Things That I Have Learned In Chile

“I finally felt myself lifted definitively away on the winds of adventure toward worlds I envisaged would be stranger than they were, into situations I imagined would be much more normal than they turned out to be.”  Ernesto Che Guevara,

The most important thing that I have learned in Chile is that it is pronounced Chill Lee An which rhymes with Jillian not Chill Lay In as in Chilean sea bass. The most expensive fish in Chile is not sea bass.

Chile may derive its name from the indigenous Mapuche word chilli, which may mean “where the land ends.” The Spanish heard about “Chilli” from the Incas in Peru, who had failed to conquer the land inhabited by the Araucanians, of which the Mapuche were the most warlike group. The survivors of Diego de Almagro’s first Spanish expedition south from Peru in 1535-1537 called themselves “Men of  Chile.”

The official and unusual name for the Chilean soccer team is the “O’Higgins a Patriot of Chilean Rule.

The typical greeting is the one-cheek kiss, and it can get awkward if you go for the handshake and they go for your face.

The major religion in Chile is Roman Catholic.

This isn’t the Spanish you have been learning in class. Yes the words are more or less the same, but their vocab is a little different and some phrases have different connotations. They also speak very fast here and sometimes drop the “s”.

Chile remains the most competitive economy in Latin America, with a strong institutional set-up, low levels of corruption and an efficient government.

Chile is the longest country in the world from north to south at 2,647 miles (4,620 km) long and extends across 38 degrees of latitude. The Andes Mountain Range extends the entire length of the country north to south.

Chile is one of the few countries on earth that has a government-supported UFO research organization.

With over 100 wineries in the country, Chile is now the 5th largest exporter of wine in the world.

Chile’s national drink, Pisco, is a clear liquid similar to brandy. It is grown in Chile in the Elqui Valley and is commonly with soft drinks like Coca-Cola (Piscola) or ginger ale or vermouth. But the most common version is the Pisco sour where it is blended with lemon juice, sugar, ice, and beaten egg whites. The Peruvians made the Pisco sour famous, but the Chilean version tastes slightly different.

Even though Chile is internationally known for its succulent red wines and its devilish Pisco, Chile also has a strong and diverse beer culture! This is thanks to a strong influx of German immigrants from the late 1800s, who came to Chile to live in the South and brought their brewing traditions.


Chilean husbands and wives have different last names because women keep their maiden names. If they have the same last names, they are often considered brother and sister. Some of the people want to change that now.

Divorce in Chile was legalized only in 2005, and the country has one of the lowest divorce rates globally probably because it was only recently legalized.

Chile began to export salmon in 1984 and is now the world’s second largest exporter of salmon after Norway. Chile is also the largest exporter of fishmeal in the world.

Chileans are the second biggest consumers of bread in the world – just behind the Germans.

Like Peru it is not unusual to have various potatoes prepared different ways in the same meal.(papas chilotes)

Chile has the world’s largest reserves of copper—around one-quarter of the global supply—and is the number one exporter of copper in the world.

The largest recorded earthquake in the world was a magnitude 9.5 in Chile on May 22, 1960 .

In August 2010, the collapse of the San Jose mine in Chile caused the trapping of 33 miners 2000 feet below ground. The world watched as rigorous, safety-conscious efforts were made to successfully retrieve the affected miners. A small borehole was drilled by rescuers to provide food, liquids, lights, and send notes to and from the mine. All of the trapped miners were successfully rescued after almost 70 days. A few months before another Chilean  mine collapsed on the workers without the same success.

Since 1967, it is mandatory to hang the Chilean flag in a proper condition from every public building. Failure to abide by the regulation can lead to fines of up to 40,000 pesos. The colors and symbols on the Chilean flag stand for: white – the snow of the Andes Mountains; blue – the sky and the Pacific Ocean; the star – guidance and progress; red – the blood spilled in the fight for independence.

Fly safe,


Things That Travelers Never Say

Things That Travelers Never Say

“Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, lengthens the conversation.” Elizabeth Drew

Can I speak to the manager?

I didn’t know i was supposed to take my shoes off before going through security.

I don’t eat raw fish. I probably wouldn’t like it.

We are going to see three cities in four days.

I love how well the cruise ships capture the authentic feeling,

I don’t need a real camera. I have my cell phone.

No one here speaks English.

I’ll hold it till I find a clean toilet.

I just gave my airlines miles to my friend.

Let’s just spend the day by the pool.

I don’t want to go there. The flight is too long.

Oh look, there is McDonalds.Something civilized.

I like to sleep in my own bed.

I’m tired of shopping in the markets.

This country is dirty. I’m never going back.

I hear they don’t like Americans.

Are we there yet?

Fly safe,


Things I Have Learned From The Incas In Peru

“Before our white brothers came to civilize us we had no jails. Therefore we had no criminals. You can’t have criminals without a jail. We had no locks or keys, and so we had no thieves. If an Indian  was so poor that he had no horse, tipi or blanket, someone gave him these things. We were too uncivilized to set much value on personal belongings. We wanted to have things only in order to give them away. We had no money, and therefore a man’s worth couldn’t be measured by it. We had no written law, no attorneys or politicians, therefore we couldn’t cheat. We really were in a bad way before the white men came, and I don’t know how we managed to get along without these basic things which, we are told, are absolutely necessary to make a civilized society.”

