Japan
We arrived in Japan with no real plans, very little money, and a huge desire to get as far away from the ship (literally and emotionally) as possible before the looming 12-day journey to Seattle. After a quick subway ride we used hand signals and our newly acquired Japanese phrase book to book our train tickets and the first night's accommodation at a "quaint farmhouse" minshuku (B&B) in Takayama. We hopped on the shinkansen (bullet train) in Osaka and then connected to a local train in Nagoya. We knew we were in the right spot when we arrived to our tatami floor mats, sliding doors, and public bath at our inn.

After a traditional Japanese breakfast at our minshuku, the owner dropped us at the morning market in Takayama. We spent the morning wandering through the historic crafting streets, admiring pottery, woodworking, textiles, and hand-made paper. The old quarter of the city of Takayama has been preserved with the architecture as it was in the Edo period and we marvelled at all the impressive details. The spring flowers were also impressive, with cherry trees blooming over the river and blossoms in front of every house.


After cutting the chill of the morning's walk with a nice warm bowl of udon soup (Alyne would be proud of Patti), we headed out for the loop tour through the castle ruins, Buddhist temples, and dozens of Shinto shrines. The driving rain started shortly after we headed up the mountain to the remains of the local castle! It continued for the remainder of the afternoon, as we deciphered the Japanese map and marvelled at the impressive architecture. Fully drenched by the time we got back to town, we warmed up with some hot cocoa at a local café before heading back to our minshuku for a long, hot dip in the bath and a traditional dinner around the hearth.


The next day, we were in search of mountain onsen (hot springs - public baths). We caught the local bus towards the higher elevations and managed to get off at a stop where the onsen was closed! Fortunately, a kind Japanese couple took pity on us (they were also hoping to go to the onsen) and offered us a ride to the next one. As you can see, the scenery was spectacular - who knew? We utlimately did find an open onsen, and cooked ourselves for almost an hour before collapsing in the automatic massage chairs outside. The baths had views of the mountains! We rounded out the day with a touristy ride up Asia's longest ropeway where we took this picture at the summit.

That night, we moved to a ryokan nearer the train station. For dinner, we wimped out and tried a western place, run by a hysterical Belgian guy. On the walk home, we encountered kimono-clad entertainers ducking in and out of karaoke bars and clubs.

The next morning featured a quick walk through the other morning market, a dash to find a bakery before our train, and the return train rides back to the ship in Osaka. The scenery for the first leg, which had been in the dark on our way there, was spectacular - including views of the Alps, the valleys, the rivers, and dozens of small farming communities. Our time in Osaka was very limited - and mostly consisted of Patti looking for the chocolate chip cookie bakery in Shin-Osaka! We spent the last of our Yen on a ferris wheel ride over the ship!

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