Sunday, July 27, 2014

We storm Uppsala

Today we woke up and Skyped with Rob back home. "What time is it there?" he asked. "4:30" we responded. "In the Morning?" He asked with insulting disbelief. "You guys can't even stay up past 9:30 at home!" Guess we're still not really on Sweden time yet. We got dressed and headed to the bus station to buy a bus pass to get to the church. Craig is annoyed that we have to buy everything the same day, as none of the machines will accept a credit card without a pin number. We were not sure we were waiting at the right bus stop to get to church when we spotted two familiar figures in white shirts. The local missionaries and an older couple led us to the right spot, and we had plenty of time to mingle with locals before the services began. We stayed for all 3 hours, and Craig was having a great time plying the svenska, but I feared I'd just be staring at the front with a smile pasted on my face the entire time. Wrong!! A nice little Finnish lady sat next to me and translated - now and then inserting her own commentary: "She says you have to follow a recipe to get a cake, but I don't agree, I never use recipes. " It was interesting how much I got out of the lesson when I had to concentrate instead of allowing myself to zone out like I sometimes do. When I complimented her on her English she brushed it off: "No, I don't speak American English well. I am better at British English and Australian English. American English is my poorest language. I prefer Italian and German and even French to American English. (Since she speaks Finnish and Swedish as well, you can add up the languages this little woman knows on two hands.)

On the bus back toward the hotel, I took a picture of two of the Elders and posted it on the Missionary Mommas FB site just asking if anyone knew them. Sure enough, within 2 hours the Elders were identified, reminisced upon, and their grateful mothers emailed with the image. Ah - the powers of moms around the world. On the walk back to the hotel from the bus stop, thunder rolled, lightning cracked, and the skies opened up with an absolute DELUGE. My shoes are still drying out from my attempt to wash off all the Icelandic mud, so I was wearing sandals. I could not stand the idea of soggy feet once again, so I dragged Craig (the crazy man loves a thunderstorm; he just stood there with this lopsided grin, staring at the sky, getting soaked) to the nearest shelter, which was a little restaurant, and decided to get lunch while waiting out the storm. Craig had the fish and chips and I ordered the shrimp and chips. Except the shrimp was served cold with all the legs and even the creepy little eyes staring at me. No way was I eating that! I felt bad, but I had to send it back for a salad. I've noticed that there's no tipping here in Sweden, but there also is not much service. I could have asked a waitress details about the dishes but there is little table service here. You order from a harried person at the bar and then they deliver your food to the table. So much for trying to puzzle out Swedish menus!

The storm was over in an hour, and the sun returned, just not as hot as yesterday. We took a bus across town to the Swedish veterinary school. It was a Sunday AND summer break, so nobody was there, but at least we could visit and take some selfies with the various signs. I am not providing any translations, so you are on your own guessing all these, but they all have some kind of meaning in our collected carreers. Lycka til. (That's good luck in Swedish.)

Tomorrow we are off to Göteborg, providing Craig can get us tickets in the morning.







Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sweden at last

We're up at five am and off to the airport. There is minimal company on the road, and we notice again the warehouse-like design of ALL the buildings we see. We return the rental car and observe some differences right away. In the States, there would be a shuttle bus to haul our oversize booties and our luggage to the terminal. Here in Iceland, the hardy Viking descendants have no trouble hoofing it a quarter mile or so while dragging baggage in the rain. That's probably why they all look fit, and blond. It's not just the horses that haven't changed much in 1000 years.

