Thanksgiving in Barcelona: Gaudi and Goodies

View from our Apartment – Casa Mila in the center

Since we couldn’t easily go home for Thanksgiving break, we decided to go to Barcelona instead.  We heard the food there was fabulous plus we would have a 4-day weekend to explore the city.  We left Wednesday night and instead of driving (which would have taken us 6-7 hours), we took the high speed train (at 180 mph) and we were there in 2.5 hours.  The train station is also conveniently located in the center of the city, so we were even checked into our apartment by 10pm.

We booked a place on the main shopping street in Barcelona….Passeig de Gracia.  The hotel surprised us with an upgrade to a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment (it was really nice but way more room than we needed).  They also gave us a box of chocolates and free internet service – all for the same price as a little hotel room. 🙂  The location was perfect, the view was great and the weather was perfect.  The second night we were there the city turned on the Christmas lights so the streets were all beautifully lit up.

Casa Botilo

Thanksgiving morning we out to have our coffee & pastry and decided to spend the day seeing Antoni Gaudi’s work.   Gaudi’s architectural work is so different and wild….seven of his properties are recognized by UNESCO as outstanding examples of early 20th century architecture.  Each of his works is more like a piece of art than it is a practical building.  He designed everything from lamposts, to buildings, to churches, to parks.  We actually spent all day looking at his creations.  It was like walking in fantasy land.  We first saw Casa Mila and Casa Botilo, then we went to see his masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia.  The church was amazing and we spent three hours there.  You can see and read all about it in our next post.

After our church visit, we headed to Park Guell….which is a park designed by Gaudi.  It’s not easy to get to, but it is on top of hill so it has a great view of the city.  It was an incredibly beautiful day and it was great to be spending it outside.  Visiting the park was so much fun and also very relaxing.  We sat on the park benches soaking up the sun, looking out to the sea and listened to several musicians and bands playing.

The design of the park is so whimsical and colorful!  I felt like I was in the Hansel & Gretel fairy tale.  The entrance even has what looks like two gingerbread houses.  The walls surrounding it undulate, the park benches are either circular or wrap around like serpents, there are cute little mosaic creatures and beautiful tiles throughout.  Curvy trails are all over the hill, going thru little tunnels and leading to all sorts of different places – including the house Gaudi lived in (which is now a museum).  I could have easily spent the rest of the day here but it was getting late and we still hadn’t had lunch.  We headed out and immediately found a great little cafe near the park and ended up having a majorly delicious little Mediterranean pizza and a mouth watering Iberian ham sandwich.

Park Guell in Barcelona

It was already early evening when we took the subway all the way down to the waterfront and walked up the infamous mile long street (La Rambla).  We stopped there to buy some evilly good chocolates at Le Boqueria (a huge farmer’s market) and then picked up some wine, cheese & bread to snack on before going to our Spanish dinner at 9:30pm.

Our restaurant was only a few blocks away from our apartment so we walked there.  It was a small restaurant with only 10 tables but it is very popular.  I had to make reservations several weeks in advance.  The dinner (which consisted of multiple courses) was fantastic.  Every dish they served was simply amazing and so different…so many colors and flavors.  Some of the things we had included bread, stuffed olives, spicy nuts, a tricolored caramel shot, foie gras on pastry crust with caramelized leeks, scallops, roasted suckling pig, a celery-lime sorbet, a cheese plate, banana mouse with ice cream and caramel sauce and finally several chocolate samples. Robert ordered the local wine pairings.  It was great to be able to taste so many different local Spanish wines with each dish.  This was by far the best place we ate in Barcelona and so far the best in Spain.  Just thinking about it makes me want to go back.  We sure hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving – there is so much to be thankful for!

Thanksgiving dinner

 

 

Okawachiyama: Pottery Village in the Mountains

Okawachiyama

Okawachiyama

We live fairly close to some of the most famous pottery cities of Japan…Arita and Imari.  The history of Imari and Nabeshima ceramics is incredibly interesting and after visiting both Karatsu and Arita, my interest in the subject has only increased.  One town in particular stood out to me, Okawachiyama.

Most tourists don’t bother to go to Okawachiyama (unless they are really interested in pottery and still have time after visiting Arita and Imari).  I read about this village in a few other blogs and it sounded like a place that would be not only be interesting, but also beautiful.  It also sounded like it would be fun just getting there.  As it turns out, it’s not particularly easy to get to, but it is certainly worth the effort.   After digging up enough information (train and bus schedules as well as maps), we decided to venture out and try to find it.

