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LCBoniti Jun 23rd, 2006 05:56 AM

Yes, yes keep embarrassing your kids! That is, after all, in the job description for "parent"!

And I'm sure the Dominos episode will be forgiven since you are taking us along on your trip with you. I've never traveled to anywhere in Asia, but the culture is so different it must be fascinating!

Take care,
Linda

girlonthego Jun 23rd, 2006 06:38 AM

Keep the reports coming! I am so jealous of your wonderful trip. I don't think my husband will ever be able to take 11 weeks off until he retires. Getting a two week trip is like pulling teeth.
I love your adventurous spirit!!

saltymuffin Jun 23rd, 2006 08:25 AM

When we were in Japan, my husband slammed the taxi door. After doing so, he re-opened the door as he heard the taxi driver scream something. Still not understanding what he was saying, he slammed it again! The poor taxi driver almost had a heart attack, he had to jump out and come running around to make sure his door was ok! We had never seen automatic closing doors before and I somehow had not read about not slamming the doors before our trip, it is a very important tip!

kmkrnn Jun 23rd, 2006 09:56 AM

Loving your report. Traveling with children can be a challege. How old ar DS1 and 2?? Nice they are adventursome. Looking forward to your next post

beelady Jun 23rd, 2006 10:51 AM

bookmarking

rhkkmk Jun 23rd, 2006 11:09 AM

enjoying the report

crefloors Jun 23rd, 2006 11:23 AM

This is just a lot of fun. Looking forward to more adventures.

Liz2005 Jun 23rd, 2006 11:40 AM

Sounds like you are on the trip of a lifetime! Keep the report coming.

If you don't mind me asking how did you manage 11 weeks vacation and be able to afford this trip for 4? I know that's a horribly rude, personal question for me to ask, but I'm wondering how I can do it! Please don't answer if I'm way out of line in asking.

travelgirl2 Jun 26th, 2006 07:26 AM

Day 6 – Train to Kyoto

As we are going to the train station with all of our luggage, we ask the man at the front desk to arrange a ride which can hold all the bags. He says he will try, but is doubtful. It turns out that he is able to arrange for a minivan. The driver speaks perfect English too. He tells us to try to get seats on the right side of the train, so we can see Mt. Fuji from the window. They are doing construction in front of the train station, so unloading the bags is a bit of a zoo.

While waiting for the train, we purchased lunch to eat on the train. We found a shop selling pastries, such as a sausage wrapped in a bun, cheese and corn pastry, nut bread, etc. We also purchased some sort of sushi stuff (see how knowledgeable I am?) which had various things wrapped in rice and then seaweed, shaped like a cone. Finally, the kids (DS1 is 13 years old and DS 2 is 11 years old) talked us into purchasing bento boxes for them. These turned out to be great, while the sushi stuff was totally nasty (none of us would eat it and we usually like sushi).

On the train, most people had one small carryon piece of luggage. We had our 4 rolling suitcases (carryon size) and 6 carryon pieces. The only place we could find to store luggage is in the overhead rack, which is a narrow shelf with no side rail. I had wondered if we would be conspicuous on this part of the journey. We definitely were. But, c’est le vie. People stared at us but it seemed more out of curiosity than anything else.

The bathrooms on the train were interesting. There were 3: a Western toilet, a Japanese men’s toilet and a Japanese women’s toilet. DS2 found the Japanese toilet interesting, basically just a hole in the ground. I visited the Western toilet and wondered why there were no towels to dry your hands.

As we approached Kyoto, there was an announcement in English. We gathered up all our stuff and were ready at the doors when we pulled into the station. As we exited the train, we just had to walk across the station to our hotel, the Hotel Granvia.

The station is huge and grand. Across from the hotel, there is a series of escalators that goes 11 stories high. You can exit at any level in order to go into Isetan (the huge department store) or one of the many food areas. There is a skywalk across the top of the huge domed glass area. There are probably a hundred different places to eat, or maybe it just seems like there are.

For dinner, we pick the restaurant serving fried pork cutlets. The food is okay. As usual, the service is top-notch. However, while serving us water, the waitress is jostled by someone passing by and spills an entire large glass of ice water on DH’s lap. I see the entire thing happen, see her arm get bumped, the shocked look on her face and the glass beginning to fall, but of course am helpless to stop it. DH is very startled and while I feel sorry for him, the only thing I can do is laugh hysterically as the 2 waitresses and the manager run over and start dabbing at his lap. Luckily, DH is very easygoing and laughs it off too.

After dinner, we stop at Café du Monde for beignets. This is a miniature version of the famous shop in the French Quarter of New Orleans which serves hot square donuts covered in powdered sugar. It is funny to see this in Japan. I order a green tea frappe too.