After breakfast in the airport lounge and another pampered ride in the front of the 757, we arrive in Stockholm. We aren't staying though; our plan is for this city to be the last one we visit. Unsurprisingly, for the woman with a bladder the size of a kumquat, the first thing I have to do after the flight is find the bathroom - usually labelled WC around here. The Scandinavians must be a bit more worried about their privacy than the Americans. I've noticed that restrooms do not have stalls as we do, but individual little rooms just big enough for one person, usually very neat and clean. This one (near the baggage claim) is an exception. The little WC room that is my lot as we wait in line is wet and smells like urine. The toilet also refuses to flush. This would be all right (it's only a moment in time, after all) but then the door refuses to open. I push and pull, and twist the lock any number of ways. The room is getting hotter and smellier. I've been trapped in an elevator before, but then I had my cell phone to call for help. There were also other people present, more room, and it didn't stink. Although I've never considered myself claustrophobic before, I feel the stirrings of incipient panic. The room is nearly sound-proof, I can hear nothing on the other side, but finally, my kicks and shoves against the door attract attention and I hear a voice call some sort of question. "Help!" I bleat, my frenzy beginning to outweigh my embarrassment. After about five more long minutes, rescue arrives. A uniformed woman unlocks the door. "Do not use this one again!" she says sternly to the line of women standing with their legs crossed. I barely hear her; when that door opens I bolt out of that deathtrap and halfway down the hall like Secretariat out of the starting gate. It finally occurs to me that I haven't washed my hands and I have to make my way back, shamefaced, hoping I'd been such a blur no one had had time to get a close look at the stupid American locked in the restroom. Craig was patiently waiting with our luggage when I returned, having noticed nothing.

After numerous false starts and defective directional information, we finally drag our luggage underground to the train for Uppsala. I am so glad we packed light! Everyone speaks lovely English, but Craig is enjoying stumbling along in his broken Swedish so I mostly let him. (Well, until about the fourth time we go to the wrong train platform, then I double check the directions in English.) Craig can't rely on his memory for this part of the trip; he's never been here. Both Stockholm and Uppsala were outside his mission.

The ride to Uppsala is short, smooth, and nearly soundless, and It's 30 degrees C which is a toast 86 degrees F! Craig is melting, but I think it's great to finally be out of the rain. Uppsala is a university town (it has the country's only veterinary college), and everyone, young and old is on a bicycle. Like Japan, there are bikes everywhere - utilitarian models with baskets and big tires - none of the stupid little trick bikes you see the kids ride or the fancy racing bikes ridden by adults in spandex. Here, the bicycle is clearly a form of transportation rather than vanity. We check into the hotel, then walk around to see the sights. Craig is miffed when I say parts of the architecture remind me of Maine and is at pains to point out all the specific Scandinavian details until I take it back. (I see this becoming a long term point of conversation.) There's a large river where mallard ducks frolic, the males and females nearly indistinguishable now that males are molting out of their mating plumage for another season.

Craig is frustrated that, after all his careful planning, the ticket machines for the buses and trains will not recognize his "international" Visa card. A college student informs us that he has the same problem and that Craig will have to buy his ticket at the desk Monday, using his passport to authenticate the card. Craig is frustrated that we will be unable to make reservations and will have to take pot luck for seating but all the other things he tries also fail. I guess our vacation may be more spur of the moment than we had hoped!


Friday, July 25, 2014

To Hella and back


It is hard to sleep all night when your body- and the sky outside- are telling you it's day. I wake up every hour at least during the night and try to gauge the time by the sounds. I hear the first bird song and a hen cackling to tell everyone she's laid an egg, then finally the clink of silverware from Frances in the kitchen and I know it must be time to get up. Hopefully, I'll be better acclimated to Iceland time now. We have a leisurely lazy morning, still recovering from the day before. Frances fixes a breakfast of cold cereal, cold cuts, cucumbers, her homemade bread, and Skyr - an Iceland product similar to yogurt. Thankfully, there is nary a sheep's head to be seen. We finally get on our way about 10:30-ish, driving in our jerky little stick shift car and trying not to die in the roundabouts. Craig is looking for geysers and geothermal activity; I am looking for animals.