Getting to Karatsu was easy, as was transferring to the Yellow Single Man Diesel Car bound for Imari.  As I predicted the scenery alone was worth the trip.  The first train had great views of the Sea of Japan, the second one, the countryside.  This particular part of Kyushu is very appealing.  It is very quaint, quiet, and hilly with rivers and small valleys.  The locals dress in traditional work clothes, there are lots of small vegetable farms, rice fields, old men driving their tractors, and, yes, even cows.

Ceramic Tiled Bridge

After we arrived in Imari and sorted out our train payment, we took a taxi up to Okawachiyama.  The driver kept handing us different pamphlets and maps and eventually dropped us off at a cobalt blue and white tiled bridge.  He was pointing to some building and babbling something about information, but we ignored him and just started exploring (after all he already gave us a ton of information).  We noticed immediately that the village had two streams running through it and that it was literally surrounded by steep, jagged mountains all the way around (except in the direction from which we just came).  We spotted the two large wooden beams which long ago were part of the gate in which they would stop and question everyone coming in and out of the village.

This was, without a doubt, an artisans’ village.  There are pieces of pottery, tile or porcelain everywhere – on the streets, on the walls, on the bridges, in the graveyard, etc.   Everywhere we walked there were artistic compositions involving ceramics of some form.  Even the streams were specially shaped and decorated.  The main street is lined with shops selling pottery, working kilns, and cute little coffee shops.  Side streets lead off to more shops and attractions.  At the end of town is the entrance to a park which is on the other side of the stream.  We followed the trails which traversed the hillside and led to little homes/museums, excavation sites, little shrines, small gravesites, benches and various modern works of art involving ceramics.  At the very top of the park is a fantastic view of the village and surrounding mountains.  On the way back down we saw greenware and some old kilns.

Korean Potter’s Grave

Eventually, we ventured into the large graveyard on the other side of town.  Here lies the Tokumuen Grave (Tomb of the Potters).  It is a pyramid shaped structure built from the accumulated tombstones of the 880 potters who were brought here from Korea to help build the ceramic industry for Japan.  The view of the town from here is most appealing.  Not too far downstream is also a water operated clay crushing mill that duals as a waterfall into a pod filled with coy.  Some pottery wind chimes are housed at the foot of the bridge, which play a tune when you cross the bridge.  I really didn’t want to leave this town since we were enjoying it so much, but unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.

The trip back ended up being just as eventful as the trip coming.  As we boarded the bus back to Imari, we ran into a couple visiting Japan from, believe it or not, Mexico.  The husband not only spoke perfect English (and Spanish), but also Japanese – who would have guessed?  We had an interesting conversation with them about Japan as well as Mexico.  Oddly enough, the Japanese guy we met previously on the Yellow One Man Diesel Car was also on the bus.  Robert learned how to say mathematics in Japanese (sugaku) from him.  Then, to top it off, our incredibly late lunch was with the Sushi Nazi in Karatsu.  It was hilarious watching him correct (and show) Robert how to eat his lunch.  Robert was incredibly uncomfortable having someone so closely scrutinize his eating habits.  The chef had a good laugh when Robert ate the ball of minced dikon (thinking it was a piece of vegetable tempura) that was actually meant to go into my tempura sauce.  He certainly won’t do that again.

Our Beloved Trains and The Yellow One Man Diesel Car

bullet train

Bullet train

As I was writing another post, I realized this particular topic needed it’s own post.  As I’ve probably mentioned in previous posts, we love trains.  We first started liking trains/trams when we lived in Australia.  We then used them extensively when we lived in Ireland.  But I think Japan may have more trains than any other country, so we are trying to take complete advantage of that.  Everyone has heard about their Shinkansen (bullet trains), but Japan also has loads of other trains…electric trains, steam trains, diesel trains…and they come in all different colors, sizes, shapes, and ages.

When we went to  Hiroshima, we used the bullet train….cruising at 200 MPH, it’s smooth, clean, slick looking…modern day train travel at it’s best.  They get you there quick and they are between every major city.  They look and feel like airplanes.

Most of the regional trains (at least where we live) are electric trains which don’t travel more than 35 miles an hour.  They are nice and practical but not very exciting (basically commuter trains much like the L in Chicago).  The trains start getting much more interesting when you venture to resort towns or to small rural destinations.