― John Lame DeerLame Deer, Seeker of Visions

Things I Have Learned from the Incas In Peru

The Inca culture is part myth part Peruvian history. There are no written historical records of  people that lived for three hundred years and ruled  the West Coast of South America for one hundred years.

Their recording system (mathematical) system was colored strings with knots to keep records of everything that could possibly be counted (livestock and business transactions), and some things that couldn’t – like instructions, people’s names etc.   They were  required to remember to understand what the strings or quipu meant .  Most people couldn’t do it.  They had a  class of royal quipu specialists who knew how to make and read them. (the first accountants and business managers)

Archaeologists believe now that the Incas  were possibly inventing written language just as the Europeans were destroying their civilization.

.No other civilization has managed to assemble so many colossal stone blocks so seamlessly cut with stones or bronze.  The edges of the stone were rubbed smooth until they merged together perfectly like a puzzle. There is no mortar holding them together and they are earthquake proof constructions. ( Sacsayhuaman fortress)

How they  transported all that granite up there  to Machu Picchu remains a mystery.  It is believed that they quarried  it on site. 

The Incas knew how important water was and treated it with great respect but we did not. (Ollaytantambo)

but we

When the descendants of the Incas are planting to this day, they put flowers in their hair to dress the earth. They live with shortages but they have the mountains and the sky and that gives them peace. They are always chewing coca leaves.

Inca dances are traditional and also a way to pray.

The Inca manhood initiation rite lasted a full month, during which the boys who were training to be warriors were flogged repeatedly, had huge holes cut in their ear lobes, ran dangerous races, and danced till they dropped.

There was a lot of building going on in the Inca civilization ( third largest after Egypt and Mesapotamia)  They built palaces, aqueducts, storehouses, terraces, temples, houses, gateways etc. Looking at Machu Picchu you could see their “tax dollars at work”.

 We know very little about Inca women because the only written records are by the Spaniards. Spain was a patriarchal society and they were not interested in recording information about women.

The Inca emperor married his sister seemingly because this helped to resolve the problems they had with succession when an Inca died.  ( a good way to prevent inheritance problems but not birth defects). Her name was Coya and she was powerful in her own right.

 Pizzaro and his men were not heroic explorers but an extremely desperate group of foreign invaders who brutally murdered the Inca civilization  ( where have we heard this before?)

The Incas were skilled craftsmen and artists. Most of  their gold and silver art was melted down by the Spaniards.

There were no homeless people in the Inca civilization. If criminals were not killed, they had to beg for food everyday and tell their stories so other people would not commit the same crime. (sounds a lot better than twenty years without parole) 

The spirit of Ayni  (rhymes with Hi-ni)   exists in the Quechua  culture today. We don’t talk  about Incas as a surviving culture anymore.  It is “I help you so you must help me later.”

Also today we have Inka Kola, Inka rail and a ton of Inka traffic going to all the historic sites.

Machu Picchu was the royal estate of Inca  King Pachacuti.

Th Incas were good at organizing labor. When Pachacuti’s grandson Huayna Capac built his royal estate  (in Urubumba) he had 150,000 workers on site. The corn-growing Cochabamba valley of Bolivia was short of local labor, so they had 28,000 workers migrate there from Lake Titicaca and back (a distance of about three hundred miles) twice a year, once to plant and once to harvest.  On foot, of course.

They had nice roads to travel on. The Incas built a network of stone-paved highways all over the empire. Archaeologists have so far logged about 50,000 miles of remaining highways in modern Peru alone, not counting the other nations that once formed part of the Inca empire.

Machu Picchu has brilliant engineering, drainage and foundations. They filled the terraces with layers, starting with topsoil for the crops and then river sand, stone chippings from the quarries, and big rocks. Underneath that are subterranean drainage channels which still carry water down the mountain   No matter how hard it rains, no standing water ever remains for long on the surface.( Estimate: 60% of construction at Machu Picchu is invisible, underground.) i believe we could learn something here because it rains a lot in Macchu Picchu.
The Incas worshipped the earth goddess Pachamama . Before our trip to Machu Picchu we met with a shaman to make an offering to Pachamama for safe journey.

The purpose of Macchu Picchu will always remain a mystery. It is probably a religious and spiritual site.  It is the work of man echoing the work of nature. The Inca trail leading up to Machu Picchu ( it takes four days  of camping out in the Andes if you want to do it) was built to always face the snow capped mountains because that is what they worshipped. The architectural style is sacred geography.  For me, if God isn’t at Machu Picchu, he isn’t anywhere.