The wind is not bad today, but the on-off rain continues. A big part of the scenery involves hectares of volcanic rubble covered in moss. It is truly unique, so Craig decides to try for a scenic shot when some sunlight finally breaks through onto a portion of the landscape. He pulls off the highway, and goes tromping into the mossy desolation. This is the universal signal for the wind to return. He manages a few shots before scampering back, and reports that the moss is nearly a foot (sorry, 30 centimeters) thick.


The Icelandic horses are everywhere - pasture after pasture. They are smallish creatures - nearly ponies, shaggy, and of all colors. The gaited horses have begun to be in high demand and are a cash crop for Iceland. Once it leaves the Island, a horse can never return. The government means to keep its thousand year old breed pure. When we walk up to a fence, the horses are sociable and come to investigate. We find the Icelandic sheep, however, to be considerably less friendly. When we spot them and try to get a picture, we have to work fast or all we see is a bunch of sheep butts heading in the opposite direction.

We stop in Hveragerdi and Craig takes me tromping out to see fumaroles (the ground vents from which steam is escaping) bubbling mud pots, waterfalls, and streams. It is weird to look at these grass covered hills and mossy rocks and see steam escaping all over in every direction. Sadly, I fail to consider the effect the red iron-rich mud will have on my new shoes. I fear they are now permanently stained - and the only other shoes I brought are sandals!

We stop to eat at a "soup buffet" that seems quite popular with the locals. Along with various kinds of soups, the restaurant sports bread cooked in underground ovens for 24 hours using the heat of the earth alone. Tastes like typical rye bread to me. We have plenty of time before out planned attendance at the Fakasel Icelandic Horse Park for a show, so we just keep driving (less jerkily as the kilometers pass) further on Highway 1, toward Hella (which we sadly learn is pronounced Helka??). We take a few side roads to see various agricultural spreads, try to photograph more sheep (resulting in many images of sheep rear ends), and continue to marvel at our talent for choosing rainy places to visit together.

Fakasel Icelandic Horse Park is an impressive venue - a huge beautiful building and restaurant. The arena looks built for at least 300 viewers but there are barely twenty of us there on a Friday night during summer. I fear for their longevity. I can see why. Compared to Cavalia and other equine shows I have seen, there are few horses and not much variety or originality in performances. For a horse-lover visiting here for the only time however, it's a must do. After the show, not feeling up to the three course meal that would keep us out late before our early flight out in the morning, we stopped by for the Icelander's favorite food. No, it's not the rotten shark - that's their National Food. The top-selling meal in Iceland is - tah dah! - the fried hotdog. Yup, tasted as boring as it sounds. After another soak in the steamy sulfuric waters from the depths, (I talked Craig into taking a dunk too- he found it too warm for his tastes) we are off to bed. Tomorrow, Sweden!


Thursday, July 24, 2014

3,652 miles, not enough sleep, and too many penises

Day 1

At last! I can't believe we're finally flying to Sweden for our 30th anniversary trip! Our plane didn't leave until 4:30 pm, so we had all morning to get breakfast and finish packing. It was really too long. I was ready to go by 10, but I just didn't feel like cleaning barns or house any more! Rob was briefed on care of all the animals. I could tell he couldn't wait for us to leave so he could have the house to himself! At 12:30, we headed for the airport, Rob driving in the pouring rain - worry, worry, worry, hope he can drive home safely in this...

We checked in at IcelandAir - the last airline terminal at the airport. From then on, things were looking up. We were flying business class - "Saga Class" a lucky break since we bought the tickets nearly a year ago when the exchange rate was nearly twice what it is today and business class only about 30% more than econocrunch. Since sitting in the front of the plane is usually more like 200-600% more, we've never done it. We think we could get used to this really fast though... They send us to the First Class lounge. Somewhere behind Gate 6 is a mystical magical place I never dreamed of: quiet, comfortable, uncluttered with the sweating, querulous crush of humanity. A world of padded chairs, open bars, drinks, snacks, and hot soup, where attendants wipe away the feel of the airport with their warm towels and deferential manner. I may never bother to get on the plane! I think, as I sip my tomato basil soup and dip a cracker in my hummus. Never has a wait to board a plane been so enjoyable.

