As part of my last week in Japan, my partner and I rented an apartment in Machida, Tokyo. I had poured hours into research, determining all the different things we could do. One thing that came to mind was the Yokohama ferris wheel. It's one of the sights people think of when they think of Japan. (Actually, the main reason I thought about it was due to a windows theme that featured photos of Japan.) Anyway, I looked it up and discovered there was an entire amusement park surrounding the ferris wheel. That makes sense of course, silly me.
So I invited my friend to come to Cosmo World with us, and found the fastest route. Apparently, we were really lucky with the apartment location since the trains only took 40 minutes. Believe me, 40 minutes and under is a fast commute.
Of course, since we had all just gotten up, we wanted to eat first - there were a few restaurants nearby. We ended up eating at a T.G.I.F. for the simple fact that it was open (and it wasn't soup). The food was great, and we had a fantastic view of Cosmo Clock 21.
Then we marched onwards! What shall we find? What shall we do?
We arrived at Sakuragichou, but we could have also gone to Mintaomirai. From there it was a simple task of heading towards the enormous ferris wheel. The walk was really beautiful, since we had to cross over a re-purposed bridge that was fully decked out with perfectly trimmed trees, lights and speakers playing soft jazz. Then (due to horsing around) I tripped over my own feet, ripped my capris, and skinned my knee on the ground.
It was a minor injury. I didn't even notice it.
The closer we got, the more excited I became! I love amusement parks! I really, really do! Any opportunity I have, I take it! I'm not sure what I like most about them. I pretty much like it all, honestly. Although, I've never been crazy about carnival games. They're okay but you know they're a total rip-off.
Cosmo World has 3 different zones, each targeted towards a specific age group, but each area has something for everyone. There's the Kids Carnival Zone (children), Burano Street Zone (adolescents), and the Wonder Amuse Zone (adults). We spent most of our time in the Wonder Amuse Zone, but we also ventured over to the Burano Street Zone. I wanted to go on more rides, including one particular carnival classic. This ride may or may not include intricately decorated show ponies...
This park doesn't have day passes, oddly enough. They only sell "tickets". You can see how much each ride costs and purchase tickets marked with that amount. When you hand the ticket over, they scan it and remove the cost of the ride. Pretty smart.
The very first ride we got on was the Flume Ride: Cliff Drop ~Zekkyo-GP~. At the time, we had no idea what the scoreboard meant. We got on the ride and since I'm a bundle of nerves, I was screaming frequently. The worst part was the final fall. It's an 18m drop of 46 degrees. It doesn't sound that steep, but trust me, it is.
We were immediately blown away by the simple beauty of the room. Wonderful tatami floors, accompanied by a traditional kneeling table and chairs, and adorned with a beautiful tea set. We were given a quick tour before we had a moment alone to admire our room. A set of chairs looked out onto the outdoor patio, right next to the stocked bar. Outside our glass sliding doors was an outdoor shower, and an open air hot springs bath. Our own, private hot spring! Lucky for us, there was a tall fence and walls surrounding the private patio, but still a noticeable view of the mountains and trees. Soon enough, the attendant returned and asked us to sit down. She served us green tea and gave us a delicious mochi snack. She left us alone and we delighted in our situation.
I finally removed my shoes and slipped on the provided ones, where we were then ushered into a little dining area with a fantastic, panoramic view. A woman, obviously proficient in English, asked when we would like to schedule dinner, and breakfast in our room before whisking us away down the hall. She gave us a little tour of the facilities, pointing out the bathrooms and accompanying segregated male, and female hot spring baths. There were delightful copper sinks in the hall, which gleamed invitingly. I squealed with delight at every turn in the corridor. Every inch of this place felt authentic, and warm. Soon she showed us to the elevator and informed us which floor the room was located. My partner and I squeezed into the little elevator, while the woman in her tabi and sandals, took the stairs and met us on the same floor. Again, the customer service and enthusiasm impressed me to no end. She quickly escorted us to our room and as soon as we entered the little foyer and genkan, I removed the slippers and stepped up onto raised platform. She thanked me, almost profusely, making it obvious that many foreigners didn’t recognize the faux pas.