On our recent trip to Yufuin (a popular onsen resort town), we got to ride on two different diesel trains.  These trains traveled on the same single track (a track shared by trains going in opposite  directions) passing only at train stations.  They cruise through steep, curvy, narrow and thickly forested canyons…often going through tunnels.  Both trains are known for their wood trim interiors.  The first train we were on only had 3 cars and a definite 1950’s feel.  It had blond wood floorboards, matching window sills with cup holder indentations, and very dated curtains.  Our return train had 6 cars with two tone wood flooring and a very 1970’s art deco feel to it.  One of the cars was specifically set up as just a dining car.  I’ve never seen so many people taking pictures (and movies) of a train before.  The train attendants even offered to take our picture while we were onboard the train, so we did!

Our latest trip to Okawachiyama involved riding a single car train….the Yellow One Man Diesel Car (i love that name).  A sure sign you are on the back roads (or should I say back tracks) of Japan is when there is only a single car train.  The fact that it was bright yellow only added to the charm.  I couldn’t put an era on this train, but it was quite different.  It had an old electronic board in front with stop numbers and prices (similar to the local buses), and it had a contraption that spat out tickets.  We started wondering after a few stops what the exact payment procedure was.  People getting on pulled a ticket and then dropped it off on the way out.  We didn’t pull a ticket…all we had was our electronic subway pass.   The “stations” we were stopping at along the way didn’t have buildings associated with them and there were several “station” signs that weren’t even readable due to weathering and old age.  There were no attendants collecting tickets (much less an electronic card scanner).  We were a little concerned, but we figured we would be alright.

Trains in rural Japan have the most interesting passengers.  One gentleman on the train kept consulting his small binder with handwritten times of each stop in it.  Another older gentlemen was smiling, talking to himself and writing stuff on a sheet of paper.  He later approached us several different times with his questions written in English….where are you from?  are you from the American base?  what is the purpose of our visit?  It ends up he was going to Okawachiyama and we would see him several times during our trip – including on the bus back to Imari.

Imari is a decent sized town, so we really thought there would be a card reader there.  It had a pretty big station and it was the end of the line, but unfortunately – no card reader.  The attendant took us aside and allowed us to pay the fare in cash.  He also fixed us up with a receipt which would allow us to get our card reset when we arrived back in Karatsu.  It’s not much fun to make a mistake, but it does make for a more memorable experience. 🙂   Of all the train trips we’ve been on, this particular trip is so far my favorite.  The combination of the train, the passengers and the scenery made it both priceless and unforgettable.

Hiking Miyajima Island, Plus Hiroshima & The Peace Park

View of Torii Gate

View of the Famous Floating Torii Gate

We finally made it to Hiroshima and Miyajima.   After a series of really wet weekends, the weather could not have been more perfect for our trip and I’d have to say that these two UNESCO World Heritage sites were well worth the year long wait.  Even though they are extremely different, we enjoyed both of them very much and would go back there in a heartbeat.

We knew there would be lots to see and sacrificed sleeping in on a Saturday morning to be out our door by 7am.   Since Miyajima was more difficult to get to, we decided to do that first, which meant buying lots of tickets and making lots of connections (from our subway, to the bullet train, then transferring to a regular train, and finally onto a ferry).  Fortunately everything went smoothly and we were in Miyajima by 10am.  We even managed to figure out the lockers at the train station so we could store our luggage while we explored the island.

Close-up of Doe & Fawn

Doe & Fawn

While we were on the ferry, Robert was busy snapping pictures as I stood anxiously watching the torii gate approach.  After seeing so many pictures of this torii gate, it was hard to believe we were actually here.  The island (Istukushima) is very beautiful…it’s steep and very forested.  The island is still considered sacred and pure in the Shinto religion.  In the past, commoners were not allowed on the island, and all other visitors had to go thru the torii gate before stepping on the island.  There are still some strict rules in place…no cutting down trees, no births and no deaths.  The highest point on the island is Mt Misen which rises up directly behind the torii gate to a height of about 530 meters (1,750 feet).  We had originally planned to take the ropeway up to the top, but Robert said his back was feeling fine, so we decided we would hike it instead.

Robert eating the Maple Leaf

Snacking on Maple Leaves – yum!

Everyone visiting the island had smiles on their face….(you’d think you were at Disneyland).   Tame deer roamed the streets, there were little chariots carrying happy couples around, and lots of quaint little shops.  There were also lots of statues, lanterns, and traditional Edo period Japanese buildings.  We didn’t have a map, so we just followed the crowds and wondered around – looking at everything.  Occasionally we’d see signs, pointing us in the direction of Mt Misen.  We also saw signs telling us not to pet or feed the deer, but the Japanese sign must have said something different because they were doing both constantly.