We delay actually getting aboard for as long as possible in our blissful bower, slipping into our wide bourgeois leather seats just as the aircraft is closing its doors. The flight to Iceland is seven hours long - but seems far shorter than many a 3-5 hour flight I've taken scrunched nearly into my seatmate's lap. Dinner is a 3 course affair that whiles away the time, as does a rewatch of Part II of 'The Hobbit" and a movie that I think is one of the best unknown films of all time: "Secondhand Lions." Even though we flew through our night, from the airplane's point of view, the sun never set. We landed in Iceland at 7:30 AM (local time), fetched our bags, practically waltzed through customs, and found ourselves minutes later in the arrival area with a handful of persons standing around with signs for people - but none say Smith, or Craig, or Cindy or anything else hopeful. Even after looking in various places and waiting a half an hour, searching the tiny airport, we see no one. Our American iPhones are on Airplane mode, brought along purely for their camera capabilities. We don't think they would work if turned on here, and don't dare to risk the roaming charges to find out. We try the payphone in the basement- it only does international calls- not local ones. We buy a $30 SIM card only after the shopkeeper assures us it will work in any phone, it doesn't. Our emails to the B and B are still unanswered. Since we scratched the pin code off the back of the SIM card, we can't return it but, the shop boy does allow us to use his phone to call the B and B. Oh, very sorry they said. They sent us an email last week saying the car we were to borrow had broken down. Didn't we receive it? No? Oh sorry, must have sent it to the wrong address. There are 5 car rental places at the airport; 4 are sold out, the last, Hertz, has 2 small cars available - a blue one and a red one. ( I am irresistibly reminded of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.") Sensing fear and desperation, they charge us 39,600 kronor (about $350) for the only game in town. If the B and B had actually emailed us, I could have gotten it for less than half that on Expedia, so I am annoyed, but try gamely to retain my vacation mood. This free stopover to Iceland is getting pricier by the moment.

The blue car is a stick shift. It's been 20 years since we've owned one and Craig forgets to push in the clutch every time he starts it. It becomes an ongoing joke. Reading the Iceland map is confusing too and we get lost a lot. Craig is so desperate he even asks me to help. Not only am I useless with a map, but I'm completely falling asleep. It's past 2:00 am at home and I normally turn into a pumpkin after ten. Here in Iceland though, it's only 9:00 am. The books say the best way to get over jet lag is to stay up until it's time for bed in your new location. I am NEVER going to make it! After many a false turn and two near deaths on the Icelandic two-lane roundabouts (They should warn unsuspecting Yanks how to drive these crazy things!) we make it to the B and B. They are not home. I want to cry, but instead I curl up in the back seat and close my eyes. The sheer bliss of being horizontal is indescribable. At last, the owners arrive and I stumble, zombielike, to collapse on the bed, where I am unconscious in seconds.