When we finally reached the Hakone-Yumoto station, we were starting to get really excited. We found the bus heading in the right direction by asking at information – and felt really fortunate when they spoke English – then prepared for our final leg of the journey. Our stop was approximately 20 minutes away, but it took a little longer since there were delays. The road to the ryokan was a long, twisty road up a mountain. The further we travelled, the more we wondered where we were headed. I started to panic a little (as I do) and hoped that we actually caught the right bus. I wanted to make sure we made our check-in time. I would hate to be late. It would be absolutely unseemly.
We crossed the road and as we were admiring the brilliant visage ahead of us, a man in traditional work garb was bouncing down the stairs with a clipboard. My partner and I looked at one another before the man eagerly greeted us, then said the name the reservation was under. We nodded, impressed with the immediate and enthusiastic service. We hadn’t even gotten to the bottom of the stairs leading to the impressive ryokan. We followed him as he led us through the antique sliding doors, and were instantly set upon by a whole team of women in kimonos. They smiled warmly and encouraged us to remove our shoes in the genkan and replace them with slippers. When they saw the size of my partner’s feet, they quickly and quietly switched them out with larger ones. I was struggling to remove my shoes and was leveraging myself on my partner’s shoulder, when one of the women scurried away to bring me a special bamboo stand especially designed for that purpose. I couldn’t believe the already outstanding service.
During my Christmas break, I had the luck and fortune to visit a few great places in the Kanto region. I visited Hakone (world renown for their hot springs), Tokyo, and Nikko (home of many famous temples and shrines). In Tokyo, I had the opportunity to see a few of the major tourist attractions, including: Shibuya, Shinjuku, Asakusa, Roppongi Hills, the Tokyo Skytree, and just outside of Tokyo – Mitaka, where the Studio Ghibli Museum is located. In order to see all of Tokyo, you would honestly need at least a full week. There is so much to see and do. Many things require reservations in advance and can only be done with enough forethought. My significant other and I had been thinking about what sort of things we’d like to do together, since he was going to visiting me during my break. We came up with ideas and made the appropriate arrangements.
The first place we visited was Hakone! We reserved our room weeks in advance (although it would be better to do it even earlier if you want more time). I spent a long time researching different ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) in the area and found out a number of them offer rooms with a private, outdoor hot spring bath. This really appealed to both of us – and it wasn’t long after that we sorted through our top choices and settled on one. A place called, “Mikawaya Ryokan”. It was established in 1883 and is one of the most popular ryokans in Hakone. After our visit, I completely understand why.
I currently reside in Utsunomiya, Tochigi and that’s where our journey first started. We took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Omiya, which is about a 30 minute ride, and then another 30 minute train ride to Shinjuku. From there we wandered around the station for a bit and enjoyed some time at a café while we waited for our Romancecar train to Hakone. We had booked the tickets in advance and discovered that the train name was slightly misleading. While it was a scenic route, I wouldn’t necessarily call it romantic since it carried passengers of every description between Shinjuku and Hakone. Although we did enjoy the 100 minute ride with a few drinks bought from the cart.
What happened next? Well, it didn’t take long to finish a cup of tea and run outside into the brisk air. One hot shower later, we braved the even hotter waters of the hot spring. We quickly discerned that we needed to turn on the cold water faucet positioned above the hot spring. We had been warned prior to using it that it would be necessary to use cold water – boy, she wasn’t kidding. I thought maybe she was just being cautious. No, that was a real hot spring with insanely hot, natural water pouring in to the bath. Thank goodness for the cold water as a method to temper the heat. When we finally reached the ideal temperature, we sat back and enjoyed the chill mountain air, and natural, Earthly heat.
After a brief hiccup paying for bus fare, since my partner had never experienced getting change from the machine up front nor recognized all of the currency – we were finally at our stop. The bus pulled away and across the road was our beautiful, Japanese inn. We looked around and saw gorgeous views of the valley below us, since we had climbed the mountain and we were now towering over the little town. We arrived just 5 minutes before check-in, and this made me a little anxious. I was eager to get settled in our room.