Viajen con cuidado,


PS.  I had help on this one . It is advantageous  when you are writing about the Incas to have made a friend in Peru who happens to be one of the leading authorities on the Inca civilization .  Peter Frost is an explorer, author, photographer and National Geographic expert on Peru and the  Incas.  He has made one of the most important discoveries of Inca civilization since Machu Picchu. Check out his website  (  If you are traveling to  Peru you will find his books very beautiful,  helpful and informative.

Travel Photography

“Better to see something once, than to hear about it a thousand times.”  Mongolian proverb

Things I Have Learned About Travel Photography

Don’t drop your camera.

.Always have your camera with you. You will not get a good shot, if the camera is  in the room and they bring the baby elephants on the beach in Phuket. Sometimes you get lucky. You happen to stumble upon a scene at just the right moment. If you forgot your camera, are out of film, or your digital card is full, if you have to fumble around getting the right lens on, the moment may be gone . ( Nara, Japan )

Learn how to set your  flash.  ( I wrote this one for myself) Learn as much about  how your camera works as you can. Im going to make this a New Years resolution for 2013. It seems more doable than giving up my vices. (Maryinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, Russia-or anywhere)

Ask before you take a photo of someone.  I get around this one by taking a lot of photos of people from the back or by pretending I am taking someone else.  My fear of rejection always keeps me from getting the perfect shot.  (Kyoto,Japan)

All Buddha images, no matter how small, tacky or ruined are sacred and should never be used as a backdrop for your photo. (Ayutthaya, Thailand)

People in tribal costume ( or any kind of costume)  usually expect to be paid for a photo. There are the one dollar take a photo tribes and the two dollar take a photo tribes. In fact almost anyone in a costume or native dress, expects to be paid  for a photo ( live statues on Las Ramblas  in Barcelona are particularly nasty if they see you trying to take a photo from afar) Sometimes that is how they earn a living, you have to decide if you would pay for someone else’s photo, are you willing to pay for your own? (Embera Tribe, Panama)

This one seems like a given.   Charge your battery and while you are doing that charge your cell phone as well.   ( another personal reminder). Bring an extra battery and memory card.

It seems like a good idea when you are traveling  to take a picture standing in front of every monument, landmark, historical site, statue etc . When you get home, they will be your most boring photos and you will have so many of them.   It is a different story when you are taking those same pictures of your very cute kids. Also, don’t make that face that everyone makes in their facebook pictures-. you know the one that I am talking about.

When taking pictures of family and friends in front of something, you have to strike a balance. You don’t want to say that dot in the picture is you near the  Sagrada Familia.   You don’t want it to be so close that it could have been taken in your living room. ( Red Square,Moscow, Russia  –  I know which speck I am in this picture – Louie could be anywhere.)

IPhoto is an excellent thing to use,   It works well for centering your main object, framing your landscape and  sometimes cutting the heads off of people who are always in the way of your perfect shot. At least in my Panama Canal shots they are wearing Panama Hats so it went with the theme

Sometimes taking pictures can really get in the way of  appreciating what you are seeing.  I spend a lot of time and money on being in the present moment . In Naoshima, Japan you are not allowed to take photos indoors or out in the museum spaces because they want you to experience the here and now.

Remember when you return home, there is no friend or family member who wasn’t on the trip that wants to see all your photos.  We don’t need to see them all on facebook. Just pick a few,  enough for us to be jealous of the fact that we weren’t with you, and not so many that we never need to see the place for ourselves.

Photos are great,  but memories  last just as long.

Fly safe,


Things I Have Learned In Okinawa And Hiroshima

“If I had known they were going to do this, I would have become a shoemaker.”

Albert Einstein

Things I Have Learned in Okinawa and Hiroshima

Driving on the Okinawa Expressway in the rain is like driving anywhere else in the rain.

Japanese Navigation

Touring Shuri-jo Palace in Okinawa one must follow the signs that say “usual route.”  What is the unusual route?

One of the hardest things to see was the Himeyuri Peace Museum in Okinawa.In the face of the American invasion, the Japanese forces stepped up the nurse training in the local high schools. Three hundred and two high school  students (mostly girls) and twenty one teachers were deployed to the front. They were told they would be working in hospitals but ended up in hospital caves with very bad conditions. There was no legal basis in Japan to use young girls for military purposes. On June 18th 1945 the Japanese forced the young girls out of the caves to fend for themselves against the American attack.  On June 23 the Japanese resistance ended. In those five days, 219 of them were killed. The museum is a model of one of the high schools that the girl’s came from. High school students from all over Japan come to pay their respects.

I was the only foreigner in the museum with alot of high school kids from Japan. I was looking at the photos  of the girls and was standing next to an old woman. She started to talk to me but I didnt understand so I found someone to translate. (not so easy to do in this museum).  We were standing in front of a picture of her daughter.  Two strangers became two mothers  looking at the ultimate tragedy.

Busena Terrace in Okinawa is the Grand Wailea/ any resort in Hawaii. Naha looks like Lahaina  . You can always find the American servicemen and their families at the Mcdonalds.

The Japanese and the Koreans were just as bad to the Okinawans as the Americans in WW2.