An hour and a half later I am still yawning, but able to convince my neurons to produce just enough electrical impulses for speech and minimal ambulation. Our hosts, Ian and Frances, are a retired Scottish couple. The house is very pretty with lovely wood floors and lots of glass - not that I'm betting it helps a lot when it's dark for 6 months. I already get suicidal every February in the Northwest. If I lived here, I'd take the wrong way on one of those roundabouts on purpose! Now it is summer in Iceland though, so it's daylight all the time. "Daylight" does not equate to sunshine, however. It's grey and raining buckets - looks just like home. Why did we come here again? I'm going right back to sleep if I don't keep moving, so we go off to explore the town of Reykjavik. They stuffed us with food on the plane - breakfast just before we landed, so neither of us is hungry. We walk in and out of shops, souvenir hunting and trying to keep moving. We find that, hidden quietly between the T shirt and sweater shops of Reykjavik, there is a museum. And not just any museum. No, this is the world's only Phallic Museum. A museum devoted entirely to penises from every mammal the world around. Given what I do for a living- heck, even the shoes I'm currently wearing have a sperm logo- of course we have to go in. It costs about $20 for both of us. Pricey but, what the hey? The museum is mostly filled with penile specimens from various animal species: elephant, sperm whale, kangaroo, hamster, you name it. One jar is labelled "elf." It is empty. Clearly, the collection was arranged with no little humor and hubris. There is a rather striking collection of some 28 or so silver penises ( I forgot to count) cast from the members of the 2008 Iceland silver medalists (in Team Handball) from the Beijing games. The picture of the team is mounted above the collection. Fortunately, no names are attached to the sculptures, which honor the silver medal with their color. (As one is considerably smaller than the others , this was perhaps a relief to the diminutive.....member.) There are lots of interesting T-shirts, but none I can really see myself wearing ( "The Iceland Phallic museum- It's all about Dicks" and similar versions) so I settle on a discrete black mug with the museum's logo to immortalize our visit.

Craig says he's tired too, but he looks a lot more chipper than I feel. I'm pretty sure the pickled sheep's head the traditional Icelandic cafe is offering on toast has more grey cells than I could muster at the moment. Our hostess strongly recommended we try the local cuisine, but strangely, neither the sheep's head nor the "rotten shark" (I kid you not) is tempting. We finally settle for a bowl of tomato basil soup at an Italian place about 4:00 PM local time, before heading back to finally rest. Our host fills their hot tub with lovely hot water from the earth's core. (Iceland buildings are heated with geothermal energy- virtually free to the populace, and what a blessing that must be in their frigid land.) I soak in the sulfur perfumed water until my whole body is limp as an exhibit in the Phallic museum before finally collapsing into bed after our 27 hour day.









Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Countdown to Scandinavia!


In exactly six (6) weeks, Craig and I will be boarding (Business Class!) IcelandAir on our way to visit Iceland and Sweden. We chose Sweden because Craig served there as a missionary during 1981 and 1982, and he still speaks the language, kind of. (At least he can read the movie posters at the Seattle Film Festival every summer.) We are looking forward to celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary (11 August) by eating at least one Swedish Pastry every day while we are there. Craig also hopes to scarf some serious sill (pickled herring), and I plan on avoiding that altogether.



Flag of Iceland

Flag of Sweden



Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Japan/USA - Day 14 - Back to Reality