When morning finally came, we woke up a bit early to take our final dip in the hot springs. A startling wake-up call from the cold air, followed by an immediate hot shower (and a couple of traditional buckets of water), and we were in the bath enjoying the startling heat and rising steam. We had closed the paper doors between the main room, and the bar room so that if they came early with breakfast, we would be fine. Sure enough, they arrived earlier than anticipated. We could hear the rattling of dishes and movement as we sat in the glory of the morning light. I suddenly realized I wasn’t sure I could get out of the bath, so I sent my partner in to put on his robe and check. The attendant had left but in her absence, sat breakfast – ready and waiting. I scrambled for my yukata, and sat down, eager and hungry for another spectacular meal. I was not disappointed. Rice, miso soup, fried fish, and a couple of dishes I can’t name, but enjoyed.
Their timing was always perfect, it wasn’t long after we finished dessert and were contemplating another session in the hot spring when two men came in and quickly cleaned up the room in the most orderly and efficient fashion. They pushed the table aside and set up the futons as easily, and professionally as a pit crew. Night had finally spilled over the horizon, when we sat in the hot springs sharing sweet plum wine and admiring the night sky.
Hours slipped by, we eventually got out of the bath and put on our yukatas. They were comforting. My partner turned on some Japanese TV while we waited for dinner time. As per Japanese culture, dinner arrived early. Our attendant laid out a few dishes – sushi, sashimi, pickled vegetables, and two burners topped with a metallic bowl of sea inspired soup. We sat in awe of our bubbling soup, and made agreeable sounds when eating the sashimi. There was quite a bit of food, but it didn’t take long for more food to be brought out. Beautiful cuts of fish and steak, more interesting food atop the burner, and of course an assortment of unrecognizable Japanese cuisine. We ate up the delicious food, and was served with yet another dinner course. We continued to marvel at the wonderful dinner and did our best to finish. When she brought the final dinner course, she let us know to call the front desk and ask for dessert. They served a mixture of sweet and unusual dishes, before we finally felt absolutely full.
When we finally finished eating, we realized that we’d have to get ready to leave our dream destination. We prepared for our departure and finally said our goodbyes to the room. My loving and incredibly generous partner took care of the bill while he sent me to the gift shop to check it out. The staff called us a taxi back to the station, and we lamented our leaving. Our trip back down the mountain in the morning light was quiet and unwinding. The views were breathtaking and wondrous. We finally arrived back in town, and bought a few things in a little shop before buying another ticket back to Shinjuku.
Today we commemorate a strange holiday called, "National Roof Over Your Head Day". No one knows the exact origins of this holiday but I think it's an important thing to consider since many people do not have the luxury of shelter.
Every time I encounter a homeless person I feel such sorrow and shame. Sorrow because it's a very difficult situation and it's even harder to solve. Shame because I feel like I could be doing more but I don't know what that more could possibly be.
Last year my partner and I purchased our first home together. It was a large investment but we both felt that it made the most sense. Every day I'm grateful for the wonderful home I'm living in. It's warm, comforting and it's always there. I know I'm incredibly lucky. Before we decided on purchasing a place we looked at renting. It's outrageously expensive, unstable, the neighbours are not always pleasant and your rights are very limited. Living in a rented space is very common and for some a stepping stone.
Long before I ever met my partner I had lived in an apartment with my first boyfriend. It was a nice location but the apartment was a humble bachelor suite - in other words no bedroom. While it wasn't a bad size I can tell you it's not all that great for two people. Perhaps for one person it's quite reasonable but for a couple, it can make things tense and stressful. I suppose what made it more trying in my situation was the fact we didn't have a stable income. I worked and he worked but he would inevitably quit. Over and over and over again. This made it difficult to get enough money for rent and utilities, never mind food or recreation. So we barely lived from paycheque to paycheque. Sometimes we borrowed ahead on our paycheques or went to the local grocery store where every cart returned meant one dollar.