We visited the pagoda, walked around the “1,000 tatami mat” pavilion (Senjokaku) and explored the back streets of the village.  We found a shop making the little maple shaped cakes (momiji manju), so we stopped and sampled their two flavors and had some tea.  We eventually ended up at the main temple, Daisho, and spent a good hour taking photos and enjoying the scenery.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t very crowded and some leaves were starting to change so we really took our time there.  However, I knew it was getting late and we still had our hike to do, so we continued on our way.

View near top

View from Mt Misen

Our hike up Mt. Misen (Mount Stair-Miser would be a better name) began near the temple.  I don’t know if anyone has ever counted how many stairs there are, but I’d venture to guess there were at least a couple thousand (it took us nearly an hour to climb it).  Some sections were so steep that it was very obvious there had been some recent landslides and extensive repair work had been made.  At times I thought the stairs would never end.  The views just kept getting better and better, so we kept going.  We even had a fantastic view of the torii gate at low tide…all the people walking up to it looked like ants.  The trail followed a stream/waterfall most of the way up.  It was very shady and there were only a handful of other hikers.  Thank goodness it was a cool day because I was extremely thirsty (I didn’t have my water bottle and there were none of those famous vending machines along the way).  The views from the top were spectacular.

YakiKaki !

Grilled Oysters!

I would have loved to hang out there had we had picnic provisions, but since we were both extremely thirsty and hungry, and neither of us can tolerate walking down steep downhills anymore (darn knees!), we decided to take the Ropeway down.   After a 15 minute ride we were back amongst the masses and the vending machines!  The line to go up was incredibly long so we now know never to do that.  Robert was craving some grilled oysters (yakikaki), so we waited about 15 minutes for our delicious appetizer and then moved on to find some anago-buri (eel on rice) for a late lunch.  Again, (true to the Japanese tradition), we waited in another line at the restaurant.  The anago-buri was amazingly delicious (oishii!).  Sunset was approaching, so we figured we should make our way back to the ferry…passing the torii gate one last time, and delaying our departure as long as we could.

We went back to Hiroshima, retrieved our luggage and checked into our hotel.  Fairly exhausted from our long day, we relaxed for a while, shared a beer and opted for a carousel sushi dinner.   We got up early so we could experience the Peace Park with as few visitors as possible.  It ended up being another beautiful day.  We walked along the river to the A-bomb Dome – which is quite impressive indeed.  It seems frozen in time.  Stray cats run around it just like in some dystopian tale.  It’s hard to write about our experience there, as a worthy description of both the Dome and Peace Park cannot be captured in words.  It’s something that must be experienced first-hand.

A-bomb dome View

A-bomb Dome

The visit to Hiroshima completed a full circle for us.  Some 20+ years ago, we visited the museum in Los Alamos, New Mexico – the birthplace of the A-bomb.  I still remember that day vividly.  It was an incredibly weighted experience (just as watching Schindler’s list was).  It rendered both of us speechless and depressed for hours.  It is shocking to realize the kind of destruction man is capable of.  We have since then also visited Nagasaki (the site of the 2nd nuclear bomb dropping), and we live relatively close to where the 2nd bomb was initially intended to be dropped.

As horrible as that part of history was, it’s nowhere near the devastating nuclear capacity we have today.  The recent events in northern Japan is a constant reminder of how dangerous a game we are playing.

At the end of the day, I left Hiroshima feeling hopeful – because I didn’t like the thought of it ending any other way.

Yanagawa: The Venice of Japan

Day trip to Yanagawa

Yanagawa Canal Trip

Yanagawa is a small town in southern Japan about 45 minutes from Fukuoka (by train).  It has little canals running through it which were originally used as irrigation ditches.  Today these canals are used for scenic boat rides.  Boats called “donkobune” are propelled by local men with bamboo poles down the moats through narrow tunnels and around sharp bends and past beautiful expanses of old stonework, houses, monuments, and water-side shops.   The word Yanagawa literally means ‘willow river’.  I should have guessed that, because there are hundreds of these trees lining the canals.

bbq eel on top of rice with cooked egg...hard to describe just how good this was

Our lunch – steamed eel w/ rice

Our boatman never stopped talking (except when he was singing), and even though we had no idea what he was talking about, it didn’t matter….it was an absolutely beautiful day to spend an hour going through this pretty town.  Near the end of the ride, the smell of steamed eel filled the air and we kept spotting all the wonderful places we could stop and have lunch.  One place in particular had a line out front, and we headed for that as soon as we got off our boat.  Luckily we didn’t have to wait and we were seated right away.  We could see the stack of eel dishes being steamed in the back.  We simply asked our waitress for her recommendation (“o susume”) and we were not disappointed.