     I am limping pretty obviously on my right ankle today.  We had just settled down for bed when the doorbell rang.  Neither Katsuo nor Keiko was home, so we figured it was a neighbor.  I threw on some clothes but, when I went to answer the door, forgot there was a step down and literally fell out the door into the startled faces of our new friends at the restaurant 2 blocks down and around the corner.
     We'd gone there for dinner and given the 3 girls some Disney Pez candy we'd brought along.  They tracked us down to give us a pretty gift box of towels.  Japanese really are ninjas!  (I did the same thing againb- fell down the step when I went back to check that the door was locked, but we won't talk about that, because who would be so stupid as to sprain her ankle twice in the same way, and on the same day?)  Anyway, when I fell out the door on top of them and was so obviously startled they kindly left the gift and a note.  I'll send them a thank you note since I never did thank them properly.
Keiko very kindly returned home from Tokyo early this morning, fixed us breakfast, then had to head out to work again.  She has about a 2 hour commute each way to work, so has had to take a small apartment in Tokyo to sleep some nights.  It was good to see her again.  Later, Katsuo returned from his night shift and was anxious to see to our comfort- rather than ready to crash in his futon as I would have been.  (Really, staying with Keiko and Katsuo has been like staying with your mother's sister's family, whom you've always heard about, but never met. They treat us exactly as I would treat distant relations coming to meet us for the first time.) They even have acquired some of the Ramune in glass bottles that James craved for us to take home!
       So now we have James' blistered feet and my turned ankle.  We really are the walking wounded!  I wanted to see the Tokyo LDS Temple, but it turns out it's just too far away for us to make it there and back in time to catch the 3:00 bus for the airport.  Obviously concerned with my limp, Katsuo tried to convince me to stay in and rest, but no way was I wasting my last day.  Katsuo found some ice packs in the freezer and I stuffed them in my sock.  Then I limped to the convenience store to buy the Japanese  equivalent of Vetrap.  With my ankle nicely supported and numbed, I was ready for one last adventure.
     James wanted to go back to Akihabara, so we headed that way on the train, but ended up getting off at Ueno because we were afraid, by the time we got there, it would already be time to leave.  We happily perused an outside shopping area that seemed more frequented by the locals than by tourists- lots of clothing and produce, rather than touristy knick knacks.
     We had an interesting lunch from a local street vendor - he had 2 spires of roasted turkey and beef, which he sliced paper thin, put in a pita-looking shell, and covered with cabbage and some sort of sweet chili sauce - really good and not an octopus in sight!
     We had a little snag when our train back was taken out of service.  (I don't know if this was routine, or due to the earthquake yesterday.  We never felt anything on the Shinkansen, but I told James when we switched trains that there must have been one since there were earthquake kits stacked up in small hills along the tracks and railway workers in orange vests.  Keiko later confirmed that there had been a small one.)
     Anyway, James went to the information desk and found us another train that got us back just in time for our bus.  Katsuo kindly met us at the station with all our baggage (he hasn't wanted me to have to limp back that far) that he brought by taxi. (How nice is that!)  We said our goodbyes and climbed on our bus, wistful to be at the end of our fascinating adventure.
Pineapple on a stick in Ueno.

Beef and chicken with cabbage on pita bread.  Yum!

The street shop- slicing roast beef and chicken from the towers of meat you see.

James at the airport gloating about the new Pokemon game that won't be available in the US for months.

Keiko said, "Japan is all about not crossing the line."  She noticed the casual way James and I exchange food and taste off of each others' plates.  "In Japan," she said, "We would never do this."  "My food, is my food. Your food, is your food."  She talked about how food is served in small dishes-never touching.  Even in a buffet, there are divided plates like we use for children, so each dish does not touch another.  She showed us the laundry separator bags she uses because even men's and women's clothing must not be washed together.  The woman fixes food for her husband, and she eats separately.  Even married couples sleep apart.  The line between man and woman, husband and wife, parent and child, employer and employee, all these are set by society and not to be crossed.  I wonder how much this will change as successive generations of girls challenge their role in society?  Certainly, we come away with much love and appreciation for this lovely country and her kind citizens.  We have been treated only with the greatest respect and courtesy by all we have met.

     The flight home was crowded, so James and I didn't have that empty seat between us, and the service was much poorer than our flight to Japan.  I think this was due to whatever medical emergency they had on board taking up staff.  Three times they called, first for a doctor, then for any medical personnel.  (I did get up after the second call and tell them where I was if they were desperate enough for a veterinarian, but they must have eventually found someone who treats human animals.)
     I was worried the emergency was the Indian child in the row across from us, who was coughing like he had TB, and who spent most of the ride in the back lavatory where they were calling for help, but the family and child disembarked with us after the paramedics had taken the medical case off via an emergency exit, so it must have been someone else.  Always so nice to breathe recirculated airplane air next to what sounds like a terminal (no pun intended) cough.
     So, the plane was delayed for a while as they off-loaded the emergency case, then we were taken off the plane outside the terminal and bused to a large building with signs saying "Sterile Area."  Just as I was thinking, "Great, the kid had some sort of Avian Influenza and we're all going to be quarantined," the crew started handing out passes for people with short layovers (that was us!) to go through customs first.
     We buzzed through the line, picked up our luggage, made it through another line, rechecked our luggage, and made it to our flight with a half hour to spare.  You could tell instantly when we were back on an American air carrier - they threw our pretzels at us and filled our drink order in classic American "don't bug me" style.  Sigh.  I'm going to miss that part of Japan a lot!  Right on cue, in the LAX terminal, James starts sneezing again.  I took all those allergy pills with me and he didn't need a one!  Now, American allergens recognized and under assault, James' eosinophils are back in business.  Rats.
     James slept most of both flights, but I am feeling seriously jet-lagged.  Rob kept all the birds alive (Good Job Rob!) and it looks like the guys made an actual effort to clean the house up a little.  Yay!
     Craig met me at the airport with a salad - true, it was a pre-made one from Albertsons, and the croutons were mush but, hey it didn't have any kelp in it, so that makes it a real salad.   I'm so tired, I don't think I'll even hear the fireworks tonight.  Happy Birthday, America,  it's good to be home.

