Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Travel: Kyoto

Our 10 day trip to Japan included three distinct cities in Kansai: Osaka (huge), Kyoto (medium, like San Francisco) and Koyasan (tiny). After arriving in Japan, we spent the night in Osaka - but let's come back it at the end.

Kyoto was super lovely. Just big enough to be a real city but perfectly walkable/bikeable and with a lot of personality. Thanks to a reader suggestion from Andrea, we stayed at the Palace Side Hotel, a cute and affordable place in a neighborhood-y part of town.

The best way to get around Kyoto is bike. Even if you're not a great rider (me), the city is flat and the style of riding is slow, safe, on a bike low to the ground and on the sidewalks. Since there's virtually no street crime, you just leave your bike anywhere protected only by a tiny built-in lock. We rented bikes with baskets cheaply from the hotel.

One of our favorite days started by exploring the Daitoku-ji area which is packed with temples, shrines and zen gardens. There was an event happening while we there and hundreds of women were dressed up in kimonos. Easily felt like we had traveled back in time 100 years.

That same day, we visited the Temple of the Gold Pavilion. The travel books tell you to avoid this famous landmark during rush hour but we found the enthusiasm of groups of Japanese tourists and school kids totally infectious. The gold really doesn't disappoint!

We also saw Nijo Castle and To-ji Temple in Kyoto. Toji was having a big shrine sale which was fun to explore and unexpectedly delivered amazing photos. We spent a busy day out at Arashiyama, but I'll cover that in a separate post.

The temples and historic sites were fascinating, but my favorite part of Kyoto was just seeing how people live in the city. Riding the train, biking along the river, eating in all kinds of restaurants, shopping, finding the post office and wandering around. Did you know that the Japanese have incredible bakeries and bookstores? I didn't expect that at all!

Monday, November 28, 2011

We're back!

What an amazing trip! 10 days in Japan now seems more like a few months of vacation. So many temples, restaurants, shops, trees, monkeys....all of it amazing.

I'm still sifting through the photos and recovering from jetlag. Stay tuned for all the details!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Away we go!

I've figured out how to say "yes" but not "no" in Japanese. And I think I know how to get to the first hotel from the airport. That's about it. Time for an adventure!

Happy Thanksgiving. See you in December.

To Do: Xerxes

Rob and I went to the opera last night to see Xerxes. I considered cancelling altogether in favor of packing for Japan, but I'm so glad I didn't. This was my favorite show of the season so far!

Weighing in at a whopping 3 hours and 40 minutes, with Handel's famously repetitive "second verse same as the first" phrasing - this opera could be a beast. But the clever sets, a sense of humor and amazing vocal acrobatics of the singers made it a breeze.

I loved the staging especially. The action was set in a 1730's pleasure garden complete with wandering tourists, cactus conservatory, sculptures, ruins and bocce ball. If we were still living in our Victorian apartment with ample molding I would have been tempted to immediate paint a mural of trees on the walls like they had on stage.

There's one more show this Saturday - I highly recommend going if you have the chance!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Packing for Japan in November

Packing for the trip is nearly done! I decided on a muted jewel-tone theme, inspired by a favorite mustard-yellow Japanese scarf. With a lot of layers that can be mixed and matched. So far:
  • 1 pair of dark, straight leg jeans
  • 4 skirts (tweed, corduroy, denim and chambray, mini in the J.Crew fashion)
  • 1 pair of heavy canvas shorts
  • 4 sweaters
  • 4 long sleeve shirts
  • 1 blue and yellow jacquard scarf
  • Trusty coral velvet blazer
  • Trusty black puffer jacket
  • Many pairs of tights and leggings in black, blue and gray
  • Many pairs of socks
  • Beanie, gloves and arm-warmers
  • Pajamas
  • 1 pair of tall flat boots and/or (still deciding) 1 pair of short flat boots
  • 1 pair of sneakers
  • 1 pair of flats
I think that should be enough for 10 days. It doesn't seem to be all that cold in Osaka or Kyoto. Only Mt. Koya-san will be colder than San Francisco, even with a bit of snow, and I plan to just layer it all on for our two days there.

Am I forgetting something key? What is your favorite thing to wear traveling?

Monday, November 14, 2011

To Do: Japanese Flea Markets

I'm imagining all-Japanese holiday decor this year. With paper and fabric supplies from our trip to Japan, there's all kind of wrapping and ornaments to be made.

These quilted fabric balls are apparently sold at a big monthly flea market in Kyoto. Wouldn't they be pretty strung up on a ribbon around the mantelpiece?

How is it possible that Martha Stewart hasn't already done a Japanese Christmas theme?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekend Round-Up: Decompressing

Very mellow weekend after working like mad on Friday. I helped organize a user conference for 1,000+ attendees. It was a lot of fun, but tremendously stressful. On Friday night, I came home an exhausted heap and Rob cooked me dinner.

Saturday morning, we had a lazy breakfast and then went to return the u-Haul my team had rented the day before. Walked over to Sports Basement on Bryant where I bought a new duffle for Japan, grabbed a slice at DNA Pizza and walked back home.

Rested for a bit (still kind of stressed out! I have an amazing capacity to focus on the three things that didn't go perfectly out of the 500 that did.) and then Rob and I headed back out to enjoy the crisp fall weather in the city. Just a perfect fall afternoon to grab ice cream cones and window shop the new holiday displays downtown.