When I think back on how hard it was in that little bachelor apartment I remember thinking how close we were to being homeless. The months we couldn't pay the rent on time and begged the landlord for patience and compassion. It wasn't easy. In fact it inspired me to go to university. More than ever I appreciate the fine line between having a place to call your own, no matter how small and sleeping in a cardboard box.
So today I celebrate how lucky I am to have a roof over my head.
I had the excellent fortune to attend a Just for Laughs event in my city. In case you were wondering, Just for Laughs hosts comedians to travel to different venues. I was extremely excited since I've seen their events on television numerous times but never had the opportunity to attend an event until now. It was absolutely fantastic. The show featured Last Comic Standing John Heffron along with Godfrey, Canadian comedienne Debra Digiovanni, Jim Breuer, Roman Danylo and Diana Frances. I didn't find out the show's theme until we actually arrived and it turned out to be "The Relationship Edition". Perfect for my partner and I on a night out.
Roman Danylo and Diana Frances opened the night with improv to get everyone started. They were great. With audience suggestions they turned something mundane into something exciting and hilarious. A great way to open a show and get everyone ready to laugh. John Heffron came out next and hosted the show. He did a fantastic opening bit. He discussed the difference between being in a relationship as a man in his early 20's to being a married man at 42. One of the funniest things he mentioned was going out to dinner with his wife. He goes on to say that he didn't expect a performance review. He was quite funny.
Next was Godfrey, an honest and very active comic. He brought the stage to life with hilarious comments on everyday life. He made jokes about everything from the incredibly cold Canadian weather and mitten wearing to Victoria's Secret and American Airlines. I laughed particularly hard while watching him. He really knew how to make people laugh. He was quite a ham.
There was a brief intermission before they continued on to one of the most well known and respected comics, Debra Digiovanni. If you've ever watched Much Music's Video on Trial, you would be familiar with her kind of sardonic humour. Most of her humour is self deprecating, something I truly appreciate. I like when a comic can make fun of themselves. It's too easy to make fun of others. She's really very intelligent and witty. She's the one comic I would love to meet in person. I think she'd be terrific fun.
Last but not least was Jim Breuer. In a way he was similar to John Heffron, in comedy and appearance. He also commented on the inner workings of marriage but extended it to having children. After he was done I couldn't help but be more afraid of the possibility of ever having children. Children are a handful. Regardless, all the comedians were truly on their game. I appreciated every minute. I love to laugh. If Just for Laughs returns, I will be there.
At the end of October my city had the pleasure of hosting the Star Wars Identities Exhibition. I had been looking forward to it since last year when I first heard they were coming. Up until today I could only imagine what wonders were in store and my goodness, it was wondrous. I visited the exhibit with my family and partner. I suppose the first thing I should mention is that I had bought tickets online for a specific time, well it turns out they were running an hour behind schedule. Even though we showed up early we didn't have the pleasure of getting into the exhibit for over an hour. What did we do with our time? Browsed the other galleries and mostly waited in line. Despite the long wait I would have to say it was definitely worth it.
When we finally made it to the front of the line we were presented with an ear piece, receiver and wrist band. Then we watched a quick 5 minute video on the quest we had all undertaken to discover the hero inside of each of us. It made me so very excited. I cannot fully explain the excitement that was coursing through my veins. Star Wars has been one of my favourite stories my entire life and here I was about to witness some of the greatest props, costumes and concept art that has ever existed. I got to see Boba Fett, C-3P0, R2-D2, Yoda, Han, Leia, Chewbacca...you name it! They were all there!
Maybe you're wondering what they meant by discovering the hero inside of us, well the wristbands we were given were more special than any of us realized. The exhibition had an interactive feature; inside were 10 stations each with a question designed to develop a personal character. You would press the wristband against an illuminated hexagon and voila! You would make choices in order to pick what kind of Star Wars character you wanted to create. The questions ranged from what species you are, how your parents raised you, what your personality was like to choosing the empire or rejecting the offer.
The best part about creating your own character was the consideration they had put into designing these questions. They actually used a variety of psychological theories that were very familiar to me. I truly appreciated that. What an awesome and brilliant idea! Not only were we able to enjoy the amazing movie props but we each created a unique and memorable character. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Star Wars Identities you should take it! I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was truly a wonderful experience.