Later that night, back in the hotel room, we get acquainted with our Japanese toilet. It is a little scary, because whenever you sit down, it seems to roar to life with a humming noise. DH tells me this is the odor masking function. There are a couple of buttons for different kind of sprays. Also, a heated seat. Later, at a public toilet, I also encounter a toilet with a button to make a fake flushing sound, in order to cover up any embarrassing noises one might make.

We like the Hotel Granvia. The location is great. The lobby is very nice. There are about 10 ladies in the lobby, dressed in bellhop uniforms. They nod to the Western tourists and bow deeply to the Japanese tourists. Everyone scurries around, whisking away your luggage or ushering you to a chair.

At check-in, we had a request to make. I had reserved the rooms a long time ago for 17000 yen, but had noticed the price on the web site dropping to 13000 yen for the last few days of our visit, so I asked if we could have the lower rate for our last few days. Initially, no one knew how to deal with this request. Perhaps it was too bold of me to make the request. Finally, the assistant manager told us that in their system, they cannot cancel part of a reservation, but they can end a reservation early. So we made a new reservation over the internet for the last few days and the front desk terminated our original reservation a few days early. The assistant manager was very professional and told us that he would personally ensure that everything was taken care of and that we should not worry about it and should proceed to enjoy our stay. So we did!

From our room, we have a nice view of the city lights. The wired Internet connection is free. The bathroom is very nice, with every toiletry you could imagine, including an individually packaged toothbrush, razor and hairbrush. The bath area has a tub and also a tiled area for showering. The beds are comfortable. We proceed to sleep very well here.

hazel1 Jun 26th, 2006 10:33 AM

Great report, travelgirl2 - really enjoying the "as it happens" style. Keep 'em coming!

LCBoniti Jun 26th, 2006 11:29 AM

Wonderful experiences - Love the bathroom info (why the fascination? I don't know, but there it is!) Especially the fake flushing - priceless!

Were you able to see Mt. Fuji? I still regret that it was cloudy (rainy) the day we went to Pompeii so I did not see Mt. Vesuvius. Oh, well! Just another reason to return!

Thanks for sharing,
Linda

janisj Jun 26th, 2006 01:11 PM

Café du Monde and beignets in Kyoto - just made me smile for some reason . . . .

Who woulda thunk it?

gilford2165 Jun 26th, 2006 01:37 PM

Thank you SO much!!! As we make final preparations for our trip to London, I read your post about car hire at the Airport. Thanks to you we have made arrangements and look forward to a smooth journey into the City. We are also taking an early morning flight... from Toronto. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

HappyCheesehead Jun 26th, 2006 02:12 PM

That fake flushing is brilliant!

Great way to save water resources, you know people do it for real all the time and just waste the water unnecessarily.

tower Jun 26th, 2006 02:38 PM

travGirl:
I'm enjoying every word in your detailed report. We're thinking hard of heading to Japan next spring ('07)..it will be my first visit back in over 58 years. I was a teenager Pfc. in the US Army , stationed in Beppu, Kyushu 1946-1948. Quite an adventure and I am looking forward to a visit.
My preliminary planning has us in China for 10-15 days and ending in Japan for the same amount of time or a bit more.

I was all over in China in 1984 and expect to see major differences everywhere.

I'm figuring three days in Tokyo, four in Kyoto and vicinity, including Nara, one in Hiroshim, two in Beppu and vicinity, and three in some other countryside region (mountains).

Your information on Kyoto is valuable and for that I thank you. I was there in 1947 on a three-day pass...and as a wide-eyed young impressionable kid I was stunned by the beauty, as the city was relatively untouched by the war.

Keep writing this report!

Stu T.

moolyn Jun 26th, 2006 06:40 PM

I'm really enjoying your trip report, especially the Japan part. My husband and I visited Kyoto several years ago when our daughter was teaching English there. I'll always remember our first taxi experience, sitting on pristine white doilies. The driver presented us with small packages of kleenex, commenting, "for your seats." At first I thought he wanted us to cover the doilies to keep them clean but then I remembered my daughter telling us that public washrooms in Japan don't usually supply toilet paper so people utilize the small packages of kleenex given out for advertising. He meant "for your seats" literally!

Can't you just imagine the reaction of western taxi drivers when Japanese tourist jump out leaving the taxi doors wide open? Apparently it happens.


travelgirl2 Jun 27th, 2006 11:27 AM

I am really enjoying reading everyone's comments. Every day when I log in, I am waiting with anxious anticipation to see what my Fodors friends have to say.

Yes, we did get to see Mt. Fuji.

