen-and-ryokan-in-japan/

https://travelwellflysafe.com/2012/08/25/japanese-food/

https://havefunflysafe.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/things-i-have-learned-in-japan/

yo I sorano tabi o,

JAZ