Margaret came over in the evening and we worked on baby shower crafts for a party at work this week. We made a delicious dinner of roasted cod, truffled lentils and butternut squash. A bit of work on turning roast chickens into chicken soup and some fancy nailpolish. Margaret went home around 9 and I turned into to bed not too much later.

Sunday morning, Rob left for a bike ride and I stayed in bed with the paper. I hopped on the bike trainer for an hour and did some pilates until he returned. After lunch, we walked downtown to meet up with Nicole. We walked around to a few shops, picking up last minute supplies for the trip to Japan. Early dinner garlic with fries on the patio at Gott's.

The three of us walked around the Ferry Building for a bit. Rob caught Nicole a cab and we walked home. Gorgeous sunset over the city, a rare sight. We met up with our neighbor along with baby and dog for part of the walk home.

Quiet evening at home, I watched some old episodes of Mary Tyler Moore and cleaned house.

It's hard to believe we leave for Japan this Friday! Can't wait!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Book Report: Fall Edition

I've been reading a lot now that winter is here and it's colder outside. Here are a couple books I've run through lately:

Tenting To-night - A fun book about a massive camping trip around 1915 in the cascade mountains complete with guides, pack horses and adventures. I'd read many of Mary Roberts Rinehart's mysteries and this quick non-fiction book was a nice compliment to her writing style. Free on your Kindle!

Alice, Let's Eat - Calvin Trillin is just the best. The danger with this book is that it gives you a massive appetite, and also it makes you want to read his touching New Yorker tribute to Alice five years after her death and get weepy.

Messenger of Truth: A Maisie Dobbs Novel - One of the readers here got me started on this series. I'm fairly addicted. Love the details about life in 1930's England.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me - Mindy's book is simultaneously silly and insightful. Especially good on the topics of friendship. Her parents sound pretty lovely too. It makes a great pair for working, creative-career women with Tina Fey's book.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Weekend Roundup: Illustrated Edition

This was a very mellow weekend thanks to the freezing cold weather and just generally feeling burnt out. We took it pretty easy. I'm working on learning to use the Bamboo Pen Rob bought me for my birthday, so I went for sketches instead of photos for this post. Bear with me, I have no idea what I'm doing.

On Friday, we went to a friend's housewarming party over by Fort Mason. It was great to see her place and meet some new friends! Saturday morning, I did my best to sleep in after a long week at the office. I spent the morning doing laundry and reading Mindy's book on Kindle while Rob worked on his class online. We drank a lot of tea.

We watched so many episodes of Louie in between loads of laundry and I switched out all my summer clothes for the winter tweeds kept down in storage. The minute it was time to finally motivate and walk to the store, it started raining. Oh well, still made the quick trip with Wellies on. Back at home, I cooked up a batch of butternut squash & chicken enchiladas for dinner.

To bed pretty early after our lazy day at home. The next morning, Rob had to get up at 5:30 to go volunteer with the Bike Coalition at a half marathon. I got up not too much later to prepare for staffing a booth at the Bay Area Science Festival. So cute to spend the morning geeking out with adorable nerdy kids. We had a photobooth for the kids. Nothing cuter than a 3 year old girl dressed as a doctor in a comically large lab coat.

Dashed from the festival (with my bag full of science schwag to send to Jean) to change at home and load into the car with Margaret and Rob. We drove to Woodside to see South Pacific at 2:00. It's one of my favorite musicals and our friend Greg was playing trumpet with the band. Pretty good show for community theater, the production value was quite high and all the men singers had amazing voices (but nothing can compare to Reba's version).

On the way home from the show, we stopped in San Mateo for a big dinner from Little Sichuan. Not our usual waiter, so a little less spicy than I like - but still so delicious! Plenty of leftovers to bring home.

Margaret came over after dinner to wait for her boyfriend to finish band practice. She surfed Pinterest while I made these drawings - a wonderful way to browse the internet! I have a crazy epic week of work ahead, so I'll probably drop off after Wednesday. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

What to Wear: December in Japan

I've been working on what to pack for our trip to Japan. Lots of layers to keep warm and flat shoes for walking all day. Here's one template:

Beanie - In ivory cableknit.
Sweater - A striped gold sweater from J. Crew.
Cardigan - Cozy layer from Topshop.
Puffer - A classic black down jacket.
Skirt - A wool mini paired with thick tights or leggings (or both).
Socks - A California girl, I really only own maybe four or so pairs of socks. I need to stock up on warm pairs.
Shoes - Flat shoes that can be worn with socks and can come on and off easily for all the no-shoe rules - not an easy thing to find!
Bag - A crossover handbag big enough for the guidebook and camera.

What do you think?

What to Wear: Dia de los Muertos

Is there such a thing as a tissue paper flower fascination that is too large? I don't think so.

I made the DYI decoration to attend a Day of the Dead party in the Mission last night with Rob. Also, check out the fancy nails using the LAC skills Rebecca taught us in October - there's a tiny pink and white skull in there.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Almond Oil

It's hard to believe November is already here! Along with the cozy winter holidays and lots of tweed, colder temperatures mean dry skin for me.

L'Occitane Almond Oil is a favorite splurge and surefire remedy. I use it after every other shower and the bottle lasts for months. Plus, it smells divine!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Old Navy Active

Have you checked out the new Old Navy workout gear? It's pretty great. Lots of capris and cute tops. I ran in this top Monday night and may never take it off. It has a reflective zipper, high collar and thumb loops at the cuffs.

The stores are low on sizes, but online you can buy everything with a nice discount right now.