Once Upon a Passport (with never-before seen photos)

Ciao Readers!

Today I am going to wax nostalgic, so your indulgence is required (and appreciated).  As we were planning for our Winter 2015/2016 trip to Europe it dawned on me that my passport might expire before then.  I checked, and sure enough it was getting close – can you imagine going to the airport for a year-long awaited trip to discover your passport was no good?!?!?!  Egad!  In any case, renewing my passport (and looking through the nifty stamps in the old one) made me think about and marvel at everything we have seen and done (and eaten) in the past 10 years.

Ten years ago I did not have a passport; I had never seen a major work of art; I couldn’t have found Slovenia on a map to save my life.  It kinda blows my mind thinking about everything I’ve experienced since then….

Some things I have seen:  The Mona Lisa, The Sistine Chapel, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Stonehenge, Michelangelo’s David, hundreds of works by Van Gogh, the world’s largest indoor Buddha, The Colosseum, Pompeii, Notre Dame and a thousand less-famous but spectacular monuments, churches and works of art.

Some things I have done: Run a 10K around a lake by Mt. Fuji in Japan, taken not one, but two cooking courses at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, marveled at Gaudí and Dalí works in Spain, been left stranded by an ornery bus driver in Croatia, ran into a family of bears hiking Mt. Koyasan, had a line in a movie, climbed the Eiffel Tower, marveled at Venice, discovered cool Slovenia, was stood-up by Green Day in Bologna, saw two versions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway, ran my first (and 2nd – 7th) half marathons, carried cats across the ocean in the cabins of planes….and lived in Italy!

Some things I have eaten: deliciously stinky cheese in France (and amazing breads, and pastries, and….), succulent roasted pig in Croatia, spicy (yay!) Sri Lankin food in Florence, weird and wonderful octopus balls (takoyaki) all over Japan (and all-you-can-stand sushi for 3 months!), frites and herring in Amsterdam, divine Belgium chocolates (in Belgium of course!), everything I cooked at Le Cordon Bleu (Steve specially enjoyed this), the official world’s best gelato in Bologna and enough pizza to feed an Italian army!

Since I’m not getting any younger (who is?), it makes me happy to realize that most of the coolest things I have done, achieved, experienced, etc. have happened after age 30, even more-so after age 40.  So, as you read this and I recover from having my gallbladder out, let’s reminisce and know that there’s more to come!  Thanks for reading!

(Mostly) Never-before-seen photos:

Let’s Take a Side Trip…to Japan!

Okay, I have a confession to make – I have been trying for weeks to figure out how to work a few of the hundreds of cool photos I took in Japan on our 2008 adventure into this blog.  The closest tie-in I can conjure up is that this is a blog about adventure and Japan was nothing if not an AMAZING adventure!  For some reason I fought the idea of a blog the entire 2008 trip, thinking it would be “work.”  Now that I realize I love blogging, I could look back with regret, but that wouldn’t be a very Buddhist thing to do (and Japan was as much about Buddhism as it was about food, as the pictures below can attest).  So what I will do instead is share a couple of the more amusing stories from that trip (that up until now had only been shared in an e-mail or postcard to a few) AND lots of photos!   I hope you Italy-philes will indulge me on this side trip…



A Mountain, A Monk, and…Gorillas???

My mother-in-law (who is originally from Japan) thought a 4-day hike across the sacred mountains of Koyasan in Japan was the perfect way to celebrate her 77th birthday, starting with a stay at Haryoin Temple.  We realized we didn’t pack warm enough for the hike, so we walked into town to get thermal underwear.  As I cannot read Japanese, my mom-in-law picked out my package of long johns.  Back in our temple room I tried on the underwear, to find out they were so big I could pull them up to my neck.  Standing there in nothing but underwear pulled up to my neck (sorry, no photo) I heard a tap on the door; expecting it to be my mom-in-law and posing for her so we could have a good laugh I stated “dozo” (welcome, come in).  To my great surprise, it was the temple’s head monk that walked in the door!  In very Buddhist fashion, he made no notice of my ridiculous attire and proceeded in his task of lighting the incense in our room – but I was mortified!

In addition to the lack-of-preparedness for the temperature, my mom-in-law didn’t really research the terrain, so along the more-challenging-than-expecting hike, Steve and I would take turns carrying her pack while the other scoped-out the trail ahead (picture here, worth a thousand words):

One time when I was the scout, I heard tree branches breaking and saw 3 jet-black hairy figures bound through the trees ahead.  Not being the most educated naturalist, I could have sworn they were gorillas.  I was scared!  In order to warn Steve and my mother-in-law, I got a post-card from my pack and wrote “DANGER – GORILLAS – SERIOUSLY!!!” and put it in the middle of the trail weighed down with rocks (I specifically underlined AND capitalized the “SERIOUSLY” so they wouldn’t think I was being my usual smart aleck-y self).  As there are (duh) no gorillas in Japan (these turned out to be small black bears), they both thought I was kidding and had a great laugh, unaware of my fear and the need for caution                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Culture Shock

There are so many funny “culture shock” stories from this trip.  A few of them are captured in the photos above (e.g., the toilet, the KFC).  Another happened on one of the occasions where we would get home sick and try to do something we would do back home (like make “Mexican” food [with soy beans] or go to a cheesy matinee [36$ lesson]).  We decided to go to a gym and work out.  Just trying to be allowed in took 2 days as we could never seem to bring the proper equipment with us (second pair of clean shoes, bathing cap, etc.).  But the really hysterical part of the story happened the day we finally did work out.  As we learned, Japanese people like to work out with the heater cranked.  Combine that with my run on a treadmill and I was HOT and thirsty!  I kept trying to find a water fountain, but to no avail.  Finally, across the gym by the weights I spotted it – the ubiquitous vending machine…I was saved!  I hurried to the machine expecting to find water and all sorts of wonderfully strange exercise beverages.  Instead, right there, in the middle of a GYM, was a vending machine filled with….. CIGARETTES!!!

Tale of the (Dead) Panda
When we were in Tokyo we decided to venture out to the Ueno zoo since they had a giant panda (Ling Ling) and I had never seen one in person.  The anticipation built as we neared the zoo and encountered all sorts of panda-related items – giant statues, posters, vending carts with stuffed pandas, you name it!  The entrance to the zoo was similarly decorated with panda-phanelia.  When we got into the zoo, there was even a place to take your picture with a stuffed panda.  We excitedly went in the direction of the panda sign, but after at least 15 minutes of searching and walking in circles by cute (but little) pandas, we gave up and went to the information booth.  A women bowed her head and handed Steve a laminated piece of paper that said (in English) something close to “We apologize.  Ling Ling dead.  Please enjoy your day at zoo.”   It turns out that Ling Ling had passed away quite some time ago, but as we had already learned on our trip, refunds are really not heard of in Japan, so we did the best we could to heed the advice on the laminated paper and enjoy our day!  (Here is a picture of me making the Japanese “ja nai” sign [no, can’t, forbidden, not here] in front of the stuffed panda):

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