Stu - That sounds like a great trip. If you do end up travelling to Japan, I'd love to hear your impressions, as compared to when you were a lad.

The image of a Japanese tourist in NYC leaving the taxi door open had me laughing out loud.

I hope everyone has a good day today, wherever your are and whatever you may be doing.

travelgirl2 Jun 27th, 2006 11:31 AM

Day 7 – Kyoto – Calligraphy and Cooking Classes

We grab a quick breakfast at Vie de France Bakery in the train station. Then we take a taxi to WAK Japan, which is the Women’s Association of Kyoto. There we meet Yoshiko, who will instruct us on calligraphy. She is dressed in a lovely kimono and she begins by explaining the three types of alphabets on which the Japanese language is based. We choose a symbol from Kanji, which is comprised of symbols that represent an entire word (happiness, harmony, friend, love, heart, etc.). Each symbol is made up of 4-10 brush strokes. Each stroke can stop, trail off, curve up. We feel like kindergartners in art class.

The kids’ symbols are much better than the adults’. Yoshiko says that DH’s strokes indicate that he is kind, DS1’s show he has a straight mind and DS2’s show he has a big mind. Very interesting. We take the pictures with us and will hang them up at home in the US.

We stop at a soba restaurant after class. Absolutely no English is spoken, but they do have an English menu. We all order hot soba soup with tempura. As we are eating (and sweating), I look around and notice that everyone else has ordered cold soba noodles with their tempura. We are given hot tea and water in little shot glasses. The owner is very nice to come over and offer us little forks, but we politely decline. We’re doing pretty well with chopsticks.

We’ve noticed that no one else seems to drink water with their meals. We always ask for water and are usually served a tiny glass. At home we would usually have 2 large glasses of water with our meals. At times, I feel like I am dying of thirst in Japan. After meals, we always buy some bottled water from a shop or one of those ubiquitous vending machines on the street.

It has been rare that we are given napkins with lunch or dinner. We usually receive a wet washcloth or wet-nap before eating. Without a napkin in my lap, I keep feeling like something is missing.

After lunch, we walk toward the subway station. While passing a small fruit store, we decide to take some fruit back to the hotel. The fruit in this store is absolutely beautiful, but very expensive. I don’t know if it would be this expensive in a regular store or if this is a special fruit store. We purchase 4 apples, 4 oranges, 4 bananas and 1 grapefruit for 24800 yen, which is about $22. There is a watermelon for 80000 yen, about $72. A pound of perfect huge grapes is 50000 yen, about $44. We discuss this and decide that we think all this fruit must be imported.

We take the subway back to the hotel. Each stop is numbered, so it is easy to figure out when to get off. The cost for 4 of us on the subway is just slightly less than taking a taxi. Several Fodor’s posters have recommended taking taxis in Kyoto and I think their suggestion is a good one, especially for a family.

Tonight, we have arranged through WAK Japan to have a course in Japanese cooking at someone’s home. Yoshiko will pick us up at the hotel and take us to the teacher’s home. We decide to bring gifts for the teacher and Yoshiko, so we descend into the bowels of the train station to the gourmet food area of the Isetan department store. There, we purchase some Japanese candy. We are offered a sample, so we all try some. DS2 tries his, but his face lets me know that he doesn’t like it at all. It is made of bean paste. We also purchase some chocolates.

At exactly 5 pm, Yoshiko comes for us. We go to the huge lobby and have trouble finding her, making us late (very, very bad in Japan). She has 2 taxis waiting for us, as each taxi can only take 4 people. We arrive at the instructor’s house. Both ladies seem very pleased to receive the gifts and are delighted with the chocolates. We spend the next 2 hours cooking miso soup, sushi, tempura and sautéed spinach. It is a lot of fun. The instructor is delightful. She shows us an area which has been set up to ceremoniously display traditional gifts for her daughter, who is engaged and will be married next month. Each gift represents something and she explains everything to us. We are fascinated by the tradition. Her daughter comes home and we all eat dinner together. It is wonderful to be invited to share and learn about such a different culture.

LCBoniti Jun 27th, 2006 12:07 PM

A cooking class! What fun! We did one (also in a private home) in Florence and it was a highlight of our trip.

I can't imaging eating without a napkin - are we just messier eaters than the Japanese?

You didn't say what your calligraphy showed about you. Dare I ask? I would say you all have an adventureous spirit and we are benefiting as a result!

Thanks for sharing the cultural tidbits. I love this!
Linda

HappyCheesehead Jun 27th, 2006 06:56 PM

Exactly what I wondered, Linda- come on Tripgirl, spill it - what did your calligraphy say about you?

Mine would say... hates washing dishes...


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