Okinawa Aquarium contains the largest fish tank in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

The Okinawa  Peace Museum is a memorial dedicated to the 200,000 people who died in the Battle of Okinawa. It is located in the south part of the island where the heavy fighting took place.  Over 100,000 were civilians and 12,500 were Americans. The civilians died from shellings, suicides, starvation, malaria and retreating Japanese troops. It was the largest campaign in the Pacific.  The lesson of the memorial is  the “Okinawan Heart”  that rejects any act of war, mourns for those who died in the war, passes on the stories of their struggle to future generations  and remind us of our humanity.

Other monuments in the park include the “Cornerstone of Peace”, a collection of large stone plates with the names of all fallen soldiers and civilians, including Koreans, Taiwanese, Americans and British.

After WWll , Okinawa was under United States administration for twenty seven years. They established numerous military bases on the Ryuku Islands.  In 1972, the islands were returned to  Japan but the US has maintained a large military presence. There are about 50,000 Americans  in Okinawa (including family members). There is protest from the Japanese and the Okinawans about the large American military presence there. They are trying to resolve it with a modified plan.

“As the bomb fell over Hiroshima and exploded, we saw an entire city disappear.  I wrote in my log the words”My God what have we done? ”The death was up to about 150,000 There were 76,000 buildings in the city at the time and only 8%  of them remained intact after the bomb explosion. The bomb affected an area of around 13 square kilometers and turned that into ruins.”

The closest surviving building to the location of the bomb’s detonation  in Hiroshima was designated the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

After the bombing, Hiroshima began to receive donations of streetcars from all over Japan. (After World War II, Japanese cities – like British ones – wanted to get rid of their streetcar systems due to damage to the infrastructure)  Hiroshima  rebuilt its streetcar system along with the rest of the city.   Hiroshima is now  the only city in Japan with an extensive streetcar system (although other cities have streetcar lines). Some streetcars that survived the war – and the nuclear attack – were put back into service, and four of these are still running today.

Hiroshima has now became a center of the movement for world peace and reduction of nuclear bombs, which is commemorated at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The city government continues to advocate for the abolition of nuclear weapons . They write a letter of protest every time a nuclear weapon has been detonated anywhere in the world. In 1949, Hiroshima was proclaimed a City of Peace by the Japanese parliament.

The Thousand Origami Cranes was popularized through the story of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who was two years old when she was exposed to radiation from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during World War ll. Sasaki soon developed leukemia and, at age 12, inspired by the Senbazuru legend, began making origami cranes with the goal of making one thousand.  One popular  story is she died before and her classmates finished  them. The Hiroshima Museum says she completed them and kept making more  when she didn’t heal.  One thousand origami cranes is said to bring a thousand years of health , happiness and prosperity. The cranes are left exposed to the elements, slowly dissolving and becoming tattered as the wish is released.

People leave them in her honor  and for all the people who died from the bombing at the Eternal flame in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

My father was stationed in Okinawa during World War Two.  He never talked about it.  There were some black and white photographs  of him in a uniform, skiing in Hokkaido, and the  old Japanese life in the cities..  The first words I ever learned to say in a foreign language  was not the Yiddish that my grandparents spoke but I Am An American Soldier in Japanese. Watashi wa Amerika hei desu. I guess I just wanted to see what happened for myself.

Sayonara, Fly Safe


Everything Touches Everything

‘ Everything touches everything.”           Jose Luis Borge

After 9/11, the world reacted in very kind and  humane ways. The best story that I heard was the one from the Masai tribe in Kenya.  One of the Masai was living in New York and studying to be a doctor at the time. He returned to Kenya and reported the story to the tribe. Telling stories to the Masai was the way of passing on the news.  They hadn’t watched it on television. They didn’t comprehend the logistics. They didn’t know who the bad guys were.  They understood  that  3000 people had perished in an attack on the United States. They wanted to help. The cow is life to a Masai. They use every part of the cow and treat it as a sacred animal.  Fourteen families gave up their only  cows as a gift to America. It was a big sacrifice for them.  It was a bigger lesson for me.  No one is so important that they do not need kindness and you can  always do something  to help the human condition.

Over the last few years, I have started to travel to third world countries. I always   do something. I heard about the first school being built in the mountains in Peru and I cashed in  my travelers checks (no easy feat by the way) to help them. I gave pens and pencils  to the Embera tribe in the rainforest in Panama. I also taught English for a day. In Cuba we handed out everything  we brought in the first few days.  After that, I gave away my own things and all my cash. My suitcase to Burma was filled with things for the orphanages including 12 dozen children’s toothbrushes. (I read that it was one toothbrush for a 100 children)    I happened to mention to someone I had just met  that I  was going to buy toothbrushes for the orphanages . The next day i received a text to come pick them up at her office. She always does something.

There are different theories on this. There was an article in Cambodia that the orphanages were not using the things that were donated because if they looked poor they would get more stuff.  It is said that America ties its foreign aid to its allies and interests. I have read that if you give money to children begging in the street, their families won’t send them to school.