Autumn colors

The Golden Ginkgo Trees

After lunch, we decided to walk back to the train station to work off our lunch and stretch our legs since they’d been scrunched up from sitting Japanese style all morning.  On the way back, we decided to visit the old castle ruins, but there really wasn’t much there except a few rocks and some beautiful old ginkgo trees in their prime autumn gold color.  We walked down one of the “100 best roads” in Japan, and discovered this town is also the birth place of one of Japan’s most popular poets.  It’s really amazing all the unique little experiences there are here in Japan….most of them simple, yet all so satisfying.  Yanagawa is yet another place we’d gladly visit again.

The Reclining Buddha

Day Trip to Kidonanzoin

Nanzoin Temple Area

When it’s as beautiful as it was today, we have to get out and do something.  And after a two week hiatus (recovering from Hong Kong), we were ready to start exploring some more.  Today’s adventure took us on a train ride about 20 minutes east of the city – into a pretty little mountainous area.  After a little confusion trying to figure out where to buy our tickets at the main station in Hakata, it was actually very easy getting to Kidonanzoin.   To our pleasant surprise we ended up no where near suburbia.  I absolutely love these small little town stations that barely have anything around them.  And as a bonus, Nanzoin Temple was literally right across the road (although you couldn’t see it from the station), up a small river canyon, so it was easy to find too.

Day Trip to Kidonanzoin

Stone Men

We had a wonderful time walking around the grounds viewing all the different lanterns, statues, temples, ponds and caves.  The leaves had just started changing colors and there weren’t many people there so it was an incredibly peaceful and relaxing way to spend the early afternoon.  We weren’t in any kind of hurry, so we took our time and spent a couple hours just exploring.  I have to say that I really loved looking at all the little stone men statues the most.  Everyone of them was different and each one had so much detail.  It was like I was looking at a miniature audience frozen in time.  When I’m not in a hurry, I notice lots of little things…like lanterns with moss and grass growing on them, the beautiful rock work, the turtles and trout in the ponds, all the little waterfalls and all the different species of flora and fauna.  It was a kick to see some of the statues wearing bright yellow and orange beanies on their heads and a few with bibs like they were going to eat lobster or something.  I wonder if the locals do that to keep them from getting cold.  Only one statue seemed a little out of place there….a huge colorful mad warrior at the far end of the little courtyard.  I’m not sure what purpose he serves, but I’m sure he’s there for a good reason.

Day Trip to Kidonanzoin

Face of the Big Reclining Buddha

We finally made our way up to where the big Buddha lay.  To our disappointment it was mostly covered in scaffolding.  Fortunately the head was still visable and it’s sheer size was still impressive.  After peaking through the side, it was very obvious that this cleaning job desperately needs to be done, and we figured we could always come back to see how well it cleans up.  We each enjoyed a yummy mixed green tea/vanilla ice cream cone and then headed back toward the station.  I’m sure there was much more to investigate in these hills as we saw lots of trails leading off to somewhere, but I was getting hungry and wanted to get back downtown to get a bite to eat and do a bit of shopping.

Trips like this just make me want to get on more trains and venture farther and farther away….

A Visit to Karatsu City

Karatsu City and Castle

Karatsu City from Castle

We are slowly getting braver.  We took the local train and actually ventured out of Fukuoka prefecture and into Saga prefecture (prefectures are equivalent to counties in the USA).   The town of Karatsu is about an hour south and it is known for it’s Castle, pottery, and the Niji-no Matsubara Pine Forest (one of the 3 largest in Japan according to our tourist information lady).  Robert loves the name of that forest – he would not stop saying it.  After briefly chatting with Charles Bronson’s brother on the train (you don’t want to know), we had a chance to admire the coastline and some rural countryside from our train window.  We also noticed leaves starting to change on some varieties of trees (some trees have actually lost their leaves already, which is puzzling, because it’s not even close to being cold yet).  The highlight of the train ride was getting a glimpse of that huge pine forest that skirts along the beach.  It looks like an awesome place for a bike ride…maybe next time – since the bike “rentals” are free!