I'm finally back! After a week vacation and a few days in between, I'm finally back to blogging. It's been an adventure! My partner and I took a trip to Kelowna, British Columbia (BC)! We drove the whole way there. It's about 900 km or in case you don't use the (far superior) metric system, it's about 560 miles. It's quite a long way. Google Maps thought it would take about 11 hours but let's just say we made it in record time. The first photo you see on the right is a picture of the major highway between Edmonton and Calgary. It's named the QE2 (Queen Elizabeth II Highway), it used to be just the #2 before the Queen visited. . .
One of the most beautiful features about Calgary is its proximity to the mountains. You can look off into the distance and see them standing majestically. It's quite the sight. Although they may look far away, they're actually very close. It doesn't take very long before you're driving in between them and enjoying their spectacular heights up close.
As soon as we entered the mountains we encountered dense fog and thick rain. This is fairly common since the weather in the mountains is rather fickle and no matter what time of year you're bound to see some rain but this was the most rain I've ever seen. It pretty much rained the entire time. It was fairly dangerous under those conditions since you tend to encounter thick herds of traffic on narrow twisty roads. Yet it was exciting and unexpected, it's been awhile since we've taken a road trip.
Throughout the mountains there are warning signs of falling rocks. A cost effective method of preventing the rocks from hitting the road seems to be these hanging chains. They're fairly common. Every time I've been in the mountains I try to think of what they might be named. There must be a name for them, there's a name for everything. While I was calling them hanging chains my partner came up with the name, "geological lateral restraining harnesses". I laughed so hard! That's what I get for asking a civil engineer.
A memorable aspect of the journey are the tunnels. Located in Rogers Pass between Golden and Revelstoke, there are 6 tunnels. Ever since I was a child traveling through BC I would look forward to going through the tunnels. I'm not sure why but I've always enjoyed them. This still hasn't changed now that I'm older. I guess I always imagined them as portals to an unknown and mysterious land. Thank you, imagination.
As we finally neared the resort the weather transformed into beautiful clear skies with the fading light of dusk. I love taking photos. I find that true beauty can always be found in the wonders of nature.
The road leading to the resort was definitely one of the more frightening roads I've been on. It's all sharp corners and no passing lanes right next to a sheer drop.
At last, our room. Well, this is the part of the room where we spent the most time so it seemed like the most important photo to share. Whether it was watching a movie together or eating our daily breakfast of eggs, bacon and english muffins with salmon cream cheese. Mmm!
For the rest of the week I will be blogging about my stay in BC. Readers I say to you, come for the photos and stay for the story.
I wasn't looking forward to yesterday at all but it seems no matter what you can still be surprised. I might have to admit as well that having a good day is largely dependent on yourself. No one else is responsible for your happiness, just you. It's a hard pill to swallow but every day is only as good as you make it. I digress.
Yesterday truly was a great day. It started off with my partner waking me up with breakfast in bed. That's truly impressive since they have to work early in the morning, yet they took the time to make sure I had breakfast. Very sweet. While they were at work I slept in a little then woke up and just lounged around instead of my usual write, write, write business. I watched a movie and played a video game. It was nice just to relax and not stress about submission dates or pages I need written.
My partner came home from work early just for me. It was nice to spend some real quality time together. We relaxed a bit before getting ready to go downtown. The day before my birthday I decided what I wanted to do. First we visited the art gallery. I love strolling through the rooms looking at all the different forms of art. We saw modernist paintings from the Automatiste Revolution (1941-1960). Many of them captured the essence of motion. I wish I could share my favourites but they did not allow photography. The best part of the art gallery was the exhibition of contemporary art and the baroque entitled, Misled by Nature. Never in my life have I ever felt such fascination and awe while I gazed at these installation pieces. I so badly wanted a million photos of each one. They were all spectacular. One piece could best be described as a yeti decomposing into the earth. Another was an impressive chandelier hanging in a room full of mirrors (there were even mirrors on the floor). There was also a magical hut that was made out of what seemed to be wax. It looked and felt like a fairy getaway in the middle of a forest. I particularly liked that one. My partner's favourite was three panels of framed decorative patterns made out of bindis. The most interesting installation was this giant open sphere that you could describe as a world under construction. There were so many facets to it that it was truly something to behold.