The best thing to do is to research a country you are passionate about.  Find a cause that you support. The most basic causes are food and water. I am passionate about education and I always try to do something with a school. There are many choices- ecotourism, humanitarian,  medical, teaching, cultural,  conservation, farming and research.  You can do it for a day , or a week or a year. There are many international organizations who do good work that accept donations – just research where the money is going before you give. International Red Cross and Unicef are two well known ones.  Donate items, money or time. Perhaps do all three.  Food, clothing, clean water,  medical , household and school supplies are always appreciated. You may not feel that you are doing enough to change the world but you  are  doing enough to change someone’s day for the better.

In Peru, I gave my boxed lunch to a Quechua woman on the plane.  I went to the bathroom when we landed. When I came out,  the Quechua woman was standing there. I asked her in Spanish if everything was ok. She  nodded.  We walked through the terminal and into the luggage area together in silence . We walked over to where my group was and then she left. I thought about it for a long time. I was a stranger from another country. In her culture, people exist by helping each other. It didn’t matter who I was. I gave her my lunch. She made sure I got to where I needed to go. There was no speaking. It is just something you do.

Fly safe,


Things I Have Learned In Croatia

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Things I Have Learned In Croatia

At the entrance to the Rector’s Palace in Dubrovnik, there is a sign from the middle ages that says, “keep your personal affairs outside, attend to public business only. “

When entering a jazz concert at the Rector’s Palace, during the Summer Festival, you are handed a program and a moist towelette. (which you will need because there is no air conditioning or windows. You will also be putting cold water on your face during the intermission. ) But it will be worth it, the musicians were great.

At the Dominican church in Dubrovnik the columns are filled in halfway up. This is so you can’t see the ankles of the women as they walked up the stairs.

In the old city in Dubrovnik, you will find War Photo Limited. It is a museum devoted to war photojournalism. The exhibitions are different conflicts throughout the world. The lesson is that war is bad no matter what side you are on.  It is very well done and graphic- not good for children.

American Express is not as welcome in Croatia as American tourists.

Bosnia Herzekovina is a good place to buy cheap liquor, cigarettes, bootleg movies and drugs.

Croatians refer to communism as the time of the Yugoslavia.

If you like oysters, you must go and see the oyster beds and have lunch in Ston. Even if you don’t like oysters (me), you should go. If you like wine tasting, you can do that on the way.

If you need to get money from a bank in Dubrovnik any American passport will do.

Croatians are very proud that they have five star hotels. They mention it all the time. ” You want room service? No problem,  this is five star hotel. You need towels? No problem,  this is five star hotel.”

This is not us.

The old city of Dubrovik and Diocletian’s Palace are both UNESCO protected sites. In the 1991 battle for independence, the old city of Dubrovnik was in flames. The UN did not go in and protect it. We aren’t really sure what UNESCO protected site means.

Georgio Armani has a black yacht.

Walking the walls around the old city  in Dubrovnik is good way to look into people’s backyards and see their plants and  hanging laundry.

If you are walking the walls of the old city, and it is summer,  try not to be behind a hairy sweaty man with his shirt off, where it gets very narrow and crowded.

The Adriatic Sea is twice as salty as the Pacific which is why the fish tastes so much better. They have been soaking in brine for their entire life.

The stone used to build Diocletian’s Palace in 300AD and the stone for the White House both came from the island  of Brac. Diocletian used thousands of Christian slaves, Im not sure what religion the slaves that built the White House were.

Diocletian’s palace, located in Split was built in the fourth century. It  is the most complete Roman ruins of a palace in existence today. . It is not a museum . Three thousand people live and work  on the grounds and there are many shops and restaurants. It is best seen when not besieged  by cruise ships ( the bane of summer travel for me)

Apparently no dogs are allowed in the Palace.

The Meridian Lav in Split is Eastern Europe’s Grand Wailea/Club Med. ( and don’t ever mention Borat here –they don’t think it is funny)

A table with a view of the sea  in Split is a whole different thing.

Everywhere in Croatia is a photo opportunity.  Here we are waiting for the  car ferry to Hvar.

Bubba Gumps is spring break in Hvar.

I cant get enough of Hvar harbor -a view from the room.

Hvar is the number one grower of high quality lavender. Yes, I brought back a lot of lavender oil.

One of the most beautiful days I have ever had was to rent a boat and go out around Hvar with my daughter . The beaches are rocky but the water is so blue and clean that you don’t mind cutting up your feet.  ( They sell Crocs everywhere  –now I know why)


It is great to eat seafood in a restaurant  in Cavtat when the owner is walking in wearing a bathing suit and carrying the fish. It is not so great to do the meet and greet with the fish beforehand.

My favorite foods are grilled octopus and squid. I was so happy to have it  every day in  Dubrovnik, Hvar and Split. After a while everything becomes like chicken.

According to my kids, when I am speaking to someone who’s second language is English, English becomes my second language as well.