Following Maureen’s advise to stop at the information desk, we sat down with a very helpful women who gave us an English map of the city (colorfully drawn and illustrated, and worthy of framing and hanging in our house).  She highlighted all the things to see and gave us a suggested route which we followed almost exactly.

Grounds of a shrine in Karatsu

Traditional Japanese Wedding at Karatsu Shrine

The downtown area has been setup as a shopping arcade.  Several of the streets have been covered and tastefully decorated.   After doing some window shopping, we visited their main shrine which we were lucky to witness a newly wedded couple leaving (dressed in traditional attire).  We quickly stopped by the exhibition hall which houses the 14 floats that will be carried through the city during their annual festival next month.  The lady at the information desk informed us that all these lacquered washi paper floats are more than 130 years old, and one of them weighs 3 tons!  We will have to come back here just to see that festival – either this year or next year.

We followed the stone walled promenade to the Castle.  Aside from the incredible views from the top of the Castle, there was a massively huge wisteria vine.  I’m sure it is incredibly beautiful when it is in bloom.  I had no idea they could get that big.  Housed inside the castle is a museum which I’m sure is really interesting…but it was basically useless to us, since we can’t read the Japanese descriptions about the artifacts.  After climbing up and down what seemed like 14 million stairs (and walking all over town), we were pretty hungry, so we picked up some sandwiches and sat in a nice sunny courtyard listening to music and planning the rest of our afternoon.

First of many pottery stores

First of many pottery shops

After lunch, we visited several pottery shops that displayed work by many of the local artists and then we meandered down a back street which housed some of their most prominent potters creations.  Their studios are in a residential area, so it was hard to know if it was really a studio or someone’s house. I knew we were in the right area though, because the entire street was made of clay tiles.  The pottery in these locations was really expensive.  Ranging from about $30 for one small tea cup to over $2000 dollars for a plate.  I don’t think I need any piece of pottery that bad.  I love the style though, which is earthy yet elegant.

We actually came to Kuratsu to see the castle, but we found much better reasons to come here.  It’s a friendly and quiet seaside town, great for walking, biking, and escaping the hustle and bustle of the big city.

Dazaifu’s Tenmangu Shrine (and Flea Market)

You must be this tall to enter...

You must be this tall to enter…

Our first adventure outside the city took us to the town of Dazaifu. The city is about a 30 minute train trip southeast of Fukuoka. According to our brochure, 1,300 years ago this is where Kyushu was governed from and the seat of government stayed there for about 500 years.  The shrine that currently resides there was built in 1591.  It is probably the most important Tenmangu Shrine in Japan.  The shrine is dedicated to the god(s) of learning – I am thinking about a field trip here for my classes before our next big test. 🙂

A group of 11 of us took the trip to visit the monthly flea market and learn the ins and outs of train tickets and station transfers.  We did a pretty good job except for when we found ourselves doing a stand-up comedy routine for the local Japanese passengers by going to the wrong platform (where no one else was) and sitting on the wrong train (which was empty) until the station manager told us to go to a different platform.  A good rule thumb in Japan: if you go to a train platform and no one else is there and then you get on the train and no one else is on it, then chances are you are not in the right place.  When we finally got to the right train, two older Japanese men next to us looked and pointed over to where we had been and were laughing “with us”.

National museum is amazing architecture

National Museum in Dazaifu

The grounds of the shrine were beautiful and the buildings were very interesting. But..it was brutally hot and humid.  Rose and I walked around and took in the scenery and shopping as much as possible but we had to get inside to some air conditioning.

So, we headed to the National Museum.  We were glad we did…the architecture was stunning and the history on the inside was very educational. We certainly know a lot more about the role the Chinese and Koreans played in the history of Japan than we did before we went.

More shrine

Tenmangu Shrine

We finally had lunch around 1:45, and I was starving. We were on our own at that point, so we just picked a restaurant on the main street that looked good.  A young girl brought us our menus (which fortunately had a few pictures) and we played our usual game of “food roulette”.  I ended up with some cold soba noodles mixed with a broth topped with shredded egg, wasabi, and re-hydrated fish of some kind. It was fantastic and very refreshing after the hot day.  Rose ended up with a bowl of rice topped with a battered pork cutlet, a cooked egg and some type of sauce.  And yes, it was also very good.  After lunch we met up with the rest of our group and rode the trains back to Fukuoka without incident.  We are all expert train travelers now!

Click on any picture to see more photos of this trip.