Cynthia Smith, DVM

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Japan - Day 13

     Today is primarily a travel day.  We need to take the shinkansen to Shin Osaka, then transfer to Tokyo. We now have 3 small suitcases, having bought one more for the souvenirs we are accumulating.
     We are awakened by a thunderclap like Thor's hammer striking right beside our beds.  James says the lightning was impressive too, but I was facing away from the window and missed it. The thunder was sufficient to wake me though!  I get up and play on the computer for a while until James gets up around 7.  We pack everything carefully and are out of the door by 8:00.
      Our ryokan proprietress asks us to wait while she takes a picture, then prints a copy for us.  Juggling suitcases, backpacks, and umbrellas, we head out into the steaming rain for the tram. Oh my gosh!  It is PACKED with people, a few get off, more get on - goodness knows how, bodies are crammed against all the windows and there are people standing in every available space.  There is absolutely no way we are going to make it on there with 3 suitcases, 2 backpacks, and our American sized-selves.  We wait for the next one- which is just the same.  Several uncrowded trams pass, but none are going the right way.  We hide in a doorway to shelter from the rain, after the 3rd packed tram, I decide it is hopeless.
     We head back to our ryokan, knock on the door, and ask our erstwhile hostess to call a taxi.  She does and we chat in our very limited Japanese and her very limited English while we wait for 15 minutes or so.  It is so hot and damp in her entryway- hard to believe so early in the morning.  She gives us a couple of fans from the travel agency and they help a lot!  No wonder fans are so popular here!  When we leave, she has us keep the fans.
     I worry about how much the taxi will cost.  The tram ride here was over 30 minutes, and that was early in the afternoon in light traffic.  Now we see tram after tram backed up along the road.  The taxi arrives and the driver is fearless! He whizzes in and out of traffic and between trams and buses like a motorcycle driver.  (I am getting used to driving on the left side of the road and no longer think, "I'm going to die!!!" every time we come around a corner to face a car on the right.)  He gets us to the train station in record time and the fare is only $1600 yen, or about $20.  It was soooo worth it!
     Now we've seen rush hour in Japan.  It's not a pretty picture!  I'll take LA any day.  At least you're alone in your car fuming at the delay instead of crammed into a heaving souffle of humanity! Most of the rest of the day was spent on various trains.  We didn't get back to Keiko and Katsuo's until about 7 pm.  Ugh.  We visited with Katsuo for a while, then he went off to work the night shift and we went back to dinner at the little restaurant around the corner we've grown to like so well.  James ordered the shrimp ramen this time, but it came with 5 large squid tentacles.  He chickened out and didn't eat them.  (The cook looked a bit miffed but I think we were forgiven when we gave the grand daughters their Pez candy.)
     Tomorrow our flight leaves at 7:30 pm, but we don't have as much time for sightseeing as we'd thought. We can't take the train until 10 (rush hour again) and need to catch the bus for the airport at 3.  We'll see what we can fit into those 5 hours.