On a serious note Dubrovnik and Hvar could be among the most beautiful places in the world and we had a great time.  It has some of the best seafood I have ever eaten.  Croatia  is one of my most favorite places and I can’t wait to go back. (Hvar, Dubrovnik)

Ugodan let


Japanese Food

“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.”

Luciano Pavarotti

Japanese Food

You get free tofu refills  with the tofu dinner. The containers on the tofu bar hold steamed tofu.  After the steamed tofu course, you may add as much tofu to your tofu as you wish.

“Western food. Every damn plate is round”.

The truth about Kobe beef is that all wa gyu (Japanese beef) comes from Hyogo prefecture usually from Tajima. Tajima sells the beef all over the Japan. If they buy it in Kobe, it is Kobe beef.

Food is served so beautifully in Japan it is not uncommon to see even the Japanese taking pictures of the food.

They have Yoshinoya in Japan. It was the first thing I saw leaving the airport.

Okinawans are considered to be the longest living people in a country of long life. They attribute it to the Okinawan diet which includes many different kinds of seaweed , a bit of pork, spam  and taco rice ( from WWll)

Okinawan sayings include the phrase that Okinawan cuisine “begins with pig and ends with pig” and “every part of a pig can be eaten except its hooves and its oink.”[

Things to eat in Okinawa  are–mango pudding, purple potatoes, Chinese food (Okinawan  food is more influenced from Chinese food  than Japanese food), teriyaki squid on a stick, barbecued grasshopper legs, pork,  pigs feet, pig skin , pig ears, ,goya juice, sooki soba( pork spareribs with soba noodles in soup), Okinawan doughnuts ( deep fried balls of dough) and Mozuku seaweed (seaweed for a long life).

Hiroshima is famous for oysters and anago (salt water eel).  Unagi ( fresh water ell) is more common in the US. It is not to be confused with inago, whole locusts boiled in soy sauce and sugar.

In Japan they say Autumn is the time for art and eating.

Food is always seasonal. It is chestnut season now and they are served in some way at every meal. Red beans and chestnut sweets  taste just like red beans and chestnut. (chestnut sweets)

Japanese women are always on diets .

Blowfish ovaries and pig ears are surprisingly delicious until you find out what you are eating.

Fugu (blowfish) is a delicacy and speciality of the Kyushu islands. Because it is poisonous, you must have a special license to cook it. Every year a few dozen people are hospitalized. The few  fugu deaths each year are fishermen who try to prepare it themselves.   The ovaries and intestines must be removed and cooked without puncturing them. (I didn’t know until after)  We had an eight course fugu dinner (including ovaries and intestines they made a point of telling us that ). I am still here so the chef must have been licensed. It was the most amazing meal, I had on two trips of amazing meals.

Surprisingly, Japanese eat a lot of eggs as in raw, appetizers and egg sushi.

Yakitori  chicken (grilled on a skewer) is usually not the breast. It can be thighs, skin, liver etc – because all the parts of the chicken are used.

People in Osaka spend more money on food than anything else.

Okonomiyaki is kind of a cross between a pizza and a pancake. It is batter mixed with cabbage and fried with different toppings. Okonomi means “to one’s liking”.  Unlike pizza and pancakes, the usually filling is octopus, squid, pork, yams or kimchi. Or you can have whatever you want on it.  It is most common in Hiroshima and Osaka.

The food in Japan is so tasty that you can find a delicious meal in a train station.

It is considered bad manners in Japan to walk down the street eating or drinking. Hence Starbucks is always very crowded.

Japanese now drink more coffee than tea and they all drink “shorts” at starbucks, which have been discontinued in the states.

Jidori chicken is a delicacy of Kyushu. It is a muscular chicken because it is allowed to run free, which makes it rather chewy. ( free range – as we say)

In expensive supermarkets, they bag your groceries, in inexpensive supermarkets you do it yourself. Also the boxes we have at registers for signing and scanning are considered “”so old fashioned” in Japan.

Sake means sake but also liquor.

Anything can be made out of tofu.

Yellowtail is always frozen.

Japanese seaweed is sweeter than other seaweed. ( There are many different kinds of seaweed. –apparently even in nice restaurants in the U.S., we get the cheap stuff).

There are hundreds of different soy sauces and sakes.

The first night of Kaiseki dnner (eight courses) at the ryokan (Japanese hotel and hot springs) is amazing. The second night is delicious.  The third night is good. The fourth night, you are thinking pizza. (  These are the first  three of the eight courses .  They go from raw to cooked.  The green pickle looking thing is fresh wasabi that you grate onto your food)

The food department in a Japanese department store  is almost always in the basement and can be an attraction by itself due to the wide variety of Japanese delicacies, sweets, desserts and other food on display. The food department at Harrods in London is a boutique compared to some of the Japanese stores.

Pockys come in many flavors . Haagen Daz does seasonal ice creams in Japan. Kit  Kats come in seasonal flavors but the most popular is Green Tea.

