Last night, we disembarked our plane onto a hot, humid tarmac way past dinnertime. This is one of the things that always makes me think of Asia. Yes, we are on the road again, and this weekend, we are visiting the Kingdom of Ryukyu, which is better known to the greater world as Okinawa. Okinawa is similar in some ways to Taiwan, being just a hop, skip, and 90-something minute flight away, but it’s also, as we are finding out, a distinct place all its own, even different from Japan.
We are staying in an Airbnb in Naha City, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, and the biggest city on the island. Okinawa itself is known as 沖縄, which means “rope in the sea”, as it is a long, thin island, with Naha City at its most densely settled bottom section. Other than being here just for a visa run (those pesky 90 day limitations on staying in Taiwan…), we figured it was a good time to get reacquainted with Japan and something new.
This morning, first up was my renewed appreciation of FamilyMart, which is bigger here than 7-11 as far as convenience stores go. Other than getting breakfast, I was hoping really hard that someone there had a pin which could trigger the SIM card holder on my smartphone. I needed badly to switch my Taiwanese SIM with my US T-Mobile SIM so I could have slow, albeit real data access here in Japan. Our smiling FamilyMart cashier rang up our breakfast rice snacks, was quite confused at my request initially (the language barrier not being the only problem), and then lit up with understanding, and promptly unpinned the nametag that she wore on her shirt. It was perfect for our uses, and in a trice had my SIM card slot popped out so I could switch it. We profusely thanked her (arigato being one of two Japanese words we know), and emerged triumphant to start our day. Continue reading Evening in Okinawa.→
For me, Edinburgh will always evoke an image of calm and comfort, a cup of fragrant earl grey, and a scone piled high with butter and jam. Steve and I spent almost three days here (July 14-17), walking through very historic streets and scaling its heights to see the surrounding scenery, and braving the occasional showers. We left too soon, but I have hopes that we’ll be back.
We stayed for three nights at an apartment in Edinburgh’s Old Town, and spent most of our time wandering up and down the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a gently sloping road which bisects Edinburgh, dividing the New Town (not so new, dating from the 1700s) in the north from the Old Town in the South. On the western end is Edinburgh Castle, and after walking by about 45 stores specializing in kilts and cashmeres, on the eastern end is Holyrood Palace, where the Queen keeps her apartments when she comes to Scotland. Just south of the palace is Holyrood Park, a vast inverted green bowl that rises hundreds of meters into the air. It is punctuated by brown rocky craigs and hills, and from street level, you can see people climbing their way up the hill like so many ants. It is an imposing height, but not at all an imposing hike, as we covered the highest peaks of the park within three hours (including a half-hour nap!). Continue reading Wandering down the Royal Mile.→
Written on the TGV Narbonne, France to Barcelona, Spain Saturday, June 7, 20h00
I am writing from the train once more. At the underground station where we are stopped temporarily, “Benvenidos a Girona/Benvinguts a Girona/ Welcome to Girona/ Bienvenue a Girona” scrolls across the display screens. We have crossed into Catalonia, the region of Spain at its northwest which some would say overlaps with French territory as well. I haven’t seen “Salida” on an exit sign since we left Chicago, and the signs in Spanish simultaneously convey that we are in a new country, but somehow echo memories of walking around Pilsen or Little Village in Chicago, where the Mexican community is the majority.
Outside, at first glance, the landscape does not look different. Our train has tunneled through the Pyrenees that divide the two countries, but it is still hilly and mountainous, with small villages and towns. Our train is full of English speaking visitors, some young college-age girls and some older English retirees. Steve and Lele both look tuckered out by our travels, and doze a little despite the bright evening sun. It is 8 pm, but of course, because we are traveling further west in the same time zone, we can look forward to more and more hours of sunlight in the evening. Tonight, I predict the sun will set around 10 pm. Continue reading Crossing the Pyrenees.→