After the amazing exhibitions we had a dinner reservation with a restaurant I have always wanted to visit named, La Ronde. The restaurant is at the top of a hotel on the 24th floor allowing for a magnificent view. The best part, the restaurant rotates, doing a full rotation in 90 minutes. We were able to see a unique and stunning view every time we looked out the window, whether it was of the rolling river valley or the lights of downtown. What made it truly romantic was the sunset during our dinner. As though the view wasn't spectacular enough, the food was absolutely stellar. The menu is superb and thoughtful. To start we had Classic Steak Tartare with brioche toast points and Escargots Bourguignonne En Croute. The steak tartare was delicious but the escargots was phenomenal. The little dish had a pastry top that when eaten together with an escargot made me wish I never ate anything else. For the main course my partner had a lovely prime rib while I ordered Roast Brome Lake Duck Breast with bigarade sauce and roast baby potatoes. I have always wanted to try duck and thought it was the perfect opportunity. I made the right decision, I have never eaten anything so succulent. To round out the perfect entrees my partner ordered a seafood melange of shrimp, scallops and lobster. I'm allergic to shrimp but let me tell you, scallops are usually bland but these scallops were delectable, not to mention the outstanding lobster. To top it all off we had dessert. What I haven't mentioned was the outstanding service we received. When I ordered my Cinnamon Creme Brulle the waitress remembered it was my birthday and brought it out with a sparkler. She also tastefully sang happy birthday. It was a lovely touch. I love sparklers! The creme brulle was perfect while my partner's pistachio and white chocolate slice was amazing. All in all it was an amazing dinner. I would highly recommend LaRonde to anyone, just be prepared to pay the price for a truly wonderful experience. You won't forget it, I know I won't.
We returned home, happy and more than satisfied. My partner then gave me my present. It was delivered in a giant box from Amazon and had been teasing me for days. I had ideas about what it was, one in particular but the size baffled me. So I finally opened it. It was the Harry Potter Wizards Collection! All 8 movies on Blu-Ray, DVD and in digital copies! Not only that but it came in the most wondrous and impressive box that included 2 different maps of Hogwarts, many pieces of art, beautiful books and the Horcrux necklace. I had been looking at it online for months but I never knew how big it was! It's enormous! Not to mention heavy! The only downside about the box is the decision about where to put it!
After all that excitement we sat down for a relaxing movie. I picked one of my very favourite movies all time (should have included it in my Top 10). It's called "The Flight of Dragons". It's a brilliant animated film about the struggle for magic to survive in a world turning to logic and science. I really love it. My partner had never seen it so it was nice to share it with them.
All in all it was a stupendous birthday. I'm truly thankful to have such a loving partner. Now you can enjoy some scenic photos! (They were taken with my iPhone 3GS.) On a sidenote, today is the first day of snow!
I woke up from a nightmare this morning and remembered it long enough to write it down. I actually woke up crying. I had been crying in my dream and apparently crying outside of my dream as well. So after writing it all down I decided this would be a good time to briefly analyze what happened.
In the nightmare I spend all my time trying to contact my partner and eventually go searching for them. When I do find them they don't remember me and I'm horrified. In the nightmare I don't understand what's happening and my family keeps making references to an alternate reality that no longer exists. When my partner finally walks away from me and leaves me behind as an emotional wreck, I come face to face with some much deeper feelings.
I wake up and realize that I never want my partner to leave. Those were feelings I hadn't come to terms with in real life since I never thought that it was a possibility. When I had to treat it like reality I felt a severe emotional loss, comparable to a close family member. I love my partner and I'm glad it was just a tragic nightmare. I'm going to make sure they know how much I love them. I think the same goes for everyone else in my life too. I want them all to know I love and care about all of them. We never know what's going to happen. Life is unpredictable.
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