Im not a fan of Japanese breakfasts . I like the food but just not for breakfast. To me , it looks alot like the same food we had for dinner but im not a detail person. I wouldn’t notice that the fish in the morning is grilled  or the pickled vegetables are different, or that there are different vegetables and proteins in the miso soup.  On top of that I need coffee in the morning not green tea. (Dont be confused by the eggs-they are raw)

If you are a fan of Japanese breakfasts, Tsukiji fishmarket for fresh sushi in Tokyo  is the way to go – the earlier the better, They open at five am.  I prefer coffee and toast and getting there at 10. Sushi before 10 am is rough for me.

Here is what i found out on my first trip to Japan. I like abalone steak, flounder, red snapper, squid and octopus sushi.  I love tofu dinners (eight courses of differently cooked fresh tofu).  I like tofu buffet dinners. (every kind of tofu imaginable). I don’t like foo, or the diet jelly stuff, or mackerel (dry raw or whole). I don’t like raw eggs in the morning with rice. I hate roe sushi (which is not what you think-unless you are thinking survivor food challenge)  I like green tea soba, green tea mochi and Japanese green tea ice cream ( not what we have here with no taste) I like Japanese desserts –especially black sesame ice cream.

I hate to admit this but i did not use chopsticks until my first trip to Japan.   I dont have great motor coordination and it seemed like a  a lot of work to get the food to your mouth.  I was probably the only American in the towns where the ryokans were.  The chance of getting a fork was going to be slim.    I practiced eating everything with chopsticks at home for two months .   My friends,  the waiters in the Japanese restaurants in LA and especially my Vietnamese manicurist urged me on.   When you set your mind to it, and ask for help when you need it,  you can do anything.

Also see

Things I Have Learned  In Tokyo and Japan

Things I Have Learned In Okinawa and Hiroshima

yo I sorano tabi o,


The Perfect Packer

“ Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just enough baggage. “

Charles Dudley Warner

The Perfect Packer

I am always on the lookout for the perfect suitcase.  I am convinced if I find the perfect suitcase, I will become the perfect packer.   The perfect suitcase weighs nothing and fits everything.  Every time a new suitcase comes out, I try it in the hopes that it will be ”The One”.   I am a regular at Savinar Luggage  ( savinar  As my salesman’s  son becomes more and more successful as a comedian,  I acquire more and more luggage.   One year I treated myself to the fancy Rimowa luggage one sees all over Europe.  I bought my kids some cheaper duffle bags.   The duffle bags worked much better for me than the suitcase. I ended up borrowing theirs and eventually getting my own.    You shop and you learn.

I am a crammer. You can cram much more into a duffle bag than a hard suitcase.. If you need more room,  use the outside compartment for dirty underwear,  dirty socks and souvenir brochures.  Most airline personal will not be interested in stealing that (except for some reason in Moscow  –where they even took my luggage tags)  .

The perfect packing bags for crammers and over packers are called space bags by Flight 001 (  I think they are designed for carry on luggage. You put as much as you can pack on one side of the bag and  sit on it to get the air out. Then you can pack more. Technically you put your dirty laundry on the other side – or  you can pack more stuff in them (like I do). It is  brilliant and much more organized in the duffle.  I am a big believer in packing accessories.

I don’t like to wash things out on vacation, which is why I bring so many clothes.  In St. Petersburg,  I decided to have the hotel wash a shirt for me.  The cleaning bill cost as much as  the shirt. I believe the shirt was Prada.   I went back to overpacking.

The rule of thumb with airline travel is, the more things I need to bring, the less weight the airline I am flying allows me to carry. Those small planes between cities or countries wreck havoc with my packing plans. Remember the old days when you could bring 75 pounds?  If you were over , you just paid a small fee. Today you better hope your children are the right weight to fit on the plane.

I bring a fold up extra bag for shopping. I  have to pull  it out at my first destination to put in half my stuff to meet the luggage requirement on a smaller plane.   I always say that I am not going to do it again .  It is hard to juggle two bags with the lack of airline help or porters- a word that is rapidly becoming extinct.

The airlines are basically telling us, don’t travel if you cant carry your own  suitcase.  We wont help you.  It has  finally come to this.  I watched a stewardess tell a ninety year old woman if she couldn’t put her bag in the overhead compartment, she shouldn’t be carrying it.  (Stewardesses and women fliers are another blog)

I see these people with their carry on luggage for two weeks. I look at them in awe.  I wonder if I am looking at some kind of packing genius. Do they never wash their clothes and don’t care? Do they wash everyday and pack their clothes wet to the next destination? Do they own that perfect article of clothing that works for all occasions and is never soiled or wrinkled? I always want to open up their suitcases to see what I have brought that they considered unnecessary.

A good tip  to know  is that you can always make up the extra weight in your carry on bag.   Mine is always way too heavy for me.  You only have to have your luggage not arrive a few times, or get bumped off a plane in Brussels wearing white furry after ski boots in the spring,   to know that you better have everything you might need with  you.   I always travel as if I am going to Cuba or Burma and will not be able to buy anything  I need ever.

I just heard about this new suitcase. It is not a hard suitcase and it is not a duffle. It is something in between.   I think it could be the perfect suitcase.    I will  let you know.

Fly safe,


Going To Neuschwanstein

“When I am traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal; that is when the ideas flow best and most abundantly.”   Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Going To Neuschwanstein

It is raining again  in Munich.   Lisa and I are going to Neuschwantstein Castle. It was commissioned by Ludwig the Second and is the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. It is in Hohenschwangau, Germany in southwest Bavaria.

It takes about two hours by train to get to Schwangau from Munich.  I find a day tour on the internet ( and we meet at the train station. I buy a thick salty hot pretzel for the journey to add to what we have already taken from the breakfast buffet at the hotel. Train rides make me hungry.  I need carbs.

There are no more seats in the car  with the tour guide that are facing  forward . We go in the next car by ourselves. As we are traveling, the scenery flashing by is getting whiter and whiter. It is starting to look alot like the weather reports from the ski slopes in the Bavarian Alps that I watched on TV this morning.  I check to make sure the tour guide is still on the train.   All the pictures I have seen of Neuschwanstein,  show it as   sunny and very green. I thought we had missed  the sunny and green stop.     I didnt know that southwest Bavaria meant the Alps or that November meant winter.   I have lived in California for too long.

We  finally get off the train and we are  in a scene from Dr Zhivago.  It is snowing and there is a white out . We are standing at the train tracks and can see nothing.    The tour guide is very flustered and ushers us into the train station to figure what to do. There are two problems. One is that the restaurant that we are supposed to eat in is closed because of the snowstorm and two,  the bus running up to the castle is not in service due to the steepness of the road and the inclement weather. (funny how she just found this out) It is five kilometers up to the castle and is a 25 -40 minute walk depending on which route you take. You can also go up by horse and carriage. It is interesting that the horses were able to go up the  mountain in this weather but the buses were not.

We find an open restaurant .They are thrilled to have the business in the blizzard  and give the tour guide a free meal. I taste my first weisswurst breakfast ( white sausages and pretzel). It is the perfect meal to climb a mountain in the snow.

Now as I told you, it is raining in Munich.  I am wearing an Ed Hardy leather jacket, Los Angeles faux boots ( Miu Miu and made of canvas –luckily they are almost flat).  I have one of those Peruvian/Estonian winter hats  (I bought them in both places).  They are so in fashion now for anyone under 30.   I’m wearing it for warmth.   Lisa on the hand, is perfectly dressed for shopping on Fifth Avenue or an afternoon in Munich. . She is in head to toe Burberry wearing beautiful knee length slim fitting leather boots with a small thin heel  and a camel coat.  We did not get the memo to wear our ski clothes or hiking boots.

Since the buses are not running, there are too many people waiting for the horse and carriage.  It has stopped snowing so we decide to walk up.  Every time I turn around and see Lisa dressed for an outing in the city, walking up a mountain in the snow, I can’t stop laughing.  My feet are sopping wet when we finally get up to the castle.  Canvas is not good in the snow.  Lisa has made it up the steep, icy road  in heeled boots.  She has not fallen.    Her feet are dry. Bravo Lisa.

Now one of the best things to do at Neuschwantstein is to go across the Marienbruke (Marien Bridge)  a bridge than goes across a river valley. It is a scenic place to take photos of the castle. The bridge was closed because of the snow storm . We couldn’t even see it or the beautiful scenery and views.  We did see a lot of snow.  Schwangau Lake is visible behind the castle . No, we couldn’t see that either.  I was too cold to take my hands out  of my gloves to take many photos anyway.

I usually do these European castles  in the summer where everything is beautiful and easy. But doing them in the winter gives you a much more realistic picture of life at the Palace. It is cold and dark and damp. King Ludwig had one of the first toilets with running water in Europe as well as a hallway cave. He was a big fan of Wagner and scenes from his operas make up the murals throughout the building. (“mad” King Ludwig’s obsession)The only place you are allowed to take pictures in the castle is the kitchen.( and why would I do that?)

King Ludwig was found dead in the lake three days after he was declared legally insane. Did he drown or was it murder? Was he really mad or just “different” or ‘special”? Was he perhaps gay in a world and social strata where that was impossible?  You will find none of these answers at the castle.

Lisa has decided to  wait for the horse and carriage. I chose to walk down. No one else has made this choice and I am alone on this beautiful snowy road. I  fall a few times where it was steep and slippery .  I was trying to get down before it got dark. It was peaceful and quiet and I missed skiing.

The tourist village at the bottom is supposedly very charming.  They were right it looked like a Christmas card covered in snow.  I was  glad to find an open store to warm up in, while I waited for Lisa. She had to  wait a long time in the horse and carriage line.  The horses were walking very slowly down the slippery road.

We get into the train   and we are joined by a group of German Punk Goth drinking, rowdy teenagers.  We wisely decide not to say anything and we move.  We start planning where we will have a late dinner back in Munich.

It is  your mistakes that often make up the adventures. It is the adventures that lead to the stories. It is the stories that you remember.

Also See Things I’ve Learned In Munich

Haben Einen Sicheren Flug